Big Ten: Chris L. Rucker

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 6, 2012
1/06/12
6:30
PM ET
Hope you have a great weekend. Lord knows I need one.

Joe from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Adam, regarding your big ten bowl column what do you think about Delaney twisting the arm of a few conference sponsors to create a bowl game in Indianapolis and/or Chicago and dumping more money into the Detroit bowlto attract higher profile opponents? Then get a tie in with the Pinstripe Bowl. Drop the Gator and TicketCity Bowls. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, it wouldn't surprise me to see another bowl game or two take place in the Midwest besides the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit. It's almost a guarantee the Big Ten's next bowl lineup, beginning in 2014, will feature more tie-ins with the Pac-12 besides the Rose. Kraft Fight Hunger in San Francisco makes a lot of sense for the Big Ten. Pinstripe also could be a possibility. They'll have to evaluate whether Gator and TicketCity are worth continuing or not.

Steiny from Dow City, Iowa, writes: Adam, youve posted many of my topics, so they must be good enough to post, hers a new one....what are the chances iowa goes after tom bradley, and second would he come to iowa? scale of 1-100 . I give it an 80 that kirk will try to obtain bradley and maybe one other penn state guy for the d-line whatcha think?

Adam Rittenberg: I think Bradley would be a great choice for Iowa, but the tricky part is determining how long he'd want to stay there. He has head-coaching aspirations and was a candidate for the Pitt vacancy last year. Kirk Ferentz likes staff continuity and would prefer not to have a guy bolt after one year. But I think Bradley, Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden all would be good fits for defensive coordinator posts in the Big Ten or elsewhere.

Dan from O'Fallon, Ill., writes: Adam...I'm a PSU alum who would've liked to see Tom Bradley become head coach at PSU, but I don't understand a few things: 1. why does the media that follows PSU think they are owed information about what the hiring committee is doing...their shock at a new coach being hired without someone giving them the scoop first is bombastic and tiring. 2. I've been a PSU football fan for over 30 years, and I get that past players have a strong connection to the program, but it isn't their job to hire/fire the coach. Lavar Arrington and others need to get over themselves. I appreciate his loyalty, but his emotions are misplaced. Am I missing something?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, your first point is valid, and while we in the media would like more information, it's not unusual for schools to be tight-lipped. Think the issue is the delay in confirming anything. The whole process has taken a lot longer than normal, even the process to confirm Bill O'Brien's hiring after ESPN reported it Thursday night. And there seems to be a lack of transparency not just with the media but with the current coaches and players. Tom Bradley deserved to be informed earlier than he was. Agree with your second point to an extent, but I also see why players want to be involved. They feel like Penn State is totally divorcing itself from the Joe Paterno era, and that stirs up emotions. Would there have been any harm done by just listening to them and what they had to say?

Martin from Michigan writes: After all the flack you gave MSU and Chris Rucker last year over him being allowed to play after one mistake, you let Stonum and UofM off the hook essentially after his 5th mistake. Show some journalistic integrity why don't you. Stonum should be gone. Bad enough he got off with just red-shirting a year.

Adam Rittenberg: Martin, I will weigh in more after Brady Hoke makes a decision on Stonum. I believe Stonum should be dismissed from the team. He has had several chances and has blown them. Now he's going back to jail for the second time. There should be consequences. If Hoke doesn't dismiss Stonum, I'll weigh in, just like I weighed in last year after Dantonio allowed Rucker to play. I love these fans who demand equal outrage on these situations, as if it somehow wipes away a poor decision made by their coach. It's silly.

Tim from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam,Why is Ohio State ineligible for the B1G title game? As Alabama proved, bowls have NOTHING to do with winning your conference. Without expansion, OSU could win it (when standings determine the champ), why ban them with a conference championship game?

Adam Rittenberg: Not sure I understand your last point, but the Big Ten doesn't want its signature event to feature a team banned from a bowl for violating NCAA rules. Think the Rose Bowl committee wants to invite the team that loses to Ohio State in the Big Ten title game? That would be more than a little awkward. Makes perfect sense not to allow Ohio State in the Big Ten title game. Alabama is the exception rather than the rule. Imagine if this year's Big Ten title game featured a team banned from the bowls? Would be a little less on the line.

Stephen from Harrisonburg, Va., writes: Hey Adam the reports that I have seen have said that O'brien will continue to coach the Patriots for the rest of the season. How will he be able to recruit during these next three weeks if he is busy preparing for playoff games that could last through early February?

Adam Rittenberg: It poses quite the challenge, Stephen. He'd have to do most if not all of his recruiting over the phone, much like Charlie Weis did in 2005 when he took the Notre Dame job while continuing to coach with the Patriots through their Super Bowl run. He would need to get his assistants on board ASAP and have them out on the road as much as possible between now and signing day.

Vivek from Cambridge, Mass., writes: Adam, you and Brian both disappointed me in your discussion of Big Ten bowl performance. Brian especially wrote something to the effect that Big Ten teams should simply be better so that they aren't underdogs. I believe that the issue is more structural and hence not even a problem. Big Ten schools have huge alumni bases and fans willing to travel south (especially) in the winter, so they are attractive to bowl organizers; they are fundamentally more attractive to bowls than the quality of their teams. This will make them typically overmatched. But the fans enjoy the trips. Why is this something to be solved?

Adam Rittenberg: Maybe it shouldn't be solved, Vivek. But in that case, Big Ten fans should accept the losing bowl records and the national criticism that comes with it. What I'm saying is that to expect broadcasters to spend four hours talking about the Big Ten's tough bowl lineup and how the matchups aren't favorable and how Big Ten fans travel so well and how we should cut the Big Ten slack isn't realistic. I think there are lineups that maintain some high-profile games but don't make it so difficult overall. Right now, it's extremely tough for the Big Ten to post a winning record in the bowls. Maybe that doesn't matter, but it does shape perception like it or not. The Big Ten shouldn't get rid of the Rose Bowl or the Capital One or the Outback. But beyond that point, there could be some tweaks to make things a bit easier.

Ryan from San Francisco writes: Any chance we will get the end of the year power rankings for the big ten?

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Ryan. Check the blog Tuesday late morning.
Like many gifted athletes, Johnny Adams came to Michigan State relying on his natural ability.

His skills helped him crack the starting lineup for two games as a true freshman in 2008. After missing most of the 2009 season with a shoulder injury, Adams earned second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall, recording three interceptions, seven pass breakups and 50 tackles for a much-improved Spartans secondary.

Intent on taking the next step, Adams accelerated his learning curve during the winter, spring and summer. Arguably no Michigan State player has made more strides during the offseason than the 5-foor-11, 175-pound junior.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Adams
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMSU cornerback Johnny Adams, left, had seven pass breakups in 2010.
"The biggest thing is trying to know my opponents more, instead of me going through the motions," he said. "In the spring, every week I studied [Michigan State's] offense, and it took my game to another level."

Adams stood out throughout the spring and was the first player selected by the team's seniors in the draft for the spring game. He has continued to make a difference in preseason camp, intercepting a Kirk Cousins pass and returning it 32 yards for a touchdown to close out Sunday's jersey scrimmage, won by the defense.

In 2010, Michigan State's secondary subscribed to the M.A.P. motto -- Make A Play -- and combined for 12 of the team's 17 interceptions to go with four forced fumbles. Adams did his part (three interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovered), but he feels he has a much better grasp on formations and quarterback tendencies heading into this season.

"It's going to help a lot," he said, "because if you know what somebody's going to do, it can definitely cancel out some of the things you would want to do. You can make smarter gambles, smarter decisions. I was more of a cautious guy in the past because I didn't know what was coming at me at the time.

"Now when you study film and you look at personnel and formations and what people like you do, you can take an educated guess on what's coming."

Michigan State loses its top cornerback in Chris L. Rucker, a sixth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in April. Rucker and Spartans secondary coach Harlon Barnett both told Adams after last season that if he wanted to take his game to another level, he had to know his opponents better.

"It's not off of just raw talent," Adams said. "It's what you know, and how you approach the game. I started approaching the game different."

Adams soon will start breaking down film of opposing receivers. He expects to mark No. 1 wideouts this season and has been preparing by practicing against B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State's top returning receiver.

"We made a lot of plays last year," Adams said. "Now we want to take our plays to another level. If we [used to] get a pick, now we want to get a pick-six."

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 4, 2011
5/04/11
9:30
AM ET
Michigan State

2010 overall record: 11-2

2010 conference record: 7-1 (T-1st)

Returning starters

Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Kirk Cousins, RB Edwin Baker, WR B.J. Cunningham, G Joel Foreman, DT Jerel Worthy, CB Johnny Adams, S Trenton Robinson, LB Chris Norman

Key losses

WR Mark Dell, TE Charlie Gantt, LT D.J. Young, C John Stipek, LB Greg Jones, LB Eric Gordon, CB Chris L. Rucker, P Aaron Bates

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Edwin Baker* (1,201 yards)

Passing: Kirk Cousins* (2,825 yards)

Receiving: Mark Dell (788 yards)

Tackles: Greg Jones (106)

Sacks: Jerel Worthy* (4)

Interceptions: Trenton Robinson* (4)

Spring answers

1. D-line solidifies: Although Michigan State loses a lot at linebacker, the coaches haven't altered their expectations for the defense, in large part because their confidence in the front four. The defensive line should be a strength as several players made strides this spring. Gifted sophomore William Gholston could be on the verge of a breakout season as he settles in at end, where the Spartans also will use Tyler Hoover and Denzel Drone on the edges. Tackle Anthony Rashad White had a good spring and forms a nice interior tandem with All-Big Ten candidate Jerel Worthy.

2. Two-way Tony: Redshirt freshman Tony Lippett was the star of spring ball in East Lansing. He practiced at both cornerback and receiver and made plays in both spots. He capped a strong session with a 57-yard reception and a pass breakup in the spring game. Michigan State's coordinators are fighting over Lippett, and he could see time on both sides of the ball this season.

3. Adams emerges: When Michigan State's seniors held their spring game draft last week, Johnny Adams was the first name called. Adams, a junior cornerback, turned in a very strong spring and drew a lot of praise from the staff. Michigan State needs a No. 1 corner as Chris L. Rucker departs for the NFL, and Adams looks ready to answer the bell. "As a safety, you can just be like, 'Leave that to Johnny,'" safety Trenton Robinson told The Grand Rapids Press. "You just look over and you know Johnny’s got it on lockdown."

Fall questions

1. Offensive line: The Spartans' success could hinge on a revamped line that must replace three starters from the 2010 team. While the coaches see more athleticism up front, which stems in part from several players making the switch from defense, there's no substitute for experience and continuity. The line must continue to jell this summer, as players like Dan France, Travis Jackson and Blake Treadwell move into big roles.

2. Linebacker rotation: Greg Jones and Eric Gordon made a ton of plays for Michigan State, and their production will be tough to replace. Returning starter Chris Norman is back, but Michigan State likely will have sophomores Max Bullough, Tyquan Hammock and Denicos Allen assume bigger roles. Jones and Gordon always were around the football, and the Spartans need the same qualities in their next generation of linebackers.

3. Punter: Go ahead and laugh if you'd like, but no punter in America played a bigger role in his team's success than Aaron Bates did last fall. Bates not only averaged 45 yards per punt but completed passes on trick plays that led to wins against both Notre Dame and Northwestern. Redshirt freshman Mike Sadler is set to succeed Bates at punter, although he'll have to hold off senior Kyle Selden.

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
9:00
AM ET
The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).

NEBRASKA'S DRAFTEES

Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.

B1G Friday mailblog

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
4:00
PM ET
I'll have a full Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up Monday and might sneak it a post or two this weekend as the final rounds take place.

As always, you can contact me here. Now onto your questions.

JZ from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam, I really like what I am seeing and hearing from the IU football team this spring. There definitely seems to be change in tone to the overall program. However, I have one concern about Coach Wilson. He seems to have not embraced IU or the fans at all. I have talked to a few fellow fans that have met the coach or had interactions with him around town, and all are less than impressed. He is at best described as gruff, and worst a total... you can guess. His incident at the dorms this winter, compounded with him losing so many coaches so quickly, only adds to my concerns about his character. Wins will help him no matter what, and this town dealt with Bob Knight for a long time. Yet I have always felt this program needs someone personable to coach it. I am curious if you think Coach Wilson needs to be more personable to be an overall success at IU?

Adam Rittenberg: JZ, Bill Lynch was the nicest guy in the world and he went 3-21 in the Big Ten the past three seasons. Having known Kevin for quite some time, he can be a bit of an acquired taste, and he's certainly not a rah-rah guy. But here's what he is: a brutally honest coach who has won at the highest levels. Players will know exactly where they stand with him, and I believe he will win in Bloomington eventually. I understand that appealing to the fan base is important, especially one like Indiana's that needs something to smile about, but Wilson's top priority is the team and turning things around on the field. The assistant coaches leaving was unfortunate, but I'm not sure it's a red flag about Wilson's character. Indiana is a program that needs an edge, and Wilson seems to be providing one.


Lauren from Washington writes: "Can the Big Ten still make these claims after the Jim Tressel mess at Ohio State?" I'm highly dissapointed in this comment/article Adam. Ohio State is ONE school, there are 11 other schools in this confrence! Do not start to lump us all together as "shady" off of what Ohio St. has done. It makes it even worse now that B1G's very own ESPN blogger has started doubting his confrence's character legitimacy?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, the "Big Ten's very own blogger" argument, my favorite. Or is it the "you're a nerd and never played football" claim? Both get high marks for originality. ... Anyway, here's the deal. Yes, Ohio State is only one school. But it's the Big Ten's most visible program because of its success, and Jim Tressel is the Big Ten's most visible coach other than the iconic Joe Paterno. The fact that Ohio State and Michigan are appearing before the Committee on Infractions in consecutive seasons is significant because these are big-time programs that have largely avoided major NCAA trouble. The moral high ground also applies to off-field incidents, and quite a few Big Ten programs -- Iowa, Penn State, Michigan State -- have endured some rough stretches off the field in recent years. As I stated in the post, the Big Ten still has to have a few more major scandals to catch up to the SEC, but the Ohio State situation certainly damages the Big Ten's reputation.


Adam from Baltimore writes: Hey Adam,You may accuse me of being petty an selfish on this, but I have to say it. You reported the death of Mandich and it is very sad that he passed away so early from a horrific disease. And in no way am I trying to trivialize death or what he accomplished both on and off the field at the collegiate and professional levels. But I had just had to ask how you decide which stories on former players to post on. Lynn Chandnois passed away last week and he was arguably one of the best players in MSU history and yet he got a lunch link. I also realize that the story about Chandnois got picked up by the ESPN general site and I'm not accusing you of bias or anything else, because I know you can't report on every single thing and keeping track of every player ever to have gone through a B1G football program is impossible. But I just had to ask how do you decide which ones to report on?

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, this is a fair question. It honestly comes down to time and timing. There are stretches during days or even weeks when I simply don't have time to do full posts on everything. While I wanted to do more on Lynn Chandnois, a terrific player, I had other assignments that took precedence that day. The news about Mandich broke at night, and I had time to do a full post for the next day. So it's definitely not a slight at Chandnois or Michigan State. I'll try to at least link to every significant story in the Big Ten, but during especially busy times like spring ball and the season, I can't get to everything.


Brian from Aliedo, Ill., writes: Adam, Please don't use the 'B1G' moniker. I think it looks stupid and from all the backlash of when it first came out I'm not alone. Hopefully if people don't use and and don't buy into it the Big 10 will change it sooner rather than later.

Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, Brian, as you see above and in the lunch links, the "B1G" will be incorporated into the Big Ten blog. In addition to saving headline space, I think this mark is resonating with a large portion of Big Ten fans. I see it included in many emails every week. It'll also be visible on my new background for videos. While we can and should continue to debate things like Leaders and Legends and the logos, this one seems to be passing muster.


Cory from Nebraska writes: Adam, What is going on with MSU players? I would have thought both players and the coaching staff would have learned something after the residence hall incident but apparently not. As an alum I'm willing to chalk a small lapse in judgement or two to youth but I don't feel like any improvement is being made particularly after this latest incident with Freeman. As an alum I love MSU and want to see the teams in all sports do well but I don't think winning requires the schools reputation and integrity to be compromised and the embarassment these incidents as a whole are beginning to bring. Do you have any insights that might help me feel better about all this?

Adam Rittenberg: Cory, I doubt I can make you or any fan feel better about off-field incidents. You can look at each case individually, and regarding Corey Freeman, while it's unfortunate, he didn't commit capital offenses. Same with Chris L. Rucker last year. You can also look at the program as a whole, and I think there are some valid concerns about off-field incidents and the response from the coaching staff. Whether it's true or not, the larger perception is that Michigan State goes soft on players who make mistakes off the field. This is mainly reinforced by how the Spartans handled Glenn Winston and also Rucker last year. So while the individual cases might not be too bad, they do add up over time.


Vince from San Diego writes: Adam, I heard your Podcast with Ivan and Beano. Great point about vacating all OSU wins sans the Sugar Bowl as the NCAA already knew the players were ineligible. That being said, with the NCAA's NOA letter pointing squarely at Tressel...not OSU, wouldnt it also be illogical to hit the OSU with scholarship reductions and a bowl ban (assuming the "repeat offender" tag isnt used) and make more sense to slap Tress individually with a "show cause" penalty? P.S. I hope the price to keep Tress isnt too high, I went to OSU during the Cooper years!

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up some great points, Vince, and the Committee on Infractions will have to consider whether to hammer Tressel, Ohio State, both or neither when it renders its verdict. I also wonder how the focus on Tressel affects Ohio State as it presents its case before the COI. Do the Buckeyes throw The Vest under the bus? As for the penalties, any truly severe sanction for Tressel directly affects the program, such as a show-cause and recruiting restrictions. The NCAA could come down so hard on Tressel that it forces Ohio State to part ways with him. But after reading the Notice of Allegations, it seems likelier Tressel gets hit harder than Ohio State (scholarship reductions, postseason ban, etc.).


Brandon from Columbus, Neb., writes: Adam, Just a question regarding Ohio State's issues. Is the suspensions for the players final or can the NCAA enact stricter penalties as more and more info comes out? 5 games doesn't seem like enough to drive the point home that players need to be smarter and know right from wrong themselves. The way to fix college football is to let players know there are severe repercussions and get them to help police themselves!

Adam Rittenberg: The players' cases with the NCAA have been resolved, unless new information surfaces. The five-game suspensions were upheld back in March. I'd disagree with you about five games not being enough to drive the point home. Five games is a lot for a college football player, especially seniors trying to impress NFL scouts in their final seasons. And while the players' violations were significant, selling memorabilia items isn't the same as academic fraud, point shaving, etc. Most would agree coach Jim Tressel's mistake -- not coming forward with information about the players despite multiple chances to do so -- is far worse than the players' violations.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- When Mark Dantonio studies the red-letter games that have ended badly during his Michigan State tenure -- Ohio State and Penn State in 2008, Iowa and Alabama in 2010 -- two reasons stand out for the Spartans' shortcomings.

The first is the most common culprit: turnovers. Any team trying to move up in class -- or "measure up," as Dantonio often says -- can't give the ball away as often as Michigan State did in those games and expect to win.

Every team focuses on limiting turnovers, but the second reason is more Spartans-specific. It also underscores how Michigan State can take the next step after four consecutive bowl appearances under Dantonio.

"We didn't win up front," Dantonio said. "Winning at the point of attack, being able to run the ball effectively against a great football team and stop the run against a great football team, that enters into it."

In recent years Michigan State has proven it can both recruit and develop top-end offensive skill players (Javon Ringer, Devin Thomas, Edwin Baker and Kirk Cousins, to name a few). The Spartans have had outstanding linebackers (Greg Jones, Eric Gordon) and talented defensive backs (Otis Wiley, Chris L. Rucker).

But to truly join the Big Ten's elite, the Spartans must close the gap up front on both sides of the ball. They need offensive linemen and pass rushers that strike fear in opponents.

It's no secret how teams like Wisconsin and Iowa, which typically face bigger recruiting obstacles than Michigan State, have upgraded their programs. The Badgers and Hawkeyes both excel in line play, which has helped them make up for potential deficiencies elsewhere.

The Spartans now must do the same.

"You look at the three teams that won the Big Ten a year ago," offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said, "and you would certainly say Ohio State had a tremendous offensive line. You would echo those comments with Wisconsin. I would leave for others to judge what Michigan State's offensive line was or is.

"You go back to years past. Ohio State's established themselves at the top of this league. Penn State has played very well up front. That's the fundamental of football: you win up front."

Michigan State's offensive line had its moments in 2010, especially early on as the team eclipsed 200 rushing yards in five of the first six games. But the rushing production tailed off down the stretch and the Spartans finished with minus-48 yards on the ground against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

Three starters depart, and the competition along the offensive line has ramped up in spring practice. Michigan State's pre-spring depth chart listed four potential starters at center, two potential starters at right guard and a redshirt freshman (Skyler Schofner) as the starting right tackle.

"There's more numbers," Dantonio said, "and I just see more overall athleticism."

The increased athleticism comes in part from moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell from defense to offense. Treadwell started five games at nose tackle last season, while the 6-6, 304-pound France was a reserve defensive tackle before moving to left tackle.

Young linemen like Schofner and Travis Jackson also excite the coaches.

"We have an opportunity to develop some quality play up there," said Roushar, who coached the line the past four seasons before being promoted to coordinator. "But there may be some growing pains."

The bar has been raised for Michigan State's defensive line this fall. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy is the bell cow after recording eight tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. There's depth inside with senior Kevin Pickelman and Anthony Rashad White, who has turned things up in spring ball.

The problem is Worthy's sacks total led the team in 2010, and Jones was the Spartans' sacks leader in 2009. Michigan State needs some true pass rushers to emerge, and the spotlight will be on ends William Gholston, Tyler Hoover, Denzel Drone and Marcus Rush this fall. Gholston, a heralded recruit who spent time at both linebacker and end last year, has found a home with his hand on the ground.

"It starts up front," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said, "and the further coach Dantonio gets in his tenure here, the better we're going to be up front. We might stay the same in the secondary, we might stay the same at receiver.

"But we're going to get better every year on the lines."

Notes from Michigan State

April, 14, 2011
4/14/11
6:30
PM ET
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Mark Dantonio stepped into the lobby outside Michigan State's football offices and looked at the 2010 Big Ten championship banner unveiled Thursday at the Skandalaris Football Center.

"Now we've got to get another," Dantonio said with a smile.

Michigan State isn't satisfied with its first Big Ten title in 20 years. The Spartans know that to be truly considered an elite team in this league, they need an impressive follow-up act, especially after the poor performance against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.

Dantonio thinks he has a better team than the 2010 version, but he's also mindful of a challenging schedule and an improving conference.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMark Dantonio and Michigan State won a share of the Big Ten championship last seeason. "Now we've got to get another," Dantonio said with a smile.
"We've got to still measure up," Dantonio said. "This is a process. There is no beginning time, there is no end time. It just goes. We need to move the process forward."

It has been a very productive day here in Sparta, as I've visited with Dantonio, coordinators Dan Roushar (offense) and Pat Narduzzi (defense) and several players.

Here are some notes:

  • Linebacker was Michigan State's strength on defense throughout the Greg Jones/Eric Gordon Era, but the spotlight might be shifting to the defensive line this season. Narduzzi really likes the depth at both line spots. Jerel Worthy is a proven commodity, and the coaches really like what they've seen from junior Anthony Rashad White. The Spartans feel they're three-deep at end with Tyler Hoover, William Gholston and Denzel Drone, and Marcus Rush also is working on the edge. After blitzing Jones a ton the past few years, the Spartans need a true pass-rusher or two to emerge from this group.
  • The offensive line has more question marks. Michigan State is young up front but both Dantonio and Roushar noted the line will be more athletic in 2011. Part of that is moving defensive linemen like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over to the offensive side. Redshirt freshman tackle Skyler Schofner, at 6-7 and 305 pounds, has been impressive along with classmate Travis Jackson. Dantonio described many of his linemen as "very fluid." Michigan State really has only two senior linemen in guard Joel Foreman and tackle Jared McGaha, so this group has a long time to unite and come together. I'll have more on both lines next week, but these two units are vital to the Spartans becoming a consistent top-tier Big Ten program.
  • Dantonio called the running back situation "very competitive," but Edwin Baker hasn't taken a step back this spring after starting throughout 2011. Roushar noted that Baker has been spending a lot of time with former Spartans star back Javon Ringer, a frequent visitor throughout spring ball whom I caught up with today. "It's a whole other level of maturity," Roushar said of Baker. Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper continue to work, and don't count out redshirt freshman Nick Hill, who adds a different dimension to the group. There's a lot to like about the depth Michigan State has at running back, receiver and tight end.
  • Although the defenses loses multiyear starters like Jones, Gordon and cornerback Chris L. Rucker, Narduzzi hasn't had to slow down the learning curve this spring. Just the opposite. "We're amazed at how well they've picked it up," he said. "We're a much smarter defense right now than we were a year ago. Those young kids have been paying attention. They may not have had those reps, but they understand what we're doing." As for the linebackers, junior Chris Norman has been limited this spring following elbow surgery. Sophomore Denicos Allen and junior Steve Gardiner have impressed the coaches, and sophomores Max Bullough and TyQuan Hammock are competing at middle linebacker. "Bullough might be a little bit ahead right now," Narduzzi said.
  • Roushar's transition to coordinator seems to be going smoothly. Cousins noted that in reviewing the film from 2010, Michigan State had several successful plays that it didn't run very often. "We're working on trying to get those plays involved more in our offense," Cousins said. "If we're so successful at them, why are we not doing them two or three times a game rather than once every two games?"

It's time to hit the road now, but I'll have more on the Spartans in the coming days and weeks before they wrap up spring practice April 30.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 30, 2011
3/30/11
9:48
AM ET
Couldn't get to this Tuesday but had plenty of questions and wanted to tackle them. Be sure and send in more questions and comments for Friday.

Ted from Atlanta writes: Adam, just wanted to respond to your comments regarding the reinstatement of Dion Sims at Michigan State. As a Spartan alum and avid follower of Michigan State football, I have no problem with the reinstatement given what I know about the situation. From what I've read, Sims had a very minor role in the particular offense and fully cooperated with authorities. I've also read that the judge presiding over the case in Detroit personally offered to travel to East Lansing to endorse Sims' reinstatement if Coach Dantonio had thought otherwise. Dantonio has displayed the willingness to dismiss players when warranted - Glenn Winston, Oren Wilson, etc. and retain others such as Chris L. Rucker. Although fans and the media have every right to quesiton Coach Dantonio on these decisions, I for one will give him the benefit of the doubt since he is much closer to the situation and knows the players on a more personal level than any of the rest of us will ever know.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, thanks for your perspective. Several Michigan State fans I've heard from have cited the circumstances surrounding Sims' case, including Sims testifying against the leaders of the computer theft ring. It seems like Sims took a good approach with a bad situation, and most important, he remained academically eligible so he could return when reinstated. I had less of an issue with this than I did with the Winston and Rucker situations, as both players immediately returned to the team after serving jail time. Sims resolved his legal situation but didn't have his team penalty lifted until Monday.


Phil from Philly writes: Hey Adam, I haven't seen much mentioned about Penn State's end of season schedule this fall. They play Nebraska at home, then are at Ohio State and at Wisconsin in the following two weeks. These are three of the most physical teams in the nation, and two of the toughest road venues in the nation. You can't tell me there is a team in the nation with a harder end to their schedule then Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State's closing stretch really jumps out, Phil. The Lions had better be a good team by November or it'll be a rough month. In terms of overall Big Ten schedule, Nebraska would argue with you about who has the toughest slate. The Huskers' crossovers are Penn State (road), Wisconsin (road) and Ohio State (home), so they skip Illinois, Indiana and Purdue. Few easy games for Big Red. But Penn State has the toughest closing stretch in the league.


Austin from Granview, Mo., writes: Adam i was wondering, will the hawkeyes still have a legit run at a big ten title this year? Coming into the season with the loss of Stanzi, Hampton, Clayborn, Ballard, Sash, ect. i know they lost quite a few of talented players but i believe with the work out program iowa has positions will be filled but the younger class coming in, will they be able to fill the huge shoes left by the athletes before them? James Vandenberg looks to be a potential hiesman canidate if he sticks around as a starter and so does marcus coker. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Austin, Iowa loses quite a bit, but you should never count out the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten race, especially in a year like this. Kirk Ferentz seems to be at his most dangerous when his teams are underestimated. I wouldn't expect to see Iowa in the preseason rankings, but this team can make a push if certain things fall its way. Keep in mind that returning players like Marcus Coker and Micah Hyde stepped up in the Insight Bowl win. The O-line is very strong, and if Iowa can shore up a few areas, look out.


Daniel from Washington writes: I am very surprised you didn't mention TCF Bank Stadium as an urban stadium. It is located a couple of miles from downtown on UMN's very urban campus. Indeed, the Minneapolis skyline serves as a backdrop to the scoreboard.

BrewsterEraSurvivor from Appleton, Wis., writes: How in the world do you talk about Urban facilities, and not bring up the U of M. TCF Bank Stadium is next to downtown Minneapolis. I know the Gopher program has been quite forgettable these past years, but come on.

Adam Rittenberg: Total oversight on my part, and I'm glad you and others pointed it out. TCF Bank Stadium is the most urban Big Ten football facility, and it's a terrific one. I guess when I walked into Memorial Stadium on Monday, it reminded me more of Camp Randall, based largely on its size. But TCF Bank Stadium certainly qualifies as an urban facility.


Asif from Los Angeles writes: Hey Adam, if the Ohio State hc position does open up, what do you think the chances are that they could lure Bo Pelini from Nebraska? Pelini denied all the Miami allegations and so forth a few months ago but I imagine an offer from your alma mater is much more tempting.

Adam Rittenberg: It is more tempting, Asif, and Ohio State is a program built to compete for national championships year in and year out. The thing is Pelini already coaches a program with a strong tradition of winning national titles. And after being in Lincoln earlier this week, I can say from a facilities/support standpoint, Nebraska can absolutely compete at the highest level. Recruiting could be a factor if Pelini were to consider a move (not saying he would, but it's hard not to at least listen). There's a ton of talent in Ohio, while Nebraska has to continue to recruit nationally, especially in Texas and California, to keep competing at the highest level. It's going to be very interesting to watch Nebraska's recruiting in the next few years.


Hoosier49 from Gary, Ind., writes: AdamWhich program, Indiana or Minnesota, do you see as being more successful in their first year with a new coach and why?

Adam Rittenberg: Both Kevin Wilson and Jerry Kill face some challenges in their first seasons. Kill talked last week about the program possibly taking a step back before it goes forward, and Wilson could be in the same boat. Although both coaches are known for offense, it really could come down to who can get their defense on track. Indiana needs to upgrade its talent level and reverse its history of struggles on the defensive side. Minnesota had almost an entirely new group of starters on defense in 2010. Pretty much everyone is back, which can be good or bad. I'd expect the Gophers to be bit better on defense, and they potentially have some weapons on the offensive side, so I'd give Minnesota a slight edge right now.

ESPN.com's 2010 All-Senior Big Ten team

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
5:00
PM ET
As we gear up for the Senior Bowl, I wanted to piggyback off of an excellent post by colleague Chris Low from last week.

It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.

Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.

Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.

In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.

Without further ado ...

OFFENSE

QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State

DEFENSE

DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon narrowly edged out Ross Homan for a spot on the All-Senior Big Ten team.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin

Some thoughts:

  • I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
  • No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
  • The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
  • Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
  • The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
  • Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
Selections by team: Wisconsin (6), Ohio State (5), Michigan State (5), Iowa (4), Penn State (3), Purdue (2)

Big Ten to send 12 to Senior Bowl

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
1:30
PM ET
The Big Ten will once again be decently represented in the nation's premier all-star game for NFL hopefuls.

Twelve players from Big Ten teams will participate in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 29 in Mobile, Ala. Wisconsin and Iowa both are sending three players to the game, while five other Big Ten teams will be represented.

The participants are:
  • Iowa defensive tackle Christian Ballard
  • Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  • Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi
  • Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi
  • Wisconsin guard John Moffitt
  • Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks
  • Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones
  • Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker
  • Indiana offensive tackle James Brewer
  • Michigan guard Stephen Schilling
  • Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan
  • Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan

It's interesting to see some players included who might have flown under the radar during the season but project well to the NFL. Ballard and Brewer certainly fit into this category.

Ohio State and Michigan both have only one representative, although Buckeyes cornerback Chimdi Chekwa would have made the roster if he didn't suffer a broken wrist in the Sugar Bowl.

The group includes three potential first-round picks in Kerrigan, Carimi and Clayborn.

Should be fun to see how they all perform.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 28, 2010
12/28/10
12:00
PM ET
The Big Ten bowl season finally begins!
Michigan State's secondary had a big-play problem in 2009. The Spartans gave up too many and made too few of their own.

Consequently, Michigan State ranked last in the Big Ten in pass defense (267.6 ypg), pass touchdowns allowed (32) and fewest takeaways (14). The Spartans ranked second to last in the league in interceptions with just six.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Adams and Chris Rucker
AP Photo/Tony DingCornerbacks Johnny Adams (5) and Chris Rucker (29) combined to make 11 interceptions in 2010.
When the players started preparing for the 2010 camp, they didn't take long to find a group motto.

"We came up with MAP," safety Trenton Robinson said.

It translates easily: Make. A. Play.

"In our heads going into the season and everything, it was like, 'We've got to make a play,'" Robinson said. "If one guy in camp or during spring ball would make a play, everybody would be like, 'MAP. Make a play. Somebody make a play.’

"That was our biggest focus, just making plays."

The Spartans' defensive backs made plenty of plays this fall as Michigan State surged to 11-1 and a share of the Big Ten championship.

Michigan State ranked second in the Big Ten and tied for 11th nationally in interceptions with 17, nearly tripling its total from 2009. The Spartans had four games with multiple interceptions, including a four-pick performance against Northern Colorado and three picks against both Michigan and Illinois.

All four starting defensive backs -- safeties Robinson and Marcus Hyde, and cornerbacks Chris L. Rucker and Johnny Adams -- finished the regular season nationally ranked in passes defended. They combined for 12 interceptions and 30 passes defended.

Arguably no position group in the Big Ten had a bigger one-year turnaround than Michigan State's secondary, as all four starters received second-team all-conference honors from either the coaches or media.

"Last year, we would get in position to make a play, but we just couldn’t come down with it or break it up," Robinson said. "This year, we’re making plays on the ball. When the ball goes up, we’re trying to turn into wide receivers, getting interceptions, knocking the ball down. That's the biggest difference."

Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins saw an attitude change among the defensive backs this fall.

"They felt like they didn't live up to expectations last year and that wouldn't happen again," Cousins said. "They simply made a decision to play at a higher level and play with confidence. At the same time, coverage can be a result of pressure from the D-line. When the whole defensive steps up, including the defensive line, they're able to pressure a quarterback and force them to make poor decisions.

"That's going to help the secondary."

Michigan State will need every area of its defense to be clicking against Alabama in the Capital One Bowl. The Tide boast a veteran quarterback in Greg McElroy, two outstanding running backs in former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson, and an elite receiver in Julio Jones.

"They're going to throw the ball deep on us, and I feel like Chris Rucker and Johnny will be in position on those wide receivers," Robinson said. "It's just going to come down to who’s going to make that play. Hopefully, it's us."
Let's look back before a very quick look ahead.

[+] EnlargeKirk Cousins
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarKirk Cousins and the Spartans celebrate after their 28-22 win against Penn State.
Team of the Week: Michigan State. The Spartans put the final stamp on a special season by winning at Penn State for the first time since 1965. The victory gave Michigan State a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1990. Michigan State took control of the game early behind quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker and a stout defense, and held on late to prevail 28-22. Minnesota and Indiana both deserve mentions as well for winning rivalry games and earning the right to do this and this.

Biggest play: Two defensive plays propelled Minnesota and Indiana to wins Saturday. Gophers cornerback Troy Stoudermire stripped the ball from Iowa's Marcus Coker late in the fourth quarter, which led to Minnesota running out the clock to preserve a 27-24 victory. Indiana linebacker Jeff Thomas picked off a Rob Henry pass in overtime, allowing the Hoosiers to drive for the game-winning field goal. Michigan State's recovery of an onside kick after Penn State had cut its deficit to six points also stands out.

Specialist spotlight: Indiana freshman Mitch Ewald came up big against Purdue with two field goals, the first to send the game into overtime and the second to win it in the extra session. Minnesota's Eric Ellestad went 2-for-2 on field goals and recovered his own onside kick against Iowa, helping the Gophers jump out to a 10-0 lead. Ohio State's Jordan Hall prevented Michigan from gaining any momentum with an 85-yard kick return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown against Wisconsin, and his 273 return yards mark the second-highest single-game total in Big Ten history. Ohio State's Devin Barclay went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts. The day featured good punting performances from Purdue's Cody Webster (56-yard average, three inside the 20-yard line), Iowa's Ryan Donahue (47.5-yard average, two inside the 20-yard line), Michigan State's Aaron Bates (46.5-yard average, two inside the 20-yard line) and Wisconsin's Brad Nortman (39.6-yard average, four inside the 20-yard line).

Filling the void: A quick shoutout to Jeff Horton, who did a very good job in a very difficult situation at Minnesota as interim coach. Horton kept the team focused despite the midseason firing of head coach Tim Brewster, and the Gophers ended the year with two solid wins against Illinois and Iowa. Although Minnesota will bring in a new coach, I would hope Horton gets consideration to remain on the staff. Otherwise, I'm sure he'll latch on elsewhere.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams not recognized in helmet stickers)

  • Ohio State defensive end Nathan Williams: Williams ended the regular season on a very strong note with 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups as Ohio State held Michigan scoreless in the second half.
  • Indiana receiver Tandon Doss: Doss recorded three touchdown catches for the second multi-touchdown game of his career. He added 18 rushing yards on two carries and had 117 yards on six kickoff returns with a long of 30 yards.
  • Indiana linebacker Jeff Thomas: In addition to the interception in overtime, Thomas recorded three tackles for loss against Purdue.
  • Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker: The senior recorded three pass breakups, a forced fumble and five tackles for a playmaking secondary in the win against Penn State.
  • Purdue linebacker Jason Werner: Werner finished his college career by recording 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles in the overtime loss to Indiana.
  • Minnesota running backs DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett: The Gophers backfield tandem finished an up-and-down season on a good note, combining for 158 rush yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the win against Iowa.
  • Wisconsin safety Jay Valai: Valai recorded six tackles with a forced fumble and an interception as the Badgers recorded seven takeaways in the rout of Northwestern.
  • Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen: It was another rough day for the Wolverines' defense, but Van Bergen did his part with three tackles for loss, a sack and five total tackles.

There's only one Big Ten game on the docket this week and it comes to you Friday night on ESPN2.

Illinois (6-5) at Fresno State (7-4): The Illini can secure their first winning season since 2007 and possibly earn a berth to a Florida bowl with a victory. Fresno State typically plays very well at home, but has dropped games to Nevada and Hawaii on its home turf. The Bulldogs won last year's contest in Champaign 53-52 after one of the wildest plays you'll ever see, a two-point conversion by Fresno State offensive lineman Devan Cunningham following a tipped pass. Illinois' Mikel Leshoure rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State last year and comes off of a 330-yard rushing performance at Wrigley Field.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
12:00
PM ET
You're worried about germs? I've seen you kiss a pigeon on the mouth.


As you might have heard, the Big Ten is still trying to find names for its new divisions.

Let's help out.

Send me your suggestions for division names and I'll publish them on Friday. Not to toot my horn, but high-ranking Big Ten officials read the blog -- some posts end up on Delany's desk -- and it's possible your suggestion could end up being the conference's choice.

One bit of advice: avoid names that only apply to one or two schools or geographical distinctions.

From the Chicago Tribune story:
The challenge, Big Ten officials say, comes from a reluctance to use either geography or the names of legendary conference coaches or athletes that would represent just two schools.

If you forgot what the divisions will look like, I've got you covered.

Division A: Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, Minnesota

Division B: Illinois, Ohio State, Indiana, Purdue, Penn State, Wisconsin

Start brainstorming.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 3, 2010
11/03/10
12:00
PM ET
Don't forget to chat with me today at noon ET.

We can lament the fact that Jimmy McMillan of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party didn't win New York's governor race.

SPONSORED HEADLINES