Big Ten: Stephon Morris

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This is the moment that former and current Penn State players have waited for over the past two seasons.

The worst of the sanctions is over. The Nittany Lions can be bowl eligible, and their scholarships will be restored completely in time for next season. Penn State has survived a fate worse than the "death penalty" -- and former players who endured all this couldn't be happier.

"It's happened, it's over with, and we just need to be thankful with all that's happened the last two years: our teams, coach Bill O'Brien, James Franklin, this Penn State community, everyone," former cornerback Stephon Morris told ESPN.com. "We are all one. I'm just very, very excited. I was jumping up and everything when I heard it; that's no lie."

Alumni began texting feverishly as soon as the news hit. First came former Sen. George Mitchell's recommendation that the sanctions be all but eliminated, and on its heels came the NCAA's official announcement.

Center Matt Stankiewitch, a senior when the sanctions hit, can still remember the scene in the players' lounge when NCAA president Mark Emmert appeared on TV and hammered the program. For eight minutes, he decried everything wrong with Penn State. And Stankiewitch's teammates just stared at one another, gutted. At the nearby student union building, dubbed the HUB, some students gasped or openly wept.

"This is the total opposite of that feeling," Stankiewitch said Monday afternoon. "It's uplifting, it's gratifying, it's a great feeling to have. It's totally different. It's two different worlds."

These players -- in addition to several others -- may no longer be on the team, but they say Monday's news caused them as much, or more, happiness than the current players. Penn State is a community, a family, they said, and if that weren't the case, then they never would have made it this far.

"I never had a doubt in my mind about Penn State getting through the sanctions," said wideout Allen Robinson, now a second-round draft pick with the Jacksonville Jaguars. "Penn State wasn't just about a bowl game. It was about football and being with some of my best friends and having the opportunity to play with those guys like John Urschel.

"Playing at Penn State isn't just about bowl games. There's no place like Beaver Stadium; there's no place like Penn State. We lost the first two games my sophomore year, and we still had like 100,000 fans the next game. I don't think that happens everywhere."

Within an hour of the news, Morris had already contacted several former teammates -- such as LB Michael Mauti and DT Jordan Hill -- to share in that joy. No one, outside of these Nittany Lions, gave them much of a shot at first to make it through these sanctions.

Monday's announcement all but made that official. So, Morris said, the players he contacted are spreading the word: No matter what bowl Penn State makes it into, the recent alumni -- the ones who kept a team together through the university's darkest time -- plan to be there. In droves.

"We got to go to a bowl game and represent," Morris said. "We travel great already, but whatever bowl we go to, we're going to completely dominate that area. This is big for all of us, for all the former players, for all the guys. This feels awesome."

Morris received a few texts about PSU's eligibility but didn't wholly believe them until he saw the ESPN ticker scroll along the bottom of his television. First, he called his mother. Shortly thereafter, he called former teammate and safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong.

And Obeng-Agyapong told ESPN.com that one word came to him while he watched Monday's events unfold: validation.

"We stuck together through Penn State's toughest time," he said. "So for that ban to be lifted, it validates us sticking together because we stuck together for a reason. We knew what the NCAA was doing was wrong, and we weren't going to let them get the best of us."

The NCAA allowed players to transfer without impunity that first year. Only nine players initially took the offer. A lot of critics wrote off these Nittany Lions, but the former players said they never had a doubt.

Monday was a celebration, they said, and it's one that should stick with them awhile.

"With another school, maybe this is the end for them," Morris said. "With Penn State, we were disappointed, but we never held our heads down. We always thought we were going to make something good out of that equation. We always wanted more."

Penn State CB Lucas finding 'swagger'

November, 11, 2013
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Jordan Lucas' father and friends huddled around the basement television and leaned forward as if they were drawn to a warming campfire.

One man pointed at the No. 9 on TV, cackling while the Penn State sophomore walked to the sideline. "Oh God," a Corona-sipping man said to Lucas' father, Vincent, pointing and laughing away like old friends are wont to do. "There goes that Lucas swagger! Look -- he's walking with that bounce you walk with!"

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsSophomore Jordan Lucas has emerged as a leader in the Penn State secondary.
Vincent Lucas, 60, smiled and offered a hearty laugh. He knew that walk, that swagger, the way Jordan bobbed his head and seemed to glide while the defensive linemen plodded. He hadn't seen that walk all last season, but it was so obvious this time -- during PSU's 24-17 overtime victory against Illinois -- that even his friends picked up on it.

"Yeah," Vincent told him. "There he goes. He's in a zone right now; I can tell by the way he walks."

That walk was different last season, back when the cornerback mainly played special teams. Fans knew him only as the kid from prep school, if they knew him at all. But everyone knows Jordan Lucas and that swagger now.

He's a vocal leader on the secondary, the kid who'd toss on a winter jacket in high school and run on the sidewalks in December, even when flurries hit the streets of New Rochelle, N.Y. He's the defensive back who leads the team in interceptions (two), forced fumbles (two) and boasts 4.5 tackles for loss. He's one of the lone bright spots on an otherwise struggling defense, one of the first players to sprint out of the Beaver Stadium tunnel every home game.

"Jordan Lucas is one of the better football players on our team," Bill O'Brien said. "He brings a competitive toughness to our football team that I really like."

O'Brien leaned against the railing last year and overlooked the weight room on some days, as Lucas and former cornerback Stephon Morris took turns lifting barbells while most of their teammates slept. Morris awoke stiff on some mornings, tempted to pull the sheets over his head or hit "snooze," but he'd always receive a text or call from Jordan: "What're we doing today, Steph?"

"He just wouldn't stay away," Morris said with a laugh. "And I couldn't say no to him; I had to set an example. And he never missed a workout -- never. That's rare."

Jordan added to his work ethic, one he borrowed from a father who grew up on a North Carolina farm and fed the family pigs two hours before the school bell sounded. He evolved into one of the Nittany Lions' gym rats, a player who has still never missed a single optional workout. But teammate Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who grew up 5 minutes from Lucas in the Bronx, knew something was amiss last year. So did Morris.

"I'm not going to lie," Morris said. "He didn't have any confidence."

Jordan saw time at cornerback on the final game of the year last season. Morris remembers his big eyes while Jordan can still recall standing on the sideline, growing more overwhelmed with every shoulder pat and motivating word his teammates would utter: "Get ready!" "You ready for this?" "C'mon, it's your turn!"

On a recent fall afternoon, when red and yellow leaves littered the pavement in front of the football building, Jordan at first insisted he didn't feel lost last season. After all, he was the talkative guy now. He was the player that true freshman Jordan Smith looked up to like a big brother; he was a big reason Penn State's defense wasn't in total disarray.

But, a few minutes later, he relented. With a varsity jacket zipped up near his chin, he admitted -- despite how far along he is today -- that he was overwhelmed at times last year. He had lost that swagger, misplaced somewhere between the transition of college and watching his work ethic exceed his production.

"I've always been the same dude but, freshman year, it just didn't feel like I was playing high school football again. It actually felt like college football," Lucas said. "Now? The college game has slowed down a bit. It feels closer to the high school game again. I didn't feel like that same Jordan last year; I do now."

Added Vincent: "He was a little bit intimidated about the whole thing [last year], more than he let on."

[+] EnlargeJordan Lucas
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAYJordan Lucas has two interceptions and 4.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
But there was a bridge between the Lucas of today and the Lucas of last year, and it was built on a heartfelt talk with his father on a nippy January morning. At Jordan's request, Vincent had awoken while the moon still hung in the sky and drove four hours to The Waffle Shop, a Penn State staple with salmon-trimmed tables and fliers taped in columns over the windows.

Between bites of pancakes, bacon and homefries, Jordan told his father he just didn't feel the same. He did what he always did -- running in the snow, training on the field over the offseason, reclining in his usual film-room seat -- but he was no longer the strongest or fastest or most athletic. Vincent leaned in and whispered that his only enemies were time and experience, not skill or talent. With Morris' departure, now was the time to step up. Now was the time to to put that mindset behind him, work even harder and let his talent catch up with his work ethic.

"You may not be the best, but you can always be the hardest worker," Jordan told ESPN.com. "That's what Coach [John] Butler -- and my dad -- always tell me."

By June, Jordan had become the unquestioned starter at cornerback. By October, that swagger had strolled on back to Jordan's step; he had become one of the defense's top players. He has recorded interceptions in two of the last four games, and Morris still calls him every week to remind him he's the team's top defensive back right now -- and to keep acting like it.

Just like Vincent and his friends, Morris notices that swagger to his step now. And now that the walk, that confidence, has returned, Jordan is looking forward. When asked about what's next, Jordan looked directly ahead and spoke with the conviction of a man who already has seen his future.

"I'm not going to stop. I look at it like this, there's no ceiling for me," he said. "I want to keep going and, hey, maybe one day there will be a ceiling. But, even then, I'm never going to tell myself that. Each day I'm going to get better. Each day I'm going to give my best."

Happy Valley not placated by reduction

September, 25, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The afterglow of reduced sanctions has faded here in Happy Valley.

Tuesday afternoon classes filled with chatter about the restoration of Penn State scholarships, but the wave of surprise and satisfaction has died down.

Former players, fans and alumni are pleased with the NCAA's most recent move. That much is obvious. But an overwhelming number of people labeled it as simply not good enough. It's cause to smile but not to celebrate.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarFormer Penn State QB Matt McGloin is pleased with the NCAA's decision, but he wants more.
"I was really excited for Coach [Bill] O'Brien and the program, but I was kind of still pissed off because I feel like the NCAA is just taking baby steps toward things," said Stephon Morris, who played cornerback for Penn State last season. "They know they're wrong -- we all know they're wrong -- so why not give us everything we deserve? I feel like they could do more than what they're doing."

The town's opinion of the NCAA hasn't changed. Some students still strolled downtown, backpacks slung over their shoulders, with blue T-shirts that depict the letters "NCAA" with the "C" angled into a hammer and sickle. "National Communist Athletic Association," the shirts read.

Stop a Penn State student, ask about the reduction in sanctions, and you're almost begging to first hear a soliloquy on everything that's wrong with the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert. Students and fans are quick to say they don't mean to diminish the atrocities of former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky -- but they add he doesn't reflect the university and didn't offer a competitive advantage.

They say the NCAA overstepped into a criminal matter. And a reduction in sanctions is simply a door-prize for being wronged themselves.

"With the scholarships, yeah, I'm happy about it. I'm happy we give out money for kids to play football," said Penn State senior Tyler Bodnar, a meteorology major. "But it seems like they're kind of like, 'Oh we screwed up. We didn't mean to come down that hard.'

"We feel like we're still getting punished for something we had no hand in -- and neither did the players, neither did the coaches, neither did the community."

In the HUB-Robeson Center -- a popular glass-and-brick building where students can dine quickly on cheap pizza, grab a latte and leach off free WiFi -- students read books quietly on the second floor Tuesday evening and again Wednesday afternoon. Some studied on the bustling first floor, while overheard conversations centered on a criminal justice class and dorm-room drama.

The theme of student discussion did not revolve around the NCAA's most recent move, of allowing PSU 75 scholarships next season, as opposed to the original cap of 65, and putting PSU at the full allotment of 85 scholarships by 2016. Four of 10 interviewed students Tuesday evening hadn't even heard of the reduction.

Three thousand miles away, in the confines of Oakland, Calif., Oakland Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin was well-aware of the move. McGloin, the former walk-on and O'Brien protege, sat in the Penn State players' lounge last July 23, when Emmert strolled up to the podium on TV and recited the crushing sanctions.

Emmert glanced up from his notes every few moments, without a change in facial expression. At Penn State some players, mostly the freshmen and sophomores with their entire college careers in front of them, just cried. The upperclassmen, McGloin remembered, just seethed with anger and frustration.

"To watch him on TV, you could see it in his face -- how it meant nothing to him to hand all this out. It meant nothing to him," McGloin said Tuesday night. "That's what got guys so frustrated."

The reduction doesn't make up for that day, McGloin continued, but the news of extra scholarships was still something he was pleased with -- even if he wasn't so sure about the NCAA's motive.

"I'm optimistic about the situation and want to say it's the first step toward something great. At least they're doing something about it," he said. "But, at the same time, I'm starting to think that maybe the direction they're heading is, 'Hey, let's give them something small just to shut everybody up and shut these people up so it makes it look like we're doing something.' That's my only concern with it."

Penn State senior Allen Sheffield, president of the group of student campers known as "Nittanyville," understands where McGloin's coming from. Sheffield still remembers mowing the grass, washing laundry and taking out the trash before reclining on his couch last July 23 to watch the sanctions beside his father.

The shock, anger and potpourri of emotions didn't wane because of a recent NCAA announcement. One student felt it was as if a company cheated them out of $1 million and then tossed them a $100,000 settlement. Of course they're still angry. Of course they think that's not enough.

Nittany Nation took to social media to express their surprise and contentment over the restoration of scholarships. But that happiness had about the same shelf life as milk left out in the sun.

"Twitter tells everything," Sheffield said Wednesday afternoon. "My timeline from the first couple hours was just like boom-boom-boom. And then, later on, no one's really talking about it."

Some fans are still organizing and calling for the Board of Trustees to resign. Cars are still cruising through the downtown with "409" bumper stickers -- a nod to Joe Paterno's 409 wins, 111 of which were vacated as part of the sanctions. And message board posters are still questioning the validity of points made in the Freeh Report.

Happy Valley lived up to its namesake for a few hours Tuesday. But now it's as if the reduction never happened. The community isn't happy -- and might not be until Emmert can say there's no culture problem or the sanctions are erased.

"What they've given us is great and all," McGloin said. "But I guess I'd have to agree with Steph [Stephon Morris]. It's just not enough yet."

PSU DT Jones exceeding expectations

September, 10, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- DaQuan Jones doesn't blush at all from the praise. He's relaxed after peeling off his helmet, and any compliments seem to slide off his shoulders like sweat from a two-hour workout.

[+] EnlargeDaQuan Jones
Rob Christy/USA TODAY SportsDT DaQuan Jones lived up to the preseason hype and led the Nittany Lions in stops in the backfield and was fifth on the team in tackles.
The praise rolls on and Jones nods, but he's heard most of it before. Yes, he knows Gil Brandt rated him the top senior DT this season -- he found out on social media -- but that's a title he's not yet earned. Yes, he knows he leads the team in sacks (two), but he counters by saying the season's young.

But, every now and then, Jones is thrown off. You know, one reporter tells him, former cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted about how he should be a Heisman contender. Forget about Johnny Football and those billboard-grabbing quarterbacks.

"That's a bit too much," Jones said, shaking his head as if it were an insult. "That's for the skill guys."

Still, while the Heisman race might be a bit out of the humble senior's grasp, other awards like the Lombardi might just be within reach. After two games, he has five stops in the backfield. And, perhaps most impressively, he leads the Nittany Lions in tackles with 18. Only two players in the Big Ten -- Illinois LB Jonathan Brown and Iowa LB Anthony Hitchens -- have more. And Jones still has more solo stops than those two leaders.

"Seriously?" the defensive tackle asked Saturday, turning his head. "Man, that's crazy."

Crazy is right. On the field, Penn State's 318-pound defensive tackle -- who was 330-plus before laying off the local chicken-wing shop -- is focused like a prizefighter. He's friendly and gregarious after the game, like any other college student waiting to meet up with his family for a Saturday dinner, but he's another person on the field.

He talks with a slight lisp, not unlike Mike Tyson. It's a comparison others have drawn, and it's not a reach considering he constantly delivers knockout blows to the opposing line. He's mean, he's strong, and he's not a player the opposition looks forward to crossing.

"I like double teams better," he said matter-of-factly, as if he was asked his favorite ice cream flavor. "I'm a physical guy, and I like the contact. I don't shy away from them."

Added 240-pound tailback Zach Zwinak: "Even in our thud practices [where no one goes to the ground], he's definitely laid a few hits. He's a big boy."

In two games, Penn State has limited rushers to just 1.8 yards a carry and Jones has become the main ingredient in those three-and-outs. Against Syracuse, on three straight rushing plays to end the half, Jones came up with three straight tackles -- even when the Orange tried to avoid Jones by running off to the right on third down. (Jones happened to bring the ball-carrier down in the backfield for a one-yard loss, anyway.)

Trying to stop Jones is about as easy as about as trying to stop a run-away tractor trailer. You can try … but you'll probably get hurt in the process. Still, maybe that shouldn't be so surprising given the school's history at defensive tackle. Jones isn't an exception; he's really part of a trend.

He landed in Happy Valley months after the Miami Dolphins drafted Jared Odrick in the first round. He watched teammate Devon Still become a second-rounder in 2012 and then saw Jordan Hill head to the Seattle Seahawks in the third round this past offseason. Compare him to the past DT greats, say he's better, say he's worse -- but Jones is remaining level-headed.

"I want to be known for who I am," Jones said. "I didn't come here to live in anyone's shadows."

Jones is sincere and soft-spoken. When he says he's playing for fun and not awards, it's easy to believe him. He'll laugh when he talks about his pregame ritual with teammate Deion Barnes and how they'll just slap the back of each other's heads if one doesn't seem loose enough. And he'll narrow his eyebrows and softly glare, as if to say "Seriously?," when someone dishes out some praise. Part of the reason might just be because he doesn't yet believe himself that he's posted up some mind-boggling numbers.

Here's another: Last season, Jones started 11 games and finished the season with eight solo tackles and two tackles-for-loss. In Week 1 of this year, he already had eight solo tackles and three-tackles-for-loss.

"You know, it came up last week that somebody mentioned people were concerned about our interior defensive line play," defensive coordinator John Butler said. "But that's one of our strengths. DaQuan Jones is a great player. … DaQuan is very unselfish. If he keeps playing the way he's playing, he's going to have a long future playing football after Penn State."

Jones is as comfortable on the gridiron as he is off it. This is his final Penn State season and his last year as a college student, so he said he's going to enjoy it. And so far -- much to the chagrin of opposing offenses -- he sure has.

Penn State season preview

August, 9, 2013
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Can the Nittany Lions build off last season and play the role of BCS spoiler? Let's take a closer look at this 2013 Penn State team:

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

Coach: Bill O'Brien (8-4 overall, 8-4 at Penn State)

2012 record: 8-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: QB Matt McGloin, C Matt Stankiewitch, DT Jordan Hill, LB Michael Mauti, LB Gerald Hodges, CB Stephon Morris

[+] EnlargeAdrian Amos
Keith Srakocic/AP PhotoKeep an eye out for rising star Adrian Amos, who will play more at safety this season for PSU.
Key returnees: RB Zach Zwinak, WR Allen Robinson, G John Urschel, DE Deion Barnes, DT DaQuan Jones, LB Mike Hull, DB Adrian Amos

Newcomer to watch: QB Christian Hackenberg. He was the top-rated quarterback in the 2013 class, and ESPN ranked him as the 15th-best high school prospect in the nation.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Michigan (Oct. 12), at Ohio State (Oct. 26), vs. Nebraska (Nov. 23), at Wisconsin (Nov. 30)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: O'Brien turned this passing offense around last season with an up-tempo style and an efficient McGloin, who tossed 24 touchdowns to five interceptions. But he'll have to start a first-year QB this season, as none of PSU's five signal-callers -- three walk-ons, two on scholarship -- were on the roster last season.

The race is between Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson, a junior college player who missed about a month of voluntary workouts. O'Brien plans to name a starter about midway through camp. Whoever it is, he will have to learn quickly for the Nittany Lions to repeat the success of last season.

Forecast: Penn State overcame some huge question marks last year and went on to have a surprisingly successful season, but it's not going to get any easier in 2013.

The defensive front seven is short on depth and bigger on inexperience. Nyeem Wartman, a redshirt freshman, will take over for a Butkus semifinalist at linebacker. The starting DT opposite Jones -- projected to be Kyle Baublitz -- compiled just three stops last season and weighs in at just 281 pounds. A single injury at either spot would be devastating for the Nittany Lions.

On the bright side, there are clearly some strong leaders who could make up for some early missteps. Barnes was last year's Big Ten Freshman of the Year, and he's already one of the league's most feared pass-rushers. Hull is poised for a breakout season, and teammates recently called his offseason improvement the most impressive.

But out of all the defensive stars, Amos might surprise fans the most. He moved from cornerback to his natural position at safety in the offseason, and last year's 50th-ranked pass defense should be better this time around.

On offense, just about every unit has improved, with one big exception at quarterback. It'll be difficult for any newcomer to match McGloin's performance, but there's a strong supporting cast. Robinson is the top wideout in the Big Ten, Zwinak reached the 1,000-yard plateau last season, and the tight ends will play as large a role in this offense as any other team in the country.

In short, like last year, PSU is a bit of a wild card. If it receives strong efforts from its quarterback and the front seven, it should surpass last year's record. If it doesn't, it might be fortunate to get to seven wins.
Last summer, Penn State's defensive backs used outside criticism for motivation.

The Lions' secondary had to replace all four starters and Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris reminded everyone of the gloomy forecast many had for the back four. "We're supposedly the worst unit on the team," Willis told his teammates after practices. "Everybody is doubting us, everybody is doubting our ability."

There are fewer doubts heading into the 2013 season. In fact, the secondary could be branded a potential strength for a defense that loses All-Big Ten performers up front (DT Jordan Hill) and at linebacker (Michael Mauti, Gerald Hodges).

Penn State returns both starters at safety from 2012 in Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, as well as Adrian Amos, who started at cornerback last fall but moved to safety in the spring and is listed as a starter on the team's latest depth chart. The safety group also includes Ryan Keiser, a reserve in 2012 who head coach Bill O'Brien labels a potential unit leader this season.

"We feel like we have better depth there than we had last year, and we've got a good amount of returning experience," O'Brien recently told ESPN.com. "And they're very well coached. That position has to be very well coached."

O'Brien credits defensive coordinator John Butler, the team's secondary coach in 2012, for pushing the right buttons with the personnel in the back four. This spring, the coaches moved Trevor Williams and Malik Golden from wide receiver to cornerback and safety, respectively. Williams emerged from the spring as a starter.

The Lions are undoubtedly younger at cornerback than at safety -- all players listed on the summer two-deep are freshmen or sophomores -- but they have flexibility with Amos, who had 44 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups last season.

"He's got to be ready to play a lot of different roles for us," O'Brien said. "He's a very valuable member of our team."
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

B1G postseason position rankings: DB

February, 21, 2013
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Our postseason position rankings are getting close to wrapping up, but first let's put a bow on the defensive side of the ball with a look at the defensive backs.

Star power matters, but depth is also important. The secondary wasn't a particularly standout group for the Big Ten in 2012, though there were some elite players in the back end of the league's defenses. You can see how we ranked the DB groups in the preseason here. And here's how we see it now:

1. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 1): So maybe Johnny Adams didn't have quite the season we expected out of him, but he was still easily one of the best cornerbacks in the league. And Darqueze Dennard reached an elite level, arguably turning in a better year than Adams at the other cornerback spot. Isaiah Lewis remained one of the top safeties in the league. The Spartans finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense, and their secondary was also stout in run support and on the occasional blitz.

2. Ohio State (Preseason: 2): Teams could pass on the Buckeyes, especially early, as they ended up ranked just 11th in the league in passing yards allowed. But Bradley Roby had an All-American year at cornerback, and Travis Howard grabbed four interceptions while improving over the course of the fall. While Ohio State's safeties sometimes went for the big hit instead of making the safe play, this group had star power and played great when it mattered.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 4): The numbers would suggest a higher ranking, as the Cornhuskers finished fourth nationally in passing yards allowed and ninth in pass efficiency defense. Yet we can't forget some of the secondary's problems in open-field tackling and helping against the run in big games, or how Aaron Murray and Georgia dissected it in the Capital One Bowl. Still, this group -- led by P.J. Smith, Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans -- was deep and clearly comprised the strength of Nebraska's defense.

[+] EnlargeMichael Carter
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsGophers defensive back Michael Carter had a breakout game in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, recording seven tackles and two INTs.
4. Minnesota (Preseason: 10): The biggest climber on our board, the Gophers made a major improvement in their secondary thanks to the breakout year by Michael Carter and the return of Troy Stoudermire at the other corner spot. Derrick Wells also made a major impact at safety as Minnesota went from having one of the worst pass defenses in the country in 2011 to the No. 23 pass efficiency defense in 2012.

5. Michigan (Preseason: 3): The Wolverines lost Blake Countess in the first half of the opener and didn't have anyone make first- or second-team All-Big Ten from its secondary. Still, this group had two sturdy seniors in safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd and finished second in the league in pass defense. Those numbers may be a bit skewed by the fact that Michigan didn't face many high-powered passing teams, but this group held its own.

6. Wisconsin (Preseason: 7): The late-game breakdowns by the secondary in 2011 were a distant memory as the Badgers were solid all the way around at defensive back in 2012. They finished third in the league in pass efficiency defense. Getting Devin Smith back at corner really helped, as did the marked improvement of Marcus Cromartie. Safeties Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson also had good years. The bad news for Wisconsin is that only Southward returns from that veteran group.

7. Penn State (Preseason: 9): The defensive backfield was the big question mark on the Nittany Lions' defense heading into the season with four new starters. But despite a lack of experienced depth, the starting group of Stephon Morris, Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong prevented Penn State from experiencing a drop-off at DB, allowing just 15 touchdown passes in 12 games.

8. Purdue (Preseason: 5): A secondary with two cornerbacks as talented as Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson should not be ranked this low. But the Boilermakers simply got burned too much in big games to be ranked much higher than this. They did tie for the league lead with 14 interceptions, paced by Landon Feichter's four picks.

9. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats' secondary was much, much better when cornerback Nick VanHoose was healthy, and Ibraheim Campbell had a terrific year at safety. This group showed its potential early in the season and in the bowl win over Mississippi State. But the late-game breakdowns, particularly against Michigan (the Roy Roundtree catch) and Nebraska, prevent a higher ranking.

10. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Micah Hyde was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. This really happened. I looked it up again to make sure. Not that Hyde had a bad season. He just didn't really stand out nearly as much as guys like Dennard, Carter or Roby. Hyde and fellow cornerback B.J. Lowery formed a good tandem, but safety play was shaky for the Hawkeyes and offenses torched them down the stretch. Iowa allowed opponents a league-worst 63.5 completion percentage.

11. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Terry Hawthorne remained an underrated cornerback who should hear his name called in the April NFL draft. Outside of that, it's hard to find many positives for the Illini secondary, as the team finished last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and didn't have much else to hang its hat on.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): The Hoosiers had hopes of making strides in the secondary with returning starters Lawrence Barnett, Greg Heban and Mark Murphy. But Indiana gave up more touchdown passes (23) than any other league team while only intercepting seven passes. While not all of the pass defense problems can be blamed on the secondary, of course, it's clear this team still lacks high-impact players in the back end.

Big Ten lunchtime links

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
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It's national pie day! Like I need an excuse to eat pie.

Big Ten lunchtime links

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
12:00
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The only expansion I want to hear about tomorrow is the expansion of my belly.

Senior class leaves unique mark at PSU

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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They did not win a Big Ten championship or play in a Rose Bowl. Their 34 wins in four years don't rank among the best records in school history, and most of those are unofficial victories, anyway.

Yet when Penn State honors its 30 outgoing seniors on Saturday before the Wisconsin game, it will be a highly emotional sendoff that's unlike any other senior day in the country. This group has created a unique legacy, one built not on wins and losses as much as loyalty, resilience and strength.

"They will always be remembered here for the leadership they showed," head coach Bill O'Brien said.

This class endured the strain of the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the death of beloved coach Joe Paterno. The defining moment for this group came this summer, when the NCAA handed down some of the harshest sanctions ever leveled against a football program. With no bowl possibilities and a free pass for transfers, the team could have easily crumbled.

But while some players did transfer, most of the seniors stayed. Led by Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich, they fiercely and now famously pledged their loyalty to the school with a public show of support. In doing so, they gave a fractured Nittany Lions fan base something to rally around.

"They were instrumental in keeping this football team together in the summer when the sanctions came out," O'Brien said. "They really helped the community move forward.

"They grew up a lot. That's a hard thing to deal with when you're in your early 20s. But these guys are a special group of guys."

While many predicted doom and gloom for this season after the sanctions and departures, the Nittany Lions will be looking to finish 8-4 with a win over the Badgers. Several seniors have played major roles in that, including Mauti, Zordich, quarterback Matt McGloin, linebacker Gerald Hodges, defensive tackle Jordan Hill, offensive linemen Mike Farrell and Matt Stankiewitch, cornerback Stephon Morris, defensive end Sean Stanley and others.

"The way we've approached it is just to play each and every game like it's our last," McGloin said. "We're just trying to leave our mark and mark sure we've left this place on a high note."

The one sour note about this week is that Mauti won't be able to play. The star linebacker became the face of this team in the summer with his outspoken comments about the sanctions and loyalty, and then he went out and put together a season worthy of All-America recognition.

But Mauti injured his left knee, the same one that kept him out of most of last season, last week versus Indiana. While the school hasn't released full details of the injury, it has said that Mauti's season is over.

"We've been going up to Mike and giving him comfort and letting him know he's not alone through this," Stankiewitch said. "He said, 'Let's finish this season out strong. Let's finish out with eight wins and not settle for anything less than a win.'"

An 8-4 season would be an excellent accomplishment for this team, but the achievement of these seniors goes deeper than that. They've shown there's still much to play for at Penn State despite the lack of a postseason reward. They've helped set the tone for the future of the program while preventing it from unraveling.

They've got one last game to play, and they deserve a rousing sendoff.

"We want to be remembered as a high-character team, a high-character class," Stankiewitch said. "We want to be remembered as staying together and performing every Saturday with an extreme amount of effort. We look at this game as an opportunity to show the nation even more how together we are as a team."

Matt McGloin upset with fumble call

November, 10, 2012
11/10/12
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Is there some sort of conspiracy against Penn State involving Big Ten officials?

You'd probably have to be wearing aluminum foil on your head right now to actually believe in such a thing. But the Nittany Lions have felt they've been on the wrong side of too many calls this season, and a key fumble ruling in Saturday's 32-23 loss at Nebraska only added to the frustration, especially for senior quarterback Matt McGloin.

We're not going to get that call here. We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. That's the way it is.

-- Penn State QB Matt McGloin
To reset: Penn State was driving in for a go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter when McGloin hit tight end Matt Lehman for a short pass from the Nebraska 3. Lehman was hit and fumbled the ball into the end zone, where the Huskers recovered for a touchback. However, replays appeared to show that Lehman broke the plane with the ball before it got knocked loose. Penn State definitely thought it was a touchdown, but the call was upheld after an official review.

After the game, referee John O’Neill issued this statement: “The ruling on the field was a fumble short of the goal line. It went to replay and the replay official said the play stood based on the views he had. It’s ultimately his decision.”

McGloin could barely contain his frustration in a postgame interview, which you can watch here in a video taped by Audrey Snyder.

"We're not going to get that call here," McGloin told reporters. "We're not going to get that call ever, actually, against any team. It doesn't matter who the refs are. That's the way it is."

When asked why he said that, McGloin responded, "Why do you think? That's the way it is, man. Write what you think."

McGloin later said that the team had an us-against-the-world mentality and knew that it was "not going to get any help whatsoever" from the officials. He also tweeted out a slow-motion video of the play.

The clear implication here is that McGloin believes Penn State is still being punished for the Jerry Sandusky scandal and NCAA probation. Head coach Bill O'Brien was asked if he thought there was some kind of conspiracy to make Penn State lose.

"We don't feel like anyone is out to get us," O'Brien said.

You can't blame McGloin for being upset with losing such a tough game on the road, and maybe it was just the heat of the moment getting to him. But there is a genuine feeling among some Penn State fans that the team has not gotten its share of breaks this season.

Cornerback Stephon Morris had a more levelheaded response when asked about the controversial call.

"The referees did the best they could, but we put ourselves in that situation," he said. "We could have gotten some more third-down stops, we could have stopped [Nebraska quarterback Taylor] Martinez and we could have stopped the run. You can't leave the game in the referees' hands. We know that. They're not perfect. Nobody's perfect. That's just on us."

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 8 ...

1. Clock ticking for Michigan seniors: Quarterback Denard Robinson and his fellow Michigan seniors have been through a lot in their careers -- some historic lows from 2008 to '10, a rebound 2011 season under current coach Brady Hoke, a Sugar Bowl championship and a streak-snapping win against Ohio State last November. But the fourth-year seniors never have beaten Michigan State. Hoke puts countdown clocks for Michigan State and Ohio State in the football complex and has emphasized the need to beat the Spartans since the preseason. Robinson has struggled in two starts against Michigan State (4 interceptions, 2 touchdowns) and tries to turn the tide against a stout Spartans defense. Michigan can nudge Michigan State farther out of the division race with a victory.

2. Blackshirts versus Blackshirts: Northwestern will don all-black uniforms Saturday at Ryan Field for one of its more anticipated home games in recent memory. Some are joking the Wildcats' threads will be the first blackshirts Nebraska has seen this season. The Huskers' defense has a lot to prove after Ohio State put 63 points on the board against Bo Pelini's squad Oct. 6 in Columbus. Spread offenses have given Nebraska trouble in recent years, and Northwestern quarterback/receiver Kain Colter led his team's upset win last year in Lincoln (2 rush TDs, 1 pass TD). Pelini wants to see an "angry" Nebraska team in Evanston and feels like he has one. The fifth-year coach has stressed winning out, which would put Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. A Northwestern win, meanwhile, means the Wildcats are serious contenders in the Legends Division.

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Mark Weisman has four consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, including eight touchdowns during the span.
3. Weisman watch: There's no doubt Mark Weisman is Iowa's top offensive weapon, and for much of the past four games, he has been the Hawkeyes' only threat. The Air Force transfer has recorded four consecutive 100-yard rushing performance and a total of 623 yards and eight touchdowns during the span. But Weisman's status for Saturday night's showdown against Penn State is very much in doubt because of an ankle sprain he suffered last week at Michigan State. Weisman is cleared to play, and an MRI done Monday didn't show major damage, but Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz didn't sound overly optimistic about having the sophomore, noting that he "would have a lot of progress to make to be able to play." While Weisman might sit, Jordan Canzeri, who tore his ACL this spring, should return for Iowa at running back. Either way, the Hawkeyes are facing arguably the Big Ten's best defensive front seven and need more from a passing attack that ranks 99th nationally.

4. An ax to grind: The Big Ten's best rivalry trophy is at stake at Camp Randall Stadium as Wisconsin and Minnesota play for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin has won eight straight in the series and can match the longest win streak by either squad with a victory Saturday. Minnesota senior linebacker Mike Rallis acknowledged this week, "If you don't ever win, it's not really a rivalry." The detest for the Badgers runs deep with Minnesota's roster, though, and while the Gophers will be short-handed, they can record a signature win and a significant upset Saturday. They'll have to beat a Wisconsin team that seems to have found its bearings after a slow start, especially along the offensive line.

5. Getting defensive in Columbus: Both Ohio State and Purdue are looking for better results from their defenses Saturday at The Shoe. The Buckeyes' defensive woes against Indiana (49 points allowed, 481 yards) and for much of the season prompted their offensive-minded head coach, Urban Meyer, to take a more hand's-on role with the defense this week. Ohio State is banged up on defense and had to move starting fullback Zach Boren to linebacker last week (he'll stay there for a while). Meyer stressed the need to finish plays within 4-6 seconds and tackle better. Tackling has been a huge issue for Purdue the past two weeks, as it has allowed 82 points and 771 rush yards in losses to Wisconsin and Michigan. Standout tackle Kawann Short and the Boilers' defensive line needs a dramatic improvement against Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde and Co., or Saturday's game will get ugly in a hurry. Purdue hasn't won in Columbus since 1988 and hasn't beaten an AP Top 10 team on the road since 1974.

6. Spartans' season on the brink: Michigan State has been the Big Ten's biggest disappointment this season. The Spartans already have lost three home games, including two league home games, meaning they'll need signature road wins to have any chance to repeat as Legends Division champs. Losses this week in Ann Arbor and next week in Madison would eliminate Michigan State from the race. Coach Mark Dantonio does a masterful job of embracing the Michigan rivalry, and his players have responded, winning four straight. Michigan State aims for its first five-game win streak against Michigan in program history Saturday. The Spartans will be geared up, but they can't expect to commit 13 penalties and win, like they did last year in East Lansing. "There's no question that both teams are going to go after each other," Dantonio said. "I don't think there's any question about that. But we've got to keep the game under control. We can't let it get out of control." All eyes will be on the William Gholston-Taylor Lewan matchup after their dust-ups last year.

7. Indiana drops anchor: Indiana coach Kevin Wilson isn't satisfied with being close, and neither are his players. The Hoosiers have had a chance to win all seven of their games this season, but they've only won two of them. "You are getting better and you should feel good about yourself, but you need to keep pushing," Wilson said Tuesday. The next push would be a win Saturday against Navy as Indiana wraps up non-league play for itself and for the Big Ten. Navy ranks 97th nationally in pass-efficiency defense, which should bode well for Hoosiers quarterbacks Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, and their talented core of wide receivers. But the Midshipmen also have turned around their season a bit the past two weeks, and their triple option attack will test an Indiana defense that ranks 109th nationally against the run and has surrendered more than 350 rush yards in two of its past three games. Indiana could go on a nice second-half run, but it needs to get over the hump against Navy in a potential shootout.

8. On the Ball: After a rough few months both on and off the field, Wisconsin senior running back Montee Ball is back on track, racking up eight rushing touchdowns in Big Ten play and averaging 152 rush yards against league opponents. He broke the Big Ten career touchdowns record -- owned by former Badgers star Ron Dayne -- last week against Purdue and is six touchdowns shy of matching Travis Prentice's NCAA record of 78. He still needs five rushing touchdowns to match Dayne's Big Ten career record of 71. "I feel like I have my balance back, which is a huge part," Ball told ESPN.com this week. "My cuts are a lot better, a lot stronger. I just feel a lot more comfortable out there." Ball faces a Minnesota team that has been vulnerable against the run in Big Ten play. Wisconsin's offensive line seems to have turned the corner in the past five quarters. The Badgers' front five matches up against an improved Minnesota defensive front led by tackle Ra'Shede Hageman.

9. Lions enter their house of horrors: Kinnick Stadium hasn't been kind to Penn State, which hasn't won in Iowa City since 1999, Ferentz's first season as Hawkeyes coach. The Lions saw their national title hopes vanish at Kinnick in 2008 and managed just three points against the Hawkeyes in their last trip there in 2008. Despite his team's four-game win streak, Penn State coach Bill O'Brien made it clear that "the meat of the schedule" begins now, and Lions cornerback Stephon Morris tweeted this week, "This is a huge game, we hate them they hate us." A win keeps Penn State undefeated in Big Ten play and sets up next week's so-called Ineligi-bowl against Ohio State in Happy Valley. The game features an interesting coaching connection as Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz, Kirk's son, worked alongside O'Brien with the New England Patriots the past few years. Kirk Ferentz downplayed the impact of having Brian Ferentz on his staff.

10. Cat nap: After a sluggish start in a previous mid-afternoon kickoff against Boston College, Northwestern's team leaders decided to schedule a mandatory team nap before Saturday's game against Nebraska (3:30 p.m. ET kick). Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald greeted the decision with quasi-disgust, saying Monday, "Unbelievable. This is what I get paid to do. Seriously. Create nap time. It's pathetic." But the cat nap is definitely happening, as Fitzgerald confirmed later in the week, and it'll be interesting to see how Northwestern starts the game against the Huskers. Although the idea sounds silly, figuring out how to rest before games to produce peak performances is a subject that gets a lot of attention from sports teams at all levels. There will be some jokes if Northwestern sleepwalks through the first half against the Huskers. If the Wildcats win, expect to see the pregame nap adopted all over the country.

Penn State's Mauti: Man on a mission

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
10:45
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Brian Bennett writes:
On July 25, Penn State seniors Michael Mauti and Michael Zordich gave a now-famous, impassioned speech about staying loyal to the program in the wake of harsh NCAA sanctions. Only later did it sink in for them what they'd done.

"A couple of days after that, I said to Zordich, 'Listen, we'd better win some games and back this up,'" Mauti told ESPN.com. "'Or else we're going to look like idiots.'"

That's no longer a concern. Not only has Penn State (3-2) won three straight games heading into this week's showdown against No. 24 Northwestern, but Mauti is looking like one of the best defensive players in America.

The fifth-year senior linebacker is tied for fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (48), tied for second in interceptions (2) and shares the league lead with two fumbles forced. He already has been named Big Ten defensive player of the week twice.

"If you were naming the Big Ten linebacker of the year right now, it would be Michael, no doubt," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said.

To read the full story, click here.

Quick previews for B1G noon games

September, 8, 2012
9/08/12
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Let's take a quick look at what's on tap in the Big ten in the three noon ET kickoffs ...

Penn State (0-1) at Virginia (1-0): The Nittany Lions hit the road in search of Bill O'Brien's first victory as coach and hope to avoid their first 0-2 start since 2001. Former walk-on Derek Day gets the start at running back for Penn State in place of the hobbled Bill Belton (ankle). The prognosis is a bit better for Penn State starting cornerback Stephon Morris (ankle). Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, who grew up a Penn State fan, faces a Nittany Lions defense that has struggled in its past three games, stretching back to last season.

Central Florida (1-0) at No. 14 Ohio State (1-0): After racking up 56 points in a stress-free opener, Ohio State should face a much tougher test from Central Florida, which has had a top-15 defense in each of the past two seasons. The Knights also boast a talented young quarterback in Blake Bortles, who tossed three touchdown passes in a season-opening rout of Akron on the road. New Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer expects the game to be a "war," and it'll provide a good barometer for his squad's revamped offense. It's the teams' first meeting, and Ohio State tries to continue its streak of 58 consecutive home wins against unranked non-league foes.

New Hampshire (1-0) at Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers aim for their first 2-0 start since 2009 and try to end a two-game losing streak against FCS teams (lost to North Dakota State last year and South Dakota in 2010). Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray came alive in overtime against UNLV, but he'll need more efficient performances going forward, beginning today against the Wildcats. Minnesota's defense recorded three interceptions against UNLV and can match its total from all of last season with a pick against New Hampshire redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich, who threw for 193 yards and two touchdowns in last week's win against Holy Cross.

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