The conversation about his future was already going to dominate the next month as Miller weighs his options about a potential return for a senior season, a run at yet another Big Ten player of the year trophy and a national championship. But as another trophy heads to the mantle at Miller’s parents' house, it only increases the intrigue around the discussion. Because for all the success that is piling up with Ohio State, there still doesn't seem to be a consensus about Miller’s future as a professional.
And Miller himself doesn't appear to be any closer to figuring out whether his next move should be chasing history or a paycheck.
“It’s tough,” Miller told the Tribune. “I just don't know. I’ve really got to sit down and go through the pros and cons. I’ll talk to my parents, take it slow.
"Hopefully ball out on January 3rd and see what the scouts are looking at.”
Miller could certainly use a much better passing outing on that date in the Discover Orange Bowl. If he does decide to forego his final year, the last month of his junior season left plenty of room for scouts to pick apart his arm.
The junior has always had enough arm strength to make every throw required of him, and he was clearly an improved passer for much of the season after devoting the spring and summer to improving his footwork, fine-tuning his accuracy and absorbing the playbook. But he completed less than 50 percent of his passes in three of the final four games, and even before struggling to an 8-for-21 performance in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State, coach Urban Meyer was already suggesting another year to develop would be in Miller's best interest.
"He has a skillset to be a pro quarterback, there is no doubt in my mind," Meyer said last month. "I don't believe he's ready yet, but I certainly get asked that question. Can Braxton Miller play an NFL quarterback? Absolutely, he can.
"There's no doubt in my mind because he continues to develop."
That process might not be complete yet, but even the unfinished product has proven to be one of the most prolific and individually-honored players in the history of the storied Big Ten.
Among all the other factors on the plate, Miller can at least add one more thing to consider now that he has a chance to leave an unmatched legacy in the league.
Once again, Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison leads Big Ten assistants in pay at $851,400, which ranks fourth nationally behind million-dollar coordinators Chad Morris of Clemson, Kirby Smart of Alabama and John Chavis of LSU.
Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges is the only other Big Ten assistant in the top 10 nationally in total pay ($709,300). Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000) is next, followed by Ohio State defensive coordinators Luke Fickell ($610,000) and Everett Withers ($585,000), Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908) and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman ($555,000).
On the whole, the Big Ten has fewer assistants making top-20 salaries than the SEC. There's also a decent drop-off in salary after Herman, as no others make more than $500,000 (Wisconsin coordinators Dave Aranda and Andy Ludwig both make $480,000).
Here are the highest-paid assistants for the 10 Big Ten squads reporting salary:
Michigan: Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison ($851,400)
Nebraska: Offensive coordinator Tim Beck ($700,000)
Ohio State: Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell ($610,000)
Michigan State: Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi ($558,908)
Wisconsin: Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig ($480,000)
Purdue: Offensive coordinator John Shoop ($400,000)
Illinois: Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and defensive coordinator Tim Banks ($400,000)
Indiana: Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell ($356,500)
Minnesota: Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($346,800)
Iowa: Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ($325,500)
Claeys clearly is the best value in the league, as he served as Minnesota's acting head coach during Jerry Kill's health-related absence and remained as the main sideline coach even after Kill returned to duty. Iowa's Parker, along with OC Greg Davis ($325,000) also earned their keep and then some as the Hawkeyes flipped their record from 4-8 to 8-4.
Some Michigan fans will scoff at Borges' salary after the Wolverines offense struggled for much of Big Ten play. Fickell, Shoop and Banks also directed units that had forgettable seasons.
One thing to keep in mind when some of these assistants are mentioned for head-coaching jobs is the pay cuts they'd likely take to lead teams in smaller conferences.
In terms of total staff pay, Ohio State leads the Big Ten and ranks sixth nationally at $3,474,504, trailing LSU, Alabama, Clemson, Texas and Auburn. Michigan comes in next at $3,072,000, which ranks 14th nationally.
Bret Bielema left Wisconsin for Arkansas in part because he had lost so many assistants in his final two years in Madison. Bielema's staff at Arkansas ranks 10th nationally in total staff pay ($3,233,000), while Gary Andersen's staff at Wisconsin ranks 28th ($2,495,000)
Here are the Big Ten teams sorted by total staff pay:
Ohio State: $3,474,504
Michigan State: $2,410,483
We can have an endless about debate whether college football coaches make too much money in general, but these numbers remain problematic for the Big Ten in my view. Only two teams are truly paying top dollar for their staffs, and some groups are undervalued.
Michigan State's staff obviously jumps out after the Spartans just won the Big Ten championship. MSU co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($280,800) and Jim Bollman ($262,000) are among the lowest-paid coordinators in the league, as several position coaches make more than them. Athletic director Mark Hollis said last week that raises are coming for head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants.
Minnesota's staff also deserves a nice bump after handling such a tough situation this season. I also wonder whether Iowa's coordinators get a raise, especially considering what head coach Kirk Ferentz makes.
Purdue's Marcus Freeman and Jafar Williams are the Big Ten's lowest-paid assistants at $120,000. Only one SEC assistant, Kentucky's Derrick Ansley, makes less than $140,000.
There is plenty to discuss within the Big Ten, so here is a look at this week’s storylines.
Waiting for Raekwon
The No. 12 ranked prospect in the country, linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), is scheduled to annouce his decision Dec. 16.
The No. 1 ranked linebacker has Ohio State in his top three with Alabama and Clemson and will receive an in-home visit from the Buckeyes’ coaching staff.
The interesting part about this is there are plenty of rumors swiring around Alabama coach Nick Saban and Texas. Those rumors have likely made their way to McMillan. Whether they impact his decision, or not, is a question that remains.
Booth picking up interest
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- Boston College has made an effort to push Andre Williams nationally, ESPNBoston.com's Jack McCluskey writes.
- Count AthlonSports among the group that is looking forward to Clemson-Ohio State more than any other non-title-game bowl.
- It sure sounds like Duke will be Johnny Manziel's last college opponent. (Clemson's Sammy Watkins sounds like a man gone in that same story by NFL.com's Mike Huguenin as well.)
- Florida State leads the nation with five USA Today All-America picks. (And the ACC leads all conferences with 13.)
- Georgia Tech's opponent in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Ole Miss, is upping the ante after giving coach Hugh Freeze a $1 million raise, Hugh Kellenberger writes in the (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger.
- The freedom of bowl week could be a distraction for Maryland players, Alex Prewitt writes in the Washington Post. (Also of note: New Albany head coach Greg Gattuso will still coach the Terrapins' defensive line in the Military Bowl.)
- CBSSports.com's Bruce Feldman catches up with former Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis, who is still waiting for another shot.
- Another day, another award for Pitt's Aaron Donald, Sam Werner writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink looks at Orange underclassmen who could be playing their final college game this month.
- Is this an early look at Virginia Tech's bowl uniform?
- Urban Meyer senses an improved mood for Ohio State as it turns the page to the Discover Orange Bowl, and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had high praise for his upcoming opponent.
- With another season in the books, the conversation at Penn State will shift to Bill O'Brien's future with the program, as likely suitors again line up for his services.
- Taylor Lewan has no regrets about returning to Michigan for another season, and he doesn't believe his draft stock has changed since last year.
- Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi spurned an offer to take over at UConn, and now his full attention is on getting the Spartans ready for a bowl game.
- Early in the season, Nebraska was desperately searching for a field general on defense. It appears to have found one in middle linebacker Michael Rose.
- After getting benched late in a loss to Penn State to end the regular season, Wisconsin tackle Tyler Marz is looking for redemption.
- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said Rutgers' transition into the league is going smoothly at every level.
- Controversy won't be going away when college football shifts to a playoff, with Tom Osborne joking that the selection committee will succeed if it doesn't "get lynched."
- Cody Webster is rubbing elbows with the nation's best football players, and the Purdue punter is thinking about asking to snap a picture with Johnny Manziel.
- Silver Football candidate Braxton Miller had everything change for him when he was almost sent to the bench in October. Now he's on the brink of a historic accomplishment.
For starters, the No. 7 Buckeyes are still in the BCS with a marquee matchup against No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. After dropping the Big Ten championship against the best opponent they've faced since Urban Meyer took over the program, taking on the Tigers also represents another opportunity to show off nationally and perhaps earn a bit of redemption. And, obviously, the Buckeyes can potentially start a brand new winning streak if they can knock off Clemson on Jan. 3.
Shore up the secondary: This issue is nothing new for the Buckeyes, but they need to make a correction now more than ever if they're going to end the season on a high note.
Coverage breakdowns, poor communication and missed opportunities nearly cost Ohio State a perfect regular season as Michigan picked it apart in late November. Michigan State actually finished the job a week later with Connor Cook making it look far too easy to throw for more than 300 yards, a feat which would have been stunning to even consider back in the preseason with all the veteran talent returning in the backend for the Buckeyes.
The loss of Christian Bryant to a fractured ankle in September was a huge blow, and the secondary never seemed to fully recover from it. The Buckeyes certainly appear to have a bright future after landing arguably the nation's best class of cornerbacks and safeties last year, but those newcomers weren't quite ready for regular roles as freshmen and need another offseason of development before they can make a difference.
That won't do much good against the Tigers, though, which puts the pressure on Bryant's replacement at safety, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, and the other three starters to raise their games to slow down a team which is more than capable of airing it out and scoring points in bunches.
Brax to basics: Braxton Miller remains one of the most dangerous open-field runners in the country, and his individual rushing numbers have improved late in the season. But that might be out of necessity, because his passing numbers have dipped dramatically after showing off the improvement in his arm during a red-hot stretch in late October and the first week of November.
Since carving up hapless Purdue with 19 completions on just 23 attempts, Miller and the passing attack have struggled to generate anything consistently, and the junior has hit on less than 50 percent of his throws in three of the last four games. The weather can partially be blamed for the recent problems with his accuracy, but the Buckeyes were playing indoors last week against the Spartans when Miller was often missing the target during an 8-for-21 performance.
Miller has shown off his arm strength and accuracy plenty of times, and there's not really any question about what he's capable of leading the offense. But his footwork and decision-making have let him down at times late in the season, and a couple weeks to go back and stress fundamentals could do wonders for him ahead of a showcase game against Clemson.
Eyes on the road: There was no way to truly replace the bowl practices Ohio State missed last year due to the NCAA sanctions that kept it out of the postseason, though it did inspire "The Chase" as Meyer challenged his players to make up for the workouts on their own at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
But the coaching staff couldn't be around to offer instruction then, and the full practices in December are often invaluable for young players who didn't see the field much as they try to springboard into larger roles the following season. Considering both the lack of depth at key positions like linebacker and wide receiver and the need to replace veterans all over the offensive line and in the secondary, the coaching staff will need to make the absolute most out of its chance to get its hands on the players this month.
The Buckeyes, of course, are trying to win a game. But they'll need to bring along five-star safety Vonn Bell to groom him for a much larger role in the secondary next year. They have to find more help for Taylor Decker and likely starter Pat Elflein on the offensive line. And even with the possibility of having all three starters back at linebacker if Ryan Shazier decides to stick around for another season, Ohio State could clearly use some help filling out the rotation from Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson.
The balancing act is making sure the current starters are ready for a bowl game while still prepping their future replacements. But since the Buckeyes couldn't do either a year ago, that challenge is surely going to be readily embraced.
Anyway, on to the mailbag:
Scott M. from Charlotte, N.C., writes: Will we ever know why Ohio State felt two carries were plenty for Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter? The game turned in the third quarter because of the bruiser. Braxton Miller is the driver of the car but those two calls late in the game were just awful. How anyone can say I have third-and-three for the game and my 230 pound, 7-yards-a-rush running back will not touch the ball really needs to look at themselves in the mirror.
Brian Bennett: Should Carlos Hyde have gotten more than 18 carries against Michigan State? Probably. But don't forget that the Spartans defense specializes in loading the box and daring teams to throw deep. Plus, Miller was the more effective runner of the two most of the night and finished with more yards and yards per carry than Hyde.
The fourth quarter began with an Ohio State punt. Then Michigan State drove for a field goal. On Ohio State's first real possession of the fourth, Hyde ran for four yards on second-and-10, setting up a passing situation on third down. Miller then threw an incomplete pass. The series you're talking about started with 7:36 left. The Buckeyes had Miller run it on third and fourth down, and he was stuffed both times. Urban Meyer said it was his call to give the ball to Miller on fourth-and-2.
And it's hard to fault him for that. We're talking about the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year who ran for 142 yards vs. Michigan State. A running quarterback is one way to counter the Spartans defense. It didn't work out, mostly because Pat Narduzzi called the right blitz and Denicos Allen made a great play. After that, Michigan State scored a touchdown to go up by 10 points, and the the time to run the ball was over for Ohio State.
Bottom line is you have to be successful passing the ball to beat the Spartans. And Ohio State went 8-for-21 for 101 yards through the air.
Tommy B. from Savannah, Ga., writes: Brian, as a Buckeye fan it's crazy for me to think that after the 2011 6-7 disaster that I'd be so disappointed after the team would go 24-1 under Urban Meyer so far. I'd almost forgot what it felt like to lose on a Saturday (emphasis on almost, it felt terrible in case you were wondering). The problem has obviously been complete inconsistency with the defense. They have big name veteran stars with gaudy numbers and at times (including in the B1G title game) they've been dominant. But in the Michigan game and for some big game-changing plays against MSU they've had complete breakdowns. They have the talent to be better than they are. In your opinion, what's the problem? Fickell? Key injuries (Bryant)? Fickell? Youth in key positions? Fickell?
Brian Bennett: It's a good question. The place we thought Ohio State's defense might be vulnerable to start the year was up front because of all the youth there. Yet that was arguably the strength of the defense, with guys like Michael Bennett, Joey Bosa, Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington. The problem really seemed to be at the linebacker positions other than Ryan Shazier and at safety, especially when Christian Bryant got injured. Michigan State exposed the Buckeyes' safeties early on last Saturday.
It's kind of hard to believe that Ohio State would find itself so thin at linebacker. The Buckeyes recruited some highly-regarded defensive backs last year, but guys like Vonn Bell didn't have much of an impact this season. They're still young, so that's to be expected, but it was disappointing that some of the more veteran players didn't have great seasons (relatively speaking, because Ohio State did go 12-0).
The Buckeyes' defensive coaches all have strong track records, so I have a hard time believing it's simply a coaching issue. But Ohio State clearly needs to develop better depth in its back seven, especially if Shazier decides to leave for the NFL.
Randy from Waukesha, Wis., writes: I just learned that Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis won an award for the national best walk-on player-of the-year in CF! Did I miss your guys' article on this? If not please tell us more..... B1G can use all the kudos it can get, especially at this time of the year!
Brian Bennett: Yes, Abbrederis won the Burlsworth Trophy, which is award to the best player who started his career as a walk-on. We didn't write a post about it, mainly because there are seemingly thousands of college football awards now, but we did tweet it. Abbrederis was a slam-dunk choice for that award, and it's hard to believe he ever was a walk-on. He'll be on an NFL roster next fall.
King from Los Angeles writes: I agreed with you about the silliness of the coaches' poll. I am a Huskers fan and I do not believe we deserved a top 25 ranking even though Bo thinks so. I think they should change the way coaches vote by making a rule that you cannot vote for your own team. That could take away all the biases. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: That would only solve part of the problem, as there still would be inherent conflicts of interest involving teams in a coach's own conference, his opponents, friends, etc. The good news is it won't matter at all as part of the national championship provess next year, so the coaches can be as silly as they want to be. And given how little most coaches want to deal with the hassle, I'm not sure why there should even be a coaches' poll next year.
Greg from Lansing, Mich., writes: In giving conferences more power on selecting bowl match-ups should we just assume Ohio State/Michigan will always occupy the better bowl games? (If they aren't already in the play-off).
Brian Bennett: I can understand why there's a feeling in some quarters that Ohio State and Michigan get preferential treatment from the league office. But the truth is that the biggest brand-name schools already get preferential treatment from bowls. Is there any reason why Michigan at 7-5, should be in the Big Ten's No. 3 non-BCS bowl this year? Or why Ohio State went to the Gator at 6-6 in 2011? Only one: drawing power.
What the new system will basically do is allow the leagues more input on the process so as to avoid teams going to the same destination over and over again and to create better matchups. Had it been in place this year, however, I doubt we'd see Nebraska going back to Florida for a rematch with Georgia. Bowls are always going to want big-name teams as long as they are businesses. But better matchups and fresher destinations should help fans.
Greg from Atlanta writes: As an Iowa fan living in Georgia, I'm wondering how an 8-4 Georgia team gets ranked and an 8-4 Iowa team doesn't? Now, I'm not saying Iowa deserves a ranking, because 4 wins shouldn't get you in the top 25. But, Georgia lost to Vandy and needed double OT to beat Ga Tech. They also struggled with teams they should have throttled and fell far below expectations. Iowa played two teams tough that will both play in BCS bowls. Is this just more bias against the Big Ten? If so, will that bias ever go away?
Brian Bennett: I don't think this is a case of anti-Big Ten bias as much as it is probably pro-SEC sentiment. Iowa is a tough case and a team I debated putting in my final Top 25 for a while before ultimately deciding against it. Barely. The Hawkeyes' four losses are all highly respectable -- Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois. But you shouldn't get credit for just losing to good teams. Iowa's best wins are over Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska, with two of those on the road. Very solid, but not spectacular.
Georgia's in a similar boat in terms of "good" losses, including Clemson and Missouri. The Dawgs also lost on the road to Auburn thanks to a miracle play at the end. They have also beaten South Carolina and LSU, two wins better than anything Iowa can claim, and the team was decimated by injuries this season.
I think the Hawkeyes are good, and they have some nice momentum after winning their final three games. That's why I'm really looking forward to seeing how they play against LSU. Iowa definitely ends the season in the Top 25 with a win over the Tigers in the Outback. And given the wide-open nature of next year's West Division, at least on paper, Iowa could emerge as one of the preseason favorites in that division in 2014.
- Graham Couch looks at Michigan State's 12 steps to Pasadena.
- Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is exploring his NFL possibilities and appears conflicted about his future.
- There are similarities between the first three years for Jerry Kill and Glenn Mason at Minnesota.
- Purdue got its third commitment for 2014 in the past four days.
- Silver Football finalist Carlos Hyde was a changed man after his suspension this year for Ohio State.
- A junior college defensive lineman switched from Wisconsin to Nebraska.
- Bryce Miller ponders whether Iowa has the best linebackers group in the country.
- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is getting some rest for his turf toe injury.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman plans to retain defensive coordinator Tim Banks despite some shoddy play on that side of the ball.
- Did Penn State meet expectations by going 7-5 in Bill O'Brien's second season?
- Athlon offers its Big Ten awards and all-conference team.
- Colleague Mark Schlabach ranks every bowl game, with Clemson's tilt against Ohio State coming in No. 2 behind the title game.
- AthlonSports unveils its All-ACC teams and conference awards.
- Boston College's Andre Williams has gone from his own book to the college record books, Mark Blaudschun writes in USA Today.
- The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' David Jones explains why Duke's David Cutcliffe is his coach of the year.
- The Washington Post's Kent Babb looks at how Heisman Trophy winners have handled their hardware, including former Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura takes a deeper look at Georgia Tech's recent schedules.
- Maryland AD Kevin Anderson is confident his school will break even on the Military Bowl, Alex Prewitt writes in the Washington Post.
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard's Nate Mink looks at whether Orange fans will travel well to Houston for the Texas Bowl against Minnesota.
- Virginia Tech will be facing the latest Lott IMPACT Trophy winner in UCLA's Anthony Barr.
- New coach Dave Clawson is ready to rebuild Wake Forest, Lauren Brownlow writes on FoxSportsCarolinas.com.
Discover Orange Bowl: No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes vs. No. 12 Clemson Tigers in Miami Gardens, Fla., on Friday, Jan. 3.
- Coach: Dabo Swinney (five full seasons)
- Record: 10-2, 7-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference
- Combined opponents' record: 81-65
- Common opponents: None
- Leading passer: Tajh Boyd, 252 for 373 for 3,473 yards, 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions
- Leading rusher: Roderick McDowell, 177 carries for 956 yards and 5 touchdowns
- Leading receiver: Sammy Watkins, 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns
- Leading tackler: Spencer Shuey, 89 tackles, 5.5 for a loss
Clemson has won at least 10 games three seasons in a row, and it will be making its second appearance in the Orange Bowl in three years. The first trip didn't turn out well as West Virginia put up 70 points in a blowout victory over the Tigers after the 2011 season, again putting their defense under fire after failing to do much to support a high-flying offensive attack that typically has no problems carrying its share of the load.
This year, that defensive unit has been steady and solid, giving up just more than 21 points per game to rank No. 17 in the nation. That helps balance the scales with an offense that scores more than 40 points on average. The Tigers were gashed, though, in top-25 matchups against Florida State and South Carolina, yielding 51 to the No. 1 Seminoles and 31 to the rival Gamecocks to close the regular season.
Key matchup: Ohio State star cornerback Bradley Roby has one final audition on the college stage before heading to the NFL draft, and he's going to have his hands full with another surefire future pro. Watkins is one of the most dangerous targets in the country, and few defensive backs have been able to handle him without much help thanks to his explosive athleticism and playmaking ability.
The Buckeyes are at their best when they can play man coverage in the secondary and create pressure in the front seven, particularly when they turn Ryan Shazier loose as a blitzer. But an aggressive approach in getting after the passer requires lockdown coverage on the receivers, and the winner in what figures to be a spirited battle between Watkins and Roby will go a long way toward determining the Orange Bowl title.
Both teams are headed to BCS bowls, but the Spartans earned their way to Pasadena for the first time since the 1987 season.
There are no changes in the final 10 spots.
Here's one final look at the Week 14 rankings.
Now, for the fresh rundown …
1. Michigan State (12-1, last week: 2): We knew the Spartans had a nationally elite defense and a much-improved offense, but we didn't know whether they could put it all together against a team that hadn't lost a game in two seasons. Quarterback Connor Cook, linebacker Denicos Allen and others provided the answers against Ohio State. Cook passed for a career-high 304 yards and three touchdowns, while Allen and the Spartan Dawgs limited Ohio State to 25 yards in the fourth quarter. Next stop: the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.
2. Ohio State (12-1, last week: 1): It's odd to see a "1" in the loss column, but Meyer's Buckeyes looked shaky both early and late in their biggest test since the 2011 Sugar Bowl. Penalties and poor pass defense, as well as a one-dimensional offense that didn't sustain a rhythm, doomed Ohio State against Michigan State. Quarterback Braxton Miller and his teammates squandered a chance to play for a national title. They'll try to finish the season strong with a win against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.
3. Wisconsin (9-3, last week: 3): No Big Ten team wants to get on the field more than the Badgers, who delivered their worst performance of the season at the worst time against Penn State. Linebacker Chris Borland and a proud and decorated group of seniors should be much better in the Capital One Bowl against South Carolina. Quarterback Joel Stave tries to bounce back after throwing a career-high three interceptions against PSU.
4. Iowa (8-4, last week: 4): Coach Kirk Ferentz sees similarities between his current team and the 2008 version, which also finished strong after a so-so start. The 2008 squad finished with an Outback Bowl victory, and the Hawkeyes will try to do the same when they face LSU in a rematch of the 2005 Capital One Bowl. Linebacker James Morris and an improved defense will be tested, and Iowa will try to control the clock with its power run game.
5. Minnesota (8-4, last week: 5): The season will be a success no matter what, but Minnesota would like to end on a positive note after dropping its final two regular-season games to ranked opponents. The Gophers return to the Texas Bowl, where coach Jerry Kill thinks they set the foundation for this year with a good effort last December against Texas Tech. Minnesota's defense will show up against Syracuse, but can the offense find a passing game?
6. Nebraska (8-4, last week: 6): Barring a surprise, Bo Pelini will get another chance to bring a championship to Lincoln next season. It would be nice to end this year on a positive note, however, especially after a blowout home loss to Iowa on Black Friday. Nebraska's young team has a chance to grow up the next few weeks before a matchup against Georgia in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, a rematch of last year's Capital One Bowl.
7. Penn State (7-5; last week: 7): The season is over but Penn State can feel optimistic about the future, particularly on offense with Big Ten Freshman of the Year Christian Hackenberg at quarterback. Hackenberg completed a strong debut with 2,955 passing yards and 20 touchdowns, and he'll have most of his weapons back for 2013. Last week brought the somewhat surprising departures of two assistants, including longtime linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden. It will be interesting to see where Bill O'Brien goes with his replacements.
8. Michigan (7-5, last week: 8): Michigan's performance in The Game left many wondering where that team was all season. The Wolverines hope to follow up with another strong effort -- and a win -- as they take on Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. It's important for Michigan to end a disappointing season on a positive note, especially for the offense, which surged behind Devin Gardner, Jeremy Gallon, Jake Butt and others against Ohio State.
9. Indiana (5-7, last week: 9): It's a pivotal offseason for the Hoosiers, who should in no way be satisfied with a five-win season that includes three Big Ten victories. Indiana should have made a bowl this season with such an explosive offense and must make the necessary upgrades -- coaching, talent and elsewhere -- to get to the postseason in 2014. Kevin Wilson has some work ahead to ensure he's not the latest offensive-minded coach to flame out in Bloomington.
10. Northwestern (5-7, last week: 10): Here's another team bitterly disappointed with its 2013 season that has some work to do this winter. Coach Pat Fitzgerald's first priority is keeping together or perhaps enhancing the strongest recruiting class in his tenure. Northwestern also must evaluate its offensive vision after enduring quarterback injuries in three of the past four seasons. The Wildcats should get a big boost at running back if Venric Mark is granted a fifth year, as expected.
11. Illinois (4-8, last week: 11): Tim Beckman will lead the Illini for a third season, athletic director Mike Thomas confirmed earlier this week. Like Indiana's Wilson, Beckman will focus on improving a defense that slipped to 110th nationally in total defense and 104th in scoring defense. He fixed the offense after the 2012 season by bringing in coordinator Bill Cubit. If he can do the same on defense, Illinois should go bowling next fall. If not, it could be the end for Beckman in Champaign.
12. Purdue (1-11, last week: 12): After a historically poor season, Purdue begins the rebuilding process on the recruiting trail, where it must get better in a lot of areas. The Boilers lose some of their top defenders like Bruce Gaston Jr. and Ricardo Allen, and must build a lot more depth on that side of the ball. Offensive line also is a target area as the Boilers allowed a league-worst 38 sacks this fall.
Now, it's time to see how we fared -- and find out which of us was smarter in August.
Actual wins: 4
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: We both had the Illini finishing 3-9; the preseason over-under number was a good one. Illinois' blowout win over Cincinnati remains one of the more surprising results of the season, but the Illini also came close to beating Penn State, Indiana and Northwestern.
Actual wins: 5
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: Vegas got us again. Both of us were bullish on the Hoosiers making a bowl game this year. Home losses to Navy and Minnesota were killers.
Actual wins: 8
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: Like most people, we underestimated the Hawkeyes this year. By a lot.
Actual wins: 7
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: So, um, yeah. This isn't going too well for us.
Actual wins: 8
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: And I'm on the board. Finally. But 8-4 still surprised us.
Over-under: 9.5 Actual wins: 8 Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: I said in my prediction that it wouldn't shock me if Nebraska went 8-4, which they did. Adam called the over "a fairly easy call."
Actual wins: 5
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: Neither of us thought the Wildcats would miss a bowl game, but I had them falling short of expectations because of the schedule.
Over-under: 11 Actual wins: 12 Brian's pick: Push
Adam's pick: Push 20/20 hindsight: Though we both figured Ohio State would be dominant, we just thought it would be too hard to go undefeated again. It wasn't -- at least until the Big Ten title game.
Over-under: 8 Actual wins: 7
Brian's pick: Push Adam's pick: Push 20/20 hindsight: Another whiff. I even mentioned a possible 6-0 start for Penn State. At least the Nittany Lions beat Wisconsin to get closer to the preseason number.
Over-under: 5.5 Actual wins: 1 Brian's pick: Under Adam's pick: Under 20/20 hindsight: Guess it's safe to say the Boilermakers fell way short of expectations in Darrell Hazell's first year, though we both expected some struggles.
Over-under: 9 Actual wins: 9 Brian's pick: Push Adam's pick: Under 20/20 hindsight: Once again, the wiseguys were right on the number, and so was I, as I predicted a 9-3 season with losses to Arizona State, Ohio State and one other Big Ten team. Blind squirrel, meet nut.
I won but take no pride in those picks. The lesson here, as always: Don't mess with Vegas.
We also took a stab at some random over-unders of our own in the preseason. Let's take a look at how those turned out:
Michigan State starting QBs
Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: The Spartans played three quarterbacks early and very nearly went with a fourth in Damion Terry. But only Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook started.
Taylor Martinez touchdowns + turnovers
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: This one became a lock because of Martinez's injuries. He finished with 10 touchdowns, two interceptions and a lost fumble. We'll never know what a healthy T-Magic could have done his senior season, and that's a shame.
Big Ten players ejected for targeting
Brian's pick: Under
Adam's pick: Over
20/20 hindsight: It took a while for the league to have its first player ejected, but then the new rule showed its impact. For the record, the five players ejected were Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Ohio State's Bradley Roby, Indiana's David Kenney, Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis and Purdue's Landon Feichter.
Braxton Miller rushing attempts
Over-under: 188 Actual: 131 Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: Another category where an injury affected things. Miller would have gotten close and possibly reached our over-under if he didn't miss three games with a knee injury.
Chris Borland takeaways
Over-under: 7.5 Actual: 3 Brian's pick: Under Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: Borland wasn't as active on the turnover front as Adam thought, but he still wound up as the Big Ten defensive player of the year.
Indiana defensive points allowed
Over-under: 29 ppg Actual: 38.8 ppg Brian's pick: Over Adam's pick: Over 20/20 hindsight: And this is why the Hoosiers didn't make a bowl.
Devin Gardner's rushing totals
Over-under: 400 yards and 10 touchdowns Actual: 483 and 11 Brian's pick: Over
Adam's pick: Under
20/20 hindsight: Thanks to a whole lot of sack yardage, Gardner came very close to our preseason baselines.
Iowa AIRBHG strikes
Actual: 0 20/20 hindsight: The Iowa running back curse was thankfully lifted this year. Afraid to say anything more for fear of jinxing it.
- Michigan State's upset of Ohio State is a fitting end to the BCS era, writes Michael Rosenberg.
- The loss proves that Ohio State is human, but the Buckeyes are still set up to be an elite program.
- Penn State's John Urschel and Glenn Carson will play in the East-West Shrine Game.
- Minnesota's Brock Vereen says that playing in the Texas Bowl gives Minnesota an advantage because it has been there before.
- Kirk Ferentz is wary of LSU's backup QB because of how history has played itself out, but he's happy that left tackle Brandon Scherff says he will return for his senior season at Iowa.
- Video of the 2013 Illinois senior class discussing their careers for the Illini.
- Teddy Greenstein takes a deeper look at Chris Borland's upbringing and how it made him play the way he does at Wisconsin.
- As he did Sunday on the Gator Bowl teleconference, Nebraska's Bo Pelini needs to make sure that his positive voice is heard.
- Former Michigan QB Brian Griese stressed sacrifice to this year's group at the team's banquet.
The ESPN recruiter power rankings examine which assistant coaches are doing the best on the recruiting trail in the 2014 class. Beyond looking at how many four- or five-star recruits a coach lands, the rankings take into account the needs those recruits will fill at the next level.
These rankings will be updated regularly as national signing day approaches. They are also a measure of where we believe the recruiters are now, not where they will be on signing day. Many coaches and schools have yet to make a recruiting run and could quickly climb the list as more progress is made.
Previous rankings: October 2013
1. Billy Napier
ESPN 300 recruits: 7
Top recruit: ESPN 300 No. 3 Cameron Robinson
Previous ranking: 4
Napier, Alabama's receivers coach, established himself as one of the better recruiters in the ACC while at Clemson, but recruiting for the Crimson Tide has allowed him to climb to the top of the national charts. Recruiting in Louisiana and parts of Texas, and also spot-recruiting other key national targets, Napier boasts commitments from five ESPN 300 prospects who are in the top 10 at their positions, including No. 1 OT Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), No. 2 pocket passer David Cornwell (Norman, Okla./Norman North) and No. 2 safety Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville). Napier's efforts have also helped the Tide climb to No. 1 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and reload at positions of need like offensive tackle, quarterback and especially receiver.
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