NCF Nation: James Franklin

B1G media days: Best of Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:00
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CHICAGO -- The season has unofficially started in the Big Ten.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
CHICAGO — Fittingly, the Big Ten put its two most talked about coaches back to back during Day 1 of media days.

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

Here are 10 storylines to watch next week:
  • Jim Delany on the state of college football. Don’t expect the Big Ten boss to drop any bombs in line with the comments made by Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby this week in Dallas. But Delany speaks his mind, and he feels strongly about the need for fixes in college athletics. With the NCAA Division I Board of Directors’ vote on power-conference autonomy set for next month and the verdict due soon in the Ed O'Bannon antitrust lawsuit -- Delany was a key NCAA witness -- the commish will no doubt make news with his comments.
  • Rutgers and Maryland, you’re up. Let’s see what these Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Maryland Terrapins look like as their long wait to play Big Ten football is nearly over. It’s been nearly two years since these schools made plans to join the league. And they enter the Big Ten in different places than what may have been expected back in 2012. Maryland is trending up and Rutgers down, but things can change in a hurry. For now, it’ll be nice to hear from the Terps’ sixth-year senior QB C.J. Brown and dynamic receiver Stefon Diggs. Rutgers defensive tackle Darius Hamilton looks like one of the league’s best.
  • The Big Ten goes back on the big stage in September. Who remembers Week 3 last season? It was the Saturday that the UCLA Bruins, Arizona State Sun Devils and Washington Huskies beat the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Wisconsin Badgers and Illinois Fighting Illini, respectively. 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.
Maryland and Rutgers fans might have the wrong idea about their new Big Ten brethren.

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

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

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

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

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

Another reminder: this is all in good fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villains on deck: Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Connor Cook, Julie Hermann, Christian Hackenberg
Maryland becomes an official Big Ten member Tuesday. It marks a new chapter in Terrapins history, and a chance to build rivalries.

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.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesFormer Maryland assistant coach James Franklin has made some bold predictions about how well he'll recruit while at Penn State.
Asked recently about Franklin's comments, Maryland coach Randy Edsall told the York Dispatch, "We're not gonna boast and brag. We're more about substance at Maryland. ... We're gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else. Talk is cheap."

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.
Maryland and Rutgers officially join the Big Ten on July 1, less than two weeks from now. The reaction from most Big Ten fans, of course, can be summed up in two words: Ho hum.

But what could quickly change the reaction is a new rivalry being created by the two expansion members. On that front, there is some promising potential.

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Eleven Warriors had a good look earlier today at the Maryland-Penn State rivalry, such as it is. The on-field history says, "nothing to see here, move along," as Penn State has gone 35-1-1 all time versus the Terrapins. But first-year Nittany Lions coach James Franklin seems to have a way of getting under opponents' skin, which opens up a realm of possibilities for this feud going forward.

Franklin spoke openly about "dominating the region" in recruiting upon taking the Penn State job. During a speech last month to boosters in Baltimore -- right in the Terps' backyard, Franklin said he viewed Maryland and New Jersey an in-state recruiting territory for his team. As far as other schools in the area? "They might as well shut them down, because they don't have a chance," he told the boosters.

Franklin would later say his words were taken out of context, but the implication was pretty clear nonetheless.

Well, Maryland coach Randy Edsall was in Pennsylvania for a golf outing earlier this week and fired back at Franklin's comments.

"Talk is cheap,” Edsall told the York (Pa.) Dispatch. "We're not gonna boast and brag. We're more about substance at Maryland. We're gonna find guys that fit the profile we're looking for. We're gonna worry about ourselves and not worry about anything else.”

I love it. Sure, coaches often spout off in the summertime, especially when rabble-rousing for their own boosters. Remember Brady Hoke's comments about Notre Dame "chickening out" of the Michigan series last year around this time? It's not so much a war of words as it is something to talk about.

But there's no doubt that these types of things add to the rivalry. Michigan did, after all, play the "Chicken Dance" song after beating the Irish at home last September. Wolverines fans ate it up.

The Maryland-Penn State series already has a little bit of juice, thanks both to the geography and the fact that Franklin used to be the Terrapins' head-coach-in-waiting. There is little doubt the two schools will butt heads on the recruiting trail, as Penn State already has four players from Maryland and the Washington D.C. area committed for the 2015 class.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSoon-to-be Big Ten members Maryland and Rutgers will hear plenty from Penn State coach James Franklin.
All of this makes the Nov. 1 game between the Lions and Terps at Beaver Stadium much more interesting. Provided, of course, that Maryland can field a competitive team in its new league. When the on-field results don't ignite a rivalry, the quickest way to add some flames is through a coaching conflict.

"Maryland has not had a lot of success against Penn State," Edsall told the Dispatch. "I think it's something that can be a good rivalry. We have to do something about that on our end."

Then there's Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights have been just as futile over the years against the Nittany Lions as Maryland, going 2-22 all time. Still, the two schools aren't that far apart and share some commonality as northeastern state flagship institutions. Penn State has had lots of success recruiting New Jersey over the years, and Franklin's former boss -- ex-Maryland head coach Ralph Friedgen -- is now the offensive coordinator at Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 13 in their first conference game as a Big Ten member; the game was scheduled before the league invited the Rutgers to join.

Rutgers fans have been looking forward to that game for many months and would love nothing more than to score the upset.

"There is a buzz from the fans,” coach Kyle Flood told reporters last month. “College football is at its best when its regional. They are our neighbor to the west, and they are the Big Ten school in Pennsylvania. Our fans are excited about it. I think they should be excited about it. We’ve got a lot of work to do for the season before that. We’ve got some really challenging games before that, but it’s probably fitting that that’s the Big Ten opener.”

Franklin likely won't be a popular figure in either Piscataway or College Park in the foreseeable future. And that's a good thing, because what the league needs with these two new East Coast additions are some buzz-worthy rivalries.
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Penn State assistant Herb Hand has beaten himself up over past decisions, but none was probably as public as Tuesday night’s second-guessing: Why, oh why, didn’t the father of three toss his rice noodles with that Thai peanut sauce?

“I learned there are a lot of armchair chefs out there,” Hand told ESPN.com with a laugh.

Not a lot of football coaches find fans questioning their sauce-making capabilities. But not a lot of coaches have appeared on Food Network’s nationally televised “Chopped” show, either. Hand taped the four-person, three-round elimination competition last October -- which explained his gold Vanderbilt shirt -- and the show aired late Tuesday night.

In “Chopped,” four chefs scramble for 30 minutes to transform a mystery basket of ingredients into a dish judged on creativity, presentation and taste. They’ll do that with an appetizer, entrée and dessert -- with one chef eliminated after each round.

“When we actually walked out on set when they were filming, that’s when I was like, ‘What are you doing, man? You’re about to cook on national television,’” Hand said, laughing. “But it’s just like anything else. When the clock started and it was time to compete, I just wanted to do my best.”

The offensive line coach cruised past the first round with his winning combination of potato chip-crusted sole with bacon and garlic red Russian kale -- a sentence that will likely never again appear on ESPN.com. And Hand also won over cooking fans by sharing an ingredient with a competitor and asking the timeless question, “Who am I to hog another man’s bacon?” But the offensive line coach slipped up in the entrée round when the judges criticized the presentation of his lamb with Thai peanut sauce.

Hand was “chopped,” or eliminated, in the second round.

Hand watched the show Tuesday night alongside his fellow Penn State coaches, who were crammed in a bus on their way to help with a satellite camp in Florida. The coaches laughed and read aloud some of their favorite tweets, while playfully yelling at the TV as if it were the NBA Finals … which was airing simultaneously, but could always wait. After all, that series happens once a year. How often does a coach take over Twitter with "DominatetheKitchen" hashtags?

Penn State head coach James Franklin shook his head right before Hand’s televised elimination, as the judges told a sullen Hand that his lamb was beautifully cooked -- but the sauce lacked depth and the presentation wasn’t pretty.

“It always comes down to execution, Herb!” Hand remembered Franklin yelling.

Hand, who was playing for "Curing Kids Cancer" in honor of Wilson Holloway, said it took a day or two for him to fully recover from the Thai peanut sauce fiasco. And, once the football season ended, he started questioning himself again. If he could do it all over again -- something countless Penn State foodies have undoubtedly wondered … probably -- Hand said he would’ve tossed the sauce with the noodles, added some green onion and cilantro, and maybe mixed in some carrots for crunch.

He searched the Food Network pantry for some crushed peanuts for the dish but, regrettably, couldn’t find them and had to settle for sesame seeds.

“When the clock is running, man, you just want to get it done. You just want to get it done,” Hand repeated. “When they say to open the baskets and your time starts now, your time starts now. There are no redos or stopping the clock. It’s go time.”

To prepare for the competition, Hand treated it almost like football. He literally looked for tendencies in the judges -- scouting report on judge Scott Conant? Steer clear of pastas -- and basically broke down film with his wife. They would relax on the sofa, flip on some “Chopped,” and his wife would pause the TV during a mystery basket to ask him what he would make.

No, Hand didn’t come away as the winner on Tuesday night. But his talent for food is already well-known in Happy Valley. On the morning of signing day, during an event that was open to media and some fans, he briefly took over a chef station and flipped some omelets for fun. He also started a Penn State “pizza crawl” and, for charity, he has auctioned off a few home-cooked dinners, where he’ll travel to the winner’s home with ingredients in tow.

So, despite the outcome, don’t expect Hand to stop cooking anytime soon.

“I just love doing it,” he said. “When you can make a great meal for people you love, it’s really an expression of love. And I enjoy that -- whether it’s my wife and kids or my friends or my players. It’s just something I enjoy doing.”
DESTIN, Fla. -- New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason knows what it takes to build a program.

The former Stanford defensive coordinator was there for the Cardinal’s makeover and now has the task of making sure Vanderbilt, which enjoyed three excellent years under former coach James Franklin, stays relevant in the ravenous SEC.

[+] EnlargeDerek Mason
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyDerek Mason wants Vanderbilt to have a national footprint in recruiting while still taking full advantage of the talent in its region.
What Mason doesn’t have to worry about is building from the ground up. Thanks to superb recruiting efforts by Franklin and his coaching staff, Mason’s first year in Nashville will feature not only quality but experience.

But Mason didn’t take this job to be a one-hit wonder. Franklin’s players won’t be on campus forever, so Mason has to build his own foundation in Nashville.

Mason might not have the boisterous salesmanship that made Franklin so effective on the recruiting trail, but he has plenty of experience recruiting at both a national and southern level. Mason said Stanford went head-to-head with Commodores coaches a few times in recruiting, but what he wants to do is stretch Vandy’s recruiting footprint beyond the comfort of its southern borders.

“That mindset’s gonna change. Vanderbilt’s a national brand, much like Stanford,” Mason told reporters last week during SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida. “Much like the Notre Dames and the Dukes, you have to go national to fill out your roster. There are great players across the country; we just so happen to be in the SEC and sit in a hotbed of talent.”

Don’t get Mason wrong, he isn’t going to ignore what the South has to offer. The goal is to collect as much close-proximity talent as possible, but he also knows that with a program like Vanderbilt, he can’t get complacent. He has to expand.

“Let’s go where the talent is, and let’s fit our profile,” Mason said.

With the nationwide success Stanford had in recruiting when Mason was around, he shouldn’t have a problem walking into high schools around the country. But Mason plans to clean up at home, too.

Take one look at Stanford’s current roster and you’ll find more than 20 players from states that house SEC schools. Mason had a hand in landing a few of those players and isn’t afraid to push himself around with the SEC’s big boys.

“I came into the South and recruited some of the best players the South had to offer against the Alabamas and everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to go everywhere to recruit, but I cut my teeth in the South.”

Another way Mason plans to expand Vandy’s brand is to play out of its comfort zone. Mason already has the advantage of seeing some of the best competition in the sport right in his own conference, but he also wants his players to see some of the other quality teams from around the country, especially when it comes to top academic schools.

Mason said he plans to take full advantage of the SEC’s new rule about adding a mandatory nonconference Power Five opponent to the schedule starting in 2016.

“It’s healthy,” Mason said. “I’ve been in that environment. I’ve had to play in those big games, those top games. Football is football. Nowadays, strength of schedule isn’t really what it looks like. If you want to be a championship team playing in the playoff structure, you really have to look and know what your schedule looks like and you can’t be afraid to play teams.”

So does that mean trying to schedule a home-and-home with Stanford?

“Yes, absolutely,” Mason said. “Absolutely -- Stanford, Notre Dame, whoever else is out there. In order to be considered a good team, you have to play good teams, and we’re not going to shy away from that in our nonconference schedule.”
The SEC football coaches, proud purveyors of oversigning and other honorable recruiting practices, have banded together in the name of integrity. Take a bow, (good ol') boys. You deserve it.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittSEC coaches aren't thrilled with Penn State coach James Franklin's decision to have summer camps in their territory.
Apparently the SEC coaches aren't too pleased with a plan hatched by one of their former colleagues, James Franklin. The new Penn State coach, formerly at Vanderbilt, and his assistants will guest coach next month at summer camps in the heart of SEC country, at Georgia State and Stetson. It means the Penn State staff can evaluate prospects from in and around Atlanta and DeLand, Fla., two SEC recruiting hotbeds.

Although NCAA rules limit programs from running high school camps more than 50 miles from their campus, coaches are allowed to work at camps outside of the radius as long as they don't run the events.

"The Big Ten and NCAA rules allow you to do these things," Franklin recently told reporters during a Coaches Caravan stop in King of Prussia, Pa. "We wanted to not only have camps on our campus, which we're going to have a bunch of them, but also be able to maybe take the Penn State brand and be able to take it to part of the country that maybe young men and families wouldn't be able to make it to our place, take it to them.

"And I'm fired up about it."

But Franklin's former SEC brethren aren't fired up. Unlike the morally reprehensible Big Ten, the SEC prohibits coaches from working at camps beyond 50 miles from campus. Again, it's all about integrity in that league.

So SEC coaches have complained to their commissioner, Mike Slive, to step in and try to stop Franklin and his attempt to enter their sacred ground.
"It's that kind of thing that gets us to think about our rules," Slive said. "They [SEC coaches] like our rule; they don't like the so-called satellite camps. They see it as a loophole and asked us to see what we can do about that."

Slive said the SEC would have to approach the NCAA about closing the loophole.

You go and do that, Commissioner Slive. March yourself to Indianapolis. By golly, someone needs to stand up for doing things the right way. And if the NCAA asks about oversigning, just show them your championship rings. So sparkly!

The truth is other programs are capitalizing on the same loophole. As colleagues Brett McMurphy and Edward Aschoff report, coaches from Oklahoma State and New Mexico plan to work several camps in Texas this summer. While Florida and Georgia are among the highest-producing states for FBS prospects, Texas tops the list.

So Franklin isn't the only one. But his plan to extend the recruiting reach for a Penn State program that has largely ignored the fertile South in recent years is brilliant. Everyone asks me how the Big Ten can close the gap with the SEC. The answer is to spend more time in its territory.

"This thing that James Franklin did with Georgia State, that’s a stroke of genius," Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo, a former coach at LSU and Vanderbilt, told me. "If Penn State continues to do that, and other Big Ten schools continue to have an agreement with these smaller Southern schools and you can officially visit a prospect in May and June, it will be the most significant move in favor of Big Ten football in my lifetime."

Just wait until more Big Ten coaches begin stumping for earlier official visits, which would help their cause tremendously. Michigan's Brady Hoke is on board. So are many others in the league.

It'll be fun to see how the SEC reacts to that campaign.

Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork offered this gem at SEC spring meetings when asked about Franklin's summer Southern migration. By the way, arguably no SEC program has a more storied oversigning tradition than Ole Miss.

"That's our backyard, so anytime those things happen, your eyes and ears perk up to say, What do we need to address [the issue] if that's a hindrance?" Bjork said. "If it's a competitive disadvantage, then we need to look at it."

Competitive disadvantage! Sound the alarms! The Big Ten is gonna get us!

To quote the other Björk:
You're all right
There's nothing wrong
Self-sufficience please!
And get to work
And if you complain once more
You'll meet an army of me

The SEC should stop complaining about, of all things, a potential challenge to its recruiting hegemony. Better yet, it should change its policy and come on up to Big Ten country. Nick Saban loves Ohio. Les Miles is a Michigan guy. Kevin Sumlin went to Purdue.

How could Division III power Wisconsin-Whitewater turn down a chance to bring back favorite son Bret Bielema to America's dairyland?

But maybe it's better that the SEC coaches dig in on this issue. Remember, they're all about fairness and honor in recruiting.

And 37-man recruiting classes.


DESTIN, Fla.-- James Franklin is heading back to SEC country this summer, and that isn’t sitting well with the conference’s coaches.

Penn State’s new coach and his staff are making their way back to familiar territory -- and fertile recruiting grounds -- by working at football camps at Georgia State University in Atlanta and Stetson University in Deland, Florida.

Now, there’s a reason SEC coaches aren’t happy: They can’t do the same thing because SEC rules say conference coaches can’t guest coach more than 50 miles from their campuses. However, schools outside the SEC have every right to guest coach at what are essentially “satellite camps.”

What SEC coaches want is for commissioner Mike Slive, one of the most power men in college athletics, to help put an end to this.

“I want you to know that it’s not the right thing,” LSU coach Les Miles said.

But maybe the SEC should consider conforming. This is something the NCAA allows, and it’s a great way for bigger schools to enlarge their recruiting footprint. It almost makes too much sense, and changing the rules could be a good thing for the SEC. You're telling me the SEC wouldn't take another opportunity to expand its brand?

Give Will Muschamp or Nick Saban the opportunity to work with a slew of prospects in Atlanta. Send Mark Richt and Kevin Sumlin to Southern California to help coach recruits.

That’s not appealing?

Here’s a snippet from ESPN College Football Insider Brett McMurphy’s story on how this works:

Seven years ago, the NCAA passed Rule 13.12.1.2, limiting where football programs can run high school camps -- basically any out-of-state location that sits more than 50 miles from campus. However, a loophole allows coaching staffs to work at -- but not hold -- other camps outside the 50-mile radius.
[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
AP Photo/PennLive.com/Joe HermittJames Franklin coaching at camps in Georgia and Florida is a hot topic among SEC coaches.
I know the SEC doesn’t want to open the flood gates for the rest of the country to sink its teeth into the SEC’s recruiting ground, but why not push away from your own, seemingly outdated rule and take advantage yourself? Why not push for repeal and see if you can reap your own benefits?

“We all would if we could,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We’re all going to do what you’d let us. Our point is where does it end? I don’t want to speak for everyone in the room, but from what I heard in there, most of our coaches would be in favor of at least being on an even playing field. We’d prefer to tighten up that loophole to not allow you to do camps off your campus.”

And that loophole is upsetting SEC coaches, who want to either have a nationwide rule that bans guest coaching by Power Five staffs or for the league to change its own rule and join the fun.

“It would be beneficial for everybody, if everybody could do that, or nobody should do it,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “There shouldn’t be any loopholes or anything else like that. The intent of the rule was to keep an institution’s camp on the institution’s campus, and now that’s not the case.”

I understand where the SEC is coming from. The coaches, who have the geographical advantage of calling such a recruiting hotbed home, want to keep outsiders away from their product. They want to limit the contact between the other Power Five players as much as possible.

This is their land -- or as Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork puts it, their “home turf” -- and they don’t want people trespassing with camps that will introduce them to a plethora of athletes.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing stopping other Power Five institutions from taking this further. The Big Ten has discussed whether this should continue within the conference -- Iowa's coaches are heading to Chicago to work at Lake Forest College this summer -- but where’s the incentive to stop? Just working at these camps broadcasts your product to a large group of prospects (that you really want to impress) in a relatively foreign area.

Slive has made an effort to keep the SEC ahead of the curve, and this is another chance for the SEC to evolve for the good. With autonomy such a big issue with the Power Five, it’s going to be hard for Slive to convince other commissioners to side with the SEC on this one. This is something the SEC can get out in front on and capitalize on before more schools take advantage at the SEC’s expense.

“Whatever it is, it has to be a national rule that allows us all to operate the same,” Miles said.

Just about everybody keeps track of a team or coach's record against ranked opponents.

It's a statistic that can be skewed because if you play a ranked team in the first few weeks of the season that bombs the rest of the way, does that really count as a quality win? For example, Florida was a top-10 team in both polls heading into the 2013 season and finished 4-8.

The most accurate gauge if you're tracking wins against ranked opponents is to add up those wins against teams that finish the season ranked in the final polls. We at the SEC blog have done that over the last three seasons, and some of the results are telling.

[+] EnlargeSteve Spurrier
AP Photo/John RaouxNo SEC coach has more wins over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season ranked than the Ol' Ball Coach.
South Carolina has the best record (12-3) against teams that finished the 2011-13 seasons ranked in either the Associated Press or USA Today coaches' polls. The Gamecocks were 5-0 last season and beat three teams -- Clemson, Missouri and UCF -- that finished in the top 10 in one of the final polls. Over the past three seasons, the Gamecocks are also an impressive 5-2 against top-10 teams in the final polls.

Only three SEC teams over the past three seasons have finished above .500 against teams that finished the season ranked nationally. In addition to South Carolina, Alabama is 8-4 during that stretch and LSU 9-5.

On the flip side, there are three SEC teams over the past three seasons that have failed to beat a team ranked nationally in the final polls -- Kentucky (0-13), Mississippi State (0-15) and Vanderbilt (0-12).

Even though the Commodores won nine games overall each of the past two seasons for the first time in history under former coach James Franklin, who's now at Penn State, they didn't beat a team either of those seasons that finished ranked in the final polls. Vanderbilt's last win over a team that finished the season ranked in the Top 25 came during the 2008 season, a 23-17 win over an Ole Miss team that finished 14th that year in the AP poll.

Alabama and Vanderbilt have played the fewest games against ranked opponents in the final polls over the past three seasons, each with 12 games. Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have played the most, each with 17 games.

Nobody in the league has played more games against top-10 foes in the final polls over the past three seasons than Tennessee. The Vols are 1-12 with the lone win coming last season against South Carolina, which finished fourth nationally. LSU has six wins over top-10 teams in the final polls over the past three seasons, which is tops in the SEC during that span.

Marquee nonconference games can also be deceiving, especially with teams scheduling some of these games so far out. Alabama, for instance, has played a traditional power during the regular season every year Nick Saban has been there, but only one of those teams finished the season in the top-20 nationally. Virginia Tech finished 10th in both polls in 2009. Four others that the Tide have faced since Saban's arrival -- Clemson in 2008, Penn State in 2010, Penn State in 2011 and Michigan in 2012 -- were ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game but dropped out by season's end.

Below are the records for all 14 SEC teams over the past three seasons against teams that finished the season nationally ranked in one of the final polls. In parentheses are the records against top-10 foes.

1. South Carolina: 12-3, .800 (5-2)
2. Alabama: 8-4, .667 (4-4)
3. LSU: 9-5, .643 (6-5)
4. Texas A&M: 5-10, .333 (1-6)
5. Georgia: 5-11, .312 (2-9)
6. Florida: 5-12, .294 (3-7)
7. Auburn: 4-13, .235 (3-8)
8. Missouri: 3-12, .200 (0-8)
9. Arkansas: 2-11, .154 (1-8)
10. Ole Miss: 2-15, .118 (0-9)
10. Tennessee: 2-15, .118 (1-12)
12. Vanderbilt: 0-12, .000 (0-8)
13. Kentucky: 0-13, .000 (0-8)
14. Mississippi State: 0-15, .000 (0-9)
ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Big Ten athletic directors began their annual spring meetings Tuesday and discussed the proposed NCAA governance changes, scheduling, athlete welfare and other items.

Here are some notes from Day 1:

[+] EnlargeBig Ten Logo
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThe Big Ten athletic directors will wrap up their annual spring meetings on Wednesday.
ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIPS

Although increasing athletic scholarships to federal cost of attendance figures isn't a new topic in the Big Ten -- the league first proposed it three years ago -- it generated plenty of discussion Tuesday as change is finally on the horizon. There are details that must be worked out concerning Title IX and how overall athletic budgets will be affected.

Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said a full cost-of-attendance plan for all Illini athletes would cost approximately $1 million per year. But the numbers vary by institution.

"You're going to have to have a standard formula all schools are going to have to adhere to," Thomas said, "knowing that the numbers might still look different."

Added Nebraska AD Shawn Eichorst: "Over time, each institution is sharing how financial aid works on their campus and how they see a possible opportunity to put more resources in the system to cover the gap."

The ADs also discussed how to improve travel for players, whether it's getting them home or getting their families to events.

"Is it two trips? Is it three? Is it just going home a certain time of the year? Or is it bowls? Or families visiting?" Penn State athletic director Dave Joyner said. "Those details are yet to be worked out I think, and how does that factor into the full cost of attendance?"

FOOTBALL SCHEDULING

Despite a move to nine league games in 2016, non-league scheduling remains a challenge for the ADs, especially with the Big Ten prohibiting contests with FCS opponents. Thomas admits the inventory of opponents is smaller, which can increase costs of bringing in opponents that don't require return games. He added that a nine-game league schedule makes it harder to play neutral-site games because of the demand for seven home games every year.

"It's hard for us to move off campus and take a game away from our stadium, that's my biggest issue," Minnesota AD Norwood Teague said. "That was built for a purpose, and $150 million of that stadium was paid for by taxpayer dollars. You've got to serve the people."

[+] EnlargeDave Joyner, James Franklin, Rodney Erickson
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesPenn State athletic director Dave Joyner (left) praised new football coach James Franklin (center) on Tuesday.
Joyner said there has been some talk about Big Ten teams scheduling other league opponents in non-league games, something former Michigan athletic director Bill Martin brought up years ago. "That's a unique concept we could talk about more," Joyner said. "That's a possibility."

Despite the SEC and ACC announcing recently that they would keep an eight-game league schedule, the Big Ten has no plans to ditch its move to nine.

ODDS AND ENDS

  • Joyner said new Penn State coach James Franklin has been "everything I thought he was an more, in a positive way," during his first four months on the job. "He's high energy, he's high ethics, he's high competitiveness," Joyner said.
  • Eichorst said he has had nothing to do with the improving public image of coach Bo Pelini, who has boosted his popularity since his blowups both during and after last season's loss to Iowa. "Bo's the same guy that I met when I arrived on campus," Eichorst said. "I see those sort of qualities from him on a day-to-day basis. What's out there in the community and the perception and all that other sort of stuff is certainly hard to control. He's a good ball coach, a good person. He's serious about his craft and very disciplined in his approach and we're lucky to have him at Nebraska."
  • Teague said the upcoming College Football Playoff generated little to no discussion Tuesday. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, a member of the selection committee, likely will address the group before the meetings end Wednesday.

More to come Wednesday as the meetings finish. Delany will address the media around 3 p.m. ET.
James Franklin learned quickly that there's no such thing as a quick shopping trip in Happy Valley -- not when you're the face of the football program.

He stopped by Wegman's, a regional grocery chain, earlier in the week to purchase five apples. He left about 90 minutes later, after four dozen-or-so fans approached him for handshakes and autographs.

"I will never do that again," Franklin said with a laugh.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
MCT via Getty ImagesJames Franklin is hitting the road on the Penn State Coaches Caravan and is opening up about him team, his program and himself (really ... phobias and all).
Ever since the coach stepped foot in Penn State, there's been an unmistakable sense of excitement surrounding him, and he's trying to stoke that by speaking in 17 cities throughout the month of May. He'll be joined by a rotating cast of other Penn State coaches on a speaking tour that's dubbed the "Coaches Caravan," an annual event that fills up gymnasiums and hotel ballrooms.

Franklin has already visited three Pennsylvania towns -- State College, York and Hershey -- and here are the highlights of what he's said so far:

  • It'll take the new staff three years to fully acclimate to Penn State: That's Franklin's best estimate because it took the staff three years to feel comfortable at Vanderbilt. To get a true sense of the community and the university, Franklin said there's no substitute for time and experience."I'd say that's probably been some of the frustration when you first show up -- you're starting all over," he said. "The other end of the spectrum is the excitement, the excitement of the things and the potential this place has and the history and the tradition and the direction we’re going to take it. But you are starting all over again, developing a relationship with you guys, the media, starting to develop a relationship with people on campus and in the community and getting to know the players."
  • Franklin's a germaphobe: One of the more light-hearted exchanges occurred when the head coach grabbed a nearby water bottle and questioned whether it had already been opened -- and then reiterated his concern when the cap was loose."OK, I'm a germaphobe," he admitted. "I am. I have been stuck in a bathroom before. You know, the hand-dryers are really cool -- but then I don't have a towel to open the door. I will stand there for 15-20 minutes until someone comes in to get out."
  • He wants his assistants to move on … eventually: The key, Franklin said, is that no one moves laterally. Several of his assistants interviewed for head coaching jobs last season, and one even turned down an offer. A big part of that loyalty has derived from the staff's relationships, as their wives and children are all friends with one another."I feel like that's natural, and I want that for them," Franklin said, referring to his staff moving on for higher positions. "I want them to feel like they can reach all of their dreams at Penn State, as well."
  • Some scholarship players will not make the 105-player training camp roster: Franklin met with each player on the roster for 20-25 minutes, and he broke the news to some scholarship players -- although he declined to reveal any names."I hope we don't lose one," Franklin said, referring to potential transfers. "And if there is somebody that does want to move on and leave, then we'll respect that as well."
  • Franklin wants all of his players to graduate in three-and-a-half years: He's hoping to achieve this by encouraging players to take nine credits over the summer. That way, seniors can leave Penn State to train for the NFL combine elsewhere -- or players can pursue a master's or second major."I've seen too many times that you have that redshirt senior, typically, a true senior, that in December he's been there three-and-a-half years and he's got six credits left to graduate," Franklin said. "And he signs with an agent, and the agent is telling him he needs to go to Miami or Arizona to train for the combine and you'll go back and finish those credits up later. And they don't."
  • Franklin is an all-or-nothing kind of guy -- in everything: Maybe that's not too surprising, considering that he's literally been living out of his office. But Franklin acknowledged that's how he is at everything. Yes, even eating."NFL scouts bring donuts. I won't go buy a donut -- but if they're sitting there, I'll eat seven," he said. "I have an extreme personality. All or nothing."
  • He cares what people think: "My issue," Franklin said, "is that a lot of people say they don't care what other people think. I do." For example, Franklin said, when 45 fans approach him at Wegman's, he wants them all to have a good interaction so they leave thinking positively about him and Penn State. But, at some point, he has to walk away -- and that bothers him a bit."That's kind of my personality," he said. "People are important to me, and what people think is important to me. I think that's a strength, and I think that can probably be a weakness as well."
video

If Ron Burgundy coached college football -- the San Diego Border Terriers, perhaps? -- he would only need to learn two lines to survive spring practice.

1. "I like my team."

2. "I'm glad we don't have a game tomorrow."

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats had to deal with a lot off the field this spring.
College coaches have recited those phrases in spring ball for decades. The 14 men leading Big Ten programs are no exceptions. But the standard spring sentiments apply to the league more this year than most.

There are reasons to believe the Big Ten will be better this fall, but the work is far from over on most campuses. This isn't a league of finished products, and the coming months take on added importance before the 2014 season kicks off in late August.

"I don't think we're that far behind; it's just painfully obvious that we're not there," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This next phase will be the most important phase of this team's life. It's always important, but with a lot of things we've gone though, we've got to come together."

Northwestern went through a lot in the spring, mostly away from the field, as the campaign for a player union gained national media attention, especially after players were declared employees of the school in March. The team held a historic vote Friday, after Fitzgerald had expressed his opposition to unionizing. Some players expressed concern that the vote could split the team.

It will be months before we know if the union plan goes through, but the Wildcats continue preparing for a pivotal season. They found their quarterback this spring in senior Trevor Siemian and an offensive identity based around the passing game. But questions along both lines remain.

The spring also produced quarterback answers at Iowa (Jake Rudock) and Minnesota (Mitch Leidner). Michigan's Devin Gardner had a rough spring game but still seems likely to retain his job. Another senior signal-caller, Rutgers' Gary Nova, is a good bet to remain atop the depth chart. Although Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong lacks Nova's or Gardner's experience, he exited spring just as he entered it: as the Huskers' top quarterback.

Indiana's platoon system of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson frustrates some, but not coach Kevin Wilson, who has given every indication that he'll continue to use both for another season.

Other quarterback races have been reduced but not resolved. Illinois will pick between Wes Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer who impressed for much of the spring, and veteran backup Reilly O'Toole. Coach Tim Beckman wants a resolution before two-a-day practices in August.

Purdue's Danny Etling, who started the final seven games of his freshman season, appeared to have a slight lead coming out of the spring, but coach Darrell Hazell isn't ready to declare a starter. So Austin Appleby and David Blough remain alive.

Wisconsin reduced its candidate pool from four to two as Joel Stave, who boasts 19 career starts but also a nagging throwing shoulder injury, will compete with dual-threat Tanner McEvoy in camp.

"It will be a fight," coach Gary Andersen said.

Quarterback is just one spot where Wisconsin has questions. The Badgers went through much of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. They've also revamped their defensive front seven, which returns only one starter from 2013.

[+] EnlargeRaekwon McMillan
Miller Safrit/ESPNEarly enrollee Raekwon McMillan could make an immediate impact for Ohio State's defense this fall.
Ohio State didn't have star quarterback Braxton Miller for spring ball because of shoulder surgery, but the Buckeyes focused on bolstering a defense that struggled last fall. Freshman Raekwon McMillan, an early enrollee, is pushing for the starting middle linebacker spot, and competition will continue at the cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant. Chris Ash, the Buckeyes' new co-defensive coordinator, worked to simplify the scheme this spring.

"We only have about six defensive calls," safety Tyvis Powell said after the spring game. "We had too many last year."

Offensive line remains Michigan's focal point coming out of the spring. A sloppy spring game didn't ease fears about the Wolverines' front five, although coach Brady Hoke saw positive signs in earlier practices. A critical summer awaits new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, tasked with resurrecting Michigan's run game.

At Penn State, new coach James Franklin continues to energize both players and fans. But he's also realistic about the depth challenge his team faces, particularly along the offensive line.

"When you don't have a two-deep of scholarship players, you've got issues that you're going to have to overcome," Franklin said. "We don't."

Like Rutgers, Maryland began its Big Ten transition this spring and welcomed running back Wes Brown and wideout Marcus Leak after absences from the team. If the Terrapins finally stay healthy, they could be worth watching in a loaded East Division.

Sitting atop the division is defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. The Spartans had a relatively stress-free spring, but they must fill key spots on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback, where players like Taiwan Jones and Darian Hicks step in.

The returning pieces for teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin fuel optimism around the league. But in spring, optimism is always tempered by what lies ahead.

"We're improving," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday, "but we're hardly ready to play."

They won't have to for 132 days.

Until then, stay classy, Big Ten fans.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Mike Hull was once a coin flip away from transferring to Pitt, but that all seems like a lifetime ago for the Penn State linebacker.

[+] EnlargeHull
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsLB Mike Hull, who has seen a lot of changes at Penn State, expects 2014 to be his breakout season.
The redshirt senior is going into his fifth season at Penn State, and he's already endured many changes and ups-and-downs. He watched his team adjust to three head coaches -- five, including the interims -- and four defensive coordinators during his career. And he bided his time as a redshirt sophomore, playing behind two All-Big Ten talents, before standing on the sideline as a starter for parts of four games last season due to injury.

But now, in his final season, and with his final college coach, Hull believes it's finally his time to break out.

"It's something I've been waiting for for a long time," Hull told ESPN.com. "It's my time to step up and lead the team and lead a good defensive unit to where we can win a Big Ten championship."

Hull isn't the loudest player on the field. He's not one to grab a mic during a pep rally and spearhead some impromptu speech like cornerback Jordan Lucas. But he's become the anchor of this defense, not unlike middle linebacker Glenn Carson last season, and he's wasted no time in making an impact on a staff that's only known him for three short months.

"The guy who has stood out the most to me at this point is Hull," James Franklin said toward the end of spring practice. "He's done a nice job. He's smart, he's got great instincts -- he's not the biggest linebacker -- but he's quick, and he's powerful, and he's freakishly strong. I've been very pleased with him."

Hull stands at just 6-foot, 227 pounds. But he's also played well enough to stand out to every coordinator who coached him -- and, seemingly, all for different reasons. Tom Bradley watched Hull zoom past would-be blockers as a freshman, clocked his 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds and briefly tried him at safety. Ted Roof watched him out-lift every one of his teammates as a sophomore, when he benched 405-pounds to best offensive linemen who outweighed him by nearly triple digits.

John Butler praised him last season as an "all-around outstanding football player." And, now, current coordinator Bob Shoop sees a sense of maturity and leadership in Hull that he's rarely found elsewhere, in part because he's learned from so many tutors.

"Mike's very mature," Shoop said. "He's football smart. He's very distinctive. ... There's not a player I trust more than him. He's a really special guy, and he's the undisputed quarterback of the defense."

At this time last season, Hull was the favorite from experts and fans alike when it came to naming the Nittany Lions' next breakout star. But, as Hull acknowledged, that title never quite materialized. With a nagging leg injury, one that didn't see him return to 100 percent until late October, he didn't live up to expectations until the final five games of the season. And, during that stretch, Hull unsurprisingly led Penn State in tackles (44). The No. 2 tackler, Carson, had 35 in that same stretch.

With a defense lacking in depth, even more will be expected of Hull this season. There are a few things working against him -- namely new schemes and a new coordinator -- but he's been in this position before. Twice.

"It's been easier to learn just because of the way [Shoop] packages everything together," Hull added. "It seems hard, but it's simple once you get used to it."

The last era of Penn State players who competed under three different head coaches were underclassmen in 1948, so Hull's position is a unique one. Still, the soft-spoken linebacker has tried to take it in stride.

Hull has taken on extra responsibility at middle linebacker, after playing outside last season. And Shoop has been pleased with how he's adjusted to an aggressive scheme that places extra emphasis on sacks and tackles-for-loss.

Hull, a Pennsylvania native could've had a different future if that proverbial coin landed on Pitt instead of Penn State. He could've had a more stable career. But he's not looking back now; he's finally looking forward to being "the guy" at Linebacker U.

"I don't want to compare something that never happened," Hull said. "I'm thankful for my time at Penn State. It's been one of the wildest times."

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