Big Ten: Antonio Allen

Big Ten lunch links

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
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Lots of news from preseason practice. I love it.
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A recent Indiana practice came down to a winner-take-all snap in the red zone.

Redshirt freshman Kris Smith ended things by sacking Nate Sudfeld (at least unofficially, since there's no tackling the quarterback in practice). That led to a scene rarely witnessed around the Hoosiers in recent years: IU defensive players celebrating something they did to secure a victory.

Even that celebration didn't last long, as new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr made his troops run sprints and do up-downs after practice as punishment for giving up too many big plays earlier in the day.

Defense has plagued this program for years. Consider that Indiana has allowed at least 34 points per game in every season since 2008, with the lone exception coming in 2009 when it gave up 29.5 ppg. Washington State is the only FBS team to have given up more points per game in that time period, and the average for all FBS teams in that span is 26.3 PPG allowed.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Andy ManisCoach Kevin Wilson is focused on improving IU's defense. His plan includes a new coordinator, a new scheme and increased competition.
Things haven't been trending in the right direction, either. The Hoosiers yielded a Big Ten-worst 38.8 PPG in 2013, the highest number in head coach Kevin Wilson's three seasons. Had the team played close to league- or national-average defense, it surely would have gone bowling instead of finishing 5-7 with an explosive offense that ranked 16th in the country at 38.4 PPG.

"It's not by design," Wilson told ESPN.com. "We've been able to hit a little bit better on our offensive recruiting. It's taken us time to get as many big defensive linemen. We've not had anyone stand out at linebacker since we’ve been here, and those guys impact a lot of plays. We've recruited numbers there. We've had juco guys who have played.

"We think we're starting to get it now. It's going to be our nemesis if we don’t. We need to start playing some competitive defense and get some stops."

Skepticism is understandable, given the rotten history. But with one big coaching change and a whole lot of experience returning, Wilson is hoping the tide starts to turn in 2014.

In January, he fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory -- not an easy decision, given the power of the Mallory name in Bloomington -- and hired Knorr, a former Wake Forest assistant. He has brought in a 3-4 scheme as the Hoosiers join Wisconsin as the only other Big Ten team using that as their base. Knorr, though, insists that it won't strictly be a three-man front.

"Any more, you've got to be pretty multiple," he said. "We're able to move our guys around and get them in gaps up the field, and we'll be able to pressure as well."

Knorr has the size up front to make the scheme work. Mountainous sophomores Darius Latham and Ralph Green got most of the first-string work at tackle this spring; both are listed at 6-foot-5 and 325 pounds. Senior Bobby Richardson, who will return in the summer from an injury, is 6-3 and 290 pounds.

"This scheme is meant for us," Richardson said. "We're all pretty big, but we've still got our quicks."

Linebacker, the position Wilson mentioned as a particular bugaboo, could turn into a strength with David Cooper, Marcus Oliver and T.J. Simmons on the inside and Flo Hardin, Clyde Newton and converted defensive end Nick Mangieri on the outside. They've all played a lot and are noticeably bulked up this spring.

"We're more physical and running to the ball more," said cornerback Tim Bennett, who led the FBS with 20 pass breakups a year ago. "Coach Knorr believes in moving around and not letting the offense know what you're doing."

Wilson called the secondary "a position of development this summer," as projected starting safeties Mark Murphy and Antonio Allen missed contact drills this spring with injuries. But the Hoosiers lost only one starter on defense from a year ago -- safety Greg Heban -- and threw a bunch of freshmen into the mix once again. They also signed 15 defensive players in a well-regarded 2014 recruiting class.

Because of all that, Wilson feels like he has true competition on the defensive depth chart for the first time.

"Sometimes we had guys who've had the luxury of playing by default," he said. "It was easy to get your job, easy to get on the field. On offense, you had to fight to get on the field as a running back, wide receiver or a quarterback.

"Our defense has lacked that. Competition is what’s going to build our team, and through no one’s fault that’s been the void. You can say it’s talent, you can say it’s scheme. But it’s really been competition."

Wilson says he hasn't wanted his team to get divided the past few years, so when Indiana struggled, he'd often blame the offense for not scoring enough. While the Hoosiers have put up points at a rapid pace, that strategy hasn't led to victories. Everyone around the program is hoping the added depth and coordinator change can finally lead to more celebratory scenes like the one after Smith's sack.

"Our defensive problems are well documented and known," Wilson said. "We've got a chance to get better. But it’s all talk until we do."


Spring game preview: Indiana

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
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Ten league squads wrap up spring practice this weekend, and we’re taking a look at each spring game or scrimmage. Next up: Indiana.

When: 3 p.m. ET Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: Free. Fans are asked to enter the East side of the stadium and to sit in the East stands. Gates 4, 5 and 6 will be open. There will be a youth clinic from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. for kids 12 and a pre-game tailgate party from 1:30 to 2:45 p.m., with free food for the first 3,000 fans in attendance or while supplies last.

TV: Streamed live on BTN2Go.com.

Weather forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 76.

What to watch for: Coach Kevin Wilson will have the seniors draft teams this afternoon, though he said some players could end up playing for both the Crimson and Cream squads at times. This won't actually be the end of Indiana's spring session, as the Hoosiers will have one more practice next week.

IU has the kind of explosive offense that can make the spring game fun, and since Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson still are virtually even, both teams in the game are guaranteed to have a good quarterback. Wilson is looking for some wide receivers to step forward and replace the production of departed top targets Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes and Ted Bolser. Shane Wynn has moved from slot to the outside this spring and will be one of the go-to guys, but most everyone else is unproven and still needs to learn how to make the tough, competitive catches. The tight end position has been hampered by injuries this spring.

But scoring and moving the ball shouldn't be a problem for the Hoosiers. Fans want to know if the defense, which has struggled mightily for three years under Wilson, has made any strides. There's a new boss on that side of the ball in Brian Knorr, who will use a 3-4 base that incorporates several different looks and fronts. Ten starters are back on defense, though safeties Mark Murphy and Antonio Allen have been held out of contact work this spring, creating reps for youngsters there. The Indiana defense has some beef up front and improving group of linebackers, but it still has a whole lot to prove.

That's why this is one instance where a low-scoring spring game might actually provide some optimism, because if the Hoosiers can stop their own offense, that's saying something.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

Season report card: Indiana

December, 17, 2013
12/17/13
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This is the time of year where players are preparing for or finishing up their final exams before moving on to bowl season or going home.

In that spirit, we're passing out our own final grades for the regular season for each Big Ten team's offense, defense, special teams and overall.

First to get the red-pen treatment: the Indiana Hoosiers.

Offense: A-minus

In many ways, the Hoosiers developed into an elite offensive unit in 2013. They finished second in the Big Ten in scoring at 38.4 points per game and in total offense at 508.5 yards per game. They led the league in passing for a second straight year and made great strides in the rushing game, averaging more than 200 yards per contest. Indiana scored at least 35 points eight times.

Tevin Coleman would have rushed for more than 1,000 yards if not for a late-season injury. He still went for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns in a breakout year for the sophomore. Indiana had the deepest group of receiving targets in the league, paced by Cody Latimer's 1,096-yard, nine-touchdown season. Though Kevin Wilson juggled quarterbacks Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson without any discernible pattern to the layman, both ranked in the top five of the Big Ten in pass efficiency. The offensive line shook off some key injuries to remain solid.

The only drawbacks to an otherwise outstanding season offensively were the unit's disappearance against Wisconsin and Ohio State -- when it scored a combined 17 points in lopsided defeats -- along with its slow start against Navy and sloppy finish against Minnesota in must-win home games.

Defense: F

This was supposed to be the year where the Hoosiers showed some defensive improvement under Wilson and coordinator Doug Mallory after an influx of young talent. Instead, Indiana's defense managed to get worse, allowing more points (38.8), total yards (527.9) and rushing yards (237.8) per game than last year's Big Ten-worst unit. The Hoosiers ranked 120th out of 123 FBS teams in total defense.

Indiana generated very little pass rush and couldn't stop any half-decent rushing attack. The low point came against Michigan, when the Wolverines scored 63 points and put up 751 yards, 503 of those coming through the air. The Hoosiers also never forced Navy to punt in that crippling home loss.

Wilson once again played several freshmen on defense, including T.J. Simmons, Antonio Allen, Clyde Newton, Ralphael Green and Darius Latham, but the results only got worse. The program simply can't expect to compete for anything worthwhile until the defense makes drastic improvements.

Special teams: B-minus

Indiana led the league in kickoff coverage, was second in the Big Ten in punt return average and was mediocre on kickoff returns. The Hoosiers ranked second to last in net punting. Mitch Ewald remained a reliable kicker, making nine-of-11 field goal tries and all 56 extra points.

Overall: D-plus

The Hoosiers were rarely boring and did manage to increase their win total by one over 2012 while upsetting Penn State and beating rival Purdue. But hopes were very high for a bowl game in 2013, and with eight home games and one of the most explosive offenses in the country, that should have happened. Indiana was good enough to blow out the Nittany Lions and a good Bowling Green club but put itself in too big of a hole by losing to Navy and Minnesota at home. The defense had no business being that bad in Wilson's third year. Ultimately, that's what is holding this program back and what keeps us from giving the Hoosiers' season a better grade.

True freshmen impact in the Big Ten

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
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True freshmen are having a bigger and bigger impact throughout college football these days, as coaches are either becoming less afraid to throw their youngsters into the fire or are facing fewer options.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe versatile Dontre Wilson could be one of many to get touches in the diamond formation.
With that in mind, today we are ranking the top five teams in the Big Ten in order of the impact true freshmen are making for that team. We're going with quality over quantity here, mind you.

1. Penn State: The Nittany Lions are starting just one true frosh, but he's a guy with a little bit of importance to the team's fortunes: quarterback Christian Hackenberg. The 18-year-old has had some ups and downs but is on pace for a 3,000-yard season. Tight end Adam Breneman and receiver Richy Anderson have also played in every game, with one start each. Von Walker, Brandon Bell and Jordan Smith are among others who have seen time for coach Bill O'Brien, who doesn't have the luxury to redshirt many guys with the Lions' depth issues.

2. Nebraska: The Huskers' defense is young, all right. So young that two true freshmen are starting at linebacker for Bo Pelini in Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry. They rank fourth and fifth on the team in tackles, and Banderas is handling a leadership position as the middle linebacker.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer says Ohio State doesn't redshirt. If you're ready, you play. Technically, the Buckeyes don't start any true freshmen, but Dontre Wilson has already made a big impact as a runner, receiver and kick returner. Several other first-year players dot the two-deep, such as safety Vonn Bell and defensive lineman Joey Bosa, and running back Ezekiel Elliott ran for more than 100 yards and scored two touchdowns last week versus Florida A&M.

4. Indiana: No surprise to see the Hoosiers on this list, since coach Kevin Wilson has played as many true freshmen as any coach in the country the past few years. That means Indiana finally has some veterans, but Wilson is starting T.J. Simmons at linebacker and getting contributions from Darius Latham on the defensive line, Antonio Allen in the secondary and Marcus Oliver and Clyde Newton at linebacker.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers are mostly an experienced, veteran team. The one exception is in the secondary. Sojourn Shelton is starting at cornerback for the Badgers, while Jakarrie Washington and Nate Hammon are top reserves in the defensive backfield.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
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Every Big Ten team has already completed one-quarter of its regular-season schedule, and after this weekend, everybody but idle Illinois will have finished off a third of its regular season. (Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger).

With a little bit of data to crunch, it's time to bring back the weekly awards race tracker, where I attempt to gauge the temperature for some of the Big Ten's top individual honors. Please note that there's a long way to go, and performance in conference play looms large, so these will fluctuate wildly. But for now, here's how I see these races stacking up:

Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State WR Allen Robinson: Receivers have a tough time winning these kinds of awards because they're so dependent on others. But I'd argue Robinson stands farther above his Big Ten peers at his position than any running back or quarterback right now. He ranks fourth in the FBS in receiving yards with 405 through three games, and that's with missing the first half of the opener because of a suspension. He's on pace for a 1,600-yard season.

2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: He's leading the Big Ten in rushing with 477 yards while averaging a ludicrous 12.9 yards per carry.

3. Michigan QB Devin Gardner: He would have been the frontrunner after Week 2, but his turnover binge against Akron really hurt. Still, he's leading the league in total offense.

4. Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld: He's tops in the conference in passing (917 yards) and passing touchdowns (10) while ranking seventh nationally in pass efficiency.

5. Iowa RB Mark Weisman: He's been Superman for the Hawkeyes so far, carrying the ball 85 times in three games and averaging 141.7 yards per game. The big news is that neither Braxton Miller, the reigning champ, nor Taylor Martinez appear in our initial Graham-George tracker. Miller simply hasn't played enough, while Martinez hasn't put up the rushing numbers we expected. But it's early.

Waiting room: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase; Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon; Ohio State RB Jordan Hall

Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: The Spartans sophomore gets the early nod in a wide-open race thanks to his scoring heroics (three defensive touchdowns so far) and being one of the faces of the league's best defense by a large margin.

2. Wisconsin LB Chris Borland: The Badgers statistically have the Big Ten's second-best defense, though that's propped up by two early cupcake opponents. Still, Borland has been his usual brilliant self, leading his team with 24 tackles.

3. Penn State DT DaQuan Jones: He was dominant in the Nittany Lions' first two games, not so much in the UCF shredding last week. Yet Jones' numbers -- 23 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss -- are very impressive.

4. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman: Hageman is having the big senior season we expected from him. He has collected 4.5 tackles for loss, and his push inside has helped free teammate Theiren Cockran, who's leading the league in sacks (three).

5. Northwestern S Ibraheim Campbell: All he does is catch the other team's passes. Campbell has three interceptions so far and one in each of his past five games.

Waiting room: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier, Michigan State LB Max Bullough, Illinois LB Jonathan Brown, Iowa LB Christian Kirksey

Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year

1. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Keep reminding yourself that he's only 18 years old, but Hackenberg has been every bit as good as advertised, and quite possibly better. He has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns, though he does have three interceptions.

2. Ohio State WR Dontre Wilson: Speed kills, and Wilson is an assassin. He is averaging 9.3 yards per carry, has caught seven passes for 72 yards and has a 51-yard kickoff return. Expect his role to grow throughout the season. For now, this is a two-man race.

Waiting room: Michigan OL Kyle Kalis; Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner; Nebraska LB Josh Banderas, DE Avery Moss and DT Vincent Valentine; Indiana S Antonio Allen and LB T.J. Simmons; Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Indiana tight end Ted Bolser qualifies as a village elder on the Hoosiers' football team. Bolser is a fifth-year senior on a roster stuffed with underclassmen, a four-year starter who has suffered through three straight losing seasons.

So Bolser speaks with authority when talking about how much the Indiana program has changed in the past few years and where it might be headed.

[+] EnlargeKofi Hughes
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsSenior Kofi Hughes will lead the Indiana Hoosiers' receiving corps, which is slated to be one of the conference's best this season.
"Everything's completely different around here," he said. "Night and day. There's definitely a buzz around campus right now about the team."

"Buzz" and Hoosier football are not terms that normally appear in the same sentence, unless you're talking about tailgating. Indiana has made only one bowl appearance since 1993 and none since 2007 and is just 5-19 under third-year coach Kevin Wilson. Yet there is a good deal of positive publicity coming out of Bloomington these days.

Several preseason prognosticators have projected the Hoosiers to reach a bowl game this season. In a poll of Big Ten writers by the Cleveland Plain Dealer this summer, Indiana was the runaway choice as the team most likely to surprise in 2013. At Big Ten media days in Chicago, where the IU contingent often has plenty of free time, crowds gathered around Wilson and his players. Wilson has challenged the fan base to support the team this year, and the school reports that season ticket sales are up 5 percent, while student ticket sales have increased 18 percent over last year.

"We're not boasting or bragging," Wilson said. "We don't have it figured out. But we are, in the Twitter world, trending in a positive way."

Why the sudden uptick in interest for a team that lost to Ball State and Navy last year? For one, Indiana has a whopping 19 starters back, tied for the most in the FBS. That includes all but one starter on an offense that led the Big Ten in passing yards and finished second in the league in total yards in 2012. The Hoosiers return three experienced quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, who all all battling for the starting job -- along with arguably the conference's top receiving group. They could put a lot of points on the scoreboard this season.

Of course, the question remains whether they can keep points off the board, as IU's defense has been the worst in the Big Ten in each of Wilson's first two seasons and got torched for 163 points in its final three games last year. The team brought in one of its highest-ranked recruiting classes ever in February, and not surprisingly it was stuffed with defensive players, like defensive backs Antonio Allen and Rashard Fant and lineman Darius Latham. Early reports on the newcomers have been strong.

"They’re living up to the hype right now," senior defensive back Greg Heban said.

And the hope is that other young players on both sides of the ball continue to develop. Indiana was starting to build momentum as a program in the mid-2000s under Terry Hoeppner, who died after a long battle with brain cancer in 2007. His successor, Bill Lynch, led the Hoosiers on an inspiration bowl run in the 2007 season while coaching with the interim tag. But Lynch was fired in 2010 after three straight losing seasons. Wilson arrived and faced some resistance to change by the upperclassmen, and he began playing lots of true freshmen right away.

"I don’t think people knew the depth of issues we had in our team, and it wasn’t going to change just over the course of two years," senior receiver Kofi Hughes said. "But three years? I think it has definitely changed, and things are completely different."

In Year 3, Wilson says, the players all understand his standards and work ethic. There's far better depth and competition at every position. When asked whether this should be his best IU team, he said, "It's not close." But he continues to point out that the Hoosiers still haven't accomplished much of anything yet.

"There's always a little pessimism," he said. "Talk's cheap. ... We're getting better and we're gaining and it's a lot more fun and you feel it, but you've got to go win games and prove it. Like one guy said, 'Give me one word to describe your talent.' And I said, 'Unproven.' We've yet to really show.

"There's a boatload of potential, but you've got to go do it. It's getting over the hump and getting Ws."

Indiana benefits from eight home games this year, though nonconference games against Missouri, Navy and Bowling Green are challenging. The Hoosiers also must deal with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in their own division and crossover games against Michigan and Michigan State, both of which are on the road.

Still, the pieces are in place for a run at six wins and a bowl game. And maybe even more.

"Just going to a bowl, if that's our standard, that's pretty low," Bolser said. "It's kind of embarrassing, actually. We're setting our standards very high this year."
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

The Big Ten assistant coach carousel is still spinning but many key vacancies have been filled. Today's Take Two topic is: Who is the most important assistant coach hire in the Big Ten this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

It comes down to which Big Ten unit needs the most help entering 2013. The answer seems pretty clear to me: Illinois' offense. Almost nothing went right for this group last fall. Illinois finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring (16.7 ppg) and total offense (296.7). When you look only at Big Ten games, those numbers drop to 11.8 ppg and 272.1 ypg. Yuck. Bill Cubit has a ton of work to do as Illinois' new offensive coordinator. For that reason, he's my pick for the Big Ten's most important assistant coach hire.

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman went from two inexperienced coordinators (Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales) to a veteran in Cubit, who spent the past eight seasons as Western Michigan's head coach and also has been an offensive coordinator at Stanford, Rutgers and Missouri. Offense wasn't the problem for Cubit at Western Michigan, and he developed quarterbacks like Tim Hiller and Alex Carder in Kalamazoo. Illini players like quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase have had to adjust to new offenses throughout their careers. Cubit has to install his system without overwhelming the players. Illinois needs playmakers on the edges and chemistry with an offensive line that struggled mightily last season and loses its top two players. If Beckman gets a third season in Champaign, Cubit will be a big reason why. He's an incredibly important addition for a reeling Illini program.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

I would say Michigan State's offensive coordinator hire is the most vital, except I presume Mark Dantonio will keep that in house and we won't see a lot of changes with the Spartans' attack. He could prove me wrong. I also believe Andy Ludwig will be under a lot of pressure as the new offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, where fans have come to expect a certain style of play.

But I'm with Adam in thinking the most important hire comes down to which unit needs the most help. That's why I'm going with Indiana's replacement for co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Ekeler, who announced Friday he was leaving for USC. Kevin Wilson has some a strong option on the current staff with Doug Mallory, who was co-defensive coordinator last season. But defense remains the main obstacle between the Hoosiers and respectability. Indiana has a dynamic passing attack and an offense that scored over 30 points per game last season, but its defense was once again last in points and yards allowed. Improvements on that side of the ball could get the program back to a bowl game. Ekeler also did well on the recruiting trail and helped land some exciting young talent like Darius Latham and Antonio Allen in this year's class. Now, Wilson has to find the right assistant to help mold that into a defense that can hold its own against the better teams in the Big Ten.
Kevin Wilson hopes his rebuilding project at Indiana just took its next step forward on signing day.

The Hoosiers brought in one of their better classes in recent years, according to the rankings services. It included ESPN 150 athlete Rashard Fant and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darius Latham. I recently spoke with Wilson, whose team went from 1-11 in 2011 to 4-8 last year, about the class:

Looks like you loaded up on defense. Was that the plan going in?

Kevin Wilson: You always want to get good players, but you also look at your needs. If you look at our offense, it isn't so bad. It's pretty average. We only lose one senior there. That being said, we need to make improvements on defense. We really only lost five seniors that played, and we only signed 22 kids but we have a lot of players coming back. You're not starting from scratch. We have 13 kids for sure on defense and then we have four of those tweener, hybrid kids who could be a running back or a linebacker or a safety or a receiver or a cornerback. There are three or four skill position guys where I could see them being on either side. So people look at it as 13 defensive players, but it could end being 14,15 or even 16 kids who are defensive players.

You signed three highly-rated kids from Indianapolis. How important was it to lock down the best kids in the state?

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesIndiana coach Kevin Wilson has now had a full cycle to recruit players.
KW: If you want to be the state school, to me, you've got to represent the state. But just because they're from your state doesn't mean you're going to get them, and just because they're from your state doesn't mean you have to like them. They've got to be good players, and sometimes you don't get them all. It was good to get quality players and highly-rated kids, guys we think can make decent impacts. We don't need them to just sign with us. We need them to become good players.

They all come from quality programs. We do want to always have a presence within our state. The other comment about that, in all honesty, is that, we show up two years ago in December and had January to recruit. Last year, we get a full year, but this to me was the first year, with the way recruiting goes, where we got a full cycle. We saw them as 10th graders. We had them at camps. We had them at basketball games, had them on campus and went and watched them as juniors. We were able to build some relationships. I think the combination of that and folks thinking we're getting better helped. That's why I think some of the Indiana kids came our way.

It's hard not to notice that you signed four kids out of Georgia. How did you get that pipeline going?

KW: A couple of things. No. 1, we've got [defensive ends coach] Jon Fabris, who we hired from down there. He worked at the University of Georgia for nine years and knew his way around. He was able to go down there last spring and camp out there and go to spring practices and get us in there. It's a heck of a football state, with a big population. The next deal is, shooting down I-75, we're talking eight or nine hours to the metro Atlanta area. When you go outside of Indianapolis, our biggest alumni areas are Chicago, Atlanta and New York City because of the Kelley School of Business and all the alums we've got. So there's a little presence there. And I think the Big Ten Network helps when you go down south. When you go down to Florida, every home has the Big Ten Network, so that helps.

Rashard Fant is your top-rated prospect. Where do you see him fitting in?

KW: We see him as a cornerback and we need some help over there. But you look at his tape, and he's a great athlete -- great in the return game, really good as a slot receiver and they played him at Wildcat quarterback. Like a lot of guys we got, he can run. He needs to get a little bigger, a little stronger to compete at the Big Ten level, but he's a very athletic kid. We'll use him on returns starting out and defensively. But he has flexibility. When you evaluate his tape, you see him making plays with the ball in his hands. He's pretty skilled there. Same goes for some of our defensive backs like Antonio Allen. Chase Dutra is a running back hybrid; he could be a safety. Noel Padmore, guys like that.

How much do you think you strengthened your defensive front seven with this class?

KW: Again, we don't lose a lot. We only lose two D-tackles defensively. A lot of those guys are back and we need to make a bunch of strides there. We got two junior college D-tackles. Jordan Heiderman, he's already in school. Then you've got Chris Cormier. Our high school guys, Darius Latham and Maurice Swain, those are two 6-5, 6-6, 280-to-300 pound kids who can run. Patrick Dougherty is another inside guy. David Kenney is an edge guy. Steven Funderburk and T.J. Simmons are linebackers already in school and two really good athletes. Clyde Newton, he ran for the most yards of any running back we signed. Marcus Oliver was the conference player of the year in a big-time Ohio league.

So we've got four 'backers, six guys up front, and three of them are already in school. You'll see a lot of those guys in the two-deep mix right away. We signed a couple of fast guys. The big guys are a little bit more blessed athletically then we've recruited in years past. ... The really good teams, everybody has got a fast guy, whether it's a running back or a fast receiver or a defensive back. The best teams are fast with the big people. We didn't hit home runs or go off the charts like some people do. But for Indiana, the overall athleticism is pretty good.

You've thrown a lot of true freshmen into the fire the past couple of years. Are you to the point where you won't have to do that as much with these players, or do you expect plenty to play right away?

KW: It's a great question. Are we mature enough to take the entitlement out of, "Just because I'm a returning starter, this my job" versus just keep getting better? We've got a bunch of guys coming back, but they are a bunch of guys who were 4-8. And that's not the standard that were trying to establish or the culture we want to build. Just because you started, that's cool, but we're still not at the level we need to play at.

These recruits coming in, their skill set may be better than the guys in front of them. Now the guys in front of them are older, we've been coaching them and developing them and they might be farther along. But the starting points of some of these recruits are higher maybe than previous years with guys that play. So I believe in competition. I believe in the more we can get that environment going where you're fighting to get on the field, and we like to play multiple guys on offense and defense with as fast as we play.

When you don't play games, it can be a negative. Man, these kids make such a big commitment, in any program. It's year-round training. So, yeah, a guy might be better five years down the road, but sometimes you lose kids and they don't develop right if you don't get them on the field. You get one more year if you redshirt them, but once they play in that game I think the winter workouts, the summer workouts are a lot more positive. We haven't promised any of these guys that they'll play, but I bet you''ll see a bunch of them out there in the fall.
National signing day is next Wednesday. To get you ready for the big day, we checked in with a pair of ESPN.com recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker shared their thoughts on a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. This is Part II of that discussion; you can find Part I here.

Which teams in the Big Ten have surprised you with this year's class?

Jared Shanker: Indiana definitely surprised me. If you looked at their class last summer [in 2011], when they had Gunner Kiel, you said, "Wow, that's a pretty good class." But then it really fell apart. This one's kind of the opposite. It wasn't looking too strong, and then things really started rolling during the season. They were able to get an ESPN 150 guy from Georgia [Rashard Fant]. They were able to flip Darius Latham from Wisconsin, they flipped David Kenney from Iowa, Antonio Allen was originally committed to Ole Miss. They've done a good job recruiting each state, as well as keeping some of the top talent in Indianapolis. Indiana is a basketball state, but there are some pretty good football players there, and Latham, Kenney and Allen are all four-star players from Indianapolis. So I like what Kevin Wilson has been able to do. This class really turned around, starting in October or so.

Minnesota is doing OK. Penn State is probably a surprise. You see five four-star guys. You see the No. 1 quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg. Adam Breneman is the No. 1 tight end. They have some other three-star guys that can contribute and even have some walk-ons who had scholarship offers elsewhere. They just dropped out of the Top 25, but they were hanging on in the Top 25 for a while.

Iowa has traditionally filled its class down the line and kept getting commitments until signing day. For the most part, Iowa was close to done by mid-summer with their class, which was pretty unique for Iowa. It's a stark contrast compared to their 2012 class, which is probably why you haven't heard about Iowa much lately. They've been out of the news. But I think they're generally happy for the most part how things turned out. They did lose David Kenney to Indiana. But if they can flip Reggie Spearman from Illinois and also add one more receiver, I think they'd probably be pretty happy.

Tom Luginbill: Since we mentioned Indiana, I would say that Northwestern continues to impress. Texas continues to be fruitful for the Wildcats. QB Matt Alviti couldn't be a better fit for their offense. If Alviti were taller, I think he would have been a national recruit and has been undervalued. Athlete Godwin Igwebuike is versatile and continues their presence in Ohio. Pat Fitzgerald and his staff may be as good as anyone in college football. They evaluate for them and don't worry about what others think. They identify who is the right fit and attack it.

How do you think Nebraska has done with this class, especially in trying to beef up its defensive front?

TL: The week of January 21st was a rough patch for Nebraska with the loss of two committed prospects in athlete Marcus McWilson and receiver Dominic Walker, who is out of Florida and now committed to Auburn. They did retain Tre'vell Dixon who was originally committed to Nebraska, broke away for a bit and came back. It has been a whirlwind for Bo Pelini and his staff. There are a lot of additions in the defensive front seven both from the high school and juco ranks including defensive end Randy Gregory, who, had he not been injured, may have ended up as our No. 1 ranked juco player overall.

JS: Nebraska might have been able to do a little better. That's not to say their class still isn't good. They have one of the best jucos in the country. Johnny Stanton was one of the better quarterbacks at the Elite 11. He's coming off an ACL tear. They've got a host of four-star guys. I still think it could have been a little bit stronger, all things considered.

They've got Randy Gregory at defensive end. They're pretty strong at linebacker, so they're looking pretty good along the defensive front but maybe not in defensive line depth. The huge numbers aren't there. You have to at least like Gregory and the linebackers, but you can just see the eye test -- they're not there yet with upper teams in the Big Ten. I think they still have some work to do to get there.

Finally, give us a handful of players who might make an immediate impact next season.

JS: I like Derrick Green [from Michigan]. Jalin Marshall at Ohio State, I think he's a guy you put the ball in his hands on a jet sweep, a screen or what have you, and there's a chance he takes it to the house. So those two guys really stick out.

I know the Illinois staff is really high on [quarterback] Aaron Bailey and is looking at him as the future. Maybe something happens with Nathan Scheelhaase and he can step in and get some early playing time. Then there's Corey Clement at Wisconsin. He's kind of a bigger back, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. With Montee Ball gone, maybe at least he breaks into the rotation and sees some touches as a freshman.

TL: Receiver Jalin Marshall, Ohio State; running back Derrick Green Michigan; linebacker Trey Johnson, Ohio State; tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State (if healthy); defensive tackle Darius Latham, Indiana; athlete Rashard Fant, Indiana.

The penultimate weekend before signing day is in the books, and not surprisingly, there was plenty of news on the Big Ten recruiting trail. As a reminder, you should bookmark ESPN Recruiting and particularly the Midwest blog Insider for all your Big Ten recruiting news leading up to the big day.

Michigan made the biggest splash of the weekend -- although not a surprising one -- as it secured a commitment from running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., who picked Michigan ahead of Tennessee and Auburn. Rated as the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 38 overall player by ESPN Recruiting, Green immediately becomes Michigan's highest-rated commit in an already solid 2013 class. Although Michigan had 14 commits in the ESPN 300 -- second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State -- Green is ranked 50 spots higher than the next Michigan pledge (cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

But Green isn't merely a decorated prospect. He fills a significant need for Michigan, which has significant question marks at running back. The Wolverines couldn't generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson in 2012, as Fitz Toussaint struggled to build off of a solid 2011 season before suffering a major leg injury Nov. 17 and undergoing surgery. How Toussaint responds from the setback remains to be seen, and Michigan's other backs -- Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes -- are unproven.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Green is the type of back who could contribute right away, Insider and he'll at least give Michigan another option in the backfield. Michigan now has three running backs in its 2013 class.

Other recent Big Ten recruiting notes (2013 class):
  • Purdue is making a push as signing day nears, picking up four commitments during the weekend. The Boilers added linemen on both sides of the ball in Johnny Daniels (defense) and Jason Tretter (offense), as well as wide receiver Deangelo Yancey, an Atlanta native who originally had committed to Kentucky. Insider Yancey chose Purdue ahead of Missouri. The recent coaching staff hires already have paid off in recruiting. Tight end Garrett Hudson, the son of new Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, committed to the Boilers after visiting the school this weekend.
  • Indiana's recruiting upgrade on defense has become a major story line as signing day nears, and the Hoosiers added another piece Friday in cornerback Nigel Tribune, who switched his pledge from Iowa State after visiting IU's campus. The Hoosiers are quietly putting together one of the league's top classes, and their highest-rated prospects -- Rashard Fant, Darius Latham, David Kenney III, Antonio Allen -- are set to contribute on defense. There was a bit of bad news as one-time commit Jacobi Hunter, a defensive tackle, tweeted that Indiana pulled his scholarship offer. Hunter is looking at Cal.
  • Nebraska didn't add any recruits during the weekend and will learn today whether offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson becomes a Husker, but the program was in the news. Wide receiver recruit Dominic Walker, who recently switched his pledge from Nebraska to Auburn, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Nebraska coaches were "very mad" when he told them of his decision. According to Walker, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told him, "Best of luck. You're going to need it." It's important to note that this is all coming from Walker's side, as college coaches can't publicly discuss specific recruits. Nebraska lost another recruit during the weekend as safety Marcus McWilson tweeted that he's no longer committed to the school. McWilson could be headed to Kentucky.
  • Iowa bolstered its defensive backfield Insider with a commitment from cornerback Desmond King, who had originally pledged to Ball State. King, a Detroit native, already knows several Hawkeye players from the area such as receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
  • There are several loyal blog readers -- one in particular -- who send me frequent notes asking why the University of Toronto isn't a Big Ten expansion candidate. My answer hasn't changed -- don't see it happening -- but there was a connection between the school and the Big Ten during the weekend. Defensive tackle James Bodanis reportedly is transferring from Toronto to Michigan State, where he'll have two years of eligibility left. Bodanis recorded four sacks in eight games for Toronto last season.
  • New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has done a good job retaining the recruits who committed to the previous staff. He's also adding to the mix, Insider securing a pledge Saturday from linebacker Leon Jacobs from Santa Clarita, Calif. Jacobs originally committed to Fresno State before opening up his recruitment. Wisconsin currently has only two California natives on its roster, so it'll be interesting to see if Andersen's West Coast ties and those of his assistants bring in more recruits from the Golden State.
The Indiana team you've seen so far in Big Ten play probably looks familiar.

Strong quarterback play, dynamic receivers, enough Big Ten-level athletes on offense, not nearly enough defense ... and a team that simply can't get over the hump. Second-year coach Kevin Wilson, as many of us expected, has it going on the offensive side. But Indiana's narrative hasn't changed: until the defense takes significant steps, the program won't turn a corner.

That's why the most promising news coming out of Bloomington this week isn't the fact Indiana paced Ohio State and put up 49 points in last Saturday's loss. It's the fact Indiana is closing in on two coveted defensive recruits from within the Hoosier State -- both of whom had pledged to other Big Ten programs.

Defensive end David Kenney III, rated as the state's No. 6 prospect by ESPN Recruiting, recently decommitted from Iowa and is favoring Indiana, where his father is working as a recruiting assistant. His IU pledge could come later Friday.

Another in-state defensive standout, defensive tackle Darius Latham, decommitted from Wisconsin on Monday and is considering Indiana. ESPN Recruiting rates Latham as the state's No. 4 prospect.

Indiana has 10 commits for the 2013 class, headlined by defensive back Antonio Allen, an Indianapolis prospect who switched his pledge from Mississippi to IU in August. Allen is the state's No. 7 prospect, according to ESPN Recruiting.

Other in-state players, including Iowa linebacker commit John Kenny, could be looking more seriously at Indiana.

Indiana isn't as flush with FBS talent as other states in the Big Ten footprint, but Indianapolis produces quite a few elite players. If the Hoosiers can start getting more of the top defensive players to stay home, they'll start shifting a unit that has been the Big Ten's worst for more than a decade.

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