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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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  • 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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  • Football Season Finally Arrives

    CHICAGO – All 12 member teams will be in action Labor Day weekend, kicking off the 117th season of Big Ten football.

    It promises to be a fall unlike any other.

    Sure there will be marquee games right out of the chute such as Boise State at Michigan State on Aug. 31 and Michigan vs. Alabama in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 1.

    And there will be familiar faces as well, including Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (the leading rusher in the conference last year), dynamic Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (who could break several league marks this season), and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz (the most tenured Big Ten coach).

    Rex Burkhead should be just as versatile performer at Nebraska, Ohio State’s John Simon will continue to chase down quarterbacks, Chris Borland will return to anchor Wisconsin’s defense, and UW coach Bret Bielema again enters the season on top.

    However, there is much change afoot.

    Burkhead and Ball are the only first-team offensive All-Big Ten performers from 2011 who are back, and three member schools have new head coaches – Tim Beckman at Illinois, Urban Meyer at Ohio State, and Bill O’Brien at Penn State.

    In fact, for the first time in the history of Big Ten Football Media Days, which was held Thursday and Friday in Chicago – and for the first time since 1966, for that matter – Joe Paterno was not representing the program as its head coach. Of course, Paterno was fired from his 46-year post in November and died of lung cancer at the age of 85 on Jan. 22.

    The scandal involving former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, his conviction of sexually abusing 10 boys, and the cover-up orchestrated by the university hierarchy has led to months of unrest in Happy Valley and recently imposed sanctions.

    The punishment is crippling – a fine of $60 million, a four-year bowl and probation, a massive loss of scholarships, the vacating of all wins dating back to 1998, and an open door for student-athletes to transfer to other programs without having to sit out a year. The Big Ten piled on by censuring the school and stripping it of league revenue over the same four-year period, which could cost Penn State another $13 million.

    With all of that thundering down on Penn State on Monday and leading to speculation about an exodus of players, O’Brien reluctantly moved right into the spotlight when he arrived to town.

    “We’ve got a bunch of kids back in State College right now that are sticking together, that have been through a lot of tough times over the last six months but have turned the page and are ready to move forward,” he said at the lectern.

    “And all I can tell you is that we’ve got a great staff. We’ve got a tough, smart football team. The fans need to get on board, our alumni need to get on board and our lettermen need to get on board.”

    Of course, that didn’t keep reporters from delving into the pain, especially considering that while O’Brien was speaking star PSU running back Silas Redd was in the midst of a three-hour meeting with USC coach Lane Kiffin about the prospect of moving right into the Trojan backfield.

    O’Brien, as one might imagine, is most concerned with the restrictions on recruiting and the relaxing of the rules regarding transfers since his roster is sure to deal with constant tinkering

    “It’s like NFL free agency without the rules,” he said. “So they can do what they want as long as they tell our compliance office that they’re contacting these kids, and it is what it is. So I don’t really have anything to say on that.”

    O’Brien certainly backed that claim when, moments later, a reporter greeted him with the following: “Hi, Coach. Can you give us an update on the Silas Redd situation?”

    “No,” O’Brien said, before the reporter had finished exhaling his question.

    The former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, O’Brien has embraced what is already in place – Penn State’s excellent football tradition, topnotch facilities and impressive community support. However, the theme of his comments here centered on moving forward and forging the program into a new age.

    He even hinted that the team may don new uniforms this fall.

    “There’s a lot of discussions going on with our football team right now,” he said when asked about the possibility of the Nittany Lions having a different gameday look. “We’ve got a group of young men there, like I said, that are sticking together. And there’s changes that have taken place at Penn State over the last six months that are reflected already. The new era of Penn State football.

    “And some of the changes people will have to wait and see until September, on September 1st.”

    Meyer Makes His Mark

    Meyer also comes from a winning background, having won two national championships in six years at Florida and also putting together eye-opening two-year stints at Bowling Green and Utah.

    All eyes were on him when he took to the lectern Thursday morning.

    “I’m honored to be here representing the Big Ten conference and Ohio State University and look forward to starting training camp a week from Friday,” he opened. “I like our players. I like our team. We had a conditioning test that our players are telling me about. And the energy level is real high right now in Columbus with our football team. So I’m anxious to get going.”

    Meyer immediately was asked to compare the SEC to the Big Ten.

    “Big Ten, the SEC, the last few years, is kind of the kingpin with the success they’ve had in the BCS,” he said. “I have watched a lot of the Big Ten as we got ready to play some Bowl games in recent years. I see the Big Ten has changed dramatically.

    “As a matter of fact, I think it was eight out of the 12 teams are running some sort of spread offense right now. And then there’s two option offenses and then traditional offenses, and that’s obviously a drastic change from historically what you think of the Big Ten. So there’s a little bit of a movement.

    “There’s some great defense in this league, which there’s always been. But there’s several teams right now playing as good as defense as anybody in America.

    “So I think it has changed, but it’s going to be interesting, the evolution, in the next few years with the coaching transitions that are taking place.”

    The Buckeyes are coming off a 6-7 season and are dealing with sanctions of their own, including a postseason ban in effect for this season. Meyer admitted he’s still struggling to deal with that, but he still has his team reaching for a big season.

    “There’s no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players,” he said.

    Meyer’s no-nonsense approach has been well-received so far and compelled him to suspend the scholarships of veterans Jack Mewhort and Jake Stoneburner after they were arrested for urinating in public and trying to elude police this summer. The charges against Stoneburner have been dropped but Meyer is making both players work their way back into good graces.

    “They’re not reinstated yet,” Meyer said. “They’re actively working out. They have to fulfill their penance or obligation that we’ve asked them to do. Obviously the kind of people that they are, the families they’re from, we did take their scholarships. They’ve had to pay for their summer school. Very expensive mistake.

    “They’re doing what they are supposed to do. Monitoring it closely. And that decision won’t be made until we get to training camp. But as of now they’ll be reporting to training camp a week from Friday.”

    Hands Off

    Meyer was among the many league coaches who said he has no designs on raiding Penn State because of the stipulation that Lions players can leave without penalty.

    In fact, he went a step further.

    “I have a problem with that,” he said. “A player has a right to choose, especially by the rules, to go where he wants. To actively go get a player on another team, I’m not sure … when he’s part of a team, you’re getting into a situation that I’m not quite very familiar with, and we’re not going to get very familiar with it.”

    The third to speak on Thursday, Meyer got plenty of backing from other league coaches, including Bielema and another rival, Michigan’s Brady Hoke.

    When this thing came about, and obviously a very unprecedented situation, of course when you're sitting at the head table of your staff room and assistant coaches have a lot of different opinions, I made the decision as a head coach we would not reach out to any Penn State players,” Bielema said.

    “And it wasn't anything more than I have a group of 105 players that are reporting on August 5th that I want them to understand and believe that I think they can help us win another championship. And to bring someone in at this point so close to the season, I just wasn't comfortable with it.”

    Added Hoke on the subject, “To be honest with you, we kind of made a decision – I’d be lying if I didn't say we didn't look at the roster to some degree – but we've kind of made a decision that we’re going to stay and recruit the guys and keep our business our business.”

    Some coaches, however, including Purdue’s Danny Hope, said looking into possible interest from Penn State players is within the rules and therefore something worth pursuing. Beckman even admitted that he and his Illini assistants are already on the case.

    “We were in State College, but we did not go on campus,” Beckman said. “We went to two establishments outside campus and called some individuals and if they wanted to come by, it was their opportunity to come by.”

    Beckman said that he has spoken with O’Brien and that the Illinois compliance director has contacted Penn State about the players in question so that all rules would be followed accordingly.

    New Frontier

    Meyer, of course, is no rookie coach and is expected to bring the Buckeyes right back to respectability. And he was once a member of the OSU staff under Earle Bruce as a graduate assistant in the 1980s. But he’s still new to the Big Ten in this capacity, and that means adjusting to many aspects of the job and getting used to a new league.

    Ditto for O’Brien and Beckman.

    Hoke went through it just last year and came out all right – he was named Big Ten Coach of the Year after the 2011 season.

    “It’s that familiarity and the expectations,” Hoke said. “‘What’s Coach going to be like game week? What’s he going to be like during two-a-day camp?’ All those things. And as a coach it’s ‘How are they going to respond?’ because it’s a grind.”

    Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio agreed.

    “I think the biggest thing with being a newcomer is your don’t know the people, whether it’s the reporters or the opposing coaches or who are the players, the key players, on each team,” Dantonio said. “So there’s a little bit of a learning curve there. I try to be consistent, but I was probably a little bit more at ease now than I was that first year.”

    Bielema is now among the most experienced league coaches but he still remembers what it was like to be in the shoes of someone like O’Brien or Beckman.

    “One of the neat things for me going into my seventh year is I've known so many of these coaches,” he said. “The first year when I came in, I kind of came in like a mouse in the room. I didn't know anybody in there other than Kirk who I had worked for. Now I go around the room, I knew Mark Dantonio when he was an assistant. I actually shared defensive ideas back with him when he was at Ohio State and I was at Kansas State.”

    The newcomer role has helped bond O’Brien and Beckman, at least according to Beckman, who came over after a successful head coaching stint at Toledo.

    “I don’t know Coach O’Brien personally,” Beckman said. “We were not able to meet him at the Big Ten meetings in February. So this was the opportunity, really, for us to get together here earlier today. I have the utmost respect for him. I think he’s doing an outstanding job at Penn State and with the situation there at Penn State.

    “He was a fabulous coach in the NFL and has been around some quality, quality leaders. So I expect great things at Penn State, as always.”

    All Better Now

    Ironically, despite Beckman’s comments, O’Brien seemed miffed when reporters asked him about Illinois’ coaching staff seeking out Penn State players, leaving many to wonder if the two head coaches really were in good spirits with each other.

    Meanwhile, the two league coaches fans assume don’t get along – Bielema and Meyer – say they are just fine.

    Bielema reportedly was miffed after prized offensive lineman Kyle Dodson flipped his commitment from Wisconsin to Ohio State and delivered the following comments during his signing day address:

    “There’s a few things that happened early on that I made people be aware of, that I didn’t want to see in this league, that I had seen take place in other leagues. Other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices, that are illegal.

    “I was very up-front, very pointed to the fact, actually reached out to coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him. The situation got rectified.”

    Bielema, though, downplayed any possible rift with Meyer.

    “At that time of the year people needed something to write about,” he said of reports of their alleged feud over the winter.

    Meyer also claimed no harm, no foul.

    “We have a very, very good relationship,” he said when asked about Bielema. “I think you’d have to ask coach, but we get along fine. We had a conversation about it at the Big Ten meetings, I believe it was in February. A lot of the things that were reported weren’t said.

    “We stand by exactly the way how we do things. And from my understanding, once again, it hasn’t been discussed again, there’s absolutely no problem whatsoever with the way Ohio State does their business. And that comes from the fellow coaches in our Big Ten conference.”

    Notes

    * The official standings from last year were adorned on the front page of the league release at the conference. Why is that noteworthy? Well, Penn State was listed as the second-place team in the Leaders Division in 2011 with a record of 0-0. Of course, that includes marks of 0-0 at home, 0-0 on the road and 0-0 within the division. The nonsense of vacated games.

    * The first league team to hit the gridiron is Minnesota, which will play at UNLV under the lights (11 p.m. Eastern, CBS Sports Network) on Aug. 30. The following evening (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN), Michigan State will host Boise State for a big opener of national appeal.

    * The Big Ten has not really addressed the recent trend of schools offering recruits younger and younger these days, but Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald believes it should.

    “I’m not sure recruiting 15-year-old kids – their kids, they’re not young men – is the right thing to do,” Fitzgerald said. “What matters is what’s right for kids.

    “I was 15 years old and I was starting to date my wife, Stacy. I was really hoping she’d talk to me. I didn’t need some adult texting me and placating to my ego before I even had a (driver’s) license. So let’s talk about society here. What are we doing? There was something pretty healthy about not being offered a scholarship until after your senior year.”

    * The Big Ten Conference once again announced a preseason Players To Watch list which recognizes 10 players of high stature. A media panel designates five players from each division for the honor. Representing the Legends Division are offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and quarterback Robinson of Michigan, cornerback Johnny Adams and defensive end William Gholston of Michigan State, and running back Burkhead of Nebraska. Representing the Leaders Division are defensive lineman Simon and quarterback Braxton Miller of Ohio State, defensive tackle Kawann Short of Purdue, and running back Ball and linebacker Borland of Wisconsin.

    Quotable

    Simon on the prospect of a 12-0 season for the Buckeyes – “I think it’s very realistic that we can win all our games. We just have to not get ahead of ourselves and take it one game at a time.”

    Bielema on being a newlywed – “Nineteen weeks and five days that we’ve been into this relationship. It’s because I get reminded on a daily basis, not that I knew that stat. I was sitting packing for our trip down here last night. And of course my wife is yelling at me because we were supposed to leave three hours ago, which I’m learning to understand after 19 weeks and five days that you have to learn to do these things.”

    Fitzgerald on the idea of football recruiting becoming as involved as basketball recruiting – “I don’t want at 10:45 at night some coach texting me with, ‘What’s up, Dawg?’ I don’t want to do that. Now, if we have to, we will. But I’m a ’Cat, I’m not your Dawg.”

    Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on being asked to respond to the fact that Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State are all currently on NCAA probation – “The last 30 years, you’d be surprised to find out that any five-year period the Big Ten has had between four and six or seven teams on probation. Going back 30 years there’s not been a five-year period where we didn’t. And if you look at the Big 12 or any of the major conferences you’d find the same thing.”

    Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel on if there is an added emphasis for the Lions to put together a good season – “Absolutely. We’re representing the university and we’re the face of the university. Unfortunately, you guys don’t get to come in and talk to our world-class professors or talk to some of the great academic students we have. You guys are stuck with us. But it’s an opportunity for us to show everyone how well Penn State is doing.”

    Meyer on how he can avoid having too firm a grip on the OSU football program – “How do I keep things in order, in check? I think humility is one. Also understanding that we’re a product of those around us, and it’s never about the head football coach, it’s about a bunch of players which is most important and second-most important is a group of coaches.”

    O’Brien on what he told his players when he met with them after the NCAA sanctions were announced – “I talked to them about adversity. I gave them my own story, my own personal story on adversity as it related to my wife and I with our son, Jack. And I talked to them about each one of them have stories of adversity in their lives. Our coaches have stories of adversity in their lives. And the measure of a man is how you overcome adversity. I talked to them about without a shadow of a doubt they’re going to be able to play six to seven Bowl games per year in front of 108,000 screaming fans in Beaver Stadium and I expect it to be 108,000 fans in Beaver Stadium.”

    O’Brien on how he’ll deal with the scholarship reductions on the Penn State program – “I came from a league where there were 53 players on the roster, eight practice squad players and 45 players on the active roster, 21 on offense, 21 on defense, three specialists on game day. So I’m pretty well aware of how to handle a roster of 65 scholarship players. So we have plans in place. I’m not going to get into the details of those. They’re already in the works. But I don’t think that that’s as bad as everybody says it is.”

    Robinson when asked about a popular video game commercial – “I actually saw the Desmond Howard one where he’s on Ohio and the dad throws the TV out the window. That’s kind of funny.”

    Meyer on the importance of the Michigan game this year with no postseason to follow – “I don’t know if you can add any more to it. And the big reason is hopefully by the end of the season there’s going to be two really good football teams that are going to go play each other. But I think that will be – I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about that. I’ve already heard it. And I haven’t made that decision on how we’re going to attack that game other than it’s the biggest game of the year and we will get ready for it.”

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  • Fear The Boilers

    With March Madness upon us and all the fervor surrounding the Big Ten as a power conference in both men’s and women’s basketball, one member school decided to fire up a little reminder.

    In case you had forgotten, Purdue University knows a thing or two about roundball.

    The men ended up finishing sixth in the league standings and lost their regular-season finale to rival Indiana, which isn’t exactly headline-inducing. However, many believe head coach Matt Painter did an admirable job this season.

    In fact, prior to the loss to IU, the Boilermakers won five of six games including an upset of ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor to secure a 20-win season and winning mark in arguably the best conference in the country. That’s pretty good production for a team that lost superstars JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore to the NBA and also dealt with the dismissal of junior guard Kelsey Barlow due to a violation of team rules.

    Purdue still holds the Big Ten standard with 22 league titles and has the only men’s basketball program in the conference that owns a break-even or winning mark against every other member school.

    The women, meanwhile, also came to the forefront on Sunday when they cut down the nets at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis after triumphing at the Big Ten Tournament in thrilling fashion.

    Rranked No. 21 coming into the week, PU got 19 points from KK Houser and hung on to defeat No. 24 Nebraska 74-70 in two overtimes in the tourney final.

    Houser, ironically who hails from Lincoln, Neb., also had five steals against her hometown team. Chantel Poston had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and Sam Ostarello added eight points and 10 rebounds for the Boilermakers (24-8), who won the tournament for the eighth time in 17 years.

    The win was a bit of a payback as Purdue lost its regular-season matchup with the Cornhuskers, 93-89 in triple-overtime.

    Nebraska, which had dumped Ohio State in the semifinals, also left Indy at 24-8. Lindsey Moore scored 27 points and Jordan Hooper added 25 for the ’Huskers, who caught fire during the week. They had lost four of six heading into the tournament but averaged 82 points in their three wins to reach the final. The Big Ten newbies came up just short in their bid to become the first women’s team to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

    At the end of the first overtime, Nebraska’s Kaitlyn Burke missed an open three-pointer with fives seconds remaining and the score tied.

    Purdue entered the postseason as the 4-seed for the conference tournament. In the semifinals on Saturday, the Boilermakers eliminated top-seeded Penn State. Brittany Rayburn, who scored nine points and hit the game winner against the Nittany Lions, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

    Penn State earned the top seed for the fifth time in program history after winning the outright regular-season crown with a 13-3 mark in conference play. The Lady Lions will head to the NCAA Tournament with an overall mark of 24-6

    Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State and Purdue all put together 11-5 conference records, creating a four-way tie for second place. The Buckeyes earned the 2-seed by virtue of their 3-0 combined record against the other three teams. However, OSU could not add to its run of three consecutive tournament titles after losing grip of a double-digit lead in the first half against Nebraska.

    Six conference teams have taken home the Big Ten Tournament title since the event’s inception in 1995, led by Purdue’s record seven titles (1998-99-00-03-04-07-08). Ohio State is next with four tournament titles (2006-09-10-11) while Iowa (1997-01) and Penn State (1995-96) have each won the title twice. Indiana earned the crown in 2002 and Michigan State took home the title in 2005.

    The Big Ten sold all-session passes for $70 and single-session tickets were either $10 or $16 depending upon seat location.

    Located in downtown Indianapolis – and formerly known as Conseco Fieldhouse – Bankers Life Fieldhouse also will host the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament March 8-11 with an unprecedented four games on the first day and four more for the Friday quarterfinals. CBS will nationally televise the Saturday semifinals beginning at 1:40 p.m. Eastern and the Sunday championship game beginning at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.

    Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 745-3000, and through the Bankers Life Fieldhouse box office.

    Stay tuned to SportsRappUp.com for a preview of the men’s tournament including predictions for each game.

    For a look at postseason awards for Big Ten men’s basketball, click here.

    Bucks And Wolves Tops Again

    After Urban Meyer was hired as Ohio State’s new football coach and Brady Hoke was a smashing success in his first year heading up the program at Michigan, Big Ten fans had reason to believe that the rivalry between the two schools and their level of play would soon be on the rise and back to an elite level.

    If the results of 2012 recruiting are any indication, The Game is about to be loaded with quality players on both sides once again. In fact, according to Rivals.com, only two Big Ten schools closed on classes that ranked among the top 25 in the country – Ohio State at No. 6 and Michigan at No. 7.

    Rivals, like many sites that analyze football recruiting, tabbed Alabama’s class as tops in the country followed by Florida State, Texas, Florida, and Georgia. Joining Ohio State and Michigan in the top 10 were Miami (Fla.), Clemson, and Notre Dame.

    The rest of the Rivals top 25 is as follows: 11) Oklahoma, 12) Stanford, 13) Southern Cal, 14) LSU, 15) Texas A&M, 16) South Carolina, 17) Auburn, 18) Oregon, 19) UCLA, 20) Texas Tech, 21) Tennessee, 22) California, 23) Washington, 24) Rutgers, and 25) Virginia Tech.

    Meyer’s initial OSU class was headlined by bookend defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, each considered five-star talents. Analysts were amazed that he was able to land the top haul in the Big Ten considering Ohio State’s current plight with NCAA sanctions including a postseason ban that goes into effect this year.

    Conversely, Hoke and his staff pinned down 20 of their commitments in the spring and summer prior to the 2011 season, although four-star running back Dennis Norfleet was added on National Signing Day. The class is balanced and loaded. Defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins is among those expected to make an immediate impact.

    The remainder of the Big Ten was ranked thusly by ESPN.com: 3) Nebraska, 4) Purdue, 5) Michigan State, 6) Iowa, 7) Penn State, 8) Northwestern, 9) Illinois, 10) Wisconsin, 11) Minnesota, 12) Indiana.

    The Hoosiers not only ranked last compared to their league brethren, they also were left to lament the loss of in-state quarterback Gunner Kiel, a five-star talent who originally committed to IU. However, Indiana was put in topflight company when LSU also was spurned by Kiel, who finally signed with Notre Dame.

    Recruiting Tension

    Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, who lost grip of Kiel, wasn’t the only Big Ten coach who came away less than elated from the entire experience.

    New Penn State coach Bill O’Brien – who left his post as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots to help guide the Lions through troubled waters – blasted critics of the PSU class.

    “I could care less about player rankings,” O’Brien said on conference call from the Patriots team hotel in Indianapolis the week of the Super Bowl. “What I care about is that we found the right fit for Penn State with all these prospects.”

    Scout.com has Penn State’s class ranked No. 49 nationally and No. 6 in the Big Ten, while Rivals.com ranks the group No. 50 nationally and, as previously mentioned, No. 7 in the conference.

    Rivals only ranks two prospects in the class, wide receiver Eugene Lewis and defensive tackle Jamil Pollard, as recruits worthy of at least four stars. Scout had only Lewis attaining a four-star rating and everyone else falling in line as a three-star or lower.

    But O’Brien’s testy response was nothing compared to the firestorm that surrounded Meyer’s recruiting tactics. The former Florida coach, who cited the dog-eat-dog approach of the SEC as a concern when he took time away from coaching, came out guns a-blazin’ on the recruiting trail and actually flipped no less than seven prospects who previously had committed elsewhere.

    The two that caused the most reaction were offensive lineman Kyle Dodson – an original Wisconsin commitment who ended up announcing a change of heart and inking a letter-of-intent with OSU on signing day – and defensive end  Se’Von Pittman of Canton McKinley, who appeared to be a solid verbal to Michigan State for months but changed his mind and opted for the homestate Buckeyes.

    “Se’Von Pittman had a relationship with Luke Fickell,” Meyer explained as the keynote speaker of the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association clinic in February. “I think we helped it when I made that phone call. He recruited us after a little bit. The phone call went something like this: ‘Are you interested?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Come on down for a visit.’

    “I get a phone call the next few days. ‘Come on up, we’ve got good news for you.’ Can’t say I had a lot to do with that other than, Hey, let’s go. He always wanted to be an Ohio State Buckeye.

    In response to comments by Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and MSU defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, Meyer also reportedly said, “You’re pissed because we went after a committed guy? Guess what, we’ve got nine guys who better go do it again. Do it a little harder next time.”

    Bielema made pointed remarks after signing his class, which forced Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to bring up the issue while meeting with the football coaches in Chicago days later and asking them to play nice.

    That discussion was somewhat productive.

    “There are a few things that happened early on that I made people aware of that I didn’t want to see in this league,” Bielema said, “that I had seen take place in other leagues, other recruiting tactics, other recruiting practices that are illegal.”

    Bielema went on to mention Meyer specifically.

    “I was very up front and was very pointed to the fact, actually reached out to Coach Meyer and shared my thoughts and concerns with him,” Bielema said. “The situation got rectified.”

    Meyer, though, doesn’t sound like someone who is backing down.

    “We’re hired to go after recruits as hard as we can,” Meyer said. “I mean as hard as we can.”

    OSU also received signatures from two players who originally committed to Notre Dame – including well-rated OL Taylor Decker – and three who once had pegged Penn State. It’s long been suggested that there’s an unwritten agreement within the Big Ten that once a recruit commits to a school, all other Big Ten coaches will leave the player alone.

    Two coaches who steadfastly adhered to that policy, Dantonio and former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, were especially careful about how they contacted prospects that were committed to MSU and OSU.

    “(The agreement) has been between the coaches,” Narduzzi said while speaking at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Ohio, according to the Canton Repository. “Jim Tressel and Mark Dantonio would never call or talk to each other’s commitments. People coach Dantonio knows well don’t come in and take players away. When you do, you lose friendships over that.

    “It sets a tone and starts a recruiting rivalry. I guess it’s fair game. You don’t want it to be that way, but that’s how it is.”

    Meyer intimated that he believes there is an ethical way to recruit committed players.

    “There are some people that say, ‘How can you go and recruit a young guy that’s committed to another school?’ ” he said. “You ask a question, ‘Are you interested?’ If they say no, you move on. If they say, ‘Yes, very interested,’ then you throw that hook out there. If they’re interested, absolutely, especially if they are from your home state.

    “Is it gratifying to go a take a guy from another school? Not at all. Is it gratifying to know that we got the two offensive tackles that we went out (for) from day one? That amazes me.”

    Furthering his point, Meyer added, “We went after a young guy in Cleveland, Ohio. I asked him if he was interested in Ohio State. He said no. I wished him the best of luck, do well in school, move on. If a kid isn’t interested, we’re done. We move on.”

    Meyer likely was referring to five-star OL Kyle Kalis of Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward, who signed with and pledges his allegiance to Michigan.

    Meyer did receive some support during the controversy, including a comment from, of all people, Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez.

    “Recruiting is recruiting until they sign,” the AD said. “If we had somebody who changed their mind and came to us, that’s OK.”

    Ohio State AD Gene Smith also had his coach’s back.

    “I am disappointed that negative references have been made about our football coaches, and particularly head coach Urban Meyer regarding recruiting,” Smith said in a statement. “In our league appropriate protocol, if you have concerns, is to share those concerns with your athletic director. Then your AD will make the determination on the appropriate communication from that point forward. The ADs in our league are professionals and communicate with each other extremely well. Urban Meyer and his staff have had a compliance conscience since they have arrived.”

    Hot Streaks

    Northwestern forward John Shurna, the Big Ten’s leading scorer this season, was particularly warm in wins over Nebraska and Illinois at the outset of the Wildcats’ February schedule.

    He played all but two minutes in those victories and scored 52 points on 20-of-28 shooting (71.4 percent). He also was 5 of 10 from three-point range in the two contests.

    Penn State leading scorer Tim Frazier had a four-game blitz this year in which he scored 81 points, which is 37.2 percent of the Nittany Lions’ total points in that span. The junior guard also added 17 assists in the four games.

    Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas was held under double digits in a home loss to Michigan State on Feb. 11 but caught fire after that in the Buckeyes’ remaining six league games. He scored 12 points in a win at Minnesota on Feb. 14 then followed that up with 25 points – and a career-high 13 rebounds – against Michigan on Feb. 18. He closed out the regular season with 19 points, 23, 19 and 12 to give him a scoring average of 18.3 ppg in those final six games.

    In those game, the 6-7 left forward hit 41 of 76 shots, good for 53.9 percent from the field.

    Quick Hitters

    * Ohio State’s victory at Wisconsin was the Buckeyes’ 20th of the season, giving Thad Matta’s Buckeyes their eighth consecutive 20-win season. That is the longest active streak in the Big Ten and also the second-longest in conference history, trailing only Illinois, which did it nine times (1983-91).

    * On Feb. 17, Painter announced that Barlow had been dismissed from the program and that junior guard/forward D.J. Byrd had been suspended for the team’s subsequent game against Michigan State. Both actions were a result of violation of team rules.

    “This is an unfortunate situation, but we will move forward as a program,” Painter said. “We expect our student-athletes to live up to a high standard, and when their actions become detrimental to the program, there are consequences.”

    The West Lafayette Police Department is investigating allegations that Byrd assaulted a bouncer at Where Else bar near campus. Byrd, 21, was under suspicion of public intoxication at the time of the incident.

    A spokesperson for local police said Barlow had been at Where Else earlier but either left or got kicked out of the establishment. Barlow then came back, believing he left his wallet there. Where Else, however, refused to let him back in.

    Barlow left and returned later accompanied by Byrd, teammate Robbie Hummel and other members of the basketball team. This resulted in some type of confrontation, during which Byrd is suspected of assaulting a bouncer.

    Byrd was booked into the Tippecanoe County Jail and released five hours later.

    * Several Big Ten players were named as members of the United States Basketball Writers Association All-District team for District V, which includes student-athletes in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The USBWA unveiled all of the all-district coaches and players on March 6.

    The District V winners were as follows:

    PLAYER OF THE YEAR
    Draymond Green, Michigan State

    COACH OF THE YEAR
    Tom Izzo, Michigan State

    ALL-DISTRICT TEAM
    William Buford, Ohio State
    Trey Burke, Michigan
    Jae Crowder, Marquette
    Draymond Green, Michigan State
    Robbie Hummel, Purdue
    Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette
    John Shurna, Northwestern
    Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
    Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
    Cody Zeller, Indiana

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  • Colorful Two Days In Chicago

    The Windy City is known for its popular and colorful Chicago-based ball teams – Cubs blue, Bulls red and the familiar black worn by the Bears.

    On Thursday and Friday the town was painted scarlet and gray in that the discussions during the 2011 Big Ten Football Media Days there always seemed to circle back to Ohio State.

    The Buckeyes, of course, are the perennial power team of the conference after winning six straight league crowns. However, head coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor are gone because of scandal while several other key players have been suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season.

    And new coach Luke Fickell inherits a team that needs to rebuild its core on defense and will have to deal with varying expectations and distractions throughout the fall.

    So as the 12 coaches took the podium individually on Thursday and delved into their team outlook, the questions still managed to pertain to OSU.

    Perhaps most interesting were the comments by Michigan’s Brady Hoke, who, like Fickell, enters the rivalry for the first time as a head coach.

    A former UM assistant who opened eyes heading up the programs at Ball State and San Diego State, Hoke already has Wolverine fans fired up and Buckeye fans disliking the portly new head coach. In Woody Hayes-like fashion, Hoke has showed extra attention to the rivalry by referring to the enemy with a slighted title. But in this case, instead of Hayes calling Michigan “that school up north” Hoke simply refers to OSU as “Ohio.”

    He did it repeatedly in Chicago.

    “You know, we're really fortunate at Michigan,” Hoke said at the mic. “We have a national rivalry. We play Notre Dame. We have an in-state rivalry with Michigan State, obviously. Then the rivalry with Ohio is as big a rivalry as there is in sport.”

    Fickell didn’t react to Hoke’s reference to the Buckeyes but he made sure to tell reporters in Chicago that he doesn’t intend to let UM suddenly get the upper hand in The Game.

    “Nobody will overlook that,” Fickell said. “I know that's not something that will ever be overlooked at Ohio State. Obviously (we) look forward to that rivalry, continuing that great tradition.”

    Hoke also admitted he has a special feeling for the late November matchup.

    “It’s fun,” said Hoke, who last participated in the rivalry as an assistant at Michigan in 2002.

    “I mean, if you can’t get geared up for that and get goosebumps and all those things for that game, then you may not be human.”

    Hoke grew up in the Dayton area but claims he rooted for Michigan as a kid. His father, John Hoke, played for Hayes and Bo Schembechler at Miami (Ohio).

    Hoke eventually found himself on the sidelines for the rivalry but doesn’t expect to be part of the spotlight when the series is renewed this fall.

    “It never has been who the coach is,” he said. “It’s always about those two great institutions.

    “Playing at the end of November is tradition and some traditions you don’t mess with,” Hoke added.

    And some you start yourself – like calling your bitter rival by its first name.

    Similarly, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema seemed to both crack Ohio State and show the program major respect throughout his two-day appearance in Chicago.

    Bielema, who was selected by the media as the conference’s best coach in a preseason poll, has made no bones about putting Ohio State in his gun scope and he sounded like a man hell-bent on the opportunity to catch the Buckeyes during his media address. He also reminded reporters that the Badgers ruined OSU’s otherwise perfect season – even if sanctions take away the 12 wins.

    “We’ve been knocking on the door of Ohio State for a couple of years, but to finally go through last year in the way that we did, there wasn’t any question about who won that football game,” he said of the 31-18 upset of No. 1 OSU last October.

    “The only bad part about Terrelle leaving was he said the week after it was a fluke, that they’d beat us nine out of 10 times. So to me, we really wanted to play that game against him, but unfortunately we won’t.”

    The two teams will meet again in Columbus this year – a Halloween (Oct. 29) treat that is sure to stir up more emotion. The Buckeyes are expected to wear replica uniforms for that contest and the national spotlight will shine brightly. Considering Bielema’s obsession with surpassing OSU in the conference race, that some consider the Badgers as Ohio State’s biggest rival, and that the two teams are now in opposing divisions, setting up a possibly December rematch in the conference’s first-ever championship game, Bielema was asked to respond to the Buckeyes’ recent NCAA hot water.

    “I understand why you ask the question, but I don’t spend one day at the University of Wisconsin worrying about what’s going on at Ohio State,” he said.

    Sure you don’t, Coach.

    “Ohio State still has a lot of real good football players,” he continued. “Luke (Fickell) is a very good football coach. He’s a great assistant coach and my guess is he’s going to be a good head coach, but it doesn’t change what we do at Wisconsin.”

    Bielema also seemed to reference Tressel, saying, “If you’re trying to be competitive, you’re trying to win a football game, all those things, maximize all your opportunities, do what you have to do,” he said at the podium.

    “But when you consciously break an NCAA rule, to me the only way to deter that is to get rid of people, or seriously hold programs accountable. That’s probably the number one thing I would love to see happen in the world of college football.”

    However, a gaggle of reporters grabbed Bielema in thw hallway and he tried to clarify his statement.

    “You know what, those comments weren’t directed toward Ohio State,” he said.

    “I don’t know exactly what went on. More to those comments that I was referring to was recruiting. When you have people who knowingly are breaking rules or doing things that aren’t over the table, that is very frustrating. It’s very hard to trace. It’s just very, very upsetting when the people who are involved aren’t hammered the way they should be.”

    Bielema went on to say that Tressel was highly supportive of him and did admit regret that he is no longer in the conference.

    “Unfortunately, the situation arose there, but it doesn’t change my opinion about who he is or what he is or the program he built,” he said. “To win six Big Ten championships (in a row), that doesn’t just happen. You have a lot of good coaches and a lot of good football players that were able to do that, and he’s responsible for all of that.”

    Veteran Presence – Just prior to the Big Ten Football Media Days, the conference compiled a list of the top players and called it the league’s inaugural Preseason Players To Watch List. The intent was to honor five student-athletes each from the Legends Division and Leaders Division. The 2011 list was selected by a media panel and features additional honorees due to a tie.

    Representing the Legends Division are Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David, and Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa.

    The Leaders Division honorees are Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana wide receiver Damarlo Belcher, Ohio State center Mike Brewster and defensive tackle John Simon, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti and Wisconsin running backs Montee Ball and James White.

    All five Legends Division players received postseason recognition in 2010, with Robinson, Crick and David earning All-America honors and first-team All-Conference accolades. Robinson was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year while David was tabbed the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Persa was also named first-team All-Big Ten while Cousins was an honorable mention All-Conference choice.

    The group of Leaders Division standouts includes five All-Conference selections from 2010. Brewster earned All-America accolades and first-team All-Big Ten honors. White was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a second-team All-Conference selection. Belcher, Simon and Ball were each All-Big Ten honorable mention selections.

    Hot Ticket – The conference opened up ticket sales for the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game to the general public on July 30 and the ducats reportedly sold out within a few hours. Tickets ranged from $50 to $125. Orders were limited to eight tickets.

    The championship game is slated to begin at 8:17 p.m. Eastern on Sat., Dec. 3 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis and will be televised by FOX Sports.

    Those individuals who purchased tickets through Ticketmaster or the Lucas Oil Stadium ticket office for the 2011 Big Ten Football Championship Game will have the opportunity at a later date to purchase tickets in a comparable location for the 2012 game. In addition, every Big Ten Football Championship Game ticket will include a ticket to Big Ten Fan Fest, to be held at the Indiana Convention Center from 10 a.m. Eastern until kickoff.

    The championship game will feature the champion of the Legends Division facing the champion of the Leaders Division, with the winner earning the Big Ten Championship and a chance to play in either the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game.

    The Big Ten Conference and Indiana Sports Corporation have entered into an agreement to host Big Ten Football Championship Games at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis through 2015. FOX Sports will serve as the official broadcast partner of the Big Ten Football Championship Games through 2016.

    Looking Back – Just one year ago, Nebraska was not a part of the conference and the fraternity of Big Ten head coaches included the likes of Tressel, Rich Rodriguez, Tim Brewster and Bill Lynch.

    In fact, just last summer Lynch was talking about the strides his staff was making at Indiana and raving about the Hoosiers’ renovated stadium.

    “One, it shows a commitment to football at Indiana, and I think that’s really big,” he said at the time. “And then I think it’s more fun. There’s no question it’s more fun to play in a lively atmosphere. That’s why when you talk to our kids they talk about playing at Penn State or playing at Iowa, those places where it’s alive from the time you take the field to the time the game’s over.”

    Lynch, of course, wasn’t around long enough to see the full effect. But he was prophetic when he said the following: “Everybody can say what they want but I don’t care where they’re at, they don’t want to line up and play Ohio State.”

    A year ago, the league also had different players in starring roles, most notably defensive end. Sure enough, Ohio State’s Cameron Heyward, Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan all had big senior seasons and became top draft choices.

    “Those are good ones right there,” Tressel said of that trio last year. “When you have edge guys like that, those guys disrupt what you do. All of a sudden you’ve got to send your backs out to chip them, you get them out in routes and your quarterback’s timing is off because he’s used to the check-down being there with that coverage. I don’t think it’s a secret whether it’s our league or the league above us, D-linemen are impactful.”

    Meanwhile, a few tables away, Rodriguez was telling reporters that UM football was on the brink of returning to glory despite fan unrest.

    “We’re at a place where they care,” Rodriguez said last August. “You want to coach and play at a place like that. I don’t know if you ever have 100 percent of the people happy no matter where you’re at. When we were having our good runs at West Virginia at the end there, when we lost two games it was tragic. But you build up to that point.

    “There’s nothing wrong with that. I want to get to that point. I want to get to that point where, boy, one or two losses is a bad, bad thing – and we can get there. It’s taken us longer than we wanted, that’s for sure, but we can get there.

    “We’re getting there. We wanted to have a fast team. It starts off with recruiting fast players. Now we’ve got to get them to play fast all the time, and that’s our job as coaches. We’ve got to put them in that position. We’ve got to teach them, educate them. And on both sides of the ball. Some people talk about the offense, but it’s defensively, too. We’ve got to play faster defensively. And in a couple years those fast guys playing fast will be juniors and seniors.”

    Michigan defensive back Troy Woolfolk also was talking about a turnaround – including Michigan’s results against Ohio State.

    “For us (the hatred of OSU) has been as high as it’s ever been because they’ve kind of dominated the last few years. I think it’s that time to finally get over the hill and end that winning streak. Everyone on the team, I can just see it in their eyes when everyone is telling them about Ohio State. Or even just on TV or even just an O-shaped figure I just get instantly angry. Cheerios, Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, none of that.”

    For the record, Woolfolk ended up suffering a season-ending injury and his Wolverines were bombed at Ohio State in November.

    Coachspeak – The Big Ten coaches checked in on a number of topics at the Media Days. Here are some of the more noteworthy comments:

    Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio on the demise of Tressel, his former boss and mentor – “To me, it’s tragic. He becomes a tragic hero in my respect, in my view. Usually tragic heroes have the ability to rise above it all in the end and that’s what I’ll look for in the end. It is very heart-wrenching for me and my family because we’re close to Coach Tress. He’s had a lot to do with my life as a mentor really since 1983, and that’s a long time. That’s a tough situation.”

    Illinois’ Ron Zook on Ohio State’s NCAA predicament – “You hate to see those things happen. Obviously it’s lessons that we as all coaches have to look at, maybe rethink, obviously help your players in education, learning what’s right and what’s wrong from that standpoint as well.”

    Zook on hanging onto his job – “Well, it’s hard to believe going into my seventh year and I’m actually third in seniority. Actually kind of mind-boggling.”

    Indiana’s Kevin Wilson on making the Hoosiers a contender – “If you talk to our three guys representing us today, we’re not trying to be good four, five, six years from now. The expectation, I think every game is going to be exciting, competitive, challenging in the Big Ten. That’s the niche in college football these days. That’s the beauty of BCS, fighting every week in your bowl situation.”

    Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz on Nebraska being added to the league – “First and foremost, I think it’s a fantastic thing for the conference. I was in the league for nine years back in the ’80s, gone for nine, now I’ve been back again. I was not here when Penn State joined the league. I think we’d agree that’s been a tremendous thing overall. I think this is a move that balances that out, if you will. In our case we have a border that we share. It’s certainly something that is going to be something very much of interest for the fans.”

    Nebraska’s Bo Pelini on QB Taylor Martinez – “We feel really good about where Taylor is. He’s had a great offseason. He had a tremendous spring. He’s had a phenomenal summer. I think he’s more engaged as a leader. I think he’s really taken it
    upon himself to grow in that area. I think he’s becoming a tremendous leader on our football team, holding his teammates accountable, holding himself accountable. I think he’s poised to have a great year.”

    Pelini, a former Buckeye, on how the Big Ten compares to the Big 12 – “When I think of the Big Ten, I think of class, I think of tremendous tradition. Like I said, I think of integrity. I think that’s what the Big Ten has represented for a very long time. You look a the academic accomplishments throughout the conference. To me it serves as a model, and it’s why I feel so great about us being a part of the conference. I think it serves as a model for the rest of college football. That’s why it’s such an honor for us as an institution for us to become a part of it.”

    Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald on Ohio State’s troubles – “There’s a lot that’s going on right now in college football that I think we need to wrap our arms around as a complete and total body. We will. We’ll make it better. There are going to need to be changes, tweaks, adjustments, to bylaws and rules, I would think so based on what we’ve seen in the last off-season. I don’t think there’s a coach or administrator in the country that doesn’t want to be a part of that solution.”

    Penn State octogenarian Joe Paterno on his health – “I feel a lot better than I did a year ago. I had two tough years physically. The kid from Wisconsin running into me in the sideline, when I broke my knee that time. Then I threw my hip out showing off, trying to show the kids how to kick a football. I couldn’t kick when I was healthy. I sure as hell couldn’t kick with a broken knee.”

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  • BKB Races, Pre-Spring FB Outlook

    And down the stretch they come.

    It’s a three-horse race for the Big Ten men’s basketball crown – and Ohio State is in the lead by a full head – but there is still a lot of jockeying for position going on, especially in the middle of the pack.

    After the first-place Buckeyes took down Illinois on Tuesday night at the Schottenstein Center, Minnesota was trying to take down suddenly feisty Michigan State later that evening. A win by the Gophers would have created a five-team tie for fifth place as MSU and Minnesota would have joined Illinois, Penn State and Michigan with 7-8 conference records.

    That didn’t happen as Minnesota lost grip of a six-point lead and was outscored 12-1 in the final minutes of a 53-48 loss to the Spartans. That damaging defeat at Williams Arena dropped the Gophers to 17-10 overall and 6-9 in league play. Meanwhile, Michigan State (16-11, 8-7) inched up to fourth place.

    The following night, Wisconsin edged Michigan 53-52 as Josh Gasser banked in a three at the buzzer to turn Crisler Arena into a funeral home.

    The win kept faint hopes alive for the Badgers (21-6, 11-4) to grab a share of the Big Ten prize. Wisconsin needs to beat Northwestern at home on Sunday, take down Indiana in Bloomington on March 3 – and get some help from either IU or Penn State against Ohio State – to set up a showdown with OSU (26-2, 13-2) in Columbus on March 6.

    Ohio State, meanwhile, could secure a co-championship as soon as this weekend if Purdue (23-5, 12-3) loses at Michigan State on Sunday afternoon and the Buckeyes take care of Indiana, which hasn’t won a league road game all season, in a home game later that afternoon.

    The Boilermakers (23-5, 12-3), though, are still very much alive at the moment. They took down the rival Hoosiers (12-16, 3-12) on Wednesday night, 72-61, and can keep a lot of pressure on OSU with wins down the stretch at MSU Sunday and at home against Illinois (March 1) and Iowa (March 5).

    At this writing, though, no one team has locked down a particular spot in the standings, which, of course, corresponds to seeding in the Big Ten Tournament. Even Indiana and Iowa (10-17, 3-12) are in a battle to avoid last place.

    If Ohio State wins the regular-season title, either outright or shared, it would mark the fourth Big Ten championship for the program in six years. Only three conference teams have won as many titles in as sort a span: Ohio State (1960-64), Indiana (1973-76) and Michigan State (1998-2001).

    Paint By Numbers

    Also taking shape are some very interesting team and individual races for leadership in statistical categories for men’s basketball.

    For example, heading into Thursday night’s game between Penn State and Northwestern, PSU senior guard Talor Battle had a slight lead in scoring among Big Ten players at 20.8 points per game compared to Purdue center JaJuan Johnson’s average of 20.4 ppg. In the mix behind those players were Wisconsin forward Jon Leuer (19.1 ppg), Purdue guard E’Twaun Moore (18.6), Wisconsin guard Jordan Taylor (17.9), Ohio State post man Jared Sullinger (17.8) and Northwestern forward John Shurna (17.3).

    In the rebounding department heading into the penultimate weekend of the regular season, Minnesota big man Trevor Mbakwe was the only Big Ten player in double figures (10.4 per game), but Sullinger was right behind at 9.9 rpg. Michigan State’s Draymond Green was third at 8.4 rpg.

    Michigan had some league leaders as well with center Jordan Morgan atop the conference in field-goal percentage (63.2) and point guard Darius Morris ranking first in assists per game (6.8).

    The battle for top free-throw percentage (minimum 2.0 made per game) was tight with Iowa swingman Matt Gatens in first at 87.5 but Leuer (86.3) and Penn State’s David Jackson (86.2) within striking distance.

    Interestingly, with three regular-season games to go teammates Aaron Craft and David Lighty of Ohio State ranked 1-2 in the league in steals per game, 1.89 to 1.82. Green was a hair behind at 1.81. Johnson appears on pace to lead the league in blocked shots per game (2.25) but Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson III is not far behind (2.07).

    Shurna was the only Big Ten player to that point making at least half his three-point attempts – he was a league-leading 56 of 112 for a percentage of 50.0 – but Illinois guard Demetri McCamey (61 of 127, 48.0), OSU’s Jon Diebler (76 of 159, 47.8) and Wisconsin forward Keaton Nankivil (48 of 101, 47.5) also were above 45 percent.

    As a team, Ohio is on pace to shoot right around 40 percent from long range. The Buckeyes lead the league at 202 of 506 for a mark of 39.9 percent. OSU also leads the league in overall field-goal percentage at 49.3 as a team. Minnesota was the only league team holding foes below 40 percent from the field (39.5) and Illinois was the only Big Ten squad holding teams under 30 percent from long range (29.7).

    Not surprisingly, Ohio State has led the conference in scoring (77.1 ppg) and scoring margin (+17.6) while Wisconsin was tops in scoring defense (57.4 ppg) and Minnesota, which has the biggest front line in the league, was best in rebounding margin (+5.4) and blocked shots (5.6).

    Spartan Women Claim Title

    The Michigan State women lost for the first time at home all season on Thursday night as the Spartans were nipped 54-53 at the Breslin Center, but there was still reason to celebrate that evening.

    By virtue of Penn State’s home loss to Purdue, 51-49, Michigan State had secured the outright Big Ten regular-season championship. It was the first such title for MSU, which shared the conference crown in 1997 and 2005.

    MSU clinched at least a co-championship with a win over Illinois on Sunday. The Spartans (24-4, 12-3) had a chance to win the league in style but missed a last-second shot against the Buckeyes (18-9, 9-6). Ohio State had its string of six straight league titles snapped but moved into a tie in the standing with Iowa (21-7, 9-6) and Michigan (16-11, 9-6), one game behind second-place teams Penn State (21-8, 10-5) and Wisconsin (15-12, 10-5).

    Purdue (19-10, 9-7) also has a winning record in league play, leaving just Northwestern (17-11, 6-9), Minnesota (12-16, 4-11), Indiana (9-18, 3-12) and Illinois (7-21, 2-13) on the wrong side of .500 in conference play.

    Michigan State advanced all the way to the NCAA title game in 2005 under head coach Joanne P. McCallie, who left in 2007 to take over the controls at Duke. The Spartans have found recent success under her replacement, fourth-year head coach Suzy Merchant.

    This season marked the eighth straight the Spartans have won 20 or more games and  it is also the ninth straight year they have won 10 or more conference games. The 24 wins are a program high under Merchant.

    The Spartans look to become the sixth No. 1 seed to win the Big Ten Tournament, which begins March 3.

    Football Fever

    Snow and freezing temperatures still blanket most of the Midwest, but that hasn’t quelled optimism for 2011 football across the Big Ten.

    Several programs will start their spring practice sessions in less than five weeks, including defending Big Ten co-champion Ohio State. The Buckeyes begin their 15-practice spring season on March 31 and have scheduled their annual Scarlet and Gray Game for April 23 in the Horseshoe. That is the Saturday of Easter weekend.

    Ohio State (12-1, 7-1 last season) has won at least a piece of the conference crown for a record six straight years and came through with a gutty 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

    Still, the Big Ten finished just 3-5 in bowl games thanks to a rough New Year’s Day. League co-champion Wisconsin was nipped by TCU in the Rose Bowl while the other title sharer, Michigan State, was massacred by Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. Likewise, Penn State and Michigan lost to SEC teams Florida and Mississippi State and Northwestern couldn’t get past Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl.

    The league, however, should be noticeably stronger in the game of pigskin with Nebraska now set to join the conference. The arrival of the Cornhuskers swells the conference to 12 teams, which will now be split into two divisions. The new divisions will be The Leaders (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Wisconsin) and The Legends (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern).

    The new format brings a new outlook and hopes suddenly are high again at Indiana, Minnesota and Michigan with newly hired coaches in place. Minnesota canned Tim Brewster in October and after the season filled the void by hiring Northern Illinois’ Jerry Kill. Indiana ousted Bill Lynch in November and tabbed Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as his replacement.

    Michigan waited until January, after the Wolverines were bombed 52-14 in the Gator Bowl and were still smarting from a seventh straight loss to Ohio State, to fire embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez. After a very unsuccessful three-year run under RichRod, UM is now putting its trust on former assistant Brady Hoke, who ushered turnarounds at Ball State and San Diego State.

    Also looking to turn their fortunes are the Iowa Hawkeyes. Head coach Kirk Ferentz thought he had a title contender but instead endured a disappointing 8-5 season that included losses in the final three games of the regular season. That includes a defeat at the hands of lowly Minnesota.

    After that, Iowa’s top receiver (Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) and running back (Adam Robinson) were suspended for off-field issues, although the Hawkeyes did rally to upset No. 12 Missouri in the Insight Bowl, 27-24. Still, the bad news continued in the off-season as 13 Iowa players were hospitalized in January with a rare muscle disorder.

    Iowa will try to stay with Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan in The Legends division with the loss of several key players including defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn and quarterback Ricky Stanzi. James Vandenberg will be under the microscope at QB with Stanzi departed.

    Ohio State also lost a slew of starters on defense and some offensive linemen but the Buckeyes did not have a junior leave the program early to head off to the NFL for the first time in the Tressel era.

    Key underclassmen from the Big Ten who are now at the NFL combine or planning a professional career include Wisconsin running back John Clay, Indiana wide receiver Tandon Doss, Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, and three standouts from Illinois – running back Mikel Leshoure, defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Martez Wilson.

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Big10 RappUp

In our latest installment, we look at the state of the Big Ten men's basketball race, declare Michigan State as the winner on the women's side, begin to outline what lies ahead in football and more.

 
 
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