Big Ten: Big 12

Power rankings: Big 12 solidly second

October, 13, 2014
10/13/14
9:19
AM ET

Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
The “hot” debate entering the season was whether the Pac-12 could surpass the SEC as the top conference in the nation. The Big 12 was rarely mentioned as a top conference, however, despite returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks and having two of the top five defenses in ESPN’s preseason defensive efficiency rankings.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.

All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).

The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.

The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.

The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.

In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.


The Atlantic Coast Conference’s television contract extension with ESPN, announced Wednesday, is the first of three major conference deals expected to be finalized in the next few months.

The ACC contract was extended after the addition of new members Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh last September. The shifting of schools as part of conference realignment also led to changes in the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference that has those existing deals in play, too.

The ACC deal is worth $3.6 billion over the next 15 years, according to The Associated Press. That puts the ACC behind only the Big Ten and Pac-12 in terms of the average revenue per school, per year by one measure (viewing all current contracts divided between conferences’ 2012-13 membership.)

SportsBusiness Daily has reported the Big 12 has verbally agreed to a new contract with ESPN and FOX for its first-tier rights for $2.6 billion over 13 years. That would bring the per-year average for the Big 12 to $200 million and the per-school, per-year average to $20 million. The SEC is expected to reopen its contract talks with ESPN following the addition of the University of Missouri and Texas A&M.

ESPN had no comment on any of the deals, which vary in what slate of rights are included, but a spokesman did say that the network is in regular contact with its business partners.

With all of the shuffling and extensions, it can be hard to keep up. Here’s a listing, according to information from The Associated Press, SportsBusiness Daily, SportsBusiness Journal and Adweek, of where things stand now. The Big 12 extension is not included because it has not been finalized. Also, per-year averages and per-school, per-year averages are straight averages and do not take into account actual variances by year as stipulated in individual contracts.

(Read full post)

Has something seemed odd to you about the BCS bowls this year? Does it seem like ... oh wait, West Virginia just scored again.

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.
The Big Ten has benefited from the BCS system more than any other conference.

The league has made the most BCS bowl appearances (21), earned the most at-large selections (9) and sent a team to play for a national title three times despite a so-so record (10-11) in BCS games. And while the Big Ten didn't send a team to the Rose Bowl three times (2002, 2003, 2006), it maintains strong ties to the Granddaddy.

The Big Ten did all of it as an 11-team league without a championship game that ended its regular season before Thanksgiving.

Things will change in 2011, as the Big Ten welcomes Nebraska as its 12th member. The addition of a league championship game also is likely.

It begs the question: How will expansion and a likely championship game impact the Big Ten's BCS hopes?

A title game ensures one more loss for one of the Big Ten's top BCS at-large hopefuls. If the Big Ten goes to a nine-game conference schedule, an option athletic directors are considering, it means even more losses for the conference.

It's very likely the Big Ten won't have as many attractive candidates for BCS at-large berths as it did before expansion.

Could the Big Ten soon become a one-bid league?

"I’ve looked back at it and I don’t think you can quantify that [a championship game] has made a whole lot of difference," BCS executive director Bill Hancock said this week. "The jury’s still out on the effect of championship games of how many teams you get in the BCS. We’ll know more when Big Ten and Pac-10 go to championship games, but I don’t see a tremendous advantage or disadvantage."

Perhaps the best barometer for the Big Ten is the SEC, which also boasts famous teams with huge fan bases.

The SEC has only two fewer BCS appearances (19) than the Big Ten and has received at-large berths in each of the last four seasons. While the loser of the SEC championship received at-large berths in each of the last two seasons, five of the SEC's at-large berths went to teams that didn't reach the league title game.

Translation: the Big Ten still could be in good shape for at-large berths, but the loser of the league championship game might want to make alternate plans.

"Conferences that deserve [at-large berths] are getting them," Hancock said. "The at-large spots are filled by the bowls, and they’re choosing those teams for the same reasons they’ve always used."

Those reasons include name recognition and size of fan base, two categories where the Big Ten excels.

Let's look at the Big 12, another league with a championship game. The Big 12 has made 17 BCS bowl appearances but sent multiple teams to the big bowls on only five occasions. The Big 12 title game loser has only reached the BCS once: when Oklahoma qualified for the BCS championship game despite a 35-7 loss to Kansas State a month earlier.

In most years, a loss in the Big 12 title game seals a team's BCS fate. Missouri got passed up for Kansas in 2008 even though Missouri beat the Jayhawks to reach the Big 12 title game, where it got pummeled by Oklahoma. Colorado lost the Big 12 championship game in 2002, 2004 and 2005 and each time failed to receive a BCS at-large berth.

I'm very interested to see how expansion impacts the Big Ten's BCS at-large chances. Bowls always will have a hard time passing up teams like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin when they're available.

Just as long as they don't lose the Big Ten title game.
Big Ten expansion talk has quieted down just a bit during the last six weeks or so, but things are about to pick up.

Real fast.

As first reported by the Chicago Tribune, top Big Ten officials will meet beginning Saturday in Washington to discuss expansion. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany confirmed in a text message to ESPN.com that he's in D.C., and the Tribune reports that Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro and University of Illinois interim chancellor Robert Easter also will attend. I'm still trying to confirm whether other Big Ten leaders are there, particularly Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon, the chair of the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors.

The gathering coincides with a three-day meeting of the Association of American Universities, beginning today in Washington. All 11 Big Ten schools are AAU members, and the top expansion candidates, with the notable exception of Notre Dame, also are part of the AAU.

AAU members include Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas. Connecticut and Boston College are not part of the AAU.

It's also very significant that the BCS annual meetings take place later this week in Phoenix. Remember that in its Dec. 15 statement about expansion, the Big Ten said it will notify the commissioners of affected conferences -- or Notre Dame top administrators -- before engaging in any formal discussions with institutions.

If I were Big East commissioner John Marinatto or Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe, I'd worry about a tap on my shoulder during the BCS meetings. From what I've been told from coaches and officials around the Big Ten, Delany wants to get something done, and the commish usually gets what he wants.

Two other dates to remember:

  • The Big Ten holds its meetings of coaches (football, men's basketball, women's basketball) and athletic directors in Chicago from May 17-19
  • The Big Ten holds its meetings of presidents and chancellors in Chicago in early June

Translation: the Big Ten could finalize an expansion plan, and quite possibly rock the college sports landscape, in the next two months. So much for the 12- to 18-month plan outlined in the league's initial statement.

As the Tribune points out, "The fiscal years of universities end on the last day of June, 'so if you go past July 1, you have to wait an extra year,' one source said." So if the Big Ten wants to be a 12-team, 14-team or 16-team league for the 2011-12 academic year, it needs to act quickly.

I've had the chance to visit seven Big Ten schools for spring football practice, and the buzz among coaches and officials is that the Big Ten will expand, and there's a strong likelihood the league will add more than one team. Almost everyone I spoke with thinks the league will go to 14 or 16.

I'm still skeptical about a 16-team super conference, which sounds great in principle but hard to successfully execute. I still believe that if the Big Ten can add Notre Dame as a 12th member, there's absolutely no need to do anything else.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, by the way, had this to say on Saturday: "Our highest priority is maintaining football independence."

Swarbrick can say what he wants, but he still has to at least listen if the Big Ten comes calling. Major changes could be coming to college sports, and Notre Dame can't be left on the sideline, clinging to a football independence that seems to mean less and less with each passing year.

I still think the Big Ten has to make a push for Notre Dame before moving on to schools like Pitt, Rutgers, Missouri and Nebraska. If the Irish ultimately say no, the likelihood of a three-team or five-team expansion goes way up.

The next few weeks should be very, very interesting, so stay tuned.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
4:00
PM ET
What's on your mind?

Alexander from Lansing, Mich., writes: If Michigan State improves its defense, do you think they have a legitimate chance to win the big ten title?

Adam Rittenberg: The defense is certainly priority No. 1 for Mark Dantonio this spring, Alexander. I don't think the Spartans are good enough up front on both sides of the ball to challenge Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa for the Big Ten title, but they're certainly in that middle pack of teams. Kirk Cousins has a lot of promise at quarterback, and I really like the young running backs. The secondary really needs to improve after a lousy 2009 performance, but Michigan State certainly should be bowl bound once again this fall.


Drew from New York writes: Love the sly dis on the Big 10 thrown in that Dallas newspaper's analysis of ND joining the conference. Well behind the SEC and Big 12? I could be convinced to give you the SEC but the Big 12. Two great teams does make up for a whole lot of mediocre. People better fill up on their hatorade in the off season, Adam. A storm of retribution is brewing in the upper mid-west, and its about to sweep the nation. '09 bowl season was just the beginning. How do you keep yourself from pulling out all your hair on a daily basis? I imagine you must read comments like this much more than the rest of us.

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, I definitely understand your frustration. It's gotten a lot easier for me after the Big Ten's strong bowl performance. The Big Ten hate certainly has decreased a bit on this blog and elsewhere. That said, the Big Ten needs to start beating the Big 12 more often on the field, particularly in bowls. I'll get to this soon in the blog, but the Big 12 has certainly gotten the best of the Big Ten in bowls the past few years. Still, I don't see a huge gap between the two leagues on the field. To suggest the Big 12 is as strong of a conference -- from a financial or operations standpoint -- as the Big Ten is just silly. The Big Ten is the richest and most well-run league in the country, hands down.


Elliott from Mountain View, Calif., writes: Hi Adam,I'm having a difficult time understanding your top-30 BT postseason rankings. In my opinion, success in college is not necessarily related to pro potential--see Tim Tebow. I do agree with much of the list based on how the players performed on the field, but I'm pretty sure that Tyrelle Pryor and John Clay have much more potential than say Darryl Clark. Staying on Clark, I think you ranked him much too high. I would argue that Ricky Stanzi--who you did not rank--had a better season and probably has more pro potential. Although you said Stanzi's high INT total turned you off, don't forget that Iowa was 10-0 in games he started and finished--despite an inconsistent running game led by freshman. Clark had a strong running game and, like Stanzi, a great defense. His poor play in the losses to Ohio State and Iowa should have moved him down the list.-I realize lists/rankings are very subjective, so there are bound to be conflicting opinions. Ultimately, pro potential and college performance are two very different things.

Adam Rittenberg: Elliott, from the start of the rankings, I made the criteria pretty clear. I looked for a balance of college performance and pro potential. You might disagree with the order based strictly on college performance, but that's only part of what I evaluated. Moving onto your next point, Daryll Clark had a better season than Stanzi. It's not really close when you look at the numbers. Clark had a much worse offensive line and a new group of receivers. And he put up much better numbers than Stanzi, with seven more touchdown passes, five fewer interceptions and nearly 600 more passing yards. I know Iowa fans love The Manzi -- and he loves America, in case you didn't know -- and Rick did a great job of leading his team to victories, but he also got bailed out by his defense way more than Clark did. Both quarterbacks didn't play well in the Iowa-Penn State game, but Stanzi got more help on D and special teams. Now you might be right about Stanzi's pro potential being better, but until he cuts down on mistakes that would have led to losses for a lot of teams, I'm not going to move him above Clark in any rankings.


Christopher from Dublin, Ohio, writes: Adam, I read that the Big Ten would have a hard time admitting Notre Dame due to not being part of the AAU. Yet Jim Delany flat out said on ESPN radio when this process began in the Fall that that wasn't going to be a factor (not being in the AAU).The AAU is based on research, however isn't Notre Dame a good enough school to overlook that criteria? Just based on college rankings (U.S. News), Notre Dame is 20th and Rutgers is 66th, while Mizzou is 102.

Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, you're absolutely right. This AAU issue keeps getting raised -- the Chicago Tribune mentions it again today -- but Delany and other Big Ten officials I've talked to say being an AAU member is not a requirement for Big Ten admission. I mean, the Big Ten already pursued Notre Dame twice to join the league, so the league clearly has no trouble admitting Notre Dame. ND is certainly a strong enough academic school to gain admission. There's no issues there at all.


Rob from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Regarding your comment that the next football coach at Michigan would be Jim Harbaugh. If you ask around Ann Arbor most would seriously doubt it. In May of 2007 as Stanford head coach, Jim Harbaugh made comments about Michigan accepting borderline students and steering them to easier courses. If you read his comments he, under the current administration, would not be considered coaching material. What he said hurt many at the instution and once you make that kind of statement you shut yourself off from being considered a true "Michigan Man."

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, Harbaugh's comments certainly would come up if Michigan pursued the former quarterback, but my guess is enough fans would be willing to forgive and forget. Especially if the Wolverines miss a bowl for the third consecutive year and the fan base continues to fracture. If Michigan has to make a change following 2010, it needs to be someone who has more familiarity with how things work in Ann Arbor. I just have a hard time believing Harbaugh wouldn't be the No. 1 target for new AD David Brandon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's likely the Big Ten will make some changes to its bowl lineup beginning in 2010, and the Alamo Bowl could be the first to go. 

The Seattle Times reports that the Pac-10 is close to signing a deal with the Alamo Bowl that would pit a Pac-10 team against a Big 12 opponent starting in 2010. The Big Ten has faced the Big 12 in the San Antonio bowl game every year since 1995, but the contract expires after the 2009 season.

If the Big Ten forgets the Alamo -- sorry, couldn't resist -- expect the league to find another bowl tie-in in the Lone Star State.

One possibility is the Texas Bowl in Houston, which is looking for a conference partner to face the Big 12. 

Texas Bowl manager Heather Houston has been in discussions with the Big Ten about a possible partnership and attended the league's media days last month in Chicago. 

"They're a great conference, and it'd be a good fit for our bowl," Houston told ESPN.com. "Houston is one of the top recruiting markets in the country. We had the second highest number of players in the NFL last year, [next to] Miami. So a lot of coaches want to play here, obviously."

The 2008 Texas Bowl paired Western Michigan and Rice because not enough Big 12 teams qualified for the game. This year's contest will match a Big 12 team against Navy, as long as the Mids are bowl eligible. 

"Every bowl is going through these negotiations right now," Houston said. "We're all waiting to see how a couple things are going to fall. But when we're talking about a matchup for the Big 12, the Big Ten is at the top of our list."

The Texas Bowl continues to talk with other conferences, as does the Big Ten. League commissioner Jim Delany said last month that he's talked with representatives from 11 to 12 bowls, including the five tie-ins -- Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports and Motor City -- that expire after the season.

But it's clear Delany doesn't want to lose a postseason presence in Texas.

"We try to serve the interest of the alumni as well as recruitment as well as the fans traveling to a game," Delany said in July. "We need to be in Texas, we need to be in Florida, we need to be in California and out West because it's a national conference with a national alumni base and national recruitment." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A peek inside Big Ten media days last week served as proof that the debate about conference strength is alive and well.

It seemed like Big Ten coaches received more questions about the league's struggles against the SEC than anything to do with their own teams. Illinois' Ron Zook, who coached in the SEC at Florida, addressed the speed argument. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz praised the SEC but didn't think the gap separating leagues is that great.

Still, by almost any measure, the Big Ten has slipped behind the SEC, which has won the last three national titles, two against Big Ten member Ohio State.

The SEC has become the nation's preeminent conference, but how many other leagues separate the Big Ten from the top?

I put the Big 12 at No. 2 in my conference power rankings, but well behind the SEC and not far in front of the Pac-10 and Big Ten. The Big 12's quarterback play is superb and the offensive innovation from Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Texas and others is fun to watch. But the Big 12 was less than impressive during the postseason. Though the Big Ten went 0-3 against the Big 12 in bowls, two of those games (Fiesta and Alamo) easily could have gone the other way.

Still, the Big Ten's putrid postseason performances can't be overlooked. Six consecutive BCS bowl losses. Six consecutive Rose Bowl losses. A 1-6 record last year. The Big Ten's bowl lineup is harder than that of any other league, but teams have got to start winning again. 

No team has hurt the Big Ten more than USC, and other Pac-10 teams, including Oregon, have notched key wins against the Big Ten. The Big Ten has dropped its last six bowl matchups against the Pac-10. Geography undoubtedly plays a major role in these games, but I'm giving the Pac-10 a slight edge entering the fall. Both leagues have some depth questions, and things could go either way. 

The Big Ten finishes No. 4 in my power rankings, ahead of the ACC, Mountain West, Big East and WAC. A lot of folks love the ACC this year, but the league plays a flimsy bowl lineup, nothing resembling the Big Ten's, so it's hard to get a good read there. 

Conference Rankings

1. SEC
2. Big 12
3. Pac-10
4. Big Ten
5. ACC
6. Mountain West
7. Big East
8. WAC 

Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 19, 2009
6/19/09
4:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A few questions and answers before the weekend.

Donny from Decatur, Ill., writes: I've been hearing a lot of the hype surrounding this years Illinios receivers, everything from "Maybe the best in the country", "best in the Big Ten". Maybe it's because I am in Illinois. But I am excited to go see these guys in action this year. What are your thoughts on them this year? Do you think they will live up to the hype? WithBenn, Cumberland, Sykes, Jenkins, Duvalt, James, and TE Hoomanawanui and Newcomers/Red shirts etc. Fayson, Ramsey, Scottand Hawthorne the Illini look to have a very solid group for a few years to come. Also Juice has gotten better with every year he has played. What do you truly expect from these guys this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Well, since I've been writing some of those things myself, I'd say my opinion is pretty high of Illinois' group. As an Illini fan, you have the right to get very excited about these wideouts. Arrelious Benn will contend for All-America honors this fall, and Illinois could have a legit No. 2 receiver to complement Benn in Jarred Fayson. I never thought Jeff Cumberland could truly be a No. 2, and now he won't have to be. But all those weapons you list easily make Illinois the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. If Juice Williams gets time to throw, look out.


Brian from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Could you explain why OSU has only 16 scholarships available (I think) but they lost 33 players from last year?

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State signed a fairly large class in February (25 recruits), which accounted for most of the graduation losses. The Buckeyes also boast a pretty sizable junior class, which includes true juniors like Brandon Saine, redshirt juniors like Thad Gibson and even transfers like Justin Boren (Michigan). You always have to factor in the number of redshirted players and the number of fifth-year seniors when calculating how big or small a recruiting class will be.


Derek from New Jersey writes: I saw you posted a lunch-link about Minnesota's new stadium. I also watched a video about it. I was just wondering, from somebody who has been there, what your thoughts on it were. Is it built up (ie: Beaver Stadium) or out (Michigan Stadium)? Do you know where the student section will be in the horshoe stadium, or how many seats will be blocked off for them? Any neat novelties worth mentioning? It's not often a college team gets an all new stadium. Thanks for any extra insight!

Adam Rittenberg: TCF Bank Stadium breaks the traditional mold of most Big Ten football facilities. For starters, it is located in a major metropolitan area, which will be a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. Fans in the upper deck and suites will get a great view of downtown Minneapolis. It definitely doesn't compare with any of the huge Big Ten facilities in terms of size, though it could expand to 80,000 seats if Minnesota chooses to add another deck. The student section will be in the east (non-open) end of the horseshoe, near the Gophers' tunnel. As far as novelties, the massive scoreboard in the open end will be pretty cool. Fans also will be able to see the field while walking along the main concourse. There isn't much excess space on the field footprint, so fans will be very close to the action. Overall, it should be a great venue, and I love the fact that Minnesota didn't build something too big to start off. For more, check out my tour of the facility back in November.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you check out the college football front page, you'll notice a bar graph displaying schedule strength around the country. The Big Ten, needless to say, doesn't pack much punch in its nonconference slate for 2009. 

Colleague Mark Schlabach examined the easiest and most challenging nonconference schedules from around the country, and the Big Ten comes in at No. 1 on his list of cupcake collectors. 

1. The little five

Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin hail from the Big Ten, but you wouldn't know it by glancing at their nonconference schedules. Combined, they play five FCS opponents, five smaller directional schools and only three opponents from BCS conferences (and that includes Syracuse twice). The five schools combined play only four non-Big Ten road games, and Michigan and Penn State don't play a single nonconference game away from home. Indiana plays at Akron and Virginia. Northwestern plays at Syracuse. Wisconsin plays at Hawaii. No wonder Penn State coach Joe Paterno didn't want Notre Dame in the Big Ten. Why would he want to give up playing Akron, Syracuse, Temple and FCS opponent Eastern Illinois at home? 

A lot of the criticism is justified, and it never helps when big-name programs like Penn State and Michigan schedule the way they have for 2009. Big Ten teams have been increasingly reluctant to give up home games and increasingly willing to add FCS opponents (Purdue and Ohio State are the only league members not facing FCS foes this fall). And as the league continues to get rich, its members will continue to pay large guarantees for these games.

Most of us who closely follow Big Ten football would love to see teams take more risks with their schedules. It's why recent announcements from Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State are exciting.  

But as I've stated before, I don't think the Big Ten is immune from these practices, and the conference seems to take more abuse than other leagues that do the same thing (ahem, SEC and Big 12). It's also worth restating several factors that have contributed to the decline of Big Ten scheduling:

  • Notre Dame is no longer guaranteed to be a marquee opponent, which can hurt Michigan, Michigan State, Purdue and any other Big Ten team that faces the Irish.
  • While other BCS leagues are located closer to the better non-BCS leagues (Pac-10 and WAC, Big 12 and Mountain West), the Big Ten continues scheduling games against the MAC, which has fallen off a lot since its breakthrough season in 2003. Nonleague games against the likes of BYU, Utah, Boise State and even East Carolina are seen as more challenging than those against even a top-level MAC program like Central Michigan.
  • Several rivalries that Big Ten teams schedule with other BCS foes have really lost some luster. Iowa State isn't considered a marquee opponent for Iowa. Neither is Syracuse for Penn State. 

For what it's worth, one Big Ten team made Schlabach's list of hardest schedules:

9. Illinois Fighting Illini

Unlike most of their Big Ten brethren, the Illini are actually playing a very aggressive nonconference schedule this season. Illinois opens the season against Missouri in St. Louis on Sept. 5. After playing FCS opponent Illinois State on Sept. 12, Illinois plays eight consecutive Big Ten opponents. Then the Illini finish the regular season with non-Big Ten games at Cincinnati on Nov. 27 and home against Fresno State on Dec. 5. Scheduling nonconference games so late is a risk, but the Illini might help their bowl chances by winning one or both contests.

Big Ten mailbag

May, 26, 2009
5/26/09
3:49
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A week's worth of mail to sift through today ...

Vincent from Westerville, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam, do you think that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaney is unfairly criticized or attacked? It seems like every time there's a topic, it's his comments that get pointed out (already realizing he may be the most powerful commissioner in the NCAA). And why is it always the Big Ten that has to expand? No one is asking the Pac-10, Big 12 or SEC to expand, and the Pac-10 doesn't have a championship game either.

Adam Rittenberg: I think to a certain extent, you're right. Delany is often the target for criticism, and it's because to many folks, he represents the old guard in college football, the traditionalists who are resistant to change the game. But you hit on a great point about Delany being powerful. Whether fans want to acknowledge it or not, Delany holds tremendous power with the NCAA and throughout college sports. If his opinion didn't hold so much weight, there wouldn't be as much criticism toward him. As for expansion in other leagues, the Big 12 and SEC already satisfy the championship-game crowd, and the Pac-10 plays a true round robin and extends its regular season until the first weekend of December, unlike the Big Ten. There's less to criticize with those leagues.


Charles from Linden, Mich., writes: How does Norm Parker continue to put top defenses on the field, no matter how many guys he loses each year, no matter where he is (Michigan State, Vanderbilt or Iowa) his success doesn't waiver, Is this a question of system over talent and how come more DC's can't be as consistant.

Adam Rittenberg: Parker's success stems from an unwavering belief in his system. Many defensive coordinators are tempted to shake things up these days, especially with the rise of the spread offense, but Parker sticks to what he has run over the years. Opponents know exactly what they're getting from Iowa's defense, and they still have a tough time moving the ball. Iowa also is always very technically sound on defense, and polished techniques and fundamentals always make the scheme less essential.


Jason from Illinois writes: Adam, I happened to see the Big East blogger did its conference workout warriors are we going to see anything like that from you for the Big Ten? How was Martez Wilson, Matt Mayberry and Brandon Graham not on the original list by the way?

Adam Rittenberg: The Workout Warriors stems from a piece my colleague Bruce Feldman does every year at this time. This year's story did not include any players from the Big Ten, although Feldman did include Martez Wilson and Brandon Graham in the "just missed the cut" section. Since the Big Ten didn't make the rundown, I wrote instead about Wisconsin's strength program under new coach Ben Herbert. There certainly are some exceptional weight-room guys in the Big Ten, and I'd certainly include the three names you mention.


Chad from Parts Unknown writes: My question revolves around the depth Michigan State has at QB, with Cousins and Nichol going head to head for the starting job and Andrew Maxwell coming in the fall, how do you see this position working out over the mext few years and will the you see Maxwell or Cousins transfer if Nichol is named the starter.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a very interesting question, Chad. Kirk Cousins doesn't seem like the type of guy who would transfer if he didn't win the job. He's got other plans academically, and I'm sure he would still get some playing time even if Keith Nichol was the starter. As for Maxwell, he'll almost certainly redshirt this season, so I don't think you need to worry about a transfer scenario with him until a few years down the line.


Mike from Evanston, Ill., writes: Adam, Thanks for keeping Northwestern so well represented in your blog. One Wildcat who you have given a lot of hype has been sophomore Jeravin Matthews, the converted WR/special teams player who is now in the Cats' system as a RB. Im excited about Matthews potential out of the backfield, but I really question his ability to carry the load in the conference season due to his size (5'11'', 170). Simmons, who has seemed to assume the role of #1 back heading into the summer, is also a undersized at 5'8', 175. What do you think about the possibility of Alex Daniel or Mike Trumpy, the incoming freshman, assuming the role of featured back in '09? Daniel was a pleasant surprise in the spring game, and Trumpy seems to have gotten significant praise coming out of high school. Do you think Matthews could be better used as a secondary back who could also line up at receiver in the Cats no-huddle spread?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up some excellent points, Mike, and size is a concern with both Simmons and Matthews. You would think that after seeing bigger backs like Jason Wright and Noah Herron perform well in this offense, Northwestern would be signing more big backs. I haven't seen enough of Daniel or Trumpy to brand them a serious candidate to start, but expect to see a larger rotation than normal at running back. Northwestern's best between-the-tackles runner might actually be quarterback Mike Kafka, so it's more important to have a guy who can pass protect and catch the ball out of the backfield. To me, Matthews is the perfect fit.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten expansion has been a hot topic this week, with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno stumping for a 12th team and league commissioner Jim Delany essentially shooting it down

It's worth reiterating that expansion is not a front-burner issue for the Big Ten right now. But things always change, and it's undeniable that the league loses something -- certainly from a marketing standpoint and possibly from a competitive standpoint -- without a championship game that ends the regular season on the same day as the other BCS conferences.

Let's also reiterate that Notre Dame has been and always will be the best option for Big Ten expansion. The two parties last talked in 1999 but didn't get too far. Notre Dame obviously has some tremendous advantages as an independent, and purely from a business standpoint, joining a league doesn't make much sense. The dilemma for the Big Ten is whether to add a 12th team or wait until its home-run choice decides it wants to join a league, which may or may not happen.

I've heard just about every suggestion for a 12th team this week. There are the usual suspects (Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Iowa State, Missouri, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut), a few reaches (West Virginia, Nebraska) and several fuhgetaboutits (any MAC school, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois).

Of all the realistic possibilities, Missouri makes the most sense. 

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Joe Paterno wants the Big Ten to add a 12th team and a championship game, but right now the legendary Penn State head coach appears to be standing alone. 

Paterno on Thursday night echoed the same thoughts shared by many Big Ten fans: That the conference is irrelevant after Thanksgiving and falls behind the SEC and the Big 12 on the national radar. 

"Everybody else is playing playoffs on television," Paterno told ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel and several other reporters. "You never see a Big Ten team mentioned. So I think that's a handicap. I've tried to talk to the Big Ten people about, 'Let's get a 12th team -- Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt -- we could have a little bit of a playoff.'"

The resumption of the Penn State-Pitt series sounds pretty appetizing, and the Big Ten could expand to the New York/New Jersey market with Syracuse or Rutgers. But Paterno's vision has little traction within the conference. The man who ran one of the nation's premier independent programs for decades once again is on his own, fighting a tradition-rich league that doesn't change very easily. 

His comments somewhat reinforce Penn State's place as an outsider in the Big Ten, though that's a debate for another day. 

"You know, it's a conference that's dominated by a couple of people," Paterno said. "If I start talking, they're polite, but they snicker. They don't know I know they're snickering, but they're polite. ...I wish I were younger and going to be around [more] 20 years."

The Big Ten has no immediate plans to expand. The Notre Dame ship has sailed, and commissioner Jim Delany won't make another run at the Irish. With new commissioners in the Big East and Pac-10 and a fairly new commish in the Big 12 (Dan Beebe), team shuffling between major conferences is highly unlikely right now.  

It will be interesting to see if Paterno makes any headway at the coaches' and athletic directors' meetings later this month in Chicago. There seems to be growing frustration with the unbalanced schedule and the early end to the regular season. A ninth conference game definitely will be on the agenda for coaches and ADs. 

But I can't see expansion happening any time soon. 

Big Ten Friday mailbag

April, 10, 2009
4/10/09
1:26
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some questions and answers for you on this Good Friday/Passover.

C.J. from Philly writes: Adam, help em out here. Being a fan/alum of a Big 10 Football School is akin to being in love with a great girl who comes with the baggage of having a family you cannot stand. This conference does everything in its power to keep traditions from 70 years ago in tact at the expense of progress and what its fans want: 1. Still probably the biggest roadblock to a playoff is due to the Big 10 and its insistence of holding onto the Rose Bowl. 2. Wants all of the games to end before Thanksgiving although most other D1 teams play until December. May also be the reason that Big 10 teams struggle in the BCS since they have alonger break than most teams. 3. Now, they want to stop having night games in November even though the atmosphere at these games is electrifying. Probably due to old rich alumni who do not want to be in the cold more than anything. The Progress Train for College Football wants to leave the station yet the Big 10 keeps wanting to delay it. No wonder we get such a bad rap.

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, love the analogy, C.J., and you make some excellent points. The Big Ten tends to chain itself to tradition too often, especially when it comes to scheduling flexibility. Things do get a little better starting in 2010 with the permanent bye week, but we won't see a championship game until a 12th team is added, which is highly unlikely at this point. Though the Big Ten's marketing model shouldn't be questioned by any league, it needs to be willing to give a little, especially as its national reputation continues to struggle.


John from Washington D.C. writes: Adam, I am so sick and tired of the Big11Ten administrators who whine about national prominence while tying their own hands behind their backs. First there's the no-conference-games-after-Thanksgiving rule, which is dumber than dumb. Now there is the no-night-games-in-November rule. Really? You're saying the best conference games of the year in the best and biggest stadiums in the country won't be allowed primetime exposure? That's a great way to overcome negative press and stereotypes! The worst part is that it's us, the fans, who suffer the most. We're the ones on the frontline arguing with our friends, defending our schools and our conference against the negative national perceptions, and frankly, against our teams' poor showings recently. We all know the Big11Ten is an upper-echelon conference with elite talent playing for some of the most storied and successful programs in history, but until the administrators realize that college football of the 21st century is not college football of the 1960s we're all going to pay the price of their arrogance and failures. I don't really have a question, I guess, except how can we, as fans, get our frustrations across to the Jim Delaneys that continually make decisions that only hurt the quality and integrity of the conference?

Adam Rittenberg: Again, you make some good points here, John, and the way to air your frustrations is to write this blog (shameless self promotion). The one thing I'd point out is that the Big Ten's November prime time policy isn't exactly new, and most of the league's top games that month have kicked off at 3:30 p.m. ET or even noon on some occasions. But I agree that the no-night-games policy does take away some of the drama, especially as the Big Ten adopts a permanent bye week and more teams (Penn State, Michigan State) enter the spotlight on a regular basis. If the Big Ten continues to struggle nationally and sees leagues like the Big 12 and SEC continue to get top billing with their prime-time Saturday games, the policy could be revisited. What could hurt the Big Ten -- and we saw it last year -- is when Michigan-Ohio State isn't the premier game on the last Saturday of the conference season. Does Michigan-Ohio State always move to noon if Michigan State-Penn State takes top billing? What about if Iowa-Minnesota affects the league title race? There could be some tough decisions.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After examining what makes each Big Ten team turn green with envy, our St. Patrick's Day celebration turns to the entire league.

Competition between conferences has escalated in recent years, particularly among fans, and each league has something the other leagues covet.

Once the envy of all other conferences, the Big Ten finds itself on the other side after several subpar seasons. Despite boasting tradition-rich programs and an always-relevant brand name, the Big Ten has dropped six consecutive BCS bowls and five consecutive Rose Bowl matchups.

The prolonged struggles have made Big Ten Nation turn red with anger, and green with envy. Here are three reasons why.

The Big Ten envies the Big 12's quarterbacks: Arguably no factor has driven the Big Ten's downturn more than quarterback play, and the Big 12 boasts a surplus of talented signal-callers. Five of the nation's top 10 passers from last season came from the Big 12, including Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Heisman finalist Colt McCoy of Texas. The Big 12 easily could have had another Heisman finalist in Texas Tech's Graham Harrell, and Missouri's Chase Daniel entered the season as a Heisman candidate. Seven Big 12 quarterbacks finished ahead of the Big Ten's top-rated passer, Penn State's Daryll Clark.

The Big Ten envies the SEC's recruiting base: Speed trumps size in today's college football, and there's much more of it to be found in the South and Southeast. Big Ten coaches are racking up more frequent-flier miles these days, but they're competing against SEC schools located much closer to the talent source. The speed argument at the skill positions is overblown, but it's hard not to notice the differences in line play between the Big Ten and the SEC. Speed and cold-weather football can mix, but it's a tougher sell for the Big Ten, especially given the two league's recent BCS bowl results.

The Big Ten envies the Pac-10's premier program and Rose Bowl proximity: If it wasn't for USC and the Rose Bowl, the Big Ten's national reputation would be a lot better these days. USC's rise has signaled bad news for the Big Ten, which has dropped eight consecutive games to the Trojans, including four Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl. Many Big Ten fans now regard the Rose Bowl as a virtual road game and wonder how their teams can adjust their playing style after competing in poor weather in October and November. USC's success and proximity to the Rose Bowl feeds the argument that the Big Ten will always be at a major disadvantage in the postseason.

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