Big Ten: Charlie Fisher

Two winters ago, the Big Ten had an unprecedented 40 coaching changes. Three teams replaced their head coaches, and three others replaced three or more assistants.

Last year's coaching carousel wasn't quite as packed, although eight of the 12 teams made at least one change, and Purdue had a complete staff overhaul. There were 32 changes in all, including nine at the coordinator level.

It's still early in the so-called silly season, and a big coaching domino just fell in Austin, Texas, but the Big Ten coaching realm has been relatively quiet so far (operative phrase: so far). The departures of Penn State assistants Charlie Fisher and Ron Vanderlinden are the only confirmed coaching changes in the league.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsNFL teams have their eyes on coach Bill O'Brien, but it's tough to say if he is ready or willing to leave Penn State just yet.
The Big Ten could avoid a head-coaching change for the first time since after the 2009 season. Athletic directors Mike Thomas (Illinois), Shawn Eichorst (Nebraska) and Dave Brandon (Michigan) have affirmed support for their head coaches. Eichorst's statement released Nov. 30 didn't explicitly say coach Bo Pelini would return for the 2014 season, but it suggested as much.

Eichorst also shot down the claim from Mack Brown's attorney that a Nebraska representative had contacted him about Brown's services.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who is 41-12 in the past four seasons, has been mentioned as a fringe candidate for the Texas job. But Dantonio, who was born in Texas but grew up in Ohio, seems unlikely to leave a great situation at MSU, especially with a sizable raise coming his way. His boss, athletic director Mark Hollis, said Monday that he has "every reason to believe" Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi both will return in 2014.

Potentially the only head-coaching drama in the Big Ten surrounds Penn State's Bill O'Brien, who last month completed his second winning season at the school despite heavy NCAA sanctions. O'Brien, who came to Penn State from the NFL's New England Patriots, talked with several NFL teams about coaching vacancies after the 2012 season but opted to stay put.

CBSsports.com's Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that the Minnesota Vikings and Houston Texans are interested in O'Brien -- the Washington Redskins soon could be, too -- and that O'Brien is ready to return to the NFL.

It's the belief here and elsewhere that O'Brien will head to the NFL, but potentially not right away. He has one of the nation's top young quarterbacks at Penn State in Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten freshman of the year, and likes having his family in Happy Valley. The NCAA reduced some of its scholarship sanctions against Penn State in September, and it's possible the final two years of the postseason ban will be eliminated. Wouldn't O'Brien like to compete for a Big Ten title with Hackenberg before returning to the NFL? Stay tuned.

Many assistant coach changes take place after the bowl season, but early indications are the Big Ten will remain relatively stable. After replacing two-thirds of his staff last winter, Illinois' Tim Beckman is expected to keep the same group of assistants for a make-or-break run in 2014. Northwestern was the Big Ten's biggest disappointment this season, but Pat Fitzgerald intends to keep his staff intact for the fourth straight year.

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson has yet to make any staff changes despite another horrific season on defense, although some still could be coming. Michigan’s Brady Hoke doesn't anticipate making changes despite increased criticism for offensive coordinator Al Borges and line coach Darrell Funk. Pelini has been extremely loyal to his staff, and it's unlikely we'll see much movement at Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin.

Even some of the Big Ten's top assistants might not be going anywhere. Narduzzi, who reportedly declined the head-coaching job at Connecticut, could remain at Michigan State for another year as more attractive jobs likely will open next year both regionally and nationally. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys, who masterfully led the team during Jerry Kill's health-related absence, has received interest elsewhere but doesn't sound like he's ready to leave Kill after two decades on his staff.

Anyone who follows the silly season knows there's a long way to go. We even saw a coaching change after spring practice began, as Jim Bridge went from Illinois to Purdue. It's naive to think more aren't coming around the Big Ten.

Several Ohio State assistants have been mentioned for other jobs, although two landing spots -- Miami (Ohio) and Florida Atlantic -- are off the board. Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner, the team's best assistant in my view, has been mentioned as a potential candidate at Army, where he spent 13 seasons.

Expect some shuffling in the coming weeks and months, but the Big Ten likely won't approach the big numbers of the past two winters. It'll be interesting to see how the relative stability impacts the on-field results in 2014.

QB Ferguson to transfer from Penn State

December, 4, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson was granted a release from his scholarship Monday and will seek a transfer elsewhere, he told ESPN.com.

The sophomore asked for his release prior to the departure of quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher and sent his release papers to about 50 schools, roughly 40 in the FBS and 10 in the FCS. He hopes to land somewhere in time for spring classes.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ferguson
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicTyler Ferguson played well in spring practice but was eventually passed by Christian Hackenberg as Penn State's No. 1 QB in preseason.
"I'm just wanting to play somewhere," Ferguson said. "I really don't have any preference where that is; I just want to play somewhere."

Ferguson enrolled at Penn State in January and overtook the lone returning quarterback, Steven Bench, during spring practice to become the No. 1 QB. Bench transferred to South Florida, but true freshman Christian Hackenberg then surpassed Ferguson on the depth chart in the preseason.

The former junior-college standout finished this season playing in five games. He went 10-of-15 for 155 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Rumors circulated before the season that Ferguson intended to transfer because he was homesick for Bakersfield, Calif. He left campus for several weeks in July for family reasons but told ESPN.com that the thought of transferring back then never entered his mind.

It was only in the past two or three weeks, during talks with his father, that he believed it might be best to seek an opportunity elsewhere.

"After the Wisconsin game, we sat down with [Bill] O'Brien and he agreed that I could play somewhere else," Ferguson said. "And we both agreed Christian is a hell of a player."

Ferguson said proximity to home was not a factor in his decision to leave Penn State, nor will it be in where he'll wind up next. He weighed getting a degree from Penn State as a backup quarterback but ultimately decided to finish his education as a potential starter elsewhere.

"I just want a school that says, 'You're going to come in and compete,'" Ferguson said. "And whether that's -- and I'm just throwing this school out there as an example -- Boston College or Fresno State. If that gives me the best chance to compete and they're a good team, one of the top four teams in their conference or something like that, that'd be great."

With Ferguson's departure, Hackenberg is currently the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. However, ESPN 300 quarterback Michael O'Connor (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy), a four-star PSU commit, is set to enroll in January.

Three preferred walk-ons -- D.J. Crook, Austin Whipple and Jack Seymour -- are also on the roster.

Ferguson will finish out the semester in State College before flying west to California. And he said his time at Penn State, however short, was memorable.

"I don't think I could've possibly learned more football from any school than I did from coaches O'Brien and Fisher," he said. "I'm very grateful."

Two PSU assistant coaches leave program

December, 3, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Longtime linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden and quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher are no longer with the Penn State football program, according to the school.

The university's official statement said both coaches "have resigned to pursue other opportunities." It wasn't immediately clear what those other opportunities were.

Neither Fisher nor Vanderlinden returned calls from ESPN.com seeking comment.

"I've greatly enjoyed my 13 years at Penn State and all the student-athletes I had an opportunity to work with," Vanderlinden said in a news release. "I wish Coach [Bill] O'Brien and Penn State nothing but the best in the future."

O'Brien will begin a job search immediately and said he will not comment until the positions are filled. Potential candidates are not yet known.

The assistants' departures come just three days after the Nittany Lions clinched their second winning season during unprecedented sanctions. Penn State upset then-No. 15 Wisconsin on Saturday, the first time PSU defeated a top-15 team on the road since 2008, to finish the season at 7-5.

Vanderlinden's departure was considered especially surprising, given his track record. He's been a part of the staff since 2001 and oversaw a program widely known as Linebacker U. He coached several All-Americans such as Michael Mauti, Dan Connor and Paul Posluszny -- in addition to NFL stars NaVorro Bowman and Sean Lee.

He also played an important role in the commitments of at least a half-dozen pledges for the 2014 class, including four-star linebacker Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del./Salesianum).

"At this point it does not affect my decision," Reeder said earlier in the afternoon. "Coach [Bill] O'Brien and [John] Butler will be coming down to see me today and are going to explain everything in more detail."

Vanderlinden has coached since 1978 and served as Northwestern's defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1996 -- coaching current Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald -- and then coached at Maryland from 1997 to 2000 before landing in Happy Valley.

Fisher was one of O'Brien's first hires at Penn State and helped spring former walk-on Matt McGloin to a school-record 3,266 passing yards in 2012. Fisher arrived at the school after spending one season at Miami (Ohio), where he acted as the quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator. Before that, he was an assistant at Vanderbilt for nine seasons.

"I want to thank Penn State and Coach O’Brien for the opportunity to be a part of the program the past two seasons,” Fisher said in the news release. “It was a great experience and I am very proud of what we accomplished. Now I'm looking forward to the next chapter and making a positive impact on the next group of players I have the privilege of working with."

Tom VanHaaren contributed to this report

Big Ten lunch links

August, 14, 2013
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Happy hump day. Do you believe the season is barely two weeks away? Fired up.

Link time ...

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 11, 2013
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Some news not concerning Big Ten schedules ...

Spring QB battles: Penn State

February, 21, 2013
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Spring practice in the Big Ten is just around the corner, and more than half of the teams will hold quarterback competitions during the 15 practice sessions. Many of these will spill over into fall camp.

We're breaking down each of these position battles before they begin. Next up: the Penn State Nittany Lions.

Incumbent (2012 stats): None. Matt McGloin (3,266 pass yards, 24 touchdowns, five interceptions, 60.5 percent completions) has exhausted his eligibility.

Spring contenders: Steven Bench, sophomore; Tyler Ferguson, sophomore

Summer contender: Christian Hackenberg, incoming freshman

The skinny: Most of the Big Ten quarterback competitions feature players with some starting experience, but Penn State lacks a player who has proven himself at the FBS level. Bench played sparingly behind McGloin in 2012, completing 2 of 8 passes for 12 yards in two games. A late addition in the 2012 recruiting class, he received good reviews from quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher, who said last February of Bench, "He's got athleticism, he can throw the ball, he's a great competitor." Ferguson has done the most in college, albeit in junior college, passing for 2,614 yards with 22 touchdowns in 10 games for the College of the Sequoias in California. He enrolled early and participated in the winter conditioning program. The real intrigue here is Hackenberg, rated by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's No. 1 quarterback in the 2013 class. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Hackenberg certainly looks like Penn State's quarterback of the future, and while some hope he redshirts in 2013, he could be the Lions' best option.

Bench and Ferguson have a head start this spring, the period where McGloin solidified the starting job in 2012. But if neither man separates himself, Hackenberg should be in the mix in August. "We have to play the best guy, whoever that guy is," coach Bill O'Brien said earlier this month. "He has to run the team the best and understands the system the best and takes care of the football the best. ... That's a long process of spring practice, and for Christian, it's the summer conditioning and then the training camp. We'll play the best guy."

Prediction: Penn State's competition is a tough one to forecast because, as O'Brien puts it, "whoever plays quarterback for us next year will be really a first-time player in college." Bench gets a slight edge because of his familiarity with O'Brien's system and because he played behind McGloin for a year. He saw firsthand how McGloin blossomed from a mediocre player to one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks. Bench and Ferguson both are good athletes, but Hackenberg clearly has the most potential. There's certainly a temptation to redshirt him, but if neither Bench nor Ferguson is near the level McGloin reached last spring, Hackenberg will get a serious look in fall camp. If the door is open for Hackenberg, don't be surprised to see him leading the offense this fall.
Editor's note: Ivan Maisel has the latest from Penn State as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener versus Ohio.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As the Penn State coaching staff prepares the Nittany Lions in the first game week that they have spent together, there has been one constant. The offensive coaching staff has liked the work of fifth-year senior quarterback Matt McGloin.

“That’s a good read!” head coach Bill O’Brien has said more than once as the offensive staff has watched practice video.

O’Brien admires McGloin’s grit. “He’s got a lot of Scranton (Pa.) in him,” the head coach said Monday. O’Brien likes that McGloin won’t back down in quarterback meetings. Words, you might say, have been exchanged.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State's coaches see QB Matt McGloin as a good fit in their new offense -- and the fifth-year senior "couldn't be happier."
But what the coaching staff really likes is the way that McGloin has taken to the offense that O’Brien brought with him from the New England Patriots. It is to the previous Penn State offense what trigonometry is to multiplication. And McGloin loves it.

“I couldn’t be happier,” McGloin said. “I couldn’t be more lucky to have this happen in my fifth year.”

McGloin is listed at 6-foot-1, 199 pounds. He looks undersized for the modern FBS quarterback. But from the neck up, McGloin fits this offense and its intricacies.

“McGloin has flourished because he’s sharp mentally and he’s fast mentally,” quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher said. “That’s why [Jay] Cutler flourished for us at Vandy [Fisher coached at Vanderbilt from 2002 to '10]. … Knowledge is power. McGloin’s brain is speeding up and the game is slowing down. You can watch how fast the ball is coming out of his hand. Put in a tape from the first day of spring, you could tell the difference.”

McGloin compared learning the offense to learning a foreign language. Rosetta Stone couldn’t help him learn like the diplomats. He just had to dive into it the old-fashioned way -- video and repetition.

“You’re at the point where you think, ‘Am I ever going to learn this? When are things going to start clicking?’” McGloin said. “Toward the end of spring ball, you feel yourself getting better and better at it. You get comfortable with the terminology all throughout the summer. When camp starts and it starts clicking, it’s a good feeling. You feel like you can do so much to help out your team.”

He feels fluent in the language. Where the Penn State offense is the native tongue -- and that might be only in State College, Pa., and Foxborough, Mass. -- McGloin believes he could be a local.

“I think I’m very comfortable about being over there,” he said, laughing. “I think I could live there for a while.”
video Editor's note: Ivan Maisel has the latest from Penn State as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener versus Ohio.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It took nearly the entire two-hour practice for the Penn State offense to get on head coach Bill O'Brien's good side Tuesday.

Midway through the practice, O'Brien huddled up the entire team and said, "No. 1 is we got to pick this up, especially on offense. We've got to pick this practice up."

He never got to No. 2. He sent them back out on the field.

O'Brien bellowed. He yelled. He demanded. "I'm not talking about wanting to be good! I'm talking about doing something!" he said.

He made the offense repeat a practice period, and only at the end, when fifth-year starter Matt McGloin moved the starters smartly down the field, did O'Brien see what he wanted to see.

Just like that, practice ended.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Fisher
Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher writes out playcards.
"If you want to be good," he told his team, "you have to shut up and practice, practice like you did at the end right there. You've got to string drives together. String plays together."

Tuesdays are often the ugliest day of a football week. Game plans are installed. Players are trying to transfer what they saw on video and heard in the meeting room onto the football field. On Tuesday morning, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher printed screen grabs off video of the Ohio defense to prepare his quarterbacks.

"In the pros, you can take these pictures during the game and look at them on the sideline," Fisher said. "In colleges, you can't take a picture. I'm trying to give them a visual."

He also "wrote play cards," coachspeak for the X's-and-O's diagrams that players have studied in three-ring playbooks since the dawn of college football time. Fisher drew the offense in with a blue Sharpie, then handed it to graduate assistant Bartley Webb, who diagrammed the defensive look with a black Sharpie.

"I wish I had a dime for every card I've drawn," said Fisher, a coach for 31 years. "You keep everything. Coaches are like pack rats. We're afraid to throw away anything: playbooks, notes, game plans from 1995."

After practice, after the cold pool and the hot tub, ice pack in place, McGloin said, "All that stuff Coach Fisher does, the pictures he gives us, some tips he writes down after every practice, but just going back to the basics and watching film. That's the main thing. You've got to watch as much film as you possibly can to see what they're doing on third-and-5, what they do the most on first-and-10."

McGloin said the offense will be prepared for Saturday, Tuesday's tumult notwithstanding. Penn State will start seven seniors on defense. McGloin is one of four fifth-year seniors on offense. After them, the experience level drops pretty fast.

"He just wants to see us practicing fast," McGloin said of O'Brien, "doing the right thing, me making the right checks, running the routes right, lining up right. It's the little things that irritate him. If you throw an interception, throw a bad ball, he's not going to get mad. He's going to get mad if you make a wrong read or you don't check to this play or that play. We ended on a good note. Hopefully it will carry over to tomorrow. We're trying to do some new stuff out there."

Once upon a time, linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said, "We used to call it Bloody Tuesday." Wednesdays are for correcting mistakes -- cleaning up the blood -- and Thursdays are for polishing. If you're still correcting mistakes on Friday, you're going to keep making make them on Saturday.
video
May is a time when many coaches take a little breather, decompressing after spring practice and maybe enjoy some time off.

Not so for new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien. When ESPN.com caught up to O'Brien on Wednesday for a phone interview, he was on a bus en route to Buffalo, N.Y., for the 18th and final stop on the Nittany Lions' coaches caravan. O'Brien went to every event, a three-week whirlwind that saw him visit seven different states, including stops in Cleveland, Washington, D.C., New York City, Richmond, Va., and Hartford, Conn.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicCoach Bill O'Brien has worked tirelessly to build a strong relationship with the Penn State fan base.
O'Brien really hasn't had much down time in a while, as he headed straight to State College after coaching the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl in February. But he didn't sound much worse for the wear.

"I've got a lot of energy," he said. "I've been traveling with a great group of people, and the turnouts energize us."

O'Brien and other Penn State coaches were greeted by some large crowds, including more than 900 who came out to the event in Scranton, Pa. There has been a lot of curiosity about the man who's taking over for Joe Paterno, and that's a major reason why O'Brien decided to embark on the journey.

"Since I was hired, I felt like something I had to do after spring practice was get out there, meet people and talk about our vision for the program," he said. "Every stop, there have been 400-to-500 people, at least. So there's no question that it's a far-reaching program, and that's good because we're going to recruit in the six-to-seven hour driving distance area. So it's good to be able to get out into our recruiting areas, too."

The caravan, of course, had another purpose. After the ugly Jerry Sandusky scandal and controversy over Paterno's ouster, Penn State needed a goodwill tour to help the healing process along.

"I think it definitely helps," O'Brien said. "Like I've said, I wasn't here in November. My staff wasn't here. But we're well aware of what happened in November. So I definitely think it helps to get out and meet people and make sure people understand where we're headed."

Even with the controversy as a backdrop, most Penn State fans just wanted to talk about football. O'Brien was peppered with questions about the Nittany Lions' quarterback competition, whether he'll maintain the program's traditions and uniforms and scheduling.

"People can't wait to get going and for the season to start," O'Brien said. "I definitely sense a lot of excitement."

But O'Brien and his staff have a lot of work to do before Sept. 1. One of the first orders of business is selecting a starting quarterback from the trio of Matt McGloin, Rob Bolden and Paul Jones. O'Brien said he plans to name a starter in early June.

"One of the things I try to make clear to people is that the day after the Blue-White Game, the coaches left for recruiting," he said. "We haven't even had a chance as a staff to sit down and talk about spring practice, about depth charts at any position. So I want to have a chance to sit down with the staff when they get back at the end of May, and then we'll have something soon after that."

A report from the Cleveland caravan quoted quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher as saying McGloin was the leader in the race. Asked about that, O'Brien joked, "I'll have to talk to Charlie about that one," before emphasizing again that the staff has to meet to discuss the quarterback situation.

O'Brien and his coaches have begun their preparations for their first few opponents of 2012. He said the team "got a lot done" in the spring but still needs to have a big summer and training camp.

"I think our kids know the tempo we want to practice with," he said. "We have a better feel for the football team, that's for sure. Our kids have started to grasp the terminology and other things."

O'Brien got a grasp on the Penn State fan base during the caravan tour, and vice versa. It might not have been as relaxing as some time off, but he saw it as a very valuable experience worth repeating in the future.

"We'll do something like this again," he said. "But I don't know if it will be 18 stops."

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
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The league meetings in Chicago and playoffs (cue Jim Mora clip) dominate your hump day links:
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Greetings from central Pennsylvania, where I'll be spending the next few days with coach Bill O'Brien and the Penn State Nittany Lions.

If I listed the number of changes that have occurred since my last visit here in September, I'd be typing for days. It's a historic time at Penn State as the program is under new leadership for the first time since 1966, as O'Brien takes over for the late Joe Paterno. The fallout from the sex abuse scandal, Paterno's dismissal and the response of university and state officials to the situation remain major issues, but spring practice has shifted some of the attention back to the field.

Penn State is spending the spring installing new systems on both sides of the ball, as O'Brien brings in his offense from the New England Patriots and Ted Roof implements a defense based on being "multiply aggressive." The early feedback from players seems to be positive, and Penn State is practicing at an accelerated pace. I'll be checking out practice late this afternoon -- a first for me at Penn State -- and I'll be particularly interested in the quarterbacks, offensive line, tight ends and defensive backs.

The quarterback position will be spotlighted throughout the spring and summer, as O'Brien and assistant Charlie Fisher look to upgrade a spot that has declined since 2009. Unfortunately, quarterbacks and assistant coaches aren't available to the media until after the Blue-White Game, but I'll pass along what I learn.

I'll be visiting with O'Brien and some players today and Tuesday, so check the blog for more on the Nittany Lions.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 20, 2012
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Been a while. Great questions today. As always, thanks for the responses.

Ed from Minneapolis writes: What do you think of Jerry Kill's first full recruiting class? Most rate it at the bottom of the B1G, but if Kill is to follow the Alvarez model of building a program, isn't his unprecedented success with in-state recruiting noteworthy? If not, perhaps this question is wishful thinking

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, I definitely agree with you about the significance of Kill doing well within the state. It's vital Minnesota brings in the state's top recruits, even if they're not nationally elite prospects. Programs like Notre Dame and USC have raided Minnesota for national top prospects in recent years (Michael Floyd and Seantrel Henderson, to name two), and Minnesota needs to put itself in position to compete for the best players in every recruiting cycle. Although the overall class didn't receive high marks nationally, I know our recruiting guys liked some of the additions, such as wide receivers Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and Nelson hail from the state.


Some guy from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: There have been rumors that Al Borges may be giving Deving Gardner some reps as a wide receiver. With our lack of depth at the position and DG's athleticism, would that be a good option?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm in favor of getting your best players on the field, and Gardner is a guy who can help Michigan even if he's not taking snaps. There's some risk involved as an injury would leave the Wolverines thin at quarterback and with a starter (Denard Robinson) who has been banged up for much of his career. A lot depends on how the other wide receivers develop this spring and in the start of fall camp. If Roy Roundtree recaptures his 2010 form, Jeremy Gallon builds off a solid 2011 season and some young players emerge, Michigan might not need to experiment with Gardner. But at this point, the receiver position looks thin.


Ryan from Chicago writes: If Danny O'Brien picks PSU and becomes the starter for the next 2 seasons, what is likely to happen (redshirt or transfer wise) with McGloin, Bolden, Jones, Bench and Hackenberg?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Ryan. I was thinking about the same thing earlier today, and also in relation to Wisconsin's quarterbacks, especially heralded incoming freshman Bart Houston. I don't think McGloin is going anywhere. He loves Penn State and would compete like heck with O'Brien. It would be a surprise to see Bolden and/or Jones transfer if O'Brien came in and won the starting job. Bench would almost certainly redshirt this season if O'Brien came in -- quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher loves Bench, by the way -- and Hackenburg doesn't arrive until next fall, so they wouldn't be overly impacted if O'Brien starts the next two seasons.


Matthew from Dallas writes: Guys,Being a Husker fan I could care less about Mich St, but after reading your blog about the best week 1 game this week, don't you think Mich St is in a no win situation by playing Boise St?I mean if Mich St wins, everyone will just say its not the same Boise St team as the past few years so it doesn't matter. If they lose then they will look bad for getting beat by a Boise St team that is having to rebuild. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting points, Matthew. Some folks will spin it that way if Michigan State wins, but I would hope that after seeing so many Boise State teams beat major-conference programs on the road, especially in the season opener, people would give Michigan State credit for beating the Broncos. Boise State went 50-3 during the Kellen Moore era, but the Broncos also won 10 games or more seven times between 1999-2007. Bottom line: Boise State doesn't lose many games. Any win against the Broncos should resonate nationally, especially for a Michigan State team that loses its own starting quarterback (Kirk Cousins) and several other key players.


Drew from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam - Hope you enjoyed Istanbul. Absolutely one of my favorite cities in the world. You've said repeatedly that the key for the Big 10 to return to the elite in football is depth. The Big 10 is unquestionably the deepest conference in men's basketball this year. Wondering if there is anything Big 10 football programs can learn from the success of their basketball counterparts, especially in the areas of recruiting or coaching. Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, it's a fabulous city, a unique mix of East and West. Also a fun sports town -- they love their hoops and futbol. As to your question, football depth and basketball depth are a little different because of the roster sizes. A recruiting class of three top-level prospects can get you over the hump in basketball, while football teams need more top-level prospects to compete at the national level.

One thing that sets Big Ten basketball apart from football is the number of programs that are either traditional powers, emerging powers and consistent winners. You have a traditional hoops power in Indiana that hasn't enjoyed much success in football. Illinois fits into this category as well, and in recent years, so does Purdue. You also have an Ohio State basketball program that has become nationally elite under Thad Matta. Tom Izzo has brought the type of consistent elite success to Michigan State basketball that we're only now seeing with the Spartans football program. You also have a consistent winner in Wisconsin under Bo Ryan. While the Badgers football program also has made strides in recent years, the hoops team has been a bit more consistent during the past decade. Big Ten football is no longer the Big Two and everyone else, but we haven't seen as many teams compete at the national level on the gridiron than on the hardcourt.

There are some factors that affect both football and basketball, such as Big Ten Network revenue and a school's investment in both programs (facilities, coaches' salaries, etc.). But I don't know if league-wide success in hoops can translate to football. Too many different variables.


Brandon P. from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I have always been more of a Cam Meredith fan over Crick and i was wondering if you think he will be more of a staple for the Blackshirts defense than Crick was supposed to be? If not him, then who?

Adam Rittenberg: They play different positions and Crick could have had a nice year in 2011 if not for the injury, but I think Meredith is a key player to watch this fall. From talking with him a few weeks ago, he's excited about new D-line coach Rick Kaczenski and new coordinator John Papuchis. He also realizes the need to be more of a leader for a unit that admittedly underperformed in 2011. He'll enter his third year as the starter and has some natural pass-rushing skills, as he showed in 2011 with five sacks and nine quarterback hurries. Nebraska didn't generate nearly enough pressure in 2011 -- the team ranked 84th nationally in sacks and 112th in tackles for loss -- so Meredith will need to trigger the rush this coming season.


Dave from Toledo, Ohio, writes: How hard will it be to implement a new offense at Ohio State? How well does the current personnel on the team fit? RichRod's new offense did terrible at michigan his first few years until he had the right players, though I feel like he didn't try to adapt his offense to the players he had, which I'm hoping Meyer and Herman don't make the same mistake. I'm most concerned about our offensive line adapting, as well as having some wide receivers emerge as play makers.Thanks

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, Rodriguez's offense had one bad year in 2008 and then got progressively better, setting some records in 2010. Offense wasn't the problem for Rodriguez at Michigan, and he did have some players recruited by the previous coaching staff who did well. One advantage Meyer has is he inherits a quarterback much more suited to his system (Braxton Miller) than the QBs Rodriguez inherited at Michigan (Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan). Miller likely will have an even higher ceiling under Meyer and Herman than he would have under the previous offensive staff, which drew a lot of criticism. How the offensive line develops will be an interesting subplot of the spring for sure, as Meyer has made some comments about the need for better conditioning, etc. Meyer also has been candid about the need for more difference-makers at wide receiver, a position that was a virtual nonfactor in 2011. I do think a more imaginative offensive game plan will help players blossom at several positions. It's not as if Ohio State lit it up on offense last year. While there could be some growing pains this fall, I think you'll like what you see from the Buckeyes offense.


Ahmet from Rochester, N.Y., writes: Adam, I saw you traveled to Turkey, that is very nice. I would like you to to write soemthing about Turkish soccer since you saw Turkish soccer match

Adam Rittenberg: It was pretty wild, Ahmet. I dragged my wife to the match, and let's just say she was one of the few females in the crowd. We had heard the fans of the home team, Kar_1yaka, were known for being pretty rowdy. There were a ton of police around the stadium, and we had to be patted down by security as we entered. There also were high fences surrounding the pitch so no one could enter from the stands. Everyone stood for the entire game, and there were some designated cheering sections surrounded by security. The chanting during the game was pretty cool even though I had no idea what they were saying. Fans were very demonstrative about bad calls, and some of them went a little too far, like the guy in our row who broke three stadium seats with his foot and almost got in a fight with a guy in the next section over. There were several near-fights among fans and the security didn't do much to step in. It was definitely an experience, and the match we went to was second division, not Süper Lig. I'd definitely go again, though.
Penn State fans were getting a bit antsy about the fact new coach Bill O'Brien hadn't landed a verbal commit for 2013.

The wait is over, and Nittany Nation is celebrating.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg committed to Penn State on Wednesday, becoming the first verbal for an all-important 2013 class. Lions247.com first reported Hackenberg's commitment, and colleague Jamie Newberg confirmed it with Hackenberg's father.

Hackenberg, a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound signal-caller for Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He had received offers from Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, among others.

This is a big get for Penn State, which needs quarterback help in the 2013 class. Penn State lost out on one-time verbal Skyler Morningweg, and while new quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher loves incoming recruit Steven Bench, the team needs more options. It's also significant for O'Brien, whose background as a quarterback guru should help Penn State upgrade the position. Hackenberg recently cited O'Brien's work with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a big selling point. Hackenberg's father, Erick, played football at Virginia with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, so Penn State certainly had some competition for Christian's services.

Two positions where O'Brien could make a major impact are quarterback and tight end, given the Patriots' success last season with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Penn State is in the mix for tight end recruit Adam Breneman, who grew up a Lions fans and recently took an unofficial visit to the school.

Penn State has a long way to go in 2013 recruiting, but Hackenberg's pledge is an excellent start.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
12:00
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Hope Leap Day William visits today and trades candy for your tears.
The Big Ten had three head-coaching changes in the offseason, with new leading men stepping in at Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State. We already shared our thoughts on the new staffs at Illinois and Ohio State. We finish off the series by turning to Penn State, which wrapped up its staff recently with the addition of Charlie Fisher as quarterbacks coach.

Here's how the new Penn State staff looks:

Bill O'Brien -- head coach
Stan Hixon -- assistant head coach/wide receivers
Ted Roof -- defensive coordinator
John Butler -- secondary
Charlie Fisher -- quarterbacks
Larry Johnson -- defensive line
Charles London -- running backs
Mac McWhorter -- offensive line
John Strollo -- tight ends
Ron Vanderlinden -- linebackers

So today's Take Two topic is: How did O'Brien fare in putting together his first staff at Penn State?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

We can't evaluate how O'Brien did in a vacuum. He is the first new head coach at Penn State in nearly half a century, taking over a place where assistants hardly ever left under Joe Paterno. O'Brien also got a bit of a late start in assembling his assistants, as he was not hired until early January, and the uncertainty and controversy swirling in State College may not have made this opportunity attractive to all job candidates.

With all that in mind, I think O'Brien did a reasonably good job in putting this staff together. I thought it was a great move to retain Johnson and Vanderlinden, two excellent coaches who didn't deserve to get scapegoated for the Jerry Sandusky mess. They will be able to provide some institutional knowledge about a place that isn't familiar with much change. It would have been nice if O'Brien could have kept Tom Bradley as well, but he brought in a seasoned veteran in Ted Roof, who knows the Big Ten from his time at Minnesota. Roof was pushed out at Auburn and has moved around an awful lot in his career, but he does have a national championship ring and a wealth of experience. Same goes for McWhorter, another greybeard who helped win a BCS title at Texas. I like the mixture of experience (Hixon, Trollo and Fisher have seen it all in their long careers) and up-and-comers like London and Butler, the latter of whom O'Brien was able to lure away from a successful program at South Carolina.

Ultimately, whether this works or not will all depend on O'Brien, who was a surprising choice to replace Joe Paterno and who has never been a head coach before. He has an enormous legacy to follow, as well as some off-the-field challenges. He has a staff full of coaches he knows and has worked with in the past to help guide him through that journey.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

It's interesting to see what would have happened with the staff makeup had Penn State hired O'Brien a few weeks earlier. Perhaps we would have seen the same names, perhaps not. But O'Brien had to rush to get coaches in place to help finish off 2012 recruiting while he wrapped up the season with the Patriots. I love his decision to retain both Johnson and Vanderlinden. Johnson has been Penn State's lead recruiter and one of the best in the Big Ten, and both he and Vanerlinden provide continuity for a defense that has been consistently good to great in recent years.

The two most critical hires in my mind are Roof and Fisher. Roof's appointment generated some grumbling around Nittany Nation, as fans were skeptical about a coach who struggled his final season at Auburn before parting ways with Gene Chizik. Although Roof had success in the Big Ten at Minnesota in 2008, he'll be under the microscope. The good thing is he understands his job is to keep Penn State's defensive tradition alive, rather than overhauling what has been a good unit. I like the Fisher hire as he brings a lot of experience to a group that needs a significant upgrade. He'll work with O'Brien more than any other assistant, and they'll collaborate with tutoring the quarterbacks and shaping the offensive vision.

Overall, I think O'Brien did a nice job. My only two concerns here are whether he went with too many familiar names from his previous coaching stops and whether there's enough youth on the staff, which can be beneficial in recruiting. Penn State has no shortage of grizzled vets, but there's not much youth other than London and Butler.

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