Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Three Key Players For Illinois

June 29, 2015 by  
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The offensive line will have to make huge strides for Illinois to take the next step in 2015.

We kick off Illinois week of our Big Ten preview coverage with a look at the guys that will factor the most into success, or lack thereof, for the Illini this season.

Wes Lunt, Junior Quarterback

Lunt played well at times last season and showed that he has the ability to make all of the throws, but poor offensive line play (more on them, later) caused him to run around the pocket scared at times and it really held back his progress.

He will have to figure out a way to deal with it, because it is not going to get better. He needs to make quicker decisions with the football and make better reads at the line of scrimmage.

Geronimo Allison, Senior Wide Receiver

Allison will have a big part in giving Illinois an efficient passing attack. He is a true deep threat that at 6-foot-4 also gives the Illini a great redzone target, as well.

The Offensive Line

Again, I am sure at first glance this looks like a copout, but this entire unit is paramount to the program taking the next step under Tim Beckman. Teddy Karras, Joe Spencer and Austin Schmidt all return and need to be better than average for the team to show a little diversity offensively

Monday Michigan Recruiting Roundup: Rashan Gary Visit Recap

June 29, 2015 by  
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In this edition, we take a look at how the nation's top prospect felt about his visit to Michigan and a pair of targets that have set decision dates.

It was a fairly slow weekend on the recruiting trail compared to recent weeks, but there were some notable headlines to come out of the last few days.

We will start with Rashan Gary (Paramus, New Jersey), 2016's top prospect, and his visit to Ann Arbor over the weekend. The five-star defensive tackle was on campus with his mother and I was able to confirm with a few sources that the visit was an overwhelming success.

It has long been reported that Gary's mother is going to be a huge factor in the process, as well. By all accounts, she would definitely sign off on Michigan if that is what the decision comes to.

The other thing that Michigan fans will enjoy reading is that it also appears his visit to Ohio State was not a good one and went the opposite way of his trip to Ann Arbor. OSU has not really been a factor to this point anyways, and I do not expect them to be much going forward, barring something crazy happening.

Michigan appears to be the front-runner from the intel that I have gathered, but do not expect his recruitment to end anytime soon. Schools all across the nation will continue to be coming after Gary hard. This is a process that very well could drag all the way until National Signing Day 2016, but we will continue to preach patience here.

Michigan is in a great position to land the second big fish from New Jersey in three cycles, the other being Jabrill Peppers.

Upshur sets a date

Four-star 2016 tight end Naseir Upshur (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) will commit to a school on Aug. 8, according to Rivals.com's Adam Friedman.

Upshur's visit to Ann Arbor last week seems to have been a huge success as well. Some thought he may pull the trigger on Michigan during his visit, which Wolverine247 is reporting actually almost happened. ($)

Aug. 8 is not that far away, but it can be a lifetime on the recruiting trail. Still, it would be a big surprise if Upshur did not commit to Michigan when the time comes.

Hawkins decision coming Friday

Four-star 2016 wide receiver Brad Hawkins (Camden, New Jersey) is reportedly making his college decision this Friday, where the Wolverines are expect to be the school that is chosen.

The other school in the mix for his services is South Carolina.

The 247 Crystal Ball reads 80 percent in favor of Michigan. It is not a science by any means, but usually serves as a way to see which way a recruit is trending. I made my pick for Hawkins to Michigan over the weekend.

NHL Draft Day Two Recap

June 27, 2015 by  
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Four Michigan recruits were selected on day 2 of the NHL draft.

Draft Selections

Brendan Warren: Arizona. Pick 81 (3rd rd).

Of the four players drafted on day two, Brendan Warren was drafted right where he was expected to be picked. The speedy winger was taken with the 20th pick of the third round and 81st overall. 

The Coyotes get a high motor forward with blazing speed and a great work ethic.

Joe Cecconi: Dallas. Pick 133 (5th rd).

Joe Cecconi went off the board to Dallas in the 5th round.

Cecconi is a defensive defenseman who can play high minutes and match up against a team's top line, something he will get started on early at Michigan where openings on the blueline will give him Top-4 minutes from the beginning.

Cooper Marody: Philadelphia. Pick 158 (6th rd).

I had thought Marody would be selected in the 3rd or 4th round. Central Scouting had him at 53, but he fell down into the 6th to the Flyers. They got a deal here.

Marody will fit well in Philadelphia; he's a high motor, high compete level winger with great speed and solid stick skills.

Marody was going to spend another year in Sioux Falls, but after a pair of early departures he will head to Michigan for next season.

Nick Boka: Minnesota. Pick 171 (6th round).

Boka was a player with his stock rising towards the end of the year going from 197 to 117 in the Final CSS Rankings, but Boka slid into the tail end of the 6th round to the Wild.

Boka is a strong two-way defenseman who can handle higher minutes. He skates well and has the vision to carry the puck through the neutral zone.

Like Cecconi, Boka is in line for a major role when he arrives at Michigan.

2015 NHL Draft Coverage: First Round Recap

June 27, 2015 by  
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Zach Werenski and Kyle Connor have been drafted into the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Winnipeg Jets organizations, respectively.

To put it lightly, it was a loud evening full of boos and cheers at the BB&T Center, as one of the best generational talents in years, Connor McDavid, became a member of the Edmonton Oilers.

As I recapped last night via vlog, the draft was absolutely nuts, but Michigan had a stupendous evening and proved a few things in the process.

Zach Werenski - 8th Overall, Columbus Blue Jackets

I love this pick for Columbus. After losing out on the Mike Reilly sweepstakes, the Blue Jackets will get a college defenseman who is starting look like less and less of a college player by the day in terms of maturity, size, and talent.

It's not often that I project my opinions about players in posts (nor is it often that I write in the first person), but the Blue Jackets desperately need defensemen from every single direction, and Werenski is a huge get after Provorov slid off the board at seventh.

What Columbus has here is a defender, who is a tad bit of a project, but can work all areas of the ice and be a serviceable top-four guy. They don't have that currently after trading James Wisniewski and allowing Jack Johnson to be their be-all end-all blue-liner. Jack Johnson just isn't all that great (highly overrated) and isn't going to trend upward anytime soon. With rumors floating that the Blue Jackets would be willing to part with some forward prospects in order to get D, they'll be able to relax a bit now on that front and take another look should the need arise.

Zach goes to a blooming organization, gets at least a Michigan connection (though for how long we shall see) in Johnson, and an opportunity to join a sound organization should he choose to leave Michigan in the immediate future. If not, the Blue Jackets will be even better by the time he joins them further down the road.

Kyle Connor - 17th Overall, Winnipeg Jets

Coincidentally, after randomly picking seats in the stands, the second half of the SB Nation draft crew wound up sitting next to some of Kyle Connor's Extended family. He was extraordinarily close to going to Detroit, his hometown team, but the Jets nabbed him instead:

I'm seriously questioning as to how many full-time Winnipeg scouts live in Ann Arbor, considering that every one of their picks has either done time with the US National Team Development Program or is an active roster player/commit to the University of Michigan: Trouba, Copp, and now Roslovic and Connor to name a few.

Adding Kyle Connor that low in the draft is a home-run for Winnipeg. He's an easy kid to be high on, but he adds to an immensely well-balanced and deep prospect pool. The Jets are that team that really has to rely especially on the draft thanks to its lack of appeal in trades and its small market, apparently turnoffs for players. (Would you voluntarily live in -50 F temperatures to play hockey when you could play in California on a contender or two?)

However, Connor is far from an insurance policy. While appearing on Broome & Henschke in addition to Joe's in-depth preview, he was highlighted as a guy who can do pretty much anything you ask of him. He appears all over the ice, has wonderful hands, and can make plays at any given turn. He'll fit in just fine north of the border, no matter how many relatives disapprove of the snow.

For Northwestern, Two Familiar Demons

June 26, 2015 by  
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Have the demons that led to two 5-7 finishes been exorcized? We break down Northwestern's chances in 2015.

If you spend time listening to Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, he'll often come back to the intangible of 'attitude.' "Sometimes you have to embrace the suck," he said after a particularly poor performance against Iowa, a 48-7 demolition this past November. And, two weeks later, Northwestern was punching well above its weight by giving Notre Dame a kick in the rear on its way out of the Big Ten schedules. It was a great game, one that reminded fans why they had placed hope in Fitzgerald in the first place. Two weeks after that, though, the Wildcats were getting deconstructed by in-state rival Illinois, and failed to earn a bowl game.

Obviously, Northwestern's ceiling is higher with Pat Fitzgerald than it was before he originally made it to Evanston as a player. But the issue with Fitz's teams has been consistency, something he always seems to preach in lunch-pail fashion. But for a man who preaches it so heavily, consistency has not been a calling card of Fitz's regime.

Perhaps it's the lens through which he sees the game: as a game of one-on-one matchups. In a way, it's a forward-thinking approach, and Fitz's offense has gotten a lot of mileage out of putting the ball in an athlete's hands and asking him to beat the first defender. But something has been missing. The Wildcats have been haunted by two ghosts: a group of linemen that has failed at carrying the load, and a roster that lacks the depth they need. Those two shortfalls have led to the team's inconsistency; they have hovered in the background at least as much as unionization, and been much more deadly.

The good news is that, going forward, one of Northwestern's demons is looking like it's fading away. The other ... well, not so much.

Quarterbacks

According to Pat Fitzgerald, the quarterback race is wide open, but that may just be his attempt at motivating his players. Clayton Thorson, a redshirt freshman, will compete against Zack Oliver (who started in Trevor Siemian's absence last year) and Matt Alviti - but make no mistake, this is Thorson's battle to lose. Alviti has thrown four passes in his career for no yards, and run the ball nine times for one yard. Oliver, meanwhile, started and also underwhelmed against Purdue last year, and he has not shown the leadership that Fitzgerald wants from his quarterback. Both Thorson and Alviti have been elected as team leaders for 2015, but Oliver was not.

Even without any college experience, Thorson brings a lot to the table: good athleticism for a 6'4", 210-pound quarterback, plus he throws very well on the run. In his high school film, he's at his best when his first read is open. if there are tight windows, or Thorson is throwing the ball far downfield, bad things can happen. That will only escalate when Thorson debuts against Big Ten competition, though hopefully the redshirt year has helped to slow down the game for him. Fitz will probably try to keep the offense on the simpler side, rolling Thorson one way or the other and running him up the middle to challenge every part of the defense. Against disciplined and athletic defenses, though, Northwestern will struggle.

Running backs

Justin Jackson is a terrific player, a small scrappy engine who gets yards after contact and moves the chains. If the spirit of Ameer Abdullah is still in the Big Ten, Jackson has it.

(Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports)

After Jackson, though, experience is minimal. Warren Long is a better back than his 4.1-yard average would indicate, but he is mistyped in this offense. Long will need to weave through a lot of backfield traffic, and he takes too long to get up to speed. He can lower his shoulder and drive the pile, and he can outrun some people, but the immediate stop-start isn't there.

More likely to stand out is redshirt freshman Auston Anderson, who has more of the stop-and-start that will get him out of bad plays and into positive gains. He's an explosive athlete who gives Northwestern some valuable depth and upside.

Pass catchers

Last year, this was an underrated unit with Kyle Prater leading the way. Now, both Prater and Tony Jones are gone, and the best hope for a game-breaker comes with a healthy return by Christian Jones. Jones, you might remember, tore his ACL right before the 2014 season started, and he's since had injury complications to his knee. Jones caught 54 passes for 668 yards two seasons ago, and he's now a senior hoping for an NFL shot. The 6'3", 225-pound player is a genuine candidate to be drafted - if he can regain his explosiveness.

After that, explosiveness will be hard to come by with this group. Miles Shuler is a genuine game-breaker who hasn't really been used yet, a former four-star with a great catch rate. However, he has just 261 career receiving yards as a senior for some reason. Dan Vitale is a reliable target at superback (which is basically a tight end in Northwestern's system), and he has a good backup in Jayme Taylor. Mike McHugh and Cameron Dickerson made it onto the field last year, but for them to really make a difference, they'll need some real improvement. A couple of young guys - Solomon Vault or Pierre Youngblood-Ary - might steal some reps and give this unit some dimension.

As it stands, though, this group is at least a bigger, more physical unit than most teams in the Big Ten. Between Jones, Vitale, Cam Dickerson, Taylor, and McHugh, Pat Fitzgerald has five guys who will likely play heavy minutes and average 6'3", 220. With screens, sweeps, and outside zone runs, Northwestern should be able to mitigate their offensive line weaknesses and use outside blocks to spring big gains.

Offensive line

I'll keep this part anonymous because there isn't a lot of positive stuff to say. Plus, the line's problems are pretty universal. This is one of the most bland units in the conference. Three regulars have graduated, but none of them were particularly good. The ones who return, also, were average at best. And with the prototypes that Fitz has filled his line with, I'm not sure whether there's a much higher ceiling in 2015.

Fitz likes his linemen to be mobile, with the idea that a mobile unit can attack any part of a defense with numbers at any time. That way, he can also get away with recruiting undersized linemen. The problem is, these guys might be 'mobile,' but they're not athletic or strong. They'll struggle to make a key block in the open field. They don't have the flexibility to use low pad level, so even one-on-one matchups with linebackers are not necessarily a win for the line. It's also easy for defenders to keep the second level clean, so the line rarely springs a big hole for the running back. The biggest weakness, by far, is a lack of strength. Even smaller linemen can carry a big pop, but these guys don't.

(Credit: Jonathan Daniel-Getty Images)

Can they get better? Some more time in the weight room is a must, but they'll also need some time in a yoga room. This is a deeper issue than experience or technique, and it's likely that this will be the weakest link of the team going forward. I like some of their younger prospects, but we'll see how they develop over the next few years.

Defensive line

The defense was strong in 2014, and it should be again. The defensive line is a pretty anonymous bunch that goes two or three deep throughout the game. This is a standard Big Ten unit - strong against the run, not great at rushing the passer, with heavier than normal defensive ends they can throw at the run game. The exception is Ifeadi Odenigbo, a former four-star, 240-pound defensive end who can pin his ears back and pile up sacks. He got 3 sacks as a sophomore reserve last year, ceding a majority of the snaps to Max Chapman and Dean Lowry. But if there's one real candidate to be the Big Ten's next Randy Gregory - who went from anonymous one year to superstar the next - Odenigbo is a good pick.

Greg Kuhar is another potential star, simply one of the better nose tackles the league has to offer. He has ceded a lot of snaps to Xavier Washington, Deonte Gibson, and C.J. Robbins, but Kuhar is one of the more nimble 310-pounders you'll find. He has the strength to bull rush, but also has the technique to shed his man and make a tackle on a passing running back. Both of these guys have gotten lost in a deep rotation, but they have pedigree (both blue-chips) and good play-making.

There may be other reasons why they didn't play more in 2015, but I think it was an emphasis on gap integrity rather than disruption at the line. Fitz and Hankwitz tried to use their defensive line as a way to keep their linebackers free and let others make plays, but I think they should protect the defensive line with more speed (I'll get to that in a minute) and let Kuhar and Odenigbo run free.

Linebackers

Most of last year's snaps are now gone, with Collis Ellis, Chi Chi Ariguzo, and Jimmy Hall moving on. Anthony Walker is back, and he's another on this defense who should soon be a star. But who else will step up? Drew Smith is a speedy, 220-pound SAM in the same mold as Jimmy Hall. But after that, it's a whole bunch of questions.

Joseph Jones had 4.5 tackles last year, mostly on special teams. Jaylen Prater had three. Brett Walsh had two. There's a slew of freshmen, one of whom might step up (Nathan Fox, perhaps?). Still, Fitzgerald and defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz might want to think pretty hard about playing a whole lot of nickel formations. In fact, given what they have in the backfield, that would have been a good idea even if they had better depth at linebacker.

Defensive backfield

I like this unit, and they have the potential to be better. Matthew Harris and Nick VanHoose are fast and competitive at cornerback, and Godwin Igwebuike and Traveon Henry are a good duo at safety. Quietly, this is one of the more athletic backfields in the Big Ten, particularly the trio of Harris, VanHoose, and Igwebuike. They're not quite tall enough, not quite as much speed as you'd see in elite backfields, but if there was sounder play from the linebackers, these guys would have made a lot of plays last year.

There's also some athleticism on its way up. Parrker Westphal is a former four-star recruit, and both Kyle Queiro and Keith Watkins II were high-three-stars. Northwestern likes speed, and they'll have plenty of it this year and in the future.

And, that future should come sooner rather than later. There were times last year when an offense would use the secondary's aggression against them - flooding one side with passing routes, then slipping a player into the other side for a big gain. Again, these guys don't have elite speed. They're aggressive, ballsy defenders who weren't protected or helped by the front seven. And it was too easy for offenses to use that aggressiveness against them.

Looking ahead to 2015, I think Pat Fitzgerald and Mike Hankwitz should consider moving Traveon Henry up into the box and playing a five-man defensive backfield. This defense has a chance to be more disruptive and more disciplined, and I think they can get that by having speed in the box. Run defense will be a problem for a smaller defense, but their athletes at linebacker were a bit susceptible to overplaying one side or getting stuck in the wash, anyway. Now, with a veteran cast of linebackers moving on, the question becomes: if you're going to be aggressive, why not do it with the four-star speed you're collecting in the backfield, rather than the two-star and three-star linebackers with even less experience? It will protect the depth at linebacker and give the staff more time to train their young guys.

This summer will be a chance for Fitzgerald and Hankwitz to see how the young guys develop, and also determine how good their linebacking corps can be. Any changes they make would, of course, hinge on those assessments. But I wouldn't be surprised if they opted for more nickel packages, letting the speed in the back seven protect the play-making of Odenigbo and Kuhar up front.

Of course, then again this staff might not do that. Fitzgerald has been averse to changes before, and Kuhar and Odenigbo didn't get a lot of playing time last year because they didn't fit what he was looking for. How flexible can Fitz be? What will this defense try to do? It's something to watch.

Overall, this is a team with better depth and growing athleticism, and that spells a rebound in 2015. There are still flaws, particularly at linebacker and the offensive line, and those will hold Northwestern back. But 2015 has a chance to be a very good season, and also a chance to regain momentum. After a nightmarish ride the last two years, the Wildcats definitely need it.

Poll
Does Northwestern win 8 games this year?

  0 votes | Results

Friday Michigan Recruiting Roundup: Wolverines Get Better On Both Sides Of Ball This Week

June 26, 2015 by  
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In this edition, we recap Michigan's most recent commitments in Ron Johnson and Devery Hamilton.

Michigan's 2016 football recruiting class continued to grow this week with commitments from a pair of players that will factor into the rotation on the trenches, one on offense and one on defense.

The first was on Wednesday with the commitment of four-star offensive tackle Devery Hamilton (Baltimore, Maryland). Here's a snippet of what he brings to the table:

He is an athletic tackle prospect and does a really nice job of moving laterally in all facets of run and pass blocking. Hamilton is quick off of the snap of the ball and is able to gain leverage on blockers and lower his pad level regardless of his big frame.

The thing that sticks out most about Hamilton is his footwork. He is much farther along in that aspect of his game than a lot of other tackle prospects I have seen in this class. That, coupled with increased size and strength once he gets on campus could make him a candidate for early playing time. He has the look of a guy who could play just about anywhere he gets slotted on the offensive line.

Michigan now has two possible left tackles of the future in this class with Hamilton and Ben Bredeson. One or both should be able to pan out and be a huge difference maker on the line for the Wolverines.

Following the commitment of Khalid Kareem to Alabama, you would have thought Michigan's recruiting class was dead and the staff forgot how to recruit. That obviously is not the case, and they brought in a very good defensive end just a day later in four-star prospect Ron Johnson (Camden, New Jersey).

We did a quick analysis on him shortly following his commitment, as well:

He has a big frame that has room to add some good weight throughout his college career. Johnson displays great raw strength and has a very quick first step off of the snap of the football. He is very good against the run, using his upper-body strength to throw blockers around and get into the backfield.

As a pass-rusher, he is still a bit raw and he gets caught with a high pad level at times, but he has the athleticism and has shown some good pass rush moves on his tape.

Johnson is a hard-hitter and shows good pursuit when chasing around the ball carrier. Right now, he sort of gets by on his physical tools, but should continue to develop throughout the next few years.

Recent Offers

A few notable offers have gone out in the last few days, starting with 2016 with a pledge extended to defensive end Antonneous Clayton (Vienna, Georgia).

Clayton is a four-star prospect and ninth-ranked defensive end in the class, per the 247 Composite.

Moving on to 2017, where Michigan offered a visiting center prospect in four-star Cesar Ruiz out of New Jersey.

Quick Analysis: What 2016 DE Ron Johnson Brings To Michigan

June 25, 2015 by  
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Taking a look at what the four-star prospect from Camden, NJ will bring to the program.

Michigan football received its 20th commitment of the 2016 recruiting cycle on Thursday afternoon in the form of defensive end Ron Johnson out of Camden, New Jersey.

It was a nice rebound for the Wolverines after losing out on in-state prospect Khalid Kareem to Alabama earlier this week. At 6-foot-4, he is a four-star prospect and the 14th-ranked weak side defensive end in the class, according to the 247 Composite ranking.

He has a big frame that has room to add some good weight throughout his college career. Johnson displays great raw strength and has a very quick first step off of the snap of the football. He is very good against the run, using his upper-body strength to throw blockers around and get into the backfield.

As a pass-rusher, he is still a bit raw and he gets caught with a high pad level at times, but he has the athleticism and has shown some good pass rush moves on his tape.

Johnson is a hard-hitter and shows good pursuit when chasing around the ball carrier. Right now, he sort of gets by on his physical tools, but should continue to develop throughout the next few years.

Big Ten Football Preview 2015: Northwestern’s season outlook

June 25, 2015 by  
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Justin Jackson leads Northwestern entering 2015 season

For the second consecutive year, Northwestern finished with a 5-7 record.

But unlike 2013, last season featured wins against big foes in Notre Dame, Penn State and Wisconsin.

So where does Northwestern go from here? We examine the Wildcats in our season outlook.

Jackson Time

Remember Justin Jackson's name. You'll hear it a lot this year.

Northwestern's quarterback position is up in the air, but one thing is for certain: Jackson will carry the load at running back.

Jackson totaled 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns as a true freshman last season. He finished fourth among Power Five school rookies in all purpose yards per game last season (98.9).

Jackson could be even better, perhaps becoming one of the top backs in the Big Ten, behind an offensive line that retains three starters (Matt Frazier, Eric Olson and Geoff Mogus)

Key returnees

Besides Jackson and Northwestern's three returning starters on the offensive line, several productive players are on the Wildcats' roster.

Fifth-year senior Cameron Dickerson returns at wide receiver after making seven starts in 2014. He had 318 reception yards and a touchdown, and should be a solid target for whomever starts at quarterback.

Led by seniors Traveon Henry and Nick VanHoose, four defensive backs, all with starting experience in 2014, return.

Henry totaled 73 tackles last season while VanHoose had 59 tackles and two interceptions.

Junior Matthew Harris had 70 tackles and started all 12 of Northwestern's games in 2014. Godwin Igwebuike made five starts and compiled 51 tackles and three interceptions at safety.

Anthony Walker started seven games as a redshirt freshman last season, totaling 51 tackles (30 for losses) and two interceptions (one pick six). He should be a solid asset at linebacker in 2015.

To-do list

It's pretty obvious; Northwestern has to find a quarterback. Not a fantastic one, but a competent signal caller that can hand the ball to Jackson and compliment his abilities.

The Wildcats should rely on the run game in 2015. With three returning starters on the offensive line and Jackson, the team is built for just that.

At quick glance, the team was in the middle of the pack in most stat categories. Northwestern was not awful last season; it beat three bowl eligible teams. But losing winnable games definitely hurt.

The schedule

Sept. 5 vs. Stanford
Sept. 12 vs. Eastern Illinois
Sept. 19 at Duke
Sept. 26 vs. Ball State
Oct. 3 vs. Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Michigan
Oct. 17 vs. Iowa (Homecoming)
Oct. 24 at Nebraska
Nov. 7 vs. Penn State
Nov. 14 vs. Purdue
Nov. 21 at Wisconsin
Nov. 28 at Illinois

Three years ago, Northwestern won its first bowl game since the 1940s. The Wildcats have a shot to return to a bowl game in 2015 after a pair of five-win seasons. But they'll have to ride the Justin Jackson train to do so.

Wins: Eastern Illinois, Ball State, Iowa, Purdue, Illinois

Losses: Stanford, Duke, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin

Toss up: Minnesota, Nebraska

Poll
Northwestern had three upsets in 2014. Which team could it most likely upset this season?

  1 votes | Results

NHL Draft Preview: Kyle Connor

June 25, 2015 by  
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Name: Kyle Connor

Position: Wing/Center

Team: Youngstown (USHL)

2014-15 Stats: 34-46--80, 56 games played

Measurables: 6'1", 180 lbs

CSS Rankings: Final: 13. Midterm: 14

The Rundown

I've seen Kyle Connor play close to a dozen times over the past three years and he has been everything as advertised and more.

Connor has it all; elite stick skills, high end speed and no shortage of offensive creativity. He's a defensemans' worst nightmare 1-on-1 using that elusive extra gear and a flawless stride to carve through the neutral zone.

In-zone Connor is just as lethal as he is in transition. The kind of player who can maneuver in tight spaces and always finds himself in a scoring position.

What has impressed me most is that every time I see him play Connor had improved a part of his game.

Two years ago Kyle Connor was a dynamic scorer; this year he played at center and wing and used his speed to become a vicious forechecker, he made huge strides to his two-way game and the Phantoms even used him as a penalty killer where he scored shorthanded three times.

All of these improvements came without hindering his scoring and he led the league with eighty points taking home USHL Player of the Year honors, Forward of the Year and was named the Dave Tyler Junior Player of the Year.

Up next Connor will head to Michigan for the 2015-16 season.

NHL Draft Projection

In any other year Connor would be a sure Top-10 draft pick. He could slip into that range if a few other prospects drop, but if not I don't see Connor lasting past pick 16. Teams drafting in that 10-15 range as of now are the Avalanche, Florida, Dallas, Los Angeles, Boston and the Calgary Flames.

Thursday Morning Brews (6/25/15)

June 25, 2015 by  
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More season previews, a quiet addition at Penn State, and a slow end to the week. Still, we're partying like it's 1999.

Hitting the Links Loves Old-School Window Fans

Jalin Marshall's Rise To Starting H-Back

Dontre Wilson has his work cut out to take back the position from Marshall. Marshall was born with speed and balance, but it was his good decision-making and a love of contact that made him effective.

Pac-12 Discussing Improved Player Health Care

Simply, this is wonderful. There are a mountain of details to sort out, but this is a firm step in the right direction.

Former NFLer Jim Haslett Will Be A Consultant For Penn State

As this article states, Haslett is a nice addition that might take over the defensive coordinator position if Bob Shoop jumps ship next year.

Benjamin St-Juste, Wolverine | Devery Hamilton, Wolverine

In his first full recruiting cycle, Harbaugh has started to show us what he's looking for. At cornerback, you can usually throw rankings out the window - all of his recruits in the secondary have been two- or three-stars. On the offensive line, and at quarterback, Harbaugh has pulled in four and two blue-chips, respectively.

Jay Cutler, Elvis Grbac Praise Harbaugh

Ann Arbor has been turning into a Michigan branch of Hollywood, with rappers, famous quarterbacks, and national reporters all flying in and out. The city was already a unique blend of different styles, and it's still changing.

SB Nation's Louisville PreviewPlenty Other Impact Transfers In ACC

Devonte Fields was kicked off TCU's team last July after he pointed a gun at his girlfriend and threatened her. However, the assault charge stemming from that got dismissed upon the completion of a simple anger management course. Now, he'll have an opportunity at redemption.

SB Nation's Clemson Preview

Dabo Swinney is, already, fourth all-time in wins as Clemson's head coach, but he was originally an odd choice for interim head coach when Tommy Bowden stepped down in 2008. Swinney was an assistant head coach but not a coordinator, and he was selected in part because of his success in recruiting. In his first two weeks, Swinney fired his offensive coordinator, added the Tiger Walk to Clemson's pre-game traditions, invited the entire student body to a practice under the slogan "All In" (1,000 people showed up), and took his players to the Greenville Children's Hospital. He would end up as the first interim head coach in almost 30 years to post a winning record, and just the second to successfully have the "interim" tag removed and stay the next year.

Over the next couple years, Swinney brought in two unbelievably successful coordinators. First, he grabbed a high school coach in Chad Morris, who revolutionized the Clemson offense before leaving this off-season to take the head coaching job at SMU. The other was Brent Venables, an old pal of Bob Stoops who had spent 13 years at Oklahoma, and had to get recruited by Swinney to leave his comfort zone. After a rough start, Venables admitted he's thankful now for the move. Both assistants have revolutionized expectations on their side of the ball.

Now, Swinney has to replace one of those coordinators. The new co-offensive coordinators - Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott - are anonymous, internal promotions, and were once teammates at Clemson at the same position, wide receiver. According to Dabo, who's a former wide receiver and wide receiver coach himself, this is an opportunity to promote and keep a pair of talented assistants.

"These are two of the brightest young coaches in the business," Swinney said. "They have had a huge impact on our offense when it comes to the overall game plan, game day decisions, coaching their positions, and have also been big reasons for our recruiting success."

With the offense already established, Scott and Elliott will have to get the run game re-established, at least enough so that five-star QB Deshaun Watson can play-action to his all-star cast of receivers.

SB Nation's Virginia Tech Preview

There are questions about the whole offense, where every position seems to be growing up and taking some licks along the way. But the true challenge is the offensive line. Michael Brewer was sacked 30 times last year, and the running backs struggled to get to the next level. There are more than a few exciting skill players, but the line has to improve in a hurry if they want to beat Ohio State.

Third ACL Tear For Illinois This Off-Season

It's been a rough off-season for the Illini. They're also currently ranked 55th in 2016 recruiting, which is completely expected and understandable given the cloud that's surrounded Tim Beckman.

Smooth Sailing So Far For Kenny Hill

TCU has accepted some dubious transfers of their own, but Patterson has a good reputation built up, and he is approaching this the right way.

Changes Coming For Rutgers, But How Soon?

The stories haven't made the Brews, but there has been a lot of talking over the last year about much-needed facilities upgrades at Rutgers across a number of sports. The most inflammatory comments came from the women's basketball coach, C. Vivian Stringer:

"You know what I think would be great for Jersey basketball? Why don't we get a $50 million god darn arena? How's that? That's what I think would be real great. Because you try recruiting to this. Have you gone to the other facilities? ... Here's our problem. When our kids walk in other places, I'm embarrassed. ... You're thinking, 'That's pretty darn good,' because you know that people care and everybody wants to be cared for. ... We gotta do more than just talking. We gotta do something about this. NJIT, how much are they spending on a facility? Please.''

For the record, NJIT is planning a $100 million events center that will help it find a conference in Division-I that it can make a home. It's currently independent.

Rutgers Master Plan Details

This is made more great by the fact that On The Banks compares the released plans to what they had called for back in March.

Inside Khalid Kareem's Falling Away From Michigan State

Kareem, a former MSU commit who pledged to Alabama yesterday, praised Dantonio's honesty in the lead-up to his decision.

Most Improved Big Ten Team?

Michigan has an advantage over Indiana in the depth department, but at the same time Michigan has less explosiveness on the offensive side and a less proven offensive line. Both should be working with some stout interior defensive lines, and that's a leg up in the Big Ten.

Big Ten's Best Defensive End After Joey Bosa?

Yet, while the conference promises to field a number of stout and immovable defensive lines in the run game, the list of elite pass-rushers makes for surprisingly light reading. In some of my rants of yesteryear that decried the state of Big Ten recruiting, I would point to teams that were strong in some areas, even building up fantastic units out of low-ranked talent, but would fall short because of flaws elsewhere on the roster. If a Big Ten team can stop the run, that means they can force passing downs. Obviously, they'll want to do something with those opportunities, and the Big Ten is lacking athletic edge rushers to consistently cause havoc in those situations.

Stewart Mandel Mailbag: SEC West Hopes, Big 12 Talent, & More

Mandel makes a good point about Miami's recruiting strategy, and also touches on Braxton at wide receiver.

Drew Brees Purdue Highlights | 1999: Michigan 38, Purdue 12

The wide receivers almost steal both of these highlight videos from two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. The second video, of course, shows Brady vs. Brees.

For Purdue, A Quarterback Enigma

Fun fact: From 1998-2000, Brees passed for 11,560 yards and 90 touchdowns.

Q&A: Nick VanHoose

Fun fact: The movie that Nick VanHoose mentions, Jumper, took place in Ann Arbor, among other places.

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