Big Ten: Tom Osborne

Big Ten morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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Nebraska-Miami occupies a special place in my heart and mind. Their games of the 1980s and ‘90s symbolized an era of college football. It was power versus speed, stability matched against flash.

The programs' styles stood in perfect contrast. Yet in four Orange Bowl meetings over 11 years, they made for the game's best of unlikely rivalries. Though Nebraska slipped from the top in the midst of that decade, by the end, it had supplanted Miami like the Hurricanes did to Tom Osborne's team after the 1983 season.

The Hurricanes visit Lincoln on Saturday night. The thought of those two helmets together again stirs emotions. It feels big -- bigger, apparently, than it is.

ESPN's matchup-quality metric ranks games on a zero-to-100 scale, based on the team's spots in the Football Power Index and the expected competitiveness. It was jarring this week not to find Nebraska-Miami among the top five matchups in Week 4.

It's Nebraska-Miami, after all. When these two have met historically, it's not just the biggest game of the week; it's the biggest of the year.

But today in college football, Florida-Alabama (91.6 matchup quality), Clemson-Florida State (90.5), Mississippi State-LSU (90.1), Oklahoma-West Virginia (87.2) and Auburn-Kansas State (87.0) earn higher billing than the Huskers and Hurricanes.

I heard an intriguing question this week: What program is better positioned, Nebraska or Miami, to make a run at the top again? I can't say definitively. Nebraska's infrastructure and internal resources favor it; Miami's natural resources are a big advantage.

But until Nebraska-Miami cracks the top five most important games on a September weekend, neither team is in position to join the national conversation.
  • Another interesting question: What Big Ten team on Saturday matched against a Power 5 opponent is most in need of a win this week? Other than Nebraska-Miami, Iowa visits Pittsburgh, Maryland visits Syracuse, Utah plays at Michigan and Indiana visits Missouri. While I'm tempted to pick Iowa, but my answer is Michigan. A loss by the Wolverines against the high-flying Utes, who won at the Big House in 2008, would serve to draw another parallel between this staff and the previous regime. And that's not good for Brady Hoke. Neither are all these turnovers.
  • Columnist Rick Brown of the Des Moines Registers urges Iowa fans upset with Kirk Ferentz to be careful what they wish for. I understand the sentiment and agree that Iowa does more with less better than several Big Ten counterparts. But have you watched the Big Ten lately? Why use Illinois and Minnesota as the measuring stick? It's OK to set the bar high. Fans ought to be upset with the Hawkeyes' offensive play. Don't apologize for reasonable expectations.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten lunch links

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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The Big Ten season unofficially begins Monday with media days. So enjoy the weekend, and then let's get after it.
Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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Read up and enjoy the weekend.
  • It's May, and you know what that means. Time to forecast the football season. Matt Charboneau of the Detroit News breaks it down, game by game, for Michigan State. And the same for Michigan, courtesy of Angelique S. Chengelis.
  • The Spartans made an impact on heralded prospect Jashon Cornell at the spring game last week.
  • The Wolverines, meanwhile, have work to accomplish this summer on the offensive line.
  • James Franklin heads out to meet the fans at Penn State as the Vanderbilt rape case continues to hang over the coach, who reiterated on Thursday that he has cooperated fully in the investigation.
  • A breakdown of the perks offered to Penn State student-athletes as NCAA reform looms.
  • Rutgers’ first run through the Big Ten lines up as the toughest in the league, based on 2013 records.
  • Sporting News writer Matt Hayes ranks every football coach in the FBS, placing Urban Meyer and Mark Dantonio among the top 10. But Bret Bielema over Gary Andersen?
  • Tom Osborne rushed to defend Turner Gill, who took responsibility for Nebraska's 1984 Orange Bowl loss during an interview for an upcoming ESPN production.
  • Ohio State is set for its best showing in the NFL draft in several years.
  • And finally, more from Nick Saban’s recent visit to Ohio, where the Alabama coach made headlines for praising the Big Ten.


Big Ten's lunch links

April, 30, 2014
Apr 30
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Everything's coming up Milhouse!

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
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It's Wednesday. There's nothing good on TV (except for this). It's mailbag business time.

Ed from State of Rutgers writes: How would you rank B1G head coaches on the hot seat in 2014? Which assistants are in the best position for a head coaching job after this season?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the question, Ed, and welcome to Big Ten country. We didn't see a single head coach get fired in the Big Ten last season, which was good news. But the way these things go, odds are the league won't make it two years in a row without any pink slips.

Let's answer your question by looking at this in tiers. Tier 1 includes the coaches who absolutely won't get fired this season unless there's some sort of unforeseen major scandal: Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Penn State's James Franklin, Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz.

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
AP Photo/John RaouxKyle Flood could face a difficult first season in the Big Ten, but it might not be enough to cost him his job.
Tier 2 would be the guys who are most likely safe but who could feel some rising temperatures if the season goes awry. That would include: Indiana's Kevin Wilson, who seems to have the Hoosiers on an uptick but who needs to get the team to a bowl soon; Purdue's Darrell Hazell, who almost certainly won't get canned after just two years but can't afford another season as awful as last season's 1-11 debacle; and Michigan's Brady Hoke, who isn't on the hot seat now but who would definitely feel the wrath of fans and boosters if the Wolverines have another 7-5 type year and lose to Ohio State.

Tier 3 covers the coaches actually feeling some heat under their chairs. Let's evaluate them individually:

  • Tim Beckman, Illinois: This should come as no surprise. The Illini showed improvement last season, but Beckman is still just 6-18 and has seen fan support fall off a cliff. Anything less than a bowl game in 2014 could make things really dicey.
  • Bo Pelini, Nebraska: This is a well-documented situation, and many people were surprised Pelini wasn't fired at the end of last season, though athletics director Shawn Eichorst remains hard to read. The good news is that Pelini could have a very good team in Lincoln this year, and he sure doesn't appear to be sweating things this spring.
  • Kyle Flood, Rutgers: He went 9-4 his first season as head coach but just 6-7 with a dismal finish last season. He also has a new boss in town, and the Scarlet Knights will face a very difficult schedule in Year 1 in the Big Ten. He's only making $900,000, so a change wouldn't be too financially painful. The question is whether embattled new athletic director Julie Hermann has enough juice right now to make that call.
  • Randy Edsall, Maryland: This is the toughest call of the tier, as Edsall might have bought himself some time with last season's winning record and has had to deal with injuries to many star players. Yet he's still just 13-24 after three seasons, and life in the Big Ten might not be easy for the Terps. A losing record in 2014 would make things very uncomfortable in College Park.

George K. from Pittsburgh: Brian, I'm disappointed in what you wrote about Joe Paterno winning [the Big Ten coaches' tournament]. There was way too much conjecture in what you said. Please think about it. Then issue a factual restatement, please.

Scott R. from Chadron, Neb., writes: Pretty sure there was voter fraud on that Osborne/Paterno matchup. Am I the only one who noticed there were as many international votes as domestic? And that those international votes were 87% for Paterno? Every other poll on ESPN.com is about 75% domestic, 25% foreign. This one was 50/50, and the international vote was OVERWHELMINGLY for Paterno. Seems a little suspicious.

Brian Bennett: File this one under "You Can't Please Everybody, Vol. 734." For the past two weeks, my mailbag was full of comments like Scott's, claiming some sort of voter fraud as Paterno got a huge international vote against both Tom Osborne and Woody Hayes. I have neither the technical expertise nor the time to figure out whether there was some sort of computer tomfoolery going on. But you'd have to be really naive not to raise an eyebrow at the fact that more than half the votes (17,000-plus) in the title matchup came from outside the United States and that those votes were wildly in favor of Paterno. Maybe there's a simple explanation why so many non-U.S. residents care about Big Ten football -- Italians for JoePa, perhaps?

The bottom line is that we placed no rules on this tournament, other than the most votes wins. If someone was ingenious enough to rig it, more power to them. Paterno certainly had the résumé and accomplishments that were deserving on their own. I had no personal stake in the outcome, and I found it to be a fun exercise to go along with March Madness. I hope everyone enjoyed it.


Andrew from Columbus, Ohio, writes: While it is still possible that Ohio State-Michigan State could be a night game, what prevented it from being in the first batch of announced games? Since it would feature the two most compelling teams in the league from last year, it seems to me that it would be the marquee matchup the B1G has been looking to highlight.

Brian Bennett: Andrew, I can't say I understand all the intricacies here at play, either, except that there are apparently some other details to iron out. That game still seems like a natural choice for a prime-time selection. It's still only mid-April. Stay tuned ...


Mike K. from Penn State writes: With Penn State losing Allen Robinson and Brandon Felder at the WR position, along with some great O-linemen to the draft, do you think the team can still succeed in the Big Ten solely based on defense?

Brian Bennett: I have great respect for what Bob Shoop and his staff accomplished at Vanderbilt and expect him to do a great job as the Nittany Lions' defensive coordinator. From what I saw last year, however, I don't think there's enough top-shelf talent on that defense for Penn State to pull a Michigan State and simply dominate everyone on defense. At least not at a championship level. I don't worry as much about the receiving group, because I think with Geno Lewis, some of the talented freshmen and those tight ends, they can piece together people for Christian Hackenberg to target. My biggest concern is the offensive line, which is thin and has some troubling injuries. It's nearly impossible to win at a high level in the Big Ten without a decent offensive line.


Tommy from Savannah, Ga., writes: March Madness is one of the greatest times of the year, most people live for it. Why wouldn't the NCAA FBS decision makers want something like that with those ratings over the course of a few weeks? Definitely not 68 teams, but eight or 16 teams with a selection show, bracket challenge, Cinderellas, and endless coverage and hype. They already do it for FCS.

Brian Bennett: You'll find no bigger NCAA tournament fan than me, Tommy, and my wife is really happy it's over so she can see me again. Still, it's hard to compare the sports. Football simply is a much more physical game, and so adding more games to the schedule becomes problematic, along with the logistical problems caused by Christmas break and the semester changes. I do believe we will eventually have an eight-team tournament, with the five power conference champions getting an automatic berth along with the top champion of the other leagues plus two wild cards. That's a perfect setup. But it took us decades just to get to a four-team playoff, and that semifinal day on Jan. 1 (most years) will instantly become one of the best days on the sports calendar.

Besides, I could argue college football already has March Madness all fall long, and the ratings reflect that. Before the Final Four began, the NCAA tournament averaged a reported 9.8 million viewers, which was a big increase. By contrast, the Big Ten championship game drew 11.6 million viewers, while the Auburn-Alabama game attracted 13.8 million. The men's basketball final (aired on network TV) between UConn and Kentucky got 21.2 million viewers, compared to 25.6 million for the BCS title game (aired on ESPN) between Florida State and Auburn. We could see record ratings for the inaugural rounds of the College Football Playoff.
Our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament has reached its conclusion, and a champion has been crowned.

The No. 4 seed in our 12-coach field, Penn State's Joe Paterno, emerged victorious in the title match against No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne. With more than 31,000 votes cast, Paterno won with 63 percent of the vote.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesPenn State's Joe Paterno was the runaway winner in the Big Ten coaches tournament.
I was surprised that Paterno won this tournament, considering the way his tenure ended and considering the normal power of the Huskers fan base in these voting situations. Some of you noted some potential irregularities in our voting, as Paterno received vast support from international voters the past couple rounds (more than half the votes in the title game came from outside the U.S., according to SportsNation, and Paterno won 87 percent of those votes). Are there that many people around the world who are JoePa fans, or is there some funny business going on? We have no real way of checking that, and I'm not sure why anyone would go to the trouble of cheating to win a contest like this.

Regardless, Paterno is our champion. Congratulations to Penn State fans. Here are some of your comments on the title game matchup:

  • Tony M. from Harrisburg, Pa.: I think Joe Paterno is the top coach of all time. His 409 wins will not be passed or topped in Division I, nor can the NCAA take away something that already happened. He won every major bowl, two national championships and should have won a third when his team won the Rose Bowl, beating Oregon, and going undefeated the same year Nebraska won the national championship. Penn State finished No. 2 that year despite being the top scoring team in college football with 47 points a game. Joe Paterno also gave back to Penn State millions in donations and helped build a library. ... No single coach has ever had as long a tenure at a major university and contributed more to its success. He was Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year in 1986 and is in the College Football Hall of Fame after 61 years at the same school.
  • Jim from Navarre, Fla.: As a native Nebraskan and lifelong Husker, I had to vote for Tom. He was and is the epitome of what college athletics should be about. However, in all fairness, if I was not a Husker I would have voted for JoePa, because despite the scandal at PSU and even though I'm still famous for throwing the rocker recliner across the living room in 1982, he was the greatest B1G coach in history.
  • Foster from Providence, R.I.: (Joe wins out because that's what he did in the majority of big games. His bowl record is second to none and I think that's what it comes down to. Penn State's victories over Hershel Walker-led Georgia and Vinny Testaverde-led Miami are great examples of Joe's ability to coach big games and win. If only the BCS had been around in 1994, Penn State would have had a shot at Nebraska and the answer would be more obvious... assuming Penn State would have won, which everyone in Happy Valley certainly believed would have been the case.
  • Phil T. from Hackettstown, N.J.: Not acknowledging Paterno as the all-time winningest coach is like not acknowledging Pete Rose as Hall of Fame worthy -- you can't erase history.
  • Rob from Ontario: Whenever it's Tom Osborne vs Joe Paterno, I will always think of the 1994 championship game that was never played. To me this is similar to the recent Super Bowl - offensive juggernaut (Denver/Penn State) vs. defense (Seattle/Nebraska). Well, we know what happened in the Super Bowl. I think Nebraska wins that game and I voted for Tom Osborne.
  • [+] EnlargeTom Osborne
    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesTom Osborne finished in second in the reader voting as the greatest coach at a Big Ten school.
    Vance B from Lincoln: Dr. Tom was two plays away from five national titles, and he was the offensive coordinator for back-to-back national titles for Nebraska in 1970 and 1971. ... That's not only a lot of wins, but a lot of national championships. ... So, granted JoPa was the "face" at PSU for a very long time, which is why he's in the lead and he will probably win, but when it comes down to winning it all and/or playing for it all, which is what this game is all about, there's no other coach in the history of Big 8, Big Ten, Big 12 football like Dr. Tom, and there's a reason why he's called the Doctor. Since 1970, only Alabama can beat Nebraska for the crown of "title town."
  • Musky from Hamilton, Ontario: It's hard not to vote for TO. Team was very clean in the 20 years he ran the show. Win-lost record is outstanding. Then there is this big cloud hanging over Joe. I could not vote for him because of it.
  • William from N. Little Rock, Ark.: Growing up in Husker Nation, I looked forward to every fall Saturday. Tom Osborne made it even more special. No matter what team he put out there, you knew you were going to have a good team to a great team. When I moved out of Nebraska, I still had my Saturdays to look forward to. Winning three national titles in four years was the greatest feeling, and only Tom could take us there. I was greatly inspired when he ran out with the team and Bo Pelini for the last time. Heck, wouldn't be shocked if he could still coach and win.
  • Joel from Panama City Beach, Fla.: What's funny is that the two finalists for the Big Ten coaching title are from the last two teams to join the Big Ten... two outsiders defeated the best coaches with the best Big Ten legitimacy... Osborne never coached in the Big Ten and I love you, Joe, but in his years in the Big Ten were not even his best years. Woody Hayes should have won it. Where are all the true Big Ten fans?
It's finally time to settle our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament and declare a champion.

We began with 12 legends, and now we're down to the final two contenders. There's not much more left to say than to state the matchup:

SportsNation

Who wins this tournament championship game?

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    63%
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    37%

Discuss (Total votes: 32,116)

No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne vs. No. 4 seed Penn State's Joe Paterno

Tournament résumés:
  • Paterno: For nearly half a century, JoePa was Penn State football. He won a record 409 games, plus two national championships (1982, 1986) and had four other undefeated seasons. He won all four major bowl games -- the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and was the AFCA national Coach of the Year five times. Yes, his career ended in scandal and a huge chunk of his wins were vacated by the NCAA. You have to decide for yourself how much that affects his legacy.
  • Osborne: It's hard for any coach to gain near universal respect and admiration, but Osborne achieved it with his illustrious tenure at Nebraska. He went 255-49-3 in leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997), and his teams never won fewer than nine games in a season. Sure, he didn't coach in the Big Ten, but Nebraska is a member school and he was instrumental in getting the school into the league.

Who gets the one shining moment as the winner of our tournament? Your votes decide, and the polling will be open through the weekend. Make sure to drop us a note saying why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results post.
It's championship Monday in the NCAA basketball tournament. And we're ready to announce the first participant in our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament championship game.

Our opening semifinal game pitted No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne vs. No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler. More than 13,000 votes were cast, and Osborne won in a rout, beating Bo by a count of 68 percent to 32 percent. Never underestimate the voting power of the Huskers faithful, but Osborne's record and résumé make him a very worthy finalist.

He'll advance to face the winner of the other semifinal game between Joe Paterno and Woody Hayes, which we'll reveal shortly. First, some of your comments about this matchup:
Lincoln S. from Sioux Falls, S.D.: I voted for Coach Osborne because what he did with the program has almost no parallel in the last hundred years. From what I can tell, besides Alabama, Cal from 1920-1925 and Minnesota from 1934-36, no one else has won three national titles in four years.

Nathan H. from Weeping Water, Neb.: All these coaches deserve admiration for what they've achieved, but at the end of the day, the championships are what really matter. Schembechler was an amazing coach, but the lack of national titles is why I have to give Osborne the vote.

Bill S. from Nebraska City, Neb.: Tom's record speaks for itself, and it was a lot of fun experiencing the incredible run in the 90s. What he has done off the field is what really defines him.

Walter from Omaha: It's Osborne, no question. Its hard to find a coach whose name is more synonymous with football, Big Ten or otherwise. He's one of the winningest coaches in history and has three national titles to boot, which as you noted, gives him a 3-0 sweep. Game. Set. Match!

Bob S. from Columbus, Ohio: I love (to hate) Michigan because of Bo, his Ten Year War and the universal respect afforded him and his program ... as evidenced by our tribute to him during The Game in Ohio Stadium the day after his death. Sadly, this icon of the Big Ten will lose this poll, as expected, solely because the minions that are the Red Sea have nothing better to do on prairie.

Crawdaddy from Ann Arbor: I love Bo. I grew up in Ann Arbor during the Ten Year War. I bleed Maize & Blue. But facts are facts. Osborne won three national titles. Bo zero. That is what separates the two. I voted for Osborne. Go Blue!
The real Final Four begins on Saturday, but our own version of it tips off right now.

The field in our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament has been whittled from 12 to four as our top overall four seeds advanced. As always, your vote will determine who wins.

Time now to take a look at our first semifinal ...

No. 3 Tom Osborne vs. No. 2 Bo Schembechler

Tournament résumés:
  • SportsNation

    Which coach wins this semifinal matchup?

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      68%
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      32%

    Discuss (Total votes: 14,069)

    Osborne: It's hard for any coach to gain near universal respect and admiration, but Osborne achieved it with his illustrious tenure at Nebraska. He went 255-49-3 in leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997), and his teams never won fewer than nine games in a season. Sure, he didn't coach in the Big Ten, but Nebraska is a member school and he was instrumental in getting the school into the league.
  • Schembechler: "Those who stay will be champions" was a motto Schembechler used early in his tenure, and he proved that to be true -- at least as far as Big Ten titles. His 13 league championships are tied for the most ever, and his 143 Big Ten victories are the second-most all time. Schembechler has the highest conference winning percentage (.850) of any coach who competed in the Big Ten for at least 10 years. The one thing missing? No national championship.

Which coach moves on to the title game? Voting will be open through the weekend, and make sure to drop us a note saying why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
The first half of the Final Four game in our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is set.

No. 4 seed Joe Paterno advanced earlier, and now we find out the second member of our final quartet. The sixth game in our bracket featured No. 3 seed Tom Osborne from Nebraska vs. the No. 6 seed, Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Osborne ran away with this one, winning 72 percent of the vote to 28 percent for Stagg. We'll find out the semifinal opponents for Osborne and Paterno tomorrow.

Here are some of your thoughts on the Osborne-Stagg game:
Casey from Hudson, N.H.: As a former Nebraskan, Tom Osborne was and still is the face of Cornhusker football. His record speaks for itself and what he did outside of football is even more remarkable.

Alex from York, Neb.: Osborne gets the nod here, Stagg meant a lot to football but most all of us can remember how totally dominant Nebraska was in Osborne's last 5 years as a coach, going 60-3 with 3 national titles. For perspective, Alabama's record the past 5 years was “only” 60-7, also with 3 national titles. Winning 9 or more games every year in an era where you played 11, MAYBE 12 games per year is too impressive to ignore here.

Josh from Des Moines, Iowa: No doubt about it Osborne is the greatest coach ever. IF he hadn't retired so early and was still coaching, Nebraska would have three additional national championships at least! Osborne was ahead of his time with his schemes and player development.

Paul from La Crosse, Wis.: I grew up during the '90s. There was no better time to be a Husker fan. Maybe the (Bob) Devaney years could stack up, but I wasn't a twinkle in my parent's eyes yet. Even at a young age it was apparent that Tom Osborne was someone to be respected and you could see how much the players respected him. I will never forget Tom being carried off the field by his players after winning the 1994 Orange Bowl. I say good luck to anyone who tries to get in the way of Tom and winning this tournament. Us Husker fans love our Tom Osborne.

Brian from Omaha: T.O. managed a successful program for 25 years, nine wins every season. I can't replicate that success on video games nor could any of the other coaches in this field.
Who is the greatest Big Ten coach of all time? We're getting closer to finding out.

We're down to the elite eight in our Big Ten coaches tournament, and the second round is in full force. Our top four overall seeds received byes and are now squaring off against the first-round winners.

Our next second-round matchup features two legendary names from different eras ...

No. 3 Nebraska's Tom Osborne vs. No. 6 Chicago's Amos Alonzo Stagg

Tournament résumés:
  • SportsNation

    Which coach wins this second-round matchup?

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      26%
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      74%

    Discuss (Total votes: 8,868)

    Stagg: There's a tendency to forget about Stagg, both because his school -- the University of Chicago -- no longer competes in the Big Ten or in big-time sports, and because his career took place in the early 1900s. But did he ever accomplish a lot, including 199 wins overall, 116 Big Ten victories and two national championships (1905, 1913). He also helped innovate many of the plays and formations in modern football and also contributed so much to basketball that he's in that sport's hall of fame, too. The Big Ten names its football title game trophy after Stagg.
  • Osborne: It's hard for any coach to gain near universal respect and admiration, but Osborne achieved it with his illustrious tenure at Nebraska. He went 255-49-3 while leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997), and his teams never won fewer than nine games in a season. Sure, he didn't coach in the Big Ten, but Nebraska is a member school and he was instrumental in getting the school into the league.

Which coach advances? Voting is open through the weekend, and drop us a note as to why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
We're a 24/7/365 football blog around here, but it's impossible to not get caught up in the excitement of the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

But while football will have its own, smaller version of March Madness with the College Football Playoff this season, we don't want to wait that long. Why let the basketball guys have all the fun when we can hold our own tournament?

In past years, we did this with the top players and championship teams of the past 15 years. This time around, we're going to pit the best coaches in Big Ten history against one another in a winner-take-all bracket.

The Big Ten has an incredible roster of accomplished coaches in its lore. (And, yes, we're including all current Big Ten member schools, regardless of how long they've been in the league. We're inclusive here. Deal with it.). Narrowing the field to our customary eight was difficult, if not downright unthinkable. So we've expanded the bracket to 12 this time, with the top four seeds getting byes and the others trying to play their way in. Be on standby, Dayton.

We're looking for coaches who have won Big Ten titles and national championships, those who stuck around long enough to pile up Hall of Fame résumés and build unmistakable legacies. No current coaches are involved, as we'll let them finish their careers before we start stacking them up against the all-timers.

The tournament will kick off Thursday with the first couple of matchups. But first, here is a look at the entire field, in alphabetical order:
  • Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin: Alvarez revived the Badgers program during his 16 years at the helm in Madison, compiling 118 wins. He also earned three Rose Bowl victories and is the only league coach to ever win back-to-back Rose Bowls. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
  • Bernie Bierman, Minnesota: The Gophers claimed five national titles under Bierman (1934, 1935, 1936, 1940 and 1941) and won seven Big Ten championships from 1932-41. He went 93-35-6 at Minnesota and also won a national title as a player with the Gophers.
  • Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State: Daugherty coached the Spartans from 1954 to 1972 and led them to back-to-back national titles in 1965 and 1966. The rest of his tenure didn't go as well, but Daugherty is tied for the sixth-most Big Ten wins ever.
  • Hayden Fry, Iowa: The Hawkeyes hadn't had a winning season in 17 years before Fry arrived before the 1979 season. He proceeded to go 143-89-6 in Iowa City, claiming three Big Ten titles. His 98 Big Ten wins are fourth-most ever.
  • Woody Hayes, Ohio State: Few coaches are as synonymous with a school as Hayes is with Ohio State. He won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. Hayes also won 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970).
  • Tom Osborne, Nebraska: There aren't many coaches more beloved and universally respected than Osborne, who went 255-49-3 while leading the Huskers to three national titles in a four-year span (1994, 1995 and 1997). How about this: His teams never won fewer than nine games in a season, and this was before 12-, 13- and even 14-game seasons became the norm.
  • Joe Paterno, Penn State: JoePa won a record 409 games, plus two national championships (1982, 1986) and four other undefeated seasons. He won all four major bowl games -- the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and was the AFCA national coach of the year five times. His career ended in scandal and a huge chunk of his wins were vacated by the NCAA.
  • Bo Schembechler, Michigan: Bo and Woody. Woody and Bo. Two coaches really defined the Big Ten for decades, and Schembechler was one of them. He is tied with Hayes for the most Big Ten titles ever (13) and his 143 Big Ten victories are the second-most all time. Schembechler has the highest conference winning percentage (.850) of any coach who competed in the Big Ten for at least 10 years. But he never won a national title.
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg, Chicago: Listen up, youngsters. The University of Chicago was a charter member of the Big Ten, and Stagg was its sports titan. He won 199 games, including 116 Big Ten victories, as well as two national championships (1905, 1913). Stagg is credited with innovating many plays and formations used in modern football, and he was also named to the Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to that sport.
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State: Tressel coached exactly 10 years in the Big Ten before he was forced to resign, but what a decade it was. He has the second-highest winning percentage both overall and in league play for coaches who spent at least 10 years inside the conference, and he won or shared seven league titles (though the 2010 co-championship was later vacated). Tressel is the last Big Ten coach to win a national title, in 2002.
  • Fielding Yost, Michigan: The Wolverines won six national titles under Yost (1901, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1918 and 1923) and his 10 Big Ten titles trails only Hayes and Schembechler. His career winning percentage of .888 while a Big Ten head coach is the best all time among those who coached at least a decade in the league.
  • Bob Zuppke, Illinois: He was the Illini head coach from 1913 to 1941 and won four national titles (1914, 1919, 1923, and 1927). Zuppke is credited for inventing the huddle, which is kind of a big deal, and he also coached the legendary Red Grange. He is tied with Daugherty for the sixth-most Big Ten wins of all time, and he captured seven Big Ten titles.

As you can see, this is an impressive field. We couldn't even include all the amazing coaches from history, including Michigan's Fritz Crisler, Nebraska's Bob Devaney or Minnesota's Henry Williams, to name just a few. (Sorry, Huskers fans, but while Osborne has a tenuous connection to the Big Ten as the athletic director who ushered the school into the league, Devaney's great career had no Big Ten ties. Don't worry. You can simply throw all your considerable voting power behind Osborne if you desire.)

Stay tuned for the opening matchups. "The ball is tipped ..."

Big Ten's lunch links

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
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Where did all the football go?
  • Urban Meyer senses an improved mood for Ohio State as it turns the page to the Discover Orange Bowl, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had high praise for his upcoming opponent.
  • With another season in the books, the conversation at Penn State will shift to Bill O'Brien's future with the program, as likely suitors again line up for his services.
  • Taylor Lewan has no regrets about returning to Michigan for another season, and he doesn't believe his draft stock has changed since last year.
  • Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi spurned an offer to take over at UConn, and now his full attention is on getting the Spartans ready for a bowl game.
  • Early in the season, Nebraska was desperately searching for a field general on defense. It appears to have found one in middle linebacker Michael Rose.
  • After getting benched late in a loss to Penn State to end the regular season, Wisconsin tackle Tyler Marz is looking for redemption.
  • Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Rutgers' transition into the league is going smoothly at every level.
  • Controversy won't be going away when college football shifts to a playoff, with Tom Osborne joking that the selection committee will succeed if it doesn't "get lynched."
  • Cody Webster is rubbing elbows with the nation's best football players, and the Purdue punter is thinking about asking to snap a picture with Johnny Manziel.
  • Silver Football candidate Braxton Miller had everything change for him when he was almost sent to the bench in October. Now he's on the brink of a historic accomplishment.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
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November can't get here soon enough, so we don't have to keep getting questions about why one team is ranked and another isn't or who's ranked above whom. Pretty soon, they'll all play each other and it won't matter. But until then, let's go …

Tom from El Paso, Texas, writes: I understand the view that Wisconsin is underrated, and that Michigan shouldn't be ranked (they are on the verge of a huge win or a huge loss each weekend), but what gives about ranking Michigan State at No. 22 in your rankings? Let's be honest, if Michigan shouldn't be ranked, neither should Sparty ... looking beyond MSU's style points (or lack of), State has six wins against the bottom half of the Big Ten and three against lousy nonconference opponents. They also have a loss is to a "meh" Notre Dame team. At this point in the season Michigan may even have a better "résumé" due to a win over the "meh" Irish, and a 5-2 Golpher team. I agree with the pollsters here, what has MSU done to be considered a top 25 team?

Hunter from East Lansing writes Brian, can you please try to explain to me how Michigan once again has made its way back into the top 25, and even landed at 22 in the first BCS poll? Their only quality win is against Notre Dame, and really how good are the Irish this year? With narrow wins against Akron and Uconn, who may be two of the worst teams in the FBS this year (2-12 combined record), a loss to an ailing Penn State team, and a defensive meltdown against Indiana, one would assume that Michigan isn't a team who have proven themselves worthy of a number next to their name. Please enlighten me on why the voters continue to think Michigan is one of the top 25 teams in the land! GO GREEN!


Brian Bennett: You see what I mean?

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesIs Nebraska better than Michigan or Michigan State? We can argue all we want know, but it will be settled on the field soon enough.
Look, if anyone claims they truly know where Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska ought to be ranked not only in the Top 25 but in relation to each other right now, they're lying. All three teams have major flaws, and all have gaping holes in their résumés. Michigan looked terrible in barely beating Akron and UConn, and it lost to Penn State. Michigan State lost to Notre Dame and has offensive issues. Nebraska got blown out at home by UCLA and has defensive issues.

So who's the best out of these three teams? It's really impossible to say. I have Michigan State ranked highest on my ballot right now because I know the Spartans have an elite defense. I know what I'm getting out of that team every week, and if the offense can play even decently -- which looked like a real possibility before last week's backslide versus Purdue -- then I'm favoring Michigan State against Michigan and Nebraska in a head-to-head matchup. I have Nebraska second of the three on my ballot because I love the offensive potential of the Huskers and am cautiously optimistic that the defense has improved. But Nebraska doesn't have any wins that are as good as Michigan State's road victory at Iowa. As for Michigan, I'm still puzzled as to what exactly that team is, though the Wolverines can be explosive offensively when things are going right.

When it comes to these three teams, rankings at this point are all just opinion. But Michigan plays at Michigan State on Nov. 2, Nebraska goes to Michigan on Nov. 9 and Michigan State plays at Nebraska on Nov. 16. This will be settled on the field soon enough.


Matt from Callaway, Minn., writes: Looking back on the weekend, and how topsy turvy it turned out, do you think my Huskers probably had the best week in the league just by having a bye?

Bennett: I think Minnesota had a pretty good week, getting a Big Ten win and moving one victory closer to bowl eligibility by beating Northwestern. Nebraska did benefit in the polls and I ranked the Huskers after I said I wasn't going to do so in large part based on there being no one else to rank. I also think Michigan State's result against Purdue and Michigan's defensive problems signal that Nebraska can definitely win the Legends Division. Would have been nice if UCLA had beaten Stanford, though.


Mac from Ohio writes: People are constantly criticizing Ohio State's schedule and since the Big Ten is weak, they should have scheduled stronger nonconference opponents. I feel like people do not bother to check what the circumstances were 2-3 years ago when the schedules were made. In 2010, the final BCS rankings, the Big Ten had 3 teams in the top 10 and 4 in the top 25. In 2011, the final BCS standings had 5 Big Ten teams in the top 25. When their schedule was made, they probably did not have to worry about facing multiple top 15 or 20 teams each year. So would you blame Ohio State for being the odd man out in the National Championship picture or would you blame the rest of the Big Ten?

Bennett: No doubt, the perceived weakness of the Big Ten is hurting Ohio State. The Buckeyes' current best win is over Wisconsin, which is not even in the Top 25 of the BCS standings. But when you get down to comparing national title contenders, nonconference schedules are always going to factor in. Just look at Auburn in 2004, which went undefeated as the SEC champion but still didn't play for the title because it scheduled The Citadel, Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Tech. Ohio State's schedule isn't that egregious, and the Buckeyes couldn't have known Cal would so drastically fall off when it made the schedule. Vanderbilt also backed out of a scheduled game, though I don't think beating the Commodores would have done much for the Buckeyes' case.

All that has been discussed to death. But Ohio State could be an interesting case study going forward. There's been a lot of talk about strength-of-schedule being very important for the four-team playoff, which is great. But if the playoff were in place now and these Buckeyes finish undefeated, they'd almost surely get into the field. So should the model be to schedule tough nonconference teams, or to follow this Ohio State's path and try to go undefeated? The Big Ten has chosen the former path, but this season may prove that the latter strategy works.


SSG Grant from Germany writes: I am a Huge Wisconsin fan, but for the 1st time in my life I actually am cheering for Ohio State. I am so Sick of the SEC. But what is better for the B1G perception wise. I would think having Ohio State to the Rose Bowl and crush the 2nd-tier team like a Stanford or an at-large team. That would put my Badgers unfortunately out of a BCS but an easier matchup at the Capital One bowl, and would have a trickle down of matchups, Giving the B1G a lot of marquee out of conference wins! As opposed to say OSU losing the National Championship, My Badgers getting a bad Matchup and losing the Rose, Nebraska losing the Capital One, etc. What do you think?

Bennett: I think you make an interesting point, though I don't view Stanford as a "second-tier" team and am not sure Ohio State -- or anyone -- could crush them. Still, after watching Ohio State closely, I have my doubts as to whether the Buckeyes are truly as good as Alabama, Oregon and even Florida State. Even Urban Meyer admits this team has some flaws, and it has yet to dominate Big Ten competition. If Ohio State were to go to the BCS title game and get beaten soundly, I'm not sure that would do anybody any good.

It's also a fact that the Big Ten has played "up" in many of its bowl matchups, especially when it has two BCS teams. If the league could get optimal matchups where its best teams are on equal footing, that could result in a better record and bigger wins. Of course, I still think you base your reputation ultimately on national titles, and it's been too long since the Big Ten even played in one. But barring that, your scenario might deliver the second-best option.


JD from Washington, DC, writes: Brian, I'm dismayed by the "parity based scheduling." Not only do I not get to see my Huskers in Maryland for years, but I worry it might lead to a recruiting disparity. As Pat Forde, recently pointed out, Nebraska has a dramatic recruiting disparity based on its geography. Do you think parity based scheduling puts us at an even greater disparity because it limits our exposure to the east coast markets (Rutgers and Maryland), where as Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State get access every year?

Bennett: My concern is not so much with the parity-based scheduling as it is with the geographic setup. Teams in the East Division are by design always going to have more exposure in the new East Coast recruiting areas. I think it's very important for the Big Ten to remain aware of this and try to get the West teams out there as much as possible. I wonder if that will end up becoming a disadvantage for teams in the West. At the same time, I wonder how much Nebraska truly plans on recruiting those areas, which are very far away from Lincoln and haven't historically been any kind of pipeline for the program. The Huskers have reached into Ohio more under Bo Pelini, and they have to recruit nationally because of their location, but for the most part the current staff has focused on a 500-mile radius. I'm just not sure realistically how many kids from the D.C. or New Jersey areas would be going to Nebraska anyway. But the school needs to also benefit from the Eastern exposure, because the Huskers didn't sign on to join the Big Ten with the thought that they'd be playing in the same league as Rutgers and Maryland.


Lone Wolf McCaw from Syberia, USSR, writes: I wrote to you once about the idea of having a point system instead of a selection committee, which you scoffed at. I still think that would be the better choice, but I do think the committee favors the B1G, by a lot. Now, if you break down the committee there are more people with ties to the SEC than any other conference. But who in the committee has better résumés than the two men representing the B1G? Think about it, let’s say they were selecting the teams this year. And Dr. Tom Osborne thinks Ohio State should be part of the four teams, and let's say Condoleezza Rice (let’s use her, since her name struck the most controversy) thinks it should be Baylor. Now, I know Rice did all these things, but is she or anyone else in that room going to argue football with Dr. Osborne? A man that was part of five national titles, with 255 wins as a head coach, played both college football and in the NFL? Not even Archie can do that. And then the second strongest resume is Barry Alvarez (a Husker I might add). Add that both men did their share of recruiting, they know how to sell ideas. The idea of arguing football with any of them is the equivalent of arguing how to throw a 12-to-6 curveball with Adam Wainwright (see what I did there? now you have to use my email.) Not saying they will be biased to the B1G, but I am sure both would know that the B1G is actually a great conference with great teams that don't get their just due.

Bennett: Darn it, he reeled me in with that Wainwright reference! Resistance is futile.

Anyway, I see what you're getting at, and as Jim Delany recently put it, people always stop and listen whenever Osborne speaks. He's that respected. Alvarez has the same amount of respect and is never shy about voicing his opinion. There's no doubt that both are perfect additions to the committee, and they will represent not only the Big Ten, but all of college football, in the best possible manner. Will they be able to lobby a bit on behalf of the Big Ten? I'm sure that will happen, but I also hope the committee does not devolve into regional cliques all supporting their own conferences. I think Osborne and Alvarez have too much integrity to vote for a team simply because it's in their own league (Osborne would have to recuse himself from the room if Nebraska came up, while Alvarez would have to do so for both Nebraska and Wisconsin). But it sure wouldn't hurt to have two such highly-admired men argue the merits of Big Ten football, should they feel inclined to do so.


Andrew B. from Laingsburg, Mich., writes: You asked last week if the Spartans lost to Ohio State in the championship game but still got picked for the Rose, would it feel ... earned?? Back in 1999, MSU beat Michigan head-to-head and the two finished tied in the standings, but Michigan got the BCS at-large spot. When the B1G allowed OSU to postpone their discipline and accept the 2011 Sugar Bowl invitation, 11-1 MSU got shafted again. Then in the 2011 season, MSU won the Legends but UM (whom MSU had again beaten) backed into another at-large BCS invitation. So yes, it already feels like the Spartans have earned a Rose Bowl plus at least one additional BCS bowl.

Bennett: Fair enough. I honestly didn't know the answer when I asked the question but you make great points. As always, we should remember that most of the time, when it comes to bowl games, deserve's got nothing to do with it.


Adam from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I can't understand why you would include one deranged fan's letter in your mailbag just to cut it down in front of the entire readership, especially when question real estate is at a premium. You get crazy letters each week I'm sure. Seems like irresponsible journalism to lay out one letter from a fan you know doesn't represent the fanbase as a whole. I've been a loyal reader for years now and I lost a lot of respect for you and the Big Ten blog today.

Bennett: Adam, didn't you read the whole mailbag? I included letters from three deranged fans. Give me a little credit here.

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