Big Ten: 2010 CFB Live IP

Stephfon Green knew what his role would be in the 2010 season before anyone else did.

When fellow Penn State running back Evan Royster decided in January to return for his senior season, Green got the news directly from the source.

[+] EnlargeGreen
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireStephfon Green carried the ball 71 times as Evan Royster's backup last season.
“He told me first, before he told anybody,” Green said, “so I wasn’t surprised.”

Royster’s message meant that Green, in all likelihood, would be handling backup duties for Penn State for the third consecutive season.

Royster has been Penn State’s featured back since 2008, rushing for 2,405 yards and 18 touchdowns during the span. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from last season is on pace to break Curt Warner’s team rushing record this fall.

Bottom line: barring injury, Royster will carry the rock for Penn State in 2010, and Green will spend more time waiting his turn.

“I can’t control what happens,” Green said. “I just try to prepare myself so if anything was to happen [to Royster], I could step in and play that starting role. I don’t have any animosity toward it, I’m not mad or anything like that.

“We just have a real good running back sitting in the backfield this year. It’s good for our team.”

Here’s why Green shouldn’t be too upset about another year as the second-stringer.

Penn State will turn to a young, unproven quarterback this season following the graduation of standout Daryll Clark. To ease the pressure, Joe Paterno and his offensive staff will turn to the running backs.

While Royster boasts an impressive career yards-per-carry average (6.1), he has only averaged 15.2 carries per game in his two seasons as the starter. He has received 20 or more carries just three times in his career. Green, meanwhile, has recorded 176 carries in the past two seasons and should continue to receive a decent number this fall.

“We’re young at quarterback, and we’re probably going to have to rely on the running game a lot this year,” Green said. “I’m happy with the touches I get.”

The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Green generated buzz during spring practice in 2008 after recording several breakaway runs in scrimmages. His A-plus speed and mesmerizing moves made him a coveted recruit coming out of Kennedy High School in Bronx, N.Y.

Green said his style often draws comparisons to that of a certain NFL back.

"Everybody keeps telling me Thomas Jones," he said. "I try to go for LaDainian Tomlinson, but I haven't quite got there yet."

Some expected Green to challenge for the starting job as a freshman, but Royster established himself as Penn State's No. 1 ball carrier and has never looked back. Green still rushed for 578 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries (5.5 ypc average), logging 269 plays.

A dislocated ankle in the Rose Bowl against USC slowed Green, who missed spring ball following surgery. He seemed to be hitting his stride last season with strong performances against Illinois and Eastern Illinois before reinjuring the ankle and missing two games. Green didn't feel 100 percent again until the Capital One Bowl, a 19-17 Penn State win against LSU.

The junior spent this spring working on his blocking, specifically picking up blitzes from different angles.

"I'm trying to be a smarter player, be a student of the game," he said. "Seeing things, talking to the linebackers, asking them what their keys are when they're blitzing, things like that. The overall aspect of blocking, I improved on."

Although he's not a big back, Green added a few pounds to his frame and hopes to be more durable. Just in case he moves up a spot on the depth chart.

"Hopefully, my ankle holds up and I can be more durable," he said. "If you really look at it, I haven't had any other problems but my ankle. If that holds up, I can be more of an asset to this team."
Wisconsin running back John Clay might be the Big Ten's best hope for the Heisman Trophy this season, which will make you scratch your head after reading this next statement.

The Badgers can survive without him.

Not to diminish Clay's size and power, which Wisconsin would miss if he goes down, but the Badgers aren't exactly starved for running backs. Montee Ball showed flashes as a true freshman the past season, and Zach Brown boasts more experience (36 games played) than any other Big Ten backup back.

And whomever carries the ball for Wisconsin will benefit from working behind one of the nation's top offensive lines. Left tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt get most of the buzz, but Wisconsin returns all five starters up front, as well as others like Bill Nagy who boast game experience.

The Badgers are one of several Big Ten teams who can survive the loss of a key player or two, as long as it isn't quarterback Scott Tolzien.

The reason why Ohio State has won or shared the past five Big Ten championships: their depth chart. Take the linebacker position, for example. The Buckeyes have two of the Big Ten's best in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, but they also can turn to a guy like Etienne Sabino, or younger backers Storm Klein, Dorian Bell and Andrew Sweat. Tyler Moeller also should return to the field this fall, although he'll likely see more time at safety.

Indiana's Tandon Doss and Purdue's Keith Smith were the media's picks for the first-team All-Big Ten squad in 2009, and both players are primed for big seasons this fall. While both also would be big losses, their teams have other options. Indiana can turn to Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner, or younger players like Duwyce Wilson. Purdue always boasts depth at receiver and has options like Cortez Smith, Antavian Edison and Gary Bush behind Smith. And don't forget about incoming freshman O.J. Ross or Justin Siller, the reinstated former starting quarterback.

Speaking of the offensive skill positions, Michigan State and Iowa boast similar depth. Both teams have potential All-Big Ten players -- Keshawn Martin, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt, Keith Nichol -- but can truly lean on their strength in numbers. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins is a very lucky man, as he'll have four capable wideouts, three capable tight ends and at least two capable running backs at his disposal. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi also has weapons at wideout with Johnson-Koulianos and McNutt, as well as three solid options in the backfield with Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.

Michigan has several areas of concern entering 2010, but offensive line shouldn't be one of them. The Wolverines return five linemen who started part or all of the past season, led by veteran guard Stephen Schilling. Michigan has five offensive linemen who have three years of experience under their belts, not to mention promising young prospects like Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.

Flipping to the other side of the line, look at Penn State. Sure, the Nittany Lions lose Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick, but there's no reason to doubt defensive line coach Larry Johnson and his personnel. Penn State will have depth up front yet again with guys like Jack Crawford, Ollie Ogbu, Devon Still, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
Who are the most irreplaceable players in the Big Ten? These aren't necessarily the best players, but the guys who teams really can't afford to lose.

Let's take a team-by-team look at who they are:

Illinois: Offensive tackle Jeff Allen. Illinois already has lost one starting offensive tackle to injury in Corey Lewis (ACL), placing a major burden on Allen to protect a young starting quarterback. Allen has started two seasons and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He drew praise from the coaches this spring for absorbing Paul Petrino's new offense, and he'll anchor the line at weak-side tackle. If he goes down, Illinois likely will turn to Craig Wilson, who has played mostly special teams in his career.

[+] EnlargeBen Chappell
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesBen Chappell finished last season with 17 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards.
Indiana: Quarterback Ben Chappell. History shows that for Indiana to have a chance at a bowl game, it needs to put up a lot of points. The running game has been inconsistent the past few years, but Chappell is poised to have a big senior season through the air. The Big Ten's third-leading passer in 2009 will have a bunch of weapons at his disposal, led by first-team, all-conference wide receiver Tandon Doss. Indiana has virtually no experience behind Chappell and would turn things over to a redshirt freshman (Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker).

Iowa: Quarterback Ricky Stanzi. This isn't a knock against backup James Vandenberg, who certainly proved himself last fall at Ohio State. But Iowa is simply a different team with Stanzi on the field, drawing confidence from him through his ups and downs. You could see how much Stanzi meant to his teammates on offense after he went down against Northwestern last November. Although offensive tackle Riley Reiff, defensive end Adrian Clayborn or safety Tyler Sash certainly can make their case to be in this spot, Stanzi is the player who shapes Iowa's success more than any other player. He's got the 'it' factor.

Michigan: Cornerback Troy Woolfolk. Woolfolk provides leadership and some experience in a Wolverines secondary that looks pretty shaky even with him on the field. The thought of Woolfolk being out would certainly raise the anxiety level among Michigan fans. Woolfolk had some good moments last fall and has a chance to be a very solid Big Ten cornerback this year. He also can play safety in an emergency. Given Michigan's lack of depth in the defensive backfield, Woolfolk's presence is crucial.

Michigan State: Linebacker Greg Jones. This one is pretty obvious. Not only has Jones led Michigan State in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus, but he's the undisputed leader on defense. Without Jones' tackling and play-making ability in the offensive backfield, an average Michigan State defense would be a lousy one. Although the Spartans boast some depth at linebacker with Chris Norman, Eric Gordon and incoming freshmen William Gholston and Max Bullough, Jones is the one guy the coaches are counting on for a ton of production.

Minnesota: Safety Kyle Theret. There's not an obvious choice for the Gophers, but the team's defense lost some major experience after safety Kim Royston broke his leg this spring. Theret, who was suspended during spring ball but should return, has started 32 games at safety. He ended the 2009 season on a strong note with two interceptions and a tackle for loss in the Insight Bowl. If Royston can't return or is limited, Theret will have to lead a young Gophers' secondary.

[+] EnlargePersa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireDan Persa is the only Wildcats quarterback with any game experience.
Northwestern: Quarterback Dan Persa. Persa hasn't even started a game for Northwestern, so how can he be labeled as irreplaceable? First off, no other Wildcats quarterback has game experience, while Persa appeared in 10 contests last fall. Backup Evan Watkins remains a bit raw, and Northwestern will have a true freshman, most likely Trevor Siemian, as its third-stringer this season. Persa already has established himself as a team leader, and he would create problems if he went down.

Ohio State: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Another easy choice, as Pryor has started 22 of Ohio State's past 23 games at quarterback. Although the Buckeyes have won games without major contributions from Pryor, the offense will be shaped around him more this fall. He'll need to build off of what he showed on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Backups Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton lack game experience, and Ohio State would need everyone else to step up around the quarterbacks to survive without Pryor.

Penn State: Running back Evan Royster. An experienced running back can be a young quarterback's best friend, and Royster certainly qualifies as a veteran. He has started the past two seasons for the Nittany Lions, racking up 2,405 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Penn State needs big things from Royster this fall as an inexperienced signal caller takes over for Daryll Clark. Backup running back Stephfon Green has shown flashes, but he lacks Royster's consistency.

Purdue: Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. We'll find out if running back Ralph Bolden is replaceable this season, but Purdue doesn't want to see anything happen to Kerrigan. The senior is one of the nation's top pass rushers, and he's the most experienced member of a defensive line that loses standout tackle Mike Neal. Kerrigan led the Big Ten with 13 sacks last fall and will make life easier for those around him. Aside from Gerald Gooden, Purdue looks a little thin at D-end.

Wisconsin: Quarterback Scott Tolzien. If Tolzien's value wasn't known after the 2009 season, it became even clearer during spring ball after backup Curt Phillips tore his ACL. Tolzien led the Big Ten and ranked 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (143) last season, completing 64.3 percent of his passes. He limits major mistakes and spreads the ball around well to his receivers. Redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr has talent but lacks game experience and looked shaky this spring. Wisconsin would much rather let Budmayr have more time to prepare.

SPONSORED HEADLINES