Big Ten links: List of nation's largest athletic programs & more

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten links: List of nation's largest athletic programs & more

USAToday is out with the Top 20 largest athletic programs in the nation. And the Big Ten is well represented with seven entries. The SEC? It has 10. Texas, Oklahoma and Florida State are the lone non-Big Ten and SEC schools in the Top 20.

Here’s a look at the Big Ten teams:

No. 3 Ohio State
No. 4 Michigan
No. 10 Penn State
No. 12 Wisconsin
No. 18 Minnesota
No. 19 Michigan State
No. 20 Iowa

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Could Mark Dantonio have his best defense yet since arriving at Michigan State? That’s a mouthful.

Dantonio said recently that time will tell, but he likes what he sees. The Spartans return a great deal of experience in the back seven and feature a promising defensive front.

“I think our linebacker corps is very strong and very athletic,” said Dantonio, noting that 2014 playmaker Ed Davis is on track, pending an appeal for a sixth year, after suffering a season-ending knee injury last fall.

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Nebraska has a chance to win the Big Ten West. But a big key will be improving in the trenches.

NU is counting on the offensive line to lead the way in its quest to become the top-three rushing team Mike Riley desires. The defensive line, meanwhile, must set a significant tone after the departure of the team’s two best tackles — Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine — to the NFL draft.

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Chris Streveler is leaving Minnesota. Remember when some compared him to ex-Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch? Never happened, as Streveler moved to wideout and now is gone.

Since he’s a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play at any level this fall without having to sit out a season. His decision is not a surprise. The Gophers had been unable to find a role that would give him regular playing time. Team staff members said they support Streveler’s decision to go elsewhere and said he could find a better fit for his skills in another program.

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Remember last year when the Wisconsin offensive line wasn’t up to par? Well, that’s history. The 2016 Badgers’ unit is coming together nicely.

“There’s a lot of maturity being shown compared to last year,” veteran blocker Dan Voltz said. “There has been a lot less mental errors and dumb penalties, stuff like that. I just think it’s a more mature group. We still have a long way to go but I like what I’m seeing. They’re starting to grow up a bit and that’s exciting.”

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Lovie Smith is in charge now at Illinois. And he will end the tradition of training at Camp Rantoul in August which had gone on 17 of the last 18 years.

Said Smith: “We feel staying in Champaign, in a familiar setting, is the best option to get our team prepared for the 2016 season. As I understand it, Rantoul has made the football team feel at home and those who have worked with the teams have been extremely gracious. However, our facilities here on campus have everything that we need, and many of our players will still be in summer classes and going through final exams when camp opens. We look forward to creating an open and inviting atmosphere for our fans to enjoy Illinois football first-hand during preseason camp.”

As an NFL coach who was used to going away for camp, this move by Smith surprises me.

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When spring football ended at Michigan, Wilton Speight and John O’Korn appeared to be the front-runners for the open quarterback job. But Shane Morris still plans to be the guy. Seems like a long shot to me.

“I feel like I’m definitely ready to be a starting quarterback here. Permanently,” Morris said this spring. “I feel like I have all the abilities. I understand the game of football, I understand the playbook, I’ve got a strong arm and I’m athletic in the pocket. I’m making smarter decisions.

“I think those things can separate me from the other quarterbacks. … All three of us (John O’Korn, Wilton Speight and Morris) are good quarterbacks. … We know that and we know it’s going to be a hard competition.”

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A big key to success for Iowa for years has been developing and cultivating walk-ons—guys like Kevin Kasper, Dallas Clark and Pete McMahon, among others from the past. The tradition continues today. And, it’s a big to the program’s success.

“I think it is (unique). I don’t know if anybody could rival the numbers we’ve had,” 18th-year Hawkeye coach Kirk Ferentz told HawkCentral.com. “There are a number of good players that get overlooked in the recruiting process.”

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The NFL Draft is two weeks away. For several former Northwestern Wildcats, that means a lifelong dream is close to being fulfilled. With draft day nearing, InsideNU.com has a stock update on Northwestern’s top prospects.

You know Dan Vitale will make a roster.

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Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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2:00 PMCincinnati at Ohio St.Watch
2:00 PMColgate at PurdueWatch
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2:00 PMMinnesota at WisconsinWatch
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