Big Ten: John Settle

Gary Andersen would be the first to admit that much of his job description at Wisconsin is simply not to screw things up.

Thomas Brown's is similar, albeit on a smaller scale.

Brown, expected to be named Wisconsin's new running backs coach, steps into one of the more prestigious position coaching posts in the Big Ten. When you think of Wisconsin football, you think of exceptional running backs. While the men carrying the ball -- and the bigger men paving the way -- have a lot to do with the tradition, the coaches guiding the running backs play a big role, too.

The past two Wisconsin running backs coaches, Thomas Hammock and John Settle, both left for NFL jobs after having success in Madison. Brown, a 27-year-old former Georgia running back who has only one year as an FBS position coach, steps into some very big shoes.

Wisconsin has yet to announce Brown's hiring, but Brown has been responding to congratulatory messages on his Twitter page, which lists him as the Badgers' running backs coach.

Andersen brings in a young assistant with ties to the fertile Southeast as Brown hails from Tucker, Ga. Brown spent last season as Marshall's running backs coach after working previously at FCS Chattanooga. His recruiting success plays a significant role in the hiring, especially since he replaces an exceptional recruiter in Hammock. As Tom Mulhern notes, Marshall signed eight players from Georgia in its most recent recruiting class. Wisconsin clearly wants to have a bigger presence in Georgia after doing well in Florida during the Bret Bielema era.

Like his predecessors, Brown inherits a talented group of backs led by All-Big Ten selection Melvin Gordon, who rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns as a sophomore and led the nation in rushing for a stretch early in the season. Corey Clement, who gained 547 rush yards on only 67 carries as a true freshman, also returns.

Wisconsin has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past nine seasons and in 19 of the past 21.

Despite Brown's inexperience as a coach, I like the hire. His task is simple: keep Wisconsin's running back tradition going. Or, more bluntly, don't screw things up.
Bret Bielema made a rapid rise up the college coaching ladder.

Big Ten position coach at 26 ... Big 12 co-defensive coordinator at 32 ... Big Ten defensive coordinator at 34 ... Big Ten head coach at 36.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireWisconsin coach Bret Bielema says he isn't upset after losing 11 assistants in the past three seasons.
Bielema's ambition helped put him on the fast track. And when he's hiring assistant coaches at Wisconsin, he wants to see the same qualities.

"When you talk to a coach, if he doesn’t want to advance in this profession, we probably won’t talk very long," Bielema told ESPN.com on Thursday. "I want guys that want to be coordinators, or guys that are coordinators who want to be head coaches. If they don't want to sit at the front of the room, we're probably dealing with the wrong type of coach. I want guys who want to advance."

Bielema has had plenty of assistants advance in recent years.

He lost two after the 2009 season, one of whom, Randall McCray, went from position coach to coordinator. He lost three after the 2010 season: defensive coordinator Dave Doeren became head coach at Northern Illinois, while running backs coach John Settle and nickel backs coach Greg Jackson both departed for posts in the NFL.

Wisconsin has lost six assistants in recent weeks, a number that has raised eyebrows in college football circles. The team is coming off of back-to-back Big Ten titles and back-to-back Rose Bowl appearances. Bielema's job is very secure. While one assistant (Paul Chryst) left for a head-coaching job and two others (Bob Bostad, Dave Huxtable) went from position coaches to coordinators, the exodus has left some wondering whether there's something wrong at Wisconsin.

Bielema views things differently.

"It's really not that unusual," he said. "It's unusual at a program that has as much success as we've had, where we're able to keep that continuity of winning in place. I take it as a compliment to what we've been able to do. All those coaches are moving on. Two of them didn't get coordinator jobs, but everybody else got coordinator jobs or titles that made it significantly better for them where they were going.

"To me, it's a tremendous challenge that I love, I embrace and I have a lot of fun with it."

Bielema has filled two vacancies with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni. After an extensive interview process for the coordinator job, Bielema went with Canada, in large part because Canada has called plays in different systems (spread, pro style) and can adapt.

"I interviewed a lot of coaches of different levels: NFL, college, big college, small college," he said. "I'm not a résumé guy. I want a football coach. And as this thing gets moving forward, I kept coming back to him. I just think he’s going to be a great fit for what we're going to blend together at Wisconsin. I'm going to hire four new offensive coaches that are going to come from different areas of the country and come together and play the style of football we like at Wisconsin."

Wisconsin's staff will be two-thirds new in 2012, but Bielema won't be surprised if he's doing more hiring a year from now.

"I have every year," he said. "Usually the NFL takes two, took two from me last year. It’s just one of those things, the beauty of the beast here at Wisconsin."

Big Ten mailblog

July, 19, 2011
7/19/11
6:00
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Mail time.

No mailblog Friday as I'll be off, but get those emails in for next week as we approach Big Ten media days.

Keygan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Hey Adam. I feel like the only one who thinks this whole "pay-for-play" idea is utterly ridiculous, so it'd be nice to hear your thoughts on it. I'm a music education major AND in the marching band at Nebraska. I support the school. I spend roughly 15 hours a week in rehearsal for the upcoming games. I only get 1 credit hour. I'm just as much a student as the athletes so why shouldn't I be entitled to a stipend if they are? I understand why it's being discussed and I LOVE sports as much as the next guy, but come on, let's not cut the rest of us students short.

Adam Rittenberg: Keygan, while I respect what you do and know Huskers fans appreciate your work with the band, you don't bring in the same kind of money as football players do. Not even close. No students do. Does that entitle football players to more resources? A full-blown pay-for-play system for athletes seems very tough to regulate, but going to a cost of attendance model for scholarships makes sense. It would apply to all athletes on full scholarships. While not every FBS program could afford this, the division between the haves and the have-nots is already there in areas like facilities. I don't think certain schools going to a cost-of-attendance model changes things too much. If Big Ten schools can improve the lives of their student-athletes, especially those from low-income backgrounds, I'm for it.

What I'd ultimately like to see is more flexibility for student-athletes to get jobs and paid internships. I filled my three college summers with two paid internships -- one at ESPN.com, which helped me land my current gig -- and a job back home. I also was able to earn money during the school year. I wish student-athletes had more time to get this type of work and didn't have to be so tethered to the athletic building year-round. These types of jobs and internship opportunities also prepare student-athletes for life after sports.


Eric from Waco, Texas, writes: Adam, in your post "Recapping Big Ten position rankings" you Nebraska and Penn State both got the same average score yet Nebraska is "in that top mix" while Penn State was grouped with the wild cards. Penn State also had one more player in your "Top10/Top5" list totals. I'll always be a die hard Penn State fan but I'm not going to forecast a national championship this season. I find it interesting to see that Penn State's "numbers" match up to may analysts preseason favorite, Nebraska, yet they're not getting as much hype. If the numbers are the same, what factors in your opinion would put Nebraska over a Penn State, Ohio State, or Wisconsin?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the note, Eric. You bring up a point I wanted to make about the position rankings. It's a little dangerous to look at the averages and say these two teams are definitely equal, or Team X is definitely superior or inferior to Team Y. When it comes to Nebraska and Penn State, the rankings suggest Nebraska's defense will be better than Penn State's offense or defense. Nebraska's defense very well could be the best single unit in the Big Ten this year. The Blackshirts are the biggest reason why Nebraska is considered a potential Big Ten favorite. Penn State, meanwhile, has no truly bad units, but questionable areas on both sides of the ball. I'm talking mainly about the lines. If Penn State's D-line addresses some questions, the overall defense could be very, very good. Same goes with the offensive line and the offense as a whole. But there are fewer certainties with PSU. When you put these teams next to one another entering the season, I'd give an edge to the squad (Nebraska) with a truly complete unit (the defense).


Sam from Jump Town, Wis., writes: Adam, I've noticed that many of the preseason watch lists have included james white instead of montee ball. I feel like the general consensus around campus is that Montee Ball is the man for the starting job this fall. Ball fits the Wisconsin mold moreso than White and will arguably get the majority of the touchdowns as he is going to be the goal-line back. Is there a reason White is getting more love than Ball other than the fact that he was such a freshman phenom?

Adam Rittenberg: Sam, this is a really interesting question. Montee Ball honestly looked more like Wisconsin's featured back down the stretch of the 2010 than James White did. White, meanwhile, is getting more hype because he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year and played more meaningful snaps than Ball. I agree that Ball fits the Wisconsin mold as a bigger back, and he really came on strong down the stretch as injuries cropped up for John Clay. Still, I wouldn't dismiss White as a potential featured back. Sure, he doesn't fit the traditional Wisconsin mold, but that's not a bad thing. Former running backs coach John Settle told me several times how White provides a new element to the Badgers' rushing attack. The interesting thing is both backs worked on their bodies during the offseason, as Ball slimmed down and White strengthened his lower body. They both want to be complete backs and Wisconsin should benefit from having both in the fold.


Tyler from Fort Dodge, Iowa, writes: First off love the blog. This is the only place that suffices during the off season. I have the utmost faith in James Vandenberg and believe he will have 2 great years wearing a Hawkeye uniform. But with Jack Rudock on his way to town is there any way he will compete for the starting job in 2012? Could the whole Christensen/Stanzi scenerio come into play if Vandenberg isn't up to snuff?

Adam Rittenberg: Tyler, it would take a pretty disappointing performance from Vandenberg and a lack of development from John Wienke and A.J. Derby for Jake Rudock to be in the mix for a starting job in 2012. Iowa coaches and players are extremely confident in Vandenberg, who showed a lot in 2009 after being placed in an extremely difficult situation. Their assessment would have to be pretty far off for a Stanzi/Christensen redux to occur. That said, Rudock very well could be Iowa's quarterback of the future. And by future, I'm thinking 2013 and beyond.


Mike C. from St. Paul, Minn., writes: Love the blog, BUT someone has to go to bat for the gophers. As a self-loathing gopher fan with an eternal inferiority complex... I sat by as the gopher position rankings revealed themselves. I can sit idle no more! A collective 10.3?! Lower than Indiana?! (No offense Indiana). This ranking is less logical than Ben Bernanke Congressional testimony. This atrocity is highlighted by an 11th place WR/TE finish. You would think that Biletnikoff and Mackey award candidates (Mcknight, Lair) would allow us lowly gophers to crack the top 10! I would go into detailed arguments on how fallacious some of your other position rankings, but the truth is, there is a line of reasoning used in calculating these rankings that I, and all us gopher (and hoosier) fans must swallow: you tailor you ratings to where you think the teams will finish and NOT the other way around. An honest assessment of talent, and removing the circular reasoning (assuming what you're proving to be true) that comes with best teams (not that they don't deserve it) would leave the position rankings little different. Now, that does not mean I disagree with your team rankings, but come on Adam, a few good position rankings are all we gopher fans have these days. Are you going to take that from us?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, love your passion, your humor and some of your points. But here's what concerns me about fans' assessments of our position rankings. Everyone thinks their team should be higher, which is fine. But very few folks look at the whole picture and explain to me why other teams should be below their team. Yes, some position rankings are based on track record, but I really try to look at all the personnel groupings from every team and evaluate them independently.

OK, let's look at receivers/tight ends. This is an unusual year where the Big Ten boasts terrific depth at these positions. Normally, a Minnesota crew boasting Da'Jon McKnight and Eric Lair would rank higher. But there's very little depth other than those two, and while in hindsight I should have ranked Lair higher individually, I see quite a few teams with more proven options than the Gophers, Indiana being one of them.

From a defensive standpoint, Minnesota has a ton of question marks. Most Gophers fans would admit this. The D-line was terrible in 2010. Could it be better this season? Sure, but we've got to see it on the field. Other than Troy Stoudermire and Kim Royston, who comes off a very serious injury, the secondary is a big mystery. The linebackers, meanwhile, could be very good. It wouldn't surprise me if they rise up the rankings.

Again, my point isn't to rip on Minnesota or its players, several of whom I really like. But tell me why other teams should be below your team, not always why your team should be higher.


(Read full post)

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin loves to describe its program as "not sexy," but the label is becoming less and less accurate.

After the Badgers made their first Rose Bowl appearance in 11 seasons, nine members of coach Bret Bielema's staff received inquiries from other teams. Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren landed the head-coaching job at Northern Illinois. Two assistants, John Settle and Greg Jackson, left for posts in the NFL. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst turned down a lucrative coordinator offer from Texas to remain with his alma mater.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCoach Bret Bielema leads a Wisconsin program that has churned out a lot of elite players in recent seasons.
The inquiries also are coming Wisconsin's way, as decorated recruits from "coast to coast" -- particularly running backs and offensive linemen, two position groups where the Badgers have flourished -- express interest in the program.

"They're getting recruited by heavy, heavy people in their area," Bielema said. "We haven't had that number of people respond from outside our area."

Wisconsin is pushing for a $76.8 million athletic performance center that would include new locker rooms and training facilities and an upgrade for the McClain Center, the team's indoor practice facility. Although Wisconsin has remained in the top half of the Big Ten on the field, it needs a boost with its facilities.

So, is Wisconsin bringing sexy back? Perhaps on the surface, but the program hasn't changed at its core.

"The only reason we're at the level we're at is because we maximize what we are," Bielema said. "Our staff, our players and our administration recognizes why we've had this success and not to deviate from that plan just because there might be better things out there.

"We're going to build this new facility, but bigger isn't always better. It's about the components and how functional it is and what it stands for."

The Wisconsin Way will be put to the test in 2011 as the Badgers lose more standout components than any other Big Ten squad. Gone are four All-Americans -- defensive end J.J. Watt, tight end Lance Kendricks and offensive linemen Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt -- the 2010 Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award winner in quarterback Scott Tolzien, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in running back John Clay, and other key contributors.

Other than Ohio State, every Big Ten team has struggled to reload in recent years. Can the Badgers buck the trend in 2011?

"Here, we really have to develop our players where they're really good their last 2-3 years," co-defensive coordinator/defensive line coach Charlie Partridge said. "We feel like this is a developmental program, and we're proud of that."

No position group better demonstrates the philosophy than the defensive ends Partridge coaches.

In 2009, O'Brien Schofield went from anonymous to first-team All-Big Ten, finishing second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) and tied for sixth in sacks. Watt began his career as a tight end at Central Michigan and finished it as one of the nation's best defenders. He's projected as a first-round pick in this week's NFL draft and could be the first Big Ten player selected.

There are other examples of Badger reloading. Wisconsin has produced at least one 1,000-yard rusher in each of the past six seasons. Carimi and his predecessor at left tackle, Joe Thomas, both won the Outland Trophy as seniors.

"People from the outside looking in, they've never heard of these names so they assume they're not any good," Bielema said. "We try to have people waiting in the wings. I remember when no one knew who Lance Kendricks was, or Gabe Carimi, or John Moffitt or Scott Tolzien or J.J. Watt. We were able to develop those guys, bring them through and the results were what you saw last year.

"It's our desire to have a championship every season, but sometimes you're not going to have the personnel to accomplish that. What you want to do is remain competitive, stay in the top level of our conference."

Bielema thinks Wisconsin has a chance to be just as good on defense.

Although Watt leaves a major void, the Badgers boast unprecedented depth at defensive tackle and more overall depth along the line. The secondary returns All-Big Ten cornerback Antonio Fenelus, playmaking safety Aaron Henry and others with experience. If linebacker Chris Borland stays healthy after missing most of 2010 with shoulder injuries, the midsection will be solid.

Leadership shouldn't be an issue as both Henry and defensive tackle Patrick Butrym are stepping forward.

"I'm sure a lot of people out there are counting us out," Henry said. "I could care less about flying under the radar. I just want guys to go out there every week and leave a statement, that we are Wisconsin football, we do play hard-nosed football and we're going to play every snap like its our last."

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRunning back Montee Ball, 28, returns to a talented Wisconsin backfield along with speedy James White.
The bigger questions come on offense, starting with the most important position on the field. Jon Budmayr understudied for Tolzien in 2010 and, barring a major surprise, will move into the starting role. Budmayr, who had his ups and downs this spring, must not only display efficiency but remain healthy as there's no proven depth behind him.

Wisconsin once again will lean on a run game expected to be among the nation's best as backs Montee Ball and James White, the 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, both return. Although three starting linemen depart, the coaches are excited about who will fill the gaps.

"There's questions for any team, what they can and cannot do," Ball said. "That's why we keep grinding every day so we can show everybody what we're capable of doing."

At Wisconsin, there's no other way. The Badgers aren't a team that can simply show up and win, a fact reinforced last season.

"The thing we did best was we practiced so well during the week," Butrym said. "The one time we didn't practice well was [before the Michigan State game]. It was a Thursday and it was very sloppy and the end result of that was a loss."

Butrym admits the poor practice made him "a little paranoid" about sniffing out signs of complacency. So far, the attitude is good.

"We definitely have to earn it," Henry said. "Ohio State's still in the conference, we added Nebraska, Iowa's still in the conference. Guys know nothing's going to be handed to us."
After Saturday's scrimmage, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema described Zach Brown as an "angry back."

The comment surprised Brown.

[+] EnlargeZach Brown
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireWisconsin's Zach Brown rushed for for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2007-09.
"That was an interesting quote," Brown told me this week. "I've never been referred to as an angry back. I think he's just saying I came out with high intensity, a high motor and just playing hard every play."

It was easy to forget about Brown in 2010 as Wisconsin's rushing attack surged behind the triumvirate of John Clay, James White and Montee Ball. Brown, who started the final four games of his true freshman season way back in 2007, opted to redshirt last fall so he could focus on his academics and get his knee tendonitis under control.

He's back on the field this spring, and though Wisconsin returns two potential All-Big Ten backs in Ball and White, the fifth-year senior from Royal Palm, Fla., isn't fading into the backdrop. Brown stood out in last week's scrimmage and hopes to take a chunk of the carries this fall.

"Going into the spring knowing you’re going to get time in the fall, you know you’ve got to compete and take these reps seriously," he said. "I'm feeling good. I haven't felt this good in a while."

It was a different story in preseason camp, as Brown got lost in a crowded group of backs.

"I had a real bad case of tendonitis, and I wasn't competing how I wanted to," he recalled. "There were four of us going in and it was high intensity, and I felt like I couldn't reach the [same] intensity as the other backs. It was just hard."

It didn't get much easier for Brown as he watched games from the sideline. He saw Wisconsin surge to the Rose Bowl on the strength of its run game.

But as White showed in August and Ball showed in October and November, Wisconsin's competition at running back never stops. If you elevate your game, you'll get on the field.

Former Badgers running backs coach John Settle preached that approach, and his successor Thomas Hammock hasn't changed it.

"Coach Hammock brought that mentality in, like, 'What have you done for me lately?'" said Brown, who added some mass during the winter and checks in at 219 pounds this spring. "So there's no more thinking about what you did last year."

That's good news for Brown, who had no statistics from 2010 but rushed for 1,152 yards and 11 touchdowns from 2007-09.

"I just want to say when it's all said and done," Brown said, "that my last year, I was the best back I could be."

He's well on his way.
For the second time in a week, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema has raided the staff of another league member for an assistant. And the Big Ten's incredible offseason trend of assistants switching jobs within the conference continues.

Wisconsin has hired Minnesota running backs coach Thomas Hammock for the same position. Hammock replaces John Settle, who recently left to coach running backs for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

Earlier this week, Bielema hired Purdue assistant DeMontie Cross, a move that didn't sit well with Boilers coach Danny Hope.
“Much like the hiring of DeMontie Cross, Thomas is a coach that I have watched grow and am excited to finally have as a part of our staff,” Bielema said in a prepared statement. “I first met Thomas when I was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin eight years ago and I have been impressed with his coaching ability and work ethic ever since. He has worked his way up in the coaching ranks, and is a great addition to our coaching staff. He will help us in all three phases that are important to us, recruiting the right players for Wisconsin, developing players on the field and molding them into successful young men off the field.”

Hammock served as a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 2003-04 before returning to his alma mater, Northern Illinois, to coach running backs. He mentored NIU star Garrett Wolfe before joining Tim Brewster's staff at Minnesota. Hammock was the only assistant coach from Brewster's staff whom Jerry Kill retained when he took the Gophers' top job.

Kill announced Wednesday night that Brian Anderson, a defensive quality control assistant, has been promoted to fill Hammock's role. Anderson served as Kill's tight ends coach at Northern Illinois for the past three seasons.
"This is a situation where the stability in our staff hurt us a bit," Kill said in a prepared statement. "This had nothing to do with money. It had to do with advancement in his career. Thomas felt that the stability of our coordinator situation meant that the opportunity to advance from running backs coach to offensive coordinator would come quicker at Wisconsin than it would here. I appreciate what Thomas has done for us in the transition and I wish him the best."

Some interesting words from Kill on Hammock's career path. Hammock served as Minnesota's co-offensive coordinator in 2010 and took on more play-calling duties after Brewster was fired midseason. Kill brought in his own offensive coordinator, Matt Limegrover, from Northern Illinois.

Perhaps Hammock sees a future coordinator opportunity at Wisconsin, where Paul Chryst is a hot commodity.

Hammock is good position coach who knows the Midwest and should help Wisconsin's regional recruiting efforts. He inherits two excellent running backs in James White and Montee Ball and returns to a program that thrives on producing elite ball-carriers in a power offense.

Anderson has served on Kill's staff for the past 10 seasons.
"He'll step right in and be ready to go," Kill said in a statement. "Brian had every right to be upset with me when I took this job and asked him to take an off-the-field position here. But he swallowed it up for the team. I told him if he came here and something like this happened, then I don't have to worry about the transition. That shows what kind of team player Brian is."

What a wild offseason for Big Ten assistant changes.

Big Ten mailblog

February, 8, 2011
2/08/11
3:00
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You know how to reach me. And if you're not following me on Twitter, you should turn in your Big Ten fan card.

Rolf from Kirkland, Wash., writes: Hello Adam,I have a question about the spring games. How come Ohio State gets practice started so late (March 31st) in the year? Then they have their spring game april 23rd. Does this mean they don't practice as much??? Other teams get started earlier and finish at the same time.

Adam Rittenberg: Rolf, every FBS team gets 15 spring practices, and you better believe they use all of them. Ohio State tends to use more practices in a smaller window because it's on the quarter system and wants to start spring ball after spring break. Spring quarter classes at Ohio State begin March 28 and practice kicks off three days later. Some teams will begin spring practice before spring break, take a chunk of time off and then resume the workouts. Nebraska and Northwestern are both going this route with their spring practice sessions.


Ben from Lincoln, Neb., writes: How well do you think Nebraska will do next year with it being their first year playing against teams that have bigger and stronger players? And who do you think will get the starting QB job at Nebraska? everyone here is hoping on it being Bubba Starling but i dont want another freshman to take the starting job.

Adam Rittenberg: I'm not too concerned about Nebraska's defense adjusting to Big Ten play. Although the Huskers aren't the biggest defense, they make up for it with speed and athleticism. I think there will be some growing pains on offense with most likely a new play-caller. The quarterback situation will be interesting to watch. Taylor Martinez could regain his form when healthy, and Cody Green has some experience. We've got to see what Starling does with his baseball career, but he'll be one to watch if he sticks with football. Jamal Turner also is a heralded prospect, but I see your point about wanting to avoid another freshman quarterback.


David from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., writes: Adam, it is amazing to me how Ohio State seems untouchable as a program despite a myriad of issues ranging from the Jim O'Brien issues to all of the Tyrell Pryor issues, to the players selling their trophies an the like to the now Carter decision. No matter what happpens, it seems like Ohio State skates by and gets at worst a slap on the wrist. Any other program in the Big Ten would be villified and nothing seems to happen to Ohio State. Please explain.

Adam Rittenberg: David, while it's easy to group all of these situations together, I don't think it's the fair approach. Each situation must be examined individually. Some would argue that Ohio State is being hit pretty hard for players selling their memorabilia -- a five-game suspension isn't nothing. And while the rule that allowed the players to participate in the Sugar Bowl is highly questionable, it applies to every school, not just Ohio State. The Chris Carter Jr. decision had to do with the legal system in Cleveland. Ohio State wasn't involved. And while there has been a lot of buzz around Terrelle Pryor, no explicit violations have been brought to light aside from the memorabilia selling.


Matt from Los Angeles writes: Adam, Love reading the blog, keep up the good work.I was wondering what your take is on the Badgers losing Running Backs coach John Settle. He seems to have always gotten the most out of his stable of backs at Wisconsin, and he was also a valuable recruiter. Who do you think steps up to fill the spot, and how big is this loss?

Adam Rittenberg: In my view, Settle is one of the nation's top assistant coaches, and he definitely leaves a void on Bret Bielema's staff. I loved the way he always encouraged competition among his players. No one ever got too comfortable, and all of his backs seemed to improve over time. The good news is Wisconsin will be a very attractive job for top running back coaches. The team boasts an incredible tradition at the running back spot, and the new coach inherits a ton of talent in Madison. I agree with you that Bielema not only has to find a good coach, but someone who can recruit well nationally, especially in the southeast. It'll be interesting to see who gets the job.


Jonathan from Indiana writes: Will Edward Wright-Baker be Indiana's starting quarterback or will there be open competition for guys like Tre Roberson or Dusty Kiel to win the starting job?

Adam Rittenberg: Jonathan, there certainly will be open competition at Indiana, as no one did enough behind Ben Chappell to deserve the job handed to them. Wright-Baker is a gifted athlete who could do well in Kevin Wilson's offense, but Kiel also is right there in the mix. Roberson also brings a lot to the table, and while it'd be a bit surprising if he won the job, no one could see Rob Bolden claiming Penn State's starting quarterback spot as a true freshman. So anything is possible in Bloomington.


Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, what are the odds that Braxton Miller starts the first game for the Buckeyes? I know Bauserman is in the mix, but I'd much rather see Brax play based on what I've seen out of each of them. Do you think Tressel will try to be loyal to his senior? Who else is in the mix?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, I'm sure we'll debate this situation to death from now until September, but it will be very interesting to see what The Vest decides. Tressel typically goes with experience, but I don't think Bauserman has shown enough in games to be the clear choice. When you've been a backup with virtually no chance of starting until now, it can be hard to flip the switch mentally. But Bauserman and Kenny Guiton certainly are in the mix along with Miller. This should be considered an open competition, and Miller will have a chance to prove himself in spring ball, something Terrelle Pryor couldn't do because he didn't arrive until the summer. I wouldn't count out Guiton, either. He showed some promise in the spring game last year and drew praise from QBs coach Nick Siciliano for quickly absorbing the system.

Big Ten assistant coach updates

February, 7, 2011
2/07/11
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Several Big Ten teams are still filling out their staffs for 2011, and we'll hear an official announcement or two later Monday.

Here's a roundup of what's been happening the last few days:

INDIANA

The Hoosiers on Friday announced the hiring of Brandon Shelby as cornerbacks coach. Shelby, who previously held the same position at Louisiana-Monroe, starred as a defensive back at Oklahoma during IU coach Kevin Wilson's time there and also served as a Sooners' defensive assistant in 2006. Shelby replaces Corey Raymond, who left Indiana to take a position at Nebraska. Although Nebraska hasn't made an official announcement about Raymond, he's expected to replace secondary coach Marvin Sanders, who resigned Thursday.

Indiana also last week hired Nebraska defensive assistant Brett Diersen as defensive tackles coach and Air Force running backs coach Jemal Singleton to the same position. Diersen replaces Jerry Montgomery, who Wilson said left for a position at Michigan.

These appointments complete Wilson's staff for 2011.

NEBRASKA

So far, Sanders' resignation is the only official announcement Bo Pelini has made about his staff. But Wilson said Raymond is on his way to Lincoln, and all signs point to offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and receivers coach Ted Gilmore being on their way out. Nebraska's offensive production dipped toward the end of the 2010 season, and the Huskers' receivers had an up-and-down year.

Multiple media reports from Nebraska state that Pelini might be targeting Oregon receivers coach Scott Frost, the former Huskers' star quarterback, and Notre Dame offensive line coach Ed Warinner as replacements. Warinner served as Kansas' offensive coordinator from 2007-09 and spent time in the Big Ten as Illinois' offensive line coach and run game coordinator from 2005-06.

The interesting part of this is Pelini reportedly will hand over play-calling duties to running backs coach Tim Beck. The Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha World-Herald both report that Frost might not leave Oregon unless it's for a job as a play-caller elsewhere.

Pelini seems to be reshaping his staff before Nebraska's jump to the Big Ten. It will be fascinating to see how things play out in Lincoln.

MICHIGAN

Coach Brady Hoke will finalize his staff Monday and announce the defensive assistants to join coordinator Greg Mattison.

Montgomery is on his way to Ann Arbor, and he'll reportedly be joined by Akron defensive coordinator Curt Mallory on the Michigan staff. Expect Mallory to coach the Wolverines' secondary, while Montgomery will work with the defensive line. Mallory played at Michigan and has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest, serving as Illinois' secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator from 2007-09. Montgomery played at Iowa and most recently served as Wyoming's defensive line coach.

MICHIGAN STATE

After promoting Dan Roushar to offensive coordinator last week, Mark Dantonio reportedly has found the final member of his staff.

According to The (Mount Pleasant) Morning Sun, Central Michigan receivers coach Terry Samuel has left to take the same position on Michigan State's staff. Samuel, who played wide receiver at Purdue, worked his way up through the FCS ranks before joining former Dantonio assistant Dan Enos at Central Michigan last year.

He'll coach the position group that previous Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell oversaw. Samuel inherits a deep and talented receiving corps led by B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin.

WISCONSIN

The Badgers lost a key assistant over the weekend as running backs coach John Settle departed for the same position with the Carolina Panthers. Settle did an outstanding job with Wisconsin's running backs, helping to mold standout players like P.J. Hill, John Clay, James White and Montee Ball.

Although Wisconsin always recruits talented backs, Settle leaves some big shoes to fill. It will be interesting to see who coach Bret Bielema hires as his replacement.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 18, 2011
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You know how to reach me.

Let's get started.

Drew from D.C. writes: Hey Adam,I think teams that have both a featured speed back as well as a power back (Stanford, Wisconsin) have done very well. In my opinion, defenses can't shut down someone like John Clay on a 4th and 1. Do you think more teams should start recruiting larger backs like Clay in the future to go along with their speed backs?

Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree, Drew. Everyone talks about speed these days, but I believe the ability to change speeds sets a team apart. It's like a pitcher who only throws a fastball. Eventually, he'll be hit hard. But a guy who has two or three great pitches can win a bunch of games. Wisconsin RBs coach John Settle said having James White in the mix as a speed back took the Badgers' rushing attack to another level this fall. That's true, but you also needed the foundation of power supplied by Clay. I think teams always want a guy with size to run the ball, but there seem to be more smaller backs available.


Mike from Denver writes: Adam--In response to your comment in last week's chat regarding location and the population shift affecting PSU recruiting, I completely disagree. If PSU consistently hauled in the best high school talent from PA, NJ, NY, and MD, they would have a top 5 class every year. Again, I think joining the Big Ten hurt PSU in this respect, because as an independent PSU used to beat up on Syracuse, Rutgers, and Maryland, and beat Pitt 2/3 of the time, helping with recruiting these regions. I realize we can't turn back time, but I wish PSU had more exposure in the Northeast. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: More exposure? Really? Penn State has its share of issues, but exposure doesn't appear to be one of them. Big Ten teams get far more exposure nationally than teams in, say, the Big East. I know a lot of folks living in the Northeast who have little trouble catching Big Ten games on TV. Penn State never had an exposure problem as an independent, and I don't think things have changed since it joined the Big Ten. I also don't know if beating out so-so teams from the Big East and the ACC on the recruiting trail is the key to boosting your overall recruiting. Penn State can sustain itself with recruits from places like Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, but it wouldn't hurt to dip into the Sun Belt region a little more.


Greg from Clyde, Ohio, writes: How would a season have to transpire for Jim Tressel to win Big Ten Coach of the Year? When I looks at individual seasons, I can sort of see why somebody else won it. Nevertheless, in a decade at Ohio State Tressel has seven conference titles and five BCS wins, more than any other 3 Big Ten coaches put together!

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, although Tressel undoubtedly wishes the circumstances were different, the 2011 season sets up perfectly for him to finally win Big Ten Coach of the Year. The reason: the five-game suspensions for Terrelle Pryor and four others to begin the season. Tressel already has won points by getting the players to pass up the draft and return to serve their punishments at Ohio State. If the Buckeyes can survive their absence for the first half of the season -- not to mention the loss of a sizable and decorated senior class -- and go on to win the Big Ten for the seventh consecutive season, Tressel would have to be the pick for Coach of the Year.


Ryan from Oskaloosa, Iowa, writes: In response to "I just wish we could move on to more relevant things like who is in the divisions." And that's the thing with the division names, I can name the teams in each of the divisions but I still can't remember which group is the "Legends" and which is the "Leaders". Both names project a strong image but together they are like oil and water--they just don't mix, or aren't complimentary to each other. While those of us who follow the Big Ten and are fans of one team in particular we might come to remember that our team is in the Legends/Leaders division and get it correct. But what about the rest of the country, more importantly the media outlets who are going to give the 30 second highlight and in all probability reverse the division names, not care that they screwed up and the rest of the country won't notice either. It doesn't seem to me that is a good way to brand your image.

Adam Rittenberg: Great points here, Ryan. It won't be easy for a lot of folks to keep the names straight with Legends and Leaders. I know the Big Ten wanted to avoid geography when naming the divisions because of the way it assigned the teams, but would East/West have been so bad? The league already has been dealing with creative math (11 teams, now 12) for years. Although Wisconsin clearly isn't in the eastern half of the league, an East/West designation likely would help casual observers understand who goes where. These are just division names, after all, and their primary function should be providing clarity. The Big Ten instead used them to broadcast its message as a conference and did so on a huge platform, which was clearly the wrong move.


Evan from Tuscaloosa, Ala., writes: Adam, love the blog. I read it on a daily basis. Have you heard any new on Keith Smith? I saw that Case Keenum was granted a 6th year of eligibility and he played 4 games this year. Would this signal that Smith should get his 6th year of eligibility?

Adam Rittenberg: Evan, we should hear something soon on Keith Smith, by the end of February at the latest. I'd be stunned if he doesn't receive a sixth year of eligibility. The Keenum case is a good one, and there's precedent at Purdue the last two seasons with linebacker Jason Werner and safety Torri Williams, both of whom received sixth years in February. Smith deserves a sixth year, and he should get one soon.


Hunter from Saint Johns, Mich., writes: Dear Adam, I was wondering if you have any word on who is or could be considered for the offensive coordinator position for Michigan State? I have yet to hear anything about that from any your blogs or in the local newspapers for Lansing, MI.

Adam Rittenberg: Hunter, I've heard very little about the vacancy at Michigan State and have seen next to nothing in the media about it. Mark Dantonio could promote from within his staff. Dave Warner coaches quarterbacks, a position often held by an offensive coordinator, while Dan Roushar (line), Mark Staten (tight ends) and Brad Salem (running backs) all boast a lot of experience. Whether he looks within or to the outside, I'd expect Dantonio to stick with a coordinator who runs a pro-style offense, which has produced good success in East Lansing. I'll see what I can find out.
LOS ANGELES -- Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle has a theory on what happens to a running back who gets too comfortable in his role.

"He starts to lack details and ultimately, he can cost a team," Settle said. "He really never gives himself a chance individually to reach his full potential. That’s something we always talk about. Every time we take the field, we want to be the best group on the field, the best prepared."

By most measures, Wisconsin boasts the best group of running backs in the country. Settle makes sure he has the best-prepared group by never letting the players get too comfortable.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay and James White
Robin Alam/Icon SMIJohn Clay (left) and James White are two parts of Wisconsin's three-pronged rushing game.
The Badgers' three-headed monster goes up against the nation's top-ranked defense in TCU on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Wisconsin is the nation's only team that boasts three backs with at least 800 rushing yards: true freshman James White (1,029), junior John Clay (936) and sophomore Montee Ball (864). They have combined for 44 rushing touchdowns, 510 total touches and, perhaps most impressive, only one fumble.

If Ball has a big performance and Clay a typical one in the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin will become the first team in FBS history to boast three 1,000-yard running backs in a season.

"We all want each other to get 1,000 yards," Clay said. "James got his, I’m close to mine and Montee is close. It would be great for us."

Backfield production like Wisconsin's this fall doesn't just happen.

There are some circumstantial factors, including a knee injury to Clay opening the door for Ball to emerge down the stretch in Big Ten play.

But all three backs agree that their success is rooted in competition. From spring practice through training camp through the grind of the season, no Badgers' back has his role set in stone. The depth chart is always changing.

"We’ve got to make sure we do the right things with the reps we get, just being accountable with everything we do," Clay said.

As Settle explains, "As much as I love all of them, my loyalty is to the university, to make sure that we're doing everything we can to win a ballgame."

Ball is the best example of how the Badgers' constant competition can benefit the team. After backing up Clay in 2009, he lost his job to White early this fall. Rather than pout or tune out, Ball recognized he needed to make a greater commitment in film study and other areas and rededicated himself.

When both Clay and White went down with injuries Oct. 23 at Iowa, Ball stepped in and stepped up with several big plays as Wisconsin rallied for a 31-30 win. Ball then surged down the stretch, racking up 645 rush yards and 13 touchdowns in the final four games.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball stepped up when Clay and White were injured and finished the regular season with 864 rushing yards.
"It keeps you going, it keeps you pushing," Ball said of the competition. "If a coach just tells you you're the starter from here on out, then you wouldn't work as hard. That's why I love it when they tell you, 'We can take it away just as fast.' It keeps me studying more, watching film more and doing a lot more overtime."

Wisconsin's entitlement-free environment also allowed for a player like White to emerge.

When White arrived on campus this summer, he was looking up at the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year (Clay) and a player with nearly 100 carries the previous season (Ball).

"I didn't know if I was going to be redshirted or play," White said.

He played plenty, leading the team in rushing en route to Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.

The 5-10, 198-pound White added a new layer to the Badgers' rushing attack. At 6-1 and 248 pounds, Clay is the classic Wisconsin power back, and Ball (5-11, 236) also fits the traditional mold.

But Wisconsin lacked a back with home run ability, and White is a heavy hitter. He has Wisconsin's three longest runs of the season (66 yards, 61 yards, 44 yards).

"The thing with him is you do not have to block every guy on defense," Settle said. "He's going to win a one-on-one, and sometimes he can make two people miss. He’s that added dimension that we needed."

The backs' stylistic differences are obvious, and they force opposing defenses to play at different speeds. They also test an opponent's physical and mental endurance. Tackling the bruising Clay takes a toll on any defender, and chasing White and Ball in the open field isn't much fun, either.

"It really messes them up throughout the game," White said. "They don't know what to prepare for."

TCU has the daunting task of preparing for the Badgers' triple threat. The Horned Frogs rank second nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 89.2 yards per game. But no team has held Wisconsin to fewer than 142 rush yards this season, and the Badgers have eclipsed 200 rush yards in seven games and 300 rush yards in four games, including each of their final three.

Sometime after the Rose Bowl, Clay will decide whether to enter the NFL draft or finish his final season at Wisconsin.

If he returns, White and Ball will welcome him. And then they'll make him work to keep his starting job.

"We all love to get pushed and have the pressure on our shoulders like that," Ball said. "If not, then why are you here playing football? That’s what Wisconsin football's all about."

LOS ANGELES -- When Barry Alvarez became Wisconsin's coach in 1990, he quickly grew tired of hearing about the school's 1962 Rose Bowl team.

So he decided to do something about it.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
David Purdy/Getty ImagesCoach Bret Bielema's Wisconsin Badgers lead the nation in fewest penalties at 2.9 per game and are tied for the national lead in fewest turnovers with nine.
Alvarez guided the Badgers to three Rose Bowl appearances between 1993-99. Suddenly, no one talked about the '62 squad any more.

The cycle continued for Alvarez's hand-picked successor, Bret Bielema.

"I'm sure he got tired of hearing about my three Rose Bowls," Alvarez said. "I'm glad he’s going to the Rose Bowl so he won't have to keep hearing about them."

Bielema has guided Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO, where it will face TCU on Jan. 1. The Badgers ended an 11-year drought between Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, and while Bielema is in just his fifth year as coach, Pasadena marks a major milestone for the 40-year-old.

Despite four winning seasons, four bowl appearances and a 38-14 record entering this fall, Bielema faced legitimate questions about whether he could take the program to the next level. He went 3-7 against Top 25 teams from 2007-09 and lacked a signature road win. Many hitched Bielema's success to the foundation Alvarez had created and wondered whether the protégé would ever build his own legacy.

It didn't help that the master can be seen everywhere in Madison.

A statue of Alvarez greets visitors at the south end of Camp Randall Stadium. The real thing casts a large shadow from the athletic director's box high above the playing field.

Alvarez does his best to stay out of the way, but it isn't easy.

"If I have to do something during a game, whether it’s a ball presentation or something like that, I normally tape it a half an hour before so they can run it on the scoreboard," Alvarez said. "I don't want to be down on the sidelines. I don't want to steal any of their thunder.

"I want the people to focus on Bret and this staff and this team."

Ultimately, Bielema had to earn the attention and the respect of Wisconsin fans on his own merits. He won them over this season with a team that reflected the program's core values but also had his fingerprints all over it.

Wisconsin won games in the Wisconsin way.

The Badgers steamrolled teams with their power run game, boasting three 800-yard backs and a cohesive offensive line led by All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt. Wisconsin’s high point totals garnered national attention and criticism, but no team in America played with greater discipline. Wisconsin leads the nation in fewest penalties (2.9 per game) and is tied for the national lead in fewest turnovers (9).

And much like Alvarez’s teams, Wisconsin turned to players overlooked in the recruiting process -- like quarterback Scott Tolzien and defensive end J.J. Watt -- to lead the way.

Although the Badgers closely resembled other great Wisconsin squads, the 2010 version undoubtedly belonged to Bielema.

"That’s something else you won’t have to hear, 'Well, he did it with Barry's kids,'" Alvarez said. "These are all his guys. He recruited every guy on this team. This is his group. He’s put his stamp on it and I'm really happy for that."

Bielema's ownership of the squad was obvious after signature performances like an Oct. 16 victory against Ohio State, Wisconsin's first win against a No. 1-ranked team since 1981.

"It's justification for me that we are doing the right thing,” Bielema said after the Ohio State triumph. "As we build our program with recruiting and the constant belief about what we're all about, it solidifies it that much more."

Bielema’s faith in the plan strengthened after reaching his low point as a head coach in 2008. Wisconsin tumbled from the top 10 to barely making a bowl game. The team suffered from a lack of leadership, and the blame started at the top.

Alvarez noticed a shift in Bielema after the 2008 debacle. He became more comfortable in his role, and he spent more time looking ahead rather than reacting.

"I use the term, ‘Think like a shortstop,'" Alvarez said. "You’re not thinking about making a call after the play. You’re anticipating. I can remember him calling me after being on the job for a while saying, 'Hey, you never prepared me for all this stuff.'

"But after a while, nothing surprises you."

Bielema learned to focus on the right things rather than everything. He became better at delegating responsibility to his assistants.

"When you get that first job, you tend to micromanage everything," running backs coach John Settle said. "You want to know what everybody’s doing every second of the day. He probably wore himself out trying to be everywhere at once.

"The last couple years, he’s mellowed in his thinking, matured in his thinking."

[+] EnlargeBarry Alvarez
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin AD Barry Alvarez led the Badgers to three Rose Bowls as the team's head coach.
Bielema couldn’t have asked for a better situation when he took over for Alvarez in 2006. He guided a talent-stocked team to a 12-1 mark and a Capital One Bowl championship.

He made it look easy. A little too easy.

"You don’t stay at 12-1," Alvarez said. "Sometimes you can be misled by that. Anybody can coach when things are going smoothly. It’s how you react to adversity, it’s how you react when things have gone tough or you have to make tough decisions."

Adversity arrived this season in the form of injuries.

Wisconsin lost star linebacker Chris Borland to shoulder problems before Big Ten play began. The Badgers played for stretches without their No. 1 running back (John Clay), No. 1 receiver (Nick Toon) and No. 1 tight end (Lance Kendricks).

They rallied to beat Iowa on the road Oct. 23 without the services of several key contributors, including Clay and running back James White, the 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

“My Rose Bowl teams, we never had the injury problems [Bielema] had this year,” Alvarez said. “We’ve had a ton of injuries on this team and have been able to overcome it. No one panics, and that all starts with the head coach managing it and keeping a positive attitude and sending a message across that, 'We’re here to win. You have to step up and perform.'"

Bielema stepped up this season, and, in the process, moved out of Alvarez’s shadow.

"He still has weekly talks with Coach Alvarez, that’s very important to him," Settle said. "But he's definitely beginning to separate himself and carve his own niche in the coaching profession."

Big Ten aides not among highest paid

December, 22, 2010
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USA Today continued its comprehensive look at coaches' salaries with a look at how the assistants are faring (not too bad, despite a down economy).

The number of assistant coaches earning $250,000 or more is on the rise, particularly in the SEC, but what strikes me is the Big Ten's absence among the very top earners. No Big Ten assistant ranks among the top 10 nationally in salary and only Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino ($475,250) ranks in the top 30 in earnings. The SEC, meanwhile, has 14 assistants among the top 30.

[+] EnlargeDon Treadwell
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDon Treadwell was one of the Big Ten's best bargains last season at $235,250.
Are Big Ten assistants getting short-changed? Are Big Ten assistants inferior to those in the SEC? Why such a discrepancy?

I think the quality of coaching remains very high in the Big Ten and several assistants might want to get new agents. I also think that wild spending on assistant coaches is less a part of the culture in the Big Ten than it is in the SEC, Big 12 or even ACC. Will we ever see a Big Ten coordinator make more than $900,000, like Will Muschamp did at Texas, or more than $500,000? Perhaps we will, but I think it's doubtful.

There are also quite a few top assistants at big-time programs in the Big Ten who don't seem likely to make the jump to head-coaching positions elsewhere. While we've seen Big Ten assistants like Wisconsin's Dave Doeren and Ohio State's Darrell Hazell land top jobs this month, there aren't a ton of red-hot coaching prospects in the Big Ten.

It's interesting to see the discrepancy.

Who are the Big Ten's highest-paid assistants? Check 'em out:

(Note: As a private institution, Northwestern doesn't have to reveal coaches' salaries; Penn State declined to provide coaches' salary information.)

1. Illinois offensive coordinator Paul Petrino (total compensation: $475,250, maximum bonus: $39,000)

2. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (total compensation: $361,094, maximum bonus: $122,500)

3. Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning (total compensation: $325,120, maximum bonus: $26,000)

4. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman (total compensation: $311,500, maximum bonus: $50,550)

5. Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock (total compensation: $309,000, maximum bonus: $51,500)

6. Minnesota defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove (total compensation: $305,000, maximum bonus: $0)

7. Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee (total compensation: $282,100, maximum bonus: $0)

8. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Robinson (total compensation: $277,100, maximum bonus: $0)

9. Ohio State assistant head coach/receivers coach Darrell Hazell (total compensation: $264,800, maximum bonus: $48,133)

10. Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe (total compensation: $260,524, maximum bonus: $0)

Nebraska's highest-paid assistants are offensive coordinator Shawn Watson ($380,000 salary, $130,833 maximum bonus) and defensive coordinator Carl Pelini ($375,000 salary, $129,375 maximum bonus).

Illinois' decision to spend big bucks for its new coordinators plays out here. It's interesting that for a defense-oriented league like the Big Ten, three of the four highest-paid assistants are offensive coordinators.

The Big Ten's biggest assistant coach bargain in 2010: Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell ($235,250), who led the team during coach Mark Dantonio's absence. All but one of Ohio State's assistants makes more than Treadwell.

Another major bargain is Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle ($129,792).

Your thoughts on the coaches' salaries?
Montee Ball appreciated the honesty in the summer, and he does so even more these days.

Ball knew when he signed up to play running back at Wisconsin, he would be in a constant competition. Badgers running backs coach John Settle simply doesn't do entitlement.

When Settle called Ball into his office in preseason camp, he told the sophomore what he needed to hear, not what he wanted to hear. Despite being the backup to Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year John Clay in 2009, Ball had been bypassed on the depth chart, by a true freshman (James White), no less.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Michael ConroyMontee Ball's role in Wisconsin's offense is rapidly expanding.
"That's a good thing about here, the coaches are very honest with you," Ball said. "They'll tell you how it is. If you're not producing, they'll let you know, and if you are, they'll most definitely put you pretty high on the depth chart. That lets you know where you're at, and it tells you you're not preparing hard enough.

"That's what I took it as when I was third string; I wasn't preparing hard enough. So I made sure I got on top of it."

Ball never stopped preparing despite the demotion, and his patience has paid off for the Badgers in their last two wins. After coming up big on Wisconsin's game-winning drive at Iowa, recording a fourth-down reception and an 8-yard touchdown run, Ball took on an even larger role last week against Purdue.

The 5-11, 236-pound sophomore relieved the injured Clay and rushed for a career-high 127 yards and two touchdowns as Wisconsin rallied for a win to keep the Rose Bowl in its viewfinder.

"I just kept preparing during practice, kept my head up and just kept fighting," Ball said. "I knew my number was going to be called, and I wanted to be able to produce. I didn't want to let my team down."

Ball remembers the preseason conversation with Settle, who tried to gauge how the news would affect the running back. Ball's response: I’m not going anywhere. I'm here to stay.

He upgraded the way he prepared for games, spending more time in the film room. Ball took things to a new level last week as he knew White wouldn't be able to play because of a sprained knee.

"Like coach [Bret Bielema] always says, when you ask a player what they did this week to play well, the player says they watched more film than they ever have," Ball said. "That’s what I did the week before Purdue. I knew that I was second string going into that game, and I knew for sure I was going to get a lot of carries, so I made sure I prepared.

"Once John got a little nicked up, I knew that the team's going to look at me to carry the load. I wasn't surprised at all because I prepared well that week."

Ball is one of several Wisconsin offensive reserves who has stepped up when needed this season.

Jared Abbrederis filled in for Nick Toon at receiver. Jake Byrne and Jacob Pedersen filled in for Lance Kendricks at tight end. Bill Nagy has filled in along the offensive line, most recently after starting center Peter Konz hurt his ankle at Purdue.

Ball saw how his teammates prepared for bigger roles and did the same.

"He understands that for him to have success, he needs to come to work every day," Bielema said. "Montee knew that James was getting those reps because of the production he was having on the field. ... Now Montee has earned his own and probably is poised to make his first start of the season this week."
Ten items to track as you watch the second Saturday of Big Ten games.

1. Slowing down Shoelace: No one this season has slowed down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who leads the nation in rushing (181 ypg) with 27 runs of 12 yards or more. Michigan State All-American linebacker Greg Jones plans to change things Saturday in Ann Arbor. Jones is by far the best defensive player Robinson has faced this season and was all over the field last week against Wisconsin. Jones vs. Robinson is a fascinating subplot to the most anticipated game in the rivalry in recent memory.

[+] EnlargeJones
AP Photo/Dale G. YoungMichigan State's Greg Jones and the Spartans defense against Denard Robinson and Michigan will be one of the more intriguing matchup of the weekend.
2. Pass the Buck(eyes): Excuse the bad pun, but Indiana brings the Big Ten's top pass offense (348.2 ypg) to Columbus, where it faces an Ohio State Buckeyes team that leads the Big Ten in defending the pass (161.8 ypg allowed). Something's got to give as Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell and his talented wide receivers and tight ends go up against Chimdi Chekwa, Jermale Hines and a speedy Ohio State secondary. Chappell (480 pass yards) and receiver Tandon Doss (15 rec., 221 yards) come off of huge games, while Ohio State plays its first full contest without Tyler Moeller.

3. Gophers gunning for the Axe: If Minnesota plans to turn around its season, there's no better place to start than Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. The Gophers love their trophy games, but their trophy case in Minneapolis has been empty for some time. No trophy and no game means more to Minnesota than the annual clash with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Minnesota seniors like quarterback Adam Weber don't want to go through their entire careers without hoisting the coolest rivalry trophy in college sports. An upset victory would provide a huge boost, while a loss would virtually shut the door on postseason play and possibly Tim Brewster's future as Gophers head coach.

4. Seeing red in Happy Valley: Penn State has failed to reach the end zone twice in five games this season, and the Lions have slipped into a tie for 114th nationally in red-zone efficiency, converting just two-thirds of their opportunities into points. Illinois ranks fourth in the league in red-zone defense (75 percent conversions), but coordinator Vic Koenning tells me that depth problems have prevented him from employing a true goal-line package. Penn State coach Joe Paterno says opening up the playbook in the red zone isn't the answer, but the Lions had better try something against an improved Illini defense.

5. Henry leads banged-up Boilers: No team in America has been hit with more significant injuries than Purdue, which mercifully received a bye last week to regroup a bit. After losing quarterback Robert Marve to a season-ending ACL tear, the Boilers now turn to redshirt freshman Rob Henry to guide their offense. Henry is an exceptional athlete with good potential as a quarterback, and Danny Hope doesn't plan to shrink the playbook Saturday at Northwestern. But Henry will be tested in his first career start -- a Big Ten road game at night, no less.

6. Mark Dantonio returns for rivalry: Mark Dantonio has placed a premium on the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry ever since he became Spartans head coach. It would take more than a blood clot to make him miss Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. Dantonio, released from the hospital Monday, opened his news conference Tuesday by saying, "Can't keep me down Michigan week." The plan calls for him to spend the game in the coaches' booth. Michigan State is 2-0 during Dantonio's recovery from a mild heart attack, but his presence should provide a lift in a hostile environment.

7. Wisconsin's running back rotation: John Clay might be the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, but he's being pushed for carries by dynamic freshman James White. After White had another big day last week at Michigan State, Badgers running backs coach John Settle said, "We're going to put the competition out there and open it up." Clay continues to put up solid numbers, but he hasn't shown home-run ability like White this season. The burly junior has responded well to challenges before and on Saturday faces a vulnerable Minnesota defense that has allowed a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns.

8. Northwestern aims for historic start: There have been some bumps along the way, but the Wildcats sit at 5-0 for the second time in two years. A win Saturday night against Purdue would give Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962, the last time the program was ranked No. 1 nationally. The Wildcats are favored to do so, but they can't expect to keep overcoming penalties and turnovers, especially in Big Ten play. A polished performance against Purdue would put Northwestern in both national polls when No. 17 Michigan State visits on Oct. 23.

9. Sorting out the Buckeyes' backfield: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (strained quad) should be ready for Saturday's game, but he still needs some help from his backfield mates. Ohio State's situation at running back has been the hot-button topic among Buckeye Nation, which wants to see either more production from Dan Herron and Brandon Saine or more opportunities for Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall. If the Buckeyes can't spark their ground game against an Indiana defense ranked 108th nationally against the run (207 ypg allowed), they should start to get worried.

10. Cousins takes aim at shaky Michigan D: As incredible as Denard Robinson has been for Michigan, there's a growing sense that the Wolverines will see their fortunes turn soon if Greg Robinson's defense doesn't show some improvement. Indiana's Chappell had his way with Michigan's secondary last week, and while Michigan State brings a more balanced offense to Ann Arbor, Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing with a lot of confidence. If Michigan can't pressure the pocket, Cousins will pick apart the Wolverines' secondary with his talented receivers and tight ends.
It's not a surprise that Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema fielded several questions about one of his running backs during Tuesday's Big Ten teleconference.

The surprise: the back in question wasn't John Clay.

[+] EnlargeJames White
Icon SMIJames White continues to impress the Wisconsin coaches.
True freshman James White continues to be the talk of Wisconsin's offensive backfield, especially as the Badgers try to bounce back from last week's loss to Michigan State. White earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for the second consecutive week after rushing for 98 yards and two touchdowns on only 10 carries against the Spartans. He had 235 all-purpose yards in the game.

Through five games, White ranks ninth in the Big Ten in rushing (73.4 ypg) with a sparkling 8.3 yards-per-carry average. He ranks fourth in the league in all-purpose yards (141 ypg), also serving as the Badgers' primary kick returner.

"James has continued to impress us really in all situations," Bielema said. "We put him in first down, second down, third down, he's been good for us in the return game as well. He's a kid that's eager to please."

White's surge has generated talk that he should start ahead of Clay, who has been steady (116.2 yards per game) but not as explosive as many had expected.

Always-candid Badgers running backs coach John Settle had some interesting comments Sunday about the backfield situation.
"This week is going to be an important week for John and for James. We're going to put the competition out there and open it up. ... I want to let them know how I see things, let them know the race is tightening. And the thing that has always been discussed with them is that we're going to play production."

You can't argue with Settle's thinking. It just sounds odd when one of the players being discussed is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate.

Clay had a streak of 10 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances end against Michigan State, but he continues to average 6.2 yards per carry with six touchdowns.

So why is White being considered as the starter? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus has an excellent breakdown.
Overall, 18 of Clay's 94 carries (19.1 percent) this season have gone for 10 or more yards. The average distance of those runs has been 16.3 yards. However, too often the plays have been blocked cleanly and a defensive back has made a one-on-one tackle, generally at Clay's ankles.
"That's what is showing up on film," Settle said. "Those are the things we've got to get corrected."
Overall, 12 of White's 44 carries (27.3 percent) have gone for 10 yards or more. The average distance of those runs has been 20.8 yards. White has consistently displayed the ability to make the first defender miss and then outrun the second and third would-be tacklers.

Translation: White is showing home-run ability, while Clay is being held to singles and doubles.

Has White's surge served notice to Clay?

"Not by what I'm seeing," Bielema said. "John is very aware that the more success James has, the more it helps him. He doesn't have to play every down, his legs can stay fresh ... He isn't going into the season to become the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. He just wants to win ballgames."

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