Big Ten: Brett Van Sloten
Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.
Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:
- LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
- WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
- TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
- WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
- WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
- WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
- RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
- LB James Morris, New England Patriots
- OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
- G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
- WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
- LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
- LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
- CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
- LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
- S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
- LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
- S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
- T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
- WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
- LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
- DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
- DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
- OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
- LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
- QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
- OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
- CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
- DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
- C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
- OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
- WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
- K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
- WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
- DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
- S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
- K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
- WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
- G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
- G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
- WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
- OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
- LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
- S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
- DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
- S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
- G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
- DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
- WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
- WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
- LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
- DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
- S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
- G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
- TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
- TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
- DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Illinois: This is another group that appears to be in significantly better shape now than at the start of coach Tim Beckman's tenure. The Illini lose only one full-time starter in tackle Corey Lewis, as four other linemen who started at least eight games in 2013 return. Senior tandem Michael Heitz and Simon Cvijanovic are two of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen, and guards Ted Karras also has logged plenty of starts. Right tackle appears to be the only vacancy entering the spring, as Austin Schmidt and others will compete.
Indiana: The Hoosiers have somewhat quietly put together one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, and the same should hold true in 2014. Everybody is back, and because of injuries before and during the 2013 season, Indiana boasts a large group with significant starting experience. Jason Spriggs should contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors as he enters his third season at left tackle. Senior Collin Rahrig solidifies the middle, and Indiana regains the services of guard Dan Feeney, who was sidelined all of 2013 by a foot injury.
Iowa: The return of left tackle Brandon Scherff anchors an Iowa line that could be a team strength this fall. Scherff will enter the fall as a leading candidate for Big Ten offensive lineman of the year. Iowa must replace two starters in right tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli. Andrew Donnal could be the answer in Van Sloten's spot despite playing guard in 2013, while several players will compete at guard, including Tommy Gaul and Eric Simmons. Junior Austin Blythe returns at center.
Maryland: Line play will go a long way toward determining how Maryland fares in the Big Ten, and the Terrapins will make the transition with an experienced group. Four starters are back, led by center Sal Conaboy, who has started games in each of his first three seasons. Tackles Ryan Doyle and Michael Dunn bring versatility to the group, and Maryland should have plenty of options once heralded recruit Damian Prince and junior-college transfer Larry Mazyck arrive this summer. Prince is the top Big Ten offensive line recruit in the 2014 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. New line coach Greg Studwara brings a lot of experience to the group.
Michigan: The Wolverines' line is under the microscope this spring after a disappointing 2013 season. Michigan loses both starting tackles, including Taylor Lewan, the Big Ten's offensive lineman of the year and a projected first-round draft choice. The interior line was in flux for much of 2013, and Michigan needs development from a large group of rising sophomores and juniors, including Kyle Kalis, Kyle Bosch, Jack Miller, Graham Glasgow, and Patrick Kugler. Both starting tackle spots are open, although Ben Braden seems likely to slide in on the left side. Erik Magnuson is out for spring practice following shoulder surgery, freeing up opportunities for redshirt freshman David Dawson and others.
Michigan State: The line took a significant step forward in 2013 but loses three starters, including left guard Blake Treadwell, a co-captain. Michigan State used an eight-man rotation in 2013 and will look for development from top reserves such as Travis Jackson (Yes! Yes!) and Connor Kruse. Kodi Kieler backed up Treadwell last season and could contend for a starting job as well. Coach Mark Dantonio said this week that converted defensive linemen James Bodanis, Devyn Salmon and Noah Jones will get a chance to prove themselves this spring. It's important for MSU to show it can reload up front, and the large rotation used in 2013 should help.
Minnesota: For the first time since the Glen Mason era, Minnesota truly established the line of scrimmage and showcased the power run game in 2013. The Gophers return starters at four positions and regain Jon Christenson, the team's top center before suffering a season-ending leg injury in November. Right tackle Josh Campion and left guard Zac Epping are mainstays in the starting lineup, and players such as Tommy Olson and Ben Lauer gained some valuable experience last fall. There should be good leadership with Epping, Olson, Marek Lenkiewicz and Caleb Bak.
Nebraska: Graduation hit the line hard as five seniors depart, including 2012 All-American Spencer Long at guard and Jeremiah Sirles at tackle. Nebraska will lean on guard Jake Cotton, its only returning starter, and experienced players such as Mark Pelini, who steps into the center spot. Senior Mike Moudy is the top candidate at the other guard spot, but there should be plenty of competition at the tackle spots, where Zach Sterup, Matt Finnin and others are in the mix. Definitely a group to watch this spring.
Northwestern: Offensive line struggles undoubtedly contributed to Northwestern's disappointing 2013 season. All five starters are back along with several key reserves, and coach Pat Fitzgerald already has seen a dramatic difference in the position competitions this spring as opposed to last, when many linemen were sidelined following surgeries. Center Brandon Vitabile is the only returning starter who shouldn't have to worry about his job. Paul Jorgensen and Eric Olson opened the spring as the top tackles, and Jack Konopka, who has started at both tackle spots, will have to regain his position.
Ohio State: Like Nebraska, Ohio State enters the spring with a lot to replace up front as four starters depart from the Big Ten's best line. Taylor Decker is the only holdover and will move from right tackle to left tackle. Fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin could step in at the other tackle spot, while Pat Elflein, who filled in for the suspended Marcus Hall late last season, is a good bet to start at guard. Jacoby Boren and Billy Price will compete at center and Joel Hale, a defensive lineman, will work at guard this spring. Ohio State has recruited well up front, and it will be interesting to see how young players such as Evan Lisle and Kyle Dodson develop.
Penn State: New coach James Franklin admits he's concerned about the depth up front despite the return of veterans Miles Dieffenbach and Donovan Smith on the left side. Guard Angelo Mangiro is the other lineman who logged significant experience in 2013, and guard/center Wendy Laurent and guard Anthony Alosi played a bit. But filling out the second string could be a challenge for Penn State, which could start a redshirt freshman (Andrew Nelson) at right tackle. The Lions have to develop some depth on the edges behind Nelson and Smith.
Purdue: The Boilers reset up front after a miserable season in which they finished 122nd out of 123 FBS teams in rushing offense (67.1 ypg). Three starters return on the interior, led by junior center Robert Kugler, and there's some continuity at guard with Jordan Roos and Justin King, both of whom started as redshirt freshmen. It's a different story on the edges as Purdue loses both starting tackles. Thursday's addition of junior-college tackle David Hedelin could be big, if Hedelin avoids a potential NCAA suspension for playing for a club team. Cameron Cermin and J.J. Prince also are among those in the mix at tackle.
Rutgers: Continuity should be a strength for Rutgers, which returns its entire starting line from 2013. But production has to be better after the Scarlet Knights finished 100th nationally in rushing and tied for 102nd in sacks allowed. Guard Kaleb Johnson considered entering the NFL draft but instead will return for his fourth season as a starter. Rutgers also brings back Betim Bujari, who can play either center or guard, as well as Keith Lumpkin, the likely starter at left tackle. It will be interesting to see if new line coach Mitch Browning stirs up the competition this spring, as younger players Dorian Miller and J.J. Denman could get a longer look.
Wisconsin: There are a lot of familiar names up front for the Badgers, who lose only one starter in guard Ryan Groy. The tackle spots look very solid with Tyler Marz (left) and Rob Havenstein (right), and Kyle Costigan started the final 11 games at right guard. There should be some competition at center, as both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen have battled injuries. Coach Gary Andersen mentioned on national signing day that early enrollee Michael Deiter will enter the mix immediately at center. Another early enrollee, decorated recruit Jaden Gault, should be part of the rotation at tackle. If certain young players develop quickly this spring, Wisconsin should have no depth issues when the season rolls around.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Toughening up on 'D': The Fighting Illini had one of the nation's worst defenses, especially against the run. Tim Beckman brought back defensive coordinator Tim Banks and hopes an extra year of maturity can help strengthen the front seven. Juco import Joe Fotu could win a starting job this spring, and Jihad Ward should help when he arrives in the summer.
- 'Haase cleaning: Nathan Scheelhaase wrapped up his career by leading the Big Ten in passing yards last season. Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt likely takes over the reins, but backups Reilly O'Toole and Aaron Bailey plan on fighting for the job, as well. Bill Cubit's offense should equal big numbers for whoever wins out.
- Target practice: Whoever wins the quarterback job needs someone to catch the ball, and Illinois' top two receivers from '13 -- Steve Hull and Miles Osei -- both are gone. Junior college arrival Geronimo Allison will be counted on for some immediate help.
Spring start: March 27 or 28
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- A new big three: The Hawkeyes begin the process of trying to replace their three standout senior linebackers from last season: James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. They were the heart of the defense in 2013, and now guys such as Quinton Alston, Reggie Spearman and Travis Perry need to make major leaps forward in the spring.
- Develop more playmakers: Iowa was able to win the games it should have won last year, but struggled against those with strong defenses because of its lack of explosiveness. Sophomore Tevaun Smith and junior Damond Powell showed flashes of their potential late in the year at wideout. They need to continue to develop to give quarterback Jake Rudock and the offense ways to stretch the field.
- Solidify the right tackle spot: The offensive line should once again be the team's strength, but the departure of veteran right tackle Brett Van Sloten means someone has to take on that role. Whether that's senior Andrew Donnal or redshirt freshman Ryan Ward could be determined this spring.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Mitch's pitches: Philip Nelson's transfer means redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner enters spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback. He's a load to bring down when he runs, but Leidner needs to improve his passing accuracy after completing 55 percent of his passes in the regular season and only half of his 22 attempts in the Texas Bowl game loss to Syracuse. Added experience should help. If not, he's got some talented youngsters such as Chris Streveler and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy aiming to dethrone him.
- Mitch's catchers: Of course, part of the problem behind the Gophers' Big Ten-worst passing offense was a lack of threats at receiver. Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones showed promise as true freshmen and should only improve with an offseason of work. It's critical that they do, or else Minnesota might have to count on three receiver signees early.
- Replacing Ra'Shede: The Gophers only lost four senior starters, but defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman might be the most difficult to replace. The first-team All-Big Ten selection created havoc inside defensively, and there aren't many athletes like him floating around. Scott Ekpe could take many of Hageman's reps, but the defensive line overall will have to pick up the slack.
Spring start: March 8
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Tommy's turn: Sophomore Tommy Armstrong Jr. entered the offseason as the clear No. 1 quarterback for the first time after taking over for the injured Taylor Martinez (and splitting some snaps with Ron Kellogg III) last season. Armstrong showed maturity beyond his years in 2013 but needs to continue developing as a passer and deepen his understanding of the offense. Redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton could push him in the spring.
- Get the OL up to speed: Nebraska loses a lot of experience on the offensive line, including both starting tackles (Jeremiah Sirles and Brent Qvale), plus interior mainstays Spencer Long, Andrew Rodriguez and Cole Pensick. The Huskers do return seniors Mark Pelini, Jake Cotton and Mike Moudy, junior Zach Sterup, plus three freshmen and a junior-college transfer who redshirted last year. A strong group of incoming freshmen may also contribute. Big Red usually figures it out on the O-line, but there will be a lot of players in new roles this season.
- Reload in the secondary: The Blackshirts have plenty of experience in the front seven, but the defensive backfield has a new coach (Charlton Warren) and will be without top playmakers Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans. The safety spot next to Corey Cooper was a problem area last season, and the Huskers are hoping Charles Jackson takes a major step forward. Warren has talent to work with but must find the right combination.
Spring start: Feb. 26
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Trevor's time?: Trevor Siemian split reps with Kain Colter at quarterback the past two seasons, serving as sort of the designated passer. Siemian threw for 414 yards in the season finale against Illinois and has a clear path toward starting with Colter gone. That could mean more of a pass-first offense than Northwestern ran with Colter. Redshirt freshman and heralded recruit Matt Alviti also looms as an option.
- Manning the middle: Northwestern brings back a solid corps on defense but lost middle linebacker Damien Proby, who led the team in tackles the past two seasons. Pat Fitzgerald has some options, including making backups Drew Smith or Jaylen Prater a starter or moving Collin Ellis inside. He can experiment and find the best match this spring.
- Patch it together: The Wildcats' health woes from 2013 aren't over, as 11 players will be held out of practice for medical reasons, including star running back/returner Venric Mark. Add in that the school doesn't have early enrollees, and the team will be trying to practice severely undermanned this spring. The biggest key is to get through spring without any more major problems and to get the injured guys healthy for the fall.
Spring start: March 6
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Moving forward: Purdue players wore T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Forward" during winter workouts, and no wonder. They don't want to look backward to last year's abysmal 1-11 season. It's time to turn the page and get some positive momentum going in Year 2 under Darrell Hazell. Luckily, optimism abounds in spring.
- Trench focus: The Boilermakers simply couldn't cut it on the lines in Big Ten play, and Hazell went about trying to sign bigger offensive linemen this offseason for his physical style of play. Both starting tackles and three starting defensive linemen all graduated, and no one should feel safe about his job after last season's performance. Kentucky transfer Langston Newton (defense) and early enrollee Kirk Barron (offense) could push for playing time on the lines.
- Find an identity: What was Purdue good at last season? Not much, as the team ranked near the bottom of the country in just about every major statistical category. The Boilers found some good things late in the passing game with freshmen Danny Etling and DeAngelo Yancey, but Hazell must do a better job instilling the toughness he wants and locating playmakers.
Spring start: March 7
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Catching on: The biggest concern heading into the spring is at receiver after the team's only dependable wideout the past two seasons, Jared Abbrederis, graduated. Tight end Jacob Pedersen, who was second on the team in receiving yards last season, is also gone. The Badgers have struggled to develop new weapons in the passing game but now have no choice. Gary Andersen signed five receivers in the 2014 class but none enrolled early, so guys such as Kenzel Doe and Robert Wheelwright need to take charge this spring.
- Stave-ing off the competition?: Joel Stave started all 13 games at quarterback last year, while no one else on the roster has any real experience under center. Yet the redshirt junior should face some competition this spring after the Badgers' passing game struggled down the stretch. Andersen likes more mobile quarterbacks and has three guys in Bart Houston, Tanner McEvoy and freshman early enrollee D.J. Gillins, who can offer that skill. Stave must hold them off to keep his job.
- New leaders on defense: Wisconsin lost a large group of seniors, including nine major contributors on the defensive side. That includes inside linebacker and team leader Chris Borland, plus defensive linemen Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer, outside linebacker Brendan Kelly and safety Dezmen Southward. That's a whole lot of leadership and production to replace, and the process begins in earnest this spring.
The Big Ten's official championship game didn't arrive until the 2011 season, but Iowa and Ohio State played for the league title on Nov. 14, 2009. Both teams entered the game 5-1 in Big Ten play, and the winner would gain a head-to-head tiebreaker, making the results of the following week irrelevant. That afternoon and early evening, a Rose Bowl berth was on the line in Columbus, Ohio.
"Going into the Horseshoe, we just weren't sure who James Vandenberg was or what he really brought to the table," Johnson-Koulianos said in a phone interview with ESPN.com this week. "James was sort of born into Iowa football on that night. That's what sticks out to me most."
The Hawkeyes actually had a chance to take the lead at the end of regulation, but coach Kirk Ferentz decided to drain the final 52 seconds. Ohio State went on to win 27-24 in overtime.
"At the time, you didn't really realize how significant that was," Johnson-Koulianos said. "How close we were to having a Rose Bowl berth and how tough it is to get there, that sticks out. It's a bit disappointing."
Iowa went on to win the Orange Bowl and finished No. 7 in the final polls. Many expected the Hawkeyes to punch their ticket to Pasadena the following season, but they stumbled to 7-5 before winning their bowl game. The wins total dropped to seven in 2011 and to four last season.
Columbus once again is in the viewfinder for Iowa, which makes its first visit to No. 4 Ohio State since 2009 on Saturday. But how much farther away is Pasadena for a program that not long ago was among the Big Ten's elites?
"That was 2009; this is 2013," Ferentz said. "Every season's different, every team's different. Right now, we're a 4-2 team, trying to figure out a way to win No. 5. It won't be easy this week, but that's what our focus is."
Iowa isn't considered a serious threat for the Big Ten title this season, although it already has matched its 2012 wins total in just half the time. An offense that finished 114th in yards and 111th in points last season has shown better cohesion behind quarterback Jake Rudock, running back Mark Weisman and a solid line. The defense also is making strides, not allowing a rushing touchdown through the first six games.
The arrow is pointed up for the Hawkeyes, and the move to the West Division beginning next season should boost their chances to reach the league title game. But the program is still trying to regain the momentum it had on Nov. 14, 2009, when it started 10 future NFL draft picks against Ohio State, including three first-rounders (offensive tackles Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff, and defensive end Adrian Clayborn).
"My class surprisingly catapulted us into a winning program again, with the upper tier," said Johnson-Koulianos, who had 45 receptions for 750 yards in 2009. "We had a pretty good thing going."
It's a great team that we're playing in a very hostile environment. It'll tell us a lot. We need to give them all we've got and see if we can hang with a powerful Ohio State team.
-- Iowa tackle Brett Van Sloten
Things shifted in 2010, as the close games Iowa had grown accustomed to winning began to go the other way. After a mediocre 2011 campaign, one of the nation's most stable coaching staffs began to splinter. Ferentz had to make coordinator changes for the first time in his tenure.
More staffing moves followed after last season's clunker. Of the nine assistants at Iowa in 2009, only three -- Phil Parker, Reese Morgan and Eric Johnson -- remain.
Hawkeyes tackle Brett Van Sloten redshirted in 2009 and watched the Ohio State game from home, calling it "a competitive game in an competitive environment." Now a fifth-year senior, Van Sloten will tell his younger teammates about the great things accomplished during that season.
"You want to learn from the past," Van Sloten said. "What we, as younger guys at the time, admired about the 2009 team was their will and desire to finish games. They were in a lot of close games, but they found ways to win. You relay that to the younger guys."
Van Sloten said last week's bye allowed players to recharge after a physical game against Michigan State and figure out "where we want to go as a program." The Hawkeyes know Saturday's game against Ohio State, which has yet to lose under second-year coach Urban Meyer and remains the favorite to reach the Rose Bowl, is a measuring stick.
Iowa last won in Columbus in 1991, the year after the Hawkeyes' most recent Rose Bowl appearance.
"It's a great team that we're playing in a very hostile environment," Van Sloten said. "It'll tell us a lot. We need to give them all we've got and see if we can hang with a powerful Ohio State team."
A win Saturday would suddenly thrust Iowa back into the crowded Legends Division race before home tests against Northwestern and Wisconsin. Simply hanging with the Buckeyes would show that Iowa's road to Pasadena isn't as long as it was last season, or even before this season.
From afar, Johnson-Koulianos sees Iowa making progress. The Hawkeyes still lack game-changers on the perimeter but boast some good core pieces, including Rudock.
"This is going to be another good [test] of what this team is capable of and who they are," Johnson-Koulianos said. " I don't think they even need to win this game for us to feel good about Iowa moving forward. They need to be in this game. To get back to being a contender for Rose Bowls and BCS bowls, honestly, I don't think we’re there yet, but I do think in a year or two, we could be.
"We're heading in the right direction."
- Nick Saban talks about why Alabama nixed the Michigan State series. More on the series cancellation from Joe Rexrode. The Spartans bolster their kicking game in recruiting.
- Some more takes on Jim Delany's pay-for-play comments here and here and here.
- Tom Dienhart previews Week 5 in the Big Ten.
- A great look at Kenny Guiton's evolution with Ohio State. Ohio State's run game is based around power. Urban Meyer calls Wisconsin the king of the Big Ten, but his Ohio State players disagree.
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda talked with two former Badgers assistants to help prep for Ohio State. Center Dan Voltz is ready for his chance at Ohio State. Badgers nose guard Beau Allen wants to rush the passer. TCF Bank Stadium is sold out for Floyd. Wisconsin's defense is getting healthier.
- A video look at the Iowa-Minnesota series. An excellent profile of Iowa CB B.J. Lowery from Marc Morehouse. Hawkeyes offensive linemen Brett Van Sloten has molded himself into a Big Ten player.
- QB Philip Nelson and RB Donnell Kirkwood don't appear on Minnesota's latest injury report. Minnesota has played disciplined football so far.
- The USA Today crew makes its national Week 5 picks.
- A good look at Illinois' versatile offensive weapon Josh Ferguson. Illini LB Jonathan Brown mentors the defense. Former Illinois AD Ron Guenther, who will be honored Saturday, hasn't been forgotten in Champaign.
- A good breakdown of the Purdue-Northern Illinois matchup. The Boilers defense will be tested by NIU's Jordan Lynch. Purdue needs a win before it can regroup during the open week.
- Some Michigan nuggets from offensive coordinator Al Borges. Nick Baumgardner's Michigan mailbag. Michigan and Michigan State have time to fix their flaws, Bob Wojnowski writes.
- Three good things and three questions for Penn State after the first four games. Lions safety Ryan Keiser (hand) likely will miss next week's game at Indiana. After the NCAA amended Penn State's sanctions, USC is looking for the same thing.
- There's no real rift between Kain Colter and Northwestern over the APU movement.
- Indiana is anxious to return to the field after last Saturday's loss.
- Nebraska plays the waiting game in recruiting. The Huskers' Spencer Long says it's time to hit the gas pedal as Big Ten play looms.
Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel will speak on behalf of the players at the kickoff luncheon on July 25. Urschel, who's a Big Ten medal of honor winner and a brilliant guy, should deliver one whale of a speech. I can't wait to hear it.
Here's the full lineup:
Tim Kynard, Sr., DL
Corey Lewis, Sr., OT
Nathan Scheelhaase, Sr., QB
Mitch Ewald, Sr., K
Greg Heban, Sr., S
Kofi Hughes, Sr., WR
Christian Kirksey, Sr., LB
James Morris, Sr., LB
Brett Van Sloten, Sr., OL
Devin Gardner, Jr., QB
Thomas Gordon, Sr., S
Taylor Lewan, Sr., LT
Max Bullough, Sr., LB
Darqueze Dennard, Sr., CB
Blake Treadwell, Sr., OG
Ra’Shede Hageman, Sr., DT
Donnell Kirkwood, Jr., RB
Brock Vereen, Sr., S
Quincy Enunwa, Sr., WR
Ciante Evans, Sr., CB
Taylor Martinez, Sr., QB
Kain Colter, Sr., QB
Venric Mark, Sr., RB
Tyler Scott, Sr., DE
Jack Mewhort, Sr., OT
Braxton Miller, Jr., QB
Bradley Roby, Jr., CB
Glenn Carson, Sr., LB
John Urschel, Sr., G
Malcolm Willis, Sr., S
Ricardo Allen, Sr., CB
Bruce Gaston, Sr., DT
Gabe Holmes, Sr., TE
Jared Abbrederis, Sr., WR
Chris Borland, Sr., LB
James White, Sr., RB
Some quick thoughts:
- This looks like a very solid lineup. You've got the three headliner quarterbacks -- Braxton Miller, Taylor Martinez and Devin Gardner -- as well as Northwestern's Kain Colter and Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase. While only five QBs total is a low number, there are so many quarterback battles in the league that it makes sense this year. There are also several other star players, like Michigan's Taylor Lewan, Wisconsin's Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis, Northwestern's Venric Mark and Michigan State's Max Bullough and Darqueze Dennard.
- You may have heard a roar from the media when it was announced that Ohio State was bringing Bradley Roby. The star cornerback is one of the most engaging and fun interviews around. Let's hope he shows his full personality in Chicago. Good to see Ohio State bringing high-profile players, including two non-seniors, though this may well end up being the final year for Roby and -- possibly -- Miller. We'd love to see Nebraska's Kenny Bell in attendance, but he's an underclassman and the Huskers have a pretty good group. Martinez has slowly started to warm up to the public spotlight, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the glare of media day.
- Should we read anything into Michigan State not bringing Andrew Maxwell? The quarterback is a fifth-year senior and a very polished public speaker, after all, but he is in the midst of a position battle. Maybe the Spartans simply didn't want the quarterback competition to overtake the conversation.
- This is Scheelhaase's second straight year at the event, and his inclusion probably signals that he's got a firm grip on the starting QB job. I'm a little surprised not to see the Illini bring Jonathan Brown. But Corey Lewis, who has battled back from multiple knee injuries and was granted a sixth year of eligibility, is a tremendous story.
- The guy I'm most disappointed not to see on the list? It's got to be Penn State's Allen Robinson, the best receiver in the league. He's only a junior, but it would have been nice for him to get some more national exposure. At least Urschel can fill up any reporter's notebook. All in all, it should be a vastly different experience for the Penn State contingent this year compared to last year's insanity.
What do you think of the lineup?
By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or shot out of a cannon. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: Iowa
Brandon Scherff, OT, Jr.
Maybe offensive coordinator Greg Davis will surprise us and call 40 passes a game with an unproven quarterback. It's more likely Iowa relies on its running attack and -- hope AIRBHG isn't reading -- a good stable of backs led by Mark Weisman. That's where Scherff comes in. He's the team's best lineman and a guy who has the potential to follow recent Hawkeyes star tackles like Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. Iowa's offense already had problems before Scherff suffered a gruesome injury last October against Penn State, but without Scherff -- and fellow lineman Andrew Donnal, who got hurt two plays later -- the unit had no chance. Not only does Scherff provide blindside protection for the Hawkeyes' new signal-caller, but he'll be instrumental in sparking a run game that showed potential when the backs were healthy in 2012. Iowa is very young at tackle behind Scherff and Brett Van Sloten, and it can't afford to lose No. 68 again.
B.J. Lowery, CB, Sr.
Some might expect to see a linebacker here, as Iowa returns starters James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. But the Hawkeyes have strength in numbers with their defensive midsection, and if one player were to go down, the others are there to pick up the slack. Iowa doesn't enjoy the same type of depth at cornerback, especially after losing Micah Hyde, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a fifth-round pick in last month's NFL draft. After recording 50 tackles and an interception last season, Lowery capped a strong spring with an interception and three pass breakups in Iowa's spring game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the team's quarterbacks avoided throwing toward Lowery in practices, and he showed why in the scrimmage. Iowa has some questions at the other cornerback spot and not much overall depth at the position, so it needs to keep Lowery on the field this fall.
ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Wednesday to discuss the spring.
What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?
Kirk Ferentz: Like any spring, you've got a lot of players on a lot of different levels. You've got experienced players, and we're certainly counting on them improving and developing into leaders. You've got younger guys who have played, and you're hoping they're ready to play more proficiently. And then you've got other guys who, in some cases, are special-teams guys who have a chance to become offensive and defensive role players, or guys who haven't been on the field yet. So you have a lot of layers of players at different levels. The biggest thing is trying to gauge where they're at, and at the same time, you're trying to find out what they can do and pull a team together. It's always a fun period and a really interesting period.
How has the transition on the staff this year gone so far, especially in relation to last year? You had quite a long period without any changes on your staff.
KF: Last year was probably a little more dramatic with two new coordinators. Norm [Parker] and Ken [O'Keefe] were here 13 years, so they were big departures. We've got Phil [Parker] and Greg [Davis] both in their second years, and they're both tremendous coaches. What's unusual is how long we were all together at one time. Usually staffs don't stay in one place for 13, 14 years. Normally they move to the next channel and you have a new group of folks coming in. So it's a natural series of transitions. The way I look at it, we've had six new members join the staff in the last two years, and it's a matter of pulling everything together. But I'm really excited about all the guys who have joined. They're outstanding coaches, and it looks like they're all going to be great fits here at Iowa. At the same time, I'm very appreciative of the guys who had been here and helped us move things.
Is the transition harder for the players or the new coaches?
KF: There's learning on both sides. The players to have learn their coaches, certainly, and the coaches have a lot to learn about the players. That can be a healthy thing, too. It's a clean slate and a fresh beginning for everybody. For players, it's a whole new opportunity.
Offensively, it wasn't what you were hoping for last year. Is it a total reset this year with some new faces, or are there some things you can continue from last year?
When you and Greg looked at things, did you identify areas to target for the spring?
KF: Greg came in, this was all new to him, the players were all new to him. His knowledge of our personnel is a lot more extensive than it was a year ago at this time. And that was one of the reasons I was so attracted to Greg in the hiring process, his ability historically to work with a lot of different types of players and different types of offenses. He wasn't married to one system. There's nothing like experience, and he's got a real good grip on who our players are, what they can do and what we can do to help them be more productive.
On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.
Away we go:
1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.
3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.
4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost three starters from last year's line, but much like Wisconsin, this is a group that usually reloads. Guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi provide nice building blocks, with Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez solidifying the tackle spots. The big question here is center and who will replace Mike Caputo.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes had their problems up front last year and now are implementing a new offensive system. Urban Meyer wasn't happy with the group's work ethic in January but felt much better about them by the end of spring. Jack Mewhort replaces Mike Adams at left tackle, while Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall try to live up their potential at guard. Corey Linsley earned Meyer's praise for his work at center. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot, where former tight end Reid Fragel is now the first-stringer. But true freshman Taylor Decker is pushing him.
6. Purdue: Injuries kept the Boilers from building much cohesion this spring, but this can be a sturdy group when healthy. Three starters are back, with Trevor Foy moving from right to left tackle. This is an experienced bunch, but Danny Hope wants to see more dominance. Senior center Rick Schmeig should be a leader
7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year's edition. The leader is center James Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.
8. Northwestern: The Wildcats lost two valuable starters in tackle Al Netter and Ben Burkett but return three-year starter Brian Mulroe at guard and promising sophomore center Brandon Vitabile. There should be good depth up front, but can the Wildcats generate a consistent rushing attack?
9. Penn State: The good news is that the Nittany Lions played better than expected last year on the offensive line. The bad news is four starters are gone, not to mention some potential transfers in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. There is still talent here, including guard John Urschel and tackle Donovan Smith. But the least experienced line in the league will have to learn a new offensive system.
10. Illinois: There was little excuse for the Illini O-line to play as bad as it did last year with standout players Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic in the mix. Pocic is back this year at center, though he might take some snaps at tackle as well. Young players like sophomore Simon Cvijanovic and redshirt freshman Ted Karras will need to come on. This unit should be improved, but it ranks low based on last year's finish.
11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill shuffled this group last year and played a lot of youngsters. It's still a relatively inexperienced unit, but there is hope for improvement. Junior left tackle Ed Olson has the best chance to be a star.
12. Indiana: Center Will Matte is one of the most experienced linemen in the league. But beyond him are several young players, including three true sophomores who started as freshmen last year. There's nowhere to go but up.
- Some initial coverage of the release of the Freeh report can be found here, here, here and here
- The 2012 Nittany Lions have some English flavor on the roster.
- A look back at the Indiana career of Antwaan Randle El, who's set to retire from the NFL this week (subscription required).
- It's Brett Van Sloten's turn to be a major contributor on the Iowa offensive line.
- Can the Wolverines match last year's offensive production?
- Bloggers for Michigan and Michigan State get together to break down the 2012 Spartans.
- Eleven Warriors looks at three areas Braxton Miller must improve for Ohio State.
- Controlled beer and wine sales were approved for Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
- Tweets by Nebraska's Eric Martin brought up the old debate about whether players should be paid.
- A Texas receiver became Purdue's sixth commitment in the 2013 class.
- Tom Dienhart offers 12 Big Ten newcomers to watch in 2012.
Here are a few highlights from what Ferentz had to say:
-- Ferentz said several players had emerged over the course of the spring. He singled out the defensive line, which went into the spring as a real question mark because of its youth and inexperience. Ferentz said sophomore Louis Trinca-Pasat might have made the most progress.
"He was kind of on the ropes back in December, quite frankly," Ferentz said. "A young guy who really was starting to question where his heart was and how important it was to him, and it showed up in his performance. He was out there, he looked OK, but nothing to write home about.
"In the spring, he's really just quietly emerged, and by the second half of spring ball, he's playing as well as anybody on the field either side of the ball. So he's clearly taken some steps."
Ferentz also said Steve Bigach and Joe Gaglione played well in spring, while Darian Cooper and Riley McMinn showed the typical inconsistency of inexperience. But "the group as a whole, kind of took some steps forward," which is vitally important to the Hawkeyes' chances this season.
The other position group Ferentz praised for its improvement was the tight ends. He said Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger-Coble had good springs.
-- Offensive lineman Casey McMillan and receiver John Chelf suffered knee injuries that required surgery. But Ferentz thinks both will be back this summer. Defensive linemen Carl Davis and Dominic Alvis missed the spring with injuries but should be back by the first week of June. Linebacker Shane DiBona, coming off an Achilles injury, had a setback and will not play again in his career.
-- Running back Jordan Canzeri, who had an offseason ACL injury, wants to try to get back for this season. Ferentz said, "Everything is going fine, but that's touch and go, to say the least."
The two healthy tailbacks, De'Andre Johnson and Damon Bullock "improved pretty much each and every day," Ferentz said. But he's still understandably concerned about the depth there. In a lighter moment, someone asked Ferentz if he'd be open to accepting a graduate transfer, a la Danny O'Brien and Russell Wilson.
"I think I'd consider anything if we thought it would work," he said. "In fact, if you know of any running backs right now ..."
-- Iowa's leadership group for 2012 will be seniors Bigach, Greg Castillo, James Ferentz, Micah Hyde and James Vandenberg, juniors Casey Kreiter, James Morris, Brad Rogers and Brett Van Sloten, sophomores Kevonte Martin-Manley and Brandon Scherff and freshmen Quinton Alston, Austin Blythe and Jake Rudock.
-- Ferentz said "anywhere on defense," receiver and punter remain unsettled positions. The best news is that it's still early.
"We still have a lot of room for improvement, typical of any football team," Ferentz said. "But I think this team, especially with our youth and experience, we're going to see a lot of transition and a lot of things happening here between now and September. That's going to be fun to track, fun to watch. It's really in the players' hands how they want to approach it and how much they want to improve."
Last but not least in the rundown is Iowa. The obvious pick here is running back Marcus Coker, whose offseason transfer leaves the Hawkeyes with little to no experience in the backfield. That will be a major storyline all spring and summer, but since we've already written a lot about that, I decided to focus this piece on two other guys who leave large voids in the lineup:
Why: McNutt was named the Big Ten's top receiver last season, and with good reason, as he had 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 touchdowns. When defenses were able to slow McNutt, as they did in the final two games, Iowa's passing game struggled.
Replacement candidates: Keenan Davis (6-3, 215, Sr.); Kevonte Martin-Manley (6-1, 205, Soph.); Steven Staggs (6-3, 195, Sr.); Jordan Cotton (6-1, 185, Jr.); Jacob Hillyer (6-4, 195, RFr); Cameron Wilson (6-1, 190, incoming freshman); Tevaun Smith (6-2, 186, incoming freshman); Greg Mabin (6-1, 190, incoming freshman).
The skinny: Iowa really needs Davis to take his game up a notch and become the go-to receiver. Davis has plenty of talent, and he made 50 catches for 713 yards and four touchdowns last season. But he has struggled with drops and injuries throughout his career, and must become more consistent. Martin-Manley showed lots of promise as a redshirt freshmen with 30 catches and 323 yards, though most of his production came early in the season. Hopefully another year of development will help him blossom. After that, the Hawkeyes don't have much experience and might need to rely on a guy like Hillyer breaking out, or even a true freshman contributing, so quarterback James Vandenberg has enough targets.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Reilly Reiff, LT
Why: We've paid a lot of attention to the holes Iowa has to fill at running back, receiver and defensive line, but the offensive line is a concern as well. The Hawkeyes lose three starters and both tackles. One of the best linemen in the Big Ten, Reiff skipped his senior year and is expected to be selected in the first half of the first round of the NFL draft.
Replacement candidates: Andrew Donnal (6-7, 302, Soph.); Brandon Scherff (6-5, 310, Soph); Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 292, Jr.); Nolan MacMillan (6-6, 290, Jr.); Ryan Ward (6-6, 270, incoming freshman).
The skinny: Donnal was a highly regarded recruit who backed up Reiff last season as a redshirt freshman. He is clearly being groomed to take over at left tackle. Scherff has seen some time at guard and tackle, but needs to improve. Van Sloten is more likely to push for the starting job at right tackle. McMillan started at guard as a freshman in 2010, but missed all of last season with an injury. Ward has potential, but it would be surprising to see a true freshman play a significant role at left tackle. While Reiff leaves some literal and figurative big shoes to fill, Iowa has been very good at developing offensive linemen under Kirk Ferentz, and has some big bodies to work with this offseason.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After a stellar end-of-year finish capped by an Outback Bowl victory, Iowa is up third on the recruiting rundown.
Number of recruits: 19
Key needs: Wide receiver, tight end, offensive line
Highest-rated player (Scouts Inc.): Keenan Davis (No. 16 nationally among wide receivers)
The quote: "It's a class we're comfortable with. I don't know where we're ranked this year. Once you get past that first 10, I think everyone is throwing darts. We've had a history of finding the right guys, hoping to find the right guys." -- head coach Kirk Ferentz, on the recruiting rankings
Quick take: This is another small class that ranks near the bottom of the Big Ten in terms of prestige. But anyone that follows Iowa's history for most of Ferentz's tenure knows the Hawkeyes usually get more from less on the field. Wideouts Davis and Jordan Cotton replenish a position that needs more dynamic players, and offensive tackles Nolan MacMillan and Brett Van Sloten could bookend the Hawkeyes' starting offensive line in the near future. The 2010 class will be far more important for Ferentz and Iowa, which will need to replace key pieces at linebacker, defensive line and defensive back. Last year's finish, a top-20 preseason ranking and the decrease in disciplinary issues should pay off for Iowa on the recruiting trail.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State