NCF Nation: 2012 Big Ten Media days

CHICAGO -- Big Ten football media days are in the books, and the 2012 college football season is officially here.

Here's a look back at some of the top items from the past two days ...

Best dressed: Montee Ball. If you want be called Mon-Tay, as Ball now goes by, you had better back it up. The Wisconsin star dressed to impress both days, sporting a suit with a purple vest and bowtie Thursday, followed by a suit with a black vest and a red tie Friday. Guessing that Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema preferred the red tie. Honorable mention goes to Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen for his three-piece beige suit. Very sleek.

Most heartfelt moments: It's a tie between Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, who reflected on an emotion-charged week for the program, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who made a touching and revealing speech at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon, discussing his humble roots, the loss of his brother and his responsibility as a high-profile athlete.

Best line from Robinson: "I met the President of the United States, and I met LeBron James, and they both knew who I was."

Best bold statement: First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is setting the bar high for his quarterback, Braxton Miller. How high? "Braxton Miller has a lot of skills that Tim [Tebow] didn't have," Meyer said. "Braxton Miller is dynamic, he's the most dynamic athlete I've ever coached at quarterback. What I just said, people should go, 'Whoa.' He is, really by far. That's how good of an athlete he is." Fullback Zach Boren agrees, telling ESPN.com, "One or two Heisman Trophies are in his future." No pressure, Braxton.

Best newlywed moment: Bielema, who got married in March, was asked which ring feels better, his wedding band or his Big Ten championship ring (he wore both Friday). "It depends on who's asking," he said.

Best physical assessment: Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan, on teammate Craig Roh's claim that he's husky. "Call me husky all you want. Feel these hips if you want, too. I'm 310 pounds. There's got to be a little love, right?"

Best recruiting comment: Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, asked about plucking heralded linebacker recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo from Centerville, Ohio. "Urban can't take 'em all," he said, referring to Ohio State's Meyer. "But they offer 50, we get one, hooray for the 'Cats."

Best media day debut: Andrew Maxwell hasn't started a game at quarterback for Michigan State, but the junior handled himself well in the spotlight this week. "I've organized the 7-on-7s, get guys in the meeting room, get guys in the film room, texting them, saying, 'What time are you free? What time do you have class today?' " he said. "You really start to see how that's working when guys are texting and calling you, saying, 'Hey, can we get in the film room today.' When it's a two-way street, that's when you're most effective."

Best social media comment: Although several of Kirk Ferentz's Iowa assistants are on Twitter, including his son, Brian, the team's offensive line coach, Ferentz hasn't warmed up to social media for his players. "We're really not big on Twitter," he said. "I told them they can Twitter their lives away as soon as they've played their last game. If they want to Twitter the next 60 years, have at it. Facebook, Myspace, your space, my book, your book, it's probably not fair to try to rein that one in, but we just try to encourage that it's going to be part of their DNA. Whatever they post, they're responsible for."video
CHICAGO -- Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti had just come off the field from 7-on-7 work around 8 a.m. Thursday morning when he got a call from head coach Bill O'Brien.

"Hey, Mike," O'Brien said. "You've got to be on a plane at 9:30."

Mauti was a last-minute addition to Penn State's player contingent for Big Ten media days, a contingent that very nearly didn't come to Chicago at all. But Mauti ended up being arguably the best interview subject here, offering an impassioned defense of his team and railing against the NCAA transfer rules.

The senior -- who led a players' statement of loyalty on Wednesday in State College along with teammate Michael Zordich -- drew a lot of notice for what he said. Mauti returned to his hotel room on Thursday evening and spent three hours going over emails sent to him. The correspondence came from fans, alumni, heads of Penn State departments and professors -- some who had taught Mauti and some who had not.

Mauti said he got one email from a couple of fans who told them they'd sworn never to go another Penn State football game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke. But they told him that after watching him talk, they promised never to miss another game.

"That's why I know we're doing the right thing here," he told reporters Friday. "I told coach [Thursday morning], I'm going to let it fly, man. We've got to let the public and the world know we're sticking together. We wanted this platform, of course we did."

All of the Nittany Lions here in attendance -- defensive tackle Jordan Hill and offensive lineman John Urschel were the other players -- handled themselves admirably through the media crush. Hill said he also received scores of supportive emails.

"When Mauti and Zordich were there with the team behind them, there was a tremendous amount of groundswell coming off of that video," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "It's the players that are really continuing to put a stake in the ground for this program."

Mauti could become the face of the team this year -- if he can stay healthy. He missed the 2009 season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament and played only four games before blowing out his left ACL last year. When he's on the field, he's one of the best linebackers in the Big Ten.

Mauti says he feels great now and credits the work he's done with new strength coach Craig Fitzgerald and trainer Tim Bream.

"I've never been stronger in what I've been doing as far as weightlifting, and I haven't put a [knee] brace on all summer," he said. "The last time I was doing this rehab, I never took the brace off, so mentally I'm a whole lot more confident in my legs.

"I feel as good going into the season as I ever have, and it's a testament to those two guys."
video
New head coach Urban Meyer has a plan in place in Columbus to improve Ohio State from last season's seven-loss disaster.
CHICAGO -- Penn State is ineligible for the Big Ten championship or a bowl title for the next four seasons, but the Nittany Lions still could hoist some hardware at the end of their season.

Thanks to an idea from Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, Wisconsin and Penn State likely will begin playing for a rivalry trophy this season. The Badgers and Nittany Lions are matched up in the regular-season finale through the 2016 season (the Big Ten hasn't released schedules beyond 2016).

Bielema brought up the idea to his boss, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez, who liked it. They then got the green light from the Big Ten office before approaching Penn State's acting athletic director, Dave Joyner, who also was on board with the plan.

Although it hatched several months ago, before the NCAA handed down severe sanctions on Penn State's program, Bielema still supports having the trophy.

"I'd still go ahead with it 100 percent," he said. "It's the story and the history of who they are and what they are, is what I was trying to focus on. ... I wanted to give us something at the end of the year. Obviously, there's the Ohio State-Michigan thing. I wanted us to have something that has a little bit of value."

The final week of the regular season features several traditional rivalries, including Ohio State-Michigan and Indiana-Purdue. Iowa and Nebraska launched the Heroes Game last year, played on Black Friday.

Wisconsin and Penn State played the most significant game on rivalry weekend in 2011, meeting in Madison for the Leaders division title and a ticket to Indianapolis for the league title game. Although such a scenario can't take place again until 2016, Wisconsin likely will have plenty at stake in the game, while Penn State could be in a spoiler role or view the game as a bowl of sorts.

Asked what the trophy might be, Bielema said, "No. That's beyond me. I'll leave that to the experts." It'll be hard to top this.

You're the experts. What would you like the Wisconsin-Penn State trophy to be? Do you like the idea?
CHICAGO -- Some moments stick with players for years, especially when those moments are attached to big opportunities.

Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg hasn't forgotten the third-down sack he took against Ohio State in 2009. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes were playing for the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Iowa's first since 1991. Vandenberg, then a redshirt freshman, was making his first career start in place of the injured Ricky Stanzi. He had handled himself well in the glare of Ohio Stadium, leading Iowa on an 8-play, 70-yard drive to tie the score at 24-24 with 2:42 to play.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
AP Photo/Amy SancettaThis sack, in overtime of Iowa's eventual loss to Ohio State in 2009, still wears on James Vandenberg.
The Hawkeyes had the first possession in overtime, and after two fruitless plays, faced third-and-10 from the Buckeyes' 25. Vandenberg dropped back and was sacked by Ohio State's Doug Worthington, pushing Iowa out of field-goal range. A heave, a prayer and an interception later, Ohio State took over and converted a manageable field goal for the victory.

"That sack on third down, I remember that thing vividly," Vandenberg told ESPN.com. "The ball needed to come out. It would have been a long field goal, but we could have tried. Instead, we had to take a shot for the end zone, and you can't expect that to [work]."

Vandenberg views the Ohio State game as a "great stepping stone" in his career. He returned to a reserve role in 2010 before taking over for Stanzi last season, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions.

He enters his senior season as the Big Ten's most prolific passing quarterback.

"It was an experience you can't really replace," he said of that Ohio State game. "I know that experience helped me last season and before that. Being thrown in the moment, you can't really prepare for it. And it's an opportunity that I lost to [win] a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl."

Vandenberg finished the game 20-for-33 passing for 222 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Asked if he's still motivated by the Ohio State loss, Vandenberg replied, "Absolutely."

That night in Columbus, Vandenberg showed he doesn't back away from challenges. He proved it again in May by killing a 300-pound black bear in Saskatchewan with a bow and arrow.

Asked Thursday if the bear kill is his claim to fame among Big Ten quarterbacks, Vandenberg replied, "I'd rather win some more games."

He can start this fall in leading an Iowa offense featuring some question marks, namely at running back.

Although few forecast Iowa to win a treacherous Legends division, Vandenberg still has one last shot to finish what he couldn't in Columbus.

"That was a tough circumstance he was playing in," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "to all of a sudden be our starter, and to go into one of the toughest, if not the toughest, environments in our conference. Basically, it ended up being the championship game for that year. He may have taken a sack, but we had some drops, too, that may have changed the game. I thought he really played admirably."

Ferentz recalled the way Vandenberg prepared for his first start, spending late nights at the football complex with Stanzi and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe.

"The manner in which he played and conducted himself, to me, that was really a signature moment for him," Ferentz said. "It's one of the reasons I'm so optimistic he'll play well this year. He's got the right stuff."
video

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany talks about the Penn State and Ohio State scandals, and news of the conference likely staying with eight league games in the future.
CHICAGO -- Andrew Maxwell had a unique distinction among players at Big Ten media days: He is the only one who has never started a game at the college level.

But the fact that Michigan State brought the junior quarterback to Chicago shows you the confidence they have in Kirk Cousins' successor.

"It's definitely an honor and flattering to see," Maxwell told ESPN.com. "I don't have any starting experience under my belt."

Maxwell hasn't even completed a full spring practice as a starting quarterback. He suffered a sprained right knee a little more than halfway through spring drills and was sidelined for the rest of practice.

"It was tough in the timing of it," he said. "Up until that point, we had two or three really good practices on offense. We were really clicking. So it was kind of disheartening to have to sit out and watch the first group go on without me.

"I wanted to get those reps and start building relationships with the guys, but I couldn't. Obviously, that's going to put a heavier weight on training camp and the reps I've got to get done there."

The good news is, the knee is not a lingering problem. Michigan State held him out of the spring mostly for precautionary reasons, and Maxwell said he has done every workout and every run this summer. He expects to be full-go for training camp, though he might want to cut down on the scrambling in practice since that's how he got hurt the first time.

"I get razzed by some guys on the team," Maxwell said. "[Linebacker] Danny Folino told me, 'If you were a little better scrambler and a little quicker, you wouldn't be in this situation.'"

August will be an important time for Maxwell, but the Spartans are confident that he's the guy to lead them back to another Legends Division title.

"He's played for us for three years, so it's not like he's a guy who will have to learn the offense," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "He's a very quick study. What he needs to do is get back in rhythm with his wideouts, but they've been throwing all summer."

And maybe next year, Maxwell will be back in Chicago with plenty of experience under his belt.
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten's punishment for Penn State was relatively light in comparison to that levied by the NCAA. The biggest sanction the league handed down was the loss of bowl revenue for four years, which will amount to about a $13 million fine.

But commissioner Jim Delany said the league was prepared to dole out more severe punishment if the NCAA sanctions hadn't been as harsh as they were. And even though some wonder about the right of the NCAA and the Big Ten to issue such punishments without a hearing, Delany has no qualms about what happened.

"A lot of people want to debate about NCAA penalties or Big Ten penalties, and those debates are fine," Delany said at Big Ten media days in Chicago. "But to me they miss the point very much, because they're not in any way related to what happened to the victims of (Jerry) Sandusky's actions.

"I don't really care if it's a precedent. I don't really care about whether or not they had jurisdiction or whether or not there was an underlying NCAA violation. The only thing that matters to me is I think the NCAA did have moral authority to act, and I think the Big Ten had moral authority to act."

Still, Delany said no penalty can undo the harm that was done in State College, Pa.

"Justice can never really be served in this case, because the victims can never receive justice," he said. "There's no amount of legal, criminal, civil, NCAA, Big Ten action that can change that or help them."

Despite all that, Delany praised how new school president Rod Erickson, athletic director Dave Joyner and head coach Bill O'Brien have handled themselves during this crisis.

"It's been dark in many, many ways, but sometimes it's darkest before the dawn," he said.

Video: Penn State's Bill O'Brien

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Penn State coach Bill O'Brien talks to Adam Rittenberg at Big Ten media days.

Video: Michigan QB Denard Robinson

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Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson talks from Big Ten media days.

Video: Penn State LB Michael Mauti

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Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti discusses an emotional week for the Nittany Lions program.
CHICAGO -- Don't expect to see a nine-game Big Ten schedule any time soon.

Commissioner Jim Delany said at Big Ten media days Thursday that league schools are "of a unanimous mind to stay at eight games" in the conference schedule.

The dissolution of the Pac-12/Big Ten alliance forced the league to re-examine its scheduling philosophy. One idea that was heavily discussed this week was whether to increase the number of conference games to nine, the same number the Pac-12 and Big 12 play and that the ACC will soon play. Of the other power leagues, only the SEC has decided to stick with eight conference games.

The Big Ten voted to go to nine games last summer before abandoning the plan when the Pac-12/Big Ten agreement developed. But many coaches were not in favor of playing nine games, and some athletic directors did not like the idea of having an imbalanced number of home and away league games.

Delany said playing just eight league games will give the Big Ten more opportunities to prove itself on a national basis, which he said will be helpful under the playoff system to be implemented in 2014. Strength of schedule is expected to be a key component that a selection committee will consider when choosing the four teams for the playoff.

"That committee will have to look with the eye test at conferences," Delany said. "But it will also have to look at competitive results between conferences. We think going forward that this is the best way to prepare for the new postseason model."

Delany said that the Big Ten schools serious about competing for national championships will soon have "enhanced schedules," meaning tougher nonconference games. Those schools, he said, will "not only demonstrate strength by winning Big Ten championships but also demonstrate strength relative to other conferences."

The commissioner said the Big Ten might work with other conferences to help scheduling, though he said that would likely not rise to the collaborative level that was planned with the Big Ten.

Video: Penn State DT Jordan Hill

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Penn State DT Jordan Hill talks about the Nittany Lions' difficult week and how the players have tried to stick together.
CHICAGO -- Bo Pelini has relayed a simple message to Nebraska’s players this offseason.

It's time.

After no conference championships since 1999, Nebraska is focused on ending the drought in its second year as a Big Ten member. Although several Huskers players spoke openly this spring about winning a national title, Pelini made it clear that the first step is getting to Indianapolis on Dec. 1 -- and winning.

"We've been too close to not have a championship right now," senior tight end Kyler Reed told ESPN.com. "It started with Bo, and it spread throughout the team. That was the first message he had for us this winter, after training started. It's been since '99 that Nebraska had a conference championship. That's the goal. We're not even talking national. Just Big Ten championship."

Nebraska reached the Big 12 title game in 2009 and 2010, falling seconds shy of a victory in the first game and taking an early lead in the second before collapsing. The Huskers moved to their new league pegged by many as the preseason favorite, but they ended up finishing third in the Legends division.

Although division competitors Michigan and Michigan State likely will enter the season rated higher than the Huskers, Nebraska returns its core on offense and could be a deeper defensive team. The Huskers are undoubtedly more comfortable in their second Big Ten go-round.

"You don't want to put that added pressure on," senior running back Rex Burkhead said, "but [a league title] is our expectation. If we don't achieve it, we feel like we've fallen short. Especially being in those two Big 12 title games and being so close, we feel like it is time.

"Coach Bo's done a tremendous job here, and we don't want to let him down."
CHICAGO -- To recruit Penn State players or not to?

That's one of the dilemmas facing other Big Ten coaches after the NCAA ruled Penn State's current players could transfer to any FBS school without penalties after the Nittany Lions were hammered on Monday with five years' NCAA probation, including a four-year bowl ban.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer said he won't actively recruit Penn State players to join his Ohio State program.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema and Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, whose own team faces a one-year bowl ban this coming season, said they've decided not to actively pursue Penn State players. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said he wouldn't seek out any Nittany Lions transfers, but would listen to them if they called him.

But Purdue's Danny Hope and Illinois' Tim Beckman said they'll talk to any Penn State players who are interested in leaving.

"The NCAA has established the rules and the guidelines and obviously because they're strong from an ethics standpoint, and as long as we're compliant, we're going to exercise every opportunity we can to enhance our own football team," Hope said.

The Illini have been one of the most aggressive teams in pursuing Penn State's players the past few days. Penn State coaches told ESPN that they passed six coaches wearing Illini gear in the airport in State College, Pa., on Wednesday.

Beckman, a former Toledo coach who was hired by the Illini to replace the fired Ron Zook, said his coaches never stepped on the Penn State campus. But Beckham wasn't shy about saying Illinois is actively recruiting Penn State's current players.

"We only talked to individuals who came to us," Beckman said. "It was brought to our attention by two individuals prior to even any sanctions being granted by the NCAA that an opportunity might present itself for a transfer.

"We did not go onto their campus. We only talked to individuals that would be willing to meet with us. We did not go after them. They had the opportunity to come to us if they would like to come to us and speak to us, and that's how we handled the situation."

Bielema, who has taken fifth-year transfers like former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson and Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien, said he won't raid Penn State's roster for players.

"I think that what Penn State is going through right now is something that they have championed over the last several days and the last several weeks," Bielema said. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for [Nittany Lions coach Bill] O'Brien and everything that he's going through. I think one of the things that I've loved and appreciated about being in this conference is there is a genuine respect for everybody in our league that you are a Big Ten brother and you're a guy that sits in our conference meeting rooms. You're a guy that listens to [Big Ten commissioner] Jim Delany, and we're a group of coaches that have a network that's beyond anybody's expectations and helping us in recruiting."

Added Meyer, who's in his first season at OSU after leading Florida to two BCS national championships:

"I have a problem with [recruiting Penn State's players]. I think if a player reaches out and says, 'I'm outta here and I'm gone,' a player has a right to do what he wants to do. But to go actively recruit, I have a problem with that."

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