Big Ten: Arizona Wildcats
Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.
- It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
- If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
- Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."
There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.
While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.
As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.
This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.
That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
In fact, this is the fourth straight game that the Cardinal will be seeing one of the three finalists for the award given to the nation’s top running back. Only this time, they are facing the guy who brought home the hardware.
First, they held Oregon’s Kenjon Barner to just 66 yards on 21 carries. Then in they kept UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin to just 65 yards on 21 carries. In the Pac-12 title game, also against UCLA, Franklin had a monster game, rushing for 194 yards on 19 carries. But hey, these guys are Doak Walker finalists for a reason, right?
“They're very physical,” he said. “They're big. They're big up front. The linebackers are very physical. They play extremely smart, which allows for them to make great plays … They're a lot faster than people think and they'll shock you at times because they're great athletes.”
To win the Doak Walker award, you have to be a pretty good athlete as well. And Ball is that. He’s rushed for 1,730 yards and 21 touchdowns while averaging 133.1 yards per game.
“First off, he's a great runner behind his pads,” said Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov.” It really goes unnoticed, but every time he gets hit, he falls forward 5 more yards, which makes a big difference, because you're looking at second-and-7 or second-and-5, for the dynamic of what you're doing from an offensive perspective. He's elusive, and I think he's faster this year than he has been in years past. So he's definitely going to be terrific competition for us.”
Of course, this isn’t anything the Cardinal haven’t seen in the past. Stanford boasts the nation’s No. 3 rush defense and is allowing just 87.69 yards per game. Considering the competition they’ve faced (let’s not forget to include consensus All-American Ka'Deem Carey from Arizona in there as well) that’s an awfully impressive season-long statistic.
“They do a good job,” said Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “They're well-coached. They are. It's not clinic talk. They're gap sound. Each week, I think we can do this. Some weeks it works, some weeks it doesn't. There's always a chink. I'm sure they've watched us for a month; this is how they're going to attack us. I'm sure they're right. But they're well coached, smart football players. They do a lot and their kids don't make mistakes.”
Just because Stanford has seen three All-Americans during the course of its season, it doesn’t mean they can take Ball or the Wisconsin rushing attack lightly.
“When you talk about Montee Ball, you're talking about one of the best in the country, Doak Walker Award winner,” said Stanford defensive coordinator Derek Mason. “He's got speed, size, and great vision. Finds seams and creases, and the one thing that he's been able to do is get better as games have gone on. So I think this group is formidable. They're probably one of the best that we'll see all year, and that presents a challenge.”
Wisconsin is also giving Stanford its due respect. But they aren't going to be intimidated by the numbers.
"I think it's going to be a much different test," said Wisconsin center Travis Frederick. "I can't say it's going to be tougher. Their defense has done tremendous things and they deserve to be ranked where they are ... It's going to be a little bit different, but I think it's going to be a comparable challenge, and potentially a greater challenge."
Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.
Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?
Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?
It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.
So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.
Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.
Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.
After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.
The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.
Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.
Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.
We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?
The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.
The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.
Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.
Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.
But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.
That might say something about playing better defense.
And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.
Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!
Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?
Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.
That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?
Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.
Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.
Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.
While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?
Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.
Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?
Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.
Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?
What's your take?
Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.
OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?
Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.
What do you see from this one?
OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?
Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.
I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.
I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.
As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.
So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.
Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.
The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.
Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.
Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.
So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!
Everyone is hatin' on the ACC. When it comes to ranking conferences heading into the 2010 season, the ACC is struggling to stay in the top 5.
Well, HD, welcome to my world between January 2007 and January 2010.
The Big Ten feels the ACC's pain after being the national piñata for the better part of three seasons. And while the Big Ten didn't do much to help the ACC's rep this bowl season -- Iowa and Wisconsin outclassed Georgia Tech and Miami -- the league knows what it's like to be dissed nationally.
The Big Ten's rep has been restored a bit, thanks to a strong bowl performance highlighted by two BCS wins and four victories against top-15 opponents. But until the Big Ten ends its national title drought, it likely won't fully regain respect around the college football world.
Leagues get two chances to improve their national perception: the nonconference and the postseason. While I won't predict Big Ten bowl matchups just yet, here are five opportunities for the league to help itself in the eyes of the nation.
2. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: Sorry, Dinich, but I look at this as a hold-serve matchup for Ohio State (think Isner-Mahut at Wimbledon). Miami should be very good, but the Buckeyes will be expected to defend their home turf against Jacory Harris & Co. A loss by the Big Ten favorites could really hurt the league's national reputation.
3. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC might have no bowl future and an untested head coach in Lane Kiffin, but it's still USC, the program that has tormented the Big Ten like none other during the last decade. Minnesota can make a major statement for itself and the league by upsetting the Trojans at TCF Bank Stadium. A Big Ten team hasn't beaten USC since Aug. 25, 1996, when Penn State knocked off the Trojans in the Kickoff Classic.
4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: This game means more for Iowa's reputation than it does the Big Ten's, but a league never wants one of its best teams to stumble early. Arizona is a good but not great team, but Iowa must travel two time zones away and play a night game. It's a classic trap game that the Hawkeyes need to survive, for their sake and the Big Ten's.
5. Purdue/Michigan/Michigan State against Notre Dame: Beating Notre Dame certainly doesn't mean what it used to, but people around the country still pay attention every time the Fighting Irish take the field. The Big Ten might not gain a ton of respect by beating Notre Dame, but the league certainly can't hurt its national perception by taking care of the Irish.
Which teams are truly stepping out on a limb this fall?
Here's a look at the five most challenging nonconference games involving Big Ten teams.
1. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: When you face the defending national champs in their house early in the season, you've got a good chance of being at the top of this list. A young quarterback will lead Penn State into Tuscaloosa to face Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and the Crimson Tide. Penn State will need to control the clock with Evan Royster and the run game and get a huge performance from its defense to keep pace with Bama.
2. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC went through a coaching transition and comes off its worst season since 2001. Minnesota also gets the Trojans in its home stadium. But USC will be better on defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, and Matt Barkley also should make strides in his second season. There's so much talent on the Trojans roster, and Minnesota will be tested in every aspect of the game.
3. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: There will be a ton of buzz around this matchup, and I probably would have ranked it higher before watching Miami crumble against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes still have something to prove on the national stage, and they'll get a chance against a ferocious Buckeyes defense led by Cameron Heyward. Miami's speed and athleticism will test the Buckeyes, and the matchup between Harris and Terrelle Pryor will be a lot of fun.
4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: The Hawkeyes passed all but one of their road tests in 2009, and they'll be challenged with an early trip to the desert. Arizona brings back a lot of offensive firepower, including quarterback Nick Foles, running back Nic Grigsby and wide receiver Juron Criner. The Wildcats lost only one home game in 2008, a double-overtime heartbreaker against Pac-10 champion Oregon. Iowa will need to be sound on defense and limit mistakes on offense.
5. Purdue at Notre Dame, Sept. 4: It was close between Purdue-ND and Illinois-Missouri for the fifth spot, but Notre Dame seems to always win games like this one. Since Frank Leahy became Notre Dame coach in 1941, only one Fighting Irish head man has lost his first game on the job (Lou Holtz endured a 1-point defeat to No. 3 Michigan in 1986). Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks and questions on defense, but it will be tough to know what to expect from innovative play-caller Brian Kelly in Week 1.
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg
Holy Rose Bowl! It's another Big Ten-Pac-10 weekend, with No. 8 California visiting Minnesota and Arizona headed to Iowa. All four teams are 2-0. Seems like a good time for another blogger debate.
Ted Miller: You again! Adam, we need to stop meeting like this. Or at least the Big Ten should stop meeting like Ohio State did with USC. Perhaps there will be some redemption on Saturday when California visits Minnesota and Arizona takes a gander at Iowa.
|Icon SMI/US Presswire|
|Golden mascots square off in the Twin Cities on Saturday.|
Let's start with your game Saturday in fancy pants TCF Bank Stadium. (Nice job, Minnesota.)
I look over Minnesota's particulars and I can't get a good vibe about what Cal should expect, particularly after the Gophers struggled to beat Syracuse and Air Force. Who are these guys ... and whose mascot is more golden?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted! Buddy! Good to be with you again. OK, full disclosure here. I grew up in Berkeley, attended pretty much every Cal home game between 1994 to 1999. Witnessed the one Mariucci season in '96 (still have nightmares about the Pat Barnes fumble at Washington State) and the insufferable Tom Holmoe era. But I was never a huge Oski the Bear fan. Too subdued of a mascot. Looked like a glum professor who hadn't had his sweater ironed in 50 years. And he doesn't wear pants, which is perfect for Berkeley (I grew up there, so I can say that!) So Goldy Gopher gets my vote. He's goldier.
As for Minnesota, they did struggle against the Cuse, but the Air Force win is pretty solid in my book. The defense has been the big plus so far, especially the three linebackers (Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence). Triplett has gone from special teams all-star to major playmaker. The offense has struggled quite a bit, as Minnesota incorporates a new pro-style system under Jedd Fisch. It's a pretty dramatic departure from what they did the last two seasons, and it has taken a bit of time to click. Quarterback Adam Weber has loads of experience and can be effective when he limits interceptions, and Eric Decker is a freaking stud. Might be the best wide receiver in America that no one talks about. The problem is Minnesota hasn't found many weapons other than Decker. The Gophers need to spark their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge and hope a No. 2 wide receiver emerges, possibly speedster Troy Stoudermire.
I saw Cal is flying in Thursday for the game. Will the Bears be ready to play this time around for a 9 a.m. Pacific kickoff, and can anyone slow down Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen? How has Kevin Riley looked so far?
|Paul Jasienski-US PRESSWIRE|
|Cal QB Kevin Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency.|
As for Best and Vereen, they are a great combination for sure. Best is going to make a play or two, mostly because he always does. The question is whether he can be such a bothersome threat that he forces Minnesota to load up the box. If that happens, a much-improved Kevin Riley and a receiving corps that has grown up could make big plays down field. Riley ranks eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and has yet to throw a pick, so he's started off as a completely different quarterback from the guy who was so inconsistent last last season.
The big issue for Cal is playing on the road: They've lost four in a row on the road. Moreover, they've not been challenged by a team so far that can approach them physically. Minnesota will be a far tougher test, and we just don't know whether Riley and the Bears can maintain their cool efficiency away from Berkley.
As for the other game: Iowa seems to have righted itself with the big win over Iowa State. But Arizona has a fast defense. Can quarterback Ricky Stanzi and running back Brandon Wegher lead an effective attack against the Wildcats?
AR: As I like to say, Stanzi is the Manzi. Actually, Stanzi has been inconsistent throughout his time as the starter, mixing big plays with too many picks. But he has more targets this year with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Tony Moeki, Trey Stross and Marvin McNutt. The running game has been a bit messy this year because of departures (Shonn Greene) and injuries (Jewel Hampton, Jeff Brinson). Brandon Wegher likely would have redshirted but stepped up big last week. He and another freshman, Adam Robinson, will get most of the carries Saturday. It's rare to see Kirk Ferentz play so many young players, but these guys seem up to the task. The offensive line could be without star left tackle Bryan Bulaga (illness) again, so those two speedy Arizona pass-rushers will have their ears pinned back for sure.
Let's talk about the Wildcats offense. How good is Nic Grigsby and does Arizona have a passing game to complement the nation's second leading rusher?
TM: Grigsby is off to a fast start, but the Iowa defense will offer a far tougher test than Central Michigan and Northern Arizona. Also, Grigsby had some fumbling problems a year ago -- he got benched a couple of times and capable back Keola Antolin took over -- but that has yet to be an issue in 2009. My guess is the Hawkeyes load the box, gang up on Grigsby and will dare Arizona's new quarterback, sophomore Matt Scott, to pass, which is never easy on the road.
And therein lies a huge issue for this game. Arizona's best player, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is out with a back injury. Gronkowski is a beast. More than a few folks in the Pac-10 believe he's every bit the player that Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham is. Think having a 6-foot-6, 265-pound safety valve would help a young QB? It also doesn't help that No. 1 receiver Delashaun Dean has been slowed by a hamstring injury, though he will play.
So, the Wildcats passing game, with Scott making his first road start, is a huge question.
Speaking of road games, seems like all the Big Ten owns home field advantage in all these matchups with the Pac-10 ... no fair. But, seriously, which place will be more difficult for a visitor from the West Coast? I love Minnesota's new digs but I've heard a lot about pink bathrooms and the nutty horde at Kinnick Stadium.
AR: Well, you guys do have this game called the Rose Bowl. If memory serves, it's in Pac-10 country. Like in USC's backyard. That reminds me, Ted, can you find a way to make sure the Trojans don't go to Pasadena this year? The Big Ten would like a break from the Trojans after all these years of punishment. I stayed on the same floor as Pete Carroll last week in Columbus but forgot to ask him myself. Let me know what they say over at Heritage Hall. Thanks, dude.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Ricky Stanzi has passed for 439 yards and five touchdowns so far this season.|
TCF Bank Stadium is pretty freaking awesome, and I'm excited to see the finished product in person. But I'd have to go with Kinnick Stadium as a tougher place right now. Iowa always sells it out and the fans are right on top of the field. It's a tremendous atmosphere, one of my favorites in the league. The early start time at Minnesota could be tougher for a Pac-10 team, but Kinnick definitely is less hospitable.
OK, prediction time. Who you got in Minnesota-Cal? Arizona-Iowa?
TM: Rose Bowl in Detroit, which is beautiful in midwinter!
I don't think anyone wants to see USC in the Rose Bowl again -- even USC's fans and players. The Trojans, however, wouldn't mind being in Pasadena again this January, if you catch my drift (nudge, nudge).
As for the predictions: For folks who read the Pac-10 blog, they know I've been advocating Cal as the team that might challenge USC's seven-year run atop the conference. They also know that for weeks I've been ranting about how underrated Arizona is.
So I've got pick a road warrior weekend for the Pac-10.
Let's say: Cal 35-21
And: Arizona 24-21.
Now, for the pick you should take to Vegas ...
AR: Call me a homer, but I've got to go with Cal. Minnesota has really struggled to make plays on offense, and while the Gophers' defense looks much improved, it'll be hard to contain Best and Vereen for 60 minutes and keep Cal off the scoreboard. Minnesota will have its crowd going and should keep things relatively, close, but I have Cal winning by 11, 34-23.
We'll probably see a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa's defense is always solid under Norm Parker, and the front seven should prevent Grigsby from going nuts. I think Iowa got its mojo back last week and pulls this one out, 21-17 Hawkeyes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
What am I? A schmuck on wheels?
- Always love a good mustache story, and Penn State linebacker Josh Hull apparently has a good one, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. Lions quarterback Daryll Clark is taking what the defense offers, and that's plenty of passing chances, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- A big blow for Arizona, which loses star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the Iowa game, colleague Ted Miller writes. Brandon Wegher was a YouTube sensation, but some still doubted the Iowa running back's ability, Scott Dochterman writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- With a brutal start to Big Ten play, Illinois' first bye week comes at a good time, Loren Tate writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. Illinois' schedule doesn't have many gimmes, Herb Gould writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Ohio State's offense is having an identity crisis right now, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Buckeyes linebacker Brian Rolle wouldn't have come to Columbus without Toledo head coach Tim Beckman, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Some surprising picks from The Detroit News' staffers for Michigan and Michigan State. Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton should sit out against Eastern Michigan after his "punch" last week, annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein writes.
- When Michigan State's secondary struggles, head coach Mark Dantonio takes it personal, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- The numbers haven't been good for Ohio State this season, the Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine writes in his blog.
- It's hard to get a read on Indiana's 2-0 start, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star.
- Minnesota wide receiver Hayo Carpenter is still waiting for his opportunity, Marcus Fuller writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa star left tackle Bryan Bulaga hasn't returned to practice as he undergoes tests on the undisclosed illness that kept him sidelined for last week's game at Iowa State.
Bulaga is expected to miss Tuesday's practice. Head coach Kirk Ferentz expects to know more about Bulaga's status as the week progresses.
"It's still up in the air," Ferentz said. "We'll see how the week plays out. It's totally out of our hands right now. ... Most players play better if they practice and he hasn't been on the field since Wednesday, so it's day to day right now. We're hopeful he'll be back, but we're not certain of it."
Redshirt freshman Riley Reiff made his first career start at left tackle against Iowa State and performed well in a 35-3 win. The 6-foot-6, 280-pound Reiff should get the nod Saturday against Arizona (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) if Bulaga can't go.
"He did a good job," Ferentz said. "The good news is he'll improve. Whenever he gets that opportunity, he'll improve. The biggest thing is he looked more comfortable playing tackle."
Iowa could certainly use Bulaga against Arizona, which boasts two very solid defensive ends in Ricky Elmore and Brooks Reed, who combined for 15 sacks last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For the most part, BCS teams structure their nonconference schedules to satisfy two objectives: revenue and a better overall record. There are several marquee nonleague matchups in the Big Ten this season, but teams generally want to get through the slate unscathed. Still, they should be wary of danger games.
These are the types of matchups that Big Ten teams should win, but aren't guaranteed to do so. Big Ten teams have struggled against supposedly inferior foes in recent years, dropping games, among others, to Duke, Western Michigan, Iowa State and, yes, Appalachian State.
Let's take a look at five games wrapped in caution tape for Big Ten teams this fall.
Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 5
Michigan's recent struggles in season openers have been well documented, and the young Wolverines face another test against Western Michigan. The New York Times sees the matchup as a dead heat, ranking the Broncos at No. 56 nationally, one spot ahead of Michigan. Still, this will always be viewed as a game Michigan should win. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller will test a Wolverines defense adjusting to a new system.
Air Force at Minnesota, Sept. 12
The adrenaline will be flowing for Minnesota players as they open their new on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, under the lights. But Tim Brewster's team should be very concerned about Air Force, which tests a team's discipline much more than most non-BCS foes. If Minnesota lacks the necessary focus, Air Force will take advantage and potentially ruin a big night in Minneapolis.
Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12
Despite its recent rise under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan still lacks a marquee win over a Big Ten team. The Chippewas try to get it against Michigan State, which shouldn't overlook this matchup. Dan LeFevour will be one of the best quarterbacks the Spartans face all season, and a strong secondary will be tested by the four-year starter. If LeFevour and the Chippewas offense start strong, they'll put pressure on Michigan State quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, one of whom will be facing his first major test as a starter.
Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19
Both teams are coming off bowl victories, but Iowa returns more key contributors and has the home-field edge. Mike Stoops will have his Wildcats team ready as he returns to Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes should be the favorite. Iowa's struggles in recent years have come early in the season, and this could be a trap game before a huge trip to Penn State. With the running game a bit of a mystery, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will need to be sharp.
Wisconsin at Hawaii, Dec. 5
It would be a big mistake to view this as a trip to paradise. Just ask Northwestern. In 2004, the Wildcats were bowl eligible at 6-5 went they went out to "The Rock," as Hawaii calls its home, and lost to fall out of the postseason picture. Wisconsin should be playing for bowl position when it makes the long trip over the Pacific, and the Badgers can't afford to slip up. Hawaii always plays extremely well at home and strange things tend to happen at Aloha Stadium, so the Badgers should definitely beware.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Now it's time to get more specific and look at the nonconference schedules for each Big Ten team. The Big Ten has taken a lot of heat for softening its nonleague slates, though other BCS conferences, namely the SEC, are also guilty of the practice.
Here's how they stack up, from toughest to easiest.
1. ILLINOIS -- vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois State, at Cincinnati, Fresno State
It's not just the opponents that make the slate tough, but also unusual dates of the games. Illinois must finish with two tough nonleague foes in late November and early December, when a bowl berth likely will be on the line. The Illini have lost their last five games against Missouri in St. Louis.
2. PURDUE -- Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame
First-year head coach Danny Hope has his work cut out for him early on this fall. Oregon is the toughest nonconference road game for a Big Ten team this season, and Notre Dame has been pegged as a BCS bowl contender (jury's still out for me) and lit up the Boilermakers' defense last year in South Bend. Northern Illinois also could be a very tough game for Purdue.
3. MINNESOTA -- at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State
Arguably no Big Ten team has a tougher opening stretch than the Gophers. Sure, Syracuse is down, but Doug Marrone's first game and the possible debut of Greg Paulus at quarterback should get the Carrier Dome cranked. Air Force and especially Cal provide major tests at the new TCF Bank stadium.
4. OHIO STATE -- Navy, USC, vs. Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico State
The USC factor simply can't be overlooked on what is otherwise a soft slate for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's matchup with USC once again serves as the league's premier nonconference matchup and a chance for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten to gain some redemption. Navy is never an easy game, especially in the opener.
5. IOWA -- Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas StateThe Hawkeyes are consistently solid in scheduling, and this slate shouldn't generate too many complaints. If you're going to play an FCS team, Northern Iowa is a darn good one. Mike Stoops returns to Iowa City with an Arizona team coming off of a bowl victory in 2008. Iowa shouldn't have much trouble going 4-0 -- rival Iowa State remains a disaster -- but the competition isn't terrible.
6. MICHIGAN STATE -- Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan
The Spartans' slate isn't as challenging as it was last season, but a trip to what should be an improved Notre Dame team could be tough. Michigan State has won three straight against the Irish, who crumbled on offense last year in East Lansing. Two tough MAC opponents with talented quarterbacks (Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour) should test Michigan State's defense.
7. INDIANA -- Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia
The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to play two true nonconference road games, which stands for something even though both Akron and Virginia have struggled recently. Western Michigan also provides a big test in Week 2 for a Hoosiers defense hoping to turn a corner behind Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Matt Mayberry.
8. MICHIGAN -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State
Michigan doesn't deserve to be ranked this high, but the Wolverines' schedule looks like a gauntlet compared to the sorry slates belonging to some other Big Ten teams. Western Michigan presents a sizable challenge in the opener, as Greg Robinson's defense faces off against Hiller. A transitioning Michigan offense might need to keep pace on the scoreboard. Notre Dame also will test the Wolverines with its high-powered passing attack.
9. WISCONSIN -- Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii
Soft scheduling has been a hot topic in Badger Nation, and this year's rundown won't do much to quench the fire. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are decent teams, but the lack of a BCS opponent drags down the quality of the schedule. Hawaii has been tough to beat at home in recent years, and Wisconsin could be fighting for bowl position when it heads to Oahu.
10. NORTHWESTERN -- Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Miami (Ohio)
Northwestern is trying to make bowl games on a more consistent basis, and another visit to Cupcake City should help. All four of these teams have new head coaches, and the lone "test," a trip to Syracuse, certainly isn't what it used to be. The watered-down slate certainly won't remedy Northwestern's attendance problems, and the school should (and will) take a more aggressive approach to scheduling in the future.
11. PENN STATE -- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois
This is the hard truth for Penn State: A desire to fill Beaver Stadium eight times could very well keep the Nittany Lions out of the national title game. We won't get a true read on Penn State until Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26, and anything less than an undefeated season will prevent the Lions from reaching the BCS championship in Pasadena. Sure, Penn State had no idea Syracuse would be this bad, but the absence of a road game against a decent opponent could really hurt the national profile of the team and its individual stars this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's my question: Why is the Big Ten offseason so long?
OK, your turn.
Jonathan from Torrance, Calif., writes: Everyone always talks about possible teams that could be added to the Big Ten, but my question to you is, which team do you think contributes least to the Big Ten and could be subtracted?
Adam Rittenberg: It's a tough call, Jonathan, since all the teams bring something a little different to the table. For years the answer would have been Northwestern, which had non-competitive teams in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. But the Wildcats have been a different team since 1995, winning three Big Ten titles and reaching six bowls. If you go by recent performance, it has to be Indiana. The Hoosiers didn't reach a bowl from 1994-2007 and slipped back again last year. At times the program seems neglected, though the recent improvements to Memorial Stadium suggest those days are ending.
Wes from Columbus writes: I have been seeing a lot of people on the blogs saying that pryor has no throwing ability. Do you agree with this or do you think that these opinions are develped from the amount of yards per game he was averaging? Tressel was not letting him throw alot partly because we had beanie who could break one for a TD on any play. Afterall, he was the most efficient passer in the big ten last year. Another reason could be because of his showing in the Fiesta bowl in which he played with a bum shoulder on his throwing arm. Do people know that he was hurt in that game? Your opinion?
Adam Rittenberg: You're right in part, Wes, and Ohio State certainly was a run-first team last year. My concern with Terrelle Pryor isn't how he throws the deep ball, but the short and intermediate routes. He has to get more consistent on the high-percentage throws, but he certainly can make those improvements in his game. Pryor can become a decent or above-average passer, which will make him even more dangerous as a runner.
There was a lot of speculation about Pryor's health in the Fiesta Bowl, but nothing has been substantiated. It bothered me that on several plays he seemed to run out of bounds way too soon with open field ahead of him, but there has been nothing official on any injury.
Ken from Minnesota writes: Love your blog. You show a lot of energy and creativity in your coverage. I also appreciate that you cover all eleven teams. Brewster seems to like you and gives you some nice items/access. On your recent item: Traye Simmons stood out and made some nice plays. Sherels injury against Indiana helped contribute to the team slipping down the stretch; he had surgery at the end of the season(shoulder) so I hope he returns 100 percent. I'm not counting on Brock getting back in. Kim Royston went to Wisconsin for two years and was in on secondary coverage for Bielema. He left over perception he wasn't getting fair shake for playing time, sat out last year and is paying his own way at Minnesota and is expected to help out the secondary (safety-some corner). He's from St Paul's Catholic power Cretin-Derham High School, where Notre Dame has pulled a number of stars (including Michael Floyd). Brewster convincing Royston to transfer here on his own dime is a coup that he hopes leads to more success recruiting Cretin-Derham.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Ken. We'll have to wait and see on Tramaine Brock, but that's a risk you run by bringing in so many junior college players. Royston is an interesting addition for the Gophers after being squeezed out of the rotation at Wisconsin. He'll definitely be motivated to regain some playing time, though he enters a pretty crowded defensive backfield at Minnesota.
Brian from Baltimore writes: Adam, can we get an update on the PSU reciever situation? If I had to guess, I'd say Derek Moye and Justin Brown will take over the #1 and #2 reciever roles. Also, I think Devon Smith is the clear choice for punt/kick returns.
Adam Rittenberg: Moye seems to be a popular man among Penn State fans, and I'd expect him to get a lot of attention this spring. He boasts excellent size (6-5), a trait Penn State didn't have with multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. A freshman like Brown should get a shot to play right away, but I could see a guy like Brett Brackett or Graham Zug earning a spot as a possession wideout. Chaz Powell also will be in the mix.
Greg from Iowa City writes: Arizona's football game at Iowa this fall is considered a premium game, in part, because the Wildcats are coached by former Hawkeye Mike Stoops.
Adam Rittenberg: True, Mike Stoops definitely is a draw, having played and coached at Iowa. But there's not much recent history between the teams, and Iowa could have saved its premium dates for the Big Ten schedule. It really can go either way, since it's a bit of a ho-hum Big Ten home slate for the Hawkeyes this year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
No self-respecting list of Big Ten rivalries would put Iowa-Northwestern in the top 5, though the bile between the Hawkeyes and Wildcats is certainly growing.
The series has been competitive since 1995 (Northwestern leads 7-5), and last season added some fuel. Northwestern beat Iowa in Iowa City and finished with a better overall record at the end of the regular season (9-3 vs. 8-4), but the Hawkeyes leapfrogged the Wildcats come bowl-selection time, as the Outback Bowl chose Iowa and its sizable fan base.
The rivalry definitely has heated up between fans of both teams, and I know Northwestern players consider the Hawkeyes their top rivals.
Iowa might have stoked the fire even more after announcing its single-game ticket prices for 2009, The (Cedar) Rapids Gazette's Mike Hlas writes in The Hlog blog (man, I love typing that).
The school listed Michigan ($70) and Arizona ($65) as its premium games for 2009, while tickets for the other five home contests, including a Nov. 7 meeting with Northwestern, will be $52. Hlas contends that by grouping Northwestern among the less-attractive games and highlighting a still-rebuilding Michigan team and a possibly rebuilding Arizona squad, Iowa is dissing the Wildcats.
"Michigan went 3-9 last season. Northwestern was 9-4. But the Iowa organization deemed Hawkeye fans' interest in seeing a rebuilding Wolverines program is higher than watching a Wildcats team that beat Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2008!
You would think Iowa might at least consider jacking up the price of the Northwestern game instead of the Sept. 19 meeting with Arizona. Arizona? Iowa and Arizona don't have a rivalry. The don't share a climate, let alone a conference. They haven't met in 11 years. It's just a game."
Hlas makes a pretty good pitch for why the Northwestern game deserves premium status.
"Those smarty-pants from Evanston got us here last year, the promotions could say. But this time it's personal.
OK, it's not an original line. Still, it will be personal. For both sides.
Those Iowa hicks took our Outback Bowl spot, Northwestern can say. Those Wildcats didn't beat us, we beat ourselves with turnovers, the Iowa side can say.
Run a reverse, Iowa ticket office. Sell $70 tickets for the Northwestern game, and $52 seats for Michigan."
It's an interesting take, though I'm not totally sold and neither is my pal Darren Rovell of CNBC. Michigan travels much better than Northwestern and has a national following. I can see why Iowa fans would be less hesitant to open their wallets for the Maize and Blue.
Then again, Iowa sold out 36 consecutive games until the 2008 regular-season finale and returns a top 20 squad this fall. Iowans aren't immune to the economic struggles, but they probably would pay a little extra to see their team play a meaningful November game against a decent team like Northwestern.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten schedule is nearly complete after Indiana added its final nonconference game today. The Iowa Hawkeyes are up next on the rundown.
Sept. 5 Northern Iowa
Sept. 12 at Iowa State
Sept. 19 Arizona
Oct. 3 Arkansas State
My take: This is a solid nonconference slate that should prepare Iowa for a Big Ten opener -- Sept. 26 at Penn State -- that could go a long way in deciding the league championship. Northern Iowa reached the FCS playoff semifinals last year before losing to eventual national champion Richmond in the final minute. Iowa State is a transitioning program with a new head coach (Paul Rhoads), but the Cyclones always play Iowa tough in the Cy-Hawk series. Arizona also might be rebuilding in 2009 but comes off a solid 2008 season capped by a Las Vegas Bowl victory over BYU. Iowa will be favored in all four games but should be tested at times.
BIG TEN SCHEDULE
Sept. 26 at Penn State
Oct. 10 Michigan
Oct. 17 at Wisconsin
Oct. 24 at Michigan State
Oct. 31 Indiana
Nov. 7 Northwestern
Nov. 14 at Ohio State
Nov. 21 Minnesota
Byes: Purdue, Illinois
My take: Iowa's trip to Penn State will be one of the Big Ten's marquee games this fall, but the Hawkeyes must avoid a hangover or a letdown, depending on the result at Beaver Stadium. The stretch following Penn State is crucial, as Iowa hosts a transitioning Michigan team before visiting Wisconsin, a team it embarrassed last year, and making a second consecutive trip to Michigan State. If the Hawkeyes survive the first four games, they'll be in good shape for another road showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 14. The home schedule is manageable, but Iowa gets no breaks away from Kinnick Stadium.