Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Even after losing so much to NFL, Buckeyes don't rebuild, they reload

Big Ten preview: Even after losing so much to NFL, Buckeyes don't rebuild, they reload

Ohio State lost an unbelievable amount of talent this offseason, sending 12 players — big-time, impact players — to the NFL Draft.

So there’s no way the Buckeyes can still be in contention for the Big Ten title, right?

Wrong.

“I would say going into this (season) this is as talented a group top to bottom as we've had,” Urban Meyer said during Big Ten Media Days.

Uh, what?

Here’s the list of the Buckeyes drafted to NFL teams earlier this year: Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apply, Taylor Decker, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Adolphus Wahsington, Braxton Miller, Nick Vannett, Joshua Perry and Cardale Jones. That’s a college football All-Star team right there.

But what you’ve got to understand is that Meyer and the Buckeyes don’t rebuild, they reload. Meyer’s five recruiting classes since he took the reins of the Ohio State program have been ranked No. 4 (2012), No. 2 (2013), No. 3 (2014), No. 9 (2015) and No. 3 (2016) — and the Class of 2017 is already ranked No. 2, perhaps his best yet.

So, yes, there are tons of holes to fill, and this Buckeyes team is very young, especially compared to recent seasons with championship wins and championship expectations. But the way Meyer has recruited, it’s not a question of how good the next wave is, it’s a question of when it will be ready to compete for a conference title.

“This year I’m trying to help the younger guys get up to our standard of how we play here at Ohio State and make sure they understand that we don’t have rebuilding years,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “The expectations are not going to change because you all don’t have experience. We’re going to try to do our best to make sure you get that in camp and practice, and it’s your job to make sure you come to play.”

And Meyer agrees. He thinks this team has the ability to win, but he knows that he needs to get it ready to do that.

“I see that potential,” he said. “I see I think 2014 was the template that everybody wants. J.T. Barrett was buried in the depth chart, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Zeke Elliott, Mike Thomas — those guys were no-names, and they became very good throughout the course of 2014. And another guy, Cardale Jones, was buried on the depth chart. A lot of pressure on our coaches, assistant coaches and myself, to get them game-ready. I would say going into this this is as talented a group top to bottom as we've had. Now how do we get them game-ready?”

Getting the team ready to do that is a different challenge than recruiting, however.

Ahead of training camp, back at the end of July, Meyer said he was looking at August as “the most critical coaching month” he’s ever had. That’s saying something for a guy who’s won a trio of national championships.

But as he pointed out, there are parallels to the 2014 team. Barrett was thrust into duty that season after an injury to Miller, Bosa was just a sophomore and nobody knew if Elliott could follow in the footsteps of Carlos Hyde. Similar questions — save the quarterback one — exist heading into 2016. So don’t be alarmed if the Buckeyes are again playing for a conference championship or more come the winter.

It is Meyer, after all.

“Where we are as a team in 2016, have to find a way to replace arguably one of the best group of players ever to come through college football,” Meyer said. “I've been answering a lot of questions about a young team. The issue would be if it was a non-talented young team. And that's not the case at all. So it's a very young team, but talented. Probably the most critical coaching month that I've ever been through. We have to get these guys ready. Forty-four of our players, which is over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game. So we have to get them ready.”

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.