Big Ten: Brandon Minor

Spring superlatives: Michigan

March, 22, 2010
3/22/10
9:00
AM ET
The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest positions for each Big Ten team, marches on with Michigan.

Arguably no team in the Big Ten needs a strong spring more than the Wolverines, who must answer questions on defense after dropping their final seven Big Ten games last fall. It doesn't help that Michigan loses its top two defenders: Big Ten co-MVP Brandon Graham at defensive end and All-Big Ten selection Donovan Warren at cornerback. The Wolverines lose a few contributors on offense but still should be dangerous on that side this fall.

Strongest position: Offensive line

  • Key returnees: G Stephen Schilling, C David Molk, T Perry Dorrestein, T Mark Huyge, G Patrick Omaneh, G John Ferrara
  • Key losses: LT Mark Ortmann, G/C David Moosman
  • The skinny: The Wolverines look solid at all of the offensive skill positions, but head coach Rich Rodriguez is a bit concerned about his outside receivers, and Michigan loses its top two running backs (Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown) from 2009. The offensive line, meanwhile, returns three starters as well as promising redshirt freshmen (Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington, Michael Schofield). Molk could contend for All-Big Ten honors if he stays healthy, and Michigan should have much more depth this season. Rodriguez is pleased with the physical gains the linemen made during the offseason, and it should translate well to the field this fall.
Weakest position: Secondary

  • Key returnees: CB/S Troy Woolfolk (46 tackles, 1 pass breakup); S Jordan Kovacs (75 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 INT); S Mike Williams (56 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 pass breakup)
  • Key losses: Warren (66 tackles, 4 INTs, 7 pass breakups)
  • The skinny: Michigan loses more at other positions, and the kicking game is a major concern, but the combination of Warren's departure and so many major breakdowns puts the secondary in the spotlight going forward. Woolfolk looks like a good option at one cornerback spot, but the other will be up for grabs, as J.T. Turner, J.T. Floyd and heralded recruit Demar Dorsey all will compete. The competition at the safety spots should be intriguing, as Kovacs, a walk-on, tries to hold off Vladimir Elimien and others. Michigan has enough bodies in the secondary, but the coaches need to identify a combination that works.
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, J.J. Watt, Jerel Worthy, Anderson Russell, Ian Thomas, Riley Reiff, Mitchell Evans, Arby Fields, Joe Palcic, Randy Walker, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Navorro Bowman, Clay Nurse, Paul Jones, David Gilbert, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Louis Nzegwu, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Sean Lee, Stefen Wisniewski, Martez Wilson, Nate Stupar, Tim Brewster, Robert Marve, Darius Johnson, Evan Watkins, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Rich Rodriguez, Albert Evans, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Jeff Horton, Kyle Jefferson, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Jacob Charest, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Dan Herron, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Tyler Nielsen, Brandon Graham, Jeff Tarpinian, Juice Williams, Josh Hull, Daryll Clark, Mike Trumpy, Niles Brinkley, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Nick Toon, Devin Gardner, Shaun Prater, Nathan Scheelhaase, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Bani Gbadyu, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Jay Valai, Dan Persa, Kurt Coleman, Scott Concannon, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Julian Vandervelde, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O\'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Jordan Hall, Terrance Thomas, Paul Petrino, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, Charlton, Gary Emanuel, 2010 spring what to watch

Big Ten to send 41 to NFL combine

February, 2, 2010
2/02/10
1:30
PM ET
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine is out, and the Big Ten will send 41 former players to Indianapolis later this month. The combine takes place Feb. 24-March 2, and all 11 Big Ten schools will be represented. Iowa leads the way with seven invitees, followed Penn State with six invitees and four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State) each with four invitees.

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

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

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

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

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

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

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

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

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

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

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

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, LB O'Brien Schofield (injured)
The best case-worst case rewind series finally wraps up with ... Michigan.

In case you missed it: Michigan's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Rich Rodriguez continues his tradition of Year 2 turnarounds, as his freshmen quarterbacks blossom and the defense improves under new coordinator Greg Robinson. Senior Brandon Minor leads a talented group of running backs, and the receiving corps helps the young signal-callers with their transition. Michigan starts the season 5-0 and rides the defense to a strong finish. The Wolverines snap their losing streak against Ohio State to finish 10-2 before beating Mississippi in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The quarterback position falls apart again and a beleaguered defense regresses as Michigan once again misses a bowl game. None of the quarterbacks truly establishes himself as the starter, and opposing defenses load up to stop the run. Michigan's pass rush suffers as Brandon Graham constantly faces double- and triple-teams, while punter Zoltan Mesko is the team's only true star. The Wolverines lose the opener to Western Michigan and finish 4-8. Rodriguez is retained for a third year but enters 2010 on the hot seat.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Rodriguez's spread offense starts to take shape around the freshmen quarterbacks, who are suited to the system." ... "Michigan begins by doing something it last accomplished in 2006 -- win the season opener. The defense holds off Tim Hiller and Western Michigan." ... "Loaded with confidence, the Wolverines complete a 4-0 start." ... After a loss at Iowa, Michigan handles Delaware State easily." ... "More mistakes crop up on defense." ... "Michigan misses a bowl for the second straight year." ... "Golden Tate and Michael Floyd make Michigan's secondary look silly." ... "The Wolverines see their home win streak against Penn State end at five games." ... "Rodriguez's future seems very much in doubt."

Lies, lies, lies: "The defense rebounds under Greg Robinson." ... "Senior Brandon Minor headlines a strong stable of running backs and earns first-team All-Big Ten honors by rushing for 1,400 yards." ... "The team hits the road for the first time and regains in-state bragging rights by rallying to beat Michigan State in the fourth quarter. Michigan vaults into the top 20." ... "Fans finally embrace Rodriguez and his style, forgetting 2008 and all the player departures during the transition." ... "Despite more experience elsewhere on offense, the quarterback position dooms the Wolverines again." ... "The Wolverines get booed as they head to halftime down 28-7 and never get within 14 points of the Irish." ... "Michigan fails to get on the scoreboard against the talented Hawkeyes defense."

Reality check: Michigan finished one game ahead (5-7) of the worst-case scenario, but after a 4-0 start, the Wolverines looked like a lock to make a bowl game. Rodriguez's offense certainly made strides in Year 2, and quarterback Tate Forcier showed a lot of promise before struggling with injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch. The big problem was Robinson's defense, which regressed despite boasting the league's most dominant lineman in Graham. Michigan didn't beat an FBS team after Sept. 26 and wasted opportunities against both Illinois and Purdue. Rodriguez will enter the 2010 season with a new boss (David Brandon) and a mandate to make a bowl game, at the very least.
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine should be available soon, but Sporting News has compiled a preliminary roster, which includes 33 players from the Big Ten. This list DOES NOT include juniors who have declared for the draft and will be updated with underclassmen and other seniors.

The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

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

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

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

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

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

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

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield

Big Ten lunch links

December, 15, 2009
12/15/09
12:00
PM ET
You don't know any stories? OK, I'll tell you a story.

Michigan Wolverines season recap

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
3:00
PM ET
There weren't many dull moments this fall at Michigan, but embattled head coach Rich Rodriguez would have traded the drama for a few more wins.

Michigan found itself in the national spotlight before the opening kickoff, as allegations of NCAA time-limit violations surfaced in late August. The Wolverines weathered the storm to win their first four games, riding fearless freshman quarterback Tate Forcier and an offense that finally started to surge. But as Rodriguez would later lament, the warts with this team were always there, and they started to show up in October.

Michigan's delicate defense fell apart in Big Ten play, as a talent-starved unit ended frequent meltdowns. Despite the presence of standout defensive end Brandon Graham, Michigan surrendered 30 points or more in five consecutive Big Ten losses. The Wolverines ranked next to last in the Big Ten against the run (171.9 ypg) and generated just 16 takeaways.

Forcier struggled during league play and the offense was hurt by injuries to star center David Molk and bruising running back Brandon Minor. All Michigan had to show for itself after Oct. 1 was a win against Delaware State, a 4-6 FCS program. The Wolverines blew leads against Illinois and Purdue and dropped their sixth straight to archrival Ohio State to post consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1962-63.

Offensive MVP: Tate Forcier. Without the freshman quarterback, Michigan easily could have finished 3-9 again. He was a hero in wins against both Notre Dame and Indiana and consistently showed the ability to make something out of nothing. Forcier must learn to make smarter decisions and become a better pocket passer, but he'll have time to grow.

Defensive MVP: Brandon Graham. He was the most dominant defensive player in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country. Graham earned co-Big Ten MVP honors after leading the FBS in tackles for loss (26 total, 2.17 per game) and finishing tied for 15th in sacks (10.5). Michigan's poor overall defense hurt Graham in the awards races, but he certainly did his part.

Turning point: Two moments stand out. Michigan went to East Lansing at 4-0 and rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit to force overtime before Forcier's magic ran out. A win there might have changed things, at least a little. The other came Oct. 31 at Illinois, as Michigan led 13-7 and had a first-and-goal at the Illini 1-yard line early in the third quarter. The Wolverines couldn't reach the end zone and went on to get crushed 38-13. They never recovered.

What's next: The results of the NCAA's investigation into the program should be known at some point this month, and Michigan could face major violations. Rodriguez has to find some help on defense, especially with Graham gone and star cornerback Donovan Warren likely joining him. Michigan should be solid on offense next fall, but the defense must be upgraded.

It's game day at Michigan Stadium

November, 21, 2009
11/21/09
10:00
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- College football's greatest rivalry resumes today as No. 10 Ohio State and Michigan meet for the 106th time at Michigan Stadium.

What it means: Ohio State already has locked up the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, but the Buckeyes can win the league title outright for the third time in four seasons with a win today. The Buckeyes also can extend their win streak against Michigan to six games. Michigan needs a win to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season. There's a lot of heat on second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, so a win today would be huge. You shouldn't need to get excited for this game, but just in case, check this out.

Weather: The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s.

Injuries: Michigan's official injury report can be found here. The Wolverines will be without leading rusher Brandon Minor (shoulder) and most likely starting safety Mike Williams (ankle). Minor's absence could really sting against Ohio State's stout defense. The Buckeyes are as healthy as they've been in a while. Jim Cordle and J.B. Shugarts are expected to start at left tackle and right tackle.

THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE

1. Block Brandon Graham -- Sounds pretty straightforward, but few teams have been able to successfully keep the Michigan star defensive end out of the backfield. Ohio State must keep Graham away from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and find running room elsewhere. The Buckeyes' offensive line is coming off of its best game.

2. Throw downfield a few times -- This isn't exactly the Iowa secondary, which leads the Big Ten in interceptions. Michigan's back four have really struggled this season, and head coach Jim Tressel should let Pryor take some shots downfield with big-play wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio State shouldn't and won't get away from its bread-and-butter rushing attack. Michigan can't stop the run, either.

3. Keep Tate Forcier in the pocket -- The Michigan freshman quarterback creates big plays with his feet but can struggle when kept between the tackles. Ohio State's defensive ends and linebackers must keep contain on Foricer and make him complete passes within the pocket.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN

1. Force Pryor into mistakes -- Pryor has been very careful with the football since his four-turnover disaster against Purdue, but Michigan needs to force errors from the Buckeyes' sophomore. The Wolverines have to win the turnover battle and put pressure on Pryor with Graham and their other linemen.

2. Play 60 minutes -- Michigan's problems have come after halftime in recent weeks, as the Wolverines couldn't hold leads against Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Ohio State has outscored teams 83-31 in the third quarter this season, so Michigan can't stumble out of the locker room after the break.

3. Make Ohio State defense chase -- Forcier has freelanced his way into good situations this fall, and Michigan boasts a decent number of big-play threats. Without power back Brandon Minor, Michigan must force Ohio State to play in space and hope to gash the Buckeyes for big plays.
Michigan players have selected defensive end Brandon Graham, left tackle Mark Ortmann, linebacker Stevie Brown and punter Zoltan Mesko as captains for the 2009 season, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced Thursday. Rodriguez had previously named captains for each game this fall.

No major surprises here, as all four seniors served as game captains on multiple occasions. Graham is a candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, while both Mesko and Ortmann are candidates for All-Big Ten honors.

"Stevie, Brandon, Zoltan and Mark have played at a high level all season and received the greatest honor that a player can receive, selection as captain by your peers," Rodriguez said in a statement. "They, and our other seniors, will lead us into Michigan Stadium Saturday to play the greatest rivalry game in college football."

Michigan finishes the regular season Saturday against No. 10 Ohio State (ABC, noon ET).

The team also issued its official injury report for the Ohio State game.

OUT
DOUBTFUL (25 percent chance of playing)
  • S Mike Williams, ankle
PROBABLE (75 percent chance of playing)

Minor's absence will sting, as he might be the Big Ten's most dominant runner when healthy. Injuries have dogged the Wolverines senior all season, limiting his availability. Selfishly, I really wanted to see Minor out there one more time, especially against a great defense like Ohio State's. Carlos Brown likely will be the featured back for Michigan, though freshman Vincent Smith got a lot of playing time last week. Williams' absence reduces the depth in an already suspect secondary. Freshman Brandon Smith likely will get the start if Williams can't go, but Michigan has all sorts of problems in the back four. Odoms' presence gives Michigan another weapon on offense.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 19, 2009
11/19/09
12:00
PM ET
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Michigan injury report

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
6:48
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Michigan has issued its official injury report for Saturday's game at No. 20 Wisconsin (Big Ten Network, noon ET).

OUT
  • C David Molk, knee
PROBABLE (75 percent chance of playing)

No Brandon Minor here, which is good news for the Wolverines. The senior running back has been battling a shoulder injury in addition to his chronic foot/ankle problem. His presence will be huge as Michigan faces a Wisconsin defense that is pretty stingy against the run. Wide receiver Junior Hemingway (back) also doesn't appear on the report, and Odoms seems to have improved after head coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday that the sophomore's injury wasn't progressing as quickly as the staff had hoped. Rodriguez also announced game captains for Wisconsin: linebacker Stevie Brown, defensive end Brandon Graham, wide receiver Greg Mathews and punter Zoltan Mesko.

Big Ten picks: Week 11

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
9:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Thanks to a 2-4 performance last week, I'm now south of 70 percent for the season, which is sort of like hitting below the Mendoza line. I'm sure my colleague Chris Low, who's doing better than 80 percent on picks, is laughing at me from his home in Knoxville. Last year's success seems like eons ago. And to top it off, two games this week are among the toughest picks of the season.

Here's a stab at better results.

Penn State 34, Indiana 17: The Nittany Lions start slow after last week's letdown and Indiana takes an early lead on a touchdown pass to standout wide receiver Tandon Doss. But with a BCS at-large berth still a decent possibility, Penn State turns it on in the second and third quarters as quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster put up big numbers against the IU defense.

Wisconsin 31, Michigan 20: Some are calling for a blowout and I could see it that way, but Michigan has moved the football on most teams and will find running room with Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor. But Wisconsin running back John Clay and the powerful Badgers offensive line will once again take control in the second half and wear down Michigan's weak defense. Defensive ends Brandon Graham (Michigan) and O'Brien Schofield (Wisconsin) both have their moments.

Minnesota 24, South Dakota State 21: I'm a little worried about the Gophers after last week's lackluster first half. South Dakota State boasts a strong defense and a win against mighty Northern Iowa, and Minnesota's offense will struggle early. But the Gophers find a way on Senior Day and win their sixth game to get bowl eligible. Backup quarterback MarQueis Gray makes a big play or two, and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett hauls in two touchdowns from Adam Weber.

Michigan State 27, Purdue 26: I'll be honest, this game drove me nuts all week. Both quarterbacks are hot, and both defenses are inconsistent but boast star players. Michigan State has been pretty bad on the road, but the Spartans play well in November under Mark Dantonio. Purdue is playing very well in Big Ten play and boasts a lot of playmakers. This reminds me of 2007, when Michigan State needed a win at Ross-Ade and got one. The Spartans win on a Brett Swenson field goal.

Northwestern 24, Illinois 20: The Illini are playing looser and with more confidence, and they could certainly continue their win streak Saturday. But Northwestern almost always wins as a slight road underdog, and the Wildcats seem to be jelling on defense. Illinois quarterback Jacob Charest throws two touchdown passes, but a critical interception leads to Northwestern's game-winning drive. Quarterback Mike Kafka is now two weeks removed from a hamstring injury and will be more effective.

Ohio State 21, Iowa 10: The Hawkeyes keep this one close for a while as their opportunistic defense generates a turnover or two to set up the offense in good field position. But Ohio State's dominating defense proves to be the difference as Iowa redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg struggles to move the ball in his first career start. Terrelle Pryor scores two second-half rushing touchdowns as the Buckeyes win to reach their first Rose Bowl since 1997.

Week 10 record: 2-4

Season record: 51-23 (.689)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ten things you don't want to miss Saturday in the Big Ten.

1. Vandenberg vs. Silver Bullets: Ohio State's defense has been the single most dominating unit in the Big Ten this season, boasting three shutouts and nearly notching a fourth last week against Penn State. The Buckeyes pose a major challenge for a seasoned quarterback, much less a signal caller making his first career start like Iowa redshirt freshman James Vandenberg will on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Vandenberg had some expected struggles last week against Northwestern, and he'll need a heroic performance and plenty of help against the Buckeyes. If he pulls it off, he'll go down as a hero as Iowa will be heading to the Rose Bowl.

2. Bowling at Ross-Ade: The Michigan State-Purdue contest could serve as a bowl play-in game as both teams are trying to squeak into the postseason after battling inconsistency. Purdue must beat the Spartans and archrival Indiana to reach six wins, which would be an incredible accomplishment after a 1-5 start. Michigan State needs to gain at least a split in its last two games, but the Spartans finish against No. 18 Penn State, so they likely need a win Saturday. MSU is trying to reach three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1995-97, while Purdue tries to avoid consecutive bowl-less seasons for the first time since 1995-96.

3. Michigan needs a Madison miracle: OK, that might be a bit extreme, but a Wolverines win against No. 20 Wisconsin in Madison would certainly qualify as a major upset. Michigan has dropped five consecutive Big Ten games and doesn't want to face Ohio State needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wolverines' defense fares better against the run than the pass, but it faces a difficult test in Wisconsin sophomore running back John Clay, the Big Ten's leading rusher (108.1 ypg). Michigan has dropped its last two meetings at Camp Randall Stadium.

4. Quarterback questions in Champaign: Both Northwestern and Illinois enter Saturday's game (ESPN Classic, noon ET) with some uncertainty under center. Wildcats senior Mike Kafka will get the start, but his pulled hamstring remains a concern after his mobility was limited last week at Iowa. Backup Dan Persa played most of the snaps against the Hawkeyes, but he's still dealing with a hand injury suffered in Iowa City. Illinois starter Juice Williams sustained a sprained ankle last week against Minnesota and is listed as questionable. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest likely will make his first career start. So it could be survival of the fittest at Memorial Stadium.

5. Penn State still in BCS at-large mix: The Nittany Lions lost their two biggest games of the season, but they still could squeak into the BCS mix based on their national name, their legendary head coach (Joe Paterno) and their sizable fan base. But they need to finish with two impressive victories against Indiana and Michigan State. Daryll Clark and the Spread HD offense must regain its swagger against the league's worst defense, and a secondary that struggled at times last week must keep pace with talented Hoosiers sophomore Tandon Doss. Penn State might not deserve a BCS bowl berth, but it can still get one.

6. Minnesota faces must-win vs. SDSU: After a pathetic first-half performance against Illinois, Minnesota better come out with a purpose against South Dakota State. The Gophers should not look past the Jackrabbits, who are 7-2 this season and own a 10-point win against the great Northern Iowa Panthers. Most of Minnesota's players were on the field in 2007 when another FCS team, North Dakota State, beat them in the Metrodome. A win makes the Gophers bowl eligible for the second straight season heading into a rivalry game against banged-up Iowa on Nov. 21.

7. Iowa's opportunistic defense: No Big Ten team forces turnovers better than Iowa, which leads the league in takeaways with 26 and is tied for the national lead with 19 interceptions. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been more turnover prone this season, throwing nine interceptions in 10 games, five more than he had all of last fall. Iowa's defensive front seven needs to force Pryor into obvious passing situations, which could give sophomore safety Tyler Sash, the Big Ten's interceptions leader, more chances to make plays.

8. Clay vs. Minor: I really hope Brandon Minor gets healthy before Saturday because we'd get to see the Big Ten's two most dominant running backs on the same field. Wisconsin's Clay is a serious candidate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season last week against Indiana. Clay should be recovered from a head injury and faces a Michigan defense that has allowed 4.3 yards per carry this fall. Minor looks like an NFL back when he's carrying the ball.

9. Defensive POY race heats up: I touched on this in Tuesday's video post, but it will be interesting to see who distinguishes himself in the crowded race for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, the frontrunner at this point, needs to lead an inconsistent Spartans defense to just its second road victory. Two of the league's top defensive ends -- Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield and Michigan's Brandon Graham -- square off at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa needs big things from defensive stars Sash, Adrian Clayborn and Pat Angerer as it faces safety Kurt Coleman and the Buckeyes. Purdue end Ryan Kerrigan and Indiana end Jammie Kirlew also are looking for big performances.

10. Bowl eligibility at stake: All 11 teams remain alive for bowl bids, but three teams (Illinois, Indiana and Purdue) face must-win situations Saturday. If Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan fall short this week, all three teams will need to beat ranked opponents (Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State) on Nov. 21 to become bowl eligible. The bottom half of the league's bowl picture could change dramatically depending on what takes place on the field.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 10

November, 10, 2009
11/10/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

(Conversation with self)
Do I have to?
Yes, or the users won't respect you.
Do they respect me now?
Not after those picks.
So why do I need to torture yourself?
Just get it over with, you big baby.

Needless to say, it was an ugly week for the picks, as I went 2-4. Here's a painful look back.

NORTHWESTERN-IOWA
  • The pick: Iowa 27, Northwestern 17
  • Actual score: Northwestern 17, Iowa 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: At least I got the Wildcats' score correct. Few could have forecasted a major injury to Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the second quarter. There was no fourth-quarter magic for the Hawkeyes this time, as an improving NU defense shut down backup quarterback James Vandenberg and the run game.
WISCONSIN-INDIANA
  • The pick: Wisconsin 28, Indiana 16
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 31, Indiana 28
  • 20-20 hindsight: Badgers running back John Clay did his damage in the first half, not the second, before leaving the game with a head injury. As predicted, Indiana star wideout Tandon Doss made plays early with two touchdown grabs, and the Hoosiers surged on offense for much of the game but couldn't stop Wisconsin's ground game in the end as freshman Montee Ball emerged.
WESTERN MICHIGAN-MICHIGAN STATE
  • The pick: Michigan State 31, Western Michigan 10
  • Actual score: Michigan State 49, Western Michigan 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: This was as close as I got to a strong pick, as Kirk Cousins backed me up by shredding Western Michigan's defense for 353 pass yards and two touchdowns on 22 of 25 attempts. I didn't forecast Ashton Leggett's big day at running back, but Michigan State's defense held Tim Hiller in check and started November off the right way.
ILLINOIS-MINNESOTA
  • The pick: Minnesota 30, Illinois 24
  • Actual score: Illinois 35, Minnesota 32
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Illini made all the plays early on, surging out to a 28-7 lead before Minnesota got on track after halftime. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber struggled after a career performance against Michigan State, and the Minnesota defense couldn't stop Illinois' big-play attack.
PURDUE-MICHIGAN
  • The pick: Michigan 37, Purdue 31
  • Actual score: Purdue 38, Michigan 36
  • 20-20 hindsight: A shootout seemed likely and both offenses certainly showed up at the Big House. Michigan's Brandon Minor had another huge day (154 rush yards, 3 TDs), but Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott stole the show -- and the victory -- with a career performance. I wrote that I was hesitant to pick Michigan and should have trusted my instincts.
OHIO STATE-PENN STATE
  • The pick: Penn State 21, Ohio State 17
  • Actual score: Ohio State 24, Penn State 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: As forecasted, both defenses showed up to play, but Ohio State's unit dominated Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions for 60 minutes. This easily could have been a shutout, as Penn State barely eclipsed 200 total yards. It was Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, not Clark, who made plays at quarterback and led a more cohesive offense to a big win.
Week 10 record: 2-4

Season record: 51-23 (.689)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A few afternoon nuggets for you.
  • As expected, Iowa junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi doesn't appear on this week's depth chart for the Ohio State game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz will address Stanzi's status Tuesday, but said Saturday that he expected the quarterback to miss the final two regular-season games. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg is listed as the starter and classmate John Wienke is the backup. Safety Brett Greenwood (neck) also doesn't appear on the depth chart, as Joe Conklin likely will make his second straight start.
  • Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema expects star running back John Clay to play against Michigan after the sophomore suffered a head injury in the Indiana win.
  • Bielema has indefinitely suspended reserve wide receiver Maurice Moore after his arrest for operating while intoxicated early Sunday. Moore was involved in a one-car accident near Camp Randall Stadium and was hospitalized with minor injuries. He played in Saturday's road win against Indiana.
  • Bielema wants the Big Ten to review a bizarre muffed punt from the Indiana game. Wisconsin return man David Gilreath signaled for a fair catch, only to have the ball hit his helmet. Indiana's Collin Taylor then caught the ball before it hit the ground, which by rule impedes Gilreath's chance to make a legal fair catch.
  • Michigan running back Brandon Minor continues to be bothered by injuries. The Wolverines senior re-aggravated an ankle sprain against Purdue and also sustained a bruised shoulder. Head coach Rich Rodriguez isn't sure how healthy Minor will be for the Wisconsin game.
  • Juice Williams is still listed as the starting quarterback on Illinois' depth chart even though he's questionable to play against Northwestern because of an ankle injury.
  • Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said X-rays were negative on the throwing hand of backup quarterback Dan Persa, who sustained an injury in the second half at Iowa. Fitzgerald lists Persa as day to day, while starter Mike Kafka (hamstring) is improving.

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