Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can Badgers continue defensive success under new coordinator?

Big Ten preview: Can Badgers continue defensive success under new coordinator?

Wisconsin’s defense has been downright terrific over the past two seasons, ranking near the top of the country in the key statistical categories.

But with defensive coordinator Dave Aranda leaving the Badgers for a gig on the LSU coaching staff this offseason, will the success on that side of the ball continue in Madison?

During the 2015 season, Wisconsin led the country in scoring defense, allowing 13.7 points per game, and ranked second in the country in total defense, allowing an average of 268.5 total yards per game. Opposing offenses rushed for just 95.4 yards per game against the Badgers’ defense (fourth-best in the country) and passed for 173.2 yards per game (seventh-best in the country).

While Michigan is getting all the headlines this offseason for its sensational defense (the Wolverines return a ton of talent but also lost their defensive coordinator), Wisconsin was better, statistically, a season ago.

That being said, Aranda, who made the Badgers one of the nation’s top defensive teams in 2014, too, could make a big difference with his departure.

“I don’t want to say an adjustment period because that’s taking a step back. You’re always trying to take a step forward,” linebacker Vince Biegel said during Big Ten Media Days. “But this year, different coaches, whole different personnel, different challenges, different strengths. This year is a whole new year, we’ll see what comes of it. I’m confident in the young men that we have: our secondary, our linebacking group, our experienced front seven. It’s going to be a fun D to watch.”

Wisconsin must replace a few key playmakers, namely linebacker Joe Schobert — 2015’s Big Ten Linebacker of the Year — and also have three holes to fill in the secondary, including the one created by the departure of All-Big Ten Second Team safety Michael Caputo. But Biegel leads a strong group nonetheless. It makes the biggest challenge moving on without Aranda and getting used to new defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

“I become very close with my D-coordinators because when they’re game planning for an opponent I like to be right in his ear, make sure I’m part of the gameplan. And I really like to have a strong connection with my D-coordinator,” Biegel said. “Coach Aranda, I had a tremendous relationship with him, and it was definitely tough to see him leave. I don’t have any hard feelings or resentment regarding him leaving. I understand he’s got to make the best decision for himself. But I think there’s no better guy to fill in than Justin Wilcox.

“The biggest challenge for us is probably becoming comfortable with coach Wilcox. There’s still room for improvement on that. We definitely made up ground for that in the spring, becoming more comfortable with coach ‘Cox and what he expects from us and what he wants from us, as well. It’s been a win-win situation. We’re looking forward to continuing to build that relationship with coach ‘Cox.”

In somewhat of a ridiculous coincidence, Wisconsin opens the season against LSU, meaning Aranda will be on the opposing sideline and presumably had some tips for head coach Les Miles on how the Tigers' offense should attack the Badgers on defense. That’s an added challenge Wisconsin’s defense didn’t need considering it was already going up against one of the top offensive players in college football in running back Leonard Fournette.

But Wilcox brings his own impressive resume, a 10-year defensive coordinator at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington and USC. With Wilcox and Biegel, the Badgers’ defense appears to be in good hands. But can it keep up the success that has been its trademark in recent seasons?

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

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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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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.