NCF Nation: Nebraska Cornhuskers

You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Wildcats and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. Fyor good measure, Central Florida Knight won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league – not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall – Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hotshot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Trevor Siemian of Northwestern. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jake Rudock of Iowa. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
There's no dancing around it: Nonleague play simply matters more for the Big Ten than any other major conference.

SportsNation

How many of the most significant nonleague games will the Big Ten win?

  •  
    24%
  •  
    46%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    4%
  •  
    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,596)

The league's national reputation is constantly dissected, and the inevitable question that follows -- how does the Big Ten improve its perception? -- is directly tied to performance in games against top teams from other conferences. If the Big Ten steps up and records several key wins early in the year, it remains in the national discussion, especially this season with the inaugural playoff approaching. If the league struggles, it becomes less relevant and possibly left out of the top four on Dec. 7 -- the worst possible scenario after more than a decade without a championship.

This list examines the five most significant nonleague games for Big Ten teams. They're rated according to quality of the opponent, expectations for the Big Ten team, where the game is being played and when it's being played. There's a drop-off after the top two contests but all five games matter in shaping Big Ten perception.

Without further ado ...

1. Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: Michigan State handed Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and then beat preseason national title contender Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The next step, as the Spartans openly acknowledge, is competing for a national title. It might take an upset victory at Autzen Stadium -- one of the nation's toughest venues for a visiting team -- or at least a good showing to remain in the playoff mix. But a win would be huge, not only for Michigan State's profile as a program that has moved up in class, but for the Big Ten, which has struggled in true road games against the Pac-12. A close loss wouldn't ruin MSU's playoff hopes. A blowout loss would damage the Big Ten's push for respect.

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (at Houston), Aug. 30: The opponent isn't as sexy and the location isn't as daunting, but any win against an upper-class SEC opponent benefits the Big Ten. Wisconsin enters the season with numerous questions, from quarterback to receiver to defensive front seven, but it can provide a resounding answer about its expectations by upsetting LSU at NRG Stadium. It's a big opportunity for Badgers running back Melvin Gordon to make a statement in the Heisman Trophy race against a top defense. A Wisconsin win would put the Badgers in the playoff discussion, given their favorable Big Ten schedule. A double-digit loss adds to the SEC's superiority case against the Big Ten.

3. Miami at Nebraska, Sept. 20: This is a hold-serve game for both Nebraska and the Big Ten, and it's a bit more significant for the Huskers than the league as a whole. Bo Pelini's team simply has to win this one, especially on its home field against a Miami team that has had major personnel problems during the offseason. Miami isn't UCLA, and Nebraska can't have a meltdown like it did in last year's top nonleague showdown. Unless Nebraska stumbles at Fresno State the week before, it should be poised to improve to 4-0 with a win, two weeks before the first of several Big Ten road tests at Michigan State. A victory keeps the possibilities alive for Nebraska. A loss here, and it's hard to envision the Huskers winning in East Lansing, Madison or Iowa City.

4. Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6: This is very similar to the previous game: a home contest against a good but not great ACC opponent that the Big Ten team absolutely has to win to remain nationally relevant. Ohio State likely will enter the season as the Big Ten favorite and the league's best bet to reach the playoff, but it can't afford a slip-up against Virginia Tech. Unlike Michigan State, which probably could remain in the playoff hunt with a close loss at Oregon and a Big Ten title, Ohio State might have to run the table to make the top four. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Virginia Tech is no longer an ACC bigfoot that provides a schedule boost. Ohio State has to take care of business on its home field, ideally by 10 points or more.

5. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6: This one is tricky. The game pops nationally because it's Michigan and Notre Dame. It's also the teams' last meeting for the foreseeable future. It's Notre Dame Stadium under the lights. And it's big for Michigan. But has there been a more misleading game for Michigan in recent years? What have the recent Notre Dame victories -- 2013, 2010, 2009 -- meant for Michigan? Bupkis. The dramatic win in 2011 propelled Michigan to an 11-win season, but for the most part these games have been big teases for the Maize and Blue. Still, Michigan needs an early win away from Ann Arbor, if only because tougher road tests -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- follow during Big Ten play. Perhaps this season mirrors 2011 and the Notre Dame game actually propels Brady Hoke's team. Although Big Ten wins against Notre Dame haven't meant much, they don't hurt, either.

Five more games with B1G importance: Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20; Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13; Minnesota at TCU, Sept. 13; Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27; Northwestern at Notre Dame, Nov. 15.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
We've already covered the conference's potential villains, so it's only natural that we move on to the good guys.

You won't find them in comic books or out in the Big Ten footprint fighting crime. But even opposing fans won't find it all that difficult to root for this cast of characters. Some overcame injuries or other obstacles, some have been wronged, and others just seem like genuinely good people.

There are certainly plenty of other athletes and coaches whom this could apply to, so it wasn't easy just picking a handful. But true heroes don't expect media attention for their good deeds … plus, we had to cut this list off somewhere.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the unmasked Big Ten heroes:

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah, left, decided to put the NFL off for another year and return for his senior season at Nebraska.
Ameer Abdullah, running back, Nebraska: About 100 juniors declared early for this year's NFL draft, and no one would've blamed Abdullah if he decided to join the herd. Instead, he decided to stay -- and he's said all the right things. As the youngest of nine children, the other eight of whom have earned college degrees, Abdullah stressed the importance of his education and finishing that degree. When a lot of other players are chasing dollar signs instead of diplomas, that's a refreshing viewpoint. Added Bo Pelini: “He's an All-American on the field. He's an All-American off the field.”

Adam Breneman, tight end, Penn State: Forget the fact he remained loyal and committed to the university throughout the sanctions, when he could've bolted to the likes of Florida State or Notre Dame. He's also used his football celebrity to champion a few charitable causes, something more common for coaches than players. In high school he started “Catch the Cure,” which helped raise more than $200,000 to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease. During his Under Armour jersey presentation two years ago, he even helped man a booth outside the auditorium to seek donations. Currently, he's the secretary of Penn State's nonprofit chapter of “Uplifting Athletes,” which raises money for the Kidney Cancer Association. You don't have to like the Nittany Lions, but you have to like what Breneman's doing.

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Underappreciated. Underestimated. Underdog. That's why Friedgen is under two other heroes on this list. It's easy to root for someone who appeared to be unfairly punished – and is now seeking out justice on the gridiron. Friedgen is just about the only head coach to win conference coach of the year and then be fired that same season. It happened with Maryland in 2010; now, he's helping oversee a Rutgers offense that people aren't expecting a lot from. He's in the same division as the Terps -- heck, they're on the schedule this year -- and Friedgen has a chance to show Maryland it made a mistake. He certainly could've handled the dismissal better, but it's hard to blame him and easy to wish him well. As long as you're not a Terps fan, that is.

Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota: Stop me if you've heard this before. “I'm rooting against them when they play us, but I'm wishing all the best to ________ the rest of the season.” Chances are Kill's filled in quite a few of those sentences the past few years. He has refused to let epilepsy get the best of him, and his longevity's been a testament to his toughness. He's been a coach since 1985, and he just led the Gophers to back-to-back bowls. Plus, he recently started a new epilepsy foundation for young patients, and he put $100,000 of his own money toward that. How can you not root for this guy?

Jake Ryan, linebacker, Michigan: Torn anterior cruciate ligaments are usually big setbacks, something that means missed seasons or at least gradual returns. Not for Ryan. The Michigan linebacker, a team captain last season, was on crutches last spring and returned in time for the Oct. 12 game against Penn State. Said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: “If he ever truly logged the hours of extra treatment and extra rehab that he has done since the day that happened, I think it would floor you.” Nothing has really been handed to Ryan, as he wasn't a highly sought-after recruit. But he's worked hard and now finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards. It's his final season at Michigan, and big things are expected from him.

Heroes on deck: Tracy Claeys, Stefon Diggs, Herb Hand, Jeremy Langford, Venric Mark
It's getting closer, folks. The 2014 season will be here before you know it, and Big Ten media days are less than three weeks away.

The league today released the list of players who will be on hand at the Hilton Chicago on July 28-29 for media days and the kickoff luncheon.

Here they are ...

EAST DIVISION

INDIANA

David Cooper, Sr., LB
Nate Sudfeld, Jr., QB
Shane Wynn, Sr., WR*

MARYLAND

C.J. Brown, Sr., QB
Stefon Diggs, Jr., WR*
Jeremiah Johnson, Sr., DB

MICHIGAN

Frank Clark, Sr., DE*
Devin Gardner, Sr., QB*
Jake Ryan, Sr., LB*

MICHIGAN STATE

Shilique Calhoun, Jr., DE*
Connor Cook, Jr., QB*
Kurtis Drummond, Sr., FS*

OHIO STATE

Michael Bennett, Sr., DL*
Jeff Heuerman, Sr., TE*
Braxton Miller, Sr., QB*

PENN STATE

Bill Belton, Sr., RB
Sam Ficken, Sr., PK*
Mike Hull, Sr., LB

RUTGERS

Michael Burton, Sr., FB
Darius Hamilton, Jr., DL
Lorenzo Waters, Sr., DB

WEST DIVISION

ILLINOIS

Simon Cvijanovic, Sr., OT
Jon Davis, Sr., TE
Austin Teitsma, Sr., DL

IOWA

Carl Davis, Sr., DT*
Brandon Scherff, Sr., OL*
Mark Weisman, Sr., RB

MINNESOTA

David Cobb, Sr., RB
Mitch Leidner, So., QB
Cedric Thompson, Sr., S

NEBRASKA

Ameer Abdullah, Sr., RB*
Kenny Bell, Sr., WR*
Corey Cooper, Sr., S*

NORTHWESTERN

Ibraheim Campbell, Sr., S*
Collin Ellis, Sr., LB
Trevor Siemian, Sr., QB

PURDUE

Raheem Mostert, Sr., RB
Sean Robinson, Sr., LB
Ryan Russell, Sr., DE

WISCONSIN

Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB*
Rob Havenstein, Sr., RT*
Warren Herring, Sr., DL

* indicates previous all-conference selection

I really like this list. The main reason: the number of non-seniors. Nothing against the graybeards, but too often Big Ten teams have brought only seniors to media days even if other players were better, more marketable, strong team leaders and more charismatic with reporters. Yes, I'm incredibly biased about this event: I want the best talkers.

While several Big Ten teams are taking the senior-only approach, others are bringing underclassmen who fill key roles. Minnesota will bring sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner because he's now the leader of the offense. The same goes for Indiana with junior signal-caller Nate Sudfeld. Michigan State is bringing juniors Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun because they both played huge roles in last year's championship run. Stefon Diggs is the most recognizable Maryland player, even though he's a junior. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon isn't technically a senior, but barring injury this will be his last year as a Badger -- and his only chance to attend media days.

There's a decent contingent of quarterbacks -- seven in all -- that includes two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Braxton Miller, Cook and Michigan's Devin Gardner. The only major omission is Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who could be one of the league's top players this season. The Lions throw us a bit of a curveball with kicker Sam Ficken. Interesting.

On behalf of all Big Ten media members, I'd like to thank Nebraska for bringing Bell. We are eternally grateful. And Kenny, I will make fun of you for being a Canucks fan.

Staying with the Huskers, senior running back Ameer Abdullah will speak on behalf of the players at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon on July 29. An excellent choice.
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Maryland and Rutgers officially joined the Big Ten on Tuesday. That prompted celebrations in Piscataway, New Jersey, and College Park, Maryland, but more of a collective shoulder shrug elsewhere. One school's fan base seems particularly unhappy about the latest additions: Nebraska. So today's Take Two topic is this: Does Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

You can sum up the displeasure of Huskers fans by simply pointing to Big Red's conference home schedule in 2014: Illinois, Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota. This is not the Big Ten that Nebraska backers thought they were joining back in 2011. They thought that leaving the Big 12 for Jim Delany's league meant plenty of games against Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Instead, they're in a division without any of those teams, and none of those three come to Lincoln before 2017 (when the Buckeyes visit Memorial Stadium). Was it really worth leaving the Big 12 for this?

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsDoes Nebraska have a right to be unhappy about Maryland and Rutgers coming on board?
Of course, as Don Draper might say, "That's what the money is for." Then again, Nebraska doesn't receive a full share of the Big Ten's overflowing coffers until 2017, and the school couldn't have been happy to learn that Maryland would get a front-loaded deal that included much more cash right away for the Terps' strapped athletic department.

The Maryland and Rutgers move was aimed at opening up new territory for the Big Ten, to serve recruiting, future population growth and alumni along the East Coast. But as the westernmost school in the league, Nebraska stands to benefit far less from this expansion than other conference members. The Huskers haven't traditionally recruited a lot of players from the East Coast, and the school's alumni base isn't as large there as it is for other Big Ten teams.

Still, don't forget that the Big 12 was basically crumbling when Nebraska left. The Huskers will become far more financially secure in the Big Ten than they would have in the Big 12, especially when the league's huge new TV deal comes rolling in. Nebraska has been a good fit culturally in the Big Ten.

Yet I don't blame Cornhuskers supporters for being at least a little upset, especially given the scheduling distribution. The Big Ten's future parity scheduling should help a little, and hopefully a robust rivalry with Wisconsin will develop in the West Division, along with a growing interest in the Iowa series. Nebraska should enjoy what looks like a slightly easier path to the Big Ten title game every year (assuming the West Division remains less top heavy than the East), and the occasional Eastern exposure could help expand the school's brand and recruiting reach.

The Huskers actually need to win a Big Ten title in football before deciding the rest of the league is beneath them, after all. And if all else fails, Nebraska fans, remember this: at least you no longer have to mess with Texas.

Take 2: Mitch Sherman

Interesting, Brian, that you mention Texas, which still draws the ire of Nebraskans more than a lackluster slate of Big Ten home games ever could.

And the only thing as frustrating to Husker fans than Texas' hold on Nebraska from 2002 to 2010 -- six wins in six games for burnt orange -- is the Longhorns' 16-11 league record since the Huskers left for the Big Ten. Yes, Nebraska fans salivated over the sight of Texas as it hovered near .500 in Big 12 play in 2011 and 2012; they wanted nothing more than to kick UT while it was down.

In some convoluted way, perhaps, they blame the Big Ten for robbing the Huskers of that chance. Now, the entry of Maryland and Rutgers has taken from Nebraska the chance to kick Michigan while it's down -- something the Huskers, their fan base and their Ohio State-bred coach enjoyed in 2012 and 2013.

It's not that simple, though. If Ohio State or Iowa want to get nostalgic and hold a grudge against the Big Ten newbies for disrupting their fall festival, go for it. But Nebraska has no room to groan.

The Huskers landed in this league, way back in 2011, as an agent of change. The Big Ten secured Nebraska's financial future. Three years later, you might say the Huskers sold their soul to Delany. Sure, they're making lots of money and poised to make even more.

The football team continues to win nine games annually, but when is an October meeting with Rutgers or Maryland going to feel natural?

Look at a map. It's Nebraska, not the newcomers, that is most geographically isolated in the Big Ten. Delany planned all along that the addition of Nebraska marked only the start to his new era of change.

Did he sell the Huskers and their fans false hope, with the promise of every-other-season trips to the Big House and the renewal of a once-bitter rivalry with Penn State? Not anymore than Rutgers or Maryland wrecked it all.

This is an age of change in college athletics. More is coming, even if conference expansion has halted. Programs and their fan bases can't cling to the past. They can't cling to the present, either.

The opportunity exists to play Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State more often than the schedule dictates. Just win the West. One of them is likely to often await in the Big Ten championship game.

Maryland and Rutgers don't figure to soon disrupt any of those plans.
If the preseason All-America teams are any indication, the Big Ten will have a very good year in the offensive backfield -- both carrying the ball out of it and penetrating it.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon has averaged a gaudy 8.1 yards per rushing attempt during his career.
Running back and defensive line appear to be the league's two strongest position groups -- possibly by a wide margin -- entering the 2014 season. Athlon on Monday came out with its preseason All-America teams, following up Phil Steele, who released his last week. Three Big Ten players made Athlon's first team: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Four other defensive linemen -- Nebraska's Randy Gregory (second team), Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun (second team), Ohio State's Joey Bosa (fourth team) and Iowa's Carl Davis (fourth team) -- made one of the remaining three teams, and two other running backs -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (second team) and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (fourth team) -- also appear.

Steele had Bennett and Calhoun on his first team, Gregory and Bosa on his second team and Davis on his third team. Like Athlon, he lists Gordon as a first-team running back and Abdullah on the second team. It's interesting to see Calhoun getting a bit more love than Gregory, even though Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks and is projected as a higher draft pick.

Not sure about you, but I can't wait for Calhoun and Gregory to share the field Oct. 4 at Spartan Stadium, or for longtime friends Gordon and Abdullah to match up on Nov. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium. Both matchups should be fun to watch all season.

It's not unusual for defensive line and running back to headline the Big Ten. Both positions historically are strong in the league, especially defensive line. A potential concern is that only one quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- and zero wide receivers make any of Athlon's teams. Steele has two Big Ten wideouts, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess (has played tight end but listed as a receiver), on his third team. Still, it's clear these are two positions where the Big Ten continues to need upgrades.

Other Athlon preseason All-America selections include: Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (second team), Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman (third team), Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond (third team), Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (third team), Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (fourth team), Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (fourth team) and Northwestern punt returner Venric Mark (fourth team).

The Big Ten is tied with the Pac-12 for third among overall Athlon All-America selections with 18, trailing both the ACC (27) and SEC (26).
Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told ESPN.com this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told ESPN.com he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”
Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
1. Just because talent evaluations end in May doesn’t mean that vacation begins for coaches. David Shaw told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday that June is a critical month for Stanford. Not only do players come to camp to try to earn a scholarship offer, or visit campus to see if they want to commit, but second-semester grades arrive and the Cardinal coaches get a better idea of which players have a shot at qualifying for admission.

2. Judging by the endorsement of both Shaw and Virginia Tech associate head coach Shane Beamer given on the podcast, the new dead period on the NCAA recruiting calendar in July is the greatest rule change since the forward pass. For two weeks in summer, coaches can’t recruit and recruits can’t meet with coaches on campus visits. Coaches get to recharge before players report in August. My guess: If you want to see a coach that week, go to the beach.

3. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini’s idea to eliminate national signing day is counterintuitive. He believes that no rule will do just as good a job as too many, that programs will be more judicious in offering scholarships if coaches know that the young man could sign that day. It wouldn’t solve the issue of earlier and earlier recruiting. In fact, that problem might be more acute. Give Pelini credit for thinking outside the coaches’ box. But what in the world would we watch on the first Wednesday in February?
video
Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
The acceptance of Damore'ea Stringfellow at Nebraska presents more evidence that coach Bo Pelini and the Huskers are willing to take new risks in their attempt to construct a championship-caliber program.

[+] EnlargeDamore'ea Stringfellow, Michael Davis
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesNebraska will keep a close watch on wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow, who transferred from Washington this weekend.
Stringfellow, a 6-foot-3, 229-pound receiver, said on Saturday that he’s transferring from Washington to Nebraska. In 2013, Stringfellow was ranked the nation’s No. 51 prospect in the ESPN 300 and the fourth-best recruit in California out of Rancho Verde High School in Moreno Valley.

Rancho Verde is a prep program familiar to the Huskers for producing former linebacker Eric Martin and ex-wideout Quincy Enunwa, who caught a school-record 12 touchdowns last fall.

The circumstances of Stringfellow’s transfer also look a bit familiar in Lincoln.

He pleaded guilty in April to three misdemeanors related to a post-Super Bowl altercation with two Seahawks fans in Seattle on Feb. 2. Stringfellow and Washington quarterback Cyler Miles were suspended by UW coach Chris Petersen. Miles was later reinstated.

Stringfellow was ordered to pay a fine, serve on a work crew and attend anger-management counseling.

A year ago at this time, Nebraska coaches contemplated the transfer of offensive lineman Alex Lewis. Lewis, days after settling his move from Colorado to Nebraska, was arrested for his role in a fight in Boulder, Colorado, that left an Air Force cadet unconscious.

Lewis pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. Nebraska allowed his transfer but denied Lewis access to the team last fall. He joined the program as a walk-on in January and performed well in spring practice, earning the inside track to start at left tackle after he serves a 45-day jail sentence in Colorado this summer.

Will Stringfellow, recruited by the likes of USC, Ohio State and Michigan out of high school, face similar parameters in Lincoln?

Has Pelini compromised the standards of Nebraska football, which has prided itself under the seventh-year coach for running a clean program as others nationally appear to run amok?

The answer to both questions, likely, is no.

Stringfellow’s situation differs from the case of Lewis in that the receiver faced his punishment from the court before Nebraska pursued him as a transfer.

Expect the Huskers to keep him under watch but close to the team and a part of practices this fall as he sits out to satisfy transfer rules. In 2015, Nebraska must replace prolific receiver Kenny Bell. Stringfellow gives the Huskers a legitimate option to step in and compete against the best in the Big Ten.

Stringfellow caught eight passes for 147 yards and a touchdown on Nov. 15 in Washington’s 41-31 loss to UCLA.

The Huskers see his potential. He possesses the talent in a receiver rarely recruited at Nebraska. Stringfellow visited Lincoln as a high school senior, along with USC and Washington.

Upon news of his decision this weekend, several Nebraska coaches rejoiced on Twitter, offering thinly veiled references to the big-bodied wideout. Nebraska already knew plenty about Stringfellow and researched him additionally in recent weeks.

As for Pelini, his standards remain in place.

The Huskers value character as much as two years ago -- before Lewis and Stringfellow, before defensive end Avery Moss was banned from campus for a year in relation to a 2012 public-indecency charge, before linebacker Josh Banderas entered a diversion program last month for his role in the theft of seven bicycles from a campus rack. The charge was later dismissed.

Since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011, recruiting competition has intensified. Ask anyone who encountered James Franklin’s Penn State staff on the trail this spring.

Urban Meyer, of course, has raised the stakes.

Nebraska must continue to take risks to improve its standing in the conference hierarchy. Or even to keep pace.

A fine line exists, but the Huskers can navigate it -- with informed decisions like the Stringfellow case -- and maintain the integrity Pelini and Nebraskans so value in their program.
After taking a look at the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we're putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series continues today with a look at the revenue generated through branding initiatives like licensing and sponsorships.

It's fitting that the University of Michigan's athletic director has the word "brand" in his last name. In the Big Ten, there's no bigger brand than Michigan.

Ticket sales, donations and television dollars are the biggest revenue-drivers for college programs. But one of the more revealing categories in the recent "Outside the Lines" database encompasses revenue from licensing, sponsorships, advertising and royalties. It all adds up to branding, and in the Big Ten, Michigan is king.

Only Texas generates more money from licensing, sponsorships, advertising and royalties than Michigan, which has ranked second among public schools in the category for the past five fiscal years (2008-09 through 2012-13). Michigan's reported intake spiked from $11,087,101 in fiscal year 2007-08 to $22,473,192 in 2012-13. Although there's a substantial gap between Texas ($33,421518) and Michigan, there's also a financial canyon between Michigan and third-place Oklahoma ($12,805,600), Ohio State ($12,714,758) and Nebraska ($11,895,378).

"We really think of ourselves as a global brand," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told ESPN.com. "In my previous life, I ran a company [Domino's Pizza] that at the time was doing business in about 65 countries. I never visited a country where I didn't see at least one symbol of the University of Michigan. There was at least one kid wearing a jersey, some guy wearing a hat, some Michigan shirt, some 'Go Blue' thing.

"It's remarkable how our brand is way beyond a domestic brand. I'm not sure if other programs necessarily enjoy that recognition."

Many Big Ten schools have massive alumni bases. But Michigan's alumni distribution, combined with the school's academic reputation and athletic tradition, has created a branding giant.

Brandon attributes the revenue differential mainly to the makeup of Michigan's alumni. Another driver is the way Michigan markets its athletes.

"You could even trace it back to the early '90s and the Fab Five, you could trace it to Desmond Howard and Charles Woodson," said Manish Tripathy, a marketing professor at Emory University who helps manage the Emory Sports Marketing Analytics project. "Some of these large figures and personalities have contributed to people who are not alumni still identifying with the Michigan brand."

The revenue from licensing, sponsorships, advertising and royalties accounts for a small percentage of Michigan's overall athletic revenue, which Brandon pegs at about $150 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year. It's the same for other Big Ten schools.

But Brandon sees potential in these areas, especially licensing, which he thinks can grow "much faster" than the rate of inflation.

"I'd like to build that more," Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague said of licensing. "I know we're going to do an aggressive job. Part of that also is winning at a higher level in football and basketball. When I was at [North] Carolina, we were No. 1 [in licensing] my whole entire six years working there, and I was the liaison, so I saw how we built it. But it wasn't built overnight."

Minnesota has excelled in revenue through licensing/sponsorships/advertising/royalties, ranking fourth among Big Ten schools for the past six fiscal years and in the top 15 nationally each year. Minnesota associate athletic director Chris Werle said the school's long-term agreements with Coca-Cola, Dairy Queen and Learfield Sports, its media rights holder, bring in escalating revenues.

Like Minnesota, Iowa has been in the top 20 in licensing/sponsorships/advertising/royalties since 2007-08. Associate athletic director Rick Klatt said Iowa has tremendous local support and national brand recognition with its Tiger Hawk logo, but must push to broaden its reach.

"It's gaining shelf space in nontraditional markets," Klatt said. "When we can gain some kind of marketing presence in a sports store in San Antonio when you're down there for the Alamo Bowl, if we can find a little niche for the Iowa Hawkeyes to be next to Michigan, Texas and USC, we'e making some headway. That's a victory."

Klatt knows Iowa can't become Michigan overnight, but with the right success on the field and strategies off of it, the brand can expand.

"It's a quantity thing, a history thing, a tradition thing," Klatt said. "Michigan, Penn State -- they have some numbers that work in their favor. But that doesn't mean we can't compete."

Most Big Ten schools have seen gradual revenue increases in licensing/sponsorships/advertising/royalties, and most have been fairly steady in the national rankings. But there are some exceptions: Ohio State went from 24th in 2007-08 to fourth in 2012-13. Illinois' revenue has flat-lined, and the school has gone from 25th in 2007-08 to 36th in 2012-13.

Penn State saw a significant drop from fiscal year 2010-11 ($5,984,967) to 2011-12 ($4,444,416) -- the year of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal -- before rebounding in 2012-13 ($5,086,773).

"Locally, the support is still there; people are still paying to go watch the team," Tripathi said, "but on a national level, there has been a bit of a hit on the brand. That's manifesting in the decline in sales of merchandise."

[+] EnlargeDave Brandon and Gene Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith preside over marquee brands in the national scope.
Schools approach licensing and sponsorships in different ways, but consolidation is a common trait. All but four Big Ten members use the Collegiate Licensing Company, a division of IMG, to represent them in licensing agreements.

About a decade ago, Michigan significantly reduced the number of licenses it awarded to produce products. Kristen Ablauf, the school's director of trademark licensing, said Michigan used to have about 70 licensees for headwear, some of which weren't producing merchandise. Now there are only five national licensees -- LIDS and Dick's Sporting Goods among them -- as well as 12 local licensees.

"That has really helped increase revenues because we're targeting specific categories and channels as opposed to just licensing anybody," Ablauf said. "Along with our licensing agency, we work to put specific retailer programs together to make sure Michigan does maintain its status as a national school."

The Big Ten wants to become a more national conference as it expands to the East Coast with Rutgers and Maryland. The move should help Rutgers, which has generated the lowest revenues in licensing/sponsorships/advertising/royalties.

It also creates new branding opportunities for existing league members.

"The retail industry will take a look at and say, 'We need to have a presence in our store to satisfy the Big Ten consumer,'" Klatt said. "Our challenge will be, when they start choosing which schools to give presence to, they're clearly going to give some to Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State. But that next tier, we have to make sure we're in that."
After taking a look a the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we're putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series kicks off today with revenues and expenses.

The ability of athletic departments to survive and thrive amid the nation's economic downturn rings true within the Big Ten. A closer look at the numbers bears that out.

[+] EnlargeBadger
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsThe Wisconsin athletic department generated huge revenue thanks to large donations.
The collective revenue of Big Ten programs in the past six years has increased by nearly 30 percent, just shy of the FBS average of 32 percent during that span. And many of the conference's schools find themselves near the top nationally.

In 2012-13, Wisconsin was No. 2 nationally among public schools in both revenue generated ($149 million) and expenses ($146.7 million). Michigan was No. 4 and No. 3 in the same two categories, generating $143.5 million and spending $131 million, while Ohio State checked in at No. 5 in both, raking in $140 million and spending $116 million.

That $24 million profit for the Buckeyes in 2012-13 put them atop the national list, but it's actually the rival Wolverines who have ended up with far and away the most money among their conference peers during the past six years. Using the analysis from "Outside The Lines" earlier this month, Michigan has netted a total profit of $90,243,483 from 2007-08 to 2012-13. That's an average annual profit of more than $15 million, nearly double the amount of the next-closest Big Ten school, Penn State, which netted an annual average of more than $8.8 million, slightly more than Ohio State ($8.755 million)

The money, of course, comes from more than simple ticket sales or conference payouts for bowl games and NCAA tournaments. Wisconsin's big financial windfall last year was thanks in large part to nearly $59 million in contributions and donations, more than $10 million clear of anyone else nationally. It's a big reason why the Badgers' one-year revenue increased by more than $45 million from 2011-12 to 2012-13, from 11th nationally to second nationally. Their surplus, however, was just $2.48 million, more than a $1 million less than the $3.78 million they made in 2010, with much less revenue ($96 million).

And where that money goes is now more widespread than ever.

"I think it was about 2000, our budget was right around $25 million and today it's $94 million," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "And it's real easy to take a quick look on where the allocation of those funds have gone, and so much of it — there is the coaching salary component that kind of stands out. But there's a much larger chunk that has gone to escalation of scholarships and services provided.

"When I was a basketball manager … I know how those student-athletes were treated, and I know how student-athletes today have opportunities from travel, where they stay, how they travel, where they eat, what they eat, how often they eat, what medical services, psychological services, strength and training. We've really become a specialized industry where we have people on our staff that provide the smallest component of service to a student-athlete. It used to be a coach and a trainer kind of handled everything. Well now there's somebody to teach you how to cook, there's somebody on some campuses that do the cooking, that show you how to shop. It's incredible, the opportunities that student-athletes have on those campuses, provided that they take it. That comes with a very high cost."

The Big Ten's Eastern-most schools, meanwhile, have been among the league's smallest money-makers as of late. Penn State had been the Big Ten's first- or second-most profitable program for four straight years before 2012, when it saw its profits dip to $863,023 from more than $14 million the year before. In 2013, the Nittany Lions lost $5,985,736 — a likely byproduct of the turmoil caused by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Conference newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, were the only league members to average less than $1 million per year in profit.

The NCAA legislative council's voting in April to eliminate all previous restrictions on food for athletes could present one more opportunity for athletic departments in their ever-growing arms race. The idea of food-only facility is intriguing to Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.

"We don't have to count snacks or meals, so we can open that up," Barta said. "And so in the short-run that's definitely a part of our plan, and long-run we'll look at taking the current center that we have and maybe moving it and creating a bigger one."

With members of the Big Ten and the other four power-five conferences furthering their push for autonomy, the reins on the estate may only tighten, with spending likely to increase.

"I'm biased, but I think it's the best-run conference in the country, from a business and a financial standpoint," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "And so we're going to hopefully have some advantages as we go forward, and what we want to do with this autonomy is be able to spend it on our student-athletes. And be smart."
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Big Ten athletic directors began their annual spring meetings Tuesday and discussed the proposed NCAA governance changes, scheduling, athlete welfare and other items.

Here are some notes from Day 1:

[+] EnlargeBig Ten Logo
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThe Big Ten athletic directors will wrap up their annual spring meetings on Wednesday.
ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS

Although increasing athletic scholarships to federal cost of attendance figures isn't a new topic in the Big Ten -- the league first proposed it three years ago -- it generated plenty of discussion Tuesday as change is finally on the horizon. There are details that must be worked out concerning Title IX and how overall athletic budgets will be affected.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said a full cost-of-attendance plan for all Illini athletes would cost approximately $1 million per year. But the numbers vary by institution.

"You're going to have to have a standard formula all schools are going to have to adhere to," Thomas said, "knowing that the numbers might still look different."

Added Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst: "Over time, each institution is sharing how financial aid works on their campus and how they see a possible opportunity to put more resources in the system to cover the gap."

The ADs also discussed how to improve travel for players, whether it's getting them home or getting their families to events.

"Is it two trips? Is it three? Is it just going home a certain time of the year? Or is it bowls? Or families visiting?" Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "Those details are yet to be worked out I think, and how does that factor into the full cost of attendance?"

FOOTBALL SCHEDULING

Despite a move to nine league games in 2016, non-league scheduling remains a challenge for the ADs, especially with the Big Ten prohibiting contests with FCS opponents. Thomas admits the inventory of opponents is smaller, which can increase costs of bringing in opponents that don't require return games. He added that a nine-game league schedule makes it harder to play neutral-site games because of the demand for seven home games every year.

"It's hard for us to move off campus and take a game away from our stadium, that's my biggest issue," Minnesota AD Norwood Teague said. "That was built for a purpose, and $150 million of that stadium was paid for by taxpayer dollars. You've got to serve the people."

[+] EnlargeDave Joyner, James Franklin, Rodney Erickson
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesPenn State athletic director Dave Joyner (left) praised new football coach James Franklin (center) on Tuesday.
Joyner said there has been some talk about Big Ten teams scheduling other league opponents in non-league games, something former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin brought up years ago. "That's a unique concept we could talk about more," Joyner said. "That's a possibility."

Despite the SEC and ACC announcing recently that they would keep an eight-game league schedule, the Big Ten has no plans to ditch its move to nine.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Joyner said new Penn State coach James Franklin has been "everything I thought he was an more, in a positive way," during his first four months on the job. "He's high energy, he's high ethics, he's high competitiveness," Joyner said.
  • Eichorst said he has had nothing to do with the improving public image of coach Bo Pelini, who has boosted his popularity since his blowups both during and after last season's loss to Iowa. "Bo's the same guy that I met when I arrived on campus," Eichorst said. "I see those sort of qualities from him on a day-to-day basis. What's out there in the community and the perception and all that other sort of stuff is certainly hard to control. He's a good ball coach, a good person. He's serious about his craft and very disciplined in his approach and we're lucky to have him at Nebraska."
  • Teague said the upcoming College Football Playoff generated little to no discussion Tuesday. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, a member of the selection committee, likely will address the group before the meetings end Wednesday.

More to come Wednesday as the meetings finish. Delany will address the media around 3 p.m. ET.

SPONSORED HEADLINES