COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The loaded quarterback competition hasn't really even started yet at Ohio State, and already the strain is starting to show on coach Urban Meyer.

Even with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller still limited by injuries early in spring practice, leaving Cardale Jones as the only healthy option, Meyer is beginning to look ahead. And he doesn't seem particularly excited about the fact that he'll have to leave two talented options on the sideline.

"That's the only thing that's starting to eat away at me a little bit," Meyer said Tuesday. "It didn't for a while because you're just so busy. But now that I'm seeing what I'm seeing, I have such great respect for all three guys."

Offensive coordinator Ed Warinner echoed similar sentiments about the team's quarterback derby later in the week.

"It's a great problem to have," Warinner said Thursday. "It's one of those ones that will take care of itself down the road. Right now, it's just watch Cardale grow and develop and get better and those other guys are doing what they can do to continue to grow and develop and get better. We'll have to figure that out when the time comes, but not right now."

Meyer has been watching them all closely through three practices, and while each of the decorated candidates is participating at a different level in workouts, their relationships with one another appear to add to Meyer's difficulty in eventually establishing a pecking order.

(Read full post)

Big Ten morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

Urban Meyer makes news when he thinks about the quarterback decision that he faces before next season. He actually talked about it Tuesday.

Meyer said the dilemma has started to "eat away" at him.

In this report by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, Meyer praised the Ohio State quarterbacks for their positive attitude in spring practice, specifically mentioning a compliment offered by Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones. Miller and J.T. Barrett talked a little football at practice, he said.

These are insignificant details, though they remain fascinating in the context of the OSU QB race, especially when offered by Meyer. The battle won't actually hit its stride until August of course, when all three accomplished players presumably will enter preseason camp in good health.

Meyer said Tuesday that he was moved to feel this way about the quarterbacks because he has "such great respect for all three guys."

He also offered a dose of reality. "The negative: Two people are going to have to watch."

This storyline has already taken on a life of its own. It's in danger of spinning out of control at some point before August, at least in the uncontrolled environment away from the Ohio State campus. Twelve practices remain for the Buckeyes this spring -- more time for the media and fans to anticipate and overanalyze every minor twist.

And if Meyer is already feeling a burden now, imagine how he'll feel in August.

Let's get to the links:

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At some point there's nothing left to prove in spring practice, and Ohio State isn't going to force anybody to go through the motions when it's well aware of what a veteran is capable of and his spot is secure.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes work through the growing pains during the spring practice session.

And while Urban Meyer is more than qualified to make that evaluation on his own, the Buckeyes' coach also has a numerical threshold that can simplify the process for him and provide some evidence that a break has been earned.

Removing a handful of starters from camp might make for uglier practices than Meyer might enjoy watching, though, and Tuesday's workout was certainly not one he'll remember fondly. But considering the physical toll on the bodies of some upperclassmen and the need to develop a bit of depth behind them as the Buckeyes gear up to defend their national title, when the ticker hits a certain number of reps, there's not much point in watching proven commodities work.

"Just being smart with the guys, the 2,000-rep club," Meyer said. "The guys who have had a lot of competitive snaps, you've got to be really smart.

"I love it, I think we're on the cutting edge of being smart about the wear and tear that the student-athlete goes through. And we're being smart."

There's a chance the Buckeyes might not always be looking that sharp on the practice field without some of their most valued leaders and contributors in action, but that's a small price to pay in the long run -- particularly when there isn't a game to be played for months.

Removing offensive linemen Taylor Decker and Pat Elflein from the rotation can disrupt the chemistry and create some confusion in the trenches, and not having linebacker Joshua Perry, safety Tyvis Powell or end Joey Bosa lining up on defense doesn't make that unit look as fearsome. But whether it's for injury in the fall or down the road when their careers are over, at some point the Buckeyes are going to need to replace those guys -- and building the rep count on the backups is one way to speed up the process.

"Here's the thing, you really have to think this through," Meyer said. "The issue is you're losing a little bit of chemistry in the unit. In the offensive line, you hear stories about a cohesive offensive line. When you hear that story it's absolutely correct, and I think we were a great example the last three years with an extremely close group that has a little chemistry going. You lose that completely because you are sticking some guys in there who are not quite ready yet.

"Same thing with the defensive line, those are the two areas where you just lose it and sometimes it looks really bad."

The Buckeyes would obviously rather deal with those growing pains in the spring, though, and Meyer made it clear there have already been some after just three workouts.

Aside from limiting the snaps of the 2,000-rep club members, Ohio State also has a few starters on the sideline dealing with injuries, which gives the first-string a vastly different appearance than the one that knocked off Oregon and Alabama in the College Football Playoff. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott has a cast on his wrist, center Jacoby Boren is nursing a couple injuries, H-back Dontre Wilson is recovering from a broken foot and quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett are both still rehabbing their respective injuries before jumping back into competition.

That leaves plenty of work for young players who haven't had much of it yet thanks to all those talented veterans in their way, and based on the early feedback, they can use it. For now, they're a long way from 2,000 reps, and there's still plenty for them to prove.

"Today was not a pleasant one," Meyer said. "I'm not going to blame players or coaches yet, but that's coming if we don't get better.

"I think we are being smart even though you look out and see how awful it is sometimes watching practice. It's still the right thing to do."

With more than 400 prospects in attendance at the Atlanta Nike The Opening regional camp on Sunday there were several trending topics scene and heard throughout the day. Here's a closer look at some of the top trends from Sunday's events.

Big Ten morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

Future uniform possibilities have created some buzz for multiple Big Ten teams this week. A day after Cardale Jones got Buckeye fans excited about a darker look, Michigan fans debated the merits of going retro.

The school said it hasn't made any official decisions about uniforms yet, but a report Tuesday said the Wolverines plan to reinstate pride stickers on their helmets and do away with the short-lived Legends jerseys. Michigan handed out helmet stickers during half of Jim Harbaugh's playing career in the mid-1980s, but got rid of them a decade later. The Legends jerseys, introduced in 2011, were supposed to reward current stars by letting them wear the same numbers as former Michigan greats.

The big wardrobe decision for Michigan comes this summer, when the school has to decide whether it will pursue its contract with Adidas or look for another supplier. The school reportedly polled its student-athletes over the weekend, and like most young Americans, they said they would prefer to wear Nike.

Michigan is Adidas' biggest brand in college sports and its most expensive contract. If the Wolverines opt for a different logo, it could be a potential blow to the company's recent efforts to be cool again in in America. The German-based shoemaker tied its fate to soccer globally and has consistently lost market share to Nike and relative newcomer Under Armour in recent years in the U.S.

Adidas is rethinking its strategy in the U.S., according to an interesting story in the Wall Street Journal this week. Adidas is making changes to try to win back the loyalty of young Americans. Michigan would be a good vehicle for that project, but upping the cool factor in time to convince the school to stick around will be difficult.

Speaking of things that make you cool, don't forget to vote for your favorite college gameday settings in the Big Ten blog's version of March Madness.

And now, onto the links…

Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

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Big Ten morning links

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23

Cardale Jones got fans talking Friday when he posted this photo on Instagram.

The picture? A photoshopped rendition of a black-and-red Ohio State uniform, something not yet in the Buckeyes' repertoire. "How Sick Would This Be," Jones wrote.

How Sick Would This Be

A photo posted by Cardale Jones (@cardale12_) on

A special uniform like that would be long (and somewhat) overdue for the Buckeyes. Rumors of a black alternate uniform circulated last season before Urban Meyer halted the fun by saying there were no such plans. Still, Meyer said he would be fine with it "somewhere down the road."

It's definitely pretty slick. But, for whatever reason, it just seems like black is a great choice for a uniform. (Just ask Iowa fans.) Twitter was aflutter just three months ago for a similar wardrobe change at Penn State. Defensive back Jordan Lucas and running back Akeel Lynch excited the fan base with this Photoshop, and James Franklin was eventually asked about the possibility. The answer? Possibly, but time moves slow on uniform changes.

Maybe we'll see something similar in The Horseshoe soon enough. Or maybe schools should open up some sort of concept contest to fans because there's been some cool-looking mock-ups floating around. (Hint, hint, Maryland.)

Now, on to the links ...

It’s time once again to start winding down your week with the last edition of the #B1GFridayFive. Take a few minutes at halftime during the NCAA Tournament to check out this week’s post and share your thoughts on our picks with social media. Join the conversation by using the hashtag and giving us your opinions directly by following @BennettESPN, @MitchSherman, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @ESPNRittenberg, @AWardESPN, @TomVH and @ESPN_BigTen.

This week has already had its share of memorable buzzer-beaters thanks to the NCAA tourney. In honor of the excitement, we compile a list of five last-second victories in Big Ten football games that are sure to make you fall out of your chair.

Some ground rules: We stuck to games within the last 25 years to make sure we could provide you with video evidence, because what fun is a Hail Mary win without listening to the home team’s radio announcer lose his mind when describing it? All games also had to be between conference opponents. So you won’t find Iowa’s comeback against LSU in the 2005 Capital One Bowl or other classics like this one or this one.

With those qualifications in mind, here are our five favorite dramatic finishes in the Big Ten in chronological order.

1. Ohio State def. Iowa, 27-26, Nov. 10, 1990

Trailing by five, the Buckeyes had less than a minute to go 48 yards and complete a comeback against Hayden Fry’s Hawkeyes. Iowa was ranked No. 6 in the nation and had yet to lose a conference game that season. Ohio State quarterback Greg Frey worked his team down to the 3-yard line before connecting with receiver Bobby Olive, who managed to squeeze both feet to the ground in front of the end line for a game-winning score with one second left on the clock.

2. Minnesota def. Penn State, 24-23, Nov. 6, 1999

[+] EnlargeDan Nystrom
AP Photo/Chris GardnerMinnesota kicker Dan Nystrom, right, celebtrates with holder Ryan Rindels after kicking the game-winning field goal against Penn State with two seconds left.

No. 2 Penn State invited Minnesota to Happy Valley for its homecoming in 1999. The Gophers had not been to a bowl game since 1986. But Dan Nystrom’s 32-yard field goal as time expired at Beaver Stadium changed all of that. Minnesota got its sixth win to qualify for the postseason. The Nittany Lions lost the two games that followed and fell to the Alamo Bowl instead of getting a shot at a national title.

3. Iowa def. Penn State, 24-23, Nov. 8, 2008

Nine years later, almost to the day, history repeated itself for Penn State fans. Their Lions were 9-0, ranked No. 3 and hoping to get Joe Paterno a national championship late in his career. A middle-of-the-pack Iowa team derailed those plans. Running back Shonn Greene put the Hawkeyes within striking distance with a fourth-quarter touchdown to make the score 23-21 with nine minutes to play. An interception gave the Hawkeyes a final drive late in the game and Daniel Murray finished the upset with a 31-yard field goal.

4. Michigan State def. Wisconsin, 37-31, Oct. 22, 2011

Kirk Cousins connected with Keith Nichol a true Hail Mary play to upset the Badgers in a meeting between ranked teams. The 44-yard pass ricocheted off one Spartans receiver in the end zone and dropped into Nichols’ arms at the 1-yard line. He wrestled his way toward the end zone, but was marked down just shy of the goal line. Referees reviewed the play and saw that Nichols had broken the plane before a pair of Wisconsin defenders threw him backward.

5. Nebraska def. Northwestern, 27-24, Nov. 2, 2013

What a scene in Lincoln, baby! That was the Nebraska radio call when Jordan Westerkamp pulled in a tipped ball on the final play of a 27-24 win over Northwestern in 2013. Ron Kellogg threw a 50-yard pass that skipped off of a pile of players at the goal line and on to Westerkamp who was waiting behind the crowd. The win gave the Huskers a 6-2 record. It was just another week for the Wildcats, who lost seven straight that season including overtime defeats in the week before and after the heartbreaker in Lincoln.

Honorable mention: Michigan State def. Ohio State, 16-13, Nov. 9, 1974

You can’t mention Big Ten buzzer-beaters without including one of the more bizarre finishes in conference history. Ohio State, led by eventual Heisman winner Archie Griffin, was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country. Michigan State held an improbable field goal lead late in the fourth quarter, but Griffin and the Buckeyes had one final drive. Spartan coach Duffy Daugherty told his players to expect Woody Hayes to go for the win rather than kick a field goal.

The Buckeyes drove down to the 1-yard line with less than 30 seconds remaining. Their first attempt from that distance fell just short. The players scrambled back into position for one final play. It crossed the goal line but referees said time had expired before the snap. Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke, who was at the game, forced both teams to stay in the stadium while he chased down the referees for an explanation. Forty-six minutes later, without the benefit of instant replay, they decided there was no buzzer-beater. Michigan State held on to win.

Big Ten morning links

March, 20, 2015
Mar 20

Throughout this week, all sorts of columnists and experts have chimed in with their opinions on Chris Borland's decision to retire. It's either the start of a trend, or the start of nothing. A significant and symbolic move, or a trivial decision in the grand scheme.

I'm not going to share my opinion -- every stance has already been expressed -- but I will pass on one that I feel deserves to be read.

Take a look at this essay by ex-Penn State offensive guard John Urschel: "Why I Play Football." Maybe no one in the NFL has more on the line than him. He's been published in major journals, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and is intent on earning a chess title. Basically, by all accounts, he boasts a brain that seems more befitting a brain surgeon than a brawny ballplayer.

He doesn't need football. He says as much. He could make a living in mathematics instead of hitting grown men for a living. So, why does someone with so much on the line keep playing? Why does he keep risking his future on the present? His words:

"What my mother and a great majority of my friends, family, and fellow mathematicians don’t understand is that I’m not playing for the money. I’m not playing for some social status associated with being an elite athlete. No, the media has not brainwashed me into thinking this is what real men do. ... I play because I love the game. I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I’m (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else."

You can call him idealistic, but don't call him dishonest. Maybe no player's take is more relevant.

Urschel's words might not hold true for all players. Heck, maybe that truth is different for each player. But it's a take worth reading.

He ends with: "Simply put, right now, not playing football isn’t an option for me. And for that reason, I truly envy Chris Borland."

Now, on to the links ...

Halfway through Thursday's NCAA tournament action, there are just 4,655 perfect brackets of the 11.57 million entered in the ESPN Tournament Challenge. 1 percent of brackets correctly picked all four double-digit seeds (Georgia State, UAB, UCLA, Ohio State) this afternoon. However, 10-seed Ohio State was picked by 57.4 percent of brackets to beat 7-seed VCU.

President Obama hasn't done so well with his bracket, getting just three of the first eight games correct (Notre Dame, Arizona, Ohio State). He's lost an Elite Eight team in Iowa State and a Sweet 16 team in Baylor.

Big Ten morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19

Here in the throes of March Madness, football takes a temporary backseat, especially for the Big Ten schools involved in the NCAA tournament.

(In 30 seconds, name the league’s seven men’s basketball teams vying for the big prize. Scroll down for the answer.)

They’re still talking football in Iowa, even as the state’s three basketball programs compete in the tournament. The cost of football recruiting, to be more exact.

The Des Moines Register examined recruiting costs associated with campus visits and coaches’ travel, finding that Iowa nearly doubled its spending over a five-year period that ended in 2013. The 98.7-percent increase ranked second in the Big Ten to Penn State over that same time.

Interestingly, the Hawkeyes still trailed rival Iowa State by more than $100,000 on recruiting expenditures in 2013, and spent 35 percent less than ISU over the five years.

Of the spending increase, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the Register: "It’s really a national trend. I think everybody’s being a little more aggressive than they used to be."

It’s a good sign for Iowa that it’s trying to keep pace. The Hawkeyes and Ferentz, entering his 17th season, are too often slow to adjust at times. Over the five years of gathered data, Iowa ranks 10th in the Big Ten in total spending on recruiting.

To reverse its current trajectory on the field, Iowa would be well served to rank higher than 10th over the next five years.

Here’s the full list of schools nationally, as compiled by USA Today. Just wondering, but how did Auburn spend nearly $1.4 million on recruiting in 2013 when more than 80 percent of its signees in 2013 and 2014 lived within the SEC footprint?

A final aside on recruiting expenses: Though they offer an excellent window into these programs, be careful about comparisons.

Air travel, the most significant recruiting expense, is classified by programs in different ways. Some schools own planes, jetting coaches from coast to coast; others receive donated private air time; others rely solely on commercial travel.

And here is your answer to the above question: Ohio State and Purdue play Thursday. Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, and Wisconsin take the court Friday. Enjoy the basketball.

Let's go around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

March, 18, 2015
Mar 18

Hitting the links before diving headfirst into the brackets ...

1. Penn State coach James Franklin offered a preview of spring practice on Tuesday, and one of the most interesting developments to come out of it was the official revelation that cornerback Jordan Lucas is moving to safety.

Lucas has started the past two years at corner and has been excellent at the position. But Franklin said that while Lucas has the talent to play cornerback in the NFL, he has a chance to "be special" at safety.

The move had been hinted at earlier this offseason. Penn State is light at safety after Adrian Amos, Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle all graduated, but it is flush with young talent at corner. Lucas should make a relatively smooth transition to safety, and at this point, you have to give Bob Shoop the benefit of the doubt on all matters pertaining to defense.

2. Michigan State's task of replacing ultra-productive running back Jeremy Langford might have gotten a little more difficult.

The team's leading returning rusher, sophomore Delton Williams, was suspended from all team activities on Tuesday by head coach Mark Dantonio. He was charged with brandishing a firearm in an apparent road rage incident on Monday night (side note: is the word brandishing ever used with anything else but a weapon?).

Williams reportedly had a permit for the handgun, and the charge is only a misdemeanor. However, Michigan State's code of conduct prohibits any guns on campus property, so some serious university sanctions could be coming as well.

Williams, who ran for 316 yards and five touchdowns last season, was seen as the early frontrunner to replace Langford. For at least the time being, sophomore Gerald Holmes is the most experienced returning back with 44 rushing yards last season. Redshirt freshman Madre London and true freshman L.J. Scott could also take on bigger responsibilities.

Another Michigan State player -- receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. -- was arrested late last month on drunken and disorderly charges. The Spartans don't start spring practice until next week, and hopefully no more players will make bad decisions before then.

Around the Big Ten ...

No. 1 Greg Little has visit plans 

March, 17, 2015
Mar 17
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The top ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300, Greg Little, has been committed to Texas A&M since June 20 of 2014, but that hasn’t kept many of the nations top programs from attempting to knock down the door in hopes of swaying the 6-foot-6, 308-pound Texan.

The nation's No. 1-ranked offensive tackle made a first visit to someone other than the Aggies since committing in February, making the short trip north to take a look at the Oklahoma Sooners. As it turns out, that will be just one of many hurdles the Aggies have to clear to sign the 2016 Under Armour All-America Game selection.

"Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, UCLA and USC are coming at me hard,” Said Little. "And Auburn and Florida, too. The first week of June, I’m going to take visits to the Southeast. I’ll go to Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and some other schools like that. Then in the middle of the summer I’m going to go to the West Coast to see USC, UCLA and Stanford. I want to try and get up to Ohio State, too."

Little, who lists the Aggies and Bruins as the schools he talks to the most, says building a relationship with new offensive line coach Dave Christensen is going to be key for keeping his commitment to Texas A&M.

"[A&M] is telling me to just be patient. They have a new O-line coach, so we have to build a good connection. I just have to get to know him, because I think we have only talked a couple of times. I need to get to know him a little more."

For Texas A&M fans hoping or expecting Little to make a final declaration by the end of the summer, that is unlikely to happen.

"I will probably have a true final decision after my senior season. Probably at the beginning of January."

Following the Nike Opening Dallas Regional on Sunday, Little was one of 13 players invited to the The Opening to be held July 5-10 at Nike World Headquarters.

Quick take: There are a couple of key factors to look at with the recruitment of Little. First is his relationship with teammate and class of 2015 Texas A&M signee Kyler Murray. Murray is a pied piper of sorts on the recruiting trail, and this is certainly true when speaking about Little. As long as Murray shows up on campus and suits up for the Aggies, and does not choose to go the MLB route if selected in the first round of the June draft, Texas A&M stands a good chance to sign Little. Should Murray end up going to MLB, and Little does not feel comfortable with his relationships with the Aggies' offensive staff, then all bets are off.

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While it might not be as deep as other cities in the Midlands, Wichita has a great reputation with recruiters, producing top prospects such as Kamerion Wimbley, Arthur Brown and Bryce Brown since 2000. Next on the list is likely to be defensive end Xavier Kelly.

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Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Historically, the Big Ten hasn’t been a great passing conference.

How bad has it been? Well, when it comes to producing 2,500-yard passers, we crunched the numbers and found that no Power 5 conference has had fewer -- either in 2014 or over the past five seasons -- than the ground-and-pound conference.

Over the past five years, there has been a wide gulf between the B1G and everybody else. Even when you take all the B1G realignment into account, a B1G team produces a 2,500-yard quarterback at less than a 40 percent clip. Compare that to the Pac-12 (68.3 percent) or even the SEC (48.6 percent), and it’s not too pretty.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarChristian Hackenberg leads a group of Big Ten QBs expected to surpass 2,500 passing yards in 2015.

But it’s not all doom-and-gloom for the Big Ten. This season should put an end -- at least temporarily -- to those poor passing numbers. Three returning Big Ten signal-callers reached the milestone last season and are near-locks to surpass 2,500 yards again: Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong.

Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett also surpassed 2,500 yards in 2014, although there is no telling what his numbers might be with a crowded race under center. Still, boasting three NFL-caliber quarterbacks on the same roster should merit some extra credit.

On top of those four returners, healthy quarterbacks like Nate Sudfeld and Wes Lunt have great opportunities for 2,500 yards, and Iowa was just 64 yards shy last season after C.J. Beathard split time with Jake Rudock. With Rudock seeking a transfer, that passing mark seems more attainable this season. Maryland also would have achieved the feat last season if C.J. Brown had remained healthy, so Caleb Rowe could very well end the Terps’ seven-year drought this season.

Other teams need to settle on their quarterbacks first. And no one is expecting Wisconsin or Minnesota to become pass-first teams overnight. But trends like this tend to happen in cycles, and it looks as if the Big Ten is finally on an upswing in 2015.

It’s basically the opposite message from last week, with the 1,000-yard rushing club. The Big Ten had a great 2014, and it likely won’t equal that rushing performance again in 2015. With passing, it saw only five of 14 starting quarterbacks surpass 2,500 yards last season -- again, the worst among the Power 5, by far -- but it would be a huge surprise if it didn’t improve upon that number.

Now, our most recent chart doesn’t necessarily measure passing success. Two- and three-quarterback systems, signal-caller battles and injured players tend to blur those numbers, but this should be a memorable year for the B1G through the air. If Purdue, Michigan, Northwestern or Rutgers can settle on a starter and get off to a quick start, it could be even better.


Did Ohio State Cheap Out On Championship Rings?
ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell discusses Ohio State's decision to spend less than the maximum allowed on rings for its players.