At least the Big Ten has Wisconsin going for it, which is nice. Because the rest of the Badgers' conference just keeps getting worse.
On Monday night, long after you were asleep, Nebraska fell to Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic, 66-58. That was the Cornhuskers' second loss to a team ranked outside the adjusted efficiency top 150. The first came on Dec. 10, at home, against Incarnate Word.
Earlier in the night, Purdue lost at home, 89-84 to Gardner-Webb. This was also the Boilermakers' second loss to a sub-150 outfit. The first came on Dec. 6, at home, against North Florida.
On Monday, Michigan won its first game in four tries, marking the official end of a losing streak that began with back-to-back losses on Dec. 6 and Dec. 9 to NJIT and Eastern Michigan, which it followed up with a disastrous road trip to Arizona and another, slightly more respectable home loss to SMU.
On Saturday, Michigan State became the first Big Ten team in two decades to fall to a SWAC school on its own floor, in an abysmal 71-64 defeat to Texas Southern.
On Nov. 24, Indiana lost at home to Eastern Washington. On Dec. 17, Northwestern lost at home to Central Michigan. Rutgers has lost to St. Peter's and St Francis (PA) on its own floor. The list goes on and on.
And those are just the bad loss highlights. Iowa hasn't suffered a defeat akin to any of the above, but it was blown out on its own floor by Iowa State, and it did score just 44 points in 58 possessions on a neutral court against Northern Iowa Saturday. Ohio State spent the first month of the season looking like a genuine challenger to Wisconsin; this weekend the Buckeyes were ripped apart by a previously lackluster North Carolina team. Even Illinois' Dec. 2 loss at Miami in late November looks far worse than it did at the time, now that the Hurricanes have lost three of four, including a 72-44 (!) home defeat to Eastern Kentucky.
Save Wisconsin, only Minnesota (which needed a late push to get away from Furman Monday, and which has been feasting on cupcakes for almost a month) and Maryland (which looks like a real-deal 11-1, coming off Sunday's road win at Oklahoma State) have managed to hold the line. The Wolverines and Cornhuskers have plummeted out of the national picture; Ohio State hasn't played well against a good team yet; Michigan State looks reliant on shooting; Indiana doesn't defend; Iowa is inconsistent. As a whole, the Big Ten currently ranks fourth in KenPom.com's efficiency league rankings, behind the Big 12, ACC and Big East. If that holds, 2014-15 would be the first since 2009-10 in which the Big Ten didn't finish first.
This season, the Big Ten has one team that looks as likely as any in the past decade to end the conference's 14-year national title drought. That's the good news. The bad news is almost everything else.
While Jim Harbaugh won't confirm or deny any contact with the University of Michigan, the Wolverines don't seem to be hiding their interest in him about their coaching vacancy.
In fact, U-M officials even took the extra step to wish "Happy Birthday" to the San Francisco 49ers' coach and former Michigan quarterback via social media Tuesday.
Harbaugh said Monday that he hasn't "participated in any of the speculation, the unnamed sources, the rumors" concerning his future as he enters this weekend's season finale against the Arizona Cardinals.
A national report over the weekend has Harbaugh being relieved of his duties within 24 to 48 hours of Sunday's game, and it has also been reported that Harbaugh has a standing offer of six years and $48 million to return to coach at his alma mater.
General manager Trent Baalke confirmed Monday on 95.7 The Game that Michigan officials have, indeed, contacted the 49ers about the 51-year-old Harbaugh.
"I think the University of Michigan, in reaching out, did handle it correctly," Baalke said. "As I look at it, guys, it's very simple: He's the head football coach of the San Francisco 49ers. ...
"Our focus is on this last game. We'll address next season after this season is over, and not until then. We'll deal with this at the end of the season. That's when we'll deal with it."
The campaign continued Tuesday as Michigan football's official Twitter account wished Harbaugh happy birthday (Harbaugh turns 51 today). Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan from 1983-86.
It's hardly uncommon for teams to give birthday shoutouts on Twitter to current players, coaches, support staff and even former players and coaches. But I can't recall Michigan doing this too often, and with the Harbaugh-to-Michigan rumors heating up in the past 10 days, today's tweet was no coincidence.
Harbaugh does have another job, at least until Sunday, when the San Francisco 49ers finish their season against Arizona. The coach is expected to part ways with the 49ers -- his brother, John, the Baltimore Ravens coach, said as much Tuesday on CSN Baltimore -- and though other NFL teams are expected to pursue Jim Harbaugh, there is an increased likelihood he will return to his alma mater.
Credit Michigan for being so strong in its pursuit of Harbaugh. He is the game-changer that a stale program needs. Will it be a huge letdown if he doesn't return? Sure. But Michigan had to put forth its best possible pitch.
What might Michigan get Harbaugh for the big day? I asked my Twitter followers.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh's family and friends have been encouraging him to take the University of Michigan head-coaching job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL, according to sources close to the situation.
Harbaugh first would like to see what head-coaching opportunities come available -- and he is likely to be a top choice for a handful of teams -- before getting back to Michigan with an answer, per sources.
He also is aware of the fact that Michigan might not be able to wait for him, especially when it might not even land the coach who is believed to be the school's top choice. Plus, college football recruiting is in full swing. The longer a school waits, the more of a disadvantage it can be. It leaves both sides in a tough and delicate spot, even though they have mutual interest in each other, per sources.
Harbaugh would like to finish coaching this season, go through the players' getaway day on Dec. 29 and then make his decision as quickly as possible. As another source said, Harbaugh's agent Dave Dunn "has a good sense of realistic NFL options already."
But as one Michigan source wondered Friday, "If he wants to stay in the NFL, who will pay him $8 million per year?" -- an indication that the Wolverines are prepared to go hard after Harbaugh.
There is an undisputed emotional connection for Harbaugh, who played at Michigan, is an iconic figure there and has been hearing from family and friends about returning as the prodigal son. Harbaugh's father, Jack, is influential with his son and has made it known that he likes and admires Michigan interim athletic director Jim Hackett, whom he got to know in the mid-1970s, when he was coaching the defensive backs at Michigan while Hackett was playing center at the school.
Our final question of the week: What was your favorite Big Ten moment of the season?
Brian Bennett: Take a bow, Melvin
Josh Moyer: Penn State fans celebrating the end of the postseason ban
It wasn’t the most important Big Ten moment of the 2014 season, but it’s still one I’ve never quite seen before – and probably never will again. After the NCAA announced the elimination of the bowl ban, along with other sanction reductions, PSU fans spilled into the streets of downtown Happy Valley and celebrated as if they just knocked off the top team in the nation. Two years of anger and frustration gave way to unbridled joy. Thousands sprinted to different venues on campus and just chanted, screamed and sang. Some even crowd-surfed on mattresses at the last stop. I’ve seen big fan celebrations before, but never for something that happened off the field. It was quite a sight.
Mitch Sherman: Mark Dantonio's answer to the Michigan disrespect
The seeds were planted long before Oct. 25, but when Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the turf at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State reached its boiling point. It's rare that we get to see the reserved Dantonio stick out his chest, but the Spartans punctuated a 35-11 win over U-M with a Jeremy Langford touchdown run in the final 30 seconds. That was a message in response not just to the pregame stake-planting but years of disrespect. "I felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said after the game, also referencing the "little brother stuff" that has long brewed in this series. It was a great subplot, of which Michigan coach Brady Hoke, fittingly, was "not fully aware."
Austin Ward: Anthony Schlegel's takedown of a fan on the field
Leaving the stands and running on the field is pointless, dumb and dangerous right from the start. In case anybody had overlooked that last part, Ohio State assistant and former linebacker Anthony Schlegel offered a reminder that would have made The Rock proud. After a student had the bright idea to step on the turf at the Horseshoe during a September game against Cincinnati, he compounded it by getting a bit too close to the Ohio State sideline, where Schlegel popped out to plant him in the ground with an unforgettable body slam. The lesson, as always, is to stay in the seats.
Dan Murphy: Michigan-Ohio State moment of sportsmanship
Maybe it's all this Christmas music that has me feeling sappy, but the moment that keeps coming to mind (other than Melvin Gordon's insane performance against Nebraska) was shortly after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against the Wolverines. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner made his way on to the field and offered some support to Barrett, who was still laid out on his back as trainers worked on his leg. At that point, it was the fourth quarter of a one-touchdown game between bitter rivals with a lot on the line -- a potential playoff berth for the Buckeyes and a last-ditch effort to save their coaching staff for the Wolverines. One of the worst moments of the year (Barrett's injury) was quickly followed by a great one. The quarterback's show of genuine solidarity was a reminder that these guys are human beings. Gardner fell short of expectations on the field this season, but it's far more appropriate that college football's lasting image of him will be that moment of sympathy.
Adam Rittenberg: Bust a move, Coach Kill
I'm tempted to go with Gordon in the snow against Nebraska, especially since I was there to witness history, but Jerry Kill gets my vote for his "old age" dance moves after Minnesota wins. Minnesota's rise under Kill has been one of the best Big Ten story lines in the past two seasons. Many wondered early in 2013 if Kill's coaching days soon would end because of his struggle with epilepsy, particularly seizures on game day. But the coach has his condition under control and continues to show why he's one of the best at getting the most out of his teams. You couldn't help but smile seeing Kill enjoy the wins by dancing in the locker room, surrounded by his joyous players. Those moments never get old.
“You can grind guys up if you occupy them too much mentally,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week.
Read more from Fitzgerald and others Friday on ESPN.com about motivation in bowl season. His Wildcats, sitting home this month, would trade places with any of the 10 Big Ten bowl teams. And with that wonderful time of year to start on Saturday -- the first Big Ten bowl game is still a week away -- it makes sense to look at the factors motivating conference teams.
Here’s a ranking of Big Ten teams with the most for which to play in the postseason:
Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl, vs. Alabama, Jan. 1): A clear leader in this category as the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes carry the weight of the league on their shoulders. What else is new? Ohio State is flagship program of the Big Ten under Urban Meyer, who had a lot to say Thursday about his team's daunting task against the Crimson Tide.
Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl, vs. Baylor, Jan. 1): The Spartans lost to a pair of playoff teams, yet they're largely forgotten nationally. A business trip to Texas to face Baylor, the next best thing to a playoff opponent, offers a chance for MSU to finish on a high note nearly equal last year's Rose Bowl win.
Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, vs. Missouri, Jan. 1): A victory in Orlando would give the Golden Gophers a nine-win season for the first time since 2003 and the second time in more than a century, and it would represent the school's best two-year run in over 50 years. It won't come easy against the two-time SEC East champ. The Gophers must run the ball effectively, their bread and butter, now and in the future.
Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl, vs. Boston College, Dec. 27): The Nittany Lions, exposed in the second half of this season for a lack of overall talent, can end on a high note in this much-awaited return to the postseason after a two-year bowl ban. A visit to New York against a regional recruiting rival heightens the stakes.
Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl, vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26): The Scarlet Knights exceeded expectations to make it this far. After an inspiring comeback win over fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland to close the regular season, confidence is high, though the uncertain injury status of star receiver Leonte Carroo threatens to put a damper on the excitement around this bowl trip.
Wisconsin (Outback Bowl, vs. Auburn, Jan. 1): Motivated by the embarrassment of a 59-point loss in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers got knocked down another step by the surprise departure of Gary Andersen. But the return of Paul Chryst has boosted the spirits of players, who will look to impress their new coach as he observes in Tampa. Against Auburn's multi-faceted offense, Wisconsin must use everything at its disposal, including QB Tanner McEvoy on the defensive side.
Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl, vs. USC, Dec. 27): The Cornhuskers are also playing to catch the eye of a new coach, as Mike Riley figures to watch closely. Riley's new staff will start fresh though, so what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego. Still, Nebraska players, amid a dramatic exit from their former coach that has sparked more debate, want to provide a fond farewell for their old staff of assistant coaches.
Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26): With victories over Penn State and Northwestern to get bowl eligible, Illinois has won simply by making it this far. No marquee opponent awaits, and Dallas isn't exactly a winter paradise, though maybe the man of the hour, QB Reilly O'Toole, can rally the Fighting Illini once again.
Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl, vs. Stanford, Dec. 30): Did the Terrapins run out of gas in the second half against Rutgers? It was a long season, packed with several highlights, in Maryland's first season of Big Ten play. But a visit to face Stanford, which is coming off four consecutive major bowls, near its home turf, looks like another significant challenge for Randy Edsall's team.
Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl, vs. Tennesssee, Jan. 2): The Hawkeyes need someone to step up, a habitual practice in the postseason, or they face a dull ending to a disappointing season that set up well in Iowa City.
Around the rest of the league:
- Speculation continues to swirl around Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, who wasn't biting at questions Thursday.
- A look back at how the union saga at Northwestern has impacted the sports landscape in 2014.
- An Indiana football recruit wants to play basketball in Bloomington, too.
- Ex-Purdue coach Danny Hope is reportedly set to join the coaching staff at South Florida.
"As you know, I only talk about the job that I have," Harbaugh said in his news conference. "Been together a long time. It's a long-standing policy."
But surely, the Michigan man must have a soft spot in his heart for the Wolverines, for whom he played from 1983 through 1986 and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior, no?
"Again, I mean, I really don't want to talk about any other job than the one I have," Harbaugh said, "or talk about anybody else's process."
Harbaugh has one year remaining on the five-year, $25 million contract he signed with the 49ers in 2011, but he appears on his way out of Santa Clara after an underachieving season rocked by controversy, arrests and injuries. At 7-7, the Niners are eliminated from the playoffs with two games to go following three straight trips to the NFC title game.
The NFL Network reported Wednesday night that Michigan was prepared to offer Harbaugh a six-year contract worth $48 million, while ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Harbaugh had interest in the Michigan job.
Harbaugh, who was reportedly close to being traded to the Cleveland Browns
Michigan reportedly offered its head coach position to San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Wednesday. That move perked up the ears of Michigan commitments and potential targets with the possibility of a big-name coach coming to Ann Arbor.
Coming off a losing season With six current commitments, Michigan is in an interesting situation, wanting to make a big splash with this hire. When former coach Brady Hoke was hired from San Diego State, some of the top national recruits had concerns about the coach because they didn’t know much about him and didn’t know if he could win at the highest level.
Both of those concerns would not be an issue with Harbaugh, as he is prominently known across the country and has proven to be a winner on all levels.
When 50 ESPN 300 Michigan commitments and targets were polled by ESPN.com earlier this month, 22 said they would like to see Michigan hire Harbaugh. If the Wolverines are able to reel in the coach, it could yield immediate results.
ESPN 300 tight end Chris Clark had been committed to Michigan since June 19, but decommitted on Dec. 2 to explore new options. Clark tweeted that he hopes Michigan does hire Harbaugh and said it would definitely help Michigan to get him back in the fold.
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You're a Michigan fan. You're praying that Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers coach who used to be the coach at Stanford, accepts the reported six-year, $49 million offer and turns yet another program into a winner. But you're also a little wary. You know that there's a cost to Harbaugh's success. You've closely followed the drama of the 49ers this season, reading report after report about how he manages to win but alienate nearly everyone in the process.
You think you're getting that guy?
Well, maybe not. As 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman told me earlier in the fall: "Jim the college coach is Jim the college coach. Jim the NFL coach, there are some differences."
So what will Jim the college coach (possibly) bring to Ann Arbor? Here's a quick cheat sheet.
1. He'll Give The Strangest -- and Coolest -- Recruiting Pitches
The stories of Harbaugh visiting homes on recruiting trips are legendary: How he would wear the same set of clothes every day during a week-long trip; how he would sometimes make house visits in sweatpants; how, according to Stanford assistant coach Ron Lynn, "it was not beyond him to take off his shoes" in a recruit's living room and ask for a spittoon.
But the best Harbaugh recruiting story comes from when the recruits and their families visit Palo Alto. The football administrators would lead them into the team meeting room. Suddenly, Harbaugh would appear, holding (no joke) a samurai sword and a shovel. "With one hand we'll fight, and with the other we'll build!" he'd say. Even the longtime college coaches had never seen anything like it. And it worked.
2. But You Might Not Get a Recruiting Pitch At All
The Wisconsin Way: Continuity should be back at Wisconsin, and the program made it clear that it won’t be compromising anything it proudly stands for to keep it. By sticking inside the family on Wednesday and officially bringing Paul Chryst back home, the Badgers have somebody who knows exactly what the job entails and a coach who almost certainly won’t be making a lateral move at any point in the future. Maybe the Badgers will start spending more money on assistants down the road, so there’s some flexibility there in regards to an issue that turned off Bret Bielema. But in terms of knowing the kind of recruits it can expect to land and clearly laying out the academic requirements moving forward, not to mention bringing in an existing relationship with the university and the boss, Chryst couldn’t be any better suited to provide stability for Wisconsin after a rough stretch of losing Bielema and then Gary Andersen after two short years.
Down to one: Wisconsin moving quickly leaves only Michigan active on the job market, and while there’s no telling when that search will end, it is effectively the only one that still has a chance of connecting on a true home-run hire. No offense to Chryst or new Nebraska coach Mike Riley, because those were smart, sensible hires that made perfect sense for each program -- but they certainly don’t qualify as splashy or scream that championships are on the way. If Les Miles is definitively out of the picture, it really seems as though Jim Harbaugh is going to have to come through for the Wolverines once his commitments to San Francisco are over at the end of the NFL season. And it seems like Michigan is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to deliver him. Maybe there’s another huge name secretly looming out there for Michigan, but if there was, wouldn’t there have been some indication of that by now? The Big Ten is down to one job, and there really only seems to be one guy who should claim it.
Coordinator corner: Just below those headline vacancies leading Big Ten programs, the chance to replace Tom Herman as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator will be up there as a highly-coveted position this offseason as the coaching carousel spins. The odds are strong that Ed Warinner will receive something of a promotion from his co-coordinator duties and take on more responsibility as a play-caller, though he was already somewhat active in that regard in his current role. Warinner not only deserves a raise for the incredible job he’s done with the Ohio State offensive line, he has earned more credit than he currently receives for that work, which is perhaps why he hasn’t landed an opportunity to lead his own program yet despite a couple interviews over the last two years. The Buckeyes are actually fortunate that they don’t have to replace both Herman and Warinner simultaneously, but either way there will be no shortage of candidates lining up for the shot to potentially work with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller at quarterback.
- Michigan State isn't begging for the playoff field to expand, even though it would have qualified for an eight-team format.
- Another Dave Brandon hire is heading out the door at Michigan.
- Where might Koa Farmer wind up playing for Penn State defensively in the future?
- Tickets are selling well for the Quick Lane Bowl, though a donation program might be boosting the numbers for Rutgers.
- Stefon Diggs has not made a decision yet about his senior season with Maryland.
- Once a touted recruit, Kyle Dodson's career with Ohio State is over due to a neck injury.
- Sorting through the highs and lows at Indiana.
- Wisconsin revealed its horribly-kept secret.
- Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams has entered his name with the NFL's college advisory committee to get feedback on his status for the 2015 draft.
- Bo Pelini napalmed the bridges when he left Nebraska.
- Purdue will have four mid-year enrollees joining the program.
- Who would be on Northwestern's football Mount Rushmore?
- Houston Bates is getting an unexpected reunion with Illinois in the postseason.
- Iowa and Kirk Ferentz are going to be under the microscope in 2015.
Multiple NFL and Michigan sources had said for weeks that 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh was not expected to wind up at Michigan, but in recent days at least one person familiar with his thinking said he was at least "considering it."
According to multiple reports, Michigan has made a six-year, $49 million offer to Harbaugh. The offer was earlier reported by CBS5 in Arizona.
The annual average pay of $8.17 million would make Harbaugh the highest-paid college football coach, surpassing Alabama's Nick Saban by more than $1.21 million.
Another person close to the process said that while it was possible Harbaugh could wind up at Michigan, "it was not likely."
Asked why he was considering it now, but hadn't been previously, one person said now that the 49ers are out of the playoffs, it was possible for Harbaugh to at least consider the offer.
Harbaugh Torn Between NFL, Michigan Job
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State