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Big10 RappUp

  • Barrett Becoming B1G's Best

    So this is getting kind of silly.

    Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett is one of the surprise stories in college football this season and now is considered as one of the premier performers in the Big Ten. So Barrett winning the conference Freshman of the Week award on Monday basically is no longer news.

    A 6-1, 225-pound redshirt freshman for Wichita Falls, Texas, Barrett has been borderline spectacular this season after taking over the QB duties from two-time Silver Football winner Braxton Miller, who is recovering from shoulder surgery.

    In a 56-17 rout of Rutgers in the Horseshoe last Saturday, Barrett was up to his old tricks with 261 yards and three touchdowns passing to go along with a game-high 107 rushing yards and two more scores.

    He came into the game leading the league in total offense and only padded that average with 368 yards as the Buckeyes moved to 5-1 overall, 2-0 in the conference and won their 18th straight regular-season Big Ten game.

    Sure enough, the Big Ten Conference recognized Barrett as the Freshman of the Week for the fourth time this season and he also was tabbed Offensive Player of the Week for the second time.

    Barrett connected on 19 of 31 passes without an interception against the Scarlet Knights. His 100-yard rushing day came on just seven carries and included a 33-yard TD scamper right up the gut of the defense – the longest run from scrimmage by a Buckeye this season until running back Curtis Samuel, a true freshman, ripped off a 34-yarder in the fourth quarter.

    Minnesota produced the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week and Special Teams Player of the Week after the Golden Gophers’ narrow win over Purdue.

    Senior safety Cedric Thompson won defensive POW honors after logging six tackles and a pair of interceptions against the Boilermakers. Freshman kicker Ryan Santoso won the special teams award largely on the strength of his 52-yard field goal with 4:59 remaining. That was the game-winning kick and the longest FG by Minnesota in 11 years.

    Just A Handful

    There hasn’t been a lot of movement as far as the Big Ten and the major polls are concerned as only four teams have managed to be in both of them this season and one of those – Wisconsin – dropped out after a surprise loss to Northwestern.

    Minnesota, though, joined the party – sort of – by squeaking into the No. 24 spot of the USA Today/coaches poll after hanging on against Purdue and improving to 6-1 overall.

    Michigan State (6-1), fresh off a 56-17 win at Indiana, is at No. 8 in The Associated Press poll and No. 5 in the coaches poll. The Spartans’ only loss came Sept. 6 at Oregon.

    Ohio State stayed at No. 13 in the AP poll and inched up one spot to No. 12 in the coaches. Nebraska (6-1) is at No. 16 in each.

    Maryland (5-2) received three points in the AP poll and Wisconsin (4-2) had 17 in the latest coaches poll.

    Only three teams remain unbeaten in Big Ten play: Michigan State and Minnesota are 3-0 while Ohio State is at 2-0.

    The Buckeyes play the Spartans and Gophers in back-to-back weeks (Nov. 8 and 15) on the road.

    Next Up

    Ten Big Ten teams were in action on Oct. 18 with the following results:

    Maryland 38, Iowa 31
    Minnesota 39, Purdue 38
    No. 8 Michigan State 56, Indiana 17
    No. 13 Ohio State 56, Rutgers 17
    No. 19 Nebraska 38, Northwestern 17

    Illinois, Michigan, Penn State and Wisconsin all had an open week.

    On Saturday, the conference again will showcase five league games while four teams enjoy an open week.

    Here is the Oct. 25 schedule (all times Eastern):

    --/No. 24 Minnesota at Illinois (noon, ESPNU)
    Rutgers at No. 16/16 Nebraska (noon, ESPN2)
    Maryland at Wisconsin (noon, BTN)
    Michigan at No. 8/5 Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ABC)
    No. 13/12 Ohio State at Penn State (8 p.m., ABC)

    Bye: Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue

    Quick Hitters

    * Minnesota is off to its best start in league play since 1990. A win at Illinois would give Jerry Kill’s team a mark of 4-0 in the Big Ten, which hasn’t happened since 1967. Michigan State and Ohio State were 8-0 in conference games in 2013 and are yet to lose a league game this year. OSU is two wins away from reaching the all-time program and conference record of 20 straight wins, which was accomplished from 2005-07. MSU has won 12 straight Big Ten games.

    * Barrett’s pass-efficiency rating of 182.1 ranks third in the nation. The Big Ten has two more QBs who are among the national leaders in Michigan State’s Connor Cook (164.0, eighth) and Rutgers’ Gary Nova (161.5, 12th).

    The conference also has a couple of wide receivers with elite statistics. Redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton ranks 14th nationally in receptions per game at 7.2, which is impressive considering just about everyone ahead of him is on a team that practically abandons the run. Also, MSU’s Tony Lippett is averaging 112.3 yards receiving per game, good for 11th, and has eight TDs (third).

    * Despite the previous note and the fact that college football is producing more dangerous passing attacks, the Big Ten still is holding up its reputation as a conference that values running the football. Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah leads the nation in all-purpose yards per game (192.7) including 146.3 on the ground, which ranks fourth. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (174.3) and Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (170.3) rank 1-2 nationally in rushing. Minnesota’s David Cobb (144.7) is right behind in fifth.

    Coleman also is first nationally in yards per carry (8.8) and fifth in rushing touchdowns (11). Abdullah is second nationally in rushing TDs with 14 and Gordon is a notch behind with 13.

    As a team, Wisconsin leads the nation in rushing offense with 343.0 yards per game. Conversely, Penn State is tops nationally in rushing defense, allowing just 60.8 ypg.

    * Michigan State, Minnesota and Nebraska are bowl eligible with six wins in their pocket. Four other Big Ten teams – Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State and Rutgers – can attain that status with one more win. The conference could place as many as 11 teams in bowl games this winter, and that figure doesn’t include the College Football Playoff.

    * By the way, Abdullah now ranks fourth on the conference’s career all-purpose yards list with 6,263. He currently sits 203 yards behind Indiana’s Anthony Thompson for third place. Ron Dayne of Wisconsin (1996-99) is tops with 7,429 yards followed by Ohio State great Archie Griffin (1972-75) who racked up 6,559 yards.

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  • Buckeyes Atop Challenge Schedule

    Ohio State once faced Kentucky in the Rock-N-Roll Shootout in Cleveland and the 1996 matchup turned out to be a one-sided affair.

    The Wildcats, who were the defending national champions and would go on to make it to three consecutive NCAA title games, were simply too much for the Buckeyes. After the lopsided win, however, then-UK coach Rick Pitino tried to defend the honor of the embattled Randy Ayers and propped him up as a topnotch coach.

    It didn’t quite work. Ayers was fired after the 1996-97 season; Pitino wouldn’t stay long in Lexington but would leave there a legend.

    After his second stint as an NBA head coach, this time in charge of the storied Boston Celtics, Pitino returned to college basketball in 2001 and created new glory at Louisville.

    There has been just one encounter with Ohio State since then – a Jan. 4, 2003 contest in Columbus in which the 24th-ranked Cardinals posted a 72-64 win over OSU. However, Jim O’Brien was the Buckeye head coach at the time. In fact, Pitino and Thad Matta haven’t faced each other since Matta was named head coach at OSU in 2004.

    There were a couple times those two teams were in the same building for the NCAA Tournament with the possibility of battle. One was in 2009 when the Buckeyes lost in overtime to Siena in Dayton, avoiding perhaps a beatdown in the following round from a Cardinals team that advanced to the title game. The other near-miss was in 2012 when each time lost Saturday night semifinals in the Final Four that was staged in new Orleans.

    Fast forward to Dec. 2 of this year. Ohio State and Louisville will meet, Matta and Pitino will shake hands, and two college basketball superpowers will no doubt spice up the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

    The marquee nonconference game has been slated for a 9:30 p.m. Eastern tip from the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville with ESPN handling the broadcast duties. In all, the ESPN networks will carry all 14 Challenge games over a three-day period.

    Three games will be played on Monday, Dec. 1, capped by Pittsburgh’s visit to Indiana.

    The Buckeyes will play in the final of five games the following night, which also includes a tasty Syracuse-Michigan matchup at Crisler Arena.

    Six games are scheduled for Dec. 3, many of them of high interest. Michigan State will be at Notre Dame, Iowa will have to take on North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Duke is at Wisconsin, a game with a rich history.

    Ohio State has posted a mark of 6-4 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge under Matta and the Buckeyes have won five of their last six games in the event. Overall, OSU has an official mark of 6-6 in the Challenge.

    The Buckeyes first participated during the 2002-03 season against Duke in Greensboro, N.C., a 91-75 Blue Devils victory. The late Brent Darby drew praise from Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski afterward.

    The two teams met again in Columbus in 2011 in what has to be Ohio State’s most enjoyable moment in the Challenge, also known as the “my butt is sore” game. Krzyzewski uttered those words after the No. 2 Buckeyes flogged the No. 3 Blue Devils to the tune of 85-63 in front of a raucous sellout crowd that included LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

    The teams rematched at Cameron Indoor Stadium the following year as No. 2 Duke rallied for a 73-68 win over No. 4 Ohio State.

    Ohio State returned home for the Challenge last year and easily took care of Maryland, now a Big Ten member, with a 76-60 win. The No. 5 Buckeyes were led by LaQuinton Ross, who produced 20 points and six rebounds. Sam Thompson added 14 points.

    Ohio State has been among the top 15 teams nationally in each of the last five Challenge games (4-1 record) and among the top five in each of the last four games (3-1).

    The Buckeyes are 2-3 in road Challenge games.

    As for the Louisville series, OSU holds an all-time mark of 4-3 against the Cardinals. The most noteworthy win came in 1961 when the top-ranked and defending national champion Buckeyes squeaked out a 56-55 win at Louisville during the NCAA Tournament en route to the title game.

    The 2014 ACC/Big Ten Challenge schedule follows (all times Eastern):

    Monday, Dec. 1
    Nebraska @ Florida State (7 p.m., ESPN2)
    Rutgers @ Clemson (7 p.m., ESPNU)
    Pittsburgh @ Indiana (9 p.m., ESPN2)

    Tuesday, Dec. 2
    Minnesota @ Wake Forest (7 p.m., ESPNU)
    Syracuse @ Michigan (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
    Illinois @ Miami (Fla.) (9 p.m., ESPN2/U)
    North Carolina State @ Purdue (9 p.m., ESPN2/U)
    Ohio State @ Louisville (9:30 p.m., ESPN)
        
    Wednesday, Dec. 3
    Michigan State @ Notre Dame (7:15 p.m., ESPN2)
    Virginia Tech @ Penn State (7:15 p.m., ESPNU)
    Iowa @ North Carolina (7:30 p.m., ESPN)
    Virginia @ Maryland (9:15 p.m., ESPN2)
    Georgia Tech @ Northwestern (9:15 p.m., ESPNU)
    Duke @ Wisconsin (9:30 p.m., ESPN)

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  • Battle For The B1G East

    The college football topic that has been revisited most frequently this offseason has been the institution of the four-team playoff that will take center stage this winter.

    Two semifinals wrapped around the New Year’s holiday, one champion, lots of scrutiny and unprecedented pressure-packed postseason action all set up by a season’s worth of drama and a committee that consists of people with former titles of coach, journalist and even Secretary of State.

    There’s no sexy title for it, just College Football Playoff.
     
    But will it change the landscape of college football?

    “Not for Ohio State,” said former Buckeye standout Chris Spielman, now a national television analyst. “I think the goal remains the same. It always has. Except that instead of getting in the top two you need to get in the top four to control your destiny.”

    Very true. However, the Buckeyes will have a little different route to reach the promised land this year. With Maryland and Rutgers now official members of the Big Ten, the conference has reconfigured for the 14 schools.

    For football, the league now features East and West divisions instead of the previous arrangement of Legends and Leaders, which drew a lukewarm reception the last couple years.

    Geography now rules, meaning Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State are all beasts of the suddenly loaded East along with Indiana and newbies Maryland and Rutgers. That leaves Wisconsin, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern, Illinois and Purdue in the West.

    With new “life partners” in each division and added importance to divisional games, reporters repeatedly asked players and coaches at Big Ten Media Days if rivalries have been redefined.

    “I don’t think so,” OSU defensive end Michael Bennett said. “I know a lot of people are trying to put even more on our game with Michigan State, and it is a huge game, but we have some other big ones that will count. Plus, we always have that team up north at the end of the schedule.”

    A Michigan reporter asked Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller if the rivalry with UM has lost any luster.

    “I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “All our games with them have been special, great games.”

    Still, there is reason to believe the balance of power in Michigan may have shifted. While the Wolverines were dragging through a rough 7-6 season and creating uncertainty within their program (more on that below), Michigan State was filling the role of league kingpin.

    The Spartans bounced back from an early-season loss to Notre Dame to sweep through the Big Ten ledger, knock off Ohio State in the league title game and outlast Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

    With MSU and Ohio State set to meet in East Lansing on Nov. 8 in what is being billed as the biggest Big Ten game this fall, many believe the two schools are on the brink of a fierce rivalry.

    The Buckeyes aren’t sure they want to label it as such but clearly admit that the loss to Sparty last year changed their outlook and perhaps the culture of the league.

    “It was a new experience,” tight end Jeff Heuerman said of dealing with defeat in December. “We went 24 straight games with this coaching staff and never lost a game, so we didn’t know what it was like until that Michigan State game. It was an experience we went through together and I think it made us stronger. Coming back, we’ve got the best coach in the country and the best quarterback in the country. It’s going to make us a real contender this year.”

    Heuerman is one of the real strengths of the offense along with Miller, the two-time winner of the coveted Silver Football award as the MVP of the Big Ten.

    When asked how important it is for Miller to hold up this season, Heuerman retorted, “How important for Cleveland is it to keep LeBron (James) healthy?

    “Braxton, we all rally around him and keep him healthy is huge. There’s nothing else really to say. We have to keep him healthy.”

    Most of the experts consider Ohio State to be the team to beat in the Big Ten East even though the all-important game with Michigan State is on the road and the Buckeyes have to replace nearly as many starters (11 to MSU’s 12).

    “I can tell you there are guys in that Spartan locker room who take offense to that,” a Michigan State beat writer told SRU.

    Wolverine Strong?

    Michigan seems rejuvenated from the offseason and changes that include the firing of offensive coordinator Al Borges and the hiring of new OC Doug Nussmeier.

    Still, it appears that head coach Brady Hoke and company need to get it turned around quickly.

    An article about the Wolverines entitled “Time To Panic?” is prominent in the Athlon Sports Big Ten preview. In it, Hoke admits that the team is still trying to find a higher level of toughness.

    “As much as anything else, that’s the identity we’re striving for,” the coach said.

    It would help immensely if quarterback Devin Gardner and linebacker Jake Ryan, who have been ticketed to lead on each side of the ball, could stay healthy throughout 2014.

    When last OSU fans saw Gardner up close, he was limping off the field after a gutty performance in a 42-41 loss to the Buckeyes. The senior, though, claims he’s now 100 percent.

    An Ohio native, Ryan missed much of last season with a knee injury but recovered well from the setback.

    “Knowing that I could be back on the field in six months from the time that I had my injury was one of the main things that kind of got me through and helped me with everything,” he said.

    “It was a touch process but I have to give credit to the trainers and everyone that got me through it. The therapy was awesome. I can’t thank them enough.”

    When asked what medication he used to handle the knee pain, Ryan said, “Advil. I didn’t take any of the other stuff they prescribed for us. You hear all those stories. Not good.”

    In Chicago, Gardner and Ryan said they are aware some have suggested Hoke’s job is in peril but they intend to do everything in their power to halt that rumor.

    “Nobody (on the team) is going to talk about that,” Gardner said. “My job is to continue to encourage my teammates and to continue to try to win football games and be the best quarterback I can be. Once I do that, the hotseat and whatever, those things are going to go away.”

    Added Ryan, “Coach Hoke is a great coach. He’s busting his butt every single day for us, for our team, and I can’t wait to see what this season brings.”

    New Kids On The Block

    If Michigan is indeed a contender, Ohio State and Michigan State are the class of the Big Ten, and Penn State is improved under new coach James Franklin as expected, then newcomers Maryland and Rutgers are fighting for fifth place in the division and respectability.

    Maryland was 7-6 overall last year, 3-5 in the ACC, and boasts perhaps the best receiver in the country in Stefon Diggs.

    Rutgers was 6-7 overall last year, 3-5 in the American Athletic Conference, and is coming off a loss to Notre Dame in the Pinstripe Bowl.

    The immediate outlook is a little cloudy for the Scarlet Knights but defensive lineman Darius Hamilton suggest his team is ready to battle.

    “We’re tough and relentless and we’ve got a lot of heart,” he said. “We’re kids who won’t stop fighting and we’re going to give it all we’ve got for each other, and we’re going to let the chip fall where they may.”

    Hamilton said his dad called him to tell him the news about RU being added to the Big Ten and said, “There it is, and chance to prove yourself.”

    “When I was younger I never really got tied up in the conferences,” Hamilton admitted, “but when I committed to Rutgers I knew that they were in the Big East and I knew what that competition level was. Honestly, it’s just a dream come true to be able to play against the best competition week in and week out. It’s going to mean a lot to us to have our fans behind us and to play in different atmospheres with different fans.”

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  • Your 2014 Storylines To Come

    With the 2014 college football season right around the corner, Ohio State fans no doubt are on the brink of moments of euphoria and potential heartbreak.

    The Buckeyes are sure to be a top-five team when the preseason polls are released and most experts and analysts see Urban Meyer blessed with a quality coaching staff and what appears to be the most talented roster in the Big Ten.

    The expectations of greatness, as always, are in place. The Buckeyes are supposed to win every game they play, Braxton Miller is supposed to be a Heisman candidate, and the defense is supposed to be much improved with fresh faces in the back seven and new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson on the job.

    We’re not sure who the kicker or middle linebacker is but, hey, this is Ohio State. Whoever is in there will help the Buckeyes win games, right?

    Still, it all has to play out. The college football season may look like a bunch of weekends stacked on top of each other when perusing an upcoming schedule, but it’s still a long drawn-out process replete with twists, turns, strategies, injuries, bad calls, polls, conjecture, unlikely plays and several what-just-happened moments.

    The truth is, the experts don’t know for sure who the top teams are and no one knows what’s coming. However, as a longtime member of the Ohio State football reporting pool – and with Big Ten Media Days scheduled for Monday and Tuesday – I thought it was the perfect time to take a preseason look at the storylines that are sure to surface in Columbus and around the conference.

    Here are a dozen:

    The Braxton Microscope – This one is obvious since Miller is entering his fourth year as a starter and true standout, and because the quarterback position at Ohio State is simply one of those positions that always draws national interest.

    Every preseason publication is hailing Miller as a top Heisman candidate even though his name often is accompanied by scrutiny and some observers are still waiting to see him run a sophisticated offense. That, of course, will depend on the development of OSU’s offensive line and whether Ezekiel Elliott or some other talented young runner can approach the dependability and production of Carlos Hyde in the backfield.

    It also would be a great help if his receivers could become more dynamic in space and haul in passes on the move. Remember, Troy Smith was blessed with an array of topflight receiving options during his Heisman year of 2006. Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez, Roy Hall, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiske all played in the NFL for a spell. Ginn and Hartline still do.

    Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are back to lead this year’s group but some new stars need to emerge as well. There are plenty of athletic candidates – Jalin Marshall, Johnnie Dixon, Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith and Curtis Samuel among them.

    What’s most intriguing, though, about Miller’s Heisman case is that despite being a heroic highlight machine, which always helps, he also could lift to the top of the list based on his four-year body of work. If he breaks several school records such as most yards from scrimmage all-time, wins a third Silver Football (unprecedented) and has the Buckeyes poised for the College Football Playoff, he is headed to New York if not plucking the trophy.

    But none of that is going to happen without health and protection, which leads to …

    O-Line Makeover – No matter how the offense performs, the offensive line play will become a key storyline. Sometimes the front five toils in relative obscurity but considering the Buckeyes will trot out four new starters, Taylor Decker has to shift to the all-important left tackle spot, and former Alabama center Chad Lindsay is among the new faces, the group will be assessed with regularity.

    If they play to the liking of Meyer, who often professed his affinity for the outgoing group – especially Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley – then Ed Warinner will become an assistant coaching god in these parts. If not, reporters such as myself are going to keep pointing out the deficiency and wonder what could have been.

    The line will have some time to develop, although the preseason schedule is a little trickier than in Meyer’s previous two seasons at OSU. The unit will have to hold up through Big Ten wars and will be severely tested in East Lansing, which leads to …

    Old Sparty – Yes, nothing is ever going to replace the uber-rivalry with Michigan, but the something-year war between Ohio State and Michigan State in the Meyer era sure is heating up fast.

    Meyer notched his first conference win at Spartan Stadium in 2012 but last year’s rematch in the Big Ten Championship Game was painful as Sparty made all the plays down the stretch and earned a Rose Bowl berth with a 34-24 victory over OSU in Indianapolis.

    Now the Buckeyes are charged with returning the favor in a huge East Division matchup in East Lansing. Under the lights. With the whole nation watching.

    If the Buckeyes win, it’s a sure bet they will be in position to return to the title game and flirt with a national title. If they don’t, they could fall out of both races, the anguish of MSU ruining a 24-game win streak will be revisited and Meyer suddenly will have to answer for “the Michigan State problem.”

    Hey, that’s how this stuff works.

    On the other hand, beating MSU also would carry major significance because it would prove that the Buckeyes, who are now built for speed, can still hold up in a mosh pit. Lots of 50-yard touchdowns impress poll voters but those who follow the Big Ten know line play and defensive toughness are critical if you want to win the conference.

    Which leads to …

    Man In The Middle – Ohio State has been as blessed as any school at middle linebacker (sorry, Penn State), but the position has been a bit of a headache since James Laurinaitis departed. Sure, there’s been talent there but not the steadiness of a Randy Gradishar, Tom Cousineau, Marcus Marek, Chris Spielman, Steve Tovar, Andy Katzenmoyer, A.J. Hawk … OK, you get the point.

    Curtis Grant has been a stand-up guy in his career and was plugging the middle admirably before being slowed by multiple injuries but the truth is his career has been a disappointment thus far – and now it’s nearly over.

    Grant has his senior season to save face and anchor the OSU defense, and there are indications he’s ready to do that. The only problem is he’s got a young Buck chasing his job. Raekwon McMillan arrived with a stud recruiting rating and he arrived early. The Georgia product is a sturdy 6-2, 240 and looks the part of future All-Big Ten MLB.

    The battle to take the reins of the Buckeye defense will be subplot worth following all season.

    And there are other young defenders looking to make their mark, especially in the secondary, which leads to …

    The Ash Factor – Changes needed to occur in the back of the Ohio State defense and the coaches’ hands were already forced with corner Bradley Roby and longtime starting safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett departed.

    However, young talent abounds in the back end, and that includes new secondary coach and co-coordinator Ash. The former Wisconsin and Arkansas DC wants his corners to press up and challenge receivers this season, a development that already emerged in the spring with solid results.

    Doran Grant and Armani Reeves are corners who look like body builders and safeties Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows all can cover ground and hit. Gareon Conley and Eli Apple also could find roles and have impressive talent.

    It’s hard to believe OSU could rank second-to-last in the conference again in terms of passing yards allowed (268.0 last season). A fierce defensive line and an aggressive approach in the defensive backfield should change that considerably.

    Better play against the pass could lead to more three-and-outs and even better field positioning, which leads to …

    The Return of Tresselball? – Not quite, but it’s worth noting that the Buckeyes have a major weapon in punter Cameron Johnston and actually were very good in the field-position game last season.

    In fact, in part because of solid special teams play, the Buckeyes’ average starting spot on offensive drives was 32.7 while the defense had to take the field with an average starting mark of 25.4. The 7.3 differential ranked second in the country.

    This is significant because the defense is expected to be improved and the offense most likely will need time to jell, meaning the coaches can be a little more conservative with their play calling.

    Meyer doesn’t want to do that, of course, but it may be the smartest course of action. And if the Buckeyes even out and bit and begin to mirror themselves from the days of the previous regime, that, no doubt, will be a storyline.

    League Business

    Of course, Ohio State is just one of 14 teams in the conference trying to find its voice this fall. Here then are a few other storylines awaiting a very interesting Big Ten season.

    New Tenants – Rutgers and Maryland. Just get used to them because they are your 13th and 14th members of the Big Ten. Quick, anyone know the names of their head coaches. Let me help you out: Kyle Flood is in his third season at RU while fourth-year coach Randy Edsall is the man with the whistle in Maryland.

    Impact Freshmen – Ohio State should lead the way once again in terms of landing athletes who are capable of plugging right into the two-deep. McMillan, Samuel and Damon Webb are just a handful of guys who could find the field quickly. Still, there are only so many open spots and other Big Ten teams have more pressing needs. Other newbies to look for include Minnesota RB Jeff Jones, Maryland OL Derwin Gray, Michigan WR Freddy Canteen and Northwestern running back Justin Jackson.

    League Mitosis – The Big Ten has split into two new divisions, the East and the West, and the appointments actually make geographic sense. Purdue and Indiana were separated but will still be “life partners” – the Big Ten’s term, not mine – and we now have a division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. That’ll take the sting out of having to market Rutgers and Maryland – and should make no one want the return of the Legends and Leaders days.

    2-5 – The league has to answer to another unacceptable bowl record and the perception won’t improve until the Big Ten can win a couple more spotlight postseason games.

    Franklin Arrives – The league welcomes just one newly appointed head coach, James Franklin. He appears to be an ideal hire for Penn State, which is still trying to escape the black cloud of the Jerry Sandusky mess/Joe Paterno firing. The former Vanderbilt head coach has all the goods including laudable recruiting chops and he’s got a great young QB (Christian Hackenberg) with which to work.

    Hot Seats – Tim Beckman (Illinois), Bo Pelini (Nebraska) and Kevin Wilson (Indiana) better watch their keisters.

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  • Hoops Season Hits Stretch Run

    The national headlines will proclaim the most noteworthy result of the new Associated Press poll released on Monday as Florida surpassing Syracuse for the top spot.

    That’s natural and certainly important considering the Orange suffered just its second loss this season over the weekend – and it came in controversial fashion thanks to a disputed block-charge call that benefited Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

    However, in Big Ten country there is less intrigue about the No. 1 slot and more interest in the conference race at hand and the poll juggling below the elite line.

    For example, Michigan is now in the Big Ten driver’s seat after defeating rival Michigan State at home on Sunday, 79-70. Nik Stauskas continued his outstanding sophomore season by torching MSU with 25 points.

    The Wolverines moved to 19-7 overall and 11-3 in the league. They also jumped MSU in the latest AP poll, moving up four spots to No. 20. With three league games remaining, UM now controls its own destiny in terms of being to claim an outright Big Ten title.

    Tom Izzo’s Spartans (22-6, 11-4), the preseason favorite to win the league, dipped from No. 13 to No. 18 in the AP poll after the loss. Still, despite suffering a multitude of injuries, MSU is just a half-game out of first place and has point guard Keith Appling getting healthy in time for March.

    The Spartans will host last-place Illinois to open March but then have to face Iowa and Ohio State, two teams battling to finish in the top four of the regular-season standings, which would ensure a quarterfinal appearance in the Big Ten Tournament.

    Wisconsin, which has managed at least a tie for fourth place in the league since Bo Ryan has been head coach, is in position to keep that string alive after winning 79-74 at Iowa on Saturday. The Badgers (22-5, 9-5) have recovered from their midseason swoon and now are the conference’s highest-ranked team at No. 14 in the AP poll.

    No. 20 Iowa (19-7, 8-5) is one game behind UW in the loss column while No. 22 Ohio State (22-6, 9-6) is a game behind in the loss column. The Buckeyes won their only meeting with Wisconsin this season and would hold the tiebreaking advantage with the Badgers if applicable.

    Iowa and Ohio State split their regular-season series with each winning on the other’s home floor, meaning their tiebreaker would go to their record against the team that finishes at the top of the standings.

    In the scenario where they are tied for fourth with Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin ahead of them, Iowa would be at a distinct disadvantage if the tiebreaker were composite record against teams ahead of them in the standings. The Hawkeyes are just 1-4 against those top three teams with a March 6 contest at Michigan State still pending.

    Ohio State is 1-0 vs. Wisconsin, 0-1 vs. Michigan and 0-1 vs. Michigan State with the regular-season finale with MSU scheduled for March 9. That will serve as the senior sendoff for longtime starters Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.

    The Buckeyes would come out well in a three-way tie with Wisconsin and Iowa but not necessarily in a two-way tie with Iowa. Since the Hawkeyes mauled Michigan 85-67 on Feb. 8 and have a chance to split with Michigan State, they have the edge at the moment.

    However, Iowa still has five league games, three of them away, thanks to their Feb. 18 trip to Indiana being postponed because of damage to Assembly Hall at the time. The Hawkeyes have to return to IU on Tuesday after a tester at Minnesota on Tuesday. Iowa will host Purdue on March 1, head to MSU on March 6 and close at home against Illinois on March 8.

    Ohio State has to trek to Penn State on Thursday, Indiana on Sunday and then hosts the Spartans with a week of rest.

    The only other league team with a decent chance of earning Thursday off at the Big Ten Tournament, which is set for March 13-16 in Indianapolis, is Nebraska (16-10, 8-6), which many experts picked to finish at the bottom of the standings.

    Minnesota (17-11, 6-9), Indiana (15-11, 5-8), Purdue (15-12, 5-9), Northwestern (12-16, 5-10), Illinois (15-12, 4-10) and Penn State (13-14, 4-10) all have losing records in the conference and don’t figure to crawl out.

    The Florida Gators (25-2), meanwhile, are back atop the AP poll for the first time since they repeated as national champions in 2007. Ohio State went into the NCAA Tournament that season No. 1 in the country.

    Syracuse (25-2), which lost twice last week, dropped to fourth. Wichita State (29-0) and Arizona (25-2) both moved up one place, to second and third.

    Florida, the fifth school to hold the No. 1 spot this season, received 47 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel. Wichita State was No. 1 on 14 ballots, and Arizona got the other four first-place votes.

    The complete AP men’s poll follows:

                           Record     Points     Previous
    1. Florida (47)     25-2     1,606     2
    2. Wichita State (14)     29-0     1,549     3
    3. Arizona (4)         25-2     1,494     4
    4. Syracuse         25-2     1,410     1
    5. Kansas         21-6     1,310     8
    6. Duke         22-6     1,286     5
    7. Louisville         23-4     1,152     11
    8. Villanova         24-3     1,113     9
    9. Creighton         23-4     1,103     11
    10. Saint Louis     25-2     1,047     10
    11. Cincinnati         24-4     921     7
    12. Virginia         23-5     909     14
    13. San Diego State     23-3     886     6
    14. Wisconsin         22-5     818     16
    15. Iowa State         21-5     709     17
    16. Michigan         19-7     653     20
    17. Kentucky         21-6     629     18
    18. Michigan State     22-6     552     13
    19. North Carolina     20-7     440     —
    20. Iowa         19-7     418     15
    21. Memphis         21-6     288     22
    22. Ohio State         22-6     253     24
    23. SMU         22-6     155     —
    24. Texas         20-7     129     19
    25. New Mexico         21-5     113     —
    Others receiving votes: UConn 81, UCLA 41, Oklahoma 35, Stephen F. Austin 11, UMass 9, Gonzaga 2, Green Bay 2, N.C. Central 1.

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  • B1G Football Races Heat Up

    As we get into the meat of the schedule and the halfway point of conference play for many Big Ten teams, it’s interesting to find four league games are on the docket and four Big Ten teams will be watching right along with the rest of us.

    The ledger for Oct. 26 has a pair of games wit noon starts: No. 25 Nebraska (5-1, 2-0) at Minnesota (5-2, 1-2) on ESPN and Northwestern (4-3, 0-3) looking for its first league win of the season at Iowa (4-3, 1-2) in a game slated for Big Ten Network.

    That leads to a tasty matchup in Champaign as somehow-unranked Michigan State (6-1, 3-0) looks for more national respect at Illinois (3-3, 0-2).

    Then in prime time, No. 4 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) puts the conference’s only unbeaten mark and a 19-game win streak on the line by hosting Penn State (4-2, 1-1). The game will mark the third straight in which the Buckeyes will face a team that had two full weeks to prepare for them.

    Speaking of open weeks, the league’s other four teams – No. 22 Wisconsin, No. 24 Michigan, Indiana and Purdue – all will take a powder.

    Wisconsin (5-2, 3-1) stayed in the hunt for the Leaders Division title with a win at Illinois last week but will need Penn State and some other league team – likely Michigan – to knock off Ohio State and have a chance to return to the Rose Bowl for a fourth straight year.

    The Wolverines (6-1, 2-1) are still licking their wounds after dropping a 43-40 decision in four overtimes at Penn State on Oct. 12, though they bounced back last week with a shootout victory over Illinois (see below). Indiana (3-4, 1-2) has some work to do to be bowl-eligible while Purdue (1-6, 0-3) would just like a chance to record a league win with Darrell Hazell as head coach.

    Streaky

    Ohio State’s string of 19 straight victories, which wasn’t secure until a the latter stages of a 34-24 homecoming win over Iowa last week, is the longest active win streak in the country. It’s also the second-longest stretch of wins in program history. The Buckeyes had a 22-game win string snapped in a loss at Michigan in 1971, which set off the 10-Year War between coaches Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

    Head coach Urban Meyer won his last game at Florida, a bowl matchup with Penn State, which means he has a personal win streak of 20 games. It’s the third time in his head coaching career he has managed to win 20 straight, which no other coach ever has achieved.

    Ohio State’s 19 triumphs in a row equals marks set during the 2005-06 and 2002-03 seasons. The 19 victories rank as the eighth-longest stretch in Big Ten annals.

    Brainiac

    Speaking of Penn State, the conference recently spotlighted Nittany Lions senior offensive lineman John Urschel.

    Urschel, who claimed the Big Ten Medal of Honor last May, was a first-team All-Big Ten honoree in 2012, starting all 12 games at right tackle and helping the Nittany Lions lead the Big Ten in total offense during the conference season. A candidate for the 2013 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athlete Award, he earned his bachelor’s degree in less than three years on campus. He earned his first master’s degree last May and is currently working on his second master’s.

    This semester, Urschel is teaching Integral Vector Calculus and researching multigrid methods and computational mathematics.

    Pinball, Anyone?

    Michigan beating Indiana by 16 points at home after suffering defeat at Penn State was not overly newsworthy, but the Wolverines doing so by the score of 63-47 was, especially when individual statistics were totaled.

    UM receiver Jeremy Gallon recorded the most productive day in conference history as he racked up 369 receiving yards to shatter the previous conference record of 301 yards, set by Purdue’s Chris Daniels in 1999. Gallon’s yardage is the second-highest total in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) history, averaging 26.4 yards per catch in the win.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Devin Gardner set a program record with 503 passing yards, while his 584 yards of total offense is 1 yard shy of the Big Ten record. Gardner’s and Gallon’s efforts are single-game highs in the FBS this season.

    The 110 combined points mark the third-highest single-game total in Big Ten history, while the game’s 17 scoring drives averaged just 2:06.

    Should We Even Bother?

    Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien set a new Big Ten record last weekend after converting both extra-point attempts against Minnesota. The senior has now connected on each of his extra points in his career, converting 127 consecutive attempts to break the previous conference record of 126 set by Michigan’s J.D. Carlson from 1989-91.

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  • Interview Loaded Day 2 In Chicago

    Big Ten Media Days have ended and the 36 student-athletes, commissioner Jim Delany, Big Ten Network president Mark Silverman, and all 12 conference head coaches – including Urban Meyer – have survived it.

    Despite a record throng of reporters and a sellout for Thursday’s annual Kickoff Luncheon, those obligated to attend handled their media responsibilities in impressive fashion and without incident.

    In fact, SportsRappUp.com went digging for some unique perspective and came up with, well, loads of it.

    Meyer’s podium address on Wednesday was summarized in a Rapp Around column from later that day – to see it, click here – but the second-year OSU head coach also informed and even entertained the following day during his roundtable discussion with curious reporters.

    Meyer, no doubt, was relieved when the questions on Thursday eventually shifted away from player misdeeds after a Wednesday session in which eight of the 11 inquiries centered on his discipline policies.

    Still, he was upright and honest when asked about the recent unpleasantness. Earlier in the week before departing for Chicago, Meyer and the university put out a release dealing with off-field troubles for running back Carlos Hyde and cornerback Bradley Roby, who made the news for separate incidents in bars that led to police involvement.

    Hyde, who amassed 970 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns last year, is still considered a person of interest in a case involving a Westerville, Ohio, woman who alleges the running back struck her in a nightclub. Reports continue to vary, even from those who claim to have seen the surveillance video of the confrontation, and Meyer is insistent that Hyde is suspended indefinitely until all the facts come forth in the case.

    The coach did, however, hint at a punishment for Roby, who was charged with battery after a fracas in a Bloomington, Ind., bar last weekend. Meyer said discipline will follow and suggested that he was leaning on a suspension of some sort. He added that Roby also will “be on a very short leash,” but wouldn’t elaborate.

    Meyer again expressed bitter disappointment since he also dismissed true freshman Tim Gardner, a lineman from Indianapolis, and has suspended incoming tight end Marcus Baugh, a product of Riverside, Calif., for the Aug. 31 season opener with Buffalo. They were arrested by Columbus police for alcohol-related offenses.

    Meyer didn’t want to spend any of his two hours of availability to the media on Thursday speculating on the impact suspensions for Hyde and Roby could have on the Buckeyes. However, former Ohio State running back Eddie George, also on hand in Chicago as an analyst for FOX Sports, said Hyde is not instantly replaceable.

    “It’s not that simple,” George told SportsRappUp.com. “He’s maturing to where he can really become a beast and from what I hear from the coaches he has done a great job of leading and doing the work in the weight room. He came on huge last year. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, even though there’s a lot of talent at that position.”

    Some analysts believe the defense would suffer more from a prolonged absence of Roby than the offense without Hyde, who has many capable backups. The candidates at corner behind Roby are vastly unproven.

    Someone who would miss him immediately is safety Christian Bryant, who was sent to Chicago in Roby’s place after the news of the arrest broke.

    “Me and Roby are on the same side, the boundary side, so without him being right there with me – we’ve been playing with each other for three straight years now – it would kind of be a letdown, just because that’s my partner in crime throughout the game,” Bryant said.

    “We talk throughout the game, and with him on the field I feel like everybody is a little bit more comfortable and at ease. Without Roby it would be pretty tough, but I’m looking for him to be back.”

    Help Has Arrived

    While Meyer isn’t sure about the makeup of his team leadership and now has some real issues with which to contend regarding Hyde and Roby, the overall outlook is still pretty sunny.

    Ohio State is as loaded player for player as any squad in the Big Ten and was the only league team to have three players named to the conference’s Players To Watch List.

    The Big Ten announced the names in Chicago and OSU leads the way with quarterback Braxton Miller, linebacker Ryan Shazier and Roby taking up three of the five slots for the Leaders Division. Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson and Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland were the other two.

    Michigan was the only other school with more than one player mentioned on the Players to Watch List as UM quarterback Devin Gardner and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan were tabbed. The other three players from the Legends Division to make the list are Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez and Northwestern running back Venric Mark.

    Shazier, Roby and Robinson were the only players on the list who were not present in Chicago.

    Meyer raved about the development of Miller and Shazier while in Chicago but spread around the praise. He noted the team’s wealth of experience in the secondary, believes young defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are on their way to being All-Big Ten players and is happy with the depth at tailback.

    He also said “it would be disappointing if our offensive line isn’t one of the best in the Big Ten” and likes what he’s seeing of the four returning starters there.

    And the coach raved on.

    “Receiver is probably the one area we were weakest at last year, and I think this year, with the injection of some speed in the recruiting class and also development of the guys we have, that I’m really counting on them to become one of the strengths of our offense,” he said just one yea after openly questioning the group.

    “The two guys that really developed throughout the year last year, two very good tight ends in (Jeff) Heuerman and (Nick) Vannett, and we’ve not traditionally been known as a two tight end offense. However, with these two talented players, you’re going to see some 12 personnel, which they’re two guys we have to find a way to get them on the field at the same time.”

    Plus, Meyer admitted that he’s very encouraged by the potential of several incoming freshmen and believes they will make an immediate impact.

    “We don’t recruit to redshirt, we recruit to play – especially offensive skill,” Meyer said. “They’re given an expectation level of what they’re supposed to be like on the first day and then it’s in their court.”

    Miller said he is especially impressed with newcomer Dontre Wilson, an all-purpose back out of Texas. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort agreed and said he saw “a lot of guys that can fly” in the first few days of workouts with the freshmen.

    Bryant also is impressed.

    “I actually called my dad after the meeting and I was like, ‘All these guys look like athletes,’ so this is a great recruiting class,” he said.

    Putting The Gray In Black And Blue

    With all the recent discussion about concussions and the public’s thirst for high-scoring games, the offseason conversation for football continued to shift toward measures that hinder overly physical defensive play.

    At the collegiate level, it has even reached to a proposal that “targeting” – going after ball carriers in defenseless positions – could now lead to an immediate ejection. The ready example for this new rule is the vicious hit South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney put on Michigan running back Vincent Smith the minute Smith received a handoff in the 2013 Outback Bowl.

    Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is not happy with the development – and it’s not because his player was popped. Hoke is an old-school defensive coach and doesn’t like the shift toward disallowing defenders from clean hits within the flow of the game.

    Not surprisingly, Bryant, perhaps OSU’s most aggressive tackler if it’s not Shazier, also is not a fan of the idea.

    “If it’s purposeful, I would say it’s worthy of an ejection, but not if it’s unintentional,” he said. “It’s not really my rule but I will be abiding by the rules, so I don’t think I’ll be ejected for any games.

    “You have to be more cautious with how you’re tackling but I don’t think it’s going to take away from the physical part of the game. It may for some people but for me personally it’s not.”

    Meyer’s Tree Grows

    Meyer has hired several coaches who have gone on to head up programs and Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen is in that tree.

    Andersen was Utah’s defensive line coach under Meyer in 2004 when the Utes posted an undefeated season. He stayed on in Salt Lake City as defensive coordinator before becoming the head coach at Utah State. Success there led to his appointment at UW, replacing the controversial Bret Bielema.

    Meyer and Andersen expressed great appreciation for each other in Chicago. In fact, Meyer lit up when asked to talk about Andersen’s emergence.

    “First of all, I have great respect for Coach (Barry) Alvarez, have for many, many years, and I was honored when he asked me for my opinion,” he said. “Gary I would put in one of the top two, three hires I’ve ever made, the recommendation of Utah’s head coach, Kyle Whittingham. He made a direct impact on our program, and I couldn’t be more proud of who he is as a person. And I think he’s at the right place, a great school with a great athletic director, and really proud of Gary Andersen.”

    Andersen also has made a quick impression on the Wisconsin fans and Badgers.

    “He’s all about the players, and I think that’s real important,” UW wideout Jared Abbrederis said. “We can all see it. The first thing he told me when he came here was that he called the Utah State players. He called each and every one individually. It’s good to know that he cares about his players there that much. He brings a lot of spice to the program and it’s been fun having him.”

    Dual Threats Abound

    The Big Ten is now blessed with several quarterbacks who are virtually as adept at hurting defenses running the ball as they are passing, Miller at the top of the list, and several of them were in Chicago.

    Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase, Nebraska’s Martinez and Northwestern’s Kain Colter, all seniors, are among the weapons as well as Miller and Gardner, both juniors.

    While they all have talent running the ball, they have been told to be smart about it.

    Gardner admitted his likes to run the football and dish out a little contact every once in a while.

    “My old coach told me I play like a linebacker at quarterback, so they tell me to run out of bounds and don’t try to do certain types of things, but sometimes you’ve got to let the defense know that you’re not a chump,” he said. “Sometimes I do it and I take it a little far, but I’m not going to play timid or anything like that.”

    Miller has been known to try to drive into pursuers, a move that led to him being hurt against Purdue.

    “He’s a bigger guy and the type of offense that they run, the quarterback has to be a downhill runner, but that’s not my job here in this offense,” Gardner said of Miller. “Our running backs will do that and when I can I’ll give a little forearm shiver here or there.”

    Gardner has spent part of his time in Ann Arbor at wide receiver, which allowed him to get a feel for the real price of being hit.

    “It helped me and it made me such a tougher person, mentally and physically,” he said. “I got a chance to pancake a few guys and knock some guys on their back. I’ve never done that in my life. It was actually pretty refreshing knowing I could do that.”

    Still, QBs are so valuable to their teams that coaches are conflicted with calling their number on running plays. Martinez, for example, was slowed part of last season with a lingering ankle injury.

    Martinez admitted the soreness slowed him a bit in 2012 yet he still relishes every carry he can get.

    Has he ever cringed at the thought of taking off with the ball?

    “I want to run the football, so I’ve never done that before,” he told SportsRappUp.com. “Whenever I get the chance to run the football I’m excited to. But I have so many weapons around me and in the backfield that I don’t want to be greedy about it. So I try to get the ball to Ameer (Abdullah) or an outside receiver because I know they can make the plays also.”

    Colter said he has the same approach.

    “Football is for tough guys and for me and I’m sure Taylor, too, we love running the ball,” he told SportsRappUp.com. “When you’re in the game, you’re going to be tired and you have to take that suck-it-up pill. And when your number is called, you’ve got to make a play.

    “I’m trying to improve my vertical passing game and passing the ball downfield, too. It’s my final go-round, so I’m just going to try to give it my all and make some more plays.”

    Gardner likes to be athletic, too, but is excited at the notion that Michigan appears more committed to a traditional offense with lots of passing capability under the direction of offensive coordinator Al Borges.

    “The spread is like anything – that was so amazing, and then everyone figured it out,” Gardner said. “The spread is going to be figured out because there are so many great defensive coordinators. I think Coach (Greg) Mattison has it figured out this year and I can’t wait to see what he does with the spread teams we play. I think a pro style is the best way to go, with spread concepts.”

    Quotable

    Miller on the hope of another undefeated season for the Buckeyes – “It crosses my mind a few times.”

    Bullough on the Spartans coming off a 7-6 season – “When you lose games the way we did, it makes you want to go play games right now. It makes the offseason long. Whenever pride is involved, it makes it personal, and that makes it that much more meaningful.”

    Mark on being named preseason first-team all-conference by some publications – “I don’t really look at that stuff. I don’t believe in predictions; I believe in production. So if that’s where they want to have me that, that’s great, I respect that. I’ll tell them thank you. But my obligation is to Northwestern. If somebody asks me if I think I’m the best running back, yes, I do think I’m the best running back. And there are other guys who should feel that way as well because there are a lot of great running backs in the Big Ten.”

    Miller on evening kickoffs – “I love the night games. It reminds me of Friday night lights, high school. I don’t know, there’s just something about the night games I love. It feels like everybody is watching. I wish we had a night game every game.”

    Martinez on directing the Cornhusker ball-movers – “It might be the best offense Nebraska has ever had.”

    Gardner on his assertion that Bullough is the best LB in the Big Ten – “He’s a really big guy and he knows a lot about offenses, it appears.”

    Bullough on being a third-generation Spartan – “It’s fun. It’s cool to have that opportunity, to have those players and family members in front of me. It’s something I’ve taken advantage of in terms of talking to my dad or my grandma whenever I needed advice. It’s an honor. I look at it as an opportunity more than something I have to overcome.”

    Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on his new team mantra to help the Wildcats through the rigors of summer workouts – “Embrace the suck.”

    Colter on NU being a potential contender this fall – “Every season is a little bit different, but we’ve got the translate that confidence that we had at the end of the season over to this season. We had some losses that we shouldn’t have, but I think we’re confident that we should be able to win every game that we play.”

    Purdue coach Darrell Hazell on working under Jim Tressel – “I spent seven years at Ohio State and Coach Tressel was a big influence on me, the way I do things today. There’s a lot of great values and just his demeanor through the course of my time there was something that you can take from, and the great decisions that he made on game day. When those bullets are flying, it’s a chaotic moment. I learned a lot from Jim Tressel there in my seven years at Ohio State.”

    Hoke on the state of college football –Lloyd Carr, 12 years ago we were in a staff meeting and the first thing he said was the landscape of college football is changing, and not for the better. He was talking about the money. When we start losing sight of what’s important in college football, which is most kids who are around these tables, then we’re really being a detriment to the game.

    “And the ship has sailed. I don’t know how you turn it back when you look at TV contracts that leagues are signing and all that. I mean the Olympics now doesn’t have wrestling, and that was one of the original sports. I don’t get that. So there’s an analogy in there somewhere.”

    Gardner upon hearing Hoke said trends in college football are “cyclical” – “He used that word? He has to stop doing that.”

    Abbrederis on sporting a thick beard in Chicago – “I never grew a beard before so I was like, ‘Let’s see what happens.’ We’ll see with the helmet and the chinstrap if it’s comfy or annoying. If it is, I might shave it.”

    Gardner on empathizing with his receivers since he used to play the position – “I know how much it sucks to run around and you’re open and you don’t get the ball or it’s a bad pass. I try to be more sensitive to their feelings. I tell the receivers that everybody eats. But it’s their job to get open. I can’t do anything about that.”

    Gardner on the theory of paying college student-athletes – “I don’t know how much money people have and I’m not really good with numbers and things like that. I only took one math class at Michigan, so that’s not my deal. I feel like it’s just my job to play football and do my best.”

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  • Ohio State-Michigan Redux?

    Ohio State-Michigan times two.

    The 2013 season marks perhaps the first and last time we could see such a double dip as the Buckeyes and Wolverines are still in opposite divisions and could meet in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis just one week after clashing in Ann Arbor.

    That is, in fact, the way Athlon sees it shaking down. The college football annual hails OSU as the class of the Leaders Division and UM atop the Legends Division, meaning their storied feud could reach epic proportions this year.

    And if that isn’t enough to enthuse traditionalists and fans of OSU and Michigan, Athlon also features a story prominent in its Big Ten coverage entitled, “The Ten-Year War, Part II.” In it are suggestions that coaches Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke have the programs on extremely solid footing.

    “The schools may not be ushering in another decade of dominace, a la the ‘Big Two and Little Eight,’ but it’s clear Michigan and Ohio State are setting the tone for the conference, even as it expands in today’s unpredictable climate,” the article said. “Their recruiting stands above that of the league’s other schools, and their performance on the field appears to be moving toward a different level.”

    Athlon tabs 10 “Games To Watch” in the Big Ten this season, four of them involving Michigan and three involving Ohio State. The publication seems to think more highly of OSU’s individual players, though, as seven Buckeyes were tabbed preseason first-team All-Big Ten while left tackle Taylor Lewan was Michigan’s lone member.

    Athlon also rated position groups within the conference and deemed Ohio State to have to best quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen and defensive backs in the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s running backs, Indiana’s wide receivers/tight ends, and Michigan State’s linebackers also were lauded as best in the league.

    Checking in at 2 through 6 in the projected Leaders standings behind Ohio State, according to Athlon, were, in order, Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana, Purdue and Illinois while the respective ranking in the Legends Division shows Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan State, Minnesota and Iowa behind Michigan.

    Next year, Maryland and Rutgers will be added to the Big Ten equation and the conference will realign with more geographically correct East and West divisions, meaning Ohio State and Michigan will be in the same hemisphere of the league.

    Let’s Do Lunch

    The Big Ten Media Days and Kickoff Luncheon is scheduled for July 24-25 in Chicago and on July 10 the conference announced the names of the 36 student-athletes who are expected to represent their schools at the event.

    The list includes 19 returning All-Big Ten selections. Also, all 12 head coaches will be on hand.

    The Kickoff Luncheon begins 11 a.m. Eastern on July 25 with the players and coaches autograph and photo session for attending fans. Big Ten Network host Dave Revsine will serve as emcee and Big Ten Medal of Honor recipient John Urschel of Penn State will speak on behalf of the players.

    The players expected to be in Chicago include the reigning Big Ten Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year in Ohio State’s Braxton Miller and Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year in Michigan’s Lewan. In addition to Lewan, Miller and Urschel, other previous first-team All-Conference honorees include Michigan State’s Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard, Nebraska’s Taylor Martinez, Ohio State’s Bradley Roby and Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis and Chris Borland.

    A limited number of tickets remain available for $100 per seat or $1,000 per table (10 seats). Contact Sue Immekus at the Big Ten office at 847-696-1010, ext. 122, or simmekus@bigten.org to purchase tickets.

    The list of attending players is below:

    Legends Division

    Iowa
    Christian Kirksey, Sr., LB
    James Morris, Sr., LB*
    Brett Van Sloten, Sr., OL

    Michigan
    Devin Gardner, Jr., QB
    Thomas Gordon, Sr., S
    Taylor Lewan, Sr., LT*

    Michigan State
    Max Bullough, Sr., LB*
    Darqueze Dennard, Sr., CB*
    Blake Treadwell, Sr., OG

    Minnesota
    Ra’Shede Hageman, Sr., DT*
    Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., RB
    Brock Vereen, Sr., S

    Nebraska
    Quincy Enunwa, Sr., WR
    Ciante Evans, Sr., CB*
    Taylor Martinez, Sr., QB*

    Northwestern
    Kain Colter, Sr., QB*
    Venric Mark, Sr., RB*
    Tyler Scott, Sr., DE*

    Leaders Division

    Illinois
    Tim Kynard, Sr., DL
    Corey Lewis, Sr., OT
    Nathan Scheelhaase, Sr., QB

    Indiana
    Mitch Ewald, Sr., K*
    Greg Heban, Sr., S*
    Kofi Hughes, Sr., WR

    Ohio State
    Jack Mewhort, Sr., OT*
    Braxton Miller, Jr., QB*
    Bradley Roby, Jr., CB*


    Penn State
    Glenn Carson, Sr., LB
    John Urschel, Sr., G*
    Malcolm Willis, Sr., S

    Purdue
    Ricardo Allen, Sr., CB*
    Bruce Gaston, Sr., DT
    Gabe Holmes, Sr., TE

    Wisconsin
    Jared Abbrederis, Sr., WR*
    Chris Borland, Sr., LB*
    James White, Sr., RB

    * indicates previous All-Big Ten selection

    B1G Sends Quintet To NBA Via Draft

    Five former Big Ten standouts were selected in the 2013 NBA draft on June 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, including four first-round choices.

    Three Big Tenners were selected among the first nine picks, the most of any conference, and it marked the first time three conference players were picked in the top 10 since 1990.

    Indiana’s Victor Oladipo was the first conference player chosen, going to the Orlando Magic at No. 2. It is the second time in four seasons a Big Ten player was among the draft’s top two picks, following Ohio State’s Evan Turner in 2010. Hoosier teammate Cody Zeller was picked fourth by the Charlotte Bobcats.

    Michigan’s Trey Burke was the ninth overall selection by the Minnesota Timberwolves before his draft rights were traded to Utah. Burke’s teammate, Tim Hardaway Jr., went 24th overall to the New York Knicks, giving the Big Ten four first-round selections for the first time since 2007. Ohio State produced three of those selections that year – Greg Oden first overall, Mike Conley Jr. fourth and Daequan Cook 21st.

    Speaking of Ohio State, Buckeyes forward Deshaun Thomas rounded out the drafted Big Ten standouts after being selected 58th overall by the San Antonio Spurs. Thomas led the league in scoring last season and finished with an average of 19.8 points per game.

    Indiana and Michigan were two of three teams to have multiple players selected in the first round, and it is the second time in the last three years five Big Ten players were selected in the annual draft.

    Answering The Critics

    Soon after Oladipo and Zeller were selected so highly, criticism grew for the Indiana basketball coaching staff. The Hoosiers entered the 2013 NCAA Tournament as the overall No. 1 seed and with a pair of bona fide stars yet were ousted in a Sweet 16 contest in Indianapolis by Syracuse.

    In fact, the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming the 2012-13 Hoosiers had just become “the biggest underachiever in NCAA history.”

    That sounded a bit harsh to the IU staff, so much so that Indiana associate head coach Tim Buckley decided to fire back.

    In an interview with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) News-Sentinel and other media outlets, Buckley reminded that IU head coach Tom Crean and assistants inherited a depleted and even-injury-plagued roster as well as myriad NCAA sanctions five years ago and recovered the program to where it sat atop college basketball for much of the past season.

    “Someone point out to me what was underachieved from April 1 2008, until we went through (NBA) draft night,” Buckley said.

    The Wall Street story, written by Ben Cohen, pointed out that five college teams with similar talent won the national championship, including the 2012 Kentucky team with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

    The story indicated that only two other teams with a pair of top-five picks didn’t advance past the Sweet 16 -- Duke in 2002 and North Carolina in 1984.

    Buckley, though, took offense. After helping Crean achieve success at Marquette he was part of the Hoosiers winning 27 games and reaching the Sweet 16 two years ago. This past season, IU won 29 games, was ranked No. 1 for 10 weeks, and captured its first outright Big Ten title since 1993.

    “I want to say something in regard to this team under-achieving,” Buckley said. “The reason I do is No. 1, I know myself and Coach Crean and the coaches and players. We’re a very prideful group.

    “I was in Coach Crean’s living room at 10 a.m. on April 1 of 2008. I was there when we faxed the letter of agreement (to accept IU’s offer) at 4:26 p.m. And we came to Indiana and every day we found something new and different that was going to be a great challenge.

    “I was here when we brought in 320 unofficial visits that first year. We continued to build, and we had former players here, like Calbert Cheaney, you can go down the line, who were supportive. The fans who came to the games.

    “When we brought Cody Zeller here (during his recruitment) and we weren’t winning, we could point to those fans and say, ‘They’re here now. Just think what it will be like when we get good.’ They (the fans) helped us do that.

    “We were on that bench and watched that ball roll off the rim at Michigan (IU held on for a 72-71 victory) and we clinched the outright Big Ten title for the first time in 20 years. Then we had two players drafted in the top four, which I believe was the best in the history of the program.

    “I know what everybody put into it. I know what everyone’s family put into it. I know what the players and their families put into it. We’re proud of this group. We’re disappointed as much as anybody was in not going further in the NCAA tournament.

    “Our fifth-place team in the Big Ten played for the national championship. That’s how good this league was. For us to do it night in, night out … we never lost two games in a row. We had a resilient bunch. I’m proud of what we’ve done and everybody associated with Hoosier Nation should be proud of what we did.”

    New Bowl Alignments

    The Big Ten has eight bowl games lined up with the Rose still at the top of the automatic tie-in list down to the Little Caesars, which will pit the league’s No. 8 team vs. a MAC school.

    The Rose Bowl remains unchanged as part of the BCS structure with the winner of the Big Ten Championship Game earning an automatic berth (unless that team is nabbed to play in the BCS title game).

    The league’s No. 2 team heads to the Capital One Bowl, the No. 3 team to the Outback and the Nos. 4 and 5 teams to either the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl or the Gator Bowl. The Meineke Car Care Bowl matches the Big Ten’s No. 6 team with the Big 12 team of the same standing and the Heart of Dallas Bowl matches the Big Ten’s seventh-best team with a Conference USA squad.

    And there is more to come. On June 3, the Big Ten Conference announced it had come into an eight-year agreement with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and the New York Yankees.

    The Big Ten is committed to playing in the game beginning in 2014 and through 2021. The partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl will mark the conference’s first bowl game tie-in on the East Coast.

    Additionally, for all New York Yankees regular season games, beginning in 2014, the Big Ten will have a significant branding presence in Yankee Stadium, featuring a fixed sign along the first-base line and home plate rotating signage.

    “The Big Ten Conference playing college football at Yankee Stadium is something I know my father would be proud to see come to fruition,” said Yankees managing partner Hal Steinbrenner. “He had a great passion for college football and spoke glowingly of his involvement with several of the conference’s programs. Welcoming a national powerhouse conference like the Big Ten to participate in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and partner with the New York Yankees for years to come only expands the prestige of our great annual bowl game in New York City.”

    Added Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, “Once we saw the success of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, it became obvious – especially with the Big Ten’s growing East Coast footprint – that being in the media capital of the world at one of sports’ most renowned venues was a natural pairing. By agreeing to an eight-year partnership, it increases the likelihood that most of the Big Ten schools will have the opportunity to participate in the game, while giving our coaches, student-athletes, administrators and fans the opportunity to experience the nation’s biggest metropolis and an iconic setting like Yankee Stadium.”

    Last year’s Pinstripe Bowl, a 38-14 Syracuse victory over West Virginia, recorded a 3.9 household coverage rating. For bowls played prior to New Year’s Day, only the Chick-fil-A Bowl and the Alamo Bowl recorded better overall ratings.
     
    The 2013 New Era Pinstripe Bowl will take place on Sat., Dec. 28.  The game will be nationally televised by ESPN, which has also secured national and local radio rights for ESPN Radio.

    Meanwhile, the Big Ten also has agreed to play a Pac-12 team in the Bay Area Bowl, previously the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, beginning in 2014. The pact runs through 2019.

    The postseason game will be played in the new 68,500 seat Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, future home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers and site of the Super Bowl in 2016.

    “Our objective entering negotiations for the next bowl cycle was to elevate the game,” said executive director Gary Cavalli. “Specifically, we wanted to move up in the Pac-12 and secure the highest quality opponent possible. We’re thrilled that we’ve been able to achieve both goals. With a Pac-12 vs. Big Ten matchup and a new world-class stadium, we’ve positioned our game very well for the future.”

    Under terms of its renewal with the Pac-12, the Bay Area Bowl will have the No. 4 pick, within parameters established by the conference, (after the Rose/Playoff Group, Alamo and Holiday bowls), a jump of two positions from its current No. 6.

    The Big Ten has played just once in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, a victory by Illinois in 2011.

    Also, the two power conferences will meet in the Holiday Bowl beginning next year and running through 2019.

    “We are entering a new and exciting time for the Holiday Bowl,” said Bill Geppert, 2013 bowl president. “The Holiday Bowl has a rich history as ‘America’s Most Exciting Bowl Game’ and this new agreement lays the foundation for continued success. In the ever-changing world of college football, we are excited to begin this new chapter that will no doubt provide a huge economic impact to San Diego as our community welcomes thousands of college football fans to our beautiful city every December.”

    Included in the Big Ten agreement is the stipulation that the Holiday Bowl will not have the same team in its game more than twice during the six-year span. The Holiday Bowl previously enjoyed a relationship with the Big Ten from 1992-94 and conference teams have played in nine games, beginning with a victory by Indiana in 1979.

    Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State have played in the Holiday Bowl, including when the Wolverines faced BYU for the national championship in 1984.
     
    Summer Hoops

    Four Big Ten standouts, the most of any conference, were named to the 2013 USA Basketball World University Games roster and have competed for Team USA.

    Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Will Sheehey, Iowa’s Aaron White and Michigan State’s Adreian Payne were the four conference athletes named to the 12-man roster, which includes Michigan coach John Beilein as one of its assistants.

    The team opened its play in the 2013 World University Games with a record-setting 140-46 win over United Arab Emirates. Ferrell contributed a USA Men’s World University Games single-game record 13 assists and also logged15 points and four steals. White added 16 points and Sheehey 15 in the rout.

    The Americans established three U.S. single-game team records in the lopsided win, including 36 assists, 70 rebounds and 39 attempted three-pointers.

    Commish’s Anniversary

    July 1 always seems to mark significant milestones in the calendar year and that is no different in regards to the hiring of Delany, who began his tenure at the conference office on July 1, 1989.

    In his 24 years as commissioner, Delany has helped welcome four new schools to the Big Ten, including Penn State, Nebraska, Maryland and Rutgers, created the Big Ten Network, and led the development of instant replay in college football.


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  • Hankins Leads Weak Draft Class

    With Ohio State sending just three players to the seven-round NFL draft this past weekend and Michigan chipping in just two, the Big Ten had one of its quietest showings in many years.

    In fact, only 22 Big Ten football players heard their names called at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the lowest total the league has produced in the last 20 NFL drafts.

    Twenty-one Big Ten players were drafted in 1994, although the league had just added Penn State as its 11th team – and didn’t have 12 member schools as it does now. Plus, OSU defensive tackle Dan Wilkinson was the top overall pick that year and one of four first-rounders from the conference. In fact, eight Big Ten players were picked in the first three rounds that season.

    This year the number was seven, which is lowest total of any BCS conference.

    Michigan didn’t have a player selected until Denard Robinson was plucked in the fifth round; Nebraska didn’t send anyone to the league until Rex Burkhead was chosen in the sixth round. Cornhuskers safety Daimion Stafford followed in the seventh round, giving Nebraska its weakest showing in the draft since 1969.

    The Buckeyes did slightly better than that even though linebacker Etienne Sabino, tight end Jake Stoneburner and fullback Zach Boren were not drafted. The first OSU player chosen was defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was a mid-second-round pick (No. 40 overall) of the New York Giants on Friday night.

    Defensive linemate John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel followed on the final day. Ohio State was in danger of having its smallest draft class since 1968 until Fragel was selected in the seventh round by the home-state Cincinnati Bengals.

    How strange was the Big Ten showing at the draft? Well, Illinois, a team that was winless in conference play (2-10 overall, 0-8 in the Big Ten) led the way with four players selected. Actually, it was the fourth straight year the Illini sent four players to the NFL draft despite their recent ineptitude on the field.

    Conversely, Northwestern, which posted a 10-3 record and won its first bowl game in five decades, had no players drafted. Also ironic: Rutgers, which is awaiting entrance into the Big Ten, had seven players selected.

    Only one Big Ten player went in the first round: Wisconsin center Travis Frederick.

    Here is a listing of that selection and the other 20 in order from the Big Ten:

    First round (1) – Wisconsin C Travis Frederick to Dallas (No. 31 overall).

    Second round (4) – Purdue DT Kawann Short to Carolina (No. 44 overall); Michigan State RB Le’Veon Bell to Pittsburgh (No. 48 overall); Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins to New York Giants (No. 49 overall); Wisconsin RB Montee Ball to Denver (No. 58 overall).

    Third round (2) – Illinois G Hugh Thornton to Indianapolis (No. 86 overall); Penn State DT Jordan Hill to Seattle (No. 87 overall).

    Fourth round (5) – Illinois DT Akeem Spence to Tampa Bay (No. 100 overall); Michigan State TE Dion Sims to Miami (No. 106 overall); Penn State LB Gerald Hodges to Minnesota (No. 120 overall); Michigan State DE William Gholston to Tampa Bay (No. 126 overall); Ohio State DE John Simon to Baltimore (No. 129 overall).

    Fifth round (4) – Michigan RB Denard Robinson to Jacksonville (No. 135 overall); Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne to Pittsburgh (No. 150 overall); Iowa CB Micah Hyde to Green Bay (No. 159 overall); Wisconsin OT Ricky Wagner to Baltimore (No. 168).

    Sixth round (2) – Michigan G William Campbell to New York Jets (No. 178 overall); Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead to Cincinnati (No. 190 overall).

    Seventh round (4) – Penn State LB Michael Mauti to Minnesota (No. 213 overall); Illinois DE Michael Buchanan to New England (No. 226 overall); Ohio State OT Reid Fragel to Cincinnati (No. 240 overall); Nebraska S Daimion Stafford to Tennessee (No. 248 overall).

    Several players, including a handful of Buckeyes, still will go into camp with at least a remote chance to make a roster.

    Undrafted Ohio State players who reportedly have signed free-agent contracts with NFL teams include defensive end/outside linebacker Nathan Williams (Minnesota Vikings), Stoneburner (Green Bay Packers), Sabino (New York Giants) and defensive tackle Garrett Goebel (St. Louis Rams).

    Also, the Houston Texans – already the home of former OSU wide receiver DeVier Posey – have landed Boren and defensive backs Travis Howard and Orhian Johnson to free-agent deals.

    Boren converted to linebacker in the middle of last season but worked out and attended the NFL combine as a fullback. Sabino, Howard and Johnson are all Florida natives.

    Stoneburner, who arrived to OSU a wide receiver from nearby Dublin Coffman and who left a hopeful tight end, expressed excitement on Twitter.

    “Today didn’t turn out how I expected... But I am SO GLAD to say, I’m a Green Bay Packer,” Stoneburner posted.

    Williams will be joined in Minnesota by former OSU wide receiver Duron Carter, the son of former Ohio State and Vikings star wideout Cris Carter.

    The free agents will head off to their destinations soon. Most NFL teams hold mini-camps for rookies and undrafted free agents on one of the first two weekends after draft

    Other Reported Big Ten Free Agent Signings:
    Michael Zordich, FB, Penn State – Arizona Cardinals
    Adam Replogle, DT, Indiana – Atlanta Falcons
    Craig Roh, DE, Michigan – Carolina Panthers
    Roy Roundtree, WR, Michigan – Cincinnati Bengals
    Troy Stoudermire, CB, Minnesota – Cincinnati Bengals
    Johnny Adams, CB, Michigan State – Houston Texans
    Kenny Demens, LB, Michigan – Houston Texans
    Kyler Reed, TE, Nebraska – Jacksonville Jaguars
    Darryl Stonum, WR, Michigan – Kansas City Chiefs
    Jordan Kovacs, S, Michigan – Miami Dolphins
    James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa – Minnesota Vikings
    Stephen Morris, CB, Penn State – New England Patriots
    Matt Stankiewitch, C, Penn State – New England Patriots
    Elliott Mealer, OL, Michigan – New Orleans Saints
    Mike Farrell, OT, Penn State – Pittsburgh Steelers
    Anthony Rashad White, DT, Michigan State – Pittsburgh Steelers
    Ben Cotton, TE, Nebraska – San Diego Chargers
    Marcus Cromartie, CB, Wisconsin – San Diego Chargers
    Jay Jay Johnson, CB, Purdue – San Diego Chargers
    Marqueis Gray, QB/TE, Minnesota – San Francisco 49ers
    Patrick Omameh, G, Michigan – San Francisco 49ers
    Jake Bscherer, OL, Wisconsin – Seattle Seahawks
    Graham Pocic, OL, Illinois – St. Louis Rams
    Robert Marve, QB, Purdue – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
    Akeem Shavers, RB, Purdue – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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  • Michigan Is NCAA Bridesmaid

    For basically the entirety of the 2012-13 college basketball season, the Big Ten emerged as the premier conference in the country.

    Top to bottom, the Big Ten’s 12 teams were good enough to match up with those of other leagues and its elite teams were cementing the stellar status, especially considering member schools such as Indiana, Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State all spent several weeks in the top 10 of the national polls.

    The Big Ten Tournament was as action-packed as hoped with Wisconsin playing at a high level to reach the finals but Ohio State cutting down the nets in Chicago.

    The NCAA Tournament showcased more Big Ten excellence as four teams made it to the Sweet 16 representing four different regions. The possibility of an all Big Ten Final Four even existed.

    Of course, that didn’t happen. Michigan State fell flat against Duke and Indiana failed to solve Syracuse’s vaunted zone defense. Ohio State advanced to the West regional final but came up short in its Elite Eight contest with Wichita State.

    That left the onus – and for some reason the reputation of the Big Ten – on Michigan. The fourth-seeded Wolverines produced a furious rally in the final minutes of regulation to produce an eventual overtime win over Kansas, the top seed in the South, and then clipped Florida to reach the Final Four.

    A win over Syracuse in Atlanta set up the championship scenario: Michigan vs. No. 1 overall seed Louisville and a chance for the Big Ten to claim its first national title since Michigan State won it all in 2000.

    UM shot 52.1 percent (25 of 48) from the floor and 44.4 percent (8 of 18) from behind the three-point arc but couldn’t quite keep up with the Cardinals in the high-powered finale April 8 and fell 82-76. Trey Burke scored a game-high 24 points and freshman guard Spike Albrecht came through with a career-high 17 points off the bench for the Wolverines (31-8).

    However, Louisville came up with several key plays in a high-octane second half and also benefited from heroism via a reserve guard – Luke Hancock, who scored 22 points and his all five attempts from long range. When last we saw Hancock he was paying for George Mason and had his sophomore season end in a blowout loss to Ohio State in the 2011 NCAA tourney.

    The Cardinals (35-5) captured the headlines and the imagination of the public with Rick Pitino becoming the first coach to win a national championship at two different schools (he already had done so at Kentucky in 1996) and guard Kevin Ware on hand as a spectator after his gruesome broken leg injury suffered on Easter Sunday.

    “These are my brothers,” a beaming Ware said after the Cardinals rallied from a 12-point deficit and began celebrating the title. “They got the job done. I’m so proud of them, so proud of them.”

    “I had the 13 toughest guys I’ve ever coached,” said Pitino, who was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame earlier in the day. “I’m just amazed they could accomplish everything we put out there.”

    As for Michigan, much of the postgame national discussion centered on three things: the supposed coaching gaffes of John Beilein, the expectation that Burke and a parade of teammates would leave early for the NBA, and the fact that the Big Ten has gone 0-5 in the title game since the Spartans cut down the nets in 2000.

    What often didn’t enter that conversation is that Michigan had the youngest team in the entire NCAA Tournament field.

    UM, which won the 1989 title game, was back in the final game for the first time since the Fab Five lost the second of two straight championship games in 1993. Players from that team, including Chris Webber, cheered on the latest group of young stars.

    Despite having the best shooting night of a runner-up since Georgetown in 1985, the Wolverines were branded a failure by some, but Burke wasn’t buying it.

    “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get this far,” said the sophomore point guard and reigning Big Ten Player of the Year. “A lot of people didn’t expect us to get past the second round. We fought. We fought up to this point, but Louisville was the better team today, and they're deserving of the win.”

    The 6-0 Burke became the third Wooden Award winner to lose in the national championship game, joining Indiana State’s Larry Bird and Duke’s Elton Brand.

    The youngster didn’t have much help in the second half, though. Albrecht was held scoreless after the break, and no one else posted more than 12 points for the Wolverines.

    As a result, Michigan fell to 1-5 all-time in national title games. The five losses are third-most all-time.

    Other Big Ten runners-up of late include Indiana (2002), Illinois (2005), Ohio State (2007) and Michigan State (2009). Michigan makes it five different Big Ten teams to come up a game short in the last 12 NCAA Tournaments.

    Since 2000, those five title game appearances by the Big 10 are second-most of any conference behind only the ACC which has played for the title six times. What is troubling to the league is the ACC has gone 5-1 in such games and the Big East (4-0) and SEC (3-0) haven’t lost in championship games in the same time frame.

    In terms of Final Four appearances, the Big Ten is tied with the ACC for second with nine over those last 13 years. The Big East has the most with 12.

    The Big Ten, which posted an overall nonconference mark of 121-31 (.796), ended up as the bridesmaid again this year and also came in second in conference RPI. The Mountain West was first in conference RPI.

    Rice Not So Nice

    A recent report following up on the firing of Rutgers men’s basketball coach Mike Rice, the school athletic director and others suggests that the school’s upcoming move to the Big Ten may have had a factor in the mishandling of the situation.

    ESPN’s unveiling of surveillance videos showing Rice verbally and physically abusing players in practice has led to a full-scale controversy along with the ouster of the coach and administrators.

    “One of the great questions, and it almost resonates from Watergate, is who knew what and when did they know it,” Bob Ley, ESPN’s award-winning host, said midway through ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” report.

    The focus of the report centered on tapes submitted by former Rutgers assistant Eric Murdock, who sued the university, showing Rice cussing out and shoving players as well as firing basketballs at their head and body from close range.

    It also delved into what Rutgers president Robert Barchi knew, and what he should have done to remedy the situation.

    Barchi was informed of Rice’s brutish behavior just days after publicly accepting the Big Ten’s invitation to join up and took no action. He later admitted wrongdoing by calling the cover-up a “failure of process.” The school eventually canned Rice, assistant coach Jimmy Martelli, AD Tim Pernetti, and university general counsel John Wolf.

    Pernetti left with a $1.2 million severance and other perks.

    Pernetti originally decided to suspend Rice for three games without pay and fine the coach $50,000 in mid-December rather than fire him after commissioning outside counsel to investigate Murdock’s assertions.

    Perhaps ESPN columnist Howard Bryant offered the best perspective when he wrote, “There’s no question that you’re not going to let anything get in the way of that Big Ten deal. Whether it’s Pernetti or Rice or Barchi, they all know what’s taken place here. You have $25 million at stake, you’re not going to get in the way of that deal. And this easily could’ve derailed it, especially with those details.”

    Tubby, Carmody Replaced

    The Big Ten basketball season wasn’t a glory run for everyone involved. In fact, two schools decided to fire their coaches.

    Northwestern wasted no time in dumping 13-year coach Bill Carmody, doing so just after the Wildcats were eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament. They eventually landed longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins, son of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins.

    Chris Collins was introduced as NU’s new coach on April 2. He has hopes of putting the Wildcats in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.

    “I’m not afraid of the work that needs to be done,” he said with his father watching from the front row. “I know it’s going to take time. I’m ultra-competitive. I’m passionate about what I do. To me, in life if you love doing something, you want people to know about it.

    “We’re going to build a winner,” he said. “I’m confident. I’m excited. But I also know it’s going to take work.”

    Meanwhile, Minnesota let go of coach Tubby Smith even after he had just won an NCAA Tournament game over UCLA. Minnesota (21-13) lost to Florida two days later in Austin, Texas, and Smith’s six-year run at Minnesota was over the following day.

    He was 124-81 (.610) there, won 20 games five times, and guided Minnesota to three NCAA Tournament appearances. However, the Golden Gophers were 46-62 in Big Ten play and never finished higher than sixth in the conference with him at the helm.

    On April 8, the school announced it had tabbed 30-year-old Richard Pitino, son of Rick, as its new head coach. Pitino cut his coaching teeth as an assistant for his dad and Florida coach Billy Donovan, but he served just one year as a head coach, leading Florida International to a mark of 18-14 this past season.

    Quick Hitters

    * The Big Ten will send three teams and six gymnasts to the NCAA Women’s Gymnastics Championships following the conclusion of NCAA Regional competitions on April 6.

    Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota will head to the national meet after finishing among the top two at their respective regional sites, while Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State will send individual all-around competitors to the championships, scheduled for April 19-21 at Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles, Calif.

    At the Morgantown Regional, Michigan placed first to advance to the national meet for the Big Ten-leading 20th time, while Illinois followed in second to punch its ticket to the NCAA Championships for the second time in the last three years. Minnesota finished second in the Gainesville Regional to clinch its berth to the NCAA Championships for the third time and first since 2002.

    The Buckeyes’ Sarah Miller and Melanie Shaffer each qualified for the NCAA Championships at the Columbus Regional as Miller tied for first on balance beam (9.950) and Shaffer qualified with a fourth-place finish in the all-around (39.325). Nittany Lion Sharaya Musser tied for second in the all-around (39.375) at the Norman Regional to advance to the national meet.

    * Five women’s basketball players were named to the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) All-America team. Minnesota’s Rachel Banham, Nebraska’s Jordan Hooper, Ohio State’s Tayler Hill and Penn State’s Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas each garnered honorable mention recognition.

    * Three conference performers on the men’s side have announced their intentions to leave school early to seek employment in the NBA. Ohio State forward Deshaun Thomas was the first to do so followed by Indiana forward Victor Oladipo and IU center Cody Zeller. All three were first-team All-Big Ten and named to several All-America lists.

    Other Big Ten players expected to follow suit and leave early for the draft are Michigan State forward Adreian Payne and the Michigan triumvirate of Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III.


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