Penn State Nittany Lions: Pat Narduzzi

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
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Welcome to the hump day edition of the Big Ten mailbag. I'll have another one on Friday in Adam's usual time slot since he's on vacation, but I need questions. So send them here or hit us up on Twitter.

@JeffHurdaCow via Twitter writes: After thinking about all of the big games in Badgers history, is the LSU game the biggest? Program-changing game?

Brian Bennett: There's no doubt that the opener against LSU looms large for Wisconsin. Win that and the Badgers would gain immediate respect and -- with their very manageable schedule -- could put themselves in position to make the College Football Playoff. But biggest ever? I don't think so. For starters, it's just an opener, and we're not even sure how good LSU -- which finished No. 14 in the major polls last season -- will even be. I don't see how that's bigger than, say, Wisconsin's first Rose Bowl victory over UCLA under Barry Alvarez on New Year's Day 1994. Or even beating then-No. 1 Ohio State at home in 2010. To say nothing of the 1940s and '50s.




@joe_lloyd11 via Twitter writes: What would you consider Penn State's biggest trap game to be in 2014?

Brian Bennett: Fun question, and hopefully we'll be looking at trap games for every team later on this summer. For Penn State, I would say it's Week 2 against Akron. Sure, it's at home and the Zips haven't been very good in recent years. But the game also comes on the heels of the opener in Ireland against UCF, and if you've ever flown back home from overseas, you know it takes your body a couple of days to readjust. Akron went 5-7 last season, nearly beat Michigan and returns a lot of experience for Terry Bowden. So the Nittany Lions had better avoid any Irish hangover.




RC Marsh from Medina, Ohio, writes: OSU, best defensive ends in the Big Ten? Have you forgotten about four-year starter Marcus Rush and maybe the best DE in the nation, 2013 Big Ten D-Line player of the year Shilique Calhoun? MSU may have back up DEs better than most starting DEs in in the Big Ten this year. OSU and UM continue to get an exceptional amount of space in the Blog, but both lost to MSU last year and will likely again this year. Like Alabama, MSU substitutes 30 plus players during their games, even big games. That gives them an advantage against teams that don't, aka OSU & UM.Your comments?

Brian Bennett: Well, what I actually wrote in Monday's mailbag was that Joey Bosa and Noah Spence are "two of the top returning defensive ends in the league." That's indisputable. But you're right in that Rush often gets overlooked for Michigan State. He doesn't often put up huge numbers, as he set a career high last season with five sacks, to go along with 7.5 tackles for loss. But he gives Pat Narduzzi exactly what he's looking for from that position in the Spartans' defensive scheme. Rush has been an excellent player for a long time. Bosa and Spence form, in my opinion, the best pure pass-rushing defensive end duo in the Big Ten this year. But Michigan State might have the best two overall ends. Either way, just another reason to get excited for that Nov. 8 game in East Lansing.




Greg M. from Bel Air, Md., writes: Two weeks, Brian ... that's right two weeks and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights will officially join the B1G. B1G fans may not be high on it, but Rutgers fans are all excited and looking foward to it. Rutgers athletics will do the B1G right. I am here to say RU's fans will root hard for RU vs. other B1G schools when we play them but be sure, RU fans we will also be first in line to root for every B1G team against the other conferences. After all on July 1, the Scarlet Knights are B1G. GO RU.

Brian Bennett: Didn't really see a question in there, but I know Rutgers fans are as pumped up to join the Big Ten as any fan base has ever been about entering a new league. Glad to hear Scarlet Knights fans are going to support everyone else in the conference. It remains to be seen if the rest of the league will feel as much connection toward Rutgers in the early going.




Greg from Springfield writes: Brian, with all this talk of paying players, why haven't we heard more about them being allowed to sign autographs for pay? Let ALL college athletes do this. This will remove the problem of having schools pay scholarship players in non-revenue sports. Let them make money -- with some restrictions on when and where they sign, of course. This way the best players -- the ones that make the schools the most money -- will likely get the most for their autographs, which seems fair. What say you?

Brian Bennett: Johnny Football agrees with you, Greg. I have to say that I've never understood the whole autograph thing or why people -- especially adults -- would want a college kid's autograph. But I digress. One way around all these thorny issues about more money for athletes and the value of their image and likeness -- currently front and center in the O'Bannon trial -- is to let players get paid for endorsements, autographs and other marketing ideas during their college days. In other words, much like Olympic athletes do. You would, of course, have the issue of some schools' boosters throwing around all kinds of money for endorsements or giving a wad of cash to a backup lineman for his signature. But at least things would be more in the open and players could capitalize on their own achievements, rather than watch their school sell their jerseys in the bookstore for $200. All ideas are worth exploring at this point, and this one has some serious merit.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
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Questions, answers and Twitter. What could possibly be better on a Tuesday in June?

Let's begin ...

Virgel from Valdosta, Ga., writes: Adam, do you think that if this season ends the Tim Beckman era at Illinois, they would go after a high-profile coach on the bench right now, like a Mack Brown? Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting thought, Virgel, as it's hard to know where athletic director Mike Thomas would turn. He has a track record of hiring MAC coaches -- Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, Beckman -- but I'd be shocked if he went that route again. Brown will be 62 in August, has a ton of money and likely a lengthy TV career ahead, so I'm not sure how much he would want to coach again. And if he did, for how long?

Illinois doesn't want to keep changing coaches. But thinking outside the box could be a good approach. Or Thomas could hire a guy like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who is ready to lead a major-conference program.




Kyle from Hamilton, Ontario, writes: We all have heard how "weak" Iowa's schedule is. It has even been rumoured that they could be favoured in every game. Given the fact they don't play Ohio State, a scenario exists that they both could go undefeated. That could have happened in 2002 if Iowa didn't blow the lead against Iowa State that year. My question is this: If both Ohio State and Iowa go undefeated do both teams make the playoffs?

Adam Rittenberg: Man, I love that Canadian spelling. This would be a fascinating scenario, Kyle. A lot depends on what happens in other conferences and how the Big Ten performs in marquee nonleague games. But I don't think Iowa makes the playoff with a loss in the league championship game, primarily because of the seemingly soft regular-season schedule.

In this scenario, Ohio State would have a road win against a preseason top-10 team in Michigan State. The Buckeyes also play Virginia Tech in nonleague play. Will the Michigan home win help or hurt Ohio State? How much credit will Iowa get for beating Wisconsin and Nebraska at home? All these questions factor into the playoff decision. Ultimately, I doubt the Big Ten gets two teams into the initial playoff. Fairly or unfairly, the league will pay for its recent shortcomings. But Ohio State has a better chance as a one-loss team than Iowa.




Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: The Big Ten should've gone to North-South divisions instead of East-West. I'm not sure about the exact locations of the schools, but a North-South alignment could look something like this ... North -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa. South -- Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska.

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting idea, Dave, as this proposal appears to create more historical balance than the current East-West alignment. But if you look at the Big Ten's recent expansion, the idea is to live in a second region along the East Coast. It's not a northern expansion but an eastern one. Another factor to consider is geography. Nebraska would be a major outlier in the South division -- nearly an eight-hour drive from its closest division competitor (Illinois) and a loooong way from Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. Would Husker fans care? Maybe, maybe not. They would get annual games with both Penn State and Ohio State.

I like how your proposal satisfies the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry triangle/dilemma, but it also would require at least one extra protected crossover, Ohio State-Michigan, which would reduce the overall schedule rotation for two of the league's marquee programs. I definitely see value in the North-South model, but East-West is here, at least for now.




[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Paul VernonOhio State's Braxton Miller is one of just two early enrollees to be Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the last seven years.
Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I wondered if you've seen any data comparing early enrollees and players who enroll in the fall. Do early enrollees start sooner, play in more games, have better drafts or have better graduation rates than players who enroll in the summer/fall? My thought is if the player works hard enough to graduate high school early, maybe there's a bit of a better work ethic.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, David, and there's not a great answer yet as this trend remains somewhat new. The number of early enrollees really spiked in the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. Not surprisingly, there is some evidence that early enrollees are contributing faster in their careers than those who arrive in the summer. We've seen examples in the Big Ten such as Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who earned a starting job as a true freshman. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller enrolled early and has started since the middle of his freshman season.

Then again, a 2009 ranking of top early enrollee groups Insider showed more misses (Tate Forcier, Kevin Newsome, Will Campbell) than hits (Gerald Hodges) in the Big Ten. Penn State had seven early enrollees in 2010 but only one, running back Silas Redd, became a star for the Lions.

Of the Big Ten's last seven Freshman of the Year recipients, just two -- Ohio State's Miller and Illinois' Arrelious Benn -- were early enrollees. So it's hard to draw clear conclusions.




Peter from Boston writes: Would be interested to hear your thoughts on a recent article by John U. Bacon about attendance issues at Michigan (Ivan Maisel referenced it in his latest 3-Point Stance). Personally, I think you could insert any major program in the country (including my alma mater Penn State) and write roughly the same article. ADs constantly point the finger at high-definition TV and other tech as the reason for slipping attendance, and it's definitely a factor, but Bacon makes some very good points about the in-game experience and costs of attending a game at a major university. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: There are some very valid points in Bacon's story, especially about rising ticket prices. As Ohio State AD Gene Smith recently told me, "The reality is a lot of our ticket pricing, some of us are at the top of the pyramid." And it seems like the branding push, especially in the Big Ten, is turning off some fans. Has the sport sold its soul in some ways? No doubt. Is branding too much of a priority in the Big Ten, which makes a lot of money but doesn't really win anything? There's a case to be made. ADs are devoting a lot of energy to improving the gameday experience, but two solutions are pretty simple: scheduling better opponents and charging less for tickets.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 20, 2014
May 20
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You cannot give up on the gravy.
Spring practice in the Big Ten has sadly come to an end, and we're both back home after some trips around the conference. Wednesday, we shared out thoughts on the Big Ten's West Division, and now it's time to turn our focus to the beast known as the East.

Brian dropped in on Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and Adam stopped by Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's begin with your trip to the Mitten State. You made your first stop in Ann Arbor, where Michigan was wrapping up its first spring with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Michigan's top priority is the offense and fixing the line. What did you gather about the unit, and how are the changes on the defense -- player positions and coaching roles -- working out?

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
AP Photo/Tony DingNew OC Doug Nussmeier's top priority is fixing Michigan's offensive line.
Brian Bennett: Things definitely seem a lot smoother on defense. Jake Ryan adopted quickly to playing middle linebacker, and James Ross III is talented enough to play anywhere. Mark Smith picked a good time to take over the defensive line, as he'll have a pair of senior ends in Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and some nice young talent to work with in Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, etc. Throw Jabrill Peppers into the mix in the back end this summer, and this has a chance to be a very solid defense.

It's just a matter of whether the offense can keep up. The Wolverines are very young on that side of the ball, and the line is full of redshirt freshmen and sophomores right now. Mason Cole enrolled in January and was starting at left tackle in spring ball, which said a lot about the state of the position. Michigan's season likely depends on whether that O-line can come together and raise its collective level of play. There are some good-looking athletes at receiver and running back, but not many of them are proven. Many big questions remain in Ann Arbor.

AR: There are fewer questions at Michigan State. How did the defending Big Ten/Rose Bowl champs seem to be handling their success? And how are they replacing defensive standouts such as cornerback Darqueze Dennard?

BB: Several players told me they were sick of talking about the Rose Bowl, which is a good sign. I saw a team that could definitely repeat as Big Ten champions. The offense brings back most of its major pieces and will add new weapons suchas tight end Jamal Lyles and quarterback/athlete Damion Terry. The early-season scoring droughts of years past should not happen again this fall.

No doubt Pat Narduzzi's crew lost a lot -- four All-Big Ten defenders, plus both starting defensive tackles. Michigan State has a big experience gap to make up, especially at linebacker. But this is a program that just seems to reload on defense now and has recruited so well to its system. Guys like defensive tackle Joel Heath, defensive end Demetrius Cooper and safety Jalyn Powell all came on strong this spring. Three of the corners vying to replace Dennard had interceptions in the spring game. I have supreme confidence that Narduzzi will have this defense dominating again in 2014.

AR: Ohio State's defense has many more question marks after a rough 2013 campaign. The line should be terrific but how did the back seven look during your trip to Columbus? And how are new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson fitting into the mix? What else stood out about the Buckeyes?

BB: In my eyes, this is one of the most intriguing teams anywhere. The Buckeyes are almost frightfully young on offense outside of Braxton Miller and are breaking in lots of new players at linebacker and in the secondary. Yet they also have some impressive looking athletes and more overall explosiveness than the previous two seasons under Urban Meyer. Ash is installing a quarters coverage look, but maybe even more important is the fact that the safeties can really run and cover now. The revamped offensive line is a big question mark, as is the inexperience at receiver and the linebacker spot. But when you see young guys like linebacker Raekwon McMillan and tailback Curtis Samuel running around, you realize there aren't a lot of Big Ten teams that look like the Buckeyes.

Adam, you made it up to State College to check in on Penn State and new coach James Franklin. What's the vibe like up there?

AR: Electric. The charismatic staff has quickly formed bonds with the players, some of whom knew Franklin from the recruiting process. The defense should be better under Bob Shoop's leadership, as long as the starters stay healthy. There's decent depth up front and safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Jordan Lucas anchor the secondary. Linebacker Mike Hull is embracing his role as the unit's leader. Christian Hackenberg can really spin the ball -- very impressive. But can PSU protect him? No Big Ten team, including Ohio State, has bigger issues along the offensive line. Running back Bill Belton looked great, and I like the depth at tight end. Franklin is realistic about the depth issues and knows his team can't afford many more injuries.

You also visited Indiana this spring. How did the Hoosiers look, especially on defense with new coordinator Brian Knorr?

BB: You know the drill. Indiana could make some real noise if it could actually, you know, stop anybody. Knorr has them playing a 3-4, and hey have some major beef inside with the defensive tackles in 325-pounders Darius Latham and Ralph Green III. Ten starters are back and some promising recruits are on the way, so there's more depth on defense than before. But it's still a major construction project, and the offense might lose a little of its big-play ability as it tries to replace three of its top four receivers from a season ago.

OK, lightning-round finish. I still see Michigan State and Ohio State as the heavy favorites here, with Penn State a dark horse if its O-line issues can be solved. What about you?

AR: MSU is the team to beat because of the quarterback and the track record on defense. Ohio State definitely is in that mix, too. Michigan remains young at spots but could contend with a serviceable run game. Offensive line is a huge issue in this division. Sleeper-wise, I wouldn't count out Penn State, Indiana or Maryland, which could be dynamic on offense if it finally stays healthy.

Big Ten's lunch links

May, 1, 2014
May 1
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Howdy, May. There goes one more month out of the way before football season starts for real.
  • Michigan has an established weapon in Devin Funchess and a future star in Freddy Canteen, but questions still remain about the targets for the passing game.
  • The relationship began with a somewhat unusual request, and after 10 years together, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio reflects on his time with Pat Narduzzi.
  • David Jones writes that hiring James Franklin was a risk, and the developments this week suggest there's at least a chance more things could pop up with the Penn State coach.
  • Nick Saban went out of his way to praise the Big Ten and made sure he was quoted doing so during a stop in Ohio.
  • Get to know one of Ohio State's most valuable weapons on the recruiting trail -- a graphic designer.
  • Part of the apparent down cycle for the Big Ten can be traced to the ups and downs of the 2010 recruiting classes across the league. Sam McKewon takes a detailed look at the hits and misses.
  • A former Rutgers wide receiver is trying to make an impact elsewhere in the league, and Miles Shuler appears to be on track to give Northwestern a boost on offense.
  • Wisconsin would have preferred to keep its director of football operations, but now it will have to move quickly to fill a very important job to Gary Andersen.
  • The 2013 signing class is already starting to fill out the depth chart at Iowa.
  • Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel is scheduled for a public forum at Akron in his bid for the school's presidency.
Enjoy the Final Four. And for you Michigan fans out there, enjoy the spring game at the Big House.

Don't forget: Twitter!

To the inbox ...

Kenny from Cincy writes: I was comparing on-the-field accomplishments of the past two Ohio State QBs and I feel like Terrelle Pryor has had a better career (you know, despite crippling the program the next year but I feel like most in Buckeye land have forgiven him). Pryor: 3 Big Ten championships, a Rose Bowl win, and a Sugar Bowl win over a SEC team in three years (I know the games were vacated, but it did happen). Braxton Miller: 0-2 in bowls and 0 Big Ten championships, but two Silver Footballs and 24 wins in a row are nice. My question is, due to the expectations that QBs like Troy Smith and Pryor elevated, do you think Miller has to win a Big Ten championship or more this year or will the Braxton Miller years be seen as a failure in Buckeyes fans' eyes?

Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, this is a really interesting debate regarding each quarterback's legacy. There's no doubt Miller has accomplished more individually than Pryor. He could be the first Big Ten player to win three offensive player of the year awards. He likely would have won a Big Ten championship in 2012 if Ohio State had been eligible for postseason play, but when you look at macro team accomplishments -- league titles and BCS bowl wins -- Pryor definitely gets the edge. He likely was an ill-timed blitz away from having a third BCS bowl win in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas. One big difference is Pryor played on teams with much better defenses. Miller had several reasons to return for his senior season, and winning a Big Ten title certainly is one of them.


Joe from Phoenix writes: I don't understand everyone's love for a nine-game conference schedule. I do not believe rematches in college football are a good thing, as it makes the first game irrelevant. With a nine-game schedule, you almost guarantee a rematch in the championship game. Why not schedule one more "quality" nonconference game? That way all Big Ten schools have an opportunity to have one more win on their record, and look better for the bowl committees.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I hear you and it definitely increases the likelihood of a rematch in the Big Ten championship, but I also see the league's viewpoint. It wants a greater schedule rotation to enhance your product week after week. It wants players to face every league team at least once in a four-year period. I also think it's tricky to demand another quality nonleague game in place of the ninth Big Ten contest. Some schools would step up, but you need teams from other power conferences to play ball, too, which is no guarantee. I also think some schools would schedule cupcakes. Bowl committees rarely care about strength of schedule.


Joe from South Bend, Ind., writes: Adam, what was maybe one thing you found impressive with your visit to Happy Valley and was your one big takeaway?

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I'm very impressed with James Franklin's staff. They're very sharp guys who know how to keep the energy level high and relate well to a group of new players. Everyone knows that Franklin operates in fifth gear, but his assistants do, too, and there's tremendous cohesion with the staff. It would have been much harder if the staff lacked familiarity as it tried to get to know the players. My big takeaway: Penn State's defense is much further along than the offense, and the Lions likely will need to win low-scoring games this fall. Coordinator Bob Shoop has a good plan and inherits some good pieces. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a once-in-a-generation type quarterback, but he'll face more pressure this year because of the issues with the offensive line.


Kevin from Las Vegas writes: Is history the only thing that qualifies a team for elite status? Wisconsin is seen as a sleeper in the B1G, and two years ago they were "elite." Michigan and Ohio State would never be considered "sleepers," even after down years. Is this simply because of historic achievements (lots of national championships when Teddy Roosevelt was president), branding (our helmets have wings!), or lazy writers (not you guys, of course)? Do teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State or Iowa ever really have a shot of being elite because their legacy doesn't include deep history?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it's a good point to raise, especially because I think Michigan State is being overlooked heading into 2014 just because it hasn't been a traditional power. You hear a lot about Ohio State making a run for the College Football Playoff, but Michigan State dominated the Big Ten last year (nine wins by 10 or more points), won the Rose Bowl and brings back quarterback Connor Cook and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others. Wisconsin has gained national respect in the past 20-plus years, but the Badgers also recently lost three consecutive Rose Bowls, which hurt their cause. Iowa has had its moments but lacks the consistency of Wisconsin. Michigan State, meanwhile, really has it rolling under Mark Dantonio. At some point, the Spartans need to be viewed as elite for what's happening now, not in the past.


Charlie from Chicago writes: What recruits in the conference are due to have breakout seasons in their freshman year?

Adam Rittenberg: There are potentially quite a few this year, Charlie. Early enrollees have an advantage, so keep an eye on players such as Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, Michigan WR Freddy Canteen, Ohio State WR Johnnie Dixon and Penn State WR De'Andre Thompkins. Other potential impact recruits arriving in the summer include Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers (the Big Ten's top-rated recruit in the 2014 class), Illinois DE Jihad Ward (junior college transfer), Minnesota RB Jeff Jones and Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, whom Mark Dantonio gushed about Wednesday after he finally signed.
Our ultimate Big Ten road trip has made it to the final week of October. Time to get serious.

For those just joining in, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. We aren't tied down by a travel budget or nagging editors. If we want to attend a game -- depending on matchup, location, culinary offerings or any other factors -- we can go.

Here are the possibilities for Week 9:

Oct. 25

Maryland at Wisconsin
Michigan at Michigan State
Minnesota at Illinois
Ohio State at Penn State
Rutgers at Nebraska

Open date: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State at Penn State

Toughest choice so far. I really enjoy the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, and the 2014 game features several great storylines, including two of the nation's top assistants, MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi and Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, matching wits. But I'm heading to Happy Valley for two reasons: Ohio State and the atmosphere.

The Buckeyes' schedule has offered few must-see opportunities, but going more than two months without seeing a top Big Ten title -- and potential College Football Playoff -- contender doesn't make much sense. Quarterback Braxton Miller could be in the Heisman Trophy mix, and Ohio State's defense is trying to course-correct. Speaking of the Buckeyes defense, new line coach Larry Johnson makes his return to Penn State, where he spent the past 18 seasons as an assistant. Penn State fans love Johnson, but it will be tough for them to see him wearing Ohio State colors.

And then there's the atmosphere. Beaver Stadium at night is one of the best settings in college football. Although the prime-time schedule hasn't been set, I'll go out on a small limb and plan to see Ohio State and Penn State under the lights during a whiteout. Haven't been to one of those since 2009, so count me in. Lions fans have two weeks to gear up for this one, and campus will be buzzing. The matchup features two talented quarterbacks in Miller and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, and two of the league's most intriguing coaches in Urban Meyer and James Franklin, both of whom came to the Big Ten from the SEC.

I'll keep an eye on what happens in East Lansing, but I'm off to State College and not looking back.

Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan at Michigan State

This choice really comes down to East Lansing or State College, and if I end up at either place on Oct. 25, you won't find me complaining one bit. Both atmospheres should be silly good.

But while Ohio State-Penn State is sort of a rivalry, the Paul Bunyan game is a true old-fashioned hate fest, and that's why I want to be there. Michigan State has dominated this series of late and forced the Wolverines to adapt to its physical style. Michigan fans can't be too happy about going back to Spartan Stadium for a second straight season, but such is the quirk of the new schedules with the 14-team alignment.

Michigan hasn't scored more than 21 points in this game since 2007 and has managed just 32 points total in the past three years combined. So Devin Gardner & Co. have their work cut out for them against Narduzzi's defense. Nussmeier is trying to install a more physical, north-south running game this offseason, and never would that come in more handy than here. Don't forget this is still a division game, and there's no team Spartans fans love to beat than the maize and blue. It should be another intense installment of this rivalry, and I can't wait to see it.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska
Week 5: Brian at Cincinnati-Ohio State; Adam at Minnesota-Michigan
Week 6: Adam at Nebraska-Michigan State; Brian at Nebraska-Michigan State
Week 7: Brian at Penn State-Michigan; Adam at Northwestern-Minnesota
Week 8: Adam at Iowa-Maryland, Brian at Nebraska-Northwestern

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
4:00
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Today's Big Ten chat got a little testy at times, but we all made it through. Thanks again for your questions and participation. If you missed out, check out the full transcript.

To the highlights:

SK from NJ: Rutgers fan here, wondering what we should expect from Philip Nelson?

Adam Ritenberg: He's a guy who came to Minnesota with a lot of attention, showed some decent mobility at times this season but wasn't accurate enough. He didn't have a great receiving corps by any means, but his accuracy numbers down the stretch were a bit troubling. I'm interested to see how he develops under new Rutgers OC Ralph Friedgen.

Marty from The Tundra: Hey Adam! I was just curious what your takes are on which school has the overall coaching advantage? Dantonio and staff at MSU? Urban Meyer's staff at OSU or even Franklin's at Penn State or something else?

Adam Rittenberg: Meyer is still the only Big Ten coach who has won a national title (two, in fact), so I give him the nod over Dantonio, who has certainly made up ground. Ohio State's overall staff gets an edge against MSU's, although the Spartans have the best assistant of the bunch in Pat Narduzzi. Franklin and his staff are excellent recruiters, but they need to show they can win against the best Big Ten teams before I put them in the Meyer/Dantonio category. Vanderbilt made historic strides under Franklin but beat up on the bottom of the SEC.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is too good and he will get his chance to be a head coach before long.
Glenn from FL: Are you surprised Narduzzi is still coaching at MSU? It seems a lot of guys can't wait to get a head coaching job. Is he not being offered or is he turning offers down? Or does he prefer being a coordinator? It is much easier than being the head coach.

Adam Rittenberg: He had an opportunity at Connecticut that wasn't very good, in my opinion, and chose to remain at MSU. He interviewed for the Louisville job, but Petrino always was the target there. He had a good shot at Cincinnati last year before Tuberville suddenly became available. So it's a matter of time, in my view. Pat is brutally honest and maybe not as polished as some head coaches, but he has matured in recent years and seems ready to lead a program. I'd be surprised if he's still coordinating MSU's defense in two years.

Armond from Toledo: Why is everyone excited about OSU's 2 defensive coaching staff hires? It seems like people are excited like we just hired the Seahawks' DC. Michigan's OC hire was something to be excited about. These two guys have me skeptical.

Adam Rittenberg: Expand on that thought, Armond. Why does Nussmeier excite you more than Johnson and Ash? Because he came from Alabama? A lot of coordinators could have success with Alabama's personnel. Larry Johnson has been an exceptional defensive line coach for more than a decade. Chris Ash is a rising star who specializes in defensive back play, where Ohio State struggled so much a year ago. Nussmeier is a good hire, too, but I don't understand your concern about Johnson and Ash.

Jim from Chicago: If the B1G ten doesn't end up with an undefeated team, chances they have a representative in the play off next year?

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, we addressed this a bit earlier. It all depends on what happens elsewhere, but I don't see too many 1-loss Big Ten teams making the playoff. Michigan State certainly could. Perhaps Ohio State or Wisconsin another team that racks up some impressive wins despite one setback. It would need to be a close loss, ideally early in the season, for a Big Ten team to overcome and still reach the playoff.

Thanks again for the questions. Let's do it again soon.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. Today we take a look at the rising salaries for assistants and whether a $1 million coordinator is on the horizon in the league.

In the days leading up to the Discover Orange Bowl earlier this month, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris received nearly as much attention as the head coaches in the game.

That was because of Morris' ties to Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and the high-powered Tigers offense he engineered. Plus, Morris was already being paid like a head coach.

In part because of Meyer's reported interest in hiring Morris in December 2011, Morris is the nation's highest-paid assistant coach at $1.3 million annually. But he's not alone in the $1 million coordinator club. LSU's John Chavis and Alabama's Kirby Smart also made more than seven figures as assistants in 2013, and Louisville recently lured defensive coordinator Todd Grantham away from Georgia with a five-year contract worth $1 million annually.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsAt incoming Big Ten program Rutgers, head coach Kyle Flood barely makes more than at least one Big Ten coordinator.
The Big Ten has yet to take the plunge and cross the $1 million mark for an assistant coach. But there's little doubt that the pay for top coordinators is on the rise, and so is the league's investment in them.

"I think it’s imminent," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I don’t know when, but I think it’s imminent. Whether that's two years from now or four years from now, it’s highly possible you'll see that in our league."

Some are not that far away now. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant at $851,000 per year. The Wolverines recently hired Doug Nussmeier away from Alabama as their offensive coordinator, and while his salary hasn't been disclosed yet, athletic director Dave Brandon has said it won't exceed Mattison's. Nussmeier was making $681,500 at Alabama.

Those numbers are compiled through open records requests and public information. But Brandon told ESPN.com that because contracts often include things like performance and longevity bonuses and deferred payments, "under certain scenarios, we've got coordinators now who could make over $1 million [in 2014]."

The $1 million mark is an arbitrary one in many ways. Brandon does not see an issue with surpassing it.

"Coordinator positions are very important, and when you look at what they are being paid in the pro ranks and in other conferences, the market has taken those positions up," he said. "If you're going to make a big investment in your head coach, you’ve got to back that investment up with the people around him to really bring it all together."

The arms race in college sports used to center on facilities. But now that just about every campus has upgraded every building imaginable and the construction crews are running out of projects, pay for assistant coaches seems to be the new frontier.

Consider that in 2010, the highest-paid Big Ten assistant coach was Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, at just more than $475,000. The increased commitment can really be seen at Ohio State, where in 2008, the Buckeyes did not pay a single Jim Tressel assistant more than $275,000. Now, Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell makes $610,000 and offensive coordinator Tom Herman earns $555,000. The Buckeyes just hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas as their co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at a salary of $520,000, and they're paying new defensive line coach Larry Johnson $400,000.

"It’s crazy," Smith said. "Stakes are higher. The revenue’s gotten bigger. So you see those assistant coaches who are extremely talented being compensated consistent with their skills. It’s blown up. And I’m not so sure it’s going to slow down.

"It’s just market-driven. It's really not unlike any other industry. Any industry or large corporation is going to pay whatever the market is for their top CFO or top COO or whatever the top positions are that they're trying to fill on their executive team. A head football coach is a CEO. And his executive team is his assistants."

That's fine for rich programs such as Ohio State and Michigan. Or Nebraska, which paid offensive coordinator Tim Beck $700,000 last year. But can every Big Ten school afford to reward its assistants like captains of industry? Consider that Clemson's Morris made more in base pay in 2013 than two Big Ten head coaches (Minnesota's Jerry Kill and Indiana's Kevin Wilson). Incoming Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood makes only $9,000 more per year than Mattison.

"It’s challenging, especially for a program like Indiana, where we have a smaller stadium, we don’t fill it," Indiana athletic director Fred Glass told ESPN.com. "So it’s tough to compete."

"I guess one of the questions is, where does it level off?," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner told ESPN.com. "It depends on the revenue structure. If the revenue goes up and the investment causes a return that’s worthwhile, maybe things do continue to escalate, and particularly at schools that are able to financially support their programs so that it’s not a burden on the general funds."

Then again, few investments can have a more direct impact on the actual football product than paying top dollar for a truly elite coordinator. Michigan State surely doesn't regret the $558,000 it paid to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi last year; one could argue he would be underpaid even at $1 million.

It won't be long until a Big Ten assistant gets there.

"We’re going to see it," Smith said. "Especially at places like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State -- the big stadiums, so to speak. It’s going to end up being here at some point. "

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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Penn State must be cramming a century's worth of silly seasons into one. Welcome to the party.
  • The search for a coach at Penn State is overshadowing another important vacancy at the school, one that will have an impact that's more than just on the football field.
  • An evening flight back to town for Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner drew a crowd, but it didn't bring a resolution just yet for filling the void left by Bill O'Brien's departure.
  • Michigan started a busy day of its own on the coaching front by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges after the Wolverines finished No. 47 in scoring last season.
  • Brady Hoke capped the day by snatching away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier just a few hours later to quickly move on from Borges.
  • Vonn Bell was given the chance to show his stuff in a meaningful game at the Discover Orange Bowl, and it confirmed how bright the Ohio State safety's future is with the program.
  • The possible hiring of Bobby Petrino at Louisville is another bullet dodged if Michigan State is going to hang on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was once again a prime candidate for an attractive job.
  • The fake Bo Pelini speaks.
  • The projections of his draft stock aren't all that high, but Indiana receiver Cody Latimer felt he was ready for the next level and isn't looking back on his decision.
  • Maryland lost its second assistant since the regular season ended to a head-coaching job after wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Lee Hull left for Morgan State. The Terrapins currently have three vacancies on the staff as they prepare for their first season in the Big Ten.
  • Purdue will have a minor behind-the-scenes shakeup after assistant recruiting coordinator Kevin Maurice, credited by coach Darrell Hazell for his work in the transition a year ago, left for a job at North Dakota.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 6, 2014
Jan 6
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Sure, it'd be fun to actually cover a national title game, but it's not every year you get a day like this in Chicago. Yeah, I know you're jealous.

To the links ...

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 3, 2014
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Eventful week in the Big Ten so far, and bowl season wraps up tonight in South Florida.

Time to check the mail ...

Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam -It was great to see Coach Dantonio finish out the season with a Rose Bowl win. His team's effort reminded me a lot of OSU's defense the year they won the NC game. I also like seeing him getting a huge raise. But what does it say, 1) to Texas, and 2) to MSU, their fan base, and the players that Dantonio turned down overtures there? Granted, I'm sure he isn't the only coach being contacted, but the fact that he'd just plain turn down interest in the role has to say something significant.

Adam Rittenberg: The most significant development is that Michigan State will pay Dantonio like the top-tier coach that he is. Not enough Big Ten programs are willing to invest the ridiculous sums of money they earn every year into winning football championships. I know money isn't everything, but it shows the commitment to head coaches and top assistants like Pat Narduzzi, who also should get a big raise after another superb season. Dantonio's loyalty to MSU has never really been in doubt. He told me years ago the only job he'd leave for is Ohio State -- when Jim Tressel was still there. But I didn't know if MSU would make the necessary financial commitment, and it appears as though it will.

Joe from South Bend, Ind., writes: Adam,Maybe I am biased. But I can't help but feel that the notion of "JoeBots" caused O'Brien to leave, a bit disingenuous. Why aren't the fans allowed to be upset when, Ron Vanderlinden, the recruiter and developer of All-American, All-Pro and Pro Bowl linebackers - Bowman, Lee, Poz, Connor, etc - was fired? Also, wouldn't Alabama fans, despite the amazing record of Saban, react harshly if Saban tried to change Alabama's historic uniforms? This narrative seems so forced to me. Most Penn State fans are more than supportive of O'Brien. Even the great coaches can be the subject of legitimate criticisms.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, the Joe Paterno supporters weren't the reason O'Brien took the Texans job. He came to Penn State as a coach likely to jump to the NFL and jumped after two years. I'm not surprised and most Penn State fans shouldn't be, either. Fans absolutely have the right to question decisions like dismissing Vanderlinden, which left several Big Ten coaches puzzled. Being upset about the uniforms thing is a little less understandable, as O'Brien made changes with good intentions in mind. I agree that the large majority of PSU fans supported O'Brien, but he also was in a stressful situation after the way things ended with Paterno. But his exit had much more to do with the allure of the NFL.

Steve M. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, which loss on Ohio State's D is more crippling...Bradley Roby or Noah Spence?

Adam Rittenberg: It's sort of a chicken-and-egg question because if Spence pressures Clemson's Tajh Boyd, he has less time to attack a Roby-less secondary. Then again, Roby is capable of matching up against Clemson's talented wide receivers. You can replace good pass rushers, and I wouldn't say Spence is an elite one just yet. It's very hard to replace standout corners like Roby.

Matt from Plymouth, Minn.: Hey Adam,With Jeff Jones getting even more exposure from winning the MVP honors at the Under Armour All-America Game, is there any way he will actually end up signing a letter of intent with the Gophers, especially given that he's already softened his commitment? It would be huge for the program if they could convince him to stay in his home state.

Adam Rittenberg: It's going to be tough, Matt, as the higher-profile programs are swarming now. Michigan offered today, and Jones will take an official visit to Florida later this month. Minnesota can sell staying local and helping the Gophers reach new heights, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jones signed elsewhere. He would be a great get for Minnesota, which loses too many of its elite prep prospects (James Onwualu, Seantrel Henderson, Michael Floyd) to other programs.

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: When people question how tough the B1G bowl lineup is, you should point out that we were the only one of the 5 power conferences to play nothing but power conference teams in bowls. A few MWC, AAC, C-USA, or MAC matchups would definitely help the record!Also, I hope you plan to make some mention in the blog about Gordon/White breaking the record for rushing yards by teammates in a season, and also the first ever pair of 1,400 yard rushers on the same team. Quite an achievement! That said, I wouldn't be shocked if Gordon/Clement do just as well next year.

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I've argued for years that the Big Ten's bowl lineup is way too difficult given the league's current state and the locations of games. I don't think you need to face a bunch of teams from non-power conferences, but a little more ACC wouldn't hurt. The new lineup is much better overall. I admire commissioner Jim Delany's desire to play the best, but perception is based more on wins, not who you play. Thanks for bringing up James White and Melvin Gordon, who had excellent seasons and worked well together. I agree that the Gordon-Corey Clement combination next year will be very good.

Will from Walcott, Iowa, writes: Big Hawkeye fan. Disappointed in the outcome in the Outback Bowl, a game we could have won. However, the thing that bothered me the most in this game was the flagrant fake injuries the LSU players were displaying late in the game. I counted at least 3 times an LSU player was on the ground in "agony" only to to be back in one play later jumping and hopping around like nothing happened. I think Les Miles should be reprimanded for allowing this un-sportsman like conduct to go on. I see this happening more and more in college football. Is there anything that can be done to stop it?

Adam Rittenberg: There's not much that can be done, as it's hard to conclusively prove that the injuries, however benign they might be, are conclusively fake. I know Iowa fans aren't laughing, but isn't it a bit funny that we're talking about a defense faking injuries to slow down the Hawkeyes' offense? I couldn't believe it when they made the defensive substitution ruling. Against an Iowa offense? Somewhere, Chip Kelly was chuckling. But the fake injuries are an unfortunate part of the game today. It's on officials' radar, but I'm not sure how they'll go about stopping it. I agree that Iowa could have won that game.

Nick from Sparta writes: Adam, Alright, since it hasn't been discussed enough the last few years. Any chance, that with the recent, and now reasonably prolonged Spartan success, that the divisions will be realigned? Looking at the last few years, the divisions seem incredibly unbalanced, with HUGE schedule favoritism to Wisc and Neb. Any chance?

Adam Rittenberg: No chance, Nick. The Big Ten based the original alignment on long-term results and the most recent one on geography. The East certainly looks loaded, but only if Michigan improves substantially and Penn State gets back on track. That looks like a two-team race -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- in 2014.
Two winters ago, the Big Ten had an unprecedented 40 coaching changes. Three teams replaced their head coaches, and three others replaced three or more assistants.

Last year's coaching carousel wasn't quite as packed, although eight of the 12 teams made at least one change, and Purdue had a complete staff overhaul. There were 32 changes in all, including nine at the coordinator level.

It's still early in the so-called silly season, and a big coaching domino just fell in Austin, Texas, but the Big Ten coaching realm has been relatively quiet so far (operative phrase: so far). The departures of Penn State assistants Charlie Fisher and Ron Vanderlinden are the only confirmed coaching changes in the league.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsNFL teams have their eyes on coach Bill O'Brien, but it's tough to say if he is ready or willing to leave Penn State just yet.
The Big Ten could avoid a head-coaching change for the first time since after the 2009 season. Athletic directors Mike Thomas (Illinois), Shawn Eichorst (Nebraska) and Dave Brandon (Michigan) have affirmed support for their head coaches. Eichorst's statement released Nov. 30 didn't explicitly say coach Bo Pelini would return for the 2014 season, but it suggested as much.

Eichorst also shot down the claim from Mack Brown's attorney that a Nebraska representative had contacted him about Brown's services.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who is 41-12 in the past four seasons, has been mentioned as a fringe candidate for the Texas job. But Dantonio, who was born in Texas but grew up in Ohio, seems unlikely to leave a great situation at MSU, especially with a sizable raise coming his way. His boss, athletic director Mark Hollis, said Monday that he has "every reason to believe" Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi both will return in 2014.

Potentially the only head-coaching drama in the Big Ten surrounds Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who last month completed his second winning season at the school despite heavy NCAA sanctions. O'Brien, who came to Penn State from the NFL's New England Patriots, talked with several NFL teams about coaching vacancies after the 2012 season but opted to stay put.

CBSsports.com's Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans are interested in O'Brien -- the Washington Redskins soon could be, too -- and that O'Brien is ready to return to the NFL.

It's the belief here and elsewhere that O'Brien will head to the NFL, but potentially not right away. He has one of the nation's top young quarterbacks at Penn State in Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten freshman of the year, and likes having his family in Happy Valley. The NCAA reduced some of its scholarship sanctions against Penn State in September, and it's possible the final two years of the postseason ban will be eliminated. Wouldn't O'Brien like to compete for a Big Ten title with Hackenberg before returning to the NFL? Stay tuned.

Many assistant coach changes take place after the bowl season, but early indications are the Big Ten will remain relatively stable. After replacing two-thirds of his staff last winter, Illinois' Tim Beckman is expected to keep the same group of assistants for a make-or-break run in 2014. Northwestern was the Big Ten's biggest disappointment this season, but Pat Fitzgerald intends to keep his staff intact for the fourth straight year.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has yet to make any staff changes despite another horrific season on defense, although some still could be coming. Michigan’s Brady Hoke doesn't anticipate making changes despite increased criticism for offensive coordinator Al Borges and line coach Darrell Funk. Pelini has been extremely loyal to his staff, and it's unlikely we'll see much movement at Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Even some of the Big Ten's top assistants might not be going anywhere. Narduzzi, who reportedly declined the head-coaching job at Connecticut, could remain at Michigan State for another year as more attractive jobs likely will open next year both regionally and nationally. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who masterfully led the team during Jerry Kill's health-related absence, has received interest elsewhere but doesn't sound like he's ready to leave Kill after two decades on his staff.

Anyone who follows the silly season knows there's a long way to go. We even saw a coaching change after spring practice began, as Jim Bridge went from Illinois to Purdue. It's naive to think more aren't coming around the Big Ten.

Several Ohio State assistants have been mentioned for other jobs, although two landing spots -- Miami (Ohio) and Florida Atlantic -- are off the board. Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner, the team's best assistant in my view, has been mentioned as a potential candidate at Army, where he spent 13 seasons.

Expect some shuffling in the coming weeks and months, but the Big Ten likely won't approach the big numbers of the past two winters. It'll be interesting to see how the relative stability impacts the on-field results in 2014.

Big Ten's lunch links

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

3-point stance: Brown in good company

December, 11, 2013
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1. Mack Brown has won 158 games and one national championship in 16 seasons at Texas. That’s two more victories than the three coaches who preceded him (Fred Akers, David McWilliams and John Mackovic) combined to win in 22 seasons. It’s nine fewer than Brown’s mentor and role model, the late Darrell Royal, won in Austin. Brown might not want to resign, but I’d bet he’s fine with being second to Royal.

2. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi won the 2013 Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach. Narduzzi said recently that he is ready to be a head coach, and he will get the opportunity. Eight of the previous 15 Broyles winners have become head coaches, including Gus Malzahn at Auburn. Five have had at least one 10-win season. But four of the eight (Ralph Friedgen, Mark Mangino, Gene Chizik, and Randy Shannon) have come and gone in the head coaching business. 50-50? Sounds about right.

3. I interviewed senior guard John Urschel at Penn State last spring for a piece on replacing the senior leadership that helped the Nittany Lions get through the last year’s scandal. Urschel is not only a good player and an eloquent spokesman; he’s a grad student in math with a 4.0 and teaches undergraduate engineering students. In other words, he was a slam dunk to win the Campbell Trophy (the Academic Heisman), awarded by the National Football Foundation last night in New York.

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Adam Rittenberg explains what's wrong with the Big Ten conference and whether or not the conference is doing anything to reverse its downward trajectory.
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