Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
5:00
PM ET
We haven't corresponded in far too long. Let's catch up, shall we?

Brian Bennett: I'm going to East Lansing this weekend and simply cannot wait. This game should be terrific, especially since Nebraska has had more offensive success against Michigan State's defense than anyone else in the Big Ten. The Huskers have a real shot on Saturday night, and I'm expecting a thriller.

In some ways, it could be the biggest game of the year in the conference, because the loser is basically out of the running for the College Football Playoff. But I always think division games are bigger. Whichever team loses this weekend could still get to Indianapolis (perhaps to force a rematch). The Ohio State game may still loom larger for Michigan State because of the division stakes, just as Wisconsin (and possibly Iowa and Minnesota) will for Nebraska. But there might not be a better Big Ten matchup all year then the one on deck at Spartan Stadium.



Brian Bennett: Well, you don't have to look too far back to find successful two-QB systems in the Big Ten. Northwestern pulled it off during a 10-win season in 2012, while Indiana successfully juggled Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson last year.

So it can work, though in those examples, the two quarterbacks offered different skill sets. C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock aren't all that dissimilar, though Beathard seems to throw a better deep ball and Rudock is a better scrambler. This will likely be more of a ride-the-hot-hand situation than a strict platoon. That has higher potential to be divisive, but at this point, neither quarterback has really separated himself with consistent play.



Brian Bennett: I'm not sure who said Michigan was a year away, and in fact, I was always skeptical of the Wolverines this year. Still, it's Brady Hoke's fourth year and his roster should be full of his recruits by now. He can make excuses for being young all he wants, and yes, the offensive line is still fairly inexperienced. But look at Ohio State and how many first-year and second-year players are making key contributions.

The biggest knock on Hoke, in my mind, is the lack of player development in Ann Arbor. (Our Tom VanHaaren did a nice job of detailing that here.) The only two players Hoke has recruited who have made an All-Big Ten team are Blake Countess and Devin Funchess, who were both second-team selections in 2013, and outside of Funchess, none would make an All-Big Ten team if the season ended today. That's way too low of a number for Michigan.




Disrespected Husker Fan from Lincoln writes: Can you explain the reasoning for everybody keeping Nebraska so low in the polls despite their undefeated record? McNeese State would beat Kansas by two touchdowns.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure comparing yourself to Kansas is the best way to earn respect. While it would be foolish to get hung up on meaningless polls, I do think Nebraska is ranked curiously low right now at 5-0. That's because, in my opinion, of two factors: 1. People still remember that close call with McNeese State (a team, by the way, that is ranked No. 5 in the FCS); and 2. Voters still have a healthy distrust for the Cornhuskers because of their stumbles in big games the past few years.

There's no reason to fret about it, however. If Nebraska manages to win this weekend, it will make a huge leap in the polls. More importantly, the committee will have to consider a 6-0 Huskers team very seriously. An unbeaten Big Ten champion would almost certainly get into the playoff.



Brian Bennett: If Indiana's recent pattern continues, the Hoosiers probably will lose to North Texas and then beat Iowa. The win at Missouri stands as the most inexplicable result in the Big Ten thus far. Obviously, beating the Mean Green this week is crucial for Kevin Wilson's team, which then must find three more victories in Big Ten play. Indiana will be favored to beat Purdue at home in the finale, so there's one. The other three best options appear to be at reeling Michigan on Nov. 1, at home against Penn State (whom the Hoosiers beat last year in Bloomington) on Nov. 8 and at Rutgers on Nov. 15.

But until Wilson's team can find some consistency from week to week on both sides of the ball, I'll believe it when I see it.

 

Michigan to start Devin Gardner

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
12:40
PM ET
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Michigan coach Brady Hoke, who moved Devin Gardner back into the starting quarterback role Wednesday, said he takes responsibility for communication issues that allowed Shane Morris to return to the field on Saturday after he showed symptoms of a concussion.

Hoke, however, reiterated that it's not his decision to determine when players are healthy enough to play. He declined to clear up any discrepancies between his account of the weekend's events and a statement released by athletic director Dave Brandon at 1 a.m. Tuesday.

"When you're a leader you have to take responsibility," Hoke said. "I take responsibility for our student-athletes, and I take it for their health and welfare."

Gardner, a redshirt senior, will start at quarterback against Rutgers on Saturday night. He had started 16 consecutive regular-season games before last week.

Morris, who suffered a high ankle sprain in addition to the head injury Saturday, wasn't listed by Hoke as an option for the Rutgers game.

Hoke and his players are the only members of the Michigan athletic department to date who have fielded questions about what Brandon called a "serious lack of communication" in a written statement. Hoke said he still has a strong relationship with his boss and that he isn't bothered by the statement.

"This is a big family, this university is. That's the way we look at it," Hoke said. "The statement itself is what we stand by."


(Read full post)


Michigan coach Brady Hoke is in his fourth season, but the Wolverines find themselves starting just one senior on offense and feature a variety of players yet to solidify their starting roles.

Hoke has said this is a young team and attributes that fact to some of the woes on the field.

While youth can be a factor in some cases, one Big Ten assistant says it shouldn’t be an excuse for why a team isn’t performing, or why players aren’t developing.

“I’m not sure anyone can use the excuse of a young team,” the coach said. “It’s the coaches’ job to get players ready to play. If they don’t have experience, then you have to minimize what you ask [the players] to do.”

To understand Michigan’s situation, we take a look at the past recruiting classes, how the players have developed and how the results compare to their biggest rival.

Class of 2011


Hoke was hired in January 2011, so he and his staff only had a month to add any pieces to the 2011 class before national signing day. Hoke and his assistants added several prospects to this class, and these players are currently either seniors or redshirt juniors.

[+] EnlargeBlake Countess
AP Photo/Tony DingBlake Countess is one of just five players from Michigan's 2011 recruiting class who have blossomed into solid contributors.
Total commits: 19
ESPN 300 commits: 0

Solid contributors (5): Brennen Beyer, Blake Countess, Frank Clark, Desmond Morgan, Raymon Taylor

Players who left early (7): Thomas Rawls, Chris Barnett, Tony Posada, Chris Rock, Antonio Poole, Greg Brown, Tamani Carter

Outcome: With seven players leaving before graduating, that was a huge blow to depth and the current roster. Only having five of 19 commitments develop to their potential didn’t help, either.

Class of 2012


This was Hoke’s first full class, and those players are now either juniors or redshirt sophomores. These prospects have had three years in Hoke’s system and ideally should be the big contributors for the program.

Total commits: 25
ESPN 300 commits: 4

Solid contributors (5): Devin Funchess, Jehu Chesson, Willie Henry, Joe Bolden, Jarrod Wilson.

Jury is still out (4): Amara Darboh, Dennis Norfleet, Chris Wormley, James Ross.

Comparison: Ohio State’s 2012 class had 25 commits as well, and eight of those prospects turned into solid, consistent contributors. Urban Meyer was hired in November 2011, so this was partially his first class.

Outcome: You could make the argument that there is still time left for these players to develop. Time is running out, though, and having only five of 25 playing up to their expected potential from this class is not good for the roster.

Class of 2013


This was Hoke’s second recruiting class at Michigan and it was loaded with talent. This class is now redshirt freshmen and sophomores, so it’s hard to fully judge these prospects as they still have plenty of football ahead of them.

Total commits: 27
ESPN 300 commits: 15

Solid contributors (5): Derrick Green, Jake Butt, Jourdan Lewis, Delano Hill, Taco Charlton.

Jury’s out (5): David Dawson, Patrick Kugler, Chris Fox, Mike McCray, Ben Gedeon.

Comparison: Ohio State’s 2013 class was Meyer’s first full class and 11 of the 24 commitments are already solid, consistent contributors. This is impressive, as these players are still relatively young. Having that many young contributors has helped accelerate Meyer’s plan for the Buckeyes and turned them into Big Ten title and College Football Playoff contenders.

Outcome: Michigan’s recruiting classes have improved as time has gone on, but it might be too late. The 2011 and 2012 classes were where the Wolverines needed the most help with Hoke’s transition, and whether it was lack of development or some other reason, those players haven’t provided much production. Prospects from the 2013 and 2014 classes have started to take over as the majority of the impact players for the Wolverines.

Class of 2014


This was Hoke’s best class yet, with a five-star commit and 10 prospects ranked as four-stars. Injuries have hampered a few prospects from making a real impact, but it is clear that the younger players are already pushing for time on the field.

Total commits: 16
ESPN 300 commits: 9

Solid contributors: Mason Cole, Bryan Mone.

Comparison: Ohio State had 23 commitments in its 2014 class with 11 ESPN 300 prospects. The Buckeyes are seeing results from Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Sean Nuernberger and Erick Smith. The Buckeyes have five true freshmen in the two-deep, so they are again getting production from the younger players.

Outcome: Jabrill Peppers, Drake Harris and a few other prospects have dealt with injuries, preventing them from consistently contributing. By all accounts, Peppers should be on the field when healthy and this class already has one starter in Cole along the offensive line. It’s too early to tell how these prospects will pan out, but it is looking as though there will be some good players from this class.

Big Ten morning links

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
10:20
AM ET
It's already October, and some teams will reach the halfway point of their schedules by the end of the weekend. Time flies when you're having fun or protesting to oust your athletic director.

  • Michigan remains on the front page, rather than the sports page, for the way it handled quarterback Shane Morris' concussion and the hit's aftermath. Students and alumni marched to the university president's house to ask that athletic director Dave Brandon be removed from his post. The biggest authority figures on campus doled out written statements Tuesday, leaving head coach Brady Hoke and his players to answer all the questions that follow. A member of Congress got involved, but the Big Ten said it won't penalize Michigan for failing to follow the conference's head injury protocol. This is growing into a problem that doesn't appear will wash away with the next news cycle.
  • [+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
    Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is getting plenty of Heisman Trophy consideration already.
    Ameer Abdullah sprinted forward in the Heisman Trophy chase this week after churning out another 200-yard performance Saturday against Illinois. The Alabama native is now behind only Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Georgia running back Todd Gurley, according to the oddsmakers in Vegas. Abdullah jumped from a 25-1 candidate to a 9-1 candidate in a week. He could launch himself into the frontrunner spot with another standout performance and a victory over Michigan State in East Lansing this Saturday.
  • It's been a good start to the week for second-string quarterbacks around the Big Ten. Iowa announced its former backup, C.J. Beathard, will split time with Jake Rudock in a platoon system moving forward. Maryland's Caleb Rowe received a big vote of confidence from his head coach while challenging C.J. Brown for playing time. And lastly, Wisconsin veteran Joel Stave, who began the season with 19 career starts, has battled through the mental block that kept him on the sideline during September.

Read about all those quarterback happenings and more, in this morning's edition of the links:

East Division
West Division

  • A Cornhuskers offensive line that has steadily improved this season faces its toughest test to date against the Spartans.
  • The Illini offense has been more explosive this season, but it’s also imploding just as frequently.
  • Iowa plans to move to a two-quarterback system with C.J. Beathard and Jake Rudock for the rest of the season.
  • Minnesota fans can get a closer look at the Little Brown Jug now that it’s back in the Gophers possession for the first time since 2005.
  • Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has put his September case of the yips behind him this week.
  • Rob Ennis, a running back prospect committed to Purdue, faces aggravated assault charges after punching a female classmate in the nose during a school beauty pageant.
  • Northwestern’s win over Penn State on Saturday gave its players a rare chance to celebrate this season.

Early Offer: Why MSU going big in 2015 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
11:00
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What happens when you have a large senior class about to graduate? You target a large recruiting class like Mississippi State is in 2015. Michigan’s recruiting remains in chaos, as another Wolverine commit is having second thoughts.

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The Ohio State marching band performed a tribute to the "Wizard of Oz" on the classic film's 75th anniversary. The Buckeyes turned the Wicked Witch of the West into their rival, Michigan.
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University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel has asked for a "thorough review" of the school's in-game player safety procedures following the controversy surrounding quarterback Shane Morris' head injury.

In his first public comments on the situation, Schlissel issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing "extreme disappointment" in how the Wolverines coaches and medical staff handled the injury to Morris in Saturday's loss to Minnesota. Morris was left in the game despite appearing woozy from a shot to the head and was later put back in the game for one play. Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon acknowledged in his own statement early Tuesday morning that Morris had suffered a mild concussion..

Schlissel said he has been in "regular discussion" Brandon and the school's board of regents about the incident and wants the athletic department to provide him and other campus leaders with detailed injury and safety procedures. Those protocols will also be reviewed by experts from Michigan's medical system, he said.

"Despite having one of the finest levels of team medical expertise in the country, our system failed on Saturday," Schlissel said in the statement. "We did not get this right and for this I apologize to Shane, his family, his teammates, and the entire Michigan family. It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and disciplined we must always be to ensure student-athlete safety. As president, I will take all necessary steps to make sure that occurs and to enforce the necessary accountability for our success in this regard."

Schlissel has been Michigan's president since July. He was previously the provost at Brown.

Brandon outlined two changes Michigan will make immediately.


(Read full post)


Conference call: Best of the Big Ten

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
4:00
PM ET
Brady Hoke's call was a focus this week, as he spoke for the first time since the 12:52 a.m. Tuesday news release regarding student-athlete welfare. We offered a brief overview there but, as always, we included highlights throughout the conference.

By the way, if you’re not following us, what are you waiting for? Follow along at @ESPNRittenberg, @BennettESPN, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @MitchSherman and @AWardESPN.

Rally, petition target Michigan AD

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
3:43
PM ET
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Students and fans flooded the front lawn of University of Michigan president Mark Schlissel's on-campus house Tuesday night, demanding the school get rid of athletic director Dave Brandon.

A few hundred protesters gathered at the school's nearby Diag -- a popular outdoor meeting place on campus -- at 6 p.m. and marched the short distance to the president's house a half-hour later. Craig Kaplan, an undergraduate senior, stood on the home's front steps and led chants with a bullhorn as the rally wound down shortly before 7 p.m.

"Michigan has a special place in my heart," said Kaplan, who played a role in organizing the protest. "The fact that it's been mismanaged like this hurts me deeply as a student, as a fan, just as a person that cares about this university. It makes me upset how students have been handled and how the culture at Michigan has changed."

The protest came in the wake of Brandon and Schlissel acknowledging that the athletic department made mistakes while dealing with quarterback Shane Morris' head injury during Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota in Ann Arbor.

Brandon said a "serious lack of communication" on the Michigan sideline Saturday allowed Morris to return to the field after showing symptoms of a concussion. The incident and the way Brandon and his employees handled its aftermath have led to a large group of Michigan supporters to call for his ouster. More than 9,000 students, staff members and alumni have backed Brandon's removal in an online petition started by a graduate student Monday night.


(Read full post)


Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM ET
Nebraska and Ohio State had outstanding weekends both on the field and with their recruiting efforts. The Big Ten saw a few commitments, offers and some turmoil over the weekend, so here is the conference recap to get you caught up.


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Big Ten morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM ET
It's Week 6 already, so we have some catching up to do. Here are some notes and observations before we get to the links:

1. Michigan recruiting backlash. With all the Brady Hoke talk and the loss to Minnesota, you knew it was only a matter of time before something like this happened. Michigan commit and ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark tweeted Sunday -- since deleted -- that if Hoke is fired then “that changes everything.” He likely just said what other recruits are thinking, and it'd be na´ve to think opposing coaches aren't going to exacerbate the situation by trying to use Hoke's lack of job security against Michigan. Recruiting could wind up being an uphill battle the rest of the season, despite the Wolverines' No. 19 ranking. They currently have 11 commits, and Clark is the highest-rated one.

2. Offensive line woes. Penn State offensive line coach Herb Hand has taken up the practice this season of tweeting out highlights of his Nittany Lions on Sundays. He doesn't do it every week, but he does it most of the time. Needless to say, he skipped the exercise this weekend -- but it's difficult to blame him. There were few highlights Saturday against Northwestern, and the clip of his linemen that most stuck out involved one of his offensive guards inadvertently blocking a teammate. Hand is a good coach, but he doesn't have depth or experience to work with here. He took the blame for Saturday's disastrous performance, but it's clearly not his fault. This is a young offensive line and, quite frankly, it just doesn't have much talent right now.

3. David Cobb's importance cannot be understated. The Minnesota running back has accounted for slightly more than 47 percent of the Gophers' offense. Not just rushing offense, mind you -- entire offense. That means he's a bigger part of the offense than Ameer Abdullah at Nebraska, Melvin Gordon at Wisconsin and Tevin Coleman at Indiana. Cobb has 722 rushing yards (5.8 ypc) and four TDs so far this season. He's worth watching.

Now, on to the links:

East Division
West Division

Wolverines AD: 'We have to learn'

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
1:40
AM ET
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The Michigan Wolverines football staff made mistakes because of a "serious lack of communication" while dealing with quarterback Shane Morris' head injury, athletic director Dave Brandon said.

Brandon released a statement shortly before 1 a.m. ET Tuesday outlining a two-day investigation he conducted into how Michigan's football medical personnel and its coaching staff handled a "probable mild concussion" for its sophomore quarterback.

"Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance that was not in the best interest of one of our student-athletes," Brandon said. "I sincerely apologize for the mistakes that were made. We have to learn from this situation, and moving forward, we will make important changes so we can fully live up to our shared goal of putting student-athlete safety first."

Morris remained on the field for one play of Saturday's 30-14 loss to Minnesota after displaying concussion symptoms in the fourth quarter. The sophomore stumbled and needed the help of his teammates to stay on his feet after a helmet-to-helmet hit knocked him to the ground.

Coach Brady Hoke and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier both said they were looking elsewhere on the field at the time of the hit and saw only its aftermath. Hoke said Morris told him his stumble was the result of an earlier injury to his ankle, not the blow to his head.


(Read full post)


Auburn hasn’t been given too much of a chance to land coveted receiver Christian Kirk, but the Tigers’ chances are better than most think. Plus, Michigan lost a key defensive recruit, and don’t be surprised if more are to follow.


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Michigan Students, Fans Protest Against AD
Joe Schad discusses the latest news from the University of Michigan, where students and fans demanded the school get rid of athletic director Dave Brandon.
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