Big Ten: Art Briles

You can argue over who's the best running back in college football, but there's little doubt who the two most efficient runners are.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Baylor's Lache Seastrunk are essentially picking up a first down on every rush attempt. Gordon is averaging 9.46 yards per carry, while Seastrunk is at 9.16. Those are the top two yards per carry averages by running backs in the FBS and trail only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota among all players. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and Big 12 blogger Jake Trotter discuss what makes both runners so dynamic and try to figure out whether they should be touching the ball even more.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon has rushed for more than 100 yards in six of the Badgers' seven games this season.
Brian Bennett: Jake, let's start with Seastrunk. We all know Baylor's offense is an astronomical phenomenon. How big a part of that is Seastrunk, and what makes him special in that offense?

Jake Trotter: He's a huge part. There's a reason why receivers Tevin Reese and Antwan Goodley have combined for 10 touchdowns of 40 yards or more. Sure, those guys are blazing fast. But defenses are so concerned about Seastrunk running wild on them, that Reese and Goodley end up in one-on-one situations downfield.

What about Gordon, Brian?

BB: Gordon is incredibly talented, so much so that Montee Ball said before Gordon ever took the field that he might be the most talented Wisconsin back ever. That's saying something. At 6-foot-1, Gordon gobbles up the field with his long-striding form and is almost impossible to catch once he finds a seam. He has touchdown runs of 70, 71 and 80 yards this season. The Badgers also know just how to use him right. He not only lines up in conventional positions, but he is often employed on jet sweeps where he can get a full head of steam as he heads out to the perimeter.

Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Wisconsin's offensive line, which is once again stacked with massive human beings who create gaping holes for their backs. That's a major reason for the program's tradition of star tailbacks, and it undoubtedly contributes to Gordon's success, though I think he'd be wildly effective in any system. Which leads me to my question for you: how much of Seastrunk's stats stem from Baylor's system, and how much is just on his own talent? In other words, do you think he'd have the same type of numbers if he and Gordon switched places tomorrow?

JT: The system is a big part of it. Coach Art Briles' track record dating back to the Robert Griffin III years speaks for itself. But the supporting cast is a big part, too. Guard Cyril Richardson leads an offensive line that excels at paving running lanes. The threat of Bryce Petty throwing the ball downfield to Reese and Goodley means defenses can't even think about loading the box. Seastrunk also has a capable wingman in Glasco Martin, who takes some of the rushing load off Seastrunk's shoulders. This Baylor offense is awesome, and Seastrunk is just one part of it. That is a big reason why he's such an efficient runner. He plays on a great offense.

[+] EnlargeOregon Ducks' Lache Seastrunk
Cooper Neill/Getty ImagesBaylor running back Lache Seastrunk, who transferred from Oregon, already has three more rushing touchdowns (10) than he had all of last season.
That takes away from his carries. But he doesn't need a lot of carries to be effective. What about Gordon?

BB: Yeah, Seastrunk is averaging a little under 14 carries per game, while Gordon is getting just a little more than 15 rushing attempts per game. In Gordon's case, Wisconsin has another stud running back in senior James White, who ranks No. 29 in the FBS in rushing yards and who has over 3,200 career rushing yards. Four times already this season, Gordon and White have gone over 100 yards in the same game, and White came within two yards last week at Illinois of making it five times. Coach Gary Andersen has basically split the carries between the two, which keeps them both fresh, and I think he feels a little more comfortable with the veteran White in there for pass protection purposes.

But it makes you wonder what kind of numbers Gordon could put up if he got a steady 20-to-25 carries per game. What do you think Seastrunk could do with a heavier workload, and do you think the lack of carries will hurt either back when it comes to major awards like the Doak Walker or All-America honors?

JT: I don't think it will hurt Seastrunk in either category as long as Baylor keeps winning. The key stat with Seastrunk is yards per carry. He is averaging a whopping 9.16 per rush. As long as he keeps that up, Baylor keeps pouring on points and the Bears keep winning, he'll remain at the forefront of the Doak Walker and All-American candidacies. Seastrunk, however, probably has almost no shot at the Heisman. Petty has divided the Baylor vote, and in many ways overshadowed the running back by leading the nation in Total QBR through the midway point of the season. If Petty keeps putting up monster numbers, he -- not Seastrunk -- will likely emerge as the Baylor candidate for the Heisman.
Kirk Ferentz, Paul RhoadsGetty Images, US PresswireWho is better in the state of Iowa, Kirk Ferentz or Paul Rhoads?
So, it's that time of year again, Brian. Let us kneel by this bushel of corn and debate the merits of two men on Iowan sidelines. Ultimately, we're debating Paul Rhoads versus Kirk Ferentz, but let's start with the basics.

Ferentz is the guy whose name seems to come up every other offseason for an NFL opening, but yet, here he is well beyond the seven-year itch in Iowa City. How would you describe his place in the collective opinion of the Hawkeyes fan base?

Brian Bennett: Unless you're winning national titles every other year like Nick Saban, it's hard to coach somewhere for 14 years and not hear some grumbling. I don't think you could have found many Iowa fans who would have been upset with Ferentz in 2009, when the team started 10-0 and won the Orange Bowl. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes have stalled a bit since then, going 7-5 in the last two regular seasons. There are some who want to see a more dazzling offense -- even though James Vandenberg threw for more than 3,000 yards last season -- or bigger-name coordinators. Iowa fans have high expectations for a guy who makes $3.8 million and is one of the top 10 best paid coaches in the country. But I think most reasonable Hawkeyes fans know, at least deep down, that they'd be hard pressed to land a better coach in Iowa City.

I know you're very high on Rhoads, and not just because he's highly quotable. He's masterminded some great upsets in his short tenure with the Cyclones. Still, he's got a 19-20 record. Should we be that excited about him?

David Ubben: It's unfair to look simply at his overall record and draw conclusions from there. Simply put: It's hard to win at Iowa State. Maybe harder than any other school in the Big 12, though Kansas State and Kansas have a strong argument. All you need to do is look at history.

Iowa State's been to 11 bowls in a little more than a century of college football. Rhoads has brought the Cyclones to bowl games in two of the past three seasons, and almost made it 3-for-3 if not for a missed throw on a windy day against Nebraska in 2010. Nobody knows the danger of crossing paths with Rhoads more than Nebraska. Find me another coach who could lose his starting quarterback, running back and a handful of linemen, but still go into Memorial Stadium and beat a Big 12 North (check your history books if y'all don't know what that is) champion like Nebraska for the first time in Lincoln in more than three decades. (I don't care how many turnovers Nebraska had in that game, by the way. Somebody had to force them, no?)

[+] EnlargePhil Parker
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDefensive coordinator Phil Parker has been with Kirk Ferentz for 14 years.
Rhoads is unbelievable. Coaching is all about getting the most out of what you have. Rhoads does that as well as anybody in the country. Gene Chizik won a national championship at Auburn ... and went 5-19 in two seasons in Ames before he did it. Rhoads took the same two-win team from Chizik and turned them into a seven-win team, winning the first bowl game for the school since 2004. Not many guys can do that.

You also have to consider the kinds of coaches Rhoads has brought on his staff. He's only been at Iowa State a little more than three years and Urban Meyer already jacked his offensive coordinator, Tom Herman. For the uninitiated among us, who are a few coaching names we'd recognize from Kirk Ferentz's coaching tree?

BB: Ferentz's coaching staff at Iowa has been so strongly-rooted that no new tree has needed to sprout. He had the same offensive and defensive coordinators for his first 13 years at Iowa before Norm Parker retired and Ken O'Keefe left for the NFL this past offseason. Many of his other assistants are also virtual Hawkeye lifers, like new defensive coordinator Phil Parker, who's in his 14th year with Ferentz. I guess you could point to his son, Brian, who was an offensive assistant with the New England Patriots before moving on to -- you guessed it -- Iowa this offseason.

Ferentz must be doing something right for all those coaches to want to stay on his staff for so long. Besides, wouldn't you rather have long-term stability with your coaches instead of assistants who can't wait to jump at the next opportunity? Continuity has been a hallmark of Ferentz's tenure, as has tremendous player development. NFL scouts know they must make a stop in Iowa City, because Hawkeyes players are so well-coached and prepared for the pro game. Iowa has had 18 players selected in the NFL draft in the past three years alone, which is pretty impressive. Can Rhoads make the same claim?

DU: He can't, but you could make the argument that it only makes Rhoads' accomplishments at Iowa State even more impressive. He's only had two players drafted since he arrived, highlighted by second-rounder Kelechi Osemele last year, a four-year starter along the offensive line for the Cyclones.

Bottom line: Iowa State is the school with less tradition in a state that doesn't have a ton of Division I talent. Rhoads has to go elsewhere, and most often for him, that means Texas. He's found some gems down there, including Jared Barnett, the guy who engineered last year's upset against No. 2 Oklahoma State--the best win in school history. Rhoads is a great developer of talent, but ultimately, the NFL loves its measureables. Iowa State doesn't churn out many players that wow you with their physical skills. Still, the wins come, and last year, his linebacker, A.J. Klein, shared Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors. Klein and teammate Jake Knott may have NFL futures, and future Cyclones may as well, but Rhoads is still building. That NFL pipeline is still under construction.

The thing that ISU fans have to love most about Rhoads, though, is how much he's changed the perception of the school. It's similar to what Mike Leach established at Texas Tech. Teams fear Iowa State, and after last year's win over Oklahoma State, how could they not? Iowa State's anything but a gimme win these days. That alone is worth a lot.

What's Ferentz done for Iowa's perception across the Big Ten?

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

My colleague Tim Griffin has an interesting piece over at the Big 12 blog about Phil Taylor, the former Penn State defensive tackle who transferred to Baylor after being dismissed from the program last summer. 

Taylor was among the swell of Penn State players involved in off-field incidents in 2007 and early 2008. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct for his role in an a fight at the Penn State student union in October 2007. Teammate Navorro Bowman pleaded guilty to the same charge and went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors as a linebacker last fall, but Taylor and fellow defensive linemen Chris Baker were kicked off the team in July. 

Taylor didn't want to discuss Penn State too much, but he did say he was treated unfairly "because there were a lot of others in the same situation for similar things there."

There was also this tidbit:

"He is already struck by the difference in the leadership styles of Baylor coach Art Briles and [Joe] Paterno.

'I've been around a lot of teams, but here, it's more loose,' Taylor said. 'The coach lets us have fun. We still work very hard and do the things that we are supposed to do. But it's not quite as regimented as it was there -- do this, don't do that.'

The feeling around the program is different, too, Taylor said.

'Here, they treat us more like adults,' he said."

That's certainly a dig at Penn State, which has an old-school culture largely because of its old-school coach. But Paterno was in a pretty tough spot last summer after Penn State's reputation had been challenged. Many viewed his dismissals of Taylor and Baker as reactionary moves. 

Penn State shifted the focus back to the field by going 11-2 and winning a share of the Big Ten title. Plus, player conduct has improved significantly during the last six months.

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