Nebraska Cornhuskers: Iowa Hawkeyes

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
5:00
PM ET
We're taking more of your mailbag questions from Twitter these days, and we now have individual Twitter handles in addition to the ESPN Big Ten account. Make sure to follow each of us for all your league news. Here is mine.

Now to the good stuff, which is your questions and my fair-to-middling answers:

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Brian Bennett: I haven't thought of it quite like that, but I get your point. Iowa has a definite shot with its advantageous schedule. With the Hawkeyes' toughest two games coming in the final two weeks at home against Wisconsin and Nebraska, they have a chance to be favored in every game. Meanwhile, Ohio State faces many more challenges, including nonconference games against Virginia Tech, Cincinnati and Navy, along with that East Division showdown on the road at Michigan State.

Yet, if I had to pick one team to go undefeated of those two, I'd take the Buckeyes. Iowa's conservative style means that more games are likely to be close -- five of last season's 13 contests were decided by a touchdown or less, while Ohio State had three such games in 14 tries. Looked at another way, the Buckeyes outgained opponents by 137.6 per game in conference play last season, while the Hawkeyes outgained their league foes by 52.5 yards per game. Though past performance shouldn't be our sole guide for looking forward, Ohio State has gone 12-0 in the regular season the past two seasons.

I like Iowa a lot this year and am leaning toward picking Kirk Ferentz's team to win the West Division. But I'd be surprised if it didn't stub its toe a time or two along the way, whereas another Ohio State undefeated season wouldn't be shocking.


Hussein from Ann Arbor writes: I was reading your DB position preview and couldn't help but notice that Michigan was absent. I understand why they might not be number 1 in the conference, but they are returning tons of talent and I would be surprised if they weren't in the top 3 this upcoming year. Blake Countess is a stud and should compete for All Big-Ten First Team (if not All-American), while Raymon Taylor is very solid at the opposite corner position. At least one safety spot should be locked up with Jarrod Wilson with the other seemingly up for grabs(?). And that's without even mentioning Jabrill Peppers ...

Brian Bennett: I strongly considered Michigan for one of the top two spots, Hussein, and as you can probably tell, those posts are intended to rank every single team. I like the Wolverines' returning experience, and Countess should be one of the top cover guys in the league. Peppers can take the group to the next level if he is the real deal, but I'm a little bit cautious about projecting so much on an incoming true freshman who didn't go through spring ball. I have little doubt Peppers will make an impact this season, but how much? Ultimately, I thought Michigan gave up too many big plays in the passing game last season and wasn't physical enough in the back end. If Peppers helps change that, this crew has a chance to be the best in the Big Ten.


Brian from Raleigh, North Carolina, writes: Hey, Brian, about the Fitz-calls-Nebraska-boring "controversy"... maybe I've got my purple-tinted glasses on, but where's the beef? How are there even Nebraska fans angry about this? I grew up in the middle of nowhere in rural Michigan, and we made fun of how empty and boring it was all the time. Fitz made a bad joke that almost every American has made at some point in their lives. Is this really such a stinging, controversial comment? Or has cliche coachspeak become so dominant that a coach acting like an actual human being for 10 seconds is news?

Brian Bennett: I'm glad you put "controversy" in quotes, because this isn't really a big deal. Pat Fitzgerald's comments about Cal coach Sonny Dykes, I thought, were more intriguing. I can see why Nebraska people wouldn't like it, though. For example, f I call my home state "boring" or insult it in some other way, that's OK; if you as a non-Kentuckian do the same, well, them's fightin' words! Still, Fitzgerald was simply yukking it up with some Northwestern boosters after a summertime golf event, so let's not make it into a culture war. If anything, it adds a little spice to a very dull period, and the Big Ten can be far too dry and polite at times.


Ed from Michigan writes: Hey, Brian. It seem like everyone who follows college football has heard of stories of cheating and then the Big 12 Commissioner says the same. My question: Where is the investigative reporting to uncover this cheating?

Brian Bennett: There is no question about two things, Ed. One, the overwhelming majority of NCAA infractions cases began with a media report, as journalists have been doing the hard legwork for NCAA investigators for years. And two, fewer newspapers and other media outlets are devoting time and resources to investigative journalism these days. Some places still are, for sure. The North Carolina academic scandal is a perfect example of an issue that would have quickly vanished (or never even bubbled up) without the great work of some dogged reporters. What's also true is that uncovering those stories is painstakingly difficult, as it's often nearly impossible to find tangible evidence of cheating and not just accusations. For all the outstanding reporting that went into the Cam Newton affair, for instance, that smoking-gun shred of a paper trail never surfaced.

The bigger issue here, to me, is not from the media side but rather how cheating will be policed in the future. Particularly if -- or, more accurately, when -- the Power 5 schools gain autonomy and write many of their own rules, who will be there to enforce them? Certainly not the understaffed NCAA enforcement division, which will have ceded much of its power anyway. It likely will be up to the schools and conferences themselves. There is a good chance, as Bob Bowlsby said, that cheating will continue to pay off. There will just be fewer rules to break.

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Brian Bennett: The Hoosiers were close last year. Had they beaten Navy -- or had they given themselves a more manageable nonconference schedule, something athletic director Fred Glass regrets in hindsight -- they would have made their first bowl since 2007. Unfortunately, the schedule is tough again this season, with road trips to Bowling Green (the preseason MAC favorite) and Missouri, a crossover road game at Iowa and the rugged East Division. The good news is that Kevin Wilson had built a standout offense, and the defense has some small reasons for optimism, so IU should at least be within range of bowl eligibility.

As for Tevin Coleman, he's probably one of the most underrated players in the league. He's an outstanding athlete whose length and speed reminds me of Melvin Gordon. In fact, he scored as many rushing touchdowns (12) as Gordon did in four fewer games last season and averaged 7.3 yards per rush. With Indiana potentially relying on the run game a bit more this season, Coleman could put up monster stats.
The offseason can be a time of rest and relaxation. Or maybe it’s a perfect time for some team building. Or working a camp. Or raising some money for charity. Or just having fun.

We’re taking a look at how teams have been spending their offseason. Earlier we took a look at the teams in the East Division. Now, here’s what the West Division teams have been up to this summer.

Illinois Fightin Illini raise money with "Lift for Life." Iowa Hawkeyes do the work for a children's hospital. Minnesota Golden Gophers reveal how Mitch Leidner jumps so high. Nebraska Cornhuskers Bo knows tweeting amusement parks on 4th of July. Northwestern Wildcats team build with Navy SEAL-like workout. Purdue Boilermakers Jesse Schmidt's summer internship. Wisconsin Badgers cool down at pool party.  

B1G awards watch list roundup

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
3:00
PM ET
College football preseason awards watch lists are, at best, little more than a summertime curiosity these days and, at worst, an easy punchline.

For one, there are far too many awards -- only country music likes to give itself as many trophies as this sport. There are often way too many players on these lists -- the Rimington Trophy list, for example, includes 64 players, or basically half the starting centers in the FBS, and 10 from the Big Ten alone. And, of course, eventual winners of these awards sometimes come out of nowhere, making the preseason lists even more meaningless.

We relegated almost all the watch list releases to tweets, but if you're interested, we thought we'd compile all the Big Ten players who were nominated in one place. If nothing else, you can come back to this page in December and perhaps have a good chuckle. Here you go:

Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)
Walter Camp (Player of the Year)
  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE Michigan State
  • Stefon Diggs,WR, Maryland
  • Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
  • Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player)
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
  • Frank Clark, DE, Michigan
  • Blake Countess, DB, Michigan
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Outland Trophy (Interior lineman)
Davey O’Brien Award (Quarterback):
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan
  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State
  • Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Doak Walker Award (Running back)
Butkus Award (Linebacker)
Rotary Lombardi Award (Lineman/Linebacker)
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Ron Havenstein, T, Wisconsin
  • Kaleb Johnson, G, Rutgers
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Brandon Scherff, T, Iowa
Biletnikoff Award (Wide receiver)
Jim Thorpe Award (Defensive back)
  • Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
  • Blake Countess, Michigan
  • Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
  • Jordan Lucas, Penn State
  • Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Mackey Award (Tight end)
Rimington Trophy (Center) Lou Groza Award (Kicker)
Ray Guy Award (Punter)

Finally, watch this list of my preseason awards watch list, uh, awards:

Most nominated: Thanks to his inclusion on multiple defensive award lists as well as one player of the year recognition, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory leads the way with four nods.

Biggest "snubs:" We use the word "snub" very, very lightly here. Still, it was a mild surprise not to see Venric Mark on the Doak Walker list (he was, after all, nominated for the Maxwell) or for Maryland defensive lineman Andre Monroe to not show up anywhere. Apparently, Monroe's 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year weren't good enough to get him on the same list as dozens of other less productive players.

Weirdest list: The Butkus Award folks, bless them, either know something we don't or really swung and missed this year. Neither Maryland's Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil nor Ohio State's Curtis Grant were on anybody's radar for a major award, and you could make a very strong argument that neither is even the best linebacker on his own team (the Terps' Matt Robinson and the Buckeyes' Joshua Perry would have made more sense here). And then there's the omission of Rutgers' Steve Longa, who had 123 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Just plain odd all around.

Just happy to be nominated: Northwestern's Chi Chi Ariguzo and Michigan's Devin Funchess are both outstanding players who should be in strong contention for all-conference and quite possibly All-America honors this season. But they have about as good a chance of winning a national player of the year award (which almost always goes to quarterbacks or running backs, anyway) as I do. Funchess was nominated for both the Maxwell and Walter Camp award, which means he has a great public relations man. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Joel Stave isn't even guaranteed to start at quarterback this season for the Badgers, yet he found himself on the Davey O'Brien watch list. As usual, it doesn't hurt to cover all the bases when compiling a preseason watch list.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
12:00
PM ET
Saw Jack White perform "Seven Nation Army" live this weekend. Felt like I was back in a Big Ten football stadium. Soon enough.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
12:00
PM ET
Lots to digest here.

Big Ten's lunch links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
12:00
PM ET
Happy Maryland and Rutgers Day.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
12:00
PM ET
So, the USA outlasts Spain, Italy and England? Losing never felt so good.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
12:00
PM ET
USMNT, let's do this.

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
12:00
PM ET

It's OK, these links don't bite.

If the preseason All-America teams are any indication, the Big Ten will have a very good year in the offensive backfield -- both carrying the ball out of it and penetrating it.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon has averaged a gaudy 8.1 yards per rushing attempt during his career.
Running back and defensive line appear to be the league's two strongest position groups -- possibly by a wide margin -- entering the 2014 season. Athlon on Monday came out with its preseason All-America teams, following up Phil Steele, who released his last week. Three Big Ten players made Athlon's first team: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Four other defensive linemen -- Nebraska's Randy Gregory (second team), Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun (second team), Ohio State's Joey Bosa (fourth team) and Iowa's Carl Davis (fourth team) -- made one of the remaining three teams, and two other running backs -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (second team) and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (fourth team) -- also appear.

Steele had Bennett and Calhoun on his first team, Gregory and Bosa on his second team and Davis on his third team. Like Athlon, he lists Gordon as a first-team running back and Abdullah on the second team. It's interesting to see Calhoun getting a bit more love than Gregory, even though Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks and is projected as a higher draft pick.

Not sure about you, but I can't wait for Calhoun and Gregory to share the field Oct. 4 at Spartan Stadium, or for longtime friends Gordon and Abdullah to match up on Nov. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium. Both matchups should be fun to watch all season.

It's not unusual for defensive line and running back to headline the Big Ten. Both positions historically are strong in the league, especially defensive line. A potential concern is that only one quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- and zero wide receivers make any of Athlon's teams. Steele has two Big Ten wideouts, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess (has played tight end but listed as a receiver), on his third team. Still, it's clear these are two positions where the Big Ten continues to need upgrades.

Other Athlon preseason All-America selections include: Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (second team), Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman (third team), Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond (third team), Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (third team), Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (fourth team), Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (fourth team) and Northwestern punt returner Venric Mark (fourth team).

The Big Ten is tied with the Pac-12 for third among overall Athlon All-America selections with 18, trailing both the ACC (27) and SEC (26).

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
12:00
PM ET
The World Cup's been great, but I'd still take football over fútbol any day.

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
12:00
PM ET
Back from vacation. Nice to link up again.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
12:00
PM ET
If we hit that bull's-eye, the rest of the dominoes will fall like a house of cards. Checkmate.
This is the time of year when recruiting starts to heat up, especially as prospects show off their stuff at various camps. With commitments pouring in, it's time to take another look at the recruiting scorecard for the 2015 class in the Big Ten.

Penn State continues to lead the way, as coach James Franklin has already piled up 16 commitments for 2015. The Nittany Lions' seven ESPN 300 recruits are tied for fourth most in the country. The numbers are starting to add up for other Big Ten squads as well. The usual caveat here applies -- signing day is not until February, and a whole lot of things can change between now and then -- but here's a closer look at how recruiting stands in the league in mid-June.

PENN STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 16
ESPN 300 prospects: 8
Highest-rated recruit (according to ESPN.com): QB-DT Brandon Wimbush
Spotlight: When offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins committed to Franklin over the phone, Franklin was at a Penn State caravan in Hershey. Franklin held his cell phone out to the crowd and got a "We Are ..." chant started. It was only the start of the good news, as Wimbush committed the same day.

WISCONSIN
2015 verbal commitments: 13
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Quarterback Austin Kafentzis
Spotlight: Gary Anderson's staff has been on a roll, picking up nine commitments in the past six weeks, including seven in the past 11 days. Sam Madden was the latest of three offensive tackles to give his pledge, and at 6-foot-7 and 340 pounds, he's bringing a whole lot of beef to Madison.

NORTHWESTERN
2015 verbal commitments: 12
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete David Dowell
Spotlight: The Wildcats' latest commitment came this month when New Jersey offensive lineman Andrew Otterman told Pat Fitzgerald yes. He was an under-the-radar recruit who was being pursued by Ivy League schools, and he plans on being a pre-med major.

RUTGERS
2015 verbal commitments: 11
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: TE-H Nakia Griffin
Spotlight: Kyle Flood has added three commitments in the past week. The highest-rated one was 6-6, 280-pound Blake Camper of Virginia, who will likely play offensive tackle for the Scarlet Knights.

NEBRASKA
2015 verbal commitments: 10
ESPN 300 prospects: 1
Highest-rated recruit: Cornerback Eric Lee
Spotlight: The Huskers have held steady, with their last commitment coming on May 15. That was from Atlanta safety Aaron Williams. He wasn't really getting recruited by SEC schools, but new secondary coach Charlton Warren, who's from Atlanta, obviously saw something he liked.

IOWA
2015 verbal commitments: 9
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete Drew Cook
Spotlight: The Hawkeyes grabbed their first eight commitments early, then added offensive lineman Brett Waechter last week. He sounds like the typical Kirk Ferentz project: a player from a small school in Iowa (Hartley) whom the recruiting services don't know much about. At around 6-5 and 265 pounds, he's got a nice baseline for that Hawkeyes development program to use.

MARYLAND
2015 verbal commitments: 9
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Cornerback Kareem Ali, Jr.
Spotlight: After being quiet on the trail for months, the Terrapins picked up eight commitments in the past 25 days. That includes Ali, who chose Maryland over offers from Penn State, Michigan State, Florida, Rutgers and others.

MICHIGAN
2015 verbal commitments: 7
ESPN 300 prospects: 4
Highest-rated recruit: Cornerback Garrett Taylor
Spotlight: Offensive tackle Grant Newsome gave the Wolverines a boost last week, picking Brady Hoke's team over Penn State. The 6-7, 290-pounder also reportedly had offers from Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame and loads of others. Given Michigan's recent struggles on the O-line, this came as particularly good news.

OHIO STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 7
ESPN 300 prospects: 2
Highest-rated recruit: Athlete Eric Glover-Williams
Spotlight: Buckeyes fans who were getting nervous about the slow start to recruiting were reassured when five players committed between May 27 and June 10. One of those is a long snapper -- Liam McCullough from Columbus. Long snappers don't often get scholarship offers, but McCullough had them from Michigan State and Wisconsin and is rated No. 2 nationally at his position. If he plays and you never hear his name again, the scholarship was well worth it.

ILLINOIS
2015 verbal commitments: 6
ESPN 300 prospects: 1
Highest-rated recruit: Offensive tackle Gabe Megginson
Spotlight: The Illini saw something in Washington D.C. running back Reggie Corbin, whose only other major offer was from Washington State. Since Tim Beckman missed out on USC transfer Ty Isaac, Corbin could get some early playing time in the backfield.

MICHIGAN STATE
2015 verbal commitments: 5
ESPN 300 prospects: 2
Highest-rated recruit: Offensive tackle Kyonta Stallworth
Spotlight: Quarterback Jayru Campbell, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor after being charged with assaulting a school security officer, decommitted from the Spartans, which was likely a two-way street. Michigan State had already found another quarterback in this class in Brian Lewerke from Phoenix. Running back Khari Willis committed over the weekend.

PURDUE
2015 verbal commitments: 5
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Quarterback Elijah Sindelar
Spotlight: Darrell Hazell picked up four commitments in the past week, including three-star running back Robert Ennis from Millville, N.J. Purdue joined Ohio State in offering a scholarship to a long snapper, Ben Makowski, which inspired this post.

INDIANA
2015 verbal commitments: 4
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Wide receiver Leon Thornton
Spotlight: The Hoosiers have added two recruits this month, including sought-after quarterback Tommy Stevens. With Tre Roberson transferring, Kevin Wilson needs to add a quarterback in this class.

MINNESOTA
2015 verbal commitments: 3
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Safety Jacob Huff
Spotlight: All three of Minnesota's commits have come since May 30, and none have been rated yet by ESPN.com. Two of the three are twins, as defensive back Jacob Huff and linebacker Julian Huff each gave their pledge on June 5. Twin Cities, indeed.
Last week, we finished up our series looking at the most indispensable players for each Big Ten team. Now, we're interested in your opinion. Who is the most indispensable player is in the entire league.

As we mentioned over and over again at the top of those posts, indispensable doesn't necessarily translate into "best." It means the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/shrunk by Rick Moranis, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

SportsNation

Who is the most indispensable player in the Big Ten in 2014?

  •  
    30%
  •  
    29%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    9%
  •  
    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,988)

We gave you two from each team during the series. Now we want you to pick one of these five candidates:
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The Buckeyes got to see what life without Miller would look like this spring while he was recovering from shoulder surgery. They hope that was merely a drill. The senior is the two-time, defending Big Ten offensive player of the year, and backups Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett have no real experience. Without Miller, Ohio State could easily fall from national championship contender to Big Ten also-ran.
  • Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State: Hackenberg threw for nearly 3,000 yards as a true freshman and will again be the focal point of the Nittany Lions' offense this season. There's also a severe lack of experience behind him, with Penn State likely needing to turn to true freshman Michael O'Connor or a walk-on should something unfortunate happen to its young star.
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers' defense simply wouldn't be the same without Gregory, who led the Big Ten in sacks (10.5) and tied for second in tackles for loss (17.5) last season. With the other defensive end position a little bit of a question mark and young players being counted on at tackle, Gregory's tremendous pass-rushing skills are a necessity for Nebraska to contend for the West Division title and beyond.
  • Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State: After finally finding some stability at quarterback, the last thing the Spartans want to do is go through another carousel at the position. Tyler O'Connor and redshirt freshman Damion Terry could provide decent replacement options. But Cook's poise and confidence helped take Michigan State to another level last season -- a Rose Bowl-winning level.
  • Brandon Scherff, LT, Iowa: The Hawkeyes know how to develop offensive linemen, so they'd probably find someone to fill Scherff's shoes. But how well? The senior enters the season as the best lineman in the Big Ten and is integral to everything Iowa wants to do on offense. Losing the likely 2015 first-round NFL draft pick for any significant stretch this season would likely reverberate throughout Kirk Ferentz's team this fall.

Which of these players is the most indispensable to his team's fortunes in 2014? Vote now in our poll.

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