Penn State Nittany Lions: Kirk Ferentz

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
5:00
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It's tax day and you owe me some emails. No refunds granted here, unless you follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: What's your take on where B1G recruiting stands at the moment, and where do you think it will be, come signing day? I'm not sure which is more surprising, that Penn State is as strong as it is at the moment, or that Ohio State and Michigan aren't that high in the lists. Granted, there is still quite a bit of time to go until signing day, but momentum is important. Do you think this all evens out by signing day and Ohio State takes the No. 1 spot within the B1G?

Adam Rittenberg: Brutus, although the recruiting cycle is accelerated, it's way too soon to draw conclusions about the Big Ten recruiting for 2015. Penn State's early surge is notable because coach James Franklin came in making bold declarations and so far has backed them up. Michigan typically has been a very fast starter and the Wolverines already have five verbals for 2015, led by ESPN 300 cornerback Garrett Taylor. Ohio State often makes its push later on, even before signing day, and has the luxury of being patient. There are pros and cons to racking up a bunch of early commitments.

It's a good thing for Penn State. As running backs coach Charles Huff recently told me, "We're the new girl in school, so a lot of guys want to date us." But I wouldn't worry about Ohio State and Michigan. They'll both be fine.


Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, I've often seen you support more weeknight and Saturday night games for the B10. On the other hand, I've seen the presidents and ADs in the P12 complain incessantly about how many weeknight and Saturday night games they have. In 2013, they played 33 night games to our 18 (both split equally between ESPN/FOX and BTN/P12N/FS1). Is this a case of the grass always being greener, or is there a sweet spot in the middle?

Adam Rittenberg: Another great question, Brian. Keep 'em coming. It really comes down to what's best for each conference. The Big Ten boasts the biggest stadiums and some of the largest fan bases in college football. It still moves the needle even though on-field performance has been down for some time. The Big Ten should be competing for that Saturday night TV window as often as possible. Until recently, the league has been missing out.

The Pac-12, meanwhile, loses a huge audience when its games kick off after 5 p.m. local time. If you start a game at 7:30 p.m. Pacific time, most of the country has tuned out. There are pros and cons to weeknight games, and I understand the concern about an early weeknight kickoff -- like Oregon-Stanford -- as it’s hard to fill the stands. But TV is king here, and the Pac-12 needs to showcase its product.


Josh C. from Atlantic City, N.J., writes: Hey Adam, Big Rutgers fan here. Couldn't be more excited for the new season in the B1G. In fact lots of people in NJ are talking about the move and better competition. I've heard a lot of talk about "non-existent" RU fans. Do you think the rest of the B1G is underestimating the volume of fans? Whether it be quantity or quality.

Adam Rittenberg: I hope so, Josh, and it's good to hear the buzz is building in the Garden State for Rutgers' Big Ten arrival. I sense that there's a portion of Rutgers fans waiting to come out and support the team when things improve on the field. We saw a lot of enthusiasm for the program during the breakout season in 2006 (Who can forget Jeremy Ito?). Rutgers followed up with several solid seasons before taking a step back in 2013. The Big Ten move should generate excitement and support, especially when teams such as Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin visit Piscataway. But Rutgers needs to perform well to show the Big Ten that its fan base is significant.


Austin from Iowa writes: What are the chances Jake Rudock has the best Career of any quarterback in the Ferentz era with two years to go and a stacked offense matched with a decent Iowa defense in a division with no real power team at the moment? Is it possible for Rudock to really make a name for himself nationally and lead Iowa to a couple of division, maybe conference titles?


Adam Rittenberg: Austin, at first I thought it would be really tough for Rudock to eclipse other Kirk Ferentz-era quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi, Brad Banks or even Drew Tate. Banks had a phenomenal year in 2002 but struggled at times the previous season. Stanzi led Iowa to an 18-4 record as the starter in 2008 and 2009 and had his best statistical season by far in 2010, but the team massively underachieved that fall. Tate had good years in 2004 and 2005 but struggled in his final season in 2006. So yes, Rudock has a chance. I wouldn't say Iowa's offense is stacked, though, and the Hawkeyes must show more explosiveness at the skill positions. A favorable schedule gives Iowa a great chance to reach the Big Ten title game this year, which would put Rudock in the category with the other Hawkeyes QBs mentioned.


Tom from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Adam -- a few months ago a local TV station ran an interview with FauxPelini, but agreed not to show his face or reveal his identity. Turns out he lives in the Chicago area. So I gotta ask: Is it you?

Adam Rittenberg: I wish I were that funny, Tom. No, it's not me. But if I ever locate Faux in Chicago, I'm buying him a beer for bringing me a lot of laughs over the years. I'm quite happy that Bo has regained custody of the cat. I'm allergic to them.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM ET
RIP, Princess Lacey.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
12:00
PM ET
Warning: Brackets are once again prone to be being busted.
  • Ohio State is auditioning students to see if anybody on campus can beat a speedster like Dontre Wilson in a race.
  • Michigan reshuffled its defensive coaching staff to get its line more hands-on attention, but that doesn't mean Brady Hoke will be staying away completely.
  • Taiwan Jones has the first crack at filling the vacant role at middle linebacker for Michigan State this spring, and the senior is embracing the move.
  • James Franklin is dialing up the intensity of workouts for Penn State, including reps in the Oklahoma Drill for just about everybody on the roster.
  • Rutgers is flip-flopping roles for two returning linebackers, trying to squeeze more production from the unit after a disastrous defensive season a year ago.
  • Wisconsin is looking to expand its recruiting footprint in the areas opened up by Big Ten expansion, and new recruiting coordinator Chris Beatty will lead the charge.
  • Randy Edsall is concerned about the kind of impact recruiting is having on kids these days, and he has a detailed plan to help take some pressure off and fix what he views as a broken system.
  • Replacing three senior linebackers is at the top of the priority list for Kirk Ferentz as spring practice gets rolling at Iowa.
  • A pair of notable injuries have opened up opportunities at wide receiver for Purdue, and Dan Monteroso is trying to make the most of his chance in the slot.
  • Ground will be broken this year on a sparkling new indoor practice facility at Minnesota, which is expected to come with a price tag of $70 million.
Next week, we'll take a deeper dive into college football attendance and some of the challenges surfacing both nationally and in the Big Ten. Today, it's time to check out the official NCAA attendance figures for the 2013 season.

The Big Ten reached several attendance milestones in 2013:

  • The league drew 6,061,514 fans, breaking its previous conference record of 6,008,124, set during the 2011 season
  • The 48 Big Ten games drew 3,414,448 fans, breaking the mark of 3,408,963 set in 2011
  • The Big Ten championship game between Michigan State and Ohio State drew 66,002, the largest crowd in the game's three-year existence
The Big Ten ranked second behind the SEC in average attendance by conference (70,451), an increase of 391 from 2012. The SEC averaged 75,674 fans last season, while there is a significant drop-off after the Big Ten. The top two spots in average attendance are occupied by Big Ten schools (Michigan, Ohio State), and two others place in the top 10 (Penn State and Nebraska). Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa all finished in the top 25 nationally.

Although the Big Ten had an overall average increase, eight of the 12 programs saw decreases in average last season.

Here's a look at the school-by-school attendance averages (and how they changed from 2012) ...

Illinois: 43,787 (decrease of 1,777)
Indiana: 44,353 (decrease of 449)
Iowa: 67,125 (decrease of 3,349)
Michigan: 111,592 (decrease of 660)
Michigan State: 72,328 (decrease of 3,054)
Minnesota: 47,797 (increase of 1,160)
Nebraska: 90,933 (increase of 5,416)
Northwestern: 39,307 (increase of 3,610)
Ohio State: 104,933 (decrease of 397)
Penn State: 96,857 (decrease of 143)
Purdue: 48,953 (increase of 5,365)
Wisconsin: 78,911 (decrease of 1,095)

[+] EnlargeBeaver Stadium
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPenn State averaged 96,587 fans at its seven home games in 2013, good for fifth-best in the country.
Number of 2013 home games: 8 (Indiana, Nebraska); 7 (Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin)

Notes/observations

  • There are some important factors to remember when reviewing these numbers, such as stadium renovations -- Nebraska completed one before last season -- number of home games and the quality of the opponents on each team's home schedule. It's interesting to see teams that saw improvement on the field, such as Iowa and Michigan State, had declines in attendance, while Purdue had an increase despite a 1-11 campaign. Iowa didn't have a sellout for the first time in coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure.
  • The buzz about new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell and an attractive home schedule (Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State) played a role in the rise, although Purdue's crowds became smaller as the season progressed. Purdue had seen attendance decline for five consecutive seasons before 2013.
  • Nebraska had the biggest attendance increase among Big Ten teams from the previous season and ranked No. 13 nationally. Purdue was 14th and Northwestern was 19th.
  • Incoming Big Ten member Maryland had an average increase of 5,256 fans in 2013, putting its attendance average at 41,278. Incoming league member Rutgers averaged 46,549 fans in 2013, a decrease of 2,639 from the previous year.
  • Minnesota returned to the national rankings in November and ended a four-year stretch of declining attendance with an increase in 2013.
  • Attendance continues to be a concern for Illinois, which has seen its average drop every year since 2008. Although the Illini doubled their wins total from two to four in 2013, their attendance is hovering around the 2006 total (43,445), when the team went 2-10.
  • In terms of total attendance (home, road and neutral-site games), Ohio State led the Big Ten and ranked second nationally (1,191,436 in 14 games), followed by Michigan (1,174,360 in 13 games). Nebraska ranked fifth nationally (1,096,097 in 13 games), while Penn State (1,011,515 in 12 games), Michigan State (994,069 in 14 games) and Wisconsin (951,252 in 13 games) all ranked in the top 20.
  • It will be interesting to see how the excitement around new Penn State coach James Franklin, and the recently implemented variable pricing model for single-game tickets, impacts attendance in 2014. Penn State's home schedule isn't overly attractive, although both Ohio State and Michigan State visit Beaver Stadium.

We'll have more on what the teams and the league are doing to improve attendance and the game-day experience next week.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
5:00
PM ET
As promised, here's a special Monday edition of the mailbag to help you transition to our chat hiatus. If there's enough interest, we may go to more mailbags during the week this offseason. As always, send your questions for me here. And don't forget we want to hear from you, Rutgers and Maryland fans.

Now on to the mailbag ...

Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: In regards to your article about spring practice dates, what are the influences for each school to vary their start times as much as they appear to do?

Brian Bennett: It really comes down to the individual preferences of the coaches, Glenn. Some coaches like to start early so there's not a big gap between the end of the season and the start of spring practices. Others like splitting up spring practice and letting the players loose for spring break so they can rest their minds and bodies. Some coaches will factor in the weather in their starting dates, and in the past coaches have also adjusted spring practice times based on how many offseason surgeries and rehabs their players were undergoing. I don't know that there's any right or wrong way to split up those 15 practice dates.


Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: James Franklin's first coaching test with his new Nittany Lions team will be overseas in Ireland. Do you think the travel and overseas experience will help or hurt the Lions as they acclimate to a new coaching staff and system?

Brian Bennett: Well, Brian (great name, by the way), I think the most important thing is the opponent, as both teams will have to deal with the same travel issues. UCF had an undeniably great season in 2013, but losing Blake Bortles and other valuable players could make the opener tough on the Knights. I do believe that road trips often offer teams a way to bond together, as they are forced to be within close proximity of one another without the outside distraction of friends, family, ticket requests, etc. So that might prove helpful for Franklin and his staff to get to know the players better. It should be a great experience for all involved, though I'm interested to see how the Nittany Lions deal with the travel as they return home for a game against Akron the following weekend.


Aaron from Pittsburgh writes: I want your honest opinion of Illinois' 2014 recruiting class, and before you do that, let me just remind you to include their juco signings. I'm looking at all these recruiting reviews and they make it look like Illinois did squat, but if you look at the jucos you'll see that Tim Beckman filled a lot of needs with instant-impact players.

Brian Bennett: My response to that would be, are they actually instant-impact guys? Look, I don't have the time or the interest to watch high school football, and I believe recruiting star rankings are vastly overrated, so I'll play wait and see on all the Illini prep signees. I get why Beckman has gone after juco guys to add immediate depth and talent, but there is some inherent risk there as well. Beckman also brought in some jucos last season, and while they did contribute, none of them really became stars or major impact performers. Jihad Ward has a great reputation, and we all know Illinois needs help on the defensive line. I like that several of the juco guys are early enrollees, which should give them a much better chance to play and do well early. But the news that the Stone-Davis twins -- who are being counted on to help at receiver and defensive back -- won't make it to campus until May was a minor setback.


Jon S. from Bismarck, N.D., writes: Brian, looking over Iowa's 2014 schedule, its toughest games don't come until arguably the final two weeks of the season. Could we see an undefeated Hawkeyes football team by the time November 22nd rolls around?

Brian Bennett: Ah, yes, it must be the offseason, where fans can dream about their teams going undefeated. Well, Iowa's 2014 Big Ten schedule is about as advantageous as it gets. Here are the Hawkeyes' first six league games: at Purdue, Indiana, at Maryland, Northwestern, at Minnesota, at Illinois. Four of those teams had losing records in the regular season last year, and Iowa would likely be favored, on paper, in all of them.

Of course, winning them all is a lot easier said than done. We don't really know what to expect from Maryland. Indiana beat Iowa the last time the two teams played (in 2012). Northwestern and Iowa always seem to play tough games, and Minnesota should be better than it was when the Hawkeyes steamrolled the Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium a year ago. A September game at Pitt could also be tricky. But if Iowa can maintain the momentum it had going at the end of last season and build on it, Kirk Ferentz's team should at the very least be right in the thick of the West Division race when it enters its final two games against Wisconsin and Nebraska. Both of which are at Kinnick Stadium, by the way. Yeah, that's a great schedule.


Ed from The Great State of New Jersey writes: Hey, Brian. Saw the article comparing pre-full share revenue between Nebraska and Maryland. Where does Rutgers fit in?

Brian Bennett: Ed, Rutgers' deal with the Big Ten is a bit of a mystery for now. But I'd be surprised if the Scarlet Knights got a better agreement than Nebraska. As the Maryland vs. Nebraska payouts show, it's all about leverage. The Terps had a lot of it, given their standing in an ACC that wasn't really hurting financially. Nebraska had less leverage in a fractured Big 12 that it had grown tired of dealing with. Rutgers had almost zero leverage, considering the utter collapse of the old Big East and the miniscule (by comparison) payouts that conference provided. Indeed, few schools have more happily celebrated a conference change than the Scarlet Knights did when the Big Ten came calling. The only question is whether the Big Ten allowed some early concessions to help Rutgers get on a more equal financial footing as the rest of the league.


John R. from Dubuque, Iowa, writes: Ok...now that signing day has come and gone, what are the rankings of the teams head-to-head in the Big Ten and versus the nation? I understand student athletes are still signing letters after the "official" signing day, but where do all our teams stand?

Brian Bennett: John, you can find ESPN RecruitingNation's complete class rankings here. The conference breakdown went like this:

1. Ohio State
2. Michigan
3. Penn State
4. Michigan State
5. Wisconsin
6. Nebraska
7. Northwestern
8. Iowa
9. Maryland
10. Indiana
11. Rutgers
12. Minnesota
13. Illinois
14. Purdue

Have fun with it, debate it, but just remember: Nobody has ever hung a banner for recruiting rankings.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
12:00
PM ET
Americans should have the right to bear yogurt anywhere ...

Big Ten's lunch links

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
12:00
PM ET
Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. We wrap up the series today with a look at the importance of coaching continuity in the Big Ten going forward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
12:00
PM ET
Sure, it's cold now. But pitchers and catchers report in just three weeks.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
5:00
PM ET
Mail time ...

Ed S. from Belleville, Ill., writes: Please ask James Franklin how he can justify going after kids he recruited for Vanderbilt and whether he is going out of his way to try to wreck the Vanderbilt football program. What happened to his "fierce loyalty" to the Commodores and what does he now think of recruits who renege on their commitments to other schools?

Brian Bennett: Ed, those are fair questions. Some coaches say they won't recruit players who committed to their previous school when they switch jobs. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One, the better players in Vanderbilt's class almost certainly committed to the Commodores because of Franklin, so it makes sense that they'd be interested in following him to another school. Given Penn State's scholarship limitations, he may feel an even bigger need to flip some of those Vandy recruits. And this is who Franklin is, a guy who's going to be aggressive in everything he does, especially so in recruiting. He's going to push the envelope and ruffle some feathers.


Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Brian, regarding your article about BIG ticket sales for bowl games, don't you think attendance might also have been affected by the economy and the weather? If you want to enjoy the whole enchilada with your team before the actual game, including airfare, hotel, parties, tours, etc., you're looking at thousands of dollars (I know from experience), plus thousands more if you're taking your whole family. I wouldn't think that the weather in the Midwest and East helped much, either, as far as traveling goes.

Brian Bennett: The economy absolutely plays a factor, Glenn, and I mentioned the costs in my post. Airfare and hotel rates have gone up, and I was astounded at how expensive hotels in south Florida were over New Year's. These are not cheap trips, for the most part, especially because the majority of Big Ten bowl sites are located more than a comfortable driving distance away from campuses. I doubt very much that weather played a role in keeping people away, since you really need to book these kinds of trips a couple of weeks in advance to have any success finding good deals. If anything, the weather fosters more travel as Midwesterners love any excuse to escape the winter. But there's little question that bowl trips are becoming more difficult for the average fan, and it will be interesting to see how fans travel if their team can make it to a Big Ten championship game, national semifinal and national title game all in about a month's time under the new playoff system.


Kevin from Saline, Mich., writes: What is it that has made this 2013 MSU football team so much more successful than the 2011 Spartans? Every skill position on that 2011 team was terrific, the defense was still elite, and the chemistry and leadership with Kirk Cousins at the helm was extremely good as well. Is it just finding the inches, as Mark Dantonio always says? I was convinced that 2011 team was destined to be the team to break our Rose Bowl drought. I couldn't be happier with this season and this team, but when I compare them side-by-side with the 2011 version, that 2011 version seems more talented to me.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, you're right that the 2011 Michigan State team was awfully good and probably still a bit underrated in hindsight. The offense was much more experienced in 2011 with Cousins and B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin at receiver. The defense was very good, though not quite as elite as the 2013 team. The 2011 team turned in a couple of clunkers, however, including an 18-point loss at Notre Dame and a 24-3 defeat at Nebraska in which the Spartans looked completely flat a week after beating Wisconsin on the Hail Mary.

Still, that team was extremely close to making the Rose Bowl, losing a back-and-forth Big Ten championship game to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin team that turned on a late running-into-the-punter penalty. And those Spartans went on to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. This year's team might have benefited from an easier schedule leading up to the Big Ten title game -- the 2011 squad, for example, played three teams ranked in the top 15 in the regular season, while the 2013 squad faced none. But this year's Spartans turned it on when it really mattered and "found the inches," as Dantonio said. That last step from being a very good team to a championship one is sometimes the steepest.


David K. from New Haven, Ind., writes: Brian, any chance that IU might actually spend what it takes to get a proven defensive coordinator? I think Kevin Wilson has the program going in the right direction, but unless they get somebody in there who knows what he is doing and has been with a winning program, I fear he is doomed to fail because of the awful defense. You get what you pay for, and if they go that way, then the Hoosiers and Wilson are doomed.

Brian Bennett: David, every Big Ten team has money. It's good to see teams like Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan making major commitments to coaching salaries this winter, because that is what it's going to take to win at the big-boy table. Indiana doesn't have quite the deep pockets as some other schools, mainly because of the Hoosiers' attendance problems. Wilson's highest-paid assistant is offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who is making $356,500 -- and earning it, based on IU's offensive numbers in 2013. I doubt you would see Indiana go much higher than that on the defensive side. Just how many superstar coordinators would be interested in coming to a program that has struggled on defense for so long and now has an offense-first mentality? That remains a major question. There's nothing wrong with finding an up-and-comer to run the defense. Indiana's challenge will be to keep top assistants such as Littrell when they become hot commodities.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey, Brian. Some big coaching moves in the East got me wondering about Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is one of the best-paid head coaches. But what about the assistants? Did I read correctly last week that Iowa is once again one of the most valuable football programs in the country? Does Iowa have the resources the make some big assistant coaching moves like OSU is doing?

Brian Bennett: Iowa does have strong resources. Not quite Ohio State or Michigan level, but certainly in the upper half of the Big Ten. Much of those resources are going to pay Ferentz close to $4 million per year. Neither defensive coordinator Phil Parker nor offensive coordinator Greg Davis are among the top 10 in salary among assistants in the Big Ten. That has been the pattern under Ferentz, who promoted Parker from within and hired Davis after he had been out of football for a year. Perhaps whenever Ferentz retires, the pay scale between the Iowa head coach and his assistants will tilt a little.


Andrew from San Ramon, Calif., writes: Hi, Brian. I've done some research, and the Huskers have an OK schedule coming up this year. Notable teams like Fresno State and Miami lose a lot of key players to the draft. Seven home games and five away games. With the win of the Gator Bowl on their shoulders and new recruits coming in, what do you think the Huskers' chances are at going possibly 10-2 or 11-1? (Losses might be @ Wisconsin and/or Michigan State.)

Brian Bennett: It's entirely too soon to start predicting team records for 2014. I do like Nebraska right now as the early favorite to win the West Division, but I think the conference schedule is a little harder than you make it out to be. The Huskers not only have to travel to Michigan State and Wisconsin but also to Northwestern -- which has played Nebraska extremely tough and should bounce back from an abysmal 2013 -- and Iowa, which just won in Lincoln to close out the recently completed regular season. Compare that to new division rival Wisconsin, which does not play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State from the East and whose hardest conference road games are Iowa and Northwestern.

I like the potential for Nebraska's young defense in 2014, and if quarterback Tommy Armstrong makes a significant jump in the offseason, the offense could be really good, too. But Bo Pelini's team is going to have to get some work done on the road in league play to get back to the Big Ten championship game.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
PM ET
Including last season, the Big Ten is 1-6 in bowl games in 2013. Maybe 2014 will be better?

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
4:30
PM ET
A few questions and answers before Big Ten bowl season kicks off!

Remember, follow us on Twitter.

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.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
4:00
PM ET
Sadly, there's no Big Ten football this weekend for the first time since August. I'll be counting the minutes until bowl season.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

Matthew from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam, I can't help but feeling you've been dodging my question about "national brand teams" in Michigan/Penn State. What qualitative or quantitative data do you have to substantiate these claims? You recently wrote "...what they're used to seeing, and that's Michigan/Penn State [being good]..." really? When was the last time either of these teams were even remotely decent?

Adam Rittenberg: Matthew, I'm not sure how old you are. If you're under 30, the Michigan and PSU brands might not resonate for you as much as Wisconsin's, MSU's and Iowa's. But it's different for those who remember Michigan's national title in 1997 and five Big Ten championships between 1997-2004, not to mention the program's long-term history. The same holds true for those who remember Penn State's national titles in the 1980s or the great teams in 1994, 2005 and 2008.

You want data that validates Michigan and Penn State as big brands? Look at the money they bring in. They're always included in Forbes' list of most valuable college football teams. They have huge stadiums, massive alumni/fan bases and plenty of NFL alumni. I'm not arguing that Michigan and, to a lesser extent because of the circumstances, Penn State are underachieving. I'm actually underscoring that in Michigan's case. But they're still national brands because of what they've done over time.


Ron from Minneapolis writes: Hi, Adam. I think the Gophers got the shaft this year for their bowl game. Gophers fans don't travel well because they end up in bad bowl games. I would bet anything that had they been selected to the Gator Bowl, the fan base would be very good. What I worry about is, even if they would go 9-3 or 10-2 next year, they will still get passed over to a good bowl because of fan travel? It's hard to recruit and become a contender when people don't even watch a lower bowl game like this. As fans, how do we get the word out to the bowl committees so this doesn't keep happening?

Adam Rittenberg: Ron, the good news for you and your fellow Gophers fans is that the Big Ten, beginning in 2014, will take over the bowl selection process rather than put it solely in the hands of bowl officials. Bowls and teams will be assigned to tiers, and the league will work to avoid repeat destinations or repeat opponents for teams. "We're going to really want to have different teams in different bowls," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said in announcing the new bowl lineup in June. "... You'll see a real focus on getting diversity and freshness."

All that said, it's important for Minnesota fans to show up at this year's Texas Bowl, support a good team and begin to change the perception about how well they travel. Quite frankly, you're overestimating the gap between the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl and the Texas Bowl. The Gator Bowl has some more tradition, but I'd argue the Texas Bowl is in better location with a better time slot, away from the New Year's Day gridlock. Bowl committees don't care about head-to-head results or fans whining about being passed over. You probably won't have this problem in the future, but you still should go and support your team if possible.


Todd from Peoria, Ill., writes: How did Ohio State end up playing Clemson and Alabama playing Oklahoma? Given how close both came to the title game, wouldn't that be a better match-up than either got this year? It would prove how the (true) best SEC team this year compares to the best available B1G team and whether OSU had any business thinking of playing for the crystal football. Also, what do you think of the apparent decision by Tim Beckman to keep DC Tim Banks despite two years of dismal defense by my beloved Illini?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, it has more to do with the current relationships between BCS bowls and certain leagues. The ACC's tie to the Discover Orange Bowl led the bowl to replace Florida State with Clemson. The same held true with the SEC and the Allstate Sugar Bowl, which replaced Auburn with Alabama. Ohio State-Alabama would have been great, though I was hoping the Sugar would pick Oregon to face Bama, a matchup we've wanted for years. But because of the game's upcoming Big 12 tie-in (Champions Bowl), it went with Oklahoma, and Alabama-Oklahoma looks like a mismatch.

As for Illinois, I'm a little surprised Beckman will keep his entire defensive staff intact. He's entering a make-or-break season, and he wants to sink or swim with the coaches he hired. He probably doesn't want another year of significant staff turnover. But the defense must get a lot better.


Tony from Austin, Texas, writes: Hey Adam, what are the chances of Taylor Martinez playing in the NFL? Is it likely he has a future as an NFL quarterback or is he best changing positions (see Denard Robinson)?

Adam Rittenberg: Tony, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told me before the season that he thinks Martinez can play quarterback in the NFL. Pelini knows the NFL, but I'd be surprised if Martinez is taking snaps in the pros next year. His mechanics are improved from his sophomore year but remain far from textbook, which is the standard in the NFL. I don't see enough arm strength, either. Martinez certainly has skills that translate to the next level, namely his speed, so I see him moving to another position.


Todd from Louisville writes: Adam, your comments in two different posts appear to be almost directly opposed to me. Should Iowa fans demand and expect more than an 8-4 record or be realistic/objective about being ambitious and excited for the future? Do you intend to appear combative with these fans no matter what position they espouse?

Adam Rittenberg: Todd, I think my Iowa comment was misinterpreted, and that's my fault. Iowa fans obviously should be excited about their team's four-win improvement this season. My comment was that in general, an 8-4 record seems to please more fan bases in the Big Ten then it would in the SEC. I don't think enough Big Ten fan bases demand excellence from their programs. That's not a shot at Iowa fans, who were understandably disappointed in 2012. But now the bar must be raised for 2014. Iowa has a real chance to win the West division, and anything less should be considered a disappointment. Kirk Ferentz makes big money and should be held to a higher standard than 8-4. That's more than fair.

There are many reasons why the Big Ten has slipped a bit nationally in football. But I wonder if enough teams in this league take a championship-or-bust approach to seasons, and whether that's contributing to the mediocrity.


Sam from Detroit writes: Adam, if things go how they usually go with Nick Saban and he decides to leave for Texas, do you think Mark Dantonio would be a candidate for the Alabama job? He has to be one of the more desirable coaches out there right now, and Alabama is obviously one of the better jobs. I seem to remember Dantonio being in the middle of the pack as far as compensation for B1G coaches and while I'm sure he'll get a bump this year, it won't be an SEC-esque bump. Do you think he'd leave for a job like Alabama?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think so, but Michigan State needs to step up and provide Dantonio and his assistants substantial raises. Dantonio knows he's in a great situation at MSU. He has a great boss in Mark Hollis, and his family is happy there. His only tie to the SEC is the fact he played at South Carolina. Dantonio definitely has some leverage if other schools begin courting him, but I'd be a bit surprised if he leaves. He's not a guy completely driven by money, and he knows he can compete for the College Football Playoff at MSU.
The Big Ten's best two teams played Saturday night in Indianapolis, and Michigan State proved that it belongs on top. Ohio State had occupied the No. 1 spot throughout the season, but Mark Dantonio's team outclassed the Buckeyes, scoring the game's first 17 points and its final 17 points after Ohio State surged midway through the contest.

Both teams are headed to BCS bowls, but the Spartans earned their way to Pasadena for the first time since the 1987 season.

There are no changes in the final 10 spots.

Here's one final look at the Week 14 rankings.

Now, for the fresh rundown …

1. Michigan State (12-1, last week: 2): We knew the Spartans had a nationally elite defense and a much-improved offense, but we didn't know whether they could put it all together against a team that hadn't lost a game in two seasons. Quarterback Connor Cook, linebacker Denicos Allen and others provided the answers against Ohio State. Cook passed for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, while Allen and the Spartan Dawgs limited Ohio State to 25 yards in the fourth quarter. Next stop: the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

2. Ohio State (12-1, last week: 1): It's odd to see a "1" in the loss column, but Meyer's Buckeyes looked shaky both early and late in their biggest test since the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Penalties and poor pass defense, as well as a one-dimensional offense that didn't sustain a rhythm, doomed Ohio State against Michigan State. Quarterback Braxton Miller and his teammates squandered a chance to play for a national title. They'll try to finish the season strong with a win against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

3. Wisconsin (9-3, last week: 3): No Big Ten team wants to get on the field more than the Badgers, who delivered their worst performance of the season at the worst time against Penn State. Linebacker Chris Borland and a proud and decorated group of seniors should be much better in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. Quarterback Joel Stave tries to bounce back after throwing a career-high three interceptions against PSU.

4. Iowa (8-4, last week: 4): Coach Kirk Ferentz sees similarities between his current team and the 2008 version, which also finished strong after a so-so start. The 2008 squad finished with an Outback Bowl victory, and the Hawkeyes will try to do the same when they face LSU in a rematch of the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Linebacker James Morris and an improved defense will be tested, and Iowa will try to control the clock with its power run game.

5. Minnesota (8-4, last week: 5): The season will be a success no matter what, but Minnesota would like to end on a positive note after dropping its final two regular-season games to ranked opponents. The Gophers return to the Texas Bowl, where coach Jerry Kill thinks they set the foundation for this year with a good effort last December against Texas Tech. Minnesota's defense will show up against Syracuse, but can the offense find a passing game?

6. Nebraska (8-4, last week: 6): Barring a surprise, Bo Pelini will get another chance to bring a championship to Lincoln next season. It would be nice to end this year on a positive note, however, especially after a blowout home loss to Iowa on Black Friday. Nebraska's young team has a chance to grow up the next few weeks before a matchup against Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl.

7. Penn State (7-5; last week: 7): The season is over but Penn State can feel optimistic about the future, particularly on offense with Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. Hackenberg completed a strong debut with 2,955 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and he'll have most of his weapons back for 2013. Last week brought the somewhat surprising departures of two assistants, including longtime linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. It will be interesting to see where Bill O'Brien goes with his replacements.

8. Michigan (7-5, last week: 8): Michigan's performance in The Game left many wondering where that team was all season. The Wolverines hope to follow up with another strong effort -- and a win -- as they take on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It's important for Michigan to end a disappointing season on a positive note, especially for the offense, which surged behind Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Jake Butt and others against Ohio State.

9. Indiana (5-7, last week: 9): It's a pivotal offseason for the Hoosiers, who should in no way be satisfied with a five-win season that includes three Big Ten victories. Indiana should have made a bowl this season with such an explosive offense and must make the necessary upgrades -- coaching, talent and elsewhere -- to get to the postseason in 2014. Kevin Wilson has some work ahead to ensure he's not the latest offensive-minded coach to flame out in Bloomington.

10. Northwestern (5-7, last week: 10): Here's another team bitterly disappointed with its 2013 season that has some work to do this winter. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's first priority is keeping together or perhaps enhancing the strongest recruiting class in his tenure. Northwestern also must evaluate its offensive vision after enduring quarterback injuries in three of the past four seasons. The Wildcats should get a big boost at running back if Venric Mark is granted a fifth year, as expected.

11. Illinois (4-8, last week: 11): Tim Beckman will lead the Illini for a third season, athletic director Mike Thomas confirmed earlier this week. Like Indiana's Wilson, Beckman will focus on improving a defense that slipped to 110th nationally in total defense and 104th in scoring defense. He fixed the offense after the 2012 season by bringing in coordinator Bill Cubit. If he can do the same on defense, Illinois should go bowling next fall. If not, it could be the end for Beckman in Champaign.

12. Purdue (1-11, last week: 12): After a historically poor season, Purdue begins the rebuilding process on the recruiting trail, where it must get better in a lot of areas. The Boilers lose some of their top defenders like Bruce Gaston Jr. and Ricardo Allen, and must build a lot more depth on that side of the ball. Offensive line also is a target area as the Boilers allowed a league-worst 38 sacks this fall.

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