Big Ten

Five Big Ten quarterbacks to watch in 2016

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Five Big Ten quarterbacks to watch in 2016

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State

Let’s start with the obvious. Barrett will be a Heisman Trophy favorite two years removed from being the conference’s top quarterback. Last season, Urban Meyer’s quarterback confusion led to Barrett not taking over as the full-time starter until midway through the season, but when he finally did, he proved why he should’ve been taking every snap since Game 1. He scored 20 total touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ final eight games, including a total of 12 in three games against Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers. This will be the first season in Barrett’s career in which he’ll have the keys to the car from Day 1, the unquestioned starter from the end of one season to the start of the next. We all know what the guy can do. So get ready.

Clayton Thorson, Northwestern

There are plenty of quarterbacks in the conference in need of making a big leap, but none might be as important to his team as Thorson. Last season, the Wildcats won 10 games behind one of the best defenses in the country, but the offense was a mess. The total offense ranked 115th out of 127 FBS teams, and the passing offense was worse at 119th. Behind Thorson, the Cats mustered just 138.5 passing yards a game. That doesn’t mean he didn’t show promise. He did, particularly as a quarterback who could make plays with his arm and his legs. With running back Justin Jackson one of the conference’s best and the defense primed for another big year behind the excellent Anthony Walker at linebacker, a better season out of Thorson could have Northwestern in position for a West Division title.

Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska

While Armstrong can never officially be the Big Ten’s interception king while those dudes at Maryland are still taking turns pitching passes to opposing defenders, there’s no doubt the senior Cornhuskers will need to improve his accuracy if he wants to make Mike Riley’s second season in Lincoln different from his first. Following last offseason’s coaching change, Nebraska experienced a grotesque 5-7 regular season. Yes, many of those losses featured razor-thin margins. And yes, the Huskers were the only team to beat conference-champ Michigan State during the regular season. But five wins is never going to sit well with anyone in Lincoln. And Armstrong is the guy who can change that. His athleticism is unquestioned, the guy can make plays. But a 55.2-percent completion percentage to go along with 16 interceptions could use some improvement, to say the least.

Tyler O’Connor, Michigan State

The heir apparent to Connor Cook has some big shoes to fill. Cook could very well be the best quarterback the Spartans have ever had, while O’Connor has barely seen the field in his time in East Lansing. Of course, it was O’Connor that was under center for the majority of Michigan State’s signature win over Ohio State last season. He completed seven passes in that game for 89 yards and a touchdown, but there’s not too much more game action for Mark Dantonio to go on. It will be a preseason competition between O’Connor and Damion Terry, though many believe it’ll be O’Connor. Some more tough news for O’Connor: There’s no Tony Lippett or Aaron Burbridge — Michigan State’s back-to-back Big Ten Receivers of the Year — to ease him into his first season as starter.

Wes Lunt, Illinois

It’s almost hard to believe this is already the end of Lunt’s Illini career. A senior now on his third head coach in his three years of on-field action, will Lunt finally turn into the quarterback Illinois fans all expected him to be when he transferred in from Oklahoma State? He got off to a rip-roaring start in his sophomore season, taking advantage of poor competition before getting injured and swapped out in favor of Reilly O’Toole. Last season as a junior, Lunt averaged 230.1 yards a game, good for fifth in the Big Ten, but the Illinois offense still ranked as one of the league’s worst. Again without top weapon Mike Dudek for the 2016 campaign, Lunt again will run into a gauntlet of menacing Big Ten defenses with Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern all on the schedule. Lunt never seems to lack confidence, but with a pretty bare cupboard of targets, can he finally get the Illini offense off the ground?

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.