Chicago Colleges: Al Borges

Recapping B1G coaching changes for 2014

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
10:30
AM CT
Non-Minnesota fans might have missed Friday's official announcement that Mike Sherels has been promoted to Gophers linebackers coach after serving on the team's recruiting staff. Sherels is the first new assistant Jerry Kill has hired in his Minnesota tenure, but the move likely signified -- likely being the operative word -- something bigger for the Big Ten.

The end of the coaching carousel for 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OK, let's get to it already.

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

INDIANA (3)

Who's gone?

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

Who's in?

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


Other moves

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

MARYLAND (3)

Who's gone?

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

Who's in?

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

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Al Borges, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Who's in?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Other moves

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

MINNESOTA (1)

Who's gone?

Bill Miller, linebackers/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Mike Sherels, linebackers (promoted from recruiting staff)

Other moves

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


NEBRASKA (1)

Who's gone?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's in?

Charlton Warren, secondary

OHIO STATE (2)

Who's gone?

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

Who's in?

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

PENN STATE (10)

Who's gone?

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

Who's in?

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

PURDUE (1)

Who's gone?

Jon Heacock, defensive backs

Who's in?

Taver Johnson, defensive backs

RUTGERS (4)

Who's gone?

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

Who's in?

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

Other moves

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

WISCONSIN (1)

Who's gone?

Thomas Hammock, running backs/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Thomas Brown, running backs

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
9:00
AM CT
Rivalry week in the Big Ten left no doubt: The conference's top two teams will meet in the league championship.

Wisconsin's shocking home loss to Penn State ends the debate over whether the Badgers or Michigan State should be at No. 2 behind front-runner Ohio State. Although the Buckeyes and, to a lesser extent, the Spartans had some struggles Saturday, they found ways to win. The Badgers had their worst performance of the season, and it cost them a potential BCS at-large berth.

That doesn't take away from Penn State, which received big boosts from quarterback Christian Hackenberg and others.

Our big dilemma this week was what to do with the 6-8 spots. Penn State had by far its best showing of the season, and Michigan had its best showing in months, even in defeat, against archrival Ohio State. Nebraska didn't show up at home on Black Friday, however, the Huskers have road wins against both the Lions (six days before the Iowa clunker) and Michigan.

After some spirited debate, we ultimately went with body of work to determine the rundown, especially since these are the final regular-season rankings. We understand it devalues the Week 14 performances a bit.

Here's one last look at the Week 13 rankings.

Now for the new rundown, final regular-season version.

1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten: last week: 1): The Buckeyes lost their composure early and nearly lost their perfect season late. They were faced with adversity for the first time in six weeks, but they made enough plays on both sides of the ball to win. Running back Carlos Hyde (226 yards, one TD) and quarterback Braxton Miller (five total TDs) led a virtually unstoppable offense, which helped overcome some shoddy pass defense. The Buckeyes now await Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

2. Michigan State (11-1, 8-0; last week: 3): There weren't many style points against Minnesota, but the Spartans came away with another double-digit Big Ten win. The defense kept Minnesota out of the end zone, as linebacker Denicos Allen led the way. Running back Jeremy Langford (134 rush yards, TD) had another big day as Michigan State moved closer to a BCS bowl berth, regardless of the result in Indianapolis.

3. Wisconsin (9-3, 6-2; last week: 2): It's only a one-spot drop for Wisconsin, but what a downer in Mad City. A team that had been so dominant since falling at Ohio State never showed up on Senior Day against a plucky Penn State team that took control from the onset. Quarterback Joel Stave threw three interceptions in the loss, and one of the Big Ten's better defenses allowed a slew of big plays as Penn State racked up 465 yards. It led to Wisconsin's most surprising home loss in recent memory.

4. Iowa (8-4, 5-3; last week: 4): Kirk Ferentz's crew entered the regular season as a popular pick to finish last in the Legends Division. The Hawkeyes emerged as one of the better teams not only in the division but the entire Big Ten. They've flipped their 2012 regular-season record behind a salty rush defense, led by an outstanding group of linebackers, and a functional offense. After two lackluster showings in the Heroes Game, Iowa outclassed Nebraska in Lincoln and should move up the bowl pecking order.

5. Minnesota (8-4, 4-4; last week: 5): It doesn't take a doctor at the Mayo Clinic to diagnose what's wrong with Minnesota. The Gophers' defense keeps them in every game, and Saturday's matchup at Michigan State proved to be no exception. But the offense simply can't score or consistently pass the football. Minnesota failed to reach double digits for the third time this season despite multiple opportunities in Spartans territory. It's still a great season for Jerry Kill's team, but there's a lot of work to do on offense before a bowl appearance.

6. Nebraska (8-4, 5-3; last week: 6): No one would dispute Bo Pelini that this has been a difficult season in Husker Country. No one would argue with Nebraska's ability to keep fighting. But when the same problems (namely turnovers) surface year after year, the bigger picture of the program becomes more depressing. The Huskers and their head coach self-destructed for much of the Iowa game and fell for the third time on their home field. Fortunately for Pelini, it didn't cost him his job, and he should get another chance to compete for an elusive league title in 2014.

7. Penn State (7-5, 4-4; last week: 8): The Lions had a better team in Bill O'Brien's first season, but they didn't have a better win than Saturday's stunning upset of Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. After losing their first three road games by a combined score of 131-48, Penn State dominated Wisconsin for much of the afternoon at a place where the Badgers rarely lose. Hackenberg ended his freshman season with a signature performance (339 pass yards, 4 TDs) as the offense repeatedly gashed Wisconsin. A much-maligned defense held the Badgers' run game in check as Penn State ended an up-and-down season on a very good note.

8. Michigan (7-5, 3-5; last week: 7): After plummeting to historic lows earlier in the month, Michigan's offense looked like a completely different unit against Ohio State. Quarterback Devin Gardner played brilliantly, coordinator Al Borges called a good game and several others -- Jeremy Gallon, Jake Butt and De'Veon Smith -- stepped up in a 603-yard effort. It wasn't enough, as Michigan fell by a point and the defense had no answers for Ohio State, but the Wolverines played their best game in months and can feel a bit better entering the postseason.

9. Indiana (5-7, 3-5; last week: 9): Oh, what might have been for Indiana. A team with such an explosive offense and eight home games should have made a bowl game, period, but the Hoosiers couldn't get it done. At least they reclaimed the Old Oaken Bucket as quarterback Tre Roberson (six TD passes, 273 pass yards, 154 rush yards) torched Purdue and received help from Stephen Houston, D'Angelo Roberts, Cody Latimer and others. It's clear the Hoosiers have to make upgrades on defense. They can't keep wasting such explosiveness on offense.

10. Northwestern (5-7, 1-7; last week: 11): A season to forget for Northwestern ended on a positive note, as Pat Fitzgerald's team avoided a winless Big Ten season and recorded another victory against its in-state rival. Quarterback Trevor Siemian enters the offseason with some confidence after passing for a career-high 414 yards and four touchdowns against Illinois. Wide receiver Christian Jones (13 catches, 182 yards, two TDs) also stepped up as Northwestern twice rallied from deficits against Illinois. Fitzgerald said afterward that Northwestern "will be back" in 2014. The work begins now.

11. Illinois (4-8, 1-7; last week 10): The wins total doubled from two to four, which is nothing to celebrate. But Illinois clearly improved in Year 2 under coach Tim Beckman, who should receive another season in Champaign. Illinois has fixed the offense, and while quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will be tough to replace, several playmakers like Josh Ferguson return. A bigger issue is the defense, which had no answer for Northwestern's passing attack on Saturday and surrendered more than 40 points and more than 500 yards per game in Big Ten play.

12. Purdue (1-11, 0-8; last week: 12): The optimist sees a dynamic young quarterback in Danny Etling, who finished his freshman season with 485 pass yards and four touchdowns against Indiana, and a team that can only get better. The pessimist sees a Purdue squad that was the worst in recent Big Ten history and has much work to do on both sides of the ball to become competitive in coach Darrell Hazell's second season. A big offseason awaits Hazell and his staff as they can't go through another season like this one.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
9:00
AM CT
There's only one debate in the Power Rankings: Who's No. 2?

All the top teams held serve in Week 13, and the Big Ten championship matchup is set for Ohio State and Michigan State to meet Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. The Buckeyes remain atop the league, but which team comes next: Wisconsin or Michigan State?

Although most polls have Michigan State ahead of Wisconsin, we've been keeping the Badgers at No. 2. It's extremely close between the two, and it's too bad the Spartans and Badgers won't face one another this season, especially given their recent history.

We're actually split on the No. 2 spot. Brian is keeping Wisconsin ahead of MSU on his ESPN.com power rankings ballot, while Adam has flipped the two this week, noting Michigan State's superior quarterback and special-teams play.

A second-place tie doesn't really work in the Big Ten rankings, so Wisconsin remains at No. 2 by the slimmest of margins.

Elsewhere, Iowa and Minnesota trade places, and so do Illinois and Northwestern.

Here's one last look at the Week 12 rankings.

Now, for the newest rundown …

1. Ohio State (11-0, 7-0; last week: 1): Another easy afternoon at The Shoe for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes, who set a program record with their 23rd consecutive victory. Quarterback Braxton Miller (144 rush yards, 160 pass yards, 4 TDs) and running back Carlos Hyde (117 rush yards, two TDs) both hurt Indiana early and often, and linebacker Ryan Shazier (20 tackles) sparked a stout defensive effort. Ohio State is very much in the national-title hunt as it prepares to visit rival Michigan this week.

2. Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1; last week: 2): A BCS at-large appearance looks likelier for the Badgers, who won their fifth consecutive game Saturday and their 10th straight against Minnesota. The running backs might grab the spotlight, but it's time Wisconsin's defense received some credit for an exceptional season. Linebacker Chris Borland led the way Saturday with his NCAA record-tying 14th career forced fumble and two fumble recoveries, as the Badgers shut out Minnesota's offense. Wisconsin finishes the regular season against Penn State at Camp Randall Stadium.

3. Michigan State (10-1, 7-0; last week: 3): Quarterback Connor Cook and running back Jeremy Langford continue to sparkle in Big Ten play, as both men performed well in a win at Northwestern. The defense surrendered 224 yards but shut out Northwestern in the second half and recorded two takeaways. Michigan State is headed back to Indianapolis for the second time in three seasons to face Ohio State on Dec. 7. Can't wait.

4. Iowa (7-4, 4-3; last week: 5): Thanks to linebacker Anthony Hitchens and a much-improved defense, Iowa overcame four turnovers to rally past Michigan. Quarterback Jack Rudock (two TDs, three INTs) had an erratic day, but Iowa dominated the second half, erasing a 21-7 deficit to win 24-21. The Hawkeyes will be going to a decent bowl game, and they have a chance for a very nice finish if they can beat Nebraska on the road this Friday.

5. Minnesota (8-3, 4-3; last week: 4): The Gophers are modeling themselves after Wisconsin, which is good, but they're simply not there yet. Minnesota's flaws on offense, especially at wide receiver, showed up Saturday as the Gophers scored no offensive points on their home field. The defense kept the game relatively close, but Minnesota never seriously challenged Wisconsin in the second half. Things don't get any easier this week, when the Gophers visit Michigan State.

6. Nebraska (8-3, 5-2; last week: 6): A horrendous personal-foul call didn't doom the Huskers, who found a way to beat Penn State in overtime and showed some grit along the way. Running back Ameer Abdullah had his typical brilliant game, and quarterback Ron Kellogg III did a nice job in relief of Tommy Armstrong Jr. Kicker Pat Smith stepped up in the clutch as Nebraska won for the third time in four games. The Huskers host Iowa on Black Friday.

7. Michigan (7-4, 3-4; last week: 7): We'd normally move Michigan lower, but there's no place to put the Wolverines because Penn State and Indiana both lost, too. Linebacker Jake Ryan and the defense came to play at Iowa, forcing four turnovers and converting one into points. But the offense remains embarrassingly bad, especially in the run game. Michigan finished with 10 first downs, 60 rush yards and 158 total yards as the heat continues to rise on coordinator Al Borges. Things will likely get worse this week, when Ohio State storms into the Big House.

8. Penn State (6-5, 3-4; last week: 8): This time, Penn State had no late-game heroics because special-teams miscues and other problems resulted in an overtime loss on senior day. The Lions received a big performance from running back Zach Zwinak (149 rush yards) and quarterback Christian Hackenberg accounted for three touchdowns, but the team's limitations in all three phases showed up in the loss. Penn State ends the season with a trip to Wisconsin, which likely won't be pretty.

9. Indiana (4-7, 2-5; last week 9): The lingering defensive issues are there, but Indiana has a new problem: The offense isn't showing up. IU once again felt the absence of injured running back Tevin Coleman against Ohio State, recording just 122 rushing yards. Indiana actually had more first downs than the Buckeyes (24 to 22) but didn't score for three and a half quarters and couldn't stop Ohio State's big-play offense. Kevin Wilson's team finishes the season against Purdue at home.

10. Illinois (4-7, 1-6; last week: 11): Tim Beckman and his Illini players can finally stop talking about The Streak, as Illinois won a Big Ten game for the first time in 777 days (Oct. 8, 2011). There was some typical sloppiness, and the defense struggled early, but Illinois made enough plays down the stretch to get out of Purdue with a four-point win. The Nathan Scheelhaase-Steve Hull connection produced 169 yards and two touchdowns as the close friends are ending their careers on a good note.

11. Northwestern (4-7, 0-7; last week: 10): The unthinkable has happened, the worst-case scenario amazingly eclipsed: Northwestern's bowl streak is over at five seasons after a 4-0 start and a fourth-quarter lead against Ohio State on Oct. 5. The Wildcats actually moved the ball well against Michigan State but repeatedly stalled in plus territory and took no risks despite a winless mark in Big Ten play. Northwestern has its longest losing streak since 1998, and Pat Fitzgerald has some serious work to do in the offseason, which will begin next week.

12. Purdue (1-10, 0-7; last week: 12): Darrell Hazell is looking for any sign of progress and saw some against Illinois, as the Boilers played their first competitive game in the Big Ten. Purdue finally ran the ball a little, as Akeem Hunt eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, and the defense forced four turnovers. Ultimately, Purdue couldn't do enough offensively or slow down Illinois' pass game. The Boilers wrap up the season this week with the Bucket game in Bloomington, Ind.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
11:00
AM CT
One more win, and it's on to the World Series.

Examining Big Ten assistant coach salaries

December, 20, 2012
12/20/12
2:01
PM CT
Paying top dollar for assistant coaches has become an issue in the Big Ten lately. Bret Bielema cited his inability to pay and retain assistants at Wisconsin as a major reason why he left for Arkansas. Purdue made a bigger commitment to its overall staff salary when it hired Darrell Hazell to replace Danny Hope.

How do the Big Ten teams stack up when it comes to salaries for assistants? Luckily, USA Today has just compiled a database looking at what every FBS program pays its staffs. The study found that the average major college football assistant now makes $200,000 per year, a number that is on the rise. According to USA Today, pay for assistants rose 10 percent from last year and is up 29 percent from 2009, the latter of which is higher than the increase in salary for head coaches during that time period.

Here is what Big Ten teams spent on their staffs in 2012, not including the head coach (Note: Because Northwestern and Penn State are not subject to the same state open-records laws as other schools, their information was not available):
  • Ohio State: $3.29 million
  • Michigan: $2.93 million
  • Illinois: $2.3 million
  • Michigan State $2.2 million
  • Nebraska: $2.15 million
  • Iowa: $2.1 million
  • Minnesota: $2.1 million
  • Indiana: $2 million
  • Wisconsin $1.77 million
  • Purdue: $1.61 million

As you can see, Wisconsin was near the bottom of the pack in the Big Ten. Purdue has given Hazell a pool of $2.1 million for assistant coaches, which would put the Boilermakers right about the average for league schools. Ohio State and Michigan are the two richest schools and have not surprisingly made the biggest commitment to salaries. When you add in Urban Meyer's salary, the Buckeyes are paying nearly $7.6 million per year in football salaries. You get what you pay for, I guess, as Ohio State went 12-0.

While the Big Ten's median salary pool for assistants was just over $2 million in 2012, the median in the SEC was around $2.5 million. According to USA Today, the SEC paid its assistants an average of $315,000, the most in the nation. The Big 12 was second at just under $290,000.

LSU is spending more than $4 million on assistants, while Alabama is doling out more than $3.8 million on assistants. Auburn ($3.77 million), Tennessee ($2.98 million), Florida ($2.89 million), Georgia ($2.77 million) and Texas A&M ($2.68 million) also far outspent most Big Ten schools, while Arkansas ($2.56 million in 2012) is making a larger commitment to assistant pay under Bielema.

Finally, here's a look at the top-paid coordinators in the Big Ten among the 10 schools whose information was available via public records:
  • Luke Fickell, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State: $761,000
  • Greg Mattison, defensive coordinator, Michigan: $758,900
  • Al Borges, offensive coordinator, Michigan: $658,300
  • Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: $501,700
  • Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State: $456,000
  • Everett Withers, co-defensive coordinator, Ohio State: $456,000
  • Tim Banks, defensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Chris Beatty, co-offensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Billy Gonzales, co-offensive coordinator, Illinois: $400,000
  • Tim Beck, offensive coordinator, Nebraska: $372,300
  • Tracy Claeys, defensive coordinator, Minnesota: $340,000
  • Matt Limegrover, offensive coordinator, Minnesota: $335,000
  • Greg Davis, offensive coordinator, Iowa: $325,000
  • Dan Roushar, offensive coordinator, Michigan State: $307,000
  • Mike Ekeler, co-defensive coordinator, Indiana: $306,600
  • Doug Mallory, co-defensive coordinator, Indiana: $306,600
  • Phil Parker, defensive coordinator, Iowa: $301,500
  • John Papuchis, defensive coordinator, Nebraska: $300,000
  • Gary Nord, offensive coordinator, Purdue: $275,000
  • Chris Ash, defensive coordinator, Wisconsin: $267,050
  • Matt Canada, offensive coordinator, Wisconsin: $265,000
  • Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator, Indiana: $255,500
  • Tim Tibesar, defensive coordinator, Purdue: $250,000

Fickell, Borges and Mattison are three of 18 assistants nationwide who earned at least $600,000 in 2012, according to the study. There were 14 assistants paid that much last season and nine in 2010. Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner is the highest paid position coach in the league, at a salary of $357,800.

 

 

Big Ten power rankings: Week 14

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
12:47
PM CT
The Ohio State Buckeyes have been atop the Big Ten power rankings most of the season. They'll stay there for a very long time.

Ohio State's win against Michigan secured a 12-0 season, just the sixth undefeated, untied campaign in team history. While the Buckeyes won't be in Indianapolis this week for the league championship game, they have proved to be the class of the conference after beating every top team in the league except Northwestern.

Nebraska retains the No. 2 spot, and most of the rankings remain the same after Week 13. Our toughest decision came at No. 3, between Michigan and Penn State. If only the teams had played each other this season.

To the rundown ...

1. Ohio State (12-0, 8-0 Big Ten, last week: 1): Sure, the Big Ten is down and Ohio State has its flaws, but any team that runs the table in any season deserves a ton of credit. Urban Meyer took a seven-loss team with significant depth issues and ran the table in his first year. Braxton Miller and the offense carried the Buckeyes early this season, but the defense stepped in the second half of Big Ten play. Ryan Shazier, Johnathan Hankins and others blanked Michigan in the second half to win The Game and ensure perfection.

2. Nebraska (10-2, 7-1, last week: 2): Most of us thought Bo Pelini was crazy when he talked about winning out moments after his team had been beaten 63-38 at Ohio State. Bo might have thought so, too. But his players believed and found a way to claim the Legends Division title and a spot in Indianapolis. Nebraska needed its defense in a big way at Iowa and received huge performances from defensive end Eric Martin and others. And with Rex Burkhead back in the fold at running back, the Huskers will be even better the rest of the way.

3. Michigan (8-4, 6-2, last week: 3): We gave Michigan a slight edge against Penn State because the Wolverines had no bad losses and gave Ohio State a tougher test. The Wolverines' defense did a nice job keeping Ohio State out of the end zone Saturday, but the offense disappeared in the second half, recording just 60 total yards and four first downs. Offensive coordinator Al Borges got predictable and must iron out the game plan before a tough bowl matchup against an SEC opponent.

4. Penn State (8-4, 6-2, last week: 4): Bill O'Brien described his team as resilient all season, and Penn State once again showed why in Saturday's overtime win against Wisconsin. Playing without star linebacker Michael Mauti, the Lions' defense shut down Wisconsin for most of the game, receiving a huge performance from defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Zach Zwinak stepped up at running back and kicker Sam Ficken, who took so much abuse earlier in the season, went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts and hit the game winner in overtime. What a satisfying way to end the season for O'Brien and his crew.

5. Northwestern (9-3, 5-3, last week: 5): If you're searching for good stories amid the Big Ten morass this season, look no further than Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats. A young team exceeded all expectations during the regular season and was a play or two away from going to the Big Ten title game. Northwestern steamrolled Illinois with its dynamic rushing attack led by quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. Fitzgerald tied Lynn Waldorf for the school's all-time coaching wins list with his 49th. An opportunistic defense stepped up, too, as Northwestern secured a spot in a Florida bowl (most likely Outback).

6. Wisconsin (7-5, 4-4, last week: 6): Another close loss for the Badgers, who had an offensive spark early and late but disappeared in between. Wisconsin's defense has made strides during the Big Ten season, but the offense simply lacks consistency, especially up front. It has proved costly in three overtime defeats this year. The Badgers are the third-best team in the Leaders Division but will go to the Big Ten title game, where they'll try to finish a bit better against Nebraska. Quarterback Curt Phillips has shown poise late in games.

7. Michigan State (6-6, 3-5, last week: 7): The Spartans went to their bread and butter -- defense and Le'Veon Bell -- to get past Minnesota and reach the six-win plateau. Michigan State's defense was simply dominant at TCF Bank Stadium, holding the Gophers to four net rush yards and three points on offense. Bell racked up a career-high 266 rush yards and a touchdown, his third 200-yard effort of the season. Michigan State didn't have the season it envisioned, but at least it has a chance to get better during bowl practices before a potential springboard for 2013.

8. Purdue (6-6, 3-5, last week: 9): Like Michigan State, Purdue underachieved this season but found a way to squeak into a bowl game. Credit quarterback Robert Marve, running back Akeem Shavers and the rest of Purdue's seniors for refusing to let the season go down the drain after an 0-5 start to Big Ten play. Shavers and Marve were brilliant against Indiana, and Frankie Williams and the Purdue secondary stepped up as well. It wasn't enough to save coach Danny Hope, but Purdue can win its second straight bowl and end a turbulent season on a good note.

9. Minnesota (6-6, 2-6, last week: 8): Big Ten play was no picnic for the Gophers, who endured numerous injuries, quarterback changes, the A.J. Barker turmoil this week and back-to-back losses to finish the regular season. Minnesota should get healthier before its bowl game, but it has a long way to go on the offensive side after rushing for four net yards Saturday against Michigan State. The next few weeks are big for freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, who struggled in his last two games.

10. Indiana (4-8, 2-6, last week: 10): The past three weeks showed that Indiana still has a long way to go to legitimize itself in the Big Ten. A defense that has struggled for more than a decade surrendered 163 points in losses to Wisconsin, Penn State and Purdue. After taking great care of the ball, quarterback Cameron Coffman had seven interceptions in his final three contests. Indiana made progress in Kevin Wilson's second season, and a big opportunity awaits in 2013 with eight home games. But there's a lot of work ahead in the offseason.

11. Iowa (4-8, 2-6, last week: 11): The defense came to play on Black Friday, but an offense that had sputtered all season went out with a whimper. Iowa failed to convert two more turnovers into points, and coordinator Greg Davis once again left Hawkeye fans pulling out their hair with his perplexing play calls. What looked like an eight- or nine-win season in September turned into a complete mess for Kirk Ferentz's crew. The Legends Division will be loaded again in 2013, so Iowa faces a critical offseason.

12. Illinois (2-10, 0-8, last week: 12): There are really bad teams, and then there's Illinois. Tim Beckman's first season mercifully ended Saturday, but not before another embarrassing road loss, this time at the hands of a rival. The Illini's offense actually showed up early, but eight first-half penalties, four turnovers and a defensive front seven that had no answer for Northwestern's run game ensured the Orange and Blue would end the Big Ten season winless for the fourth time since 1997. Beckman, who earned a penalty by accidentally contacting an official during a Northwestern interception, has a lot to fix.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
10:15
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten on the final weekend of the regular season:

1. Bigger than The Game: Michigan defensive lineman Will Campbell told me this week that The Game never wavers in importance, whether Ohio State is 0-11 or 11-0. That's a good attitude for a player to have, but from the outside looking in, the Michigan-Ohio State game is much more appealing when there's a lot at stake for both teams. For the first time since 2007, that's the case. Ohio State aims for the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Michigan can hand the Buckeyes their first loss and possibly reach the Big Ten title game. This one should be fun. "It makes the game even bigger," Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby said.

2. Bo knows: Stunned by his team's performance in a 63-38 loss to Ohio State, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini sat in the visitors' media room at Ohio Stadium and said, "Like I just told the football team, we need to win out. We need to win out." Few thought it would happen, and even Pelini's faith had to be wavering a bit at that low point. But Nebraska has won five consecutive games, rallying for three of the victories, and need only beat slumping Iowa in the Heroes Game to punch its ticket to Indianapolis. The Huskers have ridden the roller coaster all season, but they'd need a serious derailment in Iowa City not to fulfill Pelini's pledge.

3. Senior day in State College: There might never be another senior day at Penn State quite like the one Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Penn State will recognize a class that kept the team together during a tumultuous summer that included severe NCAA sanctions being handed down and several key player departures. "There's no doubt," first-year coach Bill O'Brien said, "that they set the tone for the future of Penn State football." Unfortunately, Penn State will play without senior linebacker Michael Mauti, a top candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year and the team's emotional leader. Mauti, who suffered a knee injury last week, will be recognized along with his classmates.

4. Spartans, Boilers face must-wins: Both Michigan State and Purdue entered the season with lofty goals, particularly the Spartans, pegged by many to win the Big Ten and reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in a quarter-century. Few expected MSU and Purdue to be fighting for bowl eligibility in Week 13, but that's exactly the case. Michigan State must win at Minnesota, and coach Mark Dantonio is confident, saying Tuesday, "When we win Saturday -- and I'll say when -- we'll be a 6-6 football team." Purdue, meanwhile, aims for its third straight win when it hosts rival Indiana in the Bucket game. Will a 6-6 season save fourth-year coach Danny Hope?

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireJim Tressel, now a consultant for the Indianapolis Colts, will be part of Ohio State's celebration of its 2002 national-title team.
5. Tressel's return: Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel will return to Ohio Stadium on Saturday for a reunion of the school's 2002 national championship team. It marks Tressel's first major public appearance at Ohio State since resigning from his post on Memorial Day in 2011. It will be interesting to see how the Buckeyes faithful react to Tressel, whose actions helped land the team in hot water with the NCAA. On the flip side, Ohio State's program is arguably better off with Urban Meyer as coach. "Some people will embrace it, some people will not," athletic director Gene Smith told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. "Some people will feel it's awkward, some people will not. I'm not going to feel it's awkward because I'm realistic -- he was part of that team. And I know what he means to those players."

6. Their kind of town: Northwestern and Illinois both want to increase their clout in the Chicago area. Pat Fitzgerald's Wildcats have been the more consistent program in the past decade and take an 8-3 record into Saturday's clash with the Illini at Ryan Field. With a win, Northwestern will match its highest victories total under Fitzgerald, who would tie Lynn "Pappy" Waldorf for the school's career coaching wins record (90). Illinois first-year coach Tim Beckman has emphasized the Northwestern rivalry from the moment he arrived. Perhaps his players will respond with a strong effort to end an otherwise miserable season.

7. Making their cases for awards: The Big Ten hands out all its awards next week, and races for offensive and defensive player of the year are still very much in doubt. Mauti's injury creates a potential opening in the defensive player of the year race, and a lot could depend on what happens in Columbus, as candidates such as Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan and Ohio State's tandem of John Simon and Ryan Shazier take the field. Other candidates, such as Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, also are in action. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller remains the front-runner for offensive player of the year, but Nebraska's Taylor Martinez has been brilliant of late and could challenge Miller if he turns in a monster game at Iowa.

8. Boiler spoilers: Two weeks ago, Indiana was a home victory from putting itself in line to represent the Leaders Division in the Big Ten title game. The Hoosiers now know their season will end Saturday in West Lafayette, as they won't be going bowling for the fifth consecutive season. But Kevin Wilson's team still can reclaim The Bucket and prevent Purdue from making a bowl game. Wilson talked Tuesday about how the season doesn't feel like it's ending, and with so many young players, the future is promising. He downplayed the spoiler role, saying Tuesday, "It has nothing to do with what it does for them; it's about what it does for us. Winning is good for us. Winning builds us." Indiana has eight home games next season and should be in the mix for a bowl. A victory Saturday would be a nice boost before a crucial offseason.

9. Gray's day: Minnesota will recognize 15 seniors Saturday against Michigan State, and none has had a more unique career than MarQueis Gray. He arrived as a nationally heralded dual-threat quarterback recruit, played quarterback for a year, played primarily wide receiver for a year, started 10 games at quarterback in 2011 and opened this season as the top signal-caller but moved to wide receiver following an ankle injury. He will play primarily at receiver against the Spartans but had two rushing touchdowns last week and could see increased time in the backfield. Gray talked this week about "closing the chapter" on his Gophers career, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs in his final game at TCF Bank Stadium.

10. Denard and Devin: Michigan's Denard Robinson is healthy again, but how much quarterback he will play against Ohio State remains to be seen. Robinson's replacement, Devin Gardner, has been spectacular since returning to the quarterback role, accounting for 13 touchdowns in the past three games, including six last week against Iowa. Michigan started the Iowa game with Gardner at quarterback and Robinson at running back, and offensive coordinator Al Borges has the "creative juices" flowing as he crafts the game plan for Ohio State. Robinson and Gardner certainly give Michigan's offense a different look -- and some extra homework for Ohio State's improving defense.

Instant analysis: Notre Dame 13, Michigan 6

September, 22, 2012
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Denard Robinson was the difference in the Michigan-Notre Dame classics in 2010 and 2011.

Robinson was again the key figure in the 2012 meeting, though not in a good way for the Wolverines. And the game was anything but a classic -- but Irish fans will gladly take the ugly 13-6 victory.

It was a bizarre game in South Bend that featured eight turnovers, including six of them by the losing team. Here's a quick look at how it went down.

It was over when: Tommy Rees found Tyler Eifert for a 38-yard gain on third and four from the Notre Dame 31 with less than two-and-a-half minutes remaining. That play, coming against one-on-one coverage, allowed the Irish to run out the clock and keep Robinson from pulling off another miracle. It was Eifert's only catch of the game.


Game ball goes to: The Notre Dame defense. For the past two years, they were absolutely terrorized and traumatized for Robinson. This time, the Irish not only held Michigan out of the end zone, they forced Robinson to turn it over five times (four interceptions, one fumble). He had just 228 total yards, and his longest run was only 20 yards. It was like a photo negative of Robinson's previous two performances in this series. The front seven got great pressure and stayed in its lanes, while Manti Te'o played an enormous game with two interceptions and two hurries that led to turnovers. That's why the Irish erased their nightmares from years past.

Stat of the game: Michigan had 299 total yards to only 239 for Notre Dame. But the minus-four in turnovers was too much to overcome.

How the game was won: Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly made the best move of the game when he lifted Everett Golson for Rees in the first half. Golson looked too skittish for this stage and had two bad interceptions. Rees settled the offense down and while he only threw for 115 yards, he was the only quarterback in the game who took care of the ball.

Second guessing: Michigan was driving the ball well in the first quarter and had the ball on the Notre Dame 10-yard line when offensive coordinator Al Borges got a little too tricky. He called for a halfback pass from the diminutive Vincent Smith, who jumped in the air with Te'o barreling down on him and lobbed an east interception in the end zone. The Wolverines could have used the momentum early and ended up really needing the points.

What Notre Dame learned: While this one wasn't pretty, the Irish could hardly have asked for a better start to this season. Its defense is playing at a championship level -- to hold Michigan and Robinson to just six points is an outstanding achievement. There are still questions for this team, and Kelly will have to answer even more quarterback controversy questions this week, but this is the toughest Irish team we've seen in a while.

What Michigan learned: The Wolverines still aren't ready for prime time. They got blown out in the opener against Alabama and then were ridiculously sloppy with the ball in this one. While Michigan had by far its best defensive performance to date and can build on that, Robinson is still making too many mistakes in the passing game. There's really no reason for the Wolverines to be ranked in the top 25 right now, but Michigan still will be a factor in the weakened Big Ten, which went 0-3 against Notre Dame.

Denard Robinson is ... ND's nightmare

September, 19, 2012
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Notre Dame has the perfect record, the home crowd, the prime-time stage and the more complete team, not to mention three years of frustrating losses as fuel.

Brian Kelly's squad is all set up to finally take down No. 18 Michigan.

There's only one problem: Denard Robinson. Every Notre Dame player, coach or fan will shudder when they see No. 16 in a winged helmet Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium. He's there to ruin their party.

When shamrocks face dreadlocks, dreadlocks win -- in unforgettable fashion.

Ever since Robinson took his first snap in a Michigan uniform -- a 43-yard touchdown run following a fumble in the 2009 opener -- he has been arguably the most exciting player in college football. More accomplished college stars don't have a highlight reel as extensive or as impressive as Robinson's. And no team has been Robinson's foil more than Notre Dame.

The Michigan senior quarterback has tormented Notre Dame the past two seasons.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesLast season, Denard Robinson led Michigan's improbable comeback against Notre Dame.
In 2010, he set Michigan, Big Ten and Notre Dame records in rallying the Wolverines to a 28-24 victory in South Bend. Making his first career road start, Robinson shattered his own team total offense mark with 502 yards; set team records for total plays (68) and single-game road rushing (258 yards); recorded the fifth-highest rushing effort in Michigan history; set the Big Ten quarterback rushing record; recorded the longest run in Notre Dame Stadium history (an 87-yard scoring dash in the the second quarter) and the second-longest ever against the Irish (88 yards by Michigan State's Dick Panin in 1951); and set the single-game total offense record by a Notre Dame opponent.

Robinson also directed the game-winning drive (12 plays, 72 yards), which he of course capped with a 2-yard scoring run with 27 seconds left. Only three FBS quarterbacks had more yards in a game during the 2010 season than Robinson, and none faced a big-time opponent like Notre Dame.

His statistics against Notre Dame last September weren't quite as insane, although not far off (446 yards of total offense, 338 passing yards, 108 rushing yards, four passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown). What stood out is that he did almost all of his work in the fourth quarter. Robinson completed only three of his first 13 pass attempts for 59 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions before firing a 77-yard pass to Junior Hemingway at the end of the third quarter.

"For three quarters," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said, "we did nothing on either side of the ball. Denard, in the fourth quarter, played well."

That's putting it mildly.

Robinson connected on 7 of 10 pass attempts for 202 yards and three touchdowns with one interception in the fourth quarter -- translating to a passer rating of 318.7 (he had 105.2 rating in the first three quarters). Robinson rallied Michigan from a 24-7 deficit entering the quarter and then from a 31-28 deficit in the closing seconds, finding Roy Roundtree from 16 yards out for the winning score with two ticks left.

"Man," Robinson said, "it was a great game."

Robinson wasn't available for an ESPN.com interview this week, and Michigan didn't spend much time discussing its recent triumphs against Notre Dame. Besides, it's hard for anyone -- Robinson, his coaches, his teammates -- to truly pinpoint why he has been so good against Notre Dame.

They'd just like it to continue Saturday night.

"It's interesting," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "I don't know. He pretty much prepares the same way, from my perspective, for every game. He's just had good games against Notre Dame. ... I'm not sure why."

"I don't know if anybody knows [the reason]," Hoke said. "Every year's different, every game's different, the pieces that are on the field are different. It's just been lucky for us, lucky for Michigan, that he's played well."

"It just happened to be Notre Dame, as it should be when it is a big rivalry like that, that he performs his best," Wolverines wide receiver Devin Gardner said.

Not surprisingly, this week's scouting report for Notre Dame's defenders, who are coming off of a brilliant performance at Michigan State, was short and sweet.

Stop 16.

"He's a superior football player," Kelly said Tuesday. "He's a difference-maker. ... It's about our defense not giving up those big, chunk plays. We gave them up in the running game in [2010] and we gave them up in the passing game in [2011]."

Robinson has Notre Dame's full attention.

"He's the best player on the field," Kelly said.

Robinson has played only two full games against Notre Dame -- he had 21 rushing yards and no passing yards against the Irish in 2009 -- but already owns the career record for total offense by an Irish opponent (969 yards). He needs four passing touchdowns to tie the record for most against Notre Dame held by former USC star Matt Leinart. He probably won't catch Tony Dorsett for the career rushing record against Notre Dame (754 yards) or Steve Stenstrom for the career passing record against the Irish (1,020 yards).

Still, his impact in the rivalry won't soon be forgotten, especially if he leads Michigan to a fourth consecutive win against the Irish on Saturday night.

"He'll play his best against us," Kelly said. "We're prepared for that."

WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein contributed to this report.

Big Ten weekend rewind

October, 3, 2011
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Don't look back in anger. Well, unless you're a fan of Nebraska, Ohio State, Purdue, Northwestern or Minnesota. Then we'll allow it.

Team of the week: Wisconsin. The only real question about the Badgers after their first four games was how they would fare against better competition. Then they steamrolled Nebraska 48-17. Any more questions?

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanConsistency will be a major focus for Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase next season.
Best game: Illinois' 38-35 win against Northwestern. This game was full of twists and turns, as Northwestern built a 28-10 third quarter lead, only to watch the Illini rally for 21 straight points. The Wildcats reclaimed the lead with 1:15 left, but Nathan Scheelhaase scored on a 1-yard run with 13 seconds left to end it. After it was over, the Illinois scoreboard proudly proclaimed its homeboys as "The State of Illinois' Undefeated Big Ten Team" while the speakers blared "Sweet Home Chicago," Sinatra's "My Kind of Town" and Kanye's "Homecoming." What, was the band Chicago unavailable for a live performance?

Biggest play: There were plenty to choose from in the Illinois-Northwestern game, but I'm going with one that might have been overlooked from early in Michigan State's 10-7 win against Ohio State. The Spartans botched the punt snap on their first possession, and Buckeyes defenders were bearing down on punter Mike Sadler deep in his own territory. Sadler somehow recovered, eluded the rush and got off a 37-yard punt. If disaster strikes there for Michigan State, Ohio State might have scored, gained confidence and changed the entire complexion of that game.

Best call: Maybe we should call this the most interesting calls, not necessarily the best. Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges unveiled a new wrinkle against Minnesota, putting Devin Gardner in at quarterback with Denard Robinson and two other running backs also in the game. The Wolverines used it a handful of times, employing a double pitch and a double pass. They also used a halfback pass from Vincent Smith for a touchdown. Let's be honest: Michigan didn't need any trickery against Minnesota in a 58-0 blowout. But Borges has just given every other Big Ten defensive coordinator something else to worry about.

Big Men on Campus (Offense): Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. Jenkins broke a school record with 268 receiving yards plus three touchdowns on 12 catches in the Northwestern win. It was the fourth-best receiving day ever by a Big Ten wideout. Wilson led the Badgers to the win in the biggest game of the year so far in the Big Ten by completing 14-of-20 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 32 yards and a score.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor. He made a career-high 14 tackles, one of them for a loss, and intercepted a pass in the second quarter of the Badgers' win. Nebraska entered the game averaging more than 42 points, but was held to just 17.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Penn State's Anthony Fera. He drilled three field goal attempts (from 22, 27 and 33 yards) in a 16-10 win against Indiana. He also punted seven times for an average of 39 yards, placing three inside the 20-yard line.

Worst hangover: Purdue. While acknowledging the terrible Saturdays that Minnesota and Ohio State also suffered through, the Boilermakers legitimately thought they could beat Notre Dame. They had two weeks to get ready for a night game at home, making this a real circle-the-wagons type of game. After the Irish won 38-10, the Purdue bandwagon has three broken wheels and a flat tire.

Strangest moment: Let's go back to Purdue for this one. Early on in that game, the Boilers forced an Irish incompletion on third down from their own 10. But safety Albert Evans was called for a celebration penalty for high-fiving some fans in the end-zone stands. Notre Dame would cash in with its second touchdown. "They said I high-fived someone," Evans told reporters. "I was in the moment, so I couldn't tell you who I high-fived. The band was right there. I guess you can't high-five anyone." Can't blame Evans too much for his premature celebration, as it was one of the few times all night the Purdue defense got a stop.

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