Big Ten: Anthony Heygood

I've identified Purdue as my sleeper team in the Big Ten for 2010, and the reasons are pretty clear.

The Boilers will be very good at the offensive skill positions, as All-Big Ten selections Keith Smith and Ralph Bolden headline a unit that ranked third in the Big Ten in passing (255.2 ypg) and boasted the league's No. 3 rusher in Bolden (77.9 ypg). Quarterback Joey Elliott is a big loss, but if Miami transfer Robert Marve or Caleb TerBush can step in, Purdue will be very dangerous on the offensive side.

That said, Big Ten games are usually won with defense, and Purdue really could use a boost on that side of the ball.

Translation: Purdue could use Jason Werner back on the field for another year.

The Boilers lose all four starters in the secondary as well as defensive tackle Mike Neal, a two-year starter who could be playing on Sundays this coming fall. Superstar defensive end Ryan Kerrigan returns, but he'll need some help against the run, a category where Purdue has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.

Werner can provide that help, but whether he gets another chance to play remains to be seen. Werner, who missed the 2006 and 2008 seasons because of back problems, could receive sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and should get an answer soon.

Boilers safety Torri Williams, who missed the entire 2005 season and all but three quarters of a game in 2006, received a sixth year on Feb. 12, 2009. Williams went on to record a team-high 84 tackles as well as two interceptions, eight passes defended, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Purdue can expect similar production from Werner if he's back in 2010. Former coach Joe Tiller called Werner the team's top linebacker, making that claim when Anthony Heygood was still around. Werner, who has excellent speed to complement his size, recorded 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles in 2009.

Without him, the linebacker position could be a weakness for Purdue in 2010. With him, it should be a strength as he'll help young players like Dwayne Beckford.

Werner has shown what he can do when healthy. Here's hoping the NCAA sees it that way and gives him one more shot.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Brandon King knows the question is irritating, but the Purdue cornerback can't help but ask it over and over.

Each time King sees teammate Jason Werner at practice, he checks in.

"I ask him if he's OK every day," King said. "He gets annoyed, like, 'Man, stop asking me that.' I just knock on wood for him, tell him, 'If you're hurting, go sit out.'"

King's concern for Werner comes from a good place. It's never easy to see a teammate fight through an injury, especially a teammate with so much potential as Werner.

Last year was supposed to be Werner's breakout season at Purdue. Back surgery forced him to redshirt in 2006, but he appeared in all 13 games as a reserve linebacker in 2007 and received the team's most improved award during spring ball in 2008. Then-Purdue coach Joe Tiller even called Werner the team's best linebacker, high praise considering Anthony Heygood was still on the roster.

But days before the 2008 opener against Northern Colorado, Werner's back problems flared up and never really went away. Werner underwent another back surgery in mid-September and sat out the rest of the season.

"It was extremely frustrating," Werner said, "especially because I wanted to help last year and I was ready to help. But through some unfortunate events, a little bit of bad luck, I couldn't get out there.

"But I look at the positive side. I did get healthy enough to come back and I feel just as strong as I was, if not more."

Werner tried to push through soreness in his back during training camp last year, but this time he's being smart about when to taper things down. So far, his back is holding up and he's been able to participate fully in practices and scrimmages.

The 6-foot-4, 221-pound senior has missed only one workout and could have participated if need be. Perhaps most importantly, Werner's time off hasn't diminished his speed, which defines his game.

"That was my main concern coming back, that I did it the right way and getting my speed back," Werner said. "I can tell the difference from now and the spring, just ten-fold from what it was."

Werner spends a lot of time off the field exercising his core muscles and strengthening his back so he doesn't have to adjust the way he plays. Though the health questions will always be there with Werner, Purdue knows the boost he can provide.

"I ask," King said, "because I know how valuable he is."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

August is upon us.

My summer wedding tour is finally over -- a belated congrats to Mara and Elia! - so I'm all yours for the rest of the fall. The endless wait for Big Ten football reaches a milestone this week as four Big Ten teams begin training camp.

As players return to the field in Champaign, Iowa City, Bloomington and West Lafayette, let's take a look at three key questions for each team at the start of camp. Part II arrives next week as the final seven Big Ten squads open camp.

ILLINOIS

Camp opens: Thursday

1. Who takes the early lead in the competition at running back?

Head coach Ron Zook praised senior Daniel Dufrene last week at Big Ten media days, though sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure appeared to have the inside track coming out of spring ball.

2. Can Martez Wilson establish himself as Illinois' defensive general, and will he have any help?

The move to middle linebacker should benefit Wilson, who has yet to match his recruiting hype at Illinois. The Illini are also looking for playmakers in the secondary after losing star corner Vontae Davis.

3. Did the Illini ace their chemistry class?

There's little doubt that Illinois has the talent to contend for a New Year's Day bowl and possibly a Big Ten title, but team chemistry was not a strong suit last year. Team leaders say they have turned a page and bonded during the offseason. Now is the time to prove it.

INDIANA

Camp opens: Friday

1. Is the pistol offense ready to shoot down opposing defenses?

Quarterback Ben Chappell and his teammates have welcomed the shift to the pistol, which should spark Indiana's rushing attack. The competition at running back between Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and heralded redshirt freshman Darius Willis should provide plenty of intrigue.

2. Who will be 100 percent and are there any lingering injury concerns?

Injuries wiped out much of Indiana's two-deep last fall, and several key players missed part or all of spring ball with injuries. This is a much better team when players like Austin Thomas, Nick Polk, Deonte Mack and Chris Hagerup are on the field.

3. Who will emerge as a legit playmaker?

Whether or not Kellen Lewis' dismissal was addition by subtraction in the locker room, his presence will be missed on the field. Lewis' name appeared at the top of every opposing defense's scouting report, and the Hoosiers need to find a bona fide playmaker this summer.

(Read full post)

Purdue spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:05
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue Boilermakers
2008 overall record: 4-8

2008 conference record:2-6

Returning starters

Offense: 4; Defense: 7; Special teams: 2

Top returners

WR Keith Smith, TE Kyle Adams, LT Zach Reckman, RB Jaycen Taylor, DE Ryan Kerrigan, DT Mike Neal, S Torri Williams, CB Brandon King, LB Joe Holland

Key losses

QB Curtis Painter, QB Justin Siller, RB Kory Sheets, WR Greg Orton, WR Desmond Tardy, DT Alex Magee, LB Anthony Heygood, S Frank Duong

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Kory Sheets (1,185 yds)
Passing
: Curtis Painter (2,400 yds)
Receiving: Desmond Tardy (876 yds)
Tackles
: Anthony Heygood (114)
Sacks
: Ryan Kerrigan* (7)
Interceptions
: Torri Williams and Dwight Mclean (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Toledo
Sept. 12 at Oregon
Sept. 19 Northern Illinois
Sept. 26 Notre Dame
Oct. 3 Northwestern
Oct. 10 at Minnesota
Oct. 17 Ohio State
Oct. 24 Illinois
Oct. 31 at Wisconsin
Nov. 7 at Michigan
Nov. 14 Michigan State
Nov. 21 at Indiana
Spring answers

1. Backs stacked -- Running back was a major question entering the spring, especially with Jaycen Taylor still rehabbing from a torn ACL. But sophomore Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to spark the Boilers' rushing attack. Bolden capped an excellent spring with 153 rush yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. He finished with 420 rush yards in four spring scrimmages. Dan Dierking also performed well, and the running back spot should be deep once Taylor gets healthy and heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse enters the mix. 

2. Tight ends surge -- First-year head coach Danny Hope raved about his tight ends this spring, and the group will be featured more in the offense after a one-year hiatus. Projected starter Kyle Adams showed what he can do when healthy this spring, making 10 receptions in the spring scrimmages. He'll be pushed by both Jeff Lindsay and Jeff Panfil.

3. Defensive line solid -- Line play could be a strength on both sides of the ball, and the defensive front looked promising this spring. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan appears ready to take another step after recording a team-high seven sacks last fall. He should get help from talented young players like Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden. Defensive tackle Mike Neal is very underrated inside and should have a big year.

Fall questions

1. Joey's time -- Senior quarterback Joey Elliott has waited his turn to start at quarterback, and barring a dramatic shift, he'll get it this fall. Still, Purdue would feel much more comfortable if Justin Siller was pushing Elliott for the top job. Siller might have been the team's No. 1 quarterback before his dismissal from school for violating academic policy. Elliott needs to elevate his game after three years as a backup, and Purdue must further develop backup Caleb TerBush.

2. Linebacker play -- There were some encouraging signs this spring, especially the re-emergence of oft-injured senior Jason Werner. But the rushing totals allowed in the spring scrimmages are troubling, and Purdue needs to identify three or four reliable linebackers after losing mainstay Anthony Heygood. The line and the secondary look solid, but linebacker is a bit iffy.

3. Wide receiver -- Purdue loses a ton of production at wide receiver, and Hope is still working to find capable targets for Elliott this fall. Keith Smith had a very solid spring and Aaron Valentin should take on a greater role this fall, but the Boilers need more bodies at receiver. They're hoping for more development this summer from converted cornerback Royce Adams.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Three Big Ten teams held their annual pro scouting days last week, including the major talent showcase at Ohio State. In case you missed what went down, here's a look at the key developments at each school. 

OHIO STATE

  • Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells had the biggest day of any Buckeye, improving on his so-so 40-yard dash time from the NFL combine (4.59 seconds) by running around a 4.4 or below before scouts from 29 pro teams. Wells solidified himself as one of the top two running backs and could be taken ahead of Georgia's Knowshon Moreno in April.
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman continued his pre-draft push with another strong performance. Freeman improved his 40 time and likely boosted his stock after turning heads at the NFL combine. 
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins made slight improvements in their 40 times from the NFL combine. Wideout Brian Robiskie put up similar numbers to the combine, which bodes well for him. The big issue for Jenkins is whether he'll be asked to play cornerback or safety at the next level.
  • After being spurned by the NFL combine, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah stepped up on pro day. His numbers in four of the six drills would have been among the top defensive tackles at the combine. Abdallah also has dropped about 20 pounds, which should help him on draft day.

NORTHWESTERN

"Get to a mini-camp," said Sutton, predicted to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick. "Getting drafted means nothing. A lot of guys in the league have gone undrafted and proven a lot." 
  • It was somewhat surprising that John Gill didn't get a combine invite, but the defensive tackle seems to be building his case. Gill, considered a legit pro prospect before the 2008 season, put up better numbers in the short shuttle and 3-cone drill than any defensive tackle at the combine. He also has met with the Chicago Bears, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Brad Biggs.  
  • Wide receiver Eric Peterman was interviewing for a job at American Airlines in December, but he might have a shot at an NFL roster after a strong pro day performance. According to the Sun-Times, Peterman ran 40 times of 4.45 and 4.47.

PURDUE

"I may have done these drills before over the course of my training but when you're out here doing the real thing and everybody is watching you, it's different," Heygood said. "Usually, I'm really good under pressure but I didn't have the day I wanted."
  • Defensive tackle Alex Magee boosted his stock in front of representatives from 23 NFL teams, according to profootballtalk.com.
  • Quarterback Curtis Painter also seemed pleased with his performance after a solid effort at the combine last month.
"This was probably one of my best workouts through this offseason and my training," Painter said. "I feel good about what I've done both here and at the Combine and hopefully I'll get some opportunities for some individual workouts between now and the draft."

Position superlatives: Purdue

March, 9, 2009
3/09/09
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's no shortage of questions for Danny Hope as he oversees his first set of spring drills as Purdue's head coach. The Boilermakers bring in new coordinators (Gary Nord, Donn Landholm) on both sides of the ball and lose many of their starting skill players on offense.

There's a little more stability on defense, despite the loss of leading tackler Anthony Heygood. Here's the good news and bad news for Purdue entering the spring.

Strongest position -- Defensive back

Key returnees: Senior cornerback Torri Williams, senior cornerback/safety Brandon King, senior safety Dwight Mclean, senior cornerback David Pender

Key departures: Safety Frank Duong (41 tackles, 1 fumble recovery)

The skinny: Purdue returns all four starters from a group that led the Big Ten in pass defense (183.2 ypg) last season. Williams, who received a sixth year of eligibility, can be a playmaker at either cornerback or safety when healthy, and King proved to be valuable at the opposite corner spot. The Boilers likely will lean on their defense early in the season, so expect the back four to play a vital role. The offensive line also could be a strength.

Weakest position -- Wide receiver

Key returnees: Junior Keith Smith, senior Aaron Valentin

Key departures: Greg Orton (69 receptions, 720 yards, 5 touchdowns), Desmond Tardy (67 receptions, 876 yards, 5 touchdowns), running back Kory Sheets (37 receptions, 253 yards, 1 touchdown), Brandon Whittington (25 receptions, 182 yards, 1 touchdown).

The skinny: It seems weird to type this, given Purdue's recent history of producing standout wide receivers, but there aren't many proven targets left for quarterbacks Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. There's a reason why Hope signed four wide receivers and a tight end in his first recruiting class. Purdue needs a playmaker to emerge at wideout, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to upgrade at tight end, a spot that really fell off last year after superstar Dustin Keller departed in 2007. Other potential trouble spots include quarterback, running back and linebacker.

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, Ted Roof, 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, Nick Polk, 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, P.J. Hill, Larry Caper, Dick Anderson, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, John Clay, 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, Ron Lee, 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, John Gill, Anthony Heygood, Tim Davis, Javon Ringer, Mike Adams

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.

ILLINOIS (5)

  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker

INDIANA (1)

IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
MICHIGAN (4)
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent

MICHIGAN STATE (3)

  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley

NORTHWESTERN (1)

  • Running back Tyrell Sutton

OHIO STATE (8)

  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^

PENN STATE (8)

  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams

PURDUE (4)

WISCONSIN (7)

  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik

^--Underclassman

Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rankings continue today with another of the Big Ten's strongest positions -- linebacker. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he didn't top this list, a testament to the league's depth at linebacker. 

Here's your top 10. 

1. Navorro Bowman, Penn State -- Bowman began the season as a reserve, but was easily the league's most noticeable linebacker by the end. He racked up 31 more tackles than any other Penn State player and finished with four sacks, two forced fumbles and 16.5 tackles for loss, tops among Big Ten backers. One of few bright spots in the Rose Bowl, Bowman racked up five stops for loss. The LaVar Arrington comparisons look legit.

2. Brit Miller, Illinois -- The Illini didn't have the season they wanted, but Miller did his part and then some as J Leman's replacement in the middle. Miller led the Big Ten in tackles (132) and ranked eighth in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (15.5). He forced three fumbles, returning one for a touchdown, and was by far Illinois' most consistent defensive player. 

3. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State -- Laurinaitis turned in a very solid senior season, piling up 130 tackles and four sacks. He didn't always make the spectacular play, but consistently carried out his assignments and seemed to get stronger as the season progressed. Laurinaitis leaves Ohio State as one of the most decorated players in team history, and he certainly made a mark on the Big Ten. 

4. Greg Jones, Michigan State -- He flies under the radar a bit at Michigan State, but Jones will undoubtedly be a household name in 2009. The Spartans sophomore finished third in the league in tackles (127), bringing his two-year total to 205. Jones is only a junior, but along with Bowman he will enter next season as a candidate for All-Big Ten and All-America honors. 

5. Pat Angerer, Iowa -- In addition to having a great name for a linebacker, Angerer showed this fall that he can cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. He rallied from a very frustrating 2007 season to finish second in the league in interceptions (5) and sixth in tackles (107). With Laurinaitis graduating, Angerer might be the league's best linebacker against the pass, tallying eight deflections to go along with his five-pack of picks. 

6. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State -- He played second fiddle to Laurinaitis throughout his career, but would have been the No. 1 linebacker on almost any other team. Freeman was solid this fall, leading Ohio State in tackles for loss (9.5) and ranking second in total tackles (84). A second-team All-Big Ten selection in each of the last two seasons, Freeman will be missed next fall. 

7. Anthony Heygood, Purdue -- Purdue's defense was better than the numbers showed this fall, and Heygood led the way with 114 tackles. Though his tackles for loss total dropped from 2007, he had six or more stops in nine games and racked up 11 solo tackles against Ohio State. 

8. Obi Ezeh, Michigan -- It was a tough year for Michigan's defense, which got next to no help from the offense and endured its own problems. But Ezeh blossomed as a bright spot in the middle, leading the team with 98 tackles to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after the season opener and contributed seven tackles for loss and a sack. 

9. Matt Mayberry, Indiana -- Many readers would rank Mayberry much higher, but I need to see more from the Hoosiers' talented middle linebacker. He clearly has tremendous physical gifts and racked up five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss this fall. If he continues to make strides and elevates a historically bad defense, Mayberry will find himself in the top five next season.

10. DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin -- Levy was one of few consistent performers on a Badgers defense that looked great at times and awful at other times. He won National Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Fresno State win, in which he registered four tackles for loss, including a critical sack, as well as an interception and a pass breakup. Levy led Wisconsin with 9.5 tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks (5). 

Purdue Boilermakers season recap

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
1:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This wasn't how Joe Tiller envisioned his final season playing out.

The man who restored Purdue football to respectability and took the Boilermakers to 10 bowl games in his first 11 seasons encountered plenty of potholes in his final go-round as head coach. Plagued by an ineffective offense and injuries to key positions, Purdue finished with its highest loss total (8) in the Tiller era and missed the postseason. Though the Boilermakers gave Tiller a fitting sendoff by pounding Indiana 62-10 in the season finale, they hoped their time with the entertaining coach would continue to a bowl game.

Tiller pioneered the use of the spread offense in the Big Ten, so it was unfortunate that Purdue's offense let him down in his final season. Record-setting quarterback Curtis Painter struggled to get going, and the Boilers averaged just 21.3 points in their first 11 games. Purdue continued to put up big passing numbers and running back Kory Sheets turned in a solid senior season, but ineffective red-zone offense, beginning Sept. 13 against Oregon, doomed the unit.

The defensive statistics don't bear it out, but Brock Spack's defense performed admirably for much of the season. Purdue held Ohio State without an offensive touchdown and held six Big Ten teams to 22 points or fewer. Linebacker Anthony Heygood ranked fourth in the Big Ten in tackles (114), and defensive end Ryan Kerrigan ranked seventh in the league in sacks (7).

Offensive MVP -- Running back Kory Sheets

He won't be remembered as a Joe Tiller favorite, but the talkative back had a solid senior season. Sheets ranked fifth in the league in rushing and sixth in all-purpose yards. He also tied Iowa's Shonn Greene for third place on the league's scoring chart (8.5 ppg). Sheets scored multiple touchdowns in six contests, including the game winner Sept. 20 against Central Michigan.

Defensive MVP -- Linebacker Anthony Heygood

The senior was consistently productive, racking up nine or more tackles in eight games and reaching double digits nine times. He led the team in tackles after ranking second last year and recorded an interception and a forced fumble. Kerrigan also deserves a mention after leading Purdue in both tackles for loss (11.5) and sacks (7).

Turning point -- Sept. 13 vs. Oregon

A lot of things might have been different if Purdue had finished off a nationally ranked Oregon squad in Week 3. The Boilers outplayed the Ducks for most of the game but couldn't find the end zone when it mattered, a theme that maintained throughout the season. Though Purdue won the next week against Central Michigan, it went on to lose five straight games to fall out of postseason contention.

What's next

Head coach Danny Hope takes over a team that needs talent upgrades on both sides of the ball. Justin Siller seems ready to step in for Painter at quarterback, but the Boilers must find a running back and a few more capable wide receivers. Purdue would get a major boost if linebacker Jason Werner returns from lingering back problems. Kerrigan and Mike Neal anchor a decent defensive line, but the program likely needs another year to get back on track.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

PURDUE (2-4, 0-2 Big Ten)
Joe Tiller's legacy is rooted in the innovative spread offense he brought to the Big Ten in 1997. But as Tiller wraps up his coaching career at Purdue, his trademark offense has lost some steam. The Boilermakers rank 10th in the league in scoring (21.7 points-per-game) and last in rushing (109.3 yards-per-game) through the first six games. Senior quarterback Curtis Painter has struggled, throwing more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (5) and being replaced in the fourth quarter of a loss to Penn State. Painter continues to put up big numbers, but the Boilers often struggle in the red zone (8 touchdowns on 15 attempts). A difficult schedule hasn't helped matters, but the defense has stepped up, keeping Oregon in check, limiting Penn State to 25 points below its season average and holding Ohio State without an offensive touchdown last Saturday.

Offensive MVP: The preseason loss of Jaycen Taylor put Kory Sheets in a featured role, and the senior running back has stepped up. Sheets ranks second in the league in all-purpose yards (156 ypg) and fourth in scoring (8 ppg), making contributions as a rusher, a receiver and a kickoff return man. He has moved the chains 34 times on runs or receptions, and he became Purdue's all-time leader in touchdowns scored with a game-winning 46-yard scamper against Central Michigan.

Defensive MVP: Purdue's linebacker depth has hurt the defense at times, but senior Anthony Heygood continues to step up. The team's top tackler in 2007 is well on his way to doing so again, racking up 56 stops in the first six games to tie for third in the league in tackles average (9.3 tackles-per-game). Heygood has tallied 11 or more tackles in three games to go along with an interception and a forced fumble. Other notables include defensive tackle Ryan Baker and cornerback Brandon King.

What's next: The schedule gets a bit easier, though Purdue needs a road win against Northwestern, Michigan State or Iowa to give Tiller any chance at a final bowl appearance. The defense has been reliable in the red zone, and if the offense starts making big plays and finding the end zone, a turnaround is possible. Tiller has stayed loyal to Painter for the most part, but continued struggles could prompt a change. Purdue's defense will get a big boost if and when linebacker Jason Werner returns from a back injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Reporters love the type of quote you're about to read from Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal, and we realize they're rare in the tight-lipped world of college football. But Neal's brutal honesty about the Boilermakers' halftime mood last week at Notre Dame was somewhat shocking and it says something about the leadership -- or lack thereof -- on the team.

Keep in mind Purdue went to halftime tied at 14-14 at Notre Dame Stadium before melting down in the third quarter and falling 38-21.

Here's what Neal told The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette:

"When you come out flat and you're not ready to play a football game and you look bored at halftime, what do you expect?" Neal said. "Then you have a lot of guys after you go through a first series like that, and they run the ball down your throat and you get to the sideline and look into everybody's faces, and they don't look interested in playing a football game. That has to be another part of why they continued to do it the whole third quarter."

Wow.

Somebody has to change the attitude in that locker room. Head coach Joe Tiller could try, but it would be a lot better if a player or two spoke up.

Senior quarterback Curtis Painter is a team captain, but he strikes me as more of a quiet type who leads by example. Linebacker Anthony Heygood is an affable player with tons of experience, so he would be a good candidate. Defensive tackle Ryan Baker is another captain who plays a prominent role.

It's one thing for a team to lose confidence. But to seem disinterested in the middle of a game against Notre Dame is extremely troubling. If the Boilers don't change their mood before noon ET on Saturday, they'll be in big trouble against Penn State. Like 35-0 big trouble.

Numbers do lie for Purdue defense

September, 25, 2008
9/25/08
9:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack was shocked to find out where his unit ranked among Big Ten teams through the first few games. He's not the only one. 

"There's lies, damn lies and then there's statistics," Spack told The Journal and Courier. "This is the best we've played in four years, and our statistics don't show it. We're playing pretty good, so I don't worry about all that. When you're on the field 99 plays a game, that's just the way it is."

Spack's last comment might be a veiled jab at a Boilermakers offense that has struggled at times this year, but you get the point. Purdue ranks last or next to last in the Big Ten in the four major statistical categories:

  • Scoring defense -- 22.3 PPG, 10th
  • Pass defense -- 234.7 YPG, 10th
  • Rush defense -- 192.3 YPG, 11th
  • Total defense -- 427 YPG, 11th

Having seen the Boilers first-hand against Oregon and on television against Central Michigan, I can say unequivocally that they're a much better defense than the numbers would indicate. Oregon racked up a bunch of yards between the 20s, but Purdue continually made big plays in the red zone to stiffle drives. The Boilers' secondary, led by safeties Frank Duong and Torri Williams, is superior to the groups of recent seasons. Linebacker Anthony Heygood ranks second in the league in tackles (9.7 TPG). As for last week, Central Michigan ran 82 more plays than Purdue, which hasn't sustained a rhythm on offense for an entire game. 

There are two main reasons why Purdue ranks where it does.

  • The Boilers have faced tougher competition than most Big Ten teams -- a top 10 offense in Oregon and a top 20 quarterback in Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour.
  • Several Big Ten teams that have often struggled on defense -- Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State -- are off to strong starts.
Statistics can help shape judgments about teams, many of which are true. But the numbers don't add up when it comes to Purdue's defense.
 
 AP Photo/David J. Phillip
 Oregon quarterback Justin Roper has plenty of options at his disposal.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue knows all about big numbers and the spread offense.

The Boilermakers broke the school scoring record in each of Joe Tiller's first two seasons as head coach. Purdue ranked seventh nationally in passing offense in 1998, fourth in 1999 and sixth in 2000.

Superlative statistics became a Purdue trademark, and Tiller's offense earned the nickname basketball on grass. But even Tiller and his coaches haven't seen a beast quite like the Oregon offense, which takes the field Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

The 16th-ranked Ducks are more like pinball on grass.

"This is probably the fastest team we've ever seen here in the 12 years," Boilermakers defensive coordinator Brock Spack said Wednesday. "Most teams have one or two guys that can get it done. They have one at every spot."

Oregon's eye-popping production so far this season brings back memories of Tiller's early Purdue teams. The Ducks lead the nation in total offense, averaging 592 yards a game, and rank fifth nationally in scoring (55 ppg).

No Ducks player ranks in the top 50 nationally in any major statistical category, a testament to the team's skill-position depth. Led by Jeremiah Johnson, who expects to play Saturday despite a right shoulder injury, five players with at least 10 carries average more than 35 rushing yards a game. Top wideout Terence Scott averages 16.1 yards per reception, and the next two options, Jeff Maehl and Jaison Williams, aren't far behind (13.4 ypg).

"When we first came to Purdue, we had some gaudy numbers," said Tiller, who can become the winningest coach in team history if he beats the Ducks. "We did it because the defenses weren't equipped to defend the spread, what we were throwing at them. Defenses are better equipped today to do that, but Oregon just has superior talent.

"From an offensive productivity point of view, their foot speed gives them an edge over many of the people that are trying to defend them."

(Read full post)

A look at Week 3

September, 8, 2008
9/08/08
3:13
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Clear your Saturday schedule, especially the afternoon and evening. This week brings us the best Big Ten games of the nonconference season, if not the entire fall. Aside from a few more interleague matchups later this month, Saturday will be the biggest chance for the Big Ten to prove it isn't overrated and can compete on a national stage.

Here's a look:

Florida Atlantic at Michigan State (noon ET)

The defending Sun Belt champs come to East Lansing, and this shouldn't be an easy game for the Spartans. Quarterback Rusty Smith and wide receiver Cortez Gent will test a Spartans secondary led by safety Otis Wiley, who looks like the player we saw in 2006 (10 PBUs, 6.5 TFLs). Nobody has been able to touch Smith so far, and Saturday will be a chance for Spartans end Trevor Anderson to back up his preseason hype. Coming off a five-touchdown performance, Michigan State's Javon Ringer should have another big day against the nation's 97th-ranked rushing defense.

Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 24 Illinois (noon ET)

It's important for the Illini to stop a somewhat disturbing pattern on defense and start stuffing the run. Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rushing defense after the first two weeks, a troubling sign for a team that lists the defensive line as its strength. Louisiana-Lafayette has the nation's No. 1 rushing quarterback -- and 10th leading rusher overall -- in senior Michael Desormeaux (146 ypg). Expect another big day from Illini quarterback Juice Williams, but getting the run defense in order has to be the top priority.

Southern Illinois at Northwestern (noon ET)

Northwestern needs a rebound performance from C.J. Bacher and the offense after being fortunate to escape Duke with a 24-20 win on Saturday. Bacher's timing looked off against the Blue Devils and the offense still could be adjusting to new coordinator Mick McCall. Igniting Tyrell Sutton would be a good first step after the senior running back cramped up against Duke and finished with just 66 rushing yards on 16 carries. Southern Illinois, an FBS powerhouse under former coach Jerry Kill, allowed 403 passing yards in a narrow win against Hampton last week.

Montana State at Minnesota (noon ET)

A perfect nonconference season looks likely for the Gophers, but they can't get complacent against FBS Montana State. Keep in mind that Minnesota lost to North Dakota State last year. Sophomore quarterback Adam Weber won't let that happen again, but the spotlight will be on the Gophers' running backs after starter Duane Bennett went down with a knee injury last week. Montana State opened the season by routing my favorite college team, Adams State, before getting the tables turned last week in a 69-10 loss to Kansas State.

Iowa State at Iowa (noon ET)

The Hawkeyes are off and running, ranking 18th nationally in rushing offense (243 ypg) despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. Their in-state rivals have been susceptible to the run so far (211.5 ypg allowed), but Iowa State still provides the first significant test for Kirk Ferentz's team. Ferentz listed sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi as the starter on this week's depth chart, and though junior Jake Christensen could still play, signs suggest the job is Stanzi's. Another strong performance against the Cyclones could cement things for him.

No. 16 Oregon at Purdue (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Get ready for some offense. Word has it Oregon can move the ball a bit, and the Ducks have scored 110 points in their first two games. Purdue used to put up numbers like those, and the Boilermakers are still pretty potent behind record-setting senior quarterback Curtis Painter. This will be a major test for the Boilermakers linebackers, particularly first-year starter Kevin Green in the middle. If Green and Anthony Heygood somehow find a way to contain Jeremiah Johnson or LeGarrette Blount, Purdue will hang around.

No. 17 Penn State at Syracuse (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)

Desperate teams can be dangerous, but the Orange and embattled coach Greg Robinson have too many problems to keep pace with Penn State and the high-powered Spread HD offense. Penn State ranks third nationally in scoring and eighth in rushing, which doesn't bode well for an Orange defense allowing 243.5 rush yards per game. Depending on the outcome of the suspensions for starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, Penn State should use this game to audition several young players, as line depth has become a concern after the season-ending loss of end Jerome Hayes (torn ACL).

Michigan at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET)

The two traditional powerhouses look anything but so far this season, particularly on offense. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez plans to stick with Steven Threet at quarterback but will need continued production from running backs Sam McGuffie and Brandon Minor. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw three touchdowns last week but struggled with his decision-making at times. Clausen likely will face pressure from Michigan's veteran defensive line, which manhandled him last year in Ann Arbor (eight sacks).

No. 5 Ohio State at No. 1 USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)

If you're just tuning in -- from Mars -- Ohio State and USC will meet at the L.A. Coliseum to likely determine the nation's No. 1 team and the early national title favorite. The teams have combined for 18 national titles and 14 Heisman Trophy winners, and both rank among the top seven all-time in winning percentage. The game's biggest factor could be Ohio State junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, a big-game player who comes off a toe injury. The Buckeyes looked lost on offense without Wells last week against Ohio and need him near 100 percent. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez faces a senior-laden Ohio State defense that intercepted four passes last week.

No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 21 Fresno State (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET)

This one is worth staying up for in Big Ten country. Wisconsin has an excellent chance to validate itself as a BCS bowl contender by beating the Bulldogs where few dare to play them -- in their own backyard. P.J. Hill and the Badgers' backs face a Fresno State defense that held Rutgers to seven points in the opener. Hill could wear down the Bulldogs, but Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge likely will need to make several big plays and will search for tight end Travis Beckum, expected to make his season debut along with standout linebacker Jonathan Casillas.

Bye: Indiana 

SPONSORED HEADLINES