Big Ten morning links

January, 22, 2015
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I took a few days off shortly after the national title game for a mini-vacation, so that helped delay my football withdrawal. But now reality is starting to settle in: we won't have any more college football games for a long, bleak eight months.

Yet when the 2015 season finally does kick off over Labor Day weekend, we will be immediately welcomed back with a slate of fascinating games. Last year, we had the delicious Wisconsin-LSU opener to look forward to, along with some minor curiosities like Rutgers-Washington State, Penn State-UCF in Ireland and Ohio State-Navy. This year's opening slate will be even better.

It will all begin with an absolute blockbuster of a Thursday night. TCU will play at Minnesota in what looks like the biggest nonconference game of the Jerry Kill era. Our Mark Schlabach ranked the Horned Frogs No. 1 in his way-too-early 2015 Top 25 (and, no, I have no idea why he didn't put Ohio State at No. 1, either). At the very least, TCU figures to be a Top 5 team when it comes to TCF Bank Stadium, offering the Gophers a chance to make a major early statement.

That same night, we get the debut of Jim Harbaugh as head coach of Michigan, which will play its first-ever Thursday night game at Utah. The Utes have beaten the Wolverines the past two times they played them, including last September, and opening at Rice-Eccles Stadium won't be easy. But everyone will want to see Harbaugh on the Maize and Blue sidelines for the first time.

Those games set the table for a strong Saturday which includes Wisconsin and new head coach Paul Chryst going up against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Badgers will be heavy underdogs, but Ohio State showed it's possible for a Big Ten team to bully big, bad 'Bama. We'll also get Mike Riley's first game as Nebraska head coach in an intriguing matchup against BYU and Northwestern seeking a rebound season that will begin by hosting Stanford.

The icing on the cake arrives on Labor Day night, as the defending champion Buckeyes go on the road to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the only team to beat Ohio State in 2014, and Lane Stadium should be total pandemonium for this one.

The Big Ten changed the narrative and greatly bolstered its reputation during bowl season. The league will get a chance to continue that momentum right away in the 2015 season, even if it feels a million miles away at this point. ...

Speaking of scheduling, Michigan State added BYU to its future schedules for 2016 and 2020 on Wednesday. The Cougars replaced Eastern Michigan on the schedule for the Spartans, which is a win for everybody. Athletic director Mark Hollis has been committed to scheduling at least one strong nonconference opponent per year, and Oregon comes to East Lansing in Week 2 of 2015 to complete a home-and-home.

Future Spartans' nonconference schedules in 2016 and beyond (the dawn of the nine-game Big Ten slate) will include Notre Dame (2016 and '17), Arizona State (2018, '19), Miami (2020, '21) and Boise State (2022, '23), along with BYU. That's smart, aggressive scheduling in the playoff era, and in the years when Michigan State plays both BYU and Notre Dame in addition to nine Big Ten contests, it will have to be ready for a season-long grind.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten:

Oregon fan a man of his word, gets an Ohio State tattoo on his thigh

January, 21, 2015
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They've been best friends since their high school days in East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. Two 27-year-old buddies who love football -- one an Ohio State fan since idolizing Eddie George as a kid, the other an Oregon fan since embracing the program's fast-paced style as a teenager.

So naturally, they watched this year's College Football Playoff semifinals together on New Year's Day -- Harry Ravese rooting on his Buckeyes against Alabama and Anthony DeBellonia cheering for his Ducks against Florida State.

That was a winning day for both -- and also the day a fateful bet was made.

"He mentioned casually that if Oregon wins, he was going to get a championship Ducks tattoo," Ravese recalled to ESPN.com, "and it got me thinking and I gave him this look and he looked back and we were both thinking the same thing."

What they were thinking was that the loser of the Ohio State-Oregon national championship game would have to get a tattoo of the other team's logo.

"Everyone that we know thought we were both crazy for agreeing to it," Ravese said.

But agree to it they did -- an especially daring bet for the tattoo-less Ravese (DeBellonia already had four prior tats).

They couldn't watch the title game together, though. There was just too much at stake. They were too passionate about their respective teams. They "probably would've come to blows," DeBellonia said with a laugh, though sounding half serious.

You know what happened next. The Buckeyes pulled away in the second half and routed the Ducks 42-20 for their sixth consensus national championship in the poll era (since 1936).

So it was time for DeBellonia's fifth tattoo -- this one clearly the most painful. "I felt bad at first," Ravese said, adding that he didn't gloat over the phone in the immediate aftermath of the victory. "But that wore off."

And DeBellonia, a man of his word, delivered on his end of the bet this afternoon.

A photo posted by Debellonia (@debellonia) on


DeBellonia did not echo that sentiment.


When asked by ESPN.com if he had any regrets, DeBellonia responded, "Yeah, the Ducks lost. Wish I hadn't gotten the bad end of the stick, but, hey, a bet is a bet."

But in case you're wondering, the loser of this bet does still plan on getting that Oregon tattoo soon -- and that one will be on his arm, not hidden on his thigh.

"I want people to see that one," DeBellonia said. "No matter what happened today, I'm still a proud Oregon Ducks fan."
[+] EnlargeArt Briles
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesBaylor coach Art Briles said Wednesday that his team fell just short of edging Ohio State for the final spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

According to Art Briles, national champion Ohio State was three votes away from not even making the inaugural College Football Playoff.

During an interview with a group of reporters Wednesday, the Baylor coach noted "a source" told him that the Bears fell short of the fourth and final playoff spot by "an 8-to-4 vote."

Instead, the Buckeyes got the final nod and went on to beat Alabama and Oregon to capture the national title.

"We were close this year," Briles said. "We were an 8-to-4 vote getting in from the No. 4 spot. Whether that's public or not, I don't know, but it is now. Unless I'm getting bad information, and I won't give you my source."

If Briles' source is in fact correct, it would defy the playoff committee's selection protocol.


(Read full post)


Recruit breakdown: DT Rasheem Green 

January, 21, 2015
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video What he brings: ESPN 300 No. 41 overall Rasheem Green is a physical, athletic defensive tackle prospect with the tools to be a well-rounded and disruptive player in the trenches at the college level. He possesses very good size, with a frame that can continue to be developed and support more good mass. An explosive player, he can use his size and strength to take on and at times overpower blockers. The four-star prospect also moves well for his size and can be effective on the move when utilized on slants and twists, and with his agility and motor he can be a factor along the line of scrimmage. Green suffered a knee injury late in his senior season that could hinder his initial impact in college, but in the big picture and with a healthy return, this is a versatile, tough and talented D-line prospect.

Coaches pick out young players to watch 

January, 21, 2015
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A quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy each of the past five years and 13 of the past 14 seasons. However, judging by feedback from coaches during and after the 2014 season, 2015 could very well be the "Year of the Running Back."

Seven Power 5 freshmen running backs surpassed 1,000 yards in '14 -- Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine (1,713 yards), Georgia’s Nick Chubb (1,547), Arizona’s Nick Wilson (1,375), Oregon’s Royce Freeman (1,365), Northwestern’s Justin Jackson (1,187), LSU’s Leonard Fournette (1,034) and FSU’s Dalvin Cook (1,008).

Any one of those players could certainly find another gear and make a run at the 2015 Heisman. But the belief among coaches I’ve spoken with the past few weeks is that the best running back -- and player -- in 2015 will be Ohio State rising junior Ezekiel Elliott (1,878 yards this season).

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott racked up nearly 700 yards in three postseason games.
Coaches were raving about him at the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Convention, and that was before he bulldozed Oregon for 246 yards and four touchdowns in the College Football Playoff National Championship.


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Big Ten morning links

January, 21, 2015
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Tuesday brought an end to questions about the final spots on the coaching staffs at Michigan and Nebraska.

Both are now full, though at Michigan, the addition of Mike Zordich as secondary coach and Jay Harbaugh as tight ends coach came as no surprise. Nebraska, more than two weeks after Mike Riley unveiled additions to bring his staff to eight, tabbed a receivers coach, Keith Williams, from Tulane.

An official announcement is forthcoming after Williams, 42, spent time Tuesday in Lincoln.



The highlight of the Jay Harbaugh hire came as the head coach’s 25-year-old son revealed that his dad once poured Gatorade on his cereal.

Excuse me, what? Way to set the bar high on your first official day, Jay; we’ll definitely expect more where that came from that in future interviews.

Fact is, Jim Harbaugh could have hired daughters Grace, Addie or Katie, ages 14, 6, and 4, respectively, to fill a spot on this staff, and Michigan fans would have leapt with joy. Such is their level of excitement with Harbaugh, as it should be.

And that’s no knock against Jay, 25, who worked for his uncle, John, the past three seasons as an offensive quality control coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The young Harbaugh looks like a fine pick, especially paired with Jedd Fisch and Tyrone Wheatley on the offensive side and veteran special teams coordinator John Baxter.

If Jay brings a fraction of his father’s enthusiasm, he’ll be a big hit on the recruiting trail.

Back to Jay Harbaugh. It’s interesting that he worked on Riley’s staff at Oregon State as an undergraduate assistant for four years. Not surprising, though, that Jim’s son got his foot in the door with Riley.

The Riley-Harbaugh connections run deep. New Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis came to Riley from Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers.

And oh, yes, Harbaugh played on Riley’s San Diego Chargers in 1999 and 2000.

When Nebraska and Michigan meet again in 2018 -- if both coaches last that long and they don’t meet first in a Big Ten title game -- it’s going to feel a little like a family reunion.

Around the rest of the Big Ten:

East Division
West Division
Tuesday was a busy day on the recruiting trail with head coaches and assistants earning frequent flyer miles with national signing day only 15 days away. The headliner on Tuesday was No. 2-ranked Terry Beckner Jr. and a visit from Florida State.


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The weeklong countdown of the best players in the Big Ten from 2014 continues with the next set of five, headlined by a trio of linemen.

No. 11: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State

The anchor on the interior for an Ohio State defense that grew into a dominant unit as the season progressed, Bennett played his best as his senior season neared an end. He accumulated five of his seven sacks and 9.5 of 14 tackles behind the line of scrimmage in November and the Big Ten championship game. By the time the Buckeyes controlled seemingly unstoppable Alabama and Oregon, Bennett was a force as part of a ferocious front four that made life much easier for the play-making linebackers and defensive backs behind him.

No. 12: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

A rock of consistency amid an up-and-down Iowa offense, Scherff did his part to contribute to the Hawkeyes' success. The Outland Trophy winner couldn't score touchdowns, though he would have gladly tried if given the chance. Scherff displayed his legendary strength and quick feet in protecting the blind side of Jake Rudock. When the Iowa offense hummed against Indiana, Northwestern and Illinois, Scherff was at the center of it.

No. 13: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State

The lone returning starter on an Ohio State offensive line that developed from a potential liability into a fearsome five-some over 15 games, Decker served as a cornerstone of the Buckeyes' success. Over the final four games, against Michigan, Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Ohio State rushed for 15 touchdowns. Credit Ezekiel Elliott -- but also Decker, a 6-foot-7 junior, and the line for punishing opponents as games grew long. And with inexperienced quarterbacks taking snaps all season, it was Decker who provided a security blanket in pass protection.

No. 14: Mike Hull, LB, Penn State

Hull didn't just lead the Nittany Lions in tackles as a senior. He led the Big Ten by a margin of 28 stops. A tackling machine, he served as the “heart and soul,” according to defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, of a group that carried PSU through 2014. Led by Hull and his 140 tackles, the defense led the Big Ten in yards allowed per game and play and in scoring, among numerous other categories. The sure-handed Hull was always in place to clean up. He contributed 10.5 tackles for losses and excelled in a leadership role.

No. 15: Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State

Voted the team MVP and Big Ten receiver of the year, Lippett leaves MSU after catching 65 passes for a league-best 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. Firmly established as Connor Cook's top target, Lippett drew the attention of every MSU foe but often came up big against the best competition; against Oregon, for instance, he caught a career-best 11 passes. And Lippett did more than just catch passes. He started at cornerback on Senior Day against Rutgers and saw extensive time on defense against Penn State.
This may shock you, so make sure you're sitting down: We actually put some time and thought into the Big Ten postseason player rankings.

Yes, I know it's stunning that we don't just throw 25 names out there. There was ample discussion about several candidates, particularly at the bottom of the list.

So who just missed the cut? Here are five players we considered but ultimately left out of the Top 25.

Maryland CB/KR/PR Will Likely: The Terrapins' playmaking extraordinaire appeared in several versions of the Top 25 before missing the final cut. He had four scoring returns this season: two interceptions, one punt and one kickoff. Likely tied for the league lead in interceptions (6) and also led the league in kick return average (31 ypr), while finishing third in punt return average (11.1 ypr). This was a tough one and we understand criticism for leaving out such a productive player.

Michigan State C Jack Allen: Allen was another player who made our initial Top 25 postseason countdown. He was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center. Allen anchored an MSU line that has become one of the team's stronger groups the past few seasons. Ultimately, we didn't find room for him but he'll enter the 2015 season as one of the nation's top linemen.

Ohio State QB Cardale Jones: He merely led Ohio State to its first national championship since 2002 and the first in the College Football Playoff era. Jones was brilliant in three postseason appearances, especially in the Big Ten championship game, his first career start, and the Playoff semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl. Ultimately, we put more weight on a player's performance throughout the season and had a hard time including someone who was a non-factor until the final three games, as big as they were.

Ohio State CB Doran Grant: The development of Ohio State's secondary under new co-coordinator Chris Ash played a major role in the Buckeyes' championship run. We wanted to include at least one Buckeyes defensive back in the rundown. We ended up going with safety Vonn Bell at No. 25, but Grant also was considered after a strong senior season. Grant tied for third in the Big Ten with five interceptions and led Ohio State with 14 total passes defended.

Maryland WR Stefon Diggs: Terrapins fans probably think we're out to get them -- does it help that I'm wearing Under Armour gear as I type this? -- but we left two Maryland players just out of the rankings. Diggs showcased his immense talent at times this season, leading Maryland with 62 receptions for 792 yards and five touchdowns, despite appearing in only 10 games. Diggs might have made the list if not for an injury late in the regular season. He has a bright future in the NFL.

Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 20, 2015
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With a little over two weeks left until signing day, coaches are scrambling to fill their classes at the last minute. Big Ten teams are still working diligently to land their top targets, which means there is plenty of news to discuss.

Here is a look at the most important news from the weekend.


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Derrick Henry, Darron Lee, D.J. FosterESPN Images, Icon Sportswire, Icon SportswireAlabama's Derrick Henry, Ohio State's Darron Lee and Arizona State's D.J. Foster just missed the cut.

Choosing the top 100 players in college football is about as hard as picking the four teams for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

We all know how that went.

But after a survey of 32 writers and editors at ESPN.com, we've ranked the top players in the sport on a scale of 1 to 10. We ranked the top players at the start of the 2014 season, and our postseason list looks much different from the one we unveiled in August.

But once again, there are several standout players from teams around the country who just missed the list.

Here's a look at a few of the players who just missed the cut:

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

There were plenty of stars on Ohio State's national championship team this past season, but few players were as consistent as Lee.

Lee played only six plays in two games in 2013 before suffering a season-ending injury. After taking a medical redshirt that season, Lee was one of the team's most surprising stars this season. He was second on the team with eight sacks and 16½ tackles for loss and was third with 81 tackles.


(Read full post)


Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
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A week ago, the Big Ten was waking up to a national championship.

1. Defensive end Noah Spence couldn't take part in Ohio State's title run after being declared ineligible from the team because of two failed drug tests. But Spence's college career will continue at FCS Eastern Kentucky, his father told me Monday night. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, Spence had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with the Buckeyes. But the first of two failed drug tests sidelined him for the Orange Bowl, and the second effectively ended his Buckeyes career.

The good news: Spence is doing well, according to his father, Greg, and "continues to be open and receptive to all of the guidance that has been provided professionally and non-professionally in regards to those areas of concern." He considered entering the NFL draft and received projections in the third to fifth round, but ultimately elected for one more year at the college level to mature both on and off the field. Greg Spence repeatedly praised Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaches and athletic department for standing by his son during a trying time.

"He's extremely excited to play football again as well as grateful for another opportunity," Greg Spence said.

Best of luck to Noah Spence at EKU. He's an incredibly talented player. Here's hoping his story takes a positive turn and results in an long NFL career.

2. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday night apologized for a recent tweet that characterized the #409 displays worn by Lions teams as "inappropriate and insensitive." Barbour told WBLF-AM radio in State College that the restoration of Joe Paterno's wins total is a moment to celebrate for Penn State fans. She also defended hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, who had been criticized after his team wore 409 decals during Friday's game.

"I don't want him to beat up about this," Barbour told WBLF. "He also got killed by the advocate's side of this, and I think just as we have to understand and be sensitive to the victim side, there also has to be some understanding of why we would celebrate."

Barbour also said Paterno would be honored "over time" but that Penn State would need to be "deliberate" in figuring out the right approach. This is delicate ground for Barbour, who can use her status as an outsider to her advantage in trying to strike the right chord with PSU fans but also project the right image nationally. It's still not an easy task.

3. An early signing period is coming closer to reality as a committee has recommended a 72-hour period in December when prospects can sign with colleges. The early period would begin with the class of 2016, and would coincide with the current signing period for junior-college players. Former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen supported this schedule when we talked in the spring, and it makes sense to give long-committed recruits a chance to make things official.

Still, the more important piece for Big Ten teams -- and the one league coaches should push -- is earlier official visits. A small window in May or June when Big Ten teams could pay for recruits and their families to visit campus would be huge in expanding the league's recruiting reach. The SEC coaches seem united on everything. Why don't the Big Ten coaches stand together and make their voices heard?

Time for the division dish ...

East Division
West Division

And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked Monday night.

Noah Spence to Eastern Kentucky

January, 19, 2015
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[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMINoah Spence played for Ohio State in 2012 and 2013 before being suspended and eventually declared ineligible after failing two drug tests.

Former Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Noah Spence is transferring to Eastern Kentucky, a Football Championship Subdivision program, his father told ESPN.com on Monday night.

Spence played for Ohio State in 2012 and 2013 before being suspended and eventually declared ineligible after failing two drug tests. He was initially suspended for the 2014 Orange Bowl and the first two games of the 2014 season after testing positive for ecstasy last December.

A second positive test late this summer caused the Big Ten to indefinitely suspend Spence and eventually deny his appeal for reinstatement in November.

Spence's father, Greg, said Noah considered several FCS transfer destinations but settled on Eastern Kentucky.

"It's a great institution that has a wonderful family atmosphere, which he was used to from being at Ohio State," Greg Spence said. "Coach [Dean] Hood and his coaching staff are wonderful gentlemen that take care of the student-athlete as a whole person, on the field and off. Something Noah really needed as a continuum from what Coach [Urban] Meyer has been doing.


(Read full post)


What a month for the Big Ten.

It began with a better-than-expected result on New Year's Day, typically a gloomy afternoon for the league. Then Ohio State won the national championship, the Big Ten's first crown since the 2002 season. More good news arrived Sunday as the Super Bowl XLIX matchup was set, featuring two quarterbacks from the Big Ten.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a Michigan product, will make his sixth Super Bowl appearance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played his final college season at Wisconsin, will attempt to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls in consecutive seasons since Brady in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

It's the first time two starting quarterbacks who played for Big Ten schools will match up in a Super Bowl.

(This is the point where some grumps yell about how Wisconsin can't claim Wilson. Nice try. He was a very good quarterback at NC State. He became a national awards candidate and an All-American at Wisconsin under the tutelage of Paul Chryst. Wilson always will be a Badger. End of discussion).

Another Big Ten product, Garry Gilliam, figured prominently in Seattle's wild comeback in the NFC title game. The former Penn State tight end, who moved to tackle later in his career, caught a touchdown pass on a fake field-goal attempt, putting the Seahawks on the scoreboard.

Here's a full list of the Big Ten's Super Bowl XLIX connections:

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Active Roster
Injured/Reserve
Coaches
  • Head coach Pete Carroll was an Ohio State assistant in 1979
  • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and a Rose Bowl championship
  • Running backs coach Sherman Smith was an Illinois assistant from 1992-94
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Active Roster

*-Did not play in Big Ten, as school joined conference later

Injured/Reserve
Practice Squad
  • Justin Green, cornerback, Illinois
  • Eric Martin, linebacker, Nebraska
Coaches
  • Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1999-2000
  • Tight ends coach Brian Daboll was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1998-99
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was like the rest of the college football world. He tuned in with interest to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship last Monday night.

Spurrier said he was rooting for Oregon, but not necessarily because he was against Urban Meyer or Ohio State.

Spurrier
Spurrier
"Oregon had never won (a national championship) and Marcus Mariota is a first-class young man," Spurrier explained. "Ohio State had already won a bunch of them, and Urban had already won a bunch of them. I was fine with Urban winning another one. But since Oregon had never won it, I was sort of for them.

"I told somebody, though, that Ohio State would probably win it. I knew Urban would have those guys so ready to play. In the big games, he doesn't lose many of them."

Indeed, Meyer is now 8-3 in national championship games, conference championship games and/or BCS bowl games.

"He only lost that one SEC championship game to (Nick) Saban, so that's five out of six SEC or national championship games that he's won," Spurrier said. "A lot of us would like to have that record."

Of course, with the Head Ball Coach, there's usually a punch line of sorts in there somewhere.

"I know one thing," Spurrier continued. "South Carolina beat Urban for the (SEC) Eastern Division championship in 2010. He wasn't himself, though, in 2010. That's after he quit and came back and they'd told him to try and relax and let his assistants do most of the coaching.

"He wasn't really himself then. But he's back to being himself, and I suspect he'll win a few more."

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