Big Ten: Bret Bielema

The SEC football coaches, proud purveyors of oversigning and other honorable recruiting practices, have banded together in the name of integrity. Take a bow, (good ol') boys. You deserve it.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSEC coaches aren't thrilled with Penn State coach James Franklin's decision to have summer camps in their territory.
Apparently the SEC coaches aren't too pleased with a plan hatched by one of their former colleagues, James Franklin. The new Penn State coach, formerly at Vanderbilt, and his assistants will guest coach next month at summer camps in the heart of SEC country, at Georgia State and Stetson. It means the Penn State staff can evaluate prospects from in and around Atlanta and DeLand, Fla., two SEC recruiting hotbeds.

Although NCAA rules limit programs from running high school camps more than 50 miles from their campus, coaches are allowed to work at camps outside of the radius as long as they don't run the events.

"The Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things," Franklin recently told reporters during a Coaches Caravan stop in King of Prussia, Pa. "We wanted to not only have camps on our campus, which we're going to have a bunch of them, but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country that maybe young men and families wouldn't be able to make it to our place, take it to them.

"And I'm fired up about it."

But Franklin's former SEC brethren aren't fired up. Unlike the morally reprehensible Big Ten, the SEC prohibits coaches from working at camps beyond 50 miles from campus. Again, it's all about integrity in that league.

So SEC coaches have complained to their commissioner, Mike Slive, to step in and try to stop Franklin and his attempt to enter their sacred ground.
"It's that kind of thing that gets us to think about our rules," Slive said. "They [SEC coaches] like our rule; they don't like the so-called satellite camps. They see it as a loophole and asked us to see what we can do about that."

Slive said the SEC would have to approach the NCAA about closing the loophole.

You go and do that, Commissioner Slive. March yourself to Indianapolis. By golly, someone needs to stand up for doing things the right way. And if the NCAA asks about oversigning, just show them your championship rings. So sparkly!

The truth is other programs are capitalizing on the same loophole. As colleagues Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff report, coaches from Oklahoma State and New Mexico plan to work several camps in Texas this summer. While Florida and Georgia are among the highest-producing states for FBS prospects, Texas tops the list.

So Franklin isn't the only one. But his plan to extend the recruiting reach for a Penn State program that has largely ignored the fertile South in recent years is brilliant. Everyone asks me how the Big Ten can close the gap with the SEC. The answer is to spend more time in its territory.

"This thing that James Franklin did with Georgia State, that’s a stroke of genius," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at LSU and Vanderbilt, told me. "If Penn State continues to do that, and other Big Ten schools continue to have an agreement with these smaller Southern schools and you can officially visit a prospect in May and June, it will be the most significant move in favor of Big Ten football in my lifetime."

Just wait until more Big Ten coaches begin stumping for earlier official visits, which would help their cause tremendously. Michigan's Brady Hoke is on board. So are many others in the league.

It'll be fun to see how the SEC reacts to that campaign.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork offered this gem at SEC spring meetings when asked about Franklin's summer Southern migration. By the way, arguably no SEC program has a more storied oversigning tradition than Ole Miss.

"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance?" Bjork said. "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."

Competitive disadvantage! Sound the alarms! The Big Ten is gonna get us!

To quote the other Björk:
You're all right
There's nothing wrong
Self-sufficience please!
And get to work
And if you complain once more
You'll meet an army of me

The SEC should stop complaining about, of all things, a potential challenge to its recruiting hegemony. Better yet, it should change its policy and come on up to Big Ten country. Nick Saban loves Ohio. Les Miles is a Michigan guy. Kevin Sumlin went to Purdue.

How could Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater turn down a chance to bring back favorite son Bret Bielema to America's dairyland?

But maybe it's better that the SEC coaches dig in on this issue. Remember, they're all about fairness and honor in recruiting.

And 37-man recruiting classes.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 2, 2014
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Read up and enjoy the weekend.
  • It's May, and you know what that means. Time to forecast the football season. Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News breaks it down, game by game, for Michigan State. And the same for Michigan, courtesy of Angelique S. Chengelis.
  • The Spartans made an impact on heralded prospect Jashon Cornell at the spring game last week.
  • The Wolverines, meanwhile, have work to accomplish this summer on the offensive line.
  • James Franklin heads out to meet the fans at Penn State as the Vanderbilt rape case continues to hang over the coach, who reiterated on Thursday that he has cooperated fully in the investigation.
  • A breakdown of the perks offered to Penn State student-athletes as NCAA reform looms.
  • Rutgers’ first run through the Big Ten lines up as the toughest in the league, based on 2013 records.
  • Sporting News writer Matt Hayes ranks every football coach in the FBS, placing Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio among the top 10. But Bret Bielema over Gary Andersen?
  • Tom Osborne rushed to defend Turner Gill, who took responsibility for Nebraska's 1984 Orange Bowl loss during an interview for an upcoming ESPN production.
  • Ohio State is set for its best showing in the NFL draft in several years.
  • And finally, more from Nick Saban’s recent visit to Ohio, where the Alabama coach made headlines for praising the Big Ten.


The Big Ten is rich and getting richer in the coming years. So how is the investment translating with football programs?

Not surprisingly, recruiting expenses are on the rise throughout the league. The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Scott Dochterman recently outlined Big Ten recruiting costs for the last three fiscal years, which shows that the league's 11 publics schools spent $6.47 million in recruiting in FY 2013, up from $4.1 million in FY 2011. Northwestern, a private institution, does not have to publicly report its expenses.

What stands out about these numbers?
  • Nebraska has spent more on recruiting than any Big Ten team in the past two seasons: $818,509 in 2013 and $752,681 in 2012. Bo Pelini's program is trying to boost its presence in Big Ten territory, maintain a presence in Texas and California, and scoop up prospects from the fertile Southeast. That costs money, and Nebraska's geography doesn't help.
  • Illinois is second in recruiting expenses for the second consecutive year, devoting $791,972 in FY 2013. I'll say this for Illinois: It invests enough in football. The program shelled out for former coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning. Tim Beckman shouldn't complain about his recruiting budget. But the investment needs to start showing returns very soon.
  • If asked which Big Ten school spends the least on recruiting, few folks likely would select Wisconsin. Like Nebraska, Wisconsin faces geographical challenges in recruiting and, under former coach Bret Bielema, ramped up its efforts in Florida for players such as James White and Aaron Henry. But these numbers show Wisconsin spent by far the least on recruiting in FY 2013 ($256,967) and, unlike other Big Ten programs, hasn't had dramatic increases the past two years. Assistant salaries were an issue for Bielema, who lost quite a few top aides in his final two seasons. I wonder how the recruiting budget impacted his decision to leave for Arkansas, and how the investment could change for coach Gary Andersen.
  • Penn State has had the biggest increases in recruiting investment, going from $258,800 in FY 2011 -- the second-lowest total in the league -- to $443,022 in FY 2012 and then to $736,739 in FY 2013, the third-highest total in the league. The program spent much more under Bill O'Brien than it did during the end of the Joe Paterno era, and the investment should continue to increase under James Franklin, one of the more aggressive recruiters in the country.
  • Although Ohio State spent about $200,000 more on recruiting in FY 2013 than FY 2012, the Buckeyes are in the bottom half of the league in expenses. Geography is a big reason, as they don't have to travel nearly as far as other league programs to scout some of the top players in the Big Ten region.
  • It's interesting that Michigan's recruiting costs actually went down from FY 2011 to FY 2012 before going up to $664,492 in FY 2013. The Wolverines signed top-10 recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013.

A lot of interesting numbers here. Recruiting costs will continue to rise around the FBS, and it will be interesting to see which Big Ten teams invest more in non-coaching, recruiting-specific staff. Programs in other leagues -- cough, SEC, cough -- have been on hiring sprees, causing a lot of national discussion about limiting staff size.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 26, 2014
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So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style at the time. Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on 'em. Gimme five bees for a quarter, you'd say. Now where was I ... oh, yeah. The important thing was that I had an onion tied to my belt, which was the style at the time.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

February, 24, 2014
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We're not celebrating any presidents on Monday, so I'm back to a twice-weekly mailbag. Keep those cards and letters flowing. Or, you know, email me. Yeah, that's probably better.

David from Minneapolis writes: In your QB race Take Two the other day, you mentioned Wisconsin as your race to watch. While I agree that starting a new QB with no or limited experience out of the gate this year against LSU wouldn't be ideal, would you not want to consider the schedule for the next couple years as well? Over the next three seasons UW opens with LSU (twice) and Alabama. Wouldn't risking this year's game with LSU be worth it to possibly have Gary Andersen's type of QB ready to go by next fall and the year after for those big SEC games? Almost taking this year to develop him and the young receivers so you can have sustained success going forward?

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesJoel Stave will face some competition for the starting QB job at Wisconsin.
Brian Bennett: David, I don't think any coach thinks like that, nor should one in a situation like Wisconsin. You're promised nothing but the present in college sports. Andersen is going to do what he thinks gives his team the best chance to win in every game. If he wants to go with a younger, more mobile quarterback, he could always do that later in the season. Connor Cook didn't start the opener for Michigan State, but that turned out pretty well last season. Joel Stave has a huge experience edge that makes him the overwhelming favorite to start the opener vs. LSU. Other candidates Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and D.J. Gillins are going to have to outplay him to see the field.

Rob from New York, N.Y., writes: Brian, in an Insider article arguing that Iowa has a shot at winning the B1G West, KC Joyner used as a presumption that Wisconsin was in a state of decline. Your boy Adam reiterated a similar point (though more focused on just 2014) in your article about next year's West outlook. Now, I don't think the Hawkeyes are going to be bad or that Wisconsin will definitely win the West, but it's a little rich to hear the same guys who argued that Wisconsin was on the cusp of "elite" suddenly assuming it is in decline mere weeks later. Losing the last two games hurts, but there's not much shame in losing to the No. 4 team in the country in an effective road game. And losing a stellar senior class hurts this upcoming year, sure (and to be fair, that was more Adam's point), but that's less about the *program* and more cycles of recruiting. So, let's hit the brakes and understand the following: Andersen has a highly regarded class coming in that will vastly improve the speed overall but especially on the outside (a weakness Bret Bielema routinely failed to cure), the offense will have a real competition at QB with four viable options, and all the young'uns will have another year of experience in what is a very new system.

Brian Bennett: Rob, if there's any talk about a "decline" for the Badgers, it's simply about 2014. And it's only because Wisconsin lost a huge and highly productive group of seniors, has no proven receiving targets and must reload in the defensive front seven. This is a program that has shown it can maintain a high level of success year in and year out, but it's hard for any team to avoid taking a minor step back when guys such as Chris Borland, Jared Abbrederis, Jacob Pedersen and Beau Allen depart. There are good young players on the roster, but they have to prove themselves. Then again, with Wisconsin's schedule after the LSU opener, this year's team might put up a better record than last year and not be quite as good.

Glenn G. from Vancouver writes: I was pleased to hear Troy Calhoun's comment asking for some evidence of injury relative to the hurry-up offense. With the increase of hype over substance in sports reporting (your and Adam's work excluded), don't you think that if there was a sniff of an injury trend here the sports media would have blown it WAY out of proportion by now? Oregon has been running that game for what, five or six years? I haven't heard a peep. It's possible I don't hear very well, but what I do hear is some powerful coaches making a political play to give their teams an edge. What do you think the reality of the injury situation is, and what is the likelihood the rules committee will pass the slowdown? Restore my faith in common sense!

Brian Bennett: Glenn, solid statistical information showing that hurry-up offenses affects injuries would be very difficult to compile (though here is one admirable attempt, which appears to suggest the opposite of the slow-down crowd's argument). As you said, there has been very little talk in recent years of that happening and no real anecdotal evidence, either. Bielema has not been making new friends while suggesting the up-tempo offense and a Cal player's death belong in the same argument. I agree that the injury argument seems like a pretty convenient excuse made by coaches who don't favor that style of play. If fast-paced offenses really caused more players to get hurt, wouldn't programs like Oregon and Baylor have a rash of injuries in practice?

[+] EnlargeDarrell Hazell
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesPurdue didn't win a conference game in Darrell Hazell's first season.
Jpeezy from Chicago writes: Unlike Wednesday's Purdue fan, I do not believe in Darrell Hazell. I know it's pretty early to write him off, but hear me out. Initially, I was disturbed at how difficult it was for Purdue to get plays called, get 11 guys on the field and not commit costly pre-snap penalties through the first few games of the year. As that got better, execution flaws took their place. For example, calling screens to combat pressure is a good idea, but the line and running backs couldn't release at the same time or in the same direction with enough consistency for the defense to respect the threat. Further, it troubled me that the coaching staff didn't adjust to the lack of execution by at least sprinkling in some easier-to-execute pass plays like quick passes to the flat or slants to get defenses off their back until late in the season. Does it seem reasonable to attribute these concerns to the installation of a new coaching staff? Does a coach at a program like Purdue get a pass for a couple years where you just look the other way?

Brian Bennett: Like you, I was pretty astonished at Purdue's inability to simply administer the basic parts of the game early in the season. Some of that can be attributed to a new staff, but that really should never happen at this level. I'd have more concerns about Hazell if he hadn't already demonstrated that he could win at Kent State. Sure, the MAC is not the Big Ten, but that league was very competitive two years ago when Hazell's Golden Flashes nearly beat Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. My bigger concern for the Boilermakers is whether Hazell's preferred physical, run-first style of offense is the right fit for this program. Purdue is likely never going to out-recruit and out-athlete upper-tier Big Ten teams, so running a version of Tressel-ball without elite players becomes problematic. The spread offense was a great equalizer. Let's see how Hazell adjusts, and I think he's a bright and very capable coach.

Jim M. from San Francisco writes: Do you anticipate a step up in the effectiveness of Nebraska's special teams this year, given the apparent added depth, as well as the addition of several recruits with return abilities (assuming one or more of them do not redshirt this season), and the lack of much of a punt return game last season?

Brian Bennett: Jim, predicting performance on special teams is a tricky matter and an often overlooked aspect of the game. I find it incredibly hard to believe, though, that Nebraska can't improve its 2013 punt return average of 3 yards per attempt, which ranked 121st out of 123 FBS teams. The Cornhuskers have too many good athletes for that to happen again, and it's clearly a sign that the approach needs to change. While half the battle of returning punts is simply catching the ball cleanly, knowing when to signal for a fair catch, etc., I'd certainly expect Bo Pelini and special teams coordinator Ross Els to review and revise the punt return unit and figure out a way to provide the offense with better field position.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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Congrats to Penn State students, who raised more than $13 million for pediatric cancer research at the school's annual THON event.
Bret Bielema was reportedly a driving force behind the controversial new NCAA rules proposal to slow down offenses. He might want to concentrate on slowing down his staff exodus at Arkansas.

Purdue announced on Friday that it had hired Taver Johnson away from Bielema's Razorbacks to be the Boilermakers' new defensive backs coach. Johnson was Arkansas' assistant head coach and linebackers coach in 2012 and was interim head coach that spring after Bobby Petrino got fired.

Before that, Johnson spent five seasons (2007-2011) at Ohio State coaching the defensive backs. He and Purdue coach Darrell Hazell were on the same Buckeyes staff for four years, as Hazell coached the receivers. Johnson also has coached at Miami (Ohio) and with the Cleveland Browns.

“I am thrilled to have Taver Johnson join our staff as the new secondary coach,” Hazell said in a statement released by the school. “He will bring energy and passion to that group. Taver has a wealth of experience from major college football as well as the NFL. I’ve seen him work up-close and in-person and love what he brings.”

This looks like a great hire for the Boilermakers, and Hazell's history with Johnson obviously helped here. Johnson knows the Big Ten well and is an excellent recruiter.

It's also another Big Ten broadside at Bielema, as his defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, left for Ohio State last month.
As the coach hiring season nears an end, we're examining the Big Ten coaching landscape and some recent trends. First, a closer look at the increased investments Big Ten schools are making in their football staffs to keep up with the national market.

Two days before Michigan State ended its best season in nearly a half-century with a Rose Bowl victory, Mark Hollis stood outside a Los Angeles conference room and described the dilemma he and other athletic directors face with football coaches' salaries.

"I get concerned sometimes about where we're going with coaches' salaries as an industry," Hollis said, "but at the same time, you need to ensure that continuity is in place."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/ John BealeNew Penn State coach James Franklin will make about $1 million more than his predecessor Bill O'Brien.
Michigan State ensured continuity by making major financial commitments for coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. Penn State, meanwhile, is paying new coach James Franklin about $1 million more than a coach (Bill O'Brien) it lost to the NFL. Michigan used its financial resources to attract an offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier) from national power Alabama.

The recent moves underscore a greater willingness throughout the deep-pocketed Big Ten to invest more in the men charged to coach its flagship sport, one that has struggled for the past decade. The Big Ten didn't set the market for soaring coaches' salaries, but after some initial reluctance, the league seems more willing to join it.

"When you see an institution like Penn State and Franklin, it says we're going to attract the best talent that we can and in order to do that, we have to step up financially to procure that person's services," Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told ESPN.com. "I think that's great for our league. ... We need to have the best coaches, we need to retain the best coaches."

Ohio State in 2011 hired Urban Meyer for a salary of $4 million per year. At the time, the Big Ten had no coaches earning more than $4 million and only two making more than $3 million. Purdue was one of the few major-conference programs paying its coach (Danny Hope) less than $1 million. Bret Bielema cited the difficulty of retaining top assistants at Wisconsin as one reason he left for the Arkansas job in 2012.

The landscape has changed. Last year, both Meyer and Michigan's Brady Hoke made more than $4 million, while Iowa's Kirk Ferentz made just less ($3.985 million), according to USA Today. Franklin's deal at Penn State includes an annual salary of $4.25 million. Terms of Dantonio's new contract at Michigan State have yet to be announced, but it will put Dantonio, previously among the lowest-paid Big Ten coaches ($1.9 million), in the top salary tier. His staff also will receive nice pay bumps.

"I don't think we've been woefully behind," Smith said of the Big Ten. "We were not the first ones to drive the salaries up, but we weren't far behind in responding. Whenever we can attract someone who is really talented, we pay them."

They also must pay top assistants, many of whom command salaries well above those of head coaches from smaller leagues. The Big Ten, after lagging behind nationally in assistant coach pay, is catching up.

"The offensive and defensive coordinators, those decisions become critically important," Michigan AD Dave Brandon said. "You can have the greatest head coach in the world, but if you're not providing him with those leaders who can manage those smaller staffs ... it's hard to believe that the head coach is going to be successful."

There has been no Big Ten mandate to increase salaries, and athletic directors don't discuss financial specifics when they meet. These are institutional decisions, and Hollis, upon realizing Dantonio and his aides deserved an increase, first looked at what MSU could provide before surveying the Big Ten, the national college scene and the NFL.

Part of his challenge is verifying data, as some numbers, even those available through records requests, aren't always accurate.

"Every school pays individuals in different ways," Hollis said. "There can be longevity payments put in there, different bonuses."

Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner expected to make a strong financial push for O'Brien's successor but didn't know exactly where the numbers would fall. Among the metrics Joyner used was the potential attendance increase a new coach could bring.

Despite PSU's on-field success the past two years, average attendance at Beaver Stadium has dropped by about 5,000. An increase of 1,000 fans during the season, including parking and concessions, adds about $500,000 in revenue, Joyner said.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AJ Mast/Icon SMIIndiana has put more resources than ever before into coach Kevin Wilson and his staff.
"If you believe [the coach is] going to have a very positive effect on your fan base and on your program and on your ability to put bodies in the seats," he said, "it doesn't take a lot of seats to cause a return on that investment."

Indiana AD Fred Glass also wants to fill seats, but he's in a different financial ballpark from schools with massive stadiums like Penn State, despite competing in the same conference. Glass notes that while Michigan made $147.5 million in football revenue last year, Indiana made only about $4.5 million.

But it didn't stop IU from doubling its salary pool for assistant coaches when Kevin Wilson arrived, or awarding Wilson a seven-year contract worth $1.2 million annually, or increasing the number of full-time strength coaches devoted to football from two to five, the NCAA maximum.

"There's a reason IU traditionally hasn't been where we want to be in football," Glass said. "We haven't really made the investments in it. We haven't stuck with continuity. We haven't stayed with a staff over a long period of time. That's what we need.

"Kevin understands we're making resources available, but it's not a bottomless pit."

Glass' last point resonates in the Big Ten, which generates record revenues but also sponsors more sports, on average, than any other major conference. The league believes in broad-based programs, which makes it harder to sink money into football, despite the superior return.

"We are a college program versus just a football franchise, and I think our football coaches not only understand that but really embrace it," Hollis said. "I believe in the Big Ten, maybe more so than others -- I've had the opportunity to see East and West -- [coaches] feel that the athletic department is part of their family."

But they also have to take care of their own families, and their assistants. They know salaries are rising everywhere.

Big Ten athletic directors know this, too. To keep up, you have to pay up.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 24, 2014
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Time to check the inbox for another weekend of frigid temperatures! Can you feel the excitement?

Don't forgot to follow us on Twitter.

In 3, 2, 1 ...

Sam from Nashville writes: Do you think the B1G would ever allow the title game to be in a central location outside of "B1G Country"--like Nashville or Louisville--or is the conference's "SEC inferiority complex" too great? LP Field is big, new, actually outdoors, and warmer in December -- plus, it's only a 13 hour drive from the B1G's peripheral schools. Indy, by comparison is a 10-hour drive, and Chicago is 12.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State Spartans
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsIt's hard to imagine the Big Ten title game not utilizing Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Adam Rittenberg: While I'm sure LP Field is great, and that Brian Bennett would love to have the Big Ten title game in his home city, I don't really see the point of moving the game outside league borders. It has nothing to do with the SEC. Would the SEC ever play its title game in Indianapolis? Of course not. It has a great thing going in Atlanta. Fans love it, schools love it. Why mess with it? The Big Ten would be doing a major disservice by moving its game to Nashville or even Louisville when Indy or Chicago work much better for most fans.

Ndamukong Suh from The House of Pain writes: You give no credit from my Huskers beating OSU in 2011. You make excuses that that year OSU was just mediocre, not saying that you are wrong here, but some credit belongs to Nebraska for gutting out the win. I can make the argument that the B1G got Nebraska aboard during one of its historic low points. From 2002 through 2013 Nebraska has been at its lowest win percentage since 1951 to 1961 (64 percent). That is good enough to tie for third-best win percentage with Iowa, only OSU (75 percent) and Wisconsin (70 percent) are higher in the B1G. So why do you insist on belittling that victory over the Buckeyes in 2011? The real difference between Nebraska and the top of the B1G is the turnovers. Granted it is part of the game, but when the Huskers do get a handle on that there isn't a team in the conference that they cannot compete with and beat.

Adam Rittenberg: If this really was Suh, I'd be entering the Witness Protection Program. Sure, I'll give Nebraska some credit for a historic comeback against Ohio State, but to use that win in an argument why Nebraska is all of a sudden going to dominate the Big Ten West Division rings hollow. Nebraska has some decent wins since joining the Big Ten. It also has had some stinkers, none more so than in the 2012 Big Ten championship game. As to Nebraska's historic low period, so what? Nebraska is down (according to you) and Ohio State was down in 2011, so that game really doesn't matter. I agree completely with your last points about the turnovers holding back Nebraska and the fact the Huskers can compete with anyone. I never said they couldn't.

TM Ryan from Evanston, Ill., writes: Adam: Will the Big Ten continue with a football championship game? It sounds like the SEC's game is the only true moneymaker (always sold out) among all conference title games and with the playoff coming in, the game allows for a playoff contender to pick up a late loss which can eliminate them from the playoff. Seems like there isn't much to gain any longer.

Adam Rittenberg: There are certainly downsides, Ryan, but I think the Big Ten title game will be a moneymaker in most years, like the SEC's. It certainly was last year with two top 10 teams squaring off. If the selection committee puts emphasis on winning your league, which it says it will and which Jim Delany is fighting for, the game will have significance in the playoff picture. There will be some years where the Big Ten champ doesn't go to the playoff, but in most years, the Rose Bowl will be on the line, too. So there's more at stake -- and more money to make -- in having the game.

A.P. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: I'm sure you've heard/seen the incident with Cass Tech QB Jayru Campbell. I fully expect Mark Dantonio to take his offer back. While this is disappointing (since he was a 4-star recruit), do you think this will affect anything for MSU moving forward in terms of recruiting? We'll be fine in the QB position because we'll have Damion Terry and possibly Connor Cook, too. What are your thoughts on the whole incident?

Adam Rittenberg: It's always disappointing to see an incident like that, especially involving someone who has a promising future at stake. Michigan State surely will wait to see if charges are filed against Campbell -- nothing has come down yet -- and will want to know all the details. But it certainly doesn't look good for a recruit who has had other issues with violence and plays a position where you need discipline and maturity. Michigan State seems set at quarterback for the next few years either way.

Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, just finished reading about the continuing troubles with Penn State's AD. Which has brought me back to a question I've had for awhile. Why are AD hires not more high-profile news? Who are these guys who decided who will get millions, who will recruit the teams of the future? A lot rides on the B1G's ADs, and they are mostly enigmas to me.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsNo Big Ten coach in the BCS era fashioned better defenses than Mark Dantonio.
Adam Rittenberg: It's a good point, Samuel, but in general we care a lot more about coaches than those above them. The coaching searches in the pro sports are similar, while general manager hirings usually aren't huge news (unless you live in Chicago and the Cubs hire Theo Epstein). Texas' somewhat recent AD hire generated some buzz, and like Dave Joyner, Steve Patterson has some baggage. Penn State's situation certainly was unique after the scandal, and Joyner certainly isn't your typical AD hire, especially for a program that large.

Mac from As Far South While Being Considered North writes: Who were the best offensive-minded and defensive-minded coaches in the B10 during the BCS era? My pick for defensive mind is Mark Dantonio for what he did at OSU in 2002 and MSU the past four years. I found offense a little more hard to pick, my thoughts were Jim Tressel, Bielema and Lloyd Carr. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It's an interesting topic, Mac, although some of your picks for offense are off base. Bret Bielema is a defense guy (former coordinator at Kansas State and Wisconsin), while few would describe Jim Tressel and Lloyd Carr as offensive geniuses. My pick would be Joe Tiller at Purdue. He changed the game in the Big Ten with his spread system and had tremendous success early in his tenure. Dantonio would be my pick for his accomplishments both as a coordinator and head coach in the B1G. I'd mention Norm Parker, too, as he did a great job as Iowa's longtime defensive coordinator.

King from Los Angeles writes: You told Brent from Iowa that "It's a what-have-you-done-lately type of deal." to support putting Nebraska ahead of Iowa. But a few questions down, you told Kenny from Nebraska that "Wisconsin ended the season poorly but had a better, more consistent squad than Nebraska for much of the season." Doesn't that contradict each other?

Adam Rittenberg: I can see how it might be interpreted that way. I should have used different language. It comes down to which team I/we think is better at that moment if they played. Despite Iowa's convincing win against Nebraska five weeks earlier, I would pick Nebraska if the two squared off today after seeing both in bowls. And I'd pick Wisconsin to beat both.
Ryan Groy and his Wisconsin classmates aren't in a reflective mode, and might not be for a while.

When you're in your early twenties, you tend to live in the moment. The Badgers' seniors know what's behind them, the Big Ten championships and Rose Bowl appearances, the coaching changes, the milestones and the adversity. But they're savoring their final days of game prep together, and looking forward to their final game, which carries plenty of meaning.

"It'll cap off our legacy," said Groy, Wisconsin's left guard. "It's very important. Obviously, it's the last game of our senior career. We're focusing on that."

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIFor all the success he's had over his career, Wisconsin RB James White has come up short in bowl games. He's hoping to change that when the Badgers play South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl.
A win against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl would give the seniors 40 victories since the start of the 2010 team, tying them with the 2012 and 2007 Wisconsin seniors for the most in a four-year span. But other than linebacker Chris Borland, none of the seniors have been part of a bowl win.

Borland played as a true freshman in 2009, earning Big Ten freshman of the year honors and starting at outside linebacker in the Champs Sports Bowl, as Wisconsin beat Miami 20-14 (he redshirted the 2010 season after a shoulder injury). The Badgers reached greater heights the next three seasons with Rose Bowl appearances, but lost all three games by single digits.

"It really feels a lot better to end the season on a high note," Borland said. "We've had a few conversations in smaller circles and it's not a bad idea to talk to the whole team, but I think our guys are hungry to win regardless.

"They've been preparing the right way so far."

The Rose Bowl setbacks are in the seniors' minds as they prepare for their final postseason appearance. Running back James White, who has 3,908 career rush yards and 45 touchdowns, had three forgettable outings in Pasadena: eight carries for 23 yards against TCU, eight carries for 30 yards against Oregon and six carries for four yards against Stanford, including a fourth-and-goal stall on the Stanford 1-yard line and dropped pass on a well-designed screen on third-and-10.

"I haven't had much of an impact in the bowl games," White said, "so I definitely want to go out here my last season and have an impactful game and get a win."

Win or lose, Wisconsin's seniors will be remembered as one of the more accomplished groups in program history. Arguably their most significant achievement is the way they handled coaching changes, especially the surprising departure of head coach Bret Bielema after the 2012 Big Ten championship game.

The team hit surprisingly few speed bumps during the transition to Gary Andersen, surging to a 9-2 record before a surprising loss to Penn State on Senior Day at Camp Randall Stadium.

"We just stuck together and were tight-knit during all those times of adversity and change," nose tackle Beau Allen said. "We really bought into this program and did everything that we could to make sure we handled that right.

"It paid off in the end."

Allen admits that the Capital One Bowl "might not be the same stage or setting as Pasadena," but Wisconsin's opponent matches up with the ones it faced in the Rose Bowl. South Carolina began the season ranked No. 6 nationally and has been in the top 15 in all but one week, rising to No. 9 in the final BCS standings.

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is the headliner, but quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis form a dangerous backfield combination. Borland sees similarities between South Carolina and Ohio State, one of few offenses to move the ball effectively against the nation's No. 6 defense.

As it turned out, Wisconsin's loss to Penn State didn't cost the team a BCS at-large berth after Michigan State upset Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. But there's still a sense of unfinished business for the Badgers, especially those taking the field for the last time.

"We're incredibly motivated," Allen said. "I don't think there's anything else that we want more. We haven't won a game in the postseason, so those three Rose Bowl losses, that's not something you take lightly. We're just going to do everything in our power to prepare right for this game and make sure that we come out on top."

A look at the B1G assistant salaries

December, 12, 2013
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USA Today has released its annual database of assistant coach salaries throughout college football so let's see how the Big Ten aides stack up. Ten of the 12 Big Ten schools report coaches' salaries (Northwestern and Penn State do not).

Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).

On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).

Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:

Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)

Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.

Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.

One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.

In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.

Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)

Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:

Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan: $3,072,000
Nebraska: $2,648,500
Wisconsin: $2,495,000
Michigan State: $2,410,483
Iowa: $2,367,500
Minnesota: $2,152,350
Indiana: $2,074,780
Illinois: $2,066,400
Purdue: $2,010,000

We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.

Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.

Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.

Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.
USA Today has come out with its annual database of college coaching salaries. Not surprisingly, Alabama's Nick Saban tops the chart with a salary of $5,545,852 for 2012.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andrew Weber/US PresswireOhio State's Urban Meyer is the highest-paid coach in the Big Ten.
Those questioning Bret Bielema's move from Wisconsin to Arkansas might change their opinion after seeing Bielema's 2013 salary with the Hogs ($5,158,863), which ranks third behind Saban and Texas' Mack Brown. Then again, Bielema's compensation also includes a $1.9 million buyout that had to be paid to Wisconsin.

Where do the Big Ten coaches stack up?

Ohio State's Urban Meyer is first in the Big Ten and sixth nationally with a salary of $4,608,000, two spots ahead of Michigan's Brady Hoke ($4,154,000). Meyer and Hoke both are eligible for $550,000 bonuses in 2013.

Iowa's Kirk Ferentz follows Hoke and ranks ninth nationally in salary ($3,985,000). Ferentz also has an insane maximum bonus of $1,750,000. The conversation about his value for a program hovering around .500 isn't going to go away.

Penn State's Bill O'Brien ($3,282,779) and Nebraska's Bo Pelini ($2,975,000) also appear among the top 20 coaches in 2013 salary. The SEC has three of the nation's four highest-paid assistants, four of the top seven and eight of the top 20. The Big Ten and Big 12 are tied for the second-most in the top 20 with five each.

But there's a sizable dropoff after Pelini as Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald comes in next at 41st nationally ($2,221,153). Michigan State's Mark Dantonio undoubtedly is the best value in the league at $1,959,744, behind first-year coaches Darrell Hazell of Purdue ($2,160,833) and Gary Andersen of Wisconsin ($2,120,823).

Purdue had been criticized for underpaying for coaches, but Hazell's deal, which includes a maximum bonus of $1,095,000, is certainly competitive nationally.

Illinois coach Tim Beckman comes in 60th nationally in salary ($1,700,000), while Indiana's Kevin Wilson ($1,291,220) and Minnesota's Jerry Kill ($1,200,000) round out the list. Both Wilson and Kill earn less than coaches from Colorado State, Navy, South Florida and Central Florida. That seems a bit troubling for teams in a loaded league like the Big Ten.

Although the Big Ten is somewhat competitive with the SEC at the top in paying coaches, the overall numbers aren't close.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall, whose team joins the Big Ten in 2014, ranks right behind Andersen in salary at 48th overall ($2,025,440). Rutgers coach Kyle Flood is earning just $860,000, trailing the coaches from Air Force, Memphis, Wyoming and others. Fairly or unfairly, that won't help the perception that Rutgers doesn't belong in a league like the Big Ten.

What are your thoughts on the coaching salaries around the Big Ten and nationally?

Iowa, Wisconsin are common enemies

October, 31, 2013
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Wisconsin and Iowa are about as dead even as two rivals can be.

The two teams resume playing for the Heartland Trophy on Saturday after a two-year break, and the all-time series is tied 42-42-2. Both schools are located in states that don't produce many FBS prospects each year, and the ones who do come from their backyard tend to be linemen. And so it's right that both programs' calling card is their offensive line and running game.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Keith Gillett/Icon SMINew Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen hasn't deviated from the Badgers' proven formula.
The facilities aren't that much different at each place, right down to their excellent game-day atmospheres. Wisconsin's Camp Randall Stadium holds about 10,000 more fans than Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, but that's not a huge advantage or disadvantage.

Barry Alvarez, the architect of Wisconsin's modern success, was an assistant under Hayden Fry at Iowa. Alvarez's handpicked assistant, Bret Bielema, played and later coached for the Hawkeyes. The similarities go on and on.

"The physicality both teams play with is a big part of the programs," Bielema said on Wednesday. "I heard it from Kirk [Ferentz] when I was an assistant to him and carried it forward to the days when I was with coach Alvarez. The other thing is that those kids are commonly recruited against one another. A lot of times, half the roster at Iowa was guys we either recruited or evaluated, and vice versa."

One thing you can say about each team is that it knows exactly what it is.

Ferentz has been Iowa's head coach for 15 years, and he didn't even change coordinators until two years ago. While the Hawkeyes have made small tweaks here and there, they've always stayed true to Ferentz's core beliefs.

"Teams that are successful and sustain success tend to be that way," Ferentz said this week. "At some point, you just have to decide, hey, who are you and what do you believe in, and then you try to work to that end. I think it’s a challenge to change every year or every two months. It's tough to get anywhere doing that."

Alvarez established a program built around massive but athletic offensive lines and a powerful running game. When he hired Bielema, he made sure that continued. First-year head coach Gary Andersen wisely hasn't deviated from that formula.

"We've come up with a system, and we know who we are and what our style of play is," Alvarez told ESPN.com. "I don't know what other people do. I just know what has consistently been good for us."

So the two rivals share much in common. It just so happens that Wisconsin is on a higher plane right now.

The Badgers are coming off three straight Rose Bowl appearances and are No. 24 in the BCS standings this week. Iowa has been trying to recapture such highs since its 2009 Orange Bowl season, though the Hawkeyes are 5-3 this year, with losses to two undefeated teams (Ohio State and Northern Illinois) and one that's 7-1 (Michigan State).

Wisconsin has much more of a buzz than Iowa, thanks to recent star players like J.J. Watt, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball. The last Hawkeyes player to really resonate nationally was probably quarterback Ricky Stanzi, thanks in large part to his patriotic leanings. The Badgers rolled up huge point totals under Bielema, pushed players hard for national awards and have been involved in several high-profile games the last few years.

That makes an impression on recruits. Three-star running back Chris James of Niles, Ill., was looking at both Iowa and Wisconsin. He recently narrowed his list of schools to three, and the Badgers made it while the Hawkeyes just missed the cut. James said he really liked Iowa and thinks both programs are very similar in their philosophies and styles.

I asked James if Wisconsin's recent success made a difference.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I feel like they're dominating right now. They're doing a great job."

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKirk Ferentz is in his 15th season as Iowa head coach.
The Badgers also seem to have a lot more personality, part of which no doubt stems from the school's friendly media policies. Iowa under Ferentz has mostly played things very close to the vest, rarely opening practices and limiting access to players and assistant coaches. Think about it: What was the last big, national story you read about the Hawkeyes that didn't involve Ferentz's contract? Why have the the Badgers been more open?

"That's just the way we operate," Alvarez said. "Our players have really represented us well. Whenever they get in front of a camera or have a microphone in their face, they speak well. They're our biggest ambassadors, our biggest sales people."

These things, of course, often go in cycles. Iowa beat Wisconsin four straight times from 2002 to 2005 and was going to big bowls every season. The '09 Hawkeyes had plenty of interesting characters, from Stanzi to Pat Angerer to Adrian Clayborn and his dog, Ace. As Ferentz said this week, having an identity is great, but getting great players is even better.

Iowa just missed out on maybe the best player in Saturday's game, Wisconsin tailback Melvin Gordon. He originally committed to the Hawkeyes but the tug of family and his home state eventually swayed him to the Badgers. But Gordon was ready and willing to play for Ferentz.

"I've told other people that Iowa is Iowa and Wisconsin is Wisconsin," he said. "But when it comes down to it, we both love to run the ball. Both defenses are nasty. Both are powerful, both are strong. Things don’t really change."

One program has the clear upper hand right now. But that could start to change if Iowa wins on Saturday.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
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Welcome back, Ron Swanson.


It’s mostly a light week in Big Ten football, and Wisconsin and Ohio State will kick off Saturday night with no other competition from league games.

That’s perfect. You should watch as this matchup takes center stage. Savor it. This is the rarest of rivalries, one that is simultaneously waxing and waning before our eyes.

Though it’s the Big Ten opener for Ohio State and we haven't yet reached October, this game might just decide the Leaders Division race. That should come as no surprise, as these two teams have played several high-stakes showdowns in recent years.

“All my years that I've been here,” Wisconsin senior running back James White said, “this has been a great game. It has always come down to the wire."

The past three meetings have produced instant classics. The Badgers knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State 31-18 at home in 2010. In 2011, Braxton Miller’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left lifted the Buckeyes to a 33-29 win at the Horseshoe. Last season, Ohio State won 21-14 in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium.

While Ohio State has won five of the last six against Wisconsin, the Badgers have won or shared the last three Big Ten titles. They’ve also represented the Leaders Division in the first two Big Ten championship games, including last year when Ohio State was ineligible.

That both compete in the same division while Penn State remains on probation has added meaning to this game, which wasn’t always so competitive. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 55-18-5 and beat Wisconsin every year between 1960 and 1980. The Badgers won twice (with one tie) between 1988 and 2000.

“I was here a long time ago, and it was not a rivalry,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who was a Buckeyes assistant from 1986-87. “You have to give credit to Wisconsin. I think it all started with coach [Barry] Alvarez, and then the following coaches have done a great job. They are one of, if not the best, programs in the Big Ten right now, and because of that, it’s become a very good rivalry.”

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take on Wisconsin on Saturday in a battle of Top 25 teams.
The rivalry intensified when Meyer arrived and then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made some disparaging comments about the new Ohio State boss. While both later insisted publicly they had patched up any potential rift, there was little doubt both badly wanted to beat the other last November. After Bielema left for Arkansas, ex-Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee was caught on tape calling Bielema “a thug.” The wife of Buckeyes assistant coach Mike Vrabel took a shot at Bielema and his wife on Twitter on Saturday after Arkansas lost to Rutgers -- ironically winning some favor with Wisconsin fans in the process.

The intrigue between the teams’ head coaches cooled considerably when the Badgers hired Gary Andersen, who served as Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Utah. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises asked Meyer this week if he missed Bielema, Meyer chuckled and said, “I’m good with Gary.”

"Not to get too much into things, but obviously Coach Andersen and Coach Meyer have a relationship in the past,” Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen said. “There's a mutual respect between Coach Andersen and that staff over there.”

Allen laughed.

“That may be something that might be a little different this year, without getting too detailed or specific."

Friendship between coaches is not the only reason this rivalry may have already peaked. After this season, Ohio State and Wisconsin will play in separate divisions as the Big Ten expands and splits into East and West branches. The two teams are not scheduled to meet in 2014, 2015 or 2017, though they could still face each other in the conference title game.

That’s particularly a shame for the Badgers, because as their historic rivalry with Minnesota has become one-sided and Iowa went missing off the schedule for a few years, Ohio State has loomed as potentially their biggest game.

"You enjoy going up against great teams like Ohio State,” Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon said. “I mean, it's Ohio State. So it's kind of disappointing, but I'm sure if things go how we want, we'll probably see them again."

Things are a little different from the Buckeyes’ perspective. Wisconsin has become a rival because of division alignment and the Badgers’ contention for Big Ten titles. But Ohio State doesn’t view this game as the one it must win.

"When it comes to rivalries, no,” Buckeyes receiver Evan Spencer said. “I mean, just because The Team Up North, it's hard to place words on that one. Wisconsin is a big game, don't get me wrong. It's one of the biggest ones we have on the schedule.”

The schedule brings few guaranteed rematches between these two teams. So make sure to watch Saturday’s game. Savor it.

“We like playing these guys,” Allen said. “We've had great games, and that's why you play college football. You want to play great teams, you want to play great games, and you want to play great players. That's what we've had between the two of us."

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