Big Ten

2015 could be final year of Big Ten's first-round QB drought

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2015 could be final year of Big Ten's first-round QB drought

It’s been quite a while since a Big Ten quarterback was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.

To find the last time it happened, you have to go all the way back to 1995, when Penn State’s Kerry Collins was the No. 5 overall pick, a first-round selection of the Carolina Panthers. In fact, just two Big Ten quarterbacks have been first-round picks in the past 25 years, with Illinois’ Jeff George preceding Collins as the No. 1 overall pick in 1990.

This year’s first round was no different, with no Big Ten signal-callers getting to join Roger Goodell on stage Thursday night at the Auditorium Theater.

But there’s plenty of reason to believe that 2015 could be the final year of the Big Ten’s first-round drought when it comes to the most important position on the field.

[MORE BIG TEN: Three Big Ten players picked in NFL Draft's first round]

Next season, it's expected the streak will come to an end. And potentially in a big way, as Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State’s Cardale Jones all could be first-round selections, depending of course on how their respective 2015 seasons go.

Cook led the conference in passing yardage last season, completing 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,214 yards, the only Big Ten QB to surpass 3,000 yards through the air. Twenty four of his completions went for touchdowns as he guided one of the most prolific offenses in the country. And he left a pretty great final impression at the end of last season in the Cotton Bowl, leading Michigan State to a 20-point fourth-quarter comeback in a stunning win over Baylor.

Hackenberg’s sophomore season was somewhat of a disappointing follow-up in wake of his fantastic freshman campaign in 2013. The Penn State quarterback threw 15 interceptions and was under constant pressure as the Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks. But despite all that, his 2,977 passing yards were the second most in the Big Ten. Plus, NFL scouts have been drooling over Hackenberg’s pro potential for years already.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes fans' approval of Kirk Ferentz drops dramatically]

Jones might be as low as third on the Buckeyes’ quarterbacking depth chart when the season begins, but he might also be the Ohio State QB that pro teams want the most. Even if he’s used sparingly this season behind J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller — though of course, Jones could still win the job, too — that likely won’t matter to NFL teams, who would love to have the 6-foot-5, 250-pound Jones. He displayed in three eye-popping postseason wins to guide Ohio State to a national championship his remarkable ability to throw the ball 70-plus yards down the field and run over defenders with his massive frame.

Even though Big Ten schools have produced Super Bowl winners over the past decade in Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson and exported a Heisman winner in Troy Smith, NFL teams have stayed away from drafting the conference's quarterbacks in the first round. But this year could be the last in that long stretch.

One NFL Draft website, WalterFootball.com, has Cook, Hackenberg and Jones all going in the top 10 of next year's draft.

Next year, when it comes to pro-bound quarterbacks, all eyes could be on the Big Ten.

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

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USA TODAY

Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin diagnosed with cervical stenosis, will retire immediately

Tough news out of Evanston this morning: Northwestern announced that running back Jeremy Larkin will retire immediately after being diagnosed with cervical stenosis.

Cervical stenois is the narrowing of the spinal canal in one's neck, according to Mayo Clinic. Larkin's condition is thankfully not life-threatening, though it does prevent him from continuing to participate in the game of football. 

"Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won't be on that field again, given I've played this game since I was five years old," Larkin said.

"I'm extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first.

"I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline." 

Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald called the news "heartbreaking."

"This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete," Fitzgerald said in a statement. "But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him.

"The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can't wait to see the impact he makes in our world."

Larkin is a sophomore from Cincinnati. He finishes his Northwestern career with 156 carries for 849 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

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USA TODAY

Former Illini champion Kevin Anderson upsets Roger Federer in Wimbledon quarterfinal

Former University of Illinois tennis star Kevin Anderson completed a marathon upset against an all-time great on the highest stage of professional tennis.

Anderson came back from two sets down to beat Roger Federer in Wimbledon’s quarterfinals 2-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 13-11 on Wednesday morning. He will play in the semifinals of the tournament for the first time in his career.

As a native of South Africa, Anderson played three seasons with the Fighting Illini and won the NCAA doubles championship during the 2005-06 season as a sophomore. The 32-year-old was a three-time All-American in singles at Illinois.

Now, as the eighth ranked singles player on the ATP World Tour, Anderson is a force to be reckoned with at the professional level. He made it all the way to the US Open final in 2017.

The former Illini star will look to keep his recent success going when he represents Illinois in the semifinals of Wimbledon this Friday.