Big Ten: Charles Godfrey

Ranking the Big Ten cornerbacks

August, 12, 2008
8/12/08
10:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Malcolm Jenkins had four interceptions last season.

The rankings return with the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties later. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis top the list, but things get a little bit cloudy after those two. Just a reminder that the rundown is only cornerbacks, so if you're looking for names like Anderson Russell, Anthony Scirrotto and Austin Thomas, check back in a bit.

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Sr., Ohio State -- It's a tight race with Davis for the top spot, but Jenkins gets the nod. He enters the fall as the Thorpe Award frontrunner after passing up NFL millions. The back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection had four interceptions last season and can shut down one side of the field.

2. Vontae Davis, Jr., Illinois -- His pro stock is skyrocketing and Davis soon will join his big brother Vernon in the NFL. Last season the Thorpe Award semifinalist had four interceptions, eight pass breakups, nine tackles for loss and two blocked punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

3. Lydell Sargeant, Sr., Penn State -- With Justin King gone, Sargeant moves into a featured cover role and has the tools to step up. In his first season as a starter he led Penn State defensive backs and ranked third on the team with 70 tackles. And Sargeant isn't afraid of big stages -- in March he was one of the introductory speakers at an on-campus rally of 22,000 people that featured presidential candidate Barack Obama.

4. Donald Washington, Jr., Ohio State -- His two-game suspension at the start of the season could hurt, but Washington has plenty of experience to readjust. Often overshadowed by Jenkins, Washington has big-play potential, as he showed by returning his lone interception last fall 70 yards for a touchdown.

5. Donovan Warren, So., Michigan -- One of the top young defensive backs in the league, Warren earned several freshman All-America distinctions last fall. He recorded 52 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against Notre Dame. Like most Wolverines players, Warren improved his conditioning level this summer and should turn in a strong sophomore season.

6. Morgan Trent, Sr., Michigan -- The team's most experienced player has made 29 career starts in the secondary, collecting 108 tackles [92 solo] and 19 pass breakups. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. Trent has been burned at times by elite receivers, but he brings leadership to the secondary and complements Warren.

7. A.J. Wallace, Jr., Penn State -- Wallace turned heads as a freshman, playing on both sides of the ball and dazzling on kickoff returns and reverses. Hopes remain high for his progress at cornerback, as he moves into the spot vacated by King. After a superb Alamo Bowl performance [five tackles, interception, fumble recovery], Wallace should do big things this fall.

8. Bradley Fletcher, Sr., Iowa -- Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada had Iowa's starting cornerback spots on lockdown, but Fletcher still contributed with 53 tackles and two interceptions last fall. With those two gone, Fletcher steps into a featured role this fall. He has played a lot the last two seasons and should step up as a senior.

9. Allen Langford, Sr., Wisconsin -- How Langford responds following ACL surgery is critical, but he brings plenty of experience to a suspect Badgers secondary. He has six career interceptions and 19 pass breakups, including seven in 10 games last fall before the injury. If healthy, the fifth-year senior provides a big boost in the back half.

10. Kendell Davis-Clark, Sr., Michigan State -- Davis-Clark ranked second on the team in tackles [73] in his first season as a starter and should continue to progress this fall. He had eight pass breakups and was effective on blitzes with four sacks in 2007. Davis-Clark's next step is making more plays for a takeaway-starved Spartans defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This will be the first of three parts as I break down the Big Ten defensive backs. Check back for rankings of safeties and cornerbacks. Despite losing several standout cornerbacks (Justin King, Jack Ikegwuonu, Terrell Vinson), the league returns a bunch of top-end players and teams have filled in the gaps nicely. 

Here's the rundown:

1. Ohio State -- All four starters are back, led by Thorpe Award frontrunner Malcolm Jenkins, who likely would have been a first- or second-round draft pick had he left school after last season. Fellow cornerback Donald Washington is suspended for the first two games but should make a significant impact when he returns. Ohio State would like more interceptions from safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, who had none last year but still combined to break up nine passes.

2. Penn State -- King's ability to shut down an opponent's top receiver will be missed, but Penn State still has good depth at cornerback with emerging junior A.J. Wallace, returning starter Lydell Sargeant and Tony Davis, who started every game at corner in 2006 before moving to safety during an injury-plagued junior season. Anthony Scirrotto is arguably the top playmaking safety in the conference with 10 career interceptions.

3. Michigan -- The Wolverines might feature the league's best cornerback tandem in senior Morgan Trent and sophomore Donovan Warren, who combined for 93 tackles and 13 pass breakups last season. They need some help at safety after the loss of all-conference selection Jamar Adams, but Stevie Brown played well as a reserve last year and Brandon Harrison has experience and versatility.

4. Michigan State -- Safety Otis Wiley backslid a bit last year but should recapture the form of 2006, when he ranked seventh in the Big Ten in tackles and had 10 pass breakups. The Spartans ranked fourth in the league in pass defense last year and have good depth at cornerback behind veteran Kendell Davis-Clark.

5. Illinois -- Vontae Davis will push Jenkins for the title of Big Ten's best cornerback. He ranked sixth in the league in both interceptions and pass breakups last year. Dere Hicks and Miami Thomas provide depth at the other corner spot, but Illinois must replace safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison, who combined for 155 tackles, six interceptions and 24 pass breakups last season. If guys like Travon Bellamy, Nate Bussey and Bo Flowers perform, this group will move up the list. 

6. Iowa -- There's hope here despite the losses of starting cornerbacks Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada, both honorable mention All-Big Ten selections last season. Senior Bradley Fletcher received ample experience the last two years, but the Hawkeyes would like another solid corner or two to emerge. Both starting safeties return to brace the unit. 

7. Wisconsin -- Shane Carter is a budding star at safety after leading the league with seven interceptions last season, but much like other areas on the Badgers' depth chart, health has been a bugaboo. If cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry bounce back from ACL injuries, the unit should be strong. If not, there will be plenty of pressure on young defensive backs like Mario Goins and Jay Valai.

8. Purdue -- The Boilermakers lost their best cover man (Vinson) from a unit that ranked seventh in the league against the pass last season. To avoid a drop off, they need better play from Royce Adams and continued production from David Pender. If safety Torri Williams can finally stay healthy after a rash of ailments, Purdue's secondary should be stable. 

9. Northwestern -- This unit no longer has any excuse to be a liability. Safety Brendan Smith returns from a shoulder injury to provide the playmaking punch the Wildcats sorely lacked last season. Smith and Brad Phillips form an experienced tandem at safety, while junior cornerback Sherrick McManis should benefit from an inconsistent first season as the starter. If Justan Vaughn or a redshirt freshman (Jordan Mabin, Michael Bolden) solidify the other corner spot, Northwestern should be respectable. 

10. Indiana --  Leading tackler Austin Thomas returns at strong safety, but cornerback is the biggest question on the team. The Hoosiers lost both starting corners, including all-conference performer Tracy Porter, who ranked second in the league with six interceptions. Six players are in the mix for the two jobs, including senior Chris Phillips. If the cornerback spot is stabilized, Indiana should leapfrog several teams. 

11. Minnesota -- The personnel is there for a turnaround, but it's tough to rank the Gophers much higher without seeing junior-college transfers Tramaine Brock, Trae Simmons and Simoni Lawrence. If those players perform like coach Tim Brewster thinks they will, Minnesota will be much improved. Brock brings a much-needed edge to the back four. But the Gophers can't rely much on returning players after last season's disaster.  

Big Ten power rankings

August, 5, 2008
8/05/08
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten Power Rankings
RankTeamAnalysis
1.Easily the Big Ten's most complete team, the Buckeyes have few position competitions and many more answers than questions in preseason practice. They must figure out how to use freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and identify a third starting linebacker [Ross Homan?] alongside standout tandem James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.
2.The Badgers' hold on the No. 2 spot is a bit shaky. Lance Smith's dismissal provides one less option out of the backfield, though Wisconsin remains very strong in the run game. The key here is health, particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary. Can Allan Evridge finally separate himself in the quarterback competition? We'll find out soon enough.
3.Depth is a bit of a concern at defensive tackle after coach Joe Paterno dismissed Phil Taylor and Chris Baker, but junior Jared Odrick and sophomore Ollie Ogbu have ample experience there. Penn State has options at the offensive skill positions and, unlike some teams, could benefit from a two-quarterback system as Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin bring different strengths.
4.The defense could be one of the league's sleeper units, as ends Will Davis and Derek Walker fortify the front and NFL prospect Vontae Davis anchors the secondary. Running back remains the biggest question, though junior Daniel Dufrene will have every chance to win the job. A reliable running back and another strong receiver could move Illinois up the list.
5.The freshman offensive skill players impressed coach Rich Rodriguez on Monday and give Michigan more options. There will undoubtedly be growing pains at quarterback, but if the offensive line jells after getting into better shape this spring and summer, the offense could be serviceable by Aug. 30. If a few solid linebackers emerge during the coming weeks, Michigan's defense should be among the league's best.
6.Is this the year Michigan's "little brother" overtakes the Wolverines? Michigan State enters the fall oozing optimism after an encouraging 2007 season. If several receivers emerge and coach Mark Dantonio puts a greater imprint on the defense, Michigan State could back up the preseason hype and cause a stir throughout the Big Ten.
7.The Boilermakers could have a tough time holding their place, as the schedule doesn't do them many favors. Then again, having a senior quarterback with video-game statistics [Curtis Painter] always helps. Purdue needs its veteran offensive linemen healthy when camp opens Sunday and must find a third linebacker to complement Anthony Heygood and Jason Werner.
8.Stocked with offensive skill players, the Wildcats turn their focus to the line in camp. If several capable players emerge by Aug. 30, Northwestern should be potent in the no-huddle spread shaped by new coordinator Mick McCall. Linebacker is the area of concern on defense, though new coordinator Mike Hankwitz must find a way to get more out of a defensive line that has underachieved in recent years.
9.Quarterback Jake Christensen's job appears safe for now, but the spotlight will be on a group of running backs that welcomes back former Hawkeye Shonn Greene. If Greene regains his 2006 form and the offensive line jells, Iowa could easily move up the list. But there are far too many questions in the backfield and at cornerback after the losses of Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada.
10.Once again, here's a team that could move up, especially with quarterback Kellen Lewis back in the fold. The questions here are typical for a team coming off a breakthrough after a lengthy layoff. How will pass rusher Greg Middleton respond to increased attention? Can Ray Fisher and baseball standout Andrew Means fill the void left by James Hardy at wide receiver? Is Matt Mayberry the answer at linebacker? We'll find out soon.
11.New defensive coordinator Ted Roof says there are no quick fixes, but an influx of junior-college transfers gives the Gophers a chance to stop people, something they rarely did last season. Minnesota needs a reliable running back to complement talented quarterback Adam Weber, and a group of incumbents on defense should have added motivation to keep their jobs -- and move up the list.

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