Big Ten's lunch links

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
12:00
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Back from vacation. Hope you had a great holiday weekend.
Welcome to watch list season!

Yep, college football's individual awards -- I believe we're up to around 257 of them now -- have begun the annual summer tradition of releasing their preseason watch lists. It's an exercise born from a different era, when fans weren't plugged into the game year round and players and teams needed preseason publicity. The lists also signify almost nothing, because Florida State's Jameis Winston wasn't on any watch lists last year, nor was Johnny Manziel in 2012. Being excluded from the preseason watch list doesn't prevent a player from winning the award, and being included means very little except that you had a good season last year or that your school's sports information department did a strong job lobbying for you.

That's a lengthy intro to explain why we won't be posting on every single watch list this summer. They'll mostly be relegated to links and mentions on our Twitter account. We will occasionally write about some that happen to be interesting or have notable snubs, etc.

Watch lists for two of the bigger awards came out on Monday, and since they are notable prizes, we thought they were worth passing along. They are the Maxwell Award, which is presented to the top player in the country, and the Bednarik Award, which goes to the nation's best defensive player. If nothing else, this gives you an idea of where players stand in public perception heading into the season.

Here are the Big Ten players on the Maxwell list:
And for the Bednarik:
Hope everyone enjoyed the Fourth of July weekend. The next holiday weekend is Labor Day, which will be filled by college football. Yay.

Of course, that means nonconference action for the Big Ten. And we've been ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first, taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game.

We presented our first (read: worst) batch of 14 games on Wednesday and the second, slightly better group on Thursday. Things really start to perk up with this third and penultimate crop of 2014 nonconference games. Which rank a little something like this:

No. 28: Maryland at South Florida, Sept. 6: The Bulls host Maryland three weeks before going to Madison. If they're not vastly improved from a year ago, it could be a rough September.

No. 27: Penn State vs. Temple, Nov. 15: Oddly timed mid-November matchup here. The Owls were just 2-10 a year ago, so it's possible nobody outside of Pennsylvania will be paying much attention.

No. 26: Indiana at Bowling Green, Sept. 13: The Hoosiers' easy dispatching of Bowling Green, which went 10-4 and won the MAC East last year, was one of their best wins of the 2013 season. The Falcons look for revenge at home.

No. 25: Wisconsin vs. Bowling Green, Sept. 20: Two straight weeks of Big Ten teams for Bowling Green. We should know in advance whether the Falcons are feisty enough to mount a challenge in Camp Randall.

No. 24: Maryland at Syracuse, Sept. 20: The Terps are in the Big Ten and Syracuse is in the ACC. Still seems very weird.

No. 23: Rutgers at Navy, Sept. 20: The Scarlet Knights may very well need to win this game to have any chance at getting bowl eligible.

No. 22: Rutgers at Washington State, Aug. 28: Rutgers goes on the road to face Mike Leach's Air Raid attack a few weeks before taking on Navy's option. You can't say Kyle Flood isn't challenging his defense this year.

No. 21: Northwestern vs. Northern Illinois, Sept. 6: Would have been nice to see these two butt heads when both were riding high, like in 2012. Still, it's a fun little matchup between two schools that are practically neighbors.

No. 20: Michigan vs. Appalachian State, Aug. 30: Maybe we're basing this ranking way too much on the 2007 upset. But just try to pretend like you don't want to watch this one.

No. 19: Northwestern vs. Cal, Aug. 30: Could be a lot of points and yards on the board again in this one, but Cal was truly awful last season.

No. 18: Purdue vs. Notre Dame (Indianapolis), Sept. 13: The Boilermakers played far and away their best game of the season last year vs. the Irish. Can they repeat that performance and make things interesting at Lucas Oil Stadium?

No. 17: Maryland vs. West Virginia, Sept. 13: It's also weird that West Virginia is in the Big 12 and Maryland is in the Big Ten. At least someone had the sense to keep this rivalry going through all the realignment.

No. 16: Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13: Derek Carr might be gone, but the Bulldogs can still bite. Nebraska had better be on top of its game with this late kickoff on the road.

No. 15: Michigan vs. Utah, Sept. 20: The move to the Pac-12 hasn't quite worked out too well for the Utes. Winning in the Big House would be a way to get some momentum back for the program.
It's the dog days of summer, so we're desperate to see some football. Of course, not all football games are created equally.

As we've done in the past around here, we're ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first. We're taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game.

We presented our first (read: worst) batch of 14 games on Wednesday, and you'd really have to love your teams to be excited about some of those contests. Things perk up a little bit in this next round, though it still includes a whole lot of matchups against non-power conference opponents. Still: football!

Away we go:

No. 42: Michigan vs. Miami (Ohio), Sept. 13: The RedHawks went 0-12 last year. 'Nuff said.

No. 41: Minnesota vs. Eastern Illinois, Aug. 28: How did an FCS game escape our worst tier? Because the Panthers won 12 games a year ago and could once again have an explosive offense thanks to some FBS transfers. Gophers had better be wary.

No. 40: Purdue vs. Central Michigan, Sept. 6: It's no sure thing for the Boilermakers, but they need to win this one at home to keep fans interested.

No. 39: Iowa vs. Northern Iowa, Aug. 30: Northern Iowa last beat the Hawkeyes in 1898, but the Panthers did upset Iowa State last year. It's one of the few FCS games you could talk me into saving. Maybe.

No. 38: Minnesota vs. Middle Tennessee, Sept. 6: The Blue Raiders have built a solid program. Again, the Gophers just can't roll out of bed and expect to win this one.

No. 37: Nebraska vs. Florida Atlantic, Aug. 30: Already looking forward to the Carl Pelini jokes from Faux Pelini, but not much else with this game.

No. 36: Rutgers vs. Tulane, Sept. 27: The Scarlet Knights had better take care of business here, because there aren't many more games on the schedule where they'll be favored.

No. 35: Indiana vs. North Texas, Oct. 4: Don't sleep on the Mean Green, who won nine games a year ago. Still, on name value alone, I wouldn't exactly expect the "GameDay" crew in Bloomington for this one.

No. 34: Ohio State vs. Kent State, Sept. 13: Luckily, the Buckeyes' nonconference schedule has no true dog games on it this year. Though this one flirts with that status.

No. 33: Minnesota vs. San Jose State, Sept. 20: Thought the Spartans might pull the upset last year in Minneapolis, but the Gophers handled them just fine. SJSU comes to Minnesota after playing at Auburn this year. Paycheck time.

No. 32: Penn State vs. Akron, Sept. 6: The Zips are getting better, and Penn State will be returning home from its opener in Ireland. Potential trap game for the Lions.

No. 31: Iowa vs. Ball State, Sept. 6: The Cardinals won 10 games a year ago, and Iowa knows full well the dangers a good MAC team can present. Just sayin'.

No. 30: South Florida at Wisconsin, Sept. 27: The Bulls can't possibly be as bad as they were in a 2-10 season last year with all that Florida talent, can they? If so, this could be a serious beatdown.

No 29: Wyoming at Michigan State, Sept. 27: Craig Bohl made maybe the most interesting coaching move of the offseason in taking over the Cowboys. He's going to have his hands full in East Lansing.

Big Ten's lunch links

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
12:00
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Pre-fireworks links:
Last week, we presented a poll on the Big Ten players facing the most pressure in 2014. But football, of course, is a team sport. So what about the league units that will be facing the most pressure this fall?

There's little doubt that the No. 1 unit under the gun is Michigan's offensive line. That group was not good last year, to put it kindly, allowing 36 sacks and paving the way for a paltry 3.3 yards per rush. And that was before the two best players on the line, tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, got drafted into the NFL.

Virtually every offseason discussion about whether the Wolverines can improve in 2014 begins with the offensive line concerns. There is an inordinate amount of pressure for players like Kyle Bosch, Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller to improve. Michigan had a true freshman early enrollee, Mason Cole, taking first-team snaps at left tackle this spring. The experience level will increase with the return of Erik Magnuson, who missed the spring with a shoulder injury, and Graham Glasgow, who was suspended for part of the spring and for the opener against Appalachian State after being arrested. But there are hardly any proven graybeards around.

[+] EnlargeKyle Bosch
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIKyle Bosch and the Michigan offensive line are one of the units that need to improve this season.
"A lot of it was youth," head coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com this spring about the problems on the line last year. "We've got to make sure we're doing everything we can do to accelerate their development, to put them in positions where they can be successful."

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has simplified many of the blocking schemes, which the players embraced this offseason. Nussmeier -- who recently talked about the offensive line issues in this podcast -- wants to incorporate a downhill running game and a physical style, and that all starts up front. He's not going to turn the Wolverines' line into a carbon copy of the last team he worked for -- Alabama -- but hopefully he can make it into a respectable group.

If not, it will be a long year for Devin Gardner and probably another disappointing one for Michigan.

Here are some other Big Ten units facing pressure in 2014:

Ohio State's defensive backs: The Buckeyes' offensive line has question marks as well, but the secondary will be under the most scrutiny. The Silver Bullets got shredded in the back end down the stretch last season, and that was with future NFL draft pick Bradley Roby around for most of it. Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash from Arkansas to be his co-defensive coordinator and defensive backfield guru, and Ash will try to mold younger players like Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows into a more aggressive, playmaking conglomerate.

Penn State's receivers: Sure, the Nittany Lions' O-line has major concerns, but as @flaveydavie asked on Twitter yesterday: "Penn State lost one of its biggest offensive weapons (Allen Robinson) last year. Who do you see filling that void?" Good question. Robinson was a special player, but he often didn't have much help. With him gone, Christian Hackenberg needs someone to catch his passes, and that could be sophomore Geno Lewis or a true freshman like DeAndre Thompkins, Saeed Blacknall or Chris Godwin. Penn State has a wealth of tight end options but will need to push the ball down the field to be effective.

Rutgers' secondary: The Scarlet Knights' defensive backfield was hit hard by injuries and transfers last year and got picked apart while fielding the worst pass defense, statistically speaking, in school history. Several players who got thrown into the fire last year return, along with some recruits who could play right away. A new defensive coordinator should equal a more aggressive scheme. But cornerback Ian Thomas' departure -- again -- this summer was not a good start.

Wisconsin's quarterbacks: We could have easily picked the Badgers' group of largely unknown and mostly unproven receivers. But the attention will be focused on who's under center, whether that is returning starter Joel Stave or competitor Tanner McEvoy. Wisconsin hasn't had great quarterback play since Russell Wilson left Madison, and whoever gets the job will be staring down LSU's defense in the opener.

Illinois' defensive line: No Big Ten team was worse at stopping the run last year than the Illini, who gave up a whopping 238 yards per game on the ground. The problems all started with a lack of strength and push up front. Junior college transfers Jihad Ward and Joe Fotu were brought in to help shore up the unit, while there is hope for improvement from the likes of Austin Teitsma and Teko Powell. The Illini are gunning for a return to a bowl game this year, but they'll go nowhere fast if the D-line doesn't make major strides.

Iowa's linebackers: The Hawkeyes like the talent they have here with projected starters Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry. Still, all three are relatively inexperienced, because James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens were such fixtures at linebacker the past few years. That trio of senior linebackers formed the heart and soul of Iowa's defense last year, and now their former backups have to make sure the level of play doesn't drop too dramatically.
It's the dog days of summer, so we're desperate to see some football. Of course, not all football games are created equally.

As we've done in the past around here, we're ranking the 2014 Big Ten nonconference games from worst to first. We're taking into account quality of opponent, interest level and expected competitiveness of the game while breaking these down. We'll do this in four batches of 14 games, which equals the total number of 56 nonconference matchups for the league this year. (Math!)

This first installment, as you'd expect, involves a whole lot of FCS and MAC action. We warn you: It won't be pretty. But at least it will be football.

No. 56: Rutgers vs. Howard, Sept. 6: The FCS Bison did go 6-6 last year, but come on. Playing HBCUs should never be on the Big Ten agenda, as this debacle proved a year ago.

No. 55: Indiana vs. Indiana State, Aug. 30: The Hoosiers hung 73 points last year on the home-state Sycamores, who went on to finish 1-11. Bet the over.

No. 54: Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois, Sept. 6: Giving yourself a little breather the week after playing LSU is understandable. The Badgers usually bludgeon overmatched teams at Camp Randall, and this should be no different.

No. 53: Purdue vs. Southern Illinois, Sept. 20: Should be a guaranteed win for the Boilers. Emphasis on should.

No. 52: Northwestern vs. Western Illinois, Sept. 20: If you're itching for more Leathernecks action after the Wisconsin game, you're in luck. And you're weird.

No. 51: Illinois vs. Youngstown State, Aug. 30: Maybe if Jim Tressel came back to coach the Penguins one last time ...

No. 50: Purdue vs. Western Michigan, Aug. 30: Yes, a matchup involving an FBS opponent beats out several FCS games. WMU went 1-11 last year, FYI.

No. 49: Maryland vs. James Madison, Aug. 30: Never forget this, Terps fans.

No. 48: Penn State vs. UMass, Sept. 20: The Minutemen are an FBS team. Not that you could really tell.

No. 47: Michigan State vs. Eastern Michigan, Sept. 20: EMU is an FBS team. Not that you could really tell.

No. 46: Nebraska vs. McNeese State, Sept. 6: Hey, the Cowboys did win 10 games last year and blew out South Florida. So that's something.

No. 45: Michigan State vs Jacksonville State, Aug. 29: The Gamecocks made the FCS quarterfinals last year and are ranked in the top 10 of some FCS polls. In case the Spartans are looking ahead to that Week 2 trip to Eugene.

No. 44: Illinois vs. Texas State, Sept. 20: The Bobcats are coming off a 6-6 season in the Sun Belt. Tim Beckman desperately needs to go 6-6.

No. 43: Illinois vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 6: A great way to get halfway to 6-6 is by scheduling Texas State, Youngstown State and WKU.
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Back in early May, we heard from some concerned Buckeyes fans who were wringing their hands over Ohio State's slow start in the latest recruiting cycle. Back then, their team had only two commitments.

My reaction was simply to chuckle, because I don't see any reason to worry about the job Urban Meyer and his staff do on the recruiting trail. And just two months later, look at the Buckeyes now.

Ohio State landed two monster commitments this morning when defenders Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard gave their verbal pledges within minutes of each other. Both are five-star players, according to ESPN Recruiting, with Hilliard ranking as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and Cornell checking in as the No. 5 defensive end and No. 16 overall prospect. Craig Haubert has a breakdown of how much impact the pair of five-star prospects can make on the Buckeyes' defense.

Cornell, who hails from St. Paul, Minn., eliminated Minnesota from his final list earlier this year. Michigan State and Iowa were also among his finalists. Hilliard, who's from Cincinnati, also considered Michigan and Iowa in his final five.

That gives the Buckeyes 12 total commitments and four in the ESPN 300. Our latest 2015 class rankings now have Meyer's team at No. 6 nationally, up 17 spots from their previous showing. The only other Big Ten schools in the top 25 are Penn State (No. 4 nationally with 17 total commitments) and Michigan (No. 23, eight commits).

The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Meyer and his staff have been known as great closers in the final weeks leading up to signing day, beating out marquee programs for top undecided prospects late. They're already built a great foundation in July. Hilliard said at his press conference that he and Cornell would try and recruit other elite players to join them in Columbus, including four-star Kentucky running back Damien Harris. He took note of today's news.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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Lots to digest here.

Five-stars Hilliard, Cornell to announce

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
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Five-star recruits Justin Hilliard (No. 13 in the ESPN 300) and Jashon Cornell (No. 16) will be making their college announcements live on ESPN.com at 10 a.m. ET. Tune in to see where these program-changing prospects will end up.

Five-star prospects Justin Hilliard and Jashon Cornell will announce their commitments live on ESPN.com Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET.

The two recruits will announce separately from their respective schools, but will make their decisions back to back so let’s get you up to speed on where each one is at in the process.

Big Ten's lunch links

July, 1, 2014
Jul 1
12:00
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Happy Maryland and Rutgers Day.
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It's moving day for Maryland and Rutgers. Adam Rittenberg takes a look at how -- and why -- the two schools are making a move to the Big Ten.
Whether you're ready or not, Maryland and Rutgers officially become Big Ten members on Tuesday.

And the league is welcoming its two newest schools with a pair of celebrations in the East, which is now a Big Ten region.

Festivities began for Maryland on Monday with the official launch of the Terrapins' new Big Ten inaugural season apparel at the Under Armour Brand House in Baltimore. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany attended the ceremony, along with Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson and other Terrapins coaches and staff. Delany showed off some of the new gear in this photo:

 
The celebration was set to continue Monday night at Nationals Park, where Maryland and the Big Ten Network will host a block party before the Washington Nationals take on the Colorado Rockies. The league mascots also were on the loose in Washington D.C., leading to some fun pictures like this one:

 
And this one:

 
And, OK, one more, because who can get enough mascot pictures?

 
Maryland will continue to recognize its entry into the Big Ten with an on-campus party at Mitchell Field from noon to 1:30 p.m on Tuesday. The event will include the unveiling of a special Big Ten ice cream.

Rutgers gets its day in the sun on Tuesday, as Delany will visit the campus for the "R B1G Party" at High Point Solutions Stadium. The event begins at 7 p.m. and is free for fans to attend. A fireworks display will begin around 9 p.m.

So, yeah, this is all happening. We'll have more on the official Big Ten entrance of Rutgers and Maryland in the blog on Tuesday.

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
12:00
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Today marks the birthdays of Mike Tyson and Lizzy Caplan, the anniversary of the merging of East And West Germany's economies and, of course, Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day. Oh, and I got married two years ago today. Probably should have mentioned that first.

To the links:

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