Big Ten: Arkansas Razorbacks

National links: Calm before the storm 

November, 25, 2014
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Let’s just get this out of the way: Last week in college football was kind of dull.

Unless, that is, you’re into watching the single-game FBS rushing record fall for the second straight Saturday. (So who breaks it this week?) Yes, last week was dull, unless, of course, you’re into Florida State’s weekly high-wire act, re-awakenings at Arkansas and Minnesota or UCLA’s continued stranglehold on Los Angeles.

My point is, the latest set of games didn’t significantly impact the College Football Playoff picture -- at least in comparison to the past few weeks. Barring some craziness at the selection-committee table, the top four on Tuesday night is going to look no different than last week’s edition.

But Week 13 was simply the calm before the storm. Not so sure? Check out first nine paragraphs Gene Wojciechowski’s BMOC column. The rocky road to Dec. 9 is enough to make a fan of any playoff contender choke on his or her turkey dinner.

And it starts in two days.

This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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Position U: Running backs

June, 17, 2014
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Who really deserves to claim the title of "Running Back U" for the 2000s?

1. Arkansas (104 points)
In perhaps the biggest upset at any position, Arkansas can call itself “Running Back U” for the 2000s. Certainly Darren McFadden played the biggest role in the Razorbacks’ claim, but he got an assist from Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Those former backfield mates are among six Arkansas running backs who have been drafted since 2001, helping the Hogs barely edge Oklahoma for the top spot.

Award winners: McFadden, Walker (2006, 2007), Camp (2007).
Consensus All-Americans: McFadden (2006, 2007).
First-team all-conference: Fred Talley (2002), Cedric Cobbs (2003), Darren McFadden (2005, 2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2008), McFadden (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Cobbs (Round 4, 2004), Knile Davis (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Hillis (Round 7, 2008), Kiero Small (Round 7, 2014).

2. Oklahoma (102 points)
When someone like Adrian Peterson has been on your campus, you have to start there when discussing Oklahoma running backs. But one of the main reasons the Sooners racked up such a considerable point total is the Big 12’s unusual practice of honoring fullbacks on its all-conference team. In addition to the Petersons and DeMarco Murrays, there are also several blocking backs included in the Sooners’ 12 all-conference running backs who made our list.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Peterson (2004).
First-team all-conference: Quentin Griffin (2002), Peterson (2004, 2005, 2006), J.D. Runnels (2005), Brody Eldridge (2007), DeMarco Murray (2008, 2010), Matt Clapp (2008), Trey Millard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Peterson (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Griffin (Round 4, 2003), Murray (Round 3, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Runnels (Round 6, 2006), Patrick (Round 7, 2008), Trey Millard (Round 7, 2014).

3. Alabama (100 points)
Arkansas’ Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had better pick it up this season, or the Alabama train is going to roll to the top spot. The Crimson Tide once again has one of the nation’s most talented backfields with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry set to join the likes of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy as top point producers from Alabama.

Award winners: Ingram, Heisman (2009); Richardson, Walker (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011).
First-team all-conference: Kenneth Darby (2005), Ingram (2009), Richardson (2011), Lacy (2012), Yeldon (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Ingram (2011), Richardson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Le’Ron McClain (Round 4, 2007), Glen Coffee (Round 3, 2009), Lacy (Round 2, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ahmaad Galloway (Round 7, 2003), Darby (Round 7, 2007), Brad Smelley (Round 7, 2012).

4. Auburn (86 points)
Auburn hasn’t been as flashy as its in-state rival -- the Tigers don’t have a single award winner or consensus All-American in the 2000s -- but few schools have been as consistent at developing solid tailbacks. Perhaps the most memorable names are the stars from the undefeated 2004 team -- Ronnie Brown and Carnell “Cadillac” Williams -- but Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, Ben Tate and Tre Mason all made big impacts at Auburn, as well.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2000), Williams (2003, 2004), Brown (2004), Irons (2005, 2006), Michael Dyer (2011), Mason (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brown (2005), Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Heath Evans (Round 3, 2001), Johnson (Round 4, 2001), Irons (Round 2, 2007), Tate (Round 2, 2010), Mason (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jay Prosch (Round 6, 2014).

4. Wisconsin (86 points)
Montee Ball is Wisconsin’s only major award winner and consensus All-America tailback from the 2000s, but the Badgers have an impressive tradition of turning out 1,000-yard rushers. Among the program’s top producers from this era are 2001 first-round pick Michael Bennett, Brian Calhoun and Anthony Davis, among others. Ball posted huge yardage and touchdown totals in 2011 and 2012 -- which explains why he was a two-time All-American and won the 2012 Doak Walker Award -- but it’s the run of consistency at running back that makes Wisconsin a producer of top rushers.

Award winners: Ball, Walker (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Ball (2011, 2012).
First-team all-conference: Davis (2001), Calhoun (2005), P.J. Hill (2006), John Clay (2009), Ball (2011, 2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bennett (2001).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Calhoun (Round 3, 2006), Ball (Round 2, 2013), James White (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Davis (Round 7, 2005), Bradie Ewing (Round 5, 2012).

6. Oregon (82 points)
Although the Ducks have ranked among the nation’s top programs over the past half-decade, LaMichael James’ 2010 Doak Walker Award is the only major award that an Oregon player has won at any position in the 2000s. James is the Ducks’ top point producer out of the backfield in recent years, but they also won points with backs like Maurice Morris and Onterrio Smith before Chip Kelly’s rushing attack turned Oregon into the offensive juggernaut that we see today.

Award winners: James, Walker (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: James (2010), Kenjon Barner (2012).
First-team all-conference: Smith (2002), Jonathan Stewart (2007), James (2010, 2011), Barner (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Stewart (2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Morris (Round 2, 2002), Smith (Round 4, 2003), LaMichael James (Round 2, 2012), De’Anthony Thomas (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Barner (Round 6, 2013).

7. USC (78 points)
Reggie Bush was actually a two-time All-American, but we aren’t factoring the 2004 nod he received because that was as an all-purpose player, not a running back. Nonetheless, Bush’s standout 2005 season was the main points driver as the Trojans cracked the top 10 largely because of the former No. 2 overall NFL pick’s accomplishments. It bears mentioning, however, that USC has already had eight running backs drafted in the 2000s.

Award winners: Bush, Heisman (2005), Camp (2005), Walker (2005).
Consensus All-Americans: Bush (2005).
First-team all-conference: Bush (2004, 2005).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bush (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Fargas (Round 3, 2003), LenDale White (Round 2, 2006), Joe McKnight (Round 4, 2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Malaefou Mackenzie (Round 7, 2003), David Kirtman (Round 5, 2006), Allen Bradford (Round 6, 2011), Stanley Havili (Round 7, 2011).

8. Penn State (72 points)
Larry Johnson’s huge 2002 season accounts for much of Penn State’s point production -- he generated 52 points between winning three national awards, becoming a consensus All-American, winning first-team all-conference honors and getting drafted in the 2003 first round -- but the Nittany Lions have had five running backs drafted and Evan Royster also won all-conference honors in 2009.

Award winners: Johnson, Camp (2002), Maxwell (2002), Walker (2002).
Consensus All-Americans: Johnson (2002).
First-team all-conference: Johnson (2002), Royster (2009).
NFL first-round draft picks: Johnson (2003).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Omar Easy (Round 4, 2002), Michael Robinson (Round 4, 2006), Tony Hunt (Round 3, 2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Royster (Round 6, 2011).

9. Oklahoma State (70 points)
There’s nothing flashy about Oklahoma State’s point production here. No national awards, and just Kendall Hunter among its All-Americans. But the Cowboys have been outstanding at producing all-conference running backs, with Hunter (twice) and Tatum Bell ranking among their eight backs who made the coaches’ first team.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Hunter (2010.
First-team all-conference: Bell (2003), Dantrell Savage (2007), Hunter (2008, 2010), Keith Toston (2009), Bryant Ward (2009, 2010), Joseph Randle (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Bell (Round 2, 2004), Vernand Morency (Round 3, 2005), Hunter (Round 4, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Randle (Round 5, 2013).

10. California (66 points)
Considering how Cal shares a conference with splashy programs like Oregon and USC, perhaps it’s understandable that its success developing tailbacks might fly a bit under the radar. But just look at the Bears’ résumé, starting with Marshawn Lynch, Jahvid Best and J.J. Arrington. There have been some enormously productive tailbacks who got their start in Berkeley.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Arrington (2004).
First-team all-conference: Adimchinobe Echemandu (2003), Arrington (2004), Lynch (2006), Justin Forsett (2007), Best (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Lynch (2007), Best (2010).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Arrington (Round 2, 2005), Shane Vereen (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Echemandu (Round 7, 2004), Forsett (Round 7, 2008).

10. Virginia Tech (66 points)
Frank Beamer’s Hokies are another bunch who trotted out productive tailback after productive tailback. Virginia Tech hasn’t won a national award and has only Kevin Jones among its All-America backs, but its list of all-conference backs -- including first-round picks Jones and David Wilson, along with Lee Suggs, Brandon Orr and Ryan Williams -- features some players whose running abilities fit perfectly with Beamer’s winning formula in Blacksburg.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jones (2003).
First-team all-conference: Suggs (2000), Jones (2003), Orr (2006), Williams (2009), Wilson (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jones (2004), Wilson (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Suggs (Round 4, 2003), Williams (Round 2, 2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jarrett Ferguson (Round 7, 2002), Cedric Humes (Round 7, 2006).

REST OF “RUNNING BACK U” RANKINGS
62 -- Boston College; 60 -- Michigan, Ohio State; 58 -- Stanford; 56 -- LSU, Miami; 52 -- Georgia Tech, Oregon State; 50 -- West Virginia; 48 -- BYU; 44 -- Arizona, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, TCU; 42 -- Texas; 40 -- Clemson, Iowa, Nebraska; 36 -- Kansas State, Rutgers; 32 -- Georgia, Minnesota; 28 -- Florida State, Louisville, Tennessee, UCLA; 26 -- Illinois, Maryland, Syracuse; 24 -- Virginia; 20 -- Colorado, North Carolina; 18 -- Baylor, Mississippi State, Wake Forest; 16 -- Florida, Northwestern, Washington, Washington State; 14 -- Ole Miss, South Carolina, Texas Tech; 12 -- Iowa State, Kentucky; 10 -- Kansas, N.C. State, Texas A&M; 8 -- Missouri, Utah; 6 -- Arizona State, Duke, Indiana, Notre Dame; 2 -- Vanderbilt
From official visits past and future to a commitment, the Big Ten was buzzing with headlines this week.

Here’s a look at a few programs that highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.

Boiler Up


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The Early Offer: Robinson's impact 

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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Cameron RobinsonGreg Ostendorf/ESPNFriday's decision by offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the No. 3 prospect in the ESPN 300, between LSU and Alabama could foreshadow the last five months of the 2014 cycle.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Cameron Robinson announces on Friday and his pick could go a long way toward determining who has the No. 1 class, TE DeAndre Goolsby is quickly climbing the charts of many recruiters, and Elijah Hood’s decision could help UNC lure one of nation’s top surprise classes.

Decision day set for Robinson
One of the most significant recruiting battles of the 2014 class will come to close Friday when the nation’s No. 3 overall player Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe) announces his decision. Robinson, a five-star prospect, is a franchise offensive tackle that only comes around once every few classes, and the battle between LSU and Alabama is one that could set the tone for the rest of the recruiting season. If LSU lands him, then it could help the Tigers run the table with other high profile in-state recruits like No. 1-ranked Leonard Fournette. That type of run could help the Tigers unseat the Tide from the top spot in the class rankings that it’s held for the last two years. If Alabama lands him, then the Tide basically locks up another No. 1 class with more than five months left in the recruiting calendar. Most projections, including RecruitingNation’s Hot Board, have Robinson leaning towards Alabama.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
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Wishing you a great weekend. We'll recap all the spring games on Monday, so be sure to check in early and often.

To the emails ...

Michael from South Sioux City, Neb., writes: If Taylor Martinez puts up HUGE passing numbers, say 65% pass completion, 3,000+ yards passing and lowers his INT's, what would his heisman chances be? And will he ever be given a shot to play QB in the NFL?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Martinez certainly could be on the Heisman radar if he improves upon his already strong 2012 numbers and, as you mention, cuts down on his turnovers (not just interceptions but fumbles, too). He has national name recognition, which is critically important for the Heisman, and leads an offense that could be one of the nation's best. Martinez will have to separate himself as the Big Ten's best quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller obviously is in the mix, too -- and perform big in Nebraska's biggest games, which come mostly in November. I think Martinez has an NFL future, but I'd be very surprised if it's at quarterback. Although his mechanics are a lot better than they were two years ago, they're nowhere near as polished as they need to be for a league that wants quarterbacks with no glitches in their throwing motion.




Ryan from Surprise, Ariz., writes: With the expanding conference there is a need for more conference games. I've read the B1G is considering going to 9 or even 10 conference games with the goal that each team will play all of the other teams at least twice every 6 years or something like that. I'm wondering if they are considering rotating between 9 conference games two out of every 4 years and 10 conference games the other two out of every 4 years as an option at all. That way, with the 14 teams next year, each team would be able to play all of the other teams at least twice every 4 years. If the conference ever expands to 16 then it would require 10 conference games every year to maintain the same rotation. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, you present an interesting schedule model, but I haven't heard anything about the Big Ten rotating between a 9- and 10-game conference schedules in the future. From talking with multiple athletic directors and other league sources, the 9-game league schedule is all but finalized and will begin in the 2016 season (8-game schedule will remain in 2014 and 2015). Although there's some support for a 10-game league slate, it's just too ambitious at the moment, especially with the unknowns about the college football playoff. If and when the Big Ten expands to 16, the 10-game league schedule once again will get serious consideration.




Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: So with the draft coming up in 2 weeks, normally I'm looking forward to seeing which Hawkeyes are going to the next level. However looking over this group of guys on the block, I don't see a single one hitting an NFL practice field. question 1: your take on when and where they might go and question 2: when was the last time Iowa didn't send a single player to the NFL

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, while Iowa doesn't have its typical stable of NFL prospects this year, I think you're being a little pessimistic. Cornerback Micah Hyde and quarterback James Vandenberg were the only Hawkeyes players at the NFL combine, and while neither is a high-level prospect, I expect both to find their way into camps this summer. Hyde could be a late-round selection in the draft. Although Vandenberg had a lousy senior season, it had a lot to do with the system change. Could wideout Keenan Davis make a team? He'd have to really impress folks in individual workouts, but NFL scouts love Iowa players. The Hawkeyes have had at least five players selected in each of the past three drafts (2010, 2011, 2012). The last NFL draft not to include an Iowa player? 1977. Could we see that streak end this year? It's possible, but I think Hyde's name will be called.

(Read full post)

If you follow former Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema on Twitter, as I do, you'll learn about Arkansas' recruiting efforts, new additions to the Razorbacks' coaching staff and even Bielema's wife's favorite TV show, "The Bachelor."

But Bielema's Twitter timeline also shows he hasn't completely turned the page on his old job or the Wisconsin fans expressing their, well, displeasure with him. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dave Heller details here, Bielema has responded to his critics on Twitter for the past month or so.

Bielema fired off several tweets Sunday, telling one person who asked to see his Rose Bowl trophy to "enjoy life alone." Even Bielema's wife, Jen, got into it on her Twitter page, responding to a Wisconsin reporter who likened the New England Patriots clock management skills to Bret Bielema's at Wisconsin. When a Twitter user questioned why Bielema and his wife don't just move on, Bret Bielema responded that they have and then responded to the same user's unrelated tweet about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Weird.

I love it that coaches like Bielema tweet and, on occasion, interact with the fans. Perhaps more than any Big Ten coach, Bielema grasped the changing media environment, the role the media plays and how social media fit into things. More than once he referred me to his Twitter page for status updates on injured players. Was he thin-skinned at Wisconsin? Maybe a little, but not more so than other coaches I've covered. Much of the ire Badgers fans had for Bielema -- and perhaps vice-versa -- spilled out only after Bielema's surprising departure for Arkansas on Dec. 4.

Bottom line: these Twitter spats come across as extremely petty and unnecessary.

As someone who deals with a ton of criticism in his job and has made the mistake of entering some battles on Twitter, my advice for Bielema is it just isn't worth the time. You can't win.

Imagine if other coaches -- say, Illinois' Tim Beckman, who is relentlessly positive on Twitter -- responded to their critics in a public forum? I guarantee it wouldn't help their cause.

If this is how Bielema handles haters from Wisconsin, I can only imagine how he'll respond to the even-keeled, never-extreme group of folks known as Arkansas fans. Good luck with that.

UW's Ash to join Bielema at Arkansas

December, 11, 2012
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Bret Bielema is taking one of Wisconsin's top assistants with him to Arkansas.

Badgers defensive coordinator Chris Ash will join Bielema in the same role with the Razorbacks, Arkansas announced Tuesday night. Ash will remain with Wisconsin through the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO on Jan. 1 against Stanford.

"I am excited to welcome Chris to our staff," Bielema said in a prepared statement. "In the last three years working together, I gained a great respect for the way Chris teaches the game and develops student-athletes. I've followed his career for a long time, and his knowledge of the way we run our program and specifically the defense will be valuable for us moving forward in our transition. Chris helped us improve drastically in our pass defense at Wisconsin where his defenses consistently ranked in the top 25 nationally in all the major categories."

Ash did a terrific job in two seasons as the Badgers' defensive coordinator after taking over for Dave Doeren. Wisconsin's defense ranks in the top 25 nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense and pass-efficiency defense this season.

His departure isn't a huge surprise, as Wisconsin doesn't have a permanent head coach and Ash appeared likely to be in high demand. There was some talk he'd join Doeren at NC State, but he's off to Hog Country.
It's official: Arkansas has hired Bret Bielema to be its next head football coach.

Here are some statements on Bielema's departure from Wisconsin and his arrival with the Razorbacks.

Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez

"I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas. He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.

"I have a responsibility to our student-athletes, our football family and our fans, one that I take very seriously. It is my responsibility to ensure that the football program continues at a high level, and I have already started the process of trying to find a new head coach.

"Along with finding a new coach, my other main objective is to make sure that our student-athletes, specifically our seniors playing in their final game as Badgers, have a tremendous experience in the Rose Bowl. We will do everything within our power to make that happen."

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long

"Bret Bielema is an exceptional leader of young men and an outstanding football coach who has proven his program is centered on establishing an unshakable foundation that emphasizes the development of each student-athlete as an individual. Coach Bielema has led his team to a historic run of championships while seeing a record number of student-athletes recognized for academic achievement.

"Throughout his career, he has demonstrated a commitment to competing for a national championship with a program known for discipline, honesty and integrity. His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans. He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them."

Bret Bielema

"I am very humbled and honored to become the head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. During my conversation with Jeff [Long] he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program. It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals. The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes. This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of."

One of the big questions Alvarez faces is who takes over the head-coaching duties for the Rose Bowl. There's been some buzz that Alvarez himself, who went 3-0 in Rose Bowls, could step into the top job. If not, defensive coordinator Chris Ash is expected to handle the head-coaching duties in Pasadena.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 24, 2012
4/24/12
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Thanks to those who sent in opinions on the Joe Paterno stadium/field naming issue at Penn State. I've included several at the bottom of the mailblog.

Let's get going.

Bill T. from Ottawa, Ill., writes: As a Purdue Alumnus I have watched in agony over the past several seasons as Purdue fell short of all our fans' expectations. I find it absolutely frustrating that Danny Hope claims he is going to use Terbush and Marve this upcoming season...again. Don't you think that it destroys the momentum of the team offensively and also shatters the confidence of both quarterbacks? Additionally I have read all the buzz about how we are a sleeper team in the Big Ten. I would really like to express that we have traditionally struggled against Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State (even at the height of the program at the turn of the century). What makes you guys think this year is going to be different? We have returned a ton of starters before and sputtered (2004 and 2005). Do we really deserve sleeper status?

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, I certainly understand the philosophy that two quarterbacks equals no quarterbacks. That said, I'm interested to see how Hope employs his signal-callers when all three, including Rob Henry, are healthy. He always has had a lot of confidence in Robert Marve, and Marve hasn't been healthy during his time at Purdue. If Marve plays to his capabilities at 100 percent, I'd imagine Purdue will stick with him at quarterback. The wild card in my mind is Henry, who had an excellent offseason in 2011 and would have been the starter if not for his own knee injury. As for the sleeper status, the Leaders division is wide open and Purdue returns nine starters on both sides of the ball. Purdue also has shown flashes of taking the next step, particularly with its two victories against Ohio State under Hope. Now I'm hardly sold on the Boilers, who make too many major mistakes in all three phases to consistently win against upper-tier teams. But if Purdue can get more consistent in its play, it can do some damage. Talent doesn't seem to be the issue in West Lafayette.


Adam from East Lansing, Mich., writes: As a Michigan State fan, when I heard JLS was hired at Arkansas I was in shock. This is the last person I would ever hire to drive a top 10 team to an SEC title. JLS has been known to blow it with good teams and although he gave MSU a pulse and hope to start a season, we would always blow it in some fashion. From the biggest comeback ever (at NW) to the Ohio State FG and Notre Dame night game collapse, JLS has proven he is not a steady coach. I guarantee you this though, they will beat Alabama or LSU at home for a program victory (but then somehow lose to Vanderbilt at home the following week). Do you think JLS can finally be a steady coach?

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you bring up some excellent points here. While I understand why Arkansas went with John L. Smith, who brings years of head-coaching experience not found among the remaining assistants, I completely agree with you about the unsteadiness of his personality. He's a treat to cover and always provides great sound bytes, but his colorful personality has reflected in his team's play, at least at Michigan State. Now John L. had success elsewhere, namely Louisville, but the fragility of his teams at Michigan State cannot be overlooked. Arkansas is an extremely talented team with some veteran leaders, but the players have been on an emotional roller-coaster after the Petrino scandal. I would think they'd be better served by a coach known for his steady demeanor, rather than one best remembered for slapping himself and going ballistic during a halftime interview at Ohio State.


Michael from St. Louis writes: Nebraska just received a verbal from a kid named Courtney Love. How long before the Hole/Nirvana jokes get really old?

Adam Rittenberg: It will be a tough call between Courtney Love and Taco Charlton for the captain of our all-name recruit team for 2013. It's too bad both Courtney Love and recent Wisconsin recruit Hugs Etienne both play defense. That would be a fun matchup. Oh well, whatever, never mind.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, just started reading your post on Gene Smith and Urban Meyer and I had to stop to get a question in. Smith ONLY attended three practices this spring? Smith will be a fixture on the sidelines in August? Am I only the only who isn't very comfortable with an AD spending so much time on, let alone being so CLOSE to, one of his programs? I realize football is the cash machine, so it consumes most of his time. But it seems to me a heathy distance from the football program is necessary for an AD to be an objective chief executive officer.

Adam Rittenberg: Sam, while I see what you're saying, I don't think Gene Smith is too involved with the football team by attending practices. Keep in mind he's a former football player himself, so he has a unique connection to the game and to the players. I agree that ADs must be careful not to micromanage or be too involved in one of their programs, even if it's their most important sport. But I don't think Smith is crossing that line. It's also important that he keeps tabs on things after the NCAA situation, something he and Ohio State never want to go through again. There definitely have been instances of ADs meddling with football, even in the Big Ten, but I don't think Smith is overstepping his bounds.


Mike from Superior, Wis., writes: Hey Adam, when I'm reading this blog and I see schools like Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, even Minnesota, scheduling high profile, or at least higher profile non-conference games against really good opponents, it makes me wonder why does a school like Wisconsin fail to do the same with it's non-conference schedule? I don't understand why they wouldn't want to do the same to increase their exposure more and have a shot at getting some serious quality wins. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, this isn't a new issue for Wisconsin fans, but it remains a point of contention in Badger Land. I don't get the sense Barry Alvarez is going to dramatically upgrade the Badgers' non-league schedule as long as he's AD. Wisconsin got a bit unlucky with teams like Oregon State, which has been pretty decent until recently, but you don't see the "wow" games nearly enough with the Badgers. I do like that Wisconsin recently added a home-and-home series with Washington, part of the Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership. But it'd be nice to see more. We've heard about potential games with teams like TCU and Notre Dame in recent years, but they haven't come to fruition. While Wisconsin isn't exactly struggling for exposure, it could certainly benefit from a few more showcase opportunities.


John from Prince William County writes: Adam, while the Big Ten clearly has underperformed since 2000 as opposed to the pre-BCS years when it was indisputably the top conference in the country every year from 1992 to 2000, you exaggerate the fall off. While not as dominant as it was, the Big Ten has been the best conference in the country during the BCS era just as it was prior to and is the nation's top conference more often than not.

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, John, and I thought your Penn State comments were insane. How is the Big Ten the nation's best conference in the BCS era? One national title and three Rose Bowl wins in 14 years. How is that exaggerating the drop-off? Those are the facts. The Big Ten isn't the nation's worst major conference by any means, and there are some inherent disadvantages the Big Ten faces regarding bowl locations, etc. But c'mon. The Big Ten isn't the league it was in the mid to late 1990s. The Big Ten is typically a top-3 conference with the SEC and Big 12 or Pac-12. But it will take several national titles for the Big Ten to claim to be the nation's top league again.

Now for some thoughts on Joe Paterno and Beaver Stadium ...

Bernie from Princeton, N.J.: If the university wants to do the right thing in honoring Joe Paterno they will name the field or stadium after him WITHOUT the family signing off on the gesture. The university, specifically the Board of Trustees, acted in a tremendously dishonorable fashion during a very difficult time, but that does not proclude them from being held responsible by the Paterno family if they choose to take some sort of legal action at a later date. The university is trying to save face with the alumni and Paterno family rather than doing the right thing.

Alex from Henry, Ill.: Adam, I may be a UT Longhorn fan, but i am a constant reader of all the blogs here on ESPN.com. Joe Paterno was the face of Penn State up until his dismissal from the university. I think that Beaver Stadium should eventually be named Joe Paterno Stadium, but it should not be for a reason as silly as to avoid a law suit. It should be named after him because of the forty-five years that he was the head football coach and not to mention the fifteen more he was an assistant. Sixty years at the same university is unheard of in this day. It should be because of the 409 wins including 24 bowl wins. If you aren't going to rename it because of his achievements on the field, do it for his achievements off the field. He donated A LOT of money to the university.

Mike from Allentown, Pa.: Hi Adam,Regarding the Stadium/Field naming. As a Penn State Alumni I think the idea of "Paterno Field at Beaver Stadium" is a bit outlandish. Nobody will remember that as the full name, and if you need evidence just ask a Florida State fan. How many times to you hear "Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Walker Stadium"? Hardly ever. I think the library having his name is good, but maybe they could add another building possiblye one frequented by English majors? That, or they just rename the whole stadium, like Alabama, to Beaver-Paterno Stadium. However, if they do not rename any buildings/stadiums, I don't think it that takes away from everything Joe did for 62 years. His name is on the library, and really he cared more about books than wins.

Howard from New York: Joe Paterno did so much more for Penn State than just create a college football brand. He was about education, charity and then football. Look at the former players that have come to his defense. Not a single bad word mentioned from any former coach or player. The stadium should be named after Joe for the fans who loved him. That would be the library and the stadium..that's a first. Enough said.

Jerry from Kelayres, Pa.: I don't know about renaming Beaver Stadium. If the fans want it, fine. But for the board to use this offer to ameliorate the family for slandering JoePa, is just buying the Paterno family favor.The facts are on Paterno's side. He was unjustly associated with somehow enabling Sandusky to do what he is accused of. A clear view of the facts show JoePa is innocent and could harm no one let alone innocent young boys.JoePa's reputation must be clear first before they do anything to justly honor JoePa.
Slap yourselves, Spartans fans: John L. Smith is expected to become the new interim head coach at Arkansas.

Colleague Joe Schad reports that Smith, fired from Michigan State in November 2006, will be introduced Tuesday in Fayetteville as the surprising choice to take over for Bobby Petrino with the Razorbacks. He agreed to a 10-month contract with Arkansas, where he served as special-teams coach the past three seasons before leaving for the top job at Weber State. Coincidentally, Petrino succeeded Smith at Louisville after Smith left for the Michigan State job. The circumstances are very different now, but still notable.

Former Ohio State assistant Taver Johnson had been serving as Arkansas' head coach since Petrino's firing earlier this month.

Smith went 22-26 at Michigan State. He won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors during his first season in 2003, but he oversaw midseason collapses in both 2005 and 2006 that sealed his fate at the school. His most memorable moments: slapping himself in a news conference after a loss to Illinois and a halftime meltdown at Ohio State, when Smith famously told ABC's Jack Arute, "The kids are playing their tails off, and the coaches are screwing it up!"

Smith remains one of the more colorful characters in coaching. I'll never forget seeing him playfully shove the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode after a win at Notre Dame. He also has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, has run with the bulls in Spain and has skydived over Indiana.

I'm guessing Michigan State fans, thrilled with their current coach Mark Dantonio, had a few laughs today when they heard about the John L. news.

How do you think he'll fare in Fayetteville? He inherits an extremely good team.

Who knows? Maybe we'll see Michigan State and Arkansas matched up in a BCS bowl game this year. That'd be fun.
Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino has every right to question why Terrelle Pryor and four other Ohio State players were allowed to play in the Sugar Bowl.

The deferred punishment reeked of hypocrisy. Pryor and the others had violated NCAA rules for selling memorabilia items, rendering them ineligible. But an NCAA loophole allowed them to take the field in New Orleans.

"There’s no question that I don't understand how they were eligible to play in the game," Petrino told reporters Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings. "I just don't, and I never will. ... They [the NCAA] kind of changed the rules for that bowl game."

Petrino is right, and he's certainly not alone in this opinion.

But in practically the same breath, Petrino repeated the line he said leading up to the Sugar Bowl.

"We wanted to play their best players," he said. "When you have a year like we had and you're able to win six games down the stretch and get to a BCS bowl game you want to play their best players. That's what you want to do."

Sorry, coach, you can't have it both ways. You can't change lanes.

If you wanted to play Ohio State's best, you got it. And you lost. Deal with it.

Had Arkansas played an Ohio State team without its starting quarterback, its starting running back, its starting left tackle, a starting receiver and a defensive lineman (Solomon Thomas) who happened to make the deciding play in the Sugar Bowl, it would hardly qualify as facing the Buckeyes at their best. Not even close.

And fair or unfair, Arkansas victory against a depleted Ohio State team would have been branded with a qualifier because of the suspended players.

Again, Petrino has a legitimate gripe about why the Tat-5 were allowed to play. And if that's his argument, stick to it.

But if he truly wanted to see Ohio State's best product in New Orleans, he got what he wanted.
Terrelle PryorChris Graythen/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor had 221 passing yards to go with the 115 yards he gained on 15 carries.
NEW ORLEANS -- Solomon Thomas took the field with about a minute left on the clock and no interceptions to his name.

It's hardly unusual for a defensive lineman to wait a while for his first pick. But Thomas hadn't merely gone through his Ohio State career without an interception. He never had one in high school.

He never had one in junior high school.

"It's what was supposed to happen," a beaming Thomas said.

Most folks think it wasn't supposed to happen.

The fact that Thomas was on the field Tuesday night for the Allstate Sugar Bowl created a cloud of controversy around Ohio State leading into its matchup against Arkansas.

Thomas and four others -- quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams -- had been suspended by the NCAA for selling memorabilia items and receiving improper benefits, but the NCAA decided that their punishment wouldn't go into effect until the 2011 season.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Dave MartinTerrelle Pryor was named the Sugar Bowl's MVP.
The deferred suspensions drew nationwide criticism, but Ohio State's seniors voted to allow the players to participate in the bowl. Coach Jim Tressel required the players agree to return for their senior seasons and serve their punishment, or they couldn't travel to the Big Easy.

Major distraction? Check. Major detriment? Just the opposite.

The Buckeyes needed significant contributions from all five players to hold off Arkansas 31-26 and record the program's first victory against the hated SEC in a bowl game. Thomas sealed the win by intercepting a Ryan Mallett pass at the Ohio State 17-yard line with 58 seconds left.

Talk about the Irony Bowl.

"It's kind of crazy how it happened," Herron said. "We had the honor of playing in this game, so we really had to come out here and make a statement."

Herron and the offense delivered from the get-go, putting to rest concerns about their mental states and ability to execute. Ohio State surged to a 28-7 lead behind Pryor, Herron's physical running and a powerful offensive line that overwhelmed Arkansas.

For the second straight year Pryor turned in a brilliant performance in a BCS bowl, completing 14 of 25 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns and adding 115 rush yards on 15 carries. Herron added 87 rush yards and a touchdown, and Posey hauled in a 43-yard touchdown strike and led the team with 70 receiving yards.

"We all play a role on this team," Adams said. "I block, that's what I do and that's what I did. DeVier, he catches the ball, that's what he does. TP, what can you say about that guy? He just makes plays."

But the biggest play came from the suspended player no one talked about; the non-starter, the guy who couldn't jump to the NFL draft because, well, he probably wouldn't hear his name called. Thomas entered the bowl with 14 tackles on the season, a solid role player and a guy who blended into the crowd.

He took center stage, though, as Arkansas entered Ohio State's red zone looking to score the game-winning touchdown following a blocked punt. Ohio State installed a new red zone package in its Nov. 20 win against Iowa, and the scheme called for Thomas to replace senior Dexter Larimore at defensive tackle.

"I'm going in for a senior, this is his last game," Thomas said. "I was just so thankful that I didn't let him down, that I'm able to send him out with a victory. [Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock] always stresses to us to send these seniors out the right way, and I was just so thankful that I was able, on this field, to make a play for my seniors."

Thomas took a two-step drop, looked for crossing routes and made the play on the ball.

"That's probably the happiest I've ever seen Sol," Adams said. "That might have been his first pick, and that's a great first pick to have."

The end result certainly could have been different without Thomas and the others on the field.

[+] EnlargeCameron Heyward
AP Photo/Bill HaberCameron Heyward had his best performance in the final game of his collegiate career.
"For those seniors, they wanted to be here for 'em, and the seniors wanted them here with them," Tressel said. "So their contributions were important. They're great kids. As [Pryor] mentioned, we've got a plan, and we'll stick with our plan."

The plan calls for all five players to return as seniors in 2011. Although Ohio State can't force them to return, Tressel sounds confident the players will keep their word.

"I don't think I'm really ready for the NFL," said Pryor, who earned Sugar Bowl MVP honors. "I've got a lot of learning and better decision-making I have to make on and off the field. Off the field, I need to grow up a little bit more, mature as well. I just have a lot of growing up to do."

Ohio State's senior class grew up the past two seasons, and they cemented their legacy Tuesday night.

Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher scored two touchdowns, including a recovery of a Pryor fumble in the end zone on the game's opening possession. Larimore recorded two sacks, a forced fumble and six tackles from the tackle spot.

Defensive end Cameron Heyward had his best game as a Buckeye in his last game, racking up 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup.

"Cam was a beast," Tressel said. "He was all over the place."

So were the suspended players.

Whether or not they deserved to play is debatable. How they performed after getting the opportunity is not.

"When it all happened, our first concern was, 'Are we going to be able to help this team? Are we going to be able to play?'" Adams said. "You never want to let down your brothers, you never want to let down the guys in this locker room.

"When they gave us that chance, we knew we had to play well."

Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett wrap up the Sugar Bowl.

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