We're straight trippin' here at the Big Ten blog this week.
And by that, we mean we're coming up with the ultimate road trip for the 2015 season, picking the game each we week we'd attend if travel and editorial decisions were no issue. We're up to Week 3 right now, and here are the options:
Sat. Sept. 19
Western Kentucky at Indiana
South Florida at Maryland
UNLV at Michigan
Air Force at Michigan State
Kent State at Minnesota
Northern Illinois at Ohio State
Rutgers at Penn State
Troy at Wisconsin
Northwestern at Duke
Nebraska at Miami (Fla.)
Illinois at North Carolina
Pittsburgh at Iowa
Virginia Tech at Purdue
Mitch Sherman’s pick: Rutgers at Penn State
Since the Big Ten remains behind much of the rest of college football in scheduling early season league games – they’re coming eventually – this is the best we get for the second straight year. In a game scheduled before Rutgers joined the Big Ten, this matchup did not disappoint in 2014 as Christian Hackenberg led the Nittany Lions on a late drive to win 13-10 and spoil the Scarlet Knights’ league debut. The rematch should feature a pair of 2-0 teams and will mark Rutgers’ first trip to Beaver Stadium since 1994. It’s also, surprisingly, the first time Penn State has opened Big Ten play at home since 2009.
Dan Murphy's pick: Rutgers at Penn State
Rutgers and Penn State get conference play underway early in the season for the second year in a row. The trip to Miami is hard to pass up, but there aren't many big names coming to Happy Valley this year and that stadium is worth an annual trip. This matchup -- which proved to be an exciting one in 2014 -- will be Penn State's first test and its only real measuring stick before a mid-October trip to Ohio State.
Austin Ward's pick: Nebraska at Miami
The stakes might not be as high between the storied programs anymore, and they played each other last season at Nebraska. But there is still something special about the Hurricanes and Huskers hooking up, and without all that many appealing matchups between Power 5 opponents on the schedule, this one figures to be the most entertaining of the weekend. It might even provide a hint as to which traditional power is closest to returning to compete again on a national scale.
Brian Bennett: Nebraska at Miami
Miami home games usually have about as much atmosphere as a first-round at a senior PGA golf tournament. But Big Red travels everywhere and will help fill up the stands for the Hurricanes. Miami still has a lot of talent and will put it together one day, while this is the first big road test for Mike Riley as Nebraska's coach. Plus, I'm not going to lie: slipping over to South Beach the day before the game is slightly appealing.
Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
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 ...
- Wisconsin's Corey Clement is dealing with yet another coaching change. Former Badgers teammates react to Chris Borland's surprising decision to retire.
- Michigan passing game coordinator Jedd Fisch is excited about the Wolverines' returning wide receivers. John Baxter has a unique philosophy for Michigan's special teams.
- Minnesota likes its linebacker depth this spring.
- Nebraska offensive lineman Zach Hannon is making strides after dropping some pounds.
- The On Iowa podcast takes a look at the C.J. Beathard era.
- Previewing the offensive line this spring for Indiana.
- Some potential wide receiver recruits for Ohio State.
Former Penn State president Graham Spanier is suing former FBI chief Louis J. Freeh for defamation and tortious interference and Penn State University for breach of contract, according to a complaint filed Wednesday afternoon in Centre County, Pennsylvania.
The 140-page lawsuit accuses Freeh and his law firm, Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, of "knowingly and maliciously" publishing "false and defamatory" statements about Spanier in the July 2012 Freeh report that accused the longtime PSU president of being part of a cover-up of child sex abuse by retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Spanier, 66, filed his civil lawsuit while waiting to stand trial on charges of perjury, endangering the welfare of children, obstruction of justice, failure to report child abuse, conspiracy to commit perjury and conspiracy to endanger the welfare of children.
"By all accounts, Dr. Spanier was one of the most honored and decorated university presidents with a sterling reputation before Freeh and Penn State published these false conclusions," said Libby Locke, a lawyer for Spanier and a partner at Clare Locke in Alexandria, Virginia. "Dr. Spanier knows that he is innocent. And once an impartial jury has the opportunity to weigh the full body of evidence -- not just Freeh's one-sided presentation of it -- Dr. Spanier is confident that the public will know it, too."
Officials from Penn State declined comment; Freeh's office said he was traveling and not available for comment.
The complaint also accuses "certain members" of Penn State's board of trustees of making "disparaging statements" about Spanier in the weeks and months following Sandusky's arrest in November 2011.
Spanier served as Penn State's president from 1995 through 2011.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- For the first time since 2011, Penn State finally has some stability this spring.
No current player has experienced back-to-back springs with the same head coach and coordinators. None have seen the entire staff of assistants return. And none have really had a chance to get comfortable with a system.
They finally do now -- although it was revealed Tuesday that it might have been a closer call than some imagined. Turns out defensive coordinator Bob Shoop, who reportedly interviewed with LSU before accepting a new PSU deal, wasn’t the only assistant being courted.
"Bob is the guy that it became a big story, but we got a bunch of guys on our staff that got offers and opportunities to move on and turned it down," James Franklin said during a Tuesday news conference. "[DL coach] Sean Spencer is a guy I’m so appreciative of and so proud of, because he got an offer with a dramatic raise at a school people would consider a historic school and turned it down without even telling me. I found out from the other coaches."
Franklin declined to mention the specific school that Spencer received an offer from, but it hasn’t been uncommon to see Franklin’s assistants earn offers outside the program. One news outlet stumped for offensive line coach Herb Hand this offseason as Tulsa's new head coach, and Hand was a candidate as Vanderbilt’s head coach last winter. Linebackers coach Brent Pry also turned down a head-coaching job at Georgia Southern last January to stick with Franklin.
"I think that’s a great example of the commitment that our guys have to this program, to the university ... and to our players," Franklin said. “That’s Bob, that’s Sean, that’s a number of them. I could go on and on.
"The fact we were able to keep them all together -- and the administrative staff -- keeping all those people intact is really important."
That continuity is undoubtedly important to these players. Franklin noticed a "wall" last season when he first joined Penn State, and it took some time to break that down and breed familiarity and trust. As a further example, Franklin said he spoke with guard/center Angelo Mangiro on Monday, and the redshirt senior commented about how he never before went through a cadence snapping the ball. Until Franklin, that is.
Now, thanks to that stability, there is a foundation to build on when spring practice starts Friday. A foundation that most of the roster hasn’t yet experienced.
"That stability and that continuity that we saw here at Penn State for a long time, we want to try to be able to do it as well, because we know how valuable it is," Franklin said. "... Joe was here for 62 years, and I was here 62 weeks. Got a long way to go."
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.
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.
It's nice that spring practice is back to give us a little bit of a football fix in this long offseason. But it only has us jonesing for some real games, which are still a long way away.
We'll have to make do by planning -- for fantasy purposes, at least -- our dream schedules for the fall. We're going to take a look at each week of the 2015 Big Ten schedule and pick where we'd go if money and editorial decisions were no object. The only limit is that we can only choose one game per week.
Let's get started with Week 1:
Thursday, Sept. 3
TCU at Minnesota
Michigan at Utah
Friday, Sept. 4
Kent State at Illinois
Michigan State at Western Michigan
Saturday, Sept. 5
Southern Illinois at Indiana
Illinois State at Iowa
Richmond at Maryland
BYU at Nebraska
Norfolk State at Rutgers
Penn State at Temple
Wisconsin vs. Alabama (Arlington, Texas)
Stanford at Northwestern
Sunday, Sept. 6
Purdue at Marshall
Monday, Sept. 7
Ohio State at Virginia Tech
Brian Bennett's pick: Ohio State at Virginia Tech
There are some outstanding opening-week games on the docket, which gets me even more excited for Labor Day weekend. I'm very torn on my choice, because TCU-Minnesota could be great, Wisconsin-Alabama is another chance for the Big Ten to continue its momentum from the postseason, and the Jim Harbaugh debut in Salt Lake City is mighty tempting. But I want to see the defending champs go on the road on Labor Day night behind whoever is starting at quarterback, and it would be my first time in Lane Stadium. I'll bring ear plugs.
Austin Ward's pick: Michigan at Utah
There aren’t many opportunities to follow the Big Ten west to Salt Lake City and one of the most gorgeous venues in college football, and this trip comes with the added intrigue of Harbaugh’s debut with the Wolverines. There are perhaps more appealing matchups on the opening slate, but the combination of seeing how Harbaugh’s team looks early and the atmosphere The Muss provides is too good to pass up.
Dan Murphy's pick: Ohio State at Virginia Tech
Listening to "Enter Sandman" at Lane Stadium belongs on every college football bucket list. I've yet to cross it off mine, and can't think of a better week to do it. Ohio State returns to Virginia Tech on a Monday night to avenge its only loss of the 2014 season. That game might be our first look at the Buckeyes' solution to their overabundance of quarterbacks and the Hokie fans are sure to make it an electric atmosphere for at least the first few series.
Josh Moyer's pick: Wisconsin vs. Alabama
I’m a sucker for BBQ and good football, so I’ll be taking my talents down south to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Don’t get me wrong; I’d prefer seeing the pageantry at Tuscaloosa or Madison. But checking out the world’s fourth-largest HDTV – and a shot at seeing the B1G shock the SEC one more – isn’t a terrible consolation.
1. Choosing between three potential All-Americans to start at quarterback is a tough enough job without any further complications. For Tim Beck, Ohio State’s first-year offensive coordinator, evaluating his inherited riches at the position will be a little trickier.
The injuries that gave J.T. Barrett and then Cardale Jones a chance to prove themselves in 2014 are keeping Barrett and Braxton Miller from fully proving themselves this spring. Miller, who had shoulder surgery in August, is not yet throwing at full strength. Barrett is taking his time nursing the ankle he broke in November back to full health. That means only Jones is operating on all cylinders this spring. Beck might only get a few weeks in August to get a side-by-side comparison of all three of them.
Barrett and Jones said there’s no bad blood two days into spring practice and neither of them have any plans to transfer if they don’t win the battle. Beck said he was amazed at how well all of the quarterbacks supported each other. It will be interesting to see if that tune changes at all as the competition heats up this summer, when all three will presumably be healthy.
2. Michigan center Jack Miller made the rare decision this week to walk away from the table with a little bit of football still left on his plate. Miller, who won the Wolverines’ top lineman of the year award in 2014, said his passion for football has dimmed and he won’t be using his final year of eligibility next fall.
Jim Harbaugh’s non-stop energy can exhaust even innocent bystanders, but Miller said he’s been weighing his decision to move on to the next chapter of his life for most of the past year. He said Harbaugh had nothing to do with his departure.
It is surprising to see a player who has weathered bad years walk away with so much excitement surrounding the new coaching staff and the possibility of the future. But Miller’s reasoning -- that he’s pocketed enough lifelong memories in football -- makes sense when he lays out his logic. In fact, it might be more surprising that more seniors who have their degrees all but wrapped up and not much hope of a professional football future don’t choose to forego the massive sacrifice it takes to play for a top college program. The big crowds, thrills and other perks that come with a scholarship must be pretty alluring for most players.
3. Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. Andy Dufrense and Red might not have lost their hope in Shawshank Redemption, but the same might not be true for Hoosier Red in Indiana. A poll on Cleveland.com ranked Indiana’s football and basketball programs as the most hopeless in the Big Ten. Nate Sudfeld’s return at quarterback should be at least a small boost for Indiana’s football morale, but a rough year for Tom Crean on the hardwood and a long bowl drought leave little room to argue with this assessment.
And now on to the links...
- Northwestern’s star freshman back Justin Jackson will likely miss the rest of spring practice with a lower body injury.
- Mike Riley hired a former Oregon State staffer to run the walk-on program at Nebraska.
- Braxton Miller has avoided the media since his shoulder injury in August. Updates on the former Buckeye starter’s rehab are hard to come by.
- Spring practice is only a few days away for Wisconsin. Here are some players to watch for Badgers fans.
- Penn State’s offensive line took a positive step forward in the weight room this winter.
- Devin Funchess knocked more than two-tenths of a second off his 40-yard dash at Michigan's pro day.
- Rutgers fullback Michael Burton might be playing himself into the NFL Draft after this week’s pro day performance.
- How will Jake Rudock's reported departure affect the Iowa offense?
- Michigan State is targeting an Ohio cornerback to join its 2016 recruiting class.
We've talked about it ad nauseam around here, but in case you need a refresher course, the league featured such star tailbacks as Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Indiana's Tevin Coleman, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Minnesota's David Cobb, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Northwestern's Justin Jackson. When you have two 2,000-yard rushers and five others go over 1,100 yards -- including the offensive MVP of two playoff games -- then there's no debate which position is the strongest.
The running back position isn't going to drop off a cliff this year, either, as Elliott and Jackson return and new stars like Wisconsin's Corey Clement will emerge. But 2015 is going to be the "Year of the Quarterback" in the Big Ten.
But the drought almost certainly will change with the 2016 draft. In fact, there's a good chance the Big Ten will have multiple quarterbacks taken in the first round next year -- and we're not just talking about all of Ohio State's guys.
The Buckeyes are a great place to start in this discussion, as one of their three candidates for this year's starting job -- Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett -- instantly will become a Heisman Trophy front-runner the second he earns the gig. Assuming all three stick around until the fall, that will be a continuing topic of conversation and curiosity in Columbus and beyond.
There's zero quarterback controversy in East Lansing, as Connor Cook decided to return to Michigan State for his senior year. He's got a 23-3 record as a starter (and is 16-1 in Big Ten games) and already has led the team to victories in the Rose and Cotton bowls. If Cook can shore up some of his footwork and decision-making, he could be the first quarterback off the board next year ... unless, that is, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg comes out as a junior.
Hackenberg had major struggles last season as a sophomore, owing a lot to an offensive line held together with spit and string. But his natural talent is undeniable, and he reminded everybody of that by throwing for 350 yards and four touchdowns against Boston College in the Pinstripe Bowl. With better protection and more experience at receiver, Hackenberg could bounce back in a big way in 2015.
There aren't as many household names under center at other Big Ten campuses. But Indiana's Nate Sudfeld has long been viewed as a pro prospect. His 2014 season was cut short by a shoulder injury, and he should be fully healed by the start of 2015. Illinois' Wes Lunt also was hampered by injuries last year, but when he was healthy, he threw for at least 266 yards four times. Both Sudfeld and Lunt are listed at 6-foot-5 and have the classic quarterback builds.
Tommy Armstrong Jr. has the perfect last name for a quarterback and could take the next step in his development as a junior for Nebraska. He'll play in a more passer-friendly offense under Mike Riley, and Armstrong gave a hint of his potential with a 381-yard, three-touchdown showing against USC in the Holiday Bowl.
Questions abound at other places, like Wisconsin, Rutgers, Purdue, Northwestern and Michigan. But each team has talented options that could be unlocked. Mitch Leidner moves into his third year of starting for Minnesota and had one of his better games in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. C.J. Beathard appears to be the man moving forward for Iowa, and his big arm and fearlessness gave the offense a spark last year.
The Big Ten looks like it's on an upswing, especially after a strong showing in the postseason. Improved quarterback play is a big reason why. This will be the best crop of signal-callers throughout the league in a long time, which is why 2015 will be the Year of the Quarterback.
The former four-year starting quarterback at Rutgers ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds Wednesday at pro day in Piscataway, part of an overall solid performance before scouts from every NFL team.
Nova gained 141 rushing yards as a senior and lost 146. He was sacked 69 times in his career and was rarely known as a threat to escape the pocket.
Apparently, though, he can run. Nova clocked a 4.65 in his second shot at the 40. His best mark Wednesday would have ranked fourth among quarterbacks -- behind Marcus Mariota, Nick Marshall and Blake Sims -- at the NFL combine last month.
Nova was not among 15 quarterbacks invited to the combine after he threw for 9,258 yards and 73 touchdowns at Rutgers over four seasons. He measured 6-foot-1 and 222 pounds at pro day.
Mentored by former NFL QB Jay Fiedler, Nova is viewed as a likely free-agent signing after the draft. Clearly, if he makes a roster, Nova -- who turns 22 the week of the draft -- won't be asked to showcase that 4.6 speed at the next level.
Perhaps the knowledge that he's more athletic and mobile than his time at Rutgers indicated, though, will convince more organizations to give him consideration. It can't hurt.
David Jones of PennLive.com offered a thought-provoking comparison this week between Penn State football and Syracuse basketball, recently hit with sanctions by the NCAA for widespread violations.
Both programs achieved huge success under iconic coaches and built brands known nationally.
While it may not be the case for a variety of reasons at Syracuse, Jones suggests that PSU was well equipped to weather its sanctions because of the Nittany Lions’ reputation as a football power.
Even though the Sunbelt has transcended this area as the nation's talent honeypot, gifted athletes and players across the country know the brand name. They know it as a place where you can play with other great talents which means everything in this age of herding.
It takes a lot to undo that name recognition and resultant power. Even the Sandusky scandal, Joe Paterno's dismissal and NCAA sanctions could not unplug Penn State's cachet.
So the next question: Are some brands in college athletics too big to fail? It’s a sobering thought, but one worth considering as the powerful programs gain even more power in this era of autonomy.
We hit the final installment of the Omaha World-Herald's four-part series on Mike Riley Wednesday in the links with this story on the influence of the new Nebraska coach on the career of Paul Chryst.
The earlier articles, also worth a look, documented Riley's courtship at the college and pro levels of Tom Brady and the how the rise of Oregon’s money-driven powerhouse cast a shadow over Riley at Oregon State, playing a role in his departure.
Dirk Chatelain's anchor piece, which details Riley’s upbringing and his long path to Lincoln, is a must-read for those interested in learning more about the man in charge at Nebraska.
Riley’s hire in December stunned many observers, primarily those who knew little about the 61-year-old coach. Now, the more Nebraskans learn about Riley -- and nothing published in the past three months revealed more than a small fraction of the detail offered in this series -- the more this move makes sense.
On to the rest of the links:
- Tight end Tyler Kroft, Rutgers' top NFL prospect, also performed well at pro day.
- Also from the pro day circuit, former Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon showed off his receiving skills.
- Maryland ventures into Indiana to pursue a promising linebacker.
- SI.com's MMQB examines the legend of Brandon Scherff in Iowa.
- The rumors of quarterback Jake Rudock's transfer from Iowa are substantiated by this report, which links him to Michigan. Meanwhile, here are a few breakout candidates for the Wolverines this spring at receiver and tight end.
- A spring breakdown of the Indiana wide receivers.
- Northwestern is set to begin construction of a $220 million lakefront sports complex that will house the football team's practice facility.
- Penn State adds a support staffer who formerly worked as a graduate assistant at Rutgers and for James Franklin at Vanderbilt.
- This spring gives Cardale Jones a chance to get a big jump in the much-anticipated quarterback race at Ohio State. But can he end the battle before it starts?
- Nebraska quarterback Johnny Stanton is eager for the next chapter of his career.
- It's time for David Blough to take his shot to win the job as Purdue's quarterback.
- Pat Narduzzi said he's better positioned geographically to recruit at Pitt than he was as defensive coordinator at Michigan State.
- Who's going to play a backup role to quarterback Wes Lunt at Illinois?
1. The defending national champions opened spring ball on Tuesday. While everybody was understandably talking about the quarterback "battle" on the first day -- it's not much of a battle right now, of course, with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller recovering from injuries -- that's more or less a sideshow.
Sure, it's going to be utterly fascinating to see whether Cardale Jones can hold off the previous starters for the job. In the long run, however, it won't matter if Jones, Barrett, Miller or even Stephen Collier or Stephen Colbert starts for the Buckeyes. Quarterback is really the least of Urban Meyer's concerns.
He doesn't actually have many on this loaded roster. Yet if there's anything that could hold back Ohio State from making a repeat trip to the College Football Playoff, it's the defensive line. That might sound funny, since we were singing the praises of that unit as a dominant one all last year. But the Buckeyes had very little depth on the line last year and lost senior All-America tackle Michael Bennett, as well as senior defensive end Steve Miller.
Incoming freshman defensive end Dre'Mont Jones, whom we'd tabbed as one of five instant impact signees in the Big Ten last month, may not be able to contribute at all this year because of a recent knee injury.
It's going to be extremely important that holdover players like Michael Hill, Tyquan Lewis, Donovan Munger and Jalyn Holmes make a difference to keep this defensive line playing at a high level. And it's telling that none of them made much of a dent on the team last year even though Meyer isn't afraid to play rookies.
"I'm very disappointed in the young defensive linemen we brought in here," Meyer said, according to Cleveland.com. "Not with what kind of people they are, just with performance."
Spring practice is just beginning in Columbus and the pads haven't even come on, so there's no good way to tell yet if some of those players have made improvement. But watching for that will be more critical to Ohio State's 2015 prospects than whatever happens with the quarterbacks.
2. Student attendance is an issue for several Big Ten schools and one Adam Rittenberg addressed in the blog a year ago. Recently, Iowa and Michigan lowered prices on their student season tickets in part to lure students back in.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette's Marc Morehouse has a look at student ticket prices throughout the league and how Iowa compares. After Michigan's reduction, Ohio State tops the conference at $272 for student season tickets, while Penn State is second at $218. Supply and demand appear to be at work here, as those two schools have the largest and most energetic student sections in the Big Ten.
Six other schools have remaining ticket packages that top $100 for the season. Maybe I'm old (check that: I am really old) but I don't remember having that kind of extra spending money lying around when I was a college student. Maybe we shouldn't criticize student for not turning out at some of these places but applaud the ones who make the effort and pay the expense to do so. Just a thought.
Around the league:
- Spring practice is likely over for Northwestern star running back Justin Jackson because of a leg injury.
- Michigan's Jabril Peppers did not make many feminist friends with his series of tweets.
- Former Illinois quarterback Aaron Bailey has transferred to Northern Iowa, where he can play right away.
- Minnesota's Hank Ekpe had to sit out last year with headaches; now the defensive lineman is causing them for would-be blockers.
- Purdue completed its first day of spring practice, and a message was delivered.
- Michigan State's Macgarrett Kings Jr. initially resisted arrest before being charged on Feb. 28, according to a police report.
- Paul Chryst says Mike Riley taught him nice guys can finish first in coaching.
- Lots of young players are poised to break through for Ohio State.
- An early look at the Penn State linebackers.
- Tim Beckman previewed Illinois spring practice.
- A Maryland defensive lineman will miss several months.
- Wisconsin has holes to fill on its offensive line, but the talent is there.
- Several Big Ten teams are vying for the title in CBSSports.com's helmet bracket.
But if nothing else, Jerry Kill and the rest of the Minnesota staff are offering a reminder that just because they're old-school coaches doesn't mean they won't mix in a little forward thinking as well.
Sure, a no-huddle system isn't frequently associated with a power rushing attack or quarterbacks taking snaps under center, two things the Golden Gophers aren't likely to be abandoning any time soon. But there's no harm in pushing the tempo during spring camp when there's no game plan to install, which at a minimum can test the offseason conditioning program and add some urgency on the practice field.
In the best-case scenario, Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover might just find something that clicks and expands the playbook for the Gophers, giving these test runs in March virtually no downside even if they never see the light of game day.
"It's not that we're going to do it exclusively, but it's hard to get it in at the last minute," Limegrover told reporters over the weekend. "What we want to do is build a foundation and get a good foundation of a lot of different things we can do. Coach [Kill] wanted to do it, wanted to work something a little bit different, so we did some visiting, did some research and felt like we came up with something that fits us.
"It's just in the infant stages."
If the no-huddle system is going to grow up and become something useful for the Gophers, it makes sense to install it in a lower-pressure situation and in time for the players to still work on it during summer workouts.
Minnesota has made pretty clear, though, that tweaking the tempo isn't the same thing as shifting to the spread. That sort of overhaul would require much more than 15 workouts in the spring, and the Gophers are still an offensive team best suited to leaning on what should be a deep backfield while potentially taking a step forward in the play-action passing game under still-developing quarterback Mitch Leidner.
But just in case they need to add another gear to the attack, there's no better time to tinker than now.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten
- Maryland hired a new defensive backs coach.
- All the signs are pointing to an entertaining ride with Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
- Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott is still in the spotlight after his breakout season.
- A former Rutgers graduate assistant is joining the staff at Penn State.
- Fullbacks aren't usually hot commodities in the NFL Draft, but former Rutgers contributor Michael Burton is impressing during workouts.
- Purdue is looking for some help at safety.
- Linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey can't wait to get back on the field for Nebraska.
- Illinois will open its season with some Friday-night lights.
- A closer look at what's on tap for Wisconsin at tight end this spring.
Surprised? Didn’t think so.
The numbers back up the obvious: No conference fared better here last season, as half the B1G teams finished with a rusher that topped the 1,000-yard mark. With a lineup consisting of Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman and Ameer Abdullah -- along with 2015 Heisman front-runner Ezekiel Elliott -- talent and depth weren’t issues on the ground in 2014.
The bigger surprise? The B1G didn’t run away with the honor, as the Pac-12 also saw half its teams end the season with a 1,000-yard rusher. The conference out west even had nine of its 12 schools boast a runner who reached the milestone last year or the year before – more than the Big Ten.
Now, the list is meant to be more for fun than projecting, but it goes without saying that rushing is important in the hard-nosed B1G. After all, only one of the last 13 conference winners didn’t have a rusher who hit the 1,000-yard mark -- the 2009 Buckeyes, who boasted three players with more than 600 rush yards. Historically, in the B1G, feature backs trump the committee approach.
So, can the Big Ten keep producing those workhorse runners? It will undoubtedly get a little harder this season, with all but two of its 1,000-yard players heading to the NFL. The Pac-12 could be poised to knock the B1G off its perch in 2015; it returns all but two of its 1,000-yard players.
The good news for the B1G is it should get a boost from a healthy Paul James, who could end a two-year drought at Rutgers. Michigan State also generally likes to stick with a featured back, and Wisconsin’s Corey Clement shouldn’t have a problem reaching quadruple digits. But Minnesota? Without David Cobb on the roster, it could wind up going with the running-back-by-committee approach. Ditto for Michigan.
And all bets are off with the bottom-three teams in this category. Maryland and Purdue haven’t had 1,000-yard rushers since 2008, and both running back situations are muddled right now. Illinois is in the midst of a four-season drought, and that likely won’t end as long as Josh Ferguson is averaging about 11 carries a game.
So, sure, the Big Ten is king now -- and producing 1,000-yard rushers has been important to the conference in the past. But that trend could very well take a dip, albeit temporarily, in 2015.
Colleague Brett McMurphy reported earlier this week that at least 14 cities are considering whether to bid on the 2018, 2019 or 2020 College Football Playoff championship game. The first one, of course, was held at Jerry World in North Texas, and the next two will be in Glendale, Arizona, and Tampa, Florida.
Like most bowl games, these initial championship contests have gone to warm-weather cities in the South and the West. That's all well and good, but as I've argued, the Midwest should have a chance to host the game on occasion as well. After all, the inaugural playoff champion resides in Columbus, Ohio.
So today's #B1GFridayFive looks at five cities/stadiums in the Big Ten footprint that should host the biggest game. Here is our five. Tell us your five using the hashtag #B1GFridayFive.
1. Indianapolis/Lucas Oil Stadium
There's no doubt that Indy can handle a major event, as it has already put on several successful Final Fours and was the site of the 2012 Super Bowl. The city is laid out perfectly for fans to walk to many bars and restaurants around the stadium, which is indoors and extremely comfortable. Indianapolis has a lot of other sports events on its plate, but could do this in its sleep. And think what an advantage it would be for a Big Ten team to play the conference championship game there a month earlier and be familiar with the surroundings.
2. Minneapolis/New Vikings stadium
The as-yet uncompleted and unnamed stadium in downtown Minneapolis is sure to be spectacular, and the city is planning on bidding for the 2019 and 2020 national title games. The 2018 Super Bowl is already coming there. Sure, it's cold there. But anyone who has been to Minneapolis knows you can often avoid the elements through indoor walkways, and the city is full of great restaurants and bars.
3. Detroit/Ford Field
Detroit hosted the 2006 Super Bowl, and the economic boom of a college football championship game would be a great benefit to the city. There's not as much to do around the stadium as in Indianapolis or Minneapolis but, hey, casinos. Can you imagine how happy Michigan or Michigan State would be with its commute if it made a title game in Detroit?
4. East Rutherford. New Jersey/MetLife Stadium
Yes, this counts as a being in the Big Ten footprint now. Unlike the first three on this list, this stadium is outdoors and would be subject to the elements. But the Super Bowl was held there last year and the world kept spinning. Football was made to be played outside, if you recall, and a little snow and wind might actually play to the Big Ten's benefit. And when you combine college football's top event with New York City, you could get something pretty special.
5. Pasadena, California/Rose Bowl Stadium
OK, we're cheating a little bit here, as the Rose Bowl is only in the Big Ten footprint if you allow a wide historical berth. Still, Pasadena is the best setting in college football, if not all of sports, and is the perfect place for a championship game. The Rose Bowl could host the game in years in which it is not a playoff semifinal, and if things broke right, that could mean the Big Ten could send two teams to Pasadena in the same year. Who could argue with that?
Just missed: Green Bay, Wisconsin/Lambeau Field; Washington/FedEx Field; Cleveland/FirstEnergy Stadium.
But let's be bold. Here are 10 predictions for spring practice in the Big Ten:
1. Cardale Jones takes command: You might remember Jones from such previous performances as "Whipping Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game," "Mauling Alabama in the Sugar Bowl" and "Beating Oregon for the national championship." Now he'll be the headliner in Ohio State's star-studded quarterback battle as the only one of the three who will be healthy enough to participate fully in drills. Expect Jones to have a big spring and take the lead in the race, though J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller will have their say this summer.
2. Tommy Armstrong Jr. leads in Lincoln: Nebraska's starting quarterback will have to prove himself all over again to a new coaching staff. But while Johnny Stanton and, to a lesser extent, Ryker Fyfe have their supporters among the Big Red fan base, Armstrong's superior leadership skills and experience will ensure that he's the man for Mike Riley this spring.
3. Penn State finds some answers on the offensive line: The Nittany Lions can't possibly be as bad up front as they were last year, and now they have a lot more options. Junior college transfer Paris Palmer will win the right tackle job and Andrew Nelson will take a step forward in a move to left tackle. Throw in some promising youngsters, and QB Christian Hackenberg will be feeling more secure heading into this fall.
5. Joel Stave faces serious heat for his job at Wisconsin: Stave has a 20-6 career record as a starter, something few Big Ten quarterbacks can match. Yet, like Iowa, the Badgers need a jolt in their passing game. Either redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins or true freshman Austin Kafentzis will make this a real competition this spring, leaving the starting job up for grabs in fall camp.
6. Minnesota's receivers provide optimism: The passing games at Wisconsin and Iowa are prolific compared to the Gophers, largely because Minnesota has lacked playmaking wideouts the past few years. But Minnesota will emerge from the spring feeling much better about its options at the position as some redshirt freshmen make plays. Two names to watch: Isaiah Gentry and Jerry Gibson.
7. Hayden Rettig has a big spring for Rutgers: Chris Laviano has an edge in experience in the Scarlet Knights' quarterback competition, but Rettig has the pedigree. A former four-star recruit who transferred from LSU, Rettig's big arm will make a large impression this spring.
8. Indiana doesn't miss Tevin Coleman ... too much: Coleman put up the best rushing season in the Hoosiers' history, but his absence won't create a crater this spring. That's because UAB transfer Jordan Howard will step in and immediately replace most of that production. He might not match Coleman's pure explosiveness, but the offense won't suffer too much.
9. New defensive stars emerge at Michigan State: This happens every spring. Even with Pat Narduzzi gone, the Spartan Dawgs will remain strong behind new co-defensive coordinators Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett. And they've always got a wave of players ready to step in for departed leaders. Some names to watch include Demetrious Cox, Malik McDowell, Riley Bullough, Montae Nicholson and Darian Hicks.
10. A couple of quarterbacks transfer: This has become a trend in college football -- a quarterback can be quick to bolt when he finds out he won't be the starter. Keep an eye on places where there are a lot of candidates bunched together, such as Purdue (Austin Appleby, Danny Etling, David Blough) or where the two-man competition is heated, such as Iowa. And, of course, Ohio State remains on high alert. But it's almost inevitable that there will be some quarterback transfers in the summer.
Remember that day?
Nebraska players and their fans prefer to forget it. Gordon rushed for 408 yards, then an FBS record, as Wisconsin stomped the Cornhuskers 59-24. That performance propelled him to a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting
On one good leg on that snowy afternoon in Madison, Abdullah mustered 69 yards on the ground in a performance representative of the anticlimactic finish to his record-setting career.
They met again at the NFL combine last month in Indianapolis, where both backs performed well enough to claim victory. The bigger Gordon ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.52 to 4.60), though Abdullah walked away with the best marks among an accomplished group at their position in the vertical leap, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
Abdullah appeared to improve his 40 time -- pending official results -- Thursday at Nebraska’s pro day.
When it was over, Abdullah, typically reserved, did not mince words. He said he believes he’s the best running back in this draft class. Gordon included.
“I’m not real worried about Melvin,” Abdullah said. “He has his own agenda. I have my own agenda.”
But Abdullah, training this spring in Dallas, said more.
“I don’t know what he’s doing," Abdullah said. "He doesn’t know what I’m doing. Obviously, we want to compete, but it’s more of a mental edge than anything. When you’re working and you’re tired, I say, ‘Well, Melvin’s still working harder than me, so I’ve gotta go harder.’”
Clearly they remain linked, a salivating thought for fans of Big Ten football, anxious to watch continued competition between the talented duo play out on a new stage.
Analysts rate Gordon as the better prospect, and how can you argue with 2,587 yards -- a career figure for many that Gordon accumulated in merely 13 games last fall?
But here’s what I know about Abdullah: He’s at his most dangerous as an underdog.
The large chip on his shoulder that Abdullah carried to Nebraska out of high school in Alabama, where SEC schools declined to recruit him as a running back, fueled his journey to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Huskers history.
The chip is back. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard Abdullah speak with more conviction than Thursday after his workout.
“Whatever team that takes me,” Abdullah said, “I’m going to be in shape and ready to go when I get there.”
Whether he knows it or not, Gordon is providing a bit of fuel for Abdullah’s drive toward the draft.
Around the rest of the Big Ten:
- A spring preview of the conference by Athlon Sports.
- A pair of Ohio State defensive backs make a list of the nation's best in the secondary.
- Jim Tressel weighs in on Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh.
- Makes sense that new Wisconsin running backs coach John Settle is a fan of Paul Chryst.
- Former Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes believes he could have run faster than his 4.31-second 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
- Penn State takes stock of its gains from winter conditioning.
- An assessment of the Illinois quarterback situation.
- Maryland linebacker Abner Logan looks ready to break out this spring after a suspension cut short his redshirt freshman season last fall.
- Indiana plans an open scrimmage for the week after its annual spring game. All of Purdue's spring practices are open to the public.
- More on the creative, viral song about Kirk Ferentz and Iowa football.
- Ex-Rutgers fullback Michael Burton is glad to be labeled as a thug.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD Southern Illinois Indiana TBD Illinois State Iowa TBD Richmond Maryland TBD BYU Nebraska TBD Norfolk State Rutgers TBD Penn State Temple TBD Wisconsin Alabama TBD Stanford Northwestern