A series of quick hits for Hump Day, starting with an interesting excerpt from Dan Wolken’s Wisconsin story in USA Today:

The issue of assistant coaches is particularly interesting here, because when Bielema left Wisconsin, he cited the inability to compete with the Southeastern Conference on staff salaries as a major reason. Six assistants left Wisconsin after the 2011 season, three left after the 2010 season and two left following 2009.

In some ways, this was simply the price of Wisconsin’s success: two (Dave Doeren and Paul Chryst) got head coaching jobs, three followed Chryst to Pittsburgh, one went to Notre Dame and two jumped to the NFL.

But Bielema stoked the fire when he said, “I never would have left” if he had the same salary pool for assistants at Wisconsin that he got at Arkansas, feeding the perception that the Big Ten is operating at a deficit. Drive around this league, and that seems a little insane because everyone – including Wisconsin – is pouring money into facilities.

Asked about the idea of a resource gap, fueled by Bielema’s comments, Alvarez just shook his head.

“I think there’s a misperception there,” Alvarez said. “Any time somebody interviewed, Bret thought if you just throw a pile of money at them, they stay. I can’t do that. We have to work on a budget. You don’t just keep throwing money, because then everybody has leverage on you. All you have to do is say somebody’s interested and you double their salary. You can’t operate that way.

“We’ve done things (to improve assistants’ salaries) when I think it’s necessary, but not every time somebody gets contacted by somebody else. I think with the quality of life we have here, we have perks, too, and if that’s all you’re looking for is more money, you can go find more money. But quality of life, the type of kids you’re going to coach, the type of university where you’re working – all those things are important.”

That’s pretty much the Big Ten company line, isn’t it. Big Ten ADs have opted to at least try to maintain a sane football budget, while supporting a well-rounded department (with more sports). *

* For the record: Bielema said last winter that Arkansas allowed him to pay assistants almost double what Wisconsin allowed — Barry Alvarez didn’t like that statement one bit.

Wisconsin and Arkansas are almost identical in terms of athletic department revenue — $103.8 million for Wisconsin, $99.8 million for Arkansas. Yet while the Razorbacks sponsor 19 sports, the Badgers sponsor 25.

Those are basically the averages across the SEC (19.7) and Big Ten (25.8). In other words, the Big Ten is spending a lot money on lacrosse, wrestling, hockey, rowing, field hockey, men’s swimming/diving and men’s gymnastics that its chief competitor isn’t.

As Big Ten ADs decide how vigorously they want to chase the SEC on the football field, they must first examine the value of minor sports. Is it better to support field hockey and rowing? Or to pay your coordinators $1 million?

Not an easy call.

>> I gotta say, Stewart Mandel and I see eye-to-eye on the Big Ten race this fall. Ohio State may go 12-0, but chances are it loses somewhere. Nebraska may go 10-2, but I still have the Huskers behind Michigan. Wisconsin will be better than many expect while Penn State takes a step back. Northwestern isn’t quite as good as advertised and Iowa is staring down the barrel of disaster again.

From a schedule standpoint, the Big Ten darkhorse is Michigan State. It’s hard for me to buy the Spartans’ struggling offense, especially after losing Le’Veon Bell. But their non-divisional games are even easier than Nebraska’s — Indiana, Purdue, at Illinois.

If Michigan State can find a quarterback, ehh, nevermind. I don’t see it happening.

>> The ESPN bloggers both say Nebraska will win 10 or more games.

>> The Wall Street Journal finds that the gap between football and men’s basketball success is wider at Nebraska than anywhere in the country.

>> Bill O’Brien‘s use of tight ends at Penn State is cutting-edge in college football.

>> Stat of the day: Auburn hasn’t won a non-conference road game since 1997. Fourteen years! The Tigers are 0-4 during that stretch. They travel to Kansas State in 2014.

>> Monday night, during another Redskins victory (we dominate the preseason!), I asked Twitter followers to name the most overrated quarterback in the NFL. The variety of responses was remarkable.

Matt Ryan got a few votes. Drew Brees and Eli Manning got a vote. So did Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. One reader deemed the three-pack of Griffin, Wilson and Kaepernick was deemed overrated — until they back up their 2012 seasons.

But the leading vote-getter was Philip Rivers, who finished just behind Big Ben in my head. Rivers, I admit, has been a disaster the past few years. I’m not sure he gets near as much credit as Roethlisberger, though, for being an elite QB.

Maybe the correct answer came from reader Darren Cudabeck: “Anyone that Jon Gruden is talking about.”

>> NFL coverage is so incredibly good these days because of stories like Chris Brown’s dissection of the Buffalo Bills’ new offensive system and Bill Barnwell examining the myth of momentum and now this, which shows how Tim Miles’ old buddy, the Jaguars’ Gus Bradley, used advanced statistics to make a call on Blaine Gabbert. Just great stuff.

>> Another night of Hard Knocks, another night without Rex Burkhead. I must say I’m surprised. Assumably Rex is willing to open up, I’d think he would be the perfect character to feature. Burkhead is neck-and-neck with former Buckeye Dan Herron for the final running back spot, according to Cincinnati.com.

>> Example No. 239 of the NCAA’s misplaced priorities. A walk-on basketball player at Richmond is ineligible for selling T-shirts.

>> If anybody deserves more money for playing college football, it’s families like Devaugh Darling’s, Mike Bianchi writes. Powerful column.

>> The Nebraska Phillies didn’t have their best night in Denver. Philadelphia lost 5-3, but it’s very cool to see Tyler Cloyd (UNO) starting on the mound and Darin Ruf (Creighton) and Cody Asche (NU) hitting back-to-back. Hopefully it’s the first of many games for those three together.

>> Joe Posnanski looks at the sharp decline of the Phillies — and how they erred in a very human way.

>> What’s it like covering a big-time sports beat? The Oregonian’s Jason Quick is very candid as he leaves the Trail Blazers.

>> Speaking of the Blazers, Zach Lowe writes at length about NBA nicknames. A fun read.

>> An Aussie Football League is recruiting college basketball players? Des Moines native Patrick Mitchell is one of them. Great story.

>> SI’s cover story on Mario Balotelli, soccer’s new star.

>> Wright Thompson on Dan Gable’s fight to save wrestling. Definitely a must-read.

>> Jeff Perlman chases his childhood hero, Ricky Bell, who died almost 30 years ago.

>> Tom Izzo is far and away the best tactician in college basketball, according to his peers. Still waiting for Tim Miles or Greg McDermott to pop up on one of these surveys.

>> Finally, one of my favorite people in Nebraska sports media — Jeff Culhane — is leaving for a new gig at West Virginia. He’ll be a Mountaineer. Like thousands of Sports Nightly listeners across the state, I’ll miss his work.

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