Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Can Spartans' Shilique Calhoun capture elusive Big Ten honor?

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Big Ten preview: Can Spartans' Shilique Calhoun capture elusive Big Ten honor?

For the past two seasons, Shilique Calhoun has been one of the best defensive players in the Big Ten. But he has yet to be named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Now, winning a single award is far from the reason that Calhoun passed up the 2015 NFL Draft and returned to Michigan State for his senior year. But it could be seen as unfinished business, a microcosm of the Spartans’ quest to finally summit college football’s mountain.

Two seasons ago, Calhoun was the Big Ten’s best pass-rusher. He recorded 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks. But most notably he made a habit of finding the end zone. He forced two fumbles, recovered four and even intercepted a pass. He scored three touchdowns. As a defensive end. Still, Calhoun missed out on the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award to Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland.

Last season, he had 12.5 tackles for loss an even bigger sack total of eight. But a monstrous season from Ohio State’s Joey Bosa meant a new king of the pass-rushers in the conference, and it was Bosa who took home the league’s most prestigious individual defensive award.

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

This season, it seems to be Calhoun vs. Bosa for the title of the conference’s top defensive player, and that competition couldn’t better parallel the battle between Michigan State and Ohio State for the title of the league’s best team. Bosa, like the Buckeyes, enters the reigning champ and the one with all the hype. Calhoun might be getting overlooked because of Bosa, similar to the Spartans when it comes to chasing down a Big Ten title.

And winning a conference championship and a national championship, that’s the reason Calhoun came back. He spoke at length last month during Big Ten Media Days about how Michigan State has unfinished business to achieve this season, unfinished business that amounts to a national title or bust.

His impassioned confidence and focus on the ultimate prize makes him a pretty perfect spokesman for the Spartans and the mission they’re trying to accomplish.

“Shilique was the leader of our defensive front last year, so he can only add to that aspect of it. When he decided to come back, he had reasons, he had concrete reasons why,” Mark Dantonio said during Media Days. “He brings a guy with great credibility among our players, among our staff and among our opponents. He brings a great credibility back to Michigan State, I think that’s the biggest thing he does. And he’s an outstanding person.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Without Pat Narduzzi, will Spartans still have elite defense?]

He’s an outstanding player, too. With a recently star-studded secondary depleted thanks to jumps to the NFL and former defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi now the head coach at Pitt, Calhoun will be the leader of the Michigan State defense in 2015. He’ll also be its best player, and surely there will be moments where it’s him making game-changing plays. If those plays come on national stages against the likes of Oregon and Ohio State, then that Calhoun credibility will vault Michigan State even further into the national-championship discussion.

It might also finally make him the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

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.