NCF Nation: Ryan Nowicki

Bill O'Brien/Tim BeckmanAP PhotoPenn State coach Bill O'Brien and Illinois coach Tim Beckman aren't exactly the best of friends.
During a week where Penn State's camp didn't talk much about Illinois or its poaching coach Tim Beckman, Bill O'Brien's long pause said it all.

Asked on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches' conference call about Beckman's claim Monday that he had reached out to O'Brien during Big Ten preseason media days in an attempt to diffuse any tension between the two, O'Brien hesitated for several seconds.

"Uh, I think I met him at the Big Ten media days," O'Brien said. "That's about it."

Translation: don't expect any pregame pleasantries between the two coaches Saturday in Champaign, Ill. The post-game interaction could be a little frosty, too.

O'Brien hasn't forgotten Beckman's not-so subtle attempt to lure Penn State players to Illinois after the NCAA imposed heavy sanctions on the Penn State program and made it as easy as possible for players to transfer, even within the Big Ten. Although O'Brien is trying to keep the focus on what Illinois' players do between the lines, the subplot of whether Illini coaches went over the line this summer undoubtedly adds to Saturday's game.

"It takes a lot to bother me," O'Brien said, "so I would tell you that, again, our players, myself, our staff, we're very focused on the task at hand."

O'Brien and his players were bothered in late July when Beckman sent eight assistant coaches to State College to pursue Penn State players. The Illini coaches weren't on campus but set up shop in town, making sure Lions players knew they were there. O'Brien passed a group of Beckman's assistants at the State College airport two days after the sanctions came down.

Penn State senior linebacker Michael Mautididn't offer much about the Illinois recruiting push after last Saturday's win against Temple, only saying, "You can kind of gather how we feel about them." He didn't hold back in July during Big Ten media days, saying, "You're going to sit here and wish our program well and then try to pull the legs out from underneath us and take our kids? Well, you are playing by the rules. But there really are no rules. If you're gonna wish us well and then try to take our kids, then I got a problem with that."

He's not the only one, although the sentiment is different for each Penn State player.

What's clear is this: the Lions know what Illinois did last summer.

"Definitely, that's your first instinct," defensive tackle Jordan Hill said. "But it's all fun and games. Nobody's like, 'I hate these guys' or anything like that. It's just motivation. ... When it affects you in a negative way on and off the field, then you know it's going too far. You never want to take it too far to where it's affecting you badly."

Illinois ended up landing one Penn State player: reserve offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki. Beckman on Monday said he didn't regret the recruitment, noting that Illinois broke no rules, alerted Penn State of its intent and had been first contacted by Nowicki.

While Beckman wishes the situation hadn't attracted so much attention, he simply wanted to give Nowicki the opportunity to transfer.

"We did everything under the rules, and everybody was notified prior to anything happening," he said Tuesday. "... I'm sure it has a little bit of an effect on this football game, but it's still about tackling and blocking and doing the things right fundamentally to be successful."

Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase expects to see a geared-up Penn State squad Saturday, and while he's aware that the summer recruitment attempt could fuel some of the men in white helmets, both teams share the same primary objective: to start 1-0 in Big Ten play.

"Bulletin-board material and things that happened in the past can only last you for so long," Scheelhaase told ESPN.com. "At the end of the day, you've got to strap up and play football. That's what it comes down to."
We're just two days away from the 2012 college football season, and it's time to check out the top Big Ten games to watch this fall, in chronological order.

Here are 12 contests you don't want to miss ...

Friday

Boise State at Michigan State: Although Michigan is the Big Ten's highest-rated team entering the season, Michigan State is getting more love as the league favorite. The Spartans get a chance to make a statement against a Boise State team that has built its reputation on winning games like these.

Saturday

Michigan vs. Alabama (at Arlington, Texas): No regular-season game can shape the Big Ten's national perception more than this one, as Michigan takes on the defending national champ at JerryWorld. After an 11-win season in its first year under Brady Hoke, Michigan looks to take the next step and re-establish itself as a national power. Quarterback Denard Robinson has been very good in September throughout his career, and he can make a push for the Heisman Trophy with a big game against Bama.

Sept. 22

Michigan at Notre Dame: The teams' past three meetings have had plenty of drama, thanks in large part to Robinson, who engineered Michigan's historic comeback under the lights last year in Ann Arbor. Robinson attempts to complete a career of tormenting the Irish in another night game at Notre Dame Stadium. Both teams play brutal schedules this fall, but Notre Dame, as the home team, really needs to end its slide against the Maize and Blue.

Sept. 29

Wisconsin at Nebraska: Wisconsin rudely welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten last fall with a 48-17 walloping in Madison. The Huskers try to avenge the loss as they open Big Ten play at Memorial Stadium. This is a big one for Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, who threw three interceptions against the Badgers in 2011. The game also pits the league's top two running backs in Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Nebraska's Rex Burkhead.

Penn State at Illinois: This game wouldn't have made the list six weeks ago. That was before the NCAA hammered Penn State with sanctions and Illinois coach Tim Beckman sent eight assistant coaches to Happy Valley to try to poach Lions players (he landed one in offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki). It's safe to say Beckman won't be receiving a Christmas card from Bill O'Brien. The Big Ten opener in Champaign has gotten a lot more interesting as two similar teams dealing with change face off.

Oct. 6

Nebraska at Ohio State: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini returns to his alma mater for a critical cross-division game. The Huskers need to prove they can win in a hostile Big Ten venue, while Ohio State plays its league home opener under Urban Meyer. If you enjoy athletic quarterbacks, be sure to tune in as Martinez matches up with Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who flustered the Huskers last season before leaving the game with an ankle injury.

Oct. 20

Michigan State at Michigan: This could be the game of the year in the Big Ten as the league's two highest-rated teams in the preseason square off. It's a rivalry game and a contest that could shape the race in the Legends Division. Last year's spicy contest in East Lansing only thickens the plot, and all eyes will be on Michigan State's Will Gholston and Michigan's Taylor Lewan as they reunite. The Spartans aim for their first-ever five-game win streak against the Wolverines.

Oct. 27

Michigan State at Wisconsin: Blockbuster Saturday in the Big Ten begins with a rematch of the 2011 league title game. These teams brought us plenty of drama in 2011, and could be on course for a rematch in Indianapolis. The game features two outstanding running backs in Ball and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, as well as two quarterbacks -- Wisconsin's Danny O'Brien and Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell -- with something to prove. The Badgers have dropped just one home game to Michigan State since 1991.

Michigan at Nebraska: Another pivotal Legends Division showdown takes place under the lights at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium. Although both teams face tests before this game, they should both be in the division race. Martinez and Robinson are two of the league's most exciting offensive players. Nebraska tries to avenge last year's blowout loss in Ann Arbor against a Michigan team that will be accustomed to hostile environments.

Nov. 3

Nebraska at Michigan State: The final matchup between Legends Division frontrunners takes place in East Lansing. It completes a tortuous stretch for Michigan State (Michigan, Wisconsin, Nebraska), and marks another chance for Nebraska to prove itself on the road in Big Ten play. The Huskers dominated last year's contest, but Michigan State hasn't lost a home game since the 2009 season.

Nov. 17

Ohio State at Wisconsin: The Buckeyes-Badgers rivalry should be the top Leaders Division matchup for years to come, and while Ohio State's bowl ban takes away some luster from this year's class, no one has forgotten the post-signing day spat between Bret Bielema and Meyer. There's no love lost between these two programs and their coaches, and though Ohio State can't win the division this year, it can shape the race with a victory in Madison, where Wisconsin has been dominant under Bielema.

Nov. 24

Michigan at Ohio State: Hoke and Meyer meet for the first time in The Game, which should pit two good teams for the first time since the 2007 season. Michigan could be in the mix for the Legends Division title and possibly more, while Ohio State knows its season will end against the hated Wolverines. The Robinson-Miller matchup adds intrigue, and both teams should be strong on the defensive side. The unique circumstances surrounding the game make it a must-see event.
In a move that had been rumored for some time, former Nebraska offensive lineman Ryan Klachko officially transferred to Illinois on Wednesday.

Klachko, who redshirted last year for the Huskers, will sit out this season and will lose a year of eligibility, giving him three seasons to play for the Illini. He's a 6-foot-4, 290-pound guard who was an ESPN 150 recruit in the class of 2011.

The transfer makes sense because Klachko is from Springfield, Ill. And new head coach Tim Beckman made no secret of his desire to acquire more depth, which is a big reason why Illinois was so interested in Penn State transfers. They landed one in ex-Nittany Lions offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, who's eligible this year.

So if you're keeping score at home, that's two offensive linemen who have transferred from other Big Ten schools to Illinois (both named Ryan, coincidentally). And that's two high-profile offensive linemen who have left Nebraska, as Tyler Moore went home to Florida this weekend and reportedly will not return to Lincoln until 2013, if at all.

Intra-conference transfers are still somewhat rare. It will be interesting to see if Beckman ruffles feathers of other coaches in the league by bringing some in. Then again, his main goal is just winning at Illinois.
Rob Bolden's long, strange journey has led him to the Bayou.

Bolden, Penn State's opening-game starter at quarterback the past two seasons, will officially join LSU's fall camp Wednesday, according to a report in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Bolden's exit has been in the works for a while. He asked to be released from his scholarship before the NCAA sanctions against Penn State's football program came down, a source tells ESPN. Bolden was removed from Penn State's official roster earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Rob Christy/US PresswireRob Bolden reportedly asked to be released from his scholarship before Penn State was sanctioned.
The signal caller had an odd career at Penn State, to say the least. He claimed the starting job in preseason camp two summers ago and became the first true freshman quarterback to start the opener for Penn State in 100 years. He had mixed results in the first half of the 2010 season, but seemed to be improving before suffering a concussion in a win at Minnesota. Bolden recovered, but was bypassed by Matthew McGloin, a decision that didn't sit well with Bolden or his family. Bolden tried to transfer after the 2011 Outback Bowl, but then-coach Joe Paterno refused to grant him his release. He ended up remaining at Penn State and earned the starting nod for the 2011 season but struggled, eventually giving way to McGloin.

Bolden and McGloin competed for the starting job this spring alongside Paul Jones, but Bolden ended up third on the depth chart. He finishes his Penn State career having completed 165 of 328 passes for 2,045 yards with seven touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

Bolden clearly has talent, but he couldn't find the consistency needed to lead a Big Ten offense. It'll be interesting to see how he fares at LSU, which had its own quarterback troubles last season.

While Penn State fans lament Silas Redd's departure to USC, they likely won't miss Bolden too much after his recent struggles. Still, he's another player to capitalize on the liberal transfer policy, joining Redd, tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State) and safety Tim Buckley (NC State). Linebacker Khairi Fortt could be the next to depart as he recently visited Cal, and offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki will transfer to Illinois, Washington or Arizona State.

McGloin and Jones enter the 2012 season as Penn State's top two quarterbacks.

SPONSORED HEADLINES