NCF Nation: Tamba Hali

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: What has been the best assistant coaching hire in the Big Ten so far this offseason?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDefensive line coach Larry Johnson provides some continuity amid the recent upheaval surrounding the Penn State staff.
It's not an outside hire but rather an assistant retained from the previous staff. Penn State's Bill O'Brien made an excellent decision immediately after getting the job in keeping defensive line coach Larry Johnson on staff. Johnson has been Penn State's lead recruiter for years and one of the best in the Big Ten. As Penn State goes through a transition and enters an uncertain future, having Johnson on staff to spearhead recruiting should really help. Johnson recruits the talent-rich Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia area well and is a known name with Pennsylvania high school coaches. He also has a strong record as a position coach developing defensive linemen like Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin, Jared Odrick and, most recently, Devon Still. Johnson can help maintain some continuity on Penn State's defense, which isn't the unit that needs a serious upgrade on this team. Every assistant is evaluated as both a recruiter and as a talent-developer. Johnson excels at both, and he also can help O'Brien and Penn State through a historic transition.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

That's a good choice, Adam, and certainly an excellent decision by Bill O'Brien. I'm going to go with a guy who wasn't part of a program before but made a stellar addition: Everett Withers at Ohio State. Urban Meyer promised to bring in a top-notch staff, and Withers is the headliner of that group. He was the interim head coach at North Carolina last season and before that led some extremely talented and productive defenses for the Tar Heels. Withers has been a defensive coordinator in the Big Ten before (at Minnesota) and is regarded as one of the top teachers of defensive back play in the country. He's also a good recruiter whose ties to North Carolina played a big role in the Buckeyes landing linebacker Jamal Marcus in this class. When paired with holdover Luke Fickell -- another great call by Meyer -- Withers should help Ohio State reclaim its Silver Bullets legacy as one of the top defenses in the nation.
NFL.com recently finished a countdown of the Top 100 players in the NFL, as voted on by the current players in the league.

Brady

Brady


It's a fascinating list that's sure to stir a lot of debate. But since this is a Big Ten blog, we're going to concern ourselves with where the Top 100 went to college.

There are 13 former Big Ten players on the list, including No. 1: Tom Brady. (Note: We're counting Nebraska players as Big 12 products since the Cornhuskers in the NFL participated in that league. Same thing for Colorado and Utah, Miami and Virginia Tech, etc.). Here are the 13 who made the cut and how they ranked overall:

1. Tom Brady, QB, New England (Michigan)
9. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans (Purdue)
16. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay (Michigan)
28. Jake Long, OT, Miami (Michigan)
43. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland (Wisconsin)
47. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets (Ohio State)
58. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Miami (Illinois)
63. Cameron Wake, LB, Miami (Penn State)
64. Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City (Penn State)
76. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets (Ohio State)
78. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis (Iowa)
82. LaMarr Woodley, DE, Pittsburgh (Michigan)
97. Shaun Phillips, DE, San Diego (Purdue)

By school:

Michigan: 4
Ohio State: 2
Penn State: 2
Purdue: 2
Illinois: 1
Iowa: 1
Wisconsin: 1

(In case you're wondering, the two Nebraska players on the list are No. 51 Ndamukong Suh and No. 55 Carl Nicks)

Now let's see how the Top 100 stacks up by college conference:

Big East: 16
Big Ten: 13
SEC:
13
ACC: 12
Pac-10: 11
Big 12: 7
Notre Dame: 1
Non-AQ/Small schools: 27

This just reinforces what I always said in my previous job: The best football is played in the Big East. Actually, that league greatly benefits from eight Miami Hurricanes who played their careers in the league before the program jumped ship to the ACC.

It's interesting that the Big Ten has the same amount of Top 100 players as the mighty SEC, no? I thought all the best talent was supposed to be in the SEC. Hmm. The ACC continues to underachieve despite all its talent, while the Big 12 has curiously low representation here (only five players outside of Nebraska).

I also find it fascinating that 27 percent of the supposed cream of the crop in pro football never played in an AQ conference -- Kent State, for example, has three players on the list, more than Alabama, Florida and LSU combined and more than every Big Ten school except Michigan. East Carolina and Central Florida have as many Top 100 players as Ohio State and Penn State. More evidence that recruiting stars don't always equal NFL success. (And indeed, the No. 1 player on the list had to fight tooth and nail to earn a starting job at Michigan).

If nothing else, it's fun fodder for debate.

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