Delany Dishes On Big Ten's Future
By Mark Schlabach
CHICAGO -- Future Big Ten football will have two divisions, a conference championship game and its teams probably will play nine-game conference schedules.
But the newly expanded league will still be called the Big Ten -- even though it will have at least 12 members -- and Notre Dame won't be a part of it.
Those were the messages Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany delivered Monday at his league's 2010 kickoff news conference.
Since adding Nebraska as the Big Ten's 12th member earlier this summer, Delany has been tight-lipped about the future of his conference.
But on Monday, he began to reveal some of the changes that are coming:
• Delany said he anticipates the first Big Ten championship game being played at the end of the 2011 regular season. He still isn't sure where the game will be played, and even said the league might sign a one-year contract with a venue this fall and then visit multiple sites next spring to find a permanent home.
• Delany said the league's 12 teams would be split into two six-team divisions within the next 30 to 45 days. The divisions would go in effect in 2011, when the Cornhuskers join the league. He said league officials were examining several criteria as to how to divide the teams, from geography to on-field success to making sure long-standing rivalries are kept in place.
• Delany said the Big Ten might play a nine-game league schedule, maybe as early as 2012 or at least within four years. He said adding an additional conference game would improve its teams' schedule strength and would make its games more attractive to TV networks.
• Delany said the Big Ten would remain the Big Ten, even if the league decides to add more teams in the future.
"The Big Ten is the Big Ten regardless of the number," Delany said.
• Delany said the league wasn't currently exploring future expansion, and probably wouldn't address the issue again until its university presidents meet in December. The Big Ten could stop at 12 teams or explore the possibility of adding two or four more teams.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who has long been a proponent of Big Ten expansion, said he hoped the league would add schools from the East Coast if it decides to further expand.
• If the Big Ten adds more schools, Delany doesn't believe Notre Dame will be one of them. Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick has consistently said his school prefers to keep its independence in football.
"I think Jack Swarbrick has been consistent from the beginning," Delany said. "I see Notre Dame playing in the Big East [in basketball and other sports] for many years to come and I see Notre Dame playing as an independent [in football] for many years to come."
Osborne Gets Early Big Ten Baptism
By Adam Rittenberg
CHICAGO -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany described Tom Osborne's approach toward this week's league meetings as "less is more."
"He doesn't say a lot," Delany said of the Nebraska athletic director and legendary former Huskers football coach, "but when he speaks, it speaks volumes."
Osborne did speak for a few minutes about his first official appearance at a Big Ten event. Although Nebraska doesn't become a full voting member of the Big Ten until July 1, Osborne is participating in meetings where big-ticket items like divisions, scheduling and a conference championship game are being discussed.
Here are a few points he touched upon:
• Although Delany wants to get a nine-game Big Ten schedule implemented in the next 2-4 years, Osborne thinks it's unlikely to happen until 2015. "For the next three years or so, everybody really isn't in a position where they could get out of some games," Osborne said. But like many of his colleagues, he cited the increasing difficulties of nonconference scheduling and how an extra league game likely will help in the long run.
• Nebraska's move to the Big Ten has received strong support from Huskers fans, even surpassing Osborne's expectations. "I thought it might be 70-30 in favor of the switch, but from what I've heard, it's been more 90-10, 95-5," he said. "Very little opposition."
• Osborne didn't give much thought to joining the Big Ten when the league announced its expansion study Dec. 15. He listened in the winter and spring as Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, a Nebraska alum, and Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel both told him that the Big Ten was interested in adding the Huskers. But it wasn't until the Pac-10/Big 12 melodrama that Osborne really thought about making the move.
• Regarding Nebraska's place in division alignment, Osborne identified Iowa and Minnesota as two schools that share links with the Huskers, Iowa through a state border and Minnesota through on-field history (51 games, most with any Big Ten team). "Any alignment where Nebraska wouldn't play Iowa would not be as well received by our fans," he said. "It doesn't mean they're going to revolt."
Paterno Plans To Keep On Coaching
By Mark Schlabach
CHICAGO -- Joe Paterno, who is set to begin his 45th season as Penn State's coach, insists the health problems that caused him to miss several public appearances this summer were "nothing very serious."
"The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated," Paterno said. "I feel really good. As long as I enjoy it, I'll continue to coach unless I don't think I can do a good job or unless somebody else doesn't think I can do a good job."
Paterno described his ailment as something "a little below the intestines." He said the illness prevented him from making public appearances, but he was able to handle the day-to-day operations of the team he has coached since 1966.
Paterno, who goes into the 2010 season with 394 victories, most among major college coaches, said he hasn't even considered retirement.
"Right now, I have no plans whatsoever about going another one year, two years, five years, whatever," he said.
Paterno said he hasn't talked to Penn State officials about a succession play, but hoped they would come to him for input.
"I think they would," Paterno said. "I don't expect to name it. If I decide to get out of coaching, I would hope when they starting looking at somebody to succeed, if they did nothing but throw something out, I would hope there's some kind of dialogue, but there's no commitment."
For now, Paterno said he's focused on getting ready for the 2010 season. He is only six victories away from becoming only the third coach at any college football level to win 400 games. John Gagliardi, coach at Saint John's, a Div. III school in Minnesota, has 471 victories; late Grambling coach Eddie Robinson won 408 games at the NCAA FCS level.
"When I'm down and looking up, are they going to put 399 on top of me or 401?" Paterno joked. "Who the hell cares? I won't know."
Tale Of Two Coaches
By Adam Rittenberg
CHICAGO -- Ron Zook and Rich Rodriguez took very different approaches to the summer before their season of reckoning.
Zook, who managed to escape a disastrous 2009 season with his job at Illinois intact, appeared uncharacteristically relaxed Monday at the Big Ten media sessions. Despite hiring seven assistant coaches and overseeing a roster filled with more questions than answers, Zook still enjoyed the offseason.
I've [water-skied] more than I can remember," Zook said. "My wife had me buying appliances this summer, which I've never done in my life and I'll probably never do again."
Zook typically operates with pinball-like energy, but he seems to be taking a step back and letting his assistants do their jobs.
"I really do," he said when asked if he felt more relaxed than a year ago. "And I don't have a reason why."
Maybe Zook's ability to merely escape 2009 has reduced the pressure just a bit, even though his seat remains white-hot.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, can't wait for the summer to end. He endured another rough offseason that included news about the NCAA's investigation into Michigan's program.
"There's probably no one more excited in the country to coach football than I am," he said. "The last two years, there's been a lot of drama."
Rodriguez will appear before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Seattle on Aug. 14, when Michigan was supposed to hold its first two-a-day session. The practices have been moved to Aug. 15, so Rodriguez won't miss a minute on the field.
"I'm really anxious," Rodriguez said, "to get into the football part of it."
Purdue's Hope Floats Around Marve
By Mark Schlabach
CHICAGO -- Danny Hope was Purdue's offensive line coach when Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees played quarterback for the Boilermakers.
Hope, now the Boilermakers' head coach, believes new quarterback Robert Marve might end up being just as good as Brees.
"Robert Marve is the most talented quarterback I've ever been around," Hope said. "He and Drew have a lot of similarities. Robert's arm strength is better than Drew's. He's faster, too."
Purdue fans will finally get to see what Marve can do this coming season. After transferring from Miami in May 2009, Marve tore the ACL in his left knee in July 2009 and missed the entire season. He would have been ineligible to play in Purdue's games because of NCAA transfer rules anyhow.
Marve redshirted at Miami in 2007 after breaking his arm in a car accident, and then split playing time with Jacory Harris in 2008, throwing nine touchdowns with 13 interceptions. He left the Hurricanes a few months later.
"The hardest thing for me has been feeling like I'm starting over again," Marve said. "Knowing the situation for me down in Miami didn't work out, but I have a better situation for me personally at Purdue."
Hope named Marve his team's starting quarterback last month. The Boilermakers finished 5-7 in Hope's first season as coach in 2009.
Marve will take center stage when the Boilermakers open the season at Notre Dame on Sept. 4.
And Marve's coach expects nothing less than brilliance.
"If you've been around him a lot, you'd see the same thing," Hope said. "He loves football and has unbelievable passion to play the game. He loves to win. His teammates and coaches are the most important things to him. He has unbelievable arm strength. He can run and make plays out of the system. He's everything you want your quarterback to be."
One Good Thing
Illinois: Starting middle linebacker Martez Wilson has been fully cleared for contact after missing all but one game last season with a herniated disk in his neck that required surgery. Wilson participated in just about everything in spring practice but will finally get to hit again when the Illini open camp Thursday. Coach Ron Zook said Wilson had been playing as well as any middle linebacker he's been around before suffering the injury in the opener against Missouri last September.
Indiana: After losing leads in four Big Ten games last season, Indiana will spend much of preseason camp emphasizing game-specific situations. Coach Bill Lynch identified third-down play on both sides of the ball, goal-line play and red zone offense as areas that need to be upgraded. Despite a loaded receiving corps, Indiana finished 10th in the Big Ten in red zone offense a year ago. "We were about 12 plays away from playing in a really good bowl game [in 2009]," Lynch said.
Iowa: Kirk Ferentz is less concerned with identifying a starting running back than finding healthy ones. Iowa struggled to keep its running backs on the field last fall as projected starter Jewel Hampton missed the entire year with a knee injury and both Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher were banged up at times. Hampton is suspended for the season opener following a June arrest, but all three backs should be ready for the start of preseason camp.
Michigan: Rich Rodriguez said his team's quarterback competition is wide open heading into preseason camp, but it sounds as though sophomore Denard Robinson made more progress this summer. Sophomore Tate Forcier took most of the snaps last season, throwing for 2,050 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. "I'll be able to tell the first couple of weeks who retained what from the spring and developed," Rodriguez said.
Michigan State: The Spartans might not officially brand themselves as a 3-4 defense, but they're definitely heading in that direction. Led by Big Ten Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones, Michigan State is loaded at linebacker and a bit thin along the defensive line. The Spartans practiced the 3-4 throughout the spring with veterans Jones, Eric Gordon, Chris Norman and Jon Misch, and Dantonio expects two heralded true freshmen, William Gholston and Max Bullough, also to play at linebacker this fall. "We'll try and transition a little more toward [the 3-4]," Dantonio said.
Minnesota: Head coach Tim Brewster is still ticked at Texas for backing out of a home-and-home series against Minnesota in 2015 and 2016. The series was canceled because of a contract impasse relating to video rights. "In talking to [Big Ten commissioner] Jim Delany, there's no question we could have helped them get what they needed as far as postgame video highlights," Brewster said. The good news? Minnesota is "very close" to replacing Texas with another BCS-conference opponent.
Northwestern: Pat Fitzgerald doesn't seem too concerned about junior Dan Persa taking over at quarterback. Persa attempted only 34 passes last season, but Fitzgerald said he's made quite an impression during summer conditioning. For the second year in a row, Persa is expected to win the team's "Iron Cat" award. "Pound for pound, he's our strongest and best-conditioned athlete," Fitzgerald said.
Ohio State: Coach Jim Tressel continues his support of former running back Maurice Clarett, who has returned to school at Ohio State after serving time in prison for robbery and weapons charges. Tressel said Clarett is "welcome to stop by" Ohio State's football offices, but he doesn't expect him there too often. "One of the first things he said when he came back, was, 'Well, the biggest intention I have is to not disrupt this 2010 football season that's coming up,'" Tressel said. "So he wants to be in the background."
Penn State: Nittany Lions running back Evan Royster said he wasn't concerned about whether Joe Paterno would return for his 45th season as Penn State's coach. As the media speculated about Paterno's health this summer, Royster said he was confident Paterno would be back. "Joe's a soldier," Royster said. "I knew all along he'd be back and as good as ever."
Purdue: Danny Hope hopes that leading rusher Ralph Bolden will return sometime this season from a torn ACL in his right knee. Bolden, who was injured in March, ran for 935 yards with nine touchdowns last season. "He's ahead of schedule, but that's the one injury that's the least forgiving for that position," Hope said. "I'm optimistic he's going to come back fully healthy. We just don't know when."
Wisconsin: John Clay's weight is always a popular topic (read: concern) among Badgers fans, but head coach Bret Bielema didn't sound too concerned about the junior running back on Monday. Bielema acknowledged that Clay, who underwent offseason surgeries on both ankles, got "a little bit big" but has since slimmed down. Bielema wants to see the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year at 253-255 pounds for the start of the season.
Best Of Day 1
Best Quote: "I'm trying to expand my relations with you guys. I was going to walk in with a Rose Bowl hat but I thought it would be a little over the top." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to the media
Best Moment: After addressing reporters, commissioner Jim Delany posed for several pictures on the dais with Paterno and Nebraska athletic director Tom Osborne on either side of him. "I assume some people wanted people that were really old in the same picture," Osborne said.
Best Exchange: Paterno and USA Today reporter Marlen Garcia. Garcia: "You've had intestinal issues this last spring that you were dealing with?" Paterno: "I won't get into that." Garcia: "I understand, too, that you're not on the road as much." Paterno: "It was a little bit below the intestines." Garcia: "Ouch." Paterno: "I didn't want to get into it."
Best Opening Line: "Sorry I was a little late. I was on the phone with commissioner Delany and I have the new expansion guidelines right here in front of me." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema
Best Reunion: Wisconsin safety Jay Valai did some reporting of his own at media day, conducting a flip-cam interview with his former teammate Minnesota safety Kim Royston, who transferred from Wisconsin to Minnesota. Royston seemed to enjoy catching up with Valai and Badgers quarterback Scott Tolzien.