Big Ten: A.J. Edds
Asked if the current squad reminds him of any in his past, Ferentz's answer likely will bring smiles to the faces of Hawkeye fans.
"Some parallels to the '08 season," he told ESPN.com last week. "Not exactly the same, but that's a team that never really worried about what was being said about them. We were coming off of two non-bowl years, and we were 3-3 that year. We were 4-3 this year and people weren't exactly throwing roses at us or anything like that. Both those teams stayed focused on improving and what was in front of it.
"It turned out a little bit better than people anticipated."
After a 4-8 clunker in 2012, Ferentz's worst record since his second season in 2000, Iowa entered the fall with myriad questions. A quarterback who had never taken a snap in a college game would lead an offense that finished 114th nationally in yards and 111th in scoring last season. Injuries had plagued the running back spot for years, the receivers seemed unexceptional and the defensive line had few proven players.
Ferentz brought in three new assistants, completing a staff overhaul that began with the retirement of longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker after the 2011 season.
"We've been through a little bit of a transition here as a program," Ferentz said. "It hasn't been seamless. There's a process to that, too, but everybody’s more comfortable with where they're at, who we are, what we're doing, and that reflected with our players."
Sophomore Jake Rudock stabilized the quarterback spot, AIRBHG steered clear of a power run game led by junior Mark Weisman and the offensive line, considered a strength before the season, performed to expectations. Seven players have 12 or more receptions and five have multiple touchdown catches.
Iowa's underrated defense has been the biggest difference, as linebackers James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens have led a unit ranked seventh nationally in yards allowed (303.2 ypg) and 11th in points allowed (18.8 ppg).
"They've just been exemplary," Ferentz said.
In 2008, Ricky Stanzi emerged to take control at quarterback, while Shonn Greene won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. Like the current team, the 2008 squad had excellent linebacker play with Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter.
Although the 2008 Hawkeyes had a better signature win (against No. 3 Penn State) than the current team, it also lost to an Illinois squad that ended up going 5-7. Iowa's four losses this season came against ranked teams, and Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Northern Illinois have a combined record of 45-6.
When Ferentz mentions parallels with 2008, the natural inclination is to think Iowa could continue on the same path. Iowa went 11-1 in 2009 and ended the season on a podium at the Orange Bowl, celebrating a championship as Stanzi told a national television audience what they can do if they don't love America.
While you couldn't blame Hawkeyes fans for assessing Rudock's level of patriotism, Ferentz prefers to live in the moment.
"Whatever good happened in '08 wasn't going to help us in '09," he said. "The credit goes to our players. We're sitting there at 4-3 not that long ago and there weren't many people talking about us going to a nice bowl game.
"Most people wrote it off. Fortunately, our players never did."
In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.
Let's start off with the Legends division.
Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.
Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.
Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.
Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.
Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.
Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.
Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.
Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.
Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.
Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.
Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.
Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.
Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.
Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.
Where did Iowa's crunch-time mojo go?
It's a question that haunts coach Kirk Ferentz and his players as they endured a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Iowa blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten losses and allowed late touchdowns in all five of its defeats. A senior-laden team seemed to lose its magic touch and never regained it.
The most puzzling thing about Iowa is that unlike last year's squad, the 2010 Hawkeyes looked dominant at times. They crushed teams like Iowa State and Penn State and delivered a 37-6 knockout of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. It seemed like the Hawkeyes would be rolling after stomping the Spartans, but instead they backslid throughout the month of November, squeaking out a win at Indiana before dropping their final three games.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers for most of the season and avoided the major mistakes that dogged him throughout 2009. But like his teammates, Stanzi wasn't immune from the late-game struggles this fall. Iowa's defense dominated for stretches but didn't have quite the production it expected from the front four and really missed linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds as well as cornerback Amari Spievey. Perhaps most surprising were Iowa's problems on special teams, which surfaced in the losses to both Arizona and Wisconsin.
Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi improved in every major statistical category except the one that he cares about the most -- win-loss record. The senior passed for 2,804 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions, ranking 11th nationally in quarterback rating (160.5). After tossing 15 interceptions in 2009, four of which were returned for touchdowns, Stanzi had just two picks and 19 touchdown passes through the first two months of the 2010 season. Running back Adam Robinson merits a mention here.
Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have the dominant senior season many had expected, but No. 94 brought a formidable presence to the defensive line. Clayborn commanded double-teams and allowed teammates like Karl Klug and Mike Daniels to rack up numbers. Clayborn finished the season with seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Daniels, safety Tyler Sash cornerback Shaun Prater merit mentions here.
Turning point: Iowa opened Big Ten play at 2-0 and had a banged-up Wisconsin team on the ropes Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium. But the Badgers shocked Iowa with a fake punt deep in Wisconsin territory and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ferentz botched the time management in the final seconds as Iowa fell 31-30. Another turning point arrived Nov. 13, as Iowa squandered a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead against nemesis Northwestern and fell 21-17.
What's next: The Hawkeyes will try to regroup and send their decorated senior class out with a win in the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Despite being in bordering states, the two schools haven't met since 1910. Iowa has won back-to-back bowls and really could use a win before an offseason of retooling on both sides of the ball begins.
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes boast two of the Big Ten's top 10 linebackers in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and they also have good depth. Homan might have been the league's most underrated defender in 2009 after tying for fourth in the league in interceptions (five) and finishing eighth in tackles (8.3 per game). Rolle makes up for his lack of size with speed and explosiveness. Ohio State's supporting cast includes Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, Dorian Bell and others.
2. Michigan State: Back-to-back Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones enters the season as the frontrunner to win the Butkus Award. But he's not alone on what should be a loaded linebacking corps. All-Big Ten candidate Eric Gordon has played a ton of football alongside Jones, and the coaches were pleased with Chris Norman this spring. Hopes are extremely high for true freshmen William Gholston, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, and Max Bullough. It's clear to see why the Spartans are moving closer to the 3-4.
3. Wisconsin: Health remains a concern, as Mike Taylor's knee problems will linger and Chris Borland comes off of shoulder surgery, but Wisconsin has plenty of talent here. Borland is a rare, do-everything player who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009. Taylor likely would have contended for the same award if not for a torn ACL against Iowa. The Badgers also bring back Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen.
4. Northwestern: As a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves the look of this group. Senior Quentin Davie is a bona fide NFL prospect who has consistently reached the offensive backfield throughout his career. Middle linebacker Nate Williams enters his third year as the starter, and the coaches have solid options in Bryce McNaul, Ben Johnson and David Nwabuisi. Fitzgerald says this is the most linebacker depth Northwestern has had in his tenure.
5 (tie). Iowa and Penn State: These teams combine to lose five All-Big Ten 'backers from 2009, including first-team selections Pat Angerer (Iowa) and Navorro Bowman (Penn State). But both have historically reloaded at linebacker, and this year should be no different. Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter returns for his third year as a starter, and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen are primed for bigger roles. Troy Johnson and Bruce Davis are two other names to watch, and hopes are high for freshman James Morris. Penn State loses all three starters, but Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu have played a lot of football. Michael Mauti's return from an ACL injury and Penn State's strong recruiting at linebacker also elevate hope for the group.
Next up: Secondary
More rankings ...
What's new: The offensive line certainly has a new look after the departures of Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks. Iowa will be breaking in a new right tackle, most likely Markus Zusevics, and the center spot is up for grabs between Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The only other spot that gets a major overhaul is linebacker, as standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds both depart. Iowa is one of only 11 FBS programs to return its coaching staff fully intact for 2010.
Sidelined: Iowa enters camp relatively healthy, although linebacker Ross Petersen won't participate in full-contact drills for at least a week because of a torn pectoral muscle.
Key battle: The competition at center between Koeppel and Ferentz should be good, but Iowa really needs to identify a second starting cornerback opposite Shaun Prater. Amari Spievey leaves a huge void, and the Hawkeyes will be looking to players like Micah Hyde and Jordan Bernstine to step up. Bernstine missed all of last season with an ankle injury, but he played as a reserve in his first two seasons. The situation at running back also should be very interesting to watch during camp.
New on the scene: Iowa doesn't typically play many true freshmen, but heralded tight end recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz should see the field following the departure of standout Tony Moeaki. Homegrown product A.J. Derby is a very interesting young prospect, but indications suggest he'll redshirt this fall.
Back in the fold: Jewel Hampton entered last summer as the projected successor to All-American Shonn Greene at running back, but a series of knee problems ended his season before it began. Hampton is back in the fold but must beat out Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for the starting job. He'll miss the season opener because of a suspension, but we should finally see Hampton's return in Week 2 against Iowa State.
Breaking out: Iowa opened up its passing attack last season and saw Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos emerge as legitimate deep threats in the Big Ten. Johnson-Koulianos likely will finish as Iowa's all-time leading receiver, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per reception with eight touchdowns. Both players could have even bigger years in 2010. Along the defensive line, everyone knows about Adrian Clayborn, but watch out for Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, who should see increased opportunities to make plays this fall.
Quotable: "We tend to be a developmental team. We were 9-0 at one point last year, and we were a good team, we had played some great football, but we weren't a great team at that point. In January, we were a pretty good team. We really grew. So it's a race against time. I don't know where we stack up in that race right now." -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz
As we all know, Ferentz won the award, his third after claiming the honor in both 2002 and 2004. Tressel amazingly has never won the award despite leading Ohio State to six Big Ten titles, a national title, seven BCS bowl appearances and a 59-13 mark in conference games since he took over as head coach in 2001.
Let the record show that I endorsed Ferentz for the 2009 award, though I wouldn't have made a fuss if it had gone to Tressel. I cited Iowa's ability to overcome a brutal road schedule and several key injuries as primary reasons why the award should go to Ferentz. Plus, Ferentz and his assistants regularly take average recruits and turn them into All-Big Ten performers.
"Ferentz had so many things working against him this season, namely a brutal road schedule and several unfortunate injuries. ... Ferentz readily admits Iowa isn't the most talented or deepest team in the Big Ten, but he and his assistants got the most out of the Hawkeyes this fall. ... Tressel deserves to win this award one of these seasons, and he did a great job turning things around after Purdue and worked his November magic yet again. I'd be happy for Tressel if he got the nod tonight, but the honor should go to Ferentz."
So how does the NFL draft change this, if at all?
Well, Iowa had six players drafted, including a first-round pick in left tackle Bryan Bulaga, a second-round pick in linebacker Pat Angerer, two third-round picks in cornerback Amari Spievey and tight end Tony Moeaki, and a fourth-round pick in linebacker A.J. Edds.
Ohio State, meanwhile, had its weakest draft in recent memory. The Buckeyes had no players drafted in the first three rounds and only one, outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, drafted before the seventh round.
The draft also mirrored the 2009 All-Big Ten selections, which included only two first-team selections from Ohio State (safety Kurt Coleman and guard Justin Boren) and five first-team selections from Iowa (Bulaga, Spievey, Angerer, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash).
Despite having a weak senior class, at least according to NFL potential, and one of his least decorated teams at Ohio State, Tressel won another Big Ten title, not to mention a Rose Bowl championship.
Did he deserve the Coach of the Year Award over Ferentz?
I've heard plenty from both fan bases on this topic, and I'll attempt to summarize the viewpoints.
Ohio State fan argument: It's ridiculous Tressel has never won the award despite dominating the Big Ten since his arrival. Why should he get penalized for Ohio State recruiting well and being the preseason favorite all the time? Look at the 2009 season. Iowa had more than twice as many first-team All-Big Ten selections, and a much stronger NFL draft class. And Ohio State still beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head to win the Big Ten championship and then the Rose Bowl. This was one of Tressel's best coaching jobs, and if he can't win the award in a year like this one, he'll never get it. O-H!
Iowa fan argument: It's ridiculous that Tressel has never won Big Ten Coach of the Year, but Ferentz deserved the award in 2009, just like he did in 2002 and 2004. Look at where Iowa's recruiting classes rank next to Ohio State's year after year. Ferentz consistently does more with less talent, while Tressel wins the league because he has the most gifted recruits. It goes back to recruiting and player development, and a coach should be judged by what he does with players after they come under his watch.
Both sides bring up great points, and both coaches certainly did enough to deserve the award last fall.
I took a look at who was winning Coach of the Year in other conferences. Specifically, I wanted to see how often the award went to the coach from the dominant team, or the team that recruited the best.
- Pete Carroll won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors three times during his dominant USC tenure. He claimed the award outright in 2006 and shared it with Washington State's Bill Doba in 2003 and UCLA's Karl Dorrell in 2005.
- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has won Big 12 Coach of the Year four times, while Texas' Mack Brown won his second award last season. The Sooners and Longhorns have dominated the league in the last decade.
- Florida's Urban Meyer has never won SEC Coach of the Year, making him the closest parallel to Tressel. Nick Saban has won or shared the award three times, once with LSU and twice with Alabama.
- Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer won back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. Beamer and the Hokies have been the league's dominant team since moving over from the Big East.
This shows that dominant head coaches can win Coach of the Year awards in their leagues, although Tressel and Meyer both have been passed over.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Tressel deserves this award, but unless Ohio State takes a nosedive on the field or in recruiting, his drought likely will continue.
- Clayborn will get a ton of preseason pub, and deservedly so, but Ferentz singled out defensive tackle Karl Klug for his performance this spring. Iowa loses leaders like linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds on defense, and Klug appears ready to take on a bigger role in that department. "Karl played well in the fall," Ferentz said, "but if you surveyed any 10 of our players now, at least nine of them would tell you, maybe 10, that Karl Klug is one of our best leaders and one of our best players." Iowa returns all four starters on the defensive line, and Ferentz considers junior defensive tackle Mike Daniels a fifth starter up front.
- Incoming freshman A.J. Derby is staying at quarterback, at least for the immediate future.Derby played quarterback in high school but was classified as an "athlete" by most recruiting services, including ESPN, leading many to believe he could see time at other positions. "We think he's going to be just fine at quarterback," Ferentz said. "We really have been impressed. And he fits right in with the other three because he's got a real good football mentality." I asked wide receivers coach Erik Campbell if he'd like Derby as a wide receiver, à la Marvin McNutt, and Campbell replied, "No. He's not an athletic type like Marvin. Rick Stanzi would be a pretty good wide receiver: He's nice and tall and long. But I don't think they'd make that trade." I don't think so, either.
- Ferentz thinks the quarterback group is the strongest that he has had since becoming Hawkeyes head coach. Stanzi has had a solid spring, focusing heavily on reducing his interceptions total. Backup James Vandenberg proved himself a bit against Ohio State last year, and Ferentz recognized third-stringer John Wienke for his play this spring.
- Iowa has shuffled the linebackers at different spots this spring, but if the Hawkeyes opened the season Saturday, they would have Jeff Tarpinian at middle linebacker, and Jeremiha Hunter and Tyler Nielsen at the two outside spots, Ferentz said. "They've all improved, including Jeremiah, a two-year starter," Ferentz said. "He's had his best spring, so that's good to see."
- Allen Reisner has stepped in well as the No. 1 tight end, and Ferentz has seen very promising signs from junior Brad Herman as a No. 2 option. "He's clearly had his best period of practice," Ferentz said of Herman. "That's something we really needed to see." Ferentz also thinks its possible incoming freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz could be a factor at tight end with a strong preseason.
- About the only downside to Iowa's spring has been injuries to the running backs. Adam Robinson has been out all spring following shoulder surgery. Brandon Wegher was practicing full-go until sustaining a shoulder sprain. Jewel Hampton is "absolutely fine" but hasn't participated in contact drills. "My name's Tucker, not sucker, so we're not going to have him get hit this spring," Ferentz said. "We're trying to be real careful with him." Brad Rogers will get most of the work in Saturday's spring game, but all three primary backs will be fine for fall camp. Ferentz and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe both said it's possible Iowa could split the carries evenly among the three backs.
- It's too soon to make season predictions, but I'll say this: Iowa won't be overconfident, and besides Ohio State, no team is better prepared to handle expectations than the Hawkeyes. There aren't a lot of egos walking around Iowa's football complex, and players know just how close they were to a Rose Bowl last year, and just how close they were to a mediocre season. That's a good sign heading into the 2010 season.
One problem you encounter when a league boasts so many elite players at one position is that most of them tend to get overlooked. The Big Ten had three consensus selections for first-team all-conference in 2009: Michigan State's Greg Jones, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Iowa's Pat Angerer. I'd put those three against any group in college football, and I'd like my chances. If you're running a 3-4 scheme, toss in Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009.
But the performances of Jones, Bowman, Angerer and Borland overshadowed guys like Homan. How many linebackers record 108 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defended, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries and don't make first-team all-conference?
The good thing for Homan is he has another season to get the attention he deserves. The same can't be said for Minnesota's all-senior linebacking corps of Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, each of whom ranked among the Big Ten's tackles leaders last fall. Or Indiana's Matt Mayberry, a blog favorite who flew under the radar. Or Iowa's A.J. Edds, who finished the season with five interceptions and nine passes defended. Penn State's Josh Hull got some love with a second-team All-Big Ten pick from the coaches, but his value to the defense wasn't really known outside Happy Valley.
Those players have moved on, but here are a few linebackers who will step into the spotlight in 2010:
Ross Homan, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats: 108 tackles, 5 interceptions, 10 passes defended, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries
Brian Rolle, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats: 95 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defended
Quentin Davie, Sr., Northwestern
2009 stats: 90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 quarterback hurries, 1 interception
Jason Werner, Sr., Purdue
2009 stats: 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended
Eric Gordon, Sr., Michigan State
2009 stats: 92 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick
Jeremiha Hunter, Sr., Iowa
2009 stats: 89 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick, 1 interception, 5 passes defended
Mike Taylor, So., Wisconsin
2009 stats: 46 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, led the team in tackles before suffering season-ending injury against Iowa on Oct. 17.
Tyler Replogle, Sr., Indiana
2009 stats: 80 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups
Joe Holland, Jr., Purdue
2009 stats: 81 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended
Ian Thomas, Jr., Illinois
2009 stats: 95 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
- Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
- Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
- End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
- Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
- Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
- Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
Spring practice starts: March 14
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
- Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
- Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
- Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
- Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
- The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
- Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
- Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
- Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
- Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
- Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
- Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
- Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
- Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
- The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
- Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
- The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Recruits: 21 (all high school seniors, two players have enrolled early)
Top prospects: Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz is an ESPNU 150 selection who should challenge for playing time right away following the departure of Tony Moeaki. Offensive tackle Andrew Donnal certainly fits the mold at Iowa, which always produces great O-linemen. Marcus Coker won't contribute right away at a crowded running back position, but he'll be very good down the line. Athlete A.J. Derby will find a spot on the field early in his career.
Sleepers: Linebacker James Morris could end up being a key contributor for the Hawkeyes defense. Austin Vier is an intriguing prospect who will get a shot at quarterback but likely will move to tight end.
Needs met: Iowa will need to reload along the defensive line beginning in 2011, so five recruits at either end or tackle should help. The same goes at linebacker. The offensive line has a few question marks this year, and while Donnal could step in as a freshman, both he and Brandon Scherff will help in the future. This class addresses the tight end position for years to come.
Analysis: Arguably no staff in the Big Ten gets more out of less than Iowa's coaches, so fans clamoring for five-star recruits should simply consult the history books. Iowa doesn't need immediate help at too many positions, though Fiedorowicz could be a key contributor this season alongside Allen Reisner. There's a lot of versatility in this class, so it will be interesting to see what Kirk Ferentz and his assistants do with players like Derby and Vier.
Scouts Inc. grade: B-minus
What Kirk Ferentz said:
- "This year we went a little heavier maybe on defense, certainly with three of our four defensive linemen next year being seniors. The next two guys being juniors. It was real important to us to get some guys in that we felt could be involved right away. And same thing with our linebacker position, we've got a heavy group of seniors next year. We just graduated two outstanding players [Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds]. So those are two positions we felt were really, it was important to fortify."
- (On A.J. Derby) "He's a winner. And on top of that, you know, we think he's got a lot of upside at the quarterback position. If that doesn't work down the road, there's probably a lot of things he could do. ... That's our intent is for him to play quarterback. We're eager to see how he can progress and improve. And if things change in our style a little bit, that's fine."
- "There aren't too many guys we're counting on to save our team next year. But they're really going to be important in our future. And we'll have the discussion down the road possibly about are you going to be a special teams guy, a back-up guy, get your feet wet, and then we're going to have a lot of vacancies a year from now. I know that."
The rest of the country, not to mention the NFL's top talent evaluators, got clued in Saturday afternoon at the Senior Bowl.
Graham, the outstanding defensive end from Michigan, earned MVP honors for the North team in a 31-13 victory against the South all-stars in Mobile, Ala. Graham recorded three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and forced a Zac Robinson fumble.
"I just wanted to go out and show them boys I come hard and I was in the best shape of my life," he told reporters afterward. "I came out and went hard every play."
Graham most likely locked up a spot in the first round of April's draft after a great week in Mobile. He was somewhat overlooked the last two seasons because of Michigan's struggles, particularly on defense, but he shouldn't be punished for the team's shortcomings. No Big Ten defender had more impressive numbers than Graham, who led the nation in tackles for loss and ranked 14th in sacks.
Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds also headlined a strong defensive effort from the North squad with an interception and a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown. Edds had two tackles in the game.
Other Big Ten notables in the game:
- Michigan State's Brett Swenson put the North team on the scoreboard with a 43-yard field goal and went 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts.
- Michigan's Zoltan Mesko averaged 32.3 yards on three punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line.
- Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman and Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick both recorded a tackle.
- Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal had one assisted tackle for loss.
- Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham recorded one catch for 10 yards.
Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham is impressing the scouts, a development that shouldn't surprise any of us who watched No. 55 dominate the Big Ten this fall.
Scouts Inc.'s Day 2 blog recognizes Graham, who "has already emerged as the leader of the North defense. Graham is quick with good upper-body strength and technique. He never stops working, either. His motor is just ridiculous."
Illinois tight end Michael Hoomanawanui also is looking good during practices. He was recognized as one of the North team's stars on Tuesday. As Scouts Inc. writes: "He is a crisp, physical route-runner who does not get pushed around and catches the ball well in traffic. We'd like to see a more violent punch as a run-blocker but he showed good leg drive on Day 2 and is by far the best inline blocker among the North tight ends."
As for the other Big Ten prospects ...
- Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois
- Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
- A.J. Edds, LB, Iowa
- Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
- Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Illinois
- Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
- Mike Neal, DT, Purdue
- Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
- O'Brien Schofield, LB, Wisconsin
- Brett Swenson, K, Michigan State
Here's a look:
Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.
Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.
Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.
Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.
Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.
Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.
Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.
Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.
Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.
Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.
Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.
Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.
Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.
Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.
Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.
Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.
Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.
Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.
Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.
Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.
Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.
Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.
Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.
Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.
Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.
Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.
Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.
Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.
RB: Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.
WR: DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.
WR: Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.
TE: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.
C: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.
G: Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.
G: Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.
OT: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
OT: Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.
DL: J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.
DL: Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.
LB: Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.
DB: Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.
DB: Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.
DB: Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.
DB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.
K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
P: Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.
Returner: Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.
Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.