Big Ten: Penn State Nittany Lions
Check out all the interviews: Part I and Part II.
Part I includes: Purdue's Darrell Hazell (1:42 mark), Penn State's James Franklin (11:59 mark), Rutgers' Kyle Flood (19:59 mark), Minnesota's Jerry Kill (31:30 mark), Michigan State's Mark Dantonio (42:49 mark), Wisconsin's Gary Andersen (52:18 mark) and Illinois' Tim Beckman (1:03:09 mark).
Part II includes: Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (2:46 mark), Maryland's Randy Edsall (13:22 mark), Michigan's Brady Hoke (24:19 mark), Indiana's Kevin Wilson (36:31 mark), Ohio State's Urban Meyer (49:22 mark), Nebraska's Bo Pelini (1:03:07 mark) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (1:15:05 mark).
Some really good stuff here, and a great way to get caught up on all the Big Ten teams before the season kicks off in about four weeks.
- BTN conducts an anonymous player survey asking about the toughest venue, coach you'd most like to play for and more.
- For the Big Ten to continue to compete, analyst Gerry DiNardo believes recruiting rules need to change -- such as allowing juniors to have official visits.
- James Franklin is becoming the "perfect villain" for a Rutgers-Penn State rivalry. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini offers Rutgers advice on its first season in the Big Ten and says to make sure you have enough linemen in this conference.
- Huskers defensive coordinator John Papuchis believes in this Q&A the defense has the potential to be Nebraska's best of the past three seasons.
- Five things Ohio State fans should take away from media days.
- Wisconsin OT Rob Havenstein is "without a doubt the No.1 leader on our offense," according to head coach Gary Andersen.
- Coaches at Penn State and Pitt both say, in separate interviews, they'd like to play each other every season.
- Michigan State's Mark Dantonio is intrigued by an early signing period -- but he's also skeptical how it might work.
- Iowa's newest ticket promotion? Season tickets could net you two semesters of free tuition -- at least for five lucky students.
- Michigan coordinator Doug Nussmeier and quarterback Devin Gardner have developed a relationship "a great deal" the past seven months and expectations are high.
- Purdue offensive coordinator John Shoop discusses the Boilermakers' offense and the strides and improvements they've made.
This week, we're counting down the Top 25 players in the Big Ten. Our reporting crew voted to select the list based on past performance and future potential.
The countdown started on Monday with the first five players, then climbed up to No. 16 on Tuesday before we reached No. 11 Wednesday. Next up is Nos. 6 through 10.
10. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State Spartans: It took the Spartans a few weeks last season to settle on a starter, but there are certainly no doubts anymore. All Cook did was toss 23 touchdowns to seven interceptions while leading MSU to a conference title and a Rose Bowl victory. The question mark on the Spartans was always the offense, but Cook helped replace that with an exclamation mark and has gained a reputation as one of the Big Ten’s best as a result.
9. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State Buckeyes: Say hello to a big reason the Buckeyes boasted one of the top 10 run defenses in the country last season. The 288-pound lineman is the anchor and leader of this line, and he should be in for another solid season. He had 11.5 stops in the backfield last season and had his hand in five fumbles (three forced, two recovered). His burst should give opposing interior linemen a lot of problems in 2014.
8. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: He’s only a sophomore, but he’s already in the preseason conversation as the B1G’s defensive player of the year. He started 10 games last season, played like at a veteran at points and improved as the season wore on. Bosa ended 2013 by recording a tackle for loss in his last six games. It’s scary to think where he might be in another two years.
7. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State Nittany Lions: NFL Draft: Will Hackenberg go No. 1 in 2016? That was a headline from The Sporting News back in February and for good reason -- Hackenberg appears to be the Nittany Lions’ best pocket passer since Kerry Collins, who was taken in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft. He can make all the throws, upset 25-point favorite Wisconsin last season and should be even better this season. The only question is whether his patchwork offensive line and inexperienced receivers will be able to keep up.
6. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State: He’s the best defensive player on the best defense in the Big Ten, and maybe one of the top defenses in the country. He makes plays at key moments -- his three defensive TDs last season tied a school record that was set 67 years ago -- and his efforts were rewarded by being named Big Ten defensive lineman of the year. He’s an All-American talent and one of the best the B1G has to offer.
This is my first Big Ten mailbag, but don't go easy on me. Let's get this started.
Josh Moyer: Good question, Jackie. It's a bit of a complicated issue, so let's kind of take it step by step here. First of all, there are two types of insurances built around players who are normally projected to go within the first three rounds: Loss-of-value insurance in case an injury -- maybe a torn ACL, for example -- causes a player to drop in the NFL draft, and then there's insurance that only covers a player in case he suffers a career-ending injury. Both insurances have really become common, and the NCAA's actually allowed this for about 25 years. The NCAA will even extend loans to players who want the insurance -- it's part of the Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Insurance Program, which helps out about 60 to 80 football players a year -- but, of course, there's a catch. The NCAA will only grant loans to players who want the career-ending insurance. Want the loss-of-value policy? Too bad. You'll have to get that yourself, and that'll cost five-figures.
Melvin Gordon wanted both policies, and they cost about $28,000, according to this article by Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates. That kind of money might be easy to come by for Johnny Football's family -- but not for most others. So Wisconsin paid for the policies out of the Student Opportunity Fund, and I applaud the move. I spoke to Wisconsin SID Brian Lucas this afternoon, and he acknowledged it's pretty rare for a university to pay for the insurance. (It is a first for Wisconsin, although Texas A&M has also done it.) But it's obviously within the rules. If anything, I think the NCAA should start offering and extending loans to cover both insurances. I can't see a good reason why it's not already doing that.
As for Gordon, maybe some critics might say this was an incentive for him to stay at Wisconsin another year -- even if Gordon disagrees with that assertion. Quite frankly, I don't care either way. With all the issues in the NCAA, there are worse problems than giving talented players an incentive to stay in school and finish their degrees.
@ESPN_BigTen who wins in a boxing match between Scherff and Carl Davis?— Logan Wiegmann (@loganwiegmann) July 30, 2014
Josh Moyer: Oh, come on. What kind of question is that? Of course, with that monstrous strength, it would be Brandon Scherff -- but I'll say he wins in a split decision. All joking aside, though, I spoke to both Iowa players Tuesday at Big Ten media days, and I posed a question about who'd win in a one-on-one battle -- but on the gridiron, not in the boxing ring. Since Scherff's on the outside at offensive tackle and Carl Davis is inside at defensive tackle, they haven't gone at it since they were freshmen. But Davis dug into the hypothetical. Here's what he told me: "I'd definitely give it to Scherff as a player right now. He's a great player. The stuff he does, he's really matured as a player in his development. He's strong as a house. ... He's the better player."
So, quite frankly, if Scherff is a good enough pick for Davis, then it's good enough for me.
Brian from Altoona, Pennsylvania, writes: Penn State's pick for a new AD doesn't make any sense. Why would they go after her with her academic record? Am I missing something or is Penn State crazy?
Josh Moyer: There's no doubt about it -- picking former Cal AD Sandy Barbour was definitely a bit of a head-scratcher. Northwestern's Jim Phillips would've been the slam-dunk hire if PSU could've pried him away, while Barbour's kind of the unexpected consolation prize. She ended her career as Cal AD at a low point after the football team finished with the worst graduation rate (44 percent) among the nation's 72 major programs. Cal! As in Cal-Berkeley! It's a great school, so those numbers were not acceptable.
Penn State president Eric Barron blamed those numbers on Cal's budget crisis. And he's not necessarily wrong, as that definitely contributed to it all. But Barbour waited too long to address the issue. On the positive side, Penn State should be an "easier" school to oversee since fundraising should be a little easier between the football team's past tradition and success. And, keep in mind, most people didn't like the Bill O'Brien hire, either, when it was first announced.
All that being said, if I were in Barbour's position, I think it'd be smart if her first act as AD was to invest money into something academic-related -- whether it's a new studying lounge, more tutors, whatever. Academics are her biggest criticism right now, and she could help shift the conversation with a move that benefits education. Plus, even if the move might put PSU in the red a bit, how many people have actually ever said, "Gee, I wish we didn't invest as much in academics."? Seems like a win-win move to me. She starts Aug. 18 -- so we'll see how it goes.
ESPN.com has taken on the herculean task of ranking the top 100 players in college football entering the 2014 season. These are based on expected contributions for the 2014 season, regardless of position.
The list is being released in 20-player increments, and today we reach players ranked Nos. 60-41. Five Big Ten players can be found in this group, and here they are:
No. 44: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
No. 46: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
No. 48: Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
No. 51: Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
No. 56: Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State
Obviously, there are some very good and quite possibly underrated names in this batch.
All Langford did was run for more than 1,400 yards and a Big Ten-best 18 touchdowns last season. There aren't many more productive running backs in the country than him, although the league is stacked at tailback going into 2014.
Spence is an interesting case. He finished second in the Big Ten with eight sacks a season ago as a first-year starter and is a big time pass-rusher. But he also will miss the first two games of the season because of a suspension. That might hurt his numbers a bit, but he can still make his presence known.
Diggs may make this ranking look silly if he can stay healthy all season. He was in line for a monster year as a sophomore before an injury cut his 2013 short. He could contend for the Biletnikoff Award if he remains on the field for 13 games.
The final two players in this group are also supreme talents. Hackenberg was magnificent as a true freshman and has an unlimited ceiling. He will be adjusting to a new coaching staff and life without Allen Robinson, though, so this could be a transition year. Bennett, meanwhile, has already been projected by some as a first-round NFL draft pick next year. He's quicker and more athletic than many defensive tackles and is a leader on Ohio State's defense.
Diggs, Hackenberg and Bennett all have cases to be ranked much higher than this. If there are 40 players better than those three in the country, we're in for a treat this college football season.
No Big Ten coaching staff has a larger social media presence than Penn State's, particularly on Twitter. Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) requires his assistants to have Twitter accounts -- it's not optional.
Some Lions aides, such as offensive line coach Herb Hand (@CoachHand), wide receivers coach Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) and defensive line coach Sean "Coach Chaos" Spencer (@SpenceChaos), are very active on Twitter, while others dabble in it.
The biggest reason for the push is obvious: recruiting.
"The target market is the 15- to 17-, 18-year-old kid, and that's how guys communicate," Hand told ESPN.com earlier this summer. "They're going to communicate through Twitter, through Facebook, through the direct message avenues on those two sites. So you've got to bring it to them. You can't sit there and say, 'Hey, you come to me.'
"You've got to meet them where they're at."
But reaching recruits isn't the only reason Hand uses Twitter. If you follow him -- he has more than 19,000 followers -- you've probably seen the word "branding" pop up a lot on his timeline.
Hand considers Twitter and other social media outlets as branding tools. Those who use them correctly can build their brands; those who don't can destroy them.
"There’s an opportunity in social media that's very powerful to connect with people," Hand said. "It's important for people to understand that before they get involved with it because you also can shoot yourself in the foot real quick. That's one of the problems with a lot of the young guys on there, players we're recruiting. They don't think before they post stuff. They don't realize that this is your brand.
"You're telling the world who you are."
I thought about this Wednesday morning when Hand tweeted that Penn State was no longer pursuing a prospect because of the prospect's social media presence, which, in Hand's view, revealed who the player really is.
Dropped another prospect this AM due to his social media presence...Actually glad I got to see the 'real' person before we offered him.— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) July 30, 2014
He then followed up with this:
"We owe it to our players to educate them on how to use it responsibly," Hand told me in June. "Social media is a huge part of our society. It’s a global thing. If you're really about educating guys, let's educate people on it and make sure they're not using it to destroy themselves, either, because that can happen in a heartbeat."
Franklin actually found out about the recruiting about-face through Twitter on Wednesday while attending ESPN's "Car Wash" in Bristol, Connecticut. He told ESPN's "Numbers Never Lie" that one questionable tweet won't discourage coaches from recruiting a player, but a pattern of them will.
"It's no different than transcripts, it’s no different than game film," Franklin said. "It's another piece of information."
Hopefully, recruits are listening. Hand, a 46-year-old father of three, might not look like a social-media expert, but he knows his stuff. His social media introduction came in 2001 when he was West Virginia's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. He used to use Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" tool to interact with fans on message boards.
Hand quickly saw where the trend was heading and built his own brand as he moved to Tulsa, Vanderbilt and now Penn State. He has fun with it, as you can see here and here and here, but also has a serious tone when tweeting about his work with Our Kids, an organization that helps children and families affected by child sexual abuse.
"I want to be sincere," he said. "What you see is what you get. It's who I am. I'm not trying to just be a robot on there."
The social media boom with Penn State football seems unusual, as former coach Joe Paterno obviously didn't tweet and former coach Bill O'Brien once referred to "Spacebook" and "Tweeter." But the current coaches are not only encouraging players to use Twitter, but to do so responsibly.
"I know they're going to have some people out there watching us, especially on social media," linebacker Mike Hull said. "So I try to refrain from saying anything too bad."
- A difference of opinion exists over which new division, East or West, most embodies Big Ten football.
- Ameer Abdullah, the featured speaker at the league's Kickoff Luncheon, is not your everyday college football player, writes Pat Forde. Abdullah illustrates the essence of the student-athlete.
- The NCAA should lift the bowl ban on Penn State, writes Dennis Dodd. Top takeaways from Chicago for Penn State.
- The revitalized Penn State-Rutgers rivalry won’t damage the friendship of coaches James Franklin and Kyle Flood. Purdue coach Darrell Hazell was a key figure in rebuilding the Rutgers program under Greg Schiano.
- Competition reins at Purdue in the preseason.
- Should Hazell and Illinois coach Tim Beckman feel the heat? Despite plenty of focus on the Illini’s unsettled quarterback spot, its defense may hold the key to success.
- Randy Edsall believes Maryland is ready to win now in the Big Ten. His coaching peers believe it, too. Terps receiver Stefon Diggs can relate to LeBron James.
- Ohio State players say their coach has changed his approach since arriving in Columbus 2 1/2 years ago. This OSU defensive line could resemble the 2006 group at Florida, says Urban Meyer.
- Nebraska plans to grind it out with a streamlined offensive playbook.
- Michigan coach Brady Hoke says De’Veon Smith will enter preseason camp with a slight edge over Derrick Green at running back. Before returning to national prominence, the Wolverines are working to first earn the respect of each other.
- How might Michigan State have finished last year in the College Football Playoff structure? No. 1, according to Mark Dantonio. The perception of MSU football is trending up.
- Indiana has plans to do more than just qualify for its second bowl game since 1993.
- Iowa’s Mark Weisman is a rock star. Or maybe just a rock. The summer of Scherff continues to gain momentum.
- Northwestern won’t budge in its hard-line stance on recruiting, even if it led to the loss of two elite prospects. The unionization topic won’t fade away for the Wildcats.
- A campus incident last year at Wisconsin has sparked discussion about regulating recruiting visits. A freshman looks set to play an important role on the Badgers’ stout offensive line.
- Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is fit to coach from the sidelines. Impact freshmen for the Gophers.
CHICAGO -- Big Ten media days are in the books and the countdown to the 2014 season can officially begin. It was a mostly uneventful session at the Hilton Chicago, despite the presence of stars such as Braxton Miller, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah and Shilique Calhoun.
Our Big Ten reporting crew weighs in on some of the topics from the past two days.
What was the biggest surprise at Big Ten media days?
Austin Ward: The lack of major headlines coming from the league was a bit of a shock considering some of the star power in Chicago, the storylines around college football right now and the amount of trash talk between leagues that has popped up this month. Not even Ohio State coach Urban Meyer or Penn State coach James Franklin were able to stir the pot much nationally, and typically they are always good for a viral sound bite or hot topic in late July. There's nothing wrong with avoiding controversy, but the Big Ten didn't do much to draw attention to itself over two days.
Mitch Sherman: Other than the bright-red pants worn by Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown on Tuesday to go with his dark jacket and tie, I was surprised most by the lack of bravado we saw out of Michigan State. I know the Spartans are a blue-collar bunch and that this spot atop the Big Ten is new to them. But after a 13-1 season and set to play arguably the most significant nonconference game nationally on Sept. 6 at Oregon, I thought Michigan State would come to Chicago with a little more swagger. If coach Mark Dantonio hadn't worn his giant championship ring, I’m not sure I would have remembered that MSU beat Ohio State in December, then Stanford in the Rose Bowl. This is not to suggest it's a bad thing; simply that the Spartans -- even flamboyant defensive end Shilique Calhoun -- are not resting on their accomplishments of 2013.
Josh Moyer: OK, let's say you pulled aside the top three offensive players in the Big Ten -- Braxton Miller, Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah -- and asked them, in separate interviews, about the most exciting offensive player in the conference. Who do you think they would say? Well, their answer was my biggest surprise this week; they all said the same guy -- Indiana wideout Shane Wynn. Maybe they just wanted to put the spotlight on an underrated player, but it was still a shock to hear Wynn's name so often. Heck, I told Wynn about that -- and even he was surprised. It's fun to watch a short guy like Wynn, who is 5-foot-7, run circles around defenders. So while I thought Wynn would be in for a good season, I can't say I would've mentioned him in the same breath as those three.
Who had the most memorable interview?
Moyer: I have to go with Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert. He's the fastest player in the Big Ten, and he might just be the most charismatic. You couldn't blame Purdue if it came out a little quiet at this media day after the season the Boilermakers had, but Mostert didn't shy away from making some bold statements. He said his offense was capable of scoring 30-some points a game and, while I still think there’s zero chance of that happening, it takes some guts to make that statement. Plus, he was hilarious in talking about how far along Danny Etling’s come. He couldn't say enough good things about Etling now, but said last season he looked like a guy who just lost his dog every time he threw a pick. So my "Most Optimistic" and "Most Well-Spoken" awards go to Mostert.
Sherman: Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was on fire Tuesday during the group session. Fitzgerald, always an eloquent speaker, had plenty to get off his chest in the wake of an offseason like no other in Evanston, Illinois. He waxed on about problems with the current model of college athletics, in particular criticizing some of the outdated rules that govern recruiting. "I don't want to be basketball," Fitzgerald said in the midst of his monologue. "We're going there." He harped on the disingenuous ways that some college coaches try to attract prospects. All of this after his players voted recently on whether to unionize. The issues of unionization and inequity within the sport are inseparable. Still, Fitzgerald managed keep his own players and former players largely out of the discussion. And the coach made a lot of sense.
Rittenberg: Well, my favorite moment was Michigan State's Connor Cook, midway through an answer Tuesday about how Dantonio had loosened up over time, stared blankly and said, "Sorry, my brain, I just blacked out right there." Must have been a fun Monday night in Chicago. ... I really enjoy Franklin's energy, especially in a league of mostly decaffeinated coaches. Franklin on Tuesday excitedly recalled the night the Penn State staff watched assistant Herb Hand appear on "Chopped" while riding a bus between their guest-coaching camp stops in the South. "It was awesome, we were driving and Herb comes walking out [on the show] and the whole bus explodes: 'Herbie! Herbie!'" Franklin said, clapping his hands. "The other guys come out and the whole bus is booing them, 'Boo! Boo!' So Herbie wins the first round and the bus goes crazy, 'That's our boy!' He loses the next round and that bus turned on him in an instant. Everybody's bashing him. His flavors were good but the presentation was awful." Again, something different and refreshing.
Ward: Calhoun had little interest in a standard question-and-answer interview, instead turning his podium session on Monday into an interactive experience that livened up the event while the Michigan State star was in the spotlight. He spent his 30 minutes joking, laughing and telling reporters how much he enjoyed watching them talk over each other to ask questions and then yelling across the room at Cook to clarify comments the quarterback had supposedly made about him earlier. In one brief session, Calhoun made the kind of memorable impact on the media he’s been known to make on opposing quarterbacks.
What's one new thing you learned?
Rittenberg: Big Ten teams aren't shying away from the playoff talk. Players, coaches and the commissioner all acknowledged that if you don't make the playoff, you're basically irrelevant in college football. And that's the right position for this league to take. The perception is that Big Ten players and coaches only care about the Rose Bowl and don't aim higher. Perhaps some of that is true, but most of the folks I encountered this week seemed to embrace the significance of the new system. I loved what Ohio State defensive lineman Michael Bennett said: Anything short of a national title would be disappointing. That's how the Big Ten needs to think.
Moyer: Nebraska's Kenny Bell has a killer Afro? Michigan State's Kurtis Drummond has great fashion sense? Penn State's Sam Ficken will never escape questions about the 2012 Virginia game? There were certainly a lot of tidbits. But I was impressed with how even-keeled Maryland coach Randy Edsall was. At one point, during podium interviews, an irate cameraman kept yelling at reporters to move out of his shot. It went on for a few minutes, but Edsall never paused or broke from his calm demeanor. Other coaches might have yelled for some quiet; Edsall just pretended like nothing was wrong. It was an interesting juxtaposition.
Ward: The Spartans have some really nice bling. Both Cook and Dantonio flashed their championship rings on Monday, and the huge, sparkling accessories were hard to miss. At one point Cook took his off to allow the media a closer look at the prize he helped earn with breakout passing outings against Ohio State in the conference title game and Stanford in the Rose Bowl, but he might have really just needed a break from lugging around the heavy jewelry on his hand.
Sherman: Even in the age of the College Football Playoff, with more potential for sweeping change in the sport, old habits die hard in the Big Ten. From Michigan coach Brady Hoke's lamenting about the elimination of tradition at the Rose Bowl when Pasadena serves as a semifinal site to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz preaching the values of old-school football, the more things change nationally, the more they stay the same in the Big Ten. This is comforting and disturbing all at once. I heard Nebraska's Bell speak of unity among the league and Ohio State's Miller project confidence that the Buckeyes can make another run at a perfect season. But the league needs a larger dose of more progressive thinking.
So on Tuesday morning, five offensive players and five defensive players offered their takes regarding those top athletes. We ran the offensive player results earlier on Tuesday, and up now are the results from the defense.
The full question: Besides you or players on your team, who's the best -- or most exciting -- defensive player in the Big Ten?
S Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State: "I like watching Randy Gregory and the way he can tackle people. We got a lot of good players in this conference, so that's kind of tough to say. But I like his motor, I like the way he gets after people, and I like his excitement. I like guys that are out there having fun, and you can tell he has fun the way he plays."
DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State: "A lot of them left last year. Hmm ... I'd have to say Shilique Calhoun because he's the only other name I really know. He makes plays. Other than that, I watched his film and I wasn't really sure what the hype was -- but then, somehow, in our game he comes out with two forced fumbles and three sacks or something like that. So the guy is a playmaker and he gets the job done."
LB Mike Hull, Penn State: "That's tough. There's a lot of good players, but I really follow a lot of the linebackers. So I'd say Jake Ryan. He's a solid linebacker, makes good plays and has really good fundamentals. Just have respect for Michigan."
S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: "It's tough to say ... but there's some defenses that stand out. Michigan State's defense always stands out. It's more of a concerted effort; their whole unit plays with a good energy that I like. I'll always be watching them during the season, and they'll always stand out to me. If we're watching Illinois' offense and they played Michigan State, they'll just kind of stand out as one of the best teams defensively."
Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah preps his Kickoff Luncheon speech
Umm, what else can we ask?
James Franklin was just asked whether playing on natural grass is an advantage. Yep, we're out of questions, media day is over.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 29, 2014
A public service reminder from Nebraska's Bo Pelini
I heard just end of odd exchange that ended when Bo Pelini said: "There is football played outside of the SEC, contrary to popular belief."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) July 29, 2014
Huskers' Abdullah a dual threat at media days
Force is strong at Penn State
James Franklin just called his strength coach a Jedi. The force is flowing through Penn State.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 29, 2014
B1G fashion statements
Ohio State's Urban Meyer on LeBron coming home
Urban Meyer fielding questions about LeBron's return this morning. Said it's big in recruiting and he could play H-back or TE for him.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 29, 2014
How would you guys react, hypothetically, if you're eligible for a bowl this year?
"How would you react if you were on a bowl ban?" Belton asked, before some mild back-and-forth. "I'm just saying, like, if you were a kid in a program and you were in a bowl ban, it would be exciting. That's what I'm saying."
Belton, a senior, didn't seem to want to get his hopes up. This is his final season, after all, and he's already been forced to come to terms with the fact he'll end his career without another postseason berth. Maybe the only thing worse than that realization is believing otherwise -- only to find disappointment yet again.
"We just continue to work on what we have to do to get better," he said Monday afternoon. "That's something the guys don't think about. All we're trying to do is prepare for UCF."
But there might be some cause for hope. NCAA president Mark Emmert reduced the sanctions on scholarships last season, and Emmert acknowledged last fall that further reductions could be considered this August or September. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the results of the annual Mitchell Report -- which, in all likelihood, will once again be a glowing one for Penn State.
Granted, that's still not a guarantee there'll be a reduction. But it doesn't mean Penn State is locked into its current penalties either. Really, at this point, it's anyone's guess.
"We don't know any more than you guys, to be honest," said kicker Sam Ficken, also a senior. "Obviously, we hope it's lifted. But, if not, we're going to approach the season the same way. That's not going to affect how we play the 12 regular-season games.
"If we get to that point and we're able to do that, that's awesome. That would be a good way to go out. But if it doesn't happen? Well, I still had a heck of a time at Penn State. We all play for each other and play for the fans, and that's not going to change."
Five Pennsylvania congressmen -- including U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson, who invited James Franklin to the State of the Union Address -- signed a two-page letter to Emmert on Thursday to request an elimination of the sanctions. They wrote the penalties "harm innocent student athletes and further erodes the increasingly specious credibility of the [NCAA]."
The politicians also asked Emmert to answer two questions in a timely fashion. For one, they wonder how the NCAA can reconcile its mission statement with the fact many of those affected were high school students at the time of the Consent Decree's enforcement. And, two, if the NCAA already acknowledged it lacked authority to fine Penn State for criminal activity of a former employee, how can it still insist on punitive measures?
Senior linebacker Mike Hull wasn't asked about all the political jargon or whether this group, or that report, would be successful in restoring bowl games or past wins. But he did address that possibility of a bowl game, of a last hurrah for him and the Penn State seniors.
"We talk about it as players off the field a little bit, but we really don't want to get our hopes up," he said. "We want to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, and play the same way regardless of whether we're going to a bowl game or not. It's a special place at Penn State."
CHICAGO -- Unlike some of his counterparts from other leagues -- and unlike some of his own previous years here -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't seem interested in making major headlines during his address to close out media day.
Then again, Delany's views on NCAA reform and other pressing topics are well-known and well-documented. He spoke at length on the subject last year at this time in Chicago, and all 14 Big Ten presidents and chancellors signed a letter endorsing student-athlete welfare upgrades just last month.
So Delany didn't need to bang the gavel this year. Instead, his comments were more subdued. But the commish's words always carry weight, so here's a recap of his 25-minute address at the Chicago Hilton:
- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby ripped NCAA enforcement at his league's media days last week, calling the system "broken" and saying "cheating pays" these days. Delany said he wouldn't echo Bowlsby's "more colorful" language, instead simply terming the enforcement branch as "overmatched." Delany did say the power conferences need to come together to bring about a new way of policing themselves. "We need a system that works," Delany said. "I think there's no doubt that NCAA enforcement has struggled. ... My hope is over the next year to 18 months that major conferences can come together and can find ways and processes and procedures that fit with what we’re trying to achieve, which is a level of deterrence, a level of compliance and a level of punishment.”
- Along those lines, the NCAA Division I board is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on new autonomy measures that will give the Power Five conferences the right to craft many of their own rules. Delany said he's confident that autonomy will pass and would be "very surprised" if it doesn't. But he didn't issue any threats about power leagues forming their own division, as SEC commissioner Mike Slive did earlier this month. “If it doesn’t [pass], I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we're at.”[+] EnlargeJerry Lai.USA TODAY SportsBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany characterized the NCAA's enforcement branch as "overmatched."
- Delany reiterated that the Big Ten scheduling model going forward will include nine conference games, one nonconference game against a power league opponent, and no games against FCS teams. Delany acknowledged that some high-level FCS teams are more competitive than low-level FBS squads and that it often costs less to schedule games against the FCS. But Delany said he's worried less about the budget and more about making sure his conference has the strength-of-schedule ratings needed to catch the eye of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
- Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon trial and saw one of his own league teams -- Northwestern -- vote on forming a union. So he's well-versed on all the various fronts challenging to tear down the NCAA model. The commissioner said he's not sure where this is headed, but he and the Big Ten remain committed to making sure education plays a pivotal role in college sports. “I certainly hope when the dust settles there will be a wide array of education and athletics opportunities for many men and women,” he said. “I hope at the end of the day the courts will support us in achieving them. College sports is a great American tradition. It’s not a perfect enterprise. No perfect enterprise exists. We can improve it, and we should.”
Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.
There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.
Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.
I think the Best Dressed award has been locked up today. Kurtis Drummond, folks. pic.twitter.com/XAnHXjJWKP— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman and Braxton Miller decided to join the media today and interview Urban Meyer. pic.twitter.com/scWhYDZRNs— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.
Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.
Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.
James Franklin and our Josh Moyer are sharing head shaving techniques. Seriously. pic.twitter.com/S7iVnnNvo9— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 28, 2014
Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.
“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”
Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”
Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.
Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
First came Urban Meyer and then James Franklin, who addressed a number of topics during his first go-round here in the Windy City:
- Franklin's only concern about this place? Each elevator at the Hilton Chicago is plastered with a different Big Ten logo, and the elevator that went to his floor did not have Penn State's logo. So Franklin, never one to shy away from a headline, relayed an anecdote about how he had to take the stairs to his room, lest he ride an elevator that features another league logo painted on it. No word on how many flights of stairs he took. Or which team was, in fact, on that elevator.
- In a reflection of just how much turnover there has been at Penn State, Franklin reminded everyone that, having been hired just seven months ago, he is the veteran of the Nittany Lions' public faces, as the school just hired a new athletic director (Sandy Barbour) on Saturday and had hired a new president (Eric Barron) in February.
- Franklin said his equipment staff has used Notre Dame and Navy as resources for how to prepare for a season-opening trip to Ireland, as Penn State will open overseas against UCF. The Lions will depart from State College for the trip on Tuesday night of game week.
- Asked about Vanderbilt players' disappointment in the way he left the program for Penn State, Franklin said that he has learned that "there's no good way to leave," and that he hopes he tried to do it the right way. He added that he hopes that over time people will look back and see how much he cared about and invested in the Commodores during his time in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Franklin let out a brief laugh and smile when asked if Christian Hackenberg is the most talented quarterback in the country. He said the sophomore has a ton of tools, and he admired the way the signal-caller handled everything from his recruitment to expectations to a coaching change.
- As for his satellite camp at Georgia State, which drew the ire of former SEC comrades, Franklin said he was not sure why it received all of the attention that it did. He said he and his staff get on the Internet every day to explore what other people are doing, and to see if it makes sense for Penn State. He wants to do everything within his power within the rules to give the Lions a competitive advantage. "Whatever that may be, whether it's recruiting certain parts of the county, we're going to look into all those things." He again added that he cannot speak to the reaction it has drawn.