We posted Part I of our Dave Revsine interview a day or so ago, which you can read right here if you're so inclined. Today we're going to talk the two Michigans, Nebraska's first year in the conference, Penn State and JoePa's legacy, Urban Meyer, OSU sanctions, Purdue, rookie coaches, and just about everything under the B1G sun.
[ED Note...Again, this interview was conducted last Friday, before JoePa's passing. All references to JoePa were made before anyone was aware of the gravity of the situation--Ted]
So part II, Dave Revsine...NNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!
You've mentioned Michigan and Michigan State, let's talk about them. Last year, they had the two biggest blowout losses in the bowls, and this year they both had the two biggest bowl wins for the conference. Will they be better next year or worse, and do you see one of those two as an early Legends Division favorite?
I agree with you on how important those wins were, but I hesitate to predict too much at this time of the year. I'm in the unique position of having the luxury to go out and watch these teams practice, and I like to base my predictions on what I see when we go out and look at these teams. So I don't want to necessarily make some bold proclamation on who's going to win the Legends or Leaders Division. I certainly think they are two teams at the forefront of the conversation going into the year, along with Nebraska, but I don't want to make a prediction. I think they're both going to be really good next year, but obviously MSU will have to figure out the quarterback situation. In the limited time that we saw Andrew Maxwell, I think he's got a chance to be pretty good.
It'll be interesting to see what happens at Michigan. Denard Robinson had, I think in some ways, a little bit of a step back this year. I want to see him throw the ball a little bit more consistently, but the fact that they started to develop a run game made them a lot harder to defend. And the defense, obviously, was immeasurably better. If they can be that good with guys that weren't their guys, I'm excited to see what they can do with a year under their belt.
Has MSU turned the corner and entered ‘elite' status as a B1G power over the last couple of years?
I think they have a chance to be an elite team. I think you measure that in larger spans of time than two years, but everything they have in place is really good. They have a really good head coach, some turnover at the coordinator position, but really good leadership at the top-a really good athletic director, and they have a lot of pieces in place. So, there's no reason to think that they can't be, but a lot of what Michigan State has built was when Michigan was down. So now, with the recruiting in the state of Michigan amplified again, with Michigan competing for the same players that Michigan State will compete for, it will be interesting to see whether or not Michigan State will be able to sustain it. And conversely, how much of Michigan State's success will cut in to what Michigan is trying to build.
Wisconsin's Montee Ball is coming back for his senior year, and a lot of people felt he was overlooked as a serious Heisman candidate. Do you think he will get more consideration next year?
That was a tough situation because Wisconsin wasn't promoting him for the Heisman until pretty late in the year. They had a different candidate in Russell Wilson, who had a great year also, and I think it was a weird situation that way. Part of a Heisman candidacy is that the school gets behind a guy, but the numbers he put up were just staggering. It was unbelievable. A lot of that was the function of their offense, but a lot of that was also him being really, really good. He should be on a very short list next year. We'll see how his team evolves next year, too. It may be harder to put up huge numbers if they don't get great quarterback play.
Let's talk about some more coaching changes. There doesn't seem to be as much coaching instability in the conference heading into this off-season like we had last year. The one low-key kind of hire was Tim Beckman at Illinois. What do you know about him, and do you think he's the right guy? He gave off a favorable first impression to me when he was introduced.
Yeah, he's a high energy guy, which I like. I think that's a big part of the equation at a place like Illinois. You need to be a bit of a salesman, and part of what you need to do is try to keep the really good in state kids in state. Recruiting is a big part of that equation, and he seems to me like he would be a good recruiting guy. I look at the defenses that he had, and that makes you wonder a little bit. He's a defensive guy, yet his defenses have not been great, but that can be a function of a lot of different things. It can be a function of the league you're in. The Mid America Conference is a tough conference to win in. Everyone is on pretty equal footing, and it's a league where you need to win and get out, to be quite honest with you. But yeah, I agree with you. He's a high energy guy that people can rally around
There have been two high-visibility hires, one at Penn State. What are your thoughts on how the coaching search went down, and what do you think of the man they eventually hired, Bill O'Brien?
That's kind of hard being on the outside to really know how that went down. That's a situation where you don't believe everything you read, so I don't really know who was a candidate, and who wasn't a candidate, so I don't pretend to know everything that went down in that search process. As far as the guy they got, I don't know if you watched the press conference, Ted, but I was really impressed. I mean, I really, really, liked him a lot, and I thought he came off very favorably. It's a real difficult situation to be in, and I thought he acknowledged that. The phrase that I came up with afterward, and I think it depicted him accurately, was confidence without arrogance. He just seemed like a guy who believes that he can get this done, understands the hurdles and limitations given by the situation, and really believes in himself, but not in an arrogant sort of way. It's more of a ‘hey, we're up to this challenge, and we can do it. I understand what's ahead of me, but I also understand the built in advantages that we have.'
And I can tell you, having spent time at all these schools, Penn State has a ton of built in advantages. Unbelievable facilities, a great recruiting base, and the only real major program in the state. I know Pitt's in the Big East, but I don't think there are a lot of kids that are going to pick Pitt over Penn State. I think those guys are few and far between, and I know there are examples and it's happened, but Penn State is certainly the highest profile program in the state by a long shot. I still think there are a lot of positive things, and he said that ‘I'm going to accentuate the positives while being cognizant of our challenges, and I think we can get it done.'
NCAA President Mark Emmert sent a letter to Penn State hinting at a possible investigation over the Sandusky scandal. Do you think the NCAA will, and do you think the NCAA should?
I have no way of knowing whether they will. Whether they should? I saw the argument that they made, that it's a loss of institutional control, but I don't know. I guess it just depends on what they find. Should they? I don't know. I don't think I'm really qualified to say, because I don't know the NCAA rulebook backwards and forwards, nor is it my job to know it, so I don't know. Obviously, it's a horrible situation, if the allegations are true lives were ruined, and if there were people there that covered it up and caused those lives to be ruined when it was preventable, there obviously needs to be repercussions. Whether or not those are NCAA repercussions, I don't know.
What will Joe Paterno's legacy ultimately be?
We were just having this conversation today in the office with a friend of mine. It's such a tricky question. I think this will be a huge part of his legacy, and I think it will be something that will be not only in the first paragraph of his obituary-which I hope is still a long way off from being written-but also may very well be in the first sentence. But I guess I will also say it's a guy who arrived on campus in 1950, some 48 years before any of the allegations began. He had an incredibly positive impact on that university in that time period. He gave $4 million dollars out of his own pocket for the library, and I'm amazed every time I walk by it on campus, because you walk by it and just go ‘wow'. I've been to Joe's house, and everyone saw it when the news camera where outside there. It's a modest house, he's a modest guy. His priorities, in that sense, where in the right place. He won with true student athletes, he graduated them, he increased the profile of the university, and all of those things are huge accomplishments.
But I keep coming back to the fact that lives were ruined, if these allegations are true. And if Joe could've done something to prevent it, you can't overlook that. It's not part of his legacy, but a large part of it, and you know, it's a shame on so many different levels.
The other high-vis hiring was the first one after the regular season ended, and that was Urban Meyer at OSU. Meyer has taken recruiting to another level in the short time he's been at OSU. Do you agree with his aggressive, SEC-style of recruiting, if you will, and is how the way he goes after kids going to change how recruiting is done in the conference as a whole?
Yeah, absolutely. It's impossible to argue with his recruiting style because of the success that he has had, and I do think it's going to change it. This is something we talked a lot about the day he was hired in our studio show. He changes the game and changes the equation in the Big Ten. You're upping the ante a little bit, and when you combine the success that Michigan has had in recruiting, well that is how the Big Ten is ultimately going to catch the SEC. I mean, it's going to be in recruiting. You have to go out, inasmuch as you can institutionally in getting kids that fit what your school is all about, you need to go out there and aggressively get the best kids you can. So yeah, I think this changes everything, because I think everyone is going to need to keep up with that.
And it's not just Urban Meyer. When you look at the recruiting list Michigan assembled for this year, it's impressive. I think we've got some people in this conference who really understand how important that is, and I think it changes the game for everyone, because now you need to keep up with those guys.
Was OSU lucky that it only got a one year bowl ban, or did they get an excessive punishment?
Tough question. I think I was surprised. We are talking about using ineligible players for the duration of a season, and to me when the story first came out I just assumed there would be a bowl ban. But then I started taking my cue from people at Ohio State, who seemed to have their finger on the pulse of things, and they didn't think there would be a bowl ban, I just assumed that they knew what they were talking about. So I was surprised when they got a bowl ban, because they were so confident that they weren't going to. But if you would've taken me back to when we first learned about the story, this would've seemed about right to me.
When we talked in August, you had pretty good things to say about all the first time coaches We've already talked about Brady Hoke a little, so could you give me your thoughts on how Jerry Kill and Kevin Wilson did in 2011?
The Jerry Kill situation was really tough. I think the fact they played as well as they did at the end of the year is a real credit to him. It was pretty evident when we were there that the kids were buying in, and I like him a lot. He's a hardnosed guy, and frankly I think they hired somebody along the lines of Glen Mason, who was a great, great coach there. I don't say that just because he sits in studio with us, because I think the results of these past 5 or 6 years show what a good coach he was, and how tough it is to consistently win there. I think they'll be fundamentally very strong, they'll have an identity, so I like that about him and that his staff has been around him a long time and is really experienced.
For Kevin Wilson, tough to say. I expected them to be a little bit better, quite frankly. They hadn't been that bad the year before, so to drop off that dramatically surprised me a little bit. But I don't like to judge a coach on year one, because there's stuff going on that you may not know about. I think you judge on the breadth of the program, and to me, that's a minimum of over four years. Now, if there's no progress in year two or year three, I think you begin to scratch your head a little bit. I didn't see great things from Indiana, but that doesn't mean he can't do a really great job. If you look at turn around stories like Iowa, the first few years under Kirk Ferentz were not good by any stretch, it just takes awhile sometimes.
What were your overall impressions of Nebraska's first year in the conference? About where you thought, a little bit better, or a little bit worse?
A little bit worse; I thought they'd be a little bit better on defense than they were. I think in hindsight, I think we underestimated how difficult a task it was to prepare for 8 new opponents. I know everyone had to prepare for them, and they hadn't seen them either, so there was unfamiliarity on both sides, but my take on that is when it's one week, it's less daunting than when it's every week. So maybe that eventually caught up with them, as did injuries. Jared Crick getting hurt really had an impact, because he was really, really impressive. And offensively, you have to be able to throw the ball. That was my concern when I saw them in the spring, and again in the fall, and it caught up to them.
Looking at the top of the Leaders Division next year, you've got Wisconsin-lost a lot of offensive coaches and lost Russell Wilson. Ohio State is ineligible for the conference championship game, and Penn State has their issues. There is a legitimate feeling among Purdue fans that ‘hey, we finished strong, we won our bowl game, and if we're going to win a division title, it might be 2012.' Do you think the table is really set up for Purdue to make a run, or is that more smoke than fire?
I'm not sure that I'd install Purdue as the favorite or anything, but does Purdue have a chance, did they get better? Yeah, absolutely I think so. No one had been hurt more by injuries than Danny Hope, and I just empathize with the guy. For them, it's the best laid plans gone awry every year, because they've had major injuries the past two seasons. I think they're better and tougher on defense, I think it's an improved program, and I've believed all along that he's the right guy for them, so I don't think it's unrealistic to think Purdue could compete.
Last question, and it's about your alma mater, Northwestern. Still haven't won a bowl game in over 50 years. At some point, is Pat Fitzgerald in trouble? Are fans going to be okay with 7-5, 8-4 records, and will Northwestern do to him what Minnesota did with Glen Mason 6 or 7 years ago, which was get to a level of success and not get past that, and then grow discontented with them not taking the next step? Or will Fitz be able to coach there as long as he wants?
He has a contract through 2020, so I think he's in pretty good shape with the fanbase, and he is a beloved guy. I always go back to this: if you would've told a Northwestern fan in 1994 that in 16 or 17 years you have tied the record for the longest bowl losing streak in NCAA history, they would've laughed in your face because that would've implied that they would've gone to multiple bowl games. You have to look at where the program was, and I can't believe that people would be upset at where the program is. It sounds as if they're going to build new facilities, which I think is going to help an awful lot, and I think they've felt as good as themselves since maybe Ara Parseghian was there. If there's discontent in that fanbase, I'm not aware of it, and there shouldn't be, because they're well off the mark.
Thanks again to Dave Revsine of the Big Ten Network.