Big Ten: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan’s cornerbacks will be operating in close quarters this season. The Wolverines want to play a more aggressive defensive scheme in 2015, which means more press coverage in the secondary.

Lining up facemask-to-facemask with opposing wide receivers was common in coordinator D.J. Durkin’s schemes when he was running Florida’s defense the past two seasons. Michigan dabbled in tight coverage in the recent past, but never fully committed to playing that way. This year’s team, says cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich, will make it a fundamental part of what they do. That might come with a few growing pains.

“That’s coach Durkin’s defense,” Zordich said. “We’re totally 100 percent committed. We just have to find the guys that can catch on the fastest and handle the technique the best. … It’s a lot of work. It’s new, a total concept for the defense for these guys that haven’t played it.”

[+] EnlargeD.J. Durkin
AP Photo/Butch DillD.J. Durkin's defense at Florida was built around press man coverage.

The new technique might be a challenge for players who have grown used to operating with a larger cushion during the past few years at Michigan, but they’re excited about the opportunity to do something different. Fifth-year senior Blake Countess said he’s slowly improving his footwork and learning to get his hands on opposing receivers at the line of scrimmage.

“It’s a more aggressive scheme, so we’re definitely going to be pressing,” he said. “We’re going to be up in receivers’ faces. It’s going to be fun.”

Countess is one of three cornerbacks who have separated themselves on the initial depth chart as spring practice winds to a close. Zordich praised Countess’ work ethic. He said returning starter Jourdan Lewis is the most natural press corner on the roster and junior Channing Stribling’s 6-foot-2 frame makes him a strong candidate for playing time as well.

Zordich is open to rotating as many as four or five cornerbacks onto the field on game days as long as the coaching staff believes they can trust all of them equally. The rest of the group in Ann Arbor still has work to do to reach that point, but reinforcements are on the way.

“They’ve been told. The room has been told that there are going to be three guys coming into this secondary,” Zordich said. “They know their backs are against the wall, and we’ve got to see how they handle it.”

Former Stanford starter Wayne Lyons is expected to be on campus this summer and to spend his final year of eligibility with the Wolverines. His 41 games of experience in the Pac-12 should be an immediate boost to Michigan’s depth in the defensive backfield. Freshmen Keith Washington and Tyree Kinnel will also have a chance to compete for spots among the cornerbacks.

Their progress will be monitored by Zordich and safeties coach Greg Jackson, who so far have split the defensive backfield responsibilities equally. In meetings, Zordich takes the cornerbacks and Jackson takes the safeties. At practice, each coach watches half of the field and directs both positions to make sure the unit is working together.

Zordich said the somewhat unorthodox arrangement has worked out well for the first full month of practice. Zordich and Jackson played on the same Philadelphia Eagles defense for two seasons in the 1990s, which he said made it easy to get used to coaching together.

“When I first walked in here and saw him, it was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy,’” Zordich said. “It absolutely helps. Greg and I were both very headsy players – lining people up, directing traffic, telling people where to go. Then to play two years together on a really successful defense, yeah, I think it helps, absolutely.”

Together they are responsible for getting as many cornerbacks as possible ready to play in a new, tougher, riskier defense than in the recent past at Michigan.

We've reached the height of March Madness as another week nears an end, which begs this question: How to best incorporate basketball into the weekly #B1GFridayFive? A wise editor suggested that we scour the Big Ten football rosters for players we'd like to see lace up the sneakers.

This is, by no means, an all-inclusive list. We want your input. Who plays football in the Big Ten but would make a formidable power forward or point guard? Let us know, and use the hashtag #B1GFridayFive. Here are our selections, listed alphabetically:


Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

Shilique CalhounTim Heitman/USA TODAY Sports 


Really, this choice is all about our desire to see what happens to a poor defender intent to draw a charge on the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Calhoun as he barrels downcourt toward the goal. The two-time All-Big Ten lineman, one of the nation’s most ferocious pass rushers, earned his reputation as a powerful dunker on the hardwood in the New Jersey high school ranks. He received offers in basketball from the likes of Wagner, Monmouth and Lehigh and averaged 17.5 points and 10 rebounds as a senior in 2010-11 at Middletown South. At the Buc Holiday Classic in January 2011, Calhoun was named MVP for his three-game performance, capped by a 38-point outburst in the championship.


Michigan QB Zach Gentry

Zach GentryMax Olson/ESPN


This list needs a quarterback, and we couldn’t find a better option than Michigan's recently signed freshman, who will join the Wolverines this summer. Gentry, arguably the best New Mexico prep quarterback ever, was nearly as good in basketball. He earned all-state honors as a junior at Albuquerque’s Eldorado High School, averaging 19.6 points and 10 rebounds. Even at 6-7, Gentry is an athlete. He rushed for 220 yards in a game last season. Gentry did not play basketball as a senior because of his football plans. He turned down Alabama, among others, to pick Texas last year. But when Jim Harbaugh came calling, Gentry reconsidered, committing to Michigan at, yes, a January basketball game in Ann Arbor.


Purdue DE Gelen Robinson

Gelen RobinsonAP Photo/Michael Conroy 


Maybe this is a stretch. Robinson, admittedly, is not a good basketball player. But come on, his dad, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson won the Naismith and Wooden awards at Purdue in 1994, averaging more than 30 points per game as a junior. Glenn was the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft and scored more than 20 points per game over 11 seasons. Gelen’s older brother, Glenn Robinson III, plays for the Philadelphia 76ers after a career at Michigan. And Gelen, expected to contend for a starting spot on the defensive line in 2015 after collecting 20 tackles as a true freshman, wears his dad’s No. 13 at Purdue. Gelen also competes in wrestling and throws the shot put at Purdue. He can take on another sport, right?


Ohio State DT Adolphus Washington

Adolphus WashingtonEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports 


Washington is a legitimate basketball talent. He was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Ohio as a senior at Cincinnati’s Taft High School after averaging 23.1 points and 14.3 rebounds per game. He led the school to the state’s final four and earned a scholarship offer for basketball from Xavier. Washington got serious about football early in his high school career after Cincinnati was the first to offer. Last year, Washington came into his own on the Ohio State line, notching 4.5 sacks. At 6-4, he would surrender several inches in the post, but we’d like to see the 295-pounder battle in the Big Ten paint.


Minnesota TE Nate Wozniak

Nate WozniakAP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack 


How did this happen -- a 6-foot-10 kid from Indiana with soft hands and good feet who gave up basketball? There's no doubt that Wozniak gets mistaken regularly around the Twin Cities for a member of Richard Pitino’s basketball team. He quit the sport, according to reports at the time of his 2013 football commitment to the Golden Gophers, before his senior year of high school to focus on his work as a tight end. Yes, he is the tallest player in the Big Ten, playing behind star Maxx Williams in 2014 as a redshirt freshman. At 267 pounds, Wozniak could eat space and block shots in basketball, if nothing else. Alas, it’s not going to happen.

As the NCAA tournament moves to its next round Thursday, so does our Big Ten bracket challenge. This is your opportunity to sound off on the best game settings in the league. Here in March, those autumn afternoons remain a distant dream. But it won’t stop us from wishing for tailgates and touchdowns.

The results are in from the first round. Eight teams remain alive, and it's about to get heated in the quarterfinals with two storied programs battling head-to-head. Kudos to Purdue for what was either voting irregularity or the largest international fanbase in the league, but the commissions met and it was unanimous that Nebraska was moving on anyway to face Michigan. The polls close Monday at 4 p.m.

No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan

Tournament résumés:

SportsNation

Which game day setting is better?

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Discuss (Total votes: 9,443)

Nebraska: The game-day experience starts Friday evening at Misty’s, where local and opposing fans gather to hear the Nebraska marching band, eat prime rib and put down a few beverages. That hospitality continues straight through to the final buzzer, when Husker fans are known to stand and applaud the visiting team, win or lose. Before then, pregame festivities reach a climax during the Husker Power chant as the team prepares for its traditional Tunnel Walk, which is as hair-raising an experience as any Big Ten team has when taking the field. Don’t forget to pack your red balloons. Fans release them in the stadium after Nebraska’s first score in each game.

Michigan: The Big House is massive and claims to have hosted more than 100,000 spectators in every Michigan home game since Nov. 8, 1975. The maize-colored crowd can get the low-slung bowl rocking when the Wolverines are rolling, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Critics say the stadium is too quiet for its population, but there are few atmospheres more charged than a night game at Michigan. Late starts will come more frequently in the future. Before the game, the university's nearby golf course fills up with tailgaters, downtown Ann Arbor offers some must-eat restaurants within reasonable walking distance to the stadium, and the front lawns on State Street overflow with students ready to party. Michigan Stadium may have fallen behind its neighbor in Ohio in sheer numbers, but the winningest tradition in college football still knows how to do it in style.

Spring is here, but we can't stop daydreaming about the fall.

So we've been putting together our ultimate Big Ten road trip for the 2015 season. 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.

It's time for Week 9, which falls on Halloween. Don't be skurred:

Saturday, Oct. 31

Maryland at Iowa
Michigan at Minnesota
Illinois at Penn State
Nebraska at Purdue
Rutgers at Wisconsin

Byes: Indiana, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State

Brian Bennett's pick: Michigan at Minnesota

The Little Brown Jug game had become so one-sided that it had lost all its luster ... that is, until Minnesota went into the Big House last year and smacked the Wolverines around. All of a sudden, that jug might be a bit more important to the Maize and Blue this year. A long dormant rivalry renewed, perhaps? With no other high-profile games this weekend, save me a Surly and fly me to Minneapolis.

Dan Murphy's pick: Rutgers at Wisconsin

The Badgers’ home schedule is a little soft in 2015. The teams visiting Wisconsin went a combined 32-55 last year, and Rutgers (8-5) had the best record of the bunch. The matchup between Corey Clement and Paul James, if he stays healthy, could wind up being one of the best running back battles in the conference this season. Plus, it’s Halloween in Madison, which I hear is a pretty good time. The people-watching will be entertaining even if the game is another 37-0 blowout like the 2014 version.

Josh Moyer's pick: Michigan at Minnesota

Grab me a dilly bar and some thermals, because I'm off to Minneapolis this week. The Gophers haven't beaten Michigan in back-to-back seasons since 1962-63, so this weekend's a chance to see Jerry Kill rewrite history. On top of that, I'd get an up-close look at the Little Brown Jug and a bird's-eye view of the Michigan coach who's everywhere. Easy decision.

Mitch Sherman's pick: Michigan at Minnesota
Sign me up for Halloween in Minneapolis. Might we see a few Brady Hoke masks from the Minnesota fans, hoping to scare the Wolverines into a repeat performance from a year ago in Ann Arbor, when the Gophers rolled Michigan 30-14? That game delivered a sobering dose of reality in Michigan’s Big Ten opener. In its first return to Minnesota since a 35-13 win in 2012, Michigan gets the Gophers much deeper in the season this year. And by late October, coming off an open date after hosting Michigan State, it will be interesting to gauge the psyche of the Wolverines. Are they still riding the wave of Jim Harbaugh energy? The Halloween game rates with a trip to Penn State as their toughest away from home in the Big Ten.

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
Week 8: Bennett and Moyer at Penn State vs. Maryland, Sherman at Ohio State-Rutgers, Ward at Northwestern-Nebraska

How do Big Ten teams combat their geographic disadvantages in recruiting, when many of the best players are in different regions? One of the answers is increasingly becoming satellite camps.

Penn State's James Franklin is the George Washington of this particular idea in the Big Ten. He ruffled some feathers in the South last year when he and some assistants participated in camps at Stetson (Florida) and Georgia State as guest coaches. That got the Nittany Lions exposure and face-to-face contact with prospects in some of the hottest recruiting hotbeds.

Nebraska's new staff under Mike Riley used to do the same type of things when it was at Oregon State, located far away from many prospect pipelines. The Huskers are already planning on adopting the satellite camp idea this summer, most likely in Texas, California, Georgia and Florida.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Michigan is jumping into that game as well under new coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Wolverines have booked two guest-coaching spots in June so far, in Alabama and in Texas. How excited do you think Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin will be to see Jim Harbaugh working camps in their states this summer?

The NCAA prohibits schools from holding camps more than 50 miles from their campus. But as long as the school isn't hosting the camp and its coaches are merely guests at a site, then everything is kosher.

Except, that is, in the SEC, which has a rule that forbids its coaches from working satellite camps. SEC coaches were upset about Franklin's foray last year, and the league made noise about changing the NCAA rule allowing for guest coaches. Boo hoo. Those guys have every other recruiting advantage in the world.

There's really no downside here at all for Big Ten teams entering this realm. It can be extremely helpful for a program like Nebraska, which struggles to get kids to Lincoln for official visits. Even Michigan has to recruit more nationally now because there is less talent in its state, and Harbaugh is going to turn over every stone. Ohio State might be the only Big Ten school that doesn't have to go the satellite camp route, because the Buckeyes have a wealth of talent in Ohio from which to draw and Urban Meyer's recruiting reach extends to pretty much anywhere he wants it to go. But you have to wonder if Meyer might look more seriously at the idea now that the team up North is working down South.

Numbers don't lie. There are simply more and better prospects in the South and in Texas. If you can't move your schools there, then the next best thing is to get as much face time and brand recognition as possible in those areas. The coaches and programs in those regions don't like the invasion, but there is no unfair practice involved here. It's just competition.

I love it. Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan have the right idea. Tell the rest of the league to load up the car. We're going (satellite) camping!

Dominating Florida is always critical for Florida State, but another secret to the Seminoles' success is doing well in Virginia, and highly-coveted corner Levonta Taylor could be the Noles' next big get from the state.

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:

By this point in our Big Ten ultimate road trip, we'd probably be tired of airplanes, hotel rooms and rental cars. But the football would push us through.

Of course, this in all likelihood won't be our actual 2015 itinerary. Still, we're picking the game each week on the fall schedule that we'd most like to attend, if things like money and time were no issue.

Here's Week 7:

Saturday, Oct. 17

Rutgers at Indiana
Michigan State at Michigan
Nebraska at Minnesota
Iowa at Northwestern
Penn State at Ohio State
Purdue at Wisconsin

Byes: Illinois, Maryland

Dan Murphy's pick: Michigan State at Michigan

No need to leave Ann Arbor this weekend, as the intensity of the Big Ten's best in-state rivalry will be cranked up thanks to the arrival of new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh -- who probably won't be issuing any apologies in the days following this game. "Little brother" has been pounding the Wolverines in recent years. Harbaugh, who is no stranger to beating up his big brother, gets his first crack at the Spartans at home. Michigan hasn't ruled out the possibility of scheduling this game as a rare prime-time kickoff, which would turn this enticing matchup into a can't-miss event.

Josh Moyer's pick: Penn State at Ohio State

The Nittany Lions nearly ended the Buckeyes' national title run last season, and you can bet they have been champing at the bit for a rematch. Putting aside the controversy last season, a lot could still be at stake in 2015. PSU has an easy schedule until it heads to the Shoe, and both teams have the potential to be undefeated heading into this. Regardless, one does not simply turn down a chance to visit a venue like Ohio Stadium. This was an easy decision.

Mitch Sherman: Nebraska at Minnesota

I'm going north to the Twin Cities as Minnesota attempts to make it three straight wins against Nebraska after going five decades without a victory in this series. The Gophers haven't been home in three weeks; the weather is turning. And Nebraska is, at best, coming down from an emotional high of the biggest home game of the season in Week 6 against the Badgers. This game presents the first chance also for the largely Oregon State-imported staff at Nebraska to match wits against a winning group of established coaches in the Big Ten. You can argue all day about the merits of the two leagues. Bottom line is, they are different beasts, especially as the season reaches its second half. Here arrives a chance for the revamped Huskers to show that they understand the new challenges.

Austin Ward's pick: Penn State at Ohio State

The strength of the East Division will be on full display with two matchups featuring the four marquee programs, but James Franklin’s first visit to the Horseshoe with Penn State should provide the most entertainment. The Nittany Lions nearly rode their stout defense and some raucous support from their fans to an upset at home last year before quarterback J.T. Barrett helped the Buckeyes escape in overtime, giving the national champs one of their stiffest tests of the season. Though Ohio State might be even deeper and more talented than a year ago, it will no doubt be getting Penn State’s best shot.

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

Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

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Big Ten morning links

March, 23, 2015
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Cardale Jones got fans talking Friday when he posted this photo on Instagram.

The picture? A photoshopped rendition of a black-and-red Ohio State uniform, something not yet in the Buckeyes' repertoire. "How Sick Would This Be," Jones wrote.

How Sick Would This Be

A photo posted by Cardale Jones (@cardale12_) on


A special uniform like that would be long (and somewhat) overdue for the Buckeyes. Rumors of a black alternate uniform circulated last season before Urban Meyer halted the fun by saying there were no such plans. Still, Meyer said he would be fine with it "somewhere down the road."

It's definitely pretty slick. But, for whatever reason, it just seems like black is a great choice for a uniform. (Just ask Iowa fans.) Twitter was aflutter just three months ago for a similar wardrobe change at Penn State. Defensive back Jordan Lucas and running back Akeel Lynch excited the fan base with this Photoshop, and James Franklin was eventually asked about the possibility. The answer? Possibly, but time moves slow on uniform changes.

Maybe we'll see something similar in The Horseshoe soon enough. Or maybe schools should open up some sort of concept contest to fans because there's been some cool-looking mock-ups floating around. (Hint, hint, Maryland.)

Now, on to the links ...

ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback K.J. Costello announced on Twitter that he will be making his commitment on March 26 at his high school. Costello is the No. 40-ranked prospect and one of the highest-ranked quarterbacks yet to make his commitment.

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Greg Mattison knew that if he had an opportunity to return to Michigan, he would take it. His long-standing relationship with the Harbaugh family and the Wolverines’ new staff is making his transition with the team a smooth one.

Mattison said he fielded a few offers from NFL teams when Michigan fired Brady Hoke in December, but decided to see what would unfold at the school where he has now spent 10 years as an assistant. The veteran defensive coach’s ties to Jim Harbaugh’s incoming staff made him a natural fit as the lone holdover from Hoke’s group. His ties to Michigan’s current players make him an important asset for the new coaches as they get to know their team.

 “Greg is a great coach, great person, great friend,” said new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. “Obviously he’s been here a while. He knows these guys really well. That’s an opinion I trust and I’ve trusted for a long time.”

Durkin and Mattison first worked together on Notre Dame’s staff in 2003 and 2004. Mattison said their friendship developed there and has continued as Durkin rose from a graduate assistant in South Bend to a coordinator destined for a head-coaching job in the not-so-distant future. That relationship made it easy for Mattison to hand the coordinator title he held under Hoke to Durkin.

“D.J. Durkin has done a tremendous job,” Mattison said. “There is no question who’s running the defense. He’s doing a super job of it. Not one ounce of that.”

Mattison's connection to the Harbaugh family started in 1982 when he worked with Jack Harbaugh at Western Michigan. More recently, he served as a defensive coordinator for John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens for three years.

Mattison’s sole focus this spring has been the defensive linemen, who are going through a transition of their own. The four-man front Mattison used in his defense will be complemented by a 3-4 look next season. That leaves a handful of players learning to play the nose guard position for the first time in their college careers. Mattison said he has been impressed with the three guys – redshirt junior Ryan Glasgow, sophomore Bryan Mone and redshirt sophomore Maurice Hurst -- taking on that challenge.

The defensive line is a return to Mattison’s coaching roots. He worked with linebackers in past years at Michigan, but has spent the majority of his career working closer to the line of scrimmage. He said he was happy to be back in that comfort spot where he feels a coach can have a lot of influence on developing players.

“I’ve done it for so long that sometimes you say it’s kind of enjoyable just to take these four guys and see how good they can be,” he said.

Mattison’s knowledge about the current roster has been a help for his fellow coaches as they try to learn more about their team in a short time. Four years around the players gives Mattison the background to confirm or deny his colleague’s first impressions.

He said he hasn’t had to serve as a go-between on the other end of that spectrum -- guiding players through a getting-to-know-you period that can sometimes be tricky during coaching changes. Due to their experience and reputation, the new staff garnered instant respect from a team hungry to improve on its 5-7 record from a year ago, Mattison said.

Players say there is definitely a difference between the coaching styles used by their former and current coordinators, but that hasn’t let to any issues halfway through spring practice.

“[Durkin] talks a lot more than Coach Mattison,” senior linebacker Joe Bolden said. “Well, talks, I should say he raises his voice. I think his blood pressure might be a little bit higher. Coach Mattison was a little bit more relaxed that Coach Durkin. They’re both good coaches and both intense guys that show it in two different ways. It’s great having both of them around. It’s like having two defensive coordinators.”

Mattison wanted to make it clear that there’s only one defensive coordinator at Michigan, and he’s very excited about the man who holds that title.

Big Ten morning links

March, 20, 2015
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Throughout this week, all sorts of columnists and experts have chimed in with their opinions on Chris Borland's decision to retire. It's either the start of a trend, or the start of nothing. A significant and symbolic move, or a trivial decision in the grand scheme.

I'm not going to share my opinion -- every stance has already been expressed -- but I will pass on one that I feel deserves to be read.

Take a look at this essay by ex-Penn State offensive guard John Urschel: "Why I Play Football." Maybe no one in the NFL has more on the line than him. He's been published in major journals, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and is intent on earning a chess title. Basically, by all accounts, he boasts a brain that seems more befitting a brain surgeon than a brawny ballplayer.

He doesn't need football. He says as much. He could make a living in mathematics instead of hitting grown men for a living. So, why does someone with so much on the line keep playing? Why does he keep risking his future on the present? His words:

"What my mother and a great majority of my friends, family, and fellow mathematicians don’t understand is that I’m not playing for the money. I’m not playing for some social status associated with being an elite athlete. No, the media has not brainwashed me into thinking this is what real men do. ... I play because I love the game. I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I’m (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else."

You can call him idealistic, but don't call him dishonest. Maybe no player's take is more relevant.

Urschel's words might not hold true for all players. Heck, maybe that truth is different for each player. But it's a take worth reading.

He ends with: "Simply put, right now, not playing football isn’t an option for me. And for that reason, I truly envy Chris Borland."

Now, on 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
Mar 19
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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:

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