1. The B1G Story

This isn’t going to land well in the Big Ten, but Oregon isn’t exactly obsessed with all things new conference.

The Ducks are consumed with … the Ducks.

It’s that linear philosophy, the direct proportional change, that Oregon coach Dan Lanning learned as a graduate assistant coach under Nick Saban at Alabama, and what he helped instill at Georgia as Kirby Smart’s defensive coordinator.

It’s not about the other team, it’s about the best version of you.

“We’re evaluating us first,” Lanning said earlier this month. “Where can we get better? Where can we improve what we do really well — and what we do not do so well. And then attack that.”

Throw in an “‘a’ight” here and there, and you may as well be listening to Saban.

This is the key to Saban’s famed “Process” of building a champion. The last thing anyone should be concerned with is the other team.

Fix you first, then move onto scouting and game-planning and game preparation. Because any problem not self-evaluated will eventually become a problem exposed.

It starts this offseason on defense, where Lanning has done a remarkable job of changing the mindset in 2 short seasons. The Ducks were 75th in scoring defense (27 ppg.) when Lanning arrived in 2022.

They were 9th last season, giving up 16.5 ppg.

Now, the problem: Oregon gave up 70 points to Washington in 2 losses (each by a field goal). The second loss kept the Ducks from the Playoff, and in each loss, the defense couldn’t get off the field late when it had to.

Couldn’t make championship plays — like stopping deep throws while protecting a lead, or stopping the run when trying to get the ball back — that Alabama and Georgia have done so many times in so many championship seasons.

So yeah, excuse Lanning if he’s not consumed with all things Big Ten. With Michigan and Ohio State and cold Novembers, and can Oregon (and the rest of the former Pac-12 teams moving to the Big Ten) deal with the physicality of the league.

He’s focused on a rebuilt secondary with impact starters signed from the transfer portal, and assimilating that group — and the highest-ranked high school recruiting class in school history (No. 3 in 247Sports composite) — into the program.

The goal is to figure out Oregon, and everything falls in place after that.

2. The common thread

Lanning has preached commitment and investment since he arrived in Eugene, a rare buy-in of championship teams.

Then he went and showed it in the second week of January, less than a day after Saban’s retirement left 1 of the top 3 jobs in college football available.

Lanning committed to Oregon, and proclaimed that he has everything he needs to build a championship team. He talked about a plan, and how Oregon is ahead of the curve in college football.

“I’m in love with this spot,” Lanning said. “It’s the kind of place where you can accomplish all of your goals.”

Translation: He can win a national title at Oregon, the one thing that has escaped so many elite Ducks teams of the past.

But that doesn’t happen without the final piece of the puzzle: the quarterback.

3. Us, then them, The Epilogue

The track record is there. The 22 wins in 2 seasons, a growing monster in high school and transfer portal recruiting, the metamorphosis of a team and a program.

And the brief, prolific play (and development) of the quarterback.

Bo Nix went from 3 lost seasons at Auburn to 2 Heisman Trophy-worthy seasons at Oregon. The next evolution of a quarterback transfer in 2024 shouldn’t be as drastic.

Maybe just a refinement of sorts.

When Dillon Gabriel decided to leave Oklahoma for Oregon shortly after the end of the regular season, it left Oregon with little room for excuses in its first season in the Big Ten.

This won’t be a reclamation project. This is a bona fide, elite quarterback with 151 career touchdowns (26 rushing) and 26 interceptions in 5 seasons (50 games).

Those are video games numbers, and if all goes as it should, Gabriel will more than likely set career NCAA pass and total touchdown records. Nearly half (73) of those touchdowns came during the past 2 seasons at Oklahoma.

Oregon enters the Big Ten with a 6th-year starter at quarterback, and the No. 1 wide receiver from the transfer portal (Evan Stewart, Texas A&M). The rebuilt secondary includes the top cornerback in the portal (Jabbar Muhammad of Washington) leading group of 3 all-conference players (S Brandon Johnson of Duke, and CB Cam Alexander of UTSA).

It’s all part of the directionally proportional change. Or The Process, for short.

“I do think we have the pieces to the puzzle that are going to allow us to have a really good team,” Lanning said. “What that looks like, time will tell.”

4. Hidden jewel

Not much went right for Wisconsin’s passing game in 2023. The implementation of the Air Raid never really clicked for any number of reasons.

Starting quarterback Tanner Mordecai missed 3 games, and the offense never found a true deep threat at wide receiver.

Then came the ReliaQuest Bowl, and Wisconsin may have found its deep threat out of necessity. With Chimere Dike and Skyler Green in the portal, freshman Trech Kekahuna finally got on the field for quality reps.

And the fastest player on the roster showed why he could be a major factor in 2024, catching 4 passes for 64 yards in the 4-point loss to LSU.

He looked the part for a team that lacked deep speed all season, and the staff believes he will be a problem for defenses as an inside receiver.

5. The Weekly 5

The 5 best transfer portal additions for 2024.

1. S Caleb Downs, Ohio State. The best safety in the game, and maybe the best defensive player, too.

2. OT Kadyn Proctor, Iowa. Former 5-star had issues early at Alabama but developed into a consistent pass blocker by the end of the season.

3. WR Evan Stewart, Oregon. Stuck in a dysfunctional offense at Texas A&M the past 2 seasons, watch him flourish with the Ducks.

4. RB Quinshon Judkins, Ohio State. The best running back in the SEC the past 2 seasons at Ole Miss. How will he and TreVeyon Henderson fit? Sports bettors in Ohio certainly are interested to find out.

5. QB Aidan Chiles, Michigan State. Coach Jonathan Smith probably should’ve played Chiles more last season at Oregon State. He’ll be Day 1 starter at MSU.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft-eligible Big Ten player. This week: Michigan QB JJ McCarthy.

“I can’t wait to see him produce at the Combine. By the end of the week, he will be the most talked about player. His speed and athleticism, the way he throws the ball, how he handles himself, the interview. He will crush everything. He’s going to throw, and when he does, it all changes. He will rise quickly up a majority of the draft boards. Could he be a top-10 pick? Absolutely.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll: ranking the nonconference schedules, toughest to easiest.

1. USC: LSU (Las Vegas), Utah State, Notre Dame. The LSU game nearly didn’t happen, but this Las Vegas stage could soon turn into an annual Big Ten vs. SEC season-opener.

2. UCLA: at Hawaii, at LSU, Fresno State. New coach DeShaun Foster is playing catchup already, and this non-con schedule doesn’t help.

3. Michigan: Fresno State, Texas, Arkansas State. From one of the worst in the Big Ten in 2023 to top 3 in 2024. Welcome to the business, Sherrone Moore.

4. Purdue: Indiana State, Notre Dame, at Oregon State. The return of state rival Notre Dame to the schedule (they’ve played once since 2015) is big.

5. Oregon: Idaho, Boise State, at Oregon State. Good to see Oregon kept the Civil War game. Hopefully it stays indefinitely.

6. Wisconsin: Western Michigan, South Dakota, Alabama. Game time hasn’t been announced, but imagine Camp Randall at night for Alabama’s first visit since 1928 (a 15-0 Badgers win).

7. Penn State: at West Virginia, Bowling Green, Kent State. Lions played WVU last season for the first time since 1992. WVU hasn’t won in the dormant rivalry since 1988.

8. Minnesota: North Carolina, Rhode Island, Nevada. Gophers get the return game from UNC, and a testy home game against Nevada they may need for bowl eligibility.

9. Michigan State: FAU, Louisiana, at Boston College. Spartans begin the season with 4 winnable games (FAU, at Maryland, Louisiana, at Boston College) before the heavy lifting arrives.

10. Illinois: Eastern Illinois, Kansas, Central Michigan. After a season of tough 1-possession losses, coach Bret Bielema needs the season-opener before facing (more than likely ranked) Kansas in Week 2.

11. Iowa: Illinois State, Iowa State, Troy. Death, taxes, Iowa State and 2 gimme putts.

12. Nebraska: UTEP, Colorado, Northern Iowa. Huskers coach Matt Rhule needs the Colorado game. Badly. For momentum, belief and buy-in.

13. Maryland: UConn, at Virginia, Villanova. A season of transition for the Terps begins with 3 winnable non-con games and a home game against Michigan State.

14. Rutgers: Howard, Akron, at Virginia Tech. This will be Rutgers’ 6th game against FCS Howard since 2006. That’s right, sixth.

15. Northwestern: Miami (Ohio), Duke, Eastern Illinois. What season isn’t complete without Northwestern and Duke playing football?

16. Ohio State: Akron, Western Michigan, Marshall. Shameful.

17. Indiana: FIU, Western Illinois, Charlotte. IU’s first 7 games under new coach Curt Cignetti: FIU, Western Illinois, at UCLA, Charlotte, Maryland, at Northwestern, Nebraska.

18. Washington: Weber State, Eastern Michigan, Washington State (Seattle). Even with the Apple Cup (don’t ever go away), the Huskies are dragged to last because of 2 games against the FCS.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Hypothetical here. What if this truly is Kirk Ferentz’s last season at Iowa? Where does Iowa go for his replacement? — Gregory Vinson, Denver.


I hate hypotheticals. But because I’m here for you, let’s dig into it.

The obvious first choice is Kentucky coach Mark Stoops. He has done a masterful job in a similar situation: It’s difficult to recruit elite players to UK, not unlike the difficulties Ferentz (and any coach who follows) has with recruiting elite players to Iowa.

Stoops played at Iowa, and knows the program and the people. But he’s the same guy who this offseason turned down the Texas A&M job — with many more inherent advantages than UK and Iowa — to stay in Lexington.

If not Stoops, maybe Illinois coach Bret Bielema — if the Illini have a breakthrough season. Bielema was a 4-time letter winner at Iowa and still has a power hawk tattoo above his left ankle.

If you’re going to hire from within, Phil Parker is a natural choice. He knows the landscape, and he certainly has earned it with his development of the Iowa defenses over the years.

Lance Leipold of Kansas is another possibility, as is Dave Clawson of Wake Forest. Both have embraced the grind of winning in difficult positions, and both may jump to reach a Power 2 job.

9. Numbers

32. Rutgers finally went and did it this offseason, landing Minnesota transfer QB Athan Kaliakmanis in an attempt to fix a brutal passing game of the last decade.

Since 2021 alone, Rutgers quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions (32) than touchdowns (30). In Kaliakmanis’ first season as a full-time starter in 2023, he had 14 TDs and 9 INTs.

But Kaliakmanis is the most complete thrower at Rutgers since Gary Nova in 2014 — the last time Rutgers had a quarterback throw more than 20 TD passes.

10. Quote to note

Indiana coach Curt Cignetti: “Usually in spring, the second half of spring looks a lot better than the first half of spring. There’s going to be a lot of new nomenclature, new people, a different practice structure than the guys that have been here in the past are accustomed to.”