Big Ten: Allan Evridge

Big Ten Rose Bowl mailblog

April, 6, 2012
4/06/12
4:30
PM ET
Before getting to your emails, it's worth reminding everyone that some authors of mail you see here aren't who they say they are. When you see a note from "Brady Hoke" or "Montee Ball" or "Urban Meyer" or "Jim Delany," you should know it's not actually those folks writing in. Last Friday, I included a note from "Allan Evridge," the former Wisconsin quarterback. The real Allan Evridge didn't write it, but some folks thought he did and asked him if he had. Allan contacted me this week to clear up the situation.

To be clear: Big Ten players and coaches -- current and former -- probably aren't going to be writing in for the mailblog. Most of you know that, but it's worth reiterating. My apologies to Allan for the confusion.

The response to this week's poll question about the Rose Bowl's role in a college football playoff system was terrific. We know how commissioner Jim Delany and the league office feels about the Rose Bowl, but it's great to hear your voices on the situation. Fans from almost every Big Ten squad weighed in. Great stuff.

To the mail ...

Jesse from Olathe, Kan., writes: As a Buckeye grad and childhood fan, I have to agree with Mr. Chatelain. Since my birth, 1981 so 30 years of football, the Buckeyes have won or been co-champion of the Big Ten 12 times, (I included 2010 because whether or not wins were vacated the season was played), but only played in the Rose Bowl twice, 16% of the time. It would be interesting to see the percentage for the other schools (All you Adam). Delany and Scott's argument for keeping the tradition for the Rose Bowl is tiresome and not even the real reason for keeping the Rose Bowl. Like everything else it is about MONEY and making sure their leagues are included in the most sure fire money making bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Jesse, you make some great points, and I think you're representative of a new generation of Big Ten fans who aren't as tied into the Rose Bowl because of the BCS system. Since the BCS launched in 1998, Wisconsin has made the most appearances in Pasadena (4), followed by Michigan (3). Purdue, Illinois, Penn State and Ohio State all have gone once. But the BCS structure, and the access changes have made the Rose Bowl not the only premier postseason destination for Big Ten champions.


Gary from Maryland writes: Adam, As a PSU fan (therefore, admittedly biased), I believe the Rose is the most unique bowl experience in college football. In addition to pomp and tradion though, it's also an exposure and revenue monster for the B1G/P12, so I understand why Delaney and co. are very leery of sharing it and/or letting it lose prestige. I guess my question is what would the monetary pay-out be for the national semifinal games? If it's not on the order of the Rose, does it become purely a business decision to pass on the semis?

Adam Rittenberg: Gary, while we don't know the exact figures, all the college football power brokers, including Jim Delany, have acknowledged that a playoff would generate a lot more money for the leagues and the schools. Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson in January estimated a 16-team playoff would bring in $700 million, and even a smaller playoff would bring in the dough. The TV payout would be ginormous, as the recent conference TV deals have shown. And if there's a bidding process, even if only for the title game, it would bring in even more revenue. So the push to keep the Rose Bowl as relevant as possible isn't about the money. The smart business move -- no emotion involved -- would be to go to a playoff where all the game sites were up for bidding.


Brendan from Chicago writes: I believe the BCS should make all four of the major bowls the round of eight (With the current bowl placing formula retained unless the Big XII or Big East collapses), add two games the following week at the home stadiums of the highest BCS ranked of the four remaining teams, and then hold the national championship the week after that at rotating locales (Lucas Oil Stadium, anyone?).If anything, this would increase the importance of the Rose Bowl in the eyes of B1G fans. It would raise the stakes because a win in the Rose Bowl could mean an extra home game with a shot of going to a national title, and it would place the B1G champion in the Rose Bowl every year. Go Hoosiers

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting plan, Brendan, especially the part about campus sites being used as semifinals. The problem with it, at least according to the university presidents and league commissioners, is that the season would stretch into mid-January. There's a belief that the current setup, with a national title game typically held Jan. 7-11, is already too late. They want to have the season wrap up as close to Jan. 1 as possible. They also don't want to compete directly with the NFL playoffs for several weeks. Your plan also might be a hard sell to folks like Delany, in that the Rose Bowl would merely be a "quarterfinal," despite the intensity the game likely would bring.


Jarrod from Gardner, Kan., writes: Adam, I think I'm like many (not all) Big Ten fans in that I believe the Rose Bowl is too special and hallowed to be included in a playoff. I honestly believe that being named as a semi-final would cheapen the event. The Rose Bowl is a final destination, not a stepping stone to a bigger game. I'm not in favor of any playoff because I like the Bowls to be that final destination of the season. I like that the New Orleans Bowl was just as important to Ohio University as the Sugar Bowl was to Ohio State. But I also understand that I'm in the minority on this subject. If a playoff is inevitable, I would never want to pass up a chance at a national championship in order to play in the Rose Bowl. But at the same time, the teams that are granted the privilege of playing in the Rose Bowl should see that as glorious finale for their season. That game is too historic, too special, too loved to be looked past for something greater the next week.

Adam Rittenberg: Jarrod, thanks for your perspective. You're certainly not alone, although the other side is more vocal in wanting change. There's a school of thought that we should keep the bowls, get rid of the national championship game and then either select two teams after the bowls for the title game -- a true plus-one -- or just vote on the national champion and have debate go on throughout the offseason (the old way). I don't think a Rose Bowl championship will ever be scoffed at, and any team that walks off the field Jan. 1 with a victory should hold its head high. As you eloquently state, it's a privilege, and the game has so much history and prestige. That said, the playoff movement is surging, and leagues are judged by national titles, not Rose Bowl wins (although the Big Ten would struggle in that category, too, at least recently).


Cody from Morgan Hill, Calif., writes: Purdue alum, thus Big Ten fan.Want to see a football playoff. Bummer for the Rose Bowl, but their desires are out-weighed by the greater good of the nation. Having a computer decide which teams face each other for the National Championship is basically "anti-college sports !" How many times have we seen the under-dog win a college game? The BCS and it's computers are basically taking away one of the things we like most about college sports!

Adam Rittenberg: Cody, I totally agree with you about the BCS computer component. A selection committee should be formed to select the top four or top eight or top two, just like it does for the NCAA tournament. Sure, there would be some unhappy folks with the decisions, but at least we all could know they were made by humans, and not some highly questionable computer metrics. Folks used to hate when humans would decide the national champion after the bowls, but I'd rather have debate about a committee's decision on the top four teams than a computer's decision on the top two.


Jake from Los Angeles writes: Big Badger fan here...I have been to the last two Rose Bowls to see Bucky in action. I love the Rose Bowl. Always have. That said, if given the choice of a national semi final or a Rose Bowl pairing versus a Pac-12 counterpart, I would choose the national semi-final every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Better solution...If a BIG or Pac-12 team finds itself (or themselves) in the Top 4, then they should go to the national semi-final and the 2nd place team should backfill and slide into the Rose Bowl....just as teams have done when USC and OSU have been in the national title mix. Delany can then have his cake and eat it too...Rose Bowl BIG/Pac-12 match up and also the possibility of a National title victory. In a good year, he could have both. Nothing wrong with that picture...

Adam Rittenberg: Jake, I completely agree. We've seen second-place teams or co-champions in the Rose Bowl for years. That Ohio State has been there only once in the BCS era speaks to this. While I do think the Rose Bowl would be devalued a bit with a playoff in which it doesn't participate, the game still has way more prestige than the other bowls. It's still a major event, and the teams that take the field in Pasadena and the fans in the stands will be fired up to be there. In many years, you'd still see at least one league champion in the game. In some years, you would see two.


Robin from Williams, Ariz., writes: In response to your question about the Rose Bowl being integral to a college Playoff. I am a Cornhusker fan. I don't think it should be. I think the best scenario I've seen is the 4 team top 2 seeds host. I'm torn on the location of the national championship. I would LOVE to see the semifinals played before Christmas w/ the final on New Years Day. I realize that is a pipe dream since ESPN/ABC have no apparent desire to once again have all the major bowls on Jan. 1st. A question I would have under this scenario is what happens to the losers? Do they sacrifice their participation in a bowl if they are in the top 4? What about playing the semifinals the weekend before Christmas and one of the BCS bowls being set aside each season for the losers of the semifinals? This way you guarantee what should be a great matchup in at least 1 bowl since you would be getting 2 of the top 4 ranked teams in the country. Wow. I begin to see how complex an issue this is.

Adam Rittenberg: Robin from Williams? Nice! What kind of man gives cigarettes to trees? ... To your note, I think we could conceivably see a semifinal played around Christmas and the championship played on Jan. 1 or as close to it as possible. I don't know if it's realistic for the semifinal losers to still end up at bowl games, as there are so many logistics involved. It's also hard to know how well or poorly fans of losing teams would travel to those games. It goes back to whether fans could afford to make two trips in a short time span at a very expensive time of year to be traveling. As you mention, it's a very complex issue with no solution that will make everyone happy.


Joel from Washington D.C. writes: I love the Rose Bowl. Admittedly, I'm a Michigan fan; but before you dismiss my opinion as too biased, let me acknowledge that the Rose Bowl hasn't been very kind to the Block M in recent years. But I still love it. It's just about the most beautiful event in sports, as weird as that might sound. I grew up with my grandparents telling me the Rose Bowl is the granddaddy of em all. They're still right, and Lloyd Carr saying there isn't a better bowl around. They're still right.

Adam Rittenberg: Joel, some good points here. As I mentioned in Thursday's post, if you put me in Arroyo Seco on the afternoon of Jan. 1 for the next 50 years, I'd be a very happy man. It's a tremendous setting and a wonderful event. That said, I'd like to see some type of playoff that isn't compromised by the Big Ten or Pac-12.


Jeff from Fort Wayne, Ind., writes: Adam - I am a traditionalist and would like to see the BCS and about 1/2 the bowl games scrapped. I think College football was so much more intriguing when the arguments and discussion continued throughout the offseason as to who the National Champion was. A four-team playoff is a joke. If FBS is going to go to a playoff, then go to a playoff a scrap the entire bowl season. Take the conference champions, which means the sunbelt, mac, CUSA, MWC, and the WAC get in. Add five at large teams for a 16 team playoff. Everyone else stays home. If they don't like it too bad, that's what everybody wants.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, I think there's something to be said about having the debate and discussion about the national champion continue through the offseason. I don't agree, though, that we need a 16-team playoff featuring all the conference champions. There's a huge difference between winning the SEC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12, and winning the WAC or the Sun Belt. If the WAC champion is worthy -- as Boise State has been in recent years -- include that team in the playoff. But I don't need to see Alabama or Oklahoma crush an overmatched league champion and possibly suffer injuries that would hurt it in the real showdown games against other teams from major conferences or Boise State or some other non-AQ power. I want a four- or eight-team playoff that features the best teams, ideally league champs from major conferences, or those selected by an impartial committee.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
4:30
PM ET
Final Four weekend. If you see a stumbling Bennett on the streets of Louisville on Saturday night, just get out of his way.

Allan Evridge from Seasons Past writes: Hey Adam, love the blog. I just wanted to stop in to remind the Badger faithful and the crestfallen Nittany Lions fans about ME! Russel Wilson gave Bielema arguably his best season, but I gave him his worst. Perhaps Bielema should reconsider his "One QB Recruit" per year rule because talented transfer quarterbacks don't always work out. I would know.

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, didn't expect to hear from you, Allan. Yes, it's good to remind everyone that quarterback transfers don't always work out. There were other reasons the 2008 season went south in Madison, but the Badgers didn't have great QB play by any means. To expect Danny O'Brien to be another Russell Wilson is unrealistic. But O'Brien gives Wisconsin another option -- an option with a lot of FBS game experience -- at a position filled with question marks right now. He fills a need. As I wrote Wednesday, Wisconsin doesn't need O'Brien to be first-team All-Big Ten to win the Leaders division. But the Badgers can't have the quarterback position be a liability.


Freddy Fact Machine from Denver writes: "AIRBHG" is the invention of www.blackheartgoldpants.com. I suggest giving them credit or else the Angry Adam Rittenberg Hating God (AARHG) will give you tennis elbow.

Adam Rittenberg: That was my mistake, Freddy, as we had to rush to get the reaction post out the door. Black Heart Gold Pants is the mastermind behind AIRBHG and many other brilliant tidbits on all things Hawkeyes. It's definitely a must-read blog.


Joe from Mount Prospect, Ill., writes: Miles Osei is making a case to run the illini offense. If not get on the field and run the offense along with Nate. Sure would be nice to see somebody focus on that. The kid is having a more than solid spring and his offseason was fabulous. Coaches constantly comment about his leadership and what a great football player he is. I pray he is given opportunity to compete and it looks like he is.. What have you heard and seen? Kid is making plays all over the place. He is a combination of both quarterbacks. The kid is a football player and time will only tell if he emerges. He should have been the number two last year but was brushed aside. Kid is a fighter and that is what Illini needs. Winners

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, thanks for the information about Osei. Coach Tim Beckman and co-offensive coordinator/QBs coach Chris Beatty mentioned Osei a bit when we visited Tuesday, but they didn't elaborate like you have here. All three quarterbacks are in the mix right now for the Illini, and it sounds like Nathan is definitely in the lead. But last season showed that Illinois needs more weapons to emerge on offense at every position. It'll be interesting to see what role Osei has in the fall.


Jeremiah from Kearney, Neb., writes: Befor spring practice started i was worried about mostly our linebackers and also a little about our corners but after reading more about how players are coming along and the addition of Mohammed Seisay i feel better about that position what is your take on the linebacker position and how you feel it could play out?

Adam Rittenberg: Jeremiah, I shared those same concerns, and I'm excited to visit Lincoln next week to see how the Huskers defense looks. It does sound like the secondary will be OK as Seisay and others join the mix. Bo Pelini and his staff know how to produce top-level defensive backs, and they've added some talent there. Linebacker is a bit more of a question mark as I don't see another Lavonte David on the roster. It'll take more of a collective effort and several players stepping up at that position.


Evan from Arusha, Tanzania, writes: Hello Adam, I saw the chat transcript and I had some thoughts on the question regarding the QB situation at Purdue. I was reading a report saying that even when Marve was playing he was nowhere near 100% and he would have to take the next few days off from practice due to swelling in his knee. However, now he appears to be at or very near 100%. I think with that being said and if he stays healthy he should be able to progress enough to win the starting nod back. I also think it will be interesting to see whether or not Rob Henry fully recovers, because I think he could be used just like Justin Siller last year. I would really enjoy watching both Henry and Marve play at the same time, which has not happened since the Toledo game two years ago.

Adam Rittenberg: Evan, you could be right about Marve, who has dealt with injuries throughout his entire career at Purdue. Coach Danny Hope has repeatedly said he wants to have at least two quarterbacks ready, and he'll have at least three with legitimate experience entering 2012 in Marve, Henry and Caleb TerBush. Henry certainly can help Purdue at other spots than quarterback, but keep in mind he would have been the starter last season if not for the ACL. He had had a terrific offseason and had the support of his teammates as a co-captain. This is one of the more intriguing QB competitions you'll find because of the injury history. It will be interesting to see how it plays out this fall.


Jon from Colorado writes: So during the chat you said you would give credit to one of the best beat writers in the Big Ten if the O'Brien to Wisconsin report was true, then you wrote two articles and failed to give any credit and only linked to ESPN stories? Kinda dropped the ball there didn't you? Guess the chatter was right and it is only news if ESPN reports it huh? Where's the love for the local media that really breaks the stories?

Adam Rittenberg: Reading really is a skill, John. I suggest you brush up a bit.
  • From the "Badgers' recent rise lures Danny O'Brien" post: O'Brien's decision to pick Wisconsin, first reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, confirms that the program remains an appealing destination despite the recent transition.
  • From the news story on O'Brien's arrival: "The team on Tuesday announced the signing of O'Brien after the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported his arrival.

Yeah, but we never credit anyone for the work they do. It's not like we have a post every day around lunchtime that includes the best stories from around the league.


Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, in your B1G chat today you answered a question that Wisconsin needed O'Brien more than PSU, but PSU fans would disagree. I am a PSU alum and huge fan and I would disagree that "PSU fans would disagree" (as a blanket statement). While having another seasoned QB added to the mix may have helped a puzzled mess that is the PSU QB situation, I do not understand why NO ONE thinks that Matt McGloin can manage the offense, while PSU's running game and defense can win like they did last year. McGloin gets no credit because he is a "former" walk-on. From what we have seen out of Bolden, he just does not cut it in D-I football, but McGloin has shown he is capable. And now that PSU has a REAL QB coach and a head coach that knows how to tutor QBs, (not a QB coach who is the head coaches son and former back-up college QB), I honestly see good things possible from a well coached Matt McGloin, he has the arm, isn't afraid to stay in the pocket, can sense a pass rush and commands the huddle with confidence, and he has two years of quality experience (same as O'Brien).

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, you could be correct about McGloin. We'll just have to see. He certainly has experience and has turned in some impressive performances, particularly in his two starts against Northwestern. I have little doubt Bill O'Brien will upgrade the quarterback position in 2012, no matter who walks out there first -- and I think it'll be McGloin. That said, Danny O'Brien would have been a nice addition, just to give Penn State one more option under center. Bolden has to make significant strides in my view, and Penn State doesn't really know what it has in Paul Jones.


Michael from Los Feliz, Calif., writes: Adam, I'm a big fan of the blog, and a longtime resident of Minneapolis who recently moved to the left coast. I have been writing to you for the last 3 years asking you to check out the Gophers in spring ball. This year I cannot go as I'm no longer in that part of the world. Please watch the Gophers in spring ball. Minnesota has some interesting storylines, practices have been reported to be crisp and intriguing, and the Gophers could easily be the feel good team of the Big Ten this year (led by magnetic senior leader MarQueis Gray at QB).Barney Stinson would jump at the opportunity to rock out in Dinkytown, and so should you.

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, I definitely remember your notes. Unfortunately, I won't be in Minneapolis this spring but hope to make it this fall for a game. Where we go in spring is somewhat out of our hands and depends on a lot of factors. If we had an unlimited budget, we'd be going everywhere. But both Brian and I will keep tabs on Minnesota from afar and will talk to players and coaches throughout the spring. I'm really interested in running back James Gillum, the juco transfer, who has drawn some good marks so far. It'll also be interesting to see who steps up on defense, particularly up front and in the secondary. This could be a big year for Troy Stoudermire at cornerback.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The term game manager makes most quarterbacks cringe, especially in this era of silly stats and gimmicky offenses.

Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien has a different opinion.

"I take that as a compliment," he said. "If you're managing games, usually that's a good thing for your team. If someone wants to call me a game manager, I'm completely fine with that."
 
 AP Photo/Morry Gash
 QB Scott Tolzien (16) isn't afraid of the game manager tag.


Badgers head coach Bret Bielema decided to call Tolzien his starting quarterback, and the 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior from Rolling Meadows, Ill., will lead the offense onto the field for Saturday's opener against Northern Illinois. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips also is expected to see time for Wisconsin, but Tolzien has earned the first opportunity.

Tolzien seemed like an afterthought in the quarterback competition entering preseason camp. Senior Dustin Sherer started the final seven games last season, and Phillips came on strong toward the end of spring practice and inched ahead in the race midway through fall camp.

But Tolzien picked up his play during the second full week of practice and gradually won over the coaches with his steadiness and consistency.

"My game is just playing steady, sound football," Tolzien said. "I felt like doing that would give me the best chance to win [the competition]. And also, just trying not to take the game too seriously, going out there and having fun with it."

Maintaining a relaxed approach isn't easy during a scrutinized quarterback competition, especially one for a team that needs improved play under center this fall. Then again, Tolzien has been through this before.

He competed with Sherer and eventual starter Allan Evridge last year and was a redshirt freshman when Evridge and Sherer lost out to Tyler Donovan in 2007.

"I've been around that and learned from the past on how to deal with it," Tolzien said. "Each year, you're supposed to get wiser, and I felt like I learned a lot from that, learned not to take it too serious and don't make it more than just a game."

After two seasons on the sideline, Tolzien saw his first game action last fall, completing 5 of 8 passes for 107 yards and an interception in three appearances. He also rushed for 13 yards and a touchdown.

Despite his limited experience, Tolzien isn't concerned about cracking in the spotlight. Often described as a heady player, his mental approach and consistency could be his biggest strengths.

"He just handled the whole camp a little bit better than anybody else, just the composure of day-to-day business," Bielema said. "But on the same account, he showed me an improved accuracy in throwing the football, did a better job than he did in the spring of handling everything that came at him, from pressures to getting things right at the line of scrimmage.

"I'm excited to see him go out there and play Saturday."

Asked if Tolzien fits the game manager mold, Bielema laughed.

"That's why we made the move," the coach said. "We hope he is."

And Tolzien seems just fine with the title.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Paul Chryst has been here before. In fact, it seems like the Wisconsin offensive coordinator enters every preseason camp unsure of who will start at quarterback for the Badgers. This year will be no different as senior Dustin Sherer, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and junior Scott Tolzien compete for the top job this month.

 
  David Stluka/Getty Images
  Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst is evaluating several quarterbacks this summer.
The quarterback position hurt Wisconsin throughout the 2008 season, as Allan Evridge struggled and was replaced by Sherer, who had mixed results. Wisconsin should be much better at wide receiver and just as good at tight end this fall, so if things improve under center, the offense should surge.

Chryst had some interesting thoughts about the competition when we spoke last week, proving why he's one of my favorite coaches to interview in the league. Let's see if you can read between the lines.

When we talked in the spring, you said you hoped to narrow things down to two quarterbacks. Are you there yet, or is more three guys?

Paul Chryst: We're getting closer. We're kind of there, but there's a window for all of the guys. You wouldn't eliminate anyone right way, but if it goes on like it did in the spring, it'll go to two [players] pretty quick. Because there is uncertainty, you don't feel like there's anyone you'd whack right now. They'll have a little window, but logistics wise, you've got to get to where [the top players] have got to get reps. Your first five days or so are installation, but Week 2, you've got to start focusing in a little bit.

Did Curt close the gap at the end of the spring to put himself in the mix? What are you looking for from him when you start up?

PC: He did some things through the course of the spring and he gave himself a chance. He gets more benefit of the doubt. He certainly made more mistakes than Dustin or Scott Tolzien did, the two older kids. But he did some stuff to warrant more work. He was far from perfect in the spring but did some good things.

With Curt's athleticism, how much does he bring there that allows you to open up the playbook a little more?

PC: Yeah, he can make some plays with his feet and his athleticism, but there's no dodging the fact that you've got to be able to make throws and plays in the passing game. That's a part of his game he's got to be able to use and we've got to put him in that situation. But the deciding factor will be, can he do it in the passing game?

What was your evaluation of Dustin coming out of the spring?

PC: I thought he started the spring better than he finished it. That was disappointing to me because you'd like to finish better than you start. He started out early and did some things to separate himself, and then did some things at the end of spring ball that you just can't do, things that will get you beat. He knows that and I'm anxious and looking forward to see how he comes into camp.

Was it just decision making or more of a technique thing that he wasn't executing as well as you'd like?

PC: It was bottom line, execution. You'd expect a higher level of execution.

Does the age of the quarterbacks ever play a factor for you in these decisions?

PC: You're lying if you're not aware of it, but you owe it to the team to go with the best player that gives you the best chance to win. Where it does come into play is the young guys and the old guys can make the same mistakes, but you're more disappointed in the older kid. So age does play in. You're not as disappointed in that mistake with the young guy. There's certain things you expect from your upperclassmen and you get to a point [with mistakes] where you have to be beyond that. Certainly this spring, Jon [Budmayr] and Curt had twice as many negative plays as Dustin and Scott, and yet some of the ones that Scott and Dustin made, they're to the point where they can't be making those.

So do the older guys have a shorter leash in camp?

PC: It is a shorter leash, only if the other ones are improving. That's what you struggle with in something like this. You want them all to grow and they need to grow because you don't know what's going to happen with the situation. You've just got to get out there and play. Expectations have to be high. Where the age doesn't come in is you don't sit there and say, 'Well, this guy's younger, so if he's not as good, maybe he'll be better.' You still need to play your best guy.

If you're at a point two weeks into camp and it's pretty even between the older guys and the younger guys, does age play any greater role then, where you can go with the younger guy because you have more time with him?

PC: That is true, if the young guy is still on the rise, if he's improving and will continue to improve. That's the benefit of youth. There's the belief that they'll keep improving. What I think will be important is Dustin's got a combination of youth in the sense that he's only started seven games, but he's also been here five years and we've done a lot of things. So we'll see if his learning curve or level of improvement is a little bit higher than one might think from a fifth-year guy.

Overall, do you feel different about the competition this year than last year?

PC: Because it's a different player and a different team, it's different. At this point, you'd like to have a returning starter. You'd like to have a guy that clearly emerged from spring ball. But it's also not a terrible situation right now. I'm not like, 'Geez, where we at?' The worst thing that can happen is what happened last year, where no one really wins it. You want someone to win it. Last year, I felt it was a little bit by default. That's the thing I want to avoid.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's nearly August, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham still doesn't know who will be throwing him passes this season.

What else is new?

 
  Tim Larson/Icon SMI
  Garrett Graham led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns last season.

"You get used to it, I guess," Graham said. "It seems like the same thing happens every year in our program. But I don't think a lot of guys worry about it. The best guy is going to play and you can't argue with that."

Graham has grown accustomed to Wisconsin's revolving door at quarterback. He worked with John Stocco in 2006, Tyler Donovan in 2007 and both Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer last year.

The uncertainty under center will create some concern among Badgers fans heading into the fall, but they have no such worries about the personnel turnover among the tight ends/H-backs.

Former All-American Travis Beckum has moved on, but Graham leads a formidable group that should once again be a strong point for the team.

Beckum's injury woes in 2008 created increased opportunities for Graham, who led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5). Graham enters the fall as a candidate for the Mackey Award and will be backed up by veterans Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner.

"We have to put the offense on our shoulders this year," Graham said.

Beckum put up big numbers in 2006 and 2007 at the H-back position, a place where Graham could see increased time this season. Graham and Turner both can move seamlessly between the tight end and H-back spots, and Kendricks, listed primarily as an H-back, is starting to gain the same versatility.

"I'm comfortable being on the line and motioning into the backfield, dropping back into a fullback position every once in a while," Graham said. "Then again, I'm fine with being split out on a single side."

Graham will be an asset to Wisconsin's quarterback no matter where he lines up. After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, the 6-foot-4, 248-pound Graham filed paperwork with the NFL to check his draft status before opting to return.

Graham declined to say where he was projected in April's draft but "never really seriously considered" leaving Wisconsin. He spent the offseason developing his speed and quickness to complement his sturdy frame.

"We incorporated a lot more speed and agility this year, and I feel as fast as I ever had and as agile," he said. "It definitely paid off."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Quarterback play tops Paul Chryst's priorities list this spring, but the Wisconsin offensive coordinator will also keep close tabs on the wide receivers.

The Badgers' struggles at quarterback last fall are well documented, but neither Allan Evridge nor Dustin Sherer got much help from their wideouts. Dropped passes began surfacing in the spring game and became a common theme during preseason camp and after the real games began.

For the third consecutive season, a tight end (Garrett Graham) led the team in receiving yards, while the Badgers' wideouts accounted for only four receiving touchdowns.

The good news is everyone returns, and none of the Badgers' primary wideouts -- David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson, Maurice Moore, Nick Toon, Kyle Jefferson -- will be a senior this fall. Toss in heralded freshman Kraig Appleton, and the group should see better results.

"They've got to drop that young tag," Chryst said. "They've always been known as a group of young receivers. Well, they've got a lot of experience in games under their belt. So they've got to step up."

Graham and fellow tight end Lance Kendricks will continue to play key roles in the offense, but Chryst wants to give Wisconsin's next starting quarterback as much help as possible.

"You look at the receivers, Isaac Anderson, the Minnesota game did some good things for us, but also put the ball on the ground three times," Chryst said. "Nick Toon grew as the year went on, but didn't show up much in the early games. Kyle Jefferson may have been better as a freshman than a sophomore. David Gilreath, he's got to bring something.

"They can help the quarterback by being guys you can count on. It's exciting because we know a lot about a lot of these guys, but shoot, we've got a lot of work to do."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Paul Chryst isn't trying to skirt his responsibilities as a well-paid decision maker, but he also knows that the easier his choices are, the better off Wisconsin should be this fall.

The Badgers' offensive coordinator is gearing up for another quarterback competition, which begins March 24 as the team opens spring practice. Chryst will be evaluating four players -- senior Dustin Sherer, junior Scott Tolzien, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr -- aiming to lead a Badgers offense that ranked third in the Big Ten last fall but flat-lined at key times.

 
  David Stluka/Getty Images
  Dustin Sherer helped lead Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five regular-season games.

"When you're deciding who your starters are at quarterback or any other position, there really aren't a lot of hard calls," Chryst said. "If you've got a good team, it's pretty clear to see who your guys are. What was hard about last year was there wasn't a lot of separation and there was inconsistency. That's what makes hard decisions."

Chryst didn't make any decisions on the quarterback spot last spring and expressed disappointment about the lack of separation. Allan Evridge eventually claimed the job late in fall camp, but Chryst didn't enter the season feeling great about the position.

"That was my biggest concern, and it was because there wasn't separation, because there was inconsistent play," he said. "That's your worst-case scenario. I remember in camp, a couple times pleading for someone to take the job and also talking to them about [the fact that] this is a position that's got a big question mark on it. And I kind of challenged them, 'Who's going to take the question mark off and put an exclamation point on it?'

"If you look back and if you're truly honest with yourself, it was a question mark and at times, a negative behind that position. We, as a group, have got to take that personal and don't want that spot to be the weak link on the offense."

Quarterback play hurt Wisconsin during a disappointing 2008 campaign that began with legit BCS bowl aspirations. Evridge started the first five games, throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions (5), before giving way to Sherer, who helped Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five regular-season games but struggled in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Rob Carr
 Wisconsin's Dustin Sherer throws a pass against Cal Poly Mustangs in the Badgers 36-35 overtime win on Nov. 22.

Dustin Sherer doesn't understand why his camouflage hat and Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt drew so much attention after he was named Wisconsin's starting quarterback midway through the season.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema brought up Sherer's headgear after making the switch, saying it showed the quarterback had a bit of an edge and an attitude, which the offense needed after three consecutive losses to begin Big Ten play.

"I don't know why they make a big deal out of that, but it's just me," said Sherer, a native of Cicero, Ind. "Maybe that's why I get along with guys so well on this team is because I'm myself."

But being himself hasn't always been easy for Sherer at Wisconsin. He had only three pass attempts, one that resulted in an interception, during his first three seasons as a Badger. The only snap he took last year came at the end of a 33-3 rout against Indiana.

The wait nearly prompted Sherer to transfer.

"I was real close," Sherer said. "[Offensive coordinator Paul] Chryst kind of sniffed it out. He's kind of the reason I stayed, and I'm glad I did now. Obviously, I've gotten my opportunity and he kind of let me run with it."

After starter Allan Evridge struggled in losses to Ohio State and Penn State, Bielema made the change and started Sherer against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. It was Sherer's first start since his senior year of high school and the results weren't pretty as he threw two interceptions in a 38-16 loss.

Sherer doesn't sugarcoat his performance -- "I couldn't have gotten any worse," he said -- but he also recognized that beating himself up wasn't helping matters. He did the same thing during the preseason and lost the quarterback competition to Evridge.

"I got beat out, and it was my fault," he said. "I was too hard on myself and pressed myself harder than I needed to instead of going out and being me and playing my football. Lately, I've tried not to do that and I've played well.

"Going into the Iowa game, obviously I hadn't played in a long time. I really wasn't myself. I just can't do that. I have to go out and do my thing and have fun doing what I do and maybe have a little edge about myself."

(Read full post)

Big Ten year-end quarterback rankings

December, 23, 2008
12/23/08
12:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten bowl season is nearly here, but with a few days to go, it's time to begin the year-end position rankings. These won't be quite as in-depth as the preseason rankings, but I'll try to get to each position before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.

The rankings begin with arguably the Big Ten's weakest position, quarterback. While signal callers from the Big 12 and SEC dominated the national spotlight, the Big Ten struggled under center, and several veteran quarterbacks backslid. There were some bright spots, especially at Penn State, but I can't remember a season where the Big Ten was so poor at the game's most critical position.

In case you forgot, here were my preseason rankings (what was I thinking?!?!). Note: I did not include first-year starters in this rundown.

 
 AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
 Daryll Clark led Penn State to an 11-1 record.

1. Kellen Lewis, Indiana
2. Todd Boeckman, Ohio State
3. Curtis Painter, Purdue
4. Juice Williams, Illinois
5. C.J. Bacher, Northwestern
6. Brian Hoyer, Michigan State
7. Adam Weber, Minnesota

And now for the year-end top 10.

1. Daryll Clark, Penn State -- Clark exceeded expectations in his first season as the starter, mastering Penn State's Spread HD system and helping the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record and a Rose Bowl berth. He ranked second in the league in pass efficiency and threw 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 285 pass attempts.

2. Adam Weber, Minnesota -- His numbers weren't spectacular, but the Gophers sophomore did an excellent job of leading the offense and limiting mistakes. Minnesota's offensive line had major problems, and without a viable run game, Weber once again shouldered much of the load. He showed tremendous toughness by returning to the field just six days after knee surgery and led Big Ten starters in completion percentage (62.8).

3. Juice Williams, Illinois -- This was your Big Ten offensive MVP through the first half of the season. Williams set total offense records at the Edward Jones Dome, Michigan Stadium and Memorial Stadium. He led the Big Ten in passing and ranked third in quarterback rating. If not for a poor finish -- nine interceptions in the final five games -- Williams would have been higher on the list.

4. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State -- There were undoubtedly some growing pains, but under the circumstances, Pryor exceeded expectations and fueled optimism for Ohio State's future. Stepping into the starting job just four weeks into his college career, Pryor went 8-1 at the helm and helped the Buckeyes to a Big Ten co-championship. He still holds the ball too long at times and must become more consistent as a passer, but those things will come.

5. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa -- Stanzi's emergence down the stretch was the primary reason why Iowa finished so strong and reached a New Year's Day bowl. Think about it. Shonn Greene was terrific all season, and so was the defense. But the quarterback position looked shaky until Stanzi emerged in October. He avoided an interception in four of Iowa's final six games and threw 13 touchdown strikes.

6. Brian Hoyer, Michigan State -- Hoyer overcame his struggles in close games and helped Michigan State to a 9-3 record and a third-place finish in the Big Ten. He came up huge against Michigan and led the game-winning drive against Wisconsin. Still, his unsightly stats can't be totally overlooked. I just can't get too excited about a guy who completed 50.8 percent of his passes and had only one more touchdown (9) than interception (8).

7. C.J. Bacher, Northwestern -- Bacher deserves credit for playing some of his best football in Northwestern's final two games, but the senior couldn't eliminate the bad habits that dogged him throughout a career that featured plenty of passing yards. He threw as many interceptions (14) as touchdown passes for the second consecutive season and lacked the huge passing performances he had in 2007.

8. Curtis Painter, Purdue -- It wasn't the end Painter had envisioned to a record-setting career at Purdue. He finished second in the league in passing but really missed Dustin Keller and Dorien Bryant. Painter struggled to get the Boilermakers into the end zone and battled some injury problems late in the season. His incredible career numbers should not go unnoticed, but he never seemed to get over the hump against the Big Ten's elite.

9. Dustin Sherer, Wisconsin -- Sherer might have been higher on the list had he played a full season. The junior seemed to give Wisconsin a lift after replacing Allan Evridge as the starter on Oct. 18 at Iowa. Sherer went 4-2 as the starter and helped Wisconsin to wins in its final three games. His numbers weren't stellar, but he avoided the critical mistakes that crippled Wisconsin earlier in the year.

10. Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis, Indiana -- These two shared duties this season, so they'll share a spot as well. Chappell led Indiana to its only Big Ten win and showed some good leadership at times. Lewis had a rough season, throwing more interceptions (8) than touchdown passes (6) and sustaining an ankle injury. Though Indiana's defense deserves most of the blame for a 3-9 season, the quarterback play wasn't good.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's always fun at this time of year to look back at preseason thoughts and predictions. In August, I outlined 25 items I wanted to see during the Big Ten season. Several of them came true, others didn't and some materialized in different ways.

Here's a look back at the list to see what worked out and what didn't. 

 
 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Terrelle Pryor earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.

1. Terrelle Pryor lead an offensive drive -- He might be a Tim Tebow-like weapon near the goal line, but I'm more interested in how the Ohio State freshman quarterback handles a real offensive series. Pryor's athleticism is undeniable, but it will be important to monitor his passing accuracy and the way he leads older teammates.

The verdict: We had plenty of opportunities to see Pryor lead drives after he was named Ohio State's starter in Week 4. Despite a few growing pains, Pryor held his own and displayed remarkable athleticism in winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He also came up big in the clutch to lead Ohio State's game-winning touchdown drive Oct. 4 at Wisconsin. 

2. Michigan's quarterbacks -- Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era in Ann Arbor and will turn to unproven players like Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and possibly Justin Feagin to lead his spread offense. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if one of those three takes control, the Wolverines will surge.

The verdict: Oh, there were growing pains. Big ones. Threet and Sheridan struggled to fit into Rodriguez's system, and Michigan finished the season ranked 109th nationally in total offense. Feagin likely will move to slot receiver in 2009, and incoming freshmen Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier will compete for the starting quarterback spot. 

3. Jump Around at night -- Camp Randall Stadium is intimidating enough during daylight hours, but the electricity will reach new levels this fall with back-to-back night games against Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers haven't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema, and they should have a tremendous home-field edge this fall.

The verdict: It was pretty cool to see Ohio State players jump in lockstep with the Wisconsin students on Oct. 4, but Camp Randall certainly lost its edge this fall. Wisconsin saw its home win streak fade against Ohio State and then suffered its worst home defeat since 1989 the next week against Penn State. Plus, the Badgers band was suspended from performing Oct. 4 after allegations of hazing surfaced. 

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Both of these teams will have an eye toward the future when they clash Dec. 27 at Citrus Bowl Stadium.

Wisconsin's BCS bowl dreams have long since vanished, but it recovered from a miserable four-week stretch to close the regular season with three consecutive wins. The Badgers seemed to establish an identity on offense after junior quarterback Dustin Sherer replaced Allan Evridge, and they finally started to utilize the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack.

Quarterback Christian Ponder is Florida State's future, but like the team this season, the sophomore had mixed results. The same can be said for Wisconsin's veteran defense, which will need to contain Ponder and running back Antone Smith.

Defense and special teams are Florida State's strengths, and Wisconsin must wear down the Seminoles with running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay, who were used effectively in the final four games. Sherer won't have many opportunities to attack the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense, but Florida State struggled to stop the run against Georgia Tech and Florida and could be vulnerable against the ground game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

With all this extra time to reflect on the Big Ten regular season, it seems only natural to try and spot exactly where things went right or wrong for each team. These turning points resonate with players and coaches, either serving as moments of pride or incentive to get things corrected the following season.

For two teams, there are multiple turning points.

Here's the rundown.

ILLINOIS

Final record: 5-7 (3-5 Big Ten)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Minnesota (27-20 loss)

The skinny: The inconsistent Illini finally appeared to have found their footing behind junior quarterback Juice Williams, who set the single-game total offense record (431 yards) at Michigan Stadium the previous week. Williams set another stadium record against the Gophers (503 yards of offense), but critical turnovers (3) and special-teams miscues (two kickoffs out of bounds) that plagued Illinois down the stretch surfaced in a home loss.

INDIANA

Final record: 3-9 (1-7)

Turning point: Sept. 20 vs. Ball State (42-20 loss)

The skinny: The Hoosiers felt pretty good about themselves after beating up on two inferior opponents (Western Kentucky and Murray State). But they were ill-prepared for the surging Cardinals, who exposed a defense that wound up struggling all season. After an All-Big Ten season in 2007, quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two interceptions in the loss and never really got back on track the rest of the way.

IOWA

Final record: 8-4 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 8 vs. Penn State (24-23 win)

The skinny: Until that cold night in Iowa City, the Hawkeyes were a good team that couldn't close out games, dropping four contests by a combined 12 points. They were coming off a mistake-ridden loss at Illinois and started slow on offense. But star running back Shonn Greene (117 rush yards, 2 TDs), a blossoming Ricky Stanzi and one of the Big Ten's top defenses surged after halftime, and Iowa rallied for a milestone win against No. 3 Penn State.

MICHIGAN

Final record: 3-9 (2-6)

Turning point: Oct. 11 vs. Toledo (13-10 loss)

The skinny: The Wolverines hadn't played well to this point, but they still had an excellent chance to improve to 3-3 and set up a potential postseason run down the stretch. But Rich Rodriguez's offense stalled, as it did for much of the season, as Michigan committed three turnovers that turned into 10 Toledo points. In a season of historic lows, Michigan lost to a Mid-American Conference team for the first time in 25 tries.

MICHIGAN STATE

Final record: 9-3 (6-2)

Turning point: Oct. 25 at Michigan (35-21 win)

The skinny: Michigan State showed newfound mental toughness this fall and changed its reputation as a team prone to fast starts and incredible collapses. Coming off an embarrassing home loss to Ohio State, the Spartans faced a team that had owned them at the Big House. Despite a blown call that gave Michigan a touchdown, Michigan State didn't flinch, rallying behind running back Javon Ringer (194 rush yards, 2 TDs) and quarterback Brian Hoyer (282 pass yards, 3 TDs). Michigan State ended a six-game losing streak to Michigan.

MINNESOTA

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Oct. 11 at Illinois (27-20 win)

The skinny: The Gophers' formula of opportunistic defense and disciplined offense spurred them to a 7-1 start. They showcased those traits at Illinois, sacking Juice Williams five times and forcing a fumble that turned into the decisive touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg was a beast, and quarterback Adam Weber showed incredible toughness by playing only six days after knee surgery.

Turning point II: Nov. 1 vs. Northwestern (24-17 loss)

The skinny: Minnesota followed its plan early, recording an interception for a touchdown to jump ahead of the Wildcats. But the problems that crippled the Gophers down the stretch -- no run game, poor offensive line play, turnovers -- surfaced in the second half, and a deflating loss in the final minute kicked off a four-game slide to close the regular season.

NORTHWESTERN

Final record: 9-3 (5-3)

Turning point: Nov. 1 at Minnesota (24-17 win)

The skinny: In the past, Northwestern didn't have enough depth to survive a rash of injuries to key players. After losing quarterback C.J. Bacher, running back Tyrell Sutton and middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington, the Wildcats appeared doomed for another middling season. But a team that lacked superstars but possessed plenty of resiliency upset then-No. 17 Minnesota, riding backup quarterback Mike Kafka (Big Ten quarterback record 217 rush yards) and a stout defense to a crucial win. Northwesern won three of its final four games.

OHIO STATE

Final record: 10-2 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 18 at Michigan State (45-7 win)

The skinny: The Buckeyes embarrassed themselves at USC and continued to struggle on offense behind a young quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) and an underperforming line. Many pegged Ohio State for a loss in East Lansing, but the Buckeyes came up with arguably their best performance of the season. Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells sizzled, and a defense that played well following the USC debacle had two fumble returns for touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Ohio State re-established itself as a Big Ten bully.

PENN STATE

Final record: 11-1 (7-1)

Turning point: Oct. 11 at Wisconsin (48-7 win)

The skinny: Any doubts about Penn State as a legitimate national title contender were put to rest in Madison, as the Nittany Lions handed Wisconsin its worst home loss since 1989. Quarterback Daryll Clark and wideout/return man Derrick Williams led the Spread HD offense that highlighted Penn State's league title run, while Aaron Maybin and the defense shut down the Badgers. Though Penn State later stumbled against Iowa, most of its games played out like this one.

PURDUE

Final record: 4-8 (2-6)

Turning point: Sept. 13 vs. Oregon (32-26 loss OT)

The skinny: Purdue should have won this game, and things could have been very different had the Boilers finished off the Ducks. A plucky Purdue defense gave up yards but limited points, as it did for much of the season, but quarterback Curtis Painter and the offense couldn't execute consistently enough when it counted. Purdue's inability to convert scoring chances into touchdowns became a theme for much of the fall.

WISCONSIN

Final record: 7-5 (3-5)

Turning point I: Sept. 27 at Michigan (27-25 loss)

The skinny: A BCS bowl was still very much in the picture for Wisconsin, which took a 3-0 record and a No. 9 national ranking into Michigan Stadium. The Badgers built a 19-0 halftime lead behind punishing defense and a balanced, disciplined offense. But they totally lost their edge on defense after the break, and quarterback mistakes that appeared throughout a four-game losing streak surfaced as Michigan mounted the greatest comeback in Big House history.

Turning point II: Oct. 25 vs. Illinois (27-17 win)

The skinny: The team seemed to gain confidence after making a quarterback switch from Allan Evridge to Dustin Sherer. After a rocky start at Iowa, Sherer led Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five games, beginning with this contest against the Illini. He accounted for three touchdowns (two pass, one rush) as Wisconsin ended its four-game slide. The Badgers easily could have finished with a five-game win streak if not for a late stumble in East Lansing.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Three weeks ago, Justin Siller was practicing as a running back at Purdue, having made the move from quarterback in an effort to spark a sputtering offense.

 
 Harry How/Getty Images
 Mike Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards.

Mike Kafka hadn't switched positions at Northwestern, although some thought he'd be better served as a running back or a wide receiver. Two weeks ago, Kafka went through another round of workouts as Northwestern's backup quarterback, his on-field work limited to 14 pass attempts in the last two seasons.

Then Saturday arrived, and the scripts changed for both players.

Siller accounted for four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and threw no interceptions in leading Purdue to a 48-42 win against Michigan, which snapped the Boilermakers' five-game losing streak. Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards and also fired two touchdown passes as Northwestern upset then-No. 17 Minnesota at the Metrodome.

Two reserve quarterbacks, a backup (Kafka) and a third-stringer (Siller), shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for Week 10. Given the quarterback landscape this season in the Big Ten, it comes as no surprise.

If this is the year of the quarterback in the Big 12, it's the year of the backup quarterback in the Big Ten. Backups have played prominent roles for seven of the 11 teams, either because of injury or performance.

"A change at Wisconsin, a change at Iowa, in our own case, in Northwestern's case, changes because of injuries," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "Same in [Indiana's] case. So circumstantially, there's a greater opportunity for guys to step up. And fortunately for all of us, we've had some guys that, when the season began, were relegated to a backup role that have come through."

(Read full post)

Jenkins tries to corner perfection

October, 23, 2008
10/23/08
9:00
AM ET
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

By all accounts, Malcolm Jenkins could have spent August in an NFL training camp.

Five teams drafted cornerbacks in the first round of April's draft -- Buffalo, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Dallas, San Diego -- and Jenkins would have been a great fit with any of them. He had recorded four interceptions and seven pass deflections in back-to-back seasons, earned consecutive first-team All-Big Ten selections and several All-America mentions.

 
 AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
 Against Purdue, Malcolm Jenkins blocked a punt that teammate Etienne Sabino returned to the end zone for the game's only touchdown.

An NFL prototype at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, Jenkins was regarded as one of the best, if not the best cornerback in last year's class. But he opted to return to Ohio State for his senior season, saying he still had more to accomplish as a college player.

Jenkins reported for Buckeyes preseason camp Aug. 3, just as he had the previous three years. He tried to focus on the coming season and the unfinished goals ahead of him -- a national title, the Thorpe Award -- but he couldn't completely block out his own hype.

"The hardest thing in sports, period, and kind of in life, is to handle praise," Jenkins said. "It's kind of easy to handle people doubting you and saying you can't do things because if you have a strong-enough attitude, you'll just use that as fuel.

"But whenever you have people telling you that you're at the top and you're the best, it's hard not to believe it. It's hard to motivate yourself. Your attitude is, 'Well, if I'm at the top, how much better can I get?'"

(Read full post)

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