Options are plentiful, but we are limiting ourselves to five on each side of the ball. We're looking for players who will take that next step into greatness, like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Minnesota's David Cobb did in 2013. As such, players who earned first- or second-team All-Big Ten honors from either the coaches or the media were not eligible for this list. We're focusing instead on those who can make a big leap.
Let's kick it off, while going in alphabetical order:
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State: ESPN rated Breneman the No. 1 tight end coming out of high school last year, so the talent is obviously there. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder got off to a slow start in 2013 after recovering from a knee injury, but he finished strong with touchdown catches in each of Penn State's last three games. The tight end group will be crowded again in State College, but Breneman should give Christian Hackenberg a prime target.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin: When trying to find new stars, it's always smart to look toward the Badgers backfield. Clement made a strong impression as a true freshman, running for 547 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Most of his work came in garbage time, as he was behind James White and Melvin Gordon. Now that White is graduating, Clement should see a much bigger role alongside Gordon, and Wisconsin has shown it has plenty of carries to hand to two backs.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Someone has to replace Carlos Hyde's production in the Ohio State running game, and Elliott seems like a logical choice. He ran for 262 yards as a freshman, including a 162-yard game vs. Florida A&M. The Buckeyes also have Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Brionte Dunn, but Wilson might be too small to be an every-down back, and Elliott got more carries than the other three combined in 2013.
Donovahn Jones, WR, Minnesota: The Gophers desperately need some playmakers to emerge on offense, and perhaps Jones will be that guy. The Georgia native turned down SEC offers to come to Minnesota, where he was promised a chance to play quarterback. Instead, he moved to receiver as a true freshman and showed flashes of his athleticism. He still needs to learn the finer points of the position, but at 6-foot-3 with good speed, he has all the tools the Gophers need
MacGarrett Kings Jr., WR, Michigan State: The Spartans' wide receivers took a big leap forward as a group in 2013, and with Connor Cook and the passing game coming on strong, it might be time for one of them to become a star. Kings is a strong candidate after catching 43 balls for 513 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. He can also make things happen on punt returns.
- The search for a coach at Penn State is overshadowing another important vacancy at the school, one that will have an impact that's more than just on the football field.
- An evening flight back to town for Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner drew a crowd, but it didn't bring a resolution just yet for filling the void left by Bill O'Brien's departure.
- Michigan started a busy day of its own on the coaching front by firing offensive coordinator Al Borges after the Wolverines finished No. 47 in scoring last season.
- Brady Hoke capped the day by snatching away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier just a few hours later to quickly move on from Borges.
- Vonn Bell was given the chance to show his stuff in a meaningful game at the Discover Orange Bowl, and it confirmed how bright the Ohio State safety's future is with the program.
- The possible hiring of Bobby Petrino at Louisville is another bullet dodged if Michigan State is going to hang on to defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who was once again a prime candidate for an attractive job.
- The fake Bo Pelini speaks.
- The projections of his draft stock aren't all that high, but Indiana receiver Cody Latimer felt he was ready for the next level and isn't looking back on his decision.
- Maryland lost its second assistant since the regular season ended to a head-coaching job after wide receivers coach and ace recruiter Lee Hull left for Morgan State. The Terrapins currently have three vacancies on the staff as they prepare for their first season in the Big Ten.
- Purdue will have a minor behind-the-scenes shakeup after assistant recruiting coordinator Kevin Maurice, credited by coach Darrell Hazell for his work in the transition a year ago, left for a job at North Dakota.
Because Penn State is following a very deliberate hiring process in the wake of recommendations following the Jerry Sandusky scandal, a resolution to the search, including an announcement and news conference, may not come until this weekend, possibly Saturday, the source said.
Penn State has targeted Franklin because of his track record of success at a respected academic institution, the source said.
The Scranton Times-Tribune, meanwhile, reported Thursday that Penn State made a formal offer Wednesday after a long meeting with the search committee in Florida and that Franklin, 41, was expected to decide Thursday.
2. Michigan hired away Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and here’s betting both Nussmeier and Tide head coach Nick Saban were ready to move on. There was talk in Newport Beach over the weekend that former USC coach Lane Kiffin may end up running the Crimson Tide offense. It may be an ideal job for Kiffin -- Saban doesn’t allow his assistants to speak to the media. Whoever it is better know how to convert a fourth down in the red zone. Alabama’s last two losses in the SEC (Texas A&M in ’12, Auburn in ’13) hinged on the failure to do so.
3. Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Penn State must be interested in each other. The university interviewed him Monday even as San Francisco began its preparation for the NFC semifinal Sunday at Carolina. Roman has no connection to Penn State, other than being a Jersey guy, which means he may be able to recruit the neighborhood. Bill O’Brien didn’t have a connection, either, and that worked out well.
Penn State offered Vanderbilt's James Franklin its head-coaching position on Wednesday after a long meeting with the search committee in Florida, according to the Scranton Times-Tribune.
Franklin, 41, is expected to decide Thursday, according to the report.
There have been many conflicting reports regarding the Nittany Lions' coaching position. The Penn State beat writer for the Centre Daily Times tweeted after the Times-Tribune story that a high-ranking PSU official said nobody had been offered the job.
Franklin, a Pennsylvania native, has become one of the hottest coaching names with his success with the Commodores, winning 24 games over the past three seasons.
He's led Vanderbilt to bowl games in all three of his seasons and posted back-to-back bowl victories, both firsts in school history.
Ohio State has been on a roll on the recruiting trail in the past few weeks. The commitments the Buckeyes have landed, along with a few other happenings in the Big Ten, have impacted the class rankings.
Here is a look at the most recent trends within the Big Ten.
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That uncertainty didn’t deter Wright from picking the Nittany Lions, though. The three-star lineman says he knew, no matter the coach, that Penn State was where he is supposed to be.
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- Penn State would be better off with the stability of Al Golden or Mike Munchak than James Franklin's more exciting offense, David Jones writes.
- Noah Spence's father speaks out about his son's three-game suspension for ecstasy, which the family says Noah took by accident.
- Northwestern's Kain Colter is preparing for his shot in the NFL -- as a wide receiver.
- Other than the money, the BCS was not kind to the Big Ten, Tom Oates writes.
- Shilique Calhoun won a national award. Watch Mark Dantonio fire up the Michigan State basketball crowd.
- A new crop of starters will have to step up for Nebraska's offensive line, which will be hit hard by graduation.
- A breakdown of how Michigan's offensive line, uh, broke down in 2013.
- Illinois and Kansas agreed to a future home-and-home series (like, way in the future).
- A Purdue linebacker is transferring to Duquesne.
- Reasons for each Big Ten team to feel optimistic in 2014.
Vanderbilt athletic director David Williams told CBSSports.com that he expects to not only keep Franklin in Nashville, but also plans to revise his contract -- among other things -- in order to keep Franklin happy with the Commodores.
Reports surfaced earlier this week that Franklin, who has led Vandy to back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in school history, was the front-runner for the Penn State opening.
It makes sense, really. Not only is Franklin a Pennsylvania native, he's become one of the hottest coaching names out there with his success at Vanderbilt. He's led the Commodores to bowl games in three consecutive seasons and back-to-back bowl victories. Both are firsts in school history. He can sell the program with the best of them and he's a hard-nosed worker and recruiter. He's also exceptional at developing talent.
It's tough to say how much we can put into what Williams is saying. Was he supposed to say anything different? Franklin has been on the short list of a few college jobs, including the Texas one, and NFL teams have come calling. When you talk to people around the program, it sounds like the NFL might not be Franklin's true calling. But it would be hard for him to turn down a big-time college job, such as Penn State.
Williams and Franklin have a very good relationship, but even Williams has to know how tough it would be for Franklin to turn down a much bigger job. It's how the world works, especially the world of coaching.
While there's no question that Franklin loves his current employer, but his head-coaching life is very young. With what he's done at Vandy, just imagine what he could do at a bigger school with more resources and more clout. With a bigger platform, Franklin might do wonders.
Whether Franklin stays at Vandy or not in 2014 is still unknown, but the reality of it all is that it's going to be very tough for the Commodores to keep him around for the long haul.
Here is a look at some of the most important prospects left for each program.
DL Daniel Cage (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods)
6-foot-3, 290 pounds
Cage is a bit of a long shot for Illinois, but he would be a big get if the Illini can get him. Louisville was very much in the picture for Cage, but with coach Charlie Strong taking the Texas job, there might be opportunity to move in. Illinois will have to fight off Michigan State for the defensive tackle.
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Penn State University has to become involved in a lawsuit filed by Joe Paterno's family and others against the NCAA in order for parts of it to proceed, a state judge ruled Tuesday.
The 25-page opinion by Judge John Leete delivered a mixed decision by dismissing some elements, keeping others alive and leaving the door open for an amended lawsuit to be filed.
Leete said breach of contract claims, however, cannot continue without Penn State's participation because the school is an "indispensable party," given that the lawsuit could affect the university's interests and contractual rights.
The lawsuit seeks to void a consent decree between the NCAA and Penn State over handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, an agreement that imposed a $60 million fine, a four-year ban on postseason play, a reduction in scholarships and other penalties.
"If the consent decree is declared void, as plaintiffs request, Penn State would lose the benefits it bargained for, including avoiding harsher sanctions and limiting further loss that could result from a prolonged investigation," Leete wrote. He added that the NCAA had indicated earlier that the football program could be shut down if the decree was invalidated.
Paterno family attorney Wick Sollers said the decision allows the critical claims in the lawsuit to go forward. The ruling will let "the bright light of legal discovery" shine on the facts and records, he said.
Paterno died in 2012, weeks after the scandal erupted and he was fired as football coach.
A Penn State spokesman declined to comment.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner says efforts to replace Bill O'Brien are on "schedule" and he anticipates having a new coach in "a matter of days."
In a statement released by his office Tuesday, Joyner said the search to replace O'Brien, who left last week to become coach of the Houston Texans, is "robust as we anticipated and we have an excellent pool of candidates."
He was not specific about possible candidates but added he has "heard from many coaches, or their representatives, who have expressed their interest in the position."
San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman interviewed for the job on Monday in Chicago, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Larry Johnson, who has been on staff for 18 years, was named interim coach. He's expressed interest in the job permanently.
Only three coaches, including Johnson, remain on the Nittany Lions' staff.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Al Golden appeared to be a favorite over the weekend -- several outlets reported he had taken the job -- before that news turned out to be false. Some still haven't counted him out of the race.
So, all that being said, it's not 100 percent clear what Penn State's next move might be. But ESPN.com confirmed it's looking at at least four candidates, so here's a closer look at each:
James Franklin, Vanderbilt head coach
Cons: Franklin is a hot commodity this offseason, as he already interviewed for the Houston Texans' head coaching job and has fielded requests to speak with both Cleveland and Washington. That might not sound like a con, but the Nittany Lions are in need of stability now -- and it'll be hard to get that from a coach who'll have the option to the jump to the NFL. Also, some accusations still hang over Franklin's head involving the Vanderbilt rape case. PSU might not be able to risk another hit to its image.
Mike Munchak, former Tennessee Titans head coach
Pros: He has NFL head coaching experience, and his loyalty has been well-documented. Since 1982, he has only ever played/coached for one franchise (Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans) and was fired when he refused to fire his assistants -- even with a raise on the table. He brings stability, and Penn State's offensive line would almost certainly grow leaps and bounds if he were the head coach. If he brings a member or two of his NFL staff, that would be even better.
Cons: He has no previous college coaching experience. The game is obviously different from the NFL, and it could take some time for him to adjust. Recruiting could be a gamble in his hands. His businesslike approach -- no hats in the building, no headphones while working out, etc. -- might not be a big hit with players either.
Al Golden, Miami (Fla.) head coach
Pros: He has Penn State ties, and he definitely has shown he can guide a team through hard times. He took an awful Temple team and made it respectable. With the specter of sanctions hanging over the Hurricanes' heads, he also made sure they never suffered a losing season. He's a strong recruiter, someone whom fans see as made in the mold of Joe Paterno, and Penn State is widely believed to be his dream job. It'd be difficult to see him leave his alma mater.
Cons: He has been knocked for his inability to win against elite competition. Golden has never finished a season with a winning record against teams above .500. In this past year, in which Miami finished 9-4, his team was 3-4 against teams with winning records. And it was winless against teams that finished with more than seven victories. His defensive coordinator, Mark D'Onofrio, has long been seen as a liability -- and PSU fans could be in for John Butler: Part Deux if Golden hops on board.
Larry Johnson, Penn State interim head coach/DL coach
Pros: He's the player favorite, and many current and former players have tweeted their support for him. He has been on the staff since 1996 and is the only remaining coach from the Joe Paterno tenure. As a result, he's already familiar with commits and future recruits, and he's also known as a hard-nosed recruiter. He brings the most stability out of any of the candidates, and he'd likely coach at Penn State for as long as the school would have him.
Cons: Despite his popularity, he never has held a permanent title above position coach. He has no head coaching experience outside of high school. He's not as big of a name as the others on this list and, with his lack of experience, he's a bit of a wild card. Like with Munchak, there'd likely be a transition period needed to learn the nuances of being a college football head coach.
Challenges Facing Franklin at Penn State
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35