Monday's links: Picking up the pieces

Suffice it to say, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for Iowa. The 4-8 Hawkeyes are coming off the program’s worst season since 2000 and are riding a six-game losing skein. There will be no bowl for the first time since 2007. So, Iowa now points to winter conditioning and prep work for 2013. What’s next? Read about that and other juicy items in my daily links.

The future looks better, perhaps. Hawkeyes will welcome back nine starters on offense, as Iowa’s top three rushers in 2012 will return but no signal-caller will have thrown a pass. But Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen says that if offensive coordinator Greg Davis is back, he has to make changes—beginning with himself.

Harty says the Hawkeyes for the most part performed dreadfully under Davis, especially with regard to passing. Fans are upset with the lack of productivity. They’re perplexed by some of the play calling. And they’re wondering how James Vandenberg could go from being a pretty good quarterback who passed for over 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior to not even being average as a senior with just seven touchdown passes.

Let’s go ahead and call 2013 a “critical” one for the Hawkeyes. That sounds about right. Since winning 11 games in 2009, Iowa has won eight, seven and four.

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The rebound season for Ohio State was remarkable on many fronts, as the Buckeyes went from 6-7 in 2011 to 12-0 in their first year under Urban Meyer. And no one may have rebounded better than defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, according to Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Think about it. As interim head coach in 2011, Fickell oversaw Ohio State’ first losing season since 1988. And his defense looked shaky in midseason, with a low point being allowing 49 points at Indiana. But Fickell’s defense excelled over the last five games, allowing just 10 touchdowns. The unit allowed 10 in the Nebraska and Indiana games alone.

***

News of Danny Hope’s firing swept Big Ten territory on Sunday. Here’s a look at some of the tweets from the Boilermaker players.

***

What will be the legacy of Michigan’s 2012 team? One of missed opportunity, says Kyle Meinke of MLive.com.

Meinke says the Wolverines’ 8-4 record was above average by most definitions, but certainly unspectacular. And that, in the end, is exactly what the Wolverines were this year. A decent team, capable of hanging with some of the elite, but clearly not elite itself. It is not “back,” despite last year’s Sugar Bowl title. Back to respectability, certainly, and upwardly mobile, but no more than that.
Spot on analysis, I would say.

But know this: Michigan’s four losses in 2012 came against No. 1 Notre Dame, No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 Ohio State and No. 14 Nebraska. Those teams have a combined record of 45-3. So, it’s not like Michigan was losing to soft foes.

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Rumblings of Penn State coach Bill O’Brien perhaps being headed to the NFL have percolated of late. But Sports Illustrated’s Peter King says he can’t see O’Brien in the NFL.

Consider that an early Christmas present, Nittany Lions fans. And I have said a number of times that to bolt after one season would seem out of character for O’Brien. The guy seems committed to the rehab project in State College. I hope he sees it through.

***

Who doesn’t love a story about salaries? Bob Wolfley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a look at what Big Ten football coaches make. See where your coach ranks. Who is overpaid? Who is underpaid? Hmmmm.

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From the “Wow, that was fast department”: Minnesota already has had its team banquet, and MarQueis Gray was named MVP.

But more important is the fact the Gopher program lacks positive vibes. Consider: After a 4-0 start, Minnesota went 2-6. The last two games vs. Nebraska and Michigan State were particularly dreadful.

Phil Miller of the Minneapolis Star Tribune points out that freshman quarterback Philip Nelson has looked like any freshman would under relentless defensive pressure, and the Gophers defense has reverted to being trampled by tailbacks. Attendance has sagged at TCF Bank Stadium, where the student section was three-fourths empty on Saturday.

Want more? Jerry Kill spent last week answering questions about a disgruntled walk-on-turned-walk-off receiver (A.J. Barker), then made everyone forget them by raising new ones about his health. Kill’s boss expressed “100 percent” support for him, but athletic director Norwood Teague also acknowledged that Kill’s seizures are creating a perception problem for the program, and probably a recruiting problem, too.

Now, it’s time to get ready for a bowl. See, it’s not all bad! And continuing to play will be a big boon to the team’s psyche and a chance to punctuate the season in style.

***

Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World Herald points out that the Big Ten’s tough year began with a “Jinxed in July” theme that saw multiple key players who attended Big Ten media says suffer key injuries in 2012.

Stars like Montee Ball, Denard Robinson, MarQueis Gray and Rex Burkhead, among others, all went down early. It really is quite shocking. I’m ready to turn the page. How about you?

***

Mark Tupper of the Decatur Herald-Review says Tim Beckman’s first year was a colossal failure.

Who is going to argue with that after a 2-10 finish that ended with a nine-game losing skid? Tupper believes multiple staff changes are coming. And fans need to monitor what junior linebacker Jonathan Brown decides regarding an early entry into the NFL draft.
But the schedule in 2013 is more difficult, a defense that was hugely disappointing loses its best players (Michael Buchanan, Terry Hawthorne, Glenn Foster, Justin Green and, presumably, Akeem Spence).

Tupper leaves us with this: The football incompetence has turned off many fans and Beckman’s public relations snafus have turned off many of the rest.

TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: Bret Bielema probably is right. If this Saturday’s meeting is as good as the regular-season matchup, we will be in for a treat. The Huskers won, 30-27, in Lincoln by storming back from a 17-point hole.

My take: It was bizarre how he seemingly disappeared.

My take: You’ll need to pick your jaw up off the floor after reading that.

My take: No one ever said Kirk Ferentz wasn’t survivor. I also say he’s a darn good coach, too.

My take: He speaks the truth, America.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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