Here are five top seniors to watch and a look at where things sit right now as the recruiting circuit heats up to its final fevered pitch:
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Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year
1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: He's already at 1,012 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns through seven games. Extrapolate that over 13 games, and Gordon would approach 1,900 rushing yards. Montee Ball ran for 1,830 yards last year on his way to the Doak Walker Award.
3. Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: He might have missed nearly three full games earlier this season, but the defending offensive player of the year will be a factor down the stretch. Miller threw for 222 yards and rushed for another 102 in the win over Iowa last week.
4. Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon: The Wolverines wideout makes a big jump in the standings after his ridiculous, Big Ten-record 369 yards receiving last week. Not surprisingly, he now leads the league in receptions (45) and yards (831) with seven touchdowns. The one knock on Gallon is inconsistency, as he has a had a few games with unimpressive numbers.
5. Penn State WR Allen Robinson: The Nittany Lions were off last week, but Robinson gets a big showcase this Saturday at Ohio State. He needs three catches and 127 yards to surpass Gallon for the Big Ten lead in both categories.
Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year
1. Wisconsin LB Chris Borland: He missed most of last Saturday's game at Illinois with an injured hamstring. Wisconsin will need him back for the Nov. 2 game at Iowa.
2. Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier: He had a team-best nine tackles against Iowa but wasn't at his disruptive best. We expect bigger things down the stretch from the Buckeyes' star.
3. Michigan State LB Max Bullough: The Big Ten's defensive player of the week, Bullough has 10 tackles and forced a fumble that teammate Denicos Allen returned for one of only two touchdowns in the game vs. Purdue. He is the captain and leader of the league's top defense.
4. Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard: Plenty of Spartans deserve recognition, and defensive end Shilique Calhoun is still in this mix as well. Dennard owns the title of best Big Ten cornerback so far this season.
5. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman: Big 'Shede has 6.5 tackles for loss and has broken up seven passes so far in a big senior season for the Gophers star.
Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year
1. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: We can just about call this one already. Hackenberg has been terrific for a true freshman quarterback, and he leads the league in passing yards per game (278.7), to go along with 11 touchdowns and six interceptions. We'd like to see the completion percentage (58.4) go up a bit, but again, he's a true freshman. In his last two games, Hackenberg has had 99 pass attempts, and he led a clutch comeback in regulation against Michigan.
2. Wisconsin CB Sojourn Shelton: Everyone is playing for No. 2 in this race right now, but the Badgers true freshman corner is my choice (in a close call over Ohio State's Dontre Wilson) as runner-up to this point. He has solidified an inexperienced Wisconsin secondary, and while everyone remembers the dropped interception at Ohio State, Shelton has three picks and six passes defended this season.
- Tom Dienhart thinks the Big Ten has a good chance to get two teams into BCS bowl games.
- Ohio State is ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings, but when Urban Meyer delivered his "state of the union" address to the team, he told them to embrace it.
- There are a few throws Wisconsin QB Joel Stave wants back, but Gary Andersen says his RS sophomore quarterback is making good progress.
- Bo Pelini says Nebraska's team goals are still within reach, plus links to video from his Monday press conference.
- After Michigan State was left unranked, the Detroit Free Press' Joe Rexrode wonders if the Spartans are the Big Ten's sleeper.
- Devin Funchess might be the receiver of the future for the Wolverines, but Jeremy Gallon is still Devin Gardner's favorite target.
- Northwestern is on a bit of a slide. The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein writes that it should be an easy fix if the Wildcats return to the basics.
- Penn State's John Urschel is an offensive lineman with a chance to go pro. But he also earned a math degree in three years, a masters in one and now teaches math classes at PSU. ... Also, he co-wrote a paper entitled "Instabilities in the Sun–Jupiter–Asteroid Three Body Problem."
- Jerry Kill was in attendance for the Gophers' win over Northwestern, and he spoke to the team after the big win (with video).
- Tickets for the Purdue-Iowa game are going for less than a dollar. Seriously.
As teams across the country get closer and closer to filling recruiting classes for 2014, every recruit becomes that much more important for each program.
Big Ten teams are still targeting some big names in this class and have the opportunity to fill some major needs. Here is a look at some of the most important prospects within the Big Ten.
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Former Penn State president Graham Spanier wants a judge to put his planned defamation lawsuit against former FBI Director Louis Freeh on hold until after Spanier's criminal trial in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
In Centre County court papers posted online Monday, Spanier's lawyers contend that moving forward on the civil case now would undercut it. They wrote that people who are potential witnesses in both cases might assert their right against self-incrimination and refuse to testify if the still-unscheduled criminal trial is pending.
"There is no reason not to stay this action pending the resolution of the criminal trial," the attorneys wrote in the court papers filed in Bellefonte.
Penn State's trustees hired Freeh to conduct an internal investigation of the Sandusky matter. In a highly critical July 2012 report, Freeh concluded that Spanier, football coach Joe Paterno and other high-ranking university administrators had failed to protect children against Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term.
Spanier initiated a lawsuit on the day before the anniversary of Freeh's report, complying with a state law that gives people who believe they have been libeled or defamed one year to initiate a civil suit.
But Spanier has provided few details about the planned lawsuit. He has yet to file an actual complaint and is asking the court to defer any requirement that he do so until after the criminal proceeding is concluded.
Freeh, a former federal judge, called Spanier's court filings "self-serving" and said he objects to any delay in the filing of Spanier's complaint.
"This baseless notice of claim should be presented in a court of law rather than hyped in Spanier's media campaign," he said in a written response.
The league office today announced kickoff times and TV plans for all six games.
Here they are:
- Ohio State at Purdue, Big Ten Network
- Wisconsin at Iowa, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2*
- Illinois at Penn State, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2*
- Michigan at Michigan State, ABC
- Minnesota at Indiana, Big Ten Network
- Northwestern at Nebraska, Big Ten Network
*-Final plans to be determined after Oct. 26 games
I can't answer that, but I can answer lots of other Big Ten football-related questions. And that's what I'll be doing for an hour today, starting at 3 p.m. ET. So come on by, and let's chat about all the league news.
Here's the link to my chat. Hope to see you there.
The changes come in the league's second tier, as Northwestern continues its shocking tumble after a home loss to Minnesota, which moves up three spots. Iowa actually moves up despite a loss, as we liked the Hawkeyes' game plan and execution against Ohio State. Indiana also holds steady after nearly winning a shootout at the Big House.
Let's take one final look at the Week 7 rankings.
Now for the fresh rundown ...
1. Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten; last week: 1): Another test passed for Ohio State, which overcame a plucky Iowa team with a stellar second half behind quarterback Braxton Miller (222 pass yards, 2 TDs, 102 rush yards) and running back Carlos Hyde (149 rush yards, 2 TDs). The Buckeyes also survived the ejection of star cornerback Bradley Roby in the first quarter and limited Iowa's offense to one big play in the second half. The defense once again will be challenged this week as Christian Hackenberg, Allen Robinson and Penn State visit Columbus.
2. Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1; last week: 2): Ohio State retains its spot atop the rankings with a perfect record, but Wisconsin has looked like the Big Ten's most dominant team of late. After crushing Northwestern at Camp Randall Stadium, the Badgers went on the road and steamrolled Illinois, as running backs Melvin Gordon (142 rush yards, 3 TDs) and James White (98 rush yards, 2 TDs, 29 receiving yards, 1 TD) did their thing and Joel Stave had an extremely efficient performance (16 of 21 passing, 189 yards, 2 TDs). The second open week comes at a good time as linebacker Chris Borland must get healthy for the stretch run, which features some tricky games.
3. Nebraska (5-1, 2-0; last week: 3): The Huskers might be the Legends Division favorite at this point, as they get Michigan State at home. Quarterback Taylor Martinez should make his return from turf toe this week against Minnesota as Nebraska tries to keep building momentum before the season's defining month. Martinez needs some work before the schedule gets tougher, and the Huskers' offensive line plays its first game without standout guard Spencer Long.
4. Michigan State (6-1, 3-0; last week: 4): A shutout of Purdue wasn't surprising. Neither was another defensive touchdown, Michigan State's fifth of the season, courtesy of linebacker Denicos Allen. But Michigan State's offense took a step backward, as the line struggled to control Purdue's defensive front and Connor Cook completed only 13 passes for 107 yards. The Spartans will need to be sharper this week against Illinois and particularly when the schedule gets tougher in November.
5. Michigan (6-1, 2-1; last week: 5): We think Jeremy Gallon just caught another long pass. Gallon set a Big Ten single-game record with 369 receiving yards (second most in FBS history), while quarterback Devin Gardner set team records for pass yards (503) and total yards (584) and accounted for five total touchdowns. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint added 151 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan needed all the offense to win a shootout with Indiana at the Big House. As for the defense? A problem for another day. Michigan has two weeks to prepare for its Nov. 2 showdown at Michigan State.
6. Penn State (4-2, 1-1; last week: 7): The off week came at a good time for Penn State after a physically and emotionally draining four-overtime win against Michigan. The Lions had more diversity in their passing game against the Wolverines and will need the same -- as well as strong run production -- to keep pace with Ohio State on Saturday in Columbus. Penn State has won two of its past three games at Ohio Stadium and could play spoiler down the stretch in Leaders Division play.
7. Iowa (4-3, 1-2; last week: 8): Credit Iowa for an excellent game plan coming off the open week. The Hawkeyes racked up 17 first-half points against Ohio State and controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, better talent won out as Iowa couldn't keep pace with Miller, Hyde and the Buckeyes, but the Hawkeyes certainly could make some noise down the stretch in the wide-open Legends Division. Sophomore tight end Jake Duzey (6 receptions, 138 yards, 1 TD) gives Jake Rudock another weapon in the passing game. Iowa returns home this week to face sputtering Northwestern.
8. Minnesota (5-2, 1-2; last week: 11): The bye week clearly paid off for Minnesota, and so did a halftime pep talk from coach Jerry Kill, who made his presence felt at Ryan Field without being on the sideline. Minnesota dominated the line of scrimmage, as defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, running back David Cobb and quarterback Philip Nelson, who relieved Mitch Leidner, stepped up in the final three quarters. The Gophers took advantage of a short-handed Northwestern team and overcame several bad calls to record a big road win. Up next: Nebraska at home.
9. Indiana (3-4, 1-2; last week: 9): The Hoosiers are high on entertainment value, boasting the Big Ten's best quick-strike offense and quite possibly the league's best group of wide receivers. But all those highlights and points still aren't translating to enough wins. It's the same movie with IU, with an A-plus offense and a D-minus defense, which surrendered an unacceptable 63 points and 751 yards to Michigan on Saturday. Tre Roberson was brilliant at Michigan and seemed to pass by Nate Sudfeld in the quarterback pecking order. But the defense remains the team's top priority entering the open week.
10. Northwestern (4-3, 0-3; last week: 6): The free-fall continues for a Wildcats team that was No. 2 in the power rankings just two weeks ago. Remember when Northwestern held a fourth-quarter lead against Ohio State? Key injuries certainly have played a role in Northwestern's downfall, but quarterback Trevor Siemian seems to be regressing and so is the offensive line. A bowl game suddenly is no guarantee for the Wildcats, who need to get Kain Colter and Venric Mark healthy and refocus for the stretch run. They visit Iowa this week.
11. Illinois (3-3, 0-2; last week: 10): The Illini needed a fast start coming off the open week against Wisconsin but stumbled out of the gate, falling behind 21-0 on their home field before course-correcting in the second quarter. Quarterback play wasn't the issue, as Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole combined to complete 25 of 32 passes for 318 yards, but two fumbles led to Wisconsin touchdowns and Illinois' defense couldn't slow down the Badgers. The Illini need at least one upset down the stretch to have a chance to reach six wins and a bowl.
12. Purdue (1-6, 0-3; last week: 12): Darrell Hazell's squad can build on Saturday's road performance against Michigan State, especially a Boilers defense that allowed just one score and repeatedly penetrated the backfield. The offense had several chances but couldn't finish drives in Spartans territory. Purdue needs to clean up its pass protection after allowing five sacks, but if Bruce Gaston Jr. and the defensive front continues to step up, a win could be coming down the stretch. The Boilers have a week off before hosting Ohio State.
A four-star senior, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound Thomas committed to Maryland over Arkansas on May 9, but started to think more and more about Penn State when the Nittany Lions threw an offer his way in September.
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To the inbox ...
Sumeet from San Francisco writes: Adam, what else, schedule questions. I have one, parity-based scheduling doesn't appear to be working as you may think, coming from a PSU fan. From 2014-2019 (a six-season stretch), PSU plays Nebraska once and Wisconsin once, both at Beaver Stadium. Really? This after we played both teams annually the past three years with some classic games? But we play Iowa four times in a row, and the other West teams multiple times over the six years. PSU-Nebraska especially had the makings of a budding rivalry, but now we won't see them until 2017, and Wisky in 2018. What gives?
Adam Rittenberg: Sumeet, it's unfortunate that the Lions and Huskers will meet so infrequently during that stretch, as both fan bases love that game on the schedule. It seems like the Big Ten has prioritized certain games over others with parity-based scheduling. Nebraska and Ohio State, for example, meet every year between 2016 and 2019, but Nebraska and Michigan meet just once between 2014 and 2019. Wisconsin and Michigan also meet every year between 2016-19, but the Badgers only play Penn State once during that span. The Big Ten is trying to create appealing matchups more often while also satisfying its principle to have teams meet at least once in a four-year span.
Penn State does seem to be put in the second tier when it comes to this approach, as the Lions aren't facing the marquee West division teams as often as you'd hope. I would point out, though that, Penn State-Iowa was a significant Big Ten matchup not long ago, and could be once again in the near future. It's not the same as facing Nebraska every year, but Penn State and Iowa had a nice rivalry going for a while.
Jackie from New York: It's no secret that Badger running backs have great respect for each other and pride in their performance as a unit. That said, is there any cause for concern that the unbelievable depth could hurt the Badgers in recruiting? You could argue that not just two, but all three of the Badgers' current backs are FBS starting caliber, even though the third, Corey Clement, is a true freshman. Melvin Gordon, leading candidate for B1G offensive player of the year is not even first on the depth chart. Heck, they even have J.J. Watt's little brother lining up back there at fullback! So, my question is, how do you keep convincing big-time recruits to come to Madison when they might have to spend years sharing carries?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't think you worry about it until it becomes a problem, Jackie. The beauty of Wisconsin's running back situation is that the players all buy in to the spirit of competition and don't simply look for a place where they can be The Guy without first earning it. Running backs coach Thomas Hammock fosters this atmosphere of constant competition, and he looks for guys who want to compete and not have things just handed to them. Look at Montee Ball. He was the third-stringer for most of 2010 and had to boost his game to a point where he could be a featured back. Could Wisconsin's way lead to a transfer eventually or a highly touted player going elsewhere? Sure. But Wisconsin has built such a strong reputation for producing elite running backs that the talent will continue to come to Madison. More important, the right types of players will show up -- those ready to compete.
Ian from Tacoma, Wash., writes: Adam, there was a recent question from another B1G fan in one of your chats that I found pretty absurd. Someone made a comment along the lines of "Do we want Ohio State in the championship game" with the assumption that Ohio State losing somehow damages the B1G's reputation. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Ohio State is the only B1G team to PLAY in the NC game, much less win it. Ohio State also has the most BCS wins and appearances of any school, and has more BCS wins than any other B1G teams have appearances. Big Ten fans can hate Ohio State all they want, but the Buckeyes have accomplished more in the BCS era than any other league school, and it's not even close.
Adam Rittenberg: You're absolutely right, Ian. Ohio State has been the Big Ten's only consistently elite team during the BCS era. It underscores the Big Ten's lack of depth at the top, which is a big reason it lags behind the SEC, a conference that has multiple teams that can challenge for national titles almost every year. As I said in the chat, the only way the Big Ten boosts its perception is to win a national title, and you can't win one without reaching that game. Ohio State still unfairly gets blamed for its title-game losses more than half a decade ago. But you have to wonder whether this Buckeyes team is ready to compete with an Alabama or an Oregon on Jan. 7. We could find out.
Bob from Iowa writes: My Hawkeyes are going into a very hostile environment this weekend at OSU. This team has me thinking about the Hawks' 2008 team. An improving team whose previous three years were very IOWA (mediocre). They entered the 2008 season with a bit of QB controversy (2008 Christiansen vs. Stanzi the Manzi). In 2008, they had a power running game on which they leaned on for the majority of the year. Now, that same year they beat the No. 3 team in the nation, Penn State. Understandable, it was in IC but that doesn't mean it couldn't happen again, right? They finished the year with an 8-4 record and they trounced South Carolina in the Gator Bowl (I believe). The following year they went to the Orange Bowl. Do you think these same results are possible again in our present timeline? What needs to go right?
Adam Rittenberg: Bob, I love the optimism, and I agree that this season could springboard Iowa to bigger and better things next season, much like the 2008 season did for the 2009 team. Iowa's 2014 schedule is much, much more favorable with no overly difficult road games (Pitt, Purdue, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois) and no Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State or Penn State on the slate. If certain things fall right, the Hawkeyes will be in the mix for the West division title. Now can Iowa beat Ohio State on Saturday? I don't see it. This Hawkeyes team isn't as strong as the 2008 version, which lost some games it shouldn't have and ended the year playing as well as anyone in the Big Ten. There was a ton of NFL talent on that team, which I don't see with the current version. Iowa will need to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, commit no turnovers and gain a few takeaways to stay in Saturday's game. The Hawkeyes also need the edge in the kicking game. It's a tall task, but not an impossible one.
Alden from Chicago writes: I wish the B1G would leave the end-of-year games alone for the Spartans. I understand that the so-called rivalry with Penn State was squandered through the 90s and 00s. But now that we're going to be in the same division again, with MSU more competitive, why not reinstate it? What does MSU have to look forward to by playing Rutgers and Maryland? I feel like it's a major disadvantage in the rankings as well, would you agree? Is it Penn State that wants to end the year playing against the east coast? I say let the Knights and Terrapins play each other to end November.
Adam Rittenberg: Alden, it very well may work out that Michigan State plays Penn State to end the regular season in most years, but I don't see the problem with rotating that game with several opponents. Penn State has more rivalry potential with Rutgers and Maryland than Michigan State does, and the Big Ten wants to see where those games go over time. I don't understand your point about the game being a "major disadvantage" in the rankings. MSU still will play PSU every season in the division, in addition to both Michigan and Ohio State. The Spartans also typically will have a good crossover game (Nebraska, Northwestern, Wisconsin, etc.). Strength of schedule shouldn't be an issue for any team in the East division.
The plus of playing Rutgers and Maryland -- whenever it falls during the season -- is being able to showcase your product in new markets. Michigan State AD Mark Hollis has talked about the school's large alumni base on the east coast. Those folks will get to see the Spartans play in their backyard in late November. So will recruits that Michigan State targets in states like New Jersey and Maryland. I just can't get excited about the MSU-PSU series enough to make it an annual end-of-season rivalry.
John from San Antonio writes: After a promising start against nonconference creampuffs, it's fair to say that the Beckman rebuild has turned into a hopeless spiral of failure and depression. A five-win season would be a miracle and the next honest shot at a 6-6 season comes in 2107 with the return of Indiana, which is coincidentally when his contract runs out. But the problem is no coach could turn it around before then. So what's a fan to do? Pray for a merciful end to yet another hiring mistake and allow someone else to do no worse? Or fake joy at the "progress" of 4-8 seasons, concluded with a lethargic 2017 campaign for a 6-6 bowl appearance allowing Beckman to go out on a not-exactly-winning note?
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, John, tell me how you really feel. I don't think you should be doing backflips about the Illini this year, but you have to acknowledge the improvement taking place there, especially on offense. This is still a young team that could take some steps late this season into next season. The remaining schedule looks daunting, and three more wins seem unlikely, but you never know. You can't say the next "honest shot" at a 6-6 season comes only in 2017, and that no coach could turn things around before then. Illinois is going to the West division, which should be the easier side to navigate. The team is already starting to mature a bit, and quarterback transfer Wes Lunt becomes eligible next fall. If you don't believe Tim Beckman is the guy, that's fine. But to project that the next four years will bring no bowls or tangible progress is a defeatist approach. Let's see how the rest of this season plays out.
Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: Big Ten football's demise is a cyclical phenomenon and not a failure to recruit. Scandal and coaching turnover, not style of play, is the biggest problem. Penn State and Ohio State, possibly the two best programs in the Big Ten were hit with big penalties. Michigan mis-hired with Rich Rod, who by the way was a spread-offense guy. Michigan players left, disgusted with Rich Rod's behavior. It takes many more years than just the years they are penalized or the years the coach is active, for a program to be rebuilt. Programs that have been consistent with coaching and offensive styles have done well, Wisconsin and Northwestern are successful without ranking high in recruiting. Michigan has always been a top recruiter, but had turnover, controversy, and a change of football philosophy that disrupts a program for years. It is not the recruiting but scandal, coaching turnover and the change of football philosophy that calls for different player personnel that goes with coaching change that has hit the Big Ten. Years ago the Big Ten basketball conference was considered weak, and now it is the top conference. My question is, how is recruiting in basketball different than football other than number of players?
Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Christopher, especially about coaching continuity leading to success and the lack of it in the Big Ten in recent years. It's important for programs to build their identities around the coach and the systems they run. We saw Iowa win the Rose Bowl after the 2009 season with a coaching staff and schemes that had been the same for a long time. All that said, football recruiting is quite different from basketball recruiting. The numbers are a huge factor. One or two basketball recruits can transform a program, but a football team needs much more depth.
Also, the Midwest remains a prime spot for elite basketball recruits. Look at all of the players coming out of major cities like Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and other Big Ten cities. It's not the same for football, as the numbers don't lie for where the players are coming from. The Big Ten's football downturn is related to all of these factors: lack of coaching continuity, scandals and recruiting all play roles.
- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has returned home from a Michigan epilepsy clinic, but there's still no timetable for his return. He's not expected to travel to the game in Evanston, Ill.
- Iowa's Anthony Hitchens was recruited as a safety and even thought about playing offense early on. But, after gaining 40 pounds over his career, he's found a home an weakside linebacker and is one of the most improved players since last season.
- Braxton Miller acknowledged this week that he hasn't been 100 percent healthy and, against Northwestern, "wasn't fully myself through that whole game." He and head coach Urban Meyer are working on getting him back to full speed.
- Mike Poorman takes a closer look at Bill O'Brien's career and record after 18 games with Penn State.
- Does Illinois, which ranks 97th in run defense, really stand a chance at slowing down Wisconsin? Safety Earnest Thomas knows everybody's counting the Illini out but, "We don't care."
- The "freshman" tag still applies to Wisconsin cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Jakarrie Washington. But the two have seen a lot of time on the field, and Shelton said he doesn't feel like a freshman anymore.
- Historically, Indiana hasn't stood much of a chance against Michigan. The Wolverines have won 17 straight over the Hoosiers, including 32 of the last 33.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald has obviously played a huge role in his team's success, but athletic director Jim Phillips has also helped the school find success in football and other sports.
- True freshman quarterback Danny Etling and the Boilermakers know moving the ball won't come easy Saturday against one of the nation's top defenses.
- Mike Griffith takes a closer look at the position-by-position matchups in the Purdue-Michigan State game and, unsurprisingly, the Spartans have the edge at nearly every spot.
Brad Bournival: I won’t speak for the Ohio State staff, but I’m almost firmly convinced the Prince-to-the-Buckeyes ship has sailed. In fact, I would put it at 95 percent right now that he signs with Maryland in February.
That’s how confident I am that Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) he stays in-state at the end. When a program tells you it wants you to be the face of the program like the Terrapins have, it’s hard to argue against it.
@dannograef: Who is the biggest sleeper commit in the Big Ten?
Tom VanHaaren: It’s no secret that I think highly of Minnesota running back commit Jeff Jones (Washburn, Minn./Washburn), who completed his regular season with 39 touchdowns. I think he’s a candidate, I also like Illinois commit Mike Dudek (Naperville, Ill./Neuqua Valley), Michigan commit Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio/Kenton) and Northwestern commit Dareian Watkins (Galion, Ohio/Galion). Penn State commit De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) is in the ESPN 300, but doesn’t get talked about enough. He’s going to do big things for the Nittany Lions.
@HoosierHolmes: How much would making a bowl help Indiana’s recruiting efforts?
Bournival: To answer that question, I send you over to Penn State where recruits have gone on record to say they won’t choose the Nittany Lions because of the inability to go to a bowl for the next two seasons.
To be more precise, winning breeds winning and attracts more attention from bigger names. The proof is in the fact the same schools in the Big Ten stay on top of the recruiting rankings for that very reason. Kevin Wilson is slowly turning the program around. If he can end the five-year bowl absence this season, don’t be surprised to see a boost in recruiting as well.
@mike_albach10: I really like Malik McDowell's size and intangibles. What do you think his ceiling is?
VanHaaren: He is ranked No. 67 overall and the No. 4 defensive tackle. He is a giant, first of all. He has slimmed down some this season, but he is still head and shoulders bigger than everyone on his team. I think McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) would make an excellent 3-technique defensive tackle for any team in a 4-3 scheme. In Michigan’s defense, he would be able to slide outside to the strongside end spot in running situations and inside to tackle on passing downs. I think he is yet to tap a lot of his potential no matter where he ends up.
@WWEFan20134: Who do you think the final six will be for the class of 2014 for Ohio State football recruiting?
Bournival: With Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional) picking Penn State I only see five. The others I feel much stronger about are Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.J./Nassau Community College), Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) and teammates Marshon Lattimore (Cleveland/Glenville) and Erick Smith.
@Collin_Stauder: Could the play of Michigan State’s defense this year be enough to possibly sway (Parrker) Westphal or McDowell?
VanHaaren: Michigan State always plays good defense, so that’s not something new for those guys. I think that’s part of what attracted them to the Spartans in the first place, so I don’t think that’s a bonus at this point that will tip the scales.
I think the Spartans probably have a better shot with Westphal (Bolingbrook, Ill./Bolingbrook) than McDowell at this point, but at the same time I still think Northwestern has a lot to say in Westphal’s recruitment as well.
The play on the field has definitely helped attract some top prospects lately, but Michigan State needs to build on the Indiana win and show more than defense to some of their targets.
@buckeyefan686: Since the Buckeyes missed out on Gesicki who do you believe they land at tight end, or would they just not take one in this class?
Bournival: I think getting a tight end is an absolute must as I’m not convinced moving Sam Hubbard (Cincinnati/Moeller) over is the solution. Even though Ohio State doesn’t utilize the tight end much, there’s not a plethora of depth at the position. Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett will be back next season, but Blake Thomas’ career is likely done with the Buckeyes and Marcus Baugh is unproven at this point. Expect them to make a harder push for DeAndre Goolsby (Derby, Kan./Derby), who took an official visit for the Wisconsin game.
@hartley_nick: Any negative recruiting vibes with Michigan’s struggles on the field?
VanHaaren: Not yet. It was only one game and Michigan still only has one loss. It was an emotional loss for the fans because of how deeply they dig into things and diagnose the issues in specific games.
Recruits don’t tend to go that far into things like fans do. If you were to ask a recruit what they saw in that game, they would probably tell you two teams who fought hard into four overtimes and one came out on top.
If that type of play continues, though, and Michigan doesn’t show progress, then I think you could start to see some noise. I don’t think would be any issues with the 2014 class or even the 2015 kids that have already committed. If the season goes downhill, I think you’d see the most impact on uncommitted 2015 targets, but still that doesn’t seem too likely at this point.
As we put a bow on the first half, we're selecting a midseason All-Big Ten team. This list certainly isn't as significant as the postseason squad, but these players merit recognition for their performances during the first seven weeks of the season.
The envelope, please ...
QB: Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: Ted Bolser, Indiana
C: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OL: Spencer Long, Nebraska
OL: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
OL: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT: DaQuan Jones, Penn State
DE: Tyler Scott, Northwestern
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: James Morris, Iowa
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
DB: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
DB: Blake Countess, Michigan
K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Marcus Jones, Minnesota
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa
We'll start with the quarterback spot, which has been underwhelming around most of the league, partly because of injury. It was a close call between Scheelhaase and Penn State true freshman Christian Hackenberg, but Scheelhaase gets a slight edge with more touchdown passes and fewer interceptions. We had another tough decision at the No. 2 running back spot between Abdullah and Iowa's Mark Weisman, who has been very productive so far. Ultimately, Abdullah has made more out of his carries and got the nod.
The Big Ten's depth at linebacker prompted us to go with a 3-4 defensive alignment for the midseason team. We had some debate for the lone defensive tackle spot between Jones, Ohio State's Michael Bennett and Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman, but went with Jones, the league's leader in tackles for loss (8.5). Linebacker is so deep that it was tough limiting the list to only four. We ultimately went with Morris over Illinois' Jonathan Brown because Morris has made more game-changing plays. Cornerback has been a deeper position than safety through the first half, so we went with three corners and only one safety.
Kick returner was another close call between Minnesota's Jones and Illinois' V'Angelo Bentley.