Big Ten: Nebraska Cornhuskers

Top Big Ten spring developments

March, 30, 2015
Mar 30
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The last Big Ten team to open spring practice, Rutgers, gets started Monday. And Michigan, the first to finish, wraps Saturday at the Big House. The practices of February and March have shed light on the offseason direction of programs across the league.

As April approaches, here’s a look at five notable spring developments in the Big Ten:

Jake Rudock nears departure from Iowa: Rudock, the Hawkeyes’ two-year starting quarterback who was demoted behind C.J. Beathard in January, is free to leave Iowa City, with “no strings attached,” according to Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. Scheduled to graduate in May, Rudock visited Michigan this spring and could be eligible, under NCAA rules, to play in 2015, though the Big Ten may pose an obstacle with its intraconference transfer rule. The QB has yet to announce his intention. If he lands in Michigan, he would join an inexperienced group headed by junior Shane Morris; Wilton Speight and Alex Malzone own no college experience.

Harbaugh-mania accelerates: This phenomenon, of course, began long before spring practice. But the excitement that follows Jim Harbaugh at every turn has advanced to a new level since practice opened. While the Michigan workouts have produced few details, the coach continues to generate headlines away from the field -- for his roadside help for two women involved in a rollover car accident to his stint as first-base coach of the Oakland A’s. For his latest trick, Harbaugh finished fourth in U-M’s Central Student Government presidential election -- a post for which he did not run, of course. Needless to say, Harbaugh brings more to the Big Ten than just his coaching acumen.

Pro-style offense takes hold at Nebraska: New coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf have introduced a series of foreign concepts during the first half of spring drills. At a school that built its reputation on power offensive football, the new coaching regime will bring much of the scheme that produced strong QB play at Oregon State. Langsdorf, who rejoins Riley after one year with the New York Giants, got a taste this month of the challenge ahead. Nebraska quarterbacks, led by Tommy Armstrong Jr., have been trained to gain yards with their feet as often as their arms. The transition figures to endure a few rocky moments.

Key Spartans missing: Michigan State opened practice last week without running back Delton Williams and receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. Both are facing legal issues after incidents that occurred in the past month. Coach Mark Dantonio offered little on their status. Neither player is listed on the MSU spring roster. Their standing in the program before next season looms large for Michigan State. Williams was the Spartans’ third-leading rusher as a sophomore in 2014, behind the departed Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. Kings, as a junior, worked as the top MSU punt returner and accumulated 404 receiving yards as Connor Cook’s third-leading target.

Buckeyes maintain their edge: Complacency ranks as the No. 1 enemy of a defending champion. Through four practices, Ohio State appears on track to stay hungry in the chase to repeat. Plenty of competition for positions exists in Columbus, a factor that figures to drive the Buckeyes through the offseason. Early reports indicate that Gareon Conley and Damon Webb look set to wage a solid battle for the open cornerback position. Two vacant spots on the defensive line also have generated attention. And what’s that, you ask, about the most high-profile battle of all? Nothing much has happened at quarterback, what with Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett held out of most drills while Cardale Jones runs the show. It’ll get intense in August. And Urban Meyer already is feeling the heat.

With spring practices under way, it was a big visit weekend in the Big Ten. A number of programs within the conference had some big visitors on hand, so here is a look at some of the top prospects who were on campus and what a few had to say about the visits.

PENN STATE

The Nittany Lions had a ton of big visitors on campus and that included quite a few 2017 prospects.

Lineman Robert Hainsey was one of those recruits on hand, and Hainsey tweeted a picture of the visit.

Cam Spence was another 2017 target in Happy Valley and he too took to Twitter to show off his experience.

The Nittany Lions also had some 2016 prospects, including Damar Hamlin, Michal Menet and Khaleke Hudson to name a few.

NEBRASKA

The Cornhuskers also had some big visitors on campus in Lincoln. Offensive lineman Nathan Smith was one of the bigger targets on hand and Smith tweeted his thoughts on his time on campus.

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes picked up a huge commitment in 2016 running back Demario McCall, but the coaches had quite a few other big visitors on hand outside of McCall.

ESPN Jr. 300 tight end Luke Farrell was one of those visitors and Farrell currently holds Ohio State very high on his list.

"It went well," he said. "I liked getting to see practice and I liked how they run the position meetings."

Farrell is still planning some other visits, but wants to decide before his season starts.

One of the more important prospects visiting was Texas quarterback Tristen Wallace, who tweeted out quite a few pictures of the visit and time spent with current Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller.

MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans were yet another Big Ten program with a lot of traffic on campus, including Georgia prospects Isaiah Pryor, Russell Halimon, Korey Banks and Jamyest Williams.

Their time spent with the coaching staff was memorable, especially for Williams, who is a defensive back.

"I was just thinking while Coach [Mark] Dantonio was talking, that he can turn two stars into first-round draft picks, imagine when he gets a four-star athlete and what he could do for me," he said.

Michigan State also had ESPN Jr. 300 receiver Justin Layne in for a visit, and Layne tweeted about his time with the coaches.

Layne got a chance to hang out with ESPN Jr. 300 quarterback Messiah DeWeaver, who took a return trip to see Michigan State. DeWeaver will be deciding at the end of April, so this could be an important visit for Michigan State in that race.

"I was there for a couple days," he said. "I saw the ins and outs of practice and had a great time with the coaches and players."

South Carolina was also well represented in East Lansing with Nick McCloud, Josh Wilkes, Greg Ruff, Quay Brown, Jamari Curren and a few others taking the trip.

MICHIGAN

The Wolverines and Buckeyes had the chance to host one of the biggest visitors of the weekend in ESPN Jr. 300 defensive lineman Rashan Gary as well as a few other New Jersey prospects.

ESPN Jr. 300 receiver Ahmir Mitchell was among that group and tweeted out some pictures from their time at Michigan, including one picture at breakfast with Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan coaches offered 2017 defensive lineman Corey Bolds on the visit, who happens to be teammates with Gary.

Athlete Korey Banks received an offer on his visit to Michigan this weekend, and the Georgia prospect came away very impressed with what the Wolverines have to offer.

"It's a Michigan offer. It's always exciting to get a Michigan offer, especially from coach Jim Harbaugh," Banks said. "Of course I'm going to keep them in the running, they pack 118,000 fans in the Big House. What kid wouldn't love that offer, that's a big achievement for me."

Time to break out the heavy coats, scarves and gloves. Our ultimate Big Ten road trip has reached November.

ICYMI, we've been putting together our choices for the games we would attend each week during the 2015 season, if money and editorial decisions were no object. We can each pick only one game per week.

Moving on to Week 10:

Saturday, Nov. 7

Iowa at Indiana
Wisconsin at Maryland
Rutgers at Michigan
Michigan State at Nebraska
Penn State at Northwestern
Minnesota at Ohio State
Illinois at Purdue

Josh Moyer's pick: Michigan State at Nebraska

I haven't yet scheduled a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, this season -- and now seems like the perfect time. Connor Cook and Tommy Armstrong both threw for 2,500-plus yards last season and make up half of the B1G's four returning passers to do so. Both teams will be showcasing new running backs to fill the big shoes of Ameer Abdullah and Jeremy Langford. And Wisconsin's new offensive coordinator, Danny Langsdorf, will have to game-plan around Michigan State's new co-defensive coordinators, Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel. Maybe I'll even get in a day early and say hello to Sherman.

Dan Murphy's pick: Michigan State at Nebraska

This game will be Mike Riley’s toughest test in his first year with the Cornhuskers, a measuring stick to see how far Nebraska is from breaking its string of seven consecutive four-loss seasons. For Michigan State, the Buckeyes still loom a couple of games ahead on the calendar, but a trip to Lincoln is a significant hurdle to be cleared. A win on the road against Nebraska would set up two weeks worth of hype surrounding a trip to Columbus with division title hopes -- and probably a whole lot more -- on the line. The product on the field and the implications for the game’s winner makes this weekend’s travel an easy choice.

Austin Ward's pick: Minnesota at Ohio State

The cross-division matchup last year turned out to be far more competitive than might have been predicted before the season, thanks in large part to the impressive job Jerry Kill has done building a contender at Minnesota. The Gophers gave the Buckeyes one of their toughest tests on the way to the national title, and just about the only thing Urban Meyer didn’t win last season was Big Ten Coach of the Year -- which is sitting in Kill’s office instead. Watching these two go to battle again on the field should provide some entertainment once more.

Mitch Sherman's pick: Michigan State at Nebraska

Considering Nebraska’s recent struggles in big games and Michigan State’s run of success on the national level, this series has been surprisingly tight since the Huskers joined the Big Ten in 2011. Even last year, Nebraska rallied late from a big deficit in East Lansing. So expect a close game and a live atmosphere in Lincoln. For the Huskers to succeed in the first year with new coaches, the defense must likely lead the way. Can the Blackshirts solve Cook? Can the new-look Nebraska offense find a formula for success against the tried-and-true Spartans defense? It’ll be an interesting matchup, as always.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami
Week 4: Bennett and Ward at Maryland-West Virginia, Sherman and Moyer at BYU-Michigan
Week 5: Unanimous: Iowa at Wisconsin
Week 6: Unanimous: Nebraska at Wisconsin
Week 7: Moyer and Ward at Penn State-Ohio State, Murphy at Michigan State-Michigan, Sherman at Nebraska-Minnesota
Week 8: Bennett and Moyer at Penn State vs. Maryland, Sherman at Ohio State-Rutgers, Ward at Northwestern-Nebraska
Week 9: Bennett, Moyer and Sherman at Michigan-Minnesota, Murphy at Rutgers-Wisconsin

As the NCAA tournament moves to its next round Thursday, so does our Big Ten bracket challenge. This is your opportunity to sound off on the best game settings in the league. Here in March, those autumn afternoons remain a distant dream. But it won’t stop us from wishing for tailgates and touchdowns.

The results are in from the first round. Eight teams remain alive, and it's about to get heated in the quarterfinals with two storied programs battling head-to-head. Kudos to Purdue for what was either voting irregularity or the largest international fanbase in the league, but the commissions met and it was unanimous that Nebraska was moving on anyway to face Michigan. The polls close Monday at 4 p.m.

No. 4 Nebraska vs. No. 5 Michigan

Tournament résumés:

SportsNation

Which game day setting is better?

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Discuss (Total votes: 12,832)

Nebraska: The game-day experience starts Friday evening at Misty’s, where local and opposing fans gather to hear the Nebraska marching band, eat prime rib and put down a few beverages. That hospitality continues straight through to the final buzzer, when Husker fans are known to stand and applaud the visiting team, win or lose. Before then, pregame festivities reach a climax during the Husker Power chant as the team prepares for its traditional Tunnel Walk, which is as hair-raising an experience as any Big Ten team has when taking the field. Don’t forget to pack your red balloons. Fans release them in the stadium after Nebraska’s first score in each game.

Michigan: The Big House is massive and claims to have hosted more than 100,000 spectators in every Michigan home game since Nov. 8, 1975. The maize-colored crowd can get the low-slung bowl rocking when the Wolverines are rolling, which hasn’t always been the case in recent years. Critics say the stadium is too quiet for its population, but there are few atmospheres more charged than a night game at Michigan. Late starts will come more frequently in the future. Before the game, the university's nearby golf course fills up with tailgaters, downtown Ann Arbor offers some must-eat restaurants within reasonable walking distance to the stadium, and the front lawns on State Street overflow with students ready to party. Michigan Stadium may have fallen behind its neighbor in Ohio in sheer numbers, but the winningest tradition in college football still knows how to do it in style.

How do Big Ten teams combat their geographic disadvantages in recruiting, when many of the best players are in different regions? One of the answers is increasingly becoming satellite camps.

Penn State's James Franklin is the George Washington of this particular idea in the Big Ten. He ruffled some feathers in the South last year when he and some assistants participated in camps at Stetson (Florida) and Georgia State as guest coaches. That got the Nittany Lions exposure and face-to-face contact with prospects in some of the hottest recruiting hotbeds.

Nebraska's new staff under Mike Riley used to do the same type of things when it was at Oregon State, located far away from many prospect pipelines. The Huskers are already planning on adopting the satellite camp idea this summer, most likely in Texas, California, Georgia and Florida.

It should come as little surprise, then, that Michigan is jumping into that game as well under new coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Wolverines have booked two guest-coaching spots in June so far, in Alabama and in Texas. How excited do you think Nick Saban, Gus Malzahn, Charlie Strong and Kevin Sumlin will be to see Jim Harbaugh working camps in their states this summer?

The NCAA prohibits schools from holding camps more than 50 miles from their campus. But as long as the school isn't hosting the camp and its coaches are merely guests at a site, then everything is kosher.

Except, that is, in the SEC, which has a rule that forbids its coaches from working satellite camps. SEC coaches were upset about Franklin's foray last year, and the league made noise about changing the NCAA rule allowing for guest coaches. Boo hoo. Those guys have every other recruiting advantage in the world.

There's really no downside here at all for Big Ten teams entering this realm. It can be extremely helpful for a program like Nebraska, which struggles to get kids to Lincoln for official visits. Even Michigan has to recruit more nationally now because there is less talent in its state, and Harbaugh is going to turn over every stone. Ohio State might be the only Big Ten school that doesn't have to go the satellite camp route, because the Buckeyes have a wealth of talent in Ohio from which to draw and Urban Meyer's recruiting reach extends to pretty much anywhere he wants it to go. But you have to wonder if Meyer might look more seriously at the idea now that the team up North is working down South.

Numbers don't lie. There are simply more and better prospects in the South and in Texas. If you can't move your schools there, then the next best thing is to get as much face time and brand recognition as possible in those areas. The coaches and programs in those regions don't like the invasion, but there is no unfair practice involved here. It's just competition.

I love it. Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan have the right idea. Tell the rest of the league to load up the car. We're going (satellite) camping!

Nebraskans might be landlocked in their home state, but they're no strangers to sea change.

They saw Nebraska leave behind its history in the Big Eight/Big 12 for a new home in the Big Ten. They watched the program move from two handpicked successor coaches -- Tom Osborne and Frank Solich -- to an outsider (Bill Callahan) doomed by a historically bad defense, and another coach (Bo Pelini) doomed by a combustible personality and four-loss seasons. Their most painful adjustment has been the drop in prestige, as Nebraska hasn't won its league since 1999. Although Husker fans still invest greatly and demand great things from the program, the pragmatic ones know a national title run likely isn't in the immediate future.

The next reminder of Nebraska's new reality will come this fall when the offense takes the field. With rare exceptions, the Huskers are opting out of the option, the system that defined the program and its success for decades.

New Nebraska coach Mike Riley and offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf are longtime pro-style practitioners. Langsdorf spent last season coaching Eli Manning and the New York Giants quarterbacks after nine years as Riley's offensive coordinator at Oregon State.

[+] EnlargeDanny Langsdorf
AP Photo/Nati Harnik"You look back at their history, they were a wishbone-option team," new Newbraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf said. "We're probably not going to get a whole lot into that."

"We’ve taken some things from the Giants and implemented them here, and then a mixture of stuff we’ve done in our history with Oregon State," Langsdorf said last week. "We even go back to our New Orleans [Saints] days when Mike and I were there [in 2002]. The coordinator in New York [Ben McAdoo], I was with him in New Orleans.

"We've combined a lot of different ideas over the years."

This isn't the first time Nebraska has veered from the option. Callahan brought in the West Coast offense from the Oakland Raiders. But Pelini used a scheme that featured option elements, mobile quarterbacks and prolific I-backs like Roy Helu, Rex Burkhead and Ameer Abdullah.

"You look back at their history, they were a wishbone-option team," Langsdorf said. "We're probably not going to get a whole lot into that."

It's yet another reminder that times have changed in Husker Country.

"The offense that we ran is very obsolete," said former Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier, who triggered the option attack that helped the Huskers win consecutive national titles in 1994 and 1995. "There's not very many teams that still run option football. The ones that are still running it are very successful at it. Look at Georgia Tech, Air Force, Navy, teams like that, they're having success.

"But to get the type of player teams want, you have to change the offense to fit their style. That's what Nebraska has been doing over the years."

Frazier has followed Riley's offenses for years and is impressed with his schematics and player development skills. He also thinks Langsdorf's NFL experience will help Nebraska's quarterbacks, who in his mind have "the biggest challenge" in adjusting.

They will be under center more and running less, although Langsdorf wants to use their athleticism on bootlegs and sprint outs. The most significant shift comes in the way the quarterbacks must read defenses. So far this spring, it has resulted in more interceptions than the coaches would like.

"A lot of it's not knowing which defender to key or which safety to look at," Langsdorf said. "They're throwing the ball late because their footwork's not right, not throwing it on time or they're not anticipating throws. It’s an accuracy issue but it’s also a read-progression issue.

"All the stuff is probably a little tougher adjustment for them, but everyone’s doing a good job of working at it."

The Husker I-backs and offensive linemen could remain the big men on campus, as they have for decades. Riley had eight 1,000-yard rushers and six players with more than 250 carries at Oregon State, including Steven Jackson with a nation-high 350 in 2003. But Nebraska's wide receivers, who saw a spike in production under Pelini, will be an even bigger part of the offense now.

Riley had 10 receivers eclipse 1,000 yards at Oregon State, including Biletnikoff Award winners Mike Hass and Brandin Cooks. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver. Its single-season receptions record is 63.

"We’re probably running a few things downfield a little bit more," Langsdorf said. "We're teaching them some timed routes where they have to count some steps and do some things a little differently than they have in the past."

Nebraska's offense will be doing quite a few things differently in its quest to recapture the program's past glory. Frazier, who lives in Omaha, thinks Husker fans will be fine with the new approach.

"Nebraska fans are very loyal to the program," Frazier said. "They just want to see a team play hard. Nebraska's a blue-collar state and they want the football program to represent them that way. Being almost 20 years since I played there, almost 12 years since Coach Solich left, I don't think the style of offense is really going to matter.

"Being productive, being consistent and playing hard matters more than anything."

Is there anything better than Big Ten football in the fall?

We think not, which is why we're dreaming of our ultimate Big Ten road trip in 2015. In case you've missed the previous installments, we've been giving our picks for which game we would attend each week if money and editorial decisions were no object. We can each pick only one game per week.

Time to look at Week 8:

Saturday, Oct. 24

Wisconsin at Illinois
Penn State vs. Maryland
Indiana at Michigan State
Northwestern at Nebraska
Ohio State at Rutgers

Byes: Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota Purdue

Austin Ward's pick: Northwestern at Nebraska

By this point there should already be an understanding of where these programs stack up in the West Division, and there probably won’t be huge stakes in the race unless the Wildcats have truly recovered from their recent rough patches and found some consistency on offense. But if the Huskers are going to be a factor, this is a matchup at home it can’t afford to overlook. And for Pat Fitzgerald, taking his team into a tough place to win and pulling out a victory would have value not only in climbing back up in the standings and potentially into the postseason again, but it might have a long-term impact establishing the Wildcats as a threat again.

Mitch Sherman's pick: Ohio State at Rutgers

I’m off the High Points Solutions Stadium, because it’s the closest Ezekiel Elliott or any of Ohio State quarterbacks will get to New York City until December. Maybe Urban Meyer can steer the team bus through Times Square to offer extra motivation for the Buckeyes’ Heisman candidates. Really, this is not a great week of matchups in the Big Ten, and OSU squashed Rutgers 56-17 a year ago. I’m not expecting a compelling game, but I want to see the atmosphere for this in Piscataway, and I’m wondering if Rutgers cast of running backs can penetrate the Ohio State defense. Probably not, but hey, a stopover in New York beckons.

Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State vs. Maryland

"Let the rivalry begin." Those were Randy Edsall's words when Maryland pulled off the historic win in State College last year. Don't think Penn State has forgotten that -- or that the Terps refused to shake hands before the game. This might just be turning into a heated new rivalry in the Big Ten, and with this game being in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium, I'd expect some Nittany Lions fans to make it closer to a neutral site. Save me a crab cake, and I'll see you there.

Josh Moyer's pick: Penn State vs. Maryland

Our choices are thin in Week 8, so I'm going with a matchup that could wind up blossoming into a nice rivalry. Call it what you will right now, but this game is sure to be an interesting one after last season's no-handshake escapade (and don't forget about the pregame scuffle either). The Nittany Lions tried to downplay how they felt after the Terps' 20-19 win, but it's clear they weren't fans of the move. Outside of the theatrics, this could be another close contest -- or at least has less blowout potential than the other games.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami
Week 4: Bennett and Ward at Maryland-West Virginia, Sherman and Moyer at BYU-Michigan
Week 5: Unanimous: Iowa at Wisconsin
Week 6: Unanimous: Nebraska at Wisconsin
Week 7: Moyer and Ward at Penn State-Ohio State, Murphy at Michigan State-Michigan, Sherman at Nebraska-Minnesota

Big Ten morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
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Urban Meyer makes news when he thinks about the quarterback decision that he faces before next season. He actually talked about it Tuesday.

Meyer said the dilemma has started to "eat away" at him.

In this report by Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch, Meyer praised the Ohio State quarterbacks for their positive attitude in spring practice, specifically mentioning a compliment offered by Braxton Miller to Cardale Jones. Miller and J.T. Barrett talked a little football at practice, he said.

These are insignificant details, though they remain fascinating in the context of the OSU QB race, especially when offered by Meyer. The battle won't actually hit its stride until August of course, when all three accomplished players presumably will enter preseason camp in good health.

Meyer said Tuesday that he was moved to feel this way about the quarterbacks because he has "such great respect for all three guys."

He also offered a dose of reality. "The negative: Two people are going to have to watch."

This storyline has already taken on a life of its own. It's in danger of spinning out of control at some point before August, at least in the uncontrolled environment away from the Ohio State campus. Twelve practices remain for the Buckeyes this spring -- more time for the media and fans to anticipate and overanalyze every minor twist.

And if Meyer is already feeling a burden now, imagine how he'll feel in August.

Let's get to the links:

By this point in our Big Ten ultimate road trip, we'd probably be tired of airplanes, hotel rooms and rental cars. But the football would push us through.

Of course, this in all likelihood won't be our actual 2015 itinerary. Still, we're picking the game each week on the fall schedule that we'd most like to attend, if things like money and time were no issue.

Here's Week 7:

Saturday, Oct. 17

Rutgers at Indiana
Michigan State at Michigan
Nebraska at Minnesota
Iowa at Northwestern
Penn State at Ohio State
Purdue at Wisconsin

Byes: Illinois, Maryland

Dan Murphy's pick: Michigan State at Michigan

No need to leave Ann Arbor this weekend, as the intensity of the Big Ten's best in-state rivalry will be cranked up thanks to the arrival of new Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh -- who probably won't be issuing any apologies in the days following this game. "Little brother" has been pounding the Wolverines in recent years. Harbaugh, who is no stranger to beating up his big brother, gets his first crack at the Spartans at home. Michigan hasn't ruled out the possibility of scheduling this game as a rare prime-time kickoff, which would turn this enticing matchup into a can't-miss event.

Josh Moyer's pick: Penn State at Ohio State

The Nittany Lions nearly ended the Buckeyes' national title run last season, and you can bet they have been champing at the bit for a rematch. Putting aside the controversy last season, a lot could still be at stake in 2015. PSU has an easy schedule until it heads to the Shoe, and both teams have the potential to be undefeated heading into this. Regardless, one does not simply turn down a chance to visit a venue like Ohio Stadium. This was an easy decision.

Mitch Sherman: Nebraska at Minnesota

I'm going north to the Twin Cities as Minnesota attempts to make it three straight wins against Nebraska after going five decades without a victory in this series. The Gophers haven't been home in three weeks; the weather is turning. And Nebraska is, at best, coming down from an emotional high of the biggest home game of the season in Week 6 against the Badgers. This game presents the first chance also for the largely Oregon State-imported staff at Nebraska to match wits against a winning group of established coaches in the Big Ten. You can argue all day about the merits of the two leagues. Bottom line is, they are different beasts, especially as the season reaches its second half. Here arrives a chance for the revamped Huskers to show that they understand the new challenges.

Austin Ward's pick: Penn State at Ohio State

The strength of the East Division will be on full display with two matchups featuring the four marquee programs, but James Franklin’s first visit to the Horseshoe with Penn State should provide the most entertainment. The Nittany Lions nearly rode their stout defense and some raucous support from their fans to an upset at home last year before quarterback J.T. Barrett helped the Buckeyes escape in overtime, giving the national champs one of their stiffest tests of the season. Though Ohio State might be even deeper and more talented than a year ago, it will no doubt be getting Penn State’s best shot.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami
Week 4: Bennett and Ward at Maryland-West Virginia, Sherman and Moyer at BYU-Michigan
Week 5: Unanimous: Iowa at Wisconsin
Week 6: Unanimous: Nebraska at Wisconsin

Two things have become clear in recruiting: If you want a top quarterback you had better move quickly; each prospect’s decision affects others. That’s why the upcoming decision of Jarrett Guarantano looms large over the 2016 class.

It's time for a road trip, which hopefully will be better than the 2000 movie of the same name.

Of course it will be, because this one involves football. This is our Big Ten ultimate road trip for 2015, where we pick the game each week we'd most like to attend if budgets and editorial decisions were no obstacle. Each of us can only select one game per week.

We keep trippin' into the second week of October and a full boat of conference play:

Saturday, Oct. 10

Illinois at Iowa
Northwestern at Michigan
Wisconsin at Nebraska
Maryland at Ohio State
Indiana at Penn State
Minnesota at Purdue
Michigan State at Rutgers

Unanimous pick: Wisconsin at Nebraska

Josh Moyer: I'm heading west -- far west from the confines of Happy Valley -- to see the Big Ten's newest head coaches duke it out. Can the Huskers finally eke one out from Wisconsin, or do the Badgers just have their number? Will Corey Clement run all over the field, or will Tommy Armstrong Jr. march his offense downfield? I don't know, but I'd sure like to find out -- especially at a stadium that should be rocking. Even without Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah, to me, there's no place I'd rather be.

Brian Bennett: The good news is all 14 teams are locked into conference play on this Saturday. The not-so-good-news: most of the matchups look pretty unappealing on paper. Maryland-Ohio State and Michigan State-Rutgers were both one-sided blowouts last year, while Northwestern-Michigan (a.k.a., the infamous "MOON" game) was one of the ugliest contests of 2014. It's unlikely that anything other than Badgers-Huskers will involve a pair of ranked teams, and both teams should be battling it out for first place in the Big Ten West. Maybe by Week 6 some of these other games will look more interesting. But from this perch in late March, heading to Lincoln is the only real choice, and it's a good one.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State
Week 3: Sherman and Murphy at Rutgers-Penn State, Bennett and Ward at Nebraska-Miami
Week 4: Bennett and Ward at Maryland-West Virginia, Sherman and Moyer at BYU-Michigan
Week 5: Unanimous: Wisconsin at Nebraska

Big Ten morning links

March, 23, 2015
Mar 23
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Cardale Jones got fans talking Friday when he posted this photo on Instagram.

The picture? A photoshopped rendition of a black-and-red Ohio State uniform, something not yet in the Buckeyes' repertoire. "How Sick Would This Be," Jones wrote.

How Sick Would This Be

A photo posted by Cardale Jones (@cardale12_) on


A special uniform like that would be long (and somewhat) overdue for the Buckeyes. Rumors of a black alternate uniform circulated last season before Urban Meyer halted the fun by saying there were no such plans. Still, Meyer said he would be fine with it "somewhere down the road."

It's definitely pretty slick. But, for whatever reason, it just seems like black is a great choice for a uniform. (Just ask Iowa fans.) Twitter was aflutter just three months ago for a similar wardrobe change at Penn State. Defensive back Jordan Lucas and running back Akeel Lynch excited the fan base with this Photoshop, and James Franklin was eventually asked about the possibility. The answer? Possibly, but time moves slow on uniform changes.

Maybe we'll see something similar in The Horseshoe soon enough. Or maybe schools should open up some sort of concept contest to fans because there's been some cool-looking mock-ups floating around. (Hint, hint, Maryland.)

Now, on to the links ...

Big Ten morning links

March, 20, 2015
Mar 20
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Throughout this week, all sorts of columnists and experts have chimed in with their opinions on Chris Borland's decision to retire. It's either the start of a trend, or the start of nothing. A significant and symbolic move, or a trivial decision in the grand scheme.

I'm not going to share my opinion -- every stance has already been expressed -- but I will pass on one that I feel deserves to be read.

Take a look at this essay by ex-Penn State offensive guard John Urschel: "Why I Play Football." Maybe no one in the NFL has more on the line than him. He's been published in major journals, graduated with a 4.0 GPA, and is intent on earning a chess title. Basically, by all accounts, he boasts a brain that seems more befitting a brain surgeon than a brawny ballplayer.

He doesn't need football. He says as much. He could make a living in mathematics instead of hitting grown men for a living. So, why does someone with so much on the line keep playing? Why does he keep risking his future on the present? His words:

"What my mother and a great majority of my friends, family, and fellow mathematicians don’t understand is that I’m not playing for the money. I’m not playing for some social status associated with being an elite athlete. No, the media has not brainwashed me into thinking this is what real men do. ... I play because I love the game. I love hitting people. There’s a rush you get when you go out on the field, lay everything on the line and physically dominate the player across from you. This is a feeling I’m (for lack of a better word) addicted to, and I’m hard-pressed to find anywhere else."

You can call him idealistic, but don't call him dishonest. Maybe no player's take is more relevant.

Urschel's words might not hold true for all players. Heck, maybe that truth is different for each player. But it's a take worth reading.

He ends with: "Simply put, right now, not playing football isn’t an option for me. And for that reason, I truly envy Chris Borland."

Now, on to the links ...

Big Ten morning links

March, 19, 2015
Mar 19
9:00
AM ET

Here in the throes of March Madness, football takes a temporary backseat, especially for the Big Ten schools involved in the NCAA tournament.

(In 30 seconds, name the league’s seven men’s basketball teams vying for the big prize. Scroll down for the answer.)

They’re still talking football in Iowa, even as the state’s three basketball programs compete in the tournament. The cost of football recruiting, to be more exact.

The Des Moines Register examined recruiting costs associated with campus visits and coaches’ travel, finding that Iowa nearly doubled its spending over a five-year period that ended in 2013. The 98.7-percent increase ranked second in the Big Ten to Penn State over that same time.

Interestingly, the Hawkeyes still trailed rival Iowa State by more than $100,000 on recruiting expenditures in 2013, and spent 35 percent less than ISU over the five years.

Of the spending increase, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told the Register: "It’s really a national trend. I think everybody’s being a little more aggressive than they used to be."

It’s a good sign for Iowa that it’s trying to keep pace. The Hawkeyes and Ferentz, entering his 17th season, are too often slow to adjust at times. Over the five years of gathered data, Iowa ranks 10th in the Big Ten in total spending on recruiting.

To reverse its current trajectory on the field, Iowa would be well served to rank higher than 10th over the next five years.

Here’s the full list of schools nationally, as compiled by USA Today. Just wondering, but how did Auburn spend nearly $1.4 million on recruiting in 2013 when more than 80 percent of its signees in 2013 and 2014 lived within the SEC footprint?

A final aside on recruiting expenses: Though they offer an excellent window into these programs, be careful about comparisons.

Air travel, the most significant recruiting expense, is classified by programs in different ways. Some schools own planes, jetting coaches from coast to coast; others receive donated private air time; others rely solely on commercial travel.

And here is your answer to the above question: Ohio State and Purdue play Thursday. Michigan State, Indiana, Maryland, Iowa, and Wisconsin take the court Friday. Enjoy the basketball.

Let's go around the rest of the league:

We're straight trippin' here at the Big Ten blog this week.

And by that, we mean we're coming up with the ultimate road trip for the 2015 season, picking the game each we week we'd attend if travel and editorial decisions were no issue. We're up to Week 3 right now, and here are the options:

Sat. Sept. 19

Western Kentucky at Indiana
South Florida at Maryland
UNLV at Michigan
Air Force at Michigan State
Kent State at Minnesota
Northern Illinois at Ohio State
Rutgers at Penn State
Troy at Wisconsin
Northwestern at Duke
Nebraska at Miami (Fla.)
Illinois at North Carolina
Pittsburgh at Iowa
Virginia Tech at Purdue

Mitch Sherman’s pick: Rutgers at Penn State

Since the Big Ten remains behind much of the rest of college football in scheduling early season league games – they’re coming eventually – this is the best we get for the second straight year. In a game scheduled before Rutgers joined the Big Ten, this matchup did not disappoint in 2014 as Christian Hackenberg led the Nittany Lions on a late drive to win 13-10 and spoil the Scarlet Knights’ league debut. The rematch should feature a pair of 2-0 teams and will mark Rutgers’ first trip to Beaver Stadium since 1994. It’s also, surprisingly, the first time Penn State has opened Big Ten play at home since 2009.

Dan Murphy's pick: Rutgers at Penn State

Rutgers and Penn State get conference play underway early in the season for the second year in a row. The trip to Miami is hard to pass up, but there aren't many big names coming to Happy Valley this year and that stadium is worth an annual trip. This matchup -- which proved to be an exciting one in 2014 -- will be Penn State's first test and its only real measuring stick before a mid-October trip to Ohio State.

Austin Ward's pick: Nebraska at Miami

The stakes might not be as high between the storied programs anymore, and they played each other last season at Nebraska. But there is still something special about the Hurricanes and Huskers hooking up, and without all that many appealing matchups between Power 5 opponents on the schedule, this one figures to be the most entertaining of the weekend. It might even provide a hint as to which traditional power is closest to returning to compete again on a national scale.

Brian Bennett: Nebraska at Miami

Miami home games usually have about as much atmosphere as a first-round at a senior PGA golf tournament. But Big Red travels everywhere and will help fill up the stands for the Hurricanes. Miami still has a lot of talent and will put it together one day, while this is the first big road test for Mike Riley as Nebraska's coach. Plus, I'm not going to lie: slipping over to South Beach the day before the game is slightly appealing.

Previous trippin'

Week 1: Bennett and Murphy at Ohio State-Virginia Tech; Ward at Michigan-Utah; Moyer at Wisconsin-Alabama
Week 2: Unanimous: Oregon at Michigan State

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