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Big10 RappUp

  • Hoops Season Hits Stretch Run

    The national headlines will proclaim the most noteworthy result of the new Associated Press poll released on Monday as Florida surpassing Syracuse for the top spot.

    That’s natural and certainly important considering the Orange suffered just its second loss this season over the weekend – and it came in controversial fashion thanks to a disputed block-charge call that benefited Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    However, in Big Ten country there is less intrigue about the No. 1 slot and more interest in the conference race at hand and the poll juggling below the elite line.

    For example, Michigan is now in the Big Ten driver’s seat after defeating rival Michigan State at home on Sunday, 79-70. Nik Stauskas continued his outstanding sophomore season by torching MSU with 25 points.

    The Wolverines moved to 19-7 overall and 11-3 in the league. They also jumped MSU in the latest AP poll, moving up four spots to No. 20. With three league games remaining, UM now controls its own destiny in terms of being to claim an outright Big Ten title.

    Tom Izzo’s Spartans (22-6, 11-4), the preseason favorite to win the league, dipped from No. 13 to No. 18 in the AP poll after the loss. Still, despite suffering a multitude of injuries, MSU is just a half-game out of first place and has point guard Keith Appling getting healthy in time for March.

    The Spartans will host last-place Illinois to open March but then have to face Iowa and Ohio State, two teams battling to finish in the top four of the regular-season standings, which would ensure a quarterfinal appearance in the Big Ten Tournament.

    Wisconsin, which has managed at least a tie for fourth place in the league since Bo Ryan has been head coach, is in position to keep that string alive after winning 79-74 at Iowa on Saturday. The Badgers (22-5, 9-5) have recovered from their midseason swoon and now are the conference’s highest-ranked team at No. 14 in the AP poll.

    No. 20 Iowa (19-7, 8-5) is one game behind UW in the loss column while No. 22 Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) is a game behind in the loss column. The Buckeyes won their only meeting with Wisconsin this season and would hold the tiebreaking advantage with the Badgers if applicable.

    Iowa and Ohio State split their regular-season series with each winning on the other’s home floor, meaning their tiebreaker would go to their record against the team that finishes at the top of the standings.

    In the scenario where they are tied for fourth with Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin ahead of them, Iowa would be at a distinct disadvantage if the tiebreaker were composite record against teams ahead of them in the standings. The Hawkeyes are just 1-4 against those top three teams with a March 6 contest at Michigan State still pending.

    Ohio State is 1-0 vs. Wisconsin, 0-1 vs. Michigan and 0-1 vs. Michigan State with the regular-season finale with MSU scheduled for March 9. That will serve as the senior sendoff for longtime starters Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.

    The Buckeyes would come out well in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Iowa but not necessarily in a two-way tie with Iowa. Since the Hawkeyes mauled Michigan 85-67 on Feb. 8 and have a chance to split with Michigan State, they have the edge at the moment.

    However, Iowa still has five league games, three of them away, thanks to their Feb. 18 trip to Indiana being postponed because of damage to Assembly Hall at the time. The Hawkeyes have to return to IU on Tuesday after a tester at Minnesota on Tuesday. Iowa will host Purdue on March 1, head to MSU on March 6 and close at home against Illinois on March 8.

    Ohio State has to trek to Penn State on Thursday, Indiana on Sunday and then hosts the Spartans with a week of rest.

    The only other league team with a decent chance of earning Thursday off at the Big Ten Tournament, which is set for March 13-16 in Indianapolis, is Nebraska (16-10, 8-6), which many experts picked to finish at the bottom of the standings.

    Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), Indiana (15-11, 5-8), Purdue (15-12, 5-9), Northwestern (12-16, 5-10), Illinois (15-12, 4-10) and Penn State (13-14, 4-10) all have losing records in the conference and don’t figure to crawl out.

    The Florida Gators (25-2), meanwhile, are back atop the AP poll for the first time since they repeated as national champions in 2007. Ohio State went into the NCAA Tournament that season No. 1 in the country.

    Syracuse (25-2), which lost twice last week, dropped to fourth. Wichita State (29-0) and Arizona (25-2) both moved up one place, to second and third.

    Florida, the fifth school to hold the No. 1 spot this season, received 47 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Wichita State was No. 1 on 14 ballots, and Arizona got the other four first-place votes.

    The complete AP men’s poll follows:

                           Record     Points     Previous
    1. Florida (47)     25-2     1,606     2
    2. Wichita State (14)     29-0     1,549     3
    3. Arizona (4)         25-2     1,494     4
    4. Syracuse         25-2     1,410     1
    5. Kansas         21-6     1,310     8
    6. Duke         22-6     1,286     5
    7. Louisville         23-4     1,152     11
    8. Villanova         24-3     1,113     9
    9. Creighton         23-4     1,103     11
    10. Saint Louis     25-2     1,047     10
    11. Cincinnati         24-4     921     7
    12. Virginia         23-5     909     14
    13. San Diego State     23-3     886     6
    14. Wisconsin         22-5     818     16
    15. Iowa State         21-5     709     17
    16. Michigan         19-7     653     20
    17. Kentucky         21-6     629     18
    18. Michigan State     22-6     552     13
    19. North Carolina     20-7     440     —
    20. Iowa         19-7     418     15
    21. Memphis         21-6     288     22
    22. Ohio State         22-6     253     24
    23. SMU         22-6     155     —
    24. Texas         20-7     129     19
    25. New Mexico         21-5     113     —
    Others receiving votes: UConn 81, UCLA 41, Oklahoma 35, Stephen F. Austin 11, UMass 9, Gonzaga 2, Green Bay 2, N.C. Central 1.

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  • B1G Football Races Heat Up

    As we get into the meat of the schedule and the halfway point of conference play for many Big Ten teams, it’s interesting to find four league games are on the docket and four Big Ten teams will be watching right along with the rest of us.

    The ledger for Oct. 26 has a pair of games wit noon starts: No. 25 Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) at Minnesota (5-2, 1-2) on ESPN and Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) looking for its first league win of the season at Iowa (4-3, 1-2) in a game slated for Big Ten Network.

    That leads to a tasty matchup in Champaign as somehow-unranked Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) looks for more national respect at Illinois (3-3, 0-2).

    Then in prime time, No. 4 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) puts the conference’s only unbeaten mark and a 19-game win streak on the line by hosting Penn State (4-2, 1-1). The game will mark the third straight in which the Buckeyes will face a team that had two full weeks to prepare for them.

    Speaking of open weeks, the league’s other four teams – No. 22 Wisconsin, No. 24 Michigan, Indiana and Purdue – all will take a powder.

    Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) stayed in the hunt for the Leaders Division title with a win at Illinois last week but will need Penn State and some other league team – likely Michigan – to knock off Ohio State and have a chance to return to the Rose Bowl for a fourth straight year.

    The Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) are still licking their wounds after dropping a 43-40 decision in four overtimes at Penn State on Oct. 12, though they bounced back last week with a shootout victory over Illinois (see below). Indiana (3-4, 1-2) has some work to do to be bowl-eligible while Purdue (1-6, 0-3) would just like a chance to record a league win with Darrell Hazell as head coach.

    Streaky

    Ohio State’s string of 19 straight victories, which wasn’t secure until a the latter stages of a 34-24 homecoming win over Iowa last week, is the longest active win streak in the country. It’s also the second-longest stretch of wins in program history. The Buckeyes had a 22-game win string snapped in a loss at Michigan in 1971, which set off the 10-Year War between coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

    Head coach Urban Meyer won his last game at Florida, a bowl matchup with Penn State, which means he has a personal win streak of 20 games. It’s the third time in his head coaching career he has managed to win 20 straight, which no other coach ever has achieved.

    Ohio State’s 19 triumphs in a row equals marks set during the 2005-06 and 2002-03 seasons. The 19 victories rank as the eighth-longest stretch in Big Ten annals.

    Brainiac

    Speaking of Penn State, the conference recently spotlighted Nittany Lions senior offensive lineman John Urschel.

    Urschel, who claimed the Big Ten Medal of Honor last May, was a first-team All-Big Ten honoree in 2012, starting all 12 games at right tackle and helping the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in total offense during the conference season. A candidate for the 2013 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award, he earned his bachelor’s degree in less than three years on campus. He earned his first master’s degree last May and is currently working on his second master’s.

    This semester, Urschel is teaching Integral Vector Calculus and researching multigrid methods and computational mathematics.

    Pinball, Anyone?

    Michigan beating Indiana by 16 points at home after suffering defeat at Penn State was not overly newsworthy, but the Wolverines doing so by the score of 63-47 was, especially when individual statistics were totaled.

    UM receiver Jeremy Gallon recorded the most productive day in conference history as he racked up 369 receiving yards to shatter the previous conference record of 301 yards, set by Purdue’s Chris Daniels in 1999. Gallon’s yardage is the second-highest total in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history, averaging 26.4 yards per catch in the win.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Devin Gardner set a program record with 503 passing yards, while his 584 yards of total offense is 1 yard shy of the Big Ten record. Gardner’s and Gallon’s efforts are single-game highs in the FBS this season.

    The 110 combined points mark the third-highest single-game total in Big Ten history, while the game’s 17 scoring drives averaged just 2:06.

    Should We Even Bother?

    Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien set a new Big Ten record last weekend after converting both extra-point attempts against Minnesota. The senior has now connected on each of his extra points in his career, converting 127 consecutive attempts to break the previous conference record of 126 set by Michigan’s J.D. Carlson from 1989-91.

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  • Interview Loaded Day 2 In Chicago

    Big Ten Media Days have ended and the 36 student-athletes, commissioner Jim Delany, Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman, and all 12 conference head coaches – including Urban Meyer – have survived it.

    Despite a record throng of reporters and a sellout for Thursday’s annual Kickoff Luncheon, those obligated to attend handled their media responsibilities in impressive fashion and without incident.

    In fact, SportsRappUp.com went digging for some unique perspective and came up with, well, loads of it.

    Meyer’s podium address on Wednesday was summarized in a Rapp Around column from later that day – to see it, click here – but the second-year OSU head coach also informed and even entertained the following day during his roundtable discussion with curious reporters.

    Meyer, no doubt, was relieved when the questions on Thursday eventually shifted away from player misdeeds after a Wednesday session in which eight of the 11 inquiries centered on his discipline policies.

    Still, he was upright and honest when asked about the recent unpleasantness. Earlier in the week before departing for Chicago, Meyer and the university put out a release dealing with off-field troubles for running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby, who made the news for separate incidents in bars that led to police involvement.

    Hyde, who amassed 970 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns last year, is still considered a person of interest in a case involving a Westerville, Ohio, woman who alleges the running back struck her in a nightclub. Reports continue to vary, even from those who claim to have seen the surveillance video of the confrontation, and Meyer is insistent that Hyde is suspended indefinitely until all the facts come forth in the case.

    The coach did, however, hint at a punishment for Roby, who was charged with battery after a fracas in a Bloomington, Ind., bar last weekend. Meyer said discipline will follow and suggested that he was leaning on a suspension of some sort. He added that Roby also will “be on a very short leash,” but wouldn’t elaborate.

    Meyer again expressed bitter disappointment since he also dismissed true freshman Tim Gardner, a lineman from Indianapolis, and has suspended incoming tight end Marcus Baugh, a product of Riverside, Calif., for the Aug. 31 season opener with Buffalo. They were arrested by Columbus police for alcohol-related offenses.

    Meyer didn’t want to spend any of his two hours of availability to the media on Thursday speculating on the impact suspensions for Hyde and Roby could have on the Buckeyes. However, former Ohio State running back Eddie George, also on hand in Chicago as an analyst for FOX Sports, said Hyde is not instantly replaceable.

    “It’s not that simple,” George told SportsRappUp.com. “He’s maturing to where he can really become a beast and from what I hear from the coaches he has done a great job of leading and doing the work in the weight room. He came on huge last year. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, even though there’s a lot of talent at that position.”

    Some analysts believe the defense would suffer more from a prolonged absence of Roby than the offense without Hyde, who has many capable backups. The candidates at corner behind Roby are vastly unproven.

    Someone who would miss him immediately is safety Christian Bryant, who was sent to Chicago in Roby’s place after the news of the arrest broke.

    “Me and Roby are on the same side, the boundary side, so without him being right there with me – we’ve been playing with each other for three straight years now – it would kind of be a letdown, just because that’s my partner in crime throughout the game,” Bryant said.

    “We talk throughout the game, and with him on the field I feel like everybody is a little bit more comfortable and at ease. Without Roby it would be pretty tough, but I’m looking for him to be back.”

    Help Has Arrived

    While Meyer isn’t sure about the makeup of his team leadership and now has some real issues with which to contend regarding Hyde and Roby, the overall outlook is still pretty sunny.

    Ohio State is as loaded player for player as any squad in the Big Ten and was the only league team to have three players named to the conference’s Players To Watch List.

    The Big Ten announced the names in Chicago and OSU leads the way with quarterback Braxton Miller, linebacker Ryan Shazier and Roby taking up three of the five slots for the Leaders Division. Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson and Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland were the other two.

    Michigan was the only other school with more than one player mentioned on the Players to Watch List as UM quarterback Devin Gardner and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan were tabbed. The other three players from the Legends Division to make the list are Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and Northwestern running back Venric Mark.

    Shazier, Roby and Robinson were the only players on the list who were not present in Chicago.

    Meyer raved about the development of Miller and Shazier while in Chicago but spread around the praise. He noted the team’s wealth of experience in the secondary, believes young defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are on their way to being All-Big Ten players and is happy with the depth at tailback.

    He also said “it would be disappointing if our offensive line isn’t one of the best in the Big Ten” and likes what he’s seeing of the four returning starters there.

    And the coach raved on.

    “Receiver is probably the one area we were weakest at last year, and I think this year, with the injection of some speed in the recruiting class and also development of the guys we have, that I’m really counting on them to become one of the strengths of our offense,” he said just one yea after openly questioning the group.

    “The two guys that really developed throughout the year last year, two very good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett, and we’ve not traditionally been known as a two tight end offense. However, with these two talented players, you’re going to see some 12 personnel, which they’re two guys we have to find a way to get them on the field at the same time.”

    Plus, Meyer admitted that he’s very encouraged by the potential of several incoming freshmen and believes they will make an immediate impact.

    “We don’t recruit to redshirt, we recruit to play – especially offensive skill,” Meyer said. “They’re given an expectation level of what they’re supposed to be like on the first day and then it’s in their court.”

    Miller said he is especially impressed with newcomer Dontre Wilson, an all-purpose back out of Texas. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort agreed and said he saw “a lot of guys that can fly” in the first few days of workouts with the freshmen.

    Bryant also is impressed.

    “I actually called my dad after the meeting and I was like, ‘All these guys look like athletes,’ so this is a great recruiting class,” he said.

    Putting The Gray In Black And Blue

    With all the recent discussion about concussions and the public’s thirst for high-scoring games, the offseason conversation for football continued to shift toward measures that hinder overly physical defensive play.

    At the collegiate level, it has even reached to a proposal that “targeting” – going after ball carriers in defenseless positions – could now lead to an immediate ejection. The ready example for this new rule is the vicious hit South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney put on Michigan running back Vincent Smith the minute Smith received a handoff in the 2013 Outback Bowl.

    Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is not happy with the development – and it’s not because his player was popped. Hoke is an old-school defensive coach and doesn’t like the shift toward disallowing defenders from clean hits within the flow of the game.

    Not surprisingly, Bryant, perhaps OSU’s most aggressive tackler if it’s not Shazier, also is not a fan of the idea.

    “If it’s purposeful, I would say it’s worthy of an ejection, but not if it’s unintentional,” he said. “It’s not really my rule but I will be abiding by the rules, so I don’t think I’ll be ejected for any games.

    “You have to be more cautious with how you’re tackling but I don’t think it’s going to take away from the physical part of the game. It may for some people but for me personally it’s not.”

    Meyer’s Tree Grows

    Meyer has hired several coaches who have gone on to head up programs and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen is in that tree.

    Andersen was Utah’s defensive line coach under Meyer in 2004 when the Utes posted an undefeated season. He stayed on in Salt Lake City as defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at Utah State. Success there led to his appointment at UW, replacing the controversial Bret Bielema.

    Meyer and Andersen expressed great appreciation for each other in Chicago. In fact, Meyer lit up when asked to talk about Andersen’s emergence.

    “First of all, I have great respect for Coach (Barry) Alvarez, have for many, many years, and I was honored when he asked me for my opinion,” he said. “Gary I would put in one of the top two, three hires I’ve ever made, the recommendation of Utah’s head coach, Kyle Whittingham. He made a direct impact on our program, and I couldn’t be more proud of who he is as a person. And I think he’s at the right place, a great school with a great athletic director, and really proud of Gary Andersen.”

    Andersen also has made a quick impression on the Wisconsin fans and Badgers.

    “He’s all about the players, and I think that’s real important,” UW wideout Jared Abbrederis said. “We can all see it. The first thing he told me when he came here was that he called the Utah State players. He called each and every one individually. It’s good to know that he cares about his players there that much. He brings a lot of spice to the program and it’s been fun having him.”

    Dual Threats Abound

    The Big Ten is now blessed with several quarterbacks who are virtually as adept at hurting defenses running the ball as they are passing, Miller at the top of the list, and several of them were in Chicago.

    Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska’s Martinez and Northwestern’s Kain Colter, all seniors, are among the weapons as well as Miller and Gardner, both juniors.

    While they all have talent running the ball, they have been told to be smart about it.

    Gardner admitted his likes to run the football and dish out a little contact every once in a while.

    “My old coach told me I play like a linebacker at quarterback, so they tell me to run out of bounds and don’t try to do certain types of things, but sometimes you’ve got to let the defense know that you’re not a chump,” he said. “Sometimes I do it and I take it a little far, but I’m not going to play timid or anything like that.”

    Miller has been known to try to drive into pursuers, a move that led to him being hurt against Purdue.

    “He’s a bigger guy and the type of offense that they run, the quarterback has to be a downhill runner, but that’s not my job here in this offense,” Gardner said of Miller. “Our running backs will do that and when I can I’ll give a little forearm shiver here or there.”

    Gardner has spent part of his time in Ann Arbor at wide receiver, which allowed him to get a feel for the real price of being hit.

    “It helped me and it made me such a tougher person, mentally and physically,” he said. “I got a chance to pancake a few guys and knock some guys on their back. I’ve never done that in my life. It was actually pretty refreshing knowing I could do that.”

    Still, QBs are so valuable to their teams that coaches are conflicted with calling their number on running plays. Martinez, for example, was slowed part of last season with a lingering ankle injury.

    Martinez admitted the soreness slowed him a bit in 2012 yet he still relishes every carry he can get.

    Has he ever cringed at the thought of taking off with the ball?

    “I want to run the football, so I’ve never done that before,” he told SportsRappUp.com. “Whenever I get the chance to run the football I’m excited to. But I have so many weapons around me and in the backfield that I don’t want to be greedy about it. So I try to get the ball to Ameer (Abdullah) or an outside receiver because I know they can make the plays also.”

    Colter said he has the same approach.

    “Football is for tough guys and for me and I’m sure Taylor, too, we love running the ball,” he told SportsRappUp.com. “When you’re in the game, you’re going to be tired and you have to take that suck-it-up pill. And when your number is called, you’ve got to make a play.

    “I’m trying to improve my vertical passing game and passing the ball downfield, too. It’s my final go-round, so I’m just going to try to give it my all and make some more plays.”

    Gardner likes to be athletic, too, but is excited at the notion that Michigan appears more committed to a traditional offense with lots of passing capability under the direction of offensive coordinator Al Borges.

    “The spread is like anything – that was so amazing, and then everyone figured it out,” Gardner said. “The spread is going to be figured out because there are so many great defensive coordinators. I think Coach (Greg) Mattison has it figured out this year and I can’t wait to see what he does with the spread teams we play. I think a pro style is the best way to go, with spread concepts.”

    Quotable

    Miller on the hope of another undefeated season for the Buckeyes – “It crosses my mind a few times.”

    Bullough on the Spartans coming off a 7-6 season – “When you lose games the way we did, it makes you want to go play games right now. It makes the offseason long. Whenever pride is involved, it makes it personal, and that makes it that much more meaningful.”

    Mark on being named preseason first-team all-conference by some publications – “I don’t really look at that stuff. I don’t believe in predictions; I believe in production. So if that’s where they want to have me that, that’s great, I respect that. I’ll tell them thank you. But my obligation is to Northwestern. If somebody asks me if I think I’m the best running back, yes, I do think I’m the best running back. And there are other guys who should feel that way as well because there are a lot of great running backs in the Big Ten.”

    Miller on evening kickoffs – “I love the night games. It reminds me of Friday night lights, high school. I don’t know, there’s just something about the night games I love. It feels like everybody is watching. I wish we had a night game every game.”

    Martinez on directing the Cornhusker ball-movers – “It might be the best offense Nebraska has ever had.”

    Gardner on his assertion that Bullough is the best LB in the Big Ten – “He’s a really big guy and he knows a lot about offenses, it appears.”

    Bullough on being a third-generation Spartan – “It’s fun. It’s cool to have that opportunity, to have those players and family members in front of me. It’s something I’ve taken advantage of in terms of talking to my dad or my grandma whenever I needed advice. It’s an honor. I look at it as an opportunity more than something I have to overcome.”

    Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on his new team mantra to help the Wildcats through the rigors of summer workouts – “Embrace the suck.”

    Colter on NU being a potential contender this fall – “Every season is a little bit different, but we’ve got the translate that confidence that we had at the end of the season over to this season. We had some losses that we shouldn’t have, but I think we’re confident that we should be able to win every game that we play.”

    Purdue coach Darrell Hazell on working under Jim Tressel – “I spent seven years at Ohio State and Coach Tressel was a big influence on me, the way I do things today. There’s a lot of great values and just his demeanor through the course of my time there was something that you can take from, and the great decisions that he made on game day. When those bullets are flying, it’s a chaotic moment. I learned a lot from Jim Tressel there in my seven years at Ohio State.”

    Hoke on the state of college football –Lloyd Carr, 12 years ago we were in a staff meeting and the first thing he said was the landscape of college football is changing, and not for the better. He was talking about the money. When we start losing sight of what’s important in college football, which is most kids who are around these tables, then we’re really being a detriment to the game.

    “And the ship has sailed. I don’t know how you turn it back when you look at TV contracts that leagues are signing and all that. I mean the Olympics now doesn’t have wrestling, and that was one of the original sports. I don’t get that. So there’s an analogy in there somewhere.”

    Gardner upon hearing Hoke said trends in college football are “cyclical” – “He used that word? He has to stop doing that.”

    Abbrederis on sporting a thick beard in Chicago – “I never grew a beard before so I was like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ We’ll see with the helmet and the chinstrap if it’s comfy or annoying. If it is, I might shave it.”

    Gardner on empathizing with his receivers since he used to play the position – “I know how much it sucks to run around and you’re open and you don’t get the ball or it’s a bad pass. I try to be more sensitive to their feelings. I tell the receivers that everybody eats. But it’s their job to get open. I can’t do anything about that.”

    Gardner on the theory of paying college student-athletes – “I don’t know how much money people have and I’m not really good with numbers and things like that. I only took one math class at Michigan, so that’s not my deal. I feel like it’s just my job to play football and do my best.”

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  • Ohio State-Michigan Redux?

    Ohio State-Michigan times two.

    The 2013 season marks perhaps the first and last time we could see such a double dip as the Buckeyes and Wolverines are still in opposite divisions and could meet in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis just one week after clashing in Ann Arbor.

    That is, in fact, the way Athlon sees it shaking down. The college football annual hails OSU as the class of the Leaders Division and UM atop the Legends Division, meaning their storied feud could reach epic proportions this year.

    And if that isn’t enough to enthuse traditionalists and fans of OSU and Michigan, Athlon also features a story prominent in its Big Ten coverage entitled, “The Ten-Year War, Part II.” In it are suggestions that coaches Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke have the programs on extremely solid footing.

    “The schools may not be ushering in another decade of dominace, a la the ‘Big Two and Little Eight,’ but it’s clear Michigan and Ohio State are setting the tone for the conference, even as it expands in today’s unpredictable climate,” the article said. “Their recruiting stands above that of the league’s other schools, and their performance on the field appears to be moving toward a different level.”

    Athlon tabs 10 “Games To Watch” in the Big Ten this season, four of them involving Michigan and three involving Ohio State. The publication seems to think more highly of OSU’s individual players, though, as seven Buckeyes were tabbed preseason first-team All-Big Ten while left tackle Taylor Lewan was Michigan’s lone member.

    Athlon also rated position groups within the conference and deemed Ohio State to have to best quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and defensive backs in the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s running backs, Indiana’s wide receivers/tight ends, and Michigan State’s linebackers also were lauded as best in the league.

    Checking in at 2 through 6 in the projected Leaders standings behind Ohio State, according to Athlon, were, in order, Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois while the respective ranking in the Legends Division shows Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa behind Michigan.

    Next year, Maryland and Rutgers will be added to the Big Ten equation and the conference will realign with more geographically correct East and West divisions, meaning Ohio State and Michigan will be in the same hemisphere of the league.

    Let’s Do Lunch

    The Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon is scheduled for July 24-25 in Chicago and on July 10 the conference announced the names of the 36 student-athletes who are expected to represent their schools at the event.

    The list includes 19 returning All-Big Ten selections. Also, all 12 head coaches will be on hand.

    The Kickoff Luncheon begins 11 a.m. Eastern on July 25 with the players and coaches autograph and photo session for attending fans. Big Ten Network host Dave Revsine will serve as emcee and Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient John Urschel of Penn State will speak on behalf of the players.

    The players expected to be in Chicago include the reigning Big Ten Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year in Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year in Michigan’s Lewan. In addition to Lewan, Miller and Urschel, other previous first-team All-Conference honorees include Michigan State’s Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland.

    A limited number of tickets remain available for $100 per seat or $1,000 per table (10 seats). Contact Sue Immekus at the Big Ten office at 847-696-1010, ext. 122, or simmekus@bigten.org to purchase tickets.

    The list of attending players is below:

    Legends Division

    Iowa
    Christian Kirksey, Sr., LB
    James Morris, Sr., LB*
    Brett Van Sloten, Sr., OL

    Michigan
    Devin Gardner, Jr., QB
    Thomas Gordon, Sr., S
    Taylor Lewan, Sr., LT*

    Michigan State
    Max Bullough, Sr., LB*
    Darqueze Dennard, Sr., CB*
    Blake Treadwell, Sr., OG

    Minnesota
    Ra’Shede Hageman, Sr., DT*
    Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., RB
    Brock Vereen, Sr., S

    Nebraska
    Quincy Enunwa, Sr., WR
    Ciante Evans, Sr., CB*
    Taylor Martinez, Sr., QB*

    Northwestern
    Kain Colter, Sr., QB*
    Venric Mark, Sr., RB*
    Tyler Scott, Sr., DE*

    Leaders Division

    Illinois
    Tim Kynard, Sr., DL
    Corey Lewis, Sr., OT
    Nathan Scheelhaase, Sr., QB

    Indiana
    Mitch Ewald, Sr., K*
    Greg Heban, Sr., S*
    Kofi Hughes, Sr., WR

    Ohio State
    Jack Mewhort, Sr., OT*
    Braxton Miller, Jr., QB*
    Bradley Roby, Jr., CB*


    Penn State
    Glenn Carson, Sr., LB
    John Urschel, Sr., G*
    Malcolm Willis, Sr., S

    Purdue
    Ricardo Allen, Sr., CB*
    Bruce Gaston, Sr., DT
    Gabe Holmes, Sr., TE

    Wisconsin
    Jared Abbrederis, Sr., WR*
    Chris Borland, Sr., LB*
    James White, Sr., RB

    * indicates previous All-Big Ten selection

    B1G Sends Quintet To NBA Via Draft

    Five former Big Ten standouts were selected in the 2013 NBA draft on June 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, including four first-round choices.

    Three Big Tenners were selected among the first nine picks, the most of any conference, and it marked the first time three conference players were picked in the top 10 since 1990.

    Indiana’s Victor Oladipo was the first conference player chosen, going to the Orlando Magic at No. 2. It is the second time in four seasons a Big Ten player was among the draft’s top two picks, following Ohio State’s Evan Turner in 2010. Hoosier teammate Cody Zeller was picked fourth by the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Michigan’s Trey Burke was the ninth overall selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves before his draft rights were traded to Utah. Burke’s teammate, Tim Hardaway Jr., went 24th overall to the New York Knicks, giving the Big Ten four first-round selections for the first time since 2007. Ohio State produced three of those selections that year – Greg Oden first overall, Mike Conley Jr. fourth and Daequan Cook 21st.

    Speaking of Ohio State, Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas rounded out the drafted Big Ten standouts after being selected 58th overall by the San Antonio Spurs. Thomas led the league in scoring last season and finished with an average of 19.8 points per game.

    Indiana and Michigan were two of three teams to have multiple players selected in the first round, and it is the second time in the last three years five Big Ten players were selected in the annual draft.

    Answering The Critics

    Soon after Oladipo and Zeller were selected so highly, criticism grew for the Indiana basketball coaching staff. The Hoosiers entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament as the overall No. 1 seed and with a pair of bona fide stars yet were ousted in a Sweet 16 contest in Indianapolis by Syracuse.

    In fact, the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming the 2012-13 Hoosiers had just become “the biggest underachiever in NCAA history.”

    That sounded a bit harsh to the IU staff, so much so that Indiana associate head coach Tim Buckley decided to fire back.

    In an interview with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel and other media outlets, Buckley reminded that IU head coach Tom Crean and assistants inherited a depleted and even-injury-plagued roster as well as myriad NCAA sanctions five years ago and recovered the program to where it sat atop college basketball for much of the past season.

    “Someone point out to me what was underachieved from April 1 2008, until we went through (NBA) draft night,” Buckley said.

    The Wall Street story, written by Ben Cohen, pointed out that five college teams with similar talent won the national championship, including the 2012 Kentucky team with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    The story indicated that only two other teams with a pair of top-five picks didn’t advance past the Sweet 16 -- Duke in 2002 and North Carolina in 1984.

    Buckley, though, took offense. After helping Crean achieve success at Marquette he was part of the Hoosiers winning 27 games and reaching the Sweet 16 two years ago. This past season, IU won 29 games, was ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks, and captured its first outright Big Ten title since 1993.

    “I want to say something in regard to this team under-achieving,” Buckley said. “The reason I do is No. 1, I know myself and Coach Crean and the coaches and players. We’re a very prideful group.

    “I was in Coach Crean’s living room at 10 a.m. on April 1 of 2008. I was there when we faxed the letter of agreement (to accept IU’s offer) at 4:26 p.m. And we came to Indiana and every day we found something new and different that was going to be a great challenge.

    “I was here when we brought in 320 unofficial visits that first year. We continued to build, and we had former players here, like Calbert Cheaney, you can go down the line, who were supportive. The fans who came to the games.

    “When we brought Cody Zeller here (during his recruitment) and we weren’t winning, we could point to those fans and say, ‘They’re here now. Just think what it will be like when we get good.’ They (the fans) helped us do that.

    “We were on that bench and watched that ball roll off the rim at Michigan (IU held on for a 72-71 victory) and we clinched the outright Big Ten title for the first time in 20 years. Then we had two players drafted in the top four, which I believe was the best in the history of the program.

    “I know what everybody put into it. I know what everyone’s family put into it. I know what the players and their families put into it. We’re proud of this group. We’re disappointed as much as anybody was in not going further in the NCAA tournament.

    “Our fifth-place team in the Big Ten played for the national championship. That’s how good this league was. For us to do it night in, night out … we never lost two games in a row. We had a resilient bunch. I’m proud of what we’ve done and everybody associated with Hoosier Nation should be proud of what we did.”

    New Bowl Alignments

    The Big Ten has eight bowl games lined up with the Rose still at the top of the automatic tie-in list down to the Little Caesars, which will pit the league’s No. 8 team vs. a MAC school.

    The Rose Bowl remains unchanged as part of the BCS structure with the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game earning an automatic berth (unless that team is nabbed to play in the BCS title game).

    The league’s No. 2 team heads to the Capital One Bowl, the No. 3 team to the Outback and the Nos. 4 and 5 teams to either the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl or the Gator Bowl. The Meineke Car Care Bowl matches the Big Ten’s No. 6 team with the Big 12 team of the same standing and the Heart of Dallas Bowl matches the Big Ten’s seventh-best team with a Conference USA squad.

    And there is more to come. On June 3, the Big Ten Conference announced it had come into an eight-year agreement with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and the New York Yankees.

    The Big Ten is committed to playing in the game beginning in 2014 and through 2021. The partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl will mark the conference’s first bowl game tie-in on the East Coast.

    Additionally, for all New York Yankees regular season games, beginning in 2014, the Big Ten will have a significant branding presence in Yankee Stadium, featuring a fixed sign along the first-base line and home plate rotating signage.

    “The Big Ten Conference playing college football at Yankee Stadium is something I know my father would be proud to see come to fruition,” said Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner. “He had a great passion for college football and spoke glowingly of his involvement with several of the conference’s programs. Welcoming a national powerhouse conference like the Big Ten to participate in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and partner with the New York Yankees for years to come only expands the prestige of our great annual bowl game in New York City.”

    Added Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, “Once we saw the success of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, it became obvious – especially with the Big Ten’s growing East Coast footprint – that being in the media capital of the world at one of sports’ most renowned venues was a natural pairing. By agreeing to an eight-year partnership, it increases the likelihood that most of the Big Ten schools will have the opportunity to participate in the game, while giving our coaches, student-athletes, administrators and fans the opportunity to experience the nation’s biggest metropolis and an iconic setting like Yankee Stadium.”

    Last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, a 38-14 Syracuse victory over West Virginia, recorded a 3.9 household coverage rating. For bowls played prior to New Year’s Day, only the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Alamo Bowl recorded better overall ratings.
     
    The 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will take place on Sat., Dec. 28.  The game will be nationally televised by ESPN, which has also secured national and local radio rights for ESPN Radio.

    Meanwhile, the Big Ten also has agreed to play a Pac-12 team in the Bay Area Bowl, previously the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, beginning in 2014. The pact runs through 2019.

    The postseason game will be played in the new 68,500 seat Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, future home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers and site of the Super Bowl in 2016.

    “Our objective entering negotiations for the next bowl cycle was to elevate the game,” said executive director Gary Cavalli. “Specifically, we wanted to move up in the Pac-12 and secure the highest quality opponent possible. We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to achieve both goals. With a Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup and a new world-class stadium, we’ve positioned our game very well for the future.”

    Under terms of its renewal with the Pac-12, the Bay Area Bowl will have the No. 4 pick, within parameters established by the conference, (after the Rose/Playoff Group, Alamo and Holiday bowls), a jump of two positions from its current No. 6.

    The Big Ten has played just once in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a victory by Illinois in 2011.

    Also, the two power conferences will meet in the Holiday Bowl beginning next year and running through 2019.

    “We are entering a new and exciting time for the Holiday Bowl,” said Bill Geppert, 2013 bowl president. “The Holiday Bowl has a rich history as ‘America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game’ and this new agreement lays the foundation for continued success. In the ever-changing world of college football, we are excited to begin this new chapter that will no doubt provide a huge economic impact to San Diego as our community welcomes thousands of college football fans to our beautiful city every December.”

    Included in the Big Ten agreement is the stipulation that the Holiday Bowl will not have the same team in its game more than twice during the six-year span. The Holiday Bowl previously enjoyed a relationship with the Big Ten from 1992-94 and conference teams have played in nine games, beginning with a victory by Indiana in 1979.

    Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State have played in the Holiday Bowl, including when the Wolverines faced BYU for the national championship in 1984.
     
    Summer Hoops

    Four Big Ten standouts, the most of any conference, were named to the 2013 USA Basketball World University Games roster and have competed for Team USA.

    Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, Iowa’s Aaron White and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne were the four conference athletes named to the 12-man roster, which includes Michigan coach John Beilein as one of its assistants.

    The team opened its play in the 2013 World University Games with a record-setting 140-46 win over United Arab Emirates. Ferrell contributed a USA Men’s World University Games single-game record 13 assists and also logged15 points and four steals. White added 16 points and Sheehey 15 in the rout.

    The Americans established three U.S. single-game team records in the lopsided win, including 36 assists, 70 rebounds and 39 attempted three-pointers.

    Commish’s Anniversary

    July 1 always seems to mark significant milestones in the calendar year and that is no different in regards to the hiring of Delany, who began his tenure at the conference office on July 1, 1989.

    In his 24 years as commissioner, Delany has helped welcome four new schools to the Big Ten, including Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers, created the Big Ten Network, and led the development of instant replay in college football.


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  • Hankins Leads Weak Draft Class

    With Ohio State sending just three players to the seven-round NFL draft this past weekend and Michigan chipping in just two, the Big Ten had one of its quietest showings in many years.

    In fact, only 22 Big Ten football players heard their names called at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the lowest total the league has produced in the last 20 NFL drafts.

    Twenty-one Big Ten players were drafted in 1994, although the league had just added Penn State as its 11th team – and didn’t have 12 member schools as it does now. Plus, OSU defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was the top overall pick that year and one of four first-rounders from the conference. In fact, eight Big Ten players were picked in the first three rounds that season.

    This year the number was seven, which is lowest total of any BCS conference.

    Michigan didn’t have a player selected until Denard Robinson was plucked in the fifth round; Nebraska didn’t send anyone to the league until Rex Burkhead was chosen in the sixth round. Cornhuskers safety Daimion Stafford followed in the seventh round, giving Nebraska its weakest showing in the draft since 1969.

    The Buckeyes did slightly better than that even though linebacker Etienne Sabino, tight end Jake Stoneburner and fullback Zach Boren were not drafted. The first OSU player chosen was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was a mid-second-round pick (No. 40 overall) of the New York Giants on Friday night.

    Defensive linemate John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel followed on the final day. Ohio State was in danger of having its smallest draft class since 1968 until Fragel was selected in the seventh round by the home-state Cincinnati Bengals.

    How strange was the Big Ten showing at the draft? Well, Illinois, a team that was winless in conference play (2-10 overall, 0-8 in the Big Ten) led the way with four players selected. Actually, it was the fourth straight year the Illini sent four players to the NFL draft despite their recent ineptitude on the field.

    Conversely, Northwestern, which posted a 10-3 record and won its first bowl game in five decades, had no players drafted. Also ironic: Rutgers, which is awaiting entrance into the Big Ten, had seven players selected.

    Only one Big Ten player went in the first round: Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.

    Here is a listing of that selection and the other 20 in order from the Big Ten:

    First round (1) – Wisconsin C Travis Frederick to Dallas (No. 31 overall).

    Second round (4) – Purdue DT Kawann Short to Carolina (No. 44 overall); Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell to Pittsburgh (No. 48 overall); Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins to New York Giants (No. 49 overall); Wisconsin RB Montee Ball to Denver (No. 58 overall).

    Third round (2) – Illinois G Hugh Thornton to Indianapolis (No. 86 overall); Penn State DT Jordan Hill to Seattle (No. 87 overall).

    Fourth round (5) – Illinois DT Akeem Spence to Tampa Bay (No. 100 overall); Michigan State TE Dion Sims to Miami (No. 106 overall); Penn State LB Gerald Hodges to Minnesota (No. 120 overall); Michigan State DE William Gholston to Tampa Bay (No. 126 overall); Ohio State DE John Simon to Baltimore (No. 129 overall).

    Fifth round (4) – Michigan RB Denard Robinson to Jacksonville (No. 135 overall); Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne to Pittsburgh (No. 150 overall); Iowa CB Micah Hyde to Green Bay (No. 159 overall); Wisconsin OT Ricky Wagner to Baltimore (No. 168).

    Sixth round (2) – Michigan G William Campbell to New York Jets (No. 178 overall); Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead to Cincinnati (No. 190 overall).

    Seventh round (4) – Penn State LB Michael Mauti to Minnesota (No. 213 overall); Illinois DE Michael Buchanan to New England (No. 226 overall); Ohio State OT Reid Fragel to Cincinnati (No. 240 overall); Nebraska S Daimion Stafford to Tennessee (No. 248 overall).

    Several players, including a handful of Buckeyes, still will go into camp with at least a remote chance to make a roster.

    Undrafted Ohio State players who reportedly have signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams include defensive end/outside linebacker Nathan Williams (Minnesota Vikings), Stoneburner (Green Bay Packers), Sabino (New York Giants) and defensive tackle Garrett Goebel (St. Louis Rams).

    Also, the Houston Texans – already the home of former OSU wide receiver DeVier Posey – have landed Boren and defensive backs Travis Howard and Orhian Johnson to free-agent deals.

    Boren converted to linebacker in the middle of last season but worked out and attended the NFL combine as a fullback. Sabino, Howard and Johnson are all Florida natives.

    Stoneburner, who arrived to OSU a wide receiver from nearby Dublin Coffman and who left a hopeful tight end, expressed excitement on Twitter.

    “Today didn’t turn out how I expected... But I am SO GLAD to say, I’m a Green Bay Packer,” Stoneburner posted.

    Williams will be joined in Minnesota by former OSU wide receiver Duron Carter, the son of former Ohio State and Vikings star wideout Cris Carter.

    The free agents will head off to their destinations soon. Most NFL teams hold mini-camps for rookies and undrafted free agents on one of the first two weekends after draft

    Other Reported Big Ten Free Agent Signings:
    Michael Zordich, FB, Penn State – Arizona Cardinals
    Adam Replogle, DT, Indiana – Atlanta Falcons
    Craig Roh, DE, Michigan – Carolina Panthers
    Roy Roundtree, WR, Michigan – Cincinnati Bengals
    Troy Stoudermire, CB, Minnesota – Cincinnati Bengals
    Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State – Houston Texans
    Kenny Demens, LB, Michigan – Houston Texans
    Kyler Reed, TE, Nebraska – Jacksonville Jaguars
    Darryl Stonum, WR, Michigan – Kansas City Chiefs
    Jordan Kovacs, S, Michigan – Miami Dolphins
    James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa – Minnesota Vikings
    Stephen Morris, CB, Penn State – New England Patriots
    Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State – New England Patriots
    Elliott Mealer, OL, Michigan – New Orleans Saints
    Mike Farrell, OT, Penn State – Pittsburgh Steelers
    Anthony Rashad White, DT, Michigan State – Pittsburgh Steelers
    Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska – San Diego Chargers
    Marcus Cromartie, CB, Wisconsin – San Diego Chargers
    Jay Jay Johnson, CB, Purdue – San Diego Chargers
    Marqueis Gray, QB/TE, Minnesota – San Francisco 49ers
    Patrick Omameh, G, Michigan – San Francisco 49ers
    Jake Bscherer, OL, Wisconsin – Seattle Seahawks
    Graham Pocic, OL, Illinois – St. Louis Rams
    Robert Marve, QB, Purdue – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    Akeem Shavers, RB, Purdue – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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  • Michigan Is NCAA Bridesmaid

    For basically the entirety of the 2012-13 college basketball season, the Big Ten emerged as the premier conference in the country.

    Top to bottom, the Big Ten’s 12 teams were good enough to match up with those of other leagues and its elite teams were cementing the stellar status, especially considering member schools such as Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all spent several weeks in the top 10 of the national polls.

    The Big Ten Tournament was as action-packed as hoped with Wisconsin playing at a high level to reach the finals but Ohio State cutting down the nets in Chicago.

    The NCAA Tournament showcased more Big Ten excellence as four teams made it to the Sweet 16 representing four different regions. The possibility of an all Big Ten Final Four even existed.

    Of course, that didn’t happen. Michigan State fell flat against Duke and Indiana failed to solve Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense. Ohio State advanced to the West regional final but came up short in its Elite Eight contest with Wichita State.

    That left the onus – and for some reason the reputation of the Big Ten – on Michigan. The fourth-seeded Wolverines produced a furious rally in the final minutes of regulation to produce an eventual overtime win over Kansas, the top seed in the South, and then clipped Florida to reach the Final Four.

    A win over Syracuse in Atlanta set up the championship scenario: Michigan vs. No. 1 overall seed Louisville and a chance for the Big Ten to claim its first national title since Michigan State won it all in 2000.

    UM shot 52.1 percent (25 of 48) from the floor and 44.4 percent (8 of 18) from behind the three-point arc but couldn’t quite keep up with the Cardinals in the high-powered finale April 8 and fell 82-76. Trey Burke scored a game-high 24 points and freshman guard Spike Albrecht came through with a career-high 17 points off the bench for the Wolverines (31-8).

    However, Louisville came up with several key plays in a high-octane second half and also benefited from heroism via a reserve guard – Luke Hancock, who scored 22 points and his all five attempts from long range. When last we saw Hancock he was paying for George Mason and had his sophomore season end in a blowout loss to Ohio State in the 2011 NCAA tourney.

    The Cardinals (35-5) captured the headlines and the imagination of the public with Rick Pitino becoming the first coach to win a national championship at two different schools (he already had done so at Kentucky in 1996) and guard Kevin Ware on hand as a spectator after his gruesome broken leg injury suffered on Easter Sunday.

    “These are my brothers,” a beaming Ware said after the Cardinals rallied from a 12-point deficit and began celebrating the title. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”

    “I had the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Pitino, who was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier in the day. “I’m just amazed they could accomplish everything we put out there.”

    As for Michigan, much of the postgame national discussion centered on three things: the supposed coaching gaffes of John Beilein, the expectation that Burke and a parade of teammates would leave early for the NBA, and the fact that the Big Ten has gone 0-5 in the title game since the Spartans cut down the nets in 2000.

    What often didn’t enter that conversation is that Michigan had the youngest team in the entire NCAA Tournament field.

    UM, which won the 1989 title game, was back in the final game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team, including Chris Webber, cheered on the latest group of young stars.

    Despite having the best shooting night of a runner-up since Georgetown in 1985, the Wolverines were branded a failure by some, but Burke wasn’t buying it.

    “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far,” said the sophomore point guard and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get past the second round. We fought. We fought up to this point, but Louisville was the better team today, and they're deserving of the win.”

    The 6-0 Burke became the third Wooden Award winner to lose in the national championship game, joining Indiana State’s Larry Bird and Duke’s Elton Brand.

    The youngster didn’t have much help in the second half, though. Albrecht was held scoreless after the break, and no one else posted more than 12 points for the Wolverines.

    As a result, Michigan fell to 1-5 all-time in national title games. The five losses are third-most all-time.

    Other Big Ten runners-up of late include Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007) and Michigan State (2009). Michigan makes it five different Big Ten teams to come up a game short in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments.

    Since 2000, those five title game appearances by the Big 10 are second-most of any conference behind only the ACC which has played for the title six times. What is troubling to the league is the ACC has gone 5-1 in such games and the Big East (4-0) and SEC (3-0) haven’t lost in championship games in the same time frame.

    In terms of Final Four appearances, the Big Ten is tied with the ACC for second with nine over those last 13 years. The Big East has the most with 12.

    The Big Ten, which posted an overall nonconference mark of 121-31 (.796), ended up as the bridesmaid again this year and also came in second in conference RPI. The Mountain West was first in conference RPI.

    Rice Not So Nice

    A recent report following up on the firing of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, the school athletic director and others suggests that the school’s upcoming move to the Big Ten may have had a factor in the mishandling of the situation.

    ESPN’s unveiling of surveillance videos showing Rice verbally and physically abusing players in practice has led to a full-scale controversy along with the ouster of the coach and administrators.

    “One of the great questions, and it almost resonates from Watergate, is who knew what and when did they know it,” Bob Ley, ESPN’s award-winning host, said midway through ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report.

    The focus of the report centered on tapes submitted by former Rutgers assistant Eric Murdock, who sued the university, showing Rice cussing out and shoving players as well as firing basketballs at their head and body from close range.

    It also delved into what Rutgers president Robert Barchi knew, and what he should have done to remedy the situation.

    Barchi was informed of Rice’s brutish behavior just days after publicly accepting the Big Ten’s invitation to join up and took no action. He later admitted wrongdoing by calling the cover-up a “failure of process.” The school eventually canned Rice, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, AD Tim Pernetti, and university general counsel John Wolf.

    Pernetti left with a $1.2 million severance and other perks.

    Pernetti originally decided to suspend Rice for three games without pay and fine the coach $50,000 in mid-December rather than fire him after commissioning outside counsel to investigate Murdock’s assertions.

    Perhaps ESPN columnist Howard Bryant offered the best perspective when he wrote, “There’s no question that you’re not going to let anything get in the way of that Big Ten deal. Whether it’s Pernetti or Rice or Barchi, they all know what’s taken place here. You have $25 million at stake, you’re not going to get in the way of that deal. And this easily could’ve derailed it, especially with those details.”

    Tubby, Carmody Replaced

    The Big Ten basketball season wasn’t a glory run for everyone involved. In fact, two schools decided to fire their coaches.

    Northwestern wasted no time in dumping 13-year coach Bill Carmody, doing so just after the Wildcats were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament. They eventually landed longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins, son of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins.

    Chris Collins was introduced as NU’s new coach on April 2. He has hopes of putting the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.

    “I’m not afraid of the work that needs to be done,” he said with his father watching from the front row. “I know it’s going to take time. I’m ultra-competitive. I’m passionate about what I do. To me, in life if you love doing something, you want people to know about it.

    “We’re going to build a winner,” he said. “I’m confident. I’m excited. But I also know it’s going to take work.”

    Meanwhile, Minnesota let go of coach Tubby Smith even after he had just won an NCAA Tournament game over UCLA. Minnesota (21-13) lost to Florida two days later in Austin, Texas, and Smith’s six-year run at Minnesota was over the following day.

    He was 124-81 (.610) there, won 20 games five times, and guided Minnesota to three NCAA Tournament appearances. However, the Golden Gophers were 46-62 in Big Ten play and never finished higher than sixth in the conference with him at the helm.

    On April 8, the school announced it had tabbed 30-year-old Richard Pitino, son of Rick, as its new head coach. Pitino cut his coaching teeth as an assistant for his dad and Florida coach Billy Donovan, but he served just one year as a head coach, leading Florida International to a mark of 18-14 this past season.

    Quick Hitters

    * The Big Ten will send three teams and six gymnasts to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships following the conclusion of NCAA Regional competitions on April 6.

    Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota will head to the national meet after finishing among the top two at their respective regional sites, while Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State will send individual all-around competitors to the championships, scheduled for April 19-21 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, Calif.

    At the Morgantown Regional, Michigan placed first to advance to the national meet for the Big Ten-leading 20th time, while Illinois followed in second to punch its ticket to the NCAA Championships for the second time in the last three years. Minnesota finished second in the Gainesville Regional to clinch its berth to the NCAA Championships for the third time and first since 2002.

    The Buckeyes’ Sarah Miller and Melanie Shaffer each qualified for the NCAA Championships at the Columbus Regional as Miller tied for first on balance beam (9.950) and Shaffer qualified with a fourth-place finish in the all-around (39.325). Nittany Lion Sharaya Musser tied for second in the all-around (39.375) at the Norman Regional to advance to the national meet.

    * Five women’s basketball players were named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-America team. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham, Nebraska’s Jordan Hooper, Ohio State’s Tayler Hill and Penn State’s Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas each garnered honorable mention recognition.

    * Three conference performers on the men’s side have announced their intentions to leave school early to seek employment in the NBA. Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas was the first to do so followed by Indiana forward Victor Oladipo and IU center Cody Zeller. All three were first-team All-Big Ten and named to several All-America lists.

    Other Big Ten players expected to follow suit and leave early for the draft are Michigan State forward Adreian Payne and the Michigan triumvirate of Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.


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  • Indiana Finally Back On Top

    There was reason to believe that Trey Burke’s driving attempt in the final seconds of Michigan’s palpitating regular-season finale with Indiana on Sunday not only would decide the Big Ten championship but also who would win the coveted league player of the year award.

    UM’s outstanding point guard narrowly missed his scoop shot and center Jordan Morgan failed to tap in the bounding ball front point-blank range, allowing Indiana to post a 72-71 victory and claim the outright title.

    Ohio State kept itself, Michigan and the winner of the Michigan State-Wisconsin game alive by defeating the Hoosiers March 5 in Bloomington, but the Buckeyes and company still needed from help from the rival Wolverines.

    No. 2 IU and No. 7 Michigan staged a back-and-forth classic but the Wolverines, who were undefeated at home heading into their final appearance at Crisler Arena, missed on the front end of a one-and-one free throw twice in the final seconds.

    After Indiana center Cody Zeller scored inside to provide the final points, Burke took off with the inbounds pass and caused the entire league to gasp as he flipped up a shot at the basket. The chaos that ensured included the ball rolling around on the rim and Morgan missing a clean follow.

    Indiana (26-5, 14-4) celebrated the win and the program’s first outright title in 20 years.

    Head coach Tom Crean, for some reason, celebrated by confronting and shouting down Michigan assistant Jeff Meyer, who used to hold the same role at Indiana under the deposed Ralph Sampson.

    “You helped wreck our program!” Crean shouted at Meyer while being restrained.

    On Monday, Crean claimed he later called Meyer and apologized. That evening the Big Ten awards rolled in and, somewhat surprisingly, forward Victor Oladipo was not named the Big Ten Player of the Year.

    That nod went to Burke, a sophomore who was second in the conference in scoring (19.2 points per game) behind OSU’s Deshaun Thomas (19.7) and led the league in assists (6.8 per game). Certainly, Burke was highly valuable and productive for Michigan, but the Wolverines (25-6, 12-6) had to settle for a tie with Wisconsin for fourth place after their paper-thin defeat.

    A junior who is among the most-improved players in college basketball, Oladipo was considered the leading contender for POY honors heading to the final week. However, he endured foul trouble in the loss to Ohio State and was upstaged by Zeller’s game-high 25 points and winning play against Michigan.

    Burke won POY honors in voting from the coaches and media, though the complete tally is not revealed.

    He had 20 points and four assists against the Hoosiers. Oladipo had 14 points and a career-high 13 rebounds as IU battered Michigan on the boards, 46-27. He also played his usual stellar defense, which became part of his imprint on big games this year.

    In fact, Oladipo outpointed Ohio State’s Aaron Craft for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, which is an award handed down by the coaches. His teammate, swingman Will Sheehey, was tabbed as the Sixth Man of the Year, also only a coaches award.

    The media came off as more appreciative of Craft as he was among the five players named first-team All-Big Ten along with Burke, Oladipo, Zeller and Thomas. Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. replaced Craft on the coaches’ first-team list.

    Oladipo and Burke were the only unanimous selections by the coaches. The media was unanimous in voting for those two as well as Zeller and Thomas, a 6-7 lefty forward who scored in double figures in every game this season.

    The two voting bodies agreed on Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan as the Coach of the Year and Michigan State guard Gary Harris as the Freshman of the Year.

    Harris and MSU teammates Keith Appling and Adreian Payne appeared on both second teams as did Wisconsin forward Jared Berggren. Illinois guard Brandon Paul, one of the league’s leading scorers and most talented players, had to settle for third-team status.

    The coaches put out five-man lists for the All-Freshman team and All-Defensive team. Craft and fellow OSU guard Shannon Scott joined Oladipo, Morgan and Berggren on the All-Defensive squad. The All-Freshman team included Harris, Indiana guard Yogi Ferrell, Michigan guard Glenn Robinson III, Purdue guard A.J. Hammons, and Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker.

    Tourney Awaits

    With the Big Ten regular season in the books, one of the most anticipated Big Ten Tournaments in the 15-year history of the event is now at hand as all 12 league teams will convene in Chicago for the first time ever. The last time the tourney was held there was 2007, well before Nebraska joined the conference.

    Ryan put his Badgers in the top four of the standings as he has done in all 12 of his years as UW head coach. Wisconsin (21-10, 12-6) had the tiebreaker edge with Michigan and earned the four-seed, which allows the Badgers to avoid having to play on Thursday (March 14) in the tournament’s first round.

    Those two teams would meet in the March 15 quarterfinals if UM can just get past last-place Penn State (10-20, 2-16). Other first-day games have No. 8 Illinois (21-11, 8-10) matched with No. 9 Minnesota (20-11, 8-10), No. 7 Purdue (15-16, 8-10) taking on No. 10 Nebraska (14-17, 5-13), and No. 6 Iowa (20-11, 9-9) paired with No. 11 Northwestern (13-18, 4-14).

    Top-seeded Indiana will take on the Illinois-Minnesota winner to open quarterfinal play and that game will be followed by No. 2 Ohio State (23-7, 13-5) vs. the Purdue-Nebraska winner. No. 3 Michigan State (24-7, 13-5) faces the Iowa-Northwestern survivor.

    Ohio State has to be considered a team to fear. The Buckeyes enter the United Center as the conference’s hottest team with five straight wins, including eye-opening ones over Michigan State and Indiana.

    Plus, head coach Thad Matta has the best winning percentage in BTT history with a mark of 16-5 (.762). In his eight previous appearances, Matta has led the Buckeyes to the championship game six times and OSU cut down the nets in Chicago in 2007 as well as back-to-back in 2010 and ’11 in Indianapolis.

    Ohio State also has the best all-time record in the event – officially 19-9 even with the 2002 title and appearances the previous two years stripped away because of NCAA sanctions.

    Chicago was the site of the inaugural event in 1998 and will serve as the host for the eighth time in the tournament’s history. The conference tournament averaged 18,882 fans per session when the event was last held at the United Center in 2007. The men’s tournament set total and average attendance records while in Chicago in 2001 with 109,769 fans in attendance for an average of 21,954 patrons per session.

    Big Ten Network will broadcast the first two games of the tournament, the 7-10 and 6-11 games are on ESPN2, and the first two quarterfinal matchups will be shown on ESPN. CBS will take over from there with national broadcasts of the March 16 semifinals and a 3:30 p.m. Eastern start to the March 17 championship game. That will serve as the run-up to the network’s Selection Sunday show.


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  • Six Lanes Full Of Contenders

    (Editor's Note: This story on the editor's pick for top contenders for the Big Ten men's basketball title originally was published on The Ozone on Jan. 3, 2013. To read it, place your cursor over the link below and click.)

     

     


    link: Hoops Contenders

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  • Hazell Returns, Bielema Departs

    It’s that time of year again – time for the coaching carousel to whir in motion. With the regular season over, the massive bowl schedule not kicking off until Dec. 15, and programs all over the country reassessing, several head coaches were fired to set off the inevitable domino effect.

    The Big Ten, of course, was not immune. Virtually within the same time frame on Tuesday, reports spread like wildfire that Purdue was about to name a new head coach and Wisconsin, even with the Rose Bowl awaiting, also was in a state of flux at the top.

    That news and other important items relating to the Big ten follow:

    Hazell Heads West

    When Jim Tressel hired Darrell Hazell away from Rutgers, it became apparent early that Hazell had an immediate positive effect on the Ohio State passing game and was a key member of the new offensive brain trust.

    Hazell moved on to become the head coach at Kent State and in two years there authored a complete turnaround of the program.

    Now Hazell is back in the Big Ten as the head coach of Purdue and his assignment is twofold – revive the Boilermakers’ offense and change the culture in West Lafayette, Ind.

    Purdue flirted with other candidates including Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, but announced Hazell as the successor to Danny Hope on Wednesday morning after several reports had already linked him to the job.

    Boilermakers athletic director Morgan Burke hired the 48-year-old Hazell to lead the school dubbed as the Cradle of Quarterbacks out of mediocrity and Hazell obliged in the release announcing his hiring.

    “I’m extremely excited to work with the players at Purdue, and I look forward to experiencing a lot of success in the future,” Hazell said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity.”

    Purdue scheduled a Wednesday evening press conference to introduce Hazell as the new head coach and allow him to break the news to his players at Kent State (11-2), which is preparing for a Jan. 6 appearance in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile, Ala., vs. Arkansas State (9-3).

    Hazell grew up in New Jersey but played football at Muskingum College in Ohio. Tressel lured him back to the Buckeye State in 2004, and he remained an important part of the Ohio State coaching staff until 2010, when he left to become a head coach. At Kent State, endured growing pains with a 5-7 mark in 2011 but the Golden Flashes came on strong this past fall, posting an 8-0 record in Mid-American Conference regular-season play and advancing to the league title game as the Eastern Division champion.

    The Flashes came extraordinarily close to continuing their dream season this past weekend, but lost a 44-37 decision to Northern Illinois in double overtime in the MAC Championship Game.

    Hazell won this season’s MAC coach of the year award after leading Kent State to its first winning season since 2001, first bowl appearance in more than four decades and the brink of a BCS bowl game.

    Burke made it clear during a Nov. 25 presser announcing Hope’s firing that the program was in need of a new leader who could revive the Purdue offense, which was borderline anemic this season.

    “We are an offensive-minded program,” Burke said. “That’s where we’ve made our mark over the years. I don’t see that under the circumstances changing. We’re not going to move into a coach that has a dramatically different scheme because we’ve built this team to play a certain kind of football.

    “We’ve seen other institutions that made a coaching change, then they changed their style of play. It took two or three years to adjust. We’re not going to do that. We’ve got talent in this program, we know we have talent in this program. We want it to be nurtured.”

    Purdue has tended toward an up-tempo style offense that thrived under coach Joe Tiller and quarterback Drew Brees. Hope kept that system but with disappointing results and a bevy of different quarterbacks.

    Ironically, many PU fans were in the corner of Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren, who also has been a Big Ten assistant, but Doeren just accepted the head coaching position at North Carolina State.

    Burke reportedly offered Jones a five-year deal worth $13.5 million, but those negotiations broke down.

    Hope earned a Big Ten-low $950,000 in guaranteed compensation last year, though Burke acknowledged he was willing to spend more on his next coach.

    Details of Hazell’s contract were not immediately available. He made a base salary of $300,000 with the Golden Flashes.

    Hazell, who was an assistant head coach at OSU from 2005-10, becomes the first black coach in Boilermakers history and will take over full-time duties later this month. The Boilermakers (6-6, 3-5) will face Oklahoma State (7-5) on. Jan 1 in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and are a decided underdog. Receivers coach Patrick Higgins has been tabbed to serve as head coach for the bowl game.

    Hope compiled a record of 22-27 in four years at Purdue.

    Bielema Era In Madison Ends

    While Hazell becoming the new boss at Purdue was surprising, Bret Bielema leaving Wisconsin after seven successful years there was even more jaw-dropping.

    Bielema seemed to be the right fit at UW, especially with former coach and current athletic director Barry Alvarez a step behind him as an acting mentor.

    But Bielema couldn’t resist the urge to take his headset to the mighty Southeastern Conference and accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Arkansas. The university released a statement Tuesday night saying Bielema had agreed to a deal to take over the program, which is still reeling following the firing of former coach Bobby Petrino.

    Former Michigan State head coach John L. Smith served as acting head coach of the Razorbacks in 2012 but couldn’t rejuvenate the program. The Hogs went to the Sugar Bowl to face Ohio State following the 2010 season and finished 10-3. Last year they were 11-2 including a victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. In 2012 under Smith they were just 4-8, 2-6 in the SEC.

    Arkansas has not yet released terms of Bielema’s deal but a report claimed he was prepared to sign a six-year agreement paying him $3.2 million annually.

    Alvarez’s hand-picked successor at Wisconsin, Bielema was 68-24 with the Badgers, with four double-digit win seasons. He coached Wisconsin to a 17-14 victory over Arkansas in his first season at the Capital One Bowl.

    UW is heading to its third straight Rose Bowl – and has a ticket to face Stanford – after waxing Nebraska 70-31 in the Big Ten Championship Game. However, the Badgers were unsuccessful in the last two trips to Pasadena, losing to TCU and then Oregon.

    Wisconsin (8-5) backed its way into the league title game after losses to Ohio State and Penn State to end the regular season. The third-place Leaders Division finish still merited a date against Nebraska in Indianapolis since OSU and PSU were ineligible from postseason play because of NCAA sanctions.

    Still, Arkansas came courting.

    “His tough, aggressive style of play has been successful and will be appealing to student-athletes and Razorback fans,” Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “He not only shares the vision and values for the future of Arkansas football, he embraces them.”

    The move was the second stunning hire this year at Arkansas, which brought in Smith as the interim coach after firing Petrino for hiring his mistress to work in the athletic department. Long announced after the season that Smith wouldn’t return.

    Arkansas continually ranked among the SEC’s best passing teams under Petrino, but Bielema is expected to bring his signature power game, which has featured hulking offensive lines and punishing running backs such as current UW senior Montee Ball.

    “During my conversation with Jeff (Long), he described the characteristics for the perfect fit to lead this program,” Bielema said in a statement. “It was evident we share the same mission, principles and goals.”

    Ball tied Barry Sanders’ longstanding single-season record of 39 touchdowns last year, and this year became the FBS career leader in touchdowns. He currently has 82 touchdowns after running for three Saturday night against Nebraska.

    The 42-year-old Bielema was the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin for two years before being promoted to head coach in 2006. He played for Iowa and started his coaching career there as an assistant under Hayden Fry and later Kirk Ferentz.

    Rumors surfaced that Alvarez told Bielema to immediately leave the program when he learned of discussions with Arkansas, but Alvarez didn’t address that issue publicly, instead saying, “I was very surprised when Bret told me he was taking the offer from Arkansas. He did a great job for us during his seven years as head coach, both on the field and off. I want to thank him for his work and wish him the best at Arkansas.”

    After the Cotton Bowl victory, the Razorbacks ended the 2011 season ranked No. 5 in the nation and Petrino said the program way on course to compete for a national championship. But his April 1 motorcycle accident led to the scandal with his mistress – a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.

    Petrino, who was married at the time and has four children, was fired.

    Arkansas’ on-field outlook plummeted quickly. The Razorbacks suffered an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, a setback that led to a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks finished with the school’s lowest win total since 2005, missing a bowl game for the first time since 2008.

    To make matters worse, Smith made headlines of his own when he filed for bankruptcy during the season, revealing $40.7 million in debt he blamed on bad land deals.

    Long, though, still has designs on pushing forward. The school is expanding the 72,000-seat Razorback Stadium and is currently building an 80,000-square-foot football operations center.

    “The infrastructure in place at Arkansas shows the commitment from the administration to accomplish our goals together and I am excited to begin to lead this group of student-athletes,” Bielema said. “This program will represent the state of Arkansas in a way Razorback fans everywhere will be proud of.”

    Bowl Trouble

    Wisconsin and Purdue are two of seven Big Ten teams heading to bowls – and the matchups do not look favorable for the conference.

    The Badgers have not named an acting head coach for the Rose Bowl battle with Stanford. Purdue, as previously mentioned, will face Big 12 combatant Oklahoma State in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, also on New Year’s Day.

    Also, league runner-up Nebraska heads to the Capital One Bowl, Michigan will play in the Outback Bowl, Northwestern travels to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Michigan State competes in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, and Minnesota heads to the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas.

    Even without 12-0 Ohio State and 8-4 Penn State, the Big Ten has earned at least six bowl berths for the 14th straight year.

    The Badgers will be in the spotlight again when they face Stanford at 5:10 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 1 on ESPN. Wisconsin, which holds an 11-12 record in bowl games, becomes the first Big Ten team to go to three straight Rose Bowl Games since Michigan went to Pasadena following the 1976-78 campaigns. Conference teams are 30-35 all-time in the Rose Bowl Game, while the Badgers hold a 3-5 mark in the game.

    Winners of the Big Ten Legends Division, Nebraska is set to appear in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando, Fla., where the Huskers will face Georgia at 1 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 1 on ABC. Nebraska is one of the most accomplished programs in the country in terms of postseason appearances and is one of three Big Ten teams boasting 20 or more postseason victories, owning 24 triumphs in bowl contests. However, the Cornhuskers will be hard-pressed to take down a Georgia squad that was 5 yards away from advancing to the BCS title game.

    Making its 42nd postseason appearance, and third consecutive, Michigan will play in the Outback Bowl for the first time since the 2002 season, where it will face South Carolina at 1 p.m. Eastern on Jan. 1 on ESPN. The Wolverines are 3-1 all-time in games played in Tampa, Fla., including a 38-30 victory over Florida in the 2003 game.

    Northwestern also will make a New Year’s Day appearance in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., where it will face Mississippi State at noon Eastern on ESPN2. The Wildcats earned their 11th bowl berth, advancing to the postseason for the fifth straight time under coach Pat Fitzgerald.

    Michigan State makes its first appearance in Tempe, Ariz., for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, where the Spartans will take on TCU at 10:15 p.m. Eastern on Dec. 29 on ESPN. The Spartans are heading to their 23rd postseason game and sixth straight under head coach Mark Dantonio, matching the longest streak in school history.

    Minnesota travels to Houston to take on Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas on Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN. The last time these two teams met was a doozy – a 44-41 overtime victory for Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl.

    The Boilermakers, who will kick off New Year’s Day bowl coverage at noon Eastern on ESPNU, have been victorious in their last two bowl games. They return to the state of Texas for postseason play for the first time since the 2004 Sun Bowl. Purdue has faced Oklahoma State once previously, a 33-20 Boilermaker victory in the 1997 Alamo Bowl.

    O’Brien Honored

    Penn State’s Bill O’Brien was named Big Ten Coach of the Year by the conference’s coaches and members of the media, edging out Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, another candidate for national awards, in the process.

    Upon accepting, O’Brien confirmed he plans on being the Nittany Lions head coach in 2013, ending speculation that arose when he was linked to several NFL head coaching jobs.

    Last January, O’Brien left as offensive coordinator of the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots and took over a Penn State program in shambles in the midst of the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Although his hiring was initially criticized by some former players and alumni, O’Brien eventually helped bring a sense of pride back to Happy Valley.

    He also held the program up through crippling sanctions and the exodus of several veteran players including star running back Silas Redd, who transferred to USC.

    He affirmed his desire to stay at Penn State – but was somewhat noncommittal – when the topic came up during a radio interview with 790 the Zone in Atlanta, though he didn’t definitively rule out a return to the NFL.

    “I plan on being the head football coach at Penn State,” O’Brien told the station. “That’s my plan and that’s what I intend to do.”

    Despite a rough 0-2 star that included a home loss to Ohio University and a one-point setback at Virginia, O’Brien was able to lead the Nittany Lions to a 8-4 record and tapped into the right arm of quarterback Matt McGloin, who became the leading passer in the Big Ten.

    “It was a tough, tough year here, especially if you go back to November, but I think these kids – and again it goes back to this senior class – they’re wise beyond their years,” O’Brien said.

    “As time went on they realized that it’s not about bowl games, it’s about making sure that we do our part to help put an end to child abuse but at the same time go out and play as good of football as we can. And like every season, we wish we had some plays back and some games back, but I think at the end of the day we played pretty good football.”

    Powerball

    The conference is looking powerful in men’s basketball, even after it had to settle for a 6-6 tie in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Associated Press poll that was released Dec. 3 had Indiana still firmly entrenched at No. 1, although Duke also was receiving a share of the first-place votes after topping Ohio State in the Challenge.

    Indiana, which dusted North Carolina in the Challenge, entered the week at 8-0 and with 45 of a possible 65 first-place votes. Duke, which also was 8-0, garnered the other 20 and was second in the poll. Michigan, 7-0, at the time the poll was released and 8-0 after a 32-point win over Western Michigan on Tuesday, is No. 3 in the AP poll.

    Ohio State, which bounced back from the five-point loss at Duke with a win over Northern Kentucky on Saturday, entered the week at 5-1 and No. 7, a drop of three slots. Kansas (6-1), which will pay a visit to OSU on Dec. 22, is No. 9.

    Three other Big Ten teams join Indiana, Michigan and Ohio State in the top 20 – Illinois (8-0) at No. 13, Minnesota (8-1) at No. 14 and Michigan State (6-2) at No. 19. Like OSU, Minnesota’s only loss is to Duke.

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  • Grid Season Already Embarrassing

    (Editor's Note: This story on the state of Big Ten football originally was published on The O-Zone on Sept. 29, 2012. To read it, place your cursor over the link below and click.)

     

     


    link: Big Ten Train Wreck

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In our latest installment, we look at the state of the Big Ten men's basketball race, declare Michigan State as the winner on the women's side, begin to outline what lies ahead in football and more.

 
 
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