Big Ten: Chris Hagerup
OFFENSE: Kofi Hughes, WR, sophomore, 6-2, 205
Hughes really impressed me during a practice this spring, making several big plays for a fast-paced IU offense. One of only two true freshmen to see the field in 2010, Hughes recorded seven receptions for 47 yards, number that should increase substantially this season. The former high school quarterback brings good speed to a receiving corps that already has plenty of size with Damarlo Belcher and Duwyce Wilson. Hughes will give Indiana's new starting quarterback another dynamic option in the passing game.
DEFENSE: Lawrence Barnett, CB, sophomore, 5-10, 191
Barnett moved from safety to cornerback during spring ball and had an impressive session, recording a pick-six in the spring game and making plays in other scrimmages. He appeared in nine games last fall, recording five tackles, but some wondered why he didn't play more as Indiana once again struggled to defend the pass. Indiana returns only one starter in the secondary (safety Donnell Jones), so Barnett should have a much bigger role this fall.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Adam Pines, P, junior, 6-0, 184
Pines handled the punting duties in Indiana's final four games of 2010 and averaged 40.2 yards on 12 attempts, but his role will grow this season following the offseason departure of Chris Hagerup. Pines placed three attempts inside the opponents' 20-yard line last season and showed a decent leg with several punts of 40 yards or longer.
More Fresh Faces
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:
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.
Consider this a fresh start.
Let's take a look at who's back, who's gone and how the special-teams units look for each Big Ten squad in 2010. We'll start with the first six teams (by alphabetical order) and examine the other five later Tuesday.
- Kicker: Derek Dimke and Matt Eller both return. Dimke went 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts (all beyond 30 yards) after taking over for Eller, who struggled in his second year, connecting on only 4 of 11 attempts.
- Punter: Senior Anthony Santella returns after ranking sixth in the league in punting average (41.3 ypp).
- Kick return: Troy Pollard is back, but Arrelious Benn and A.J. Jenkins both depart. Illinois finished ninth in the league last fall in this category (19.3 ypr).
- Punt return: Jarred Fayson and Jack Ramsey both come back. Illinois ranked last in the league in punt returns in 2009 (4.2 ypr)
- Quick thoughts: Illinois needs to upgrade its kicking game to have any shot at turning things around in 2010. The return game really struggled (114th nationally in punt returns, 105th in kick returns), and kickoff coverage wasn't good, either (90th). Dimke provided a nice spark late in the season, but Illinois has too much talent not to make a bigger splash in returns.
- Kicker: Sophomore Nick Freeland returns after connecting on 14 of 25 attempts in 2009. Redshirt freshman Mitch Ewald and senior Nick Ford also are in the mix here.
- Punter: Junior Chris Hagerup is back after finishing eighth in the league in punting average (40.5 ypp).
- Kick return: Ray Fisher, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (37.4 ypr), is gone. Wide receiver Tandon Doss, who led IU with 25 runbacks, returns for his junior season.
- Punt return: Indiana loses Fisher but brings back Doss. The Hoosiers finished second in the Big Ten in punt returns last fall (10.3 ypr).
- Quick thoughts: Fisher is a major loss in the return game, but Doss certainly has the ability to fill the void. Indiana must figure things out on field goals, as it ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage last fall (.560). The offense should be pretty dynamic in 2010, so any help the kicking game provides would be huge. Indiana covered punts well but needs to improve on kickoffs after finishing 93rd nationally (23.2 ypr).
- Kicker: Daniel Murray handled all of Iowa's field goals in 2009, connecting on 19 of 26 attempts. Junior Trent Mossbrucker also returns.
- Punter: Senior Ryan Donahue will contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall after averaging 40.9 yards per punt in 2009.
- Kick return: Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is back after finishing second in the league in kick return average (31.5 ypr). Running back Brandon Wegher and wideout Paul Chaney Jr. also are back.
- Punt return: Senior Colin Sandeman is back, and he'll compete with Chaney and possibly others for the top job.
- Quick thoughts: Special teams should be a major strength for the Hawkeyes in 2010. Johnson-Koulianos showed against Ohio State how dangerous he can be on kickoff returns. Donahue and Murray are two of the league's more experienced specialists. Iowa's coverage units fared well in 2009, ranking ninth nationally in kick coverage (18.4 ypr) and 21st in punt coverage (5.7 ypr).
- Kicker: The Wolverines must replace Jason Olesnavage, who connected on 11 of 15 attempts in 2009.
- Punter: Michigan suffers a big loss here as Ray Guy Award finalist Zoltan Mesko departs. Mesko led the Big Ten in punting average (44.5 ypp).
- Kick return: Wideout Darryl Stonum is back after averaging 25.7 yards per runback with a touchdown in 2009. Michigan's No. 2 option, Martavious Odoms, also returns for 2010. The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten in kick returns last fall (23.8 ypr).
- Punt return: Junior Hemingway is back after leading U-M in punt returns (8.6 ypr). Odoms had six punt returns last fall, though Michigan could look to its younger players here.
- Quick thoughts: Replacing Mesko won't be easy, and Olesnavage quietly turned in a strong season, especially from long range. Incoming punter recruit Will Hagerup will step into the fire right away for the Wolverines. Kick returns should be a strength, and Michigan did a decent job on coverage last year, ranking 20th in punt coverage and third in the Big Ten in net kickoff coverage.
- Kicker: The Spartans suffer a big loss here, as first-team All-Big Ten selection Brett Swenson departs. Swenson went 19-for-22 on field goals last fall and led the Big Ten in kick scoring (101 points).
- Punter: Senior Aaron Bates returns after finishing fifth in the league in punting average (41.6 ypp).
- Kick return: Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is back after becoming arguably the Big Ten's most dangerous return man last fall. Michigan State needs a No. 2 option here.
- Punt return: Martin did a nice job on punt returns in 2009, averaging 7.4 yards per runback.
- Quick thoughts: Swenson leaves a major void at kicker, as Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma compete to replace the back-to-back All-Big Ten selection. Martin really blossomed on returns during Big Ten play and could be a huge X-factor for Michigan State this fall. The Spartans' coverage teams were average in 2009. If Conroy and/or Muma can hold their own on field goals, special teams could be a real strength for Mark Dantonio's team.
- Kicker: Eric Ellestad is back for his senior year after connecting on 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, with all the makes coming from within 40 yards.
- Punter: Minnesota loses Blake Haudan, who had a very solid 2009 season, ranking third in the league in average (42.6 ypp). Sophomore Dan Orseske will step in this fall.
- Kick return: Wideout Troy Stoudermire is back after once again getting a ton of action on returns, recording 43 runbacks for 1,057 yards (24.6 ypr). Duane Bennett and Hayo Carpenter are possible No. 2 options.
- Punt return: Sophomore wideout Bryant Allen is back after averaging 12.2 yards on six runbacks last fall. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average (14.7 ypr), although the Gophers also had the fewest opportunities (9).
- Quick thoughts: Haudan was a very solid punter in 2009, so Orseske will have some big shoes to fill. Stoudermire and Allen are fine options on returns, and Ellestad did a nice job on the kicks he should make. Minnesota really struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking 102nd nationally (24.1 ypr). If the offense starts slow again this fall, Minnesota will need to be sharp in the kicking game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Thought the position rankings were over? Think again.
We don't forget the specialists on the Big Ten blog, so after a lengthy lull -- blame training camp -- it's time to examine the kicking game around the league. The rankings are based on kickers and punters, return men and coverage units.
1. Michigan State -- The Spartans return two second-team All-Big Ten picks in kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates, who averaged 42 yards on 71 punts. The return game looks a little suspect but a healthy Mark Dell should help.
2. Michigan -- It helps to have the best punter in the league in senior Zoltan Mesko, a leading candidate for the Ray Guy Award. Michigan should be more dynamic on returns with Martavious Odoms and others. The big question here is at kicker.
3. Penn State -- Punter Jeremy Boone didn't get many chances last fall but executed well when called upon. There are questions at kicker after the loss of first-team All-Big Ten performer Kevin Kelly, and Derrick Williams will be missed on returns. Penn State is always good on coverage teams.
4. Ohio State -- A few more question marks here than normal, but Ohio State's special teams track record under Jim Tressel can't be denied. Aaron Pettrey should be fine at kicker and has a strong leg. Ohio State brings back the league's top punt return man in Ray Small. The Buckeyes need to upgrade their kick return unit after finishing 108th nationally in 2008.
5. Iowa -- Punter Ryan Donahue is a stud and likely will set school records by the time he's done. Daniel Murray showed he could make a clutch kick against Penn State, though he remains in competition with Trent Mossbrucker. Andy Brodell is a big loss at punt returner, and Jewel Hampton might not be available to return kicks.
6. Wisconsin -- I really like Wisconsin's young specialists, kicker Phillip Welch and punter Brad Nortman. But you can't rank last nationally in kickoff returns and expect to be high on this list. Wisconsin needs to jump start its returns with David Gilreath.
7. Indiana -- Chris Hagerup is a terrific young punter after nailing 13 punts for more than 50 yards last fall. Demetrius McCray looks solid on kickoff returns. Indiana must replace former All-Big Ten kicker Austin Starr, but Starr really struggled last fall (10-for-17). Heralded freshman kicker Mitch Ewald joins the mix.
8. Purdue -- Carson Wiggs did a nice job at kicker after taking over for Chris Summers, who will handle the punting duties this fall. Purdue needs to improve its punting after finishing last in the league in 2008, but the return game looks solid with Aaron Valentin and Royce Adams.
9. Minnesota -- The Gophers are starting over after losing both of their top specialists. They'll be relying on junior Eric Ellestad and freshman Dan Orseske to step up. It helps to have the league's most dynamic return man in Troy Stoudermire.
10. Northwestern -- All too often, the kicking game has cost Northwestern, most notably in the Alamo Bowl against Missouri. Stefan Demos is finally healthy and could handle both the kicking and punting duties this fall. The Wildcats could use a boost in the return game from Stephen Simmons or Andrew Brewer.
11. Illinois -- I really like sophomore kicker Matt Eller, who beat Iowa with a field goal last November. But it's no secret the Illini need significant upgrades on their punt teams after finishing 10th in punting and last in returns. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson should boost the return game. The Illini must improve their kickoff and punt coverage.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Three Big Ten teams finished among the top 11 nationally in net punting last season, and punter once again figures to be a strong position in the league.
More evidence arrived Tuesday as Michigan's Zoltan Mesko and Iowa's Ryan Donahue were named to the watch list for the Ray Guy Award, given to the nation's top punter. Mesko led the Big Ten and ranked 20th nationally in punting average (42.95 ypp) despite a whopping 80 attempts for the Wolverines. Donahue has averaged 41.3 yards per punt in his career.
Both men were semifinalists for the Ray Guy Award last season, when the hardware went to Oklahoma State's Matt Fodge.
I was a little surprised not to see Michigan State's Aaron Bates or Penn State's Jeremy Boone on the nine-man Guy Award watch list. Boone averaged 43 yards a punt in very limited action last year (Penn State's offense didn't need him much), while Bates was a workhorse for the Spartans.
Keep an eye on two younger punters, Indiana's Chris Hagerup and Wisconsin's Brad Nortman, who will contend for the Guy Award in future seasons.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
August is upon us.
My summer wedding tour is finally over -- a belated congrats to Mara and Elia! - so I'm all yours for the rest of the fall. The endless wait for Big Ten football reaches a milestone this week as four Big Ten teams begin training camp.
As players return to the field in Champaign, Iowa City, Bloomington and West Lafayette, let's take a look at three key questions for each team at the start of camp. Part II arrives next week as the final seven Big Ten squads open camp.
Camp opens: Thursday
1. Who takes the early lead in the competition at running back?
Head coach Ron Zook praised senior Daniel Dufrene last week at Big Ten media days, though sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure appeared to have the inside track coming out of spring ball.
2. Can Martez Wilson establish himself as Illinois' defensive general, and will he have any help?
The move to middle linebacker should benefit Wilson, who has yet to match his recruiting hype at Illinois. The Illini are also looking for playmakers in the secondary after losing star corner Vontae Davis.
3. Did the Illini ace their chemistry class?
There's little doubt that Illinois has the talent to contend for a New Year's Day bowl and possibly a Big Ten title, but team chemistry was not a strong suit last year. Team leaders say they have turned a page and bonded during the offseason. Now is the time to prove it.
Camp opens: Friday
1. Is the pistol offense ready to shoot down opposing defenses?
Quarterback Ben Chappell and his teammates have welcomed the shift to the pistol, which should spark Indiana's rushing attack. The competition at running back between Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and heralded redshirt freshman Darius Willis should provide plenty of intrigue.
2. Who will be 100 percent and are there any lingering injury concerns?
Injuries wiped out much of Indiana's two-deep last fall, and several key players missed part or all of spring ball with injuries. This is a much better team when players like Austin Thomas, Nick Polk, Deonte Mack and Chris Hagerup are on the field.
3. Who will emerge as a legit playmaker?
Whether or not Kellen Lewis' dismissal was addition by subtraction in the locker room, his presence will be missed on the field. Lewis' name appeared at the top of every opposing defense's scouting report, and the Hoosiers need to find a bona fide playmaker this summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Thanks to several of you for reminding me about special teams, a subject I had planned to tackle during spring ball but got bogged down with too many other things.
Here's a quick look at where each Big Ten team stands on special teams heading into the summer. A more comprehensive position-by-position ranking will come your way a little closer to the season.
Michigan State -- The Spartans return Lou Groza Award candidate Brett Swenson along with punter Aaron Bates, who averaged 42 yards per boot last season. Punt return man Otis Wiley is gone, but Mark Dell should step in nicely and the Spartans boast some exciting, young talent in Keshawn Martin, Jairus Jones and others.
Ohio State -- The Buckeyes don't have as many special teams certainties as most years, but history doesn't lie. Ohio State will always be strong on special teams under head coach Jim Tressel. Punter is a question mark, but Aaron Pettrey should be fine on field goals. Ray Small is one of the nation's best punt return men, and the kickoff return unit should be much more dynamic than it was last year.
Illinois -- The Illini return both of their starting specialists, and kicker Matt Eller looks like a keeper after connecting on 8 of 10 field goal attempts from beyond 40 yards last year. Illinois' return game also should be much improved as Florida transfer Jarred Fayson enters a mix that includes Arrelious Benn.
Penn State -- Jeremy Boone is one of the league's best punters, and odds are Penn State will be fine on special teams by the end of the season. But Kevin Kelly is a big loss at kicker, and the Nittany Lions will miss the dynamic Derrick Williams on punt and kickoff returns. Penn State will look to Chaz Powell to provide a spark on returns.
Iowa -- Ryan Donahue has established himself as a solid Big Ten punter, and the Hawkeyes have two options at kicker in Daniel Murray, the hero of the Penn State victory, and Trent Mossbrucker. The big loss comes at punt returner, as Andy Brodell was one of the best around. Iowa also might need a primary kick returner if Jewel Hampton moves into a starting spot at running back.
Minnesota -- The Gophers have the Big Ten's most dangerous return man in Troy Stoudermire, who averaged 25.8 yards on kickoff returns and racked up more than 1,000 return yards last year. Marcus Sherels is a very solid punt return man, but the Gophers must replace both of their starting specialists. Hopes are high for heralded freshman punter Dan Orseske.
Michigan -- Bad seasons usually equal a lot of work for the punter, and Zoltan Mesko came through in a big way for Michigan last fall. The Big Ten's best punter is back, and Michigan also boasts return men Martavious Odoms and Boubacar Cissoko. The situation at kicker looks a bit messy, and Rich Rodriguez will need some of his incoming freshmen to contribute right away.
Wisconsin -- Kicker Phillip Welch comes off a stellar freshman season in which he connected on 17 of 20 field goal attempts. Punter Brad Nortman also comes back, and David Gilreath remains a dangerous man on punt and kickoff returns.
A LITTLE SHAKY
Purdue -- From field goals to punt coverage, Purdue had its adventures on special teams last fall. But if Carson Wiggs continues to perform well on makeable kicks, the Boilers should be fine. Purdue loses Desmond Tardy, who led the Big Ten in kickoff returns (28.8 yards per return), as well as Kory Sheets. Hopes are high for Aaron Valentin on kickoff returns after the wideout averaged 25.7 yards per runback in 2008.
Indiana -- Austin Starr didn't have the senior season he envisioned, but the All-Big Ten kicker most certainly will be missed in Bloomington. Indiana also loses Marcus Thigpen, who made his mark as a kickoff returner. Punter Chris Hagerup looks like a keeper but comes off knee surgery, and the Hoosiers are looking for help on returns.
Northwestern -- The Wildcats need to reach a point where special teams no longer costs them games. It happened again in the Alamo Bowl, a game Northwestern should have won. Punter Stefan Demos did a lot of nice things last season but can't afford critical mistakes like the one he made in the bowl (kicking to Jeremy Maclin). The Wildcats bring in a scholarship kicker in Jeff Budzien, and they need some help on returns.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Hours before tonight's State of the Union address, Indiana head coach Bill Lynch gave a State of the Hoosiers address early today.
Check out the full rundown of personnel departures, position changes and injuries -- trust me, there are plenty -- in Doug Wilson's blog post on The (Bloomington) Herald Times' Web site.
Here are some of the key points:
- Defensive tackles and brothers Keith and Kevin Burrus are among the eight players to leave the program during the offseason. Keith Burrus appeared in 12 games last fall for Indiana, while Kevin played in seven contests. Both players decided against playing a fifth year, and their departures thin Indiana's interior line depth for 2009. Indiana already lost another defensive tackle, Jeff Boyd, earlier in the offseason. As a result, the Hoosiers moved offensive linemen Jarrod Smith and Milton Owens to defensive tackle. None of the other players leaving the team had critical roles.
- Seven players have switched positions from offense to defense in an effort to help a unit that has struggled for most of this decade. The biggest move is Ray Fisher, who switches from wide receiver to cornerback. Fisher led Indiana in receptions (42) and touchdown catches (five) last year. He played defensive back in high school and recorded four interceptions as a junior.
- Injuries killed Indiana in 2008 and will continue to linger during spring ball, as several starters will sit out. The Hoosiers' spring sick bay includes safeties Austin Thomas (knee) and Nick Polk (knee), linebacker Will Patterson (wrist), defensive tackle Deonte Mack (hip surgery) and punter Chris Hagerup (knee).
- Former All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis will be a bit of a nomad this spring, moving from position to position. He'll continue to play some quarterback but could see more time at wide receiver.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Football Writers Association of America today announced its freshman All-America team, which included four players from the Big Ten.
Five of the six BCS conferences -- Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 -- placed four players on the list.
Here are the Big Ten honorees:
- Joel Foreman, guard, Michigan State
- Mike Brewster, center, Ohio State
- Jordan Mabin, cornerback, Northwestern
- Philip Welch, kicker, Wisconsin
All four players played prominent roles this fall.
Brewster, a true freshman, moved into the starting lineup midway through the season. Foreman started on a line that helped Javon Ringer finish third nationally in rushing. Mabin tied for the team lead with three interceptions and added eight pass deflections in his first season as a starter. Welch proved to be an excellent replacement for All-Big Ten kicker Taylor Mehlhaff, converting 17 of 20 field-goal attempts.
Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore got the nod over Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. I was a little surprised that neither of the Big Ten's outstanding freshman punters -- Chris Hagerup (Indiana) and Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) -- made the list.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Several of you have some Big Ten All-Freshman team selections. Good stuff.
Matt from Chicago writes: Adam...I agree with your theory that the Big Ten might have been 'better off' only having one entry into the BCS. However, couldn't you make that case any number of the past few years that the Big Ten has seen their teams "slotted up" one or two bowls because of the BCS? It's of tremendous financial benefit for a conference to get two teams into the BCS, something the Big Ten has done now for the past 3 or 4 years. Why does no one discuss that fact when deriding the Big Ten bowl record?
Adam Rittenberg: That's a good point, Matt. This will be the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten will send its best team (Penn State) to the Rose Bowl. Illinois certainly didn't perform like a BCS-worthy team last year. The Big Ten actually has had two BCS entries for four consecutive years. Despite a poor national reputation right now, the Big Ten's value in the marketplace remains high. The money is coming in. Now the wins need to start piling up.
Jeff from Frederick, Md., writes: Hey Adam: Phil Steele just released his pics for the bowls season. He did pick PSU, OSU, and Iowa. He isnt't rating these picks very high on his confidence rankings, but he is the first person I've seen pick OSU and PSU!
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the head's up, Jeff (I can't find a link right now but will post one when it becomes available). That's a pretty good sign for Big Ten fans, as Phil Steele is one of the top analysts in college football. I've seen no one pick Ohio State in the Fiesta, and I'm surprised there aren't a few more people picking Penn State, despite USC's recent dominance of Big Ten teams.
John from Indianapolis writes: Adam, Why does it seem like such a struggle for Purdue to get a quality speed receiver and a top flight quarterback? As much as they have thrown the ball over the years one would think this would be an ideal place to go. I certainly realize that top tier guys may want Florida, Oklahoma, and a few other places but seriously....
Adam Rittenberg: Not sure I agree with you, John. Though Purdue hasn't produced an All-Big Ten wideout since 2006 (Dorien Bryant), the team has had its share of capable quarterbacks and pass catchers. Drew Brees and Kyle Orton come to mind at quarterback, and you could add Curtis Painter in there until this season. As for wide receivers, Bryant had an excellent career and Purdue also had John Standeford, Taylor Stubblefield and Vinny Sutherland. In terms of getting a true "speed receiver," I would anticipate Danny Hope bringing several guys who fit this mold. He told me he doesn't want to continue with bigger receivers if he can get smaller, faster guys in the offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
One of the most respected college football analysts has released his All-Freshman teams for the first time, and 10 Big Ten players made the list.
Phil Steele included four Big Ten players on his first team All-Freshman squad. One was from Ohio State. The surprise? It wasn't Terrelle Pryor.
Here's the rundown of Big Ten freshmen to earn recognition from Steele.
- Ohio State center Mike Brewster
- Michigan State guard Joel Foreman
- Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin
- Wisconsin kicker Philip Welch
- Indiana punter Chris Hagerup
- Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor
- Northwestern center Ben Burkett
- Illinois tackle Jeff Allen
- Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin
- Iowa safety Tyler Sash
The list looks pretty solid to me, though I'm surprised that Pryor, with all the hype he received, didn't make Steele's second team.
Brewster did an admirable job at center after Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel shuffled an underperforming line. Foreman helped create lanes for the nation's most durable back, Javon Ringer. Mabin is a budding star in the Northwestern secondary with three interceptions this fall, and Welch proved to be a capable replacement for All-Big Ten kicker Taylor Mehlhaff.
It's also telling that Michigan only had one selection despite playing a ton of freshmen this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.
With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.
Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.
Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.
Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.
Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.
Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.
Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.
Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.
Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.
Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.
Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.
Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.
Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.