Every off-season is devastating in college football. And, every September (and October and November) new faces help replace those irreplaceable players that we knew before. It's crazy, fast-paced, and lends itself to good planning - kinda like air mail.
This season, a lot of talent will be on its way out. Melvin Gordon, a Heisman candidate and one of the best Big Ten running backs of all time. Michael Bennett, Carl Davis, and Louis Trinca-Pasat. Brandon Scherff. David Cobb. Ameer Abdullah. And probably Devin Funchess, Tevin Coleman, Randy Gregory, Stefon Diggs, and Shilique Calhoun. If they have the mental and physical tools, they can carve out a legacy in the NFL. But they'll always have their alma mater's support.
With that said, it's important to be able to fill that talent drain, and replicate it by this time next year. Who will be the next ones to build a legacy? Who can carry a team and a conference on their shoulders? We'll look at the top five players the Big Ten is losing this year, and how to replace them.
Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin Badgers
In 2005, it was Brian Calhoun, who ran for 1,636 yards and 22 touchdowns. In '06 and '07, it was P.J. Hill (combined 2,781 yards and 29 touchdowns). In '08 and '09, it was John Clay (combined 2,401 yards and 27 touchdowns). In '10, three runners ran for 996 yards and at least 14 TD's each. In '11, it was James White, but really it was Montee Ball (1,923 yards, 33 touchdowns). In '12, it was James White and Melvin Gordon, but really it was Montee Ball (1,830 yards, 22 touchdowns). In '13, Gordon and White combined for 3,153 yards and 25 touchdowns. In 2014, Melvin already has 1,909 yards and 23 touchdowns, with two regular-season games remaining.
While yesteryear's success doesn't guarantee anything, the Badgers do have a proven record and a pair of young tailbacks in Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale with 6.1 yards per carry. They also have a QB in Tanner McEvoy who is putting up 9.4 yards per carry, including sacks. The running situation will be dependent on how UW's quarterbacks develop; both McEvoy and Stave will be seniors, and they have to find some receivers. Wisconsin's offense can easily reach another level if some of those other pieces fall into place.
Ameer Abdullah & Randy Gregory, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Randy Gregory, who's likely departing for the NFL, has had a giant effect on the Huskers' pass defense. They don't have great athletes in the secondary, and that part of their defense might be exposed a bit. But there are other disruptive defensive linemen on this roster, and every one of them (other than Gregory) will be back. In fact, 28 of their defensive line starts have been by sophomores.
On the ground, Nebraska is in good shape. Imani Cross is experienced as a heavyweight tailback, and two sophomores, Terrell Newby and Jordan Nelson, average 4.7 ypc. There are also four-star tailbacks in the 2014 and 2015 classes. Kendall Bussey, their 2015 commit from Louisiana, is the third-ranked running back in the country.
Brandon Scherff, Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes lose two starters off the offensive line, and both of them are greybearded tackles. The likely replacements are Cole Croston and Ryan Ward, who are both sophomores.
The line may be improved in Michigan-like fashion, however, if they shore up the interior to protect them from penetration that's blown up a number of their running plays. They won't have Scherff, and in that sense they lose some reliability. But as a unit, the Hawkeyes' line has not been irreplaceable.
Tevin Coleman, Indiana Hoosiers
This one may be a disaster. Nate Sudfeld returns for a senior campaign, but they need to find more receiving talent to keep the offense healthy. Their explosive trio of receivers that made the 2013 offense so dangerous will all be gone once Shane Wynn graduates, and only Wynn has produced 200 receiving yards this year. Simmie Cobbs, a true freshman, has averaged 16.3 yards a catch in limited action, and he may be the top target next year. There is also J-Shun Harris II, also a freshman, who has some nifty grabs and 9.5 yards a catch.
Indiana will also be turning the ground game over to a pair of sophomores-to-be, Devine Redding and Myles Graham. They're the only two tailbacks with any carries who return next year. On the line, Indiana loses four seniors with starting experience, and not only that, there's a chance that Jason Spriggs declares early for the NFL Draft. It would be hard to sink lower than this year's 3-7 campaign, but it will take some breakout performances and some strides by their defense for that not to happen.
Hitting the Links Acknowledges Hard Work
When Jalin Marshall succeeds - and it's when, not if - people will say it's because of his athleticism. But it's also because of this.
Minnesota has been constantly changing up its home unis, from a Gold/Maroon/Gold look against Northwestern, to a Maroon/Maroon/Gold against Purdue, to Gold/Gold/White on Saturday and Maroon/Maroon/White against Iowa. Adding a little more gold, whether it's the helmets, jerseys, or pants, makes for a sharp look. But maybe I'm biased.
Chris Ash has been a great hire - there was a particular need, and the team addressed it.
Three of the top four positions discussed are in the Big Ten, with Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana. Beckman and the Illini are sitting at 4-6 right now, with two critical games upcoming against Penn State and Northwestern. If the Illini are competitive in those games, I think the athletic department needs to think twice before firing Beckman in favor of a hotshot coordinator.
In my mind, the same goes for Kevin Wilson at Indiana. It's about time a Big Ten team actually competed nationally for coaching talent (besides James Franklin, Urban Meyer, and to a lesser extent Gary Andersen) rather than pulling from the MAC. Programs shouldn't hesitate to pull the plug and start over when necessary, but they also need to focus on problem-solving at a smaller scale to try and ensure a coach's success.
What does that mean? That means competing for premier assistant coaches, being able to settle in with recruits and high school coaches, and maintaining facilities. The vast majority of coaching candidates are not going to be home runs, which means that in two years, you're back to the same place you were before - problem-solving the little things.
What can Illinois do well? With Beckman's offensive coordinator Bill Cubit and quarterback Wes Lunt, they can air it down the field, and they have a couple good receivers and a speedy back in Josh Ferguson. They also have a growing and occasionally hard-hitting secondary, and even a star linebacker in Mason Monheim. They don't have an offensive line that can reliably let their route tree develop, or a defensive line that can protect their linebackers. This kind of half-success, half-failure is a typical Big Ten conundrum, and it won't go away until the Big Ten has better assistants and at least slightly better recruiting.
Meanwhile, firing a head coach is a blunt solution, and not necessarily an effective one - a bit like Russian Roulette when filtering through unproven coordinators to take over the job. Most of what this article said about Kevin Wilson was oblivious to that.
There's no obvious candidate here, but Nevada's Brian Polian interviewed last time and was passed over for his lack of head coaching experience. His energy could give Indiana some momentum. After whiffing with the hot coordinator last time -- Wilson is still considered one of the game's top offensive coaches -- do the Hoosiers go with an FCS coach or a Division II coach?
Um, no. No, they do not.
Great leadership and emotion from the senior.
Ian Boyd looks at the diamond formation and its value as a ready-made smashmouth attack.
Loyal, focused, and dedicated to his side in the rivalry.
Andy Staples has Randy Gregory #2 and Brandon Scherff #10. Make sure to catch the video of Scherff knocking a blitzing safety on his behind. Also, this is a great draft for receiving talent. Also, eight Big Ten players among the top 50 in the country is not good enough.
What separated Ohio State from the pack was the comfort that Burrell has built with Urban Meyer and his staff over the past two-plus years.
Here's the full list. This is also a good time to make a point about coaches' salaries. Competing for good coaches demands paying the money for them. But that's a very big difference from paying whoever you have big money (Brady Hoke and Kirk Ferentz are prime examples of this). Every SEC coach is ranked among the top 34 nationally in last year's compensation, and yet it's possible to find value in some of the many Big Ten coaches who are paid less than $2.5 million a year: Gary Andersen, Jerry Kill, Randy Edsall and Kyle Flood all have winning records.
# 2: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio: $5.64 million
# 6: Ohio State's Urban Meyer: $4.5 million
# 8: Penn State's James Franklin: $4.3 million
# 9: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz: $4.08 million
# 24: Nebraska's Bo Pelini: $3.08 million
# 30: Michigan's Brady Hoke: $2.85 million
# 39: Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald: $2.48 million
# 41: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen: $2.29 million
# 45: Minnesota's Jerry Kill: $2.1 million
# 46: Purdue's Darrell Hazell: $2.09 million
# 47: Maryland's Randy Edsall: $2.03 million
# 52: Illinois' Tim Beckman: $1.95 million
# 66: Indiana's Kevin Wilson: $1.3 million
# 73: Rutgers' Kyle Flood: $987,000
This is terrific stuff. Maryland is uniquely poised to start stealing some five-star talent from down the Atlantic coast from teams like Clemson, Florida, and Georgia. They need to make some upgrades and also make some noise in the Big Ten, but it's possible.
This has a lot of great quotes about success and what it takes to get there. This is what makes college football so challenging and rewarding.
This pointed out an amazing fact: Wisconsin now has the records for most rushing yards in a game (Melvin Gordon, 408), the most rushing yards in a college career (Ron Dayne, 7,125), and the most rushing career touchdowns (Montee Ball, 77).
Cobb really should have been on the list, while Jeremy Langford has quietly put up 100 yards in 14 straight conference games. Consistency in college is everything, and it's hard to get more consistent than 109, 131, 104, 120, 151, 150, 134, 128, 111, 104, 109, 177 (against Michigan), 137, and 138.
David Cobb has been less consistent, but has four 180-yard games this year. His case (1,350 yards, 5.3 ypc, 11 TD's) is distinctly better than two Doak Walker semifinalists: Javorius 'Buck' Allen (1,184 yards, 5.5 ypc, 8 TD's), who plays against weaker defensive lines in the Pac-12, and Boise State's Jay Ajayi (1,280 yards, 4.9 ypc, 17 TD's), whose numbers come against the likes of Air Force, Nevada, Connecticut, ULL, Fresno State, BYU, and New Mexico.
Also, a Buckeye note, if Cobb is under the radar, and Langford is really under the radar, Ezekiel Elliott is something of a nuclear submarine. In the last seven games, he's averaged 116.1 rushing yards a game and 5.8 yards per carry. That would translate to just over 1,500 yards in a full season.
If the Big Ten embraced some of the offensive innovation that's taken over the game, their stable of backs would be even deadlier. Take this play as a small example. This version of the quarterback keeper spreads the defense horizontally even more effectively than traditional quarterback option attacks.
Minnesota held steady at #25 - a step in the right direction - but this writer questions that decision. It seems the path to a better, more nuanced ranking system still has some kinks to work out. The ongoing conversation, at least, is the step in that direction.
Days until Ohio State: 9.