Michigan Wolverines: Wes Lunt

Big Ten roundtable: Impact freshmen

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
9:00
AM ET
With incoming freshmen set to report to their respective B1G teams later this month, we thought now would be a perfect time to take a closer look at the 2014 class.

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?

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNJabrill Peppers is the type of physical defensive back that Michigan's defense needs.
Bennett: First, let's start off with the caveat that college is a lot different from high school, and more goes into being successful at this level than pure physical gifts. That said, I have never heard anyone dispute the natural talent and football instincts of Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. He was ESPN's No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2014 for a reason. The comparisons to Charles Woodson are already being made, and the corner spot is open with Blake Countess playing nickelback. Michigan needs to get more physical in its pass coverage and have more defensive playmakers in general. If Peppers fulfills even 80 percent of his hype, he'll be on the field early and often for Brady Hoke.

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.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsThe massive Damian Prince might be too good to keep out of Maryland's starting lineup.
Rittenberg: McDowell's recruiting melodrama gained a lot of attention, overshadowing how good a player he could be for MSU. Mark Dantonio isn't one to heap praise on freshmen but held a news conference specifically to discuss McDowell, saying, "Malik will be on the field for us, he's too big and fast [not to be], he can play inside or outside." I've been told McDowell's parents are on board with MSU now, and with the distractions behind him, he should become a star for an already elite defense.

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.
One of the things separating the Big Ten from some of the other power conferences in recent years seems to be elite quarterback play.

Take the 3,000-yard passing mark as an example. The league had just one player reach that plateau both last season (Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase) and in 2012 (Penn State's Matt McGloin). The good news is, some talented quarterbacks returned to Big Ten campuses for the 2014 season. Will any of them reach 3,000 yards?

We took a look at the most likely candidates to do so on Friday, and now we want your opinion. Which of these quarterbacks will throw for 3,000 yards this season?
    SportsNation

    Which of these QBs is most likely to throw for 3,000 yards in 2014?

    •  
      52%
    •  
      20%
    •  
      21%
    •  
      3%
    •  
      4%

    Discuss (Total votes: 6,685)

  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: He finished just 45 yards shy of 3,000 as a true freshman, and that was without the benefit of a 13th game. Hackenberg should get to 3,000 during his career, but will it be this season when he learns a new offensive system and loses favorite target Allen Robinson?
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan: You might not necessarily think of Gardner as an elite passer, but he finished with five more passing yards than Hackenberg and would have easily surpassed 3,000 had he been healthy for the Wolverines' bowl game. Like Hackenberg, though, he loses his best receiver (Jeremy Gallon) and has a new offensive coordinator (Doug Nussmeier).
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State: Cook came on strong at the end of the season with consecutive 300-yard passing days in the Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl. Unlike last season, he'll hit the ground running as the starter and should lead a much improved Spartans passing game.
  • C.J. Brown, Maryland: The pros: Brown is an experienced senior with two standout receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The cons: Neither Brown nor his wideouts have been able to stay healthy for an entire season together.
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois: Lunt hasn't even been named the starter yet, but we expect that to happen. He started as a true freshman at Oklahoma State before transferring to the Illini, and Bill Cubit's spread offense took Scheelhaase's numbers to a whole new level. It could do the same for Lunt.

Vote now in our poll.
In the past two days, we have looked at the most likely 1,000-yard rushers and 1,000-yard receivers in the Big Ten for 2014. That leaves one major offensive statistical milestone to examine: 3,000-yard passers.

Quarterbacks who throw for 3,000 yards in the Big Ten aren't quite as rare as, say, a snow leopard, but they don't come around all that frequently, either. After all, this is a league associated with three yards and a cloud of dust, not 3,000 yards and a chem trail.

But the passing game continues to take on more and more importance throughout college football, and the conference is not immune despite producing just one 3,000-yard passer in each of the past two seasons (Penn State's Matt McGloin in 2012, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase in 2013). Who might reach that prestigious mark in 2014? Let's take our best guesses, in order of most likely:

  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State (2,955 passing yards in 2013): Hackenberg very nearly got to the 3k level as a true freshman, which is all the more remarkable considering the Nittany Lions didn't have the benefit of a bowl game. He probably won't get a 13th game again this season barring an NCAA surprise but should continue to improve as a sophomore and is the most gifted young quarterback in the Big Ten. The big question mark is whether his young receiving corps and a thin offensive line can help him out.
  • [+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
    AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDespite some struggles, Michigan's Devin Gardner almost hit the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2013.
    Devin Gardner, Michigan (2,960): For all the faults people found in Gardner's game in 2013, he still almost reached 3,000 yards and would have certainly done so had he been healthy for the bowl game. He won't have favorite target Jeremy Gallon around and just about everybody else on offense is young. But he has shown he can put up big numbers when he's healthy and protecting the ball.
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State (2,755): Cook never had a 300-yard passing day before the Big Ten championship game; then he turned in two straight in winning MVP honors in Indianapolis and again in the Rose Bowl. A 14-game schedule helped get him close to 3,000 yards, but don't forget that he didn't begin the season as the starter or gain the coaches' confidence until late September. He'll have a lot more on his plate this season, and the junior could gobble up some major yardage.
  • C.J. Brown, Maryland (2,242): Brown arguably has the best two wide receivers in the Big Ten if -- and this is a big, blaring, neon if -- Stefon Diggs and Deon Long stay healthy. Avoiding injury is also a big key for Brown, who missed a pair of games last season. But the senior could be poised for a massive season if everything breaks right.
  • Wes Lunt, Illinois (1,108 yards for Oklahoma State): Lunt has yet to throw a pass for the Fighting Illini and hasn't played a down in two years. Yet he showed his immense potential as a true freshman for the Cowboys in 2012, and Bill Cubit's offense provides tremendous opportunities for quarterbacks to put up numbers (see Scheelhaase last season). Lunt still has to officially win the job, and the team must find playmakers at receiver. But who in the world thought Scheelhaase would lead the Big Ten in passing in 2013 this time last year?
  • Nate Sudfeld (2,523) or Tre Roberson (1,128), Indiana: If we believed either of these guys would hold the job full-time all season, a 3,000-yard season would be a no-brainer. The Hoosiers have juggled quarterbacks the past two years, with their signal-callers combining to go over 3,000 yards both seasons behind a prolific passing attack. Alas, you never quite know who will take the snaps or when Kevin Wilson will decide to make a change. Sudfeld is a better bet as a 3,000-yard passer since Roberson brings more of a running element to the table, but either could post sky-high stats if given the reins every Saturday.
  • Trevor Siemian, Northwestern (2,149): Siemian surpassed 2,000 yards last season despite splitting time at quarterback with Kain Colter. Now that the job is his alone, the Wildcats should become much more of a passing team to suit his skills. That could equal a big-time bump in Siemian's numbers.
  • Gary Nova, Rutgers (2,159): The first thing Nova has to do is stop throwing the ball to the other team, as he did 14 times in just 10 games last season. And he has to, you know, secure the job in the Scarlet Knights' quarterback derby. But he threw for nearly 2,700 yards in 2012, and now gets renowned quarterback guru Ralph Friedgen to guide him. So it's possible he could finally put it all together.
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2,094): Miller would need to improve his numbers by almost 1,000 yards, and that's after a 14-game season by the Buckeyes. But he did miss basically three full games last season, and Ohio State wants to become a more dangerous downfield passing team. The senior missed spring practice with a shoulder injury but has worked hard on his mechanics. Don't put anything past the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year.


If Ron Burgundy coached college football -- the San Diego Border Terriers, perhaps? -- he would only need to learn two lines to survive spring practice.

1. "I like my team."

2. "I'm glad we don't have a game tomorrow."

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats had to deal with a lot off the field this spring.
College coaches have recited those phrases in spring ball for decades. The 14 men leading Big Ten programs are no exceptions. But the standard spring sentiments apply to the league more this year than most.

There are reasons to believe the Big Ten will be better this fall, but the work is far from over on most campuses. This isn't a league of finished products, and the coming months take on added importance before the 2014 season kicks off in late August.

"I don't think we're that far behind; it's just painfully obvious that we're not there," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This next phase will be the most important phase of this team's life. It's always important, but with a lot of things we've gone though, we've got to come together."

Northwestern went through a lot in the spring, mostly away from the field, as the campaign for a player union gained national media attention, especially after players were declared employees of the school in March. The team held a historic vote Friday, after Fitzgerald had expressed his opposition to unionizing. Some players expressed concern that the vote could split the team.

It will be months before we know if the union plan goes through, but the Wildcats continue preparing for a pivotal season. They found their quarterback this spring in senior Trevor Siemian and an offensive identity based around the passing game. But questions along both lines remain.

The spring also produced quarterback answers at Iowa (Jake Rudock) and Minnesota (Mitch Leidner). Michigan's Devin Gardner had a rough spring game but still seems likely to retain his job. Another senior signal-caller, Rutgers' Gary Nova, is a good bet to remain atop the depth chart. Although Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong lacks Nova's or Gardner's experience, he exited spring just as he entered it: as the Huskers' top quarterback.

Indiana's platoon system of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson frustrates some, but not coach Kevin Wilson, who has given every indication that he'll continue to use both for another season.

Other quarterback races have been reduced but not resolved. Illinois will pick between Wes Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer who impressed for much of the spring, and veteran backup Reilly O'Toole. Coach Tim Beckman wants a resolution before two-a-day practices in August.

Purdue's Danny Etling, who started the final seven games of his freshman season, appeared to have a slight lead coming out of the spring, but coach Darrell Hazell isn't ready to declare a starter. So Austin Appleby and David Blough remain alive.

Wisconsin reduced its candidate pool from four to two as Joel Stave, who boasts 19 career starts but also a nagging throwing shoulder injury, will compete with dual-threat Tanner McEvoy in camp.

"It will be a fight," coach Gary Andersen said.

Quarterback is just one spot where Wisconsin has questions. The Badgers went through much of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. They've also revamped their defensive front seven, which returns only one starter from 2013.

[+] EnlargeRaekwon McMillan
Miller Safrit/ESPNEarly enrollee Raekwon McMillan could make an immediate impact for Ohio State's defense this fall.
Ohio State didn't have star quarterback Braxton Miller for spring ball because of shoulder surgery, but the Buckeyes focused on bolstering a defense that struggled last fall. Freshman Raekwon McMillan, an early enrollee, is pushing for the starting middle linebacker spot, and competition will continue at the cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant. Chris Ash, the Buckeyes' new co-defensive coordinator, worked to simplify the scheme this spring.

"We only have about six defensive calls," safety Tyvis Powell said after the spring game. "We had too many last year."

Offensive line remains Michigan's focal point coming out of the spring. A sloppy spring game didn't ease fears about the Wolverines' front five, although coach Brady Hoke saw positive signs in earlier practices. A critical summer awaits new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, tasked with resurrecting Michigan's run game.

At Penn State, new coach James Franklin continues to energize both players and fans. But he's also realistic about the depth challenge his team faces, particularly along the offensive line.

"When you don't have a two-deep of scholarship players, you've got issues that you're going to have to overcome," Franklin said. "We don't."

Like Rutgers, Maryland began its Big Ten transition this spring and welcomed running back Wes Brown and wideout Marcus Leak after absences from the team. If the Terrapins finally stay healthy, they could be worth watching in a loaded East Division.

Sitting atop the division is defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. The Spartans had a relatively stress-free spring, but they must fill key spots on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback, where players like Taiwan Jones and Darian Hicks step in.

The returning pieces for teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin fuel optimism around the league. But in spring, optimism is always tempered by what lies ahead.

"We're improving," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday, "but we're hardly ready to play."

They won't have to for 132 days.

Until then, stay classy, Big Ten fans.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
12:00
PM ET
Have a great weekend, everybody, and enjoy all the spring games. Looks like some nice weather out there.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
PM ET
Big Ten is desperate for a title. Which one of you is willing to make the sacrifice?

Links time ...
Spring football kicks off earlier than normal in the Big Ten, as Michigan takes the field Tuesday, Northwestern follows Wednesday and eight other squads begin their sessions by March 8.

The accelerated schedules seem appropriate in a league filled with players, coaches and teams itching for fresh starts.

New assistants get their first chance to repair struggling units, whether it's Doug Nussmeier with Michigan's offense, Brian Knorr with Indiana's defense or Chris Ash and Larry Johnson with a once-feared Ohio State defense. Quarterback competitions begin or resume at nine places, as new faces such as Illinois' Wes Lunt, Nebraska's Johnny Stanton and Minnesota's Chris Streveler enter the mix, while veterans like Wisconsin's Joel Stave and Michigan's Devin Gardner try to retain their starting jobs.

Happy Valley continues to buzz about new Penn State coach James Franklin, who seems to galvanize everyone whom he encounters. But Franklin barely has been around his new players and finally begins the real work with a team facing very real challenges.

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hopes his team can start a rebound from a disappointing, injury-riddled 2013 season.
Spring also allows teams such as Northwestern, Michigan, Purdue and Indiana to look forward after disappointing seasons. Michigan State, meanwhile, continues to bask in the Rose Bowl glow but looks toward its next goal -- a national championship -- as spring ball kicks off March 25.

"It's big-picture stuff, building relationships with the players and everyone associated with the program," Franklin told ESPN.com. "The other thing is laying a really good foundation with the philosophies and schemes of how we're going to do things. That's going to happen naturally over time, but I'm not the most patient person. I wish it would have happened yesterday."

Franklin doesn't water down his goals for Penn State, especially in recruiting, but he's also realistic about the challenges of a reduced roster. The Nittany Lions return strong pieces such as quarterback Christian Hackenberg and defensive back Adrian Amos, but the two-deep has some holes that Franklin and his assistants must address, while installing new schemes.

"It's one thing when you get put in this situation in the first place with limited scholarships," Franklin said, "but the longer you're in it, the more effect it has. We've got some depth issues, there's no doubt about it, across the board. We're going to have to get creative."

Northwestern also is focused on depth after being hit hard by key injuries in 2013. Pat Fitzgerald blames himself and his staff for failing to get enough second-stringers ready, which proved costly in close Big Ten losses.

After their first bowl-less winter in six years, the Wildcats responded well in the weight room, as more than 50 players recorded personal bests. Although 11 players will miss spring practice, including standout running back/returner Venric Mark, the depth should be better in areas like the secondary.

"We're really emphasizing taking ownership of the finish," Fitzgerald said. "Finishing your technique, finishing the call, finishing the route. There's a lot of disappointment in the way the program didn't take the next step forward."

Michigan coach Brady Hoke restructured the roles of his defensive assistants for 2014, but the Wolverines' offense will be in the spotlight this spring after a wildly inconsistent season. Gardner, who continues to recover from a foot injury and likely won't be 100 percent until midway through the spring, will compete with Shane Morris, Russell Bellomy and midyear enrollee Wilton Speight.

But other positions, such as offensive line, figure to be just as important as Michigan tries to achieve Hoke and Nussmeier's vision.

"We had good intentions as far as what we wanted our identity to be, but obviously I don't think it came out the way we'd like it to," Hoke said. "The quarterback position is as important as any, and we have a guy [Gardner] who is very talented and had some really good games and games where we had to protect him better, have a better run game and take pressure off of him, and I don't think we did."

While Michigan turns the page on offense, Ohio State focuses on a defense that allowed 115 points in its last three games and finished 110th nationally in pass yards allowed (268 YPG). The Buckeyes lost top defenders Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, but they also added two accomplished assistants.

Johnson, who churned out NFL linemen during 18 years at Penn State, chose Ohio State instead of remaining in State College. Ash leaves a sole coordinator role at Arkansas for a co-coordinator role at Ohio State, where he'll work with the embattled Luke Fickell and others to mend the defense through a simplified scheme.

"Back in the day when Ohio State played great defense, you knew what you were going to get," Ash said. "They played with swagger, played with confidence, played with toughness. We have to get back to that. The simplicity of the things we're going to do will lead to faster players, more plays made and a more aggressive defense.

"I wasn't here [in 2013], but I can tell you what Coach Meyer has told me, what Luke Fickell has told me and what I watch on film. I can see there's some hesitation, there's some uncertainty. Why that is, I don't know. But it's my job to get it fixed."

Purdue has plenty to fix after a 1-11 season, and players not surprisingly are wearing T-shirts with the word "FORWARD" on the backs. Maryland and Rutgers move forward to a new conference after an offseason that saw several staff changes, including new coordinators at Rutgers (Ralph Friedgen, Joe Rossi).

There's a fresh start of sorts at Wisconsin, as a large and decorated senior class departs. Coach Gary Andersen's markings will be more obvious with his second team, which begins practice March 7.

Wisconsin is just one of many places where the top quarterback job is at stake. Lunt, who sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma State, competes with Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey at Illinois.

"Competition's competition, no matter where it's at," said Lunt, who has added about 15 pounds since his arrival and checks in at 225. "It's different because it’s different people, different coaches, but I'm excited for it."

He's not alone in the Big Ten. Spring ball can't start soon enough.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
5:00
PM ET
Coming at you from the United Mailbaggers Local 40205 …

David from Nashville writes: All Players United! Well except walk-ons, that is. I'm sorry, but Kain Colter is losing me. Personally, I completely understand wanting medical coverage for football injuries sustained while representing the university. But excluding walk-ons from having a ”'voice at the table,” as Colter calls it? Do they not sustain injuries, get concussions or have medical bills? And they don't even get the free education from a very prestigious, and expensive, school like Northwestern! Or perhaps, just like the NCAA, Kain Colter just wants “his,” and including your walk-on teammates will hurt his legal argument to get “his.”

Brian Bennett: Clearly, there are more questions than answers right now about the Northwestern labor union movement. Can students at a university really be classified as "employees?" How would such a union arrangement work with Title IX? How long would medical benefits last, and who would decide whether a former player's injury was football-related?

The issue of walk-ons is another one, although a minor point, in my opinion. Only those who are receiving scholarships can really argue that they are being compensated like an employee, and any walk-on who plays enough to merit post-career benefits would likely be put on scholarship at some point. It's also not fair to say Colter is looking to "get his" when he has already completed his eligibility and likely would not see any personal gain from leading this movement. On the contrary, he's risking a lot by agreeing to become the public face of this movement.

I question whether a labor union is the right way for the players to go, and it certainly was odd to see college football players standing alongside steelworkers' union members at Tuesday's news conference. But I also think it's way past time for players to organize in some way and make sure their rights and concerns are being considered. College football is a multibillion-dollar industry that's only going to get richer with the new playoff system, and everybody from head coaches to assistants to athletic directors are getting rich off the sport. Everybody except the players, who put their bodies at risk for our enjoyment, that is.

Yes, the players receive scholarships, and at a place like Northwestern, the value of that can exceed $250,000 over the course of a player's career. But the players in this movement aren't asking for cash. They're asking for things such as medical treatment beyond their playing days, better concussion prevention and care and a trust fund that can allow players to continue their schooling following their careers. (Many of their demands, by the way, are not that different from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany's own collegiate reform plan). Mostly, they are asking for a larger voice and a seat at the table in a system that too often treats them like disposable indentured servants. That seems a highly reasonable request to me.


[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is a good role model for running backs looking to improve next season.
Zach from Southgate, Mich., writes: Brian, who will be 2014's Carlos Hyde in the B1G? By that, I mean a player who showed flashes of talent early in his career but blossoms into an all-conference type of performer his final season. Guys like Ohio State CB Doran Grant, PSU RB Bill Belton, and Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo come to my mind as possibilities.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure Hyde blossomed as much as he was healthier in 2013 and got plenty of opportunities after his early-season suspension. He did run for 995 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 despite some injury problems, after all. I think a better example of someone who went from very good player to all-out beast in 2013 is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. Belton could be a guy who takes a similar path, though he has some competition for carries with Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch around. Indiana's Tevin Coleman is another running back who could take it to the next level after running for 958 yards in his first season starting. Maybe Iowa's Jordan Canzeri, if he can get more reps (and stay healthy).

On defense, I'd say Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes could follow Darqueze Dennard's path into superstardom. And Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa could go bonkers on the league.


Dane from Akron, Penn., writes: Really, Brian? PSU/Michigan, 4-OT game at No. 6? This game had it all. A freshman QB drives 60-plus yards in like 40 seconds (two unbelievable catches on that drive), a clutch kicker missing three field goals... I repeat, 4 OTs!

Brian Bennett: The game had it all except quality of play, as I explained in my post. Just because a game goes long does not mean that it was well-played. You mentioned the missed field goals. The two teams each failed to score in two of the overtimes and there was only one touchdown in all four of the extra periods, which led to a lot of national writers poking fun at the Big Ten on Twitter during the game. There were also seven combined turnovers. It was exciting, no doubt, and a great win for Penn State after a tremendous regulation comeback. But it was also very sloppy.


John R. from Dubuque, Iowa, writes: Brian, am I the only Illini fan that's thrilled to see a new QB take the reins in Illinois? Sure the numbers were great, but the predictable interception always happened! I can't wait for Wes Lunt to play. The way the defense talked about his skills when he ran the scout team's offense is enough make any humbled Illini fan excited of something. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: You're definitely not alone, John. There's a big buzz about Lunt taking over and running Bill Cubit's spread offense. At 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, he looks more like a classic quarterback than Nathan Scheelhaase did, and Lunt was a blue-chip stud coming out of high school. I'd caution you not to view him as the savior yet; remember that Lunt struggled a bit as a freshman at Oklahoma State, a program that usually makes quarterbacks look great. There are also questions at receiver for Illinois, and don't discount what Scheelhaase did last year in passing for more than 3,000 yards. Still, the talent is definitely there, and I'm also excited to see what Lunt can do in that offense.


Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: I don't know about other people, but I've long held the opinion that Penn State underachieves. By this I mean that they are a national power in terms of fan base, facilities, revenue and name brand appeal. Just not a national power on the field. I felt this was certainly true for the last 10-15 years under Paterno. Under O'Brien, you had the sense that the game and team were being upgraded, but he himself didn't have a catchy personality. And I didn't even think it was important until I'm seeing Franklin and his recruiting. It's way too early to tell if that translates to success on the field. But it appears that the foundation is (hopefully) being laid for better results in the future. What I see is someone putting energy into the whole program. It certainly would seem like the program might actually start taking advantage of its assets and capability. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: I think you can make some parallels between Penn State and Florida State. Both programs were probably held back a little because their legendary coaches stayed on too long. Remember when Joe Paterno was doing his recruiting via Skype from his office? Now you have the almost manic energy of James Franklin, who along with his aggressive assistants will likely kill it on the recruiting trail. Of course, the toll of the NCAA sanctions can't be overstated, and Franklin has to prove that A) he's a championship-caliber head coach; and B) that he's willing to stick around Penn State for a long time. But you're right in that the marriage of Penn State's resources and Franklin's particular skills should prove very fruitful for the Nittany Lions.


Michael B. from East Lansing, Mich., writes: The East Division next season seems to be Michigan State's to lose. I understand that Ohio State will be in the picture, but can we really place Michigan in that race with their lackluster performances over the past few years? Seems to me that Penn State would be the next best in the division going into the season.

Brian Bennett: Michigan State and Ohio State appear to be the clear co-favorites for the East next season. While I expect Michigan to improve on its 2013 showing, the Wolverines still have a lot more question marks in my view than the Spartans or Buckeyes, and they have to play both those teams on the road in '14. Penn State is an intriguing contender because it gets both Ohio State and Michigan State at home, where the Nittany Lions played much better than on the road last year. But I think the Buckeyes and Spartans still have the commanding edge in talent and depth, and we should see one of those two in Indianapolis in December.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football:

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
AP Photo/Tony DingBrady Hoke's team suffered another tough loss Saturday against Iowa.
1. The Big Ten title game will tell a lot about both participants: The desired matchup is set for the league championship game, as Ohio State and Michigan State will meet Dec. 7 in Indianapolis. But what do we know about both teams? Both have made strides during Big Ten play, particularly Michigan State, which doesn't resemble the team we saw in September. Both have excellent offensive backfield tandems in Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, and Michigan State's Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford. Yet there are still some questions to be answered about both squads, as the respective schedules have provided few significant tests. Ohio State's best win remains a seven-point home decision against Wisconsin, while Michigan State has some decent wins (Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan) but nothing special. There are so many compelling storylines about this game, but perhaps the best is that both teams will be facing their biggest test of the season. Can the game kick off already?

2. Hoke, Fitzgerald and Wilson deserve some heat: Michigan, Northwestern and Indiana all entered the season with high expectations, and for good reason. The Wolverines and Wildcats both were in the mix for the Legends Division title, and Indiana had a schedule with eight home games, just needing to win six for its first postseason appearance since 2007. But all three programs have significantly underachieved, and all three coaches should feel some heat. Hoke's team completely lacks an identity on offense. Michigan couldn't beat Iowa despite a 21-7 halftime lead and a plus-3 turnover margin. Northwestern outplayed Michigan State for much of the first half but Coach Fitz continued to look like Scaredy Pat, twice punting in Spartans territory. Michigan State's first three touchdowns all came after Northwestern punts in plus territory. The Wildcats, enduring their longest losing streak since 1998, also failed to score a touchdown. Indiana had the most explosive offense of the three, thanks to Wilson's fast-paced scheme. But the Hoosiers once again were grounded in a blowout loss at Ohio State. Northwestern and Indiana are assured of no bowl trip, and while Michigan will be playing in the postseason, the future looks murky in Ann Arbor. All three coaches have some soul searching to do.

3. The Big Ten's BCS at-large hopes are looking better: Rich Rodriguez might not have fond memories of his time in the Big Ten, but he provided a big assist for the league Saturday, when his Arizona Wildcats upset Oregon to hand the Ducks their second loss. The Pac-12 can keep talking about its parity and cannibalistic nature all it wants, but it won't be sending two teams to BCS bowls, as every league squad has at least two losses. Tough tacos, Pac-12. The Big Ten, meanwhile, is in better shape for multiple BCS entries if its contenders can qualify. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said his team is playing for a BCS bowl next week against Minnesota, confident the Spartans will remain in the top 14 of the final standings even if they lose in Indy. Wisconsin, meanwhile, strengthened its case for at-large selection with a road win against Minnesota. The Badgers still need to climb into the top 14 but should end the season on a seven-game win streak. A Clemson loss this week against South Carolina would help the Big Ten even more.

4. Iowa-Nebraska is worth watching: The Heroes Game hasn't lived up to its name the first two years, as Iowa and Nebraska have played two relative snoozers on Black Friday. This week's contest has some more intrigue as both squads come in with some momentum following mini turnarounds. Nebraska has won three of its last four, beginning with the Hail Mary triumph against Northwestern, and still could finish at 9-3. Will that be enough to keep coach Bo Pelini around for another year? We'll soon find out. Iowa also has won three of four following its come-from-behind victory against Michigan. An 8-4 regular-season record with a win against a supposed rival would look pretty good for an improved Hawkeyes squad. The division races are wrapped up and the Ohio State-Michigan game could turn into a blowout, so Iowa-Nebraska might be the best contest of rivalry weekend.

5. Tim Beckman should get another year at Illinois: Had Beckman's Illini lost at Purdue on Saturday, their Big Ten losing streak would have reached 21 games with no real end in sight. And that might have been enough to justify dumping Beckman after just two years in Champaign. The Illini didn't exactly dominate the lowly Boilers -- they needed a defensive stop late to preserve a 20-16 victory -- but at least the team finally got it done. Perhaps now that the albatross has been lifted, the program can move forward. The Illini host Northwestern in next week's finale, and given the state of the Wildcats right now, it's not inconceivable that Illinois could start a Big Ten winning streak. Regardless, Illinois has made progress, however incremental, in doubling its win total over last year, and the offense has made obvious strides. Beckman should be given another season to try to right the ship on defense and continue the offensive fireworks with likely new starting quarterback Wes Lunt.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
4:00
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend of football watching. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, the best way to keep track on Saturdays.

To the inbox ...

Sumeet from San Francisco writes: Adam, what else, schedule questions. I have one, parity-based scheduling doesn't appear to be working as you may think, coming from a PSU fan. From 2014-2019 (a six-season stretch), PSU plays Nebraska once and Wisconsin once, both at Beaver Stadium. Really? This after we played both teams annually the past three years with some classic games? But we play Iowa four times in a row, and the other West teams multiple times over the six years. PSU-Nebraska especially had the makings of a budding rivalry, but now we won't see them until 2017, and Wisky in 2018. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Sumeet, it's unfortunate that the Lions and Huskers will meet so infrequently during that stretch, as both fan bases love that game on the schedule. It seems like the Big Ten has prioritized certain games over others with parity-based scheduling. Nebraska and Ohio State, for example, meet every year between 2016 and 2019, but Nebraska and Michigan meet just once between 2014 and 2019. Wisconsin and Michigan also meet every year between 2016-19, but the Badgers only play Penn State once during that span. The Big Ten is trying to create appealing matchups more often while also satisfying its principle to have teams meet at least once in a four-year span.

Penn State does seem to be put in the second tier when it comes to this approach, as the Lions aren't facing the marquee West division teams as often as you'd hope. I would point out, though that, Penn State-Iowa was a significant Big Ten matchup not long ago, and could be once again in the near future. It's not the same as facing Nebraska every year, but Penn State and Iowa had a nice rivalry going for a while.




Jackie from New York: It's no secret that Badger running backs have great respect for each other and pride in their performance as a unit. That said, is there any cause for concern that the unbelievable depth could hurt the Badgers in recruiting? You could argue that not just two, but all three of the Badgers' current backs are FBS starting caliber, even though the third, Corey Clement, is a true freshman. Melvin Gordon, leading candidate for B1G offensive player of the year is not even first on the depth chart. Heck, they even have J.J. Watt's little brother lining up back there at fullback! So, my question is, how do you keep convincing big-time recruits to come to Madison when they might have to spend years sharing carries?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think you worry about it until it becomes a problem, Jackie. The beauty of Wisconsin's running back situation is that the players all buy in to the spirit of competition and don't simply look for a place where they can be The Guy without first earning it. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock fosters this atmosphere of constant competition, and he looks for guys who want to compete and not have things just handed to them. Look at Montee Ball. He was the third-stringer for most of 2010 and had to boost his game to a point where he could be a featured back. Could Wisconsin's way lead to a transfer eventually or a highly touted player going elsewhere? Sure. But Wisconsin has built such a strong reputation for producing elite running backs that the talent will continue to come to Madison. More important, the right types of players will show up -- those ready to compete.




Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Adam, there was a recent question from another B1G fan in one of your chats that I found pretty absurd. Someone made a comment along the lines of "Do we want Ohio State in the championship game" with the assumption that Ohio State losing somehow damages the B1G's reputation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ohio State is the only B1G team to PLAY in the NC game, much less win it. Ohio State also has the most BCS wins and appearances of any school, and has more BCS wins than any other B1G teams have appearances. Big Ten fans can hate Ohio State all they want, but the Buckeyes have accomplished more in the BCS era than any other league school, and it's not even close.

Adam Rittenberg: You're absolutely right, Ian. Ohio State has been the Big Ten's only consistently elite team during the BCS era. It underscores the Big Ten's lack of depth at the top, which is a big reason it lags behind the SEC, a conference that has multiple teams that can challenge for national titles almost every year. As I said in the chat, the only way the Big Ten boosts its perception is to win a national title, and you can't win one without reaching that game. Ohio State still unfairly gets blamed for its title-game losses more than half a decade ago. But you have to wonder whether this Buckeyes team is ready to compete with an Alabama or an Oregon on Jan. 7. We could find out.




Bob from Iowa writes: My Hawkeyes are going into a very hostile environment this weekend at OSU. This team has me thinking about the Hawks' 2008 team. An improving team whose previous three years were very IOWA (mediocre). They entered the 2008 season with a bit of QB controversy (2008 Christiansen vs. Stanzi the Manzi). In 2008, they had a power running game on which they leaned on for the majority of the year. Now, that same year they beat the No. 3 team in the nation, Penn State. Understandable, it was in IC but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen again, right? They finished the year with an 8-4 record and they trounced South Carolina in the Gator Bowl (I believe). The following year they went to the Orange Bowl. Do you think these same results are possible again in our present timeline? What needs to go right?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, I love the optimism, and I agree that this season could springboard Iowa to bigger and better things next season, much like the 2008 season did for the 2009 team. Iowa's 2014 schedule is much, much more favorable with no overly difficult road games (Pitt, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois) and no Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State on the slate. If certain things fall right, the Hawkeyes will be in the mix for the West division title. Now can Iowa beat Ohio State on Saturday? I don't see it. This Hawkeyes team isn't as strong as the 2008 version, which lost some games it shouldn't have and ended the year playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten. There was a ton of NFL talent on that team, which I don't see with the current version. Iowa will need to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, commit no turnovers and gain a few takeaways to stay in Saturday's game. The Hawkeyes also need the edge in the kicking game. It's a tall task, but not an impossible one.




Alden from Chicago writes: I wish the B1G would leave the end-of-year games alone for the Spartans. I understand that the so-called rivalry with Penn State was squandered through the 90s and 00s. But now that we're going to be in the same division again, with MSU more competitive, why not reinstate it? What does MSU have to look forward to by playing Rutgers and Maryland? I feel like it's a major disadvantage in the rankings as well, would you agree? Is it Penn State that wants to end the year playing against the east coast? I say let the Knights and Terrapins play each other to end November.

Adam Rittenberg: Alden, it very well may work out that Michigan State plays Penn State to end the regular season in most years, but I don't see the problem with rotating that game with several opponents. Penn State has more rivalry potential with Rutgers and Maryland than Michigan State does, and the Big Ten wants to see where those games go over time. I don't understand your point about the game being a "major disadvantage" in the rankings. MSU still will play PSU every season in the division, in addition to both Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans also typically will have a good crossover game (Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin, etc.). Strength of schedule shouldn't be an issue for any team in the East division.

The plus of playing Rutgers and Maryland -- whenever it falls during the season -- is being able to showcase your product in new markets. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis has talked about the school's large alumni base on the east coast. Those folks will get to see the Spartans play in their backyard in late November. So will recruits that Michigan State targets in states like New Jersey and Maryland. I just can't get excited about the MSU-PSU series enough to make it an annual end-of-season rivalry.




John from San Antonio writes: After a promising start against nonconference creampuffs, it's fair to say that the Beckman rebuild has turned into a hopeless spiral of failure and depression. A five-win season would be a miracle and the next honest shot at a 6-6 season comes in 2107 with the return of Indiana, which is coincidentally when his contract runs out. But the problem is no coach could turn it around before then. So what's a fan to do? Pray for a merciful end to yet another hiring mistake and allow someone else to do no worse? Or fake joy at the "progress" of 4-8 seasons, concluded with a lethargic 2017 campaign for a 6-6 bowl appearance allowing Beckman to go out on a not-exactly-winning note?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, John, tell me how you really feel. I don't think you should be doing backflips about the Illini this year, but you have to acknowledge the improvement taking place there, especially on offense. This is still a young team that could take some steps late this season into next season. The remaining schedule looks daunting, and three more wins seem unlikely, but you never know. You can't say the next "honest shot" at a 6-6 season comes only in 2017, and that no coach could turn things around before then. Illinois is going to the West division, which should be the easier side to navigate. The team is already starting to mature a bit, and quarterback transfer Wes Lunt becomes eligible next fall. If you don't believe Tim Beckman is the guy, that's fine. But to project that the next four years will bring no bowls or tangible progress is a defeatist approach. Let's see how the rest of this season plays out.




Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: Big Ten football's demise is a cyclical phenomenon and not a failure to recruit. Scandal and coaching turnover, not style of play, is the biggest problem. Penn State and Ohio State, possibly the two best programs in the Big Ten were hit with big penalties. Michigan mis-hired with Rich Rod, who by the way was a spread-offense guy. Michigan players left, disgusted with Rich Rod's behavior. It takes many more years than just the years they are penalized or the years the coach is active, for a program to be rebuilt. Programs that have been consistent with coaching and offensive styles have done well, Wisconsin and Northwestern are successful without ranking high in recruiting. Michigan has always been a top recruiter, but had turnover, controversy, and a change of football philosophy that disrupts a program for years. It is not the recruiting but scandal, coaching turnover and the change of football philosophy that calls for different player personnel that goes with coaching change that has hit the Big Ten. Years ago the Big Ten basketball conference was considered weak, and now it is the top conference. My question is, how is recruiting in basketball different than football other than number of players?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Christopher, especially about coaching continuity leading to success and the lack of it in the Big Ten in recent years. It's important for programs to build their identities around the coach and the systems they run. We saw Iowa win the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season with a coaching staff and schemes that had been the same for a long time. All that said, football recruiting is quite different from basketball recruiting. The numbers are a huge factor. One or two basketball recruits can transform a program, but a football team needs much more depth.

Also, the Midwest remains a prime spot for elite basketball recruits. Look at all of the players coming out of major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and other Big Ten cities. It's not the same for football, as the numbers don't lie for where the players are coming from. The Big Ten's football downturn is related to all of these factors: lack of coaching continuity, scandals and recruiting all play roles.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
12:00
PM ET
It's a terrible love, and I'm walking with spiders.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Rivalry Week: Michigan-Ohio State
Can Devin Gardner and Michigan pull off a miracle against Ohio State?
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29