Big Ten: Indiana Hoosiers

Season report card: Indiana

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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It's report card time. This week, we're grading each Big Ten team in the following areas: offense, defense, special teams, coaching and overall. Indiana is up next to receive its marks for the 2014 season.

Offense: C-minus

The Hoosiers have been known for scoring a lot of points and putting up a lot of yards under Kevin Wilson. That didn't happen this season, mostly because of the season-ending injury to quarterback Nate Sudfeld in early October. With the offseason transfer of Tre Roberson, Indiana was left without any experienced backups, and when Chris Covington also got hurt the same week as Sudfeld, Wilson had to turn to third-string, true freshman Zander Diamont. The results weren't pretty, as the Hoosiers averaged just 18.9 points per game in conference play. But Tevin Coleman turned in a record-breaking 2,000-yard rushing campaign and the offensive line was again a strength.

Defense: D-minus

New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr couldn't work a miracle, as Indiana finished 13th in the Big Ten in points allowed while giving up a conference-worst 36 points per game in league play. Seven of the Hoosiers' opponents scored at least 30 points, though at least this year the defense could blame the offense for putting it back on the field in bad situations. Indiana has more talent on the defensive side than it had a few years ago, but the results haven't changed all that much.

Special teams: D-minus

This was another area where the Hoosiers struggled, as they finished last in the league in kickoff returns, 13th in punt returns and went just 14-of-22 on field goals. At least punter Erich Toth was reliable.

Coaching: C-minus

Wilson was put into a real bind with Sudfeld's injury and there wasn't a whole lot he could do about it. With a healthy Sudfeld, Indiana won at SEC East champion Missouri in late September, and there's a decent chance the Hoosiers would have made a bowl game had they not lost their quarterback. Then again, injuries happen, and Ohio State showed it doesn't have to be the end of the world if your quarterback(s) goes down. Give Wilson a slight pass for the injury, but it's fair to expect more.

Overall: D-minus

Hopes were high that Indiana would finally make a bowl game in 2014 after it nearly got there with a 5-7 record the previous year. Optimism grew even larger after the Missouri win, but the Hoosiers would go on to lose seven of their final nine. Coleman's season was one for the ages, but in many ways it was wasted. IU managed to avert a total disaster by beating rival Purdue in the finale. But Wilson heads into his fifth year in 2015 and hasn't taken this team to the postseason yet. The pressure is officially on this fall.

Best of the visits: Big Ten

January, 25, 2015
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It was a huge recruiting visit weekend in the Big Ten, as eight commitments had taken place in the conference by Sunday morning. With a little more than a week left until signing day (Feb. 4), programs have put their recruiting efforts into overdrive to try to close out their classes strong.

These visits were crucial to help get some of those big targets to make final decisions, so here's a look at some of the best social posts from those recruiting visits.

PENN STATE:

The Nittany Lions had a ton of visitors on campus, mostly comprised of current commitments. Offensive line commit Steven Gonzalez took a picture with all the visitors and his future offensive line coach, Herb Hand.


The Penn State coaches did land a commitment from one of their visitors in defensive tackle Robert Windsor on Sunday morning. The staff had a few uncommitted prospects on hand, including defensive end Shareef Miller.

MICHIGAN:

The Michigan staff was hoping this weekend would produce a few commitments, and it did just that. The Wolverines had six 2015 commitments prior to the weekend but ended up flipping former Texas quarterback commit Zach Gentry during the Michigan basketball game.


Gentry is an ESPN 300 prospect and the No. 9-ranked pocket passer in the 2015 class. He joins fellow quarterback commit Alex Malzone in Michigan’s class and will help bolster much-needed competition at the position.

Florida defensive end Reuben Jones also committed to the Wolverines on his visit and happens to fill another need on the depth chart.


The Wolverines are still hoping the weekend produces a few more commitments from some of the visitors, including defensive back Chris Williamson.

ILLINOIS:

Illinois had some big visitors on campus, including defensive tackle Jamal Milan and running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Both prospects would be huge additions to the class, so it was only the finest ice sculptures and cake that came out for the visitors.

MARYLAND:

The Terps have been on a nice streak of landing commitments, and the coaches continued that this weekend by getting 2016 wide receiver D.J. Turner.

OHIO STATE:

The Buckeyes had an excellent weekend for big visitors, as the visit weekend coincided with the national championship celebration. It gave the recruits a chance to see all the trophies Ohio State won this season while seeing what else the Buckeyes have to offer.

Danny Clark, a 2017 quarterback commit for Ohio State, was on campus doing some recruiting for his future team.


The coaches were doing a ton of recruiting themselves, especially with the 2015 official visitors. Wide receiver K.J. Hill showed off the cookie cake he received on his visit.


Since the 2015 class only has a few pieces left to fill, Ohio State also had a junior day of sorts with some of the top 2016 targets on campus. ESPN Junior 300 receiver Austin Mack stopped to take a selfie with the head man himself on the trip.

INDIANA:

If you haven’t noticed that cookie cakes and desserts are a common theme of recruiting, then here's another reminder. Hoosiers quarterback commit Austin King tweeted a picture of his cookie cake on his visit to Indiana.

WISCONSIN:

The Badgers had a successful weekend of their own by landing two big commitments. The first was defensive tackle Kraig Howe from Ohio, who tweeted his announcement.


The second was 2015 running back Bradrick Shaw, who also took to Twitter to announce his decision.



Howe fills a need for the Badgers and Shaw gives Wisconsin three running back commits ranked as four-star prospects between the 2015 and 2016 classes. The Wisconsin staff is reloading at running back to continue the excellent tradition at the position.

MICHIGAN STATE:

The Spartans didn’t have a ton of big-name visitors on campus this weekend, but the coaches were hosting a very important target for the 2015 class. ESPN 300 linebacker Quart’e Sapp took his visit to Michigan State and took to Twitter to show off his time on the trip.


Sapp would be a huge get for the Spartans, who find themselves in his top four along with Miami, Missouri and Tennessee.

NEBRASKA:

Nebraska’s new staff has hit a groove in recruiting and hosted a big visitor list this weekend, including plenty of the Cornhuskers’ commitments. Offensive lineman Christian Gaylord shared a picture of some of the offensive linemen on the visit in uniform.


Linebacker Tyrin Ferguson also took to Twitter to show his time in Lincoln.


The staff did also have a few targets on campus who were not committed to Nebraska, including Kansas State commit Mohammed Barry.

Nebraska was also hosting a few commitments it is trying to hang onto and convince to stay on board come signing day. That included defensive lineman Daishon Neal, who became that much more important with the decommitment of Reuben Jones.

We've been counting down the top 25 players from the 2014 Big Ten season all week, and now we have reached the summit.

Like Chris Rock, we're ready to deliver a top 5. These are the best of the best from the year that was.

No. 1: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin

This one was pretty easy. Gordon won the Doak Walker Award, was the Big Ten's offensive player of the year and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting. He amassed 2,587 rushing yards -- second most ever by an FBS player, behind only Barry Sanders -- and 32 total touchdowns while picking up 7.5 yards per carry. We'll never forget his epic 408-yard performance in just three quarters on Nov. 15 against Nebraska, even if that single-game record stood for only one week. It was the year of the running back in the Big Ten, and Gordon was the king of the class.

No. 2: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State

The Big Ten's defensive player of the year, Bosa led the league with 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss while also forcing four fumbles. He could change or even win games with his pass-rushing prowess, as he showed in overtime at Penn State. He was a finalist for the Bednarik and Ted Hendricks awards and the Lombardi Trophy, and he's a good bet to win a major award as a junior in 2015. How does he combine so much speed, power and personality in one package?

No. 3: Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana

If the Hoosiers had been a better team, or if Coleman had more help from his passing game, then perhaps his 2014 season would be discussed in the same kinds of hushed tones we reserve for Gordon. Make no mistake, though: Coleman's season was also one for the ages, as he ran for a school-record 2,036 yards (in two fewer games than Gordon) and averaged 7.5 yards per carry (the same as Gordon). He had five games of at least 190 yards rushing, including a 228-yard, three-touchdown tour de force at Ohio State late in the year.

No. 4: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State

How would Barrett's 2014 campaign have looked if he hadn't broken his ankle against Michigan in the season finale? Would the Buckeyes still have won the national title? It's a great debate. But what can't be argued is how remarkable Barrett's year was. Thrust into the starting job after Braxton Miller's shoulder injury in late August, the redshirt freshman broke just about every school record and finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. He accounted for 45 total touchdowns, led the Big Ten in total offense and pass efficiency, and rode the most famous scooter in Ohio State postseason history.

No. 5: Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State

The Cotton Bowl win over Baylor summed up Cook in a nutshell. After a terrible interception and a couple of errant throws through the end zone, he calmly delivered the game-winning, 10-yard strike with 17 seconds left. Cook isn't always perfect, but there are few quarterbacks you'd take ahead of him with the game on the line. He threw for 3,214 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2014, and the Spartans couldn't be happier that he will return as a senior to lead this fall.

Big Ten morning links

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
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Wrapping up the first full week since August without college football. Just 30 more weeks until the games start again:

Oregon State coach Gary Andersen confirmed, in an interview with Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, that he left Wisconsin last month in large part over frustration with the school's admission standards.

No surprise there, though it was interesting to read Andersen's explanation and the matter-of-fact nature with which he -- and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez -- spoke about the situation.

"I don't expect anybody to understand it," Andersen told Dodd in reference to making the move to Oregon State. "I don't expect any one person to look at me and say, 'I get it.' But I get it."

Alvarez offered no apologies or even a suggestion that Wisconsin would relax its standards.

Sounds like Andersen and Alvarez were at odds to stay over admissions. The blowout loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game likely provided the push Andersen needed to act sooner rather than later. And Oregon State, after Mike Riley's move to Nebraska, found itself in the right place at the right time to land the coach.

As a result of Riley's decision to leave Corvallis, Andersen, Paul Chryst at Wisconsin and Pat Narduzzi at Pittsburgh all landed in positions to better succeed on their terms ...

The quarterback situation at Michigan is tenuous, with little experience of note among the four quarterbacks on the roster. In fact, Shane Morris, the most experienced of the bunch, is known best for his place at the center of a controversy last September as he returned to play against Minnesota after suffering a concussion.

It appears that Jim Harbaugh is interested in adding another QB to the mix. The new U-M coach, according to reports, visited 6-foot-7 signal caller Zach Gentry in Albuqerque, New Mexico, this week, and Gentry looks set to set visit Ann Arbor this weekend.

Gentry, rated 118th in the ESPN 300, has been committed to Texas since May. (Texas, for what it's worth, is trying at the same time to flip No. 1-rated QB Kyler Murray from his pledge to Texas A&M.)

As for Gentry, it makes great sense for him to consider Michigan. Harbaugh's work with Andrew Luck at Stanford speaks for itself. The coach, a successful QB at the college and NFL level, will be a recruiting force with the nation's top quarterbacks for as long as he remains at Michigan. Meanwhile, Texas represents much more of a crapshoot for Gentry ...

As you may have heard, this happened over the past couple days at Pitt and Penn State.

Fun stuff. In spite of the prevalence of mediocre teams in the state of Pennsylvania, it's great to see the old rivals sparring on social media. Nothing brings out the feistiness in college coaches quite like recruiting, by the way.

Let's allow this episode to mark the start of an unofficial countdown to the renewal of the PSU-Pitt rivalry. They'll play for the first time in 16 years in September 2016 at Heinz Field, then in 2017 at Beaver Stadium, followed by a repeat of the home-and-home arrangement in 2018 and 2019.

The arrival of Narduzzi at Pitt comes at the right time for this. He is, of course, familiar with the Nittany Lions as former defensive coordinator at Michigan State. And with excitement on the rise at both schools, no better time exists than now for a little stoking of the flames.

And how about Herb Hand, the Penn State offensive line coach, with a barrage of Twitter barbs? We won't make more than a quick reference to the 44 sacks for which his position group was largely responsible in 2014. You can bet Pitt fans will take note -- now and for the next 19 months.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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Tuesday brought an end to questions about the final spots on the coaching staffs at Michigan and Nebraska.

Both are now full, though at Michigan, the addition of Mike Zordich as secondary coach and Jay Harbaugh as tight ends coach came as no surprise. Nebraska, more than two weeks after Mike Riley unveiled additions to bring his staff to eight, tabbed a receivers coach, Keith Williams, from Tulane.

An official announcement is forthcoming after Williams, 42, spent time Tuesday in Lincoln.



The highlight of the Jay Harbaugh hire came as the head coach’s 25-year-old son revealed that his dad once poured Gatorade on his cereal.

Excuse me, what? Way to set the bar high on your first official day, Jay; we’ll definitely expect more where that came from that in future interviews.

Fact is, Jim Harbaugh could have hired daughters Grace, Addie or Katie, ages 14, 6, and 4, respectively, to fill a spot on this staff, and Michigan fans would have leapt with joy. Such is their level of excitement with Harbaugh, as it should be.

And that’s no knock against Jay, 25, who worked for his uncle, John, the past three seasons as an offensive quality control coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The young Harbaugh looks like a fine pick, especially paired with Jedd Fisch and Tyrone Wheatley on the offensive side and veteran special teams coordinator John Baxter.

If Jay brings a fraction of his father’s enthusiasm, he’ll be a big hit on the recruiting trail.

Back to Jay Harbaugh. It’s interesting that he worked on Riley’s staff at Oregon State as an undergraduate assistant for four years. Not surprising, though, that Jim’s son got his foot in the door with Riley.

The Riley-Harbaugh connections run deep. New Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis came to Riley from Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers.

And oh, yes, Harbaugh played on Riley’s San Diego Chargers in 1999 and 2000.

When Nebraska and Michigan meet again in 2018 -- if both coaches last that long and they don’t meet first in a Big Ten title game -- it’s going to feel a little like a family reunion.

Around the rest of the Big Ten:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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A week ago, the Big Ten was waking up to a national championship.

1. Defensive end Noah Spence couldn't take part in Ohio State's title run after being declared ineligible from the team because of two failed drug tests. But Spence's college career will continue at FCS Eastern Kentucky, his father told me Monday night. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, Spence had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with the Buckeyes. But the first of two failed drug tests sidelined him for the Orange Bowl, and the second effectively ended his Buckeyes career.

The good news: Spence is doing well, according to his father, Greg, and "continues to be open and receptive to all of the guidance that has been provided professionally and non-professionally in regards to those areas of concern." He considered entering the NFL draft and received projections in the third to fifth round, but ultimately elected for one more year at the college level to mature both on and off the field. Greg Spence repeatedly praised Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaches and athletic department for standing by his son during a trying time.

"He's extremely excited to play football again as well as grateful for another opportunity," Greg Spence said.

Best of luck to Noah Spence at EKU. He's an incredibly talented player. Here's hoping his story takes a positive turn and results in an long NFL career.

2. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday night apologized for a recent tweet that characterized the #409 displays worn by Lions teams as "inappropriate and insensitive." Barbour told WBLF-AM radio in State College that the restoration of Joe Paterno's wins total is a moment to celebrate for Penn State fans. She also defended hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, who had been criticized after his team wore 409 decals during Friday's game.

"I don't want him to beat up about this," Barbour told WBLF. "He also got killed by the advocate's side of this, and I think just as we have to understand and be sensitive to the victim side, there also has to be some understanding of why we would celebrate."

Barbour also said Paterno would be honored "over time" but that Penn State would need to be "deliberate" in figuring out the right approach. This is delicate ground for Barbour, who can use her status as an outsider to her advantage in trying to strike the right chord with PSU fans but also project the right image nationally. It's still not an easy task.

3. An early signing period is coming closer to reality as a committee has recommended a 72-hour period in December when prospects can sign with colleges. The early period would begin with the class of 2016, and would coincide with the current signing period for junior-college players. Former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen supported this schedule when we talked in the spring, and it makes sense to give long-committed recruits a chance to make things official.

Still, the more important piece for Big Ten teams -- and the one league coaches should push -- is earlier official visits. A small window in May or June when Big Ten teams could pay for recruits and their families to visit campus would be huge in expanding the league's recruiting reach. The SEC coaches seem united on everything. Why don't the Big Ten coaches stand together and make their voices heard?

Time for the division dish ...

East Division
West Division

And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked Monday night.

Offseason to-do list: Indiana

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
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Dust has yet to settle on Ohio State’s national championship trophy; already, though, it’s time to look ahead at 2015, with a peek at three items to address in the offseason for each Big Ten team.

Up next is the Indiana Hoosiers:

1. Replace the offensive firepower: Tevin Coleman is gone. Let it sink in. The Hoosiers’ superstar running back, who rushed for 2,036 yards as a junior, is off to the NFL. And to make matters worse, gone also is top backup D’Angelo Roberts in addition to leading receivers Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner. But quarterback Nate Sudfeld, whose shoulder injury forced him out of the final six games of 2014, is back as a senior. And more good news, Indiana landed a pair of impact transfers from the UAB fallout in running back Jordan Howard and receiver Marqui Hawkins. Howard rushed for 1,587 yards last fall as a junior to earn first-team All-Conference USA honors. The 6-foot-2 Hawkins, who began his career at Florida, should quickly turn into one of Sudfeld’s top targets alongside J-Shun Harris II, who showed explosive potential as a true freshman, and Dominique Booth.

2. Refine the defensive system: Coach Kevin Wilson didn’t expect a miracle when he hired coordinator Brian Knorr from Wake Forest, introducing a 3-4 scheme in Bloomington. The Hoosiers made marginal progress in 2014. Still, they allowed 32.8 points per game to rank 100th nationally and didn’t fare much better in other categories. Four of the top six tacklers are gone, including two-time academic All-America safety Mark Murphy. But an infusion of youth last year provides reason for optimism. Sophomores Antonio Allen at safety and linebacker T.J. Simmons performed well, as did true freshman linebacker Tegray Scales, redshirt freshmen Nate Hoff at tackle and safety Chase Dutra. With continued improvement and the comfort level that comes with another offseason in Knorr’s scheme, next season could legitimately bring notable improvement on defense.

3. Continue to upgrade recruiting: The past two years have marked key improvement for Wilson and his staff on the recruiting trail. The coach, entering the fifth season of a seven-year contract, has begun to get prospects who can make a difference -- and do it early in their careers. The emergence last year of Harris and Scales is a step in the right direction. Howard and Hawkins count as recruits in the 2015 class and may represent two of the most important Indiana additions. Indiana needs to clear hurdles on the field. It needs to qualify for a bowl game, and it won’t happen without more wins in recruiting, particularly on the defensive side. Work remains in this area over the next two weeks.

Big Ten morning links

January, 15, 2015
Jan 15
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Good morning, fans of the conference that's home to the national champs. That's fun to say.

1. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz held an unusual, mid-January news conference on Wednesday because "it was just my sense that we needed to talk." Ferentz understands the negativity around the program after a very disappointing season, and he vowed to do something about it.

His proposed repairs might not be exactly what Hawkeyes fans want, as Ferentz doubled down on his team's offensive scheme and pledged to keep his staff intact (though some roles could change). Instead, Ferentz promised to get more active personally in the film room, something he said suffered a bit as he worked to raise funds for Iowa's facilities upgrade.

This was basically Ferentz saying he planned to roll up his sleeves and get to work, quite possibly armed with a new starting quarterback in C.J. Beathard. There's still not really much outside pressure on the man going into his 17th season as the head Hawkeye because of his massive contract. But it's good to know that the competitive fire still burns inside Ferentz and that he recognizes that things have to get better.

Everything is on the table for Ferentz and Iowa this offseason.

2. Nebraska added a big recruit on Wednesday, both literally and figuratively. Offensive lineman Jalin Barnett (from Lawton, Okla.) is 300 pounds and wears size 18 shoes, which must be a problem at the bowling alley. He's also ranked No. 43 in the ESPN 300 and had offers from all kinds of major schools, including his home-state Sooners, so it's quite the coup for new coach Mike Riley and his staff. My big question on the Riley hire was whether he would have the national recruiting presence necessary to succeed at Nebraska. It's too early to say one way or another, but Barnett's commitment is a great sign for Huskers fans.

3. Missed this from earlier in the week, but Minnesota's governor wants to ban all football kickoffs that happen before noon local time. Neither the governor nor Big Ten member schools have any say in this, of course, because kickoff times are dictated by TV. And the league is richly rewarded by its TV partners, so it has to take the good and the bad.

Still, he's on to something, because 11 a.m. is simply too early for a football game and much, much too early for a proper tailgate. The Big Ten loves its noon ET window on Saturdays, but as the league grows its presence to the East, it would be nice if the conference and its TV partners could throw the schools in the Central Time Zone a bone by letting them have more later start times.

West Division
East Division

Final 2014 Big Ten Power Rankings

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

» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season just ended, but we're already looking ahead to next season. Here are our way-too-early 2015 Big Ten power rankings, which are subject (and guaranteed) to change a lot between now and August.

 

Big Ten morning links

January, 13, 2015
Jan 13
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The sun rose Tuesday morning over Big Ten country to reveal a conference changed by the events of the past five weeks.

Ohio State’s amazing postseason run, capped off Monday with a 42-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T, shines light on the league in a way unimaginable amid the popular post-Thanksgiving sentiment that the Big Ten did not belong on this stage.

Make no mistake, Monday night was about the Buckeyes, but it helps the entire Big Ten, which suffered from a serious perception problem as recently as two weeks ago.

Now, an offseason of positive momentum awaits. Commissioner Jim Delany celebrated alongside OSU at the sight of his league revalidated by the very playoff that he long opposed. We’ll have plenty of time to soak up the irony of that situation.

First, let’s review a few key points from Monday, with the help of ESPN & Information:

The Ezekiel Elliott storyline threatens to rise above all others from the playoff -- Urban Meyer and Cardale Jones included. Elliott completed his incredible postseason with 246 yards, the third-most in a single game at Ohio State.

The way in which he gained those yards is equally impressive. Elliott rushed for 213 yards between the tackles, the third-most by a Power 5 back in a game this season. He averaged 7.1 yards on inside rushes, gained 10 yards or more seven times and scored all four of his touchdowns between the tackles.

The sophomore gained 171 yards before Oregon touched him. And on 11 of his 36 carries, first contact was made 5 yards or further past the line of scrimmage. He lost yardage on just one rushing attempt.

In the Big Ten title game and two playoff wins, Elliott rushed for 696 yards and gained 20 yards or more on seven carries, equal to his number of long runs in the first 12 games.

What happened to the physically-dominant group of Ducks who pounded Florida State on New Year’s Day? For all the talk about how Oregon found motivation from those who continued to doubt its toughness, the questions were warranted Monday.

Oregon rushed for 132 yards against Ohio State and converted 2 of 12 third downs, its worst rate of the past three years. The Buckeyes, by comparison, were 8 of 15 on third down, gaining 9.5 yards per third-down play.

Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota completed 3 of 10 third-down throws, with three passes dropped, for a third-down QBR of 1.4. His QBR on third down before Monday was 91.9, second in the FBS.

Even in the red zone, a measure of toughness, the Ducks failed. Before Monday, Ohio State opponents scored a touchdown on 73 percent of their red-zone opportunities, the third-highest rate nationally. Oregon, in the title game, was 1 of 4 with a pair of field goals.

Statistically speaking, Jones’ performance in these final three games was unlike anything that even freshman star J.T. Barrett provided for the Buckeyes this year.

You saw his physical running on display against the Ducks, but Jones hurt Oregon even more with his arm -- in particular on the deep pass. The third-year sophomore completed four throws of 20 yards or longer downfield, the most by an Oregon foe this year.

In Jones’ three starts, Ohio State gained 55 percent of its passing yards on his throws of 20 yards or more, compared to 25 percent in its first 12 games with Barrett largely at the helm.

Jones, in December and January, completed 54.5 percent of his deep balls for 414 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

So is he an NFL prospect?

More on the title game: Elsewhere in the Big Ten:

Big Ten morning links

January, 12, 2015
Jan 12
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Seriously, what else is left to say? The big day is here. Mere hours remain until the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

Oregon and Ohio State take the field in North Texas at 8:30 p.m. ET. (And don’t forget, ESPN offers 12 ways to watch.)

In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some last-minute gameday banter:

The end of the college season always comes with a touch of sadness because of the reality that we must wait nearly seven months before practice opens in August. This year, I’ll miss the outrageous predictions of the Cleveland.com writers nearly as much as the games -- well, maybe not, but I’ll miss them nonetheless.

According to the latest fearless forecast, the Buckeyes will block a punt, force two Marcus Mariota interceptions and get 300 yards rushing from Ezekiel Elliott. I’ll go on record and declare, if all of that happens, the Buckeyes will need an extra seat for this on the return flight to Columbus.

Before this 15th game of the season for Ohio State, I’ll join the party and predict, outrageous as it may appear, that OSU will stop an Oregon goal-to-go situation on Monday night.

Maybe it’ll force a field goal or get a turnover. I’m not going to venture a guess how it happens. But Ohio State will one time keep the Ducks out of the end zone after Mariota peers over the line of scrimmage on first-and-goal.

It’s outrageous, because the Buckeyes have not stopped one such situation this season. I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: OSU foes are 21 for 21 in scoring touchdowns after securing a first down at the 10-yard line or closer to the goal line. Ohio State is the only team among 128 in the FBS to allow a touchdown each time.

The streak ends Monday night.

Upon closer inspection, the Buckeyes own the edge over Oregon in seven of 10 matchup categories, finds Paul Myerberg of USA Today.

I don’t take issue with any of his conclusions, other than perhaps that Ohio State’s running backs deserve the check mark over Oregon, too, after Elliott’s performances against Wisconsin and Alabama.

And I think Ohio State could get the nod at linebacker because of the rise of Darron Lee and strong play of Curtis Grant.

Really, you could pick the Buckeyes in every category but quarterback. That Oregon remains a decisive favorite speaks to the massive value of Mariota and the QB position in general.

Speaking of Ohio State linebackers, keep an eye Monday night on Raekwon McMillan. Yes, he’s a freshman backup who played sparingly in the Sugar Bowl. But McMillan is a five-star talent.

It may happen on special teams if the Ohio State defensive coaches aren’t comfortable to remove Grant against an opponent that will make them pay for even a small mistake. But if given the chance, McMillan is athletically equipped to make a game-changing play on this stage.

More on the title game:

And finally out of the Buckeyes' camp, former Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck is set to fill Tom Herman's spot on the Ohio State staff after the title game.

Some Nebraska fans are scratching their heads at this hire. Beck was a scapegoat in Lincoln for presiding over an offense since 2011 that often appeared to lack an identity. But how much was Beck held back by ex-Nebraska coach Bo Pelini? Possibly, a lot, if Beck's game plan in the Holiday Bowl -- after Pelini had been fired -- provided a glimpse of the offense he wanted to run. Nebraska accumulated 525 yards in the 45-42 loss to USC.

Beck ought to thrive with the Ohio State quarterbacks. (Who wouldn't?) He's a dynamic recruiter with ties to his native Ohio, plus Texas and other areas. And paired with Meyer, an offensive-minded coach, Beck, at 48 may finally find himself on the fast track to a head-coaching job.

Around the rest of the league:

Big Ten morning links

January, 8, 2015
Jan 8
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In four days, Ohio State aims to bring a national championship to the Big Ten for the first time in 12 years. So, with respect to all else that’s happening in the league this week, sorry, it can wait.

There’s a lot clanging around my head this morning about the Buckeyes’ Monday meeting with Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented By AT&T.

Here’s a sampling:

Ohio State players and coaches appear confident in their preparation for the Ducks and ready to embrace the role of underdog. And why not? It’s worked well for the Buckeyes in their past two games.

Ohio State players had a few thoughts on the situation. Said safety Tyvis Powell:

“Yeah, well, what is new? We’ve still got a lot to prove. As you can see, we still don’t get the respect that we deserve. I’ve seen some things on the Internet where like 66 percent of the world is picking Oregon. I understand why. Everybody sees Oregon and they’re like, ‘Oh, wow.’

“But it’s just motivation to come out here and make sure we get the job done on Jan. 12.”

Ohio State, 5-0 as an underdog under Urban Meyer, doesn’t need extra motivation against Oregon. But if the Buckeyes can find it by playing the lack-of-respect card, well, good for them. It’s not a viable long-term strategy at a powerhouse program like Ohio State. Until Monday night, though, run with it.

If you’re not impressed by Meyer’s 37-3 record at Ohio State or the two national championships he won at Florida, reassess the criteria you use to evaluate sports. Or life in general.

Meyer continued to wow me Wednesday with his comments when asked about the challenges the Buckeyes face to get up for a 15th game of the season. I’ve met many a college coach who would scoff at the suggestion that his team might be ripe for a letdown with the national title at stake.

Not Meyer. This topic offers a window into his world. He considers every detail and prepares for all scenarios. And I think he’s right to worry about a flat performance -- strange as it sounds -- against Oregon.

As Meyer said, this is new territory. No team in FBS history has played a second postseason game. It’s impossible to know how the players will handle the moment.

A comforting thought for Ohio State: There’s likely no coach better prepared to deal with the uncertainty of the title-game dynamics than Meyer.

A good breakdown here from Fox Sports analyst Coy Wire on five Buckeyes who can beat Oregon. Most intriguing to me is the final pair listed -- co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash.

They devised a whale of a game plan last week to help beat Alabama. And against the Ducks, Fickell and Ash will have to be even better. Get ready for the chess match on tap between three of the top young coaching minds in the game as Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost matches wits with the Ohio State defensive coordinators.

Fickell and Ash are both 41. Frost turned 40 this week. Big things are in their futures. For now, they take center stage in the first playoff championship.

A statistical oddity to watch in this matchup: Ohio State, despite its solid defensive numbers, ranks dead last nationally in goal-to-go efficiency rate; its opponents have scored 21 touchdowns in 21 goal-to-go opportunities. Oregon, interestingly, ranks 82nd nationally in goal-to-go offensive efficiency with 30 touchdowns in 42 chances.

Poor performance in this area has done little to slow the Buckeyes on defense or Oregon’s offense. Perhaps, in this biggest of big games, it will emerge as a factor.

More on Ohio State:
And elsewhere in the Big Ten:
Underclassmen still have until Jan. 15 to decide whether to declare for the NFL draft. But, in the meantime, we decided to take a look at those who already made their decisions public.

Here are the 11 Big Ten players (listed alphabetically) leaving early, their draft rankings and who's in line to replace them:

Penn State DE Deion Barnes, 6-foot-4, 255 pounds

2014 stats: 44 tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, 6 sacks, 3 QB hurries

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: N/A

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: N/A. There are not yet any ESPN grades on him, but he’s not believed to be a top-10 defensive end. One NFL.com contributor said he could go “as early as the second day of the draft” – if he impresses at pro day or the combine.

Who’s taking over: With DE C.J. Olaniyan also entering the draft, Penn State will likely fill one spot with Garrett Sickels. The other? Former walk-on Carl Nassib and freshman Torrence Brown are the most likely candidates at this point.




Indiana RB Tevin Coleman, 6-foot, 210 pounds

2014 stats: 270 carries, 2,036 rushing yards, 7.5 ypc, 15 TDs; 25 catches, 141 yards

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 36. “Runs hard and doesn’t shy away from contact along sidelines. … Rarely tackled for loss thanks in large part to burst.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 3.

Who’s taking over: Former UAB running back Jordan Howard recently decided to transfer to Indiana, in part because of Coleman’s decision to declare early. He’ll likely be the starter. He rushed for 1,587 yards as a sophomore in 2014.




Maryland WR Stefon Diggs, 6-foot, 195 pounds

2014 stats: 62 catches, 792 yards, 5 TDs

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 78. “Zone buster that locates pockets underneath and uses speed to attack seams downfield. … Good focus and catches ball in stride.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 15.

Who’s taking over: With the graduation of Deon Long, Marcus Leak and Jacquille Veii are in line to be the top-two wideouts. The pair also could be challenged by younger players such as Levern Jacobs, Taivon Jacobs and Juwann Winfree.




Michigan WR Devin Funchess, 6-5, 235 pounds

2014 stats: 62 catches, 733 yards, 4 TDs

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 20. “Quick enough to separate from most linebackers and some safeties. ... Can extend and catch away from frame.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 4.

Who’s taking over: Amara Darboh is the obvious candidate here, since his number was most often called in Funchess’ absence. He was second in both catches (36) and yards (473).




Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, 6-1, 207 pounds

2014 stats: 343 carries, 2,587 yards, 29 TDs, 7.5 ypc; 19 catches, 153 yards, 3 TDs

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 16. “Fearless runner that doesn’t gear down or brace for contact. … Anticipation isn’t outstanding and misses occasional seam, but that is an exception … Violent jump cuts.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 1.

Who’s taking over: Corey Clement saw considerable time the past two seasons, so he’ll be taking over as the main ball-carrier. He finished 2014 with 949 yards and 9 TDs.




Nebraska DE Randy Gregory, 6-6, 245 pounds

2014 stats: 54 tackles, 10 tackles-for-loss, 7 sacks, 16 QB hurries, 2 blocked kicks

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 5. “Above average first-step quickness, adequate bend and above average closing speed. … Best fit is 3-4 OLB … Can line up at 4-3 RDE but ideally he would add weight and get stronger first.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 3.

Who’s taking over: Former walk-on Jack Gangwish started when Gregory was injured this season, and he’ll be a senior next year. Gangwish finished with 19 tackles and four tackles-for-loss in 2014.




Rutgers TE Tyler Kroft, 6-6, 240 pounds

2014 stats: 24 catches, 269 yards, 0 TDs

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: N/A

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: N/A. Mel Kiper listed him as the fifth-best tight end prospect in October, but Kroft does not yet have a new draft grade/ranking.

Who’s taking over: Nick Arcidiacono and Matt Flanagan both played behind Kroft in 2014, so they’re next in line. Flanagan played in nine games; Arcidiacono played in 10 (and started one). They finished with just one catch apiece.




Penn State OT Donovan Smith, 6-5, 340 pounds

2014 stats: 11 starts at left tackle

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: N/A. No ESPN grades/ranks yet on Smith here, but OurLads.com’s Dan Shonka recently told us Smith would likely be a late third- or fourth-rounder.

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: N/A.

Who’s taking over: Right tackle Andrew Nelson could move over to left, meaning that junior-college signee Paris Palmer – the nation’s No. 25 overall juco player – would become the new starter on the line.




Ohio State DE Noah Spence, 6-3, 250 pounds

2014 stats: Did not play. He was suspended indefinitely after failing another drug test in September; his appeal was denied in November.

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 92. No scouting report is available, but he’s listed as an outside linebacker for the NFL draft.

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 6 (at outside linebacker).

Who’s taking over: Well, in this case, someone already took over – and that’s senior Steve Miller. So far, he has 33 tackles and 6.5 tackles-for-loss this season. But he’ll be most remembered for a pick-6 against Alabama.




Michigan State CB Trae Waynes, 6-1, 182 pounds

2014 stats: 46 tackles, 2 tackles-for-loss, 3 interceptions, 8 pass breakups, 11 deflections

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: No. 22. “Above average field awareness. Shows strong eyes in zone coverage. … Above-average fluidity and balance with movement skills.”

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: No. 1.

Who’s taking over: Safety Demetrious Cox could move to cornerback, or the position could be filled by Jermaine Edmondson, who backed up Waynes this past season. (Darian Hicks will likely reclaim his old spot at field corner.)




Minnesota TE Maxx Williams, 6-4, 250 pounds

2014 stats: 36 catches, 569 yards, 8 TDs

ESPN.com Draft Overall Rank: N/A. As a redshirt sophomore who recently declared, there are not yet any ESPN grades/rankings on him – but he’s right outside the top-32 overall players on at least one other analyst’s big board.

ESPN.com Draft Position Rank: N/A.

Who’s taking over: With the departure of fellow TE Drew Goodger, mostly a blocker, there’ll be several new faces vying for time. Lincoln Plsek played in every game and saw the most time this season while Duke Anyanwu, who missed the year with a torn ACL, could challenge for a spot. Brandon Lingen, Nick Hart and Nate Wozniak also could factor in.
Most see New Year's Day as a new beginning, a clean slate, a time where the present decleats the past like Tony Lippett decleated poor Chris Callahan in the Cotton Bowl (it's OK, the Baylor kicker is alive). Big Ten fans are no different, but for them, New Year's Day had become Groundhog Day -- and not in a good way.

Remember when Bill Murray, in the 1993 movie "Groundhog Day," kept finding creative ways to kill himself because he knew he'd have another chance in the morning? My favorite: when Phil (the man) kidnaps Phil (the groundhog) in a pickup truck and drives into a quarry. The day's master of ceremonies, Buster, tells the cop who's trying to stop him: "If you gotta shoot, aim high. I don't wanna hit the groundhog."

Words to live by.

[+] EnlargeOhio State celebration
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesOhio State's victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl capped a banner New Year's Day for the Big Ten.
As Phil (the man) said: "I've killed myself so many times, I don't even exist anymore."

That had been the Big Ten on New Year's Day -- different and occasionally entertaining methods of failure ending with the same morbid result, followed by the familiar onslaught of national criticism. If Big Ten fans wanted to spend Jan. 1 away from televisions, computers, cell phones and stadiums just to escape the inevitable, who could blame them?

New Year's Day 2011 is one that will live in Big Ten infamy, as the league went 0-5 in bowls. Things didn't improve much, as the Big Ten went 4-10 on the next three New Year's days. (The 2012 games were played on Jan. 2 because of the NFL playoffs.)

Most Big Ten fans can't stand the way the league clusters most of its major bowl games on New Year's Day -- except for the Rose Bowl, of course. Their complaint makes sense, as it's hard to track all of the teams at once. The method becomes more maddening when every Big Ten team loses, turning New Year's Day into a national showcase of Big Ten ineptitude.

The conference appeared headed toward another New Year's downer last week. Wisconsin saw a late lead disappear against Auburn, Michigan State was getting pummeled by Baylor and Minnesota couldn't get out of its own way against Missouri. Ohio State was playing Alabama in a College Football Playoff semifinal that night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, but the Buckeyes, starting a third-string quarterback against the mighty Tide defense, were a long shot to advance.

Another Big Ten New Year's oh-fer seemed imminent, complete with another reminder from the SEC that the Big Ten wasn't up to snuff with the top conferences. It's OK if you stopped watching.

But then quarterback Joel Stave got hot and Wisconsin sent the Outback Bowl to overtime, where it prevailed 34-31. Michigan State mounted one of the wildest comebacks in bowl history, erasing a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 42-41.

Hours later, Ohio State beat Bama, piling up 42 points and 537 yards in a definitive victory that, despite ending just after midnight ET, still counts as part of the Big Ten's New Year's haul.

And what a haul it was. New Year's Day 2015 marked the Big Ten's best day in 4,382 days -- specifically, since Jan. 3, 2003, when Ohio State beat Miami to win the league's most recent national championship and its only title in the BCS era. The logjam of games fans gripe about suddenly wasn't so annoying.

Ohio State's victory carried the day because of who it came against and where it took place. Ultimately, the Big Ten needs a team to win a national title, but the Buckeyes' win against what most consider the nation's premier program in SEC territory will reverberate, regardless of what they do against Oregon a week from now.

Fairly or not, Wisconsin had become the epitome of Big Ten big-game futility in recent years. The Badgers dropped three straight Rose Bowls and last year's Capital One Bowl. They blew a big lead against LSU in this season's opener, and with an assist from Pac-12 officials, stumbled last fall at Arizona State. Badgers fans had seen the movie before, the one with underwhelming quarterback play and not quite enough speed, and braced for the familiar ending. But this time, Wisconsin came through to beat a talented Auburn squad.

A 10-win season -- Michigan State's fourth in the past five seasons -- is nothing to sneeze at, but the Spartans needed a signature victory to stamp the 2014 campaign as another success. They fell short of their preseason goals but recorded their team-record fourth consecutive bowl win. Now that Jim Harbaugh is at Michigan, you'll hear a lot about how the Big Two -- Michigan and Ohio State -- will lord over the league again. It's a lazy theory. Mark Dantonio and his Spartans aren't going anywhere, as the bowl win reminded everyone.

New Year's Day gave the league something it rarely has this time of year: momentum. The national media will never toast the Big Ten the way it does the SEC, but credit is being doled out, even from some reluctant sources.

There's also talk about the Big Ten's bright future, and rightfully so.

Regardless of what happens Jan. 12 at Jerry World, Ohio State should have a better team this coming season. Love him or hate him, Urban Meyer is the best thing that happened to the Big Ten.

Michigan State returns quarterback Connor Cook, a proven winner, and several other key pieces. Wisconsin rolls on with a new coach (Paul Chryst) who can fix an old problem (inconsistent quarterback play). Michigan hired the perfect coach to fast-track its comeback. Penn State, another Big Ten bowl winner, will improve as James Franklin injects more talent and depth into the roster.

Despite its bowl loss, Minnesota is ascending under Jerry Kill. If new Nebraska coach Mike Riley maximizes the talent on his roster, the Big Ten will have another team in the national discussion. The Big Ten's much-panned new additions, Rutgers and Maryland, don't look so bad after Year 1. Even Indiana got some good news on New Year's Day, as UAB standout running back Jordan Howard announced he would transfer to IU.

Groundhog Day is over for the Big Ten and its fans.

After seemingly a decade of cold, harsh, unrelenting winter, the sun is out in the heartland.

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