Big Ten: Mark Sanchez

Big Ten mailblog

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
5:00
PM ET
Questions, comments and answers.

Mike W. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam,I just read that Dan Enos will be the new head coach at Central Michigan. How big of a loss is that for Michigan State? I know Enos is one of the best coaches on Dantonio's staff, but more importantly--the best recruiter. What impact is this going to have for MSU?

Adam Rittenberg: Enos is a major loss from a recruiting standpoint, especially after his good work in Detroit and the surrounding areas. The good thing is that Enos re-established ties between a lot of the top high school programs and Michigan State. It's now up to head coach Mark Dantonio and the remaining assistants to keep those relationships strong, especially since archrival Michigan has geared much of its recruiting elsewhere. Enos brought in a lot of talent to East Lansing, and he also did a nice job as a position coach. This is a key hire for Dantonio, who hasn't had to make many in recent years.


Mr. Wilson from Newton, Iowa, writes: Adam did you notice how the NY Jets offense looked very similar to Iowa's offense? I mean run the ball and then catch the defense on play action to hit the TE on a deep pass. Does Iowa's style of play equal a chance in the nfl?

Adam Rittenberg: There's certainly some similarities there, although Iowa probably takes a few more risks than the Jets with Mark Sanchez. Iowa's bread and butter will always be the run game, but the Hawkeyes took more shots down the field this year than any year I can recall. And with wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returning in 2010, expect the Hawkeyes to continue to attack. But generally, yes, the offensive style translates well to the NFL. I'd expect the Jets to open things up a bit more in Sanchez's second season, but they are pretty stacked at running back with Thomas Jones, Iowa product Shonn Greene and the injured Leon Washington.


John from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: You said before the bowl games Wisconsin was gonna be the only home team, that was wrong cause Iowa was as well. why did you lie ?

Adam Rittenberg: I didn't lie! I swear! Georgia Tech was the home team for the FedEx Orange Bowl, and as the home team, the Yellow Jackets could choose what jerseys to wear. If you've ever seen Georgia Tech play at home in Atlanta, you know the team wears white jerseys, which it did for the Orange Bowl. It was the same deal in the Capital One Bowl as LSU, the home team, elected to wear white, as it does for games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. We're not used to this in Big Ten country, as all 11 teams wear dark jerseys at home, but it's more common in the South/Southeast.


Zack from Greenville, Pa., writes: Adam, a lot of people talk about Bradley being the next Coach at PSU. My question is why not Larry Johnson? Great recruiter and always has the defensive line ready for the next season.

Adam Rittenberg: Zack, Johnson certainly would gain consideration at Penn State for the top job, though Tom Bradley's longevity and track record as the defensive coordinator makes him the front-runner. Johnson certainly should be in position to be a coordinator or a head coach very soon, whether it's at Penn State or somewhere else. Illinois pursued Johnson last year, and other schools, possibly Florida, might look at him to run their defense. The guy excels at both attracting and developing talent. Bradley's recruiting success shouldn't be overlooked, either, as he has done very well in the Pittsburgh area.


Ben from Nevada City, Calif., writes: Adam, It seems like Big Ten teams may be scheduling tougher non-conference games these days, but how come Michigan hasn't? They keep claiming that they've had to do last second scheduling the last few years and at that point no one is left, but then why haven't they started scheduling in advance to avoid that? It seems like MSU, Purdue, OSU, and Minnesota seem to have the drill down.

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, Michigan's situation is a bit tougher because the Wolverines are locked into the Notre Dame series every year. If you look around the country, few major-conference teams, aside from those in the Pac-10, are willing to schedule more than one game per season against BCS conference foes. One "tough" game is usually the norm, and for Michigan, Notre Dame fills that spot. Retiring athletic director Bill Martin seemed more interested in scheduling additional Big Ten games (9) than beefing up the nonconference slate. It'll be interesting to see how new AD David Brandon will approach the scheduling issue. I would have loved to have seen Michigan add Boise State to the schedule in 2010, though Connecticut is a decent opponent in Week 1.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After USC's Mark Sanchez had his way in a 35-3 victory last September, Ohio State's defensive linemen convened and made a pact.

The Trojans had won the battle at the line of scrimmage, leaving the Buckeyes beaten and bruised. Senior defensive end/linebacker Curtis Terry did the talking.

"He was really, really honest and put it all on the line," Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington recalled. "We just had a heart-to-heart, so to speak, and just tried to decide what we wanted to do and what we wanted to be for the rest of the season. We kind of turned it around."

Ohio State ended up finishing in the top 20 nationally in both rushing defense and scoring defense, and finished sixth nationally in points allowed (13.9 ypg). The Buckeyes held Penn State's powerful offense to season lows in both points and yards, and limited Texas to just 24 points and 54 rushing yards in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Scarlet and Gray might have fallen short of its goals in 2008, but to no fault of the defensive line.

Ohio State's front four is unquestionably the team's strength this fall, returning seven of its top eight players from last season. The group has combined for 78 career starts, led by Worthington (23) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (21).

The line has drawn comparisons to previous Buckeye fronts in 2002 and 2003, seasons that ended with a national title and a Fiesta Bowl victory.

"Playing with those guys the last few years, being in practices, just hanging with them off the field, has been a great experience for me," said Worthington, a co-captain this fall. "I just know when I'm on the field, and I've got Dex [Larimore] to my right and Thad [Gibson] to my left, that I'm comfortable with those guys.

"It's just a level of comfort when you have a guy you know is very productive and wants it as bad as you do."

Ohio State needs the front four to be at its peak in Saturday's rematch against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The Trojans no longer have Sanchez, but they're extremely talented on the offensive line and boast an endless supply of running backs, led by Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson.

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Jedd Fisch's cell phone blows up at all hours of the night, but the Minnesota offensive coordinator doesn't mind.

Golden Gophers starting quarterback Adam Weber is studying the game, and that's the way Fisch likes it.

"I gets calls from Adam at all times," Fisch said, "asking, 'Hey, I just got done watching practice. Was I supposed to check to this protection or that one?' I tell him and all of our players that if there's ever a time they want to watch their practice tape on their own, it's now available to them. And call me."

Minnesota's film review doesn't end when Fisch or one of the other coaches switches off a TV or a laptop in a team meeting room. It doesn't end when players walk out of the Gibson-Nagurski Football Complex.

Thanks to Hudl Pro, Gophers players and coaches are just a few mouse clicks away from all the essential information they need to prepare for the football season. Hudl Pro allows teams to keep practice tapes, coaches' notes, scouting reports, news feeds, PowerPoint presentations (a Fisch favorite) and much more in an online library that all team personnel can access through their PCs.

So even after players retreat to their dorm rooms or apartments, they can stay very much in the game. Same with the coaches, in those rare occasions where they actually leave the office.

"It allows you as a player to put in that extra time," Minnesota running back Duane Bennett said. "Maybe you’re not able to stay at the complex for extended hours, but being able to come home and see practice after you just got done, being able to make corrections on the fly and then being able to come in to the next day with a sense of what you need to correct and what your opponent’s going to be doing, it’s a great addition for us.

"The program really helps."

Minnesota is one of only three FBS programs that uses the Hudl software, joining Tulsa and Nebraska, where the idea was conceived and developed by three students several years ago. Former Nebraska coach Bill Callahan brought the program to the New York Jets, where he now serves as assistant head coach and offensive line coach. The Cleveland Browns also use the Hudl programs.

Fisch, an NFL assistant before joining Minnesota's staff in January, visited several of his former colleagues with the Jets this spring and learned about Hudl.

"As I was watching it, I was infatuated with the things it could do," Fisch said. "Mark Sanchez is there, and they're teaching the quarterbacks [how to use it]. It's a tremendous learning tool."

Fisch had no trouble selling Gophers head coach Tim Brewster on adding the Hudl programs at Minnesota. Both expect to discuss the new programs with recruits, especially quarterbacks.

"It's been great for the quarterback to learn from," Brewster said.

Minnesota's practice tapes go online five minutes after they're complete. Fisch can log on and see his scheme installation from the first day of training camp until today. Bennett uses Hudl every day during the preseason and expects to do so three or four times a week after classes start up.

Almost every team makes DVDs of practice, which usually are distributed at the end of the work week. With Hudl Pro, Minnesota players and coaches no longer have to wait.

"As it's been publicized recently, you're only with your players about 45 minutes a day [for film] in college football," Fisch said. "This is an ability [for players] on their own time, at their own leisure, to be able to flip on their computer and instead of surf the Web for 45 minutes, they can watch themselves compete."

Best case-worst case: Penn State

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
1:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The ninth installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.

BEST CASE



Penn State proves it can reload, receives repeat performances from its stars, stays healthy and runs the table.

The dominance Penn State showed for most of last season returns, as the Nittany Lions handle their business against inferior opponents. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Evan Royster do their thing against Akron, but Derek Moye emerges as a playmaker at wide receiver and a new-look offensive line gains confidence. Defensive end Jack Crawford backs up the hype in Week 2, sacking Greg Paulus three times.

After another cakewalk against Temple, the Lions welcome Iowa into the "Whiteout" at Beaver Stadium. Linebackers Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman stuff the Hawkeyes' rushing attack, and after a slow start on offense, Clark picks apart Iowa's secondary down the stretch. The game is tight for a half, but Penn State turns the tide by blocking a Daniel Murray field-goal attempt early in the third quarter and goes on for a 27-17 victory. Penn State fans flood the blog to gloat.

Penn State faces arguably its biggest matchup problem of the season with Illinois' dynamic passing attack, but the secondary holds up as Drew Astorino intercepts Juice Williams twice in a 30-21 victory. The Lions move to 7-0 and vault into the top 5, and they take out years of frustration at the Big House by throttling Michigan 35-10 on Oct. 24.

Penn State survives a trap game at Northwestern as Royster scores two fourth-quarter touchdowns, setting up the showdown with undefeated No. 3 Ohio State. With a chance to finally gain some national respect, the Lions edge the Buckeyes in a defensive struggle, as Lee picks off Terrelle Pryor late in the fourth quarter to seal the win. Two more wins follow, and Penn State clinches its second straight Big Ten title and establishes itself as the league's third powerhouse.

In danger of getting snubbed from the national title game, Penn State watches as Florida stumbles in the SEC title game. As the only undefeated BCS team, Penn State heads back to Pasadena and faces Florida. Sorry, Nits fans, can't see Penn State beating the Gators, but it's a respectable showing.

Royster stays for his senior season. So does Bowman. Paterno says he'll coach forever but, just in case, sets up a succession plan for Tom Bradley. Penn State brings in the Big Ten's top recruiting class.


WORST CASE


Penn State can't fill the gaps, loses the one player it can't afford to lose and fails to capitalize on a cushy schedule.

The Lions start off 3-0 but do so in less-than impressive fashion, as the wide receivers drop passes, the offensive line struggles in protection and the secondary gets exposed by Akron's Chris Jacquemain and Paulus. Then disaster strikes in the Iowa game, as Clark sustains a season-ending injury on a blindside hit. Penn State's offense sputters with a freshman (Kevin Newsome) at the helm, and Iowa escapes Happy Valley with a 17-6 victory.

Illinois punishes the Penn State secondary the next week, as Williams channels his inner Mark Sanchez and tosses five touchdown passes. Unimpressive wins against Eastern Illinois and Minnesota follow, and the Big House once again becomes a House of Horrors for Penn State, which commits three second-half turnovers in a loss to Michigan. The Lions drop two of their final four games, falling to Ohio State as Pryor returns to his home state and sets a total offense record in Beaver Stadium.

At 7-5, Penn State heads to the Champs Sports Bowl with little fanfare. Royster and Bowman leave early for the NFL. Paterno retires and Penn State bungles the succession process. Ohio State leapfrogs the Lions for the Big Ten's top recruiting class.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's success with the Spread HD offense got most of the attention last season, but it was the Nittany Lions defense that secured the team's second Big Ten championship in four years. Led by a dominant front four, Penn State finished the season ranked eighth nationally in total defense (280.1 ypg), scoring defense (14.4 ppg) and rushing defense (93.2 ypg). It held Ohio State to its lowest points total at home since 1982 and allowed 14 points or fewer in eight games. But things ended on a sour note, as USC and quarterback Mark Sanchez carved up Penn State in the Rose Bowl.

The Lions bring back several standouts from last year's unit as well as linebacker Sean Lee, who returns from a torn ACL that cost him the 2008 season. But there are several holes to fill, especially in the secondary. I recently caught up with longtime Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley to discuss the issues facing the Penn State defense heading into the fall. 

 
  Matthew O'Haren/Icon SMI
  Penn State defense coordinator Tom Bradley has several holes to fill this season.
Generally, how did you feel about the defense coming out of spring practice?

Tom Bradley: Holy smokes, we're playing like UFO coverages back there. We don't know what we're playing, they don't know what we're playing (laughs). I thought we came out OK. We stuck pretty much to the fundamentals. We didn't get carried away with the scheme. Coach [Joe Paterno] likes to have spring practice be basic fundamentals, so we kept it pretty basic. 

When you have a lot of new guys in the secondary and up front, is the scheme something you build in later this summer, as you get closer to the season, or do you have to shape it around the different personnel? 

TB: We've never been married to a scheme. We're married to people. So we're going to adjust our scheme to the people we have. We hate to ask them to do things that look good on paper but they can't do well. We're trying to figure out our best 11 guys, and then we'll tailor the scheme from there. We didn't have Sean [Lee] for any contact during the spring, Jerome Hayes is coming back off an injury. They're key for us. Once we see how they are, we can kind of move the scheme from there. 

Did you get a sense about some of the young guys, where they could fit in or how you can use them?

TB: Our basic stuff that we've been doing and worked on in the spring, they understood it. They got better at it. The younger guys, getting exposed in the fall is going to be key. Obviously, we've got some young kids in the secondary coming in that we're going to have to count on for depth. It's going to be an interesting preseason, especially on defense. We were aware that [defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans] would go [to the NFL], but we never felt that both of them would go. We're going to be patchy at a couple positions. 

A lot of Penn State fans tell me not to worry about the D-line, that you always find someone. As a coach, do you feel OK overall about that group with both Aaron and Maurice gone?

TB: We'll have some question marks until some of them get some experience. We just don't have a lot of guys with game experience. You'd like to have a little bit of depth there, but we just don't have it at a couple positions. So it's going to have to develop quickly. And we may have to have some guys move positions. We've done that in the past. 

I know Aaron was a smaller defensive end. Are you comfortable having another guy his size maybe move down there, given how successful he was?

TB: We really don't say, 'This guy has to be this tall and this big.' We don't worry about that. We're going to take a guy who can play. We had Timmy Shaw, who was a linebacker, playing there one year. We moved him around. Once we try to figure out who our best guys are, we'll kind of get going from there. 

Jack Crawford is a guy a lot of people are very excited about. Are you surprised at how quick he has picked up the game since he didn't grow up playing it? 

TB: One of the impressive things about him, after the Blue-White Game, I had a bunch of people up and they wanted to go down to see the locker room. They had their kids and everything. I went in there. I'll bet you it was nine o'clock after the Blue-White Game, and I opened up the team room to show them the team room and [Crawford] was in there looking at the Blue-White Game. So you see that and you start to say, 'Geez, that's a good start right there. A kid that really cares.' Most guys, after the Blue-White Game, they're out having fun or with their family or whatever, but he was down there looking at the film. He's a dedicated guy. He's a good-looking, physical-type football player. He's got a lot of good tools. And the other thing I really like about Jack is he's got a motor. He wants to play. He's got those intangibles.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Drew Astorino has watched Penn State's Rose Bowl loss to USC more than once, calling it "a good teaching tool."

Unfortunately for Astorino, his future opponents also will watch the Rose Bowl tape, licking their chops with every Mark Sanchez completion. No unit had a tougher afternoon in Pasadena than the Nittany Lions' secondary, which surrendered 413 pass yards and four touchdowns in the 38-24 loss.

Penn State loses all four starters at defensive back, and the secondary will undoubtedly be the team's least experienced group entering the 2009 season.

"We understand that teams are going to come after us next year, it's pretty evident," Astorino said. "We always have a great defensive line. Our linebackers are great, too. So people are going to think that the secondary is the weakest link of our defense.

"Hopefully, we can take that to our advantage and show teams that they're not going to be able to do that."

With all four starting jobs open entering the summer, Astorino has become the secondary's de-facto leader, and he's not a bad one at that.

The sophomore safety appeared in all 13 games last fall, making three starts, and recorded 39 tackles with two interceptions and seven pass deflections. His more notable accomplishments came as a Pennsylvania high school star at General McLane High in Edinboro, Pa.

Not only did Astorino led General McLane to state championships in both football and basketball, but he made the critical plays to win both titles. He scored the game-winning touchdown with 4:55 left to lift General McLane to the Class AAA football title. Several months later, he hit the game-winning basket with two seconds left to win the hoops championship, which happened to be held at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center.

"I felt confident taking the final shot," Astorino said. "I felt confident with the ball in my hands in football. It was definitely good and I liked having the ball in my hands, but also, it was a little bit of luck.

"In football, they called the play. In basketball, I got the pass."

With a personal inventory of clutch plays, the 5-foot-10, 193-pound Astorino isn't the type to get nervous on the gridiron for Penn State. He welcomes pressure, and he'll have plenty of it on his shoulders this fall.

"He's a pretty good player, one of the better players back there," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "But one guy can only do so much. He can help, but we've got a long way to go."

Paterno didn't hold back this spring in voicing his concerns about the secondary, which lost cornerback A.J. Wallace, a projected starter, to a hamstring injury shortly after practices started. Astorino understands Paterno's anxiety, but he's confident that the unit will come together by Sept. 5.

"We definitely have a lot of work, but we have a lot of potential," he said. "We're going out there to prove that although we're young, we still can be a very good secondary."

Putting a bow on the Big Ten season

January, 14, 2009
1/14/09
12:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The end result wasn't what most Big Ten fans had in mind, but 2008 still brought plenty of intrigue around the league. Before putting the season to bed, here are some moments that stick out in my mind.

Terrelle Pryor takes over -- Pryor came to Ohio State with unparalleled hype as the nation's No. 1 recruit, but most expected him to sit out most of the season. Everything changed after the USC loss, and Jim Tressel's decision to start Pryor in Week 4 marked a significant shift for a program that usually sticks with its seniors. Pryor had some growing pains along the way, but he also showcased incredible talent and the potential to take Ohio State a long way in the years to come.

Joe Paterno keeps on winning -- Despite a bum hip that needed to be surgically replaced in November, Paterno gutted his way through the season and proved once again that he knows exactly what he's doing. Despite spending the final nine games in the press box, including the Rose Bowl, Paterno helped Penn State to a co-Big Ten title and won Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The 82-year-old signed a three-year contract after the season and will be back in 2009.

Holy Toledo -- Michigan had never lost to a MAC team in 24 tries, but this season was anything but ordinary in Ann Arbor. The low point for Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines undoubtedly arrived Oct. 11, when a subpar Toledo team came into the Big House and beat Michigan 13-10. Michigan went on to lose a school-record nine games, posted a losing season for the first time since 1967 and missed a bowl for the first time since 1974.

The collapse at the Coliseum -- The most anticipated game of the season turned into a disaster for the Big Ten and Ohio State, which got steamrolled 35-3 by USC. Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez, committed uncharacteristic errors and didn't score a touchdown for the first time since 1996. The loss reinforced the perception that Ohio State struggles in big games, a reputation the Buckeyes helped restore in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

Murray kicks Penn State out of title game -- Penn State seemed destined for a date in the BCS Championship Game until it ran into an inspired Iowa team on Nov. 8 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes rallied from a 9-point fourth-quarter deficit and won the game in the final seconds on a 31-yard field goal by Daniel Murray, an Iowa City native who had lost his starting job seven weeks earlier. Head coach Kirk Ferentz went back to Murray in the clutch, a decision that paid off.

Coordinators take off -- The Big Ten had no head-coaching changes this year, but several of the league's top assistants left following the season. Illinois offensive coordinator and chief recruiter Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Minnesota lost both of its coordinators, as Mike Dunbar stepped down and Ted Roof left for the defensive coordinator spot at Auburn. Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one season.

Another bowl flop -- The league needed a boost in the postseason after dropping four consecutive BCS games and four Rose Bowls. Instead, the Big Ten's national perception took another blow as the conference went 1-6 in bowl games. Despite a dominant Outback Bowl win by Iowa and encouraging performances from Ohio State and Northwestern, the Big Ten lost two more BCS games and another Rose Bowl.

Rodriguez sounds off -- His comments were largely misrepresented, but Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez didn't do himself any favors during a Nov. 17 news conference. Speaking about outlandish comments on fan message boards, Rodriguez said, "You almost want to tell them, 'Get a life.' There's a whole lot bigger problems. Look at the economy." Though the comments weren't directed at Michigan's fan base, they made headlines around the Big Ten and added to the woes for the first-year coach.

Northwestern's Smith stuns Minnesota -- No play symbolized Northwestern's renaissance on defense more than Brendan Smith's 48-yard interception return for a touchdown with 12 seconds left to beat Minnesota 24-17 on Nov. 1. Defense was the story for Northwestern during a 9-4 season, as first-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz revolutionized one of the conference's worst units. Smith's return also signaled the beginning of the end for Minnesota, which dropped its final five games after a 7-1 start.

Dantonio gets rewarded with new deal -- Mark Dantonio's stock is on the rise at Michigan State, and the university rewarded him before the Capital One Bowl with a restructured contract. Dantonio's salary raise puts him on par with other Big Ten coaches, and he will receive a $2 million bonus if he's still coaching Michigan State on Jan. 15, 2016. The Spartans have made upgrades in facilities and recruiting, and if they can keep Dantonio, they'll consistently be in the mix for league titles.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before putting a sleepy Big Ten bowl season to bed, it's time to recognize some of the memorable moments from the last few weeks. Contrary to the 1-6 record, the Big Ten produced its share of highlights. And lowlights.

Here they are.

Best closing performance -- Iowa running back Shonn Greene capped a tremendous 2008 season in fitting fashion with his 13th consecutive 100-yard rushing performance. Greene punished South Carolina for 121 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. The junior then confirmed what many had believed for months and declared for the NFL draft.

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Shonn Greene punctuated his college career with a victory over South Carolina.

Best catch -- Ross Lane's leaping grab in the back of the end zone secured a 23-yard touchdown and gave Northwestern a 23-20 lead over Missouri entering the fourth quarter of the Alamo Bowl. Lane used his entire 6-foot-3 frame to make the reception and managed to get a foot down before tumbling beyond the end line. His catch would have been the signature image had Northwestern held on for the win.

Best catch by a quarterback -- OK, Terrelle Pryor is the only Big Ten signal caller who qualified, but he showed impressive athleticism to haul in a 5-yard fade pass from Todd Boeckman for a touchdown. Ohio State's use of Pryor and Boeckman together gave the offense a boost at times, and Pryor's leaping ability had some wondering whether he would be better used as a wide receiver.

Best preview of the future -- Michigan State backup quarterback Kirk Cousins continued to boost his stock for the 2009 season with a solid effort in limited action at the Capital One Bowl. Cousins spelled Brian Hoyer for a series and completed 4 of 5 pass attempts, leading Michigan State into Georgia territory and setting up a long field-goal attempt. Though he'll have to beat out Keith Nichol for the starting job in the offseason, Cousins looked game-ready this fall.

Best performance by a secondary -- Iowa's back four continued to cause problems in the Outback Bowl, as they did throughout the second half of the season. Safety Tyler Sash recorded two interceptions and cornerback Bradley Fletcher had an interception and a forced fumble. Cornerback Amari Spievey added a pass breakup as the Hawkeyes flustered South Carolina's Stephen Garcia.

Best comeback: Had Ohio State held on to beat Texas, Boeckman would have been the top story. After sitting on the bench for the final nine regular-season games, Boeckman returned to meaningful action and gave the Buckeyes' offense a much needed boost against Texas. He sparked the offense with a 48-yard pass to Brian Robiskie and hit Pryor for the team's first touchdown.

Worst quarter -- The Big Ten's second-quarter blues continued in BCS games as Penn State was outscored 24-0 in the second quarter of the Rose Bowl. Penn State had taken USC's first punch and mounted an impressive scoring drive, but the Nittany Lions committed out-of-character mistakes in the second quarter and couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and the Trojans, who took a 31-7 halftime lead.

Worst turnover -- It seems hard to fathom given the final score, but Wisconsin outplayed Florida State for the first quarter of the Champs Sports Bowl and had the ball inside the Noles' red zone early in the second quarter. Quarterback Dustin Sherer attempted a lateral that fell incomplete, and Florida State's Derek Nicholson wisely picked up the ball and raced 75 yards to the end zone. Wisconsin players thought Sherer had thrown an incomplete forward pass and didn't bother to chase Nicholson. They would never catch Florida State.

Worst tackle -- Safety Anderson Russell had been one of Ohio State's defensive standouts in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, recording an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup to go along with nine tackles. But unfortunately, Russell's lasting image will be a missed tackle on wide receiver Quan Cosby that allowed Texas to score the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Ohio State had tackled extremely well until the final minute, limiting big plays, but Cosby scooted by Russell and into the end zone.

Worst special teams play -- Northwestern's Stefan Demos was supposed to punt the ball out of bounds late in the first half, but his kick instead went high and short, right into the hands of dangerous return man Jeremy Maclin. The Missouri star raced 75 yards to the end zone with a minute left in the half, and Northwestern went to the locker room tied at 10-10 after dominating the first 30 minutes. A missed extra point in the third quarter also stung the Wildcats in their overtime loss.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten took a beating this bowl season, but rather than gripe about unfavorable locations and matchups, it's time to acknowledge a fact about the league.

The quarterback position stinks.

And in this age of college football, that equals competitive suicide.

All it took was a look across the field during bowl season to realize how far the Big Ten must progress at the quarterback spot.

The list of quarterbacks the Big Ten faced included:

  • Texas junior Colt McCoy, a Heisman Trophy finalist who ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency, fifth in total offense and ninth in passing yards.
  • USC junior Mark Sanchez, who ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency and 20th in pass yards.
  • Georgia junior Matthew Stafford, who ranks 15th nationally in pass efficiency and 14th in pass yards.
  • Missouri senior Chase Daniel, who ranks fourth nationally in pass yards and fifth in total offense.
  • Kansas junior Todd Reesing, who ranks eighth nationally in both passing yards and total offense.

Of the Big Ten quarterbacks competing in bowl games, only one, Penn State's Daryll Clark, ranks among the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency (Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor did not qualify). Minnesota's Adam Weber had the most passing yards (2,761), which ranks 35th nationally.

Granted, the Big Ten's best statistical passer, Illinois' Juice Williams, didn't reach the postseason, but this league is losing the arms race.

The Big Ten had by far the best stable of running backs in the country this season, boasting three of the nation's top six ball carriers (Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells).

Who cares?

College football has become a quarterback's game, and the Big Ten has fallen way behind. For the Big Ten to restore its place among the nation's top conferences, the fix must begin under center. It takes more than adopting the spread offense, which most Big Ten teams have done. Quarterbacks must be better developed in this conference.

And despite the league's sagging national reputation, there is hope.

The quarterback spot figures to be stronger in 2009 than it was in 2008.

(Read full post)

Big Ten mailbag

January, 7, 2009
1/07/09
11:23
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day late, but better than not at all ...

Krag from Phoenix writes: I was at the Fiesta Bowl, so I saw this live and was wondering if you could clear something up for me. On Texas' final drive, on the first-down immediately before the touchdown throw, the clock didn't stop. Why? I thought the clock stopped after EVERY first down. At first, I thought it was going to be bad for Texas (not having enough time to score) and then it hurt the Buckeyes since there was :16 seconds left, rather than the :20-:25 there might have been had it stopped. Any explanation would be helpful. Maybe I'm missing something here.

Adam Rittenberg: The clock stops so the officials can reset the chains, but then it winds again. Ohio State took a timeout with 38 seconds left. Texas then completed a 14-yard pass to the Buckeyes' 26, setting up the final play. Though the clock stopped around 25-27 seconds, it moved after the chains were reset. I was a little surprised Texas didn't take a timeout, but the Longhorns ended up managing the clock perfectly.


Ryan from Waukee, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam! Enjoyed reading the blogs all season long and looking forward to next season. As the season is now ever so close to wrapping up, I am looking forward to the 2009 season. I think the Big Ten has a lot to prove next season (where have I heard that before?) and think it could be strong even with some of the big names leaving. Clearly, OSU will be favorite but who could contend with them next season? I don't want to sound biased but Iowa should be a team to look out for. I know Greene, Olsen, Kroul, King and Fletcher leave but we have a lot of young talent with quality PT and a decent group of recruits that will fill in nicely. What do you think about Iowa next season? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State could enter 2009 ranked higher than Ohio State and likely will be tabbed the Big Ten preseason favorite. Your Hawkeyes will be right there as well. Shonn Greene is a big loss, but I really liked what I saw from Jewel Hampton. The bigger losses, honestly, are Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa usually has good defensive linemen, but it will be impossible to replace what King and Kroul brought to the table. I project Iowa at 8-10 wins in 2009. If the road schedule wasn't so difficult, I'd put the Hawkeyes in the league title mix, though they could get there with a few breaks.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Your questions, my answers ...

Brad from Chicago writes: Great job on the blog this year. I think I have read it 2 to 3 times a day since you started it. My big gripe today is all this talk about how The Big Ten is not relevant in the Rose Bowl anymore. Since 1993 there has been one loss by a Big Ten team to a PAC 10 team not named Southern Cal, that loss being Washington over Purdue in 01. I am just fed up with the talk about how the Big Ten no longer can play with the elite from other conferences. The truth is USC can beat anybody, it is just every year they lose focus, get beat and then clean the clock of some Big Ten school, most recently my beloved Nittany Lions. The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000, but only one other PAC 10 school besides Southern Cal has won it since then and 3 years in there, there was no Big ten team in the game. I guess I am just a frustrated fan who can't figure out why most people in the media can't comprehend that sports are cyclical, they always have been. Eventually USC will stumble, they will go on a downward slide and the Big Ten will go on a streak of winning quite a few again and all this talk of revamping the Rose Bowl will be rendered pointless. Thanks again for a fantastic job this year.

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point about USC, and my advice for every Big Ten team is root like heck for the Trojans to reach the national championship in 2009. It might sound defeatist to some, but the Big Ten needs a manageable bowl lineup next year. The league would have gotten one this year if Oregon State had beaten Oregon on Nov. 29, but it didn't happen and Penn State was stuck with USC. The Big Ten can't compete with USC, but as you point one, no one really can right now. But the Big Ten's problem goes beyond the Rose Bowl. The league simply has to find better players. Though I agree things are cyclical and the Big Ten will eventually rebound, things look very bleak right now.


Kenny from Columbia writes: Adam, regardless of bowl records. I still believe the big 10 is far better than the ACC or Big East. If the ACC or Big East sent there conference champ out to Pasadena every year they would be destroyed too. Cincinnati lost by 26 to Oklahoma. Virginia Tech lost to east carolina. So it's kind of unfair that the big 10 is looked at as the worst BCS conference. All the big 10 needs is an OSU win over Texas, or a win over USC when they visit the Shoe next season to get total respect back. Also, one thing no one is talking about is the fact that PSU had over 400 yards of offense against "the greatest defense ever" so they say.

Adam Rittenberg: Despite the recent downturn, the Big Ten is not the worst BCS conference. I can write that with a fair degree of certainty. But the Big Ten has definitely fallen to fourth, at best, behind the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10. Some would argue the Mountain West is also better. The Big Ten wouldn't go 1-5 with the ACC's or the Big East's bowl lineup, and both of those leagues would struggle in the Rose Bowl, especially against USC. It'll take more than a Fiesta Bowl win or Ohio State beating USC next fall for the Big Ten to regain national respect, though those things would be nice for the league. The Big Ten needs to start winning Rose Bowls again, plain and simple.

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Some leftover links from New Year's Day and a look ahead to the Big Ten's final chance at redemption in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. 

  • Penn State's defense played three-deep zone and tried to limit damage against USC, but Mark Sanchez and Damian Williams still made the Nittany Lions pay, David Jones writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.  

"They played a lot of vanilla stuff and just tried to prevent the big play," said Williams in the boisterous Trojan locker room. "They were very disciplined, very structured. But, at the same time, when you're so schooled and so disciplined, it kind of turns into machine mode. And we were able to find gaps in the defense and Mark had a heck of a day."

"Love him back. Bring the years. Bring the faith. Give those assistants, especially coordinators Ken O'Keefe and Norm Parker, a nice raise. They've earned it.

'At this point, you kind of have to give Coach what he wants, as long as it's reasonable,' linebacker A.J. Edds said with a wry smile. 'I mean, you can't argue with the results.'

You can't. The Hawkeyes, left for dead in early October, went out and made a statement Thursday. When it comes to Ferentz, it's time for the university to do the same."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jeff Gross/Getty Images
 Penn State couldn't get the ball to Derrick Williams as much as it hoped in a 38-24 loss to USC.

Penn State entered the Cardinal and Gold inferno known as Rose Bowl Stadium in search of national respect for its football program and secondly, its beleaguered conference.

The Nittany Lions ended up getting burned, and so did the Big Ten.

Penn State players had grown tired of hearing how great No. 5 USC was this season. The eighth-ranked Lions don't have to hear it any more. They experienced it in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

In a game that would define Penn State and the Big Ten more than any other this postseason, USC beat the Nittany Lions 38-24. The result wasn't a total surprise, but the way it happened was shocking.

A team that had been so balanced and so disciplined suffered a complete meltdown in the second quarter. After ranking third nationally in fewest penalties, Penn State drew seven flags for 63 yards in the opening half, including an offside call on rush end Aaron Maybin that nullified a USC fumble. Many of the fouls were mental mistakes -- late hits, pre-snap penalties -- and uncharacteristic of a Joe Paterno-coached, senior-led team. The result was a 31-7 halftime deficit.

Penn State's defense, a unit ranked third nationally in scoring and fifth in yards allowed, simply didn't show up.

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian and quarterback Mark Sanchez exposed the Nittany Lions secondary, a weakness all season that was masked by a terrific defensive front seven and a conference with subpar quarterbacks.

Penn State generated minimal pressure on Sanchez, and the USC junior made all the throws against a secondary that reinforced the Big Ten's slow stereotype. Sanchez silenced his doubters, and created some for Tom Bradley and the Penn State defense.

Recapping the first-half carnage:

  • No team had scored more than 24 points against Penn State this season. USC had 31 in the first half.
  • The Lions had allowed 24 first-half points combined in their last four games.
  • Penn State allowed an average of 168 pass yards per game. Sanchez had 276 in the half.
  • Penn State allowed an average of 263.9 yards per game. USC had 341 in the half.

I never thought Penn State would do the things it did in the first half against USC. And yes, I'm the yutz who picked Penn State to win a defensive struggle today.

But that's what USC does to teams in the Rose Bowl. Perhaps it's a psychological edge after so many years of winning.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about it all was the fact that Penn State answered USC's first punch. After the Trojans took a 7-0 lead, quarterback Daryll Clark led a masterful touchdown drive against the nation's top defense. Clark actually played a good first half, but Penn State couldn't convert several third-and-short situations and got no help from its defense. The injury to running back Evan Royster certainly hurt, and Penn State couldn't get the ball to Derrick Williams as much as it hoped.

The second half lacked much drama, but Penn State didn't quit, especially Clark (273 pass yards, two touchdowns). Unfortunately for the Lions, neither did Sanchez (413 pass yards, four touchdowns).

Head coach Joe Paterno watched it all from the press box. He might have had more fun spending the day at the beach.

Penn State had a great season and likely will enter 2009 as the preseason Big Ten favorite, a dubious distinction. The Nittany Lions will be very solid on defense and with Clark back, they'll have a chance to erase this stain on their bowl résumé.

If this is the best the Big Ten has to offer, and Penn State earned that designation during the regular season, then the league has some major problems. The Big Ten's bowl lineup looked murderous, but four double-digit losses is pretty weak.

Three traditional powerhouse programs and major TV markets will always make the Big Ten relevant in college football, but we're in the dark ages for the conference. The Big Ten hasn't won a Rose Bowl since 2000 and, like many around college football, can't find an answer for USC.

Ohio State could dull the pain with a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win against Texas on Monday, but Jim Delany's league has to do some soul searching after the season. The Big Ten entered the 2008 season with a poor national reputation and thus far has done nothing to change it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten entered the season with two ways to improve its national image. The first called for a veteran-laden Ohio State team with 20 returning starters to finish what it started the previous two years and win a national championship. The other option ultimately was more important to the league's long-term health, but seemed difficult.

Other teams needed to show they could close the gap with the Buckeyes and compete well on the national stage. If Ohio State was far and away the class of the league but continued to flop against elite opponents, national respect would be in short supply. Well, Ohio State flopped big-time on the grandest stage Saturday night, not even managing a touchdown against top-ranked USC in a 35-3 loss at the L.A. Coliseum. The Buckeyes will get Chris "Beanie" Wells back and still make a run for a BCS bowl, but the door is open for other Big Ten teams to carry the banner.

Wisconsin and Penn State certainly look up to the task. The Badgers claimed a gutsy road win against always-tough Fresno State and Penn State, despite weak competition so far, has simply blown teams away.

Here's a look at five lessons from Week 3:

1. Big Ten title goes through Madison -- Wisconsin survived its biggest road test of the season by overcoming several obstacles, including the officials, at Fresno State. The power run game came through at critical moments and the defense, led by linebacker DeAndre Levy and tackle Jason Chapman, contained Tom Brandstater and the Bulldogs. The Badgers now benefit from a home schedule that includes Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois. Wisconsin hasn't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema.

2. Ohio State's offense needs more than Beanie -- There's no doubt Wells makes Ohio State a much better offense, not only from a productivity standpoint but because of the confidence he gives others and the on-field leadership he provides. But the USC game showed that the unit has several areas to repair. There's still not nearly enough creativity in the scheme. A veteran line crumbled against the Trojans, surrendering five sacks. And Todd Boeckman had another rough night when the team desperately needed strong quarterback play.

3. Fear the Lions -- The real season begins Sept. 27 against Illinois, but Penn State's offense has shown no signs of slowing down. Syracuse became the latest punching bag for Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and their teammates, as Penn State scored 35 points in less than 28 minutes. The Lions' road poise will determine how far they go this fall, as they travel to both Wisconsin and Ohio State, but there's little doubt the Spread HD offense makes them a much better team.

4. Purdue better, but still Purdue -- The Boilermakers' defense deserved better, as a top defender lamented as he stood outside Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday night. Purdue showed it could keep pace with speedy Oregon, thanks to a much-improved secondary and strong line play from Alex Magee and Ryan Baker. But once again, Purdue couldn't come through in a big game. Quarterback Curtis Painter has had a fine career, but the signature win continues to elude him.

5. Defenses flex their muscles -- Ohio State couldn't stop Mark Sanchez and Michigan never got much chance to stop Notre Dame, but the rest of the league showcased its defensive prowess. Michigan State blanked Rusty Smith and Florida Atlantic in the rain, Iowa kept in-state rival Iowa State out of the end zone, Illinois needed a defensive touchdown by Brit Miller to outlast Louisiana-Lafayette and Northwestern continued to improve under new coordinator Mike Hankwitz. Purdue wasted a tremendous defensive performance against Oregon and Penn State continued to excel without Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As most of you know, I spent part of this week with Ohio State down in C-Bus, and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller has been hanging out with USC in L.A. As the big game approaches Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), we decided to touch base and get a sense of the buzz in both camps.

Ted Miller: Folks over here in beautiful Southern California are feeling pretty confident -- read: really confident -- about their Trojans' chances to not only beat but whip Ohio State. What's the feeling over there in the Midwest?

Adam Rittenberg: The feeling here in flyover country is a little more tense. Something to do with a big toe. But they're confident that "Little Animal," AKA James Laurinaitis, and the Buckeyes defense will give Mark Sanchez some trouble on Saturday night. You sounded pretty pumped up the other day after actually getting to watch USC practice. What stood out during the Trojans' workouts?

Ted Miller: What stood out? How good the Trojans look. These guys pass the sight test. Of course, Ohio State would too ... if Jim Tressel let you Big Ten folks into the super-secret football sanctum. Anyway. What caught my eye was 1) Mark Sanchez; 2) Joe McKnight. Sorry to stick with the fancy guys, but Sanchez was sharp this week and he's obviously fired up about leading the Trojans. As for McKnight, he's got the sort of speed and elusiveness that he stands out among a team loaded with fast, elusive guys. So let me ask ... Is Beanie going to play? All the USC folks say yes.

Adam Rittenberg: My sense is he'll play, but probably not much, 5-10 carries. The fact he was still so sore from taking 20 "carries" with no contact in Wednesday night's practice suggests there's still plenty to risk by leaving him out there too long. He obviously gives that offense a ton of confidence and let's be honest, Ohio State needs to win this one to get back to the national title game. But this guy, despite his size, can be labeled injury prone at this point, and Jim Tressel might not want to gamble again. Speaking of injuries, what's the latest on the USC front? Cushing? Hazelton?

Ted Miller: USC has notable bumps and bruises but it appears that nothing will keep guys from playing -- at least initially. WR Vidal Hazelton practiced yesterday and looked OK -- Pete Carroll said he was "behind" in terms of the game plan. LB Brian Cushing has a bum wrist and hip -- he gets nicked a lot -- but he should be a go. LB Rey Maualuga is wearing protection on his hand and briefly sat out with a hyperextended elbow Thursday but he returned to practice. This is a healthy team. So, let's say Wells is limited: Does that mean the game is in Todd Boeckman's hands and the Buckeyes will have to throw to win? And is Boeckman ready to post that signature performance?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman needs a huge performance in what will be the defining game of his career to this point. He admitted the timing was off with his top wide receivers, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, last week against Ohio. That simply can't happen for Ohio State to keep up with USC. Boeckman doesn't exude a ton of personality, which might be good or bad. He could be a steadying force for an offense going through adversity or a guy lacking in leadership skills. Then again, we could see a ton of Terrelle Pryor on Saturday, especially with Wells limited. How about the other quarterback in this game, Mark Sanchez? Great numbers in the first game, but c'mon, it's Virginia. Is he ready for an elite defense like the Buckeyes?
 
Ted Miller: That's a good question. Sanchez got some playing experience last year when John David Booty was hurt -- most notably at Oregon -- but he has not faced an elite defense, other than every day in practice. Still, he hasn't faced anything like the pressure and soundness the Buckeyes will bring when the lights are on. My sense is the guy can't wait to show the world what he can do -- he's a very confident, charismatic guy. It's fun to watch him charm and work reporters. Moreover, the WRs, who underachieved last year, seem to have found their rhythm. If so, it's a talented, deep group. Let's talk speed. That's all we heard during the Buckeyes twin BCS title game face plants vs. the SEC. "Ohio State is slow." What's the feeling on that in Columbus? Exaggerated or true?
 
Adam Rittenberg: Man, it must be nice to be talking to players with personality. Why can't we all cover the Pac-10? OK, rant over. The speed thing is exaggerated, in my opinion. The NFL scouts who list Malcolm Jenkins as the top cornerback on their draft boards don't see a slow player. Same goes for Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman and many others. A bigger problem for Ohio State has been discipline, sticking to its assignments rather than trying to make the extraordinary play. The Buckeyes have lost their composure in the national title games, either with personal-foul penalties or blown assignments. I think the defense steps up for a while and makes it closer than some anticipate, but I can't see Ohio State winning this one on the road. I'll stick with my pick, 31-24 Trojans. You get the last word. What happens Saturday night?
 
Ted Miller: I had thought all summer I was going to pick Ohio State. Most people don't realize that the Buckeyes contending for a national title in 2007 was gravy. 2008 was supposed to be the year. The Buckeyes are seasoned and talented. But, I just can't pull the trigger. I'm sticking with my projection this week of 28-17 Trojans. I'm rooting -- hard -- for a good game. And I'd think we'd both salute these programs for showing the courage to play each other. Some so-called elite teams hide from showcase nonconference games like this.

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