Penn State Nittany Lions: Leonard Fournette

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
4:30
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Let's check the mail ...

Husker Jeff from Lincoln Park writes: Adam, can we get some decent weather here in the Windy City? ... Anyway, a conference that is always known for its running backs looks to have some salty returners for the 2014 season. What's your top five at the RB position for this upcoming season?

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, this winter can't end soon enough. Just brutal. ... Yes, the Big Ten once again will be a running back's league in 2013, despite losing standouts such as Carlos Hyde and James White.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsNebraska's Ameer Abdullah is the top returning running back in the Big Ten.
Here's my top five entering the fall:

1. Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: Most consistent back in the league and helps his team in so many ways. Needs to score more touchdowns.

2. Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: Has the most star potential and could be on the Heisman Trophy radar. Must show more consistency in Big Ten play.

3. Venric Mark, Northwestern: Recent injury history is a concern, but his speed and willingness to mix it up between the tackles makes him stand out. Also a huge threat on returns.

4. Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Explosive player who averaged 7.3 yards per carry as a sophomore. Must show he can handle more touches this season.

5. Jeremy Langford, Michigan State: Solid back who gets stronger as games go on. Yards-per-carry average isn't exceptional, but he gets the job done.

Also in the mix: David Cobb, Minnesota; Josh Ferguson, Illinois; Mark Weisman, Iowa


Alex from York, Neb., writes: Is it me, or does it seem like nobody is favoring Nebraska to win the West Division this year? It seems like most everyone favors Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota. Nebraska's young defense, which improved greatly at the end of last year, only loses a few starters in the secondary, but secondary is always a strength here regardless who's in it. Gregory is back, Abdullah is back and QB play should improve this year. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Nebraska is definitely in the conversation, Alex, and you can make a case (as you have) for the Huskers being the front runner. But there's no clear favorite in the West, and all five of the top contenders -- I'd throw Northwestern in there, too -- have potential flaws. When a group of teams is about even on paper, you look to factors such as schedule to separate them. And that's where both Wisconsin and Iowa have a huge edge.

Neither team faces Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan nor Penn State in crossover games. Iowa gets both Wisconsin and Nebraska at home. Nebraska, meanwhile, must visit both Wisconsin and Iowa, as well as Michigan State and Northwestern. The Huskers must be good away from Lincoln, perfect at home and avoid the blowout losses that have plagued them.


Dan from Cleveland writes: Adam, by now I'm sure you are exhausted of explaining how next year's Wisconsin squad has to replace essential starters on both sides of the ball. My question is, as of right now, what should we expect from LSU? Will they be SEC contenders? Rebuilding? Underdogs in this matchup? (I know the last one is far-fetched, but one can dream, right?)

Adam Rittenberg: LSU has lost 18 underclassmen to the NFL draft in the past two seasons, including five offensive players from the 2013 squad. For that reason it's difficult to label the Tigers as an SEC title contender, especially with Auburn and Alabama in the same division. But LSU always has talent, especially on defense, and one of the nation's best defensive coordinators in John Chavis. The Tigers also bring in running back Leonard Fournette, the nation's No. 1 recruit. They'll be the favorite in Houston.


Matt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi, Adam, I have to wonder if Penn State is being severely overlooked in the Big Ten East race this coming fall? Their schedule appears to be the easiest of all those in the East Division by far. Weak out-of-conference games. Crossover games against Northwestern and Illinois should be easy wins. The they get both MSU and OSU at home, while traveling to Michigan. If they can find a away to win in Ann Arbor, a split with MSU and OSU might just be enough to win the division.

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State has some schedule advantages, although UCF is hardly a pushover and Northwestern should be a tough game, as the Wildcats easily could have won seven or eight contests last year. The Lions still have some potentially major depth issues, especially along both lines. Their starting 11s on both sides could be better than they were in 2013, but they can't afford many injuries. As coach James Franklin told me last month, the longer you're in a limited scholarship situation, the harder it is to manage. But if Penn State is salty at home with MSU and OSU coming in, anything can happen in the East.


Adam from Baltimore writes: I know we at MSU are talking about the playoff and national championship, and I think those expectations are justified. But I get the sense from the media that the season will be somewhat defined by the Oregon game. I understand that it is a huge chance to prove that we belong in the national conversation against a big dog, but what if the game is a blowout one way or the other?

Adam Rittenberg: A blowout certainly hurts the loser's playoff chances, although Oregon would be hurt more by any loss than Michigan State. The Spartans would face an uphill climb if they lose and would need to run the table and likely need help elsewhere to make the top four. But an early season loss, especially a fairly close one on the road, can be forgiven. Michigan State would want Oregon to keep winning. An Oregon loss, meanwhile, could knock the Ducks out of the playoff picture.
The latest version of the ESPN class rankings are out, and there are seven Big Ten teams within the top 40 classes.

With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Brad Bournival and Tom VanHaaren give you a look at what to watch within the conference:

Trending up:

Tom VanHaaren: The number of ESPN 300 prospects committing to Big Ten schools. The number hasn’t started to increase yet, but there is a good chance it will. As it currently stands the Big Ten has 25 ESPN 300 commitments within its teams. That number is low compared to the 77 committed to SEC schools and 35 to ACC programs. However, there are roughly 18 ESPN 300 prospects still listing Big Ten programs, including No. 4 ranked Da’Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) with Michigan, No. 1 inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga./Liberty County), Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and more.

The Opening, presented by Nike, will feature 162 of the best high school football players in the country. The event, which will include linemen, 7-on-7 and SPARQ testing competitions, is set to run from June 30 to July 3 at the Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore.

The following events from The Opening will be televised on ESPNU:

July 1: SPARQ Rating National Championship, 7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. ET

July 2: 7-on-7 Pool Play, 9 p.m.-11:30 p.m. ET

July 3: Linemen Challenge Finals and 7-on-7 semifinal and championship games, 9 p.m.-midnight ET

The players will be divided in to six teams -- Alpha Pro, Apocalypse, Field Generals, Land Sharks, Super Bad and Vapor Carbon. Here is a closer look at how the teams match up.

Team: Alpha Pro
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Jordan Palmer, defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson

The Alpha Pro team will have plenty of targets to spread the ball around. Ermon Lane and Tyler Luatua, the No. 1-ranked receiver and tight end in the country respectively, bring size and playmaking ability to the passing game. ESPN 300 athletes Corey Holmes, Jalen Hurd, John "JuJu" Smith, Ja'Von Harrison, and Derrell Scott are all explosive offensive weapons.

Defensively Alpha Pro is led by Andrew Brown, the No. 1-ranked defensive tackle in the country, ESPN 150 cornerback Damon Webb, defensive end Andrew Williams, Ohio State linebacker commit Dante Booker and LSU cornerback commit Chris Hardeman.

Complete Alpha Pro roster.

Team: Apocalypse
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Adam Tafralis, defensive coordinator Donovin Darius

The first thing that jumps out about team Apocalypse is the talent in the defensive front seven. Team Apocalypse will be led by five-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand and inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan. Hand, from Woodbridge, Va., is the No. 4-ranked player in the country, while McMillan was recently bumped up to a five-star linebacker. Joining Hand and McMillan along the front seven are ESPN 300 defensive linemen Anthony Moten and Ainuu Taua, and linebackers D.J. Calhoun and Rashaan Evans.

Offensively, team Apocalypse has no shortage of playmakers. ESPN 300 wide receivers Artavis Scott, K.D. Cannon and Michiah Quick will provide explosiveness in the passing game, while athletic running backs Joe Mixon and Royce Freeman will provide athletic and reliable targets out of the backfield.

Complete Apocalypse roster.

Team: Field Generals
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Charlie Frye, defensive coordinator Michael Fletcher

Seven-on-seven events are always geared towards the offense, but with five-star defensive back Adoree' Jackson, No. 3-ranked safety Jamal Adams, and ESPN 300 cornerback Adarius Pickett in the secondary, the Field Generals should more than hold their own. New Ohio State defensive end commit Jalyn Holmes and the No. 6-ranked defensive end in the country, Solomon Thomas, will be two to watch along the defensive line.

Offensively, the Field Generals are led by ESPN 300 offensive guard Damien Mama, ESPN 300 wide receivers Austin Roberts and Thaddeus Snodgrass and explosive Notre Dame running back commit Elijah Hood.

Complete Field Generals roster.

Team: Landsharks
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Craig Nall, defensive coordinator Keith Bulluck

The Landsharks have some big-time talent along each line of scrimmage. Led by five-star offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, the Landsharks also feature ESPN 300 offensive guard Corey Martinez. ESPN 300 defensive linemen Gerald Willis III and Thomas Holley, as well as ESPN 300 defensive end Chad Thomas, will form a very physical and athletic defensive line.

In the secondary, the Landsharks will have three defensive backs -- Arrion Springs, Chris Lammons and Tony Brown -- that are ranked among the top 85 players in the country. The defense also features ESPN 150 linebacker Nyles Morgan.

Offensively, explosive running backs Dalvin Cook, a Florida commit, and Racean Thomas form a dangerous tandem out of the backfield, and wide receivers Travis Rudolph and Jalen Harvey are solid receiving threats.

Complete Landsharks roster.

Team: Superbad
Coaches: Offensive coordinator Dennis Gile, defensive coordinator Harold Nash Jr.

The Superbad defense line is led by five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter and ESPN 150 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson. The linebacking corp is stacked with three ESPN 300 members, including Clifton Garrett, Christian Miller and Edwin Freeman. Cornerback Jalen Tabor is the No. 19-ranked player in the country.

Offensively, Superbad has a huge advantage with the No. 1-ranked prospect in the country, running back Leonard Fournette. This team is loaded on offense, with wide receivers Drake Harris, Josh Malone and Speedy Noil all in the mix.

Complete Superbad roster.

Team: Vapor Carbon
Coaches: Offensive coordinator George Whitfield, defensive coordinator Chris Gizzi.

Vapor Carbon will be tough to throw against with defensive backs Quin Blanding, Naijiel Hale and Ed Paris roaming the field. The linebacker group is just as impressive, with Ohio State commit Kyle Berger, Kain Daub and Dillon Bates all leading the way.

The offense for Vapor Carbon could be lethal with running back Joseph Yearby and Nick Chubb in the backfield. Spreading out wide receivers T.V. Williams, Justin Brent and tight end Ian Bunting on the outside could prove to be an awesome combination for this squad.

Team Vapor Carbon has a lot of pieces to make a long run in the 7-on-7 tournament, but then again, every team is stacked in this competition.

Complete Vapor Carbon roster.

#BlueChipBattles: ESPN 150 release edition

April, 19, 2013
4/19/13
12:49
PM ET
Speedy Noil, Adoree Jackson, Da'Shawn HandStudent Sports, ESPN, ESPNSpeedy Noil, Adoree Jackson and Da'Shawn Hand are three of the most coveted recruits in the Class of 2014.
#BlueChipBattles Insider: RecruitingNation summoned its writers from around the country to outline the recruiting battles for the ESPN 150's top 10 prospects.

Plus, rank the battles in SportsNation.

#TopFBMixtapes: Athlete mixtapes are all the rage in this highlight-crazed era of sports. We reached out to our Twitter followers to find out which 2014 football stars had the best highlight reels on YouTube, then had our staff rank and comment on the top submissions.

Tom Luginbill writes Insider: After talking to many coaches across the country and hearing their frustrations, here are their five biggest complaints about homemade highlight videos.

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