Chicago Colleges: Ohio State Buckeyes

The weekend is almost here -- finally -- so you know what that means: It’s time for the #B1GFridayFive. Our hope is that our Friday topics get you talking. So use the hashtag and pass on your thoughts by following @BennettESPN, @MitchSherman, @ESPNJoshMoyer, @DanMurphyESPN, @ESPNRittenberg, @AWardESPN, @TomVH and @ESPN_BigTen.

With three head coaching changes, it’s been a busy offseason for the conference so far. But lost amongst those big changes are the smaller ones, the assistant coaching coaching hires that can have a profound effect on a team’s success.

So, this edition of the #BigFridayFive looks beyond the head guys and takes a closer look at five of the most important assistant hires this offseason. Our five is listed below; let us know yours by using the hashtag #B1GFridayFive.

1. Nebraska OC/QB coach Danny Langsdorf

Danny LangsdorfAP Photo/Nati Harnik 


He spent last year coaching Eli Manning and Ryan Nassib with the New York Giants and was considered a bright coach with a bright NFL future. (Manning even threw for a career-high 63.1 percent completion rate.) So it was unexpected when he decided to ditch the NFL in favor of the NCAA -- and Giants coach Tom Coughlin sure wasn’t happy about it. Ultimately, Langsdorf couldn’t turn down a reunion with Mike Riley and a chance to call the plays. But he won’t have an easy task in Year 1 with the Cornhuskers because dual-threat QB Tommy Armstrong doesn’t fit his system. Still, Langsdorf is smart enough to make adjustments and he should serve as a more-than-capable upgrade.


2. Michigan DC/LB coach D.J. Durkin

D.J. DurkinAP Photo/Butch Dill 


Forget the fact he led Florida’s defense to back-to-back top-15 rankings as its coordinator. And forget that he even led the Gators to a bowl win as their interim head coach. Durkin is a rising star at just 37 years old and has a lot more left to accomplish. Not only does he provide the Wolverines a competent replacement for Greg Mattison, who’s now the defensive line coach, but he’s also renowned for his ability as a recruiter. He has won “Recruiter of the Year” awards and he’s just as intense as Jim Harbaugh.


3. Michigan OC/OL coach Tim Drevno

Tim DrevnoFred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire 


Surprised another Wolverine is on the list? Or that Drevno decided to move from sunny California to Michigan? You shouldn’t be -- on either count. Drevno spent last season as USC’s run game coordinator, but before that he was with Harbaugh dating back to 2004 at FCS San Diego. He and Harbaugh obviously boast a strong relationship, but Drevno has also built up an impressive résumé at every stop he’s been. At Idaho -- Idaho! -- he coached three offensive linemen into the NFL, he helped San Diego set school records in points scored, he teamed up to rebuild Stanford, and he sent several San Francisco 49ers linemen to the Pro Bowl. Michigan’s offensive line is in great hands here, and the offense obviously needs a lot of help. Drevno is the right man for the job.


4. Ohio State QB/Co-OC Tim Beck

Tim BeckAP Photo/Nati Harnik 


No assistant coach in the nation will be more scrutinized than Beck this season. But with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller, it shouldn’t be too hard to find success here. Beck obviously isn’t an upgrade over Tom Herman -- who could be? -- but he’s a good fit for the Buckeyes. Beck spent the last four seasons coaching Nebraska’s signal-callers, so he’s more than familiar with making the most out of dual-threat quarterbacks. Plus, Urban Meyer wanted someone who could recruit Texas -- and Beck spent six seasons coaching high school football there. It also doesn’t hurt that Beck has Ohio roots since he was born in Youngstown, or that he’s already familiar with the Big Ten.


5. Illinois Co-DC Mike Phair

Mike PhairCliff Welch/Icon Sportswire 


OK, he wasn’t even the Fighting Illini’s first choice -- that would be Missouri DL coach Craig Kuligowski -- but he’s still a solid addition to a team that sorely needs a boost on defense. Phair has a lot of NFL experience and is coming off a season as the DL coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which saw its front four finish with 33 sacks. (He’s also coached for both the Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks.) He doesn’t have much college experience, but there’s really nowhere for Illinois to go but up. The Illini had the worst defense in the Big Ten last season and ranked No. 109 nationally in total defense. Phair should improve that number.

Big Ten morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
8:00
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The well-documented Melvin Gordon-Ameer Abdullah rivalry, which pre-dates their years in college, was effectively extinguished on Nov. 15.

Remember that day?

Nebraska players and their fans prefer to forget it. Gordon rushed for 408 yards, then an FBS record, as Wisconsin stomped the Cornhuskers 59-24. That performance propelled him to a runner-up finish in the Heisman Trophy balloting

On one good leg on that snowy afternoon in Madison, Abdullah mustered 69 yards on the ground in a performance representative of the anticlimactic finish to his record-setting career.

They met again at the NFL combine last month in Indianapolis, where both backs performed well enough to claim victory. The bigger Gordon ran a faster 40-yard dash (4.52 to 4.60), though Abdullah walked away with the best marks among an accomplished group at their position in the vertical leap, broad jump, three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.

Abdullah appeared to improve his 40 time -- pending official results -- Thursday at Nebraska’s pro day.

When it was over, Abdullah, typically reserved, did not mince words. He said he believes he’s the best running back in this draft class. Gordon included.

“I’m not real worried about Melvin,” Abdullah said. “He has his own agenda. I have my own agenda.”

But Abdullah, training this spring in Dallas, said more.

“I don’t know what he’s doing," Abdullah said. "He doesn’t know what I’m doing. Obviously, we want to compete, but it’s more of a mental edge than anything. When you’re working and you’re tired, I say, ‘Well, Melvin’s still working harder than me, so I’ve gotta go harder.’”

Clearly they remain linked, a salivating thought for fans of Big Ten football, anxious to watch continued competition between the talented duo play out on a new stage.

Analysts rate Gordon as the better prospect, and how can you argue with 2,587 yards -- a career figure for many that Gordon accumulated in merely 13 games last fall?

But here’s what I know about Abdullah: He’s at his most dangerous as an underdog.

The large chip on his shoulder that Abdullah carried to Nebraska out of high school in Alabama, where SEC schools declined to recruit him as a running back, fueled his journey to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher in Huskers history.

The chip is back. I’ve rarely, if ever, heard Abdullah speak with more conviction than Thursday after his workout.

“Whatever team that takes me,” Abdullah said, “I’m going to be in shape and ready to go when I get there.”

Whether he knows it or not, Gordon is providing a bit of fuel for Abdullah’s drive toward the draft.

Around the rest of the Big Ten:

Ranking the Big Ten coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:48
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ESPN.com this week ranked the Power 5 college football coaching jobs, from No. 1 to 65. While those national takes on the Big Ten hit the mark, we'll offer a few minor changes in our Big Ten rankings, No. 1 through 14, of the league seats.

1. Ohio State
Is there really any doubt? The national championship is difficult to overlook. There’s no better job in the Big Ten -- both historically, though Michigan might argue, and in the current climate.

2. Michigan
The Wolverines deserve real consideration for a spot in the top 10 nationally. With more wins than any program in college football history and the second-highest winning percentage to Notre Dame, this is a truly special job. Just ask Jim Harbaugh.

3. Penn State
Resources galore. PSU may feature the best combination in the league of location, fan support and tradition. And the urgency to win is real, an important factor in comparison to other Big Ten programs striving for the top.

4. Nebraska
Some natural disadvantages exist, yes, but no school in the Big Ten creates unity and provokes passion among its fan base like the Huskers. This is not Tom Osborne’s Nebraska, but it’s still a top job with elite institutional support.

5. Michigan State
Natural competition with Michigan and Ohio State works for the Spartans in setting a high standard -- and works against MSU in that it may never be viewed, by comparison, as a true blue blood in the sport. Still, who cares about that if you’re in the discussion for a national title?

6. Wisconsin
While the Badgers don’t have the history of the Big Ten’s other top programs, and the resources in recruiting don't ever figure to stack up with a few competitors, Wisconsin wins and produces championship-caliber competitors.

7. Maryland
The Terrapins sit a ways back from the top tier of the league in many areas. But few can compare with Maryland’s recruiting ground and built-in support system courtesy of Under Armour.

8. Iowa
The Hawkeyes compensate their coach well: Kirk Ferentz had one of the top 10 salaries in the country in 2014. And they have a strong tradition. They are the biggest show in the state, but convincing talented players to come to Iowa City remains a challenge.

9. Minnesota
Minnesota has made an effort in the past few years to upgrade facilities and invest more in resources like nutrition and player support. The results are starting to show. While the local talent might be lacking, Minneapolis is one of the more attractive cities in the Big Ten.

10. Illinois
The Illini fall slightly behind Minnesota on our list because of location. Illinois coaches have had trouble consistently getting talent from Chicago to join them in the middle of the state. The focus remains more on basketball in Champaign.

11. Rutgers
One of the Big Ten’s newcomers is making strides toward matching some of the bigger schools in the conference, but the Scarlet Knights still have a ways to go before they can get out of catch-up mode.

12. Northwestern
Stringent academic requirements and a small, private campus are obstacles for any coach at Northwestern. A new facility on the edge of Lake Michigan should help the Wildcats when it is eventually completed.

13. Indiana
Football interest wanes quickly for the Hoosiers when basketball gets started in the late fall. The resources aren’t there, which makes it difficult to survive the improving gauntlet of the Big Ten East on a yearly basis.

14. Purdue
Purdue is Indiana without the added benefit of Bloomington, a great college town. Ross-Ade Stadium could use a face-lift, and West Lafayette lacks the charm of other campuses in the conference.

Big Ten morning links

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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Spring football starts Tuesday at Michigan, where temperatures are forecast to dip below zero each of the next three nights.

Why do I feel like everyone on Twitter is talking to Jim Harbaugh these days?



The Wolverines will be warm and cozy at practice inside Al Glick Field House. Northwestern also starts this week. Maryland, Minnesota and Nebraska open drills next week, which makes now as good a time as any to review staff openings around the Big Ten.

Presumably, all 14 programs will get back to full strength for spring practice. For now, four teams remain down a man.

Since we last took a divisional look at offseason changes in the East and the West, Nebraska and Wisconsin lost assistant coaches, and Purdue hired Terry Malone over the weekend to coach tight ends.

Malone made it to a 6 a.m. workout Monday with the Boilermakers.

He is an intriguing hire for Purdue. Most recently the tight ends coach of the New Orleans Saints, where he was instrumental in the development of 2013 first-team All-Pro pick Jimmy Graham, Malone coordinated Michigan's offense from 2002-05 and also worked under Lloyd Carr as offensive line coach.

Michigan won five league crowns in Malone's nine seasons. He brings an NFL pedigree and a history of success in the Big Ten. Pretty good place to start for the Boilermakers, who have won one Big Ten game in two seasons under coach Darrell Hazell.

Here's a rundown of the programs with open positions:

Nebraska needs a secondary coach to replace Charlton Warren, who left after signing day for North Carolina. Several reports have indicated the Cornhuskers are close to an agreement with Brian Stewart, who left Maryland as defensive coordinator last week in what the Terrapins termed a mutual parting.

If it is Stewart, the move makes sense for coach Mike Riley, who generally hires coaches that he or his assistants know. Stewart served a solid stint in 2007-08 with the Dallas Cowboys as defensive coordinator. Also on that Dallas staff was Bruce Read, Nebraska's special teams coach and a longtime Riley assistant.

Stewart is also a San Diego native and coached the secondary for the Chargers before his stint in Dallas; Riley, former head coach of the Chargers, and his staff have numerous San Diego ties.

Of little relevance, Stewart, as the Cowboys coordinator, succeeded Mike Zimmer, who -- after the 2003 season -- interviewed for the Nebraska head-coaching job. It went to Bill Callahan, who spent 2012-14 with the Cowboys.

And of minor relevance, Stewart would be the only full-time member of the Nebraska staff to coach a game at Memorial Stadium. He spent three seasons at Missouri, losing to the Huskers in 1996 and 2000 in Lincoln and in 1999 at Mizzou.

Illinois still has an opening after the January firing of two assistant coaches. The spot yet to be filled was vacated by special teams coach Tim Salem, though coach Tim Beckman might hire for a different position. Beckman said recently that he had interviewed internal candidates and likely would assign Alex Golesh, the Fighting Illini recruiting coordinator who worked last season with running backs and tight ends, to handle a heavy load on special teams next season.

Maryland needs an assistant to replace Stewart. Inside linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski was promoted to defensive coordinator.

Wisconsin must hire a running backs coach to replace Thomas Brown, who left for alma mater, Georgia. John Settle, who coached the position for the Badgers from 2006-10 and for Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst at Pittsburgh last season, has been mentioned in reports as a candidate.

Let's get to the links:

Big Ten morning links

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
8:00
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Credit Kirk Ferentz for trying. Is it enough, though?

The Iowa coach, in preparation for his 17th season, announced changes Thursday to his staff assignments. Not coaching changes, but hey, something is better than nothing, right?

To summarize, LeVar Woods, formerly the linebackers coach, will take over the tight ends. Brian Ferentz is now the run game coordinator in addition to his responsibilities as offensive line coach. And Seth Wallace, who assisted with the defensive line last year, now coaches the nickels and cornerbacks.

Change does not come easily at Iowa, where the head coach's release of a postseason depth chart, in a departure from previous seasons, raised brows last month.

Iowa's offense needs an infusion of energy. Maybe quarterback C.J. Beathard can provide it. But the elder Ferentz is wise not to rely entirely on that. He's banking also on Woods, a linebacker on Ferentz's first two teams who did nice work on the defensive side, and the coach's son in an increased role.

Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette suggests that the new job description for Brian Ferentz rates as the most interesting of the changes. But what will the younger Ferentz do as run game coordinator? Certainly, he's not about to supercede offensive coordinator Greg Davis, who has his hands full with quarterbacks Beathard and Jake Rudock.

Fact is, though, Iowa's quarterbacks -- and its defense -- would benefit most from a dynamic running game. The Hawkeyes' 4.12 yards per rush in 2014 ranked 10th in the Big Ten. It lacked explosiveness.

Brian Ferentz has extended Iowa's notable tradition of producing solid offensive linemen. If his work translates to the run game at large, maybe he can help get his dad back on the right track.

Nothing official out of Piscataway, New Jersey, yet on the potential hire of business consultant Jeff Towers as Rutgers' recruiting coordinator, but Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com is offering praise for coach Kyle Flood.

Mandel likens Towers, who has no known experience in football, and other similar hires at major programs to general managers at the pro level -- without the ability to trade or draft players, of course. (Don't get any ideas.)

Much remains unknown about the specifics of Towers' business experience. The only details uncovered came from his LinkedIn profile. Regardless, if Flood makes this move, clearly he believes in Towers to bring a new type of leadership to the business side of the Rutgers program.

College football programs are built like corporations today. Nearly every major program employs an operations director, the most effective of whom possess freedom in making decisions on non-coaching matters. So why not have a GM-like figure to run the personnel department, otherwise known as recruiting operations?

The size and structure of these staffs loom as a possible issue for the Power 5 conferences to debate. Even so, unless major restrictions are imposed -- unexpected in this age of autonomy -- hires like Towers will soon be viewed as standard practice.

Let's get to the links:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten morning links

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
9:00
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There is no curse, nothing wrong with the job, and no apparent concern from Kyle Flood either.

If anything, the Rutgers coach is chalking up a seemingly annual tradition of replacing his offensive coordinator as a positive, pointing to the quality of jobs his assistants have landed.

Whether that's focusing on the silver lining or truly genuine, only Flood actually knows. But either way, after Ralph Friedgen stepped down into an advisory role on Tuesday to become the fifth consecutive one-and-done offensive coordinator for the Scarlet Knights, Flood could use some consistency at some point.

"You describe it as a problem, but I think some of the guys we've had here as coordinators have left for some pretty good reasons," Flood said during his announcement teleconference. "When you hire talented people, there's always a chance that they're going to have the opportunity to go somewhere and get promoted."

That didn't happen this time with Friedgen, who wasn't looking for another job as much as a chance to "smell the roses" without the demands that come with full-time coaching in the Big Ten. He never figured to be a long-term answer for the Scarlet Knights, but it's still something of a surprise that he wound up adding his name to the list of one-and-done coordinators.

The next man up, former wide receivers coach Ben McDaniels, could potentially provide some stability moving forward and allow for the Scarlet Knights to find some comfort and rhythm. Of course, his young age (34) and famous name (he's the brother of New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels) could make him a hot commodity on the coaching market if he has success with the Scarlet Knights this season.

Perhaps there's nothing wrong with the turnover as long as Flood can keep hiring a steady stream of assistants capable of making a mark with the Scarlet Knights before moving on elsewhere. From the outside, there certainly didn't appear to be any negatives to having Friedgen around for a season, though it's fair to wonder if his apparent limitations as a recruiter might have made this move mutually beneficial heading into the future.

Regardless, the picture Flood painted about his program and a revolving door to the offensive coordinator's offense was nothing but positive. But if McDaniels can snap the streak while continuing to build the Scarlet Knights' offense, that wouldn't be a bad thing.

"Ralph and I had decided that we were going to sit down after signing day and just really take stock of the situation and have a conversation about what would be the best thing to do going forward," Flood said. "As we had that conversation, my thoughts turned to who would be who I thought would be the best person to lead our offense into the future.

"It did not take me too long to decide that that would be Ben."

After all, the hiring process is nothing new for Rutgers and Flood. If nothing else, he's getting mostly everything he needs from his coordinators aside from longevity.

East Division
West Division
  • Mike Riley has an idea that could revitalize the walk-on program at Nebraska.
  • Some tongue-in-cheek questions about the "Oskee Empire" tweet from Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
  • A closer look at the running backs Purdue signed in its latest recruiting class.
  • Already itching for updates about the 2016 recruiting class? Here's an early look at what Wisconsin will be looking for over the next 11 months.
  • First impressions of the new Iowa defensive linemen.

Big Ten mailbag

February, 2, 2015
Feb 2
4:00
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So let's see ... since the last time I dipped into ye olde mailbag, the calendar flipped to 2015, the Big Ten became home to the national champions and two Big Ten quarterbacks played in a Super Bowl.

Yeah, it's been a long time. Way too long, actually. So before another big event takes place -- the sugar high of signing day draws near -- I just had to answer some of your questions.

Brian Bennett: Two similar questions here from Patrick and John, and they're good ones. Without question, Ohio State's national championship -- as well as strong performances by other Big Ten teams in the postseason, most notably Michigan State and Wisconsin -- has completely flipped the script on the Big Ten narrative.

Thank goodness for that. Not because I have any rooting interest in the league's success or failure, but because the whole notion that the conference was miles away from the SEC and other conferences was exaggerated to begin with and became incredibly tiresome the past few years. The best counterargument to such claims is always: "Scoreboard!" Finally, the Big Ten can say that. And after witnessing Buckeyes players run away from Alabama and Oregon defenders, the "Big Ten speed" jokes officially must be retired for at least the next eight months.

Ohio State should start the 2015 season off as No. 1, and Michigan State will be a top 10 team again. You can't put a price tag on that value. The Buckeyes' title bought credibility not just for themselves but for the entire league. If anyone can defeat Urban Meyer's team in 2015, it will gain a huge boost for beating the defending national champs. Similarly, Ohio State will get the benefit of the doubt if it is involved in a comparison of one-loss teams at the end of the season. While the selection committee is charged with reviewing the current season's results only, members would be hard pressed to leave out the defending champs if résumés are mostly equal otherwise.

"The Big Ten is back" theme will likely be as overstated this offseason as "The Big Ten is dead" story line was in previous years. Still, this one is a lot more enjoyable, and it's up to the league to build upon hard-fought success.

Alex from Kenosha, Wis., writes: With Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, and Ameer Abdullah gone to the NFL, who is going to be the next big back in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: The three guys you mentioned were phenomenal, but don't forget about Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Minnesota's David Cobb. That's five of the top 19 rushers in the FBS, so a ton of talent is leaving at the tailback position.

Yet the Big Ten often easily replenishes its running backs, and the next big back is one who already announced himself as a superstar in early 2015: Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. The offensive MVP of both the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the national title game is an early Heisman Trophy contender (not to mention an obvious future eight-minute abs pitchman). The only question about Elliott's production in '15 is whether Ohio State will have enough touches to go around with its abundance of playmakers.

Add Corey Clement to the list of budding stars, as he'll move to the front of Wisconsin's assembly line of stud tailbacks. Clement ran for 949 yards -- 10th best in the Big Ten -- despite backing up a guy who ran for the second-most yards ever in an FBS season. Amazing.

Northwestern's Justin Jackson deserves mention, too. Despite a mediocre yards per carry average (4.8), he racked up 1,187 rushing yards in 12 games as a true freshman. That was impressive.

Brian Bennett: Speaking of running back talent, I think that's the position where the Scarlet Knights could shine in 2015. Paul James was headed toward an excellent campaign before he was lost for the year to injury for a second straight season. No Rutgers player ran for more than 447 yards all season. But freshman Josh Hicks erupted for 202 yards in the Quick Lane Bowl, while fellow freshman Robert Martin delivered an even 100 yards in the same game. Throw in Desmon Peoples and hopefully a healthy return by James, and Rutgers could be pretty loaded in the backfield next season.

Brian Bennett: That's a question best answered three or four years from now. The one concern I had about Nebraska's hiring of Riley was whether he would be able to recruit nationally, something that's necessary for the Huskers to succeed. Riley ran more of a developmental program at Oregon State, though the Beavers don't have anywhere near the resources that Nebraska boasts.

That said, I've been pretty impressed thus far with Riley and his staff. Hanging on to DaiShon Neal despite a late (and reportedly botched) push from Michigan was big, and the Huskers have attacked specific areas of need in this class. What I've really liked is how enthusiastically Riley and his staff have embraced the recruiting efforts, for instance keying fans in to where they're traveling to visit prospects on Twitter. Bo Pelini and his staff never seemed to enjoy the showmanship aspect of recruiting, but I think you need to draw attention to yourself at a place like Nebraska, which is not surrounded by a built-in talent base. Riley's approach offers encouragement for the future.


Steven from Chicago writes: What will it take for Paul Chryst to get the Badgers some top 20 recruiting classes? Does it even matter with the way Wisconsin develops its players so well?

Brian Bennett: Wisconsin is ranked 29th right now by ESPN Recruiting, though some recent defections may hurt. The Badgers finished 34th in 2013 and 33rd in 2013. The difference between that and a top-20 class is fairly negligible, in my view. Wisconsin is likely never going to have a top 10-type class because it simply cannot profit from a lot of homegrown, blue-chip talent.

But as you mentioned, few schools do as good a job in developing talent as the Badgers do. The program's recent history is full of walk-ons or no-name recruits turning into stars in Madison, and Wisconsin knows exactly what type of player it wants for a system that has changed little in two decades. Chryst will need to improve the recruiting at certain positions, especially wide receiver and quarterback. I've never quite understood why more receivers wouldn't want to play for the Badgers, since they're almost always wide open on play-action calls. Still, Chryst has shown he can mold offensive talent, so I'm never going to be too worried about the star rankings of Wisconsin's classes.

Big Ten morning links

January, 30, 2015
Jan 30
9:00
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Because it’s Friday before the Super Bowl and you’ve likely not spent enough time thinking about the big game in Arizona, let’s look at it from a Big Ten perspective.

These fascinating maps published by Athlon Sports, which detail the colleges and high schools of every player on the New England and Seattle active and injured-reserve rosters -- be sure to set aside some time to study them -- got me in the mood.

Tom Brady and Russell Wilson give the Big Ten its first-ever pair of starting quarterbacks in a Super Bowl. But that’s old news.

Between bites of chicken wings and nacho dip, impress with your friends with these nuggets:

The state of Illinois produced six Patriots and two Seahawks. Of the eight Illinoisans (more than from any state other than California, Texas and Florida), five played at Big Ten schools.

Who got away? New England reserve quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who played at Eastern Illinois; New England defensive end Zach Moore of Division II Concordia (Minnesota); and linebacker Darius Fleming of the Patriots, who played at Notre Dame.

The Super Bowl features four Seahawks and two Patriots who played at Wisconsin -- headlined, of course, by Wilson. The six ex-Badgers are the most from any college. Two are on injured reserve.

Michigan and Big Ten newbie Rutgers are among seven schools that placed four players in Super Bowl XLIX. That prestigious list also includes Alabama, Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and Texas A&M. Another six programs are represented Sunday by three players, including Illinois and Purdue. The others? LSU, TCU, USC and California.

Kent State, Memphis and Louisiana Tech placed two players apiece in the Super Bowl, more than Ohio State, which sends only New England safety Nate Ebner. But Seattle coach Pete Carroll coached the Buckeyes’ secondary under Earle Bruce in 1979, 15 years before his first head-coaching gig.

Other than Brady and Wilson, probable starters Sunday from the Big Ten are New England defensive end Rob Ninkovich (Purdue), New England safety Devin McCourty (Rutgers) and Seattle defensive end Cliff Avril (Purdue).

Both of Rob Gronkowski's backups played in the Big Ten -- Michael Hoomanawanui at Illinois and Tim Wright at Rutgers. Keep an eye on the tight-end duo. Hoomanawanui factored in the Patriots’ creative alignments against Baltimore in the AFC divisional round, lining up as an eligible receiver at tackle. Wright caught six touchdown passes in the regular season.

Based on their history, the Patriots will probably get creative near the goal line. In their two most recent Super Bowl wins, former Ohio State linebacker Mike Vrabel caught touchdowns from Brady.

On to the links:

Year of the Big Ten back lives up to hype

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
8:30
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They didn't sneak up on us.

Anyone who tracked the Big Ten's summer buzz -- or reviewed the list of players attending preseason media days in Chicago -- noticed the league's surplus of standout running backs.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon had spurned the NFL, and a potential first-round draft selection, for a run at the Heisman Trophy and a national championship. Gordon's good friend Ameer Abdullah also was back for one final season at Nebraska, where he had been among the nation's most productive players. Indiana football might not hold your attention, but Tevin Coleman's 7.3 yards-per-carry average certainly does.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsIn many years, Doak Walker Award winner Melvin Gordon would have taken home the Heisman Trophy.
Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Minnesota's David Cobb had been workhorses in 2013 -- combining for 529 carries -- and were back for more. Almost every team had a player capable of logging 1,000 rush yards.

"In this league," Cobb told ESPN.com's Austin Ward in August, "there's a good running back on every team."

Turned out, Cobb was underselling himself and his fellow backs. Most Big Ten teams had great, if not elite, running backs.

The numbers back it up: 2014 was easily the best season for running backs in Big Ten history.

The league produced six 1,500-yard rushers -- no other conference had more than three (no other Power 5 league had more than two). According to research from the Big Ten office, until 2014 the league never had more than three 1,500-yard rushers in the same season. Although a 12-game regular season, a championship game and the College Football Playoff provide more opportunities, Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott was the only back who needed the extra contests to reach -- and ultimately far eclipse -- 1,500 yards.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, no FBS conference has had even five 1,500-yard rushers since at least 1996.

The Big Ten produced the nation's top three rushers in Gordon, Coleman and Elliott. It had all three finalists for the Doak Walker Award in Gordon (who won), Coleman and Abdullah. Gordon was a Heisman finalist and likely would have won the award in any other year, as Marcus Mariota's numbers were overwhelming. Coleman and Gordon were consensus All-Americans, and Elliott earned offensive MVP honors in both the Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl, and in the national championship game.

So much star power eclipsed the consistency of players such as Cobb and Langford, the emergence of Northwestern freshman Justin Jackson, the speed threat of Purdue's Akeem Hunt, or the versatility of Illinois' Josh Ferguson.

Go ahead. Try to find a more productive season at running back -- for any league -- in college football history.

But what stands out about the Year of the Big Ten Running Back was that it occurred in stanzas. Just when one star back broke from the pack, another would seize the spotlight.

Let's take a quick look back:

Act 1: Fear Ameer

Abdullah and Georgia's Todd Gurley were the nation's best backs in the first month of the season. The Nebraska senior opened with a 232-yard performance against Florida Atlantic, and finished September with consecutive 200-yard efforts against Miami and Illinois. Abdullah finished with just 54 rush yards against FCS McNeese State but delivered one of the season's most memorable plays -- a 58-yard run after catch through McNeese State defenders with 20 seconds left that secured a Cornhuskers win.

Although Coleman also had a strong start and other Big Ten backs had their moments, Abdullah put himself in the Heisman talk with 833 rush yards and eight touchdowns by the end of September.

Act 2: Melvin makes his move

It was a bizarre start for Gordon: a huge first half (plus one play) against LSU, followed by a mysterious absence, followed by a 17-carry, 38-yard clunker against Western Illinois. Goodbye, Heisman? Hardly.

Beginning with a 253-yard performance against Bowling Green, Gordon posted 10 consecutive games of 100 or more rush yards, five 200-yard performances and seven games with multiple rushing touchdowns. By the end of October, he had returned to the national awards races.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTevin Coleman's monster performances were hard to miss, even if Indiana was otherwise struggling.
Act 3: Coleman gets his due

It's always hard to get noticed on a struggling team, but when a player consistently puts up numbers like Coleman, he commands attention. Coleman averaged at least 6.9 yards per carry in six of his first seven games, including 14.5 yards per rush in a 219-yard effort at Iowa. Although his 307-yard explosion at Rutgers was overshadowed by Gordon's record-setting day against Nebraska, he earned national respect by running for 228 yards and three touchdowns at Ohio State in a game that Indiana led in the third quarter.

Coleman averaged 197.3 rush yards in road games, barely trailing Gordon (198 ypg) for the national lead.

Act 4: What about the other guys?

Cobb and Langford lacked the flash of Gordon, Coleman or Abdullah, but their consistency, durability and production eventually became impossible to ignore. Cobb logged five performances of 145 rush yards or more and recorded 30 or more carries in four consecutive games. Langford started slowly but ended the season with 10 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances, a team record. He ended his career with 15 consecutive 100-yard performances in Big Ten games, the longest such streak for any FBS player in regular-season conference games since at least 1996.

Elliott also surfaced with 154 yards at Michigan State, the first of many big-stage performances he would deliver down the stretch.

Act 5: Gordon's Heisman move

Some felt Mariota had the Heisman locked up by early November. Gordon made them reconsider. After a ho-hum 205-yard effort at Purdue, Gordon gashed Nebraska for an NCAA-record 408 rush yards as snow fell at Camp Randall Stadium. His milestone, compiled in just three quarters, lasted just one week as Oklahoma's Samaje Perine broke the record, but Gordon made the Heisman a two-man race again. He followed up with 200 yards at Iowa and a workmanlike 151 against Minnesota as Wisconsin won the Big Ten West Division.

Gordon fell shy of the Heisman but won the Doak Walker Award and secured a place as one of the great -- and perhaps the greatest -- Wisconsin back.

Act 6: Riding the E Train to a championship

The Year of the Big Ten Back was supposed to end with Gordon, but Elliott provided a surprise addendum. It started with 220 rush yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in Ohio State's 59-0 stomping of Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Elliott then followed with 230 yards and two scores on 20 carries in the Playoff semifinal against Alabama at the Sugar Bowl, including a Crimson Tide-taming 85-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

He ended with an even better performance -- 246 rush yards and four touchdowns -- as "ZEEEEEKE!" cheers reverberated throughout AT&T Stadium in Ohio State's national title win against Oregon.

The final carry for a Big Ten back this season: Elliott's 1-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds to play, providing a fitting exclamation point.

Big Ten morning links

January, 21, 2015
Jan 21
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Tuesday brought an end to questions about the final spots on the coaching staffs at Michigan and Nebraska.

Both are now full, though at Michigan, the addition of Mike Zordich as secondary coach and Jay Harbaugh as tight ends coach came as no surprise. Nebraska, more than two weeks after Mike Riley unveiled additions to bring his staff to eight, tabbed a receivers coach, Keith Williams, from Tulane.

An official announcement is forthcoming after Williams, 42, spent time Tuesday in Lincoln.



The highlight of the Jay Harbaugh hire came as the head coach’s 25-year-old son revealed that his dad once poured Gatorade on his cereal.

Excuse me, what? Way to set the bar high on your first official day, Jay; we’ll definitely expect more where that came from that in future interviews.

Fact is, Jim Harbaugh could have hired daughters Grace, Addie or Katie, ages 14, 6, and 4, respectively, to fill a spot on this staff, and Michigan fans would have leapt with joy. Such is their level of excitement with Harbaugh, as it should be.

And that’s no knock against Jay, 25, who worked for his uncle, John, the past three seasons as an offensive quality control coach for the Baltimore Ravens. The young Harbaugh looks like a fine pick, especially paired with Jedd Fisch and Tyrone Wheatley on the offensive side and veteran special teams coordinator John Baxter.

If Jay brings a fraction of his father’s enthusiasm, he’ll be a big hit on the recruiting trail.

Back to Jay Harbaugh. It’s interesting that he worked on Riley’s staff at Oregon State as an undergraduate assistant for four years. Not surprising, though, that Jim’s son got his foot in the door with Riley.

The Riley-Harbaugh connections run deep. New Nebraska running backs coach Reggie Davis came to Riley from Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers.

And oh, yes, Harbaugh played on Riley’s San Diego Chargers in 1999 and 2000.

When Nebraska and Michigan meet again in 2018 -- if both coaches last that long and they don’t meet first in a Big Ten title game -- it’s going to feel a little like a family reunion.

Around the rest of the Big Ten:

East Division
West Division

Big Ten morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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A week ago, the Big Ten was waking up to a national championship.

1. Defensive end Noah Spence couldn't take part in Ohio State's title run after being declared ineligible from the team because of two failed drug tests. But Spence's college career will continue at FCS Eastern Kentucky, his father told me Monday night. A first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, Spence had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss with the Buckeyes. But the first of two failed drug tests sidelined him for the Orange Bowl, and the second effectively ended his Buckeyes career.

The good news: Spence is doing well, according to his father, Greg, and "continues to be open and receptive to all of the guidance that has been provided professionally and non-professionally in regards to those areas of concern." He considered entering the NFL draft and received projections in the third to fifth round, but ultimately elected for one more year at the college level to mature both on and off the field. Greg Spence repeatedly praised Urban Meyer and the Ohio State coaches and athletic department for standing by his son during a trying time.

"He's extremely excited to play football again as well as grateful for another opportunity," Greg Spence said.

Best of luck to Noah Spence at EKU. He's an incredibly talented player. Here's hoping his story takes a positive turn and results in an long NFL career.

2. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour on Monday night apologized for a recent tweet that characterized the #409 displays worn by Lions teams as "inappropriate and insensitive." Barbour told WBLF-AM radio in State College that the restoration of Joe Paterno's wins total is a moment to celebrate for Penn State fans. She also defended hockey coach Guy Gadowsky, who had been criticized after his team wore 409 decals during Friday's game.

"I don't want him to beat up about this," Barbour told WBLF. "He also got killed by the advocate's side of this, and I think just as we have to understand and be sensitive to the victim side, there also has to be some understanding of why we would celebrate."

Barbour also said Paterno would be honored "over time" but that Penn State would need to be "deliberate" in figuring out the right approach. This is delicate ground for Barbour, who can use her status as an outsider to her advantage in trying to strike the right chord with PSU fans but also project the right image nationally. It's still not an easy task.

3. An early signing period is coming closer to reality as a committee has recommended a 72-hour period in December when prospects can sign with colleges. The early period would begin with the class of 2016, and would coincide with the current signing period for junior-college players. Former Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen supported this schedule when we talked in the spring, and it makes sense to give long-committed recruits a chance to make things official.

Still, the more important piece for Big Ten teams -- and the one league coaches should push -- is earlier official visits. A small window in May or June when Big Ten teams could pay for recruits and their families to visit campus would be huge in expanding the league's recruiting reach. The SEC coaches seem united on everything. Why don't the Big Ten coaches stand together and make their voices heard?

Time for the division dish ...

East Division
West Division

And, finally, the Cleveland Cavaliers should invite Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes at every game. It sure worked Monday night.

Big Ten morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Around the rest of the league:

ESPN's Big Ten all-freshman team

December, 15, 2014
12/15/14
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The Big Ten doesn't put out an all-freshman team. But we do. Here are our picks for the top first-year players in the league in 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Well, duh.

RB: Justin Jackson, Northwestern: In the year of the running back in the Big Ten, Jackson somewhat quietly produced 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman.

RB: Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: He added to the Buckeyes' ridiculous array of skill players, running for 386 yards and six scores. Looks like a future star.

WR: Mike Dudek, Illinois: In another season, one in which a guy like Barrett doesn't put up mind-boggling stats, Dudek would have been the freshman of the year in the league. He should surpass 1,000 yards receiving in the Fighting Illini's bowl game.

WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State: Though the Nittany Lions' offense struggled, Hamilton caught more passes (75) than any other Big Ten player and finished with 848 yards in the regular season.

WR/RB: Jalin Marshall, Ohio State: A versatile, speedy weapon who could come out of the backfield or fly into it, Marshall scored seven touchdowns on offense and one on punt returns. He's also the team's backup quarterback right now.

OL: Mason Cole, Michigan: The first Wolverine ever to start the opener at left tackle as a true freshman, Cole stayed there all season and showed a lot of promise with his excellent footwork and instincts.

OL: Brian Allen, Michigan State: The true freshman and brother of All-Big Ten center Jack Allen appeared in all 12 games, with one start at left guard.

OL: Billy Price, Ohio State: The redshirt freshman has started all 13 games as a guard for the Buckeyes.

OL: Andrew Nelson, Penn State: The Nittany Lions had their issues on the offensive line, but Nelson started every game at tackle -- including twice at left tackle -- and has a bright future.

OL: Christian DiLauro, Illinois: He filled in as the starting right tackle in the second half of the season for the Illini and helped them rally their way to a bowl game.

Defense

DL: Kemoko Turay, Rutgers: After a torrid start, the pass rushing specialist finished with 7.5 sacks. He also blocked a field goal against Michigan to preserve that victory.

DL: Malik McDowell, Michigan State: The blue-chip recruit whose signing day saga made headlines showed his talent by playing in all 12 games and recording 3.5 tackles for loss.

DL: Steven Richardson, Minnesota: Thrust into a starting role after the first week because of injuries, the true freshman more than held his own by finishing with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: After taking a medical redshirt last year, Lee emerged as one of the Buckeyes' top defensive playmakers, recording 66 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries, one of which he scored on.

LB: Ja'Whan Bentley, Purdue: The Boilermakers' linebacker position has been a problem for the past few years, but Bentley is part of the solution. He was Purdue's second-leading tackler on the season with 76 stops, adding an interception and three fumble recoveries.

LB: Anthony Walker, Northwestern: In his first start against Penn State, Walker returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown. He also had a pick in the win at Notre Dame and led the Wildcats with nine tackles for loss.

LB: Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State: Playing mostly in a reserve role, McMillan had an immediate impact on the Buckeyes. The former stud recruit recorded 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and an interception.

DB: Eli Apple, Ohio State: It's scary how many star freshmen the Buckeyes have. Apple is another, as he had 41 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, and a pair of interceptions.

DB: Montae Nicholson, Michigan State: The true freshman played in every game and had three starts in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone." He had 30 tackles and a pair of fumble recoveries.

DB: Godwin Igwebuike, Northwestern: He made waves in the Wildcats' upset win over Wisconsin by grabbing three interceptions. He started five times at safety and finished with 51 tackles.

DB: Marcus Allen, Penn State: He started Penn State's final six games at safety after Ryan Keiser got hurt, and the Nittany Lions' defense didn't miss a beat. He was third on the team in tackles with 52.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The effusive Brazilian with the strong leg went 17-for-20 on field goals, including 2-of-3 from beyond 50 yards.

P: Daniel Pasquariello, Penn State: His 37.7-yards per punt average was nothing to write home about -- except the Australian probably does write home a lot. He improved down the stretch to solidify the Nittany Lions' punt team.

Returner: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: He was third in the FBS in punt-return average (17.8) and scored three touchdowns, including a memorable one in the comeback win at Iowa.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
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The Big Ten unveiled its official all-league teams last week, but we have our own thoughts and choices. Here is the ESPN.com All-Big Ten team for 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.

RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.

WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.

OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.

OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.

C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.

G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.

G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.

DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.

DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.

LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.

LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.

DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.

DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."

DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.

Specialists

K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.

P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt

PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.

All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.

Big Ten morning links

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
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Wisconsin survived its first full day since way back in 2012 without a head coach, though the search to replace Gary Andersen -- set to to be introduced Friday at Oregon State -- appears set end quickly.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported Thursday night that the school is prepared to hire Pitt coach Paul Chryst, a former UW quarterback and offensive coordinator.

It’s a delicate situation, of course, for the Badgers, the uprooted assistant coaches and their families -- not to be taken lightly. But perhaps the most interesting byproduct of Andersen’s unexpected departure is the news that Barry Alvarez will coach Wisconsin in its bowl game. Again.

Alvarez, the 67-year-old athletic director and Hall of Fame former coach of 16 years in Madison, led the Badgers in the 2013 Rose Bowl, a six-point loss to Stanford, after Bret Bielema bolted to Arkansas.

Alvarez ought to just coach the Badgers in every bowl game. In fact, other legends should follow suit and rejoin their former programs on the sideline in the postseason. Surely, the NCAA would allow a special 10th coach. If not, just make them interns.

Let’s bring back Bobby Bowden, Lou Holtz, Mack Brown (too soon?), Don Nehlen, Lavell Edwards, Hayden Fry, Barry Switzer and, if Indiana can get to six wins, Bill Mallory.

Yes, I’m joking. Slightly more serious about this, though: Nebraska has an opening on its staff for the Holiday Bowl. How about Tom Osborne? If Alvarez can go from the College Football Playoff selection committee to the sideline, why not Osborne?

Yeah, he’s 77, served three stints in Congress, lost a gubernatorial primary in Nebraska -- did that really happen? -- and spent five years as athletic director since coaching his last game, a resounding win over Peyton Manning and Tennessee in the 1998 Orange Bowl.

But Osborne has perhaps never watched more college football than in this season. He must have some ideas on how the Huskers could surprise USC. One more fumblerooski up his sleeve.

What an experience it would be for Barney Cotton, long loyal to Nebraska, to have the ex-coach at his side. Cotton played under Osborne from 1975-78, then sent his three sons to Nebraska. It could also be a meaningful sendoff for Ron Brown, the Nebraska running backs coach who worked alongside Osborne in the legendary coach’s final 11 seasons.

Might help a bit with ticket sales, too, and inject a little spice into a game that means a great deal to several Huskers who want to honor their former coach, Bo Pelini, but realistically, little to the forward movement of the program.

Alvarez played linebacker for Bob Devaney on Nebraska teams of the 1960s that included Osborne as an offensive assistant. If Barry can do it, so can Tom.

Alas, it’s unrealistic. Osborne would likely never thrust himself into the spotlight in such a way. But just let me dream.

Thursday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida...

Lots of hardware

What a night on the Disney Boardwalk at the College Football Awards Show. The Big Ten had a good showing, as Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff won the Outland Trophy, presented to the nation's top interior lineman; Maryland's Brad Craddock took home the Lou Groza Award as the top place-kicker; and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon beat finalists Tevin Coleman of Indiana and Ameer Abdullah of Nebraska for the Doak Walker Award, given to the best running back.

Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright won the Bednarik Award, given to the best defensive player. Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was among the finalists.

Also, Nebraska wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp won a vote for college football's play of the year for his behind-the-back catch in the season opener.

Around the league:

West Division
  • As expected, Gordon plans to leave after this season for the NFL.
  • Some confusion exists over Iowa's starting quarterback for the TaxSlayer Bowl.
  • A meeting with Missouri in the Citrus Bowl is a "big step" for Minnesota, according to coach Jerry Kill.
  • One of Purdue's recent football brings a French flavor, by way of a California junior college.
  • Northwestern needs to make changes, writes Teddy Greenstein, but will it happen?
  • The competition continues at Illinois during bowl practices.
East Division
  • Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have already met once in a playoff. They sat side by side Thursday and recalled the 2009 SEC championship game.
  • No surprise that Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess did not meet his own expectations this year.
  • The explanation of playoff committee chair Jeff Long on Mississippi State's final-week jump over Michigan State does not erase flaws in the process, writes Graham Couch.
  • Indiana lands UAB receiver Marqui Hawkins but misses a juco QB target.
  • Freshman quarterback Michael O'Connor is leaving Penn State.
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall, in San Francisco on Thursday, to discuss the Terps' matchup with Stanford, says receiver Stefon Diggs will play in the Foster Farms Bowl.
  • The salary pool for Rutgers' assistant coaches ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

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