NCF Nation: Michigan Wolverines

You may have heard, Big Ten media days is right around the corner. The event runs Monday and Tuesday at the Hilton Chicago, with all 14 league coaches and 42 players set to attend.

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O’Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. Fyor good measure, Central Florida Knight won at the Penn State Nittany Lions. The poor Big Ten showing drew a collective eye roll from fans and media nationally and stomped out any early-season momentum for the league. Well, it’s a new year, and Michigan State’s Sept. 6 visit to Oregon might rank as the No. 1 intersectional matchup nationally. Wisconsin-LSU in Houston on Aug. 30 is almost as intriguing. Other important games for the league include Ohio State-Virginia Tech, Nebraska-Miami and the last scheduled installment of Michigan-Notre Dame.
  • Ameer Abdullah shares his message. Nebraska’s senior I-back will speak from the heart, for sure, on Tuesday at the league’s annual kickoff luncheon. Abdullah has a great story to share as the youngest of nine siblings raised as a devout Muslim in Alabama. Under-recruited out of high school, he chose Nebraska as the least heralded of three backs in his signing class. This year, he’s got the chance to become the first three-time 1,000-yard rusher at Nebraska, a program filled with tradition at his spot in the backfield.
  • Braxton Miller, the best player without any titles to show for it. Miller is 22-2 in his past 24 starts. Sure, the losses came to end last season in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, but his record speaks for itself. He’s the two-time reigning offensive player of the year in the Big Ten, and with another season like the past two, he’ll race past the statistical marks of nearly every player to precede him in Columbus. But what is Miller’s legacy without a championship? He’d rather face that question in December.
  • James Franklin talks and people listen. The first-year Penn State coach ranks atop the list of must-see speakers in Chicago. Since taking the Penn State job on Jan. 11, Franklin has wowed crowds with his energy, and he’s revitalized the Nittany Lions’ profile as a recruiting power in spite of lingering NCAA sanctions. As the lone new head coach in the league – not counting Kyle Flood and Randy Edsall – Franklin offers a breath of fresh air. And because of his SEC background, observers outside of the conference will take note of his comments.
  • The dawn of the playoff era. Ready or not, the Big Ten is set to enter the first year of the College Football Playoff. A year ago, Michigan State likely would have earned a spot in the semifinal round. But can the Big Ten produce another team worthy of football’s final four? The Spartans remain a contender, though that trip to Oregon in Week 2 looms large. Ohio State is another team to watch and probably the most popular pick from the Big Ten to make it to a New Year’s Day semifinal in Pasadena or New Orleans. It'll be a topic at media days.
  • Michigan, now is the time to look like Michigan. The honeymoon is over for coach Brady Hoke, entering his fourth year as he tries to avoid a third consecutive season of declining win totals. The Wolverines slipped to 7-6 a year ago amid major offensive woes after a 5-0 start. Hoke’s offensive line still looks ill prepared to stop the Big Ten's top defensive fronts. The schedule is again somewhat backloaded, with Michigan State and Ohio State among the final five games, so Hoke’s hotshot recruits may get a few more weeks to mature.
  • Jerry Kill’s health. Minnesota’s fourth-year coach, as much as he’d like to avoid the topic, will face more questions in Chicago about the epileptic seizures that forced him to coach from the press box for much of last season. The Gophers rallied behind their ailing coach. It was a feel-good story, though one that no one in the Twin Cities or elsewhere would like to relive. Kill has made excellent progress in the past several months. The coach and his players are anxious to put this issue to rest.
  • The quarterbacks. Don’t look now, but the Big Ten is turning into a league of quarterbacks. If nothing else, it appears better, for the time being, than the SEC in this category. Seven of the league’s signal callers are scheduled to appear in Chicago, including Miller, MSU’s Connor Cook, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Trevor Siemian of Northwestern. It would be nice, of course, to hear from Penn State sophomore Christian Hackenberg at this event and other rising field generals like Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Jake Rudock of Iowa. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Michigan gives 'recruit' first-rate day

July, 22, 2014
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Growing up in a family of Michigan football fans in Grain Valley, Missouri, Stephen Loszewski had a wish that he would someday play football for the Wolverines.

His leukemia diagnosis in the spring of 2011, during Stephen's freshman year of high school, did more than put his wish on hold -- it changed his reality overnight.

Leukemia took away high school football and the normal social life of a teenager and replaced it with chemotherapy, nausea and the social isolation of hospital rooms (though his friends and teammates stayed close). He has been in remission since his sophomore year, but even though he was able to stay in the game he loves by helping his father coach youth football, a return to the playing field was ruled out.

So when it came time for Stephen, now 18, to choose his wish, he sought the chance to be treated like the Michigan football recruit he could never otherwise be.

"Instead of just asking, 'Hey, could I get some really good tickets to a Michigan game,' I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity that I had," Stephen said. "I figured maybe I could get them to pretend to recruit me somehow."

What Michigan gave him was more than he had asked for. Way more.

For the full story from Greg Sukiennik, click here.
There's no dancing around it: Nonleague play simply matters more for the Big Ten than any other major conference.

SportsNation

How many of the most significant nonleague games will the Big Ten win?

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    24%
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    46%
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    24%
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    4%
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    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,601)

The league's national reputation is constantly dissected, and the inevitable question that follows -- how does the Big Ten improve its perception? -- is directly tied to performance in games against top teams from other conferences. If the Big Ten steps up and records several key wins early in the year, it remains in the national discussion, especially this season with the inaugural playoff approaching. If the league struggles, it becomes less relevant and possibly left out of the top four on Dec. 7 -- the worst possible scenario after more than a decade without a championship.

This list examines the five most significant nonleague games for Big Ten teams. They're rated according to quality of the opponent, expectations for the Big Ten team, where the game is being played and when it's being played. There's a drop-off after the top two contests but all five games matter in shaping Big Ten perception.

Without further ado ...

1. Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: Michigan State handed Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer and then beat preseason national title contender Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The next step, as the Spartans openly acknowledge, is competing for a national title. It might take an upset victory at Autzen Stadium -- one of the nation's toughest venues for a visiting team -- or at least a good showing to remain in the playoff mix. But a win would be huge, not only for Michigan State's profile as a program that has moved up in class, but for the Big Ten, which has struggled in true road games against the Pac-12. A close loss wouldn't ruin MSU's playoff hopes. A blowout loss would damage the Big Ten's push for respect.

2. Wisconsin vs. LSU (at Houston), Aug. 30: The opponent isn't as sexy and the location isn't as daunting, but any win against an upper-class SEC opponent benefits the Big Ten. Wisconsin enters the season with numerous questions, from quarterback to receiver to defensive front seven, but it can provide a resounding answer about its expectations by upsetting LSU at NRG Stadium. It's a big opportunity for Badgers running back Melvin Gordon to make a statement in the Heisman Trophy race against a top defense. A Wisconsin win would put the Badgers in the playoff discussion, given their favorable Big Ten schedule. A double-digit loss adds to the SEC's superiority case against the Big Ten.

3. Miami at Nebraska, Sept. 20: This is a hold-serve game for both Nebraska and the Big Ten, and it's a bit more significant for the Huskers than the league as a whole. Bo Pelini's team simply has to win this one, especially on its home field against a Miami team that has had major personnel problems during the offseason. Miami isn't UCLA, and Nebraska can't have a meltdown like it did in last year's top nonleague showdown. Unless Nebraska stumbles at Fresno State the week before, it should be poised to improve to 4-0 with a win, two weeks before the first of several Big Ten road tests at Michigan State. A victory keeps the possibilities alive for Nebraska. A loss here, and it's hard to envision the Huskers winning in East Lansing, Madison or Iowa City.

4. Virginia Tech at Ohio State, Sept. 6: This is very similar to the previous game: a home contest against a good but not great ACC opponent that the Big Ten team absolutely has to win to remain nationally relevant. Ohio State likely will enter the season as the Big Ten favorite and the league's best bet to reach the playoff, but it can't afford a slip-up against Virginia Tech. Unlike Michigan State, which probably could remain in the playoff hunt with a close loss at Oregon and a Big Ten title, Ohio State might have to run the table to make the top four. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Virginia Tech is no longer an ACC bigfoot that provides a schedule boost. Ohio State has to take care of business on its home field, ideally by 10 points or more.

5. Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 6: This one is tricky. The game pops nationally because it's Michigan and Notre Dame. It's also the teams' last meeting for the foreseeable future. It's Notre Dame Stadium under the lights. And it's big for Michigan. But has there been a more misleading game for Michigan in recent years? What have the recent Notre Dame victories -- 2013, 2010, 2009 -- meant for Michigan? Bupkis. The dramatic win in 2011 propelled Michigan to an 11-win season, but for the most part these games have been big teases for the Maize and Blue. Still, Michigan needs an early win away from Ann Arbor, if only because tougher road tests -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- follow during Big Ten play. Perhaps this season mirrors 2011 and the Notre Dame game actually propels Brady Hoke's team. Although Big Ten wins against Notre Dame haven't meant much, they don't hurt, either.

Five more games with B1G importance: Iowa at Pitt, Sept. 20; Nebraska at Fresno State, Sept. 13; Minnesota at TCU, Sept. 13; Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27; Northwestern at Notre Dame, Nov. 15.
I still hear from some fans who think the Big Ten should have gone after Oklahoma in the last round of expansion. That wasn't going to happen for a variety of reasons (academics, demographics, the Oklahoma State factor, etc). But Big Ten fans will still get to see plenty of the Sooners in the near future.

Michigan became the latest league squad to add Oklahoma to its future nonconference schedules. Don't start making plans and booking hotel rooms just yet, as the games are set for 2025 and 2026. May we all be so fortunate to be alive for these games, as 18-year-old freshmen who might play in the first game are just 7 years old right now. I feel really old all of a sudden.

Still, it's a series to celebrate, even though we'll probably forget about it for a long while. Despite the prestigious history of both programs, they've only met on the field one time -- in the 1976 Orange Bowl, which the Sooners won 14-6. Oklahoma ranks seventh all-time in wins in the FBS; Michigan, of course, is first.

And it's great news that this is a home-and-home series, as we've seen some of these big regional matchups take place on neutral fields. Michigan will go to Norman, Oklahoma, in 2025, while the Sooners visit the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Sept. 12, 2026. I would say mark your calendars, but if you already own a 2026 calendar, you're probably too fastidious to need such a reminder.

Oklahoma is already scheduled to play Ohio State in a home-and-home in 2016 and 2017 and will renew its Big 8/Big 12 rivalry with Nebraska in 2021 and 2022. You never know who is going to be good when you schedule that far into the future, but the Sooners seem as good a bet as any to maintain a high level of play over the next decade-plus, given their history and resources.

Big Ten teams continue to make good on their promise to beef up nonconference schedules in anticipation of the College Football Playoff. Michigan, freed (you might say) from the Notre Dame series after this season, already had some good but exactly mouth-watering home-and-home matchups slated in the future against Arkansas, Virginia Tech and UCLA. The Oklahoma series rises to absolute marquee level, along with the neutral-site showdown with Florida to open the 2017 campaign.

A program of Michigan's stature should be playing these kind of nonconference games at least once every season. Oklahoma is clearly game for these heavyweight matchups. It should be fun watching how the Big Ten fares against the Sooners in those six scheduled meetings in the next 12 years.
Troy AikmanUSA TODAY SportsTroy Aikman played under Barry Switzer in Oklahoma before enrolling at UCLA.
Have you logged on Twitter today? Turned on the TV? Went to the grocery store or picked up your child from the babysitter? Then chances are you know the King has returned.

LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.



That has us at CFB Nation thinking: Which college football players originally left home only to transfer back to put together a successful career? So we racked our brains and came up with a handful of the most successful transfers from the last 25 years of college football. The condition, obviously, is the transfer had to be made back to a school in their native state or at least within 100 miles, give or take a few.

If LeBron ever asks, they can all attest that there truly is no place like (playing at) home.

QB Troy Aikman, UCLA (by way of Oklahoma)

The California native left the Golden State and played his high school football in Oklahoma before enrolling with nearby perennial power Oklahoma, led by legendary coach Barry Switzer. Aikman was promised the Sooners' offense would be more passer-friendly, but when Aikman broke an ankle Switzer went back to the wishbone offense. The Sooners went on to win the national championship under the direction of a freshman quarterback, essentially closing the door on Aikman's Oklahoma career. The Covina, California, product returned to the state and enrolled at UCLA. In his first season with the Bruins, Aikman was awarded with the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year. He led UCLA to consecutive 10-win seasons and finished third in the Heisman balloting in 1988. He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1989 draft and is a three-time Super Bowl champion.

 Joe FlaccoMarvin Gentry/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco transferred to Delaware to play near his hometown in southern New Jersey.
QB Joe Flacco, Delaware (by way of Pittsburgh)

Technically Flacco did not return to his home state of New Jersey. However, Delaware's campus is less than an hour from Flacco's South Jersey home, making it a closer option than in-state Rutgers, the only FBS program in the state. Flacco played sparingly his first two seasons at Pitt before transferring to FCS powerhouse Delaware. He took the Blue Hens to the FCS national championship and his name is littered throughout the school's record book. He was taken in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft and has a Super Bowl ring and Super Bowl MVP award in his trophy room.

QB Scott Frost, Nebraska (by way of Stanford)

Rarely does an elite prep player from Nebraska leave the state, especially during the Cornhuskers' glory years under Tom Osborne. That's what Frost did, though, spending two seasons at Stanford before returning to the nation's heartland. In his first season, he was named the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year. As a senior, he led Nebraska to an undefeated record and a share of the national championship. He was the first quarterback in school history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in the same season.

QB Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (by way of Michigan)

The second-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2007, Mallett signed with then-Michigan coach Lloyd Carr as the heir apparent to senior Chad Henne. However, spread-option coach Rich Rodriguez replaced Carr at season's end, prompting the traditional pocket passer Mallett to transfer. The Batesville, Arkansas, native moved home to play for the Razorbacks and Bobby Petrino, and he had two exceptional seasons. A two-time All-SEC second-team selection, Mallett threw for more than 3,600 yards in both of his seasons in Fayetteville and led the Razorbacks to the Sugar Bowl in 2010. He finished seventh in Heisman voting that season.

WR Randy Moss, Marshall (by way of Notre Dame and Florida State)

Transferring was not entirely up to Moss, whose own transgressions cost him the opportunity to play at his dream school, Notre Dame, and under coach Bobby Bowden, who told Sports Illustrated in 1997 Moss was just as gifted as Deion Sanders. Notre Dame denied his enrollment for his role in a fight, and Florida State removed him from the football team after he tested positive for marijuana, violating his probation. Moss transferred to Marshall, which at the time was a Division I-AA school, allowing him to play immediately. In two seasons, he accumulated 174 receptions, 3,529 yards and 55 total touchdowns. He was taken in the first round of the 1998 NFL draft and is considered one of the greatest receivers in league history.

Cameron NewtonChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesGeorgia native Cam Newton won a Heisman Trophy after transferring to Auburn.
QB Cam Newton, Auburn (by way of Florida and Blinn College)

Much like Moss, Newton's transfer issues were self-inflicted. Urban Meyer removed Newton from the Gators' roster following charges of felony burglary, larceny and obstructing justice stemming from an incident in which he stole another student's laptop. He enrolled at Blinn College (Texas) and led the program to the junior college national championship. The following season, Newton was the starting quarterback at Auburn and won a second consecutive personal national title, leading the Tigers to an undefeated season and BCS trophy. He won the Heisman Trophy in the weeks leading up to the BCS national championship. He declared for the NFL draft in the days following the national title and went No. 1 overall to the Carolina Panthers. He was the 2011 Offensive Rookie of the Year and is a two-time Pro Bowler.

Honorable mention: Urban Meyer, Ohio State (by way of Bowling Green, Utah and Florida)

So he isn't a player and technically never transferred, but it certainly has a transfer feel to it. He left Florida after the 2010 season, sat out 2011 and then was named Ohio State's coach before the 2012 campaign. An Ohio native, Meyer's first college coaching job was as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Even as the coach at other programs, he always spoke fondly of former coaches Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce, who hired Meyer away from a Cincinnati high school.

 

This week ESPN.com spent time looking at the future of college football, so here are a few players returning home -- not all are eligible in 2014 -- who could be the next impact transfers.

QB Jacob Coker, Alabama (by way of Florida State)

Coker is immediately eligible and is the favorite to be the Crimson Tide's starting quarterback for the opener. He left Florida State after the 2013 season after losing out on the job to Jameis Winston.

QB Brandon Connette, Fresno State (by way of Duke)

The change-of-pace and red zone quarterback for the Blue Devils' run to the ACC championship, Connette left for Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

QB Tyler Murphy, Boston College (by way of Florida)

Murphy is from Connecticut, but there aren't many FBS programs up in New England, and Boston is only 100 miles from Murphy's hometown. The BC coaches believe Murphy is a better player than he showed at Florida and can help Steve Addazio take the program to the next level.

LB Mike Mitchell, Texas Tech (by way of Ohio State)

A blue-chip prospect in the 2013 class, Ohio State was considered the long-time favorite for the athletic product. He signed with the Buckeyes but only lasted one season before transferring to Texas Tech, which was not a finalist during Mitchell's recruitment.

DT Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA (by way of Notre Dame)

This situation got a little ugly last summer. Vanderdoes was the center of a signing day controversy as Notre Dame listed him on their list of signees before Vanderdoes publicly committed at his announcement later in the day. Before ever playing a down for Notre Dame, Vanderdoes decided he wanted to enroll at UCLA, but Notre Dame would not grant him a release. He petitioned the NCAA and was able to play at UCLA this past fall.
We've already covered the conference's potential villains, so it's only natural that we move on to the good guys.

You won't find them in comic books or out in the Big Ten footprint fighting crime. But even opposing fans won't find it all that difficult to root for this cast of characters. Some overcame injuries or other obstacles, some have been wronged, and others just seem like genuinely good people.

There are certainly plenty of other athletes and coaches whom this could apply to, so it wasn't easy just picking a handful. But true heroes don't expect media attention for their good deeds … plus, we had to cut this list off somewhere.

So, in alphabetical order, here are the unmasked Big Ten heroes:

[+] EnlargeNebraska
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAmeer Abdullah, left, decided to put the NFL off for another year and return for his senior season at Nebraska.
Ameer Abdullah, running back, Nebraska: About 100 juniors declared early for this year's NFL draft, and no one would've blamed Abdullah if he decided to join the herd. Instead, he decided to stay -- and he's said all the right things. As the youngest of nine children, the other eight of whom have earned college degrees, Abdullah stressed the importance of his education and finishing that degree. When a lot of other players are chasing dollar signs instead of diplomas, that's a refreshing viewpoint. Added Bo Pelini: “He's an All-American on the field. He's an All-American off the field.”

Adam Breneman, tight end, Penn State: Forget the fact he remained loyal and committed to the university throughout the sanctions, when he could've bolted to the likes of Florida State or Notre Dame. He's also used his football celebrity to champion a few charitable causes, something more common for coaches than players. In high school he started “Catch the Cure,” which helped raise more than $200,000 to fight Lou Gehrig's Disease. During his Under Armour jersey presentation two years ago, he even helped man a booth outside the auditorium to seek donations. Currently, he's the secretary of Penn State's nonprofit chapter of “Uplifting Athletes,” which raises money for the Kidney Cancer Association. You don't have to like the Nittany Lions, but you have to like what Breneman's doing.

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Underappreciated. Underestimated. Underdog. That's why Friedgen is under two other heroes on this list. It's easy to root for someone who appeared to be unfairly punished – and is now seeking out justice on the gridiron. Friedgen is just about the only head coach to win conference coach of the year and then be fired that same season. It happened with Maryland in 2010; now, he's helping oversee a Rutgers offense that people aren't expecting a lot from. He's in the same division as the Terps -- heck, they're on the schedule this year -- and Friedgen has a chance to show Maryland it made a mistake. He certainly could've handled the dismissal better, but it's hard to blame him and easy to wish him well. As long as you're not a Terps fan, that is.

Jerry Kill, head coach, Minnesota: Stop me if you've heard this before. “I'm rooting against them when they play us, but I'm wishing all the best to ________ the rest of the season.” Chances are Kill's filled in quite a few of those sentences the past few years. He has refused to let epilepsy get the best of him, and his longevity's been a testament to his toughness. He's been a coach since 1985, and he just led the Gophers to back-to-back bowls. Plus, he recently started a new epilepsy foundation for young patients, and he put $100,000 of his own money toward that. How can you not root for this guy?

Jake Ryan, linebacker, Michigan: Torn anterior cruciate ligaments are usually big setbacks, something that means missed seasons or at least gradual returns. Not for Ryan. The Michigan linebacker, a team captain last season, was on crutches last spring and returned in time for the Oct. 12 game against Penn State. Said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison: “If he ever truly logged the hours of extra treatment and extra rehab that he has done since the day that happened, I think it would floor you.” Nothing has really been handed to Ryan, as he wasn't a highly sought-after recruit. But he's worked hard and now finds himself on the preseason watch lists for the Bednarik and Nagurski awards. It's his final season at Michigan, and big things are expected from him.

Heroes on deck: Tracy Claeys, Stefon Diggs, Herb Hand, Jeremy Langford, Venric Mark
Maryland and Rutgers fans might have the wrong idea about their new Big Ten brethren.

For the most part, Midwesterners are excessively nice and hospitable. Coastal arrogance or aloofness has no place in the heartland, and the only frostiness in these parts is the weather. Big Ten fans might not have done backflips when they found out Rutgers and Maryland were joining the league, but now that the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins are part of the league, they will embrace their new, well-located friends.

But there are certain individuals that rankle even the most sensible Midwesterners. They are the folks you love to boo. Sadly, some of our favorite Big Ten villains -- Bret Bielema, Terrelle Pryor, Taylor Lewan -- are no longer here to kick around, but others remain.

Some of these folks have done absolutely nothing wrong. They have been too good on the field or on the sideline or as high school recruits. Others have said or done things to stir the pot.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesPenn State coach James Franklin's exuberance has grown a little annoying for some around the Big Ten.
Today, we unmask these villains.

To those on this list, an important point: the only true villains in college football are good enough to be villains. No one cares what the last-place coach or quarterback thinks. So you have earned this distinction. Put it right next to your playing or coaching awards.

Another reminder: this is all in good fun.

Without further ado, the list in alphabetical (not villainous) order:

Jim Delany, commissioner, Big Ten: He is one of the most powerful figures in college sports and has built the Big Ten into a revenue superpower through initiatives like the Big Ten Network. The Big Ten will never have a commissioner who makes a greater impact for such a long period of time. But Delany is still known more for his pro-BCS stance, Legends and Leaders, and the eyebrow-raising additions of Rutgers and Maryland. He lacks Larry Scott's polish or Mike Slive's willingness to stump for his constituents no matter what. Delany is a true independent voice and, at times, it has hurt his image among Big Ten fans. He might not be truly appreciated until he's gone.

James Franklin, head coach, Penn State: Remember when Penn State's offseasons used to be quiet? Franklin has generated noise -- joyful noise for Nittany Nation, not so much for other fan bases -- since his opening news conference in January. He has made bold statements about dominating regional recruiting and backed it up so far, compiling a top-5 class for 2015. Franklin soaked up the spotlight during his May tour around the state and appears to be in front of every microphone and camera. Recruits and many fans love the guy, but some question his authenticity and get tired of the incessant hype.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: He is about as subdued a superstar as we have seen in the Big Ten and a welcome departure from his predecessor, Pryor. But the introverted Miller has inflicted quite a bit of damage on Big Ten fan bases, leading Ohio State to a 16-0 mark in regular-season league games the past two seasons as the starter. Miller has been the king of comebacks during his Buckeyes career, leading six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most among any FBS player. Knock him if you'd like for lack of a Big Ten title, but his best could be still to come.

Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State: He is the overlord of the Big Ten's best defense and one of the nation's most dominant units. Michigan State and Alabama are the only FBS teams to rank among the top 11 nationally in the four major defensive categories in each of the past three seasons. Narduzzi's incessant blitzes punish quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Just ask Michigan. The Spartans have a good thing going and Narduzzi knows it, telling ESPN.com, "I don't think there's a team in the country that does what we do. ... We've been ahead of the curve for years."

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan: How can Peppers be a Big Ten villain when he hasn't even played a Big Ten game? I'll answer that question with a question: How many recent Big Ten players have generated more headlines before they step on the field than Michigan's prized incoming recruit? It's not Peppers' fault, but 13 of the 14 Big Ten fan bases likely are tired of hearing about the next Charles Woodson, his connection to "Naughty by Nature" and Peppers being the potential savior for an underachieving Wolverines program. Peppers might be the most anticipated Big Ten recruit since Pryor in 2008. He has a lot to prove this fall, and quite a few folks hope he busts.

Villains on deck: Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Connor Cook, Julie Hermann, Christian Hackenberg
When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
If the preseason All-America teams are any indication, the Big Ten will have a very good year in the offensive backfield -- both carrying the ball out of it and penetrating it.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
Reese Strickland/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon has averaged a gaudy 8.1 yards per rushing attempt during his career.
Running back and defensive line appear to be the league's two strongest position groups -- possibly by a wide margin -- entering the 2014 season. Athlon on Monday came out with its preseason All-America teams, following up Phil Steele, who released his last week. Three Big Ten players made Athlon's first team: Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett and Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. Four other defensive linemen -- Nebraska's Randy Gregory (second team), Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun (second team), Ohio State's Joey Bosa (fourth team) and Iowa's Carl Davis (fourth team) -- made one of the remaining three teams, and two other running backs -- Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah (second team) and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford (fourth team) -- also appear.

Steele had Bennett and Calhoun on his first team, Gregory and Bosa on his second team and Davis on his third team. Like Athlon, he lists Gordon as a first-team running back and Abdullah on the second team. It's interesting to see Calhoun getting a bit more love than Gregory, even though Gregory led the Big Ten in sacks and is projected as a higher draft pick.

Not sure about you, but I can't wait for Calhoun and Gregory to share the field Oct. 4 at Spartan Stadium, or for longtime friends Gordon and Abdullah to match up on Nov. 15 at Camp Randall Stadium. Both matchups should be fun to watch all season.

It's not unusual for defensive line and running back to headline the Big Ten. Both positions historically are strong in the league, especially defensive line. A potential concern is that only one quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller -- and zero wide receivers make any of Athlon's teams. Steele has two Big Ten wideouts, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess (has played tight end but listed as a receiver), on his third team. Still, it's clear these are two positions where the Big Ten continues to need upgrades.

Other Athlon preseason All-America selections include: Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (second team), Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman (third team), Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond (third team), Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (third team), Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan (fourth team), Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes (fourth team) and Northwestern punt returner Venric Mark (fourth team).

The Big Ten is tied with the Pac-12 for third among overall Athlon All-America selections with 18, trailing both the ACC (27) and SEC (26).

Position U: Offensive line

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:45
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of “Offensive Line U” for the 2000s?

OFFENSIVE LINE
1. Alabama (242 points): Nick Saban (whose first season at Alabama was 2007) has been the Crimson Tide’s coach for only half of the time period that we examined. But that’s when nearly all of the noteworthy accomplishments have occurred in the 2000s for the Tide’s offensive line: three national awards, seven All-America picks, 11 all-conference selections, four first-round picks and eight linemen drafted. Saban teams win by dominating the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line results reflect why Alabama has been so successful.

Award winners: Andre Smith, Outland (2008); Barrett Jones, Outland (2011), Rimington (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Antoine Caldwell (2008), Andre Smith (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), Chance Warmack (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
First-team all-conference: Paul Hogan (2000), Marico Portis (2002), Wesley Britt (2002, 2003, 2004), Andre Smith (2007, 2008), Antoine Caldwell (2008), Mike Johnson (2009), James Carpenter (2010), Barrett Jones (2011, 2012), William Vlachos (2011), Chance Warmack (2012), D.J. Fluker (2012), Cyrus Kouandjio (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Andre Smith (2009), James Carpenter (2011), Chance Warmack (2013), D.J. Fluker (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Justin Smiley (Round 2, 2004), Evan Mathis (Round 3, 2005), Antoine Caldwell (Round 3, 2009), Mike Johnson (Round 3, 2010), Barrett Jones (Round 4, 2013), Cyrus Kouandjio (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Shawn Draper (Round 5, 2001), Wesley Britt (Round 5, 2005),

2. Michigan (238 points): If any program was going to threaten Alabama’s claim on the top spot, it was Michigan, which has enjoyed a ridiculous run of success along the offensive line. Four first-round picks (Jeff Backus, Steve Hutchinson, Jake Long and Taylor Lewan) include one (Long) who was the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. Throw in five consensus All-Americans, two national award winners and 21 All-Big Ten selections. The 2000s were truly a great time to be a Michigan offensive lineman.

Award winners: David Baas, Rimington (2004); David Molk, Rimington (2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Steve Hutchinson (2000), David Baas (2004), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2011).
First-team all-conference: Steve Hutchinson (2000), Jeff Backus (2000), Jonathan Goodwin (2001), David Baas (2002, 2003, 2004), Tony Pape (2002, 2003), Matt Lentz (2004, 2005), Adam Stenavich (2004, 2005), Adam Kraus (2006, 2007), Jake Long (2006, 2007), David Molk (2010, 2011), Taylor Lewan (2012, 2013), Patrick Omameh (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Steve Hutchinson (2001), Jeff Backus (2001), Jake Long (2008), Taylor Lewan (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Maurice Williams (Round 2, 2001), David Baas (Round 2, 2005), Michael Schofield (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Goodwin (Round 5, 2002), Tony Pape (Round 7, 2004), Stephen Schilling (Round 6, 2011), David Molk (Round 7, 2012).

3. Wisconsin (192 points): Although Wisconsin placed well behind the juggernauts from Alabama and Michigan, the Badgers have a ton to brag about. Joe Thomas and Gabe Carimi were both Outland Trophy winners, consensus All-Americans and first-round draft picks. In fact, Wisconsin had a total of 14 offensive linemen drafted in the 2000s, four of whom went in the first round (with Kevin Zeitler and Travis Frederick joining Thomas and Carimi).

Award winners: Joe Thomas, Outland (2006); Gabe Carimi, Outland (2010).
Consensus All-Americans: Joe Thomas (2006), Gabe Carimi (2010).
First-team all-conference: Casey Rabach (2000), Dan Buenning (2004), Joe Thomas (2005, 2006), Marcus Coleman (2007), Gabe Carimi (2009, 2010), John Moffitt (2009, 2010), Peter Konz (2011), Josh Oglesby (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2011), Travis Frederick (2012), Rick Wagner (2012), Ryan Groy (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Joe Thomas (2007), Gabe Carimi (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Travis Frederick (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Casey Rabach (Round 3, 2001), Bill Ferrario (Round 4, 2001), Al Johnson (Round 2, 2003), Dan Buenning (Round 4, 2005), Kraig Urbik (Round 3, 2009), John Moffitt (Round 3, 2011), Peter Konz (Round 2, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Johnson (Round 7, 2003), Bill Nagy (Round 7, 2011), Ricky Wagner (Round 5, 2013).

4. Oklahoma (186 points): With four first-round picks and four consensus All-America selections, Oklahoma has had a great run along the offensive line in the 2000s. And the Sooners have been consistent throughout that time period, placing at least one lineman on the all-conference team in every season except 2000 and 2002. In some years, there were as many as three on the all-conference first team.

Award winners: Jammal Brown, Outland (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Jammal Brown (2004), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Trent Williams (2009).
First-team all-conference: Frank Romero (2001), Jammal Brown (2003, 2004), Vince Carter (2003, 2004), Davin Joseph (2005), Chris Messner (2006), Duke Robinson (2007, 2008), Phil Loadholt (2008), Trent Williams (2008, 2009), Eric Mensik (2010), Gabe Ikard (2011, 2012, 2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Jammal Brown (2005), Davin Joseph (2006), Trent Williams (2009), Lane Johnson (2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chris Chester (Round 2, 2006), Phil Loadholt (Round 2, 2009), Donald Stephenson (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Wes Sims (Round 6, 2005), Duke Robinson (2009).

5. USC (182 points): Considering how much success it experienced in the early and mid-2000s, it seems strange that USC didn’t have a first-round offensive lineman until Sam Baker in 2008 (the first of three, as Tyron Smith and Matt Kalil have since joined him). Nonetheless, the Trojans churned out six second-round picks, 17 all-conference linemen and a trio of All-Americans, so there has been plenty of acclaim for the group in the 2000s.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Jacob Rogers (2003), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2006).
First-team all-conference: Jacob Rogers (2002, 2003), Norm Katnik (2003), Ryan Kalil (2005, 2006), Deuce Lutui (2005), Sam Baker (2005, 2006, 2007), Chilo Rachal (2007), Kristopher O’Dowd (2008), Jeff Byer (2009), Charles Brown (2009), Tyron Smith (2010), Matt Kalil (2011), Khaled Holmes (2012), Marcus Martin (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Sam Baker (2008), Tyron Smith (2011), Matt Kalil (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Jacob Rogers (Round 2, 2004), Winston Justice (Round 2, 2006), Deuce Lutui (Round 2, 2006), Ryan Kalil (Round 2, 2007), Chilo Rachal (Round 2, 2008), Charles Brown (Round 2, 2010), Khaled Holmes (Round 4, 2013), Marcus Martin (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Fred Matua (Round 7, 2006).

6. Florida State (166 points): FSU has only one first-round draft pick and one national award winner (Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center last season) along the offensive line in the 2000s. But with three All-Americans and 13 all-conference selections in the 2000s, the Seminoles still rank among the nation’s better programs for linemen.

Award winners: Bryan Stork, Rimington (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2010), Bryan Stork (2013).
First-team all-conference: Justin Amman (2000), Char-ron Dorsey (2000), Brett Williams (2001, 2002), Montrae Holland (2002), Alex Barron (2003, 2004), Rodney Hudson (2008, 2009, 2010), Bryan Stork (2013), Tre Jackson (2013), Cameron Erving (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Alex Barron (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Montrae Holland (Round 4, 2003), Brett Williams (Round 4, 2003), Ray Willis (Round 4, 2005), Mario Henderson (Round 3, 2007), Rodney Hudson (Round 2, 2011), Menelik Watson (Round 2, 2013), Bryan Stork (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Char-ron Dorsey (Round 7, 2001), Milford Brown (Round 6, 2002), Todd Williams (Round 7, 2003), Andrew Datko (Round 7, 2012), Zebrie Sanders (Round 5, 2012).

7. Miami (158 points): The Hurricanes were nearly unstoppable at the turn of the century, thanks in large part to a supremely talented offensive line. Between 2000 and 2002, Miami had eight first-team all-conference players, two All-Americans and two national award winners. The Hurricanes have been successful along the line here and there since then, but their spot in the top 10 is largely because of those outstanding days in the early 2000s.

Award winners: Brett Romberg, Rimington (2002), Bryant McKinnie, Outland (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: Bryant McKinnie (2001), Brett Romberg (2002).
First-team all-conference: Joaquin Gonzalez (2000, 2001), Bryant McKinnie (2000, 2001), Martin Bibla (2001), Brett Romberg (2001, 2002), Sherko Haji-Rasouli (2002), Eric Winston (2003, 2005), Jason Fox (2009), Brandon Washington (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Bryant McKinnie (2002), Vernon Carey (2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Martin Bibla (Round 4, 2002), Rashad Butler (Round 3, 2006), Eric Winston (Round 3, 2006), Jason Fox (Round 4, 2010), Orlando Franklin (Round 2, 2011), Brandon Linder (Round 3, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joaquin Gonzalex (Round 7, 2002), Carlos Joseph (Round 7, 2004), Chris Myers (Round 6, 2005), Brandon Washington (Round 6, 2012), Seantrel Henderson (Round 7, 2014).

8. Texas (150 points): Texas would have ranked higher on this list had we compiled it a few years ago. The Longhorns haven’t had a first-team all-conference pick or a draft pick since 2008, nor a consensus All-American since 2006. They were good enough in the early 2000s that the Longhorns still cracked the top 10, but Texas needs to turn it around under Charlie Strong if it intends to stay there over the next few years.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Jonathan Scott (2005), Justin Blalock (2006).
First-team all-conference: Leonard Davis (2000), Mike Williams (2001), Derrick Dockery (2002), Tillman Holloway (2003), Justin Blalock (2004, 2005, 2006), Jonathan Scott (2004, 2005), Will Allen (2005), Kasey Studdard (2006), Tony Hills (2007), Adam Ulatoski (2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Leonard Davis (2001), Mike Williams (2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Dockery (Round 3, 2003), Justin Blalock (Round 2, 2007), Tony Hills (Round 4, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Jonathan Scott (Round 5, 2006), Kasey Studdard (Round 6, 2007).

T-9. Iowa (144 points): No. 2 overall pick Robert Gallery, who won the 2003 Outland Trophy and was an All-American that season and a two-time all-conference pick, is the big point winner for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have produced a considerable number of productive offensive linemen. They can claim 13 drafted offensive linemen in the 2000s, including three first-rounders (Gallery, Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff).

Award winners: Robert Gallery, Outland (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Eric Steinbach (2002), Robert Gallery (2003).
First-team all-conference: Eric Steinbach (2001, 2002), Robert Gallery (2002, 2003), Bruce Nelson (2002), Mike Jones (2006), Seth Olson (2008), Bryan Bulaga (2009), Dace Richardson (2009), Riley Reiff (2011), Brandon Scherff (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Robert Gallery (2004), Bryan Bulaga (2010), Riley Reiff (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Eric Steinbach (Round 2, 2003), Bruce Nelson (Round 2, 2003), Marshal Yanda (Round 3, 2007), Seth Olsen (Round 4, 2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ben Sobieski (Round 5, 2003), Pete McMahon (Round 6, 2005), Mike Elgin (Round 7, 2007), Kyle Calloway (Round 7, 2010), Julian Vandervelde (Round 5, 2011), Adam Gettis (Round 5, 2012).

T-9. Ohio State (144 points): With 13 draft picks -- but just one first-rounder, Nick Mangold -- and 14 all-conference picks, Ohio State built a solid résumé for offensive linemen in the 2000s. Center LeCharles Bentley, a Rimington Trophy winner, is the only All-American, but the Buckeyes have turned out plenty of outstanding players along the line.

Award winners: LeCharles Bentley, Rimington (2001).
Consensus All-Americans: LeCharles Bentley (2001).
First-team all-conference: LeCharles Bentley (2001), Tyson Walter (2001), Alex Stepanovich (2003), Rob Sims (2005), Doug Datish (2006), T.J. Downing (2006), Kirk Barton (2007), Alex Boone (2008), Justin Boren (2009, 2010), Mike Adams (2010), Mike Brewster (2010), Andrew Norwell (2012), Corey Linsley (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Nick Mangold (2006).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: LeCharles Bentley (Round 2, 2002), Alex Stepanovich (Round 4, 2004), Rob Sims (Round 4, 2006), Mike Adams (Round 2, 2012), Jack Mewhort (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Tyson Walter (Round 6, 2002), Shane Olivea (Round 7, 2004), Adrien Clarke (Round 7, 2004), Doug Datish (Round 6, 2007), Kirk Barton (Round 7, 2008), Reid Fragel (Round 7, 2013), Corey Linsley (Round 5, 2014).

REST OF "OFFENSIVE LINE U" RANKINGS
134 – Stanford; 132 – Florida; 124 – TCU; 116 – Arkansas; 112 – Auburn; 108 – Louisville; 104 – Penn State, Utah; 98 – California; 96 – Texas A&M; 94 – Boston College, LSU; 92 – Ole Miss; 90 – Minnesota, Virginia, West Virginia; 88 – Colorado; 84 – Georgia Tech; 82 – Georgia, Oklahoma State; 80 – Nebraska; 76 – Arizona State, Pittsburgh; 74 – Virginia Tech; 72 – Clemson, Oregon; 70 – Tennessee; 66 – Baylor; 58 – BYU, North Carolina; 56 – Syracuse; 54 – Maryland, Wake Forest; 50 – Illinois, Rutgers; 48 – Kansas State, Oregon State; 46 – Notre Dame; 44 – Missouri; 38 – Mississippi State; 36 – Texas Tech; 34 – Washington State; 32 – Washington; 30 – Purdue; 28 – Vanderbilt; 24 – NC State, UCLA; 18 – Kansas, Michigan State; 16 – Iowa State, Kentucky; 14 – Arizona; 12 – Indiana; 10 – Northwestern; 10 – South Carolina; 8 – Duke

Position U: Wide receivers

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
11:00
AM ET
video
Who really deserves to claim the title of "Wide Receiver U" for the 2000s?


1. USC (134 points)


USC has been amazingly successful at producing pro wide receivers, as a whopping 11 former Trojans have been selected in the NFL draft since 2001. Mike Williams, a 2003 All-American, is the only first-round pick in the bunch, but look over the list: Dwayne Jarrett, Robert Woods, 2012 Biletnikoff Award winner and All-American Marqise Lee. Some supreme pass-catching talent has come through L.A. since the turn of the century.

Award winners: Marqise Lee, Biletnikoff (2012).
Consensus All-Americans: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
First-team all-conference: Mike Williams (2003), Dwayne Jarrett (2005, 2006), Steve Smith (2006), Damian Williams (2009), Robert Woods (2011), Marqise Lee (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mike Williams (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Keary Colbert (Round 2, 2004), Steve Smith (Round 2, 2007), Dwayne Jarrett (Round 2, 2007), Patrick Turner (Round 3, 2009), Damian Williams (Round 3, 2010), Robert Woods (Round 2, 2013), Marqise Lee (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Kareem Kelly (Round 6, 2003), Ronald Johnson (Round 6, 2011), David Ausberry (Round 7, 2011),


2. LSU (124 points)


LSU hasn't accumulated as many All-America receivers as USC, but you won’t find a school that has done a better job of turning out pro wideouts. The Tigers have sent 14 receivers to the NFL through the draft since 2000, including four first-round picks (Michael Clayton, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and new New York Giants WR Odell Beckham). LSU’s national reputation is largely that of a defense-first program -- for good reason -- but the Tigers quietly have turned out a lot of NFL-caliber wideouts.

Award winners: Josh Reed, Biletnikoff (2001); Odell Beckham, Hornung (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Josh Reed (2001).
First-team all-conference: Josh Reed (2000, 2001), Michael Clayton (2003), Dwayne Bowe (2006), Rueben Randle (2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Clayton (2004), Dwayne Bowe (2007), Craig Davis (2007), Odell Beckham (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Josh Reed (Round 2, 2002), Devery Henderson (Round 2, 2004), Skyler Green (Round 4, 2006), Early Doucet (Round 3, 2008), Brandon LaFell (Round 3, 2010), Rueben Randle (Round 2, 2012), Jarvis Landry (Round 2, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Bennie Brazell (Round 7, 2006), Demetrius Byrd (Round 7, 2009), James Wright (Round 7, 2014).


3. Pittsburgh (120 points)


The level of competition for Pittsburgh increased when it joined the ACC, so it will be interesting to see whether the Panthers keep churning out all-conference receivers the way they did in the Big East. That will be a tall order. But guys such as early-2000s stars Larry Fitzgerald and Antonio Bryant would have been All-Americans no matter where they played.

Award winners: Antonio Bryant, Biletnikoff (2000); Larry Fitzgerald, Walter Camp (2003), Biletnikoff (2003).
Consensus All-Americans: Antonio Bryant (2000), Larry Fitzgerald (2003).
First-team all-conference: Antonio Bryant (2000, 2001), Larry Fitzgerald (2002, 2003), Greg Lee (2005), Derek Kinder (2006), Jonathan Baldwin (2009, 2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Larry Fitzgerald (2004), Jonathan Baldwin (2011).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Antonio Bryant (Round 2, 2002).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Derek Kinder (Round 7, 2009), Dorin Dickerson (Round 7, 2010), Devin Street, Round 5, 2014).


4. Oklahoma State (112 points)


Off-the-field issues have marred the NFL careers -- and in some cases, the college careers –- of some of Oklahoma State’s most renowned wideouts. But one thing that absolutely isn’t in question is their ability. The Cowboys have featured some of the most ridiculously talented receivers in college football in the last 14 seasons, most notably Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon.

Award winners: Justin Blackmon, Biletnikoff (2010, 2011).
Consensus All-Americans: Rashaun Woods (2002), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Rashaun Woods (2002, 2003), Adarius Bowman (2006), Dez Bryant (2008), Justin Blackmon (2011, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rashaun Woods (2004), Dez Bryant (2010), Justin Blackmon (2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: None.
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: None.


5. Michigan (96 points)


There was a time when Michigan would have ranked higher on this list -– maybe even at No. 1 -– but the Wolverines haven’t produced great wideouts in recent seasons the way they did in the early 2000s. David Terrell and Braylon Edwards dominated Big Ten games back in the day, but Michigan hasn’t had a first-team all-conference wideout since Mario Manningham went back-to-back in 2006 and 2007.

Award winners: Braylon Edwards, Biletnikoff (2004).
Consensus All-Americans: Braylon Edwards (2004).
First-team all-conference: David Terrell (2000), Marquise Walker (2001), Braylon Edwards (2003, 2004), Jason Avant (2005), Mario Manningham (2006, 2007).
NFL first-round draft picks: David Terrell (2001), Braylon Edwards (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Marquise Walker (Round 3, 2002), Jason Avant (Round 4, 2006), Mario Manningham (Round 3, 2008).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Steve Breaston (Round 5, 2007), Adrian Arrington (Round 7, 2008), Junior Hemingway (Round 7, 2012), Jeremy Gallon (Round 7, 2014).


6. Oregon State (92 points)


This one might surprise folks outside of Pac-12 country, but look down the list. A couple of Biletnikoff Award winners -– including 2014 NFL first-round pick Brandin Cooks, who posted video game numbers (128 catches, 1,730 yards, 16 TDs) last season. And don’t forget their team at the turn of the century that featured future NFL teammates Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at wideout. That duo had to create a matchup problem or two for college defensive coordinators.

Award winners: Mike Hass, Biletnikoff (2005); Brandin Cooks, Biletnikoff (2013).
Consensus All-Americans: Brandin Cooks (2013).
First-team all-conference: James Newson (2003), Mike Hass (2004, 2005), Sammie Stroughter (2008), James Rodgers (2009), Markus Wheaton (2012), Brandin Cooks (2013).
NFL first-round draft picks: Brandin Cooks (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Chad Johnson (Round 2, 2001), Markus Wheaton (Round 3, 2013).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: T.J. Houshmandzadeh (Round 7, 2001), Mike Hass (Round 6, 2006), Sammie Stroughter (Round 7, 2009).


T-7. Clemson (82 points)


It’s not unusual for Clemson to have dynamic offensive talent, but a recent surge at wideout helped the Tigers jump to this spot. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins ensured that Clemson had a receiver represented on the All-ACC first team in each of the past three seasons, and both players went on to become first-round draft picks.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Airese Currie (2004), Chansi Stuckey (2005, 2006), Aaron Kelly (2007), Sammy Watkins (2011, 2013), DeAndre Hopkins (2012).
NFL first-round draft picks: Rod Gardner (2001), DeAndre Hopkins (2013), Sammy Watkins (2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Derrick Hamilton (Round 3, 2004), Jacoby Ford (Round 4, 2010), Martavis Bryant (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Airese Curry (Round 5, 2005), Chansi Stuckey (Round 7, 2007).


T-7. Oklahoma (82 points)


Rarely spectacular but always highly productive, Oklahoma has built a solid tradition at receiver under Bob Stoops. Check out the list of 11 wideouts who have been drafted since 2001 -– just one first-round pick (Mark Clayton in 2005), but a big group went in the early rounds because the Sooners keep signing players like Ryan Broyles and Mark Bradley, who develop into dangerous pass-catchers in the Oklahoma offense.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
First-team all-conference: Mark Clayton (2003, 2004), Ryan Broyles (2010, 2011).
NFL first-round draft picks: Mark Clayton (2005).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brandon Jones (Round 3, 2005), Mark Bradley (Round 2, 2005), Travis Wilson (Round 3, 2006), Malcolm Kelly (Round 2, 2008), Juaquin Iglesias (Round 3, 2009), Ryan Broyles (Round 2, 2012), Jalen Saunders (Round 4, 2014).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Manuel Johnson (Round 7, 2009), Kenny Stills (Round 5, 2013), Justin Brown (Round 6, 2013).


9. Texas Tech (80 points)


There was a time when the Mike Leach-led Texas Tech passing game ranked among the most exciting in the game. Michael Crabtree was the centerpiece of that attack, winning a pair of Biletnikoff Awards before becoming a first-round pick. Perhaps Kliff Kingsbury will revive some of the excitement from the old days under his mentor, but the Red Raiders haven’t had an all-conference receiver since Crabtree in 2008.

Award winners: Michael Crabtree, Biletnikoff (2007, 2008).
Consensus All-Americans: Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
First-team all-conference: Jarrett Hicks (2005), Joel Filani (2005, 2006), Michael Crabtree (2007, 2008).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Crabtree (2009).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Carlos Francis (Round 4, 2004).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Joel Filani (Round 6, 2007).


10. Ohio State (76 points)


Four first-round draft picks -– Michael Jenkins, Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez –- and a total of 11 drafted receivers helped Ohio State crack the top 10 despite not having any national award winners or All-Americans. As one of the most successful college programs of the 2000s, the Buckeyes are a fixture in these positional rankings, so it’s no surprise they made the top 10 here.

Award winners: None.
Consensus All-Americans: None.
First-team all-conference: Santonio Holmes (2005), Ted Ginn Jr. (2006), Anthony Gonzalez (2006), Dane Sanzenbacher (2010).
NFL first-round draft picks: Michael Jenkins (2004), Santonio Holmes (2006), Ted Ginn Jr. (2007), Anthony Gonzalez (2007).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 2-4: Brian Robiskie (Round 2, 2009), Brian Hartline (Round 4, 2009), DeVier Posey (Round 3, 2012).
NFL draft picks, Rounds 5-7: Ken-Yon Rambo (Round 7, 2001), Reggie Germany (Round 7, 2001), Drew Carter (Round 5, 2004), Roy Hall (Round 5, 2007)

Rest of "Wide Receiver U" rankings
72 – Louisville; 70 – Georgia Tech; 66 – Florida, Florida State; 64 – Miami; 60 – Texas A&M; 56 – Georgia; 54 – Texas; 52 – West Virginia; 50 – Michigan State, Notre Dame, Wisconsin; 48 – Baylor; 46 – Kansas State; 44 – Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee; 40 – Purdue; 38 – Missouri, Rutgers; 36 – California; 34 – Arizona, Indiana, N.C. State, UCLA; 32 – Vanderbilt, Washington; 30 – Illinois, Oregon; 28 – Arizona State, Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia Tech; 26 – Minnesota, Utah, Wake Forest; 24 – BYU, TCU; 22 – Alabama, Washington State; 20 – Maryland, Ole Miss; 18 – Colorado, Duke, Iowa, Virginia; 14 – Kentucky, Syracuse; 12 – Auburn, Kansas; 10 – Northwestern; 8 – Stanford; 6 – Iowa State, Nebraska; 0 – Boston College, Mississippi State
Unlike the ACC or SEC, the Big Ten hasn't taken an official position on an early signing period. Many Big Ten coaches see the benefits, but there has been no united front.

Here's a bit of advice: The Big Ten coaches should band together about an urgent recruiting item, but not the early signing period.

The Big Ten must campaign for official visits to be moved up. No other league is affected more by population shifts that have created dense pockets of top recruits located far from its footprint. The Big Ten is expanding its recruiting reach, especially to the Southeast, but its proximity to many talent bases remains a significant obstacle.

If the Big Ten can't get prospects to its campuses before decisions are made, it will continue to fall behind in the recruiting race.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikEarlier official visits would be a boon to Bo Pelini and Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers have to recruit nationally because of a limited local talent base.
"The first thing we have to do is get kids on campus earlier," Michigan coach Brady Hoke told ESPN.com. "I'm sure our friends in the Pac-12 and the SEC would rather not that be the case. They'd rather have kids come in to Ann Arbor if it's winter.

"But I think it would help the guys from distance and the guys from those climates to come on campus to see what it is like."

NCAA rules state that prospects can't begin taking their five official visits -- paid for by the schools -- until the start of their senior year in high school. But many recruits make their college choices much earlier.

The accelerated recruiting cycle has minimized the significance of official visits. Many prospects commit after taking unofficial visits, for which they pay their own way. But the distance between Big Ten schools and the highest concentrations of elite prospects makes it challenging for recruits and their families to fund long, expensive trips.

"Since the trend is for early commitments, it makes sense that it favors schools located in population bases that produce a lot of players," said Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at Indiana, LSU and Vanderbilt. "So how do you combat that? How does a kid from Atlanta get to Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer on their own expense?"

DiNardo views Nebraska as the FBS school most impacted by accelerated recruiting cycle. Nebraska always has recruited nationally because of its small local population base, but former coach Tom Osborne -- "a tireless recruiter," DiNardo said -- capitalized on the fact that recruits made their choices after an official visit to Lincoln.

Huskers coach Bo Pelini acknowledges earlier official visits "would help us."

"When you take official visits away from the equation, it really hurts a place like Nebraska," DiNardo said. "So early signing day has to be partnered up with official visits in a prospect's junior year.

"If just the date moves up without official visits, it sets the Big Ten even further behind."

DiNardo notes that a program such as Ohio State is less affected by the official visits timetable because it has a large local talent base that can easily reach its campus. But other Big Ten programs must cast a wider recruiting net.

It's especially true for programs in the western part of the league: Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

"It gives some of the schools that aren't surrounded by a lot of schools or a lot of places, it gives us a chance," Minnesota coach Jerry Kill said. "But I don't know if that's going to happen or not. People in Texas aren't going to vote for that because they never have to leave Texas."

Most Big Ten coaches interviewed by ESPN.com favor earlier official visits but want clear guidelines. One question is timing.

Several coaches mention late May or early June as the ideal time because many recruits already are touring schools unofficially and most staffs are conducting on-campus camps.

"With the way people are traveling around right now, it might be good to afford a prospect to take a couple of visits in June," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Also, I think it'd be great to afford at least a parent the opportunity to join that prospect and make it part of the official trip."

Coaches say the parental component is critical.

"Sometimes kids just don't have the means to be able to get here, and they definitely don't have the means to have their parents come," Pelini said. "Hopefully, they'll change that. It's too big of a decision for a 17-year-old or 18-year-old kid to make without his parents or somebody being there."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesMark Dantonio wants an early official-visit period, but would prefer for it to be in a limited window instead of spanning the entire spring and summer.
Both Pelini and Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio want a limit on the number of official visitors schools could have in the spring. FBS teams can provide up to 56 official visits, but Dantonio rarely uses more than half of the allotment.

"It's not just carte blanche," Dantonio said. "I would make it a two-week window and cap those numbers."

Allowing 10-20 early official visits could work. Dantonio and Pelini also think prospects should be allowed to take multiple official visits to the same school.

Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen favors an earlier signing date in December, but he needs more clarity on official visits -- when they would take place, and for how long.

"I have to look at quality of life for my coaches," Andersen said. "Are we willing to take 4-5 weeks away in the summer? I don’t want to do that."

Added Purdue coach Darrell Hazell: "You lose your life. The month of July, you need a little bit of decompression time."

The first two weeks in June makes the most sense. Create a dead period in July so coaches can take time off.

It also doesn't mean official visits in September and October will stop. Andersen can talk about Wisconsin's "Jump Around" and show videos, but, he said, "there’s nothing like being there."

Big Ten teams still will have the chance to showcase their stadiums, facilities and campuses during football season. But they can't afford to wait that long for far-flung prospects to arrive, especially when they can afford to bring them in sooner.

"It would help everybody," Hoke said. "The other conferences aren’t just staying in their region, either."

That's true, but the Big Ten has the most to gain, and pushing for change won't be easy.

"If that thing ever goes to a vote, everybody is going to say is that the Big Ten is just complaining," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "They'll keep rallying their troops because they want to keep those kids at home."

The Big Ten coaches must rally, too. Otherwise, the recruiting gap will widen.
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Momentum seems to be building for creating an early signing period in college football. The Conference Commissioners Association will discuss the idea as part of its agenda at a meeting later this month.

As with many things in life, the devil is in the details. The ACC recommended an early signing date of Aug. 1. The SEC at its meetings last month came out against changing the recruiting calendar, but would like to use the Monday after Thanksgiving if an early signing period does happen.

The Big Ten has not endorsed a specific stance on an early signing date as a conference. Based on interviews given to ESPN.com and other media outlets, most league coaches are in favor of it. Again, though, preferences on the when and the how differ.

Several coaches support the junior college signing period of mid-December as the right time to allow high school prospects who don't want to wait until February to sign their national letters of intent.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa's Kirk Ferentz is among the Big Ten coaches who favor an early signing period after the regular season.
"To me, that would be the perfect time," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said last summer. "I still don't understand the resistance. All it is is an opportunity to sign. They don't have to sign. I don't think anyone is going to lose a scholarship. It just gives everyone a chance to lay their cards on the table and say, 'I'm 100 percent sure now' or, 'Still not quite there.' That would be great for both parties, I think."

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio are among others who back an early signing period in December.

"It sure would clear up recruiting for a lot of us," Andersen told ESPN.com. "In my opinion, if a kid's committed, let's have him go to the school where he wants to go, and we'll move on in recruiting and get the guys we want. I think it's the most logical answer."

A possible downside of having the early signing period in December would be that it puts more pressure on coaches to concentrate on recruiting late in the season, when championships could be on the line, or during bowl preparation. In-season recruiting pressures would grow even higher with the SEC's post-Thanksgiving recommendation.

Most who favor an early signing period say their schools and coaching staffs are spending too much valuable time, money and energy trying to re-recruit players who might have signed earlier. That's why some coaches, such as Indiana's Kevin Wilson, support a signing date before or right at the beginning of the season.

"I had guys who were committed in the summer who in the last weekend [before the February signing date] changed their minds," Wilson told ESPN.com. "It would be nice if there was an early signing period on the first of September. I don't know if we've got to move the calendar up, but we waste a lot of time and a lot of money babysitting kids who have made their decisions."

Michigan is one school that could have benefited in recent seasons from an early signing period. The Wolverines have sewn up the majority of their classes under Brady Hoke in the summer before the prospects' senior year of high school. Hoke's staff could have locked up those commitments and focused on filling out the final few spots or moving on to the following year's class.

Hoke would like to see an early signing date, but with a caveat.

"If there's an early signing period, there probably needs to be an early visitation period for those kids," he told ESPN.com. "Maybe the first two weeks in June to get on your campus."

That's a big deal for Big Ten coaches, who would love to see prospects be able to take official visits before the start of their senior year. An early signing date without an earlier visit calendar could put the league at a disadvantage against schools in more talent-rich areas. (We'll look more closely at this issue on Thursday in the blog.)

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesNebraska's Bo Pelini says allowing earlier official visits must be a part of any move toward an early signing period.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini has said he would not support an earlier signing date without those earlier visits (and even then, he said he would need more time to study the issue). Schools such as Nebraska and Minnesota, which are farther away from talent-rich hubs, simply wouldn't see many benefits to an early signing day if the rest of the recruiting calendar remained the same. Players in blue chip-heavy areas -- such as the South, Texas and California -- would be more apt to take unofficial visits at schools closer to home and then could get pressured into signing before they ever made a trip up north.

Ohio State under Urban Meyer has thrived during the final weeks of recruiting before the February signing day, as his staff has built a reputation of being great "closers." So it's no surprise that Meyer was one of three SEC coaches to vote against a proposal to support an early signing date in 2008, when he was still at Florida. Meyer said at the time that "recruiting should be done in December, January and February. I think [an early date] speeds up 17- and 18-year-olds to make a decision that affects the rest of their lives."

Maryland's Randy Edsall has proposed that schools shouldn't even send out any type of scholarship offer until Sept. 1 of a high school prospect's senior year in high school, and then those offers would come from the university's admissions office, not the coaches. That would slow things way down and make sure prospects have achieved the necessary test scores and admission standards. Yet Edsall also said this spring that if recruiting continues at its current accelerated pace, that "there definitely has to be an early signing period."

There are other issues with the early signing date, including what protection the players would have if the coach left for another job after they signed. Plus plans change in recruiting all the time.

"I see the pluses and the minuses with it," Dantonio told ESPN.com. "If you have a committed guy and he signs with you, he truly is committed. That’s a positive. I also think if you take one quarterback and he thinks he’s the only one, and all of a sudden you take two, how does that all play out?

"I do think it keeps people from poaching off you, whether it be us poaching off somebody or somebody else [poaching]. It makes people hold to their word. If they don't want to sign then, they’re still open, and you know they’re open. But I would make it a mid-December type deal. I’m not in favor of August; I'm not in favor of September. I'm in favor of, ‘They've had a chance to at least visit and be on campus a couple places, so they have a feel.’”

College football does appear headed for an early signing date soon, if only the details can get ironed out.

"We get into these discussions, and everybody kind of has their own agenda of what's in the best interests for their school," Penn State coach James Franklin told ESPN.com. "But for a lot of different reasons, an early signing period makes sense for everybody."
If you follow former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan on Twitter, you've probably seen the hashtag #nobaddays. He signs almost every tweet with the phrase, whether he's getting picked by the Tennessee Titans in the NFL draft or being cut in line by an old lady at the airport.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesOff-the-field issues have clouded the perception of Taylor Lewan, who was the first Big Ten player picked in the NFL draft earlier this month.
But it does appear that Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 were bad days for Lewan.

Michigan lost a heartbreaker Nov. 30 to Ohio State 42-41 in Lewan's final home game at the Big House, dropping him to 1-3 against the rival Buckeyes. Hours later, in the early morning of Dec. 1, Lewan was involved in an incident involving an Ohio State fan. Lewan claimed he was trying to break up a fight and relayed his version of what happened to NFL teams in the predraft process. But Buckeyes fan James Hughes claimed Lewan punched him in the face, and Lewan was charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery.

The Associated Press on Thursday obtained the police report from the incident, which includes statements from Lewan's ex-girlfriend, who claims Lewan assaulted Hughes.
Alexandra Dileo, whose brother was a teammate of Lewan's, said "Taylor is lying" about his actions on Dec. 1.

"He knocked the guy to the ground and he punched him," she told police in a telephone interview Jan. 29, according to the report. She recalled hearing Lewan tell his mother "I knocked a guy out" the next morning while they were having breakfast.

Alexandra Dileo is the sister of former Michigan wide receiver Drew Dileo, one of Lewan's good friends on the team.

As soon as the AP story broke Thursday, some Michigan fans questioned Alexandra Dileo's credibility, since she and Lewan had broken up and Lewan soon will become a millionaire with the Titans. Lewan's attorneys undoubtedly will make the same argument, which Dileo acknowledged in her conversation with police.
Dileo expressed concerns to police that people would feel she was lying because she and Lewan had broken up, according to the report. But she "stated she knows what happened and Taylor is lying."

What really happened Dec. 1 in Ann Arbor depends on whom you believe. At the very least, it creates an awkward situation for Lewan and Drew Dileo.

It also raises more questions about Lewan, one of the more polarizing star players in the Big Ten in recent years.

"I was actually breaking something up and some guy said that I slugged him, but that's not who I am off the field," Lewan told reporters at the NFL combine in February. "That's not the kind of person I am."

Who is Taylor Lewan? Good citizen or bully? Textbook tackle or dirty player? All of the above?

Few would deny he's an exceptional football player -- a tall, strong, athletic, smart offensive tackle who should have a long NFL career. He's a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten selection who won Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors in both 2012 and 2013. Any credible list of Michigan's top offensive linemen in the past 20 years should include Lewan's name.

But he'll also be remembered for twisting the facemask of Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis in last year's loss to the Spartans. Lewan later apologized.

Two years earlier, he was on the receiving end of a punch from Michigan State defensive end William Gholston that resulted in a one-game suspension for Gholston. But many believe Lewan wasn't free of blame in that incident.

Lewan also had to defend himself against allegations he tried to intimidate a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons, another of Lewan's friends.

It doesn't add up to a squeaky-clean image, which Lewan acknowledged at the combine.

"It kills me inside," Lewan said. "It probably kills my mother, too. She helped raise me. But yeah, it hurts definitely because the player I am on the field, it's probably really easy to assume all those things about me. But that’s not who I am at all."

Lewan always had an edge to his game. He was a through-the-whistle lineman. Last spring, he told me: "Maybe I'm a little messed up in the head, I don't know, but I enjoy hitting my face on another man's face and trying to put him in the dirt and make him feel every single inch of it. Something about that, it puts me on cloud nine."

In the next breath, he talked about spending his final year at Michigan exploring campus life beyond Schembechler Hall, interacting with regular students and parts of the university that have nothing to do with football. Athletes often live in a bubble and Lewan wanted to venture beyond. It was an impressive and refreshing viewpoint from a guy who turned down millions because, in his mind, he hadn't become a Michigan Man.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke repeatedly defended Lewan's character this spring, noting that assumptions would be made about the Dec. 1 incident until the truth comes out. Hoke pointed out Lewan's work at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and other good things he did in the community during his time as a Wolverine.

"I believe that his character will shine through," Hoke told the NFL Network.

Time will tell if that's the case. Lewan's next court appearance is scheduled for June 16.

It could shape a Michigan legacy that, for now, must be labeled as mixed.
The last time Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Michigan's Devin Gardner shared a field, the two quarterbacks combined for 10 touchdowns and 747 yards of offense in a wildly entertaining shootout at Michigan Stadium.

It proved to be the end of Gardner's season, as a foot injury sidelined him for the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl and the first part of spring practice in March. Miller went on to suffer his first two losses under coach Urban Meyer. He injured his throwing shoulder in the Orange Bowl and underwent surgery in Feb. 21, limiting his throwing in spring practice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShoulder surgery limited Ohio State's Braxton Miller, but the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year is still finding ways to improve.
Both quarterbacks have delivered record performances for their teams. Miller owns back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year awards and could become the league's first three-time winner this fall. Gardner has been a quarterback of extremes -- prodigiously productive in some games, bafflingly bad in others.

The final chapter for both players arrives this fall. Before that lies a pivotal summer.

Miller's first priority is to return to full strength. But some of his most important work in the coming months will be in the film room.

"In the digital age we live in, video is so easy to come by, so he can study whoever he wants," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told ESPN.com. "Preferably, let's study us first and figure out the ins and outs of our offense. And then when you have extra time or want to take a break from that, let's study some defenses that we'll face this season. And beyond that, the next in the pecking order is why don't you study some other offenses, study some other quarterbacks."

Two quarterbacks Herman wants Miller to study likely will compete with him for national honors in 2014: Florida State's Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and national champion, and Oregon's Marcus Mariota, who might be the best pro quarterback prospect in the college ranks this season.

"What are those guys doing really well?" Herman said. "Is there anything you can glean from watching them on the field that might help your game?"

Herman had a similar plan for Miller last summer, encouraging him to watch Clemson's Tajh Boyd -- "That kid was a really good player," Herman said.

[+] EnlargeQuarterback Devin Gardner #98 of the Michigan Wolverines
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan QB Devin Gardner, coming off a foot injury, struggled in the spring, but still looks on track to start the season opener.
Gardner went through most of the spring at less than 100 percent and struggled in the spring game, completing just 2 of 10 passes with an interception. He's still learning the offense under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and head coach Brady Hoke praised his consistency for much of the session.

But Hoke still discusses Michigan's quarterback situation by mentioning two names -- Gardner and sophomore Shane Morris. Many question whether Michigan's quarterback competition is real or imagined. Gardner has 16 starts at quarterback, while Morris has just one (the bowl game).

But unlike Miller, Gardner has to confirm himself as the top option when preseason camp begins in August.

"He has an advantage," Hoke told ESPN.com. "I wouldn't make that mistake. Because of the experience, playing a lot of snaps, being in a lot of big games. But at the same time, Shane, how he handled himself in the bowl game, how he was composed and how he approached the game, is encouraging."

Hoke wants both quarterbacks to not only retain what they learned in the spring but grow as leaders this summer.

"The message is we can't accept the players how they are right now," Hoke said.

The same applies to Miller, as good as he has been at times the past two seasons. His approach to rehab and film study will determine whether he -- and potentially Ohio State -- takes the next step in 2014.

"He's on fire right now, doing a great job with it from what I understand," Herman said. "The things that he is now able to talk to me about on the phone when I'm out on the road recruiting or when I see him in the building, you can tell he's poured himself into it, which is good."

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