Big Ten: Dallas Cowboys

Minnesota continues to capitalize

October, 2, 2010
10/02/10
2:39
PM ET
If things stay the way they are at TCF Bank Stadium, the storyline is pretty clear.

It can be summed up by one stat: 21 points off turnovers.

Northwestern might be better than Minnesota, but the Wildcats can't beat two teams, as coach Pat Fitzgerald often says. And today, Northwestern is beating itself. Quarterback Dan Persa continues to complete passes but also committed his second turnover in the red zone, just as the Wildcats were poised to take the lead.

Minnesota's offense continues to avoid the major mistake, and DeLeon Eskridge and the offensive line came to play in a big way.

I can't see Northwestern winning this game unless it forces at least one turnover, but Minnesota needs to show it can finish.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The collapse of the Dallas Cowboys' indoor practice bubble during the weekend sent a chilling reminder around the football world about facilities safety. 

ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson wrote an interesting piece about how the tragedy in Irving, Texas, is serving as a lesson to other pro and college teams with similar facilities. Nelson mentions Iowa, which has a indoor practice bubble for its football program. Every Big Ten team has an indoor facility, but to my knowledge, Iowa is the only one with a true "bubble."

In 1998, a balloon facility at the University of Iowa incurred severe weather damage, and the hole in the material proved too big to be repaired quickly. Damian Simcox, the director of athletic facilities at Iowa, said the dome was replaced after that initial damage, and since then, small tears have been fixed more easily.

Iowa's bubble also was damaged in an ice storm in 1990, forcing the team to leave early for the Rose Bowl.

Fortunately, Iowa is implementing a plan to renovate its football facilities, including the bubble. The Gazette's Marc Morehouse wrote about the bubble back in September, noting that the facility isn't just an eyesore, but an aging structure.

The life span of "The Bubble," which houses a 120-yard field and features a "Prestige XT" artificial surface, is coming to an end. Built in 1985, "The Bubble" turns 23 this year [2008]. Barta estimated its life expectancy at 15 to 30 years.

"At some point, we're going to have to replace it," Barta said. "When you're doing that in a strategic planning mode, you have to decide is it still the best location? Do we put another soft structure over it? Do we put a permanent structure over it?

"When we do that, my guess is, we haven't made the final decision, but my guess is we'll put permanent structure over the top of it."

After what happened this weekend at Valley Ranch, a permanent structure in Iowa City can't arrive a moment too soon.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
  Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst's name often comes up in the discussion of head coach openings.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst recently was in the mix to succeed Joe Tiller at Purdue, and his name will once again surface this winter when the coaching carousel cranks up.

Chryst's head-coaching credentials look legit. He mentored Derek Anderson at Oregon State and in 2003 helped the Beavers become the first team in Division I history with a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,500-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers. In the three seasons that Chryst has had partial or full control of Wisconsin's offense -- he served as co-coordinator in 2005 -- the Badgers have averaged 31 points a game, the highest three-year scoring average in team history.

So how much longer does Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema expect Chryst to stay around?

"He has opportunities that come his way," Bielema said. "He's one of the highest paid [assistant] coaches in the Big Ten, so that's OK. But just the ties to his family and their history here at Wisconsin make a huge difference. And hopefully, I'm a halfway decent guy to work for."

Assistant coaches are nomadic by nature, but for Chryst, Wisconsin is hardly a pit stop on his ascent to a head-coaching job.

He grew up in Madison and played for the Badgers. His father also played for Wisconsin and served as an assistant coach. And this is Chryst's second term as a Badgers assistant after he coached the tight ends in 2002.

"This is a special place," said Chryst, who turned down an offer to become the Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach to stay at Wisconsin, where last season he earned a base salary of $200,000. "But you go any place for any bit of time and when you invest in it and invest with the people there, those become very special places."

Bielema, who became a head coach at 35, thinks the 42-year-old Chryst has the right qualities to lead a program, including patience.

"There's those guys that are constantly pressing the issue to try and be the next guy, next guy, next guy," Bielema said. "I think he wants the right situation more than anything else."

Chryst hasn't changed his career goals and discusses potential opportunities with both Bielema and former Wisconsin coach and current Athletic Director Barry Alvarez, among others. But he doesn't have a strict timetable to make the jump.

"We're not in charge of this master plan, so just go with it," Chryst said. "It would be a unique opportunity and experience and we'd welcome it, but also don't need it to define who I am."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- When Martin Bayless met Hunter Bates on a recruiting visit to Northwestern, they soon realized they shared more than an interest in the same college.

Both players had fathers who logged lengthy NFL careers around the same time and at the same position.

Martin Bayless Sr. played safety for five NFL teams, most notably the San Diego Chargers, in a career that lasted from 1984-96. Bill Bates joined the Dallas Cowboys in 1983 and became an All-Pro special teams performer and safety in a 15-year career.

Their sons are now freshmen at Northwestern, adjusting to the demands of college football.

"You get a couple jokes here and there about, 'Oh, you look like your dad, you play like your dad,'" the younger Bayless said Thursday. "But it helps knowing the person next to you in the locker room has a dad just like you. They get the same jokes and they help you through it, just laugh it off."

Hunter Bates followed Bill's path and became a safety, while Martin Bayless Jr. diverted to wide receiver.

"We're getting to know each other, going against each other," Bayless said. "We talk about our dads a little bit, but our heads are more in the game right now, assignments and stuff."

College players with NFL lineages are common, but Northwestern's incoming freshman class features an extraordinary number of connections.

Offensive lineman Jeff Radek is a cousin of nine-time Pro Bowl safety John Lynch, while offensive lineman Nick Adamle comes from a family of football stars. Adamle's grandfather Alex played at Ohio State before earning All-Pro honors with the Cleveland Browns and his uncle, Mike, starred as a running back at Northwestern before playing seven pro seasons.

Bayless matches Adamle with two uncles who played in an NFL and a cousin, former Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson, still in the league. His father helps run the oldest and largest free football camp in the country, with locations in California, Ohio and Texas.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees Bayless and Bates as ordinary freshmen, but their connections to the sport certainly help.

"You can tell the guys who have been around the game a long time have a confidence level about them," Fitzgerald said. "Hunter Bates [is] out there catching punts. There was no special teams player arguably in the history of the NFL than Bill Bates. All those freshmen have some bloodlines, but they're freshmen. It's such a huge adjustment."

As Bayless makes the transition, he remembers his father's words.

"Just work hard," Bayless said. "If talent doesn't work hard, hard work will outwork talent."

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