Author: Sam Cooper

Big Ten Media Days roundup: Penn State handling new expectations, Michigan opens QB battle

(Joe Hermitt/PennLive.com via AP)

It’d be hard to find a soul who predicted Penn State would emerge as the winner of the Big Ten before the 2016 season.

After a 2-2 start, the Nittany Lions eked out an overtime win over Minnesota on Oct. 1 and never looked back, winning nine in a row, including a thrilling comeback over Wisconsin to win the Big Ten title.

The dream season ended disappointingly when PSU blew a big lead against USC in the Rose Bowl. Still, 2016 was a huge year for James Franklin and company. With that comes a brand new set of every coach’s favorite thing: expectations! How will Penn State handle it?

“I think the expectations are always pretty big at Penn State. I think where it’s probably changed is nationally. I think there’s more people nationally talking about Penn State right now than probably in years past,” Franklin said.

“To be honest with you, I think our guys embrace it. It challenges them and motivates them. But for us we don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about those things. We believe in kind of how we run our program and focus on the fundamentals of the game and making sure all our guys are really detailed and specific and thorough in all the things we do from a preparation standpoint, both physically and mentally.

“So we focus on that and not on the expectations, the outside noise. We’re concerned about ourselves. Although we are aware of it.”

One area Franklin expects the team to improve is along the offensive line. Franklin hasn’t been shy in mentioning that PSU’s sanctions-stricken roster had seven scholarship offensive linemen when he arrived. Now the Nittany Lions have six linemen with significant starting experience, plus a few highly-recruited underclassmen ready to contribute.

Quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, two of the five players to receive Big Ten preseason honors in the East, already put up huge numbers when the offensive line was average-at-best last fall. Franklin thinks there’s room to improve — a scary proposition for Big Ten opponents.

“I would make the argument the thing we’re most excited about is the offensive line,” Franklin said. “Saquon Barkley has done some great things so far, but to think about him having a chance now this season to play behind what I feel like has got a chance to be one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten, there’s so much value in that.”

Harbaugh opens Michigan QB competition

Michigan lost a majority of its starters from 2016, but the quarterback position was supposed to have a familiar face under center Week 1 against Florida. Well, according to Jim Harbaugh, that may not be the case.

Harbaugh said Tuesday that Wilton Speight, a 12-game starter in 2016, is “tied for first with John O’Korn and Brandon Peters.” That was a bit of a surprise, even though Speight did struggle down the stretch in 2016 when the Wolverines lost three of their last four games.

Is this just a motivation thing? Well according to Harbaugh it was “a dead heat” after spring practice.

“Brandon really shot up. John O’Korn really played consistently good. And Wilton really had some impressive moments as well,” Harbaugh said.

“We’ll go through training camp starting on Monday, just throw the balls out there and let the fellows compete. There’s a lot a quarterback can do over the summer to get better at playing quarterback. So you want to see what’s transpired over the summer and see who has gotten better.”

Harbaugh said the player named starter is the one “who gives our team the best chance to move the ball, score touchdowns and put points on the board and not turn the ball over.”

That will take anywhere between eight and 15 practices to figure out, Harbaugh said.

Fleck injecting ‘cultural sustainability’ at Minnesota

New Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck, sporting a newly shaved head thanks to a bet he lost to his wife, brought a jolt of energy to the podium Tuesday morning.

He spoke of the transition — or the “honeymoon period,” as he called it — from Western Michigan to Minnesota over the last six months or so and how he has begun to inject “cultural sustainability” into the program. That, of course, includes rowing the boat.

“One of the challenges we face again at Minnesota is cultural sustainability. That is our players’ third head coach in three years. Very challenging for young people,” Fleck said.

“We look forward to bringing that culture of sustainability over a period of time. We look forward to developing our players to an elite level, academically, athletically, socially, and spiritually on a daily basis, and keep doing our best and rowing the boat every single day.”

P.J. Fleck did not lack enthusiasm at his Big Ten Media Days debut. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

Part of Fleck’s job, he said, is to raise the profile of Minnesota’s program. So when ESPN approached him about a four-part docuseries called “Being P.J. Fleck,” he didn’t hesitate to accept.

“This wasn’t something that we said: ‘We’re going to have a reality show, let’s go find somebody to air it.’ They approached us, which was an honor. One thing I am hired to do is bring national exposure, national attention to the University of Minnesota. And that’s what we’re going to do,” Fleck said.

Fitzgerald: New facilities paying dividends in recruiting

Northwestern rallied from a 1-3 start in 2016 to finish the year 7-6. The season was capped off by a win over a solid Pittsburgh team in the Pinstripe Bowl. Pat Fitzgerald hopes that win, and the team’s improved play behind Clayton Thorson and Justin Jackson in the second half of the year, carries over into 2017.

“We got our edge back midway through the season, we carried it through the bowl prep,” Fitzgerald said. “And the guys saw the return on the investment, and that momentum carried over really through offseason workouts and then to spring ball.”

It’s taken a long time — Fitzgerald is entering his 12th season — but Northwestern finally is catching up facility-wise with its Big Ten opponents. On the whole, Fitzgerald says the program is continuing on an upward trajectory and the presence of the beautiful new Walker Athletic Center, right on Lake Michigan, has translated into more success on the recruiting trail.

“(Recruiting is) at an all-time high. Young men want to play for a winner, want to get a great education and be prepared for life. And, quite frankly, they want to see commitment from universities and fans that they’re going to support your program and the experience,” Fitzgerald said.

“This is for our program, from the standpoint of university support, one of the last few pieces of the puzzle we really need. We’re far from the finished product in Evanston, and now to have all the great facilities we’re about to have gives us a chance to compete for a recruit maybe we never had an opportunity to get.”

Brohm: Purdue defense ahead of offense

In his first year from Western Kentucky, Jeff Brohm knows he has a lot of work to do at Purdue. His teams at WKU scored early and often. Beyond quarterback David Blough and a solid group of running backs, the personnel may not be there quite yet, but Brohm intends to bring a similar brand of football to West Lafayette.

“I think we do want to play an exciting brand of football. We do want to have some fun with it and try to score points. I think when we look at our team right now we’ll have to adjust to the personnel we have,” Brohm said.

“Probably for us right now our running backs are our strength, and our tight ends are right behind them. We’ve got to find ways to get the ball in their hands. I feel good about finding a way to get them in there and find a way to get more than one back in at times, and being very creative with it in our own way.”

Brohm’s WKU teams were more known for offense, but he said Tuesday the defense — at linebacker especially — is ahead of the offense right now. Depth is an issue, however.

“I like our defense and I think they’re farther ahead than the other side of the ball right now,” Brohm said. “I think we’ve got some experienced guys on that side of the ball that have been there and done that. We have a great linebacking corps. I think we have a good front line on the defensive side and good corps of a first unit that can be productive for us. Once again, do we have the depth we need? Not at this point. But I think it’s getting better. I think that will be the key to how we perform on defense.”

Change at QB, on defense for Riley, Nebraska

Mike Riley and Nebraska will have a new starting QB and a new style of defense in 2017. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

For a guy who hasn’t played a snap in the Big Ten, Nebraska quarterback Tanner Lee sure has gotten a whole lot of hype. Lee, a two-year starter at Tulane, was named the starter coming out of spring and was one of three players to represent the Huskers Tuesday in Chicago.

There’s a lot to like about the junior, according to coach Mike Riley.

“He’s been with our team for about a year. He had to sit out a year and his entry has been impressive in just the simple fact that he became a good teammate. Became immediately well liked and through time became very well respected, enough so to be elected at one of our offseason captains. He got a large amount of votes from the current team,” Riley said.

“He entered in rather not a really dramatic fashion, just became one of the guys and, like I said, was well liked and then eventually well respected.”

In addition to a new quarterback, Nebraska will play a new style of defense in 2017. Riley brought in fired UConn head coach Bob Diaco to implement his 3-4 scheme. RIley has been thinking about going back to the 3-4 alignment for quite some time, he said, and was impressed with the team’s transition in the spring.

“I was a 3-4 defensive coach. So I have been for a time intrigued about getting back to playing the 3-4,” RIley said. “And then the availability of Coach Diaco with my desire to look into the 3-4, led me to the interview and then the interview was really great confirmation about what else this guy would bring. I see Bob as a really good teacher. I love that part of him.”

One challenge Riley, Diaco and company face is replacing Chris Jones, the team’s job returning cornerback who suffered a serious knee injury. Riley raised the possibility of moving Josh Kalu back to corner from safety.

Ash: 2016 season was ‘awful’

Rutgers coach Chris Ash didn’t mince words about his first season.

“It was awful,” he said.

The Scarlet Knights went 2-10 without a win in conference play. Ash said the team has “moved on” from that disastrous season.

“It’s behind us and we’re a lot better football team today because of what we went through a year ago. We went through a lot of adversity a lot of tough times, a lot of challenges. It brought our football team closer together,” Ash said. “What we did is push the reset button in December when the season was over. We are a very committed football team right now.”

To beef up the roster, Ash brought in a bevy of transfers, including ex-Louisville quarterback Kyle Bolin. Ash is hopeful the new additions can make an immediate impact, even if it’s just in practice.

“I think we’ve brought in nine transfers here recently. Really what we wanted to get from the transfers is competition. We wanted to bring in some guys that have come from four-year programs. They’ve gone through strength and conditioning programs and offseason workouts and training camps,” Ash said.

“A lot have had successful experiences from the places that they’ve been at and they’ve provided tremendous competition, renewed energy, excitement as we go into training camp. And those battles for positions are going to be really exciting to watch with those guys being part of our team.”

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In wake of Hugh Freeze's fiery Ole Miss exit, Matt Luke lands 'dream job'

As a massive storm cloud lingers over all things Ole Miss football, one man just accepted his dream job.

That man is Matt Luke. He’s a Rebel through and through. And now he’s the interim head coach at his alma mater, where his former boss, Hugh Freeze, just resigned in disgrace and another NCAA response just landed at his doorstep.

Good luck.

But even amid all of that, Luke, when addressing reporters for the first time in his new role on Monday, was immensely proud. It showed. His voice quivered when talking about leading the program where he, his brother and his father all played.

It kind of made you forget for a second what he’s walking into.

“I’m so excited to have the opportunity to be the head coach at the University of Mississippi,” Luke said. “I’ve been an Ole Miss Rebel all my life. It’s all I can remember.

“I can’t believe that I’ve spent 14 years of my life as a player or coach here. I can truly tell y’all today that this is my dream job. It’s a job I’ve been preparing my whole life for. I feel more strongly now than ever that I’m the right man to run this program.”

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Luke, a Gulfport, Mississippi, native, played line for the Rebels and was an assistant under three head coaches before Freeze: Tommy Tuberville, David Cutcliffe and Ed Orgeron. After stops at Tennessee and Duke, he returned to Oxford as part of Freeze’s first staff. He’s been there ever since, serving as a co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.

He’s been lauded by everybody around the program since Freeze stepped down.

“Matt is a great coach. He’s a leader. He’s a rock. He’s an Ole Miss Rebel,” AD Ross Bjork said the night Freeze’s resignation was announced. “I’m confident, and especially even more confident in watching him address the team, that he will lead this team and program through this difficult time.”

Sophomore quarterback Shea Patterson said “there’s nobody better to lead this team and this program than Coach Luke,” while offensive lineman Javon Patterson and defensive lineman Breeland Speaks each used the word “passionate” to describe Luke.

“I know he’ll give it all for the team,” Javon Patterson said. “Coach Luke has been around here for a while. You feel his passion and you feel his presence.”

Added Speaks: “He is passionate. That’s the best way I can explain Coach Luke. He wants the best. He’s passionate. He’s a Rebel.”

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Luke said he’s been “preparing his whole life” for this opportunity, but there’s no way he could imagine he’d land it under these circumstances. He found out about Freeze’s exit a few hours before the rest of us: around 4 p.m. Thursday. Bjork offered him the interim role, and he accepted. He spoke briefly with Freeze, Luke said, and that was it. Go get ‘em.

“I was surprised. I didn’t have a long time to reflect because I was given a job to do. My focus went to moving forward,” Luke said.

Instead of having an offseason to prepare for preseason camp, he has about a week (the Rebels start camp Aug. 2). It’s even less time than interim coach Jim Grobe had before the 2016 season when he took over at Baylor following the dismissal of Art Briles.

The lack of preparation time is not the best blueprint for success, but other than Freeze and a new offensive line coach Luke will hire, the staff remains intact, much like Baylor’s staff a year ago. Now Luke says the attention — from he and his staff — is going to turn toward the players while the “distractions” around Ole Miss football persist.

“My job is to get the team ready to play. My focus is moving forward. Our focus is on the players and that’s where it needs to be,” Luke said.

“They just want to play football. They’re tired of the noise. They’re tired of the distractions. They just want to go play football and do what they love. I can’t wait for August 2 to get here so we can go to work.”

There’s an inherent shadiness surrounding Ole Miss right now. From the effort to paint the NCAA violation picture as mainly a Houston Nutt-era problem, misleading both the public and recruits, to Bjork last week — while aware reporters were looking into Freeze’s fateful phone call to an escort service — lauding the “culture” built by Freeze to a local television affiliate, there’s just the sense the whole thing could come crashing down at any moment.

Amid all that, Luke’s passion for the school his new opportunity is a welcomed bit of positivity for the Rebels. It remains to seen whether he has a legitimate shot to turn the interim role into a full-time gig. It rarely happens. Grobe was a one-and-done at Baylor as the school opted for a completely new staff for 2017 and beyond.

At the very least, Ole Miss has a guy who is going to represent it well in the public eye.

“This is something that’s very special to me,” Luke said. “I’m so excited to have the opportunity. You never want to take those times for granted. So I’m excited to have the opportunity to be around my family and at my university.”

For more Ole Miss news, visit RebelGrove.com.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Big Ten Media Days: Urban Meyer says 'there's no gap at all' between Big Ten, SEC

The Big Ten has made major improvements since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

Urban Meyer made his debut at Big Ten Media Days as Ohio State’s head coach about five years ago.

That day, Meyer, fresh off a wildly successful tenure at Florida, was asked what separated the level of play in the Big Ten from the SEC. While noting the “cyclical” nature of college football, Meyer pointed to things like team speed and offensive styles, but he also made sure to note the most obvious thing: winning.

“The bottom line is go win,” Meyer said July 26, 2012. “How far are we from doing that? Coaches that have been in the conference for a while would know better than I do. I know one thing, I know there are some very, very good teams in this conference, so I anticipate winning is not that far off.”

Meyer was certainly right about that, and his Ohio State teams have a lot to do with it. So how do the Big Ten and SEC compare now, in 2017?

“I don’t think there’s a gap at all,” Meyer said at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Monday. “And that’s no disrespect to other conferences, but I’ve coached in the SEC East when that was one of the strongest in the country. And I think the Big Ten East right now is every bit as strong as I can remember the SEC East.”

When arriving in the Big Ten, Meyer said he was “shocked” by the “disrespect” the Big Ten received on the recruiting trail. Things have changed pretty drastically since then.

“I don’t feel that at all anymore. I feel a great amount of respect nationally about the Big Ten,” Meyer said.

“You sit and look at the national recruiting rankings and you see the Big Ten everywhere, all over the place, and that’s the way it should be. There’s a lot of credit to be given, obviously to the administrations that invest in their programs and to the coaching staffs that are out there doing the work. And this is as tough a conference as there is.”

The Buckeyes have won double-digit games in all five of Meyer’s seasons, including the 2014 national championship year. OSU made it back to the College Football Playoff in 2016, but was throttled 31-0 in the semifinals by eventual champion Clemson.

The team’s struggles on offense were magnified in that game, prompting some thorough changes moving forward. Most notably, former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson is the new offensive coordinator. Meyer admitted that game “changed how we do some business on offense,” but said in general the team has done its best to move on.

“I’ve been asked that a lot and we kind of let that one go,” Meyer said. “We’ve been known in the past to use different forms of motivation, a loss here or there. That ship has sailed. It’s gone. And we’ve not addressed it. We’ve not talked about it. Professionally, it changed how we do some business on offense and we’re moving forward.

“So it’s in the back of everyone’s mind, and whether I’ll use that during training camp or not is to be determined. But where we’re at as a team, I like where we’re at. So we’re just pushing forward.”

Chryst, Wisconsin learning from close losses

Wisconsin won the Big Ten West in 2016, but it was very close to achieving much bigger things. The Badgers finished the year with an 11-3 record. Each of those losses — to the top three teams in the Big Ten East (Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan) — was by exactly seven points. Most notably, the Badgers had a big lead in the Big Ten title game against PSU, but lost 38-31.

On Monday, Badgers coach Paul Chryst said the team is using those games as learning experiences heading into 2017.

“I think that all your experiences you want to learn from, and we try to spend time with the players talking about what can we learn from, be it the close losses, the close wins, anything that you go through,” Chryst said.

“I like this team and this group. And we’ve got a lot of guys that have played in a number of big games and won a lot of them and have lost some of them. And they do a good job of sharing that with the other kids how you approach it. They’re learning as they go through it.”

One change for Wisconsin is the elevation of Jim Leonhard to defensive coordinator. Chryst said Leonhard’s ability to connect with the players is among his biggest strengths.

“Our players have gone through transitions. This will be the third defensive coordinator in three years. And I think one of the best qualities that Jimmy has is he understands football, but, more importantly, he understands players,” Chryst said. “And players know how he communicates with him. It’s one of his strengths. He’s a tremendous connector, connector of people, and so it’s been good.”

Tom Allen: Ohio State game is ‘biggest opener in the history of Indiana football’

Tom Allen used numbers to motivate his team, but it may not be quite what you’re thinking.

The new Indiana coach said he wrote three numbers on a board — 50, 26, 10 — and asked his players if they knew the significance of them. They didn’t.

“It’s been 50 years since we won the Big Ten; it’s been 26 years since we won a bowl game; it’s been 10 years since we had a winning season at Indiana,” Allen said.

“We’re going to accomplish all three of those, I told our team. If you don’t believe that, you need to leave. Said the same thing to our staff. I love them. I appreciate them. But I want a coaching staff, I want a football team that believes.”

IU has a chance to start its season with a big splash. The Hoosiers open up at home against Ohio State in a primetime Thursday night game. The game is a big deal for Indiana.

“We’re going to be bringing our players in August 1st to report, start practice on the 2nd, to prepare for the biggest opener in the history of Indiana football on August 31st when we play the Ohio State Buckeyes in Bloomington for an 8:00 kickoff,” Allen said. “It’s going to be a very exciting opportunity for me to be in my first home game as the head coach in my home state.”

Lovie Smith: ‘What a difference a year makes’

Lovie Smith was hired by Illinois in March of last year. That’s at least three months later than the average college coaching hire, so there wasn’t a lot of time to get acquainted with his new team.

In 2017, things are a lot different.

“What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time I knew a few of the players, thought we knew what their roles would be. We have that down now,” Smith said. “(We’ve had) a year to work with the players off the field to really establish how we’re going to win football games. We’ve seen marked improvements”

Smith already knows Chayce Crouch will be his starter at quarterback. Crouch, who played in four games last season, should have the benefit of Mike Dudek’s return at wide receiver. After catching 76 balls as a freshman, Dudek missed the last two seasons with ACL injuries.

Smith said Dudek is “100 percent.”

“My experience teaches me that when you have a major injury like that, you do everything you possibly can to get back. You work harder than maybe you would have before,” Smith said. “I know Mike has been doing that. I know right now, as far as his speed and strength, he is back to where he was before. I just know he’ll give our offense a big boost.”

Michigan State emphasizing ‘commitment, change, and learning from the past’

Mark Dantonio kept his opening statement short.

“Last year I remember I stood up here talking about our culture, graduation, championships, those type of things. Now we talk about commitment, change, learning from the past,” Dantonio said.

“I’ll take questions.”

Things have changed significantly for MSU. After a miserable three-win season, five players were dismissed for sexual assault accusations. Dantonio was adamant about focusing on those issues in the spring, but now he’s ready to turn the attention to the field.

“I think we’re prepared for the next phase of our lives,” Dantonio said. “I think you’re always challenged. You’re always going to go through challenges. The more turmoil sometimes you have, maybe if you take it in the right vein maybe the stronger you get as you moved forward.

“So I sense the togetherness on our football team. I sense a sense of responsibility. We’ve had an outstanding summer conditioning program. And I think we’re poised for the next challenge.”

Dantonio pointed to his team’s youth several times on Monday, noting the Spartans “have about nine seniors on scholarship.” One player Dantonio is expecting a lot from is QB Brian Lewerke, who he compared to Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook.

“He’s got game experience. He’s almost up to 220 pounds, he’s got a great arm, he’s very cool under pressure,” Dantonio said. “I think he understands our players. He knows our players very well, knows things schematically. I think he’s a very quick learner. He has all the attributes that we need to be an outstanding, championship-type quarterback.”

Translating recruiting success to on-field success for Maryland

D.J. Durkin has made big strides for Maryland on the recruiting trail over the last two classes. The Terps made a bowl game in his first year, but have a much tougher schedule in 2017. He knows it won’t be easy to make a jump in the Big Ten East standings with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the division.

“Our conference as a whole and obviously in our division, you can definitely make an argument it’s the most competitive there is out there,” Durkin said. “And we’re getting closer and closer every day. I think we’re recruiting at a level that will put us in the position we want to be in, which is we’re here to win championships. We’re here to compete, to win it. That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Results won’t come overnight.

“It’s a process. Football is an ultimate team sport. And to go through our schedule you’ve got to have depth on your roster. You’ve got to build your roster all the way down,” Durkin said. “We’re definitely not there yet in terms of where we want to be, but we’re certainly a lot closer, and I like where we’re at. I think we have a team we can go compete with anyone we play.”

Ferentz praises Sean Welsh

(AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

Kirk Ferentz’s press conference was very on-brand. It took less than a minute for the Iowa coach to bring up his kicking and punting battles in the same breath as his quarterback competition. He was also asked about an injured fullback, having two starting tight ends on the depth chart and playing Wyoming in the opener.

But Ferentz’s most intriguing answer came when he was asked about senior lineman Sean Welsh, who wrote an op-ed on the school website about managing his depression. To say Ferentz is proud of Welsh would be an understatement.

“I think it just speaks volumes about Sean as an individual, what a courageous young man he is. To watch him wage this fight the last couple of years has been more than impressive,” Ferentz said.

“We get to watch guys play football. It’s a tough, competitive game. But to watch a guy deal with an issue like this the way he has, is so important and so impressive. I really commend him for wanting to come forward.

“And it was all in the spirit of trying to help other people. Certainly depression doesn’t discriminate. Anybody is potentially vulnerable to it. I think him coming forward and handling it the way he did is so commendable and hopefully it helps other people down the road.”

Well said, Kirk.

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Sam Cooper is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!

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Penn State kicker Joey Julius no longer with team

Penn State kicker Joey Julius (99) is popular for delivering big hits on kickoffs. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Joey Julius will not play for Penn State in 2017.

A school spokesperson confirmed to PennLive.com that Julius, Penn State’s kickoff specialist who made highlight reels across the sport for delivering big hits on kickoffs, is not with the team. Julius, a redshirt junior, revealed in May that he had returned to treatment for an eating disorder. Julius disclosed last October that he was treated a previous time for binge eating disorder.

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In a May Facebook post, Julius explained why he missed PSU’s spring game.

“I have been struggling over the last couple months with my eating disorder. It got to the point where I had to return to St. Louis to seek further treatment at McCallum Place,”Julius wrote May 5. “Recovery is a wonderful and beautiful thing that I am working on returning too. For anyone out there that has similar struggles I hope you too can seek help in some way. Your feelings should be completely validated and I wish you all the best in your search for recovery. Just as an update I am doing well and the treatment is helping. There is light at the end of the tunnel. It is just a very long tunnel.”

Julius, who is listed at 5-foot-10 and 258 pounds on PSU’s roster, made 10-of-12 field goal attempts in 2015 but did not practice with the team the following spring. He returned for the start of the 2016 season and served as PSU’s kickoff specialist while Tyler Davis emerged as one of the Big Ten’s best field goal kickers. Julius caught the attention of the country by drilling ballcarriers with big hits against Kent State and Michigan.

After all of that attention, some of which surrounded him playing at a weight that is higher than the average kicker, Julius opened up about his eating disorder, saying it led to anxiety and depression in addition to his weight gain. First, he addressed it in a message posted on Facebook. He later spoke at length about it in a segment for Good Morning America.

On the field, Julius teamed with Davis to make up a very solid kicking duo. While Davis connected on 22-of-24 field goals, Julius averaged 62.1 yards per kickoff and registered 45 touchbacks. Julius has a much stronger leg than Davis, so Penn State may be forced to address the position with another player on its roster in 2017.

For more Penn State news, visit BlueWhiteIllustrated.com.

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Jim Delany confirms Big Ten's massive TV deal, adjustment to FCS scheduling policy

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany speaks at Big Ten NCAA college football Media Day in Chicago, Monday, July 24, 2017. (AP Photo/G-Jun Yam)

It took a while, but the Big Ten’s television arrangements are finally official.

At Big Ten Media Days Monday morning, commissioner Jim Delany confirmed — more than a year after it was first reported — that the conference has agreements in place with ESPN and Fox to continue to carry its games. Delany, who addressed reporters with representatives from both networks, did not confirm the monetary value of the deal, which is reported to be worth a whopping $2.64 billion.

“We couldn’t be more pleased. We’ve been with ESPN since its inception in 1979 and dealing with ABC all the way back to 1966,” Delany said. “With regard to Fox, they’re our joint venture partner, and (executive vice president) Larry (Jones) and I worked together on the back of a napkin to vision out Big Ten Network, and it has been a fabulous and successful ride. Six years ago, Fox Over the Air bought the rights to our championship game. And so to have them as a partner for the next six years is gratifying and exciting.”

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Delany said the delay in announcing the deal came to down to the finer details, especially with regard to scheduling.

“We really have labored in bringing our agreements to maturity. And it’s been very interesting, because if you go back, I guess, just 11 years, we had all of our rights under one umbrella, the ESPN umbrella. And with a dozen or so games with CBS,” Delany said.

“The management of the scheduling and the selection process was pretty straightforward. But when you add the Big Ten Network and then you add Fox and you add ESPN and CBS (in basketball), the selection process on the content is, I wouldn’t say tricky, but sensitive. And so as you move through discussions to achieve an agreement, any change in one area requires you to go back to others. And so it’s really just the elongation of getting the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted that has taken longer than we had anticipated.”

Fox Sports gets first pick with scheduling (you’ll see Ohio State vs. Michigan on Fox this fall), plus the conference title game. Delany said a lot of research and discussions with league members went into the scheduling philosophy with respect to broadcast partners and games being in primetime. Delany said the league’s “progress” with the amount of primetime games has advanced from the high teens into the low 20s.

“As we prepared for this negotiation, we not only did a lot of research but we spent a lot of time with our institutions to identify what they thought they could do in this area, because we weren’t about to sell something that we didn’t think we could do,” Delany said. “In concert with athletic directors and university presidents, each school sort of identified what they thought they could do. And from that we were able to identify what we were going to be able to do with our partners. So I expect there to be more primetime.”

Delany also confirmed that the league’s deal with Big Ten Network has been “restructured and extended through 2032.”

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In one other bit of news, Delany confirmed an adjustment to the league’s scheduling philosophy that emerged last week in an interview with North Dakota State athletic director Matt Larsen. Larsen told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that the Big Ten will once again allow its members to schedule games with FCS opponents. Delany confirmed this, adding that it can only be done during seasons where a team plays four conference home games.

Delany was clear about the league’s intentions when it decided two years ago not to allow FCS teams on schedules. However, there were some unforeseen consequences.

“We had adopted a policy of no FCS for a variety of reasons, including to enhance television and to strengthen packages for season ticket holders and also to enhance television product, and also to impress the College Football Playoff committee,” Delany said

“Now after watching things play out over the last three years, we noted that we were the only conference to go totally in that direction. We have never really gotten there because we had long existing contracts. When we went to nine (conference) games, we did not anticipate the problems that some of our schools would have in years that they only had four conference home games — it was very difficult for them to get three FBS opponents onto their schedules if they were looking for seven home games.”

Most games against FCS opponents turn into blowouts, but wins by North Dakota State (over Iowa) and Illinois State (over Northwestern) last season showed the quality of play at that level. Plus, playing FBS opponents can be a boon financially for smaller programs. It presents a cool opportunity for traveling fanbases, too, Larsen said.

“The best part of us is with the Big Ten, it’s the most geographical favorable footprint and they are the teams we would most prefer to play,” Larsen said. “There are a lot of Land Grant institutions and it gives our fan base more ability to travel.”

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Under construction South Alabama football facility collapses (Photos)

(AP Photo/Dan Anderson)

South Alabama hoped to open its new football practice facility later this year. That’s out of the question now.

The facility, which was still under construction, collapsed on Saturday. Athletic director Joel Erdmann, while saying no injuries occurred, showed the damage in a tweet.

Jaguar Training Center collapsed this afternoon – thankfully nobody hurt – incredible site – will be gathering information – Go Jags! pic.twitter.com/gdfdtXS27L

— Joel Erdmann (@JagsAD) July 22, 2017

The school later sent out the following statement:

“At approximately 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 22, the structure of the Jaguar Training Center, a covered athletics practice facility that is under construction on the University of South Alabama campus, fell within the construction limits of the site. No workers were present in that area at the time,” the statement said.

“University Police secured the scene of the event, which is under investigation. No determination has been made at this time about the cause.”

Here are a few more views of the damage:

BREAKING: @USAJaguarSports football practice facility collapsed about 2-3 hours ago. Latest details tonight on @LOCAL15NEWS pic.twitter.com/judTPwUttg

— Nicole Fierro (@FierroNicole) July 22, 2017

Very sad as a @USAJaguarSports alumna, the progress on the Jaguar Training Center has collapsed. @LOCAL15NEWS pic.twitter.com/uOQx8Iuhu0

— Alyssa Newton (@AlyssaKNewton) July 22, 2017

Erdmann told WKRG that school officials will evaluate what course of action to take next, including potentially trying to build the originally-planned structure, or to come up with a new design.

“What we’ll do is let some time pass and let the experts look at the situation. If there’s a need to adjust, then we’ll do that,” he said.

The 96,000-square-foot facility was being built to house a regulation size football field. Per Al.com, the hope was for it to open later this year, but recent weather “impacted the construction schedule.” It’s not yet known if weather played a factor in the collapse, though one South Alabama-affiliated account said it collapsed “during a thunderstorm.”

The Jaguar Training Center collapsed today during a heavy thunderstorm. Thankfully no one was hurt. We will have more information later. pic.twitter.com/mb13F4kFU1

— JagNation (@JagNationUSA) July 22, 2017

Here’s what the facility looked like less than two weeks ago:

Here is what the Jaguar Training Center looks like as we head into the weekend #JagNation #WeAreSouth pic.twitter.com/UfM3ZS3CPN

— USA Jaguar Athletics (@USAJaguarSports) July 14, 2017

Coming off a 6-7 record in 2016, the Jaguars open up at Ole Miss on Sept. 2.

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Michigan's Garrett Moores taking repeat bid for Holder of the Year very seriously (Video)

Just look at that form! (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Michigan’s Garrett Moores is looking to win one of college football’s most prestigious awards for the second year in a row.

Moores won the Holder of the Year Award last year and gave an incredibly moving acceptance speech.

Here is my full acceptance speech for the 2016 Mortell Holder of the Year Award. Thank you to @SonnyEquipment for the great video work!〽️ pic.twitter.com/PRpnw07s7z

— Garrett Moores (@gmoores11) December 9, 2016

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He is taking the idea of going back to back very seriously, even if coach Jim Harbaugh doesn’t acknowledge the award among Michigan’s greats.

Back to Back @MortellAward @CoachJim4UM pic.twitter.com/9NNjO9ALdi

— Garrett Moores (@gmoores11) July 20, 2017

The award, now in its third year of existence, was created by Minnesota’s Peter Mortell in 2015. Hilariously, he awarded to himself and it’s taken off from there.

“Your hands are too slow” they said.
“Your cadence has no rhythm” they said. This one’s for the state of Minnesota. pic.twitter.com/HkgGRK0aL1

— Peter Mortell (@PMortell1) December 1, 2015

Moores has a lot of competition in 2017. Just look at the array of talent on the watch list:

Not a single botched snap will go unnoticed.

For more Michigan news, visit TheWolverine.com.

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B.J. Emmons, top RB recruit in 2016, reportedly leaving Alabama

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

It’s easy to get buried on the depth chart at Alabama, even if you’re a top 50 recruit.

B.J. Emmons, Rivals.com’s top-rated running back in the class of 2016, showed flashes in limited action as a true freshman for the Tide, but was behind studs like Bo Scarbrough, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs in the running back pecking order.

Now, as first reported by Al.com, Emmons is leaving the program. TideSports.com also reported the news. 

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Emmons, the No. 33 overall prospect in 2016, gained 173 yards and scored one touchdown on 35 attempts during his lone season with the Tide. He also caught two passes for 20 yards. Emmons, who appeared in seven games, had his season cut short by a foot injury. The injury limited his practice time during the spring, but he was expected to be a full participant when preseason camp began.

If Emmons’ transfer comes to fruition (he appears to have acknowledged it on Twitter), he will have plenty of suitors for his services. Of course, if he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to redshirt in 2017. If he drops down to the junior college level, he could play immediately.

Nonetheless, Emmons could make a big impact wherever he lands provided his health is in order.

[More college football from Yahoo Sports: 20 non-conference games to look forward to in 2017]

Even with Emmons moving on, Harris (1,040 yards, 2 TDs), postseason hero Scarbrough (812 yards, 13 TDs) and Jacobs (564 yards, 4 TDs) will all return. Quarterback Jalen Hurts, second on the team last year with 954 yards and a team-leading 13 touchdowns, returns for his sophomore season as well. Oh, and the Tide also signed two more running backs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson, in the 2017 class.

Harris’ ranking is alright.

(Rivals.com)

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In addition to the departure of Emmons, Al.com is reporting that cornerback Aaron Robinson will also transfer. Robinson played in 13 games as a freshman and finished the year with five tackles. He worked with the second-team defense during spring ball.

Alabama opens its season Sept. 2 against Florida State in Atlanta.

For more Alabama news, visit BamaInsider.com.

ESPN to air documentary series on Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck

P.J. Fleck was introduced as Minnesota’s head coach in January. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Gather your oars, P.J. Fleck is coming to your television screen later this summer.

ESPN announced Thursday it will air a four-part series documenting Fleck in the lead up to his first season as the head coach at Minnesota. The show will follow Fleck documentary-style, giving college football fans a behind-the-scenes look at his coaching style — and his quick rise in the profession.

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Check out the trailer below:

“To no surprise, P.J. is all heart, all the time, no matter what he is doing, no matter what time of day,” said co-executive producer Bo Mattingly. “Throughout the filming, which continues for a few more weeks, we capture his personality, passion and drive with his family, his team and others he interacts with in various situations.”

[More college football from Yahoo Sports: 20 impact transfers for 2017]

The first episode of “BEING P.J. Fleck” will air on ESPNU on Wednesday, Aug. 2, at 9 p.m. ET. The other episodes will air the following three Wednesdays: Aug. 9, 16 and 23.

Fleck, just 36, was hired by Minnesota in January after leading Western Michigan to an undefeated regular season. Fleck engineered an impressive turnaround at WMU. In his first season, 2013, the Broncos won just one game. WMU followed that up with eight-win seasons and bowl appearances in 2014 and 2015 before its historic run through the MAC in 2016.

The Broncos went 12-0 in the regular season and made it 13-0 by winning the MAC title game. WMU was the Group of 5 representative in the New Year’s Six bowl games, but lost to Wisconsin 24-16 in the Cotton Bowl. Less than a week later, he was introduced as Minnesota’s coach.

[More college football from Yahoo Sports: 20 non-conference games to look forward to in 2017]

Fleck is known for his intense style, especially the mantra, “Row the Boat.” Western Michigan actually had a trademark on the phrase but gave it over to Fleck after some negotiating. As part of the release of the slogan, Fleck will make a yearly gift of $10,000 to WMU. That money will go toward the scholarship of a WMU football player.

Minnesota will begin its first season under Fleck against Buffalo at home on Thursday, Aug. 31.

For more Minnesota news, TheGopherReport.com.

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Schools with tiger mascots teaming up to save wild tiger populations

Mike VI, LSU’s live tiger mascot, died in October. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Tigers gotta stick together, right?

Clemson announced earlier this week that it is partnering with other schools with Tiger mascots — Auburn, LSU and Missouri — in an initiative to save populations of tigers around the world.

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“Students, faculty and alumni chant ‘Go Tigers’ on a daily basis, but not many know the truth about the animal we hold so dear,” said Brett Wright, the dean of Clemson’s College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences. “These universities share the tiger mascot and benefit from that majestic symbol of strength, dignity and beauty, so they share a moral responsibility to apply all of our resources to save the animal that inspires that symbol.”

The effort was started by Clemson president James P. Clements, who serves on the Global Tiger Initiative Council, which has a goal of doubling the population of tigers in the wild over the next five years. In 2016, the tiger population was on the incline “for the first time in 100 years,” Clemson’s release said.

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The estimated total of tigers remaining in the wild, however, is just 3,900. Approximately two-thirds of that total live in India.

These schools joining together has the potential to make an impact.

“Each of our institutions possess various academic disciplines important to the future of tiger conservation and protection,” said Janaki Alavalapati, dean of Auburn’s School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences. “This is an obvious example of the need for multi-disciplinary contribution, not just across colleges and departments, but across universities.”

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Clemson’s announcement says the four schools will pool their resources together to implement technology to monitor tigers while participating in research projects.

Wright said the consortium will focus on several avenues to achieve its goal, including research that supports evidence-based decision-making by conservation professionals. Participating universities also have planned strategic communications to raise awareness of the worldwide problem with their many stakeholders.

As far as concrete action that can take place in countries where tiger populations are most affected, Wright and Alavalapati hope to create the next generation of conservation leaders through university-supported academic scholarships and assistantships. Participating universities will equip these leaders with means to make direct change where it is needed across the globe. There will also be an emphasis on the application of technology that will allow monitoring and data analysis related to wild tiger populations.

Of the four schools involved, LSU is the only to have had a live tiger mascot. The most recent, Mike VI, died in October after a bout with spindle cell sarcoma, a rare cancer. He was 11.

We are deeply saddened to have lost our beloved live Tiger mascot, @MikeTigerVI, after a 4-month battle with cancer. https://t.co/zSy3T7BCCY pic.twitter.com/RKF9mAdBip

— LSU Tigers (@LSUsports) October 11, 2016

The school said in January it hopes to complete its search for Mike VII by August when renovations to the school’s tiger habitat are scheduled to be completed. Unlike with its previous tiger mascots, LSU said it will not bring Mike VII into Tiger Stadium.

“Responsible care for live exotic animals has evolved throughout the years, and LSU has evolved with it, as evidenced by the renovations to the tiger habitat in 1981 and the construction of an entirely new habitat in 2004-05,” the school said. “In that vein, LSU has decided that the tiger will not go into Tiger Stadium on home football game days. He will be out in his yard seven days a week. By having Mike in his yard on game days, it ensures that fans are able to see him throughout the day.”

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