Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can Mike Riley do what Bo Pelini couldn't with Huskers?


Big Ten preview: Can Mike Riley do what Bo Pelini couldn't with Huskers?

Nine wins a year wasn’t enough to keep Bo Pelini employed at Nebraska.

It seems a fine win total for most programs, but for the once-glorious Huskers, nine wins doesn’t cut it. And even though he was one of the winningest coaches in America during his seven-year tenure in Lincoln — winning at least nine games each season and thrice winning 10 — zero BCS/New Year’s Six bowl appearances and zero conference championships meant Pelini was done.

Enter Mike Riley, a hire that certainly raised eyebrows, as he didn’t achieve an overly impressive amount of success in his long stay at Oregon State, doing little better than a couple near misses at a Pac-10/12 championship (two second-place finishes) and staging a college-football-rocking upset every now and then.

Riley was 93-80 with a sub-.500 conference record in his 14 seasons in Corvallis.

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Riley has been hired to best Pelini’s nine-win benchmark on an annual basis, but only once did he do that with the Beavers. And all that 10-win season got him was a spot in the 2006 Sun Bowl.

Riley surely did more with Oregon State than anyone else had, though, and Nebraska’s higher-ups are hoping he’ll similarly elevate the current state of things in Lincoln. It’s been a quick transition for Riley, who spent more than a decade coaching in the Pacific Northwest. Now it’s up to him to bring glory back to the Great Plains.

"It has been a little bit of a whirlwind. I haven't transitioned in a long time. So I forgot what all the newness was about a little bit. But it's been fun,” Riley said last month during Big Ten Media Days. “First impressions about Nebraska are things that you already know, the passion for the place, the involvement and the engagement of the fans and the people there. It's been really interesting to see and be a part of. The other part of it that is the people that are affected most about a transition are probably the players. I've been really impressed with this team, the closeness that they've had with one another. The feelings that they have about the place that they're at. They really believe in Nebraska. And they are a good, close knit group that believe in each other. So that's kind of a fun team to get to join from that standpoint."

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Those players weren’t too happy when Pelini got the axe, taking to Twitter to voice their displeasure. And when an audio recording of Pelini at a post-firing meeting with the team leaked — more talked-about because of Pelini’s disparaging comments directed at athletics director Shawn Eichorst — it was clear how meaningful the relationship between Pelini and his players was.

On top of how upset the players were that Pelini was fired, the incoming Riley is practically the anti-Pelini. Pelini could routinely be spotted screaming, yelling and cursing on the Nebraska sideline. Riley brings to mind Mr. Rogers when he talks.

"We just went from coach Bo, who is an awesome coach, more of a younger guy, more fiery guy, in-your-face-type guy to an older guy who — at the time, what I was reading — was a nice, laid-back guy. That's kind of a big difference,” wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp said. “I was really looking forward to meeting him. Then once I met him, I was like, 'This guy's awesome, can't wait to play for him.’

“So it was kind of a big change, but change happens. At first, the guys were kind of all over the place, but we pulled together. And we know what was important and we have to buy in to this new staff and new coach, and just as these months have gone by, we've gained more respect and more trust for them and for coach Riley. So it's been a good process."

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As good as the transition has reportedly been, there have been challenges, and many of the same challenges Pelini faced will soon present themselves to Riley. Riley has announced that five players will be suspended for the season-opener against BYU. Star return man De’Mornay Pierson-El will be sidelined for weeks with an injury, and injuries have affected much of the receiving corps. Then there’s a tough Big Ten schedule featuring marquee games against Michigan State and Wisconsin, as well as tough opponents like Minnesota and Northwestern. The opener against BYU and a road trip to Miami will be stiff tests, too.

So smashing through the nine-or-ten-win ceiling will be one heck of an ask in the first year of the Riley Era. And while no coaching change should be accompanied by expectations of instant success, if Riley continues to win at the same level Pelini did, will Nebraska regret making the change?

"Change happened, and we kind of had to buy in right away,” Westerkamp said. “There's no waiting around.”

In a demanding environment like Nebraska, how long will fans wait around for Riley?

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


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


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.