Joe Paterno is now winningest coach

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State's football team is getting back 112 wins wiped out during the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal, and the late Joe Paterno has been restored as the winningest coach in major college football history.

The NCAA announced the new settlement with the school Friday, weeks before a scheduled trial on the legality of the 2012 consent decree it will replace.

The new deal also directs a $60 million fine to address child abuse be spent within Pennsylvania and resolves that lawsuit.

The NCAA's board of governors approved the settlement, association spokesman Bob Williams said. The Penn State board approved it Friday afternoon.

"I want to thank Sen. (Jake) Corman, Treasurer (Rob) McCord, and the NCAA for their efforts to bring about an outcome that is in the best interest of Penn State," university president Eric Barron said in a statement. "I also want to thank the hard-working students, staff and faculty at Penn State who have ensured the highest level of compliance and ethics. Finally, I want to make it clear that we have a tremendous alumni community that cares a great deal for Penn State. It is my hope that this agreement will continue the healing process for all."

The announcement follows the NCAA's decision last year to reinstate the school's full complement of football scholarships and let Penn State participate in postseason play, and it comes just days after a federal judge declined to rule on the consent decree's constitutionality.

NCAA president Mark Emmert said the settlement did not serve to acknowledge any error on the part of the NCAA or signal victory for Penn State.

"We are not at all admitting that we didn't have the authority to impose the penalties," he said.

He said the NCAA acted in an unprecedented manner because of the severity of the situation.

"This was," Emmert said, "in all ways, an extraordinary circumstance. We all hope that we never find ourselves in a position like this."

Emmert declined to comment on a potential settlement with the Paterno family.

Joe Paterno's son, Jay, told ESPN's "Outside The Lines" that he is still looking for an explanation from the NCAA and that Emmert acted "as a rogue element."

"Well I think there needs to be some explanation as to why the NCAA, why the NCAA acted outside their jurisdiction," he said. "Why Emmert was able to act in the way that he did, and clearly the documents have proven he was not an honest broker in this situation. So I think there's still a lot more to explain as to why the reputation of Penn State University and certainly the reputation of athletic department that was a model program across the board, why that was allowed to be sacrificed in the alter of expediency in the panic of the day."

The objective in this case was always to improve the climate at Penn State, according to NCAA representatives. In that respect, Kansas State president Kirk Schulz said, the association's efforts have contributed to a resounding victory.

"I think the victors are those of us who are advocating for the children and can finally see this money put to good use," said University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides, a member of the NCAA's board of governors.

The NCAA said continuing the litigation would only delay the distribution of funds to sex abuse survivors.

"While others will focus on the return of wins, our top priority is on protecting, educating and nurturing young people," Pastides said.

The consent decree sprung from the scandal that erupted when Sandusky, a retired football assistant coach, was accused of sexually abusing boys, some of them on Penn State's campus.

It had eliminated all wins from 1998 -- when police investigated a mother's complaint that Sandusky had showered with her son -- through 2011, Paterno's final season as coach after six decades with the team and the year Sandusky was charged.

In September, the NCAA announced it was ending the school's ban on postseason play and restored its full complement of football scholarships earlier than scheduled. The Big Ten has yet to have discussions about reducing or removing any of its remaining sanctions against Penn State, including the removal of a bowl revenue share in 2015.

The restored wins include 111 under Paterno, who died in 2012, and the final victory of 2011, when the team was coached by defensive coach Tom Bradley. It returns Paterno's record to 409-136-3.

Paterno's 409 wins puts him ahead of former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who is No. 2 on the list with 377 wins -- and that is OK


(Read full post)


A dispiriting drought ended for the Big Ten on Monday night in Arlington, Texas. Another could end in April 2016 at an yet-to-be-determined location.

Ohio State's victory against Oregon gave the the Big Ten its first national championship since the 2002 season. No single accomplishment can help a league's reputation more than winning a national championship.

But there's another distinction the Big Ten would like to ditch. The league hasn't had a quarterback drafted in the first round of the NFL draft since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995 (No. 5 overall to Carolina). Collins, now 42, played his final NFL season in 2011.

The first-round quarterback draftee drought isn't nearly as significant as the national championship drought in determining the Big Ten's value. The league has produced several standout pro quarterbacks drafted after the first round, most recently Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, a third-round pick who helped Seattle win the Super Bowl last season.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Darren Carroll for ESPNCardale Jones, if he wins the Ohio State starting job, could also end the Big Ten's first-round quarterback drought in 2016.
Still, two decades without a single first-rounder at quarterback is pretty stunning. It won't end April 30 in Chicago. Although the Big Ten could have its best first-round showing in years, the group won't include a quarterback.

But there's a decent chance, perhaps a good one, that things will change in 2016. Cardale Jones' decision to return to Ohio State gives the league another quarterback with the potential to go high in the draft. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. projected Jones as a second- or third-round pick in this year's draft if he had elected to leave Ohio State. Kiper's assessment came despite Jones having just three career starts and 94 career pass attempts under his belt with the Buckeyes.

Jones, of course, must first retain the starting job at Ohio State, which will be no easy task when more experienced quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller return from serious injuries. But if "12 Gauge" remains Ohio State's triggerman, grows his game as a redshirt junior and perhaps leads the Buckeyes to a national title, his draft stock surely will climb higher. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones checks all the boxes for NFL measurables -- huge arm, powerful runner, good feet -- and he already has proven himself a winner at the highest level of college football.

There's certainly some risk in Jones returning to Ohio State. But to think his draft stock can't get any higher is to doubt his ability to grow. If the last six weeks have taught us anything, it's not to doubt Cardale Jones.

Even if Jones doesn't start or backslides in his play, another Big Ten quarterback could crack the first round in 2016. Michigan State's Connor Cook and Penn State's Christian Hackenberg both have the ingredients to earn high draft grades in 2016 (Hackenberg, who just completed his sophomore year, would be an early draft entrant).



Let's begin with Hackenberg, who flourished in Bill O'Brien's offense in 2013, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. At this time last year, many viewed the Penn State quarterback as a first-round lock in 2016 and a candidate to be the No. 1 overall pick. But Hackenberg endured a rough sophomore season behind a flimsy line, throwing 15 interceptions against 12 touchdowns and was sacked 44 times. His frustration grew and he had several sideline blow-ups with offensive coordinator John Donovan.

But opposing coaches tell me Hackenberg wasn't the problem with Penn State's offense. If the line is fixed -- the Lions will have more bodies there in 2015 -- Hackenberg's performance should improve. He still projects extremely well to the next level, and his top three receivers are back.

Cook might have earned a first-round grade if he chose to skip his senior year. He could cement himself as a No. 1 pick with a strong senior season. Cook has flourished in Michigan State's pro-style offense, throwing 46 touchdown passes the past two seasons. Like Jones, Cook is a proven winner, having led Michigan State to consecutive top-five finishes, consecutive major bowl victories and a Big Ten championship in 2013. His playmaking ability is obvious, but his ability to rebound from bad plays like this will really stick out to NFL personnel evaluators.

Jones, Hackenberg and Cook all have the potential to end the Big Ten's first-round quarterback famine, and other candidates could emerge. Quarterback might be a strength in the league. (It will be at Ohio State.)

The Big Ten waited a long time to for a team to raise the national championship trophy.

Now it waits for another sign of progress: a quarterback walking across the stage on the first night of the NFL draft.

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
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The Big Ten played in 10 bowl games -- 11 if you count the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. We've come up with our list of the league's best postseason performers. The strategy here was as follows: When in doubt, choose a Buckeye. There is lots of scarlet and gray on our Big Ten all-bowl team, as you'd expect. Here it is:

Offense

QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: Bouncing back from an at times rough sophomore season, Hackenberg reminded everyone of his talent in his team's 31-30 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College. He threw for 371 yards and a season-high four touchdowns with no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott left defenders grasping at air this postseason.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: The offensive MVP of both the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, Elliott blossomed into a superstar this postseason. He ran for 476 yards and six touchdowns in the two playoff wins, including a four-touchdown night against Oregon.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: The Badgers star capped his career in style, by running for 251 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's Outback Bowl win over Auburn. Gordon finished the season with 2,587 rushing yards, the second most in FBS history.

WR: Devin Smith, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' big-play threat became even more dangerous with Cardale Jones slinging it to him in the postseason. He had two catches for 87 yards and a score against Alabama and one for 45 yards against Oregon, but defenses always had to account for Smith.

WR: Chris Godwin, Penn State: The Nittany Lions freshman had 198 total receiving yards on the season before he caught seven balls for 140 yards and a touchdown in the win over Boston College.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams had seven receptions for 98 yards and a score in his team's Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl loss to Missouri. His hurdle over a Tigers defensive back en route to a 54-yard score was one of the best plays of bowl season.

OL: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: The Buckeyes dominated the line of scrimmage against Alabama and Oregon, and their junior left tackle was a huge reason for that.

OL: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: Elflein was terrific from his guard position, as the Buckeyes were able to run the ball extremely well in both playoff games.

OL: Kodi Kieler, Michigan State: Thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle due to an injury, Kieler graded out as the Spartans' top offensive linemen in their 42-41 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic win over Baylor. His hustle on a Baylor interception drew a penalty that might have saved the game.

OL: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The center and leader of the Spartans' line helped pave room for 552 yards and 29 first downs against Baylor.

OL: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: The Badgers ran for 400 yards against Auburn, and Costigan helped lead the way.

Defense

DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State

Yep, we've got three Buckeyes here (and you could make a case for Steve Miller, who had a pick-six versus Alabama). The Ohio State defensive line was great in both playoff games at both holding up against the run and generating pressure on the quarterback, and the starters proved to be iron men in both games.

DL: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: Zettel had a pair of tackles for loss against Boston College to finish his spectacular season at defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: The defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl became a household name this January. Only a redshirt freshman, Lee could terrorize Big Ten offenses for a long time.

LB: Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Yet another Buckeyes defender. Grant led the team in tackles in the Sugar Bowl and was strong from his middle linebacker position when it mattered most.

LB: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin: Schobert collected three tackles for loss in Wisconsin's win over Auburn.

CB: Doran Grant, Ohio State: He corralled Alabama stud receiver Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl and held Cooper to his second-lowest yardage total against an FBS team this season.

CB: Jordan Lucas, Penn State: Boston College passed for only 97 yards on 20 attempts versus the Nittany Lions. Lucas also added seven tackles and a sack in the victory.

S: Vonn Bell, Ohio State: Hey, look, another Buckeye. Bell added to Ohio State's outstanding defensive effort from his safety position by grabbing an interception against Alabama and collecting 14 tackles in the two playoff games.

S: Lorenzo Waters, Rutgers: He was a busy man in his team's 40-21 Quick Lane Bowl win over North Carolina, with 14 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The Brazilian freshman kicked a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left to send the game against Auburn into overtime, and he won it with a 25-yarder in the first extra period.

P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State: He averaged 46.5 yards on six punts against Alabama and 42 yards on three attempts against Oregon.

KR: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: In his final game with the Huskers, Abdullah returned three kicks for 120 yards, including a 49-yarder, in Nebraska's 45-42 National University Holiday Bowl loss to USC.

Top recruiting targets in the Big Ten 

January, 16, 2015
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Big Ten coaches are working feverishly to finish out their 2015 recruiting classes. With only a few weeks left until signing day, each team has some must-get recruits, or targets that would benefit the program greatly.

Here is a look at those prospects within the Big Ten conference:

Eleven players from nine different Big Ten schools decided to leave a year of college eligibility on the table and enter the NFL draft this spring. There were also some notable decisions accompanied by news conferences and surprise announcements to stay put for at least one more season.

With the window for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft officially closed (those that did decide to make the jump can still change their minds over the weekend), it’s time to sort through which teams lost the most and which teams can declare victory.

Winners
1. Ohio State
Many of the players who led the Buckeyes to a national title this season are too young to consider NFL riches this year. Ohio State didn’t have a single player with college eligibility remaining declare for the draft this year. The three players that passed up a safe bet to be drafted are Taylor Decker, the cornerstone of a much improved offensive line; defensive lineman Adolphus Washington; and, of course, quarterback Cardale Jones, who held a news conference Thursday afternoon to announce that he would be coming back to finish his degree in Columbus.

The return of that trio ensures that Ohio State will once again be intimidating in the trenches and equipped with unprecedented depth at the quarterback position. Jones will battle with J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, who was also eligible to enter the draft, for a starting spot in the fall. Urban Meyer will have a hard time duplicating this retention rate in the next couple of years, but having zero early draft entrants on a national championship team bodes well for the Buckeyes’ immediate future.

2. Michigan State
Before Jones declared his intentions to return, Michigan State was in the running for the best in-house recruiting job of the year. Top players on both sides of the ball, quarterback Connor Cook and defensive end Shilique Calhoun, return to give the Spartans a legitimate shot at a third straight top-5 finish.

Cook can bring consistency to an offense that loses its top rusher and its top receiver this season. Calhoun helps to offset the loss of fellow defensive end Marcus Rush. Their production and leadership should give a new crop of players time to get acclimated. Michigan State will have to replace its No. 1 cornerback in Trae Waynes, who opted to jump to the NFL. Waynes may be the first cornerback taken in draft. He leaves the Spartans with a hole to fill in a crucial position on defense.

3. Rutgers
Beyond the top two programs in the conference, the Scarlet Knights were the only team to retain a sure-thing draft pick in wide receiver Leonte Carroo. As a junior, Carroo led the nation with 19.7 yards per catch and led his team with 10 receiving touchdowns. His decision to stay is even more of a coup when considering that quarterback Gary Nova, who has been throwing passes to Carroo since their high school days at Don Bosco Prep, graduated at the end of the 2014 season.

Carroo will be an important security blanket for whoever takes Nova’s place, especially since tight end Tyler Kroft opted to leave school after his junior season. Kroft caught only 24 passes for 269 yards this season, but his 6-foot-6, 240-pound frame will be missed in Piscataway.

Losers
1. Penn State
The Nittany Lions are sending three underclassmen to the draft this year. No other school in the conference has more than one player leaving early. Tight end Jesse James, defensive end Deion Barnes and offensive tackle Donovan Smith all declared for the draft this year.

Barnes, a Big Ten honorable mention pick, made 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks this season as a leader of one of the conference’s best front-seven units. James (6-foot-7, 254 pounds) has NFL size, but still ranks behind Kroft and Minnesota’s Maxx Williams as a draft prospect. Smith was easily Penn State’s most experienced offensive lineman. Attrition is to be expected during a coaching change, but James Franklin’s team lost more experience in key areas than any other program in the Big Ten this year.

2. Indiana
While not nearly as surprising as some of Penn State’s departures, the loss of Tevin Coleman at Indiana will be hard to weather. Coleman ran for 2,036 yards against defenses that didn’t need to worry about a passing attack for most of the season. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon edged Coleman on the postseason award circuit, but few players were more essential to their teams this season than the Hoosiers’ junior running back.

No one else on the roster was a serious candidate to leave for the next level. No one in Bloomington will begrudge Coleman for moving on. Nonetheless, his absence will be felt at Indiana next season.

3. Nebraska
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory is expected to be the first Big Ten player off the draft board this season. He's a top-5 pick, according to Mel Kiper's first mock draft this week. While his leap to the NFL appears to be a smart move, he will be missed as a pass-rusher in Lincoln.

Gregory dropped off slightly this season on the stat sheet after winning the Cornhuskers' defensive MVP award as a sophomore. Most of that decline can be attributed to the extra attention he received from opposing offenses all year. He finished the season with seven sacks and 10 tackles for loss. The return of defensive tackle Maliek Collins and defensive end Greg McMullen (both will be juniors in 2015) gives Nebraska experience on the line and helps soften the blow of Gregory's exit.

4. Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Maryland
All four of these schools will lose their most talented player a year early. Wisconsin has the most production to replace with Gordon, but also is in the best shape to replace him with a sturdy offensive line and experienced backup in Corey Clement. Devin Funchess from Michigan has great size but was underwhelming during a down year for the Wolverines. After catching three touchdown passes in the first half of the season opener, Funchess scored only once more the rest of the season. Minnesota and Maryland lose their best receivers too -- Maxx Williams and Stefon Diggs, respectively -- but neither was tied inextricably to his team’s ability to move the ball like Coleman or Gordon were during the past season.

Big Ten morning links

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
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Subbing in on morning links duty. It's a big stage, but I'm ready. My friends call me Cardale.

1. Speaking of Cardale Jones, he's coming back to Ohio State, a decision that surprised many because of the way he announced his decision (with a big to-do at Ginn Academy, his high school in Cleveland). The Buckeyes quarterback joked, "I don't know why you guys made such a big deal." Us? Us?!?! Jones' decision sparked a swarm of opinions, from the positive to the skeptical. Doug Lesmerises puts it best in this excellent in-depth piece: "Jones and Ginn Academy are more than a news conference."

After proving his on-field mettle in three huge games for the Buckeyes, Jones showed how much he had matured Thursday, sincerely talking about his desire to get an education and set an example for other underprivileged kids from Cleveland. Sure, the news conference was unusual, but it provided great exposure for Ginn Academy and the good things that happen there.

Time will tell if Jones made the right call for his pro football future. His draft stock might never be higher. He might not retain the starting job next season, although he has a major advantage right now as Ohio State's only healthy option. Still, he seemed like a man at peace with his decision. Jones is on the right track, both in football and in life. And as college football fans, you should be thrilled he's sticking around for another season.

2. The NCAA's methods for getting Penn State to sign a consent decree in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal are facing more scrutiny. A USA Today investigation finds that NCAA president Mark Emmert had virtually no support to impose the so-called death penalty on Penn State, a threat then-PSU president Rodney Erickson said was made. Emmert appears to have been bluffing.

This is more good news for those challenging the NCAA for imposing the historic sanctions against Penn State (and Penn State officials for accepting them). Momentum seems to be building for a settlement in the lawsuit filed by two state officials against the NCAA and Penn State, as a trial date looms Feb. 17. How will the summer of 2011 be remembered? As more facts are revealed, the narrative is changing.

3. Graham Couch makes some good points in his guide for Big Ten fans to counter SEC snobbery. It's important for fans to understand the philosophical differences in the ways leagues are run. Big Ten fans should be proud of the league's broad-based philosophy and the opportunities it offers to so many athletes, while also demanding market-value investment in football, which is certainly possible.

This league can be good in a lot of sports without shortchanging its football fans.

Elsewhere ...

West Division
East Division

 

Moments that made us laugh this season

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
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Maybe it's the unmatched passion of the fans. Maybe it's our collective need to laugh about a sport that many take waaaay too seriously. Maybe it's the fact that seemingly everything is televised or caught on camera these days.

But for whatever reason, college football lends itself to hilarious viral moments, and this season was no exception. Below you'll find a collection of the lighthearted posts that you the readers clicked on the most during the 2014 season. Enjoy the trip down memory lane!

Big-guy touchdowns

Everyone loves it when one of the big ol' boys in the trenches gets the chance to find the end zone. It seemed to happen a lot in 2014, but three really stood out. At Arkansas, a 6-foot-5, 350-pound offensive lineman actually threw a touchdown pass to a long snapper. Seriously, it happened. On the FCS level, a Mercer O-lineman scored a touchdown and led a phenomenal celebration that included him pulling off a cartwheel. No, seriously. And during the Cotton Bowl, Baylor's LaQuan McGowan -- at 6-foot-7, 400 pounds -- rumbled into the end zone for the biggest of all big-guy touchdowns.

Refs can be funny, too!

Like the one who got emotionally descriptive while flagging a player for removing his helmet "in disgust." Like the one who once penalized a player for "giving him the business" and making us laugh again. Like the one who got really mad at himself for accidentally turning his back to the camera while making a call.

Arkansas State of hilarity

An unlikely candidate for viral team of the season, but Arkansas State was just that for a beautiful two-week stretch in September. First, it was the pair of teammates named Clark and Griswold that TV cameras caught standing next to each other for this splendid image. Then, the following week at Miami, a Red Wolves player named Booker Mays played dead in the now-infamous "Fainting Goat" play that you all couldn't get enough of, along with Mitch Sherman's profile of the Fainting Goat himself.

video Campus cops bring the funny

We didn't see this one coming. But two of our most popular posts involved a humorous Twitter back-and-forth between the campus police departments at Iowa and Iowa State before and after the two schools met on the gridiron. Then, a couple of months later, the police at Wisconsin had a memorable exchange with the genius that runs the great @FauxPelini Twitter account.

Non-FBS play of the year

You don't know much about Indiana State football, but you know a good trick play when you see it. And many of you clicked on this post and saw it clear as day as the Sycamores pulled off the hidden-ball trick to perfection and set up the winning kick against Missouri State.

News conference moment of the year

After Oregon's win against Colorado, one industrious 12-year-old student reporter took it upon himself to get to the bottom of whether the Ducks' quarterback would declare for the NFL draft. It led to a hilarious and endearing back-and-forth with Oregon coach Mark Helfrich in which he declared that "Jesus, girls and Marcus Mariota" were all anyone talked about at his Catholic school in Eugene. The memorable phrase led to a T-shirt, a Tom Rinaldi video feature on the phenomenon and our very own Chantel Jennings visiting the school to get some hilarious answers from the student body.

Same team, fellas!

First, Penn State pulled it off early in the season, letting Florida off the hook for its infamous self-blocking incident in 2013. Then Florida, as if almost offended by someone challenging its title as the King of Teammate Blocking Schemes, managed to pull it off for a second straight year, this time against Florida State. Then FSU, not content to let the rival Gators steal the spotlight in this seemingly unenviable category, insisted on doing just the same during its much-mocked, second-half collapse against Oregon in the playoff.

Celebrity central

Hollywood and the music industry mixed well with college football in 2014. Among our favorite moments: Matthew McConaughey doing Matthew McConaughey things during a pep talk to his beloved Texas Longhorns. Tennessee creating a "Third Down for What" tune that fired up the fan base and made a Vols fan out of Lil Jon. George Clinton himself endorsing a Michigan player's "Atomic Dog" funk. And of course, Katy Perry taking over Ole Miss and besting Lee Corso on picks on "College GameDay" during the show's unforgettable first visit to the Grove.

video Dancing coaches

It sure seemed as if 2014 was the year victorious coaching dances in the locker room became a thing. There were so many to choose from, but among our favorites: Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, the self-proclaimed "dance-circle" king, living up to the billing after a stunning win against rival OU; Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer not letting his age get in the way of a good celebration; Wisconsin interim coach Barry Alvarez getting one last dance in after a bowl win, before settling back into his job as the school's AD. Oh, and then there was whatever this was, an unearthed video of Auburn coach Gus Malzahn breakdancing to "U Can't Touch This" in one of the most 1990s images you'll ever see.

SEC's 'enthusiastic' fans

The passion people have for college football never ceases to impress or entertain us. And this season did not disappoint, especially in the ever-passionate SEC. There was the fan driving around in a car transformed to look like Alabama's elephant mascot. The Vandy man who got so frustrated at the refs that he threw his hat and shirt onto the field and stormed off. The SEC sing-off between "That's Amari" and "I'm A Bielemer." The negative political ad and $14 barber shop debt that awaited Lane Kiffin upon his return to Knoxville. And of course, the King of All Crazy down South, Harvey Updyke, the infamous tree poisoner who claimed he'd be dressed as a dead tree for his Halloween costume.

Of course, there were others -- some sneaky Michigan State students painting Michigan's block "M" Spartan green, Penn State fans giving the Ohio State players an early wake-up call, creative haircuts throughout the nation -- but the SEC, despite some of the shine coming off this season on the field, still is the undisputed champion of viral fans.

Best of the rest

There were some moments that didn't fit neatly into one of our categories, but were so popular with you the fans that we had to find a place for them here in our end-of-season recap. For example, who could forget Ohio State assistant strength coach Anthony Schlegel body-slamming an idiot fan who ran onto the field? Or the Minnesota man who affectionately became known as "Dilly Bar Dan" after TV cameras caught him eating an ice cream bar on the sidelines when it was 15 degrees and snowing. His 15 minutes of fame was pretty amazing.

Minnesota coachESPNOut of nowhere, on a snowy day in Minnesota, Dilly Bar Dan came into our lives. And it was beautiful.

So was the last-second block that a member of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets delivered on a fast-charging SMU player, thus saving a sideline collision with Reveille, the school's revered dog mascot. And speaking of the sideline, how about that Auburn kid who challenged FSU's "Red Lightning" for most-celebrated ball boy status by showing crazy SEC speed while sprinting down the sideline? That dash was so popular that it spawned an ESPN Sport Science segment comparing the two ball boys.

But we close this piece with our favorite opening of the college football season. It occurred when Eastern Michigan attempted to illustrate a season-long theme by sledge-hammering their way through a wall before running onto the field. Only problem was, the wall put up quite a fight. Let's just say ... it took awhile. And it was awkward. And it was awesome. All at the same time.

video
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill smiled one of those you-gotta-be-kidding-me smiles.

It was the morning after Ohio State had reclaimed college football's throne, winning its first national title -- and the Big Ten's first -- since the 2002 season. Urban Meyer had led Ohio State back to the top in just his third season. Naturally, the conversation turned to the future and what the Buckeyes' championship meant for the rest of the Big Ten.

Did Ohio State raise the bar?

"They've raised the bar for a long time," Kill said, chuckling. "And Urban's raised the bar. Just look at their players."

Ohio State has been the Big Ten's pace-setter for the past 15 years. And fairly or unfairly, the Buckeyes bore the brunt of the blame for the league's big-stage struggles after consecutive double-digit losses in the BCS title game following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Big Ten then entered arguably the darkest period in its history, struggling both on the field and off of it.

Which team would ultimately begin the reputation repair? Ohio State, of course. The Buckeyes were the only Big Ten team to even reach the title game during the BCS era (Nebraska was in the Big 12 when it got there after the 2001 season). Ohio State won six BCS bowl games (one later vacated); the other current Big Ten teams combined for seven BCS bowl wins (one vacated by Penn State).

Other Big Ten teams have come close to the title game. Michigan State was a few bad calls away from an undefeated regular season in 2013. Penn State appeared to be on its way in 2008, and Iowa entered the national discussion the following year. Still, Ohio State has been the only Big Ten program to reach the mountaintop. And the Buckeyes could stay there in 2015 as they return a team loaded with star power on both sides of the ball.

But they can't be alone in the playoff push.

Longtime Big Ten blog readers know my fundamental theory about the league, but it's worth restating, even in the wake of an image-boosting championship and a strong bowl performance. The Big Ten ultimately needs multiple national title contenders every year to be regarded as an elite conference. It's what stood out about the SEC's historic run: four different teams won national championships. The SEC isn't just Alabama. The Pac-12 isn't just Oregon.

Ohio State should be in the playoff mix every year that Meyer coaches. Will the Buckeyes have company?

Michigan State is clearly the next program to watch. The Spartans have recorded consecutive top-5 finishes with major bowl wins (2014 Rose, 2015 Cotton). They finished in the top 10 in the major bowls in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1965-66.

Quarterback Connor Cook returns for his senior season and could cement himself as the best signal-caller in team history. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun also will be back to anchor a strong front four. Although MSU loses talented defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, it maintains continuity by promoting longtime assistants Mike Tressel and Harlon Barnett to co-coordinator roles.

It also has a nationally elite coach in Mark Dantonio.

"We're just not that far away," Dantonio said on the Big Ten Network while attending the national title game. "A lot of teams are like that. Not that far away. If you look a little bit further into the future, you can dream big and great things can happen. That's where our football team is. I think we're in the conversation."

Who else from the Big Ten could enter that discussion?

Wisconsin isn't far away. The Badgers bring in elite talent at positions like running back and offensive line. They have a terrific defensive coordinator in Dave Aranda, who will remain on staff with new coach Paul Chryst. Wisconsin must make upgrades at quarterback, wide receiver and defensive back. Chryst's presence will help the quarterbacks, and the return of assistant Joe Rudolph should help recruiting.

Penn State has fewer recruiting challenges than Wisconsin and will bring in elite talent under coach James Franklin. The defense is in good shape under the watch of coordinator Bob Shoop. The offense will improve as line depth improves. Penn State has some big steps to take, but no team other than Virginia Tech pushed Ohio State more than the Lions. Things are on the upswing in Happy Valley.

Since 2006, Michigan has looked nothing like a playoff team. Jim Harbaugh could change that at a place that always has the potential to be great. There's debate among opposing coaches about how much talent is already in the program, but Harbaugh's ability to develop current players will be fascinating. You know he and his assistants will flourish in recruiting.

Like Michigan, Nebraska has the resources and tradition to be elite. Like Wisconsin, Nebraska also has some inherent recruiting challenges. Mike Riley's approaches with both player development and recruiting will be worth watching. The glory days of the mid-1990s likely are never coming back, but Nebraska should be a periodic CFP contender.

Iowa has shown the capability to be elite under Kirk Ferentz, but the program is trending down. Ferentz could course-correct -- he has done so before -- and make Iowa a periodic contender, but not an annual one.

It's up to these teams to ensure the Big Ten's title hopes aren't always placed in the Buckeye basket. The league could have a surprise riser in some seasons -- perhaps Minnesota, where Kill has done well -- but can't expect one annually.

Bottom line: The Big Ten has enough capable options to become more than a one-horse race.

"Top to bottom, we have some work to do in our conference," Meyer said Tuesday, "but it's moving."

Coaches like to talk about getting population to the football. The Big Ten wants population in the playoff discussion.

Ohio State could use some company at the summit.

"Hopefully," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "it will be an incredible motivator for everybody in our league."
The perception of the Big Ten is changing, and the rankings are starting to reflect that.

The problem is, the latter appears to be improving at a slower rate than the former, which is probably still a product of the early hole the Big Ten dug for itself at the beginning of the season.

But if the national champions proved anything, it’s that final judgment can’t be made during the second week of September. And led by Ohio State, the frequently picked-on league improved dramatically as the season went on, building to a productive postseason that shocked oddsmakers but really shouldn’t have come as such a great surprise if the conference had been getting the credit it deserved for progressively gaining strength.

Maybe the Big Ten doesn’t yet have a strong case for the No. 1 spot in the final Conference Power Rankings as determined by ESPN Stats and Information, an honor that went to the Pac-12. And despite the SEC failing to impress during bowl season and having its champion get knocked out by the best in the Big Ten, perhaps the Big Ten still doesn’t deserve to be No. 2, either. But after already passing the ACC with its strong closing argument, there’s a compelling case to be made that it should have leaped over the Big 12 as well to finish in the third spot instead of closing the 2014 campaign at No. 4.

The Buckeyes are obviously the trump card for plenty of arguments moving forward, erasing the title drought for the league and proving definitively by beating the champions of the top two leagues that there is elite football coming from the Big Ten again.

But in reality, Ohio State’s accomplishments can’t really be shared, which is why the 6-5 postseason record and the number of teams the league had step up down the stretch is so valuable moving forward.

The rankings might have been largely unsalvageable after all the marquee matchups largely went against the Big Ten during the first couple weeks of the season. But Michigan State coming back to beat the previously highest-ranked non-playoff team with its rally over Baylor in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic was a statement victory.

Wisconsin bouncing back from a beatdown in the Big Ten championship to knock off Auburn helped silence the longstanding taunts that the league doesn’t have the athleticism to match up with the SEC.

Penn State and Rutgers offered some evidence that the middle of the pack is on the rise in the conference as well, though wins over Boston College and North Carolina, respectively, may have only mattered individually in dropping the ACC down to the lowest spot among Power 5 leagues.

But even still, the College Football Playoff selection committee had already recognized that the Big Ten was more than just a punchline when it put five teams in the rankings in November. And it certainly was impressed enough with the league champion to put Ohio State in the four-team playoff, where it was up to the Buckeyes to show they belonged once they stepped on the field.

The underdog in every postseason game, the challenge was the same for the Big Ten as a whole -- and it vastly exceeded expectations and did a lot of work to erase the stigma the league has been burdened with for the last handful of seasons.

And while that didn’t earn the conference a No. 1 ranking like Ohio State claimed for itself, the Big Ten proved collectively it should be closer to the top than the bottom.

ACC morning links

January, 14, 2015
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Virginia Tech announced some changes Tuesday to a pair of its future Big Ten series, while adding another home-and-home from that league to its schedule as well.

The Hokies will play Rutgers in 2023 and 2024. They will play at Rutgers on Sept. 16, 2023 and host the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 21, 2024.

Virginia Tech also moved its home-and-home with Penn State to 2020 and 2025, along with moving its home-and-home with Wisconsin to 2024 and 2025.

The Hokies will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 12, 2020 and play at Penn State on Sept. 6, 2025. They will play at Wisconsin on Sept. 14, 2024 before hosting the Badgers on Sept. 13, 2025.

The addition of Virginia Tech's Nov. 2, 2019 trip to Notre Dame forced the move of both the Penn State and Wisconsin series, as the Hokies would have had just five home games in 2019.

"Our goal is to have at least six home games every year," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said in a release. "So we needed to do some rearranging to make this happen, and both athletics departments at Wisconsin and Penn State were gracious enough to work with us."

The Hokies' games with Penn State were originally scheduled for Sept. 17, 2022 (in Blacksburg) and Sept. 16, 2023 (State College). Their games with Wisconsin were originally scheduled for Sept. 14, 2019 (in Madison) and Sept. 12, 2020 (in Blacksburg).

We now pause to applaud Virginia Tech here for its aggressive nonconference scheduling. In addition to these Big Ten games, the Hokies also have dates lined up with Ohio State (next season) and Michigan (2020-21). They play Tennessee in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway and West Virginia in 2017 in Landover, Maryland, and again in 2021-22.

They also play Purdue (2015, 2023) and East Carolina (2015-2020).

"I am very pleased with our future scheduling," Babcock said in the release. "Jim Weaver, Coach [Frank] Beamer and John Ballein were ahead of their time on advance scheduling and strength of schedule, which is so important in the new playoff structure. It's nice to be the recipient of their proactive efforts and our fans and players will ultimately be the beneficiaries. We want to be the best and play the best. We want to bring marquee games to Lane Stadium. This schedule sets up very nicely for us over the next decade. We may make some slight tweaks, but, in general, we are set for the next 10 years."

Here are the rest of your ACC Wednesday links:

Big Ten morning links

January, 14, 2015
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1. The 2014 college football season is over. Quick! On to the next! The first round of predictions for futures near and distant hit the Internet while AT&T Stadium’s cleaning crew was still sweeping confetti Monday night. Ohio State is a 9-2 favorite to hoist the trophy again next season according to Las Vegas, but didn’t make the top of the list on ESPN’s early Top 25. Four Big Ten teams made it on that list as well as USA Today’s rankings. Only the Buckeyes and Spartans made Fox’s list. These numbers serve little purpose other than giving every non-Buckeye fan in the country something to talk about, but if the Big Ten finished with only two teams in the Top 25 a year from now that would be a step backward for the conference. Maybe perception hasn’t changed too dramatically during bowl season.

2. In a similar “What’s next?” spirit, it took far less than 24 hours for conversation to turn toward Ohio State’s next championship. Urban Meyer’s dynasty under construction was a popular topic Tuesday. So many things can go wrong to knock down a Goliath that it feels like an overreaction to break out that word after one title, but it’s really hard to imagine Meyer’s team not playing for more in the near future. In his last 10 seasons as a head coach, Meyer has either won a national championship or finished undefeated five times. Fifteen of his starters Monday night grew up in Ohio, which means there is plenty of capable local talent. And almost all of them will be back again next fall. Meyer said he wanted to let his players enjoy this one rather than talking about the future. If the noted workaholic can keep from burning out in the coming years, the future is glaringly bright in Columbus.

3. The championship trophy is officially in Big Ten country. Why not bring the whole game with it? A couple cities within the conference footprint are planning to make bids on future title games after watching Monday’s extravaganza. Indianapolis, a city apparently on a quest to host the title game of every major sport in the country, is mulling the idea of aiming for the game as early as 2018. Minneapolis is also leaning toward trying to bring the championship north. While a future championship game in the Midwest may make some Big Ten folks happy, consider this my vote to keep the season finale confined to points Pasadena and South.

A few more links to tales of Ohio State's historic night in Texas:
And now a look at what's going on elsewhere in the Big Ten:

Federal judge declines to nullify law

January, 13, 2015
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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A federal judge on Tuesday declined to throw out a state law that requires the $60 million fine Penn State has been paying over the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal be spent to address child abuse within the state.

U.S. Middle District Judge Yvette Kane ruled against the NCAA's effort to have the 2013 Endowment Act declared in violation of the federal constitution, deferring to a parallel case in state court that is scheduled for trial next month.

Her decision was based largely on the fact the constitutionality of the law had already been upheld in the Commonwealth Court case, which pits state Treasurer Rob McCord and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman against the NCAA and Penn State.

"A judgment on the constitutional claims from this court, at this juncture, would unnecessarily interfere with state court proceedings and result in needless duplication," the judge wrote.

The pending state court case began as an attempt to enforce the Endowment Act but has morphed into a wider challenge to the legality of a 2012 consent decree between Penn State and the NCAA, an agreement that includes the fine.

The judge, ruling in favor of McCord and Corman on Tuesday, wrote that "judicial economy would not be served were this court to undertake an independent review of the constitutional claims at issue here," and she noted trial in the other case is imminent. She said the NCAA had sufficient opportunity to air the constitutional claims in Commonwealth Court, enough to keep her from stepping in.

The NCAA said the judge didn't address the validity of the Endowment Act in her ruling.

"The NCAA continues to believe the Endowment Act is unconstitutional and will have the right to appeal the lower court's decision at the conclusion of the Corman case," it said in a statement.

A lawyer for McCord said the judge's order effectively kicks the NCAA out of federal court.


(Read full post)


Final 2014 Big Ten Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
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» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Midyear additions: Penn State

January, 13, 2015
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Three recruits have signed grant-in-aid agreements with Penn State, according to the program's official website, GoPSUSports.com:

Sterling Jenkins, OT
HT: 6-8 WT: 305
Positional Rank: No. 9 OT
Stars: 4
ESPN 300: No. 105
Under Armour All-American

Paris Palmer, OT
HT: 6-8 WT: 300
Positional Rank: No. 2 OT (JC)
Stars: 4
ESPN JC50: No. 25

Tommy Stevens, QB-DT
HT: 6-4 WT: 193
Positional Rank: No. 25 QB-DT
Stars: 3

PSU trustees ask for more info

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
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[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesRestoring the 112 wins stripped from Joe Paterno's record could be addressed in any new settlement talks between Penn State and the NCAA.

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Two Penn State trustees said Monday they have learned the university has proposed new settlement terms with the NCAA in a lawsuit related to the handling of the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal and want their board chairman to tell them the details.

Any potential settlement could address whether to restore 112 wins from the final years of former coach Joe Paterno's career.

Trustees Anthony Lubrano and Al Lord, who were elected by alumni, released an email they sent to board chairman Keith Masser saying any such discussions should be shared with them and all other trustees.

"We do not know its terms but are naturally skeptical of a proposal designed by only those trustees complicit in the travesties of 2011, 2012 and 2013,'' Lubrano and Lord wrote. "As chair and vice chair during these periods, you should be particularly mindful of the real and perceived conflict potential your leadership decisions have.''

Masser replied that they were making incorrect "suppositions'' and that public airing of any possible litigation settlement could damage Penn State. He said that the board has a subcommittee that handles such legal matters.


(Read full post)


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