Big Ten: Oregon State Beavers
Just imagine what might have happened had the unbeaten Buckeyes, say, anticipated oncoming NCAA sanctions and self-imposed a bowl ban last year, so they would have finished 6-6 instead of 6-7, thereby matching the most losses in school history.
- It's possible 12-0 Ohio State would be playing Notre Dame for the national title, instead of once-beaten Alabama. That would have ended the SEC's national title streak at six.
- If the Buckeyes were headed to South Florida, the Rose Bowl would have had first pick among the remaining BCS bowl eligible teams. That probably would have given us a scintillating Florida-Stanford, SEC-Pac-12 matchup -- No. 3 vs. No. 6 -- instead of the Cardinal vs. five-loss, unranked Wisconsin.
- Or, if the BCS standings still had Alabama ahead of Ohio State, which would have been highly controversial, Ohio State-Stanford would have been a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup between elite, highly rated teams.
"We're not built like that," he said. "Our guys aren't built like that. We talk a lot about respecting the game. The game deserves our respect. Our opponent deserves our respect. We can't change how we play based on who we play. How we play never changes. We're going to play fast, we're going to play physical, we're going to play our style of football, and we don't take our foot off the gas pedal. Never, ever anyway. We're going to respect these guys. These guys have earned our respect. Watch the film, look at the scoreboard, and watch the film, and these guys will get your respect."
There is good news here, for Ohio State, for the Rose Bowl and for the Pac-12.
While the Big Ten has been on an extended swoon in terms of national perception, and one of its top teams, Penn State, has been wiped off the map by NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is clearly rising under Meyer. The Buckeyes will be national title contenders next fall. Or, failing that, they could become a worthy Rose Bowl foe.
As college football moves forward in 2014 with a four-team playoff, the Pac-12 needs the Big Ten to produce elite teams -- and vice versa -- or the continuing and evolving Rose Bowl partnership will suffer.
This "What Might Have Been Season" for Ohio State, which has broadly affected teams coast-to-coast, is almost certainly an anomaly.
That might not salve the immediate pain for the Buckeyes, or help make this year's Rose Bowl any better, but a hopeful glance toward the horizon is all we have for you.
- Week 1 gives the Big Ten its biggest and only regular-season chance to earn national respect, Dan Wetzel writes. The Big Ten's image will be shaped early this fall, Todd Jones writes.
- Big Ten Week 1 predictions here and here and here.
- Act II begins tonight for Jerry Kill's Minnesota team, which is focused on improvement. Tonight marks a homecoming of sorts for Gophers safety Brock Vereen.
- Purdue coach Danny Hope made the right call and dismissed troubled linebacker Dwayne Beckford. Boilers cornerback Ricardo Allen sets the record straight about his weight.
- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is more comfortable with his stardom. A look at how Robinson stacks up with his Alabama counterpart on Saturday. Like me, Kyle Meinke thinks Michigan will have a stronger team with a weaker record (8-4) in 2012.
- Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti has become a leader and a program symbol in recent weeks. The Bill O'Brien offense will finally make its debut Saturday. Former Lions running back Silas Redd says he thought about leaving Penn State back in November.
- It's Andrew Maxwell's show at Michigan State this season. Some good Michigan State notes and nuggets from my guy Joe Rexrode. Both Maxwell and his Boise State counterpart, Joe Southwick, are in similar situations entering Friday's game.
- Urban Meyer makes Ohio State football an even bigger brand, Doug Lesmerises writes. Ohio State cornerback Travis Howard responds to a challenge in camp. Buckeye fans took Urban around the world this offseason.
- Nebraska knows it needs to improve its third-down defense. Tom Shatel writes that Huskers offensive coordinator Tim Beck has a chess mind and a blue-collar attitude. A Q&A with Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead.
- Wisconsin's new assistants bring fresh ideas to the program, Tom Oates writes. Danny O'Brien's Badgers teammates love him, but not his taste in music. After its opener was postponed, Oregon State will begin its 2012 season against Wisconsin.
- Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg has benefited from new offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The Hawkeyes will mix and match with its tight ends this season.
- The "Paterno" book will debut at No. 1 on the best-seller list. The book's author, Joe Posnanski, has doubts about the Freeh report.
- After doing it all for Northwestern in 2011, Kain Colter is focused on playing quarterback this fall. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald prepares his team for "the dome sweat" at Syracuse.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman doesn't need to be sold on Western Michigan's star quarterback. Some Illini notes, including the starting safeties still being limited in practice.
- Cornerback Brian Williams moves up Indiana's depth chart (subscription required). The Hoosiers still must make some strides to reach mediocrity.
Does it seem like ... wait, there goes De'Anthony Thomas. Don't think he'll get caught from behind.
Does it seem like ... wait, would somebody please tackle Justin Blackmon?
Does it seem like there have been a lot of points this bowl season?
It's not just you. There have been a lot of points. More points than ever before. And by huge quantities.
So far, BCS bowl teams have averaged a total of 77 points in the Rose, Fiesta, Orange and Sugar bowls. That, folks, is nearly 26 points more than last year (51.6). And it's nearly 11 points better than the previous high of 66.3 from 2001-02.
Perhaps pairing two SEC teams in the title game has created a black hole sucking all defensive stinginess into the LSU-Alabama rematch, which you might recall went 9-6 with no touchdowns in their first meeting. West Virginia scored 10 touchdowns -- 10! -- against Clemson. Alabama gave up 12 TDs all season.
Speaking of Clemson: ACC. Well, well, well.
After the Tigers ingloriously fell 70-33 to the Mountaineers, we got our second story from the BCS bowl season: The ACC's insistence on throwing up on itself in BCS bowl games.
The conference that was once expected to challenge the SEC is now 2-13 in BCS bowl games. That's hard to do. You'd think in 15 BCS bowls the conference could get lucky at least five or six times. But no, it insists on making ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a genuinely nice person, into some sort of Grim Reaper every bowl season.
Heck, the Big East has won seven BCS bowls -- second fewest among AQ conferences -- but it's 7-7.
Of course, this all ties together, and we're here to bring out a bow, but first a warning: If you don't want to read about how good the SEC is for the 56,314th time this year, then stop reading. I'd recommend an episode of "South Park" or perhaps a John le Carré thriller as an alternative for passing the time.
We can all agree the SEC plays great defense right? Alabama and LSU will play for the title Monday with the nation's top-two defenses. Do you think perhaps that it's not a coincidence that the conference that is 16-7 in BCS bowl games plays great defense?
The only other AQ conference with a winning record in BCS bowl games is the Pac-12, which is 11-7. The Pac-12 isn't known for defense, either, but USC was when it won the conference's last national title in 2004.
The only team to win a BCS national title without an elite defense was Auburn in 2010, but the Tigers' defense seemed to find itself late in the season. Since 1999, eight national champions had a top-10 defense. Other than Auburn, the lowest-rated defense to win a BCS national title was Ohio State in 2002. It ranked 23rd in the nation in total defense.
Three of the four BCS bowl games have been thrillers. Two went to overtime. We've seen big plays all over the field in the passing game and running game. Yet, if things go according to script in the title game, we'll see none of that. We might not see more than a couple of plays that go for more than 20 yards. We might not see any.
Some might call that boring. It might seem that both offenses are so paranoid of making a mistake that they are stuck in mud, both in game plan and execution.
But, snoozefest or not, when the clock strikes zero a team from the SEC will hoist the crystal football for a sixth consecutive time.
That might say something about playing better defense.
And it looks like a good matchup of good teams with contrasting styles.
Sounds like a good time for a blog debate!
Ted Miller: Well, Brian, we’re back to a traditional Pac-12-Big Ten Granddaddy and it looks like a good one: Midwest power versus West Coast flash. I’m a little surprised that Oregon is favored against Montee Ball, Russell Wilson and that mammoth group of biscuit and gravy eaters you call an offensive line. Give me an idea of what the Ducks are up against with the Badgers' offense. Is it all power football, or is it more sophisticated than that?
Brian Bennett: You'd better believe the Badgers have the baddest bunch of big uglies in college football, with an offensive line that outweighs many NFL units. Add in a couple of good tight ends, a senior fullback and Wisconsin's dedication to the ground game and you can see why the program has been one of the best running teams in the country for several years now. But it's not just all brute. The thing that makes these linemen stand out is that they are nimble and can really move, and I think many defenses are shocked by that combination of strength and athleticism early in games. Wilson has also given this team an entirely new dimension with his ability to make plays on the move and his outstanding accuracy. Opponents have no choice but to respect the run when playing Wisconsin, and that makes this offense the most dangerous play-action team in America. You'll see receivers getting huge cushions in the passing game, and Ball can break tackles even when the box is loaded.
That's why the Badgers average 44.6 points per game, just a tick below Oregon's 46.2 average. My question for you is, can the Ducks' defense handle this kind of offensive power, especially in a 3-4 scheme?
Oregon has faced big, powerful teams before. Stanford and USC the past two years, in conference, and Auburn and LSU out of conference. Forgotten in the talk about how Auburn and LSU slowed down the Ducks' offense is how the Ducks' defense slowed down both sets of Tigers. Oregon outgained LSU 372-273 but was done in by four horrible turnovers. The Ducks held Auburn and Cam Newton to 22 points, its second-lowest total of the season.
Sure, Oregon’s defense ranks 59th in the nation in total yards while Wisconsin ranks eighth. But they yield similar numbers on yards per play: Oregon 4.93, Wisconsin 4.85. And the Ducks are slightly better on third down. Oregon’s defense’s biggest problem is its offense, which scores a lot of points despite ranking LAST in the nation in time of possession. The Badgers' defense, with an offense that ranks 22nd in time of possession, only faced 786 plays this year. Oregon faced 1,005. That skews numbers.
Wait. Did I get all stats-y there? Sorry. My answer to the size question is what Oregon will say leading up to the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for them. They play their game, run their stunts, use their speed and see what happens. Stanford, which has two first-round NFL draft choices on its O-line, would be the most natural comparison with the Badgers. And for two years in a row, no team has played good enough defense to beat the Cardinal and Andrew Luck other than Oregon.
While Badgers fans expect Whisky to run over the Ducks with size -- Big Ten thinking! -- Ducks fans believe they can exploit the Badgers' defense with speed and misdirection -- Pac-12 thinking! What about some Brian Bennett thinking: Do the Badgers have the speed on defense to keep up with the Ducks? Is Bret Bielema going to use past blueprints to thwart Kelly?
You know, the one that talks about what happens to teams between the first and second games.
"We want to be the most improved defense in the country from Week 1 to Week 2," Butrym told ESPN.com.
The Badgers defense left plenty of room to improve after its opening performance.
Perhaps the only group of people who left Camp Randall Stadium fuming last Thursday night -- other than the UNLV rebels, of course -- were the members of Wisconsin's defense. Although the Badgers thumped UNLV 51-17, making a strong statement on national TV, the defense looked a bit shaky.
Wisconsin surrendered only three points in the first 42 minutes, but UNLV should have had more. The Rebels mounted three drives of nine plays or more in the first half but had just a field goal to show for their efforts. UNLV finished the game with 292 yards and had perfect balance (146 rush, 146 pass).
Although the game's outcome was never in doubt because Wisconsin's offense scored on its first eight possessions, the defense didn't look like an elite unit.
"We just didn't tackle very well," Butrym said. "That was the most disappointing thing. That's what our focus is this week in practice."
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema noted that UNLV showed formations and personnel groupings the Badgers hadn't seen in their game last year in Las Vegas or throughout the 2010 season. The Rebels came out in the pistol formation and quarterback Caleb Herring and running back Bradley Randle found gaps in the field.
"It took us a little bit of time to adjust," Bielema said, "and in the second quarter it got away from us a little bit. And then we were up 51-3 or 51-10. The game got out of hand and our guys got a little sloppy in the late third, early fourth quarter."
Butrym acknowledged that UNLV "didn't do anything we expected" but maintains it's no excuse for Wisconsin's poor tackling.
The Badgers should have a better idea of what to expect from Oregon State on Saturday. Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst held the same post for the Beavers in 2003-04 and remains close with Oregon State coach Mike Riley.
"They run a lot of the same stuff, not identical, but there's a lot of carryover from Oregon State to us," Butrym said. "It's very nice going against those guys on our offensive line this week because it's a very similar offense."
Oregon State dropped its opener to FCS Sacramento State, and while Beavers standout receiver James Rodgers is still working his way back from knee surgery, Wisconsin knows it will be tested. Freshman running back Malcolm Agnew recorded 223 rush yards and three touchdowns in his collegiate debut last week.
Complacency remains the No. 1 concern for a Wisconsin team that looks equipped to compete for a Big Ten title and possibly more. Bielema shouldn't have any worries this week with his defense.
"We all know what we need to do," Butrym said. "We won, but we expect a lot out of ourselves. We're taking a very businesslike approach. If we can continue to do that, hopefully we can have success."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Wolverines still want to re-open Michigan Stadium against a decent opponent from a BCS conference, but Michigan fans should probably dismiss any thoughts of a real blockbuster matchup. You won't see a Delaware State re-run on Sept. 4, 2010, but Michigan still wants to have a pretty decent shot at a win in Week 1. Athletic director Bill Martin likes to play schools with similar academic missions. Michigan also ideally wants a guarantee game (no return).
Here are a few possibilities for the 2010 opener.
Virginia -- The Cavaliers have an opening on Sept. 4, setting up a matchup of arguably the nation's two best public schools (Cal is up there, too). Don't be surprised if Al Groh's team comes to Ann Arbor.
Duke -- Try not to laugh (I'm having a hard time holding it in), but Duke football is slowly improving. Colleague Heather Dinich really likes what David Cutcliffe is doing in Durham -- and HD knows her stuff -- so the Blue Devils might be a possible addition. Duke certainly fits the academics component, and it needs a game for 2011.
Oregon State -- Maybe a stretch here, but the Beavers don't currently have a game scheduled for Sept. 4. History shows Oregon State is most vulnerable early on, especially on the road, so this might be an appealing game for coach Rich Rodriguez. Oregon State could use the guarantee money.
Pitt -- Always mentioned as a possible addition to the Big Ten, the Panthers haven't scheduled a game for Sept. 4. Then again, Rodriguez might never want to see Pitt again after what happened in the Backyard Brawl in 2007.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Looks like our scheduling series has had the desired effect.
Justin from Iowa writes: Adam,I've heard a lot of people suggest Iowa will split their away schedule 2/2. Iowa is a historically slow starter that gets better as the season progresses. If they avoid any pitfalls and start their OOC schedule 4-0, followed up by a win at Penn State to kick off big 10 play, how do you see this prediction perhaps changing?
Adam Rittenberg: The pattern definitely held true last year as Iowa played its best football down the stretch. The Penn State game means everything for Iowa. Win in Happy Valley, and suddenly the league road schedule doesn't seem so daunting. My prediction could change a bit if Iowa prevails at Penn State, but the Hawkeyes get no breathers on the road this fall.
Will from Cleveland writes: Dear Adam,I actually have two very different questions I'd love for you to answer. What does non-conference schedules mean anymore? Because its always taking the backseat by the end of the year bowl games. Like last year the Pac10 was spanked across the country for the most part of the beginning of the season. But now every time I'm on a blog fans act like it means nothing we went 5-0 in the bowls but does who you play in bowl games ever matter?Secondly Adam I want to know how can the PSU fans talk so much smack, and their team last year did nothing against good teams? Sure they're highlight was against my Buckeyes but we were terrible according to our own standards. We have so much to look forward to other than Laurinitis, and Jenkins (sorry Adam but the Wideouts I hated worst starting tandem of Tressel era). But it seems they've lost so much more, and they act like its the exact opposite explain the theories for me please ADAM?
Adam Rittenberg: As to your first question, you're right about bowl performance. It seems to mean everything these days, while the regular season fades to the background. But nonconference scheduling can shape how a team or a league is viewed nationally, and it could help or hurt in the all-important polls. Take Penn State this fall. There's no way the Nittany Lions make any jump in the polls until the Iowa game. They would need everyone else to lose in order to move up.
Moving on, Penn State definitely deserves credit for beating Ohio State in Columbus, no matter how "down" the Buckeyes might have been. I think you're being a little hard on Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, but neither man had the season many thought they would. Penn State also knocked off Oregon State, albeit early, and thumped Wisconsin in Madison. Both Penn State and Ohio State lost a lot from last year, but the confidence from Penn State fans stems from the fact that the program is on the upswing since 2005 after some lean years.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I will be in a Big Ten state this weekend, and it's not Illinois. Can you name it? If so, I have no prizes to offer, just my salute to you.
T.J. from State College, Pa., writes: El Duderino, I?m glad you ranked the toughest places to play in the Big Ten; I enjoyed reading your explanations. I have always thought of Beaver Stadium followed by Camp Randal as the toughest places to play with Ohio Stadium in a distant third. The atmosphere at the PSU-OSU game this past fall was pathetic for a night game. Anyway, I would like to propose a quantitative way of ranking the toughest places to play. If you take each team?s last ten losses (not played on a neutral site) and count how many occurred at home, you have a pretty good indicator of the strength of a particular venue. Here is how it came out when I added them up: 1.Penn State-(2) 2.Wisconsin, Iowa-(3) 3.Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue-(4) 4.Indiana-(5) 5.Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota-(6)
Adam Rittenberg: First off, I think the nature of the Ohio State-Penn State game -- only 19 points scored -- probably took the edge off the Ohio Stadium crowd. It's still a very tough environment for road teams. Moving on, I like your formula. It's interesting how Ohio State has struggled a bit at home in recent years, but been flat-out dominant on the road in league games. Keep in mind that Penn State and Wisconsin also didn't face Texas at home, though Penn State deserved more credit than it received for beating up on Oregon State last fall.
Jordan from Jackson, Mich., writes: Adam, I know this is a little late, but I was thinking of rivalry games on unique fields and I was wondering what you would think of these scenerios. First Notre Dame and Michigan playing at Wrigley Field. One of the most popular places and sports along with the two winningest teams in college football history. And in a few years have the Michigan Ohio State rivalry played at a home n home at Ford Field and one at Clevland Browns Stadium, just for a nice change of pace. Go Blue!
Adam Rittenberg: Love the Wrigley Field idea, Jordan, and I'm sure a lot of fans would love to see this, too. The problem is the athletic directors from those schools would never give up those home games to play at a neutral site. The Wrigley Field game between Notre Dame and Michigan would be a true throwback, but a major issue is the size of the field. Northwestern wants to play a game there in the next few years, but there are some concerns that the field footprint isn't large enough. I really couldn't see Ohio State or Michigan giving up a home game to play at a smaller NFL stadium (with less character).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It appears less and less likely that former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus will join Michigan's football team next fall, but there's a chance Michigan could add another quarterback with a familiar name.
Jason Forcier, the older brother of Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, hopes to pursue graduate work at Michigan next year. And the elder Forcier, who started his college career as a Michigan quarterback before transferring to Stanford, hasn't ruled out a return to football.
"I'm pretty much in the same boat as Greg Paulus, just as far as appealing to the NCAA," Jason Forcier told ESPN.com.
Jason took the GRE exam last week and is awaiting word on whether he will be admitted to Michigan's graduate sports management program. Football is not Jason's primary motivation to return to Michigan -- he plans to embark on a career in sports business -- but if he gets in, he could seek a waiver from the NCAA to use his final season of eligibility this fall.
"Obviously, sports is going to end for me," Jason Forcier said. "You've got to accept the facts. But it doesn't change my passion for it. So if I can still be involved with it somehow, I feel like I can still participate.
"With the waiver, it would look good that I got into Michigan when I was an undergrad and I transferred to Stanford and did well there, graduated. They know it wouldn't be for a football issue."
The possibility of Forcier joining his little brother on the field this fall remains well in the distance, but it'll be something to monitor.
In other Michigan transfer news:
- Former Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet is considering Arizona State as a possible transfer destination, The Arizona Republic reports. He recently visited Oregon State.
- Former Michigan wide receiver Toney Clemons visited Colorado last week and will also check out Cincinnati, Kyle Ringo writes in the Daily Camera. Clemons seemed to enjoy his visit and expects to make a decision on his destination by the first week of May.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Wisconsin is still looking for two home games in 2010, but the Badgers completed their 2011 slate today with the addition of South Dakota.
The season opens with home games against UNLV (Sept. 3) and Oregon State (Sept. 10), followed by a neutral-site meeting with Northern Illinois on Sept. 17 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Wisconsin then wraps up non-league play Sept. 24 at home against South Dakota, an FCS team that finished fourth in the Great West Conference last season.
"What I like about the 2011 schedule is that our fans will have the opportunity to see a variety of quality football programs from around the country," Badgers coach Bret Bielema said in a statement. "We're also very excited about the chance to play in a historic venue like Soldier Field. The Big Ten schedule is always tough, and we're pleased to have our bye week in the middle of October."
The addition of the Coyotes, who recently moved up from Division II, won't change the growing frustration with Wisconsin's scheduling approach. Wisconsin has faced FCS teams in each of the last three seasons, nearly losing to Cal Poly in 2008, and figures to do so for the foreseeable future.
Wofford is on the slate this fall.
As The Capital Times' Jim Polzin writes in his blog:
"Bielema made it clear last fall that Football Championship Subdivision [formerly I-AA] opponents will continue to appear on the Badgers' schedule, mainly because UW can save a ton of money by booking a 'buy game' against an FCS program as opposed to a mid-major Football Bowl Subdivision program."
Wisconsin needs to fill two games for its 2010 slate -- a road game at UNLV and a home game against Arizona State are already set -- and as Polzin points out, you can bet an FCS team will fill one of the dates.
Unfortunately, these games are the reality in the Big Ten, not just at Wisconsin. As much as all of us would rather see Big Ten teams play more BCS foes or top non-BCS squads, we had better familiarize ourselves with the Great West, Missouri Valley and the Ohio Valley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After a Big Ten co-championship and a Rose Bowl appearance, Penn State aims to repeat last year's success this fall. It has the schedule to do so.
Sept. 5 Akron
Sept. 12 Syracuse
Sept. 19 Temple
Oct. 10 Eastern Illinois
My take: Penn State should have no trouble cruising through the league's easiest nonconference schedule. The problem once again comes if the Nittany Lions are in the national title mix. They didn't get nearly enough credit for a Week 2 blowout of Oregon State last year, but their 2009 slate is impossible to defend. Penn State's only chance for a trip to the BCS championship is an undefeated regular season, and even that isn't a guarantee. Temple is making some progress under Al Golden, but the Owls shouldn't challenge Penn State in Happy Valley. Anything less than 4-0 will be a major disappointment, and Penn State should win all four home games by a wide margin.
BIG TEN SCHEDULE
Sept. 26 Iowa
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 17 Minnesota
Oct. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 31 at Northwestern
Nov. 7 Ohio State
Nov. 14 Indiana
Nov. 21 at Michigan State
Byes: Purdue, Wisconsin
My take: Penn State is the last Big Ten team to beat Ohio State at home, and the Nittany Lions get the Buckeyes in Happy Valley for a game that could decide the league title. They also host Iowa, a preseason top 20 team that stunned Penn State last year at Kinnick Stadium. The road schedule isn't easy, as Illinois and Michigan should be improved and Northwestern usually plays the Lions tough in Evanston. The regular-season finale at Michigan State also could loom large. Penn State dropped its last game at Spartan Stadium and saw its scoring production drop off on the road late last season. Still, the schedule favors the Lions to repeat as league champs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Let's see what's on your mind.
Andy from Greensboro writes: In regards to the awards ceremony last night on ESPN, I think the Big 10 got snubbed in the Bednarik. Yes Rey Maualuga missed a couple games this year, but his stats in the games he played were nothing special. He played against weaker teams in the Pac-10 than the Big 10 and I dont think he should have won. James and Aaron had much better stats (not only because they played a full season) against tougher offenses. Glad to see Malcolm win the Thorpe however.
Adam Rittenberg: I would have liked to have seen Aaron Maybin win the Bednarik Award, but Maualuga is a heck of a player who makes that defense go. Laurinaitis might have better numbers, but 75 of his 121 tackles were assists, so the stats a bit inflated. As I wrote earlier, Maybin was probably hurt a bit by only being a sophomore. He'll get his due in the years to come. Malcolm Jenkins is an excellent player and deserving of any national awards he receives, though I thought Eric Berry from Tennessee would win the Thorpe.
Jason from Reading, Va., writes: Adam- I have to take exception with your comment that Fitzgerald and Spurrier are the only active FBS coaches in the CFB Hall of Fame- What about one Joseph Vincent Paterno? ...and although the whole 'active' thing may be debatable here, what about Bobby Bowden?
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, you have to read a little more carefully. I wrote that Pat Fitzgerald and Steve Spurrier are the only active FBS coaches to be inducted into the Hall of Fame as players. Joe Paterno's playing career at Brown didn't him a Hall of Fame nod. Same goes for Bowden at Samford.
Andy from Evanston, Ill., writes: Hey Adam, great job all year. I've really enjoyed reading all your posts! Do you have any preliminary thoughts on the quarterback situation at Northwestern next year with [C.J.] Bacher graduating? Do you think Kafka will get the nod, or will they give it to someone like Evan Watkins to start getting some experience?
Adam Rittenberg: Mike Kafka will go into 2009 as the overwhelming favorite to win the starting job. In some ways, the injuries Northwestern had this year became a blessing in disguise. Kafka's performance at Minnesota helped save a promising season, and he can go into spring ball knowing it's his job to lose. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has always liked Kafka, naming him the opening-day starter back in 2006, and he would have to see something major from Watkins or Dan Persa to change his mind. My sense is Watkins will be the team's quarterback of the future, beginning in 2010.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's a bit of a slow week around the blog and you guys have a ton of questions (well done, folks), so this will be the first of two Tuesday mailbags. Let's get it going.
John from Austin, Texas, writes: Adam, First off, congrats on a great year with the blog! Its been a pleasure having someone cover the Big 10 as well as you do. My question is: What the heck is keeping Mike Locksley at Illinois? His name was mentioned for a few of the higher profile head coach jobs this season, but never seemed to get past the first interview. I can understand why he might be shy about an SEC job, but what else is keeping him from going to the next level?
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the kind words, John. Locksley is definitely holding out for a BCS-conference head-coaching position, ideally on the East Coast near his recruiting hub of Washington, D.C. He did talk with Clemson but didn't have a great chance to get that job. Other than Clemson, it has been reported that he interviewed at Syracuse as well. Locks gets paid well at Illinois and has no need to leave for a non-BCS job if he doesn't want one. He'll be a frontrunner for the Maryland job whenever Ralph Friedgen moves on, and he should get a close look for Syracuse. Locksley definitely has the personality and recruiting clout to succeed as a head coach on the highest level.
Rob from Philadelphia writes: I've been reading the national media since Oregon State lost and (most likely) gave USC a Pac10 championship and a Rose Bowl birth. Most people of the opinion that it's very unfortunate that USC is resigned to destroying Penn State. Some USC players are acting like they've already won the game. Defense aside, what is the basis for the Trojan's status as a national media darling this year?
Adam Rittenberg: The national media loves teams that dominate November and win bowl games, and USC does both. After watching the USC-Notre Dame game on Saturday night, I'll admit I bought into the hype quite a bit as well. The Trojans' defense is merciless, and it will be tough for Penn State to score points. That said, USC's offense is nothing special, and this team falls short of previous editions with Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. Penn State has a strong bowl record and doesn't seem like the type of team to play itself out of a game. I'll have a hard time picking against USC, but it won't be a rout.
Ian from Hartford, Conn., writes: It's not necessarily big ten related, but who would play in the national championship game should OU get knocked off by Missouri this weekend. Texas is still ahead of USC in the BCS, but would they take a team that didnt win their conference? If USC does get bumped out of the Rose Bowl in favor of the title game, does Oregon State take their spot or another BCS team maybe OU or Texas?
Adam Rittenberg: If Missouri wins, I'd expect Texas to get the nod and play the winner of the SEC championship game in Miami on Jan. 8. USC might get bumped to No. 2, but the Trojans really lack quality wins, while Texas has beaten Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri. Texas absolutely deserves to go over the Trojans, who needed a marquee win down the stretch and couldn't get one because of the competition. Should USC jump into the title game, the Rose Bowl likely would take a team not from the Pac-10 (Texas would be my guess). USC, of course, also has to take care of business against UCLA.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten was dark this weekend, as regular-season play wrapped up Nov. 22, but the league's bowl picture appeared to get a whole lot brighter.
As Big Ten players, coaches and fans quacked at their TV sets on Saturday night, the Oregon Ducks proceeded to pound Oregon State in the Civil War. The Oregon State loss appears to clear a path for Ohio State to earn the final BCS at-large spot. USC still needs to beat rival UCLA and earn the Pac-10's BCS tiebreaker, which likely puts the Trojans in the Rose Bowl against Penn State.
Should the Trojans prevail, the final BCS at-large berth would come down to Ohio State and Boise State. Despite a worse record (10-2 vs. 12-0), the big-name Buckeyes likely would get the nod, giving the Big Ten two BCS entries for the fourth straight season. It also would move all the other Big Ten bowl-eligible teams up a notch. The Motor City wouldn't be filled by a Big Ten team for the fifth time in seven seasons.
To recap the Big Ten bowl landscape:
Bowl eligible (7): Penn State (11-1, 7-1 Big Ten), Ohio State (10-2, 7-1), Michigan State (9-3, 6-2), Northwestern (9-3, 5-3), Iowa (8-4, 5-3), Minnesota (7-5, 3-5), Wisconsin (7-5, 3-5)
Staying home (4): Illinois (5-7, 3-5), Michigan (3-8, 2-5), Purdue (3-8, 1-6), Indiana (3-8, 1-6)
Big Ten bowl tie-ins (in order): Rose/BCS, Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports, Insight, Motor City
Now for the team-by-team projections:
The Nittany Lions didn't want a Rose Bowl rematch against Oregon State, and they likely won't get one. Penn State miniscule hopes for a trip to the BCS title game also vanished Saturday with victories by Oklahoma, Florida, Alabama and others. Head coach Joe Paterno and his team will head to Pasadena for the first time since Jan. 1, 1995.
The Buckeyes were the biggest beneficiaries of Oregon State's loss, which should put them in a BCS bowl for the fourth consecutive season. The Fiesta Bowl is the likeliest destination, where a reunion with Texas most probably awaits Jim Tressel's crew. Should the BCS throw a curveball Sunday night and pick Boise State, Ohio State would head to the Capital One Bowl.
Possibilities: Fiesta, Sugar, Orange, Capital One
Here's another team that cheered when Oregon beat Oregon State. Should the Big Ten get two BCS bowl entries, the Spartans are virtually assured of a New Year's Day trip to Florida. It would be hard to see the Capital One Bowl bypass Michigan State for Northwestern or Iowa, two teams the Spartans beat. If Ohio State somehow gets left out, Michigan State probably will head to the Outback Bowl.
Possibilities: Capital One, Outback, Alamo
Prediction: Capital One
Athletic director Jim Phillips is working hard to convince bowl representatives that Northwestern's history of traveling to bowl games trumps the school's lousy home attendance. If his pitch works, Northwestern could go to the Outback Bowl as long as Ohio State gets a BCS at-large berth. Despite a better record and a head-to-head victory, Northwestern will have a hard time beating out Iowa in the bowl selection order.
Possibilities: Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports
Oregon State's loss might put Iowa into the Outback Bowl, which would be an amazing end to a season that looked extremely shaky in early October. The Hawkeyes are a hot team with the nation's best running back (Shonn Greene) and a large, willing-to-travel fan base. Those factors should help bowl reps look past an 8-4 record.
Possibilities: Capital One, Outback, Alamo, Champs Sports
The Badgers are probably least affected by Oregon State's loss. They seemed pegged for the Insight Bowl after four consecutive postseason trips to Florida. Wisconsin still could be ticketed for Tempe even if the Big Ten gets two BCS entries. But it will be hard for the Champs Sports Bowl to pass up the Badgers in favor of Minnesota, which lost four straight games to close the regular season. The Alamo Bowl isn't seriously considering Wisconsin.
Possibilities: Alamo, Champs Sports, Insight
Prediction: Champs Sports
Spending Christmas in Detroit with a matchup against undefeated Ball State team in the Motor City Bowl didn't seem too appealing for the Gophers, who likely were saved by Oregon State's loss. If the Big Ten gets two BCS entries, Minnesota will be heading to a much warmer climate, either Arizona or Florida. Should Ohio State get left out of the BCS bowl mix, the Gophers are going to Motown.
Possibilities: Champs Sports, Insight, Motor City