Big Ten

Three Big Ten players picked in NFL Draft's first round

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Three Big Ten players picked in NFL Draft's first round

Two years ago, just one Big Ten player was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft with the No. 31 pick. Thursday night, three went in the top 15 picks.

Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon were all picked in the top half of the first round on Day 1 of the 2015 NFL Draft on Thursday night at the Auditorium Theater.

It was the first time three players from Big Ten schools were selected in the draft's top 15 picks since 2007, when Wisconsin offensive lineman Joe Thomas, Penn State defensive lineman Levi Brown and Ohio State return man Ted Ginn Jr. were all picked in the top 10.

Here's a look at the three players who got to pose for pictures on stage with commissioner Roger Goodell on Thursday.

[MORE BIG TEN: Hawkeyes fans' approval of Kirk Ferentz drops dramatically]

No. 5: Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa — Washington Redskins

Scherff was expected to come off the board early, and he did, becoming the first top-10 pick from a Big Ten school since 2008, when Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long went No. 1 overall. He joins a long line of Iowa O-linemen picked in the first round, with Riley Reiff being the most recent in 2012. Scherff is enormous at 319 pounds, and he always projected as an NFL offensive lineman. Now he is one, and he’ll be blocking for Alfred Morris in our nation’s capital.

No. 11: Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State — Minnesota Vikings

Waynes was the first defensive back selected, another predicted outcome. His selection by the Vikings gave the Spartans two first-round cornerbacks in back-to-back drafts after Darqueze Dennard was picked by the Bengals with the No. 24 pick last year. Waynes and Dennard were the two starting corners on Michigan State’s 2013 team, which had the top-ranked defense in college football. Waynes now goes to Minnesota, where he’ll be defending the pass against the likes of Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford in the NFC North.

[MORE BIG TEN: Urban Meyer: All indications are that Braxton Miller is staying with Buckeyes]

No. 15: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin — San Diego Chargers

Gordon wasn’t the first running back picked Thursday — Georgia’s Todd Gurley was the No. 10 pick of the Rams — but he still earned rave reviews while being selected by the Chargers. He’s the latest in a line of Badgers running backs drafted into the pros, but the name he’ll be attached to for a while will be LaDanian Tomlinson. Tomlinson is arguably the greatest Charger of all time, and now Gordon looks to become the best San Diego running back since Tomlinson left town. Coincidentally, Gordon broke Tomlinson’s FBS single-game rushing record this past season. Both were top-five finishers in voting for the Heisman Trophy.

Interestingly, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory was not selected in Thursday's first round despite being projected by many to go in the first 32 picks. Nebraska has yet to have a first-round selection since joining the Big Ten. Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith was also considered a fringe first-round possibility, but he remains on the board heading into Round 2. In fact, Ohio State had zero players selected, becoming the first national champion without a first-round pick since the 2002 Ohio State team.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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