2. One of the more interesting college football experiments of 2015 will take place at UNLV, which hired local high school coach Tony Sanchez to take over the beleaguered Rebels. Sanchez won six state titles at Bishop Gorman High in Vegas. But the staff he unveiled Monday makes it clear Sanchez isn't walking onto campus acting as if he has all the answers. Coordinators Barney Cotton (offense) and Kent Baer (defense) have a combined 62 seasons as college coaches. Gorman has a good staff. Let's see if UNLV follows through on its pledge to bring an outdated program into modern times.
3. Bowl games are all about perspective. Twice in recent years we've seen Alabama go into the Sugar Bowl flat because of a devastating loss that preceded it. Yet we see Penn State overjoyed to play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl after the NCAA halved the Nittany Lions' four-year bowl ban. Penn State players that thought they would never have the opportunity to play a postseason game will be in Yankee Stadium on Saturday to play Boston College. "A lot of the guys on the team have been looking forward to a bowl game for a long time," defensive end C.J. Olaniyan said.
On what he called the toughest afternoon of his career -- Aug. 4, 2012, nearly two weeks after the announcement of unprecedented sanctions against Penn State – Hull spent an hour alone by his locker before gathering the resolve to knock on then-coach Bill O’Brien’s door. "Coach," Hull told him. "I’m not going to stay.”
Less than 24 hours later, a day before camp started, he reconsidered.
It was a decision that led to one of the more unique careers in Penn State history, one that spanned a total of five head coaches (two interim, three full time) and one where expectations ranged from a program “as good as dead” in 2012 to a possible Big Ten championship in 2014.
It was a decision that gave PSU a boost for the last three seasons and was responsible -- in part -- for Penn State’s top-ranked rushing defense this season. It’d be difficult to envision that ranking without Hull’s 134 tackles, a full 70 stops more than PSU’s next-leading tackler, a performance that earned Hull the title of Big Ten Linebacker of the Year.
“He’s the undisputed leader and the heart and soul, not just of this defensive unit but the entire team,” defensive coordinator Bob Shoop said. “If there’s one guy on defense we couldn’t lose this year, it was him. … If we would’ve lost Mike, it would’ve been a disaster.”
Said former Penn State linebacker and teammate Michael Mauti: “I’m sure he would deflect that sort of praise, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to say they would have made a bowl without him. There are maybe five guys who hung around, defensively, that really kept them in games.”
The Nittany Lions’ defensive MVP was nearly a coin-flip from choosing a different path, an easier road paved with more playing time at Pitt. But he still knew, upon reaffirming his commitment, this wasn’t the Penn State he signed up for.
As a high-schooler, when he plastered PSU posters over his bedroom – with mantras like “All In!” and “Fight On!” – he didn’t dream about playing with fewer scholarships. His mind used to wander between learning from Joe Paterno and playing under longtime assistant Tom Bradley; he never thought he’d play through four defensive coordinators. He expected stability, not the most topsy-turvy time in the Nittany Lions’ 128-year history.
Truthfully, Hull said, if someone told him in high school all that awaited in Happy Valley -- the postseason ban, the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal, the number of different schemes and playbooks -- he likely would’ve played elsewhere. Maybe as a linebacker at Pitt or a running back at Stanford. But he stifled a laugh when asked if he ever regretted his decision to remain at Penn State.
“No, no, not at all,” he said, leaning back on a couch in the players’ lounge. “No one would ever want to walk into that situation, but you’re in it. You want to make the best of it. And it’s been as good of a time and a career as I could’ve hoped for -- despite the circumstances.”
“Hull wasn’t always so sure, though. No one was. When fans and reporters called to him during a morning pep rally in July 2012, asking aloud if Hull planned to transfer, the linebacker in shorts and a T-shirt simply shot back: “I’m here now.”
If there's one guy on defense we couldn't lose this year, it was him. ... If we would've lost Mike, it would've been a disaster.” -- PSU defensive coordinator Bob Shoop
He and his father, Tom, who also played under JoePa, didn’t know his next move. They had driven 35 minutes from their hometown of Canonsburg - past suburban parks and the high-rises of Pittsburgh -- to speak with then-Panthers coach Paul Chryst and assistant Bobby Engram. Hull’s mind raced even more after the visit: Pitt’s move to the ACC is good, but the stadium is off-campus and isn’t filled. More playing time is a positive, but I’ll also have to rebuild my reputation. I don’t know really know anyone here and I don’t know the campus, but the facility is OK.
Playing time was the primary selling point, so when Hull met with O’Brien the head man asked Ted Roof, the defensive coordinator at the time, to explain how he planned to use Hull. He wouldn’t start, of course, but he would play. He would be a spark plug of sorts; he would be the No. 4 ‘backer.
After the meeting, Mauti remembered pleading with Hull not to leave: “I was like, ‘Mike, I know it doesn’t seem like it right now. But you’re going to play. We’re going to need you.’ I knew he was going to have his opportunity, and I knew he was going to knock it out of the park.”
Hull didn't need to hear much else. The rest is Penn State history. Thanks in part to Hull – and the decision he made 28 months ago – Penn State has survived, and the program is as stable as it has been since he arrived. The scholarships are back, the postseason ban is over, and the Nittany Lions are trending upward. It might not be the Penn State that Hull expected, but it’s still the one he calls home. It's still the one he's glad he never left.
“In the end I realized that staying isn’t just about me. It’s not about just one player, it’s about a whole program,” Hull said. “It’s about the place I love and always wanted to play for growing up. We stuck together; we brought the best out in each other.
“We helped keep this program alive, and that means a lot to us.”
Our final question of the week: What was your favorite Big Ten moment of the season?
Brian Bennett: Take a bow, Melvin
Josh Moyer: Penn State fans celebrating the end of the postseason ban
It wasn’t the most important Big Ten moment of the 2014 season, but it’s still one I’ve never quite seen before – and probably never will again. After the NCAA announced the elimination of the bowl ban, along with other sanction reductions, PSU fans spilled into the streets of downtown Happy Valley and celebrated as if they just knocked off the top team in the nation. Two years of anger and frustration gave way to unbridled joy. Thousands sprinted to different venues on campus and just chanted, screamed and sang. Some even crowd-surfed on mattresses at the last stop. I’ve seen big fan celebrations before, but never for something that happened off the field. It was quite a sight.
Mitch Sherman: Mark Dantonio's answer to the Michigan disrespect
The seeds were planted long before Oct. 25, but when Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden drove a stake into the turf at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State reached its boiling point. It's rare that we get to see the reserved Dantonio stick out his chest, but the Spartans punctuated a 35-11 win over U-M with a Jeremy Langford touchdown run in the final 30 seconds. That was a message in response not just to the pregame stake-planting but years of disrespect. "I felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said after the game, also referencing the "little brother stuff" that has long brewed in this series. It was a great subplot, of which Michigan coach Brady Hoke, fittingly, was "not fully aware."
Austin Ward: Anthony Schlegel's takedown of a fan on the field
Leaving the stands and running on the field is pointless, dumb and dangerous right from the start. In case anybody had overlooked that last part, Ohio State assistant and former linebacker Anthony Schlegel offered a reminder that would have made The Rock proud. After a student had the bright idea to step on the turf at the Horseshoe during a September game against Cincinnati, he compounded it by getting a bit too close to the Ohio State sideline, where Schlegel popped out to plant him in the ground with an unforgettable body slam. The lesson, as always, is to stay in the seats.
Dan Murphy: Michigan-Ohio State moment of sportsmanship
Maybe it's all this Christmas music that has me feeling sappy, but the moment that keeps coming to mind (other than Melvin Gordon's insane performance against Nebraska) was shortly after J.T. Barrett's season-ending injury against the Wolverines. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner made his way on to the field and offered some support to Barrett, who was still laid out on his back as trainers worked on his leg. At that point, it was the fourth quarter of a one-touchdown game between bitter rivals with a lot on the line -- a potential playoff berth for the Buckeyes and a last-ditch effort to save their coaching staff for the Wolverines. One of the worst moments of the year (Barrett's injury) was quickly followed by a great one. The quarterback's show of genuine solidarity was a reminder that these guys are human beings. Gardner fell short of expectations on the field this season, but it's far more appropriate that college football's lasting image of him will be that moment of sympathy.
Adam Rittenberg: Bust a move, Coach Kill
I'm tempted to go with Gordon in the snow against Nebraska, especially since I was there to witness history, but Jerry Kill gets my vote for his "old age" dance moves after Minnesota wins. Minnesota's rise under Kill has been one of the best Big Ten story lines in the past two seasons. Many wondered early in 2013 if Kill's coaching days soon would end because of his struggle with epilepsy, particularly seizures on game day. But the coach has his condition under control and continues to show why he's one of the best at getting the most out of his teams. You couldn't help but smile seeing Kill enjoy the wins by dancing in the locker room, surrounded by his joyous players. Those moments never get old.
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has lost a legal battle to restore his $4,900-a-month pension, a benefit that was canceled two years ago after he was sentenced for child molestation.
The State Employees' Retirement Board's 122-page opinion, made public Friday, determined Sandusky remained a Penn State employee after his announced retirement in 1999, meaning his abuse of children fell under a 2004 state law that added sexual offenses against students to the crimes that trigger forfeiture.
Sandusky attorney Chuck Benjamin said he planned to file a challenge to the decision in court.
"All I can say at this point is we're looking forward to litigating the revocation of the pension in court," Benjamin said. "That's the next step of this process. We've exhausted our administrative remedies, and now we'll be filing papers within the next 30 days in court."
The decision went against the recommendation in June by a hearing examiner who said Sandusky had already retired by the time the Pension Forfeiture Act was expanded. Six sex crimes against two children met standards of the forfeiture law, the board said.
"He knew that his pension was conditioned on not performing certain conduct," the opinion said. "He elected to engage in that conduct."
The board said Sandusky, through his former charity the Second Mile, continued to work in an outreach capacity for Penn State after 2004, appearing at golf tournaments that university alumni, boosters and athletics officials attended.
Sandusky, 70, is serving a decades-long sentence and appears likely to die in prison. His wife, Dottie, would have been in line to continue collecting 50 percent of his pension upon his death, but the opinion also denied her survivorship benefits.
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl
Why Illinois will win: There has been a noticeable change in the Illini down the stretch, and Tim Beckman’s players appeared to have fully bought in to his message as they fought back to qualify for a bowl game. Across the board, this looks like the most favorable matchup for any Big Ten team, and with a motivated team playing its best football when it mattered most, expect Illinois to come away with a trophy. Illinois 31, Louisiana Tech 24. -- Austin Ward
Why Louisiana Tech will win: I suppose I should believe more in Illinois after it finished the season strong, and Louisiana Tech has some bad losses on its schedule (Northwestern State and Old Dominion … oy). But I still have a wait-and-see attitude with this Illini defense, and the one thing the Bulldogs can do is score points. They averaged 37.5 points per game this season, and I think they'll win a shootout against a group of players not accustomed to the bowl stage. Louisiana Tech 38, Illinois 35. -- Brian Bennett
Quick Lane Bowl
Why Rutgers will win: Rutgers has already played four of the nation's top 10 defenses and a half-dozen of the top 25 rushing attacks. So, even with dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, North Carolina isn'’t going to throw anything at Rutgers it hasn’t already seen. The Tar Heels have one of the worst defenses in the country -- only 10 have allowed more yards -- so Rutgers shouldn’t have a problem scoring. The issue here is Rutgers' defense, but, again, Rutgers has fared OK there against middle-of-the-road teams, and that's exactly what UNC is.
Rutgers 38, North Carolina 31. -- Josh Moyer
New Era Pinstripe Bowl
Why Boston College will win: It's fitting this bowl is played in Yankee Stadium because the final score might look like it belongs to a baseball game. Both teams have top-five rushing defenses and middling offensive production. Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy, a former Florida Gator who transferred before this season, has been the X factor this season that helped BC beat USC and stick within a field goal of Florida State. Murphy does most of his damage on the ground, and that plays in Penn State's favor. But if he can break one or two big plays, that should be enough for a close win. Boston College 10, Penn State 6. -- Dan Murphy
Why Penn State will win: Let’s be honest: The Nittany Lions offense is lousy, and the special teams (outside of Sam Ficken) are almost just as bad. But I'm going with Penn State for the same reason it made a bowl game in the first place: defense. Only four teams in the FBS threw for fewer yards than Boston College, and no team defended the run better than Penn State. That works right into the strengths of defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. Plus, the Nittany Lions will be motivated in their first bowl appearance since 2011. Underestimate this team at your own peril; it ended the plast two seasons with even bigger upsets.
Penn State 16, Boston College 13. -- Josh Moyer
National University Holiday Bowl
Why USC will win: Because the Trojans have more offensive firepower than any team to face Nebraska this season -- and the Huskers have surrendered 475 yards per game to Miami, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota. USC, with quarterback Cody Kessler, running back Buck Allen and receiver Nelson Agholor, will torment a Nebraska team that might feel a bit lost without deposed coach Bo Pelini. The Huskers, organizationally, figure to struggle after a tumultuous month. They're stuck in turmoil as USC looks to build off a strong finish to the regular season in a win over Notre Dame. USC 38, Nebraska 24. -- Mitch Sherman
Foster Farms Bowl
Why Stanford will win: This is a virtual home game for the Cardinal in nearby Santa Clara, California, while the Terrapins have to travel all the way across the country. Stanford struggled earlier in the season but seemed to find its footing late, beating UCLA by 21 points in the regular-season finale. Maryland has been unpredictable most of the season and has enough big-play ability to pull off an upset. But it's a tall order. Stanford 24, Maryland 17. -- Brian Bennett
Why Wisconsin will win: It's been a topsy-turvy three weeks for the Badgers, between losing 59-0 in the Big Ten title game and then losing their head coach, but this group isn't one to just lie down, and I can't envision Melvin Gordon taking it easy in the last game of his college career. How you view this game is basically a reflection of how you view that Big Ten championship -- and I see that as an anomaly. It won't happen again against Auburn. I still think Wisconsin has a great defense. I still think this offensive line can overpower Auburn. And I still think these players want to win one for Barry Alvarez. Auburn has an average defense and a great offense, but the Badgers win a close one in the end. Wisconsin 31, Auburn 28. -- Josh Moyer
Why Auburn will win: You can bet Auburn coach Gus Malzahn watched the Big Ten championship game with a big smile on his face. Ohio State had its way with Wisconsin's supposedly elite defense despite using a quarterback making his first career start with only one week to prepare. Auburn has as much, or more, offensive talent and speed as Ohio State, and it has a veteran quarterback in Nick Marshall. The Tigers' shaky defense could struggle with Gordon, Wisconsin's All-America running back, but it should be able to outscore the Badgers. Wisconsin can't match up with Sammie Coates in the back end and could struggle with Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne on the perimeter. Auburn 35, Wisconsin 24. -- Adam Rittenberg
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic
Why Michigan State will win: The fearsome Spartans defense has already allowed more than 40 points twice this season. There's a decent chance it will happen a third time against Baylor, the country's No. 1 offense, but Michigan State is no slouch on offense, either, and should be able to keep pace. While Baylor uses a breakneck tempo to get its advantage, the Spartans rely more on their instinct to grind opponents down. If Michigan State can control the pace of the game and get a couple of stops, it should be able to avoid falling to 0-3 against top-10 opponents this season. Michigan State 45, Baylor 42. -- Dan Murphy
Why Baylor will win: Michigan State faced two ranked teams this season and lost both games in unflattering fashion. Oregon and Ohio State hung 46 and 49 points, respectively, on the Spartans as Michigan State's offense just couldn't keep up. The problem for Mark Dantonio's squad? Baylor’s offense is even better. The Bears are ranked No. 1 in the country in scoring and yards, so the "No-Fly Zone" could have as much a hard time stopping Bryce Petty as it did Marcus Mariota. The Spartans are a good team, but I just don't like this matchup for them. MSU starts off strong but Baylor pulls away in the second half.
Baylor 45, Michigan State 35. -- Josh Moyer
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
Why Minnesota will win: The SEC East champions were already given fits by a Big Ten team, and Indiana won only a single conference game after knocking off Missouri on the road. Minnesota, with its power rushing attack, aggressive defense and solid leadership from the coaching staff, was better than the Hoosiers in virtually every way this season. Plus, it will be fired up to end the season on a high note with a fan base excited for the destination. The Gophers claim more hardware here. Minnesota 27, Missouri 20. -- Austin Ward
Why Missouri will win: All the Gophers have to do is follow Indiana's game plan from the Hoosiers' 31-27 upset in Columbia, Missouri, back in September, right? It might not be that easy. While the Tigers benefited from playing in the terrible SEC East, Missouri did improve as the season went along and has a strong rush defense that allowed just 3.5 yards per carry. That means Mitch Leidner will likely have to make some plays -- and avoid the fierce pass rush of Shane Ray. Minnesota has an excellent shot here, but I like Missouri in a close one.
Missouri 27, Minnesota 24. -- Brian Bennett
Why Tennessee will win: Bowl games are often about motivation and momentum, and Tennessee trumps Iowa in both areas. The Vols are that incredibly young, talented team that should benefit more than most from bowl practices and the chance to punctuate this season before a 2015 campaign that will carry much higher expectations. Iowa has a good track record in bowls but comes in on a down note after a very disappointing regular season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs sparked Tennessee down the stretch and should give Iowa's defense trouble. Tennessee's defense should pressure Iowa's quarterbacks into mistakes.
Tennessee 24, Iowa 17. -- Adam Rittenberg
Allstate Sugar Bowl
Why Ohio State will win: Urban Meyer doesn't need to call on his psychological tricks for an underdog team all that often, though the Ohio State coach did already have a couple occasions to do so this year. Look at what happened to Michigan State and Wisconsin when the Buckeyes felt slighted and Meyer pushed their buttons to bring out their best. Certainly, No. 1 Alabama is the ultimate test and is favored for a reason, but Ohio State has the personnel to match up with the SEC champions, and the Buckeyes have one more chance to shock everyone in what has been already been a stunning season. Ohio State 31, Alabama 30. -- Austin Ward
Why Alabama will win: Have you watched the Crimson Tide? They have the best talent nationally and possibly the best coaching. Ohio State is not too bad itself, with a young and fast-improving stable under Meyer, but Alabama is several steps ahead and tested against a daunting schedule in the SEC West. If it boils down to playmakers, the Buckeyes will be at a disadvantage for the first time this season -- perhaps a big disadvantage. Ohio State simply can't match Blake Sims, Amari Cooper and the Bama backs with a third-string quarterback in Cardale Jones and weapons elsewhere whose athleticism won't surprise the Alabama defense.
Alabama 31, Ohio State 17. -- Mitch Sherman
1. Austin Ward: 88-25 (.779)
T-2. Brian Bennett: 85-28 (.752)
T-2. Mitch Sherman: 85-28 (.752)
4. Dan Murphy: 57-19 (.750)
5. Adam Rittenberg: 83-30 (.735)
6. Josh Moyer: 82-31 (.726)
“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:
- Speculation continues to swirl around Michigan and Jim Harbaugh, who wasn't biting at questions Thursday.
- A look back at how the union saga at Northwestern has impacted the sports landscape in 2014.
- An Indiana football recruit wants to play basketball in Bloomington, too.
- Ex-Purdue coach Danny Hope is reportedly set to join the coaching staff at South Florida.
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- A judge is delaying a trial on the legality of the NCAA's consent decree that punished Penn State for its handling of sex abuse complaints about former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey on Thursday said the case brought by Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman and state Treasurer Rob McCord will begin Feb. 17. It had been scheduled for Jan. 6.
The judge says she needs more time to resolve disagreements about which documents the NCAA must produce. She's also requiring the NCAA to give her the documents under seal so she can determine if Corman and McCord should get them.
Corman and McCord sued to enforce a state law requiring the consent decree's $60 million fine benefit Pennsylvania only.
Sandusky was convicted but denies molesting boys.
The Boston College wide receiver was born in State College, Pennsylvania, and grew up a huge Penn State fan. He said his father, Scott, had a government job in town and would take him to Nittany Lions games regularly, with little Josh tagging along in one of those "little kid backpacks."
"I just remember when everyone gets up and starts jumping, the whole stadium feels like it's going to collapse," Bordner said with a laugh. "They definitely take pride in their football there."
Bordner said he had not played the position since he was a sophomore at Century High — his family moved to Sykesville, Maryland, before high school — but he was eager to have an opportunity to get on the field in his final season.
The numbers followed, as Bordner's 26 catches, 342 receiving yards and three touchdown grabs all led or tied for the team lead in the regular season. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Bordner's biggest attribute, however, might have come in the run game — more specifically, blocking for Murphy and the rest of a BC rushing attack that put up 251.83 yards per game, good for 14th in the country.
Those efforts did not go unnoticed, as Bordner was rewarded Sunday as the recipient of the Scanlan Award, the program's highest honor, which goes to the senior who was outstanding in scholarship, leadership and athletic ability.
"Every Sunday morning we’d come in and watch highlights of the big plays from Saturday’s game and most often it’s highlighting Josh making a huge block down the field," center and fellow captain Andy Gallik said. "He’s always making big cuts down field and making wider lanes for Tyler and the running backs. He’s always making blocks and doing whatever he can to get his blockers down. It helped us tremendously.
"He was the hands-down, clear favorite to win that award. When I think of the Scanlan Award, I think of Josh Bordner. There’s nobody that should have won that besides him.”
Bordner will run into one more familiar face next Saturday when he sees coach James Franklin roaming the Penn State sideline. Franklin had recruited Bordner when the coach was an assistant at Maryland, with Bordner recalling an hour-long meeting in which he loved Franklin's enthusiasm.
Bordner said he had two cousins attend Penn State and still has a handful of friends and family members in town. He joked that the bowl game will mark the first time any of them find themselves rooting against the Lions, even if this is a long time coming for a Penn State program that was banned from bowls the previous two seasons in light of NCAA sanctions.
"I'm definitely really excited," Bordner said. "It's going to be a sold-out, packed crowd. It's going to be one of the top-viewed bowl games. I'm looking forward to going out there and playing against a team I grew up loving. They're definitely a good team. They have a great defense, so we're really looking forward to getting out there and playing."
Overview: No team’s expectations might’ve fluctuated more than the Nittany Lions. They opened with four straight victories -- Christian Hackenberg led two game-winning, fourth-quarter drives -- and fans openly wondered about Big Ten title possibilities. At that early point, Hackenberg was on pace to set a Big Ten record in passing and the defense looked like the best in the conference. Only one of those trends would continue, however. Once opponents had some film on the Nittany Lions' offense, those lofty expectations came crashing down. The offensive line was routinely dominated by the opposition, and PSU couldn’t scheme around that glaring weakness. Only six FBS teams allowed more sacks, and only four allowed more tackles for loss. Hackenberg struggled as a result, as the Lions ended the regular season on a 2-6 run. If it wasn’t for the nation’s No. 2 total defense, that record would’ve been even worse. PSU didn’t score 20 points in regulation against a Big Ten team, and its two “trademark” wins -- UCF and Rutgers -- came within the first three weeks of the season.
Offensive MVP: WR DaeSean Hamilton. He was literally the lone consistent bright spot on this offense. He set the school freshman records for both receptions (75) and receiving yards (848), and he was named to the All-B1G second-team. He led the entire conference in receptions and was fifth in receiving yards -- not too shabby for a redshirt freshman who missed all of last season with a wrist injury.
Defensive MVP: LB Mike Hull. As a veteran leader of this defense, a lot was put on his shoulders this season -- but he more than rose to the occasion. He was the heart and soul of the nation’s top rushing defense, as he recorded more than twice as many tackles as the next-best PSU player. Hull boasted a conference-leading 134 stops, while Nyeem Wartman had 64 to place second on the Nittany Lions. He was also named the Big Ten linebacker of the year and was one of the conference’s best defensive players. Maybe the only defender to have a better season was Ohio State's Joey Bosa.
The Wisconsin Way: Continuity should be back at Wisconsin, and the program made it clear that it won’t be compromising anything it proudly stands for to keep it. By sticking inside the family on Wednesday and officially bringing Paul Chryst back home, the Badgers have somebody who knows exactly what the job entails and a coach who almost certainly won’t be making a lateral move at any point in the future. Maybe the Badgers will start spending more money on assistants down the road, so there’s some flexibility there in regards to an issue that turned off Bret Bielema. But in terms of knowing the kind of recruits it can expect to land and clearly laying out the academic requirements moving forward, not to mention bringing in an existing relationship with the university and the boss, Chryst couldn’t be any better suited to provide stability for Wisconsin after a rough stretch of losing Bielema and then Gary Andersen after two short years.
Down to one: Wisconsin moving quickly leaves only Michigan active on the job market, and while there’s no telling when that search will end, it is effectively the only one that still has a chance of connecting on a true home-run hire. No offense to Chryst or new Nebraska coach Mike Riley, because those were smart, sensible hires that made perfect sense for each program -- but they certainly don’t qualify as splashy or scream that championships are on the way. If Les Miles is definitively out of the picture, it really seems as though Jim Harbaugh is going to have to come through for the Wolverines once his commitments to San Francisco are over at the end of the NFL season. And it seems like Michigan is fully committed to doing whatever it takes to deliver him. Maybe there’s another huge name secretly looming out there for Michigan, but if there was, wouldn’t there have been some indication of that by now? The Big Ten is down to one job, and there really only seems to be one guy who should claim it.
Coordinator corner: Just below those headline vacancies leading Big Ten programs, the chance to replace Tom Herman as Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator will be up there as a highly-coveted position this offseason as the coaching carousel spins. The odds are strong that Ed Warinner will receive something of a promotion from his co-coordinator duties and take on more responsibility as a play-caller, though he was already somewhat active in that regard in his current role. Warinner not only deserves a raise for the incredible job he’s done with the Ohio State offensive line, he has earned more credit than he currently receives for that work, which is perhaps why he hasn’t landed an opportunity to lead his own program yet despite a couple interviews over the last two years. The Buckeyes are actually fortunate that they don’t have to replace both Herman and Warinner simultaneously, but either way there will be no shortage of candidates lining up for the shot to potentially work with J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones and Braxton Miller at quarterback.
- Michigan State isn't begging for the playoff field to expand, even though it would have qualified for an eight-team format.
- Another Dave Brandon hire is heading out the door at Michigan.
- Where might Koa Farmer wind up playing for Penn State defensively in the future?
- Tickets are selling well for the Quick Lane Bowl, though a donation program might be boosting the numbers for Rutgers.
- Stefon Diggs has not made a decision yet about his senior season with Maryland.
- Once a touted recruit, Kyle Dodson's career with Ohio State is over due to a neck injury.
- Sorting through the highs and lows at Indiana.
- Wisconsin revealed its horribly-kept secret.
- Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams has entered his name with the NFL's college advisory committee to get feedback on his status for the 2015 draft.
- Bo Pelini napalmed the bridges when he left Nebraska.
- Purdue will have four mid-year enrollees joining the program.
- Who would be on Northwestern's football Mount Rushmore?
- Houston Bates is getting an unexpected reunion with Illinois in the postseason.
- Iowa and Kirk Ferentz are going to be under the microscope in 2015.
1. Today's the day when Wisconsin can make its reunion with Paul Chryst official. Chryst told his players at Pittsburgh that he planned to meet with the Badger brass. His move might leave room for another domino to fall among Big Ten coaches. The chain reaction that started with Bo Pelini's firing at Nebraska could wind up affecting Michigan State as well. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is one of many potential candidates that make sense for the opening at Pitt. Narduzzi danced around questions about his contact with other schools this week. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio knows it's a matter of time before he loses the talented coordinator, and this might finally be the year.
2. At least Dantonio knows he won't be losing his quarterback this offseason. Redshirt junior Connor Cook said he would return for his final year of eligibility in 2015. Cook said he has “unfinished business” to attend to at the college level. The 6-foot-4 Cook won't have star receiver Tony Lippett to help him fill out his résumé next fall, but he could be helping his draft stock by sticking around. Heisman winners Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston would likely have been selected before Cook in this year's draft. Next year's class is a little less daunting.
3. The Associated Press released its All-America teams Tuesday and 14 Big Ten players were mentioned on the top three units. Four players -- Melvin Gordon, Tevin Coleman, Brandon Scherff and Joey Bosa -- made the first team. There are always tough calls and offended feelings when trying to narrow down a pool of thousands of players to the very best at each position, but the Big Ten shouldn't feel slighted by any of the picks this season. It would be a tough sell to say any others were undeservedly left off the list.
Now, on to the links…
- Offensive coordinator Tom Herman will stay at Ohio State for the playoffs before taking over as Houston's new head coach.
- Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis says bowl teams are hurt by an antiquated system for distributing ticket allotments.
- Rutgers receiver Andrew Turzilli, a fifth-year transfer from Kansas, is looking forward to his first college bowl experience.
- In a postseason full of Big Ten underdogs, none is fighting the odds as much as Maryland against Stanford.
- Coachless Michigan lost its first player to a transfer this offseason on Tuesday, a redshirt freshman linebacker.
- Penn State defensive coordinator Bob Shoop has attracted a lot of attention in coaching circles during his first year with the Nittany Lions.
- The Big Ten Network reached way back in time to fill its Mt. Rushmore of Indiana football.
- Madison prepared to welcome its native son Paul Chryst with a slideshow of his past connections to the town and university.
- The Gophers are feeling the love as they prep for Minnesota's first New Year's Day bowl in a half century.
- Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini landed a job in his hometown at Youngstown State.
- Iowa is having trouble selling tickets to its eighth Florida bowl game in the last 13 years.
- Former Illinois linebacker Houston Bates, now at Louisiana Tech, will get a chance to end his career against his former teammates.
- Freshman linebacker Ja'Whan Bentley has a bright future in the middle of the Purdue defense.
Here is a look at the latest news on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.
1. Ohio State OC Tom Herman a good fit for Houston: He's currently in negotiations with Houston to be its next head coach, according to The Associated Press. And, if the Cougars sign him in the end, they're getting a good one. He worked a lot of magic with Ohio State's quarterback situation, and Houston could use a little of that after sophomore John O'Korn took a step back and lost his job after a terrific freshman campaign. Herman would have two young quarterbacks to work with -- O'Korn and Greg Ward Jr. -- and he'd inherit a talented team that simply underperformed this season. Herman has proven enough; he's undoubtedly ready to move up the ranks. Ohio State fans should be sad to see him go but, at the age of 39, you knew he couldn't stay around forever. As the winner of the Broyles Award, which goes to the nation's top assistant, he was just too talented stay a coordinator much longer.
2. Indiana one of two leading schools for UAB running back: In case you need to catch up here, UAB running back Jordan Howard is looking for a new home after his program folded. And he's quite the coveted sophomore, considering he's No. 7 nationally with 1,587 rushing yards. As ESPN.com's Jeremy Crabtree reported, Howard has Indiana and Notre Dame leading the way right now. He visited both schools, has no other visits planned and wants to decide where to transfer within about the next three weeks. In other words, it sure looks as if Howard is down to the Irish and the Hoosiers.
It's a bit of a surprise the Alabama native is looking to move up North, but it could work out well for Indiana. Tevin Coleman is expected to declare early for the NFL draft, and the Hoosiers are looking for a replacement. Playing time is something IU could offer, and it doesn't hurt that UAB wideout Marqui Hawkins already chose Indiana. Plus, as Howard told me a little over a week ago, he has some family in the Fort Wayne, Indina, area. If IU can reel him in, he would instantly become one of the most intriguing Big Ten running backs of the 2015 season. He's definitely a player you should be keeping an eye on.
3. $12 million worth of football building renovations at Penn State: OK, so $12 million isn't nearly as much of a head-turner as Maryland's $155 million facility. But we're talking about strictly football here, and $8 million is dedicated to just “branding and graphic upgrades.” As StateCollege.com reported, one of the plans is to integrate video, sound and lighting to “create a ‘Wow' factor in all areas of the building.” Among the renovations? An “experience room,” which is supposed to immerse recruits into a digital, first-person view of game day. Digital locker room name plates are among the suggested concepts, as this renovation is trying to take PSU more into the 21st century. The funds aren't as much as other B1G schools' recent renovations, but PSU doesn't need to alter as much, either. The facilities are already pretty good.
- Les Miles says Michigan hasn't contacted him about the coaching job.
- The departure of offensive coordinator Tom Herman won't derail Ohio State, writes The Columbus Dispatch's Rob Oller.
- Five quick talking points on Michigan State, from Baylor fans buying up MSU's Cotton Bowl tickets to the next career move for defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi.
- Maryland wideout Stefon Diggs was one of the first big names to sign with Randy Edsall, and he tweeted Monday about the “hometown” movement.
- Rutgers freshman CB Dre Boggs has played in nine games already this season, but he has higher expectations for himself.
- Paul Chryst, who's poised to succeed Gary Andersen at Wisconsin, declined to say Monday that he'll remain with Pitt.
- New Nebraska coach Mike Riley said he intends to keep at least one of Bo Pelini's assistant coaches.
- Comparing Iowa's recruiting classes to those of its bowl opponent, Tennessee.
- Minnesota saw a slight jump in attendance this season.
- Illinois received two commitments on Monday, an athlete/cornerback and a tight end.
ESPN Films Presents: Nixon's National Champs - Nixon vs. Paterno
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State