Big Ten: TCU Horned Frogs
Dec. 29, 10:15 p.m. ET, Tempe, Ariz. (ESPN)
TCU take by Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Horned Frogs brought a new style of football in their first year in the Big 12, forcing the rest of the league to get used to more low-scoring games decided in the running game. The Frogs won four games this year with 27 points or less and scored fewer than 20 points in two more, while holding opponents to less than 30. The Frogs season turned when it lost Casey Pachall, who left school to seek treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, forcing redshirt freshman Trevone Boykin to learn on the job. He’s been up and down, but the Frogs live to run the ball and play defense.
They’ll face a Michigan State team which loves to do the exact same. Expect another game won by the team that wins the line of scrimmage and the time of possession battle. The Spartans are fourth nationally in total defense, and the Frogs led the Big 12 in the stat by more than 35 yards per game.
TCU clinched its eighth consecutive bowl bid with a banged-up season in the Big 12, playing with a team that was made up of 70 percent freshmen and sophomores, by far the youngest team coach Gary Patterson had ever fielded. Still, in their first year in a tougher league, the Horned Frogs finished tied for fifth and won seven games despite missing more than 20 players that it expected to have when 2011 ended. Top running back Waymon James suffered a season-ending knee injury, leaving Matthew Tucker as the lone returnee from a trio of running backs that rushed for at least 700 yards last season. Ed Wesley left the team and entered the NFL supplemental draft after spring practice. It was a season full of difficult circumstances for the Frogs, but they perservered and will try to get a jump on a promising 2013 season with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: The bar had been raised for Michigan State entering the fall after the Spartans recorded a team-record 11 victories in each of the past two seasons. Many pegged Mark Dantonio’s squad to reach its first Rose Bowl in a quarter-century and continue to establish itself as a new power in the Big Ten. Things didn’t work out that way, as the Spartans repeatedly came up short, struggled at home and needed a Week 13 win just to become bowl-eligible for the sixth straight year, a team record.
A talent-stocked Spartans defense did its part, finishing in the top 10 nationally in total defense (fourth), scoring defense (10th), rushing defense (eighth) and pass defense (ninth). Middle linebacker Max Bullough and cornerback Darqueze Dennard are among the standouts on a unit that allowed fewer than 20 points in eight games.
Most of Michigan State’s problems came on offense, as the Spartans struggled to replace quarterback Kirk Cousins and his top three receivers. Junior signal caller Andrew Maxwell had mixed results in his first year as the starter, and while a young receiving corps improved, there was little continuity in the pass game. Running back Le'Veon Bell did his share, taking the ball more times (350) than any other FBS player and recording 1,648 yards and 11 touchdowns. But the unit struggled to turn yards into points and lost five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points, including all four conference contests at home.
Bowl practices should help the young offense, but Michigan State’s defense likely will need a big effort against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to secure the team’s second straight postseason win.
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?
The Badgers have made national news with their scoring prowess, reaching 70 points or more in three games and averaging 48.3 points during a seven-game Big Ten win streak to end the regular season. TCU's defense needs no introduction as the nation's top-ranked unit (215.4 ypg allowed) and a group loaded with NFL prospects.
Most folks tuning in to the Rose Bowl will do so primarily to watch these elite units match up.
But don't be surprised if the game is decided differently. Wisconsin safety Jay Valai thinks it'll come down to TCU's offense vs. the Badgers' defense.
"That's a very overlooked part of the game," Valai said. "Especially when they have a great offense over there, and our defense, we like making turnovers and we're very opportunistic. That could come down to what the game is going to be. You may get a stalemate on the other side, so we know we've got to come out guns blazing."
TCU's overshadowed offense actually has scored the same number of points as Wisconsin (520), tying the Badgers for fourth nationally in scoring (43.3 ppg). And Wisconsin's defense has somewhat quietly risen to 22nd nationally in yards allowed (323.5 ypg) and 29th nationally in points allowed (20.5 ppg).
The Badgers have become particularly good at creating takeaways, forcing 16 of them in their final four games.
"That's kind of why you saw such staggering numbers from our offense," defensive end J.J. Watt said. "We got them the ball back and we had a couple of touchdowns on defense. We want to carry that momentum into the bowl game and do the same kind of thing.
"We want to make plays, we want to create some momentum, and we want to give our offense the ball as many times as we can."
Wisconsin can't really be called a lock-down defense, but the Badgers are fine with being labeled a playmaking defense.
"In a big-time game, you'd rather be a playmaking defense than a lock-down defense," Valai said. "Because making the plays, you're going to create the lock-down ability. We just want to be opportunistic.
"That's our role on the football field."
Jan. 1, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Wisconsin evolved into one of the nation’s most dominating teams down the stretch, and the Badgers were rewarded with their first trip to Pasadena in 11 seasons as they face TCU in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.
Bret Bielema’s team won its final seven regular-season games and destroyed everything in its path, averaging 48.3 points during the streak and combining for 201 points in its final three games. A veteran and talented offensive line led the way, creating room for backs James White, Montee Ball and John Clay and buying time for quarterback Scott Tolzien to attack downfield with the play-action game. Arguably the only downside for red-hot Wisconsin is the five-week layoff between the end of the regular season and the Rose Bowl.
The Badgers’ offense likely faces its toughest test of the season in a TCU defense that leads the nation in fewest points allowed and ranks third against the run. If TCU can contain Wisconsin on first and second downs and force Tolzien into some obvious passing situations, the Badgers could be in trouble. As good as Tolzien has been, he hasn’t faced the type of pressure TCU might provide on Jan. 1.
Wisconsin’s defense isn’t dominant like TCU’s, but the Badgers are opportunistic, recording 23 takeaways. TCU hasn’t faced a defensive end as disruptive as Wisconsin’s J.J. Watt, who made more impact plays than any Big Ten defender and needs to heat up Horned Frogs star quarterback Andy Dalton.
TCU take by nation blogger Andrea Adelson: Well, the Horned Frogs really, really wanted to be that first non-AQ to get into a BCS national championship game, but hey, playing in the Rose Bowl is not exactly settling. They are making their second straight BCS appearance after a second straight undefeated regular season, a tremendous accomplishment under coach Gary Patterson. A big reason TCU is back on the big stage: experience. TCU returned a majority of their starters, including Andy Dalton, selected Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year. But if TCU has any shot to win, he is going to have to have a better game than the one he had last year against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl. Dalton threw three interceptions in that game, including one that was returned for a touchdown, and the offense could manage little in the way of production.
They are better at running back this season with the tandem of Ed Wesley and Matthew Tucker, and Jeremy Kerley is one of the best all-purpose players in the country. TCU has the No. 1 ranked defense in the country for the third straight season, and that is impressive considering the Horned Frogs lost their two best players in Jerry Hughes and Daryl Washington. The heart of the defense is with linebackers Tank Carder and Tanner Brock, but the leader is safety Tejay Johnson. Runners beware against this defensive front.
This is not news.
As a Big Ten president who has benefited greatly from the current setup, you wouldn't expect anything less. Gee has to look out for Ohio State, and while the Buckeyes could benefit both financially and competitively from a system that would bring playoff games to The Horseshoe, the current setup has served them well.
What Ohio State didn't need from Gee was this:
In an interview with The Associated Press, the president at the university with the largest athletic program in the country said that TCU and Boise State do not face a difficult enough schedule to play in the national championship game.
"Well, I don't know enough about the X's and O's of college football," said Gee, formerly the president at West Virginia, Colorado, Brown and Vanderbilt universities. "I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it's like murderer's row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gantlet that there's some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to [be] in the big ballgame."
Ugh. It's just not cool for Goliath to pick on David when Goliath's forehead keeps filling up with welts.
But that's beside the point. The Big Ten is a very tough conference this season. Would Boise State or TCU make it through a Big Ten schedule unscathed? It'd be tough, but it's also possible.
The bigger issue is that Ohio State has a tough time making the strength of schedule argument in 2010. Although the Buckeyes take more scheduling risks than many of their Big Ten brethren, they still face the Eastern Michigans of the world too often.
From The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
It's tough for anyone at Ohio State to make a strength of schedule argument this year, when according to Jeff Sagarin's strength of schedule ratings, for instance, Ohio State has the 59th-ranked schedule in the country, while TCU is No. 68 and Boise State 73. In the Massey ratings, Ohio State is No. 34 in schedule strength, Boise State is 47 and TCU 57. In the Colley Matrix, Ohio State's schedule is No. 60, TCU is 72 and Boise State 79. That's not much to argue about.
No, it's not.
One thing several Ohio State fans pointed out on my chat is that Gee has just given Boise State or TCU some bulletin-board material if it should face the Buckeyes in a BCS bowl. Ohio State has had a hard enough time beating SEC schools in bowls. Now the Broncos, who have been brilliant in BCS games, or TCU have some extra incentive to beat the Scarlet and Gray.
It's fine for Gee to support a system that is set up to benefit his school. But singling out Boise State and TCU does nothing to help Ohio State.
Scott from Warren, Ohio: I just cannot believe you put Boise as #2 and TCU as #4 in your power rankings. I understand such non-sense coming from the talking heads on TV trying to drive ratings, but not you who I didn't have pegged as someone who would go with the trendy picks.Do you really feel, this year that Boise and TCU could legitimately beat the Bucks, Gators, Ducks, Huskers, 'canes etc?Don't get me wrong I respect what Boise is doing, I just don't drink the being rewarded for playing glorified high school programs kool-aid.
Adam Rittenberg: Just checking, when did Virginia Tech and Oregon State become glorified high school programs? Boise State and TCU have done this for years, Scott, and you don't respect what they've done, so don't try and make it sound like you do. I'll give Ohio State and any other Big Ten team its fair shake when it posts some big wins, but right now, Boise State and TCU have two more signature wins than the entire Big Ten (not buying UConn yet, folks). It's amazing to me how many folks can't accept the possibility -- not a guarantee, but just the mere possibility -- that Boise State would beat their vaunted power-conference program. The evidence from the last few years is overwhelming, people. Get used to Boise and TCU being high in the polls because they deserve it.
Tom from Cleveland: Hi Adam - Love the blog. It get's me through my day at work. In particular, I like the Heisman updates on Tuesdays. But, reading this week's update, I had a thought - would it be possible to add a brief category titled "Players on the Heisman Horizon" or something like that. Under this section, you could just list a few players who are making a push (stats-wise, at least) to get into the race. You wouldn't need to detail their stats, but just having the list would give us casual fans more info. on which players to keep an eye on in the coming week(s). Thanks for listening
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for writing, Tom. This is a good suggestion, and one that I thought about using for this week, before holding off. I'll definitely include a Heisman Horizon when there's a stronger body of work than one game. People are putting Michigan's Denard Robinson on the Heisman radar after one great game. That's way too soon for my liking. Another big performance against Notre Dame could put Robinson in the Heisman Horizon category, but probably not until he wins some Big Ten games. For now, I'm sticking with the guys who entered the season with some legit credentials.
Heather from Mechanicsburg, Pa., writes: I bleed blue and white, but I do have to face reality on occasion; after Saturday's game against Alabama, does Penn State fall out of the rankings? If so, will wins against Kent State and Temple really be enough to climb back up into the rankings again? What will it take for Penn State to stay in the top 25 this season?
Adam Rittenberg: Heather, the voters are funny when it comes to losses, so it's tough to predict what would happen. Virginia Tech dropped three spots in the AP poll after a narrow loss to No. 3 Boise State. Oregon State and Pitt paid much heavier prices for their Week 1 losses. Penn State needs to keep things competitive in Tuscaloosa and not lose by 15 points or more. Everyone will be watching, so the Lions need to show they can move the ball against a good team with Rob Bolden and Evan Royster. A blowout loss might drop Penn State out of the rankings, but it's still against the nation's No. 1 team on the road with a freshman QB (Bolden). Even if the Lions fall out, I'd expect them back in by the start of Big Ten play. Enough teams between Nos. 20-25 will lose.
Jeff from Ithaca, N.Y., writes: Adam which game this week are you more excited about tOSU vs Miami, PSU vs Alabama, or Michigan vs Notre Dame?
Adam Rittenberg: Why can't every week by like this one, Jeff? What a great three-pack of games there. I'm really stoked for Ohio State-Miami, given the connection to the 2003 game and all the elite athletes on the field. The Penn State-Alabama game brings so much history with Joe Paterno and Bear Bryant, and a new twist as Bolden makes his first career road start. And I think the best game of the three could take place in South Bend between Michigan and Notre Dame, two historic programs now both running the spread offense. Imagine that!
Kyle from Champaign, Ill., writes: "Indiana and Illinois have been pretty awful for the last 10 years"For Indiana, this is pretty much true, but I have to (mildly) protest regarding Illinois. This is the same ten years that they've won a Big Ten title and been to two BCS Bowls (which equals Penn State, Iowa, Nebraska, and Wisconsin, and is more than Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, and Minnesota combined). Please show a bit of perspective: Illinois has been just *mostly* awful in recent history.
Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, thanks for writing the best e-mail of the week by far. You definitely made me laugh, which is always a plus. And you're right, I probably was too harsh on the Illini, who have been to two BCS bowl games since 2001. Any fan who has enough humility to accept the "mostly awful" label being placed on his/her team is OK in my book. I'll gladly adjust my perspective here.
Tom from Los Angeles writes: Adam .....I think the NU coaching staff put the team in harms way by being way to conservative with the game plan. Just like last year at the start of the season the desire to establish the running game is an ill fated strategy. They should have thrown the ball 35 times not 21. The 5 yard pass, bubble screens, and even airing it out would have changed the whole feel. Our run in November last year came about because the took the leash off of Kafka. The poor 3rd down conversion was because they tried to run instead of controlling the game with the short pass. Additionally, our total offensive play count was way off our average from last year. And that means the D is on the field too much. Why argue with success ?
Adam Rittenberg: It's interesting, Tom, because Northwestern offensive coordinator Mick McCall considers short passes as the equivalent to run plays. And yet the Wildcats really tried to prove a point and run the ball against Vanderbilt even though quarterback Dan Persa was on target with pretty much all of his throws. You certainly need to run the ball in that offense, as the 2000 and 2005 seasons showed us, but if it's not working and the quarterback is on fire, why not air it out more? Pat Fitzgerald and his staff need to figure out soon whether or not they have any Big Ten-caliber running backs on the team. Right now, Persa looks like the best ball carrier by far. But I'd expect more of the same Saturday against Illinois State as Northwestern looks for an answer.
Posted ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ESPN.com's relegation draft is complete, and the Big Ten has been reduced to the Big Six. As for Purdue, Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota and Illinois, yer out.
Esteemed colleagues Pat Forde, Ivan Maisel and Mark Schlabach selected six squads from the Big Ten as part of the 40-team new world order in college football. The Big Ten finished behind the SEC (9) and the Big 12 (8) and tied with the both Pac-10 (6) and ACC (6) for number of teams. Fan support did play a bigger role in the selections than I thought, which helped some Big Ten teams during a period where the league regularly gets trashed.
Here's how it went down.
- No. 6: Ohio State (Maisel)
- No. 7: Penn State (Forde)
- No. 11: Michigan (Schlabach)
- No. 18: Wisconsin (Maisel)
- No. 27: Iowa (Maisel)
- No. 34: Michigan State (Forde)
Feel free to mail Maisel a Hanukkah card (I know I will). Without him, the Big Ten really would have suffered in the mock draft.
Some quick thoughts on an interesting group of selections, which couldn't have been easy to make:
- Like many of you, I was surprised to see Michigan go so low. The disaster of 2008 obviously remains fresh in our minds, but Michigan has and always will be one of the most relevant programs in college football. There's a strong case that Michigan should have been picked before Penn State, which is enjoying a renaissance since 2005 but has yet to establish itself as a consistent Big Ten power. Michigan dominated Penn State until last year, and the Wolverines do have a recent bowl win against Florida.
- I thought Wisconsin would be selected, but No. 18 seems a little high. If the draft was done two years ago, the Badgers would have had a strong case as being one of the nation's top 20 programs. But Wisconsin hasn't matched its success from the 1990s and has seen its wins total drop in each of the last two years.
- Michigan State's selection was somewhat of a surprise to me. The Spartans have disappointed their fans a lot during the last few years, but fan support seemed to sway Forde, who writes, "The Spartans have great fans, evidenced by their continuing to populate a 75,000-seat stadium during a fairly inglorious decade." He sees good things ahead for MSU, as do I.
- Iowa seems about right to me, though Schlabach didn't agree, writing, "So our arguments are now being reduced to kicking a field goal to beat Penn State? Have the Hawkeyes done anything else this decade?" I'd say a 31-7 record between 2002 and 2004 counts for something.
- Still don't understand all the love for Oklahoma, which went No. 3, three spots ahead of Ohio State. Both teams have amazingly parallel profiles during this decade, and Ohio State hasn't lost to Boise State in a bowl game.
- I expected five selections from the Big Ten, so the draft actually exceeded my expectations. None of the Big Ten teams left out surprised me, though I was stunned that TCU didn't make the cut at No. 39 or No. 40. I'm glad I didn't have to make the picks.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A few questions and answers before the weekend.
Donny from Decatur, Ill., writes: I've been hearing a lot of the hype surrounding this years Illinios receivers, everything from "Maybe the best in the country", "best in the Big Ten". Maybe it's because I am in Illinois. But I am excited to go see these guys in action this year. What are your thoughts on them this year? Do you think they will live up to the hype? WithBenn, Cumberland, Sykes, Jenkins, Duvalt, James, and TE Hoomanawanui and Newcomers/Red shirts etc. Fayson, Ramsey, Scottand Hawthorne the Illini look to have a very solid group for a few years to come. Also Juice has gotten better with every year he has played. What do you truly expect from these guys this year?
Adam Rittenberg: Well, since I've been writing some of those things myself, I'd say my opinion is pretty high of Illinois' group. As an Illini fan, you have the right to get very excited about these wideouts. Arrelious Benn will contend for All-America honors this fall, and Illinois could have a legit No. 2 receiver to complement Benn in Jarred Fayson. I never thought Jeff Cumberland could truly be a No. 2, and now he won't have to be. But all those weapons you list easily make Illinois the best receiving corps in the Big Ten. If Juice Williams gets time to throw, look out.
Brian from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Could you explain why OSU has only 16 scholarships available (I think) but they lost 33 players from last year?
Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State signed a fairly large class in February (25 recruits), which accounted for most of the graduation losses. The Buckeyes also boast a pretty sizable junior class, which includes true juniors like Brandon Saine, redshirt juniors like Thad Gibson and even transfers like Justin Boren (Michigan). You always have to factor in the number of redshirted players and the number of fifth-year seniors when calculating how big or small a recruiting class will be.
Derek from New Jersey writes: I saw you posted a lunch-link about Minnesota's new stadium. I also watched a video about it. I was just wondering, from somebody who has been there, what your thoughts on it were. Is it built up (ie: Beaver Stadium) or out (Michigan Stadium)? Do you know where the student section will be in the horshoe stadium, or how many seats will be blocked off for them? Any neat novelties worth mentioning? It's not often a college team gets an all new stadium. Thanks for any extra insight!
Adam Rittenberg: TCF Bank Stadium breaks the traditional mold of most Big Ten football facilities. For starters, it is located in a major metropolitan area, which will be a big part in the atmosphere surrounding the stadium. Fans in the upper deck and suites will get a great view of downtown Minneapolis. It definitely doesn't compare with any of the huge Big Ten facilities in terms of size, though it could expand to 80,000 seats if Minnesota chooses to add another deck. The student section will be in the east (non-open) end of the horseshoe, near the Gophers' tunnel. As far as novelties, the massive scoreboard in the open end will be pretty cool. Fans also will be able to see the field while walking along the main concourse. There isn't much excess space on the field footprint, so fans will be very close to the action. Overall, it should be a great venue, and I love the fact that Minnesota didn't build something too big to start off. For more, check out my tour of the facility back in November.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
When the new BCS contract begins during the 2010 season, there's a chance you could see a team like Boise State, Utah or TCU in The Granddaddy of Them All.
As first reported by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and confirmed to ESPN.com by BCS administrator Bill Hancock, the Rose Bowl will be required to take an eligible non-BCS team if it loses the Big Ten champion or Pac-10 champion to the national title game. This policy would only take effect once during the four-year BCS bowl cycle.
Here's how the policy change works. Let's say USC is selected for the national championship game following the 2010 season. Rather than selecting another Pac-10 team, the Rose Bowl would have to take a non-BCS team if that team is eligible for BCS bowl selection and not headed to the national championship game. So you could have the Big Ten champion against a team from the Mountain West, WAC, Conference USA, MAC or Sun Belt.
No teams from those leagues have ever appeared in the Rose Bowl.
"It's only going to happen once if it happens at all," Hancock said.
The change will open up more opportunities for non-BCS teams to play in these big-time bowls. It also will prevent, at least temporarily, teams that don't necessarily deserve BCS berths from appearing in these games simply because of their conference affiliation.
I can't imagine the Big Ten is too pleased about the change. The league has sent more teams to BCS bowls than any other conference, and the Rose Bowl tie-in is a big reason why. When the Big Ten lost Ohio State to the national title game in 2006 and 2007, it still sent a representative to the Rose Bowl.
It's a pretty good bet a 9-3 Illinois team wouldn't go to Pasadena under the new policy, as it did in 2007.
I'm a big fan of the non-BCS teams and enjoy seeing Utah, Boise State and others routinely go against the big boys. On the other hand, there's not a more tradition-rich game in the country than the Rose Bowl.
Though the game has featured three Big 12 teams this decade -- Nebraska in 2002, Oklahoma in 2003, Texas in 2004 and 2005 -- as well as Miami in 2002, it would be odd to see a Mountain West or a WAC team in Pasadena. I could get used to it every once in a while, though I doubt Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany could.
It would be interesting to see how a non-BCS team would affect attendance and ratings for the Rose Bowl, which continues to thrive in both areas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's worth reiterating that expansion is not a front-burner issue for the Big Ten right now. But things always change, and it's undeniable that the league loses something -- certainly from a marketing standpoint and possibly from a competitive standpoint -- without a championship game that ends the regular season on the same day as the other BCS conferences.
Let's also reiterate that Notre Dame has been and always will be the best option for Big Ten expansion. The two parties last talked in 1999 but didn't get too far. Notre Dame obviously has some tremendous advantages as an independent, and purely from a business standpoint, joining a league doesn't make much sense. The dilemma for the Big Ten is whether to add a 12th team or wait until its home-run choice decides it wants to join a league, which may or may not happen.
I've heard just about every suggestion for a 12th team this week. There are the usual suspects (Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, Iowa State, Missouri, Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut), a few reaches (West Virginia, Nebraska) and several fuhgetaboutits (any MAC school, Northern Iowa, Southern Illinois).
Of all the realistic possibilities, Missouri makes the most sense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State lost all four starters from a secondary that held up for most of last season before being shredded by USC in the Rose Bowl.
Halfway through spring practice, the Nittany Lions are still picking up the pieces in the back half.
"I'm very concerned about it," head coach Joe Paterno said Tuesday. "We have a long, long way to go to be a good secondary. We're not even close, but they're working hard at it. I hope we'll be adequate by the fall."
Paterno praised the progress of safety Drew Astorino but said cornerback A.J. Wallace recently suffered a pulled hamstring.
The 82-year-old coach also weighed in on Penn State's nonconference schedule, which has been widely criticized by fans and media members. Penn State plays four home games against Akron, Syracuse, Temple and Eastern Illinois, a soft slate that could hurt the team's early ranking.
"What happened to Michigan when they opened up last year?" Paterno said, actually referring to Michigan's 2007 opening loss to FCS member Appalachian State. "I haven't got the slightest idea how good or bad the people we're going to play yet I couldn't tell you who the second game is, who we're playing. I've tried to discipline myself to take care of what you've got to take care of."
Paterno is asked to give input on who Penn State plays and acknowledged Penn State's need to play home games at 107,282-seat Beaver stadium. The coach said Penn State talked with TCU about scheduling at game in State College.
"We thought Texas Christian was going to come here, they backed out," Paterno said. They decided that wasn't in our best interests. Little things like that come up."
Other Penn State notes:
- Paterno shot down rumors that wide receiver Chaz Powell sustained an injury at Monday's practice. Powell participated in the entire workout.
- Paterno reiterated his support for Florida State head coach Bobby Bowden, who might have to vacate 14 wins as part of the penalties for the school's academic fraud scandal.
"It would be a shame," Paterno said. "Bobby won all those games. He coached with the kids who were out there, he and his staff did the job they needed to do to win. This thing about who wins more games than the other guy, I don't care. I just hope we do a good job here and win as many games as we can. I'm sure Bobby feels the same way."Knowing Bobby, I'm very proud of him and admire him very much. I just don't want to see it happen. It would be foolish to take those games away from him."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- When Illinois scrimmages Wednesday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, Mike Schultz will coach from the press box.
It's part of Schultz's attempt to simulate a game situation, always a good idea for a new offensive coordinator going through his fifth practice with his new team. But there's another, slightly more embarrassing reason for Schultz's whereabouts.
It will get him out of the cold.
The temperature is hovering around 50 degrees Wednesday, which isn't bad for central Illinois this time of year. But for a Houston native like Schultz who spent the last 11 seasons at TCU, where he held the same job, this might as well be the Arctic. At least it's better than his initial trip to Champaign in January, when a cold front dropped temperatures to 10 below.
Schultz is slowly adjusting to the weather, but he'll get there soon enough. He's not afraid to adapt, which is a good thing in his new job.
"I have come in and fit myself to this offense," Schultz said. "We have new ideas coming in. But have we changed the offense? No. It's not like there's going to be a major overhaul of this offense. There's no need to.
"One of the things coach Zook and I both agreed on is we're going to try to keep everything the same as we can, so the only people really going through a transition are myself and [new offensive line coach] Joe Gilbert. It's two versus 40. Just common sense-wise, it just make sense to approach it that way."
In an age of my-way-or-bust playcallers, Schultz is unique in his willingness to be flexible. Since taking the job in January he has talked with his predecessor, New Mexico head coach Mike Locksley, but not about Illinois' personnel or schemes.
He wanted to come to Illinois with no preconceived notions. It's a clean canvas, and the players will be doing much of the brush work.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Iowa running back Shonn Greene's production will not be easy to replace.|
As we continue to preview Big Ten spring football, which begins March 14 at Michigan, it's time to look at five key replacements around the conference.
The Big Ten took the biggest hit at running back with the departures of Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells, P.J. Hill, Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets, among others. There also were key losses on both lines (Mitch King, A.Q. Shipley, Aaron Maybin, Willie VanDeSteeg) and in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Otis Wiley), though the quarterback crop returns mostly intact.
The league's lone head-coaching change was pre-planned, as Danny Hope takes over for Joe Tiller at Purdue. But several key assistants depart the league, creating some holes to fill.
Here's a look at five sets of shoes to fill before Sept. 5.
Big shoes: Iowa running back Shonn Greene
The replacement: Sophomore Jewel Hampton
All Greene did last fall was win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, set Iowa's single-season rushing record (1,850 yards) and eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. As the team switched quarterbacks, identified playmakers at wide receiver and jelled up front, Greene was the constant. Hampton earned high marks as Greene's backup, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, but he'll take on a much bigger load this fall. The 5-9, 200-pound Hampton lacks Greene's brute strength and size, but he provides a different look for an Iowa offense that will always be based around the run game.
Big shoes: Penn State center A.Q. Shipley
The replacement: Junior Stefen Wisniewski
The defending Big Ten co-champs lose the undisputed leader of the league's best offensive line in Shipley, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center last year. Wisniewski started at guard in 2008, but he's expected to shift to center and replace Shipley in the heart of the Lions' line. Expectations will be high for Wisniewski, a talented junior whose father and uncle both were star offensive linemen for Penn State.
Big shoes: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer
The replacement(s): Senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomores Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett, freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper
No running back in the country had a heavier load than Ringer last fall. He led the nation with 390 carries and tied for the national lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State benefited from his tremendous durability, but the coaches didn't develop a reliable backup. The competition to replace Ringer features several young players, including two heralded incoming freshmen. The Spartans could use more of a committee system in 2009, blending speed (Anderson, Caper, Baker, Jimmerson) with size (Leggett). The freshmen should help the situation, but head coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't mind if Anderson, Jimmerson or Leggett emerged in spring ball.
Big shoes: Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley
The replacement: Mike Schultz
Not only was Locksley one of the best recruiters in the country, but he had a strong bond with quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Arrelious Benn and other key members of the Illinois offense. Despite a very disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois still led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. Schultz comes from a program (TCU) known for defense, but his system produced several standout quarterbacks and running backs. He needs to gain Williams' trust right away and maintain the explosiveness Illinois featured at times last season. There also will be pressure for Schultz to bring in top high school players from Texas and other areas.
Big shoes: Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
The replacement: Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa
Some will point to the oft-injured Wells or hyped linebacker James Laurinaitis as Ohio State's biggest losses, but Jenkins was the team's most consistent performer the last two seasons. Shutdown corners don't come around very often, and Jenkins' play-making skills helped him win the Thorpe Award last year. Chekwa beat out Donald Washington for a starting job in 2008 but will take on a greater load this fall as he'll be assigned to mark top opposing wideouts. He had an interception and four pass breakups last year.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Iowa Pittsburgh 12:00 PM ET Eastern Michigan 11 Michigan State 12:00 PM ET Western Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Southern Illinois Purdue 12:00 PM ET Bowling Green 19 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET Maryland Syracuse 3:30 PM ET Utah Michigan 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Navy 4:00 PM ET Massachusetts Penn State 4:00 PM ET San Jose State Minnesota 4:00 PM ET Texas State Illinois 4:00 PM ET Indiana 18 Missouri 8:00 PM ET Miami (FL) 24 Nebraska