Monday, March 19, 2012
Back from the 'bul, ready for spring ball
By Adam Rittenberg
Did you miss me? I'm back at your service after a trip to Turkey. While I unfortunately didn't meet this guy in Istanbul, it was an excellent vacation, filled with sightseeing, history and even a Turkish soccer match. If you think you get upset at your team, you should have seen the Karşıyaka fan who broke three stadium seats after a questionable call. Good times.
Brian Bennett took good care of you during my absence, and I had a few thoughts on some of the happenings while I was away.
As an advocate of more night games, it's great to see Michigan and Notre Dame meeting under the lights for the second consecutive season. The Big Ten/Notre Dame have been a bit late to the party in scheduling more night games, which most fans and players absolutely love, but the movement is picking up. Despite the Big Ten's policy opposing November night games, we're seeing more primetime contests in September and October. Although Michigan won't play a home night game this year, the Wolverines will be playing at least two primetime contests (Alabama, Notre Dame) and most likely at least one more during Big Ten play. Michigan AD Dave Brandon says the school will host a night game in 2013, and Brandon told the Detroit Free Press, "Everybody has come to the conclusion that they should schedule 1-2 night games a year." While the Big Ten reached this conclusion a little later than most leagues, it's better late than never.
Could former Maryland QB Danny O'Brien play for a Big Ten school in 2012?
Wisconsin and Penn State both need help at quarterback, and either team would welcome Danny O'Brien into the fold. While Wisconsin has always been mentioned as a potential destination for O'Brien, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien confirmed last week that the former Maryland quarterback has expressed interest in the Nittany Lions, too. I figured Danny O'Brien would head to Vanderbilt after Maryland reluctantly did the right thing in granting his release, but it's interesting to see two Big Ten programs in the mix. Wisconsin's biggest selling point is Russell Wilson and the success the NC State transfer had last year. Penn State's biggest selling point is Bill O'Brien and how he can help quarterbacks.
Speaking of O'Brien, can a coach have a honeymoon period despite being mostly panned after his hiring? O'Brien faced a lot of skepticism after being named Penn State's coach in early January, but his approval rating has improved in recent weeks, and rightfully so. In addition to saying all the right things and making some important changes to the program's culture, O'Brien and his staff are off to a strong start to 2013 recruiting. Penn State has five strong verbal commits, highlighted by quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman. O'Brien coaches his first practice a week from today, but he has impressed so far.
It's not a big surprise to see coaches like Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Purdue's Danny Hope opposing the proposal to increase the bowl-eligibility requirement to seven wins from six. Both men, after all, coached 6-6 teams to bowl games in 2011. While Fitzgerald's Wildcats lost yet another bowl game, Hope's team built a bit of momentum for 2012 with a win in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. I don't expect coaches to support anything that would reduce the number of bowls and increase pressure on coaches to make the postseason, but they'll likely lose this argument. As Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and others have pointed out, when bowl games are pairing 6-win teams with fired head coaches -- as we saw in the most recent Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl (Illinois-UCLA) -- there's something wrong.
Offensive line will be one of the more intriguing position groups to watch around the Big Ten this year. Teams like Minnesota, Michigan and Northwestern already have discussed some personnel shuffling along the offensive line or new players joining the mix. Michigan must replace a superstar in center David Molk and Northwestern loses some experience, while Minnesota needs to find the right group after using many different combinations of lines in 2011.
I'm excited to visit Lincoln early next month and check out Nebraska's spring practice. There seems to be a renewed sense of urgency for the Huskers, who didn't reach their goals in 2011 and ended the season on a down note in the Capital One Bowl. Quarterback Taylor Martinez drew some good reviews in the first few spring workouts.