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CHICAGO -- Unlike some of his counterparts from other leagues -- and unlike some of his own previous years here -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't seem interested in making major headlines during his address to close out media day.

Then again, Delany's views on NCAA reform and other pressing topics are well-known and well-documented. He spoke at length on the subject last year at this time in Chicago, and all 14 Big Ten presidents and chancellors signed a letter endorsing student-athlete welfare upgrades just last month.

So Delany didn't need to bang the gavel this year. Instead, his comments were more subdued. But the commish's words always carry weight, so here's a recap of his 25-minute address at the Chicago Hilton:

  • Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby ripped NCAA enforcement at his league's media days last week, calling the system "broken" and saying "cheating pays" these days. Delany said he wouldn't echo Bowlsby's "more colorful" language, instead simply terming the enforcement branch as "overmatched." Delany did say the power conferences need to come together to bring about a new way of policing themselves. "We need a system that works," Delany said. "I think there's no doubt that NCAA enforcement has struggled. ... My hope is over the next year to 18 months that major conferences can come together and can find ways and processes and procedures that fit with what we’re trying to achieve, which is a level of deterrence, a level of compliance and a level of punishment.”
  • [+] EnlargeJim Delany
    Jerry Lai.USA TODAY SportsBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany characterized the NCAA's enforcement branch as "overmatched."
    Along those lines, the NCAA Division I board is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on new autonomy measures that will give the Power Five conferences the right to craft many of their own rules. Delany said he's confident that autonomy will pass and would be "very surprised" if it doesn't. But he didn't issue any threats about power leagues forming their own division, as SEC commissioner Mike Slive did earlier this month. “If it doesn’t [pass], I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we're at.”
  • Delany reiterated that the Big Ten scheduling model going forward will include nine conference games, one nonconference game against a power league opponent, and no games against FCS teams. Delany acknowledged that some high-level FCS teams are more competitive than low-level FBS squads and that it often costs less to schedule games against the FCS. But Delany said he's worried less about the budget and more about making sure his conference has the strength-of-schedule ratings needed to catch the eye of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
  • Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon trial and saw one of his own league teams -- Northwestern -- vote on forming a union. So he's well-versed on all the various fronts challenging to tear down the NCAA model. The commissioner said he's not sure where this is headed, but he and the Big Ten remain committed to making sure education plays a pivotal role in college sports. “I certainly hope when the dust settles there will be a wide array of education and athletics opportunities for many men and women,” he said. “I hope at the end of the day the courts will support us in achieving them. College sports is a great American tradition. It’s not a perfect enterprise. No perfect enterprise exists. We can improve it, and we should.”

B1G media days: Best of Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:00
PM ET
CHICAGO -- The season has unofficially started in the Big Ten.

Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.

There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.

Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.

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Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.

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Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.

Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.

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Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.

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Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”

Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”

Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.

Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
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Wisconsin Badgers coach Gary Andersen talks with Brian Bennett at the 2014 Big Ten media days.
CHICAGO — Fittingly, the Big Ten put its two most talked about coaches back to back during Day 1 of media days.

First came Urban Meyer and then James Franklin, who addressed a number of topics during his first go-round here in the Windy City:
  • Franklin's only concern about this place? Each elevator at the Hilton Chicago is plastered with a different Big Ten logo, and the elevator that went to his floor did not have Penn State's logo. So Franklin, never one to shy away from a headline, relayed an anecdote about how he had to take the stairs to his room, lest he ride an elevator that features another league logo painted on it. No word on how many flights of stairs he took. Or which team was, in fact, on that elevator.
  • In a reflection of just how much turnover there has been at Penn State, Franklin reminded everyone that, having been hired just seven months ago, he is the veteran of the Nittany Lions' public faces, as the school just hired a new athletic director (Sandy Barbour) on Saturday and had hired a new president (Eric Barron) in February.
  • Franklin said his equipment staff has used Notre Dame and Navy as resources for how to prepare for a season-opening trip to Ireland, as Penn State will open overseas against UCF. The Lions will depart from State College for the trip on Tuesday night of game week.
  • Asked about Vanderbilt players' disappointment in the way he left the program for Penn State, Franklin said that he has learned that "there's no good way to leave," and that he hopes he tried to do it the right way. He added that he hopes that over time people will look back and see how much he cared about and invested in the Commodores during his time in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Franklin let out a brief laugh and smile when asked if Christian Hackenberg is the most talented quarterback in the country. He said the sophomore has a ton of tools, and he admired the way the signal-caller handled everything from his recruitment to expectations to a coaching change.
  • As for his satellite camp at Georgia State, which drew the ire of former SEC comrades, Franklin said he was not sure why it received all of the attention that it did. He said he and his staff get on the Internet every day to explore what other people are doing, and to see if it makes sense for Penn State. He wants to do everything within his power within the rules to give the Lions a competitive advantage. "Whatever that may be, whether it's recruiting certain parts of the county, we're going to look into all those things." He again added that he cannot speak to the reaction it has drawn.
CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer wasted little time updating everyone on his quarterback, saying during his opening statement that Braxton Miller is ready to go at full speed and is in the "best shape of his life."

As for what else the third-year Ohio State Buckeyes coach addressed during his time at the podium:
  • As happy as Meyer is with his quarterback, he was disappointed in his offensive line and his secondary coming out of the spring. He fielded three different questions about the O-line during his less-than-15-minute news conference, plus one more about the importance of keeping Miller healthy, and he said that Chad Lindsay, Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are all candidates to start at center.
  • Meyer did not hide his feelings on a Big Ten East division that also features traditional heavyweights Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, saying: "I think it's one of the toughest divisions in college football." He mentioned three tough road games, as the Buckeyes will travel to East Lansing, State College and Minneapolis (in addition to College Park for Maryland's Big Ten home opener).
  • Meyer is much more pleased with what he has at linebacker, saying, "the last two years they weren't what we expect" before conceding that two years ago they weren't that bad. Still, anytime you have to move a fullback to linebacker, he said, you have a problem, especially at a place that has churned out the likes of James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk.
  • New Ohio State president Michael Drake took office June 30, and Meyer said he has invited him to meet the team. Meyer said he looks forward to working with Drake but added that it really doesn't affect how Meyer does his job as long as the president takes care of business.
  • Meyer reiterated that defensive end Tracy Sprinkle is no longer a part of the program following his arrest and charges in the wake of a bar fight earlier this month.
  • Asked about Miller's durability issues, Meyer said it has more to do with great players who go above and beyond what their body tells them to do. The same questions came for stars like Tim Tebow, John Simon and Christian Bryant, he said.
  • Asked what Ohio State needs to do to live up to the preseason expectations, many of which have it winning the Big Ten, Meyer said chemistry, trust and developing young players are the top priorities.
CHICAGO -- Rutgers fans probably aren't too happy about their team's conference schedule, and you couldn't blame the players, either, if they were a little irked about receiving the 20th-most difficult slate in the nation.

But the Scarlet Knights aren't just welcoming the challenge of facing Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They swear they prefer it.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," fullback Michael Burton said Monday afternoon. "I want to play the best of the best, and this conference offers that. That's why it's a blessing."

Of course, that's easy to say at Big Ten media days. What player is going to publicly say he wants the easy path to a bowl game? But defensive lineman Darius Hamilton took it one step further and reinforced the sincerity of the statement.

He was offered a hypothetical: What if RU would finish 5-7 with the hard schedule but would finish 7-5 with the easy schedule? Wouldn't he then prefer the easy path? The 265-pound lineman just shook his head.

"I'll pick the hard anytime," he said. "When your back's against the wall and you're pushed to the limits, that's when you find out what kind of men you have on your team. I'd rather take a hard loss than an easy win any day of the week."

A bowl berth would go a long way toward helping Rutgers gain respect in the Big Ten. But that obviously won't come easily in 2014. Rutgers plays three elite teams on the road -- the Buckeyes, Spartans and Cornhuskers -- and the second-strongest schedule in the B1G is ranked six spots behind the Scarlet Knights' slate.

But that's all just fine with head coach Kyle Flood.

"I think it's great," he said. "[Our players] are competitors. They want to go against the best. And if people are saying this is the best, then good."
CHICAGO -- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert nodded. He knew the stat.

The Boilermakers averaged just 14.9 points per game last season. Only four teams in the FBS fared worse. But Mostert just smiled Monday when asked about the offense's ceiling this season.

"Thirty-something points a game," Mostert said during Big Ten media days. "We feel really confident that we're going to score a bunch of points on opponents."

Easy follow-up question: Are you crazy?

"No, I'm not crazy at all," Mostert said with a laugh. "Just confident."

Despite a disastrous 2013 season, confidence was the theme of the day for the Boilermakers, as player after player talked about how Purdue was moving forward this season. Defensive end Ryan Russell even made mention of Big Ten title hopes, while linebacker Sean Robinson praised the freshmen along with sophomore quarterback Danny Etling.

That swagger came as a bit of a surprise considering Purdue's lone win last season came against FCS opponent Indiana State. The Boilermakers haven't beaten an FBS squad since Nov. 24, 2012, against Indiana. But players insisted those struggles are in the past.

"Last year, we didn't know what we were doing on offense. We didn't understand what was going on," Mostert said. "Now that we have that year and we've settled on what plays work, that's really going to help us in the long run -- understanding what we have to do and what our jobs have to do for us to score a lot of points."

The offense was admittedly young and inexperienced last season. Etling and his top target, DeAngelo Yancey, were true freshmen. And it didn't help that coach Darrell Hazell was trying to turn around a program in Year 1. But this season Purdue is hoping to take a step forward -- and Mostert isn't shy about aiming a little high.

"The confidence level is through the roof -- we're looking forward to scoring a lot of points," Mostert said. "We didn't have that last year."
CHICAGO -- Pat Fitzgerald wants to be your friend again, Nebraska fans.

Fitzgerald, the Northwestern coach, said Monday at Big Ten media days that he made a "bad joke" this month in describing Nebraska as a "pretty boring state" while speaking to boosters at a Chicago golf outing.

As you might expect, the comments provoked a variety of responses from fans of the Huskers, including some not fit for print.

"I've learned a lot of hashtags on Twitter," Fitzgerald said.

The coach apologized and said he would "own" the mistake, but that he meant no harm by it. Fitzgerald said he was trying to compliment Nebraska fans on how well they travel. The visitors overtook a large portion of Ryan Field in 2012 as the Huskers came from behind to beat the Wildcats 29-28.

Nebraska visits Northwestern on Oct. 18.

"Our fans need to step up," Fitzgerald said.

Last year in Lincoln, Nebraska beat Northwestern 27-24 on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp as time expired. Asked Monday about how long it took to get over that finish, Fitzgerald quipped: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

The coach said he has spent just two days in the state of Nebraska -- not nearly enough time to form an opinion, though he said his players and staff were treated warmly on trips in 2011 and 2013. Northwestern upset Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in the Huskers' first year of Big Ten play.

Nebraska fans heartily congratulated the Wildcats after their 2011 win, according to Fitzgerald. They did the same last season, said the coach, drawing a laugh.

"It's just a great fan base," Fitzgerald said.

Big Ten Media Day Live

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
11:20
AM ET
The Big Ten's coaches and top players are gathering in Chicago and so are several of ESPN.com’s reporters. Keep this page open throughout the day as we bring you all of the latest from the league’s media day event.
 
ESPN.com has taken on the herculean task of ranking the top 100 players in college football entering the 2014 season. These are based on expected contributions for the 2014 season, regardless of position.

The list will be released in 10-player increments, starting today with Nos. 100-91 and 90-81.

Make sure to track the rankings all week long, as there will be Big Ten players in all five days.

Three Big Ten players made the first installment:

T-83: Michigan LB Jake Ryan
T-97: Iowa DT Carl Davis
T-99: Michigan State LB Taiwan Jones

We have one player (Ryan) who has shown the ability to be one of the elite at his position, along with two others (Davis and Jones) who are here largely on potential. If Ryan stays healthy and builds on the form he showed in 2012 -- he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors and recorded 16.5 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles -- he could easily finish among the top 50 players.

Davis is another player with a chance to rise much higher on the postseason list. He brings a rare mixture of size and athleticism to Iowa's interior defensive line, the team's strongest group in 2014. Davis has shown only flashes of what he could become, but if he puts it all together he'll be in the mix for major awards and most likely a good spot in the 2015 NFL draft.

Jones' inclusion in the top 100 comes as a bit of a surprise as fellow linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen overshadowed him in 2013. He steps into a featured role this fall, taking over for Bullough at the middle linebacker spot. Jones definitely will get noticed for his play, good or bad, as MSU tries to remain one of the nation's elite defenses.

I have no major gripe with any of these selections, as all three defenders have talent but must prove more to rise into the nation's upper crust.

Several Big Ten players just missed the cut for the top 100, including Michigan cornerback Blake Countess, Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein, Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell and Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin. You can certainly make a good case for Countess, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013 who led the league with six interceptions, to be among the top 100. I also expect big things from Conklin, who started 13 games as a redshirt freshman last fall.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 80-61.
As the 2014 season creeps closer, we're breaking down the top 25 players in the Big Ten. All five Big Ten reporters voted, ranking players based on both past performance and future potential at the college level.

Unlike in past years, we'll be releasing these in groups of five, not individually. So, without further ado, the first five names in the countdown ...

25. Blake Countess, CB, Michigan: Countess kicks off our top 25 but easily could move up the list if he builds on a good sophomore season. He led the Big Ten with six interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and earned first-team all-conference honors from the media. If he continues his playmaking ways, he should contend for the Big Ten's Tatum–Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award.

24. Andre Monroe, DE, Maryland: The Terrapins need a solid defensive front to compete in their new league, and Monroe plays a big role following a breakout 2013 season. He led Maryland in both sacks (9.5) and tackles for loss (17), as he rebounded extremely well from a knee injury that cost him the 2012 season. A shorter, stouter defensive end at 5-foot-11 and 282 pounds, Monroe is a great fit in Maryland's 3-4 defense.

23. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Indiana: Tre Roberson's transfer earlier this summer clears the way for Sudfeld to take total control on offense. Sudfeld has 28 touchdown passes in his first two seasons despite sharing time and could put up huge numbers in Kevin Wilson's quarterback-friendly offense. He has a mostly new-look receiving corps but plays behind one of the league's best offensive lines.

22. Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan: We had some debate about Gardner, who, like his team, had both brilliant and bad moments throughout the 2013 season. He's still the Big Ten's leading returning passer (2,960 yards) and accounted for 32 touchdowns (21 pass, 11 rush) last season. If he clicks with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and gets help from a besieged line, he could finish a truly unique career on a high note.

21. Theiren Cockran, DE, Minnesota: Overshadowed by linemate Ra'Shede Hageman in 2013, Cockran's big season (7.5 sacks, a league-high four forced fumbles) went largely unnoticed outside Minneapolis. He figures to get much more attention this season and has worked hard to put himself among the Big Ten's top pass-rushers. At 6-foot-6, 255 pounds and athletic, Cockran could be a nightmare for offensive tackles.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 20-16 ...

Welcome to Big Ten media days

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
8:30
AM ET
CHICAGO -- Hello from the Hilton Chicago, where Big Ten media days will officially commence shortly.

We're going to have all kinds of coverage for you, including a live blog throughout the event that will include pictures, notes, quotes, observations and many other goodies. We'll also be taking your questions for players and coaches, which you can send to us via Twitter while using the hashtag #AskB1GPplayers. Some of the players who'll be dropping by include:
  • Illinois TE Jon Davis and DL Austin Teitsma
  • Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
  • Maryland QB C.J. Brown
  • Iowa DT Carl Davis
  • Michigan DE Frank Clark and QB Devin Gardner
  • Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun and QB Connor Cook
  • Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
  • Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah and WR Kenny Bell
  • Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
  • Ohio State DT Michael Bennett and QB Braxton Miller
  • Penn State RB Bill Belton
  • Purdue RB/KR Raheem Mostert
  • Rutgers DT Darius Hamilton
  • Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon.

Also make sure to follow the individual Twitter handles Adam and I will be using here and here.

We've done loads of previewing of this event, covering everything you'd need to expect from these two days in the Windy City. If you need a refresher, click here to sift through our coverage.

Here's the official schedule of events today (again, all times are ET):

Coaches at the podium

10:30 a.m -- Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern
10:45 a.m. -- Darrell Hazell, Purdue
11 a.m. -- Gary Andersen, Wisconsin
11:15 a.m. -- Tim Beckman, Illinois
11:30 a.m. -- Brady Hoke, Michigan
12 p.m. -- Kyle Flood, Rutgers
12:15 p.m. -- Jerry Kill, Minnesota
12:30 p.m. -- Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
1 p.m. -- Bo Pelini, Nebraska
1:15 p.m. -- Randy Edsall, Maryland
1:30 p.m. -- Urban Meyer, Ohio State
2 p.m. -- James Franklin, Penn State
2:15 p.m. -- Kevin Wilson, Indiana
2:30 p.m. -- Kirk Ferentz, Iowa

Others at podium

2:45 p.m. -- Mark Silverman, Big Ten Network
3 p.m. -- Michael Kelly, College Football Playoff
3:15 p.m. -- Jim Delany, Big Ten commissioner

Coaches and players will also be available in breakout interview sessions from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Make sure to keep your browsers locked on the blog for all the latest from Big Ten media days.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
5:00
PM ET
Welcome to another weekend, which means just four more remain until the return of college football. Thanks for all of your questions. Keep them coming and enjoy the latest mailbag:
Mitch Sherman: Derrick Green has battled weight problems previously. He entered camp last season at 240 pounds as the No. 5-rated back in the 2013 recruiting class and rushed for just 270 yards as a true freshman, averaging 3.3 yards per attempt. After the spring, he was reportedly down to 220, definitely a better figure.

It’ll be interesting to see how he looks when practice opens in Ann Arbor on Aug. 4. If Green shows up in great shape, he’s likely the man to beat in the battle for the bulk of the carries. Primary competition comes from fellow sophomore De'Veon Smith.

No doubt, Green is talented and dangerous when his body is right. But some of this remains out of his control. No back could have thrived behind Michigan’s porous offensive line last season. The Wolverines rushed for 125.7 yards per game, the third lowest average in school history. In back-to-back games against Michigan State and Nebraska, the line contributed to 14 sacks of U-M quarterbacks.

If the line doesn’t improve in 2014, Green could open the season in the best shape of his life, and it would matter little.
Mitch Sherman: Well, here it is. In theory, the idea to determine conferences based solely on football and its finances appears intriguing. In practice, it would be a logistical nightmare and destroy many of the sport’s natural alliances.

Still, don’t dismiss such a scenario as complete fantasy. The coming changes in college athletics could be landscape-altering, from the ramifications of the upcoming vote on major-conference autonomy to the court decision in the antitrust lawsuit against the NCAA and its inevitable appeals.

It’s hard to imagine that the conferences will cease to exist as we know them. But then again, 10 years ago, who could have imagined the look of the game as we know it today?


Mike in Ashburn, Virginia, writes: If Rutgers beats Penn State, what would that mean for the future of RU football?

Mitch Sherman: Fans of the Scarlet Knights have long circled Sept. 13, when the traditional rivals meet in Piscataway, New Jersey. The game was scheduled in 2009 -- when former PSU assistant Greg Schiano coached Rutgers -- as a nonconference matchup, the first in the series since 1995.

Of course, when Rutgers announced plans to join the Big Ten, it was converted to a league game. Penn State and Rutgers last played in 1995, and the Nittany Lions have won 22 of 24 games in the series. So one victory by the Scarlet Knights over a Penn State program still feeling the impact of NCAA sanctions won’t reverse the fortunes of the programs. PSU will still carry momentum in recruiting and possess an edge in areas, even New Jersey, that produce recruiting prospects for both schools.

A win by Rutgers, though, would serve notice that it’s here to play with the big boys in the Big Ten and won’t be pushed aside easily by powers of the league’s East Division -- on the field and in recruiting its fertile home state.
Earlier, we told you about the Cleveland.com media poll predicting the Big Ten order of finish. It's a great resource since the league oddly declines to have its own official preseason poll.

Well, the Big Ten also doesn't issue preseason all-conference teams or award favorites, instead releasing a bizarrely vague "players to watch" document before the start of media days. Luckily, Doug Lesmerises and his media poll save the day here again.

The 29-member media panel -- the same one that picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten title -- also chose its players of the year on offense and defense. The names aren't real surprising.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller received 21 of 29 votes as the preseason offensive player of the year. It's kind of hard to vote against him, since he has won the actual award the last two seasons. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon received five votes, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah got two, and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg garnered one.

The voting was closer for defensive player of the year, where Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun edged out Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory by a count of 13 votes to 10. Calhoun also beat out Gregory for the Big Ten's defensive linemen of the year award in 2013 even though Gregory finished with more sacks and more tackles for loss.

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett received four votes, while teammate and Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa earned one. Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan got the other nod.

What do you think of these picks? Too safe, or just about right? And who are your dark horse candidates for the league's top individual awards in 2014?
Opening weekend in college football is just five weeks away. Yay. We're we're peeking ahead and breaking down every Big Ten team's 2014 schedule to get you even more geeked up.

Batting third in our series: The Northwestern Wildcats

Nonconference opponents (with 2013 records)

Aug. 30: Cal (1-11)
Sept. 6: Northern Illinois (12-2)
Sept. 20: Western Illinois (4-8)
Nov. 15: at Notre Dame (9-4)

West Division games

Oct. 4: Wisconsin
Oct. 11: at Minnesota
Oct. 18: Nebraska
Nov. 1: at Iowa
Nov. 22: at Purdue
Nov. 29: Illinois

Crossover games

Sept. 27: at Penn State
Nov. 8: Michigan

No plays

Indiana
Maryland
Michigan State
Ohio State
Rutgers

Gut-check game: Nebraska. The Wildcats stunned the Huskers in Lincoln in their first meeting as Big Ten teams in 2011. But the past two years of this series have left Northwestern shellshocked. Taylor Martinez engineered an epic fourth-quarter comeback in Evanston in 2012, and of course, Nebraska won on that Hail Mary last year. Pat Fitzgerald's team has to find a way to finish off Big Red better this year at home, or else the path to a potential West Division title gets much more difficult.

Trap game: Northern Illinois doesn't have Jordan Lynch anymore, but this is a strong program that has won at least 11 games in each of the past four seasons. The Huskies, who won at Iowa last year, would love nothing more than to beat their in-state neighbors to the East. And Northwestern will be coming off a potential track meet in the opener vs. Cal.

Snoozer: You certainly can't find much fault in Northwestern's nonconference schedule overall. But when the Western Illinois game arrives, we'll definitely be flipping channels.

Noncon challenge: Wildcats fans have been looking forward to playing Notre Dame again since their team pulled off the upset in South Bend in 1995. The game finally arrives this fall, but it won't be in an easy spot. Not only does Northwestern go on the road (albeit a short trip), the game comes right in the middle of November when Big Ten races are at their most intense. In fact, the Cats play Iowa, Michigan and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. No small task, that.

Analysis: Credit goes to Northwestern for once again assembling a challenging schedule. It's one of the few schools willing to play two Power 5 conference teams (or at least the equivalent, in Notre Dame's case) in the same season, and Cal should be improved over last year's disaster. Throw in one of the most dangerous mid-major programs in the country, and that should make for a strong SOS. The Wildcats should be considered a dark horse in the West Division since they can't suffer all the bad luck they experienced in 2013 for a second straight year. But drawing Michigan and Penn State as crossovers is tougher on paper than what fellow West contenders Iowa and Wisconsin face, and looping Notre Dame into that November mix increases the degree of difficulty. Still, if the team can survive the grind, it gets a relatively light finish with Purdue and Illinois. There's a decent chance more will be on the line for this program in the final weeks of 2014 than there was a year ago.

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