Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can anyone stop the Buckeyes on road to repeat?

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Big Ten preview: Can anyone stop the Buckeyes on road to repeat?

Ohio State surprised in the first season of the College Football Playoff.

The Buckeyes, looked back on eight months after their national-championship win as college football’s best team, experienced a bumpy ride en route to the eighth national title in school history. The quarterback injuries, the Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech, the folks who even after a 59-0 victory in the Big Ten Championship Game still weren’t convinced the Buckeyes belonged in the sport’s first-ever final four. But after wins over Alabama and Oregon, Ohio State hoisted the trophy and was the king of the college-football world.

This season, the Buckeyes will surprise no one.

In 2015, Urban Meyer’s bunch is expected to skate through the regular season, win another Big Ten title, earn the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff and win another national championship.

Anything less, and expectations won’t be met.

It’s a tough position to hold. Heavy lies the crown, sort of thing.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Spartans have earned status as national-title contenders]

But there’s a reason those expectations exist. The Buckeyes are loaded. With multiple studs at every position — and depth that makes it seem like their No. 2 team could win some games — people aren’t just talking about a repeat. With the almost unbelievable amount of talent Ohio State returns from last season, people are talking about this being one of the greatest college football teams of all time.

"It could be something special, and could go down as one of the best in history, I believe," defensive lineman Adolphus Washington said earlier this month during the team’s media day. "We have so many weapons: the best offensive line in the country, two of the best quarterbacks in the country, some of the most talented receivers. Pick your poison, we've got it everywhere."

Washington isn’t lying. Everyone knows about the quarterbacks: J.T. Barrett, who finished fifth in Heisman voting last season, and Cardale Jones, who was spectacular in three postseason wins including the national title game. Then there’s Ezekiel Elliott, the running back who ran wild in those wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, earning him preseason Heisman-favorite designation. Michael Thomas and Nick Vannett are two of the Big Ten’s top pass catchers. The offensive line could very well be the country’s best.

On defense, Joey Bosa is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and considered one of the country’s top defensive players. Darron Lee, Joshua Perry and Raekwon McMillan make up a fearsome linebacking corps. Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell are two terrific safeties.

Throw in the fact that Meyer might be college football’s best coach, and yeah, this could be a team for the ages.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Connor Cook returns to have that jackpot season with Spartans]

And so it comes down to this: Can anyone stop Ohio State?

Surely it won’t be the one team that did last year, as the Buckeyes ought to be extra ready to take on the Hokies in the season-opener, given that embarrassing loss hung around their necks all season long last year, the main reason used by those who argued they didn’t belong in the Playoff.

The rest of the non-conference schedule is less than imposing, meaning the final two weeks of the regular season will be the biggest tests: a home game against Michigan State, another Playoff contender, and a trip to Michigan, where the first edition of The Game featuring Jim Harbaugh as the Michigan head coach could provide fireworks. If Ohio State makes it through that, then comes a Big Ten Championship Game against the Big Ten West champ, a division that boasts no teams considered on the Buckeyes’ level.

The Playoff will feature the rest of college football’s best, providing challenges, for sure, but is any team capable of dethroning Ohio State?

TCU? USC? Auburn? Alabama? Baylor? Bueller?

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Can Spartans' Shilique Calhoun capture elusive Big Ten honor?]

It provides quite the challenge for Meyer’s squad. Perfection is the expectation. Winning it all is the expectation. It allows zero room for error, and any stumble will be the shock of the season.

Even that ESPN commercial that Meyer appears in gives a glimpse at this team’s attitude. The Buckeyes are at the top of the mountain, but repeating is not on their minds. It’s starting over from scratch and once again proving they’re the best.

Bring it on. It’s survival time.

"If you see how hard our practices are and how fast things are moving, believe me, we don't have the gold trophy out there, trying to say championship and all that," Meyer said. "We're in survival now."

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.