Big Ten lunch links

July, 17, 2014
Jul 17
12:00
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Better Big Ten Bane: Braxton Miller or Shilique Calhoun?

Big Ten sleeper picks: Teams, units

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
6:30
PM ET

SEC | ACC | Big 12Pac-12

There's no argument that the SEC has been the nation's top conference over the last, well, forever. And there's no argument that the group sorest about that subject has been the Big Ten. So what will it take for the B1G to get over the hump -- of their own making and of their image nationally? Perhaps it needs a conference member to make an Auburn/Missouri/Florida State destiny-type run to the postseason to capture the public's imagination. We know that Ohio State will be good. It always is. We also know that Michigan State should be in the College Football Playoff conversation.

But which team among the others has the best chance of waking up as a big-time sleeper ? Here's two to think about, along with a breakout player and sleeper unit.


Which Big Ten teams are best fit to surprise in 2014?

Iowa Hawkeyes

That grinding noise you hear coming from the Hawkeyes football office is Kirk Ferentz throwing last year's schedule into the shredder. In 2013 Iowa played Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State. This year the Hawkeyes face none of the above. From the Big Ten East, they get Indiana and Maryland. And within their own division, they will host their three biggest threats -- Northwestern, Wisconsin and Nebraska -- all in Iowa City.

They are also experienced, returning eight offensive starters, including quarterback Jake Rudock and Mark Weisman, who leads a group of six -- yes, six! -- running backs who received at least some playing time in 2013. And there's always plenty of power in the trenches.

"As long as they are playing football in Iowa, there will be a room full of big offensive linemen, but they kind of lost their way for a while up front," says a former Big Ten defensive coach. "But now they are back to strength. Their three guys on that line, Brandon Scherff, Jordan Walsh and the center [Austin Blythe] who are back to looking like typical Iowa bulldozers."

Matt Sandusky tells of dad's 'ritual'

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
4:35
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[+] EnlargeMatt Sandusky
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt Sandusky, one of six children adopted by the Sanduskys, alleges he was sexually molested by his father.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- An adopted son of convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky is providing details of the alleged sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his father.

Matt Sandusky, who was initially a foster child of the Sanduskys, tells Oprah Winfrey in a TV show airing Thursday night that his overnight visits with the family as a child were good "except for one part, bedtime."

At bedtime in the Sandusky's home in State College, he said, Jerry Sandusky's "ritual began."

"The overnight visits were -- they were good. I mean, except for that one part, bedtime. Bedtime was the bad part. But any other time that we were in the home, that we were doing anything in the home with the family, it was fine and it was -- again, you would look at that family and you would say, wow. Like I wish that I had brothers and sisters that cared about me. I wish that I had a mother who cooked dinner every night for the whole family. I wish that I had all of these things. But then at bedtime, his ritual began," Matt Sandusky told Winfrey in a brief clip released by the network.

The network said Sandusky discusses the grooming, methodical control and manipulation he faced as a child.

He had also discussed the alleged abuse in a documentary, "Happy Valley," shown earlier this year, and in an audiotape of a 29-minute interview with police detectives that NBC obtained at the time of Jerry Sandusky's 2012 trial.


(Read full post)


The moment you all have waited for has finally arrived. Nothing creates quite the angst and anticipation among Big Ten blog readers like the announcement of kickoff times and TV plans for the first few weeks of the upcoming season.

The announcement comes your way a little later than normal, but it's here! Stop everything you're doing immediately!

As a reminder, these are only games taking place in Big Ten stadiums. Kick times and TV plans for road games already have been announced by the leagues controlling those contests. Also, Big Ten-controlled prime-time games also have been announced and won't appear in this list.

OK, here's the list of new announcements ...

Aug. 30

Appalachian State at Michigan, noon ET, ESPN2
Indiana State at Indiana, noon ET, ESPN News
Youngstown State at Illinois, noon ET, BTN
Northern Iowa at Iowa, noon ET, BTN
Western Michigan at Purdue, noon ET, ESPNU
Florida Atlantic at Nebraska, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
California at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC regional (ESPN2 in outer markets)
James Madison at Maryland, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Sept. 6

Akron at Penn State, noon ET, ABC regional (ESPN or ESPN2 in outer markets)
Western Kentucky at Illinois, noon ET, BTN
Central Michigan at Purdue, noon ET, ESPN News
McNeese State at Nebraska, noon ET, ESPNU
Western Illinois at Wisconsin, noon ET, BTN
Howard at Rutgers, noon ET, BTN
Ball State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Middle Tennessee at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Northern Illinois at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN

Sept. 13

West Virginia at Maryland, noon ET, BTN, Noon EDT
Kent State at Ohio State, noon ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2
Miami (Ohio) at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET, BTN
Iowa State at Iowa, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Few of you like the noon ET (11 a.m. CT) kickoffs but they're a reality in the Big Ten. We're seeing more variety in kickoff times with BTN and other broadcast platforms.

Northwestern once again gets later time slots after playing its first six games in the late afternoon or evening in 2013. Minnesota also gets afternoon or evening kickoffs for at least its first three games (Eastern Illinois and TCU are the others). Maryland and Rutgers both make their BTN debuts against FCS opponents.

The small group of games on Sept. 13 is due to five non-league Big Ten road games and three teams -- Michigan State, Northwestern and Wisconsin -- having open weeks.

There you have it. Mark those calendars.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
12:00
PM ET
Every pitch is grooved for the links.
  • Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash weighs in on the progress of the defense and his relationship with Luke Fickell.
  • There was already plenty of attention on Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones before he was named to a preseason watch list.
  • James Franklin provided some insight on a pair of injuries Penn State is dealing with during the offseason, updating the progress for Miles Diffenbach and Ben Kline.
  • Maryland is trying to use LeBron James' decision to go home to its advantage in recruiting.
  • The jump to the Big Ten has produced a bump in ticket prices for Rutgers and Maryland.
  • Another hot ticket: Nebraska's visit to Fresno State is generating excitement for both fan bases.
  • Loren Tate writes that academic standards at Illinois are part of the reason the program is falling behind competitively.
  • An in-depth look at Northwestern asks if the program is really trending upward.

Big Ten Tuesday mailbag

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
5:00
PM ET
Howdy. My journey to the World Cup is over, and it is time to really get rolling on the Big Ten blog. This is my first time with the mailbag, so thanks for taking it easy on me. I'm expecting more heat the next time around and questions are accepted any time on Twitter, so follow me right here.

Austin Ward: That would certainly provide an interesting test case for how the selection committee views the Big Ten, and in some ways a playoff appearance likely would not come down to what Iowa itself had accomplished. The Hawkeyes really don't have true high-profile games outside of the league to make a big statement, which could be a problem in this scenario as the strength of schedule starts to play a more significant factor. That doesn't mean wins over Iowa State or on the road against Pittsburgh should be overlooked, but Iowa might be counting more on Wisconsin or Nebraska to have been impressive throughout the year before that closing two-game stretch at the end of the regular season to help give the Hawkeyes a bit more credit for what doesn't appear like that grueling of a schedule. Chances are, this season a one-loss Iowa team with a loss to Maryland would probably be on the outside of the top-four spots.

Austin Ward: For projecting just one upcoming season, historical performance in terms of wins and losses probably has limited usefulness. That should come as no surprise considering all the numerous factors that go into making a team successful during a given season, from the composition of the roster, to injuries, lucky or unlucky bounces and everything else that make the game so unpredictable and fun to watch year after year. But in a broader sense, a program's all-time record I think does have value in understanding which teams are most likely to be annual contenders or at least primed to bounce back if some rough patches have come along. Teams like Ohio State and Michigan in the Big Ten, for example, have won a lot of games because they have huge fan bases that bring in money, traditionally have had recruiting areas that sustain them and invest their resources in ensuring a product that wins over time. That doesn't mean in each individual season they are guaranteed to win at a championship level, but long term I would think there is more evidence to suggest the chances of it happening are pretty high.

Austin Ward: See, I told you guys that you were taking it easy on me for the debut mailbag. The conference takes over the national spotlight on July 28-29 in Chicago, and the whole Big Ten blog crew will be in attendance for wall-to-wall coverage. In fact, we are all so excited that we have already started previewing the hot topics and burning questions for every team in the league. It feels like it's been forever since there was live football to cover, and though doing a bunch of interviews isn't quite the same as being in a stadium, at least the game will be a topic of conversation again. The countdown is on..

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Jesse James is a freak of nature.

Really, there's no other way to describe the 6-foot-7, 272-pound tight end. Coaches and teammates tried their best Saturday to brainstorm other fitting adjectives or ways to encapsulate the junior's ability. But, without fail, they kept returning to that same phrase.

"Jesse is just a freak of nature," fellow Penn State tight end Adam Breneman said. "I don't know how else to describe him."

Added strength coach Dwight Galt: "He's a freak. ... Athletically, talent-wise, there's not another tight end in the country better than him, for sure. He's got speed, he's got strength, he's got agility, he's got size. He's got everything."

Jesse James
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsThe 6-foot-7 Jesse James can bench-press 225 pounds 27 times and he runs the 40-yard dash in about 4.6 seconds.
James lived up to that billing during Saturday afternoon's annual Lift for Life event, which pit the offense and defense against one another in seven strength competitions while helping raise money to fight kidney cancer. During the 225-pound bench press, the weights exploded off James' chest so quickly it was as if they came from a balloon stand. The tight end's spotter called out "Seven!" before his defensive end opponent reached three.

The reps came so quickly, it was easy to lose count. Once finished, a Penn State trainer turned to James' spotter and asked about the final tally. Upon hearing the answer, he just shook his head and looked confused: "What? ... Twenty-seven?" James' teammates alternated between head-shaking and patting him on the shoulder.

Had James reached that number in any of the last 10 NFL combines, he would've placed within the top five at his position -- and he would've been at the very top in 2008 and 2011. Compared to the most recent combine, his 27 reps were two fewer than first-round offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and one more than first-round defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

"He'll surprise you every day. You never know what's coming with Jesse," Christian Hackenberg said. "It's actually interesting when you get out there with what he does, just how good he is and how fast he is and how strong he is."

It's not easy to overthrow James, who reportedly runs in the 4.6 range and stands as the second-tallest player on the 121-man roster. That might have something to do with his recent addition to the Mackey Award watch list. Of course, the fact he's Penn State's leading returnee with 25 catches and 333 yards doesn't hurt either.

Put simply, yes, the guy's a freak.

"To get a guy that big that does what he does, I haven't seen that," Galt said. "I've been really lucky. I had five tight ends in the NFL at one time, including Vernon Davis and Dan Gronkowski, Rob's brother, and I'll tell you what -- I'll put Jesse James up there with any of them. The kid is really that athletic and that good of a player."

Players spoke in such revered and hyperbolic fashion about James that, at times, it seemed as if they were discussing Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. Tailback Akeel Lynch just laughed when asked about what impressed him most about James and cautioned that it might not sound believable.

While most players dead lift with five or six plates and let out painful groans between each lift, Lynch said, Penn State's tight end takes it a step further. Lynch smiled, bent his knees and pantomimed lifting up and down with ease. "And he puts the max weight you can on a bar," Lynch said. "He's a freak. He's a good guy, but he's a freak."

On Saturday, James performed 12 reps on the dead lift at 495 pounds. And he promised before the event that he planned to take it easy since this was for charity. ("I won't put too much on today, but it'll be fun.") So what exactly is the max weight the junior can dead lift?

"I have no idea," he said matter-of-factly, with a slight shrug. "We haven't found it."

James is one of the last players who would exaggerate his talent. The aw-shucks kid from the small, blue-collar borough of Glassport, Pennsylvania, didn't mind dissecting Hackenberg's improvement or waxing poetic on how the freshman receivers were coming along. But it was as if his white T-shirt grew itchy whenever he was asked about himself.

"I'm not really the person to talk to about that," James said. "That's just how I was raised."

Added offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach: "That's the way he is. Modest guy, really good guy."

Humility might serve him well, but the Nittany Lions need someone to step up in a big to make up for more than 125 receptions of lost production from last season. (Allen Robinson, who caught 97 balls in 2013, is now in the NFL.) James is certainly a candidate to be that player, at least in the end zone, and expectations are soaring for the junior.

It's still to be determined how James' speed and strength will transfer over to the gridiron this season. But at least one thing is for certain.

"He's a freak," Dieffenbach said. "A freak of nature."

Big Ten lunch links

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
12:00
PM ET
Hey, kids, it's link time:
Sometimes, math is fun -- and today is one of those days.

Based on our preseason Football Power Index (FPI), ESPN Stats & Info came up with projections for conference and overall records, in addition to the odds for specific games and winning the conference. One thing to note, as well: The projected overall wins and losses won't always add up to 12.

We covered the West Division on Monday. So, without further ado, here is the East:

Indiana Hoosiers

Strength of schedule: 45

Projected overall record: 7.03 wins, 5.01 losses

Projected conference record: 4.01 wins, 3.99 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 1.8 percent

Three interesting games: vs. Michigan State – 49.9 percent predicted chance to win; vs. Penn State – 62.8 percent predicted chance to win (win by 5 points); at Michigan – 24.6 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 10.6 points)

Synopsis: It’s safe to say Hoosiers fans would take this projected record, since 7-5 would be Indiana’s best record since at least 2007. Indiana was favored over both Maryland and Rutgers, but the most surprising matchup was definitely Michigan State. Somehow, the Hoosiers were only slight underdogs as the numbers gave them a chance that nearly amounts to a coin-flip.

 




Maryland Terrapins

Strength of schedule: 26

Projected overall record: 6.42 wins, 5.60 losses

Projected conference record: 3.47 wins, 4.53 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 1.3 percent

Three interesting games: vs. Iowa – 57.6 percent predicted chance to win (win by 2.9 points); at Penn State – 45.7 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 1.7 points); vs. Michigan State – 49.3 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 0.3 points)

Synopsis: The Terps are favored in their first four games, all of which are nonconference matchups, but it gets a lot more difficult after that. If Maryland can end up making it to a bowl, it’ll be a huge positive. But, according to these numbers, they might wind up right on the bubble.

 




Michigan Wolverines

Strength of schedule: 44

Projected overall record: 8.87 wins, 3.35 losses

Projected conference record: 5.45 wins, 2.55 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 12.7 percent

Three interesting games: at Notre Dame – 54.7 percent predicted chance to win (win by 1.8 points); at Michigan State – 52.4 percent predicted chance to win (win by 0.9 points); at Ohio State – 29 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 8.6 points)

Synopsis: The numbers here really like the Wolverines, as they’re favored in the first 11 games. (The lone exception on the season, of course, is Game No. 12 against Ohio State.) Michigan will hope to avoid déjà vu in the opener by pounding Appalachian State, unlike in 2007. The odds of a Michigan loss to the Mountaineers this time around are about 167 to 1.

 




Michigan State Spartans

Strength of schedule: 52

Projected overall record: 7.79 wins, 4.32 losses

Projected conference record: 4.72 wins, 3.28 wins

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 5.9 percent

Three interesting games: at Oregon – 9.9 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 19.9 points); at Indiana – 50.1 percent predicted chance to win; at Maryland – 50.7 percent chance to win (win by 0.3 points)

Synopsis: If sportsbooks started using these odds, something tells me there would be quite an avalanche of bets on Michigan State. For one reason or another, the Spartans just aren’t getting much love here. The Wolverines are actually projected to win more games. Overall, Michigan State is favored in nine contests but is only a 55-percent favorite or better in six of those. ESPN Stats & Info plans to update these numbers once the season starts, so it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think these odds will end up changing in the Spartans’ favor. But, for now, the odds just don’t like MSU.

 




Ohio State Buckeyes

Strength of schedule: 38

Projected overall record: 10.46 wins, 2.15 losses

Projected conference record: 6.46 wins, 1.54 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 40.9 percent

Three interesting games: at Penn State – 76.7 percent predicted chance to win (win by 11.2 points); at Michigan State – 65.7 percent predicted chance to win (win by 6.2 points); vs. Michigan – 71 percent predicted chance to win (win by 8.6 points)

Synopsis: Only three teams in the nation -- Florida State, Oregon, Marshall -- are projected to win more games than the Buckeyes. So, once again, Ohio State is favored to win the Big Ten and do big things on a national scale. It’s given a 7.6 percent chance to win out, and it’s favored by at least 65 percent in every game it plays.

 




Penn State Nittany Lions

Strength of schedule: 50

Projected overall record: 6.85 wins, 5.15 losses

Projected conference record: 3.57 wins, 4.43 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 0 percent

Three interesting games: vs. UCF (neutral field) – 51.8 percent predicted chance to win (win by 0.6 points); at Michigan – 21.1 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 12.4 points); at Indiana – 37.2 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 5 points)

Synopsis: Expectations are varied for the Nittany Lions, but the numbers favor them in eight individual games. (The reason the projected record is lower because they’re narrow favorites in several matchups). If PSU can finish with seven wins, it should be a positive season for the program. On a side note, against newcomers Rutgers and Maryland, the Lions are favored by less than two points.

 




Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Strength of schedule: 20

Projected overall record: 4.81 wins, 7.19 losses

Projected conference record: 2.30 wins, 5.70 losses

Odds of winning the Big Ten: 0.1 percent

Three interesting games: at Washington State – 33.1 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 6.8 points); vs. Penn State – 47 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 1.1 points); at Maryland – 27.7 percent predicted chance to win (lose by 9.2 points)

Synopsis: Rutgers has the hardest schedule in the conference, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which might explain why it’s the only team in the division to be projected to win fewer than six games. The odds it wins the Big Ten are 1,000 to 1, and it’s favored in just two matchups – against FCS Howard and Tulane.
video
After reviewing performances at The Opening last week, here are a few quick hits on how each Elite 11 quarterback performed:


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Big Ten lunch links

July, 14, 2014
Jul 14
12:00
PM ET
Genießen Sie die Mittags links.
You can have all the pieces of a great team, but if you're lacking a standout quarterback, it's going to be tough to win big in college football.

Quarterback is a position that likely needs to improve throughout the Big Ten in order for the league to start winning championships. But the good news there are some stars returning at the position in 2014. Taking a page from our ACC blog friends, we're previewing all the positions this preseason, and none are more important than this one:

Best of the best: Ohio State

Several teams return productive starters under center, which is a good thing for the league. But no one else has a player quite like the Buckeyes' Braxton Miller. The senior is coming off two straight Big Ten offensive player of the year awards, and is now in his third season of the same system under Tom Herman and Urban Meyer -- he should feel extremely comfortable. There is some slight concern about his offseason shoulder surgery, which left him sitting out of spring drills, and an inexperienced offensive line. But Miller has showed the ability to make magic practically on his own, and few are better in the clutch. His absence this spring meant important reps for youngsters Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, who would have to step in this season if anything happens to Miller.

Next up: Penn State

Christian Hackenberg passed for 2,955 yards as an 18-year-old true freshman and led impressive comebacks against Illinois and Michigan. The Nittany Lions' young star does have a new coaching staff and system and won't get to enjoy the talents of Allen Robinson any more, but his talent is immense. Penn State and Ohio State aren't the only teams in great shape at quarterback, though. Michigan State's Connor Cook was the MVP of the Big Ten title game and Rose Bowl and should continue to improve. Michigan's Devin Gardner finished second in the league in total offense in 2013 despite little help from the run game. Indiana's Nate Sudfeld has the job to himself after Tre Roberson's transfer and could easily surpass 3,000 yards in the Hoosiers' prolific system. Jake Rudock is a solid leader for Iowa who should have better weapons surrounding him this fall.

Possible sleeper: Maryland

C.J. Brown is a fifth-year senior entering his third year of starting after an injury cut down his 2012 campaign. He needs to stay healthy and improve on his 58.9 completion percentage from 2013. But with arguably the best pair of wideouts in the Big Ten at his disposal in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, Brown has a chance to put up some strong numbers in his first go-around in this league. Keep an eye also on Illinois and probable starter Wes Lunt; Bill Cubit's offense helped turn Nathan Scheelhaase into the Big Ten's surprise leading passer a year ago.

Problem for a contender: Nebraska

Problem is far too strong of a word here, but the Huskers don't have a sure thing at quarterback. Tommy Armstrong Jr. is a good leader and owns a burning desire to improve, so there's reason to be optimistic that the sophomore will handle the job just fine. Still, he completed only 51.9 percent of his passes last season, had eight interceptions against nine touchdown passes and wasn't the running threat that Taylor Martinez used to be. Wisconsin has its own quarterback issues, but Joel Stave -- the subject of much offseason hand-wringing -- is far more proven than Armstrong. Nebraska will need solid quarterback play in early tests against Fresno State and Miami (Fla.).

Big Ten lunch links

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
12:00
PM ET
This comment is a week late but needs to be said: Joey Chestnut is an American treasure.
  • Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck visited the Purdue campus for a youth camp and met with some of the current Boilermakers quarterbacks, one of whom admitted to taking a "selfie" with Luck in the background.
We've already covered the conference's potential villains, so it's only natural that we move on to the good guys.

You won't find them in comic books or out in the Big Ten footprint fighting crime. But even opposing fans won't find it all that difficult to root for this cast of characters. Some overcame injuries or other obstacles, some have been wronged, and others just seem like genuinely good people.

There are certainly plenty of other athletes and coaches whom this could apply to, so it wasn't easy just picking a handful. But true heroes don't expect media attention for their good deeds … plus, we had to cut this list off somewhere.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the unmasked Big Ten heroes:

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah, left, decided to put the NFL off for another year and return for his senior season at Nebraska.
Ameer Abdullah, running back, Nebraska: About 100 juniors declared early for this year's NFL draft, and no one would've blamed Abdullah if he decided to join the herd. Instead, he decided to stay -- and he's said all the right things. As the youngest of nine children, the other eight of whom have earned college degrees, Abdullah stressed the importance of his education and finishing that degree. When a lot of other players are chasing dollar signs instead of diplomas, that's a refreshing viewpoint. Added Bo Pelini: “He's an All-American on the field. He's an All-American off the field.”

Adam Breneman, tight end, Penn State: Forget the fact he remained loyal and committed to the university throughout the sanctions, when he could've bolted to the likes of Florida State or Notre Dame. He's also used his football celebrity to champion a few charitable causes, something more common for coaches than players. In high school he started “Catch the Cure,” which helped raise more than $200,000 to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease. During his Under Armour jersey presentation two years ago, he even helped man a booth outside the auditorium to seek donations. Currently, he's the secretary of Penn State's nonprofit chapter of “Uplifting Athletes,” which raises money for the Kidney Cancer Association. You don't have to like the Nittany Lions, but you have to like what Breneman's doing.

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Underappreciated. Underestimated. Underdog. That's why Friedgen is under two other heroes on this list. It's easy to root for someone who appeared to be unfairly punished – and is now seeking out justice on the gridiron. Friedgen is just about the only head coach to win conference coach of the year and then be fired that same season. It happened with Maryland in 2010; now, he's helping oversee a Rutgers offense that people aren't expecting a lot from. He's in the same division as the Terps -- heck, they're on the schedule this year -- and Friedgen has a chance to show Maryland it made a mistake. He certainly could've handled the dismissal better, but it's hard to blame him and easy to wish him well. As long as you're not a Terps fan, that is.

Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota: Stop me if you've heard this before. “I'm rooting against them when they play us, but I'm wishing all the best to ________ the rest of the season.” Chances are Kill's filled in quite a few of those sentences the past few years. He has refused to let epilepsy get the best of him, and his longevity's been a testament to his toughness. He's been a coach since 1985, and he just led the Gophers to back-to-back bowls. Plus, he recently started a new epilepsy foundation for young patients, and he put $100,000 of his own money toward that. How can you not root for this guy?

Jake Ryan, linebacker, Michigan: Torn anterior cruciate ligaments are usually big setbacks, something that means missed seasons or at least gradual returns. Not for Ryan. The Michigan linebacker, a team captain last season, was on crutches last spring and returned in time for the Oct. 12 game against Penn State. Said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: “If he ever truly logged the hours of extra treatment and extra rehab that he has done since the day that happened, I think it would floor you.” Nothing has really been handed to Ryan, as he wasn't a highly sought-after recruit. But he's worked hard and now finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards. It's his final season at Michigan, and big things are expected from him.

Heroes on deck: Tracy Claeys, Stefon Diggs, Herb Hand, Jeremy Langford, Venric Mark
Earlier this week, we offered an overview on the criteria that makes up the average Big Ten champion. So, naturally, we thought we'd take a look at how that criteria applies to teams this season.

Obviously, there are exceptions to the makeup of conference champions, so this isn't meant to be a variable-free breakdown. Still, it should add to the debate on just who has the right stuff to be the next B1G winner. And it'll be interesting to see how this ends up applying to the 2014 season.

So, without further delay, here are four criteria that have been historically important for Big Ten champions -- and how they apply to teams entering the 2014 season:

Criteria 1: Rank within top 40 of scoring defense

Doesn't meet criteria: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Northwestern, Purdue, Rutgers
On the fence: Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin
Does meet criteria: Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ohio State

This criteria has been mandatory for the last 13 teams that went on to win the Big Ten title, so it seemed appropriate to list this first. And it was easy to immediately cross off a few teams. Lest you think some were eliminated too quickly, rest assured, all the teams that didn't meet the above criteria didn't meet at least three total criteria anyway. Iowa, which is one of four teams to satisfy this, might seem like it belongs in the middle -- but Kirk Ferentz usually finds a way to get this done, even when he's forced to rebuild. The Hawkeyes satisfied this criteria in six of the past seven seasons, and they have a relatively easy schedule this year.

Criteria 2: Rank within the top 30 of rush defense

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer's Buckeyes were the only team to meet all four criteria that have been historically important for Big Ten champions.
Doesn't meet criteria: Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue
On the fence: Iowa, Maryland, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin
Does meet criteria: Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers

Eleven of the past 13 champs met this criteria, and more than half ranked within the top 10. So, needless to say, this is a pretty important element. And the Gophers simply have too much working against them. Not only do they no longer have DT Ra'Shede Hageman, who had the ability to take over a game, but Minnesota hasn't met this criteria in a decade. It's hard to see it improving that much over last season. As far as some teams stuck in the middle, Wisconsin and Iowa were on the verge of being in that undesirable "doesn't meet criteria" category, especially with two defensive rebuilding efforts underway, but both teams at least met this requirement last season and boast some talent. Which brings us to ... Rutgers? Yes, it might seem a little out of place with three of the better conference teams. But Big Ten fans might be surprised with the strength of this defensive line -- and the fact it ranked within the top six nationally the past two seasons.

Criteria 3: Control the turnover battle and the clock

Doesn't meet criteria: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Nebraska, Purdue, Rutgers
On the fence: Iowa, Minnesota
Does meet criteria: Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin

The last 11 champs were on the right side of time of possession, and 11 of the last 13 won the turnover battle. Several Big Ten teams, such as Indiana and Rutgers, faced this issue -- but only one new team showed up on the "doesn't meet criteria" list this time around. Nebraska. Clearly, this is something that can be overcome. But, right now, the Huskers absolutely get a resounding "no" in this category. They lost the turnover battle the last three seasons and their opponents controlled the clock last year. Iowa and Minnesota need to do better, but they haven't done as lousy as others over the past four seasons.

Criteria 4: Rank within the top 30 of rush offense

Doesn't meet criteria: Illinois, Maryland, Northwestern, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan, Michigan State, Rutgers
On the fence: Iowa, Minnesota
Does meet criteria: Indiana, Nebraska, Ohio State, Wisconsin

Eleven of the last 13 champs satisfied this criteria, and only one team was an exception: Michigan State. So maybe it doesn't seem fair to see the Spartans eliminated here. But we're not necessarily picking out the Big Ten champion -- just who satisfies with most criteria. And, sadly, Michigan State is out. It was much easier eliminating the Wolverines and Nittany Lions because both offensive lines have their fair share of question marks. Michigan averaged just 3.28 yards per carry last season and needs a tailback to step up, while Penn State hasn't broken the top 30 since 2008. Iowa and Minnesota were also both interesting cases. Neither has recent history on its side, but the Gophers need to move up just seven spots from last season to satisfy this criteria -- and dual-threat QB Mitch Leidner is leading the charge now. (The Gophers haven't met this criteria for eight straight seasons.) Iowa has a strong offensive line and three solid tailbacks, but it needs to move up 20 spots from last year. This might be the Hawkeyes' best shot at cracking the top 30 since the last season they did it, in 2008 when Shonn Greene finished sixth in the Heisman race.

So who meets all the criteria?

Well, Adam Rittenberg just covered how the Buckeyes might be getting a bit too much credit, but Ohio State is the only team that satisfies all the criteria here. Easily. Criteria 1? They've done that every season since the turn of the century. Criteria 2? For the last four seasons, they've been on the right side of both turnovers and time of possession. Criteria 3? The defensive line is arguably the best position group in the Big Ten. Criteria 4? They've done it year after year for the last nine seasons. Odds are the Buckeyes will meet all the criteria once again in 2014. We'll just have to see if that's enough for a title.

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