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Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Big Ten stock report: Week 5

By Brian Bennett

Let's pause and take stock.

Stock up

Illinois running back depth: The Illini have three backs who have rushed for at least 210 yards this season. Fifth-year senior Troy Pollard surprisingly leads the team with 260 yards -- including his first two career 100-yard days -- while averaging a whopping 10.4 yards per carry. Freshman Donovonn Young is averaging 7.9 yards per attempt. They make nice complements to Jason Ford, who has four rushing touchdowns this season.

Devin Smith: The Ohio State passing game hasn't exactly been firing on all cylinders lately. But true freshman Devin Smith looks impressive. The 6-foot-3 receiver made two touchdown grabs last week against Colorado despite playing only about 30 snaps. "Devin can make plays," head coach Luke Fickell said. "He's a guy that can get on top of you, have some speed. Obviously good balls were thrown to him and he made the plays. We need that."

Tom Nardo: It was neat to see the Iowa senior defensive lineman win Big Ten defensive player of the week honors after his 12-tackle performance against Louisiana Monroe. That's because Nardo was a walk-on his whole career until being awarded a scholarship this spring. He's tied for the team lead with three tackles for loss this season.

Rex Burkhead: The Nebraska I-back has run for 290 yards and four touchdowns his past two games, averaging nearly eight yards per carry. He now ranks third in the Big Ten in rushing, just one yard behind teammate Taylor Martinez. So much for those who doubted whether Burkhead could be a star without Roy Helu Jr.

James Vandenberg: The Iowa quarterback has been a man on fire since late in the third quarter of the Pitt game. He has thrown for 669 yards his past two games, with six touchdowns. For the season, the junior has tossed for 10 scores and just one interception, and he's on pace to throw for well over 3,000 yards. Not bad for a first-year, full-time starter.

Stock down

Denard Robinson
Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson is having a fantastic season on the ground, but is struggling in the passing game.
Denard's passing: Denard Robinson is a joy to watch when running the ball -- and right now often painful to watch throwing it. He was just 8 of 17 for 93 yards with two interceptions against San Diego State, and many of the misfires weren't close. That followed a 7-for-18 passing day against lowly Eastern Michigan. Brady Hoke says the passing problems aren't all Robinson's fault, but clearly this area has to improve for Michigan to compete for a division title.

The Illinois band's timing: Western Michigan was flagged for a false start on Saturday, but the head official waved it off and explained that the Marching Illini Band didn't stop playing in time for the Broncos to call out their snap count. At least he didn't criticize their rhythm.

Indiana kickoff returns: Frankly, the stock is very low on most things Hoosiers-related. But here's one glaring stat: Indiana is second-to-last nationally in kickoff return average, getting a little more than 15 yards per return. Considering the one strength IU seemingly has is some speedy skill players, this is surprisingly bad.

Minnesota's pass rush: The Gophers had one of the worst pass rushes in the country last year with only nine sacks for the season. Things aren't much better this year; in fact, Minnesota is on pace for an even worse year for getting to the quarterback. It is tied for last nationally with only one sack so far in four games (Indiana also only has one). The Gophers' secondary gets a lot of blame for the team's problems defending the pass, but that futility is a group effort.