Ohio State Buckeyes: Illinois Fighting Illini

Big Ten lunch links

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

Big Ten lunch links

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
12:00
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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
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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's lunch links

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

Big Ten lunch links

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

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
12:00
PM ET
Today marks the birthdays of Mike Tyson and Lizzy Caplan, the anniversary of the merging of East And West Germany's economies and, of course, Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. Oh, and I got married two years ago today. Probably should have mentioned that first.

To the links:

Big Ten lunch links

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

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
12:00
PM ET
A devastating World Cup showing for Spain. On the plus side, they get to go back to Spain.
This is the time of year when recruiting starts to heat up, especially as prospects show off their stuff at various camps. With commitments pouring in, it's time to take another look at the recruiting scorecard for the 2015 class in the Big Ten.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MINNESOTA
2015 verbal commitments: 3
ESPN 300 prospects: 0
Highest-rated recruit: Safety Jacob Huff
Spotlight: All three of Minnesota's commits have come since May 30, and none have been rated yet by ESPN.com. Two of the three are twins, as defensive back Jacob Huff and linebacker Julian Huff each gave their pledge on June 5. Twin Cities, indeed.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
12:00
PM ET
Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Which won't be anything different for my pooch.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
12:00
PM ET
You're next, Portugal.
You can look at a lot of different factors when trying to predict the forthcoming season. Most people start with last year's results, weigh in the number of returning starters, consider schedule strength and voila.

One potential predictor of success is experience along the offensive line. If there's any position where a coach wants veterans going into a season, it's got to be the hogs up front. A young, unproven offensive line can sometimes spell disaster -- just think of Michigan in 2013.

With that in mind, we're taking a look at the number of returning starts along the offensive line in the Big Ten this season. Preseason magazine guru Phil Steele has compiled a chart of career starts for every offensive line in the FBS in 2014. Here's how the league stacks up both nationally and against one another:

[+] EnlargeNebraska vs Minnesota
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMinnesota's Mitch Leidner will have the benefit of being behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country.
3. Indiana: 130 career starts
4. Minnesota: 129
19. Northwestern: 100
22. Rutgers: 99
23. Illinois: 96
46. Wisconsin: 74
66. Iowa: 62
T-68. Maryland: 61
T-68: Michigan State: 61
107. Michigan: 37
116. Nebraska: 32
117. Purdue: 31
126. Ohio State: 21
127. Penn State: 20

Indiana has more returning starts on the O-line than any other Power Five conference team (Appalachian State and UTSA are Nos. 1-2 in the FBS). The Hoosiers' line has been one of the more underrated units in the Big Ten of late and should be a real strength this season. ... Similarly, Minnesota is very experienced up front, which has to make Jerry Kill very happy. Expect more of that power running game in Minneapolis this year. ... Only one FBS team (Tennessee, with just six career starts) brings back less experience than Ohio State or Penn State. The Buckeyes, of course, lost four starters off a line that was dominant the past two seasons, while the Nittany Lions will return only Donovan Smith if Miles Dieffenbach is indeed out for the year. There are big question marks in the offensive trenches in both Columbus and State College.

So just how accurate is this measurement? Steele did the same thing last year, and the top Big Ten teams were Minnesota (No. 8 nationally), Michigan State (No. 9) and Ohio State (No. 30). The Gophers had one of their best seasons in a long time, while the Spartans and Buckeyes met in the Big Ten title game. Northwestern ranked last in the Big Ten, and the Wildcats went on to have a very disappointing season despite high expectations. Then again, Iowa (No. 94), Penn State and Wisconsin (tied for 90th) were all able to overcome experience issues.

Experience is one thing. Talent is another. Ideally, you'd like to have both, of course. Just keep in mind who's got veterans on the offensive line when coming up with your preseason picks.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
5:00
PM ET
Questions, answers and Twitter. What could possibly be better on a Tuesday in June?

Let's begin ...

Virgel from Valdosta, Ga., writes: Adam, do you think that if this season ends the Tim Beckman era at Illinois, they would go after a high-profile coach on the bench right now, like a Mack Brown? Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting thought, Virgel, as it's hard to know where athletic director Mike Thomas would turn. He has a track record of hiring MAC coaches -- Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, Beckman -- but I'd be shocked if he went that route again. Brown will be 62 in August, has a ton of money and likely a lengthy TV career ahead, so I'm not sure how much he would want to coach again. And if he did, for how long?

Illinois doesn't want to keep changing coaches. But thinking outside the box could be a good approach. Or Thomas could hire a guy like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who is ready to lead a major-conference program.




Kyle from Hamilton, Ontario, writes: We all have heard how "weak" Iowa's schedule is. It has even been rumoured that they could be favoured in every game. Given the fact they don't play Ohio State, a scenario exists that they both could go undefeated. That could have happened in 2002 if Iowa didn't blow the lead against Iowa State that year. My question is this: If both Ohio State and Iowa go undefeated do both teams make the playoffs?

Adam Rittenberg: Man, I love that Canadian spelling. This would be a fascinating scenario, Kyle. A lot depends on what happens in other conferences and how the Big Ten performs in marquee nonleague games. But I don't think Iowa makes the playoff with a loss in the league championship game, primarily because of the seemingly soft regular-season schedule.

In this scenario, Ohio State would have a road win against a preseason top-10 team in Michigan State. The Buckeyes also play Virginia Tech in nonleague play. Will the Michigan home win help or hurt Ohio State? How much credit will Iowa get for beating Wisconsin and Nebraska at home? All these questions factor into the playoff decision. Ultimately, I doubt the Big Ten gets two teams into the initial playoff. Fairly or unfairly, the league will pay for its recent shortcomings. But Ohio State has a better chance as a one-loss team than Iowa.




Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: The Big Ten should've gone to North-South divisions instead of East-West. I'm not sure about the exact locations of the schools, but a North-South alignment could look something like this ... North -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa. South -- Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska.

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting idea, Dave, as this proposal appears to create more historical balance than the current East-West alignment. But if you look at the Big Ten's recent expansion, the idea is to live in a second region along the East Coast. It's not a northern expansion but an eastern one. Another factor to consider is geography. Nebraska would be a major outlier in the South division -- nearly an eight-hour drive from its closest division competitor (Illinois) and a loooong way from Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. Would Husker fans care? Maybe, maybe not. They would get annual games with both Penn State and Ohio State.

I like how your proposal satisfies the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry triangle/dilemma, but it also would require at least one extra protected crossover, Ohio State-Michigan, which would reduce the overall schedule rotation for two of the league's marquee programs. I definitely see value in the North-South model, but East-West is here, at least for now.




[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Paul VernonOhio State's Braxton Miller is one of just two early enrollees to be Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the last seven years.
Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I wondered if you've seen any data comparing early enrollees and players who enroll in the fall. Do early enrollees start sooner, play in more games, have better drafts or have better graduation rates than players who enroll in the summer/fall? My thought is if the player works hard enough to graduate high school early, maybe there's a bit of a better work ethic.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, David, and there's not a great answer yet as this trend remains somewhat new. The number of early enrollees really spiked in the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. Not surprisingly, there is some evidence that early enrollees are contributing faster in their careers than those who arrive in the summer. We've seen examples in the Big Ten such as Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who earned a starting job as a true freshman. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller enrolled early and has started since the middle of his freshman season.

Then again, a 2009 ranking of top early enrollee groups Insider showed more misses (Tate Forcier, Kevin Newsome, Will Campbell) than hits (Gerald Hodges) in the Big Ten. Penn State had seven early enrollees in 2010 but only one, running back Silas Redd, became a star for the Lions.

Of the Big Ten's last seven Freshman of the Year recipients, just two -- Ohio State's Miller and Illinois' Arrelious Benn -- were early enrollees. So it's hard to draw clear conclusions.




Peter from Boston writes: Would be interested to hear your thoughts on a recent article by John U. Bacon about attendance issues at Michigan (Ivan Maisel referenced it in his latest 3-Point Stance). Personally, I think you could insert any major program in the country (including my alma mater Penn State) and write roughly the same article. ADs constantly point the finger at high-definition TV and other tech as the reason for slipping attendance, and it's definitely a factor, but Bacon makes some very good points about the in-game experience and costs of attending a game at a major university. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: There are some very valid points in Bacon's story, especially about rising ticket prices. As Ohio State AD Gene Smith recently told me, "The reality is a lot of our ticket pricing, some of us are at the top of the pyramid." And it seems like the branding push, especially in the Big Ten, is turning off some fans. Has the sport sold its soul in some ways? No doubt. Is branding too much of a priority in the Big Ten, which makes a lot of money but doesn't really win anything? There's a case to be made. ADs are devoting a lot of energy to improving the gameday experience, but two solutions are pretty simple: scheduling better opponents and charging less for tickets.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
4:30
PM ET
Mondays stink. Except when it's mailbag time. Which it is right now. Go.

Mitchell C. from Parts Unknown writes: How confident should Ohio State be coming into the third year with Urban Meyer and five new starters on defense and six new starters on offense? And will new RB Ezekiel Elliott be like Carlos Hyde and live up to the (production) he left behind?

Brian Bennett: Those are good questions, and they are why I find the 2014 Buckeyes to be one of the most fascinating teams in the Big Ten and the nation. A lot of people assume that Ohio State won't drop off at all from the first two seasons under Meyer, but the team is dealing with a lot of turnover and counting on numerous young players to step forward. Yet there is serious reason for optimism. For one, those young players are incredibly talented and athletic, which can help make up for a lot of mistakes. The coaching staff is also a proven commodity. For example, while the offensive line replaces four starters, position coach Ed Warriner faced similar questions two years ago and quickly turned that unit into the best offensive line in the Big Ten for two years running. Elliott might not match Hyde's numbers, both because Hyde put up huge stats and because Ohio State is likely to spread the ball out a bit more than it did in 2013. But he's another prime example of the immense potential on hand.

With all that talent and coaching, the Buckeyes should feel optimistic about 2014. Unless Braxton Miller gets hurt. Then all bets are off.


Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: I was reading your take on the Athlon Big Ten predictions, and I have to tell you that your take on Wisconsin's QB situation is a bit off the mark but is similar to what I am reading from other Big Ten predictors. Joel Stave is playing his third year. In 2012, his QB rating was 148.3, and his stats were comparable to Devin Gardner. In 2013, Stave was fourth in the Big Ten in QB rating at 138.1. Statistically, he was ranked sixth in the B1G because Wisconsin ran the ball (so well). With the above in mind how can QB be a major concern? Keep in mind that Wisconsin has basically its entire offensive line back and should be deeper and healthier, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement should challenge if not beat the rushing record set by James White and Gordon. The issue at Wisconsin is not that the QB position is weak but that it has lots of competition. Stave does have his weaknesses and I hope he overcomes them or is beat out by Tanner McEvoy, but the QB position should not be a concern.

[+] EnlargeJoel Stave
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsA more consistent Joel Stave would go a long way toward bolstering Wisconsin's Big Ten hopes.
Brian Bennett: One thing we can agree on about Stave is his experience should help him. Last year was his first as a full-season starter after he got knocked out early in 2012 because of an injury. And when Stave is on, he shows good arm strength and decision-making. Unfortunately, what we saw from Stave on the field last year didn't always line up with some of the stats you mentioned. Several times he misfired on completely wide-open receivers down the field as defenses keyed on that running game. (What would Jared Abbrederis' numbers have looked like had Stave hit him in stride all those times he had gotten behind defenders?).

Stave played poorly in the upset loss to Penn State to end the year and against South Carolina, causing Gary Andersen to say the team needed better play from its quarterback position. There's a reason the Badgers opened up the quarterback competition this spring despite having a veteran starter. And Stave's shoulder injury is worrisome.

Maybe Stave gets healthy and builds upon his experience. Or maybe McEvoy steps in and plays well. But you're talking about one guy who has yet to put it all together and another who has never done it at this level. That's why there are legitimate reasons for concern at the quarterback spot in Madison, before we even get to the pressing issue of who is going to catch the ball for Wisconsin. That's a big reason why I'm a little surprised by all the rosy preseason projections for the Badgers.


DJ from Minneapolis writes: I have to slightly disagree with you about Minnesota not seeing a benefit to an early signing period. As Brady Hoke mentioned, they might have to start allowing earlier or summer visits which would be a big boon to Minnesota. It would show all of the recruits in the South that it isn't actually minus-40 degrees 365 days a year here like a lot of people make it out to be.

Brian Bennett: DJ, I think you might be conflating two different issues here. As I mentioned in my early signing day piece, schools that are farther away from major talent bases (i.e., Minnesota, Nebraska, Iowa, etc.) wouldn't see as much benefit with an early signing period without the corresponding move of allowing for earlier official visits. (Adam did a great job of exploring that issue in this post). Right now, prospects can't take official visits (i.e., have their trips paid for by the school) until the start of their senior year in high school. It's difficult and expensive for many prospects, especially ones who live in the South and in other far-flung locales, to visit northern schools like Minnesota on their own dime. They can often take unofficial trips to schools closer to their hometown with far less hassle, however.

That's why, if there's an early signing period -- especially one in the summer before a prospect's senior year as the ACC has proposed -- kids could be inking their national letters of intent before ever getting on a plane to Minneapolis. The Gophers would stand to gain if prospects could receive a paid trip to their campus in the spring and summer, when it's a great time to be in the Twin Cities. Those earlier visits, then, loom as even more important for a school like Minnesota than an early signing period would be.


Spencer from Lincoln, Neb., writes: On your piece about impact freshmen, I noticed you left off Tanner Farmer. My question is: Why? The kid is a beast of a specimen. Athletic. Big. He is your typical Midwest hard-working player. He even benches 500 pounds! Name another one of your impact freshmen you chose that can do that.

Brian Bennett: Spencer, I am very intrigued by Farmer and think he can end up being a cult hero to Nebraska fans. We didn't have time or space in that post to mention every promising freshman in the league, though, and it's much tougher for a first-year player out of high school to make a big impact on the offensive line than it is for just about any other position, save perhaps defensive tackle. Farmer could be an exception. We shall see.


Joel L. from Tuscola, Ill., writes: In regards to Tim Beckman's job status: I think from the perspective of a huge Illinois fan the situation is actually going to be very difficult for Mike Thomas. I will say before I start here if we win 4 games or less I think Thomas' hands are tied and he will have to let Beckman go because the attendance will be dismal and it will probably affect season ticket sales the next year. If I had to guess, we will most likely end up with five wins this season. That will cause a major predicament for Thomas because Beckman's recruiting class next year is actually going to be very solid, especially with offensive talent that Bill Cubit (who is the mastermind of the offense) will be able to use immediately. That is where the problem will lay for Thomas, because Beckman really could turn this around in year 4, but Illinois fans are ruthless and if we do not make a bowl game this year people will go absolutely nuts if he is retained.

Brian Bennett: Some good points here, Joel, and I agree that five wins is kind of the fulcrum for Beckman in 2014. If that happens, I think a lot will depend on how that 5-7 season went down. Were the Illini highly competitive in their Big Ten games, especially against the best the league has to offer? Did young players show obvious development and improvement? Were fans responding in a positive way? You're right that Beckman could have his best and most experienced roster in 2015, and Thomas might be able to bank on that. However, three years without a bowl and a potential devastating hit to attendance and season-ticket sales might be too much to overcome.


Pat from Iowa City writes: Is it safe to say that AIRBHG is gone for good?

Brian Bennett: Oh, Pat, how dare you tempt the curse! You might have just woken that evil spirit from its peaceful slumber in that great cornfield in the sky. We apologize in advance to Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock, et al. Pay no heed to Pat's question, AIRBHG. We kneel and offer you this bushel of corn as a humble token of our appreciation for your recent mercy.
Few preseason prognosticators create as much excitement around their summer picks as Phil Steele.

The college football guru packs a tremendous amount of information and research into his preseason magazines. And Steele has released his choices for the 2014 All-Big Ten team, which you can find here.

[+] EnlargeStefon Diggs
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsMaryland receiver Stefon Diggs could make an immediate impact in the Big Ten.
Some thoughts on the selections:

Steele sees newcomers Maryland and Rutgers bringing some talent into the league quickly, as he has two Terrapins (wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) and two Scarlet Knights (guard Kaleb Johnson and linebacker Steve Longa) on the first team. ... A mild surprise on the first team is Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones, who will attempt to take over the middle spot from Max Bullough this year. ... The first-team defensive line is absolutely loaded, with Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, and Ohio State's Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa. Iowa's Carl Davis and Minnesota's Theiren Cockran were relegated to second-team status. ... Speaking of the second team, Steele puts Northwestern wide receiver Kyle Prater there, apparently expecting big things at long last from the former USC transfer. ... Steele also has Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith breaking out as second-team All-Big Ten receivers. ... Penn State fans might be a bit miffed to see Christian Hackenberg as only the third-team quarterback. Michigan State's Connor Cook is Steele's choice for second-team QB, with Braxton Miller obviously No. 1. ... Michigan State leads the way with five players on Steele's first-team offense and defense. Ohio State has four, while Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan each have three.

Steele also has released his preseason All-America team, which includes some familiar Big Ten names. Here's a quick rundown:

First team:

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

Ohio State DT Michael Bennett

Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

Second team:

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

Nebraska DE Randy Gregory

Ohio State DE Joey Bosa

Iowa PR Kevonte Martin-Manley

Third team:

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller

Maryland WR Stefon Diggs

Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Iowa DT Carl Davis

Michigan LB Jake Ryan

Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Michigan State S Kurtis Drummond

Illinois PR V'Angelo Bentley

Indiana LS Matt Dooley

Fourth team:

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford

Ohio State TE Jeff Heuerman

Wisconsin OT Rob Havenstein

Northwestern RB/KR Venric Mark

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