Big Ten: Bill Martin

Big Ten lunch links

January, 7, 2011
1/07/11
12:08
PM ET
Happy Friday.
Big Ten athletic directors have talked about playing more league games in football for quite some time.

There's support from various parts of the league. At the Big Ten's spring meetings last year, then-Michigan athletic director Bill Martin told me, "As the guarantees [for nonconference games] go up and up and up and the fans want to play our sister institutions in the conference, to me it's a no-brainer. Play 'em."

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi added: "I do believe some day that you'll see more games played within the Big Ten."

That day could be coming very soon.

As an 11-team conference, the Big Ten faced a major mathematical obstacle to playing nine conference games: one team would be limited to eight league games every year. This snag will no longer apply beginning in 2011, as Nebraska joins the Big Ten as its 12th member.

Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne mentioned the possibility of playing a nine-game league schedule in the Big Ten at the news conference announcing Nebraska's arrival to the league. If it happens, Osborne said he'd fight to keep nonconference games at home to ensure the Huskers had at least seven home dates per season.

There are certainly pros and cons to increasing the number of league games, and Big Ten athletic directors expect to debate them in August during their next scheduled meeting in Chicago.

"Unless you’re really hot, fans are finding that some of the preseason games, they just don’t appreciate," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said. "They’d rather see you play every Big Ten opponent. If you went to nine games, you’d be bringing in one more Big Ten opponent, which would make your season-ticket package more attractive."

An additional league game would significantly impact future nonconference scheduling, much of which has been finalized far into the future. Burke noted that some of the scheduling contracts include penalties for teams that back out and can't find suitable replacement teams. The demand for home games among Big Ten schools with massive, revenue-generating stadiums, also could further diminish the quality of non-league games.

And really, how well has the Pac-10's nine-game conference schedule worked out? The league gets multiple BCS berths about as often as snow falls in Los Angeles.

Then again, there are pluses, at least for some of the folks involved.

"It sure would help with scheduling," Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "Scheduling has become very difficult with 12 games, and fans aren’t crazy about I-AAs, and athletic directors aren’t crazy about the fees that we're paying some schools to come in. So nine games would certainly satisfy those two people, but there are other factors involved."

Among those factors are the well-compensated men whose employment hinges on wins and losses.

"Just to be a contrarian, maybe we ought to go to 10 [league games]," Burke said. "They never said you couldn’t do 10. I think the coaches would probably throw me out of the press box."

Revenue is another issue with increasing conference games, as six teams would have five Big Ten home dates, while six other squads would have only four. But Burke doesn't see the imbalance as a potential deal breaker.

"We do a lot of revenue sharing in the league," he said. "We have [minimums] and [maximum] in terms of the gate sharing, so there’s probably a way to do it. ... Maybe there’s a way to take those teams that have the fifth [Big Ten home] game that year, they end up sharing a little bit with those who have four games, just to try and get a more level revenue budget year to year."

Alvarez isn't sure how much momentum a nine-game league schedule has, but the door definitely remains open heading into the August meetings.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 1, 2010
6/01/10
12:30
PM ET
Had a great time with the Kasses clan this weekend in Boston. Watched Papi go yard and ate lobster and barbecue. Good times.

David Brandon officially begins his new job as Michigan's athletics director today, and he's certainly taking over at an interesting time.

The athletic department is stable, certainly more so than when Brandon's predecessor Bill Martin arrived a decade ago, but Brandon faces several challenges right off the bat. Michigan's three flagship sports programs -- football, men's basketball and hockey -- are all struggling to varying degrees, and the football program is facing NCAA allegations of five rules violations.

Michigan has until May 23 to respond to the NCAA's Notice of Allegations, and the school is scheduled to appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in August. Many will watch how Brandon handles this initial challenge, and he's off to a good start.

If there was one bright spot for Michigan fans from the university's Feb. 23 news conference to address the NCAA's allegations, it was Brandon. The former Domino's pizza CEO seemed prepared, poised and totally in command, even though he hadn't officially taken over as AD.

As annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein writes: "He was genuine. He was confident. He didn't stumble over words. He acted like a CEO and a leader. All of this even though this situation is not one any employee wants to walk into -- let alone someone preparing to take over one of the country’s most storied athletic departments. ... He was the star, if there could be a headliner in a three-person press conference."

Brandon represents a new breed of athletic director who are better suited to handle the current climate of college athletics. You're more likely to see lawyers and CEOs in these jobs than football coaches and athletic department lifers. Brandon certainly has a lot on his plate -- Rich Rodriguez and the football program are right in the center of it -- but he likely won't be overwhelmed.

Here are some more Brandon-related links as a new chapter begins in Michigan athletics:

Big Ten lunch links

March, 5, 2010
3/05/10
12:00
PM ET
See kids, this is where we bring suspects in order to be detained. Trust me, you do not want to be sitting in these seats. We call this place "Loserville."

Big Ten mailblog

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
5:00
PM ET
Questions, comments and answers.

Mike W. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam,I just read that Dan Enos will be the new head coach at Central Michigan. How big of a loss is that for Michigan State? I know Enos is one of the best coaches on Dantonio's staff, but more importantly--the best recruiter. What impact is this going to have for MSU?

Adam Rittenberg: Enos is a major loss from a recruiting standpoint, especially after his good work in Detroit and the surrounding areas. The good thing is that Enos re-established ties between a lot of the top high school programs and Michigan State. It's now up to head coach Mark Dantonio and the remaining assistants to keep those relationships strong, especially since archrival Michigan has geared much of its recruiting elsewhere. Enos brought in a lot of talent to East Lansing, and he also did a nice job as a position coach. This is a key hire for Dantonio, who hasn't had to make many in recent years.


Mr. Wilson from Newton, Iowa, writes: Adam did you notice how the NY Jets offense looked very similar to Iowa's offense? I mean run the ball and then catch the defense on play action to hit the TE on a deep pass. Does Iowa's style of play equal a chance in the nfl?

Adam Rittenberg: There's certainly some similarities there, although Iowa probably takes a few more risks than the Jets with Mark Sanchez. Iowa's bread and butter will always be the run game, but the Hawkeyes took more shots down the field this year than any year I can recall. And with wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returning in 2010, expect the Hawkeyes to continue to attack. But generally, yes, the offensive style translates well to the NFL. I'd expect the Jets to open things up a bit more in Sanchez's second season, but they are pretty stacked at running back with Thomas Jones, Iowa product Shonn Greene and the injured Leon Washington.


John from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: You said before the bowl games Wisconsin was gonna be the only home team, that was wrong cause Iowa was as well. why did you lie ?

Adam Rittenberg: I didn't lie! I swear! Georgia Tech was the home team for the FedEx Orange Bowl, and as the home team, the Yellow Jackets could choose what jerseys to wear. If you've ever seen Georgia Tech play at home in Atlanta, you know the team wears white jerseys, which it did for the Orange Bowl. It was the same deal in the Capital One Bowl as LSU, the home team, elected to wear white, as it does for games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. We're not used to this in Big Ten country, as all 11 teams wear dark jerseys at home, but it's more common in the South/Southeast.


Zack from Greenville, Pa., writes: Adam, a lot of people talk about Bradley being the next Coach at PSU. My question is why not Larry Johnson? Great recruiter and always has the defensive line ready for the next season.

Adam Rittenberg: Zack, Johnson certainly would gain consideration at Penn State for the top job, though Tom Bradley's longevity and track record as the defensive coordinator makes him the front-runner. Johnson certainly should be in position to be a coordinator or a head coach very soon, whether it's at Penn State or somewhere else. Illinois pursued Johnson last year, and other schools, possibly Florida, might look at him to run their defense. The guy excels at both attracting and developing talent. Bradley's recruiting success shouldn't be overlooked, either, as he has done very well in the Pittsburgh area.


Ben from Nevada City, Calif., writes: Adam, It seems like Big Ten teams may be scheduling tougher non-conference games these days, but how come Michigan hasn't? They keep claiming that they've had to do last second scheduling the last few years and at that point no one is left, but then why haven't they started scheduling in advance to avoid that? It seems like MSU, Purdue, OSU, and Minnesota seem to have the drill down.

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, Michigan's situation is a bit tougher because the Wolverines are locked into the Notre Dame series every year. If you look around the country, few major-conference teams, aside from those in the Pac-10, are willing to schedule more than one game per season against BCS conference foes. One "tough" game is usually the norm, and for Michigan, Notre Dame fills that spot. Retiring athletic director Bill Martin seemed more interested in scheduling additional Big Ten games (9) than beefing up the nonconference slate. It'll be interesting to see how new AD David Brandon will approach the scheduling issue. I would have loved to have seen Michigan add Boise State to the schedule in 2010, though Connecticut is a decent opponent in Week 1.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 5, 2010
1/05/10
6:30
PM ET
The FedEx Orange Bowl is finally here!

Please join me and ACC blogger Heather Dinich (who's in South Florida) tonight in the Virtual PressBox to discuss the game. We'll get started at 8 p.m. ET.

Kyle from Columbia, S.C., writes: Love the blog, Adam. As great as Bill Martin has been for Michigan, by raising cash and expanding the programs in important places, how do you think David Brandon will compare as the new AD?

Adam Rittenberg: Brandon looks like a strong hire for Michigan, Kyle. He has been about as involved in Michigan athletics as you can be without being an employee. He knows how to raise funds. As a successful CEO, he knows how to delegate responsibility and surround himself with good people. Brandon fits the mold of the new athletic director in college sports, someone who didn't necessarily spend their career in athletics, but has a connection to an institution and had success in other areas (business, law). You see similar guys at Notre Dame, Indiana and Purdue. Being an AD of a major department like Michigan is a lot like being a CEO, a role Brandon clearly understands. His biggest challenge will be uniting Michigan fans around a struggling football program. He talked today about how there's no place for factions and divisiveness around the program, and as a Michigan man, he can unite people. But he also can't feed into the old guard that seems dead set against Rich Rodriguez.


JJ from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam. How about that Rose Bowl!? I was hoping to get your opinion on a college football playoff. In my opinion, the best part of college football is the fact that there ISN'T a playoff. I don't see how anyone as a true fan could be in favor. The beauty of college football is that half the decent teams can finish the season with a bowl win and feel decent about their season; while also giving all the fans a chance to vacation, party, and route for their favorite team. As an Ohio State grad, a national championship would be perfect, but I can still feel great about the season and had an absolutely awesome time in Southern California (I'm probably remembering it even better than it was now that I'm back in Wisconsin). What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: I respect your opinion, JJ, and it's one shared by a lot of folks around the Big Ten. I'm in favor of keeping the bowl system and using a small playoff (four or eight teams). A bunch of teams would still finish the season with wins, and fans could, for the most part, plan their bowl trips in advance. It's definitely a tricky situation, but we demand clear definition from our sports, and college football doesn't really give us that each year. After being in California for Rose Bowl week, I see how special it is for players and fans. You might lose that with a playoff system, but something like a plus-one format probably doesn't take too much away.


Adam from Hershey, Pa., writes: Adam,I'm sure you are busy preparing for the Orange bowl, but when you have a moment, can you address my question: Was Chip Kelly's statement that "Terrelle beat us (Oregon)" a cop out? From what I watched, it was not just Terrelle, but a whole team effort...not to take anything away from Terrelle incredible performance.

Adam Rittenberg: No, definitely not a cop out, Adam. Kelly acknowledged other areas of Ohio State's performance that contributed to the win, like the way the Buckeyes contained Jeremiah Masoli. But he was also admitting the obvious, and Terrelle Pryor played a huge role in Ohio State's win, especially with his clutch third-down passes.


Dave from Saginaw, Mich., writes: Adam, now seeing how Michigan State's season played out, do you think they were a little overrated coming into the season? I hate to say this in hindsight, but in the beginning of the season I didn't really believe they'd live up to the expectations. Not just because of the "same old sparty" mentality which Dantonio seems to have eliminated to some extent, but because we lost Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer, Otis Wiley, and many other excellent starters on both sides of the ball. Coming in to the season I didn't really expect them to be competing for any kind of title.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, you bring up some good points about the players Michigan State lost. I remember being concerned about the Spartans' line play on both sides of the ball after seeing them in spring practice. You knew there was youth in the offensive backfield, but for the most part, Kirk Cousins and the running backs did OK. The wide receivers were a pleasant surprise. The secondary was a major disappointment, any way you slice it. Mark Dantonio talked up this group throughout the preseason, and they really let him down. Wiley definitely was a major loss. And neither line was particularly great, as I had feared. Still, I think Michigan State is in pretty decent shape heading into 2010.


Scott from the Quad Cities writes: Adam,I appreciate your work on the blog. There have been many interesting articles many of which I have commented on myself. I'd just like to ask you: "Why all the love for Iowa?" Do we really need 6 articles on them over three days? I know the Orange Bowl is coming, but there are other items to report on, i.e. finishing up the recap of the best case / worst case series. Honestly, there are very few people outside the state of Iowa that care about the Hawkeyes and are tired of all the attention you have paid to them all year long. Can you change the subject and give some attention to other teams?

Adam Rittenberg: I just can't win, can I, Scott? Last week, I was writing too much about Ohio State. Now I'm writing too much about Iowa. Here's the deal. There are certain times of the year when the blog will be unbalanced with the coverage, especially around BCS games. That's just the way it is. I'll still finish best case-worst case, re-rank the Big Ten's top 30 players and weigh in on recruiting. But for the past few days, Iowa has been the focus, and deservedly so.
Just got off of a teleconference with new Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon, hired today to replace the retiring Bill Martin. Brandon is an impressive guy with a very impressive background. He most recently has served as chairman and CEO of Domino's Pizza, and he's a former University of Michigan Regent (1998-2006) and a former defensive lineman under Bo Schembechler at U-M.

Brandon, the leading candidate to replace Martin from the get-go, had been mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in Michigan. But the 57-year-old made it clear Monday that he's committed to Michigan for the next five years and hopefully more. He's definitely a Michigan man, with strong ties to Lloyd Carr and others, but he recognizes the need to unite a program that has been splintered in recent months.

"I'd be proud to play for Rich Rodriguez," he said.

One other thing: Brandon doesn't lack self confidence, which should serve him well in his new role. His five-year appointment begins March 8.

"You need a vision, and you need to surround yourself with people that share that vision and value the principles you hold dear," Brandon said. "And then you hold people accountable. I know how to do that. I'm a team sport guy, and the athletic director needs to surround himself with a great team and hold that team accountable. I want the athletic department at the University of Michigan to be No. 1 in the nation."

The football program is nowhere near No. 1 right now, and getting things on track will be a main focus for Brandon the coming months.

Here are his thoughts on several football-related issues.

On Rich Rodriguez: "Rich Rodriguez is the football coach at the University of Michigan. He has an awesome responsibility, has a proven track record of winning at the highest levels. I have great respect for Rich and I look forward to getting to know him better and getting a chance to work with him."

On the NCAA's ongoing investigation into the football program: "I don't mind being plopped in the middle of things. As it relates to the investigation, we're going to do what Michigan always does. We're going to do the right thing. And if we've made some mistakes, we'll correct them. Let's just wait and see how the investigation pans out. I don't live in fear of that. We'll deal with that as we need to."

On his relationship with Rodriguez: "I don't know Rich well. We've spent a little bit of time together. He and his lovely wife, I've had dinner with them a couple of times and got acquainted in a social way. I've seen him on the field a couple of times and chatted very briefly. I attended one practice a couple of years ago, when he first came on board, and we chatted at that practice. Rich and I have not had a lot of time together, and I really look forward to getting to know Rich better and understand more about how he's approaching the difficult task ahead, and that is turning our football program around and having it be what we all want it to be."

On uniting a potentially splintered fan base: "I'm a team-sport guy. I was brought up that way, and that's what I believe in. Factions and divisiveness are enemies of success. I feel strongly that to the extent there has been any fracturing that has occurred as a result of whatever, it's something that needs immediate attention. It needs to be fixed and truthfully, won't be tolerated."

On the current state of the football program: "I am as concerned as everybody is, knowing we're a program that likes and needs to win. We sing about being the champions, the leaders of the best, and that's what we want to be. And no one wants to be that more than Rich Rodriguez. No one wants to win more than Rich Rodriguez and his staff."

Expansion roundup: Quotes and links

December, 16, 2009
12/16/09
10:15
AM ET
As you can image, the Big Ten's announcement about potential expansion created a ton of buzz from State College to Iowa City. Everyone's talking about possible 12th teams, the benefits and drawbacks for the league and what it all means.

Here's a sampling of what they're saying:

QUOTES/STATEMENTS

Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis: "With the changing landscape of intercollegiate athletics, now is a good time for the Big Ten to review its current structure and evaluate the potential for expansion. The Big Ten remains the nation's premier conference; however, it's always important to evaluate ways to make the conference even stronger. The addition of Penn State to the Big Ten in 1990 certainly proved to be a home run, so if the conference decides to expand, it is our hope that the move would bring similar prestige and success to the conference."

Michigan head football coach Rich Rodriguez: "I am in favor of the Big Ten exploring all options to make the league stronger, whether the decision is ultimately made to expand or not. We should be proactive in examining the college athletic landscape and I'm pleased that our conference is looking for ways to make the Big Ten better. I am behind the decision to expand if it fits with the ideals of our conference."

Ohio State athletics director Gene Smith: "When you look at the college landscape across the country and you look at the television contracts over the next five to eight years, this is probably the right time for us to see if there is any value in adding a team or teams."

Michigan athletics director Bill Martin: "I think we’d all be open-minded about it. And, again, I think it gets back to the right fit that does make sense."

Purdue athletics director Morgan Burke: "I think about every five years we're going to take a look, but it doesn't mean you're going to expand. It simply says things can change, and therefore we ought to be in a position of taking a look at what the various options are."

Indiana athletics director Fred Glass: "I think it would be overstating it to say that we’re looking for somebody to add. We're looking at whether we want to add somebody, and who those somebodies might be. I think it’s really important to underscore that we're fine where we are. There's no need for us to do this if it doesn’t add value to the conference and to the applicant that might want to join the conference."

Illinois athletics director Ron Guenther: "About every five years the Big Ten Conference explores the possibility of expansion. Any expansion of the conference would obviously have to be a good fit academically, geographically and financially. If the Big Ten does make a change, I hope it will be as successful as the addition of Penn State."

Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee: "We can't look in the rear-view mirror and say we love what we are. We need to say, 'What can we be?'"

Iowa athletics director Gary Barta: "We do have a great conference and in order to add somebody it's going to have to make sense. When we added Penn State, it worked out wonderfully. They fit our philosophy. They fit athletically, academically, geographically. If we ever find the perfect partner, then I think it's worth looking at. If we don't find the perfect partner, then I'm not interested in expanding."

LINKS
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Only a handful of games into his Michigan tenure, Rich Rodriguez knew the program had a steep mountain to climb.

The winged helmet wouldn't equal 10 wins. The Michigan brand, which he acknowledges is one of the greatest in sports, wouldn't equal instant success. Decades of winning wouldn't equal recruiting rewards. As he put it Saturday, "The last three or four Februaries have hurt us a little bit."


AP Photo/Paul SancyaMichigan coach Rich Rodriguez dropped to 3-13 in Big Ten play with a loss to rival Ohio State.
But where is Michigan on its ascent back to past heights? Are the Wolverines making progress, or are they still at the base of the mountain two years into the Rodriguez era?

One thing is certain.

"How much does a man got to get humbled?" Rodriguez said after Saturday's 21-10 loss to No. 10 Ohio State. "Got humbled last year. Been humbled before and will be humbled again. In this profession, there's enough humility to go around for everybody.

"I'm getting tired of being humbled."

It has been a humbling two years for the head coach, who now owns an 8-16 record at Michigan, 3-13 in Big Ten play. He'll spend another winter at home, as Michigan's loss eliminated the team from bowl contention.

Michigan finished last in the Big Ten for the first time since 1962. The Wolverines failed to beat an FBS team in October or November. They'll lose their best defensive player (end Brandon Graham) and possibly their second best (junior cornerback Donovan Warren), and the core of the team remains young. There's an ongoing NCAA investigation into allegations of time-limit violations by Rodriguez's program that could conclude with major violations, a first at Michigan.

But Rodriguez still believes the team's 2009 slogan -- "All In For Michigan" -- holds true.

"Maybe people will try to say, 'Oh, woe is Michigan,'" Rodriguez said. "Michigan's going to be just fine. Our fans are all in, the players are all in, the staff's all in, the university's all in. We're going through a growing process that we're not accustomed to here at the University of Michigan.

"I'm not accustomed to it, either, but I've been through it before, and we'll get it done."

(Read full post)

Let's be clear: a win against Ohio State won't salvage Michigan's season.

The Wolverines still would have six losses on their record, including three defeats of 21 points or more. They would still finish no better than 2-6 in Big Ten play for the second straight year. They would still have a ton of blemishes on defense that couldn't be washed away. They would still be nowhere near the league championship.

Here's what a Michigan victory Saturday against its heavily favored archrival would do:
  • End the program's first five-game slide against Ohio State, a losing streak that stretches back to Nov. 22, 2003, nearly 2,200 days ago
  • All but assure Michigan of its first bowl appearance since the 2008 Capital One Bowl
  • Ensure Michigan didn't finish last in the Big Ten for the first time since 1962
  • Give Michigan its first win against an FBS opponent since Sept. 26 (Indiana)
  • Allow a group of players and coaches who have seemingly been under siege all season a few moments to exhale and celebrate

Perhaps the last point is the most vital.

"More than anything, from a selfish standpoint, [a win] would allow us as players and coaches to feel good for the first time in a long time, and let our seniors to feel good," head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Singing that fight song in the locker room and in front of the student section is, to me, the greatest thrill that we have in coaching and probably in playing.

"It would, more than anything, let our guys have some enjoyment for a change."

Rodriguez spoke candidly this week about the toll the team's struggles are taking on him and his family. Though Michigan AD Bill Martin and university president Mary Sue Coleman have reiterated their support for the coach, a second consecutive losing season combined with the ongoing NCAA investigation into the football program would keep Rodriguez's seat very warm.

A win Saturday would cool things down a bit.

"It eats at your soul because I don't coach football, I live it," Rodriguez said. "My family lives it, every one of our staff's family lives it as well. ... If you love it that much and you put so much into it, you don't have success, it certainly eats at you.

"I'm not used to this. My staff is not used to it. So it just gnaws you to the bone."

For Michigan's small senior class, like their predecessors last year, Saturday's game represents one final chance to beat Ohio State. Several seniors called a players-only meeting Monday to discuss what the game means.

Getting bowl eligible would be nice, and getting over the hump against the Buckeyes carries even more weight.

"What's a better way than to beat O-State and get into a bowl game off them," Wolverines defensive end Brandon Graham told reporters Monday. "That would feel so much better and everything else would erase itself. You're always thinking about, we might have had a bad year but we beat O-State."

Both Rodriguez and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel downplayed the effect The Game has on recruiting. But for a Michigan program still very much in transition, a victory Saturday would give Rodriguez and his assistants a strong selling point that progress is, in fact, being made.

When the team met Monday, the message was simple.

"If we’re going to put it all together," Rodriguez said, "let’s do it this week."

Big Ten mailblog

November, 17, 2009
11/17/09
1:30
PM ET
What's on your mind?

Steve from St. Paul, Minn. (formerly Iowa City) writes: Adam, the analysis-type videos you have added to your blog are a great idea. You're pretty good at it for a sportswriter. I can't even see your eyes move across the teleprompter. Question - People complain about conservative play-calling in the Big Ten. But coaches who are trying to open things up, Zook at Illinois, Rodriquez at Michigan, Brewster at Minnesota, are all on the hot seat. Meanwhile, polar opposites Ferentz and The Vest are secure. Spread-type offenses seem to work for our bowl opponents, but not for us. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Ha! I wish I had a teleprompter. Let's see if the folks in Bristol can send one to me ... I don't think any of the coaches you mentioned are on the hot seat primarily because of play-calling. Rodriguez's offense has shown signs of life this season, but the defense is a train wreck. Brewster actually went more traditional with his offense, replacing the Spread Coast system with a pro-style set this year. With Zook and Illinois, the offense has been a major problem this year, but not because they opened it up more. Just the opposite, in fact. The spread has worked in the Big Ten at places like Purdue, Northwestern and Penn State (last year). But without the right personnel, it seems to stall. I'm not saying every Big Ten team needs to run a wide open offense to succeed. My bigger beef was that both Kirk Ferentz and Jim Tressel went so conservative at the end of Saturday's game. It cost Ferentz and easily could have cost Tressel.


Connor from Marion, Iowa, writes: Adam, first off, I love the blog and read it daily, keep up the good work. Second, I see your predicting Iowa to go to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, what needs to happen this weekend for that to come true?

Adam Rittenberg: I'll get into this more during Wednesday's Rooting Interest post, but Iowa should be in great shape for the Fiesta Bowl if it wins Saturday against Minnesota (ESPN, noon ET). The Hawkeyes would benefit from a Penn State loss to Michigan State because Penn State is also in the at-large mix. The more I think about it, I doubt the Big East will get two teams in the BCS. It'll either be Pitt or Cincinnati, but Iowa should root for Cincy to win out. Same for Texas in the Big 12.


(Read full post)

Big Ten lunch links

November, 16, 2009
11/16/09
12:30
PM ET
You stay classy, Bill Belichick. We're definitely in the era of the drive-by handshake.
 
  US PRESSWIRE
 Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez are facing similar problems within their programs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg

Notre Dame and Michigan treated us to one of the season's most entertaining games back on Sept. 12 at the Big House. Both teams seemed destined for solid seasons back then, but the Fighting Irish and Wolverines have since fallen on hard times. Michigan hasn't beaten an FBS team since Sept. 26 and needs to upset No. 20 Wisconsin or No. 11 Ohio State to avoid missing a bowl for the second straight season. Notre Dame likely fell out of the BCS bowl mix by losing to Navy for the second consecutive time in South Bend. Not surprisingly, head coaches Rich Rodriguez and Charlie Weis are in the crosshairs.

Which coach's problems are worse? How did these two programs get here? Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg take a closer look.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's talk about Charlie Weis and the Irish. They lose to Navy at home again. Nose tackle Ian Williams says they're getting outschemed. What's going on with Weis and the Domers?

Brian Bennett: There's very little excuse for Notre Dame to be only 6-3 at this point. The Irish have legitimate stars in quarterback Jimmy Clausen and receivers Golden Tate and Michael Floyd, an experienced offensive line and seasoned upperclassmen all over the roster. But this program continues to lose to every ranked team it plays and throws in at least one head-scratcher each year (this time, Navy. Again.).

Something just isn't working here, and you have to blame Weis. He remains a brilliant offensive mind, but I think sometimes he outthinks himself in an effort to prove his intelligence. He doesn't appear to be able to properly motivate his teams, likely because of his NFL coordinator background. And years of suspect recruiting or talent evaluation on the defensive side has again led to a team that can't stop anybody.

Notre Dame, simply put, should be better than this in Year 5 under Weis. It's only Year 2 under Rodriguez in Ann Arbor, but people expected a lot more than this. What's wrong with the Maize and Blue?

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  There were high expectations for both Michigan and Notre Dame this season.
Rittenberg: Those expectations certainly increased after Michigan's 4-0 start, highlighted by the win over the Fighting Irish. I remember thinking then that Notre Dame was the better team in that matchup, but Michigan found a way to win and had the potential to make major progress. Instead, the mistakes Michigan overcame in its first four victories began to cost the Wolverines in October.

Quarterback Tate Forcier has battled injuries and some inconsistent play. He still creates a lot of plays with his feet, but he's still too much of a freelancer and struggles with his throws in the pocket. Brandon Minor might be the Big Ten's most dominant running back, but he just can't stay healthy. But for the most part, the offense hasn't been the problem. Like Notre Dame, Michigan's major issues are on the defensive side. There's a lot of youth and not much depth there, as evidenced by several walk-ons in the two-deep, but the number of major breakdowns is shocking. It's one thing to allow big plays to Notre Dame on Sept. 12. But to give up the same plays to Iowa, Illinois and Purdue later in the season is unacceptable.

Rodriguez isn't to blame for all the problems, but like Weis, I think he fights himself a lot. He has won a certain way for years, and he can be stubborn. Rich has talked a lot about the need to have patience but admits he doesn't have much himself. And he still talks too much about the program he inherited from Lloyd Carr. Last I checked, he coaches Michigan, not Eastern Michigan, and while there were problems in 2007, a program like Michigan should never miss bowls in consecutive years (a strong possibility), especially in an average Big Ten.

Both of these coaches are known for offense, and yet both have major problems on defense. Has Weis put enough focus on the other side of the ball?

Bennett: Well, as you know, Weis is the offensive coordinator again this year and fully admits that he leaves most of the responsibility for the defense in the hands of veteran coordinator Jon Tenuta. The blitzing schemes favored by Tenuta haven't really worked, but that's mostly because of the personnel. Though Weis has brought in some highly rated recruiting classes, there still aren't enough big-time playmakers on defense, especially up front. When you look at, say USC, or even this week's opponent, Pittsburgh, the Irish simply don't stack up athlete for athlete on the defensive line.

What I don't understand is how Michigan can have talent problems, even in the coaching transition. Shouldn't the Wolverines have enough blue-chippers to field a good defense even as they adjust to a new offensive system?

Rittenberg: You would think, Brian, but Michigan has had an abnormal amount of attrition on that side of the ball, coupled with some bad recruiting classes for defense toward the end of Carr's tenure. The Wolverines also have had veteran players regress this season, and there aren't enough young guys ready to fill the gaps. Rodriguez needs his defensive recruits to blossom immediately, especially since Michigan will be losing its best defensive player (DE Brandon Graham) and possibly its No. 2 defender (junior CB Donovan Warren). It will be interesting to see what happens with first-year coordinator Greg Robinson, who hasn't had the desired effect on this unit.

OK, you're on the spot. What's your prediction for the rest of Notre Dame's season? Can Weis turn things around? Will next year's Fighting Irish head coach be Weis or your man-crush, Brian Kelly?

Bennett: The rest of the season brings a trip to No. 12 Pitt this week, followed by a visit from dangerous UConn next week and the season finale at Stanford. I have a hard time seeing Notre Dame winning more than two of those, so 8-4 or 7-5 looks like the final tally.

Jack Swarbrick isn't going to call me for advice, but I wouldn't think that record would be enough to keep Weis, especially since the Irish could once again lack any real quality wins. They don't hang banners for Gator Bowls in South Bend.

If there is a change, I would imagine Notre Dame would first try and land a big-time name, such as Urban Meyer or Jon Gruden. Once those guys say no -- and I don't think either would take the job -- the Irish would be crazy not to go after Kelly. He's Catholic, a great program salesman, he's built strong recruiting ties in the Midwest and he just wins big everywhere he goes.

He'd be a perfect fit at Notre Dame -- unless Michigan came calling first. Any chance Rodriguez doesn't survive, especially if the NCAA finds something in that whole practice time investigation?

Rittenberg: The NCAA investigation is the wild card, especially if major violations are found for the first time in Michigan football history. But this isn't boosters paying players or academic fraud, so I can't see the penalties being too terrible. Michigan AD Bill Martin said earlier this week that Rodriguez is safe, and though Martin will be retiring soon, they're not going to make a change in football after only two years, especially during an athletic director transition.

A 5-7 season combined with NCAA violations would really sting, but Rodriguez should be back in 2010. He'll definitely be on the hot seat entering next fall, needing at least eight or nine wins to keep his job at a tradition-rich program.

Sound familiar?

Big Ten lunch links

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
12:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Stay in school and use your brain. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, carry a leather briefcase. Forget about sports as a profession. Sports make you grunt and smell. See, be a thinker, not a stinker.

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