Big Ten: Blair White

More than once during Michigan State's 8-0 start, coach Mark Dantonio has said this year's team possesses an edge.

It sounds pretty cool. You start thinking of Spartan warriors butchering their enemies with the sharpened edges of their spears.

But what exactly does Dantonio mean by an edge?

"Your leadership's your edge, your enthusiasm's your edge," the coach explained. "All the positive intangibles that can go along with a person become ... your edge."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Dantonio's Spartans put their undefeated record on the line Saturday at Iowa.
Michigan State junior quarterback Kirk Cousins takes it one step further.

"One of the reasons we've been able to win some of the close games," Cousins said, "is because we have had that deep, deep fire, that edge, that has helped us push through some setbacks, whether it be a fumble or an interception, or a touchdown we let up. When you have an edge, it doesn't get you down.

"It enables you to just keep pushing and keep pushing until you're able to get the win."

The Spartans' edge has propelled them to their best start since 1966, a No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings and a place at the head table for national championship contenders. It has helped them overcome deficits in all four of their Big Ten games, including a 17-0 second-quarter hole last Saturday at Northwestern.

It has helped them execute two of the most memorable plays in recent program history -- a fake field goal in overtime against Notre Dame and a fake punt in the fourth quarter against Northwestern -- and add the terms "Little Giants" and "Mousetrap" to this year's college football lexicon.

"Having an edge means having a confidence when things get tough, when things don't go your way," linebacker Greg Jones said. "When they’re completing balls on third down and it's harder and harder to get off the field, it's having the confidence to … never give up."

Michigan State's edge didn't spawn from winning. Just the opposite, in fact.

The Spartans lost five games by eight points or fewer in 2009. Of the 17 games Dantonio lost in his first three seasons as Michigan State's coach, 12 were by eight points or fewer.

Before this season, no one would describe Michigan State as a team that had an edge.

"Looking back on last year, the way it worked out was we did lose a lot of close games," Cousins said, "and right now, we’re winning a lot of close games. I do think there is a correlation between those two. Taking some of the lumps we took last year has enabled us to be successful the second time around."

Michigan State's most painful moment of 2009 came on an October night against Iowa, which brought a 7-0 record to Spartan Stadium. A defensive struggle throughout, Michigan State took a 13-9 lead after a hook-and-ladder play set up a Cousins touchdown strike to Blair White with 1:37 left.

But an Iowa team that certainly possessed an edge, repeatedly rallying for wins, moved the ball down the field, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt in the end zone with no time left.

The Spartans had a front-row seat for the magic show. This year, they're the ones performing it.

"I don’t know if they’ve had as many close games as we had," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It seemed like every one of our games was really close. But they're certainly on a great roll."

Like Michigan State, Iowa went through a stretch of close losses in 2006, 2007 and the first half of 2008 before changing its fortunes with a come-from-behind win against Penn State. Both programs also had to endure off-field problems: Iowa had a wave of player arrests in 2007-08, while Michigan State had the November residence hall incident that involved a major chunk of the roster.

Both programs found ways to rebound.

Iowa now stands in Michigan State's way as the Spartans visit Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

"The fact of the matter is they had a very, very special year last year, and we're having a similar type of season," Cousins said. "We just need to keep going and our next challenge is the Iowa Hawkeyes."

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
2009 overall record: 6-7

2009 conference record: 4-4 (T-6th)

Returning starters

Offense: 6, defense: 6, kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Kirk Cousins, WR Keith Nichol, WR Mark Dell, LG Joel Foreman, LB Greg Jones, LB Eric Gordon, CB Chris L. Rucker, DT Jerel Worthy

Key losses

WR Blair White, LT Rocco Cironi, C Joel Nitchman, DE Trevor Anderson, NT Oren Wilson, CB Jeremy Ware, PK Brett Swenson

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Larry Caper* (468 yards)

Passing: Kirk Cousins* (2,680 yards)

Receiving: Blair White (990 yards)

Tackles: Greg Jones* (154)

Sacks: Greg Jones* (9)

Interceptions: Brandon Denson, Trenton Robinson*, Chris L. Rucker*, Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware and Ross Weaver (1)

Spring answers

1. Skill positions stacked: Arguably no Big Ten team boasts as many offensive weapons as Michigan State. The Spartans are very excited about sophomore running backs Larry Caper and Edwin Baker. They lose All-Big Ten wideout Blair White but moved quarterback Keith Nichol to receiver and should have plenty of firepower there with Keshawn Martin, Mark Dell and others. Michigan State also boasts the Big Ten's deepest group of tight ends, led by Charlie Gantt.

2. Defense to stress 3-4: Michigan State's depth at linebacker prompted the greater use of the 3-4 alignment this spring. The Spartans hope the formation gives them greater flexibility with All-American Greg Jones, and they also want to feature Eric Gordon and Chris Norman. Incoming freshmen William Gholston and Max Bullough also factor into the shift toward the 3-4.

3. Cousins takes command: Kirk Cousins is Michigan State's undisputed offensive leader, and he showed why this spring. Cousins, a co-captain as a sophomore in 2009, admits he's more comfortable as a leader these days, and his play is reflecting it. The junior quarterback finished a solid session by completing 10 of 15 passes for 254 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

Fall questions

1. The secondary: For the second straight spring, we heard a lot of good things about the secondary. And for the second straight year, the Spartans allowed a ton of passing yards (534) in the spring game. Now the defensive backs also made their share of plays, as cornerbacks Chris L. Rucker and Johnny Adams combined for three sacks and four tackles for loss, but the jury is still out on this group. The secondary has experience but needs to be more consistent and generate more interceptions.

2. Line play: Michigan State looks good to go at most of the skill positions, but there's some uncertainty along both lines. The two main priorities this summer will be solidifying the right side of the offensive line and identifying some capable defensive ends. Jones, who led the team in sacks last fall, wants to play a bigger role in pass coverage, so the Spartans need to shore up their pass rush.

3. Kicking it: Placekicker Brett Swenson was a special player, and he'll be tough to replace. Kevin Muma and Dan Conroy competed throughout the spring and will continue to do so this fall. The race is tight, and Michigan State's offense will be under more pressure to reach the end zone in 2010.

Big Ten mailblog

May, 4, 2010
As Bill Raftery would say, send it in!

Josh from Minnesota writes: Adam, your blog keeps me going through organic chemistry class. Thanks! So I have an issue with the non-conference schedule's of teams you put ahead of the Gophers in your power rankings last year and this spring. I would love to see the Gophs go 9-3 via blasting Akron, Temple, etc. 63-0 the first few weeks like Iowa and Wisconsin do, but I would much more like to see the Gophers play USC, Cal, UNC, Texas, etc. Can we get some respect for playing quality opponents?!

Adam Rittenberg: It's somewhat unfortunate, Josh, but there's no RPI in college football, and nonconference schedules hardly ever matter for teams. I think it's great what Tim Brewster and Joel Maturi are doing at Minnesota by scheduling teams like USC, Texas and Cal. It's certainly a departure from the Glen Mason era, as Mase scheduled for 7-5 (3-5 Big Ten) seemingly every year. I look at Minnesota's schedule this year -- especially the home slate with USC, Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa -- and think 6-6 or 7-5 would be pretty decent given the competition. But Minnesota fans are sick and tied of 6-6 or 7-5. The bottom line is actually winning those games, which Brewster hasn't done in his tenure. He needs to win trophy games, November games or games against elite nonconference foes like USC. Beefing up the schedule is great, but you only get respect if you win those games.

Kasey from Chicago writes: I noticed you have ILLINOIS ranked at number 10 in your latest power rankings. I have to admit that is a little disheartening for an Illini fan, but does Illinois like it? Illinois has a history of either under-achieving or over-achieving. Like in '03 or '07 when they weren't supposed to make it nearly as far as they did, or in the last two seasons when nearly everybody thought they would at least make it to a bowl game. My question is, do the Illini want to come in the under dog? I think Illinois can possibly lead the Big Ten in rushing yards, and upset one of the big three.

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois certainly is embracing the underdog, Kasey, and there is some history to the Illini doing better when expectations are low. Several Big Ten teams follow this pattern of exceeding expectations when they're low and falling short when they're high. Illinois will have its struggles at quarterback, but as you point out, there's a lot to love about the run game with Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford. I'm not sold on the defense, but Vic Koenning was a great hire and should have a positive impact.

Mike from New York writes: Hey Adam,I need a little clarification on ND. It sounds like they turned down an offer by the B10 a decade ago, but you wrote that if a school is going to join the B10, it needs to ask to join first, and then the B10 will vote on it. Are these rules different than they were before, or did ND ask to join, get voted in, and then snubbed the B10 at the last minute?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, you're right in that candidates first must apply for admission to the Big Ten before a vote can take place. But the Big Ten will formally discuss admission with any candidate before letting things get to the application process. Notre Dame ultimately didn't decide to apply, and so no vote was taken. But I'm sure the Big Ten made it clear to the Irish that if they applied, they would be admitted, as long as all parties agreed upon the terms. So Notre Dame turned down an offer to apply, not an offer for admission (because technically, these don't exist).

Matt from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Adam, I am trying to figure out where your unequivocal support of Michigan State football comes from. The Spartans finished last season with 6 wins. Among the teams they lost to: Central Michigan, Notre Dame, and Minnesota. No doubt, the team has some solid returners from last season. And, there are some good incoming freshman players who may see the field... but T-4 with Penn State in the BT Power Rankings? Starting the season 4-0? Explain to me how this team is so much different from last year's.

Adam Rittenberg: I realize that buying into Michigan State is a risky proposition, given the Spartans' history. But Michigan State probably loses fewer truly valuable seniors than any team in the Big Ten. Wide receiver Blair White and offensive linemen Joel Nitchman and Rocco Cironi had value, but other than that, I don't see many huge departures. Penn State, on the other hand, loses three valuable linebackers, a first-team All-Big Ten quarterback in Daryll Clark and the Big Ten's co-Defensive Player of the Year in Jared Odrick. Back to the Spartans, they totally shot themselves in the foot against Central Michigan, fell victim to inexperience against Notre Dame and lost one of the most bizarre games I've ever seen at Minnesota. No excuses, but it wasn't like they were torched by those teams. Michigan State has a much more stable situation on offense than Penn State, although the Lions will have a stronger defense. As for starting the season 4-0? Who will beat Michigan State in that stretch? A rebuilding Notre Dame team that must visit East Lansing? I'd be surprised if the Spartans weren't 4-0.

Chris from Arlington, Va., writes: Hey Adam,Love the blog, check it everyday. Could you put a list together of all the Big10 undrafted Free agents? I'm a PSU fan and I'd like to say that I'm casting my vote for [Matt] McGloin right now. I dont' think they need someone to win games for them, just to distribute to the WRs and Royster/Green/Redd(if they don't redshirt him.) I feel that if they can get him under control and not "trust his arm" so much, that he can be solid until Paul Jones or Robert Boldin get their feet under them. As for Newsome, just use him as a wildcat threat...What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I'm still waiting for all the official lists of free-agent signings to come out before posting a master list with Big Ten players. But thanks for reminding me. Penn State certainly could survive with a game manager at quarterback if it can run the ball effectively with Evan Royster and company. I'm not sure McGloin can be that guy and still avoid costly interceptions. He certainly made some questionable throws in the spring game, although that's only one scrimmage. Honestly, I don't think any of us can cast our votes right now. We need to see more from McGloin, Newsome, Jones and maybe even Robert Bolden in fall camp. Let's be patient with that position.

Will from St. Paul, Minn., writes: I understand, do not agree with, but understand why you put the Gopher's at number 9 on your power rankings. I was a little confused with your opening though. Did you mean to say that there is a huge gap between the bottom teams in the conference compared to the middle like the gap between top and middle? If so, you truly believe that Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan are a clear level above Minnesota, how?

Adam Rittenberg: I think there's a gap, but not a huge one. Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana all have some major question marks on defense, and both the Gophers and Illini are coming off of miserable performances on offense in 2009. Is Michigan way ahead of those teams? No, especially from a defensive standpoint, but the Wolverines will score a lot of points this fall, I'm fairly certain of that. I can't say the same about Minnesota or Illinois. And I have major doubts that Indiana will be able to stop anyone, because the Hoosiers haven't done so for more than a decade. Northwestern is a solid middle-of-the-pack team, and Purdue ended 2009 strong and, despite the injuries, leaves me with fewer questions than Minnesota, Illinois or Indiana. Can Minnesota rise to the middle of the Big Ten? Absolutely, but I need to see more.

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

  • No Big Ten players selected

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Last spring, all eyes were on the quarterback position at Michigan State, with an occasional glance toward the running backs.

Both backfield positions are pretty much settled this year, as Kirk Cousins is the clear No. 1 quarterback and sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker will share carries at running back. The Spartans are also well stocked at both wide receiver and tight end, losing only one major contributor in Blair White and gaining a potential star wideout in converted quarterback Keith Nichol.

[+] EnlargeDantonio
Brett Davis/US PresswireMark Dantonio knows he has some holes to fill on his offensive line.
So where's the drama for Michigan State's offense in spring ball? Look no further than the offensive line.

The Spartans lose three linemen with significant starting experience -- center Joel Nitchman, tackle Rocco Cironi and guard Brendon Moss -- from a front five that allowed the fewest sacks (14) in the Big Ten last fall. Head coach Mark Dantonio will lean on left guard Joel Foreman and left tackle D.J. Young, and center John Stipek started three games while Nitchman was out with an injury.

But other than those three, the Spartans have plenty of question marks up front, which means plenty of competition this spring.

"You'd like to have your two-deep solidified coming out of [spring practice]," Dantonio said Tuesday. "We have enough people. Guys have made strides. But the key is, have they been playing? Have they been coached? Have they actively been doing this?"

The right side of the Spartans' line is wide open, as a large group of players competes at both spots, including Jared McGhaha, Chris McDonald, J'Michael Deane, John Deyo and Antonio Jeremiah, a converted defensive lineman. Several redshirt freshmen also are in the mix, including tackles Henry Conway and David Barrent.

"There's some youth in there that we're trying to polish up," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said.

Dantonio said McGaha is "making a move" at tackle this spring, while McDonald is working as the team's starting right guard right now. Redshirt freshman Nate Klatt is pushing Stipek for the starting center spot.

Both Dantonio and Treadwell singled out Klatt for his play this spring.

Michigan State finished second in the Big Ten in passing last fall, while the run game slipped to 73rd nationally. Don't expect those trends to continue, as the Spartans want to re-establish the run behind Caper, Baker and, hopefully, a solid line.

"We didn't run it as well as we needed to run it, that's the bottom line," Dantonio said. "We've got numbers [at offensive line] and they've all improved, and you see the result of that."
There was no watershed moment for Keith Nichol and his Michigan State coaches.

Nichol's transition from quarterback to wide receiver was gradual, and spawned out of necessity.

[+] EnlargeKeith Nichol
AP Photo/Al GoldisKeith Nichol has had to transition from playing quarterback to receiver.
The November residence hall assault left Michigan State without six wide receivers, including key contributors Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, for the Alamo Bowl. Nichol, who had competed for playing time with Kirk Cousins at quarterback but looked more and more like a backup, began working with the wideouts in bowl practice.

"We didn’t really have a huge meeting about it," Nichol said. "It was just unspoken, like, ‘Hey, if you’re doing well at this, we’re going to keep you there. If we don’t see you progressing or anything, we're going to put you back at QB permanently.'"

Nichol made progress at wide receiver, just like everyone knew he would. Almost every team has a player that simply needs to get on the field, regardless of position, because of his natural skills and athleticism. Nichol always seemed to be that player for Michigan State.

It's a role that can lead to mixed emotions. Being told that you're too good to sit on the bench is somewhat of a backhanded compliment: You're more than good enough to play, just not at the position where you'd like.

Nichol, after all, had transferred to Michigan State from Oklahoma with an eye on the starting quarterback position. He was buried behind some Bradford guy at OU.

But as a future at wide receiver came more and more into focus, Nichol never blinked.

"I’ve always told coach [Mark] Dantonio I’m a football player first and a quarterback second," Nichol said. "I just want to be on the field and help this team win, whether that's special teams, wideout, QB, defense, it doesn’t even matter to me. It can be hard, if you don’t feel like you have a key role, sometimes you can feel unmotivated. But I never really felt that.

"They've always found ways to get me on the field and everything, and I've instilled my trust in them."

The trust is mutual, as Nichol has been listed as one of Michigan State's starting wide receivers on the spring depth chart. Dell and Cunningham both were reinstated for spring ball and are listed as backups, but the coaches clearly have big plans for Nichol.

The junior remains as the team's backup quarterback but will spend 70-80 percent of his time this spring at wideout.

"He's an outstanding athlete, big body, can run, quick change of direction, can jump, is tough," Dantonio said. "So he needs to get on the football field for us."

Nichol had two receptions for 11 yards in the Alamo Bowl, and he spent the winter months adjusting his body to the wide receiver position. He had always focused on leaning out and reducing his body fat, but the process accelerated after the switch.

He added 5-7 pounds of muscle, and reduced his body fat from around nine percent to around seven percent. Nichol checks in this spring at 6-2 and 220 pounds.

“I feel the biggest, the strongest and the fastest as I’ve ever felt," he said. "I tested the best I have ever. My shuttle [run] time was sub 4 [seconds], 3.96. My vertical went up, broad jump went up, everything. I feel great, I feel healthy, I feel fast and strong.

"I feel like the best athlete I’ve ever been right now."

Nichol is already being compared to Spartans wideout Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 who ranked second in the league with 990 receiving yards. Nichol, a close friend of White's, knows he has huge shoes to fill but said the comparisons are encouraging.

With both Dell and Cunningham back, and Keshawn Martin poised for a huge 2010 season, Michigan State could boast the Big Ten's deepest wide receiving corps. Nichol's transition should be eased by his knowledge of the quarterback spot and his familiarity with Cousins, as the two worked together throughout 2009.

"I understand where I’m supposed to be and why," he said. "I understand the concepts of what I’m doing. If I’m running a corner, I’m clearing out for somebody else if the ball’s not coming to me. I understand what a quarterback appreciates and what might make the offense run better.

"Certainly by talking and communicating, and by me being in the position [Cousins] was in, it helps out a lot."
My basketball responsibilities caused me to fall behind on monitoring pro days at Big Ten schools, but I'm back in football mode now. Four Big Ten schools -- Illinois, Michigan State, Penn State and Northwestern -- all held their annual pro days on Wednesday, and here are some highlights.


  • Wide receiver Arrelious Benn certainly helped himself by clocking a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, more than a tenth of a second faster than his time (4.48) at the NFL combine.
  • Wide receiver/tight end Jeff Cumberland clocked a 4.46 in the 40. Cumberland boasts excellent size, but his pass-catching ability has been questioned.
  • Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui ran a 4.83 in the 40.
  • Quarterback Juice Williams had his first chance to work out before NFL scouts, while guard Jon Asamoah sat out pro day with a shoulder injury that has limited him since Senior Bowl practice.

  • Wide receiver Blair White continued a strong pre-draft performance by running the 40 in 4.46 seconds, improving on his time from the combine (4.5). He also recorded a 33.5-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet.
  • Defensive end Trevor Anderson ran a 4.66 in the 40, had a 37-inch vertical leap and a broad jump of 10 feet, 7.5 inches.
  • According to The Detroit News, cornerback Jeremy Ware ran an unofficial time of 4.37 in the 40, while safety Danny Fortener, running back A.J. Jimmerson and cornerback Ross Weaver all ran better than a 4.5.

  • Quarterback Daryll Clark said he clocked a 4.61 in the 40-yard dash after not running at the combine because of a hamstring injury.
  • Linebacker Navorro Bowman said his 40 time improved to 4.61 seconds (he had a 4.72 in Indy).
  • Linebacker Josh Hull improved substantially on his poor 40 time at the combine (4.91 seconds) by clocking a 4.71 on Wednesday.
  • Linebacker Sean Lee improved his 40 time from 4.74 seconds in Indianapolis to unofficially 4.55 Wednesday.
  • Defensive tackle Jared Odrick said he improved on his 40 time, recording several attempts below five seconds after clocking a 5.03 at the combine. He also improved on his broad jump.
  • Tight end Andrew Quarless said he ran the 40 in the 4.5 range Wednesday after recording a 4.69 in Indianapolis.
  • Tackle Dennis Landolt and defensive end/linebacker Jerome Hayes both said they had 24 reps in the 225-pound bench press.
  • Former Penn State quarterback Anthony Morelli worked out for scouts Wednesday as he tries to revive his pro career.

  • Quarterback Mike Kafka continued a strong pre-draft performance on pro day, reportedly hitting on almost every throw.
  • Wide receiver Andrew Brewer recorded a 4.60 in the 40, a 39-inch vertical leap, a 10-foot broad jump and a short shuttle run of 4.08 seconds.
After watching Michigan State and Purdue slug it out on the basketball court Sunday, I was tempted to make the short drive down I-65 to Indianapolis for the final few days of the NFL combine.

The combine continues today and Tuesday, but many of the key evaluations have already taken place.

Let's take a look at the Big Ten's top performers in the events through Sunday:

40-Yard Dash

  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for fourth among tight ends (4.69 seconds)
  • Andrew Quarless, Penn State, tied for fourth among tight ends (4.69 seconds)
Bench Press

  • Daryll Clark, Penn State, first among quarterbacks (21 reps)
  • Arrelious Benn, Illinois, tied for first among wide receivers (20 reps)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, sixth among wide receivers (18 reps)
  • Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois, third among tight ends (25 reps)
  • Andrew Quarless, Penn State, tied for fifth among tight ends (23 reps)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, tied for eighth among tight ends (20 reps)
  • Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State, tied for sixth among defensive linemen (32 reps)
  • Brandon Graham, Michigan, tied for 10th among defensive linemen (31 reps)
  • Mike Neal, Purdue, tied for 10th among defensive linemen (31 reps)
Vertical Jump

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, tied for seventh among quarterbacks (32 inches)
  • Arrelious Benn, Illinois, tied for eighth among wide receivers (37 inches)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, sixth among tight ends (34.5 inches)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for seventh among tight ends (34 inches)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, tied for ninth among offensive linemen (29.5 inches)
Broad Jump

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, tied for fifth among quarterbacks (9 feet, 2 inches)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for fifth among tight ends (9 feet, 5 inches)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, tied for second among offensive linemen (9 feet, 5 inches)
3-Cone Drill

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, third among quarterbacks (6.96 seconds)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, third among wide receivers (6.69 seconds)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, third among offensive linemen (7.42 seconds)
20-Yard Shuttle

  • Blair White, Michigan State, first among wide receivers (4.03 seconds)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, fourth among tight ends (4.35 seconds)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, eighth among offensive linemen (4.67 seconds)
60-Yard Shuttle

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, second among quarterbacks (11.79 seconds)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, second among wide receivers (11.07 seconds)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, third among tight ends (11.86 seconds)
So it's been a good combine for players like Moeaki, Saffold, White, Kafka and Quarless. I'll provide more updates on top performers as the results are posted.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 25, 2010
Some people call me a salesman, I call myself a salesfriend, so obviously I need strangers to trust me. I don't take it kindly when someone Tom Sellecks my bus bench.

Big Ten to send 41 to NFL combine

February, 2, 2010
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine is out, and the Big Ten will send 41 former players to Indianapolis later this month. The combine takes place Feb. 24-March 2, and all 11 Big Ten schools will be represented. Iowa leads the way with seven invitees, followed Penn State with six invitees and four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State) each with four invitees.

You've already seen an early list, which didn't include underclassmen and some seniors who were named later.

Here's the full roster of Big Ten participants, sorted by team:

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Bryan Bulaga, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson, CB Amari Spievey

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor, CB Donovan Warren

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: LB Lee Campbell, WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, DE Thaddeus Gibson, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: LB Navorro Bowman, QB Daryll Clark, LB Josh Hull, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, LB O'Brien Schofield (injured)

Big Ten mailblog

January, 26, 2010
Let's talk.

Allen from Northwest Ohio writes: Adam, could you please verify an accomplishment that has seemingly been overlooked by the media? The Ohio State Buckeyes beat five different teams this past season who finished with 10 or more wins. Is this a NCAA record? Of those five teams (Navy, Wisconsin, Penn State, Iowa, Oregon), four of them won their bowl game with Oregon being the only team that didn't with their loss to the Buckeyes. If this is a record you'd think someone would mention it at least because it appears to be quite an accomplishment. Thanks for checking it out, Allen

Adam Rittenberg: Allen, I've checked with ESPN's Stats & Information group, and to their knowledge, there hasn't been a team in recent years that can make such a claim. A lot of teams have beaten four 10-win squads, but not five. I'll stop of short of calling it an NCAA record until more research is done -- you basically have to go through every team that played at least 10 games -- but it's undoubtedly a tremendous accomplishment for the Buckeyes. Who knew a shaky effort against Navy in the opener would turn out to be a pretty solid victory?

David from Houston writes: Why does the ACC, Big East, Pac-10, and BigXII get $17 mil each for BCS games? Big Ten and SEC each got $22 mil, yet they each sent two teams. Does that mean Iowa and OSU get about $5mil each, and then the remaining $12 goes to the conference as a whole?

Adam Rittenberg: The $17 million figure is locked in for each of the major conferences participating in BCS bowls. The BCS awards $4.5 million -- or $5 million, in this case -- to leagues producing two BCS bowl participants, or to Notre Dame if the Fighting Irish are selected. As far as the revenue dispersal, the Big Ten distributes all revenue equally among its members. This is different from other leagues like the Big 12 that don't have equal revenue sharing.

Brett from Ft. Dodge, Iowa, writes: In your blog about predicting what you see happening in the Big Ten over the next decade you stated the Big Ten would win two national championships. You have Michigan as possibly winning one of these. Seriously?!?! Well obviously you weren't because in Friday's mail blog you said Michigan was declining and hinted they are a top tier team that could fall to the bottom. So which is it? FYI your credibility hinges

Adam Rittenberg: OMG! My credibility! I could lose tens of thousands of readers depending on this answer ... so nervous ... what should I write ... OK, Brett, here's the deal. I was asked which of the bigger programs could decline in the next decade. Michigan is already slipping after back-to-back losing seasons. But it's hardly unreasonable to say Michigan could win a national title before 2020. Alabama just won the crown, the same Alabama team that went 4-9 in 2003 and 6-6 in 2004. Last I checked, all of that happened in the same decade. So it's possible for Michigan. Not saying it'll happen in the next two or three years, but Michigan should make a run before 2020.

Brad from Chicago writes: I have been debating with my friends where the Big Ten title game will take place when they add another member. I know in the basketball tournament they move it around, but most schools that have a football conference championship game have it in the same place. I was wondering your thoughts. I think with their being no more dome teams in the Big Ten there could not be a more perfect place than Soildier Field. With the Big Ten having such a strong fan base here, every school having at least one bar, the Big Ten offices being here, and as a die hard Penn State fan that rarely gets to see many of their games in person, I think Soldier Field for a night game with snow blowing in off the lake would be perfect. They could even have a Big Ten fan expo at the McCormick Center, something fun and interactive.

Adam Rittenberg: Soldier Field certainly would be an easy commute for the Big Ten blogger, which should be the league's No. 1 priority in determining the championship game site. Seriously, though, the Big Ten would have to weigh the pros of an outdoor game in early December -- most likely at night -- with some of the potential problems it could cause. Remember that the Big Ten doesn't play night games after Nov. 1, so scheduling this game outdoors would be a bit of a departure from its policy. There are a ton of Big Ten fans who would brave the elements and love having the championship game at Soldier Field, but I think the league would be more interested in Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis or potentially Ford Field in Detroit. Fewer headaches there. Soldier Field also would need to commit to a better field surface. It's not quite at the Citrus Bowl level, but anyone who watches the Bears play knows the field needs a significant upgrade.

Jay from Buckhannon, W. Va., writes: With the controversy at the end of the year with Michigan State, and the position swapping that went on with the Alamo Bowl, what will change for the Michigan State roster? Do you think that with the number of QBs and the age of them (2 juniors and 2 soph. plus new recruits) that because of his height and build that Keith Nichol will be moved from back up QB to a role as a WR?

Adam Rittenberg: Jay, this is an excellent question because many of the players involved in the Rather Hall assault play wide receiver. So far, four wide receivers face charges and another remains suspended. Michigan State also loses All-Big Ten wideout Blair White. If the team dismisses or loses several more wideouts, a switch for Nichol might be in order. He's clearly an excellent athlete, and wide receiver could become a bigger need than quarterback in 2010. Cousins is back under center, and Andrew Maxwell will be taking on a bigger role. Plus, Michigan State will sign Joe Boisture next week.
They're baaaaack.

The top 30 player rankings last summer were a huge hit on the blog, and many of you wanted me to re-rank following the 2009 season. As expected, several new players have joined the top 30, while several have left and others have moved up or down.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • Just because a player moves down or out of the rankings doesn't mean he had a poor season. In most cases, other players simply stood out more.
  • Like the preseason rankings, I'm using past performance at the college level (including the 2009 season) as well as future potential in the NFL as the two primary factors for evaluating players. Past performance counts for 60 percent, while future potential counts for 40 percent.
  • Thirty spots really aren't that many, and there are a ton of outstanding players who didn't make the rankings. By no means is this a knock on guys like Brad Phillips, Keith Smith, DeVier Posey, John Moffitt, Tony Moeaki, Ross Homan, Zoltan Mesko, Tandon Doss and Brett Swenson. Several of them certainly will appear in the 2010 preseason top 30 (coming in May or June).

The postseason top 30 rankings begin with ...

No. 30

Blair White, WR, Michigan State, Sr., 6-2, 205

Preseason rank: Unranked

Why he's here: Since the middle of the 2008 season, White has been arguably the most productive receiver in the Big Ten. He followed up a strong finish to his junior season by tying for the the Big Ten lead in touchdown receptions (nine) and ranking second in receiving yards (990). There are flashier wideouts in college football, but few are as reliable as White has been for Michigan State.

Despite starting just 18 games and only earning a scholarship before the 2008 season, White finished his career ranked among Michigan State's all-time leaders for receptions (116), touchdowns (10) and receiving yards (1,674). His academic credentials are well documented, and while he's got a promising future as a dentist, don't be surprised if he plays in the NFL. White recorded game highs in both receptions (seven) and receiving yards (93) at the East-West Shrine Game last week, boosting his draft stock. The first-team All-Big Ten selection could be a steal in April.
It seemed only fitting that Saturday's East-West Shrine Game was decided on a touchdown connection between two Big Ten players.

The Big Ten contingent represented extremely well in Orlando, particularly in crunch time.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka capped an impressive two-minute drill by finding Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard touchdown with six seconds left in the game. The score lifted the East team to a 13-10 victory.

Kafka and Quarless were two of several Big Ten NFL hopefuls who played big roles in the win. Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, a defensive end-turned linebacker, had an interception in the first half and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark led two scoring drives for the East team.

Quarless, Clark and Penn State punter Jeremy Boone won at Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium for the second time in three weeks. Thankfully for all of the players in the Shrine Game, the field conditions were a lot better this time around.

Kafka, who earned Offensive MVP honors, completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 150 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Clark was extremely efficient as a passer, completing 7 of 10 attempts for 75 yards.

Michigan State's Blair White recorded game highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (93), while Quarless had three receptions for 20-yards, including an exceptional one-handed grab on the final drive. Boone averaged 46 yards on five punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line.

ESPN's Scouts Inc. singled out Kafka and Indiana offensive lineman Rodger Saffold for their strong performances in the game.

Needless to say, several players improved their draft stock on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see if the Big Ten can keep its postseason momentum going this week at the Senior Bowl.
The East-West Shrine Game is nearly here (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET), and final preparations are under way in Orlando. ESPN's Scouts Inc. has been watching all of the practices as 11 Big Ten players get ready for the game.

[+] EnlargeO'Brien Schofield
David Stluka/Icon SMIO'Brien Schofield will transition from playing defensive end in college to linebacker in the NFL.
The Scouts Inc. folks have watched Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield all week as the All-Big Ten standout transitions from playing defensive end in college to linebacker in the NFL. Schofield's speed made him particularly tough to handle this fall in the Big Ten, but at just 248 pounds, he's a better fit for outside linebacker in a 3-4 system at the pro level. Schofield ranked second in the Big Ten in both sacks (12) and tackles for loss (24.5) this season.

Todd McShay writes of Schofield: "He's reacting and just playing now instead of needing that split second to think about what he's supposed to be doing. He has good, quick feet. Maybe the quickest feet on anyone here and that will help him. Give him lots of credit for hanging in there in what had to be a frustrating week at times and for getting better and better as the week went on."

Here are some other Big Ten-related comments from Thursday's practice session:

  • "Penn State QB Daryll Clark has struggled with his accuracy during drills. He's not doing a good job of throwing with rhythm when hitting his back foot."
  • "Michigan State WR Blair White made a nice catch snagging the ball at the highest point on a fade route. It was just in a drill with no DBs, but for a guy who has been trapping the ball way too much here, it was worth noting how he used his hands here."
  • "Purdue DT Mike Neal is showing very good first step quickness during bag drills. He's been lining up next to LSU DE Rahim Alem and beat Alem off the line three straight times. That's saying a little something since Alem is a DE while Neal is a DT. Neal is having a very strong week."
As AI famously said, "We talkin' about practice."

East-West Shrine Game practice, that is.

If you haven't done so already, check out Scouts Inc.'s coverage of the Shrine Game preparations this week in Florida. Todd McShay and the other experts are weighing in about all of the players in Orlando, including Big Ten NFL hopefuls on the East squad.

Scouts Inc. has been blogging on Day 2 of practice, and McShay recapped Day 1.

Here are some comments about the Big Ten contingent:

Penn State QB Daryll Clark: "Clark appears to be much more comfortable in the early part of this practice. He is throwing with better confidence and accuracy. He did overthrew 6-10 Army TE Ali Villanueva once, but so far he has looked much more confident and comfortable today."

Northwestern QB Mike Kafka: "Kafka, on the other hand, was by far the most accurate East quarterback on Monday and he put great touch on his passes. The concern with him is his drops. Kafka is trying to transition from playing in a shotgun-heavy attack to a pro-style system and his footwork appeared awkward at times." ..."He's looking poised in the pocket and he's moving around well. One concern of ours that showed up again today is his arm strength. The ball does not explode off his hand and there's not enough velocity on his downfield passes.

Wisconsin LB/DE O'Brien Schofield: "Quickness and straight-line speed do not appear to be an issue." ... "On the other hand, Schofield stumbled once when asked to change directions during bag work and looked stiff in space during the team period. In fact, the East coaching staff lined him up on the inside at times. Additionally, he's clearly a raw linebacker." ... "He's switching from DE to LB this week -- and it's a traditional LB, not just a pass rusher -- so we give him credit because he's flying around, mixing it up and showing he's very coachable. Players come here to showcase their skills, but he's learning on the job and it must be a very frustrating experience."

Purdue DT Mike Neal: "Neal is a bit undersized by most teams' standards, but he will fit well as a three-technique in a Tampa 2 type scheme (Colts, Bears, etc.)."

Michigan State WR Blair White: "One of the most underrated receivers in attendance is Michigan State WR Blair White. While he isn't the fastest receiver on the field, he makes up for it with sudden route running."

Penn State TE Andrew Quarless: "Penn State's Andrew Quarless might be the most physically gifted tight end here -- and that's including BYU's Dennis Pitta -- but he looks annoyed that he's having to practice. He's not dogging it or anything, but there's no extra effort, the attention to detail kind of wanes and you see it in his play and technique. Something's missing with him."

Ohio State OL Jim Cordle: "OL Jim Cordle was very slow off the ball, heavy footed and lacked the initial quickness off the ball needed to make the block. Against Virginia's Nate Collins, he didn't get out of his stance quick enough, had his head down and Collins exploded out, used his hands and beat Cordle to the side."

Ohio State DT Doug Worthington: "Worthington lacked explosion and pop off the ball. He's kind of a one-speed guy and not changing it up. He's high out of his stance as well. We'll look for more from him during the team period."

Indiana LT Rodger Saffold: "Watching 1-on-1 pass rush drills and Indiana OL Rodger Saffold stole the show. He showed great feet and stoned LSU's Rahim Alem twice, the second time putting him on the ground." ... "On a later turn, Saffold kept in front of Ole Miss' Greg Hardy off the edge."