Big Ten: Anthony Fera

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 5, 2013
7/05/13
3:00
PM ET
Wishing you a great holiday weekend. I'm off next week, so direct your questions to this guy. My next mailblog comes your way July 16. Don't forget, follow us on Twitter.

Let's get started ...

Glenn from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Adam, I'm not an Urban Meyer fan by a long shot and continue to question his recruiting football players vs college students who play football. However, in the case of his being mum about (Aaron) Hernandez, do you think there are potential legal ramifications that are influencing his silence? Considering Hernandez has not actually been accused of anything, maybe comments by Meyer could have an effect one way or the other if there is a trial.

Adam Rittenberg: Glenn, you could be right, especially if Meyer went into any specifics about Hernandez's past at Florida, which is very much under the microscope. Would anyone be surprised if Meyer is called to testify during Hernandez's trial? Still, he could issue a statement with general comments about Hernandez and what has happened. I doubt such a statement would have any bearing on a future trial.


Jason from New York writes: Adam,Loved your write up on the B1G-ACC Battle For New York. The B1G will clearly be the favorite in NYC. First, geography. If you look at a map, not only is Rutgers closer to NYC than Syracuse.......but......Maryland AND Penn State are also BOTH closer to NYC than Syracuse! That is 3 teams in the B1G that are geographically closer to NYC than Syracuse. Another point......half of the ACC is the old Big East. Syracuse and the old Big East did not take the Big Apple by storm. Just because a few schools from North Carolina are thrown in the mix, suddenly Syracuse and the ACC will take New York by storm? I think not. The ACC can't touch the B1G in football. The B1G alumni in NYC are strong. You think anyone in NY cares about a Wake Forest @ Syracuse football game? Give me the B1G football lineup any day! The B1G is also pretty strong in basketball. Sorry, Andrea, no one in the Big Apple is going to drive 3.5 - 4 hours to watch Syracuse play any of those confederate schools. Not only is NYC B1G country, but with the addition of Maryland, now Washington DC is B1G Country as well. Do you agree?

Adam Rittenberg: Love the enthusiasm, Jason, and obviously I agree with much of what you write here. Andrea brought up ACC basketball and the value it will bring to New York. She's right, but football remains king in terms of true market share, and as you point out, having teams like Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State play in New York more often will only help the Big Ten's cause in the area. It will be interesting to see how much Syracuse helps the ACC in New York, and how much Rutgers helps the Big Ten. The Orange and the Scarlet Knights could be the deciding factors in this whole debate, but as you point out, I can't see the enthusiasm in New York for the other ACC schools match the enthusiasm for the Big Ten schools.


Ben from Cleveland writes: I don't know if Meyer should weigh in on Hernandez or not, but I do know that there was no reason for him to weigh in on it at a *youth* football camp. They're kids, he doesn't need to be talking to them about a possible triple murderer.I personally don't need to hear him weigh in on it. I don't know what people want him to say. He tried to help Hernandez and be something of a father figure to him at Florida. Considering that, its probably a sensitive topic for him.

Adam Rittenberg: That's a good point, Ben, although Meyer talked to reporters after the camp was over. Still, I don't think a news conference is the right forum for Meyer to address the Hernandez issue. It's obviously a sensitive topic and he'd want to choose his words very carefully. That's why I felt a one-time written statement that would be his only comment on the matter might be the best way to go.


Nate from York, Pa., writes: At the beginning of the season PSU fans were lamenting the losses of Silas Redd and Anthony Fera as they would have helped win the first two games and made it a 10 win season. Looking back now I think the biggest transfers that affected Penn State would have been either Khari Fortt or Jamil Pollard as their transfers have impacted the long-term depth. Is this a correct statement?

Adam Rittenberg: There are two different questions here, Nate. One, which transfers hurt Penn State most in 2012? Two, which transfers hurt Penn State most in the long term? To answer the first, I'd definitely go with Fera, although it's worth pointing out that he was injured for most of the season at Texas. A healthy Fera gets Penn State at least the Virginia game, which was lost on missed field goals. It's interesting how Redd's departure didn't hurt nearly as much as we thought at the time. Part of that has to do with Bill O'Brien's pass-driven offense and Matt McGloin's development at quarterback. Long term, Penn State certainly could have used Fortt at linebacker, which lacks depth right now. Pollard might become a star at Rutgers, but I'm less concerned about Penn State's ability to reload along the defensive line.


Jerry from Bethesda, Md., writes: Adam, you really underestimate what Maryland will bring to the Big Ten. It may take a while for the football program to become truly competitive, but both the men's and women's basketball programs will compete for championships. Maryland's lacrosse program will dominate. Both the men's and women's soccer programs will competer for championships. Both the men's and womne's lacrosse programs will competer for championships. Trust me, Big Ten prorgams in basketball, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, etc., will come to hate Maryland because these progams at Maryland are elite programs at the national level. Look for (Mark) Turgeon to have a very good team in 2014 with a top 5 recruiting class joinging some very talented already on board! :o) Maryland will be a force in the Big Ten.

Adam Rittenberg: Jerry, I don't disagree with anything you write here. However, this is a football blog and that's really our focus when it comes to Maryland and the Big Ten. The Big Ten values broad-based athletic programs and Maryland should be a very good addition for the reasons you outline here. But we're all about football, a sport where Maryland has a long way to go after the first two seasons under Randy Edsall. Recruiting does appear to be on the uptick as Mike Locksley is working his magic for the Terps, but we need to see better results on the field before Maryland moves into the Big Ten East.


Josh from Los Angeles writes: Not even sure why the media is brining Meyer into the picture. Sure he was his head coach and possible father figure, but you can't save people from themselves no matter how much you try. Some people are just evil, and IF Hernandez is guilty why would Meyer have to say anything about it? What about his parents or family, what about his circle of friends, what about Belichick or current teammates? Why is Meyer the only one with perceived influence on this poor young man? It just makes me sad, that people will pass buck and say oh you didn't do enough to save this man, or you used him to win games at Florida and did nothing for him. You can only do so much, it's up to that person to listen and do the right thing.

Adam Rittenberg: Ultimately, Hernandez is responsible for his own actions and deserves what's coming to him. But Meyer reportedly went to great lengths to help Hernandez stay on track. You might not care what he says now, but others would like to hear from someone who knew Hernandez so well. There's interest in how Hernandez got to this point. If you've been following the Hernandez coverage, there are numerous stories with quotes from others who knew him. Meyer, meanwhile, has chosen to remain silent, which is his right. I also think the fact Hernandez's past at Florida is under the microscope puts the focus on Meyer, who oversaw a program with numerous off-field problems and has been portrayed by some as an enabler. That's part of his legacy, just like the national championships and the success of Tim Tebow.


Steve from Northville, Mich., writes: Look, I'm a Michigan fan and I can't claim to be particularly fond of Urban Meyer, but I don't think its fair to involve the guy in the Aaron Hernandez affair and expect him to weigh in. As you addressed, he did what he could at Florida to point the kid on the right path. Hernandez hasn't been Meyer's responsibility since he went to the NFL, and I don't know whether they had kept in touch since then, but I don't feel he has any relevance to Hernandez current lifestyle and decisions.Meyer is wise to keep mum about this so as not to fan the flames by taking either position. We've seen a number of coaches this offseason make remarks, that while intended to be innocent, generated a lot of media attention and public critique because coaches occupy such a prominent role in society as representatives of many valued things. The term "coachspeak" exists for a reason, referring to the generic non-information they commonly supply in interviews so as to satisfy media desire for a quote without revealing anything. I can understand his desire to stick to that custom at this time.

Adam Rittenberg: Some excellent points here, Steve, especially about the dangers of coaches making controversial comments during the offseason. As I mentioned in Tuesday's post, Meyer would have to choose his words carefully if he makes any public comment about Herndandez. That's why I felt a prepared statement would be the best way to go.


Nick from Indianapolis writes: As a Badger fan I am very pleased about how Gary Andersen has handled things in madison. He seems to bring a positive attitude and I think he will do well. However I am a little concerned that fans are a little too excited about him. He has a very high bar to reach and he hasn't even coached a first game. What are your thoughts on the issue?

Adam Rittenberg: Nick it's called an extended honeymoon, and Andersen certainly isn't the first new coach to enjoy one. We're seeing the same thing with Darrell Hazell, who has made a very positive impression so far at Purdue. But both coaches are 0-0, and as we know, they'll ultimately be judged on what happens when the games begin. Andersen is a very good defensive coach and turned around a program (Utah State) that I considered a lost cause. He now enters a much bigger stage in the Big Ten and must show he can continue the things Wisconsin does well (power run game, elite offensive linemen and running backs), while upgrading areas like athleticism at wide receiver and defensive back. Fans' emotions are always extreme, whether they're positive or negative. That's why they're fans. But I think Andersen will do well at Wisconsin.

Backup kicker leaves Penn State

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
11:50
AM ET
Penn State players and coaches have said they're sticking with Sam Ficken as their kicker despite his brutal outing last week at Virginia. The Nittany Lions now don't have many other options.

Ficken's backup, freshman Matt Marcincin, has left the team for personal reasons, it was first reported by the Centre Daily Times and later confirmed by the school. Now, normally, a backup kicker leaving the team is hardly newsworthy. But these are not normal times for Penn State.

Ficken went just 1-for-5 on field goals and missed an extra point in the Nittany Lions' 17-16 loss at Virginia. While Bill O'Brien said Ficken would remain the starter, he also said there would be a kicking competition each week in practice.

With Marcincin gone, there is only one other placekicker on the roster: Kevin DiSanto. The position was thinned when incumbent kicker/punter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas this summer, using the NCAA exemption to become immediately eligible. The Centre Daily Times reports Penn State will hold open tryouts for kickers next week.

And, of course, all player departures from Penn State make news right now. Marcincin was not a scholarship player, however.

The best thing that could happen is for Ficken to bounce back and have a good game this week against Navy. Then no one will think much about kicker depth again.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. Spartans or bust: With all due respect to Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota, the Big Ten is down to one legitimate remaining BCS title contender after just two weeks. Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska have already seen their hopes of an undefeated season vanish. Ohio State technically could win The Associated Press national title, but the probation-saddled Buckeyes can't play for the BCS crown. So Michigan State, which looks like the Big Ten's best team right now, is really the only league team that can hoist the crystal trophy. The Spartans own the league's best nonconference win (the opener over Boise State), an elite defense and a strong running game behind Le'Veon Bell. Their passing game needs more work, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his young receivers made some strides in a blowout win over Central Michigan. Michigan State still has a demanding schedule, including next week's game against Notre Dame. But as the only Big Ten power still without a blemish, the Spartans represent the conference's last, best hope for a BCS championship this season.

2. The Leaders Division race is wide open: Hold off on Wisconsin's coronation. The Badgers look completely out of sorts after barely holding on against FCS team Northern Iowa in Week 1 and then nearly getting shut out in a loss at Oregon State in Week 2. If Wisconsin's offense is going to be that pedestrian, to put it kindly, then Bret Bielema's team no longer looks scary for the rest of the teams in the division. Purdue, even in a loss to Notre Dame, might have had the best performance by a Leaders team Saturday. Illinois got dusted in the desert against Arizona State as its vaunted defense faltered. Indiana is 2-0 but is most likely not ready to contend in the division, especially with quarterback Tre Roberson now out for the year. Ohio State might end up being the best team in the division, but the Buckeyes can't go to Indianapolis. Right now, it's anybody's guess who will represent the Leaders at Lucas Oil Stadium.

[+] EnlargeCaleb TerBush
Matt Cashore/US PresswireCaleb TerBush pulled Purdue into a late tie at Notre Dame with a 15-yard TD pass.
3. There's fight in these Nittany Lions, but transfers continue to sting: No matter your opinion on Penn State, you had to feel for the Nittany Lions players and particularly sophomore kicker Sam Ficken after their 17-16 loss to Virginia. Penn State thoroughly outplayed Virginia and received gutsy efforts from linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and others. But it repeatedly missed scoring opportunities, setting some type of record for drives started in plus territory that didn't translate to points. Ficken missed field goal attempts from 40, 38, 20 and 42 yards, the last on the final play of the game after McGloin led an impressive drive. Although Ficken is a scholarship player who needs to convert, he was thrust into this role once All-Big Ten specialist Anthony Fera transferred following the NCAA sanctions (though Fera, now at Texas, is currently injured). Some pointed to Fera's departure as the second most significant of the nine -- behind running back Silas Redd. Penn State certainly could have used him Saturday. The Lions deserve credit for moving the ball and for forcing turnovers, but the player departures have and likely will continue to hamper this team. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back from Saturday's heartbreaker.

4. New coordinators struggling at Wisconsin, Iowa: Both Wisconsin and Iowa went through some significant coaching changes during the offseason, including new offensive coordinators in both Madison (Matt Canada) and Iowa City (Greg Davis). So far, any concerns about the new hires are looking justified. After setting offensive records the past two seasons, Wisconsin came 91 seconds away from being shut out against unranked Oregon State. The Badgers finished with 35 net rush yards and couldn't get Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball going. While the players bear a lot of responsibility, Canada's play calls seemed questionable at best. Iowa's offense also is spinning its wheels under Davis, who took criticism toward the end of his Texas tenure but was supposed to diversify the Hawkeyes' attack. Like Wisconsin, Iowa didn't come alive offensively until the closing moments, and senior quarterback James Vandenberg struggled again with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Iowa has scored one touchdown through the first two games. Although both Canada and Davis faced some personnel challenges with their offenses, they didn't walk into dire situations, either, particularly Canada. The results so far are extremely disappointing.

5. Braxton Miller needs some help: Urban Meyer doesn't want to overexpose his sophomore quarterback, but the Ohio State coach doesn't have much choice right now. Miller had a whopping 27 carries in Saturday's 31-16 win over Central Florida, rushing for 141 yards. He also threw the ball 24 times. Jordan Hall remains out with an injured foot, and Carlos Hyde left Saturday's game with a knee injury, leaving the Buckeyes without many options at running back. Miller took a few hard hits against UCF, and it's clear that if he has to miss any significant time, the Ohio State offense will nosedive. The Buckeyes have to find some complementary players so Miller can make it through the year. We could say the same about Michigan's Denard Robinson, who accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offensive total against Air Force. But we're pretty sure Fitz Toussaint will contribute more than 7 rushing yards in the near future. The Buckeyes need Hyde or Hall to get healthy or for someone else to emerge as a reliable running mate for Miller.
Penn State's offense took major hits when star running back Silas Redd and top receiver Justin Brown transferred. But the Nittany Lions are beginning to find some answers in training camp.

Head coach Bill O'Brien said in a teleconference with reporters Thursday that sophomore Bill Belton "has definitely cemented himself as the starter" at running back. While others, including Curtis Dukes, Derek Day and freshman Akeel Lynch will also see time at tailback, there's little doubt that Belton will get the first carries in the Sept. 1 opener against Ohio. Belton had an 80-yard touchdown run in practice this week, and O'Brien said his pass protection has improved.

O'Brien also said that Allen Robinson, who had three catches last season as a true freshman, has earned one of the starting jobs at wide receiver.

Some other notes from O'Brien's call:
  • The kicking game was thrown into flux when punter/kicker Anthony Fera transferred to Texas. O'Brien said Sam Ficken has had a good camp at place-kicker, but the punting situation is "an on-going battle" between Alex Butterworth and Matt Marcincin, neither of whom has shown enough consistency.
  • O'Brien said he has been "very pleased" with the secondary, which is replacing all four starters from last year. That's even with the season-ending injury to cornerback Mike Wallace and projected starting safety Jake Fagnano missing time with a hamstring. True freshmen DaQuan Davis and Jordan Lucas and sophomore Stephen Obeng-Agyapong have shown improvement, he said. And Adrian Amos is one of the team's best players who O'Brien says can move all around.
  • Sophomore Miles Dieffenbach has nearly won the starting spot at left guard.
  • Much has been made about Penn State's increased use of tight ends, given O'Brien's work as offensive coordinator with the New England Patriots. But O'Brien cautioned that Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez aren't on the Nittany Lions' roster. "I think we've got to stop with the comparisons between what we did with Gronkowski and Hernandez and what we'll do at Penn State," he said. O'Brien did single out true freshman tight end Brent Wilkerson as someone who has had an impressive camp.
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Penn State started 8-1 in 2011 because of a ferocious defense. The Lions rotated quarterbacks, failed to generate much of a passing attack and got a bunch of yards but not many touchdowns from Silas Redd.

They won four games without scoring more than 16 points, three in Big Ten play.

It's a blueprint the Blue and White likely must follow again in 2012 to have success in Bill O'Brien's first season. Although O'Brien is an offensive guru, the line should be better and new contributors should emerge, the Penn State offense, at present, simply doesn't look like it can score many points.

Wide receiver Justin Brown's departure to Oklahoma, as colleague Joe Schad first reported, is the latest blow for Penn State's offense. Make no mistake: The biggest came when All-Big Ten running back Redd transferred to USC. But Brown, the team's leading returning receiver with 35 receptions and 517 receiving yards, is a significant loss as well.

Brown is the ninth player to transfer from Penn State since the NCAA leveled heavy sanctions against the program July 23.

His departure leaves Penn State with no players who recorded more than five receptions in 2011. There's some talent at receiver and running back -- don't be surprised if Alex Kenney and Bill Belton take big steps this season. The tight end position will be featured more in O'Brien's offense. But Penn State undoubtedly is relying more on potential than proven track records.

Several Penn State fans who responded to me on Twitter tonight pointed out Brown's dropped passes and inconsistent play last season. That's true to an extent, but the team still would have benefited from having a senior with 19 career starts. He was the only Lions player to record at least one reception in every game last season.

Losing only Brown wouldn't sting Penn State too much. But the cumulative effect of losing Brown, Redd and standout kicker/punter Anthony Fera could cripple a unit that already had question marks before the sanctions hit, including a giant one at quarterback.

Redd, Fera and Brown accounted for 116 of Penn State's 251 points in 2011. No returnee accounted for more than 12 points last year.

The good news: Penn State's defense still should be very, very good, and the unit hasn't suffered a crucial departure (Khairi Fortt might have started at linebacker, but the Lions still should be fine there). This team has won without a dynamic offense recently, and it could again in 2012.

But there will be times when the offense must deliver. Penn State needs some mystery men to answer the bell.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
5:05
PM ET
Our first game featuring a Big Ten team is four weeks from today (and sorry, Minnesota fans, for forgetting this week that the UNLV game was moved to Thursday night). More importantly, today brings the first fall practice for a Big Ten team (Indiana), and everyone will be on the field by Monday.

August is a time for optimism -- and a lot of repetitive storylines. Here are five story angles/quotes that I guarantee you will not read this month:

"Our summer workouts weren't very good. Hardly anyone participated. It was the worst summer since I've been here."

"The new strength coach is average at best. He didn't really push us very hard. We're in poor shape right now."

"Player X had a disappointing season/got hurt/got arrested/forgot how to play football last year, but he says that 2012 will be either the same or worse."

"Player Y is replacing star Player Z this season. His teammates and coaches have little confidence that he can get the job done."

"Team A is getting a lot of preseason hype. But instead of blocking it out and focusing on the little things, team members are openly celebrating and feeling extremely cocky."

Enough silliness. Let's get to your e-mails:

Brett from Conshohocken, Pa., writes: Question for you regarding the transfers out of PSU. Do those transfers count against the 40 reduced scholarships, or is it only 40 brand new scholarships that count against that total? Since six scholarship athletes have left, do we now have 34 reduced scholarships left, or because some of those scholarships were partially used, do they not count against the total? What about Jamil Pollard? He didn't play a down at PSU, so does his scholarship count as a reduced one?

Brian Bennett: Brett, I understand the scholarship reductions can be confusing. The players who have transferred this summer have little bearing on the sanctions. Penn State can only offer 15 scholarships in each of the 2013, '14, '15 and '16 classes, and it will have to play with 65 total scholarship players from 2014-17. So none of the current transfers make much of a difference, though I guess you could say losing Pollard means one less player toward the 65 total in 2014.


Ryan from Chicago writes: Brian, the normal transfer rules have supposedly been lifted for PSU players due to the sanctions laid down by the NCAA, however the players that have decided to leave have done so for reasons not directly related to a loss of a bowl/scholarships. Aside from Silas Redd aiming for a National Championship, these players are leaving in order to get more playing time at another school, to be closer to home, or to get into a program they couldn't get into during their normal recruitment. Is this really what the NCAA wants to happen?

Brian Bennett: I'm not sure I'd agree with your assessment there, Ryan. Khairi Fortt went to Cal; he's from Connecticut and was listed as a co-starter at linebacker for Penn State. Anthony Fera was the Nittany Lions' punter and kicker and opted to go to Texas. Pollard's high school said the sanctions were the reason he decided to go to Rutgers. So clearly, some of these players have left because of the bowl ban/scholarship sanctions, though other transfers like Rob Bolden and Tim Buckley had little to do with it.


FFX Lion from Washington, DC writes: I was thinking about the Penn State sanctions, and I think there is something about the math surrounding the scholarship reductions that doesn't quite add up. Beginning next year, 2013, and each year since, till 2016, no more than 15 scholarships per year can be awarded. Beginning in 2014, and through 2017, there is an overall limit of 65. However, if you do the math, and add 15 awarded in '13, 15 in '14, 15 in '15, and 15 in '16, that adds to 60. So, by my calculation, they are really subject to a 60 scholarship limitation for 2016 only. This wouldn't be the case in 2015, because that would include 2012 scholarships which can be more than 15. Am I mistaken, or did the NCAA fail to check their math properly?

Brian Bennett: You forgot to include any possible redshirts. While the school can only take 15 players in each of those four years, there could be some leftover players because of voluntary or injury-related redshirts. A freshman this season who redshirts would be a fifth-year senior in 2016. Though that does bring up an interesting question of whether Bill O'Brien can afford to redshirt any players when the 65-scholarship limit sets in -- or even now, given the personnel losses. (P.S. I give your question a C-minus -- little lunch link message humor for you there).


James McKenzie from Bloomington, Ind., writes: So, you've covered that the NCAA only vacates wins to the offending team, but that does not 'give' the opponent the win. How does this effect the opponents loss column? Does the losing team get to erase the 'loss'?

Brian Bennett: Nope, it has no effect at all on the other team. Sorry, hopeful Hoosiers fans. By the way, remember that 2010 game between Ohio State and Penn State, which the Buckeyes won 38-14? No, you don't. The NCAA says it never happened and neither team won. A Buckeyes fan waking up and remembering that game is, I believe, the plot to the new "Total Recall" remake.


Mike from Wixom, Mich., writes: You guys listed MarQueis Gray as a better player than Taylor Martinez, yet only a few weeks ago had Martinez listed as the better QB in your position rankings. Do you guys even pay attention to what you are writing or do you just draw names from a hat?

Brian Bennett: I would insist it be a St. Louis Cardinals hat if Adam and I did that. Wouldn't put my hand near a Cubs hat. Anyway, it's a good question, Mike, but careful, reading explains the discrepancy. As we mentioned in each of those posts, our position rankings were based most heavily on last year's production, while our preseason Top 25 weighs potential for this season a lot more. That's why Gray jumped Martinez, because we feel Gray -- though he had a slightly worse overall 2011 than Martinez -- has enormous potential because of his physical gifts. On the other hand, Martinez does have more experience and better weapons around him. It's a close call.


Max W. from Andover, Minn., writes: Your article on big ten players on the Hornung watch list, at the end of it you suggested that a Purdue player may make the list before the year is up. I'm only writing to ask if you think the Gopher's Troy Stoudermire could make that list also since he gets to come back for another year?

Brian Bennett: Good point on Stoudermire, who probably slipped out of voters' minds because he was injured last season. When healthy, he's an excellent cornerback and is the Big Ten's career leader in kick return yards. It will be interesting to see if the Gophers try to protect him a little bit this season by not using him as much on returns.


Charles from Phoenix writes: My condolences for adding 10 strokes to your handicap, I mean, congrats on the marriage! How balanced do you think UW will be on offense this season? I don't think it gets much better than 234 passing and 235 rushing per game in 2011 but can they still have enough balance to keep defenses honest? I'm hoping for around 180-200 passing and 200+ on the ground each game, does that seem far fetched to you?

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Charles. There isn't much that could make my golf game worse. As far as the balance, I think the Badgers will still be able to have good splits, but not as remarkably even as last season. People quickly forget just how great Russell Wilson was last season, and it won't be easy to replace him. Plus, I think Wisconsin will feel the loss of Nick Toon more than a lot of people expect. The Badgers might lean on that running game a bit more this season. But the running game is so good that it will open up easy passing lanes for Danny O'Brien, and with Jared Abbrederis and some excellent tight ends, Wisconsin should easily be able to generate 180-200 passing yards per game.


John Koenig from Austin, Texas writes: Looking at your schedule analysis, I find it interesting that Michigan/Michigan State both have to play Nebraska as their next game. State has a bye. Michigan could have a problem there, a week after State and on the road.

Brian Bennett: Not sure what schedule you're looking at, John. Michigan hosts Michigan State on Oct. 20, then plays Nebraska on the road the following week. The Spartans go to Wisconsin the week after the Michigan game, and then have Nebraska at home. But those three Legends Division games have a chance to be epic. There's little doubt in my mind that Michigan State was emotionally and physically spent from a brutal schedule stretch when it lost in Lincoln last year. Take nothing away from the Huskers, who played a terrific game that day, but the Spartans were very flat and oddly listless offensively in the loss. Same could happen for the Wolverines, who are going to be sky high for Michigan State's visit to the Big House the previous week. Of the three, I'd rather have Nebraska's schedule.


Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Brian, did you know that it's theoretically possible that a 3-10 B1G team advances to the Rose Bowl? In the scenario, the four eligible Leaders teams lose their nonconference, cross-divisional, and Ohio State/Penn State games. The remaining 3 games between the four teams could be split 2-1, 2-1, 1-2, and 1-2, with one of the 2-1 teams advancing with a head-to-head tie breaker and a 2-10 record. Then suspend your disbelief one more moment and imagine that team (we'll say Indiana for hilarity's sake) beating the Legends Division team. Would the Rose Bowl be forced to take that 3-10 Indiana team? Would it be the worst thing to ever happen to the B1G, or the most hilarious in hindsight?

Brian Bennett: I love it. You don't even have to go that hilarious extreme to imagine a 5-7 team winning the division and then upsetting the Legends champ for the Rose Bowl bid. As far as I know, there would be nothing stopping the Leaders team from going to the Rose Bowl, though the team might need a special waiver a la last year's 6-7 UCLA team to play in the postseason. It would be a tremendous black eye for the Big Ten, and the subject of endless scorn by the rest of the country. And imagine if you're a 10-2, second-place Legends team watching that happen. Or imagine the look on Jim Delany's face handing out that trophy. That's why Pat Fitzgerald's idea of a selection committee picking the second Big Ten title game participant this year wasn't outlandish. He could turn out to look like a genius on that one.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 2, 2012
8/02/12
12:00
PM ET
Which links made it to the medal stand today?
Penn State has absorbed personnel hits on both offense and defense since the NCAA handed down major sanctions against the program last week.

The Nittany Lions' special-teams units won't be spared, either.

Junior Anthony Fera, who handled both punting and place-kicking duties in 2011, will transfer to Texas, colleague Joe Schad and others are reporting. Fera earned second-team All-Big Ten honors (media) as a punter last season, averaging 42 yards per punt with 18 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. He also connected on 14 of 17 field goal attempts and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.

Fera, a native of Cypress, Texas, earned three Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors in 2011 and became the first Nittany Lions specialist since Chris Bahr in 1975 to be the starter for field goals, kickoffs and punts.

Next to starting running back Silas Redd, Fera is the most significant departure for Penn State so far. The Lions likely will turn to sophomore Sam Ficken for place-kicking duties and junior Alex Butterworth to handle the punting, but Fera certainly will be missed, especially for an offense that could have some significant struggles.

Fera is the seventh Penn State player to confirm a transfer elsewhere, joining Redd (USC), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Cal), tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State), quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU), safety Tim Buckley (NC State) and defensive lineman Jamil Pollard (Rutgers). There likely will be more to come, including possibly top wide receiver Justin Brown, who would be another significant loss for the offense.

There was a lot of excitement in Nittany Nation about the pledges of loyalty made last week by a group of Penn State's upperclassmen as well as several top 2013 recruits. In reality, most of the seniors wouldn't have benefited from leaving State College. Who expected guys like Matthew McGloin or Michael Mauti to leave? All along, the key players to watch were those with multiple years of eligibility remaining.

So far, those are the individuals heading elsewhere.
We now have our first player to take advantage of liberal transfer rules and leave Penn State. Nittany Lions fans can hope the first transfer is the only kind they will have to endure.

Safety Tim Buckley, a walk-on who redshirted last season, has transferred to NC State. Buckley was not expected to be much of a contributor to the Nittany Lions this season.

He's also a native of Raleigh, N.C., so the move to the Wolfpack makes total sense. In fact, it's not too much of a stretch to think he might have transferred without the NCAA sanctions. Either way, this is the type of player who seems most likely to transfer -- one who has more of a chance for playing time somewhere else.

It's a whole other planet when you're talking about Silas Redd, Khairi Fortt or even Anthony Fera transferring. This is one bit of transfer news that Penn State fans won't sweat over, though it remains somewhat noteworthy because it's the first one.
Penn State junior kicker Anthony Fera has contacted the Longhorns about joining their program, his father told ESPN.com, and he’s returning home this weekend to consider a visit to Texas.

Tony Fera confirmed that his son is planning to visit his family in Cypress, Texas, on Saturday to discuss his potential transfer options.

“There’s a lot of rumors flying around about if he’s going to Texas or all these schools,” Tony Fera said. “I can say he’s coming home to his parents this weekend and that he’s going to consider a visit while he’s down here.”

Fera, a Houston St. Piux X product, has heard from more than a dozen schools this week. He’s still contemplating staying at Penn State, where he’s on track to graduate in December. If he does leave the Nittany Lions in the wake of the program’s severe NCAA sanctions, it will most likely be for a chance to play closer to home.

“We’re certainly considering that, and UT is one of the schools that we’d consider hearing what they have to say,” Tony Fera said.

As a redshirt sophomore, Fera became the first Nittany Lion since Chirs Bahr in 1975 to be the starter for field goals, kickoffs and punts a season ago.

(Read full post)

Maher leads B1G group on Groza, Guy lists

July, 11, 2012
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Nebraska's Brett Maher ended the 2011 season as the consensus selection for first-team All-Big Ten kicker and punter.

While Nebraska fans certainly weren't asking, "Alex, who?" Maher did a tremendous job of filling the void left by All-American do-it-all specialist Alex Henery.

Not surprisingly, Maher appears on preseason watch lists for both the Lou Groza Award (nation's top kicker) and the Ray Guy Award (nation's top punter) that came out Wednesday. Maher is the lone Big Ten punter on the Guy Award watch list, while seven Big Ten kickers made the Groza Award list.

Here's the full Big Ten contingent on the Groza watch list:
Fera, Maher and Meyer all were Groza Award semifinalists in 2011, while Conroy was a semifinalist in 2010. The Big Ten once again looks strong at place-kicker, and the best story of the group is Gibbons, who made just 1 of 5 attempts as a freshman before connecting on 13 of 17 attempts last season, including the game-winner from 37 yards out in overtime at the Sugar Bowl (the "brunette girls" boot).

It's a bit surprising not to see more Big Ten punters on the Guy watch list. Fera, who like Maher handles both kicking and punting duties, averaged 42 yards per punt in 2011. Purdue's Cody Webster and Michigan State's Mike Sadler also would have made sense for the watch list. Fortunately, the Guy Award will reveal an expanded list of candidates Oct. 26 and announce its 10 semifinalists on Nov. 9. Three finalists are revealed Nov. 19, and the winner will be announced Dec. 6 during the Home Depot College Football Awards.

The Groza Award announces 20 semifinalists Nov. 5 and three finalists Nov. 19. The winner will be announced Dec. 6

The Big Ten hasn't had a Groza Award winner since Ohio State's Mike Nugent in 2004. Ohio State's B.J. Sander is the last Big Ten player to win the Guy Award (2003).
Four days after naming Matthew McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the fall, new Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien has issued his summer depth chart. Penn State opens preseason practices Aug. 6.

The first thing you'll notice is 13 offensive positions listed. Penn State can only have 11 players on the field at once, but as O'Brien explains in a news release, "We will be a multiple personnel grouping team, particularly at wide receiver and tight end." Translation: this isn't the old Penn State offense. Get ready for a lot of passing.

BO'B adds that aside from quarterback and a handful of other positions, Penn State will have competitions at most spots when camp kicks off in August.

O'Brien announced three position changes today: sophomore Adrian Amos moves from safety to cornerback, sophomore Kyle Baublitz moves from defensive end to defensive tackle; and redshirt freshman Anthony Zettel moves from defensive tackle to defensive end. The Amos move makes sense after Curtis Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, left the program.

Four positions feature co-starters on the depth chart. They are:
All four should be interesting competitions, particularly the one at middle linebacker, where Carson started in 2011 and recorded 74 tackles and two forced fumbles. Fortt has shown promise at times, racking up 33 tackles, including six for loss, as a reserve last fall.

Some more notes and thoughts on the Lions' two-deep:
  • Penn State has redshirt freshman Donovan Smith listed as the starting left tackle, while Adam Gress, one of the standouts of spring practice, checks in as the starting right tackle. The right side looks strong with Gress and John Urschel, but there are some question marks on the left side.
  • Garry Gilliam is listed as one of the starting tight ends ("Y" position) ahead of promising freshman Jesse James, who impressed me while I was at practice in April. It's interesting to see redshirt freshman Kyle Carter listed ahead of junior Kevin Haplea at the other tight end spot ("F").
  • Two secondary spots seem fairly set -- junior free safety Malcolm Willis and senior cornerback Stephon Morris -- while the others should be interesting to watch in August. Senior Jake Fagnano is a somewhat surprise starter at strong safety ahead of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, while Amos and Thomas will compete at the right cornerback spot.
  • Penn State's starting defensive line looks strong with Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones at the starting tackle spots, and Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley at the starting end spots. The key is whether several former heralded recruits like Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan, or promising young end Deion Barnes, bolster the depth up front.
  • Bill Belton is listed as the No. 2 running back behind Silas Redd. Curtis Dukes isn't listed, but O'Brien confirmed last week that Dukes is rejoining the squad after clearing up some academic issues. The 6-1, 242-pound Dukes should be in the mix for a good chunk of carries.
  • Justin Brown and Devon Smith, who had an off-field issue this spring, are listed at two of the starting wide receiver spots. Kersey is listed as Brown's backup, while the speedy Alex Kenney likely will push Smith.
  • Anthony Fera handled the double duties of kicker and punter quite well in 2011, converting 14 of 17 field-goal attempts and averaging 42 yards per punt. He's once again listed as the starter at both spots entering camp.
  • Amos and Belton are listed as the top two kickoff returners. Amos shared the role with primary returner Chaz Powell last fall. Brown is listed as the top punt returner, followed by Belton.
  • Two young players worth watching are the men wearing jersey No. 18: James and Barnes.

Thoughts on the Penn State depth chart?
Our series ranking each position group from the 2011 Big Ten season comes to a close today with the final group, and one that is often overlooked but is always important: special teams.

Special teams is a broad spectrum, so we're combining performances in punting, kickoffs and field goals to come up with each team's position on this list.

And away we go:

1. Nebraska: Boy, did we mess this up in the preseason by ranking the Huskers 11th out of 12. Though we wrote at the time that Nebraska would almost certainly outperform its low rankings, we thought replacing star punter/kicker Alex Henery would be tough. Not really, as Brett Maher was one of the best punters and kickers in the league and the country. Freshman Ameer Abdullah was a star in kick returns, finishing ninth nationally in that category. So just remove one of the ones from that preseason number, and then we've got it right.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Mostert
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesRaheem Mostert took a kickoff return back 99 yards for a score in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
2. Purdue: The Boilermakers were mostly mediocre on offense and defense but did some great work on special teams. Freshman Raheem Mostert led the nation in kickoff returns, while sophomore Cody Webster finished second in punting. The strong-legged Carson Wiggs tied Maher for most field goals made in the league, though he still needs to improve his accuracy. Blocked kicks helped secure wins over Middle Tennessee and Ohio State, but Purdue lost on a blocked field goal try at Rice.

3. Penn State: When Anthony Fera returned from suspension and took over field goal duties, the Nittany Lions' special teams became truly special. Fera hit 14 of 17 field goals after Penn State had looked very shaky in that area early in the year, and he was also one of the league's top punters. Chaz Powell and Justin Brown were dangerous return men.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes ranked among the top third of Big Ten teams in just about every special-teams category. Field goal kicker Drew Basil made a dozen in a row at one point, and Ben Buchanan was solid at punter. Jordan Hall added some big returns.

5. Michigan State: We ranked the Spartans No. 1 in the preseason, and they came up with some game-changing plays, particularly in the first game against Wisconsin and in the Outback Bowl win over Georgia. But statistically speaking, Michigan State was average in most aspects of the kicking game. But Mike Sadler had some big moments punting, and Keshawn Martin did excellent work on punt returns.

6. Wisconsin: A tough team to rank, as there was both good and bad here. Jared Abbrederis led the nation in punt return average at 15.8 yards per attempt. Brad Nortman was a very reliable punter, while Philip Welch made five of his six attempts at field goals, something the Badgers didn't need very much with Montee Ball assaulting the end zone. But we can't ignore the big special-teams breakdowns against Michigan State and Ohio State that had as much as anything to do with ruining a potential undefeated season.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines weren't outstanding at any one area on special teams, but they proved much better than the No. 12 ranking we saddled them with in the preseason. Brendan Gibbons solidified what looked like a scary place-kicker situation and played a large role (along with brunette girls) in the Sugar Bowl victory. Michigan was also strong in punt returns and kick coverage, though its punting and kickoff returns left much to be desired.

8. Iowa: The good news first: Iowa led the league in net punting, thanks to a strong showing by senior Eric Guthrie in his first year starting. Now the bad: The Hawkeyes ranked second-to-last in kickoff coverage, and Mike Meyer missed six of his 20 field goal attempts, including both tries in the humbling loss to Minnesota.

9. Minnesota: Even without premier return man Troy Stoudermire, who missed most of the year with an injury, the Gophers ranked fifth in the league in kickoff returns, and they led the league in kickoff coverage. But a team that punted as much as Minnesota did in 2011 needed to do better than 11th in the conference in that category. Bonus point for the perfectly executed onside kick in the Iowa win.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats' defense got the brunt of the blame in Northwestern's losses, but special teams didn't hold up its end of the bargain, either. Northwestern made only six field goals all year and ranked near the bottom of the conference in most categories. The bright spot was a league-best punt return unit.

11. Indiana: Mitch Ewald went 13-of-16 on field goals, but the Hoosiers weren't very good in most other areas. They returned more kickoffs than anyone in the Big Ten -- a product of a crummy defense -- but didn't do enough with them in finishing 108th nationally in that stat.

12. Illinois: Ron Zook didn't help his case to be retained as head coach through the performance of his special teams, a part of the game that was supposed to be his field of expertise. Illinois was simply dreadful in creating advantageous field position, finishing last in the nation in kickoff returns and third-to-last in punt returns. The Illini also weren't very good at kickoff coverage, though at least Derek Dimke made 10 of 12 field goals. Even that was marred by his missed 42-yarder at the end of a 10-7 loss at Penn State.

Season report card: Penn State

December, 16, 2011
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The grading continues today as it's time to distribute Penn State's season report card.

OFFENSE: D+

The unit slogged along for most of the season, and Penn State won nine games largely in spite of its offense. Penn State used a confounding quarterback rotation of Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden and had eight games with fewer than 200 pass yards and four games of fewer than 120 pass yards. If not for heroic sophomore running back Silas Redd, who emerged as a workhorse and one of the Big Ten's top ball-carriers, Penn State would have had a real struggle putting up points. The offensive line seemed to make strides as the season progressed and a creative game plan against Ohio State led to good results, but Penn State underachieved on offense much of the fall.

DEFENSE: A-

No unit in the Big Ten carried a team more than Penn State's defense, which was simply fabulous this season. All-American tackle Devon Still led the way as arguably the nation's most disruptive interior lineman. Penn State overcame the loss of standout linebacker Michael Mauti and received big contributions in the midsection from Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson and Nate Stupar. The Lions held nine of their 12 opponents to fewer than 20 points and ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. There's no way Penn State would have started the season 8-1 without huge contributions from its defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

The Lions had some bright spots in the kicking game, such as punter Anthony Fera and kickoff returner Chaz Powell, who averaged 28.3 yards per runback with a touchdown. Penn State was mediocre on kickoff and punt coverage and missed more field-goal attempts (8) than any Big Ten team (the Lions also attempted a league-high 24 field goals). Special teams played a key role in wins like a 24-18 triumph against Purdue.

OVERALL: B

Penn State exceeded most outside expectations with an 8-1 start and put itself in position to win the Leaders Division. The defense undoubtedly carried the team and had only one poor performance (at Wisconsin). We'll never know how Penn State's season would have ended if the sex-abuse scandal hadn't surfaced and Joe Paterno hadn't been fired, but the closing stretch always appeared daunting. There are many unknowns going forward for the Lions, but they have an excellent foundation on the defensive side of the ball.
We've already taken a look at where the All-Big Ten offensive players stacked up as recruits. Now it's time to look at how ESPN Recruiting evaluated the eventual All-Big Ten defenders and specialists.

In case you missed it, here's our 2011 All-Big-Ten team.

Rewind time ...

DEFENSE

DL: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 78, rated as nation's 37th best defensive end. Analysis: "As a pass-rusher he will flash the ability to get to the shoulder and get his hips turned to work past. He can get under a blocker's pads and bull his way upfield. He needs use his hands more and develop some pass -rush moves. ... He has good size and brings versatility to the table. He could be a prospect to keep an eye on his senior year."

DL: Devon Still, Penn State, Class of 2007 -- ESPNU 150 selection, rated as nation's 138th best overall prospect, Scout Grade of 79, rated as 11th best offensive tackle. Analysis: "He plays defensive end and offensive tackle in high school but will project as a defensive tackle or offensive tackle/guard in college. He has a good frame and looks bigger than his listed weight on film. You have to figure that as he continues to grow, he will develop into a good-sized player who can successfully make the move to defensive tackle or offensive line in college."

DL: Jerel Worthy, Michigan State, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 69, rated as nation's 101st best defensive tackle. Analysis: "He is not a typical gap-control defender nor is he a one-gap penetrator. He is a little bit in between. He flashes a good get-off that allows him to quickly get in the gap. ... He is mainly a between-the-tackles guys and is a solid wrap-up tackler. He can get some upfield push as a pass-rusher but looks to be his most productive versus the run."

DL: John Simon, Ohio State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's 16th best defensive tackle. Analysis: "Simon is a high-motor defender who makes opponents work. He works until the whistle and frequently gets in on plays even after he seems blocked. Has a lean, athletic build that resembles an oversized defensive end more than a defensive tackle. Needs to add bulk to his frame to hold up in the trenches in college. Could take some reps at end, but his skill set makes him better suited for playing inside."

LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska, Class of 2010 (spent two years at junior college) -- Ratings and evaluation not available as he went the juco route.

LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's 17th best safety and 33rd best player in Atlantic region. Analysis: "Hodges is Mr Versatility playing safety, quarterback and return specialist. He has great size especially for a safety and is a tall and impressive football player. A real standout in terms of pass defense. Great anticipation and instincts when breaking on the pass; takes a direct angle to the ball. ... Hodges is a player that is multi-dimensional and could play several positions at the next level but can probably excel on defense. He has all the physical tools to be a great one."

LB: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin, Class of 2008 -- Scout Grade of 72, rated as nation's 58th best inside linebacker. Analysis: "He may not possess the ideal size and speed measurables, but he plays fast and is very productive. He is tall and lean but his frame should fill out nicely once he hits a college weight-training program. ... Bottom line, Taylor is a productive football player with some good intangibles -- we think he will excel at the next level if a program is patient with his physical development. Might be better in a scheme that covers him up."

CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 44th best cornerback and 269th best player in the southeast region. Analysis: "Lacks ideal height but is a tapered athlete with a long, powerful stride. Versatile pass defender; expertly reads the quarterback and flashes good breaking speed closing the cushion in zone. Good burst breaking underneath the deep ball and flashes great leaping and ball skills. ... Lateral fluidity is not a strong area and he could struggle mirroring quicker, more elusive Division 1 receivers in man coverage."

CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 48th best athlete. Analysis: "We list Adams as an athlete because he is not necessarily a guy you can project to play one position at this time. He could easily play wide receiver or cornerback depending on a teams needs and what they want from him. He has very good size for a corner."

S: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 75, rated as nation's 60th best cornerback. Analysis: "Robinson is an impressive athlete who shows good skill as a runner and defensive back. We project his speed will probably be best utilized at corner of safety at the next level. He possesses adequate height with good muscle tone. Plays fast and physical on defense."

S: Nick Sukay, Penn State, Class of 2007: ESPNU 150 selection, rated as nation's 137th best overall prospect and nation's 20th best wide receiver. Analysis: "Sukay is big, strong and fast. At first glance he appears to be more of a possession guy on offense, but the more you watch you realize he has big-play ability after the catch and very deceiving speed. He is tall, well-built and has an impressive frame."

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Anthony Fera, Penn State, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's second best kicker and 35th best player in the Midlands region. Anaylsis: "Fera has excellent leg strength as a kicker. Gets good power into his kickoffs; normally kicks the football deep into the end zone or out. ... Also an above average punter. Gets good height on the punts; helps the coverage unit get down the field to make a play. Fera is an excellent place kicker and a good punter."

K: Brett Maher, Nebraska, Class of 2008 -- No Scout Grade and unranked among kickers. No extensive analysis.

KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue, Class of 2011 -- Scout Grade of 79, rated as nation's 42nd best athlete and 169th best player in southeast region. Analysis: "Mostert is a terror of a return specialist with upside to be just as productive as a wide receiver. He has a lean, wiry build with average height and a very nice blend of speed, quickness and versatility. He has excellent stop-start ability and the burst to make plays in space and pull away from defenders in the open field. Has a real knack for returning kicks, knowing when to be patient and knowing when he has to 'hit it.' ... Good player that could be a difference-maker in the return game."

PR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin, Class of 2009 -- No Scout Grade and unranked among wide receivers. No extensive analysis.

Thoughts: A few more recruiting standouts on this list than the one for the offense, which included no ESPNU 150 prospects. Both Still and Sukay were among the ESPNU 150, and others such as Simon, Hodges and Fera also were decorated high school players. The evaluations for Mostert, Adams and Simon are very accurate, while players like Hodges, Robinson and Sukay are projected for different positions than they ended up playing. Worthy and Mercilus both seem to have exceeded their evaluations, especially as pass-rushers. Abbrederis, a walk-on who has become very effective as a receiver and on returns, is a real steal for Wisconsin.

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