Big Ten

Can Ezekiel Elliott catch Leonard Fournette in the Heisman race?

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Can Ezekiel Elliott catch Leonard Fournette in the Heisman race?

Leonard Fournette is having a remarkable season. But when it comes to talking about who could win the Heisman Trophy — or simply talking about the best running backs in football — we shouldn’t be forgetting about Ezekiel Elliott just yet.

Elliott was for much of the offseason the preseason favorite to win college football’s most prestigious individual award. That’s thanks in large part to a ridiculous three-game stretch last postseason when he rushed for 220, 230 and 246 yards against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon on the sport’s biggest stages, scoring eight touchdowns in those three games.

But Fournette, for good reason, has established himself as college football’s best running back, the LSU sophomore leading the nation with 1,202 rushing yards. He’s the only player in the FBS with over 1,000 yards through the season’s first seven weeks. He’s tallied 14 rushing touchdowns, no one has more.

If the season ended today, Fournette would likely win the Heisman. And he’d deserve it.

But Fournette’s lead on the rest of the pack shouldn’t be seen as insurmountable.

Elliott, in particular, is right on Fournette’s tail. His 988 rushing yards rank third in the country. His 11 rushing touchdowns aren’t far behind the 14 of the LSU star.

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Elliott has rushed for at least 100 yards in all seven games this season, including a career-high 274 yards in a win over Indiana. He’s hit the end zone in all but one game this season, and it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that as the Buckeyes’ offense has looked better as the season has progressed, Elliott’s been playing better, too. He’s had six touchdowns in the last three games.

Fournette’s numbers are obviously just as impressive, more impressive actually. But as the season goes on — and we’re only halfway home — Elliott could be the one with the greater ability to keep producing on a week-to-week basis.

Ohio State is the No. 1 team in the country, and LSU is also undefeated, ranked fifth in the current AP top 25. But the Buckeyes’ schedule is far more favorable. Yes, they have tests remaining against the talented defenses at Michigan State and Michigan in the final two games of the season. But the next three contests come against Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois. LSU, meanwhile, has three ranked teams remaining in its final four regular-season games: Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M. Plus, because LSU's season-opener against McNeese State was cancelled, Elliott is guaranteed one more game than Fournette.

Both running backs have the talent to run over strong defenses. Elliott went for 153 yards and a touchdown against Penn State’s top-20 defense. Fournette went for 180 yards and two touchdowns against Florida’s top-25 defense. Each back has one more monstrous test against a top-of-the-line defense: Elliott plays Michigan and Fournette plays Alabama.

Without a doubt, Fournette has the edge right now. But let’s not count out Elliott just yet. He was the preseason pick for a reason, and he’s done nothing to shrink his own candidacy this season. Fournette’s just done more. That can all change in a week or two, though. So keep Elliott on the Heisman radar.

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.