Big Ten: Darnell Autry

Big Ten lunch links

October, 6, 2011
10/06/11
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That Bennett is a sneaky bugger. Now he's paying squirrels to help his Cardinals win another title.
CHICAGO -- Standing in left field Friday at the Friendly Confines, Corbin Bryant had a confession to make.

"I didn't know where Northwestern was when I got the [scholarship] offer," said Bryant, a senior defensive tackle for Northwestern. "I really didn't."

Such a statement would be acceptable for someone from Alaska or New Mexico or even Florida.

[+] EnlargeWrigley Field
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNorthwestern and Illinois will play football at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20.
Bryant grew up on the south side of Chicago.

Northwestern's campus, by the way, is less than three miles north of the Chicago city limits and about 15 miles north of downtown Chicago. In terms of the sports scene, however, Northwestern might as well be 1,500 miles away.

Forging a connection to Chicago has been and continues to be Northwestern's greatest hurdle in restoring its football program. Some argue it's the only hurdle left. Winning Big Ten titles and making bowl games are no longer pipe dreams, but filling seats at Ryan Field remains a major challenge. Despite 17 wins in the past two seasons, Northwestern ranked last in the Big Ten and 83rd nationally in average attendance (24,190) in 2009. Washington State was the only BCS conference school that drew fewer fans (22,509).

Northwestern took a big step toward bridging the gap with Chicago on Friday, announcing that it will play rival Illinois at Wrigley Field on Nov. 20 (ESPN or ESPN2, noon ET). Football returns to the Friendly Confines for the first time since 1970, when the Chicago Bears ended a 50-year run there. It marks the first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938, when DePaul played there, and the first time Northwestern and Illinois meet at Clark & Addison since 1923, when some guy named Red Grange was leading Illinois to an undefeated season and a national title.

Although the Wrigley project, done in conjunction with the Chicago Cubs, took almost two years to finalize and delayed Northwestern from sending out its 2010 season-ticket requests, Friday's announcement was a big moment for the school. Sure, it was nice to have cheerleaders on hand, signs around the ballpark and more purple than Wrigley has ever seen, but the most significant part was who attended the ceremony.

Fitzgerald, Bryant and quarterback Dan Persa sat alongside new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts and Chicago Bears owner Virginia McCaskey. Former Bears running back Ronnie Bull, who played football at Wrigley, also was on hand.

McCaskey spoke about coming to Wrigley Field as a young girl to watch her father, the legendary George Halas, coach the Bears.

"I'm delighted to be here to participate in the announcement of a new era of football in Wrigley Field," she said.

(Read full post)

Northwestern's Mount Rushmore

February, 19, 2009
2/19/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

You don't have to look back too far to identify the faces of Northwestern football. The program's history before 1995 was mainly miserable, and that's putting it mildly. There was a 34-game losing streak and years of non-competitive teams in the Big Ten. 

But everything shifted in 1995 as the Wildcats won the Big Ten and reached the Rose Bowl. The program has been respectable ever since, winning two more league titles and reaching five bowl games.

The first three faces for Northwestern's Rushmore were obvious, while the fourth was a tougher choice.

  • Gary Barnett -- Barnett changed the culture in Evanston and led one of the most improbable college football stories in recent memory as Northwestern won the 1995 Big Ten title and reached the Rose Bowl. As Wildcats head coach from 1992-99, Barnett helped the Wildcats to two league titles and their first bowl games since 1949.
  • Otto Graham -- One of the greatest all-around athletes in school history, Graham earned All-America honors in both football and basketball. Earning the nickname "Automatic Otto," Graham broke every Big Ten passing record during his college career and won the league's MVP award in 1943. He was later inducted into both the college and pro football Hall of Fame. 
  • Pat Fitzgerald -- Fitzgerald won back-to-back National Defensive Player of the Year awards as a standout middle linebacker for the Wildcats on their Big Ten title-winning squads. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December and became the nation's youngest head coach in 2006 when he took the reins at his alma mater. Northwestern went 9-4 in Fitzgerald's third season, and he's regarded as one of the game's top young coaches.
  • Darnell Autry -- When your face has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, there's a pretty good chance it ends up on your team's Rushmore. Along with Fitzgerald, Autry was a front man for the 1995 Rose Bowl squad and finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting that year. The running back owns two of the top four single-season rushing totals in team history.
Others considered for the fourth spot included: Paddy Driscoll, Ron Burton, Mike Adamle and Ralph Baker.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Tyrell Sutton's third and final hard cast will be removed next week, along with the pins inserted into his left wrist after an injury that usually occurs only in a car accident or during a fall from great heights.

 
 Icon SMI
 Tyrell Sutton needs only 22 yards to move into second place on Northwestern's all-time rushing chart.

The Northwestern senior running back likely will be fitted with a soft cast and begin the rehab process. After that, there are no guarantees.

Northwestern will play in a bowl game, most likely the Outback or Alamo, and Sutton hopes to suit up.

"It could go either way," he said at Northwestern's practice Thursday morning. "I've got three weeks to see what will happen. We're all preparing as if I'm going to play. My mindset is to play."

But Sutton knows there's a chance his college career, one that began with a Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award in 2005, could already be over.

He dislocated his wrist on a freak play in the third quarter Oct. 25 against Indiana. He remembers the scene after the game, as a team of doctors huddled around him. Only one of the M.D.'s had ever seen a wrist injury like his, from a victim of a car accident.

Sutton underwent surgery the next week and was ruled out for the rest of the regular season, but not a bowl game.

"It would mean a lot," Sutton said of participating in the bowl. "I don't want my last memory to be being in a cast, my last play here being an injury. ... You've got to prepare yourself for the worst. The worst scenario is I don't play at all, but hopefully it won't come to that."

Sutton still doesn't know how the injury happened, and he has no desire to find out.

"I have not watched the Indiana tape," the admittedly superstitious senior said. "I do not want to watch the Indiana tape. And I have absolutely no clue."

Sutton is right-handed and primarily carries the ball on the right side, but he'll need his left wrist to improve in order to be cleared for a bowl game. He has continued to run and catch passes with the cast on.

Running backs coach Matt MacPherson also puts Sutton through simulations, where he runs through plays from games earlier in the season with 40-second breaks in between.

Northwestern would love to have its leading rusher (776 yards) and No. 4 receiver (30 receptions, 276 yards) in the backfield for a bowl. Sutton needs only 22 yards to pass Darnell Autry for second place on the school's all-time rushing chart.

But he doesn't care how he gets back on the field.

"Even if it means me going down and hitting someone on special teams, I don't care," he said. "I want to play."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The crowd was small, no more than 100 people. It was mostly members of the marching band, but also a few fans who live around Ryan Field.

They showed up to greet the Northwestern football team after it returned from last Saturday's 22-17 road win against Iowa. The Wildcats improved to 5-0 for the first time in 46 years, and the welcoming party reminded head coach Pat Fitzgerald and longtime assistant coach Jerry Brown of a more exciting time in the program's mostly bleak history. 

"We got off the bus and Jerry looked at me and he goes, 'Kind of reminds me a little bit of '95,'" Fitzgerald said. "We'd come back from road games and we'd have a lot of fans and our band there."

In 1995, Northwestern was one of the nation's top sports stories, winning the Big Ten championship and going to the Rose Bowl behind Fitzgerald, a star middle linebacker, and running back Darnell Autry. Brown coached the secondary that year. 

This year's team has a long way to go to be put in the same category, but for a program where attendance is a major challenge, any excitement is a positve step.  

"There's a lot of pride here," Fitzgerald said, "and we've got some positive momentum here, obviously starting the season the way we have."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- The media votes are in for the Big Ten preseason awards and to no surprise, it's all Ohio State. After back-to-back trips to the BCS national championship game, the Buckeyes were tabbed preseason Big Ten favorites. Wisconsin was picked second and Illinois came in third. Unlike other leagues, the Big Ten releases only the top three teams in its preseason media poll.

Ohio State junior running back Beanie Wells was tabbed preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and his teammate, senior linebacker James Laurinaitis, earned preseason Defensive Player of the Year honors for the second straight season. It marks the first time a team has swept all three awards since 1996, when Northwestern was the favorite, running back Darnell Autry the preseason Offensive Player of the Year and linebacker Pat Fitzgerald the preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

This year's selections went pretty much as forecasted, though I'm sure the third-place vote between Illinois and Penn State was close.

To recap:

Big Ten preseason media poll

1. Ohio State

2. Wisconsin

3. Illinois

Preseason Offensive Player of the Year: Chris "Beanie" Wells, Jr., RB, Ohio State

Preseason Defensive Player of the Year: James Laurinaitis, Sr., LB, Ohio State

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's a big day in the Big Ten, as the media sessions begin in several hours. Illinois coach Ron Zook leads off on the dais at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. I'll be checking in throughout the day, but first here's a look at what's happening around the league:

  • Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez will get top billing at media days, at least according to Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune. Greenstein has a nice rundown of the top storylines for the other 10 Big Ten teams.
  • The second investigation by the Iowa state Board of Regents into the sexual assault case involving two former Hawkeyes football players could include an interview with the alleged victim, a female student-athlete, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports.
  • Ohio State will be the media's pick to win the league, but can the Buckeyes sweep the preseason offensive and defensive player of the year awards? Running back Beanie Wells and linebacker James Laurinaitis are likely choices. It would mark the first sweep of the preseason accolades since Northwestern in 1996 (RB Darnell Autry and LB Pat Fitzgerald), Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch blog.
  • Michigan State players attended a golf outing Wednesday to benefit Heroes for Kids, a foundation that supports youth athletic programs in Saginaw. Spartans players weighed in on several topics, including how Michigan will adjust to a new coaching staff.
  • Mark Dantonio has Michigan State on the right track, but a tougher schedule and the pressure to beat Michigan loom large this fall, the Oakland Press' Pat Caputo writes.
  • Minnesota announced its 2008 Hall of Fame class, which includes former football player Francis Twedell (1936-38).
  • Another home sellout for Illinois, this time for the Iowa game.
  • I'm a sucker for college football highlights set to melodramatic music. Penn State fans will enjoy this.

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