KENOSHA, Wis. – It was a great day for practice, almost chilly. It was brief, as players worked in helmets and shoulder pads. It also was notable for who didn’t partake: WR Miles Shuler; DE Ifeadi Odenigbo; DE Sean McEvilly; OL Shane Merz; OL Ian Park; OT Jack Konopka; WR Tony Jones; RB Warren Long; S Traveon Henry; WR Cameron Dickerson were the most prominent.
Northwestern was primed for a big 2013. It didn’t happen, as the Wildcats missed the postseason for the first time since 2007, ending a five-year run. Pat Fitzgerald’s crew welcomes back lots of veteran talent from a team that started 4-0 but finished 5-7, enduring a seven-game losing skid before ending the season with a victory over rival Illinois.
RENSSELAER, Ind. – It’s all about improving for Purdue, which is coming off a rough 1-11 season that saw the team struggle in just about every phase of the game.
EAST LANSING, Mich. – Michigan State is now the hunted. How will it respond? It should be interesting. The Spartans have scaled the top of Big Ten mountain, capping a conference championship season with a Rose Bowl triumph en route to going 13-1 last season.
After a 1-11 debut (0-8 Big Ten), things can only go up for Darrell Hazell and Purdue, right? That’s the hope in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers have myriad questions to answer, with the biggest being along both fronts.
Michigan State is the reigning Big Ten king. Can the Spartans stay on top? This program is rolling as Mark Dantonio enters his eighth year in East Lansing. The last four years, MSU has gone 42-12 overall and 25-7 in the Big Ten. What’s next? A national title? Maybe.
Time for me to wade through those cards and letters you are firing off to me. I appreciate your thoughts. Keep reading and emailing, because I’m answering your questions throughout our football tour across the Big Ten.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Michigan has just 10 scholarship seniors as Brady Hoke enters his fourth season in Ann Arbor. He hasn’t been able to replicate his 2011 debut, when he went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl. Needless to say, the Wolverines will be scrutinized this fall.
It’s no secret: This is a big year for Michigan and Brady Hoke, who last year saw a 5-0 start melt into a 7-6 finish. The offense floundered, so coordinator Al Borges was dismissed. Hoke tabbed Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to take over. What new wrinkles will we see? It won’t really matter unless the line improves.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. – There is much anticipation for the start of James Franklin’s maiden voyage at Penn State. But he faces big depth hurdles due to NCAA sanctions. And attrition could prove hazardous to the program as it continues to deal with scholarship limits.
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James Franklin has created a buzz around the Penn State program with his electric personality and general bombast. The guy is a high-wire act of energy and enthusiasm. No doubt, the former Vanderbilt coach has “won” the offseason. But how will his first team do?
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The NCAA’s model for amateurism took another hit with Friday’s ruling that the NCAA violated anti-trust law in the Ed O’Bannon suit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is maybe the most important ruling in the history of the NCAA. But things may not be as bad you think for the NCAA.
Rutgers is an interesting squad as it enters the Big Ten. The schemes are more traditional, as the Scarlet Knights to a degree have the look of a Big Ten squad. The team has new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen has brought his multiple West Coast attack with him as the program’s fifth OC in five years.
As Rutgers embarks on a new era, big changes loom with new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Before the last dirty uniform was washed in 2013, defensive coordinator Dave Cohen was fired. Joe Rossi was promoted to take over. Ralph Friedgen was hired to run the offense. This is an intriguing squad coming off a six-win bowl season that has 15 starters back. Challenges loom in the rugged Big Ten East.
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – I was eager to check out this Maryland squad to see if my high thoughts were merited. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a veteran squad that’s well-coached. Few are more disciplined than Randy Edsall, the ultimate task-master. The Tom Coughlin protégé is a stickler for details. His teams never are out prepared.
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We saw this coming. It was no shock that the NCAA passed legislation that grants autonomy to the “Power Five” conferences. In fact, it probably had to happen for the current collegiate model not to be comprised.
Maryland’s debut season could be surprisingly successful, as veteran talent runs deep for Randy Edsall as he enters his fourth season in College Park. In fact, this could be the third-best team in the East. Edsall guided Maryland to its first bowl since 2010 last season. Another bowl figures to be in the offing for a program that has 18 starters back from a 7-6 team.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Motivation shouldn’t be an issue for Ohio State as camp unfolds. The Buckeyes are riding a two-game losing skid, losing the Big Ten title game to Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson, this after a 24-0 start under Urban Meyer.
Here is how it works, America: You have questions … you email them to me … I answer them. Well, I answer the good ones! Here’s another batch from you. Thanks for reading. And keep writing and pressing the “send” button. Oh, and don’t forget to bookmark my diary for updates from every stop on the BTN football tour.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Beautiful day for practice in Bloomington for an Indiana program that enters a critical Year Four under Kevin Wilson. This was practice No. 2 for Indiana, which worked out in shorts and helmets during a spirited three-hour session.
Will this be the year Ohio State wins its first Big Ten title since 2009? Perhaps. Urban Meyer has enjoyed some big success his first two seasons in Columbus, ripping off 24 wins in a row to start his tenure before ending 2013 with consecutive defeats to Ohio State and Clemson. No doubt, Ohio State will be motivated.
The BTN 2014 camp tour begins on Tuesday in Bloomington, Ind., where we will check out Kevin Wilson’s fourth Indiana squad in the first of 14 stops. Hopes are high in southern Indiana, as Wilson looks to punch the Hoosiers’ first postseason ticket since 2007. Indiana came close to a bowl last season, finishing 5-7 with narrow home losses to Navy and Minnesota proving to be costly.
The sparkly BTN tour bus chugs away from our glistening headquarters on 600 West Chicago Ave., on Monday, as a near-three-week journey that will span from Lincoln, Neb., to New Brunswick, N.J., begins. I can’t wait to see driver Kevin, drink Red Bull, shop for mesh hats at remote truck stops and see if Gerry DiNardo is still the last human on the planet who carries a handkerchief.
OSU strength coach Mickey Marotti is famous for his fanatical intensity when it comes to weight lifting and conditioning. Want proof? Buckeyes LB Joshua Perry posted some before and after pictures from over a two-year period after working under the screaming Marotti. This is stunning. Where do I sign up?
There’s Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon, Michigan State’s Jeremy Langford and Minnesota’s David Cobb. Do you want me to go on? OK.