Big Ten: Kirk Cousins

By now, you've surely seen the Ultimate ESPN 300, a list of the 300 most impactful players based on both high school and college production since 2006. The list considered players whom ESPN evaluated at both levels, so while not all 300 players were highly rated in high school, they were all somewhat known commodities.

We're all about the Big Ten here, so in the next three days we'll debate how the Ultimate ESPN 300 factors into this corner of college football.

Thursday's roundtable topic: Which Big Ten player not on the list is the most egregious omission?

Brian Bennett: Kirk Cousins, Michigan State quarterback (2008-11)

You can't blame ESPN Recruiting too much for missing out on Cousins. Before he signed with Michigan State, after all, some of his best other options were with schools like Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Toledo. He looked kind of scrawny.

Yet Cousins finished his career as the all-time winningest quarterback in Spartans history, going 27-12 overall and 22-5 in his final two seasons. He also holds the school records for passing yards (9,131) and passing touchdowns (66) while being an exemplary leader on and off the field. Cousins has proved himself as a solid quarterback in the NFL as well. So while he may not have had the most stellar reviews coming out of high school, his college production demands complete respect. Michigan State should have more players in the Ultimate 300, anyway, and Cousins belongs in there.

Adam Rittenberg: Ricky Stanzi, Iowa quarterback (2006-10)

Perhaps more than any other Big Ten program, Iowa has taken the overlooked and developed them into overachievers at the college level. It's not surprising that the Hawkeyes, despite only one losing season during the targeted time period, have just one player in the Ultimate 300 (offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, No. 117). There are several options of omitted Hawkeyes, including defensive end Adrian Clayborn, a first-round draft pick in 2011. But my pick is Stanzi, who engineered Iowa's rise at the end of the 2008 season and into 2009, when the Hawkeyes went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl, falling just shy of a Big Ten title.

Rated as No. 76 quarterback in the 2006 class by ESPN Recruiting Nation, Stanzi went 26-9 as Iowa's starter and set a team record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass (21). The two-time captain became the first Iowa quarterback and just the third Big Ten quarterback to win three bowl games. He's also a damn fine American. Anyone who disagrees with the selection is just an America-hating hippie doing nothing on the Ped Mall. So Stanzi is my pick -- love it or leave it.

Mitch Sherman: Lavonte David, Nebraska linebacker (2010-11)

David sits one notch below Ndamukong Suh, ineligible for the Ultimate 300 as a 2005 high school graduate, on the list of greatest defensive players in the Bo Pelini era at Nebraska. In his lone year of Big Ten play, David earned first-team All-America honors and was named the Butkus-Fitzgerald Big Ten linebacker of the year. He was unranked out of high school because of academic issues but well known as a star among a dominant Miami Northwestern team that included linebacker Sean Spence (No. 125).

Others who attended David’s high school include Amari Cooper (No. 18) and Teddy Bridgewater (No. 82), though David is arguably the most accomplished of the group as a first-team All-Pro pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2013. At Nebraska, after transferring from junior college -- where he again went relatively underappreciated -- David recorded two of the five highest single-season tackle totals in school history.

Among his many memorable moments in 2011, David stripped Ohio State freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (No. 115) to spark the largest comeback win in Nebraska history.


B1G QBs fare well in Sunday's NFL games

September, 15, 2014
We interrupt your regular feeling of Big Ten doom-and-gloom to bring you a positive conference announcement for once.

Sorry, B1G fans, it has nothing to do with this current college football season ... which probably doesn't come as a surprise. But at least it's something, right? In the NFL on Sunday, the Big Ten fared pretty darn well -- specifically at quarterback:


Let me help you out with the names since two of these players aren't regular starters: First, of course, you have New England's Tom Brady (Michigan) with a win against Minnesota. And you have the names that should make Spartans fans smile: Washington's Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) against Jacksonville, Cleveland's Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) against New Orleans, and Arizona's Drew Stanton (Michigan State) against the New York Giants.

Stanton and Cousins were both filling in because of injuries to the regular starter. But Cousins performed so well he might start a quarterback controversy once Robert Griffin III returns, and Stanton sparked a fourth-quarter comeback.


Granted, it's possible -- possible -- that only Brady will still be starting by year's end. But it's positive news for now, and the Big Ten does still have some current talent at the position.

One AFC veteran scout recently called Penn State's Christian Hackenberg the "top QB in college football." And, as long as Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller returns as planned, the Big Ten should once again boast at least one Heisman front-runner.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. It might not have been a good weekend for the Big Ten (again), but at least the conference had a good showing in the NFL. At least it's something.
Urban Meyer couldn't believe it.

Meyer hasn't spent his entire career in the Big Ten, but the Ohio State coach has a pretty good handle on the quarterback landscape in college football. Informed last month that a Big Ten quarterback hadn't been selected in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995, Meyer's jaw dropped.

"You're kidding me? Wow," he said. "That shouldn't be. Man, there hasn’t been a first-rounder? [Terrelle] Pryor probably would have been. Well, Tom Brady should have been. I never ...

"You've got me shocked."

Even a few questions later, Meyer couldn't get past the flabbergasting factoid.

"Wow," he said. "Twenty years?"

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPerhaps in a couple of years, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg will be the quarterback who breaks a 20-year drought for Big Ten passers in the first round of the NFL draft.
Unfortunately, Meyer's standout quarterback, Braxton Miller, won't end the streak this year because of injury. Miller would have led a Big Ten quarterback corps that looks strong but still lacks the star power found in the Pac-12 and elsewhere.

Several factors have contributed to the Big Ten's downturn, but quarterback play belongs high on the list. The league hasn't had an All-American quarterback since 2006, when Ohio State's Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. Only one Big Ten quarterback has been selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since 2008. That player, Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, started his career in the ACC.

"It's been awhile since the Big Ten had a top-drawer guy," former Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "An elite-type quarterback certainly would help the conference."

To be clear, a first-round designation isn't the best way or the only way to measure a conference at one position.

"So Drew Brees sucks just because he was 5-11 and three quarters and he goes Pick 32?" Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "You would never want Tom Brady, ever. He's horrible! You’ve got to take Akili Smith or somebody."

Point taken.

Brees slipped to the first pick of the second round in 2001 because of his height. Brady is among the best to ever play the position, and Wilson just helped the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. At least five NFL teams will start Big Ten quarterbacks this season.

But the volume isn't there.

"Drew should have been a first-round guy, but let's say he was," Tiller said. "Hell, him and Kerry Collins, for cryin' out loud? That's a long time [without more]."

The Big Ten doesn't have as much trouble churning out elite linemen and running backs. Does the league's ground-and-pound image turn off top quarterbacks? Does the weather? Coaches say no.

"The weather is a positive," Penn State coach James Franklin said. "When the NFL scouts are going to grade these people, they want to know how they're going to play in all these different conditions."

Although many Big Ten programs use offenses that fit the league's stereotypes, those who emphasize quarterback-friendly systems can find the pieces. When Mike White came to Illinois in 1980, he brought with him two junior-college quarterbacks from California, Dave Wilson and Tony Eason. That fall, Wilson set an NCAA record with 621 yards against Ohio State. He was a first-round pick in the NFL supplemental draft in 1981. Two years later, Eason was the No. 15 overall pick, 12 spots ahead of a guy named Marino.

"I had the confidence when I hit the Big Ten that it wasn't a passing conference and I probably had an edge," said White, who coached at Illinois from 1980-87. "We proved that you could throw the ball in the Big Ten. Our kids loved it."

So did the fans. On Illinois' first play of the season, Wilson launched the ball downfield ... nowhere near his intended receiver.

"I think we got a standing ovation," White said.

Quarterback-friendly programs such as Illinois, Iowa and Purdue produced stars during that time. The Big Ten had six first-round quarterbacks between 1982-90. In 1997, Tiller arrived at Purdue and introduced a pass-driven spread offense. Brees began shattering league records.

But those were the exceptions, not the rule. Big Ten teams have often used run-driven offenses with game-managers under center.

"More and more guys just went back to the system that they had confidence in," White said. "I don't think they came in with a passion for the forward pass and how you can make it work, so consequently, it just became Big Ten football again."

Kevin Wilson notes some Big Ten teams haven't built around the quarterback spot and that, more than weather or league reputation, might hurt the strength of the position. But things appear to be improving.

Wilson runs a fast-paced, pass-heavy spread offense at Indiana. Michigan, which has great tradition at quarterback, is back to using a pro-style offense. Michigan State has a nice run of quarterbacks with Brian Hoyer, Kirk Cousins and now Connor Cook. Penn State returns Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten's freshman of the year in 2013.

"I don't think people can be fairly critical of the quarterbacks in the Big Ten," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo. "It's a pretty good group this year. Hackenberg could be the first guy taken, whenever he decides to go.

"He's a rare talent."

A few more rare talents at quarterback -- along with the right coaches and systems -- could give the Big Ten the boost it needs.

PASADENA, Calif. -- For a year, Mark Dantonio challenged his Michigan State team to find the inches that separate good from great and great from special.

Plenty of programs ascend, but most reach a point and then stall. They just can't push through.

Sometimes it's because of talent or coaching or tradition. Maybe it's a penalty in the closing moments of the 2011 Big Ten championship game, or five Big Ten losses by a total of 13 points in 2012. Maybe it's an off-field situation like a campus fight before the 2009 Alamo Bowl or the shocking suspension of a star player a week before the Rose Bowl. Any of these things can leave a program just short of its goals.

But when the inches are located and traversed, it's obvious. You can see it on the faces of current players and coaches, former players, family members, fans and everyone connected to the program.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio and Michigan State proved that the Spartans can run with any program in the country.
It happened for Michigan State early Wednesday night at the most historic setting in college football. MSU's 24-20 win against Stanford in the 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO marked a final step, a ceiling shattered and a confirmation that the Spartans indeed belonged.

"You've got to find the inches, and more importantly, you've got to believe that you belong there, too," Dantonio said. "You can't second-guess yourself. You have to dream big."

The Spartans can dream bigger than they have in nearly 50 years after recording a team-record 13 wins, including status-affirming triumphs against Ohio State and then Stanford. Fittingly, MSU found the final inches by stuffing Stanford fullback Ryan Hewitt on a fourth-and-1 attempt with 1:46 to play.

Middle linebacker Kyler Elsworth, replacing suspended co-captain and All-Big Ten selection Max Bullough, made the initial hit while leaping over a mass of massive Stanford linemen. Darien Harris, Bullough's other understudy, and end Shilique Calhoun also converged on Hewitt, stopping him inches shy of the marker.

"It's like a movie," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "You couldn't put in a better story. We had our leader out and he stepped up, just like I thought."

Elsworth, a senior who had played mostly special teams, started his first game in his final game and earned defensive player of the game honors. He triggered a defense that didn't allow a touchdown after the game's first drive and held Stanford to 71 yards on 27 carries in the final three quarters.

Narduzzi counted only one "misfire" in communication, a major concern without Bullough.

"I couldn't imagine a better stage to play on, a better stage to start my first game in five years," Elsworth said. "This is the way everybody wants to end their career."

That Bullough's absence didn't matter epitomized a Michigan State team unfazed by adversity. The Spartans didn't have a quarterback, a running back or an offensive identity in September. They found one in October. Several questionable pass-interference penalties helped doom them at Notre Dame. The no-fly zone secondary went on to rank second nationally in pass defense efficiency.

When Ohio State erased a 17-0 lead in the Big Ten title game with 24 consecutive points, MSU responded by scoring the final 17. And when Stanford surged to a 10-0 lead Wednesday, the Spartans cleaned up their play and dominated the final three quarters.

"I told our guys, 'This is your legacy right here,'" Narduzzi said. "I think we'll go down as the greatest team ever to play Michigan State football."

No player symbolizes the Spartans' resilience like quarterback Connor Cook. He made some bad throws Wednesday, none worse than an ill-advised screen that Stanford's Kevin Anderson returned to the end zone late in the second quarter. After the pick-six, Cook approached Dantonio.

"Hey, you good?" Dantonio asked.

"I'm fine," Cook responded.

They exchanged a fist bump. On the ensuing series, Cook led MSU downfield for a touchdown 28 seconds before halftime.

"Any time you can end the half on a touchdown, that gives you so much momentum," said Cook, who passed for a career-high 332 yards. "That was like the turning point of the game."

MSU became the first team to rally from a halftime deficit to win the Rose Bowl since Wisconsin in the 2000 game. Back then, the Big Ten more than held its own here, but the league since had gone 1-9 in its most celebrated game.

A system that often didn't place the Big Ten champion in the Rose could be blamed, but the league also lacked teams that proved they belonged. MSU has added its name to a very short list.

"Not only did they get here, but they won," said former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins, the team's honorary captain. "They beat a good Ohio State team and an outstanding Stanford team to make this happen. They didn't back into it."

CalhounThe national championship, that's the next step for us. The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year.

-- Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun
The Spartans are assured of their first top-five finish since 1966. The playoff era dawns next fall, and MSU suddenly can target the Final Four not only in basketball.

Cook and most of the offense returns. The defense should be strong again.

"One of the elite teams throughout college football," wide receiver Macgarrett Kings said. "We've got players, we've got talent, we have the coaches."

MSU plans to keep its coach for the foreseeable future, despite potential overtures from Texas. The Detroit Free Press reports Dantonio soon will be awarded a raise that will put him among the top three Big Ten coaches in salary.

It's big-boy money for the leader of a big-boy program.

"The national championship, that's the next step for us," said Calhoun, who plans to return for his junior season. "The Rose Bowl was this year, but the national championship is definitely next year."

No one put MSU in the national title talk when Dantonio arrived. Former linebacker Greg Jones described a "loose" culture that Dantonio had to rein in.

It was a gradual climb. First bowl appearances, then bowl wins, then a Big Ten title and finally a Rose Bowl championship.

"They made me a believer," Jones said. "They made everybody a believer."

The Spartans found the inches and broke through ceiling. They've reached the next floor.

They don't plan on leaving.

Rose Bowl notes from MSU's Dantonio

December, 30, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- The Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO is barely 48 hours away, and Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his final pregame news conference Monday morning.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesMark Dantonio says the Big Ten's poor start to bowl season won't affect his team.
Here are some notes from Dantonio (and one from athletic director Mark Hollis):

  • Senior Kyler Elsworth should start at middle linebacker in place of the suspended Max Bullough, although Darien Harris also will play a fair amount. Dantonio said both will have the same responsibilities Bullough had with play calls and checks at the line. Elsworth, who was an elite high school wrestler, bench-presses about 400 pounds and has "great ball skills" as he played wide receiver in high school. Harris, who played running back in high school, brings good speed to the middle.
  • Dantonio said the Big Ten's poor start to bowl season doesn't add any pressure for Michigan State. He noted that while everybody obsesses about conference vs. conference, it really comes down to team vs. team matchups. "In the end, it's going to be Michigan State's deal," he said. "We represent the Big Ten, we carry the banner of the Big Ten in here, but in the end it's going to be Michigan State wins or loses, period. We're going to have to stand alone on that."
  • Dantonio again had high praise for quarterback Andrew Maxwell, who started all 13 games in 2012 and the opener this season before moving to a reserve role behind Connor Cook. "It's been tough, and he could have made things difficult here," Dantonio said, "but he chose this path, and that path has allowed us to flourish as a football team."
  • Michigan State has had no curfew issues or other disciplinary infractions leading into the game, but Dantonio reiterated that his team must handle success and being on the big stage the right way. Stanford appears in its fourth consecutive BCS bowl, while no Michigan State players were alive the last time the Spartans played in the Rose Bowl. "They've played in this type of environment with this type of media coverage," Dantonio said of Stanford. "Our guys, we're sort of on a new threshold here."
  • Dantonio on Sunday tweeted a link to a video called "The Spartan Process" that outlines MSU's path to the Rose Bowl, not just this year but in previous seasons. He showed it to the players this past week as a reminder of those who helped the program reach this point. "When you saw a picture of [former running back] Javon Ringer, I hope everybody felt a part of that, or a Kirk Cousins photo," Dantonio said. "They might not share in this physically, but they're going to share in this and be able to identify with what we do." Cousins, the Spartans' quarterback from 2008-11, will serve as the team's honorary captain.
  • Hollis said Michigan State will have more than 40,000 fans at Wednesday's game, and possibly more than 50,000. "I would not be surprised if we far exceed 50 percent of the stadium," Hollis said. "Estimates have been well over 50,000, so we believe it's going to be a home field for us, even though we're three time zones away."

Spartans QB Cook masters mental game

December, 29, 2013
LOS ANGELES -- As a father, Chris Cook always provided his son, Connor, with positive reinforcement, because that's what parents do.

As a former college football player, the elder Cook also knew how such statements can translate to on-field performance. So he and his wife, Donna, a former basketball player at Cincinnati, told Connor that he would be special, that he would become Michigan State's starting quarterback, that he would lead the Spartans to a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl. They repeated the messages, even during MSU's drawn-out and wayward quarterback competition, which Connor calls "the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life."

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsSince being named the permanent starter to start conference play, quarterback Connor Cook and Michigan State are 9-0.
Last week, while home in Ohio, Connor, a Big Ten title-winning, Rose Bowl-bound quarterback, acknowledged what most parents love to hear: You were right.

"He says, 'At that time, I thought you guys were just talking, trying to pump me up.' Now to see this, I don't know, it's been a magical year," said Chris Cook, who played tight end at Indiana. "All these things have come true."

There's certainly magic around Cook, who will lead Michigan State's offense on Wednesday against Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO. You could see it in Big Ten play, when he passed for 2,012 yards and 15 touchdowns in nine double-digit wins. You could see it when he bounced back from bad passes with precise ones, when he made tough throws on the move, when he spread the ball around.

You could see it on the biggest stage, when Cook put up career numbers in the Big Ten championship, reminding receiver Bennie Fowler of former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins.

The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Cook always had enough skill and confidence. But like any young quarterback, he had to master his own mind.

"We're an athletic family, so we're big into the mental game," Chris Cook said. "At this level, what separates good players from great players? A lot of it's between your ears. Hell, the challenges Connor went through, if he doesn't keep a positive attitude, your mind can get the best of you."

Connor Cook's head was swimming during a competition that began in preseason camp and spilled into September. Andrew Maxwell, last season's starter, took most of the snaps with the first-team offense and started the opener. Cook started the following week against South Florida but was replaced by Tyler O'Connor, who was replaced by Maxwell.

Michigan State's quarterback situation had gone from shaky to messy.

"It takes a couple series to establish a rhythm," Cook said. "So when we're splitting it up, I get one series and Maxwell has one, Tyler. You don't know when you're going to get pulled. ... That's kind of stressful."

Cook started Sept. 21 at Notre Dame, struggling early before settling down. After a three-and-out, Cook gave way to Maxwell for the final drive with 2:11 left and MSU down 17-13. The drive went nowhere (backward, actually) and the Spartans suffered their first loss.

Afterward, a despondent Cook said he wished the coaches had shown more faith in him for the final possession. Even now, he calls it "heartbreaking."

"I'd want to be that guy to lead Michigan State down in a hostile environment in a historic stadium to beat the Irish," he said. "To not get that opportunity, it hurt."

During the open week that followed, Cook's coaches decided he deserved the opportunity. Coach Mark Dantonio met with Cook to clear the air and reinforce his support.

"We said as an offensive staff that Connor is our guy," coordinator Dave Warner said. "We've got to go with him the entire way. That was a point where our offense began to grow."

For Cook, it's when "the stress went out the window."

The following week, he passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa. He completed 71 percent of his attempts against Indiana and 93.8 percent -- a team record -- against Illinois.

The magic surfaced when a Cook pass tipped by two Illinois defenders landed in Fowler's arms for a touchdown, or hit a Northwestern defender in the back and went to Fowler for another score. Other likely interceptions fell harmlessly to the ground.

In 925 plays, Cook has had just five interceptions and two fumbles.

"That was his growth," quarterbacks coach Brad Salem said. "He moved in the pocket, threw the ball away when he needed to."

Michigan State identified, offered and landed Cook early, as he committed in April of his junior year. His recruitment wasn't as quiet as it has been portrayed -- Chris Cook said Wisconsin, Iowa and other major-conference programs showed interest -- but he didn't generate the hype of other standout Ohio prep quarterbacks like Braxton Miller and Cardale Jones.

"You could always see the potential in him," said John Carroll University coach Tom Arth, who has worked with Cook the past four summers. "He's a tremendous athlete and a very natural player. He's a special individual who has a great work ethic.

"He can be great. We've seen a little bit of that this year."

Connor was at his best in the Big Ten championship game, recording his first career 300-yard passing performance and firing three touchdowns. With MSU down 24-20 early in the fourth quarter, Cook led an 8-play, 90-yard scoring drive, completing four passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

MSU won 34-24 and Cook earned game MVP honors.

"He was pointing out things that he was seeing, making adjustments on the fly," Fowler said. "That's just like how Kirk [Cousins] was."

As time expired in Indy, Cook ran to the stands and embraced his parents and sister, Jackie, a former basketball player at Old Dominion. The family celebrations have become a tradition after Spartans wins.

"Those are special moments," Chris Cook said.

There could be another Wednesday at the Rose Bowl.

"Before I was the quarterback I would talk to my parents and they would tell me, 'You're going to be the guy, you're going to lead your team to the Rose Bowl,'" Connor said. "To finally be here now ... it's truly a blessing."

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 2, 2013
Indiana and Minnesota are on the practice field today. Football is back, and life is good.

CHICAGO -- Penn State offensive guard John Urschel acknowledged he felt a little nervous before his keynote speech, but the 307-pound graduate student spoke calmly and evenly at Thursday's Big Ten luncheon.

"I took a course in public speaking my sophomore year -- but, unfortunately for me, it was online," he said, drawing early laughs from a packed crowd.

Urschel opened his speech by recounting a conversation with an elderly mathematician, who talked about his career and what he wished he had done when he was younger. The All-Big Ten lineman used that as a platform to discuss his own four pieces of advice to young athletes:

[+] EnlargeJohn Urschel
Randy Litzinger/ Icon SMIPenn State senior John Urschel delivered an inspired and entertaining keynote address Thursday.
1. Master your craft as a football player. "Become a student of the game, study film and develop yourself fully as a football player. Not all of us will become great college football players, but if we fail in that respect, it should not be due to lack of commitment and discipline. The road to greatness is filled with distractions. We're constantly told how good we are. It's easy for a young player to fall into the comfortable lull of complacency."

2. Make a mark on your community. "At some point in every man's career, you begin to think how you're going to be remembered. I truly believe in leaving this world a little better than we found it, whether it's through community service, outreach programs or charity work. Don't limit yourself to the stereotypes that media has created for you. Don't listen to what the outside world tells you of what football players are supposed to do. Aspire to do something greater."

3. Help the young players that follow in your footsteps. "As we near the conclusion of our collegiate careers, we cannot forget to bring the next group of football players along -- to continue to ... mold young boys into men. ... It is our responsibility to share our experiences of success and failure."

4. Prepare for the day your football career ends. "It's the most important of the goals but the easiest to look past. ... Some of us will become coaches or sportscasters, and some of us will leave the game altogether, carrying the lessons learned to our respective careers. What we cannot afford is not to grow. To do so would be to succumb to the thought that we only know how to do one thing. And for any of us to accept such an idea is nothing short of tragedy. In each of us lies great talent that lies far beyond the exploits of the gridiron. Our hope is much more than the sum of our physical parts."

Urschel, who is pursuing his second master's degree, joked in the beginning that he wasn't as eloquent as former speaker Kirk Cousins or as charismatic as last year's speaker, Denard Robinson. Urschel received applause after every bit of advice, however, and he was met with a standing ovation to end his speech.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 25, 2013


Big Ten lunch links

June, 18, 2013
Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is enjoying life in the wild, wild West.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 9, 2013
You know, I've got problems of my own. I can't always be the lovable sidekick on the Manny Show. Did you even notice I'm binge eating?

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 27, 2013
Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.

Big Ten mailblog

February, 19, 2013
Your questions, my answers ...

Matt from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The B1G could be in the news quite a bit during the offseason. Will we get the final decisions on division alignment, division names and 9/10 game schedule all at once or will they come out one at a time whenever that specific decision is made? Will this be something decided early in the offseason to have people discussing it all summer or will we have all summer to talk about what we want it to be and get the answer during the season?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you definitely won't need to wait until the season. The most pressing topic is the future conference schedule and whether the Big Ten will have nine or 10 games. It impacts nonconference scheduling, and the athletic directors want to get things sorted out as quickly as possible so they can craft their schedules. I think we could have a decision as soon as mid-March -- the ADs meet again during the Big Ten basketball tournament in Chicago -- or shortly thereafter. Division alignment is next on the list, and should come by the end of the spring. The key event is that the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors meets in early June at league headquarters. The Big Ten wants to get most of these issues sorted out by that meeting. Division names is a low priority, as league commissioner Jim Delany told me last week, and the future bowl lineup probably comes after the league schedule and divisions. We should have decisions on all of these topics by the middle of the summer.

AAWolv from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, I'm not usually one to get worked up about top 25 lists, but I can't wrap my head around this. In your post-season top 25 rankings, you state that the criteria is based solely on performance in the past year. If that's the case, how do you put Taylor Lewan at number 7? He proved that he was the best or 2nd best tackle in the country by shutting down guys like Jadeveon Clowney. I realize that linemen don't get much love in rankings, but based on his performance and your criterion, I have to disagree with your ranking.

Adam Rittenberg: That's fair, AA, and Brian and I debated a bit about Lewan and certainly could have included him a little higher. I'm glad you point out that the rankings are based on in-season performance rather than NFL potential, as some of your fellow Wolverines fans are pointing out Lewan will be a first-round pick in April. So will Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, who we have at No. 12. That doesn't matter for these rankings. I realize Lewan made a bunch of All-America teams, but did he have a season like Gabe Carimi in 2010? I don't think he was that good. Michigan's offensive line certainly wan't great, and Lewan, while the group's best member, could have been more dominant at times. Carimi won the Outland Trophy in 2010 and came in at No. 6 in our postseason rankings. So he's comparable to Lewan, who could have been a spot or two higher. Ultimately, I'm comfortable with the guys we have in the top 5, who all made a major impact for their teams in 2012.

Matt from State College, Pa., writes: Do you think the most recent missteps in the Miami investigation gives any validity to the State of PA's lawsuit against the NCAA in relation to PSU's sanctions?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think Monday's news certainly hurts the credibility of the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert. If the NCAA had done its own investigation into Penn State, led by now-fired compliance chief Julie Roe Lach, and made missteps along the way, it certainly would have strengthened the state's case. But the NCAA used the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report as the investigation for the Penn State case. Penn State signed a consent decree to the penalties Emmert imposed. Because the investigative process took place outside the NCAA, I don't think the Miami missteps will help the state's case as much as if they'd taken place within the NCAA.

Debra from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Adam: I find the Nebraska-Michigan rivalry more attractive than Ohio State or Penn State. Considering Penn State as a rival is based on old, old grudges no longer relevant. Ohio State is okay but not feeling the history. Michigan seems a more friendly rivalry. And friendly is better than the bitter kind, like Colorado. Who wants to go there and get your tires slashed if you have a Nebraska license plate? Ugh

Adam Rittenberg: Debra, thanks for sharing your thoughts. While I'm not sure all fans would prefer "friendly" rivalries over the alternative, it's good to know that some do. I know a lot of Nebraska fans want to keep playing Michigan every year. They bring up the 1997 season and the fact that the first two games in the Big Ten have made an impact on the division race. I like the Nebraska-Penn State series because both teams don't have longstanding Big Ten rivalries and, until November, had been the league's most recent additions. Ohio State and Michigan always will have bigger conference rivals than Penn State or Nebraska. I don't think Nebraska and Michigan will be in the same division after the realignment, and I don't expect the teams to have a protected crossover. But the Big Ten would like to have the Huskers and Wolverines play often -- two great brands, good for TV.

Al from Chicago writes: Nice article on Illini branding, but you'll have to show me where Northwestern has seen increased attendance (from their fans - not the visitors)!

Adam Rittenberg: Al, that's a fair point, as visiting fans like those from Nebraska have helped Northwestern's attendance numbers. The Wrigley Field game in 2010 also boosted attendance because it was part of a season-ticket package. But Northwestern's increases since the 2009 season, when it averaged 24,190, to this past season, when it averaged 33,442, can't be solely attributed to visiting fans. Northwestern is responsible for a portion of that increase, and its marketing push certainly has been a factor.

Scott from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Roushar is out as MSU's offensive coordinator. Spartan Nation cheers his departure but should they?

Adam Rittenberg: It's tough to say. Dan Roushar had much better success in 2011 when he had an established quarterback in Kirk Cousins, three good wide receivers and a better offensive line, which he helped mold. He did a nice job as the team's offensive line coach, although MSU needs to take things to another level up front. You can make a case that aside from RB Le'Veon Bell and TE Dion Sims, Roushar simply didn't have the weapons to do what he needed to in 2012. But some of his play-calling, especially in the red zone, left a lot to be desired. Was Roushar the main problem with Michigan State's offense in 2012? Perhaps. But many of us expected more from the players, too. The offensive structure isn't going to change at MSU under the next coordinator, but his play calls will be scrutinized, just as Roushar's were.

Paul from Minneapolis writes: Can you please tell me the racial breakdown of assistant coaches in the Big Ten by school. I got thinking about this as I noticed both of Iowa's latest hirings are white, but I have no idea how diverse any Big Ten school is in thier coaching ranks. Does the Big Ten have a program to promote racial diversity in it's coaching ranks?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, I addressed this a bit in this story from last February, but the Big Ten has participated in an annual minority coaches' forum, which brings together top minority assistant coaches, athletic directors and administrators to network. The assistants learn what ADs are looking for in interviews and how they can improve their chances of landing head-coaching positions. Five of the 17 Big Ten assistants who attended the event from 2006-10 have become FBS head coaches, including former Ohio State aide Darrell Hazell, now the head man at Purdue. Still, Hazell is only the fourth black head coach in Big Ten history, a low number given the Big Ten's history as the conference of opportunity. As far as staff diversity, every Big Ten team has black assistant coaches and all but two teams have two or three on staff. Not all coaching staffs are complete, so those numbers could go up. One item of note: there are only two black coordinators in the Big Ten in Illinois' Tim Banks and Ohio State's Everett Withers.

James from Pasadena, Md., writes: Adam,I have switched over from the ACC blog to the B1G blog in anticipation of Maryland's move in 2014. I want to say that I have really enjoyed getting more familiar with the Conference through your posts. Having explored some of the message boards for schools around the B1G, I think many B1G fans are sleeping on Rugters and Maryland. At what point do you anticipate incorporating the two new schools in your blog? Will you be waiting until after the 2013 season or do you plan to keep B1G fans updated on the happenings with RU and UMD during the summer/fall this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Welcome, James! I know Big Ten fans are starting to familiarize themselves with both Maryland and Rutgers, and we'll do much more of that as we get closer to the official arrivals of those teams in 2014. We will post Maryland and Rutgers-related content from time to time this season, including updates on how the teams are performing, but they likely won't officially transition to the Big Ten blog until after national signing day 2014 (Feb. 5). That has been the point where we've seen teams move from one blog to another.

Big Ten mailblog

September, 18, 2012
Your questions, my answers.

Andrew from Chicago writes: Adam, After this weekend, I took 5 minutes and browsed through the Big 10 statistics. One thing that stood out to me is that the pro-style passers are among the worst in the conference; Iowa's Vandenberg and MSU's Maxwell rank 14th and 13th respectively in passing efficiency in a league of 12 teams (Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana have 2 quarterbacks in the top 15), Wisconsin's O'Brien is sitting at 11th while Matt McGloin is carrying the pocket-passer banner at #9. Has the Big 10 been officially taken over by the dual threat trend? Of the 4 gentlemen above, which as the best chance to break into the top 5 in terms of passing efficiency by the end of the year?

Adam Rittenberg: Good observation, Andrew, but keep in mind that Maxwell and O'Brien are first-year starters at their schools, and Vandenberg, O'Brien and McGloin all are playing in new systems (to McGloin's benefit, I should say). Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins had a lot of success as pro-style passers in 2011. Same with Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien in 2009-2010. And the list goes on. The Big Ten's best quarterbacks right now are dual-threat players, and there's a huge misperception nationally that the Big Ten is a power-offense league. Big Ten teams have been running the spread for years, and the changes at both Michigan and Ohio State in recent years have added to the trend in the league. The dual-threat quarterback certainly is on the rise in the Big Ten and nationally. Of the five players mentioned, I think McGloin or Vandenberg has the best chance to finish among the top five. McGloin already looks like a much better quarterback in a more pass-happy offense, while Vandenberg should show some strides as the season goes along. As Kirk Ferentz said last week, he's a proven player.

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Adam, can you make any sense of Roushar's decision to give our offense four rush attempts in the second half of the Notre Dame game? It's not as if we were getting completely stuffed, averaging over four yards per carry. Was he trying to preserve Bell and an ailing offensive line? Trying to give Maxwell as much big game experience as possible before conference play? As a fan, it was frustrating to sit in the stands and see your star running back line up wide so often.

Adam Rittenberg: Mochila, I was thinking the same thing while watching Saturday's game. It wasn't as if Michigan State trailed by three touchdowns, and Le'Veon Bell remains the Spartans' best offensive weapon. Clearly the offensive line had a rough time stopping Notre Dame's front seven, but it seemed like MSU had some success running with Bell on the edges earlier in the game and went away from that. I can understand Dan Roushar's desire to establish something, anything, in the pass game. And Bell didn't have any big runs to loosen up the defense (longest run: 15 yards). But more balance would have served the Spartans well. They really struggled to generate anything on first down all game, but it would have been nice to see more first-down rushing attempts.

Brian from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam, After looking at the Big Ten power rankings for this week, the thing that jumped out at me is that the B1G Championship game may be hosting the 6th (or 7th, or 8th) best team in the conference. In what has already been an extremely dissapointing year for the conference, imagine Purdue or a bad Wisconsin team somehow winning that game and getting spanked in the Rose Bowl by what will most certainly be a top-ten team. Could the Big Ten be the worst BCS conference this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that certainly would be the nightmare scenario for the Big Ten. Still, I wouldn't count out Purdue, Illinois -- or even Wisconsin, for that matter -- from having a pretty good final record by the time the Big Ten championship game rolls around. I'll stick with my prediction that the Big Ten champion comes out of the Legends division, which has more overall strength with MSU, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern. But the championship is a one-game deal, and in this year's Big Ten, almost anyone can beat anyone else. The Big Ten isn't the "worst conference." The Big East clearly is worse, and I think the ACC will be worse by season's end. The Big Ten has all but flunked its nonconference slate, though, and unless it redeems itself in the bowl season, 2012 will be another black eye for the conference.

Darren from Minneapolis writes: OK, call me crazy, I know. But...if the Gophers get to 4-0 do they deserve to be ranked? It is great that we can even have this discussion after the last few years.

Adam Rittenberg: All Gopher fans would agree with your last point, Darren. I don't think Minnesota deserves a Top 25 ranking at 4-0, although I'd expect the Gophers to at least get some votes. The Gophers' nonconference schedule isn't very taxing, and while a win against Syracuse would be nice, the Orange are 1-2. Western Michigan is a decent win, but I don't give Minnesota much for beating UNLV and New Hampshire. Now if the Gophers go on the road to beat Iowa for the third consecutive year -- and improve to 5-0 -- now you're talking about a team that deserves Top 25 consideration. Iowa will be by far Minnesota's toughest test, especially with the game at Kinnick Stadium, where the Gophers haven't won since 1999.

Zach from Cincinnati writes: Hey Adam - asked about this last week but I didn't make last week's cut. After yet another weak defensive performance for Ohio State, at what point does Urban Meyer start looking at Luke Fickell as a roadblock to the defensive players' development? There have been so, so many missed tackles from all around on the defense and the lack of pressure, although improved this week, is maddening. When asked last week, I was merely suggesting a nudge from Meyer to Fickell that he should look elsewhere. I'm now leaning for Fickell to receive the boot.

Adam Rittenberg: Zach, I think you're overreacting a bit on Fickell, who deserves more than three games to be evaluated as Ohio State's defensive coordinator. Remember that he was part of an Ohio State defensive staff that molded one of the nation's top defenses year after year. That said, the missed tackles are alarming, and Ohio State's defense seems a little too interested in highlight plays -- big hits, interceptions, sacks -- than consistently bringing the ball-carrier to the ground. Past Buckeyes defenses weren't overly flashy but had polished fundamentals and always got off of the field. Ohio State is young at certain positions, and the overall linebacker play isn't what we typically see in Columbus. The Buckeyes will get better along the defensive line and boast some strong pieces in the secondary, but they're a little weak in the middle right now. Fickell and his staff have some work to do as Big Ten play gets closer.

Jamie from San Francisco writes: Hey Adam,What's your take on the announcement regarding a facilities upgrade at Northwestern? They'll get a brand new, state of the art practice facility on the lake-front, but nothing mentioned about the stadium? Was enough to boost recruiting do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: It's still a huge step for Northwestern, a university that for too long loved cashing massive Big Ten revenue checks without giving its football program the chance to keep up facilities-wise. Most coaches would tell you they'd much rather have a top-notch headquarters facility so the team can do its most important work Sunday-Friday. This is a huge recruiting tool for Pat Fitzgerald as no other Big Ten team will have its facility in a setting like Northwestern will (on the shore of Lake Michigan). Recruits can come there knowing they can work out and practice on campus. The renderings look exceptional. I agree Northwestern also needs to make upgrades to Ryan Field, but this is a one-step-at-a-time place. The trustees aren't going to let athletics go nuts with spending all at one time.

Allen from Omaha writes: What is the deal with not showing the scores for your fantasy teams each week?

Adam Rittenberg: You have to wait until Thursday, Allen. We do our fantasy team recaps and post our roster adjustments for the next week. Alas, Bennett got the best of me again in Week 3. Denard Robinson and Braxton Miller are carrying his fantasy team, in addition to their own squads. Sigh. At least my pickup of Penn State WR Allen Robinson worked out well (3 TDs). I'll get him soon enough.

Did you know? Big Ten in Week 3

September, 14, 2012
Some notes and nuggets to hopefully make you smarter as you check out Big Ten action in Week 3. Thanks to the ESPN Stats & Info crew, as well as sports information staffs around the league for these.
  • Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell has gained 39.6 percent (111 of 280) of his yards after contact this season. Bell gained 84 or his 210 yards (40 percent) against Boise State and 27 of his 70 yards (39.6 percent) against Central Michigan after contact. Bell is averaging 5.6 yards per rush when there are six or fewer defenders in the box. That number drops by 2.1 yards when there are seven or more defenders in the box.
  • Wisconsin's 10-7 loss to Oregon State was the first regular-season non-conference loss for head coach Bret Bielema. His 25 straight regular-season nonconference wins marked the second best start to a career by a Big Ten head coach. Bielema trails only Michigan's Fielding Yost, who started 41-0 in nonconference games from 1901-06.
  • Through two games, Nebraska has posted an average gain of 7.8 yards on first down. The Huskers have had 71 first-down plays this season and totaled 553 yards, producing 52 percent of their total yards on first down. Nebraska racked up 359 yards on 38 first-down snaps in the season opener against Southern Miss, averaging 9.4 yards on first down. Against UCLA last Saturday, the Huskers gained 194 yards on 33 first-down snaps, an average of 5.9 yards per play.
  • Iowa's defense has allowed only 19 points on seven red-zone trips by opposing offenses through the first two games. The Hawkeyes recorded three red-zone takeaways against Iowa State last week (2 fumbles, 1 interception). On the flip side, Iowa's offense has yet to score a touchdown in six red-zone possessions this season.
  • Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson completes 66.2 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and one interception when taking the snap under center. He completes 56.4 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns and 32 interceptions when not under center. Robinson had 10 rushes against Air Force last Saturday during which he did not get touched until at-least five yards past the line of scrimmage, the second most in his career. He had 11 in Week 3 last season against Eastern Michigan.
  • Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller averages eight yards per rush on scrambles during his career with 17 of his 51 runs gaining 10 yards or more. Miller most frequently takes off on third down with 21.9 percent of his third down drop-backs ending in scrambles. Those third-down scrambles have led to 11 first downs for the Buckeyes.
  • Penn State is facing a program record 10 teams that played in bowl games last season, with five games at home. Navy, which visits Beaver Stadium on Saturday, was 5-7 last season and had played in eight consecutive bowl games before missing by one win in 2011. Penn State is 18-17-2 all-time against Navy and 41-37-5 all-time against the four FBS independents (Navy, Notre Dame, Army and BYU).
  • Minnesota has four interceptions this season, already equaling its total from last season. Derrick Wells picked off two passes and Brock Vereen had one interception at UNLV. Martez Shabazz notched his first career interception against New Hampshire. The Gophers are tied for eighth nationally in interceptions. However, they have only one return yard, which is the fewest of the 13 teams who have four or more interceptions this season.
  • Michigan State has won four straight night games in Spartan Stadium, including two on the last play of the game. Against Notre Dame in 2010, Aaron Bates' 29-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Gantt off a fake field goal gave MSU a 34-31 overtime victory. Against Wisconsin in 2010, Kirk Cousins completed a 44-yard Hail Mary pass to Keith Nichol on the final play of regulation. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is 5-1 in night games played in Spartan Stadium.
  • With a come-from-behind 23-13 victory against Vanderbilt in Week 2, Northwestern's streak of consecutive home victories against nonconference foes reached 11 games, the 15th-longest active streak among FBS programs. The Wildcats have not lost to a team from outside the Big Ten at Ryan Field since falling to Duke on Sept. 15, 2007.
  • Illinois has controlled time of possession in both of its games this season, owning a margin of more than 11 minutes against both Western Michigan (35:02-24:58) and Arizona State (35:15-24:44). The Illini rank sixth nationally and second in the Big Ten (after Michigan State) in time of possession (35:09).
  • Indiana held one opponent under 20 points last season. In its first two wins in 2012, IU has surrendered 17 points to Indiana State and six points to Massachusetts. Indiana last held an opponent in single digits back in 2008, a 45-3 victory over Murray State. The Hoosiers also held the Minutemen to 78 yards on the ground, the first time they held an opponent under the century mark since Nov. 27, 2010 (at Purdue, 58).
  • A season removed from needing seven games to amass at least seven sacks, Purdue has reached that total in merely two games after recording five against Notre Dame last weekend. Purdue enters the Eastern Michigan game tied for 13th nationally and tied for first in the Big Ten in sacks per game (3.5). Purdue's five sacks against Notre Dame equaled the season highs for each of the past four years.