Big Ten: Chaz Powell

Who'll start Saturday -- Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson?

Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)

But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:

Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.

After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIRob Bolden made history in 2010 as the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State under coach Joe Paterno.
Rob Bolden, true freshman
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.

PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.

Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.

Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."

Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions

Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.

Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."

Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards

Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.

Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."
Before spring practice, Penn State defensive backs Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris sat in their apartment, brainstorming a way to motivate the secondary.

They decided to tell their teammates the truth. At least the truth according to those outside the program.

At the end of each workout in the spring and now in the summer, Willis and Morris gather the other Lions defensive backs.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Willis
Rob Christy/US PresswireMalcolm Willis has challenged Penn State's younger defensive backs to step up this season.
"We huddle them up, we talk to them and say, 'We're supposedly the worst unit on this team,'" Willis told ESPN.com "Everybody is doubting us, everybody is doubting our ability. We know what we can do. We know the ability we have and what we're capable of."

The outside skepticism makes sense. Penn State loses all four starters from 2011: safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. Although players like Willis, Morris and sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos have been very much in the mix -- they combined for 65 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 2011 -- depth is a significant question mark, especially with the offseason departures of cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake.

The Lions will need their young defensive backs to step up in a big way. And that's who Willis and Morris direct their message to following workouts.

"Every day we say that, these younger guys, they're hyped up, they're juiced up and they want to do extra work," Willis said. "Right after that, they want to go watch some film with us, or they want to go work on their footwork, just giving that extra effort and that extra attention to detail. It really shows me these guys want to be great this year."

Penn State's defensive fortunes could hinge on the secondary this season. While there are significant changes in State College, namely the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his "multiply aggressive" scheme, several elements remain the same.

The front seven, as usual, should be very strong. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges returns, along with Michael Mauti, back from a knee injury. Pete Massaro also returns at defensive end and joins a line featuring tackle Jordan Hill, end Sean Stanley, tackle DaQuan Jones and end Deion Barnes, an extremely promising redshirt freshman. The line and linebackers also both return their position coaches -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, the only two holdovers from the previous staff -- while the secondary has a new boss (John Butler).

Add in the new scheme, which includes some Cover 3 but not nearly as much as the system under Tom Bradley, and the secondary can be seen as one giant question mark.

"A lot of people say we're the weakest group on the team," Willis said. "We were like, 'We need to motivate these guys to let them know what people think.' Reading it is one thing on the Internet, but when somebody says it to your face, it has to hit a nerve. And you really have to be offended by it."

Willis and Morris are getting the desired result so far. Willis has been impressed with the way fellow safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Tim Buckley have approached the offseason. Obeng-Agyapong is projected to start alongside Willis, while Buckley saw some time with the first-team defense this spring.

"When I see the D-backs, I see a whole bunch of hard-working people," wide receiver Justin Brown said. "They're always out there trying to get better, trying to do one-on-ones, anything to help the defense.

"I don't see any weak link."
Four days after naming Matthew McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the fall, new Nittany Lions coach Bill O'Brien has issued his summer depth chart. Penn State opens preseason practices Aug. 6.

The first thing you'll notice is 13 offensive positions listed. Penn State can only have 11 players on the field at once, but as O'Brien explains in a news release, "We will be a multiple personnel grouping team, particularly at wide receiver and tight end." Translation: this isn't the old Penn State offense. Get ready for a lot of passing.

BO'B adds that aside from quarterback and a handful of other positions, Penn State will have competitions at most spots when camp kicks off in August.

O'Brien announced three position changes today: sophomore Adrian Amos moves from safety to cornerback, sophomore Kyle Baublitz moves from defensive end to defensive tackle; and redshirt freshman Anthony Zettel moves from defensive tackle to defensive end. The Amos move makes sense after Curtis Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, left the program.

Four positions feature co-starters on the depth chart. They are:
All four should be interesting competitions, particularly the one at middle linebacker, where Carson started in 2011 and recorded 74 tackles and two forced fumbles. Fortt has shown promise at times, racking up 33 tackles, including six for loss, as a reserve last fall.

Some more notes and thoughts on the Lions' two-deep:
  • Penn State has redshirt freshman Donovan Smith listed as the starting left tackle, while Adam Gress, one of the standouts of spring practice, checks in as the starting right tackle. The right side looks strong with Gress and John Urschel, but there are some question marks on the left side.
  • Garry Gilliam is listed as one of the starting tight ends ("Y" position) ahead of promising freshman Jesse James, who impressed me while I was at practice in April. It's interesting to see redshirt freshman Kyle Carter listed ahead of junior Kevin Haplea at the other tight end spot ("F").
  • Two secondary spots seem fairly set -- junior free safety Malcolm Willis and senior cornerback Stephon Morris -- while the others should be interesting to watch in August. Senior Jake Fagnano is a somewhat surprise starter at strong safety ahead of Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, while Amos and Thomas will compete at the right cornerback spot.
  • Penn State's starting defensive line looks strong with Jordan Hill and DaQuan Jones at the starting tackle spots, and Pete Massaro and Sean Stanley at the starting end spots. The key is whether several former heralded recruits like Baublitz and C.J. Olaniyan, or promising young end Deion Barnes, bolster the depth up front.
  • Bill Belton is listed as the No. 2 running back behind Silas Redd. Curtis Dukes isn't listed, but O'Brien confirmed last week that Dukes is rejoining the squad after clearing up some academic issues. The 6-1, 242-pound Dukes should be in the mix for a good chunk of carries.
  • Justin Brown and Devon Smith, who had an off-field issue this spring, are listed at two of the starting wide receiver spots. Kersey is listed as Brown's backup, while the speedy Alex Kenney likely will push Smith.
  • Anthony Fera handled the double duties of kicker and punter quite well in 2011, converting 14 of 17 field-goal attempts and averaging 42 yards per punt. He's once again listed as the starter at both spots entering camp.
  • Amos and Belton are listed as the top two kickoff returners. Amos shared the role with primary returner Chaz Powell last fall. Brown is listed as the top punt returner, followed by Belton.
  • Two young players worth watching are the men wearing jersey No. 18: James and Barnes.

Thoughts on the Penn State depth chart?
Several Big Ten players who didn't hear their names called in New York during the weekend still received some good news about their football futures. As soon as the NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent scramble began.

Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.

ILLINOIS
IOWA
MICHIGAN
MICHIGAN STATE
MINNESOTA
NEBRASKA
NORTHWESTERN
OHIO STATE
PENN STATE
PURDUE
WISCONSIN

Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.

Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).
Our series ranking each position group from the 2011 Big Ten season comes to a close today with the final group, and one that is often overlooked but is always important: special teams.

Special teams is a broad spectrum, so we're combining performances in punting, kickoffs and field goals to come up with each team's position on this list.

And away we go:

1. Nebraska: Boy, did we mess this up in the preseason by ranking the Huskers 11th out of 12. Though we wrote at the time that Nebraska would almost certainly outperform its low rankings, we thought replacing star punter/kicker Alex Henery would be tough. Not really, as Brett Maher was one of the best punters and kickers in the league and the country. Freshman Ameer Abdullah was a star in kick returns, finishing ninth nationally in that category. So just remove one of the ones from that preseason number, and then we've got it right.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Mostert
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesRaheem Mostert took a kickoff return back 99 yards for a score in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
2. Purdue: The Boilermakers were mostly mediocre on offense and defense but did some great work on special teams. Freshman Raheem Mostert led the nation in kickoff returns, while sophomore Cody Webster finished second in punting. The strong-legged Carson Wiggs tied Maher for most field goals made in the league, though he still needs to improve his accuracy. Blocked kicks helped secure wins over Middle Tennessee and Ohio State, but Purdue lost on a blocked field goal try at Rice.

3. Penn State: When Anthony Fera returned from suspension and took over field goal duties, the Nittany Lions' special teams became truly special. Fera hit 14 of 17 field goals after Penn State had looked very shaky in that area early in the year, and he was also one of the league's top punters. Chaz Powell and Justin Brown were dangerous return men.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes ranked among the top third of Big Ten teams in just about every special-teams category. Field goal kicker Drew Basil made a dozen in a row at one point, and Ben Buchanan was solid at punter. Jordan Hall added some big returns.

5. Michigan State: We ranked the Spartans No. 1 in the preseason, and they came up with some game-changing plays, particularly in the first game against Wisconsin and in the Outback Bowl win over Georgia. But statistically speaking, Michigan State was average in most aspects of the kicking game. But Mike Sadler had some big moments punting, and Keshawn Martin did excellent work on punt returns.

6. Wisconsin: A tough team to rank, as there was both good and bad here. Jared Abbrederis led the nation in punt return average at 15.8 yards per attempt. Brad Nortman was a very reliable punter, while Philip Welch made five of his six attempts at field goals, something the Badgers didn't need very much with Montee Ball assaulting the end zone. But we can't ignore the big special-teams breakdowns against Michigan State and Ohio State that had as much as anything to do with ruining a potential undefeated season.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines weren't outstanding at any one area on special teams, but they proved much better than the No. 12 ranking we saddled them with in the preseason. Brendan Gibbons solidified what looked like a scary place-kicker situation and played a large role (along with brunette girls) in the Sugar Bowl victory. Michigan was also strong in punt returns and kick coverage, though its punting and kickoff returns left much to be desired.

8. Iowa: The good news first: Iowa led the league in net punting, thanks to a strong showing by senior Eric Guthrie in his first year starting. Now the bad: The Hawkeyes ranked second-to-last in kickoff coverage, and Mike Meyer missed six of his 20 field goal attempts, including both tries in the humbling loss to Minnesota.

9. Minnesota: Even without premier return man Troy Stoudermire, who missed most of the year with an injury, the Gophers ranked fifth in the league in kickoff returns, and they led the league in kickoff coverage. But a team that punted as much as Minnesota did in 2011 needed to do better than 11th in the conference in that category. Bonus point for the perfectly executed onside kick in the Iowa win.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats' defense got the brunt of the blame in Northwestern's losses, but special teams didn't hold up its end of the bargain, either. Northwestern made only six field goals all year and ranked near the bottom of the conference in most categories. The bright spot was a league-best punt return unit.

11. Indiana: Mitch Ewald went 13-of-16 on field goals, but the Hoosiers weren't very good in most other areas. They returned more kickoffs than anyone in the Big Ten -- a product of a crummy defense -- but didn't do enough with them in finishing 108th nationally in that stat.

12. Illinois: Ron Zook didn't help his case to be retained as head coach through the performance of his special teams, a part of the game that was supposed to be his field of expertise. Illinois was simply dreadful in creating advantageous field position, finishing last in the nation in kickoff returns and third-to-last in punt returns. The Illini also weren't very good at kickoff coverage, though at least Derek Dimke made 10 of 12 field goals. Even that was marred by his missed 42-yarder at the end of a 10-7 loss at Penn State.

B1G combine results: defensive backs

February, 29, 2012
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Apologies for posting this a little late, but the 2012 NFL combine wrapped up Tuesday with workouts for the defensive backs. Let's take a look at how the Big Ten contingent performed.

Cornerbacks
  • Penn State's Chaz Powell tied for 12th in 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds); tied for 11th in bench press (17 repetitions of 225 pounds); tied for 10th in broad jump (10 feet, 1 inch); and ranked 12th in 3-cone drill (6.84 seconds).
  • Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard ranked 15th in 40-yard dash (4.55 seconds); tied for fourth in vertical jump (37 inches); and tied for 10th in broad jump (10 feet, 1 inch).
  • Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus tied for third in bench press (20 reps of 225 pounds); ranked 10th in 3-cone drill (6.8 seconds); and ranked 14th in 60-yard shuttle (11.79 seconds).
  • Penn State's D'Anton Lynn tied for 11th in bench press (17 reps of 225 pounds).
Safeties
  • Michigan State's Trenton Robinson tied for second in 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds); tied for 14th in bench press (15 reps of 225 pounds); tied for seventh in vertical jump (35 inches); tied for fourth in broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches); and tied for fourth in 20-yard shuttle (4.15 seconds).

For more, be sure and check out our NFL combine blog.
When John Butler was finishing up his senior season at Catholic University in 1994, his head coach asked him what he planned to do with the rest of his life. Butler's answer: "I don't know."

The coach suggested that Butler stay with the team as a graduate assistant, and that ignited a career that has taken Butler to several high-profile stops. Now if you asked Butler what he planned to do with his life, he'd say that he wants to coach at Penn State for as long as possible.

The 39-year-old left his job as an assistant at South Carolina to join Bill O'Brien's first Nittany Lions staff in January. A Philadelphia native, Butler always had one eye on State College.

"I've always been a fan of Penn State, and I've always been familiar with what goes on here," he said. "To me, Penn State is and always will be Penn State. If I looked at my career 18 years ago, and you told me I'd have a chance to coach [any school], I'd be lying if I didn't say Penn State was at the top of the list."

Butler has never worked with O'Brien but had talked to him on several occasions before taking the job. New Penn State strength coach Craig Fitzgerald went to high school with Butler and worked alongside him at Harvard and South Carolina. Fitzgerald was on the same Maryland staff as O'Brien in the early 2000s.

"Craig always spoke very highly of Bill O'Brien in every regard," Butler said. "He'd tell me, 'This is a guy we all will want to work for some day.'"

Butler also spent four years as the linebackers and special teams coach at Minnesota, where he worked for new Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Ted Roof. That gives him a comfort level with his defensive boss at Penn State and also an understanding of what it takes to win in the Big Ten.

"There have been a lot of coaching changes, but the core of the league stays the same," he said. "It's still the run-first, defensive mentality, the toughness and playing in all types of weather. Those are the things that are familiar for me."

Butler will oversee the defensive backs at Penn State, and that may be the most challenging position to coach on the 2012 team. All four of last year's starters in the secondary — D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay, Drew Astorino and Chaz Powell — were seniors. That means Butler will not only have to teach a new system but also break in players taking on bigger roles.

Butler said he's not going to "dummy down or baby down" his coaching methods for the young group, but he also plans to be smart in not asking them to do too much right away this spring. He said he wants to be aggressive in the passing game but not an all-out gambler.

"I think you have to be aggressive but a smart aggressive," he said. "I grew up in Philly, where everybody thinks of aggressive as Buddy Ryan — man-to-man coverage, blitzing every snap. We're not going to do that, but we are going to have a package where we challenge receivers and challenge quarterbacks to make a play under duress. We're not going to be a team that sits back and lets the offense do what it wants to do on their terms."

Butler will also serve as special teams coordinator, though Penn State will continue to split up special teams duties like it had done under Joe Paterno for many years. Butler says five coaches on staff will "be extremely involved" in special teams and each will handle a specific unit. He'll oversee the overall execution and help with each group.

Nittany Lions special teams were sometimes seen as conservative and mostly concerned with avoiding mistakes under Paterno. Butler seems to have a different view of them.

"It's critical to make plays for your team in the kicking game," he said. "It's not just a setup for what's going to happen next. We're going to emphasize explosive plays, and you've got to play your best players on special teams. You have to look at it as the first play of your defensive series or the first play of your offensive series."

Butler says he looks at Penn State as a destination job and possibly his last stop in coaching. He and the Nittany Lions hope this is the start of a long, fruitful relationship.

Season report card: Penn State

December, 16, 2011
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The grading continues today as it's time to distribute Penn State's season report card.

OFFENSE: D+

The unit slogged along for most of the season, and Penn State won nine games largely in spite of its offense. Penn State used a confounding quarterback rotation of Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden and had eight games with fewer than 200 pass yards and four games of fewer than 120 pass yards. If not for heroic sophomore running back Silas Redd, who emerged as a workhorse and one of the Big Ten's top ball-carriers, Penn State would have had a real struggle putting up points. The offensive line seemed to make strides as the season progressed and a creative game plan against Ohio State led to good results, but Penn State underachieved on offense much of the fall.

DEFENSE: A-

No unit in the Big Ten carried a team more than Penn State's defense, which was simply fabulous this season. All-American tackle Devon Still led the way as arguably the nation's most disruptive interior lineman. Penn State overcame the loss of standout linebacker Michael Mauti and received big contributions in the midsection from Gerald Hodges, Glenn Carson and Nate Stupar. The Lions held nine of their 12 opponents to fewer than 20 points and ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense. There's no way Penn State would have started the season 8-1 without huge contributions from its defense.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

The Lions had some bright spots in the kicking game, such as punter Anthony Fera and kickoff returner Chaz Powell, who averaged 28.3 yards per runback with a touchdown. Penn State was mediocre on kickoff and punt coverage and missed more field-goal attempts (8) than any Big Ten team (the Lions also attempted a league-high 24 field goals). Special teams played a key role in wins like a 24-18 triumph against Purdue.

OVERALL: B

Penn State exceeded most outside expectations with an 8-1 start and put itself in position to win the Leaders Division. The defense undoubtedly carried the team and had only one poor performance (at Wisconsin). We'll never know how Penn State's season would have ended if the sex-abuse scandal hadn't surfaced and Joe Paterno hadn't been fired, but the closing stretch always appeared daunting. There are many unknowns going forward for the Lions, but they have an excellent foundation on the defensive side of the ball.

Big Ten stock report: Week 8

October, 19, 2011
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If my rap's soup, this post is stock.

Stock up

Dan Herron: The Ohio State running back sat out the first five games as part of the tattoo scandal, then missed a sixth game because of a summer job-related suspension. He returned last week as if he'd never been gone, rushing 23 times for 114 times and scoring his team's only offensive touchdown in a 17-7 win over Illinois. Guess he was worth the wait.

Michigan State's offensive line: The Spartans had three new starters at the beginning of the season up front, then had to replace two guys because of injury. They struggled establishing a running game the first five weeks. But last week against Michigan, the line paved the way for 167 yards rushing by Edwin Baker and generally pushed the Wolverines around. Mark Dantonio said Dan France played with the most confidence he's had all season, while Fou Fonoti and Travis Jackson also showed strong improvement. If the line keeps playing like that, with the way Michigan State's defense is performing, the Spartans will be hard to beat.

Marcus Coker: Much was expected from Coker after his huge finish to 2010, but Iowa's sophomore running back was inconsistent earlier this season and had had some fumbling problems. He had perhaps his best game last weekend against Northwestern, running 22 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns and showing the power that got people got so excited about him in the first place. "It was almost like he'd been thinking a little too much when he'd been back there," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I thought Saturday was clearly the most decisive he's been in terms of just going with the cut. He looked a little more aggressive as a result of that. Hopefully we're on the right track."

Stephen Houston: Kevin Wilson isn't real happy with his running game, but Houston has at least given Indiana something to work with. A junior-college transfer who had signed with North Carolina and ended up in Bloomington just before fall camp, Houston ran for 135 yards on 19 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown, last week at Wisconsin. He had 138 total yards a week earlier against Illinois. "He had to kind of play himself into shape," Wilson said. "He has practiced well for three or four weeks and has some good momentum."

Nate Stupar: Michael Mauti's season-ending knee injury looked like a big blow for the Penn State defense, and no doubt the Lions would love to have their star linebacker. But Stupar has stepped in superbly and helped keep the defense air tight. He came up with the interception that sealed last week's win over Purdue. "Now our problem would be if something happened to Stupar," Joe Paterno said. "But Stupar has played well. I think there's no question about that."

Stock down

Against the Wind: Maybe the Big Ten should eliminate Chicago as a potential title game destination in the future. Based on what we saw this weekend, league quarterbacks would not enjoy the Windy City. The Purdue-Penn State, Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Illinois games were all affect by severely windy conditions. The quarterbacks in those games went a combined 70-of-146 (47.9 percent accuracy). More hot dog wrappers hit Michigan receivers than Denard Robinson pass attempts. Ohio State had the best idea -- run the ball 51 out of 55 times. The Buckeyes scored as many touchdowns off an interception return as they did their own offense.

Purdue's special teams: Carson Wiggs may have the strongest leg in the league, but it's not always a precision-based tool. He missed an extra point and a 44-yard field goal try and sailed a kickoff out of bounds to aid a Penn State scoring drive as the Boilermakers lost by just five points. But it wasn't all Wiggs' fault (and the wind certainly didn't help him). Purdue's kickoff coverage team let Chaz Powell go 92 yards on a return to set up the game's final field goal. The Boilers don't have enough margin for error to give away points and so much field position on special teams.

Carlos Hyde's Twitter feed: The Ohio State running back rushed for more than 100 yards against Nebraska and then mostly stayed on the bench against Illinois as Herron returned. Hyde let out his frustration on Twitter, typing "Guess I'm not good enough. Take myself elsewhere." Hyde later deleted the tweet, but not before a flood of rumors began about him transferring. Unhappiness is understandable, but there are better forums to express it.

Illinois' rushing game: The Illini boasted a powerful ground assault earlier in the season against some lesser opponents, but against Ohio State that running game was mostly, uh, grounded. They managed just 116 yards on 35 carries, an average of only 3.3 yards per attempt. Two games earlier, Illinois had just 82 rushing yards versus a shaky Northwestern defense. Paul Petrino's offense is at its best when it is balanced, and that starts with a strong rushing game.

Eggheads: I realize strength of schedule plays a huge role and that these things will even out over time, but some of the BCS computer rankings of Wisconsin are laughable. My favorite is the Massey Ratings, which has the Badgers 17th, or one spot behind Nebraska, despite the tiny fact that Wisconsin beat the Huskers by 31 points. Massey also has Texas ranked 11th. Um, OK. Colley Matrix isn't much better with the Badgers at 14, while Peter Wolfe puts them 12th. I don't need any software to know that their wiring is all wrong.

Penn State will be called the worst 6-1 team in America.

People will continue to point to the quarterback confusion, the inability to score touchdowns in the red zone and other obvious flaws with the Nittany Lions. But the record speaks for itself, and the Lions deserve credit for continuing to find ways to win.

Penn State's defense fueled a 23-18 victory against Purdue by forcing four turnovers, and Joe Paterno's team exploited a huge edge on special teams to beat the mistake-ridden Boilers. Among the heroes were linebacker Nate Stupar, who recorded two interceptions, kicker Anthony Fera (3-for-3 on field-goal attempts) and Chaz Powell, who had a 92-yard kick return before drawing a highly questionable penalty for tossing the ball in the air in celebration.

The Lions' quarterback situation didn't get much clearer as Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden combined to complete just 10 of 23 passes for 185 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It's hard to imagine that the quarterback situation won't catch up with Penn State at some point, but that point hasn't arrived yet.

One major bright spot was sophomore running back Silas Redd, who had 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries.

Purdue has to be kicking itself -- literally -- after another loss filled with major boo-boos. Standout kicker Carson Wiggs had a tough day, missing a 44-yard attempt and clanking a potential game-tying PAT try off of the upright that proved extremely costly. Purdue also allowed Powell's return at a very bad time, right after it closed to within two points with 8:08 to play.

The Boilers are a talented team with some exciting individual players -- Ralph Bolden, Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Gary Bush -- who showed off their skills against a very good defense today. But mistakes kill you, and Purdue continues to make far too many to win in the Big Ten.
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

A week of games against mostly inferior competition doesn't provide the most accurate gauge of which teams go where, but it's a starting point. There are a few small moves in this week's rankings, which reward squads for how they looked and, in some cases, for who they played.

The middle five teams -- Penn State, Northwestern, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois -- still could be placed in pretty much any order, and it will take a bit of time to see separation there. But we do reward for quality wins, and Northwestern recorded one at Boston College under tough circumstances.

Let's get started.

1. Wisconsin (1-0): Quarterback transfer Russell Wilson and the Badgers made a strong opening statement on national TV. Wilson led the offense to scores on eight consecutive possessions before departing, and running back Montee Ball looked like a totally different player. The defense needs to tighten up when the competition gets better.

2. Nebraska (1-0): We're leaving Nebraska here for now, but we want to see a more polished performance from the offense this week against Fresno State. Not surprisingly, the offense had mixed results in its first game with the new system. The defensive line looked stellar as Cameron Meredith had a big opener.

3. Ohio State (1-0): The Buckeyes move up a spot after thoroughly dominating Akron on Saturday. Joe Bauserman stated his case to be the starting quarterback and tight end Jake Stoneburner hauled in three touchdown passes. The 42-0 score amazingly made the game seem closer than it actually was.

4. Michigan State (1-0): After a sloppy first half, Michigan State found a rhythm in the second half and pulled away from Youngstown State. Receiver B.J. Cunningham had a big night, but coach Mark Dantonio will look for greater efficiency and better discipline (eight penalties) from his squad this week against Florida Atlantic.

5. Penn State (1-0): The Lions didn't get much clarity at the quarterback position, but they didn't need it against Indiana State. Silas Redd led a potent rushing attack, and Penn State had a strong defensive effort and received a special teams boost from Chaz Powell on the opening kickoff return. Joe Paterno's squad has a great chance to make a national statement this week against Alabama.

6. Iowa (1-0): Kirk Ferentz saw some sloppiness in the opener, but Iowa had little trouble pulling away from Tennessee Tech. The Hawkeyes need running back Marcus Coker to rebound against Iowa State after two fumbles. Shaun Prater and James Morris had long interception returns to set up scores.

7. Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats move up after recording the Big Ten's most impressive victory of Week 1. They beat Boston College on the road without star quarterback Dan Persa. The offensive line stepped up to spark backup quarterback Kain Colter and the run game, and the defensive front stuffed Boston College's run game.

8. Michigan (1-0): We don't know how the final 17 minutes would have played out Saturday, but Michigan was rolling against Western Michigan before the lightning came (again). The defense covered up issues with three takeaways, including two touchdown returns by linebacker Brandon Herron. The offensive line looked strong as it adapts to a scheme based more around power.

9. Illinois (1-0): This isn't a knock on Illinois, which pulled away from Arkansas State after a slow start. If the Illini keep winning, they'll climb the power rankings. The passing attack looked strong with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and receivers A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines. Illinois' defense will need to tighten up before Arizona State arrives in Week 3.

10. Minnesota (0-1): Jerry Kill's squad didn't beat USC but gained a lot of respect for the way it fought against the 25th-ranked Trojans. Minnesota's defense struggled against the pass (304 yards) but limited points, and Gophers freshman quarterback Max Shortell showed impressive poise in relief of MarQueis Gray. Watch for Minnesota to make some noise this fall.

11. Purdue (1-0): It took a furious rally for the Boilers to beat Middle Tennessee, and Danny Hope's squad has plenty to work on in the coming weeks. The good news is the schedule favors Purdue, which faces Rice and Southeast Missouri State before an open week. Defense has to be the focus this week after Purdue surrendered 460 yards Saturday.

12. Indiana (0-1): Getting pushed around by Ball State at the line of scrimmage gets you a swift kick to the bottom of the power rankings. Indiana must get tougher up front on both sides of the ball, especially with Virginia visiting Bloomington this week. Quarterback Ed Wright-Baker did some good things, but IU must put together a more complete performance for new coach Kevin Wilson.

Big Ten Week 1 rewind

September, 5, 2011
9/05/11
1:00
PM ET
Week 1 is in the books. Now it's time for a book review.

Be kind, rewind:

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmNorthwestern running back Mike Trumpy, right, celebrates a TD against Boston College.
Team of the week: Northwestern. Missing star quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats still went on the road to Boston College and won 24-17. Most impressively, their offensive line pushed around what had been the nation's stingiest rush defense a year ago. If the offensive line can continue to play like that, and Persa can come back (Persa) strong, then Northwestern will be a factor in the Legends Division race.

Best game: Northwestern's win, again. The game was close throughout, and Boston College drove into the red zone in the waning seconds before a Vince Browne sack ended matters.

Biggest play: Purdue's Ricardo Allen blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Middle Tennessee's Alan Gendreau on the game's final play, preserving a 27-24 victory. It was sweet redemption for Allen, whose earlier fumble on a punt return set up a Blue Raiders touchdown. And had the Boilermakers lost this game, it could have set a bad tone for their season.

Best call: This one happened on Wednesday of last week, when Michigan State senior guard Joel Foreman approached coach Mark Dantonio and asked if Arthur Ray Jr. could start in his place. Ray is a cancer survivor who had never played in a college game before. Foreman made a selfless decision, stopping his personal 22-start streak. Ray was in tears before the game and played the Spartans' first offensive snap before coming out.

Best meaningless play: The game was wildly out of hand by this point, but Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer made a spectacular, twisting, one-handed catch during the fourth quarter of a 42-0 blowout of Akron. It ultimately meant very little, but Spencer now has his own YouTube moment.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. There was considerable hype accompanying Wilson's debut after his highly publicized transfer from NC State, and Wilson lived up to it. He accumulated 317 total yards, including 255 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of his 13 attempts. And his sizzling 46-yard touchdown run was something Badgers fans have rarely if ever seen out of the quarterback position.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan linebacker Brandon Herron. Things might be changing in Ann Arbor when a Wolverines defender is garnering all kinds of recognition. Herron deserves it after scoring two defensive touchdowns, one on a 94-yard interception return and the other on a 29-yard fumble recovery. Raise your hand if you predicted Herron would have two more scores than Denard Robinson in the opener.

Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Chaz Powell, Penn State. Clearly, you should never kick to Powell to start a season. The Nittany Lions senior returned the opening kickoff against Indiana State 95 yards for a touchdown. That matched his performance from last year, when he took the first kick of the year to the house against Youngstown State.

Worst hangover: Indiana. I remain convinced that Kevin Wilson will eventually do very good things in Bloomington, but Saturday was a very bad start. The Hoosiers lost to Ball State 27-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place in which they're highly unlikely to play in December any time soon. It's hard to use the first-year coach excuse, since Ball State also had a new guy on the sidelines. What's worse, IU got pushed around in the trenches. If that happens against a MAC foe, what will the Hoosiers do against Ohio State, Wisconsin and other Big Ten opponents?

Strangest moment: Mother Nature wins this award in Week 1. Storms and lightning gave us the odd sights of both Kinnick Stadium and the Big House being evacuated -- that's more than 180,000 people who had to be moved out of harm's way. Iowa hadn't experienced an in-game weather delay in the 82-year history of Kinnick Stadium. Things were even crazier in Ann Arbor, where Michigan and Western Michigan agreed to end their game with 1:27 left in the third quarter after a couple of lightning delays. It was the first weather-shortened game in Wolverines history, and who knows what would have happened had the game actually been close at the time.

Week 1 suggests that deciding to play the Big Ten title game indoors might have been the right call.
Depth chart indecision day marches on with the Penn State Nittany Lions, who -- surprise, surprise -- didn't name a starting quarterback on their depth chart for Saturday's season opener against Indiana State.

Sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin are listed as co-starters for the opener. It's not a major shock, but I'm not sure what else the Penn State coaches need to evaluate at this point. Bolden and McGloin competed throughout spring ball and into fall camp. Both have started games. Is there still no clear separation? Hard to believe. Don't be surprised to see Penn State play both men against Indiana State before the Week 2 showdown with Alabama.

Other depth chart nuggets:
  • Sophomore John Urschel and senior Johnnie Troutman are listed as co-starters at right guard. Veteran DeOn'tae Pannell has emerged at left guard -- at least for now -- ahead of Mark Arcidiacono. There are no surprises on the rest of the first-team line.
  • Silas Redd is listed as Penn State's starting running back ahead of Brandon Beachum. Curtis Dukes is the third-stringer, while Stephfon Green, who rejoined the team last week, doesn't appear on the depth chart.
  • Sophomore Shawney Kersey and junior Justin Brown are listed as starting wide receiver alongside All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. Devon Smith is the backup to Brown.
  • Sophomore Glenn Carson translated a strong preseason camp into the starting middle linebacker spot ahead of classmate Khairi Fortt. Michael Mauti has shifted to outside linebacker, where both he and Gerald Hodges will start. Former starter Nate Stupar is listed as Mauti's backup. In case it isn't obvious, Penn State is loaded at linebacker.
  • Senior Eric Latimore, who missed most of the 2010 season with a wrist injury, is listed as a starting defensive end opposite Jack Crawford. Promising redshirt freshman Kyle Baublitz will back up Latimore.
  • Senior Chaz Powell has edged junior Stephon Morris for the starting right cornerback spot.
  • Anthony Fera is listed as a backup at punter, kicker and holder, most likely the result of his citation for purchase/possession of alcohol by a minor last month. Junior Evan Lewis is Penn State's top kicker for the opener, while Alex Butterworth will handle the punting duties.
  • Only two redshirt freshmen appear as backups on Penn State's depth chart: Baublitz and outside linebacker Mike Hull.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
12:00
PM ET
My kickball season started yesterday. Not quite as exciting as the opening kick next Thursday.
  • Here are five developments from Purdue's training camp, including the quarterback situation.
Our preseason position ranking series comes to an end today with everybody's favorite group: special teams.

For this ranking, we're going to consider punters, kickers and returners only. No offense to the long-snappers or the punt-team gunners, but things like kickoff coverage units are hard to forecast. We'll give a little extra weight to teams that have returning and proven players at these spots, because it's difficult to know how new punters and kickers will fare when the pressure of real games begin.

As the guys in these positions would say, let's kick it:

[+] EnlargeDan Conroy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireDan Conroy was nearly perfect on his field goal attempts last season.
1. Michigan State: Kicker Dan Conroy made 14 of his 15 attempts last year, and Keshawn Martin led the league in punt return average. They will miss punter Aaron Bates and will have to improve their kickoff return game. And you know you always have to watch out for the fake when the Spartans line up for a kick.

2. Wisconsin: The Badgers are set at both punter and kicker, with seniors Brad Nortman and Philip Welch, respectively. Both are third-year starters who can be relied upon. Wisconsin will need to find a replacement for primary return man David Gilreath.

3. Penn State: The Nittany Lions bring back punter Anthony Fera and punt returner Devon Smith, who finished just behind Martin in yards per attempt last season. Chaz Powell and Stephfon Green are dangerous kick returners. Fera could move over to handle field goals this season if incoming freshman Sam Ficken doesn't win the job.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have a veteran punter in senior Ben Buchanan and two threats to take a kick to the house in Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry. Sophomore Drew Basil is expected to take over at place-kicker. Special teams are almost always a force in Columbus.

5. Purdue: No one in the league has a bigger leg than Carson Wiggs; the questions is whether he can consistently harness it. Punter Cody Webster averaged 43.3 yards per attempt last season, second best among returning punters. The Boilermakers' return game needs to improve.

6. Illinois: Derek Dimke was a Lou Groza semifinalist last season and broke the school record for points by a kicker. He nailed two 50-plus yarders. Ray Guy semifinalist Anthony Santella is gone, though return man Troy Pollard is back.

7. Northwestern: Brandon Williams improved at punter as his freshman year went along last season. The Wildcats at long last have an elite return option in Venric Mark. But place-kicker was a concern this spring, with Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty competing for the job.

8. Iowa: Kirk Ferentz's teams usually find a way to be good on special teams, so odds are the Hawkeyes will climb these rankings. But they lost a lot from 2010, including Ray Guy finalist and four-year starter Ryan Donahue, plus both primary return men. Eric Guthrie held the edge at punter after the spring. Place-kicker Mike Meyer returns after taking over that role for the final 10 games and doing a solid job.

9. Indiana: Mitch Ewald was named to the Groza watch list after a strong freshman year in which he made 16 of 19 field goals. Chris Hagerup needs to increase his punting average of 39.4 yards. The Hoosiers should have enough athletes to replace Tandon Doss on returns.

10. Minnesota: Dan Orseske's 36.1-yard average was worst among starting Big Ten punters in 2010, so that must get better. Jerry Kill must also find a new place-kicker -- NC State transfer Chris Hawthorne looks like the top option. Troy Stoudermire, one of the league's top return specialists, is back for his senior year.

11. Nebraska: Like Iowa, this is a team that will almost assuredly outperform this ranking. But boy did the Huskers lose a lot of talent and experience. It will be difficult to match the value that punter/kicker Alex Henery brought -- Brett Maher and freshman Mauro Bondi will battle to replace him -- and Adi Kunalic was a secret weapon as kickoff specialist. Top returner Niles Pau is gone, too. The Cornhuskers will likely reload, but nobody has bigger shoes to fill at these positions in the Big Ten.

12. Michigan: The kicking game looked like a disaster this spring, with neither Seth Broekhuizen nor Brendan Gibbons inspiring confidence. Incoming freshman Matt Wile might win the job this summer. This could prove to be an Achilles' heel for the Wolverines, as it was a year ago. On the plus side, Will Hagerup is the leading returning punter in the Big Ten, though he had only 33 attempts last season.

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