Michigan Wolverines: Brady Hoke
Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.
There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.
Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.
I think the Best Dressed award has been locked up today. Kurtis Drummond, folks. pic.twitter.com/XAnHXjJWKP— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman and Braxton Miller decided to join the media today and interview Urban Meyer. pic.twitter.com/scWhYDZRNs— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.
Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.
Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.
James Franklin and our Josh Moyer are sharing head shaving techniques. Seriously. pic.twitter.com/S7iVnnNvo9— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 28, 2014
Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.
“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”
Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”
Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.
Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
- Former Indiana QB Tre Roberson addresses his transfer and believes both he and Nate Sudfeld can benefit from it. USA Today previews the Hoosiers and believes a best-case scenario sees them finish 8-4.
- Brady Hoke stresses that there's still a Michigan quarterback competition -- and that a starter likely won't emerge until early in fall camp.
- Maryland blogger Pete Volk discusses the Terps' chances this season in a Q&A.
- Penn State's new athletic director will be James Franklin's fifth in four years. Breaking down the Nittany Lions' running backs.
- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is looking to work multiple summer camps outside of Madison, including in Minnesota and possibly Illinois, starting in 2015.
- Nebraska officials are looking into whether it's time for the school to revamp its gameday presentation. NFL.com ranks the top college players of the 1990s, with half of the list from Big Ten schools, including the No. 1 selection.
- The "Larry Johnson impact" is apparent in the Buckeyes' recruitment of at least one four-star Maryland prospect.
- Iowa's facility upgrades show that it's thinking big.
- BTN lists the "All-Legends Defensive Team," with the top players from 2011-2013.
- Michigan State is counting on developing the natural ability of its newest commit, DE Justice Alexander.
Next up is Michigan, a team trying to rebound after seeing its win total decline in each of the past two seasons.
Key stretch: Penn State on Oct. 11, at Michigan State on Oct. 25, Indiana on Nov. 1, at Northwestern on Nov. 8
Breakdown: Michigan's three biggest games are road contests against rivals that are nicely spread out -- Notre Dame (Sept. 6), Michigan State (Oct. 25) and Ohio State (Nov. 29) -- so it's a little tougher to identify a key stretch. But the Wolverines have an opportunity to rack up some wins after the Notre Dame contest, as they should be heavily favored against Miami (Ohio), Utah and Rutgers, and they always seems to have Minnesota's number. The key stretch begins with a home night game against Penn State, which stunned Michigan under the lights last year at Beaver Stadium. Like the Wolverines, the Nittany Lions are somewhat of a mystery team, but they have a quarterback (Christian Hackenberg) who gives them a chance.
The open week seems to fall at a good time before Michigan travels to Michigan State for the second consecutive season. Michigan's 29-6 loss last November wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated, as the Wolverines finished with minus-48 rush yards, the lowest single-game total in team history. This year's contest is a huge game for the embattled offensive line and new coordinator Doug Nussmeier.
Michigan can't look past Indiana, which racked up 47 points and 572 yards last year at the Big House. The Northwestern trip also should be tricky as the Wildcats had Michigan beat in each of the last two seasons, only to let the Wolverines off the hook.
Prediction: Michigan is one of the tougher Big Ten teams to gauge, which makes this exercise even more difficult. If the offensive issues stabilize and Michigan has an effective run game to complement Devin Gardner, it could sweep this stretch and challenge for the East Division title. But it's asking a lot for the Wolverines to win in East Lansing, as Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio has been Jim Tressel-like in how he approaches the Michigan rivalry. Michigan has been much better at home than on the road under Brady Hoke. It's 3-1 vs. 2-2 for me, and I'm leaning toward 2-2 for this stretch.
You can read the first installment here. To recap, the participants included Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson, ranked No. 157 in the 2014 class; Penn State WR Chris Godwin, one of the top 25 receivers in the class; Michigan LB Jared Wangler, one of 11 linebackers invited to the UA Game; Iowa WR Jay Scheel, one of two four-star players in the Hawkeyes’ class; and Maryland LB Jesse Aniebonam, the second-best prospect in the state behind OL Damian Prince.
Here’s what the freshmen had to say:
Outside of your team, what B1G freshmen are you most looking forward to watching and/or playing against?
Thorson: Hmmm. Trying to think. So there’s obviously Raekwon McMillan at Ohio State. I know we don’t play them this season, but I heard he’s a great player, so it’ll be fun going against him in future years. And it’s just guys like Zack Darlington; he’s at Nebraska at quarterback and I’ve gotten to know him over the past the few months, so it’ll be cool to go against him. And, at Michigan State, Madre London and I played at the Semper Fi [All-American] Bowl together, and he’s a great athlete.
Wangler: I want to watch Byron Bullough for Michigan State. We played in this Michigan all-star game [‘Border Classic’ on June 14], and we got along pretty good. So I’m excited to see how he does. I know he’s got a good history -- his father and brother were successful for Michigan State -- so I feel like Byron is going to be successful, too.
Aniebonam: Big Ten-wise, that one guy -- Peppers, Jabrill Peppers -- he’s a solid athlete. I want to see how he does. He was in the Under Armour Game; we watched it right before our game [U.S. Army All-American Bowl] and he did pretty well. So, let’s see how he does at Michigan.
Why did you decide to commit to your school, and what do you think separates it from others in the conference?
Thorson: I always knew I wanted to play in the Big Ten. My family is from Ohio and Illinois, so I always just wanted to be around them so they could see me play – so that’s kind of how I narrowed it down. And then visiting different schools like Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa – after looking at all those schools, I decided Northwestern was the best fit for me. I jelled with the guys on the team, and the coaching staff is just awesome. I thought that was the best fit for me both academically and athletically.
Godwin: I chose Penn State because I felt really comfortable on campus and with the team. It was also the right fit for me academically and socially, and I think the tradition and fan base really separate it from other teams in the conference.
Wangler: Michigan has always been my dream school to go to, and there aren’t many universities out there that offer such a great degree and a great football experience. Plus, I feel really comfortable with Coach [Brady] Hoke and Coach [Greg] Mattison. It’s a great fit. It’s close to home, my dad played there. ... It’s almost too good to be true.
Scheel: Well, personally, it’s just been a dream to play there. So, really, any other school that decided it was going to offer me was nice, but it was always my dream to go to Iowa. I’ve only heard good things about them. Playing for Iowa is really an honor. And what makes them different is they’re not known for getting big recruits -- I know that -- but they take two- and three-star recruits and turn them into NFL players.
Aniebonam: Maryland just really stood out to me. Not just because it’s my hometown team and all my friends and family will be around me, but every time I went to the campus I was just pulled in and attracted to it more and more. If you asked me in the beginning of my junior season if I wanted to go to Maryland, I would’ve said, ‘Heck no.’ But it just grew on me; it just felt right. … [What separates Maryland] is they’re well-known -- but still underdogs. I think it’s a team that is going to be really watched because people want to know what happens here.
What are your expectations for this season -- and your career?
Thorson: The coaches always say to prepare each week as if you’re going to start the game, so I’m going to do that every week. I just want to get better at leading the team and knowing the playbook and everything. The Lord has a plan for me and, whether that’s starting this year or next year, whatever happens happens. I’m just really looking forward to getting on campus and playing with these guys.
Godwin: I would consider them goals more than expectations because I haven’t done anything yet. But, this season, my goal is to earn a starting spot by UCF then continually improve as a player and a teammate and, hopefully, be Big Ten freshman of the year. As a team, a goal of mine is to go undefeated, but who doesn’t want that, right?
Wangler: I expect to win. I think this next season we have a lot of people coming back and, after having kind of a mediocre season last year, I think we’re going to come out with a lot of hunger and the team is going to do a lot better. I think that’s going to set the pace for the four years after that. I feel like I’m going to have a successful career at Michigan.
Scheel: Personally, going in, I just want to get to know the playbook better and get to know the offense as soon as I can. I pretty much think I’m going to redshirt because starting right away might be difficult. If it does work, that’d be great. But I’m just trying to do my best. With my career, I’m trying to make a big impact on Iowa football, and I just want to have fun and get on the field.
Aniebonam: I just want to make a name for myself early. I want to get myself out there and really, really put my stamp on the school and into the minds of the coaches as early as I can. … Hopefully, that’ll come quick, but nothing is ever promised. You have to work.
- A basic Big Ten question appears on "Jeopardy," but stumps all the contestants.
- BTN's Tom Dienhart ranks all of the Big Ten games, from week to week, from best to worst.
- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen recently spoke about quality teams in the West Division -- and omitted both Northwestern and Illinois.
- Iowa DT Carl Davis said he wants the Hawkeyes to field the best defensive line in the country.
- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell favors an early signing period. So does Wisconsin's Andersen.
- Bo Pelini and his staff are benefiting from NCAA rule changes that allow more summer interaction, writes Steven M. Sipple.
- Incoming freshman Jabrill Peppers is "going to get his feet wet" as a returner, according to Michigan coach Brady Hoke.
- Penn State announced several themes to its games this season, including a "White Out" against Ohio State and honoring the undefeated 1994 team in the home opener.
- Ohio State's newest commit could be faster than Dontre Wilson: "I'll have to race him."
- The son of former All-Big Ten Michigan State safety John Miller, Grayson Miller, committed to the Spartans on Thursday and said, "It's been my dream to play here."
- Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel has a comprehensive look at the Big Ten's polarizing East Coast push.
- Retiring Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner responded to some of his critics in this video interview. Joyner leaves a complicated legacy. Some more reaction to Joyner's announcement.
- Michigan State quarterback Damion Terry is recovering from surgery on his non-throwing shoulder and is expected to be ready for the start of the season. Junior Brandon Clemons plans to fight for playing time at defensive tackle against the Spartans' heralded recruits.
- What's next for Ross-Ade Stadium's south end zone after Purdue removed the bleachers there?
- If Ty Isaac crowds Michigan's backfield, so be it. Brady Hoke says the best running back will play.
- Ohio State picked up its seventh commitment for 2015 with an in-state linebacker. Another Buckeyes commit flashed the 'Block O' while at Michigan.
- Illinois running back signee Matt Domer was denied admission to the school, leaving the Illini thin at the position.
- The latest "On Iowa" podcast tackles the Hawkeyes' schedule and other matters.
- Faith and perseverance paid off for Rutgers freshman QB Giovanni Rescigno.
- The Big Ten Network highlights the best of Week 13.
- Jim Delany told CBS Sports that NCAA enforcement is overmatched and there's a need for change "because nobody is comfortable with some of the tactics, aggressive tactics."
- Maryland coach Randy Edsall doesn't seem concerned about the words of James Franklin, or any other coach for that matter, and said Monday that, "Talk is cheap."
- Nebraska's 1995 team is the greatest of all-time, according to NFL.com. And the pro football website also lists four B1G players as Heisman candidates.
- Mark Dantonio has some holes to fill and starters to replace from last season, but he's confident Michigan State will be just fine in time for the opener.
- A lot of hype will be following Jabrill Peppers when he reports to Michigan this weekend, and Brady Hoke stressed letting the rookie simply be a freshman.
- Rutgers' CB Ian Thomas has left the team -- for the second time in eight months. 2015 OT Manny Taylor is more known for basketball, but committed to the Knights' football team recently.
- Replacing Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback could prove more problematic than some anticipate.
- BTN's Tom Dienhart takes a look at the top conference matchup in Week 12.
- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert was named one of Purdue's athletes of the year.
- Penn State players send their well wishes to longtime equipment manager Brad "Spider" Caldwell, who's leaving the university after 31 years.
The Michigan Wolverines are on the board today.
Key stretch: Penn State (Oct. 11), at Michigan State (Oct. 25), Indiana (Nov. 1), at Northwestern (Nov. 8)
Breakdown: If Michigan can find a way to win at Notre Dame in Week 2, it doesn't take much of a stretch to imagine the Wolverines sitting at 6-0 midway through the season. Their only other road game before Oct. 25 is at Rutgers. Of course, Brady Hoke's team will have to play with a lot more consistency than it showed last year for that to become even remotely possible and its chances in the East Division race probably will be decided in the first two games of this key stretch. Penn State beat Michigan in a four-overtime thriller in State College last year and enters the season with many of the same questions (offensive line, inexperienced receivers) as the Wolverines. The big showdown, of course, is the trip to East Lansing to take on a Spartans team that has won the Paul Bunyan Trophy in five of the past six years. The game against Indiana doesn't loom quite as large, though the Hoosiers showed last year that they can pile up points and yards in Ann Arbor (while giving up even more). The stretch concludes with a road game at Northwestern, a team that has taken Michigan to the absolute brink the past two seasons.
Prediction: The schedule sets up pretty well for Michigan, which gets a week off between the Penn State game and the crucial matchup with Michigan State. The Wolverines could be favored in three of these games, and a 3-1 record or better would keep them in the thick of the East Division chase. We have to favor the Spartans both because of the recent history and the home-field advantage. The games against the Nittany Lions and Wildcats look like toss-ups, while Indiana has upset potential. Given the up-and-down nature of this program the past couple of seasons, we'll go the safe route and predict a 2-2 mark for Michigan in this stretch. Anything better probably signals a bounce-back year for Hoke's crew.
- With Father's Day approaching, Michigan coach Brady Hoke reflected -- sometimes with tears -- about his biggest fan and toughest critic, John Hoke, who passed away in 2012.
- James Franklin and the rest of the Penn State staff spent Wednesday at a satellite camp in Florida, and the move seemed to be a "win-win" for both the Nittany Lions and Stetson.
- Doug Lesmerises continues his series on Ohio State NCAA issues by speaking with Chris Cicero, the lawyer who first warned Jim Tressel about the tattoo scandal. Also, Buckeyes assistant Luke Fickell is apparently quite the threat at dodgeball.
- Athlon offers an overview on the Big Ten, from predictions and projections to their all-conference team.
- Iowa DB Nico Law announced he's leaving the Hawkeyes football program, just a few days after being charged with disorderly conduct.
- Wisconsin's official Twitter account released some photos of alternative uniforms, including an all-red getup.
- Maryland is hosting quite a few events in celebration of officially joining the B1G on July 1, including a block party, giveaways on Mitchell Field and the release of new Terps apparel.
- Rutgers AD Julie Hermann said she believes football is key to the athletic department's success.
- BTN takes a look at the top matchup in Week 9 of the conference season.
- Minnesota safety Cedric Thompson received the Wilma Rudolph national achievement award for overcoming the odds to achieve success.
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Brian, this whole scheduling FCS teams issue REALLY makes me upset as a fan and a season ticket holder. I think it's really quite ridiculous that the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own set of rules, but also schedule games against teams that are already at a competitive disadvantage. Why is it that no one in the media is questioning the logic behind, as you said in your most recent article "with power teams needing seven home games to make budget", how does this make sense when schools are bringing in tens of millions of dollars more in media contracts now than they were 10 years ago? It seems the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own rules and act autonomously, but yet refuse to work together on scheduling partnerships to ease the process for nonconference scheduling. I'm also sick of the excuse that the B1G needs to consider scheduling FCS schools to maximize potential to get into the new "Playoff." I think the selection committee should ignore any game played against an FCS school when identifying the best teams for the playoff.
Brian Bennett: Some very good points, Rob, and you and I appear to be in total agreement that these FCS games should be eliminated. I didn't even mention ticket prices in my post, but the rising costs of attending games is yet another reason why these games are abhorrent. And I also agree that the seven home games argument is a bit odd given the massive amount of money flowing into Power 5 conference teams. It has been projected that the Big Ten could distribute $45 million to each of its member schools after the league's new TV contract is negotiated. Surely some of this can help make up for a lack of a seventh home game in some seasons, no? Or do schools need to continue to raise coaches' salaries and build even more spectacular facilities with that cash?
I also love your last point about the selection committee ignoring wins over FCS opponents. So if, say, an ACC team is 11-1 but has a win over an FCS team, it should be considered 10-1. That might make a big difference when comparing it to an 11-1 team from another conference that has 11 wins over actual FBS teams. I think that would change some schools' willingness to schedule FCS opponents very quickly.
Brian Bennett: Dave, while I agree with you on an eight-team playoff, which in my view would be the perfect setup, we need to be happy that we at long last have some sort of a playoff system. And it will eventually expand, I believe. I also don't think the FCS mandate will have much impact on the Playoff in terms of wins or losses. Let's face it: Any team that loses to an FCS or lower-level FBS team is not going to make the four-team Playoff field anyway. What not scheduling FCS opponents does for the Big Ten is raise its overall strength-of-schedule component, which could be key for selection purposes.
Brian Bennett: I don't believe I ever said that schools like Indiana should schedule FCS schools. However, I do believe a team like the Hoosiers should dumb down its schedule if it needs to get over the hump and into a bowl game. Last year, Indiana played Navy, Missouri and Bowling Green in the nonconference schedule, which seemed to me a bit too ambitious for a program looking for its second bowl appearance since 1993 and first in six years. There are plenty of easier games against lower-level FBS schools to be had, even if it means a home-and-home series to reduce costs.
Brian Bennett: Great question, Josh, and it's something that needs to happen, not just for Michigan but to strengthen the entire Big Ten. Michigan has every possible resource you would need, including the nation's largest stadium and huge revenue streams. Brady Hoke's staff has recruited highly ranked classes. So there's really nothing that should be keeping this program down. Either Hoke will get it there in the next couple of years, or someone else will get a chance to try.
Brian Bennett: Shameful? Really? I have "actually looked" at the Buckeyes' line and have seen them in practice. That line includes left tackle Taylor Decker, who started last year and who Urban Meyer said was playing as well as any Ohio State lineman at the end of 2013. It includes Chad Lindsay, who transferred from Alabama after starting several games there at center. It also includes Pat Elflein, who filled in for Marcus Hall very well last year. Fourth-year junior Antonio Underwood and fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin ran with the first team most of the spring. There are a lot of younger players behind them pushing for time.
Meyer wasn't satisfied with his line play this spring, but to say the group lacks talent is disingenuous. Remember there were many questions about the line before 2012, and Ed Warriner quickly shaped that group into one of the country's strongest units. Warriner is one of the best in the business, and while this year's O-line likely won't be as good as the 2013 version, he'll get it figured out.
- Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys opened his own restaurant in his hometown this offseason and hopes to cook up something special with the Gophers' D this fall.
- James Franklin is what you'd call an innovator when it comes to camping, and he hopes to hold some youth camps in the future.
- The son of a former Hawkeye (named, awesomely enough, Richard Pryor) is on Iowa's recruiting radar.
- Brady Hoke's wife, Laura, helps assistant coaches' families bond and cope with tough times. Hoke still plans to ease Jabrill Peppers into things.
- Darqueze Dennard is bringing maturity and character to the Cincinnati Bengals.
- What do the preseason mags say about Nebraska?
- A long snapper committed to Ohio State. Spending 48 hours with Tyler Green, who went from Buckeyes camper to a Buckeyes commit in a weekend.
- Purdue running back Raheem Mostert is ready to roll at the NCAA track and field championships.
- Former Rutgers quarterback Blake Rankin has landed at Delaware.
- Highlighting the best of Week 8 in the Big Ten season.
Inbox time ...
Kyle from Dayton, Ohio, writes: If you could arrange the B1G divisions and crossover games, what would your B1G look like?
Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, my opinion has changed since this post, and I actually liked the original division setup, based on competitive balance, despite the geographical challenges. I wouldn't put Ohio State, Michigan, MSU and PSU in the same division. I'd likely move MSU to the West and Purdue to the East to create more balance. I would have just one permanent crossover game -- Michigan-Michigan State -- as I don't like these games in general because they reduce overall schedule rotation and defeat the purpose of a league. I would like to see the historically better teams in each division play one another more often than not, but I would not create any more permanent crossovers as Purdue and Indiana would be in the same division.
Adam Rittenberg: The NCAA seemingly has been more lenient in granting hardship waivers. Transfers such as Michigan State's DeAnthony Arnett and Northwestern's Kyle Prater received them and avoided sitting out a year. One difference is that both Arnett and Prater selected schools very close to their homes, while Michigan is about 250 miles from Isaac's home in Shorewood, Ill. So we'll see how it goes. Coach Brady Hoke told me Michigan likely will sign 15 or 16 players in the 2015 class, but I don't think Isaac changes the scholarship breakdown, especially after Damien Harris decommitted in January.
Russ from New Orleans writes: Adam, I'm looking over Athlon's predictions for the B1G next year, and I really have to question their decisions to put Penn State at 10-2. I have zero doubt that Hackenberg is the real deal, and they've got a decent stable of running backs, but who does Hackenberg have to throw to now that [Allen] Robinson is gone? Moreover, their O-Line is decimated and an injury or two away from utter disaster. Not to mention that it seems like the defense doesn't have anyone that truly wows you. But what are your thoughts? I'm sure James Franklin is a good coach, but 10-2? I think somewhere between 7-8 wins is far more reasonable.
Adam Rittenberg: I agree completely, Russ. While it's possible Penn State reaches 10-2 with a mostly favorable schedule, almost everything would need to go right, especially on the health front. Penn State can't afford many or any injuries on the offensive line or at linebacker, and if Christian Hackenberg misses any extended time, the Lions are in major trouble. Penn State enters the season as an underdog in at least two games: Ohio State and Michigan State, which are both at home but will be tough. The Lions also face Michigan on the road at night -- hardly an obvious win -- plus a good UCF team in Ireland. Penn State can't look past opponents like Northwestern (home) and Rutgers (road). I don't see 10-2 with the potential problems. An 8-win season seems more reasonable.
Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Brian. The Soldier Field playing surface is a major drawback and must be addressed before the Big Ten considers moving its title game there. I don't think the outdoor factor is as big as some make it seem. Sure, an early December game could be cold, but it also could be a lot like the final few Saturdays of the regular season. Big Ten teams have played in those conditions forever.
Indy is a great site and makes it easy on the fans that go, but it's not a major event there like it would be in Chicago. The Big Ten basketball tournament draws way better there and it truly is the nerve center for Big Ten fans. I live here and meet Big Ten fans pretty much everywhere I go. I'm not saying the event should be in Chicago every year, but once every four years would be fun. Attendance wouldn't be a concern and it would be more of a major event than it has been in Indy.
Wallace from Cincinnati writes: I completely agree that official visits should be moved up to help the teams in the North. What my question is do you think it could get passed if only B1G teams are the ones pushing for it? What if the B1G schools get with other Northern school from other conferences -- say, Boston College, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Kansas State -- and try and get the backing from multiple schools? Would that be enough to get rules changed?
Adam Rittenberg: It's not a bad idea, Wallace. Several Big Ten coaches we talked to expressed concern about the challenge of pushing for such a big change to the recruiting calendar. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said, "If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining. They'll keep rallying their troops." Well, if the Big Ten has more troops to rally -- teams from other conferences experiencing similar recruiting disadvantages because of their locations -- it has a better chance of fostering change. But the first step in my view is for the Big Ten coaches to take a united position on earlier official visits. Other leagues have done so and the Big Ten should follow.
Who'll end up as the most memorable player? And who'll see time right away? Adam Rittenberg, Brian Bennett and Josh Moyer joined Big Ten recruiting writer Tom VanHaaren in discussing the big questions surrounding the freshmen.
So let's get started ...
Based on talent, which freshman is too good to leave off the field?
VanHaaren: Peppers is the first name that comes to mind. Michigan doesn't really have anyone like him on the roster. His combination of size and speed, which he displayed at a recent track meet by running a 10.52-second 100-meter dash, is something that Michigan needs in the defensive backfield. I just don't see a scenario where a healthy Peppers doesn't see the field in some capacity.
Moyer: Everyone should be familiar with Peppers, so let's forget about him for a minute. Someone whom Buckeyes fans already know -- and whom other B1G fans should familiarize themselves with -- is linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was rated as the top inside linebacker recruit in the nation. He's already enrolled, he's already impressed Urban Meyer, and he's already a physically imposing athlete. At 240 pounds, he's bigger than all but one of OSU's 10 other linebackers. Almost every scouting report you read on the guy describes him as a "thumper," and Meyer said three months ago that there'll be no redshirt for McMillan. He should make an impact early on.
Based on need, which freshman is a lock to start from Day 1?
Bennett: I'll go with Purdue's Gelen Robinson. He's following in the footsteps, sort of, of his dad -- Boilers basketball legend Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. The younger Robinson was Purdue's most celebrated recruit in this class, but not just because of that name. He's also an outstanding athlete who should force his way onto the field from Day 1. He'll likely play outside linebacker, which is a position of need for Darrell Hazell's team. Heck, they need players everywhere, but particularly difference-makers on defense. Robinson will get every opportunity.
Rittenberg: It's hard for true freshman offensive linemen to step in immediately, but keep an eye on Maryland's Damian Prince, the nation's No. 26 prospect in the 2014 class. The recent suspension of potential starter Moise Larose creates a need at tackle, and both Prince and Derwin Gray both have a chance to win starting jobs this summer. Wisconsin will play several of its freshman wide receivers, and I could easily see a guy like Dareian Watkins entering the starting lineup. And let's not forget about Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell. The Spartans lost a few pieces on the interior defensive line.
Moyer: Penn State wideout De'Andre Thompkins. In a normal year, he might be a redshirt candidate. He's incredibly athletic -- Bill O'Brien recruited him thinking he could be a two-way player and compete at nickelback -- but he's also a bit raw since he played mostly at running back in high school. He still needs to sharpen his routes but, between the scholarship reduction and the lack of experience at receiver this season, Thompkins will have to step up sooner rather than later. The early enrollee has already proven he's the fastest player on the roster, and he's taken reps as a return man. So he should play on Day 1, in some capacity.
When this freshman class graduates, who will be remembered as the best player?
Bennett: Peppers is the easy and safe choice here. Another possibility is Maryland's Prince. He's a mountain, and given the value of offensive tackles in the NFL, we could be hearing his name early in the 2017 or 2018 draft.
VanHaaren: It could very well be either Peppers or McMillan. It's tough to argue against those two just based off of talent and ability, and I would probably go with Peppers here. I saw him at the Under Armour All-America Game and coach Herm Edwards told me Peppers was the best high school prospect he had coached in the few years he had been coaching at the event. That's high praise for a former defensive back.
What redshirt freshman should fans keep an eye on?
Bennett: I trust the player development program at Michigan State. Guys there just seem to get better and better throughout their careers, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Demetrius Cooper turned a lot of heads this spring and forced himself into the rotation, even with standout returning starters Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush ahead of him. Cooper was just a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, but the Spartans have made a living turning moderately-rated recruits into true college stars.
VanHaaren: I don't know if this is cheating or not because he's a sophomore, but I'm really interested to see what quarterback Wes Lunt does for Illinois. I put him here because he transferred and had to sit out the last season. I think he could be a big boost to that program if he can get things rolling offensively for the Illini.
Rittenberg: Iowa wide receiver Derrick Willies. Not only did he have a breakout spring for the Hawkeyes, but he's the type of receiver Iowa has lacked for a while: tall, fast and explosive. Iowa wants to ramp up the offensive tempo even more this season, which likely means the ball will be spread around more. Expect some big plays from Willies in his first game action.
Moyer: Minnesota running back Berkley Edwards. If it wasn't for an ankle injury early last season, he probably would've played. As it is, he'll definitely see the field this fall -- and he might see it quite a bit. Jerry Kill was asked earlier this spring if Edwards might get five to seven carries a game. "We'll see," Kill said, chuckling, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He might need more touches." Edwards is an exciting player who has a chance to break it anytime he touches the ball, and he could end up being an important change-of-pace back for the offense. Definitely worth watching.
Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.
The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.
If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.
"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."
NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.
The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.
"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"
DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.
Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."
"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.
"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."
DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.
It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."
Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.
Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.
"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."
Coaches say the parental component is critical.
"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."
"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."
Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.
"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."
Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."
The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.
It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."
Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.
"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."
That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.
"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."
The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.
As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.
The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.
Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.
"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."
A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.
Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.
"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."
Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.
Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.
"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."
That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)
Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."
Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."
There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.
"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?
"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”
College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.
"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
Drive Through: Is Michigan Hurting the Big Ten?
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
7:00 PM ET Eastern Illinois Minnesota 10:00 PM ET Rutgers Washington State
8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 12:00 PM ET Indiana State Indiana 12:00 PM ET Northern Iowa Iowa 12:00 PM ET Appalachian State Michigan 12:00 PM ET 5 Ohio State Navy 12:00 PM ET Western Michigan Purdue 12:05 PM ET Youngstown State Illinois 3:30 PM ET James Madison Maryland 3:30 PM ET Florida Atlantic 22 Nebraska 3:30 PM ET California Northwestern 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU