Big Ten: Ryan Tannehill

Big Ten mailblog

February, 14, 2012
What's on your mind on this Valentine's Day?

Eric from Flagstaff, Ariz., writes: My friend and I are die hard fans of Michigan teams, he a Michigan fan and I an MSU fan. He belittles Sparty every chance he gets. We were having a debate about where the teams would finish next season. He said Michigan is a lock for the Rose Bowl and MSU won't get any higher than the Insight Bowl. I said MSU would make the Rose Bowl and Michigan would make the Capital One Bowl. Can you blame me? MSU won't win every game and I realize that, but they have OSU, Neb and ND at home where Michigan has to travel to all of those. Plus they have Alabama too. Sure, Michigan State will be starting a new QB, but Maxwell has been on the team for 3 years now. He's ready to start, plus with the receiving corps coming in, and not to mention the best defense in the B1G, its hard for me to see how Michigan is in a better spot. Michigan might be an improved team with a worse record. OSU and Nebraska on the road will kill their chances in the B1G next season me thinks. Who's MORE CORRECT?

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, love the debate. I get that fans are fans, but no team is a "lock" for the Rose Bowl. Especially a team that opens against Alabama and plays Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State on the road. Both Michigan schools have some holes to fill, but I like Michigan State's potential because of the defense that returns. The Spartans are building something special on the defensive side and loading up on athletes rather than just big bodies. I could honestly see both of these teams being better teams with worse records than 2011. While I think MSU ends up in a better bowl than Insight, both teams have some question marks but also plenty of talent. I could easily see the Big Ten title coming down to the Spartans-Wolverines game at the Big House.

Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Adam, you keep saying that you don't see the need for automatic bids for the top conferences in a playoff system. So are you saying you'd rather see a playoff between 3 SEC teams and a Big 12 team, than one involving the SEC, Big 12, B1G, and Pac 12 champions? I don't think anyone wants automatic bids for the Sun Belt or MAC champs, but to not give the big 4 champs (or the 6 BCS conferences if there's an 8 team playoff) just punishes the deeper, more balanced conferences. I could easily see a situation where a 2 loss B1G champ, e.g., is every bit as good as a 1 loss team from, say, the SEC East, but they'd undoubtedly get left out from any playoff based solely on BCS standings. By giving automatic bids to the champions from the power conferences, you take out the human element (and more importantly, the computer element) from the selection process. Reward teams that proved it on the field!

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I'd like to see the best four or eight teams in a playoff field. If it's a four-team field, you're not going to get league champions from every major conference. I'm fine with a selection committee that can identify the best teams through certain criteria. If it's an eight-team field, I'm more open to auto bids for league champions, although it would be nice to set up a system where leagues have to earn the right to retain auto bids. Not sure if this would be done through performance in a playoff or some other measure, but I don't need to see the ACC champion lose in the first round every year. We already get that in the BCS bowls.

Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Adam usually enjoy your comments. A couple of things struck me as wrong tonight. Here is my 2nd concern.You write "If Ohio State wants to make a national championship run in 2013, its non-league schedule shouldn't stand in its way. "Seems tome just the opposite I red a lot about how strength of schedule is important to get to top of the BCS.Is it your position today that if Ohio goes undefeated in 2013 and win the conference play off that they are a shoe in to go to the national championship game?I would think having a lame nonconfrence schedule could do exactly the opposite of what you claim ( get in the way) . That a weak non-league schedule could keep it from the National championship. Seems to me like sometimes you guys take both sides of an argument depending on the day or the phase of the moon or something? Is a strong schedule a help or a hindrance in getting to the top? If strength of schedule is important why do you state that OSU's 2013 schedule won't stand in the way?

Adam Rittenberg: Mark, it's not about taking both sides of the argument. The answer ultimately depends on the circumstances of a given season. But in most seasons, there's one very simple way for teams not from the SEC to reach the title game: go undefeated. While it's possible an undefeated Big Ten team could be left out, history shows it's highly unlikely. A softer non-league schedule increases the chance Ohio State goes undefeated.

The strength of schedule argument likely would only make a difference if we're comparing 1-loss teams. The Big Ten likely would have a decent overall SOS, and besides, there are so few undefeated teams every year that it's hard to believe a 13-0 Ohio State team wouldn't reach the title game. This isn't college basketball, and while I'd love to see teams challenge themselves more, teams from leagues like the Big Ten rarely if ever pay the price for softer non-league scheduling. Ask Oregon how playing LSU in the opener worked out in its quest to return to the national title game this past season. Granted, the Ducks lost another game to USC, but had Oregon played a patsy instead of LSU in Week 1, it would have entered the USC game with a great chance to reach the title game.

Jon from Ithaca, N.Y., writes: How come Kirk Cousins doesn't seem to be getting the same draft hype as Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, and even Brock Osweiler? Cousins had a strong season behind a shaky offensive line in a pro-style offense. He was sensational in the final minutes of the Georgia game, but seems to be flying under the radar, much like Ricky Stanzi did last year... Where do you think we can expect Cousins to be drafted?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, this is an interesting question. The other quarterbacks are rated higher than Cousins primarily because of their size. Tannehill is 6-4, 222; Foles is 6-5, 240; and Osweiler is 6-8, 240. Cousins always has struggled to put on weight -- I wish I had that problem! -- and checks in around 205 pounds. There are durability concerns with Cousins that aren't there as much with guys like Tannehill, Osweiler and Foles, who also has an absolute cannon for an arm. Tannehill should be the first quarterback of the group to be drafted, probably in the second round. I've seen some projections list Cousins ahead of the other two and others that have him behind both Osweiler and Foles. Colleague Mel Kiper recently listed Osweiler as the best of the bunch, followed by Tannehill and Foles, although he said Cousins could make a move up the board. It looks like Cousins will go between the third and fifth rounds in April.

Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Adam, I remember reading once that the Ohio State scholorship reductions could be spread out any way OSU wants over the next three years. Is there any truth to this because that would be great?!

Adam Rittenberg: Nope, sorry, Matt. The NCAA enforces the scholarship limit and Ohio State will have 82 scholies in each of the next three seasons.

Isaac from Stevens Point, Wis., writes: what do you think the chances are that Wisconsin opens up their playbook a little on offense this year? They just got Matt Canada who I'm pretty sure ran a spread at Northern Illinois with Harnish. They also have a pretty special group of skill guys coming back this year. And when i say special i mean different. They have three tight ends that need to be on the field, weak in WR depth, no legitimate fullback. They also have Moneyball and the ultra talented/ underutilized James White. The QB decision will obviously have a lot to do with what happens and who knows who that will be. Wisconsin has always been known as the hardnosed, pound it down your throat until it bleeds team but they did drop Wilson into shotgun this year, so its not like theyre refusing to change

Adam Rittenberg: Isaac, you bring up some interesting points. Canada has a more varied background, and while Bret Bielema hired him to keep Wisconsin's offensive structure in place, every new coordinator brings some new wrinkles to the playbook. Keep in mind the Badgers lose a tremendous athlete in Russell Wilson at quarterback, and the QB position is a major question mark right now. I completely agree Wisconsin is much stronger at tight end than at wide receiver, and Jacob Pedersen and those guys need to have big roles in Canada's offense. Montee Ball's return is huge, but Wisconsin has some question marks at quarterback, receiver, fullback and even offensive line after losing three starters. It'll be important for Canada to mix things up and not just rely on Wisconsin always has done.

Brent from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, your article on OSU's "Percy position" made me wonder: with a new coaching staff and defensive coordinator now at Penn State, will the defensive "hero (heroback) position" be relegated to the annals of history? Wasn't that moniker/position a brainchild of Coach Bradley?

Adam Rittenberg: Brent, the "hero" position actually stems from former Penn State coach Rip Engle. I wrote about it back in 2010:
The Hall of Fame coach who preceded Joe Paterno in Happy Valley didn't like the term commonly used to describe a strong safety: monster. So Engle came up with his own title.
"Rip thought that the word monster was derogatory," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, "so he decided to call the position hero, and we still call it that. We have a linebacker position called the Fritz linebacker. It's named after Fritz the pizza man, who used to get the team pizzas."

I haven't heard whether the new Penn State staff will keep the "hero" position or not, but it's definitely part of Penn State tradition. Drew Astorino, who played "hero" for part of his career, described it to me as a safety-linebacker hybrid who is always around the ball. New Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof used a nickel back spot quite a bit during his time at Auburn. I'll definitely check on whether he'll keep the "hero" spot.

Al from Port St. Lucie, Fla., writes: Your poll about the most disliked coach is stupid. Urban has not coached one game and is the most hated? He is probably the most feared coach — the vote shows envy and that is it.

Adam Rittenberg: Your last sentence could be right, and I definitely think the more disliked coaches in a league are the more successful ones. But why is the poll stupid? I think it's telling that Meyer is so disliked — or feared — without having coached a single game in the Big Ten. We've received more than 20,000 votes in less than a day, so a lot of folks don't think it's stupid.

Instant analysis: Texas A&M 33, NU 22

December, 31, 2011

After a rough season that included the death of teammate Joey Villavisencio last week and the firing of coach Mike Sherman, the Aggies got a bowl win. It's been an emotional year at Texas A&M, but it will end in fine fashion with a good win over Northwestern.

The Aggies did it without top rusher Cyrus Gray, too. Gray missed his second consecutive game and the final game of his career with a stress fracture in his shoulder that he suffered early in a win over Kansas.

Here's some instant analysis.

How the game was won: Texas A&M was the better team and proved it for the first three quarters, but like we've seen all year, the team swooned in the second half. This time it came in the fourth quarter. The Aggies survived via two huge third-down catches from Uzoma Nwachukwu and Jeff Fuller to keep the ball out of Northwestern's hands in the final minutes. This season, the Aggies blew leads of 18 (Arkansas), 17 (Oklahoma State), 14 (Missouri), 13 (Texas) and 10 (Kansas State). They avoided a sixth loss in extravagant fashion this season with a clutch late drive to close out the Wildcats.

Turning point: Trailing 7-3, Texas A&M scored on its final three drives of the first half, highlighted by a vertical, 26-yard touchdown catch by Jeff Fuller from Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies took control and the Wildcats weren't able to get within realistic reach the rest of the game. The Aggies scored the first 10 points of the second half for a 30-7 lead.

Player of the game: A&M receiver Ryan Swope. Swope continued his tear this season with eight catches for 105 yards and broke a few tackles on a 37-yard catch-and-run to set up an early touchdown that put the Aggies ahead for good. Fuller had a huge catch late to seal the game, but Swope kept the A&M offense humming in the first half while it built the big lead.

Unsung hero: Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter. He spelled what looked like a gimpy Dan Persa and ran for 65 yards and a touchdown in a nice performance.

What it means: One epic bowl losing streak ended while another lives on. Northwestern had lost five bowl games going back to 1949 and made it a sixth. Texas A&M ended its eight-game bowl losing streak dating back to 2001. The Northwestern streak was represented on the sidelines by a monkey wearing a No. 63 jersey, the number of years since the Wildcats won a bowl.

Well wishes: Coryell Judie. The Aggies' kick returner and cornerback finally returned to full health against Texas on Thanksgiving after missing a handful of games with a hamstring injury. However, he suffered a fractured wrist during his final collegiate game. It's a rough break for a huge talent, but he'll hear his name called next April in the NFL draft.

Record performance: With his first field goal midway through the first quarter, kicker Randy Bullock broke Texas A&M's single-season scoring record set back in 1927. The Lou Groza Award winner surpassed Joel Hunt's record of 128 points and finished the season with 139 points after making three field goals and three extra points on Saturday.
Both Northwestern and Texas A&M entered the season with strong senior classes and lofty expectations. Both repeatedly fell victim to blown leads. As a result, both squads finished 6-6 and will square off Saturday at Houston's Reliant Stadium.

Let's take a look at the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas:

WHO TO WATCH: Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa. The senior wraps up a record-setting career, and he might be the healthiest he has been all season following more than a month off. Although Persa's injury situation prevented him from matching the Heisman Trophy hype he received in August, he still turned in a strong season, leading the nation in completion percentage (74.2) and leading the Big Ten in passing average (240.3 ypg). He needs 19 pass attempts to qualify for the NCAA's all-time completions percentage record. Persa actually could go 0-for-19 and still get the record, but he'll be aiming for much bigger numbers against a Texas A&M defense that has been dreadful against the pass (113th nationally). Given Northwestern's own woes on defense, the Wildcats need Persa to have a monster performance.

WHAT TO WATCH: The Wildcats' defense has repeatedly let down the team this season, and the unit will be shorthanded against A&M without top cover corner Jordan Mabin (shoulder). It will be interesting to see if bowl practice has helped the unit, particularly young players like redshirt freshman Daniel Jones, who will fill in for Mabin. After recording a Big Ten-low 16 sacks, Northwestern must find ways to generate pressure on Aggies quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will pick apart the Wildcats if given time. Persa and the offense should do their part in this game, but if the defense doesn't make strides, it might get ugly.

WHY TO WATCH: The main storyline hasn't changed for Northwestern, which is looking for its first bowl win since the 1949 Rose. Northwestern is making its fourth consecutive bowl appearance after losing each of the last three contests by seven points or fewer. Coach Pat Fitzgerald calls the bowl drought the program's only remaining negative and has had players actually wear a stuffed monkey on their backs this week to emphasize the urgency to win. A victory would help Northwestern salvage what has been a disappointing season, while a loss would raise questions about the program's direction as the Wildcats would have seen their wins total decrease for the fourth consecutive year.

PREDICTION: Texas A&M 42, Northwestern 31. Persa is primed for a huge game in his final performance as a Wildcat, but barring a surprise, he won't be playing defense, and that's a problem. I don't have much faith in the Wildcats' defense after the past year and a half, and Texas A&M has far too many weapons to exploit the weaknesses, particularly with Mabin sidelined. While A&M has had its share of distractions in recent weeks, the Aggies boast more talent and will prevail in a virtual home game.

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

December, 4, 2011
Texas A&M (6-6) vs. Northwestern (6-6)

Dec. 31, noon ET (ESPN)

Texas A&M take from Big 12 blogger David Ubben: The Aggies are in a state of turmoil. They have no coach and the players are understandably shaken up about it. Mike Sherman was loved around College Station, and his super classy exit press conference showed all the reasons why. Ultimately, Texas A&M's much-ballyhooed second-half failures ended Sherman's tenure as the head Aggie. The numbers are well-known by now, but still staggering. They tell the story of how a preseason top 10 team with as much talent as any in the Big 12 ends up at 6-6. Five halftime leads of double digits and another by nine against rival Texas. All were losses.

That doesn't change the talent on the field. Running back Cyrus Gray will likely return from injury, as will quarterback Ryan Tannehill with top targets Ryan Swope and Jeff Fuller. They'll play with an offensive line that has some legit NFL talent, a credit to Sherman's recruiting acumen as a coach with an offensive line background. Texas A&M is already assured of leaving the Big 12 with a bitter taste en route to the SEC next season, but a bowl win might help ... if only a little bit.

Northwestern take from Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern will play in a bowl for a team-record fourth consecutive year, but the Wildcats are still looking for that elusive postseason win after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

As players and coaches often are reminded, Northwestern hasn’t won a bowl game since the 1949 Rose. The Wildcats have come close the past three seasons, particularly in the 2010 Outback Bowl, but they’ve fallen short each time. While Texas A&M’s motivation might be a question mark after its recent coaching change, Northwestern will be geared up.

The good news is that unlike last year, Northwestern will have top quarterback Dan Persa on the field for its bowl. Although Persa didn’t look nearly as dominant this season as he did in 2010, he still led the Big Ten in passing (240.3 ypg) and completed 74.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions. Persa and the offense will need to put up points as Northwestern’s defense has struggled mightily this season and in the recent bowl losses. The Wildcats will be without top cornerback Jordan Mabin against Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill and his talented group of receivers.

This will be a virtual road game for Northwestern in Houston, as Texas A&M fans will pack Reliant Stadium. But Pat Fitzgerald’s teams often play better on the road than at home, as they are 14-8 on the road since the start of the 2008 season.