Chicago Colleges: Big Ten

Ten storylines for Big Ten media days

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
10:00
AM CT
You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. Fyor good measure, Central Florida Knight won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league – not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall – Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hotshot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Trevor Siemian of Northwestern. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jake Rudock of Iowa. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
5:00
PM CT
Nebraska is soliciting applications from students who want to work as a DJ at football practice. Interesting concept. I wonder if this is a gimmick or a sign of things to come. Perhaps students may soon run the scoreboard or move the chains at practice. Just as long as they're not calling plays, we're all safe. On second thought ...

Here's the mailbag for Wednesday. Send more questions here for later this week.



Mitch Sherman: Iowa fans value stability. They've got it in Kirk Ferentz, entering his 16th season. He trails only Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer for longevity among major-conference coaches. Of course, with stability can come complacency. And the Hawkeyes got a dose of it two years ago. Last fall, though, produced positive vibes in Iowa City, with the promise of an even better season to follow.

Ferentz earned just less than $4 million last year, a figure that places him among the nation's elite. Iowa is 27-24 since its 2009 Orange Bowl season, so yes, fans ought to demand more bang for the buck. Thing is, from my view just to the west, I didn't sense more than moderate unrest even after the 2012 debacle.

Iowa fans understand the economics in play here. They like Ferentz as the face of the program. And expectations in Iowa City may never match those in place at Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska. All told, the Hawkeyes know what they have in their coach and generally like it. In this case, stability pays.




 



Mitch Sherman: The answer is multi-faceted. First, consider that Wisconsin is just one year removed from three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. With a tip of the cap to Michigan State, the Badgers maximize talent more efficiently than any Big Ten team.

So look at this group, with a suspect front seven on defense, the underwhelming Joel Stave at quarterback and a questionable group of receivers. You may see a mediocre club. Others see a team set up to make a run at the College Football Playoff. That's the Wisconsin way.

There's also Melvin Gordon, who led the nation in per-carry rushing average in each of the past two seasons. He's back to run behind a stout offensive line. Finally, check out the schedule. Yeah, LSU awaits in the opener, but there's no better time to get the young Tigers. The Badgers face Nebraska at Camp Randall and play Rutgers and Maryland from the East Division.




 



Mitch Sherman: Only two coaches qualify as realistic possibilities, Brady Hoke and Bo Pelini. Either could land himself in trouble with a poor season, though isn't that always the case at Michigan and Nebraska?

In his fourth season, Hoke needs to rebound from a difficult six-game finish to last season. It began with a 24-3 drubbing at Michigan State and ended with a 31-14 loss to Kansas State. In between, the Wolverines lost at home to Nebraska and Iowa. Though all the pieces don't appear in place, it's time for Michigan to reverse the trajectory on display the past three years.

For Pelini, the story is different. His record, 58-24 in six years, stands up nationally. But the lack of a conference championship -- it's been since 1999 -- is a burden that has long troubled Nebraska fans. The Hail Mary escape against Northwestern last year may have saved the Huskers and their coach from a disastrous finishing stretch. Good fortune won't always be on their side.
The offseason can be a time of rest and relaxation. Or maybe it’s a perfect time for some team building. Or working a camp. Or raising some money for charity. Or just having fun.

We’re taking a look at how teams have been spending their offseason. Earlier we took a look at the teams in the East Division. Now, here’s what the West Division teams have been up to this summer.

Illinois Fightin Illini raise money with "Lift for Life." Iowa Hawkeyes do the work for a children's hospital. Minnesota Golden Gophers reveal how Mitch Leidner jumps so high. Nebraska Cornhuskers Bo knows tweeting amusement parks on 4th of July. Northwestern Wildcats team build with Navy SEAL-like workout. Purdue Boilermakers Jesse Schmidt's summer internship. Wisconsin Badgers cool down at pool party.  

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
11:00
AM CT
The World Cup's been great, but I'd still take football over fútbol any day.

Q&A: Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
9:00
AM CT
Northwestern’s coming off an unusual 2013 season -- losing four straight games by one score -- and has endured quite the unique offseason with the unionization vote.

Through it all, redshirt senior Trevor Siemian has been a constant for the Wildcats. He’s a team leader, the starting quarterback -- and a big reason this team isn’t overly concerned with Kain Colter's graduation.

ESPN.com checked in with Siemian recently to chat about some hypotheticals, the goals for this season -- and about his unhealthy obsession with a certain rock band that formed in the '90s.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Siemian
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThere are very few things that Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian values more than a Dave Matthews Band concert.
Important first question for you, Trevor. It’s fourth-and-goal. You’re on the 5-yard-line. There’s one second left, and you’re down by five. What play do you call?

Trevor Siemian: Four verticals, and pick a matchup -- and let one of our receivers make a play, give him a chance. Yeah, I don’t think I’d go wrong there. At that point in time, it’s just a matter of who’s going to step up and make a big play for us. Maybe throw a fade or an inside vertical to Christian [Jones] or Dan Vitale.

You didn’t really have to think about that -- at all. Is that just because you always have to be ready for something like that, in case you’re in a no-huddle or there are no timeouts?

TS: We play fast as heck anyway. [Laughs] So a play’s over, and I’m already thinking most of the time what we’re running before our guys are even tackled. I just think it’s instinctive because when you try to push the tempo, you see down and distance and, from there, what the game plan is, so you’re just trying not to be surprised by the call when it comes in. I’ve been here for four-and-a-half, five years so I kind of have a good feel for what they’re thinking and vice versa. It’s good that we’re on the same page.

Good answer -- so let me shoot another hypothetical your way. Tomorrow, a new NCAA rule says Northwestern can pick any player in the Big Ten and add him to the roster. Who are you taking?

TS: Oh man, that’s still playing? I’m trying to think. I got to be careful here. ... I don’t know, maybe that running back from Wisconsin -- Melvin Gordon's pretty good. I’m trying to think of who else but, you know, I’m really not sure.

It seemed like you had an answer waiting if I said you could’ve picked a guy from last year. You have someone in mind there?

TS: You know, I was going to tell you Chris Borland. I thought he was pretty good when he played us.

You said before that fans recognize you around campus and will ask for a photo or autograph every now and then. But let me flip that around: What’s one celebrity that’d make you go fan-boy crazy if you met them?

TS: Probably Dave Matthews. I’m a big Dave Matthews fan; that’d be pretty cool to meet him. And maybe like the president would be pretty cool, too.

I love how Dave Matthews was your first choice, and Barack Obama was No. 2. Why such a big DMB fan?

TS: I don’t know. I think with Dave fans, it’s like if you’re a fan of Dave Matthews, you’re in this community. It’s like everyone is beaucoup crazy for Dave Matthews. I am to a certain extent -- I don’t have any Dave tattoos or anything, like I see at his concerts with some people going a little overboard with. But I think it’s a little different from most other bands; the following seems to be almost more dedicated.

Well, if I have to ask since you’re such a big Dave fan, what’s your favorite song?

TS: That’s a tough question. I don’t know if it’s my favorite song, but here’s a funny story: One of my roommates used to always play, ‘You and Me’ with his girlfriend in high school. So whenever I’m with him, I’ll try to sneak in and play ‘You and Me’ loudly on my phone. But, for me, maybe ‘Funny the Way It Is.’ I don’t know, picking a Dave song is like ... I don’t know. I’m actually going to see them July 5, I want to say.

We’ve covered your favorite musician, so I feel like it’s only natural to ask -- what’s your favorite movie?

TS: I like Shawshank Redemption, but my favorite movie is Sandlot for sure. I must’ve watched it 600 times when I was a kid, and I just dig it. I’m a big Benny ‘The Jet’ Rodriguez fan. I thought the characters were pretty cool -- like Squints, the Ham -- I just thought it was a cool movie. They have to turn it back on sometime soon here.

I haven’t seen that movie in FOR-EV-ER. But let’s switch gears here a minute. There’s been quite a bit of talk about unionization, and I know you don’t want to dwell on that. But you and your teammates didn’t all agree here -- how is that going to affect you guys when the season starts?

TS: I think it was tough to say going through it all when it happened. But I actually think, looking back, I think it was good for us in a sense -- just for guys talking about things that matter to us and guys had beliefs one way or another and overcoming all that. It was kind of a point for us to rally around and get over. And, looking back now, our guys were so mature handling that whole ordeal. It’s not even an issue now. I think it’ll help us out in the long-term.

Finish this sentence: Northwestern’s 2014 season will be a success if __________.

TS: We win the Rose Bowl.

I should've seen that coming. Anyway, we’re in World Cup mode, and I asked Rutgers’ tight end this. So final question: Who’s going to win it all this year?

TS: My heart wants to say USA, man. Big time. And we got a chance. I thought going into it, before we beat Ghana -- I’m not going to lie -- I thought Argentina was going to run away with it. And Brazil tied Mexico, so I don’t know how strong they look either. But, in a perfect world, USA wins on a Clint Dempsey 89th-minute goal to seal the deal.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
4:30
PM CT
I'm taking your questions for a third time this week, filling in the Friday time slot for the vacationing Rittenberg. I'll be gone myself next week, so this will be the last time I talk to you for a bit.

What do you got?

Doc from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: What is your best case scenario for the Big Ten brand next season in regards to the Playoff? Assuming just one team gets into the Playoff, does it matter which school is there "representing" for the BIG or should just having a presence in the game be considered a victory for the league?

Brian Bennett: Best-case scenario, naturally, is winning a national title. Nothing enhances your brand quite like that. But the second part of your question is the important one, Doc. I think it's vital for the Big Ten to get a team into the Playoff this season. Conferences that don't take part in the four-team event will basically be irrelevant. I don't even think it matters if a Big Ten representative wins its semifinal as long as it is competitive (nightmare scenario: a blowout loss to the No. 2 SEC team in a semi.) Makes no difference which team from the league gets there, but the conference needs to make sure its champion is involved most years.


JR from Winchester, Virginia, writes: What signs or trends from the first few nonconference games will you be looking for that will telegraph what kind of year Nebraska will have? (Turnovers? Ability to pass the ball? Defensive line play?) Thanks.

Brian Bennett: You picked three good ones there, JR. Nebraska should have little to no trouble with its first two opponents, Florida Atlantic and McNeese State. Fresno State on the road in Week 3 could prove a bit dicier, but the Huskers should still win that game if they are a legitimate Big Ten contender. I want to see dominance, especially in the trenches and on that defensive line, in those first three games. I want to see Tommy Armstrong take care of the ball and show that he can make plays down the field. And mostly, I want to see Nebraska avoid some of the extreme mood swings and fluctuations we've witnessed in the past.

A great nonconference performance doesn't guarantee anything, because an injury or other adversity can strike any time. But it would be nice for the Huskers to avoid drama early on.


@TimShay17 via Twitter writes: The Badgers' passing game is their biggest question mark this season. Which is more of a concern: QB race or the unknowns at WR?

Brian Bennett: Good question, and I say it's the wide receivers. Joel Stave, at the very least, is a known quantity. The team won nine games with him as its starter last season, and an extra year of experience can only help him. If Tanner McEvoy beats out Stave, then it's because McEvoy is playing well in practice and offering an improvement. The receivers are still a giant question mark. It's anyone's guess who will lead this team in receiving this year after Wisconsin relied so heavily on Jared Abbrederis the past two seasons.


PurpleCatResurgence from Northbrook, Illinois, writes: Look I get it, Northwestern was sub-.500 last year, and the team still has some holes to fill, but the Cats are getting NO love in the national publications. This is almost the same team that if they get what, 5-6 plays go their way, they are a 9- or maybe even a 10-win team. They have a tough schedule this season, no doubt, but how many wins do you see this team achieving? In your view, what has to break right for this team to play in Indy this fall? Love the blog- Go Cats!

Brian Bennett: It is funny how quickly things can change. Northwestern was 4-0 and rising toward the top 15 heading into October last season. Then came the loss to Ohio State, the first of seven straight defeats, and now the Wildcats are basically off the national radar. Still, this is a team that won 10 games in 2012 and had been to five straight bowl games. As you said, Northwestern dealt with some serious bad luck in 2013, not only late in games but also with a ridiculous rash of injuries.

So Pat Fitzgerald's team could easily be one of the most improved in the Big Ten in 2014. Venric Mark is healthy again, and the offense has a solid identity behind Trevor Siemian. Plenty of talent returns on defense. The schedule is not easy, as the Wildcats drew Michigan and Penn State from the East Division and play at Notre Dame in November. On the other hand, the West does not appear to have any truly dominant teams. I definitely see the 'Cats getting back to a bowl. For them to truly contend for a division title, the offense needs to rediscover its explosiveness, and Fitzgerald will have to figure out how to get over the hump in some of those close games.


@mort_c15 via Twitter asks: Urban Meyer has said repeatedly that this year's freshmen will play will for OSU and few will redshirt. How many will, in your opinion, RS?

Brian Bennett: Meyer told me this spring, as he said often, that he made a mistake by not playing more true freshmen last season. He plans to avoid that in 2014. At the same time, he's not going to play freshmen just to play them. Barring injuries, it's safe to say that Raekwon McMillan, Johnnie Dixon, Curtis Samuel and Jalyn Holmes will play. Erick Smith could get a look at safety. Guys like Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker could force their way onto the field on special teams, at the very least. The more likely redshirt candidates are offensive linemen, like Kyle Trout and Brady Taylor, and quarterback Stephen Collier. Expect to see a lot of true freshmen on the field for the Buckeyes, but if a whole bunch of them are in key roles, that's probably not the best sign.


Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: There seems to be more time travelers here predicting how their favorite team (who has never shown the ability to win out) is going to just absolutely BEAT everyone, go undefeated and win the national championship. Yet you restrain yourself from laughing at them. Is it ever hard to do so?

Brian Bennett: I may have to hold back a chuckle or two. But that's the beauty of the preseason in college football (or any sport, really). Everybody's undefeated, and optimism abounds. Why punish that? The actual season will do that on its own.

B1G missing piece: Northwestern

June, 18, 2014
Jun 18
9:30
AM CT
video

Brian Bennett looks at the missing piece for Northwestern in 2014, one the Wildcats can find fairly easily.
Unlike other conferences, the Big Ten hasn't taken a formal position on an early signing period.

Many league coaches see the benefits but differ on when such a period would start and how exactly it would work. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and his colleagues will discuss early signing dates at the Conference Commissioners Association meeting this month.

Delany sees pros and cons both to the current national signing date (first Wednesday of February) and the proposed dates for a signing period in late November or December. He doesn't agree with the Aug. 1 signing date recommended by the ACC after its meetings last month.

"We have real, emerging, serious problems in the summertime," Delany told ESPN.com. "Camps, 7-on-7, it's starting to mimic men's basketball's summer, and I don't think that's been particularly healthy. What I think would be best, given that we're working through all the [NCAA] restructuring ... that we take an opportunity to study this and really look at what underlying regulations need to be changed.

"I don't think simply changing the date on a National Letter of Intent works without a fairly deep review."

The discussion about an early signing period in college football is hardly a new one. The American Football Coaches Association in 2008 drafted a proposal for a mid-December signing period, but the commissioners ultimately voted it down.

Since then, recruits are making their verbal commitments earlier and earlier. There is more flipping to different schools, and the number of transfers is rising. Coaches like Maryland's Randy Edsall and Nebraska's Bo Pelini have proposed ways to slow down the recruiting process.

"We know the consequences of what we're doing, and I don't think anybody's comfortable with the babysitting and the flipping and summer environment," Delany said. "I don't want to anything unless we take a real, hard look at football recruitment: what's working and what's not.

"I would be reluctant to jump into any quick fix."

Big Ten roundtable: Impact freshmen

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
8:00
AM CT
With incoming freshmen set to report to their respective B1G teams later this month, we thought now would be a perfect time to take a closer look at the 2014 class.

Who'll end up as the most memorable player? And who'll see time right away? Adam Rittenberg, Brian Bennett and Josh Moyer joined Big Ten recruiting writer Tom VanHaaren in discussing the big questions surrounding the freshmen.

So let's get started ...

Based on talent, which freshman is too good to leave off the field?

[+] EnlargeJabrill Peppers
Miller Safrit/ESPNJabrill Peppers is the type of physical defensive back that Michigan's defense needs.
Bennett: First, let's start off with the caveat that college is a lot different from high school, and more goes into being successful at this level than pure physical gifts. That said, I have never heard anyone dispute the natural talent and football instincts of Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. He was ESPN's No. 2 recruit in the Class of 2014 for a reason. The comparisons to Charles Woodson are already being made, and the corner spot is open with Blake Countess playing nickelback. Michigan needs to get more physical in its pass coverage and have more defensive playmakers in general. If Peppers fulfills even 80 percent of his hype, he'll be on the field early and often for Brady Hoke.

VanHaaren: Peppers is the first name that comes to mind. Michigan doesn't really have anyone like him on the roster. His combination of size and speed, which he displayed at a recent track meet by running a 10.52-second 100-meter dash, is something that Michigan needs in the defensive backfield. I just don't see a scenario where a healthy Peppers doesn't see the field in some capacity.

Moyer: Everyone should be familiar with Peppers, so let's forget about him for a minute. Someone whom Buckeyes fans already know -- and whom other B1G fans should familiarize themselves with -- is linebacker Raekwon McMillan, who was rated as the top inside linebacker recruit in the nation. He's already enrolled, he's already impressed Urban Meyer, and he's already a physically imposing athlete. At 240 pounds, he's bigger than all but one of OSU's 10 other linebackers. Almost every scouting report you read on the guy describes him as a "thumper," and Meyer said three months ago that there'll be no redshirt for McMillan. He should make an impact early on.

Based on need, which freshman is a lock to start from Day 1?

Bennett: I'll go with Purdue's Gelen Robinson. He's following in the footsteps, sort of, of his dad -- Boilers basketball legend Glenn "Big Dog" Robinson. The younger Robinson was Purdue's most celebrated recruit in this class, but not just because of that name. He's also an outstanding athlete who should force his way onto the field from Day 1. He'll likely play outside linebacker, which is a position of need for Darrell Hazell's team. Heck, they need players everywhere, but particularly difference-makers on defense. Robinson will get every opportunity.

Rittenberg: It's hard for true freshman offensive linemen to step in immediately, but keep an eye on Maryland's Damian Prince, the nation's No. 26 prospect in the 2014 class. The recent suspension of potential starter Moise Larose creates a need at tackle, and both Prince and Derwin Gray both have a chance to win starting jobs this summer. Wisconsin will play several of its freshman wide receivers, and I could easily see a guy like Dareian Watkins entering the starting lineup. And let's not forget about Michigan State defensive tackle Malik McDowell. The Spartans lost a few pieces on the interior defensive line.

Moyer: Penn State wideout De'Andre Thompkins. In a normal year, he might be a redshirt candidate. He's incredibly athletic -- Bill O'Brien recruited him thinking he could be a two-way player and compete at nickelback -- but he's also a bit raw since he played mostly at running back in high school. He still needs to sharpen his routes but, between the scholarship reduction and the lack of experience at receiver this season, Thompkins will have to step up sooner rather than later. The early enrollee has already proven he's the fastest player on the roster, and he's taken reps as a return man. So he should play on Day 1, in some capacity.

When this freshman class graduates, who will be remembered as the best player?

Bennett: Peppers is the easy and safe choice here. Another possibility is Maryland's Prince. He's a mountain, and given the value of offensive tackles in the NFL, we could be hearing his name early in the 2017 or 2018 draft.

VanHaaren: It could very well be either Peppers or McMillan. It's tough to argue against those two just based off of talent and ability, and I would probably go with Peppers here. I saw him at the Under Armour All-America Game and coach Herm Edwards told me Peppers was the best high school prospect he had coached in the few years he had been coaching at the event. That's high praise for a former defensive back.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Tom Hauck for Student SportsThe massive Damian Prince might be too good to keep out of Maryland's starting lineup.
Rittenberg: McDowell's recruiting melodrama gained a lot of attention, overshadowing how good a player he could be for MSU. Mark Dantonio isn't one to heap praise on freshmen but held a news conference specifically to discuss McDowell, saying, "Malik will be on the field for us, he's too big and fast [not to be], he can play inside or outside." I've been told McDowell's parents are on board with MSU now, and with the distractions behind him, he should become a star for an already elite defense.

What redshirt freshman should fans keep an eye on?

Bennett: I trust the player development program at Michigan State. Guys there just seem to get better and better throughout their careers, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Demetrius Cooper turned a lot of heads this spring and forced himself into the rotation, even with standout returning starters Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush ahead of him. Cooper was just a three-star recruit, according to ESPN, but the Spartans have made a living turning moderately-rated recruits into true college stars.

VanHaaren: I don't know if this is cheating or not because he's a sophomore, but I'm really interested to see what quarterback Wes Lunt does for Illinois. I put him here because he transferred and had to sit out the last season. I think he could be a big boost to that program if he can get things rolling offensively for the Illini.

Rittenberg: Iowa wide receiver Derrick Willies. Not only did he have a breakout spring for the Hawkeyes, but he's the type of receiver Iowa has lacked for a while: tall, fast and explosive. Iowa wants to ramp up the offensive tempo even more this season, which likely means the ball will be spread around more. Expect some big plays from Willies in his first game action.

Moyer: Minnesota running back Berkley Edwards. If it wasn't for an ankle injury early last season, he probably would've played. As it is, he'll definitely see the field this fall -- and he might see it quite a bit. Jerry Kill was asked earlier this spring if Edwards might get five to seven carries a game. "We'll see," Kill said, chuckling, to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "He might need more touches." Edwards is an exciting player who has a chance to break it anytime he touches the ball, and he could end up being an important change-of-pace back for the offense. Definitely worth watching.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 29, 2014
May 29
11:00
AM CT
The SEC thinks James Franklin's recruiting practices are unfair? "Modern Family" sums up the issue well.

B1G numbers: Changes in recruiting

May, 22, 2014
May 22
9:00
AM CT
After taking a look at the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we’re putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series -- the rest of which can be found here -- concludes with a look at recruiting expenses and why they've grown.

Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop can still remember sifting through thick stacks of manila recruiting folders in the mid-90s and reaching for a shelf of VHS tapes hanging above his desk.

There were no real recruiting support staffs to speak of. He'd pop a recruit's game tape into a VCR and then ready himself with a notepad. Fast forward, fast forward. There's the recruit. Fast forward, fast forward.

[+] EnlargeClayton Thorson
Tom Hauck for Student SportsDigital and online technologies are helping schools discover prospects like Clayton Thorson earlier and make more educated scholarship offers.
"Recruiting's changed a lot," Shoop told ESPN.com. "Our recruiting staff, they'll cut up tapes for me now. I don't have to sift through hours of recruiting tape anymore. Our interns will hand me 10 clips for a 2016 safety or something like that. You're investing to recruit good people."

As technology has evolved, so has recruiting -- and recruiting budgets. In just the past six seasons, according to a recent analysis from "Outside the Lines," recruiting budgets encompassing all sports have increased at 13 of 14 Big Ten schools and risen by at least 30 percent at eight of those. Higher gas prices, increased postage and other variables have undoubtedly played a role but several coaches and athletic directors also stressed how bigger staffs -- a result of newer technology -- have inflated those numbers.

At Penn State, Shoop can now rely on two full-time staff members, two graduate assistants and a team of 30 students/interns to help with recruiting. At Northwestern, the recruiting staff has tripled in just the last six to eight years. And, at Ohio State, one full-time position was recently added, in part, to help with recruiting presentations.

"Our technology has increased quite a bit," OSU athletic director Gene Smith said. "That's a big number for us."

That technology, such as online game film, has placed a bigger focus on immediacy. In an age where a top prospect's highlights can be filmed today and broken down by college coaches tomorrow, staffs can no longer wait until the offseason to evaluate players. And they can't drop everything on a Friday night in October, either, to give up game plan tweaks in favor of digesting film from a high school junior.

"Your coaches are doing this thing in the football season called coaching," said Chris Bowers, Northwestern's director of player personnel. "The time allocation a position coach would spend in March, he's not going to allocate that same amount of time in December or October. He can't. So, yes, there's been an increase in staff for sure.

"I would say at most universities -- I can't speak for everyone -- the recruiting staff is probably two to three times bigger than it was in '06."

In September of 2012, the Wildcats were able to jump early on the Clayton Thorson bandwagon because of that extra staff and technology. The ESPN 300 quarterback, who signed with Northwestern in February, hadn't started under center prior to 2012.

So, when he was due in Evanston, Ill., for a Saturday night game, Bowers noticed his high school coach uploaded his film to the Hudl website that Friday evening. Bowers contacted a GA, requested he cut-up some highlights -- and then forwarded the finished product to the coaching staff. Thorson received an offer that Saturday, partially based on something that was filmed less than 24 hours before.

And if this had all happened just a few years before, then how long would it have taken to make that same judgment call? Months?

"

You're investing to recruit good people.

" -- Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop
"Yes!" Bowers said. "… Even if you were an aggressive recruiting staff, the high school coaches would still need to bring you a DVD or mail it to you -- and they might not do it until the end of the season."

Nationally, recruiting budgets have risen across the board, so it's hardly limited to the Big Ten. Still, the conference seems to be outpacing the competition. Between 2008 and 2012, Big Ten teams placed within the top-10 nationally in recruiting spending on just five occasions. In 2013, four conference teams (Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State) placed within the top 10 -- and Illinois wasn't far behind at No. 12.

But coaches and athletic directors were slow to label last season a turning point. After all, it's not as if the staffs had all doubled overnight. Instead, they cautioned, there were other variables that needed to be taken into account. At Wisconsin, for example, the budget is artificially low because the Badgers are provided a private plane and don't need to charter flights as much. At Iowa, a booster donation wasn't included in the recruiting numbers until a few years ago -- which could account for part of the jump. And at Minnesota, due to the campus location, increased flight and hotel expenses impacted the budget more than schools elsewhere.

"We can't drive as much as others," Gophers athletic director Norwood Teague added. "So we've got to keep building the budget and being aggressive."

Regardless, the trend of spending more on recruiting each season appears to be a difficult one to stop. Whether it's an increased staff or costs elsewhere, few universities take a step back in spending.

But, on the bright side, it could be worse -- at least the era of "Be kind; please rewind" is long gone.

"That required a significant amount of manpower hours," Shoop said with a laugh. "And in some ways, now, it's a pro model. It's not like you have an entire scouting department, but I'm sure we're getting closer to that model now than ever before now, as far as people whose sole responsibility is player evaluation. ... It's incredible how the process has accelerated."

MSU, Purdue hope to keep ties with ND

May, 20, 2014
May 20
10:30
AM CT
This September's 42nd Notre Dame-Michigan matchup is likely the last between the schools for the foreseeable future. That doesn't, however, mean that the appearances of Big Ten teams on the Irish's schedule are coming to an end.

Michigan State and Purdue have been stalwarts on Notre Dame's slate -- more than Michigan. And athletic directors from both schools are happy to see their respective rivalries with the Irish continue, even if they're on an abbreviated basis.

Among imminent matchups, Notre Dame will "host" the Boilermakers Sept. 14 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis for its annual off-site Shamrock Series game. The Irish have a home-and-home scheduled with the Spartans for 2016 (at ND) and 2017 (at MSU).

"[Notre Dame athletic director] Jack [Swarbrick] and I are in constant communication, and it's not adversarial whatsoever. But it's a situation where, both with us going to nine [conference] games and with them having to move into the ACC scheduling model, it's created some significant challenges for both of us," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis told ESPN.com. "And right now we're kind of in a position of, we know the next two, we know we have two more in the future and we're just kind of taking it one step at a time. We've been in constant communication."

The future, Hollis told local reporters last week, includes an agreement to play a home-and-home in 2026 and 2027, as well as a neutral site game, possibly in Chicago, in 2023.

Notre Dame and Purdue, meanwhile, have five more scheduled games -- Sept. 19, 2020 at Purdue; Sept. 18, 2021 at Notre Dame; Sept. 14, 2024 at Purdue; Sept. 13, 2025 at Notre Dame; and in 2026 on a date and in a neutral site that has yet to be determined.

"I think the relationship between the schools is -- you're not going to take it to San Juan," Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told ESPN.com. "But we have alums all over the country, too. Strong populations in Texas, in California, in Florida. The likely sites are Chicago and Indianapolis."

Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said last week that most of his scheduling conversations with Swarbrick start with Michigan, Michigan State and an SEC team. But Wolverines athletic director David Brandon told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg in an email that there had been no discussions with the Irish.

The mood might have soured between the two schools -- Sept. 7 at Notre Dame will be their last matchup following the Irish's 2012 exercising of a three-year opt-out clause in the series -- but that has not been the case between the Irish and the rest of the Big Ten.

"Jack and I have known each other for a long, long time," Burke said. "He had a hard deal because when the Big East went the way it went, he had to find a home for lots of sports. What he had to do then was to negotiate, he had to use some of the football inventory to do that, and that's what created the issue. There's no issues with wanting to play Purdue or Michigan State. The Michigan thing there's a little bit of a tiff, I guess. But I don't think so.

"Our history goes back a long time. So what we tried to do was to make sure that there was at least a path forward. In other words, don't just announce Lucas Oil and it stops, but try to show people that we're going to play more than just once every 10 years. That's the best we could do now. Who knows what the landscape will be down the road? My hope is that someday, I hope we don't look back and say we lost something that started in 1946, because there are Purdue and Notre Dame folks who have been going to those games for years and tailgated. And you've had some great athletic contests with some great family relationships. And as we break some of this stuff apart and get bigger leagues, do you lose some of those relationships, and 10 or 15 years from now, does that hurt you?"

With Purdue having played Notre Dame 85 times, and with Michigan State having played the Irish 77 times, both schools are hoping that the answer to that question is a resounding no.

"There's going to be fewer games with Notre Dame because of the national landscape, and that's one of the unfortunate parts of conference expansion, is those nonconference games take secondary step," Hollis said. "But it's important to Michigan State that we continue to play on a national stage, so we'll have Notre Dame as much as we can have Notre Dame. They want as many games, we want as many games, it just all has to fit."

B1G numbers: Revenues and expenses

May, 19, 2014
May 19
8:00
AM CT
After taking a look a the most recent database of revenues and expenses in college sports, we're putting the Big Ten under the microscope. Our four-part series kicks off today with revenues and expenses.

The ability of athletic departments to survive and thrive amid the nation's economic downturn rings true within the Big Ten. A closer look at the numbers bears that out.

[+] EnlargeBadger
Mary Langenfeld/USA TODAY SportsThe Wisconsin athletic department generated huge revenue thanks to large donations.
The collective revenue of Big Ten programs in the past six years has increased by nearly 30 percent, just shy of the FBS average of 32 percent during that span. And many of the conference's schools find themselves near the top nationally.

In 2012-13, Wisconsin was No. 2 nationally among public schools in both revenue generated ($149 million) and expenses ($146.7 million). Michigan was No. 4 and No. 3 in the same two categories, generating $143.5 million and spending $131 million, while Ohio State checked in at No. 5 in both, raking in $140 million and spending $116 million.

That $24 million profit for the Buckeyes in 2012-13 put them atop the national list, but it's actually the rival Wolverines who have ended up with far and away the most money among their conference peers during the past six years. Using the analysis from "Outside The Lines" earlier this month, Michigan has netted a total profit of $90,243,483 from 2007-08 to 2012-13. That's an average annual profit of more than $15 million, nearly double the amount of the next-closest Big Ten school, Penn State, which netted an annual average of more than $8.8 million, slightly more than Ohio State ($8.755 million)

The money, of course, comes from more than simple ticket sales or conference payouts for bowl games and NCAA tournaments. Wisconsin's big financial windfall last year was thanks in large part to nearly $59 million in contributions and donations, more than $10 million clear of anyone else nationally. It's a big reason why the Badgers' one-year revenue increased by more than $45 million from 2011-12 to 2012-13, from 11th nationally to second nationally. Their surplus, however, was just $2.48 million, more than a $1 million less than the $3.78 million they made in 2010, with much less revenue ($96 million).

And where that money goes is now more widespread than ever.

"I think it was about 2000, our budget was right around $25 million and today it's $94 million," Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. "And it's real easy to take a quick look on where the allocation of those funds have gone, and so much of it — there is the coaching salary component that kind of stands out. But there's a much larger chunk that has gone to escalation of scholarships and services provided.

"When I was a basketball manager … I know how those student-athletes were treated, and I know how student-athletes today have opportunities from travel, where they stay, how they travel, where they eat, what they eat, how often they eat, what medical services, psychological services, strength and training. We've really become a specialized industry where we have people on our staff that provide the smallest component of service to a student-athlete. It used to be a coach and a trainer kind of handled everything. Well now there's somebody to teach you how to cook, there's somebody on some campuses that do the cooking, that show you how to shop. It's incredible, the opportunities that student-athletes have on those campuses, provided that they take it. That comes with a very high cost."

The Big Ten's Eastern-most schools, meanwhile, have been among the league's smallest money-makers as of late. Penn State had been the Big Ten's first- or second-most profitable program for four straight years before 2012, when it saw its profits dip to $863,023 from more than $14 million the year before. In 2013, the Nittany Lions lost $5,985,736 — a likely byproduct of the turmoil caused by the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Conference newcomers Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, were the only league members to average less than $1 million per year in profit.

The NCAA legislative council's voting in April to eliminate all previous restrictions on food for athletes could present one more opportunity for athletic departments in their ever-growing arms race. The idea of food-only facility is intriguing to Iowa athletic director Gary Barta.

"We don't have to count snacks or meals, so we can open that up," Barta said. "And so in the short-run that's definitely a part of our plan, and long-run we'll look at taking the current center that we have and maybe moving it and creating a bigger one."

With members of the Big Ten and the other four power-five conferences furthering their push for autonomy, the reins on the estate may only tighten, with spending likely to increase.

"I'm biased, but I think it's the best-run conference in the country, from a business and a financial standpoint," Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "And so we're going to hopefully have some advantages as we go forward, and what we want to do with this autonomy is be able to spend it on our student-athletes. And be smart."

Big Ten football fares well in APR

May, 14, 2014
May 14
4:15
PM CT
Big Ten football teams earned a passing grade from the NCAA in the latest report of its Academic Progress Rates released on Wednesday.

Teams in the league, covering all sports, were levied no penalties. Nationally, four-year Division I figures jumped two points to 976 over last year.

Northwestern football scored 991, the second-highest total behind Duke’s 992 among the six major conferences.

Wisconsin football placed second in the Big Ten at 989, followed by Nebraska (980), Michigan (975), Indiana and Ohio State (972), Iowa (969), Minnesota and Michigan State (962), Purdue (961), Illinois (957) and Penn State (954).

Rutgers, which joins the Big Ten for competition next fall, scored 980 in football; Maryland scored 950.

The Big 12, by comparison, was led by Kansas State at 968.

NCAA President Mark Emmert, in a statement, praised the progress of student-athletes.

“Ten years ago, the membership designed the APR to encourage student-athletes to stay in school and earn good grades,” Emmert said. “We are pleased to see that more and more student-athletes are doing that every year. The significant academic standards adopted by our membership help us support success in the classroom to the same degree that we support success on the playing field.”

Every Division I team calculates APR in each academic year. Scholarship athletes receive one point per semester for remaining eligible and one point for staying in school or graduating. Teams that score below specific thresholds face penalties that include practice restrictions and season reductions.

In order to compete in the 2014-15 postseason, teams must achieve a 930 multiyear APR or a 940 average over the two most recent years.

Nationally, 36 teams in all sports will be ineligible for the postseason in 2014-15 because of APR performance. There were only 13 teams ineligible in 2013-14.

Spring breakout player: Northwestern

May, 12, 2014
May 12
2:00
PM CT
With spring practice officially behind us, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

These are guys who haven't played big roles yet but showed enough during the 15 spring practices -- not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

The series turns to a team that generated more attention off the field than on it this spring, but still had some players make strides.

Spring breakout player: WR Miles Shuler

Shuler, who transferred to Northwestern from Rutgers last September, spent the 2013 season doing whatever was asked of him. Before Northwestern faced Ohio State, he played the role of Braxton Miller on the scout team. Before Northwestern faced Nebraska, he was Tommy Armstrong.

A quarterback in high school, Shuler helped his new team prepare for dual-threat signal- callers who brought the option threat throughout the fall.

Although he calls the experience "really, really fun" and "humbling," Shuler was glad to return to his primary position as a wide receiver and enter the two-deep this spring. His superb speed stood out on the practice field and allowed him to make several plays from the slot receiver role, which Northwestern features in its spread offense.

"He wants to play, he wants to be great," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald told ESPN.com. "We had a great relationship with he and his family in high school. In recruiting, it's like everything when you finish second, you're like, 'Aw, man!' Now to see the success that he's having just in spring has been fun to watch.

"Hopefully, he can have an instant impact this fall."

Shuler had five receptions in two years at Rutgers but didn't appear to be a great fit for the Scarlet Knights' pro-style offense. He could thrive in Northwestern's system, which has featured small, fast slot receivers like Jeremy Ebert and Zeke Markshausen. The Wildcats use 6-foot-3 Christian Jones, their leading receiver, in the slot and have put tight end Dan Vitale there, too, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Shuler is much more of a prototype on the inside.

He provides a second speed threat at receiver alongside Tony Jones, who plays on the outside. Shuler, who says he's a bit faster than Jones, has studied Ebert, who had 137 receptions and 19 touchdowns in his final two seasons for the Wildcats.

"I watch Jeremy Ebert all the time," Shuler said. "I love what they did with him in the past, and I'm really excited to see what they'll bring for me this year. I don't know how they'll use me, but I expect it will be similar to how they used Jeremy."

If so, Northwestern's passing game, which struggled for much of 2013, will get a major jolt.

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