Big Ten

Northwestern's Jackson, Illini's Ferguson on Doak Walker watch list

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Northwestern's Jackson, Illini's Ferguson on Doak Walker watch list

The Big Ten dominated the Doak Walker Award last season, claiming all three finalists and winner Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin.

And though many of the league's top rushers moved on to the pros, there is still a massive Big Ten presence on the watch list for this season's edition of the award, including running backs from Northwestern and Illinois with local roots.

Northwestern's Justin Jackson and Illinois' Josh Ferguson were two of the eight Big Ten running backs on Thursday's 69-name watch list for the Doak Walker Award, which is handed out annually to college football's best back. Joining Jackson and Ferguson were Indiana’s Jordan Howard, Iowa’s Jordan Canzeri, Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott, Penn State’s Akeel Lynch, Rutgers’ Paul James and Wisconsin’s Corey Clement.

[MORE BIG TEN: Iowa sends around odd survey asking how badly fans want Hawkeyes to win]

Jackson, a Carol Stream native and Glenbard North product, had a breakout year as a true freshman in 2014, rushing for 1,187 yards, the seventh-best mark in a conference packed with the best rushers in the nation. Of the six ahead of Jackson last season, only one returns (Elliott), while the other five are all playing in the NFL. Jackson had six 100-plus-yard performances as a freshman, including five in Big Ten play, and was just the second first-year Wildcat to ever break the 1,000-yard-rushing mark.

Ferguson, who hails from Naperville and attended Joliet Catholic, rushed for 735 yards and racked up an additional 427 yards receiving, hitting the end zone a combined 10 times last season. In his career, he's accumulated 3,486 all-purpose yards, which are currently the 16th most in program history. Ferguson wasn't as prolific as the Illini hoped last season, going for triple-digit rushing yards just once, a huge 190-yard day against Texas State (he scored three total touchdowns in that game). But he flashed his versatility all season long as a dual threat out of the backfield and as a pass catcher.

[MORE BIG TEN: Penn State returning to no names on backs of football jerseys]

There are plenty of great stories in that list of additional Big Ten backs, too. Elliott is a Heisman Trophy favorite after his sensational efforts leading Ohio State to a national championship last season. Clement looks like the next in a long line of great Wisconsin backs, and he managed to be a top-10 rusher in the conference last season as a backup to Gordon. James is bouncing back from an injury that ended his 2014 season after a terrific start, and Howard, who transferred to Indiana this offseason, was the No. 14 rusher in the country last season at UAB.

The Big Ten boasted all three finalists for the Doak Walker Award last season — Gordon, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Indiana's Tevin Coleman — with Gordon's win giving the Badgers two of the last three (Montee Ball won in 2012). All told, Big Ten players have won the award seven times: Gordon (2014), Ball (2012), Iowa's Shonn Greene (2008), Michigan's Chris Perry (2003), Penn State's Larry Johnson (2002), Wisconsin's Ron Dayne (1999) and Ohio State's Eddie George (1995).

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.