NCF Nation: Corey Cooper

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska's first practice since the Nov. 30 firing of Bo Pelini provided important structure on Wednesday for its players.

Pelini's former assistant coaches may have needed it even more, according to Barney Cotton.

"It was great for our coaching staff to get out here and be with our players," said Cotton, the eight-year Nebraska assistant and interim coach. "This was really good for us."

The 58-year-old Cotton, a former offensive lineman at Nebraska and Omaha native, served as run game coordinator and tight ends coach under Pelini. He and eight other assistants, unsure of their futures, are set to remain on staff through the Dec. 27 National University Holiday Bowl against USC.

Before Wednesday, the last time they gathered with the Huskers, a celebration followed Nebraska's 37-34 overtime win at Iowa to cap a 9-3 regular season.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Barney Cotton
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBarney Cotton is serving as Nebraska's interim coach in the wake of Bo Pelini's firing.
The 12 days since have included plenty of sorrow.

"What I'm drawing more on is my strength," Cotton said. "I really have a very simple job, and that's to help our players finish out the best way, and to help this coaching staff stay cohesive and united and keep loving each other."

Cotton sent each of his three sons to play at Nebraska, including Jake, a senior offensive guard and co-captain this season, and sophomore tight end Sam.

The elder Cotton said he nearly broke down three times in a 20-minute meeting with the Huskers after Athletic Director Shawn Eichorst addressed the team over the decision to fire Pelini at the end of seven seasons that included no fewer than nine victories each.

Many of the Nebraska players have struggled to accept the move.

"I've learned a lot of life lessons since I've been here," senior cornerback Josh Mitchell said Wednesday. "The biggest one that Coach Bo taught us was to focus on the process. It's about being a man. Sometimes things in life just don't go the way you want them to go, but you've got to move on. Life goes on."

Mike Riley, introduced Friday in Lincoln as Pelini's replacement, met for about 30 minutes last week with Cotton. They talked in general, Cotton said, about Nebraska football and state of Nebraska. Cotton said no members of the old staff have learned if they would receive a chance to coach for Riley.

The new coach, on the road recruiting through the contact period that ends Sunday, will not be involved in Nebraska's bowl preparations. He is believed to have added four assistants at Nebraska from his previous job at Oregon State.

Nebraska received a waiver from the NCAA, similar to Ohio State in 2011, that allows it employ two coaching staffs. Riley's new staff cannot be involved in coaching this month; the Cotton-led group cannot recruit.

The practice on Wednesday was the first of three this week. Nebraska will conduct a normal series of practices next week and travel to San Diego before Christmas for the National University Holiday Bowl.

Despite the circumstances, the Huskers said they will not lack organization or motivation this month.

"I know the team is fired up right now," Mitchell said. "I know they want to have a great time. Everyone is just excited to get away from everything and play some football. As competitors, you've got to go out, strap it up and have some fun."

This trip marks the Huskers' fourth to the Holiday Bowl and third since 2009. Nebraska lost to Steve Sarkisian-coached Washington 19-7 in the 2010 Holiday Bowl, sandwiched between regular-season Nebraska wins over the Huskies in 2010 and 2011.

Sarkisian is at the end of his first season USC, the Huskers opponent in this year's Holiday Bowl. The Trojans own a 3-0-1 record against Nebraska, including wins in 2006 and 2007.

"We're going out there, expecting to win," senior safety Corey Cooper said. "Guys have a lot of different reasons why they want to win. It."

Cotton said he laid out four objectives for the players.

"Honor God with your effort," he said. "Honor your teammates with your effort. Honor coach Bo with your loyalty and love and support, along with your effort. And let's reveal our character one last time together in the Holiday Bowl."

Of the old staff, "we do know what our future is."

"We know that we've got one last chance together," Cotton said. "That's our future here. And I hope and pray that everybody gets an opportunity to do what they want to do next year."
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MADISON, Wis. -- Melvin Gordon didn't see Ron Dayne as he entered Wisconsin's interview room early Saturday evening.

Gordon sidestepped Dayne, just as he did numerous Nebraska defenders during an afternoon that won't soon be forgotten in a place used to seeing extraordinary running backs do extraordinary things.

"I should be kicking you in the legs or something," Dayne joked, which caused Gordon to turn back and grin.

Dayne had just watched those legs break his Wisconsin single-game rushing record (339). Dayne's milestone was just the first Gordon took down in Wisconsin's 59-24 mashing of Nebraska at Camp Randall Stadium. Anthony Thompson's Big Ten single-game record of 377 yards -- set on the same field in 1989 -- fell during the third quarter. Moments later, on a 26-yard touchdown run, Gordon shattered LaDainian Tomlinson's FBS single-game record of 406 yards.

Afterward, Gordon took a small, appropriate bow.

[+] EnlargeMelvin Gordon
AP Photo/Morry GashWisconsin's Melvin Gordon was in rarefied air with his record-breaking effort on Saturday.
He finished with 408 yards and four touchdowns on 25 carries for an average of 16.3 yards per carry that is ridiculous for any college running back not named Melvin Gordon. He also didn't play in the fourth quarter.

"You never know when a special day comes," Gordon said. "When it does, it's a special feeling."

Wisconsin running backs now hold the FBS single-season rushing record (Dayne), single-season touchdowns record (Montee Ball) and single-game rushing record (Gordon). But only Dayne has the most coveted individual award in college football, the Heisman Trophy, which he captured in 1999.

When Dayne won, it was common for running backs to hoist the Heisman. Texas' Ricky Williams had won in 1998, and running backs went back-to-back in 1994 (Colorado's Rashaan Salaam) and 1995 (Ohio State's Eddie George). But since Dayne, only two non-quarterbacks have won the Heisman -- USC running back Reggie Bush in 2005 and Alabama running back Mark Ingram in 2009. As Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah, a good friend of Gordon's, told ESPN.com in September, "the Heisman's really become a quarterback's award."

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota entered Saturday as the clear Heisman front-runner. Another quarterback, one-time favorite Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, had an opportunity to gain on Mariota -- or perhaps eclipse him -- with a signature performance at Alabama. Gordon was in the mix, but after putting up big numbers against inferior teams and with an incomplete performance against LSU, he needed to make a convincing case on this day, against the nation's 20th-best rush defense.

Mission accomplished.

"I think he's the best of the best," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "And he proved it on the national stage when he was given the opportunity. There's some great players out there ... and the decision is going to be made by other people. But if I made that decision, it's going to this guy right here.

"A lot of people have God-given ability, and a lot of people don't do anything with that ability. He's taken it to the highest level."

Gordon still has to catch Mariota, a tough task because the Oregon quarterback does so much good and so little bad and leads a team gunning for a College Football Playoff spot. But the gap is narrowing.

On Saturday, Gordon earned more than a courtesy trip to New York for the Heisman ceremony on Dec. 13. He earned the right to be seriously evaluated as a Heisman contender.

"Just show the man respect," Wisconsin second-string running back Corey Clement said. "That's all I ask."

Gordon will forever be respected here. Students chanted his name and "Heisman!" as the snow turned Camp Randall Stadium into a Wisconsin wonderland (at just 26 degrees at kickoff, it was the coldest game at Camp Randall in 50 years).

The tributes flooded in during and after the game, from Tomlinson, Ball and others.

"The best of the best," Andersen said. "Unbelievable."

A fourth-year junior, Gordon could have skipped this season and likely been the first running back selected in the NFL draft. He returned to guide Wisconsin to a national championship, a dream that died in early October with a stunning loss to Northwestern. But a Big Ten title remains possible, individual awards are coming, and Gordon, a Kenosha, Wisconsin, native, will leave as one of Wisconsin's favorite sons.

"There's risks that come with coming back when you have the chance to leave," Clement said. "God willing, he doesn't get injured, so he can do what he needs to do."

What he does is record big runs. Gordon had four runs of 40 yards or more Saturday, which brought his season total to 14, including a 62-yard scoring burst in the second quarter, when he hurdled Nebraska's Corey Cooper.

"It's something special," Badgers guard Dallas Lewallen said. "Once he gets to the open field, you never know if he's going to take it [to the end zone]."

Added quarterback Joel Stave: "He wowed us all again today."

Gordon's first half included 238 rush yards, a touchdown and two lost fumbles, the first time he has lost multiple fumbles in a game. It will be a forgotten footnote to everyone but Gordon, who thanked the coaches "for just sticking with me."

Smart choice.

The snow continued to fall Saturday night and blanketed the field where Gordon made his Heisman move.

"His legacy is going to be left here for a long time," Andersen said. "His footprints are going to be left all over these hallways."

Whether those same footprints are behind a podium in New York in four weeks remains to be seen.

Gordon gained the nation's attention Saturday. Now he needs to keep it.
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MADISON, Wis. -- After falling behind by 14 points early, No. 20 Wisconsin surged back to wallop No. 16 Nebraska 59-24 behind junior running back Melvin Gordon, who delivered an unforgettable performance to bolster his Heisman candidacy in a national showcase game. Gordon broke LaDainian Tomlinson's single-game FBS record with 408 rush yards. He also broke the Big Ten and team single-game records held by Anthony Thompson and Ron Dayne, respectively.

Let's look at how it went down at Camp Randall Stadium.

How the game was won: Wisconsin overcame a sloppy start and used a 21-point second quarter to take control. Gordon reeled off runs of 62, 44 and 39 yards in the quarter to put the Husker defense on its heels. His play seemed to energize Wisconsin's defense, which turned up the heat on Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong and then began forcing turnovers. After halftime, it was all Gordon, who scored three of Wisconsin's four touchdowns in the third quarter to put away the Huskers.

Game ball goes to: Hmmm, really tough choice here. I guess we'll go with Melvin Gordon. He had 238 rush yards and a touchdown at halftime. And then he really got rolling, racking up 170 yards in the third quarter to break Tomlinson's record. He averaged 16.3 yards per rush with four touchdowns on 25 carries. Gordon did lose two fumbles, something no one will remember after this one.

What it means: Wisconsin is alone atop the West Division after entering the day in a three-way tie for first place with both Nebraska and Minnesota. The Badgers can clinch a spot in the Big Ten championship game with a win next week at Iowa, and a Minnesota loss at Nebraska. The loss almost surely knocks Nebraska out of the division race and turns up the heat on coach Bo Pelini, who hasn't been able to avoid meltdown-type performances in the Big Ten.

Playoff implication: Nebraska's loss means Ohio State is likely the Big Ten's only realistic playoff candidate. The Huskers were a long shot going in despite only one loss -- a five-point road setback against Michigan State -- but they're definitely out of it now. It could hurt Ohio State's case as the Buckeyes hoped to face an 11-1 Nebraska team ranked in the top 10 at the Big Ten championship game. Wisconsin will move up the rankings but won't be able to overcome a loss to Northwestern.

Best play: So many Gordon runs to choose from, but his 62-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter is the pick. Gordon hurdled Nebraska safety Corey Cooper at the 37-yard line and scooted untouched the rest of the way.

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What's next: Wisconsin visits rival Iowa next week, looking to possibly lock up the West Division crown. Nebraska returns home to face Minnesota.
The sad news Thursday at Nebraska of a season-ending injury to defensive back Charles Jackson was followed Friday with a shocker: Sophomore safety LeRoy Alexander, the top candidate to start alongside Corey Cooper, has been suspended for the 2014 season.

Coach Bo Pelini made the announcement in a press release, saying that Alexander would remain on scholarship and practice with the team. The coach plans to make no additional comment.

Alexander’s absence further damages the prospects for a secondary that already featured some of the most pressing questions on a defense expected to serve as the strength of Pelini’s seventh team in Lincoln. The Huskers were faced with replacing three starters in the five-man defensive backfield from a year ago, and now, two of those replacements are lost.

Alexander started one game last year as a redshirt freshman out of Toledo, Ohio, and collected 34 tackles with one interception.

He performed well in spring practice alongside converted linebacker Nathan Gerry at safety as the senior Cooper sat out with an injury.

With Cooper back, Gerry, who played safety in high school, likely slides into a starting role.

Depth is a concern. Redshirt freshman D.J. Singleton and true freshman Kieron Williams, solid in the opening week of preseason practice, appear to fit as the top backups at safety. Drake Martinez left the program in the offseason after a redshirt season last fall.

The losses of Jackson and Alexander remove two of the top athletes from this Nebraska defense. Still three weeks from the Aug. 30 opener against Florida Atlantic, the Huskers can ill afford more bad news in the secondary.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Let’s face it, the Nebraska defense played at an average level in 2013.

Early in the season, the Huskers were below average. Remember the 38 consecutive points scored by UCLA and the 465 yards surrendered to South Dakota State? Later, Nebraska rated better than the norm, winning away from home against Michigan, Penn State and Georgia largely on the back of the Blackshirts.

[+] EnlargeRandy Gregory
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesRandy Gregory expects the Nebraska defense to reach new heights this fall.
But in 12 of 15 key defensive categories, Nebraska ranked no higher than third in the Big Ten and no lower than ninth.

So yes, as a whole, the group was average.

All-league defensive end Randy Gregory and his teammates want a new label for 2014.

Dominant or suffocating -- either is fine. How about being the strength of coach Bo Pelini’s seventh team?

“Definitely,” Gregory said. “Let’s be physical. We can dominate. If we play our game, we can play with anybody.”

The defensive performance and growth this spring appear to substantiate Gregory’s claim. This Nebraska defense looks stronger, deeper and more physical than any of the past few seasons.

Pelini’s defenses at Nebraska in 2009 and as coordinator in 2003 stand out as the best of the post-championship era in Lincoln. Both units ranked among the top two nationally in scoring and passing yardage allowed. They both featured a play-making All-American among the front seven. And both units surrendered fewer than 300 yards per game. They were the only Nebraska defenses of the past 12 seasons to reach the threshold that was commonly crossed in the 1990s, when the Huskers contended for five national titles, winning three.

“I think we can be a top-10 defense,” linebacker Zaire Anderson said. “If we keep working and making progress, we can be a great defense.”

Why such optimism? Well, first of all, it’s spring; positive energy abounds in April. But such talk did not flow from Nebraska camp a year ago as the Huskers attempted to replace several key pieces.

“They learned a lot last year,” linebacker Trevor Roach said.

Through the growing pains emerged a mix of experience and athleticism from front to back. Much like its dynamic mixture at I-back on the offensive side, the Huskers did not necessarily concoct the diversity of this defensive lineup.

It just kind of happened, with Gregory, an All-America candidate in his second season at Nebraska, anchoring a front four that has turned the heads of many observers this spring. At linebacker, seniors Anderson and Roach and junior David Santos have grown into the elders, but youth still rules.

In the secondary, where the Huskers need it most, cornerback Josh Mitchell is the vocal leader of the entire defense. And perhaps more than anywhere else on the field, the maturity of young safeties LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry -- in the absence of injured veteran Corey Cooper -- has rated as a key surprise.

At all three levels, positive storylines have emerged this spring.

The evidence of defensive chemistry was on display Wednesday in Nebraska’s 10th practice of the spring.

Late in the workout in a sequence between the top offense and the Blackshirts, defensive tackle Vincent Valentine, Anderson and Gregory pressured quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. on three consecutive plays, the last of which resulted in a Gerry interception that had the whole defense abuzz.

“As much as I’ve seen, I know we’ve got a lot of upside right now,” said cornerback Jonathan Rose, who is competing with newcomer Byerson Cockrell for a top job opposite Mitchell. “We’ve got a lot to prove. It’s like a whole 'nother defense coming out this year.”

Gregory said he liked what he saw, too, on Wednesday, but the junior warned that a few practices in the spring can mark only the beginning.

Even early in the season last fall, the defense possessed plenty of talent, he said. It just wasn't making plays.

“We have a clear mind coming into this year,” Gregory said. “Tackling for us was a problem last year, but I don’t think we were a bad tackling team. It’s just all mental.

“It all starts, really, in the film room.”

Gregory notices more teammates studying film. They’re “taking it upon themselves to put in the work,” he said.

The Huskers could use a highly rated defense to help ease pressure on the offense, which will work with a reconstructed line and an inexperienced group at quarterback. Behind third-year sophomore Armstrong, who started eight games as a substitute for the injured Taylor Martinez in 2013, no quarterback has handled a collegiate snap.

"We have faith in our offense, certainly,” Roach said, “because we have a ton of weapons. But we have to focus on us. We have to worry about what we’re doing. I get the vibe that we have the potential to do great things.”
LINCOLN, Neb. -- How’s this for a surprise on the opening day of spring football practice? Nebraska has a new quarterback.

Well, Jamal Turner is not new; the 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior caught 60 passes over the past three seasons. And he has played quarterback -- in high school.

[+] EnlargeJamal Turner
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJamal Turner will workout at both receiver and quarterback this spring.
Turner shared time at QB on Saturday with several others behind Tommy Armstrong Jr. as the Huskers completed the first of 15 spring practices at their indoor practice facility.

Coach Bo Pelini said Nebraska plans “significant reps” for Turner in March and April.

Turner has tried the position in the past at Nebraska, Pelini said, but never in such an expanded role.

“This spring is a time for us to experiment and maybe take it to a different level," Pelini said. "He likes it. He thinks he’s [NFL quarterback] Russell Wilson. Jamal isn’t lacking for confidence.

“I thought he handled some things pretty well. He was further ahead than I thought he’d be. But when you play wideout, you kind of get how the offense runs.”

Turner also spent time at receiver on Saturday. He accounted for more than 10,000 yards in his high school career at Arlington (Texas) Sam Houston.

Armstrong performed well on Saturday with the top offensive unit. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton also worked at the position in addition to walk-ons Ryker Fyfe and Tyson Broekemeier. Freshman Zack Darlington, who joined the team in January, wore a green jersey to restrict contact in his first workout.

Senior I-back Ameer Abdullah said he liked the element that Turner adds.

“We’re just trying every new wrinkle we can to make this offense more dynamic,” Abdullah said.

Pelini said he was pleased with the opening day.

“I liked the tempo, the enthusiasm,” the seventh-year coach said. “Obviously, different guys are at different levels right now, as far as their knowledge, but I thought it was a good start.”

The Huskers have installed changes this spring to terminology and other logistics in an attempt to simplify aspects of the offense.

Pelini said he expected more mistakes than occurred.

“I was surprised how smooth it went,” he said. “There were very few missed assignments and alignment errors.”

Other Notes

Secondary matters: Senior safety Corey Cooper, Nebraska’s top tackler in 2013, sat out on Saturday with turf toe, Pelini said. Cooper suffered the injury last week in a conditioning drill.

“I’m not going to push Coop at this time of year,” Pelini said. “We want to make sure he’s 100 percent.”

Sophomores LeRoy Alexander and Nathan Gerry, a converted linebacker, played safety with the top defense in Cooper’s absence.

Pelini said the Huskers used juniors Charles Jackson and Byerson Cockrell, a newcomer out of junior college, at nickel, the spot manned last season by versatile defender Ciante Evans. Junior Jonathan Rose performed well at cornerback opposite returning starter Josh Mitchell.

Getting bigger: All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory has made important strides in recent weeks, Pelini said, as the junior attempts to add weight.

The 6-6 Gregory, who recorded 10 sacks last season, looked especially thin in January. But Gregory is back up to about 235 pounds, the coach said.

“His offseason has only begun,” Pelini said. “He’s got a long way to go before we play a game.

“Every day is important for Randy to get bigger.”

Time to reflect: Senior receiver Kenny Bell caught 52 passes for 577 yards last season and remains on track to shatter school records in both categories.

He’s not resting on his accomplishments, though.

“I was disappointed in my year last year, for selfish reasons," Bell said. "I wanted to perform better.”

Bell’s production dropped from his sophomore season, when he caught 50 passes for 863 yards and a career-best eight touchdowns.

“I had a lot of time to self-reflect and think about it over these past three months,” he said.

Spring football is often unenjoyable, Bell said, but he’s determined to improve.

“I’m here to work, definitely. I want to win football games with my team. I want to do something that hasn’t been done here in a long time, and that’s win a conference championship."
Let's look at what to expect this spring in the Big Ten's wild, wild West:

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
  • 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
  • Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
IOWA

Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
  • Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
  • Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
  • Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
  • Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
  • Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
  • Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
  • Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
  • Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
PURDUE

Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
  • Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
  • Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
  • Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
  • New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.

Defensive woes loom large at Nebraska

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
3:00
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LINCOLN, Neb. – Amid four quarters on Saturday filled with defensive sequences that exasperated Bo Pelini, the Nebraska coach had no trouble identifying one spot, moments after the Huskers’ 59-20 victory over South Dakota State, that captured the essence of the Blackshirts' trouble at the end of a scary September.

The Jackrabbits scored two touchdowns on nine plays, covering 176 yards in less than three minutes to open the game -- often running straight at Nebraska.

But that’s not what Pelini referenced. He’s talking about the next possession, when the Huskers stacked the box with eight defenders, and still South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner churned for 15 yards on the first play, followed by gains of 4 and 5 up the middle.

“There is zero,” Pelini said, “zero excuse for that.”

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
AP Photo/Nati HarnikBo Pelini wasn't happy with Nebraska's defense against South Dakota State.
The Nebraska defense has problems. Four games into this season, troubling trends that emerged late last season have turned into a cold reality.

Replacing seven senior starters from a year ago, the Huskers knew they would face growing pains this fall. Some of what we’ve seen this month, though, is rooted more deeply than in Nebraska’s lack of experience.

“Every week with this group, right now, feels like it’s a new adventure,” defensive coordinator John Papuchis said, “whether it’s from quarter to quarter or half to half or game to game. There are times that we show signs of being pretty good, and then there are times where it’s hard to watch.

“I don’t know how to say it other than that.”

He could say it like this: The Huskers have two weeks to prepare for Illinois and the start of Big Ten play. And based on the results of late – FCS-level South Dakota State scored just three points after the first quarter on Saturday but still totaled 465 yards – Nebraska coaches and players must decipher the cause of their defensive woes and fix them fast.

Statistics here tell just part of the story. But an important part.

In the first 12 games of last season, Nebraska ranked first nationally in passing yards allowed per game (152.2), first in opponent completion percentage (45.5), second in yards per opponent passing attempt (5.16), 13th in yards per opponent play (4.59) and 23rd in points per opponent drive (1.44).

In six games since, in the same categories, Nebraska is 105th (277.5 passing yards per game), 82nd (62.4 percent completion rate), 116th (9.35 yards per opponent passing attempt), 118th (7.45 yards per opponent play) and 105th (2.58 points per opponent drive).

Something is wrong. Pelini said it’s a missing attitude.

Pelini discussed it Saturday with former Huskers tight end and current associate athletic director Jamie Williams before the coach roasted the defense in his postgame news conference.

“You’ve got to have a killer instinct,” said Pelini, who was defensive coordinator at Nebraska, Oklahoma and LSU. “In football, no one’s going to give you anything. You’ve got to take it. You’ve got to earn it. If you don’t have that kind of approach, it’s not going to work out well for you.

“Right now, we’re not playing with a type of attitude that you need to take to the field defensively. There has to be a sense of urgency every time you line up.”

The Huskers have endured struggles at all three levels.

Newcomer Randy Gregory at defensive end is a bright spot. Freshmen Avery Moss and Vincent Valentine have played well on the line, but veterans Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle aren’t showing up.

True freshman linebackers Nathan Gerry and Josh Banderas were benched for Zaire Anderson and David Santos in the first half on Saturday. Anderson appeared to play well, but missed assignments continued to plague the unit.

In the secondary, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, with interceptions in every game this year, is a star in the making. The safeties are a different story, especially at the spot next to Corey Cooper.

“They’re playing too tentative,” Pelini said.

The Huskers lack aggression, in general, on defense. Pelini and defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski talk regularly to the linemen about exploding at the snap, initiating contact with the players across the line of scrimmage.

“I wasn’t doing that the first series,” Gregory said. “The defensive line as a whole, we weren’t doing that.”

Gregory doesn’t know how to make the fixes or even what to say to his teammates.

“I don’t think anybody knows what to say,” he said, “but we’ve got to come in with the mindset that we’re going to stop them.”

Others sounded more confused. A couple defenders said they thought the Huskers played well defensively on Saturday. Meanwhile, Pelini described it as “the worst defensive performance of the season.”

He issued a promise, too.

“I’ll get this fixed,” the coach said. “Trust me there.”

Interesting choice of words. Trust, it seems, is wearing thin among the Nebraska defense these days.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
9:00
AM ET
Recognizing the best and brightest from the Big Ten in Week 2:
  • Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: The Illini senior had a big game for the second straight week, this time against strong competition. Scheelhaase completed 26 of 37 attempts for 312 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in his team's surprising 45-17 win over Cincinnati.
  • Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: The Spartans sophomore has scored three defensive touchdowns in his first two games. Michigan State's offense, meanwhile, has produced only two touchdowns in the same span. Calhoun's incredible start to 2013 continued in a 21-6 win over South Florida, as he recovered a fumble and ran it into the end zone from 4 yards out in the first quarter and added a 56-yard interception return in the third quarter. Can Calhoun play quarterback?
  • Northwestern QBs Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter: No team has a more effective one-two punch at quarterback than the Wildcats. Returning after missing all but two plays of the Cal game with a concussion, Colter jumped right back into the flow of things, and Siemian continued his precision passing. Combined, the two of them completed 30 of 37 passes for 375 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions, in the 48-27 win over Syracuse. Colter added 87 yards rushing and a score on 11 carries.
  • Michigan QB Devin Gardner and WR Jeremy Gallon: The Killer G's had a huge night in a 41-30 win over Notre Dame under the lights at the Big House. Gardner completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns while adding 82 rushing yards and a fifth score. He did make one giant mistake by throwing the ball from his own end zone to Stephon Tuitt to put the Irish back in the game, but for the most part he carved up the vaunted Notre Dame defense. And his favorite target was Gallon, who's only 5-foot-8 but plays so much larger than that on the big stage. Gallon hauled in eight catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns as the Irish secondary just couldn't slow him down.
  • Nebraska's secondary: The Huskers bounced back from Week 1's scary defensive performance with a fine showing on that side of the ball in a 56-13 win over Southern Miss. Give a lot of credit to the Nebraska defensive backs. Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste returned an interception 43 yards for a score less than two minutes into the game. Nickelback Ciante Evans added two interceptions, and safety Corey Cooper grabbed his first career pick. Corner Josh Mitchell chipped in with three tackles for loss. The Huskers will need that kind of effort again next week versus UCLA.
Spring practice has begun in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what to expect from each Legends Division team this spring.

IOWA

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Questions at quarterback: The Hawkeyes played James Vandenberg for every snap last season, and now that he's gone, they have no quarterbacks on the roster with any game experience. Sophomore Jake Rudock has been viewed as Vandenberg's successor, but he's still a mostly unknown quantity who should get pushed in the spring by former junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Whoever wins the job will be tasked with improving an Iowa passing game that finished with a Big Ten-worst seven touchdown passes in 2012.

2. Skills competition: While the quarterback race is vital, Iowa also needs standouts to emerge at the other skill positions to fix an offense that sputtered under first-year coordinator Greg Davis. The wideout corps, which struggled to get separation or make big plays, now is without departed senior Keenan Davis, who tied for the team lead with 571 receiving yards. There's a reason why Iowa signed five receivers in the 2013 class. The running back position has strength in numbers, with Damon Bullock, Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all competing for carries this spring. The Hawkeyes just need to finally get some luck in the health and off-field departments at that position while hoping one player emerges as the go-to back.

3. Transition game: Iowa long had one of the most stable staffs in the country. But coach Kirk Ferentz added three new assistants this offseason for the second straight year, giving the program some fresh voices but also causing some potential bumps in transition. The offense in particular didn't mesh well last season under Davis, who'll look for solutions this spring. Ferentz has new coaches overseeing the running backs (Chris White) and receivers (Bobby Kennedy) and a new defensive assistant who'll work with the linebackers (Jim Reid). The Hawkeyes hope they can inject some life into a program that has seen its fortunes dip the past couple of seasons, including last year's 4-8 disaster.

MICHIGAN

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Devin Gardner as starter: Denard Robinson is gone and Gardner is the presumed Michigan starter for the first time. How he adjusts to that -- and how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges develops more of a pro-style offense around him -- are a major launching point for the Wolverines next season.

2. Offensive line play: Michigan is replacing the entire interior of its offensive line and while there is a lot of young talent there, none of the potential candidates have any experience. Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said he would like to have at least one of the three slots, if not two, settled by the end of spring.

3. Linebacker competition: The deepest position on Michigan’s roster also has the most competition. Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker is almost a given, but the middle and weak side slots are wide open. A bevy of freshmen and sophomores, along with returning starter Desmond Morgan, will vie for playing time in what will be a likely increased rotation in the fall.

-- Michael Rothstein, WolverineNation

MICHIGAN STATE

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Still Maxwell's house?: Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season at quarterback but was pulled in favor of freshman Connor Cook for the deciding drive of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans will open up the competition under center, with Tyler O'Connor and eventually incoming freshman Damion Terry joining the fray. Though he has a big edge in experience, Maxwell will have to prove that he can greatly increase last season's 52.5 completion percentage to hold onto the job through the spring.

2. Replacing Bell: Saying running back Le'Veon Bell was a big part of the 2012 offense is like saying Tom Hanks had substantial role in "Cast Away." Bell carried the ball 382 times last year, more than any back in the country, and gained 1,793 yards. There is no ready-made in-house replacement, as leading returning rusher Nick Hill had just 21 rushing attempts last year and may be too slight (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) to be an every-down back. Junior Jeremy Langford will move back to the backfield after seeing time at receiver. Signees Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton might wind up with the job.

3. New playcaller in town: Mark Dantonio has yet to officially announce a replacement for former offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, who recently left for an assistant's post with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. But reports are that former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has been tapped to lead the Spartans' offense. Can Bollman, whom Buckeyes fans criticized as being too conservative, find the solutions for what was a dreadful attack in 2012? The Spartans' defense once again enters spring ball with very few question marks. Michigan State's hopes rely heavily on how much progress it can make on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Defensive back end: The Gophers lost two outstanding cornerbacks in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, as well as starting linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Jerry Kill has tried to address this during recruiting, adding a pair of well-regarded junior college linebackers (De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson) as well as touted high school corner Jalen Myrick. But some holdovers from last season's roster will have to step into bigger roles this spring.

2. The full Nelson: True freshman Philip Nelson took over the quarterback job midseason and now will enter practice as the starter. He showed flashes of immense potential but still has a lot of things to learn. Kill has said Nelson is no lock to start in 2013 and that he'll face legitimate competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and incoming freshman Chris Streveler. Nelson has the inside track for now but must hold onto it.

3. Receiving line: The Gophers don't have a returning wideout who had more than 375 receiving yards last year, though Derrick Engel showed promise with a 100-yard day in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. You can blame some of that on the turnover and youth at quarterback. But Minnesota needs much better play at receiver to become a more balanced offense. Improvement by guys like Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte this spring will help, as would some immediate contributions from recruits Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky.

NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. Youth movement on defense: The Cornhuskers lost eight starters from last season's defense and will hope that some athletic young players are ready to step in. Guys like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose and Thomas Brown will be given long looks this spring. Nebraska coaches are hopeful that what they lack in experience, they'll make up for in speed. There's no bigger key for Big Red than having its young defenders make great strides in the spring.

2. Safety issues: The safety spot is an important one in Bo Pelini's scheme, and the Huskers lose both starters and a couple of top reserves from that position. Jackson will be given a look there, and the staff is high on Corey Cooper. But no starting jobs are locked down.

3. Martinez's progression: Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez won't be involved in a lot of live drills, and the spring will be a time to get freshman Tommy Armstrong some reps. But Martinez still needs to fine-tune a few parts of his game, most notably his tendency to force throws in key spots. He made great progress last offseason through extra hours of hard work; a similar leap this spring would make Martinez one of the very best players in the country.

NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. The quarterback duo: The Wildcats spent large parts of last season rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, using Siemian for more obvious passing situations. Will that continue this season? Colter needs to improve as a passer to become a better option as an every-down quarterback, and Northwestern's downfield passing game must get better. You can bet there will be a lot of eyes on Colter and Siemian this spring to see what offensive coordinator Mick McCall has planned.

2. Secondary concerns: The news that cornerback Nick VanHoose won't practice this spring because of injury could be a blessing in disguise. The Wildcats' secondary struggled when he was hurt last season, so this may provide an opportunity for others to get better without him. Jimmy Hall and Traveon Henry are youngsters who should see plenty of reps this spring in the defensive backfield.

3. Offensive line makeover: Three starters are gone from last season's offensive line, including both guards and left tackle Patrick Ward. Jack Konopka is the favorite to succeed Ward but will miss the spring with injuries, while 2012 signee Adam DePietro is among those who could step in at guard. Northwestern should have one of the best running games in the Big Ten in 2013 but will need its line to begin to take shape this spring.

Illinois recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
2:23
PM ET
Illinois Fighting Illini

The class

Recruits: 20 (19 high school seniors, one junior college player, three players enrolled early)

Top prospects: Chandler Whitmer gives the Illini another option at quarterback as the team tries to replace four-year starter Juice Williams. Wide receiver Darius Millines, a last-minute addition, bolsters the receiving corps, while safety Earnest Thomas will get a chance to play right away in the secondary.

Sleepers: Linebacker Mark Wilson should help a group that regains the services of Martez Wilson this fall. Arguably the team's most intriguing prospect is junior college safety Trulon Henry, the younger brother of former Illinois star Arrelious Benn. Henry served nearly five years in prison for armed robbery but has turned his life around and should help in the secondary.

Needs met: Time will tell if Illinois addressed its need in the secondary, as players like Henry and Thomas need to contribute right away. Losing safety Corey Cooper to Nebraska hurt, but embattled head coach Ron Zook and his new-look staff closed recruiting well with players like Millines and Brandon Denmark. The wide receiver position should once again be strong this season.

Analysis: The class isn't drawing high marks, which puts pressure on the coaching staff to develop players for a make-or-break 2010 season. Illinois held onto Whitmer, which could be key, and finished strong after the class looked bleak in early December. If the defensive recruits can come in and contribute this fall, Illinois might be able to stabilize itself on that side of the ball.

Scouts Inc. grade: C-minus

What Ron Zook said:

  • "The strengths are the linemen and obviously the receivers. If you go back and you look at who we lost, we filled in the positions. ... Hopefully, we're getting to a point where we don't have to continually count on freshmen playing. Although I think there will be some guys [in this class] who have a pretty good opportunity to do that."
  • "Darius [Millines] is an unbelievable athlete, he can run like a deer. He probably surprised a lot of people down there because he committed early to West Virginia. Doc Holliday really had a great relationship with him, and he's at Marshall now. I think he has a chance to be a special guy. Jarred Fayson said, 'Coach, he's one of us.' That makes me feel good."
  • "There's been a lot of negative recruiting going on, but that's part of it. People don't have to say anything. They just take the articles that are written and show them. You're defending your manhood, you're defending everything about you every time you go out there."

Nebraska recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
12:02
PM ET
Nebraska Cornhuskers

Total class: 21

ESPN 150: 1

By position: DT 3, DE 3, ATH 2, QB 2, OT 2, CB 2, S 2, RB 1, WR 1, TE 1, OLB 1, G 1

By state: Texas 5, Nebaska 4, Florida 2, Colorado 2, California 2, Missouri 1, Illinois 1, Ohio 1, Minnesota 1, Louisiana 1, Mississippi 1.

Already enrolled in school: 3.

The big ones: Massive 298-pound guard Andrew Rodriguez, the nation's seventh ranked player at his position and the Cornhuskers’ only player on the ESPNU 150, looks like he could develop into a dominant player in the trenches. Safety Corey Cooper, a late decommittment from Illinois and the nation's No. 20 rated safety, arrives at Nebraska’s biggest defensive position of need.

Sleeper: WR/KR/DB Ken Bell, son of former Denver Broncos player Ken Bell, struggled with injuries during his senior season in high school. But he has played well at a variety of positions and has been clocked at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash.

Needs met: With the loss of Ndamukong Suh and Barry Turner to graduation and Pierre Allen entering his senior season, the Cornhuskers filled a gap with six defensive linemen. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson should fill the biggest defensive need at safety. But the Cornhuskers still are looking for offensive firepower and added only one wide receiver.

Analysis: The Cornhuskers added a couple of late additions when Cooper and QB Brion Carnes joined on Wednesday. But they missed on the really big recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa decided to go to UCLA. Coach Bo Pelini doesn’t agree with the perception that this class is lacking on offensive playmakers. But there's no debate that he addressed most of the Cornhuskers' most pressing needs with a typically wide-ranging class with players attracted from 11 states.

What Bo Pelini said: On recruiting ratings: "I don't pay that much attention to it, other then when I'm down and I really want to get a good laugh." On not attracting Owamagbe Odighizuwa: “It’s his mistake. Honestly, I don’t get all caught up in all that. I don’t get all stressed out about whether they’re going to come. I thought he was a pretty good player. But in my mind, the kids that don’t choose to come here I don’t believe do themselves a service because I believe we’ll develop them better than the other guy. That’s just the confidence I have.”

Scouts Inc. grade/rankings: C-plus, seventh in Big 12.

Cornhuskers lose Odighizuwa to UCLA

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
2:55
PM ET
Nebraska missed out on its biggest potential recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa picked UCLA over the Cornhuskers and Oregon State.

In a nationally televised announcement on ESPNU Wednesday afternoon, Odighizuwa chose the Bruins after Nebraska was thought to have a strong chance at the prospect from David Douglas High School in Portland, Ore.

Odighizuwa would have given the Cornhuskers an immediate threat at defensive end as they lose senior Barry Turner and will lose Pierre Allen after next season.

His final choice was a difficult one and something he said he didn't take lightly.

"This decision will affect the next 40 years for me and not four," Odighizuwa said. "It's something I have to be proud about."

And in the end, he said that UCLA was the best place for him to play college football.

"UCLA is the right fit because I felt real comfortable with the coaching staff," Odighizuwa said. "The academics are good. Their football program is on the rise. At the end of the day I felt most comfortable at the school."

Odighizuwa's choice takes a little of the luster from Nebraska's strong start today that included earlier commitments from safety Corey Cooper and quarterback Brion Carnes.

But Odighizuwa would have been the Cornhuskers' biggest recruit. And not getting him hurts Bo Pelini and his program.

Cornhuskers nab second big commitment of day with S Corey Cooper

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
11:23
AM ET
Bo Pelini nabbed his second big recruiting commitment of the morning when touted four-star safety Corey Cooper of Maywood, Ill., accepted Nebraska's scholarship offer.

Cooper chose the Cornhuskers over Notre Dame, Arizona and Illinois.

Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, played wide receiver as well as defensive back in high school, but he is committed to playing defense for the Cornhuskers.

“When I visited there and talked with the coaches, I just felt comfortable,” Cooper told the Lincoln Journal Star. "I feel I can go in there and contribute."

With the loss of starters Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon, the Cornhuskers need safeties. Cooper might be good enough to contribute immediately.

His decision came on the heels of Brion Carnes' commitment to the Cornhuskers earlier on Wednesday.

It's been a good day for the Cornhuskers with an announcement set early this afternoon with Owamagbe Odighizuwa. If they can get him it would be an unprecedented late recruiting hat trick by Pelini and his staff.
The news cycle starts very early on national signing day, and there are already a few notable Big Ten tidbits.

  • Safety Corey Cooper, who originally committed to Illinois but reopened his recruitment, will play his college ball for Bo Pelini at Nebraska, SI.com reports. Cooper would have been one of the top players in Illinois' class, which won't earn high marks this year. Cooper, who will make his official announcement at 11 a.m. ET, told SI.com that "nowhere else could beat Nebraska." Illinois recently added several defensive backs to its class, but always wants to keep top in-state players like Cooper (Maywood, Ill.) at home.
  • Ohio State received 10 national letters of intent this morning, perhaps none more important than the one from wide receiver James Louis. Louis had verbally committed to the Buckeyes but was being pursued by other schools. He had also indicated on his Facebook page that he wanted to join high school teammate Donnell Kirkwood at Minnesota. Running back Carlos Hyde, a 2009 prospect who spent some time at Fork Union Military Academy to improve his grades, enrolled at Ohio State this spring, also will be part of this class.
  • Michigan ended up signing defensive lineman Terry Talbott after all. Talbott verbally committed to the Wolverines last summer but strongly considered North Carolina leading up to signing day.

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