Big Ten: Wisconsin Badgers

Get those polling fingers ready because we've reached the final game of Round 2.

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Which game day setting is better?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,263)

After a first round short on upsets, we're down to our own version of the Elite 8 in best game-day atmospheres in the Big Ten. But this is where it starts to get tricky and where fans might disagree with our seedings.

Before we dive head-first into the final matchup, let's recap the other games this round:

No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 9 Minnesota
No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan
No. 2 Penn State vs. No. 7 Michigan State

And now ...

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Iowa

Tournament résumés:

Wisconsin: Where to begin? The bratwursts are big, the crowds are loud, and the atmosphere is electric. The marching band performs a pregame concert at Union South -- listen for "On Wisconsin" -- an hour before every game. Regent Street/Breese Terrace are packed with fans and bars blaring House of Pain before and after the game, and the entire downtown takes on a football flavor. Inside Camp Randall, the excitement really picks up. The most famous tradition is "Jump Around," when the song sends the entire stadium rocking between the third and fourth quarters. But there’s also the wave, singing along to "Build Me Up Buttercup," and remaining seated after the game listen to the marching band perform once more. And after all that? It’s time to take that energy back downtown to continue the party.

Iowa: Rich history, good food, loud crowds -- there’s plenty to like about Iowa City’s game day atmosphere. Like most destinations, the real atmosphere starts in the parking lots, where fans buy turkey legs on Melrose Avenue before heading to the pregame concert inside the Rec Building. Players and coaches will touch the 20-foot statue of football legend Nile Kinnick before entering Kinnick Stadium, where fans will listen to Kinnick’s moving 1939 Heisman acceptance speech on the big screen before every home game. Inside, fans will line up behind the visitors’ bench -- so close they can reach out and grab the opponents -- to make the stadium a truly intimidating venue. They’ll chant I-O-W-A after every touchdown, sit entranced at the pregame intro and hope to hear the Hawkeye Victory Polka at game’s end. Plus, opponents are still treated to a pink visitors’ locker room.

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

Wisconsin is still in the early stages of its first spring practice under head coach Paul Chryst, and the Badgers will hold one more workout Friday before spring break.

Chryst gave an update on the team Wednesday night, and this was among the more interesting tidbits he discussed: early enrollee Alex Hornibrook has taken some first-team snaps at quarterback.

Don't read too much into that for now, as coaches will often rotate players in with the starters to get a true look at them. But Hornibrook "earned the right" to get first-team reps, along with incumbent starter Joel Stave and backups Bart Houston and D.J. Gillins. According to this report, Hornibrook looked good running the offense on Thursday.

"I thought he handled himself pretty well," Chryst said of Hornibrook. "I was impressed with the way he approached things."

Austin Kafentzis was the hotshot quarterback recruit that committed to Gary Andersen and also has enrolled early. What of him so far?

"Everybody learns at a little bit different tempo," Chryst said. "I've enjoyed and appreciated what he's been doing. I'm not disappointed at all in Austin."

If that sounds like Hornibrook is ahead of Kafentzis, well, we probably shouldn't be too surprised. Chryst recruited Hornibrook at Pitt, so he obviously liked the way the 6-foot-4 lefthander fit his offensive system.

There's still a long way to go before anybody could potentially unseat Stave, a senior who owns a 20-6 record as the starter. And would Chryst really be willing to go with a totally inexperienced signal caller -- redshirt freshman Gillins counts here, too -- for the opener against, gulp, Alabama?

Some other notes from Chryst's media session:

  • Wide receiver Jordan Fredrick and kicker Rafael Gaglianone are expected to miss the rest of the spring with injuries. (We'll have to wait until fall to see another amazing celebration from Gaglianone). Also among the walking wounded: tight end T.J. Watt, receivers A.J. Jordan and Reggie Love and offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel.
  • In good news on the injury front, center Dan Voltz participated in his first full practice of the spring. Voltz, you might recall, was injured late in the season and had to leave the Big Ten championship game early. That, uh, did not work out so well for the Badgers. He also couldn't make it through the game in the Outback Bowl. When healthy, he's one of the best centers in the Big Ten. "Coming off the end of the season, it feels really good to just get back out here and play with the team again," he told Madison.com.
  • Former quarterback Tanner McEvoy is back at safety, but on Wednesday he also practiced with the wide receivers. Wisconsin should be able to use his speed and athleticism somewhere on offense, even if in limited packages. Rob Wheelwright also worked out with the starters at wideout, which may be the position of the most pressing need for the Badgers.
  • You can watch Chryst's entire post-practice interview here.

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:

It's time for a road trip, which hopefully will be better than the 2000 movie of the same name.

Of course it will be, because this one involves football. This is our Big Ten ultimate road trip for 2015, where we pick the game each week we'd most like to attend if budgets and editorial decisions were no obstacle. Each of us can only select one game per week.

We keep trippin' into the second week of October and a full boat of conference play:

Saturday, Oct. 10

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

Unanimous pick: Wisconsin at Nebraska

Josh Moyer: I'm heading west -- far west from the confines of Happy Valley -- to see the Big Ten's newest head coaches duke it out. Can the Huskers finally eke one out from Wisconsin, or do the Badgers just have their number? Will Corey Clement run all over the field, or will Tommy Armstrong Jr. march his offense downfield? I don't know, but I'd sure like to find out -- especially at a stadium that should be rocking. Even without Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah, to me, there's no place I'd rather be.

Brian Bennett: The good news is all 14 teams are locked into conference play on this Saturday. The not-so-good-news: most of the matchups look pretty unappealing on paper. Maryland-Ohio State and Michigan State-Rutgers were both one-sided blowouts last year, while Northwestern-Michigan (a.k.a., the infamous "MOON" game) was one of the ugliest contests of 2014. It's unlikely that anything other than Badgers-Huskers will involve a pair of ranked teams, and both teams should be battling it out for first place in the Big Ten West. Maybe by Week 6 some of these other games will look more interesting. But from this perch in late March, heading to Lincoln is the only real choice, and it's a good one.

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: Wisconsin at Nebraska

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 ...

SportsNation

Which game day setting is better?

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    86%

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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,471)

Our tournament continues with a matchup that doesn’t appear close on paper, but bigger upsets have happened ... probably.

The winner of this game will move on to face the victor of the No. 6 Iowa-No. 11 Illinois matchup. Vote early and often; polls close midnight Wednesday.

No. 3 Wisconsin vs. No. 14 Indiana

Tournament resumes:

Wisconsin: Where to begin? The bratwursts are big, the crowds are loud and the atmosphere is electric. The marching band performs a pregame concert at Union South -- listen for "On Wisconsin" -- an hour before every game, Regent Street/Breese Terrace are packed with fans and bars blaring House of Pain before and after the game, and the entire downtown takes on a football flavor. Inside Camp Randall, the excitement really picks up. The most famous tradition is "Jump Around," when the song sends the entire stadium rocking between the third and fourth quarters. But there’s also the wave, singing along to "Build Me Up Buttercup," and remaining seated after the game to listen to the marching band perform once more. And after all that? It’s time to take that energy back on downtown to continue the party.

Indiana: There may be no mascot or any truly long-standing traditions in Bloomington, Ind., but the Hoosiers do proudly boast the largest flagpole in all of college football. The pole measures 154 feet, 6 inches and helps set the basketball school apart in that arena. There are also the fireworks to look forward to before the game and, in a tradition less than a decade old, players and coaches will touch "Hep’s Rock" -- a chunk of limestone named after former coach Terry Hoeppner, who died of brain cancer in 2007 -- in the north end zone before running onto the field. For the claustrophobic, the good news is that large crowds are unusual and, for the cheap, tickets can be had for relatively little on StubHub.

We're coming ... to your cit-ayyy.

Well, at least in our own minds right now. This is our Big Ten ultimate road trip for 2015, where we pick the game each week we'd most like to attend if budgets and editorial decisions were no obstacle. Each of us can only select one game per week.

Our road trip now moves into October and the start of full-bore conference action:

Saturday, Oct. 3

Nebraska at Illinois
Ohio State at Indiana
Michigan at Maryland
Purdue at Michigan State
Minnesota at Northwestern
Iowa at Wisconsin
Army at Penn State

Bye: Rutgers

Unanimous pick: Iowa at Wisconsin

Josh Moyer: Two of these teams' last three meetings were decided by two points or less, and it should be another close one this season. Plus, one glance at the rest of the schedule and all the potential blowouts, and this decision became a lot easier for me. Honestly, this game could've been in Iowa City or Madison, and I still would've picked it -- but I have a soft spot for the Badger State.

Dan Murphy: Iowa could be the best team in the Camp Randall visiting locker room this fall. The Badgers play a relatively dull home schedule in Paul Chryst's first year back in Madison. By early October, his program should have most of its new-staff wrinkles ironed out and provide a good idea of what to expect when Wisconsin visits Nebraska the following week for a pivotal division match-up.

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

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 ...

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:

MADISON, Wis. -- Paul Chryst doesn't walk around Camp Randall Stadium wearing a "Hello, my name is ..." sticker. The old new Wisconsin coach is a familiar face around here.

He doesn't have to get to know his boss better. (Athletic director Barry Alvarez twice had Chryst on his staff when Alvarez led Wisconsin's football program.) He doesn't have to introduce himself to older players like quarterback Joel Stave, fullback Derek Watt or left tackle Tyler Marz. Chryst was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator during their freshman season in 2011.

The new coach hasn't repurchased his old house, although he probably could. After he left in 2011, he sold it to a guy named Gary Andersen.

"There's a lot of things that are really familiar and comfortable," Chryst said.

[+] EnlargePaul Chryst
AP Photo/Wisconsin State Journal/M.P. KingPaul Chryst returns to a Badgers program that's ready to compete for Big Ten titles.

Coaching change typically brings turbulence. At Wisconsin, it has brought familiarity, and not just with Chryst. Joe Rudolph, like Chryst a former Wisconsin player and a Badgers assistant from 2008-11, is back as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Rudolph is one of four assistants Chryst brought to Wisconsin from Pitt, where he coached the past three seasons.

Also on staff is Mickey Turner, a Wisconsin tight end from 2006-09, and John Settle, who coached four of the top 10 rushers in Wisconsin history as an assistant from 2006-10.

Like the line from "Beer Barrel Polka," a fan favorite played by the Badger Band during UW games, the gang's all here (again).

"When you have confidence in the guys you’re working with, it frees you up to really coach the kids," Rudolph said. "Instead of wearing each other out about meetings or what you’re going to do, you have a lot of confidence in how the kids are going to be coached.

"You're speaking the same language."

Added Chryst: "You can shorten the learning curve."

Chryst was the sensible hire for Wisconsin after Andersen shockingly left for Oregon State on Dec. 10. Alvarez's search essentially boiled down to one thought: Call Paul. After being jilted for the second time in three years, Alvarez needed a coach who knew exactly what he was stepping into and who wouldn't look for the first path out.

He found it in Chryst, a Madison native who played quarterback for the Badgers. Those who know Chryst don't think he'll leave for any other college job. He gives Wisconsin stability, as well as the knowledge of what it took to built one of college football's most consistent winners.

Since Alvarez's breakthrough season in 1993 -- when Rudolph was an All-Big Ten guard -- Wisconsin has had 18 seasons of eight or more wins, nine seasons of 10 or more wins, six Big Ten championships (three outright) and only two losing seasons (none since 2001). Wisconsin is one of only five schools with nine or more wins in nine of the past 11 seasons. The others: Boise State, LSU, Ohio State and Oregon.

Like Andersen, Chryst inherits a great situation with the Badgers. He's set up to sustain, which, for most programs, would be terrific news. It means 10-win seasons, league and division titles, and top-20 finishes.

Maybe that's enough at Wisconsin, too.

But there's another level for the Badgers, one they've clawed at for years but not quite reached. They lost three consecutive Rose Bowls. They blew a big lead against LSU in last year's opener. They flat-lined against Ohio State in the 2014 Big Ten title game.

Those games, fairly or unfairly, keep Wisconsin among the nationally respected, but not the nationally elite. It leads to this question: Can Chryst be a program elevator, or just a sustainer? He went exactly .500 (19-19) at Pitt.

"Every person that joins any group, in this case the program, you want it to be better when you left than when you came," Chryst said. "I’ve got a great appreciation for those 20 years -- I haven’t been a part of all but a good chunk of those -- and know what it took to get to those and what was invested. Your first goal is to get to that level and then you want to keep improving it. If you're a champion in this league, you're in the national discussion."

"But," he warns, "it doesn't just happen."

Chryst doesn't take Wisconsin for granted. Not the graceful rushers or punishing linemen who emerge seemingly every season. Not the players he's just now meeting, or even the ones he recruited or coached three or four years ago.

The details matter, which Chryst emphasized at the first spring practice Sunday.

"If there’s a buzzword, I'd say to a couple kids, 'Do you know what coach means there?'" Chryst said. "And they said, 'I think so.' And I said, 'Well, make sure you know what coach means there.'

"You don't want to assume anything."

Don't assume dramatic changes at Wisconsin under Chryst.

"If you have to change what’s at your core and who you are from what got you there with consistency and sustainability," Rudolph said, "that's where it's easy to get off track."

Chryst will attempt to win the Wisconsin way, while striving to push the program just a little further. His tenure begins against Alabama on Sept. 5, a game that will "test everything we do," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said.

The ultimate tests for Chryst will come later, over multiple seasons. He might end up as the familiar face with familiar results.

Or, he might be something more.

Big Ten morning links

March, 18, 2015
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Hitting the links before diving headfirst into the brackets ...

1. Penn State coach James Franklin offered a preview of spring practice on Tuesday, and one of the most interesting developments to come out of it was the official revelation that cornerback Jordan Lucas is moving to safety.

Lucas has started the past two years at corner and has been excellent at the position. But Franklin said that while Lucas has the talent to play cornerback in the NFL, he has a chance to "be special" at safety.

The move had been hinted at earlier this offseason. Penn State is light at safety after Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle all graduated, but it is flush with young talent at corner. Lucas should make a relatively smooth transition to safety, and at this point, you have to give Bob Shoop the benefit of the doubt on all matters pertaining to defense.

2. Michigan State's task of replacing ultra-productive running back Jeremy Langford might have gotten a little more difficult.

The team's leading returning rusher, sophomore Delton Williams, was suspended from all team activities on Tuesday by head coach Mark Dantonio. He was charged with brandishing a firearm in an apparent road rage incident on Monday night (side note: is the word brandishing ever used with anything else but a weapon?).

Williams reportedly had a permit for the handgun, and the charge is only a misdemeanor. However, Michigan State's code of conduct prohibits any guns on campus property, so some serious university sanctions could be coming as well.

Williams, who ran for 316 yards and five touchdowns last season, was seen as the early frontrunner to replace Langford. For at least the time being, sophomore Gerald Holmes is the most experienced returning back with 44 rushing yards last season. Redshirt freshman Madre London and true freshman L.J. Scott could also take on bigger responsibilities.

Another Michigan State player -- receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. -- was arrested late last month on drunken and disorderly charges. The Spartans don't start spring practice until next week, and hopefully no more players will make bad decisions before then.

Around the Big Ten ...

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Of all the many great players who have come through the Big Ten in the past several years, it's safe to say that none was more universally respected than Chris Borland.

And that's not just because it seemed like Borland played for about a decade at Wisconsin. He starred as a freshman in 2009, got hurt and was still making an enormous impact in 2013, when he was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. Along the way, his teammates, coaches and opponents couldn't help but gush over what he did on and off the field.

I remember Ohio State coach Urban Meyer going out of his way to shake Borland's hand and tell him how much he enjoyed watching the Kettering, Ohio, native during Big Ten media days in 2013. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald often talked about how Borland epitomized linebacker play.

I spent some time with Borland behind the scenes later that fall and got a sense of his relentless work ethic, trying to keep up as he walked briskly throughout campus. Evan Simon, who was the Badgers' strength coach at the time, told me Borland "will be the standard we use for every football player that comes in here for years to come. That will be his legacy."

That's why it was stunning to hear the news Borland has decided to retire from football after just one season with the San Francisco 49ers, citing concerns over his future health and the safety of the game. Borland had already proved he could be a big-time player at the next level despite some doubts earlier in his career about his lack of size.

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
AP Photo/Tony AvelarChris Borland's retirement has made inside linebacker an area of need for the 49ers.

Borland's dedication to the sport had never been questioned. He battled through shoulder problems and other injuries to get on the field for Wisconsin. His film study and understanding of the game were so strong that Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda told me he sometimes got tips from Borland on the weekly game plan. Now, at just 24, he's hanging it up.

But Borland was never just about football, either. He excelled in several sports growing up, including soccer. He led all Badgers athletes in community service hours during his career in Madison. Whatever he chooses to do next, whether it's coaching or athletic administration or something completely outside of sports, Borland is sure to be highly successful. People with his drive and determination don't fail.

It will be sad not to see him on a football field again, because at his best, Borland was a heat-seeking missile of a linebacker who always ran to the right spot and rarely got moved off it. Who could forget his classic confrontations (see also, Youtube) with Ohio State's Carlos Hyde in that 2013 game in Columbus? In just his second start for the 49ers, he recorded 18 tackles versus St. Louis, then followed that up with 17 stops against New Orleans and two interceptions against the New York Giants. Stardom at the pro level awaited.

Borland's early exit also makes you wonder about the sport's future. If someone who was that good at the game and so obviously loved it -- and whose strong fundamentals in tackling should theoretically help prevent concussions -- chose to walk away at such a young age, will others follow suit? Borland's parents wouldn't allow their sons to play football before high school because of injury concerns. Will future families like theirs not let their sons play football at all out of fear of head trauma? If so, the game will face a crisis at the grassroots level.

Of course, not all athletes are as well-equipped to succeed outside of sports as Borland is. It will be fascinating to see what he does next. Just as it will be critical to find out if he becomes a trendsetter for the future of football. Borland left a giant imprint at Wisconsin and in the Big Ten, but his ultimate legacy is still being formed.

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.

Ultimate Big Ten road trip: Week 1

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16
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It's nice that spring practice is back to give us a little bit of a football fix in this long offseason. But it only has us jonesing for some real games, which are still a long way away.

We'll have to make do by planning -- for fantasy purposes, at least -- our dream schedules for the fall. We're going to take a look at each week of the 2015 Big Ten schedule and pick where we'd go if money and editorial decisions were no object. The only limit is that we can only choose one game per week.

Let's get started with Week 1:

Thursday, Sept. 3

TCU at Minnesota
Michigan at Utah

Friday, Sept. 4

Kent State at Illinois
Michigan State at Western Michigan

Saturday, Sept. 5

Southern Illinois at Indiana
Illinois State at Iowa
Richmond at Maryland
BYU at Nebraska
Norfolk State at Rutgers
Penn State at Temple
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas)
Stanford at Northwestern

Sunday, Sept. 6

Purdue at Marshall

Monday, Sept. 7

Ohio State at Virginia Tech

Brian Bennett's pick: Ohio State at Virginia Tech

There are some outstanding opening-week games on the docket, which gets me even more excited for Labor Day weekend. I'm very torn on my choice, because TCU-Minnesota could be great, Wisconsin-Alabama is another chance for the Big Ten to continue its momentum from the postseason, and the Jim Harbaugh debut in Salt Lake City is mighty tempting. But I want to see the defending champs go on the road on Labor Day night behind whoever is starting at quarterback, and it would be my first time in Lane Stadium. I'll bring ear plugs.

Austin Ward's pick: Michigan at Utah

There aren’t many opportunities to follow the Big Ten west to Salt Lake City and one of the most gorgeous venues in college football, and this trip comes with the added intrigue of Harbaugh’s debut with the Wolverines. There are perhaps more appealing matchups on the opening slate, but the combination of seeing how Harbaugh’s team looks early and the atmosphere The Muss provides is too good to pass up.

Dan Murphy's pick: Ohio State at Virginia Tech

Listening to "Enter Sandman" at Lane Stadium belongs on every college football bucket list. I've yet to cross it off mine, and can't think of a better week to do it. Ohio State returns to Virginia Tech on a Monday night to avenge its only loss of the 2014 season. That game might be our first look at the Buckeyes' solution to their overabundance of quarterbacks and the Hokie fans are sure to make it an electric atmosphere for at least the first few series.

Josh Moyer's pick: Wisconsin vs. Alabama

I’m a sucker for BBQ and good football, so I’ll be taking my talents down south to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Don’t get me wrong; I’d prefer seeing the pageantry at Tuscaloosa or Madison. But checking out the world’s fourth-largest HDTV – and a shot at seeing the B1G shock the SEC one more – isn’t a terrible consolation.

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