Big Ten: Brandon Herron

Several Big Ten players who didn't hear their names called in New York during the weekend still received some good news about their football futures. As soon as the NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent scramble began.

Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.

ILLINOIS
IOWA
MICHIGAN
MICHIGAN STATE
MINNESOTA
NEBRASKA
NORTHWESTERN
OHIO STATE
PENN STATE
PURDUE
WISCONSIN

Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.

Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).
Michigan's season began in an odd way, with a weather-shortened game against Western Michigan that counted in the win column but not on the NCAA stat sheets.

The NCAA ruled Sept. 3 that because the Michigan-Western Michigan game was called before the end of the third quarter, the statistics from the contest wouldn't count. The Big Ten had counted the statistics from the 34-10 Michigan win all year.

As colleague Michael Rothstein reported Wednesday night, the NCAA has overturned its decision.
The NCAA statistics and records advisory board unanimously voted during a conference call in early November to change the rule, determining that if the win-loss record from a game counts, so should the statistics.

The NCAA also determined that because the Michigan-Western Michigan game was the only contest in any division that ended before the third quarter, the new policy will be retroactive to the beginning of the season.

Denard Robinson's official NCAA statistics page now displays numbers from all 12 games instead of just the final 11.

Among the top beneficiaries from the ruling are Wolverines linebacker Brandon Herron, who made team history by scoring two defensive touchdowns, and running back Fitz Toussaint, who had 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Michigan-Michigan State warm-up notes

October, 15, 2011
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EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I don't want to harp on the wind here, but gusts picked up for a few minutes during warm-ups, and Denard Robinson was having trouble connecting with his deep throws during that time. The pants and jackets of the assistant coaches on the field were doing some serious flapping.

We also got our first look at the new Michigan State pro combat uniforms in action. I like the helmets, but the jerseys and numbers are a little too dark for my tastes. But clearly the players are excited to wear some new digs.

Linebacker Brandon Herron is out again for Michigan, and safety Marvin Robinson didn't make the trip for a second straight week.
It will be weird for Michigan fans to see former star running back Mike Hart on the opposite sidelines wearing different colors this week. But Hart says he is prepared. Hart, who is now a quality control coach at Eastern Michigan, told the Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis that his heart now firmly resides in Ypsilanti.
"I'm committed to this team," Hart said. "This is who I am. I am Eastern Michigan. I coach at Eastern Michigan. I want Eastern Michigan to win every game. I don't cheer for Michigan ever anymore. I watch the game and I watch as a coach trying to see what they're going to do."

Hart said he doesn't care what the Wolverines do and is only trying to win a MAC championship at Eastern Michigan, which is 2-0 but has played a pair of FCS teams. He's not expecting to be overwhelmed by a flood of memories at Michigan Stadium.
"I think once you get in there, I'm so focused on the task at hand that I probably really won't notice," he said. "When I walk in it might be, 'Whoa, I'm on the other sideline,' but I've got a job to do."

Those are all the right things to say, and when you're a competitor your main goal is always to get your team a victory no matter who you're playing. But my guess is that Hart was watching Saturday night's game against Notre Dame as a little more than a dispassionate observer, and that he would love nothing more to get back to Ann Arbor as a coach some day.

In other Wolverines news, head coach Brady Hoke said Monday that running back Fitz Toussaint, who missed Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, should hopefully be ready for Eastern Michigan. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk is battered and bruised; he wore a hand cast Saturday after dealing with an ankle injury all week, and then he took a shot to the face in the game. But Hoke said Woolfolk would keep on playing. The health status of linebackers Cam Gordon and Brandon Herron will continue to be monitored this week. Junior Brandin Hawthorne is now listed as the starter at weakside linebacker.

Notes and stats on weekend B1G games

September, 9, 2011
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Here are some nuggets on this weekend's biggest games involving Big Ten teams, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

No. 2 Alabama at No. 23 Penn State

  • Without a clear cut front-runner for the Penn State quarterback position, can the Nittany Lions move the ball on the ground against Alabama? Penn State used a balanced rushing attack against Indiana State, totaling 245 yards. Silas Redd led the way with 104 yards and two touchdowns. But in its last two games (including last year’s bowl game), the Alabama defense has held opponents to minus-57 yards rushing on 51 carries.
  • In the eight meetings since 1984, points have been hard to come by for both teams. Only 1.6 points per game separate the two over that stretch (12.4 to 10.8). Both teams have scored 10 or less four times, both have been shut out once, but Bama has the edge, 5-3.
  • No matter who the starting quarterback is for Penn State, Joe Pa must find a way to improve his pass offense to have a chance on Saturday. Since the start of 2010, the Nittany Lions complete 43.0 percent of passes against the SEC, compared to 58.7 against other conferences. Against the SEC, Penn State has a 1-8 TD-INT ratio compared to 18-9 against others.
Oregon State at No. 8 Wisconsin
  • Wisconsin has won 29 straight regular-season games against nonconference opponents (last loss came to UNLV on Sept. 13, 2003). That is the second longest active streak in nation behind LSU (34 straight).
  • How bad was Oregon State’s overtime home loss last week to Big Sky school Sacramento State? Sacramento State had been 0-10 all-time against FBS opponents. The only other FBS school to lose to FCS program last week was Duke (lost to Richmond).
Fresno State at No. 10 Nebraska
  • Nebraska is 22-1 all-time and currently on a 21-game win streak against current members of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), with their only loss coming in 1955 against Hawaii 6-0.
  • Nebraska’s quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed and passed for over 100 yards in the Cornhuskers Week 1 victory over Chattanooga for the sixth time in his career. Martinez is now one shy of having the most such games among FBS players over the last two years (tied with Denard Robinson, Michigan).
Toledo at No. 15 Ohio State
  • Ohio State is unbeaten in its last 43 games against teams from Ohio (42-0-1) and has a current winning streak of 37 games. The Buckeyes haven't lost a football game to another team from the state of Ohio since dropping a 7-6 decision to Oberlin in 1921.
  • Ohio State has won 55 consecutive regular season non-conference games against unranked teams.
  • Ohio State is 26-1 all-time against current MAC teams. Its only loss came against Akron in 1894. Since then, they have won 23 consecutive games against MAC schools (not including vacated wins from recent years).
Florida Atlantic at No. 17 Michigan State

  • Spartans wide receiver B.J. Cunningham had a career-high nine catches in the season-opener against Youngstown State. He now has 148 career catches, which ties Matt Trannon for the most in school history.
  • Michigan State is 2-0 all-time against Florida Atlantic, winning 17-0 in 2008 in East Lansing and 30-17 last season at Ford Field in Detroit.
  • Florida Atlantic is just one of three FBS teams to play consecutive games against current ranked opponents to start the season. The others are Georgia and East Carolina. All three teams lost in Week 1. The Owls lost 41-3 to Florida.
Notre Dame at Michigan
  • This is the fourth time in the last five seasons that neither Michigan nor Notre Dame are ranked heading into their showdown against each other. Prior to that, when was the last time they played each other and neither was ranked? How about 1909, an era before national polls.
  • This is a matchup of two of the most storied programs in college football. Michigan leads the FBS with 885 all-time victories, while Notre Dame is third at 845. Texas is second with 851.
  • Brian Kelly and Brady Hoke face each other for the fourth time. However, their previous three matchups all came in the MAC. Kelly’s Central Michigan teams won all three games against Hoke’s Ball State teams (2004-06).
  • This will be the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium. However, Michigan has played Notre Dame under the lights three other times, losing all three meetings (1982, 1988, 1990) in South Bend.
  • Michigan goes for its third straight win over Notre Dame, and that hasn’t happened in a long time. Michigan won the first eight series meetings from 1887-1908, but hasn’t been able to win three straight against the Irish in the last 30 meetings. Since 1909, Michigan has played only two other opponents at least 10 times without posting a 3-game win streak, and those schools are only 45 miles from each other. Cornell (10 meetings) and Syracuse (11 meetings) are those schools.
Brady Hoke & Brian KellyGetty Images, US PresswireBrady Hoke and Michigan come into their game versus Brian Kelly and the Irish with the momentum.
Notre Dame and Michigan meet under the lights for the first night game in the history of Michigan Stadium on Saturday. It will be a terrific atmosphere, though the Irish's opening loss to South Florida took a little luster off the game itself. This is the first of three Notre Dame versus Big Ten matchups, so to preview this week's game and the other two contests, Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett and new Notre Dame blogger Matt Fortuna square off:

Brian Bennett: Matt, it was nice of Notre Dame to save us time by going ahead and failing to live up to expectations early this year. At least in the past two years, the Irish had a little head of steam going into Michigan week before falling to the Wolverines. Now that they're already 0-1, how desperate a Notre Dame team will we see in Ann Arbor?

Matt Fortuna: Brian Kelly and Tommy Rees have said they are approaching this like any other game, but I'm not buying it. A loss to the Maize and Blue would put the Irish at 0-2 going into a tough Week 3 matchup against an experienced Michigan State team, not to mention virtually kill any BCS dreams this team had left. With a new quarterback at the helm while senior Dayne Crist watches from the sideline, the stakes are certainly raised from Notre Dame's end.

I'm curious about Michigan, Brian. Momentum from two big wins against the Irish the past two years did not exactly carry over for the Wolverines in 2009 and 2010. Are things different with Brady Hoke at the helm?

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
AP Photo/Tony DingDenard Robinson passed for 98 yards and rushed for 46 more against Western Michigan in Week 1.
BB: Matt, Brady Hoke just proved he could coach his team to victory in (almost) three quarters of a game. Other than that, the jury is mostly still out. The Wolverines' defense looked better in the opener, but Notre Dame should offer more of a challenge than Western Michigan, provided of course the Irish don't turn the ball over in the red zone as much as they did against South Florida. I'm most curious to see how Denard Robinson fares in this game; he didn't do much and wasn't asked to do a whole lot in the opener, but of course he nearly single-handedly won the game in South Bend a year ago (as Tate Forcier did two years ago in Ann Arbor).

Notre Dame faced a mobile quarterback last week in South Florida's B.J. Daniels. Are the Irish more equipped to handle Robinson this time around?

MF: Brian, facing Daniels certainly couldn't have hurt, but he is a different kind of runner. Daniels will run you over, whereas Robinson is gone after the first sign of daylight. The Irish actually did a decent job on Robinson last year for much of the second half, though it obviously wasn't enough. The coaching staff has spent all week raving about Robinson and is aware that no matter how disciplined the defense is, Shoelace will still put up big numbers.

Switching to the other side of the ball, why should anyone believe Michigan's defense has turned the corner? Sure, the unit had a couple of big plays against Western Michigan, but it also let Alex Carder go 8-for-8 on the game's opening drive.

BB: It's way too early to say Michigan has turned a corner on defense, but there were some signs of improvement as the game went on last week. You've also got to like how the Wolverines came up with turnovers, thanks to linebacker Brandon Herron's two-touchdown day (giving him the same amount of scores as Michael Floyd in 2011).

The Irish should still have plenty of opportunities to make big plays, both in the running game and with Floyd down the field. But can Notre Dame stay out of its own way? I think they've got the right quarterback now in Tommy Rees, but the offense has yet to really click in a big way like I thought it would by now under Brian Kelly. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison certainly saved some schemes for the Domers that he didn't show in Week 1.

We also can't ignore the atmosphere in this one. First night game in the Big House, a record crowd of more than 110,000 expected. That's got to play in Michigan's favor. Notre Dame is used to big-time environments, but how do you think this factors in?

MF: Brian, every player and coach I've talked to this week insists it won't matter. Given the fact this is the first of a school-record five night games this season, they had better be right. The players have spent more time talking about their new uniforms for this game than they have about the prime-time atmosphere.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Tommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PRESSWIRETommy Rees threw for 296 yards and two TDs in the second half against the Bulls last week.
Though I was surprised by the early pulling of Dayne Crist, I do think Tommy Rees is the right guy, especially for a game like this. Every single person says the exact same thing about him -- he doesn't get fazed by anything. Growing up in a football family, the guy just knows how to step right in and play the same way in front of 100,000 fans as he does in practice. And his ability to bounce back from mistakes -- as he has shown time and time again -- will also be a big plus for the Irish.

The atmosphere can only play so much of a factor, as in the end the game is won between the stripes. Which makes me think next weekend's game against Michigan State will actually provide a stiffer test for the Irish. What do you feel about Sparty as they relate to their in-state brethren, Brian?

BB: Michigan State should be a more complete team than Michigan, assuming the Spartans clean up some of their sloppy mistakes from last week's opener. The Spartans have some issues on the offensive line they will need to address before facing what has become a pretty good front seven for Notre Dame, and they won't have faced nearly the competition level the Irish have faced in the first two weeks. That game has come down to the last play each of the past two years and is probably another toss-up. If Notre Dame is 0-2 coming into it, Irish Nation will be at DEFCON-1 level of panic.

Notre Dame also faces Purdue on Oct. 1. The Boilers have an inexperienced quarterback and barely escaped Middle Tennessee in Week 1, but they will have a bye week to game plan for the Irish, who must come to West Lafayette. If Caleb TerBush continues to mature, Purdue could be in position to pull that one off.

OK, Matt, it's prediction time. What happens this weekend, and what's Notre Dame's final record against the Big Ten in 2011?

MF: Call me crazy, but I saw enough good out of this team Saturday to make me believe it can still take off. I just can't see another five-turnover game riddled with dumb penalties, at least not in the immediate aftermath of Week 1. I expect Tommy Rees to deliver in the pocket and the defense to do just enough to keep Denard Robinson from running wild. I've got Notre Dame coming out on the winning end of another high-scoring affair between these two teams, and, at least right now, I think the Irish take two out of three against the Big Ten this season. How about you?

BB: Fine, Matt. You're crazy. Just kidding. I do believe Notre Dame is a better team than what it showed last week, but I also think Michigan wins this weekend. The Wolverines will be jacked up in that atmosphere, and I think Notre Dame's confidence has to be a little shaken right now. I also see the Irish rallying together and upsetting Michigan State, because they will be incredibly desperate to avoid an 0-3 start. They'll also take care of Purdue to finish 2-1 against the Big Ten, just not the same way you see it.

Big Ten stock report, Week 2

September, 7, 2011
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Every Wednesday during the season, we'll take a look at which players/teams/issues in the Big Ten are on the rise and which ones are on the decline. And after a couple more games are in the books, we'll give you a weekly report on where the various player-of-the-year races stand.

Let's check the stock pages:

Stock up

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
Rob Christy/US PresswireSilas Redd started off the season with a strong 104-yard performance on just 12 carries.
Penn State running backs: Silas Redd had a terrific opening-week performance against Indiana State, rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 attempts. Brandon Beachum averaged nearly six yards per carry on his seven attempts. Of course, running it against Indiana State is not quite the same as doing so against Alabama, so stay tuned.

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.

Stock down

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.
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

A week of games against mostly inferior competition doesn't provide the most accurate gauge of which teams go where, but it's a starting point. There are a few small moves in this week's rankings, which reward squads for how they looked and, in some cases, for who they played.

The middle five teams -- Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois -- still could be placed in pretty much any order, and it will take a bit of time to see separation there. But we do reward for quality wins, and Northwestern recorded one at Boston College under tough circumstances.

Let's get started.

1. Wisconsin (1-0): Quarterback transfer Russell Wilson and the Badgers made a strong opening statement on national TV. Wilson led the offense to scores on eight consecutive possessions before departing, and running back Montee Ball looked like a totally different player. The defense needs to tighten up when the competition gets better.

2. Nebraska (1-0): We're leaving Nebraska here for now, but we want to see a more polished performance from the offense this week against Fresno State. Not surprisingly, the offense had mixed results in its first game with the new system. The defensive line looked stellar as Cameron Meredith had a big opener.

3. Ohio State (1-0): The Buckeyes move up a spot after thoroughly dominating Akron on Saturday. Joe Bauserman stated his case to be the starting quarterback and tight end Jake Stoneburner hauled in three touchdown passes. The 42-0 score amazingly made the game seem closer than it actually was.

4. Michigan State (1-0): After a sloppy first half, Michigan State found a rhythm in the second half and pulled away from Youngstown State. Receiver B.J. Cunningham had a big night, but coach Mark Dantonio will look for greater efficiency and better discipline (eight penalties) from his squad this week against Florida Atlantic.

5. Penn State (1-0): The Lions didn't get much clarity at the quarterback position, but they didn't need it against Indiana State. Silas Redd led a potent rushing attack, and Penn State had a strong defensive effort and received a special teams boost from Chaz Powell on the opening kickoff return. Joe Paterno's squad has a great chance to make a national statement this week against Alabama.

6. Iowa (1-0): Kirk Ferentz saw some sloppiness in the opener, but Iowa had little trouble pulling away from Tennessee Tech. The Hawkeyes need running back Marcus Coker to rebound against Iowa State after two fumbles. Shaun Prater and James Morris had long interception returns to set up scores.

7. Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats move up after recording the Big Ten's most impressive victory of Week 1. They beat Boston College on the road without star quarterback Dan Persa. The offensive line stepped up to spark backup quarterback Kain Colter and the run game, and the defensive front stuffed Boston College's run game.

8. Michigan (1-0): We don't know how the final 17 minutes would have played out Saturday, but Michigan was rolling against Western Michigan before the lightning came (again). The defense covered up issues with three takeaways, including two touchdown returns by linebacker Brandon Herron. The offensive line looked strong as it adapts to a scheme based more around power.

9. Illinois (1-0): This isn't a knock on Illinois, which pulled away from Arkansas State after a slow start. If the Illini keep winning, they'll climb the power rankings. The passing attack looked strong with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and receivers A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines. Illinois' defense will need to tighten up before Arizona State arrives in Week 3.

10. Minnesota (0-1): Jerry Kill's squad didn't beat USC but gained a lot of respect for the way it fought against the 25th-ranked Trojans. Minnesota's defense struggled against the pass (304 yards) but limited points, and Gophers freshman quarterback Max Shortell showed impressive poise in relief of MarQueis Gray. Watch for Minnesota to make some noise this fall.

11. Purdue (1-0): It took a furious rally for the Boilers to beat Middle Tennessee, and Danny Hope's squad has plenty to work on in the coming weeks. The good news is the schedule favors Purdue, which faces Rice and Southeast Missouri State before an open week. Defense has to be the focus this week after Purdue surrendered 460 yards Saturday.

12. Indiana (0-1): Getting pushed around by Ball State at the line of scrimmage gets you a swift kick to the bottom of the power rankings. Indiana must get tougher up front on both sides of the ball, especially with Virginia visiting Bloomington this week. Quarterback Ed Wright-Baker did some good things, but IU must put together a more complete performance for new coach Kevin Wilson.

Big Ten Week 1 rewind

September, 5, 2011
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Week 1 is in the books. Now it's time for a book review.

Be kind, rewind:

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmNorthwestern running back Mike Trumpy, right, celebrates a TD against Boston College.
Team of the week: Northwestern. Missing star quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats still went on the road to Boston College and won 24-17. Most impressively, their offensive line pushed around what had been the nation's stingiest rush defense a year ago. If the offensive line can continue to play like that, and Persa can come back (Persa) strong, then Northwestern will be a factor in the Legends Division race.

Best game: Northwestern's win, again. The game was close throughout, and Boston College drove into the red zone in the waning seconds before a Vince Browne sack ended matters.

Biggest play: Purdue's Ricardo Allen blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Middle Tennessee's Alan Gendreau on the game's final play, preserving a 27-24 victory. It was sweet redemption for Allen, whose earlier fumble on a punt return set up a Blue Raiders touchdown. And had the Boilermakers lost this game, it could have set a bad tone for their season.

Best call: This one happened on Wednesday of last week, when Michigan State senior guard Joel Foreman approached coach Mark Dantonio and asked if Arthur Ray Jr. could start in his place. Ray is a cancer survivor who had never played in a college game before. Foreman made a selfless decision, stopping his personal 22-start streak. Ray was in tears before the game and played the Spartans' first offensive snap before coming out.

Best meaningless play: The game was wildly out of hand by this point, but Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer made a spectacular, twisting, one-handed catch during the fourth quarter of a 42-0 blowout of Akron. It ultimately meant very little, but Spencer now has his own YouTube moment.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. There was considerable hype accompanying Wilson's debut after his highly publicized transfer from NC State, and Wilson lived up to it. He accumulated 317 total yards, including 255 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of his 13 attempts. And his sizzling 46-yard touchdown run was something Badgers fans have rarely if ever seen out of the quarterback position.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan linebacker Brandon Herron. Things might be changing in Ann Arbor when a Wolverines defender is garnering all kinds of recognition. Herron deserves it after scoring two defensive touchdowns, one on a 94-yard interception return and the other on a 29-yard fumble recovery. Raise your hand if you predicted Herron would have two more scores than Denard Robinson in the opener.

Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Chaz Powell, Penn State. Clearly, you should never kick to Powell to start a season. The Nittany Lions senior returned the opening kickoff against Indiana State 95 yards for a touchdown. That matched his performance from last year, when he took the first kick of the year to the house against Youngstown State.

Worst hangover: Indiana. I remain convinced that Kevin Wilson will eventually do very good things in Bloomington, but Saturday was a very bad start. The Hoosiers lost to Ball State 27-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place in which they're highly unlikely to play in December any time soon. It's hard to use the first-year coach excuse, since Ball State also had a new guy on the sidelines. What's worse, IU got pushed around in the trenches. If that happens against a MAC foe, what will the Hoosiers do against Ohio State, Wisconsin and other Big Ten opponents?

Strangest moment: Mother Nature wins this award in Week 1. Storms and lightning gave us the odd sights of both Kinnick Stadium and the Big House being evacuated -- that's more than 180,000 people who had to be moved out of harm's way. Iowa hadn't experienced an in-game weather delay in the 82-year history of Kinnick Stadium. Things were even crazier in Ann Arbor, where Michigan and Western Michigan agreed to end their game with 1:27 left in the third quarter after a couple of lightning delays. It was the first weather-shortened game in Wolverines history, and who knows what would have happened had the game actually been close at the time.

Week 1 suggests that deciding to play the Big Ten title game indoors might have been the right call.
Time to recognize the best and the brightest from the first weekend of Big Ten action.
  • Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson: The Badgers' most anticipated addition in recent memory lived up to the hype in his debut. Wilson completed 10 of 13 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an electric 46-yard touchdown run late in the first half. To be fair, the NC State transfer had plenty of help from running Montee Ball and several other weapons.
  • Michigan LB Brandon Herron: Herron became the first defender in Michigan history to record two touchdown returns in the same game. His 94-yard interception return for a touchdown marked the longest in team history, and he added a 29-yard fumble return for a score. Herron became the first Michigan player to record two scoring returns in a game since Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon in 1940.
  • Northwestern's offensive line: The nation's second-most experienced line looked the part in a big win at Boston College. With quarterback Dan Persa sidelined, Northwestern needed a strong effort from the line to help Kain Colter in his first career start. Northwestern piled up 227 rush yards against a Boston College defense that led the nation against the run in 2010.
  • Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner: The junior did something no other tight end had ever done in Buckeyes' history: catch three touchdown passes in a game. Stoneburner had four catches for 50 yards overall and was quarterback Joe Bauserman's favorite target in a 42-0 crushing of Akron.
  • Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham: The senior moved into a tie with Matt Trannon atop the Spartan's all-time career receptions list with a huge night against Youngstown State. Cunningham had nine catches for a career-best 130 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown. The struggling Michigan State offense needed it during a 28-6 win.


ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- When Brady Hoke informed his Michigan players that they had won Saturday's game against Western Michigan, the locker room remained silent.

Football coaches usually don't tell their teams when they win. Scoreboards do. Players are trained to grind for 60 minutes, not 43.

But as lightning continued to strike around Michigan Stadium on Saturday, both teams agreed to end the game with 1:27 left in the third quarter. Final score: Michigan 34, Western Michigan 10.

"When coach Hoke told us we had won the game, everybody got quiet," quarterback Denard Robinson said. "It was like, 'Seriously?' Everybody wanted to play."

The weather-shortened win was an appropriate start for a Michigan team that remains very much a work in progress. There were certainly signs of progress Saturday: a potent rushing attack that wasn't simply The Denard Show; an opportunistic defense that forced three turnovers, returning two for touchdowns; a team that grabbed momentum after an initial lightning delay and racked up 14 points, a burst that made the decision to call the game a little easier.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said that during the discussions about how to proceed, someone "wearing a different color than maize and blue" suggested the game should be terminated and treated as if it never happened, with no victory awarded.

"We'd be here till 3 o'clock in the morning if we needed to before we were going to settle that up," Brandon said. "I'm proud of our team and I think we had the game under control. Our team deserved the victory. I give a lot of credit to Western because they came to that conclusion, just as we did."

Michigan looked completely in control when the second and final delay began, but the Wolverines had some shaky moments. Western Michigan marched downfield on the game's opening drive as quarterback Alex Carder carved up the Michigan secondary like so many others had the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Brandon Herron
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREBrandon Herron returns the first of his two defensive touchdowns against Western Michigan.
The Broncos outgained Michigan 199-146 in the first half and reached Wolverines' territory on five of their eight possessions. Michigan struggled with standout receiver Jordan White (12 receptions, 119 yards) and, much like it did last year, allowed too many third-down conversions (6-of-11).

"We're a long way from being any kind of defense that we want to represent Michigan with," Hoke said.

Asked moments later how he felt about the Wolverines defense, Hoke was blunt: "Not very good."

There were some very good moments for the Wolverines' defense. Linebacker Brandon Herron became the first defender in team history to record two touchdown returns in a game (and the first Michigan player to do so since Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon in 1940).

Herron's second score, a 28-yard fumble return, came after safety Jordan Kovacs leveled Carder on a perfectly timed blitz. Coordinator Greg Mattison turned up the heat after halftime, and Kovacs recorded two sacks.

"It's a completely different scheme," Kovacs said. "We've got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try to make a play."

The offense started off looking much like its 2010 form. Robinson took off on a designed run on the first play of scrimmage, and spread elements surfaced throughout a 76-yard scoring drive. But the new scheme, outfitted with power elements, began to take root.

The fact Robinson provided only 46 of Michigan's 190 rush yards is significant. Midway through the third quarter, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint raced through a truck-sized hole for 43 yards. On the next play, Michael Shaw found a seam and raced 44 yards to the end zone.

"On the long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy, and if you watch, you see [wide receiver] Junior Hemingway launching himself to try to get a block over the top," Hoke said. "That was exciting to me. That was good football to me."

Hoke has preached toughness from the moment he arrived here. Michigan didn't look very tough early, as Western Michigan held the edge at the line of scrimmage.

But things shifted as the game wore on. Michigan offset big Broncos gains by forcing turnovers. The Wolverines lost top cornerback Troy Woolfolk to an ankle injury -- Hoke said the senior could have returned -- but kept Western Michigan out of the end zone after the first quarter.

The offense scored in the third quarter because it dominated the line of scrimmage.

"There's a mind-set," Hoke said. "They understand how we're going to play. You could see it a little bit, in the third quarter, up front on both sides of the ball that it was going to be more physical.

"You could feel that."

The Wolverines are far from complete, much like Saturday's game. They're still terrible on special teams. They're still susceptible to big plays on defense.

But this was a starting point, a 43-minute starting point.

"It was kind of wild," Hoke said. "Wet and wild."

And after the initial shock of learning they had won, Michigan players reacted as they normally would.

"We do what we do after every victory," Kovacs said. "Sing 'The Victors.'"
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It will take time for Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison to get Michigan's defense fully on track.

There are a lot of things to fix after the past three seasons.

But Hoke and Mattison have to be thrilled with the defense's opportunistic play so far in the opener. A defense can cover up yards allowed with big plays, and Michigan has made two of them today.

The latest came courtesy of safety Jordan Kovacs, who absolutely leveled Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder on a blitz. Carder had no chance and coughed up the ball, which Brandon Herron scooped up and raced to the end zone for his second touchdown. Herron will never forget this game: He's the first defensive player in school history to score two touchdowns in one game.

Carder has really impressed me, and Michigan's defense still is vulnerable at spots. But this game comes down to who makes the biggest plays, and the Wolverines twice have cashed in for points. Michigan also is applying more pressure on Carder after giving the quarterback too much time in the first half. Kovacs has been impressive, adding another sack and a pass breakup.

The Wolverines have opened up a 27-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We've reached halftime here at the Big House. Let's take a quick look at the first 30 minutes of play.

Turning point: Western Michigan was poised to reclaim the lead and had second-and-goal at the Michigan 4-yard line when Wolverines linebacker Brandon Herron intercepted a deflected pass and raced 94 yards to the end zone. Herron's pick-six -- Michigan's longest in modern history -- gave the Wolverines their first lead at 13-7.

Stat of the half: Both quarterbacks have looked good so far, as Michigan's Denard Robinson has completed 8 of 9 passes to go along with 40 rush yards. Western Michigan's Alex Carder finished the half 17 of 24 passing for 135 yards with an interception off the deflected pass.

What Michigan needs to do: The Wolverines' touchdown drive late in the half is exactly what coordinator Al Borges is looking for. Michigan must continue to put together sustained drives and get running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw involved to help Denard Robinson. The defense remains very much a work in progress, and the line must start getting Carder to the ground. Michigan's special teams look very messy.

What Western Michigan needs to do: Keep attacking the Michigan secondary, especially with Troy Woolfolk out of the game. The Broncos can't keep missing tackles against Michigan's ball-carriers and must do a better job of finishing drives. They're moving the ball well, outgaining Michigan 199-145.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Can one play change a unit's fortunes? We'll soon find out.

Linebacker Brandon Herron boosted the Michigan defense with a 94-yard interception return off of a pass tipped by freshman linebacker Jake Ryan. It's the longest interception return for a touchdown in modern Michigan football history (post-World War II).

The Wolverines' defense looked very vulnerable until Herron's pick-six, as Western Michigan was moving the ball well for the third consecutive possession and had second-and-goal. Making matters worse, top Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk suffered a leg injury on kickoff coverage. Woolfolk, who missed all of the 2010 season with a dislocated ankle and a broken leg, left the field on his own power but had to be carted to the locker room. No word yet on the extent of his injury, but it didn't look good.

Michigan carried over the momentum, stuffing Western Michigan on the Broncos' ensuing possession.

Can the Wolverines keep it up? They lead 14-7 midway through the second quarter.
While several Big Ten quarterback competitions have spilled into game week, Michigan is still waiting to determine its starting running back.

Mike Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint are listed as co-starters on Michigan's Week 1 depth chart for Saturday's season opener against Western Michigan. Shaw emerged in preseason camp and appears to have the inside track to start against the Broncos, although coach Brady Hoke said Monday that Toussaint still could win the top job.

Shaw has been a fairly solid back at Michigan, averaging 5.04 yards a carry with 11 touchdowns in his career. Toussaint came to Michigan as a heralded recruit but redshirted in 2009 and missed much of last season with various injuries.

Vincent Smith is clearly Michigan's third-down back, but it will be interesting to see how the carries are dispensed between Shaw and Toussaint on Saturday.

A few other depth chart notes:
  • Will Heininger is listed as a starting defensive end opposite Craig Roh, even though walk-on sophomore Nathan Brink drew praise from the coaching staff throughout camp.
  • I'm a little surprised to see Brendan Gibbons handling field goals ahead of freshman Matt Wile. Gibbons made only 1 of 5 attempts last season as the kicking game really hurt the Wolverines. Wile came in with some strong prep accolades but will handle kickoffs, punts and possibly longer field-goal attempts for the time being.
  • J.T. Floyd and Courtney Avery are listed as co-starters at cornerback opposite Troy Woolfolk. Floyd likely will get the starting nod against Western Michigan.
  • Kelvin Grady will join top kickoff returner Jeremy Gallon, while four players are listed as potential starters at punt returner: Junior Hemingway, Drew Dileo, Gallon and Martavious Odoms.
  • Sophomores Mike Jones and Cam Gordon, along with junior Kenny Demens, are listed as the starting linebackers ahead of older players such as J.B. Fitzgerald and Brandon Herron.
  • Aside from Wile, the depth chart includes only two freshmen in backup roles: cornerback Blake Countess and strongside linebacker Jake Ryan. Freshmen running backs Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes aren't listed on the chart.

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