Big Ten: Brion Carnes

Big Ten lunch links

May, 2, 2013
5/02/13
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In this scenario he's the Tonya and I'm the Nancy!

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 12, 2012
9/12/12
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Links while we wait for the new iPhone announcement ...
 
On Monday, we ranked the top individual quarterbacks in the Big Ten heading into the 2012 season. As we'll do with every group, we now take a look at the quarterback units as a whole throughout the league.

Having a good starter is critical here, but depth also matters. Quarterbacks can take a beating during the course of a season, so teams without experienced backups will fall a notch in these rankings. Away we go:

[+] EnlargeCaleb TerBush
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireCaleb TerBush threw for 1,905 yards and 13 TDs last season.
1. Purdue: Do the Boilermakers have one of the top quarterbacks in the league? No. But they have something no other Big Ten team can claim: three players with significant starting experience. The benefit of dealing with injuries the past couple of years is that now Caleb TerBush, Robert Marve and Rob Henry are all seasoned veterans who can be interchanged by head coach Danny Hope. That gives Purdue the best quarterback depth in the Big Ten.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines have the league's most experienced quarterback in star Denard Robinson. They also know that if something happens to Shoelace -- or if they just want a change of pace -- Devin Gardner can fill in capably. Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy is more of a pocket passer who showed some things this spring.

3. Nebraska: We know all about Taylor Martinez. The question is, how good is Brion Carnes, his backup? That's hard to say, since Carnes hasn't played much, but he is entering his second season as the No. 2. Redshirt freshmen Tyson Broekemeier and Bronson Marsh and true freshmen Tommy Armstrong add depth if not experience.

4. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are ranked here mainly on the strength of James Vandenberg, who's reliable and durable. Things drop off after him, with senior John Wienke and redshirt freshman Jake Rudock the likely backup plans. Junior college transfer Cody Sokol is expected to redshirt, though that could change in case of emergency.

5. Ohio State: Braxton Miller should be one of the top quarterbacks in the league for the next three years. But what if he gets hurt, which seems like a real possibility as much as he runs the ball? Urban Meyer said Kenny Guiton showed marked improvement this spring. True freshman Cardale Jones was highly regarded on the recruiting trail.

6. Minnesota: While senior MarQueis Gray is the clear starter, sophomore Max Shortell gained valuable experience last year in key spots. And the Gophers are excited about the future with true freshman Philip Nelson, who was a major recruiting coup.

7. Illinois: Reilly O'Toole saw a lot of action as a true freshman and will continue to push Nathan Scheelhaase for playing time. Junior Miles Osei could serve as third-string QB.

8. Wisconsin: There's a reason the Badgers brought in another graduate transfer. This spring, Wisconsin had only two healthy quarterbacks -- Joe Brennan and Joel Stave, the latter of whom pushed ahead in the competition. Danny O'Brien should solidify the position, but with injuries to Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr and Bart Houston, depth is still a concern.

9. Northwestern: Much depends on how Kain Colter improves as a passer. Sophomore Trevor Siemian completed 16 of 26 attempts last year and could give the Wildcats a different look if they want to move Colter around.

10. Michigan State: The Spartans got a preview this spring at what might happen if Andrew Maxwell gets hurt. Freshman Connor Cook had to lead both offenses in the spring game, as depth is a pressing issue here. Maxwell should be very good, but Michigan State still enters the season without a quarterback who's ever played significant downs.

11. Indiana: Tre Roberson had a promising rookie campaign yet felt some stiff competition this spring from junior college transfer Cameron Coffman. The Hoosiers will bring in promising prospect Nate Sudfeld, too. So even with two former starters -- Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker -- transferring in the offseason, Indiana should have decent depth here.

12. Penn State: Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter. Still, the Nittany Lions have earned the bottom spot in these rankings with poor performance at the position over the past couple of years. Rob Bolden has not capitalized on his opportunities, and fan favorite Paul Jones has not played a down in college. At least Penn State has nowhere to go but up.

Spring game preview: Nebraska

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
10:30
AM ET
It'll be a big Saturday in the Big Ten as seven teams hold their spring games/scrimmages. We're getting you ready for each one.

Let's take a closer look at Nebraska's Red-White spring game:

When: 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time), Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: $10 for adults. Kids in the eighth grade or younger are admitted for free if they take the Drug Free Pledge at halftime of the game. Parking is $5 at Lot 9 and other campus lots.

TV: The game will be streamed live online on BTN2Go and on the Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the game on tape-delay at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms possible, temperatures between 68-78, 40-50 percent chance of rain, winds at 10-20 mph.

What to watch for: Not surprisingly, Nebraska will be "as basic as you can get," coach Bo Pelini said, in the spring game. One change from years' past is that the coaching staff will divide the teams evenly rather than hold a player draft, as the Huskers are a bit thin at positions like defensive tackle.

Top quarterback Taylor Martinez is only expected to play about a quarter and a half, but fans will be closely studying the junior, who spent the spring working on his footwork and mechanics and has by all accounts looked better passing the ball. The backups in the offensive backfield figure to get a lot of work at both quarterback (Brion Carnes, Ron Kellogg II) and at running back (Ameer Abdullah, Aaron Green). It'll also be a good chance for fans to see fullback Mike Marrow, who has generated buzz during spring drills.

The defensive coaching staff has a new look with John Papuchis elevated to coordinator and two position coaches (Rick Kaczenski and Terry Joseph) coming in from the outside. Although Nebraska isn't employing massive scheme changes, Saturday provides a good chance to see the coaches and evaluate their position groups. The Huskers are looking to replace star power on defense, and several players have generated buzz this spring, including safety Daimion Stafford, who had an impressive 2011, and linebacker Will Compton.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- After the way Taylor Martinez introduced himself to the college football world in 2010, footwork would seem like the last thing he'd need to significantly upgrade.

The Nebraska quarterback has little trouble moving forward or sideways, consistently wrong-footing defenders or simply outrunning them with his superb speed. Some signal-callers might offer their non-throwing arms to replicate what T-Magic does in the open field.

It's moving backward, however, when Martinez gets into trouble. Most people cite an awkward, shot-put-like throwing motion as his biggest problem, but his mechanical issues begin with his first step toward the pocket.

So while many of his teammates spent spring break doing the things normal college students do, Martinez returned to his native California and worked with noted quarterbacks guru Steve Calhoun. Their sole mission: footwork.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireTaylor Martinez hopes improved footwork will make him a better passer.
"At first, if I took the left foot back, my body would lean back," Martinez told ESPN.com. "That's what caused me to maybe throw an awkward way. Now if I take my right foot back, my shoulders are more even, the way they're supposed to be.

"I feel a lot different. A lot more balanced."

Martinez might finally be striking a balance at Nebraska after two seasons of extremes.

He burst onto the national radar as a redshirt freshman in 2010 before toe and ankle injuries slowed his progress and production. Six weeks after a national coming-out party at Kansas State, Martinez endured a night at Texas A&M that he, coach Bo Pelini and all who love Nebraska football would just as soon forget.

He rode the roller coaster again in 2011, bouncing back from a three-interception disaster at Wisconsin to lead the biggest comeback in team history two weeks later against Ohio State. He had a solid stretch midway through the season but backslid against Michigan and in the Capital One Bowl. Martinez completed just 56.3 percent of his passes for the season, tossing 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

No player triggers more debate in this football-obsessed state than Martinez, whose play on the field and words off it, no matter how few of them, are constantly scrutinized. He once went months without talking to reporters, during which his father shot down transfer talk, and although he's gradually warming up to the spotlight, he remains guarded. In a bizarre news conference after the win over Ohio State, Pelini came to his defense, lashing out at a columnist who had criticized the quarterback. Although it has been a quiet spring for Martinez, he made waves by saying anything shy of a national championship would be a disappointment for Nebraska in 2012.

Martinez, by the way, is only halfway through his Huskers career.

"It seems like he's been around five years," Pelini said. "He's still a young guy. He's still got two years left, so he's got a lot of football left to play."

A lot of potentially great football, according to Pelini. Beginning this season.

"He's a better football player," Pelini said. "He's a lot more comfortable. His technique's better, his fundamentals are better. And if that continues, he has a chance to really make big strides. "

After the bowl game, offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Martinez identified five or six areas Martinez needed to improve during the offseason. Footwork topped the list, and on advice of his father, Casey, Martinez went to Calhoun's Armed & Dangerous camp last month.

They worked on dropping back with his right foot rather than his left and squaring his shoulders on throws. Martinez compared Calhoun's tips with what he heard from Nebraska’s coaches, and was relieved to see they were "on the same path."

"There were some things techniquewise we identified and tried to fix," Beck said. "It's like a golf swing. You open your stance or loosen your grip, whatever, to offset your deficiency. This year, we've had the opportunity through spring to fix it. Footwork was one of the biggest issues with him."

It's not the only reason to believe Martinez will be improved this season. For the first time in his college or high school career, he will play in the same offense in back-to-back seasons.

Martinez attended three high schools, playing primarily quarterback at the final two. After playing under coordinator Shawn Watson at Nebraska in 2010, he had to absorb Beck's system last season, which also marked Nebraska's first in the Big Ten.

"That's going to be a big advantage for him," Pelini said. "He's been so caught up in what to do, but he hasn't necessarily been able to address some of the fine points that are going to make him a better football player -- the how and the why."

Martinez has seen a "huge difference" since the bowl game, whether it's reading blitzes, checking out of certain plays and into better ones or knowing where his weapons will be in an offense that gives route-runners additional flexibility. It doesn't hurt that Nebraska returns eight starters on offense, including seven of its top eight pass-catchers from 2011.

"You can just tell," running back Rex Burkhead said. "When he drops back to pass, he's not really missing that many reads. He's not looking around or rethinking a play. He knows exactly what to do before the play even starts."

Nebraska has had a top-15 rushing attack in each of the past two seasons and looks very strong in the backfield with Burkhead leading the way. Martinez, who had more rush yards as a freshman (965) than a sophomore (874), also could see an increased role as a ball carrier.

Beck admittedly took a cautious approach with Martinez last season, but he has more confidence in backup Brion Carnes. And while Martinez didn't miss any time in 2011, he said he hasn't felt this healthy since the 2010 game against Missouri, when he first injured his ankle.

"I think they'll be running me a little bit more this year," he said. "I'm really excited for that."

Although Martinez might be on the move more, Nebraska won't be going back to its 2010 offense.

Beck wants to push the pass more with a seemingly more confident Martinez and a more mature crop of receivers. Nebraska has finished 104th, 113th and 101st nationally in passing the past three seasons.

"We still believe in running the football to control the game," Beck said, "but I still think to win them, you've got to be able to throw it. So we've put more emphasis there."

Huskers coaches and players also have seen growth in Martinez as a leader. Pelini said being Nebraska's starting quarterback is impossible to prepare for until you've lived it. And for the past two years, through the ups and downs, Martinez has lived the life.

Martinez still has to win over a large portion of Huskers fans, but those inside the Osborne Athletic Complex have found reasons to believe.

"A lot of people agree, a lot of people disagree with the things he does or he says, but Taylor has always been good at blocking all the distractions out, whether it be good or bad," tight end Ben Cotton said. "He's obviously a quiet guy; people can see that. But he's done a great job of being a more positive vocal leader, not only for this offense but for this entire team.

"To see where he has come from, he's definitely grown up quite a bit."

A more balanced Martinez, in mind and in body, could help Nebraska take the next step in 2012.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 13, 2012
3/13/12
12:00
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There are two colors in my head.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 5, 2012
3/05/12
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Stairs are a young man's game.

Spring previews: Legends Division

February, 17, 2012
2/17/12
9:00
AM ET
The 2012 Big Ten season doesn't kick off for six-and-a-half months, but spring football is just around the corner. All 12 Big Ten squads will hit the field next month for the first of 15 spring practices. There are plenty of new faces, as the winter months brought an unprecedented number of coaching changes to the Big Ten. Should be a fun and exciting spring around the conference.

Let's take a quick look at the Leaders Division:

IOWA

Spring practice start date: March 24
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New coaching flavor: For the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa will welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Phil Parker isn't exactly new, having served as Iowa's defensive backs coach throughout Ferentz's tenure, but he now takes charge of the defense for the first time. Will he continue running Norm Parker's scheme or shake things up? Iowa also will have a new offensive coordinator (yet to be named) and several new position coaches, including Reese Morgan, who moves from offensive line to defensive line.
  • Running back auditions: Iowa once again needs to identify a featured back after Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook in January. Coker basically was the team's rushing attack in 2011, accounting for 77.3 percent of the rushing yards and 61.9 percent of the carries. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will compete with several other unproven players this spring. The good news is Iowa has had little trouble developing backs. Keeping them is another story.
  • Reloading the defensive line: The running backs might get more attention, but defensive line is Iowa's most pressing need entering the spring. The Hawkeyes lose three starters from last season's squad, including NFL prospect Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. While D-line historically has been a strength for Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't had so much uncertainty in quite some time. Morgan, who hasn't coached on the defensive side, has his work cut out this spring.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice start date: March 17
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Defensive line rotation: It's a good thing coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison focus so much on the defensive line. The unit needs some extra attention this spring after losing standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The defensive tackle spot will be particularly interesting. A lot of eyes will be on Will Campbell to see if the big man can finally blossom. Quinton Washington and others are in the mix.
  • Receiving orders: Michigan needs to develop more options in the passing game this spring. The team loses top wideout Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the squad in January following another legal issue. Roy Roundtree needs a big spring as he looks to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 wideout after a production drop-off last season. Tight end Kevin Koger also departs, creating an opportunity for others.
  • Al Borges' offense, Take 2: The new offense had some highs and lows in Year 1, and Michigan will be looking to establish greater consistency this season. It'll be interesting to see how a full year in the system impacts quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson must cut down on his interceptions after tossing 15 last season. The Wolverines also are looking for an offensive line anchor following the departure of All-American center David Molk.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Take it to the Max: Andrew Maxwell's time has arrived as he steps in for three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It's a tall order, but Maxwell has been groomed for this moment and has shown good potential in practices. He'll be working with a new set of leading receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who hopes to be cleared to play for the upcoming season. Maxwell must establish himself as a team leader this spring.
  • We're not Worthy: All-American Jerel Worthy is gone, and Michigan State needs a replacement for the standout defensive tackle. While Anthony Rashad White returns at the other D-tackle spot, the Spartans don't have much overall depth at the position. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Micajah Reynolds, who has bounced between defensive line and offensive line during his career. It's a big spring for Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge and a host of players who redshirted last season, including Damon Knox.
  • Receiving orders: Arnett seemingly would be Michigan State's No. 1 receiver if he's ruled eligible by the NCAA, but there are no guarantees and the Spartans must identify other options this spring. Bennie Fowler showed promise in 2010 before being slowed by a foot injury last season. He needs a strong spring. Michigan State also is moving Tony Lippett back to receiver from cornerback, where he started several games last season. Lippett is an excellent athlete who can provide a boost on the edge. The Spartans also will be looking for more from tight end Dion Sims.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice start date: March 22
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The search for a pass rush: Minnesota should be improved on offense in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era, but the team could sink or swim depending on the defense. It starts up front with a defensive line that hasn't generated much pressure for several years. Coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to be aggressive, but can he find difference-makers? The Gophers haven't had an elite pass-rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008.
  • Supporting cast on offense: Although quarterback Marqueis Gray had his ups and downs last season, he accounted for most of Minnesota's offense, leading the team with 966 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gray needs more help if the Gophers intend to take the next step this season. Minnesota will be looking for a featured running back this spring, as Donnell Kirkwood and others are in the mix. The Gophers also need more options at receiver after losing Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire turned heads last spring with some big hits from the cornerback spot. After receiving an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA in January, he'll look to deliver more punishment. Minnesota desperately needs leaders and playmakers to emerge in the secondary, and Stoudermire's return could be huge after he missed most last season with a broken bone in his forearm.
NEBRASKA

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Star search on defense: No Big Ten defense loses more star power than Nebraska, which must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the league's top performers at their respective positions. David's departure is especially critical, as Nebraska lacked depth in its defensive midsection last season. Although Nebraska played most of the past season without defensive tackle Jared Crick, it needs some difference-makers to emerge in all three levels of the defense this spring.
  • Papuchis takes over: Like Iowa, Nebraska promoted a position coach to defensive coordinator, as John Papuchis takes control of a unit that fell short of expectations last season. Papuchis is young and energetic, and his rapid rise mirrors that of his boss, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini. Although no system overhaul is expected, it will be interesting to see how Papuchis puts his imprint on the defense this spring.
  • Taylor Martinez's maturation: Despite two years as the starter and the support of his coaches, Martinez enters a pivotal spring. Although Martinez remained healthy last season and showed improved decision-making at times, he also completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and didn't break off as many long runs. A full year in Tim Beck's offense could pay off for Martinez this spring, but he needs to continue to make strides. It will be interesting to see if the coaches even entertain the possibility of a competition, or if backup Brion Carnes gets more reps.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Colter and the QB race: Northwestern will have a quarterback competition this spring as it looks for Dan Persa's replacement, but the hope among many is for Kain Colter to take control. Colter stepped in for Persa last season and emerged as the team's best all-around offensive weapon. But he needs to improve his arm strength and his accuracy and show he can be a more complete quarterback at this level. Although Colter will be on the field no matter what in the fall, he has the opportunity in spring ball to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.
  • Young defenders: The defense has been a big problem for the past year and a half, and Northwestern needs to identify more playmakers before September. The good news is the Wildcats played a lot of young players last season, particularly late in the season. Northwestern needs its youth to mature, beginning in the spring. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Tyler Scott, safety Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis and cornerback Daniel Jones. Northwestern needs several of them to take the next step.
  • Spotlight on the secondary: Few Big Ten units struggled more than Northwestern's secondary did last season. Making matters worse, the Wildcats lose three starters, including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, a four-year starter. If Northwestern ever intends to turn the corner as a program, it needs to build better depth in the secondary, whether it's through recruiting or from moving players from other positions. It'll be interesting to see how the group performs this spring.

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
10:00
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Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.

Final: Nebraska 41, Minnesota 14

October, 22, 2011
10/22/11
6:37
PM ET

Only the truly hardcore fans watched the entire second half of this one, and there wasn't a whole lot to see.

Minnesota showed some spirit in the second half and outscored Nebraska 14-7 after trailing 34-0 at halftime. But clearly the Huskers called off the dogs after a certain point. Brion Carnes subbed in for Taylor Martinez and played the entire fourth quarter at quarterback for the Huskers, and Minnesota's final score came late against defensive reserves. Jerry Kill might be able to build something off the decent second half, but it would still count as a major upset if his Gophers won another game the rest of the season.

Rex Burkhead rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season with 113 yards and a touchdown, while Nebraska compiled more than 500 yards of offense. It was a strong performance by the Huskers' defense in the Blackshirts' first game without star defensive tackle Jared Crick. But Minnesota's offense is so dreadful that you can't read too much into this one.

The Cornhuskers improved to 6-1 and will have an important Legends Division showdown with Michigan State next week in Lincoln. It figures to be much more competitive than this game was.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 26, 2011
8/26/11
12:00
PM ET
Use this weekend to test your grills, buy your face paint and design your signs. From here on out, football will fill the rest of your 2011 weekends.
Bubba Starling had millions of reasons to sign with the Kansas City Royals. He had really only one reason to play football for Nebraska: his love of the game.

Hey, love gets you only so far. Starling is a Royal. Would you turn down $7.5 million, as it has been reported Starling agreed to over three years, for a chance to play quarterback for the Cornhuskers?

Starling's decision isn't the least bit surprising and became even less so when he and his family decided he shouldn't practice with Nebraska before the Aug. 15 deadline to sign with the Royals. Especially with agent Scott Boras leading the charge, Starling was going to get a big contract offer. And although I do believe he really wanted to experience college football, this kind of money ensures the future for him and his family. By staying with the Huskers, he risked injury or poor performance on the baseball field that could have reduced his earning potential.

Besides, football will still be there for him if the baseball thing doesn't work out. We've seen guys such as Chris Weinke, Brandon Weeden and Joe Bauserman come back and play college football after spending time in the minor leagues. Starling is a higher-rated prospect than those guys, but there's no guarantee he can learn to hit a major league cut fastball. Adding some age and experience, along with a nice portfolio, never hurts.

Starling is an amazing athlete, but this might not hurt Nebraska in the short term. Sophomore Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter, and Brion Carnes is a redshirt freshman right behind him. While Starling would have added depth and competition and possibly would have beaten out those two guys down the road, the Huskers are well situated for the next few years at that position.

Coach Bo Pelini seemed to take the news in stride in his official statement after the announcement:
"Everyone associated with our football program at Nebraska wishes Bubba nothing but the best in his future with the Kansas City Royals organization. I know this decision has been very difficult for Bubba and his family, as it would be for anyone in his position. In the end, Bubba was in a win-win situation regardless of his choice, and we respect the decision he has made. I personally will root for Bubba in every game except when he plays against the Indians!”

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

August, 11, 2011
8/11/11
3:30
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Welcome to another edition of the Thursday mailbag. We're just three weeks away from actual football. Now on to your actual emails:

Andrew from Fremont, Ind., writes: I have to say I'm not shocked, but I am super disappointed that the Big Ten is going to nine conference games per season. I don't think this discourages eliminating the FCS opponent (basically a win, unless your Michigan) and it really discourages Big Ten vs BCS matchups. I also strongly feel that the nine-game schedule has led to the PAC-10's recent extreme mediocrity. Unless you were USC, everyone else banged each other up all season long, leading to USC's dominance. I also don't like the idea of some teams getting more home games one year, and as a former Big East Blogger I'm sure you'll agree that sometimes the home advantage gave some teams no true conference road challenges. I would just hate to see Purdue drop potential matchups versus say Oregon again in order to keep the hate alive and well with Western Illinois -- and the same goes for the rest of the Big Ten.

Brian Bennett: Andrew, your concerns are valid. Jim Delany said that the game that will be eliminated will be those types of FCS matchups, but unless the Big Ten dictates that, I'm not so sure. Schools that already have one BCS opponent every year (Notre Dame for Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, Iowa State for Iowa) now have only two games left to schedule, and they need to maximize their home dates. It's hard for me to imagine they're going to go out and schedule another high-profile opponent in addition to those games. We already saw Purdue change a 2017 road game at Marshall to get ready for the nine-game schedule, and it's not like that was the most daunting challenge.

Ultimately, I think the nine-game schedule will be good for fans, but we'll have to see how it works in practice. It's still six years away, after all, and who knows if there will be more major changes in college football by then.


Michael from Los Angeles writes: I think the one aspect being overlooked here is the effect the 9-game schedule will have on conference perception. With the Pac-Ten, Big 12, and Big 10 all going to a 9-game conference slate, and with the SEC still largely unwilling to play anybody with a pulse OOC, it is going to be much easier for the Big media entities (looking at you ESPN) to influence conference perception. I fear this means the conferences with the strongest financial ties to ESPN will be pumped up to an even greater extent in comparison to our beloved, and perpetually underrated Big 10. Without quality OOC games against other BCS teams, it will be much more difficult to prove our strength relative to the rest of the CFB world.

Brian Bennett: There's some truth to that. We could be looking at fewer intersectional showdowns, and the ones remaining will take on even more importance. It also means that bowl game matchups will go a long way toward determining perception, which is not necessarily an accurate representation of conference strength.


Alden from Chi-Spartan writes: First: Now that the B1G is going to a 9 game schedule, they WILL move a conference game to September. The reason being that they're missing out on revenue and the B1G doesn't like that. B1G schools that don't play nationally relevant games early on in the season like other conferences (see SEC), are missing out on TV time. I can't imagine that sits too well with Delany. Second: When this happens, what would you say to Michigan State swapping one of the late-season in-conference games for the Notre Dame game? For example, playing Minnesota/Northwestern early on instead of late. The BCS has a short memory and respected late-season Ws count more than respected early ones. With Notre Dame back on the rise, I would much rather watch the Spartans play the Irish in late-October/early-November than in September and a win would boost BCS brownie-points more than a bottom tier B1G team. Given you also cover the Irish, what do you think of this idea and how do you think Notre Dame would receive this proposal?

Brian Bennett: I haven't talked to Notre Dame officials about this specifically, but I can't think of many reasons why they would oppose the idea. The Irish have USC as the final regular-season game when it's on the road, but they have some flexibility otherwise in their October/November schedules. I bet Brian Kelly would be all in favor of splitting up the Michigan/Michigan State games that come in Weeks 2 and 3 and have often put Notre Dame behind the eight ball early on in the season (including last year, when the Irish started 1-2 because of it). The Big Ten coaches favor playing some conference games in the first few weeks, and so do I. After waiting eight long months for football, it stinks to be rewarded with dog games in September.


Rick from Denison, Texas, writes: The 9-game schedule is a bad thing to move to (and I want my Big 12 to add two more schools to go back to 8 conference games), and it will be bad for the Big Ten's perception if the SEC doesn't switch as well. However, will this be good for each school and the Big Ten Network? Will the schools recieve more money from the Network now because of that extra game?

Brian Bennett: The key word now in college sports is inventory, and nine Big Ten games means more attractive matchups for the league to sell to the Big Ten Network and its other TV partners. That will help the league in its next round of TV negotiations, for sure.


Eric from Waterloo, Iowa, writes: Brian, I can't wait for football season!! I'm getting as giddy as a school girl. I have two questions. First, is anyone else feeling like that? And secondly; As I watch replays of Iowa games from '05, '07, '08, '09, and '10 on the BTN, I notice that many more players are now playing in the NFL (or have had opportunities). The question is, when does the label change from a team that "rebuilds" to a team that "reloads?" Also, if the Hawkeyes have good success this year, would that encourage a label change?

Brian Bennett: You and me both, Eric (though I'm not sure about the school girl thing). Iowa has done an excellent job of producing NFL talent, and Kirk Ferentz can sell that with the best of them on the recruiting trail. NFL scouts know they have to stop in Iowa City every year. As far as being known as a program that reloads instead of rebuilds, that comes when a team consistently puts up double-digit wins and conference titles year after year. Since the Hawkeyes went 8-5 last year and 6-6 in 2007, they're not quite there yet.


Tim from Columbus writes: The QB battles at OSU and PSU are intriguing and I can't wait to see who is leading the Buckeyes to failure this year! Another battle I would like some perspective on is for the QB spot in Ann Arbor. It's easy to say this job belongs to Denard Robinson given his breakout 2010 season, but Devin Gardner is a pretty good QB and appears be a better fit for Al Borges' offense (i.e. the spring game). Do you think there is any chance we see Gardner win the job or see No.s 7 and 16 on the field at the same time?

Brian Bennett: I like Gardner's skills, but I can't envision any way that Robinson isn't the starter for the Wolverines. You saw what he did last year, right? Whether he turns out to be a great fit for Borges' offense remains to be seen, but there's no way you don't give Robinson every chance to prove himself. Plus, in talking with some Wolverines in Chicago, their respect for Robinson as a leader is readily apparent. I'd love to see some ways to get Gardner involved as well, but Michigan will need to make sure he's healthy and ready as the backup should Robinson get hurt.


Tyler W. from Eden Prairie, Minn., writes: In one of your entries Tuesday you discussed QB competition. I know no one is talking about him, or even acknowledging there is a competition, but Brion Carnes for Nebraska will play important snaps this year. He is a more complete passer than Taylor Martinez is. He is also more than adequate running the ball. The perfect comparison for him would be Tyrod Taylor. More of a pass first run second QB who is still a great threat on his feet.

Brian Bennett: I'm interested to see what Carnes can do, but much like at Michigan, Martinez has more than earned the right to be the starter. Though he's only a sophomore, he's now the experienced vet in that quarterback corps. And like at Michigan, Carnes had better be ready. Robinson and Martinez both run a lot and are susceptible to injury because of it.


Derek from Omaha writes: In regards to your answer that Nebraska will have to get used to the more physical style of play and teams that run the ball more in the Big 10 because of Big 12 teams having more wide-open styles of offense, I have some 2010 rushing stats to throw at you. Run-first Big 10 teams averaged 38.8 attempts per/g, while pass first Big 12 teams 38.7 attempts per/g. Over the total course of the season, Big 10 teams combined averaged 465 attempts between them, Big 12 teams averaged 472. The physicalness of the Big 10 yielded an average of 6 more ypg rushing then the Big 12, 178 ypg to 171 ypg. Let's also not forget that Bo's defense worked fairly well when he was at LSU against a run first conference in the SEC. I think the notion that NU is going to get run over is a bit overblown, Bo is arguably a top 5 defensive mind in the country, and will put NU's defensive players in the best position to succeed.

Brian Bennett: I acknowledge that my assertion that the Big Ten is a more physical league is based more on perception than any real statistical information. I've watched teams from both leagues play and just get the sense that there's a harder-nosed style of play in the Big Ten. Let's also acknowledge that running the ball from the spread is not the same as lining up in an I-formation and pounding between the tackles. I have no doubt that Pelini will be well prepared. Will Nebraska actually have to adjust to a different style of play? That question, to me, is what makes this season so fascinating.


Commodore C. from East Lansing writes: Brian, in Wednesday's article on Big Ten Heisman Hopefuls you refer to the Heisman as the most celebrated trophy in sports. While the Heisman is certainly celebrated, I think we all know that the Stanley Cup is by far the most celebrated trophy.

Brian Bennett: You're right. I meant to put the word "individual" in there, as there is no more celebrated hardware for individual achievement. But until they find a way to drink beer and baptize babies out of the Heisman, the Stanley Cup takes the cake.


Brandon C. from Manteno, Ill., writes: From "Key Stretch: Ohio State"..."If the Buckeyes are going to win at least a share of their seventh straight Big Ten title..."I thought the Big Ten decided that starting this year they don't like to share titles anymore. They only share revenue. :)

Brian Bennett: A big duh on my part. Of course there will be no shared titles this year, only division crowns and a Big Ten champ. Old habits die hard, I guess.
The Bubba Starling watch at Nebraska will become more of a quiet wait and see.

The freshman quarterback who was drafted No. 5 overall by the Kansas City Royals in June did not practice and was not listed on the roster as the Huskers took the practice field for the first time on Saturday. Head coach Bo Pelini said Starling, who arrived in Lincoln last month, won't practice until he decides whether he will sign with the Royals. Kansas City must sign him by Aug. 15.

"He's got a lot at risk," Pelini told reporters. "We communicated with the family and decided this is the best way to go about this. We're on the same page."

Pelini sounded a different tune at Big Ten media days last week, saying Starling's advisers weren't running the program. But it makes sense for both parties. Starling shouldn't risk an injury now with the possibility of signing for millions of dollars on the immediate horizon. And though Nebraska would love to get him acclimated as quickly as possible, it doesn't seem like a great idea to give him important reps in practice if he's going to leave in less than 10 days.

It also means that should Starling stay with the Huskers, he'll be pretty far behind in his development. Though he's not expected to play right away with Taylor Martinez and Brion Carnes ahead of him, he could still provide depth at a position that took a hit in that area when Cody Green transferred.
It's time to hop back into our preseason position rankings, and today brings a look at the most visible position on the field: quarterback.

These are our rankings for the entire position group on each team, so depth is usually very important. With quarterback, it's a little different. There's no substitute for an experienced/accomplished starter. So the teams that have one of those plus some backups who have seen some time will get the highest rankings here, while those with unsettled or untested signal-callers will bring up the rear. Later on, we'll rank the individual quarterbacks in the league.

The envelope please ...

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireDenard Robinson is the most dangerous returning starter in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan: If there were such a thing as a half-season Heisman, Denard Robinson would have won it last year. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to a new offensive scheme and whether his running will be reined in, but there's no more electric player in college football than "Shoelace" when he's doing his thing. (And he's an underrated passer.) Tate Forcier left town, but Devin Gardner is talented enough to prevent much of a drop-off if Robinson leaves the game. Both must stay healthy, however.

2. Michigan State: Senior Kirk Cousins enters his third year of starting and ranks first all time among Spartans quarterbacks in passing efficiency and completion percentage. He's as steady as it gets. Andrew Maxwell got his feet wet last year as a redshirt freshman and will back up Cousins again. Joe Boisture retired from football for medical reasons, which hurts the depth. But that looks like more of a problem for next year.

3. Northwestern: Dan Persa was the coaches' first-team All-Big Ten quarterback after completing an FBS-best 73.5 percent of his passes and accounting for more than 3,000 yards of offense. Assuming he comes back healthy from his ruptured Achilles' tendon, he'll again stake a claim to being the Big Ten's best quarterback. Backup Evan Watkins gained valuable experience by starting the final three games, including the TicketCity Bowl vs. Texas Tech. But Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian competed with Watkins this spring, and Colter may have the edge for the No. 2 spot.

4. Nebraska: When healthy, sophomore Taylor Martinez is an exciting dual-threat player with game-breaking speed. He set virtually every Nebraska freshman quarterback record last season despite being hobbled down the stretch. Cody Green's transfer dealt a blow to the Cornhuskers' depth and means that if Martinez goes down, redshirt freshman Brion Carnes will have to take over. But Carnes was impressive at times this spring.

5. Illinois: Depth? Not so much here. But starter Nathan Scheelhaase gives the Illini a great place to start. As a freshman, he compiled 22 touchdowns on the ground and through the air, improving greatly as the season went on and had a huge bowl game against Baylor. Another year in Paul Petrino's system should mean big things in 2011. Illinois would be very green if Scheelhaase gets hurt.

6. Iowa: Junior James Vandenberg takes over for the reliable Ricky Stanzi. Vandenberg threw only eight passes in 2010 but started the final two games for an injured Stanzi in the pressure-packed 2009 season. It looks like this is his time. Backups John Wienke and A.J. Derby lack game experience, however.

7. Purdue: The Boilermakers have two quarterbacks who have each played in plenty of games, with incumbent starter Rob Henry and former Miami transfer Robert Marve, who suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of last season. Both players need to improve and find more consistency, though; Henry completed just 53.1 percent of his passes in 2010. Caleb TerBush is back after being ruled academically ineligible in 2010 and adds depth.

8. Penn State: Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden? That has been the question hanging over the Nittany Lions for a while, and transfer rumors followed Bolden after spring practice. The competition and another year in the system should help both guys, but a potential quarterback controversy could hurt the team. Bolden has more natural talent, but can he harness it?

9. Minnesota: MarQueis Gray takes over as the full-time starter after splitting time as a receiver and quarterback last season. The junior has the potential to be a dangerous dual-threat playmaker. He's learning a new system, but coaches liked what they saw from Gray this spring. There's no experience behind him.

10. Ohio State: The Buckeyes would have ranked much closer to the top of the list with Terrelle Pryor, even for half a season. As it stands, they have a muddled quarterback picture, with four candidates vying to take the reins. Senior Joe Bauserman backed up Pryor the past two years and can give the team a steady if unspectacular hand under center. Or Ohio State could go for potential and talent with true freshman Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes are likely to climb these rankings, but for now there's too much uncertainty at the position.

11. Wisconsin: The Badgers must replace rock solid two-year starter Scott Tolzien, and the leading candidate for now is redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr. Though slight of stature, Budmayr has a big arm. He has played in only three career games, however. Wisconsin could rocket up this list if former NC State star Russell Wilson decided to transfer to Madison.

12. Indiana: Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker competed for the starting job this spring, but no clear winner emerged. Between them, they've thrown 29 career passes. New coach Kevin Wilson knows how to teach the quarterback position, and this offense will be friendly for passing stats. But the Hoosiers still have a long way to go.

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