Big Ten: Big-Ten-2010-final-team-reviews

College football's ultimate all-or-nothing program finally had a season that ended up right in the middle.

After a decade that featured two BCS bowl appearances and eight losing seasons, Illinois rebounded from a 3-9 disaster in 2009 to go 6-6 in the regular season. The coaching staff overhaul seemed to pay off as coordinators Paul Petrino (offense) and Vic Koenning (defense) orchestrated improvement on both sides of the ball. Illinois rivaled Michigan State as the Big Ten's top squad in the kicking game, as specialists Anthony Santella and Derek Dimke both earned All-Big Ten honors.

The thing that still doesn't sit well with the Illini is their inconsistency. Illinois held its own in the first half of the season and improved to 5-3 with impressive wins against Indiana and Purdue. But after losing a 67-65 triple-overtime shootout to Michigan, the Illini looked flat in their home finale against 1-9 Minnesota. Illinois responded the next week at Wrigley Field against Northwestern but once again came out flat in Friday night's loss to Fresno State.

The talent is in Champaign and the future looks good, especially if several key players return for their senior seasons. But there are still questions about whether coach Ron Zook can foster the consistent play and consistent improvement Illinois needs to avoid decades like the last one.

Offensive MVP: Mikel Leshoure. The junior was undoubtedly the Big Ten's top running back this season and one of the best in the country. Leshoure finished the regular season ranked eighth nationally in rushing average (126.1 ypg). He recorded eight games of 100 rush yards or more, including a team-record 330-yard explosion against Northwestern at Wrigley Field. A physical back with breakaway speed, Leshoure is the total package. Redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase should be acknowledged here as well.

Defensive MVP: Martez Wilson. The former blue chip recruit finally blossomed this season and earned All-Big Ten honors for his efforts. Wilson led Illinois in tackles (105), tackles for loss (10.5) and sacks (4). He added three forced fumbles, four quarterback hurries, four pass breakups, an interception, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget and linebacker Nate Bussey merit mentions here.

Turning point: Illinois showed it had turned a corner Oct. 9 by winning in State College for the first time in team history, and doing so in very impressive fashion. The Illini surged to a 33-13 win and received big performances on both sides of the ball, especially from a defense that held Penn State to seven first downs and 235 total yards. A second turning point arrived at Michigan as surging Illinois lost a historic shootout in overtime and had a hangover the next week against Minnesota.

What's next: The Illini head to a non-BCS bowl for the first time since 1999 as they take on Baylor in the Texas Bowl at Houston's Reliant Stadium. A victory secures Illinois' first winning season since 2007 and just the team's second under Zook. A loss certainly would raise questions about Zook's leadership going forward, although he'll be back in 2011. Illinois could be very good next fall if players like Leshoure, Wilson and Liuget return for their senior years.

Indiana Hoosiers season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Coach Bill Lynch talked a lot this summer about Indiana being only 12 plays away from a nice season in 2009.

The Hoosiers got even closer to an elusive bowl berth this fall, winning five games and playing competitive contests against Michigan, Northwestern and especially Iowa. But a program that can't seem to get over the hump in Big Ten play fell just short again, and Indiana athletic director Fred Glass determined that the time had come for a change at the top.

Glass' decision to fire Lynch on Nov. 28 wasn't an easy one, but it made sense after Lynch won only three Big Ten games in the past three seasons. Like several of his IU predecessors, Lynch fostered success on offense, as quarterback Ben Chappell had another big season as one of the Big Ten's top signal-callers. He got plenty of help from his outstanding receiving corps, led by All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss and fellow junior Damarlo Belcher.

But Indiana's defense continued to struggle mightily, despite the arrivals of several junior college players. Indiana allowed the most points (408) of any Big Ten team and didn't generate much of a pass rush aside from end Darius Johnson.

The Hoosiers' wins came against four weak nonconference foes and a banged-up Purdue team in West Lafayette. Although there were some nice moments, especially the players lifting the Old Oaken Bucket on Nov. 27, the time for change had arrived.

Offensive MVP: Ben Chappell. Few Big Ten players meant more to their teams than Chappell, who led the league in passing yards (3,295) and tossed 24 touchdowns and only nine interceptions for a one-dimensional Hoosiers offense. Overshadowed by so many other great Big Ten quarterbacks, Chappell ranked 22nd nationally in total offense and recorded six 300-yard passing performance this season. Belcher and Doss merit mentions here.

Defensive MVP: Tyler Replogle. Indiana endured another rough year on the defensive side, but Replogle did his part. The senior linebacker led Indiana with 87 tackles, six for loss, and added an interception, three quarterback hurries and a fumble recovery. His leadership for a young Hoosiers defense was invaluable.

Turning point: Indiana still had a chance to make a bowl game when it hosted Iowa on Nov. 6 at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers' defense kept the Hawkeyes out of the end zone until the closing minutes, and Iowa took an 18-13 lead with 2:50 remaining. Chappell drove Indiana downfield and lofted a fourth-down pass to an open Belcher in the end zone. But the normally sure-handed junior dropped the ball. Indiana was pasted 83-20 the next week at Wisconsin.

What's next: Glass acted quickly to find a successor for Lynch and will introduce Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson as the team's new coach today at a 4 p.m. ET news conference in Bloomington. Wilson has Big Ten ties at Northwestern and brings a strong track record to Indiana, which returns several exciting offensive weapons for 2011. His biggest task is no different from the one facing the men who came before him -- fix Indiana's defense.

Iowa Hawkeyes season recap

December, 7, 2010
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The quality that defined the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2009 disappeared for them this season.

Where did Iowa's crunch-time mojo go?

It's a question that haunts coach Kirk Ferentz and his players as they endured a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Iowa blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten losses and allowed late touchdowns in all five of its defeats. A senior-laden team seemed to lose its magic touch and never regained it.

The most puzzling thing about Iowa is that unlike last year's squad, the 2010 Hawkeyes looked dominant at times. They crushed teams like Iowa State and Penn State and delivered a 37-6 knockout of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. It seemed like the Hawkeyes would be rolling after stomping the Spartans, but instead they backslid throughout the month of November, squeaking out a win at Indiana before dropping their final three games.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers for most of the season and avoided the major mistakes that dogged him throughout 2009. But like his teammates, Stanzi wasn't immune from the late-game struggles this fall. Iowa's defense dominated for stretches but didn't have quite the production it expected from the front four and really missed linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds as well as cornerback Amari Spievey. Perhaps most surprising were Iowa's problems on special teams, which surfaced in the losses to both Arizona and Wisconsin.

Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi improved in every major statistical category except the one that he cares about the most -- win-loss record. The senior passed for 2,804 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions, ranking 11th nationally in quarterback rating (160.5). After tossing 15 interceptions in 2009, four of which were returned for touchdowns, Stanzi had just two picks and 19 touchdown passes through the first two months of the 2010 season. Running back Adam Robinson merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have the dominant senior season many had expected, but No. 94 brought a formidable presence to the defensive line. Clayborn commanded double-teams and allowed teammates like Karl Klug and Mike Daniels to rack up numbers. Clayborn finished the season with seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Daniels, safety Tyler Sash cornerback Shaun Prater merit mentions here.

Turning point: Iowa opened Big Ten play at 2-0 and had a banged-up Wisconsin team on the ropes Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium. But the Badgers shocked Iowa with a fake punt deep in Wisconsin territory and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ferentz botched the time management in the final seconds as Iowa fell 31-30. Another turning point arrived Nov. 13, as Iowa squandered a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead against nemesis Northwestern and fell 21-17.

What's next: The Hawkeyes will try to regroup and send their decorated senior class out with a win in the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Despite being in bordering states, the two schools haven't met since 1910. Iowa has won back-to-back bowls and really could use a win before an offseason of retooling on both sides of the ball begins.

Michigan Wolverines season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Did Michigan make progress in 2010?

The Wolverines' improved record says they did. Their record-setting offensive numbers and their record-setting quarterback suggest strides were made. But Michigan's continued struggles in Big Ten play under coach Rich Rodriguez and its obvious problems on both defense and special teams make the picture pretty cloudy in Ann Arbor.

For the second straight year, Michigan jumped out to a fast start behind a dynamic young quarterback. Denard Robinson was the nation's top player through the first five weeks, setting a series of team records as Michigan surged into the national rankings. Michigan won games simply by outscoring -- or out-Denarding -- the opposition.

Things got tougher in October as Michigan dropped three consecutive contests. Greg Robinson's defense, beset by injuries in the secondary and more preseason player departures, couldn't stop anyone in Big Ten play. Michigan slipped to 108th nationally in total defense (447.9 ypg) and 102nd in scoring defense (33.8 ppg), while the kicking game endured miscue after miscue. Denard Robinson continued to do his part and deservedly received Big Ten offensive player of the year honors, but Michigan repeatedly found itself digging out of big holes against good competition.

Two November wins ensured Michigan would end its bowl drought, but the Wolverines struggled mightily in losses to co-Big Ten champs Wisconsin and Ohio State to end the regular season.

Offensive MVP: Denard Robinson. An obvious choice. Robinson earned Big Ten offensive player of the year honors from both the coaches and the media. He set the FBS single-season quarterback rushing record with 1,643 yards and ranks fourth nationally in rushing average (136.9 ypg). A semifinalist for both the Davey O'Brien and Maxwell Awards, Robinson dramatically improved as a passer, ranking 20th nationally in quarterback rating. He leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally in total offense (329.9 ypg).

Defensive MVP: Mike Martin. Anyone who could stomach watching Michigan's defense saw Martin's contributions at the nose tackle spot. The future NFL player often faced double teams and still recorded six tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and two quarterback hurries. Martin gave Michigan's defensive line a chance to compete, although he needed more help elsewhere. Linebacker Jonas Mouton and safety Jordan Kovacs also merit mentions.

Turning point: There are really two for Michigan. Robinson's performance Sept. 11 against Notre Dame sparked Michigan to a 2-0 start as the sophomore broke the Big Ten quarterback rushing record with 258 yards on the ground. He set a team total offense mark with 502 yards as Michigan went on to win its next three games. The other turning point was more of a reality check, as Michigan State handed Michigan a 34-17 loss. The Spartans dominated Michigan's defense and held Robinson in check at the Big House.

What's next: Only Dave Brandon knows. The first-year athletic director hasn't said whether Rodriguez will return for a fourth season in 2011. Rodriguez's offense is clicking in Ann Arbor and he inherited a bad situation on defense from predecessor Lloyd Carr. But Michigan's repeated breakdowns in two of the three phases are a concern, and Rodriguez still lacks a signature win in Big Ten play.

Michigan State Spartans season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Despite Michigan State's rough season both on and off the field in 2009, coach Mark Dantonio thought he had a special squad in February.

He turned out to be right.

The Spartans recorded a series of milestones this fall, and they did so in dramatic fashion. Unranked entering the season, Michigan State won a team-record 11 games and captured a share of its first Big Ten championship since 1990. The Spartans handed Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin its only loss, recorded their first three-game win streak against archrival Michigan since 1965-67 and won at Penn State for the first time since Joe Paterno became Nittany Lions coach.

The terms "Little Giants" and "Mousetrap" entered Michigan State's football lore as the Spartans beat Notre Dame in overtime with a fake field goal that went for a touchdown and rallied against Northwestern in the fourth quarter following a fake punt pass into the wind. A program that had wilted under adversity in past seasons also overcame the stunning news that Dantonio had suffered a mild heart attack after the Notre Dame win. The coach missed two games and didn't return to the sideline for more than a month, but the Spartans kept on winning.

Although a very bad afternoon in Iowa prevented Michigan State from perfection -- and, as it turned out, a BCS bowl -- the Spartans rebounded with a perfect November to secure a piece of the Big Ten crown.

Offensive MVP: Kirk Cousins. The junior took his game to the next level this fall, making big plays in clutch situations and showing his toughness by playing through pain. Cousins passed for 2,705 yards with 20 touchdown strikes and nine interceptions and ranked 19th nationally in quarterback rating (153.5). He played the second half of the season with a sprained shoulder and a sprained ankle but continued to help the team. Sophomore running back Edwin Baker merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP: Greg Jones. Yep, him again. Jones capped off his stellar career with a very strong senior season. He led Michigan State in tackles (98) for the fourth consecutive season and added three forced fumbles, three quarterback hurries, eight tackles for loss, a sack and the first two interceptions of his career. Jones once again got plenty of help from fellow linebacker Eric Gordon, and all four of Michigan State's starting defensive backs stepped up in big ways.

Turning point: It's hard to find just one with this team, but no one will forget the night of Sept. 18. Michigan State trailed Notre Dame in the second overtime when Dantonio, rather than attempt a potential game-tying field goal, called for the fake. The Spartans executed and scored the game-winning touchdown. More adversity arrived after the game with Dantonio's heart attack, but Michigan State continued to win. The fourth-quarter rallies against both Northwestern and Purdue also stand out.

What's next: Michigan State got snubbed from the BCS bowls, but the Spartans still have a great opportunity in front of them in the Capital One Bowl against defending national champion Alabama. After a regular season filled with milestones, the Spartans aim for one more as they're 0-3 in bowls under Dantonio and haven't won a Jan. 1 game since the 2000 Citrus Bowl. Michigan State loses Jones, Gordon and several other key seniors, but Cousins returns in 2011 as the program continues to build toward elite status.
A very rough season in Minneapolis ended on a good note with hope for better things ahead.

Minnesota would love to delete most of the 2010 season, as the team endured a nine-game losing streak and became the first FBS squad to fire its coach this fall. Tim Brewster was sent packing in mid October after his team slipped to 1-6.

The Gophers had a multitude of problems, but most traced back to a defense that began the season with 11 new starters. Minnesota ranked last in the Big Ten against the run (191.4 ypg) and struggled to slow down opponents for long stretches. Special teams also were problematic at times, and the offense couldn't translate yards into points. Although quarterback Adam Weber improved upon his poor junior season, he and his teammates struggled to put it all together for victories.

To the Gophers' credit, they never stopped fighting, and interim coach Jeff Horton did a fantastic job keeping the team united. Minnesota finally broke through at Illinois on Nov. 13 and followed it up with an upset victory against Iowa to claim a rivalry trophy for the first time since 2006. Players like receiver/quarterback MarQueis Gray and cornerback Troy Stoudermire finished the season the right way.

It's time for Minnesota to close the book on 2010 and start a new chapter.

Offensive MVP: Adam Weber. The wins didn't come until November, but Weber gave Minnesota chances to win with an improved performance from 2009. He passed for 2,679 yards with 20 touchdown strikes and nine interceptions, and he added 156 rushing yards. Receiver Da'Jon McKnight merits a mention here after tying for the Big Ten lead with 10 touchdown receptions.

Defensive MVP: Gary Tinsley. Tinsley developed into one of the Big Ten's more productive linebackers in 2010. He ranked 10th in the league in tackles per game (7.5) and ranked second on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss. Tinsley added a forced fumble and an interception. Stoudermire, linebacker Mike Rallis and safety Kyle Theret should be mentioned as well.

Turning point: Minnesota never truly recovered from a Week 2 loss to FCS South Dakota State, which scored at will against the Gophers. But Minnesota continued to play hard and had a great chance to open Big Ten play at 1-0 after building a 28-20 fourth-quarter lead against Northwestern on Oct. 2. But the Gophers couldn't hang on and fell 29-28. Two weeks later, Brewster was canned and Minnesota endured five consecutive losses by double digits after the Northwestern defeat.

What's next: Minnesota on Monday introduced Jerry Kill as its new head coach. Kill isn't the big name Gophers fans had hoped for, but he has a track record of turning around programs and brings a more measured approach to Minneapolis after Brewster's promises of Big Ten titles. The rebuilding likely will continue in 2011, but Kill inherits some nice pieces, including Gray and McKnight.

Northwestern Wildcats season recap

December, 7, 2010
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Northwestern entered the season with a big question mark at quarterback and enough answers elsewhere on the two-deep.

Dan Persa eased all concerns about the most important position on the field, but he didn't get enough help for Northwestern to build on a 5-0 start.

The Wildcats still made history by clinching a team-record third consecutive bowl appearance and recording three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1958-60. They maintained their recent success against Iowa, beating the Hawkeyes for the third straight year and for the fifth time in six seasons. But losses in five of the final seven regular-season games, plus the season-ending loss of Persa to a ruptures Achilles' tendon, put a damper on things heading into December.

Persa was brilliant from the get-go, showing incredible accuracy and the mobility to keep the chains moving. He formed a strong connection with All-Big Ten receiver Jeremy Ebert and others, but a veteran offensive line didn't perform to expectations and Northwestern once again struggled to run the ball.

The flaws on defense were there during the 5-0 start, as Northwestern endured stretches of missed tackles and didn't get enough from its linebackers.

The Wildcats were close, building big leads against Michigan State and Penn State before stumbling. Northwestern could be the classic year-away team, but it needs to build more around Persa.

Offensive MVP: Dan Persa. Who else? Persa set a Big Ten record for completion percentage (73.5) -- since broken by Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien -- and passed for 2,581 yards with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions in only 10 games. He also led the team in both rushing attempts (164) and rushing touchdowns (9) and finished second in rushing yards (519). Persa earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches.

Defensive MVP: Bryce McNaul. The junior linebacker finally stayed healthy and made his presence known for an up-and-down defense. McNaul recorded 61 tackles, including five for loss and a sack, to go along with a forced fumble in only 10 games played. Defensive end Vince Browne, safety Brian Peters and linebacker Nate Williams also merit mentions here.

Turning point: The Iowa game. Northwestern finally put it all together Nov. 13 for what was a signature victory at the time (Iowa came in ranked No. 13), but the Wildcats also lost Persa for the season as the star quarterback injured himself throwing the decisive touchdown pass. Two blowout losses followed as Northwestern finished the regular season at 7-5.

What's next: Northwestern aims for its first bowl victory since the 1949 Rose when it takes on Texas Tech in the inaugural TicketCity Bowl on Jan. 1 in Dallas. The Wildcats have a month to prepare backup quarterback Evan Watkins after the redshirt freshman struggled against Illinois and Wisconsin. The defense really needs to pick up its play after surrendering 118 points in its last two games.

Ohio State Buckeyes season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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You know life is pretty good when you have to settle for Big Ten titles and BCS bowl appearances.

Ohio State entered the season with legitimate national championship hopes and climbed to No. 1 in the polls after Week 6. Life at the top was short lived, however, as the Buckeyes lost to Wisconsin to fall out of the title race. Although a decorated senior class didn't reach its ultimate goal, it kept three very important streaks alive. Ohio State won a record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten title, beat archrival Michigan for the seventh consecutive time and will play in a BCS bowl for the sixth consecutive January.

The Buckeyes made legitimate improvements on offense, rising from 68th nationally in yards per game in 2009 to 18th this fall, and from 49th nationally in points per game in 2009 to 11th this fall. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor continued to evolve and Dan Herron established himself as the Buckeyes' premier running back in Big Ten play. The defense overcame several key injuries, especially in the secondary, to finish in the top five nationally in scoring (3rd, 13.3 ppg), rush defense (4th, 94.3 ypg), pass defense (4th, 156.3 ypg) and total defense (2nd, 250.6 ypg).

The only thing Ohio State lacks is a true signature win. Victories against Miami and Iowa looked decent at the time, but both teams fell out of the rankings.

How good is this Ohio State team? We'll likely learn more in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Offensive MVP: Terrelle Pryor. His haters will always be out there, but Pryor took another step forward as a quarterback this fall. The junior finished the regular season ranked 14th nationally in passer rating (157.98) after completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 2,551 yards and a Big Ten-leading 25 touchdown strikes. Is he a finished product? No. But Pryor is becoming a more complete quarterback. Receiver Dane Sanzenbacher and Herron also merit mentions.

Defensive MVP: Brian Rolle. The senior linebacker was one of Ohio State's most consistent performers and got better as the season went along. Rolle led the team in both tackles (70) and tackles for loss (10), and he added two interceptions, four pass breakups, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a blocked kick. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts. Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward also should be mentioned.

Turning point: Ohio State trailed Iowa 17-13 late in the fourth quarter Nov. 20 and was dangerously close to a second league loss that would have ended its streaks of Big Ten titles and most likely BCS bowl appearances. But Pryor came up huge on fourth-and-10 and Ohio State rallied for a 20-17 win. Ohio State's second-half turnaround against Penn State the week before also stands out.

What's next: The Buckeyes try to end their often-discussed postseason drought against SEC teams (0-9) on Jan. 4 against Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State looks for back-to-back wins in BCS bowls and its highest wins total since 2006. Although a sizable senior class departs after the bowl game, Pryor vows to be back for one more run at a national title.
It seemed pretty clear Penn State faced a rebuilding job in 2010, despite the perennially high hopes of Nittany Lions fans and the absurdly high ranking by the coaches in their preseason poll.

The season played out more or less as many had expected, including coach Joe Paterno.

Sure, Penn State might have won another game or two, but the Lions performed like a young team figuring out its identity as the season went along. With a few exceptions, Penn State beat equal and inferior competition and lost to better teams Ohio State, Michigan State and Alabama.

The first six games were hard to watch. True freshman Rob Bolden endured some growing pains after surprisingly winning the starting quarterback spot, but he didn't get much help from an inconsistent offensive line or All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster. A wave of injuries on defense didn't help matters, and Penn State hit rock bottom following a 33-13 home loss to Illinois on Oct. 9.

But the Lions turned things around after a much-needed open week and won four of their final six games. Former walk-on Matt McGloin stepped in at quarterback and provided a spark, and Royster produced big performances against both Michigan and Northwestern. Penn State got Paterno his 400th coaching win, and while the team still has flaws, it also has potential to get a lot better.

Offensive MVP: Derek Moye. Moye was Penn State's most consistent offensive performer and one of the Big Ten's most consistent receivers. He led Penn State with 48 catches, ranked fifth in the Big Ten with 806 receiving yards and tied for fourth in the league in touchdown receptions with seven. McGloin and Royster also deserve mentions for stepping up in the second half of the season.

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Michael Mauti. It's a tough call, but Mauti provided a major spark for the defense in Big Ten play, and his absence was felt when he missed time because of injury. The sophomore recorded 63 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks. Cornerback D'Anton Lynn, linebacker Nathan Stupar and defensive tackle Ollie Ogbu also merit mentions.

Turning point: The bye week. Penn State went in at 3-3, had endured a wave of injuries on defense and lacked an identity on offense. The Lions came out of the open week and won four of their final six games to secure a winning season and an Outback Bowl berth. The offense came alive behind McGloin, Royster and dynamic freshman running back Silas Redd.

What's next: Paterno will return in 2011 for a 46th season, saying that the chance to help a young team get better lured him back to the sideline. The questions about Paterno's future will persist, and Penn State needs to take a step forward next fall to avoid losing the momentum it generated between 2005-09. It will be interesting to see what happens at quarterback with McGloin and Bolden, but the more critical areas are on defense, especially a defensive line that didn't meet the typical standard this season.

Purdue Boilermakers season recap

December, 7, 2010
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The unluckiest team in America resided in West Lafayette, Ind., this season.

Injuries were the story for Purdue in 2010, as key players seemed to go down every week. The Boilermakers entered the fall without starting running back Ralph Bolden, and they lost starting quarterback Robert Marve and top receiver Keith Smith before Big Ten play began. Injuries continued to ravage the offense, claiming players like receiver Justin Siller and third-string quarterback Rob Henry.

Coach Danny Hope must have had a waist-high stack of depth charts in his office by early November.

Purdue never gave up and opened Big Ten play 2-0 after shocking Northwestern in Henry's first career start and then outlasting Minnesota at home. Even after reality set in against Ohio State, the Boilers kept fighting and took a 28-13 lead into the fourth quarter at No. 12 Michigan State before falling apart in the final 15 minutes. Purdue ended up losing its final six games to miss a bowl for the third consecutive season.

Hope's teams certainly compete hard, and Purdue made strides in areas like rushing defense this season. But the Boilers still make too many major mistakes, especially in the kicking game. Purdue tied for last in the league in turnovers with 27 and ranked 10th in penalties with 77.

Those are areas Hope must fix before a pivotal 2011 season.

Offensive MVP: Rob Henry. He went from an afterthought in spring practice -- Purdue's coaches, confident in their quarterback situation, thought about moving him to free safety -- to the team's starting signal caller for the Big Ten opener. Henry made mistakes, but he also led Purdue with 547 rush yards and four touchdowns and added eight passing touchdowns. Purdue's offense struggled, but it would have been even worse without Henry.

Defensive MVP: Ryan Kerrigan. No Big Ten player had a stronger senior season than Kerrigan, who edged J.J. Watt for the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. Kerrigan was unstoppable in most games, leading the nation with 26 tackles for loss and ranking third in sacks (12.5). He tied for second nationally in forced fumbles and had two fumble recoveries for the Boilers. Kerrigan recorded a tackle for loss in 11 of Purdue's 12 games and had multiple tackles for loss in seven contests.

Turning point: Despite all the injuries, Purdue had a chance to become bowl eligible and record a signature win when it visited Michigan State on Nov. 20. The Boilers built a 28-13 lead entering the fourth quarter but surrendered 22 points in the final 10:55. Purdue had a punt blocked near its goal line that led to the game-winning touchdown. The Boilers blew another fourth-quarter lead the next week against Indiana and lost at home to their archrival for the first time since 1996.

What's next: Purdue will get healthier for 2011, and the return of players like Marve, Bolden, Siller and most likely Smith raise hopes for the offense. Fans understood the injury issues this season, but they want to see more from Hope, who will feel the heat if things go bad next fall. Kerrigan is a major loss up front, and while the Boilers still will have a nice pass rush, they'll need to upgrade the linebacker spot and find more defensive playmakers to join cornerback Ricardo Allen, a rising star.

Wisconsin Badgers season recap

December, 7, 2010
12/07/10
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Bret Bielema and the Wisconsin Badgers took the step from very good to great this season, and they received a rosy reward for their efforts.

Wisconsin is headed back to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 11 seasons. After hovering just below elite status for the past decade, the Badgers got back to the top by fully embracing the values that defined the program under Barry Alvarez in the 1990s. They boast the nation's deepest group of running backs, one of the nation's best offensive lines, the perfect quarterback for their system in Scott Tolzien and several playmaking defenders, led by All-Big Ten end J.J. Watt.

A shaky start followed by a loss at Michigan State to open Big Ten play left many thinking the Badgers once again wouldn't get over the hump. Turns out, they never looked back, winning their final seven games and averaging 48.3 points in the process. Wisconsin recorded its first win against the nation's top-ranked team since 1981, and Bielema overcame his struggles on the road against ranked teams as the Badgers overcame several key injuries to rally past Iowa.

Power football became pretty football this fall, as Wisconsin reached the 70-point plateau three times and supplemented its offense with improved special-teams play and timely lifts from the defense.

Offensive MVP: Scott Tolzien. Wisconsin always produces great running backs and this year was no different, but Tolzien provided the pocket presence the Badgers have lacked for much of the past decade. Tolzien led the nation in completion percentage (74.3) and ranked fourth nationally in pass efficiency (169.8 rating). He executed the play-action to perfection and ended the season as one of the Big Ten's hottest players.

Defensive MVP: J.J. Watt. An easy choice here as Watt made more game-changing plays than any Big Ten defender and was a close second to Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan for Big Ten defensive player of the year. The mammoth junior recorded 21 tackles for loss, seven sacks, 10 quarterback hurries, seven pass breakups, three forced fumbles, three blocked kicks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Translation: Watt was an absolute beast.

Turning point: In the first six games, the Badgers had showed very little to suggest they could knock off top-ranked Ohio State on Oct. 16. But from the opening kickoff, which David Gilreath returned for a 97-yard touchdown, the Badgers took control and never let the Buckeyes get comfortable. Wisconsin controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and received big performances from Watt, John Clay, James White and others. The Badgers followed up the historic win with an equally huge one the next week at Iowa.

What's next: Wisconsin heads to Pasadena to face TCU in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio. The Badgers look for their fourth consecutive victory in the Rose Bowl after capturing championships in 1994, 1999 and 2000. TCU has scored just as many points (520) as the Badgers this season, and the Horned Frogs' defense provides a major test for Tolzien, the running backs and the line.

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