November 29, 2014

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Big 10 Notebook: JoePa successor not top priority

Joe Paterno’s record-breaking 42nd season as Penn State’s coach has been a trying one on the field, where his team has lost two of its last three, and off, with a recent string of players facing legal trouble.
It’s not enough to make the 80-year-old JoePa think about calling it quits, though.
Asked Tuesday if he would ever consider installing a succession plan at Penn State, Paterno said he had never thought about it.
“If the time comes when I start thinking, ‘Hey, I’m going to get out of it this year or next year,’ so forth, then obviously I’ve got to think of the scenario,” Paterno said.
No. 19 Wisconsin and second-year coach Bret Bielema visit Penn State on Saturday. Bielema was hand-picked by Barry Alvarez as his successor before the 2005 campaign, which would be Alvarez’s last before moving exclusively into the athletic director role.
Paterno’s staff is full of loyal, longtime assistants. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley’s name most often comes up as a potential replacement.
Paterno said he would “try to work out a scenario that would be the best for everybody. Yes, that’s a possibility, but I haven’t really thought about it.”
Upset minded
The go-to guy on stunning upsets might be Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, whose No. 5 team set the tone for this strange season by losing to Appalachian State in its opener.
Carr thinks heavy class loads and fatigue lead to some upsets. He also thinks we haven’t seen the end of them.
“I don’t know if anybody ever coached that wasn’t vulnerable to those things because if there was an answer, a solution — somebody would have come up with it by now,” he said.
The closer
Illinois quarterback Juice Williams is locked in as the starter but has been replaced in the last two Illini games in the second half by his understudy, redshirt freshman Eddie McGee. Each time McGee helped seal the win, but Williams says he doesn’t mind.
“This allows him to go out there and be a closer,” said Williams, who added he and McGee are good friends off the field.
McGee had a 53-yard run that helped change the momentum and gave the Illini field position in a 27-20 win over Penn State, then added a 5-yard TD that was the eventual game-winner in a 31-26 upset of previously unbeaten Wisconsin.
Gophers in a hole
Minnesota set an NCAA record by producing two 1,000-yard rushers over three consecutive years, from 2003-05, and the Gophers have had at least one of them for eight straight seasons.
That streak is in question, with senior co-captain Amir Pinnix — who rushed for 1,272 yards last year — falling to third on the depth chart. Pinnix had an early problem with fumbling, and he’s since been bothered by a turf toe injury.
Sophomore Jay Thomas is expected to start this week at Northwestern.
“We definitely don’t think that tradition has left,” Thomas said. “We need to pull it together a little bit more and start doing some stuff.”
Spartan slide
Michigan State is averaging 67,768 fans per game at Spartan Stadium this season, down from an average of 70,819 last year. The stadium’s capacity is 75,005.
Some blame the state of Michigan’s struggling economy for the downturn in attendance. The August unemployment rate, 7.4 percent, was highest in the nation.
But it hasn’t helped that Michigan State is coming off three losing seasons and has had multiple coaching changes in recent years.
Michigan State ranked in the
Top 20 nationally in attendance as recently as 2005, when the Spartans averaged 75,183 fans per home game.
Attendance is solid at most other Big Ten locations this season. Last week, four of the six stadiums featuring conference teams had sellouts. The conference has drawn 2,867,783 fans in 41 home games this season, including 22 sellouts, five more than at the same time last season.
Hurtin’s Hawkeyes
One of the big reasons why Iowa (2-4) has struggled this season is injuries.
On Tuesday, coach Kirk Ferentz announced that offensive lineman Dace Richardson will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. Wide receiver Andy Brodell is out for the year with a torn hamstring, and tight end Tony Moeaki — Iowa’s top receiver through the first four games of the season — is at least two weeks from returning. Several others have also been sidelined.
“To say they (injuries) don’t impact a football team or affect a team’s performance, that would be a little bit naïve,” Ferentz said.