Continuing the weeklong look at Big Ten bowl teams, today we'll look at the participants in the Outback and Capital One games in the early part of New Year's Day. What's on the line for Wisconsin & Michigan?
By rights, both teams should have the same sort of burden Penn State faces in the Alamo Bowl: where you are just trying to avert further disappointment. The Badgers & Wolverines each had expectations of being in BCS games, winning a conference title and maybe even being in New Orleans. They were the most commonly mentioned favorites in the preseason. They lost their status to one program that hadn't been to a bowl game since 2001 (Illinois) and another with virtually its entire offense to replace (Ohio State).
But because of the caliber of bowl games these teams are in, the chance for redemption exists. Wisconsin overcame midseason struggles that hit their nadir in a massacre at Penn State, and they came on strong down the stretch, including a defeat of the Wolverines. For their part, Michigan showed admirable character after their opening losses to Appalachian State and Oregon. They beat Illinois on the road, got back in the Big Ten race and were playing for the Rose Bowl by the season finale. Michigan also has a reasonable excuse in that both Chad Henne and Michael Hart were wounded warriors much of the year.
A Wisconsin win over Tennessee marks its third straight January 1 victory over the SEC and solidifies its late-season performance. A Michigan win over Florida gives them the scalp of the defending national champion and reigning Heisman winner, and sends shock waves through a college football community that is expecting a Gator win. It also sends Lloyd Carr home a winner. Turn on the TV set early on New Year's. The early games are going to be fraught with meaning.
Jeff Potrykus of The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that P.J. Hill's leg has made a turn for the better and the back may now play in Tampa. At Michigan, the talk is going to be focused on the new coach, rather then the football field. Drew Sharp of The Detroit Free Press opines the school lost its integrity in the way it pursued Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez's taking of the Michigan job has implications for Penn State. Lion defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, long assumed by insiders to be Paterno's heir apparent, has been granted permission to interview for the vacant West Virginia post. In the meantime, Paterno still does not have a contract beyond 2008. The old coach says he wants to keep at it beyond then, but if Bradley leaves it potentially boxes the school in.
If the university does not extend Paterno's contract, it renders him a lame duck and seriously damages recruiting. If they follow this up by forcing him out against his will, the result will be a public backlash. Particuarly given that the Lion master has successfully turned his program around from the woes of 2000-04. Bradley is the answer to both problems.
The university could announce prior to next season that Bradley would assume the reigns in 2009. Given that Paterno surely wants his successor to come from within, while the school wants a national search, the guarantee of in-house succession might be the best way to persuade him to step down free of rancor. If Bradley leaves, that option is not there, and the uncertainty about the future could result in other assistants following him.
Penn State needs to make up its mind about Paterno's contract and do it quickly. Either extend him and deal with succession later. Or keep Bradley in the fold, make him the head coach in 2009 and give him two years to prove himself. Drawing the process out only restricts their options.
In my view, Joe Pa should stay as long as he wants. Black Shoes Diaries looks at various scenarios at how his eventual departure might unfold.