Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers

Offseason to-do list: Purdue

January, 23, 2015
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We’re into the final stretch on our trip around the Big Ten to examine three areas with each team that need attention during the offseason. Next on the list is the Purdue Boilermakers.

1. Settle on a quarterback: Purdue must go into August with better definition at the most important spot on the field. Austin Appleby, a rising junior, looks the part at 6-foot-5 with a solid and accurate arm, but he struggled with consistency after taking over for classmate Danny Etling in October. Too often, Purdue relied on Appleby to carry it to victory with his arm. It was never a good strategy. In the four games that he attempted 35 passes or more, Purdue lost by an average of 16.5 points as Appleby fired four touchdowns to go with eight interceptions. Appleby enters spring as the man to beat, but Etling returns to provide competition, and David Blough, as a redshirt freshman, is a dark horse.

2. Identify playmakers: Gone are talented running backs Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert. Top receiver Danny Anthrop, a senior next fall, continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered Nov. 1 at Nebraska. So the spring offers a chance, on both sides of the ball, for talent to emerge. Offensively, Purdue needs more from junior wideouts DeAngelo Yancey and Cameron Posey – now in need of a new position coach after Kevin Sherman left this week for Pitt. Fellow receiver Gregory Phillips figures to build on playing time earned late as a freshman. But who’s the difference-maker? Maybe it’s Markell Jones, an under-recruited back out of Columbus, Indiana, who was nothing short of spectacular as a high school senior, running for 60 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards. He enrolled this month, as did junior-college transfer Anthony Mahoungou, originally from France. Defensively, cornerback Frankie Williams and a young corps of linebackers can build on solid performances in 2014.

3. Work on the mindset: It showed only slightly in Purdue’s 2014 record, but the Boilermakers were much improved from coach Darrell Hazell’s first season to his second. Purdue was oh so close on the road at Minnesota and competed well against Michigan State after Hazell notched his first Big Ten win in October over Illinois. Momentum slowed in November, but Purdue returns a lot, in particular at linebacker and on the offensive line, and it can build on that midseason stretch. This program is not far removed from a run of success under former coach Joe Tiller. Even Danny Hope won seven league games over his final two years before Hazell arrived from Kent State in 2013. The opportunity is there for Purdue to rise again in the West, easily the weaker of the Big Ten divisions.

Big Ten morning links

January, 23, 2015
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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, 22, 2015
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I took a few days off shortly after the national title game for a mini-vacation, so that helped delay my football withdrawal. But now reality is starting to settle in: we won't have any more college football games for a long, bleak eight months.

Yet when the 2015 season finally does kick off over Labor Day weekend, we will be immediately welcomed back with a slate of fascinating games. Last year, we had the delicious Wisconsin-LSU opener to look forward to, along with some minor curiosities like Rutgers-Washington State, Penn State-UCF in Ireland and Ohio State-Navy. This year's opening slate will be even better.

It will all begin with an absolute blockbuster of a Thursday night. TCU will play at Minnesota in what looks like the biggest nonconference game of the Jerry Kill era. Our Mark Schlabach ranked the Horned Frogs No. 1 in his way-too-early 2015 Top 25 (and, no, I have no idea why he didn't put Ohio State at No. 1, either). At the very least, TCU figures to be a Top 5 team when it comes to TCF Bank Stadium, offering the Gophers a chance to make a major early statement.

That same night, we get the debut of Jim Harbaugh as head coach of Michigan, which will play its first-ever Thursday night game at Utah. The Utes have beaten the Wolverines the past two times they played them, including last September, and opening at Rice-Eccles Stadium won't be easy. But everyone will want to see Harbaugh on the Maize and Blue sidelines for the first time.

Those games set the table for a strong Saturday which includes Wisconsin and new head coach Paul Chryst going up against Alabama at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Badgers will be heavy underdogs, but Ohio State showed it's possible for a Big Ten team to bully big, bad 'Bama. We'll also get Mike Riley's first game as Nebraska head coach in an intriguing matchup against BYU and Northwestern seeking a rebound season that will begin by hosting Stanford.

The icing on the cake arrives on Labor Day night, as the defending champion Buckeyes go on the road to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the only team to beat Ohio State in 2014, and Lane Stadium should be total pandemonium for this one.

The Big Ten changed the narrative and greatly bolstered its reputation during bowl season. The league will get a chance to continue that momentum right away in the 2015 season, even if it feels a million miles away at this point. ...

Speaking of scheduling, Michigan State added BYU to its future schedules for 2016 and 2020 on Wednesday. The Cougars replaced Eastern Michigan on the schedule for the Spartans, which is a win for everybody. Athletic director Mark Hollis has been committed to scheduling at least one strong nonconference opponent per year, and Oregon comes to East Lansing in Week 2 of 2015 to complete a home-and-home.

Future Spartans' nonconference schedules in 2016 and beyond (the dawn of the nine-game Big Ten slate) will include Notre Dame (2016 and '17), Arizona State (2018, '19), Miami (2020, '21) and Boise State (2022, '23), along with BYU. That's smart, aggressive scheduling in the playoff era, and in the years when Michigan State plays both BYU and Notre Dame in addition to nine Big Ten contests, it will have to be ready for a season-long grind.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten:

Big Ten morning links

January, 21, 2015
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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
ESPN 300 receiver Van Jefferson is no longer committed to Georgia and the news was definitely disappointing for the Dawgs. So who’s in the driver’s seat now for the one of the best receivers in the country?

Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
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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.

Big Ten morning links

January, 19, 2015
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Happy Monday to all, especially those in New England and Seattle. Two Big Ten quarterbacks matching up in Super Bowl XLIX. Good times.

1. Many Penn Staters celebrated Friday as Joe Paterno's wins total was restored to 409 -- most in college football history -- following a settlement in the lawsuit brought by two Pennsylvania state officials against the NCAA. Some current Lions athletes chose to join in, including the men's hockey team, which wore "409" decals on its helmets during Friday's game against Michigan State.

But athletic director Sandy Barbour didn't agree with the public display. When a Twitter follower criticized the "409" decals, Barbour replied that it was "inappropriate and insensitive" and had been corrected. Penn State's men's basketball team had planned to wear "409" T-shirts in warm-ups before Saturday's game against Purdue but did not in the end.

Barbour is in a tough spot, and I see both sides to this. Penn State athletes have the right to free expression. If they want to tweet #409 or celebrate Paterno's restored wins total, that's fine. But for university-sponsored teams to conduct unified displays could offend Jerry Sandusky's victims. There were too many sports metaphors tossed around Friday, by Pennsylvania Sen. Jake Corman and others. The settlement and the wins restoration made sense. The over-the-top celebration did not.

Barbour again took to Twitter again Saturday night, saying she was "thrilled" that the football wins are once again recognized and that Penn State must "continue to use our platform to raise awareness and support for child abuse victims."

2. As expected, Mark Dantonio's assistants received raises after Michigan State recorded its second consecutive top-5 finish. The departure of longtime defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who took the head-coaching job at Pitt, freed up funds to boost salaries for the remaining staff members. Narduzzi had been the Big Ten's highest-paid assistant with a salary of just over $900,000.

Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Dave Warner is now MSU's highest-paid assistant at $387,230, and will continue to be the most second-guessed, according to Mike Griffith. Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel, promoted to co-defensive coordinators after Narduzzi left, will each earn $378,230. Those are nice pay bumps, but when you look at what coordinators at elite programs make, Michigan State's staff is a real bargain.

Elsewhere ...

West Division
East Division

And, finally, Flavor Flav rocked the clock at Penn State's basketball game and took a picture with James Franklin. Hype!
video
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Minnesota's Jerry Kill, Maryland's Randy Edsall, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Purdue's Darrell Hazell exited the head coaches' convention meeting Tuesday morning, they didn't spell out O-H-I-O.

But all four Big Ten coaches were pleased that Ohio State won the national championship on Monday night, ending the league's 12-year drought since last reaching college football's pinnacle. Unlike many fans, the coaches don't get wrapped up in the endless debate about conference strength, but they don't tune it out, either. They can't.

"It's great for the Big Ten," Kill told ESPN.com. "There's no question about that."

Added Edsall: "It probably eliminates that negative talk about the Big Ten and all those things. It's nice to have one of your conference members win the national championship."

The Big Ten's hubris will never match that of the SEC, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. As one Big Ten assistant joked Monday afternoon about the title game, "You hold your nose and root for Ohio State."

But conference pride exists, and to have the nation's best team shines a positive light on the Big Ten, which has been bashed for the better part of the past decade.

"To play 15 games and to be an on-the-field champion, just ecstatic for those guys, first and foremost," Fitzgerald said of Ohio State. "It also shows that anybody can win, to go play it on the field. You have to go play a competitive schedule but most importantly, you have to win. Everybody's in control of that."

Ohio State's championship isn't just a point of pride for other Big Ten teams, but an inspiration. An Indiana assistant told ESPN.com on Monday that he couldn't believe how much Ohio State had improved late in the season. (Indiana held a third-quarter lead in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 22.)

As Hazell watched the championship game in his hotel room, his thoughts turned to his own team, which was coming off another subpar season.

"It makes you hungry," said Hazell, an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. "I took it all in. It was a quiet moment, but I sat up in the bed and I watched it by myself and thought, 'These are the things we have to do to move our program forward.'"

Northwestern has endured consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2001-02, and Fitzgerald hoped that Wildcats players watched the title game and saw how Ohio State, written off in the playoff race early this season, had earned its way onto the sport's biggest stage.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has made "The Chase" a theme for his players as they pursue goals. But after Monday night, the Buckeyes have become the hunted.

"Obviously, they're the team to chase," Hazell said. "It's a credit to their staff, their recruiting department. They're out there now. They are really out there."

The rest of the Big Ten is trying to catch Ohio State. And for the first time since 2003, so is the rest of the country.

Brian Bennett contributed to this report.

Final 2014 Big Ten Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
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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
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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
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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
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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:

Big Ten morning links

December, 19, 2014
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Bowl season is a tricky time for coaches to motivate players.

“You can grind guys up if you occupy them too much mentally,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said this week.

Read more from Fitzgerald and others Friday on ESPN.com about motivation in bowl season. His Wildcats, sitting home this month, would trade places with any of the 10 Big Ten bowl teams. And with that wonderful time of year to start on Saturday -- the first Big Ten bowl game is still a week away -- it makes sense to look at the factors motivating conference teams.

Here’s a ranking of Big Ten teams with the most for which to play in the postseason:

Ohio State (Allstate Sugar Bowl, vs. Alabama, Jan. 1): A clear leader in this category as the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff, the Buckeyes carry the weight of the league on their shoulders. What else is new? Ohio State is flagship program of the Big Ten under Urban Meyer, who had a lot to say Thursday about his team's daunting task against the Crimson Tide.

Michigan State (Goodyear Cotton Bowl, vs. Baylor, Jan. 1): The Spartans lost to a pair of playoff teams, yet they're largely forgotten nationally. A business trip to Texas to face Baylor, the next best thing to a playoff opponent, offers a chance for MSU to finish on a high note nearly equal last year's Rose Bowl win.

Minnesota (Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, vs. Missouri, Jan. 1): A victory in Orlando would give the Golden Gophers a nine-win season for the first time since 2003 and the second time in more than a century, and it would represent the school's best two-year run in over 50 years. It won't come easy against the two-time SEC East champ. The Gophers must run the ball effectively, their bread and butter, now and in the future.

Penn State (New Era Pinstripe Bowl, vs. Boston College, Dec. 27): The Nittany Lions, exposed in the second half of this season for a lack of overall talent, can end on a high note in this much-awaited return to the postseason after a two-year bowl ban. A visit to New York against a regional recruiting rival heightens the stakes.

Rutgers (Quick Lane Bowl, vs. North Carolina, Dec. 26): The Scarlet Knights exceeded expectations to make it this far. After an inspiring comeback win over fellow Big Ten newcomer Maryland to close the regular season, confidence is high, though the uncertain injury status of star receiver Leonte Carroo threatens to put a damper on the excitement around this bowl trip.

Wisconsin (Outback Bowl, vs. Auburn, Jan. 1): Motivated by the embarrassment of a 59-point loss in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers got knocked down another step by the surprise departure of Gary Andersen. But the return of Paul Chryst has boosted the spirits of players, who will look to impress their new coach as he observes in Tampa. Against Auburn's multi-faceted offense, Wisconsin must use everything at its disposal, including QB Tanner McEvoy on the defensive side.

Nebraska (National University Holiday Bowl, vs. USC, Dec. 27): The Cornhuskers are also playing to catch the eye of a new coach, as Mike Riley figures to watch closely. Riley's new staff will start fresh though, so what happens in San Diego stays in San Diego. Still, Nebraska players, amid a dramatic exit from their former coach that has sparked more debate, want to provide a fond farewell for their old staff of assistant coaches.

Illinois (Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, vs. Louisiana Tech, Dec. 26): With victories over Penn State and Northwestern to get bowl eligible, Illinois has won simply by making it this far. No marquee opponent awaits, and Dallas isn't exactly a winter paradise, though maybe the man of the hour, QB Reilly O'Toole, can rally the Fighting Illini once again.

Maryland (Foster Farms Bowl, vs. Stanford, Dec. 30): Did the Terrapins run out of gas in the second half against Rutgers? It was a long season, packed with several highlights, in Maryland's first season of Big Ten play. But a visit to face Stanford, which is coming off four consecutive major bowls, near its home turf, looks like another significant challenge for Randy Edsall's team.

Iowa (TaxSlayer Bowl, vs. Tennesssee, Jan. 2): The Hawkeyes need someone to step up, a habitual practice in the postseason, or they face a dull ending to a disappointing season that set up well in Iowa City.

Around the rest of the league:

Purdue Boilermakers season review

December, 18, 2014
12/18/14
2:00
PM ET
Our week-long review of the 2014 regular season for every Big Ten team continues now with a look at the Purdue Boilermakers:

Overview: Purdue definitely made progress in Year 2 of the Darrell Hazell era. The team increased its win total from one to three, won its first Big Ten game under Hazell, at Illinois, and generally was much more competitive. Still, the results weren't anywhere near what anyone in West Lafayette wants, and after a promising stretch that saw the Boilermakers push Michigan State to the wire and almost beat Minnesota on the road, the bottom fell out with three straight losses by at least 18 points. Purdue lost its last six games of the season and showed that it still lacks enough depth and playmakers on both sides of the ball to be any kind of factor in the Big Ten. Year 3 looks like a pivotal one for Hazell and this program.

Offensive MVP: He got lost in the shuffle of all the other great Big Ten running backs this season, but Akeem Hunt turned in a very nice season. He ran for 949 yards and six touchdowns, and also led the team with in catches with 48 for 293 yards and a pair of scores. Purdue found better ways to use its speed on the outside this season, something it needs to continue to develop.

Defensive MVP: It's a little hard to believe safety Landon Feichter began his career as a walk-on, because all he does is make plays. He led the Boilermakers with 105 tackles, and his five interceptions tied for the second most in the Big Ten this season. The senior will be hard to replace in 2015.

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