Big Ten: Tom Bradley

Randy EdsallTony Quinn/Icon SMIThere's no easy winning formula for Randy Edsall and Maryland as they transition to the Big Ten.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knew exactly what to expect -- and where to focus -- when his Utes moved from the Mountain West in 2011 to the Pac-12: Recruit better prospects. Upgrade the facilities. Break down new opponents.

But that didn't make the transition any easier.

The Utes made a big splash that first season and finished 8-5, before dropping to 5-7 in the two seasons thereafter. Whittingham knew a drop-off like that was possible -- a move into one of the Power Five carries with it certain risks -- but that doesn't mean any challenges caught the 54-year-old head coach off guard.

"No real surprises," Whittingham told ESPN.com. "Nothing blind-sided us from a football perspective. It was exactly as anticipated. ... The bottom line is it's just a process transitioning. We're not making excuses -- people don't care; we have to win -- but it takes time to ramp up."

With three programs set to officially join a new power conference Tuesday -- Louisville to the ACC; Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten -- that process will play out once again. New members know they'll have to adjust, improve and upgrade before taking a step forward in their new conferences. But that doesn't make the task any easier.

Since 2000, a dozen other football programs have transitioned into one of the Power Five conferences. And, in their first seasons, only three teams improved upon their previous year's record -- with just two watching their win total increase by more than one. For most teams, the acclimation has been gradual.

"There are no shortcuts," Whittingham added. "But I don't think there's anything that's undiscovered or a secret. It's pretty simple and pretty plain."

In one interview after another, five coaches told ESPN.com the same three keys for transitioning successfully: improve recruiting, upgrade facilities and figure out those new teams. That really shouldn't come as a shock, as those tips are useful for any team in any circumstance. But when it comes to transitioning, several coaches said, those priorities are magnified.

All of a sudden, during that conference transition, Utah's great facilities in the Mountain West didn't quite pass muster with USC's 110,000-square-foot sports facility or Oregon's $68 million football building. So it unveiled its own new facility last fall. In 2004, Virginia Tech's old Big East recruiting footprint wasn't enough to dominate long-term in the ACC. So the staff immediately sought out prospects in Georgia and the Carolinas. And, in 2005, Boston College's staff was forced to scout nine new opponents on a schedule that ballooned from No. 74 in terms of strength to No. 22. So, even during "off time," some coaches stared at their laptop screens morning to night.

Each team needed to improve in that area immediately or risk falling behind their conference foes. Transitioning is a constant arms race, after all, a game where teams that tread water end up sinking. There's no such thing as being stationary in college football, especially during such a transition. Especially during that first season.

"It's definitely more of a burden that first season, for sure. No doubt," said former Boston College assistant Jerry Petercuskie, who helped oversee the Eagles' transition to the ACC and currently coaches at FCS Elon. "But there's no magic in it. It's just getting your players to play and adapting to the enemy."

Truthfully, several coaches said, there's not much they can do to quicken that Year 1 transition. Payoffs in recruiting and facility upgrades aren't immediate; the main short-term advances come from locking yourself in the film room and studying up on new opponents.

In other words, the recipe for such immediate success isn't a big secret either. Of the three teams that did improve their record that first season, they all returned solid teams that boasted solid quarterbacks. Texas A&M had Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (7-6 record to 11-2), Virginia Tech started first-team All-ACC QB Bryan Randall (8-5 to 10-3), and Pitt had NFL draft pick Tom Savage under center (6-7 to 7-6).

So, until that increased recruiting focus starts to yield changes on the field, most coaches during the transition spend a considerably higher amount of time figuring out opposing schemes, opponents and situations.

"When you're away from the office, every coach is looking at the opponent. You need to figure out that new enemy," Petercuskie said. "[Coaches] are a paranoid group of people. We don't want to go out on a Saturday afternoon in front of a national TV audience and get embarrassed. So we're going to do whatever we have to do."

Added Tom Bradley, who coached at Penn State during its move to the Big Ten and is currently the senior associate head coach at WVU: "I would say it took a couple of years for us to really get a beat on teams -- to understand the fans and feel comfortable with the climate you're entering. What do they like to do in certain situations? Not knowing that definitely made it harder."

No one can say for sure exactly how Louisville, Rutgers and Maryland will fare in their new conferences: Virginia Tech assistant Charley Wiles believes the Terrapins are already a bowl-caliber team; Temple assistant Ed Foley thinks Rutgers will wind up in the middle of the pack. But everyone knows what these teams have to do to succeed.

They can't win in Year 1 without a solid group of returners. They have to upgrade their facilities to stay competitive. And above all -- Whittingham said this was 80 percent of the transition – they need to recruit well. Do all that, and the wins will roll in faster than the fans' question marks.

Transitioning successfully is as simple -- and as difficult -- as that.
Tom Bradley, a longtime assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State, has agreed to join the staff at West Virginia, the school said Friday.

"I'm excited to be back to coaching again, to be again be part of something that is bigger than myself," Bradley said in a phone interview with ESPN.com.

Bradley, 57, will be the Mountaineers' senior associate head coach.

"Tom brings numerous years of successful college coaching experience and versatility," coach Dana Holgorsen said in a statement. "He is an excellent defensive teacher, has high energy and intensity and gives us a proven recruiter with regional and national ties."

Bradley coached for 33 years under Paterno at Penn State after graduating there in 1979.
After coaching various positions, he eventually replaced Jerry Sandusky as defensive coordinator in 2000. When Sandusky was charged with sexually abusing children, Bradley took over for Paterno as interim head coach in Penn State's last four games in 2011.

He resigned from the school after the season, and has spent the last three years as a football analyst, most recently covering Army football games.

To continue reading this story, click here.

Sanctions, depth impact Penn State defense

September, 17, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's fiery defensive coordinator, John Butler, just crossed his arms and stared up at the big screen after UCF's third touchdown Saturday.

Maybe he just needed to make sure this was real, that he wasn't trapped in a nightmare. Maybe he couldn't believe how his players missed tackles, moved in slow motion or struggled in coverage. Whatever Butler was thinking, it didn't get any better for a defense that surrendered 34 points and 507 yards.

The game's been over now for nearly three days, but answering the questions has only just begun. Some fans have already, tongue-in-cheek, called for PSU to reinstate former defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Others are blaming thud practices, in which no player is tackled to the ground.

In a valley that's never happy after a loss, Bill O'Brien did little to ease concerns when he deflected talk Saturday by saying he'd need to watch the film. But Penn State's struggles, to a great extent, don't need to be viewed on a flat-screen to be explained.

Just look at the roster. Look at the numbers.

[+] EnlargeJohn Butler
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPenn State defensive coordinator John Butler is receiving some blame for the Lions' poor day on defense, but the problem runs a lot deeper.
This isn't the 2012 team led by two Butkus Award semifinalists at linebacker. This isn't the 2009 squad with three future NFL players at defensive tackle. And it's certainly not the 2010 group that ranked No. 16 in pass defense.

"We knew what we had to to do to stop them," Butler said. "And, to be honest with you, we couldn't stop what we needed to stop."

O'Brien is ESPN's reigning coach of the year and Butler is considered a rising defensive coordinator, but they're not King Midas. The Nittany Lions have fewer scholarship players than every team they're facing this season, and the Knights peeled back any illusion that PSU would cruise through this schedule unscathed.

Safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong acknowledged he initially feared he was too small for his new role -- but he fared well in the first two weeks. The 5-foot-10 senior was exposed Saturday. Wideout-turned-cornerback Trevor Williams earned praise after stopping an Eastern Michigan passing attack that's about as a high-powered as a water pistol. He was exposed Saturday.

Penn State really doesn't have anywhere else left to turn. It's a Whack-a-Mole of depth problems. Butler can move Adrian Amos back to cornerback, but then he might have to move Obeng-Agyapong back to safety ... and then who takes over at linebacker?

Mike Hull appears to be fighting a lingering injury, Ben Kline has seen limited time after recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and Gary Wooten is ... well ... just not ready for prime time. Butler has MacGyver-ed his way to even fielding a defense, calling upon first-year starters to pick up the slack.

Four defenders made their first career starts this season. Another two had just one career start before the 2013 season. Butler doesn't have a deep defense to choose from. He's not a bad coach; he's a handicapped coordinator -- not unlike Bradley, the same coach some might prefer, earlier in his career.

Bradley, affectionately known as "Scrap," didn't fare too well in Year 2 as coordinator, either. (And, in his first season in 2000, he lost to Toledo.) In 2001, the Johnstown native's defense gave up 443 yards a game. Only 17 teams fared worse that season, as Penn State's defense finished behind the likes of Hawaii, UTEP and New Mexico State.

It was an era when fans were bluer than the Penn State home jerseys. But Scrap just didn't have the players early in his tenure. PSU finished No. 98 in total defense in 2001. Afterward? PSU never finished worse than No. 50 and, during the next 10 seasons, finished within the top 20 a total of seven times.

That's a lot of numbers -- but it goes to show that Bradley was a good coordinator who simply didn't have a lot to work with. Give the best poker player in the world a bad hand and you can't expect them to rake in fistfuls of chips.

So it's a bit early to jump on Butler. Yes, these were the cards that Penn State was dealt -- but that doesn't mean the wrong man's playing the hand.

It's just one game, and PSU could rebound. It did after poor showings last season. But the Big Ten slate is loaded with high-powered offenses, such as Indiana (50 ppg), Michigan (42.7 ppg) and Ohio State (44.7 ppg) -- and those are just Penn State's opponents in October.

It's too early this season for Chicken Littles to proclaim the sky's falling over Beaver Stadium. But it's not too early to remind that this defense is short on depth. It will struggle at times, and Butler will be blamed for it.

But it's not Butler, it's not thud and it's not the game plan. It's primarily the depth -- and it's these sanctions.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 15, 2013
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Psst. It's Rittenberg's birthday. We're going to turn out the lights, and when he walks in everybody yell, "Surprise!"

Big Ten lunch links

June, 18, 2013
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Former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez is enjoying life in the wild, wild West.
Before spring practice, Penn State defensive backs Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris sat in their apartment, brainstorming a way to motivate the secondary.

They decided to tell their teammates the truth. At least the truth according to those outside the program.

At the end of each workout in the spring and now in the summer, Willis and Morris gather the other Lions defensive backs.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Willis
Rob Christy/US PresswireMalcolm Willis has challenged Penn State's younger defensive backs to step up this season.
"We huddle them up, we talk to them and say, 'We're supposedly the worst unit on this team,'" Willis told ESPN.com "Everybody is doubting us, everybody is doubting our ability. We know what we can do. We know the ability we have and what we're capable of."

The outside skepticism makes sense. Penn State loses all four starters from 2011: safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. Although players like Willis, Morris and sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos have been very much in the mix -- they combined for 65 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 2011 -- depth is a significant question mark, especially with the offseason departures of cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake.

The Lions will need their young defensive backs to step up in a big way. And that's who Willis and Morris direct their message to following workouts.

"Every day we say that, these younger guys, they're hyped up, they're juiced up and they want to do extra work," Willis said. "Right after that, they want to go watch some film with us, or they want to go work on their footwork, just giving that extra effort and that extra attention to detail. It really shows me these guys want to be great this year."

Penn State's defensive fortunes could hinge on the secondary this season. While there are significant changes in State College, namely the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his "multiply aggressive" scheme, several elements remain the same.

The front seven, as usual, should be very strong. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges returns, along with Michael Mauti, back from a knee injury. Pete Massaro also returns at defensive end and joins a line featuring tackle Jordan Hill, end Sean Stanley, tackle DaQuan Jones and end Deion Barnes, an extremely promising redshirt freshman. The line and linebackers also both return their position coaches -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, the only two holdovers from the previous staff -- while the secondary has a new boss (John Butler).

Add in the new scheme, which includes some Cover 3 but not nearly as much as the system under Tom Bradley, and the secondary can be seen as one giant question mark.

"A lot of people say we're the weakest group on the team," Willis said. "We were like, 'We need to motivate these guys to let them know what people think.' Reading it is one thing on the Internet, but when somebody says it to your face, it has to hit a nerve. And you really have to be offended by it."

Willis and Morris are getting the desired result so far. Willis has been impressed with the way fellow safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Tim Buckley have approached the offseason. Obeng-Agyapong is projected to start alongside Willis, while Buckley saw some time with the first-team defense this spring.

"When I see the D-backs, I see a whole bunch of hard-working people," wide receiver Justin Brown said. "They're always out there trying to get better, trying to do one-on-ones, anything to help the defense.

"I don't see any weak link."

Video: Schaap on Sandusky

June, 23, 2012
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After much suspicion and several investigations, Jerry Sandusky is finally behind bars.

Big Ten chat wrap: May 30

May, 30, 2012
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Another installment of the Big Ten chat came your way earlier today (I've got mad rhymes). Thanks to those who participated for good questions and good debate.

In case you missed out, here's a full transcript.

Some highlights:
Kevin from MI: Who would you rank as the best player, regardless of position, in the Big10 for the upcoming season? I think it comes down to Denard, Montee Ball, and Gholston
Adam Rittenberg: Montee Ball will be our No. 1 player on the preseason countdown, I can tell you that. He has proven himself to be nationally elite at his position. I can't say the same about Denard Robinson, who tossed 15 INTs last year, or William Gholston, who had some big games but wasn't as consistent as defensive ends like Illinois' Whitney Mercilus. Could Robinson and Gholston reach that elite level this year? Without a doubt. But Ball is already there.
Rick from Valdosta, Ga.: Hello Adam, it seems to me every conference commisioner has a different plan for the playoff. Scott is mentioning a plus 1, Delany is pushing for conference champs, and Slive is pushing for the 4 best teams. Is this going to happen with everyone on a different plan?
Adam Rittenberg: Here's the deal, Rick, and it's really important folks from SEC country understand this (I'll explain it during a post at 2 pm). Delany is NOT advocating for conference champs only, but rather a hybrid plan that includes conference champions and at wild card spot for a top non-league champ or an independent like Notre Dame. Larry Scott isn't advocating for a plus-one; he just said we shouldn't dismiss that concept. Obviously, the SEC wants the "best four teams." What we'll see is either the best four teams (SEC) or a hybrid model (Big Ten), and I think the hybrid model has a better chance of being approved.
Patrick from Chicago: Adam, you've often mentioned the Big Ten has 4 brand-name programs: UM, OSU, UN, & PSU. What does it take to acquire a brand-name this day and age, and which other Big Ten school is closest to achieving that distinction?
Adam Rittenberg: Patrick, that's a great question. I think winning a national championship or several major bowl games can move a program closer to that brand-name distinction. The most interesting case in the Big Ten has been Wisconsin. The Badgers have been a good to great program for the better part of the past 20 years. But are they a national brand-name program? Not quite. A national title would help, and some Rose Bowl victories after the recent stumbles. But it's hard to match the histories of programs like Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. It takes sustained success at a very high level.
Seth from College Station, Texas: Do you think Ted Roof can sustain the level of success PSU's defense has seen in recent years, especially with Vanderlinden and LJ staying on as position coaches? Or do you see a slide there without Scrap?
Adam Rittenberg: Seth, this is a really interesting topic. I had one Big Ten coach tell me Penn State's defense will be dramatically different from what Scrap ran. Roof has to be careful because Penn State's defense hasn't been a problem. The Lions do what they do well, and they've been consistent over time. Every new coach wants to establish himself and put his own spin on things, and Roof is no exception. I do like that he kept LJ and Vanderlinden, two of the nation's best position coaches. But the unit as a whole has some question marks, particularly in the secondary and at defensive end.
Colin from Sterling Heights: If Notre Dame was forced to join a conference, why WOULDN'T they join the B1G?
Adam Rittenberg: For starters, the Big Ten has made two attempts to add Notre Dame and been spurned each time. Notre Dame also wants to remain independent in football, and I don't think the Big Ten has any interest in adding ND if it's not a full member. There's also the feeling that ND would fit better into the ACC rather than a league filled with major public research institutions. Lastly, Notre Dame makes no secret about its desire to be a national program. Joining the Big Ten would regionalize Notre Dame to a degree.

Because of upcoming BCS meetings and the like, my chat will go on hiatus for a few weeks. Brian Bennett will be taking care of you on Mondays the next few weeks, and I'll be back later next month in my regular Wednesday slot.

The chat break doesn't mean I'm unreachable. You can always email me here, and follow Brian and I on Twitter.
Most Big Ten coaches label their jobs with a capital D for destination. When a head coach arrives on a Big Ten campus, he usually isn't looking for his next stop. Big Ten fans take pride in this.

The league has been largely immune from the wandering-eye coaches who leave programs at inopportune times for the next big thing. Even the Big Ten programs that could be classified as stepping stones haven't been left in the lurch very often in recent years. While it's not shocking that a Big Ten coach hasn't jumped to a different college job, it's a bit of a surprise that the NFL hasn't plucked one away.

[+] EnlargeTressel
Icon SMIJim Tressel resigned after his involvement in the Ohio State tattoo/memorabilia scandal.
The last Big Ten coach to voluntarily leave his team at a less-than ideal time was Nick Saban, who ditched Michigan State for LSU on Nov. 30, 1999. Saban had led the Spartans to a 9-2 record, a No. 10 national ranking and berth in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Although then-Michigan State athletic director Clarence Underwood praised Saban for putting the program "back on solid ground," Saban's departure put the school in a tough situation. Less than a week after Saban's departure, Michigan State promoted longtime assistant Bobby Williams to head coach, a decision that didn't turn out well.

After flirting with several bigger-name programs during his time at Northwestern, Gary Barnett finally left to take the Colorado job on Jan. 20, 1999, just weeks before national signing day. Although Northwestern immediately named Barnett's replacement, Randy Walker, the drawn-out saga wasn't much fun, given what Barnett had meant to the school.

But since Saban and Barnett, the Big Ten hasn't had any coaches voluntarily leave at bad times. There have been some midseason firings (Tim Brewster at Minnesota, Williams at Michigan State) and some late firings (Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, Glen Mason at Minnesota), but in those cases the schools, not the coaches, made decisions that put themselves in tough situations.

The most recent instances of coaches leaving Big Ten programs in tough spots involved two men who certainly didn't walk away on their own terms.

After months of scrutiny stemming from the tattoo/memorabilia scandal and his attempted cover-up, Jim Tressel resigned his post as Ohio State's coach on Memorial Day of 2011. Tressel stepped down just three months before the season and with spring practice all wrapped up. Ohio State knew it would be without Tressel for the first five games of the 2011 season, but his resignation under pressure left the program scrambling.

The school named 37-year-old assistant Luke Fickell, who had never been a head coach before, to the top job. After six consecutive seasons of Big Ten titles (won or shared), Ohio State went 6-7 under Fickell last fall, its first losing season since 1988 and its first seven-loss season since 1897. Ouch.

But the ugliest and most untimely departure was yet to come. Five days after former Penn State assistant Jerry Sandusky was arrested on child sex abuse charges, Penn State's board of trustees voted to fire longtime coach Joe Paterno. The date: Nov. 9. Penn State was 8-1 at the time, and 11 days earlier Paterno had recorded his 409th coaching victory, moving him past Eddie Robinson for the most wins in college football history. Hours before the board's decision, Paterno had announced he would retire following the season, his 46th as head coach. Instead, he was informed via telephone that his tenure was over, which triggered a backlash from Penn State students and fans.

The school promoted longtime assistant Tom Bradley to interim head coach. Bradley led the team during a hellish eight weeks that featured, among other things: a 1-3 record that knocked Penn State out of the Big Ten race; snubs by several bowl games who didn't want to deal with a p.r. nightmare; the announcement that Paterno had been diagnosed with lung cancer; a locker-room fight that left starting quarterback Matthew McGloin concussed and unable to play in the bowl; and a seemingly rudderless coaching search that took too long and put Bradley in an awkward situation.

In six months, two iconic Big Ten programs lost incredibly successful coaches under extremely messy circumstances.

A Big Ten coach bolting for an NFL job suddenly doesn't sound so bad.
The rumor mill had been churning in high gear for the past several days that Penn State junior quarterback Rob Bolden would transfer.

But the Centre Daily Times reports that Bolden is staying with the Nittany Lions, quoting his high school position coach. Penn State officials also confirmed that Bolden was back on campus.

This, of course, is not the first time transfer rumors have swirled around Bolden. He seriously considered leaving after his freshman season, when he lost the starting job to Matt McGloin. Bolden started most of last season but rarely finished games and played less than McGloin, who took over the full-time starting job when Tom Bradley became interim head coach. Bolden did start the TicketCity Bowl for an injured McGloin but had a miserable day, completing just 7 of 26 passes and throwing three interceptions. For the season, he completed only 39.3 percent of his passes, tossing just two touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Bolden competed with McGloin and Paul Jones for the No. 1 job this spring with new coach Bill O'Brien giving everyone a clean slate. But by most accounts, Bolden appeared to have finished behind the other two guys. He did himself no favors by throwing three interceptions in the Penn State spring game.

It looks like Bolden is willing to tough it out and try to fight for playing time. While admiring his perseverance, you have to wonder if that's the best move for his career. Bolden simply hasn't shown the ability to be a top-flight quarterback the past two years, and he may find himself buried on the depth chart when freshman Steven Bench arrives. Penn State also has a commitment from Class of 2013 star quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Bolden may well be better off transferring to an FCS school where he could play right away, or even considering changing positions.

But maybe, just maybe, the light will go on for Bolden and he'll turn things around. Having him around certainly helps Penn State's depth at the position. And by staying put, Bolden is betting on himself.
The Hero position is history, and the Cover 3 is more of a schematic layer than an identity.

Penn State's secondary is going through some changes, and fans will notice some of them even before the ball is snapped.

"There's a lot of movement," safety Malcolm Willis said, "where in the past we were stationary before the ball was snapped. Now we have a lot of looks to give the offense and there is more activeness from the secondary, linebackers, and even the defensive line."

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Willis
Rob Christy/US PresswireWithout proven playmakers in the secondary, the Nittany Lions need someone like Malcolm Willis to step up.
Tempo is the biggest change Willis has noticed this spring under new defensive coordinator Ted Roof. Penn State is operating faster on both sides of the ball, following Roof's mantra of being "multiply aggressive."

While Bill O'Brien's innovative offense undoubtedly will be welcomed in State College, Penn State's defense faces a more complicated challenge. Penn State has produced top 20 defenses in seven of the past eight seasons. The Lions ranked sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense in 2011 and have finished in the top 20 six times in the past eight seasons. They ran a no-frills scheme rooted in the Cover 3, productive front-seven players and strong fundamental play.

Roof understands this, telling ESPN.com in February, "Everybody in college football respects what they've done. At the same time, I don't know exactly what they've done. All I know is it's worked."

The key for Roof is to blend his ideas and not diminish a system that has been successful.

"He's implemented a lot of different things," said Willis, who recorded 33 tackles, an interception, a blocked kick and a fumble recovery in 2011. "Of course, the Cover 3 thing will be standard of past years. Not to say we don't have any Cover 3 things, but it's a lot of different looks we're having to learn and different techniques we're having to learn."

Penn State loses two multiyear starters at safety in Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, who played the Hero position. Although Willis has extensive experience, starting in place of the injured Sukay in 2010, the Lions lack proven players in the secondary.

The Lions will be leaning on players such as Willis, cornerback Stephon Morris and even cornerback Adrian Amos, who stepped in as a true freshman last fall. Willis has been practicing at free safety this spring (Penn State is now going with the standard free safety and strong safety labels).

"I'm just trying to go out every day and get better and prove to the coaches that I'm a guy they should look to to lead the group," Willis said.

It starts with welcoming the changes, not resisting them.

"It's really exciting to get to do something different," Willis said, "make plays in space and prove that Penn State is a team that can play in all different kinds of looks."
The Big Ten saw an unprecedented number of coaching changes during the offseason, as three head coaches were dismissed, Wisconsin's staff lost six assistants and many other moves were made. Barring an unexpected change, only four teams -- Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Northwestern -- will return their full staffs intact for the 2012 campaign.

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

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

ILLINOIS

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C

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

Brian Bennett: B-

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

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: A-

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

Brian Bennett: B+

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

INDIANA

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B+

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

Brian Bennett: A

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

IOWA

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

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

Brian Bennett: C+

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

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker
Previously:
Defensive backs coach at Iowa

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

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

Brian Bennett: B-

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

NEBRASKA

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

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

Brian Bennett: B-

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

OHIO STATE

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B+

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

Brian Bennett: B-

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

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: A-

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

Brian Bennett: A

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

PENN STATE

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C+

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

Brian Bennett: C

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

PURDUE

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: C

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

Brian Bennett: C-

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

WISCONSIN

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

Grades

Adam Rittenberg: B

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

Brian Bennett: B-

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

Michael Mauti mounts another comeback

February, 21, 2012
2/21/12
10:30
AM ET
Michael Mauti felt no pain when his left knee buckled last Sept. 24 during the Eastern Michigan game. At least, no physical pain.

The Penn State linebacker instinctively knew that he had torn his ACL, though he didn't want to believe it. As he sat on the trainer's table with a towel on his head, he thought about another season lost to injury, another long road to recovery looming ahead.

"It was a tough time for me," Mauti told ESPN.com. "It was frustrating, because it was more unexpected than anything."

[+] EnlargeMichael Mauti
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichael Mauti won't see much action this spring as he continues to rehab his knee, but he expects to be 100 percent this fall.
Mauti missed the 2009 season when he tore his right ACL in preseason practice, and injuries slowed him down in 2010. He came into 2011 finally feeling fully healthy and looking forward to a big season. Instead, his left knee, one that had never given him any trouble before, betrayed him.

"When the doctor got in there for the surgery, he said there was just a weakness there," Mauti said. "He told me I'd be better off by having it fixed."

That was small solace to a player whose promising career keeps getting stalled by injuries. But Mauti has never been one to believe in self pity, and his coaches made sure he didn't wallow after the latest setback.

Soon after his surgery, Mauti took on a new role. Then-defensive coordinator Tom Bradley put him in charge of signaling in calls from the sideline during practice.

"I was out there standing right next to him every day at practice doing those signals," Mauti said. "That definitely kept me plugged in. I had no choice but to get out there and do whatever I could to help my team win."

Mauti also delivered a moving speech on behalf of the current Penn State players at Joe Paterno's memorial. He hopes to have a more active role with this year's team.

Mauti says his knee feels great right now, and he's planning to start cutting and doing agility exercises in the next week or so. But his previous rehab taught him that he needs to take things slow and build the muscles in his leg before trying to do too much. So he'll be very limited still for Penn State's spring practices.

"There's no rush, really," he said. "I'm thinking when we get into May and June, there will be pretty much no restrictions on anything."

Mauti has shown what he can do when healthy. In 2010, he finished fifth on the team with 67 tackles despite some nagging injuries. He was off to a strong start last season, recording 13 tackles against Alabama and grabbing a key interception at Temple the week before his torn ACL.

With him back in the fold, the Nittany Lions could have one of the strongest linebacking corps in the Big Ten and the country in 2012. Gerald Hodges had a breakout campaign in 2011, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors, and Glenn Carson also returns at middle linebacker after his first full season of starting.

"I really think the sky's the limit for us," Mauti said.

They will have to learn a new defensive system for the first time in their careers, and new coordinator Ted Roof will have all new terminology. But Mauti is confident that he and his teammates can pick it up quickly, because he says the style is not too different and that the defensive veterans "have pretty good football IQs and know what they're doing."

Mauti will mostly be watching and observing this spring. But by the fall, he expects to be back on the field making an impact. And maybe he'll finally catch a break with his health and end his career with a bang.

"This is my last go-round here, so I'm taking every day and making the most out of it," he said. "I only get one more shot at this thing. I'm really excited about where Penn State is going, and I'm happy to be a part of the transition. I just want to help us win some games."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
4:30
PM ET
Hoping everyone has a great weekend. The blog will be dark Monday for the holiday, but I'll be back at it bright and early Tuesday morning.

Onto your emails ...

Nick from Omaha writes: Adam, love the blog. I was just thinking: Everyone's asking what will happen to the Rose Bowl if a playoff system comes along. Well in the playoff system, there probably wouldn't be any important bowls so that would mean the end of the Rose Bowl. Well what if the Rose Bowl becomes a championship game of sorts for the B1G-Pac-12 and is played before the playoffs, or maybe as a way to get an automatic seed into an 8-team playoff? That would preserve the Rose Bowl and it would add greater importance to the season and partnership between the conferences. Whats your take?

Adam Rittenberg: Nick, it's an interesting idea. Your model would extend the season well into January, because the Rose Bowl isn't going to move from its traditional Jan. 1 date. In your model, we'd be seeing games at least two weeks into January and possibly three weeks in. Can't see the university presidents going for it, but you never know. Also, if the Rose Bowl determines an automatic bid to the playoffs, would there still be opportunities for other Big Ten and Pac-12 teams to make it. I don't think those two leagues want only one representative between the two of them in an eight-team playoff. I think it's more likely we see the Rose Bowl either incorporated into the playoff structure or exist independently of the playoff but take place around the same time. I think the time window we're looking at for all of this is between Dec. 20-Jan. 10.


Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Thanks for answering my question but it just raises more questions. You write "While it's possible an undefeated Big Ten team could be left out, history shows it's highly unlikely. 'Bennett writes "Wisconsin makes three more plays last year it goes undefeated" So are you suggesting if the Badgers did not lose those two close games. They would have gone to the National Championship? It is my humble opinion In addition to making those close loses into wins, they would have needed some Quality wins outside the conference. What am I missing here?

Adam Rittenberg: That's exactly what I'm saying, Mark. Wisconsin would have been one of two FBS unbeaten teams (along with LSU) had it won at both Michigan State and at Ohio State, and captured the Big Ten championship game. Your national title game would have been Wisconsin-LSU in New Orleans. As I mentioned to you in my previous note, strength of schedule matters when you're comparing major-conference teams with the exact same record, not major-conference teams with different records. In many cases, we're comparing several 1-loss teams. In that case, Wisconsin's weaker strength of schedule would have hurt. But if Wisconsin and LSU were the only two unbeaten squads on the board, they would meet in the title game. Plus, Wisconsin would have had two more road wins (Michigan State and Ohio State), which would have helped the Badgers with the BCS computers.


Brian from Newmarket, United Kingdom, writes: Great column, helps me keep up with the Big Ten while I am overseas. My question is do you think the TCU drug scandal is actually a bigger issue than what happened at Penn State? TCU involved many football players and for all we know it could get bigger. Penn State's issue was with a retired coach, a head coach that the legal system considered innocent and some University officials (not football specific). I understand the crime at Penn State is worse but in regards to the football program which is bigger?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I see what you're getting at, and I guess in terms of the coming season, the TCU situation could have a bigger impact. The Frogs could be without several key players as they transition to a new conference (Big 12). There also will be further investigation into how rampant the drug problems were in the program. But in the greater picture, the Penn State scandal was a much bigger issue in virtually every way. The alleged crimes are much worse, as you point out. The scandal also led to a historic head-coaching change and the resignation of an athletic director. It negatively impacted a recruiting class and could have an impact in future recruiting. It has prompted the potential -- not the guarantee, but the possibility -- of sanctions from both the NCAA and the Big Ten. You're right in that the Penn State scandal might not impact the current roster in the way the TCU situation might, but in every other way the situation in State College is worse.


Travis from Omaha writes: I think you put way to much stock into divisional competition. Having followed Nebraska throught he Big12, I can't tell you how many times a cross division loss (Texas or OU) forced a tie breaker. The ONLY reason divisional compeition matters is for the tie breaker itself. Otherwise, it really doesn't mean anything. So lets say Nebraskas sweeps their division, but loses to Penn St. and another cross division team, Wisconsin. That's pretty easy to do, and sweeping your divisions doens't really mean anything because its the team with the best overall CONFERENCE record that wins the division. Michigan's could only lose one game to Nebraska, and beat everyone else on their schedule, but could be in the title game. I would say, look at Kansas's 2007 orange bowl run to see how important cross division games are. The onyl year they don't play OU or Texas, BAM! Orange bowl. Now, that doesn't mean cross division games are more imporant. It just means that a conference loss is a conference loss and division's don't mean anything until a tie breaker is needed.

Adam Rittenberg: Travis, thanks for sharing your perspective, especially as someone who has followed division play for a number of years. While you're right about a lot of this, I would point out that the Big 12 divisional alignment was structured a bit differently than the Big Ten seemingly will be. You had by far the two most dominant programs -- Texas and Oklahoma -- in the same division (South), and as a result you usually had the South division being much stronger than the North. So the North division teams that didn't play Texas and OU -- like Kansas -- had a much easier path, increasing the significance of cross-division games.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, seems to have greater balance in its division alignment than the Big 12. While you're right that all Big Ten games matter, there's still an added significance for division games. Look at Michigan and Ohio State, for example. While both fan bases want that win more than any other on the schedule, a Michigan win against Ohio State often might not be as significant as a Michigan win against Nebraska. Or if Ohio State has to lose one game in league play, it's probably better to lose to Michigan than Wisconsin, which is in the same division.

Let's also look at your favorite team, Nebraska, in 2011. The Huskers actually handled themselves well in tough cross-division matchups, going 2-1 against Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Nebraska also scored a big Legends division win against Michigan State. But it was the division losses -- Northwestern and Michigan -- that doomed Big Red in its quest for a Big Ten title.

Every conference game matters, but I do think that the Big Ten having pretty good balance in its division alignment (maybe not in 2012, but in most years) adds significance to the division games.


Michael from New York writes: For next year at least, isn't Ted Roof under a lot more pressure that O'Brien? He replaces a very successful coordinator who most fans feel got a raw deal. He is also inherriting plenty of talent.

Adam Rittenberg: I think both men are under some pressure, Michael, but you make an excellent point about Roof. His hiring was greeted with a lot of skepticism by Penn State fans, mainly because of how things ended at Auburn. Penn State has historically been very strong on defense, and Tom Bradley was one of the better coordinators in the country. Any sort of step back under Roof would cause some grumbling, especially if it's related to the scheme. Roof did retain two excellent defensive assistants in line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden, and I like the John Butler hire from South Carolina. But Penn State likely will need to be a defense-driven team, and there's a lot of talent coming back, particularly at linebacker. It's important for Roof to keep the unit performing at a high level.


Chris from Bloomington, Ind., writes: What do you think the chances are of the B1G making similar arrangements with other conferences as they have with the Pac 12 in regards to scheduling? With the B1G tv contract negotiations coming up soon and the possible move to a strength of schedule based playoff, it may neutralize many of the drawbacks such as reduced ticket revenue and the need to go undefeated for the NCG.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you make some good points, but I don't know how much more the Big Ten can dictate how its teams schedule non-league games. You're dealing with a majority of schools that need at least three non-league home games a year. The Pac-12 agreement calls for home-and-home series, so six Big Ten schools will be playing at least one non-league road game each season. You also have school-specific nonconference agreements like the ones Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue have with Notre Dame, and Iowa has with Iowa State. Another scheduling initiative might be a tough sell to the ADs. So while we'd all love to see every Big Ten school play at least two stronger non-league games a season, I don't see it happening.


Rich from Baltimore writes: What is the most important out of conference game for the B1G in 2012? UM/Alabama and MSU/Boise stand out, but are there others that can build the case for a deeper B1G?

Adam Rittenberg: The Alabama and Boise State games will shape the Big Ten's national perception more than any others, Rich. And if I had to pick one, it's Alabama. You beat the defending national champion, a team that has won two of the past three national titles, and you gain instant respect around the country. There are some other nonconference games that will matter, too. Notre Dame likely will be ranked in the top 20 entering the season, so beating the Irish at least twice would help the Big Ten. You also have some interesting Big Ten-Pac-12 matchups, such as Ohio State hosting California, Wisconsin visiting Oregon State, Nebraska visiting UCLA and Illinois visiting Arizona State. One game that might fly under the radar is Northwestern hosting Vanderbilt, but Vandy is a program on the rise. This would be a nice win against an SEC opponent.


Greg from Brockton, Mass., writes: Just to clarify, O'Brien could rejoin former Maryland assistant James Franklin at Vanderbilt, but he couldn't receive a scholarship from the school. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that O'Brien has yet to contact Wisconsin. I thought he was a graduate student and as such could transfer depending on grad programs. How can Maryland restrict those?

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I can't help but think of "Coneheads" when I see Brockton, Mass. Good times. ... In this case, we're talking about two issues: academics and athletics. From an academic perspective, Maryland can't restrict quarterback Danny O'Brien at all. He can enroll anywhere he wants and pay tuition like any other student. But if he wants to receive an athletic scholarship from Vanderbilt, he needs his release from the previous institution. That's what Randy Edsall is preventing. Maryland reportedly will grant O'Brien's release to a school like Wisconsin, where he could receive an athletic scholarship. So there's an academic component and an athletic scholarship component to this.


Aaron from New Braunfels, Texas, writes: Hi Adam, I love the work you guys are doing here: I am a big Hawkeye fan, and am a little nervous over Phil Parker being named the new D coordinator. Here is why I am worried. Norm Parker was not only a outstanding coach, but a master motivator. I noticed that when he had to leave the sidelines the D appeared to lose alot of its fire- escpecially in the 4th quarter when it counted the most. All the while Phil was on the sidelines filling in. Exactly what was Phil's role in Norm's abscence, and how concerned (if any) should I be? I want to give the guy a fair shake, but it is hard to ignore the forementioned observation.

Adam Rittenberg: Aaron, that's an interesting take about the defense losing its edge when Norm's health problems forced him off of the sideline. Not sure the two are connected, but it's worth noting. Phil Parker worked in collaboration with the other defensive assistants during Norm's absence in 2010. They all took on additional duties at that time. Phil also was known as the "yeller" on Iowa's staff during the early part of his tenure with the Hawkeyes, and he doesn't seem to lack fire or the ability to motivate players. Iowa fans should pay more attention to Parker's play calls and personnel groupings than his passion for the game, which doesn't appear to be a problem. Will Phil Parker truly put his imprint on the defense or just continue what Norm did? That's what I'm interested to find out this fall.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 16, 2012
2/16/12
12:00
PM ET
I can't express to you how badly this kid needs football.

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