Big Ten: Hawaii Warriors

Big Ten picks: Week 14

December, 3, 2009
12/03/09
9:00
AM ET
The Big Ten faces the WAC this week, as I get two more chances to pad my record before the inevitable disaster known as my bowl picks. Both of the contests this week were tough to call.

Fresno State 33, Illinois 30: Ryan Mathews will be the difference against Illinois, which hasn't seen many running backs of Mathews' caliber this season (the Illini didn't face Wisconsin's John Clay). Juice Williams tosses three touchdown passes, one to Arrelious Benn, in his final career game, but Fresno State eventually takes control behind Matthews and hands Illinois its ninth loss of the season.

Wisconsin 38, Hawaii 27: Too much John Clay in this one. The Badgers' star steamrolls Hawaii's defense behind his huge offense line and scores three touchdowns. Hawaii's passing attack keeps it close for a while, as Greg Salas causes problems for the Badgers' secondary, but Wisconsin end O'Brien Schofield makes some big plays in the second half. Clay wears down the Warriors in the fourth quarter and Wisconsin improves to 9-3.

Week 13 record: 1-0

Season record: 62-24 (.721)
Two Big Ten teams in action, and five items to track this weekend.

1. Badgers try to rebound in paradise: Wisconsin basically has traveled halfway to Australia to face Hawaii on Saturday night (ESPN2, 11:30 p.m. ET), and a win could get the Badgers all the way to the Outback. The Outback Bowl, that is. A Wisconsin victory would give the Badgers a better overall record (9-3) than their primary competitor Northwestern (8-4), even though Northwestern holds the head-to-head victory. As long as the Big Ten gets two teams into BCS bowls, Wisconsin would have a pretty good shot at the Outback Bowl, where it would face Auburn on New Year's Day. Last time the Badgers came off a loss, they drilled Purdue 37-0 on Halloween.

2. One last taste of Juice: Juice Williams concludes his unique college career Saturday when Illinois wraps up its season against Fresno State (Big Ten Network, 12:30 p.m. ET). Williams started all four years at quarterback for the Illini, helped the team to the Rose Bowl in 2007, set total offense records in three separate stadiums in 2008 and saw his production decline sharply this fall. Despite the ups and downs, Williams has handled everything with class and deserves a good sendoff from the Illinois faithful on Saturday. He comes off a pretty decent showing against Cincinnati and faces a Fresno State defense that ranks 108th nationally against the run.

3. The Big 12 championship game: No game this weekend means more to the Big Ten's bowl lineup than the Big 12 title match at Jerry World (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). If No. 3 Texas beats No. 22 Nebraska, the Longhorns would be virtually assured of a spot in the BCS title game. This would free up the Fiesta Bowl to select a second at-large team, and it's hard to imagine the Fiesta not selecting Iowa or Penn State with its replacement pick (most likely the No. 2 overall selection). If Nebraska pulls off the upset, Texas would be a lock for an at-large selection, and it could limit the Big Ten to only one BCS entry. It also would bring the Orange Bowl more into the mix, which could be good for Penn State.

4. Clay's response and Wisconsin's secondary: John Clay's fourth-quarter fumble proved costly in Wisconsin's loss to Northwestern, so it will be interesting to see how the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year bounces back. He should be licking his chops against a Hawaii defense that ranks 104th nationally against the run. Then again, Hawaii comes off a 24-17 victory against run-happy Navy and has won four straight games to revive its bowl hopes. The islands haven't always been kind to Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin is 3-1 at Hawaii -- and the Warriors will test the Badgers' secondary with star wide receiver Greg Salas.

5. The aftermath in Champaign: Illinois' season will end on Saturday, and the changes that athletics director Ron Guenther said were coming could begin very soon. Head coach Ron Zook still should be safe, but he'll certainly look to make some staff changes after back-to-back extremely disappointing seasons. There's also the case of junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who many expect will declare for the NFL draft despite an unproductive year. And it will be interesting to see what happens to Illinois' recruiting, as the 2010 class is small and just lost its top prospect, tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, to Iowa.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For the most part, BCS teams structure their nonconference schedules to satisfy two objectives: revenue and a better overall record. There are several marquee nonleague matchups in the Big Ten this season, but teams generally want to get through the slate unscathed. Still, they should be wary of danger games.

These are the types of matchups that Big Ten teams should win, but aren't guaranteed to do so. Big Ten teams have struggled against supposedly inferior foes in recent years, dropping games, among others, to Duke, Western Michigan, Iowa State and, yes, Appalachian State.

Let's take a look at five games wrapped in caution tape for Big Ten teams this fall.

Western Michigan at Michigan, Sept. 5

Michigan's recent struggles in season openers have been well documented, and the young Wolverines face another test against Western Michigan. The New York Times sees the matchup as a dead heat, ranking the Broncos at No. 56 nationally, one spot ahead of Michigan. Still, this will always be viewed as a game Michigan should win. Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller will test a Wolverines defense adjusting to a new system.

Air Force at Minnesota, Sept. 12

The adrenaline will be flowing for Minnesota players as they open their new on-campus facility, TCF Bank Stadium, under the lights. But Tim Brewster's team should be very concerned about Air Force, which tests a team's discipline much more than most non-BCS foes. If Minnesota lacks the necessary focus, Air Force will take advantage and potentially ruin a big night in Minneapolis.

Central Michigan at Michigan State, Sept. 12

Despite its recent rise under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan still lacks a marquee win over a Big Ten team. The Chippewas try to get it against Michigan State, which shouldn't overlook this matchup. Dan LeFevour will be one of the best quarterbacks the Spartans face all season, and a strong secondary will be tested by the four-year starter. If LeFevour and the Chippewas offense start strong, they'll put pressure on Michigan State quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, one of whom will be facing his first major test as a starter.

Arizona at Iowa, Sept. 19

Both teams are coming off bowl victories, but Iowa returns more key contributors and has the home-field edge. Mike Stoops will have his Wildcats team ready as he returns to Iowa City, but the Hawkeyes should be the favorite. Iowa's struggles in recent years have come early in the season, and this could be a trap game before a huge trip to Penn State. With the running game a bit of a mystery, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi will need to be sharp.

Wisconsin at Hawaii, Dec. 5

It would be a big mistake to view this as a trip to paradise. Just ask Northwestern. In 2004, the Wildcats were bowl eligible at 6-5 went they went out to "The Rock," as Hawaii calls its home, and lost to fall out of the postseason picture. Wisconsin should be playing for bowl position when it makes the long trip over the Pacific, and the Badgers can't afford to slip up. Hawaii always plays extremely well at home and strange things tend to happen at Aloha Stadium, so the Badgers should definitely beware.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you haven't noticed, scheduling is the theme around ESPN.com this week. My colleagues have examined the decline of marquee nonleague games and the money-driven formula that goes into scheduling.

Now it's time to get more specific and look at the nonconference schedules for each Big Ten team. The Big Ten has taken a lot of heat for softening its nonleague slates, though other BCS conferences, namely the SEC, are also guilty of the practice.

Here's how they stack up, from toughest to easiest.

1. ILLINOIS -- vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Illinois State, at Cincinnati, Fresno State

It's not just the opponents that make the slate tough, but also unusual dates of the games. Illinois must finish with two tough nonleague foes in late November and early December, when a bowl berth likely will be on the line. The Illini have lost their last five games against Missouri in St. Louis.

2. PURDUE -- Toledo, at Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame

First-year head coach Danny Hope has his work cut out for him early on this fall. Oregon is the toughest nonconference road game for a Big Ten team this season, and Notre Dame has been pegged as a BCS bowl contender (jury's still out for me) and lit up the Boilermakers' defense last year in South Bend. Northern Illinois also could be a very tough game for Purdue.

3. MINNESOTA -- at Syracuse, Air Force, California, South Dakota State

Arguably no Big Ten team has a tougher opening stretch than the Gophers. Sure, Syracuse is down, but Doug Marrone's first game and the possible debut of Greg Paulus at quarterback should get the Carrier Dome cranked. Air Force and especially Cal provide major tests at the new TCF Bank stadium.

4. OHIO STATE -- Navy, USC, vs. Toledo (at Cleveland), New Mexico State

The USC factor simply can't be overlooked on what is otherwise a soft slate for the Buckeyes. Ohio State's matchup with USC once again serves as the league's premier nonconference matchup and a chance for the Buckeyes and the Big Ten to gain some redemption. Navy is never an easy game, especially in the opener.

5. IOWA -- Northern Iowa, at Iowa State, Arizona, Arkansas State

The Hawkeyes are consistently solid in scheduling, and this slate shouldn't generate too many complaints. If you're going to play an FCS team, Northern Iowa is a darn good one. Mike Stoops returns to Iowa City with an Arizona team coming off of a bowl victory in 2008. Iowa shouldn't have much trouble going 4-0 -- rival Iowa State remains a disaster -- but the competition isn't terrible.

6. MICHIGAN STATE -- Montana State, Central Michigan, at Notre Dame, Western Michigan

The Spartans' slate isn't as challenging as it was last season, but a trip to what should be an improved Notre Dame team could be tough. Michigan State has won three straight against the Irish, who crumbled on offense last year in East Lansing. Two tough MAC opponents with talented quarterbacks (Western Michigan's Tim Hiller and Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour) should test Michigan State's defense.

7. INDIANA -- Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan, at Akron, at Virginia

The Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team to play two true nonconference road games, which stands for something even though both Akron and Virginia have struggled recently. Western Michigan also provides a big test in Week 2 for a Hoosiers defense hoping to turn a corner behind Jammie Kirlew, Greg Middleton and Matt Mayberry.

8. MICHIGAN -- Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State

Michigan doesn't deserve to be ranked this high, but the Wolverines' schedule looks like a gauntlet compared to the sorry slates belonging to some other Big Ten teams. Western Michigan presents a sizable challenge in the opener, as Greg Robinson's defense faces off against Hiller. A transitioning Michigan offense might need to keep pace on the scoreboard. Notre Dame also will test the Wolverines with its high-powered passing attack.

9. WISCONSIN -- Northern Illinois, Fresno State, Wofford, at Hawaii

Soft scheduling has been a hot topic in Badger Nation, and this year's rundown won't do much to quench the fire. Northern Illinois and Fresno State are decent teams, but the lack of a BCS opponent drags down the quality of the schedule. Hawaii has been tough to beat at home in recent years, and Wisconsin could be fighting for bowl position when it heads to Oahu.

10. NORTHWESTERN -- Towson, Eastern Michigan, at Syracuse, Miami (Ohio)

Northwestern is trying to make bowl games on a more consistent basis, and another visit to Cupcake City should help. All four of these teams have new head coaches, and the lone "test," a trip to Syracuse, certainly isn't what it used to be. The watered-down slate certainly won't remedy Northwestern's attendance problems, and the school should (and will) take a more aggressive approach to scheduling in the future.

11. PENN STATE -- Akron, Syracuse, Temple, Eastern Illinois

This is the hard truth for Penn State: A desire to fill Beaver Stadium eight times could very well keep the Nittany Lions out of the national title game. We won't get a true read on Penn State until Iowa visits Happy Valley on Sept. 26, and anything less than an undefeated season will prevent the Lions from reaching the BCS championship in Pasadena. Sure, Penn State had no idea Syracuse would be this bad, but the absence of a road game against a decent opponent could really hurt the national profile of the team and its individual stars this fall.

Big Ten mailbag

April, 14, 2009
4/14/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A few questions and answers on this get-away day for me.

Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, Every year it seems like there is a QB in the Big Ten that emerges as the guy no one really talks about, but no one wants to play either. You know what type of guys I'm talking about too--the Brett Basanez's of the league...the guys that aren't flashy and don't get the PR, but are just plain gamers. Could Stanzi emerge this year to fill that role? Pryor, Clark and Forcier are already the media glory-boys, so it can't be any of those choices. Who do you think fits the bill?

Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Paul, and totally agree on quarterbacks coming out of nowhere in the Big Ten. Penn State's Daryll Clark certainly continued the trend in 2008. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi certainly could be that guy in 2009. I'm not sold on his wide receivers, but if tight end Tony Moeaki stays healthy, Stanzi could have a big year. He'll have one of the league's top offensive lines in front of him. Michigan State's quarterback, Keith Nichol or Kirk Cousins, also could fit into this category, as could Northwestern's Mike Kafka if he improves on short and intermediate passes.


Tony from Denver writes: Hey Adam, love the blog keep up the good work. When Robinson gets up to Michigan this summer, do you foresee a possible "wildcat" offense or something similar that could be put in the offense, with Robinson at QB and then Forcier out at receiver like Pennington was since he has the better arm?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't see this, Tony, at least not right away. Michigan must first see what it has with Denard Robinson at the quarterback spot, and also assess whether Tate Forcier has continued his development after a solid spring. The Wolverines are in no position to be moving quarterbacks to other spots on the field -- there's just not enough depth. And both Forcier and Robinson fit Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, which already has enough creativity when it's cooking. I wouldn't rule anything out, but I doubt Michigan will go this direction.

(Read full post)

Early schedule snapshot: Wisconsin

February, 11, 2009
2/11/09
2:35
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The schedule snapshots finish up with Wisconsin, which will end the regular season later than any other Big Ten team. 

NONCONFERENCE SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Northern Illinois

Sept. 12 Fresno State

Sept. 19 Wofford

Dec. 5 at Hawaii

My take: Wisconsin's decision to move back its series with Virginia Tech took something away from a nonconference slate that still features a few challenges. The Badgers' win at Fresno State last year lost some luster after the Bulldogs struggled down the stretch, but Pat Hill's squad is usually solid and a Wisconsin victory this fall should mean more. Northern Illinois is on the rise under head coach Jerry Kill and will provide Wisconsin's new starting quarterback with a decent opening test. Hawaii is always tough at home, as Big East champ Cincinnati found out last year, and Wisconsin will need to put up points to beat the Warriors in Honolulu. 

BIG TEN SCHEDULE

Sept. 26 Michigan State

Oct. 3 at Minnesota

Oct. 10 at Ohio State

Oct. 17 Iowa

Oct. 24 Open

Oct. 31 Purdue

Nov. 7 at Indiana

Nov. 14 Michigan

Nov. 21 at Northwestern

Byes: Penn State, Illinois

My take: The Badgers are the only team with a bye in the middle of the Big Ten schedule -- Illinois likely will have one before league play opens -- and it comes at a good time. The opening stretch is brutal with trips to rival Minnesota and Ohio State bookended by tough home contests against Michigan State and Iowa. Wisconsin can do some damage during the second half of the conference slate, but it needs to avoid another slow start after dropping its first four league games in 2008. Road games at Northwestern and Hawaii could go a long way toward determining Wisconsin's postseason fate or bowl destination.   

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

 
 AP photo/Janet Hostetter
 Jim Delany says the Big Ten Network project isn't done until there's "full distribution."
PARK RIDGE, Ill. -- Some consider him the most powerful man in college athletics. Others label him the biggest obstacle to a college football playoff system. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany might be both, but his influence in college football is undeniable. 

Only the fifth commissioner in Big Ten history, Delany enters his 20th year in the job. He has seen the league add an 11th member, negotiated several new TV contracts and helped establish the Big Ten Network, a massive project that generated both excitement and criticism. A long-anticipated agreement between the Big Ten Network and Comcast was reached this summer, but some Big Ten fans still don't have access to the programming. After a nasty bout with an illness last week, Delany sat down with me Wednesday at the Big Ten offices. You can only get to so many topics in a 15-minute interview, but Delany discussed the Big Ten Network, the BCS/playoff debate, nonconference scheduling and his own future. 

You mentioned last week [at Big Ten media days] that two of your peers, [Pac-10 commissioner] Tom Hansen and [Big East commissioner] Mike Tranghese are retiring. Have you thought about how much longer you'll do this job?

Jim Delany: Yeah. I'm still enjoying what I'm doing. I expect that I'll be here for an indefinite period of time. I don't think I'm going to work as long as [former SEC commissioner Roy] Kramer did or maybe [current SEC commissioner Michael] Slive or even Hansen, but I think I'll be here for the next five years or so. That's my horizon. 

Have you thought at all about what your legacy might be?

JD: Not really. To be honest, I feel like I go from cycle to cycle, cycles of bowl games and cycles of television agreements. At different times you have different challenges. One might be incorporating Penn State, another might be trying to incorporate the Big Ten Network, another one might be, 'Hey, we've got an initiative on sportsmanship. We're trying to raise academic standards.' I sort of get involved in a lot of projects. But I'm obviously conscious of, did we start a men's [basketball] tournament? How's it going? Are we able to re-establish the Rose Bowl within the BCS? So I'm very much aware of trying to have an incline, a gradual improvement in bowls, bowl access, making the championship game a better game, continuing to grow our postseason tournament.

I've always been pleased to see the level of commitment our schools have to [gender] equity. At one time we were 71 percent male, and today we're near 50-50. And also the exposure. For many decades, we were considered the big two and the little eight. Now with bowl opportunities and television opportunities and the resources that we have, there's just a lot more parity. We've had seven different teams go to the Final Four in the last 15 or 20 years. We've had eight or nine different teams win or share Big Ten [football] championships. So the notion of having great traditional programs, whether it's Michigan or Ohio State or whoever, but also having the ability of everybody to have a chance and keep hope in the programs, that's what makes it special.

The Big Ten Network was obviously a major project. What's the next big thing on your schedule?

JD: I don't consider the Big Ten Network to be completed until we have full distribution. Until we've got distribution in Iowa and Wisconsin and Ohio, to the same level we have in the other five states, it's a work in progress. We didn't expect it to be easy. Obviously, you're judged on the progress you make. We've made some, but obviously you're not all the way there. Once you get there with distribution, the pictures were great, the HD pictures were great and the games were good, the talent was good.

Then you start really trying to build the brand of the schools, the brand of the teams and the brand of the conference by working on programming that supports the schools and the teams and the athletes. One of the things we were surprised by is we had so much promotional time because it wasn't fully distributed. As a result, we didn't have all the advertisers. So we had a lot of time to promote, to blow our own horn, but we didn't really have the inventory and the creative behind it. So we're much better positioned going into Year 2 to do that. In Year 3, we'll be in an even better position.

In terms of the negotiations with Mediacom and other companies, where are those right now? What's holding it up?

JD: They're just discussions. I'm not at the table. I'm going to let them play out. I think we have to be patient, to some extent. At the same time, we've got to be able to communicate with fans and right now, everybody's just working hard to see whether or not there's a resolution. 

So for the Iowa fans who want to see that Iowa State game [Sept. 13], is it still up in the air?

JD: Yeah, there's not much I can say to them other than we're in discussions and I'm not at the table. There's not much to add to that.

I asked you last week about the BCS and the playoff argument. As commissioners, you obviously have to do your jobs but also pay attention to what the fans want. You mentioned they're voting by going to the games. 

JD: What I meant by that was not that they're voting for the BCS with their feet. They're voting for the meaningfulness of the games that are occurring during the regular season, which, in my view, is related to the power and the contribution of the BCS and the system. You could agree or disagree about the BCS, but anybody who says the regular season isn't more alive in its Technicolors, 3-D, compared to what it was a decade ago -- and I attribute a lot of that to the BCS. I don't mean they're voting for the BCS. I mean they're voting for a healthy regular season. 

If the movement for a playoff increases, will we see a playoff in the next 10, 15 years?

JD: When I was 30, I saw the next 10 years pretty clearly, and at 60, I don't see the next five years as clearly. Maybe that's why there's a visionary out there who can tell you what's going to be there in 15 years. Fundamentally, college football is different than a lot of other sports. It's been a one-semester sport. The regular season [games are] not a commodity, there aren't 30 of them, there are 12 or 13 of them. We've done a pretty good job historically, because the Auburn-Alabama game has meaning and the Army-Navy game, UCLA-USC, all those games, through television, have become national games. At one time, they were regional. And now, as a result of the BCS and the rivalries, other games that have been sort of lower down the food chain -- important, but not as important -- have got new meaning. I'd even go so far as to say we've created new value at Boise and Hawaii, and it does drive some people crazy when they don't get to go to the BCS, but it also makes their fans even more interested the following y
ear.

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