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The final 20 is out in the ESPN.com’s weeklong #CFBrank project that charts the top 100 players in college football, based on expected contributions for 2014.

The Big Ten earned a respectable four entries among the top 20:

No. 20: Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
No. 5 (tie): Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
No. 5 (tie): Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
No. 4: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

Let’s start at the top here. Calhoun is a great player, no doubt. But a clear difference of opinion exists between our national group of writers and editors and the five of us who cover the Big Ten. In the Big Ten-specific ratings, we slotted Calhoun at No. 6.

Calhoun made a huge splash to open his sophomore season a year ago by scoring three touchdowns in the Spartans' two opening games against Western Michigan and South Florida. From there, he was good -- dominant at times -- but surely, Calhoun benefited from the lock-down ability of cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Trae Waynes. A Big Ten coordinator told us last season that his team schemed to run at Calhoun and feared Marcus Rush more than fellow end Calhoun.

No argument with Miller or Gordon among the top five nationally. Miller finished atop the Big Ten survey after winning the league's offensive player of the year award each of the past two seasons. Gordon led the nation in per-carry rushing average last season and in 2012.

Interestingly, the Big Ten writers rated Nebraska back Ameer Abdullah ahead of his friend Gordon. Abdullah finished 21st in the national rankings.

No. 20 is a good spot for Gregory. The Nebraska defensive end has much room to grow after his first season at the FBS level. His moments of dominance as a sophomore tease at a season this fall that could earn Gregory a spot higher on a list like this in a few months.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 1, 2014
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Smell that? Camp is in the air.
  • Michigan believed it had a future star during training camp last August, but then wide receiver Amara Darboh was lost to injury. The Wolverines are counting on him to get back to the level he was at a year ago.
  • A detailed look at reasons Penn State can rise to contention in the East Division.
  • Not surprisingly, Oregon and a "statement game" aren't far from the minds of Michigan State as it reports for practice.
  • Drug charges were dismissed as former Ohio State defensive lineman Tracy Sprinkle pleaded no contest to an amended charge of attempted failure to comply with a police order. His status with the Buckeyes hasn't been reevaluated by Urban Meyer.
  • Steered by sports, Nebraska safety Corey Cooper stays on the right path to success.
  • Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson is motivated heading into camp and "sick and tired of being 1-11."
  • Converted linebacker Alec James provides a perfect example of what Wisconsin is trying to build on the defensive line.
  • Gary Nova isn't officially the starting quarterback at Rutgers yet, but he's likely to be the pick and his relationship with offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen could be crucial if the program is going to surprise in the Big Ten.
  • Iowa was left out of the preseason top 25 by the coaches. Might that be a good thing for the Hawkeyes?
  • There's little doubt Minnesota can run the football. Will the passing attack move up from last in the Big Ten this fall?

Roundtable: B1G Top 25 players list

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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Earlier today, we wrapped up our countdown of the Big Ten's Top 25 players entering the 2014 season. Not surprisingly, Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller topped the list as he aims for a third consecutive Big Ten offensive player of the year award.

Miller was a fairly easy choice at No. 1, but we debated several other players and where they should end up.

It's roundtable time, and our Big Ten reporter crew is set to break down the Top 25.

Which player did you struggle with the most to rank?

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsDevin Gardner's inconsistent play forced him down the Big Ten's top 25 players list.
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner. He can be really, really good, as we saw last season in games like Notre Dame, Ohio Sate and Indiana. But he also has some moments -- or even entire games -- that leave you scratching your head. He actually didn't appear in my Top 25 because of concerns about his consistency, Michigan's depth at receiver and a struggling offensive line. I can live with him at No. 22 and could certainly see him rise up, but you just don't know what you're going to get week to week.

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I properly ranked (or in some cases didn't rank) the Maryland Terrapins and Rutgers Scarlet Knights. It's tough because we haven't watched them that closely, while we know the ins and outs of players who competed in the Big Ten the past couple of years. I'm sure Stefon Diggs belongs, and Andre Monroe probably does, too. What about Tyler Kroft or Paul James or Darius Hamilton or Steve Longa or Deon Long? We'll know more about these guys' bona fides after they spend a year in the league.

Mitch Sherman: Venric Mark posed some problems for me. Coming back from a broken ankle that ruined his 2013 season, the Northwestern Wildcats running back is something of a forgotten man, especially amid an outstanding group of league backs. But Mark rushed for nearly 1,400 yards in 2012 and would have likely earned a spot higher than I gave him -- No. 16; 15th in the composite vote -- a year ago.

Which player(s) do you see making the biggest moves up the list for the postseason rankings?

Austin Ward: Now that he's the last one standing with the Indiana Hoosiers, quarterback Nate Sudfeld won't have to worry about sharing snaps or practice reps, and his numbers could skyrocket in that high-octane offense. Fairly or unfairly, though, if the defense doesn't lend a bigger hand to help earn Sudfeld some credit as a winner, he might not be able to climb all that much higher than No. 23.

Rittenberg: Two defensive players suiting up in the Mitten State jump out in Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (No. 20) and Michigan State Spartans cornerback Trae Waynes (No. 19). Ryan showed in 2012 just how good he can be when healthy, recording four forced fumbles and 16 tackles for loss. Coaches around the Big Ten love Waynes, who steps into the top cover corner role with Darqueze Dennard departing. I also love Tevin Coleman's potential and could see the Indiana running back in our postseason top 10.

[+] EnlargeNate Sudfeld
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerNate Sudfeld's stock should rise as he leads Indiana's offense this season.
Bennett: I admittedly like Gardner the most and ranked him higher than everyone else. Yes, he forces things at times. But he's also incredibly tough, and he got zero help from the running game last season. If Doug Nussmeier can improve the ground game and patch together a decent offensive line, Gardner could finish as a top 10 player.

What does the Top 25 say about certain positions in the league?

Sherman: We probably overvalue quarterbacks. It's the most important position in football, yes, but I doubt five actually rate among the league’s top 23 players. Interestingly, with the quarterbacks and five running backs, we've still got just 13 offensive players in the top 25. Clearly, it's a strong year for Big Ten defensive ends. By December, at least one of those pass-rushers will belong among the league’s best four players.

Bennett: Defensive end is stacked. Nebraska Cornhuskers' Randy Gregory, MSU's Shilique Calhoun and Ohio State's Joey Bosa are studs, and the Minnesota Golden Gophers' Theiren Cockran and Ohio State's Noah Spence are also special. Also, where are all the offensive linemen in a league known for them? Other than Brandon Scherff, star tackles, guards and centers are MIA.

Ward: Playing quarterback might not be all that fun this season. Ohio State's defensive line might be among the best in the nation, but that's not the only team that will be able to generate a ferocious pass rush. There are seven defensive linemen listed in the preseason top 25, and there could easily have been a few more.

Who were the biggest snubs, either in ranking or those who didn't even make the Top 25?

Sherman: I'll go with two guys who didn't make the list -- Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell, on track to rewrite the school records at his position, and Rutgers' Longa, who collected 123 tackles as a redshirt freshman last year. If Longa played at an established league school, he would have made the Top 25. I voted Bell at No. 23, by the way, and Longa at No. 24.

Rittenberg: I ranked Illinois running back Josh Ferguson in my list and would have liked to see him in the group. He's incredibly versatile -- 50 receptions last season -- and explosive with the ball in his hands. I really like Waynes and think Minnesota defensive end Theiren Cockran could have been higher than No. 21.

Ward: Calling Doran Grant a snub might be a stretch coming off a season with three interceptions for Ohio State’s anemic pass defense, but I think the senior’s talent is overlooked and he’s primed for a breakout in the new system co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has installed. Playing more aggressively with bump-and-run coverage suits Grant’s athleticism, and by the end of the year, I expect he'll be recognized among the Big Ten's best.

Bennett: Indiana receiver Shane Wynn scored more touchdowns than any other Big Ten player last season, and now he's the top option in the Hoosiers' high-octane passing attack. Fellow players pointed to Wynn as one of the league's best playmakers during media days, yet he didn't get his due here.

Top Big Ten players: Nos. 5-1

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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All week, we've been revealing our rankings of the Top 25 players in the Big Ten for 2014.

Now comes the moment you've been waiting for: the best of the best. Here are the top five players as we see them, based on past performance and potential for this season and as voted on by our crew of Big Ten reporters:

5. Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Beast. That's the first word that comes to mind when you watch Gregory. He can match anyone in the country athletically, and he's got a motor that runs all day. Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks with 10.5 last season, and what's most impressive about that is that it was his first season of major college football. The potential for even greater things is there in 2014.

No. 4: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin Badgers
Few players cause you to hold your breath when they touch the ball more than the Badgers' junior tailback. He gobbles up turf with his long strides, and when he turns the corner on a defense, he's gone in a flash. Gordon averaged a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry last season, and he could easily lead the nation in rushing in 2014.

No. 3: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa Hawkeyes
Is there a stronger player in the Big Ten, or college football? After watching this, that seems doubtful. But Scherff, who played quarterback in high school, is more than just a hulk of muscles. He's nimble and physical, making him one of the best offensive tackles anywhere and the anchor of Iowa's plan of attack.

No. 2: Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Abdullah led the Big Ten in total rushing yards last season and has the most career 100-yard games among FBS players with 17. His 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame belies the toughness with which he runs, and he's also got the speed to blow by people. He's the heart and soul of Nebraska and one of the fiercest competitors around.

No. 1: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State Buckeyes
Who else? Miller is the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year who will try to make it three straight as a senior. There are holes to pick in his game -- he's not a pinpoint passer, he gets banged up a bit too much -- but he almost always finds a way to get the job done, especially in the clutch. The belt belongs to him until someone else snatches it.
The Big Ten coach "Car Wash" at ESPN is all over, but before leaving Bristol, Connecticut, each league coach sat down with colleague Ivan Maisel for the ESPNU College Football Podcast.

Check out all the interviews: Part I and Part II. Listen

Part I includes: Purdue's Darrell Hazell (1:42 mark), Penn State's James Franklin (11:59 mark), Rutgers' Kyle Flood (19:59 mark), Minnesota's Jerry Kill (31:30 mark), Michigan State's Mark Dantonio (42:49 mark), Wisconsin's Gary Andersen (52:18 mark) and Illinois' Tim Beckman (1:03:09 mark).

Part II includes: Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald (2:46 mark), Maryland's Randy Edsall (13:22 mark), Michigan's Brady Hoke (24:19 mark), Indiana's Kevin Wilson (36:31 mark), Ohio State's Urban Meyer (49:22 mark), Nebraska's Bo Pelini (1:03:07 mark) and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (1:15:05 mark).

Some really good stuff here, and a great way to get caught up on all the Big Ten teams before the season kicks off in about four weeks.

B1G players in Top 100: Part IV

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 lineman 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.

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#CFBRank: Braxton Miller
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