B1G players in Top 100: Part IV

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
3:00
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ESPN.com has taken on the herculean task of ranking the top 100 players in college football entering the 2014 season. These are based on expected contributions for the 2014 season, regardless of position.

The list is being released in 20-player increments, and today we reach players ranked Nos. 40-31 and 30-21. Three Big Ten players appeared in this group, and here they are:

No. 34: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
No. 23: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa
No. 21: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska

There can't be too much controversy with these picks -- maybe I would have moved one or two guys up a handful of spots, but that is it -- as this trio deservedly punched their ticket to the top 40.

They are all proven commodities who have shown they are among the best in the Big Ten. Abdullah finished second in the conference with 130 rushing yards per game, Bosa played even better than his 7.5 sacks indicated, and Scherff has catapulted up some analysts’ draft boards as the projected No. 1 overall pick in 2015. Sure, Bosa is the only guy who didn’t earn a spot on the All-Big Ten team last season -- but he was also a true freshman who started 10 games and led his team in quarterback hurries. He was named a freshman All-American by several publications.

Scherff acknowledged this week that he needs to improve on his pass-blocking, and that might be part of the reason he is not ranked in the top 15. (One scouting report said his "occasional missteps in pass-protection can be corrected with more experience.") It’s not that he is below-average in that department -- far from it -- but it’s clear he is best at, and prefers, the run game. “If a team can run the ball, why pass?” he asked Monday. That being said, I’m still big on Scherff. And if we had this same poll at the end of the season, I think Scherff would be the most likely out of these three to move up. He is easily the best offensive lineman in the conference, and more eyes should be on him this season after an incredible weightlifting video that went viral.

As for Abdullah, his spot might spark the most debate of these three. Some might prefer him to Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, but it’s pretty difficult to separate those two. I mean, there is not exactly a giant gulf between the player who rushed for 1,690 yards last season (Abdullah) and the one who rushed for 1,609 (Gordon). I’m fine with our panel picking Gordon over Abdullah, although some might feel differently.

So, overall, I think the rankings here are pretty solid. Nothing can ever be perfect when it comes to player rankings, and the accompanying opinions, but I think this segment is pretty darn close. The real controversy comes with the top 20 on Friday ...

Coaches pick Florida State as No. 1

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
1:54
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The Florida State Seminoles aren't going anywhere, as the defending national champions are the No. 1 team in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, which was released Thursday.

FSU, led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, got 56 of the 62 first-place votes.

"We're very excited about being No. 1 and happy to be No. 1, but we understand that we have to play like No. 1 and play great football," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher told USA Today. "That's going to be our objective. We're proud to start there and now we just have to go play great football."

Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn, which lost to FSU in the final BCS title game last season, round out the top five. Ohio State starts at No. 6, and is followed by UCLA, Michigan State, South Carolina and Baylor.

Overall, the SEC leads the way with seven teams in the poll. The Pac-12 is represented by six teams, and the Big 12 and Big Ten each have four teams in the poll.


(Read full post)


B1G lands four in Coaches Poll

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
1:15
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Both divisions of the Big Ten are equally represented in the coaches' preseason poll, but count the voters among those expecting the East to be the stronger division.

In the first edition of the Coaches Poll, released Thursday, Ohio State and Michigan State led the way for the Big Ten and gave the league two representatives in the top 10. The No. 6 Buckeyes were the only team in the conference to receive a first-place vote, which helped push them somewhat comfortably ahead of the No. 8 Spartans in terms of voting points.

Leading the charge for the Big Ten West was Wisconsin, which perhaps was somewhat of a surprise as it checked in at No. 14 to open the season. The Badgers have some questions to answer heading into August, but the coaches unofficially backed them as the pick to win a wide-open division race ahead of No. 22 Nebraska.

Those were the only four Big Ten programs to sneak into the first poll, though Michigan and Iowa were knocking on the door and both Minnesota and Northwestern received votes.

The poll doesn't have much all that much value beyond getting a general sense of how the coaches see the race playing out this fall, as the poll doesn't factor into playoff selection. Heading into the season, a Big Ten squad wouldn't be among the four teams to play for the national championship, based on these rankings. Based on the numbers, the voters put the league on equal footing with the Big 12 with four programs in the initial Top 25, trailing both the Pac-12 (six) and the pace-setting SEC (seven).

Video: Urban Meyer on Miller, expectations

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
11:30
AM ET
video Ohio State coach Urban Meyer discusses his expectations for the upcoming season and QB Braxton Miller's progress after having surgery.

Top Big Ten players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
9:00
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This week, we're counting down the Top 25 players in the Big Ten. Our reporting crew voted to select the list based on past performance and future potential.

The countdown started on Monday with the first five players, then climbed up to No. 16 on Tuesday before we reached No. 11 Wednesday. Next up is Nos. 6 through 10.

10. Connor Cook, QB, Michigan State Spartans: It took the Spartans a few weeks last season to settle on a starter, but there are certainly no doubts anymore. All Cook did was toss 23 touchdowns to seven interceptions while leading MSU to a conference title and a Rose Bowl victory. The question mark on the Spartans was always the offense, but Cook helped replace that with an exclamation mark and has gained a reputation as one of the Big Ten’s best as a result.

9. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State Buckeyes: Say hello to a big reason the Buckeyes boasted one of the top 10 run defenses in the country last season. The 288-pound lineman is the anchor and leader of this line, and he should be in for another solid season. He had 11.5 stops in the backfield last season and had his hand in five fumbles (three forced, two recovered). His burst should give opposing interior linemen a lot of problems in 2014.

8. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State: He’s only a sophomore, but he’s already in the preseason conversation as the B1G’s defensive player of the year. He started 10 games last season, played like at a veteran at points and improved as the season wore on. Bosa ended 2013 by recording a tackle for loss in his last six games. It’s scary to think where he might be in another two years.

7. Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State Nittany Lions: NFL Draft: Will Hackenberg go No. 1 in 2016? That was a headline from The Sporting News back in February and for good reason -- Hackenberg appears to be the Nittany Lions’ best pocket passer since Kerry Collins, who was taken in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft. He can make all the throws, upset 25-point favorite Wisconsin last season and should be even better this season. The only question is whether his patchwork offensive line and inexperienced receivers will be able to keep up.

6. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State: He’s the best defensive player on the best defense in the Big Ten, and maybe one of the top defenses in the country. He makes plays at key moments -- his three defensive TDs last season tied a school record that was set 67 years ago -- and his efforts were rewarded by being named Big Ten defensive player of the year. He’s an All-American talent and one of the best the B1G has to offer.
For all those people fretting that a playoff in college football would somehow water down the regular season, I offer up the blockbuster weekend of Sept. 3. 2016.

Yes, it’s still a couple of years away and we’re supposed to be focusing on what’s right in front of us. But, geez, that Saturday to open the 2016 season could very well provide the most attractive lineup of nonconference games on one day that we’ve ever seen.

For that, at least in large part, we all have the College Football Playoff to thank.

Some of the matchups were already set or in the process of being set. But the real impetus in beefing up all these nonconference schedules was that a playoff was coming.

And, now, with a selection committee holding the keys to those coveted four playoff spots, we’re going to be in store for some terrific nonconference showdowns in the regular season for years to come. Simply, teams that don’t play and win those types of games are going to be on the outside looking in, which makes the regular season as important as ever.

My only knock on that weekend to kick off the 2016 season is that there are too many good games. I want to watch them all.

We’ve all been clamoring for an Alabama-USCmatchup. Well, we’re finally going to get it in Arlington, Texas to open that season.

And if you like your football Southern style, Clemson at Auburn has a nice ring to it. Lewis Grizzard, the late Southern humorist, once said that Clemson was Auburn with a lake. In a lot of ways, they’re virtual clones of each other right down to their break-neck style of offense. Even more enticing, this is a home-and-home series with Auburn traveling to Clemson the next year.

There won’t be a more unique game that weekend than LSU facing Wisconsin in historic Lambeau Field. Perhaps we’ll get to see Les Miles perform the “Lambeau Leap” if the Tigers win.

Have the remote control ready because we also get UCLA at Texas A&M, Notre Dame at Texas and BYU Cougars at Arizona (in Glendale, Ariz.).

That’s just the first weekend, too.

A week later, Tennessee and Virginia Tech will “trade paint” at Bristol Motor Speedway. And two weeks later, Ohio State travels to Oklahoma and Oregon visits Nebraska.

So much for opening the college football season with a tune-up … or two.
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Chris Spielman and Brian Griese discuss the players ranked 41-60 in ESPN.com's top 100 college football players.
There’s more good news for Ohio State and more bad news for Purdue, as Bovada released its newest odds for the Big Ten title race.

Unsurprisingly, the Buckeyes are the favorite as an $11 bet will net you just $10 profit. But for a confident Boilermakers fan? Well, a $1 bet will get you $300 if they come away with the championship. Purdue’s really not getting much respect here, as newcomers Rutgers (200/1) and Maryland (100/1) both boast the better odds to win the conference.

Penn State is sitting out these odds on account of its postseason ban, but there are definitely some interesting numbers here. And, hey, we want to keep those numbers interesting – so we also decided to match up each team’s bookmaker odds for some off-the-wall odds that are relatively similar.

Obviously, sports odds are a little different from regular odds, but we wanted to have some fun comparing and contrasting with this. So, without further ado, here are Bovada’s odds complemented with comparable real-life numbers:

Purdue 300/1 – The odds of dating a millionaire (1 in 225)

Rutgers 200/1 – The odds of being audited by the IRS (1 in 175)

Illinois 200/1 - Sportsbook odds that Uruguay's Luis Suarez would bite someone at the World Cup (175/1 - and it paid out!)

Indiana 100/1 – Odds of being on a plane with a drunken pilot (117 to 1)

Maryland 100/1 – Odds of being a twin in North America (1 in 90)

Minnesota 66/1 – Odds you’re in jail if you’re an American (1 in 50)

Northwestern 40/1 – Odds of rolling “snake eyes” in a game of craps (1 in 36)

Iowa 14/1 –Odds that you’re colorblind if you’re a man (1 in 12)

Michigan 9/1 – Odds that you have a tattoo (1 in 7)

Nebraska 11/2 – Odds that you’re obese if you live in Colorado (1 in 5)

Wisconsin 9/2 – Sportsbook odds that Denver Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno would cry at Super Bowl 48 (8/2)

Michigan State 15/4 – Odds you work at a job where you never get a paid day off (4 in 16)

Ohio State 10/11 – Odds you flip a quarter and it lands on heads (1 in 2)
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ESPN.com has taken on the herculean task of ranking the top 100 players in college football entering the 2014 season. These are based on expected contributions for the 2014 season, regardless of position.

The list is being released in 20-player increments, and today we reach players ranked Nos. 60-41. Five Big Ten players can be found in this group, and here they are:

No. 44: Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
No. 46: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
No. 48: Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland
No. 51: Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State
No. 56: Jeremy Langford, RB, Michigan State

Obviously, there are some very good and quite possibly underrated names in this batch.

All Langford did was run for more than 1,400 yards and a Big Ten-best 18 touchdowns last season. There aren't many more productive running backs in the country than him, although the league is stacked at tailback going into 2014.

Spence is an interesting case. He finished second in the Big Ten with eight sacks a season ago as a first-year starter and is a big time pass-rusher. But he also will miss the first two games of the season because of a suspension. That might hurt his numbers a bit, but he can still make his presence known.

Diggs may make this ranking look silly if he can stay healthy all season. He was in line for a monster year as a sophomore before an injury cut his 2013 short. He could contend for the Biletnikoff Award if he remains on the field for 13 games.

The final two players in this group are also supreme talents. Hackenberg was magnificent as a true freshman and has an unlimited ceiling. He will be adjusting to a new coaching staff and life without Allen Robinson, though, so this could be a transition year. Bennett, meanwhile, has already been projected by some as a first-round NFL draft pick next year. He's quicker and more athletic than many defensive tackles and is a leader on Ohio State's defense.

Diggs, Hackenberg and Bennett all have cases to be ranked much higher than this. If there are 40 players better than those three in the country, we're in for a treat this college football season.
video Josh Sweat, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, has lined up all five of his official visits. Sweat said he turned down more than 50 scholarship offers to focus on Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State, Oregon and Virginia Tech. He also said Texas A&M and Auburn are also still under consideration.

Video: Michigan State handling success

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
12:45
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Michigan State Spartans coach Mark Dantonio talks about the rivalry with Michigan, the play of quarterback Connor Cook last season and making up for the loss of talent and leadership on defense.
  • After winning the Big Ten Championship and the Rose Bowl, you would think the Spartans would get a little respect. However, Ohio State is the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten. ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg spoke to some Spartans about the lack of respect.

Big Ten lunch links

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
12:00
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Big Ten media days are over. So much information to digest.

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College Football Player Rankings: 21-40
Chris Spielman and Brian Griese discuss the players ranked 21-40 in ESPN.com's top 100 college football players.
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