Big Ten: Andre Anderson

Mark Dantonio attributes much of his success at both Cincinnati and Michigan State to staff continuity, as he has been able to keep his assistants together. But for the first time in his Michigan State tenure, Dantonio had to replace an assistant after running backs coach Dan Enos left in January for the top job at Central Michigan. Dantonio settled on Brad Salem, a former MSU graduate assistant who spent the last five years as head coach at Division II Augustana College in South Dakota. Salem will oversee a running back group led by talented sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker, but a group that loses several players from 2009.

I had the chance to catch up with Salem on Wednesday as he settled into his new job.

I know you had some ties to coach Dantonio. Are there a lot of familiar faces at Michigan State from your first stint there?

Brad Salem: Yeah, absolutely. That's the neat part. A lot of the support staff were here when I was here before, so there's obviously comfort in that, the people that take care of you.

What's the biggest adjustment from being a head coach in D-II to a position coach at this level?

Salem: It's the dynamics of being in charge of 100 guys [at Augustana] to a position coach, where there's anywhere from eight to 12, depending on what you recruit. I'm excited about the change, from the aspect of you get to focus on those guys. You almost get back a little bit more into the coaching role, the technique and the fundamentals of coaching a position.

Was it your goal to get back to the FBS level?

Salem: As an opportunity, it's something you can't pass up. I was very fortunate to be a head coach at a young age and follow in the footsteps of my dad. My father was a coach for 22 years. One of the things in coaching is you can't control the dynamics of where you go and when. That's what you understand. That process is out of your hands, so when opportunities like this present themselves, you get very excited to come back to a place you were 15 years ago. Knowing coach Dantonio and what he stands for, it's great to be a part of that, to be a part of something special.

How much did you work with the running game and specifically the running backs at Augustana?

Salem: As a head coach, I jumped around to different positions. I was on the offensive side, calling plays, so wherever there was a need, whether it was running backs, QBs or receivers, I was piecing it all together and coaching young coaches and teaching them those positions. You're familiar with [running back], absolutely, as one of the skill positions on offense.

How familiar are you with the running backs at Michigan State? Have you had a chance to look at tape or talk to them?

Salem: Yeah, I had the chance to meet them and watch them in workouts, doing the offseason stuff, and just seeing the cutups and seeing what their ability is. You've got two real special kids [Caper and Baker], and to get experience in the Big Ten as a freshman, there's a lot of value in it. They're going to just continue to grow as you go through spring ball and jump into the fall.

What are your early impressions of those two, Caper and Baker?

Salem: They can definitely be special backs. They both have unique styles, a little bit different from one another. But the great thing is, just getting to know them a little bit, is there's really a unique relationship. Very competitive, but they're even going to room [together] next year, and they're guys who understand being part of a team and part of a family. By size, Larry is a bigger guy, powerful, very good hands coming out of the backfield. There's maybe a little more quickness with Edwin, but you've got to watch a little bit more and study them. I'll find out more about that as we go through the spring.

Are numbers at all a concern for you because you'll be down a few guys from 2009 [Caulton Ray, Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett, Glenn Winston]?

Salem: For spring, we're sitting pretty good. We've got some real solid guys at the fullback position, and then we've got the two early entry kids, Nick Hill and Leveon Bell. So those two incoming freshmen are here right now, so it gives us at least four tailbacks. Numbers are not the issue at my position, which is nice.

From a recruiting standpoint, you're replacing Dan, who was a great recruiter and really helped Michigan State. How has it been with recruiting and reconnecting in that area?

Salem: As a head coach, you're closing the deal and overseeing the whole process, recruiting the Midwest in that respect. Recruiting is the No. 1 issue with any program, and you've got to be able to do that and be successful because it's the kids that you get in your program. The approach here is it's very much a team-oriented recruiting process with the regional coach and then the position coach and then obviously the head coach to close the deal. So you fit in as we divide up areas. But I'm really excited to get going in the recruiting aspect of this job.

Have you talked about which regions you'll recruit?

Salem: We're just dividing up now. Each of us will get a piece of Michigan and then a secondary area. We're still trying to figure out where that'll be in the Midwest. You've just got to capture these kids in the region first. That's the priority. And you go from there. I'm touching base, e-mailing, calling the local guys right now, just so they see who I am.

Spartans remove two RBs from roster

October, 28, 2009
10/28/09
3:48
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan State running backs Caulton Ray and Andre Anderson have been removed from the active roster, head coach Mark Dantonio said Wednesday.

Ray started the first four games this season before giving way to true freshman Larry Caper, who leads the team with 366 rush yards and six touchdowns. Anderson slipped down the depth chart at the end of spring ball and was basically an afterthought at running back after Caper and classmate Edwin Baker arrived this summer. He has just two carries in seven games.

Ray has 40 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown.

According to a team official, Ray and Anderson aren't involved in any legal problems and remain enrolled at the university but not participating in any team activities.

This isn't a major surprise at all, considering how Michigan State pushed the rushing load toward Caper, Baker and sophomore Glenn Winston, who shared duties with Caper before suffering a season-ending injury against Illinois. Michigan State decided not to redshirt Baker rather than going back to Ray or Anderson, so you can bet playing time was an issue here.

Don't be surprised to see either Ray or Anderson -- or both -- seeking a transfer in the near future.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State's quarterback competition remains virtually deadlocked, but the Spartans are seeing some separation in the race to replace All-American running back Javon Ringer.

The team has several veteran options at running back -- senior A.J. Jimmerson and sophomores Ashton Leggett and Andre Anderson all have played -- but the coaching staff expects youth to be served this fall. Heralded true freshmen Larry Caper and Edwin Baker have been as advertised so far in camp, and redshirt freshman Caulton Ray is continuing his progression after a strong finish to spring ball.

Last year, Ringer was the Spartans offense, accounting for nearly 41 percent of the team's production. A committee system is likely this fall, but the top group seems to be taking shape.

"There's some players that have stepped out a little bit," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "The freshmen running backs have done a nice job. Caulton Ray has done a nice job. Those three guys right now have separated themselves a little bit, but things can change pretty quickly."

Both true freshmen feel ready to contribute immediately, and running backs coach Dan Enos calls Ray arguably the team's most improved player. After being slotted behind Ringer and several others last fall, the 5-foot-9, 195-pound Ray came on strong during winter conditioning and impressed the coaches with his knowledge of the offense in spring ball.

Though the 220-pound Caper has a size edge over Ray and Baker, both of whom are closer to Ringer's frame, all three backs demonstrate their toughness in camp.

"We practice very hard and very physical," Enos said. "All of our backs have been given the ball a bunch in camp because it's been a priority for us to find out who the guys are going to be. Those three guys, in particular, they've hung onto the ball, they've ran hard and they've been put in some tough situations, where they needed to get a tough yard or two tough yards, and they've shown the ability to do that."

The three young backs all finished among the stat leaders from Friday's controlled scrimmage at Spartan Stadium. Caper led the way with 68 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while Ray (37 yards) and Baker (32 yards) also contributed.

Readiness is the big question surrounding all three players, but Enos likes what he sees.

"One of the reasons we [scrimmaged] in the stadium against our [first-team] defense, we wanted to see how they would respond," Enos said. "And they loved every minute of it. They were all itching to get back in the game when we took them out. They all ran really hard. We think they're going to be ready."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before getting to the Green-White game, there was some exciting scheduling news Monday for Michigan State fans.

The school agreed to home-and-home series with both West Virginia (2014-15) and Alabama (2016-17) and extended its contract with longtime rival Notre Dame through the 2025 season. Kudos to athletic director Mark Hollis for making the type of moves most ADs avoid at all costs (pun intended), and giving his fan base some exciting games down the line. Notre Dame no longer provides a guaranteed marquee matchup for Michigan State, so adding these other teams ensures the Spartans will be tested almost every year.

Now back to Saturday's spring game ...

Michigan State's coaches talked all spring about how the competition between sophomore quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol was too close to call. They also expressed no panic or anxiety about having no clear-cut starter right now or for the immediate future.

The spring game showed why, as both Cousins and Nichol threw the ball brilliantly. Nichol and the White team prevailed 38-37 as safety Danny Fortener sealed the win by knocking down a Cousins pass on a two-point conversion attempt.

Both Cousins and Nichol threw for exactly 357 yards and four touchdowns, capitalizing on an improved group of wide receivers/tight ends and a banged-up secondary. Nichol showed impressive mobility and completed 20 of 28 passes, while Cousins maintained his efficiency in the pocket and completed 29 of 43 pass attempts.

"I think you saw why we look at our quarterbacks and say it's too close to call," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "Both guys responded when they were down and made big plays. And both guys had receivers make catches with guys draped all over them."

Nichol threw touchdowns to four different receivers, while Cousins twice found tight end Charlie Gantt for scores.

Other items from the Green-White game:

  • Whoever wins the quarterback competition will have plenty of capable targets this fall. Senior wide receiver Blair White recorded a game-high six receptions for 89 yards, and fellow wideouts Keshawn Martin, Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham also performed well. The tight ends will be spotlighted this season as Gantt hauled in two touchdown receptions and Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum led the White squad with six receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.
  • It was a disappointing day for the four running backs vying to replace All-American Javon Ringer. Sophomore Andre Anderson had a game-high 30 rush yards on nine carries, while sophomore Ashton Leggett, who created some separation earlier this spring, finished with just seven yards and a touchdown on eight carries. The competition remains wide open here, and incoming freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper will be in the mix this summer.
  • Playing without four injured defensive backs, the Spartans' defense had a very disappointing day. Linebackers Greg Jones (10 tackles, 2.5 TFLs) and Eric Gordon (11 tackles, 1 TFL) led their respective teams.
  • Penalties were a problem for the Spartans, who got flagged 12 times for 117 yards in the scrimmage.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It was probably a good thing that neither Kirk Cousins nor Keith Nichol attended Wednesday's spring game draft at the Skandalaris Football Center.

The two Spartans quarterbacks would have felt a bit like Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers. They would have been waiting a while.

Michigan State's senior class divided into two teams and made the selections for the Green and White squads. They filled 16 different position groups before coming to the quarterbacks. Even the long snappers were scooped up before Cousins and Nichol.

The Green team finally relented and picked Cousins, the sophomore who backed up Brian Hoyer last season. That meant Nichol went to the White team, which seemed happy to have him.

"It was interesting how the guys who may be the MVP, the quarterbacks, they're some of the last ones picked," said head coach Mark Dantonio, who officiated the draft inside the team meeting room. "It's because everybody feels they're both very, very good players and they both can lead and they both can make plays. That's a positive thing."

This year's draft wasn't nearly as entertaining as its predecessor, in large part because Dantonio was the only coach in the room. Last year, quarterback Brian Hoyer and Pat Narduzzi got into it regarding the drafting of offensive lineman Joel Nitchman.

"We've kept coach Narduzzi out of there this year," Dantonio told the players with a smile.

It was fun to watch the normally all-business Dantonio oversee the proceedings. He split up the entire football staff between the two squads, all the way down to the trainers, operations staff, film coordinators and turf management staff.

Defensive line coach Ted Gill will serve as head coach of the White team, with linebackers coach Mike Tressel as his defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mark Staten as the offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar will be the head man for the Green squad, with quarterbacks coach Dave Warner as offensive coordinator and secondary coach Harlon Barnett as the defensive coordinator.

The national runner-up Spartans men's basketball team also will play a key role in the Green-White game. Outgoing seniors Travis Walton and Idong Ibok attended the draft and will serve as two of the honorary captains for the Green team, while the hoops assistant coaches will do the same for the White squad.

Walton, ever the team captain, seemed to be running the Green team's draft, while defensive end Trevor Anderson was the point man for the White squad. Each team received two minutes between selections.

Some highlights:

  • For the second straight year, All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones was the first player drafted, going to the Green team, which won a coin flip. Safety Trenton Robinson's stellar spring rubbed off on the White team, which selected Robinson with its first pick.
  • There was a bit of strategy involved, especially since the seniors had been drafted to the two teams by the coaches earlier in the day. Dantonio said Gill chose Anderson with the top pick among seniors.
  • A bit of a surprise as Caulton Ray, not Ashton Leggett or Andre Anderson, was the first running back drafted, by the Green team. The White team then picked Leggett and Anderson went Green.
  • Despite cornerback Jeremy Ware's desire to draft Mark Dell, the White team went with sophomore Keshawn Martin as the first wideout taken. The Green team scooped up Dell, while the White took B.J. Cunningham. Walk-on wideout Milton Colbert was picked before Fred Smith, a heralded 2008 recruit.
  • After the Green team picked Charlie Gantt as the first tight end, the White squad went with Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum instead of Garrett Celek, who played a decent amount last year.
  • The White team has the edge in special teams with starting kicker Brett Swenson and starting punter Aaron Bates.
  • The Green team ended up with most of the first-string offensive line (tackle J'Michael Deane, right guard Jared McGaha, center Joel Nitchman), while the White team will counter with several starters on the D-line (Anderson, defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Oren Wilson). After the draft, the White squad proposed a trade that would swap Cunningham for Deane, but got shot down. "Alright, we're good to go," Anderson said, before high-fiving his teammates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Forget about that other draft taking place at Radio City Music Hall this weekend. The real draft will be held at 2:15 p.m. ET today in the Skandalaris Football Center, as Michigan State picks teams for its annual Green-White Game, which will be played Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has borrowed the idea from former boss Jim Tressel -- Ohio State, by the way, has its own spring game draft today -- and it sounds like a pretty fun event for players, coaches and all involved.

"It makes it a little bit more fun," Dantonio said Tuesday. "It makes it competitive. I actually started doing it at Youngstown State back in 1986, and we've done it ever since, whether I was with coach Tressel or since I've been a head coach."

From what I've gathered about the draft format, here's how it works:

  • The Spartans seniors are divided and pick the teams.
  • Assistant coaches are also assigned to both squads.
  • When a player is picked, a teammate who plays the same position goes to the other team. So if quarterback Kirk Cousins is selected first, Keith Nichol in all likelihood would go to the opposing team.
  • Dantonio has the final say and can move players to the other team to even things out.
  • At stake, steak. The winning team eats it, while the losers get franks and beans.

Things apparently got pretty heated last year between quarterback Brian Hoyer and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. With senior offensive lineman Mike Bacon already on his team, Hoyer drafted starting center Joel Nitchman for the White squad. That left the Green team with no experience at the center spot, so Narduzzi demanded a trade and Dantonio eventually sent Nitchman to the Green team.

Let's hope there are some similar fireworks today.

Though the spring game is all about fun, it does provide some hints about the team.

It will be very interesting to see which quarterback candidate -- Cousins or Nichol -- gets drafted first. Same thing for the running backs -- Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, A.J. Jimmerson and Caulton Ray.

Last year, Cousins was picked ahead of Nick Foles. Cousins went on to back up Hoyer during the season, while Foles transferred from the school.

Check the blog later this afternoon for a full draft recap.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- There are several predictable words to describe the way a 235-pound man runs the football.

 
  AP Photo/Al Goldis
  Ashton Leggett, left, looks to succeed Javon Ringer as the Spartans' starting tailback.

Smooth is usually not one of them.

"I tease him sometimes, because he's one of my closest friends," Michigan State wide receiver Mark Dell said. "He's real smooth, kind of effortless. I love to see him run. He's a smooth running back."

Perhaps Dell is confusing sophomore Ashton Leggett with one of the other Michigan State running backs immersed in a competition to replace All-American Javon Ringer. At 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds, Leggett has drawn comparisons to former Spartans back Jehuu Caulcrick, a boulder in the backfield who scored 21 touchdowns in 2007.

Terms like powerful, downhill and punishing would seem more appropriate for a player like Leggett.

But Dell's claim is backed up by a pretty good source.

"Ashton is the smoothest running back out of all of us, even when I was here," said Ringer, who watched Michigan State's practice on Tuesday and even helped the running backs during individual drills. "A lot of people say he resembles Jehuu a lot, but no. He's a completely different runner than Jehuu was.

"The way Ashton's footwork is, he's one of the smoothest runners."

Former NBA player Sam Perkins owns the rights to the "Big Smooth" nickname, but Leggett might need to borrow it this fall for Michigan State. Though the competition at running back remains extremely tight this spring, Leggett inched ahead last week before being slowed for a few days by a sprained knee.

Head coach Mark Dantonio likes Leggett's ability to break tackles and move laterally and singled out the sophomore for his play. But Leggett doesn't get wrapped up in the spring separation buzz.

"As soon as you perceive that, you drop to fourth on the depth chart," he said. "I just come in here, ready to work hard every day and hope I stay ahead. ... I see us as four, three guys all on one line and any given day, any one of us can break right through and take one 80, 90 yards. So we're pretty much all there still."

Leggett is competing with senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomore Andre Anderson and redshirt freshman Caulton Ray. Two heralded incoming freshmen, Edwin Baker and Larry Caper, also will be in the mix during preseason camp.

Jimmerson has by far the most experience in the group, but his carries have dropped from 37 in 2007 to only eight last fall.

While Jimmerson brings a good blend of speed and size, Anderson most resembles Ringer. He's a bit undersized at 5-foot-9, 190 pounds but boasts excellent quickness and runs hard. Ray fits a similar mold at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds.

Though Leggett clearly boasts a size edge, he's not your typical big back. Asked what area he needed to improve most during spring ball, Leggett's answer came as a bit of a surprise.

"Definitely pass protection," he said. "Last year, my head was running wild, not knowing who to block, everybody coming from different angles. But this year, keeping my head in the playbook, I feel like my pass protection is improving."

Should pass protection be a cinch for a 235-pound back?

"They would look at [me] and say it's easy," Leggett said, "but on any given play we could have four different people to pick up."

Running the ball, meanwhile, comes naturally for Leggett, a Muskegon, Mich., native who had only six carries for 17 yards with a touchdown and a fumble lost last season. Ringer led the nation with 390 carries, limiting the chances for Leggett or the other reserves to get in the game.

Though his body type would suggest a back who can take a good deal of pounding, Leggett expects the carries to be spread out this fall.

"I won't have the stress on my body like Javon," he said. "I thank God for that."

A few feet away, a smiling Ringer watched intently as Leggett spoke with reporters. The future NFL draft pick likes what he's seeing from the backs this spring.

"Things are going to sort themselves out, but I kind of already have an idea [on who will start], I have my own opinion," Ringer said. "I like what I'm seeing from all of them. They're going to be good."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It's pretty miserable outside right now, so thankfully Michigan State held practice Tuesday afternoon on its indoor field. Media were allowed to stay for nearly 13 practice periods, the most all spring, so I clearly picked a good day to visit Sparta.

The quarterback competition is clearly the burning issue in these parts, so let's get right to it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said before practice that sophomores Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol would split reps evenly in Saturday's Green-White Game, as they have throughout the spring. Michigan State is a long way from choosing a starter, but there's still an opportunity for both players to distinguish themselves.

"You can inch somebody ahead of the other guy, but they've both performed very well this spring," Dantonio said. "They both have strong arms. They both can create and have running ability, some a little bit more than the other. They both have good leadership skills and they're extremely hard workers. And they both have three years left.

"With that being said, you don't want to name somebody and then all of a sudden, have to reverse your thinking later on."

Both players had their moments during team periods and 7-on-7s at Thursday's practice. Cousins, who performed well as Michigan State's backup last fall, has excellent mechanics and a strong arm. He looks a little smoother on his passes than Nichol, who has a bit of an awkward motion but still get the ball out fairly quickly.

Many have characterized Cousins as the pure passer and Nichol as the versatile athlete, but offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said it's a misperception.

"It's deceptive," Treadwell said. "It's not like one guy's a runner and one guy's a pocket passer. Those guys both are able to move their feet very well, get out of trouble and keep their eyes down the field at the same time."

The competition is neck-and-neck, but Cousins looked a little more impressive at Tuesday's workout.

The sophomore showed good zip on his passes, hitting Mark Dell on several deep out routes during team drills and 7-on-7s. Dell definitely appeared to be his favorite target. After overthrowing wideout Cam Martin on a deep post, a disgusted Cousins muttered, "That's six points."

Cousins also had a nice gain on an option keeper, taking a rare hit (he and Nichol wore red "no contact" jerseys) and popping back up and nodding his head. His run delighted starting left tackle Rocco Cironi, who is out for spring ball following shoulder surgery.

"It's fun to get in there, run and get hit," Cousins said. "You feel like a football player instead of a quarterback."

Nichol had a bit of a slow start in team drills, but he heated up during 7-on-7s, hitting Chris D. Rucker on a go route and finding Keshawn Martin on a deep out. It would have been nice to see Nichol run more, but he moves his feet well.

The quarterbacks traded off on each play during 7-on-7s. There were no interceptions, though Cousins fumbled a snap during red-zone drills.

Other observations from Michigan State's practice:

  • The competition at running back also remains tight, and a fourth player, redshirt freshman Caulton Ray, has entered the mix. Sophomore Ashton Leggett created some separation a few weeks ago before being slowed by a knee sprain, but he was back at practice Tuesday. Leggett, Ray and senior A.J. Jimmerson each had nice gains during team drills.
  • None of the running backs had much success during red-zone drills, as Jones, Wilson, Neely and others recorded tackles for loss. Sophomore Andre Anderson, who most resembles Javon Ringer in body type and running style, had a nice burst. He runs very hard for a smaller guy.
  • I got the best look at the backs during a 1-on-1 drills against the linebackers. Anderson looked particularly impressive in the open field, juking All-Big Ten performer Greg Jones and reserve Jon Misch.
  • Cousins and Nichol both rotated with the first-team offense, but the top offensive line consisted of: left tackle Brendon Moss (in place of Cironi), left guard Joel Foreman, center Joel Nitchman, right guard Jared McGaha, right tackle J'Michael Deane. Dantonio singled out the offensive line as a group that has progressed more than he had envisioned during spring ball, though there's still a long way to go.
  • Dell, Blair White and B.J. Cunningham took most of the reps as first-team wide receivers. Michigan State will use the tight ends a ton this fall, and several players made catches during team drills, including Garrett Celek and Brian Linthicum, a transfer from Clemson who looks impressive. There's also some buzz about third-team wideout Milton Colbert, a 6-5, 211-pound walk-on who might just work his way into the rotation. Colbert definitely passes the eye test.
  • The first-team defense: defensive end Colin Neely, defensive tackle Kevin Pickelman, defensive end Trevor Anderson, nose tackle Oren Wilson, outside linebacker Eric Gordon, outside linebacker Brandon Denson, middle linebacker Greg Jones, safety Danny Fortener, safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker, cornerback Ross Weaver. Several players are banged up in the secondary, including safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and cornerback Jeremy Ware.
  • The option might not be a major part of the offense next fall, but it will certainly be used more with Nichol and Cousins taking snaps. Michigan State ran several option plays Tuesday and also could incorporate more misdirection into its scheme.
  • Individual practice periods are usually pretty boring, but Michigan State's running backs were worth watching because of a familiar face. Ringer, who remains in town leading up to this weekend's NFL draft, was on the field helping running backs coach Dan Enos in a direction drill. The All-American wore a New York Jets T-shirt but told me afterward he dons apparel from all the teams for whom he worked out. So don't get too excited, Jets fans. Former Spartans right tackle Jesse Miller also attended practice.
  • Place-kicker Brett Swenson, an All-America candidate, looked solid on field goals and even took a pitch on a fake and raced around right end.
  • The Spartans paid homage to Michigan native Kid Rock and played his version of "Sweet Home Alabama" to simulate crowd noise during team drills.

 
  MSU Sports Information
  Michigan State running back Andre Anderson will be one of three Spartans backs looking to pick up where Javon Ringer left off last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There were times last fall when A.J. Jimmerson, Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett could only huddle on the sideline and shake their heads in amazement.

Michigan State kept giving the ball to Javon Ringer, and Ringer kept taking it, leaving his three understudies to watch and wait.

"After a while, you start thinking, 'This can't keep going on forever, not the whole season,'" Jimmserson said.

"You've always got that in the back of your mind, like, 'Alright, he just ran about 60 yards, maybe he'll come out,'" Leggett said. "But it never happened."

Ringer was college football's Ironman, carrying the ball 390 times, 23 more than any back in the country. The All-American and Doak Walker Award finalist had 20 or more rushing attempts in 11 of 13 games and had 32 or more carries in seven contests.

Given Ringer's production and consistency -- 1,637 rush yards, 22 touchdowns -- there was little reason to remove him from the field. So Michigan State didn't.

Opportunities were extremely scarce for Jimmerson, Anderson and Leggett, who combined for just 40 carries all season, less than Ringer's game totals against Florida Atlantic (43) and Indiana (44).

"It got a little frustrating, but then again, you've got to know your role," Leggett said. "Everybody's got to pay their dues. You've got to wait your turn sometimes."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After performing well as Brian Hoyer's backup in 2008, sophomore Kirk Cousins is listed as Michigan State's starting quarterback entering spring practice, which began today in East Lansing.

Cousins and Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol will compete throughout the spring, and possibly much longer.

"I'm in no hurry," head coach Mark Dantonio said when asked when a decision will be made about a starter. "Both of those guys have been in positions of leadership their entire lives. There's no egos."

Dantonio praised Cousins' performance last year on the field and Nichol's on the scout team.

"They're going to get a lot of reps, a lot of live reps, a lot of reps with the [first team], both of 'em," Dantonio said. "So you have a little bit of a feel coming out of spring practice. You'll go into August with the same idea. One guy may completely reverse that in August.

"I see using both quarterbacks until one clearly becomes the guy."

Some other quick notes from Dantonio's pre-spring news conference.

  • Defensive tackle Antonio Jeremiah will be auditioned on the offensive line for at least two weeks. Patrick White and Donald Spencer will see time at both wide receiver and defensive back.
  • Returning running backs Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett and A.J. Jimmerson each will get about 20 carries during the team's spring scrimmages.
  • With All-American running back Javon Ringer gone, Dantonio considers All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones "a little bit of the face of the program right now." Jones has led the team in tackles his first two seasons.
  • Dantonio didn't comment further about running back Glenn Winston, who was indefinitely suspended after pleading guilty to assault charges stemming from an off-campus fight that left a Michigan State hockey player seriously injured.
  • Safety Roderick Jenrette, who left the team in August for personal reasons, remains off the squad this spring. Dantonio didn't rule out Jenrette's return at some point.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As spring practice approaches, it's time to take a look at the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team. A team could have several strengths or weaknesses, but this series will identify the least and most questionable areas entering a crucial evaluation period this spring.

And rather than go in alphabetical order or reverse order, I'll choose teams completely at random, to keep you guessing. Important to note: these rankings will only include freshmen if they're already enrolled and on the official roster for spring ball.

The Michigan State Spartans are up first.

Strongest position -- Linebackers

Key returnees: Junior Greg Jones, senior Adam Decker, junior Eric Gordon, senior Brandon Denson

Key departures: Ryan Allison (50 tackles 2.5 TFLs, forced fumble)

The skinny: Michigan State's defense should be an improved unit in 2009, and the linebackers are the biggest reasons why. All three starters return, led by All-Big Ten honoree Greg Jones, the team's leading tackler the last two seasons. Adam Decker provides a veteran presence in the middle, and Eric Gordon quietly had a very solid sophomore season with three sacks, a forced fumble and 7.5 tackles for loss. The Spartans' wide receivers would have been the pick here, but I need to see fewer dropped passes from them. Cornerback also should be a strength in 2009.

Weakest position -- Running backs

Key returnees: Sophomore Andre Anderson, sophomore Ashton Leggett, senior A.J. Jimmerson

Key departures: Javon Ringer (390 carries, 1,637 rush yards, 22 touchdowns)

The skinny: After losing a smallish senior class, Michigan State doesn't have a clear-cut weakness entering 2009. But you can't underestimate what Javon Ringer meant to the Spartans' offense last year. He carried the team at times and had 23 more rushing attempts than any other FBS back. Michigan State didn't develop a true backup, and while Anderson and others have shown flashes during practice, this group is questionable entering the spring. Other potential weak spots include defensive line and offensive tackle.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Iowa running back Shonn Greene's production will not be easy to replace.

As we continue to preview Big Ten spring football, which begins March 14 at Michigan, it's time to look at five key replacements around the conference.

The Big Ten took the biggest hit at running back with the departures of Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells, P.J. Hill, Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets, among others. There also were key losses on both lines (Mitch King, A.Q. Shipley, Aaron Maybin, Willie VanDeSteeg) and in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Otis Wiley), though the quarterback crop returns mostly intact.

The league's lone head-coaching change was pre-planned, as Danny Hope takes over for Joe Tiller at Purdue. But several key assistants depart the league, creating some holes to fill.

Here's a look at five sets of shoes to fill before Sept. 5.

Big shoes: Iowa running back Shonn Greene

The replacement: Sophomore Jewel Hampton

All Greene did last fall was win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, set Iowa's single-season rushing record (1,850 yards) and eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. As the team switched quarterbacks, identified playmakers at wide receiver and jelled up front, Greene was the constant. Hampton earned high marks as Greene's backup, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, but he'll take on a much bigger load this fall. The 5-9, 200-pound Hampton lacks Greene's brute strength and size, but he provides a different look for an Iowa offense that will always be based around the run game.

Big shoes: Penn State center A.Q. Shipley

The replacement: Junior Stefen Wisniewski

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose the undisputed leader of the league's best offensive line in Shipley, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center last year. Wisniewski started at guard in 2008, but he's expected to shift to center and replace Shipley in the heart of the Lions' line. Expectations will be high for Wisniewski, a talented junior whose father and uncle both were star offensive linemen for Penn State.

Big shoes: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer

The replacement(s): Senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomores Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett, freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper

No running back in the country had a heavier load than Ringer last fall. He led the nation with 390 carries and tied for the national lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State benefited from his tremendous durability, but the coaches didn't develop a reliable backup. The competition to replace Ringer features several young players, including two heralded incoming freshmen. The Spartans could use more of a committee system in 2009, blending speed (Anderson, Caper, Baker, Jimmerson) with size (Leggett). The freshmen should help the situation, but head coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't mind if Anderson, Jimmerson or Leggett emerged in spring ball.

Big shoes: Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley

The replacement: Mike Schultz

Not only was Locksley one of the best recruiters in the country, but he had a strong bond with quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Arrelious Benn and other key members of the Illinois offense. Despite a very disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois still led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. Schultz comes from a program (TCU) known for defense, but his system produced several standout quarterbacks and running backs. He needs to gain Williams' trust right away and maintain the explosiveness Illinois featured at times last season. There also will be pressure for Schultz to bring in top high school players from Texas and other areas.

Big shoes: Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins

The replacement: Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa

Some will point to the oft-injured Wells or hyped linebacker James Laurinaitis as Ohio State's biggest losses, but Jenkins was the team's most consistent performer the last two seasons. Shutdown corners don't come around very often, and Jenkins' play-making skills helped him win the Thorpe Award last year. Chekwa beat out Donald Washington for a starting job in 2008 but will take on a greater load this fall as he'll be assigned to mark top opposing wideouts. He had an interception and four pass breakups last year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The seemingly interminable wait for college football gets a little easier about a month from now, when Michigan steps on the practice field for spring ball. The other 10 Big Ten squads will follow soon after as spring practice gets in full swing.

There are no shortage of spring story lines around the league, from Danny Hope's first workouts as Purdue head coach to six new coordinators to teams like Ohio State and Penn State trying to replace sizable senior classes. Six teams will feature some degree of competition at the quarterback spot, and position battles abound throughout the league.

Here's some can't-miss information about spring ball and a team-by-team look at what to watch:

Illinois Fighting Illini

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The defense needs leaders to emerge after a subpar year and with the graduation of first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Brit Miller. Martez Wilson is an obvious candidate to claim a greater role, but the immensely talented linebacker comes off surgery in December after being stabbed outside a bar. The defensive line loses three starters and top cover man Vontae Davis left early for the NFL draft, creating opportunities for young players to step up.
  • For the second consecutive spring, the running back position will be in the spotlight. Illinois never truly got settled at running back last year, as Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford split carries. Both players had their moments, as Dufrene averaged 5.7 yards a carry and Ford scored eight touchdowns, but it would be nice to see one man emerge as a featured back alongside quarterback Juice Williams.
  • New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz steps in, and former outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will work directly with Williams, who was extremely close with former coordinator Mike Locksley. It's vital for Williams and his teammates to jell with Schultz and the offensive nuances he'll bring to spring practice. Illinois remains one of the league's most talented offenses, but the players must get on the same page this spring.

Indiana Hoosiers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

Watch to watch:

  • Healthy bodies, at least a few more than at the end of last season. Indiana's roster was wiped out by injuries during Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers should get a better gauge of their strengths and weaknesses this spring. Quarterback Kellen Lewis struggled with injuries for much of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he regains the form he showed in 2007, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Lewis might need to reclaim the starting job after splitting time with Ben Chappell last fall. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk will miss spring ball with injuries, giving other players a chance to shine.
  • The Hoosiers' defense must take a step forward this spring, especially with so much experience and talent returning in the front seven. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton each have had breakout seasons, and Matt Mayberry at times looks like one of the league's best linebackers. With weak-side linebacker Will Patterson and others back in the fold, there's no reason Indiana can't be serviceable on defense in 2009.
  • Lewis can't continue to be Indiana's primary rushing option, and with Marcus Thigpen gone, a capable back or two must emerge. The competition this spring will feature players like Bryan Payton and Darius Willis, a heralded recruit who redshirted last year. Demetrius McCray will be limited in spring practice.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

  • Everyone knows Shonn Greene is gone, but the more damaging departures likely will come at defensive tackle, where Iowa loses four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The spotlight will be on the interior defensive line as players like Karl Klug try to fill the void. Arguably no position competition matters more than the one at defensive tackle, especially since Iowa appears strong everywhere else on defense.
  • Ricky Stanzi established himself as the starting quarterback, but Iowa would like the rising junior to take another step and become more consistent. Interceptions were a problem at times for Stanzi last fall, but he should benefit from a full spring as the starter and being able to work with the first-team wide receivers.
  • Rising sophomore Jewel Hampton is the likely choice to succeed Greene after rushing for 478 yards and five touchdowns as his backup last year. But head coach Kirk Ferentz likely wants to see what he has with the other backs, namely Jeff Brinson, who redshirted in 2008. There should be some healthy competition for carries throughout the spring and into preseason camp.

Michigan Wolverines

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. Any improvement on this team must start with the quarterback spot, and the competition during spring ball will be crucial. Steven Threet's decision to transfer shifts the spotlight to true freshman Tate Forcier, who enrolled in January and will practice this spring. Nick Sheridan remains in the mix after starting four games last season, but Forcier seems better suited to run Rich Rodriguez's offense. A strong spring could make him the frontrunner when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives this summer.
  • New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson starts working with a unit that finished 10th in the league in points allowed (28.9 ypg) last fall. Robinson seems less concerned about scheme changes and more focused on instilling a new attitude with the group. There could be an adjustment period on both sides, as players get to know a new coach and Robinson works as an assistant after overseeing an entire program the last four seasons at Syracuse.
  • Robinson undoubtedly will devote much of his attention to the defensive line, which loses three starters, including both tackles. The spotlight will be on young players like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and even early enrollee William Campbell as Michigan looks for answers up front. The Wolverines also need increased leadership from All-Big Ten end Brandon Graham, their only returning starter on the line.

Michigan State Spartans

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Spartans feature arguably the Big Ten's most intriguing quarterback competition. Third-year sophomore Kirk Cousins performed well behind Brian Hoyer in 2008 and seems to have the intangibles to lead the offense. Keith Nichol is a dual-threat quarterback who has a year in the system after transferring from Oklahoma. A decision on a starter might not be made until preseason camp, but the two players will start competing this spring.
  • Running back also is a mystery after the departure of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer. Michigan State didn't develop a second option behind Ringer, so players like Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett will get a chance to prove themselves before true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper arrive this summer.
  • Michigan State doesn't lose much on the defensive side, but co-captains Otis Wiley and Justin Kershaw both depart, leaving a void in leadership. The coaches will lean more on linebackers Greg Jones and Adam Decker this spring, and the secondary needs a new front man to replace Wiley, who led the team in interceptions (4) and ranked third in tackles (78). Danny Fortener came on strong last year, but the Spartans will look for another safety to emerge.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The offense begins a new chapter under new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run game coordinator Tim Davis. Minnesota wants to return to its roots as a running team and employ a pro-style offense. It will be interesting to see how players adjust in practice, and how Fisch and the influential Davis work together.
  • New arrival Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee take over a defense that made major strides under Ted Roof but showed some cracks down the stretch. Cosgrove will be working with experienced players at linebacker and in the secondary, and their ability to grasp his scheme will be huge this spring.
  • Starting quarterback Adam Weber will be held out of contact drills following shoulder surgery, giving the coaches a chance to evaluate heralded recruit MarQueis Gray. The multitalented Gray left the team last year because of questions about his ACT score. He has returned and will get a chance to learn Fisch's offense and establish himself as the team's No. 2 option.

Northwestern Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • It has been at least four years -- and likely more -- since the running back position has been so wide open. Stephen Simmons will get a chance to establish himself as the top back this spring after filling in behind Tyrell Sutton late last season. Scott Concannon and Jacob Schmidt also will be in the mix before several freshmen arrive in the summer.
  • Mike Kafka enters the spring as the starting quarterback after helping Northwestern to a season-turning win last year at Minnesota. But Kafka must develop as a passer to complement his excellent running ability. With a mostly unproven group of wide receivers, Kafka needs to establish a rhythm and become consistent on the short throws that make the spread offense move.
  • Two starters are gone and star end Corey Wootton is nursing a surgically repaired knee, putting pressure on Northwestern to identify another playmaker on the defensive line. The defensive tackle spot will be in the spotlight as Northwestern looks for an elite run stopper to replace John Gill.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • Ohio State needs a featured running back, and Dan Herron has a chance to be the guy. A strong spring from Herron would be beneficial before heralded recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde arrive. The Buckeyes could go with a committee system this fall, but Herron showed promise at times last year and could claim the job.
  • The offensive line was one of the team's bigger disappointments last year, and the group must come together this spring. Michigan transfer Justin Boren should step into a starting role right away, and sophomore tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts could join classmate Mike Brewster on the first team. This group has a ton of young talent, but it must be molded.
  • Keep an eye on the linebacker and cornerback positions all the way until Sept. 5. Ohio State loses national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as All-Big Ten selection Marcus Freeman. Three and possibly four starting spots are open, so the competition should heat up.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Big Ten's best offensive line loses three all-conference starters, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley. Line coaches Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney have plenty of work to do this spring as they try to build around holdovers Stefen Wisniewski and Dennis Landolt. With a formidable run game in place, replenishing the line will be
    Penn State's top priority.
  • Penn State's young wide receivers are gearing up for a wide-open competition as the team loses multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Can Brett Brackett and Graham Zug emerge as reliable possession-type guys? Can Chaz Powell be Penn State's deep threat? Those answers could come this spring.
  • Lions fans are confident that defensive line coach Larry Johnson will develop another first-rate pass rusher. The process begins in spring ball as Penn State must replace starters at both end spots as well as reserve Maurice Evans, a former All-Big Ten selection.

Purdue Boilermakers

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The Danny Hope era begins this spring, and it will be interesting to see what imprints the new head coach puts on the program. He's a Joe Tiller disciple but brings in two new coordinators and wants to make immediate upgrades to the team's speed and athleticism. Purdue loses starters at the skill positions on offense as well as its most productive defender (linebacker Anthony Heygood), so there's plenty of work ahead.
  • Quarterback could feature an interesting competition between Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. Elliott seems like the favorite to take over after backing up Curtis Painter the last three seasons. But the multi-talented Siller could fit the new mold Hope is trying to create with the Boilers' personnel. Siller had a big day against Michigan last year and brings the mobility Purdue could use at the quarterback spot.
  • With the secondary more or less intact, new defensive coordinator Donn Landholm will focus on the front seven. Landholm needs to build around defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, a potential All-Big Ten performer this fall. Heygood will be missed, but Joe Holland is a solid contributor and if Jason Werner can finally get healthy, the linebacking corps should be strong.

Wisconsin Badgers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Big surprise, another quarterback competition. After never truly finding stability at the quarterback spot in 2008, Wisconsin once again looks for a leader for the offense. Part-time starter Dustin Sherer will have to ward off Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr, who enrolled early. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst didn't settle on a starter last spring, but he would like some separation to occur.
  • Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will have a busy spring as he tries to replace three starters up front. Players like Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym and Brendan Kelly, who emerged last fall before an injury, will get a long look this spring.
  • P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL draft puts John Clay in the spotlight as the Badgers' featured running back. Can the immensely talented Clay take the next step in his development to master the offense and his assignments? He also must work with a new-look offensive line that must replace three starters.
Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Keith Nichol, Corey Wootton, Curt Phillips, Jewel Hampton, Dustin Sherer, Ashton Leggett, Joe Holland, MarQueis Gray, Kellen Lewis, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Charlie Partridge, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan Wolverines, Ryan Kerrigan, Joe Tiller, Michigan State Spartans, Purdue Boilermakers, Brian Hoyer, Nick Sheridan, Bryan Payton, Stefen Wisniewski, Ryan Van Bergen, Paul Chryst, Brendan Kelly, Iowa Hawkeyes, Martez Wilson, Mike Brewster, Demetrius McCray, J.B. Shugarts, Jason Werner, Jeff Brinson, Andre Anderson, Shonn Greene, Ben Chappell, Justin Kershaw, Jason Ford, Brett Brackett, Adam Decker, Matt Mayberry, Kirk Cousins, Dennis Landolt, Graham Zug, Maurice Evans, Carlos Hyde, Tyrell Sutton, Jeff Stehle, Northwestern Wildcats, Dan Herron, Kirk Ferentz, Denard Robinson, Donn Landholm, Mike Martin, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Danny Fortener, Jammie Kirlew, Marcus Thigpen, Indiana Hoosiers, Larry Caper, Dick Anderson, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Greg Robinson, Big Ten Conference, Stephen Simmons, Jordan Norwood, Chaz Powell, Steven Threet, Will Patterson, Jon Budmayr, Brit Miller, spring primer 0902, Larry Johnson, Patrick Butrym, Darius Willis, Mike Schultz, Jacob Schmidt, Justin Siller, Marcus Freeman, Justin Boren, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Malcolm Jenkins, Otis Wiley, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Daniel Dufrene, Jaamal Berry, Bill Kenney, Austin Thomas, Scott Concannon, William Campbell, Penn State Nittany Lions, Ohio State Buckeyes, Edwin Baker, Kurt Beathard, Mitch King, Curtis Painter, Joey Elliott, Jedd Fisch, Kevin Cosgrove, Mike Kafka, Danny Hope, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Greg Middleton, Anthony Heygood, Javon Ringer, Mike Adams

Big Ten Friday mailbag

December, 26, 2008
12/26/08
10:25
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A day away from the start of the Big Ten bowl season, it's time to see what's on your mind.

Jason from Springfield, Mo., writes: First off, I have enjoyed the blog tremendously this season. I hope it continues since it keeps me up to date not only on my own team but the rest of the teams, and thanks so much for your hard work this year. I do have a question that has been kinda nagging at me a bit. People have said all year long that Michigan didn't have a lot of talent to work with this year. But after looking at the recruitment rankings from the past 5 years (I know they don't mean a whole lot, but the top classes usually have a decent amount of talent) the Wolverines have had top 10 or close to top 10 classes every year. Why do people think that Michigan has little talent?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Jason. The talent is there at Michigan, but not enough of it was developed in the past two seasons to prevent a drop-off this fall. I believe Rich Rodriguez when he says the competition and overall skill at several positions wasn't up to par, especially after so many good players graduated or left for the NFL. One of the problems with multiyear starters at key positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left tackle) is that the reserves are often neglected. Not saying that happened at every spot, but it's clear to me Michigan would have had some major drop-offs in several places no matter what system or coach was brought in this fall.


Mike from Parts Unknown writes: Hey Adam- love reading your blog! As an Iowa fan, I'm feeling very good about the Hawks bowl game against South Carolina, and I'm feeling very good about their chances for a Big Ten title next year, even if Shonn Greene leaves for the NFL. Besides Greene, Mitch King and Seth Olsen, all big losses to be sure, they return just about everyone else. Am I wrong to think this could be another Top Ten Kirk Ferentz team in 2009?

Adam Rittenberg: A hot Iowa team should take care of South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, and if several spots are filled, the Hawkeyes could make a title push in 2009. As much as I love Shonn Greene, I'm not as concerned about the running back spot if he chooses to leave for the NFL draft (an extremely likely possibility). Jewel Hampton looked solid when he got his opportunities this season, and Jeff Brinson adds depth at running back. By far the biggest losses will be defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. You rarely get four-year starters at any position, much less interior defensive line. Iowa will have a very hard time replacing those guys, and that's not a dig at the younger players behind them. If the Hawkeyes fill in the gaps on the offensive and defensive lines, they should be pretty good in 2009.


Tim from West Chester, Pa., writes: Adam, First of all I love reading the blog and keeping up with PSU through this page, but what is the deal with you going to the Fiesta Bowl over the Rose Bowl? The perception of OSU and Michigan being more important than the rest of the league is increased by this. Why aren't you going to the rose bowl? That is the game that will define the big ten more than the Fiesta bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, let me start by saying we will have a blogger (or two) at every BCS bowl game, so all games will be covered well. I don't decide what games I cover, but I do think the Fiesta -- as well as the Rose -- has plenty of intrigue this season. The BCS has two Big Ten teams and only one Pac-10 team, so that influences where the conference bloggers go. I will have several Penn State-related items in the coming days, and I'll be tracking the Rose Bowl from Arizona, so all bases will be covered, trust me.


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