Big Ten

PFF ranks Illini's Dawuane Smoot the 20th-best player in college football

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PFF ranks Illini's Dawuane Smoot the 20th-best player in college football

Pro Football Focus released its list of the 101 best players in college football Monday, and all the usual suspects were present: Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State — the teams most believe will compete for a Big Ten title.

So when an Illinois player popped up in the top 20, there were plenty of eyebrows shooting up.

Now, just because the Illini likely won't challenge for a conference championship in Lovie Smith's first year at the helm doesn't mean that defensive end Dawuane Smoot isn't the 20th-best player in college football. Pro Football Focus is quite high on Smoot, with their intricate grading system rating him as one of the top-10 pass-rushers in the country last season, when he finished with eight sacks, good for sixth in the Big Ten. He was fifth in the conference with 15 tackles for loss, forced three fumbles and recovered two more. It all would indicate that a big 2016 campaign is on the way, and PFF is expecting that, too, putting him at No. 18 in its 2017 mock draft.

But PFF isn't alone in being high on Smoot. Smith feels the same way, saying earlier this offseason that he believed Smoot would be a first-round draft pick. And he should know after his many years in the NFL.

So is Smoot heading for a monster 2016, All-Big Ten honors and the NFL Draft? It seems like plenty think so, with Smoot placing higher in PFF's rankings than many other Big Ten stars.

Here's a look at who from the conference cracked PFF's top 101, and prepare yourself for a heaping helping of the Michigan defense.

7. Jourdan Lewis, DB, Michigan
9. Desmond King, DB, Iowa
16. Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan
20. Dawuane Smoot, DE, Illinois
23. Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State
27. Maurice Hurst, DT, Michigan
29. Pat Elflein, OL, Ohio State
31. Chris Wormley, DE, Michigan
32. Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
34. Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State
43. Vince Biegel, LB, Wisconsin
63. Jake Replogle, DT, Purdue
72. Ryan Glasgow, DT, Michigan
90. Nate Gerry, DB, Nebraska
99. Darius Hamilton, DT, Rutgers
100. Ed Davis, LB, Michigan State

Notably absent from the list were Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker, who will be among the favorites for conference player of the year honors on their respective sides of the ball.

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.