On The Trail Show (Mon., noon ET)

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
4:00
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With only days until national signing day, there's a lot of recruiting news. Join RecruitingNation's panel of experts Monday at noon ET to break down the weekend's top news and what to expect for signing day.

Best of the visits: Big Ten

February, 1, 2015
Feb 1
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The final recruiting visit weekend for the 2015 class was a last-minute effort to get prospects on board. A few Big Ten teams were hosting big visitors, so here is a look at the best of the weekend.

The Michigan State equipment staff opened the weekend by showing the fans what the locker room setup looks like for visiting prospects. This is where the jersey and helmet pictures come from and the recruits get a look at their potential future jerseys.


Ohio State is close to filling its 2015 class, but there are still some big targets on the board. Two of the bigger prospects happened to be on campus this weekend with defensive back Damon Arnette and linebacker Porter Gustin.

Gustin got a chance to see the new championship trophy and hang out on campus for his final visit.


The ESPN 300 prospect made the trip with most of his family, which gave everyone a look at what the Buckeyes have to offer.


While he wasn’t on a visit to Ohio State, Buckeyes quarterback commit Torrance Gibson was on a visit to Miami. Gibson has seen interest from the Hurricanes, Auburn and LSU in recent weeks and has Ohio State fans nervous about what he will do on signing day.


Penn State is also close to filling its 2015 class, especially after the commitment of defensive back John Petrishen on his visit.


Because the 2015 class is so close to being full, the Penn State coaching staff was able to hold a junior day of sorts and host some of the top targets in the 2016 class as well. That included all of the 2016 commits with Shane Simmons, Miles Sanders and Jake Zembiec.


Penn State added to that 2016 commit list over the weekend when Detroit defensive back Lavert Hill announced his commitment to the Nittany Lions on the visit.


What would a visit weekend be without a few cookie cakes, right? Illinois went with a giant cookie cake that looks to resemble a football for Cameron Watkins’ visit.


Michigan had a few big visitors on campus as well, including Washington State wide receiver commit Deontay Burnett.


The Wolverines are looking to add a receiver to this class, which is why Ole Miss receiver commit Van Jefferson was also visiting. Jefferson grew up in Michigan while his father, Shawn, was the wide receivers coach for the Detroit Lions until 2012.


Wisconsin hosted a somewhat new target this weekend in linebacker Jake Whalen. He has been on the Badgers’ target list for a while, but he was only recently offered a full scholarship.

Iowa had been looking good to land Whalen, but now with the Wisconsin offer, that decision could go for the Badgers.


Nebraska received some good news from a few of the visitors in Lincoln on Sunday. Defensive end Alex Davis tweeted he was decommitting from Georgia Southern and committing to Nebraska.

Penn State has added a fourth ESPN Junior 300 commit. Cornerback Lavert Hill gave his verbal commitment to James Franklin, joining No. 21 Shane Simmons, No. 134 Miles Sanders and No. 265 Jake Zembiec in the Nittany Lions' 2016 class, which is off to a very impressive start.

Tevaun Smith one-ups Odell Beckham Jr.

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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video

New record holder? Iowa WR Tevaun Smith takes on Odell Beckham Jr.'s Guinness record of most one-handed catches in a minute.

Recruit breakdown: CB Iman Marshall 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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What he brings: The versatile Iman Marshall is the complete package at the corner position. He brings size, ball skills and athleticism that could project at different positions throughout the secondary. He possesses great transitional quickness for a perimeter defender with his frame and closing speed to shut down receivers in man coverage. He also has the big frame and physicality, range and ball-hawking skills to add value at safety. We expect this competitive and instinctive athlete to compete for early playing time at the next level.

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Our Big Ten-wide look at positions that need improvement winds to a close with an examination of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback is a problem: Gary Nova is gone. Nova was the perfect security blanket for Rutgers in its transition season to the Big Ten, with his three years of starting experience before 2014. He guided the Scarlet Knights admirably, ranking in QBR among Big Ten quarterbacks behind only J.T. Barrett and Connor Cook. When Nova was hurt at Nebraska, Rutgers’ offense suffered badly. Moving forward, Chris Laviano is the only quarterback on the roster to take a collegiate snap. In fact, of six Rutgers quarterbacks to participate in practice last spring, only Laviano remains in Piscataway. And with the departure of three starting linemen and talented tight end Tyler Kroft, now is not the best time for uncertainty at quarterback.

How it can be fixed: Laviano looks set to battle LSU transfer Hayden Rettig in the spring. Both will be third-year sophomores. And while Laviano has the edge in experience, Rettig is an exciting prospect and likely offers a higher ceiling. He ranked 17th among pocket passers in the 2013 recruiting class out of Los Angeles and signed early with the Tigers. Rettig sat out at Rutgers last fall as Laviano got into five games and completed 11 of 28 passes. Meaningful competition in the spring is important.

Early 2015 outlook: Rutgers would be wise to rely on its deep and diverse stable of running backs as the new quarterback gets settled in the fall. While Laviano and Rettig have the edge, redshirt freshman Giovanni Rescigno will compete for time in the spring, and New Jersey prep prospect Michael Dare is set to sign next week. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen did a nice job with Nova and is noted for his solid work with quarterbacks, so whomever wins the job will benefit from a solid teacher.

Season report card: Wisconsin

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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Let's put a bow on this full week of 2014 Big Ten report cards. The final review goes to the Wisconsin Badgers.

Offense: B

What a wild ride. The journey of the Wisconsin offense mirrored the overall drama of the Badgers’ season – from a strange start to the dominance of late October and November and the wild swings of their final two games. Melvin Gordon, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, served as the steadying force en route to an amazing 2,587 rushing yards and 32 total touchdowns. The quarterback situation was simply bizarre as converted safety Tanner McEvoy started the first five games in place of Joel Stave, out with a mental block. Stave was quietly effective at times, though never spectacular, in the shadow of Gordon and backup running back Corey Clement, who rushed for 949 yards. Alex Erickson had a nice season at receiver, and the line play was solid behind Kyle Costigan and Rob Havenstein.

Defense: A-minus

Here’s where the Badgers shined. Well, there was the Big Ten title game disaster; aside from that miserable night against Ohio State in Indy, though, Dave Aranda’s group played about as well the coordinator could have hoped, considering the curveballs dealt on the other side of the ball. Linebackers Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert, lineman Vince Biegel and Darius Hillary and Michael Caputo in the secondary shined in important roles. Defensively, Wisconsin played its best in a stretch against Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue and Nebraska, allowing 181 yards per game. Even after surrendering nearly 1,000 yards to Ohio State and Auburn in a 34-31 Outback Bowl win, the Badgers finished fourth nationally in total defense and third in first downs allowed and third-down conversion rate.

Special teams: B-minus

Brazilian place-kicker Rafael Gaglianone looked like a future pro as a freshman. He made 19 of 22 field goals, including 5 of 7 from 40 yards and beyond. Kenzel Doe performed well in returning punts and kickoffs. The Badgers did a nice job in covering kickoffs but struggled some against punt returns, which led to a ranking of 116th nationally in net punting as Drew Meyer averaged 37.4 yards per attempt and placed 18 of 54 punts inside the 20.

Coaching: B-plus

So many directions to go with this category. Coach Gary Andersen and offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig deserve much credit for handling an unusual and delicate situation, after Andersen fumbled the early explanation on Stave. Aranda, who kept his spot on Paul Chryst’s staff after Andersen’s December departure, cemented his place as one of the nation’s top coordinators for his work with a defense that consistently played better than the sum of its parts. Just to keep this team together through the second-half mess against LSU and a bad loss at Northwestern showed great leadership from the staff. And tip your cap to Barry Alvarez for his influence in guiding the Badgers to a rebound victory in Tampa, Florida.

Overall: B

Wisconsin’s season was the most perplexing, with more peaks and valleys of any team in the Big Ten. Even Gordon experienced disappointment early, though his greatness in 2014 – highlighted by a 408-yard rushing day against Nebraska – will stand the test of time. Considering the obstacles, a Big Ten West title, earned with consecutive November victories over Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, rates as a major accomplishment. The Ohio State game, as mentioned, got away from the Badgers. Unpredictably, in keeping with the theme, struck after the regular season as Andersen bolted for Oregon State.
All week, we've been examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it could potentially be repaired in 2015.

Last but not least: Indiana Hoosiers

Problem position: The secondary

Why the secondary was a problem in 2014: Honestly, we could have picked the entire defense as a problem spot for the Hoosiers. Again. Despite the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) and an infusion of more athletes on that side of the ball, Indiana once again struggled to stop anybody in the Big Ten. Knorr's unit gave up more passing yards per game (250) than anybody else in the conference, and opposing Big Ten quarterbacks completed 63.9 percent against the Hoosiers. That's an indictment on the lack of a pass rush up front and linebackers who can cover in space as well, but we'll focus on the defensive backs for these purposes.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Safety Mark Murphy and cornerback Tim Bennett, two of the leaders of the defense, used up their eligibility. Meanwhile, the team's other starting cornerback, Michael Hunter, decided not to return for his final year. That leaves the Hoosiers thin on experience going into 2015. Safety Antonio Allen, who was an important recruit for the Hoosiers, needs to continue to improve as a junior, and Chase Dutra likely joins him as a starter. Cornerbacks Rashard Fant and Donovan Clark saw action last fall as freshmen, and Kenny Mullen returns from an injury.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Hoosiers have a pair of safeties -- Jonathan Crawford and Tyler Green -- ready to sign next week, as well as several athlete types who could play either linebacker or defensive back. They could still be in the market for a late addition at corner.

Early 2015 outlook: There is talent on hand here. Allen and Fant, for example, are two of the top-rated recruits Kevin Wilson has signed. The defensive backfield roles are actually more settled than wide receiver, which is a worrisome area on the offense. Again, the secondary was by no means the only weak link in the defense. But until Indiana can figure out a way to strengthen every aspect of the defense and become competitive on that side of the ball in the Big Ten, we could be talking about the same problematic positions for the Hoosiers in 2015.

Season report card: Rutgers

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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We've reached the final day of Big Ten report card week. Conference teams have been receiving their marks for their 2014 season performance, along with individual grades for offense, defense, special teams and coaching.

Let's turn now to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

Offense:B-minus

The offense carried this team at times, like in the opening shootout win at Washington State and the huge rally to beat Maryland in the season finale. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen coaxed mostly positive attributes out of senior quarterback Gary Nova, who threw 22 touchdowns and just 12 interceptions. Receiver Leonte Carroo was one of the best in the league at his position and had a 1,000-yard season. The Scarlet Knights overcame several injuries at the running back spot. The offense did struggle, however, against the best competition on the schedule. Rutgers managed just 20 points total vs. Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State in blowout losses.

Defense: D-plus

The numbers weren't pretty, as Rutgers finished 13th in the Big Ten in total defense and allowed more than 30 points per game. But put that in perspective, as the defense faced some of the top offenses in the league in Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, not to mention pass-crazy Washington State. Still, the secondary was again a weak spot, and the defensive front had trouble stopping the bigger offensive lines in the conference -- only Illinois allowed more rushing yards per game in the Big Ten than the Scarlet Knights, who gave up 212.3. It's no wonder Kyle Flood has made adding some size a priority.

Special teams: B-minus

Rutgers wasn't very good on punts or kickoff coverage (ranking 11th in the league in both categories). But Janarion Grant was one of the better Big Ten return men, and kicker Kyle Federico was a solid 16-of-21 on his field goal tries. The team also had six blocked kicks, tied for the most in the nation. The most memorable one, of course, came in the win against Michigan.

Coaching: B-plus

Flood was presumed to be on the hot seat entering the season but earned a contract extension early on and did a really nice job maximizing his talent. Despite some injuries and obvious personnel disadvantages versus the league bullies, Rutgers won eight games including a bowl. Friedgen was an excellent addition to the staff, as expected.

Overall: B-plus

Many preseason prognosticators pegged the Scarlet Knights for only three or four wins and forecast major trouble in Big Ten play. Sure, Rutgers was mightily outclassed against the cream of the conference crop -- Ohio State, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Nebraska walloped Flood's team by a combined score of 180-44 -- but hardly anybody thought the Scarlet Knights would find success in that schedule gauntlet, anyway. Remarkably, though, they went 8-1 in their other games and came within one late Penn State rally of sweeping all of them. An eight-win debut season in the Big Ten was a terrific showing and made Rutgers one of the top overachievers in the country.

Big Ten morning links

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
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Because it’s Friday before the Super Bowl and you’ve likely not spent enough time thinking about the big game in Arizona, let’s look at it from a Big Ten perspective.

These fascinating maps published by Athlon Sports, which detail the colleges and high schools of every player on the New England and Seattle active and injured-reserve rosters -- be sure to set aside some time to study them -- got me in the mood.

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson give the Big Ten its first-ever pair of starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl. But that’s old news.

Between bites of chicken wings and nacho dip, impress with your friends with these nuggets:

The state of Illinois produced six Patriots and two Seahawks. Of the eight Illinoisans (more than from any state other than California, Texas and Florida), five played at Big Ten schools.

Who got away? New England reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played at Eastern Illinois; New England defensive end Zach Moore of Division II Concordia (Minnesota); and linebacker Darius Fleming of the Patriots, who played at Notre Dame.

The Super Bowl features four Seahawks and two Patriots who played at Wisconsin -- headlined, of course, by Wilson. The six ex-Badgers are the most from any college. Two are on injured reserve.

Michigan and Big Ten newbie Rutgers are among seven schools that placed four players in Super Bowl XLIX. That prestigious list also includes Alabama, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Texas A&M. Another six programs are represented Sunday by three players, including Illinois and Purdue. The others? LSU, TCU, USC and California.

Kent State, Memphis and Louisiana Tech placed two players apiece in the Super Bowl, more than Ohio State, which sends only New England safety Nate Ebner. But Seattle coach Pete Carroll coached the Buckeyes’ secondary under Earle Bruce in 1979, 15 years before his first head-coaching gig.

Other than Brady and Wilson, probable starters Sunday from the Big Ten are New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich (Purdue), New England safety Devin McCourty (Rutgers) and Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril (Purdue).

Both of Rob Gronkowski's backups played in the Big Ten -- Michael Hoomanawanui at Illinois and Tim Wright at Rutgers. Keep an eye on the tight-end duo. Hoomanawanui factored in the Patriots’ creative alignments against Baltimore in the AFC divisional round, lining up as an eligible receiver at tackle. Wright caught six touchdown passes in the regular season.

Based on their history, the Patriots will probably get creative near the goal line. In their two most recent Super Bowl wins, former Ohio State linebacker Mike Vrabel caught touchdowns from Brady.

On to the links:

Big Ten's top recruiting visits 

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
9:00
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video
The last visit weekend before signing day means the last effort to sway recruits and land some final prospects. There are quite a few important visitors within the Big Ten this weekend, so here is a look at the most important visitors for each team.


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Our week-long examination of positions that need improvement at every Big Ten school focuses next on the Northwestern Wildcats.

Problem position: Wide receiver

Why receiver was a problem: The trouble started in August when Christian Jones, the Wildcats’ 2013 leader in receiving yardage, went down with a knee injury. The Wildcats felt his loss in 2014 as wideouts Kyle Prater and Tony Jones were effective at times but did not account for Christian Jones’ production. Superback Dan Vitale caught 40 passes, while the season of Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler was shortened by a head injury suffered in October against Nebraska. The Wildcats struggled with drops and generally required more from the receivers to operate as needed in the Northwestern spread system.

How it can be fixed: Shuler and Vitale are back as seniors, as is Christian Jones, who took a redshirt in 2014. The Wildcats need leadership from the trio as the quarterback position goes through a transition to Zack Oliver, Matt Alviti or Clayton Thorson. With a veteran corps of receivers that includes several additional upperclassmen -- Northwestern needs more from rising senior Cameron Dickerson -- the inconsistency of 2014 must give way to reliability, starting this spring.

Early 2015 outlook: If the QB job goes to Alviti or Thorson -- both in the dual-threat category -- the job description shifts a bit for the receivers. In a best-case scenario, Northwestern finds a weapon at quarterback and running back Justin Jackson builds on a strong rookie season. Among the Wildcats’ top recruits is receiver Cameron Green, the son of ex-Chicago Bears running back Mark Green. Despite the presence of veterans, the Wildcats would benefit from new blood on the edge. The more bodies, the merrier. With Jones back, though, look for a rebound performance from the receivers.

Season report card: Purdue

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
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The postseason Big Ten report cards continue with a review at the Purdue Boilermakers:

Offense: C-minus

Purdue accomplished enough on offense to reasonably expect another win or two. But the Boilermakers simply didn’t make it happen with enough consistency. In fact, the consistency was downright poor. After mid-October, the offense went into a shell, reverting to the levels of its dismal 2013 season. So what happened in the three-game stretch against Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota that raised hopes? Well, there was the newness of QB Austin Appleby and excellent balance. Purdue ran for 298 yards against the Gophers behind the big-play ability of Raheem Mostert and a nice effort by Akeem Hunt. Clearly, though, the offensive line couldn’t sustain that level, and the quarterbacks -- Appleby or Danny Etling -- were unable to shoulder the load.

Defense: D

It’s difficult to find one game outside of the win over FCS-level Southern Illinois in which the Boilermakers came close to a complete performance on defense. Individually, safety Landon Feichter, cornerback Frankie Williams and defensive end Jake Replogle showed nice improvement. But as a unit, coordinator Greg Hudson’s group didn’t give Purdue much of a chance. The Boilermakers, statistically, were bad against the pass (last in the Big Ten in opponent QBR) and the run, surrendering 194 yards per game. The Boilermakers blew a nine-point lead and the opportunity for a statement win in the final four minutes at Minnesota. A week later, Purdue surrendered a season-low 297 yards at Nebraska but still lost by three touchdowns. So it went all year.

Special teams: C-plus

Place-kicker Paul Griggs enjoyed an outstanding year, connecting on 16 of 20 field goal attempts, including all three attempts from beyond 50 yards. Thomas Meadows was serviceable at punter. Mostert, asked to handle a heavy load on offense, lacked the explosiveness on kickoff returns displayed early in his career. Returning punts, Williams made the most of 11 attempts, averaging nearly 16 yards. Purdue struggled in coverage, ranking 115th nationally in opponent starting position on kickoffs and 110th in opponent punt-return average.

Coaching: C

Darrell Hazell continues to search for a breakthrough after two years in West Lafayette. He seemed to find it in October 2014 before the Boilermakers progressed in the wrong direction over the final month. Yes, the talent is lacking, but the Purdue coaches didn’t get the most out of what they had last season. The quarterback change from Etling to Appleby was likely the right move, though it failed to make a major difference. Where was the breakout year anticipated for defensive end Ryan Russell, and what happened to the 2013 production of receiver DeAngelo Yancey? Purdue also struggled with details such as third-down efficiency, kick coverage and creating turnovers.

Overall: D-plus

One step forward, one step back. Midseason momentum evaporated, aided by the season-ending knee injury to receiver Danny Anthrop, who emerged as Appleby’s favorite target. But three wins in Hazell’s second year -- and a six-game skid to end -- just wasn’t good enough. In a double whammy to end the season, the Boilermakers failed in their bid to escape the Big Ten cellar with a 23-16 loss at Indiana in a game that could have left the Hoosiers winless in Big Ten play for the second time in four years.
This week, we're examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it can potentially be repaired in 2015.

Up next: Michigan

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback was a problem in 2014: Offensive line, running back and wide receiver were no great shakes in 2014 for the Wolverines, either. But Michigan's repeated inability to develop a quarterback remains the most pressing concern, especially for new coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff. Devin Gardner regressed as a senior, throwing 15 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns, yet Michigan didn't have anyone who could beat him out. And now he's gone.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Shane Morris is the most experienced quarterback on the roster, though his main claim to fame is being left in a game after suffering a concussion. The junior has made two career starts, both of them blowout losses. Russell Bellomy looked overmatched in his previous exposure during the 2012 Nebraska game, but that was a long time ago. Wilton Speight redshirted last year.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): Two new quarterbacks will be thrown into what should be a wide-open competition. Alex Malzone committed to Brady Hoke's staff and enrolled in January, so he'll be ready for spring practice. New coach Jim Harbaugh recently flipped former Texas commit Zach Gentry to Michigan. Both are four-star prospects, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Early 2015 outlook: Well, one thing's for sure. The era of the running quarterback is officially over, as all of Michigan's contenders for the job are suited for the pro-style system Hoke always talked about and that Harbaugh will run. Are any of them ready to step in and play well in 2015? That remains a huge question mark. The spring competition will be crowded, and the incumbents will have to learn a new set of plays and terminology. Don't be surprised if Harbaugh decided to go with one of the youngsters he recruited. There's hope for the future here, but it may take more than one more season for Michigan to finally solve its quarterback problem

Season report card: Penn State

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
12:00
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It's report card week, as we're handing out our final grades for the 2014 performances by every Big Ten team in the categories of offense, defense, special teams and their overall showing. Teams will get $5 from their parents for every A.

Come and get your marks, Penn State.

Offense: F

Simply put, Penn State's offense was painful to watch most of the year. The Nittany Lions ranked dead last in the Big Ten in scoring and mustered just 14 points per game in conference action. Only Kansas, Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest scored fewer points among Power 5 teams. The Lions' rushing "attack" was also the worst in the Big Ten in averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per carry. A patchwork offensive line that allowed 44 sacks was the main culprit, but inexperienced receivers also played a role. Supremely talented Christian Hackenberg looked shell-shocked, throwing 15 interceptions and just 12 touchdowns while often running for his life.

Defense: A

The Penn State defense was as good as the Penn State offense was bad. Bob Shoop's unit led the Big Ten in points allowed (18.6 ppg) and total defense (278.7 ypg), which was all the more remarkable given how many bad situations the defense was put in. Even Ohio State's mighty offense struggled to score against the Nittany Lions, as the Buckeyes managed a season-low 17 points in regulation before escaping State College with a 31-24 double overtime win. Anthony Zettel emerged as the league's most immovable object at defensive tackle, while Mike Hull won Big Ten linebacker of the year honors.

Special teams: C-minus


This grade may look generous, considering that the Nittany Lions struggled mightily in punting for most of the year and didn't pose much of a threat in the return game. But a great season by kicker Sam Ficken lifts the overall mark. Ficken made 24 of his 29 field goal attempts and converted game-winners in both the opener (UCF) and the finale (Boston College).

Coaching: C-plus


This is a tough one to grade, as the coaching staff faced incredible challenges with the depth and lack of experience on the roster. Few coaches would have been able to turn the offensive line situation into something more positive. The defensive performance was astounding and a major improvement over the previous season. There were some questionable clock-management issues in close games, and the relationship between Hackenberg and offensive coordinator John Donovan looked testy to outsiders at times. But the staff held things together and deserves credit for steering the team to a winning record in tough times.

Overall: C-plus

We have to grade on something of a curve here. Not only was Penn State hampered by an by the scholarship reductions, the team also was operating under a new coaching staff. Maybe more could have been expected of this year's group after it started 4-0, but conference play exposed some harsh realities. Getting back to a bowl game and winning it, with the offense showing more life than had been seen in months, was a very positive step for the program. The best thing you can say about the Nittany Lions' 2014 season is that they survived it without taking much of a step backward. Dark days have passed, and the future looks bright.

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