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.
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.
Here is a look at the most important news from the weekend.
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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.
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 ...
- Yes, Jim Harbaugh is weird, but that could be a good thing for Michigan.
- Ohio State's loaded quarterback room has some recruits looking elsewhere.
- Big plays defined Michigan State's season, both good and bad.
- A closer look at Penn State's wide receivers and tight ends for 2015.
- Indiana adds a defender from Florida to its recruiting class.
- Opinions vary on how much Chris Partridge will help Rutgers' recruiting efforts.
- Former Minnesota and Rutgers QB Philip Nelson talks about the fight that changed his life and his hope of still playing football. Minnesota's long overdue facilities upgrade appears to be progressing.
- Fifty birthday wishes for Illinois coach Tim Beckman, who turned 50 on Monday.
- Three early enrollees at Iowa begin their college careers.
- Jim Tressel consulted former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne before hiring Bo Pelini at Youngstown State.
- Purdue picks up an offensive line recruit.
And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked 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.
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:
- Cliff Avril, defensive end, Purdue
- Gilliam, offensive tackle, Penn State
- Tony Moeaki, tight end, Iowa
- O'Brien Schofield, defensive end, Wisconsin
- Wilson, quarterback, Wisconsin
- David Gilreath, wide receiver, Wisconsin
- Jordan Hill, defensive tackle, Penn State
- Stephen Schilling, guard, Michigan
- Mike Taylor, linebacker, Wisconsin
- 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
- Brady, quarterback, Michigan
- Alan Branch, defensive tackle, Michigan
- Jonathan Casillas, linebacker, Wisconsin
- Nate Ebner, safety, Ohio State
- Duron Harmon, safety, Rutgers*
- Michael Hoomanawanui, tight end, Illinois
- Devin McCourty, cornerback, Rutgers*
- Rob Ninkovich, defensive end, Purdue
- Ryan Logan, cornerback, Rutgers*
- Joe Vellano, defensive tackle, Maryland*
- James White, running back, Wisconsin
- Tavon Wilson, safety, Illinois
- Tim Wright, tight end, Rutgers*
*-Did not play in Big Ten, as school joined conference later
- Michael Buchanan, defensive end, Illinois
- Alfonzo Dennard, cornerback, Nebraska
- Cameron Gordon, linebacker, Michigan
- James Morris, linebacker, Iowa
- Greg Orton, wide receiver, Purdue
- Justin Green, cornerback, Illinois
- Eric Martin, linebacker, Nebraska
- 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
Spurrier said he was rooting for Oregon, but not necessarily because he was against Urban Meyer or Ohio State.
"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."
The countdown will roll along all week, and it starts right here with a heavy dose of defense.
No. 21: Louis Trinca-Pasat, DT, Iowa
The senior was a force in the trenches for the Hawkeyes, and he consistently found ways to disrupt opposing offenses, often by slicing into the backfield and stuffing rushers before they could get back to the line of scrimmage. Trinca-Pasat finished the season with 11.5 tackles for loss among his 69 total hits, impressive totals considering all the dirty work he had to do as well that doesn’t show up on the stats sheet.
No. 22: Leonte Carroo, WR, Rutgers
The Scarlet Knights were perhaps the most pleasant surprise in the Big Ten, and the junior wideout’s big-play ability unexpectedly made him one of the most productive players in the league. Carroo averaged nearly 20 yards per reception and found the end zone 10 times, but maybe the most shocking part of his season came when it was over and he announced his intention to return to Rutgers for one more year. The expectations for him will be much higher in 2015.
No. 23: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
The junior might not have lived up to the hype that swirled around him in the offseason, but there certainly wasn’t much for Gregory to be embarrassed about during a campaign that still included seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. He’s still expected to be one of the first players off the board in the upcoming NFL draft. Even without posting the kind of numbers he might have hoped for during his final season with the Huskers, he still rated among the best defenders in the Big Ten.
No. 24: Derek Landisch, LB, Wisconsin
Few defenses in the country were more stout than the unit the Badgers rolled out this season, and their senior linebacker was seemingly always in the middle of locking down an opponent. Plenty of defenders made more tackles than Landisch, but he had a knack for making his plays count, racking up 16 tackles for loss and finishing third in the league with nine sacks. Wisconsin is certainly going to miss his presence in the lineup.
No. 25: Vonn Bell, SAF, Ohio State
The turnaround the Buckeyes made defensively in 2014, particularly against the pass, was nothing short of remarkable, and it was obviously invaluable on the run to a national title. The emergence of the dynamic sophomore patrolling the secondary for Ohio State was critical in the rise of that unit, and Bell left no doubt about why he was such a coveted recruit for the program as he thrived in his first season as a starter. Nobody in the league had more interceptions than the Bell’s six picks for the Buckeyes. Couple that with his 92 tackles and his performances raises the bar for his junior campaign.
1. Many Penn Staters celebrated Friday as Joe Paterno's wins total was restored to 409 -- most in college football history -- following a settlement in the lawsuit brought by two Pennsylvania state officials against the NCAA. Some current Lions athletes chose to join in, including the men's hockey team, which wore "409" decals on its helmets during Friday's game against Michigan State.
But athletic director Sandy Barbour didn't agree with the public display. When a Twitter follower criticized the "409" decals, Barbour replied that it was "inappropriate and insensitive" and had been corrected. Penn State's men's basketball team had planned to wear "409" T-shirts in warm-ups before Saturday's game against Purdue but did not in the end.
@gretchnielsen Agree with you. Inappropriate and insensitive. It's been corrected.— Sandy Barbour (@SandyB_PSUAD) January 17, 2015
Barbour is in a tough spot, and I see both sides to this. Penn State athletes have the right to free expression. If they want to tweet #409 or celebrate Paterno's restored wins total, that's fine. But for university-sponsored teams to conduct unified displays could offend Jerry Sandusky's victims. There were too many sports metaphors tossed around Friday, by Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman and others. The settlement and the wins restoration made sense. The over-the-top celebration did not.
Barbour again took to Twitter again Saturday night, saying she was "thrilled" that the football wins are once again recognized and that Penn State must "continue to use our platform to raise awareness and support for child abuse victims."
2. As expected, Mark Dantonio's assistants received raises after Michigan State recorded its second consecutive top-5 finish. The departure of longtime defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who took the head-coaching job at Pitt, freed up funds to boost salaries for the remaining staff members. Narduzzi had been the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant with a salary of just over $900,000.
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dave Warner is now MSU's highest-paid assistant at $387,230, and will continue to be the most second-guessed, according to Mike Griffith. Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted to co-defensive coordinators after Narduzzi left, will each earn $378,230. Those are nice pay bumps, but when you look at what coordinators at elite programs make, Michigan State's staff is a real bargain.
- Ex-Oklahoma assistant Jay Norvell won't return home to Wisconsin, as he joined the staff at Texas.
- A good look at the defense run by new Nebraska coordinator Mark Banker. The Huskers appear to have a bright future along their offensive line.
- Northwestern adds a defensive back to its 2015 recruiting class.
- Purdue is piling up junior college receivers.
- A very early look at the West Division in 2015.
- Michigan's offensive play calling will be a collaboration between Jim Harbaugh and Tim Drevno.
- Ohio State overcame its doubters all season long, Bill Rabinowitz writes. Reviewing Urban Meyer's appearance on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
- Maryland bolstered both lines during the weekend with recruiting additions.
- Rutgers will soon add a prominent New Jersey high school coach to its recruiting staff.
- Indiana does some team building at the pool.
And, finally, Flavor Flav rocked the clock at Penn State's basketball game and took a picture with James Franklin. Hype!
Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones started just three games in 2014, but he might have made the most important contributions to his team of any player this season.
Except maybe Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Don't worry, we figured it out for you -- again.
Heading into the 2014 season, ESPN.com ranked the top 100 players in the country based on their expected contributions for the season. Jones didn't make the cut in August -- go figure -- but Braxton Miller was tied for No. 5.
The 16th-ranked player in the nation took an official visit to Auburn this weekend and though he remains committed to Ohio State, the Tigers gave him a lot to think about.
"I sat in Coach [Gus] Malzahn's office and he told me that I'm their guy,” Gibson said. "He said he wants me to come in and I would get a fair opportunity to play quarterback and I believe him.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just like we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.
What is #CFBrank?
#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.
How did we rank the players?
We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a scale of 0-10 based on their performance during the 2014 season.
We're wrapping up the 2014 season by ranking the top 100 players in college football, just as we did before the season. As the rankings are announced, you can also find them here on the pages of ESPN.com.
What is #CFBrank?
#CFBrank is the Twitter hashtag to use if you want to get involved in the discussion or just follow along.
How did we rank the players?
We asked 32 of ESPN's college football writers and editors to rate players on a 0-10 scale based on their performance during the 2014 season.