Big Ten: Danny Hope
"Two strong messages," Hazell told ESPN.com. "The strong have to overtake the weak, and the right have to overtake the wrong. The guys in this program who are doing it the right way have to overtake the guys who are doing it the wrong way.
"We just keep hitting them with that message: the strong overtake the weak, and the right overtake the wrong."
The takeover is happening this spring. Is it hostile? At times.
But Purdue's coaches have seen differences in who is leading, who is working hard, and how much time players are devoting to the game.
"We don't have time for people who aren't going in the direction that we're going," quarterback Austin Appleby said. "The guys that aren't all about it are getting suffocated by us. Our goal is the Rose Bowl. Our goal is the Big Ten championship. In order to do that, everyone's got to buy in."
More players are. When offensive coordinator John Shoop shows up to make his morning coffee, players are in the office watching film. Before leaving at night, he tells players to turn off the lights.
But the cleansing isn't complete.
"It's maybe not all the way weeded out, but it's been identified," senior defensive end Ryan Russell said. "Everyone knows basically if you're not giving it your all and you're not committed, we see you, the seniors see you, and we're not taking that lightly."
Added Appleby: "Those guys eliminate themselves."
Russell admits the older players had to recommit to Hazell and his staff after coming to play for predecessor Danny Hope. The lack of coaching continuity, especially on defense, has burdened players and tested their willingness to trust.
But older players such as center Robert Kugler, linebacker Sean Robinson, tight end Dolapo Macarthy, cornerback Frankie Williams and safety Landon Feichter are leading the takeover, and others are falling in line.
"We're not going to let a weak link hold us down," Appleby said. "We aren't going to have any weak links. We're all going."
Former Boilermakers coach Danny Hope made changes to the defensive coordinator position after the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. After Hope's ouster, another new defensive play-caller, Greg Hudson, arrived with Darrell Hazell last season.
The changes don't excuse a defense that last fall finished 111th in points allowed, 104th in yards allowed, 114th against the run, 101st in pass efficiency and 120th in red zone defense. Purdue's offense might have been historically bad, but the defense wasn't far off.
"It's the first spring these older guys have gone into where they're speaking the same language," Hudson told ESPN.com. "Now you're able to have football conversations with them. They're starting to retain it."
Hudson sees it in the increased numbers of players at Mollenkopf Center on their own time. He sees it in their willingness to learn and in the questions that they ask.
"It's very, very important that the players build equity in the defense," he said. "The more equity, the more ownership."
Purdue's seniors, in particular, have to take ownership of the defense. Hudson has applied the necessary pressure -- "If they don't play well, we're not going to be very good," he said -- while also making it clear that the coaches will go with younger players if they're deserving. Seniors such as end Ryan Russell, safety Landon Feichter and linebacker Sean Robinson all have plenty of snaps under their belts.
None are guaranteed to start when Purdue kicks off the season Aug. 30 against Western Michigan. Russell looked like Purdue's next elite pass rusher after the 2011 season, but his production the past two years has been spotty.
"It's do or die for him," Hudson said. "He's running out of reps. The ability's there. He's got to be at 100 miles an hour instead of 75. I just told him it's like driving. You need to break the speed limit every time the ball's snapped."
Hudson needs his seniors to elevate their play, but he's also optimistic about several younger players, including ends Evan Panfil and Jake Replogle, both of whom saw the field as true freshmen last fall. Replogle is working with the first-team defense in spring, while Panfil is backing up Russell.
Last spring, Purdue coaches stressed the need for players to become "Big Ten strong." It didn't show up in the fall, as the Boilers dropped all but one of their Big Ten games by 14 points or more and six league contests by 20 points or more.
Is Purdue any closer?
"We've taken another step," Hudson said. "There's another level out there that we need to get to. There's a fine line between building athletes and building football players. We have to find that fine line. They still have to play the game in this league at a very powerful level. I don't want to recruit a bunch of guys at Gold's Gym, but we've moved forward."
Hudson's two main goals for the spring are comprehension of the scheme and relentless play. The first is helped by greater familiarity for players; the second by constant competition.
"There's not very many guys that can separate themselves from the guy behind them," he said. "Their names are written in pencil."
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."
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.
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.
Darin from Lyme, N.H., writes: The Buckeyes don't need to worry about making the national title game if they win out. If you look at the BCS historically, only one out of 15 years has an undefeated team from a major conference not made the game (Auburn 2004). The odds are extremely long that we will end up with more than two undefeated teams.
Adam Rittenberg: Darin, you make a good point. The BCS usually works itself out to where undefeated teams from major conferences aren't on the outside looking in. Oregon's loss to Stanford on Thursday night certainly helps Ohio State, as the Ducks once again won't be going to the national title game. Baylor's big victory against Oklahoma helps the Bears' chances, but I still don't think Baylor runs the table. Ohio State won't jump Florida State or Alabama if both teams win out, and FSU's path to the title game certainly looks easier than that of Alabama, which still has LSU, Auburn and most likely South Carolina or Missouri in the SEC title game. The Buckeyes simply need to keep winning, ideally in impressive fashion, and hope teams like Wisconsin and Michigan State also continue to win. Ohio State already has beaten Wisconsin and would benefit from facing an 11-1 MSU team in the Big Ten championship game.
Bob from Forest, Va., writes: I realize you don't know much about the Rutgers program. Regarding coaching salaries you said "fairly or unfairly" the fact that RU is paying the football coach 800-900K per year leaves the perception that RU doesn't belong in a league like the Big Ten. Do you recall what they paid Coach Flood's predecessor? Also I always thought it was on-field performance that determined whether or not a team belonged. Outside of Ohio State, is there really a single B1G team RU can't compete with? We've held our own vs the Big Ten if you take out Penn State pre-B1G with a .500 record. What I don't get are the jabs from you. Is it an ESPN thing or are you just writing what you think your readers want to hear?
Adam Rittenberg: Bob, you're absolutely right that on-field performance, and not coach salary, determines whether a team like Rutgers will sink or swim in the Big Ten. It always comes down to winning, and Rutgers has an excellent opportunity to prove itself in a loaded East Division with Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. You say Rutgers has held its own with the Big Ten outside of Penn State. Who else has Rutgers played? Rutgers hasn't played a Big Ten team since 2006 (Illinois) and has never faced seven current Big Ten teams (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin). Your argument is therefore irrelevant.
I realize Rutgers paid more for Greg Schiano, and that Flood is a young coach who doesn't demand a huge salary. But like I wrote, the perception looks like Rutgers is small time when every other Big Ten coach is making at least $1.2 million. Placed in the larger context of what major conference coaches make, it looks pretty low. Purdue faced the same perception when it paid coach Danny Hope less than $1 million. That's just the way it is. But you're right that Rutgers can improve its perception by beating teams coached by guys making four times as much as Flood does.
Anthony from New York writes: Why didn't you include Michigan in your list of BCS at-large candidates? We know from 2011 that a two-loss Michigan team will be attractive to BCS bowls if ranked in the top 14. As you've said, Michigan is better off not making the B1G title game if it wants an at-large bid. It is perfectly plausible to see Michigan beat Nebraska, Iowa, and Northwestern (though none are easy games). Add in an upset of unbeaten Ohio and you've got a top-14 Michigan team coming off four straight wins. Wouldn't they be a very attractive team?
Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, as I specified in the top of the post, I'm not including any unranked teams in the conversation for at-large berths at this point. If and when Michigan re-enters the BCS standings, it will appear as a candidate. But even then, how attractive would Michigan be? The Wolverines would have to look a lot better in their final four games than they have in their first eight. You and your fellow Michigan fans won't agree, but it would be a real shame if a Michigan State team that went 11-1 in the regular season and lost in the Big Ten title game to Ohio State missed out on a BCS berth in favor of a team like Michigan, which the Spartans embarrassed last week. I also wonder whether Michigan would get into the top 14 of the final BCS standings and be eligible for selection. An Ohio State win certainly would help, but it would depend on what other teams do elsewhere. Let's see how things play out, but I don't see a top-15 team in Ann Arbor this year.
Pat from East Lansing, Mich., writes: You both always pretty much have the same predictions week to week. Can we get creative?
Adam Rittenberg: We have to pick the teams we think will win, Pat, and sometimes they'll all be the same. I've differed from Brian in one game in each of the past two weeks and lost both times, as Nebraska's Hail Mary got me last week. One chatter Thursday suggested we incorporate score prediction into the race, which isn't a bad idea. We might look to do something with that next year. I think you'll see a few more disagreements down the stretch, but we're not going to be contrarians here, especially with an expensive dinner in Indianapolis on the line.
Charley from New York writes: Is it a journalist's job to lobby for millionaires to paid even more money? I must admit my jaw dropped when I read from you: "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." Troubling? I notice you haven't been much of an advocate for paying the kids who actually generate the millions of dollars colleges earn from football, but you have always been an advocate for higher head and assistant coaches' salaries. Is this your way of trying to brown-nose your sources or do you really believe that educational institutions should devote more and more of their budgets to football coaches' salaries?
Adam Rittenberg: Charley, do I believe college football coaches make ridiculous salaries for university employees? Yes. But they also bring in a ton of money, and the market is dictating what they're making. We can have a discussion on the larger issue of coach salaries if you want, but the pay structures are what they are in major conferences. People look at why the Big Ten is struggling right now. It's hard to completely dismiss the fact that SEC head coaches are making much more on average (SEC assistants are, too). As I wrote last month, money isn't the problem in the Big Ten, even though the league sponsors more sports than the SEC. From a perception standpoint, not necessarily reality, it doesn't look like Minnesota and Indiana are that invested in their programs when you look at the league they're in and the market rates for college coaches.
Chris from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: I know most people, myself a Michigan fan, included, favor Ohio State over Michigan later this month. But so many people are calling it to be a blowout. I disagree -- even in 2011 a downtrodden Ohio State kept that game close, and I expect this year's game to also be close, especially since it's at the Big House. Teams tend to preform better in rivalry games. Who do you think is right, the many people mentioned or my pick of a close game?
Adam Rittenberg: It's way too soon to call for a blowout in The Game. It's still three weeks away, we don't know the injury situations for both teams and we don't know how the teams will be playing entering that one. I don't expect Michigan to magically become a top-10 team by Nov. 30, but the Wolverines could remedy some of their issues before Ohio State comes to town. You're absolutely right that teams perform better in rivalry games. Michigan likely is out of the Big Ten title mix, so beating Ohio State is really the only major goal left for Brady Hoke's crew. More important, as you mention, Michigan plays much better at home under Hoke, never losing a game in his two-plus seasons. I'm not sure of my prediction for The Game, but I doubt I'll pick Ohio State to win by more than 10 points. Michigan will give its best effort on that day.
Grant from Cincinnati writes: Is it just me, or is Luke Fickell's stock much higher than it should be? His track record as a recruiter and positions coach is well documented, and he seems to be a high quality, character guy. However, in his only season as head coach, he went 6-7. It's not as though the cupboard was bare for him, as that year was sandwiched between a Sugar Bowl victory and an undefeated season. Also, his defense has underachieved for much of this season, though it seems to be getting back on track a bit. Now he's interviewing for a head coaching gig and you're mentioning that you expected him to hold out for a major conference head coaching position. In short, Fickell seems like a good guy, but why the love fest?
Adam Rittenberg: Some fair points here, Grant. Fickell's stock certainly seemed higher before he became a head coach -- albeit under very difficult circumstances -- or a defensive play-caller (Jim Heacock handled those duties until last season). I don't think you can judge him too much for the struggles in 2011, as the program was rocked by Jim Tressel's resignation and had a tough situation at quarterback because of Terrelle Pryor's departure. Fickell handled himself well overall, although the on-field product left much to be desired. There have been some valid criticisms of him as a defensive coordinator, as Ohio State hasn't been a salty as it used to be on that side of the ball. But I think Fickell could thrive as a head coach because of his personality and recruiting ability. He might be a better CEO type than a coordinator, and I think fans and players would rally around him. It needs to be the right situation, unlike the one in 2011.
Nick from East Lansing, Mich., writes: How likely is it that MSU has to look for a new coach in the offseason? It would be hard to turn down if Texas came calling.
Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Texas certainly has its perks, but I highly doubt Mark Dantonio is going anywhere. He's in a great situation at Michigan State, works for a great athletic director (Mark Hollis) who he loves, and has roots in the Midwest as an Ohio native. Dantonio definitely is due a raise at Michigan State, although it's more important to him to pay his assistants, which the school has been doing. At this stage in his career, I don't think Dantonio wants to deal with all the excess stuff at a place like Texas. You never say never, but I'd be very surprised if he's not back at MSU in 2014.
Matt from Michigan writes: I am a little confused after reading the "rooting interests" article. Why would Michigan want Minnesota to lose? If Michigan State loses to Minnesota and either Northwestern or Nebraska and if (big IF) Michigan were to win out and finish 6-2 along with MSU finishing 6-2, it would be MSU winning the tie breaker. However, wouldn't Michigan still have a chance to represent the Legends in a three-way (or even four-way) tie at 6-2? Looking at the schedule, I think it is possible to have MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Minnesota ALL finish at 6-2. Not saying likely, but that would make for a compelling last weekend!
Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it would, Matt. My rationale for the Minnesota loss would be to knock the Gophers out of the race, but if the tiebreaker is Michigan's best chance to win the division, which it may well be, it would make sense for Minnesota to win out. The key obviously is for Michigan State to start losing games, beginning next week against Nebraska. If Michigan State loses out -- highly unlikely -- and Michigan wins out, the Wolverines would go to Indy.
Henry was named Purdue’s starting quarterback Sunday by first-year coach Darrell Hazell, a move that will likely be both popular in the locker room -- Henry was named a co-captain before tearing his knee in that season -- and makes sense with the Boilermakers’ schedule.
Flat out, Henry gives Purdue the best chance to be successful early in the season, with trips to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the first month of the season along with home games against No. 14 Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, which reached the Orange Bowl last season.
To ask a freshman (Danny Etling) or a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby) to handle that rough early schedule could destroy a young quarterback’s confidence, let alone his team’s belief in him. By going with Henry, who has had a strong preseason anyway, it gives the Boilermakers a seasoned leader to look to.
In Henry, Purdue also has a quarterback who understands what it is like to lose his starting job and not be able to reclaim it, as former coach Danny Hope chose to go with then-seniors Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. TerBush had won the job when Henry tore his ACL two years ago.
Now back as the starter, he’ll be looked to as the stopgap for a team which will be learning Hazell’s new offense while also setting an example for his replacement a year from now. He is the perfect player to be in this position, considering he won the team’s unselfishness and dedication award in 2010 and even made a run at becoming Purdue’s student body vice president.
Having even moved positions for the good of his team, Henry is now back where he started his career -- running the Boilermakers’ offense as their quarterback.
We're taking a page from our friends at the ACC blog and examining whether certain Big Ten teams will be contenders or pretenders in the 2013 season. The series does not include Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska -- three teams that, in our view, have earned the "contender" label entering the fall. For each team, we'll make a case for why they're contenders and pretenders and provide our final verdict. We invite you to vote on whether a team is a contender or a pretender or send us your thoughts for mailbags here and here.
Next on our list: the Purdue Boilermakers.Akeem Hunt had a standout spring and no longer looks like just a track star. The Boilers have some nice options at the skill position with him and guys like Raheem Mostert, Gary Bush and Dolapo Macarthy at receiver. Kawann Short is gone, but Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell are still strong anchors for the defensive line. If healthy, both can be among the best at their position in the Big Ten. And Purdue should be very good in the secondary, led by cornerback Ricardo Allen. A lot will have to go right, but maybe this is the year the Boilermakers actually fulfill that sleeper status.
Why they're pretenders: Purdue looked completely out of its league last year against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, and it lost some of its top players in Short, cornerback Josh Johnson, quarterback Robert Marve and receiver Antavian Edison. The quarterback situation is unclear right now, as it appears to be a two-man race between Rob Henry and Danny Etling. Henry is experienced but has never shown a great throwing arm, while Etling is a true freshman. The Boilers once again look to have some major issues at linebacker, a position that Hazell will have to shore up through recruiting. There is also bound to be an adjustment period for a new coaching staff. The biggest obstacle to Purdue contending, though, might be the schedule: three tough nonconference games (at Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois) combine with a Big Ten slate that sees the Boilers open conference play at Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State. An 0-4 start in Big Ten play is a real possibility.
Verdict: We liked the Hazell hiring and think he will do good things in West Lafayette. But with the coaching transition, the potential of a freshman starter at quarterback and a challenging schedule, we just don't think that will happen this year. Getting back to a bowl should be the goal in 2013. Purdue is a pretender.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue quarterback Rob Henry enjoys the random pop quizzes from offensive coordinator John Shoop, even when he has "no clue" about the answers.
The more Shoop demands of his signal callers, the more Henry enjoys the process. When it comes to learning Purdue's new offense, Henry, a fifth-year senior, is in the same boat as the three freshmen -- redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall, and true freshman Danny Etling -- he's competing with for the starting quarterback spot.
But he's paddling a little faster.
"When I came in, I was able to sit behind Joey [Elliott] and learn the system that was in place at that time," Henry told ESPN.com. "But now I have one season left. So I don't have any time to learn. I have to learn everything as fast as possible.
"This is it, this is it. I have a few more months left here at Purdue."
Henry's Purdue career has come full circle two springs after it appeared ready to take off. In the spring of 2011, he had established himself as Purdue's top quarterback, a soon-to-be-elected co-captain and, in the words of then-coach Danny Hope, the team's most improved player of the offseason.
After starting seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 because of necessity, he was poised to lead the offense in 2011 purely because of performance. Then, days before the season opener, Henry tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over, career altered.
Henry returned last season but slipped down the depth chart. He attempted just 38 passes as Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush rotated at the quarterback spot.
The 6-2, 200-pound Henry is, in a way, back to square one, competing for a starting spot in a new offense with several others.
"It's gone from thinking I would start for a few years to having one year of playing under my belt and one year left," Henry said. "So it's a very urgent time."
Henry's coaches sense his urgency this spring. As the only candidate with collegiate game experience, he opened spring ball taking snaps with the first-team offense.
Although the coaches have been fairly egalitarian with the reps, Henry remains the first quarterback to call signals during practices. Henry and Etling worked mostly with the first-team offense in Saturday's scrimmage, although head coach Darrell Hazell told ESPN.com on Monday that it remains a three-man race with Appleby also in the mix.
"It's extremely important to him," Hazell said of Henry, "and that's where it starts. You see it in his preparation. He's been a very good leader for us, and he brings that maturity to the huddle."
Henry's athleticism never has been questioned. He led Purdue in rushing in 2010 with 547 yards. He lined up at quarterback, running back and receiver in last year's loss to Minnesota.
But there always have been questions about Henry's skills as a pure quarterback. Dual-threat quarterbacks thrive in the spread offense, but can Henry fit into a true pro-style system like the one Shoop and Hazell intend to run?
"I'm confident in my ability, whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball," Henry said. "The thing that really makes a difference is Coach Shoop, how he teaches us and how he pushes us. You really don't have a choice but to do it right."
Winning the starting job won't be easy for Henry. Winning the Boilers' locker room is much easier.
Whether or not Henry emerges as the starter, he'll be a leader for Purdue in 2013.
"He took me on my official visit when I got here," Appleby said. "He was my first friend here. He's been nothing but a senior leader to me. He's such a tremendous person in all aspects. He's somebody who I definitely look up to, and the rest of the quarterbacks look up to.
"He's been through a heck of a lot. Because of that, he has the respect of the rest of our team."
To your emails ...
Ben from Chicago writes: I personally love the idea of an East/West division split. In my book, even if the divisions are not perfectly balanced in terms of competition from top to bottom. The best team from the West in any given year, be it Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, or anyone else, is still going to be pretty good, enough to provide an entertaining championship game match up, and if the divisions are really as unequal as people fear, the runner up in the East will still get the at large BCS appearance.
Adam Rittenberg: Ben, you make a really interesting point about the at-large BCS bowl berth. History has shown that the loser of league championship games almost always strikes out in the BCS, while a second-team place in one of the divisions often gets an at-large invite. Michigan benefited from this in 2011, when it went to the Sugar Bowl as an at-large selection even though it had lost to Michigan State, the Legends division champ and a team that fell just short in the Big Ten championship. I understand the arguments that the proposed divisions place too much power in the East, but there's also a case to be made to let things play out. I expect Nebraska to be challenged by Wisconsin, and in some years Northwestern and Iowa. Illinois won a Big Ten title in 2001 and reached a Rose Bowl in 2007, so there's some history there. And Minnesota seems to be headed in the right direction under Jerry Kill. I agree with you that in most seasons, the Big Ten title game will remain entertaining.
Eric from Ramer, Tenn., writes: Adam, SEC country coming at you with a B1G question. Will Rob Henry finally be "The Man" to lead Purdue at the QB position this year? Or is it a Hope(less) endeavor with the new coaching regime?
Adam Rittenberg: Is there an official end date for the "Hope" puns now that Danny Hope and Purdue have parted ways? I guess we can let it go a little bit longer. Henry could win the starting job and brings more experience to the position than any other candidate. Remember, he would have been the starter in 2011 if he hadn't torn his ACL weeks before the season opener. We don't know much about the other candidates -- Austin Appleby, Danny Etling and Bilal Marshall -- because they're so young. There's a lot of buzz around Appleby, and he and Henry could be the top two candidates. But the competition should spill into preseason camp, so there's a long way to go.
E.J. from Big Red Nation writes: I question your selection for coach on the hot seat in the Big Ten in the "smoke and fire" video posted by ESPN. As much as Beckman had a disappointing season this past year I think the coach on the biggest hot seat is Bo Pelini. Pelini has (as we all have heard many times) not been able to get over the 9 or 10 win seasons. His seasons have been a failure since after the 2009 season. His last year in the Big 12 had high hopes of a conference championship only to be ruined by a stunning Washington rematch loss and no conference championship. First season in the Big Ten most of us husker fans felt winning our division was essential and that never happened. This past year a conference championship was the goal at least in mid-season play, but once most of us were so sure this was the year to win the conference championship we got demolished in the big game. If he doesn't get 11 wins he's gotta be shown the door right? Your thoughts (and thanks in advance)?
Adam Rittenberg: E.J., while I believe 2013 is a crucial year for Bo Pelini, his seat isn't anywhere near as hot as Beckman's at Illinois. Although Beckman enters just his second season in Champaign, he has to show tangible progress or athletic director Mike Thomas will face considerable pressure to make a change. Thomas faced some pressure from donors/fans after Year 1 of the Beckman regime, but couldn't pull the trigger so soon. Attendance is dropping and despite Beckman's obvious enthusiasm, many fans are skeptical at best about the program. They need to see results and Beckman must deliver this fall.
While I understand the criticism for Pelini, whose teams have been good, but not great, at Nebraska, the guy still has reached the conference title game in three of the past four years and averaged 9.6 wins in Lincoln. Although Pelini must impress his new boss (Shawn Eichorst), I'd be surprised to see a change unless Nebraska takes a substantial step backward this season. Yes, the schedule is favorable and Nebraska will be a popular pick to win the Legends division. Pelini must show he can take the next step with Big Red. But after the Frank Solich situation, I don't think the decision-makers at Nebraska will be too keen to part with a coach who has won as much as Pelini has. Remember, it can always get worse.
Rob from Amherst, Mass., writes: Hello Adam, You had mentioned that Ohio State would be a more natural rival for Penn State than Maryland. Maryland is more than 100 miles closer to PSU than OSU. There is also a history between Maryland and Penn State that could be resurrected. I do remember (from the Rip Engle and early JoPa days) when PSU regularly played Pitt, WVU, Syracuse and Maryland as well as JoPa's efforts to form an Eastern Conference long before the Big East formed.
Adam Rittenberg: What I actually mentioned is that while I think Ohio State will always be Penn State's top Big Ten rival, there's potential to have Penn State and Maryland play on Rivalry Saturday (final Saturday of the regular season), when Ohio State obviously will be playing Michigan every year. The proximity and history between Penn State and Maryland lend itself to an end-of-season series, although, as many have pointed out, Penn State has dominated the series in football (35-1-1 edge for the Lions). Maryland's football program doesn't come close to Penn State's in terms of success. Ohio State is a much better comparison there. But in discussing end-of-year possibilities for Penn State -- when Ohio State is already locked in to the Michigan series -- Maryland seems to make a lot of sense.
rtXC1 from Denison, Texas, writes: Hey Adam! With the success of the Chic-fil-a Kickoff and Cowboys Classic, along with the emergence of the Texas Kickoff Classic and New York's College Classic, do you think we'll see even more of these games pop up? I'm not suggesting it will expand to 35 games like the postseason, but 8-12 of these could work well (and also provide Big Ten country with some opportunities).
Adam Rittenberg: I absolutely think we'll see more and more of these games. They allow marquee teams to play one another without giving up a home game that meets the increasing budgetary demands. If the college football playoff selection committee values strength of schedule, as we expect it will, teams will look to upgrade their schedules without always playing home-and-homes. Some athletic directors don't like the neutral-site games, but I see an increasing number warming toward them. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez recently told me about the benefits he sees in neutral-site games. The next day, Wisconsin announced its game against Alabama in Arlington, Texas. You bring up a good point about other venues getting involved, and it would be nice to see some of these season-opening blockbuster games in Big Ten territory. Weather isn't a factor in late August or early September, and there are some great indoor venues as well (Lucas Oil, Ford Field) that could put on a good show. If Dallas and Atlanta are the only sites for these games, they'll feel more like a road environment than a neutral site for Big Tens squads.
Ben from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: It seems to me that within different fanbases, there is a disconnect as to what constitutes a rivalry, and that is what causes a lot of the divisional disagreements. To many fans, the most important aspect of a rivalry is tradition and history, and the level of competition in the rivalry is secondary. Also inter-regional hate, that extends beyond just football, is very important. This is why Paul Bunyan's Axe and Floyd of Rosedale will always be so important to their fanbases, even if its lopsided. On the flip side, some fans (many Husker fans for example) want to see a high level of competition above all else, which is why there is such a disagreement about what is most important in creating new divisions.
Adam Rittenberg: Ben, some excellent thoughts here. I couldn't agree more with how different fan bases view certain rivalries. In some cases, history and regional hate, as you put it, really makes records or recent history irrelevant. In other cases, it's all about the level of competition. I look at how Nebraska fans reacted to the Huskers' Colorado schedule announcement (with a collective shrug) versus the Oklahoma schedule announcement (euphoria). Although the Huskers have history with both programs (much more with OU, obviously) the excitement about facing Oklahoma, a nationally elite program, is much greater than it is for Colorado, which has backslid considerably in recent years. It's also important to note that Nebraska is still forming rivalries in the Big Ten and lacks much recent history with its new league brethren. There's regional distate with Iowa, but that series needs a jolt in a near future. I can understand Nebraska fans wanting to face Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State on a regular basis because they identify more with those programs.
David from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Do you think the former rivalry between MSU and Penn State had anything to do with the decision to place MSU in the East division? Because not only would MSU have the Michigan rivaly but we would have back the Penn state rivalry. Will the battle for the Land Grant Trophy come back with MSU and Penn State in the same division? The trophy sitting in the MSU Skandalaris Football Center as we speak.
Adam Rittenberg: The Land Grant Trophy will be at stake whenever Penn State and Michigan State next meet, whether or not it's in the same division. Grouping the Lions and Spartans together allows the Land Grant series to once again become annual, but it's not a driving force behind the proposed divisions. A bigger issue in my mind is if Michigan State moved to the West, the Big Ten would have to use a protected crossover for both MSU and Michigan because that game has to take place every year. The downside of that, for the Big Ten at least, is both schools would have a weaker crossover rotation than the other 10 schools. There would be fewer showcase type games between Michigan and Nebraska, etc. It's a little easier to have Purdue-Indiana as the only protected crossover because the Big Ten doesn't lose as much if those teams have a weaker overall crossover rotation.
Although this year's Big Ten coaching carousel didn't include as many riders as last year's, which featured an unprecedented 40 changes in the league, there was a flurry of activity at the end. We saw two coaches -- Jim Bollman and Jim Bridge -- make jumps from one Big Ten school to another (in Bridge's case, he left Illinois the day the Illini opened spring ball for Purdue, where he replaced, you guessed it, Bollman as offensive line coach).
Purdue saw a complete staff overhaul in the transition from Danny Hope to Darrell Hazell, while Wisconsin brought in seven new assistants under new boss Gary Andersen. Illinois coach Tim Beckman survived a disastrous first season in Champaign, but he lost six assistants during the winter months, five of whom left voluntarily. Iowa's stretch of staff stability is over, as Kirk Ferentz hired three new assistants for the second straight year, and Michigan State restructured its staff after losing offensive coordinator Dan Roushar to the NFL's New Orleans Saints. Michigan made its first staff change of the Brady Hoke era after losing defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery to Oklahoma.
Despite the movement around much of the Big Ten, the league also had complete staff continuity at four schools: Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State. Nebraska flipped responsibilities for Barney Cotton and John Garrison, making Cotton the tight ends coach and Garrison the sole offensive line coach. Ohio State added special teams coordinator to the title of cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs.
Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams without a staff change for the past three seasons.
It seems like the carousel has finally stopped, so let's take a look at the staff changes throughout the league. These changes only include head coaches and full-time assistants.
Here's the rundown (number of new coaches in parentheses):
Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers
Luke Butkus, offensive line
Keith Gilmore, defensive line
Steve Clinkscale, cornerbacks
Bill Cubit, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Mike Bellamy, wide receivers
A.J. Ricker, offensive line
Greg Colby, defensive line
Al Seamonson, outside linebackers
Hired Ricker after Bridge left for same post at Purdue
Made defensive coordinator Tim Banks secondary coach (had previously coached only safeties)
Split linebacker duties between holdover Mike Ward and new assistant Seamonson
Promoted Bellamy from assistant director of player personnel
Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Mark Hagen, defensive tackles/special teams and recruiting coordinator
William Inge, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
James Patton, special teams and recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line
Erik Campbell, wide receivers
Lester Erb, running backs/special teams
Darrell Wilson, defensive backs/special teams
Bobby Kennedy, wide receivers
Chris White, running backs/special teams
Jim Reid, assistant linebackers
Reid and holdover LeVar Woods will share linebacker duties
D.J. Hernandez, an offensive graduate assistant hired this winter, will work with the tight ends
Jerry Montgomery, defensive line
Roy Manning, outside linebackers
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will coach defensive line (head coach Brady Hoke also has responsibilities there)
Manning and Mark Smith will share linebacker duties, as Smith now will handle the inside linebackers
MICHIGAN STATE (2)
Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ted Gill, defensive line
Jim Bollman, co-offensive coordinator/tight ends
Ron Burton, defensive line
Promoted quarterbacks coach Dave Warner to co-offensive coordinator/running backs coach. Warner will call plays this fall
Moved running backs coach Brad Salem to quarterbacks
Promoted defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to assistant head coach
PENN STATE (1)
Ted Roof, defensive coordinator
Anthony Midget, safeties
Promoted secondary coach John Butler to defensive coordinator. Butler will continue to coach cornerbacks
Running backs coach Charles London and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden will oversee special teams, an area Butler previously handled
Danny Hope, head coach
Gary Nord, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Greg Burns, defensive backs
Shawn Clark, offensive line
J.B. Gibboney, special teams coordinator
Patrick Higgins, wide receivers
Cornell Jackson, running backs
Donn Landholm, outside linebackers
Kevin Wolthausen, defensive line
Darrell Hazell, head coach
John Shoop, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Greg Hudson, defensive coordinator
Jon Heacock, defensive backs
Jim Bridge, offensive line
Kevin Sherman, wide receivers
Jafar Williams, running backs
Marcus Freeman, linebackers
Rubin Carter, defensive line
Gerad Parker, tight ends/recruiting coordinator
Replaced Jim Bollman with Bridge after Bollman left for Michigan State
Bret Bielema, head coach
Matt Canada, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Chris Ash, defensive coordinator/defensive backs
Zach Azzanni, wide receivers
Andy Buh, linebackers
Eddie Faulkner, tight ends
Bart Miller, offensive line
Charlie Partridge, co-defensive coordinator/defensive line
Gary Andersen, head coach
Andy Ludwig, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Dave Aranda, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Chris Beatty, wide receivers
Bill Busch, secondary
Jeff Genyk, tight ends/special teams coordinator
Chad Kauha'aha'a, defensive line
T.J. Woods, offensive line
Retained from previous staff
Thomas Hammock, assistant head coach/running backs/recruiting coordinator
Ben Strickland, assistant secondary coach
Hired Genyk to replace tight ends/special teams Jay Boulware, who left earlier this month for a post at Oklahoma
Bill from Ottawa, Ill., writes: I'd like to comment on the Danny Hope article. I find it ridiculous that he is claiming, still, that he deserved to continue his tenure at Purdue. Purdue, defensively, ranked among the worst teams in the B1G in almost every statistical category despite having according to Hope, "the best" talent of his tenure. Offensively the team was mediocre; I believe we had more potential but Hope limited us with his QB controversy (Marve was statistically better than TerBush -- even according to MINITAB (stat software)). He couldn't even keep it close to the B1G's elite teams save Ohio State. When you rank last in the B1G in XPs that speaks for itself. Lastly what is with his poor interview etiquette? Taking pot shots at your former employer is childish. If I was a MAC program I wouldn't hire him: whiny attitude, total lack of accountability, and poor coaching. Darrell Hazell is Hope's polar opposite, thankfully. Boiler Up!
Brian Bennett: Hope has always seemed like a decent enough guy, and his players liked him. Did Purdue give him the greatest resources? No, and you could argue that his pay scale for assistants was too low for a Big Ten team. The problem is that Hope just didn't show much in his four years to convince anyone he was a great head coach. His teams often were sloppy and at times looked unprepared, as they did in this year's game at Minnesota. And there was absolutely zero fan enthusiasm for him. Morgan Burke had little choice but to make a change unless he wanted another year of an empty Ross-Ade Stadium draining the entire athletic department budget. You make an interesting point about the impact of Hope's comments. Coaches don't often criticize their former employers so publicly, and that could make the next athletic director who's considering hiring Hope at least a bit wary.
Curtis from Evanston, Ill., writes: How come no one talks about any budding rivalry for Northwestern/ Nebraska? The first two games of the series have been extremely exciting and intriguing with both winning at the other's stadiums. As a Wildcat fan, Nebraska is the B1G football team I hate the most (they should be "UN" not "NU" which is Northwestern University) and the game I look forward to the most (well, maybe).
Brian Bennett: Well, there's no real natural reason like geography for a rivalry there. But a history of great games can turn two schools into rivals pretty quickly, and often more organically than forced rivalries based on nothing but geography. For example, which rivalry is more heated right now, Iowa-Nebraska or Wisconsin-Michigan State? Two good games alone won't do the trick, but if those schools keep playing tight contests and spoiling the other's season, it will ramp up fast.
Ray from Champaign writes: Tortured Illini fan here. Any chance Coach Beckman's gamble on juco transfers pays immediate dividends? Bowl game this season? Please?
Brian Bennett: Ray, I feel your pain. Tim Beckman brought in five junior college transfers, which to me isn't really a gamble as much as it is a move to fill desperate needs. If even three of those guys hit in a big way, that will help. But the Illini were so bad in so many areas last year that those guys alone aren't going to be enough to make this a bowl team. That will take vast improvement across all areas, especially the offensive line. I do expect Illinois to get better, because how could it be much worse than 2012? Bill Cubit was an interesting hire for offensive coordinator and should help there. But the schedule, which includes games against Cincinnati and Washington, plus conference crossover matchups against Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern, is unforgiving. This team could be a whole lot better and still go something like 4-8. Hang in there.
Jeff from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Brian: I think I tried asking Adam this once before but no reply, so I will try you. Would the Badgers and Packers ever strike some sort of a deal to have Wisconsin play at Lambeau Field sometime, possibly for a marquee non-conference game? Seems like a great idea to me. Or am I just dreaming?
Brian Bennett: The idea has already been discussed, and athletic director Barry Alvarez said last fall that there was a proposal to play Cal at Lambeau. Wisconsin and the Green Bay Packers both seem open to the idea. The stumbling block is that Alvarez said he wouldn't move one of the Badgers' seven home games per season at Camp Randall Stadium to Green Bay. So an opponent would have to give up a home game to play there (think Northern Illinois versus Iowa last year at Soldier Field) or it would have to be a year where Wisconsin has eight home games on the schedule. With the likelihood of nine conference games coming, the logistics could prove hard to work out. But it would be cool to see.
Jon G. from Chicago writes: The new Badgers DC Dave Aranda has said that he wants to incorporate some 3-4 into the defensive playbook next year, and likely will make the permanent switch in a year or two as soon as he has the right personnel. Which B1G teams currently run a 3-4 defense, and has it been successful stopping B1G offenses?
Brian Bennett: No Big Ten teams currently run the 3-4 as their base or even main defensive scheme. Which makes sense in such a run-heavy league. But I can give you one example of a 3-4 stopping Big Ten offenses quite well: Notre Dame. The Irish allowed a total of 26 points in beating Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan last year and had one of the best defenses in the country. So it can definitely work. The key is recruiting the right kind of players, and that's why it's wise for Aranda to gradually transition into that kind of scheme
Samuel from Iowa City writes: Brian, just read your column about Iowa's forthcoming QB battle. As we all know, Vandenberg owned the position last season. None of the young men who will be vying for the position are seniors. So, do you think we'll be looking at Iowa's QB not just for next season, but for the near future? (Barring an epic collapse, of course.)
Brian Bennett: That all depends on whether one of the younger players seizes the position and runs with it. One of the candidates, Cody Sokol, is a junior, so the longest he could have the job is two years. Iowa would love to see one of the candidates create separation and play so well that everyone else fades to the background. The worst-case scenario would be for your starter to turn in a mediocre performance and have the competition linger into the season and beyond, creating controversy. If a younger player like Jake Rudock or C.J. Beathard does take control of the job, you could see a possible transfer or two. Same goes for any Big Ten team that has several players vying for the starting job, like Wisconsin, Michigan State and Purdue.
Phil from Indy writes: In looking at upcoming draft, only one Big 10 player is projected to go in 1st round. 15 SEC players are projected to go in 1st round. What are the main reasons for falling so far behind in the talent dept?
Brian Bennett: Adam did a good job earlier today of showing how the Big Ten has struggled to produce high first-round draft picks in recent years -- no top 10 picks since 2008 and no one higher than No. 23 last year. The league did have four picks in the first round last year, and there's plenty of time between now and April for Big Ten products to work themselves into the end of Round 1. But the conference hasn't been churning out the uber-elite draft picks of late, while leagues like the SEC, Big 12 and even the ACC have. The most rational explanation sure seems to be geography, as the best recruits and the best athletes are often located in the South. That's another big reason why the Big Ten wants to change its demographics in expansion.
Then again, if you can get a Big Ten player like Tom Brady in Round 6, that's not so bad.
- Reports say former Ohio State playcaller and current Purdue offensive line coach Jim Bollman will be the new Michigan State offensive coordinator. Michigan State's Johnny Adams fared well at the NFL combine despite a lingering turf toe injury. Kirk Cousins said he felt the frustration of watching the Spartans' offense last year.
- Is Danny Hope delusional, or does he have a point?
- Five players to watch during Northwestern's spring practice, which began this morning. The Wildcats must protect Venric Mark this spring. Reviewing Pat Fitzgerald's recruiting.
- Brady Hoke vowed to find a replacement quickly for departed defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. A Florida offensive lineman who committed to Michigan could help recruit some of his teammates to Ann Arbor.
- Daimion Stafford worked out at the combine and will probably need to improve some of his numbers at Nebraska's pro day. Stadium expansion means the Huskers finally have enough supply to meet ticket-buyers' demand. Nebraska and Iowa will keep playing on Black Friday.
- Penn State got a 2014 commitment from an athletic, college-ready linebacker. The Nittany Lions' new safeties coach is a high-energy guy with high standards.
- Montee Ball's combine results were a mixed bag.
- Tim Beckman rounded out his Illinois coaching staff.
- Iowa made changes to its staff and now must build chemistry among the coaches.
- Looking back and looking forward for Minnesota safety Derrick Wells.
- Athlon ranks the Big Ten coaching jobs.
But Hope, speaking for the first time publicly since his dismissal to West Lafayette TV station WLFI on Tuesday night, said there was more to the firing than that.
"It came down to ticket sales," he told the station. "But ticket sales have been dropping here since 2000. It's not all about what happens just behind the whistle. You have to have some accountability behind the necktie as well."
"I know it wasn't an easy thing for Morgan to do," Hope said. "But I felt like if he had been a little more accountable then he would not have had to ... exercised the responsibility of dismissing me. We had finished strong. And the players wanted us to be there. We hoped we had done enough. But I knew it was close. We had a tough stretch there and didn't come through at a critical time of the season and, obviously, had lost the support of our administration."
The Boilers clinched bowl eligibility for the second straight year by beating Indiana in the season finale. One day later, Burke fired Hope.
"How they went about doing it, I really didn't appreciate," Hope told the station. "I thought it was handled unprofessionally. I don't need to elaborate on that, I don't think. I thought we had done enough, made enough commitment to retain our jobs."
Burke did not respond to Hope's remarks when told of them by WLFI.
Hope said he was "very angry" about his dismissal and that's why he hasn't talked until now. But does he have a right to point fingers?
Yes, Purdue did make two straight bowl games, but it finished 6-6 both seasons. He said the team "finished strong" in 2012, but its three-game winning streak to end the season happened against Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, who went a combined 10-26. Hope told everyone in the preseason that the 2012 team would be his best, and the Leaders Division bid to the Big Ten championship game was wide open because of probation at Ohio State and Penn State. Yet Purdue lost by 31 at home to Michigan, by 24 at home to Wisconsin and, perhaps most inexcusably, by 16 on the road to Minnesota after falling behind 34-7 at halftime.
I was at the Wisconsin game and watched fans leave in waves after halftime. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, there couldn't have been more than a couple thousand people in Ross-Ade Stadium. It was, quite frankly, embarrassing. Beating Big Ten bottom-feeders to get to a minor bowl game -- one in which, by the way, the Boilers got humiliated -- does not build momentum or enthusiasm.
Hope has every right to be upset that he's no longer the coach at Purdue. But after four years in which he did very little to prove his program could compete at a high level, he really has no one to blame but himself.
Best moment: Bucket bowling
Purdue's season veered off track at the start of Big Ten play, and coach Danny Hope's fate had been sealed long before the Bucket game against Indiana. But the Boilers didn't quit on their coach or on themselves, winning their final three games to secure bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season. Purdue needed to beat Iowa, Illinois and then rival Indiana to finish 6-6. Players and coaches both stepped up, whether it was quarterback Robert Marve playing despite another ACL tear in his knee or wide receivers coach Patrick Higgins taking over the play-calling duties after coordinator Gary Nord suffered a serious back injury. It led up to the Bucket game, which turned into an offensive showcase featuring 91 points and 1,070 yards combined. Marve fired four touchdown passes, and senior running back Akeem Shavers had a huge performance (126 rush yards, 99 receiving yards, 3 total touchdowns). Although 6-6 wasn't what Purdue had in mind entering the fall, the team at least ensured it would go bowling.
Worst moment: Goodbye, Columbus
The Heart of Dallas Bowl wasn't Purdue's finest moment -- not even close -- but the Boilers' worst moment came much earlier in the season. After back-to-back blowout home losses (Michigan, Wisconsin) to open Big Ten play, Purdue went to Columbus as a heavy underdog, primed for another severe beating. Instead, Purdue controlled the game for more than three quarters, gashing Ohio State with big plays on offense and special teams and also scoring on defense with a safety early in the fourth quarter. After Buckeyes star quarterback Braxton Miller left the game with a neck injury, Purdue looked ready to hand Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and breath new life into its own season. Trailing by eight points, Ohio State needed to drive 61 yards with no timeouts and just 47 seconds left in regulation -- behind a backup quarterback in Kenny Guiton. But Purdue's defense couldn't get the stop as Ohio State scored with three seconds left, converted the 2-point try and went on to win in overtime. A win could have saved Hope's job and given Purdue a chance to truly turn around its season. Instead, the Boilers left Columbus wondering what might have been.
Ohio State is on top, and quite frankly, the Buckeyes are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Other teams such as Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan certainly belong in the league's lead pack, while Michigan State and Penn State both have talent as well as question marks. We don't see a whole lot separating Nos. 2-6.
Here we go ...
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes made the most of their sanctioned season, running the table to post just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Urban Meyer's crew now takes aim at a Big Ten title and perhaps even a national title, its first since 2002. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller leads a potentially explosive offense, but Ohio State needs its young defenders to grow up in a hurry as there are depth and experience questions on that side of the ball.
2. Northwestern: The Wildcats won 10 games in 2012 with a young team most projected to win no more than seven. Northwestern returns a very strong nucleus, led by running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, and loses only a few key seniors. Most of the Wildcats' talent can be found in their younger classes. The schedule gets tougher in 2013 -- Northwestern opens Big Ten play with Ohio State and Wisconsin -- but the Wildcats should be a major factor in the Legends Division if they can shore up their offensive line and continue to make strides on defense.
3. Nebraska: There's no doubt Nebraska will have one of the nation’s top offenses in 2013. Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez returns at quarterback and has the Big Ten's largest arsenal of weapons at his disposal. The big concerns are on defense after Nebraska hemorrhaged points and yards in its four losses this past season and loses a group of seniors. Bo Pelini needs to get his defense back on track and hope the offense can limit turnovers, a huge problem throughout this season.
4. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen hardly inherits a bare cupboard in Madison. His predecessor, Bret Bielema, actually pointed to the 2013 team as potentially his best with the Badgers. The coaching transition could create some speed bumps, but Wisconsin returns two dynamic running backs in James White and Melvin Gordon, multiple quarterbacks with experience and a good defensive front seven led by Chris Borland. There are concerns in the secondary (three starters gone) and at wide receiver (not enough playmakers), but Wisconsin should push Ohio State in the Leaders Division.
5. Michigan: The Denard Robinson era is over and Michigan needs offensive playmakers to replace its record-setting quarterback and surround new signal-caller Devin Gardner. A bigger concern, though, is an offensive line that struggled at times in 2012 and must replace most of its starting lineup. Coach Brady Hoke should see some of his strong early recruiting efforts pay off in Year 3, although Michigan might not have the depth to challenge for a league title until 2014. Linebacker Jake Ryan leads a defense that has improved the past two seasons but must measure up to elite competition.
6. Michigan State: Pat Narduzzi's defense should once again be one of the nation's best, especially with All-Big Ten standout Max Bullough once again leading the unit at middle linebacker. But the NFL departures of Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims could hamper an offense that had no other consistent weapons in 2012. The schedule definitely favors MSU, but how will the Spartans score points? MSU's quarterback competition between Connor Cook and Andrew Maxwell will be one of the top storylines of spring practice.
7. Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot to do with Penn State's success in 2012, but so did a senior class featuring several NFL players on defense who certainly will be missed. O'Brien's next challenge is developing a capable quarterback, whether it's Steven Bench, junior college arrival Tyler Ferguson or, just maybe, heralded incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. Penn State could feel the sting of the sanctions more from a depth standpoint in 2013, but O'Brien's Lions have defied the odds so far.
8. Minnesota: The Gophers doubled their win total in Jerry Kill’s second season, and Kill's track record at previous stops suggests another boost could be on the way in Year 3. Quarterback Philip Nelson looked good in the bowl game after some late-season struggles, but Minnesota still needs more weapons to develop around him as well as continued progress from the offensive line. Senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman leads a unit looking to fill gaps at linebacker and cornerback.
9. Indiana: The arrow is pointed up in Bloomington despite a poor finish to the regular season, and with eight home games on the slate in 2013, Indiana should expect to go bowling. Third-year coach Kevin Wilson has three quarterbacks with experience -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld -- at his disposal, as well as other weapons such as running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer. IU's defense once again is a major question mark, but recruiting efforts have picked up on that side of the ball.
10. Purdue: If the Heart of Dallas Bowl was any indication, new Boilers coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work ahead in Year 1. Purdue loses its top two quarterbacks (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top defender in Kawann Short and other key contributors on both sides of the ball. Hazell's predecessor, Danny Hope, signed a bunch of quarterbacks in his recent recruiting classes, and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top. Hazell should be able to clean up some of Purdue's sloppy play, but the Boilers have quite a few question marks after a disappointing 2012 campaign.
11. Iowa: After taking a significant step back in 2012, Iowa might have a tough time turning things around in a loaded Legends Division in 2013. The Hawkeyes welcome in a new quarterback (Jake Rudock) and need playmakers to emerge around him to generate much better results in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis. The defensive front seven could be solid as Iowa boasts a strong linebacking corps, but the Hawkeyes must plug a few holes in the secondary and get back to their traditionally stout play on D.
12. Illinois: Coach Tim Beckman needs to show significant signs of progress in Year 2 after a disastrous first season, and he might not have the personnel to do so. The Illini once again lose several defenders to the NFL draft and need to fill holes along the defensive line and in the secondary. Their bigger concerns are on the offensive side, as they had fewer playmakers than any Big Ten team in 2012. Veteran quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns, but Illinois needs a much better plan on offense and the personnel to get things done. An influx of junior college players must step up in a make-or-break year for Beckman.
Now, we turn our attention toward the Purdue Boilermakers.
Many Purdue fans wanted Robert Marve to be the team's starting quarterback all along. And they might have been right. Marve completed 66 percent of his passes and had a 13-to-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Caleb TerBush had a 57 percent completion rate and a 12-to-8 ratio. Even after tearing his ACL at Notre Dame, Marve gave the offense more of a spark than TerBush. The Boilermakers averaged nearly 30 points and more than 400 yards of offense per game, numbers that were a bit inflated by three great games (a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan and 51-41 win against Marshall early, then a 56-35 victory against Indiana in the finale). But Purdue's offense flat-lined during the heart of the Big Ten schedule against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State, and failed to capitalize on a hot start at Ohio State when a season-rattling upset was in the team's grasp. The Boilers were mostly mediocre at running the ball and throwing it.
We expected a much better performance out of a team blessed with a strong defensive line and a very good secondary. But injuries took a toll on the Boilers in the middle of the season, when they were flat out awful. The warning sign arrived in that Marshall game, and then Michigan and Wisconsin combined to score 82 points in consecutive weeks at Ross-Ade Stadium. The low point was probably at Minnesota, when the Gophers -- who had trouble scoring much of the season -- rolled up 44 points with a true freshman quarterback at the controls. Purdue bounced back at the end of the season when guys like Kawann Short started to get healthy. But the defense got subpar play from its linebackers and not enough big performances like cornerback Josh Johnson provided most weeks. The Boilers allowed 33.1 points per game in Big Ten play. And remember, Danny Hope changed defensive coordinators in the offseason with an eye on shoring up that side of the ball.
Special teams: C-minus
A year after leading the nation in kickoff returns, Raheem Mostert wasn't able to find the same magic as he was slowed by injuries. Akeem Hunt handled most of the kick return duties and did have a 100-yard touchdown return against Ohio State. But Purdue missed two field goals in that game against the Buckeyes when one make might have been enough for the win. Sam McCartney and Paul Griggs combined to make just nine field goals on 13 attempts. Cody Webster finished third in the league in punting, but punt returns (111th nationally) were almost invisible and the kickoff coverage unit was poor.
What an odd season for the Boilers, who started 3-1 and finished 3-0 but went 0-5 in between. They took the nation's only two undefeated teams, Notre Dame and Ohio State, down to the wire on the road, but looked helpless at home against Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State. I had a tough time deciding on this overall grade. You could easily give Purdue a D or worse for failing to live up to high preseason expectations after Hope repeatedly called this his best team. Going just 6-6 and failing to contend in a probation-riddled Leaders Division got Hope fired. At the same time, the team was hit hard by injuries and did rally to win its last three games to make it to a second straight bowl game for the first time since 2006-07. If I had told you before the season that Purdue would make it to a bowl, that would probably have sounded like a C-minus kind of year. It was just an ugly way to get there.
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