ASHBURN, Va. -- If there was an award given out for the most physically gifted quarterback at Friday’s Elite 11 regional camp at the Washington Redskins' practice facility, Brandon Wimbush would undoubtedly be a runaway winner.

The No. 107-ranked prospect in the ESPN 300 showed impressive arm power, a strong frame that can carry 225 pounds, and the feet and balance that have earned him offers from the likes of Penn State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Ohio State, LSU and a host of others. The news of the day Friday was the offer list might soon be growing, and one could be a game-changer.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
3:00
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Final weekend of Big Ten spring football. Soak it up.

Twitter is something we use.

So is email ...

Greg from Boulder, Colo., writes: I don't understand why so many major conference coaches are against a nine-game conference schedule plus one non-conference "BCS" opponent and two home cupcakes. Seven home games every year unless on occasion you choose to move a game to a neutral site. This model doesn't hurt anyone aside from mid-major programs like Temple who will never get a "home" game against Penn State again. Truth be told my first choice would be a balanced eight-game conference schedule, but get the major conferences to agree to play TWO major non-conference games every year.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I'd be in favor of your plan, although it would mean a smaller rotation of cross-division games in the Big Ten. Why do coaches favor easier schedules? Because they want to keep their jobs. It's not a coincidence that Nick Saban favors a model with nine league games and one marquee non-league game per year. He's an elite coach with an elite program. He's not worried about squeaking into bowl games at 6-6 like some of his colleagues are, both in the SEC and elsewhere. The home games are going to happen no matter what, and some coaches would rather see them against lower-level teams than league members or top non-league competitors.

 




 

Erik from Bethlehem, Pa., writes: Adam, I have a question regarding the Northwestern vote on whether to unionize. In the Q&A that Coach Fitzgerald had, he said the players should vote no if they wanted to remain students and not employees. I read a separate article where it was stated that the football players would be employees regardless of how they vote on the union because of the court ruling. I really haven't heard that point talked about at all, so would it be the case that players would be considered employees regardless of how the union vote pans out?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Erik. If the national NLRB board upholds the Chicago regional director's ruling, the players are classified as employees, union or no union. Now if they're employees without a union, it remains to be seen what, if anything, would change for them. Unionizing would bring in a third party, the College Athletes Players Association, to attempt to collectively bargain on behalf of the players with Northwestern. But they are employees right now, and only a national NLRB overturn would change things.

Dan from Dublin, Ohio, writes: Do you understand the detail of the NLRB ruling to understand why walk-ons don't get a vote? They have the same obligations as walk-on players and already receive fewer benefits. This seems like an illogical part of the ruling. Thanks for your thoughts.

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, while it seems illogical for those who know what walk-ons go through to be part of these teams, the Chicago regional director spelled it out pretty clearly. If you don't receive compensation -- in the form of a scholarship -- for your athletic services, you cannot be considered an employee. One of Northwestern's arguments against the union is that it could create a wedge between walk-ons and scholarship players.

 




 

Austin from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I realize Iowa's schedule is considered soft at this point, and that the toughness of the schedule doesn't come until late November, but why did the BTN not consider the Northwestern-Iowa game on Nov. 1? In years past this matchup has been a great one, especially under the lights inside Kinnick Stadium. Who doesn't like seeing the black and gold stripes under the lights?

Adam Rittenberg: Austin, the stripes are awesome. I've heard that Iowa expressed interest in playing the Northwestern game at night, but the Big Ten Network didn't want to compete with ABC/ESPN in prime time. The Illinois-Ohio State game kicks off the same night on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2. Check out this Q&A with Michael Calderon, the BTN's vice president of programming and digital media. Calderon says, "We've learned over the years that the audience becomes fragmented when we schedule prime-time games that compete directly with Big Ten games on ABC or ESPN." There's only one Saturday where both groups have prime time games.

 




 

Justin from Denver writes: I am wondering your opinion on the potential for a new JoePa statue. I know an entire university can't be held responsible for the horrific actions of a few, but at what point do we acknowledge a statue is being seriously considered to honor a man who covered up, or at the very least turned his back on years of child molestation? I have no problem with the school, I realize this is not in any way a PSU project, and have enjoyed our first three bouts as B1G members, but is it just me, or do people seem to not be as turned off by this idea as they should be?

Adam Rittenberg: Justin, there are a lot of people turned off by the idea. There's also a portion of people who feel Paterno's on-campus statue never should have been removed, that he was unfairly characterized in the Freeh Report, that the school threw him under the bus despite sketchy information and that he acted appropriately regarding the Jerry Sandusky situation. There are strong feelings on both sides. I think colleague Josh Moyer makes some good points about how Penn State should address Paterno's legacy at some point soon. I understand why the school has remained silent to this point, but you have to respond to your constituents sooner or later.

My issue with the proposed statue is whether it truly reflects the views of everyone in State College, or only a portion of staunch Paterno supporters who live there. Maybe there should be a series of town meetings to gauge how people feel. Organizers can say the statue represents the town, but how do they know?

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
12:00
PM ET
Gonna have some fun/show you how it's done/TGIF.
video

In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton discusses prospects who could commit in May and breaks down the momentum building at Penn State.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Despite a shortage of top quarterbacks in the East in the 2015 class, the Elite 11 regional Friday in Washington, D.C., will allow top underclassmen to shine. Plus, the recruiting world will get to see whether or not a 2018 quarterback prospect who already has early attention truly has the goods.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
12:00
PM ET
Spring games on the horizon at Michigan State, Rutgers and Iowa. Read all about it:
  • Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon and Michigan State’s Mark Hollis weigh in against the unionization of college athletes in advance of the Northwestern vote.
  • Big plans and expectations for Michigan State defensive end Demetrius Cooper. Quarterback Connor Cook goes No. 1 in the MSU draft, conducted by players, for the upcoming spring game. And walk-on receiver Matt Macksood has made an impact this spring.
  • The MihWolverines might need their defense to carry a big load.
  • Penn State has no official position on the return of a Joe Paterno statue to State College. But the school should take a stance on the former coach’s legacy, writes our Josh Moyer.
  • Kyle Flood plans to spend more time than in the past involved in the details during Rutgers’ spring game on Saturday. Meanwhile, running back Paul James continues to fight through injuries.
  • The Washington Post offers a favorable grade for Maryland football coaching salaries in comparison to the rest of its new league.
  • Big raises for Minnesota coordinators Tracy Claeys and Matt Limegrover.
  • Jake Rudock strengthens his hold on the starting quarterback job at Iowa.
  • Urban Meyer is not an advocate for spring football at Ohio high schools, but he’d like to young players receive an opportunity to spend more time with their coaches in the offseason.
  • The band 1984 Draft, its name inspired by a Nebraska fan, help keeps alive the memory of a historic period for the Huskers.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Mike Hull was once a coin flip away from transferring to Pitt, but that all seems like a lifetime ago for the Penn State linebacker.

[+] EnlargeHull
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsLB Mike Hull, who has seen a lot of changes at Penn State, expects 2014 to be his breakout season.
The redshirt senior is going into his fifth season at Penn State, and he's already endured many changes and ups-and-downs. He watched his team adjust to three head coaches -- five, including the interims -- and four defensive coordinators during his career. And he bided his time as a redshirt sophomore, playing behind two All-Big Ten talents, before standing on the sideline as a starter for parts of four games last season due to injury.

But now, in his final season, and with his final college coach, Hull believes it's finally his time to break out.

"It's something I've been waiting for for a long time," Hull told ESPN.com. "It's my time to step up and lead the team and lead a good defensive unit to where we can win a Big Ten championship."

Hull isn't the loudest player on the field. He's not one to grab a mic during a pep rally and spearhead some impromptu speech like cornerback Jordan Lucas. But he's become the anchor of this defense, not unlike middle linebacker Glenn Carson last season, and he's wasted no time in making an impact on a staff that's only known him for three short months.

"The guy who has stood out the most to me at this point is Hull," James Franklin said toward the end of spring practice. "He's done a nice job. He's smart, he's got great instincts -- he's not the biggest linebacker -- but he's quick, and he's powerful, and he's freakishly strong. I've been very pleased with him."

Hull stands at just 6-foot, 227 pounds. But he's also played well enough to stand out to every coordinator who coached him -- and, seemingly, all for different reasons. Tom Bradley watched Hull zoom past would-be blockers as a freshman, clocked his 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds and briefly tried him at safety. Ted Roof watched him out-lift every one of his teammates as a sophomore, when he benched 405-pounds to best offensive linemen who outweighed him by nearly triple digits.

John Butler praised him last season as an "all-around outstanding football player." And, now, current coordinator Bob Shoop sees a sense of maturity and leadership in Hull that he's rarely found elsewhere, in part because he's learned from so many tutors.

"Mike's very mature," Shoop said. "He's football smart. He's very distinctive. ... There's not a player I trust more than him. He's a really special guy, and he's the undisputed quarterback of the defense."

At this time last season, Hull was the favorite from experts and fans alike when it came to naming the Nittany Lions' next breakout star. But, as Hull acknowledged, that title never quite materialized. With a nagging leg injury, one that didn't see him return to 100 percent until late October, he didn't live up to expectations until the final five games of the season. And, during that stretch, Hull unsurprisingly led Penn State in tackles (44). The No. 2 tackler, Carson, had 35 in that same stretch.

With a defense lacking in depth, even more will be expected of Hull this season. There are a few things working against him -- namely new schemes and a new coordinator -- but he's been in this position before. Twice.

"It's been easier to learn just because of the way [Shoop] packages everything together," Hull added. "It seems hard, but it's simple once you get used to it."

The last era of Penn State players who competed under three different head coaches were underclassmen in 1948, so Hull's position is a unique one. Still, the soft-spoken linebacker has tried to take it in stride.

Hull has taken on extra responsibility at middle linebacker, after playing outside last season. And Shoop has been pleased with how he's adjusted to an aggressive scheme that places extra emphasis on sacks and tackles-for-loss.

Hull, a Pennsylvania native could've had a different future if that proverbial coin landed on Pitt instead of Penn State. He could've had a more stable career. But he's not looking back now; he's finally looking forward to being "the guy" at Linebacker U.

"I don't want to compare something that never happened," Hull said. "I'm thankful for my time at Penn State. It's been one of the wildest times."

3-point stance: Pac-12 QB talent

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
5:00
AM ET
1. According to ESPN Insider and Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage, it’s a thin year for veteran quarterbacks everywhere but the Pac-12. Listing the top pro prospects for the 2015 NFL draft, Savage, speaking with me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast on Wednesday, started with Marcus Mariota of Oregon and Brett Hundley of UCLA, then tossed in Sean Mannion of Oregon State. Not to mention the league has Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Taylor Kelly of Arizona State and Cody Kessler of USC.

2. Dabo Swinney is a good man and a stand-up guy. He is proud of his Christianity and believes it can help others as much as it has helped him. As the coach of Clemson, a public university in a religious state, he is preaching to the choir. I’d bet it never occurred to Swinney that he stepped over the line between church and state, perhaps because the line is blurrier in South Carolina than in Madison, Wis., where the Freedom From Religion Foundation is based. If the foundation’s complaint makes Swinney realize again that everyone is not Christian, then the foundation’s complaint is a success.

3. The town of State College is crowdsourcing a statue to honor the late Joe Paterno, and it’s wonderful that the planned site is not far from Old Main, the home of the Penn State administration that removed the original Paterno statue from outside of Beaver Stadium in July 2012. What are the university administrators thinking? Do they understand they never should have made the removal of the statue permanent? Do they understand how much they rushed to judgment to vilify Paterno? When will they do their part to restore Paterno’s place of honor in Penn State history? The locals are doing their part.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
5:00
PM ET
A big Monday looms with spring football wraps and spring game recaps. So I won't have a mailbag that day. But here's a full one for today:

Dan from Washington, D.C., writes: Brian, I'm sure you'll be getting thousands of comments on this point, so I'll add my two cents. You say, "You'd have to suffer from amnesia not to remember how close Bo Pelini came to losing his job at Nebraska last season." However, I don't believe you're [Nebraska athletic director] Shawn Eichorst (perhaps a FauxEichorst Twitter handle is in the works). No one outside of Eichorst and perhaps Harvey Perlman and Pelini knows "how close" Pelini came to losing his job. For weeks you, the Omaha World-Herald, and the Lincoln Journal Star lamented how tight-lipped Eichost was being about the whole situation. Then, lo and behold, he received a contract extension -- hardly something you give to someone you may not want around in a year or two. Now don't get me wrong -- if Pelini goes 5-7, he's toast -- but until he tanks, his job is safe.

Brian Bennett: Dan, you make a fair point that Eichorst's silence on the issue for so long means we don't know exactly how close Pelini came to being fired last year. But silence can also speak volumes, and not saying anything for weeks after the infamous audio tape leaked and while Nebraska lost some games said a lot as well. The pressure obviously got to Pelini in the regular-season finale against Iowa. Your timeline on the extension is a little off as well. Pelini said he signed received and signed the one-year extension in March. It would have been news had he not gotten it, since it covers him for the next five years. But don't think for a second that a one-year extension of his deal will have any bearing on whether Eichorst decides to make a change this fall -- Nebraska can easily afford to buy out of that extra year.

I think Pelini should be fine if he wins his usual nine or 10 games and avoids some of the embarrassing blowout losses we've seen. The Huskers also have a great chance to win the West Division. But anything less than that could prompt a coaching switch, which is why Pelini remains on the proverbial hot seat.


Aaron from Pittsburgh writes: Good ol' Tim Beckman is the B1G coach on the hottest hot seat, according to you guys. I fully understand this -- one conference win in two years, blah, blah, blah. But I honestly have some form of empathy for the man. He inherited a Ron Zook team so devoid of depth and talent that I think Year 1 should not be credited against Beckman's resume. Illinois isn't a powerhouse in the first place, so as long as Beckman's Illini don't regress in 2014, I think he might get one more year. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: The thing Beckman has going for him is that athletic director Mike Thomas hired him and probably wants to give the first major coaching hire of his tenure every shot to succeed. The Illini did show improvement last season, at least on offense, and Beckman has done a great job with off-the-field stuff such as academics. But Zook did take the program to back-to-back bowl games, so it's a little odd to hear he should be responsible for a 2-10 season. The biggest thing going against Beckman right now, I'd say, is the fan apathy. There were way too many empty seats in Memorial Stadium last season, and that gets an AD's attention more than anything. That's why it might be bowl or bust this year for Beckman.


Jason L. from Kansas City, Mo., writes: What's your take on Indiana replacing 2 games with South Florida with 2 games with Florida International? Doesn't this go against what B1G commissioner Jim Delany has stated that he wants (B1G teams scheduling tougher opponents)?

Brian Bennett: I've been a consistent proponent for toughest scheduling. Heck, I'm the guy who favors 10 Big Ten games and one marquee opponent every season. But for Indiana, I understand this move by athletic director Fred Glass. When you've been to one just bowl game since 1993, the first priority has to be finding any way possible to get back to the postseason. I thought the Hoosiers scheduled too aggressively last year, when they played Navy, Missouri and a good Bowling Green team. If IU, which finished 5-7 despite losses to Navy and Missouri, had played a dumbed-down nonconference schedule a la Minnesota's 2013 slate (or even Ohio State's), then the team likely would have gone bowling for the first time under Kevin Wilson. Think about the difference a bowl game would have made for the program, giving Wilson 15 extra practices and allowing for a little more offseason buzz.

The weird thing here is the idea that South Florida is too tough of an opponent. But especially when the Big Ten goes to nine league games in 2016 and Indiana is competing in the stacked East Division, a more manageable nonconference schedule makes sense. Delany wants teams to challenge themselves and build up strength-of-schedule ratings for the playoff selection committee. Let's be honest here: The playoff is not exactly on the Hoosiers' radar.


Sam C. from Fargo, N.D., writes: Hey, BB, I was just thinking about the Gophers and recruiting and how one of the best in the nation is right here in our home state in Jashon Cornell. Is it a dream for me to think we have any shot of landing him? Getting Jeff Jones was nice, but even in the last couple of weeks no one thought we would get him, saying that he was gonna go to the SEC. Just wondering what your thoughts are. Thanks!

Brian Bennett: It would be an enormous coup for the Gophers and Jerry Kill to keep Cornell in their backyard, Sam. Too many top-level prospects (Michael Floyd and Seantrel Henderson as the most prominent examples) have left over the years. Kill and his staff have been working hard to build a relationship with Cornell, but they're going to be competing with not only the best programs in the Big Ten for his services but also many of the best in the country. The facilities and traditions at some of those places will be hard to top. It's crucial that Minnesota has a good year this season to show Cornell that staying home has its perks.


Rodney from Grantville, Pa., writes: I'm obviously excited about PSU hiring James Franklin, but is it clouding my judgment? He did a fantastic job at Vandy, and his first 100 days at PSU have been great, so why are so many saying we can't do well his first year? I personally see 9-3 being doable and 10-2 not out of the question. 7-5 at the worst. The coaches are touting a more aggressive defense and better special teams, which was probably our biggest issues last year. The offensive line is obviously our Achilles' heel, but there are ways to work around that and the offense only needs to score more than the defense allows. ... So what am I missing?

Brian Bennett: Rodney, feel free to get excited. Franklin has done nothing but create optimism so far with his energy and his early recruiting returns. Really good things are on the horizon for Penn State, I believe. But while I believe the Nittany Lions could be surprise contenders in the East Division because of their advantageous schedule -- Illinois and Northwestern as crossover opponents, Ohio State and Michigan State coming to Beaver Stadium -- I still worry about the depth on the roster because of sanctions, the lack of high-level defensive playmakers and that troublesome offensive line. Those are all real issues, and remember that Bill O'Brien did a fantastic job of getting this team to 7-5 the past two seasons. I think Penn State could match or slightly exceed that this season, but that the true brighter days are still in the future.


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State officials ordered Joe Paterno's statue to be taken down nearly two years ago, but fans here haven't forgotten. They never will.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesPenn State fans won't easily forget Joe Paterno's legacy at the school, despite how his career ended.
So while controversy might swirl in other parts of the country with the news today that two alumni are seeking to install a $300,000 statue downtown, the overwhelming sentiment around here is, "About time."

You can argue about whether such a statue is appropriate, or what type of role Paterno played in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, but common ground in that argument is about as elusive as a national title. So let's just deal with the facts here.

Fans here aren't going to forget about Paterno in another two years, 20 years or 200 years. It's about as difficult to separate Paterno from Penn State as it is to separate Penn State from Pennsylvania. Ignoring Paterno’s legacy doesn't freeze the controversy; it just builds up.

There's a growing divide between fans and university officials on this -- and no matter what your feelings are on the issue, the university owes fans an explanation. The new statue has stirred up old questions and renewed others: Will Penn State ever honor Paterno? When? Why or why not? Transparency isn't a negative in this case; the university would do well to fill in fans on its intentions.

Officials ordered the original statue to be torn down, and they've never so much as disclosed the current location. Then-president Rodney Erickson's statement read, "I now believe that, contrary to its original intention, Coach Paterno's statue has become a source of division and an obstacle to healing our university and beyond."

The ironic part is that the university's silence on the issue has also become a source of division. In the weeks and months following the statue's removal, it was easier to understand that silence. Fans may not have agreed with the decision, but they understood it. The nation was watching, and many -- rightly or wrongly -- looked at Paterno as more of a criminal than a legend. Like with anything, that extremism eventually gave way to more of a middle ground.

I reached out to a Penn State spokesman in an effort to shed some light on what the university's plans are regarding Paterno. What's the concern with putting Paterno's statue back up? Would there be national outrage? How does the university view him? Those questions remain unanswered because, unsurprisingly, the message was not immediately returned.

If officials are truly concerned about "divisions" and "obstacles," then they should open a dialogue instead of ignoring questions that most of the fan base have asked at one time or another. Maybe the university just wants to focus on a program that has real enthusiasm behind it, one that's somehow thrived under the sanctions. But staying quiet doesn't seem to be working.

Silence might bury a lot of things, but for better or worse, it's not going to bury Paterno's legacy. So no matter where you stand on the issue, one aspect should be evident: Penn State owes its fans and alumni an explanation.
video

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Construction workers tore down Penn State's iconic Joe Paterno statue on campus two years ago -- but this town might not be without one for much longer.

Two alumni already have received the OK from the borough to install a projected $300,000 life-sized bronze sculpture downtown, about two miles from the original site. And they're hoping the statue, which will feature Paterno sitting on a bench reading Virgil's "Aeneid," will be installed by fall of next year.

They have commissioned an artist, Zenos Frudakis, and will seek to raise $50,000 for "Joe's Bench" on the funding platform Kickstarter come July.

"We just felt that the university was not ready yet" to honor Paterno, said Kim Intorre, one of the organizers. "But the community is."

Intorre said the idea for the statue came shortly after Paterno's death in January 2012 and was not launched in relation to university officials' decision to remove the Paterno statue outside of Beaver Stadium. That 900-pound statue was taken down in July 2012 during the aftermath of the child-sex abuse scandal involving ex-Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.

The NCAA stripped Paterno of 111 wins and levied unprecedented sanctions against the football team, including a four-year postseason ban. But the town here has not forgotten its longtime coach, who spent 61 years on the sideline. If anything, the move has highlighted the growing divide between fans and university officials, who have declined to disclose where the original statue currently resides.

"It's clear the university isn't ready to do anything; they're certainly not ready to put the statue back," said Ted Sebastianelli, one of the project's organizers. "That's their call. Everybody has their own views on the statue and when it should be back up, where it should be and so forth.

"For me, this is something we can do ourselves and it's a great way -- a wonderful way -- to honor Joe for his 61 years of service. It doesn't have anything to do with the statue on campus."

The new statue will be installed near the entrance of The Tavern Restaurant, on a walkway off East College Avenue, and will replace two marble benches. The organizers hope to unveil the finished project by the 2015 season opener but, at the latest, by November 2015.

The artist, Frudakis, has designed other sports sculptures that are featured in such places as the Philadelphia Phillies


(Read full post)


Big Ten lunch links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
12:00
PM ET
I want to share something with you: The three little sentences that will get you through life. Number 1: "Cover for me." Number 2: "Oh, good idea, Boss!" Number 3: "It was like that when I got here."
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The past few years have brought historic changes at Penn State, from the men occupying the head coach's office to the names occupying the backs of the Nittany Lions' jerseys.

Yet until recently, Penn State's defensive line meeting room resisted renovation. It was one of few elements of the program that, in 2013, looked much like it did in 2005. Larry Johnson coached the group, as he had every season since 2000 (and, in some form, since 1996). And while the Lions' defense struggled for much of last season, the line still produced a first-team All-Big Ten performer, tackle DaQuan Jones, just as it did the previous five years.

[+] EnlargeSean Spencer
MCT via Getty ImagesNew defensive line coach Sean Spencer wants his guys attacking like 'wild dogs.'
But even the PSU defensive line couldn't evade the winds of change forever. After being passed over for Penn State's head-coaching job for the second time, Johnson in January declined a chance to remain with James Franklin's staff. Days later, he latched on at rival Ohio State.

Lions defensive linemen now take direction from a man known as Coach Chaos. You'll be able to hear Sean Spencer's voice from Row 80 of Beaver Stadium -- on game days. Spencer wants his Lions to be wild dogs, explaining, "The wild dog is the most efficient animal in the jungle in terms of hunting in a pack."

The 43-year-old dynamo with the "spastic" personality differs from that of his reserved, buttoned-down Penn State predecessor. But when it comes to standards, Spencer and Johnson are aligned.

"Traditionally, the D-line here has always been one of the elite in the country," Spencer told ESPN.com. "I know no other way but to have them rise to the expectations that I set forth and that they set forth for themselves. There's no excuse.

"I don't care who I've got out there. I expect to be dominant."

Spencer's message resonates with a group that, unlike others on a reduced roster, doesn't face dire depth challenges. The Lions return both starters at end -- Deion Barnes and C.J. Olaniyan -- and veteran reserve Brad Bars, who missed all of last season with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Sophomore Austin Johnson moves into the lead tackle position and Anthony Zettel, a converted defensive end, has been a good fit at the 3-technique tackle spot.

"The D-line is probably our strength," Franklin said. "We have the most depth at that position. We've got about four deep at defensive end and probably two-and-a-half deep at D-tackle."

If the depth holds up, it will help Penn State use a larger rotation that Johnson typically used. Defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said the Vanderbilt linemen he and Spencer coached last fall didn't average more than 40 snaps a game.

The coaches want to use five or six defensive ends, as Bars, junior Carl Nassib and redshirt freshman Garrett Sickels also are in the mix. A healthy rotation suits Spencer's wild dogs philosophy.

At Vanderbilt, he commissioned a painting of a Commodores football player blended with a dog, which he displayed in his office at Penn State this spring. He also took a giant dog bone to the field.

"Part of their survival is when they chase their prey down, for three to five miles they take turns biting at him," Spencer said. "One goes to the front, and when he gets tired, the next one comes. It's a really unique strategy in terms of the way they attack things. We rotate a lot of guys, so we just take turns nipping at quarterbacks and making plays in the backfield."

Vanderbilt recorded 28 sacks last season, which tied for fourth in the SEC. Spencer estimates 24 came solely from line pressure. He expects the same production at Penn State.

Defensive tackle has been Penn State's strongest position in recent seasons with players such as Jones, Devon Still, Jordan Hill and Jared Odrick. Although Zettel and Johnson aren't known outside Happy Valley, the coaches think that soon will change.

"Zettel has been been very, very disruptive this spring," Shoop said. "Austin Johnson falls in line of the beast D-tackles Penn State's had in the past. He's over 300 pounds, moves well, he's tough to move at the point of attack, got a big butt and legs."

Olaniyan led Penn State with five sacks last season, his first as a starter. Penn State looks for more from Barnes, the former Big Ten Freshman of the Year whose sacks and tackles for loss totals dropped by more than 50 percent from 2012 to 2013.

"What we're looking at is, how can we get him back to that?" Spencer said.

Spencer is pleased with Barnes' football knowledge and said all the linemen are asking "200- and 300-level questions" in meetings. Life without Johnson undoubtedly caused an adjustment -- "It's always tough to see somebody you call a family member leave," Olaniyan said -- but players quickly connected with Spencer, who lists relationship-building among his strengths.

"I grew up without a dad," said Spencer, whose father played for Michigan State in the 1960s. "Unfortunately, we don't have a relationship right now, and he's still alive. It's one of the things I'm least proud of, but at the same time, it made me who I am today. It made me have the ability to reach out to kids that probably are similar to me. I'm a little younger than Larry so they're not going to look at me as a dad, so to speak. They look at me as a big brother or an uncle.

"I think we've got some similarities in the way we care about our players, but I'm probably a little bit wilder than he is."

A little wilder and a little louder, but just as demanding.

"They both have the same philosophy as far as they want you to do everything perfect," Olaniyan said. "It's easy to embrace the new coaches when they have the same goal. We take pride as the Penn State D-line.

"Each game, we want everybody to see us as one of the best defensive lines out there. We want to be great."

At Penn State, some things never change.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
12:00
PM ET
Just make me an offer, Culver's.
Last week at this time, you learned the six prime-time games to appear on ABC/ESPN this fall. Now the Big Ten Network is up to bat.

BTN has selected six games to appear in prime time this fall. They are ...

Sept. 13

Penn State at Rutgers, 8 p.m. ET

[+] EnlargeKyle Flood
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesNew to the league, Kyle Flood and Rutgers will be featured prominently in the Big Ten's prime time schedule.
Sept. 27

Cincinnati at Ohio State, 6 p.m. ET
Illinois at Nebraska, 9 p.m. ET

Oct. 4

Michigan at Rutgers, 7 p.m. ET

Oct. 18

Nebraska at Northwestern, 7:30 p.m. ET

Nov. 15

Michigan State at Maryland, 8 p.m. ET

*Kickoff time set at a later date

For those who missed them, here are the ABC/ESPN prime-time selections:

Sept. 6

Virginia Tech at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN

Sept. 20

Miami at Nebraska, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 4

Nebraska at Michigan State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 11

Penn State at Michigan, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2

Oct. 25

Ohio State at Penn State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

Nov. 1

Illinois at Ohio State, 8 p.m. ET, ABC or ESPN or ESPN2

[+] EnlargeJordan Westerkamp
AP Photo/Nati HarnikOne of the league's new and entertaining rivalries, Northwester and Nebraska will meet under the lights this season.
Here's the breakdown of Big Ten prime-time games by team:

Ohio State: 4 (three home, one road)
Nebraska: 4 (two home, two road)
Penn State: 3 (two road, one home)
Michigan State: 2 (one home, one road)
Rutgers: 2 (two home)
Michigan: 2 (one home, one road)
Illinois: 2 (two road)
Northwestern: 1 (home)
Maryland: 1 (home)

Additional Big Ten-controlled prime-time games could be announced in the coming weeks.

More notes:

  • The MSU-Maryland game means the Big Ten will have at least two prime-time games after Nov. 1. The league previously avoided such games based on the preference of its members, not a conference-wide policy, as you've probably been led to believe. Additional November prime-time games could be announced, so stay tuned. Also remember that the Big Ten controls only games played at its stadiums, so if your team plays a road or neutral-site nonconference game, hang tight if it hasn't been announced.
  • Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin don't appear on the Big Ten's prime-time schedule. Iowa fans undoubtedly will be disappointed with no Big Ten prime-time games for the second consecutive season, as the Hawkeyes are a legitimate contender in the West Division. The problem likely is a schedule with the two most appealing games -- Wisconsin and Nebraska -- at the very end, when weather is a bigger factor. The Black Friday game against Nebraska has consistently been a noon ET ABC national broadcast, a spot not worth relinquishing. Still, I wouldn't want to be athletic director Gary Barta today. Wisconsin faces a similar issue as its top home games -- Nebraska and Minnesota -- come at the end of the season. Although it would have been great to see Nebraska-Wisconsin under the lights again, the Nov. 15 date likely prevented it. Indiana had three home prime-time games last year and has been a frequent night-game participant in recent years. Purdue gets the Notre Dame game, but its chances for an additional prime-time contest were hurt by last year's 1-11 clunker.
  • Not surprisingly, both new Big Ten members receive prime-time home games this fall. Rutgers will play its first two Big Ten home contests -- against Penn State and Michigan -- under the lights, while Maryland hosts the defending Big Ten champs in mid-November. "As new members, they're thrilled," Mark Rudner, the Big Ten's senior associate commissioner for television administration, told ESPN.com.
  • Remember, this list and the ESPN/ABC list contain only games controlled by the Big Ten (i.e. in Big Ten stadiums) Additional night games involving Big Ten teams include Wisconsin-LSU in Houston (Aug. 30, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN), Michigan at Notre Dame (Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC), Purdue-Notre Dame in Indianapolis (Sept. 13, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBC) and Nebraska at Fresno State (Sept. 13, 10:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network). The kickoff time for Rutgers' opener Aug. 28 against Washington State hasn't been set, but it will be a night game.
  • While Iowa and Wisconsin fans likely won't be pleased with the list, Ohio State and Nebraska supporters are celebrating. Urban Meyer's desire for more prime-time games is clearly paying off with three home contests and four total to date. Nebraska will play nearly half of its regular-season games at night after playing just one such contest last year. After day games against Florida Atlantic and McNeese State to open the year, the Huskers play five consecutive night games between Sept. 13 and Oct. 18 (they have an open week Oct. 11). I really like the Nebraska-Northwestern game at night. It has been one of the more entertaining games since the Huskers joined the league, as all three matchups have been decided by three points or fewer.
  • This year's prime-time schedule contains only one date, Oct. 4, where both BTN and ABC/ESPN are airing games at the same time. That night, Nebraska visits Michigan State on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2 and Michigan visits Rutgers on BTN. There were two such dates last year (Sept. 7 and Sept. 14).
  • Rudner said of the prime-time slate, "The process this year was about as smooth as we've had in the last seven years. Once you get to the point of recognizing the value and importance of prime time, then it becomes fairly easy to get approvals [from schools]."

OK, that's a lot to digest. Thoughts on the prime-time schedule? Send 'em here.

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