Big Ten: Brett Maher

Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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"Is there anything that makes people smile more than Broadway and football?" This clip proves it.
If Bo Pelini is feeling any pressure in Lincoln this spring to deliver a championship, you couldn't tell by the way Nebraska started spring practice. The Huskers coach participated in a Harlem Shake video with the team over the weekend, with Pelini sending up his own fiery image before dancing with his players.

I caught up with Pelini after Nebraska's first spring practice to ask about the spring and how he plans to replace eight starters on defense. Here is that conversation.

How did the "Harlem Shake" video come about?

Bo Pelini: We were just having some fun with it. It was actually my daughter, she just turned 12, she had a sleepover the night before. And her and her friends, they'd been telling me what this "Harlem Shake" thing was and they were showing it to me. And I thought it was a good idea, that our kids would have fun with this. We had fun with it, and it was something different.

Was that a way to loosen things up as you get started with practice?

BP: No doubt. The team, they had a good time. It was fun. I'm just glad I didn't throw my back out. It was probably the first time I'd danced since my wedding.

It looked like you had some pretty good moves.

BP: Yeah, right. You know better than that.

What are some of your main goals and objectives this spring?

BP: Just get these guys taught and develop their understanding. We've got kind of an interesting mix of youth and experience. I think it's a very talented group, a pretty explosive group of athletes. We've got a lot of guys who've got a lot to learn. Even on the offensive side, where we have some experience coming back, per se, and some guys who have been through it, in this day and age you've got to keep building depth. Every guy out there you've got to try and get taught, and get as many guys out there that you trust as possible.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsNebraska coach Bo Pelini has a message for those who want to see him make changes to his defense. "That's asinine," he said.
As a coach, is it kind of exciting to be able to work with a young group that has some athleticism on defense?

BP: Oh, no doubt. It's going to be fun. This a real eager group and a real hard working group. These kids want to play. They're eager, they soak in everything you tell them. Sometimes guys get to a point in their career where they think that they know. These kids know they don't know. They're like sponges right now. It's a fun time to work with them and help them develop into the kind of players they can be.

Given how much experience you have on offense, will you spend more time than normal with the defense this spring?

BP: Yeah, that's where I spend the majority of my time anyway, but it makes sense to get as many eyes and extra teachers on that side of the ball. That will help us. We feel good about where we are offensively and what that potential is; now we've just got to match that up with what we think we can do defensively. And I think we have a chance to be pretty damn good.

I saw a quote where one of your players said the young defenders might make mistakes, but they'll make them going 100 mph. Is that kind of what you're looking for, that they may not all get it right away but that they can make up for that with their speed and athleticism?

BP: Absolutely. And to a certain extent it's our job to try not to weigh them down. Don't get them thinking. Kind of the message is, I told them, "You're not going to be perfect. But play fast. Believe in what you see. We'll get you coached up, but don't go out there thinking. Go out there and believe in your preparation, believe in what you're learning, trust your learning and go out there and play fast and make plays." That's kind of been the common theme, and I saw a lot of that the other day.

The defensive line and safety are two areas hit hard by graduation. What do you see out of those positions this spring?

BP: I think we have guys that may be a little more dynamic athletically than what we've been. And we have some guys who we think can really do some things. It's going to be interesting to watch their development and how they continue to respond. We've moved some guys around. We have a lot of options in the secondary. A few years ago when we we were in the Big 12, we were recruiting more in the secondary than we were at linebacker, which is why we're a little bit younger at linebacker. We have a few more options in the secondary and guys that can do a lot of different things and play multiple spots, so that helps you.

Is there a whole lot of competition this spring, given how many starting jobs are open on defense?

BP: Absolutely. Like I told our guys, "Don't worry where you're lining up on the depth chart. Worry about taking care of yourself and your reps. Concentrate on making yourself a better football player." At the end of the day, it's only 15 practices. These jobs aren't going to be won or lost this time of year. Now we're going to make some strides, and maybe certain guys put themselves in position to be starters. But there's a lot of football to be played and a lot of practices to be had before we actually kick this thing off at the end of August. So if every guy just concentrates on making themselves better and tries to make the most out of every single rep that we have, then that's going to give them the best opportunity to grow as a football player and be ready to play in the fall.

You're going to be doing more live contact stuff than usual this spring, right?

BP: Yeah. We're going to do a little bit more scrimmaging maybe than we have in the past and really have a nice, good physical spring to try and put guys in position to see who can do it live, who's going to be able to make plays in space. Defensively, who's going to be able to make those one-on-one tackles when they find themselves in those positions? You want to take the guesswork out of it, see that guy, if he was there, would he have finished it off? Well, we're going to be asking them this spring to finish it off and see where they are. It's one of the reasons we went a little bit earlier in the spring than we have in the past, so we can be physical and then split up our spring with the spring break. We'll have eight practices before spring break and seven after, to give our guys a little bit of a break in there so we can make the most out of every opportunity we have.

[+] EnlargeJason Ankrah
AP Photo/Scott A. MillerVeteran Nebraska defensive lineman Jason Ankrah is looking forward to taking on a leadership role, coach Bo Pelini said.
Jason Ankrah is one of your few veterans up front defensively and a guy you're counting on as a leader. What do you see for him this spring and this season?

BP: He is a leader. He's been around, he's played a lot of football for us. He's looking to embrace that type of role, and he's got that kind of influence in the locker room. He's got the ability and the experience that guys are going to look to him. Some guys embrace that, some guys don't. It's got to be in your personality. He's looking forward to it, and I think that will be big. We had some leadership walk out the door. So we have to make sure we have guys who are ready, willing and able to step into that role.

You've got a lot of guys on offense where you pretty much know what you're going to get, like Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah, Kenny Bell, Spencer Long. Do you hold them out of the live stuff and focus on younger players this spring because of that, or do they still need those reps?

BP: A little bit of both. We want to continue to develop our depth on that side. But the bottom line is, you've got to continue to get better. Even a guy like Taylor, as much football as he's played here, there are a lot of things he still needs to continue to work on to get better at. So there are going to be certain times and certain situations, just like any spring, where you take some guys out who have played a lot of football and maybe not get them as banged up as much, and that gives you a chance to look at some younger guys and build depth. But there are going to be some times where they're right in the thick of it.

What is the next step forward for Taylor?

BP: Just like any quarterback, it's such a difficult position, so much goes into it. Continue to work on being efficient and on decision-making. Eliminate turnovers and just continue to manage the offense. He has such confidence in himself that sometimes he tries to win the game by himself. As a quarterback, you've got to continue to let the offense work for you and let the game come to you. You don't need to try and win the game on every play. It all comes down to decision-making and managing the game, managing the offense. I think he made a lot of strides last year, but like any guy who's a young football player -- and all these guys are still young, they're all still learning how to play the game -- he has a ways to go in that regard.

The receiver group was impressive last year, and almost all those guys are back. How much potential does that group have this year?

BP: It's a dynamic group, and I think they got better last year. I thought they played very well. You look at it, and we still have some youth there. We have to continue to build that depth over there. We got hit hard with injuries. In the early games, we had a bunch of guys catching passes, but it was just one of those things where you got a bunch of injuries at the wide receiver spot. But we think we have some other guys who can spell those guys, and if that's the case and they can take some snaps off them and keep them fresh throughout the game, that will make them that much more effective.

Imani Cross did some great work at the goal line last year. How much more can he add to his game this spring and offseason?

BP: He's looking good. He's -- not noticeably, because he's such a big thick guy -- but he's carrying less weight, and he's slimming down a little bit. I think he has a chance to really be a good football player for us and do some things. Not be just a short-yardage guy, but a guy who can carry the ball and help us in a lot of different areas and a lot of different situations. I think he's got that in him, and we can really expand his role. I think he's excited to do that, and he's determined to do that.

Finally, you lost a very valuable special-teams player in kicker/punter Brett Maher. Is that an area you can figure out this spring, or will that have to wait until fall camp?

BP: It probably won't be settled until this fall, but we have some good competition there. We've got some kids coming in, too. I think it's going to be good competition. The talent is there. We have guys that can do it. But having that consistency ... we've been really fortunate that we haven't had to worry about it the past couple years. We had Alex [Henery] and then went right into having Brett. So we've been very fortunate in that regard. This year, the job is open, and the competition will go right to the end. Obviously, to win a championship, you'd better have somebody in that kicking mode that you can trust.
The NFL scouting combine is in the books and pro days at all the Big Ten schools will take place in the coming weeks. There's still time for the Big Ten's NFL draft hopefuls to boost their stock before the selections are made April 25-27.

But at the very top of the draft -- the first round, in particular -- things are looking rather bleak for the Big Ten, according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper's post-combine Big Board Insider features zero Big Ten players among the list of 25. Several Big Ten players have been included on previous Big Boards, including Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Purdue DT Kawann Short. If Michigan LT Taylor Lewan had skipped his final college season and entered the draft, he likely would be in Kiper's top 15.

Few would be surprised to see Hankins drafted in the first round, but his combine performance didn't exactly jump out. Short is another intriguing prospect, and Wisconsin center Travis Frederick also could sneak into the first round.

But if Kiper's forecast plays out, the Big Ten once again could be waiting a while before one of its players is drafted in April. The league didn't have a player selected in the 2012 draft until the Detroit Lions selected Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff with the No. 23 overall pick. The Big Ten hasn't produced a top 10 draft pick since Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long went No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft (Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, played his entire career in the Big 12).

Here's a look at the Big Ten's recent highest draft picks:

2012: No. 23, Iowa LT Riley Reiff (Detroit)
2011: No. 11, Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt (Houston)
2010: No. 13, Michigan DE Brandon Graham (Philadelphia)
2009: No. 11, Penn State DE Aaron Maybin (Buffalo)
2008: No. 1, Michigan LT Jake Long (Miami)
2007: No. 3, Wisconsin LT Joe Thomas (Cleveland)
2006: No. 5, Ohio State LB A.J. Hawk (Green Bay)
2005: No. 3, Michigan WR Braylon Edwards (Cleveland)
2004: No. 2, Iowa LT Robert Gallery (Oakland)
2003: No. 2, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers (Detroit)
2002: No. 12, Wisconsin DT Wendell Bryant (Arizona)

So after six straight years of top-5 picks (2003-2008), the Big Ten likely will go five straight years without a top 10 pick. Not good.

Several Big Ten players appear on Kiper's latest top-5 lists by position. Insider
  • Wisconsin's Montee Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Wisconsin's Frederick is the No. 1 center
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
Neither Hankins nor Short appear among the top five defensive tackles.

Wrapping up the B1G player rankings

February, 25, 2013
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The Big Ten postseason top 25 player rankings are in the books for 2012.

What did you think? Send your thoughts here and here. Again, this is a very exclusive list that, because of its size, omits a bunch of great players. Narrowing things down to 25 isn't easy, but that doesn't mean we didn't make mistakes or overlook deserving stars.

Before putting these to bed, let's take a closer look at how things shook out. First, here are the team and position breakdowns.

TEAM

Ohio State: 6
Penn State: 4
Nebraska: 3
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Northwestern: 2
Minnesota: 1

Ohio State and Penn State both had good balance, placing multiple offensive and defensive players on the list. Nebraska's selections all played offense as the Huskers' defense struggled last season. Four teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Purdue -- aren't represented on the list.

POSITION

LB: 6
QB: 5
RB: 5
CB: 3
DT: 2
WR: 1
DE: 1
G: 1
OT: 1

Offense: 13
Defense: 12

Linebacker depth stood out around the Big Ten this season. We could have included more backers, including Penn State's Gerald Hodges. The quarterback spot also took a small step forward this past season, particularly with dual-threat players like Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, both of whom improved a lot. The Big Ten still doesn't have enough pure passers in the league. Safety once again was a weak position around the league, and the lack of elite wide receivers is a concern. Although we knew wideout depth would be a problem before the season, we considered only two other receivers for the top 25 (Nebraska's Kenny Bell and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis) besides Penn State's Allen Robinson. Not good.

WHO JUST MISSED THE CUT?

As mentioned previously, we had some very difficult choices this year and left out some very good players. The three players who came closest to making the top 25 were: Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, Penn State's Hodges and Nebraska's Bell.

Short received All-Big Ten recognition and had some huge games, but he also disappeared for stretches and played for an underachieving line. Hodges was overshadowed a bit by Michael Mauti and some of the other linebackers on the list. Bell had some strong performances but faded a bit down the stretch.

Others who merit mentions include:
We'll be back this summer with the preseason top 25 player countdown for 2013. Of the 25 players who made the postseason rundown, 15 return for 2013, including No. 1 selection Miller, No. 5 selection Martinez and No. 7 selection Taylor Lewan.
The Big Ten postseason position/unit rankings wrap up with the specialists. This list considers kickers, punters and returners, as well as coverage teams.

Here's how the Big Ten stacked up before the season. If you missed any of our postseason position/unit rankings, check 'em out.

Let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeJeff Budzien
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJeff Bundzien made 95 percent of his field goals and converted all 50 of his extra point attempts in 2012.
1. Northwestern (preseason ranking: 10): Northwestern fans never thought they'd see this day, but the program has improved markedly in the kicking game in recent years. Jeff Budzien was the Big Ten's most consistent kicker in 2012, connecting on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts (lone miss was a 53-yarder) and all 50 of his extra-point tries. Northwestern also led the league in punt return average (16.5) thanks to All-American returner Venric Mark, who had two runbacks for touchdowns. Northwestern ranked 19th nationally in punt coverage.

2. Nebraska (preseason ranking: 1): Brett Maher had a few hiccups but still made 20 of 27 field-goal tries and all 59 of his PATs, and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. He and Budzien shared the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year honors in the Big Ten. Ameer Abdullah had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Nebraska had three solid options on kick returns (Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner).

3. Michigan (preseason ranking: 7): Here's another team that has made major strides in the kicking game in recent years. Kicker Brendan Gibbons was Captain Clutch, converting 16 of 18 field-goal attempts, including the game-winner against Michigan State, as well as all 45 PATs. Dennis Norfleet provided a boost on kick returns, and Will Hagerup led the league in punting average (45 ypp) despite limited attempts (33).

4. Michigan State (preseason ranking: 4): The Spartans' sputtering offense gave Mike Sadler plenty of work and he delivered, averaging 43.3 yards on 79 punts. MSU finished second in the league in net punting. Dan Conroy led the Big Ten in both field goals made (23) and field goals missed (9), but he hit the game-winner against TCU in the bowl game. Michigan State struggled on kick returns, but both Nick Hill and Andre Sims averaged more than eight yards on punt returns.

5. Iowa (preseason ranking: 9): Mike Meyer improved on his 2012 performance, connecting on 17 of 21 field-goal tries and all 25 of his extra-point attempts. Iowa also performed well on returns, as Jordan Cotton led the league in kick returns (28.2 ypr) and Micah Hyde averaged 7.4 yards on 16 punt returns. Punting was a weak spot as Connor Kornbrath averaged only 37.9 yards per boot.

6. Purdue (preseason ranking: 2): The Boilers definitely missed Carson Wiggs, as their kickers connected on only 9 of 14 field-goal tries this season and missed five extra-point attempts. But there were bright spots elsewhere like punter Cody Webster, who averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff returns, thanks to Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert.

7. Ohio State (preseason ranking: 3): It was a mixed bag of big plays and big breakdowns for Ohio State on special teams in 2013. The Buckeyes had a league-high three punt returns for touchdowns but also had three punts blocked and surrendered a kick return for a touchdown against Purdue. Kicker Drew Basil was used sparingly (8 of 11 on field-goal attempts), while Ben Buchanan averaged 41 yards per punt. New special teams chief Kerry Coombs has some things to sort out.

8. Wisconsin (preseason ranking: 5): The kicking game continues to be a little inconsistent for the Badgers. Punter Drew Meyer had a solid season, averaging 41.5 yards on a league-high 80 punts. But Wisconsin kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to convert only 10 of 18 field-goal attempts. Kenzel Doe led Wisconsin's multi-pronged kick return attack, which ranked third in the Big Ten, while Jared Abbrederis was decent on punt returns.

9. Indiana (preseason ranking: 11): The Hoosiers had a so-so season in the kicking game. Kicker Mitch Ewald connected on 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and missed only 1 of 43 PAT tries. Tevin Coleman tied for second in the league in kick returns, while Shane Wynn provided another option there. IU's punters didn't wow with their numbers, but the Hoosiers finished fifth in net punting.

10. Illinois (preseason ranking: 12): You know it's a rough season when you hang your hat on net punting, a statistic where Illinois led the Big Ten (39.2-yard net average). Sophomore Justin DuVernois had a heavy workload and still finished fourth in the league in punting average (41.9 ypp). Illini kickers connected on 8 of 12 field-goal tries, but the return game once again struggled mightily (118th nationally in punt returns, 107th in kick returns).

11. Minnesota (preseason ranking: 6): Troy Stoudermire became the NCAA's all-time kick return yards king and Jordan Wettstein connected for the game-winning field goal in the opener against UNLV, but the Gophers had few other special teams highlights. Wettstein finished the year just 14 of 22 on field goals, and Minnesota ranked last in the league in net punting (34.4 ypp). The return game was mediocre but Minnesota fared OK in kickoff and punt coverage.

12. Penn State (preseason ranking: 8) Sam Ficken's finish nearly kept Penn State out of the basement. Ficken connected on his final 10 field-goal tries, including the game-winner in overtime against Wisconsin. The Virginia game still stings, though, as he finished 14-for-21 for the season. Penn State struggled with its punting (11th in league in net average) and finished last in the league in kick returns (18.1 ypr). There were coverage breakdowns and muffed punts. The lack of depth following the NCAA sanctions seemed to hurt Penn State the most in the kicking game, especially early in the season.

Video: B1G shoes to fill -- Nebraska

February, 15, 2013
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This spring, Nebraska must address the loss of defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler at a position with little depth, and it must find a replacement for do-it-all specialist Brett Maher.

Big Ten players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
9:40
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The official list of players invited to the NFL combine is out.

These are the guys the pro scouts most want to see, and they'll be poked, prodded and interviewed in Indianapolis from Feb. 23-26. Here are the 32 players from the Big Ten who've been invited (Note: Position listed is the one each player will be working out as):

Johnny Adams, DB, Michigan State
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Zach Boren, RB, Ohio State
Michael Buchanan, DL, Illinois
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Reid Fragel, OL, Ohio State
Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin
William Gholston, DL, Michigan State
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Johnathan Hankins, DL, Ohio State
Terry Hawthorne, DB, Illinois
Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State
Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
Micah Hyde, DB, Iowa
Josh Johnson, DB, Purdue
Brett Maher, PK, Nebraska
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State
Kawann Short, DL, Purdue
John Simon, DL, Ohio State
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
Akeem Spence, DL, Illinois
Daimion Stafford, DB, Nebraska
Matt Stankiewitch, OL, Penn State
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
Hugh Thornton, OL, Illinois
James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin
Nathan Williams, DL, Ohio State

Finally, here is the schedule of workouts, which will be broadcast on NFL Network:

Feb. 23: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
Feb. 24: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Feb. 25: Defensive linemen, linebackers
Feb. 26: Defensive backs
Montee Ball's decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior season raised an eyebrow or two after the running back turned in a record-setting junior season in 2011. Ball returned in large part because he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee.

If ESPN's Mel Kiper turns out to be right, Ball's decision will be labeled a wise one.

Kiper came out with his first mock draft for 2013 Insider on Wednesday, and Ball is listed as a first-round pick, going No. 21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. Ball didn't appear on Kiper's Big Board this season, but made a strong push late in Big Ten play. Kiper writes that Ball would be an excellent fit for the Bengals' system.

Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only other Big Ten player in the mock draft, going at No. 15 to the New Orleans Saints. Kiper likes Hankins' ability to beat interior blockers to the backfield and eat up double teams.

It would have been interesting to see where Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan would have ended up on Kiper's list if he decided to skip his final season with the Wolverines. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, a projected first-rounder for much of the season, reportedly just missed the cut.

The deadline for early entries to the NFL draft has come and gone, and Kiper has issued his top 5 prospects at each position Insider.

Here's who made it from the Big Ten:
  • Wisconsin's Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Michigan State's Dion Sims, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 4 tight end
  • Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 1 center
  • Hankins is the No. 3 defensive tackle
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
The 2013 NFL draft is more than four months away, but all the Big Ten hopefuls have finished their college careers after the bowl games.

While we wait on several underclassmen to finalize their draft decisions -- Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Michigan State's William Gholston, Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, Ohio State's Bradley Roby and Carlos Hyde -- ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has come out with his latest Big Board for April's draft. These rankings came out Wednesday, after the Jan. 1 bowls. Only two Big Ten players make the list of 25: Michigan's Lewan at No. 13, and Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins at No. 16. Despite Jadeveon Clowney's ferocious hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl, Kiper likes the way Lewan fared against the South Carolina star. Kiper writes that Hankins is a space eater but there are questions about his pass-rushing ability and explosiveness.

Kiper also has revised lists of top 5 seniors and top 5 juniors at each position.

Here's who made it from the Big Ten ...

SENIORS
JUNIORS
  • Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the No. 4 running back
  • Nebraska's Mike Marrow is the No. 5 fullback
  • Michigan State's Dion Sims is the No. 3 tight end
  • Michigan's Taylor Lewan is the No. 2 offensive tackle
  • Ohio State's Marcus Hall is the No. 5 guard
  • Wisconsin's Travis Frederick is the No. 1 center
  • Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins is the No. 2 defensive tackle
  • Michigan State's Max Bullough is the No. 3 inside linebacker
  • Wisconsin's Chris Borland is the No. 4 inside linebacker
  • Illinois' Jonathan Brown is the No. 5 inside linebacker
  • Iowa's Mike Meyer is the No. 3 kicker
  • Purdue's Cody Webster is the No. 5 punter

It's interesting to see Bell as only the No. 4 junior running back. Although I think he made the right call by going pro, he might need a strong predraft performance to move up. Like Peter Konz, Wisconsin's Frederick projects very well to the NFL and could make the jump early. All three of the inside linebackers -- Bullough, Borland and Brown -- are expected to stay for their senior seasons.

What should concern Big Ten fans about these lists is the lack of wide receivers, quarterbacks and defensive backs. When Denard Robinson, who played quarterback for most of his Michigan career, is the only player at wide receiver on either list, there's a problem. When the only Big Ten quarterbacks likely to get drafted -- Robinson, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray -- likely will play other positions at the next level, there's a problem. The Big Ten produces enough NFL-caliber linemen, linebackers and running backs, but it lags behind other leagues at several key skill positions.

Season report card: Nebraska

December, 26, 2012
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We're back with another report card, as we're doubling down on these in order to finish before the New Year's Day bowls. Nebraska, come and get your grades for the 2012 regular season:

Offense: A

The Huskers led the Big Ten in total offense and ranked second in the league in scoring at 35.1 points per game. It all started, not surprisingly, with an outstanding rushing assault that averaged more than 254 yards per game, good for eighth-best in the nation. What made that even more impressive was that Rex Burkhead missed most of the season with a knee injury, yet the offense hardly missed a beat as Ameer Abdullah topped 1,000 yards. Give the offensive line a lot of credit, especially All-American guard Spencer Long. But it wasn't all about the running game this year for Nebraska, as quarterback Taylor Martinez took his performance to a higher level. While he didn't reach his lofty preseason goal of a 70 percent completion rate, he did connect on a respectable 62.2 percent of his throws while going for 2,667 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He led the Big Ten in total offense while nearly running for 1,000 yards. A deep and multi-talented group of receivers and tight ends, paced by blossoming star Kenny Bell, made the Huskers dangerous all over the field, and coordinator Tim Beck wore opposing defenses out with his high-paced play calling. The only reason the offense doesn't earn an A-plus was a frustrating lack of ball security; Nebraska lost 32 turnovers this year, more than all but five teams in the country. That the Huskers nearly always found a way to overcome such sloppiness was a testament to their explosiveness.

Defense: C

If you go simply by the numbers, Nebraska's defense had a strong year. The Huskers led the nation in pass defense and were the No. 22 overall defense in the country. Ah, but we did watch the games. And there's simply no way to excuse some of the massive defensive breakdowns that led to three losses this season: giving up over 650 yards to UCLA, surrendering 63 points to Ohio State and of course the 70-point fiasco in the Big Ten title game. There were some success stories, like the excellent play in the secondary by guys like Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans, Will Compton's leadership at linebacker and Baker Steinkuhler plugging up the middle of the line. But a Bo Pelini-coached defense should never be routed as many times as these Huskers were, and a No. 95 national ranking against the run shows some weaknesses up front. When Nebraska's defense was good, it was pretty good. When it was bad, it was about as bad as it's ever been in program history.

Special teams: B

Kicker/punter Brett Maher was the star of the show on special teams again, but he proved less consistent than he was in his excellent 2011 campaign. He still could make clutch, long kicks and boom punts, but he struggled a bit early with his field goal accuracy and had a few too many shanks in the punt game. Abdullah led the Big Ten in punt return average. Nebraska was a mediocre on kickoffs.

Overall: B

The embarrassment of the Big Ten title game loss lingers, but this team still won 10 games and captured the Legends Division this season. The Huskers lost only one league game during the season, though it was another bad blowout in Columbus. They beat Wisconsin (in the regular season) and Michigan after losing to both teams last year and staged some thrilling comebacks to win at Northwestern and at Michigan State. Only fans who have been spoiled by decades of success could complain about a 10-3 season. Yet it's impossible to ignore the feeling that this team was capable of so much more this year, especially with the Rose Bowl bid right there for the taking against a 7-5 team in Indianapolis. Given the expectations and the firepower of the offense, this season can't rate as much higher than a "B" level.

Previous report cards:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State Ohio State
We unveiled our All-Big Ten team earlier today, but there are many others who deserve recognition. That's why we have a second-team all-conference squad. A handful of these players easily could have easily appeared on the first team, as several of the decisions were extremely close.

Here's the second-team squad:

Offense

QB: Taylor Martinez, Nebraska
RB: Venric Mark, Northwestern
RB: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
WR: Cody Latimer, Indiana
TE: Dion Sims, Michigan State
C: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin
G: John Urschel, Penn State
G: Andrew Norwell, Ohio State
T: Rick Wagner, Wisconsin
T: Jeremiah Sirles, Nebraska

Defense

DL: Kawann Short, Purdue
DL: Eric Martin, Nebraska
DL: D.L. Wilhite, Minnesota
DL: Adam Replogle, Indiana
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State
DB: Josh Johnson, Purdue
DB: Michael Carter, Minnesota
DB: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
DB: Micah Hyde, Iowa

Special teams

K: Brendan Gibbons, Michigan
P: Cody Webster, Purdue
All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska

Unlike the first team, we used a traditional 4-3 defense. We had three very good linebackers in Bullough, Hodges and Taylor who could have made the first team, and there's a clear drop-off after that point. ... Nebraska's Martinez struggled in the Big Ten title game, and we had a tough decision between him and Penn State's Matt McGloin, but Martinez's overall production gave him the edge. ... Northwestern's Mark made the first team as an all-purpose player, but he was our obvious first choice for second-team running back, too. It came down to Hyde and Abdullah for the other spot, but Hyde had better per-game production than Abdullah. The good news is Abdullah, who did a terrific job filling in for Rex Burkhead, still makes the team as an all-purpose player ... There were some tough choices at defensive back, and players like Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis and Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs nearly made the list. Michigan State had the ultimate team defense this season, a great unit not loaded with superstars. ... Nebraska's Brett Maher received more recognition on the official All-Big Ten teams, but liked Gibbons' steadiness throughout the season and his ability to make big kicks against both Michigan State and Northwestern.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten Week 13

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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For one last (regular-season) time, let's do the rewind:

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State's Ryan Shazier ran his season sack total to five with this takedown of Michigan's Devin Gardner.
Team of the week: Ohio State, naturally. The Buckeyes finished a perfect 12-0 season by beating their archrival, Michigan, at home. That's a pretty good week. Lots of people want to knock Ohio State for its schedule, and understandably. According to the NCAA, the Buckeyes have played only the 65th-toughest schedule in the country. That's not far off from Georgia (No. 60), which is getting an awful lot of love from some pollsters.

Game of the week: It was an emotional day at Penn State, as the school honored the seniors and the season by putting a 2012 sign on Beaver Stadium and paid tribute to injured linebacker Michael Mauti by placing his No. 42 on the team's helmets. We figured Wisconsin might have a hard time matching the Nittany Lions' energy level, but instead the Badgers took a 14-7 halftime lead. Penn State rallied, but Wisconsin tied the game with 18 seconds left in regulation on a Curt Phillips pass to Jeff Duckworth. But the Nittany Lions prevailed in overtime, giving this special team a final celebration that it definitely earned.

Biggest play: Nebraska led Iowa 13-7 in the fourth quarter with the Legends Division title on the line, and the Hawkeyes had just pinned the Huskers inside their own 1 on a punt. Luckily for Big Red, Superman Returns is not just a mediocre movie. After a quarterback sneak for one yard, senior Rex Burkhead -- playing for the first time in a month -- took an inside-zone handoff and somehow muscled his way through a pile of would-be tacklers for an improbable nine yards. That first down got Nebraska out of trouble and helped the Huskers hold on for the win and a spot in Saturday's Big Ten title game.

Gutsiest play: After throwing one of the weirdest, most-pinball-like interceptions you'll ever see, Purdue's quarterback found himself as the last line of defense against Indiana's Greg Heban. Marve, despite playing on a torn ACL, ran more than 60 yards to chase down Heban and make a touchdown-saving tackle. "It was kind of like one of those we're-going-to-see-where-my-body's-at-very-quickly kind of things," Marve said. "It was a funny play. My dad played some linebacker for a whole bunch of years, so he was proud of me." Marve's refusal to give up on the play despite only having one good knee is indicative of how the Boilermakers hung tough to win their final three games and make a bowl.

Best call: Penn State couldn't have played its finale without one more fourth-down gamble by Bill O'Brien. And this was one of his best. Early in the fourth quarter, O'Brien went for it on fourth-and-6 from the Wisconsin 41. Quarterback Matt McGloin scrambled and found tight end Jesse James for a touchdown, giving the Nittany Lions their first lead of the game. Penn State finished the season 19-of-34 on fourth-down conversion attempts. Air Force and Army, which both run the option offense, are the only two FBS teams that have gone for it on fourth down more than the Lions.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell nearly tripled Minnesota's total yardage all by himself. The junior running back shredded the Gophers for career-high 266 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries for his third 200-yard game of the season. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing and ranks third nationally at 1,648 yards. His 350 carries (that's an average of 29 per game, folks) are more than any other FBS player.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill (12 tackles, three TFLs, two sacks) was absolutely dominant and helped make up for the loss of Mauti. The senior's final college performance probably earned him some extra NFL money.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Nebraska's Brett Maher made a pair of crucial field goals in the Huskers' 13-7 win, including a 52-yarder on a windy day. He also had a 61-yard punt that was downed inside the Iowa 5.

Biggest hangover: You can justify Michigan's 8-4 record by noting the Wolverines have lost to teams ranked No. 1 (Notre Dame), No. 2 (Alabama), No. 4 (Ohio State -- in the AP Top 25) and No. 12 (Nebraska). But this is Michigan, fergawdsake. The Maize and Blue are supposed to win big games, and instead they fell flat in every one, ending with some bizarre offensive playcalling in the second half at Ohio State. The Wolverines again ended up without a Big Ten title, and unless they can beat what will probably be a very good SEC opponent in a bowl, they'll finish a year that began with a top-10 ranking as a five-loss disappointment.

Strangest moment: What else could possibly go wrong for Illinois coach Tim Beckman?

During Saturday's 50-14 loss to Northwestern, Beckman was penalized for sideline interference twice in the first quarter. On the second one, he was run over by an official after a Wildcats' interception. Northwestern scored one play later after the 15-yard flag.

“The first one was on me," Beckman said. "I was running out there getting involved in the game. The second time I was behind the ball, as I always am because usually you’re behind the ball and the officials are all in front. Interception and they were running the other way. I’ll take the blame. That’s my fault. Not good on my part.”

There has been a whole lot of not good in Champaign this year.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
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Through the lens of history ...

Team of the week: Wisconsin. Reports of the Badgers' demise were premature. While everybody was hopping aboard the Indiana bandwagon last week, Wisconsin simply got back to what it does best: running the ball. Bret Bielema's team steamrolled to a school-record 564 rushing yards and threw it only seven times in a 62-14 rout of the Hoosiers. As a result, the Badgers are going back to the Big Ten championship game.

Game of the week: Lots of good ones Saturday, but the most drama came in Ann Arbor. Michigan outlasted Northwestern 38-31 in overtime thanks to a last-minute miracle and plenty of chutzpah from Devin Gardner. There is some magic in those Michigan uniforms at the Big House.

[+] EnlargeRoy Roundtree
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireRoy Roundtree made one of the biggest plays in the Big Ten all season with a miraculous catch in the final seconds of regulation.
Biggest play: As if there were any doubt. We've had the Immaculate Reception; should we call this one the Roundtree Revelation? Roy Roundtree's 53-yard catch off a tipped ball (around the 1:20 mark) with eight seconds left to set up Michigan's tying field goal may well go down as the Big Ten play of the year. How did Roundtree get so open on a post route, with Northwestern in a prevent defense? "Anybody who goes to catch the ball I'd like to have triple-teamed," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That would be ideal. But I can't say I would change the call. I just wish we had knocked the dang ball down." Instead, Roundtree and Northwestern cornerback Daniel Jones both got their hands it, the ball bounced straight up and Roundtree maintained his concentration long enough to haul it in while falling down. Roundtree's Roundabout Reception (OK, this still needs some work) will go down in Wolverines' lore.

Best call: Minnesota was struggling again in the red zone at Illinois and was locked in a 3-3 game in the second half when it faced a fourth-and-inches on the Illini 16. Instead of going for the easy field goal, head coach Jerry Kill went for the kill. A Philip Nelson sneak picked up the first down, and the Gophers would go on to score a touchdown en route to an eventual 17-3 victory. Minnesota reached the six-win plateau and is going bowling for the first time since 2009. Ski-U-Mah!

Testiest news conference: It's not much fun being either a coach or a reporter at a news conference when a team is losing; there are only so many ways to ask the question: Why do you stink? And so it went at Iowa, which lost its fourth straight game by falling at home to Purdue. The very first question posed to head coach Kirk Ferentz was why and how he got outcoached. "You can say it’s this, it’s that, lunar moon, whatever," Ferentz said. "But that’s coaching. And that’s me. Coaching starts with me.” Later, after more questions about his team's struggles, Ferentz tried to defend Iowa's season by pointing to victories over Minnesota and Michigan State. "It’s not like this has been a dog crap team,” Ferentz said. “You want to paint that picture, I’m not buying that.” (And if such a picture is for sale, I want to avoid that arts and crafts show.)

Big Man on Campus (Offense): This fall may not totally belong to Ball, but the state of Indiana sure does. Montee Ball ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 62-14 hammering of Indiana, putting the Badgers' star within one touchdown of tying the NCAA career record. For his career, Ball has tallied 824 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in five games while playing in the Hoosier State. He's got one more left: the Dec. 1 Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford was part of a dominant second-half defensive effort from the Blackshirts in a 32-23 win over Penn State. Stafford's interception of Matt McGloin helped set up the tying touchdown in the third quarter, and he later recovered the fumble by Matt Lehman in the end zone. Special mention also goes to Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had four tackles for loss to help the Boilermakers control the line of scrimmage at Iowa.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Purdue freshman Paul Griggs had misfired on a couple of tries at Ohio State that could have changed the outcome of that overtime loss. But he made up for that by drilling a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Boilers the 27-24 victory. "It seemed like everybody was grabbing me, and I know I got grabbed by a couple of the guys after the kick,” Griggs said. “As soon as I got away from them, I was running over toward the fans, and my mom ran out of the stands and she blindsided me. She was quite happy.”

Worst hangover: Northwestern could be 10-0 right now. In all three of their losses, the Wildcats held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. A good season could have been a great one in a very winnable Big Ten. Instead, Northwestern keeps finding ways to punch its fans in the gut. The Michigan loss was the worst one yet, as the Wildcats first surrendered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, then went ahead again late only to surrender the miraculous catch to Roundtree.

Strangest moment: Penn State sure wasn't happy about the controversial fumble call on Lehman's near-touchdown. But there was a strange penalty earlier in the game that went against the Nittany Lions, too.

Late in the first half, Nebraska's Brett Maher shanked a punt for 16 yards, apparently giving Penn State great field position. But the officials called sideline interference on the Lions, a 15-yard penalty.

Sideline interference? You see teams get warned for that but rarely flagged. Penn State beat writers in the press box thought that secondary coach John Butler, who often crowds the field, was the one who drew the flag. But Bill O'Brien said that wasn't the case.

"I guess the referee was running down the sideline and from what I was told, he ran into one of our players and I guess that's sideline interference," O'Brien said.

From that point on, a Penn State staff member made sure to keep telling coaches and players to move back anytime they got close to the field. And the Nittany Lions were left to wonder when they were going to get a break from the refs.


LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska never makes things easy for itself and especially not its fans. But the No. 16 Cornhuskers keep on winning.

Down 20-6 at halftime against Penn State, the Huskers engineered one of their patented second-half comebacks and held on for a 32-23 victory at Memorial Stadium.

The win keeps Nebraska in first place of the Legends Division and gets it one step closer to playing in the Big Ten championship game. Here's a quick look at how it went down:

It was over when: Justin Blatchford broke up Matt McGloin's fourth-down pass attempt with under three minutes to play. But the game-changer came with 5:02 left, when McGloin was called for intentional grounding in the end zone. That penalty resulted in a safety and gave Nebraska the 29-23 lead and the ball. Nebraska scored two touchdowns in the first 5:23 of the second half to tie the score, the second one coming after a McGloin interception deep in Penn State territory.


Game ball goes to: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez. He had another costly turnover, fumbling the ball inside the Penn State 5 to short-circuit a scoring opportunity. But Martinez still gets the job done. He completed 12 of 20 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown and carried 15 times for 104 yards. Ameer Abdullah also rushed for 116 yards on 31 carries.

Stat of the game: Penn State had 255 yards and 20 points in the first half. In the second half, Nebraska held the Nittany Lions to 136 yards and just one field goal. The Huskers outscored the Nittany Lions 26-3 in the second half.

Unsung hero of the game: Nebraska's Brett Maher shanked a 16-yard punt into the heavy wind earlier in the game. But with Nebraska needing to punt with about 5:40 to go, he unleashed a 69-yarder that went out of bounds at the Penn State 2. That pin job directly led to the safety.

Second guessing: Penn State was about to take the lead late when McGloin hit tight end Matt Lehman on a short pass near the goal line. But Lehman fumbled into the end zone, and Nebraska recovered. Replays appeared to show that Lehman crossed the plane before he fumbled, but the ruling was upheld after an official review. Bottom line: Lehman has to hold onto the ball there.

What it means: Go ahead and write Nebraska into the Big Ten title game, if not with permanent marker then at least with a finely-sharpened No. 2 pencil. The Huskers need only to beat Minnesota at home and Iowa on the road to claim the Legends Division title and a berth in Indianapolis because of their head-to-head win over Michigan. They are too good to lose to either of those teams, so a rematch of the 30-27 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 29 appears all but inevitable.

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