Big Ten

Big Ten preview: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg looks to bounce back from up-and-down 2014

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Big Ten preview: Penn State's Christian Hackenberg looks to bounce back from up-and-down 2014

It seems at times like the only thing people want to talk about when it comes to Christian Hackenberg is his NFL future.

Hackenberg thinks that, anyway.

“I respect that all of you have a job to do,” Hackenberg told reporters earlier this month during the team’s media day, “but I also have a job to do and it is to lead this Penn State football team. That being said, I would ask for you to respect the job I have to do and please refrain from asking me about questions regarding my future beyond the 2015 season. I am strictly focused on making this Penn State football team the best that it can be. … I am looking forward to a great year.”

With all the talk about Hackenberg’s NFL Draft stock and his standing as the type of quarterback pro scouts drool over, it’s hard to remember that he’s still playing quarterback at Penn State.

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Who will win Northwestern's quarterback job?]

After an impressive freshman season in 2013, last year was a struggle at times for Hackenberg. Some of his numbers still remained strong. His 2,977 passing yards were the second most in the Big Ten. Some didn’t. He led Big Ten quarterbacks with 15 interceptions, and he only had 12 touchdown passes. He had phenomenal games, like the 454-yard day against Central Florida and the 371-yards, four-touchdown performance in the bowl win over Boston College. And he had miserable games, like the combined 24-for-55, 280 yards, zero touchdowns and four interceptions in back-to-back games against Indiana and Temple.

That up-and-down style defined Hackenberg’s second season of college football and made him look like anything but a future No. 1 pick. But he’s taking them as learning experiences.

“At the end of the day, you learn to love those experiences — the goods, the bads — and you get better from it, or you build off of it,” Hackenberg said. “Last season as a whole, I don't really try to segment it. I just take everything I can from it and what I can learn from it and help this football team win as many games as it can.

“That there were a lot of ups and downs, you were going to face adversity at times, but you have to continue to make sure you play through it and stay true to who you are.”

[MORE BIG TEN: Big Ten preview: Justin Jackson looks to be even better in 2015]

Hackenberg’s rough 2014 wasn’t all his fault, of course. Penn State’s offensive line was unsuccessful, to say the least, at stopping rushing defenders and creating holes for the Nittany Lions practically non-existent running game. The rushing attack barely averaged 100 yards a game. Hackenberg was constantly under pressure, sacked 44 times on the season.

Hackenberg didn’t blame his offensive line, instead talking about the things he needed to do to make their jobs easier, and maybe that was also at least part of last year’s issues. But the offensive line should be better in 2015. In addition to returning four more experienced starters, Penn State welcomed in a pair of transfers: junior-college transfer Paris Palmer and graduate transfer Kevin Reihner, who was at Stanford last season. That added experience ought to help Hackenberg out.

But in the end, the focus will be on Hackenberg, and regardless of how his offensive line and wideouts and running backs play, he’ll be the one whose numbers are analyzed to death. Given the way NFL Draft analysts typically think, the actual amount of success Hackenberg has in 2015 might not mean as much as his “projectability.”

Thankfully, Hackenberg is focused on Penn State. It would make sense that with improvements around him, his 2015 season should more closely resemble 2013 than 2014. A terrific season might mean Hackenberg will be off to the NFL before his eligibility is exhausted. But that would also mean a pretty good year for Penn State.

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.