2014 Big Ten Football Prospectus

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah returns after leading the conference in all-purpose yards in 2013.

Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah returns after leading the conference in all-purpose yards in 2013.

April 3, 2014

2014 Big Ten Football Prospectus Website 

BTN Coverage of Spring Football: BTN is the ultimate destination for Big Ten spring football, with live coverage on BTN2Go for all Big Ten teams with a spring game or practice, some of which will also air live or on delay on BTN. Coverage also includes highlights and analysis on #BTNLive and BTN Football Report. #BTNLive airs at 6 PM ET three nights a week, and BTN Football Report airs Saturday nights in April following the day’s spring football games. For dates and times of spring football games and coverage, please visit BTN.com/shows and BTN2Go.com.

The Road to Indy: The fourth annual Big Ten Football Championship Game will once again determine the Big Ten Champion. The 2014 Big Ten Football Championship Game will be broadcast in prime time by FOX on Saturday, Dec. 6, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

A New Big Ten:  The 2014 season will mark the beginning of a new era in Big Ten football, with the addition of Maryland and Rutgers and new divisions. The new division alignments will feature Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers in the East Division and Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin in the West Division. Each school will play the other six schools in its division plus two teams from the other division in 2014 and 2015, which will serve as transitional years in which the schools will still be playing eight-game schedules before moving to nine-game conference slates in 2016.

Sparty Party: Michigan State aims for its second straight Big Ten Championship this season, after winning the Big Ten Football Championship Game last season. The Spartans look to repeat as conference champions for the first time since 1965-66 and would be the first Big Ten team to win back-to-back titles since Wisconsin claimed three-straight crowns from 2010-12. The conference title was the first for Michigan State since 2010, when the Spartans shared top honors with the Badgers. 


 

 

Clash of the Champions: Michigan State and Ohio State both look to repeat as division champions this season, as the Spartans and Buckeyes posted perfect 8-0 conference marks in 2013. Last season's divisional crowns marked the second in three years for Michigan State and the second in a row for Ohio State. This season, the Spartans and Buckeyes will face off in the East Division, battling for the same divisional crown.

Welcome Back: The 2014 Big Ten campaign will feature 22 All-Conference players from last season, with 12 first-team honorees and 10 second-team selections returning to the field this fall. The first-team returnees are comprised of six offensive standouts, five defensive players and one special teams performer. The returning second-team picks include five players on offense, four on defense and one on special teams. In addition, 41 honorable mention honorees return to campus. A full breakdown of the returning first- and second-team honorees appears below.

Returning Award Winners: Along with the All-Conference honorees returning in 2014, the winners of five of the 13 regular-season individual awards from last season will also hit the field again this fall. Michigan's Devin Funchess was chosen as the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year, Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun was named the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year, Ohio State's Braxton Miller was named the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year and Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was tabbed the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year.

Back For More: Ohio State's Braxton Miller returns to the field after being named the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year and Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year for the second year in a row. The honor marks the second time in Big Ten history that a player claimed two consecutive Offensive Player of the Year awards as Indiana's Anthony Thompson was honored in 1988 and 1989. Miller led the Buckeye offense to an explosive 2013, breaking the conference's mark for yards in a season as Ohio State amassed 7,167 yards in 14 games. Miller rushed for 1,068 yards last season, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten records book for single-season rushing yards by a quarterback. Miller ranked among the top 10 in the conference in total  offense (third with 263.5 yards per game), pass efficiency (third at 158.1), rushing (eighth at 89.0 yards per game) and passing (ninth with 174.5 yards per game). He accounted for 36 total touchdowns, including 24 passing scores and 12 rushing touchdowns. Miller led Ohio State to a perfect 12-0 regular season record and the outright division title last season.

An Offensive Trend: For the fifth consecutive season, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year will be back to defend his award as Ohio State's Braxton Miller returns for his senior season after being named the Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year for the second year in a row. Wisconsin running back John Clay was tabbed the conference's top offensive player as a sophomore in 2009 and returned for his junior season. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson claimed Offensive Player of the Year laurels as a sophomore in 2010 and played two more seasons, setting the NCAA career record for rushing yards by a signal caller. Badgers running back Montee Ball claimed the top offensive honor as a junior in 2011 and returned the following season to set NCAA career records for points, total touchdowns and rushing touchdowns.

Triple Dip: Ohio State's Braxton Miller enters the 2013 season with the chance to become the first player to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors three times. He is just the second student-athlete to earn the award two times, joining former Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson (1988-89). Including Miller and Thompson, just five players have successfully defended their Player of the Year award, however none have earned the honor three times. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2007 and 2008, while Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald earned the same honor in 1995 and 1996. Illinois linebacker Dana Howard was tabbed the conference's top defensive player in 1993 and 1994. Other two-time Big Ten Players of the Year include Michigan State running back Lorenzo White (1985, 1987) and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees (1998, 2000).

ALL-CONFERENCE FIRST-TEAM RETURNEES

OFFENSE
Brandon Scherff, SR, OL, IOWA (coaches only)  
Second-team All-American helped Iowa average over 375 yards per game

Devin Funchess, JR, TE, MICH (media only)  
STATS: 49-748 yards, 15.3 YPC, 6 TDs  
Led all Big Ten tight ends with 748 receiving yards and caught six touchdowns

Ameer Abdullah, SR, IB, NEB  
STATS: 281-1,690 yards, 6.0 YPC, 9 TDs  
Third-team All-American led the conference in all-purpose yards and ranked second in rushing

Braxton Miller, SR, QB, OSU  
STATS: 162-255, 2,094 passing yards, 24 TDs  & 171-1,068 rushing yards, 12 TDs  
Two-time Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year ranked among Big Ten's top 10 in total offense, pass efficiency, rushing and passing

Paul James, SR, RB, RU  
STATS: 156-881 yards, 5.6 YPC, 9 TDs  
Led Rutgers in rushing and all-purpose yards

Tyler Kroft, SR, TE, RU  
STATS: 43-573 yards, 13.3 YPC, 4 TDs  
Led team in receiving last season and caught four touchdowns

DEFENSE
Blake Countess, JR, DB, MICH (media only)  
STATS: 46 tackles (26 solo), 6 int., 10 PD  
Tied for Big Ten lead with six interceptions

Shilique Calhoun, JR, DE, MSU  
STATS: 37 tackles (20 solo), 14 TFL, 7.5 sacks  
First-team All-American led the conference with four fumbles recovered and tied for sixth in sacks

Kurtis Drummond, SR, S, MSU (coaches only)  
STATS: 91 tackles (49 solo), 3.5 TFL, 4 int.  
The top returning tackler from the Big Ten's best defense last season

Randy Gregory, JR, DE, NEB  
STATS: 66 tackles (40 solo), 17 TFL, 10.5 sacks  
Led the Big Ten in sacks and tied for second in tackles for loss

Noah Spence, SO, DL, OSU (media only)  
STATS: 52 tackles (24 solo), 14.5 TFL, 8 sacks  
Ranked second in the conference in sacks and sixth in tackles for loss

SPECIAL TEAMS
Mike Sadler, SR, P, MSU (coaches only)  
STATS: 76-3,233 yards, avg. 42.5, long of 69  
First-team All-American totaled the most punting yards in the conference and ranked fourth in average per punt 

ALL-CONFERENCE SECOND-TEAM RETURNEES

OFFENSE
Jack Allen, JR, C, MSU (media only)

Connor Cook, JR, QB, MSU (coaches only)  
STATS: 223-380, 2,755 passing yards, 22 TDs

Betim Bujari, SR, OL, RU

Melvin Gordon, JR, RB, WIS  
STATS: 206-1,609 yards, 7.8 YPC, 12 TDs

Rob Havenstein, SR, OL, WIS (media only)

DEFENSE
Carl Davis, SR, DL, IOWA (coaches only)  
STATS: 42 tackles (11 solo), 4 TFL, 1.5 sacks

Frank Clark, SR, DE, MICH (coaches only)  
STATS: 43 tackles (19 solo), 12 TFL, 4.5 sacks

Theiren Cockran, JR, DL, MINN (media only)
STATS: 30 tackles (18 solo), 10 TFL, 7.5 sacks

Michael Bennett, JR, DL, OSU  
STATS: 42 tackles (18 solo), 11.5 TFL, 7 sacks

SPECIAL TEAMS
Janarion Grant, SO, RS, RU
STATS: 17 PR-156 yards, 1 TD, 21 KR-517 yards, 1 TD

Familiar Faces Back in the Lineup in 2014: All 14 Big Ten teams welcome back at least 11 players to their starting lineups in 2014. Indiana leads all Big Ten schools with 22 players returning to their starting roles, while Maryland has 20 starters coming back in 2014. The Hoosiers welcome back 11 players on offense, 10 on defense and one on special teams, while the Terrapins will have nine returning offensive and defensive starters and two special team players. Purdue welcomes back 19 starters, including 10 on offense and eight on defense. Northwestern (nine on offense and defense) returns 18 starters, while Illinois (seven on offense, eight on defense), Michigan (seven on offense, nine on defense) and Rutgers (nine on offense, seven on defense) welcome back 17 starters. Minnesota (eight on offense, seven on defense) returns 16 starters, while Penn State (seven on offense and defense) brings back 15 starters. The lineups for Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State feature 14 returning starters, while Wisconsin welcomes back 11.

Returning Stat Leaders: The Big Ten returns a number of players that ranked among the top 10 in various statistical categories last season. Eight of the conference's top 10 rushers return from last season, led by Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, who ranked second with 130.0 yards per contest. Eight of the top 10 passers are back on the field, topped by Michigan's Devin Gardner, who rated second last year with 246.7 passing yards per outing. Eight out of the top 10 in total offense return, paced by Gardner in second with 286.9 yards per outing, while seven of the top 10 in scoring touchdowns will be back in 2014, including Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, who ranked second with 8.1 points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, seven of the top 10 leaders in sacks return, including each of the top three in Nebraska's Randy Gregory (0.81 sacks per game), Ohio State's Noah Spence (0.62) and Minnesota's Theiren Cockran (0.58). Cockran also led the conference in fumbles forced (0.31 per game), while Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun paced the Big Ten in fumbles recovered (0.29 per game).

Welcome to the Club: The Big Ten will welcome one new head coach to the sidelines for the 2014 campaign in Penn State’s James Franklin. Franklin led Vanderbilt to unprecedented success in his three years as head coach, winning nine games in each of the past two years, and finishing in the Top 25 in consecutive seasons, both for the first time in school history. He posted a 24-15 record, including marks of 9-4 during each of the past two seasons, capped by bowl victories. Franklin's 2012 squad finished the season with seven consecutive victories and posted the school’s first nine-win season since 1915. A native of Langhorne, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb, Franklin succeeds Bill O'Brien, who was named head coach of the National Football League's Houston Texans. Prior to his stint at Vanderbilt, Franklin spent three seasons at Maryland, where he served as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Fresh Crop of Coaches: With Franklin making his Big Ten debut this season, 10 of the 14 current coaches have been at their institution for three years or less. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is the Big Ten's longest-tenured mentor, with 15 seasons leading the Hawkeyes. Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald ranks second with eight years as the  Wildcats' head coach, while Michigan State's Mark Dantonio has spent seven years leading the Spartans and Nebraska's Bo Pelini has been at the helm of the Cornhuskers for six seasons. Four head coaches began coaching at their respective schools in 2011 - Indiana's Kevin Wilson, Maryland's Randy Edsall, Michigan's Brady Hoke and Minnesota's Jerry Kill. Three head coaches took their jobs in 2012 - Illinois' Tim Beckman, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Rutgers' Kyle Flood. Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen completed their first seasons last year. Six current Big Ten mentors have been head coaches for 10 years or more - Kill (20 seasons), Ferentz (18), Edsall (15), Meyer (12), Hoke (11) and Dantonio (10).

A National Bowl Slate: The Big Ten unveiled the largest and most diverse postseason lineup in conference history last summer, with 12 different bowl partners spread across the country beginning with the 2014 season. The Big Ten's new bowl lineup will be highlighted by annual games against quality opponents from the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, Conference USA and Mountain West in California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Tennessee and Texas, along with the opportunity to visit four other outstanding postseason venues as part of the College Football Playoff. The Big Ten's new bowl lineup will allow teams and fans to visit world-class cities while having the opportunity to experience 11 different NFL stadiums, along with some of the most iconic venues in the country, including Rose Bowl Stadium, Cotton Bowl Stadium and Yankee Stadium. These outstanding facilities have hosted or will host 30 different Super Bowls in 11 different stadiums.

Bowl Breakdown: The conference office announced six-year bowl extensions with the Capital One and Outback Bowls, an eight-year agreement with the New Era Pinstripe Bowl and six-year agreements with the Fight Hunger and Holiday Bowls and the postseason game to be played in Detroit. The Big Ten also announced agreements for conference teams to appear on three occasions over a six-year period in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces, TaxSlayer.com Gator, Heart of Dallas and Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowls. The Big Ten previously announced a 12-year extension to face a Pac-12 team in the Rose Bowl Game through the 2025 campaign, and unveiled an agreement with the Discover Orange Bowl to send a Big Ten team to face an ACC representative at least three times following the 2014-25 seasons. Big Ten schools will also look to secure berths in the four-team College Football Playoff to begin after the 2014 campaign, with semifinals to rotate between the Chick-fil-A (Atlanta, Ga.), AT&T Cotton (Arlington, Texas), Tostitos Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Rose, Discover Orange and Allstate Sugar (New Orleans, La.) Bowls.

Mix and Match: The Big Ten’s 2014-19 bowl lineup will also feature a new selection process to ensure outstanding bowl matchups and fresh postseason destinations. Each bowl partner will work with the Big Ten to create the best possible matchup based upon an agreed set of parameters, with final approval by the conference office for all team selections. The Capital One, Fight Hunger, Holiday and Outback Bowls along with the bowl to be played in Detroit will feature at least five different schools during their six-year agreements, while the New Era Pinstripe Bowl will highlight at least six different programs over its eight-year agreement. Combined with the College Football Playoff and three-year rotations with the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces, TaxSlayer.com Gator, Heart of Dallas and Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowls, the Big Ten’s new bowl lineup will provide a variety of postseason bowl options for conference teams and their fans over the term of the agreements.

Big Ten Takes on Bowl Teams: Every Big Ten team will square off against at least one non-conference team that participated in a bowl game last season, with 24 total games against squads coming off bowl trips. Indiana, Ohio State and Rutgers will face three non-conference bowl teams in 2014, while Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin will each play two bowl opponents outside the conference schedule. Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State and Purdue have one bowl qualifier on their schedule this fall.

The Buckeyes will take on bowl teams in three of their first four games, opening against Navy (Armed Forces) on August 30 before hosting Virginia Tech (Sun) on Sept. 6 and Cincinnati (Belk) on Sept. 27. The Scarlet Knights also open with a bowl foe, hitting the road to play at Washington State (New Mexico) on August 28, before traveling to Navy on Sept. 20 and hosting Tulane (New Orleans) on Sept. 27. The Hoosiers head to Bowling Green (Little Caesars Pizza) on Sept. 13 and Missouri (Cotton) on Sept. 20, before welcoming North Texas (Heart of Dallas) on Oct. 4.

Four Big Ten teams will face a pair of bowl participants. The Hawkeyes host Ball State (GoDaddy.com) on Sept. 6 before traveling to Pittsburgh (Little Caesars Pizza) on Sept. 20. The Huskers head to Fresno State (Las Vegas) on Sept. 13 and host Miami (Fla.) (Russell Athletic) on Sept. 20. The Wildcats face Northern Illinois (Poinsettia) at home on Sept. 6 and travel to Notre Dame (Pinstripe) on Nov. 15. The Badgers kick off the season against LSU (Outback) at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on Aug. 30 and host Bowling Green (Little Caesars Pizza) on Sept. 20.

The remaining Big Ten teams each square off against one bowl squad - Illinois at Washington (Fight Hunger) on Sept. 13, Maryland traveling to Syracuse (Texas) on Sept. 20, Michigan battling Notre Dame on Sept. 6, Michigan State heading to Oregon (Alamo) on Sept. 6, Minnesota hosting Middle Tennessee State (Armed Forces) on Sept. 6, Penn State versus Central Florida (Fiesta) at Croke Park Stadium in Dublin, Ireland on Aug. 30 and Purdue against Notre Dame at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Ind., on Sept. 13.

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