Big Ten: Amari Spievey
After playing understudy to Hawkeyes standout cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Lowery understands and embraces the role he now occupies for the secondary.
"My role this year on the defense is going to be major," Lowery told ESPN.com this week. "I'm about to be a senior, so I have to lead by example. I know all the younger guys are going to be following me, good and bad, no matter what I do. They're going to remember me."
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Lowery recorded 50 tackles, including one for loss, along with an interception and three pass breakups. We named him Iowa's most indispensable defender, and he stood out during spring ball, including Iowa's spring game.
Lowery admits he struggled at the start of the 2012 season with some of Iowa's coverage concepts. But he made strides in the second half, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska in the season finale. He has equal comfort with playing man and zone and has spent much of the offseason studying film with younger cornerbacks like freshman Malik Rucker.
"I'm not really a vocal guy," he said. "I pretty much lead by example, so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright. I want to set a good example for those young guys coming in, so everything I’m doing, I’m looking over my shoulder to see who's watching."
Fortunately for Lowery, Doc Gamble was watching as he began to blossom for Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Back then, Gamble coached Withrow High, Hughes' top rival.
He took notice of Lowery, an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore and a junior, and contacted Phil Parker, then Iowa's secondary coach and now the team's defensive coordinator.
"That kind of changed everything for me," said Lowery, who had received an offer from Akron but not much interest from major-conference schools. "[Gamble] gave Coach Parker my film and told him to come down to my school. And before you knew it, Coach Parker came down and we talked and that's how the recruiting process began."
Lowery stays in touch with Gamble, now an assistant at Kent State, and often sees him at semi-pro games back home in Cincy.
"We used to go at it every year, my high school and his high school, so I guess I did somehow, I impacted him, and he reached out and helped me out."
Lowery also received help from Prater and Hyde, who exuded confidence and instilled it in others. Lowery wants to follow their lead this fall as he mentors younger cornerbacks like Rucker, junior Jordan Lomax, sophomore Sean Draper and redshirt freshman Maurice Fleming.
Lomax and Draper are competing to start opposite Lowery.
"I want to be a role model for the younger guys," Lowery said. "I want to be productive and let the team do what we plan to do this year, which is win."
Pete from Livonia, Mich., writes: I usually agree with your predictions for michigan football and i think you do a good job of treating them fairly. I have to disagree with you for once though, because your post-spring ranking of Michigan is horrible. 8th? Really? What were you thinking? You realize Michigan finished 7th last year, plays an easier schedule this year (no penn state/wisconsin), has 19 of 22 starters returning, has coaches who are already developing talent better than Rich Rod did, and there are other teams you ranked ahead of them who lost a ton of starters. I just don't understand it. Michigan will be at least 5th and probably higher. I guarantee it. If i'm wrong you can make fun of my prediction all day on the blog.
Adam Rittenberg: Pete, I like your optimism, but I really didn't hear from many Michigan folks outraged at the No. 8 spot in the post-spring rankings. Most other rankings I've seen have Michigan around the same spot. You can't base this all on returning starters. Just because Michigan brings back a lot of guys -- especially a lot of guys from a bad defense -- doesn't mean it will be a significantly better team. On the flip side, some Big Ten teams should benefit from some new players entering starting roles. The Wolverines could be better, but they need to prove a lot this fall, and they're incorporating new systems. You say the coaches already are developing talent better than Rich Rodriguez did. Based on what? Spring practice? Again, I'll be happy to move Michigan up the power rankings when I see evidence that the team has improved.
Quinn from Seattle writes: Adam, I know that some do not regard the University of Nebraska being removed from the Association of American Universities as a big deal. However, if you're a college president or just a college in general who has to attract students for enrollment (not athletes), isn't this somewhat of a big deal? Isn't it better to say that all 12 of our associated universities (i.e. Big Ten) are amongst the best in the nation, proven by all being in the AAU? Should Nebraska try to get back into the organization? Should the Big Ten make them change their ways?
Adam Rittenberg: AAU membership matters greatly to the Big Ten presidents, so it is a big deal. And if Nebraska lost its AAU membership a year ago, it would have been a bigger deal. But the Big Ten has publicly supported Nebraska since the AAU situation took place, and it will continue to help the school through the July 1 official transition. From reading more about the AAU situation here and other places, I don't think the Big Ten views this as a mark against Nebraska's academic reputation. There seem to be some interesting politics going on with the AAU right now, as evidenced by Syracuse choosing to leave the association. The requirements to remain in good standing with the AAU are certainly debatable right now. We'll see if Nebraska makes a push to rejoin the AAU down the road.
Luke from Jessup, Iowa, writes: Hey Ritt, great blog. This is more of an observation and a request than anything. With the addition of Nebraska to the B1G (awesome, btw), I've noticed a lot of Texas fans making their way, uninvited, to our message boards. Can I just say Texas fans have to be some of the most arrogant and obnoxious fans on the planet? It's no wonder Nebraska left. We welcome you with open arms, Big Red. Adam, could you please remind the audience that this is the B1G Blog, Nebraska is now part of our family, and we'd all appreciate it if the "Horns" could head back to their pasture. Go Hawks!
Adam Rittenberg: Can't do it, Luke. It's a free country and this is a free forum, so all college football fans are allowed to participate. Even ones from Texas. This might shock you, but some of the things you assert about Texas fans have been said about Nebraska fans and (gasp) even Iowa fans. So while I'm happy to hear you've embraced Nebraska fans and their participation in the blog forums, we're not in the business of keeping people away.
Matt from Chicago writes: Hi Adam,Thanks for your great insight and information. Quick question- I recently read your team rankings after Spring ball. Are your rankings reflective of what you believe to be the order based purely on talent, or is this more of an end-of-year prediction considering both talent and scheduling? I ask because, while not expecting a great season, I think if Purdue remains healthy that a 4-4 conference record is very reasonable when considering its schedule, and there is no way with a 4-4 conference record that the Boilers finish 10th in the league.I certainly have no beef if you think Purdue will not win four conference games this year, I'm just trying to understand what went into your rankings.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Matt. It's definitely not an end-of-year prediction. As I've mentioned before, the power rankings are designed to change and will change. They are a snapshot of where I think Big Ten teams are slotted right now. If Purdue goes 4-4 in Big Ten play, it certainly will climb higher in the power rankings, which will be revised every week during the season. I like the Boilers' playmakers on both sides of the ball -- Ricardo Allen, Kawann Short, Antavian Edison, Ralph Bolden -- and think they could take a step forward if things fall right. But right now, at this moment, they have too many question marks to be higher than 10th.
Jaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Is Shaun Prater as good as everyone makes him out to be? I was in the stands at Kinnick for every home game this year and while I understand that he was an integral part of our defensive successes (and perhaps downfalls?) I just don't know if I see it. Your comparison to Amari really doesn't mesh either. I loved watching Amari. He was fast and he played really well. He is what I expected to see out of a high caliber corner. Is Prater even close to Amari???
Adam Rittenberg: Jaron, you're not the first Iowa fan who has emailed me expressing similar sentiments about Prater. I think the Hawkeye faithful are fairly split on whether he's truly an upper echelon cornerback. I see the upside and the flaws, but I see a guy with the right measurables to be very good if he makes a jump between his junior and senior seasons. He's definitely not Amari Spievey at this point, but he has a chance to be in that category if he keeps improving from now until Sept. 3.
Steve from Lafayette, Ind., writes: Hey Adam, Now that spring is over, I'm starting to think about fall. At what point does Fitz need to bite the bullet and choose an official second string QB? If the unthinkable should happen again, don't we need to have a back-up chosen who has taken most of the second string reps to be as ready as possible?
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I think Pat Fitzgerald and offensive coordinator Mick McCall would like one of the candidates to separate himself early in fall camp. While it's good that all three candidates took a good number of reps this spring, eventually you need someone to take control of the job. I still think Kain Colter will be that guy, but he needs to have a good summer.
Matt from Detroit writes: Adam, as always great job with your spring coverage. In regards to your 4+ interception guys, I'm guessing you just accidentally overlooked Johnny Adams? The man is the top corner on MSU and by all reports has looked "phenominal" (Spartan teammate's words, not mine) in spring thus far. When you factor in that he had 3 picks last year and that you called him a possible shut down corner in the Trenton Robinson explanation, is it safe to assume that you just forgot to put his name on the list? I can't possibly imagine you left him off on purpose.
Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I should have included Adams on the list. He might be one of those cornerbacks who helps a teammate -- like Trenton Robinson, whom I included -- rack up interceptions. Then again, Adams had three picks last year and, from all accounts, seems to be taking his game to another level. That's on me. He's a candidate to rack up INTs.
Eric from Minneapolis writes: You really don't think Troy Stoudermire is worth putting as a player to watch for 4 interceptions? Maybe you should make an effort to make to Minnesota for Spring ball.
Adam Rittenberg: Eric, first off, I made an effort to get there this spring, but outside circumstances didn't allow for a trip. Unlike Adams, Stoudermire still a lot to prove as a cornerback. From talking to coaches and reading reports, he seemed like a guy who really embraced physicality this spring, laying the wood on several receivers. That's a terrific sign. Does it mean he'll record a bunch of interceptions? Tough to tell. He had one last year. To put him on the list right now seems a little premature.
Shaun Prater is coming back for his senior season, giving the Hawkeyes a very nice boost in the secondary. Prater broke the news Tuesday afternoon on his Twitter feed, where he tweeted: "Just finished discussing my future plans with my family & coaches and HAWK NATION I’m coming back for my senior year! Appreciate the support."
Prater turned in a solid junior season for Iowa, recording 68 tackles, four interceptions, 10 passes defended and a fumble recovery. He transitioned well into Iowa's top cornerback spot, previously occupied by All-Big Ten selection Amari Spievey, who entered the NFL draft as a junior following the 2009 campaign.
There had been a lot of buzz about Prater jumping to the NFL, but this seems like the right call. He'll enter 2010 as one of the Big Ten's premier cornerbacks along with Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus and Purdue's Ricardo Allen.
Iowa now turns its attention to another defensive back, safety Tyler Sash, as well as receiver Marvin McNutt. Both players are considering a jump to the NFL draft, with Sash the more likely player to go. They have until Saturday to announce whether they'll enter the draft.
Where did Iowa's crunch-time mojo go?
It's a question that haunts coach Kirk Ferentz and his players as they endured a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Iowa blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten losses and allowed late touchdowns in all five of its defeats. A senior-laden team seemed to lose its magic touch and never regained it.
The most puzzling thing about Iowa is that unlike last year's squad, the 2010 Hawkeyes looked dominant at times. They crushed teams like Iowa State and Penn State and delivered a 37-6 knockout of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. It seemed like the Hawkeyes would be rolling after stomping the Spartans, but instead they backslid throughout the month of November, squeaking out a win at Indiana before dropping their final three games.
Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers for most of the season and avoided the major mistakes that dogged him throughout 2009. But like his teammates, Stanzi wasn't immune from the late-game struggles this fall. Iowa's defense dominated for stretches but didn't have quite the production it expected from the front four and really missed linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds as well as cornerback Amari Spievey. Perhaps most surprising were Iowa's problems on special teams, which surfaced in the losses to both Arizona and Wisconsin.
Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi improved in every major statistical category except the one that he cares about the most -- win-loss record. The senior passed for 2,804 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions, ranking 11th nationally in quarterback rating (160.5). After tossing 15 interceptions in 2009, four of which were returned for touchdowns, Stanzi had just two picks and 19 touchdown passes through the first two months of the 2010 season. Running back Adam Robinson merits a mention here.
Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have the dominant senior season many had expected, but No. 94 brought a formidable presence to the defensive line. Clayborn commanded double-teams and allowed teammates like Karl Klug and Mike Daniels to rack up numbers. Clayborn finished the season with seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Daniels, safety Tyler Sash cornerback Shaun Prater merit mentions here.
Turning point: Iowa opened Big Ten play at 2-0 and had a banged-up Wisconsin team on the ropes Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium. But the Badgers shocked Iowa with a fake punt deep in Wisconsin territory and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ferentz botched the time management in the final seconds as Iowa fell 31-30. Another turning point arrived Nov. 13, as Iowa squandered a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead against nemesis Northwestern and fell 21-17.
What's next: The Hawkeyes will try to regroup and send their decorated senior class out with a win in the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Despite being in bordering states, the two schools haven't met since 1910. Iowa has won back-to-back bowls and really could use a win before an offseason of retooling on both sides of the ball begins.
1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.
3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.
4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.
5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.
Up next: Offensive line
More rankings ...
What's new: The offensive line certainly has a new look after the departures of Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks. Iowa will be breaking in a new right tackle, most likely Markus Zusevics, and the center spot is up for grabs between Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The only other spot that gets a major overhaul is linebacker, as standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds both depart. Iowa is one of only 11 FBS programs to return its coaching staff fully intact for 2010.
Sidelined: Iowa enters camp relatively healthy, although linebacker Ross Petersen won't participate in full-contact drills for at least a week because of a torn pectoral muscle.
Key battle: The competition at center between Koeppel and Ferentz should be good, but Iowa really needs to identify a second starting cornerback opposite Shaun Prater. Amari Spievey leaves a huge void, and the Hawkeyes will be looking to players like Micah Hyde and Jordan Bernstine to step up. Bernstine missed all of last season with an ankle injury, but he played as a reserve in his first two seasons. The situation at running back also should be very interesting to watch during camp.
New on the scene: Iowa doesn't typically play many true freshmen, but heralded tight end recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz should see the field following the departure of standout Tony Moeaki. Homegrown product A.J. Derby is a very interesting young prospect, but indications suggest he'll redshirt this fall.
Back in the fold: Jewel Hampton entered last summer as the projected successor to All-American Shonn Greene at running back, but a series of knee problems ended his season before it began. Hampton is back in the fold but must beat out Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for the starting job. He'll miss the season opener because of a suspension, but we should finally see Hampton's return in Week 2 against Iowa State.
Breaking out: Iowa opened up its passing attack last season and saw Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos emerge as legitimate deep threats in the Big Ten. Johnson-Koulianos likely will finish as Iowa's all-time leading receiver, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per reception with eight touchdowns. Both players could have even bigger years in 2010. Along the defensive line, everyone knows about Adrian Clayborn, but watch out for Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, who should see increased opportunities to make plays this fall.
Quotable: "We tend to be a developmental team. We were 9-0 at one point last year, and we were a good team, we had played some great football, but we weren't a great team at that point. In January, we were a pretty good team. We really grew. So it's a race against time. I don't know where we stack up in that race right now." -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz
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Kurt from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Adam,You mentioned that one of the issues that will be discussed at the Big Ten Meetings will be the possibility of going to a nine-game conference schedule. Why would the Big Ten do this? To me, I see nothing but downfalls to this, including: 1. Big Ten teams will play an un-even number of home and road games, a trend that would be reversed every season. 2. Big Ten teams will have more potential losses, which could and would hurt bowl selections. 3. In the season that a Big Ten team would have five conference away games, there is less likelihood that the team will schedule tough non-conference games, and it would be almost guaranteed that if the Big Ten team does schedule an "A" level opponent, it would have to be at home. 4. Having nine conference games, then that would possibly cut into revenue from eliminating a non-conference game. 5. Adding another conference game would take away from the "prep" non-conference schedule where a team is able to "prepare themselves" for the conference slate. What do you think about this?
Adam Rittenberg: Kurt, do you mind if I copy your photonote and pass it out to the Big Ten coaches on Monday? Because you outline many of the reasons why the coaches might not be excited about the prospect of a nine-game Big Ten schedule. It means six more losses for the league, five conference road games every other year for each team, and most likely fewer bowl appearances. From the coaches' perspective, it's probably not a good idea. But for the athletic directors, it makes sense for a number of other reasons. It eases the burden of nonconference scheduling and likely reduces the number of guarantee games they pay for FCS or lower-tier FBS opponents. More important, it gives the ADs a more attractive home schedule every other year to sell to fans. A schedule with five Big Ten home dates looks a lot more attractive than one including Towson, Eastern Michigan and Arkansas State. Your point about potential lost revenue could be offset by increased revenue from a better schedule. To get the ADs' perspective, check out what Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told me. Bottom line: a nine-game Big Ten schedule will be discussed next week, and the AD's ultimately have more say here.
Andrew from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam - loving the hope/concern series! Seems like the secondary is a concern for a lot of teams in the Big 10 for this upcoming season. Seems like Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois are all either coming off poor performances last season or lost some major talents in the off season. Is this just a coincidence for this season or is there a specific reason why this position group seems poised to under perform across the big 10?
Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, that's a great observation. The Big Ten retains some great defensive backs like Iowa's Tyler Sash, but secondary could be a weak spot for the league this season. Among the big losses are Iowa's Amari Spievey, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips, Michigan's Donovan Warren, Wisconsin's Chris Maragos, Ohio State's Kurt Coleman, Minnesota's Traye Simmons and Purdue's Torri Williams. It'll be very interesting to see how certain groups bounce back. Can Purdue replace all four starters? Will Iowa find a shut-down corner like Spievey? Can Northwestern avoid a relapse? Will Michigan State be younger but better in the back four? We'll find out soon enough.
Dale from San Marcos, Texas, writes: Can I get your personal opinion on RFR running back Jamaal Berry? What are his strengths and how does he measure compared to the other Ohio State backs? For instance when QUIZZ Rodgers arrived at Oregon State, his coach said it took about 3 seconds to know he was a player. Berry didn't even play in the Spring Game for Ohio State after sitting out a year. He's like a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Oh wait that's Russia. I'm perplexed.
Adam Rittenberg: I like the analogy, Dale. As for Berry, Ohio State fans seem to be obsessed with this guy. I've only seen him a few times in practice, and I was neither blown away nor disappointed by him. He was OK. We just have to wait and see if he can make up ground in preseason camp, because right now Brandon Saine and Dan Herron are the bell cows for Jim Tressel. Berry certainly comes in with some impressive credentials, but he's got to stay healthy after nagging hamstring problems last fall and really challenge Saine, Herron and Jordan Hall (don't forget about him) for carries.
Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Welcome back! Two things: When the BT expanded, I thought a championship game was a no brainer. But now I've heard a very intriguing idea - play nine conference games, and schedule the rivalry games on the first Saturday in December. This solves the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem with not playing after Thanksgiving, but also avoids the championship loser out of the BCS problem. Plus, some of the rivalry games could prove more attractive than other conference championship games. What do you think? Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I've heard the same idea from people within the Big Ten. You add two bye weeks to the schedule and finish in early December, much like the Pac-10 does right now. There's certainly a contingent of coaches around the country who don't love league championship games, but there's also a ton of support for these events and lots of money to be made. Can a wealthy league like the Big Ten afford to stiff-arm millions and maybe help its second-place team reach BCS bowls every year? Sure. But I still think you'll see a title game when all is said and done.
Seann from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Hi Adam. Thanks for the updates on the blog. What do you think about the Spartans' recruiting for the 2010 and 2011 classes? It seems like they are doing a better job competing for some of the top talent. A few years ago if you asked a top recruit if he wanted to go to Michigan or Michigan State he probably would have looked at you weird. Now it seems like state is in the mix. Do you think Mark Dantonio has improved the recruiting at state for the long term?
Adam Rittenberg: I really like what Mark Dantonio and his staff have done with local and regional recruiting. It's the right approach, and they've gone about it in a very effective way. Michigan State is consistently putting itself in the top half of the league in recruiting and, in some years, in the top three. I know the Michigan State/Michigan local recruiting debate makes for good fodder, but the truth is both programs have done pretty well and improved themselves. One potential concern for Michigan State is the departure of Dan Enos to Central Michigan. Enos really spearheaded the team's recruiting efforts in the Detroit area, and the other coaches need to pick up the slack.
OFFENSE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Fr., 6-7, 250
Kirk Ferentz rarely plays true freshmen, but Fiedorowicz has a lot working in his favor to see the field this fall. Iowa loses standout tight end Tony Moeaki and needs a second option alongside Allen Reisner. Fiedorowicz is the team's top-rated incoming recruit and boasts the size and athleticism to make a difference right away. He might not be the fastest player, but he uses his size extremely well and can gash defenses down the middle of the field.
DEFENSE: Micah Hyde, CB, So., 6-1, 185
Iowa has a major hole at cornerback following Amari Spievey's NFL departure, and Hyde is one of several players vying to fill it. Hyde appeared in all 13 games last season, mostly on special teams and in Iowa's dime package, and recorded eight tackles. His playing time will go way up this fall as he competes with Jordan Bernstine for a starting spot opposite Shaun Prater. He boasts good size at 6-1 and certainly looks like Iowa's No. 2 or No. 3 option at corner entering camp.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Keenan Davis, WR, So., 6-3, 215
Davis should be a major factor on kickoff returns and he'll likely line up alongside senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. He came out of spring ball listed as a co-starter on kickoff returns even though he had only two returns (one kickoff, one punt) in 2009. Davis' potential is obvious as he boasts good speed. Teams likely will kick away from Johnson-Koulianos, who ranked second in the league in kickoff returns in 2009 (31.5 ypr), so Davis should have plenty of chances to shine.
As we all know, Ferentz won the award, his third after claiming the honor in both 2002 and 2004. Tressel amazingly has never won the award despite leading Ohio State to six Big Ten titles, a national title, seven BCS bowl appearances and a 59-13 mark in conference games since he took over as head coach in 2001.
Let the record show that I endorsed Ferentz for the 2009 award, though I wouldn't have made a fuss if it had gone to Tressel. I cited Iowa's ability to overcome a brutal road schedule and several key injuries as primary reasons why the award should go to Ferentz. Plus, Ferentz and his assistants regularly take average recruits and turn them into All-Big Ten performers.
"Ferentz had so many things working against him this season, namely a brutal road schedule and several unfortunate injuries. ... Ferentz readily admits Iowa isn't the most talented or deepest team in the Big Ten, but he and his assistants got the most out of the Hawkeyes this fall. ... Tressel deserves to win this award one of these seasons, and he did a great job turning things around after Purdue and worked his November magic yet again. I'd be happy for Tressel if he got the nod tonight, but the honor should go to Ferentz."
So how does the NFL draft change this, if at all?
Well, Iowa had six players drafted, including a first-round pick in left tackle Bryan Bulaga, a second-round pick in linebacker Pat Angerer, two third-round picks in cornerback Amari Spievey and tight end Tony Moeaki, and a fourth-round pick in linebacker A.J. Edds.
Ohio State, meanwhile, had its weakest draft in recent memory. The Buckeyes had no players drafted in the first three rounds and only one, outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, drafted before the seventh round.
The draft also mirrored the 2009 All-Big Ten selections, which included only two first-team selections from Ohio State (safety Kurt Coleman and guard Justin Boren) and five first-team selections from Iowa (Bulaga, Spievey, Angerer, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash).
Despite having a weak senior class, at least according to NFL potential, and one of his least decorated teams at Ohio State, Tressel won another Big Ten title, not to mention a Rose Bowl championship.
Did he deserve the Coach of the Year Award over Ferentz?
I've heard plenty from both fan bases on this topic, and I'll attempt to summarize the viewpoints.
Ohio State fan argument: It's ridiculous Tressel has never won the award despite dominating the Big Ten since his arrival. Why should he get penalized for Ohio State recruiting well and being the preseason favorite all the time? Look at the 2009 season. Iowa had more than twice as many first-team All-Big Ten selections, and a much stronger NFL draft class. And Ohio State still beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head to win the Big Ten championship and then the Rose Bowl. This was one of Tressel's best coaching jobs, and if he can't win the award in a year like this one, he'll never get it. O-H!
Iowa fan argument: It's ridiculous that Tressel has never won Big Ten Coach of the Year, but Ferentz deserved the award in 2009, just like he did in 2002 and 2004. Look at where Iowa's recruiting classes rank next to Ohio State's year after year. Ferentz consistently does more with less talent, while Tressel wins the league because he has the most gifted recruits. It goes back to recruiting and player development, and a coach should be judged by what he does with players after they come under his watch.
Both sides bring up great points, and both coaches certainly did enough to deserve the award last fall.
I took a look at who was winning Coach of the Year in other conferences. Specifically, I wanted to see how often the award went to the coach from the dominant team, or the team that recruited the best.
- Pete Carroll won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors three times during his dominant USC tenure. He claimed the award outright in 2006 and shared it with Washington State's Bill Doba in 2003 and UCLA's Karl Dorrell in 2005.
- Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has won Big 12 Coach of the Year four times, while Texas' Mack Brown won his second award last season. The Sooners and Longhorns have dominated the league in the last decade.
- Florida's Urban Meyer has never won SEC Coach of the Year, making him the closest parallel to Tressel. Nick Saban has won or shared the award three times, once with LSU and twice with Alabama.
- Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer won back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. Beamer and the Hokies have been the league's dominant team since moving over from the Big East.
This shows that dominant head coaches can win Coach of the Year awards in their leagues, although Tressel and Meyer both have been passed over.
Pretty much everyone agrees that Tressel deserves this award, but unless Ohio State takes a nosedive on the field or in recruiting, his drought likely will continue.
Tim from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: Adam,After the Blue and White game this past weekend many questions still remain at quarterback and along the offensive line. While Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome seem to be the front runners for the job they were very shaky at the game and it seemed to me Paul Jones gave the best performance. I know it wasn't against the first team defense but i don't understand why it seems Jay and Joe Paterno have written this kid off from starting next year. He seems to already posses the physical tools to perform at the next level and if its experience that is worrisome McGloin has never started a game plus Newsome has only played in garbage time. With three away games against top ten opponents i don't think we are making a run at a national championship this year, would it really be that bad if we started a freshman?
Adam Ritenberg: Jay Paterno sounded open to the idea of playing Jones after the Blue-White Game, and certainly Penn State can't close the door on any of its quarterbacks right now. I would give the coaches the benefit of the doubt. They've seen these guys every day in practice, Jay has charted every pass thrown and graded them out. Jones played well in the spring game, but how did he perform in the other 14 practices? While most of the players who spoke to reporters last week only talked about Newsome and McGloin, the opportunity for Jones seems to be there. True freshmen start at quarterback these days in the Big Ten, and I would hope Penn State coaches wouldn't be naïve to what's happening around them.
Ian from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Overall, I like MSU's new digs. The bronze is a little much and the fonts are overstyled, but really the changes aren't as dramatic as they could be. Football aside, I'm really disappointed that the basketball jerseys say "Spartans" and not "State." MSU basketball owns that tittle. New fonts, new colors aside, the basketball team deserves to be known nationwide as "State."
Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Ian. Things certainly could have been worse, and some of the changes provide a better look. I definitely agree with Michigan State's mission to get uniformity with its brand for athletics. The school can't please everyone with the changes, but overall, it did a good job. But I'm with you about the basketball jerseys. The "State" on the front was so recognizable and brought prestige with it.
Joe from Toledo writes: Hey Adam, what do you think of Donovan Warren not getting drafted? And now he signed with the Jets who have Revis Island, picked up Cromartie, and just drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round, will he make the team or even see the field??
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I was surprised that Warren went undrafted, and I feel bad for him. He got some poor advice along the way, but on the other hand, he seemed ready to move on. Of the six Big Ten underclassmen in the draft -- Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Arrelious Benn, Navorro Bowman and Thaddeus Gibson -- only Warren didn't hear his name called in New York. The five others went in the fourth round or higher. There was talk Warren could be a second-round selection at one stage, but his stock clearly dropped as the draft approached. It's never easy for undrafted free agents to make a team, particularly one stacked at cornerback like the Jets, but Warren has some ability and got plenty of good experience at Michigan going against top wideouts from the Big Ten.
Greg from Austin, Texas, writes: Does the absence of any Buckeyes drafted in the first three rounds finally put to rest any idea that Tressell wins the Big Ten mainly because he has more talent? Are some voters finally going to wake up and give him a richly deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year award? After all, both Iowa and PSU had more players drafted and I believe eight different Big Ten teams had a player drafted before the Buckeyes, yet the Buckeyes won another Big Ten title. Sounds like good coaching to me.
Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have to agree with you that Ohio State's poor draft showing definitely strengthens the case that Jim Tressel should have been 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year rather than Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. The problem for Tressel is he should have plenty of first-team, All-Big Ten players as well as first-round draft picks on the 2010 team, which will be the Big Ten preseason favorite. Could he finally win COY as a lifetime achievement award this fall? He deserves to, but I'd bet if a team like Michigan State or Purdue or even Penn State challenges for the Big Ten title, the award will go elsewhere again.
Bit Guru from Washington D.C. writes: One way to solve all the expansion problems and get the BTN into several lucrative TV markets is to simply merge the Big Ten and the Pac Ten. (Could even ruthlessly eject Northwestern, Stanford, and say Minnesota to yield two 9-team divisions for round-robin football perfection.) Sure it will never happen, but hypothetically what do you think?Seriously, one of the stories you linked to a while back made a good case for Colorado. Good enough that I was pretty much convinced. But is Colorado now off the expansion radar?
Adam Rittenberg: Uh, no. Not happening. The Pac-10 has much bigger problems than the Big Ten as far as marketing its teams on a national level and raising its overall profile. USC is a big deal, but how many folks who live East of the Rockies see Oregon, Cal, Oregon State or Arizona play much? I grew up a Pac-10/Cal fan, and I have to stay up until 2 a.m. to see the Bears finish night games. The Big Ten has no need to share its success with the Pac-10, which brings on more risks than potential rewards. And the idea of ejecting teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Minnesota is silly for both leagues. Colorado would be a good addition for the Pac-10, but I highly doubt the Big Ten would look to the Buffs for expansion.
Bill from Marshall: where's all the spring game coverage? Stop slacking off!!There were a bunch of spring games. You should have a TON of material ready. Get off your nerdy backside and do something
Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, should I fire on Bill or let you guys handle him for me in the comments section ... tough decision. Bill, you can criticize me for a lot of things, and you'd be correct on some of them. But saying I don't work hard enough, seriously, dude? I've got a little assignment for you. Go back and read this blog. Then go and try to find another one out there with more content year-round. You won't. I'll recap all the spring games eventually, but I don't place nearly as much of an importance on them as the fans do. They're glorified scrimmages that rarely mean anything when the season rolls around.
John from Dominica, West Indies, writes: Love the blog! Nearly as good as the Caribbean weather...until I read your recent post! Does Michigan State have a REAL quarterback?! I just read that Cousins said "Football is not my life" and it irked me, especially since Keith Nichol was quoted as saying he would "rather be on the field than play quarterback" If neither one of them cares THAT much about it, how vulnerable are we at QB?
Adam Rittenberg: John, I think the island air is getting to you. Just kidding. But I do think you're misinterpreting comments from two very upstanding guys in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins meant that football isn't the only thing in his life. He has his faith, his education, his family, etc. The guy gives maximum effort in every area of his life, but he's not going to be a football robot or delusional about life after he's done playing. As for Nichol, he wants to help the team in any way he can, and right now that's at wide receiver. Trust me, he'd play quarterback in a heartbeat and give it everything he had if that's where the coaches wanted him, but he can best serve the team as a wideout. He could complain about it, but instead, he's taking it in stride. Lastly, can you send some of that Caribbean weather my way?
But when the final horn sounded and Panther pandemonium began, Ferentz took notice of the crushed Kansas players leaving the court. He turned toward his wife, Mary.
"That could have been us last September," he told her.
How would things have changed had the Northern Iowa kick sailed through? Or if Ricky Stanzi's pass to Marvin McNutt at Michigan State had been batted down? Or if Adrian Clayborn hadn't blocked the punt at Penn State? Or if Michigan could have engineered one more scoring drive? Or if Tyler Sash hadn't snared that pinball interception against Indiana and raced 86 yards for a game-changing touchdown?
These are the questions Ferentz and his Iowa players ask themselves. They're healthy questions. They're questions that keep a team grounded throughout a season on the edge, and heading into another season where expectations are already sky high.
"We may have been close to the Rose Bowl, but we were also close to no bowl," Ferentz said. "You could cite five or six games where it was just basically a coin toss which team was going to win. So, yeah, we were 11-2 last year, but we very easily could have been 5-7 or 7-5.
"Expectations, those are for fans and for media people. They don't have to go out and compete. The guys that line up and play, they realize going in that it's tough to win."
Iowa will be picked to win a lot in 2010.
The Hawkeyes return 16 starters from the Orange Bowl squad, including first-team All-Big Ten defenders Clayborn and Sash, as well as Stanzi, who owns an 18-4 record in two seasons as the starting quarterback. After surviving a brutal road schedule last fall, Iowa will play most of its toughest opponents at Kinnick Stadium this season, including dates with both Ohio State and Wisconsin. Iowa must reload on the offensive line and replace two first-team All-Big Ten players on defense (linebacker Pat Angerer and cornerback Amari Spievey), but the team has few obvious weaknesses.
A top-10 preseason ranking is likely, and the buzz already is starting to build around the Hawkeyes.
"We were so close [in 2009], and we let two games slip away from us," defensive tackle Karl Klug said. "That's the difference between the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl.
"Ultimately, that is the goal: to get to the Rose Bowl."
The vitals: The Cream & Crimson game kicks off at 6 p.m. ET at Memorial Stadium. Fans can choose to cheer for the Cream or Crimson squads and will be able to sit on opposite sides of the stadium. Admission is free and gates open at 5 p.m. ET. Everything you need to know can be found here.
What to watch:
- The defense is Indiana's top priority this spring, and there's plenty of competition in the secondary as three starters depart. Although safety Mitchell Evans and cornerback Matt Ernest are limited and cornerback Lawrence Barnett is out with an injury, it'll be interesting to see which defensive backs step up on Saturday. I'll keep an eye on junior college transfer Lenyatta Kiles and safety Jerimy Finch, who I'm told is having a solid spring.
- The Hoosiers' defensive front seven also should be intriguing. IU knows what it has in linebacker Tyler Replogle, but junior college transfer Jeff Thomas and others are competing for the other two starting linebacker spots. Co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic had some very high praise this week for defensive ends Darius Johnson and Kevin Bush, two players worth watching.
- Indiana should have one of the Big Ten's top passing offenses in 2010, but there are big questions with the run game. Can Darius Willis stay healthy and become a star? Is freshman Antonio Banks the real deal? We'll find out a little bit more on Saturday night.
The vitals: Iowa will hold a two-hour practice capped by a controlled scrimmage at 1 p.m. CT at Kinnick Stadium. Fans can sit in the west and south grandstands, and gates open at 11:30 a.m. ET. Check out all the information here.
What to watch:
- Fans get a glimpse of the new-look Iowa offensive line, which is replacing four players who started at least part of the 2009 season. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said six players have separated themselves from the pack, but keep an eye on right tackle Markus Zusevics and centers Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The line goes up against one of the nation's best defensive fronts Saturday, so it should be a good test.
- You won't see much from Iowa's top running backs, but the scrimmage should provide some clues about the cornerback spot, as the Hawkeyes try to replace All-Big Ten selection Amari Spievey. Micah Hyde has the edge on Jordan Bernstine for the starting job opposite Shaun Prater.
- Iowa knows what to expect from Ricky Stanzi in crunch time, but the quarterback wants to trim his interceptions total in 2010. The Hawkeyes could be very dynamic in the passing game this fall, so it'll be interesting to see how Stanzi looks in a game simulation.
The vitals: Michigan's spring game kicks off at 1 p.m. at Michigan Stadium and will be streamed live on bigtennetwork.com. Fans can tour the locker room Friday from 6:30-8 p.m. and Saturday from 7-9:30 a.m. Michigan's alumni football game takes place at 11 a.m. You can find all the information here.
What to watch:
- You might have heard, but there's a legit quarterback competition going on in Ann Arbor this spring. Fans can get a look at Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner, while Tate Forcier might sit out with a sprained foot. A decision on a starter won't be made until the fall, but the spring game provides an important platform for the candidates.
- There has been a lot of buzz about the 3-3-5 defensive alignment, but I'm more interested in Michigan's personnel, especially in the secondary. Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, has garnered a lot of praise this spring. Fans can check out Gordon, cornerbacks J.T. Floyd and Troy Woolfolk and others in the scrimmage.
- Brandon Graham's departure leaves a huge void in the pass-rush department. Sophomore linebacker hybrid Craig Roh could help in that area, and it'll be interesting to see how he's used in the spring game. Mike Martin's injury this spring has freed up reps for other defensive linemen.
The vitals: The Black & Gold Game kicks off at 1 p.m. ET at Ross-Ade Stadium, with the gates opening at noon ET. Among the day's events is the family fun fest (11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET), where kids can participate in six stations run by the football team. All your info can be found here.
What to watch:
- Fans get their first look at Miami transfer Robert Marve, the projected starter at quarterback for 2010. Marve and fellow quarterbacks Caleb TerBush and Rob Henry will be on display Saturday, and they'll get plenty of work in the passing game as Purdue's top running backs are all injured.
- The offensive line is one of few groups that has avoided the injury bug, which is good because Purdue has a lot to replace. It'll be interesting to see who gets the most playing time up front and the line's rotation in the scrimmage.
- Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary from 2009, and safety Albert Evans, one of few reserves with experience, is out this spring. Who's competing for starting jobs at safety and cornerback? We'll find out more on Saturday.
The vitals: Wisconsin's spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. CT at Camp Randall Stadium. The game will be streamed live on bigtennetwork.com. A Kids Fair will be held from noon-2 p.m., and football players will be on hand for the first hour. For more, click here.
What to watch:
- Wisconsin's quarterback depth is a question mark, and backup Jon Budmayr should get plenty of work Saturday. Budmayr struggled a bit in last week's scrimmage, but Wisconsin needs him to be capable of stepping into a game if anything happens to Scott Tolzien.
- The competition along the defensive line should be interesting to track, as Wisconsin loses three starters up front. The Badgers have a future star in J.J. Watt but need to see good signs from the defensive tackle spot as well as ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.
- Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay won't be out there, but Wisconsin's pass-catching threats will be in action. Can Lance Kendricks be an All-Big Ten tight end? Who will join Nick Toon as a go-to wide receiver? We should find out more Saturday.
- More on Michigan's first home game at night from The Detroit News' Angelique Chengelis and Vincent Goodwill. Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez sees obvious growth from his young offensive linemen, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Wisconsin's fourth practice of the spring (second in pads) is in the books, and The Capital Times' Jim Polzin has all the details.
- Illinois head coach Ron Zook sees no reason why the program can't improve in 2010, Dave Curtis writes in The Sporting News.
- Indiana's new football uniforms won't be unveiled before the April 17 spring game, Dustin Dopirak writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times.
- Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald tells alumni in Florida that the team's recent success has paid off in Sunshine State recruiting, Nick Weidenmiller writes in the Naples Daily News.
- Cornerback is the big concern for Iowa's secondary after Amari Spievey entered the NFL draft, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Penn State's NFL prospects must showcase more than their skills and athleticism to the pro teams, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
- Jim Tressel's new contract extension shows he's giving some thought to life after coaching, Bob Hunter writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- A big weekend is on tap for Michigan's top high school players, Matt Dorsey writes in the Detroit Free Press.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, Jr., 6-3, 282
Preseason rank: Unranked
Why he's here: Clayborn became the face of the Iowa program during a dramatic run to a second-place Big Ten finish and an Orange Bowl championship. His punt block and return for a touchdown in the rain against Penn State set the tone for the season, as Iowa rallied to upset the Nittany Lions and went on to the first 9-0 start in team history. In a league loaded with star pass rushers, Clayborn put himself among the elite by recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles.
He saved his best for last, leading a dominant defensive performance against Georgia Tech and claiming Orange Bowl MVP honors. Clayborn is big, fast and extremely physical, and he was a difference maker for Iowa on both defense and special teams.
Iowa lost two underclassmen (Bryan Bulaga and Amari Spievey) to the NFL draft, but the team got excellent news when Clayborn opted to return for 2010. He'll enter the fall as an All-America candidate and anchor one of the nation's top defensive lines. The first-team All-Big Ten selection certainly can improve his draft stock with another year in Iowa City. Most projected him in the second or third round this year, but teams would have a hard time passing up Clayborn if he puts together another year like 2009.
- No. 30: Michigan State WR Blair White
- No. 29: Northwestern DE Corey Wootton
- No. 28: Wisconsin TE Garrett Graham
- No. 27: Ohio State LG Justin Boren
- No. 26: Iowa S Tyler Sash
- No. 25: Northwestern QB Mike Kafka
- No. 24: Penn State C Stefen Wisniewski
- No. 23: Michigan CB Donovan Warren
- No. 22: Northwestern CB Sherrick McManis
- No. 21: Ohio State DE Thaddeus Gibson
- No. 20: Indiana DE Jammie Kirlew
- No. 19: Iowa LB Pat Angerer
- No. 18: Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield
- No. 17: Illinois WR Arrelious Benn
- No. 16: Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
- No. 15: Penn State RB Evan Royster
- No. 14: Iowa CB Amari Spievey
- No. 13: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
- No. 12: Penn State LB Sean Lee
- No. 11: Ohio State S Kurt Coleman
- No. 10: Minnesota WR Eric Decker
- No. 9: Wisconsin RB John Clay
- No. 8: Penn State QB Daryll Clark
- No. 7: Ohio State DL Cameron Heyward
- No. 6: Penn State LB Navorro Bowman
- No. 5: Michigan State LB Greg Jones
- No. 4: Iowa LT Bryan Bulaga
Spring practice starts: March 30
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
- Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
- Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
- End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
- Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
- Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
- Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
Spring practice starts: March 14
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
- Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
- Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
- Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
- Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
Spring practice starts: March 23
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
- The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
- Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
- Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
- Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
Spring practice starts: April 1
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
- Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
- Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
Spring practice starts: March 26
Spring game: April 24
What to watch:
- Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
- Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
- Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
Spring practice starts: March 24
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
- Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
- The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)
Spring game: April 17
What to watch:
- The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
- Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
- The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.