Every Tuesday, Matt Hayes tackles the 10 hottest topics in the Big Ten …

1. The B1G Story

James Franklin was talking about leadership earlier this month, and how his young quarterbacks must quickly develop those traits to be successful in 2023.

“No one cares if they’re young,” the 10th-year Penn State coach said.

Because the only thing that matters is if they — and projected sophomore starter Drew Allar in particular — are great.

Good doesn’t cut it when you’re trying to win the Big Ten Championship and earn 1 of 4 precious spots in the Playoff. Good quarterbacks get roses on Senior Day at the end of their careers.

Great quarterbacks win championships and are remembered forever.

If we’ve seen it once, we’ve seen it a hundred times in college football over the past 2 decades: it’s not about age with quarterbacks, it’s about talent.

Most recently, both Bryce Young and CJ Stroud — the 2 top quarterbacks in college football over the past 2 seasons — began their respective careers after either not playing, or playing sparingly as a backup, in their 1st season.

They then caught fire in Year 2 and did enough to put their teams in position to win conference titles and advance to the Playoff. Young won the Heisman Trophy in Year 2, his first as a full-time starter.

This past season, JJ McCarthy took his first full season as a starter at Michigan — after playing sparingly in Year 1 — and won a Big Ten title and a spot in the Playoff.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the 6-5, 240-pound Allar. Like Young and Stroud, a former 5-star recruit who played sparingly in Year 1.

And now here comes Year 2 — and the youth excuse isn’t cutting it. The Lions are loaded with young talent, but aren’t moving past Michigan and Ohio State without a big season from Allar.

That’s not an unreasonable bar for the No. 32 overall player in the 2022 recruiting class according to 247Sports’ composite rankings. That’s what’s expected.

It’s the ability to make unique plays, rare plays, while standing tall in the big moment. About leading with that talent, and others following and playing to their ceiling.

Don’t let youth enter the equation. It’s a worn excuse for when it all goes wrong.

2. Rare is rare

Penn State last won the Big Ten because the quarterback (Trace McSorley) was in the process of building the greatest career of any quarterback in school history.

He made rare plays when it counted, he made the breaks — the good fortune or luck or whatever you want to call it — when Penn State needed it. He willed the team into the moment, then seized the opportunity.

McSorley threw only 40 passes in his 1st season as a backup at Penn State. He nearly had as many touchdowns (36) in his 2nd season — including 4 TDs in a 38-31 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

A win that gave Penn State its first Big Ten championship since 2008, a win that finally, mercifully, moved the program into a new era.

A win that should’ve been rewarded with a spot in the Playoff, but wasn’t after Ohio State (which lost to Penn State and didn’t play in the Big Ten Championship game) was selected by the Playoff committee over the Lions — a move that has stuck in the side of Franklin all these years later.

But now he has a quarterback who can make it all right again. Now he has an athletic, uber-talented quarterback who can make every throw and move the Penn State offense from plodding over the last 4 seasons — to Playoff worthy in 1 quick season.

All of the pieces are set around Allar for a special run. The emerging offensive line, the elite running backs, the talented young  and incoming transfer receivers.

There was never an excuse for Stroud or Young or McCarthy or Caleb Williams. Just go prepare and play — and play to the level of expectations.

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3. Youth is served, The Epilogue

Over and over and over we saw it last season: freshmen making a significant impact in major roles at Penn State.

The 2022 recruiting class, the best of Franklin’s time at Penn State, could become one for the ages. The 11 wins last season are a start.

The next 2-3 seasons can be program-defining.

The tailback tandem of Nicholas Singleton and Katron Allen combined for 2,201 all-purpose yards and 24 TDs. Talented wideouts Harrison Wallace III, Omari Evans and Kaden Saunders will be pushed this offseason, will be shown what it takes to prepare and work and get better, from transfers Dante Cephas (Kent State) and Malik McClain (Florida State).

Abdul Carter is already one of the best edge disrupters in college football, Drew Shelton emerged at tackle after Olu Fashanu’s injury and DE Dani Dennis-Sutton will be among the elite of the Big Ten in 2023.

It’s all set up for this team. And for this specific quarterback. This is the quarterback Franklin has built the last 2 recruiting classes around.

It’s no different than an NFL team drafting a franchise quarterback and building a roster around him. That’s what Penn State has done with Allar.

Penn State got what it could out of QB Sean Clifford the last 4 seasons. He was limited in his ability to drive the ball in the pass game, and he gutted out wins on athletic ability and desire.

Allar, meanwhile, can change a game with one throw. So forget about leadership for now.

Play great, and everyone will follow.

4. Help on the outside

There’s no more intriguing story in the Big Ten this offseason than Wisconsin’s move from its historical Crawl Ball offense to the pass-happy Air Raid.

When the Badgers begin spring practice next month, the 15 practices will be critical for the Air Raid install — and critical for 4 transfer portal receivers.

Bryson Green, who averaged 16.2 yards per catch last season, played in an offense at Oklahoma State that used Air Raid principles. CJ Williams, a top 75 recruit from the 2022 class according to 247Sports’ composite rankings, played in the Air Raid system at USC.

Will Pauling and Quincy Burroughs, who both played at Cincinnati last year, will be learning the system for the first time under new offensive coordinator Phil Longo.

The transition — more specifically, the ease of the transition — will be critical moving forward for QB Tanner Mordecai (who has worked in an Air Raid system his entire college career at Oklahoma and SMU) and the Badgers’ offense.

The quicker the receivers pick up the nuances of the system and the details of specific route running, the more efficient the offense.

5. The Weekly 5

Iowa’s 2023 national championship odds and 5 things the Hawkeyes need to reach the Playoff.

1. The locker room rallies around embattled offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz — and the offense moves into the top 50 in scoring average.

2. QB Cade McNamara finds the big play ability that led to Michigan’s magical 2021 season.

3. The running game must improve its average per carry by at least 1.5 yards. The Hawkeyes were last in the Big Ten in yards per carry in 2022 (2.92).

4. The defense needs a consistent disrupter off the edge. Can a young player (DE Max Llewellyn) make an impact?

5. RB Kaleb Johnson, who had an impressive freshman season in 2022, needs a breakout year with a more balanced offense.

6. Your tape is your resume

An NFL scout analyzes a draft eligible Big Ten player. This week: Ohio State OT Dawand Jones.

“His play against Georgia was a real eye opener. He played well against a fast, athletic defense. He used leverage, length and those strong hands. He’s rising fast right now. Some teams have him rated higher than (Ohio State OT Paris Johnson Jr.). You’re talking about a guy who’s all of 6-feet-8, 370 pounds. He’s a large man, with long arms and those hands, they’re like heavy mallets. I don’t think he’s a left tackle, at least not yet. Stick him on the right side, let him develop and then move him if his feet get better.”

7. Powered Up

This week’s Power Poll, and 1 big thing: most important coaching staff addition.

1. Michigan: LBs coach Chris Partridge. Returns to Michigan after 3 years as co-DC at Ole Miss. A strong recruiter.

2. Ohio State: WR coach Brian Hartline is the team’s new offensive coordinator, and will get an opportunity this spring to call plays.

3. Penn State: WR coach Marques Hagans. Longtime Virginia assistant. Highlight of last 2 seasons is transition of Keytaon Thompson from backup QB at Mississippi State to All-ACC wideout at Virginia.

4. Wisconsin: OC Phil Longo. His 4 years at North Carolina included 4 record-breaking seasons for quarterbacks Sam Howell and Drake Maye.

5. Minnesota: Co-OC Matt Simon. A longtime assistant with Gophers coach PJ Fleck dating to their time at Western Michigan, Simon will call plays for Minnesota.

6. Maryland: Co-OC Kevin Sumlin. Former Houston, Texas A&M and Arizona coach brings organizational knowledge and a history of running offenses as an assistant and head coach.

7. Iowa: No changes made — for now. Coach Kirk Ferentz still could bring in a quarterbacks coach.

8. Purdue: OC Graham Harrell. Wisconsin won’t be the only Big Ten team running the Air Raid. Harrell got Texas transfer QB Hudson Card to run the offense.

9. Illinois: DC Aaron Henry. Coached the Big Ten’s best secondary in 2022. Illini had 22 interceptions and allowed only 8 passing TDs.

10. Michigan State: No changes planned — but a big year for OC/QBs coach Jay Johnson, who must get QB Payton Thorne to return to 2021 form.

11. Nebraska: HC Matt Rhule. Forget about any other addition. Rhule was the No.1 candidate available, and Nebraska got him. It will turn in Lincoln because of Rhule. Period.

12. Rutgers: WR coach Dave Brock. A link to the past, Brock was part of the Rutgers staff a decade ago as OC/WR coach for coach Kyle Flood.

13. Indiana: Co-DC Matt Guerrieri. A former Duke co-DC under David Cutcliffe, Guerrieri spent last season as an analyst at Ohio State and took a job as Tulsa’s DC before leaving days later to take the IU job.

14. Northwestern: DC David Braun. Coach Pat Fitzgerald stresses the unique culture at Northwestern, and what better addition than the DC for FCS power North Dakota State — with a deep history of FCS championship seasons.

8. Ask and you shall receive

Matt: Looking to 2024, what do you think the Big Ten schedule will look like as far as the high impact games? — Christopher Wilson, Columbus, Ohio.


The foundation of this answer is Fox and NBC didn’t pay all of that cash to not have some intriguing early matchups with USC and UCLA. While I don’t think Ohio State and Michigan will both play USC and UCLA, both will probably play 1 of the 2.

If I had to guess, I would say Ohio State plays host to USC, and Michigan plays host to UCLA. I don’t think the Big Ten will have its 2 marquee schools travel to Los Angeles in Year 1. Is it possible that Penn State travels to Los Angeles in Year 1? Absolutely.

I can’t imagine the Big Ten won’t give each USC and UCLA at least 1 home game against an established Big Ten brand. Let’s say, Penn State at USC and Wisconsin at UCLA. Those are the big money brands that Fox and NBC paid for and want to showcase.

9. Numbers

10. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in transfer portal additions with 10, and has signed more from the portal than any other Big Ten team over the last 3 seasons.

The Michigan State defense was 12th in the Big Ten in rush defense (178.5 ypg), and 12th in average yards per carry (4.29). It should come as no surprise then that the Spartans focused on the defensive interior in the portal: DTs Jarrett Jackson (FSU), Tunmise Adeleye (Texas A&M) and Dre Butler (Liberty).

10. Quote to note

Illinois coach Bret Bielema on new DC Aaron Henry, whom he coached at Wisconsin: “I had all of these coaches that he had worked with talk about the touch that he has and the voice that he carries. I remember sitting in the room and watching a young man that I saw as an 18-year-old player, and had me with goosebumps.”