Big Ten: Iowa Hawkeyes

Big Ten Monday mailbag

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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The season of media days is in full swing, with the SEC in the books, the ACC wrapping on Monday, the Big 12 underway, and the Pac-12 set to start on Wednesday. The Big Ten, of course, is scheduled for next week in Chicago. It's never too early to answer questions, though. Keep them coming here and to me. I'll be back soon for more.


Mitch Sherman: I like what I've seen so far from James Franklin, but he's yet to coach a game in Happy Valley. It's all about attitude and recruiting, and that's great. Still, the hardships of probation are difficult to shake. And even with the reduction in sanctions, Penn State still faces a climb to return to the top tier of the Big Ten, let alone the national elite. The presence of Christian Hackenberg during this era of transition helps mightily, but I think the Nittany Lions face some difficult times before the resurgence can start.

As for Michigan, yeah, sure, the depth is better. With Brady Hoke in his fourth season, that's expected. Hoke has largely recruited well. The problems involve player development and a lack of offensive innovation since Denard Robinson stopped improvising. The Wolverines remain way too green on the offensive line, and questions at quarterback have not been answered. Other than three tough road trips, the schedule sets up well. But yes, if this year looks like the second half of last season, the coach has reason to worry.

 





Mitch Sherman: I don't, but any time after that, I could see it. Ultimately, as we all know, money drives the playoff, like everything in big-time college athletics. And the more money the new postseason generates, the louder the calls will grow to expand the thing and create more opportunities to sell tickets and merchandise.

Five years is about the right amount of time to test the four-team format. To change it before 2019 would not give this system the time it needs. We learned long before the BCS era that every season brings a new set of potential controversies. In some seasons, like 2013, a two-team playoff provided a better solution than would a four-team system. More often, the four-team approach would have been more effective in crowing a champ.

The momentum for an eight-team playoff will grow with the every season that provides controversy in the selection of four teams. Expect the calls for a revision to get loud in at least two of the first five seasons. After that, the system is ripe for expansion.

 





Mitch Sherman: Well, Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a sophomore, so at worst, you need only fear three years of inconsistent play, but I understand the concern. You're suffering from a condition that resulted from watching Nebraska over the past four years. Its quarterback play under Taylor Martinez was anything but consistent, and Armstrong, as an eight-game starter, extended the trend, throwing eight interceptions and nine touchdowns on 52-percent passing.

I think you'll be pleased, though, with Armstrong's improvement this fall. My takeaway from the spring is that he's set to play much more consistently. Armstrong possesses all the intangibles for which the Huskers search at quarterback. The same could not always be said about his predecessor.

As for Johnny Stanton, he has to beat out Ryker Fyfe before the redshirt freshman can think about taking over the top spot. At this stage of their development, it would take a meltdown by Armstrong for Bo Pelini and Tim Beck to make a change. But things can change quickly in September, especially once the Huskers hit that stretch of five consecutive night games.

B1G awards watch list roundup

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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College football preseason awards watch lists are, at best, little more than a summertime curiosity these days and, at worst, an easy punchline.

For one, there are far too many awards -- only country music likes to give itself as many trophies as this sport. There are often way too many players on these lists -- the Rimington Trophy list, for example, includes 64 players, or basically half the starting centers in the FBS, and 10 from the Big Ten alone. And, of course, eventual winners of these awards sometimes come out of nowhere, making the preseason lists even more meaningless.

We relegated almost all the watch list releases to tweets, but if you're interested, we thought we'd compile all the Big Ten players who were nominated in one place. If nothing else, you can come back to this page in December and perhaps have a good chuckle. Here you go:

Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)
Walter Camp (Player of the Year)
  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE Michigan State
  • Stefon Diggs,WR, Maryland
  • Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
  • Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player)
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
  • Frank Clark, DE, Michigan
  • Blake Countess, DB, Michigan
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Outland Trophy (Interior lineman)
Davey O’Brien Award (Quarterback):
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan
  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State
  • Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Doak Walker Award (Running back)
Butkus Award (Linebacker)
Rotary Lombardi Award (Lineman/Linebacker)
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Ron Havenstein, T, Wisconsin
  • Kaleb Johnson, G, Rutgers
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Brandon Scherff, T, Iowa
Biletnikoff Award (Wide receiver)
Jim Thorpe Award (Defensive back)
  • Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
  • Blake Countess, Michigan
  • Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
  • Jordan Lucas, Penn State
  • Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Mackey Award (Tight end)
Rimington Trophy (Center) Lou Groza Award (Kicker)
Ray Guy Award (Punter)

Finally, watch this list of my preseason awards watch list, uh, awards:

Most nominated: Thanks to his inclusion on multiple defensive award lists as well as one player of the year recognition, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory leads the way with four nods.

Biggest "snubs:" We use the word "snub" very, very lightly here. Still, it was a mild surprise not to see Venric Mark on the Doak Walker list (he was, after all, nominated for the Maxwell) or for Maryland defensive lineman Andre Monroe to not show up anywhere. Apparently, Monroe's 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year weren't good enough to get him on the same list as dozens of other less productive players.

Weirdest list: The Butkus Award folks, bless them, either know something we don't or really swung and missed this year. Neither Maryland's Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil nor Ohio State's Curtis Grant were on anybody's radar for a major award, and you could make a very strong argument that neither is even the best linebacker on his own team (the Terps' Matt Robinson and the Buckeyes' Joshua Perry would have made more sense here). And then there's the omission of Rutgers' Steve Longa, who had 123 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Just plain odd all around.

Just happy to be nominated: Northwestern's Chi Chi Ariguzo and Michigan's Devin Funchess are both outstanding players who should be in strong contention for all-conference and quite possibly All-America honors this season. But they have about as good a chance of winning a national player of the year award (which almost always goes to quarterbacks or running backs, anyway) as I do. Funchess was nominated for both the Maxwell and Walter Camp award, which means he has a great public relations man. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Joel Stave isn't even guaranteed to start at quarterback this season for the Badgers, yet he found himself on the Davey O'Brien watch list. As usual, it doesn't hurt to cover all the bases when compiling a preseason watch list.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Saw Jack White perform "Seven Nation Army" live this weekend. Felt like I was back in a Big Ten football stadium. Soon enough.

Preseason position review: LB

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Linebacker was arguably the deepest and most talented position in the Big Ten last year. This season, the position takes on a new look, as stars like Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, Michigan State's Denicos Allen and Max Bullough and Iowa's trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens have all moved on.

Who's in the best and worst shape at the linebacker spot? Let's take a look as we continue our preseason position series:

Best of the best: Michigan State
Say what? The team that lost Bullough and Allen is still ranked first here? No, we haven't completely lost our minds. We just believe in the talent on hand -- and especially defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's ability to mold it into something special. Taiwan Jones probably would have started for most other college teams the past couple of years and looks poised to break out as Bullough's replacement in the middle. Darien Harris played well while helping fill in for Bullough during the Rose Bowl and will have an outside spot locked down. Ed Davis is a great athlete who was a third-down specialist last year; he can make up for Allen's absence as a blitzer. Backups like Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke will push the starters. This is not a sure thing, as the group has some questions to answer. But it's a safe bet that the Spartans' linebackers will come through.

Next up: Michigan
The Wolverines return all three starters to a crew that should be their best position group on defense. Jake Ryan might well be the best linebacker in the Big Ten, especially if he returns to his playmaking ways after dealing with his ACL tear recovery last fall. He moves to the middle this year, pushing James Ross III to the strong side. Ross is a little undersized for that spot but could overcome it with athleticism and instincts. Desmond Morgan has been rock solid the past couple of years. We'd like to see a few more big plays out of this group, but Ryan should be able to provide that. Nebraska and Penn State are also contenders for having the best linebacker position this season.

Sleeper: Ohio State
Outside of Shazier, the Buckeyes struggled to find standout players at linebacker the past couple of years. So his jump to the NFL stings. Still, the coaching staff is optimistic about the direction of this group. Joshua Perry started coming on late last year, including a strong Orange Bowl performance, and could step in Shazier's shoes as the leader here. Darron Lee is an excellent athlete who made waves this spring. Can senior Curtis Grant finally live up to his potential? If not, true freshman Raekwon McMillan could step into his place in the middle. The talent level here is getting back to vintage Silver Bullets days.

Problem for a contender: Iowa
Not a big problem, per se, as the Hawkeyes like what they have in former top backups Quinton Alston and Travis Perry, along with talented true sophomore Reggie Spearman. Still, any time you lose the experience and production that Iowa did -- the trio of Kirksey, Morris and Hitchens combined for 985 career tackles and 105 starts -- the transition to a new era may not always be smooth. The good news is the Hawkeyes' defensive line remains strong, allowing the linebackers more freedom to simply make plays. Don't expect this to be much of a problem for long, if at all.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
5:00
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The weather feels like fall already in Columbus. The only thing missing is a football game, but at least we have some Twitter questions to bring us one day closer to the season. Be sure to follow me here to get a jump on the next mailbag.

Austin Ward: There is no reason to think Rutgers won't eventually be able to compete in the Big Ten if it is able to use the league's resources to its advantage, but it certainly seems like it's going to be a difficult transition in the short term. For starters, joining the East Division did the Scarlet Knights no favors, and on top of that they drew both Nebraska and Wisconsin from the West to give them about as rude of an introduction to the league as possible. Considering their struggles in a weaker conference a year ago, a sub-.500 finish thanks to their bowl-game loss to Notre Dame and some lingering questions about how explosive the offense can be, I think even climbing into contention for a postseason appearance might be a stretch for the Scarlet Knights this fall.

Ward: Typically, sizing up the quarterbacks is a pretty handy way to forecast the favorites, but the West is something of an exception this offseason. Nebraska has some uncertainty even with Tommy Armstrong Jr. returning, and Wisconsin doesn't exactly have Russell Wilson under center this fall either, yet the running games those two programs boast are strong enough that they have generally been accepted as the top candidates to advance to the Big Ten title game on that side of the league. Wes Lunt's physical tools and the dynamic offense he will lead if he can finally, officially win the starting job make him an intriguing pick as the best of the bunch, and it seems a safe bet that he will put up impressive individual numbers. But don't count out Jake Rudock as somebody capable of giving Iowa steady production and turning that team into a threat in the West, provided he can cut down on the turnovers and the coaching staff actually does open up the attack a bit more this season.

Ward: The recruiting work Urban Meyer has done on the defensive side of the ball is starting to show up on the roster, and the Ohio State Buckeyes are going to need some of their younger, highly touted players to have a big impact if they are going to make a serious run at the playoff this season. Joey Bosa, as mentioned, might be one of the most destructive defensive linemen in the country this fall, and he is obviously going to be critical in generating a pass rush that could take some pressure off the revamped secondary. But it is a new full-time starter in the back end that might actually have the greatest influence in restoring Ohio State's proud defensive tradition, and Vonn Bell already raised the sky-high expectations when he snagged that one-handed interception in the Discover Orange Bowl. His spring was cut short by injury, but Bell is a young guy the Buckeyes desperately need to deliver..

Big Ten lunch links

July, 18, 2014
Jul 18
12:00
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If anybody needs me this weekend, you can find me here. First, let's rock out to these links:
The summer study sessions were not exactly what Jake Rudock was picturing when he arrived in college.

The Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback envisioned plenty of time to game plan for the upcoming season, breaking down opponents and scheming up new ways to attack them during those extra hours in the film room. There might also be more time to take a deeper dive into his own team from the season before, combing through all the plays and taking note of every pass or decision that could have been improved and taking it straight to the offseason practice field.

In reality, the college offseason doesn’t really lend itself to brainstorming for the first few teams on the schedule for the Hawkeyes, and much of the usefulness of reviewing the tape of last season’s eight-win campaign is already gone after watching it during the winter. Rudock is still soaking up film in between rigorous workouts and throwing sessions with his teammates, but it turns out popping in video of spring practice is where the junior has actually found some value.

[+] EnlargeJake Rudock
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltIowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
“You can’t really look so much ahead as I thought when I came to college,” Rudock said. “I thought, 'Hey, we’re going to look at all these teams and get a huge jump on them.'

“But the fact is, there are a lot of faces that change, tendencies can change, so you have to focus on yourself and do what you can to get the team better instead of worrying about what other teams are doing.”

The Hawkeyes are one of those teams working on shaking up some tendencies, and that leaves more than enough for them to do without scheming for the season opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 30.

Iowa isn’t about to abandon its smash-mouth offensive style any time soon, even with a veteran starter returning at quarterback who proved in a handful of games last season that he was more than capable of airing out the football. But Iowa is making a concerted effort to increase the tempo a bit more this fall in an effort to keep defenses more off balance and limit their chances to make substitutions, and Rudock’s ability to command the attack and make the necessary reads and checks will be critical in the installation of that updated approach.

“Decision-making, being smart with the ball, work more on timing with the receivers, looking at film to see the checks we made and what we could have done better or maybe a little bit quicker,” Rudock said. “Sometimes it’s just making a check two or three seconds sooner that would help the offense a lot more. There’s a lot of little things that go into it and can help the team, which is obviously the goal at the end of the day.”

Rudock showed that he could deliver some bigger things in his first year as the starter a year ago, throwing for nearly 2,400 yards with 18 touchdowns and completing 59 percent of his attempts during Iowa’s somewhat surprisingly successful season. With a talented offensive line returning and what appears to be a full set of weapons around him, there appears to be plenty of room for those numbers to go up this fall.

But that might be getting ahead of things just a bit for Rudock. He might have a pretty good idea of where the offense is headed after reviewing the progress made during the spring, and obviously the summer workouts are all designed to help the Hawkeyes take another step forward. For now, though, he’s learned by this stage in his career that there is no sense even looking ahead one more month.

“I believe you really can’t do too much about it, because then you stop focusing a little bit and get too far ahead,” Rudock said. “Right now, the most important thing is our workout that comes in about an hour and a half.

“Then after that it will be tomorrow’s workout.”

In the meantime there will probably be some time to squeeze in one of those summer study sessions. Just like the workouts, the focus will still be all on Iowa.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:00
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Better Big Ten Bane: Braxton Miller or Shilique Calhoun?

Big Ten Wednesday mailblog

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
5:00
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Coming at you on Hump Day. As a reminder, we're taking more of your Twitter questions for the mailblog, so keep sending them in! Find us on Twitter here.

What's on your mind?

Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin would gain national respect. Sure, some would point to LSU's personnel losses and potential weaknesses on offense entering the season. But coach Les Miles never has lost an opener in nine years with the Tigers, and his teams have performed especially well in these types of games -- openers at neutral sites against other major-conference teams. Wisconsin has far more question marks than LSU entering this game, and a win would quiet a lot of the skeptics (including yours truly) and put the Badgers in serious contention for a playoff spot, especially with a favorable Big Ten schedule on tap. LSU essentially is the home team in Houston. The Tigers should be very tough on defense. The expectation is that they'll win. A Wisconsin win would and should turn heads.


Eric from Troy, Mich., writes: Everyone seems to be harping on Michigan's offense for the coming season, but I think their real issue is on defense, a topic that doesn't get seem to get a lot of coverage. MSU (my alma mater) and OSU both basically scored at will last year. The Wolverines had 8 games where an opponent scored more than 21 points, and three games where they gave up 40+. But forget all that and just focus on the fact that Akron, a middle-of-the-road MAC team, put up 24 on them! Is there anything to suggest that UofM's defense will be better this year? And if not, how can anyone seriously believe they are going to contend for anything important?

Adam Rittenberg: I agree not enough criticism/analysis is focused on Michigan's defense. The unit looked awful at the end of the season, surrendering 73 points and 946 yards in the final two games (losses to Ohio State and Kansas State). I thought young quarterback Shane Morris played decently in a tough situation in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but the defense didn't give Michigan a chance against K-State. What can we expect this fall? Michigan shuffled its defensive staff responsibilities, which includes coordinator Greg Mattison directly overseeing the linebackers and the secondary being split between Curt Mallory and Roy Manning. I think Michigan will be better in the back seven. There's good experience at linebacker with Jake Ryan, James Ross III, Desmond Morgan and Joe Bolden. The depth in the secondary might not be quite as strong but I expect big things from cornerback Blake Countess. The key is finding difference-makers up front. Will Frank Clark become a bona fide star? What about Mario Ojemudia, Brennen Beyer and Taco Charlton? Who steps up at defensive tackle? I don't expect Michigan to be a bad defense in 2014, but the line will determine whether it's average, better than average or very good.


Adam Rittenberg: A lot would depend on how the Big Ten performs in nonleague play and whether a Big Ten team runs the table at 13-0. I've written repeatedly that an undefeated team from a major conference won't be left out. The question is whether a one-loss Big Ten team could get in with two SEC teams. I think if Michigan State plays Oregon close and then goes on to sweep the Big Ten for the second straight year, it could get in at 12-1. Could Ohio State or Iowa or Wisconsin or Nebraska? Depends on what happens elsewhere. In terms of other conferences being left out with two SEC playoff teams, the Big 12 would top my list. Oklahoma might be the only realistic playoff contender entering the season. Maybe Baylor, too, but the Bears must visit the Sooners. I don't think a Big 12 team can afford a regular-season loss and still make the top four. I also think the ACC would be in major trouble if Florida State stumbles. There aren't many other genuine candidates. I like the SEC and Pac-12 to get at least one playoff team this year.


Daniel from Robbinsville, N.J., writes: Why hasn't more attention been paid to the addition of Ralph Friedgen in evaluating Rutgers for the upcoming season? His resume as an Offensive Coordinator is overwhelming and he has plenty of returning talent to work with.

Adam Rittenberg: I really like the hire, Daniel. Friedgen's priority will be getting quarterback Gary Nova on track for his final season. Nova had a really nice start to the 2012 campaign but struggled down the stretch and for most of 2013. Friedgen's success is not only with the scheme but in managing quarterbacks like Boomer Esiason, Frank Reich, Shawn Jones and Joe Hamilton. Rutgers' offense returns almost entirely intact and features some exciting pieces like running back Paul James, wide receiver Leonte Carroo and tight end Tyler Kroft. The key is generating consistent production and more explosive plays. It will be tough with this schedule, but Friedgen is proven.



Adam Rittenberg: I really like King's skill set and potential, and he'll have every opportunity to become a shutdown corner. Iowa has had a really nice run of them with Amari Spievey, Shaun Prater, Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery. King, the first true freshman corner to start for Iowa since 2002, could be among the best as he continues to develop. He'll be matched up against top opposing wideouts this fall. His first test comes Sept. 20 when he'll likely go against Pitt wideout Tyler Boyd, who had 1,174 receiving yards as a freshman last season. I'm also interested to see how he fares against Maryland's threats -- possibly Stefon Diggs -- when the Hawkeyes visit the Terrapins on Oct. 18. 
The moment you all have waited for has finally arrived. Nothing creates quite the angst and anticipation among Big Ten blog readers like the announcement of kickoff times and TV plans for the first few weeks of the upcoming season.

The announcement comes your way a little later than normal, but it's here! Stop everything you're doing immediately!

As a reminder, these are only games taking place in Big Ten stadiums. Kick times and TV plans for road games already have been announced by the leagues controlling those contests. Also, Big Ten-controlled prime-time games also have been announced and won't appear in this list.

OK, here's the list of new announcements ...

Aug. 30

Appalachian State at Michigan, noon ET, ESPN2
Indiana State at Indiana, noon ET, ESPN News
Youngstown State at Illinois, noon ET, BTN
Northern Iowa at Iowa, noon ET, BTN
Western Michigan at Purdue, noon ET, ESPNU
Florida Atlantic at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
California at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC regional (ESPN2 in outer markets)
James Madison at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Sept. 6

Akron at Penn State, noon ET, ABC regional (ESPN or ESPN2 in outer markets)
Western Kentucky at Illinois, noon ET, BTN
Central Michigan at Purdue, noon ET, ESPN News
McNeese State at Nebraska, noon ET, ESPNU
Western Illinois at Wisconsin, noon ET, BTN
Howard at Rutgers, noon ET, BTN
Ball State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Northern Illinois at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Sept. 13

West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET, BTN, Noon EDT
Kent State at Ohio State, noon ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Few of you like the noon ET (11 a.m. CT) kickoffs but they're a reality in the Big Ten. We're seeing more variety in kickoff times with BTN and other broadcast platforms.

Northwestern once again gets later time slots after playing its first six games in the late afternoon or evening in 2013. Minnesota also gets afternoon or evening kickoffs for at least its first three games (Eastern Illinois and TCU are the others). Maryland and Rutgers both make their BTN debuts against FCS opponents.

The small group of games on Sept. 13 is due to five non-league Big Ten road games and three teams -- Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin -- having open weeks.

There you have it. Mark those calendars.

Big Ten Tuesday mailbag

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
5:00
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Howdy. My journey to the World Cup is over, and it is time to really get rolling on the Big Ten blog. This is my first time with the mailbag, so thanks for taking it easy on me. I'm expecting more heat the next time around and questions are accepted any time on Twitter, so follow me right here.

Austin Ward: That would certainly provide an interesting test case for how the selection committee views the Big Ten, and in some ways a playoff appearance likely would not come down to what Iowa itself had accomplished. The Hawkeyes really don't have true high-profile games outside of the league to make a big statement, which could be a problem in this scenario as the strength of schedule starts to play a more significant factor. That doesn't mean wins over Iowa State or on the road against Pittsburgh should be overlooked, but Iowa might be counting more on Wisconsin or Nebraska to have been impressive throughout the year before that closing two-game stretch at the end of the regular season to help give the Hawkeyes a bit more credit for what doesn't appear like that grueling of a schedule. Chances are, this season a one-loss Iowa team with a loss to Maryland would probably be on the outside of the top-four spots.

Austin Ward: For projecting just one upcoming season, historical performance in terms of wins and losses probably has limited usefulness. That should come as no surprise considering all the numerous factors that go into making a team successful during a given season, from the composition of the roster, to injuries, lucky or unlucky bounces and everything else that make the game so unpredictable and fun to watch year after year. But in a broader sense, a program's all-time record I think does have value in understanding which teams are most likely to be annual contenders or at least primed to bounce back if some rough patches have come along. Teams like Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten, for example, have won a lot of games because they have huge fan bases that bring in money, traditionally have had recruiting areas that sustain them and invest their resources in ensuring a product that wins over time. That doesn't mean in each individual season they are guaranteed to win at a championship level, but long term I would think there is more evidence to suggest the chances of it happening are pretty high.

Austin Ward: See, I told you guys that you were taking it easy on me for the debut mailbag. The conference takes over the national spotlight on July 28-29 in Chicago, and the whole Big Ten blog crew will be in attendance for wall-to-wall coverage. In fact, we are all so excited that we have already started previewing the hot topics and burning questions for every team in the league. It feels like it's been forever since there was live football to cover, and though doing a bunch of interviews isn't quite the same as being in a stadium, at least the game will be a topic of conversation again. The countdown is on..

Big Ten lunch links

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
12:00
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Hey, kids, it's link time:

B1G media day preview: Iowa

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:00
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Big Ten media days arrive in just less than two weeks on July 28. But we can hardly wait for the event and the season to arrive, so we’ll get you ready in the coming days by identifying three pressing questions that each league squad will face at media days, along with their possible answers.

Next up on the list is Iowa, which is bringing left tackle Brandon Scherff, defensive tackle Carl Davis and running back Mark Weisman along with coach Kirk Ferentz to talk about a program looking to compete for a title in the West Division.

1. Are the Hawkeyes legitimate contenders in the league?

No team is going to rule itself out of the race before the season even begins, so an affirmative response from the Hawkeyes should come as no surprise. But after largely spending the last few years outside of the spotlight and with relatively modest expectations, Iowa will be generating a decent amount of attention as a dark-horse pick to compete in the remodeled divisional lineup this fall. The Hawkeyes might have been undervalued for what they accomplished during an eight-win campaign in 2013, and just how strongly they make their case as potential contenders could speak volumes about how much confidence there is in Iowa City.

2. Is there a possible No. 1 draft pick anchoring the line?

Even with returning stars such as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Ohio State's Braxton Miller around to headline the event, Scherff could wind up stealing the most attention in Chicago. There's already growing hype about the lofty draft projections for the senior lineman after he decided to come back for one more season with Iowa, and that decision will likely bring several questions about why he elected to put off a move to the next level. Scherff will no doubt have several chances to address that matter and his draft stock, and at the same time he might provide a useful advertisement for Ferentz and the program on the value of sticking around at Iowa.

3. Can the defense reload?

Replacing the experience of a group of linebackers with more than 100 collective starts is no small challenge. And considering the amount of production Iowa received from Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris as they combined for more than 1,000 tackles during their careers, the task only looks more daunting. Iowa thrived last season in no small part because they allowed less than 19 points per game and finished second in the Big Ten in total defense, so finding replacements for those veteran linebackers is going to be critical -- not to mention what appears to be open competition for a couple starting jobs in the secondary. Having a proven veteran up front in Davis is certainly a nice foundation, and he could provide an early assessment of the new faces around him in the lineup ahead of training camp.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
5:00
PM ET
The Monday mailbag is back, and we're also incorporating more of your questions from Twitter. So make sure to follow us if for some weird reason you're not already doing so.

To your questions:
Brian Bennett: Good question. The Buckeyes-Spartans showdown is unquestionably the top draw, at least on paper in the preseason. We'll see whether the two defending division champs can live up to their hype in the first two months. It's not so easy to pick out the clear No. 2 game, simply because the rest of the contenders are pretty bunched up. If I had to pick one, I'd go with Nebraska at Wisconsin on Nov. 15. Both should be top contenders for the West Division title, and there's a nice little rivalry brewing between the two programs, even if they've only played one close game since the Huskers joined the league. Then again, either one of Iowa's final two games -- both at home, against Wisconsin and Nebraska -- could end up looming just as large or even larger on the conference schedule. And Ohio State-Michigan is always, like, kind of important.


Max. C from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I really don't know why many people aren't giving Ohio State a chance to go undefeated next season. Here are my thoughts. Ohio State's first two games are against Navy and Virginia Tech, two teams that are below average passing teams. That will give the Buckeyes' secondary a chance to gel together and get used to the new system. No. 2: The offensive line will be good as always. No. 3: They have Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith and Ezekiel Elliott, plus a lot of other young talent. I think they're stocked.

Brian Bennett: Ohio State has a schedule that's more challenging up and down than it was a year ago. When you add in Cincinnati, there are three nonconference games that carry the potential for an upset. Then again, the Hokies and Bearcats each come to Ohio Stadium, where the Buckeyes figure to be significant favorites, and Ohio State has vastly superior talent to Navy. For me, it really comes down to whether Urban Meyer's team can navigate tough road trips to Penn State and, of course, Michigan State. I don't see any other games on the Big Ten schedule that should seriously threaten the Buckeyes. Like you said, Max, the schedule sets up well to allow the secondary to gel, but the offensive line had better come together quickly. I suspect it will.


Brian Bennett: I do like the potential of the Hawkeyes' offense quite a bit this year. They have a veteran quarterback now in Jake Rudock, along with a stable of experienced and talented backs. They might have the best offensive line in the league and most likely the top offensive tackle in Brandon Scherff. And there looks to be more speed and explosiveness -- finally -- at the receiver position for Greg Davis to exploit. Still, lighting up the scoreboard isn't usually Kirk Ferentz's style. He prefers to control the ball on the ground, rely on strong defense and -- unfortunately sometimes -- play the field-position game. There have been notable exceptions, of course, such as when Iowa averaged 37.2 points per game to lead the Big Ten in 2002. But in more recent years, his better teams haven't been high-scoring ones, such as when the Hawkeyes were 10th in the Big Ten in points per game in 2009. Iowa has embraced some notable changes, such as using the hurry-up on occasion. And its schedule should provide opportunities to rack up some big numbers early on. Still, with other potentially potent offenses in the league like Ohio State, Indiana, Northwestern, Nebraska, etc., I have a hard time seeing Iowa finish among the leaders in scoring this year. Which doesn't really matter, as long as the team wins.


Samuel from Iowa City writes: You wrote: "But, hey, the East-West is here the way it is, so let's see how it plays out. "Brian, after what happened to the Legends and the Leaders, surely you don't believe the East and the West are completely safe?

Brian Bennett: As we have learned in recent years, even some of the staunchest traditions in college football can change dramatically. True, the Legends and Leaders last only three years (pause for a moment of silence). I would expect the East and West divisions to have a longer shelf life, especially with the league having scheduled out to 2019 already. The one thing that could blow up the current division setup quickly is another round of expansion. That doesn't seem to be on the immediate horizon, but you can never say never anymore. If the divisions prove to be too imbalanced one way or another, I think the league would look at reorganizing them. But it would be several years down the road before that happened.



Brian Bennett: I think Northwestern would be pretty happy if Trevor Siemian could replicate his numbers from last year's season finale: 414 passing yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. Of course, you don't get to play the Illinois defense every week. In all seriousness, I think Siemian could be in line for a very good year. The Wildcats aren't going to be running the option very much when he's in there, or at least they shouldn't, since he has run for a total of 100 yards (on 74 carries) in three years. Kain Colter, he's not, both for good and bad. Northwestern also has a veteran receiving corps that should lead to a strong passing game. One concern: Siemian completed less than 60 percent of his passes the last two seasons. He needs to get his accuracy up closer to the Persa range, or at least make it more Kafkaesque, while improving his decision-making. As a senior with the job to himself, Siemian should improve in that area. 

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