Big Ten: Brandon Beachum
"He said, 'It's your time now. You've got to move forward and prepare yourself for the big games coming up this year,'" Belton recalled.
Belton has done just that.
Football is a game of opportunity, whether it comes by virtue of injury, academic missteps or, in Penn State's case, historic NCAA sanctions that prompted a wave of transfers. Redd, a second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2011, was among those to depart Happy Valley, leaving Penn State with a sizable void in the backfield.
Belton is working to fill it for the 2012 season. Despite little experience as a primary running back, Belton locked up the starting job in preseason camp.
"He's definitely cemented himself as a starter at this point," coach Bill O'Brien said last week. "Other guys will play, but Billy will start the game. ... Billy's a good football player."
Regardless of his inexperience as a primary running back -- Belton played quarterback for Winslow Township High School in Atco, N.J. -- he impressed O'Brien this spring and continued to do so after Redd's departure July 31.
"Sy was big here," Belton said of Redd, who rushed for 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns last fall. "Silas is a great friend of mine and I wish him the best of luck. But I'm definitely ready for the opportunity moving forward."
Belton prepared himself in the weight room this summer with new strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald. Running backs coach Charles London told Belton about the physical toll pass protection takes on running backs. Like Redd, who transformed his body between the 2010 and 2011 seasons to take the pounding, Belton "leaned up" and added muscle mass.
Although he actually was a bit heavier in 2011 and hopes to play around 203 pounds this season, Belton is confident in his progress.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life right now," he said.
Penn State will lean on Belton for carries behind a potentially improved offensive line, but the sophomore's versatility could be his biggest asset for the offense. The receiver position returns almost no experience, and while Belton recorded only one reception in 2011, he can help the passing game.
"That adds a dimension to the game," Belton said. "You've got to account for the backs, too."
O'Brien said Belton recorded an 80-yard touchdown run in a scrimmage early in camp and has improved his pass protection. Asked how many carries he can handle, Belton said as many as the coaches give him.
"You strive to be the best," he said. "That's basically what I’m trying to do this year. I'm definitely looking forward to September 1st "
Beachum, the Nittany Lions' fourth-leading rusher with 134 yards on 34 carries, sustained the injury late in Saturday's 45-7 loss to Wisconsin. Penn State's team doctor, Wayne Sebastianelli, expects Beachum's rehab to take four to six months.
Although Beachum has junior eligibility, he doesn't plan to return in 2012. He participated in Penn State's Senior Day ceremonies on Nov. 12 and is scheduled to graduate in December with a degree in advertising/public relations. Beachum missed all of the 2010 season after tearing the ACL in his right knee late in the 2009 campaign.
Beachum finishes his career with 361 rush yards and two touchdowns on 86 attempts.
Beachum gave Penn State another backfield option, particularly with his size and strength, but the Lions should be fine at running back for their bowl game. Top back Silas Redd will have additional time to rest his body after a taxing yet productive October, while Stephfon Green emerged late in the season as a contributor.
Some notes and observations:
- Penn State's offense looks good early in this one. Coordinator Galen Hall is mixing personnel well and giving several ball-carriers chances. Top running back Silas Redd (collarbone) is a bit banged up, so Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum are getting work. Green looks good for the second straight week and scored on a 39-yard run out of the Wildcat formation. Penn State mounted scoring drives of 80 and 54 yards and finished with 76 rush yards on 10 carries in the quarter.
- Lions quarterback Matthew McGloin made some good early throws but finished the quarter completing just 4 of 9 attempts. He didn't get much help from his receivers, who had several drops.
- Ohio State needs to mix it up more on offense and get its playmaking quarterback, Braxton Miller, in better positions to make plays. Miller's biggest play, a 39-yard completion to DeVier Posey, came while freelancing under pressure. The Buckeyes should consider moving the pocket with Miller in passing situations and letting him create.
- Slow starts have been a problem for Ohio State in recent weeks, and the trend has continued today. Penn State started fast here in last year's contest, surging out to a 14-3 halftime lead before allowing 35 unanswered points. Let's see if the Lions can make their fast start hold up this time around.
They couldn't stop raving about the moves.
Silas Redd gave Penn State fans their money's worth in 2010, despite a limited role in the offense. He had only 77 carries, but he made them count, averaging 5.7 yards per rush. Although the freshman dynamo had no run longer than 30 yards, he left Nittany Nation salivating with his lateral speed, his creativity and his ability to make opposing defenders look bad.
Redd was an entertaining back in 2010. These days, some might say he's more of a boring back to watch.
He's also undeniably a much better back.
The sophomore just completed one of the best individual months in recent Penn State history. Redd recorded five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in October -- he had 129 yards or more in each game -- and racked up more rush yards in the month (703) than any other FBS player. He averaged 140.6 yards a game and 5.3 yards a carry.
Showy Silas has become Steady Silas. He's the first Penn State player to record five consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Curtis Enis in 1997.
"My running style has kind of changed from last year," Redd recently told ESPN.com "I'm more of a straight-line runner, one-move-and-go type guy. Not too much dancing. Just try and hit that hole and do what I can."
Redd is doing it all for a Penn State offense that has been inconsistent, to put it nicely, in the passing attack, ranking 88th nationally in passing yards and 106th in passing efficiency. If ever Penn State needed a workhorse in the backfield, this would be the season, and Redd has delivered.
"He's fast, he's quick, he runs hard," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, whose team faces Redd and the Lions on Saturday in State College. "He's a really good football player. He's their featured guy. He has good vision. He can hurt you with his speed and his elusiveness outside, and he can run between the tackles.
"He's a pretty complete back.”
Few would have labeled Redd as a complete back when he arrived at Penn State as a freshman generously listed at 5-10 and 200 pounds. Lions coach Joe Paterno said last week that Redd struggled with some assignments as well as pass blocking, and had some fumbling issues.
Although the potential was there, Redd had a long way to go.
His offseason training regimen, some of which you can see here, helped him take the next step. He spent three days per week on strength training but focused more on body weight exercises and free weights, working out at a beach near his home in Connecticut rather than in a gym. He spent two days a week on speed and agility training. Redd stuck to a similar program as a high school star in Stamford, Conn.
He showed up for preseason practice at 209 pounds, ready for the grind.
"I never really had a problem with getting hit," Redd said. "I just wanted make sure my body was able to handle it. It has so far, and I've been icing and recovering and doing what I have to do to stay healthy."
Redd didn't set explicit individual goals other than to have a better year than he did in 2010. Penn State was losing its all-time career rushing leader, Evan Royster, and needed a top back to emerge. When top backup Stephfon Green didn't open preseason practice with the team, Redd and Brandon Beachum became the primary candidates to take over.
After averaging 15.5 carries during non-league play, Redd has seen his opportunities spike in Big Ten games. He has carried the ball 28 times or more in four of Penn State's five league contests.
"Obviously, he can run with the football," Paterno said last week. "He's come along well. He's still got a ways to go, but he's playing solid. He's made the most of the time when he’s had some opportunities."
Although Redd suffered a shoulder stinger Oct. 22 at Northwestern, he responded the next week and carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 137 yards and a touchdown in Penn State's 10-7 win against Illinois.
Toughness is part of his DNA. His father, Silas Sr., is an ex-Marine who now serves as a police officer.
"He was tough," Redd said of his father. "We've had a tough-love relationship for a long time. Looking back at it, I can say I appreciate it more now than I did then and understand why he treated me the way he did.
"He's proud of me. He knows my potential. He knows I haven't reached my potential yet."
That's the exciting part for Penn State fans, who could use a dazzling distraction right about now.
"Hopefully," Redd said, "I can still give the crowd some excitement."
Wide receiver Derek Moye will miss at least the next two games after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his left foot when he slipped on some stairs at his apartment. Nittany Lions officials say Moye could return for the Oct. 29 game against Illinois, but a broken foot is never a good injury for receivers. Who knows how quickly Moye will recover, or whether he'll be able to resume his full quickness and cutting ability.
Moye, a 6-foot-5 senior, is one of the best deep threats in the Big Ten. He's far and away the best receiver Penn State has, and he'll finish his career ranked among the best wideouts in school history. He has 28 catches for 485 yards and three touchdowns this season, numbers which would surely be better if the team's quarterbacks were playing more consistently well. Matt McGloin seemed to look for Moye and have a much better connection with him than Rob Bolden.
Only one other receiver on the Penn State roster has more than eight catches this year, and that's Justin Brown (19 for 225 yards). The junior will now be asked to take on a larger role in the offense as the No. 1 target in the passing game. Devon Smith and Bill Belton might have to increase their contributions as well.
For sure, it's a big setback for an offense that has averaged just 21.5 points per game and has scored a total of 29 points in its first two Big Ten games (albeit both were victories). Penn State must hope that the performance of its offensive line last Saturday against Iowa was a good sign of things to come and that it can rely heavily on its running game with Silas Redd. Tailback Brandon Beachum, out the past three games with a sprained foot, is also expected to return from injury this week, so that helps.
The Nittany Lions will remain favorites against Purdue, but the Northwestern game on Oct. 22 looks more challenging now. As poor as the Wildcats' defenses looks, their offense can put up points on most people behind Dan Persa. And if Moye isn't full go for the Illinois game, that could be a big problem, too.
Penn State is 5-1 this season based on its formula of outstanding defense combined with just enough offense. It may need to lean on that defensive side of the equation even more for at least the next two games.
The Daily Collegian reported that Beachum was in a walking boot after spraining his right ankle in Tuesday's practice. He did not break any bones.
Beachum, a junior, is second on the team in rushing with 81 yards on 21 carries. He converted a key fourth down at Temple on Saturday that led to the winning touchdown.
Without Beachum and with Stephfon Green still in Joe Paterno's dog house, expect Silas Redd to get the bulk of the carries this week.
Dan N. from San Marcos, Calif., writes: I liked your post on the Buckeye QB situation. I'd like to take this opportunity, however, to disagree with one item you mention. I am a Buckeye fan, and I have complete tolerance for grooming Braxton Miller and accepting the potential losses, rather than seeing Joe Bauserman out there. As a high school coach once said to me, "Don't lose with seniors." In other words, if you are going to lose anyway, at least make it a gain by getting experience for guys who will play next year. As I see it, Bauserman is pretty much a loss everytime he takes the field.
Brian Bennett: Dan, I completely understand your point. And if you'll recall, I'm the guy who wrote, way back on June 8, that Ohio State should be bold and start Miller from the get-go. (Adam disagreed with me). I think now for sure, it's time to see what the kid can do. However, Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes are in a tough spot here. Miller is going to make mistakes -- he turned the ball over twice at Miami in limited time -- and those could cost Ohio State wins. Remember, Fickell is on a one-year contract, so he's not exactly in a position to practice patience and accumulate losses. That could result in him and the entire staff getting canned. Also, the Buckeyes may have looked bad against Miami, but Big Ten play hasn't started. Who's to say they can't turn it around and win the Leaders Division or make it to a BCS game? You can't just throw in the towel at this point. Miller will start this week, and the best thing that could happen is for him to play really well. But I think they're still going to need Bauserman in case the youngster struggles or gets hurt.
James from Geneva, Ohio, writes: With the dissapointing loss to Miami and the lack of motivation that Fickell showed at the end of the game, is it pretty much set in stone that he won't be back next year? And why are people getting on the Bucks so much this year, even the fans, we have a HC who dosnt know what he is doing, 22 FR. along with 17 Sophomores playing, this team is really young. Do you think the Bucks will be back to dominate next year?
Brian Bennett: It's way too early to make any judgments on Fickell. Yes, that was not a great performance in Miami by any stretch, and his time management was curious (though I still don't think it made any difference, since Ohio State couldn't move the ball anyway). You said it yourself, James: Fickell is dealing with some difficult circumstances, including the suspensions and a couple of key injuries early. I don't think you can judge him until after the season is complete and after we see how Ohio State plays with all its players available. As for next year, there are just too many unknown variables to make any predictions. But barring any unforeseen NCAA penalties, this program is never going to be too far from the top.
Masada Roy from Omaha writes: After looking at these first 3 games, how do you expect the Big Ten to get any respect for a national title shot? With Neb/Wis the only two teams left undefeated in the top 10, there will only be one team left after their Oct 1. showdown. If one of these teams goes all the way unbeaten, how will they stack against an unbeaten Big 12 school and an unbeaten SEC school in a three-way race for two spots to play for it all?
Brian Bennett: The Big Ten's early struggles won't help the league's perception. In your scenario -- and I'm assuming that unbeaten Big 12 team is Oklahoma -- I feel confident that the Big Ten would be left out of the BCS title game. The SEC is all but guaranteed to get in with an unbeaten team, and Oklahoma is already No. 1. The Big Ten would certainly howl about it, but that's how it is. I continue to think it's going to be difficult for any Big Ten team to go undefeated in such a balanced league, though Wisconsin is making a stronger case by the day. Well, not everyone agrees with that ...
Mac from Omaha writes: You are so high on Wisconsin -- just wondering if they snuck an AQ win against a team who didn't lose to an FCS school in there somewhere that nobody noticed? Oh, they didn't? They don't next week either? I guess their first real test will be Nebraska, where we'll see if they are good or a mirage like so many other teams who play nobody.
Brian Bennett: You're correct in criticizing the Badgers' schedule, Mac. Wisconsin hasn't had to break too much of a sweat, and the Nebraska game will bring a huge step up in competition level. The reason I still like this team, however, is the way in which they've beaten their first three opponents. The offense is mind-numbingly efficient, and the defense has steadily improved. There have been no hiccups or scares like other teams have experienced. I'd be more skeptical if we'd never seen this from the Badgers, but since they went to the Rose Bowl last year, we can trust that this team is actually really good. How good? Ask me next Saturday night.
David from Phoenix writes: All right, Brian, who in your mind starts off Big Ten play on a shakier base; OSU, Penn St, Mich St, or Iowa? All of these teams have taken a gut punch in their first weeks, and the argument could be made that they're all better than they have appeared. But with one loss for each team, where is the fire burning the hottest? Come B1G play, they will all be looking for strong performances. Which ones will deliver?
Brian Bennett: Excellent questions, and all four teams have at least one major issue. At Penn State, it's the offense. Michigan State has offensive line injuries and inexperience to deal with. Iowa has some problems in several areas that need to be fixed. Everybody knows the deal at Ohio State by now. I'd say the Buckeyes are the shakiest right now just because of all their issues combined with a first-year head coach and a tough schedule. They could really improve as the season goes along, however. I think Michigan State bounces back the best. I don't know how exactly the line will get solved, but there's a whole lot of talent elsewhere.
Josh from Portland, Ore., writes: Less expansion talk more football!!! I know its easy for us fans at home to "couch coach" but hear me out. Michigan has started the last two games trying to implement too much pro and not enough spread. The run game feeds off Denard, especially the spread option. I feel like they may have to work in the pro style a little later in the game like, WHEN THEY HAVE A LEAD. Change is good, and I love my team, but can you tell em to slow it down a bit???
Brian Bennett: Amen, Josh, and so far we've been expansion free in this mailbag. As for the Wolverines, I doubt Al Borges would listen to my suggestions. He's got a bit of a conundrum, though, because he wants to implement his system, but clearly Michigan is at its best when it lets Denard Robinson do his thing. When the Wolverines fell behind big against Notre Dame, they sure looked a lot like last year's team with Robinson going nuts. Borges has to balance now and the future. But given how poorly Michigan has started in games this season, that balance may have to be tipped a little, because falling behind in Big Ten play is not a recipe for success.
Isaac from Parts Unknown writes: Do you think Taylor Martinez has to have good passing numbers to be a Heisman contender? Obviously quarterbacks like Troy Smith, Cam Newton, and Tim Tebow were better passers than Martinez. However, Eric Crouch had unimpressive passing numbers, and solid numbers rushing the ball which was to be expected with how much he ran, about 15-20 times a game. His numbers weren't that amazing but he was able to win the Heisman by making several highlight real plays while leading a top 5 team. Do you think it's possible for Martinez to get into the Heisman race if Nebraska is a top 5 team with some highlight reel plays, and decent stats?
Brian Bennett: I think it's possible for Martinez to win the Heisman without huge passing numbers, as long as his running continues to be great (he's leading the Big Ten in rushing) and the Cornhuskers keep on winning. But I'd point out a couple things. One, Crouch completed 55.6 percent of his passes (granted, in only 189 attempts) during his Heisman season. Martinez is under 50 percent right now. Another thing is that passing numbers are so inflated right now, Martinez is going to have some tough competition among Heisman contenders like Andrew Luck, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden, etc. And I worry about Martinez's ability to stay healthy if he keeps running so much and takes hits. We saw what happened last year.
Brent from Silver Spring, Md., writes: Obviously all is not happy in Happy Valley. But how about this? I think the offensive game plan needs to be more conservative. Yeah, I can hear the naysayers right now, "JoePa needs to be more conservative?" But the game plan always has a run in each of the three downs and more often than not that run is for 2-ish yards on 2nd down after an incompletion on 1st down. It routinely sets up 3rd and long. If Army and Navy can be competitive running the ball almost every play, surely PSU with its talent could be competitive too. At least they would be setting up 3rd and short versus 3rd and long. What do you think?
Brian Bennett: While the running game behind Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum is clearly the strength of a rather punchless offense so far, I don't think Penn State can get by just with pounding it on the ground. And that's because I'm not sure the offensive line is good enough to dominate anybody. The Nittany Lions simply must make plays in the passing game to keep defenses honest. Right now, Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin are both way too inconsistent for that to happen.
Rob NitLion from Trenton, N.J., writes: Brian, more of a comment, than a question for your mailblog, but, can we PLEASE just stop with all of the B1G "what if" scenarios for who should be added in this whole conference realignment circus? Its very clear after reading responses from both you and Adam as well as hundreds of other media commentary that only ND can add any value to the conference (who wants the headache that Texas brings with its own network?) Is anyone else tired of seeing the same questions posed and answered on the mailblog about who should be considered? Unless you can give us a substantial reason (other than money) that would cause the B1G to expand, such as how realignment may possibly give every other surviving conference besides the B1G the all important exposure in the recruiting hotbed of Texas, I'm pleading with you to answer other questions (I'll even accept you not responding to this...since it's only a comment).
Brian Bennett: How ironic that my only expansion-related question in this mailbag was asking for an end to expansion-related questions. You got your wish, Rob. (Or did you?) Let's all get back to football on the field this week, please.
Best game: Iowa's 31-27 win against Pittsburgh. I'm a sucker for comebacks, and this was the largest comeback in Hawkeyes history. They trailed 24-3 late in the third quarter, and people were already writing this season's obituary. One frenzied fourth quarter (and a typical Pitt meltdown) later, and Iowa is suddenly feeling much better about itself.
Biggest play: Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti made a terrific, diving interception at the Temple 44-yard line with his team trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter. His takeaway set up the Nittany Lions' winning score. Speaking of which ...
Best call: Joe Paterno's decision to go for it at 4th and 1 from the Temple 3-yard line. Perhaps this was an easy call (even from the press box) because Penn State has been so bad on field goals this year. But if the plan didn't work, the Nittany Lions could have suffered a historic defeat that would have raised the criticism level of the coaching staff considerably. Instead, Brandon Beachum powered ahead two yards for the first down, leading to the winning touchdown on the next play.
Most questionable call: Mark Dantonio's decision to try a fake field goal at the Notre Dame 2-yard line late in the first half. After "Little Giants" last year, everyone in the stadium was on high alert for fakes, which raised the degree of difficulty of that play to ridiculous heights and led, predictably, to its demise. Michigan State probably wasn't going to win this game anyway. But if the Spartans kick the field goal there, they cut the lead to 21-13 while getting the ball to start the second half, putting a little more pressure on a desperate Irish team. Of course, if the fake had worked, everyone would be praising Dantonio as a riverboat gambler with magic up his sleeves. That's coaching for you.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg. For the second straight week, this honor goes to a guy who struggled for most of three quarters before leading a huge comeback. Vandenberg scored on a 1-yard run late in the third quarter to cut the Pitt lead to 24-10. Then he led three touchdown drives in the final 10 minutes, throwing for each score. He finished with a career-high 399 passing yards.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown. The Illini dialed up a heavy blitz scheme against Arizona State, and Brown helped lead the charge by moving all over the field. The sophomore had seven tackles, including 3.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. He caused an interception by hitting Sun Devils quarterback Brock Osweiler as he threw, and later Brown grabbed his own interception to stop a promising Arizona State drive.
Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Duane Bennett, Minnesota. Normally the Gophers starting running back, Bennett made his biggest contribution on special teams this week. He blocked a Miami of Ohio punt and returned it for a touchdown to give his team a 29-16 lead. That proved the difference in Minnesota's first win of the season.
Worst hangover: Plenty of people wake up feeling bad after a night in Miami, but maybe not quite like Ohio State felt Sunday morning. The Buckeyes were thoroughly exposed in their 24-6 shellacking against the Hurricanes, and their feeble offense looked like some sort of pre-World War II design. Any outside hopes of a national title are gone, and serious changes will be needed for this team to compete against the best in the Big Ten.
Strangest stat: Indiana committed 20 penalties for 176 yards on Saturday and still won (thank goodness for South Carolina State). Eleven of the 20 penalties were false starts, and on two occasions the Hoosiers committed false starts on back-to-back snaps. Remember, they were playing at home, not in a deafening road environment. Kevin Wilson wants his team to play fast, but head starts still aren't allowed.
Thus far, neither of us has had anything resembling perfection. Will it change this week?
Let's get to the picking ...
EASTERN MICHIGAN at MICHIGAN
Brian Bennett: Michigan's biggest problem will be adjusting to the weirdness of playing during the day. Other than that, former Wolverines defensive coordinator Ron English's team has no answer for Denard Robinson. ... Michigan 42, Eastern Michigan 10
Adam Rittenberg: I see the Wolverines starting off a bit slowly against the 2-0 Eagles, but Robinson and the running backs will get going in this one and coordinator Al Borges can stick to his system more. Don't see Brady Hoke running up the score on English and Mike Hart. ... Michigan 36, Eastern Michigan 14
PENN STATE at TEMPLE
Adam Rittenberg: Penn State's ongoing indecision at quarterback concerns me, especially against a Temple defense playing well. Like last year's game, this contest will be low scoring but Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum come up big in the second half with touchdowns. ... Penn State 23, Temple 16
Brian Bennett: I agree Temple will keep it close behind the running of Bernard Pierce at home. Penn State does just enough to win on a late TD pass to Derek Moye -- just don't ask me who throws it. ... Penn State 21, Temple 17
PITTSBURGH at IOWA
Brian Bennett: I covered Pitt closely the past three seasons and have no confidence in the Panthers to win a tough road game, especially the way quarterback Tino Sunseri has played. Iowa's defense rebounds after a rough day in Ames and grounds the High Octane. ... Iowa 28, Pitt 19
Adam Rittenberg: No love for the Big East? I hereby revoke your Primanti Bros. privileges. Pitt takes an early lead against a reeling Hawkeyes defense, but Iowa rallies in the second half behind running back Marcus Coker (last chance, Marcus). ... Iowa 27, Pitt 20
SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE at PURDUE
Adam Rittenberg: The heat is rising on coach Danny Hope, but Purdue should get through the fourth quarter without tension for the first time this year. Both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve play at quarterback, but Purdue's run game makes the big difference in this one. ... Purdue 34, SE Missouri State 17
Brian Bennett: Just what Purdue needs after two shaky performances: a highly beatable FCS team. No field goal blocks needed this time. ... Purdue 35, SE Missouri State 10
SOUTH CAROLINA STATE at INDIANA
Brian Bennett: And just what Indiana needs, too. Finally a big offensive performance for Kevin Wilson's club against an overmatched FCS squad. ... Indiana 41, SCSU 17
Adam Rittenberg: Wilson can be as reckless as he wants to with big decisions and still get his first win as IU's coach. Matt Perez and the Hoosiers' run game show some signs of life for the first time this season. ... Indiana 30, SCSU 17
NO. 15 MICHIGAN STATE at NOTRE DAME
Adam Rittenberg: Las Vegas isn't giving Michigan State any respect, and the Notre-Dame-is-actually-good-honest-to-God rhetoric is getting tiresome. The Spartans typically play well in South Bend and win another close one against a desperate Irish team that doesn't know how to close. ... Michigan State 27, Notre Dame 24
Brian Bennett: How can anyone pick Notre Dame at this point? I wouldn't pick the Irish in an intrasquad scrimmage. The Spartans get a big step up in competition, but Kirk Cousins leads them to the first of what they hope are many road wins. ... Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28
MIAMI (OHIO) at MINNESOTA
Brian Bennett: A tough game to predict, not knowing how the players will respond to the Jerry Kill situation. I'm thinking Kill returns to the sidelines and they play inspired to give their coach a dramatic first victory with the Gophers. ... Minnesota 21, Miami 20
Adam Rittenberg: I thought Minnesota would lose this game before the season, and then felt differently after the Gophers' gutsy performance at USC. But last week's clunker against New Mexico State soured me on Minnesota, and Miami has had two weeks to prepare. ... Miami 27, Minnesota 21
WASHINGTON at NO. 11 NEBRASKA
Adam Rittenberg: After a week of enduring Bo Pelini's wrath, the Blackshirts respond against young quarterback Keith Price as Nebraska pulls ahead in the fourth quarter. ... Nebraska 28, Washington 16
Brian Bennett: The defense simply has to get better, and I think it will slow down Washington's Chris Polk. Taylor Martinez atones for the bowl game as Huskers-Huskies III goes the home team's way. ... Nebraska 31, Washington 14
NORTHWESTERN at ARMY
Brian Bennett: If Dan Persa doesn't play, will either team pass the ball more than five times? Army's unique style will give the Wildcats fits, but they pull it out in the end. ... Northwestern 24, Army 20
Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern has to show more willingness to throw the ball with Kain Colter, as the Wildcats boast great weapons at receiver and tight end and Army struggles against the pass. Coordinator Mick McCall opens up the offense and the Wildcats' defensive line plays well enough for a win. ... Northwestern 27, Army 21
NO. 7 Wisconsin vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (at Chicago)
Adam Rittenberg: There will be no shutout this week as Northern Illinois' Chandler Harnish makes some plays against Wisconsin. While former Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Doeren will improve the Huskies' defense eventually, NIU's youth and inability to stop the run proves costly against Montee Ball and James White. ... Wisconsin 45, Northern Illinois 31
Brian Bennett: Doeren's knowledge of the personnel makes this one interesting, and Northern Illinois is better offensively than Oregon State. Russell Wilson is the difference as Doeren sells out against the run. ... Wisconsin 38, Northern Illinois 24
NO. 22 ARIZONA STATE at ILLINOIS
Brian Bennett: Illinois is out to prove itself, but Arizona State is a little more battle tested after beating Missouri last week. Brock Osweiler throws the game-winning pass in overtime of a wild shootout. ... Arizona State 51, Illinois 48
Adam Rittenberg: This is the type of game both of these programs tend to lose. But I'm buying into Illinois and think the Illini rise to the occasion and notch a statement win at home. Vontaze Burfict introduces himself to Nathan Scheelhaase a few times, but Scheelhaase scores a touchdown in the final minute for the game winner. ... Illinois 33, Arizona State 31
NO. 17 OHIO STATE at MIAMI
Adam Rittenberg: This will be a slog for the Buckeyes, who remain shorthanded at key positions. Both Ohio State quarterbacks play and Jordan Hall helps in his return, but the main reason I'm picking the Buckeyes is because I simply don't trust Jacory Harris to limit mistakes. Ohio State 20, Miami 17
Brian Bennett: I'd rather purchase snake oil in bulk from a traveling salesman than pin my hopes on Harris. And yet ... I just don't think Ohio State can make enough explosive plays on offense after that Toledo showing. The Fightin' Shapiros pull the upset. ... Miami 21, Ohio State 16
Bennett: 19-5 (.792)
Rittenberg: 17-7 (.708)
Great atmosphere around the stadium today -- although I couldn't find the Paternoville tents -- as tailgates are in full swing. The students already are filing in, and this should be an extremely loud building today.
It's sunny and warm right now, but things could change as the afternoon moves along. Colleague Mark Schlabach and I drove through several types of weather this morning from Pittsburgh -- showers, fog, patches of sun. Alabama prepared for rain this week in practice, but I think the wet weather gives Penn State a slight edge.
We've got two very good defenses and four mostly unproven quarterbacks (Alabama's AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, and Penn State's Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin). We've got two very good groups of linebackers and two sets of dynamic running backs. Alabama has an edge with both groups heading into this game, but Penn State's Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum can make a statement today.
Many folks are predicting a double-digit Alabama win, and they could be right. But I think Penn State proves it has a better team than last year and feeds off the big home crowd. I predicted an Alabama win, but it'll be close.
Both teams will be leaning on their defenses, and the game could be decided by a touchdown from the defense or the special teams. Penn State coach Joe Paterno will be working from the press box for the second consecutive week.
Don't go anywhere as I'll have coverage of Alabama-Penn State throughout the day.
Left tackle Quinn Barham admitted some younger players were intimidated at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But Penn State vows Saturday's game against Alabama will be different because this year's Nittany Lions team is different.
"We're more comfortable, we're more confident and we actually know what we're getting into," Barham said.
Saturday's date with No. 3 Alabama will, if nothing else, be an excellent barometer for No. 23 Penn State. The Lions remain somewhat of a mystery right now -- a team talented enough to compete for a Big Ten title but potentially flawed enough to finish 7-6 again.
Joe Paterno didn't give his team much of a chance last year in Tuscaloosa, and Penn State fell 24-3 in a game where the score could have been worse. While Paterno is keenly aware of the challenge awaiting Saturday, he's more optimistic.
"This is a better team than we had last year," Paterno said. "Whether it's good enough, we'll see. But they've worked. And I think we've done a little bit better job coaching. I know we've asked more of them and they have responded."
Will the Lions' response translate into a signature win?
Here are three keys for Penn State to take down the Tide.
1) Don't waste scoring chances
Penn State likely won't have too many scoring opportunities Saturday, and the Lions must be more efficient than they were a year ago.
They reached Alabama's red zone on two of their first three possessions but committed turnovers both times. They moved the ball well on their first drive of the second half before quarterback Rob Bolden threw another interception in the Tide red zone.
Penn State had three sustained drives -- 10 plays, 56 yards; seven plays, 68 yards; and 11 plays, 44 yards -- and ended up with nada.
"When you're facing a team of Alabama's caliber, you can't afford to put drives together and turn it over, especially when you're down in their red zone and trying to put some points on the board," Lions receiver Derek Moye said.
Added Barham: "We shot ourselves in the foot."
2) Make Alabama's young QBs win the game
The intimidation factor works both ways, and as Bolden did last September in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's quarterback will be making his first career road start Saturday at a raucous Beaver Stadium.
"We've got the best fans in the county and the loudest for sure," Mauti said. "That Alabama offense is going to have a tough time hearing. I know on defense, I’m yelling at the guy next to me and I can't hear them. They’ve never been to Beaver Stadium before, and it'll be a challenge for them."
Whether it's AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims, Penn State must find ways to rattle the Tide signal-caller and put the burden on him to make big plays. Like Alabama, Penn State's strength is its defense, particularly a deep and talented group of linebackers and defensive backs.
Alabama will try to help its inexperienced quarterback by sparking star tailback Trent Richardson, who ran for 144 yards and a touchdown against Penn State last year. If Richardson gets going Saturday, Penn State can pretty much forget about winning the game.
The Lions might need their defense to generate offense, and the presence of players like linebacker Gerald Hodges, who broke his leg on the opening kickoff last year against Bama, could loom large.
"He brings a different type of intensity to our defense," Mauti said. "He flies around, and it’s just an energy he brings. ... He's fast, he’s physical and he's a playmaker for us."
3) Get clutch plays from Bolden and McGloin
"The whole team's got to play solid," he said. "I wouldn't put it all on the quarterback."
But to win a game like this against an opponent like Alabama, teams typically need their quarterbacks to step up in big moments.
Bolden and McGloin will need protection from an offensive line that surrendered three sacks last week to FCS Indiana State, prompting former Penn State QB Daryll Clark to tweet: "Mannnnnnn... Qbs are getting hit way tooooo much this game #gottacleanitup." Barham graded the line's performance at a "B, B-minus."
The quarterbacks also need help from the run game, as Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum face an Alabama defense that finished 10th nationally against the rush in 2010 (110.2 ypg allowed).
But in a low-scoring, possibly low-possession game -- the type Penn State should hope for Saturday -- clutch quarterback play often makes the difference.
"They understand the offense, they understand what they have to do, what their role will be," Paterno said of Bolden and McGloin. "Just go in there and play our game. Don't do stupid things, protect the ball, try to keep it when we do get it, make a couple plays in the clutch, make a couple of third-down throws.
"Literally every tough game you're in, that's how you win 'em."
Paterno has been through more than a few, and another arrives Saturday afternoon.
Let's check the stock pages:
Michigan defense: This could best be described as a buy low opportunity. The Wolverines kept Western Michigan out of the end zone after the first quarter (granted, there was no fourth quarter last week in Ann Arbor), and two Michigan defenders -- linebacker Brandon Herron and defensive back Jordan Kovacs -- received national recognition for their play. I'd still advise you to hold on this stock, but at least it's trending upward from the past couple of years.
Joe Bauserman: The Ohio State quarterback proved he could be more than just a capable backup with a strong outing (three passing touchdowns, one rushing) against an admittedly weak Akron defense. Bauserman even flashed his wheels on a 15-yard touchdown scramble. Terrelle Who?
Illinois discipline: The Illini didn't commit a single penalty against Arkansas State, the first time in 18 years an Illinois team kept the yellow flags off the field an entire game. Only two other teams in the country, Eastern Michigan and Navy, went penalty-free in Week 1.
Max Shortell: The Minnesota quarterback couldn't complete the comeback charge against USC and threw an interception on the Gophers' final drive. But considering that Shortell is a true freshman who was pushed into action in the fourth quarter when MarQueis Gray went out with cramps, his performance (7-for-13 for 98 yards and touchdown) was pretty impressive. He's got poise and a bright future.
Iowa running backs: Marcus Coker couldn't build on his breakout bowl performance in the opener, rushing for only 41 yards and fumbling twice against Tennessee Tech. Worse, Mika'il McCall broke his right ankle and is out for the season after putting together some nice runs while Coker was benched. I expect much better things from Coker, but the Hawkeyes have had a lot of recent drama in their backfield.
Spartans special teams: The kicking game was a huge factor for Michigan State last year. But in the first week, Spartans special teams were less than special. Freshman punter Mike Sadler averaged just 38.3 yards per punt, normally reliable place-kicker Dan Conroy missed a 27-yarder and a muffed punt return led to Youngstown State's lone score. Too early to panic, but Michigan State will need to be better in those areas with its daunting road schedule.
Purdue discipline: Unlike Illinois, the Boilermakers drew all kinds of yellow hankies in their opener. Purdue was flagged 11 times for 95 yards in its nail-biting win over Middle Tennessee. Only two other teams, Oregon and Western Kentucky, were penalized more. The Boilers don't have enough margin for error to be making those kinds of mistakes.
Minnesota's pass defense: Robert Woods is probably going to make a lot of teams look bad. Yet the Gophers still allowed the USC star to catch a staggering 17 passes for 177 yards and three scores. Minnesota's defense improved in the second half, but it will have get much better overall to compete in the Big Ten.
Hoosier hysteria: An opening week loss to Ball State threw some cold water on the excitement surrounding new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers are an underdog this week at home against Virginia. But it's early; don't sell this stock just yet.
Every Tuesday or Wednesday during the season, we'll take a look back at our game predictions, see how we fared and critique ourselves. Let's get started.
Adam Rittenberg: 9-3
Brian Bennett: 10-2
Not an overly impressive start for either of us, given an opening slate filled with lopsided games. Both of us lacked faith in Northwestern without Dan Persa and paid the price. I picked the wrong upset special involving an Indiana school, and Ball State burned both of us big time.
Let's get to the picks and the games ...
UNLV at Wisconsin
- Bennett's pick: Wisconsin 42, UNLV 10
- Rittenberg's pick: Wisconsin 45, UNLV 14
- Actual score: Wisconsin 51, UNLV 17
- 20-20 hindsight: We both start strong, as Bennett goes out on a limb and correctly predicts a big night for Wisconsin's offensive line. QB Russell Wilson performed as advertised, as I thought he would, and Montee Ball doubled my predicted touchdowns total with four (3 rush, 1 receiving).
- Bennett's pick: Michigan State 38, Youngstown State 3
- Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 48, Youngstown State 10
- Actual score: Michigan State 28, Youngstown State 6
- 20-20 hindsight: Both of us overestimated Michigan State's offense in the opener, as the Spartans had a sluggish start. Quarterback Kirk Cousins had an efficient performance (18-of-22 passing, 222 yards, 1 TD), but wideout B.J. Cunningham had the biggest night (9 catches, 130 yards, 1 TD).
- Bennett's pick: Boston College 19, Northwestern 17
- Rittenberg's pick: Boston College 24, Northwestern 20
- Actual score: Northwestern 24, Boston College 17
- 20-20 hindsight: Both of us were close on the score predictions, but we didn't think Northwestern's offense could put up enough points without Persa. Backup quarterback Kain Colter showed good poise in his first career start, and he got plenty of help from the offensive line.
- Bennett's pick: Ohio State 37, Akron 9
- Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 35, Akron 6
- Actual score: Ohio State 42, Akron 0
- 20-20 hindsight: Not a bad assessment here, although we both foolishly thought Akron could score on the venerated Buckeyes defense. If one of us had correctly predicted three touchdown receptions for an Ohio State tight end (Jake Stoneburner), we'd be in Vegas right now.
- Bennett's pick: Penn State 45, Indiana State 13
- Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 38, Indiana State 7
- Actual score: Penn State 41, Indiana State 7
- 20-20 hindsight: Two pretty good score predictions, although it didn't take Nostradamus to see this coming. My prediction of a big day for running backs Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum panned out, especially for Redd (104 rush yards, 2 TDs), as Penn State racked up 245 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
- Bennett's pick: Iowa 31, Tennessee Tech 16
- Rittenberg's pick: Iowa 34, Tennessee Tech 3
- Actual score: Iowa 34, Tennessee Tech 7
- 20-20 hindsight: Bennett foolishly underestimated the Hawkeyes' new-look defense (he'll learn), while I foolishly thought running back Marcus Coker would open with a bang (he did, fumbling twice and getting benched). Still, I'm pleased with my score prediction.
- Bennett's pick: Purdue 21, Middle Tennessee 17
- Rittenberg's pick: Middle Tennessee 26, Purdue 24
- Actual score: Purdue 27, Middle Tennessee 24
- 20-20 hindsight: I nearly nailed the score but had the teams in the wrong order. Purdue proved me wrong by showing it could complete a late rally behind quarterback Caleb TerBush. Bennett correctly predicted a strong opener for Boilers running back Ralph Bolden (17 carries, 120 rush yards).
- Bennett's pick: USC 28, Minnesota 14
- Rittenberg's pick: USC 30, Minnesota 20
- Actual score: USC 19, Minnesota 17
- 20-20 hindsight: Count both of us among those surprised and impressed by Minnesota's performance at the L.A. Coliseum. The Gophers' defense struggled to stop Matt Barkley and Robert Woods, but it clamped down in the second half and limited points. Freshman quarterback Max Shortell showed good signs in relief of MarQueis Gray.
- Bennett's pick: Michigan 48, Western Michigan 20
- Rittenberg's pick: Michigan 37, Western Michigan 16
- Actual score: Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10
- 20-20 hindsight: Either of our score predictions could have been on the money had the teams played a full 60 minutes. Stupid weather. We both thought Denard Robinson would have a big day, and while he performed well, he had help from his running backs and a strong offensive line.
- Bennett's pick: Nebraska 49, Chattanooga 6
- Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 44, Chattanooga 7
- Actual score: Nebraska 40, Chattanooga 7
- 20-20 hindsight: Both of us predicted the Mocs wouldn't do much offensively, but we also expected a bit more from Nebraska's new-look offense. Rex Burkhead made me look good with 75 rush yards and a touchdown on only 11 carries, although quarterback Taylor Martinez had the bigger day on the ground.
- Bennett's pick: Illinois 38, Arkansas State 24
- Rittenberg's pick: Illinois 41, Arkansas State 28
- Actual score: Illinois 33, Arkansas State 15
- 20-20 hindsight: Although the score predictions weren't super close, we both correctly forecast a big day for the Illini offense and some possible concerns for Vic Koenning's defense. We didn't envision two Illinois receivers (A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines) both eclipsing 100 receiving yards in the game.
- Bennett's pick: Indiana 28, Ball State 20
- Rittenberg's pick: Indiana 23, Ball State 21
- Actual score: Ball State 27, Indiana 20
- 20-20 hindsight: Bennett nearly nailed the score but should have switched the teams. Neither of us predicted a pretty game at Lucas Oil Stadium, but we thought Indiana would find a way in Kevin Wilson's debut. Whoops.
It's too soon to get a read on the signal callers, although Bolden completed just 2 of 5 passes for nine yards before McGloin took over and connected on his first three pass attempts. Again, too soon to tell there.
What seems to be different about the offense is the run game. Penn State's ground attack took nearly half a season to get going in 2010, but the Lions already have 142 rush yards and two touchdowns as they lead Indiana State 21-0. Sophomore Silas Redd already has 57 rush yards and a touchdown on only six carries, while Brandon Beachum looks like a nice complementary piece.
Granted, it's Indiana State, and the Lions will have a much tougher time running the ball next week against No. 2 Alabama, but Redd and Beackum are showing promising signs.
Now that we have two bloggers covering the Big Ten, you'll get two sets of predictions right here each week. Which of us will get more picks right? The winner should receive a trophy at the end of the year, and we have a good idea for a design.
Enough chatter. Let's get to the prognosticating.
UNLV at No. 11 WISCONSIN
Brian Bennett: Teams aren't always their sharpest in the first game of the season, but Wisconsin's offensive line and running game produce too much blunt force for the Rebels ... Wisconsin 42, UNLV 10
Adam Rittenberg: Russell Wilson performs as advertised and should be wearing a baseball cap by the third quarter, while Montee Ball scores two touchdowns in a Badgers romp ... Wisconsin 45, UNLV 14
YOUNGSTOWN STATE at No. 17 MICHIGAN STATE
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State's new-look offensive line gets a confidence boost against undermanned Youngstown State, allowing Kirk Cousins to have a big night ... Michigan State 48, Youngstown State 10
Brian Bennett: Mark Dantonio will be coaching with a heavy heart, so soon after his father passed away. The Spartans play inspired and put this one away early for their coach. ... Michigan State 38, Youngstown State 3
NORTHWESTERN at BOSTON COLLEGE
Brian Bennett: I'm still not sold on a Boston College offense that was really bad last season. But I'm even less sold on Northwestern without a healthy Dan Persa. ... Boston College 19, Northwestern 17
Adam Rittenberg: I agree. Both teams likely will be shorthanded, but Northwestern makes one too many mistakes to get out of Chestnut Hill with a victory. Boston College 24, Northwestern 20
AKRON at No. 18 OHIO STATE
Adam Rittenberg: The Buckeyes come out fast and jump on Akron, as both Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller have their moments at quarterback. ... Ohio State 35, Akron 6
Brian Bennett: When there were as many questions about what Luke Fickell would wear as there were about Akron at the Ohio State head coach's news conference, you know this will be a blowout. ... Ohio State 37, Akron 9
INDIANA STATE at PENN STATE
Brian Bennett: We still don't know who will start at quarterback for the Lions, but JoePa could take some snaps under center and they would still win this game. ... Penn State 45, Indiana State 13
Adam Rittenberg: You know JoePa would stand his ground in the pocket. I don't know how much the Lions learn about their QBs in this one, but Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum run wild. ... Penn State 38, Indiana State 7
TENNESSEE TECH at IOWA
Adam Rittenberg: Iowa's offense takes a little time to click, but Marcus Coker has a big day and a revamped defensive line looks strong. ... Iowa 34, Tennessee Tech 3
Brian Bennett: We're agreeing so much, it's almost scary. Here's a slight changeup: Tennessee Tech actually hangs with the Hawkeyes enough to scare them until Iowa pulls away in the fourth quarter. ... Iowa 31, Tennessee Tech 16
MIDDLE TENNESSEE at PURDUE
Brian Bennett: Tempted for the upset pick here, as Middle Tennessee is a decent program and Purdue has a first-time starting QB. But I think the running game with Ralph Bolden is enough for the Boilers to escape. ... Purdue 21, Middle Tennessee 17
Adam Rittenberg: You're tempted, while I'm pulling the trigger. Purdue is still reeling a bit from Rob Henry's torn ACL, and the Boilers can't complete a late rally against the Blue Raiders. ... Middle Tennessee 26, Purdue 24
MINNESOTA at No. 25 USC
Adam Rittenberg: Your neighbor Pat Forde likes the Gophers in a huge upset. I'm not quite as bold, although MarQueis Gray helps Minnesota hang around for a while. ... USC 30, Minnesota 20
Brian Bennett: First-time QB, new coaching staff, on the road -- this might not be the golden age of Troy, but I can't see the Gophers getting it done. ... USC 28, Minnesota 14.
WESTERN MICHIGAN at MICHIGAN
Brian Bennett: Alex Carder will test the Michigan secondary, but the Broncos have no answer for Denard Robinson no matter what kind of offense he's running. ... Michigan 48, Western Michigan 20
Adam Rittenberg: I actually think "Shoelace" starts off a bit slowly before finding his groove, but Michigan's defense delivers a strong performance against Carder, much like it did against Western Michigan's Tim Hiller in 2009 ... Michigan 37, Western Michigan 16
CHATTANOOGA at No. 10 NEBRASKA
Adam Rittenberg: Chattanooga is a solid FCS team, but Nebraska wants to make a statement with its new offense and Rex Burkhead has a very big day. ... Nebraska 44, Chattanooga 7
Brian Bennett: The Cornhuskers have averaged 49 points per game in their last five openers. Things stay the same as they begin their Big Ten era. ... Nebraska 49, Chattanooga 6
ARKANSAS STATE at ILLINOIS
Brian Bennett: Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini offense pick up where they left off at the end of last season, though the Red Wolves expose some red flags with the defense. ... Illinois 38, Arkansas State 24
Adam Rittenberg: Your guy Paul Petrino loves this offense, and the unit should pile up points against Arkansas State; the defense will have a few hiccups. ... Illinois 41, Arkansas State 28
INDIANA vs. BALL STATE
Adam Rittenberg: I have a hunch the next Big Ten game at Lucas Oil Stadium will look a bit prettier than this one, but Indiana will take a W in Kevin Wilson's debut. ... Indiana 23, Ball State 21
Brian Bennett: Thought you were going to pick against both Indiana schools for a moment there. There will be some adjustments for the Hoosiers under Wilson, but Ball State's got a new head coach, too. ... Indiana 28, Ball State 20