Big Ten: Lane Kiffin

Viewer's guide: Allstate Sugar Bowl

December, 31, 2014
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NEW ORLEANS -- For the winning team in Thursday’s College Football Playoff semifinal, Alabama-Ohio State will be only the biggest game of the season until the final seconds tick off the clock. Then it’s time to think about how to win a national title.

Here are five items to watch as No. 1 Alabama (12-1) and No. 4 Ohio State (12-1) square off on New Year’s Day (8:30 p.m., ESPN), with a spot in the Jan. 12 CFP national championship game at stake.

Saban-Meyer, the return: Two of the giants in modern-day college coaching will reunite on New Year’s night following a four-year hiatus in their head-to-head rivalry. The popular narrative in Alabama is that Nick Saban chased Urban Meyer out of the SEC once the Crimson Tide surpassed Meyer’s Florida program as the SEC’s top dog in 2009. Meyer left the business for a season after 2010 -- a year when Saban won their most recent meeting 31-6. Meyer took over at Ohio State in 2012 and has restored the Buckeyes as one of the nation’s powerhouse programs. Thursday’s outcome won’t change that, but he can strike a blow for the Big Ten -- and snap a two-game losing streak against Saban -- with a win in New Orleans.

Cardale Jones and the deep ball: Jones couldn’t have made a happier debut, leading Ohio State to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game by going 12-for-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns. But can Ohio State’s former third-string quarterback repeat that impressive feat on New Year’s Day? He might have to if the Buckeyes are to pull the upset. If Alabama’s defense has a weakness, it’s that it has occasionally been susceptible to the deep ball. Jones connected with Devin Smith on touchdown passes of 39, 44 and 42 yards against Wisconsin. More of that would greatly improve the Buckeyes’ chances of advancing to the national championship game.

War in the trenches: One key to Alabama’s success in the Saban era has been its dominance along the line of scrimmage. The Crimson Tide likes to bludgeon its opponent into submission, and it has done that this season -- particularly along the defensive line. Ohio State defensive coordinator Tom Herman marveled at the size and depth of Alabama’s defensive front, which nearly runs 10 players deep. Ohio State’s offensive line struggled in its early loss to Virginia Tech, but the reconstructed group has made massive progress since then. If Ezekiel Elliott is able to run successfully against Alabama, that will take some of the pressure off of Jones and the passing attack.

SEC speed? Some Ohio State players seem to have chips on their shoulders over the perception that the SEC has the market cornered on speed. The Buckeyes have some speedburners on their roster as well, and even those from Alabama acknowledge that their quickness -- particularly from someone like big-play receiver Smith -- would fit in well down south.

“I definitely see more speed in this Ohio State team,” Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “Every single one of their skill positions can fly and I feel that’s something that’s really helped them out throughout the year.”

The Cooper effect: Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell admitted Monday that shutting down Alabama receiver Amari Cooper “is not something you truly could do.” Cooper was a Heisman Trophy finalist with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns, after all. The key for the Buckeyes, Fickell said, is to prevent Lane Kiffin’s offense from killing them with big plays. That’s what Alabama did in rallying past Auburn in the Iron Bowl -- and it’s what Clemson did in posting 40 points and 576 yards (including 227 receiving yards by Sammy Watkins) in the Tigers’ bowl win over the Buckeyes last season.
NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama safety Nick Perry has squared off against Amari Cooper on an almost daily basis in practice. Here is his best advice on how to stop the Heisman Trophy finalist.

"Uh, pray," Perry said.

Hopefully, Ohio State has a little bit more of a plan than that on Thursday night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, or else the Buckeyes likely won't have much of a prayer of advancing in the College Football Playoff. Yet it may take something close to divine intervention to slow down the best receiver in college football.

"The ideal way to defend him," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said, "is a pouring rainstorm, winds of 30 or 40 miles an hour. But I don’t think that’s going to happen in a dome."

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Butch DillStar Alabama receiver Amari Cooper had at least 130 receiving yards in seven games this season.
Cooper caught 115 balls for 1,658 yards and 15 touchdowns this season on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award and finishing third in the Heisman voting. He had at least 130 yards receiving in seven games this year.

How good is Cooper? Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims said on Monday that "he's open on every play." And while Sims said he resists the urge to throw to Cooper every time he drops back to pass, Cooper has 100 more targets and 78 more receptions than any other Alabama player. That's the largest gap between a team's No. 1 and No. 2 receiver in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So covering Cooper is an enormous key to beating Alabama.

"If he has a big day," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said, "it’s going to be a long night for us."

The Buckeyes know too well what it's like to get burned by an elite receiver on a big bowl stage. In last year's loss to Clemson at the Orange Bowl, they were pretty helpless against Sammy Watkins, who ended up with 16 catches, 227 yards and two touchdowns.

Of course, that was nearly a full calendar year ago, and comparisons between then and now hold little weight. The Ohio State secondary was in tatters by the time it got to Miami last December. Star cornerback Bradley Roby missed the game with a knee injury and true freshman Vonn Bell made his first start, with predictably rocky results. The Buckeyes revamped their pass defense this offseason by hiring Ash from Arkansas and unleashing some athletic young safeties. The Buckeyes are No. 5 in the FBS in pass efficiency defense.

Better talent or better scheme?

"It's definitely both," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

While it's true that the Big Ten lacked many star wideouts this year, Ohio State did face the three most productive receivers in the league and fared well against them. Michigan State's Tony Lippett, who led the conference with 1,124 receiving yards, had just five catches for 64 yards. Rutgers' Leonte Caroo had five catches for 100 yards, but 40 percent of that came on one play in a 56-17 Buckeyes blowout. Illinois' Mikey Dudek mustered just 68 yards on three grabs.

"Without a doubt, every time you go into a game you talk about what are your keys to victory, and one of those keys to victory is that you can’t let their best players beat you," Ash said. "I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that throughout the course of the season."

Cooper has heard opponents talk all year long about how they plan to stop him. It hasn't much mattered.

"I hear about it a lot throughout the week," he said. "But it's different when the game actually starts because of how the game plays out. If we're running the ball good, then things have to change because they have to make sure our running backs don't go off. So, I really don't pay too much attention."

Cooper said he has been impressed with what he's seen on film from Grant, who has developed into Ohio State's lockdown cover guy and who will likely try to shadow Cooper for most of Thursday's game.

"He's always on his man," Cooper said. "The receiver never gets a lot of separation."

But Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has found effective ways to move Cooper all over the field, sometimes lining him up in the slot or even having him come out of the backfield. That means it will take a team approach to keep tabs on him.

"What's unique about him is not that he can just take an 80-yard post, but he can take a screen 80 yards," Fickell said. "On the next snap, he’s going to be running a jet sweep where he’s not getting the ball. The next one, he’s going to be cracking the safety to spring [T.J.] Yeldon free. His completeness is not just the ability to catch the ball, but to come out of the backfield, the ability to take a swing pass, his ability to catch the deep ball, the ability to break tackles. Those are the things that make him special."

Senior Jeff Greene, who's 6-foot-5, is impersonating Cooper on the scout team for Ohio State. But there's no real way to copy the real thing because of the 6-foot-1 Cooper's size, speed, smarts and hands.

"He's unstoppable, man," Perry said. "That's a scary guy when you get him out there on that island."

If all else fails for Ohio State, at least prayer remains an option.

National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
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Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

Michigan's offense has hopscotched under Brady Hoke, never establishing an identity despite repeated claims about a clear philosophy. We always hear about who the Wolverines want to be, but because of personnel, youth or fickle schematic decisions, we rarely see who they are.

Perhaps the best thing about Michigan's offensive coordinator transition was the lack of indecision. Hours after Michigan announced Al Borges had been fired, reports surfaced that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier would be his replacement. Hoke knew who he wanted, targeted him and got the deal done (the team has yet to officially confirm Nussmeier's hiring).

It's up to Nussmeier to refine Michigan's offense for the 2014 season. Otherwise, both he and Hoke could be looking for jobs in December. It's that simple.

[+] EnlargeNussmeier
AP Photo/Butch DillHiring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is a step in the right direction for a Michigan offense that has sputtered lately and struggled to find an identity.
Nussmeier is a proven coach with an impressive track record, most recently at Alabama, which defended its national title in his first year as coordinator and put up solid offensive numbers this past season as well (38.2 points per game, 454.1 yards per game). Regardless of whether Alabama coach Nick Saban let Nussmeier walk to pave the way for Lane Kiffin, Michigan seems to be getting a high-quality coach. CBSsports.com's Bruce Feldman reports that Nussmeier, who earned $680,000 in 2013, will become one of the five highest-paid coordinators in college football. That's fine, too, as Michigan makes more than any Big Ten team and has yet to translate all that dough to championships on the field.

Hoke's rhetoric about Big Ten-title-or-bust and Team OneThirtySomething rings hollow until his teams start showing they can live up to Michigan's storied past. Rivals Ohio State and Michigan State have bypassed Michigan, and 2014 is pivotal for Hoke and the Wolverines, who enter the same division as the Buckeyes. They need to go for it now, and the Nussmeier hire is a good sign that they are.

Nussmeier must take a group of players, some recruited by Rich Rodriguez's staff and some by Hoke's staff, and mold them into a unit that's easy to identify. Quarterbacks such as Alabama's AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker have improved under his tutelage. He must facilitate similar upgrades with Michigan's Devin Gardner and/or Shane Morris.

A record-setting signal-caller at Idaho who played in both the NFL and CFL, Nussmeier knows quarterbacks, but his first priority at Michigan will be resurrecting a run game that went dormant the past two seasons. Michigan's young offensive line needs to grow up in a hurry, especially after losing left tackle Taylor Lewan, a first-round draft pick in April, as well as right tackle Michael Schofield, a three-year starter. Nussmeier isn't exactly inheriting the Alabama offensive line in Ann Arbor. Or Alabama's running backs, for that matter. There's some young talent at Michigan, but it needs to be coached up.

As much criticism as Borges received, some of it deserved, coordinators can't do much when their offenses are incapable of generating moderate rushing gains between the tackles. Michigan set historic lows on offense this year, becoming the first FBS team in the past 10 seasons to record net rush totals of minus-20 or worse in consecutive games (losses to Michigan State and Nebraska).

Nussmeier has worked in different conferences as well as in the NFL (St. Louis Rams), but his stint in the Big Ten at Michigan State should help him in his new gig. His basic philosophy as a pro-style coach doesn't differ dramatically from Borges -- or what Hoke wants -- and shouldn't turn off Michigan's 2014 recruits.

But his ability to evaluate the strengths of Michigan's players and tailor his scheme around them will determine his success or failure. When Borges built a game plan around what Gardner does best, as we saw against both Notre Dame and Ohio State, the results proved positive. But we saw too much tweaking, too many versions of the Michigan offense, too many attempts to show who is the smartest coach in the building.

Nussmeier is a future head coach and entered the mix for recent vacancies at both Washington and Southern Miss. It might be hard for Michigan to keep him, but the future beyond the 2014 season isn't really important.

Michigan acted quickly and decisively Wednesday night. Nussmeier must do the same in refining the identity of an offense that will determine a lot about where Michigan is headed under Hoke.
Silve/DelanyUSA TODAY SportsSEC commissioner Mike Slive, left, and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany are among the most powerful men in sports.
Sports Illustrated recently came out with its list of the 50 most powerful people in sports. Two college conference commissioners made the rundown: the SEC's Mike Slive at No. 17, and the Big Ten's Jim Delany at No. 26. The men who lead the nation's richest and most popular conferences have been rivals throughout the years, and they've both made moves to strengthen their leagues and shape college football.

Bloggers Chris Low (SEC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) weigh in on Slive, Delany and which commissioner -- in the immortal words of Snap! -- has got the power.

Chris Low on Slive

The easy part would be starting with the rings, although Mike Slive himself doesn’t have a jewelry box overflowing with national championship bling. He’s content to let the SEC schools display their own hardware. And for those not keeping count, it’s up to seven straight national championships now for the SEC.

There's such a thing as power, and then there's the kind of power you command when you're on top.

The SEC is looking down at everybody else in the college football world and has been for a while, and Slive's a big reason why. The administrators and coaches in the league have supreme confidence in him to make the right moves in the ever-changing landscape of college athletics.

They don’t necessarily fear Slive, but they also know better than to cross him. Lane Kiffin and Tennessee got a dose of his wrath.

One of the most obvious examples of Slive's power is the four-team college football playoff, which will begin in 2014. Remember that he was the one who proposed a playoff back in 2008, and not enough other people were on board at the time.

Well, everybody's on board now, and it's a reality. Not only that, but the format is basically what Slive wanted. There aren't any restrictions about having to win your conference championship, and the games will be played at bowl sites ... and not on college campuses.

Slive didn't want the playoff party to be limited to conference champions. The rest of the country moaned and groaned over the all-SEC BCS National Championship Game in 2011 between Alabama and LSU. Slive wanted to make sure the door was open for multiple SEC teams to get into the four-team playoff, because more times than not, at least two SEC teams will be deserving.

Most people would agree that conference expansion is far from over. But with all of the jockeying to this point, did any conference benefit more than the SEC with its addition of Texas A&M, which secured a foothold in the state of Texas?

The value of that move will be front and center when the SEC negotiates its next television contract with CBS and ESPN. You better have a good calculator to tabulate those figures.

And, oh yeah, Slive knows a thing or two about steering clear of serious NCAA trouble.

The SEC is always going to be the SEC. After all, the league's unofficial slogan is, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."

Slive's not real fond of that slogan, by the way. But the NCAA has done its share of poking around several different SEC programs over the past several years, and the last school to be hit with a postseason ban in football was Mississippi State in 2004.

Nobody's suggesting that Slive has a direct line to the NCAA enforcement staff.

But he also has clout, and probably more importantly, a keen understanding of how the NCAA process works. He can be a huge asset when SEC schools are trying to navigate choppy waters.

Just ask Auburn and Cam Newton.

Slive, a former district court judge in New Hampshire, jokingly refers to himself as a recovering attorney.

Now a proud grandfather, he looks the part with the white hair, warm smile and stooped-shoulder walk.

He's quick to deflect any talk about his role in making the SEC the juggernaut that it’s become.

Of course, the most powerful people don't have to talk about what they've done. Everybody already knows.

Adam Rittenberg on Delany

This discussion essentially comes down to how much a commissioner's power stems from the number of football national championships that are won in his conference. If crystal footballs are the sole basis for determining which commissioner carries more clout, Slive wins in a landslide. After all, the SEC has won the past seven national titles, the league's total during Slive's tenure as commissioner (2002 to present). Delany has been Big Ten commissioner more than twice as long (1989 to present), but the league has claimed only two football national titles (1997, 2002) during that span, and none in the past decade.

But let me remind everyone that neither of these men plays football or coaches football. They have no direct control over whether their teams hoist the crystal football. They can put their leagues in the best possible positions to compete for championships by increasing revenue and TV exposure, and by shaping the BCS/playoff format, but their work is done outside the lines, not between them.

Although Slive has done some great things as SEC commissioner, his timing also has been impeccable. Was Slive's predecessor, Roy Kramer, a bad commissioner because SEC teams won only three national titles during the 12 football seasons in which he served? Such a notion seems absurd. The Big Ten's lack of championships in the major sports is part of Delany's legacy as commissioner, but can anyone reasonably argue that Delany has put the league in a weaker position to win titles? Also absurd.

If anything, Delany has strengthened the Big Ten's chances to win championships and continued to build the league even when it wasn't winning championships. His teams simply have let him down over and over -- not just in football, but in men's basketball -- while Slive's teams have come through time and again.

If we're basing this on how much a commissioner has done in his role, Delany has built more power than Slive. He fundamentally changed the television landscape by spearheading the Big Ten Network, an idea many thought would crash and burn but instead has flourished. The Big Ten pioneered the use of instant replay, which is a staple around college football these days. Delany expanded the Big Ten with home-run additions, first from the East (Penn State) and then the West (Nebraska). Some blame the Big Ten for launching realignment fever in December 2009, but you can also argue Delany was ahead of the curve in sensing what would come around in college sports. Although Delany's latest expansion moves -- Maryland and Rutgers -- and possible future moves (Georgia Tech, Virginia, North Carolina) aren't overly popular among Big Ten fans, his goal to expand the Big Ten footprint into new markets and create new revenue streams for the league is understandable.

Although Slive is older, Delany has been around longer and has accomplished more. His name resonates throughout the sports world more than Slive's. And while Slive and other conference commissioners have brokered historic television deals, Delany and the Big Ten are the last in line -- the current deal expires in 2016 -- and are poised to cash in really, really big.

The past few years have been tough for the Big Ten, both on and off the field. The scandals at Penn State and, to a much lesser extent, Ohio State, damaged a reputation Delany helped to build. Delany's strong support of the BCS system also didn't help his cause as public opinion shifted sharply toward a playoff. But the notion that Delany "lost" the playoff debate is a farce driven by media members who didn't actually listen to what he said throughout the process (Delany has smartest-guy-in-the-room syndrome and sometimes talks over people rather than to them). He was first to mention using a selection committee, which will be adopted. And while the playoff participants won't all be conference champions, league champions will get preference over non-champions at the 4-5 margin, as Delany wanted.

SI.com's Andy Staples recently wrote the gap between Delany and Slive is thin and gives Slive the edge based on the SEC's championships. That's fair. But if you want to base power on what each commissioner actually has done, Delany gets my vote.
video
Go ahead and mount that dartboard with Lane Kiffin's (usually) smug mug on it.

Place it next to the one of NCAA president Mark Emmert or any others considered villains in the fallout from the severe sanctions placed on Penn State's football program. Ask how and why the NCAA cleared the way for a star player to transfer from one program on probation to another.

But don't blame Silas Redd. He's no Benedict Arnold or Brutus. He's an extremely talented football player who had to make the best decision for his future.

As expected, Redd confirmed Tuesday that he's transferring from Penn State to USC. The second-team All-Big Ten running back in 2011, who ran for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns, will be eligible to play immediately for the Trojans, who, like Penn State, have quite a tradition at running back. While Penn State is just beginning its penalty phase, which includes no postseason play for the next four years, USC is emerging from some of its own sanctions and will be eligible to compete for a national title for the first time since 2009.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarSilas Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns at Penn State last season, is transferring to USC.
The NCAA made it as easy as possible for Penn State players to transfer without penalty. Kiffin came calling, and Redd, after visiting USC's campus during the weekend, accepted the invitation.

Redd ultimately had two good options.

1. Stay at Penn State, play in an NFL-style offense under new head coach Bill O'Brien, be the clear-cut featured back and have an excellent chance to turn pro after the season.

2. Go to USC, compete for the starting job, play behind the nation's top quarterback in Matt Barkley and compete for a Pac-12 title and quite possibly a national championship.

You can't fault a guy for wanting to play for a championship. Redd has that opportunity at USC, which likely will be the preseason No. 1 team in the polls.

This isn't a case of a cocky kid looking for the next best thing. Any Penn State fan who knows Redd or has read about him knows he's humble, hardworking and extremely classy. He comes from a terrific family and has earned everything that has come his way. His decision was extremely difficult, and he's leaving behind many close friends in State College.

Here's the full statement Redd issued about his decision, and here's an excerpt:
"Playing football at Penn State has been a dream of mine since I was seven years old, and I will be forever grateful that this dream became a reality," Redd's statement reads. "This is the reason that the decision I have made is so difficult for me: I will transfer to USC to complete my education and my college football career, beginning in the 2012-2013 year. Penn State gave me a phenomenal opportunity to become part of a legendary football program. My teammates, my coaches -- past and present -- and the staff have provided me with a tremendous amount of guidance and support since I arrived on campus, and I can't thank them enough for their time, their advice, and their friendship. They have given me such a strong foundation from which I can continue to grow."

Sure, he could have echoed the pledge made by several of Penn State's older players last week. He could have stuck it out in State College. But the NCAA sanctions changed things at Penn State, and the liberal transfer policies opened doors everywhere, even to other programs on probation, like USC. Is that debatable? Highly.

"I think it is important to say that this situation is not something that I wished for myself, but it has happened, nonetheless," Redd's statement reads.

Redd also finds himself in a different situation from most Lions players. He has two years of eligibility left, and likely will face an NFL decision after the season. He also plays a position where a transition to a new team, even just a month before the opener, shouldn't be overly dramatic.

His departure certainly stings. If Redd isn't Penn State's best player, he's a close second behind first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges.

Who takes over at running back for the Lions? Bill Belton will be a key player to watch in preseason camp. He ran the "Wild Lion" offense at times last season and possesses good speed. Curtis Dukes, a big back who missed spring ball because of academics, is weighing whether or not to stay in State College. Redd's decision could impact that of incoming running back recruit Akeel Lynch, who is considering Iowa as a possible transfer destination.

Running back suddenly has become a compelling position battle for Penn State, which kicks off fall practice Monday.

It'll be interesting to see the reaction to Redd's transfer. His exit is another setback for a program and a fan base dealing with plenty of them. More departures likely will come, including the possibility of linebacker Khairi Fortt heading to Cal.

But if you're looking for someone to blame, Redd isn't the answer.

Video: Silas Redd to visit USC

July, 27, 2012
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Shelley Smith with the latest on Lane Kiffin's recruitment of Penn State running back Silas Redd.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 25, 2012
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Happy media days eve.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 22, 2012
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Chatting right now. It's not too late to join.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 16, 2010
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Missing "Hard Knocks" already.
My colleague Heather Dinich over the ACC blog is feeling a little disrespected these days.

Everyone is hatin' on the ACC. When it comes to ranking conferences heading into the 2010 season, the ACC is struggling to stay in the top 5.

Well, HD, welcome to my world between January 2007 and January 2010.

The Big Ten feels the ACC's pain after being the national piñata for the better part of three seasons. And while the Big Ten didn't do much to help the ACC's rep this bowl season -- Iowa and Wisconsin outclassed Georgia Tech and Miami -- the league knows what it's like to be dissed nationally.

The Big Ten's rep has been restored a bit, thanks to a strong bowl performance highlighted by two BCS wins and four victories against top-15 opponents. But until the Big Ten ends its national title drought, it likely won't fully regain respect around the college football world.

Leagues get two chances to improve their national perception: the nonconference and the postseason. While I won't predict Big Ten bowl matchups just yet, here are five opportunities for the league to help itself in the eyes of the nation.

Paterno
AP Photo/Tony DingIf Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions could knock off Alabama, it would do wonders for the Big 10's reputation.
1. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: What better way to boost the league's image than to shock the reigning national champs in their house? The fact that Penn State is rebuilding a bit after losing six first-team All-Big Ten performers, including quarterback Daryll Clark, would only make it sweeter.

2. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: Sorry, Dinich, but I look at this as a hold-serve matchup for Ohio State (think Isner-Mahut at Wimbledon). Miami should be very good, but the Buckeyes will be expected to defend their home turf against Jacory Harris & Co. A loss by the Big Ten favorites could really hurt the league's national reputation.

3. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC might have no bowl future and an untested head coach in Lane Kiffin, but it's still USC, the program that has tormented the Big Ten like none other during the last decade. Minnesota can make a major statement for itself and the league by upsetting the Trojans at TCF Bank Stadium. A Big Ten team hasn't beaten USC since Aug. 25, 1996, when Penn State knocked off the Trojans in the Kickoff Classic.

4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: This game means more for Iowa's reputation than it does the Big Ten's, but a league never wants one of its best teams to stumble early. Arizona is a good but not great team, but Iowa must travel two time zones away and play a night game. It's a classic trap game that the Hawkeyes need to survive, for their sake and the Big Ten's.

5. Purdue/Michigan/Michigan State against Notre Dame: Beating Notre Dame certainly doesn't mean what it used to, but people around the country still pay attention every time the Fighting Irish take the field. The Big Ten might not gain a ton of respect by beating Notre Dame, but the league certainly can't hurt its national perception by taking care of the Irish.

Big Ten mailblog

June, 11, 2010
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Anything on your mind?

Mike from New York City writes: Hey Adam,The PSU-Nebraska series over the past century is extremely close with PSU winning 7-6. There seems to be a lot of dormant animosity between the two schools after the bad call in the 1982 NC game, and the lack of a shared NC title in 1994. The largest crowd ever in Beaver Stadium was the Nebraska game in 2002. And the geography of the two schools puts them in a prime position to have a "Fringe State" rivalry within the big ten, as they both occupy the furthest reaches of the B10. How would you feel about changing PSU's end of season game from Michigan State to Nebraska for the Fringe State Trophy? I feel like that would be a rivalry both schools would care about very much.. a lot more than the MSU-PSU rivalry anyway.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's do it! I would really like to see that game at the end of the season, especially since the Michigan State-Penn State series doesn't do much for either fan base. One thing to consider: Nebraska always has played Colorado around the same time, so we need to see what happens with that series now that the Buffaloes are heading to the Pac-10. If Nebraska and Colorado play every year in September, I could definitely see things worked so that they play Penn State (or Iowa) at the end of November.


Jon from Ohio writes: Adam, can you provide a few steps the Big Ten can take to prevent collateral damage from expansion that the ACC seemed to have suffered? For example, the ACC championship game doesn't sell out, the basketball league was actually weakened and every prediction seemed to have worked out opposite. How does the Big Ten prevent this?

Adam Rittenberg: The Big Ten has some built-in advantages over the ACC, namely more tradition in football and larger fan bases. Jim Delany always brings up the ACC championship game as if to say, "Hey, it's not a guaranteed success." To which I roll my eyes. You put a Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis, and you're telling me it wouldn't be a super hot ticket every year? It would be a huge success for the Big Ten. You bring up a good point about the basketball product being weakened. Nebraska certainly doesn't add to the Big Ten that way. Notre Dame is an average hoops program, and Rutgers is totally off the radar in men's hoops (great in women's hoops). That has to be a bit of a concern with expansion, but if Nebraska is the only addition, the hoops product remains pretty strong.



Tim from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam, I'm a big UM and Big 10 as a whole fan. Everything that's going on with expansion has of course peaked interest, but something Kirk Herbstreit said... I disagree with. Kerby said that the Pac-10 is "stealing the thunder" from the Big 10. I know that Texas is the big fish here, but the Big Fish comes with so much baggage. Texas A&M and the Tech problem are 2 things that I don't think the Big 10 wanted to deal with, so they won't. Texas is a great addition, but with the package deal that includes the entire Big 10 South (minus Baylor), I don't think the Big 10 lost. It's like asking the hot girl to prom, but she makes you take all her fat friends too. What do you think? Is the Big 10 Losing?

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, I totally agree with you, but be prepared to hear people saying the Big Ten "lost" the expansion game if it only adds Nebraska and the Pac-10 expands by six. People will look at a much stronger Pac-10 on the field and disregard the extra baggage stuff. The bottom line is these two leagues -- Big Ten and Pac-10 -- are in different positions, although they have some similar philosophies. The Pac-10 really needs to expand to improve its brand and become more relevant nationally. I contend that while expansion helps the Big Ten, it's not absolutely necessary. The Big Ten would be compromising a lot to take on all of Texas' baggage. But again, be prepared for some Big Ten bashing.


Nathan from Montana writes: Do you think that Jim Delany made a huge mistake announcing his intentions and plans in relation to expansion, Adam? Not really announcing that the Big Ten was looking to expand, but announcing some details? Also, did the Pac-10 trump Delany in a major way? Is there anything the Big Ten can do and will each Big Ten school still make more money than any other conference (since money drives a lot of things)?

Adam Rittenberg: He might have made a mistake in thinking other leagues wouldn't react aggressively to what the Big Ten is doing. It's clear to me that the Big Ten has been forced to rush things now because of how quickly Larry Scott and the Pac-10 are moving. But if Scott was going to expand the Pac-10 anyway, did it matter that the Big Ten went public? And as far as the details, there haven't been too many that have damaged the Big Ten. Besides Texas, there isn't a school that both the Pac-10 and Big Ten coveted in expansion. Regarding money, the Big Ten and SEC always will generate a ton of revenue, but an expanded Pac-10 could enter the discussion if things go well.


Mark from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Given the penalties that USC will suffer over the next few years and the recruting promises made to the contrary, what are thechances that a recruit like Seantrel Henderson can re commit to another school?

Adam Rittenberg: It will be very, very interesting, Mark. We'll really find out about Lane Kiffin's recruiting skills now, as he needs to keep this team together and find ways to bring in small but productive recruiting classes during the next three years. Henderson certainly came close to signing with a Big Ten school (Ohio State and Minnesota both were in the mix), and I'm sure he's considering all of his options.


Cory from Ohio writes: Hey Adam, what happens if only Nebraska will go to the Big Ten? What will happen to Mizzou and the Big East teams that are interested? Also, will Notre Dame go to the Big Ten if it is the 13th and final entree?

Adam Rittenberg: If it's just Nebraska, the Big Ten forms a 12-team league, splits into two divisions, holds a championship game and that's the end of it. But I have a feeling this is just Phase 1 of the expansion process. Missouri is on the radar along with several others, but not at the very top of the list. Notre Dame knows the deal and can join as Nos. 13, 14, 15 or 16, but it has to actually want/accept the reality of being in a conference. Notre Dame likely could have been No. 12, but now I think it's more likely the Irish are team No. 16, forced into saying yes.
I can't remember an offseason quite as wacky as this one, where we saw coaching changes at big-name programs like Florida State, Notre Dame, USC and Tennessee, not to mention changes at emerging programs like Cincinnati, Texas Tech and South Florida. After a season that many believed lacked major drama, the coaching carousel certainly made up for it.

In fact, the only major conference immune from the shuffling was the Big Ten. No one got fired or resigned, and all 11 head coaches will return for 2010.

Coaching change can take a toll, especially on the recruiting trail, as JC Shurburtt from ESPN's Scouts Inc. writes today. After reading how these new coaches approach the recruiting challenges in new places, it got me thinking.

Will the Big Ten's coaching continuity pay off in recruiting?

Recruits build relationships with coaches for months, if not years, and they want some stability in their college destinations. It can't always sit well with recruits to see Lane Kiffin and Pete Carroll job-jumping in January.

For example, take a guy like Seantrel Henderson, the coveted offensive lineman from St. Paul, Minn. Henderson has Notre Dame, USC and Florida in his final pool of choices -- two programs that underwent coaching changes and another that did and then didn't. He's also looking at two Big Ten programs, Ohio State and Minnesota. Both programs retained their head coaches, and in the case of Ohio State's Jim Tressel, he's in no danger of being dismissed any time soon.

Stability is a reason why colleague Bruce Feldman predicts Henderson will end up as a BuckeyeInsider. Feldman writes: "My hunch is that with so much uncertainty, you'd think it would help Ohio State's chances to land Henderson since things in Columbus appear rock steady with Jim Tressel."

Henderson's father recently told Scout.com: "We are very concerned about stability within every program. Coach [Urban] Meyer is very personable and we liked him a lot, but that off-and-on retirement definitely shook up Seantrel. He had formed relationships with players going to Florida, and same with USC, and then it seemed like he had to start all over. Florida, and USC, are both great schools, and it remains to be seen how the coaching changes will effect things."

The coaching changes could steer a few more elite prospects toward the Big Ten.

Then again, Florida has the nation's No. 1 recruiting class, and USC isn't too far behind.

Indiana players fighting the flu

October, 14, 2009
10/14/09
10:20
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Indiana head coach Bill Lynch revealed Tuesday that the flu kept a handful of key defensive players out of practice last week, including starting middle linebacker Matt Mayberry, starting defensive end Greg Middleton and starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk. Indiana endured its worst defensive performance of the season in last Saturday's 47-7 loss to Virginia, which piled up 536 yards (305 passing, 231 rushing) in the game.

"I would never use that as an excuse because I think it's something we're going to have to deal with throughout the fall," Lynch told reporters in Bloomington. "It looks like it's on every college campus, and I'm not sure we're done with it. We had several guys on defense that didn't get a chance to practice last week and if you don't practice, it sometimes reflects what happens on the field."

Mayberry admitted that the enthusiasm was lacking in Charlottesville and might have stemmed from himself and others dealing with the flu.

A few other notes:
  • Lynch said linebacker Damon Sims, who had a chance to play as a true freshman, will be redshirted. The coach is taking a wait-and-see approach with two other true freshmen, quarterback Edward Wright-Baker and kicker Mitch Ewald.
  • Running back Darius Willis (ankle) and right guard Pete Saxon (ankle) are listed as questionable for Saturday's game against Illinois (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET).

Video: Big Man on Campus

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
1:03
PM ET



Pat Forde recaps a busy weekend in college football, including Matt Barkley’s performance, Terrelle Pryor’s struggles and Tate Forcier leading Michigan to a win over Notre Dame.

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