Big Ten: Brian Robiskie

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg hasn't even completed two weeks of spring practice, so it's still anybody's guess how the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year will perform in 2014.

But, over the last 25 years, five other Big Ten quarterbacks have found themselves in similar positions. Like Hackenberg, they impressed fans with memorable rookie campaigns, were named the Big Ten freshman of the year and raised expectations over the offseason.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
MCT via Getty ImagesHow will Nittany Lions signal-caller Christian Hackenberg follow up his fantastic freshman season?
Hackenberg's sophomore season won't be in the books for quite some time. But here's a look at those other five QBs and how they fared in their sophomore seasons and in their careers:

Braxton Miller, Ohio State, won award in 2011

Sophomore stats (2012): 148-of-254 passing (58.3 percent); 2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs; 227 carries, 1,271 yards, 13 TDs

Ohio State record (2012): 12-0, no postseason due to sanctions (2011: 6-7, lost to Florida in Gator Bowl)

Sophomore synopsis: It would've been difficult to ask Miller for a much better sophomore campaign. He was the Big Ten's offensive player of the year, finished fifth in the Heisman voting and even bested Carlos Hyde in both rushing yards (1,271 to, 970) and yards per carry (5.6 ypc to 5.2 ypc). Miller was more renowned for his legs than his arm, but he was still the second-most efficient passer in the conference. He also came up big when his team needed; the Buckeyes won six games that were decided by a touchdown or less.

His career: He could've opted to leave early for the NFL this offseason but instead decided to stay one last season. He's becoming more well-rounded with each season, and he's once again one of the favorites to win the Heisman.

Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State, won award in 2008

Sophomore stats (2009): 167-of-295 passing (56.6 percent); 2,094 yards, 18 TDs, 11 INTs; 162 carries, 779 yards, 7 TDs

Ohio State record (2009): 11-2, beat Oregon in Rose Bowl (2008: 10-3, lost Fiesta Bowl vs. Texas)

Sophomore synopsis: With the top tailback (Chris Wells) and wideout (Brian Robiskie) from 2008 both gone, Pryor put the offense on his back and carried it to an improved record. Pryor led the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, and he was instrumental in the Buckeyes' Rose Bowl win. He threw for 266 yards, rushed for a game-high 72 yards and was named the MVP. Statistically, his sophomore campaign wasn't his best season -- but he had a lot to overcome.

His career: He led the Buckeyes to three straight BCS bowl berths, but his legacy was marred by an early exit. He was suspended for the first five games of his senior season -- due to Tattoo-Gate -- so he instead opted for the NFL's supplemental draft in 2011. The Oakland Raiders took him in exchange for a third-round pick, although reports this week have said Pryor is now seeking to cut ties with the Raiders because he hopes to be a starter somewhere.

Brooks Bollinger, Wisconsin, won award in 1999

Sophomore stats (2000): 110-of-209 passing (52.6 percent); 1,479 yards, 10 TDs, 7 INTs; 157 carries, 459 yards, 6 TDs

Wisconsin record (2000): 9-4, beat UCLA in Sun Bowl (1999: 10-2, beat Stanford in Rose Bowl)

Sophomore synopsis: The Badgers needed to fill the big shoes of Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne, so they leaned a little more on the passing game in 2000. But, make no mistake about it, this was a run-first team that lived and died on the ground while relying heavily on Michael Bennett. Still, Bollinger played a big role as an effective dual-threat quarterback -- and this Wisconsin team came close to equaling success from the year before. Three of the Badgers' four losses were decided by six points or less, and two of those losses came in overtime.

His career: Bollinger never put up big passing numbers -- he never ranked higher than third in a given Big Ten stat category -- but he was consistent and did what was asked of him. The Big Ten Network even chose him as one of the 10 best quarterbacks in the conference from 2000 to 2010. He played five seasons in the NFL and was the Pittsburgh Panthers' QB coach for two seasons.

Antwaan Randle El, Indiana, won award in 1998

Sophomore stats (1999): 150-of-279 passing (53.8 percent); 2,277 yards, 17 TDs, 7 INTs; 224 carries, 788 yards, 13 TDs

Indiana record (1999): 4-7 (1998: 4-7)

Sophomore synopsis: Randle El's sophomore season was his best, by passing numbers, in his four years as a starter. He accounted for 69 percent of the entire offense that season and led the Big Ten with 30 combined touchdowns. The main reason Randle El couldn't lead Indiana to more wins? The defense allowed at least 30 points in nine of 11 contests. The highlight of the Randle El's season came against Illinois in October, when he overcame a 21-point deficit late in the third quarter to force overtime. Neil Rackers nailed a field goal to open up overtime for Illinois, but Randle El tossed a 25-yard TD pass on the very next play to seal the 34-31 win.

His career: The Hoosiers never won more than five games during his career, but he was clearly the team's best player. (And he was probably the most athletic person on campus -- he also played two years of basketball and one year of baseball.) He had a nine-year NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Washington Redskins.

Eric Hunter, Purdue, won award in 1989

Sophomore stats (1990): 200-of-366 passing (54.6 percent); 2,355 passing yards, 12 TDs, 14 INTs; 97 carries, 0 yards, 7 TDs

Purdue record (1990): 2-9 (1989: 3-8)

Sophomore synopsis: Hunter was looked upon as a young Randall Cunningham, but his career never lived up to those freshman expectations. He threw 11 TDs on 178 attempts as a freshman and just 12 TDs on 366 attempts as a sophomore. The main problem was an inexperienced offensive line, and it only got worse as the season wore on. In the last five games, Hunter had 11 picks.

His career: Those sophomore struggles led to the firing of Purdue's coach, which meant a new coach and a new system for Hunter. The line continued to struggle, Hunter never got back on track, and he saw less time on the field each season thereafter. He earned a reputation for his inability to read defenses, and the Boilermakers never won more than four games a season during his career.
Here's the ironic part about Ohio State's first five games this season: The Buckeyes figure to play a ton of Tressel-Ball without Jim Tressel.

While Tressel serves his suspension, the Buckeyes likely will employ the strategy that has brought them tremendous success during the coach's tenure. You know the core principles: stout defense, field position, conservative offensive play calls, polished special teams and, most important, fewer mistakes than the opponent.

Ohio State often plays Tressel-Ball with a full complement of starters, so it's hardly a stretch to suggest the Buckeyes will turn to the scheme as they try to survive the first five games without top quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
AP Photo/Terry GilliamJoe Bauserman is the most likely candidate to start in the absence of Terrelle Pryor.
If Tressel-Ball is in the forecast for Ohio State, Joe Bauserman most likely will be, too.

The Buckeyes need a replacement for Pryor, and Bauserman appears to be the safest choice. He has significantly more game experience than any of the other quarterbacks vying to replace Pryor. He has been in the system for four seasons.

But he didn't really separate himself this spring, leaving the door open for Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and the most talked-about candidate, Braxton Miller. A true freshman who enrolled early, Miller had Buckeyes fans buzzing after a strong performance in the spring game, albeit against defenders several notches down the depth chart.

The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon encapsulates the QB question in a recent story:
The debate seems to come down to Bauserman, Mr. Safe and Steady, versus Miller, Mr. Clueless but Flashy. Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano did not shy away from that comparison.
"The best comparison I can make is when Trent Dilfer was the caretaker of the Baltimore Ravens, and he led them to a Super Bowl victory [in 2001]," Siciliano said. "He wasn't expected to go out and put up phenomenal numbers. He was supposed to take care of the ball, and they relied on their defense. I don't know throughout the course of time if we haven't ever had a different opinion. That's still what we want our quarterbacks to do."

If Bauserman can be Ohio State's Dilfer, the Buckeyes should be in good shape until Pryor's return.

But what if Ohio State needs its quarterback to win games, rather than not lose them? There are legit questions about the Buckeyes' supporting cast. Because of the suspensions, they have no proven receivers and a hole at left tackle. While folks are excited about the running backs group, Ohio State certainly would be better off if it had Dan Herron as an option. And while the Buckeyes' track record on defense suggests they'll be fine, they still must replace a lot of production.

This could be a reason to take a chance with Miller, but it also might strengthen Bauserman's case to start. In 2008, when Pryor replaced veteran Todd Boeckman at quarterback, he was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast (running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, the nation's No. 6 scoring defense).

With question marks elsewhere, I'd expect Ohio State to go with the safe choice at quarterback when the season kicks off Sept. 3.
In many ways, the drive epitomizes Terrelle Pryor's career at Ohio State.

Terrelle Pryor
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor says he has matured since beating Wisconsin in Madison two years ago.
It didn't always look pretty and featured some bumps along the way -- a fumble recovered by Pryor, two negative-yardage plays by the quarterback -- but no one could argue with the end result.

"A lot of luck, a lot of luck," Pryor told reporters Wednesday in Columbus, "and I think we executed."

Back in October 2008, No. 14 Ohio State trailed No. 18 Wisconsin 17-13 with 6:26 left in the game when Pryor led the offense onto the field. The Buckeyes needed to drive 80 yards.

It's never easy to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Much less at night. Much less with a true freshman calling the signals. Pryor was making just his third career start and his first on the road.

Before Ohio State took the field, senior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells approached Pryor.

"Beanie said, 'You're in a man's world. This is what it is. So are you gonna be a man or a kid?' " Pryor said after the game.

To that point, his night had been a mixed bag: a few good completions, a first-quarter interception and four sacks taken.

The drive began with a dropped pass by receiver Brian Hartline. Moments later, Pryor faced third-and-6 from his own 24-yard line, and he hit Hartline for a 19-yard gain. Then came the fumble, which Pryor fell on at the Ohio State 38.

Pryor responded on the next play with a 27-yard pass to Hartline, who fumbled following a hit by safety Jay Valai. Once again, Ohio State dodged a bullet as receiver Brian Robiskie recovered.

The freshman quarterback once again was challenged following a 4-yard loss. But on second-and-14, he found Ray Small for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, Wisconsin had a defensive meltdown and Pryor scooted into the end zone on an 11-yard run with 1:08 left for the winning score.

Ohio State prevailed 20-17.

"That was like his first big game as a starter," Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey said. "I feel like he was sort of born that day."

Barely two years later, Pryor makes his first trip back to Madison, as No. 1 Ohio State faces No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday. Once again, he'll have to deal with a rowdy road crowd in an October night game that will shape the Big Ten title race.

Pryor is much more aware of what to expect this time around, but he still draws upon what happened in 2008.

"That started my confidence of being a quarterback here, but it also grew and grew," he said after last week's win against Indiana. "Any time you get that win, it's huge. I matured as time [went] by."

Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt watched it all unfold, rendered powerless by NCAA transfer rules. Watt had to sit out the 2008 season after transferring to Wisconsin from Central Michigan.

"I was watching on the sidelines in sweatpants, not being able to have any impact on the game," he recalled. "Just watching everything unfold and watching [Pryor] carry their team down the field on that last drive and ultimately score, that hurt.

"That's something that stuck with me for a while, and it's something we need to avenge this week."

Watt calls Pryor "the complete package" now and notes that the Buckeyes quarterback has greater command of the offense this year. After an inconsistent sophomore season, Pryor has been much more polished this fall, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards with a league-leading 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

Although he's not running nearly as much this year, he remains a threat on the ground, averaging 6.2 yards a carry with three touchdowns.

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel has observed a "day-by-day, week-by-week, season-by-season maturation" with Pryor, but the quarterback's first big step took place in Madison on that October night in 2008.

"For a young guy, he certainly didn't seem to be affected by the difficulty of the defense and the difficulty of the crowd and all of those things," Tressel said. "I thought that was a very important moment for him to step up."

Posey quickly blossoms for Buckeyes

November, 11, 2009
11/11/09
10:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

DeVier Posey remembers the conversation like it happened yesterday.

"Hey, how you doing?" Posey asked Terrelle Pryor. "We’ve played each other many times in the AAU circuit in basketball."

Pryor already knew who Posey was, but Posey made sure the nation's top high school football recruit had no misgivings. Posey explained how he played for the D1 Greyhounds AAU squad and had faced Pryor's team, Pittsburgh's Finest, in tournaments back when they were in middle school.
 
 Charles LeClaire/Getty Images
 DeVier Posey has recorded 45 receptions for 672 yards and seven touchdowns this season.


"I was like, 'I'm playing football now, and I saw you play football, so we should play together,'" Posey said. "And I don't know, it just sparked from there."

Posey committed to play wide receiver for Ohio State in March 2007. Almost exactly a year later, Pryor signed on with the Buckeyes.

"[Pryor] was our No. 1 target as far as our recruiting class goes," Posey said. "As much as the coaches were recruiting him, we were recruiting him more."

The two have formed one of the Big Ten's top big-play connections this fall, hooking up 45 times for 672 yards and seven touchdowns. Six of Posey's seven scoring grabs have been 23 yards or longer and three have stretched 57 yards or longer, including a 62-yarder in last week's victory at Penn State.

Posey is tied for the league lead in touchdown receptions and ranks fifth in receiving yards (67.2 ypg).

"It was always our dream once we got here," Posey said of himself and Pryor, "but I don’t know if we pictured how things are going right now."

Posey, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore from Cincinnati, said he could have played his college ball elsewhere and become a No. 1 wide receiver as a freshman. Instead, he came to Ohio State knowing he would play sparingly behind mainstays Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline.

He had only 11 receptions last fall but still came away from the season a better player.

"With the receiver tradition that they have here, I knew I’d be able to be behind an NFL receiver and see an NFL receiver every day," he said. "Rather than having a coach tell me, I could see it and visualize it and be a visual learner. That was a big thing for me. Being behind guys like Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, I learned a lot."

Posey tagged along with Robiskie and Hartline this summer as they trained for the NFL. And whenever Ohio State's former star wideouts like Anthony Gonzalez and Santonio Holmes return to campus, Posey makes sure to see them.

"He wants to be good," Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said. "He’d be the first to tell you he’s a long way from where he’d like to be, but he’s working to progress and he has come up with some big catches. We need him to be a guy that when his number is called, he makes the play."

The big play is one of few calling cards for Ohio State's offense this year, as Pryor and the unit have endured ups and downs. But the Buckeyes gained confidence from the Penn State win and look for a repeat performance in another big game Saturday against No. 10 Iowa (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

"I always feel like when it’s a big game, I’ll show up," Posey said. "It’s just something with my confidence level. And when my number’s called, I'll be ready."

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 10, 2009
8/10/09
4:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The preseason position rankings march on with the wide receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten wasn't known for its air show last year, as only Illinois ranked among the top 25 nationally in pass offense. But most would agree the league boasts two of the nation's elite wide receivers in Illinois' Arrelious Benn and Minnesota's Eric Decker, as well as a good crop of tight ends led by Wisconsin's Garrett Graham. The overall landscape at wideout/tight end should improve this fall.

1. Illinois -- An easy choice for the top spot as Illinois boasts by far the league's best crop of wide receivers. Benn aims for a second consecutive 1,000-yard receiving season and hopes to increase his touchdowns total. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson enters the mix and should make a major impact along with Jeff Cumberland. Senior tight end Michael Hoomanawanui is one of the league's more underrated players.

2. Minnesota -- Decker certainly headlines the group and will finish his career as arguably the most decorated wide receiver in team history. But he's not alone. Junior college stud Hayo Carpenter arrives and will play alongside Brandon Green, Ben Kuznia, Da'Jon McKnight and Troy Stoudermire, who should play a much bigger role in the passing game after working more at receiver this spring.

3. Michigan State -- The Spartans return virtually everyone from a receiving corps that had some decent moments last fall. Blair White and Mark Dell both have All-Big Ten potential, and the team will look for more production from Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham. The real story here is the depth at tight end. No Big Ten team boasts more as Charlie Gantt and Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum lead the way.

4. Wisconsin -- Much like Michigan State, Wisconsin brings back the core from a group that endured ups and downs in 2008. Graham enters the fall as the Big Ten's premier tight end and has Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner behind him. The improvement at wide receiver should be the biggest difference for Wisconsin. Nick Toon could be a star this fall, and Kyle Jefferson, Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath all return. 

5.  Ohio State -- The Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) are gone, but Ohio State could be more explosive at wide receiver this season. Though Ray Small's academic situation creates some uneasiness, DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher form a nice 1-2 punch. Ohio State should be better at the tight end position with the Jakes (Ballard and Stoneburner).

6. Michigan -- This group didn't have much of a chance to shine last fall, but things should be different in 2009. The big-play potential is there with Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews and Darryl Stonum, and redshirt freshman Roy Roundtree had a solid spring. Tight end Kevin Koger could be a very effective weapon if Michigan throws to him more. 

7. Iowa -- There are some question marks here, namely Tony Moeaki's health and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' practice performance, but it wouldn't surprise me if Iowa climbed the list. Moeaki could bring a huge spark at tight end after the loss of Brandon Myers. Johnson-Koulianos will be motivated after his depth-chart demotion, and converted quarterback Marvin McNutt has impressed the coaches.  

8. Penn State -- I'm sure I'll hear it from Nittany Nation (as I usually do), but the loss of three multiyear starters takes a pretty big toll. It wouldn't shock me one bit if Derek Moye, Graham Zug, Brett Brackett and Chaz Powell don't miss a beat, but I need to see them excel in more featured roles. Tight end Andrew Quarless has tons of talent but needs to put it all together this fall.

9. Purdue -- The Boilers usually find a way to succeed at wide receiver, but they lose a lot in Greg Orton, Desmond Tardy and running back Kory Sheets, an excellent pass-catcher. Keith Smith steps into the No. 1 spot after recording 49 receptions last fall, but he'll need help from Aaron Valentin, converted cornerback Royce Adams and junior college import Keith Carlos. Purdue should be much better at tight end as Kyle Adams returns. 

10. Northwestern -- The program needs to prove it can reload after losing three multiyear starters (Eric Peterman, Ross Lane, Rasheed Ward). Northwestern has had high hopes for converted quarterback Andrew Brewer, but he's struggled to stay healthy. The Wildcats will lean on Brewer, junior Sidney Stewart and sophomore Jeremy Ebert, who performed well last fall. The superback position might finally be featured as Drake Dunsmore returns from a knee injury.

11. Indiana -- Last year's leading receiver (Ray Fisher) likely will start at cornerback, while the man expected to be the No. 1 (Kellen Lewis) was dismissed after spring ball. There are some major questions here, but you've got to like Indiana's young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss. Sophomore tight end Max Dedmond could be a player to watch this fall.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Ohio State senior tight end Jake Ballard didn't have to search for the subtle signs showing Terrelle Pryor's growth as a leader this summer.

Pryor made it plainly obvious during 7-on-7 workouts.

If a Buckeyes receiver dropped a pass, Pryor let him have it.

"If you drop one or two balls, he's going to try and get you out of there and put somebody else in," Ballard said. "If it hit your hands, he's going to take you out. He demands a lot from us and we demand a lot from him, and all of us know we can handle it."

The trust between the quarterback and his teammates wasn't as strong in 2008, when Pryor replaced senior co-captain Todd Boeckman just four games into the fall. Though Pryor had his share of highlights and won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, he struggled to find a consistent rhythm with his receivers.

Ohio State finished a woeful 105th nationally in pass offense, and Pryor took time to grow into the leadership role thrust upon him prematurely.

"All of us feel a greater sense of comfort, including Terrelle," Ballard said. "He's not the freshman that hasn't played before going into the huddle with all seniors and juniors, who are like, 'Where's Todd?' When it first happened, everybody's like, 'Wow, Todd's really not playing and we have to trust this kid, Terrelle.'

"Now Terrelle's more of a leader type. He commands our attention, and we give it to him."

Ballard avoided Pryor's wrath during the summer workouts, hanging onto the passes that came his way. It helped that Pryor looked more often to the tight ends, who have been used sparingly as pass receivers in the past.

Ballard expects to see more action this fall. Ohio State loses two standout receivers in Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, and head coach Jim Tressel has greater trust in Pryor to run a more wide-ranging offense.

"TP's not just looking for receivers to get the ball," Ballard said. "He's looking to tight ends, running backs, fullbacks. If you're open, he's going to hit you. I really think we're going to have a bigger role in the offense. Coach Tress has talked about it."

Pryor's evolution this summer was also visible to those on the other side of the line.

"He has to take command and he has to be the leader," safety Kurt Coleman said. "And if you're not doing it right, he's going to tell you what you're doing wrong until you correct yourself. Honestly, he's improved his game so much."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 12, 2009
6/12/09
3:30
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Looks like our scheduling series has had the desired effect.

Justin from Iowa writes: Adam,I've heard a lot of people suggest Iowa will split their away schedule 2/2. Iowa is a historically slow starter that gets better as the season progresses. If they avoid any pitfalls and start their OOC schedule 4-0, followed up by a win at Penn State to kick off big 10 play, how do you see this prediction perhaps changing?

Adam Rittenberg: The pattern definitely held true last year as Iowa played its best football down the stretch. The Penn State game means everything for Iowa. Win in Happy Valley, and suddenly the league road schedule doesn't seem so daunting. My prediction could change a bit if Iowa prevails at Penn State, but the Hawkeyes get no breathers on the road this fall.


Will from Cleveland writes: Dear Adam,I actually have two very different questions I'd love for you to answer. What does non-conference schedules mean anymore? Because its always taking the backseat by the end of the year bowl games. Like last year the Pac10 was spanked across the country for the most part of the beginning of the season. But now every time I'm on a blog fans act like it means nothing we went 5-0 in the bowls but does who you play in bowl games ever matter?Secondly Adam I want to know how can the PSU fans talk so much smack, and their team last year did nothing against good teams? Sure they're highlight was against my Buckeyes but we were terrible according to our own standards. We have so much to look forward to other than Laurinitis, and Jenkins (sorry Adam but the Wideouts I hated worst starting tandem of Tressel era). But it seems they've lost so much more, and they act like its the exact opposite explain the theories for me please ADAM?

Adam Rittenberg: As to your first question, you're right about bowl performance. It seems to mean everything these days, while the regular season fades to the background. But nonconference scheduling can shape how a team or a league is viewed nationally, and it could help or hurt in the all-important polls. Take Penn State this fall. There's no way the Nittany Lions make any jump in the polls until the Iowa game. They would need everyone else to lose in order to move up.

Moving on, Penn State definitely deserves credit for beating Ohio State in Columbus, no matter how "down" the Buckeyes might have been. I think you're being a little hard on Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, but neither man had the season many thought they would. Penn State also knocked off Oregon State, albeit early, and thumped Wisconsin in Madison. Both Penn State and Ohio State lost a lot from last year, but the confidence from Penn State fans stems from the fact that the program is on the upswing since 2005 after some lean years.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten has announced its 2009 Medal of Honor winners, presented to graduating seniors who stand out in both athletics and academics. The list includes three football players: Indiana kicker Austin Starr, Northwestern wide receiver Eric Peterman and Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie.

Peterman and Starr both were also Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honorees for their sports this academic year, and Peterman was among the 22 winners of the league's Outstanding Sportsmanship Award. 

Robiskie was one of four Medal of Honor recipients to play for a team that won a Big Ten championship this year.  

Ohio State spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:15
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State Buckeyes

2008 overall record:10-3

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 7; Special teams: 0

Top returners

QB Terrelle Pryor, C Michael Brewster, TE Jake Ballard, DE Thaddeus Gibson, DT Doug Worthington, S Kurt Coleman, S Anderson Russell, DE Cameron Heyward

Key losses

RB Chris "Beanie" Wells, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Brian Hartline, LT Alex Boone, DT Nader Abdallah, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Marcus Freeman, CB Malcolm Jenkins, P A.J. Trapasso

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Chris "Beanie" Wells (1,197 yds)
Passing: Terrelle Pryor* (1,311 yds)
Receiving: Brian Robiskie (535 yds)
Tackles: James Laurinaitis (130)
Sacks: Thaddeus Gibson* (5)
Interceptions: Kurt Coleman* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Navy
Sept. 12 USC
Sept. 19 vs. Toledo (at Cleveland)
Sept. 26 Illinois
Oct. 3 at Indiana
Oct. 10 Wisconsin
Oct. 17 at Purdue
Oct. 24 Minnesota
Oct. 31 New Mexico State
Nov. 7 at Penn State
Nov. 14 Iowa
Nov. 21 at Michigan

Spring answers

1. Pryor develops -- Terrelle Pryor quieted concerns about his passing ability with a strong spring capped by an excellent performance in the well-attended spring game at Ohio Stadium. Pryor made significant improvement with his footwork and looked better on the high-percentage throws that dogged him at times last season. His first full offseason as a college player appears to have paid off, and Pryor looks primed for an All-Big Ten season.

2. Boom and Zoom -- Running back is the biggest void on the Buckeyes' depth chart, but Dan Herron ("Boom) and Brandon Saine ("Zoom") appear ready to carry the load. Herron built off his experience last fall as a backup and performed well this spring, while Saine finally appears healthy and ready to showcase the explosiveness that made him such a heralded recruit coming out of high school.

3. Big bad Boren -- Justin Boren will always be in the spotlight because he transferred from Michigan, but the left guard generated plenty of buzz with his play this spring. Boren brings brute strength and an edgy attitude to an offense line that needs a jolt after a subpar 2008 season. He has quickly become a favorite of Pryor's and his fellow linemen, and should bring a nasty attitude to the front five this fall.

Fall questions

1. Cornerback -- Chimdi Chekwa has a starting spot locked up, but the other position remains open entering the summer. Senior Andre Amos has a slight edge because of experience, but Devon Torrence, who played minor league baseball in the Astros organization the last two summers, made a strong push this spring. If Torrence focuses solely on football, the starting job could be his.

2. Kicking game -- It's no secret how important special teams has been to Jim Tressel's success at Ohio State, and the head coach is focused on replacing his starting specialists. Aaron Pettrey looks capable at kicker, but the punting job is a bit of a mystery with Jon Thoma and Ben Buchanan competing for the top spot.

3. Linebacker rotation -- Ohio State has plenty of exciting options at linebacker, namely Etienne Sabino and Brian Rolle, both of whom had very solid springs. The key will be finding the right combinations of 'backers and not being afraid to use younger players like Sabino ahead of veterans who played behind Laurinaitis and Freeman for years. It will be tough to replace the lost production, but Ohio State has enough depth, as long as players are used the right ways.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A heaping helping of headlines for you. 

"A lot of people said I left because I was scared of competition, but you're going to have competition in Division I football," Threet said. "If you look at when I transferred to Michigan, Ryan Mallett was here, and it's not like the cupboard is bare at Arizona State. It's Division I college football, and you're going to compete. If you're guaranteed a spot, then you're probably not at a good team. I just wanted a place where I fit the offense and the coaches could develop me."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

Big Ten mini mailbag

April, 23, 2009
4/23/09
5:42
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be off most of Friday, but I didn't want you to miss out on your second helping of questions and answers.

Michael from Akron, Ohio, writes: Adam, after your time in Columbus recently I wanted to get your thoughts on the offense. Lots of players did leave but I think the players returning and coming in are more suited to play the same style of offense where last year you had a major change of pace with beanie in the "I" formation then spread with Pryor down to the types of receivers. I think this years bunch (and next for that matter) will be a more consistant offense that the players will benefit from with a clear cut scheme. Do you agree?

Adam Rittenberg: It could go one of two ways, Michael. By mid-October, you could be marveling at Ohio State's stockpile of playmakers, guys like DeVier Posey, Ray Small, Lamaar Thomas, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine. Or you could miss reliable guys like wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. I tend to agree with you that these players fit the same style of offense, which would appear to be spread-ish. You're absolutely right that Ohio State spent all of last season experimenting with the scheme and never really found its offensive identity. The Buckeyes should have an easier time figuring out who they are this year. Will it be good enough? Have to wait and see.


Russell from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, I love your stuff. I was wondering if you agree with Andre Ware's B10 picks. 1. Ohio St 2. Minnesota 3. Penn St 4. Illinois 5. Wisconsin Also how could Iowa have a "bad" offensive line if we managed to produce a 1850 yard rusher? Also we did not give up 46 sacks, like he said. I am very optimistic for this Iowa team, even with our road schedule.

Adam Rittenberg: I'm sticking with my pre-spring power rankings of Ohio State at No. 1, Penn State at No. 2 and Iowa at No. 3. Minnesota has a good deal of talent, but there have been too many changes in Minneapolis to think the Gophers will finish second in the league. Add in a much harder schedule, and I could see Minnesota right around where it finished last year (8-4 or 7-5). I really, really like Iowa's offensive line and the confidence Ricky Stanzi brings to the huddle, but I'm not sold on the defensive tackles or the wide receivers.


Chris from Chicago writes: I've seen some Illinois scrimiges and from what I saw Illinois has an explosive offense and a fast defense. They return key members from last years offense. But they lose some key players on D. How many wins do you think we(Illinois) will have?

Adam Rittenberg: It really depends on the defense, Chris. Like you, I see a very explosive offense led by the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback in Juice Williams. I see the league's best wide receiving corps and two improved running backs in Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure. But I'm not sold on the defense, particularly the front seven. If Martez Wilson becomes more consistent at middle linebacker and Illinois identifies a capable pass-rusher or two, it could win eight or nine games. The schedule worries me, though, and the opening Big Ten stretch of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State looks tough.


Doug from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The Wall Street Journal (believe it or not) had an interesting article about offensive line experience. They site a very short table listing the Top5 programs with the most combined o-line starts. And Michigan comes in at #5 with 75 combined starts. The only bad part about this article is that there is no link offered to any further source of info. I'd like to see what linemen they are counting as starters for this year, and where lots of other programs come in for combined starts. Do you have any recommendation for such a source? I've done by best to search the internets, but haven't had any success! Thanks. Go Blue!

Adam Rittenberg: Doug, I like the idea here and will try to put together a chart for you on next week's blog. But just going down the list of Big Ten teams, I'd say Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana return the most starting experience on the offensive line. If you count Justin Boren's starting experience at Michigan toward Ohio State's total, the Buckeyes aren't bad, either. Wisconsin boasts excellent experience with center John Moffitt (25 starts) and left tackle Gabe Carimi (23 starts), but there are some holes elsewhere.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Three Big Ten teams held their annual pro scouting days last week, including the major talent showcase at Ohio State. In case you missed what went down, here's a look at the key developments at each school. 

OHIO STATE

  • Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells had the biggest day of any Buckeye, improving on his so-so 40-yard dash time from the NFL combine (4.59 seconds) by running around a 4.4 or below before scouts from 29 pro teams. Wells solidified himself as one of the top two running backs and could be taken ahead of Georgia's Knowshon Moreno in April.
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman continued his pre-draft push with another strong performance. Freeman improved his 40 time and likely boosted his stock after turning heads at the NFL combine. 
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins made slight improvements in their 40 times from the NFL combine. Wideout Brian Robiskie put up similar numbers to the combine, which bodes well for him. The big issue for Jenkins is whether he'll be asked to play cornerback or safety at the next level.
  • After being spurned by the NFL combine, defensive tackle Nader Abdallah stepped up on pro day. His numbers in four of the six drills would have been among the top defensive tackles at the combine. Abdallah also has dropped about 20 pounds, which should help him on draft day.

NORTHWESTERN

"Get to a mini-camp," said Sutton, predicted to be a sixth- or seventh-round pick. "Getting drafted means nothing. A lot of guys in the league have gone undrafted and proven a lot." 
  • It was somewhat surprising that John Gill didn't get a combine invite, but the defensive tackle seems to be building his case. Gill, considered a legit pro prospect before the 2008 season, put up better numbers in the short shuttle and 3-cone drill than any defensive tackle at the combine. He also has met with the Chicago Bears, according to the Chicago Sun-Times' Brad Biggs.  
  • Wide receiver Eric Peterman was interviewing for a job at American Airlines in December, but he might have a shot at an NFL roster after a strong pro day performance. According to the Sun-Times, Peterman ran 40 times of 4.45 and 4.47.

PURDUE

"I may have done these drills before over the course of my training but when you're out here doing the real thing and everybody is watching you, it's different," Heygood said. "Usually, I'm really good under pressure but I didn't have the day I wanted."
  • Defensive tackle Alex Magee boosted his stock in front of representatives from 23 NFL teams, according to profootballtalk.com.
  • Quarterback Curtis Painter also seemed pleased with his performance after a solid effort at the combine last month.
"This was probably one of my best workouts through this offseason and my training," Painter said. "I feel good about what I've done both here and at the Combine and hopefully I'll get some opportunities for some individual workouts between now and the draft."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For those of you who didn't spend the last few days glued to a TV or a computer for up-to-the-minute NFL combine updates, here's a snapshot of how Big Ten players fared at the premier pre-draft event.

The NFL lists the top performers in seven different categories. Keep in mind that not every Big Ten player and position group participates in every event.

40-yard dash

  • Purdue's Curtis Painter, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 4.87 seconds
  • Purdue's Kory Sheets, third among running backs, 4.47 seconds
  • Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells, tied for 10th among running backs, 4.59 seconds
  • Penn State's Deon Butler, fourth among wide receivers, 4.38 seconds
  • Illinois' Xavier Fulton, third among offensive linemen, 5.04 seconds
  • Penn State's Gerald Cadogan, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 5.12 seconds

Bench press

  • Ohio State's Wells, tied for sixth among running backs, 25 repetitions
  • Purdue's Greg Orton, third among wide receivers, 22 reps
  • Penn State's Derrick Williams, 10th among wide receivers, 15 reps
  • Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, tied for first among tight ends, 28 reps
  • Ohio State's Alex Boone and Penn State's A.Q. Shipley, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 33 reps
  • Iowa's Rob Bruggeman, tied for 10th among offensive linemen, 30 reps
  • Michigan's Terrance Taylor, first among defensive linemen, 37 reps
  • Purdue's Alex Magee, tied for eighth among defensive linemen, 30 reps
  • Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, tied for second among linebackers, 30 reps
  • Wisconsin's Jonathan Casillas, tied for 10th among linebackers, 24 reps

Vertical jump

  • Michigan State's Brian Hoyer, sixth among quarterbacks, 32 inches
  • Iowa's Shonn Greene and Purdue's Kory Sheets, tied for fifth among running backs, 37 inches
  • Penn State's Jordan Norwood and Purdue's Orton, tied for sixth among wide receivers, 38 inches
  • Ohio State's Brian Robiskie, seventh among wide receivers, 37.5 inches
  • Illinois' Fulton and Penn State's Shipley, tied for sixth among offensive linemen, 31 inches
  • Penn State's Aaron Maybin, third among defensive linemen, 38 inches
  • Illinois' Derek Walker, fourth among defensive linemen, 37.5 inches
Broad jump
  • Michigan State's Hoyer, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 9'1"
  • Ohio State's Wells, first among running backs, 10'8"
  • Iowa's Greene and Purdue's Sheets, tied for fifth among running backs, 10'1"
  • Purdue's Orton, seventh among wide receivers, 10'5"
  • Illinois' Fulton, tied for first, 9'3"

3-cone drill

  • Purdue's Painter, tied for fourth among quarterbacks, 7 seconds
  • Michigan State's Javon Ringer, tied for fifth among running backs, 6.87 seconds
  • Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton, 10th among running backs, 6.94 seconds
  • Ohio State's Brian Hartline, tied for second among wide receivers, 6.65 seconds
  • Ohio State's Robiskie, fifth among wide receivers, 6.72 seconds
  • Penn State's Norwood, tied for eighth among wide receivers, 6.8 seconds
  • Illinois' Fulton, second among offensive linemen, 7.35 seconds
  • Penn State's Shipley, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 7.46 seconds
  • Iowa's Seth Olsen, ninth among offensive linemen, 7.59 seconds

20-yard shuttle

  • Michigan State's Hoyer, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 4.42 seconds
  • Michigan State's Ringer, third among running backs, 4.11 seconds
  • Ohio State's Hartline, fourth among wide receivers, 4.12 seconds
  • Ohio State's Robiskie, eighth among wide receivers, 4.19 seconds
  • Penn State's Norwood, ninth among wide receivers, 4.2 seconds
  • Indiana's Andrew Means, 10th among wide receivers, 4.21 seconds
  • Penn State's Shipley, second among offensive linemen, 4.4 seconds
  • Illinois' Fulton, sixth among offensive linemen, 4.56 seconds

60-yard shuttle

  • Purdue's Sheets, sixth among running backs, 11.7 seconds
  • Ohio State's Hartline, first among wide receivers, 10.92 seconds
  • Penn State's Butler, third among wide receivers, 11.32 seconds
My take

The combine is only one component of the draft evaluation process, yet a very important one. Here are my thoughts on these results:

  • Why did Purdue struggle so much on offense last year? Painter clearly had more athleticism that he showed, and Sheets proved to be a valuable player as well. Orton likely helped his draft stock as well at the combine.
  • For a guy that took a ton of criticism last year, it was interesting to see Hoyer perform well at the combine. He clearly has some good athleticism, and if he can get a bit more consistent in the passing game, he could find a spot at the next level. His win-loss record at Michigan State should not be overlooked.
  • Arguably no Big Ten player helped his draft stock more than Fulton, who placed among the top offensive linemen in five different categories. The second-team All-Big Ten selection might not have had the dominant senior season he expected, but his combine performance makes up for it.
  • Beanie Wells can jump. Anyone who watched him hurdle Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman on Nov. 15 already knew that.
  • Ringer underwent knee surgery last month but still performed well, finishing second in the 20-yard shuttle run.
  • Some wondered why Hartline turned pro a year early. His combine performance should silence the critics. Ohio State clearly didn't maximize what it had at the wide receiver position last year with Hartline and Robiskie.
  • Despite an injury-plagued senior season, Beckum should still go pretty high in the draft. His benchpress victory can't hurt his cause.
  • Penn State's Shipley also had a good combine, showing good speed and agility.

Big Ten mailbag

February, 17, 2009
2/17/09
2:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Mike A. from Altoona, Pa., writes: Adam, I love the blog and your hard work is appreciated! I noticed you had left off the home and home series Penn State supposedly scheduled with Nebraska for the 2014-2015 seasons. Did the renewal of this series fall through or can you confirm it's gonna be played? Also, do you know if there is any truth behind a PSU-UNC series being scheduled for the 2016-2017 seasons? Thanks Adam!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Mike. Neither school has the series listed on their schedule right now, but that certainly could change. Nebraska's 2014 schedule only lists Fresno State as a nonconference opponent. Southern Miss is the only nonleague team listed for 2015. There have been some rumors about Penn State adding North Carolina to the slate. Virginia is already on board, but I wouldn't be surprised if the Tar Heels are added as well. Nothing is official yet.


Evan from Washington D.C. writes: Adam I am just trying to figure something out. Now that Threet is leaving Michigan everyone is talking about the two new quarterbacks coming in and what role they will play. But what about Sheridan or even Feegin? Feegin fits in the spread nicely.

Adam Ritttenberg: Nick Sheridan certainly will have an opportunity to compete for the starting job. He started four games last year but really became the backup after Steven Threet showed some promise in late September. As for Justin Feagin, he was nearly moved to slot receiver several times last year and likely will wind up there at some point. Threet's transfer could change things, but it sounded like Feagin wasn't developing enough at the QB position. I really would be surprised if Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson isn't the starter on Sept. 5.


Todd from Wilmington, Ohio, writes: Adam, thanks for the blog, you help me keep up with college football news that I am really interested in. In your analysis of the Buckeyes, you looked at 3 main areas: Running Backs, Offensive Line, and Defense. I think one of the biggest issues that will make or break Ohio State's chances for a Big 10 championship and BCS berth will be at wide receiver. DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomas showed flashes of real talent this year, and Dane Sanzenbacher looks like a really good safety net guy. I think one of OSU's biggest problems this past year was at that position. What's your take on the Buckeyes Wide Receiver situation? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Todd. Despite losing the Brians (Robiskie and Hartline), Ohio State should be as good and possibly a lot better at the wide receiver position in 2009. DeVier Posey was very close to taking on a more enhanced role last year. Another offseason in the system should really help Posey, plus the fact that he's very close with quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Sanzenbacher arguably was the most reliable receiver on that team last year, a very tough player who made tough catches. It obviously will be a younger group in 2009, but it could be a better one.

(Read full post)

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