Big Ten: Maryland Terrapins

Is there anything better than Big Ten football in the fall?

We think not, which is why we're dreaming of our ultimate Big Ten road trip in 2015. In case you've missed the previous installments, we've been giving our picks for which game we would attend each week if money and editorial decisions were no object. We can each pick only one game per week.

Time to look at Week 8:

Saturday, Oct. 24

Wisconsin at Illinois
Penn State vs. Maryland
Indiana at Michigan State
Northwestern at Nebraska
Ohio State at Rutgers

Byes: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota Purdue

Austin Ward's pick: Northwestern at Nebraska

By this point there should already be an understanding of where these programs stack up in the West Division, and there probably won’t be huge stakes in the race unless the Wildcats have truly recovered from their recent rough patches and found some consistency on offense. But if the Huskers are going to be a factor, this is a matchup at home it can’t afford to overlook. And for Pat Fitzgerald, taking his team into a tough place to win and pulling out a victory would have value not only in climbing back up in the standings and potentially into the postseason again, but it might have a long-term impact establishing the Wildcats as a threat again.

Mitch Sherman's pick: Ohio State at Rutgers

I’m off the High Points Solutions Stadium, because it’s the closest Ezekiel Elliott or any of Ohio State quarterbacks will get to New York City until December. Maybe Urban Meyer can steer the team bus through Times Square to offer extra motivation for the Buckeyes’ Heisman candidates. Really, this is not a great week of matchups in the Big Ten, and OSU squashed Rutgers 56-17 a year ago. I’m not expecting a compelling game, but I want to see the atmosphere for this in Piscataway, and I’m wondering if Rutgers cast of running backs can penetrate the Ohio State defense. Probably not, but hey, a stopover in New York beckons.

Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State vs. Maryland

"Let the rivalry begin." Those were Randy Edsall's words when Maryland pulled off the historic win in State College last year. Don't think Penn State has forgotten that -- or that the Terps refused to shake hands before the game. This might just be turning into a heated new rivalry in the Big Ten, and with this game being in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, I'd expect some Nittany Lions fans to make it closer to a neutral site. Save me a crab cake, and I'll see you there.

Josh Moyer's pick: Penn State vs. Maryland

Our choices are thin in Week 8, so I'm going with a matchup that could wind up blossoming into a nice rivalry. Call it what you will right now, but this game is sure to be an interesting one after last season's no-handshake escapade (and don't forget about the pregame scuffle either). The Nittany Lions tried to downplay how they felt after the Terps' 20-19 win, but it's clear they weren't fans of the move. Outside of the theatrics, this could be another close contest -- or at least has less blowout potential than the other games.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami
Week 4: Bennett and Ward at Maryland-West Virginia, Sherman and Moyer at BYU-Michigan
Week 5: Unanimous: Iowa at Wisconsin
Week 6: Unanimous: Nebraska at Wisconsin
Week 7: Moyer and Ward at Penn State-Ohio State, Murphy at Michigan State-Michigan, Sherman at Nebraska-Minnesota

Big Ten morning links

March, 25, 2015
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Urban Meyer makes news when he thinks about the quarterback decision that he faces before next season. He actually talked about it Tuesday.

Meyer said the dilemma has started to "eat away" at him.

In this report by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, Meyer praised the Ohio State quarterbacks for their positive attitude in spring practice, specifically mentioning a compliment offered by Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones. Miller and J.T. Barrett talked a little football at practice, he said.

These are insignificant details, though they remain fascinating in the context of the OSU QB race, especially when offered by Meyer. The battle won't actually hit its stride until August of course, when all three accomplished players presumably will enter preseason camp in good health.

Meyer said Tuesday that he was moved to feel this way about the quarterbacks because he has "such great respect for all three guys."

He also offered a dose of reality. "The negative: Two people are going to have to watch."

This storyline has already taken on a life of its own. It's in danger of spinning out of control at some point before August, at least in the uncontrolled environment away from the Ohio State campus. Twelve practices remain for the Buckeyes this spring -- more time for the media and fans to anticipate and overanalyze every minor twist.

And if Meyer is already feeling a burden now, imagine how he'll feel in August.

Let's get to the links:

Transport. Motorways and tramlines. Starting and stopping. Taking off and landing.

We're willing to do whatever it takes to see the best Big Ten games of the year, and we know we won't be let down. This is our ultimate 2015 Big Ten road trip, the games we'd pick to attend each week if travel and editorial decisions were no issue. Our only limit is we can only pick one game per week.

Moving on to Week 4:

Saturday, Sept. 26

Indiana at Wake Forest
Kansas at Rutgers
Maryland at West Virginia
Middle Tennessee at Illinois
North Texas at Iowa
BYU at Michigan
Central Michigan at Michigan State
Ohio at Minnesota
Southern Miss at Nebraska
Ball State at Northwestern
Western Michigan at Ohio State
San Diego State at Penn State
Bowling Green at Purdue
Hawaii at Wisconsin

Brian Bennett's pick: Maryland at West Virginia

The good news about the 2015 season is there's no more double bye, so we have full slates of games every week for the first four weeks of the season. But they can't all be beautiful weeks. Outside of a couple of games, these are all blah matchups (when two of your three games versus Power 5 opponents involve Kansas and Wake Forest, that says it all). So I'm going to go with the Terrapins and Mountaineers, in the lone game that could be considered any kind of rivalry. Last year's game was a blast, and as a veteran of many trips to Morgantown, I know the venue will provide adequate color. Mostly, I'm just biding time until conference play here.

Austin Ward's pick: Maryland at West Virginia

Chances are the Terrapins and Mountaineers won’t be able to duplicate all the excitement of last year’s under-the-radar thriller, but if they even come close this figures to be the highlight of an otherwise drab looking weekend in the Big Ten. The shootout at Byrd Stadium last season produced 77 points, more than 1,100 yards of offense and was only settled by walk-off field goal by West Virginia, and the shot at revenge for Maryland might even add a little extra intrigue this time.

Mitch Sherman’s pick: BYU at Michigan

As excited as I am -- hey, it’s March -- for the rematch of that shootout in College Park last year between the Terps and Mountaineers, I’m more excited about Jim Harbaugh. Not necessarily Michigan, but definitely Harbaugh. And the way I see it, a lot rides on this game. I expect Michigan to split with Pac-12 foes Oregon State and Utah and beat UNLV. So to enter Big Ten play, U-M needs to beat the Cougars to avoid a 2-2 start. If they’re 3-1 and riding a wave of energy, Harbaugh has a shot to cook up something special -- especially with a winnable pair of league games to follow.

Josh Moyer's pick: BYU at Michigan

Call it the Harbaugh Effect. Quite frankly, with all the excitement he's generated in Ann Arbor, I'd just love to see the Wolverines take on a decent opponent early in the season. This matchup is especially interesting because BYU's weakness this season should be its pass defense, and I want to see if U-M can lean more on its passing offense. Plus, I was at the Baylor-West Virginia game in Morgantown just last season -- so been there, done that.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami

Big Ten morning links

March, 19, 2015
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Here in the throes of March Madness, football takes a temporary backseat, especially for the Big Ten schools involved in the NCAA tournament.

(In 30 seconds, name the league’s seven men’s basketball teams vying for the big prize. Scroll down for the answer.)

They’re still talking football in Iowa, even as the state’s three basketball programs compete in the tournament. The cost of football recruiting, to be more exact.

The Des Moines Register examined recruiting costs associated with campus visits and coaches’ travel, finding that Iowa nearly doubled its spending over a five-year period that ended in 2013. The 98.7-percent increase ranked second in the Big Ten to Penn State over that same time.

Interestingly, the Hawkeyes still trailed rival Iowa State by more than $100,000 on recruiting expenditures in 2013, and spent 35 percent less than ISU over the five years.

Of the spending increase, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the Register: "It’s really a national trend. I think everybody’s being a little more aggressive than they used to be."

It’s a good sign for Iowa that it’s trying to keep pace. The Hawkeyes and Ferentz, entering his 17th season, are too often slow to adjust at times. Over the five years of gathered data, Iowa ranks 10th in the Big Ten in total spending on recruiting.

To reverse its current trajectory on the field, Iowa would be well served to rank higher than 10th over the next five years.

Here’s the full list of schools nationally, as compiled by USA Today. Just wondering, but how did Auburn spend nearly $1.4 million on recruiting in 2013 when more than 80 percent of its signees in 2013 and 2014 lived within the SEC footprint?

A final aside on recruiting expenses: Though they offer an excellent window into these programs, be careful about comparisons.

Air travel, the most significant recruiting expense, is classified by programs in different ways. Some schools own planes, jetting coaches from coast to coast; others receive donated private air time; others rely solely on commercial travel.

And here is your answer to the above question: Ohio State and Purdue play Thursday. Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, and Wisconsin take the court Friday. Enjoy the basketball.

Let's go around the rest of the league:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Historically, the Big Ten hasn’t been a great passing conference.

How bad has it been? Well, when it comes to producing 2,500-yard passers, we crunched the numbers and found that no Power 5 conference has had fewer -- either in 2014 or over the past five seasons -- than the ground-and-pound conference.

Over the past five years, there has been a wide gulf between the B1G and everybody else. Even when you take all the B1G realignment into account, a B1G team produces a 2,500-yard quarterback at less than a 40 percent clip. Compare that to the Pac-12 (68.3 percent) or even the SEC (48.6 percent), and it’s not too pretty.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg leads a group of Big Ten QBs expected to surpass 2,500 passing yards in 2015.

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Big Ten. This season should put an end -- at least temporarily -- to those poor passing numbers. Three returning Big Ten signal-callers reached the milestone last season and are near-locks to surpass 2,500 yards again: Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong.

Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett also surpassed 2,500 yards in 2014, although there is no telling what his numbers might be with a crowded race under center. Still, boasting three NFL-caliber quarterbacks on the same roster should merit some extra credit.

On top of those four returners, healthy quarterbacks like Nate Sudfeld and Wes Lunt have great opportunities for 2,500 yards, and Iowa was just 64 yards shy last season after C.J. Beathard split time with Jake Rudock. With Rudock seeking a transfer, that passing mark seems more attainable this season. Maryland also would have achieved the feat last season if C.J. Brown had remained healthy, so Caleb Rowe could very well end the Terps’ seven-year drought this season.

Other teams need to settle on their quarterbacks first. And no one is expecting Wisconsin or Minnesota to become pass-first teams overnight. But trends like this tend to happen in cycles, and it looks as if the Big Ten is finally on an upswing in 2015.

It’s basically the opposite message from last week, with the 1,000-yard rushing club. The Big Ten had a great 2014, and it likely won’t equal that rushing performance again in 2015. With passing, it saw only five of 14 starting quarterbacks surpass 2,500 yards last season -- again, the worst among the Power 5, by far -- but it would be a huge surprise if it didn’t improve upon that number.

Now, our most recent chart doesn’t necessarily measure passing success. Two- and three-quarterback systems, signal-caller battles and injured players tend to blur those numbers, but this should be a memorable year for the B1G through the air. If Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern or Rutgers can settle on a starter and get off to a quick start, it could be even better.

Big Ten morning links

March, 16, 2015
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Even with every NFL team represented at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, there was a noticeable lack of fanfare as Ohio State showcased its seniors for scouts, coaches and general mangers on its pro day.

Clearly the Buckeyes must be saving it up for what promises to be a circus at this time next year.

There were a couple guys making a final push to try to sneak into the first round. Wide receiver Devin Smith drew ample attention during his positional workout as teams weigh their options with one of the most successful collegiate deep threats in recent memory. But for the most part, Friday inadvertently served as just one more reminder of how much talent Ohio State has returning to defend the national title. The buzz is already building for what figures to be a more meaningful pro day in terms of shaping the early rounds of the the 2016 NFL draft.

There will probably be a couple quarterbacks to evaluate. Ohio State will have a pair of multi-year starters on the offensive line working out, plus a couple defenders with three years of first-team experience. But the real show could be put on by a handful of blue-chip prospects who could be foregoing their final year of eligibility, with defensive end Joey Bosa, running back Ezekiel Elliott, wide receiver Michael Thomas and safety Vonn Bell all looking like potential options to jump to the next level at this early stage.

The collection of talent Urban Meyer has recruited for the Buckeyes since taking over the program is staggering, though NFL teams are still going to have to wait a little longer to get their hands on most of it. And while Ohio State has long been a pipeline for the pros, the floodgates might really open up next season with one more year to develop for the core of last year's title team.

The roles Smith, defensive tackle Michael Bennett, cornerback Doran Grant and tight end Jeff Heuerman played for the Buckeyes obviously shouldn't be overlooked, and all of them have the tools to be valuable assets at the next level even if they don't have their names called early in the draft. But it seems pretty clear that some of the most coveted Buckeyes were just watching the festivities from the sideline on Friday, and their chance to show what they can do next year is going to draw a crowd that just might test the capacity of the practice facility.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten

Big Ten morning links

March, 12, 2015
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Gary Nova is fast?

The former four-year starting quarterback at Rutgers ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds Wednesday at pro day in Piscataway, part of an overall solid performance before scouts from every NFL team.

Nova gained 141 rushing yards as a senior and lost 146. He was sacked 69 times in his career and was rarely known as a threat to escape the pocket.

Apparently, though, he can run. Nova clocked a 4.65 in his second shot at the 40. His best mark Wednesday would have ranked fourth among quarterbacks -- behind Marcus Mariota, Nick Marshall and Blake Sims -- at the NFL combine last month.

Nova was not among 15 quarterbacks invited to the combine after he threw for 9,258 yards and 73 touchdowns at Rutgers over four seasons. He measured 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds at pro day.

Mentored by former NFL QB Jay Fiedler, Nova is viewed as a likely free-agent signing after the draft. Clearly, if he makes a roster, Nova -- who turns 22 the week of the draft -- won't be asked to showcase that 4.6 speed at the next level.

Perhaps the knowledge that he's more athletic and mobile than his time at Rutgers indicated, though, will convince more organizations to give him consideration. It can't hurt.

David Jones of PennLive.com offered a thought-provoking comparison this week between Penn State football and Syracuse basketball, recently hit with sanctions by the NCAA for widespread violations.

Both programs achieved huge success under iconic coaches and built brands known nationally.

While it may not be the case for a variety of reasons at Syracuse, Jones suggests that PSU was well equipped to weather its sanctions because of the Nittany Lions’ reputation as a football power.

He writes:
Even though the Sunbelt has transcended this area as the nation's talent honeypot, gifted athletes and players across the country know the brand name. They know it as a place where you can play with other great talents which means everything in this age of herding.

It takes a lot to undo that name recognition and resultant power. Even the Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno's dismissal and NCAA sanctions could not unplug Penn State's cachet.

So the next question: Are some brands in college athletics too big to fail? It’s a sobering thought, but one worth considering as the powerful programs gain even more power in this era of autonomy.

We hit the final installment of the Omaha World-Herald's four-part series on Mike Riley Wednesday in the links with this story on the influence of the new Nebraska coach on the career of Paul Chryst.

The earlier articles, also worth a look, documented Riley's courtship at the college and pro levels of Tom Brady and the how the rise of Oregon’s money-driven powerhouse cast a shadow over Riley at Oregon State, playing a role in his departure.

Dirk Chatelain's anchor piece, which details Riley’s upbringing and his long path to Lincoln, is a must-read for those interested in learning more about the man in charge at Nebraska.

Riley’s hire in December stunned many observers, primarily those who knew little about the 61-year-old coach. Now, the more Nebraskans learn about Riley -- and nothing published in the past three months revealed more than a small fraction of the detail offered in this series -- the more this move makes sense.

On to the rest of the links:
Mayland's newest addition to its coaching staff should have an easier transition despite starting in the middle of spring practice thanks to his talented starting cornerbacks.

Darrell Perkins jumped into the mix at Maryland this week after head coach Randy Edsall officially announced Perkins was joining the staff on Monday. The former Old Dominion assistant inherits a group that coordinator Keith Dudzinski considers to be the strongest link of his defense. Their reputation has a lot to do with returning starters Will Likely and Sean Davis.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Likely
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesWilliam Likely shared the Big Ten lead in interceptions last season with six.
Likely proved to be a dynamic playmaker on defense and special teams, scoring four touchdowns and making six interceptions during his sophomore season. Davis led all Big Ten defensive backs with 115 tackles. He played most of the year at safety before injuries forced him outside to cornerback. Davis is sticking with cornerback this spring and plans to spend his senior year on the edge of the defense.

“I feel like we get to add some more strength out there at corner,” Davis said after a practice Wednesday morning. “We’ll be able to blitz more and play a hard corner. I’ll be there for the run game and I’m still big and fast enough to run with the wideouts.”

The six-footer said he’s gained a few pounds to get up to 205 despite his move to a position that demands more speed than physicality. Going up against NFL hopefuls like Michigan’s Devin Funchess and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett last November gave Davis confidence that he can run with the league’s top receivers. He said he wants to improve his press coverage skills this spring to learn how to stuff a receiver at the line of scrimmage.

Having a pair of physical cornerbacks also allows the Terps to be more aggressive sending them into the backfield on blitzes. Edsall and former defensive coordinator Brian Stewart started to call blitzes for Davis and Likely more often late in the 2014 season. Davis hopes his new permanent home will create more opportunities to send pressure for himself and his teammates.

“I like coming up on some blitzes,” he said. “I’m a big corner who can play both safety and corner. I can be by myself and take on responsibility and play by myself with no over the top help. I love that.”

His first week at the new spot was spent in close contact with Edsall. Maryland and Stewart, who spent three years as the team’s defensive coordinator, parted ways in late February. Stewart landed on Mike Riley’s new staff in Nebraska. The Terps were left to scramble for a replacement. While he was looking for a new assistant, Edsall worked with the secondary himself.

Edsall coached defensive backs for more than a decade before taking his first head coaching job at UConn in 1999. Last week, he showed his players film of the Jacksonville Jaguars teams he coached for four seasons to give them a better look at the techniques he wanted to teach.

“It’s really cool,” Davis said. “I like Coach Edsall. He knows a lot. He coached in the league for four years. We’re watching film with his guys that he’s coached. It’s great stuff. It’s NFL defense and NFL techniques. I feel like we learned from one of the best.”

Edsall hands the reins to Perkins this week. The duo worked together at UConn the year before Edsall left for Maryland. Perkins stayed with the Huskies until last year when he spent a season at Old Dominion.

“Darrell is a great coach who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the defensive back position,” Edsall said in statement. “He is also an excellent teacher and will maximize the talent that we have in the secondary.”

With Likely and Davis, Perkins has plenty of talent to maximize in his first season with the Terps.

Big Ten morning links

March, 11, 2015
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The Big Ten men's basketball tournament begins today. Remember when one of these things didn't take five days to complete?

1. The defending national champions opened spring ball on Tuesday. While everybody was understandably talking about the quarterback "battle" on the first day -- it's not much of a battle right now, of course, with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller recovering from injuries -- that's more or less a sideshow.

Sure, it's going to be utterly fascinating to see whether Cardale Jones can hold off the previous starters for the job. In the long run, however, it won't matter if Jones, Barrett, Miller or even Stephen Collier or Stephen Colbert starts for the Buckeyes. Quarterback is really the least of Urban Meyer's concerns.

He doesn't actually have many on this loaded roster. Yet if there's anything that could hold back Ohio State from making a repeat trip to the College Football Playoff, it's the defensive line. That might sound funny, since we were singing the praises of that unit as a dominant one all last year. But the Buckeyes had very little depth on the line last year and lost senior All-America tackle Michael Bennett, as well as senior defensive end Steve Miller.

Incoming freshman defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, whom we'd tabbed as one of five instant impact signees in the Big Ten last month, may not be able to contribute at all this year because of a recent knee injury.

It's going to be extremely important that holdover players like Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis, Donovan Munger and Jalyn Holmes make a difference to keep this defensive line playing at a high level. And it's telling that none of them made much of a dent on the team last year even though Meyer isn't afraid to play rookies.

"I'm very disappointed in the young defensive linemen we brought in here," Meyer said, according to Cleveland.com. "Not with what kind of people they are, just with performance."

Spring practice is just beginning in Columbus and the pads haven't even come on, so there's no good way to tell yet if some of those players have made improvement. But watching for that will be more critical to Ohio State's 2015 prospects than whatever happens with the quarterbacks.

2. Student attendance is an issue for several Big Ten schools and one Adam Rittenberg addressed in the blog a year ago. Recently, Iowa and Michigan lowered prices on their student season tickets in part to lure students back in.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Marc Morehouse has a look at student ticket prices throughout the league and how Iowa compares. After Michigan's reduction, Ohio State tops the conference at $272 for student season tickets, while Penn State is second at $218. Supply and demand appear to be at work here, as those two schools have the largest and most energetic student sections in the Big Ten.

Six other schools have remaining ticket packages that top $100 for the season. Maybe I'm old (check that: I am really old) but I don't remember having that kind of extra spending money lying around when I was a college student. Maybe we shouldn't criticize student for not turning out at some of these places but applaud the ones who make the effort and pay the expense to do so. Just a thought.

Around the league:

Big Ten morning links

March, 10, 2015
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The experiment almost certainly won't lead to a permanent change, and there's a decent chance it might not even become a regular part of the offense.

But if nothing else, Jerry Kill and the rest of the Minnesota staff are offering a reminder that just because they're old-school coaches doesn't mean they won't mix in a little forward thinking as well.

Sure, a no-huddle system isn't frequently associated with a power rushing attack or quarterbacks taking snaps under center, two things the Golden Gophers aren't likely to be abandoning any time soon. But there's no harm in pushing the tempo during spring camp when there's no game plan to install, which at a minimum can test the offseason conditioning program and add some urgency on the practice field.

In the best-case scenario, Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover might just find something that clicks and expands the playbook for the Gophers, giving these test runs in March virtually no downside even if they never see the light of game day.

"It's not that we're going to do it exclusively, but it's hard to get it in at the last minute," Limegrover told reporters over the weekend. "What we want to do is build a foundation and get a good foundation of a lot of different things we can do. Coach [Kill] wanted to do it, wanted to work something a little bit different, so we did some visiting, did some research and felt like we came up with something that fits us.

"It's just in the infant stages."

If the no-huddle system is going to grow up and become something useful for the Gophers, it makes sense to install it in a lower-pressure situation and in time for the players to still work on it during summer workouts.

Minnesota has made pretty clear, though, that tweaking the tempo isn't the same thing as shifting to the spread. That sort of overhaul would require much more than 15 workouts in the spring, and the Gophers are still an offensive team best suited to leaning on what should be a deep backfield while potentially taking a step forward in the play-action passing game under still-developing quarterback Mitch Leidner.

But just in case they need to add another gear to the attack, there's no better time to tinker than now.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten
The results are in … and the Big Ten is tied as the top Power 5 conference when it comes to producing 1,000-yard rushers.

Surprised? Didn’t think so.

The numbers back up the obvious: No conference fared better here last season, as half the B1G teams finished with a rusher that topped the 1,000-yard mark. With a lineup consisting of Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah -- along with 2015 Heisman front-runner Ezekiel Elliott -- talent and depth weren’t issues on the ground in 2014.

The bigger surprise? The B1G didn’t run away with the honor, as the Pac-12 also saw half its teams end the season with a 1,000-yard rusher. The conference out west even had nine of its 12 schools boast a runner who reached the milestone last year or the year before – more than the Big Ten.

Now, the list is meant to be more for fun than projecting, but it goes without saying that rushing is important in the hard-nosed B1G. After all, only one of the last 13 conference winners didn’t have a rusher who hit the 1,000-yard mark -- the 2009 Buckeyes, who boasted three players with more than 600 rush yards. Historically, in the B1G, feature backs trump the committee approach.

So, can the Big Ten keep producing those workhorse runners? It will undoubtedly get a little harder this season, with all but two of its 1,000-yard players heading to the NFL. The Pac-12 could be poised to knock the B1G off its perch in 2015; it returns all but two of its 1,000-yard players.

The good news for the B1G is it should get a boost from a healthy Paul James, who could end a two-year drought at Rutgers. Michigan State also generally likes to stick with a featured back, and Wisconsin’s Corey Clement shouldn’t have a problem reaching quadruple digits. But Minnesota? Without David Cobb on the roster, it could wind up going with the running-back-by-committee approach. Ditto for Michigan.

And all bets are off with the bottom-three teams in this category. Maryland and Purdue haven’t had 1,000-yard rushers since 2008, and both running back situations are muddled right now. Illinois is in the midst of a four-season drought, and that likely won’t end as long as Josh Ferguson is averaging about 11 carries a game.

So, sure, the Big Ten is king now -- and producing 1,000-yard rushers has been important to the conference in the past. But that trend could very well take a dip, albeit temporarily, in 2015.

Big Ten morning links

March, 9, 2015
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Four B1G teams -- Rutgers, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State -- will host their pro days this week, and the conference could be in for quite a memorable NFL draft this year.

In his latest mock draft, Insider ESPN.com's Mel Kiper Jr. predicted that five Big Ten players would be selected in the first round. And he tweeted Friday afternoon that another three B1G players barely missed the cut:
Only once in the past seven seasons has the Big Ten had at least five players drafted in the first round (2011). And it hasn't had eight players selected since 2006, when Ohio State accounted for five.

So, as long as everything goes as planned at these pro days, fans shouldn't have to wait long to hear B1G players' names called on draft day. Although, sadly, fans will have to wait a while for the actual draft -- which takes place April 30 to May 2 in Chicago.

Now on to the links ...

Big Ten morning links

March, 6, 2015
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The well-documented Melvin Gordon-Ameer Abdullah rivalry, which pre-dates their years in college, was effectively extinguished on Nov. 15.

Remember that day?

Nebraska players and their fans prefer to forget it. Gordon rushed for 408 yards, then an FBS record, as Wisconsin stomped the Cornhuskers 59-24. That performance propelled him to a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting

On one good leg on that snowy afternoon in Madison, Abdullah mustered 69 yards on the ground in a performance representative of the anticlimactic finish to his record-setting career.

They met again at the NFL combine last month in Indianapolis, where both backs performed well enough to claim victory. The bigger Gordon ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.52 to 4.60), though Abdullah walked away with the best marks among an accomplished group at their position in the vertical leap, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.

Abdullah appeared to improve his 40 time -- pending official results -- Thursday at Nebraska’s pro day.

When it was over, Abdullah, typically reserved, did not mince words. He said he believes he’s the best running back in this draft class. Gordon included.

“I’m not real worried about Melvin,” Abdullah said. “He has his own agenda. I have my own agenda.”

But Abdullah, training this spring in Dallas, said more.

“I don’t know what he’s doing," Abdullah said. "He doesn’t know what I’m doing. Obviously, we want to compete, but it’s more of a mental edge than anything. When you’re working and you’re tired, I say, ‘Well, Melvin’s still working harder than me, so I’ve gotta go harder.’”

Clearly they remain linked, a salivating thought for fans of Big Ten football, anxious to watch continued competition between the talented duo play out on a new stage.

Analysts rate Gordon as the better prospect, and how can you argue with 2,587 yards -- a career figure for many that Gordon accumulated in merely 13 games last fall?

But here’s what I know about Abdullah: He’s at his most dangerous as an underdog.

The large chip on his shoulder that Abdullah carried to Nebraska out of high school in Alabama, where SEC schools declined to recruit him as a running back, fueled his journey to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Huskers history.

The chip is back. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard Abdullah speak with more conviction than Thursday after his workout.

“Whatever team that takes me,” Abdullah said, “I’m going to be in shape and ready to go when I get there.”

Whether he knows it or not, Gordon is providing a bit of fuel for Abdullah’s drive toward the draft.

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If you’ve got sprinters, the way Keith Dudzinski sees it, you might as well start them in a sprinter’s stance.

[+] EnlargeYannick Ngakoue
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesYannick Ngakoue started 11 games at linebacker for the Terps in 2014.
 Dudzinski’s first order of business as Maryland’s newly-promoted defensive coordinator is to shift his unit from a 3-4 scheme to a four-man front. The extra body on the line of scrimmage is designed to help the Terps do a better job against the run and to get the most out of some of their rising stars on that side of the ball.

“We made some changes, and there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve,” Dudzinski said following first practice of the spring season Wednesday morning. “We decided from a personnel standpoint we thought we were better suited for having a 4-3.”

This spring, Maryland has to replace the majority of its defensive line, including nose guard Darius Kilgo, and three of its four starters at linebacker, a group headlined by prolific tackler Cole Farrand in the middle. The top candidates to fill those playmaking gaps are junior Yannick Ngakoue and sophomore Jesse Aniebonam.

Both former Metro-area prep studs played as outside linebackers in the 3-4 defense, but they will bump down to the line moving forward. They both check in at roughly 250 pounds, on the small side for defensive ends, but have the quickness and speed to thrive in a scheme that is built for linemen to take away space rather than just occupy it.

Aniebonam made 14 tackles while playing in every game of his rookie season. Ngakoue started 11 games at linebacker and is the team’s top returner in sacks (6) and tackles for loss (13.5). His first few steps were an asset for the Terps last year and are expected to get faster when he starts with a hand on the ground.

“If you’re going to run a 40-yard dash, you’re better to go from a three-point stance than a two-point stance,” Dudzinski said. “He’s a guy that can get off the ball and hopefully create some havoc in the backfield.”

The former linebackers coach said he was happy with the way his defense attacked their first day of practice. A few players will need time to learn the techniques required for their new positions, and the entire team will spend spring practice ironing out the new calls and methods of communication.

“I’m basically just trying to learn the defense right now and get used to it,” Ngakoue told the Washington Post. “I really just want to focus on my hand placement, my aggressiveness, also just my first step getting off the ball. It’s definitely different.”

Maryland’s staff plans on flooding the defense with as much information during its first five sessions in March before the team takes a week off for spring break. When the players return, the defense will go into review-and-retain mode in hopes of creating a good foundation of its new look heading into the summer months.

“It’s just getting guys used to play different techniques than what they played before,” said head coach Randy Edsall, who spent most of the first practice focused on the defense. “We’re going to have a core group of fronts, coverages, stunts and blitzes that we’re going to hang our hat on. We’re going to perfect those for the 15 practices. It’ll come together a little bit more and more each and every day.”

Along with putting some of its players in better positions, Edsall and Dudzinski think the new front will help Maryland stack up more consistently with Big Ten rushing attacks. Maryland allowed 201 rushing yards per game during its first year in the conference in 2014. Rough outings against Wisconsin (311 yards and five touchdowns), Michigan (292 yards) and Michigan State (242 yards and three touchdowns) dropped them to 12th out of 14 in the league’s rushing defense category.

Edsall said the team changed its approach to the weight room this winter to help adjust to the differences between the ACC and the Big Ten. He hopes the new defense will be able to take full advantage of a thicker, albeit younger and significantly less experienced, roster in the Terps’ second time through the conference.

“You see a lot of good things that we did, and you see things that you say, ‘OK here’s things that we gotta do a little bit differently,” Edsall said. “You’ve got to tweak to make us better and to help us get to the level we want to get to. That’s what we did really in every facet of our program.”

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Cost-of-attendance stipends were one of the first major reforms Power 5 conferences pushed through the NCAA as a result of autonomy. Pretty much everybody agreed that closing the gap between what a scholarship pays for and the actual cost of going to a university -- including things like living expenses -- was a smart way to give some assistance to players.

But like so many other issues in college sports, those stipends may also carry unintended consequences. Because the amount each school offers can be very different, some people are afraid it will become a recruiting incentive.

PennLive.com's David Jones covered this situation well on Tuesday. Based on current cost-of-attendance data, as determined by university financial aid departments, Penn State will offer the highest cost-of-attendance stipend in the Big Ten when it goes into effect next school year, at $4,788 per year per athlete. The next highest would be Wisconsin at $4,265.

Compare that to Michigan State, which would offer $1,872 per year, or Michigan at $2,054. OK, you might say, that's only a difference of about $2,000 or $3,000, so why would a recruit choose a school based on that? But add that figure up over the four or five years of a player's career, and you're talking about a difference of maybe $15,000. That's not exactly peanuts.

Some coaches are worried about how this is all going to play out.

"To me, it's going to get into being like free agency in college," Maryland coach Randy Edsall told me on signing day. "What we've heard is that some schools might have a cost of attendance of up to $6,000. Now, will kids opt to go where they can get more money? Have we opened up a can of worms, where now it becomes, 'How much money can I get at this school, compared to the other one?'"

The stipends haven't gone into effect yet and are still so new that it's hard to say for sure what will happen. But Penn State's James Franklin, who looks for every edge he can find in recruiting, has said he would use cost of attendance as a selling point.

"I know people were already selling that this year," Edsall said. "It's going to be bigger as we move forward."

The disparity in the stipend amounts isn't going to change, because those numbers are based on individual schools' tuition costs and other factors. Power 5 conference leaders have always known that the figures would vary from program to program.

But were they actually ready for this measure -- however well-intentioned -- to become a recruiting tool? We'll probably find out the first time a team loses a player who chose to go with a rival because of its higher stipend. Just another reminder that almost every change in college sports leads to another issue.

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