Big Ten: Garrick McGee

Two Big Ten assistants will attend this year's NCAA Champion Forum, a networking and leadership development seminar for minority assistants identified as potential head coaches.

Purdue wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman and Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers, who also serves as the Buckeyes' assistant head coach, are among the 11 FBS assistants attending the event, held June 13-15 in Orlando, Fla. Assistants from the ACC, Pac-12, Big 12 and SEC also will be in attendance.

Sherman, Withers and the other assistants will have simulated job interviews, media training and other sessions during the event. There's an athletic directors panel on June 13 that will include two Big Ten ADs: Illinois' Mike Thomas and Northwestern's Jim Phillips. There also are networking events with ADs on the first two nights of the forum. Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner will represent the league.

The Big Ten has sent 22 coaches to the event, formerly called the Minority Coaches Forum, between 2006-2012 (no event was held in 2011). Five of those attendees -- Don Treadwell, Darrell Hazell, Mike Locksley, Ron English and Garrick McGee -- went on to become FBS head coaches. Hazell, who took over at Purdue in December, is the Big Ten's first African-American head coach since Bobby Williams at Michigan State (2000-02) and just the fourth in league history.

Michigan State secondary coach Harlon Barnett and Northwestern receivers coach Dennis Springer attended last year's Champion Forum.

Sherman, hired by Hazell in January, spent the past seven seasons as Virginia Tech's receivers coach. His other FBS stops include Wake Forest and Ohio.

Withers already has been a head coach, albeit on an interim basis with North Carolina in 2011 after the school fired Butch Davis weeks before the season. He has been defensive coordinator at North Carolina, Minnesota and Louisville and also coached defensive backs at Texas and with the NFL's Tennessee Titans, among others.
To help you gear up for the 2012 season, we're going to rank all 48 nonconference games featuring Big Ten teams. Not all of these games are created equal -- and quite a few are lousy -- but several boast quite a bit of intrigue. These rankings take into account the quality of opponent, history/connections between the teams and the timing of the game. Let's start out with the least compelling 13 and work our way toward the must-see contests.

And away we go ...

No. 48 -- Charleston Southern at Illinois, Sept. 15: Nothing to see here, folks, as an FCS team that went 0-11 and surrendered 140 points in its final three games visits Champaign. Expect a big day for Nathan Scheelhaase, Josh Ferguson & Co.

No. 47 -- Idaho State at Nebraska, Sept. 22: Don't confuse Idaho State with Boise State. Idaho State comes off of a 2-9 season in the FCS Big Sky Conference. Nebraska should have little trouble handling Merril Hoge's alma mater before kicking off Big Ten play the following week against Wisconsin.

No. 46 -- South Dakota at Northwestern, Sept. 22: Northwestern has trouble filling Ryan Field, and this game poses some major challenges for the school's athletic marketing staff. The FCS Coyotes weren't bad last year (6-5), but there's not much intrigue here.

No. 45 -- Indiana State at Indiana, Sept. 1: While it's a season opener and features teams from the same state, Indiana needs to show it can beat an FBS opponent under Kevin Wilson. Indiana State took a step forward last season in going 6-5.

No. 44 -- Eastern Kentucky at Purdue, Sept. 1: It's the season opener, and the game reunites Purdue coach Danny Hope with his alma mater and former employer, but Hope will be one of few with a vested interest in the Boilers-Colonels matchup.

No. 43 -- Indiana at Massachusetts, Sept. 8: The Minutemen are playing their first season in the FBS and as a member of the MAC. New coach Charley Molnar, the former Notre Dame offensive coordinator, makes his home debut.

No. 42 -- UTEP at Wisconsin, Sept. 22: Although Wisconsin is gradually beefing up its historically weak nonleague schedule, this game shouldn't provide much drama. UTEP went 5-7 last season and 104th nationally in total defense. Will the Badgers break the 70-point barrier again?

No. 41 -- New Hampshire at Minnesota, Sept. 8: Minnesota needs to be careful as New Hampshire is a strong FCS program that employed Chip Kelly as its offensive coordinator not long ago. Still, Minnesota's other nonleague home games (Western Michigan and Syracuse) should be more compelling.

No. 40 -- UAB at Ohio State, Sept. 22: Former Northwestern and Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee is in his first season as UAB's coach. He brings a team that went 3-9 a year ago into The Shoe. UAB had four losses by 39 points or more last season and could suffer another against the Buckeyes.

No. 39 -- Utah State at Wisconsin, Sept. 15: Utah State climbed out of the depths of the FBS in 2011, going 7-5 to record its first seven-win season since 1993. Although the Badgers are coming off of a potentially tricky trip to Oregon State, they should be able to handle the Aggies at home.

No. 38 -- Minnesota at UNLV, Aug. 30: Minnesota is the first Big Ten team in action this fall and opens with a Thursday night kickoff. Can't say this will be one of the prime attractions in Vegas, though, as the teams combined to go 5-19 in 2011.

No. 37 -- Massachusetts at Michigan, Sept. 15: This game should be a breather in Michigan's otherwise torturous nonconference slate (Alabama, Notre Dame and Air Force), although the Wolverines should be wary of what happened the last time the Minutemen visited Ann Arbor. Michigan held on for a 42-37 win in 2010 as Denard Robinson accounted for 345 yards and three touchdowns.

No. 36 -- Ball State at Indiana, Sept. 15: It's another in-state clash featuring an Indiana team looking to get over the hump against Ball State, which has won its past two games against the Hoosiers. Ball State went 6-6 last season after back-to-back losing campaigns. Brady Hoke coached the Cardinals to a win in the teams' last meeting at Memorial Stadium.

No. 35 -- Northern Iowa at Wisconsin, Sept. 1: Many Big Ten fans know about Northern Iowa's program and its success at the FBS level. But the Panthers haven't beaten a Big Ten opponent since 1898 (Iowa). The game likely marks quarterback Danny O'Brien's debut with the Badgers.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 22, 2012
What a week in college football. And the best news is we're a week closer to the 2012 season.

Have a great weekend, everybody.

Mike from Denver writes: Read your article on the new 4 team playoff and it not being a total loss for B1G. I think you hit it correctly and some of the national media has this pegged wrong. This isn't B1G vs SEC on a playoff model (as you've said all along). The SEC is not the big winner, the big 4 conferences are. The B1G, PAC12, SEC, and Big 12 all but assured themselves a spot at the table (assuming the conference champ from the league has less than 2 losses). What Delany didn't want was his conf. champ to be left out in favor of a 1 loss team from another conference who in the court of public opinion is a ?stronger? conference. By making conference championships and strength of schedule criteria, he has a leg up on his friends down south due to the schedule partnership with the PAC12 and the SEC?s reluctance to aggressively schedule. Seems everyone is looking at this from a frame that the SEC is now, and will always be, the best conference. I'm not sure that is the case, and the system put forth allows for preferential treatment to the major 4 conferences. And THAT was the point all along.

Adam Rittenberg: Some excellent thoughts, Mike, and not just because you agreed with me! It's good to see fans seeing through some of the lazy narrative put out there and understand that every league had to compromise a bit, but the result is a win for pretty much everybody. As I wrote Thursday, the areas where the Big Ten "lost" -- campus sites, plus-one, Rose Bowl access -- were unpopular and/or unrealistic. The Big Ten could have fought harder for campus sites, but there was no chance, given the opposition, for them to be approved. The selection committee is a big plus for the Big Ten, and, as you point out, the strength of schedule component is huge. An SEC team can't expect to be highly regarded simply because it's in the SEC. It needs to go out and schedule tough opponents, like more Big Ten and Pac-12 teams are doing. As Jim Delany has said, a truly elite SEC or Big Ten or Pac-12 team that doesn't win the league won't be left out of a playoff. But if there are comparable teams at the 4/5 spots, the conference champ will get preference. And it should.

Steve from Meridian, Miss., writes: Adam, Help me put my bias in check. Give me your top AD/Football Coach/Basketball Coach tri-fectas in the nation. Please take into consideration national impact, winning record and championships. I think you'll find it hard to find a better winning team than Hollis, Dantonio and Izzo.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I was thinking the same thing when Michigan State awarded Hollis his new contract. Not only does Michigan State have elite figures in all three positions, but it has stability. I remember talking with Tom Izzo a few summers ago about the lack of stability at both the athletic director and football coach positions during the early part of his time at Michigan State. He gave a lot of credit to Hollis for fostering a culture of success and stability. The Michigan State trifecta is a great one, but there are others in the Big Ten worth noting. Michigan's is very impressive (Brady Hoke, John Beilein, Dave Brandon). Same holds true for Wisconsin (Bret Bielema, Bo Ryan, Barry Alvarez). While Gene Smith received some deserved criticism last year, he's still regarded as a strong athletic director, and Ohio State's group (Smith, Urban Meyer, Thad Matta) is strong. Some schools have two-thirds of the equation but are a little unproven with the third position.

Tom from Menlo Park, Calif., writes: Hey Adam,I'm surprised I haven't seen this mentioned before, but as I see it, a selection committee has a very valuable asset: the ability to choose the matchups of the playoff games. In other words, using last year as an example, pretend Alabama is in the SEC East and they played and lost to LSU in the SEC title game (rather than the regular season) and finished 4th in the rankings. Would people really want to see LSU play Bama again in their very next game? No, nor do I think it's very fair to the team that just won the first game. Given a marginal difference between the third and fourth best teams I can imagine a selection committee using their discretion to pick traditional matchups (e.g. a Big10-PAC12 champions semifinal) and avoid repeat matchups (e.g. the LSU-Bama scenario above, or the Florida-FSU title game way back when) in situations where negligible objective competitive imbalances result.That's something that couldn't be done if a strict formula/ranking system was mandated.

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, some good points here. The selection committee would need to explain why a team is the No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed, but with these games being played at bowl sites that aren't linked to regions necessarily, it wouldn't really matter. You're right, no one would want to see a conference championship game rematch in the national semifinal. This is another reason why bowl sites are preferred over campus sites. If you had campus sites, there's a HUGE difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 seed (home-field advantage for the No. 2). With bowl sites, you can be a bit more liberal with seeds and try to create attractive matchups, but only when the teams are comparable. If there are clear gaps between a No. 2 and a No. 4, those should be reflected with the seeding.

Steve from Lafayette, Ind., writes: Hi Adam, I have a question about the new playoff (Surprise!!!). I haven't seen this mentioned anywhere, and there's a good chance it hasn't been discussed yet, but how will tickets for the championship game work? I imagine the semi-final games will be pretty similar to the current system, with schools getting their allotments, plus some tickets the bowl sells itself. But that can't work for a game where the participants are known only a week in advance. Sure, the schools may get a meager number of tickets to sell to their biggest boosters, but the majority of the tickets will have to be sold well in advance - the way I see it, mostly to locals/corporations. How will I, a regular fan/season ticket holder be able to get a ticket? My guess is through the secondary market at a huge markup. (Not to mention the cost of traveling on one week's notice.) Hurray for playoffs! Can we just go back to the old days with regular bowl games?

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, you're thinking way down the road, but you bring up a good question and one that resonates with many fans. I agree that most of the championship game tickets will be sold in advance and likely scooped up by the corporate folks paying the big bucks. There will be some ultra-confident fans -- or ones with disposable income -- who will buy tickets in advance, but it'll be tough to do a mass ticket sale to each school with so little time between the semifinal and the championship. The counter-argument is if your team makes the national title game, it's worth digging deep into your pockets to see it. You never know when your team would be back. We're not going back to the old days, but your concern is very real, especially in this economy.

Misplaced Gopher from Fargo, N.D., writes: Adam, every team throws surprises at us every season. Some are good surprises and some are bad. Examples? My Gophers got thrashed 45-17 by Purdue (bad surprise) and they came back to beat Iowa 22-21 in the fourth quarter (good surprise). Unless there's a big surprise, Minnesota will win between 4 and 6 games in 2012. What shocker will Jerry Kill's squad come up with this season that will get them to 7 wins?

Adam Rittenberg: While I expect to see improvement from the Gophers in Year 2 under Jerry Kill, keep in mind a six-win season would equal Minnesota's victories total from the past two years. Could the Gophers win six games or more? Sure. But they have to address several issues this offseason -- offensive skill, defensive line, secondary. Minnesota has been better at the end of the season the past few years, and there are some upset opportunities in November, including home games against Legends division favorites Michigan (Nov. 3) and Michigan State (Nov. 24). Don't think the Gophers can get Iowa three years in a row, especially at Kinnick Stadium, but they might surprise the Wolverines or the Spartans, and Purdue could be a good team that will need to be on its game Oct. 27 at TCF Bank Stadium. There's not an obvious surprise win that jumps out to me, MG, but some teams could rise up and then turn into upset opportunities for Jerry Kill's crew.

Jonathan from Westerville, Ohio, writes: The NFL is hosting a Super Bowl outdoors in New York/New Jersey. Since the NFL is more popular in the U.S. (both financially and literally), would college football turn its nose to hosting a championship game outdoors in Chicago, New York, Boston or the like? Are Southern/Western teams afraid or are college presidents not likely to move outdoors?

Adam Rittenberg: Jonathan, I think the college football commissioners will be keeping a close eye on the Super Bowl event in NY/NJ and how smoothly the operation runs there. For these massive events, it all comes down to the bid -- not just the financial portion, but the organizing committee earning the trust and admiration of those making the decisions. A plus for a group like Indiana Sports Corp, aside from having a terrific indoor venue in Lucas Oil Stadium, is that Indy has put on numerous major sporting events, including the most recent Super Bowl and several Final Fours. Next to the Super Bowl and the Final Four, the college football title game will be the biggest single-day event on the American sporting calendar. So you had better know what you're doing.

I got to witness this last spring when the groups from Indianapolis and Chicago bid for the Big Ten championship game. Indy made a stronger, more comprehensive bid -- bringing in big guns like Gov. Mitch Daniels (now Purdue's president) -- and outlined its track record of hosting major events. From what I've been told, Chicago had a nice bid, but its lack of experience in hosting these events showed. Bottom line: a lot depends on how the outdoor Super Bowl goes, but I think the commissioners will be more inclined to keep these games indoors in Midwest venues, at least early on in the process.

Patrick from Plano, Texas, writes: Hi Adam, I am a lifelong Husker fan and have been an avid reader of both your's and Brian's blogs for the better part of a year. The playoff is here and IMHO it will change the CF world as we know it. In order to maximize a conferences' stake in the playoff format and payout why is it in the B1G's and other power conferences interest to keep a conference championship game? If a Leader and Legend undefeated or one loss team were to play that would risk the huge playoff spot and resulting payout. The SEC I am sure is contemplating this same thing.So I would think it makes sense that there will be a conference realignment and regression instead of expansion in leagues.

Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, this is an interesting question and a discussion all conferences need to have. The SEC championship has been a marquee event, and the Big Ten championship certainly has the same potential. Many presume the Big 12 will reinstate a championship game if and when it expands to 12 teams (only a matter of time). Some of these games are big money-makers. But the drawback, as you point out, is that the championship game could limit the number of teams leagues have in the national playoff. A potential wild-card team could lose and drop out of contention. There also could be an upset, creating a league champion not worthy of inclusion in a four-team playoff. It's hard for these leagues to part with the money their championship games generate, but these are questions that must be discussed. I don't know if I agree about regression in conferences to avoid playing championships. I still think we'll see the bigger leagues get bigger, not the other way around.

Kevin from Chicago writes: I feel Mick McCall is probably one of the most underrated coaches in the game. He's been responsible for Northwestern's dominating offense over the past few years creating mediocre quarterbacks and making them great in the college game. How close is he with Pat Fitzgerald because I feel like there are bigger teams such as some SEC schools who would want him and his playbook. Can you see him leaving NU and Pat for bigger and better things or is he loyal to NU? Once Northwestern gets a defense or defensive coordinator that is above average Northwestern can be one of the best teams in the Big Ten.

Adam Rittenberg: Completely agree with your thoughts on Mick McCall, Kevin. He has been masterful in his development of quarterbacks at Northwestern, creating quite the pipeline in Evanston since arriving in 2008. If I were assembling my ideal Big Ten coaching staff, Mick would be my quarterbacks coach, hands down. I know McCall and his wife are very happy in Evanston, but it could be a challenge to keep him long-term. Pat Fitzgerald made sure Northwestern allocated more money for his assistants during his last contract agreement, and Pat clearly values having a guy like McCall on his staff. McCall has ties to Colorado, not SEC country. While I wouldn't expect him to leave any time soon, if a lucrative offer comes his way, he could bolt, much like previous Northwestern offensive coordinators (Garrick McGee, Mike Dunbar, Kevin Wilson).

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Joey Elliott wants to become the next Josh Heupel.

Sure, he wouldn't mind leading Purdue to a national title, winning the AP Player of the Year award and finishing second in Heisman Trophy voting. But Elliott is more interested in mirroring Heupel's rapid rise up the college coaching ranks.

Heupel landed a job as Oklahoma's quarterbacks coach less than five years after quarterbacking the Sooners to a national title in 2000. Elliott, a senior quarterback at Purdue, wouldn't mind joining the Boilers' staff in the near future.

  Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI
  Joey Elliott looks to be the starter this fall for Purdue, but he also has an eye toward a future in coaching.

Rather than savoring the final hours of winter break in January, Elliott traveled to Nashville for the American Football Coaches Association convention. Along with his dad, John, a longtime coach in Indiana, Elliott spent several days networking, studying and soaking it in.

He attended seminars led by Heupel, Arkansas quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee and Georgia Southern head coach Chris Hatcher, among others. And he rarely strayed far from his dad's side.

"I followed his coattails," Elliott said. "He introduced me to everybody he knew and let them know I'm getting into coaching. It's kind of a word-of-mouth career. It's who you know, what you know.

"You need to have a way in."

Elliott might finally have a way in to Purdue's starting quarterback spot after four years of waiting. Curtis Painter has graduated and Elliott's primary competitor this spring, Justin Siller, was dismissed from school earlier this month for academic violations.

A coaching career awaits Elliott, but he's got unfinished business as a player.

"In my mind, he's the starter," Purdue offensive coordinator Gary Nord said. "At the same time, we haven't named anything, and anybody can beat anybody out. Nobody's guaranteed anything. The coaching staff doesn't know what the capabilities are, doesn't know the intangibles of them yet."

The last part shouldn't be a hard sell for Elliott, whose high school coach, Harvey Robbins, said he "always took care of the intangibles."

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 C.J. Bacher will have new faces protecting him in 2008.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern is finishing up its morning practice and holds media day in a few hours. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald will address reporters around 12:30 p.m. CT.

Here's a look at three questions facing the Wildcats this fall:

1. How will a new-look offensive line fare in protecting quarterback C.J. Bacher?

Northwestern hasn't been this deep at its offensive skill positions in some time, but the line is a major concern after the loss of three starters. Redshirt freshman left tackle Al Netter has the pressure-packed assignment of protecting Bacher's blind side, while classmate Ben Burkett get the first shot at center, a position of stability in recent seasons. Both guard spots are open, though returning starter Joel Belding should keep one of them. Bacher has looked a bit shaky under pressure, so firming up the line will be the team's top priority in training camp.

2. Will veteran coordinator Mike Hankwitz be the savior for Northwestern's defense?

The shotgun spread offense has been Northwestern's hallmark since 2000, but at what cost? The defense has suffered significantly since the spread arrived, finishing no higher than 68th nationally in yards allowed. Hankwitz, a defensive coordinator for six teams before coming to Northwestern, is seen as the coach who can reverse the trend. The zone-blitz specialist must extract more from a defensive line that has tons of experience but little to show for it. The secondary also has depth and experience but needs to overcome big-play breakdowns.

3. Can the no-huddle help the Wildcats return to their rushing roots?

This spring, new offensive coordinator Mick McCall implemented the no-huddle, which Northwestern used in 2000, when it won a share of the Big Ten title and finished third nationally in total offense (475.6 ypg). The Wildcats produced a 1,900-yard rusher (Damien Anderson) that year, and they hope for similar results from senior running back Tyrell Sutton. Despite putting up big yards last season, Northwestern got away from the run game, partly because of Sutton's ankle injury and partly because of offensive coordinator Garrick McGee. McCall likely will lean on both Sutton and backup Omar Conteh more this fall, and a fast tempo should help.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Pat Fitzgerald took over a tough situation, but sees improvement from his squad regularly.

EVANSTON, Ill. -- The Northwestern football office is filled with memories from Pat Fitzgerald's playing career. Visitors are immediately greeted by one of his National Defensive Player of the Year trophies, and a display case several feet away holds several other awards given to the former Northwestern linebacker, who headlined the 1995 Rose Bowl team. More items are on the way when Fitzgerald gets enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame next summer.

The Hall of Fame selection provided Fitzgerald the chance to reflect on his on-field accomplishments, but his focus has switched back to his current responsibilities. He wants to bring more hardware to Evanston, this time as a head coach. Northwestern underachieved in 2007, falling short of a bowl game, and Fitzgerald's missteps cost the team at times. Fitzgerald's legacy a player is undeniable, but he still has plenty to prove as a coach. No longer the novice who took over following the sudden death of Randy Walker, Fitzgerald understands the significance of this season.

After a family vacation to Florida during which he did not get a tan -- impossible, he claims -- Fitzgerald sat down last week to discuss the Hall of Fame, the upcoming season, his two new coordinators and his evolution as a coach.

How has your life changed since being selected for the Hall of Fame?

Pat Fitzgerald: (laughs) I don't know if it's changed at all. It's an incredible, humbling honor. Someone asked me what it meant to be on the ballot. I think it just shows how strong of a football team we had. My career in the NFL was not very long, probably the shortest of anybody being enshrined this year. So I look back to what we accomplished here and I look at this honor, and it's my name, but it's more of our team that's going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

You're obviously asked about that team a lot, but did this make you reminisce about it even more?

PF: As you get a little bit older, you look back at that time in your life and you really appreciate the experiences you went through and the people you were with. For me, still living it every day, still being here every day, I think about it almost daily. We had a little milestone with the 10-year reunion the last couple years, and hopefully for some of my teammates, this opportunity to celebrate our team will be an opportunity to reconnect again.

Given all the places you've been and the experiences you've have since then, does the Rose Bowl feel like a long time ago?

PF: Yeah, it does. So much has changed, not only for myself, but a lot of my teammates. Most of them are married now, most of them have children, so we've all taken another step in our lives, milestone-wise. It seems a little distant now. We need to get back.

Coaches talk about finding their voice. Do you think you've found your voice now more than before?

PF: I'm more set on what I want. Looking back to Year 1, there were things I felt strongly about, but now as we've gone through a couple years of it, I'm very confident in what I want to have. I'm excited about this year. We've got a lot of experience coming back, a lot of guys that have been around me and know what I expect. I think I'm doing a better job of articulating that.

With (quarterback) C.J. (Bacher), what's been the biggest difference in him, leadership-wise, from when he took over as the starter?

PF: He's confident. He's kind of run the whole gamut you go through at quarterback. He was the backup, watched a great player (Brett Basanez) have a great end to his career, got hurt, had to battle his way to a starting job, won it, we didn't have success, then got us to bowl eligibility last year, was not satisfied with that. Now he's poised to have a great year. He's worked hard, he's strong. I'm encouraged with where he's at.

Mick (McCall) is his third offensive coordinator in four years. How did it go with those two in spring practice?

PF: Mick came in with some automatic credibility to the development of two All-American quarterbacks (Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs) while he was at (Bowling Green). So C.J. was excited to work with a coach like that. Not that things weren't going great with Garrick (McGee), but to have this opportunity and to watch the job C.J. did, learning and growing, giving extra time to get to know coach McCall better, I'm excited where that relationship is right now.

Will fans notice dramatic differences with what you do on offense with Mick calling plays?

PF: Mick is smart enough and our offensive staff has got a good dynamic where they're not going to ask C.J. to do things he doesn't do very well and put him in an area where he's strong. I don't think it'll be dramatic. Will there be some nuances? Yeah.

More dramatic on the defensive side?

PF: Hopefully in being a little bit more successful, but from a scheme standpoint, we're trying to attack and be more aggressive. What does that mean? As we solidify that top 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 guys, what do they do best? I would assume we'll be four-down most of the year, based on where we're at health-wise right now and the strength of our defensive line. But who ends up being that nickel guy? Do we keep two linebackers in? Do we keep one linebacker in? Is it a corner? Is it a safety? Those are all left to be determined. But Mike Hankwitz has run just about everything you can run, so the flexibility in our system will give us an opportunity to be successful.

How beneficial has having him around been for you, as a young head coach?

PF: Both him and Mick. Mick's been a former head coach for a number of years, and for me, it's great to have those two guys in the room. I like being in a staff room where there's not a bunch of yes-men, where anything I say, they bobblehead, 'Yeah, yeah.' That's what I enjoyed the most about the spring, the challenge of being able to say, 'Do you have any ideas? We did this a certain way.' And they say, 'Well, OK, we did that a couple years ago, too.' To talk through those things, the growth that happens is tremendous.

Who needs to step up on that side of the ball?

PF: The experiences we had there are going to hopefully make us a better defense. You think of the experience up front, Corey Wootton being a multi-year starter, John Gill being a multi-year starter, Adam Hahn being a multi-year starter, Kevin Mims, as we sit here today, being a multi-year starter. And they're being pushed every day by the Vincent Brownes and the Corbin Bryants and the Marshall Thomases. I'm excited about that group, but that group needs to step up. We had good pressure last year. Now we need to finish the job. That's kind of indicative of our whole team. We had some games that we need to finish the job in and we didn't and stayed home for the holidays. At linebacker, Malcolm Arrington had a very solid spring. In the secondary, I'll rattle off more names than we've ever rattled off. (Brendan) Smith coming back off
injury and (Brad) Phillips, two guys that have made a lot of plays for us. They're going to be pushed by David Arnold, who we were going to play as a freshman but then got a little banged up. Same thing with Brian Peters. At corner, Sherrick (McManis) is being pushed by (Jordan) Mabin and (Mike) Bolden and then on the other side, you've got (David) Oredugba and (Justan) Vaughn fighting it out for a starting job. That's six names at corner. We've never had six names at corner of guys I feel confident about. We need to figure out which 11 pieces fit.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The offseason didn't bring an overwhelming amount of change to Big Ten coaching staffs. Aside from Michigan, which brought in a completely new group, and Northwestern, which lost one coordinator and fired the other, most of the league's assistants remained in their posts. But there were several notable moves, particularly at the coordinator spots. Here's a look at the new -- and, in some cases, familiar -- faces in charge of Big Ten offenses and defenses.

Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee: If anyone had an uglier departure from West Virginia than Rich Rodriguez, it was probably Magee. He's back with Rodriguez at Michigan, helping to implement a wildly successful offense with completely new personnel. Magee coached running backs for the last seven seasons at West Virginia, adding the title of offensive coordinator in 2005. He was named the American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year in 2007 and has overseen a top-5 rushing attack in each of the last three seasons. He now must work his magic with Brandon Minor, Carlos Brown and Kevin Grady.

Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer: Shafer must have a very understanding wife. He has been at three spots -- Illinois, Western Michigan and Stanford -- in the last four seasons. But it's for positive reasons. The rising star coordinated a Western Michigan defense that led the nation in both interceptions and sacks in 2006. At Stanford, he played a key role in last season's stunning road win against USC -- one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Shafer's energetic style was a hit at Western Michigan, and he should do well up I-94 in Ann Arbor.

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren: Coach Bret Bielema promoted Doeren to oversee a defense that was hardly porous (38th nationally) last season but fell off from its 2006 form. His decision to fire veteran Mike Hankwitz was surprising at first, but a background check on both Doeren and Bielema shows that this move was coming sooner or later. Both coaches spent time at Big 12 schools in Kansas before moving up the ranks. Doeren brings a fiery personality to a veteran-laden defense. Injuries depleted the unit this spring, so preseason camp will be important for Doeren to cement his philosophies.

Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall: The spread offense has been Northwestern's calling card since 2000, so when coordinator Garrick McGee left for Arkansas, coach Pat Fitzgerald needed someone familiar with the system. He found it in McCall, the Bowling Green offensive coordinator who coached standout quarterbacks Josh Harris and Omar Jacobs. Bowling Green runs a slightly different version of the spread than the Wildcats, but McCall inherits a veteran offense stocked at the skill positions.

Northwestern defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz: This was the more important hire for Fitzgerald, and he scored a coup by hiring Hankwitz, the Wisconsin cast-off. While the Badgers chose a younger voice to lead their defense, Northwestern hired a much-needed sage. The 60-year-old Hankwitz has served as defensive coordinator at six different schools, first holding the title in 1982. He's known for zone blitzes and provides a veteran ear for the 33-year-old Fitzgerald. He takes over a defense that hasn't finished higher than 68th nationally since 2000.

Minnesota defensive coordinator Ted Roof: Perhaps no new coordinator has as daunting an assignment as Roof, who must fix the nation's worst defense -- one that set several school records for futility in 2007. He couldn't fix Duke -- then again, who can? -- and was fired after four-plus seasons as head coach, but he brings a strong reputation for crafting formidable defenses. He engineered defensive turnarounds at Georgia Tech and, briefly, Duke. Roof made tackling a priority this spring and must figure out how to work in several talented junior-college transfers.