Big Ten: Cameron Coffman

Every Sunday around this time, we'll recap five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

Pencils ready? Class is in session ...

Freshman Christian Hackenberg had some big mistakes but showed poise in Penn State's win.
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Christian Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards in Penn State's win over Syracuse.
1. Big Ten quarterback mysteries partially solved: Week 1 provided some clues about the Big Ten's cloudy quarterback picture, but a few mysteries remain. True freshman Christian Hackenberg looks like the long-term answer at Penn State. Although he had a few shaky moments, Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards and showcased a big-time arm on a 54-yard touchdown strike to Eugene Lewis early in the fourth quarter of the Lions' win against Syracuse. Joel Stave got the start for Wisconsin and re-established himself with a mostly solid performance against Massachusetts, twice finding top receiver Jared Abbrederis for touchdowns. Jake Rudock's collegiate debut ended with a costly interception, but the Iowa sophomore showed some positive signs against Northern Illinois, passing for 256 yards. Iowa has something to build on with Rudock. Indiana might lack a definitive starter, but the Hoosiers have multiple options with Tre Roberson, Nate Sudfeld and Cam Coffman. Sudfeld, who played most of the opener and fired four touchdown passes, may end up being the answer for IU. Things are much shaker for Michigan State and Purdue, as both teams struggled at the quarterback spot in their openers. The Spartans likely will continue to play multiple signal-callers, while Rob Henry's starting spot at Purdue could be in jeopardy if he doesn't take better care of the ball.

2. Michigan, Illinois and Iowa can see clearly now on offense: After two years of running the Denard offense, Michigan displayed a system more suited to coordinator Al Borges' long-term vision. The result was a 59-point, 463-yard explosion against Central Michigan, in which just about everybody contributed. Michigan's vertical passing game is much more of a factor with Devin Gardner at quarterback, and the Wolverines ran the ball well with multiple backs. Illinois and Iowa lived in the dark on offense for much of the 2012 season, finishing 119th and 114th, respectively, in yards per game. Both the Fighting Illini and Hawkeyes looked more comfortable with their offensive identities in the openers. Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 340 first-half yards en route to a career-high 416 against Southern Illinois. Despite a crunch-time interception, Iowa's Rudock played with better rhythm in his first career start than veteran James Vandenberg did all of last season. The Hawkeyes are far from a juggernaut but eclipsed 300 yards in the first half against Northern Illinois and scored two touchdowns, more than they had in the first two games of last season. Now if only Greg Davis would get rid of the bubble screen ...

3. Michigan State, Nebraska haven't fixed their issues: First, the good news: We've only played one week, and Michigan State and Nebraska are each 1-0. The Spartan Dawgs defense is as good as advertised, perhaps even a little bit better, while the Nebraska offense remains explosive. Now, the bad news: The problems that plagued both teams last season and were supposedly addressed in the offseason remain glaring, neon-blinking red flags. The Spartans' offense struggled up front against an inferior opponent in Western Michigan, couldn't create separation at wide receiver and never consistently moved the football. Quarterbacks Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook combined to complete 17 passes for 116 yards, continuing a troubling trend of a condensed passing game. Although Jeremy Langford (94 rush yards) was a bright spot at times, he also fumbled in the red zone. Michigan State can't expect to win more games by having its defense outscore its offense. The opposite is true at Nebraska, which rebuilt its defense in the offseason with supposedly more athletic players. We totally expected the new Blackshirts to need a few games to find their sea legs, but we did not foresee Wyoming putting up 602 yards of offense and nearly winning in Memorial Stadium. That's reminiscent of the Huskers' defensive disasters last season, only worse because it came at home against a mediocre WAC team. Right now, the same songs are playing in East Lansing and Lincoln, and someone better change the channel.

4. Ohio State can't lose focus despite weak schedule: Let's face it: Ohio State shouldn't have too much to worry about until Wisconsin comes to The Shoe on Sept. 28. But the Buckeyes are far from a perfect team, and they need to use each week as an opportunity to develop, especially on defense. Ohio State built a 23-0 lead against Buffalo in less than a quarter Saturday, but the concentration level seemed to waver a bit from then on. The Bulls began moving the ball, Braxton Miller threw a pick-six and there was a decent amount of sloppiness in the middle of the game. Ohio State might have had a perfect record in 2012, but it was far from a perfect team and remains that way now. Turnovers and penalties -- the Buckeyes had nine of them -- will get you beat against better competition. Ohio State would benefit from a true test during nonleague play, but unless San Diego State or Cal surprisingly provides one, it won't come until the Big Ten opener against the Badgers. Urban Meyer and his staff must stress the details in all three phases the next few weeks. Talent isn't the issue for Ohio State, but a lack of focus could prove costly down the road.

5. Honeymoon is over for Hazell, continues for Andersen: Purdue was a solid underdog on the road at Cincinnati, but few expected the nightmarish result that occurred. Down just 14-7 at halftime, the Boilermakers imploded in an ugly 42-7 loss that was as bad as anything from the Danny Hope era. Purdue had four turnovers and was so inept that quarterback Rob Henry tweeted an apology to "all my family, teammates, friends and fans. My performance today was unacceptable. Never played that bad in my life." The schedule provides a break next week with Indiana State, but then the Boilers have six straight tough games. First-year coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work to do to keep the offseason optimism going. There's no such problem yet for Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. It seemed like not much had changed in Madison as the Badgers beat UMass 45-0 and rushed for 393 yards. Of course, Andersen had a much easier opponent for his debut and gets Tennessee Tech next week. His first real challenge will come in Week 3 at Arizona State. But Wisconsin clearly is in a lot better shape than Purdue right now.
All offseason, we figured the Indiana offense had a chance to be explosively good, maybe one of the best in school history. Well, it didn't take long for the Hoosiers to start rewriting the record book.

By blasting Indiana State 73-35 in the season opener, Kevin Wilson's team scored its most points ever at home and the second-most ever by an IU squad, trailing only a 76-point performance in 1901. Thursday night's showing included 10 touchdowns, the final one coming by the third-string offense with more than 10 minutes left in the game. Wilson had his team take a knee late inside the Indiana State 10 rather than go for the all-time record.

(Here's where we issue the obvious caveat that Indiana State is a FCS team, and not a particularly strong one at that. It should have been a blowout. Still, Indiana had to hold off the Sycamores 24-17 last year, so the improvement is readily apparent.)

The quarterback question that hung over the Hoosiers during the summer was seemingly answered when Tre Roberson got the start. Playing for the first time since he broke his leg in Week 2 last year, Roberson threw two touchdown passes in his first seven attempts. But he came out in the first quarter after just four possessions in favor of Nate Sudfeld, and Roberson never returned. Sudfeld played the majority of the game, tossing touchdown passes on his first two attempts and finishing 12-of-17 for 219 yards and four touchdowns. Cameron Coffman also got in before the first half was over and played again late.

Is this Sudfeld's job now, or does Roberson keep starting? Tune in next week.

The bigger story, though, might have been the play of running back Tevin Coleman. Wilson had talked up Coleman during the preseason, and the sophomore showed why by running for 169 yards and two touchdowns on just 14 carries. He glides through the hole and looks like a potential future star.

Shane Wynn also added three touchdowns, including a 58-yard punt return. But he had to leave the game when Indiana State's Carlos Aviles delivered a vicious, above-the-shoulder hit when Wynn was trying to field another punt. Aviles was ejected from the game as part of the new targeting rule; we'll have to wait and see on Wynn's health status.

Even with all the points, Wilson has plenty of ways to get his team's attention in the film room. His young defense played well for several drives after surrendering an early touchdown. But the Sycamores scored twice in the final 19 seconds of the first half, moving down the field for a touchdown pass and then scooping up a fumbled kickoff return by Laray Smith. Sudfeld was also picked off for a touchdown on the third play of the second half, cutting the score to 45-28. Offensive lineman Jake Reed also got ejected in the first half for throwing a punch in a boneheaded move.

Those are the kinds of errors Indiana simply can't afford to make when the competition gets much better, which will happen next week when Navy comes to Bloomington. This Hoosiers' offense can cover up a lot of problems, but it won't score with such breath-taking ease going forward. Still, as opening night showed, Indiana is going to be a fun team to watch this year.
The mystery of Indiana's three-man quarterback derby has been solved, at least for the start of tonight's Indiana State game: Tre Roberson will get the nod, according to the school's official Twitter feed.

Coach Kevin Wilson decided on Roberson over Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld after saying that all three had played very well in practice and that there was little separation between them. Starting Roberson makes sense, as he was the team's starter last year before breaking his leg in Week 2, and he has more running ability than either Coffman or Sudfeld. However, Sudfeld and Coffman are viewed as more accurate passers.

So Roberson will take the first snaps of the season for the Hoosiers, but that might not be the end of the story. Wilson was noncomittal on whether he will play more than one quarterback tonight or in the future.
Indiana fans, your team opens its 2013 season in less than 36 hours. Do you know where your starting quarterback is?

Based on what coach Kevin Wilson has told the media, the Hoosiers still might not know who runs out for the first series on Thursday night against Indiana State. Wilson insisted on Tuesday afternoon that he had yet to make a decision among Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld and might not pick a No. 1 guy until the team's final preparations and walk-through.

How is it possible that after eight months of a three-way competition, Indiana still hasn't settled on at least a top two? Wilson says because it really has been that close.

"In fairness to the three guys, no one has really been eliminated or separated themselves," he said. "It would be a subjective opinion of why someone was not in there."

Without specifying which stats belong to which quarterbacks, Wilson said the three candidates have completed 78, 76 and 74 percent of their passes in preseason practices and have thrown eight, eight and six interceptions. All three have about the same amount of game experience, "so it's not like we've got a veteran senior and a first-year rookie," Wilson said. Coffman and Sudfeld both have redshirt years available unlike Roberson, but Wilson said both have told him they want to play this year.

The line between the quarterbacks was credit-card thin last year, too. After Roberson broke his leg in Week 2, Wilson's assistants asked him during the Ball State pregame meal who should start between Coffman and Sudfeld. Wilson's response, "Eh, let's watch them warm up. They're about the same." Coffman ended up starting the rest of the season, but Sudfeld played a lot and Wilson was often noncommittal about who would get the first nod week to week.

Now throw a third guy into the mix as Roberson is healthy again, and things really get wacky. Wilson said it's so close that body language during the team's final workouts might put one guy over the top.

Wilson also didn't give a definitive answer about whether he'd play more than one quarterback in the opener. But he said he did not want whoever is starting to worry constantly that he could get yanked for the next guy.

"We're not going to be looking over our shoulder if you make a bad throw, have an errant play," he said, "because the game is not perfect. We're not going to play that way. We're going to be very aggressive in our style."

Wilson said he's not too worried about the decision because all three players can perform well.

"The brutal one is when you don't have one who can play and you've got to play somebody," he said. "This one's pretty easy to me. We've got phenomenal choices."

A choice will have to be made eventually. At least a few seconds before kickoff.

Indiana season preview

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
10:30
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Indiana is looking for a postseason breakthrough in Kevin Wilson's third season with the program, and he has no shortage of returning talent on hand to make a push for a bowl bid.

INDIANA HOOSIERS

Coach: Kevin Wilson (5-19, two seasons with Hoosiers and overall)

2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 in Big Ten, fifth in the Leaders Division)

Key losses: C Will Matte, DT Adam Replogle, DT Larry Black Jr., CB Antonio Marshall

Key returnees: QB Tre Roberson, QB Cameron Coffman, QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Stephen Houston, WR Shane Wynn, WR Kofi Hughes, OL Jason Spriggs, OL Collin Rahrig, DE Ryan Phillis, DE Zach Shaw, CB Brian Williams, S Greg Heban, LB David Cooper

Newcomer to watch: The Hoosiers don’t have many holes to fill on defense with eight starters returning, but they were hit hard right up the middle with both tackles up front moving on after last season. Wilson didn’t have to look far to find a potential stopgap with an ESPN300 player on the market in Indianapolis, and the signing of Darius Latham was a critical one for the Hoosiers both in terms of the caliber of player and because it came at a position of need.

Stepping in as a true freshman and making an impact in the Big Ten trenches is a tall order, but at 6-foot-5, 291 pounds, Latham at least has the frame to give himself a chance to help the Hoosiers right away.

[+] EnlargeCameron Coffman
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireIndiana's Cameron Coffman threw for over 2,700 yards last season. But will he be the starting QB in the Hoosiers' 2013 opener?
Biggest games in 2013: If the Hoosiers are going to go bowling, it would certainly help to take care of business outside the Big Ten. Opening the season against Indiana State on Aug. 29 shouldn’t be much of a test, but Navy (Sept. 7), Bowling Green (Sept. 14) and Missouri (Sept. 21) all could provide a test for Indiana even before it steps into the league with a home date against Penn State on Oct. 5. As if drawing both Michigan State and Michigan from the Legends Division wasn’t tough enough, the Hoosiers must face them on consecutive weekends -- both on the road.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Maybe it won’t matter who ultimately takes the first snap of the season for the Hoosiers. There are more than enough skilled targets to take advantage of in the passing game, an emphasis on being more physical should yield better results on the ground and Indiana has a coach who has proven his system will put up points.

But a three-man quarterback battle waged throughout training camp has left a pretty significant piece of the offensive puzzle undecided this month, and at some point Wilson is going to have to settle on a guy to lead his attack and point the Hoosiers in the right direction. It’s not like he doesn’t have options, and with each of the candidates bringing something valuable to the table, it’s understandable why Indiana has taken its time.

Roberson is a versatile athlete who can add mobility to the position, Coffman showed off his arm a year ago by throwing for more than 2,700 yards and Sudfield has turned some heads on the practice field this month. But they can’t all play, and sooner or later Wilson will have to make a decision.

Forecast: The buzz is building for a return to the postseason, and after going to just one bowl in the past 19 years and not winning one since 1991, the Hoosiers are definitely overdue.

But even with all the returning talent from a productive offense and a number of veterans back with a chance to improve a porous defensive unit from a year ago, the path to a winning record or even six wins isn’t exactly a smooth one for Indiana. It will benefit from playing eight games at Memorial Stadium, but the schedule wasn’t all that kind for the program within the Big Ten and aside from Indiana State, the games outside of the league are far from sure things.

The Hoosiers showed they could compete against some of the top teams in the conference a year ago, including a thrilling, high-scoring shootout against undefeated Ohio State that offered growing evidence of what Wilson’s attack could be capable of as he adds more talent and athleticism to the roster.

Without significant improvement on the other side of the ball, the Hoosiers will have a hard time making up much ground in the division. But if the defense is able to make a jump and take a little pressure off the offense and whoever winds up winning the quarterback job, a trip around the holidays could be within reach.
Indiana tight end Ted Bolser qualifies as a village elder on the Hoosiers' football team. Bolser is a fifth-year senior on a roster stuffed with underclassmen, a four-year starter who has suffered through three straight losing seasons.

So Bolser speaks with authority when talking about how much the Indiana program has changed in the past few years and where it might be headed.

[+] EnlargeKofi Hughes
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsSenior Kofi Hughes will lead the Indiana Hoosiers' receiving corps, which is slated to be one of the conference's best this season.
"Everything's completely different around here," he said. "Night and day. There's definitely a buzz around campus right now about the team."

"Buzz" and Hoosier football are not terms that normally appear in the same sentence, unless you're talking about tailgating. Indiana has made only one bowl appearance since 1993 and none since 2007 and is just 5-19 under third-year coach Kevin Wilson. Yet there is a good deal of positive publicity coming out of Bloomington these days.

Several preseason prognosticators have projected the Hoosiers to reach a bowl game this season. In a poll of Big Ten writers by the Cleveland Plain Dealer this summer, Indiana was the runaway choice as the team most likely to surprise in 2013. At Big Ten media days in Chicago, where the IU contingent often has plenty of free time, crowds gathered around Wilson and his players. Wilson has challenged the fan base to support the team this year, and the school reports that season ticket sales are up 5 percent, while student ticket sales have increased 18 percent over last year.

"We're not boasting or bragging," Wilson said. "We don't have it figured out. But we are, in the Twitter world, trending in a positive way."

Why the sudden uptick in interest for a team that lost to Ball State and Navy last year? For one, Indiana has a whopping 19 starters back, tied for the most in the FBS. That includes all but one starter on an offense that led the Big Ten in passing yards and finished second in the league in total yards in 2012. The Hoosiers return three experienced quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, who all all battling for the starting job -- along with arguably the conference's top receiving group. They could put a lot of points on the scoreboard this season.

Of course, the question remains whether they can keep points off the board, as IU's defense has been the worst in the Big Ten in each of Wilson's first two seasons and got torched for 163 points in its final three games last year. The team brought in one of its highest-ranked recruiting classes ever in February, and not surprisingly it was stuffed with defensive players, like defensive backs Antonio Allen and Rashard Fant and lineman Darius Latham. Early reports on the newcomers have been strong.

"They’re living up to the hype right now," senior defensive back Greg Heban said.

And the hope is that other young players on both sides of the ball continue to develop. Indiana was starting to build momentum as a program in the mid-2000s under Terry Hoeppner, who died after a long battle with brain cancer in 2007. His successor, Bill Lynch, led the Hoosiers on an inspiration bowl run in the 2007 season while coaching with the interim tag. But Lynch was fired in 2010 after three straight losing seasons. Wilson arrived and faced some resistance to change by the upperclassmen, and he began playing lots of true freshmen right away.

"I don’t think people knew the depth of issues we had in our team, and it wasn’t going to change just over the course of two years," senior receiver Kofi Hughes said. "But three years? I think it has definitely changed, and things are completely different."

In Year 3, Wilson says, the players all understand his standards and work ethic. There's far better depth and competition at every position. When asked whether this should be his best IU team, he said, "It's not close." But he continues to point out that the Hoosiers still haven't accomplished much of anything yet.

"There's always a little pessimism," he said. "Talk's cheap. ... We're getting better and we're gaining and it's a lot more fun and you feel it, but you've got to go win games and prove it. Like one guy said, 'Give me one word to describe your talent.' And I said, 'Unproven.' We've yet to really show.

"There's a boatload of potential, but you've got to go do it. It's getting over the hump and getting Ws."

Indiana benefits from eight home games this year, though nonconference games against Missouri, Navy and Bowling Green are challenging. The Hoosiers also must deal with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in their own division and crossover games against Michigan and Michigan State, both of which are on the road.

Still, the pieces are in place for a run at six wins and a bowl game. And maybe even more.

"Just going to a bowl, if that's our standard, that's pretty low," Bolser said. "It's kind of embarrassing, actually. We're setting our standards very high this year."

Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
4:30
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Wishing you a great weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter. And keep those emails coming.

Let's check out a few ...

Matt from Omaha writes: You guys are currently have a countdown of the per season top 25 players in the B1G. If you could do a top 25 of the most hyped players in the B1G that haven't taken the field, but expect to play well this year, who would you have on it?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Matt. Let's have some fun with this one. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg would have to be near the top. ESPN rated him as the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and Penn State fans have waited a while to get a glimpse of Hackenberg, who looks like the team's signal caller of the future. Ohio State's Dontre Wilson also would be up there, as he brings explosiveness to a Buckeyes offense looking for players to fill the Percy Harvin position in Urban Meyer's offense. Michigan running back Derrick Green is another newcomer with plenty of hype behind his name. Veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint wants to be Michigan's bell cow in the backfield, and Green will miss a bit of time with a minor injury, but there's a decent chance the freshman gets a fair share of carries this season.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, a junior-college arrival, certainly would be in the Top 10 as Husker fans hope he can spark a questionable line. Michigan State redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, who moved from linebacker to running back in the spring and drew good reviews, certainly is one to watch, although he also is reportedly banged up. Others who would make the list include Purdue QB Danny Etling, Indiana CB Rashard Fant, Penn State TE Adam Breneman, Illinois WR Martize Barr, Wisconsin WR Robert Wheelwright, Ohio State WR Jalin Marshall, Illinois LB Eric Finney, Indiana DT Darius Latham and Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike.



Derek from Minneapolis writes: Please help me settle an argument in my family. I argue that the Badgers' best offense ever was in 2011 when they had Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and still lost 3 games. My brother argues that it was the ground attack the year before with Clay, Ball and White all getting 900+ yards. My dad argues that the Ron Dayne years would be the hardest to stop. Which offense do you think is the best and why? We have several beers wagered on your response.

Adam Rittenberg: This is certainly a good problem/argument to have if you're a Wisconsin fan. All three are great options. My sense is to go with the 2011 offense because of the Wilson and Ball, quite possibly the most talented offensive backfield we've seen in the Big Ten in the past decade. If you actually look at Wilson's numbers that year, they'll blow you away, while Ball stats speak for themselves. The only reason I'm hesitant is that the 2010 offensive line was superior to the 2011 version. Wisconsin didn't completely dominate opponents as often in 2011 as it did in 2010, and needed Wilson to work his magic in the pocket quite a bit. The Dayne offenses were great, too, but more one-dimensional than the 2010 and 2011 teams. Ultimately, I have to go with the 2011 version, factoring in a healthy Peter Konz for the entire season. I still can't fathom how Wisconsin managed to lose three games with the backfield of Wilson and Ball.



Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: Hey Adam, I was reading your article ranking Ameer Abdullah at No. 13 in the B1G, and read something that didn't make sense to me. You said that Nebraska doesn't have a lot of depth at RB, when I don't believe that's the case at all! Behind Abdullah, you have manbeast Imani Cross, and the 2 best freshman RBs out of Cali and Texas (Newby and Taylor) now on campus. RB is the least of my concerns going into the season! What was your reasoning behind that?

Adam Rittenberg: Let me ask you this question, Brian. How much better would you feel about the Huskers' depth if Braylon Heard and Aaron Green were still on the roster? Heard and Green are two talented backs, and both opted to transfer from Nebraska. Fans love freshmen because they followed them in recruiting and fell in love with them, but they're still freshmen, totally unproven at the college level. I'm not saying Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor won't be studs at Nebraska, but both have a lot to prove. Cross impressed me last year and might soon emerge as Nebraska's featured back. But to say the Huskers are deep at running back with Abdullah, Cross and two freshmen is inaccurate. The depth would be much better if Heard and Green were still on the roster.



James from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Less than three weeks until Thursday night kickoff. Who starts at QB for Indiana? Rank 'em 1 through 3.

Adam Rittenberg: Very tough question, James, as the race is still too close -- and still too early -- to call. All three players continue to compete, although Indiana will trim the candidate pool to two fairly soon. My sense all along has been if Tre Roberson can make up for lost time, he'll be the starter when Indiana opens the season because of his explosive speed to complement his passing. But Cameron Coffman brings a gunslinger mentality that the coaches like, and Nate Sudfeld continues to impress in practice. Sudfeld, who had a good spring, certainly can't be ruled out of the mix. Check back with me in 10 days or so for a better prediction. For now, I'll go with Roberson, but I reserve the right to change my mind.



Sam from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, it's gotta be nice to actually talk about things that are going on actually ON the field! At Northwestern, where do you see the greatest opportunity for a true freshman to step in and get some playing time?

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it is, Sam. The offseason is too long. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't like to play a lot of true freshmen, preferring to redshirt as many guys as he can. The Wildcats have some holes to fill in the interior of both lines, but I don't see a true freshman stepping in at those spots because of the physical demands. I'd keep an eye on freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike. Cornerback Nick VanHoose praised Igwebuike when we talked earlier this week, and while Northwestern has decent depth at safety, Igwebuike could work his way into the rotation. VanHoose also singled out freshmen corners Keith Watkins and Matthew Harris for their play. You typically see true freshmen see time at running back or receiver, but Northwestern has excellent depth at both positions.



Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hi Adam-As a Spartan fan I was used to many years of fast starts followed by the usual November swoon, especially during the John L days. I always contended that although most of those teams were mediocre, the schedule played a huge role it. Specifically, soft out of conference games followed by some weaker B1G competition pumped up the record and then a brutal stretch of games to end the season killed it. Looking at the current B1G schedules, this screams Nebraska. I can totally see a hot start (7-0, 6-1) only to be followed by a 1-4 ending. Will Bo suffer the same fate as John L if this happens?

Adam Rittenberg: It would have to be a total collapse, Kevin, and even then, I don't know if Nebraska would part ways with Bo Pelini, who has averaged 9.6 wins per year as the Huskers' head coach. Nebraska learned a hard lesson after dumping Frank Solich, as the program entered a downward spiral under Bill Callahan. Although Pelini's current boss, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, didn't hire him, I don't get the sense Eichorst wants to rock the boat too much right away. You bring up a good point about Nebraska's schedule being backloaded, and the Huskers will need to be at their best in November, but they also get three games at home (Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa), where they've lost only once since joining the Big Ten. I'd be stunned if 1-4 happens.



Derrick from New York writes: Who's your first draft pick in this years B1G Ten Fantasy Draft?

Adam Rittenberg: You'll have to wait a little longer for that, Derrick, as we'll do the draft closer to the season. But let me remind you, and Mr. Bennett, and the whole wide world that I'll be picking second overall. Why, you wonder? Because I throttled Bennett last year and intend to do the same this fall. The Gingers have no shot. They'll hear the sad Trombone [Shorty] again in late November.
Earlier today, I wrote about Ohio State slotback Jordan Hall and his road back from foot and knee injuries that cost him the 2012 season, plus a hamstring tweak that slowed him this spring. Hall has slimmed down and boosted his speed to play a position that Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer loves to feature in his spread offense.

Hall is one of several players in the mix for Big Ten comeback player of the year in 2013. Although the league doesn't have an official award for comeback player -- amazing, since it seems to have one for everything else -- there are several candidates who could rebound in 2013 after missing a good chunk of last season because of injury.

Let's take a look:

SportsNation

Who will be the Big Ten's top comeback player in 2013?

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    35%
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    14%
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    26%
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    9%
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    16%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,485)

Michigan CB Blake Countess, 5-10, 181: He started six games at cornerback as a true freshman in 2011 and appeared in 12 contests overall, recording 44 tackles, six pass breakups and a forced fumble. But Countess' sophomore season ended in the first quarter of the opener against Alabama when he suffered a torn ACL while running down the field on punt coverage. Countess went through noncontact drills this past spring and will be ready for the season. Read more on him here.

Michigan State T Fou Fonoti, 6-4, 298: The Spartans' offensive woes in 2012 went beyond losing Fonoti to a foot injury days before its Week 3 showdown against Notre Dame. But Fonoti's absence certainly was felt as the offensive line, like the rest of the unit, endured bouts of inconsistency. Fonoti ended up missing the rest of the season but returned to the field this spring and saw time mainly at tackle but also a bit at center. He'll lead a line that must create holes for a new starting running back and time for the passing game to develop. Read more on Fonoti here.

Ohio State RB/WR Jordan Hall, 5-8, 191: Meyer is looking for versatility on offense and Hall could finally provide it in the slotback role this fall. Meyer had high hopes for Hall coming out of last spring, but a freak injury where Hall cut his foot on a broken bottle outside his home set off a string of setbacks. Hall appeared in just three games last season but has 1,032 career rush yards and six touchdowns to go along with 24 career receptions and a kick return average of 27 yards.

Indiana QB Tre Roberson, 6-foot, 200: Roberson returns to the mix after a broken leg suffered in Week 2 against Massachusetts ended his 2012 season. He had won the Hoosiers' quarterback competition last summer and put up big numbers (368 pass yards, 133 rush yards) in the first five quarters of the season before the injury. Roberson, who started five games as a true freshman in 2011 and appeared in nine, must beat out Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld for the top job in preseason camp. Read more about Roberson and the Hoosiers' quarterback race.

Iowa T Brandon Scherff, 6-5, 315: Like Michigan State, Iowa can't attribute all of its offensive problems to the loss of a standout tackle. But Scherff's season-ending broken leg and dislocated ankle suffered in mid-October against Penn State signaled the beginning of the end for Iowa, which entered the Penn State game at 4-2 overall and 2-0 in Big Ten play. The Hawkeyes wound up losing their final six games. Pegged as the successor to first-round draft pick Riley Reiff, Scherff started the first seven contests at left tackle in 2012 after starting three games at left guard as a redshirt freshman in 2011. Check out more on Scherff's comeback.

Who is your pick for the Big Ten's comeback player of 2013? Be sure to vote in our poll.

Summer QB checkup: Indiana

June, 18, 2013
6/18/13
2:30
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Quarterback competitions took center stage around the Big Ten this spring and will continue to do so when preseason camps kick off in August. As camp approaches, we're examining each of the unsettled signal-caller races in the league, where they stand and what needs to be done in the all important summer months.

Up next, Indiana.

The candidates: Tre Roberson, 6-foot, 200, redshirt sophomore; Cameron Coffman, 6-2, 203, junior; Nate Sudfeld, 6-5, 234, sophomore

Statistics: Roberson was Indiana's opening-day starter in 2012 and completed 33 of 50 passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, to go along with 133 rush yards and three touchdowns, before suffering a season-ending leg injury in Week 2. He started for the Hoosiers as a freshman in 2011 and had 937 pass yards, 426 rush yards and five touchdowns (3 pass, 2 rush). Coffman completed 247 of 407 attempts for 2,734 yards with 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in relief of Roberson in 2012. Sudfeld completed 51 of 82 passes for 632 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception last season.

[+] EnlargeCameron Coffman
AP Photo/Damen Jackson via Triple Play New MediaCameron Coffman got the most playing time last season of any of the 2013 starting QB contenders.
Where things stand: It's a true dead heat after the spring, as all three quarterbacks worked with the first-team offense. Coffman and Sudfeld both stood out during the spring game, as Coffman completed 17 of 23 passes for 174 yards and two touchdowns, while Sudfeld completed 14 of 16 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Summer buzz: Hoosiers offensive coordinator Seth Littrell knows decision day is coming. Indiana eventually will have to reduce its candidate pool from three to two and, eventually, to a starter for the Aug. 29 season opener against Indiana State.

But there's not a huge rush, and Littrell doesn't sound anxious at all about the group.

"All three of those guys have repped so much with our core group," Littrell recently told ESPN.com. "Some offenses have to replace a bunch of guys, and it’s a little bit more important to build that continuity earlier than maybe with our group. It's a little bit more important [to make a decision] when you have a bunch of different guys coming back and you don’t have that continuity."

The coaches charted every competitive drill the quarterbacks went through in spring practice, and according to Littrell, "it's not hard to tell who's winning the day." Each quarterback got a taste of victory this spring.

"All three of those guys competed at a high level," Littrell said. "Someone's obviously going to set themselves apart. Someone's going to win the job. But we don't have a date set. We're just feeling it out, seeing how it goes. Our offense believes in all three of those guys. They've all helped us."

The intrigue at Indiana surrounds Roberson, who won the quarterback competition last summer and looked good, albeit against weak competition, in the first two games of the season before breaking his leg against Massachusetts. Roberson made a speedy recovery but admittedly was a bit rusty with his passing rhythm this spring, a sentiment Littrell echoed.

The coaches know what Roberson can do as a runner, but they've encouraged him to fight the natural instinct to take off and stand tall in the pocket and make throws. Indiana led the Big Ten in passing last season and returns arguably the league's best group of receivers and tight ends. Although the quarterback run will be a bigger part of the offense if Roberson again wins the job, Indiana also wants to protect the sophomore.

"When he's on point, he's good," Littrell said. "He throws the ball as well as any of them, but he's been out of it a little bit [longer]. Growing up, he was a spread-quarterback-run-game guy, so he didn’t throw it as much. So especially early on, he hasn't been as comfortable. Some of those habits revert back. Early last fall when we went with him as the starting quarterback for Game 1, he really got pretty comfortable with that role. He just needs to relax in the pocket and again, get the timing back down.

"I think he's ahead of where he was last fall right now."

The difference is that both Coffman and Sudfeld also are much better after logging significant field time, especially Coffman, against Big Ten defenses in 2012. Both Coffman and Sudfeld are pass-first quarterbacks who can effectively run Indiana's up-tempo, high-percentage-pass driven offense, but each has his unique style.

"Nate's a bigger, taller, rangier guy," Littrell said. "It's not hard for him to see over the line because he's a big 6-5 kid. He can stand back in the pocket. He's pretty good at throwing on a rhythm, and he's not going to flee as fast. And Cam's one of those baller guys. The thing about Cam is he just goes out and makes plays. He can do a little bit of both. He slings it around pretty good, but at the same time, he can hurt you with some quarterback run."

All three quarterback are familiar with the scheme, the other personnel on offense and the challenges the Big Ten poses. Although each has areas to improve, leadership is the unifying focus for the summer. Head coach Kevin Wilson is looking for a winner at quarterback, and Littrell has encouraged the signal-callers to experiment with plays and formations during summer workouts and then report back to the coaches what worked.

"After the spring, it doesn't stop," Littrell said. "It's all year round. We can't be with 'em, we can't coach 'em, we can't tell 'em what to do. But that's where leadership comes in."

More summer QB checkup:

Poll: B1G's top passer in 2013

June, 14, 2013
6/14/13
1:30
PM ET
Earlier today, Adam and I debated who would lead the league in passing yards in 2013. Now, it's your turn to decide.

SportsNation

Who will lead the Big Ten in passing yards in 2013?

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    32%
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    30%
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    15%
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    9%
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Discuss (Total votes: 7,798)

Here are five candidates to win the passing title:
  • Taylor Martinez, Nebraska: Adam's choice to lead the league in passing yards, Martinez has improved greatly as a thrower and finished second in the Big Ten last season in total passing yards with 2,871. He's also got a deep group of receivers to work with in the Huskers' explosive offense.
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan: My pick as the passing champion, Gardner averaged more than 240 yards passing per game last year after taking over for Denard Robinson. That projects to more than 3,000 yards over a 13-game season. Plus, the Wolverines should throw more as they move to a full-fledged pro-style attack.
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State: Miller threw for just 2,039 yards last year but has worked hard on his mechanics this offseason, and the Buckeyes want to throw the ball downfield more this season. The receiving corps is still a bit thin, but don't bet against Miller's talent.
  • Indiana's starter: Cameron Coffman passed for 248.5 yards per game last year, tops among all returning Big Ten quarterbacks. And the Hoosiers led the league in passing yards. The complication is that there's a three-man QB race between Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. If one emerges as the clear-cut front-runner, he could put up some prolific numbers.
  • Penn State's starter: If Bill O'Brien can turn Matt McGloin into a 3,000-yard passer, what can he do with Tyler Ferguson and Christian Hackenberg? If only we knew which one of those guys would take the majority of the snaps. One thing is for sure: Whoever starts will benefit greatly from throwing to the league's best receiver (Allen Robinson) and a deep and talented group of tight ends.

Who's your pick to lead the Big Ten in passing? Vote now in our poll.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

We're in the process of projecting the Big Ten's statistical leaders for the 2013 season. After forecasting the league's top rusher, today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in passing this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten hasn't been loaded with premier passers and loses its only 3,000-yard performer from 2012 in Penn State's Matt McGloin. Although the league's next three top passers return, two of them, Indiana's Cameron Coffman and Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell, are fighting to retain their starting jobs for the season. Although there's no shortage of quarterbacks with starting experience or significant playing time around the league, few have shown the ability to consistently put up big passing totals.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Taylor Martinez passed for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
My pick comes down to three quarterbacks: Michigan's Devin Gardner, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. If I knew Indiana's or Penn State's starting quarterback, I might include them in the race because of those teams' strength at wide receiver and tight end. But that's too risky right now. Gardner started just five games for Michigan, but averaged 243.8 pass yards in those contests. His numbers could go up as Michigan moves away from the spread and into a pro-style system. Gardner had a strong spring, and Michigan wants to keep him in the pocket more often than not. Miller also should up bigger passing totals as he enters his second year in Ohio State's offense and should have more help at the wide receiver spot. He's such a talented runner, but the Buckeyes don't want to take too many chances with his health, and the coaches see good potential for his growth as a passer.

Gardner and Miller are solid choices, but I'm going with Martinez here. His passing numbers soared from 2011 to 2012, as he completed nearly 6 percent more passes, nearly 800 more yards and threw 10 more touchdowns. He's fully comfortable with the offense under coordinator Tim Beck and should enter the season at 100 percent, health-wise. Nebraska also returns top wide receivers Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. The Huskers need some help at tight end but have recruited well at tight end and have warmed up more and more to the pass under Beck. Martinez will finish his career with every significant Nebraska passing record, and he'll also top the Big Ten's passing yards chart as a senior.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

If I were confident Indiana would go with one quarterback all season, my pick would be the Hoosiers' starter. Don't forget that Coffman is the leading returning passer in the league (in terms of yards per game), or that IU led the conference in passing yards this season. But I suspect Kevin Wilson will end up juggling quarterbacks and using some combination of Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. Can I say my choice is Cam Roberfeld?

I guess not. So I'll go with the next best option: Michigan's Devin Gardner. As Adam mentioned, Gardner posted big passing numbers last year after taking over for Denard Robinson down the stretch, and that was without a lot of practice during the year at quarterback (he split time there and at receiver). By all accounts, Gardner has had a fantastic offseason, and Al Borges must be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of finally unleashing a true pro-style offense.

Gardner's five-game numbers last year project to more than 3,000 yards passing over a full 13-game season. I don't know if he'll get all the way there, and losing veteran receiver Roy Roundtree doesn't help. But he's still got big-play man Jeremy Gallon to target, as well as promising young receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, plus talented tight end Devin Funchess. Gardner completed 59.5 percent of his passes last year, a rate I expect to go way up with a full offseason as the starting quarterback under his belt. Michigan will look to run the ball a lot as well. But the Wolverines won't have to accommodate the talents of Robinson, and Gardner won't run as much as Nebraska's Martinez.

Plus, Michigan doesn't have any other experienced options, so Gardner will likely take just about every snap. That makes him a safe pick to lead the league in passing yards.
The confidence in Seth Littrell's voice is unmistakable.

Littrell, the offensive coordinator at Indiana, leads a group in 2013 that would make many of his Big Ten colleagues jealous. Make all your "it's Indiana" jokes if you want, but the Hoosiers bring back 10 starters from an offense that finished second in the league in yards (442 ypg) and fourth in scoring (30.8 ppg) last fall.

"We lost our center," Litrell said, referring to Will Matte. "That's really all we lost."

All the other key pieces are back from a unit that scored 49 points against Ohio State -- the most ever against the Buckeyes and the most Ohio State surrendered in a game since 1994 -- and 27 first-half points against Michigan State, which allowed no more than 28 in an entire game all season. The Hoosiers scored 24 points or more in 10 of 12 games and eclipsed 450 yards in seven contests.

In addition to four returning line starters, Littrell has arguably the Big Ten's top wide receiving corps, a talented tight end in Ted Bolser, an explosive running back in Stephen Houston and three quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld with significant experience. Head coach Kevin Wilson's up-tempo spread offense isn't new to the core players, and neither is Littrell, who enters his second year as the coordinator.

All the familiarity suggests Indiana will simply keep the same plan it executed in 2012. But Littrell wants to broaden the scheme.

"I think you can experiment a little bit more on offense," he told ESPN.com. "You can tweak some things, and they aren't hard. ... We're evolving, we're always growing in this sport. In this day in college football, if you're not growing, you're not going to be very successful. Everything seems like it gets a little more complex every year.

"It's a group that's a lot of fun to work with because they have some experience, they've been around each other, so you could probably play with some stuff a little easier than maybe you could in years past."

Indiana is still looking for a starting quarterback after Roberson, Coffman and Sudfeld competed this spring. But because all three men have experience, Littrell thinks he can broaden the playbook rather than condense it.

"I tell them, 'Don't be a mannequin. If you like some things as a quarterback, talk with each other, do something, go experiment,'" Littrell said. "[Summer is] the time where we used to go out and have fun and experiment, offense-defense competition. They've got to experiment on their own a little bit, too. Players who come back over the summer will say, 'Hey, coach, we've been working on this, we like this, take a look at it.'

"And most of the time, they're right."
Brian Bennett has been projecting the Big Ten's top statistical performers in 2013, including 3,000-yard passers, 1,000-yard rushers and 1,000-yard receivers.

Now it's your turn to forecast the Big Ten's top offensive triumvirate in 2013. Which Big Ten team has the best chance of producing a 3,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver this season? Penn State was the only Big Ten squad to record the feat in 2012, as quarterback Matt McGloin led the league in pass yards (3,266), wide receiver Allen Robinson led in receiving yards (1,013) and running back Zach Zwinak finished with an even 1,000 rush yards.

SportsNation

Which of these Big Ten teams will have the best offensive triple threat in 2013?

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    19%
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    39%
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Discuss (Total votes: 5,247)

Here are the candidates for the Big Ten's top offensive triple threat in 2013 ...

Indiana: The Hoosiers lose just one starter from an offense that finished second in the league and 34th nationally in yards. Indiana also has multiple candidates for the milestones, whether it's Cameron Coffman, Tre Roberson or Nate Sudfeld at quarterback; or Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn or Kofi Hughes at receiver. Coffman passed for 2,734 yards in 2012 after taking over for the injured Roberson, who is back from a broken leg. Latimer looks like a superstar after eclipsing 800 receiving yards as a sophomore. IU wants to be more explosive on the ground and Stephen Houston would be the best bet to reach 1,000 rush yards after finishing with 749 last season.

Michigan: Although the Wolverines lose a record-setting individual offensive performer in Denard Robinson, they could have a deeper arsenal of weapons this fall as they transition to a more traditional pro-style system. Devin Gardner averaged 243.8 pass yards as Michigan's starting quarterback for the final five games last season. If he keeps that up for an entire season, he could reach the 3,000-yard mark. The Wolverines receivers also benefited from Gardner's presence, and a guy like Jeremy Gallon could approach 1,000 receiving yards if things go well. The bigger question is running back and whether Fitzgerald Toussaint, coming off of a broken leg, or dynamic incoming freshman Derrick Green could approach 1,000 rush yards. Michigan hasn't hit all three statistical milestones in the same season since 2003.

Nebraska: Like Indiana, Nebraska returns familiar names from a powerful offense that led the Big Ten in yards and finished second in points last season. Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez enters his fourth year as the starter after making significant strides as a passer in 2012, when he passed for 2,871 yards. The Huskers also had two 1,000-yard rushers in Martinez (1,019) and Ameer Abdullah (1,137), who returns. Dynamic sophomore Imani Cross also is in the mix after averaging 5.9 yards per carry as a freshman. Nebraska never has had a 1,000-yard receiver, but Kenny Bell came fairly close in 2012 (863 yards) and Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner also return.

Ohio State: Quarterback Braxton Miller is the biggest name coming back for the Buckeyes, but he's also the biggest question mark in Ohio State's quest for these offensive milestones. Ohio State shouldn't have much trouble producing a 1,000-yard rusher with Miller (1,271 rush yards in 2012) and Carlos Hyde (970) back in the fold. But Miller has to upgrade his passing to get near 3,000 yards after completing just 58.3 percent of his attempts in 2012. The Buckeyes are building more depth at receiver as Corey Brown progresses alongside big-play threat Devin Smith. Ohio State has had just four 1,000-yard receiving seasons and none since Michael Jenkins in 2002.

Penn State: The good news is Penn State achieved the milestone in 2012 and returns two of the reasons why in Robinson and Zwinak. The Lions also have other options at running back in Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch, the redshirt freshman who stood out during the Blue-White Game, along with the Big Ten's best group of tight ends, led by Kyle Carter. The bad news is Penn State's quarterback will be taking his first snaps in an FBS game this season. Junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson passed for 2,650 yards and 26 touchdowns for College of the Sequoias in 2012, while decorated incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg threw for 2,144 yards and 24 touchdowns for Fork Union Military Academy. Whoever wins the job will have to ride the fast track to 3,000 pass yards, but Penn State's starter will be surrounded by one of the league's best pass-catching groups.

It's your turn to vote on the Big Ten's top offensive triple threat for 2013. Make yours count.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

June, 3, 2013
6/03/13
5:00
PM ET
Guess I won't be getting any thank-you cards from the Tully-Frey red wedding. But I can always count on letters from you guys:

Mikey from Seattle writes: As an Ohio State fan with a relatively low-level of sensitivity (just ask my wife), I'm pretty offended by the stuff that continues to come out of Gordon Gee's mouth. I can only image how non-OSU fans perceive him, and by extension, Ohio State. However, there doesn't seem to be too much talk of firing him. Do you think this might happen...and are there any major implications for Buckeye football?

Brian Bennett: There is definitely a sense that the trustees are getting tired of being embarrassed by Gee's careless comments, and they have already told him he's on thin ice. If I were Gee, I would keep my mouth shut about sports for a long time. He raises a lot of money for Ohio State, so as long as he can continue to do that, he should remain employed. Should the school decide that Gee should go, however, I don't think there would be much impact on the football program. Wasn't Gee employed by Jim Tressel, after all?




John from Sterling, Va., writes: Yes, some of Gee's remarks are quite frankly dumb, but there certainly is an element of truth in a lot of them. His comments on the SEC are spot on. Most of the schools in that conference are nothing more than glorified junior colleges. Missouri is the best of the bunch and they would jump at the chance to head to the Big Ten. If you ranked the soon to be 26 public schools, the top nine and 13 of the top 15 would be in the Big Ten. The results would be similar but not as extreme if comparing the SEC to the Pac XII and ACC.

Brian Bennett: Spot on? It's one thing to brag on the Big Ten's academic reputation and say it's far better than that of the SEC. No one could argue the opposite. To accuse SEC folks of not being able to read and write and calling their educational institutions "shameful" is a whole other story. I get that it was said in jest and was an exaggeration, but SEC school grads -- of which I am included -- would understandably be offended by that. And, really, it's a pretty weak joke.




Greg D. from Cranbury, N.J., writes: I just read your article about the next 3,000-yard passers ... why is it you guys constantly talk about QB inexperience when it comes to Penn State, but the No. 2 guy on your list is Cameron Coffman, at over 2,700 yds who as you put it "being thrust into the role" with no experience. You guys are always making a point in one direction with one team and then go 180 degrees with another? It seems to me, the key is the QB's receivers being able to hang on to the ball and a line to protect and give the QB enough time to throw the ball. Matt McGloin's biggest issue prior to last season was a bunch of receivers that would drop wide open passes in critical downs stopping drives (which I believe caused him to try to make things happen by forcing the ball at times).

Brian Bennett: You make a good point about the experience angle. I would say that when it comes to quarterbacks who have no major college game experience -- and you can throw Iowa's guys in here as well -- we tend to take the very cautious approach with our predictions. Quarterback is such a hard position to play, and you just don't know how players will respond in their first taste of Big Ten play. Coffman was a guy who had junior college experience before coming to Indiana, something that could also play into Tyler Ferguson's favor at Penn State should he keep that job over freshman Christian Hackenberg. The Nittany Lions also pass the ball a lot as Indiana does, which should help. Still, it's difficult to project someone to throw for 3,000 yards -- a very high benchmark in the Big Ten -- when they have no previous Division I track record.




Rick L. from Union City, Calif., writes: Just reading the Thursday mailbag and wondering how Wisconsin vs. LSU in Houston to open the season is considered much of a neutral game? According to most airlines, Baton Rouge to Houston is approx. 253 miles while a trip from Madison is more than four times that! So much for neutral.

Brian Bennett: There are varying shades of neutral, of course. The good thing about these kinds of games is that there is usually an even ticket split, so Wisconsin fans will have to travel and represent the Badgers in Houston (though LSU fans will likely still outnumber them). It's still a whole lot easier than playing in Death Valley. And something tells me Wisconsin fans won't be complaining about the return "neutral" game in Green Bay.




Joe from South St. Paul, Minn., writes: If healthy, do you think Ed Olson will be an All-Big Ten member? Also. who do you think could be All-Big Ten members from the Gophers beside the obvious Ra'Shede Hageman?

Brian Bennett: I like Olson a lot and think injuries have been the only thing really holding him back. If he can get through the entire season, he has a chance to really show some things, especially as the Gophers go to a more power-run attack. Making the first team will be tough with Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Ohio State's Jack Mewhort around. Olson should also get plenty of competition from Wisconsin's Ryan Groy, Nebraska's Jeremiah Sirles and others for the second team. As for other All-Big Ten candidates besides Hageman, I think the best bets are both in the secondary in safety Brock Vereen and cornerback Derrick Wells.




Denzel from Columbus, Ohio writes: Brian, I'll keep it simple. "Ohio" has so many question marks for their team yet they are a pre-season title contender, yet Michigan has only an O-line to figure out (Fitz and Green will split carries). So why is Michigan not considered at least a dark horse title contender?

Brian Bennett: One team went 12-0 last year, while the other finished 8-5. That's the easy answer. Michigan probably does deserve some darkhorse national title recognition, but that offensive line and the running game is a big question (and what, if anything, Jake Ryan can contribute this year is another). Ohio State has questions in its defensive front seven but also has loads of talent there, and a user-friendly schedule certainly helps.




Mike N. from Parker, Colo., writes: You made an interesting point with regards to the question on the BCS when you wrote: "You wouldn't have to worry about three- or four-loss teams in an eight-team field, and a team like last year's 10-2 Texas A&M -- which was as hot as anybody down the stretch -- would have a chance to play for it all." I think that's the issue. If you're a College Football fan, your entire history of a mythical "National Champion" was as close to unbeaten as possible. To change focus to who is hot down the strech turns the attention away from the entire season to who's hot at the end.. Which I believe is not what College Football is about.. the NFL can have its joke of a Champion *cough* NY Giants *cough* but I don't want to start to reward teams for being HOT. I want teams that are great through the season and not just lucky at the end.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from, and I definitely want to protect the value of the regular season as well. Texas A&M had its season opener postponed last year, and the Aggies lost by three points to Florida. They also fell to LSU by five, but did beat Alabama on the road and destroyed Oklahoma in the bowl. You really wouldn't have wanted to see Johnny Football in the playoffs? This isn't college basketball, where a team can be mediocre for months and then get hot in March. You'd still have to have a great season to get into a college football playoff, though a larger field would make room for teams that might have stumbled once or twice. Remember, LSU had two losses when it won the BCS title in 2007.




Josh from LA writes: I just wanted to offer my services to the College Football Playoff Committee. Do you mind passing my résumé along? I've been a college football fan for about 29 years now, watch a lot of games (probably more than anyone actually being considered for this role), have some free time (again, more than anyone being considered for this role) ... and at least I'll admit my bias instead of pretending to be objective (8-4 Michigan deserves to be in the playoffs every time). Also, I'm well educated -- I read this blog as well as other football blogs on a daily basis, and there's no better source of information than the internet! Thanks! PS If I get chosen, you can shoot me an email with teams you hate and I'll make sure to never vote for them.

Brian Bennett: You sound like the perfect candidate to me. Move to the front of the line.




Dave from Honolulu writes: I am a native Detroiter serving in the Navy at beautiful Pearl Harbor. I appreciate Vasav from Alaska sticking up for Detroit. It is a great city with some great things to do, but I am with you. I marched in the band at Michigan and it is GREAT to get on the plane and go to sunny LA for the Rose Bowl. A bus ride to Ford Field would have been a little depressing (45 minutes to think about all those loses during the season). Give me LA, Florida or Honolulu (would love to see the BIG out here for a bowl game) during bowl season any time.

Brian Bennett: So, if you're scoring at home, the guy from Alaska thinks Detroit is a great winter getaway, while the guy living in Hawaii prefers warm weather.
As 1,000 yards rushing is the baseline for greatness by running backs, so is 3,000 yards passing for quarterbacks. But it is often an even harder milestone to achieve, especially in the Big Ten.

Only one quarterback reached 3,000 yards passing in the league last season, and hardly anybody saw it coming: Penn State's Matt McGloin blossomed under Bill O'Brien and threw for 3,266 yards in 12 games. Besides McGloin, only three other conference passers even threw for 2,500 yards.

McGloin is gone, so who will be the next league signal caller to make it to 3k? Here's a breakdown of the top contenders in order of likelihood:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan's expected move toward a pro-style offense could boost Devin Gardner's passing totals.
1. Indiana's starter: Quick: which player finished behind McGloin last season in passing yards per game? It was the Hoosiers' Cameron Coffman, who threw for 2,734 yards. He did that in just 10 starts, after being thrust into the role following Tre Roberson's Week 2 broken leg, and while splitting some snaps with Nate Sudfeld. We don't know who is going to start for Indiana this season, and if it's Roberson, the passing projections go down. But we know the Hoosiers will throw the ball all over the place, and if one quarterback can start all 12 (or even 13 games), he's going to put up huge numbers.

2. Devin Gardner, Michigan (1,219 passing yards in 2012): A bit of a stretch? Perhaps. But consider that Gardner passed for more than 1,200 yards in just five games as the Wolverines' quarterback last season. Project that over 13 games and -- voila! -- that's more than 3,000 for the season. Plus, as the Wolverines go to a true pro-style attack, I think Gardner will throw more than the next guy on the list ...

3. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska (2,871): People might have laughed at the notion of Martinez as a 3,000-yard passer in recent years, but look how close he got in 2012. Add in a few more completions, and it doesn't take much to get him there. Of course, he posted those numbers last season in 14 games, so he's either got to get Nebraska back to the Big Ten title game or increase his passing yards per game, and Nebraska doesn't need to sling it around all the time with its rushing attack.

4. Penn State starter: If O'Brien can turn McGloin into the league's top passer, what can he do with a pure talent like Christian Hackenberg or junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson? Having Allen Robinson and about 16 tight ends to throw to certainly helps. The one drawback is the lack of major college experience for either guy. McGloin at least had plenty of snaps under his belt before last season.

5. Braxton Miller, Ohio State (2,039): Miller worked hard on his passing technique this offseason, and I fully expect his yardage total to go up. He's still got a long way to go to reach 3,000, but there's a good chance the Buckeyes play two more games this season if they win the Leaders Division. If he does get to 3,000 passing yards, a Heisman might await.

6. Michigan State starter: As shaky as the Spartans' passing game was a season ago, Andrew Maxwell still managed to throw for 2,606 yards. The receivers will be a year older and presumably better, and it doesn't look like Michigan State has a Le'Veon Bell type to hand the ball to 30 times a game. Still, very little about this offense inspires confidence, and there is an ongoing competition between Maxwell and Connor Cook.

7. Wisconsin starter: The three Badgers quarterbacks who played last season combined for just 2,197 passing yards -- and that was in 14 games. So there is no reason to suspect a Russell Wilson-type season. But at least Joel Stave and Curt Phillips now have a lot more game experience, though I believe Gary Andersen will continue to rely on the running game.

8. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois (1,361): Scheelhaase's season, like all things Illini in 2012, was instantly forgettable. But if he can stay healthy, his numbers should go way up in Bill Cubit's pass-happy spread offense. The ceiling is probably more like 2,500 yards, though.

9. Iowa starter: The Hawkeyes had a 3,000-yard passer just two years ago (the good version of James Vandenberg), and the offense should improve in the second year under coordinator Greg Davis. But the combination of no quarterbacks with college experience and lackluster options at receiver makes this seem like a major long shot at best.

I ruled out Purdue (little experience at quarterback, ground-based system), Northwestern's Kain Colter (a running quarterback; maybe if Trevor Siemian plays a whole lot more) and Minnesota's Philip Nelson (too few weapons around him) as legitimate candidates.

Who if anyone do you see getting to the 3,000-yard mark from the Big Ten this season?

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