Category: B1G Written by Associated Press
Penn State has 67 scholarship players on its football roster and coach Bill O'Brien sees no reason why that will change significantly by the time the season starts Aug. 31.
O'Brien said Wednesday he doesn't expect a second wave of departures from the Nittany Lions, even though NCAA sanctions still allow his players to transfer without sitting out a season.
Ten players transferred out of Penn State after the NCAA handed down severe sanctions last summer in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. O'Brien was forced to prepare for his first preseason practice with uncertainty over who would show up for training camp.
Players can still leave without penalty until the 2013 season starts, but O'Brien said he has not spent any time this offseason re-recruiting his guys.
''I don't see the mass exodus coming,'' O'Brien said before speaking to a banquet hall full of Penn State supporters in midtown Manhattan. ''We're going to coach who shows up July 31st for training camp. I think we're way past that. I think our kids are committed.''
The Penn State coaches' caravan was making one of its final stops before heading home to State College, Pa., and O'Brien, as usual, was the headliner. Men's basketball coach Patrick Chambers, field hockey coach Charlene Morett and men's volleyball coach Mark Pavlik also spoke, but it was O'Brien who received a standing ovation at the fundraiser.
O'Brien quoted his predecessor, Joe Paterno, as he finished off his 15-minute pep talk, appealing to the crowd to fill Beaver Stadium on Saturdays this season.
''I don't want your two cents, but I do want your money,'' O'Brien said, drawing laughs and applause.
Penn State, with an average attendance of about 96,700, was at 91-percent capacity in 2012, down from the usual 97-98 percent. The Nittany Lions went 8-4 in O'Brien's first season.
After O'Brien took over, the NCAA docked Penn State 20 scholarships per year for three years, starting with the latest recruiting class. The Nittany Lions are in the second season of a four-year postseason ban. The NCAA allows major college football teams a maximum of 85 scholarship players, and most of Penn State's competition will be at or near that number.
''I believe we have a really good core of players. I'm not going to get into whether we can win the Big Ten or not,'' he said. ''But I think we have really good core players and believe we can be a competitive team every single Saturday because of the type of roster that we have right now.
''Going forward when you get into the '14-, '15-, '16-range it becomes more and more difficult. I would never ever count these Penn State kids out or this Penn State program out. We'll show up every Saturday. Our job is very, very challenging, but I think we can be very, very competitive.''
O'Brien said the possibility of players transferring out during the summer was never a factor in how he and his staff approached spring practice and preparation for the 2013 season.
''We don't go to work every day begging our kids to stay here. We don't think about that,'' O'Brien said. ''What I've been struck with at Penn State is we have fantastic guys, we have a great locker room.''
O'Brien, who was the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator before taking over at Penn State, was approached by NFL teams looking for a head coach in the offseason, but he says the conversations never got far.
''In any line of work, if you're being recruited for another job, if you're doing right by your family, I don't think it's a bad thing to listen,'' he said. ''I love Penn State. I have a connection with the guys I coach.
''I have a ton of respect for the National Football League from my time there. It was an honor to be contacted by some of those teams. But at the end of the day I felt that being here only a year wasn't the right thing to do. I wasn't offered any jobs, but I felt like it was time to say, `I'm here at Penn State and I want to help this program get through a tough time.'''
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 May 2013 14:03
Category: B1G Written by Associated Press
Some of the greatest players have had to wait decades after becoming eligible to get the call from the College Football Hall of Fame.
Tommie Frazier's selection Tuesday came in his third year of eligibility, and many believe that still was too long for the player who defined Nebraska's run of dominance in the mid-90s.
Frazier sounded more relieved than excited when he met with the media in Lincoln, Neb., shortly after the announcement.
''It's over,'' he said. ''I don't have to worry about it anymore.''
It wasn't that Frazier ever complained publicly about not being included in the 2011 and 2012 classes. When he didn't get in the first year his name was on the ballot, outrage was contained mostly to the ardent Big Red fan base.
When he didn't get in last year, some members of the national media sounded off about Frazier's omission being a gross oversight — even though the National College Football Foundation's Honors Court tries to avoid selecting players from the same school in consecutive years. Nebraska offensive lineman Will Shields was inducted in 2011.
''When you leave things up to a vote, there are subjective opinions,'' Frazier said. ''I was patient. Patience gets you where you need to be. The fans and media did all my politicking for me. I let everyone else do the talking for me. I knew my time would come.''
Frazier's center at Nebraska, Aaron Graham, said the wait was outrageous.
''The guy was the best college football player of our era,'' Graham said, ''and certainly deserving of one of the highest honors you can achieve as a college football player.''
Frazier became the first freshman to start at quarterback for Nebraska, with Tom Osborne going to him in the sixth game of the 1992 season, just a couple months after he arrived from Bradenton, Fla.
He went on to post a 33-3 record that included national championships in 1994-95 after a narrow miss in 1993. He was the Heisman Trophy runner-up to Ohio State's Eddie George in 1995 — another sore spot with Huskers fans.
''My career here at Nebraska, it was a pretty good one,'' Frazier said. ''There are things I did on the football field that I'm proud of and some things I wish I could have done better, and one of those is to have won a third championship. Two is still good.''
Frazier is the 16th Nebraska player to go into the Hall and first quarterback. He generated 5,476 yards of total offense and accounted for 79 touchdowns as the leader of Osborne's vaunted triple-option system.
''Tommie was an outstanding competitor,'' Osborne said. ''He did everything he could to win, and was a good leader by example. He expected a lot out of himself and the people around him.''
Frazier's low tolerance for mistakes didn't always endear him to teammates.
''I wasn't the most-liked guy,'' he said. ''But I could promise you this: when I stepped on the field I gave 100 percent, and guys fed off that. Leaders don't need to be liked. Did I tick some of my teammates off? Yes.''
Ahman Green, who became the Green Bay Packers' career rushing leader after leaving Nebraska, said Frazier had the unwavering support and respect of teammates.
''If he made a mistake, it was his mistake and he owned it,'' Green said. ''If he made a great play, he commended anyone who helped him. He didn't take credit when credit was due, and when someone needed to be blamed, he took the blame.''
Frazier ended his career with a Hall of Fame-worthy performance in a 62-24 win over Florida in the Fiesta Bowl. He ran for 199 yards and two touchdowns, including the 75-yard burst in the third quarter that went down as the signature play of his career.
Blood clots that kept him out of seven games his junior season came back in 1996, and he never played a down of professional football. He now is a development officer for a health system in Omaha.
Frazier's formal induction will be in New York in December.
''Everything I've done is because of my teammates,'' he said. ''I'm taking those guys with me into the Hall of Fame.''
Last Updated on Saturday, 11 May 2013 13:54
Category: B1G Written by Associated Press
After years and years of getting a cold shoulder from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio State's football team is taking its act on the road to the Queen City.
Call it a spring thaw.
The Buckeyes will wind up their 15 spring practices on Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, while work is being done on their own Ohio Stadium.
Coach Urban Meyer, a 1986 graduate of the University of Cincinnati, can't wait to show his players around - and show them off.
''We're going to take our players to the Reds museum,'' he said. ''We're going to give them a little taste of Cincinnati afterward with Montgomery Inn ribs, Graeter's ice cream and some Skyline (chili). So we're going to do it right.''
Before that, the Buckeyes will play their annual intrasquad scrimmage in a city that over the years has shown only lukewarm interest in Ohio State and has traditionally not sent many of its top high school players to the Buckeyes.
The trip is a step toward mending those fences.
''There does seem to be some sort of disconnect,'' said Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs, a longtime high school coach in Cincinnati. ''Coach Meyer is working really hard to bridge whatever gap there might be.''
Two Ohio State starters- defensive lineman Adolphus Washington and offensive lineman Andrew Norwell - are from Cincinnati. But the city has never embraced the Buckeyes as do Cleveland, Toledo, Youngstown, Akron or Dayton. Top football players seem to either stay home and play for the Bearcats or head off to Notre Dame, Kentucky or other Southeastern Conference locales.
Norwell is looking forward to playing this road game.
''It makes it exciting playing somewhere else,'' said Norwell, a senior. ''I love playing in the `Shoe, but playing in Cincinnati hits home to me. Being from Cincinnati, it's going to be great.''
Meyer, for one, believes the Buckeyes have established a beachhead in Cincinnati that will help sway prep stars to come north to Columbus.
''I wasn't here in years past, but I have heard a lot of that, `Well, we haven't done well in Cincinnati,''' the second-year coach of the Buckeyes said. ''I think we're doing great. I think we're killing it. Adolphus Washington could potentially be a great player at Ohio State. And recently we've done good down there. There's really good players, really good high school coaches. Coach Coombs has helped, and (assistant) Tim Hinton obviously knows Cincinnati since he coached at UC for a long time. I went there. So I think we're doing great. I love Cincinnati.''
Washington, a sophomore outside linebacker/rush lineman who played well in spots a year ago, is looking forward to going home.
''It's going to be a good thing to play in an NFL stadium, first and foremost,'' he said. ''I've got a lot of people coming to the game. Everybody keeps saying that they want to see me play. Now if they make it down there, they'll see me.''
Ohio State's coaching staff will help split the squad into two teams on Thursday. After practicing on Friday at the Woody Hayes facility, the Buckeyes will depart by bus on Saturday morning for Cincinnati. Meyer still has some problem areas he's evaluating, such as the front seven on defense and the right tackle spot.
Sophomore Taylor Decker is taking snaps at right tackle, but Meyer expressed concern that he hasn't seized the starting position and made it his.
Meyer did lavish praise on junior linebacker Curtis Grant, an acclaimed recruit who has not been an impact player so far. With All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier's availability limited by injury, Grant is starting at middle linebacker and asserting himself for the first time in his college career.
More than just playing in the Bengals stadium, the Buckeyes will also get to meet the team's coach. Marvin Lewis will speak to the team at some point during the trip.
''I love Marvin Lewis. He's one of the great football coaches, a great friend of mine,'' Meyer said. ''So it's going to be a good trip.''
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2013 12:31
Category: B1G Written by Associated Press
With managers holding massive white cue cards with the lyrics, members of the Wisconsin football team ended a recent spring practice singing the school fight song with the music blaring in the background.
As he has been throughout his first spring as Wisconsin's coach, Gary Andersen was right in the middle of it all, participating as if he were one of the guys.
''When you see that head guy taking it upon himself to do things like that, it's funny,'' said senior linebacker Chris Borland. ''Guys think it's a good time and that's what football should be. It should be creating a fun atmosphere and I think we're responding well to that.''
Transition has been the norm for Borland and members of the defending Big Ten champions. Over the past three seasons, Wisconsin has had 24 different assistant coaches and each has had his own methods.
Coming from Utah State to take over for Bret Bielema, who resigned in December to take the job at Arkansas, Andersen has eased the transition for the players by jumping right in. On any given practice, Andersen will run pass routes against the defensive backs, do coverage against the wide receivers or make snaps, he's a former center, to quarterbacks.
''It's gets harder and harder to bend down there and snap every single day, but it's fun to be a part of it and be involved with the kids,'' Andersen said. ''We've had a few center-quarterback exchange problems, so it's a good way for me to be able to understand the issue. But most of all, it's fun to get down and be involved with the kids.''
Not only has Andersen made his players sing, he broke up part of another practice by having players do a dance off. With three judges and the rest of the team looking on, Andersen had players show off their moves with James White and Melvin Gordon doing `the Dougie'' and Warren Herring doing the splits.
''That stuff is fun for the kids,'' Andersen said. ''I think it brings energy and excitement. You get out there for recruiting, if I am a player, I want to have fun playing football.''
There are football reasons behind all this, too. Every practice is run to a soundtrack of country, pop, hip-hop and dance music blaring from large speakers, a practice Andersen believes challenges the players to communicate effectively. And he starts and ends practice on time and makes every drill, every play and every repetition move at an up-tempo pace.
''We get in, get work done and we get out,'' said Herring, a defensive tackle. ''One thing Coach A preached is, it's not about how long you are out, it's about the quality. You are get in, do things right and get out. If you don't do things right, you didn't finish on what you need to finish on, it's like losing a play in a game. You have to get in, work efficient and get out.''
Wisconsin is changing schemes on both sides of the ball. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig, who spent last season at San Diego State and worked with Andersen at Utah, plans to keep Wisconsin's power running game, but he wants to develop the passing game and potentially incorporate zone-read and pistol formations to keep opposing defenses on edge.
Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who was with Andersen at Utah State last season, is moving Wisconsin from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and plans to have his players be aggressive every down.
Despite all the changes and new faces, Andersen's philosophy appears to be working.
''Any time there is structure to what you are doing and there's expectations, with positive and negatives coming from meeting and not meeting those expectations, you'll get results,'' Aranda said. ''That's always been Coach Andersen's philosophy. He gets guys to buy in and understand that and relish the competition part. We're getting that right now.''
Andersen will have an open scrimmage Monday before finishing with the spring game on April 20.
''(He's a) great coach,'' Herring said. ''Every single coach preaches intensity. There's great energy whenever good things happen. When bad things happen, they don't get down. They continue to try to encourage, and that's what's makes us better every day because it keeps us driving. We have that good vibe. It seems like they've been here a long time because of how they fit with us and we fit with them.''
Last Updated on Saturday, 13 April 2013 16:16
Category: B1G Written by Associated Press
Every time Northwestern's football players slip on their workout shirts, they see just how close they came to an undefeated season in 2012.
Stamped on the back of each one is ''5:03.'' It stands for the total of 5 minutes, 3 seconds the Wildcats trailed at the end of their three losses.
''I knew we were close,'' defensive end Tyler Scott said Wednesday on the Big Ten Legends Division spring teleconference. ''It just really brought it to top of your mind when it said 5:03 and how little time that was we had to execute a couple more times to put us in the position of playing for the Big Ten title and going undefeated. It was scary to see that and know we're capable of it.''
Northwestern would appear primed to make a run this fall with eight starters returning on offense and seven on defense.
Defending Legends champion Nebraska will have a potent offense led by fourth-year starting quarterback Taylor Martinez. The Cornhuskers might need every point that offense can muster to compensate for a defense that lost eight starters and surrendered 115 points in the last two games.
Michigan lost half its starters and is transitioning this spring from the spread to pro-style offense with quarterback Devin Gardner. Michigan State is breaking in a new offensive coordinator and planning for life without workhorse running back Le'Veon Bell.
The focus at Iowa is sorting out the competition among the three quarterbacks vying to replace James Vandenberg. Minnesota has all but one starter back on offense and is looking to move up.
Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said graduate assistant McNeil Parker was the one who pointed out the 5:03 time difference between 10-3 and 13-0 last season. The Wildcats (5-3 Big Ten) led Penn State until the last 2:37 and Nebraska until the last 2:08. In an overtime loss to Michigan, it took the Wolverines 18 seconds to score the winning touchdown.
''Our staff discussion was, `Are we that far away or are we that close?' We have to decide as a program,'' Fitzgerald said. ''We've chosen to build on the positive.''
There is a lot to be positive about at Northwestern, which is coming off its first bowl win since 1949. It starts with the alternating quarterbacks. ''Kain (Colter) and Trevor (Siemian) can lead us to a championship,'' Fitzgerald said.
Venric Mark, who rushed for almost 1,400 yards, and three receivers are back. Fitzgerald also talked up a fourth receiver, fifth-year senior Mike Jensen, who is having a ''terrific spring.''
Fitzgerald said the defense has continued to add size and speed and is two deep at each position.
''It really doesn't matter from a standpoint of what we've done in the past and what we have coming back,'' Fitzgerald said. ''What matters is how close this team is willing to get and what we're willing to sacrifice between now and the opener against Cal to come together and improve as a program. We're moving in the right direction.''
Nebraska (10-4, 6-2) played its spring game last Saturday, and the offense scored five touchdowns and a field goal on the first six series. That did nothing to ease anxiety about a defense that gave up 70 points to Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game and 45 more in the Capital One Bowl loss to Georgia.
''What happened last year happened,'' Huskers coach Bo Pelini said. ''It's over. You move on. This will be a different team with different challenges.''
Pelini said the situation isn't as dire as critics think on the defensive line, which went through the spring with several players out or limited because of injuries. ''Our line made great strides the second half of spring,'' he said. ''I like the potential there.''
Coach Brady Hoke of Michigan (8-5, 6-2) said he's been impressed with how Gardner has prepared himself to take over at quarterback full-time this fall. Offensive coordinator Al Borges is installing more of the pro-style offense he has long preferred, and Hoke said Gardner has immersed himself in film study and embraced the system.
All-America offensive lineman Taylor Lewan said the offense is markedly different, with quarterbacks taking more snaps from under center and the emergence of more power running game.
''This is the style we need to be in,'' Lewan said.
Dave Warner has taken over as offensive coordinator at Michigan State (7-6, 3-5), and the Spartans are starting to open things up after Bell carried the ball 382 times. Three quarterbacks threw 55 times for 401 yards and four touchdowns in last week's scrimmage.
Andrew Maxwell and the other QBs are taking live hits in every practice, something that didn't happen last year.
''They get more game-time experience, as close as we can get it. I think it's been a positive for us,'' coach Mark Dantonio said.
The Spartans have three starting receivers back, and a fourth who could become a factor is DeAnthony Arnett, who caught three balls last season after transferring from Tennessee.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who had one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten, is looking at sophomore Jake Rudock, junior Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard to replace Vandenberg.
''It's a three-horse race,'' Ferentz said. ''We came in with no preconceived notions. We've rotated all three players.''
Eight starters are back on defense, but the Hawkeyes (4-8, 2-6) are without conference defensive back of the year Micah Hyde.
Minnesota (6-7, 2-6) continues to build under Jerry Kill. The Gophers bring back almost everyone on offense but have only one experienced quarterback, Philip Nelson, after Max Shortell transferred.
Kill said he's noticed greater effort this spring from Donnell Kirkwood, who ran for 77 yards and a touchdown in the Meineke Car Care Bowl loss to Texas Tech.
''The bowl game really helped his confidence,'' Kill said. ''He's grown up and matured and he's doing really good things.''
Even with so many returnees, the question is whether the Gophers can become more competitive.
''We are closer than a lot of people think,'' safety Brock Vereen said.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 April 2013 12:08