Big Ten: Alfonzo Dennard

What a month for the Big Ten.

It began with a better-than-expected result on New Year's Day, typically a gloomy afternoon for the league. Then Ohio State won the national championship, the Big Ten's first crown since the 2002 season. More good news arrived Sunday as the Super Bowl XLIX matchup was set, featuring two quarterbacks from the Big Ten.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a Michigan product, will make his sixth Super Bowl appearance. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who played his final college season at Wisconsin, will attempt to become the first quarterback to win Super Bowls in consecutive seasons since Brady in the 2003 and 2004 seasons.

It's the first time two starting quarterbacks who played for Big Ten schools will match up in a Super Bowl.

(This is the point where some grumps yell about how Wisconsin can't claim Wilson. Nice try. He was a very good quarterback at NC State. He became a national awards candidate and an All-American at Wisconsin under the tutelage of Paul Chryst. Wilson always will be a Badger. End of discussion).

Another Big Ten product, Garry Gilliam, figured prominently in Seattle's wild comeback in the NFC title game. The former Penn State tight end, who moved to tackle later in his career, caught a touchdown pass on a fake field-goal attempt, putting the Seahawks on the scoreboard.

Here's a full list of the Big Ten's Super Bowl XLIX connections:


Active Roster
  • Head coach Pete Carroll was an Ohio State assistant in 1979
  • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin, leading the Badgers to a Big Ten title in 1993 and a Rose Bowl championship
  • Running backs coach Sherman Smith was an Illinois assistant from 1992-94

Active Roster

*-Did not play in Big Ten, as school joined conference later

Practice Squad
  • Justin Green, cornerback, Illinois
  • Eric Martin, linebacker, Nebraska
  • Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1999-2000
  • Tight ends coach Brian Daboll was a graduate assistant at Michigan State in 1998-99

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 20, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. Check out the full ESPN bowl schedule (with broadcast teams).

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter if you aren't already.

To the inbox ...

Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, with all the talk about Penn State's bowl ban being looked into this offseason, I have a hypothetical question for you. If the NCAA were to drop Penn State's bowl ban, would the Big Ten comply and make them eligible for the Big Ten championship? Or, is it possible the Big Ten could extend that ban separate from the NCAA?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, the Big Ten's penalties always were tied to the NCAA's. Big Ten rules state that if the NCAA declares a team ineligible for postseason play, that team can't play in the Big Ten championship game. So if the NCAA lifts the bowl ban, the Big Ten would declare Penn State eligible for a league title (the Lions already can win their division). Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been pleased with Penn State's response to former Sen. George Mitchell, the independent athletics integrity monitor assigned to the school. So I'd be shocked if the Big Ten added or maintained any sanctions against Penn State once the NCAA ones are lifted.

Josh from Indy writes: Have you ever thought about the comparison between Darqueze and his cousin Alfonzo? Both had great careers for their respective teams. Just wanted your take on this.

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, I definitely thought about it after Darqueze Dennard won the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award, which Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard claimed in 2011. I can't imagine two family members have won the same award while playing for different teams in the same league. Pretty cool. Darqueze's numbers this season are more impressive than Alfonzo's in 2011, although Alfonzo was a true shut-down guy who basically eliminated one side of the field. Darqueze's pro prospects are better, as many peg him as a first-round draft pick. We'll never know where Alfonzo would have been drafted if he hadn't had the off-field trouble. Both are great players, though.

Derek from Preston, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, I was just curious as to what you thoughts were on Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' Twitter tirade against Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz is beloved for the most part in Hawkeye Country, and this whole thing just seems weird. Why now?

Adam Rittenberg: The timing is interesting, Derek, as much of this happened three years ago. I understand Derrell's perspective that Ferentz blackballed him with the NFL and stifled his playing career. Some of his teammates back up the accusations against Ferentz and strength coach Chris Doyle. It's an unfortunate situation, but I would be very surprised if Ferentz or Iowa has anything to say about the accusations, especially so long after the fact. Iowa has moved forward and Ferentz's word still carries weight in NFL circles.

DJK has the right to air his grievances, and he has never held back on his views. Honestly, I can't think of a Big Ten player I've covered who fit in less with a particular program. But I doubt there will be major consequences for Ferentz or Iowa.

Fatback from Newark, Ohio, writes: Just wanting to know what your thoughts about Ohio State's defensive coordinator position. I know Fickell is an OSU guy, but we definitely need a change of pace. What do you think about Fickell moving down to just a position coach ( if he doesn't get another job this offseason), and hiring another person from the outside or moving Mike Vrabel up? I think with Vrabel we would play much more aggressive and sit back in all the zone coverage that teams seem to kill us on. Again, your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be tough for Ohio State to demote Fickell, who was the Big Ten's third highest-paid assistant this year ($610,000). You're not going to pay that salary to a position coach (at least you shouldn't). Fickell still brings a lot of value to Ohio State as a recruiter, and while his defense has its issues this year, youth in the front seven and Christian Bryant's injury didn't help matters. On the other hand, Urban Meyer has extremely high standards, and if he feels Fickell isn't helping the team to a national championship, maybe you make the change.

I've heard that Vrabel has definite head-coaching potential, and he did a nice job with a young defensive line this year. With Everett Withers reportedly departing to James Madison, don't be surprised to see a co-coordinator situation with Vrabel and Fickell. Perhaps Vrabel has more say on play calls. I just can't see Ohio State forcing out Fickell right now.

Joe from Kentucky writes: How can you guys leave off Blake Countess and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from the All-B1G selection for Bradley Roby? Roby was suspended for his off-the-field antics (looks really all-conference) and he got exposed by any of the good WRs he faced. Jared Abbrederis and Jeremy Gallon made him look silly to the tune of almost 400 yards combined. That does not sound like an all-conference performer to me. On the other hand, Countess led the conference in INTs and Jean-Baptiste was right there (if not tied). I think you guys were a little biased in trying to make MSU and OSU the top two represented teams (which their records show). Also, Ryan Shazier is the only person on that Ohio State defense to be named All-B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: Roby's one-game suspension really isn't relevant, as we included Carlos Hyde on the team despite his three-game suspension because he was the Big Ten's best running back in league play (few would argue). I agree that Roby struggled against Abbrederis in the Wisconsin game, but many of Gallon's yards didn't come against Roby in the Michigan game. Roby made a touchdown-saving tackle on Gallon, running completely across the field, one of several displays of athleticism he had this season. He had a very good Big Ten season and is one of the better special-teams players I can remember in this league. SJB had a nice season but no picks in Big Ten play. You could make a case for Countess, but I still feel Roby performed better in Big Ten play than any corner other than MSU's Dennard. Shazier is the only other Buckeye defender on our All-Big Ten team, although lineman Michael Bennett deservedly made the second-team.

Will from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Should I be concerned that Michigan will be breaking in two new starters at both offensive tackle positions in 2014? Lewan and Schofield took 99.9 percent of the snaps this year, likely making their replacements having VERY little, to no game experience. After the abysmal display on the interior of the line this year, I do believe there are positives in game time reps of the interior line translating to better protection up the middle next season. Will inexperience on the edge hurt the line more next year than the inside this year, or can you mask the youth more on the outside than in?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Will. I agree that Michigan's interior line will be improved next year because of all the experience gained, even through some tough times. It will be interesting to see what Michigan does with Erik Magnuson, who can play either guard or tackle but might be best at tackle depending on his development. The staff was excited about Ben Braden's development in the offseason, and he could step in for Lewan at left tackle. I'm really interested to see how the line performs in Arizona following bowl practices, but you're right that the group will continue to be under the microscope with both veteran tackles departing.

Ken from Carmel, Ind., writes: When Clifton Garrett recently committed to LSU, he mentioned the great game-day atmosphere. Having attended a game there, I agree. Sometimes I think the B10 doesn't get that -- and is slow to pick up other little things like that (night games) that can make the difference in winning or losing recruiting battles, and eventually games. As an Iowa grad, the large number of 11 a.m. games certainly don't help the game-day atmosphere. I get the feeling that the people at the top -- president, and A.D. -- don't understand this. You'll have a couple more arrests with later games, but most people just cheer louder and have more fun - a.k.a., better game-day atmosphere. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Couldn't agree more, Ken, and I've been writing this for years. The Big Ten needs to prioritize prime-time games and become more open to weekday games, which would get some of the smaller programs some much-needed exposure. The good news: the league is definitely warming up to the idea, adding more prime-time games and becoming open to November night games, most likely in the 2014 season. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said Thursday that the Big Ten's next television contract will feature more prime-time games. That's a good thing, as the noon ET and 3:30 p.m. ET windows just don't carry the same weight with recruits.
Michigan State's incentives this week range from the macro (winning the Legends division) to the micro (beating Nebraska for the first time) to the personal.

For Spartans cornerback Darqueze Dennard, it's definitely personal.

Dennard knows the text message or phone call is coming. He's not sure when, but it'll be before kickoff. His cousin, former Nebraska star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, won't let the week pass without reminding Darqueze of what happened the last two times the Spartans and Huskers played.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
AP Photo/Al GoldisMark Dantonio said his team and Nebraska both have risen from the ashes of September.
"It's my last time playing [Nebraska], so I'm very excited to try and get some braggin' rights over my cousin to let him be quiet," Darqueze Dennard told "I'm going to send my little text message to him to tell him what we're going to do.

"I'm going to tell him, 'Watch the Spartan Dawgs put on a show.'"

It will be tough for the Spartan Dawgs, also known as the Michigan State defense, to top the show they presented Nov. 2 against archrival Michigan. They held Michigan to minus-48 net rush yards, the lowest total in Michigan history, and recorded seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss.

Michigan State certainly wants to atone for its defensive issues in last year's 28-24 loss to Nebraska at Spartan Stadium. Nebraska erased a 24-14 fourth-quarter deficit and drove 80 yards in the final 80 seconds, scoring the game-winning touchdown with six ticks to play.

The Huskers comeback might never have been completed if Dennard's 96-yard interception return for a touchdown hadn't been called back on a questionable personal foul penalty against Johnny Adams. Another call went against Dennard on Nebraska's final drive, as a pass interference penalty on third-and-10 gave Nebraska a first-and-goal at the Spartans' 5-yard line. Dennard can't remember how many times he has been asked about the game.

"Getting the interception called back, which was a legal block, and the pass-interference call that was questionable, it was hard," Dennard said. "I just remember everybody was excited, the crowd was going crazy, and when they called it back, the whole stadium went back down, and our energy level went back down, too.

"We still had opportunities to stop them."

If the Spartans can stop Nebraska on its home field on Saturday they'll claim at least a share of the Legends division title and a two-game lead on both Nebraska and Minnesota with two weeks to play. Michigan State then could punch its ticket to Indianapolis the following week if it beats Northwestern, or Minnesota loses to Wisconsin.

A loss Saturday would move control of the division to Nebraska, which has revived its season since the Hail Mary game-winner Nov. 2 against Northwestern.

"It's about trying to earn that opportunity to go to the championship game," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "The road goes through Lincoln for Michigan State. We can't really bring up the past. We've got to learn from the past."

Michigan State's past with Nebraska reveals some tough lessons for the guys in green. Nebraska is 7-0 all-time against the Spartans, including 2-0 as a member of the Big Ten.

Of the many accomplishments Michigan State has in the Dantonio area, two items remain on the to-do list: Beat Nebraska and win an outright Big Ten championship. Fittingly, the Spartans must check off the first to get to the second.

"It would be a great thing for me, knowing that I've beat every team in the Big Ten in my career," Dennard said. "A lot of people don't have the chance to say that."

Dennard and his fellow Spartan defenders won't have to deal with Taylor Martinez on Saturday. The Nebraska quarterback, likely out of the season with a foot injury, gashed MSU for 365 yards (205 rush, 160 pass) and four touchdowns in last year's game.

Although Huskers signal-callers Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III both have their strengths, Nebraska could "run anything," with Martinez in the game, Dennard said. Despite a more limited play selection, Nebraska is 5-0 when Armstrong starts and has seen its young defense mature in recent weeks.

"They're much like us," Dantonio said. "People in September weren't saying too many kind things about the Spartans. We've sort of risen from the ashes. You can make that parallel comparison with Nebraska.

"Both of us are playing good football right now."

Michigan State played great football in its last outing, and while an open week could stem momentum, Dennard saw his teammates lock in on their chief goal.

"Knowing it's right here, we all get motivated," he said. "We all have the same vision."

Lincoln is in the Spartans' viewfinder this week. If they get out with a win, their next stop should be Indianapolis.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 21, 2013
I don't wanna meet anything on Monday that I'm gonna eat on Friday.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 20, 2013
One week until the first Big Ten spring practice.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 14, 2013
You are obligated to love these links and send them flowers.
It was a rough day for Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, but a great one for his players, who needed to get well after last week's loss at UCLA.

Pelini had to be checked out by the team doctor in the first half and remained in the locker room after halftime because of flu-like symptoms. Defensive coordinator John Papuchis took over the head-coaching duties in the third quarter.

Pelini didn't have to fret much about his team, which cruised to a 42-13 win against Arkansas State after claiming a 28-3 halftime lead. Despite missing top back Rex Burkhead (knee) for the second straight game, Nebraska had more than enough offensive firepower to overwhelm the Red Wolves.

I-back Ameer Abdullah (167 rush yards, 2 TDs) and wide receiver Kenny Bell (two TDs, 71 receiving yards) both had huge days, while quarterback Taylor Martinez completed his first eight pass attempts and finished 13-of-14 passing for 180 yards and two touchdowns, adding 52 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Martinez's lone blunder came in the third quarter, when he was sacked and fumbled, and Arkansas State recovered for a touchdown.

While the offensive fireworks were nice, Nebraska really needed its defense to step up after allowing 653 yards to UCLA. The Huskers allowed yards and first downs (17) but made plays when it mattered and received contributions from several defensive backs, including P.J. Smith, Ciante Evans and Daimion Stafford. Nebraska had high hopes for its secondary despite the loss of All-Big Ten cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Saturday's effort is a step in the right direction as Big Ten play gets closer.

Check the blog later for updates on Pelini's health. Hoping the coach makes a speedy recovery.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 31, 2012
Enjoy the games tonight and tomorrow. I know I will.

Joe from Saline, Mich., writes: Before we can label the Wolverines as "back" don't they have to start beating the upper end B1G teams? Over the past 4 years they have gone 2-13 against MSU, OSU, PSU, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, you're right that Michigan needs to record some key wins against the Big Ten's best. That said, a win against the defending national champion at a neutral site would show Michigan once again belongs among the nation's elite. No Big Ten program has done what Alabama has under Nick Saban in recent years, so you could argue a win Saturday night would be bigger than any win Michigan could record against a Big Ten power this season. It wouldn't mean much if the Wolverines fell apart in conference play, but that seems unlikely. Bottom line: Michigan needs to end the losing streaks against Michigan State and Iowa, and record a win against a quality Ohio State team (last year's squad wasn't). But beating Alabama would be huge for Brady Hoke and his program.

Zach from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, Nebraska is optimistic about the defense returning to prominence this fall. I have agreed to a certain degree because the depth is better, except when I read that Ciante Evans is a budding star out of Lincoln, I begin to get a little skeptical. Evans was a huge weakness in the secondary last year, especially in games against Fresno St, Washington, Ohio St and Northwestern. So much so that they converted Corey Cooper and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from safety and wide receiver at one point. Is Nebraska that desperate for star power that were banking on Evans to blossom into the next Prince Amukamara or Alfonso Dennard? Say it ain't so.

Adam Rittenberg: Zach, while I understand your concern about Evans, who entered last season with some hype and didn't back it up, I wouldn't write him off, either. He seems to have taken accountability during the offseason and improved his play during spring practice and into fall camp. Players can make strides after a tough season, and Evans, by most accounts, has a better understanding of the defense and the nickel position. I don't think Nebraska needs Evans to be Amukamara or Dennard. While it'd be nice if a superstar cornerback or two emerged, the secondary's overall depth should be strong enough this season. I don't see the excitement about Evans as a cause for panic.

FFXLion from Washington D.C., writes: Glad that the season is finally upon us. You and Brian did pre-season predictions for the B1G. For fun, my 13 year old son did predictions, which I shared in the comments on the blog. He was high on the Legends Division and couldn't really separate UM, MSU and Nebraska (in his mind, at least), so he predicted a 3-way tie among these teams at 7-1 in conference. While you could debate whether this is plausible, it did generate a lot of discussions about 3-way tiebreakers, and it would seem that this particular hypothetical tie would be broken by BCS standings. My question to you: If these teams end up tied this way, who do you think is MOST likely to get to the CCG, and why? And, who do you think would be least likely?

Adam Rittenberg: FFX, the final BCS standings no longer play nearly as big a factor in the Big Ten's tiebreaker system. We went over this on the blog last year, but it's always good to rehash.
  • If three teams finished tied atop a division, you first look at their records against each other
  • If one team defeated the two others, it would go to Indy as the division winner
  • The next tiebreaker is records within the division. So if two teams had a division loss and the other had a loss outside the division, the one with the loss outside the division would go
  • The next tiebreaker is records against the next best team in the division (fourth place)

You have to go way down the tiebreaker list before the final BCS standings come into play. Bottom line: it's a lot easier to break ties now within divisions because all the teams play each another.

Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, ESPN's recent focus on the Heisman helped me remember a major question I had last year. As a Buckeye fan, how did Montee(ay) Ball NOT win the Heisman last year? I understand that Wisconsin did not win the NC, and maybe they didn't have as tough a schedule as others, but come on! It's not like he was playing in the MAC? This is the Big Ten! Who did RG3 play? Did they win the NC? Seriously think about this, what did Ball have to do in order to win it? He had the 2nd greatest RB season EVER! There can't be more of an obvious prejudice against the Big Ten or a more overlooked player EVER. What's "their" argument? Please, tell me.

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, some good points. As Brian Bennett has pointed out several times, Ball's 2011 season likely will gain more appreciation in time than it did when it actually happened. His numbers are insane, and he recorded them in a power conference. Several factors worked against him, some of which illustrate problems with the Heisman race. Wisconsin promoting quarterback Russell Wilson for the Heisman -- and justifiably so -- before Ball didn't help Ball's cause. You also had another running back in Trent Richardson who played for a team (Alabama) and in a league (SEC) more highly regarded Wisconsin and the Big Ten. Griffin was a more familiar name nationally than Ball, and while you can argue the Big 12 was meh, most folks would say the same about the Big Ten in 2011. I think Griffin deserved the Heisman and voted for him, but Ball should have gained more serious consideration for the award and finished higher in the final voting. It also would have helped if Wisconsin had stayed in the national title picture longer. And yes, scheduling plays a role. Ball would have benefited from a big performance against another elite team from a top conference in September.

Mark from Wilmette, Ill., writes: How many mailbags do I have to read before there's a question about my beloved Northwestern Wildcats? Here's one for you: what are the chances NU exceeds expectations this season? With a defense that can't be any worse than last year, and an offense led by the dynamic Kain Colter, I think we could win 8 games this season. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ask and you shall receive, Mark. The two big question marks for Northwestern are the secondary and the offensive line. One has been historically bad; the other looks a little shaky entering the season. If both units are above average, Northwestern has a chance to win eight or more games, especially if it capitalizes on what should be a favorable opening schedule. The Wildcats can't get shredded by every quarterback they face. Part of that is having a better pass rush than in 2011, when Northwestern rarely generated any pressure. But another part is having more athletes and playmakers in the secondary. Colter is a stud and could turn out be the best fit Northwestern has had at the helm of its spread offense. But the Wildcats also need to run the ball and get more contributions from the running back position, which has been a weakness under Pat Fitzgerald. The line needs to perform like it did in last year's Nebraska game more often. If it does, Northwestern can surprise some folks in the Legends Division.

Michael from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: In your latest article you said that Michigan has had a historical bad defense... I couldn't disagree more. I think the backbone of Michigans national prominence in the last 20 years (barring the last 5 or so) has been their defense. Can you please explain your position with some concrete stats. Without a further explanation, I have no choice but to disagree with you which is frustrating because I have enjoyed and trusted your writing for a long time.Sincerely-A proud Michigan fan

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, I think you misread that statement. I wrote that Michigan had a historically bad defense from 2008-10 under Rich Rodriguez. Do you really need me to rehash those painful stats? Here's one: Michigan finished 110th in total defense in 2010, allowing more than 450 yards per game. That's historically bad for U-M. Of course, the program's history is steeped in great defenses. But that particular period saw a major decline. Fortunately, Hoke and his staff have things on the right track again.

Nathan from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, for weeks I've been reading comments and questions from other readers about their disappointment in MSU being ranked so highly among you and Brian and other outlets picking them to win the division and possible Rose Bowl Berth because of the fact that they lost so much on offense. While I agree that starting three brand new receivers with little to no game experience is a little unorthodox and rarely happens, EVERY team in the country starts a new QB every 2-3 years with them also having little to no game experience. Why is the fact that Andrew Maxwell is a new starter causing such a huge fuss among people? Even if it's clear that he is further along than Cousins was at this point and could possibly be better by being in the program for four years now?

Adam Rittenberg: Nathan, you make a good point about the nature of college football and the quarterback transitions we see every 2-3 years at virtually every program. I think folks who don't know Maxwell's background assume he's going to fall apart on Friday night, which, in fairness, he might. But he's not a true freshman who has never stepped on a field with Big Ten defenders. He practices against a very good defense in East Lansing, and he has prepared for this moment for more than two years. I don't think you can say he's further along than Cousins was at this point until you see him play an entire game, but the Boise State matchup will provide a great gauge of his progress.

Dan from Omaha writes: Not sure I agree with your choice on who has the most to lose. Really, I'm not sure Penn State has much to lose...given their situation, I feel most would be sympathetic for at least this season, given the player turnover, the events that have taken place over the last several months, a new head coach, and Ohio being a generally solid team. I almost feel like Michigan could have the most to lose, and not just for themselves but for the conference as a whole. Getting blown out by Alabama could not only be demoralizing for the Wolverines, it could further a generally negative perception of the conference in terms of strength. Playing close or winning the game would provide a huge jolt to their own players' confidence, as well as give the conference a much needed shot in the arm in terms of perceived strength. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, some good points. You might have missed it in the lead-in, but Brian and I both feel Michigan State has the most to lose in Week 1. The Spartans get a new-look Boise State team in their house, and send an elite defense against a first-time starting quarterback. They have to get that win. We framed the question as, "besides Michigan State, who has the most to lose?" Michigan is an interesting option, and I agree that a blowout loss would do some damage for the Wolverines and certainly for the Big Ten. But the Wolverines are still building their program in Year 2 of the Brady Hoke era. No one expects them to beat Alabama, and a loss, even of the blowout variety, wouldn't be the end of the world. They still have opportunities to make strides against Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, etc. I don't think there would be the doom-and-gloom in Ann Arbor after a blowout loss like there would be in State College after a game Penn State is supposed to win and needs to win after such a tough offseason.

John from Johnson City, Tenn., writes: Your Purdue best/worst case scenarios were spot on except for two things: 1) Your missing 3 ACL tears and 2) Purdue athletes only seem to get arrested at poorly named Where Else?

Adam Rittenberg: I still have a soft spot for Harry's, but the track record at Where Else? suggests that's where bad things happen for the Boilers. You're right about including the ACLs (although I hope that trend ends at Purdue). Maybe there's an APPACLHG (Angry Purdue Player ACL Hating God) lurking around West Lafayette. He must be stopped.

Big Ten mailblog

August, 28, 2012
Game week edition.

Charles from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam, we're only 2 days away from Big Ten football! FINALLY! Do you think that Gilbert will be able to cause enough disruption in opposing backfields to take some pressure off the Badger's secondary? This D looked great on paper but I'm worried it's mostly due to the offense keeping things rolling and with an unknown quantity under center the defense may have to win a game or two this year and I think Gilbert can be the Watt-like spark that gets it done, what do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: David Gilbert's presence should help Wisconsin's pass rush, but the jury is out on whether he'll be a true difference-maker. He had a nice start to 2011 before the injury, and while he has worked his way back, he needs to show explosiveness off of the edge for the Badgers' line. I think the numbers lied a bit about Wisconsin's defense in 2011. While the unit had some good players, the elite numbers were due in large part to not being on the field very much because of the Badgers' record-setting offense. I completely agree that Wisconsin's defense will need to win a game or two this season, and having a better pass rush is critical. Gilbert certainly is a part of that, but I need to see him against Big Ten competition before proclaiming him a difference-maker.

Dennis from Airville, Pa., writes: Adam: Both you & BB have predicted that no team will get out of the Big 10 unbeaten. I don't see any team coming out of conference unbeaten. The most likely in my opinion is USC although they face Oregon. Will this year's NC game be between 2 teams each with at least 1 loss? If so, what are the chances that 1 of those teams will be a 1 loss Big 10 team? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Dennis. Conference perception has a lot to do with a one-loss team reaching the national title game, and the Big Ten's perception isn't good right now (no top-5 teams, only one top-10 team). I'm trying to figure out a scenario where a one-loss Big Ten team would get in, most likely over several other good one-loss teams. Maybe if Michigan barely loses to Alabama and runs the table, it could rematch with the Tide in the title game. Michigan State also has some nonconference schedule strength with both Boise State and Notre Dame. But beyond that, I have a hard time seeing a one-loss Big Ten team getting in because the league isn't perceived to be among the nation's best. The SEC has one spot in the title game locked down. The other could go to a one-loss team from the Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten or ACC. Unless chaos ensues elsewhere, I just don't see the Big Ten team getting the nod over those from the other leagues. Michigan certainly has the best chance, though.

Nate from Nodak writes: I talk to people about the upcoming season and they all seem to agree about Nebraska. The defense is question, no star power is the big point they make, but remember last year Crick wasn't around and 100% the whole year(pectoral injury), Dennard the same way(hamstring if i recall correctly). Obviously David was there and was extremely important and you cant replace a player like that easily if at all. But is there too much emphasis being put on "star power". To me they are deeper at linebacker this year. The secondary returns almost everyone and will be much more experienced. The Dline is pretty much all back as well and they gained experience last year too. The point I'm getting at is I wouldn't be surprised to see this defense finish at the top of the league, combine that with an offense that should be better, this is a team that I believe will be in Indy at the end of the year. Your Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It's entirely possible, Nate, and it wouldn't surprise me if things played out like that for Nebraska. On paper, this Huskers defense is deeper and potentially better than its predecessor, despite the loss of star power. While I'm more concerned about the linebacker depth than you are, I'll reserve judgment on the group until a few Big Ten games are played. I do expect better overall play from both the line and the secondary. What I really want to see out of Nebraska is a unit that makes fewer mistakes and shows why its unique scheme can be a difference maker in the league. Crick talked a lot last summer about how Nebraska is so different with the two-gap defense and how the Big Ten won't know what hit it. I didn't see that schematic advantage on the field much at all. If the Huskers execute their scheme and get production from a wider variety of sources, they should have a great chance to win the division. But they also must win big games on the road within the league. Until then, it's tough to brand Nebraska as a bona fide Big Ten title contender.

Kevin from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, I am really scratching my head looking at your Bowl projections and Power Rankings. I just don't understand why you and Brian have so much love for Michigan State this year. I understand their defense is going to be stout, but their offense will surely be below average and possibly terrible on the road. Don't you have to score points in football to win games? They bring in a new quarterback with receivers who have no game time experience. They will not be able to rely on Bell running the ball all season. Michigan deserve more credit for they are more balanced, return players in key positions, and like you and Brian have mentioned, will be better than last year's team but with a possible worse record. Their record in the B1G will be equal if not better though. I see Michigan beating MSU AND OSU this year en route to a big ten title and rose bowl berth after beating Wisconsin in Indianapolis. GO BLUE from the BUCKEYE STATE!

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, you certainly could turn out to be right, and Michigan might be the more balanced team in the end. But I'd still take one nationally elite unit (Michigan State's defense) and one average one (Spartans offense) over two units with potentially significant question marks. Let's not gloss over what Michigan lost, especially on both lines. If the Wolverines show me they can consistently win at the line of scrimmage -- starting Saturday against Alabama -- I'll feel totally different about their season. Right now, I see a team with some significant question marks on both lines (defense more than offense) and an absolutely brutal schedule. Michigan won 11 games last season, but the schedules simply don't compare. As I've said all along, I think by season's end, Michigan will be a better team than it was in 2011. But the record won't match up. As for Michigan State, the quarterback and receiver questions are justified, but plenty of Big Ten teams get by with a game manager and effective run game, which I think the Spartans will have with Le'Veon Bell and a more seasoned line.

Drew from Swansea, Ill., writes: What team do you think is most likely to make your predictions look silly (either overestimating or underestimating)? I'm clearly biased as an Illinois fan, but I think the schedule is somewhat favorable (don't think it's farfetched to go 7-0 or 6-1 at home and games at Arizona State and Northwestern are certainly winnable).

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois is a good call, Drew. Big Ten coaches I spoke with this month certainly are aware of the talent Tim Beckman inherits in Champaign. On the flip side, both the Western Michigan and Arizona State games will be tricky, especially for an Illini secondary that isn't 100 percent. I'd be pretty worried about the opener, actually. The other thing working against Illinois is the Big Ten road schedule: Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Northwestern. Pretty tough slate there. A lot comes down to the offense and whether playmakers can emerge around Nathan Scheelhaase. Illinois won't have to score 35 points to win games because of its defense, but it'll need to show more of a pulse offensively than it did down the stretch in 2011. The Illini are a fascinating team, and one that could make my predictions look way off base.

Tyler from Charlotte, Mich., writes: What are the chances your fantasy team beats Brian's this year? I will go ahead and make a bold prediction and say that you go undefeated this year. Bennett is going to hit that sophomore slump this time around.

Adam Rittenberg: That's a bold prediction, indeed. Check's in the mail, Tyler. I definitely like my chances, and it's going to kill Bennett not having his man-crush Montee Ball on his team this fall.

Ford from Omaha writes: I have a two pronged question: 1) How long until the B1G is forced to go to 14 teams to keep up in the conference arms race? 2) Which level of success does the conference need to have against Notre Dame and for how long until they petition to be member 13 or 14?

Adam Rittenberg: 1) The Big Ten doesn't want to expand for the sake of expansion, but I think the league would have to act if three of the other power conferences (SEC, Pac-12, etc.) reach 16 teams. It would be tough to stay at 12 in that scenario. But my question always has been, how do both the Big 12 and Pac-12 reach 16? There aren't enough teams in that part of the country to merit an expansion to 16. It's why the Pac-12 swallowing up the Big 12 made more sense (and why Larry Scott tried so hard to make it happen). 2) I don't think the Big Ten's performance against Notre Dame has any bearing on Notre Dame wanting to join the Big Ten. The invitation has been out there twice and Notre Dame has declined. If the Irish join a league, it'll likely be the ACC, but Notre Dame's demands might be too steep for any league. The Big Ten isn't going to pursue Notre Dame any longer -- not while Jim Delany is commissioner, at least. So if the Irish want in, they need to show interest.

Erik from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Adam, I need some clarification here. Even though Penn State and Ohio State are both banned from post season play for this season, are they also ineligible to be named Big Ten Leaders Division Champions? Though most analysts have decided the fate of Penn State's season, many agree that Ohio State would have a good shot at the conference title were it not for their penalties. If OSU was first and Wisconsin was second in the conference at the end of the season, would Wisconsin officially be named Legends Division Champion since it would be the highest qualifying team from the division to be eligible or would Ohio State keep the title? I haven't seen a single analyst name Ohio State the division winner and advance another team to the conference championship game.

Adam Rittenberg: From an official standpoint, neither Ohio State nor Penn State could be Leaders Division champion this season (and, in Penn State's case, for the next three seasons). The league recognizes the champion who appears in the title game, and because both Ohio State and Penn State are ineligible, they won't be recognized as official division champions. That doesn't mean they won't be viewed symbolically as the best team in the division if they have the best record. But from an official standpoint, no, they cannot be division winners this year.
We're nearing the end of our Big Ten position rankings, and it's time to finish up the defense rundowns with a look at the secondaries. Let's start off with the unit rankings.

As a reminder, we're basing these mostly on last year's performance and who returns, along with potential for the 2012 season.

The top four groups could be very good, while the next five have question marks but potential. Even the bottom three groups have realistic opportunities to make strides this fall.

Let's get rolling ...

[+] EnlargeJohnny Adams
Bruce Thorson/US PresswireJohnny Adams should help make Michigan State tough to beat through the air in 2012.
1. Michigan State: The Big Ten's most formidable defense once again should be very strong in the back four. Although All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson departs, Michigan State returns its other three starters, led by standout cornerback Johnny Adams. Some project Adams as a potential first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft. Safety Isaiah Lewis could have a breakout season, and the Spartans have recruited well here to build good depth.

2. Ohio State: The defensive line has bigger names and more hype, but the secondary might turn out to be Ohio State's best unit in 2012. The Buckeyes bring back all four starters, including arguably the league's top cornerback tandem in Bradley Roby and Travis Howard. Expect Roby to take another big step as a sophomore. Hard-hitting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant return, and Ohio State can go two- or three-deep at most positions.

3. Michigan: This group has come a very long way from the Rich Rodriguez era and should be the strength of Michigan's defense in 2012. Safety Jordan Kovacs is an excellent leader who blossomed in Greg Mattison's system last fall. The Wolverines also boast a promising cornerback tandem in J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess, and have good overall depth at both corner and safety.

4. Nebraska: While the Huskers lose the Big Ten's top defensive back in Alfonzo Dennard, they should have greater overall depth and the potential for new stars to emerge. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford leads the group, and P.J. Smith provides a veteran presence at the other safety spot. Nebraska is loaded with options at cornerback, including the improved Andrew Green and juco arrival Mohamed Seisay. New assistant Terry Joseph should get a lot out of this group.

5. Purdue: The rankings already have mentioned some good cornerback tandems, and Purdue adds another in Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson. They've combined for 48 career starts, and Allen has led the team with three interceptions in each of the past two seasons. Max Charlot returns at safety after recording 41 tackles in 2011, but there are some question marks around him.

6. Illinois: Terry Hawthorne rarely gets mentioned as one of the Big Ten's top defensive backs, but he should. The senior has been a natural playmaker throughout his career and will lead Illinois' secondary in 2012. Senior Justin Green brings experience to the other corner spot. Although the Illini return both of their starting safeties -- Steve Hull and Supo Sanni -- they need more consistency from that position this fall.

7. Wisconsin: The Badgers lose a key player at both cornerback (Antonio Fenelus) and safety (Aaron Henry), but they have a chance to improve upon last year's performance and rise up these rankings. They'll undoubtedly benefit from the return of cornerback Devin Smith from injury. Head coach Bret Bielema doesn't downplay what Smith's absence meant last season. The Badgers need more consistency out of projected starters Dezmen Southward and Marcus Cromartie.

8. Iowa: The Hawkeyes have a nice piece to build around in playmaking senior cornerback Micah Hyde, but they'll need more after a so-so season in 2011. Tanner Miller returns as a starter at safety, and hopes are high for junior B.J. Lowery at the other corner spot. Iowa's depth looks better at corner than it does at safety.

9. Penn State: Most see the secondary as Penn State's weak link, to which Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris say, "Bring it on." Still, the Lions have questions to address after losing all four starters from the 2011 team. Morris, Willis and sophomore Adrian Amos all have been in the fire a bit, but Penn State needs them to take steps and remain on the field. Depth is a significant concern after the offseason departures of Curtis Drake and Derrick Thomas.

10. Minnesota: This is a bit of a projection pick, but I like Minnesota's potential to take a step forward in the secondary this fall. The biggest reason for optimism is cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who returns for a fifth year after missing most of last season with a foot injury. Stoudermire was on track for a big year before the injury. Cornerback Michael Carter had a strong spring and could finally reach his potential. The bigger concerns here come at the safety spots.

11. Northwestern: Three starters depart from a secondary that struggled to stop anyone and endured major communication breakdowns far too often in 2011. Northwestern is younger in the back four, but it also could be more talented this season. Sophomore safety Ibraheim Campbell comes off of a 100-tackle season, and cornerback Nick VanHoose impressed during the spring. A few veterans return, but the coaches can't be afraid to go with the youth movement here.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers finished eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense last fall, but only because teams had their way with IU on the ground. Indiana surrendered a league-high 26 pass touchdowns and only recorded five interceptions. There's hope, though, as the Hoosiers return three starters, including top cover man Lawrence Barnett. If Mark Murphy and Greg Heban make strides, and some newcomers help right away, Indiana could be decent in the back four.
The Big Ten preseason position rankings are coming soon, but today the spotlight is on you and your knowledge of the entire league, not just your team. Expanding the focus beyond one beloved team is a challenge for many college football fans, but you're up to it.


What is the Big Ten's strongest position group?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,504)

Today's debate: Name the Big Ten's strongest position group.

Several options immediately come to mind. The Big Ten returns three of its top four running backs -- Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Nebraska's Rex Burkhead and Penn State's Silas Redd -- and six of its top 10 from the 2011 season. It wouldn't shock me if running back ran away (pun intended) with this poll question, but before making your selection, consider ...

The cornerback spot. After several so-so years at cornerback, the Big Ten could be very strong in 2011. Although Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard is gone, the league returns talented players like Michigan State's Johnny Adams, Purdue's Ricardo Allen, Iowa's Micah Hyde, Michigan's Blake Countess, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Illinois' Terry Hawthorne. Don't forget about guys like Wisconsin's Devin Smith and Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire. There's a lot of depth at corner.

Three other positions that merit consideration are tight end, defensive end and linebacker. In May, Brian Bennett wrote that tight end could be a strength for the Big Ten this year, as players like Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen return and pro-tight end offenses arrive at both Penn State and Ohio State. Defensive end has been the Big Ten's strongest position in recent years, and it has two national headliners this year in Ohio State's John Simon and Michigan State's William Gholston. Linebacker also could be strong with standout tandems at Wisconsin (Mike Taylor, Chris Borland), Michigan State (Max Bullough, Denicos Allen), Penn State (Gerald Hodges, Michael Mauti) and Iowa (James Morris, Christian Kirksey) as well as other notables like Illinois' Jonathan Brown.

Now it's your turn to pick the Big Ten's strongest position group. Later this week, you'll be asked to name the league's weakest position group, so study up.
The best Big Ten defenses often boast standout tandems, as we've seen in recent years.

In 2008, Ohio State had linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. In 2009, Iowa had defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Pat Angerer, while Penn State countered with defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker NaVorro Bowman. In 2011, Nebraska had the league's top linebacker (Lavonte David) and the league's top defensive back (cornerback Alfonzo Dennard). Last season also featured standout tandems at Illinois, Wisconsin and other spots.


What will be the Big Ten's top defensive tandem in 2012?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,442)

Who will be the Big Ten's top 1-2 punch on defense during the 2012 season?

There's no shortage of choices. Wisconsin returns the Home Improvement tandem of Tim Mike Taylor and Al Chris Borland, who combined for 293 tackles, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles in 2011. Michigan State's defense is led by end William Gholston and cornerback Johnny Adams, both of whom could be first-round draft picks in April. Penn State brings back first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill, one of the league's top interior linemen. Purdue has the league's top defensive tackle back in the fold (Kawann Short), along with an experienced playmaking cornerback (Ricardo Allen). Illinois has a nice track record of producing defensive stars, and linebacker Jonathan Brown and end Michael Buchanan could be next in line.

The poll only affords us five options, so several potentially good tandems (Iowa's James Morris and Christian Kirksey) didn't make the cut. Some teams have one proven defensive standout (i.e. Ohio State's John Simon) but need a second to step forward. Still, the list is filled with familiar names who earned significant accolades in 2011.

Here's your chance to vote. Should be an interesting result.
Of the 253 players selected in last month's NFL draft, none has more incentive to stay out of trouble than Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

Once projected as a first-round pick, Dennard, the Big Ten's defensive back of the year in 2011, tumbled all the way to the seventh round, where the New England Patriots selected him. Although on-field performance factored in the drop, Dennard paid dearly for an off-field incident five days before the draft. He was arrested in the early morning hours of April 21 for third-degree felony assault of a police officer after he allegedly punched an officer outside of a bar in Lincoln.

Dennard has every reason to remain on the straight and narrow. But if he needed one more ...

"That isn't who he is, that's never been who he is, and that's not going to be who he is in the future," Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said. "And I put my reputation, and I put everything I stand for as a football coach behind that young man.
"He is a tremendous young man, and one who you want not only representing you as a football player, but the type of kid you want in your community, the type of kid you want representing your organization," Pelini continued.
"For four years, I didn't have a problem with that young man in any way. He did things exactly how we asked him to do them here, and the way we handle our kids, we don't make it easy on the kids in our program. We hold them to high standards every single day."

Some very bold words from the Huskers coach. Pelini and his colleagues are often judged by the actions of their players in college, but coaches don't often publicly put their reputation on the back of a player who has since left their campus. Pelini is showing a lot of faith in Dennard, who had no major off-field problems before the arrest.

Dennard has to be pleased to have such strong support from Pelini. The cornerback also should know he's not just representing himself and his family, but his head coach. That's more than enough motivation to keep him in line, plus the fact he's playing for Bill Belichick.

Pelini still comes across to many as volatile, although his public image seems to be softening a bit. But in my visits to Lincoln, I've noticed that he's very popular with his players. This is one reason why.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska linebacker Will Compton reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out his iPhone.

The lock screen displays the following: "Thank God, go to work, do extra, don't give yourself an excuse and become the absolute best." Compton's phone also contains what he describes as desire statements and reward statements.

Desire statement: "I want to be one of THE BEST linebackers in the country."

Reward statement: "Reap the benefits. All-Conference, All-American, getting drafted to the NFL."

Compton reviews the messages every day as part of a routine he adopted during the offseason. His goal: becoming a trusted and genuine leader for Nebraska's defense, which loses several from the 2011 team -- linebacker Lavonte David, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, safety Austin Cassidy, tackle Jared Crick.

As Nebraska's starting middle linebacker, Compton, who earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season, knows leadership comes with the territory. But he has taken a uniquely proactive approach to the responsibilities he'll shoulder in 2012.

"I've put in extra time to know what I can do in that role," Compton told last month. "You can't just all of a sudden be a leader. I try to lead with my personality, be a genuine type of guy instead of just out on the field barking all the time, saying, 'Hey, I'm a leader now. Let's do this and do that.'

"You might naturally have things, but you also need a sense of direction when you're stepping in a role like that."

Compton has taken many of his cues from a book, "The Mental Edge," by noted sports psychologist Ken Baum. During a team flight to a game last season, Compton noticed Huskers star running back Rex Burkhead reading the book and asked him about it.

Burkhead told Compton about some of the visualization techniques the book promoted and how to gear the mind to produce outcomes. Compton admits he's not a big reader, but he became interested.

"I was like, 'Has it helped you out?'" Compton said. "And he said it's done wonders for him. Once he got done with it, I've had it ever since and I've just gone over it a lot, done all the techniques. It's probably the best book I've read."

Compton began spending 10-15 minutes a day visualizing game scenarios and moments of success: a 13-tackle effort in a win at Penn State ... pressuring quarterback Kirk Cousins in a win against Michigan State ... celebrating with his teammates after forcing a turnover ... racking up a career-high 15 tackles in a win against Fresno State. He tried to tune his mind so he could literally "feel the wind and smell the grass." He began doing breathing exercises to relax.

He also worked on performance cues, simple acts that put him in the right mind-set to perform. The cues can be as simple as squeezing a fist or touching an index finger to a thumb.

"When you hit those performance cues," he said, "when you're about ready to take the field, those feelings of excitement and success enter your body."

If Compton needed an extra boost, he watched video of Baltimore Ravens standout linebacker Ray Lewis, whose pregame speeches and displays are never short on emotion.

Burkhead saw changes in his teammate during the winter months and when Nebraska began spring ball.

[+] EnlargeWill Compton
Troy Babbitt/US PresswireLB Will Compton says he's putting the pressure on himself to make Nebraska a standout team in 2012.
"You can see it on the field," Burkhead said. "His energy, his leadership toward the defense, his aggressiveness, the toughness he has to keep pushing throughout practice, you can definitely tell he's made significant improvement."

Compton always has been interested in the mental side of football, but he used to struggle with it. After starting eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2009, he missed the first five contests of 2010 with a foot injury and finished the season with just 15 tackles in nine games (four starts).

The 6-2, 230-pound Compton started 11 games last fall and recorded 82 tackles, including seven for loss.

"A couple years ago, all I thought was, 'Gosh, don't mess up. I don't want the coaches to chew me out,'" he said. "I firmly believe that it's all mental, the way you think for yourself and the way you think of success against negative feelings. When you start to make plays, you don't even worry about messing up any more."

Compton relays a similar message to Nebraska's younger linebackers, especially those who will help fill the void left by David, one of the nation's most productive linebackers the past two seasons.

"It's not being the next Lavonte David," he said. "It's about playing your role, and that role happens to be the starting Will linebacker. You just want success in that."

Nebraska's coaches acknowledge the team's depth at linebacker still isn't where it needs to be for the Big Ten, which requires more linebackers on the field than the Huskers used to play in the Big 12. The issue is being addressed in recruiting, but the Huskers will lean on a select few this fall.

Compton has shown he's ready to answer the bell.

"He's a fifth-year senior, he knows this is his last go-round for this team and the program," defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. "You can tell everything he's done in the offseason has been purposeful."
Thanks to user Lavar A. from Silver Spring, Md., for inspiring this post:
We're coming up on the one-year anniversary of Nebraska joining the B1G and pretty much have completed a cycle of sports. How would you rate this experiment? Was the first year good for Nebraska and the B1G? Any surprises? How does it compare to PSU's first year in the B1G? In football, what do you think Nebraska's chances are to pull a PSU in their 2nd year and run the table?

Before delving into these questions, let's look at how the two teams stacked up.


Record: 10-2 (6-2 Big Ten, 3rd)
Bowl result: 31-13 win against Tennessee in Florida Citrus Bowl
Regular-season highlight: Penn State rallied from a 37-17 third-quarter deficit at No. 24 Michigan State to win 38-37
Low point: 24-6 loss at No. 3 Ohio State
Record versus ranked opponents: 3-2
Final rankings: No. 8 AP, No. 7 coaches'
Stats: first in Big Ten in scoring (32.3 ppg), fifth in points allowed (17.9 ppg)
First-team All-Big Ten selections: 3 (TE Kyle Brady, WR Bobby Engram, G Jeff Hartings)


Record: 9-4 (5-3 Big Ten, 3rd in Legends division)
Bowl result: 30-13 loss to South Carolina in Capital One Bowl
Regular-season highlight: Nebraska dominated Michigan State, handing the eventual Legends division champ a 24-3 beat-down in Lincoln
Low point: The week after the Michigan State triumph, Nebraska fell to 2-5 Northwestern on its home field
Record versus ranked opponents: 2-2
Final rankings: No. 24 AP, No. 24 coaches'
Stats: fourth in Big Ten in scoring (29.2 ppg), seventh in points allowed (23.4 ppg)
First-team All-Big Ten selections: 4 (RB Rex Burkhead, K/P Brett Maher, LB Lavonte David, CB Alfonzo Dennard)

Penn State undoubtedly had the better first season in Big Ten play, but the teams shared some similarities. Both had the ability to put up points but underwhelmed a bit on the defensive side. Both struggled against the league's elite teams: Penn State's only losses came against Ohio State and Michigan, while Nebraska fell to BCS bowl participants Wisconsin and Michigan. Nebraska actually has the best win between the two squads, against then-No. 9 Michigan State, but the Huskers also have the only bad loss (Northwestern at home). The teams had about the same number of first-team All-Big Ten players (four versus three).

The Big Ten was a stronger league in 1993 than it was in 2011. Wisconsin won the Rose Bowl and the Big Ten went 4-3 overall in the postseason with its top four teams -- Wisconsin, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan -- all winning games. The Big Ten went 3-5 in bowl games last season with losses by Wisconsin, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State on Jan. 2.

To answer Lavar's question, Nebraska's first year in the Big Ten turned out OK, not great. Some of us, including yours truly, overestimated the difficulty the Huskers would have moving to a new league. Although Nebraska delivered some impressive performances, it also had some clunkers (Wisconsin, Michigan) and seemed to be a bit fragile in handling success.

Can Nebraska replicate what Penn State did in its second year as a Big Ten member (12-0 record, Rose Bowl championship)? It will be extremely tough, but the Huskers are confident they can take a giant step this fall. The key for Big Red will be to mirror Penn State's evolution on offense. The Lions went from a good offense in 1993 to a record-setting one in 1994, as they had the highest scoring average (47 ppg) for a Big Ten team in the modern era and averaged a league-record 48.1 points in league games. Nebraska returns eight starters on offense and will be in its second year in coordinator Tim Beck's system. The Huskers also expect to make upgrades on defense after backsliding in 2011.