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Spartans rule special teams unit rankings

Specials teams are often the overlooked area of teams, but they’re the essential third component that can make or break a game or a season. That big return, booming punt that flips the field or clutch last-second field goal often looms large in any game. Here’s a look at the Big Ten special teams units. [ MORE: Five B1G stars named to Lou Groza or Ray Award watch lists ] 1. Michigan State. The Spartans are sitting pretty with punter Mike Sadler and kicker Michael Geiger. Sadler has deft touch, pacing the nation in punts downed inside the 10-yard line.

Athlon Sports posts preseason bowl projections

Yes, it’s early July. Yes, it’s crazy to entertain possible 2014-15 bowl destinations. But, man, it’s fun to consider these lists. Athlon Sports recently released its preseason bowl projections, and nine Big Ten teams made the cut. The headliner: Ohio State, in the Rose Bowl, part of the inaugural College Football Playoff. Big Ten newcomer Maryland is on the list, too, as is Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin. [ MORE: Nebraska fans voted nation’s most loyal | Ohio Stadium ranked No. 2 in nation ] See all of Athlon’s B1G predictions here: Heart of Dallas: Maryland

DB rankings: Spartans' 'No Fly Zone' tops B1G

Few schools have played defense as well as Michigan State in recent years. And a big reason for the success has been the secondary, a unit known for its aggressive, press-man coverage. MSU will have another talented secondary in 2014. In fact, it will be the best in the conference. Here’s a look at Big Ten defensive backfields. [ MORE: Read all of Tom Dienhart’s Big Ten football coverage ] 1. Michigan State. This group has become famous for its “No Fly Zone” moniker. Expect more standout play even with CB Darqueze Dennard gone. Trae Waynes is the new star corner.

Big Ten players on Mackey & Rimington watch lists

It’s early July, and that means it’s preseason college football awards watch lists season. See which Big Ten players were named to the Mackey Award an Rimington Trophy watch lists in this post. Mackey Award (Tight end): Kyle Carter, Penn State; Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State; Jesse James, Penn State; Tyler Kroft, Rutgers; Maxx Williams, Minnesota Rimington Trophy (Center): Jack Allen, Michigan State; Austin Blythe, Iowa; Betim Bujari, Rutgers; Sal Conaboy, Maryland; Robert Kugler, Purdue; Tommy Olson, Minnesota; Mark Pelini, Nebraska; Collin Rahrig, Indiana; Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern; Dan Voltz, Wisconsin Here’s a look at the full schedule of preseason watch lists:

Mailbag: Our expert answers your questions

It’s a long, hot summer day, which means the college football season is fast approaching. Add it all up, and it’s a good time to dig through my mailbag. You have questions, and I have answers. See my answers to your latest questions in this post. [ MORE: Dienhart ranks top offensive lines | Defensive lines | Linebackers  ] I think it will be difficult for Ohio State and Michigan to win the Big Ten title game a week after playing each other in an intense rivalry contest. Or am I making excuses for last year’s Buckeyes’ loss to Michigan

Nebraska paces linebacker unit rankings

Linebackers are the heart and soul of any good defense. Speed, strength, athletic ability, toughness … they must embody all of it. And no Big Ten team has a better collection of linebackers than Nebraska. Here’s my ranking of the Big Ten’s linebacking corps. [ MORE: Top offensive lines | Defensive lines | Offensive backfields ] 1. Nebraska. This group took some lumps in recent years but now looks primed to excel. Athletic ability and speed abound. Michael Rose will work inside. Zaire Anderson—maybe the most consistent of the bunch–and David Santos—who used to work inside–are on the flanks. Josh

Ben Utecht, losing memory, writes song to family

Former Minnesota and NFL tight end Ben Utecht, 33, is losing his memory as a result of concussions. A singer since his retirement in 2009, Utecht recently dedicated a song to his wife and three daughters. It’s called “You Will Always Be My Girls,” and it’s an emotional song about a possible time when Utecht will no longer be able to remember his family. Watch the video in this post. [ MORE: Get all of our popular Gone Viral posts ] Talk about a powerful song. Utecht says he wrote it, both for his family and to give other families

Buckeyes lead defensive line unit rankings

The Big Ten unit rankings continue with a look at the defensive lines. And, there are three standout fronts in the league, paced by Ohio State. In fact, the Buckeyes may have the best d-line in the nation. See my full rankings in this post. [ MORE: Big Ten’s top offensive lines | Big Ten’s top pass-catchers ] 1. Ohio State. This may be the finest front in the USA. Ends Noah Spence and Joey Bosa are formidable, combining for 15.5 sacks. Bosa was a true freshman phenom in 2013. Michael Bennett is a monster tackle. Running mate Adolphus Washington

Coming to BTN: 'Big Ten Treasure Hunter'

Do you have any Big Ten collectables laying around the house? If yes, it’s time dig into your old antique boxes and get those Big Ten treasures noticed. Coming this fall, BTN is set to launch a new feature show, “Big Ten Treasure Hunter,” and we’re looking for your submissions. Memorabilia expert John Arcand will embark on a new journey each week, traveling throughout Big Ten country to offer up his opinion on Big Ten memorabilia collections – and offer to buy items from collectors. We introduced the show to our readers back in May, but now with the addition

Terps top Big Ten pass-catcher rankings

I continue my Big Ten unit rankings with a look at the receiving/tight end corps. There is no shortage of good targets, with Big Ten newcomer Maryland featuring a monster collection of pass-catchers. See my full rankings in this post. [ MORE: Big Ten’s top offensive backfields | Big Ten’s top offensive lines ] 1. Maryland. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better tandem than Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, who each saw 2013 end early after suffering broken legs vs. Wake Forest. Even though he missed six games, Diggs still netted honorable mention All-ACC honors. Nigel King and Amba