Nebraska Cornhuskers: Jeremiah Sirles

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
The NFL draft begins Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and WatchESPN.com. And for the first time since 2011, when cornerback Prince Amukamara was selected 19th by the New York Giants, a Nebraska player is under consideration to come off the board in the first 32 picks.

The second and third rounds begin Friday at 7 p.m. ET, with the final four rounds set for Saturday at noon. A year after placing two players in the draft -- their fewest since 1962 -- the Huskers again look on track for a low figure.

Here’s a cheat sheet for the top Nebraska prospects:

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Measurables: 6-2 5/8, 218

Going for him: Jean-Baptiste possesses the size coveted by NFL organizations. Physically, he’s a heavier Richard Sherman, and he posted numbers similar to Sherman at the NFL combine in February. Jean-Baptiste learned to play in the secondary quickly at Nebraska after his shift from wide receiver in 2011. He showed excellent durability throughout his career after he began at junior college out of high school in Miami. A solid week at the Senior Bowl proved his worth and launched him on a rise that leaves Jean-Baptiste with an outside shot to land late in the first round.

Going against him: Despite his age -- Jean-Baptiste turned 24 last month -- he’s still fairly raw as a cornerback in comparison to other top prospects. His 4.61-second 40-yard dash time rated as mediocre, and Jean-Baptiste plays a bit stiff in the lower body, according to some reports. He feasted on nonconference competition as a senior, intercepting a pass in each of four games. But as Big Ten teams scouted Nebraska (and avoided Jean-Baptiste), he did not record a pick in league play.

OG Spencer Long
Measurables: 6-4 5/8, 320

Going for him: Long has an impeccable résumé as a leader, rising from walk-on status to team captain and the cornerstone of Nebraska's offensive line in 2012 and 2013. After he suffered a right-knee injury in the sixth game of his senior season, the Huskers’ offensive production dropped markedly. He has good size, bulk and strength, huge hands and displayed excellent awareness on the field. Long is also a student of the game. He studied pre-medicine in Lincoln and was accepted to medical school.

Going against him: Long benefited from the draft’s later date, which allowed him to heal from knee surgery. Still, scouts were unable to see him run at the combine or at Nebraska’s pro day, so some questions remain about his recovery. Much like his situation out of high school, Long’s athleticism has not wowed scouts. But he massively exceeded expectations in college and looks to offer value in the mid to late rounds.

WR Quincy Enunwa
Measurables: 6-2, 225

Going for him: Enunwa is a physical specimen. His toughness and durability are top end, traits that helped him extensively as a blocker in Nebraska’s perimeter run game. He broke 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Nebraska’s pro day and measured above average in arm length and hand size. Enunwa enjoyed a breakout senior season with 51 catches for 753 yards and a school-record 12 touchdown receptions, including a 99-yarder against Georgia in the Gator Bowl. He also showed consistent ability to gain yards after the catch.

Going against him: There’s a lot here. Enunwa failed to impress many -- evidenced by his lack of All-Big Ten recognition -- because of deficiencies in route running and inconsistency with his hands. Largely unrefined as a receiver, he suffered a hand injury in practice before the East-West Shrine Game and injured a hamstring at the combine. Some organizations will steer clear, fearing he’s a project in adjusting to the NFL game, though Enunwa offers good intangibles and competitiveness as a late pick.

The others: Taylor Martinez presents the most intrigue among Nebraska’s likely free-agent signees. The four-year starting quarterback faces a position switch at the next level and a significant adjustment period, but he offers great speed and athletic ability. Cornerback Ciante Evans, another team leader at Nebraska, showed versatility in college, but a lack of size hurts him. Offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale also figure to get an opportunity in addition to defensive end Jason Ankrah.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
5:00
PM ET
Coming at ya from Happy Valley. Dropping in on James Franklin and the Nittany Lions on Wednesday.

To the inbox ...

Ken from Kansas City, Mo., writes: Hey Adam! I loved the "dictator for the day" thread. I just have one suggestion ... since everyone was worried about some teams getting five home games and other teams getting four in a nine-game schedule, and with two bye weeks now due to extending games beyond Thanksgiving, how about every team has one of their conference games played internationally each year, following a bye week? This would: increase international exposure for the B1G, be a cool perk when it came to recruiting -- "your son will get to visit four or five foreign countries during their years at our university" -- and leave everyone with an even 4-4-1 split on conference game locations and make for some cool travel options for the fans.

Adam Rittenberg: Ken, a couple things here. The double-bye thankfully won't be an annual occurrence in college football. It takes place only when Aug. 30 or Aug. 31 falls on a Saturday, as was the case last year and again this fall. Also, Big Ten schools don't want to part with home games, especially for an international site that, while appealing to some, prevents many others from attending. It also disrupts the players' schedule. I like the way you're thinking because exposure is the name of the game, and occasional international events like Penn State's opener this fall make sense. But not every year.


Brian from Baltimore writes: So far PSU and James Franklin are "walking the walk"' as far as dominating recruiting. How surprising is this? After this torrid pace of commitments slows down, how do you see Penn State faring overall for 2015 recruits?

Rittenberg: Brian, while the sheer number of early commits is noteworthy, Franklin's recruiting success certainly is not. He has been regarded as a nationally elite recruiter since his time as a Maryland assistant, and the enthusiasm he brings to Penn State -- and a region where he and several of his assistants already have familiarity -- translates on the trail. Franklin did really well with early commitments in Vanderbilt's 2013 class, as 16 players pledged before the season. If Penn State hangs onto all these recruits and continues to add solid pieces, Franklin will bring in a nationally elite class next February.


Brian from West Michigan writes: If the Northwestern unionizing efforts succeed, are they aware of the unintended consequences that are coming from their actions? For instance, now that they are considered "employees," their scholarship value (upwards of 50K/year depending on the school) is considered compensation and eligible to be taxed. You hear stories of kids being able to use athletics to get them a degree that otherwise they couldn't have afforded. How does a college kid who is now "making" $50K/year scrape up the cash to pay Uncle Sam?

Rittenberg: Brian, the tax question looms large in the debate, and there are different opinions on what the players would be required to pay. Kevin Trahan addresses it well here, quoting several tax experts who say the players will have to pay taxes on their scholarships. College Athletes Players Association president Ramogi Huma, meanwhile, cites a provision in the tax code that states scholarships for "degree candidates" are not taxable. It doesn't sound like tax status will factor into the NLRB's final ruling on whether players are employees, but it's certainly a significant factor for the players as they pursue this route.


Jim from Virginia writes: A lot is made of "skill" positions (top three backfield, etc). Yet, when looking at the offensive and defensive lines, Nebraska seems to be able to make a case for turning a four-loss year last year -- when the offensive line got experience through injuries and the defensive line matured -- into maybe Bo Pelini's best campaign.

Rittenberg: Jim, I agree that Nebraska's ceiling this season largely depends on line play. Randy Gregory provides a major edge-rushing threat for the defensive line, and if Nebraska can stay healthy and generate more from the inside tackles, it should be pretty stout up front. There are more questions along the offensive line, which loses key players such as Spencer Long, Cole Pensick and Jeremiah Sirles. Alex Lewis is a key addition because he brings experience from Colorado. Lewis and Jake Cotton should anchor the left side of the Husker line. Nebraska must build depth and chemistry with the group the rest of the spring and through fall camp. It likely needs younger players such as Givens Price to blossom.


Keith from Kunming, China, writes: Hey Adam,You didn't like the Premier League model for B1G and MAC, but I do. You said it's not realistic to move between leagues, but it is if the B1G and the MAC have a contractual relationship, and the MAC is essentially absorbed into the B1G as a sort of junior league. B1G doesn't "own" MAC programs but it effectively subsidizes them. Michigan will continue to fill its stadium when relegated (oh! the joy in East Lansing!), which will be financially great for the MAC opponents. My only change to the model proposed is that relegation should happen every years, as in England. Why wouldn't this work?

Rittenberg: Keith, first off, thanks for reading from so far away. Although the Big Ten and the MAC have a strong relationship when it comes to scheduling, officiating and other areas, your proposal requires the Big Ten to shoulder a major financial and structural burden, while embarrassing its members in the process. I'm not saying it wouldn't be fun for fans, but does the Big Ten want to be so closely tied with the MAC, which has schools with profiles that differ markedly from those in the Big Ten? Scheduling would be a huge headache because you wouldn't know where certain teams would be. Money would be a problem on several levels, from television audience to stadium size.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- For the first 2½ years of his career at Nebraska, Givens Price heard voices.

Voices at practice. Voices in the meeting room. Voices when he entered the playing rotation at guard in the second half of last season as injuries nearly decimated the offensive line.

Five senior offensive linemen in 2013 -- gone from Nebraska after starting a combined 127 games in their careers -- spoke to Price even when he stood alone on the sideline.

“We are the voices now,” Price said on Monday.

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIZach Sterup (57) and Ryne Reeves (65) are among those competing for spots on the Huskers O-line.
The Huskers are rebuilding the line this spring. Through six practices, improvement is steady, according to the linemen and the quarterback they protect, sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr.

“They’re going to get better,” Armstrong said. “We’re expecting that. At the same time, you’ve got to understand that sometimes mistakes are going to happen. They’re all out there to win a spot. They’re all out there to improve and push each other. They come out there and they’re ready to work.”

Despite the departures, Nebraska returns experience, primarily in left guard Jake Cotton, a senior who started 11 games last season. Others show notable promise, and the line, as a group, appears just as physically impressive as the 2013 cast.

Perhaps more impressive, in fact.

“We’ve got to get the mental side down,” Cotton said, “if we want the size to matter.”

Six practices into this spring, Cotton at left guard and junior Zach Sterup at right tackle appear most entrenched. Price has taken the majority of snaps at right guard, though senior Mike Moudy, out with a shoulder injury this spring, figures to compete for the job in August.

At center, senior Mark Pelini and junior Ryne Reeves are splitting time. And at left tackle, Colorado transfer Alex Lewis, a junior who has emerged as a top spring storyline, and redshirt freshman David Knevel, continue to compete.

“I think our whole room is full of competitors,” Cotton said “Some of the guys have come so far in [two weeks]. I wouldn’t have guessed it would go this fast.”

Many of the new candidates to start received an unexpected jump start last season.

With seniors Spencer Long, Jeremiah Sirles, Brent Qvale, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick set to anchor the line, all appeared settled.

But after Long, an offensive captain and All-Big Ten pick in 2012, went down with a knee injury in early October, the injuries mounted. Moudy started three games in place of Long at right guard before the shoulder injury hit.

Cotton missed two games with a knee injury. Sirles and Pensick also missed practice time, forcing position shifts among the experienced linemen and youngsters like Reeves, Sterup, Pelini and Price into action.

Production suffered. Nebraska averaged 42.4 points and 291.6 rushing yards in the five games before Long’s injury; after, it was 25.4 and 168.2.

Still, Armstrong credits the veteran linemen, especially Cotton, with easing the quarterback's transition into the lineup.

“They all sat me down and said, ‘Hey, this is your time,’” Armstrong said. “’We saw how you practiced. Just go out there and have fun. We’re going to have your back 100 percent of the way.’ Jake Cotton said, ‘You’re the guy we want right now, and you’re the guy we need.'

“He told me we were going to win games, and that’s what we did.”

Armstrong finished 7-1 as a starter last season, including a win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl.

Now it’s his turn to help nurture the young linemen.

The play of Lewis at left tackle grabbed Armstrong’s attention this spring. At 6-foot-6 and 290 pounds, Lewis, who started 12 games at Colorado in 2012, has meshed well with Cotton to help protect the QB’s blind side.

Lewis and Cotton, to put in nicely, make their presence known on the practice field.

“That’s double trouble right there,” Armstrong said. “They work hard. They’re outgoing. They’re rowdy. They just keep going.”

Cotton said the group is quickly developing a chemistry.

“You go the extra step to make sure guys are on the same page,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. There’s just something about having open spots, with nothing guaranteed, that’s fun, because the competition is heated. Guys are gunning for spots.”

It will, no doubt, intensify in August as Moudy returns. Also set to join the mix are Nick Gates, D.J. Foster and Tanner Farmer, the most heralded group of linemen signees in coach Bo Pelini’s seven years at Nebraska. Another rookie, Mick Stoltenberg, could fit on the offensive or defensive line.

Regardless of the personnel, they’ll work without the guidance of veterans like Long and Sirles.

“Nothing stops,” Price said. “We’ve got to pick up from where they left off. The dream they had is still the dream we have -- that’s to make it to the Big Ten championship and win the Big Ten championship. It starts in spring football.”

B1G spring position breakdown: OL

February, 28, 2014
Feb 28
2:30
PM ET
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the big uglies.

Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.

Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.

Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.

Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.

Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.

Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.

Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.

Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.

Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.

Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.

Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.

Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.

Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.

Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Gary Andersen, Ryan Groy, Spencer Long, Jeremiah Sirles, Jaden Gault, Michael Deiter, Pat Fitzgerald, damian prince, James Franklin, Ben Lauer, Brett Van Sloten, Dan Voltz, David Hedelin, Mike Moudy, Brandon Scherff, Rob Havenstein, Jake Cotton, Jon Christenson, Mark Pelini, Tommy Olson, Zach Sterup, Kyle Kalis, Blake Treadwell, Erik Magnuson, Kyle Costigan, Darryl Baldwin, Miles Dieffenbach, Joel Hale, Andrew Donnal, B1G spring positions 14, Matt Finnin, Andrew Nelson, Angelo Mangiro, Austin Blythe, Austin Schmidt, Betim Bujari, Brandon Vitabile, Caleb Bak, Cameron Cermin, Collin Rahrig, Connor Kruse, Conor Boffelli, Corey Lewis, Dallas Lewallen, Dan Feeney, Devyn Salmon, Donovan Smith, Dorian Miller, Eric Olson, Eric Simmons, Evan Lisle, Graham Glasgow, Greg Studrawa, J.J. Denman, J.J. Prince, Jack Konopka, Jack Miller, James Bodanis, Jason Spriggs, Jordan Roos, Josh Campion, Justin King, Kaleb Johnson, Keith Lumpkin, Kodi Kieler, Kyle Bosch, Kyle Dodson, Larry Mazyck, Marek Lenkiewicz, Michael Dunn, Michael Heitz, Mitch Browning, Noah Jones, Pat Elflein, Patrick Kugler, Paul Jorgensen, Robert Kugler, Ryan Doyle, Sal Conaboy, Simon Cvijanovic, Taylor Decker, Ted Karras, Tommy Gaul, Travis Jackson, Zac Epping

Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Five thousand or so Nebraska fans still sat in their soaked seats at EverBank Field about 15 minutes after the Huskers wrapped up a 24-19 win on New Year’s Day over No. 22 Georgia in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. They chanted, “Bo, Bo, Bo,” as hugs and handshakes ruled the day below around the trophy stand.

Coach Bo Pelini took the mike. He thanked TaxSlayer.com, the sponsor. (So polished, that Bo.)

He lauded MVP Quincy Enunwa, who caught the longest pass in college football history in the third quarter. Pelini said he’s never been more proud of a group of players.

“We’re looking forward to some championships in the near future,” the coach said.

Where were we? Did someone hit the reset button on the season or transport everyone here five years into the future or past?

[+] EnlargeQuincy Enunwa
AP Photo/Stephen B. MortonQuincy Enunwa caught two touchdown passes in Nebraska's victory over Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla.
This is not the Nebraska football team we last saw on Nov. 28, losing by three touchdowns on its home turf to Iowa as Pelini ranted in the postgame circus as if he had his bags packed in the office upstairs.

The Huskers were fundamentally sound Wednesday. They tackled exceptionally well. They were smart, making good decisions under duress. They adjusted well at halftime. They won the turnover battle. They scored twice after takeaways. They were ultra-efficient in the red zone -- on both sides.

Nebraska did not botch a punt return. The Huskers won a game against an SEC team despite being outgained by more than 100 yards.

This is what Nebraska football can be.

Pelini said he doesn’t believe the solid performance will have a carryover effect in Lincoln. The Huskers won’t reconvene on the practice field until March. They don’t play again for almost eight months. So much will change before the meat of the next nonconference season against Fresno State and Miami.

The Huskers ought to remember what they can from Wednesday, though.

“I think what it does is serve as an example for your football team,” Pelini said.

Nebraska, in October and November, was minus-16 in turnover margin. That ranked dead last in the nation; no other program was worse than minus-12. Since 2008, Nebraska is minus-31 in turnover margin -- 106th nationally, the worst by 42 spots among programs that won 70 percent of their games.

Nebraska couldn’t get out of its own way this season. When penalties struck, the timing was often bad. When they missed tackles, it happened in bunches.

In other words, the Huskers operated regularly like the opposite of a championship team.

Pelini said the Nebraska coaches talked with their players before the Gator Bowl about the areas that hurt the Huskers this season. They’ve been talking for six years.

Did it finally sink in? If so, run with it.

“It’s the first game of the new year,” defensive end Randy Gregory said. “I think we intend on taking this momentum through the rest of the year.”

Gregory got tangled early with Georgia left tackle Kenarious Gates, and it got worse from there. Twice, fights nearly erupted. Gregory said he liked it.

“I haven’t really been a fan of the SEC,” Gregory said. “To go out there and play against these guys, I think it was big for all of us.”

He contributed a sack on Wednesday, his 10th of the season. Gregory is an SEC-caliber defender. He said after the game that he’s definitely set to return as a fourth-year junior in 2014.

“I’m here,” he said. “I’m behind Bo.”

I-back Ameer Abdullah wasn’t so certain. He’ll soon make a decision on the NFL after rushing for 122 yards against Georgia -- his 11th triple-digit game – to reach 1,690 yards this season. That total is fourth in school history.

Beyond Gregory and Abdullah, the Huskers aren’t stocked with SEC-type talent. This isn’t the 1990s. The dynamic has changed drastically since that championship era, a reality Nebraska and its fans can accept.

What they shouldn’t accept is mistake-filled football. The Huskers beat Georgia largely by avoiding mistakes. In the Big Ten, they can win big that way.

After the Bulldogs scored their lone touchdown to pull within five points on the first play of the fourth quarter and the teams traded punts, freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong gathered his teammates on the sideline.

“We’re in control of this game,” Armstrong said he told them. “The defense is going to get stops. Just stay calm and run our offense.”

The Huskers won as Georgia stalled at the Nebraska 16-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. Armstrong was right. He was calm and cool, as usual, in the aftermath.

"I think he’s going to lead this team to a championship,” offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles said after his final game.

Sounds kind of simple, the formula of strong leadership and fundamental, opportunistic play.

Six years in the making -- three years after a seismic shift to the Big Ten -- the Huskers saw on Wednesday what they can be. Where from here? We’ll know in about nine months.

Injuries impacted UGA, Nebraska seasons

December, 23, 2013
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This season's similarities are striking for the combatants in this season's TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Georgia and Nebraska. Perhaps the most notable similarity between the Bulldogs (8-4) and Cornhuskers (8-4), though, is the numerous injuries that helped prevent them from playing up to their potential.

ESPN.com's David Ching and Mitch Sherman discussed how injuries affected the teams' seasons and what might have been if not for all the physical ailments.

1. Out of all of the injuries they sustained this season, which one was the costliest and why?

Ching: There are a lot of directions you could go here, but Todd Gurley's ankle injury and ensuing three-and-a-half-game absence probably hurt the most. Gurley is one of the biggest difference-makers in the country, and Georgia's potent offense simply wasn't as good without him in the lineup -- particularly when fellow tailback Keith Marshall suffered a season-ending knee injury the week after Gurley went down against LSU. It's not a coincidence that Georgia bounced back from a two-game losing streak upon Gurley's return, nor that the Bulldogs went 4-1 down the stretch once he was back. He totaled 755 yards and 10 touchdowns in those five games.

Sherman: Taylor Martinez began this season as most indispensable Husker -- and by November, we saw why. Without the fifth-year senior, who started a school-record 43 games at quarterback, including four this season, the Nebraska offense shifted from the strength of this team to a liability. The Huskers failed to gain 400 yards in each of their final four games. Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III performed admirably, but their numbers paled in comparison to the production expected from a healthy Martinez. In good position to become the second QB in FBS history to surpass 9,000 career passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards, he suffered the fateful foot injury in Nebraska’s season opener. By mid-September, his limitations were painfully apparent, stamped into the record books with losses to UCLA and Minnesota in Martinez’s final two starts.

2. Which position group dealt with the most injury issues?

Sherman: Problems on the offensive line began on the opening series of the sixth game against Purdue as All-Big Ten right guard Spencer Long went down with a season-ending knee injury. Long was the leader of the line and a motivating force for the entire team as a senior captain and former walk-on turned solid NFL prospect. As soon as his linemates began to wear Long’s jersey No. 61 as a tribute, the injury bug spread. First, it was left guard Jake Cotton. Tackles Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale, despite staying in the lineup, dealt with injuries, too, as did center-turned-guard Cole Pensick. Long’s replacement, Mike Moudy, missed the final four games. The injuries hurt most in practice, and Long’s injury got the snowball rolling. Before the Purdue game, Nebraska rushed for 285 yards or more in four of five games. After Purdue, it never topped 195 on the ground.

Ching: Georgia's safeties could make a reasonable argument here, but let's go with the receivers. Malcolm Mitchell suffered perhaps the most bizarre injury of the season when he tore an ACL while leaping into the air to celebrate Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run against Clemson on the Bulldogs' second offensive possession of the fall. Justin Scott-Wesley, who essentially caught the game-winning touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against South Carolina and LSU, tore an ACL while covering a punt against Tennessee. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley also missed multiple games with midseason injuries, and junior college transfer Jonathon Rumph didn't play until Game 8 against Florida after injuring his hamstring in August. Because of the regular lineup shuffling, six Bulldogs have at least 20 catches this season.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia went 4-1 after sophomore RB Todd Gurley returned to the lineup, and the only loss was the 'Miracle at Jordan-Hare.'
3. What do you think this team might have accomplished if health hadn't become such a factor?

Ching: I hesitate to say Georgia would have been a BCS title contender because its defense was probably not championship caliber. But it's hard to predict what might have been with any certainty since the Bulldogs started losing key contributors in the first quarter of the first game. I'll go so far as to say the Bulldogs at least would have won a third straight SEC East title and been in the running for an at-large BCS bowl spot. With Aaron Murray, who suffered a season-ending knee injury of his own against Kentucky, at the trigger and an impressive array of skill talent, this had the potential to be the scariest offense Georgia has ever put on the field, but we never saw the full complement for even one full game.

Sherman: It’s difficult to quantify in wins and losses, considering the other problems that plagued these Huskers, notably with turnovers and on special teams. Nebraska could have outscored Minnesota with a healthy Martinez and Long. And it’s likely that the second-half meltdown against UCLA never would have happened if Martinez was operating at full strength. The Huskers moved the ball well in a 41-28 loss to Michigan State. Injuries weren’t the issue against the Spartans; turnovers were, but freshmen committed all five. And Martinez, while turnover-prone since his freshman season, torched the Spartans a year ago. But even at 10-2, Nebraska would have missed a repeat trip to the Big Ten title game.

Big Ten early all-star invitations

December, 16, 2013
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Bowl season is just around the corner, and all-star season is just beyond the bowls. Invitations for several pre-draft events have gone out to seniors around the Big Ten.

This is not a final list, just an early rundown to give you an idea of who is going where to showcase their skills in front of the NFL folks.

REESE'S SENIOR BOWL (Jan. 25, Mobile, Ala.)
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME (Jan. 18, St. Petersburg, Fla.)

The NFLPA Collegiate Bowl has announced only a few player confirmations (including former Wisconsin DE David Gilbert), but none yet from the Big Ten. We'll include Big Ten invites in our next update. The Texas vs. Nation game and Raycom College Football All-Star Classic will not take place this season.

Chance to move forward excites Huskers

December, 12, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- The last time we saw Jeremiah Sirles before Wednesday, the Nebraska senior emptied his heart in support of coach Bo Pelini, embroiled in controversy after the Huskers’ Nov. 29 loss to Iowa to end the regular season.

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Sirles
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJeremiah Sirles and his teammates are glad Nebraska's focus is back on football.
Sirles, a four-year starter at offensive tackle, and several teammates spoke passionately about Pelini and his staff, yet it appeared to many observers that the sixth-year coach may not survive the weekend at Nebraska.

Well, he did.

And the program lunged forward. The Huskers received a break from the game to rest and prepare for final exams. Pelini and his staff gained momentum on the recruiting trail. The TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, in a move unexpected before the final hours on Sunday, paired Nebraska with Georgia for a New Year’s Day rematch of the Capital One Bowl from last season.

As the team readies to get back to practice this weekend, the air around Memorial Stadium appears free of the toxicity from two weeks ago.

Count Sirles among those relieved that Nebraska football has moved past a November dominated by questions about the job security of its coach.

“It’s hard to have all these unanswered questions around this place because it always seems like there [are] these unanswered questions," Sirles said Wednesday, as a group of Huskers met with the media for the first time since the regular-season finale. "Being able to have answers to all that and being able to have a stable base for going into the bowl game and even going to next year, I think, is huge.”

About 19 hours after Iowa cemented its 38-17 win in Lincoln, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst issued a statement of support for Pelini.

Sirles said he was “proud” of the administration for its decision.

“Every word that I said was 100 percent from the heart and 100 percent true,” Sirles said. ‘I hope that people around the stadium could really tell that we really love and we care for our coaches, and that they love and care for us.”

Fellow senior lineman Brent Qvale said he understood the sentiment from some Nebraska fans that an 8-4 regular season fell short of expectations.

Still, the coaches don’t deserve blame, he said.

“It’s just a culture around Nebraska that championships are expected,” Qvale said. “And it should be. You play this game to win championships.”

Senior receiver Quincy Enunwa said he stayed away from listening to the media speculation and criticism of November.

“We know what’s going on inside the program,” Enunwa said. “We know that we have our coaches back. We believe that we’re a good team; there have just been a lot of setbacks for us this year.”

That said, the Huskers are excited about the opportunity to finish strong.

Several Nebraska players interviewed on Wednesday said they were excited to face Georgia again.

“It might be frustration if we just blew them out last year,” Enunwa said, “but we lost.”

Said defensive back Josh Mitchell: “I didn’t really have much of a reaction. It’s just another game to me. We just need to get another win.”

The Bulldogs beat Nebraska 45-31 to end last season in Orlando. Georgia scored the final 22 points behind a prolific performance from quarterback Aaron Murray, who’s out for the Gator Bowl with a knee injury.

“We felt like we had a good chance of beating these guys last year,” Sirles said. “We kind of let it slip through our fingers a little bit. It’s almost a good chance to get back and get a little redemption.”

Sirles and Enunwa were among a long list of Huskers slowed by injuries this fall. They said they’ll be healthy for the Gator Bowl.

The Huskers, in fact, should field a team in Jacksonville, Fla., that's healthier than at any point since early October. Of the key contributors who went down, only guard Spencer Long is ruled out.

“I’m ready to play a game where most of our offense is healthy,” Enunwa said.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez, who played in just one game after the Huskers’ Sept. 14 loss to UCLA, continues to rehabilitate a foot injury. His availability for the Gator Bowl looks unlikely.

Sirles said many Huskers have “lived in the treatment room” since the regular season concluded. With most of the coaches away, the players participated in a few conditioning drills last week.

The tempo increased this week. The full group was at work, without pads, inside the Hawks Championship Center, on Wednesday afternoon.

Pelini and Georgia coach Mark Richt are set to meet in Jacksonville on Thursday afternoon to officially accept the Gator Bowl invitations.

Then it’s back to work.

“We’re going to come back healthy,” Sirles said. “We’re anxious to get back on the practice field and start banging again.”
Running back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory were consensus first-team All-Big Ten picks, the league announced on Monday.

Abdullah, a junior, and the sophomore Gregory were selected by Big Ten coaches and media.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJunior Ameer Abdullah, who has gained 1,568 yards rushing, was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten pick.
Ciante Evans also was named to the first team by the coaches. Evans and fellow senior cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste were second-team honorees by the media.

Senior center Cole Pensick made the coaches' second team.

Abdullah leads the Big Ten and ranks seventh nationally with 1,568 rushing yards. The total ranks him fifth all time on Nebraska's single-season list. He was a second-team all-conference pick by the coaches last year after rushing for 1,137 yards. He could become the first player in Nebraska history next year to reach 1,000 yards in three seasons.

Gregory, in his first year at Nebraska, leads the Big Ten with 9½ sacks and ranks second to Ryan Shazier in tackles for loss with 15½. A former Purdue recruit, Gregory transferred to Nebraska before this season from Arizona Western Community College.

Abdullah and Gregory are both eligible to enter the NFL draft this season. They have not indicated plans to leave school early.

Evans earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from ESPN.com a year ago and was named honorable mention by the coaches. He set a Nebraska record for a defensive back with 10½ tackles for loss this season and intercepted four passes.

Jean-Baptiste also recorded four interceptions and ranked fifth in the league with 11 pass breakups.

Honorable-mention recognition from the coaches went to defensive end Jason Ankrah, receiver Kenny Bell, safety Corey Cooper and offensive linemen Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez. Media honorable mention went to Ankrah, Bell, Pensick, Rodriguez, Sirles and place-kicker Pat Smith.

What we learned: Week 14

November, 30, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Iowa earned a 38-17 win on Friday over Nebraska, the Hawkeyes’ first at Memorial Stadium since 1943. Here’s what we learned about the Huskers:

Same old formula: Nebraska out-yarded Iowa, as it did Michigan State two weeks ago in Lincoln, yet the Huskers lost the two games by a combined 34 points. The culprit? Turnovers. Nebraska was minus-8 against the Spartans and Hawkeyes and minus-16 in eight Big Ten games. Special teams, as usual, played a role in Nebraska’s demise, too. Two costly errors by Jordan Westerkamp in the return game killed field position for the Huskers, and a failed fake punt in the third quarter handed the Hawkeyes another short field to help seal Nebraska’s fate.

It couldn’t last forever: Iowa snapped Ameer Abdullah’s streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games at eight. Abdullah finished with 85 yards on 23 carries. The Hawkeyes’ stout rush defense limited him to a long rush of 12 yards and just 16 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Abdullah lost a fumble in the fourth quarter on the first play of a drive after the Huskers took possession down 24-17. Two plays after the fumble, Iowa scored to all but seal the win. Abdullah remains a leading contender for Big Ten offensive player of the year. His rushing total through 12 games of 1,568 ranks fifth in Nebraska history.

They’ll back their coach to the end: Nebraska player after player spoke in defense of Bo Pelini on Friday after the embattled coach dug himself a hole by lashing out in his postgame press conference. That followed Pelini’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the third quarter for nearly hitting an official in the face with his hat while arguing against a pass interference flag on linebacker Zaire Anderson. No doubt, it was a bad day for Bo, and his job status is uncertain this weekend. But from Kenny Bell to Michael Rose, Jeremiah Sirles and others, the Huskers spoke glowingly of their sixth-year coach. If Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst makes a change, it will be a hard sell, for sure, to the Huskers.


LINCOLN, Neb. -- It got ugly on Friday. Uglier, perhaps, than those who have studied Nebraska football in Bo Pelini’s six seasons here imagined it might when everything reached a boiling point.

That moment is here. It’s D-Day at Memorial Stadium. Shawn Eichorst, you’re up; the floor belongs to Nebraska’s first-year athletic director. Time to throw your support behind the embattled coach, patch the wounds and commit to the future, or start over with a new staff.

Often on Friday during and after the Huskers’ 38-17 loss to Iowa in the regular-season finale, it felt like the end was near -- that it could arrive this weekend.

If this was it, the 45-year-old Pelini went out just as you’d expect, throwing punches, defiant and backed fully by his men.

Pelini took swipes at the officials and the media, his adversaries from the start. And the coach didn’t exactly endear himself to Eichorst and the Nebraska administration, either.

“They want to fire me, go ahead,” Pelini said. “I believe in what I’ve done. I don’t apologize for what I’ve done. I don’t apologize to you. I don’t apologize to anybody."

The media, he said, made a story of his job status.

“It’s impacted our football team,” he said, “and it’s hurt our football team. Let’s call a spade a spade.”

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsIf the end is near for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, he is going out swinging after taking jabs at officials, the media and even Nebraska brass, saying, "They want to fire me, go ahead."
This was the ugly side of Pelini, on full display for a national audience, complete with the angry halftime interview.

“My record, our record since I’ve been here, speaks for itself,” Pelini said. “And this program’s heading in a good direction. You choose not to think so, that’s your prerogative. All I know is myself, this staff, the people who’ve been associated with this program since I’ve been here can look themselves in the mirror and feel good about what we’ve done.”

He talked and acted like a coach who worried it was over.

From a flea-flicker pass to open the game to the ill-fated, third-quarter fake punt at Nebraska’s 32-yard line, a sense of doom hung in the air Friday.

Pelini drew an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty for arguing against a pass-interference flag thrown on linebacker Zaire Anderson against C.J. Fiedorowicz in the third quarter. The coach swung his hat in the direction of an official’s face before the second flag was thrown.

“I thought that was a chickens--- call,” he said. “Excuse my language on that, but I’ve never seen anything like that before.

“I’ve done a lot worse than that. I saw Kirk Ferentz over on the sideline acting a lot worse than I acted. I didn’t see a flag come out on him. The bottom line is, they knew they blew the call. They blew it. They blew that call over there, and everybody in the stadium knew it. They didn’t man up enough to pick that flag up.”

Pelini at his ugliest is a sight to behold.

When it ended, he exchanged a moment with Ferentz, the longtime Iowa coach. Pelini then found his daughter Caralyn. They walked quickly toward the field’s northwest exit, where fans assemble to offer support as the Huskers depart.

As Pelini reached the edge of the turf, a few fans took pictures. One yelled encouragement. Most were quiet as the sizable contingent of Iowa fans on the opposite end erupted in cheer.

Asked later about the fan support, Pelini came up with two words: “It’s great.”

Meanwhile, his players went to bat for Pelini. Several described him as a “father figure."

“He changed my life,” receiver Kenny Bell said. “I would play for Bo Pelini against Satan himself and a team of demons at the gates of the underworld. I love Coach Pelini.”

Offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles lobbied, too.

“I sure hope he returns,” said Sirles, one of 23 seniors honored before his final home game on Friday, “because this program can only go up. I hope he returns [so] in 10 years, I can bring my wife or my girlfriend, and I can say, ‘This is Coach Bo. This is who made me the man I am.’”

Sirles and Huskers, of course, view the situation through a different lens than Eichorst.

The athletic director is likely to consider the bigger picture. Nebraska, at 8-4, slumped to its worst regular-season record since Pelini’s first year. The Huskers were eliminated from contention for a conference title with two games left for the first time in his career.

Yes, the Huskers showed impressive resilience this year in fighting through injuries and adversity.

“It hasn’t been any easy year,” Pelini said, “from any stretch of the imagination.”

But will it matter?

“We’ve done the right things,” offensive coordinator Tim Beck said. “We don’t cheat. We work hard. We’ve got good kids. They represent the program well."

Beck paused.

“If they want to let us go, they can let us go,” he said. “There’s nothing we can do.”

The man in charge may look at Friday as a microcosm of the Pelini era.

The Huskers committed three turnovers and a couple costly errors on special teams.

Iowa played a clean game. Pelini’s ugly side bubbled to the surface.

Let’s be realistic: The end, now or in 10 years, was never going be pretty. Pelini's personality and coaching style don’t allow for a moment in which he could walk into the sunset like Tom Osborne or gracefully bow out for a new job.

It was always going to be ugly. It was always going to look like Friday.

Five things: Iowa-Nebraska

November, 29, 2013
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Iowa hasn't beaten Nebraska at Memorial Stadium since 1943 as it visits for the second time as a Big Ten foe on Saturday (noon ET, ABC.) Here's what we'll be watching:

[+] EnlargeRon Kellogg
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesSenior Ron Kellogg III, a former walk-on, could be in line for his first career start on Saturday.
1. The Nebraska quarterback: Who will it be? The Huskers never made an announcement on a starter this week, perhaps because they're simply not sure if freshman Tommy Armstrong is healthy enough to go on his injured ankle. Or maybe it's because Nebraska wanted to build the suspense on Senior Day before handing former walk-on Ron Kellogg III his first career start. We're going with the latter. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck said redshirt freshman Ryker Fyfe would be ready if needed, which might mean Armstrong is hurt worse than we know.

2. The Senior Day effect: The fifth-year guys among Nebraska's 23 seniors -- players like linemen Brent Qvale, Cole Pensick and Jeremiah Sirles, quarterback Taylor Martinez and defensive back Andrew Green -- were part of the first group scouted and signed by Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after a full year to recruit. In other words, they were his kind of guys. And say what you want about Nebraska's fall from the national radar, these seniors were tough. They've led the Huskers to eight straight wins in games decided by seven points or fewer, including the overtime victory last week at Penn State. Emotions will run high before kickoff.

3. Ameer Abdullah's durability: The Huskers' junior I-back has answered every question through 11 games. But he has averaged 24.5 carries per game over the past four weeks. If he's getting tired, this is not the right opponent to face. Iowa's rushing defense ranks 20th nationally, allowing 123.6 yards per game. Abdullah needs 17 yards to record the fifth 1,500-yard season in Nebraska history. As long as he has plenty of gas in the tank, Abdullah is a good bet to get to 1,600 on Friday.

4. Iowa's downhill running attack: Led by bruiser Mark Weisman, the Hawkeyes do nothing fancy in the running game. They'll line up and pound it at the Huskers. It worked with decent success for Penn State a week ago, but Nebraska stiffened after halftime. The Blackshirts continue to show improvement and climb the charts statistically as the young linemen and linebackers grow into their roles. Iowa has been especially potent in the first half this year, so the importance of a good start defensively for Nebraska is magnified. One way to set the tone? Get ahead in the turnover department, a problem for both teams this year.

5. The white elephant in the room: We can't finish without mentioning the uncertain status of Pelini, who has taken the Huskers within one win of a sixth straight nine-win season. Still, Nebraska appears no closer to the nation's elite than three years ago, and the school's administration, given ample opportunities, has offered little public support for the coach. It's policy for first-year athletic director Shawn Eichorst to stay quiet on personnel matters, but there's a tense moment or two on tap for Nebraska in the wake of this regular-season finale, win or lose.

Five things: Nebraska-Penn State

November, 23, 2013
11/23/13
7:00
AM ET

Nebraska returns to State College, Pa., for its first visit since a three-point win in the days after Joe Paterno was fired in November 2011. Much different circumstances exist this time.

Here’s what to watch:

Nebraska’s attempt to slow Allen Robinson: With apologies to Nebraska I-back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory, Penn State’s junior wideout is the best player in this game. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions and receiving yards and forms a dynamic duo with freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The Nittany Lions will find a way to create favorable matchups for Robinson. It’s up to the Huskers' much-improved defense to play well in coverage and make tackles when Robinson gets the ball.

The turnover battle: Nebraska has struggled to take care of the football over its past five games, committing 16 turnovers. Nearly as troubling, it’s forced only three for a minus-13 margin that ranks last nationally over that period. Five turnovers last week in Lincoln cost Nebraska a chance to beat Michigan State. Penn State isn’t much better in this area, ranking 99th in turnover margin to the Huskers’ 106th. This sounds like the mantra week after week for the Huskers, but they need to play a clean game offensively and on special teams.

The O-line woes: More trouble struck the Nebraska offensive line this week as Cole Pensick, the Huskers’ center turned guard, missed practice time because of a knee injury suffered against the Spartans. Pensick, tackle Jeremiah Sirles, and guards Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy are all questionable to play in State College. That leaves a patchwork group that might include sophomores Givens Price, Ryne Reeves and Zach Sterup in addition to junior Mark Pelini and senior Brent Qvale. At this point, it’s amazing that the Huskers’ pass protection and run game have held up. Credit O-line coach John Garrison and his men for their fight.

Tommy Armstrong Jr.’s mindset: To date, the Huskers’ redshirt freshman quarterback has proven resilient at handling everything from a flurry of turnovers to hostile crowds and uncertainty over his playing time. But in five starts before last week, he never dealt with a loss. As Armstrong heads back into a huge stadium on the road, his confidence and poise might have taken a hit, considering that two of his fumbles against the Spartans led directly to touchdowns. Keep an eye on how he rebounds.

The Huskers’ mood: Nebraska players and coaches said all the right things this week. The Huskers are eliminated from contention for a league title with two games left for the first time since 2007. Pride remains a key source of motivation. It’s been a tough week in Nebraska, though, with negativity swirling and speculation at an six-year high over the job status of the head coach. Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst is predictably quiet about Bo Pelini. The Huskers are adopting a bunker mentality, but if adversity strikes again, how will they respond, knowing the climate back home is ripe for controversy?

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