Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

January, 27, 2014
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There is only one weekend left for visits before signing day. Things are getting down to the wire, which means we are set to see a lot of activity in a short amount of time.

Here is a look at what happened within the Big Ten this past week.


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If new Penn State coach James Franklin wanted to make an early statement on the recruiting trail, he has done just that.

Wide receiver Saeed Blacknall has switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State, he announced Sunday night.

The Manapalan, N.J., native gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.

Blacknalll is the No. 14-ranked wide receiver on the ESPN 300, and now the second highest ranked commit in Penn State's class. He visited Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

Blacknall gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers while Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a Wildcat quarterback in certain plays.


(Read full post)


If James Franklin wanted to make a statement on the recruiting trail at Penn State, he has done just that. Franklin and his staff flipped athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame High School) from Cal while on a visit on Saturday, then flipped another prospect to Penn State on Sunday.

ESPN 300 wide receiver Saeed Blacknall (Manapalan, N.J./Manalapan) switched his commitment from Rutgers to Penn State. He gives the Nittany Lions three ESPN 300 receivers in the 2014 class.



The No. 118-ranked prospect took a visit to Penn State on Jan. 17 and had been thinking about making the switch ever since.

At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Blacknall will complement De’Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin, the two other ESPN 300 receiver commitments in this class. Both Godwin and Blacknall are bigger, physical receivers whereas Thompkins is a more athletic player who could even be a wildcat quarterback in certain plays.

Blacknall hails from New Jersey, which is an area Franklin and his staff are going to make a priority. This was a good commitment to start with for the new staff as Blacknall is now the second highest ranked commit in the class.

The ESPN 300 receiver gives the Nittany Lions 23 commitments for 2014 and some outstanding options at receiver going forward.

Spike in sex offenses at Penn State

January, 26, 2014
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A federal government agency is looking into Penn State's handling of sexual harassment and sexual assault complaints to see if it had responded immediately and appropriately.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights informed Penn State of the investigation in a letter Thursday.

Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon says the agency had concerns after it reviewed Penn State's sexual harassment policy and it saw a huge spike in "forcible sex offenses." The spike came after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke in 2011.

A Penn State spokeswoman says the school is looking forward to working with federal officials. Penn State's crime data showed 56 forcible sex offenses on its main campus in 2012. That's fourteen times the number reported in 2010.


(Read full post)


Penn State flips Cal commit

January, 25, 2014
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New coach James Franklin and his staff held their first big official visit weekend at Penn State, and the event has already proven successful.

Athlete Koa Farmer (Sherman Oaks, Calif./Notre Dame) is one of the bigger targets on campus and tweeted Saturday that he has flipped his commitment from California to Penn State.



“The journey is done! First I want to thank California-Berkeley for the great and outstanding opportunity. It has been a long and powerful journey,” he tweeted. “I am blessed to announce that I will be ending the recruiting process and attend PENN STATE UNIVERSITY where I will become DR. FARMER and fulfill my dream of becoming a P.H.D in Pathology! We Penn State are on the rise. We are going to win the Rose Bowl. We are going to win a national championship. All I can say now is #WEARE #PENNSTATE.”

The three-star athlete had been committed to Cal for over a year and will now likely play safety or linebacker at Penn State. At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, there is some versatility to his game that will allow the coaching staff to move him around within the defense.

There are still a few other uncommitted visitors on campus, including cornerback Amani Oruwariye (Tampa, Fla./Gaither), who could still end up a part of this class.

With Farmer on board the Nittany Lions now have 22 commitments for 2014, including three ESPN 300 prospects and six four-stars.

PSU staff aims high with expectations

January, 24, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- As Penn State's assistants tell it, the Nittany Lions' return to national prominence is inevitable.

During separate interviews, each assistant on Friday afternoon echoed the same sentiment. Most of the staff -- seven of nine who came straight from Vanderbilt -- explained how they turned a have-not program into a good SEC team. So, they said, it stands to reason they can do even more with a university that boasts more tradition, renown and finances than their last stop.

"There are 'haves' and there are 'have-nots' in college football, that's the truth," said offensive line coach Herb Hand, adding that maybe 15 'haves' exist in the FBS. "And this is one of the 'haves' -- and I'm excited about that."

[+] EnlargePenn State/Purdue
AP Photo/Gene J PuskarThe new staff understands it has advantages that it didn't have at its last stop.
At Vanderbilt, Hand couldn't wander into a high school and ask to speak with all the blue-chip prospects. Most wouldn't even consider the Commodores. (Christian Hackenberg certainly wouldn't, for example.) Penn State is just different.

During a visit to La Salle in Philadelphia last season, teachers left their classrooms and walked down a flight of stairs to catch a glimpse of Bill O'Brien. An army of students manned their cellphones and hoped for a picture. And, for a day, the targeted recruit -- linebacker Zaire Franklin -- felt like the most popular kid there and fielded dozens of questions at lunch about his experience. ("Does he have big hands?" was one of the odder questions.)

James Franklin didn't have that at Vanderbilt. Far from it. He took over a program that struggled in every facet of football. And, even during its success, he stopped at fraternities and tried to increase attendance at every opportunity. During his first day on the job at Penn State, he joked that he would blow up birthday balloons in backyards if people asked him.

"That was a mistake, obviously," Franklin said with a smile Friday, as he has received quite a few offers to do exactly that.

A largely intact staff that performed wonders at Vanderbilt certainly boasts a higher ceiling at a program like Penn State. The competition in the Big Ten isn't as fierce as the SEC. The Nittany Lions have already pulled off back-to-back winning seasons under the sanctions, and they basically have a head-start over what the staff started with at Vanderbilt.

"We've been at some places where you kind of never had the resources you had here," defensive line coach Sean Spencer said. " It's going to be very exciting to know the playing field is going to get a little more level.

"Whatever we did at Vanderbilt was unbelievable, right? You know that playing field was getting to the point where it was level with the rest of the SEC. Well, now, [Penn State] is already pretty level. So now what are we going to do? The sky is the limit."

It wasn't just the implication of Big Ten titles during Friday's news conference and sit-down talks with the assistants. Some didn't shy away from saying that's exactly what the goal is -- and exactly what this program is capable of.

That's something Penn State fans haven't heard for quite awhile. Joe Paterno wasn't one to make promises, and O'Brien tended to temper expectations. Franklin's staff not only has embraced those lofty expectations, it has taken them to another level.

Again, right now, it's all talk without actions. But Franklin and his staff have certainly caught this fan base's attention -- and they're aiming high. Penn State has shared one Big Ten title in the last eight seasons, and it was vacated because of the sanctions.

"We came here to build a Big Ten championship -- and a national championship-caliber defense," defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said, reiterating that very point three minutes after he initially made it. "That's the only thing we know."

Added offensive coordinator John Donovan: "I'm excited to recruit for this school and bring a championship to Penn State."
The last two seasons have shown that two-quarterback systems can work in the Big Ten.

Northwestern recorded 10 wins in 2012 while rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in total offense last fall while alternating between Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAfter taking over the quarterback job in Week 5, Connor Cook led the Spartans to 10 consecutive wins.
Given the recent success, my next statement might surprise you: Every Big Ten team would be best served picking one quarterback and sticking with him in 2014. That includes Indiana and Northwestern.

Quarterback rotations can be successful in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable or desirable. We saw this at Northwestern last fall, as the Wildcats never established a consistent offensive rhythm and operated with a reduced playbook, in part because of injuries but also because the unit lacked a clear identity. Northwestern finished 10th in the league in scoring.

Minnesota alternated between quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner during several games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. Although the Gophers had a nice surge during Big Ten play and recorded eight wins, they also finished 11th in the league in scoring and last in passing.

Nebraska had some success using two quarterbacks (Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III) last season but did so out of necessity following Taylor Martinez's injury. The Huskers also struggled to pass the ball, finishing 11th in the league.

The strongest argument for picking a quarterback and sticking with him comes from the Big Ten's best team in 2013. Michigan State's offense was a train wreck in non-league play as the Spartans used three quarterbacks. After a Week 4 loss to Notre Dame, the coaches decided Connor Cook would be their guy. You all know what happened next, but what struck me was Cook's mindset at the time.

"We went through spring ball competition and fall camp competition, it was the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life just trying to be the quarterback," Cook said last month before the Rose Bowl. "After I got the starting job and started a couple of games, the stress went away and it turned to focus, me being focused and knowing they're not going to use other quarterbacks in the game and not stress too much that go if I make a bad play I'm going to be pulled.

"That's when the stress went out the window."

Players like Northwestern's Siemian and Indiana's Roberson and Sudfeld are more accustomed to sharing time than Cook was, but each of them, like any quarterback, would rather be the clear-cut starter.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is another good example of a player who benefited from an unambiguous role. He struggled from the middle of the 2011 season through all of 2012, raising the possibility of a rotation last season. Instead, Scheelhaase started every game and led the Big Ten in passing (3,272 yards).

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAfter playing well in place of Taylor Martinez, sophomore signal-caller Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the favorite to start for the Cornhuskers in 2014.
I'm all for competition at quarterback, and the Big Ten will feature plenty of it this spring and summer. Only five quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State's Cook, Iowa's Jake Rudock and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- can feel pretty secure about their starting roles. Gardner has been mentioned as a possible rotation candidate with Shane Morris -- some Michigan fans wouldn't mind seeing Gardner line up at wide receiver, a position of need -- but I'd be surprised if Morris leapfrogs the senior.

I'm also OK with teams employing change-up quarterbacks for a package of plays, be it the Wildcat or something else. Michigan State could be a candidate for this in 2014 with dynamic redshirt freshman Damion Terry possibly spelling Cook from time to time.

The first few games also provide a platform to use multiple quarterbacks in settings that can't be replicated on the practice field. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel often did this with his younger quarterbacks, giving them a first-half series or two. It makes sense. But by Week 4, roles must be identified.

The offseason is full of Big Ten quarterback questions:

  • Will Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt take the reins at Illinois?
  • How will Gardner and Hackenberg fare with new offensive coordinators?
  • After Nelson's transfer, who emerges at Minnesota among Leidner, Chris Streveler and possibly a young quarterback such as Dimonic McKinzy?
  • Nebraska's Armstrong went 6-1 as a freshman starter, but can he hold off Johnny Stanton?
  • Can Gary Nova retain his job at Rutgers?
  • Will Danny Etling keep the top job at Purdue, or will Austin Appleby and possibly early enrollee David Blough enter the mix?
  • How does Siemian bounce back at Northwestern, and do the Wildcats look at Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver?
  • Will either Roberson or Sudfeld finally separate himself at IU?

Ultimately, these questions must be answered. The teams that avoid prolonged rotations should be better off for it.

Quick hits: Penn State coaches speak

January, 24, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- New Nittany Lions coach James Franklin officially introduced his coaching staff on Friday morning and addressed the media before his two coordinators took the dais.

Bios on each assistant coach can be found here and here. Below are some highlights from the news conference:
  • Penn State will have a recruiting coordinator for both sides of the ball. Josh Gattis (wide receivers coach) for offense, Terry Smith (cornerbacks coach) for defense. Said Franklin: "I think we'll have the most aggressive recruiting staff in America."
  • Franklin isn't certain who will call the plays on offense. He has an offensive coordinator, a pass-game coordinator and a run-game coordinator -- and Franklin himself is known as an offensive-minded coach. At Vanderbilt, he said offensive coordinator John Donovan called everything and believed that would be the case at Penn State.
  • Franklin smiled when a question regarding names on the back of the jerseys was asked and joked, "That hasn't come up from anybody." He said an official announcement would be made at a later time regarding names on jerseys -- something Bill O'Brien implemented -- but said that was not yet decided upon. Still, Franklin added, he's going to "show tremendous respect for our traditions and for our history and for our past."
  • The focus for the staff right now is recruiting. As far as looking at film of the current squad, Franklin said his assistant coaches have downloaded film to their laptops and iPads -- but likely won't really delve into that until signing day is finished. It's important for current players to start with a clean slate, he added, and, "There are no returning starters at any position."
  • The most important hire, Franklin said, was strength coach Dwight Galt, who mentored former Penn State strength coach Craig Fitzgerald. Said Franklin: "He's kind of the Yoda of the program. You walk by his office, there'll always be players in his office talking to him."
  • Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said his philosophy is to tailor the scheme to the players. As a result, Penn State will recruit on talent -- not necessarily for how they fit into a certain scheme. The identity of his past Vanderbilt defenses changed from year to year -- from a strong secondary in 2011 to stopping on third down in 2012 and stopping people on first and second and having lots of takeaways in 2013.
  • Shoop twice said he came to Penn State to build Big Ten championship-caliber defenses and national championship-caliber defenses.
  • Donovan said Penn State is now "a personnel-oriented, pro-style offense" and that players will learn a system that's used in the NFL.
  • Donovan's first impressions of Christian Hackenberg: "We've seen some film. He's obviously got a lot of talent. I'm really excited to work with him. ... I know it's hard for him because he was close with Coach O'Brien."

Big Ten lunch links

January, 24, 2014
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It's been great getting to know you, Polar Vortex. But it's probably time to hit the road.
  • Chris Ash was finally confirmed as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator, but there's still some uncertainty about who will be calling the plays this season.
  • Michigan State is preparing for a huge recruiting weekend, and a staffer offers some insight on the approach it takes with its targets.
  • Former Michigan offensive lineman Michael Schofield is impressing scouts and analysts at the Senior Bowl practices.
  • Nebraska product Stanley Jean-Baptiste is also making the most of his opportunity in Mobile, Ala., and the cornerback might not be "under the radar" any longer.
  • Jerry Kill appears to be heading for a pay raise at Minnesota.
  • Christian Hackenberg will be the eighth starting quarterback James Franklin has worked with in his career, and the Penn State rising sophomore already compares favorably with the rest of the bunch.
  • Jeff George Jr. knows his way around the Illinois campus thanks to his dad, but he's going up for another close look as he takes an official visit this weekend.
  • Wisconsin's offense kept on moving just like usual last season, leading with its powerful rushing attack.
  • Paralyzed Rutgers legend Eric LeGrand is now a college graduate.
  • The Big Ten had a few more "winners" as Senior Bowl workouts wound down, including Ohio State's Jack Mewhort and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland.

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 23, 2014
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As we suffer through winter and the offseason together, we also bond over Big Ten football. Thanks to those who joined me earlier today for the weekly Big Ten chat. We discussed the East-West balance in the Big Ten, recruits flipping, new coaching hires and more.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAs James Franklin can attest to, flipping recruits is part of the business.
Did you miss out? Not to worry. Here's a full chat transcript, along with some highlights:

Bernard from Columbus: Larry Johnson an upgrade over [Mike] Vrabel in both recruiting and coaching?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question. In coaching, I'd say yes, mainly because Johnson has way more experience than Vrabel and a track record of producing elite defensive linemen. As a recruiter, I'd also give Johnson a slight edge because of his long-term success, but Vrabel had quickly developed himself into an outstanding recruiter.

Rob from Morristown, N.J.: What is your honest take on [James] Franklin flipping recruits from Vandy to PSU? I hear a lot of other teams' fans talking about how we were up in arms when other programs were poaching our players once the sanctions were handed down ... as much as many of us were upset that recruits like Noah Spence and Armani Reeves flipped to Ohio State ... there is no comparison, we were upset that other schools were trying to flip our CURRENTLY enrolled players ... just wanted to get that out there...

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, we both know that no fan base likes it when coaches flip their recruits, but fans also should know by now that it happens all the time and will continue to happen unless there's an early signing period. James Franklin was honest about it when asked: Players do pick coaches, not schools, and will follow coaches if they leave. Is it unfortunate? To a degree. But it's the nature of the business, and Penn State has experienced both sides of it in recent years. I agree that the attempts to flip current players -- looking at you, Tim Beckman -- annoyed PSU fans more than losing recruits to Urban [Meyer].

TB from Champaign, Ill.: What are the odds of me keeping my job with the Illini after 2014 and finishing off my "Fighting Force 2015" recruiting class?

Adam Rittenberg: It could happen, TB, but you need to make a bowl game this season. Few coaches with three bowl-less seasons are going to survive, especially those who have never won over the fan base/boosters. So how do you get to six wins? It's certainly possible with a schedule that includes three likely non-league wins (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State), and a crossover schedule that doesn't include Michigan State or Michigan. The road schedule is once again brutal (Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), so your team must play well on its home field.

Rick from Georgia: Adam, with a new OC at Michigan, do you think they may go in the direction of using a two-QB system similar to Northwestern? It would be nice to see [Devin] Gardner line up at wide receiver while also getting snaps at QB.

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, while you can't rule this out because Michigan loses both [Jeremy] Gallon and [Drew] Dileo, the team would like to keep Gardner at quarterback, if at all possible. The Wolverines have some talent at tight end with [Devin] Funchess (essentially a WR) and Jake Butt, but they must develop some other options at receiver this spring. Shane Morris' progress at QB also will be key. Can he really push Gardner, or will a healthy Gardner separate himself in spring ball? Should be really interesting.

Steve from NJ: Adam, really miss chatting with everyone since the turn to Facebook, but oh well. As for the B1G East this year, I have no trouble giving OSU credit for what they did, although you have to admit, many of [its] games could have gone either way. MSU looks very strong. UM hasn't shown much of late. And PSU, even with the sanctions, is still hanging on. My point is, the winner of the East could be any of those four based on how the ball bounces. In the West, I really only see Wisc and Neb, with NW and Iowa having an outside shot.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I guess I wonder why you think Wisconsin and Nebraska are far and away the favorites in the West? Wisconsin loses an enormous senior class and has QB questions. Nebraska lost to Iowa and Minnesota and was a Hail Mary tip from losing to Northwestern. Will the Huskers suddenly eliminate their sloppiness and become dominant in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. I think the West is pretty even with the top 4-5 teams, while the East likely will be a 2- or 3-team race, as I don't think Penn State has enough to keep up.

Thanks again for your questions and participation. Let's do it again soon.

Bacon: Dysfunction pushed out O'Brien

January, 23, 2014
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Bill O'Brien wasn't pushed out by the "Paterno people," and he didn't bolt from Penn State at the first chance he received either.

No, Fourth and Long author John U. Bacon writes, a lot of it had to do with the lack of leadership at the university, the lack of support by its administrators and the lack of fulfilled promises that sent O'Brien to the Houston Texans. In short, a lot of it had to do with athletics director Dave Joyner.

Bacon's portrayal of Penn State's athletics director is far from flattering in an in-depth piece that directly tackles Penn State's continued dysfunction. Sure, there are other issues with the university -- such as an outdated Board of Trustees system that puts too much power into the hands of too few board members -- but the piece didn't shy away from placing a lot of the blame squarely on Joyner.

Among Bacon's findings:
  • Joyner assured O'Brien he would increase the budget for assistant coach salaries, recruiting and facilities. He never delivered.
  • O'Brien's résumé and cover letter were lost in the department mailroom for eight days. They were found when O'Brien called to make sure they received it.
  • Joyner, a former member of the Board of Trustees, became AD despite holding no athletic department experience -- and his business experience entailed founding a company that declared bankruptcy four years later. Pennsylvania's auditor general said the hire created "reasonable public perceptions of insider influence and conflicting interests."
  • After O'Brien was hired, players asked him to keep Joyner away from the team because they felt he didn't support or respect them. (Prior to O'Brien, at least one player had to be separated during a heated exchange with Joyner.) Joyner obliged and was not on the sideline, in the locker room or team meetings.
  • While most athletic directors or general managers meet with the head coach the Monday after the season ends -- when coaches' cell phones are usually blowing up -- Joyner was out on a hunting trip.

That list is pretty damning for Joyner. It wasn't a well-kept secret in Happy Valley that he and O'Brien disliked each other, intensely, but the above blunders weren’t well known.

Joyner isn't a revered figure on campus. Far from it. He earned few supporters when, under his watch, construction crews took the Joe Paterno statue down. And he earned fewer still for the odd firing of legendary fencing coach Emmanuil Kaidanov. Despite two good football hires, Joyner doesn't boast overwhelming support from alumni.

The university is moving ahead to find a new president, but there's also no guarantee that Joyner's "temporary" gig won't turn into a permanent position. When asked three weeks ago if he planned to continue his role as AD, Joyner said this: "I'm here to serve Penn State as long as they need my services, and that's how I feel today as it was in November of 2011."

The football team is moving on from the sanctions. And, maybe for the university to move on from what Bacon termed "administrative dysfunction," it has to move on without Joyner.

Big Ten's lunch links

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
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What you know about roses, bro?

A record number of underclassmen elected to take the NFL plunge this year, but the Big Ten barely made a splash. Only four Big Ten juniors are entering the draft, continuing a recent downturn after just six left early a year ago. Several stars certainly could have entered the draft, so this is good news for fans who enjoy seeing the league's top players stay for a fourth year. But it also underscores a lack of top talent, especially when compared to the SEC and Pac-12.

Despite a small contingent of early entries, Big Ten teams have some significant holes to fill. As spring ball approaches, here's a look at who's gone and who might replace them.

Leaving: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
AJ Mast/Icon SMIShane Wynn averaged 13.8 ypc this season and scored 11 TDs. His stock and those numbers should soar higher as he takes on a bigger role next season.
The replacement: Shane Wynn

Wynn and Latimer obviously have different body frames, but both produce at a high level, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. Latimer led Indiana by wide margins in both receptions (72, next highest: 47) and receiving yards (1,096, next highest total: 739), but Wynn had more touchdowns with 11 (Latimer at nine). The departures of Latimer, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser make Wynn the team's only returning receiver with more than 15 receptions in 2013.

Indiana certainly could use a bigger receiver to play on the outside where Latimer roamed, and perhaps Nick Stoner or incoming recruit Dominique Booth fills that role. But the Hoosiers undoubtedly will rely more on Wynn, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who averaged 13.8 yards per reception last season. Of the Big Ten's early entries, Latimer is the most surprising, given the strength in the draft at wide receiver, but Indiana has had little trouble developing strong pass-catchers.

Leaving: Penn State WR Allen Robinson

The replacement: Geno Lewis

Latimer's departure raised a few eyebrows, but Robinson's had been expected for some time, especially after coach Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Robinson earned the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013 after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to lead the league each year. The Penn State standout had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season, topping the Big Ten charts in both categories despite not playing in the postseason.

Lewis likely will move into the No. 1 spot, in part because Penn State doesn't much experience at receiver. In addition to Robinson, the Lions lose No. 2 wideout Brandon Felder. Although Penn State returns a wealth of talent at tight end, Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Lewis showed potential during his redshirt freshman season, especially with a 91-yard performance in the finale at Wisconsin. After struggling midway through the fall, Lewis' strong finish sets him up well to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg's top option in 2014.

Leaving: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

The replacement: Doran Grant. Grant played opposite Roby throughout last season and recorded 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He endured some ups and downs in a secondary that struggled for much of the season, especially after losing safety Christian Bryant to injury, but the experience should prove valuable going forward. Not surprisingly, Grant was challenged more than Roby, but as these numbers show, he held his own despite some mistakes here and there.

Roby's early departure is the least surprising of the group, as he announced before the season that it would be his last at Ohio State. His presence will be missed, especially on special teams, but Grant could develop into a top corner. Ohio State certainly has bigger problems to address in the back four as it welcomes in new coordinator/secondary coach Chris Ash from Arkansas.

Leaving: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The replacement: Trey Johnson. Ohio State returns starters at the other two linebacker spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, and it's possible Perry could slide over into the role where Shazier excelled. But Johnson served as Shazier's backup in 2013 and boasts the athleticism to step in and perform. Johnson played sparingly last fall, recording 11 tackles in six games, but his role undoubtedly will expand with Shazier moving onto the NFL.

There should be plenty of competition at linebacker, a spot where depth has been a concern for head coach Urban Meyer. Like Johnson, Mike Mitchell came to Ohio State as an extremely decorated recruit and should push for playing time this spring after a redshirt season. Camren Williams and converted safety Devan Bogard also are possibilities, although Bogard will be coming off of a second ACL tear.

Shifting power: Pennsylvania 

January, 23, 2014
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Locking down the home state is crucial for most coaches in recruiting. Keeping the local prospects home is typically the foundation on which programs are built and that used to be the case with Penn State.

The state of Pennsylvania was always good to the Nittany Lions because there was stability with Joe Paterno, and the opportunities were aplenty for recruits.

That all changed, however, when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke and Paterno was eventually fired. Uncertainty was an unfamiliar place for Penn State fans and the local recruits, but it was everywhere during that time.

Central Valley (Monaca, Pa.) head coach Mark Lyons believes the instability and questions around the program were huge factors with the local recruits even once the scandal was over.


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Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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Winter stinks. Warm me up with some of your emails:

Darren from Spring Hill, Fla., writes: I'd appreciate your thoughts on Indiana's coordinator situation. I've also thought the pecking order in the BCS era is 1. SEC, 2. (3-way tie depending on year) Pac-12/Big 12/Big Ten; 3. ACC 4. Varies. So why would a coordinator leave IU for the same position at UNC (Littrell) ... is the ACC and, say, the Mountain West more appealing than a low-tier Big Ten school? Thanks.

Brian Bennett: While it's somewhat unusual to see a Big Ten coordinator leave for the same job at what is at best a mid-tier program in the ACC, we have to remember Indiana is not exactly a football power. The Hoosiers have been to one bowl game since 1993 and often play in front of a bunch of empty seats, and the program has not historically provided much of a springboard for coaches' careers. So if Seth Littrell wanted to move on after two very successful years, that becomes more understandable.

We also don't yet know the money situation here. Early reports said Littrell would also be named assistant head coach at North Carolina, which suggests a pay raise. Indiana has made a much bigger commitment to football in recent years but still isn't among the top-paying Big Ten schools when it comes to coaches' salaries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect here is that Littrell -- a former Oklahoma player with deep Sooners ties -- is leaving former Oklahoma coordinator Kevin Wilson's staff to join that of former Oklahoma State play-caller Larry Fedora.


Lachlan from Winterpeg writes: Hey BB, with the hiring of the new assistants at PSU, I see two that stand out to me. The defensive coordinator and the receivers coach. The defense last year had many ups and downs (mostly downs) and bringing in a guy that fielded a top-25 defense last year in the SEC brings in hope. On the other end, a receivers coach that has produced a couple of All-American receivers takes on the task of taking the remaining WR group for PSU that was lackluster last year, and trying to turn them into a threat in the passing game seems challenging. Which of these two do you expect to have a better handle on things being as both have issues to work with, depth with the defense and a group of unproven receivers on the other?

[+] EnlargeBob Shoop
Sean Meyers/Icon SMINew Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop takes over a defense that loses just three starters and he should have plenty of talent to work with this season.
Brian Bennett: Just in terms of talent and experience to work with, new defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should have an easier go of things right away. Shoop -- whose brother, John, is Purdue's offensive coordinator, giving us a Big Ten Shoop-Shoop -- led a Vanderbilt defense that really was the backbone of that team during its nine-win seasons each of the past two years. While Penn State's defense had its struggles in 2013, the unit loses only three starters (DaQuan Jones, Glenn Carson and Malcolm Willis). Shoop will need to develop leaders on that side of the ball and improve the secondary, but there is talent in place.

Receivers coach Josh Gattis has a tougher assignment. No player outside of Allen Robinson really produced a whole lot at wideout for the Nittany Lions last year, and Brandon Felder is gone, too. Geno Lewis has solid potential but still needs polishing. Gattis will likely have to quickly coach up some incoming freshmen such as De'Andre Thompkins and Chris Godwin. The receiver group will have to make a lot of progress this offseason to give Christian Hackenberg some help. Remember, too, that head coach James Franklin has coached receivers in the past, and Penn State has also reportedly hired former Temple receivers coach Terry Smith for an unspecified role. So that position should get a lot of attention.


John from Minneapolis writes: Hey, Brian. In Monday's chat you answered a question about Philip Nelson and stated, " Nelson himself didn't light it up as a passer, but he might not want to run it as much as Minnesota seems to want from its QB. If that's the case, I have no problem with him transferring somewhere else." I understand what you're saying, but whatever happened to sticking with a commitment? It smells like weak character to me. That same attitude is why the divorce rate is 50 percent. That's it, thanks.

Brian Bennett: The problem is that commitment and loyalty too often is a one-way street in college sports. A player such as Nelson is supposed to fulfill his four years to the school, yet coaches can leave at any time and his scholarship is up for renewal every season? And Nelson will have to sit out a year unless he transfers to a lower level. The reality is that college sports is a business, and players have to look out for themselves. If Nelson believes his future will be better served by playing in a different system, more power to him.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: The Gophers certainly are not in the top half of the B1G as far as budget, but they bought not only a quality head coach but a whole staff that will not be easily influenced by a few extra bucks. You have any thoughts about whether Jerry Kill and his staff deserve raises?

Brian Bennett: Kill made a reported $1.2 million last year, which is hardly chump change but still ranked as the lowest in the Big Ten. Minnesota officials said they would work on bumping up Kill's pay this offseason, and Kill would like raises for his assistants, too. After an eight-win season, that staff is definitely in line for some salary increases. The price of keeping a high-quality head coach in the Big Ten is escalating rapidly. The good news for the Gophers is I don't think Kill is looking to leave anytime soon.


Dave from Millstone, N.J., writes: So, Brian. We're BaAAaack. ... When is the date when you'll start covering Rutgers in the blog? We missed you since you bolted the Big East for the B1G -- now we're following you, haunting you, filling your dreams. We're coming; you can't stop it now. Oh, sure, you can change assignments and head to the ACC, where Andrea abandoned us to last year. But we will find you, no matter what. Now write one of you famous opinions on how RU will never be great. Go ahead, make my day! Seriously, looking forward to getting picked on by the big boys of the B1G for a few seasons before we take over. So when's the warm welcome start on the blog?

Brian Bennett: You made me laugh, Dave, so good job. I'm looking forward to reuniting with Rutgers and visiting Piscataway again. Maybe I should start increasing my workouts now in anticipation of hitting a grease truck. We typically incorporate new schools right after signing day. So look for coverage of the Scarlet Knights -- and Maryland -- in the Big Ten blog in just a couple more weeks.

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