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Big Ten defined by interceptions this fall

10/22/2009

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's no surprise that the Big Ten's best team leads the nation in interceptions, a defining statistic throughout the league this season.

Iowa has picked off 15 passes this season, two more than any other FBS team. It's nothing new, as the Hawkeyes were also extremely opportunistic last year, ranking fourth nationally in interceptions with 23. Iowa safety Tyler Sash leads the Big Ten in picks for the second straight year (5), and safety Brett Greenwood (3), cornerback Amari Spievey (2) and linebacker A.J. Edds (2) also have multiple interceptions this fall.

Interceptions also have been a problem for the Hawkeyes on the other side of the ball. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has thrown eight picks, three of which were returned for touchdowns. Stanzi has had only two pick-free games.

Iowa illustrates a league-wide trend this fall. The league is filled with opportunistic defenses, as six teams rank among the top 31 nationally in passes intercepted. But the league is also plagued by subpar quarterback play, as 10 of the 11 teams rank in the bottom half of FBS teams in interceptions thrown (only Northwestern is in the top half).

Though quarterback play wasn't much better last year, interceptions weren't nearly as big of a problem. Ohio State and Penn State tied for fourth nationally in fewest interceptions thrown (6), and eight teams ranked in the top half of the FBS. Quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Minnesota's Adam Weber were far more disciplined when it came to throwing interceptions.

Big Ten head coaches are undoubtedly pleased with their playmaking defenses, but their bigger concern has to be interceptions thrown. As I've written for months, the Big Ten won't start winning BCS bowl games until the quarterback play improves. We'll see if there are fewer mistakes made down the stretch.