NCF Nation: Penn State Nittany Lions
No Big Ten coaching staff has a larger social media presence than Penn State's, particularly on Twitter. Nittany Lions head coach James Franklin (@coachjfranklin) requires his assistants to have Twitter accounts -- it's not optional.
Some Lions aides, such as offensive line coach Herb Hand (@CoachHand), wide receivers coach Josh Gattis (@Coach_Gattis) and defensive line coach Sean "Coach Chaos" Spencer (@SpenceChaos), are very active on Twitter, while others dabble in it.
The biggest reason for the push is obvious: recruiting.
"The target market is the 15- to 17-, 18-year-old kid, and that's how guys communicate," Hand told ESPN.com earlier this summer. "They're going to communicate through Twitter, through Facebook, through the direct message avenues on those two sites. So you've got to bring it to them. You can't sit there and say, 'Hey, you come to me.'
"You've got to meet them where they're at."
But reaching recruits isn't the only reason Hand uses Twitter. If you follow him -- he has more than 19,000 followers -- you've probably seen the word "branding" pop up a lot on his timeline.
Hand considers Twitter and other social media outlets as branding tools. Those who use them correctly can build their brands; those who don't can destroy them.
"There’s an opportunity in social media that's very powerful to connect with people," Hand said. "It's important for people to understand that before they get involved with it because you also can shoot yourself in the foot real quick. That's one of the problems with a lot of the young guys on there, players we're recruiting. They don't think before they post stuff. They don't realize that this is your brand.
"You're telling the world who you are."
I thought about this Wednesday morning when Hand tweeted that Penn State was no longer pursuing a prospect because of the prospect's social media presence, which, in Hand's view, revealed who the player really is.
Dropped another prospect this AM due to his social media presence...Actually glad I got to see the 'real' person before we offered him.— Herb Hand (@CoachHand) July 30, 2014
He then followed up with this:
"We owe it to our players to educate them on how to use it responsibly," Hand told me in June. "Social media is a huge part of our society. It’s a global thing. If you're really about educating guys, let's educate people on it and make sure they're not using it to destroy themselves, either, because that can happen in a heartbeat."
Franklin actually found out about the recruiting about-face through Twitter on Wednesday while attending ESPN's "Car Wash" in Bristol, Connecticut. He told ESPN's "Numbers Never Lie" that one questionable tweet won't discourage coaches from recruiting a player, but a pattern of them will.
"It's no different than transcripts, it’s no different than game film," Franklin said. "It's another piece of information."
Hopefully, recruits are listening. Hand, a 46-year-old father of three, might not look like a social-media expert, but he knows his stuff. His social media introduction came in 2001 when he was West Virginia's tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator. He used to use Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" tool to interact with fans on message boards.
Hand quickly saw where the trend was heading and built his own brand as he moved to Tulsa, Vanderbilt and now Penn State. He has fun with it, as you can see here and here and here, but also has a serious tone when tweeting about his work with Our Kids, an organization that helps children and families affected by child sexual abuse.
"I want to be sincere," he said. "What you see is what you get. It's who I am. I'm not trying to just be a robot on there."
The social media boom with Penn State football seems unusual, as former coach Joe Paterno obviously didn't tweet and former coach Bill O'Brien once referred to "Spacebook" and "Tweeter." But the current coaches are not only encouraging players to use Twitter, but to do so responsibly.
"I know they're going to have some people out there watching us, especially on social media," linebacker Mike Hull said. "So I try to refrain from saying anything too bad."
So on Tuesday morning, five offensive players and five defensive players offered their takes regarding those top athletes. We ran the offensive player results earlier on Tuesday, and up now are the results from the defense.
The full question: Besides you or players on your team, who's the best -- or most exciting -- defensive player in the Big Ten?
S Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State: "I like watching Randy Gregory and the way he can tackle people. We got a lot of good players in this conference, so that's kind of tough to say. But I like his motor, I like the way he gets after people, and I like his excitement. I like guys that are out there having fun, and you can tell he has fun the way he plays."
DT Michael Bennett, Ohio State: "A lot of them left last year. Hmm ... I'd have to say Shilique Calhoun because he's the only other name I really know. He makes plays. Other than that, I watched his film and I wasn't really sure what the hype was -- but then, somehow, in our game he comes out with two forced fumbles and three sacks or something like that. So the guy is a playmaker and he gets the job done."
LB Mike Hull, Penn State: "That's tough. There's a lot of good players, but I really follow a lot of the linebackers. So I'd say Jake Ryan. He's a solid linebacker, makes good plays and has really good fundamentals. Just have respect for Michigan."
S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: "It's tough to say ... but there's some defenses that stand out. Michigan State's defense always stands out. It's more of a concerted effort; their whole unit plays with a good energy that I like. I'll always be watching them during the season, and they'll always stand out to me. If we're watching Illinois' offense and they played Michigan State, they'll just kind of stand out as one of the best teams defensively."
Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah preps his Kickoff Luncheon speech
Umm, what else can we ask?
James Franklin was just asked whether playing on natural grass is an advantage. Yep, we're out of questions, media day is over.— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 29, 2014
A public service reminder from Nebraska's Bo Pelini
I heard just end of odd exchange that ended when Bo Pelini said: "There is football played outside of the SEC, contrary to popular belief."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) July 29, 2014
Huskers' Abdullah a dual threat at media days
Force is strong at Penn State
James Franklin just called his strength coach a Jedi. The force is flowing through Penn State.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 29, 2014
B1G fashion statements
Ohio State's Urban Meyer on LeBron coming home
Urban Meyer fielding questions about LeBron's return this morning. Said it's big in recruiting and he could play H-back or TE for him.— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 29, 2014
How would you guys react, hypothetically, if you're eligible for a bowl this year?
"How would you react if you were on a bowl ban?" Belton asked, before some mild back-and-forth. "I'm just saying, like, if you were a kid in a program and you were in a bowl ban, it would be exciting. That's what I'm saying."
Belton, a senior, didn't seem to want to get his hopes up. This is his final season, after all, and he's already been forced to come to terms with the fact he'll end his career without another postseason berth. Maybe the only thing worse than that realization is believing otherwise -- only to find disappointment yet again.
"We just continue to work on what we have to do to get better," he said Monday afternoon. "That's something the guys don't think about. All we're trying to do is prepare for UCF."
But there might be some cause for hope. NCAA president Mark Emmert reduced the sanctions on scholarships last season, and Emmert acknowledged last fall that further reductions could be considered this August or September. Of course, a lot of that has to do with the results of the annual Mitchell Report -- which, in all likelihood, will once again be a glowing one for Penn State.
Granted, that's still not a guarantee there'll be a reduction. But it doesn't mean Penn State is locked into its current penalties either. Really, at this point, it's anyone's guess.
"We don't know any more than you guys, to be honest," said kicker Sam Ficken, also a senior. "Obviously, we hope it's lifted. But, if not, we're going to approach the season the same way. That's not going to affect how we play the 12 regular-season games.
"If we get to that point and we're able to do that, that's awesome. That would be a good way to go out. But if it doesn't happen? Well, I still had a heck of a time at Penn State. We all play for each other and play for the fans, and that's not going to change."
Five Pennsylvania congressmen -- including U.S. Rep Glenn Thompson, who invited James Franklin to the State of the Union Address -- signed a two-page letter to Emmert on Thursday to request an elimination of the sanctions. They wrote the penalties "harm innocent student athletes and further erodes the increasingly specious credibility of the [NCAA]."
The politicians also asked Emmert to answer two questions in a timely fashion. For one, they wonder how the NCAA can reconcile its mission statement with the fact many of those affected were high school students at the time of the Consent Decree's enforcement. And, two, if the NCAA already acknowledged it lacked authority to fine Penn State for criminal activity of a former employee, how can it still insist on punitive measures?
Senior linebacker Mike Hull wasn't asked about all the political jargon or whether this group, or that report, would be successful in restoring bowl games or past wins. But he did address that possibility of a bowl game, of a last hurrah for him and the Penn State seniors.
"We talk about it as players off the field a little bit, but we really don't want to get our hopes up," he said. "We want to take it one day at a time, one game at a time, and play the same way regardless of whether we're going to a bowl game or not. It's a special place at Penn State."
CHICAGO -- Unlike some of his counterparts from other leagues -- and unlike some of his own previous years here -- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn't seem interested in making major headlines during his address to close out media day.
Then again, Delany's views on NCAA reform and other pressing topics are well-known and well-documented. He spoke at length on the subject last year at this time in Chicago, and all 14 Big Ten presidents and chancellors signed a letter endorsing student-athlete welfare upgrades just last month.
So Delany didn't need to bang the gavel this year. Instead, his comments were more subdued. But the commish's words always carry weight, so here's a recap of his 25-minute address at the Chicago Hilton:
- Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby ripped NCAA enforcement at his league's media days last week, calling the system "broken" and saying "cheating pays" these days. Delany said he wouldn't echo Bowlsby's "more colorful" language, instead simply terming the enforcement branch as "overmatched." Delany did say the power conferences need to come together to bring about a new way of policing themselves. "We need a system that works," Delany said. "I think there's no doubt that NCAA enforcement has struggled. ... My hope is over the next year to 18 months that major conferences can come together and can find ways and processes and procedures that fit with what we’re trying to achieve, which is a level of deterrence, a level of compliance and a level of punishment.”
- Along those lines, the NCAA Division I board is scheduled to vote Aug. 7 on new autonomy measures that will give the Power Five conferences the right to craft many of their own rules. Delany said he's confident that autonomy will pass and would be "very surprised" if it doesn't. But he didn't issue any threats about power leagues forming their own division, as SEC commissioner Mike Slive did earlier this month. “If it doesn’t [pass], I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we're at.”[+] EnlargeJerry Lai.USA TODAY SportsBig Ten commissioner Jim Delany characterized the NCAA's enforcement branch as "overmatched."
- Delany reiterated that the Big Ten scheduling model going forward will include nine conference games, one nonconference game against a power league opponent, and no games against FCS teams. Delany acknowledged that some high-level FCS teams are more competitive than low-level FBS squads and that it often costs less to schedule games against the FCS. But Delany said he's worried less about the budget and more about making sure his conference has the strength-of-schedule ratings needed to catch the eye of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
- Delany testified in the Ed O'Bannon trial and saw one of his own league teams -- Northwestern -- vote on forming a union. So he's well-versed on all the various fronts challenging to tear down the NCAA model. The commissioner said he's not sure where this is headed, but he and the Big Ten remain committed to making sure education plays a pivotal role in college sports. “I certainly hope when the dust settles there will be a wide array of education and athletics opportunities for many men and women,” he said. “I hope at the end of the day the courts will support us in achieving them. College sports is a great American tradition. It’s not a perfect enterprise. No perfect enterprise exists. We can improve it, and we should.”
Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.
There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.
Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.
I think the Best Dressed award has been locked up today. Kurtis Drummond, folks. pic.twitter.com/XAnHXjJWKP— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.
Ohio State's Jeff Heuerman and Braxton Miller decided to join the media today and interview Urban Meyer. pic.twitter.com/scWhYDZRNs— Austin Ward (@AWardESPN) July 28, 2014
Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.
Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.
Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.
James Franklin and our Josh Moyer are sharing head shaving techniques. Seriously. pic.twitter.com/S7iVnnNvo9— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) July 28, 2014
Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.
“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”
Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”
Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.
Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.
First came Urban Meyer and then James Franklin, who addressed a number of topics during his first go-round here in the Windy City:
- Franklin's only concern about this place? Each elevator at the Hilton Chicago is plastered with a different Big Ten logo, and the elevator that went to his floor did not have Penn State's logo. So Franklin, never one to shy away from a headline, relayed an anecdote about how he had to take the stairs to his room, lest he ride an elevator that features another league logo painted on it. No word on how many flights of stairs he took. Or which team was, in fact, on that elevator.
- In a reflection of just how much turnover there has been at Penn State, Franklin reminded everyone that, having been hired just seven months ago, he is the veteran of the Nittany Lions' public faces, as the school just hired a new athletic director (Sandy Barbour) on Saturday and had hired a new president (Eric Barron) in February.
- Franklin said his equipment staff has used Notre Dame and Navy as resources for how to prepare for a season-opening trip to Ireland, as Penn State will open overseas against UCF. The Lions will depart from State College for the trip on Tuesday night of game week.
- Asked about Vanderbilt players' disappointment in the way he left the program for Penn State, Franklin said that he has learned that "there's no good way to leave," and that he hopes he tried to do it the right way. He added that he hopes that over time people will look back and see how much he cared about and invested in the Commodores during his time in Nashville, Tennessee.
- Franklin let out a brief laugh and smile when asked if Christian Hackenberg is the most talented quarterback in the country. He said the sophomore has a ton of tools, and he admired the way the signal-caller handled everything from his recruitment to expectations to a coaching change.
- As for his satellite camp at Georgia State, which drew the ire of former SEC comrades, Franklin said he was not sure why it received all of the attention that it did. He said he and his staff get on the Internet every day to explore what other people are doing, and to see if it makes sense for Penn State. He wants to do everything within his power within the rules to give the Lions a competitive advantage. "Whatever that may be, whether it's recruiting certain parts of the county, we're going to look into all those things." He again added that he cannot speak to the reaction it has drawn.
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. And for good measure, Central Florida 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 hot-shot 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 Northwestern's Trevor Siemian. 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 Iowa's Jake Rudock. But hey, we’ll take what we can get.
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:
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
The league today released the list of players who will be on hand at the Hilton Chicago on July 28-29 for media days and the kickoff luncheon.
Here they are ...
David Cooper, Sr., LB
Nate Sudfeld, Jr., QB
Shane Wynn, Sr., WR*
C.J. Brown, Sr., QB
Stefon Diggs, Jr., WR*
Jeremiah Johnson, Sr., DB
Frank Clark, Sr., DE*
Devin Gardner, Sr., QB*
Jake Ryan, Sr., LB*
Shilique Calhoun, Jr., DE*
Connor Cook, Jr., QB*
Kurtis Drummond, Sr., FS*
Michael Bennett, Sr., DL*
Jeff Heuerman, Sr., TE*
Braxton Miller, Sr., QB*
Bill Belton, Sr., RB
Sam Ficken, Sr., PK*
Mike Hull, Sr., LB
Michael Burton, Sr., FB
Darius Hamilton, Jr., DL
Lorenzo Waters, Sr., DB
Simon Cvijanovic, Sr., OT
Jon Davis, Sr., TE
Austin Teitsma, Sr., DL
Carl Davis, Sr., DT*
Brandon Scherff, Sr., OL*
Mark Weisman, Sr., RB
David Cobb, Sr., RB
Mitch Leidner, So., QB
Cedric Thompson, Sr., S
Ameer Abdullah, Sr., RB*
Kenny Bell, Sr., WR*
Corey Cooper, Sr., S*
Ibraheim Campbell, Sr., S*
Collin Ellis, Sr., LB
Trevor Siemian, Sr., QB
Raheem Mostert, Sr., RB
Sean Robinson, Sr., LB
Ryan Russell, Sr., DE
Melvin Gordon, Jr., RB*
Rob Havenstein, Sr., RT*
Warren Herring, Sr., DL
* indicates previous all-conference selection
I really like this list. The main reason: the number of non-seniors. Nothing against the graybeards, but too often Big Ten teams have brought only seniors to media days even if other players were better, more marketable, strong team leaders and more charismatic with reporters. Yes, I'm incredibly biased about this event: I want the best talkers.
While several Big Ten teams are taking the senior-only approach, others are bringing underclassmen who fill key roles. Minnesota will bring sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner because he's now the leader of the offense. The same goes for Indiana with junior signal-caller Nate Sudfeld. Michigan State is bringing juniors Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun because they both played huge roles in last year's championship run. Stefon Diggs is the most recognizable Maryland player, even though he's a junior. Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon isn't technically a senior, but barring injury this will be his last year as a Badger -- and his only chance to attend media days.
There's a decent contingent of quarterbacks -- seven in all -- that includes two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year Braxton Miller, Cook and Michigan's Devin Gardner. The only major omission is Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who could be one of the league's top players this season. The Lions throw us a bit of a curveball with kicker Sam Ficken. Interesting.
On behalf of all Big Ten media members, I'd like to thank Nebraska for bringing Bell. We are eternally grateful. And Kenny, I will make fun of you for being a Canucks fan.
Staying with the Huskers, senior running back Ameer Abdullah will speak on behalf of the players at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon on July 29. An excellent choice.
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.
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
One new/old rivalry already exists for Maryland, at least on the recruiting trail. For that, Terrapins can thank their former assistant and coach-in-waiting, James Franklin.
Since the January day he stepped to the podium as Penn State's new head coach, Franklin has excelled on the recruiting trail and let everyone know about it. From his "dominate the state, dominate the region" claim at his introductory news conference to a more recent statement about treating Maryland, Washington D.C., northern Virginia and other areas as "in-state areas" underscore his confidence as a recruiter.
The truth is Franklin should concern Edsall. His recruiting background and ties to the Maryland/D.C. area make him a direct threat to pry prospects from the Terrapins' backyard, which suddenly becomes one of the Big Ten's more fertile recruiting areas. Of all the coaches Penn State could have hired, Franklin, because of his recruiting background and Beltway roots, might be the most detrimental for Maryland, which finds itself in a division filled with big stadiums and big tradition.
Penn State's 2015 recruiting class, rated fourth nationally by ESPN Recruiting Nation, includes three commits from Maryland and one from Washington D.C., including ESPN 300 prospects Adam McLean and Jonathan Holland. Maryland, which is completing an excellent recruiting month, has one player from Pennsylvania (linebacker Brett Zanotto).
But the belief is if Franklin remains at Penn State and continues to excel on the trail, the Lions soon will be among the Big Ten's elite from a talent and depth standpoint. Penn State isn't there now, still reeling from the unprecedented NCAA sanctions handed down in July 2011. If Franklin pulls in several top-10 classes, however, things will change in a hurry.
And that is why Maryland needs a quick strike against its new/old rival. Edsall is right: talk is cheap. Results matter, certainly on the recruiting trail but more importantly on the field.
Maryland travels to Happy Valley on Nov. 1, its first trip to Beaver Stadium since 1992. Penn State and Maryland have history, but it's not good history for the Terrapins, who are 1-35-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions, their lone win coming in 1961.
What better way for the Terrapins to show that they'll be no pushover -- on the field or in recruiting -- by beating Penn State in the teams' first league contest?
The Terps have several we-belong opportunities in their inaugural Big Ten season, as they host both Ohio State (Oct. 4) and defending league champion Michigan State (Nov. 15), and visit both Wisconsin (Oct. 25) and Michigan (Nov. 22). Wins in any of those games -- Maryland should be an underdog in each -- likely would make a skeptical league take notice.
But no game means more to Edsall's squad in Year 1 of Big Ten play than the Penn State clash. Because most likely, it's only going to get tougher.
According to a report from Lions 247, linebacker Ben Kline is the latest to succumb to a serious injury -- a torn Achilles tendon that should make him miss “significant time,” according to the outlet’s sources.
Now? Well, with Franklin’s philosophy to not discuss injuries, it’s anyone’s guess as to when -- or whether -- Kline will return for his redshirt junior season.
Regardless of the severity, the injury obviously sets Penn State back. Depth issues along the offensive front have been well-documented, but the corps of linebackers are also extremely thin. Penn State now has just four linebackers who played last season and entered the university on scholarship: Mike Hull, Nyeem Wartman, Brandon Bell and Gary Wooten.
Kline, a team leader who penned an articulate open letter in January about the program, could’ve challenged for a starting job had he been healthy. At the least, he would’ve played a crucial role as a backup. Last season, he battled through injuries but eventually won the starting job later in the season -- before the torn pectoral ended his year.
Kline offered this team a safety blanket of sorts at his position. He was a solid player who would’ve contributed in some manner -- but now that production will have to come from elsewhere, which likely either means a lot more Wooten, time split among non-scholarship players or an immediate impact from the two true freshmen, Jason Cabinda and Troy Reeder.
Linebacker for Penn State just went from a potential issue to a real concern. The rest of these players need to stay healthy -- or Penn State’s defense could end up being in almost as much trouble as the offensive line.