Big Ten: Mike Leach

The Big Ten can't move its campuses closer to the top recruiting hotbeds. It won't stop caring about or investing in sports that don't make money. It won't compromise academic standards.

But there's one element the Big Ten can upgrade as it tries to improve its football fortunes: coaches. The resources are there, thanks to the Big Ten Network and other revenue streams. The demand is there from many fan bases.

It's time for the Big Ten to aim higher with the head coaches it courts and ultimately brings into the conference. That means looking beyond the MAC coach of the moment or the affordable coordinator. That means sparing absolutely no expense to lure top candidates.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan can't afford to hire a coach without top-notch credentials as it did with Brady Hoke.
Nebraska and now Michigan have the opportunity to reshape the quality of coaching in this conference. Both programs are viewed as great, if not elite, jobs. Both programs are dripping with tradition, fan support, facilities, and, well, just about everything else a coach could want. Both have gone far too long without competing for conference championships, much less national championships.

This is the time for both to start moving toward college football's upper crust again. The first step: bringing in the right leaders.

Some disagreed with Nebraska's decision Sunday to part with a coach (Bo Pelini) who had won nine or 10 games in each of his first seven seasons. But the move signals that Nebraska wants to be better than good, and is willing to take a big risk to reclaim elite status. A coach close to Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst told me Sunday that Eichorst is aiming for a big name to replace Pelini. Whether he lands him remains to be seen, but it's encouraging that Nebraska, without many obvious candidates, is thinking big.

Michigan faced a much easier decision with Brady Hoke, whose program had backslid since winning 11 games and a Sugar Bowl in his first season. Hoke checked a lot of boxes that Rich Rodriguez didn't in Ann Arbor, but his Michigan Man schtick quickly grew old once the wins stopped. Did Michigan settle for Hoke, a 47-50 coach prior to his arrival? Perhaps. It cannot settle this time. Interim athletic director Jim Hackett must start his search with prominent candidates who will listen.

If you want to be great, you have to commit to being great. Look at the Pac-12. Not only has every school made significant investments in facilities -- some Big Ten schools have done the same -- but the quality of coaching has skyrocketed in recent years.

Recent coaching additions include Jim Mora, Chris Petersen, Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham and Mike Leach. Not every move is working out to perfection, but there are more proven winners in the Pac-12 than the Big Ten. Rodriguez, while struggling at Michigan, certainly belongs in the proven winner category after leading Arizona to the Pac-12 championship game in his third year.

Big Ten schools, meanwhile, too often take the bunny slope instead of the double black diamond when it comes to finding coaches. There have been plenty of practical hires but not enough brazen ones.

There are also some Big Ten programs seemingly satisfied with their place in the college football world.

Iowa fans should be furious right now. Their Hawkeyes managed to go 7-5 despite the most favorable schedule they'll ever have to the Big Ten championship game. Plus, their neighbors to the west sent a message that very good isn't good enough. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz, meanwhile, faces no internal pressure despite a top-10 salary, no top-10 finishes since 2009 and just one such finish in the past decade. Ferentz's compensation and a beautiful new facility suggest Iowa wants to be elite. But if that expectation were real, wouldn't there be more outcry?

Illinois' decision to retain Tim Beckman for a fourth year makes sense, as Beckman's team improved down the stretch to become bowl eligible. But another jump in wins is a must in 2015, perhaps a run for the West Division. If not, what message does it send to an already apathetic fan base?

Pat Fitzgerald should be feeling some pressure to make changes after consecutive 5-7 seasons. How can Northwestern raise its profile without some expectation, some tension, in and around the program?

Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Indiana's Kevin Wilson must make bowls in 2015 to keep their jobs. If not, what's the point?

I recently had lunch with a top coordinator from another conference and asked what he wants in his first head-coaching job. His answer: a place with unrealistic expectations.

How many Big Ten programs can say they do right now?

Coaches always talk about controlling the controllables. The Big Ten always will have certain factors working against it, but it can control who leads its programs. The league remains very appealing to top coaches.

It's time for an upgrade. Your moves, Nebraska and Michigan.

Make them bold ones.

Best case/Worst case: Rutgers

August, 5, 2014
Our series on the best- and worst-case scenario for every Big Ten team in 2014 continues with one of two new league members, the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

For Rutgers' fans or anyone new to this preseason blog staple, please know these are not to be viewed as predictions. Do not take them seriously. The scenarios illustrate the potential highs and lows in a season. Still not sure? Read the first installment on Wisconsin. Yes, this is meant to be fun.

Best case

Oh, what a night. Gary Nova throws for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and nose tackle Darius Hamilton sacks Christian Hackenberg on fourth down in the final minute as Rutgers defeats Penn State 24-21 at High Points Solutions Stadium in the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten debut.

Rutgers' first win over the Nittany Lions since 1988 -- in the first game between the traditional rivals since 1995 -- highlights a 6-0 start spurred by a resurgent Nova, a mean core of linebackers and a series of fortunate bounces.

Coach Kyle Flood's upstart bunch escapes a late night in Pullman, Washington, with a wild 38-35 victory in the season opener. After the emotional victory over Penn State, Rutgers starts sluggish at Navy, but running back Paul James churns for two touchdowns, and Tyler Kroft catches a late score from Nova to secure a comeback win.

Michigan, in freefall mode after losses to Notre Dame, Utah and Minnesota, manages just 11 rushing yards in a 21-3 Rutgers win on Oct. 4 in Piscataway as linebacker Steve Longa collects 20 tackles.

The day after an open date on the first weekend of October, Rutgers climbs to No. 15 in The Associated Press poll. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen is acclaimed as the best Big Ten hire of the previous offseason, and former OC Ron Prince accepts a demotion to quality control coach with the Detroit Lions following a poor performance by the club's tight ends.

The dream season hits a rough patch in late October. Rutgers loses at Ohio State, the first of three defeats in five games before a post-Thanksgiving road win over new rival Maryland to clinch a third-place finish in the Big Ten East.

Flood is named Big Ten coach of the year. Nova is a second-team pick at quarterback. Longa, Hamilton and Kroft are first-team selections. The Big Ten sends Rutgers across the country to San Diego to face USC as the league rekindles its tie-in with the Holiday Bowl.

Really, though, the season will be remembered for what happened on Sept. 13. The win is viewed as the most important by Rutgers since a 2006 upset of third-ranked Louisville en route to an 11-win season. Three of the Nittany Lions' four ESPN 300 recruiting commitments out of New Jersey attend the PSU game, including quarterback Brandon Wimbush, who flips to the Scarlet Knights after the Michigan victory.

To top it off, Rutgers jumps eight spots to No. 25 on this list.

Worst case

This is ugly. Very ugly. Mike Leach runs up the score in the Aug. 28 opener, calling a flea-flicker with 40 seconds to play in a 55-21 debacle at Seattle's Century Link Field.

Penn State spoils the Scarlet Knights' Big Ten opener with a three-touchdown win before a revved-up group of fans in Piscataway who begin to head for the exits in the third quarter.

Nova goes down with a knee injury in a loss at Navy. Tulane squeaks past the Scarlet Knights. Michigan extends its unbeaten season with a 42-0 victory on Oct. 4 as Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess toy with the defensive scheme of first-year coordinator Joe Rossi.

A poll of Rutgers fans and students during the off week before the Scarlet Knights visit Ohio State reveals that a majority believe the school should attempt to petition the AAC for re-entry. Athletic Director Julie Hermann is discovered by the Newark Star-Ledger to have inquired about the possibility, reigniting discussion of this unfortunate situation.

Braxton Miller accounts for five touchdowns in the first half on Oct. 18, the start of a three- week stretch in which Rutgers is outscored 134-16 by the Buckeyes, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

Rutgers does not lose in Week 11. Actually, it doesn't play. Hermann bungles an attempt to fire Flood as she is overruled publicly by the school's president.

Losses to Indiana, Michigan State and Maryland make it official: Flood is out after a 1-11 finish in his third year, the worst season at school since 2002. Rutgers does not come closer than seven points from winning a Big Ten game. Purdue feels better about itself.

Substitution proposal no B1G deal

February, 13, 2014
The NCAA rules committee's proposal to slow down hurry-up offenses generated rapid-fire reactions from the Pac-12, as longtime practitioners Rich Rodriguez and Mike Leach voiced their opposition.

While the plan undoubtedly drew smiles in some corners of the SEC – particularly in Alabama and Arkansas – others league coaches like Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze were quick to criticize.

The Big Ten greeted the news with relative silence, mainly because the proposal – hardly a guarantee to go through – likely wouldn't make a big impact in the conference. Although several Big Ten teams run spread offenses and ramp up the tempo, none figures to be dramatically altered if the proposed rule change is approved.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsIndiana ran more plays per game than any Big Ten team, but coach Kevin Wilson isn't worried about a proposed rule change to slow offenses down.
Indiana ran more offensive plays per game (77.3) than any Big Ten team in 2013. Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson has used the spread offense, and often no-huddle, since 2000, when he brought the system to Northwestern after learning it from Rodriguez, then Clemson’s offensive coordinator.

But unlike Rodriguez and Leach, Wilson sees the proposal, which would prevent offenses from snapping the ball for 11 seconds in 56 of a game’s 60 minutes, as no big deal. He notes that last season Indiana, on average, snapped the ball with about 20 seconds remaining on the 40-second play clock, well within the range allowed by the proposal.

“I don’t think it’s going to have a huge impact,” Wilson told “The average of the highest teams are 19 [seconds] and change. The fast teams [average] around the 20-second mark. You can still have aggressive, attacking offenses and defenses can still do their thing. No-huddle will all be a part of it and people will find ways to stay legal.”

The only snaps that take place within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second clock, according to Wilson, are those that end inside the hash marks, allowing officials to quickly spot the ball and get out of the way. Wilson actually welcomes the fact that officials would have to spot the ball by the 29-second mark – they often do so toward the end of games when trailing teams are in obvious hurry-up situations, but show less urgency in other situations.

Wilson is all for player safety, which the rules committee said drove the proposal, but like other coaches, he struggles to see the evidence that hurry-up offenses are causing more injuries to defensive players.

"We don’t have a play call that says, 'Snap it fast, they've got guys on the field and let's get a [substitution] penalty,'" Wilson said. "That just happens in the flow of the game. We're thinking how to be aggressive and how to attack. We do it because the more plays we get, the more scoring opportunities. I'm not trying to catch people with 12 or 13 [players on the field]."

Wilson and other coaches also question why the current substitution rules would return only in the final two minutes of each half. One Big Ten defensive coordinator, while acknowledging the advantages the proposal provides defenses, told that it doesn't seem fair to offenses.

"What if you are down two touchdowns with four minutes to go? You can't go as fast as possible?" the coordinator wrote in a text message.

Although the proposal would require play-callers such as Wilson and quarterbacks to be more mindful of the play clock -- snapping the ball in the first 10 seconds would result in a delay-of-game penalty -- the added burden would be minimal.

"If they make a rule change, we'll adjust and we'll continue to have an aggressive, attacking style," Wilson said. "Offense means to be the attacker, defense means you have to react, no matter what the rules are."
The Big Ten saw an unprecedented number of coaching changes during the offseason, as three head coaches were dismissed, Wisconsin's staff lost six assistants and many other moves were made. Barring an unexpected change, only four teams -- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern -- will return their full staffs intact for the 2012 campaign.

Although the coaching carousel hasn't quite reached its end, Big Ten teams have filled all of their coordinator vacancies for the coming season. The league will have 13 new coordinators at eight different programs.

It's time to pass out quick grades for the coordinator hires (co-coordinators are graded together):


Co-offensive coordinators Billy Gonzales and Chris Beatty
Gonzales was LSU's receivers coach and pass-game coordinator; Beatty was Vanderbilt's receivers coach


Adam Rittenberg: C

Gonzales and Beatty both are strong recruiters who should help bring talented players to Champaign, but they're both young and unproven as playcallers. They should bolster Illinois' receiving corps, but I'd expect a few growing pains on game days as they adjust to bigger roles with a unit that flat-lined late in the 2011 season.

Brian Bennett: B-

Both are energetic guys who should adapt well to Tim Beckman's style, and both were considered up-and-comers. But as Adam mentioned, neither had led an offense before, so it's hard to give this too high a grade yet.

Defensive coordinator Tim Banks
Co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Cincinnati


Adam Rittenberg: A-

After a very successful 2011 season, Illinois' defense is looking for continuity and Banks can provide it. His aggressive style and pressure packages should translate well for a unit that still has a lot of talent in the front seven with linebacker Jonathan Brown, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and others.

Brian Bennett: B+

Vic Koenning declined to stay, and Jon Tenuta took the job for about 20 minutes before deciding to stay at NC State. As a third choice, Banks is a really nice hire and a better fit, in my opinion, than Tenuta would have been. After a tough first year with a Cincinnati defense lacking depth and experience, Banks did a great job turning that unit around in 2011. At Illinois, he merely needs to keep it going.


Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell
Offensive coordinator and tight ends coach at Arizona


Adam Rittenberg: B+

Littrell wasn't the reason Arizona made a coaching change in 2011, as his offense ranked third nationally in passing (370.8 ypg) and 15th in total yards (465.2 ypg). He comes from the fertile Mike Leach coaching tree and should help Indiana's offense become more balanced behind promising quarterback Tre Roberson.

Brian Bennett: A

It isn't easy to hire big-name coaches at Indiana, but Kevin Wilson got a good one as Littrell was left looking for a gig. The addition of Littrell already helped the Hoosiers land promising quarterback Nathan Sudfeld on the recruiting trail.


Offensive coordinator Greg Davis
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas (didn't coach in 2011)


Adam Rittenberg: B

Davis is an experienced coach who has coordinated offenses at the highest level and won a national title at Texas. He should help James Vandenberg's development at quarterback. The concern is he has been predictable at times and had his most recent success in a spread system, which Iowa likely won't use.

Brian Bennett: C+

Davis oversaw some record-breaking offenses at Texas, but he won't have the same kind of blue-chip talent at Iowa. Then again, in Kirk Ferentz's system, he won't be asked to generate 50 points per game. He's great with quarterbacks, and Ferentz will feel comfortable with a veteran coach who'll keep things simple. But to hire a guy who'd been out of football for a year was not very exciting for a program that probably could have used a battery recharge.

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker
Defensive backs coach at Iowa


Adam Rittenberg: B

Parker knows the Hawkeyes' personnel and brings an energetic personality to the defense, but he's not the big-splash addition some were hoping for after Norm Parker's retirement. Phil Parker has coached defensive backs forever but has yet to serve in a coordinator role. It'll be interesting to see how much he actually tweaks the scheme in Iowa City.

Brian Bennett: B-

Parker knows the Hawkeyes defense in and out, and I doubt much will change with the approach now that he is in charge. There was a curiously long time between Norm Parker's retirement and his successor's appointment, and Phil Parker has never been a coordinator before, so that brings my grade down a notch.


Defensive coordinator John Papuchis
Defensive line coach and special teams coordinator, Nebraska


Adam Rittenberg: B

Papuchis is a rising star and most likely a head coach in the near future. While I'm tempted to give him a higher grade, he hasn't been a playcaller and is just four years removed from being a football intern at LSU. Inexperience is the only main drawback here.

Brian Bennett: B-

Like Adam said, the grade level is held down here by a lack of previous experience. But every coordinator has to start somewhere, and Bo Pelini has been really high on Papuchis, who has done excellent work everywhere he's been put to use so far. Any growing pains should be offset by the knowledge Pelini can impart as a defensive-minded head coach.


Offensive coordinator Tom Herman
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Iowa State


Adam Rittenberg: B+

Herman is regarded as a rising star and a sharp offensive mind who, with the help of Urban Meyer, will inject some life into a bland Ohio State offense. The only potential drawbacks are that he hasn't proven himself in a big-time job like Ohio State, and Iowa State's offensive numbers from 2011 don't exactly jump off the page.

Brian Bennett: B-

Ohio State fans were probably expecting a bigger name when Meyer promised to bring in the best staff in the country. But Meyer has an eye for offensive talent and will be heavily involved in the offensive game planning himself. Though Herman hasn't done it on a major stage, he'll be working with a lot more talent in Columbus, and this grade could easily prove to be an A in the future.

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers
Fickell was Ohio State's head coach; Withers was North Carolina's head coach


Adam Rittenberg: A-

There's a lot to like about this pair, as both men return to coaching defense after being put in awkward positions last season. It'll be interesting to see how Fickell fares as the primary defensive playcaller. Withers has a few blotches on his résumé (Minnesota 2007) but brings a lot of experience to the table.

Brian Bennett: A

The head-coaching experience both men got last year should only help their development as coaches, and both are excellent recruiters. My only concern is whether there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but there's no reason to believe that Fickell and Withers won't get along and accept their roles. If so, this should work out really well.


Defensive coordinator Ted Roof
Defensive coordinator at Auburn (briefly took Central Florida defensive coordinator job in December)


Adam Rittenberg: C+

While I loved what Roof did at Minnesota in 2008, his exit from Auburn after some struggles there raises a few red flags. The good news is he steps into a very good situation with Penn State's defense, and he has three good assistants: Larry Johnson, Ron Vanderlinden and John Butler, two of whom (Johnson and Vanderlinden) are holdovers from the previous staff.

Brian Bennett: C

Roof has some very bright spots on his long résumé, but he's also been a serial job-changer whom Auburn fans couldn't wait to see leave town despite the national title. Bill O'Brien could have retained Tom Bradley or promoted Johnson and probably done just as well, if not better. But he has a previous relationship with Roof, so the trust factor should be high.


Defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar
Defensive coordinator for the CFL's Montreal Alouettes


Adam Rittenberg: C

Both the change and the hire surprised me a bit, and Tibesar is a bit of a wild card coming back to college football from the CFL. He knows how to face the spread offense, a primary reason Danny Hope hired him, and had some success in Montreal. But his previous FBS stop at Kansas State resulted in some struggles (117th-rated defense in 2008).

Brian Bennett: C-

If Tibesar pans out as a successful defensive coordinator, perhaps Hope will start a trend of teams looking to the Great White North for assistant coaches. I'll give Hope some credit for making an unconventional choice, but I'm a little skeptical about just how well the CFL experience will translate to college.


Offensive coordinator Matt Canada
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Northern Illinois


Adam Rittenberg: B

Canada has extensive coordinator experience, including four seasons in the Big Ten at Indiana, but he has been primarily a spread coach in recent seasons. While he had success running a pro-style system during his first stint at Northern Illinois (2003), he'll have to make some adjustments. The good news: he inherits a lot of talent and understands his main job is to keep the momentum going.

Brian Bennett: B-

I was surprised that Bret Bielema didn't chose someone who was a pro-style disciple through and through given his strong comments about not changing the offense much after Paul Chryst left. As Adam said, Canada knows his stuff and has done some good work as a coordinator. But anytime a coach has to adjust his style to a larger system and not the other way around creates a seed of doubt.
First, Indiana brought in an offensive coordinator, Seth Littrell, with a pass-first pedigree.

The Hoosiers then added Cameron Coffman, a coveted junior college quarterback who Littrell had recruited at his previous coaching stop (Arizona). Then, late in the recruiting process, Indiana added Nate Sudfield, rated by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's No. 14 quarterback prospect. Sudfield is the highest-rated recruit in Indiana's recent signing class.

[+] EnlargeTre Roberson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIndiana's Tre Roberson has shown that he can run. Now he aims to be a more efficient QB.
Some might see all of this as sending a message to Tre Roberson, who emerged as Indiana's starting quarterback midway through Big Ten play last season. While Roberson showed tremendous potential at times, he also completed only 57 percent of his passes and threw twice as many interceptions (6) as touchdown passes (3).

But the team's recent moves have been made with Roberson's development very much in mind. When Indiana opens spring practice March 3, Roberson will lead the offense.

"Tre will definitely have a huge advantage," Hoosiers head coach Kevin Wilson told on Wednesday. "He has the potential to be a very quality player. He's off to a great young start in his career. ... He can make some plays with his feet, but he's a better quarterback than people give him credit for. I want competition at every position, but going into the spring, without a doubt Tre Roberson's our guy."

Coffman is one of six junior-college additions already on campus at Indiana. Sudfield arrives in the fall. Indiana was looking to add quarterbacks after both Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel left the team last month. Roberson moved past both Wright-Baker and Kiel on Indiana's depth chart during Big Ten play and provided a spark with his athleticism.

His next challenge is to become a more effective and consistent passer, which Wilson has little doubt he can be.

"[Littrell] is going to escalate Tre in the pass game," Wilson said. "I think Tre can be really good. These other two guys will make great competition for him."

Although a historically poor defense remains Indiana's primary offseason focus, Wilson thinks the Hoosiers can take steps offensively as well. Indiana had at least 350 offensive yards in half of its games in 2011 but cracked the 30-point barrier just three times and only once in Big Ten play.

Wilson wants to score more through the pass game, a big reason why he brought in Littrell, a Mike Leach disciple whose Arizona offense ranked third nationally in passing in 2011.

"I look to see what elements of that passing game will become the true part of our pass offense," Wilson said. "We'll still try to have balance and run the ball. We're going to play to the strength of the quarterback. But for us to score points, we've got to make strides defensively, but we've got to make a boatload of strides offensively, particularly in scoring, and one of the quickest ways of doing that is trying to improve the pass game.

"I don't see it as a change of offense, but it's an emphasis on some subtle things in the passing game."
Indiana and Arizona essentially swapped offensive coordinators in recent weeks. Rod Smith, the Hoosiers' co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach left IU to rejoin new Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez in Tucson. Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson replaced Smith with Seth Littrell, who spent the 2011 season as Arizona's offensive coordinator but was let go following Mike Stoops' firing. Littrell did his part with the Wildcats' offense, which ranked 16th nationally in yards per game (465.3 ypg) and third in passing (370.8 ypg) this season. Before joining Arizona's staff in 2009, Littrell spent four seasons coaching running backs at Texas Tech.

The former Oklahoma running back, who won a national title in 2000, will serve as Indiana's sole offensive coordinator.

I recently caught up with Littrell, who arrived in Bloomington on New Year's Day, to get his thoughts on joining the Hoosiers' staff.

Why Indiana? Why did this make the most sense for you?

Seth Littrell: I've known Coach Wilson for a long time, and we've been talking back and forth for a while. We've always had somewhat of a relationship. I knew the unbelievable offenses he had at Oklahoma, and I thought it was a good opportunity for me to go into a great new conference and a prestigious school in Indiana, where they're doing great things right now. You look at the basketball program up and going again, and then with Coach Wilson here in his second year, I thought it was a good opportunity to be able to help him turn this and get back to competing and winning. Plus, it's a chance for me to be under a great offensive coach who can teach me some things.

You were working under a defensive coach at Arizona. How will that change for you now, working for a guy who had success on the offensive side?

SL: It'll be unbelievable. I've been very fortunate to work with a lot of people, [Mark] Mangino and Mike Leach and Mike Stoops, and playing under Bob Stoops. I've had a great opportunity to work for offensive and defensive guys. The biggest thing I always look for is relationships and guys you feel comfortable around. It's a great environment, people are pulling in the same direction. And the more I talked with Coach Wilson over the phone, I felt very comfortable with him.

How would you describe your offensive philosophy?

SL: I played under Mike Leach at Oklahoma in 1999, so a lot of it comes from that "Air Raid" background. But the biggest thing in coaching is you have to adjust. We've had to adjust. Sonny Dykes had to adjust when he first came to Arizona, and then I came in and we had Rob Gronkowski, so we used a little bit more tight end, play-action underneath. And then last year, we didn't have as many tight ends, so we were more spread. You have to be a teacher and you have to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are as an offense and each individual player, and hopefully build something great around them. People look at me, coming from a huge passing background, but you look at Dana Holgorsen, who's one of my best friends at West Virginia. He's tweaked it his way, I've kind of tweaked it my way. And the tweaks you see are based upon what we have as personnel, but at the same time getting those guys in the best situations to compete.

Have you had a chance to look at the personnel you'll be inheriting at Indiana?

SL: Obviously, I've looked at some film, just when I came down on an interview. And as I've come back, I have had some time to watch some games here and there. And I'm extremely excited. They played a lot players last year. Shoot, Tre [Roberson] started the last five games [at quarterback] as a true freshman. He definitely has some strengths. I'm excited about him, I'm excited about the offense in general. There's players here you can compete and win with.

As you go out recruiting the next few weeks, what are some of the things you're going to be looking for?

SL: The first thing you look at is character and determination to win. You want to get great people to surround this program, which is nothing new. Coach Wilson has been doing that since he got here. You look for people who want to come out and compete, and who want to be at Indiana. You can recruit all kinds of kids, but do they really want to be at Indiana? Do they really want to play in the Big Ten? Those are qualities you look for, and then you recruit from there. Obviously, we have different needs. We have a few more needs we need to fill up. But as a philosophy, the biggest thing you want to find are great athletes who have a will to compete and a will to win.

Kevin Johns has been there as a co-coordinator. How is that going to work with him, as far as play-calling and so forth?

SL: We've sat down and talked, but the last week has been so fast. We have met, he's a great guy, the staff on offense is unbelievable. We've all talked, and I'm really excited about those guys. They're unbelievable coaches. This isn't about me. This is about this program. This is about an offensive staff coming together and working together. It's not about one guy saying, 'Here, this is what we're going to do.' That's never how it's been with me. We have an offensive staff, we sit down, we talk, we put all our heads together and we figure out the best way to help us be successful and win. That's what it comes down to. It's a team thing.

There's been more spread in the Big Ten the last 10 years. How do you think the offense works in the league? Are there different challenges in the Big Ten versus the Pac-12 or the Big 12?

SL: I couldn't give a fair assessment on that because I've never been in this league. I haven't studied it a ton. Now we did play Iowa [in 2009 and 2010] while I was at Arizona, and they had some unbelievable defenses. They were big, strong, physical guys, and they were really good up front and really sound across the board. We have to sit down and watch and discuss as a staff, and we'll figure out the best thing for us to do offensively.

How big of a challenge is this?

SL: Everywhere is a challenge in college football. It's hard to win games. Each week, you can never take it for granted, because you step on the field, wins aren't easy. I don't care where you're at. You can be at Oklahoma, or you can be at a I-AA [program], they're all hard. The biggest thing you have to do is prepare yourself mentally and physically each and every week. And you've got to enjoy it. You've got to have fun in the process. Those are the people who are going to be successful.
It will be interesting to see how several recent coaching changes impact bowl games involving Big Ten teams.

Let's take a look:

TicketCity Bowl

Texas Tech announced Sunday that defensive coordinator James Willis is leaving the program. Willis won't coach for the Red Raiders in their upcoming TicketCity Bowl matchup against Northwestern. Texas Tech's defense isn't very good (116th nationally, 463 ypg allowed), and the timing of Willis' departure can't help matters.

On the flip side, the Red Raiders are no strangers to coaching shakeups before bowl games. They dealt with the firing of head coach Mike Leach days before the 2009 Alamo Bowl and still went out and beat a shorthanded Michigan State team.

It'll be interesting to see how Texas Tech's defense performs against a Northwestern offense still reeling from the loss of star quarterback Dan Persa.

Outback Bowl

Despite the annual JoePa-is-retiring/sick email, it appears as though the major coaching news in the Outback Bowl rests with Florida.

Head coach Urban Meyer is stepping down after the bowl game, and offensive coordinator Steve Addazio was hired last week as Temple's coach. Addazio beat out Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley and others for the job. Addazio will remain with Florida through the Outback Bowl.

Although it wouldn't shock me if Florida put together an inspired performance for Meyer's final game, I've got to wonder how all this turmoil affects the Gators' players. They're used to BCS bowls and endured a disappointing 7-5 season. The quarterback situation seems shaky, and starter John Brantley is contemplating a transfer.

Penn State, meanwhile, avoided major changes to Paterno's staff. This seems like a situation where the Lions could capitalize.

Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO and Allstate Sugar Bowl

Two Big Ten assistants have taken head-coaching jobs this month, but both are sticking around for bowl games. Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren was named head coach at Northern Illinois, while Ohio State receivers coach Darrell Hazell has landed the top job at Kent State.

I talked with Doeren on Sunday, and he's very much locked into Rose Bowl preparation. Although he has started to put together his staff at NIU, he has remained in Madison for most of the month. I don't think his impending departure is much of a distraction for Badgers' players, especially since Doeren's replacement likely will from within the current staff.

Hazell also is the type of coach who won't let his new role distract him from the task at hand. Ohio State needs all of its coaches locked in after last week's suspensions bombshell.

Although I doubt we'll see many major coaching moves this week, keep an eye on Nebraska offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell. Both are in the mix for the vacancy at Miami (Ohio), and I hear Watson has an excellent chance to land the job.

There's also talk of Texas eying Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst for its OC vacancy.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 2, 2010
Still basking in the glow of another ACC-Big Ten Challenge win? Yeah, I thought so.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 22, 2010
As always, send me your questions and comments. And follow me on Twitter. And enjoy the games this weekend.

That is all.

Stephanie from Lewis Center, Ohio, writes: Does it seem like that Ohio State's offense, at least the past few years, resembles a potpourri or a variety plate? Something like they try to execute too many things and can't execute just one good? Why is that and how come there isn't an identity with what seems to be a perennial power (does this go back to a true OC debate)?

Adam Rittenberg: Excellent point, Stephanie. The identity question has been there with Ohio State for most of Terrelle Pryor's term as the starting quarterback. It was a little easier to figure out the identity when Ohio State had a traditional drop-back passer and a featured running back. Not a knock against Pryor, but they've definitely tried a lot of things. Is Ohio State a spread offense? A pistol offense? A traditional under-center offense? Probably a bit of everything, and you saw it in the Wisconsin game. The Buckeyes clearly were most effective in the pistol formation, but they didn't go to it enough early in the game. On the other hand, I thought Tressel's play calling was superb in the third quarter. But you contrast Ohio State with Wisconsin, a team fully aware of its offensive identity, and it doesn't make the Buckeyes look good.

Dave from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam, I was looking over your predictions for this week and saw your impressive record (49-8 (.860))Is your prediction record a factor of how far along we are in season? Just like our Big Ten teams, does your record benefit from the non-conference schedule? The chalk?I am impressed with the near perfect record from last week so I won't push too hard. Just like the conference slate, that is where a record really means something.

Adam Rittenberg: I'd love to say I've predicted all the big games correctly, but I won't lie. My record is definitely a product of the nonconference slate, which featured quite a few cushy, lopsided matchups. I hit on some of the tough games like Michigan beating Notre Dame and Michigan State beating Michigan in Ann Arbor, but I've yet to have a perfect week in Big Ten play. Also, unlike many folks who predict, the bloggers don't go by the point spread, which makes it a lot easier for us.

Vicente from Dearborn Heights, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, love the blog! Thank you for making the work week much more manageable. I'm a Michigan State grad and alum from the depths of the Bobby Williams era and the one "good" John L. year. With all of MSU's new found national attention, one moniker keeps rearing its ugly head in the anticipation of Spartan failure: S.O.S. Same Ol' Spartans.With everything the Spartans have been through this season, as long as it doesn't end with a five game collapse, would you say this team has finally gotten out of the shadow of failure because of Mark Dantonio? He has done so much more for this program than most people give him credit for. It sometimes sounds as though that even winning a national title wouldn't be enough to remove the S.O.S because the second they slip, the images Bobby saying "I don't know" or John L. slapping himself rise up. What is it going to take for the Spartans to rid themselves of this negative connotation? Can they ever escape the dark days of their common mid-season free fall?

Adam Rittenberg: Vicente, it's going to take consistent success, strong finishes to seasons and establishing Michigan State as a top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State isn't the only Big Ten program to deal with a label like this. Indiana will be called a basketball school until the football program starts making bowl games. Minnesota will be the butt of jokes by Iowa fans and Wisconsin fans until the Gophers start winning rivalry trophies. Northwestern is still called a Big Ten doormat even though most of the evidence since 1995 suggests otherwise. Mark Dantonio certainly has the MSU program on the right path, and a BCS bowl appearance this year would go a long way toward eliminating the S.O.S. tag. But it probably won't evaporate entirely until Michigan State strings together five or six good seasons in a row.

Jonathan from Washington, D.C., writes: Hi Adam,Former IU Hoosier alum here. Just curious about what Indiana Football will do at the end of the season if Lynch can't get the team into a bowl game. Is it possible for Fred Glass to pursue someone like Mike Leach or take a chance on a big time name like Bill Cowher? The team today is impressive through the air but when does a historically mediocre to awful team make the jump to try and bring in a world class coach? Thanks for your time.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jonathan. Glass will have an interesting decision to make, but he really wants Bill Lynch to succeed and be Indiana's coach for the long term. Glass understands that Indiana's lack of coaching continuity has really contributed to the team's struggles since the Bill Mallory era. He'll be more patient with Lynch than a lot of IU fans might be. Bill Cowher isn't coming to Bloomington, and it would take a hard sell to get Mike Leach there. The good thing about Lynch is he's extremely loyal to Indiana and gives the program an excellent public representative. But it ultimately comes down to wins and losses, and Lynch must prove he can win in the Big Ten. The next two weeks will be very, very telling for the IU program.

Greg from New Brighton, Minn., writes: What do you think about Don Treadwell as the next coach for Minnesota?

Adam Rittenberg: Treadwell certainly is helping his case to be a head coach, but Minnesota has all but said it will hire someone with previous head-coaching experience. You always hire opposites, and Minnesota can't afford to bring in someone that hasn't sat in the hot seat after firing Tim Brewster. It's unfortunate in a way because there are some good coordinator candidates out there, but I'd be extremely surprised, after hearing AD Joel Maturi on Sunday, if Minnesota doesn't hire a current or former head coach who has some name recognition. I'd still expect Treadwell to garner some interest elsewhere.

Dan from Duluth, Minn., writes: Adam, I noticed on your Stock Down report that when you talked about UM's 3rd down Defense you called out Greg Robinson the UM D coordinator. You seem to be guilty of the same thing many UM fans are claiming these days, RichRod gets all the credit for a good offense, but Greg Robinson gets all the blame for a poor defense. Isn't RichRod the head coach for the ENTIRE team (poor kicking game as well)?

Adam Rittenberg: Coaches are judged on wins and losses, and Rich Rodriguez is no exception. But he has given control of the defense to Robinson and the other assistants, while his focus remains where it always is -- on the offense, which has improved this season. You bring up the kicking game, and that's a fairer area to criticize Rodriguez. Head coaches typically have a large role in the special teams, and Michigan has really struggled in that area this fall. But Robinson is a veteran defensive coach brought in to boost a struggling unit, and it hasn't happened yet.

Mike from Las Vegas writes: Making my first trip to Evanston on Sat to watch my Spartans play NU. What shouldn't I miss seeing on campus and where is the best place to go after the game to watch LSU/Auburn and Iowa/Bucky?Thanks

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, I'll open this up to everyone in the comments section, but I have spent a bit of time in Evanston. If the weather is nice, check out the lakefill on the east edge of Northwestern's campus. It's a great area to walk around, and you can get views of downtown Chicago on a clear day. There aren't many must-see campus landmarks, although if you're a "Major League" fan, stop by Deering Library and you might recognize it from one of the scenes. You can also check out what's painted on the rock this week. For postgame, there are quite a few more bars in Evanston than when I was there, and there's a new Buffalo Wild Wings that has all your TV needs. But my pick would be Tommy Nevin's Pub. There will be a ton of MSU fans there, so I'm sure they can point you in the right direction. Enjoy your trip.

Big Ten lunch links

October, 20, 2010
The links aren't going anywhere, but my Big Ten chat is happening right now. Join in!

Big Ten mailblog

October, 19, 2010
As always, send me your questions and comments here and follow me on Twitter.

Stan from Waukegan, Ill., writes: Hi Adam - great work as always! Can you remind us Spartan fans (who aren't at all used to paying attention to things like this) what the tiebreaking scenario is for 2 or more teams at the top of the league standings? Is it overall record first or just straight to BCS standing to see who gets the automatic nod. Obviously there's a ton of football left, but we haven't dreamt like this (legitimately) in 20 years, so I'm dying to know the procedure!Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Stan, happy to help. Some fans still think the team that had the longer Rose Bowl drought goes to Pasadena, which is ancient history. If two teams are tied, head-to-head meeting is the first tiebreaker. If there's a two-team tie and the teams didn't play each other, the first tiebreaker is better overall winning percentage. If the winning percentages are identical, the team with the higher rank in the final BCS standings wins the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth. If there are three teams tied, here's how it works:
  • If one team beat both of the other teams, it gets the BCS berth
  • If the teams are still tied and two of the teams beat the third team, the third team is eliminated and the two-team tiebreaker is used
  • If there's still a tie or two of the teams didn't play each other, the team with the highest overall win percentage gets the BCS berth. If one team is eliminated through overall win percentage, the two-team tiebreaker then goes into effect.
  • If three teams are still tied and all have the same overall winning percentage, the team with the highest rank in the final BCS standings gets the BCS berth

Jonny from Pasadena, Calif., writes: Adam, great job with the blog. It gets me through my seminary lectures. People keep saying that Stanzi racks up Heisman-like numbers, yet he doesn't seem to be getting any Heisman love. How long do you think it will be before he gets recognized? Will he have to beat both Michigan St. and Wisconsin at home before getting recognized as a potential, or will he have to bring Iowa to Pasadena for that sort of recognition?

Adam Rittenberg: Check my Heisman update in about 90 minutes, Jonny, and you'll see some love for No. 12 in there. Ricky Stanzi is still fighting the perception from 2009, one he helped to create, that he still makes too many major major mistakes in his decisions. This certainly isn't the case in 2010, as Stanzi has thrown 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions, one of which wasn't his fault. But he absolutely has to put up big numbers against both Wisconsin and Michigan State to gain serious Heisman consideration. Iowa's so-so competition and Stanzi's reputation from 2009 are the two factors hurting his Heisman cause.

Adam from Boston writes: Adam, Thanks for the time. Realistically, what are the chances of the following happening for Ohio State: Win the Conference (at least a share), Make a BCS Bowl, Make the National Championship? What situations would need to occur for each to happen? Thanks again.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, I'd never count out Ohio State winning at least a share of the Big Ten title, even with Saturday's loss. The Buckeyes obviously would have to win out for this to happen, but the game at Iowa is the only one where Ohio State might not be favored. The Buckeyes' best route to a BCS bowl is to win the Big Ten's automatic berth or share the league title with another team. They would benefit from Wisconsin losing again and would be helped by Michigan State stumbling a few times, too. I don't see Ohio State having a realistic shot at the national title unless we see a repeat of the wild finish to the 2007 season.

Jesse from Minneapolis writes: Adam - Great blog! Christmas has come early for the Gopher Nation (ironic that I am still using this moniker...). Adam, what will need to be done in order to ensure the best transition with a new coach coming to Minnesota next fall? It seems that every coach since Murray Warmath has had an abrupt end (that's 1971), which is unfair for everyone from the state, to the fans, and ultimately the athletes. Do you think that the extra time the administration will have looking for a new coach will help? Also, how will this affect recruiting? At least we got that shiny new stadium, right?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Jesse. The stadium definitely will help in luring a new coach. It's a major selling point, unlike the Metrodome, which turned coaches away. The extra time also should help AD Joel Maturi study potential candidates and gauge interest through back channels. He also can begin talking to any candidates not currently in coaching (i.e. Mike Leach). The affect on recruiting will be interesting, and colleague Tom Luginbill has an interesting take. Expect to lose some recruits, which happens with every coaching transition.

Tate Freed from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: First of all, I love the blog and send questions all the time, unfortunately I've never been answered by you. Second of all, yes I'm aware my name is Tate F. and I'm a U-M fan. Is this Michigan team different than last year? Have we officially started our downward spiral? Or are we just victims to 2 very good teams in MSU and Iowa? What does it say that we had 522 yards on a great Iowa defense and really beat them up in a lopsided 4th quarter?

Adam Rittenberg: Tate, I love the "yes I'm aware my name is Tate F. and I'm a U-M fan" line . I'm sure you get the Tate Forcier line quite a bit. I know a lot of folks see this as a re-run of 2009 for Michigan, but I still have hope that the Wolverines can make some noise down the stretch. The offense remains extremely explosive, and Michigan should have a chance to simply outscore teams like Penn State, Purdue and Illinois. My concern is that the defense continues to look like a mess, and special teams aren't much better. We knew the defense could struggle again this fall, especially with some of the injuries and departures, but it's hard to win when you struggle so much in two of football's three phases.

Dave from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Thanks for all of the great work on the blog, I read it religiously!!! One thing I have noticed from you and other media members is that MSU hasn't left the state of Michigan yet. What is being implied by that? Is it that MSU hasn't played a true road game yet, because that is not the case. I don't think the green and white are too welcome in Ann Arbor, doesn't really matter that it is in MI, that is still a true road game. Your thoughts??

Adam Rittenberg: The implication is that Michigan State still must prove itself a little bit more on the road, which is fair. The Spartans played great at Michigan, which isn't easy to do, given the heated rivalry. But a 65-minute trip from East Lansing to Ann Arbor when you can leave after the Friday night team dinner is a little bit different than a major road trip across a state or two. Look what happened to Iowa when it had to go out to Arizona: totally different team than the one we've seen in the other games. Michigan State has played a true road game and won it impressively, but the Spartans must show they can keep winning road games down the stretch at Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State.

James from Kalamazoo, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, it seems odd Michigan has had a total mental breakdown since the start of the Michigan State game. What is your take on the situation? Also why do you think Greg Robinson has been hiding from the media regarding the defense and why isn't he being held accountable for the dismal performance of the defense to date? Will Michigan ever get better on defense with Greg Robinson as DC? Maybe these items need to be addressed in your next interview session with Rich Rodriguez.

Adam Rittenberg: James, I wouldn't call it a mental breakdown so much as struggling against better teams like MSU and Iowa. Michigan's offense has done some really good things -- racking up 522 yards against Iowa isn't easy -- but has not put the ball in the end zone as much as it could have. The problems on defense have been there all season. Teams like Connecticut just didn't expose them nearly as much as Indiana, Michigan State and Iowa have. I think it's ridiculous that Robinson continues to dodge the media despite repeated requests from my guy Mike Rothstein and others. As a former head coach, he should know he has a responsibility to address the situation when so many fans want to hear from him. Michigan's other assistants like Rod Smith understand this responsibility. Rodriguez has faced plenty of questions about the defense, and I'm not sure he really knows what will happen there. He has taken care of the offensive side well, but the Robinson hire isn't looking good right now.
First of all, I love the blog and send questions all the time, unfortunately I've never been answered by you. Second of all, yes I'm aware my name is Tate F. and I'm a U-M fan. Is this michigan team different then last year? Have we officially started our downward spiral? Or are we just victims to 2 very good teams in MSU and Iowa? What does it say that we had 522 yards on a great Iowa defense and really beat them up in a lobsided 4th quarter?
Tim Brewster came to Minnesota talking big and dreaming bigger.

I can't remember how many times I heard Brewster mention Minnesota's 18 Big Ten championships and six national championships, never mind the fact that neither event had happened since 1967.

Brewster knew the bar needed to be raised in Minneapolis. You couldn't blame him for aiming high. Why else would the school fire a coach (Glen Mason) who consistently made bowl games?

[+] EnlargeBrewster
Bruce Kluckhohn/US PresswireTim Brewster went 15-30 as Minnesota's head coach.
But Brewster couldn't make Minnesota into a championship program. In fact, he couldn't get the Gophers to the level Mason had them at the time of his termination following the 2006 Insight Bowl. Brewster never won a trophy game and went 1-9 in November games, with his lone win coming against FCS South Dakota State. His teams have been outscored 67-0 in their past two meetings with rival Iowa.

When he stopped winning in September and October this season, his days became numbered. And after Minnesota lost its sixth consecutive game Saturday at Purdue, dropping to 1-6 on the season, the school pulled the plug on the Brewster era.

Brewster went 15-30 at Minnesota and 7-18 since November 2008.
"While I appreciate the passion and commitment that Coach Brewster has shown, it is clear that a change in the leadership of Gopher football is necessary," athletic director Joel Maturi said in a prepared statement. "We have high aspirations for our football program and we are not satisfied with its current direction. The results so far this season have been unacceptable and the program has simply not shown enough improvement over the past three and a half years to continue with the status quo."

Co-offensive coordinator Jeff Horton will take over for Brewster on an interim basis. I hate to see lame-duck coaches in college sports, so this seems like the right move.

Firing Brewster only cost Minnesota $600,000, a buyout lowered in his recent contract extension.

Brewster never lacked passion, and his recruiting abilities as a former Mack Brown assistant showed at Minnesota. I loved the way he upgraded Minnesota's schedule, which had been a joke during the Mason era, and added showcase nonconference games against teams like USC.

But he also showed too many signs of a first-time college head coach.

His decision to replace veteran offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar and switch from the spread to a pro-style offense didn't pay off. He replaced Dunbar with an NFL assistant in Jedd Fisch whose complex concepts flew over the players' heads. Brewster kept shuffling his staff, a formula that rarely works in a sport where sticking to your guns usually is the way to go.

Minnesota is the first FBS program to make a coaching change in 2010, and the school now begins what could be an extensive coaching search. There are some dream candidates Minnesota can pursue (alum Tony Dungy, former assistant Kevin Sumlin, Mike Leach) and some more realistic ones (Montreal Alouettes coach Marc Trestman, former Iowa State coach Dan McCarney).

It will be interesting to see how much control Maturi has in the search since he was the one who hired Brewster.

Minnesota is a challenging job, but it's a better job now with a beautiful on-campus stadium to sell.

There are no excuses why Minnesota shouldn't be a middle-of-the-pack Big Ten team, building toward the high bar Brewster set but never could reach.

Big Ten mailblog

May, 11, 2010
Before we get started, a quick reminder. The only reports about Big Ten expansion that I'll address on this blog will be legitimate ones. I'm not going to acknowledge every unfounded rumor or speculative missive out there. So if you're wondering why I don't weigh on everything you hear, consider the original source. Or keep waiting.

Let's begin.

Jeff from Lawrence, Kan., writes: I keep reading about the rise of Denard Robinson during the spring in AA. I can't help but be skeptical. First, it's spring ball and it seems like RichRod likes to send as many messages during spring as practices. Second, the final scrimmage was 1's vs. 2's, which means Shoelace was set up to succeed (lack of depth for 2's in the secondary) and LMT (Little Man Tate) was set up to struggle (lack of available depth for 2's at receiver). I gotta think Forcier got the message and will be fine going into fall.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, this is a totally understandable position, and it's good to point out who each quarterback faced in the spring game. It's safe to say Robinson made progress this spring, certainly from what we saw last fall. Yet for folks to say Tate Forcier is lagging way behind him now is incorrect. The truest part of your note is the last sentence: "I think Forcier got the message." Rich Rodriguez certainly did everything he could to challenge Forcier this spring, and we'll see what type of response Forcier provides in preseason camp. Coaches challenge players who they know can be better, and perhaps Forcier is still Michigan's best option at quarterback. Should be a fun August.

Ross from Hastings, Neb., writes: Ok Adam, I love bashing Colorado because they think they are out rival...How long till Nebraska goes to the Big 10, who will be our chief rival, and how do we fare in the Big 10 long term???Looking forward to you being my new blogman! Haha!

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, I won't tell David Ubben you wrote that. Nebraska could have several rivals in the Big Ten, but Iowa makes a ton of sense, especially if both programs are in the top 20 year after year. You've got two extremely passionate fan bases in bordering states competing for recruits and regional bragging rights. A recent poll shows that Iowa fans are split on finishing the regular season against Penn State or Minnesota, and a sizable chunk (18 percent, as of Monday night) would pick Nebraska if the Cornhuskers join the Big Ten. So Iowa is at the top of the list, while Wisconsin could be another rival for Nebraska. After all, Barry Alvarez was a Cornhusker.

Jacob from Texas writes: In all the expansion talk, no one has discussed an addition of a team for spite's sake. Adding Vanderbilt would stick it to the SEC, add a fine academic institution, and again stick it to the SEC! I know Vanderbilt is an original member of the SEC, but they have to be sick of holding the only academic standards in the SEC!

Adam Rittenberg: Several folks have brought up Vandy, but I just don't see what the Commodores add from a football perspective. The two main elements driving the Big Ten's expansion push are television market potential and football success. Vanderbilt is in a decent market (Nashville), but doesn't move the needle like its in-state colleague Tennessee. And the Commodores' success in football has been extremely limited. You're right that the academics make Vandy a great fit in the Big Ten -- and a better fit than in the SEC -- but other than that, I don't get too excited about the Dores. And contrary to popular belief, sticking it to the SEC isn't Jim Delany's primary goal in life.

Ben from London, England, writes: Adam, I'm a big fan of your blog, but I don't understand the love for MSU. They finished 6-7 and in their last three games they conceded an average of 40 points! The only Div1 team they beat with a winning record was Northwestern! They may have Greg Jones coming back, but the secondary is still weak! So how can MSU be T-4 in your rankings?

Adam Rittenberg: Ben, I totally understand I'm going out on a limb with the Michigan State love, given the Spartans' history for disappointing people. But I look at their team and see a lot of firepower on offense, multiple contributors at wide receiver, running back and tight end, not to mention a quarterback (Kirk Cousins) who played pretty darn well last year and should only get better. Yes, the secondary is a major concern, but Michigan State's defensive recruiting in 2010 was among the best in the Big Ten. You never want to rely on freshmen, but Michigan State is bringing in a few guys who can help immediately on defense. Michigan State wasn't far away in 2009. If Iowa doesn't complete that pass at the end of the game, the Spartans probably go 8-4 or better. I understand the risk in putting Michigan State at No. 4 with Penn State, but I'm willing to take the heat if it goes wrong.

David from New Haven, Ind., writes: after IU has another losing season do you think they will do the smart thing and hire a big name coach like mike leach or are hoosier fans doomed with lynch

Adam Rittenberg: Hard to say, David. If IU goes 5-7 with some quality Big Ten wins, Bill Lynch could survive for another year. Anything worse than that -- or even a watered-down 5-7 mark -- likely spells the end for him in Bloomington. Athletic director Fred Glass seems like he wouldn't hesitate to make a big splash with his next hire, but selling the job to a candidate like Mike Leach could be really tough. There's really no tradition at IU in the past 20 years, and a coach could be joining an expanding Big Ten that might be even more formidable. I wouldn't doubt Glass to go out and bring in a name coach, but let's see what happens this fall with Lynch.
As we put the bowl season to bed today -- the Big Ten certainly will have sweet dreams -- here's one final look back at my picks.

Much like the Big Ten, I started slow in the picks this fall but finished pretty strong.

CHAMPS SPORTS BOWL (Wisconsin vs. Miami)

  • The pick: Wisconsin 27, Miami 24
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 20, Miami 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: A pretty solid pick overall, as Wisconsin generated pressure with defensive linemen J.J. Watt and O'Brien Schofield and employed a balanced attack on offense. I expected more from Jacory Harris and Miami's offense, and the game easily could have been a blowout as Wisconsin controlled the pace on both sides of the ball.
INSIGHT BOWL (Minnesota vs. Iowa State)

  • The pick: Iowa State 17, Minnesota 14
  • Actual score: Iowa State 14, Minnesota 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: Another pretty solid pick here, although it didn't take much expertise to see these two offenses would struggle a bit. Minnesota's defense battled extremely hard and the offense generated yards but not points. A MarQueis Gray fumble in the Iowa State red zone ended Minnesota's potential game-winning scoring drive, as Iowa State handed the Gophers their seventh loss.
OUTBACK BOWL (Northwestern vs. Auburn)

  • The pick: Northwestern 31, Auburn 28
  • Actual score: Auburn 38, Northwestern 35 (OT)
  • 20-20 hindsight: Few could have forecast exactly how wacky this game would get, but as expected, both offenses came to play and put up huge numbers. Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka had the craziest stat line you'll ever see. As predicted, the Wildcats rallied in the fourth quarter, but the kicking game once again let them down as Auburn thwarted a trick play on fourth-and-goal in overtime.
  • The pick: Penn State 21, LSU 17
  • Actual score: Penn State 19, LSU 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: Nearly nailed the score here as Penn State's veteran defense helped my cause by shutting down LSU for all but one stretch in the second half. Nittany Lions senior quarterback Daryll Clark led the definitive drive of his career to set up Collin Wagner's fourth field goal, and the defense held off LSU to preserve another bowl victory for 83-year-old head coach Joe Paterno.

  • The pick: Oregon 27, Ohio State 21 (scroll down)
  • Actual score: Ohio State 26, Oregon 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: I'll be the first to admit I was dead wrong on this one. The Ohio State offense I watched all season didn't resemble the one I saw in Pasadena. Neither did the Buckeyes quarterback. Terrelle Pryor's complete performance combined with a suffocating defensive effort against Oregon star QB Jeremiah Masoli led to a convincing victory for the Buckeyes, who really needed this. Ohio State executed its game plan to perfection and limited big plays from the Ducks.
VALERO ALAMO BOWL (Michigan State vs. Texas Tech)

  • The pick: Texas Tech 31, Michigan State 27
  • Actual score: Texas Tech 41, Michigan State 31
  • 20-20 hindsight: Despite all of the bizarre circumstances surrounding this game, things went more or less as planned on the field. Texas Tech's offense showed few effects from head coach Mike Leach's dismissal, while Michigan State's secondary continued to struggle. The Spartans played admirably without 14 of their teammates (suspended or dismissed), but they didn't generate enough offense or make enough stops in the second half to hold off the Red Raiders.
FEDEX ORANGE BOWL (Iowa vs. Georgia Tech)

  • The pick: Iowa 28, Georgia Tech 27
  • Actual score: Iowa 24, Georgia Tech 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: I picked the right outcome, but the score ended up way off. I expected much more from Georgia Tech's offense, and evidently so did Paul Johnson. I knew Norm Parker would have Iowa's defense ready to go after a month's preparation, but the Hawkeyes thoroughly dominated Josh Nesbitt and the Yellow Jackets, holding them to just one offensive touchdown. And despite rallying for wins all year, Iowa got the lead and held on to cap a sensational season.
Bowl record: 5-2

Regular-season record: 64-24 (.727)

Final record: 69-26 (.726)

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
It's time for a quick look at arguably the most bizarre bowl game of the year, as Michigan State (6-6) takes on Texas Tech (8-4) on Saturday night in San Antonio (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

WHO TO WATCH: Blair White and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State's wave of suspensions hit the wide receivers harder than any other position group. The Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, who combined for 74 receptions and five touchdowns this season. White and Martin need to pick up the slack for the Big Ten's top passing offense in a game where Michigan State likely needs to score 28 points or more. Quarterback Kirk Cousins can rely on White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who has a knack for finding the end zone. Martin also emerged as a difference maker down the stretch, especially on special teams. The Spartans need Martin to break off some nice returns to win the field-position edge.

WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's secondary. Head coach Mark Dantonio talked up this group in the preseason, but the secondary has fallen well short of expectations. Quarterbacks like Dan LeFevour, Jimmy Clausen, Scott Tolzien and Adam Weber had their way with Michigan State's defensive backs, who face arguably their biggest challenge in Taylor Potts and the nation's No. 2 pass offense (380.7 ypg). The Spartans will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker (suspension), so they need big performances from defensive backs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Trenton Robinson and others.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need an explanation here? You've got one team (Michigan State) missing 14 scholarship players because of one very troubling stretch on Nov. 22. You've got another team (Texas Tech) that learned Wednesday that its head coach had been fired after wide receiver Adam James filed a complaint. I'm about to make a prediction on this game, but who really knows what will happen? One team will come out of the game looking extremely resilient amid adversity. The other could end up looking like a train wreck.

PREDICTION: Mike Leach's shocking dismissal will impact Texas Tech early, as Michigan State takes a lead. But I don't have enough confidence in the Spartans' secondary to think they'll keep the Red Raiders in check for 60 minutes. Potts gets hot late and Texas Tech rallies to win, 31-27.