Ohio State Buckeyes: Big Ten Conference

Helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
8:30
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COLUMBUS, Ohi0 -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 6 Ohio State's division-clinching 42-27 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe.

H-B Jalin Marshall
  • The virtuoso second-half performance against the Hoosiers will go down as definitive proof why Urban Meyer and the coaching staff never batted an eye about keeping him on the field and prominently in the game plan despite two fumbles at Minnesota. Marshall was almost impossible to defend after the game had started to slip away from the Buckeyes, and his four-touchdown barrage, starting with a punt return for a score that energized a restless Ohio Stadium, also might have helped save the season. Expect him to continue to play a major role against rival Michigan and then in the Big Ten title game the following week.
LB Joshua Perry
  • The junior doesn't often come up in discussions about the best linebackers in the Big Ten, but he is certainly valued by the Buckeyes for the way he goes about his business and quietly, efficiently racks up statistics and disrupts offenses. Perry was everywhere for Ohio State against the Hoosiers, including the backfield where he made three tackles for loss and led the team with two sacks. In all he finished with 14 tackles, and while Tevin Coleman did bust a few big plays on the ground against the Buckeyes, it might have been worse without Perry on the field.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The probability was always high that the sophomore would find rushing room against Indiana's soft defense, and Elliott exploded almost right from the start with a 65-yard touchdown rush that put him over 1,000 for the season. But he was just as valuable as a receiver out of the backfield, which could add another dimension to an Ohio State offense that seems to be developing new wrinkles every week. Elliott led the Buckeyes with seven receptions, and combined with his work on the ground, he piled up 146 yards in the victory that punched a return ticket to Indianapolis for the Big Ten title game.

Helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
9:00
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 8 Ohio State's 31-24 road victory over No. 25 Minnesota on Saturday.

QB J.T. Barrett

  • Just when it seems like the redshirt freshman can't possibly do more, he unveils yet another aspect of his game that turns heads and makes the Buckeyes even more dangerous on offense. Ohio State hasn't been shy about using Barrett as a rusher, but it hadn't really seen the ability to run away from defenders that he put on display while rambling 86 yards for a touchdown on the way to 189 yardsoverall on the ground in the victory. That scoring run was the longest in school history by a quarterback, and it was the longest by any Ohio State player since Eddie George in 1995. George, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy -- and the way Barrett is rolling, he could easily find himself at that ceremony next month.
[+] EnlargeDoran Grant
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDoran Grant has three interceptions and is a willing tackler on Ohio State's improved secondary.
CB Doran Grant

  • The veteran defensive back hasn't been mentioned much among the best in the Big Ten in coverage, but he's quietly building a case as guy quarterbacks don't want to mess with in the passing game. Grant took over the team lead for Ohio State's ball-hawking secondary with his third interception of the year, and he could have had another one along with a touchdown if not for an iffy pass-interference call earlier in the game. Perhaps just as important for the Buckeyes, Grant was a willing tackler and finished with seven hits against the Gophers in the snowy conditions, offering another reminder of his importance to a vastly improved unit.
WR Jalin Marshall

  • The redshirt freshman made a couple mistakes, and they proved pretty costly in terms of style points in a matchup that wasn't as competitive as the final score indicated. But even with his fumble at the goal line and a muffed punt, the Buckeyes might not have been nearly as explosive on offense without the versatile Marshall at their disposal -- particularly with Dontre Wilson on the shelf with a broken foot. Marshall grabbed five receptions for 95 yards with a touchdown and also had a 12-yard rush, and if nothing else, coach Urban Meyer will have a teaching point for the youngster in terms of ball security, in addition to some fresh evidence about how useful the hybrid athlete can be in his spread attack.

Helmet stickers: Week 11

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
8:30
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Honoring the best and brightest from Ohio State after a crucial 49-37 road win over Michigan State on Saturday night.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman had already gone on the road and beat one of the best defenses in the Big Ten, but in case there were any holdouts who still believed the young quarterback had something to prove, his demolition of the Spartans should be enough to convince anybody he's the real deal. Barrett was in complete command of the Ohio State offense, completing 16 of his 26 passing attempts for 300 yards and three touchdowns and adding 86 yards and two additional scores on the ground in a pressure-packed environment. It's hard to play any better than Barrett did against the Spartans, and that performance put his team in control of the East Division and back in the thick of the College Football Playoff conversation.
WR Devin Smith
  • Maybe the Buckeyes and the veteran target had been saving him up for a critical moment. Smith hadn't made quite as much of an impact this season as perhaps was expected for his final season with the program, but he showed up when it counted most with a dynamic outing on the perimeter that stretched the Spartans and kept them from loading up the box against the run. The senior finished with six catches for 129 yards and a touchdown, including a fantastic grab to convert a long third down when the game was still tight.
DT Michael Bennett
  • The Michigan State offensive line came into the weekend with perhaps the best reputation in the league, and combining that with the pain of losing a year ago was all the motivation the talented defensive lineman needed to turn in one of the best overall outings of his career. Bennett was nearly unblockable up front for the Buckeyes, forcing Michigan State to adjust its game plan around him and still not preventing him from making two tackles for loss, sacking Connor Cook, forcing a fumble and breaking up a pass. Bennett's value has been hard to quantify this season statistically, but he left no doubt Saturday that he's still one of the most disruptive forces in the Big Ten.

Helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
8:30
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Handing out some recognition from the standouts in Ohio State's 31-24 win in double overtime on Saturday at Penn State:

DE Joey Bosa
  • No defender is playing any better right now in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes may have had a hard time winning or sticking around in the College Football Playoff conversation without him. The star sophomore always figured to be a nuisance for Penn State's suspect offensive line, but that doesn't make his sledgehammering up front any less impressive as he made six tackles and added 2.5 sacks to his season total -- with the most important of them coming on the game's final play. The Nittany Lions had no chance of slowing Bosa down on the last snap in overtime, and after darting around one blocker and bulling over another, he had a walk-off tackle that Ohio State won't soon forget.
LB Joshua Perry
  • The junior seems to be flying well below the radar even on his own team, but he has quietly put together an impressive season thanks to sure tackling, an ability to properly diagnose a play and rarely putting a foot wrong with his assignments. Against the Nittany Lions, that all added up an eye-popping 18 tackles, including two for a loss, a performance that was a bit reminiscent of what Ryan Shazier did in stuffing the stats sheet over the last couple seasons. Perry doesn't have nearly as much athleticism as the first-round NFL draft pick and he certainly isn't as flashy on the field, but he's been invaluable for the Buckeyes and an improving defense.
P Cameron Johnston
  • Urban Meyer would typically prefer never needing to put the sophomore from Australia in the game, but when field position becomes a premium like it did against Penn State, he has quite a useful weapon at his disposal. Johnston pinned the Nittany Lions inside the 20-yard line on four of his six punts, including a beauty in the fourth quarter that was downed at the 1 by Devin Smith. Overall, Johnston averaged 45 yards on those attempts with a long of 59, and that effort shouldn't be overlooked in a tight battle that could have easily gone against the Buckeyes.

Helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the standout performances from another Big Ten blowout for Ohio State, a 56-17 thrashing of Rutgers on Saturday night at the Horseshoe.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman has only been a starter or half of a season, so there is still plenty of time for him to improve. But how much more could the Buckeyes really need from Barrett? After his rough outing in September against Virginia Tech, Barrett has played himself into contention for major awards and dragged the Buckeyes back into the College Football Playoff discussion with an accurate arm, underrated athleticism as a rusher and the leadership skills of a veteran. Against the Scarlet Knights, he threw for 261 yards, ran for 107 and accounted for five touchdowns -- and still apparently left Urban Meyer wanting a little more.
CB Doran Grant
  • Ohio State was already in control on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the first half, but it obviously didn't want to give Rutgers any reason for optimism heading into the locker room or let the game get any tighter. After a costly penalty extended the drive deep into Ohio State territory, Grant snuffed it out with an interception in the end zone that might as well have been the nail in the coffin for the Scarlet Knights. The Ohio State cornerback also tied for the team lead with seven tackles in his finest outing of the season.
TE Nick Vannett
  • There still haven't been all that many opportunities for the tight ends to get their hands on the ball with so many skill players fighting for touches, but Vannett made the most of his opportunities against the Scarlet Knights. The junior turned both of his catches into touchdowns for the Buckeyes, opening the scoring quickly on the opening drive with a 12-yard grab and tacking on a 26-yarder for good measure in the second quarter. He and Jeff Heuerman may have to keep doing dirty work as blockers most of the time, but they are both more than capable of adding an extra dimension to the vaunted Ohio State attack.

B1G media days: Best of Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:00
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CHICAGO -- The season has unofficially started in the Big Ten.

Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.

There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.

Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.

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Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.

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Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.

Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.

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Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.

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Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”

Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”

Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.

Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
12:00
PM ET
The Big Ten season unofficially begins Monday with media days. So enjoy the weekend, and then let's get after it.

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.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
12:00
PM ET
Oppressive heat returns to the Midwest. Must be almost time for the start of football practice.

B1G awards watch list roundup

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
3:00
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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's lunch links

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
12:00
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Pre-fireworks links:

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
5:00
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You know it, you love it, you can't live without it. It's Wednesday mailbag time.

@GeoffreyMarshal via Twitter writes: What do Wednesday's commitments say, if anything, about B1G recruiting? Is B1G recruiting too top-heavy?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State's additions of a pair of top 20 players in linebacker Justin Hilliard and defensive end Jashon Cornell is huge news for the Buckeyes, but not all that surprising. Urban Meyer and his staff have killed it on the recruiting front since they arrived in Columbus. We also know that James Franklin is going bonkers at Penn State, with ESPN's No. 4 nationally ranked class right now. And don't forget about Brady Hoke. While Michigan hasn't wrapped up as many commitments this summer as it has in years past, the Wolverines are still sitting on a top 25 class with room to improve.

But did we learn anything? Those three schools have long been at the forefront of recruiting in the Big Ten. If anything, the aggressive tactics of Meyer and Franklin might pull the rest of the league forward, because they risk getting left behind if not.

Then again, look at the last three Big Ten champions: Michigan State and Wisconsin (twice -- one impacted, of course, by Ohio State's probation). Neither of those programs usually finds itself among the elite in the recruiting rankings but instead both do a great job of scouting and developing talent. So just collecting star prospects guarantees nothing, though it is a nice place to start.

 




 

@hicksoldier via Twitter writes: What in your opinion is the reason that MSU keeps missing out on top recruits, especially on defense? And what can they change?

Brian Bennett: It's a stretch to say the Spartans keep missing out. Remember Malik McDowell, a top defensive tackle recruit Michigan State landed earlier this year after much drama? But I see your point. Michigan State made Cornell's final top five, but he ended up choosing Columbus. One would think, given Mark Dantonio's success in developing players -- especially on defense -- coupled with the team's rise toward the national elite would help the Spartans land a few more studs. But a school like Ohio State is always going to have some advantages in recruiting. The good news is Dantonio's staff does a tremendous job figuring out which players will fit the team's system and then polishing them into stars. And if Michigan State can continue to win big on the field and churn out pros, higher-caliber recruits should look toward East Lansing.

 




 

Glenn from Siesta Key, Fla., writes: Brian, why is it that during this offseason you constantly are mentioning the PSU OL as a weakness and question mark, while it seems OSU is pretty much in the same boat? Yet, all you talk about is how OSU will win its division and could be a playoff contender. Won't Braxton Miller have the same challenge as Christian Hackenberg if his OL doesn't show up?

Brian Bennett: For starters, I haven't said Ohio State will win the East Division. I'm not ready to predict that yet. You make a decent point, as both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions likely will be replacing four starters on the offensive line. I have written that the offensive line is a question mark for Ohio State. But the two teams also are coming from different starting points. Ohio State's offensive line was the best in the league the past two years, and the recruiting at that position has been solid. Ed Warriner is one of the best position coaches in the nation.

Penn State's offensive line wasn't as dominant last year as the Buckeyes', and depth is a concern given the scholarship limitations. But I do really like Herb Hand and think he very well could have a Warriner-like impact for the Nittany Lions. We'll see. If Ohio State's line doesn't come together quickly, the Buckeyes could have problems early on against Virginia Tech.

 




 

Chris from Princeton, N.J., writes: I know you guys don't see Rutgers as a bowl team this year but let's say they do manage to get six wins. Where do you see those potential wins coming from?

Brian Bennett: It's not out of the realm of possibility that Rutgers makes a bowl, but the Scarlet Knights will have to win all of their toss-up games for it to become likely, given the schedule. They figure to be heavy underdogs against Michigan and Wisconsin at home and versus Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State on the road. Going across the country for the opener against Washington State in Seattle looks very difficult as well.

That leaves very little margin for error. You can pencil in wins over Howard and Tulane at home. Beating Navy in Annapolis, while not an easy task, is doable and probably crucial. Conference games against Indiana at home and Maryland on the road could go either way. The Big Ten opener against Penn State should be played in front of a raucous atmosphere, and the Lions were often vulnerable on the road last season. So Rutgers is basically going to have to sweep all of its 50-50 games or pull off a big upset anywhere. Good luck with all that.

 




 

Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Brian, do you recall the days of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney? Could the mix of guys the Gophers have produce two 1,000-yard rushers?

Brian Bennett: I sure do, Craig. Those two guys were loads of fun to watch. I'm not sure which is harder to believe, in retrospect, about the 2004 Gophers: that they finished only 7-5 with that pair in the backfield, or that they beat Alabama in a bowl game. But going back to your question, Minnesota has an awful lot of talent at running back this season. David Cobb somewhat quietly ran for 1,202 yards last season, 12th most in school history. Donnell Kirkwood came close to 1,000 yards in 2012, and Rodrick Williams Jr. is a 247-pound beast who's almost impossible to bring down on first contact. Add in redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards, who might be more talented than all of the, and quarterback Mitch Leidner, who's got great wheels as well. And that's not even considering top 2014 recruit Jeff Jones, who might not be academically eligible.

Can two Gophers get to 1,000 yards? Minnesota almost certainly will be a rush-first team again this year. The hope is that the passing game improves enough so the offense isn't rush-first, rush-second and rush-third as well. I'm not sure there will be enough carries for two players to get to 1,000 yards, and the offense has to stay on the field longer to provide more opportunities. There may not be a Maroney or a Barber in this group, but it still should be fun to watch.

Back in early May, we heard from some concerned Buckeyes fans who were wringing their hands over Ohio State's slow start in the latest recruiting cycle. Back then, their team had only two commitments.

My reaction was simply to chuckle, because I don't see any reason to worry about the job Urban Meyer and his staff do on the recruiting trail. And just two months later, look at the Buckeyes now.

Ohio State landed two monster commitments this morning when defenders Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard gave their verbal pledges within minutes of each other. Both are five-star players, according to ESPN Recruiting, with Hilliard ranking as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and Cornell checking in as the No. 5 defensive end and No. 16 overall prospect. Craig Haubert has a breakdown of how much impact the pair of five-star prospects can make on the Buckeyes' defense.

Cornell, who hails from St. Paul, Minn., eliminated Minnesota from his final list earlier this year. Michigan State and Iowa were also among his finalists. Hilliard, who's from Cincinnati, also considered Michigan and Iowa in his final five.

That gives the Buckeyes 12 total commitments and four in the ESPN 300. Our latest 2015 class rankings now have Meyer's team at No. 6 nationally, up 17 spots from their previous showing. The only other Big Ten schools in the top 25 are Penn State (No. 4 nationally with 17 total commitments) and Michigan (No. 23, eight commits).

The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Meyer and his staff have been known as great closers in the final weeks leading up to signing day, beating out marquee programs for top undecided prospects late. They're already built a great foundation in July. Hilliard said at his press conference that he and Cornell would try and recruit other elite players to join them in Columbus, including four-star Kentucky running back Damien Harris. He took note of today's news.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 2, 2014
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Lots to digest here.

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