Big Ten: Corey Wootton

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Mike Hankwitz didn't inherit a bare cupboard when he arrived as Northwestern's defensive coordinator in 2008.

The defense included several future NFL players, including end Corey Wootton and cornerback Sherrick McManis. Eight starters returned, and the unit improved from 88th nationally in points allowed to 26th in Hankwitz's first season.

But something was missing. As Hankwitz surveyed the number of spread offenses in college football -- not to mention the one his defense practiced against every day at Northwestern -- he knew the Wildcats' defense needed a speed boost.

"We had some players with good speed, but as a total defense, we didn't have that same speed at every position," Hankwitz told "In this day in age with spread offenses, you need to have athletes who have the ability and speed to make plays in space. That's where we were a little deficient at the time. If you had a guy hurt, the next guy might not have been as fast. So we recruited to that end. We tried to recruit better speed to cornerback, and we're making progress in that way.

"As a whole, our team defensive speed has improved, and we're excited about that."

It was noticeable last season as Northwestern's defense improved to 47th nationally after plummeting to 80th the year before. Several younger players who were part of the speed-driven recruiting push played key roles, including defensive backs Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose, linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo and linemen Dean Lowry and Deonte Gibson.

Northwestern's speed upgrade on defense has jumped out during spring practice. In Tuesday's workout, Lowry zoomed past a tackle for an easy "sack" against quarterback Trevor Siemian. Speed has helped cornerback Dwight White put himself in position to start opposite VanHoose in the fall. The same holds true for safeties like Traveon Henry, Jimmy Hall and Terrance Brown, competing to start next to Campbell.

"Our team speed is definitely much improved," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Our secondary runs as well as it has at all four positions."

The popularity of the spread offense, which Northwestern has used since 2000, fueled the team's speed push in recruiting. Northwestern needed more athletes who could make plays in space, especially in the secondary.

Not surprisingly, the secondary had the most dramatic upgrade last season, and depth at both cornerback and safety has improved for 2013. The secondary not only has more speed but better size.

"Traveon Henry's a 6-[foot]-1, 200-plus-pound safety, Jimmy Hall's the same way, Terrance Brown is the same way; we've upgraded our size at corner," Fitzgerald said. "Most of our guys used to be 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-10. Now we're 5-11 and 6-foot. That size-speed combination is critically important if we want to take the next step in this league."

Greater speed allows Hankwitz to be "a little more aggressive" with his defensive calls. It also helps younger players get on the field early as they can overcome some weaknesses technically and fundamentally.

"Last year, being a little undersized at D-end as a freshman, I relied on my speed a lot of times to beat tackles," said Lowry, who had a sack, six quarterback hurries and three tackles for loss as a true freshman. "When you're fast, it sets up moves, so if a tackle is overset, you come back with a counter. You've got to make sure you use your technique, use your hands where the coaches teach you. But having the extra speed, it's almost like you can't teach that.

"It's something most guys don't have."

Northwestern's speed push started with the linebackers and spread quickly to the secondary, but the line hasn't been neglected. Redshirt freshman end Ifeadi Odenigbo, the team's most-decorated recruit in years, only started playing football as a high school sophomore but made his mark with speed, twice tracking down Braxton Miller in a playoff game.

Both Odenigbo and Gibson ran track in high school, while both Gibson and Lowry played basketball.

"They're very, very athletic," senior end Tyler Scott said. "Dean's very athletic. Deonte, when he's healthy, is a force coming off the edge. And Ifeadi, he's got some speed that we haven't seen here for a while."

Northwestern's defense expects to be seeing more of that speed in the coming seasons.

"We're still not quite there where we have all five classes at an elite level athletically," Fitzgerald said, "but I think we're really close."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 23, 2012
Another great hoops weekend on tap, and then Big Ten spring ball gets in full swing next week.

Mail time.

Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: I enjoyed your take on MSU as they enter spring ball. With all of their returning talent, how can the "so called" experts continue to dismiss them? Every team losses their quarterback from time to time. Why is the loss of Cousins taken as a sign that MSU will some how fall back to the John L days. With our defense Andrew Maxwell will be a more than adequate replacement. After all both Alabama and LSU had quarterback play that was average at best last

Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Max. While Michigan State has had tremendous success in recent years, the Spartans haven't quite put themselves in the category of squads that outsiders expect to reload every year. Those who really study what MSU returns on defense will see the potential for the 2012 squad to be as good or even better than its predecessor. We shouldn't underrate the loss of Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and a three-time captain. But it's not as if Maxwell is some true freshman being thrown into the fire. He has been prepared for this. That said, he'll likely have some growing pains. But as a mostly unproven quarterback, he'll inspire some skepticism about Michigan State's chances. Alabama and LSU have won national titles in recent years and have recruited consistently among the nation’s elite. Michigan State, fairly or unfairly, is viewed as a notch below those programs. The Spartans can do a lot to change that perception this fall with a third consecutive 10-win season

The Roaming Badger from The Burrow writes: Hey Adam,I haven't heard much talk about Illinois as a contender for a division title. They have been recruiting some top shelf talent for years under Ron Zook, what are the chances someone comes in and takes that talent to a title? Last time he left a team a coach took his recruits to a NC within two years. In fact, that coach could probably have taken over the Illinois HC position this last offseason if he wanted to. Now that would make for some fun speculation!

Adam Rittenberg: Always good to hear from The Burrow. While I wouldn't dismiss Illinois in a wide-open Leaders division, you might be overrating the talent level just a bit. Zook’s top recruiting classes were 2007, 2008 and 2009, and most of those players are no longer in the program. Illinois certainly has its share of talent, particularly in the defensive front seven with players such as Akeem Spence, Michael Buchanan and Jonathan Brown. But the overall depth of the past three recruiting classes doesn’t seem as strong.

Illinois has to find several playmakers on offense to help quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini also need to build depth in areas like offensive line and the secondary. The defense should be good enough to make some noise in the division, but after watching the offense flounder so much in the second half of the 2012, the jury is out and Tim Beckman's staff has plenty of work ahead.

Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: Hey guys, i need you to explain somethin to me regarding the future annual series of B1G vs Pac12. I understand it will generate more revenue and beef up the non-conference schedules of both conferences, BUT with the entire nation trying to play catchup to the SEC, wouldn't it be kindof detrimental for the best teams from the B1G and Pac12 to hand eachother losses so early in the year? I feel like we should be scheduling against more SEC teams to try to give them losses so we avoid more situations like last year's national championship game!

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I see your point about the Big Ten and Pac-12 cannibalizing one another in the race to catch the SEC. But in terms of scheduling more games against the SEC, it’s easier said than done. How many SEC teams venture away from the southeast to play nonconference games? Still waiting … Anyone? Bueller? Yeah, it doesn't happen very often. SEC athletic directors would rather sacrifice their first born than give up home games, particularly in exchange for a trip to Big Ten territory. And Big Ten teams aren't going to visit Dixie without getting a home game in return. It's why we could see more neutral-site matchups like Michigan-Alabama. While I hope the Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership doesn’t totally stop Big Ten ADs from trying to schedule SEC foes, don't hold your breath. Nonconference scheduling goes both ways, and the SEC schools have to change their approach for anything to work. And right now, there's really no incentive for SEC schools to do anything differently.

Jim from Winchester, Va., writes: Nebraska played a few true freshmen at a few key positions (RB, WR, LT) and some young new corners on defense. What are the chances the Huskers creep up on folks and surprise some teams who might think they will be mediocre on defense and Martinez in his second year of a new offense shines.

Adam Rittenberg: There's a good chance, Jim. While Michigan State and Michigan likely will enter the season as the Big Ten favorites, Nebraska shouldn’t be overlooked. As you point out, the Huskers return most of their core on offense, and those young players, including quarterback Taylor Martinez, just a junior, will have another year of experience under their belt. Although Nebraska loses a few starting offensive linemen, I actually think the overall depth up front will be better as a lot of young players got their feet wet in 2012. The Huskers are strong at running back with Rex Burkhead leading the charge, and the wide receiver and tight end positions should get a boost.

The key on defense will be replacing star power -- Lavonte David and Alfonzo Dennard -- with better overall depth. You hear baseball managers talk about up-the-middle defense, and the same holds true for football. Nebraska needs to be better at defensive tackle and safety, and it needs to find someone to step in for David, the league’s top linebacker. Too many teams attacked the deep middle against the Huskers. I think the offense will need to win a few tough games, but Nebraska should be right in the mix in a competitive Legends division.

Kevin from Mt. Prospect, Ill., writes: Pat Fitzgerald has said in the offseason that he wants to keep his current staff around. The offense is certainly working for the Cats but the defense hasn't been doing their jobs in years. Is keeping Mike Hankwitz as defensive coordinator a liabity for the Wildcats after the poor defense the past couple years. How many more poor defensive seasons will it take for Pat to get rid of him and do you see the Cats improving to being an average defensive team in the big ten this year?

Adam Rittenberg: I thought there was a chance Fitz would make some staff changes after the season, especially with some of the admitted communication problems the defense had. Then again, he preaches the importance of continuity and has been extremely loyal to his assistants, firing only one -- defensive coordinator Greg Colby -- in six years on the job. Hankwitz played a big role in Fitzgerald’s best season, 2008, as he turned around one of the nation's worst units and made them respectable. But the past year and a half has been pretty awful on the defensive side. The challenge for Hankwitz is that the 2012 defense will be younger than its predecessor, and Northwestern loses its top two defensive backs in a secondary that struggled mightily last season. The coaches feel they've recruited well, but they need to have some players take significant steps this fall.

While Northwestern has struggled on defense since Fitzgerald played, the program produced a number of NFL defenders in the first part of the last decade. Other than Corey Wootton, there haven’t been many during Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. So is it a talent issue or a lack of development? I think Northwestern has some intriguing players such as end Tyler Scott and safety Ibraheim Campbell, but they need to become difference-makers in 2012. Hankwitz is a seasoned coordinator, but his scheme relies on generating pressure strictly from the line and Northwestern generated virtually none last year. Will he mix it up more with blitzes? He might have to.

If Northwestern’s defense has another season like 2011, I don’t know how Fitzgerald retains the entire defensive staff again.

Kelley from Los Angeles writes: Hey Adam, I hope you had a great vacation! Let's just assume (and hope against hope) for the moment, that Danny O'Brien comes to State College for next season. With that vastly improved QB situation, do we have a legitimate shot at a B1G title? Or at least the Leaders division? I like how our schedule looks this season, but unless we get a good QB it could all be four naught. So does O'Brien squared get us the title?

Adam Rittenberg: Kelley, always great to hear from you. I think Danny O'Brien puts Penn State in position to challenge for the Leaders division title. It's not to say PSU can't win the division without him, but if O'Brien provides the upgrade the Nittany Lions desperately need under center, they could really make a run in a wide-open division. I think the Big Ten champion comes out of the Legends -- Michigan, Michigan State or Nebraska -- but we could see a mini-upset in Indy as well. I agree that Penn State's schedule sets up well, particularly within the division as both Ohio State and Wisconsin visit Happy Valley. You can also argue Penn State brings back the division’s top defense, although there are some question marks in the secondary and at the second defensive tackle spot. But everyone knows that with Penn State, it comes down to the quarterback spot and getting much better play than we've seen the past two years.

Big Ten stock report: Week 4

September, 22, 2010
Invest wisely.


Scott Tolzien: After a bit of shakiness in Wisconsin's first two games, Tolzien looked very sharp against Arizona State despite not having two of his top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior quarterback completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Anthony Santella: Special teams play hasn't been a Big Ten strength so far this season, but Santella is a bright spot. The Illinois senior leads the nation in punting with a 48.9-yard average. Santella has improved from 50th nationally in punting in 2009 and 75th in 2008.

Northwestern's defensive line: The loss of third-round draft pick Corey Wootton hasn't fazed the Wildcats, who are receiving excellent play up front from defensive tackles Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant and end Vince Browne. The three combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup against Rice.

Penn State's third-down efficiency: The Lions have been excellent on third down on both sides of the ball. They rank 12th nationally in third-down conversions at 53.7 percent, a testament to an offensive line that has yet to allow a sack. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally in third-down defense at just 25 percent conversions.


Greg Robinson: His Michigan defense showed some shakiness in the first two games but made up for it by forcing turnovers. There was nothing to sugarcoat the struggles Saturday against Massachusetts, which rolled up 36 points and 439 yards, keeping things very interesting until the end.

Iowa's offensive line: After holding up well the first two weeks, Iowa's inexperience up front showed against Arizona. The Hawkeyes surrendered six sacks, including three on the final four offensive plays. Though senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi needed to get rid of the ball, he didn't have much chance to do so.

Special teams: Major breakdowns are becoming an epidemic around the Big Ten. You saw it Saturday with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State. The mistakes need to be fixed ASAP.

Now it's time to check in on the league award races.


(Player, Week 3 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 10-for-14 passing, 241 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 rushes, 104 yards, 1 TD.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 22-of-29 passing, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; rushing TD; had school-record 16 consecutive completions in first half.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 24-for-32 passing, 307 yards, 1 TD; 34 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD.

5. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 22 carries, 123 yards, 1 TD.

6. Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure: 24 carries, 180 yards, 1 TD.


1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded five tackles, two for loss and a sack. Leads Big ten with 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 more than any other player.

2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded nine tackles, including a sack and had a quarterback hurry. Leads the Big Ten with 29 tackles.

3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Played through pain against Arizona State to record a pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.

4. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Recorded a forced fumble, an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. Ties for league lead in forced fumbles with two.

5. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. Leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (3) and passes defended (5).


1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 17 rushes, 114 yards, 1 TD.

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 6 rushes, 40 yards, 4 kick returns for 93 yards.

3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 17-of- 27 passing, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT; 4 carries, 33 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: 16 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD; 8-of-16 passing, 70 yards.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 17, 2010
Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods ...

Ninth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools in 2010.

Going ...

Mike Kafka, QB: No quarterback in the Big Ten did more for his team than Kafka, who guided Northwestern to eight victories despite getting next to no help from the running game. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Kafka led the league in passing (263.8 ypg), total offense (286.8 ypg) and completion percentage (64.8).

Sherrick McManis: CB: McManis was as valuable to the Wildcats' defense as Kafka was to the offense. When he stayed healthy and made big plays, Northwestern came away with wins. McManis earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and led the league in both interceptions per game (.5) and passes defended per game (1.2).

Staying ...

Quentin Davie, LB: Davie boasts a ton of starting experience and playmaking ability, and will lead a Wildcats defense that loses several key parts from 2009. The senior has recorded 147 tackles, 21 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in the past two seasons, starting 24 of 26 games in that span. He has filled out nicely into his 6-foot-4 frame and will contend for all-conference honors this fall.

Drake Dunsmore, TE: The superback position hasn't been too super at Northwestern, but Dunsmore likely will change that this fall. He's the leading returning pass-catcher among Big Ten tight ends after recording 47 receptions in 2009. Dunsmore, who could be the team's top passing target this fall, comes off of a nine-catch, 120-yard performance in the Outback Bowl that included a spectacular 66-yard touchdown run.

Coming ...

Chance Carter, DE: Northwestern's defensive line loses mainstay Corey Wootton, and Carter might work his way into the rotation early in his career. He has the size and skills to be a hybrid type player for the Wildcats, who could use some versatility in their front seven.

Venric Mark, WR/KR/PR: The return game is an area where freshmen can make an immediate impact, and Mark has built his reputation on special teams. Northwestern has been rather pedestrian in its return game for quite some time, and Mark boasts the speed and quickness to provide a major boost this season. Special teams has cost Northwestern too many games over the years, and Mark could be a difference maker in a positive way.

More revolving door ...

For years, Northwestern linebacker Quentin Davie felt like a contestant on a popular British game show that briefly gained popularity in the United States.

You know, the show with the smarmy host.

"Since my freshman year, it's always been, we were the weakest group," Davie said. "And on paper, we were the weakest group. All around, nobody really recognized us or gave us credit."

That will change in 2010.

Northwestern's linebackers are unquestionably the strength of a defense that has stabilized during the past two seasons under coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The Wildcats finished fifth in the Big Ten in total defense in both 2008 and 2009, which doesn't sound great but marks a significant improvement from the struggles under previous coordinators Greg Colby and Jerry Brown.

This year's unit must replace three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten selections Sherrick McManis and Brendan Smith. Also gone is defensive end Corey Wootton, a fourth-round pick in last month's NFL draft.

The linebackers, meanwhile, return just about everyone. Davie is back after a quietly productive junior season in which he recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, six quarterback hurries, an interception and four passes defended. He's joined by middle linebacker Nate Williams, who trailed on Davie in tackles last year with 86 tackles to go along with two interceptions, a forced fumble, seven tackles for loss and six passes defended.

"We're the guys that everybody looks up to now," Davie said. "We have two of the most productive players in the linebacker room, so that's a good thing, and that's just natural leadership. The linebackers are supposed to lead the defense, and we do."

Ben Johnson and David Arnold split the starts at the third linebacker spot in 2009, but Northwestern's depth at the position allowed the coaches to move Arnold to safety, a much bigger concern. Johnson, meanwhile, is being pushed by Bryce McNaul for the top job.

Reserves Roderick Goodlow, David Nwabuisi, Damien Proby and Tim Riley also provide insurance.

"It's as deep as we've had in a number of years," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "We were fortunate to redshirt Proby and Riley, and we played Roderick [as a true freshman]. That's a really talented young group, and you couple that with Williams and Ben Johnson and Q. Davie and Bryce McNaul, those guys have played a lot of football.

"It's time for them to take the next step."

Early in his head-coaching career, Fitzgerald talked openly about Northwestern going toward a 3-4 alignment. That plan has been scrapped despite the depth at linebacker, as the Wildcats will remain in a 4-3 set.

Davie, the team's top NFL prospect for 2011, missed part of spring practice with a foot injury but returned for the spring game and looked sharp. After going through a significant physical transformation before the 2009 season, Davie spent the winter and spring working on his speed and explosiveness, focusing mainly on his legs.

The senior hopes to be the strongest link for arguably the Wildcats' strongest group in 2010.

"It feels good to be fast and big at the same time," said Davie, who checks in at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. "I always want to be the best, and being the best means hopefully playing in the NFL. I'm focusing right now on college, to be the best here, where I'm at, and that will take me where I need to go."

Big Ten lunch links

April, 27, 2010
Jack: Lemon, are you wearing a cup?
Liz: Oh, I forgot. Only guys can get hurt there.

Spring has come to Chicago -- at least for a day.

Northwestern pro day results

March, 30, 2010
Northwestern held its annual pro day Monday, and unlike most schools, NU released results from the events. Eight former players worked out before scouts representing 29 NFL teams.

A few notables:

  • Defensive end Corey Wootton, projected as a second- to fourth-round selection, clocked a 4.93 and a 4.95 in the 40-yard dash. Wootton had a vertical leap of 32 inches and a broad jump of 9 feet. He ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4.28 seconds and the 3-cone drill in 7 seconds flat.
  • Quarterback Mike Kafka reportedly wasn't as sharp with his passing Monday as he was at an earlier workout for scouts. Kafka recorded times of 4.81 seconds and 4.82 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He ran the 20-yard shuttle in 4 seconds flat.
  • Wide receiver Andrew Brewer seems to be making a push for the draft. He recorded a vertical leap of 36.5 inches and a broad jump of 10 feet, 4 inches. He ran the 40 in 4.6 seconds and clocked at 6.72 seconds in the 3-cone drill.
  • Cornerback Sherrick McManis, still recovering from a left quad strain, didn't participate in any of the running events. He recorded 15 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.

Big Ten to send 41 to NFL combine

February, 2, 2010
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine is out, and the Big Ten will send 41 former players to Indianapolis later this month. The combine takes place Feb. 24-March 2, and all 11 Big Ten schools will be represented. Iowa leads the way with seven invitees, followed Penn State with six invitees and four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State) each with four invitees.

You've already seen an early list, which didn't include underclassmen and some seniors who were named later.

Here's the full roster of Big Ten participants, sorted by team:

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Bryan Bulaga, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson, CB Amari Spievey

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor, CB Donovan Warren

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: LB Lee Campbell, WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, DE Thaddeus Gibson, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: LB Navorro Bowman, QB Daryll Clark, LB Josh Hull, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, LB O'Brien Schofield (injured)
The postseason top 30 rankings continue with ...

No. 29

Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern, Sr., 6-7, 280

Preseason rank: 9


Why he's here: Future potential plays a big role in these rankings, and Wootton is still a solid NFL prospect despite an up-and-down senior season for the Wildcats. After tearing his ACL in the 2008 Alamo Bowl, Wootton took some time to get up to speed, and he also dealt with a high-ankle sprain during Big Ten play. Down the stretch, he showed he can be a difference maker, recording four sacks, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Wootton made arguably the biggest play of the Big Ten season, one that had a major impact on two teams (Northwestern and Iowa). He sacked Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi in the end zone of a Nov. 7 game that undefeated Iowa led 10-0, jarring the ball loose for a touchdown. Stanzi missed the rest of the regular season as Iowa dropped back-to-back games, while Northwestern, an unimpressive 5-4 at that point, went 3-0 in November with two wins against ranked opponents. It wasn't the type of season Wootton envisioned, but he helped Northwestern reach a New Year's Day bowl and should be drafted in the second or third round in April.

The rundown
  • No. 30: Michigan State WR Blair White
The rosters have been updated for the Senior Bowl, and while other players could be added, here are the 11 Big Ten prospects who will appear Saturday afternoon for the North squad in Mobile, Ala.

  • Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois
  • Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
  • A.J. Edds, LB, Iowa
  • Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
  • Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Illinois
  • Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
  • Mike Neal, DT, Purdue
  • Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
  • O'Brien Schofield, LB, Wisconsin
  • Brett Swenson, K, Michigan State
Purdue's Neal and Wisconsin's Schofield also appeared in the East-West Shrine Game during the weekend. Penn State linebacker Sean Lee and Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton both had been named to the Senior Bowl roster but now won't play.

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
National Signing Day is right around the corner, and Big Ten teams will look to add depth and identify a few immediate contributors in the upcoming recruiting classes. What do these squads need the most?

Here's a look:


Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.

Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.


Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.

Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.

Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.


Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.

Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.


Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.

Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.

Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.


Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.

Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.

Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.


Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.

Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.

Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.


Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.

Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.


Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.

Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.


Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.

Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.

Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.


Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.

Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.

Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.


Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.

Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
The Big Ten gave us plenty to remember in 2009, and here are 10 moments that stood out to me.

[+] EnlargeMarvin McNutt
AP Photo/Al GoldisMarvin McNutt's TD reception as time expired gave the Hawkeyes the win over Michigan State.
Stanzi to McNutt with 0:00 on the clock: Iowa's perfect record was on the line as the Hawkeyes offense lined up for one final play, trailing Michigan State 13-9 with two seconds left in an Oct. 24 game at Spartan Stadium. On fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line, quarterback Ricky Stanzi found wide receiver Marvin McNutt in the end zone for the win as Iowa improved to 8-0.

Barclay kick comes up roses: The pseudo Big Ten championship between Ohio State and Iowa went to overtime before Buckeyes backup kicker Devin Barclay, a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player, drilled a 39-yard field goal for a 27-24 win. Barclay's kick gave Ohio State the outright Big Ten title and its first berth in the Rose Bowl in 13 years.

Expansion on the table: Arguably the Big Ten's biggest news story of 2009 didn't take place on the field, but in a meeting of league presidents and athletics directors in early December. The suits agreed to put league expansion on the front burner and explore the possibility of adding a new member or members. Though the Big Ten typically explores expansion every five years, the league's decision to go public about it is significant.

Decker gets decked but hangs on: Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker made a national name for himself against Cal, and one play stands out. Early in the second quarter, Decker caught a 26-yard touchdown pass and held on despite taking a vicious shot from Bears safety Sean Cattouse. He needed stitches in his chin but didn't miss a play and caught another touchdown just before halftime.

Rodriguez on the defensive: After allegations of NCAA rule violations rocked Michigan a week before the season, an emotional Rich Rodriguez defended his compliance record and his approach with players at a Sept. 1 news conference. "We know the rules," Rodriguez said, "and we follow the rules." The NCAA launched an investigation into the allegations that has yet to conclude.

Bowl bliss for the Big Ten: OK, so this isn't one moment, but four of them. Two took place in Orlando, one in Miami and one in Pasadena. They marked four bowl victories for Big Ten teams, all against top-15 opponents. These moments signified that the Big Ten hadn't fallen as far as many believed, and that the league will be a major player in the national title race in 2010.

Wootton sacks Stanzi: It's rare when one play has as strong of an impact on two teams' seasons as Corey Wootton's sack of Stanzi did in a Nov. 7 game at Kinnick Stadium. It resulted in a Northwestern touchdown as the Wildcats went on to upset Iowa and go 3-0 in November to reach a New Year's Day bowl. Stanzi suffered a severe ankle sprain and missed the rest of the regular season, as Iowa saw its hopes for a perfect season and the Big Ten title disappear.

Fearless Forcier rallies Michigan past Irish: The Michigan-Notre Dame game turned out to be an entertaining matchup between two very mediocre teams, but it also put Tate Forcier on the national radar. Forcier led the game-winning drive in the final minutes and found Greg Mathews in the end zone with 11 seconds left. The freshman accounted for three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) and 310 total yards.

Illini season ends with a thud: Illinois would like to forget the 2009 season, but it's easy to remember how the miserable campaign ended for Ron Zook's squad. Illinois led 52-51 as Fresno State went for a two-point conversion and the win. Ryan Colburn's desperation pass deflected to Devan Cunningham, a 350-pound offensive tackle, who rumbled into the end zone to give Fresno a 53-52 win.

Penn State punt team gets punk'd: At a rain-soaked Beaver Stadium, Penn State led Iowa 10-5 early in the fourth quarter when Hawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn trucked Nick Sukay, blocked Jeremy Boone's punt and raced 53 yards to the end zone. The play turned around the game, launched Iowa's magical run and handed Penn State a painful loss.
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine should be available soon, but Sporting News has compiled a preliminary roster, which includes 33 players from the Big Ten. This list DOES NOT include juniors who have declared for the draft and will be updated with underclassmen and other seniors.

The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield