Big Ten: Seth Littrell

Earlier today, you read about all the Big Ten coaching changes from the 2013 season. Now it's time for you to select the most damaging assistant coach departure in the league. As mentioned in the post, most of the exiting coaches did so on their own accord. For the purposes of this poll, I've listed only coaches who voluntarily left their posts.

Here are the candidates (in alphabetical order):

SportsNation

Which Big Ten assistant coach is the biggest loss for his former team?

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    16%
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    49%
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    11%
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    4%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,910)

Thomas Hammock, running backs, Wisconsin: Hammock spent only three seasons with the Badgers but made a significant impact on the team's signature position group. In Hammock's first season on staff, Montee Ball led the nation in rushing and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Ball won the Doak Walker Award the following year, and last fall Melvin Gordon and James White set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a pair of teammates (3,053). Hammock, a master at maintaining a competitive environment, oversaw 40 100-yard rushing performances in three years, the most for any team in that span. He also served as Wisconsin's recruiting coordinator. Like his predecessor, John Settle, Hammock leaves Wisconsin for the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.

Larry Johnson, defensive line, Penn State: Johnson spent the past 18 seasons at Penn State, taking over the entire defensive line in 2000. But after twice being passed over for the Lions' head-coaching position, he left for the same post at rival Ohio State. He built a reputation as an elite defensive line coach and a top regional recruiter, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area, where he spent 20 years as a high school coach. Johnson mentored seven first-team All-Americans at Penn State, including Tamba Hali, Michael Haynes, Courtney Brown and Devon Still. Six of his players won Big Ten defensive-player of-the-year or Big Ten defensive-lineman-of-the-year honors.

Terry Joseph, Nebraska, secondary: Like the other coaches on this list, Joseph excelled on the recruiting trail, helping to increase Nebraska's presence in the South and Southeast. In 2012, Joseph's first season on staff, Nebraska led the nation in opponent pass completion percentage (47.1 percent), ranked fourth in pass defense (168.2 yards allowed per game) and ninth in pass efficiency defense (105.32). He developed players such as cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans, and safety Daimion Stafford, all of whom earned all-Big Ten honors. Nebraska intercepted 27 passes in Joseph's two seasons on staff. He leaves for a the same post at Texas A&M.

Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator/tight ends/fullbacks, Indiana: Littrell oversaw a Hoosiers offense that finished ninth nationally in total yards, 16th in scoring and 17th in passing. Although head coach Kevin Wilson gets much of the credit for the offense's prowess, Indiana improved significantly in Littrell's two seasons. In 2012, the Hoosiers scored 9.4 more points and racked up 111.8 pass yards per game more than they had the previous year. Indiana in 2012 set team records for passing yardage (3,734), total offense (5,304), completions (331), attempts (540) and total plays (939), and shattered the total offense and touchdowns marks last fall. Tight end Ted Bolser blossomed under his watch. He leaves for a similar post on North Carolina's staff.

Mike Vrabel, defensive line, Ohio State: The former Buckeye star made a seamless transition from playing in the NFL to coaching in college. After working with Ohio State's linebackers during a challenging 2011 campaign, Vrabel transitioned to the defensive line, where he mentored standouts John Simon and Johnathan Hankins in 2012. Simon won Big Ten defensive-player-of-the-year honors that fall. Vrabel in 2013 inherited a group with no returning starters but helped develop players such as Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Noah Spence, who combined for 22.5 sacks. Vrabel made his biggest impact in recruiting, earning ESPN.com Big Ten recruiter-of-the-year honors in 2012. He returns to the NFL as Houston Texans linebackers coach.

It's voting time. You're up.
Non-Minnesota fans might have missed Friday's official announcement that Mike Sherels has been promoted to Gophers linebackers coach after serving on the team's recruiting staff. Sherels is the first new assistant Jerry Kill has hired in his Minnesota tenure, but the move likely signified -- likely being the operative word -- something bigger for the Big Ten.

The end of the coaching carousel for 2014.

This post always includes a reminder that additional coaching changes still can happen, even though most of the Big Ten has started spring practice. It's the nature of the business.

Despite two new teams in the Big Ten, the number of overall changes in the league dropped for the second consecutive year, going from 32 in 2013 to 27 this year. There was only one complete staff overhaul, at Penn State, and four programs -- Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern -- kept all of their coaches from last season. After replacing more than half of his staff in the last offseason, Illinois' Tim Beckman hopes continuity pays off in what likely will be a make-or-break 2014 campaign. Iowa is back to its stable self after two years of coaching flux, while Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hasn't made a staff change since after the 2010 season. Michigan State made a major commitment to Mark Dantonio and his assistants after the Spartans' Rose Bowl win, but it's still impressive that Dantonio retained the entire staff after such a great season.

Both Rutgers and Maryland have some new faces on staff before their inaugural season of Big Ten play. Rutgers has two new coordinators (one outside hire, one promotion), while Maryland has new assistants overseeing both lines.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Michael R. Sisak/Icon SMILongtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson moved to Ohio State this offseason after James Franklin was hired as the Nittany Lions' head coach.
Other than Penn State, Indiana and Rutgers are the only teams featuring two new coordinators in 2014. Although IU assistant Kevin Johns previously held the co-offensive coordinator title, he'll be the main man, as he takes over for Seth Littrell.

For the most part, the coaches leaving Big Ten programs did so voluntarily and for potentially better positions. Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien took the same role with the Houston Texans, while two assistants -- Ohio State's Everett Withers and Maryland's Greg Gattuso -- left to become FCS head coaches at James Madison and Albany, respectively. The Big Ten lost several assistants to the NFL, as O'Brien brought four assistants with him from Penn State (John Butler, Stan Hixon, Charles London and Anthony Midget) and swiped another from Ohio State's staff (Mike Vrabel). Wisconsin also lost running backs coach Thomas Hammock to the Baltimore Ravens.

Arguably the most interesting move took place within the league, as longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson replaced Vrabel at Ohio State.

OK, let's get to it already.

Here's the rundown of coaching changes (head coach and full-time assistants only; number of new coaches in parentheses):

INDIANA (3)

Who's gone?

Doug Mallory, defensive coordinator/safeties
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator/QBs
Jon Fabris, defensive line

Who's in?

Brian Knorr, defensive coordinator/defensive ends/outside linebackers
Larry McDaniel, defensive line
Noah Joseph, safeties


Other moves

Promoted Kevin Johns to main offensive coordinator. Johns also now coaches quarterbacks in addition to wide receivers.
Moved James Patton from assistant defensive line/special teams to tight ends and fullbacks

MARYLAND (3)

Who's gone?

Tom Brattan, offensive line
Lee Hull, wide receivers
Greg Gattuso, defensive line

Who's in?

Greg Studwara, offensive line
Keenan McCardell, wide receivers
Chad Wilt, defensive line

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Al Borges, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Who's in?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Other moves

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is overseeing linebackers instead of defensive linemen
Mark Smith moves from linebackers to defensive line
Roy Manning moves from outside linebackers to cornerbacks
Curt Mallory will coach only safeties rather than the entire secondary

MINNESOTA (1)

Who's gone?

Bill Miller, linebackers/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Mike Sherels, linebackers (promoted from recruiting staff)

Other moves

Pat Poore moves from wide receivers to running backs
Brian Anderson moves from running backs to wide receivers


NEBRASKA (1)

Who's gone?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's in?

Charlton Warren, secondary

OHIO STATE (2)

Who's gone?

Everett Withers, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Mike Vrabel, defensive line

Who's in?

Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Larry Johnson, defensive line/assistant head coach

PENN STATE (10)

Who's gone?

Bill O'Brien, head coach/offensive playcaller
John Butler, defensive coordinator/cornerbacks
Charlie Fisher, quarterbacks
Stan Hixon, wide receivers/assistant head coach
Larry Johnson, defensive line
Charles London, running backs
Mac McWhorter, offensive line
Ron Vanderlinden, linebackers
John Strollo, tight ends
Anthony Midget, safeties

Who's in?

James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Charles Huff, running backs/special teams
Brett Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Josh Gattis, wide receivers/assistant special teams
Herb Hand, offensive line
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Sean Spencer, defensive line
Terry Smith, cornerbacks

PURDUE (1)

Who's gone?

Jon Heacock, defensive backs

Who's in?

Taver Johnson, defensive backs

RUTGERS (4)

Who's gone?

Dave Cohen, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Ron Prince, offensive coordinator
Rob Spence, quarterbacks
Damian Wroblewski, offensive line

Who's in?

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bob Fraser, linebackers/special teams
Mitch Browning, offensive line
Ben McDaniels, wide receivers

Other moves

Promoted special teams coordinator Joe Rossi to defensive coordinator
Anthony Campanile is coaching only tight ends after overseeing both tight ends and wide receivers

WISCONSIN (1)

Who's gone?

Thomas Hammock, running backs/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Thomas Brown, running backs
Indiana signed a class of 26 players on Wednesday, including six who enrolled early. I caught up with head coach Kevin Wilson to talk about the Hoosiers' class in this Q&A:

What were your priorities going into this class?

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Andy ManisIndiana coach Kevin Wilson is hoping this recruiting cycle pays off in 2014 and beyond.
Kevin Wilson: We've got a lot of guys back. On paper, I think we’re going to be one of the more veteran teams in the country with starters back. But we were able -- with the seniors we had and the way we used some walk-on scholarships -- to sign a large number. Going back to last year, we really took a lot on defense because the offense was young and we really lost no one. This year, we signed four offensive linemen, with three of them coming in midyear. And even though we got the O-line back [from 2013], it’s a pretty good deal because we didn’t sign an O-lineman last year. We didn’t take a quarterback last year, and so Alexander Diamont came in here midyear. Even though we know we need help on defense, I think in the future, them being here will really help with our offensive continuity.

Receiver is where we take a hit this year with Kofi Hughes, Duwyce Wilson and Cody Latimer [all leaving]. I think we’ll have enough depth there with a [6-foot-4] guy like Simmie Cobbs. Dominique Booth is a big guy, and a little slot guy like J-Shun Harris, I think, is a perfect fit for us. Coray Keel, who's 6-2 and out of Georgia, to me, is underrated. He's pretty good. Tevin Coleman is a good runner, but we lost Stephen Houston and now we throw Tommy Mister in there and Devine Redding, I think those are quality players.

Now, defensively, we took a lot last year, and I think we backed it up with another decent crowd. At linebacker, I think we really helped ourselves there with Tegray Scales, Greg Gooch, Robert McCray -- two of those guys are 250-pounders. Guys like Chris Covington and Zeke Walker are 6-3, 205-pound, long kids who can be safeties or outside linebackers. And I was very impressed with what we got here in the end with Tony Fields, Will Dawkins and Kiante Walton. They’re 200-pound safeties and corners. So again, we addressed our offensive needs of the future, and I think, hopefully, continued to upgrade the depth, competition, length and athleticism of our defense.

You added a lot of skill players. Does the success of your offense help your recruiting efforts?

KW: It's not just what we've done here. At Northwestern, we were the total offense leader. Just look at how we've always done it with our quarterback play and style of offense. We've got four coaches on offense because I’m still very much involved in the game-planning. You know we lost a coordinator [Seth Littrell], but you’re kind of still talking to the guy who runs it. … Tevin got hurt and didn’t play the last couple of games. And I’m still kicking myself in the butt that we don’t have a 1,000-yard back yet, because we've always had those guys, too.

So, I just think our style of offense, kids want to play it. We've kind of proved it year after year, and not just here, that we have a chance to play good offense.

It's kind of funny. Years ago, when offenses were taking off, a lot of teams were talking about pro-style offense, pro-style offense. Now look at the pro game -- it’s now the college game. This style of offense is the way college football is going, and fortunately we’re one of the teams that has a good feel for what we’re doing.

You changed defensive coordinators in January, hiring Brian Knorr a few weeks before signing day. With that change, plus the talk of moving to more of a 3-4, how did that affect recruiting on the defensive side?

KW: I've always said you need to be multiple if you can. To me, the worst recruiter in the world is someone who’s on a schedule, and the worst coach is someone who has a playbook. You’ve got to be able to adjust to your kids. So I think you have to be multiple, and how much of it is four-man, three-man principles, the coverage is not going to change significantly. So I don’t think we're going to come in and significantly be different schematically. We’ll probably make some adjustments and see how it goes and how it takes off. The real deal is just trying to change our mindset, change our culture and continue to grow there.

We were lucky that when we did make the change, Coach Knorr came in when we had a weekend with 15 guys on campus, and 14 of them were defensive recruits. We didn’t have a lot of defensive recruits committed early, and it was a fight and struggle until the end. But from the time he was on board until that Tuesday, he saw every kid we were after and wanted, and then we were able to get on some guys late. So in a two-week period both, he and Larry McDaniel, our new D-line coach along with [cornerbacks coach] Brandon Shelby ran the defensive recruiting. They did a heck of a job. They got on some great kids late. Even though we made some changes, I don’t think it had a negative impact on our defensive recruiting. Hopefully, in some ways it solidified some things and helped us a little bit.

You haven't been hesitant in playing true freshmen right away. But with so many starters back, do you see this class as one that's adding depth and competition, or will there be many who play immediately again?

KW: I think we’ve got to keep increasing our depth and competition, especially defensively. I have not one time promised a recruit that he's going to start here. He's got to earn it. I’m excited to see this team grow in the offseason, and we’ll really be excited with so many guys coming back. And then you complement that with, on paper, one of best classes this school has had. I'm hopeful that we'll have depth, yes, to overcome an injury, but also to increase the competition to build a winning program. I wouldn't be surprised if you see some kids playing. Will it be a small number or a large one? I don’t have a number in mind, but I can see a lot of these guys out there on the field as we crank it up this fall.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 22, 2014
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Winter stinks. Warm me up with some of your emails:

Darren from Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'd appreciate your thoughts on Indiana's coordinator situation. I've also thought the pecking order in the BCS era is 1. SEC, 2. (3-way tie depending on year) Pac-12/Big 12/Big Ten; 3. ACC 4. Varies. So why would a coordinator leave IU for the same position at UNC (Littrell) ... is the ACC and, say, the Mountain West more appealing than a low-tier Big Ten school? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: While it's somewhat unusual to see a Big Ten coordinator leave for the same job at what is at best a mid-tier program in the ACC, we have to remember Indiana is not exactly a football power. The Hoosiers have been to one bowl game since 1993 and often play in front of a bunch of empty seats, and the program has not historically provided much of a springboard for coaches' careers. So if Seth Littrell wanted to move on after two very successful years, that becomes more understandable.

We also don't yet know the money situation here. Early reports said Littrell would also be named assistant head coach at North Carolina, which suggests a pay raise. Indiana has made a much bigger commitment to football in recent years but still isn't among the top-paying Big Ten schools when it comes to coaches' salaries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Littrell -- a former Oklahoma player with deep Sooners ties -- is leaving former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson's staff to join that of former Oklahoma State play-caller Larry Fedora.


Lachlan from Winterpeg writes: Hey BB, with the hiring of the new assistants at PSU, I see two that stand out to me. The defensive coordinator and the receivers coach. The defense last year had many ups and downs (mostly downs) and bringing in a guy that fielded a top-25 defense last year in the SEC brings in hope. On the other end, a receivers coach that has produced a couple of All-American receivers takes on the task of taking the remaining WR group for PSU that was lackluster last year, and trying to turn them into a threat in the passing game seems challenging. Which of these two do you expect to have a better handle on things being as both have issues to work with, depth with the defense and a group of unproven receivers on the other?

[+] EnlargeBob Shoop
Sean Meyers/Icon SMINew Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a defense that loses just three starters and he should have plenty of talent to work with this season.
Brian Bennett: Just in terms of talent and experience to work with, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have an easier go of things right away. Shoop -- whose brother, John, is Purdue's offensive coordinator, giving us a Big Ten Shoop-Shoop -- led a Vanderbilt defense that really was the backbone of that team during its nine-win seasons each of the past two years. While Penn State's defense had its struggles in 2013, the unit loses only three starters (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson and Malcolm Willis). Shoop will need to develop leaders on that side of the ball and improve the secondary, but there is talent in place.

Receivers coach Josh Gattis has a tougher assignment. No player outside of Allen Robinson really produced a whole lot at wideout for the Nittany Lions last year, and Brandon Felder is gone, too. Geno Lewis has solid potential but still needs polishing. Gattis will likely have to quickly coach up some incoming freshmen such as De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. The receiver group will have to make a lot of progress this offseason to give Christian Hackenberg some help. Remember, too, that head coach James Franklin has coached receivers in the past, and Penn State has also reportedly hired former Temple receivers coach Terry Smith for an unspecified role. So that position should get a lot of attention.


John from Minneapolis writes: Hey, Brian. In Monday's chat you answered a question about Philip Nelson and stated, " Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else." I understand what you're saying, but whatever happened to sticking with a commitment? It smells like weak character to me. That same attitude is why the divorce rate is 50 percent. That's it, thanks.

Brian Bennett: The problem is that commitment and loyalty too often is a one-way street in college sports. A player such as Nelson is supposed to fulfill his four years to the school, yet coaches can leave at any time and his scholarship is up for renewal every season? And Nelson will have to sit out a year unless he transfers to a lower level. The reality is that college sports is a business, and players have to look out for themselves. If Nelson believes his future will be better served by playing in a different system, more power to him.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: The Gophers certainly are not in the top half of the B1G as far as budget, but they bought not only a quality head coach but a whole staff that will not be easily influenced by a few extra bucks. You have any thoughts about whether Jerry Kill and his staff deserve raises?

Brian Bennett: Kill made a reported $1.2 million last year, which is hardly chump change but still ranked as the lowest in the Big Ten. Minnesota officials said they would work on bumping up Kill's pay this offseason, and Kill would like raises for his assistants, too. After an eight-win season, that staff is definitely in line for some salary increases. The price of keeping a high-quality head coach in the Big Ten is escalating rapidly. The good news for the Gophers is I don't think Kill is looking to leave anytime soon.


Dave from Millstone, N.J., writes: So, Brian. We're BaAAaack. ... When is the date when you'll start covering Rutgers in the blog? We missed you since you bolted the Big East for the B1G -- now we're following you, haunting you, filling your dreams. We're coming; you can't stop it now. Oh, sure, you can change assignments and head to the ACC, where Andrea abandoned us to last year. But we will find you, no matter what. Now write one of you famous opinions on how RU will never be great. Go ahead, make my day! Seriously, looking forward to getting picked on by the big boys of the B1G for a few seasons before we take over. So when's the warm welcome start on the blog?

Brian Bennett: You made me laugh, Dave, so good job. I'm looking forward to reuniting with Rutgers and visiting Piscataway again. Maybe I should start increasing my workouts now in anticipation of hitting a grease truck. We typically incorporate new schools right after signing day. So look for coverage of the Scarlet Knights -- and Maryland -- in the Big Ten blog in just a couple more weeks.
Indiana's busy week of staff changes continues, as head coach Kevin Wilson confirmed on Tuesday afternoon that offensive coordinator Seth Littrell is leaving the program. Littrell will take the same job at North Carolina, according to multiple reports.

Wilson wished Littrell the best in an official statement, saying "he was a strong addition to our staff the last two years and did a great job developing our offense." The Hoosiers averaged 38.4 points and 508 yards per game in 2013, which ranked second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State in both categories. In addition, Indiana led the Big Ten in passing yardage each of the past two years.

Wilson also said that Kevin Johns, who has served as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks and receivers coach the past three years, will be promoted to handle the main play-calling duties. Wilson will maintain a heavy role in the offensive game-planning and play-calling. James Patton, who had been the recruiting and special teams coordinator and assistant defensive line coach, now will move over to offense to oversee the tight ends and fullbacks. Wilson said he will hire an additional coach sometime after national signing day.

It's tough for Indiana to lose a coordinator of Littrell's caliber. He did a great job meshing with Wilson's offense to create an explosive passing attack and a much more balanced offense this past season. Littrell was also instrumental in the recruitment of quarterback Nate Sudfeld.

But after two years of putting up great stats, it's no surprise that Littrell would be in demand, even if it does register as a mild surprise that he would move to the East Coast after spending so much of his career west of the Mississippi. Johns has a résumé that suggests he's more than ready to step into a coordinator's role. That, along with Wilson's strong offensive background, should help ensure that the Hoosiers maintain their high-scoring ways.

IU hires McDaniel as new DL coach

January, 21, 2014
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It has been a busy couple of days for Indiana coach Kevin Wilson.

On Monday, the school announced the hiring of new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr as reports surfaced that offensive coordinator Seth Littrell was on the verge of leaving for the same post at North Carolina. On Tuesday, the Hoosiers revealed their new defensive line coach: Larry McDaniel.

McDaniel, who replaces Jon Fabris, has coached the defensive line at Bowling Green the past three years. He's also a former Hoosier who was a four-year starter at nose guard for IU from 1989-92, serving as team captain his senior year. McDaniel also has coached at Kent State, Ball State and Southwest Missouri State.

It's always nice to see an alumnus come back to his alma mater as a coach, and McDaniel will have a vested interest in seeing the Hoosiers succeed. But he'll need to do some really good work with an Indiana defensive front that has too often been pushed around in Big Ten play and was a major contributor to the team's defensive problems last season.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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Mail time ...

Ed S. from Belleville, Ill., writes: Please ask James Franklin how he can justify going after kids he recruited for Vanderbilt and whether he is going out of his way to try to wreck the Vanderbilt football program. What happened to his "fierce loyalty" to the Commodores and what does he now think of recruits who renege on their commitments to other schools?

Brian Bennett: Ed, those are fair questions. Some coaches say they won't recruit players who committed to their previous school when they switch jobs. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. One, the better players in Vanderbilt's class almost certainly committed to the Commodores because of Franklin, so it makes sense that they'd be interested in following him to another school. Given Penn State's scholarship limitations, he may feel an even bigger need to flip some of those Vandy recruits. And this is who Franklin is, a guy who's going to be aggressive in everything he does, especially so in recruiting. He's going to push the envelope and ruffle some feathers.


Glenn K. from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Brian, regarding your article about BIG ticket sales for bowl games, don't you think attendance might also have been affected by the economy and the weather? If you want to enjoy the whole enchilada with your team before the actual game, including airfare, hotel, parties, tours, etc., you're looking at thousands of dollars (I know from experience), plus thousands more if you're taking your whole family. I wouldn't think that the weather in the Midwest and East helped much, either, as far as traveling goes.

Brian Bennett: The economy absolutely plays a factor, Glenn, and I mentioned the costs in my post. Airfare and hotel rates have gone up, and I was astounded at how expensive hotels in south Florida were over New Year's. These are not cheap trips, for the most part, especially because the majority of Big Ten bowl sites are located more than a comfortable driving distance away from campuses. I doubt very much that weather played a role in keeping people away, since you really need to book these kinds of trips a couple of weeks in advance to have any success finding good deals. If anything, the weather fosters more travel as Midwesterners love any excuse to escape the winter. But there's little question that bowl trips are becoming more difficult for the average fan, and it will be interesting to see how fans travel if their team can make it to a Big Ten championship game, national semifinal and national title game all in about a month's time under the new playoff system.


Kevin from Saline, Mich., writes: What is it that has made this 2013 MSU football team so much more successful than the 2011 Spartans? Every skill position on that 2011 team was terrific, the defense was still elite, and the chemistry and leadership with Kirk Cousins at the helm was extremely good as well. Is it just finding the inches, as Mark Dantonio always says? I was convinced that 2011 team was destined to be the team to break our Rose Bowl drought. I couldn't be happier with this season and this team, but when I compare them side-by-side with the 2011 version, that 2011 version seems more talented to me.

Brian Bennett: Kevin, you're right that the 2011 Michigan State team was awfully good and probably still a bit underrated in hindsight. The offense was much more experienced in 2011 with Cousins and B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin at receiver. The defense was very good, though not quite as elite as the 2013 team. The 2011 team turned in a couple of clunkers, however, including an 18-point loss at Notre Dame and a 24-3 defeat at Nebraska in which the Spartans looked completely flat a week after beating Wisconsin on the Hail Mary.

Still, that team was extremely close to making the Rose Bowl, losing a back-and-forth Big Ten championship game to Russell Wilson's Wisconsin team that turned on a late running-into-the-punter penalty. And those Spartans went on to beat Georgia in the Outback Bowl. This year's team might have benefited from an easier schedule leading up to the Big Ten title game -- the 2011 squad, for example, played three teams ranked in the top 15 in the regular season, while the 2013 squad faced none. But this year's Spartans turned it on when it really mattered and "found the inches," as Dantonio said. That last step from being a very good team to a championship one is sometimes the steepest.


David K. from New Haven, Ind., writes: Brian, any chance that IU might actually spend what it takes to get a proven defensive coordinator? I think Kevin Wilson has the program going in the right direction, but unless they get somebody in there who knows what he is doing and has been with a winning program, I fear he is doomed to fail because of the awful defense. You get what you pay for, and if they go that way, then the Hoosiers and Wilson are doomed.

Brian Bennett: David, every Big Ten team has money. It's good to see teams like Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan making major commitments to coaching salaries this winter, because that is what it's going to take to win at the big-boy table. Indiana doesn't have quite the deep pockets as some other schools, mainly because of the Hoosiers' attendance problems. Wilson's highest-paid assistant is offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who is making $356,500 -- and earning it, based on IU's offensive numbers in 2013. I doubt you would see Indiana go much higher than that on the defensive side. Just how many superstar coordinators would be interested in coming to a program that has struggled on defense for so long and now has an offense-first mentality? That remains a major question. There's nothing wrong with finding an up-and-comer to run the defense. Indiana's challenge will be to keep top assistants such as Littrell when they become hot commodities.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey, Brian. Some big coaching moves in the East got me wondering about Iowa. Kirk Ferentz is one of the best-paid head coaches. But what about the assistants? Did I read correctly last week that Iowa is once again one of the most valuable football programs in the country? Does Iowa have the resources the make some big assistant coaching moves like OSU is doing?

Brian Bennett: Iowa does have strong resources. Not quite Ohio State or Michigan level, but certainly in the upper half of the Big Ten. Much of those resources are going to pay Ferentz close to $4 million per year. Neither defensive coordinator Phil Parker nor offensive coordinator Greg Davis are among the top 10 in salary among assistants in the Big Ten. That has been the pattern under Ferentz, who promoted Parker from within and hired Davis after he had been out of football for a year. Perhaps whenever Ferentz retires, the pay scale between the Iowa head coach and his assistants will tilt a little.


Andrew from San Ramon, Calif., writes: Hi, Brian. I've done some research, and the Huskers have an OK schedule coming up this year. Notable teams like Fresno State and Miami lose a lot of key players to the draft. Seven home games and five away games. With the win of the Gator Bowl on their shoulders and new recruits coming in, what do you think the Huskers' chances are at going possibly 10-2 or 11-1? (Losses might be @ Wisconsin and/or Michigan State.)

Brian Bennett: It's entirely too soon to start predicting team records for 2014. I do like Nebraska right now as the early favorite to win the West Division, but I think the conference schedule is a little harder than you make it out to be. The Huskers not only have to travel to Michigan State and Wisconsin but also to Northwestern -- which has played Nebraska extremely tough and should bounce back from an abysmal 2013 -- and Iowa, which just won in Lincoln to close out the recently completed regular season. Compare that to new division rival Wisconsin, which does not play Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State from the East and whose hardest conference road games are Iowa and Northwestern.

I like the potential for Nebraska's young defense in 2014, and if quarterback Tommy Armstrong makes a significant jump in the offseason, the offense could be really good, too. But Bo Pelini's team is going to have to get some work done on the road in league play to get back to the Big Ten championship game.

A look at the B1G assistant salaries

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
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USA Today has released its annual database of assistant coach salaries throughout college football so let's see how the Big Ten aides stack up. Ten of the 12 Big Ten schools report coaches' salaries (Northwestern and Penn State do not).

Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.

Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).

On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).

Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:

Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)

Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.

Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.

One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.

In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.

Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)

Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:

Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan: $3,072,000
Nebraska: $2,648,500
Wisconsin: $2,495,000
Michigan State: $2,410,483
Iowa: $2,367,500
Minnesota: $2,152,350
Indiana: $2,074,780
Illinois: $2,066,400
Purdue: $2,010,000

We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.

Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.

Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.

Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.
Backup quarterbacks are always the most popular guys on campus. They offer the potential of the unknown, a possible cure for all the things nagging fans about their team's offense.

And then they get their shot to play, and that popularity quickly vanishes.

At least that's the way it usually goes. But as Indiana and Michigan State get ready for their biggest nonconference games of the year on Saturday, they will be led by two guys who began the season as second man in at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
AP Photo/Al GoldisConnor Cook has given the Michigan State passing game and offense a spark heading into Saturday's game at Notre Dame.
Michigan State's quarterback carousel seemed to be spinning out of control this time a week ago, when Mark Dantonio once again opened up the competition. But at long last, the position may be settled after sophomore Connor Cook threw for 202 yards and four touchdown passes in a 55-17 win over Youngstown State. Sure, it was an FCS opponent, but consider that the Spartans had only four touchdown passes in their five previous games combined dating back to last year.

"It was fun to see a bunch of different guys make plays," Cook told ESPN.com. "Everybody was having a good time, and guys were feeding off each other. I'm glad we finally got the rock rolling."

Michigan State has a long way to go before its passing game ranks among the top half of the Big Ten. But Cook brings a little more swagger to the offense. At 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, he's been described as a gunslinger for his fearlessness in making throws into tight spaces, and he can make more plays on the move than former starter Andrew Maxwell.

"If you lack confidence, something's wrong with you as a quarterback," Cook said. "You've always got to believe in yourself and your ability to go out there and make plays."

Cook will need that confidence this week as the 3-0 Spartans play at Notre Dame. Dantonio says it's a huge moment for Cook in making his first road start in a difficult environment, one that should prepare him well for Big Ten play down the road.

"Connor Cook is always a guy that moves forward," Dantonio said. "He's not going to back down from a challenge. He's pretty light in terms of how he approaches things. He's going to do the best he can and have fun with it. I think that's good right now for his mindset as he goes into his first big away game."

Indiana will play at home for the fourth straight week but will take on its first AQ team when 2-0 Missouri comes to Bloomington. Nate Sudfeld should make just his second career start for the Hoosiers, though it seems like he's been starting a lot longer.
The sophomore played often last year as Cameron Coffman's backup, and he logged far more time than starter Tre Roberson in Indiana's first two games. But Sudfeld didn't get his first start until last week against Bowling Green.

[+] EnlargeNate Sudfeld
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsNate Sudfeld has thrown for over 300 yards in his last two games and seems to have taken control of the Indiana QB situation.
"He had always come off the bench and always been a guy who played well after maybe seeing some things," coach Kevin Wilson said. "But I thought that after the way he played in the previous game against Navy, he deserved to go in there first."

Wilson has approached his delicate quarterback situation carefully. He had a three-way preseason competition between Sudfeld, Coffman -- who threw for 2,700 yards last year -- and Roberson, who was the starter before he broke his leg early last year. Sudfeld and Roberson are both sophomores, and Wilson likely doesn't want Roberson -- an important recruit for the program out of Indianapolis and a big-time athlete -- to get frustrated and consider transferring. He insists that all three guys still play a major role on the team this season.

But it's getting harder and harder to deny that Sudfeld is the main guy. He has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his last two games, including a 335-yard showing in last week's win. He leads all Big Ten quarterbacks in passing yards and touchdowns, and ranks seventh nationally in pass efficiency. He's also tied for first in the FBS in most completions over 20 yards, with 19 of them.

"He's been on the money on some of those deep balls," Hoosiers offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "He's got a great touch."

The 6-5 Sudfeld wound up at Indiana in part because of Rich Rodriguez. He originally committed to Arizona, where Littrell had been the offensive coordinator under Mike Stoops. But when Stoops and his staff got fired, the Wildcats hired Rodriguez, whose style of play did not fit Sudfeld, a prototypical pocket passer.

The Littrell connection helped get Sudfeld to IU, and the quarterback has steadily improved. Littrell credits that to Sudfeld's work ethic.

"You'll be up there watching film at night, and he'll come in and want to sit down with you and watch cutups," Littrell said. "As you're game planning, he'll be talking through some of the things he likes. He wants to be involved."

Both Cook and Sudfeld are more heavily involved in their teams' respective plans we have anticipated a few weeks ago. Throw in the success of Kenny Guiton at Ohio State, and Big Ten backup quarterbacks may never have been more popular.

Summer QB checkup: Indiana

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
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Quarterback competitions took center stage around the Big Ten this spring and will continue to do so when preseason camps kick off in August. As camp approaches, we're examining each of the unsettled signal-caller races in the league, where they stand and what needs to be done in the all important summer months.

Up next, Indiana.

The candidates: Tre Roberson, 6-foot, 200, redshirt sophomore; Cameron Coffman, 6-2, 203, junior; Nate Sudfeld, 6-5, 234, sophomore

Statistics: Roberson was Indiana's opening-day starter in 2012 and completed 33 of 50 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, to go along with 133 rush yards and three touchdowns, before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 2. He started for the Hoosiers as a freshman in 2011 and had 937 pass yards, 426 rush yards and five touchdowns (3 pass, 2 rush). Coffman completed 247 of 407 attempts for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in relief of Roberson in 2012. Sudfeld completed 51 of 82 passes for 632 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception last season.

[+] EnlargeCameron Coffman
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaCameron Coffman got the most playing time last season of any of the 2013 starting QB contenders.
Where things stand: It's a true dead heat after the spring, as all three quarterbacks worked with the first-team offense. Coffman and Sudfeld both stood out during the spring game, as Coffman completed 17 of 23 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while Sudfeld completed 14 of 16 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Summer buzz: Hoosiers offensive coordinator Seth Littrell knows decision day is coming. Indiana eventually will have to reduce its candidate pool from three to two and, eventually, to a starter for the Aug. 29 season opener against Indiana State.

But there's not a huge rush, and Littrell doesn't sound anxious at all about the group.

"All three of those guys have repped so much with our core group," Littrell recently told ESPN.com. "Some offenses have to replace a bunch of guys, and it’s a little bit more important to build that continuity earlier than maybe with our group. It's a little bit more important [to make a decision] when you have a bunch of different guys coming back and you don’t have that continuity."

The coaches charted every competitive drill the quarterbacks went through in spring practice, and according to Littrell, "it's not hard to tell who's winning the day." Each quarterback got a taste of victory this spring.

"All three of those guys competed at a high level," Littrell said. "Someone's obviously going to set themselves apart. Someone's going to win the job. But we don't have a date set. We're just feeling it out, seeing how it goes. Our offense believes in all three of those guys. They've all helped us."

The intrigue at Indiana surrounds Roberson, who won the quarterback competition last summer and looked good, albeit against weak competition, in the first two games of the season before breaking his leg against Massachusetts. Roberson made a speedy recovery but admittedly was a bit rusty with his passing rhythm this spring, a sentiment Littrell echoed.

The coaches know what Roberson can do as a runner, but they've encouraged him to fight the natural instinct to take off and stand tall in the pocket and make throws. Indiana led the Big Ten in passing last season and returns arguably the league's best group of receivers and tight ends. Although the quarterback run will be a bigger part of the offense if Roberson again wins the job, Indiana also wants to protect the sophomore.

"When he's on point, he's good," Littrell said. "He throws the ball as well as any of them, but he's been out of it a little bit [longer]. Growing up, he was a spread-quarterback-run-game guy, so he didn’t throw it as much. So especially early on, he hasn't been as comfortable. Some of those habits revert back. Early last fall when we went with him as the starting quarterback for Game 1, he really got pretty comfortable with that role. He just needs to relax in the pocket and again, get the timing back down.

"I think he's ahead of where he was last fall right now."

The difference is that both Coffman and Sudfeld also are much better after logging significant field time, especially Coffman, against Big Ten defenses in 2012. Both Coffman and Sudfeld are pass-first quarterbacks who can effectively run Indiana's up-tempo, high-percentage-pass driven offense, but each has his unique style.

"Nate's a bigger, taller, rangier guy," Littrell said. "It's not hard for him to see over the line because he's a big 6-5 kid. He can stand back in the pocket. He's pretty good at throwing on a rhythm, and he's not going to flee as fast. And Cam's one of those baller guys. The thing about Cam is he just goes out and makes plays. He can do a little bit of both. He slings it around pretty good, but at the same time, he can hurt you with some quarterback run."

All three quarterback are familiar with the scheme, the other personnel on offense and the challenges the Big Ten poses. Although each has areas to improve, leadership is the unifying focus for the summer. Head coach Kevin Wilson is looking for a winner at quarterback, and Littrell has encouraged the signal-callers to experiment with plays and formations during summer workouts and then report back to the coaches what worked.

"After the spring, it doesn't stop," Littrell said. "It's all year round. We can't be with 'em, we can't coach 'em, we can't tell 'em what to do. But that's where leadership comes in."

More summer QB checkup:
The Big Ten has featured 21 coordinator changes in the past two years, but only two of them, Paul Chryst and Carl Pelini, left immediately for head-coaching positions elsewhere.

Chryst, the former Wisconsin offensive coordinator, took the Pitt job following the 2011 season, while Pelini, the Nebraska defensive coordinator, left his brother Bo for the lead position at Florida Atlantic. Although nine Big Ten coordinators left or were removed from their posts after the 2012 season, none ended up as head coaches elsewhere.

Who's the next Big Ten coordinator to land a FBS head-coaching job? Colleague Travis Haney surveyed the national landscape in a recent story and listed 13 coordinators who could make the jump to top jobs. Two Big Ten coaches made Haney's top-5: Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman at No. 4 and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi at No. 5.

Haney writes of Herman:
I was talking recently to a coach in Texas, and he raved about Herman's potential as a head coach. He thinks Herman, who is just 37, is one of the sharpest offensive minds in college football.

"I love being around him," he said. "He puts things in a way that you haven't thought of them before."

Pair that with the fact that he is learning on the job from Urban Meyer, and it shouldn't be too long before Herman has his own program.

Haney writes of Narduzzi:
Michigan State might have been a disappointment this past season, but don't hold that against Narduzzi and the team's defense. The Spartans were first in the Big Ten and fifth in the country in defensive yards per play (4.37). They gave up just 16.3 points a game, also first in the conference. Narduzzi is a charismatic fellow who is more than capable of leading a program.

Both Herman and Narduzzi are good choices to make the jump. Herman is extremely sharp and has the personality to succeed as a head coach. Narduzzi has built Michigan State into a nationally elite defense. While some see his fiery nature as risky in a more public role, he's extremely popular with players and can energize a fan base. I'd be surprised if these two are in their current positions three years from now.

Two other Big Ten coordinators who should soon be head coaches are Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell and Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck. Fickell stepped in as Buckeyes coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel's departure, and while there are some lingering questions about his coaching ability, he has an excellent chance to prove himself this year as Ohio State loses most of its front seven, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon. The 39-year-old is an excellent recruiter and a charismatic personality who should be able to be selective about jobs.

Beck has boosted Nebraska's offense in two years as coordinator and received a significant pay raise during the offseason. A former high school head coach in Texas, Beck could transition well to a lead role in several areas of the country.

Who else is on the radar for head-coaching jobs? Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers served as North Carolina's interim coach in 2011 and could be in the mix for a top job at some point. I've heard a lot of great things about Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, a nominee for the Broyles Award in 2012. Penn State defensive coordinator John Butler and Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell are dynamic up-and-coming assistants to watch.

Who do you think is the next Big Ten coordinator to land a head-coaching position?
The confidence in Seth Littrell's voice is unmistakable.

Littrell, the offensive coordinator at Indiana, leads a group in 2013 that would make many of his Big Ten colleagues jealous. Make all your "it's Indiana" jokes if you want, but the Hoosiers bring back 10 starters from an offense that finished second in the league in yards (442 ypg) and fourth in scoring (30.8 ppg) last fall.

"We lost our center," Litrell said, referring to Will Matte. "That's really all we lost."

All the other key pieces are back from a unit that scored 49 points against Ohio State -- the most ever against the Buckeyes and the most Ohio State surrendered in a game since 1994 -- and 27 first-half points against Michigan State, which allowed no more than 28 in an entire game all season. The Hoosiers scored 24 points or more in 10 of 12 games and eclipsed 450 yards in seven contests.

In addition to four returning line starters, Littrell has arguably the Big Ten's top wide receiving corps, a talented tight end in Ted Bolser, an explosive running back in Stephen Houston and three quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld with significant experience. Head coach Kevin Wilson's up-tempo spread offense isn't new to the core players, and neither is Littrell, who enters his second year as the coordinator.

All the familiarity suggests Indiana will simply keep the same plan it executed in 2012. But Littrell wants to broaden the scheme.

"I think you can experiment a little bit more on offense," he told ESPN.com. "You can tweak some things, and they aren't hard. ... We're evolving, we're always growing in this sport. In this day in college football, if you're not growing, you're not going to be very successful. Everything seems like it gets a little more complex every year.

"It's a group that's a lot of fun to work with because they have some experience, they've been around each other, so you could probably play with some stuff a little easier than maybe you could in years past."

Indiana is still looking for a starting quarterback after Roberson, Coffman and Sudfeld competed this spring. But because all three men have experience, Littrell thinks he can broaden the playbook rather than condense it.

"I tell them, 'Don't be a mannequin. If you like some things as a quarterback, talk with each other, do something, go experiment,'" Littrell said. "[Summer is] the time where we used to go out and have fun and experiment, offense-defense competition. They've got to experiment on their own a little bit, too. Players who come back over the summer will say, 'Hey, coach, we've been working on this, we like this, take a look at it.'

"And most of the time, they're right."

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
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I was mistakenly voted out of a four-person housing situation in a "pack-first, no-talking-after" scenario.
Ohio State already had started paying more competitive salaries for assistant coaches before Urban Meyer arrived in November 2011.

But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.

"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."

[+] EnlargeGreg Mattison
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
"Everyone's always focused on head coaches' salaries," Smith continued. "That's always the thing. But really when you look at the changes, it's really been assistants' salaries across the country -- not just in the SEC, but the Big 12, Pac-12, all across the country."

The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).

The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.

The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.

Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.

Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).

The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.


Some notes:

  • Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
  • All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
  • Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
  • Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
  • The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
  • Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
  • Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.

The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana led the Big Ten in passing yards last year, and by a pretty wide margin. But receiver Kofi Hughes says the Hoosiers could have done so much more.

"After last year, I thought as receivers we were balling," Hughes told ESPN.com. "But then I looked at the film and was like, 'Oh my gosh, we really weren't that good at all.

"We finished No. 1 in the Big Ten, but what a lot of people don't know is that we left so many plays and so many yards on the field. This year, we want to blow it out of the water."

That could very well happen. While much of the focus this spring centered on the three experienced quarterbacks battling for the starting job, perhaps not enough attention was paid to the guys who will be catching the ball. Indiana -- yes, Indiana -- boasts the most productive group of returning receivers in the league.

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsCody Latimer led a productive group of Hoosiers receivers last season with 806 yards and six touchdowns.
Non-believers, you can check the stats. Cody Latimer, Hughes and Shane Wynn finished No. 2, No. 6 and No. 8 in the league, respectively, in receiving yards per game in 2012. Throw in tight end Ted Bolser, who had 41 grabs for 445 yards last season, along with some emerging young players, and no Big Ten team has more weapons right now in the passing game.

"On the outside, we've got some big bodies, which are good targets," quarterback Cameron Coffman said. "And on the inside, we've got small, quick guys who can get open in space."

Leading the way on the perimeter are Latimer and Hughes, who have developed into two of the best wideouts in the Big Ten despite being lightly recruited for their current roles.

Coming out of Dayton, Ohio, the 6-foot-3 Latimer received more interest from colleges as a defensive back or linebacker. But he always wanted to play receiver, and he said he bonded with Hughes and Duwyce Wilson on his IU visit. He knew the Hoosiers had a history of throwing the ball and he loved watching Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles. When Indiana hired former Sooners offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as head coach, he knew he'd made the right choice to go to Bloomington.

The 6-foot-2 Hughes was the 2009 Gatorade Indiana player of the year who led Indianapolis Cathedral to a state title as a quarterback. He was labeled an athlete, and colleges didn't quite know what to make of him. Hughes said he was asked to play defensive back at an Ohio State camp, a position he'd never even lined up at before. He eventually took his only scholarship offer, to IU. He decided to play receiver in college simply because he saw an opening for early playing time.

"I was hard-headed and wanted to play as a true freshman," the senior said. "I was horrible my freshman year, a very sloppy route-runner. I could have probably redshirted and waited, and who knows what would have happened?"

What has happened is the two have become close friends -- and big-time players. Latimer led the team with 805 receiving yards and six touchdowns on 51 catches last year, while Hughes had 639 yards and three touchdowns on 43 receptions. They each made a pact this offseason to be bluntly honest and critical about the other's performance. Here's what they had to say about each other:

Latimer on Hughes: "He's very smart. When you go into the film room, he can tell you everything that's going on. He even gives the coaches ideas."

Hughes on Latimer: "He makes competitive catches. He's so strong. I don't know how the ball always stays in his hands, like whether it hits his shoulder and rolls into his hands or what. But every time you throw it to Cody, he's going to catch it."

Wynn, at just 5-foot-7, completes the lead triumvirate of Hoosier targets. The spark plug in the slot caught a team-best 68 balls last season for 660 yards and six scores. Hughes said Wynn is deceptively strong and wasn't afraid to lower his shoulder into a defender to gain extra yards this spring.

As good as Latimer and Hughes are on the outside, Indiana might have even more options in the middle of the field with the emergence this spring of Isaiah Roundtree and Tevin Coleman to go along with Wynn.

"All three of those guys can play anywhere from the backfield to the slots," offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "I think we can create a lot of different matchups that way. If people want to play us man to man, fine. We can always get those guys in the backfield versus a linebacker."

And if all the Hoosiers receivers live up to their potential, they might just blow things out of the water in 2013.

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