Big Ten: Macgarrett Kings Jr.

Big Ten morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
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Urban Meyer makes news when he thinks about the quarterback decision that he faces before next season. He actually talked about it Tuesday.

Meyer said the dilemma has started to "eat away" at him.

In this report by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, Meyer praised the Ohio State quarterbacks for their positive attitude in spring practice, specifically mentioning a compliment offered by Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones. Miller and J.T. Barrett talked a little football at practice, he said.

These are insignificant details, though they remain fascinating in the context of the OSU QB race, especially when offered by Meyer. The battle won't actually hit its stride until August of course, when all three accomplished players presumably will enter preseason camp in good health.

Meyer said Tuesday that he was moved to feel this way about the quarterbacks because he has "such great respect for all three guys."

He also offered a dose of reality. "The negative: Two people are going to have to watch."

This storyline has already taken on a life of its own. It's in danger of spinning out of control at some point before August, at least in the uncontrolled environment away from the Ohio State campus. Twelve practices remain for the Buckeyes this spring -- more time for the media and fans to anticipate and overanalyze every minor twist.

And if Meyer is already feeling a burden now, imagine how he'll feel in August.

Let's get to the links:

Big Ten morning links

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18
9:00
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Hitting the links before diving headfirst into the brackets ...

1. Penn State coach James Franklin offered a preview of spring practice on Tuesday, and one of the most interesting developments to come out of it was the official revelation that cornerback Jordan Lucas is moving to safety.

Lucas has started the past two years at corner and has been excellent at the position. But Franklin said that while Lucas has the talent to play cornerback in the NFL, he has a chance to "be special" at safety.

The move had been hinted at earlier this offseason. Penn State is light at safety after Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle all graduated, but it is flush with young talent at corner. Lucas should make a relatively smooth transition to safety, and at this point, you have to give Bob Shoop the benefit of the doubt on all matters pertaining to defense.

2. Michigan State's task of replacing ultra-productive running back Jeremy Langford might have gotten a little more difficult.

The team's leading returning rusher, sophomore Delton Williams, was suspended from all team activities on Tuesday by head coach Mark Dantonio. He was charged with brandishing a firearm in an apparent road rage incident on Monday night (side note: is the word brandishing ever used with anything else but a weapon?).

Williams reportedly had a permit for the handgun, and the charge is only a misdemeanor. However, Michigan State's code of conduct prohibits any guns on campus property, so some serious university sanctions could be coming as well.

Williams, who ran for 316 yards and five touchdowns last season, was seen as the early frontrunner to replace Langford. For at least the time being, sophomore Gerald Holmes is the most experienced returning back with 44 rushing yards last season. Redshirt freshman Madre London and true freshman L.J. Scott could also take on bigger responsibilities.

Another Michigan State player -- receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. -- was arrested late last month on drunken and disorderly charges. The Spartans don't start spring practice until next week, and hopefully no more players will make bad decisions before then.

Around the Big Ten ...

Big Ten morning links

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
9:00
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The Big Ten men's basketball tournament begins today. Remember when one of these things didn't take five days to complete?

1. The defending national champions opened spring ball on Tuesday. While everybody was understandably talking about the quarterback "battle" on the first day -- it's not much of a battle right now, of course, with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller recovering from injuries -- that's more or less a sideshow.

Sure, it's going to be utterly fascinating to see whether Cardale Jones can hold off the previous starters for the job. In the long run, however, it won't matter if Jones, Barrett, Miller or even Stephen Collier or Stephen Colbert starts for the Buckeyes. Quarterback is really the least of Urban Meyer's concerns.

He doesn't actually have many on this loaded roster. Yet if there's anything that could hold back Ohio State from making a repeat trip to the College Football Playoff, it's the defensive line. That might sound funny, since we were singing the praises of that unit as a dominant one all last year. But the Buckeyes had very little depth on the line last year and lost senior All-America tackle Michael Bennett, as well as senior defensive end Steve Miller.

Incoming freshman defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, whom we'd tabbed as one of five instant impact signees in the Big Ten last month, may not be able to contribute at all this year because of a recent knee injury.

It's going to be extremely important that holdover players like Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis, Donovan Munger and Jalyn Holmes make a difference to keep this defensive line playing at a high level. And it's telling that none of them made much of a dent on the team last year even though Meyer isn't afraid to play rookies.

"I'm very disappointed in the young defensive linemen we brought in here," Meyer said, according to Cleveland.com. "Not with what kind of people they are, just with performance."

Spring practice is just beginning in Columbus and the pads haven't even come on, so there's no good way to tell yet if some of those players have made improvement. But watching for that will be more critical to Ohio State's 2015 prospects than whatever happens with the quarterbacks.

2. Student attendance is an issue for several Big Ten schools and one Adam Rittenberg addressed in the blog a year ago. Recently, Iowa and Michigan lowered prices on their student season tickets in part to lure students back in.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Marc Morehouse has a look at student ticket prices throughout the league and how Iowa compares. After Michigan's reduction, Ohio State tops the conference at $272 for student season tickets, while Penn State is second at $218. Supply and demand appear to be at work here, as those two schools have the largest and most energetic student sections in the Big Ten.

Six other schools have remaining ticket packages that top $100 for the season. Maybe I'm old (check that: I am really old) but I don't remember having that kind of extra spending money lying around when I was a college student. Maybe we shouldn't criticize student for not turning out at some of these places but applaud the ones who make the effort and pay the expense to do so. Just a thought.

Around the league:

Big Ten morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
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It’s the middle of another cold, snowy, football-less week in Big Ten country. We’ll do our best to put a smile on your face anyway with today’s edition of the morning links.

1. College football fans have come up with countless ways to process the agony of a tough season. Iowa fans have been more creative than most, going so far as to develop their own mythical deity to explain their misfortune. They’ve raised the bar again.

Two frustrated Hawkeyes, one of whom happens to tour with REO Speedwagon now and then, vented this week about a 7-6 record through the magic of Broadway musicals. They discovered that Kirt Ferentz’s healthy salary worked out to be $571,400 per win in 2014, which lends itself nicely to a familiar classic born in the mid-1990s. Be warned: This version is even more likely to be stuck in your head than the original.

Of all the ways to express anger over young men playing a game below a fanbase’s standards -- from poisoning trees to horrible social media mentions and death threats, this has to be among the most enjoyable. Kudos to @actioncookbook and @TimStop24 for a job well done.

And in other soon-to-be viral and entertaining Internet news this week, it appears Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has struck up a Twitter friendship with daytime television’s Judge Judy. Harbaugh, a self-described devoted fan, congratulated her honor on signing a contract extension earlier this week. On Wednesday, Judge Judy responded.
2. One of the ugliest scenes of the most recent bowl season may end up helping Mike Riley get off to a good start at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers open the 2015 season by hosting BYU, a team that ended its appearance in the Miami Bowl in a sucker-punch brawl with Memphis. The game, a back-and-forth thriller, quickly deteriorated after BYU failed to score in its second possession of overtime. Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall promised his players that were involved would be disciplined, and it looks like that could come in the week leading up to this year’ season opener.

The details of what type of punishment Mendenhall has in mind for roughly 10 of his players isn’t clear. They may miss game time or preparation time in the week leading up to the game. It’s a necessary move by BYU, and an unexpected benefit for Nebraska, who will likely still be working out some kinks under its new coaching staff in early September.

3. USA Today published its Big Ten spring preview Wednesday, which started with a nod to the team that everybody in the conference will be chasing for the foreseeable future. Urban Meyer was expected to change Ohio State for the better when he arrived three-plus years ago. But it wasn’t clear then how much of an impact, as the article points out, he would have on the entire conference. The Big Ten’s momentum from a 6-5 bowl record is spilling into the spring. The conference heavyweights have all done their best to keep pace with the Buckeyes. The quality of the league is on the rise, and as much as any fan outside of Ohio will hate to admit it, a lot of credit is due to Meyer and his staff for that change.

Now, onto the links...
The long harsh offseason is in full swing, and we’re examining what each Big Ten team must accomplish in the coming months to be ready in early September.

Michigan State has a program built to last, but Mark Dantonio's team still has some things to get done in the coming months.

1. Restock the "No Fly Zone:" The Spartans must replace cornerback Trae Waynes, who skipped his senior year to become a potential first- or second-round NFL draft pick, and safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. Even with those guys on the field in 2014, Michigan State's vaunted secondary had some issues this fall, particularly against its best opponents. Safety RJ Williamson and cornerback Darian Hicks return as starters, and Montae Nicholson seems likely to claim the other safety spot after starting there three times as a freshman. The other cornerback job will be up for grabs, with Demetrious Cox the likely front-runner. But there will be heavy competition this spring and summer.

2. Replace stars at RB, WR: Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett were two of the best players at their respective positions in modern-day Michigan State history. Langford was a 100-yard per-game metronome and a workhorse tailback who ran for 2,944 yards and 40 touchdowns in the past two seasons combined. Lippett was the Big Ten's top receiver in 2014 with an 1,198-yard season -- and he started at cornerback late in the season, too. Replacing them will be a tall order, though the Spartans have plenty of options. Delton Williams is the most experienced returning running back and will get some competition from Madre London and others this spring. At receiver, Aaron Burbridge and Macgarrett Kings Jr. have made big plays in their career and have the potential for more. Young players will be thrown into the mix at both spots right away, too. Can any of them rise to the star level that Langford and Lippett achieved?

3. Find ways to slow Ducks, Bucks: As it did in 2014, Michigan State's 2015 season could really come down to two games: the Week 2 visit from Oregon and the Nov. 21 trip to Ohio State. Those two teams played for the national championship and were the only ones to beat the Spartans last season. But they did so handily, as Oregon won 46-27 and Ohio State rolled 49-37. With Pat Narduzzi gone to Pitt, new co-defensive coordinators Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel need to study every millisecond of film this offseason to find some type of way to put the brakes on those two high-flying offenses. That's much easier said than done, of course. But unless Michigan State wins at least one of those games, it will have no chance to reach the College Football Playoff. As always with a Dantonio team, it starts with defense.
We've been previewing each position group in the Big Ten, and we've gone through every level of the offense and defense. But that's only two-thirds of the game. Don't forget special teams.

It can be hard to judge some of the new guys in the kicking game, as they often practice alone on separate fields and respond differently to pressure. So we'll give more weight to those who have already proved themselves in the league. Here's how we see the specialists shaping up:

Best of the best: Michigan State

Punter Mike Sadler is like an extension of the defense, so brilliant is he at pinning opponents near their own goal line (and he must be accounted for on trick plays). The vastly improved place-kicking game was a hidden reason for Michigan State's turnaround last year, and credit belongs to Michael Geiger, who missed only one field goal in 16 tries as a freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr., who was suspended this spring, finished third in the Big Ten in punt returns a year ago. The kickoff return game needs work, but all in all, the Spartans are in great shape whenever ball meets foot.

Next up: Maryland

Only four returning FBS players made more field goals last year than Brad Craddock, who went 21-for-25. William Likely was one of the ACC's best kickoff and punt returners as a freshman. Nathan Renfro had some shaky moments at punter but is entering his third year as a starter. The Terps enter the Big Ten armed with strong special teams. Ohio State should also be very, very good if an adequate replacement for placekicker Drew Basil is found.

Sleeper: Illinois

It wasn't that long ago that the Illini special teams were embarrassingly bad. But things are improving. V'Angelo Bentley led the league with a 15.8-yard average on punt returns last year. Place-kicker Taylor Zalewski has battled with inconsistency but did make a 54-yarder last year; he'll face some competition from Navy transfer David Reisner and Ryan Frain this summer. Veteran punter Justin DuVernois has been solid.

Problem for a contender: Wisconsin

The Badgers have had major issues on field goals the past couple of seasons. Jack Russell needs to provide more than just easy opportunities for my dog puns, or else he could be on a short leash (ahem). Drew Meyer returns at punter, but Wisconsin finished ninth in the Big Ten in net punting average last season. The good news is that Kenzel Doe is a top-flight return man. But if the overall kicking game doesn't improve, it could cost the team a win or two.
Wide receiver has been a bit of an albatross for the Big Ten, although last season brought a mini renaissance with four 1,000-yard receivers and another (Illinois' Steve Hull) who nearly got there (993 yards). The bad news is all five of those players depart, leaving question marks on the perimeter. There are more certainties at tight end as players such as Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman, Rutgers' Tyler Kroft, Minnesota's Maxx Williams, Northwestern's Dan Vitale and Penn State's trio of Kyle Carter, Jesse James and Adam Breneman all return. Whether you believe Michigan's Devin Funchess is a wide receiver or a tight end, he's back, too. And he's really good.

Our position previews continue with the wide receiver/tight end group.

Best of the best: Maryland

The Big Ten rookies face some challenges in their new conference, but the Terrapins bring a talented and extremely deep group of receivers. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long lead the way as both men return from broken legs that shortened promising 2013 seasons. Levern Jacobs, Nigel King and Amba Etta-Tawo all did nice jobs last season, as each eclipsed 30 receptions. The return of Marcus Leak, who showed the ability to stretch the field in 2012 before missing last season, provides yet another option for senior quarterback C.J. Brown. Wide receiver undoubtedly will be Maryland's strength entering the season, and in terms of depth, no other Big Ten squad comes close. The Terps need a tight end to emerge after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Next up: Michigan State

I considered several teams here -- Nebraska, Ohio State, Northwestern, Michigan, Indiana, Penn State, even Iowa -- but few programs are bringing back more than three reliable options in the passing game. Michigan State, a laughingstock at receiver in 2012, bounced back nicely last season as the offense stabilized behind quarterback Connor Cook. The Spartans had six receivers or tight ends finish with 17 or more receptions and six players with multiple touchdown receptions in 2013. Five of those players are back as only wide receiver Bennie Fowler, MSU's leader in receiving yards (622) and receiving touchdowns (6), departs. Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings lead the group after combining for 87 receptions last year. Aaron Burbridge and Keith Mumphery also return along with tight end Josiah Price, who emerged late last fall. DeAnthony Arnett finally could be ready to contribute. Good depth here.

Sleeper: Northwestern

We've been high on this group for years but the production hasn't been there on a consistent basis. A two-quarterback system and a primary signal-caller (Kain Colter) best suited to run the option made it tough for the wide receivers and tight ends to truly blossom. Things should change this year with a single quarterback (Trevor Siemian) and an offense that should have much more of a passing lean. Christian Jones and Tony Jones are both proven receivers whose numbers should climb this fall. Like MSU's Arnett, Prater also could be on the verge of big things several years after transferring in, and Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler fills the all-important slot role. Tight end Dan Vitale has 62 receptions in his first two seasons and could be a star this fall.

Problem for a contender: Wisconsin

The Badgers barely had enough wide receivers to get through practices this spring, but they'll need a significant boost on the perimeter when the season kicks off. Gone are top wide receiver Jared Abbrederis and top tight end Jacob Pedersen, who accounted for 63.7 percent of the team's receiving yards in 2013. Factor in the loss of running back James White (39 receptions for 300 yards last season), and Wisconsin returns only one player, Jordan Fredrick, with 10 or more receptions last season and none with more than 150 receiving yards. The Badgers need a lot of help here: Fredrick and Alex Erickson to develop, Kenzel Doe to build on a good spring, Robert Wheelwright to stay healthy and blossom and several incoming freshmen -- keep an eye on Krenwick Sanders -- to contribute immediately. Veteran Sam Arneson likely steps into the top tight end role.
The 100th edition of the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO kicks off later today. Here's a look at 10 reasons why No. 4 Michigan State could beat No. 5 Stanford in Pasadena.

[+] EnlargeShilique Calhoun
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State will send Shilique Calhoun, and many other defenders, at Stanford's offense.
1. MSU can match Stanford's physicality: Stanford's only two losses this season came against teams with big, physical players, especially up front. The Cardinal can simply overpower most of their Pac-12 foes, but Michigan State can match them along the line of scrimmage. Even without middle linebacker Max Bullough, the Spartans defense should be able to contain a traditional offense like Stanford's. Spread teams give the "Spartan Dawgs" slightly more trouble, but Stanford isn't one of them.

2. The kicking game: No one is talking enough about MSU's edge in special teams. Stanford's Ty Montgomery is an exceptional return man, but Michigan State has arguably the nation's best punter in Mike Sadler and a superior kicker in Michael Geiger, who has connected on 14 of 15 field-goal attempts. MSU also has been brilliant in executing special-teams fakes and has had nearly a month to brainstorm some for the bowl.

3. Shilique Calhoun: Michigan State's improved pass rush has made an already elite defense even better this season, and Calhoun is the biggest reason why. He has 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss and can pressure Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan in obvious passing situations. Calhoun will be challenged by Stanford mammoth left tackle Andrus Peat in what should be one of the game's best individual matchups.

4. Big-play receivers: This item would have been laughed at a year ago, but MSU's receiving corps turned things around early this season. Players such as Bennie Fowler, Keith Mumphery, Tony Lippett and Macgarett Kings can stretch defenses, and the group has repeatedly helped out quarterback Connor Cook with tough catches. Coordinator Dave Warner said the upgrade at receiver play has been the biggest difference with this year's offense.

5. No-fly zone: MSU undoubtedly will miss Bullough's run-stopping ability, but it has the luxury of committing more defenders to the run than most teams, especially against offenses like Stanford's. Cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes are talented enough to be left on their own against a Stanford team that features only one player (Montgomery) with more than 27 receptions. Dennard also could help against the rush.

6. The magic man: There's no doubt Cook has had the magic touch during Michigan State's nine-game win streak, making tough throws into traffic and on the move. He has gotten away with mistakes, some of which have turned into big plays for the Spartans. Will the magic run out against Stanford? It's possible, but Cook had his first career 300-yard passing performance in the Big Ten championship. The bigger the stage, the better he seems to play.

7. Sparta West: Big Ten fans love to complain that the league's bowl games are essentially road games. Well, the Rose Bowl will feel like Spartan Stadium as Michigan State fans have traveled here in large numbers. At least half of the stadium will be green, and MSU should feed off of the crowd after going 7-0 at home this season. The ideal weather conditions likely favor Stanford, but the overall environment gives MSU an edge.

8. Langford in the fourth quarter: Michigan State has won its past nine games by double digits and often finishes off its opponents with strong fourth quarters. The Spartans have outscored their opponents 105-27 in the final 15 minutes this season, and running back Jeremy Langford has delivered several long scoring runs down the stretch. Stanford has been outscored 85-82 in the fourth quarter this fall.

9. Extra prep time for coaches: This could be an edge for both teams as both coaching staffs are excellent, but Mark Dantonio and his assistants have been excellent in their preparation throughout the season. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has had ample time to study Stanford's offense and its line combinations, and the offense could incorporate some new wrinkles in the pass game. Definitely expect a PG-named fake or two from Dantonio.

10. Sparty: Michigan State has the coolest non-live-animal mascot in the country in Sparty, a chiseled warrior with a glare that intimidates anyone he encounters. Stanford's mascot looks like a 6-year-old's art project, with big googly eyes and a stupid grin on its face. Sparty will crush the tree and inspire Michigan State's players to do the same to Stanford. And yes, I grew up in Berkeley, Calif.
More than once this season I watched a Michigan State receiver make a great catch or a long run and thought: poor Andrew Maxwell.

Although quarterback Connor Cook deserves a lot of credit for MSU's offensive turnaround, he undoubtedly benefited from a wide receiver corps that cleaned up its act. Maxwell consistently fell victim to dropped passes, part of the reason why he completed just 52.5 percent of his attempts in 2012.

Here's a list of the Big Ten's most improved position groups this year:

Michigan State wide receivers: They were hard to watch in 2012, and their repeated drops proved costly for a team that lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points. The overall numbers aren't much different in the two seasons, but Michigan State's wideouts all did a much better job of eliminating drops and making plays. Macgarrett Kings emerged as a threat and is tied with Tony Lippett for the team lead in receptions (39), while Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery emerged as big-play threats, averaging 15.4 and 16.4 yards per reception, respectively.

Minnesota offensive line: After an injury plagued 2012 regular season, the line made strides in the Texas Bowl and continued the momentum this fall. Minnesota improved its rushing average by 49 yards per game and racked up nine more rushing touchdowns. David Cobb eclipsed 100 rushing yards in five of his final six games, putting up 101 yards against Michigan State, the nation's top rush defense. Minnesota also tied for fourth in the league in fewest sacks allowed (21). A program that once churned out great offensive lines each year is getting back to its roots.

Iowa defensive line: Like Minnesota's offensive line, Iowa has a great tradition along the defensive front but endured some down years after an incredible run of NFL draft picks. The Hawkeyes' defensive line got back on track this season, and coach Kirk Ferentz labeled the line as the team's most improved unit. Drew Ott and Carl Davis emerged and Iowa improved to seventh nationally in total defense, 11th in scoring defense and 17th against the run.

Ohio State wide receivers: Urban Meyer blasted the group during spring practice last year and wasn't overly impressed with the results during the 2012 season. Only one receiver (Corey Brown) recorded more than 30 receptions and only two (Brown and Devin Smith) had multiple touchdown catches. Brown and Smith combined for 97 receptions and 18 touchdowns this season, and Chris Fields had six scores. Along with tight end Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State's passing game looked more efficient for much of the fall.

Illinois quarterbacks: I could pick almost every position group on offense for the Illini, who transformed under first-year coordinator Bill Cubit. But Nathan Scheelhaase's development truly stood out, as the senior led the Big Ten in passing by a wide margin with 3,272 yards, more than double his total from 2012. Scheelhaase completed two-thirds of his attempts and consistently stretched the field as Illinois finished 22nd nationally in pass offense.

Indiana running backs: The Hoosiers emphasized the run game during the offseason and saw the desired results during games. After finishing 10th in the league in rushing in 2012, Indiana improved to fourth, averaging more than 200 yards per game. Tevin Coleman emerged as a big-play threat and averaged 106.4 rush yards per game and a whopping 7.3 yards per carry. Teammate Stephen Houston wasn't too shabby, either, averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
3:30
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The most perfect moment of my week occurred at 1:38 a.m. Thursday, as we welcomed our son into the world. It's the greatest feeling the world, as you parents out there know. Even an 0-4 showing in the Big Ten picks wouldn't have wiped the smile off my face.

Turns out, my perfect week was just getting started. I went 4-0 on the slate, thanks to Penn State's dramatic four-overtime win against Michigan, and moved one game ahead of Bennett in the season standings.

WEEK 7/SEASON RECORD

Adam Rittenberg: 4-0, 51-8
Brian Bennett: 3-1, 50-9

Here's one last look at the Week 7 predictions made by us and our guest forecaster, Barry Uphoff from Palo Alto, Calif.

It's rewind time …

Indiana at Michigan State
  • Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan State 28, Indiana 21
  • Adam Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 30, Indiana 20
  • Actual score: Michigan State 42, Indiana 28
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both had fairly high score predictions for a game involving Michigan State, but evidently not high enough as the Spartans offense is starting to blossom. Brian correctly pegged a big game from Spartans RB Jeremy Langford (109 rush yards, 3 TDs), while my predictions for Nate Sudfeld, Trae Waynes and Macgarrett Kings fell short.
Nebraska at Purdue
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 38, Purdue 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 38, Purdue 21
  • Actual score: Nebraska 44, Purdue 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both came close on the Huskers' score but expected more from Danny Etling and the Purdue offense against a defense that had been vulnerable most of the season. Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong had a first-half touchdown run, not touchdown pass, as I had forecast, but Ameer Abdullah (126 rush yards) nearly nailed my prediction (130 rush yards). The Huskers picked off Etling just once, not twice, as Brian predicted they would.
Northwestern at Wisconsin
  • Bennett's pick: Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 30
  • Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 27
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 6
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another prediction where we came close on one team's score and completely whiffed on the other team's. Then again, who expected Northwestern to forget to show up at Camp Randall Stadium? Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon had one long touchdown run (a 71-yarder), not the two I predicted, and Northwestern had no special teams touchdown (or any touchdown, for that matter). Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis connected for one score, not the two Brian had predicted.
Michigan at Penn State
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 28, Penn State 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 38, Michigan 35
  • Actual score: Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4 OT)
  • 20-20 hindsight: I didn't see this one going to four overtimes, but otherwise I made a pretty strong forecast, as Penn State won a shootout by the predicted margin. Lions QB Christian Hackenberg eclipsed 250 pass yards, as I predicted, and Michigan QB Devin Gardner came up just 10 yards shy. Gardner and Jeremy Gallon (seven catches, 95 yards, TD) attacked Penn State's secondary, as Bennett thought they would, although Devin Funchess (112 yards receiving) had the bigger night and Zach Zwinak (eight carries, 24 yards) was quiet.

You've seen how we performed. Now it's time to check on our guest picker, Barry.

Michigan State 31, Indiana 21
Nebraska 35, Purdue 24
Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 28
Michigan 27, Penn State 24

Not too shabby with a 3-1 mark, although those score predictions need a little work, Barry. Like us, you expected something from Purdue and Northwestern and got next to nothing. The scoreboard operator in Happy Valley was a little busier than you expected.

Who's our next guest picker? Tell us why you should be the choice here and here.

Big Ten predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
9:00
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The halfway point of the season is within sight, and we're neck-and-neck in the predictions race. Will someone pull ahead in Week 7? There are only four games on tap, but several potential close ones.

Let's get it started …


INDIANA at MICHIGAN STATE

Brian Bennett: Ah, what can top the majesty of a trophy modeled after a spit receptacle? This is a fascinating game in terms of an offense versus defense showdown. I think Indiana can make some plays in its passing game, but Michigan State's improving offense, behind Connor Cook and a strong running game behind Jeremy Langford, makes the difference. … Michigan State 28, Indiana 21

Adam Rittenberg: I love the matchup of strength (Michigan State's defense) versus strength (Indiana's offense) at Spartan Stadium. It'll be a mixed bag for Hoosiers quarterback Nate Sudfeld with two touchdown passes and two interceptions, but Michigan State once again contains the run game and gets a pick-six from Trae Waynes. The Spartans offense is gaining confidence at the right time, and wideout Macgarrett Kings adds two more touchdowns as Michigan State uses a big third quarter to win again. … Michigan State 30, Indiana 20


NEBRASKA at PURDUE

Rittenberg: Taylor Martinez watches as Tommy Armstrong Jr. leads the offense to another big performance against a leaky Purdue defense. Armstrong fires a first-half touchdown pass and Ameer Abdullah goes for 130 yards and two scores. Boilers quarterback Danny Etling sparks his team to an early lead before Nebraska takes control in the second quarter. … Nebraska 38, Purdue 21

Bennett: Nebraska hits the road for the first time, but there's nowhere you'd rather play right now in this league than West Lafayette, Ind., if you have to leave home. I agree that Abdullah will have a monster game, and the Huskers pick Etling off twice in a dominant effort. … Nebraska 38, Purdue 14



NORTHWESTERN at WISCONSIN

Bennett: Is there any way this can end except in a close game and a tough loss for one of these teams? I say no, especially since these could be the second- and third-best teams in the league, in some order. Northwestern grabs an early 10-point lead, but Wisconsin comes back on a pair of Joel Stave touchdown passes to Jared Abbrederis. … Wisconsin 33, Northwestern 30


Rittenberg: The Wildcats commit more defenders to the run in this one, but Melvin Gordon still breaks loose for two long touchdown runs. Wisconsin has some trouble with Northwestern's pass game, and the Wildcats record a special-teams touchdown from Venric Mark. But the Badgers surge in the fourth quarter behind Gordon, James White and a powerful offensive line as Northwestern's close-game heartbreak continues. … Wisconsin 31, Northwestern 27


MICHIGAN at PENN STATE

Rittenberg: I'm going with the upset here as feisty Bill O'Brien lights a fire under his team, which plays a much better game under the lights before the home faithful. It's be a shootout, and both Christian Hackenberg and Devin Gardner eclipse 250 pass yards. But Gardner commits a turnover midway through the fourth quarter, and Penn State scores in the final minute on an Akeel Lynch run. … Penn State 38, Michigan 35

Bennett: This should be a close one, as both teams have strengths but also some glaring issues. O'Brien commits to the run game early and Zach Zwinak scores two touchdowns, but Penn State's issues in the secondary are exposed by Gardner and Jeremy Gallon, and Gardner scoots in for the winning score with less than two minutes left. … Michigan 28, Penn State 24.


That's how we see things playing out Saturday afternoon, but we're not done yet. It's time to hear from our guest picker. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest picker is Barry Uphoff from Palo Alto, Calif. Barry, the floor is yours …
I should be your Big Ten guest picker of the week! Was born in Nebraska, have lived in Chicago and been in every stadium in the Big Ten to see a game -- Lincoln is of course my favorite. So why should I be the guest picker for the week? Living in Pac-12 land, especially Palo Alto, is tough! Anything I can do to spend more time on the Big Ten and less time hearing about the Pac-12, the better. If I have to see or hear about the dancing tree one more time, I am going to chop the tree down! Sincerely, George Washington.

(Editor's note: As a Berkeley, Calif., native, I can't stand the Tree, either. … Adam)

Here are Barry's Week 7 picks …

Michigan State 31, Indiana 21
Nebraska 35, Purdue 24
Wisconsin 35, Northwestern 28
Michigan 27, Penn State 24


SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 47-8
Brian Bennett:
47-8
Guest pickers:
42-13
It didn’t take long for Michigan State wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. to realize how big Saturday's game vs. Iowa was for his team.

“Bennie [Fowler] and I were just talking on our way to the airport to come home and we were like, ‘We really balled today. This was a turning point,’ ” Kings told ESPN.com “We just have to keep moving forward from this point on.”

[+] EnlargeMacgarrett Kings
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesMacgarrett Kings Jr. caught five passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in Michigan State's win over Iowa.
In that 26-14 win over the Hawkeyes, Michigan State finally showed a balanced offensive attack for the first time this season.

By no means, however, did that performance completely change the perception of the Spartans' offense, but it was a game that left fewer unanswered questions.

“We were still looking to put a couple things together in our pass game, we were running the ball pretty well,” Kings said. “We were just looking to get everything together in the pass game and I felt like we got that accomplished.”

Sophomore quarterback Connor Cook had his best performance of the year and Dantonio finally saw the kind of consistency in his play that he wants out of an MSU signal caller.

“I was excited about his progress from really the Youngstown State game to the Notre Dame game to this game,” Dantonio said. “We’re pretty confident he’s going to continue to rise his level of playing. As he gets more experience, he’ll be more comfortable. And I think when you do get in that period when he’s extremely comfortable, I think you’re going to see an outstanding quarterback that can do a lot of things.”

Cook passed for two touchdowns and 277 yards (25-of-44), and threw just one pick.

But what was impressive was how the sophomore grew and built confidence throughout the game.

Twice Michigan State got within Iowa’s 30-yard line in the first quarter, but the Spartans walked away scoreless. The Spartans, however, kept their composure and trusted that big plays were going to come as Cook settled into his rhythm.

And Kings believes that same kind of improvement will happen as the season moves along and Cook gains chemistry and confidence with his offense.

“It has been a relief just knowing that we have one quarterback who’s going to be the guy, not switching quarterbacks,” Kings said. “[We’re] getting to know the rhythm, the timing, where we’re going to be, where he’s going to put the ball.”

Cook’s passing was complemented by a run game that helped moved the ball down the field, averaging 3.6 yards per carry.

Kings believes that between the Spartans' run game and Cook's pocket presence and down-field demeanor, they’ll be an offense that can be go up against any Big Ten defense.

This weekend, Michigan State will have that chance against the Hoosiers.

Indiana beat Penn State last weekend, 44-24. It was a more of a shootout than anything else, however, as the game notched 50 first downs and nearly 900 yards of total offense.

In that win, the IU defense has showed that opponent yards don’t necessarily means points or a win. Indiana held Christian Hackenberg to 11-of-22 on third downs and 1-of-5 on fourth downs. It’ll be looking to do the same to Cook and his offense, while the Spartans will be looking to build on their performance against Iowa.

“We’re looking to prove that this weekend against Indiana,” Kings said. “Indiana is a great program, but we’re just looking to go out and do what we do best -- run routes, get open and catch the ball, and keep our defense off the field, show that we can be a dominant offense.”
Ohio State hasn't been dominant or error-free the past two weeks, but the Buckeyes keep finding ways to win. Urban Meyer remains unbeaten in Columbus after an extremely hard-fought game at Northwestern, as Ohio State had to rally from halftime and fourth-quarter deficits.

Knock the Buckeyes if you'd like, but they've won 18 consecutive games, the longest streak in the nation.

It could turn out that the Buckeyes' past two opponents, Wisconsin and Northwestern, both could make cases for being the league's No. 2 squad. We've been more impressed with the one-loss Wildcats than undefeated Michigan, which gets its own shot at Ohio State on Nov. 30 at the Big House. Not much separates Northwestern, Michigan and Wisconsin right now.

Michigan State and Indiana make positive moves in the rankings, while Iowa, Penn State and Minnesota fall.

Let's take one final look at the Week 5 Power Rankings.

Here's this week's rundown ...

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): For a while it looked like Ohio State's run of perfection would come to an end Saturday night. Quarterback Braxton Miller looked rattled, and Northwestern moved the ball well against the Buckeyes' defense. But Ohio State regrouped midway through the third quarter and made enough plays on both sides of the ball to survive another tough test. Meyer stuck with Miller after considering Kenny Guiton, running back Carlos Hyde had a big night and the young Buckeyes defense stopped the run when it needed to in the fourth quarter.

2. Northwestern (4-1, 0-1; last week: 2): The talent differential that plagued Northwestern for years isn't there as much anymore, as the Wildcats can keep pace with any team in the league. The problem: They still struggle to finish big games. They might have been a yard away from upsetting Ohio State but couldn't convert a fourth-and-1 in plus territory. The inability to finish drives cost Pat Fitzgerald's crew, which held Ohio State's offense out of the end zone for nearly three quarters. Venric Mark provided a big boost in his return from injury.

3. Michigan (5-0, 1-0; last week: 4): Michigan needed a clean game and got one against Minnesota, as the Wolverines had zero turnovers in a 42-13 victory. Quarterback Devin Gardner was efficient in the pocket, and tight end Devin Funchess had career highs in both catches (seven) and receiving yards (151). Michigan's defense settled down nicely after allowing an early touchdown, as Minnesota couldn't get the explosion plays it needed to hang around. The Wolverines head back on the road this week in Happy Valley.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 1-1; last week: 3): The Badgers had an extra week to think about their missed opportunities at Ohio State before resuming play with another big game against Northwestern. Standout running back Melvin Gordon is expected back from a knee injury, and the off week came at a good time to boost the team's overall health. Wisconsin's defense had some struggles against Ohio State's spread offense and faces another spread team this week in Northwestern.

5. Nebraska (4-1, 1-0; last week: 5): Although the Huskers didn't move up in the rankings, we feel better about their ability to rise up after seeing their defense step up against a big-play Illinois offense. Young defenders like Jared Afalava, Michael Rose and Randy Gregory performed well, and veteran nickelback Ciante Evans had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Nebraska's biggest issue might be at quarterback, as freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. delivered in place of the hobbled Taylor Martinez. Armstrong received plenty of help from running back Ameer Abdullah (225 rush yards, 2 TDs).

6. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0; last week: 7): We knew the Spartans had a defense, which showed up big in the second half at Iowa, especially against the run. The big news is the Spartans also have a quarterback in Connor Cook, who passed for 277 yards and two touchdowns, finding both Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Bennie Fowler for big plays. Cook was visibly upset at Notre Dame, questioning the coaches' faith in him after being pulled on the final drive. He restored that faith Saturday and put Michigan State in position to challenge for a division title.

7. Iowa (4-2, 1-1; last week: 6): Mark Weisman and the power run game had been Iowa's identity through the first five weeks. But Michigan State stopped Weisman (seven carries, 9 yards) and completely shut down Iowa's offense in the second half. The Hawkeyes once again fell victim to a special-teams fake and couldn't stop big pass plays from Michigan State. Several injuries mounted up for Iowa, and while most don't appear to be serious, the open week comes at a good time before a trip to Ohio State.

8. Indiana (3-2, 1-0; last week: 11): The off week clearly paid off for Kevin Wilson's crew, which breathed life back into its bowl hopes with an excellent performance against Penn State. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld (321 pass yards, 2 TDs) bounced back nicely from his struggles against Missouri, wide receiver Cody Latimer (nine catches, 140 yards, fumble recovery) had a huge day and the defense contained Penn State's run game. Indiana's offense faces a much bigger test this week at Michigan State, but the Hoosiers head to East Lansing with some confidence.

9. Penn State (3-2, 0-1, last week: 8): Bill O'Brien's team has some serious problems after falling to Indiana for the first time in team history. The defense didn't show up against a spread offense for the second time in three games, and Indiana completely dominated the fourth quarter. Penn State has something special with Christian Hackenberg and wide receiver Allen Robinson, but the defense clearly has taken a step back. Things only get tougher with Michigan and Ohio State up next.

10. Illinois (3-2, 0-1; last week: 9): There's no doubt Illinois has improved this season, but by how much? The Illini never mounted a serious challenge against Nebraska, even though the Huskers played without Martinez, as Tim Beckman's crew fell behind 30-5 early in the third quarter. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has gone from great (Cincinnati) to shaky (Washington) to great (Miami University) to shaky (Nebraska). But the bigger issue is a defense that surrendered 335 rush yards to the Huskers. Illinois is off this week before a critical home stretch against Wisconsin and Michigan State.

11. Minnesota (4-2, 0-2; last week: 10): It has been a rough few weeks both on and off the field for the Gophers, who dropped their second straight game and played without head coach Jerry Kill, who remained in Minneapolis after suffering another seizure Saturday morning. Minnesota enters an off week, which will put more attention on Kill and his health. The Gophers once again lack enough explosiveness on offense to do much damage against Big Ten defenses. Minnesota resumes play Oct. 19 at Northwestern.

12. Purdue (1-4, 0-1; last week: 12): The open week gave Darrell Hazell's crew a chance to regroup. Unfortunately, an off-field issue surfaced involving wide receiver B.J. Knauf, who has been suspended for the next two games. It will be interesting to see how freshman quarterback Danny Etling performs after some time to practice as the starter. Purdue's struggling defense will be tested again as the high-powered Nebraska Cornhuskers visit Ross-Ade Stadium.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
12:00
PM ET
Still waiting for Kyle French's game-winning field-goal attempt. Ridiculous.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
5:00
PM ET
Let's open the inbox. Remember, follow us on Twitter.

Michael from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Adam, if you had to pick a team from the BIG other than Ohio State who could compete for a national title this season, who would it be? I realize OSU is the strongest option, but hopefully there might be another team (or teams) who you could make an argument for without using too many supporting statements that start with "if" or "with a little luck".

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, the other team would be your hometown Nebraska Cornhuskers, but it's hard for me to make a case for a national title run without some qualifying statements. There are too many question marks on defense, and I don't think Nebraska's wild/erratic style -- lots of points, lots of turnovers -- translates into championships of any kind. So "if" Nebraska cuts down significantly on the fumbles and uses the first two months of the season to mature on defense, it has a chance to run the table during the regular season. The defense will need to overcome inexperience with greater talent and overall depth.

The big plus for Nebraska is a schedule that lends itself to a young team maturing. UCLA might be the only team that can outscore the Huskers in the first seven games. Nebraska's season comes down to November, and if the Huskers can win at the Big House and Beaver Stadium, a 12-0 mark is possible. The Huskers then would have to beat the Leaders champ, most likely Ohio State, in Indy. Nebraska doesn't look like a national title contender, but the schedule could help Big Red along the way to a potential surprise run.

Sly from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Hey Adam -- I had a question about bye weeks. Assuming a bye week is positive (an arguable assumption), which three B1G teams would you say are most fortunate, and which three were most screwed (e.g., ones that have more high-level opponents coming off bye weeks)?

Adam Rittenberg: Sly, my view is that bye weeks are typically overvalued. There really isn't much correlation to wins after open weeks. It actually has been more of a detriment in some seasons for Big Ten squads. Bye weeks undoubtedly help when key injuries surface, as players have an extra week to recover. This season features the double bye, so Big Ten teams will have two open Saturdays. I tend to like some spacing between off weeks and to have one around Nov. 1.

Let's break it down ...

Favorable

Michigan State: The Spartans get one open week after completing non-league play with Notre Dame, before opening the Big Ten season with Iowa. The other open week follows the always emotion-charged rivalry game against Michigan. The Spartans have two weeks to prepare before road games against Nebraska and Northwestern.

Indiana: Like MSU, Indiana gets its first bye after non-league play is complete, giving Kevin Wilson's crew two weeks to prepare for the Big Ten opener against Penn State. The second off week comes following consecutive road games against Michigan and Michigan State, a time when IU likely needs time to heal.

Northwestern: The Wildcats also get their first bye following the completion of non-league play. They'll have two weeks to prepare for a huge home showdown against Ohio State on Oct. 5. The second open week comes in the middle of the November grind, following a road trip to Nebraska and before key division home games against Michigan and Michigan State. It should provide a nice breather.

Unfavorable

Nebraska: Both open weeks come during a four-week span in Nebraska's easy part of the schedule (late Sept./early Oct.). The Huskers would be better served to have an off week during their November grind, when they play Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State.

Penn State: Like Nebraska, Penn State gets both of its open weeks really early in the season (Weeks 5 and 8). Attrition could be a factor for a Lions team playing with reduced scholarships, and PSU really could have benefited from an off week during November, when it faces Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Illinois: Sense a pattern here? Illinois will have two open weeks before it plays two Big Ten games. That means Tim Beckman's shaky crew must go through the meat of the conference schedule without a break.

Will from Hoboken, N.J., writes: Hey Adam -- heading into this season, I am getting this mentality that the B1G is in a down year. Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Iowa all have to get over their own humps to see how "good" they are. Ohio State's schedule is a little weak this season. I can't help but have a "I hope they put up a good fight" mentality about Penn State, as their scholarship reduction takes effect this season. Northwestern is a classic underdog story and I'll be rooting for them to do well and am excited to see them potentially beat some of the powerhouse teams. I love B1G football and am an alumnus of a B1G school, but am I delusional about this upcoming season?

Adam Rittenberg: Will, I agree there are some significant question marks throughout most of the league, but it's hard to say this is a down year after 2012, which was pretty disastrous for the Big Ten aside from Ohio State's 12-0 run, and even that came under the cloud of NCAA sanctions. The Big Ten had an 8-5 champion in Wisconsin and two of its best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) were barred from postseason play. It totally flopped in non-league play -- aside from Northwestern and Ohio State -- and didn't do much in the bowls. Can't get more “down” than 2012.

While I don't think the Big Ten will unseat the SEC this season, there's a decent chance the league improves on its performance from 2012. Teams like Michigan and Michigan State certainly could win more games, and both Ohio State and Nebraska could enter November undefeated and very much in the national discussion. Indiana and Minnesota both have a chance to improve in Year 3 under their respective coaches, and remember that Wisconsin returns 25 seniors on a team that knows how to win Big Ten titles. Sure, there's transition in Madison, but former coach Bret Bielema had been pointing to 2013 as a breakthrough year even before the 2012 season.

Carmen Ohio from Madison, Wis., writes: Do you think it looks better to schedule an elite team from what is currently called a non-AQ conference, or a team from the lower tier of a power conference? For example, last season only Michigan and Wisconsin played two non-conference teams that ended the year in the top-20, but people constantly use Bucky as an example of weak scheduling. Do you think that this perception was due to the fact it was non-traditional powers Utah State and Oregon State? Would it have resonated louder to have scheduled Kentucky, Virginia, Colorado and Kansas?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Carmen, and it speaks to the trickiness of non-league scheduling, which is typically done so far in advance that, in many cases, it's a total crapshoot as to how good/bad the teams turn out to be. Wisconsin plays Alabama to open the 2015 season. It's pretty safe to assume the Tide will be very good. Utah State, meanwhile, likely turned out to be a lot better than when Wisconsin scheduled the Aggies, typically an FBS bottom-feeder. Wisconsin deserves credit for its 2013 nonconference schedule (Arizona State, BYU), as well as its much more aggressive approach in the future. But it's important to put things into context when evaluating schedules. When Ohio State scheduled Cal, the Bears were a top-20 program. Now they're rebuilding. That's the way it goes. It's important to evaluate nonconference scheduling approaches -- over a longer span -- rather than schedules in an individual season.

Taylor from Baltimore writes: I've been wondering what is the status of Monty Madaris? He was the best WR recruit for MSU that year coming out of high school, according to ESPN. I know he battled injury, but I wasn't under the impression that it was career ending. He's still listed on the roster, which needs as many playmakers as it can get at that position. Will he ever play a down at MSU? Has he been progressing similarly to the way Burbridge and Fowler have improved this offseason?

Adam Rittenberg: I haven't heard much about Madaris so far in camp, other than that he's in the morass of Spartan wideouts hoping to break through this season. Madaris and Macgarrett Kings Jr. are often mentioned together as two talented young wideouts who could step up, much like Aaron Burbridge did in the second half of the 2012 season. Madaris had a high ankle sprain that limited him last summer and eventually led to a redshirt. We know Michigan State needs help there, but there hasn't been much, at least to this point, about Madaris emerging.

Herky's My Hero from Okoboji, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, just a thought on Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes. A lot of people are calling for KF's head if he has a bad season. Sure he has had a few bad years, but I think we are underestimating his long tenure at Iowa and the potential attributes of being the Grandad of coaches in the Bigten. What if he takes on the stigma that Paterno had at Penn State? Sure it is ways down the line, but isn't it possible for him to coach at Iowa for another 20+ years? In comparison, Paterno had a few bad stretches, for example from 2000-2004 Paterno was 26-33 overall and 16 -24 in the Big Ten. That's a horrendous stretch, but he still was a great coach. I say we lighten up on KF and realize that he could become a coaching legend among the Big ten and college football. Overall KF is 100-74 and 59-52 in the big ten, with two Big Ten championships, a plethora of solid NFL players, and some great bowl wins. Such coaching stability is unprecedented in today's NCAA and could easily become our biggest recruiting attribute.

Adam Rittenberg: Everyone who evaluates Ferentz's entire tenure objectively would conclude that he has had a very successful tenure at Iowa and boosted the program's regional and national profile. You make some really good points about the need to be patient and ride out the ups and downs rather than changing coaches every 3-6 years after the first sign of trouble. I actually talked recently with Ferentz about this, and he touched on the value of longevity at a program like Iowa.

"In Iowa, people understand that sometimes the best answer is finding solutions and working on those solutions, rather than worrying about making people walk the plank," he said. "That's a direct opposite of the way our society's going right now, which is one of the reasons I love working at Iowa. I think they get that."

I also asked him about keeping the message fresh after a stretch where Iowa clearly has lost momentum.

"If you change jobs every six years, you don't have to worry about freshness. There have been some really good coaches who have had a track record of staying somewhere typically 5-7 years, and maybe part of the motivation there is so their message doesn't get stale. Because that definitely can happen and does happen. So if you choose not to be a vagabond or an opportunist, or you choose to stay somewhere, then yeah, you constantly have to evaluate how you present, how you market, how you package, whatever term you want to use. But I also believe the things that were good two years ago were good 10 years ago, they were good 30 years ago. And if you go the other direction, they'll still be good two years from now, 10 years from now or 30 years from now. That doesn't change."

All that said, like any coach, he needs to be held accountable, especially because of the big money he's making. It's important Iowa takes a step in a positive direction this fall.

Matt from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: The Big Ten has had its struggles in the nonconference recently. What do you expect to see from the conference in this season’s non-league games? Does the B1G have enough high-profile games to change its "down" perception before conference play starts?

Adam Rittenberg: Your second question really is the key one, Matt. Are there enough big-deal nonconference games to boost perception? The answer is, unfortunately, no. If the Big Ten beats up on Notre Dame, the story will be more about Notre Dame going downhill after a nightmarish offseason than the Big Ten being on the upswing. Wins against Pac-12 teams like Arizona State (Wisconsin visits there in Week 3) or UCLA (Nebraska hosts the Bruins in Week 3) could help a little, but there aren't enough games with the SEC on the docket (thanks, Vanderbilt) and not enough games against preseason top 15 opponents. The non-league schedule could hurt the Big Ten, but I don't know it can really help the league's perception.

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