Big Ten morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
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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:
Four prospects received immediate invitations to The Opening following last year’s Los Angeles Nike Football Training Camp, though several more from the event eventually found their way to the preeminent summer showcase. This year, The Opening Los Angeles Regional will again feature many of the top prospects in the West region, as several position groups will be loaded and several states will showcase their top recruits, who are looking forward to going toe-to-toe with California’s best. Here are five things to watch heading into Sunday’s event.

video

National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree offers bold predictions for the 2016 recruiting classes in the coming months.

Jim Harbaugh a happy man after Twitter shout-out from Judge Judy

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
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Jim Harbaugh's much-ballyhooed return to Twitter since becoming Michigan's head coach has not disappointed. Of all the quirky and enthusiastic tweets so far, though, his latest two might be our favorites.

It started Tuesday, when Harbaugh gave public congrats to a woman he has admired for years.

That's right -- Judge Judy, the TV judge who has built a financial empire (she reportedly makes about $47 million a year) since her reality courtroom show began in 1996. Judith Sheindlin has many fans, but perhaps none bigger than Harbaugh, who waxed poetic about the judge during the 2013 NFL combine.

"Trust is big to me. I'm a big fan of the Judge Judy show. When you lie in Judge Judy's courtroom, it's over. Your credibility is completely lost and you stand no chance of winning that case. I learned that from her. It's very powerful. And true. If somebody lies to you, how can you trust anything they say after that?"


He said this with a straight face and was absolutely sincere. How do we know this? He went to see it for himself, attending one of the Judge Judy's tapings with his father back in the summer of 2013.

So you can imagine how thrilled Harbaugh was when he heard back from Judge Judy this week. How thrilled? We'll let him tell you.


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Junior days are underway, and the spring evaluation period is quickly approaching. While a number of programs are off to a fast start and in need of keeping impressive commitments in the fold, there also are programs in need of creating momentum and battling archrivals on the trail this spring and headed into the summer.

Here is a look at 10 programs that need a big spring, for various reasons (listed alphabetically):

Florida
The Gators saved the 2015 class in the days leading up to national signing day creating some momentum heading into the spring and summer. The time to capitalize is now for Jim McElwain and staff, and Florida simply must continue to gain steam with archrival Florida State swinging a big recruiting stick in state, and Miami on a run headed into the spring evaluation period. Florida currently has three verbals, all outside the ESPN Junior 300.


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Big Ten morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
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It’s the middle of another cold, snowy, football-less week in Big Ten country. We’ll do our best to put a smile on your face anyway with today’s edition of the morning links.

1. College football fans have come up with countless ways to process the agony of a tough season. Iowa fans have been more creative than most, going so far as to develop their own mythical deity to explain their misfortune. They’ve raised the bar again.

Two frustrated Hawkeyes, one of whom happens to tour with REO Speedwagon now and then, vented this week about a 7-6 record through the magic of Broadway musicals. They discovered that Kirt Ferentz’s healthy salary worked out to be $571,400 per win in 2014, which lends itself nicely to a familiar classic born in the mid-1990s. Be warned: This version is even more likely to be stuck in your head than the original.

Of all the ways to express anger over young men playing a game below a fanbase’s standards -- from poisoning trees to horrible social media mentions and death threats, this has to be among the most enjoyable. Kudos to @actioncookbook and @TimStop24 for a job well done.

And in other soon-to-be viral and entertaining Internet news this week, it appears Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh has struck up a Twitter friendship with daytime television’s Judge Judy. Harbaugh, a self-described devoted fan, congratulated her honor on signing a contract extension earlier this week. On Wednesday, Judge Judy responded.
2. One of the ugliest scenes of the most recent bowl season may end up helping Mike Riley get off to a good start at Nebraska.

The Cornhuskers open the 2015 season by hosting BYU, a team that ended its appearance in the Miami Bowl in a sucker-punch brawl with Memphis. The game, a back-and-forth thriller, quickly deteriorated after BYU failed to score in its second possession of overtime. Cougars coach Bronco Mendenhall promised his players that were involved would be disciplined, and it looks like that could come in the week leading up to this year’ season opener.

The details of what type of punishment Mendenhall has in mind for roughly 10 of his players isn’t clear. They may miss game time or preparation time in the week leading up to the game. It’s a necessary move by BYU, and an unexpected benefit for Nebraska, who will likely still be working out some kinks under its new coaching staff in early September.

3. USA Today published its Big Ten spring preview Wednesday, which started with a nod to the team that everybody in the conference will be chasing for the foreseeable future. Urban Meyer was expected to change Ohio State for the better when he arrived three-plus years ago. But it wasn’t clear then how much of an impact, as the article points out, he would have on the entire conference. The Big Ten’s momentum from a 6-5 bowl record is spilling into the spring. The conference heavyweights have all done their best to keep pace with the Buckeyes. The quality of the league is on the rise, and as much as any fan outside of Ohio will hate to admit it, a lot of credit is due to Meyer and his staff for that change.

Now, onto the links...

Redshirting is not a popular term among the nation's top football prospects, but a quick look at the recent Heisman Trophy winners shows the importance of that extra year of development. The list below may not include the next Jameis Winston or Johnny Manziel, but we feel these players, once prominent recruits in the 2014 class, are in position to make big debuts in the 2015 college football season.

1. Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) -- A youth movement is going to be underway on the perimeter for Alabama this fall and while 2014 classmate Tony Brown saw some time last year, Humphrey will be joining the fray in 2015. Humphrey fits the physical dimensions coach Nick Saban wants at corner. The former five-star is big, can run and is savvy when it comes to playing different schemes.


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The opening of spring practice around the Big Ten brings competition to each of the league’s 14 programs. Departing top players and the maturation of others lead to fights for practice reps that will help shape depth charts and summer conversation topics.

At Ohio State, the nation’s most prominent position battle looks set to be waged at quarterback upon the return from injury of Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. This spring, the spotlight belongs to Cardale Jones.

So which position battles require close attention over the next few weeks?

Michigan quarterbacks: It’s wide-open, with junior Shane Morris, redshirt freshman Wilton Speight and true freshman Alex Malzone auditioning for Jim Harbaugh and coordinator Tim Drevno. Speight owns a size advantage. Morris has played in parts of the past two seasons, but was ineffective in place of Devin Gardner. The spring serves only as an appetizer in this race, which figures to extend to August, when freshman Zach Gentry joins the fun.

Minnesota running backs: David Cobb meant so much to the Gophers over the past two seasons as they rolled to 16 wins. Minnesota likely can’t replace his production with one back, though redshirt freshman Jeff Jones -- a homegrown, elite recruit from the Class of 2013 -- looks physically equipped to give it a shot. Senior Rodrick Williams Jr. (who showed flashes late in the year), sophomore Berkley Edwards and redshirt freshman Rodney Smith will likely also factor in the battle for the top job.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Beathard
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsJunior C.J. Beathard is in a battle with senior Jake Rudock to quarterback the Hawkeyes.
Iowa quarterbacks: Junior C.J. Beathard dodged rumors of a transfer in December and senior Jake Rudock did the same recently. Both remain in Iowa City, ready to resume the battle that ended in a bowl defeat against Tennessee with Beathard in charge of the offense. Soon after, the Hawkeyes placed him atop the depth chart. But any edge over Rudock, a 25-game starter over the past two seasons, is small and could disappear quickly this spring.

Ohio State cornerbacks: Opposite Eli Apple, the Buckeyes must replace Doran Grant. It’s no easy task, considering Grant’s value to the Ohio State defense during its national title run. But sophomores Gareon Conley and Damon Webb look up to the task. Conley played considerably more last season after a redshirt year that followed his arrival in Columbus as the No. 1 prospect in Ohio in 2013. Webb, the top prospect out of Michigan a year later, figures to make a jump after limited action last year.

Penn State offensive tackles: The urgency here outweighs the options, and the Nittany Lions have plenty of candidates to replace Donovan Smith, gone early to the NFL. Andrew Nelson started as a freshman at right tackle and may take over on the left side. Opposite Nelson, the race is on, with redshirt freshmen Noah Beh, Brendan Brosnan, Chance Sorrell and Chasz Wright set to enter the mix. Newcomer Paris Palmer, a junior, may be the man to beat, though. True freshman Sterling Jenkins joined the program in January.

Purdue quarterbacks: Juniors Austin Appleby and Danny Etling bring considerable starting experience into the spring. Redshirt freshman David Blough, who came to Purdue with credentials equally as impressive as the other two, has yet to take a collegiate snap. But for the Boilermakers, who’ve won just one Big Ten game behind the elder quarterbacks over the past two seasons, it’s all hands on deck.

Nebraska I-backs: This is a legitimate four-man race to replace three-time 1,000-yard rusher Ameer Abdullah. Senior Imani Cross has the size and experience, with 22 career touchdowns. Junior Terrell Newby is a quicker option with skills perhaps well suited to Mike Riley’s offense. Sophomore Adam Taylor offers an impressive mix of power and speed but missed last season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Mikale Wilbon showed promise last year in scout-team duty.

Michigan safeties: The Wolverines have a lot back at safety, including surefire starter Jarrod Wilson. But competition for the other spot may grow fierce between the likes of senior Jeremy Clark and juniors Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Most intriguing, Jabrill Peppers, after injuries shortened his much-hyped true freshman season, has taken spring snaps at safety. Michigan coaches continue to audition defensive backs, so it may take much of the spring to sort out who is vying for specific spots.

Rutgers running backs: If healthy, rising senior Paul James has earned the top spot. But James needed knee surgery last fall and has battled other injuries. He’s out this spring, leaving a glut of young backs to fight for time. Sophomore Robert Martin finished last season on a strong note, but not as well as classmate Josh Hicks, who gashed North Carolina for 202 yards in the Quick Lane Bowl. Juniors Justin Goodwin and Desmon Peoples, who led the Scarlet Knights in rushing last season, add flavor to this competition.

Northwestern quarterbacks: Senior Zack Oliver is the man with the most experience as the Wildcats prepare to replace Trevor Siemian. But Oliver’s late-season turnover trouble helped open this race up for sophomore Matt Alviti and redshirt freshman Clayton Thorson. Each of the three brings a different set of skills, so a decision would help simplify matters as the season nears.
video

National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to break down five college coaches primed for a productive spring on the recruiting trail.

Big Ten morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
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Cost-of-attendance stipends were one of the first major reforms Power 5 conferences pushed through the NCAA as a result of autonomy. Pretty much everybody agreed that closing the gap between what a scholarship pays for and the actual cost of going to a university -- including things like living expenses -- was a smart way to give some assistance to players.

But like so many other issues in college sports, those stipends may also carry unintended consequences. Because the amount each school offers can be very different, some people are afraid it will become a recruiting incentive.

PennLive.com's David Jones covered this situation well on Tuesday. Based on current cost-of-attendance data, as determined by university financial aid departments, Penn State will offer the highest cost-of-attendance stipend in the Big Ten when it goes into effect next school year, at $4,788 per year per athlete. The next highest would be Wisconsin at $4,265.

Compare that to Michigan State, which would offer $1,872 per year, or Michigan at $2,054. OK, you might say, that's only a difference of about $2,000 or $3,000, so why would a recruit choose a school based on that? But add that figure up over the four or five years of a player's career, and you're talking about a difference of maybe $15,000. That's not exactly peanuts.

Some coaches are worried about how this is all going to play out.

"To me, it's going to get into being like free agency in college," Maryland coach Randy Edsall told me on signing day. "What we've heard is that some schools might have a cost of attendance of up to $6,000. Now, will kids opt to go where they can get more money? Have we opened up a can of worms, where now it becomes, 'How much money can I get at this school, compared to the other one?'"

The stipends haven't gone into effect yet and are still so new that it's hard to say for sure what will happen. But Penn State's James Franklin, who looks for every edge he can find in recruiting, has said he would use cost of attendance as a selling point.

"I know people were already selling that this year," Edsall said. "It's going to be bigger as we move forward."

The disparity in the stipend amounts isn't going to change, because those numbers are based on individual schools' tuition costs and other factors. Power 5 conference leaders have always known that the figures would vary from program to program.

But were they actually ready for this measure -- however well-intentioned -- to become a recruiting tool? We'll probably find out the first time a team loses a player who chose to go with a rival because of its higher stipend. Just another reminder that almost every change in college sports leads to another issue.

Around the league ...
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Jim Harbaugh's heroics at Michigan apparently stretch beyond the football field.

Harbaugh and one of the football program's support staffers stopped to help a pair of women who had been in a car crash on the interstate Tuesday afternoon.

A university spokesman confirmed that the Wolverines' head coach and football operations director Jim Minick provided first aid and offered their coats to the women as they waited for law enforcement to arrive shortly before 3 p.m.

The police report said the car flipped multiple times while rolling over the median on I-94 before coming to a stop in a snow embankment. No other vehicles were involved in the crash. The 53-year-old driver was partially ejected from the car through the driver's side window. She and her 73-year-old passenger were both wearing seat belts and had "non-life-threatening injuries." They were transported to a local hospital via ambulance.

Harbaugh and Minick were on their way to the airport when they saw the car and stopped to help. Michigan started its spring practice Feb. 23 but will not practice this week during the university's spring break.


(Read full post)


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While a good portion of the country is buried in snow, spring football is underway. Adam Rittenberg looks at some of the top position battles heading in to spring practice.

A telltale sign of spring practice is a depth chart filled with ORs.

Coaches preach year-round competition, but it's a theme that resonates strongest during the 15 practices each spring. It's the first chapter of a team's story, and position battles often form subplots for the coming season.

Not every position will be settled by the end of the spring. Some of the nation's most intriguing spots, like the quarterback positions for national champion Ohio State and runner-up Oregon, likely won't be decided until preseason camp because of lingering injuries (Braxton Miller, J.T. Barrett) or impending arrivals (Vernon Adams). But the spring provides clues about which players can take the OR away and cement themselves into key roles.

As teams continue to begin spring ball, here are 12 position competitions to track around the country (in alphabetical order). Not surprisingly, the list is quarterback heavy but features a few other spots of intrigue.


(Read full post)


Naples High has enjoyed tremendous success under head coach Bill Kramer. With two state titles and numerous deep playoff runs, the Southwest Florida 6A power has become a must stop for college coaches having produced a number of national recruited prospects over the past decade.

In the 2016 class, there are a trio of prospects who rank among the best in the area, state and country.

Fils-aime hot on the trail despite injury in 2014

Headed into the 2014 season, ESPNJr300 running back Carlin Fils-aime was a name known to college coaches, and had a handful of offers. After injuring his ankle in Game 4 caused him to miss the rest of the season, the quick and powerful back was unsure what would come of his recruitment.

That question was answered in February with offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida.

"After I got injured, I didn’t really expect to get any more offers," Said Fils-aime. "When those schools offered me I was pretty shocked because of my injury."

The Gators are one of several schools the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder plans to visit in the coming weeks.

"For now, we are trying to go up to Florida during spring break, but if not will get up there in the summer. We also want to visit Georgia, North Carolina, N.C. State if we can this summer. I’ll probably fly up to Ohio State, too. I was just at Miami, and had a great time. I was impressed with how they rotated their backs in practice, and the basketball game against North Carolina was fun."

If there is one program yet to offer that could be a game-changer in the physical back's recruitment, it would be Stanford.

"I’m a big Stanford fan. I have always liked them because they have a great law program, and if football doesn’t work out for me, I want to go into law. That is one of the schools that I do love."

Naples High head coach Bill Kramer has had some really good backs through the years, including former Ohio State star Carlos Hyde. In Fils-aime, Kramer has a talented athlete who brings a lunch-pail mentality.

"I love his competitive DNA," Said Kramer. "He works in the classroom, and is already qualified. He’s a guy that you can count on, and it matters to him every day. Our defensive players say hitting him is like hitting a light pole. He’s can make plays in really small spaces, understands leverage, and is really explosive."

Byrd one of the nation's best

The Miami Hurricanes' 2016 class is the best in the nation in the early going. One of the 10 ESPNJr 300 verbals is former Florida pledge Tyler Byrd. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound versatile prospect is blessed with rare talent according to Kramer.

"I think he’s a Top 50 wide receiver and Top 10 corner. He’s really strong physically, he’s almost 6-feet even, you are not going to outleap him, and if he gets his hands on you, you are negated. He’ll do something about every day that is just spectacular."

Though Byrd is solid with his commitment to the Hurricanes due to the love that Al Golden and staff showed throughout the entire process, programs such as Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and others remain under consideration. On Monday, Byrd said he planned to make all five of his official visits.

Riley the best on defense at Naples High

While Fils-aime and Byrd are names known both regionally and nationally on the recruiting radar, Naples High is home to one of the top sleepers in the Sunshine State in safety Chris Riley.

According to Kramer, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound talented all-around athlete is the team's best defensive player, which is saying something considering Byrd is on that same unit.

"Our best defensive player, and that’s saying something because we have some really good players. He was Southwest Florida Defensive Player of the Year for good reason. He has tremendous length, he’s physical, knows all of his run fits, and is a great tackler. We can’t count how many one-on-one tackles he’s made in space against really good players. He can also cover man, is terrific in zone, and understands how it all works and fits together."

Riley is receiving interest from North Carolina, Boston College, and a growing list of others.

"I’ve heard from North Carolina, Boston College, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Harvard and Yale," Said Riley. "North Carolina and Boston College are two I really want [offers]."

Riley had 103 tackles and two interceptions as a junior, taking home area Defensive Player of the Year honors, as well as being an all-area punter. Riley’s father, Chris Riley, played quarterback at Connecticut.

Defensive tackle Colton Strickland and kicker Jerry Nunez are also expected to receive offers in the 2016 class.

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Bold Predictions For Spring Recruiting
National recruiting reporter Jeremy Crabtree offers bold predictions for the 2016 recruiting classes in the coming months.
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