Chicago Colleges: Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:00
PM CT
Nebraska is soliciting applications from students who want to work as a DJ at football practice. Interesting concept. I wonder if this is a gimmick or a sign of things to come. Perhaps students may soon run the scoreboard or move the chains at practice. Just as long as they're not calling plays, we're all safe. On second thought ...

Here's the mailbag for Wednesday. Send more questions here for later this week.



Mitch Sherman: Iowa fans value stability. They've got it in Kirk Ferentz, entering his 16th season. He trails only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer for longevity among major-conference coaches. Of course, with stability can come complacency. And the Hawkeyes got a dose of it two years ago. Last fall, though, produced positive vibes in Iowa City, with the promise of an even better season to follow.

Ferentz earned just less than $4 million last year, a figure that places him among the nation's elite. Iowa is 27-24 since its 2009 Orange Bowl season, so yes, fans ought to demand more bang for the buck. Thing is, from my view just to the west, I didn't sense more than moderate unrest even after the 2012 debacle.

Iowa fans understand the economics in play here. They like Ferentz as the face of the program. And expectations in Iowa City may never match those in place at Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska. All told, the Hawkeyes know what they have in their coach and generally like it. In this case, stability pays.




 



Mitch Sherman: The answer is multi-faceted. First, consider that Wisconsin is just one year removed from three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. With a tip of the cap to Michigan State, the Badgers maximize talent more efficiently than any Big Ten team.

So look at this group, with a suspect front seven on defense, the underwhelming Joel Stave at quarterback and a questionable group of receivers. You may see a mediocre club. Others see a team set up to make a run at the College Football Playoff. That's the Wisconsin way.

There's also Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in per-carry rushing average in each of the past two seasons. He's back to run behind a stout offensive line. Finally, check out the schedule. Yeah, LSU awaits in the opener, but there's no better time to get the young Tigers. The Badgers face Nebraska at Camp Randall and play Rutgers and Maryland from the East Division.




 



Mitch Sherman: Only two coaches qualify as realistic possibilities, Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini. Either could land himself in trouble with a poor season, though isn't that always the case at Michigan and Nebraska?

In his fourth season, Hoke needs to rebound from a difficult six-game finish to last season. It began with a 24-3 drubbing at Michigan State and ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State. In between, the Wolverines lost at home to Nebraska and Iowa. Though all the pieces don't appear in place, it's time for Michigan to reverse the trajectory on display the past three years.

For Pelini, the story is different. His record, 58-24 in six years, stands up nationally. But the lack of a conference championship -- it's been since 1999 -- is a burden that has long troubled Nebraska fans. The Hail Mary escape against Northwestern last year may have saved the Huskers and their coach from a disastrous finishing stretch. Good fortune won't always be on their side.

The 10 worst nonconference schedules

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:14
PM CT
Editor's Note: This week, ESPN.com broke down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of the nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began in the South with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. On Tuesday, we focused on the East with the A-10, Big East and CAA. Wednesday was all about the West with the Mountain West, Pac-12 and WCC. Today we focused on the Midwest with the Big Ten, Missouri Valley and Big 12. We also analyzed the schedules of 10 prominent mid-majors from outside those 12 conferences.

A quick note: You may notice that many of the below schedules come from unsurprising places. When ranking and grading nonconference schedules, we try to take into account the relative strength of a team, if a program is rebuilding, and so forth. But for the purposes of this post, such distinctions were difficult to parse.

I understand many of these schedules are constructed in order to help teams along in their development, and also -- let's just be honest about it -- inflate win totals. Even so, these are all high-major teams. They could all do better. In the end, I tried to find the 10 worst high-major schedules, with only minimal (but not zero!) consideration for program context. OK, let's begin (in alphabetical order):

DEPAUL

Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21)
Next-toughest: at Arizona State (Dec. 12)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 9), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Nov. 17), Fairfield (Nov. 27), at Auburn (Nov. 30), at Chicago State (Dec. 5), Milwaukee (Dec. 9), Northern Illinois (Dec. 16), UMBC (Dec. 22), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 29)

DePaul is getting better under third-year coach Oliver Purnell, especially compared to where the Blue Demons were (hint: in the absolute talent cellar) when he took over. Unfortunately, the schedule is not following suit. The Cancun Challenge is the only thing worth noting here, and it features Wichita State (which is also a rebuilding program) and either Iowa or Western Kentucky. If that's Iowa, great -- the Hawkeyes are a trendy Big Ten sleeper pick. That said, when Iowa is your best possible opponent, sorry, your schedule is bad.

OKLAHOMA STATE

Toughest: South Florida (Dec. 5), Gonzaga (Dec. 31)
Next-toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18), at Virginia Tech (Dec. 1)
The rest: UC Davis (Nov. 9), Portland State (Nov. 25), Missouri State (Dec. 8), Central Arkansas (Dec. 16), UT-Arlington (Dec. 19), Tennessee Tech (Dec. 22)

This schedule is not as bad as some of the others you'll see on this list. However, it is the worst of any team you'll see that also has two McDonald's All-Americans on its roster. There are no true road challenges, the Puerto Rico Tip-Off field is good but not great, and Gonzaga is the only top-25 team anywhere near the slate if the Pokes fall flat in San Juan. This isn't a great nonconference schedule by any metric, but when you take into account Oklahoma State's talent level -- and their chances of playing spoiler in the Big 12 this season -- it is rather blasÚ.

OLE MISS

Toughest: Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25 in Honolulu)
Next-toughest: at Middle Tennessee (Dec. 8), at Loyola Marymount (Dec. 19)
The rest: Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 9), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 13), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 16), McNeese State (Nov. 20), Lipscomb (Nov. 23), Rutgers (Dec. 1), ETSU (Dec. 14), Fordham (Jan. 4)

There are some who believe Ole Miss will be an NCAA tournament team in 2012-13. Others claim the Rebels can hang near the top -- or at least in the middle of the pack -- in the SEC this season. That may or may not be true, but we won't really find out until SEC play begins. Other than a possible matchup with San Diego State on a neutral court, and a road game at Middle Tennessee -- points for that, but not too many -- Ole Miss has absolutely nothing on its schedule. With a few exceptions, most of the teams on this list are rebuilding, and their schedules say so. Andy Kennedy's team is supposed to be rounding into form, but you wouldn't know it from the above schedule.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Dec. 1)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 9), Fordham (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 27), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center), North Florida (Dec. 8), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Dec. 23)

It's hard to fault Jamie Dixon for his scheduling philosophy. As SI.com's Luke Winn wrote last month, Dixon is the nation's best RPI exploiter; he slips in every crevice of the NCAA's crude metric, all while rarely putting his team at risk. And with due praise out of the way, sorry, but this schedule is really ugly. Pitt is likely to play Michigan and either Virginia or Kansas State in the NIT Season Tip-Off, but even if those games were guaranteed they're not enough to keep the Panthers off this list. Besides, sure, Pitt was bad last year, but let's not forget that this is still Pitt, one of the most comprehensively consistent programs of the past decade. Their scheduling sights should be set much higher.

PROVIDENCE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Mississippi State (Dec. 1), at Boston College (Dec. 22)
The rest: NJIT (Nov. 10), Bryant (Nov. 12), Fairfield (Nov. 23), Holy Cross (Nov. 27), Rhode Island (Dec. 6), Colgate (Dec. 18), at Brown (Dec. 28)

The differences between what this schedule could be, and what it is, are stark. For example, had the Friars got Mississippi State in any of the past five years -- rather than this one -- that would be a quality opponent. And if Boston College wasn't undergoing its own rebuilding project, and if PC were to topple UMass in the first round in Puerto Rico (opening up possible games against NC State and Tennessee), then we may be talking. Alas, the schedule as it is is downright brutal, with Mississippi State and BC and then a bunch of really cupcake-y low majors (NJIT, Bryant) rounding out the badness.

RUTGERS

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 16), vs. Iona (Dec. 8 in NYC)
The rest: St. Peter’s (Nov. 9), Sacred Heart (Nov. 12), Boston U (Nov. 20), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 25), George Washington (Dec. 11), UAB (Dec. 16), Rider (Dec. 28)

As medium-to-low mid-majors go, Princeton and Iona are pretty solid. As the lynchpins of the schedule you create -- that game at Ole Miss is part of the Big East/SEC Challenge, so minimal points are awarded -- they are not exactly beasts. And ... that's pretty much it! Most of the schedules on this list at least have a token mediocre early-season tournament to their credit. Rutgers doesn't even have that. Gross.

SOUTH CAROLINA

Toughest: at St. John’s (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: Hoops for Hope Classic (Nov. 24-25 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico), Clemson (Dec. 2)
The rest: Milwaukee (Nov. 11), Morgan State (Nov. 16), Rider (Nov. 19), Elon (Nov. 21), Jacksonville (Dec. 7), Appalachian State (Dec. 19), vs. Manhattan (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn), Presbyterian (Dec. 29), South Carolina State (Jan. 5)

You'll have to forgive South Carolina: It's going to take some time to get used to this whole "basketball being important" thing. That's the promise of coach Frank Martin's hire, and there's every reason to believe Martin will get the Gamecocks and their fans there eventually (by dragging them kicking and screaming, if needed). But this schedule still reflects the old South Carolina, where the Gamecocks would routinely (attempt) to feast on early-season cupcakes in the hopes of inflating their win totals and getting to the NCAA tournament. It never really worked. The game at St. John's is a must, thanks to the Big East/SEC Challenge. Other than that, yikes.

TCU

Toughest: South Padre Island Invitational (Nov. 23-24)
Next-toughest: Houston (Dec. 4), at Tulsa (Dec. 9)
The rest: Cal Poly (Nov. 9), Centenary (Nov. 12), SMU (Nov. 15), Prairie View A&M (Nov. 18), Navy (Nov. 20), Southern Utah (Nov. 29), Southern (Dec. 18), at Rice (Dec. 22), Mississippi Valley State (Dec. 30)

Look, it's hard to fault TCU -- and especially first-year coach Trent Johnson -- for having one of the worst schedules in the country. Of course the Horned Frogs are scheduling soft. They've been rebuilding for ... forever, basically. But still, we're in high-major territory now. Let this be a friendly reminder that it's time to start scheduling like it.

TEXAS TECH

Toughest: Arizona (Dec. 1), Alabama (Dec. 19)
Next-toughest: Arizona State (Dec. 22)
The rest: Prairie View A&M (Nov. 9), Nebraska-Omaha (Nov. 14), Grambling State (Nov. 20), Jackson State (Nov. 26), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 4), McNeese State (Dec. 16), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 28), Florida A&M (Dec. 31)

Perhaps this is now-deposed Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie's final legacy at the school: The strategy of somehow getting away with not scheduling any road games whatsoever. Arizona is a quality opponent (if young), and Alabama is fundamentally solid (if somewhat retooling), but other than those two "highlights," most of this schedule comprises low-major guarantee games and few real challenges. Oh, and Arizona State. You get the point.

UTAH

Toughest: at BYU (Dec. 8 )
Next-toughest: at SMU (Nov. 28), Boise State (Dec. 5)
The rest: Williamette (Nov. 9), Sacramento State (Nov. 16), Idaho State (Nov. 21), Central Michigan (Nov. 23), Wright State (Nov. 24), at Texas State (Nov. 30), SMU (Dec. 18), Cal State Northridge (Dec. 21), College of Idaho (Dec. 28)

The Utes went 6-25 last season. They were historically bad in the nonconference and nearly as bad during conference play. (Though somehow not as bad as USC. That still boggles the mind. How do you perform worse than Utah in last year's Pac-12?! How is that possible?) The point being, no one would expect Utah to be loading up on a Texas-esque nonconference slate. Unless you're actively trying to set new school win total lows, there doesn't seem to be much point. And having said all that ... with the exception of the long-standing rivalry game at BYU, this schedule is atrocious.

Nonconference schedule analysis: Big East

October, 11, 2012
10/11/12
2:13
PM CT
This week, ESPN.com is breaking down the nonconference schedules of each and every team in a dozen of nation's top leagues. On Monday, we began with the ACC, SEC and C-USA. We started Tuesday with the A-10 and now it's off to the Big East ...

CINCINNATI

Toughest: Global Sports Invitational (Nov. 23-24 in Las Vegas)
Next-toughest: Alabama (Dec. 1), vs. Marshall (Dec. 15 in Charleston, W.Va.), vs. Xavier (Dec. 19 at US Bank Arena), New Mexico (Dec. 27)
The rest: UT-Martin (Nov. 11), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 13), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 18), Campbell (Nov. 20), Arkansas-Little Rock (Dec. 6), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 8), Wright State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Bearcats earn a slight bump thanks to a trip to Vegas that includes a game against Iowa State and then either UNLV or Oregon. But otherwise there isn’t a lot to get excited about here. Even the Crosstown Shootout has lost a little luster, moved off campus after the brawl and muted by a seriously depleted Xavier roster.

CONNECTICUT

Toughest: vs. Michigan State (Nov. 9 in Germany), vs. NC State (Dec. 4 in NYC), Washington (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Paradise Jam (Nov. 16-19), Harvard (Dec. 7)
The rest: Vermont (Nov. 13), Stony Brook (Nov. 25), New Hampshire (Nov. 29), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 17), Fordham (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Welcome to the hot seat, Kevin Ollie. Jim Calhoun has done you little in the way of a favor, leaving a Huskies team in the midst of reconstructing itself a tough schedule. The Armed Forces Classic with the Spartans on the base in Germany will be a spectacle in the best sense of the word, but followed just four days later with a not-so-easy game against perennial America East contender Vermont. And that’s just the first week. There's also a preseason top-10 team in NC State and a decent field in the Virgin Islands that includes New Mexico and several dangerous mid-majors.

DEPAUL

Toughest: Cancun Challenge (Nov. 20-21)
Next-toughest: at Arizona State (Dec. 12)
The rest: UC Riverside (Nov. 9), Gardner-Webb (Nov. 15), Austin Peay (Nov. 17), Fairfield (Nov. 27), at Auburn (Nov. 30), at Chicago State (Dec. 5), Milwaukee (Dec. 9), Northern Illinois (Dec. 16), UMBC (Dec. 22), Loyola-Chicago (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 2 -- There’s a rationale here that’s understandable. DePaul has to walk before it can run and frontloading an impossible schedule will do no good for a team still trying to crawl its way up the Big East standings. But maybe a little something to move the needle wouldn’t be a bad idea. The Cancun event is about it and that offers up retooling Wichita State and either Iowa or Western Kentucky.

GEORGETOWN

Toughest: vs. Florida (Nov. 9 in Jacksonville), Legends Classic (Nov. 19-20 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Next-toughest: Tennessee (Nov. 30), vs. Texas (Dec. 4 in New York)
The rest: Duquesne (Nov. 11), Liberty (Nov. 14), Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 24), Towson (Dec. 8), Longwood (Dec. 10), Western Carolina (Dec. 15), American (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale: 8 -- This schedule is potentially even better. If the Hoyas beat UCLA in Brooklyn, they'll likely take on preseason No. 1 Indiana the next day. That's after the opener against Florida and before tough games against Tennessee and Texas. Georgetown, looking for a second straight better-than-expected season, will be well-tested by the beginning of December. If they aren’t beaten up or beaten down, the Hoyas will come out the stronger for it in time for Big East play.

LOUISVILLE

Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 22-24), at Memphis (Dec. 15), Kentucky (Dec. 29)
Next-toughest: Illinois State (Dec. 1), vs. Western Kentucky (Dec. 22 in Nashville)
The rest: Manhattan (Nov. 11), Samford (Nov. 15), Miami-Ohio (Nov. 18), at Charleston (Dec. 4), UMKC (Dec. 8), Florida International (Dec. 19)
Toughness scale: 8 -- The beauty in this schedule is what you don’t see -- namely the Battle 4 Atlantis schedule after the first-round date with Northern Iowa. Missouri, Stanford, Memphis, VCU, Duke and Minnesota round out the field of heavy hitters, all of whom will give the top-5 Cards plenty to handle. And the date with Kentucky is always a nice friendly little waltz, too.

MARQUETTE

Toughest: vs. Ohio State (Nov. 9 in Charleston, S.C.), Maui Invitational (Nov. 19-20), at Florida (Nov. 29), Wisconsin (Dec. 8)
Next-toughest: LSU (Dec. 22)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 11), Southeastern Louisiana (Nov. 13), UMBC (Nov. 26), Savannah State (Dec. 15), at Green Bay (Dec. 19), North Carolina Central (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale: 8 -- Another schedule with a hidden gem -- that would be a potential tango with North Carolina in Maui. But only if the Golden Eagles get past Butler, no easy task. Even without that, though, Buzz Williams has set his team up nicely, with not just some big names but a good mix of contrasting styles -- from uptempo Florida to no-tempo Wisconsin. You can even forgive Marquette for its dose of supposed ‘easy’ games. There's enough heft here, including that opener against the Buckeyes, to excuse any number of softies.

NOTRE DAME

Toughest: CVC Classic (Nov. 16-17 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), Kentucky (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: vs. Purdue (Dec. 15 in Indianapolis)
The rest: Evansville (Nov. 10), Monmouth (Nov. 12), George Washington (Nov. 21), St. Francis-Pa. (Nov. 24), Chicago State (Nov. 26), Brown (Dec. 8), IPFW (Dec. 17), Kennesaw State (Dec. 19), Niagara (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 5 -- It’s not awful -- and it could get better, with Florida State perhaps waiting in the wings in Brooklyn (ND opens with A-10 favorite St. Joe's there) -- but this isn’t exactly the same as the Irish’s football schedule. Yes, Kentucky coming to town for the SEC/Big East Challenge is a great feather in the cap, but there are too many teams here that aren’t guaranteed NCAA tournament selections to get hyped up about.

PITTSBURGH

Toughest: NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 12-23)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Dec. 1)
The rest: Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 9), Fordham (Nov. 12), Oakland (Nov. 17), Howard (Nov. 27), vs. Duquesne (Dec. 5 at Consol Energy Center), North Florida (Dec. 8), Bethune Cookman (Dec. 15), Delaware State (Dec. 19), Kennesaw State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale: 3 -- Yikes. This is a whole lotta meh for the Panthers. The NIT will help. Assuming they beat Fordham and/or Robert Morris or Lehigh (the latter of which won't be easy), a trip to MSG will likely produce a matchup with Michigan and either Virginia or Kansas State. The rest is pretty grim, but then again so was Pitt last season. It might be not be a bad way to go about the season.

PROVIDENCE

Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Mississippi State (Dec. 1), at Boston College (Dec. 22)
The rest: NJIT (Nov. 10), Bryant (Nov. 12), Fairfield (Nov. 23), Holy Cross (Nov. 27), Rhode Island (Dec. 6), Colgate (Dec. 18), at Brown (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 2 -- You almost can’t fault the Friars here. It’s not their fault New England basketball is a mess. If it weren’t, games against Rhode Island and BC would have some heft. But truth be told, Ed Cooley ought to be sighing in relief here. Without heralded freshman Ricardo Ledo, Providence needs a little more time to build, and this schedule ought to allow for that. There might be some meat in San Juan with an opener against UMass and Tennessee and NC State in the field. But there's not much else to see here.

RUTGERS

Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: at Princeton (Nov. 16), vs. Iona (Dec. 8 in NYC)
The rest: St. Peter’s (Nov. 9), Sacred Heart (Nov. 12), Boston U (Nov. 20), UNC Greensboro (Nov. 25), George Washington (Dec. 11), UAB (Dec. 16), Rider (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 1 -- When the toughest games you have are against the Ivy League and a middle-of-the-pack SEC contender (which was scheduled for them), there just isn’t much to crow about. This is a schedule built to get Rutgers wins but not much else.

ST. JOHN’S

Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 15-18)
Next-toughest: Detroit (Nov. 13), South Carolina (Nov. 29)
The rest: Holy Cross (Nov. 21), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 24), NJIT (Dec. 1), at San Francisco (Dec. 4), Fordham (Dec. 8), vs. St. Francis-NY (Dec. 15 in Brooklyn, N.Y.), UNC Asheville (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 4 -- The Red Storm could get a bump in Charleston, where they open with the home-team Cougars and could draw Murray State in the second round and maybe Baylor or Colorado down the road. So that’s not awful. But otherwise Steve Lavin has a manageable -- if not entirely easy -- reentry into his coaching career, as does his young roster.

SETON HALL

Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff Classic (Nov. 17-18 in Uncasville, Conn.)
Next-toughest: at LSU (Nov. 29), at Wake Forest (Dec. 8), vs. LIU-Brooklyn (Dec. 22 in Brooklyn, N.Y.)
The rest: UMKC (Nov. 9), Norfolk State (Nov. 12), Maine (Nov. 21), St. Peter’s (Nov. 25), NJIT (Dec. 4), North Carolina A&T (Dec. 15), Longwood (Dec. 19), Stony Brook (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 3 -- This could get better if the Pirates play Ohio State at Mohegan Sun (that would require a win over Washington) and would have been better if Wake Forest was what Wake Forest used to be. But going by the "play the hand you’re dealt" adage, Seton Hall is holding a pair of 3s at best.

SOUTH FLORIDA

Toughest: at Oklahoma State (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: UCF (Nov. 10), George Mason (Dec. 29), at UCF (Jan. 2)
The rest: Maryland-Eastern Shore (Nov. 16), Loyola-Chicago (Nov. 17), Western Michigan (Nov. 18), Bradley (Nov. 20), at Stetson (Nov. 26), Youngstown State (Dec. 18), Bowling Green (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale: 3 -- The Bulls had to fight and pray to make it into the NCAA tournament a season ago, a serious bubble team until the Big East tournament. This schedule won’t do much to make March easier should USF be successful again. There’s just enough here to turn the committee’s head, so it will be up to the Big East slate to make South Florida viable.

SYRACUSE

Toughest: vs. San Diego State (Nov. 9 at Battle of the Midway), vs. Temple (Dec. 22 in NYC)
Next-toughest: Princeton (Nov. 21), at Arkansas (Nov. 30), Long Beach State (Dec. 6), Detroit (Dec. 17)
The rest: Wagner (Nov. 18), Colgate (Nov. 25), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 3), Monmouth (Dec. 8), Canisius (Dec. 15), Alcorn State (Dec. 29), Central Connecticut State (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale: 6 -- I’m done with arguing the merits of Jim Boeheim’s schedule because he always wins. He wins games, lots of them, and he wins the argument, quieting the scheduling critics (present company included) with deep March runs. This isn’t awful, but it’s not saliva-inducing wonderful either. So what? It will work. Just watch.

VILLANOVA

Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 15-16), Temple (Dec. 5)
Next-toughest: Marshall (Nov. 11), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 1), Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 11)
The rest: Columbia (Nov. 20), at La Salle (Nov. 25), at Penn (Dec. 8), Delaware (Dec. 16), at Monmouth (Dec. 22), NJIT (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale: 4 -- The 2K Sports Classic, with Purdue as the opener and either Alabama and Oregon State in the second game, raises the bar slightly and the chronically hard-to-win Big 5 games help, too, especially now that some of those teams have life again. But this is by no means the most menacing schedule Jay Wright has ever concocted for his team. Which might be wise. The Wildcats, remember, were not exactly the most menacing team a season ago.

Navy familiar with bad breaks this season

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
6:54
PM CT
And you thought Notre Dame was the victim of so many bad breaks.

Navy, the Irish's opponent this Saturday, is 2-5. It is in the middle of a five-game losing streak that has featured four games decided by three points or less -- a total of eight points covering four defeats.

The latest wrong turn in a Midshipmen season that has seen so many came in Saturday's 38-35 home loss to East Carolina, which ended with Jon Teague's 42-yard field goal bouncing off the right upright when time expired … which came two plays after Matt Aiken's seemingly good 33-yard touchdown catch was ruled incomplete and upheld … which came two quarters after starting quarterback Kriss Proctor left the game with a left-elbow injury -- and yes, he's a southpaw.

That loss came one week after blowing a 10-point second-half lead at Rutgers, which won by one point thanks in large part to a blocked field goal attempt with less than five minutes to play.

Two weeks earlier, Navy came back from an 18-point second-half deficit against Air Force to force overtime … where the Midshipmen lost by one thanks, again, in large part to a blocked extra point in overtime. That one came from the 35-yard line after Proctor received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after his one-yard touchdown run.

In Navy's game before that, in an attempt to go 3-0 and beat a top-10 team for the first time since 1984, the Midshipmen had a pass picked off in the fourth quarter, sealing a 24-21 loss at then-No. 10 South Carolina.

The losing continued from then on.

Proctor is a longshot to return Saturday, meaning sophomore Trey Miller will likely make his first career start. Miller completed 5 of 12 passes for 126 yards and two touchdowns Saturday.

For two teams ready to take out the frustrations of seemingly mounting bad breaks, this Saturday probably cannot come soon enough.

Irish offense explodes in historic fashion

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
8:42
PM CT


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Andrew Hendrix was running for the end zone, no question about it. He had completed every pass he threw Saturday, had just burst through the line and was seeing nothing but six points in front of him.

But he couldn't help but look back.

"If there was a video board I probably would've seen who was behind me," Hendrix said with a laugh. "But I was checking behind me to see who was behind me, whether I had to make a move on somebody or not, and I ended up losing my balance just at the right time to not get in.

"So it was a little embarrassing, but I'm all right with it."

The humble Hendrix had nothing to be ashamed of, as at that point -- up 33 in the fourth quarter -- the biggest question remaining in Notre Dame's 59-33 rout of Air Force was whether or not the sophomore quarterback would run out of gas during his 78-yard run.

He did, falling forward at the 2, before George Atkinson III punched it in three plays later for the Fighting Irish's final points during a historic day for Notre Dame's offense.

For much of the day, it was tough to figure out who was having the hardest time inside Notre Dame Stadium:

Air Force's defense, which gave up 560 total yards and 59 points, including touchdowns on Notre Dame's first six drives?

[+] EnlargeJonas Gray
Matt Cashore/US PresswireNotre Dame's Jonas Gray rushed for 69 yards on seven carries with two touchdowns.
The group of high school prospects on hand, who had to wonder if this place was as beautiful every October as the 80-degree temperatures and day-long sunshine would have one believe?

Or Notre Dame's media relations staff, which issued historical reference after historical reference over the press box loudspeaker throughout the offensive showcase?

No Irish team had scored so many points since a 62-0 win over Rutgers in 1996, Lou Holtz's final game at Notre Dame Stadium. The same stadium had never seen as many as 92 total points scored, which the Irish and Falcons combined for Saturday.

And no Notre Dame quarterback had rushed for more than 100 yards since Carlyle Holiday did so in 2001 against Boston College.

Hendrix, seeing his first action this season after not playing his freshman season, entered the game in the first quarter and hit Michael Floyd for what amounted to minus-3 yards.

It was smooth sailing from there.

Hendrix finished the day 4-for-4 passing for 33 yards and, more importantly, rushed it six times for 111 yards.

Most of the heavy lifting came on that 78-yard run mid-way through the fourth quarter, the game no longer in doubt and everyone inside the stadium holding their collective breath before Hendrix finally gave out at the 2.

How sudden did that happen? The public address announcer inside the press box had to reiterate the "no cheering" rule, as reporters couldn't help but be stunned by what they saw.

The reaction on the home sideline was far more exciting.

"I did not see that happening," running back Jonas Gray confessed. "He did kind of break away from the guy, but I think he just kind of ran out of gas."

Gray, a senior, had a message for Hendrix as he came back to the sideline following the Irish's touchdown to end the drive.

"I told him to not get caught ever again," Gray quipped. "I've been through that situation. I told him to never look back, just believe in his speed."

This was supposed to be about how Notre Dame's defense would handle Air Force's vaunted attack, especially with starting end Ethan Johnson sidelined and two freshmen seeing extended playing time in Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.

Another freshman end, Chase Hounshell, made his Irish debut as well, but it was a moot point after Jamoris Slaughter forced a fumble on the Falcons' first play.

If Air Force was going to have any chance of hanging with Notre Dame, it could not afford to cough it up and play catch-up, because there was just nothing it could do defensively.

"We got two key turnovers by our defense that we were able to set up, and any time you get a chance to turn over Air Force and put points on the board, it allows you to extend away from them," Brian Kelly said. "And you need some extension from them sometimes in terms of points because they are so difficult to defend, and I think we saw that today."

The fact Air Force actually outgained Notre Dame, 565-560, shows the potential that was there on the other side.

But Kelly and Notre Dame know that means nothing if they cannot protect the ball, something the Irish accomplished by going a second straight week with no turnovers.

They have now put up better than 500 yards of total offense in four of their first six games, winning the last two of them. And they have now won four in a row after two straight defeats.

As Hendrix came out to line up in victory formation with 33 seconds to go Saturday, the student section couldn't help but look ahead.

"Beat-S-C," it chanted, referencing the Irish's battle with the Trojans in the two weeks.

Funny how things play out. Notre Dame kept beating itself to start the season. Now with the momentum going in the Irish's favor, their toughest opponent may be the bye week that comes a week from now.

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