Big Ten East Division Will Debut as a Cage Fight

By Kyle Rowland on January 15, 2014 at 9:15a
James Franklin could become a pest for Urban Meyer.

Life couldn’t get much better for Ohio State in early December. The Buckeyes were winners of 24 consecutive games, proud owners of two straight victories over Michigan and on the brink of playing for the national championship.

The gap between Ohio State and the rest of the Big Ten was as cavernous as the Grand Canyon. Urban Meyer rode into the conference, took on all-comers and walked away unscathed. It reached a point where Meyer called on the league’s other coaches – the Little 11 – to recruit better.

“It’s not only important, it’s essential,” Meyer said. “It has to happen.”

It did, and the Buckeyes’ fortunes changed swiftly and dramatically in Indianapolis on Dec. 7.

Michigan State put the clamps on their two-year reign, and what’s followed the past 39 days has steadily narrowed the advantage Ohio State held over its conference foes.

The Spartans won the Rose Bowl; the Buckeyes lost the Orange Bowl; Michigan hired former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier; two assistants, including avid recruiter Mike Vrabel, left Ohio State; and James Franklin was introduced as Penn State’s head coach.

Got all that? OK.

Meyer countered all the negative headlines with the impending announcement of Chris Ash (co-defensive coordinator/secondary) and Larry Johnson Sr. (defensive line) as assistant coaches. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that the clear path the Buckeyes once had in the Big Ten is evaporating – or becoming bogged down with traffic in both directions.

The Big Ten East begins play in the fall, and it’s already apparent that it’ll be much more competitive than the West. Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will claw for a championship each fall. Not many would have expected the East to be this loaded, but Michigan State’s rise and Penn State’s ability to stay relevant during unprecedented sanctions shifted the balance of power.

Championship or not, the Big Ten hierarchy still takes shape in Columbus. Urban Meyer is still Urban Meyer, which means his team and coaching staff is more than likely better than the opponent. The Buckeyes’ current recruiting class is ranked second in the nation by Rivals, well above its nearest conference foe, Penn State, at 16th.

The date circled and bolded on the calendar for 2014 is Nov. 8. That’s when Ohio State travels to East Lansing in what will be billed as the Big Ten’s top game of the season – yes, even bigger than Ohio State-Michigan. The Buckeyes and Spartans will share the national spotlight all week and could even get a rare night game in November.

Michigan State loses several key pieces from its 13-1 Rose Bowl championship team, but returning are head coach Mark Dantonio, defensive wizard Pat Narduzzi and quarterback/Buckeye slayer Connor Cook. At a celebration inside the Breslin Center last week, Dantonio told the crowd, simply, “We will be back.”

The Spartans, victors in 42 games the past four seasons, are in a precarious situation, though. It’s welcome – success always is – but Michigan State is a program that hasn’t dealt with having a target on its back in a generation. Now, the color green is on the radar of every school in the Big Ten, most especially Michigan and Ohio State.

The hiring of Doug Nussmeier by Brady Hoke is sure to result in an improved offense for Michigan.Nussmeier won a BCS title at Alabama.

“Success, once you’ve tasted it a little bit, you want to keep it,” said Dantonio, who reportedly signed a new contract that pays him $4 million annually. “That’s what I got out of the Ohio State process. Once you’ve tasted that type of success and you understand what it took to get you there, you have a better chance of getting there again.”

In 1970, Woody Hayes famously had a rug with the score of the 1969 Michigan game sewn into it and displayed prominently in the locker room. Might the digits 34-24 appear in the football facility that bears Hayes’ name?

The Wolverines could take the same approach after a heartbreaking loss to the Buckeyes last season. Already this offseason, Brady Hoke got rid of offensive coordinator Al Borges following a severe lack of production in 2012 and pried Nussmeier away from Nick Saban and Alabama. He made $680,000 in Tuscaloosa and is purported to be in the $850,000 range at Michigan, which would make Nussmeier one of the top five highest-paid assistants in college football.

“This is a special place. A special, special place,” he said at his introductory press conference. “When you say the word ‘Michigan,’ everybody knows about Michigan football.”

For more than a decade, Nussmeier’s made his name on coaching quarterbacks and devising efficient offensive game plans. A.J. McCarron, Jake Locker, Jeff Smoker and Tom Brandstater have all enjoyed robust numbers under the guidance of Nussmeier. Marc Bulger was a Pro-Bowl quarterback during Nussmeier’s stint with the St. Louis Rams.

However, his two years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator are what he’s most known for. The Crimson Tide enjoyed unprecedented success under Nussmeier after an entire existence of vanilla offenses. They flung open the doors to the passing game and averaged more than 38 points, winning a national championship and turning McCarron into a bona fide Heisman Trophy contender.

“He is a bright coach who works hard and brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to work each and every day,” Saban said. “Our production and balance the last two years has been very good, and he also brought a lot to the table in terms of coaching the quarterbacks.”

In 2014, Nussmeier will be tasked with bringing out the best in Devin Gardner and an offense that ranked 86th in the nation last season.

“We want to be able to run the football, and we want to be able to put points on the board, and we want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game,” Nussmeier said. “This is a good football team with good young talent. We just have to develop it.”

The same can be said for Penn State. The Nittany Lions are perhaps the biggest threat to Ohio State’s goal of supremacy. They’ve lost nine games the past two seasons – six conference games – but the hiring of Franklin has once again reinvigorated Happy Valley.

Bill O’Brien kept Penn State afloat and even thrived at times during near Death Penalty sanctions. Now Franklin is poised to take the program back to where it stood in 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s under Paterno. Restrictions will linger two more years, but Christian Hackenberg and a bevy of talent should make life hard on its fellow East members.

The salary scale has risen considerably since 2010, when Paterno made a cool million dollars. O’Brien went from a $950,000 base salary in 2012 to $1.9 million last season. Franklin’s wages are substantially higher – $4.5 million. All of a sudden, the slow and plodding Big Ten is home to five of the nation’s 11 highest-paid coaches.

Once the NCAA’s black curtain is lifted from atop Mount Nittany, look out. Franklin is coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons at perennial SEC doormat Vanderbilt. And he was a recruiting machine at the Nashville school, where academics are king.

Franklin won better than 60 percent of his games at Vanderbilt when only one coach in the past half century had a winning record. He signed top 25 recruiting classes and beat the likes of Florida, Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri.

A Pennsylvania native, Franklin proclaimed, “I think I’m the right guy to come back and unite this state and bring this program back to what I think it can be.”

On recruiting: “We are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.”

Hear that, Urban? The train chugging along with ease suddenly has some squeaky parts.


Comments Show All Comments

JozyMozy's picture

"-yes, even bigger than Ohio State-Michigan."

Personally, I'm going to politely disagree. A loss to Sparty- again- would really, really sting. But they're a very good team, it's an away game, there'd still be time to save some face before the postseason, etc.
A loss to TTUN? That would ruin the entire season. Period.

TMac's picture

Agreed - the game in East Lansing should be pivotal to winning the B1G East but it isn't The Game!

ONE Not Done!

Go1Bucks's picture

Kyle, great read again.
Losing to MSU was more a fluke IMO, they were on a roll, we were reeling from UM where its seems the blueprint to knock us off had been created and MSU used it as well. Our defensive woes created the situation to lose as well as our sudden inability to close out the game.  It proved the same against Clemson, as well as a lame offensive plan.  
However, I believe OSU is in great shape for next year even with our losses on the Oline. Im in the camp not so sold on Franklin and will wait and see if he has the ability to carry over to the B1G.  I have no comments on our new coaches as I got lambasted for offering an opinion on them 2 days ago. The step up of competition though in the B1G is a welcome thing to get the bs off our backs, as it was last season.
Buckeyes have always been resilient and I believe we will continue to do so, and after we pound Sparty back to where they belong, the rest of the league will remember who we are.
Go Bucks!

Go Bucks!

Doc's picture

Be careful what you wish for.  We have been clamoring for years that the B1G needs to step up their game.  It looks like we got our wish.  Now, we need Urban and Co. to step up theirs.  Going into this off season with a 2 game losing streak isn't the best elixir for our problems.  Hopefully the new hires will be what the doctor ordered.  IMHO it seems like AACC and State Penn have made bigger splashes than we have in the recent hire department.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

dan_isaacs's picture

I dunno.  Nothing fuels the competitive fire like shame and disappointment.  I look forward to playing without the presumption of victory.  

Dan Isaacs

whobdis's picture

I think your exactly right Dan. When Urban was first hired there was a lot of pub about winter angry team..'prove the world wrong' type of thing. It may have been there last winter/spring but we didn't hear much about it. Like it or not a team can get complacent after so many wins. I also think the staff was weary to make any changes to what they were doing. We see now the D cannot continue as it was. If we somehow squeeked out a win against MSU I'm not sure many changes would be made.

buckeye92's picture

I agree.  I think you are gonna see some motivated and "angry" defensive players this spring and next fall.  These guys have a chip on their shoulder.  For the past year, they've heard the critics and their pride took a slap in the face.  Spring ball is gonna produce some angry hits...their out to prove themselves.

TMac's picture

What we all wish for is being in and winning the Playoff. Better competition should make the Buckeyes better prepared. At least that's the theory!

ONE Not Done!

BuckeyeSouth's picture

You gotta love it when the B1G loses Bert to the SEC then brings in Ash, Nussmeier & Franklin from the SEC.  Brighter days for the Conference are coming and I'm ready to earn back some of the respectability of the past.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

NitroBuck's picture

The B1G losing Bert to the SEC is addition by subtraction.

Ferio.  Tego.

BuckeyeSouth's picture

That's exactly what I was trying to convey, Nitro, but I did a terrible job of saying it.  Thanks for clarifying that for me.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

Buckabroad's picture

"The Buckeyes’ current recruiting class is ranked second in the nation by Rivals, well above its nearest conference foe, Penn State, at 16th."
If your a TTUN fan, that sentence had to have hurt.

"The minute we stop expecting greatness, we become Wisconsin."

45buckshot's picture

Is that really true? wasn't TTUN ranked in the top 5 at one point? Did losing Hand and a couple of defections drop them that far?
If so, i wouldn't go declaring the B1g as back just yet... we might have the highest paid coaches, but if they aren't getting in top 10 recruiting classes then its not going to matter much.
(Ok, except for Dantonio, but i'm not convinced he's a real threat; if we had a pass defense above 50 instead of 115, we would have won that MSU game by 10. Minny--Minny!--held them to 14 just the week before... it's Bollman fer crissakes!)
Anyway, if--if!--UM3 fixes the pass defense with these new hires, tOSU should still blow out every team in the B1g for the foreseeable future. (Assuming Wariner can mold another super OL and somebody can fill Hyde's shoes.) At least until the sanctions come off PeeSU. Neither Dantonio, nor the Hokester, nor Anderson, nor Franklin have the kind of coaching chops UM3 has, although they're all good coaches (ok, maybe the Hokester is only a recruiter. But the rest are good!). 
Go bucks!!!

“The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.”
—G.K. Chesterton

Nutinpa's picture

Let's give Dantonio his due.  We played them there in 2012 and only 1 play....the bomb to Smith.....kept us from losing that game.  We played them this year on a neutral field and give up 17 unanswered points....twice... in an outplayed and outcoached effort.  We can't say that ..."if we run Hyde in the 4th quarter we win the game." Someone had to call those plays and didn't...or couldn't for some reason.  Dantonio and Narduzzi dared us to beat them with the forward pass and we couldn't.  Clemson looked at the film and said..."thanks, I'll have another" with the coaches making the same, game on the line, choking mistakes. We can if and but all we want but the results speak for themselves.  
That said, the article was well-written and the B1G chase is on.  And yes, no matter how it is ingrained in us since childbirth, at least for next year, the biggest game on the calendar is Nov. 8 in East Lansing until proven otherwise. They are the standard bearer, not a 7-6 Michigan team.  Will be fun to watch that is for sure.  

Mortc15's picture

This is absolutely great for the conference and for Ohio St. When they can play multiple top 25's year in and year out with PSU, scUM, and MSU, and then potentially meet a ranked Wisc, Neb, or Iowa in the BTCG, it leads to a great resume. Hopefully, the B1G can get to the SEC level where 1 loss doesnt knock you completely out of the running for a NC.



It may be a somewhat overrated notion (yes I'm pointing at you SEC), but a tougher conference does make everyone stronger as a whole. Meyer prodded the rest of the B1G to get better and it looks like it is finally happening. He knows that competition will make the Buckeyes far better in the long run. Yeah we lost to Sparty, which stung (and still stings). But in the future when we beat a B1G opponent we don't get the whole "This Buckeye B1G win is meaningless because the B1G sucks" narrative. We get "OSU gets a hard-fought win over a nationally-ranked conference opponent because the B1G is stronger."

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Larryp713's picture

Any good news for other B1G programs outside of Ann Arbor is good news for the Buckeyes. I personally want a battle tested and confident team the next time we are blessed to play in the National championship game, or the semifinals this year and beyond.
And not to nit-pick Kyle, but I personally cannot see how anybody who watched the Buckeye's last 3 wins thought there was a grand canyon between the Buckeyes and the rest of the B1G. I thought the Mich St. and Clemson games were pick 'ems going in, and I am not completely distraught by the losses. The Buckeyes just need to get better on defense, and I think we'll see that this year.



Buckeyevstheworld's picture

The Buckeyes and Spartans will share the national spotlight all week and could even get a rare night game in November.

That's assuming MSU doesn't get curb stomped by Oregon.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

buckskin's picture

That will be a big game for them, but most times when Oregon runs into a fundamentally sound, tough D, they lose.  Msu's defense is similar to Stanford's this past year and OSUs in our last Rose Bowl year.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

The game will be in Eugene.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Buckeye_Chief's picture

Kyle well written article, the rest of the B1G is finally starting to see the light that you can not win with the standard "Good Ole Boy" style that most of the teams are used to. I am personally looking forward to the next few years of B1G football to see how everything plays out. This has been a huge offseason for B1G football. GO Buckeyes. 

"I was tired of trying to work my way around the back so I just ran him over.” - Joey Bosa


Buckeye_Chief's picture

So a DV for what reason?? To each his own but if you going to DV at least make a comment on why.

"I was tired of trying to work my way around the back so I just ran him over.” - Joey Bosa


Seattle Linga's picture

I am so looking forward to NSD than spring ball. It can't get here any sooner.

Balkestud's picture

I have to say that I am pretty stoked about the hiring of Chris Ash, if in fact it is true. Considering what he did with the caliber of athlete he had at Wisconsin, he is going to think everyday is Christmas when/if he gets here. His defenses were known for their intelligence and toughness, two attributes our DB's were clearly lacking last year. If he can get our young studs tougher and smarter in a hurry we should be looking at a shutdown D for the next several years. I was holding out a flicker of hope for Orgeron however I believe Ash has done more with less than most defensive assistants in the country.

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,



causeicouldntgo43's picture

Wait a minute - I thought there was a "Gentlemen's Agreement" that OSU could remain the B1G 1, and the rest of the conference would be the Little 13?

OSUFlash's picture

With the Big 10 becoming a more competitive program making the 4 team playoff at the end of the season will be a very difficult task. I'm just not convinced that whoever wins the Big 10 championship game makes the playoffs because this could easily be a 2 loss team and it could go on every year.
Whoever said it is correct, watch out what you wish for.


InvertMyVeer's picture

“When you say the word ‘Michigan,’ everybody knows about Michigan football.”


Football is complicated...

OSUStu's picture

Well, this is what so many of us have been asking for...for the B1G to pay their coaches in order to get the best.

If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.  ~ Bruce Lee

German Buckeye's picture

An uptick in BIG talent and performance will only help us by having trials by fire every week, just like in the SEC.  No one expects the leader from the SEC to be undefeated, all other conferences have to be perfect.  We need to get the level of play up to (as hard as it is to admit) the SEC caliber, then the talking heads will shut up. 

ScoobyKnows's picture

With Brady Hoke hiring his replacement, Penn State picking up a decent head coach and Michigan State looking to be a contender this year...I would say the B1G is slowly on its way back to the top! 

Hovenaut's picture

I don't have issue with the East taking the lead on putting the B1G back on solid footing, has to start somewhere.

Jbucks's picture

The B1G isnt back from the dead just yet, BUT WE DAMN CLOSE!!! Iowa needs to keep being aggressive defensively, but they need some offensive work (build on that lsu bowl game), NW needs to not die in mid season & stay competitive, & Wiscy needs to get better, & recruit better, (saw on Fox news few months ago that they were voted to have the most beautiful females, maybe they should uae that on the trail?) & Penn State still needs stitches after what had happened a few years ago, but they healing nicely. Overal its about Damn Time, now lets fix Our DEFENSE

Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it-John 1:5 SEC meet Ohio State, Ohio State meet SEC

osubuck57's picture

So when do we play Penn State next year?? Don't think Franklin will have the same "happy face", pictured above, after this "rivalry" game. I'm looking forward to the MSU and that team up north game though. Revenge on the mind and to let last years' maize and blue team know that last year was NOT our best game. Let it be spring already!!


BoFuquel's picture

October 24, 2014 at their house. You can't hide Franklin. GO BUCKS

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

cinserious's picture

James Franklin vs Urban and Jarry Johnson willcome down to some epic battles for recruiting in the state of PA and the East coast. Franklin boasting about "dominating Pennsylvania" is probably innacurate.
Also I don't think Devin Gardner will be the guy under center at TTUN, I think it will be Shane Morris who is coached up by Nussmeier and will probably win the starting job.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

BuckeyeQ6's picture

All of a sudden, the slow and plodding Big Ten is home to five of the nation’s 11 highest-paid coaches.

Yes, but unfortunately that doesn't mean they're 5 of the best 11...*cough* Ferentz *cough*
We'll have to see how much success Hoke and Franklin will have.