Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can Dave Aranda's defense again lead the way for Badgers?

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Big Ten preview: Can Dave Aranda's defense again lead the way for Badgers?

For many, the last image of the Wisconsin defense last season was not a pretty picture.

The Badgers had 59 points dumped on them in the Big Ten Championship Game loss to the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes, an embarrassing outcome — doubly embarrassing considering the Badgers were also shut out in that game — that might make it hard to believe that Wisconsin had a defense worth bragging about last season.

In fact, it was one of the best defenses in college football.

Even with that shellacking against Ohio State and the ensuing 31 points let up in an overtime Outback Bowl win over Auburn, Wisconsin finished last season as the fourth-best defense in America. Only Clemson, Penn State and Stanford were better when it came to limiting opponents’ yardage, with the Badgers holding foes to an average of 294.1 total offensive yards per game. That’s a crazy good number, as only five teams in the FBS held opponents under 300.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Paul Chryst seems like a Badgers coach who's here to stay]

The Badgers were a little lower in scoring defense, the 17th-best mark in the country, but they still kept opponents under three touchdowns at 20.8 points per game. Take out the horrendous evening against Ohio State, and a 17.8 points-per-game average would’ve put the Badgers at No. 6 in the nation. In 12 regular-season games, Wisconsin allowed a scant 16.8 points per game.

The Badgers allowed just 168 passing yards per game, ranking fourth in America in that category, and 126.1 rushing yards per game, ranking 21st while playing in a Big Ten loaded with top-of-the-line running backs.

The mastermind behind this sensational defense was Dave Aranda, and despite an offseason coaching change, he stayed on as defensive coordinator. In fact, new head coach Paul Chryst made certain that happened.

“The very first person I talked to after getting the job was Dave Aranda,” Chryst said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “And I've known about Dave when I was working out on the West Coast and knew of the type of coach he was, type of person he was. Then, after talking to him and him understanding what I was looking for, me understanding him more, felt like it was a great fit if that's something he wanted to do. And Dave wanted to be at Wisconsin, wanted to stay at Wisconsin. …  I feel really fortunate to have Dave as our defensive coordinator.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Corey Clement poised to be Badgers' next star running back]

So do plenty of Badgers supporters.

Aranda has a nice bunch of weapons to send out on every defensive snap, too. Wisconsin lost a couple of its top linebackers this offseason but returns one of the conference’s best in Vince Biegel, who led the team with 16.5 tackles for loss last season and ranked second with 7.5 sacks. The secondary is also experienced with Michael Caputo, Darius Hillary and Sojourn Shelton all back after making a combined 78 starts the past several seasons.

There’s plenty to be excited about on offense, what with Corey Clement getting a chance to be the No. 1 running back and Joel Stave feeling more confident at quarterback. But if Wisconsin is going to continue the be the dominant force in the Big Ten West and reach the Big Ten title game for the fourth time in five seasons, it will likely do it on the back of its defense.

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.