Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Malik McDowell and the Spartans defense look to wreak havoc

Big Ten preview: Malik McDowell and the Spartans defense look to wreak havoc

“Shilique the Freak” is gone.

Michigan State’s star defensive end was one of the pass defensive players in college football over the past three seasons, but he’s on to a pro career after getting picked in the third round of this year’s NFL Draft. In fact, Calhoun is one of three departed starters from along the Spartans’ defensive line.

So what’s the answer? Michigan State has plenty, a perennial power that can reload anywhere on the field. But the most notable person shouldering the load will be Malik McDowell.

Goodbye, “Shilique the Freak.” Hello, “Malik the Freak.”

“If you just walk in the room with Malik and just see him, he’s a freak,” Michigan State linebacker Riley Bullough said during Big Ten Media Days. “And that shows on the football field. So I’m extremely excited for him this year.

“I think what you’re going to see with Malik is more consistency. He’s going to be getting in the backfield almost every play, he’s not going to take a play off. He’s going to work his tail off, which he has been. Combine all those things, I’m excited for him.”

McDowell is being pegged as one of the nation’s best defensive players heading into his junior season in East Lansing. Last year, he earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors after recording 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception, a pair of forced fumbles and a blocked kick. He’s certainly well on his way to living up to the recruiting hype, when he was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Michigan and the No. 26 recruit in the nation in the Class of 2014.

“Malik is a playmaker. No question about that,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “He's big, athletic, physical. He comes to play every game. And with all that being said, he’s going to be a true junior. He had a big sophomore season last year, played some as a freshman. So I think that this is the year that sort of catapults him. So he's got to have a great year, and I think he's poised to do that.”

McDowell generates the most attention on the Spartans’ defensive line. He’s a defensive tackle, meaning Calhoun’s pass-rushing duties on the edge will be someone else’s responsibility. Evan Jones and Demetrius Cooper were listed as starting defensive ends on Michigan State’s most-recent depth chart.

There are other questions on that side of the ball, too. In their first season following the departure of Pat Narduzzi, the defensive coordinator who left to become the head coach at Pittsburgh, the Spartans allowed an average of better than 21 points a game and nearly 350 yards a game, and a pass defense that was one of the nation’s best just a couple years prior was in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten, eviscerated in Michigan State’s lone loss of the regular season to Nebraska.

The secondary returns with plenty of experience. Darian Hicks and Demetrious Cox are both seniors, Montae Nicholson is a junior, and Vayante Copeland is a sophomore who missed much of last season to injury after winning a starting job out of camp.

And a strong linebacking corps is led by a senior in Bullough and could feature the return of Ed Davis if he gets the sixth year of eligibility he’s working for.

“I think we also have some other great defensive players on our football team that we can build around,” Dantonio said. “We’ve lost some good players, but we've got a lot of good football players coming back. As I said earlier I think we have seven starters from last year's secondary coming back as seven guys who started for us that are very athletic. So we're looking forward to a great football season.”

For a few years there, Michigan State was known for its defense. And while that hasn’t disappeared by any stretch — huge wins over Ohio State and Iowa were dominated by the Michigan State defense — last season the numbers dipped. Without Calhoun and others, will the Spartans take a further step back? Or will more experience elsewhere on the field mean a return to the top of the Big Ten’s statistical heap?

Well, if “Malik the Freak” has anything to say about it, expect the latter.

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.

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Northwestern set to play Wisconsin at Wrigley Field in 2020

Weeks will separate a perfect 10-year anniversary where Northwestern will play at Wrigley Field for one of its regular season games in the upcoming years.

Back on Nov. 20, 2010, the Wildcats battled it out with Illinois, known as the “Wrigleyville Classic,” which saw the Illini take a 48-27 win.

Even though it’s still two years out, Northwestern still planned ahead and announced its opponent for its game at Wrigley Field on Nov. 7, 2020, against Big Ten rival Wisconsin.

“Obviously an exciting opportunity for our football program to come back to Wrigley Field, one of the Cathedrals of sporting venues in the world,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “When I announced it to our team, they were absolutely ecstatic.”

“The opportunity to play at Wrigley field is unique to us, being Chicago’s Big Ten team, and to have the chance to come down and play in an atmosphere like we did a few years back was a bowl game type atmosphere, and I look forward to this special opportunity.”

This game though will be a little different than it was back in 2010. Both the Wildcats and Illini played toward the west end zone due to a tight squeeze near the right field wall due to box seats that were added down the third base line.

Now, Northwestern and Wisconsin do not have to worry about that problem because the bullpens have since moved to the outfield.

Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney spoke at a news conference earlier on Tuesday at Wrigley.

“So excited to welcome back Northwestern to Wrigley Field to talk about football again,” Kenney said. “We had an incredible experience with them back in 2010."

Kenney also mentioned new seating is on a temporary platform that can all be removed and the dugout tops can be removed as well, and the field will expand west, to allow for a longer field.

With a sellout crowd in the last go around for the Wildcats, don’t be surprised for another sellout at the Friendly Confines.