- Michigan State has come together as a close-knit team. Even a senior quarterback who lost his starting job and a redshirt freshman whose brother is suspended know what they need to do.
- The pre-Rose Bowl tradition of the "Beef Bowl" has mostly given way to moderation, but it wasn't always like that. One Michigan lineman once ate 8 pounds of prime rib.
- Penn State wants to find stability in its next coach but, the Patriot-News' Dave Jones writes, but that's not easy when the university's president and athletic director each have one foot out the door.
- Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence did not travel to the Orange Bowl because of "personal issues," but Urban Meyer said he hoped the Buckeyes' sacks leader might arrive before the game.
- Braxton Miller's decision whether to declare for the NFL draft is likely already made and won't be influenced by the Orange Bowl, writes Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman.
- After hearing the seniors' take on their head coach, Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez said he feels like he hit a "home run" with the hiring of Gary Andersen.
- Michigan's disappointing end to a disappointing season leaves more questions than answers about 2014. Defensive end Frank Clark didn't point the finger at the staff about the loss and said, "I think a lot of guys just lost the will to play as a family."
- Kirk Ferentz acknowledged there's one wild card standing in front of the Hawkeyes -- LSU's first-time starting quarterback Anthony Jennings.
- Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr. has taken the good with the bad this season and, if he's able to play a clean bowl game, the Huskers have a good shot at winning.
- Sure, Minnesota lost the Texas Bowl. But there is a silver lining -- the Gophers return a solid nucleus next season.
On Saturday, upon checking in for the prestigious game, a number of prospects weighed in on a hot topic involving Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.
If they had to choose between the two, who would the players take as their college quarterback? Here are their responses:
Florida commit and No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High): I would say Jameis Winston. He’s really a pure quarterback, and I think he sets up things more for a running back than Johnny Manziel does.
Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Al./Oxford High): I would probably pick Jameis Winston. The reason behind that is because he is more of a leader for a young quarterback, and I think he can make his team a more mature team. I really think he would be a great quarterback to play with.
Florida wide receiver commit and No. 28 Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior High): Whew, I don’t know. I think Jameis Winston. I look at how both of them played as a freshman, and I like how Jameis Winston leads his team. He is also more pro-ready than Manziel.
Texas defensive end commit and No. 78-overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/William J. Brennan High): I guess I would say Johnny Manziel. I like how he plays with his swagger and confidence the most, so I would probably say him.
Notre Dame commit and No. 76-ranked Tyler Luatua (la Mirada, Calif./La Mirada High): I would take Manziel just because of the way he plays. If he doesn’t have a wide receiver open, he can make plays himself. He can get the ball to his players if and when he wants to, but can also do it on his own when he needs to.
No. 38 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic High School): That’s a hard one. As of right now, I would go with Jameis Winston. Overall, he’s a great player. I think Winston has an awesome football IQ. Johnny had his year too, but I think Winston is just a great player. Outstanding.
Dylan Sumner-Gardner: Jameis Winston, man. I feel comfortable with Jameis Winston as my quarterback because he’s smart and accurate. Johnny is accurate too, but Johnny is Johnny. How he runs around, people may get nervous. I would just feel more comfortable with Jameis as my quarterback.
No. 22 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville High): That’s a hard one right there. Let me think ... maybe Johnny Manziel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white boy get down like that. It would have to be Johnny Manziel.
Penn State wide receiver commit Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown High): I think Jameis Winston. I think overall he’s a better passer. I want a quarterback back there that can get me the ball on a consistent basis, but Johnny Manziel is a great player, too. I’m actually a big fan of both of them.
Five-star and Virginia defensive tackle commit Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, VA
Oscar Frommel Smith High): Dang, that’s a good question, man. I would go with Jameis Winston. His leadership qualities, coming in as a freshman and doing the things he is doing is definitely uncommon. It just foreshadows what he is going to do in the future, too. He’s already established a great foundation for himself, and I would definitely take him in the future.
Maryland commit Will Ulmer (Washington, D.C./Saint John’s High): I’m going with Johnny Manziel. I think he’s more dynamic, and more of a game-changer. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but you have to think about all the dudes he has around him at FSU -- all the great receivers and good running backs. I would go with Manziel because if you put him on the Florida State team, or a stacked team like that, it would be a scary sight.
Bill O'Brien has emerged as the overwhelming favorite to become the next coach of the Houston Texans, and the two sides are working to get a deal in place within the next week, league sources told ESPN.
O'Brien met with the Texans this week after Christmas at his home in Cape Cod, resulting in intensified discussions they hope will culminate with a finalized contract, the sources said.
The Texans still have a short list of candidates in case talks break down with the Penn State coach, sources added.
The Texans also are being assisted by Jed Hughes, who heads a sports executive search firm, per sources.
Until anything is final, the Texans have scheduled other interviews with candidates such as San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. They also are known to have interviewed former Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and interim coach Wade Phillips.
Remember, follow us on Twitter.
Jeff from San Diego writes: As I begin to think about potential future bowl situations, I'm not sure how I feel about the B1G taking over selection. Mainly, my fear is that the traditional "mid-tier" teams (namely my Hawkeyes) could suffer the most. It feels a tad more likely that a team like Iowa will drop a rung or two to "spread the wealth" to teams like Northwestern or Minnesota more often than a team like Ohio State drops a rung to make room for the Hawks. Using this year as an example, how do YOU think the B1G would place the bowls?
Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, remember that the Big Ten taking greater control of the bowl selections is designed to produce fresher matchups and avoid repeat sites or opponents. Those are good objectives and fans should celebrate that. Iowa fans might disagree, but I don't think bowl selections should be based primarily on how well a certain fan base travels, especially at the expense of good pairings.
If the Big Ten had control of the selections this year, I think after the Rose/Orange picks, it would go like this: Wisconsin to Capital One, Iowa to Outback, Nebraska to Buffalo Wild Wings, Minnesota to TaxSlayer.com Gator and Michigan to Texas. There's no way the Big Ten would want Nebraska facing the same bowl opponent it did a year ago, or Minnesota returning to the Texas Bowl.
Jay from Milwaukee writes: Do you think the BWW Bowl would have opted for Nebraska if they knew Gardner wouldn't be playing, or were they set on not having an "old Big 12" matchup?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Jay. It certainly could have impacted the selection process. I was told that Michigan's final regular season performance, especially compared to Nebraska's, played a role in the Wings Bowl choosing the Wolverines. It was more important than Nebraska's head-to-head win at Michigan Stadium. Gardner obviously played a huge role in Michigan's strong offensive showing against Ohio State, and his absence creates more uncertainty for the Wolverines offense. I heard there was more interest in Michigan-Texas than Nebraska-Texas, but once K-State fell to the Wings Bowl, Nebraska seemed to make more sense.
Bill from Marshall, Mich., writes: Michigan State football has generally been ranked from 25 to 40 in recruiting over the past several years. Yet they have been successful three of the past four years and are currently ranked number four in the polls. Is there something about the recruiting ratings that is incorrect?
Adam Rittenberg: Bill, recruiting evaluation is an inexact science, which bears out in rankings that can turn out to be off base. Recruiting rankings are based on what players show at the high school level. A lot of players mature after they get to college and work with coaches that can develop their full potential. Michigan State's staff has become one of the nation's best in identifying players who fit the system and then developing them while in East Lansing.
As Big Ten Network analyst Glen Mason recently told me: "They might not have a lot of four- or five-[star] recruits in their program but they play like four- and five-star." That's a tribute to head coach Mark Dantonio and his assistants. I do think the Spartans' success will attract higher-level recruits, especially on the defensive side.
Travis from Austin/Minnesota writes: To what or whom do you attribute the turnaround in Iowa's program in the past year?
Adam Rittenberg: Strong grammar skills there, Travis. I think Iowa got back to what it does best, especially along both lines. Kirk Ferentz's best teams have been solid up front, and Iowa had gotten away from that a bit, especially on defense after losing a bunch of players to the NFL. The defensive line was Iowa's most improved unit this season, thanks to the emergence of players like Drew Ott and Carl Davis. Iowa also improved along the offensive line, anchored by tackle Brandon Scherff, and established a nice power run game with a group of backs who amazingly managed to stay healthy. The offense found its identity and Iowa's seniors stepped up, especially at linebacker, which is always key.
Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: With Bill O'Brien reportedly interviewing with the Texans, PSU fans are once again assessing a list of candidates, especially since BOB hasn't replaced any departing coaches yet. I think James Franklin should be a guy to take a run at. Who'd be on your list at PSU if there is an opening?
Adam Rittenberg: I've been more lukewarm on Franklin than many in the media, but I'm definitely warming up to him as a good fit at Penn State. The guy can flat-out recruit and has ties to the region. He would clean up in the fertile Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia area, especially if Larry Johnson remains on staff, and bolster the talent level in State College. Mike Munchak could be another intriguing name, but I think you start with Franklin, who seems eager to make a move after several good years at Vanderbilt.
Mike from Hiawatha, Iowa, writes: Adam: Every year we hear how the Big Ten underachieves in bowl season. In order to know if this is really true, can your top-notch researchers at ESPN go back 5 or 10 years and compare the Big Ten's record versus how many games they were actually favored to win? Is the conference underachieving or just perennially matched up against better teams due to their bowl contracts?
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, as I've written for years, a lot of it has to do with the matchups, which are annually tougher than any other leagues. The current bowl lineup, while ambitious, sets the Big Ten up for failure, especially with the league's track record of sending two teams to BCS games each year. The Big Ten basically plays road games and often has its lower-rated teams against higher-rated teams from the SEC and Big 12. The future lineup is much more navigable, especially with the Big Ten taking greater control of which teams go where. Ultimately, the league is underachieving to a degree in the postseason, but the lineup certainly doesn't help.
Up today: Linebackers.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: This group was clearly going to take a big step back from 2012. Without Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges, this was probably the group that was going to receive the heftiest downgrade.
How they fared: Injuries were a concern, and they were felt almost immediately. Hull injured his knee against Syracuse, and it took him weeks before he was back to 100 percent. Safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong was forced to take over, and he allowed the linebackers to bide some time until Hull returned. He wasn't a factor in the second-half of the season.
Ben Kline, who overcame a serious shoulder injury, did the most with the time he saw once healed -- but then he fell again to another serious injury. Hull didn't meet expectations, and neither did Wartman, but Brandon Bell was a nice surprise toward the end. This group avoided total disaster, but it would be difficult to rank it above-average.
What we learned: Linebacker will take a few years to reload. Penn State grew accustomed to churning out one strong corps of linebackers after another, but 2013 was the exception. If everyone stayed healthy -- and Kline was never injured in the offseason -- it might've been different. But those are a lot of "what ifs." It became clear in 2013 that linebacker wasn't going to be just a one-year or two-year fix. It'll take a few years for Linebacker U to return to glory.
Grading the position: C. Yes, average. This wasn't one of the better groups in the Big Ten, and it wasn't among the worst. Carson was above-average, but he was the only linebacker who earned an honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team. None were named to the first or second team. Tackling was an issue at times, and so was pursuit, but it wouldn't be fair to say the linebackers were a liability, either. Once again, it was an average group ... while most PSU fans are used to great in this department.
Key losses: Carson. Sure, everyone else returns, but Carson was the most solid of the bunch. Hull needs to show he's not as injury-prone as 2013 suggests, and PSU should receive some extra bodies in the form of incoming freshmen Troy Reeder (Wilmington, Del/Salesianum) and Jason Cabinda (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central).
Position stock watch: Trending downward. On one hand, two of PSU's starting spots should improve from last season. On the other, Carson's departure is sure to be felt ... and the other two spots are far from guarantees. Kline has to overcome two surgeries in the offseason, so PSU finds itself in a similar position as last season. One injury could completely derail this group. It needs Hull, Wartman and Bell to be on top of their games -- and stay healthy. If they don't? Well, fans might miss the performance from the 2013 season.
Key to next season: Finding depth ... somewhere. The trio of Hull, Wartman and Bell can't stay on the field all game every game -- so, not only do those three need to take huge steps from last season, but Penn State also needs more players to step up at this position. Redshirt sophomore Gary Wooten hasn't contributed much outside of special teams and -- outside of an injured Kline -- Wooten is next in line. That means Penn State will needs a true freshman or a non-scholarship player to step up. Maybe it can move a backup DB over a la Obeng-Agyapong; maybe not. O'Brien needs to find someone, anyone, who can contribute.
- Bill O'Brien and the Houston Texans have agreed to an interview, according to a report by NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Still, O'Brien's potential jump to the NFL is "far from a sure thing."
- Linebacker Max Bullough's surprise absence from the Rose Bowl is sure to impact Michigan State, but no one likely feels worse about the situation than Bullough.
- Ohio State players and coaches agree: There's a little of Woody Hayes in Urban Meyer.
- Jake Rudock has a tough final exam in the form of a bowl game against LSU, but the Iowa quarterback and microbiology/pre-med major possesses smart study habits.
- Shane Morris will start Saturday in place of injured Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, so the Detroit Free Press' Jeff Seidel takes a closer look at Morris' journey from middle school to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen is hoping to tap a recruiting pipeline in Florida and, in two to three years, would like to see 20 or more players from the Sunshine State.
- Minnesota would like to win a bowl game for a change, and defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman believes having nine wins would be a program changer.
- Bo Pelini was all business as Nebraska arrived at its bowl site and said that "obviously, not everybody made the trip" -- although he wouldn't specify who.
- With Danny Etling, Purdue's future at quarterback is promising (subscription required).
- BTN's Sean Merriman takes a look at the main storyline for every Big Ten bowl game.
DB Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic)
6-foot-1, 205 pounds
ESPN 300 rank: No. 2
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
Up today: Defensive line.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: Believe it or not, more question marks surrounded the defensive tackles than the defensive ends. Although Gil Brandt named DaQuan Jones the best senior DT in the country, the senior was still an unproven commodity. And the starter alongside him -- Kyle Baublitz or Austin Johnson -- was widely considered a liability.
How they fared: Jones was the best player on the defense, finishing fifth in tackles (56), first in stops in the backfield (11.5) and making it difficult for any tailback to find room up the middle. The combination of Johnson/Baublitz fared better than most thought, too.
But the defensive ends? Well, Barnes might've been the most disappointing player on the team. He followed up his strong freshman season with just four sacks, and he struggled with his run-defense. Bill O'Brien didn't start him for a game or two to send a message. C.J. Olaniyan played especially well in the second half of the season, although his forte wasn't exactly setting the edge, either. Still, he wound up with 11 tackles-for-loss and a team-high five sacks, four quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles. Anthony Zettel also played well in spots.
What we learned: Barnes isn't the first-round NFL lock we thought he was. At least not yet. He utilized his speed a lot in 2012, but he was just outmuscled in 2013. He needs to add weight and get stronger before his production matches his freshman season. Teams are aware of him now, so he's not taking anyone by surprise. He's going to be a huge factor on this team moving forward, and we learned he needs to add some tangibles before he reaches double-digit sacks.
Grading the position: B. No, this group wasn't as strong as 2012. But it was still the best group on the defense in 2013 and often set the tone. When the defensive ends set the edge, fans knew the team would be in OK shape. When they didn't? Disaster loomed. They were able to pressure quarterbacks in the conference season, and -- outside of the Ohio State game -- the run-defense performed well in the Big Ten.
Key losses: Jones and Baublitz. PSU's top three DEs return, but it loses two of its best three DTs. The interior was a strength in 2013, while the ends were more of an issue. In 2014, that situation's a bit flip-flopped.
Position stock watch: Trending downward. Jared Odrick, Devon Still,Jordan Hill, Jones -- PSU has had a lot of luck finding future NFL DTs to step in one season after another. But that might end in 2014. If Barnes can improve his production from his freshman season and Olaniyan can make some strides, then it won't be all bad news. But when you lose the best player on your line -- and on your defense -- that usually doesn't work in your favor. Couple that in with Baublitz's decision to leave, and depth at defensive tackle will definitely be a concern.
Key to next season: Production of the No. 2 DT. It's as simple and as difficult as that. Johnson will return as a starter, but who will start alongside him? The early favorite is probably Zettel, who could move from DE. But incoming juco Tarow Barney (Bainbridge, Ga./Northwest Mississippi C.C.) or freshman Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) playing immediately isn't a total stretch either. If PSU finds a solid replacement, this line is likely in store for another "B" grade next season. If it doesn't? It's going to have to deal with an Achilles' Heel all season. Just ask Trevor Williams how that worked out.
- Michigan State will be without star linebacker Max Bullough after the program suspended the senior for the Rose Bowl, ending a decorated career and leaving a hole in the middle of the elite defense.
- Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan defended himself against accusations that he attacked an Ohio State fan last month after a loss in The Game.
- Devin Gardner is still not practicing for the Wolverines, making it even more likely that Shane Morris will be the starting quarterback in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
- Leading Minnesota to a surprising season was a team effort by the coaching staff, and Jerry Kill's wife, Rebecca, offers an insider's account of what was behind it all.
- Nebraska asks a lot of its nickelback, and a senior filling that role is in turn asking a lot of the younger players on the team around him as Ciante Evans sees his career wind down.
- After another successful year and with salaries going up around the country, Urban Meyer could be in line for a raise with Ohio State.
- Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano denied a report that he had his eye on the Penn State job should Bill O'Brien decide to leave the program.
- Reggie Love made the tough decision to redshirt as a sophomore, and the Wisconsin wide receiver is expecting it to pay off down the road.
- The trip to Florida is a homecoming for Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.
- Inside Northwestern takes a look into the future and speculates on if a true freshman could provide an instant lift for the Wildcats next season.
Have a wonderful holiday!
Up today: Offensive line.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: OL coach Mac McWhorter's group was expected to start fast, as it returned three primary starters and several other players who saw significant time in 2012.
How they fared: They didn't quite get off to the start they wanted -- even Urschel admitted that. Consistency was difficult to come by early in the season, and Smith certainly didn't live up to his potential. Bill O'Brien didn't start him for a game -- and that certainly appeared to send a message -- but this line played its best football at the end of the year.
Zach Zwinak rushed for 563 yards in the last four games. And, overall, PSU allowed 22 sacks on the season -- which isn't too bad considering a rookie was standing in the pocket and sometimes taking too long to throw the ball. This line played as expected in the second half of the season, but it was a different story in the first half.
What we learned: This line is pretty versatile. Left tackle and right tackle were relatively interchangeable, Angelo Mangiro could play anywhere along the interior and Eric Shrive could play anywhere outside of center. We saw this in 2012, but 2013 just reinforced it. When some players found themselves injured or in slumps, this line showed it was pretty flexible and able to adjust.
Grade: B. This a little tricky because the grade in the first six games would've been markedly different than the last six games. Overall, though, this line played above-average. Urschel was an All-Big Ten player who was selected as a third-team All-American by the AP. Gilliam was a pleasant surprise, Smith a disappointment, and everyone else played close to as expected.
Key losses: OG Urschel, C Howle, OT Gress. Gilliam still hasn't made up his mind on whether to stay. First, he was staying, then leaving ... and then he wasn't sure. His decision will have quite an impact on this group, however. If he leaves, PSU has to plug three openings on the line -- and right tackle will be the biggest concern of all since three of PSU's top four tackles would then graduate.
Position stock watch: Trending downward. Even if Gilliam stays, the offensive line is going to have a lot of question marks to overcome. Mangiro will be able to fill one spot along the interior, but who else will start? Wendy Laurent, who played in five games? And just think about that hole at right tackle if Gilliam does leave. It seems as if freshman Andrew Nelson might have to take over out of necessity. Depth is a thing of the past for this group.
Key to next season: Finding key contributors to add depth. For the last two seasons, PSU hasn't had to search long to find players who could give the starters a quick breather. But it's going to be a bit more difficult this offseason. Laurent, Anthony Alosi and Tanner Hartman have to add weight to their frames before they become viable options. (No lineman under 290 pounds saw significant time last season, and those three are all under 290.) And players who look the part -- such as 6-foot-4, 305-pound OG Brendan Mahon or 6-5, 297-pound OT Nelson -- haven't yet played a single snap. PSU is likely going to have to play some linemen who aren't quite ready, so they're ability to overcome the obvious learning curve will be paramount.
- Stanford and Michigan State playing in the 100th Rose Bowl gives it a throwback feel. Also, MSU center Jack Allen will join his grandfather as Rose Bowl participants.
- The Buckeyes welcome the extra practice time that comes with bowl games.
- Quick, crisp practices are a priority for Gary Andersen in keeping his Badgers fresh. Also, touchdowns from both teams in the Capital One Bowl will be raising money for the organization Uplifting Athletes.
- Kirk Ferentz says that LSU has the look of many pro football teams in how quick, fast and physical the Tigers are.
- Two Georgia defensive backs are suspended for the bowl game and here are all the predictions for the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl so far (it's split fairly evenly between Nebraska and Georgia).
- Nick Baumgardner looks at five serious questions the Wolverines will answer in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
- On Monday, Syracuse beat Minnesota in the Rodeo Bowl, the Texas Bowl's kickoff event which featured the Orange and Gophers participating in low-key rodeo competitions.
- Though nothing is known for sure about Bill O'Brien at Penn State, some high-level coaches are having their people get in touch with Penn State.
- If you have time today and tomorrow and wish to see some of the best Big Ten matchups from this season, here's BTN's schedule for 10 games that will be re-aired.
- A Bleacher Report writer did a power ranking of all the Big Ten coaches based solely on their recruiting abilities.
One of my best friends in Oklahoma City is a Penn State grad who moved to the Sooner State a couple of years ago. Since we met, she’s always talked about how special a place Penn State is.
As fate would have it, my Flip Week assignment happened to be State College, Pa., which gave me the chance to inspect firsthand whether she’s been telling the truth.
Turned out, she was.
My visit to Penn State exceeded even the expectation she set for me. The food was great. The people were even better. And the experience was a memorable one.
Below is an overview of my trip to a place I hope to return to someday soon:
(Me eating a Penn State mooseburger)
Must-see sight in State College: The heartbeat of the Penn State football experience is the tailgate. Before every game, tens of thousands descend to the parking lots and fields outside Beaver Stadium for pregame camaraderie. As several tailgaters explained to me, the Penn State tailgate is a way for family and friends who might not live close to one another to reconnect, which is difficult to do during the actual game. The tailgating doesn’t end when the final whistle blows, either. Floodlights outside the stadium are kept on hours after the game, so the tailgates -- and the reunions -- can carry on into the night.
Biggest surprise: Despite everything that has happened the last couple of years, the school spirit at Penn State couldn’t be stronger. Students camped out for the best seats the night before, even though the opponent was Purdue. Downtown State College was hopping the night before the game. Penn State bumper stickers lined the highway all the way back to the airport I flew into (Pittsburgh). I couldn't detect any malaise on campus, and thanks in large part to coach Bill O’Brien, there is an infusing optimism that Penn State will be back on top before long. That’s saying a lot, considering the program was on the brink of decimation just a year ago.
Biggest difference from Big 12: The fans in the Big 12 are great. The student sections are great, too. But I'm not sure any students in the Big 12 would camp out in 30-degree weather the night before to get tickets for a game featuring an opponent the caliber of Purdue. In fact, I’ve seen many student sections in the Big 12 with empty seats under similar circumstances. Not only was the student section at Penn State overflowing, but it was boisterous the entire day. I’m not sure I’ve seen a student section live or die on every single play in a game that was never really in doubt.
They said it: “In this state, the one thing you have to do before you die is go to a Penn State tailgate.” – Penn State fan Luigi Puglia
If I could go back: I would take in more of the State College nightlife and the Penn State campus. Because I was on official assignment, I avoided State College staples such as Otto’s Pub and Brewery and the American Ale House & Grill, but both came highly recommended. Because my itinerary was crammed, I didn’t have a chance to just walk around the Penn State campus and go through buildings like the Hub, either. Apparently, there’s a mule skeleton on display there.
Up today: Tight ends.
Expectations entering the 2013 season: With five players set to contribute, this group was expected to be the deepest and one of the most talented on the team. It dubbed itself "TEU," after all. Kyle Carter was coming off a serious wrist injury, but Bill O'Brien tried to downplay that and -- if Carter was fully recovered -- many believed he would compete for the Big Ten's tight end of the year award. He barely missed the honor in 2012.
How they fared: This group isn't calling itself "TEU" anymore. It's not that it played poorly -- because it didn't. But the tight ends just weren't utilized as much as expected.
Carter played in just nine games in 2012 but had a position-leading 36 catches and 453 yards. In 2013, Jesse James led all TEs with 25 catches for 333 yards. James did well, but his performance fell short of the kind of breakout season that was predicted. And Carter, overall, was a disappointment after a stunning 2012 campaign.
Breneman looked good toward the end of the season; Lehman missed 10 games with a season-ending injury.
What we learned: Just because a position's deep doesn't necessarily mean PSU will utilize it. There was talk of four tight end sets in the preseason but, with the injuries to Lehman and Wilkerson, that never materialized. PSU still had two solid TEs (and an up-and-comer in Breneman), but the offense almost entirely leaned on Allen Robinson. Brandon Felder still finished as the No. 2 target despite not seeing a lot of time toward the end of the season.
Grading the position: B. Yes, this group fell short of expectations. But match it up against any other group in the Big Ten, and it'd be difficult to find a deeper or more talented corps. It graded higher last season, but it still had an above-average performance in 2013.
Key losses: Lehman. There's been no official word yet on whether Lehman will be granted a sixth year, but the odds are against it. Still, PSU will return a healthy Brent Wilkerson and add incoming freshman Mike Gesicki (Manahawkin, N.J./Southern Regional).
Position stock watch: Trending very upward. Outside of quarterback, there's no position where the stock should be higher. James is one of the better tight ends in the Big Ten, and Breneman is fast becoming an important target for Christian Hackenberg. If Breneman can improve upon his blocking, he could be an every-down threat.
And, of course, we haven't even mentioned Carter yet. He's a bit of a wild card this offseason. In 2012, he looked as if he would become one of PSU's best tight ends of the 2000s. The potential is there, but 2013 was clearly a step back. If can return to his 2012 form, it wouldn't be a surprise if we end up seeing those four TE sets in 2014.
Key to next season: Getting the ball to the TEs more. That's obviously not on the tight ends; it's on the play-calls by O'Brien and the decision-making by Hackenberg. The tight ends are more talented than most of the receivers so, it stands to reason, they should get the ball more. There's nothing this position needs to focus on as a group -- like the RBs need to focus on not fumbling -- but Carter needs to get his groove back, Breneman needs to block better and James needs to find more consistency. Overall, though, this group's in great shape.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Nittany Lions didn't have any football finalists for national athletic awards like the Biletnikoff, but they sure are reeling in the academic ones.
On Monday, offensive guard John Urschel earned the Senior CLASS Award, which goes to the top senior student-athlete in the FBS and is voted on by a selection of coaches, media and fans. If this sounds like deja vu, you're not too far off. Two weeks ago, Urschel also managed to earn the William V. Campbell Trophy, which is known as the "Academic Heisman."
No Penn State football player has ever before won either honor.
"John Urschel epitomizes what a Penn State student-athlete is all about," Bill O'Brien said in a news release.
The offensive guard found a spot on the All-Big Ten team and was also named an AP Third-Team All-American this season. But it's really been the academic side of things where he's shined.
He boasts a 4.0 GPA, is currently working on his second master's degree and even teaches -- yes, teaches -- a math class called "Integral Vector Calculus." Urschel has also had two academic papers accepted for publication, with more on the way, and you'd have to be considered a genius just for understanding the titles.
His first, published in Celestial Mechanics and Dynamic Astronomy, is titled, "Instabilities of the Sun-Jupiter-Asteroid Three Body Problem." Good luck making sense of it. It looks like something straight out of "Good Will Hunting."
Urschel has said he plans to pursue a Ph.D. -- but not until his football career is over. He hopes to play in the NFL and also take up chess as a serious pursuit at some point. (Apparently, he's already got Connect Four down.)
"I am honored and grateful to have been selected the Senior CLASS Award recipient," Urschel said. "I have tried to represent my team, university and family as best as possible during my time at Penn State. I am very appreciative and thank my family, professors, coaches, teammates and friends for all their support and help they have provided with all my academic and football pursuits at Penn State."
The Early Offer: March 5
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Washington State 45 Colorado State 48 Final 20 Fresno State 20 25 USC 45 Final Buffalo 24 San Diego State 49 Final Tulane 21 Louisiana-Lafayette 24
Final Pittsburgh 30 Bowling Green 27 Final Utah State 21 23 Northern Illinois 14
Final Marshall 31 Maryland 20 Final Syracuse 21 Minnesota 17 Final Brigham Young 16 Washington 31
Final Rutgers 16 Notre Dame 29 Final Cincinnati 17 North Carolina 39 Final Miami (FL) 9 18 Louisville 36 Final Michigan 14 Kansas State 31
Final Middle Tennessee 6 Navy 24 Final Ole Miss 25 Georgia Tech 17 Final 10 Oregon 30 Texas 7 Final 14 Arizona State 23 Texas Tech 37
Final Arizona 42 Boston College 19 Final Virginia Tech 12 17 UCLA 42 Final Rice 7 Mississippi State 44 Final 24 Duke 48 21 Texas A&M 52
Final Nebraska 24 22 Georgia 19 Final UNLV 14 North Texas 36 Final Iowa 14 16 LSU 21 Final 19 Wisconsin 24 9 South Carolina 34 Final 5 Stanford 20 4 Michigan State 24 Final 15 UCF 52 6 Baylor 42
Final 13 Oklahoma State 31 8 Missouri 41 Final 12 Clemson 40 7 Ohio State 35