Big Ten: Cortez Smith

Big Ten lunch links

February, 1, 2011
2/01/11
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Happy blizzarding.
The injury bug has taken no mercy with Purdue's offense this season.

How bad have the Boilers been bitten?

"I've been here a year and a half," said offensive coordinator Gary Nord, hired at Purdue on Dec. 1, 2008. "For this week's game, we don't have a quarterback that was here when I got here. We don't have a receiver that's going to play who was here when I got here. And we don't have a tailback who was here when I got here."

A quick check of Purdue's depth chart for Saturday's game at Northwestern reveals that Nord is mistaken.

Senior running back Dan Dierking, listed as the starter, is expected to play Saturday night. He had just finished his sophomore season at Purdue when Nord came to West Lafayette.

But other than Dierking, Nord is spot on. The offense Nord will send on the field in Evanston will be filled with players not part of the program less than two years ago.

  • Quarterback Rob Henry, who makes his first career start, is a redshirt freshman. He'll be backed up by true freshman Sean Robinson, who has yet to take a snap in a game.
  • Backup running back Al-Terek McBurse is a true sophomore, while third-stringer Keith Carlos is a junior college transfer.
  • The starting wide receivers consist of a junior college transfer (Cortez Smith), a true sophomore (Antavian Edison) and a redshirt freshman (Gary Bush). Purdue's No. 4 receiver is true freshman O.J. Ross.
Robert Marve
AP Photo/Journal & Courier/John TerhuneQuarterback Robert Marve is out for the season after tearing his ACL in September.
It's the type of lineup Nord expected to use in 2012, not midway through the 2010 season.

"Everybody," he said, "is inexperienced."

Purdue has little choice after knee injuries have claimed its starting quarterback (Robert Marve, out for season with torn ACL), its No. 1 wide receiver (Keith Smith, out for season with ACL/MCL tears) and its top running back (Ralph Bolden, out indefinitely with ACL tear). More bad news arrived earlier this week as coach Danny Hope said No. 2 wideout Justin Siller will miss three to six weeks with a sprained foot.

At least Purdue caught a break with the schedule, as the bye week came at an ideal time to shuffle things before opening Big Ten play.

The Boilers went back to the basics during the open week, working on alignment, stance and "all those things you take for granted that kids get better at with experience," Nord said. This week, they transitioned to game-planning.

Henry relieved Marve in Purdue's loss to Toledo and played the final three and a half quarters. The redshirt freshman has all the qualities Purdue wants in its starting quarterback -- except experience.

"His strength is his athletic ability and his intelligence," Nord said. "He understands everything. His demeanor also is very good, and he's a very confident kid. He just hasn't been a quarterback very long."

The 6-2, 198-pound Henry is Purdue's second-fastest player behind Carlos. He owns the best vertical leap and shuttle run time on the team.

"He'll be one of the best athletes on the field no matter who we play every Saturday," Nord said.

Henry is such a good athlete that the coaches considered moving him to free safety this spring. The staff felt so good about Marve and backup quarterback Caleb TerBush, who took all of the snaps with the first-team offense in spring ball, and didn't want Henry's talent to be wasted on the sideline.

Nord said Henry also has worked at both wide receiver and running back in practice. Fortunately, Purdue's staff didn't make the move, a decision that looks better now that Marve is out and TerBush is academically ineligible.

"We don’t have to call a new offense because of Rob Henry," Hope said. "Whatever we have in the playbook that we’ve been utilizing or have in our arsenal so far this season, it’s still alive. Obviously, some quarterbacks like some throws better than others and we'll hand-pick some that he likes the best, but I don’t think we're limited at all from a playbook standpoint."

The bye week also allowed Purdue to get healthier at the running back spot.

Carlos logged seven carries against Toledo and should have an increased role Saturday. The Boilers also hope to get McBurse back in the fold, though Nord said Wednesday that the sophomore hasn't done much in practice. Edison and Ross, who moved to running back in emergency roles earlier this season, are back at wide receiver.

Hope has made speed his top priority in recruiting, and because of the injuries, youth will be served Saturday night and he'll get a glimpse at Purdue's future on offense.

"We still have some firepower," Hope said. "We’re still a relatively fast offense with Rob Henry as one of our fastest players. Keith Carlos, one of our faster players, [is] available now. O.J. Ross, one of our faster players, [is] available now. We still have some redeeming qualities.

"Thank goodness the open week came when it did, because it gave us some time to get ourselves squared away."

Big Ten Week 3 rewind/Week 4 preview

September, 20, 2010
9/20/10
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Let's look back at Week 3 before gearing up for a riveting slate of games Saturday in the Big Ten (sarcasm, people).

Team of the Week: Michigan State. After suffering a series of close losses in the past three years, Michigan State finally turned the tables -- against one of its top rivals, no less. A seesaw game featured some offensive fireworks on both sides, and for certain stretches, Michigan State achieved the type of offensive balance that could make it very dangerous when Big Ten play rolls around. But the Spartans once again seemed to wilt in the clutch as quarterback Kirk Cousins took some costly sacks. Notre Dame regained the momentum late in regulation and in overtime, but Michigan State changed everything with a gutsy fake field goal call that resulted in the game-winning 29-yard touchdown pass. Although coach Mark Dantonio's health setback put the celebration on pause, Michigan State has an opportunity to build off this win.

[+] EnlargeBates
Matt Cashore/US PresswireAaron Bates' touchdown pass in overtime lifted the Spartans to a victory.
Best game: Notre Dame at Michigan State. The game featured four lead changes, 938 yards, 65 points and the most memorable play of the young college football season, as punter/holder Aaron Bates found tight end Charlie Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown on the fake field goal try in overtime. Quarterbacks Cousins and Dayne Crist both had their moments, as did receivers Michael Floyd and B.J. Cunningham. Just a very entertaining game between rivals. Honorable mentions go to Wisconsin-Arizona State, which featured several wild special-teams plays, and Iowa-Arizona, which featured a furious Hawkeyes rally from a 27-7 halftime deficit and an Arizona counterpunch in the clutch.

Biggest play: Isn't it obvious by now? No one expected the fake field goal, especially from a typically conservative coach like Dantonio. It was the right call at the right time and Bates, a former high school quarterback, deserves credit for going to his second read after Le'Veon Bell was covered. If Michigan State goes on to have a big season, we'll all point to this play. Wisconsin also received two huge special-teams plays from safeties Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai. Johnson tripped up Arizona State kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks at the 1-yard line as the second quarter clock expired, saving six points and a huge momentum swing going into halftime. The 5-foot-9 Valai showed off his hops by blocking the potential game-tying PAT attempt with 4:09 left as Wisconsin won 20-19.

Specialist spotlight: Bates had a huge night against Notre Dame, and his game-winning pass to Gantt overshadowed his prowess as a punter, as he averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts. Illinois punter Anthony Santella leads the nation in punting average (48.9 ypg) after averaging 48.7 yards per boot on Saturday against Northern Illinois. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against Rice, and Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 43 yards on four punts and had one downed inside the 5-yard line against Arizona State.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks knew he'd have to step up Saturday as Wisconsin played without two of its top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior tight end looked like a wide receiver again as he hauled in seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, even though he was interfered with in the end zone. He shares the game ball with quarterback Scott Tolzien (19-25 passing, 246 yards, 1 TD).
  • Michigan RB Michael Shaw: Denard Robinson didn't have to do it all against UMass as Shaw racked up career highs in both rushing yards (126) and touchdowns (3) on only 12 carries. He shares the game ball with Robinson, who had another big day, and receiver Darryl Stonum (3 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TDs).
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan: Homan has carried over his stellar play from 2009 and continues to become one of the league's top defensive playmakers. The senior had seven solo tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Ohio. Kudos also go to fellow Buckeyes defender Tyler Moeller, who recorded his first career interception, a forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: Bell is the early leader for Big Ten Freshman of the Year after recording his second 100-yard rushing performance in his first three collegiate games. The big man rumbled for 114 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Notre Dame. He shares the game ball with receiver B.J. Cunningham (7 receptions, 101 yards, TD) and fellow back Edwin Baker (14 carries, 90 rush yards, TD).
  • Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: The senior leads the Big Ten in interceptions after recording his third -- a pick-six, no less -- in Saturday night's blowout win at Rice. Davie recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a pass breakup. He shares the game ball with defensive linemen Vince Browne, Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo, who combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • Purdue WR Cortez Smith: The Boilers need a No. 1 receiver to emerge after losing Keith Smith, and Cortez Smith looks reads to fill the void. He recorded five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State. He'll share the game ball with defenders Gerald Gooden (5 tackles, forced fumble, pass breakup), Kawann Short (two pass breakups, blocked PAT) and Jason Werner (INT, 1 TFL).
How bizarre: The league-wide special teams struggles as well as a few odd highlights stood out in Week 3. Who can remember the last time the Big Ten had so many meltdowns with punting, kicking, kickoff coverage and punt coverage? Then again, the three biggest plays on Saturday came in the kicking game: Michigan State's game-winning fake field goal, Johnson's touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return and Valai's PAT block to preserve a 20-19 lead.

OK, moving on to Week 4. Do we have to? I know it's my job to get your excited for Big Ten football 24-7-365, but this week provides a major challenge, to say the least.

Northern Colorado (2-1) at Michigan State (3-0): Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell takes over the head-coaching duties from Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack following the Notre Dame win. The Spartans look for a more complete defensive performance before Wisconsin visits on Oct. 2.

Central Michigan (2-1) at Northwestern (3-0): Northwestern aims for its second perfect nonconference mark in the past three seasons after going 35 years with at least one non-league loss. Central Michigan should test Davie and the Wildcats' defense, which has forced nine turnovers in the first three games.

Bowling Green (1-2) at Michigan (3-0): The Wolverines' sputtering defense likely won't face Falcons starting quarterback Matt Schilz, who isn't expected to play because of a shoulder injury. Michigan's offense will light up the scoreboard, but the D has to get better before Big Ten play.

Austin Peay (2-1) at Wisconsin (3-0): Yawn. If Wisconsin can't dominate the Governors (ello, guvna!), Badgers fans should get worried. This provides a good chance for the Badgers to assess their depth on both sides of the ball.

Ball State (1-2) at Iowa (2-1): Although the Cardinals hung in there at Purdue, Iowa should have no trouble Saturday. The bigger question is whether the Hawkeyes can clean up their play in the kicking game, on the offensive line and in the secondary after the Arizona loss.

Toledo (2-1) at Purdue (2-1): Quarterback Robert Marve's left knee injury doesn't appear to be serious, and the Boilers need to get No. 9 through this game and into the bye week without further setbacks. Arizona shredded Toledo's defense in the season opener, and Purdue should have opportunities to further develop a receiving corps missing star Keith Smith.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes could score 70 in this one. I'm not kidding. Eastern Michigan has surrendered 111 points in its first three games.

Temple (3-0) at Penn State (2-1): This is the most interesting game in the Big Ten. Temple heads to State College with a ton of confidence as coach Al Golden might be auditioning for the Nittany Lions' faithful. Penn State's running back race now is open as slumping senior Evan Royster tries to hold off junior Stephfon Green and dynamic freshman Silas Redd. Should be a good one in Happy Valley.

Akron (0-3) at Indiana (2-0): Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers' offense likely will carve up another bad team Saturday, as Akron has been blown out by Syracuse and Kentucky and lost at home to Gardner-Webb (ouch). The bigger question is whether the Hoosiers' defense can shut down the Zips.

Northern Illinois (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2): It's must-win time for embattled coach Tim Brewster and his Golden Gophers, who performed a lot better Saturday against USC but still couldn't finish off a good team. Northern Illinois will test Minnesota's new-look defense with quarterback Chandler Harnish, and Minnesota needs to reignite the run game despite Duane Bennett's ankle issues.

Bye: Illinois (2-1)

Wrapping up the early Big Ten games

September, 18, 2010
9/18/10
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As play gets started here in Madison and in Minneapolis, here's my take on what has happened so far around the Big Ten today.

The league boasts a perfect 5-0 record, although there are some concerns in several places.

Ohio State 43, Ohio 7: The Buckeyes continued to look like one of the nation's best teams Saturday. Then again, Ohio made it pretty easy for the Scarlet and Gray, committing five turnovers to give itself absolutely no chance in this one. There are a ton of positives for Ohio State right now, but the best is the fact the Buckeyes' defense has maintained its opportunistic play from 2009, when it tied for third nationally in takeaways (35). Ohio State has forced 12 turnovers in the first three games and committed only two of its own. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor had an efficient first half (17-for-20 passing, 2 TDs) but threw his first two interceptions of the season.

Michigan 42, Massachusetts 37: It looked really dicey for a while as Massachusetts built a 17-7 lead late in the first half and rallied late, but the Michigan offense made sure this wouldn't be Appalachian State Part II. Denard Robinson committed his first turnover of the season early on but did little else wrong, putting up more insane offensive numbers (241 passing, 105 rushing, 3 total TDs). He got big lifts from running back Michael Shaw (12 carries, 126 rush yards, 3 TDs) and wide receiver Darryl Stonum (3 receptions, 121 receiving yards, 2 TDs). For all the good news on offense, Michigan's defense looks very vulnerable and likely will cost the Wolverines several games once Big Ten play begins. Massachusetts racked up 26 first downs and 439 yards against the Wolverines, who are really struggling in the back end.

Penn State 24, Kent State 0: The shutout is nice, Penn State fans should be a little worried now. Something is wrong with All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster. The senior had another pedestrian performance (11 carries, 38 yards, 1 TD) against a good run defense, but teammate Stephfon Green (11 carries, 59 rush yards) found some room to roam. After scoring two touchdowns in the first 11 minutes, Penn State couldn't find the end zone until midway through the fourth quarter. Quarterback Rob Bolden, looking a bit like a freshman these days, tossed two interceptions and Royster fumbled early in the second half.

Purdue 24, Ball State 13: Purdue survived its first game without All-Big Ten wideout Keith Smith, but starting quarterback Robert Marve left today's game with an apparent left leg injury. Cortez Smith stepped up nicely in place of Smith against Ball State, recording five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns. Backup quarterback Rob Henry provided a nice lift with a touchdown pass and 65 rushing yards and a touchdown, but the injury bug keeps hitting Purdue hard this season. Purdue's defense did a nice job, as Ricardo Allen and Jason Werner recorded interceptions and Ball State finished with only 106 pass yards.

Illinois 28, Northern Illinois 22: You can't underestimate the importance of this win for Ron Zook's squad. The Illini didn't want to head into the bye week at 1-2, especially with a daunting stretch to open Big Ten play (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State). Northern Illinois took a first-quarter lead behind talented quarterback Chandler Harnish, but the Illini rallied and then held off the Huskies. It's about time people start giving Mikel LeShoure some credit. He has been one of the nation's best running backs since late last season and put up more big numbers today (24 carries, 180 rush yards, 1 TD). Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase struggled with his passing but contributed 115 rush yards and a touchdown. Although Harnish gave Illinois fits with his legs and his arm, Vic Koenning's defense did enough to secure the victory.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
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Ten items to track as you watch every Big Ten squad in action Saturday.

1. Hawkeyes head west: History doesn't favor Iowa -- or any Big Ten team, for that matter -- when it comes to early season road games out west. Iowa has dropped its past six games west of the Rockies, and as columnist Mike Hlas points out, the Hawkeyes have lost their past three road games against Pac-10 members by an average of 28 points. Fortunately for Iowa, it boasts a senior-laden team that should be able to handle the difficulties of a time change, a late kickoff time, the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker and some potentially steamy weather in Tucson against No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET). This is a chance for Iowa to showcase itself on the national stage and beat a solid Wildcats team. The elements will be tough, but Iowa is a tough team that won in tough places last fall.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallRicky Stanzi and Iowa take aim at a rare road win over the Pac-10.
2. Spartans' secondary put to the test: Michigan State's secondary was the team's No. 1 concern entering the season. We should get an excellent read on whether the Spartans have taken a step forward or not Saturday night against Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and the Notre Dame offense (ABC/ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). Floyd is a handful for any secondary, and Rudolph showed once again against Michigan that he's not a typical tight end. Michigan State needs strong performances from safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and others, and it'll be interesting to see if All-American linebacker Greg Jones provides a lift in coverage, a point of emphasis for him in returning to school.

3. Big Ten reunion of sorts: When Wisconsin began watching tape in preparation to face Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), coach Bret Bielema made sure to include a clip of a Michigan quarterback leading a historic comeback against the Badgers in 2008. That quarterback was Steven Threet, who will lead the Arizona State offense into Camp Randall. Threet is one of several former Big Ten players reunited with foes from their old league Saturday. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, formerly of Michigan State, faces Iowa, while Rice running back Sam McGuffie, formerly of Michigan, faces Northwestern. And let's not forget about Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who goes up against his alma mater.

4. Minnesota picks up the pieces: This could go one of two ways for Tim Brewster's crew. Minnesota either will let Matt Barkley and USC go nuts Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) and increase the calls for a coaching change. Or, the Gophers will use last week's inexcusable loss to South Dakota as a rallying cry and play good football against a USC team asking to get beat. Obviously, Minnesota needs to take a huge step with a young defense, which will regain the services of senior safety Kyle Theret. Overshadowed by the Dakota Debacle were the strong performances of Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett, who need even better days against the Trojans.

5. Michigan's quarterback rotation: Unless we see an Appalachian State re-run, Michigan should be able to rest sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson for part of Saturday's game against Massachusetts. If and when Robinson leaves the game, it should get interesting. Will coach Rich Rodriguez continue to call on true freshman Devin Gardner before last year's starting signal caller, Tate Forcier? How will they perform? Forcier seemed to be in better spirits last week at Notre Dame, and you know he's itching to play and show what he can do in a game.

6. Penn State running on E: E as in All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster, who needs a strong performance very soon after racking up only 72 rush yards in the first two games. Whether it's Royster's weight gain, the offensive line or a limited playbook, Penn State hasn't gotten much from No. 22. Saturday provides an interesting challenge as Penn State faces a Kent State team (ESPN2, noon ET) that leads the nation in rush defense (11 ypg allowed). The Golden Flashes certainly aren't Alabama, but they did a nice job of holding Boston College's ground game in check last week. This is a good chance for Royster to show he's still got it and make a move in his pursuit for the school's career rushing record.

7. Purdue behind the 8 ball: Life without No. 8 (Keith Smith) begins for Purdue, which must identify a new top target for quarterback Robert Marve. Smith was an outstanding possession receiver, and the Boilers will look to Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross and others to help fill the void beginning Saturday against Ball State. Purdue also can't also lose sight of the need to identify a deep threat. Through two games, Marve has completed 54 passes for only 391 yards (7.2 yards per completion). Siller seems like a good candidate to stretch the field.

8. A family affair for Poseys: Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey squares off against his older brother, Julian, a defensive back for Ohio, on Saturday in Columbus. It's one thing for brothers to play on opposing teams, but the Poseys likely will be matched up directly against one another. DeVier Posey has been excellent so far this season, recording eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But Julian Posey can hold his own -- three pass breakups and a 38-yard fumble return to the end zone this year for the Bobcats -- and he knows his little brother better than anyone. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel: "I told DeVier, 'If big brother shuts you down, it's going to be a long lifetime for you.'"

9. Illini aim to own the state: Illinois is 12-0 all-time against public schools from the state, a streak it tries to continue Saturday against Northern Illinois. It's only Week 3, but this is another must-win for Ron Zook's team, which looked very good last week against Southern Illinois. After the NIU game, Illinois has a week off before opening Big Ten play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. So this is crucial. Linebacker Ian Thomas and an improving Illinois defense faces a Northern Illinois team favored to win the MAC West but struggling a bit so far this season. NIU also could be without ailing coach Jerry Kill for the game.

10. Wildcats, Hoosiers hit the road: Northwestern and Indiana both are favored to win Saturday, but September road games always are tricky. The Wildcats head to Houston, which will be a homecoming for several players, but provides some unique challenges, namely the weather. Rice held its own in the season opener against Texas and should test on-target quarterback Dan Persa and his NU teammates. Remember Indiana? It seems like the Hoosiers haven't played for eons (actually Sept. 2), but they're back at it Saturday afternoon at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers top this week's Bottom 10, but they'll be excited to face a Big Ten squad in their house. Indiana's defense must perform better than it did in the opener.

Big Ten Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 13, 2010
9/13/10
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The Big Ten had a good week overall, aside from a predictable loss in Tuscaloosa and a stunning one in Minneapolis.

Ohio State and Iowa have separated themselves so far, while Wisconsin needs to put together a complete performance this Saturday against Arizona State. Michigan makes another mini jump after a dramatic win against Notre Dame, although I still want to see a little more from the Maize and Blue. Penn State gets a pass this week, but there won't be any more. Minnesota pays the price in the rankings after crumbling on defense against South Dakota.

And away we go ...

1. Ohio State (2-0): The Buckeyes once again showed why turnover margin is so important, as they picked off Miami quarterback Jacory Harris four times and committed no major mistakes on offense. The formula helped Jim Tressel's squad overcome two uncharacteristic special-teams meltdowns and some inconsistency from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State easily could have beaten Miami by 25 points, but the Buckeyes will take the win and move on.

2. Iowa (2-0): No Big Ten team has looked more dominant in the first two weeks than the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is avoiding mistakes, Adam Robinson is sparking the run game and the defense is performing like we all expected. Iowa gave in-state rival Iowa State no chance Saturday, storming out to a 35-0 lead. Things get much tougher this week at Arizona, but the Hawkeyes appear ready for the challenge.

3. Wisconsin (2-0): The Badgers haven't been in any real danger of losing a game so far this season, but their victories are leaving everyone a little unsettled. Running back John Clay is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in my mind, but there have been too many turnovers on offense, and the Badgers missed several chances for more points against San Jose State. Wisconsin needs to clean things up in a hurry as Arizona State visits this week.

4. Penn State (1-1): There's little shame in losing to top-ranked Alabama on the road, especially with a true freshman quarterback (Rob Bolden) making his first career road start. But Penn State won't be getting any more passes from me. The Lions need to get Evan Royster and the run game going beginning this week against Kent State. Bolden will get better and better, but if Penn State's offensive line can't create room for Royster, the Lions are no better than an eight-win team.

T-5. Michigan (2-0): In Denard they trust. Quarterback Denard Robinson has been nothing short of brilliant for the Wolverines, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. Michigan still has some issues with a young secondary -- the Kyle Rudolph touchdown was a major breakdown -- and the Wolverines must identify more weapons on offense to help Robinson. But two quality wins have lifted spirits in Ann Arbor, and Michigan once again is off to a great start.

T-5. Michigan State (2-0): The Florida Atlantic game raised some red flags on defense, as the Spartans struggled to finish the Owls and get off the field on third down. But the rushing attack, led by sophomore Edwin Baker, has been spectacular so far this season. Spartans backs are finding open space and making big plays. Kicker Dan Conroy and the overall special-teams play also looked good Saturday. The defense needs to step up this week against Notre Dame.

7. Northwestern (2-0): After letting an inferior Vanderbilt team hang around in Week 1, Northwestern left no doubt Saturday against Illinois State. Besides Michigan's Robinson, Wildcats junior Dan Persa has been the Big Ten's most impressive quarterback so far this season, completing 38 of 44 passes (86.4 percent) for 462 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Linebacker Quentin Davie led a strong defensive effort, while the run game, despite showing signs of life, remains a concern.

8. Purdue (1-1): The Boilers evened their record and might have found an answer at running back in Dan Dierking (102 rush yards, 2 TDs), but the win against Western Illinois came at a cost. Purdue will have to survive without leading receiver Keith Smith, which puts pressure on Cortez Smith, Justin Siller and others to answer the bell. The Boilers also need to shore things up on defense after allowing 406 yards to WIU. I still like how the schedule sets up for Purdue.

9. Illinois (1-1): Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini learned from their mistakes in Week 1 and delivered an impressive performance against a good FCS opponent (Southern Illinois). Scheelhaase limited mistakes and displayed impressive accuracy (14-for-18 passing) and got help from running back Mikel LeShoure (115 rush yards, 2 TDs) and receiver A.J. Jenkins (114 receiving yards, TD). Illinois' defense also is showing legit improvement from 2009.

10. Indiana (1-0): The Hoosiers were idle Saturday as they have an unusual 16-day break between games. We know less about Indiana than any Big Ten team to this point, and I'm not sure a soft upcoming schedule will reveal much more. All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss is expected back this week at Western Kentucky, where Indiana must clean up some things on defense.

11. Minnesota (1-1): You lose to South Dakota at home, you pay a price, especially when your defense allows 41 points and 444 yards. I recognize that Minnesota had to replace nine starters on defense this year, which isn't easy, but to let South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren do what he did was simply unacceptable. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett did their part, but the defense let them down. Up next: USC.
Purdue star receiver Keith Smith will undergo tests in the next few days to determine the severity of his right knee injury. Smith suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Saturday's win against Western Illinois.

Coach Danny Hope didn't provide many details Sunday, saying only that it "may be a serious injury" and "there's a lot of reason for concern."

I'm hoping for the best for Smith, one of my favorite guys in the Big Ten, but this doesn't look good for him or for the Boilers. He's the Big Ten's leading returning receiver after an 1,100-yard season in 2009. He was off to a strong start this year as well, leading the league with 18 receptions.

Justin Siller and Cortez Smith will need to step up during his absence.
The good stuff is about to get started around the Big Ten, but five games are already in the books.

I'll weigh in on Minnesota-South Dakota in a bit, but here's what happened in the other four contests.

Wisconsin 27, San Jose State 14: For the second consecutive week, Wisconsin walks off the field with a win but knowing it has a lot to clean up. Up 17-0 at halftime, the Badgers struggled to put away a San Jose State team that got crushed by No. 1 Alabama seven days earlier. Wisconsin's offense achieved tremendous balance and running back John Clay had another big game (23 carries, 137 rush yards, 2 TDs), rumbling for a first down that allowed the Badgers to run out the clock. Scott Tolzien threw an interception for the second consecutive game but still had decent numbers and hooked up with tight end Lance Kendricks three times for 60 yards and a touchdown. The defense played decently until late in the third quarter, when San Jose State's Chandler Jones broke several tackles on a 37-yard touchdown. All in all, not bad, but I'm a little concerned about the Badgers heading into the Arizona State game.

Michigan State 30, Florida Atlantic 17: The Spartans improve to 2-0 thanks to another impressive effort from the run game and specifically sophomore Edwin Baker, who piled up 183 yards on 15 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown run. As Larry Caper sits out with a hand injury, Baker has certainly made a good case that he should be Michigan State's starting running back. Florida Atlantic dominated possession time, but Michigan State cashed in on its opportunities. There were some negatives, namely two turnovers and some shaky pass defense against Florida Atlantic quarterback Jeff Van Camp. But overall, a solid "road" win. The Spartans also have to be extremely pleased with kicker Dan Conroy, who converted attempts from 50, 44 and 41 yards. The performance establishes Conroy as the starter as Michigan State tries to replace standout kicker Brett Swenson.

Northwestern 37, Illinois State 3: Sure, it's Illinois State, but Northwestern looked much better on both sides of the ball in a rare blowout victory. Quarterback Dan Persa continued his very impressive start, completing 19 of 23 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with a rushing touchdown. Wideout Sidney Stewart had a big day, and Northwestern got talented superback Drake Dunsmore (2 TD receptions) more involved. Northwestern had its second-team offense in the game midway through the third quarter. The defense also looked very good, recording three interceptions, two by senior linebacker Quentin Davie. Northwestern also ran the ball a bit better, as sophomore Arby Fields had 96 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. The ground game remains a work in progress, but with the way Persa is throwing the ball, it doesn't matter.

Purdue 31, Western Illinois 21: Kind of an odd game in West Lafayette. A Robert Marve interception spotted Western Illinois an early lead before the Boilers gradually came back and took control. The defense did a nice job until struggling in the fourth quarter, allowing two touchdowns. Purdue appeared to find its running back as senior Dan Dierking racked up 103 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Dierking has been somewhat overlooked in the running back race, but he's a big, tough runner with experience. Al-Terek McBurse also had a nice touchdown run that seemingly put away the game in the fourth quarter. Marve had a similar performance to Week 1, completing a lot of passes (23) but struggling to stretch the field (only 5 yards per pass). Purdue needs to find ways to get Keith Smith, Cortez Smith and Justin Siller in space. The Boilers are a work in progress right now, but their schedule sets up well the next month.

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 23, 2010
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The position rankings move on to the wide receivers and tight ends, who will be grouped together. The Big Ten remains a defense-first conference, but I really like the depth at receiver and, to a lesser extent, tight end throughout the league. Although star power was considered, I put a very strong emphasis on overall depth and 2010 potential here.

This was the toughest position to whittle down to five (actually, six), but here goes ...

[+] EnlargeCunningham/Dell
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesMark Dell (left) and B.J. Cunningham headline an experienced group of receivers for Michigan State.
1. Michigan State: Sure, there's a lack of star power entering the season, but trust me, that will change. There's not a deeper group of receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten than this one. Veterans B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell anchor the receiving corps, and dangerous speedster Keshawn Martin will play a much bigger role in the offense this season. Converted quarterback Keith Nichol also joins the mix there. Michigan State also boasts three talented tight ends, including Mackey Award watch list members Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers return two of the Big Ten's top five receivers in Tandon Doss, a first-team all-conference selection, and Damarlo Belcher. They also add experience with Terrance Turner and exciting young players like Duwyce Wilson and Dre Muhammad. Overall depth is a bit of a question mark, but both Doss and Belcher will get the attention of opposing defensive backs after combining for 1,732 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. Max Dedmond returns at tight end after recording 18 receptions in 2009.

3. Wisconsin: I'm not completely sold on this entire group, although receiver Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath both boast a ton of experience, but must take the next step in their development. Wisconsin could use a rebound season from Kyle Jefferson, and walk-on Jared Abbrederis continues to make plays in practice and should be a contributor this fall.

4. Purdue: Surprised by my choices so far? You won't be when the season starts. Like Michigan State, Purdue's depth will reveal itself this fall. The Boilers are led by Keith Smith, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 and the league's top returning receiver (1,100 yards). He's joined by two veterans in receiver Cortez Smith and tight end Kyle Adams. But the real boost could come from young players like Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, as well as Justin Siller, the team's former starting quarterback who brings size and big-play ability to the perimeter.

T-5: Penn State: I'm tempted to rank the Lions a little higher but want to see how the entire group performs this season, provided they get the ball thrown to them. Derek Moye has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten receiver after recording 48 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns last season. Graham Zug is a very solid target who reached the end zone seven times in 2009. Although Chaz Powell moves to defense, Penn State boasts several exciting young wideouts like Devon Smith. Tight end is a big question mark after the departures of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.

T-5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast the league's top big-play tandem at receiver in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. DJK is on track to become the team's all-time leading receiver this fall, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns in 2009. I like the potential of guys like Keenan Davis and Paul Chaney Jr., who returns from a knee injury. Tony Moeaki is a major loss at tight end, but Allen Reisner returns and talented freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz enters the fold.

Just missed the cut: Ohio State, Michigan

Up next: Quarterbacks

More rankings ...

Ranking the Big Ten quarterbacks

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
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As you might have noticed, we're all about quarterbacks today at ESPN.com, and it's time to rank the Big Ten signal callers.

This hasn't been a Big Ten strength in recent years, but things could change this fall. Quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien all have proven they can win at a high level, and Ben Chappell (Indiana) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) put up some strong numbers last fall.

The criteria are the same I used for the top 25 preseason rankings: past performance and 2010 potential. You can gripe all you want about the top four choices, but you shouldn't be surprised because all four quarterbacks were ranked in the exact same order in June/July. The Big Ten blogger is not a hypocrite. One final note: These are individual player rankings, but I consolidated the quarterback candidates at Michigan and Penn State to make it easier.

I fully expect this list to be different in early January, but here goes:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Terry GilliamTerrelle Pryor's performance in the Rose Bowl solidified his rank as the Big Ten's best quarterback.
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: How can I rank Pryor at No. 1 based on one great performance? For starters, it took place in a huge game, the Rose Bowl, against a top 10 opponent in Oregon. Plus, I think Pryor will go forward rather than backward and become a more complete quarterback this fall. He has more natural ability than anyone else on this list, and while he'll never be a model passer, he only needs to improve a little to become a lot more dangerous.

2. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: It's very close between Stanzi and Tolzien, but Stanzi's 18-4 mark as Iowa's starting quarterback sets him apart. Yes, you can point to the mistakes, and there were a lot of them, but no quarterback in the country made more big plays in the fourth quarter than No. 12. I expect a smarter and more efficient Stanzi in 2010. Plus, he's a damn fine American.

3. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin: Simply stated, he's the perfect quarterback for Wisconsin. Tolzien is smart, extremely efficient and totally aware of his role in the offense. He executes the play-action well and can thread the needle when he needs to. Tolzien still needs to prove himself against the Big Ten's best defenses, but I expect a very strong senior season from him.

4. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Take away a few late-game mistakes and a poor second half against Penn State, and Cousins turned in a very strong season as a first-year starter. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is strong (19-9), and he'll only get better with more experience. Plus, he has an excellent group of receivers and tight ends at his disposal this fall.

5. Ben Chappell, Indiana: Chappell is the Big Ten's leading returning passer (2,941 yards in 2009), and he ranks second in completion percentage (62.6) among returning starters. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and make better throws in the red zone, but all that should come this fall. Chappell has some great receivers to work with, namely Tandon Doss, but would really benefit from a consistent run game.

6. Adam Weber, Minnesota: Some Gophers fans have given up on Weber after a poor junior season, but I still have faith in No. 8, who happens to be a record holder at the U. It hasn't been easy with three offensive coordinators in as many seasons, and the system last year would have been tough for any quarterback to run. Weber still has a ton of talent, but he needs to regain the confidence we saw for most of 2008, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also needs to prove himself without star receiver Eric Decker.

7. Robert Marve, Purdue: Marve clearly doesn't grade high in past performance after struggling at Miami in 2008, but his potential this fall is very high. He'll benefit from working in Purdue's spread offense, and he'll have no shortage of targets in Keith Smith, Justin Siller, Cortez Smith and others. The ability always has been there with Marve, and we'll start to see results this fall.

8. Tate Forcier/Denard Robinson, Michigan: No starter has been named, and while head coach Rich Rodriguez has a bit of evidence from 2009, he'll be selecting a No. 1 quarterback based on who he believes has greater potential in 2010. Both players can run, although Robinson is more explosive on the move. Forcier was far and away the better passer in 2009, but he struggled to make plays when he wasn't freelancing. Robinson should be a better passer this fall.

9. Dan Persa, Northwestern: This isn't a knock against Persa, who has done everything right to prepare himself for this moment. I just need to see more from him in game situations, especially if Northwestern relies on him as much as it did Mike Kafka in 2009. Persa very well could be the most ideal fit for Northwestern's spread offense since Zak Kustok.

10. Kevin Newsome/Matt McGloin/Paul Jones/Robert Bolden, Penn State: The competition remains wide open, and the group has virtually no game experience aside from Newsome. Talent shouldn't be a problem, as Newsome, Jones and Bolden all were highly-touted recruits, while McGloin, a former walk-on, has made significant strides in State College. Who can handle the pressure of quarterbacking in the Big Ten? We'll find out soon.

11. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois: Again, not a knock against Scheelhaase, but his past performance is confined to practices and scrimmages. He's one of the most mature redshirt freshmen I've covered, but he's obviously got to prove himself in the game spotlight. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino sees shades of Stefan LeFors in Scheelhaase. If that's the case, he'll soar up this list.
The depth chart means a lot everywhere, but especially at Purdue.

Head coach Danny Hope has been known to post a different depth chart at the entrance to Purdue's practice field every day of spring ball or preseason camp. Boilermakers players constantly know where they stand with the coaches, and that they can't let up, even for one practice.

Given the ever-changing nature of Purdue's depth chart, the pre-camp version revealed Tuesday (page 16) should be studied accordingly. Still, it provides some clues about what the coaches are thinking entering preseason practice, which kicks off next month.

We already knew that Robert Marve will enter camp as Purdue's No. 1 quarterback, but here are a few more notes:
  • Ralph Bolden is still listed at Purdue's starting running back despite undergoing ACL surgery in May. From the moment Bolden went down, Hope has remained very optimistic about the junior's status for the season despite the severity of the injury. Al-Terek McBurse is listed as the backup but likely will start the opener Sept. 4 against Notre Dame. Former wide receiver Keith Carlos is the third-string running back.
  • Former quarterback Justin Siller, who rejoined the team this summer after a year-long dismissal from the university, is listed as a starting wide receiver alongside Keith Smith and Cortez Smith.
  • The offensive line figures to feature some competition this summer, and here's how the starting five looks entering camp: left tackle Dennis Kelly, left guard Justin Pierce, center Peters Drey, right guard Ken Plue and right tackle Nick Mondek, who switched to offensive from defensive tackle this spring.
  • The secondary is another group with some question marks. Charlton Williams and Josh Johnson are listed as the starting cornerbacks, while Albert Evans and Logan Link are tabbed as the starting safeties. Evans looks like the guy at strong safety, but the other three spots are fluid.
  • Redshirt freshman Kevin Pamphile is listed as a starting defensive tackle next to Kawann Short. It'll be interesting to see if Pamphile maintains the top spot throughout camp, as there should be some good competition.
  • Carson Wiggs could once again be a busy man this fall. He's listed as Purdue's starting kicker and a co-starter at punter with freshman Cody Webster. Wiggs or freshman Jonathan Linkenheimer will handle kickoffs.

Key stretch: Purdue

July, 19, 2010
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Fifth in a series that looks at stretches of games that can make or break the 2010 season for Big Ten teams.

Next up, Purdue.

Key stretch: Toledo (Sept. 25), at Northwestern (Oct. 9), Minnesota (Oct. 16)

Breakdown: Most of Purdue's problems in 2009 took place early in the season, as Danny Hope's team repeatedly found ways to lose winnable games. A strong start this season is not only critical but very doable. I strongly considered listing Purdue's four nonconference games as its key stretch, but the Boilers still need to prove themselves when Big Ten play begins. Regardless of what happens in the season opener at Notre Dame, Purdue will need to limit the mistakes that led to a 1-5 start last season. Even if Purdue falls to the Fighting Irish in South Bend, I see the Boilers entering this stretch at 2-1. Purdue has to take care of business against Toledo before facing very winnable games against Northwestern and Minnesota. The Boilers blew a big lead and couldn't hold onto the ball against Northwestern last season, and couldn't avoid the costly giveaways against the Gophers, either. A strong performance during this stretch gives Purdue a lot of confidence heading to Ohio State, while a poor showing will once against create an uphill climb for Hope's squad.

Prediction: If Purdue's offensive line holds up, it will put up plenty of points this fall. Quarterback Robert Marve has earned rave reviews so far in West Lafayette, and he'll have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including receivers Keith Smith, Cortez Smith and Justin Siller. Purdue should simply outscore Toledo to start the stretch 1-0. The Northwestern game will be a good one, as both teams are confident in their new quarterbacks but have some question marks (Purdue's defensive depth, Northwestern's run game). That game is a toss-up. Minnesota ranked last in the league in rushing in 2009, but the Gophers ran all over Purdue (207 rush yards, 4 TDs) in last year's game. If Purdue truly expects to improve, it must tighten up against the run and force Adam Weber to make plays through the air. I like Purdue in this matchup, but a lot could change before Oct. 16.

More key stretch
Wisconsin running back John Clay might be the Big Ten's best hope for the Heisman Trophy this season, which will make you scratch your head after reading this next statement.

The Badgers can survive without him.

Not to diminish Clay's size and power, which Wisconsin would miss if he goes down, but the Badgers aren't exactly starved for running backs. Montee Ball showed flashes as a true freshman the past season, and Zach Brown boasts more experience (36 games played) than any other Big Ten backup back.

And whomever carries the ball for Wisconsin will benefit from working behind one of the nation's top offensive lines. Left tackle Gabe Carimi and guard John Moffitt get most of the buzz, but Wisconsin returns all five starters up front, as well as others like Bill Nagy who boast game experience.

The Badgers are one of several Big Ten teams who can survive the loss of a key player or two, as long as it isn't quarterback Scott Tolzien.

The reason why Ohio State has won or shared the past five Big Ten championships: their depth chart. Take the linebacker position, for example. The Buckeyes have two of the Big Ten's best in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, but they also can turn to a guy like Etienne Sabino, or younger backers Storm Klein, Dorian Bell and Andrew Sweat. Tyler Moeller also should return to the field this fall, although he'll likely see more time at safety.

Indiana's Tandon Doss and Purdue's Keith Smith were the media's picks for the first-team All-Big Ten squad in 2009, and both players are primed for big seasons this fall. While both also would be big losses, their teams have other options. Indiana can turn to Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner, or younger players like Duwyce Wilson. Purdue always boasts depth at receiver and has options like Cortez Smith, Antavian Edison and Gary Bush behind Smith. And don't forget about incoming freshman O.J. Ross or Justin Siller, the reinstated former starting quarterback.

Speaking of the offensive skill positions, Michigan State and Iowa boast similar depth. Both teams have potential All-Big Ten players -- Keshawn Martin, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Marvin McNutt, Keith Nichol -- but can truly lean on their strength in numbers. Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins is a very lucky man, as he'll have four capable wideouts, three capable tight ends and at least two capable running backs at his disposal. Iowa's Ricky Stanzi also has weapons at wideout with Johnson-Koulianos and McNutt, as well as three solid options in the backfield with Jewel Hampton, Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.

Michigan has several areas of concern entering 2010, but offensive line shouldn't be one of them. The Wolverines return five linemen who started part or all of the past season, led by veteran guard Stephen Schilling. Michigan has five offensive linemen who have three years of experience under their belts, not to mention promising young prospects like Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield.

Flipping to the other side of the line, look at Penn State. Sure, the Nittany Lions lose Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick, but there's no reason to doubt defensive line coach Larry Johnson and his personnel. Penn State will have depth up front yet again with guys like Jack Crawford, Ollie Ogbu, Devon Still, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham.
The fourth installment of the spring game recap series takes a look at Purdue, which, despite a rash of injuries, still played the Black & Gold Game on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Purdue had none of its top running backs available for the game, so the quarterbacks received plenty of work, which is probably good in the long run. Robert Marve might be the favorite to win the starting quarterback job, but Caleb TerBush had a more impressive performance Saturday, completing 13 of 18 passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns. TerBush opened and closed the scoring with touchdown strikes to Sean Matti and Antavian Edison, while Marve tossed a 75-yard touchdown pass to Cortez Smith.

Marve, who alternated drives with TerBush, completed 11 of 22 passes for 160 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Quarterback Rob Henry completed 12 of 19 passes for 82 yards and an interception.

"They were the most impressive part of the scrimmage," head coach Danny Hope said of his QBs.

All-Big Ten selection Keith Smith, who missed spring ball following wrist surgery, figures to be Purdue's No. 1 wide receiver this fall, but another Smith will be a big factor in the passing attack. Cortez Smith recorded six receptions for 136 yards in the game.

The defense started a bit slow but held the running game in check and recorded two interceptions and 11 tackles for loss

Other nuggets:
  • Kawann Short could be a big help in Purdue's pass rush this fall after recording two sacks and a pass breakup in the game. The Boilers need a second threat to complement All-Big Ten defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, and Short might be the answer.
  • Another defensive end, Adam Brockman, made his mark by intercepting a Henry pass in the first half.
  • Running back Ralph Bolden told The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier that he'll undergo surgery May 4 to repair a torn ACL. He's not sure whether he'll get back in time for the season, saying, "I'm not rushing back. I'm trying to come back healthy."

Spring superlatives: Purdue

March, 23, 2010
3/23/10
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The spring superlatives series, which examines the strongest and weakest position groups for each Big Ten team, marches on with Purdue.

After winning four of its final six games, Purdue has high hopes for 2010. The Boilermakers return a lot of skill players on offense, and Miami transfer Robert Marve looks like the front-runner to take over at quarterback. The defense needs to fill all four starting spots in the secondary, but end Ryan Kerrigan and linebacker Jason Werner lead the front seven.

Strongest position: Wide receiver/tight end

  • Key returnees: Keith Smith (91 receptions, 1,100 receiving yards, 6 TDs); Kyle Adams (29 receptions, 249 receiving yards); Keith Carlos (21 receptions, 242 receiving yards, 1 TD); running back Ralph Bolden (20 receptions, 261 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Cortez Smith (17 receptions, 177 receiving yards, 2 TDs); Jeff Lindsay (16 receptions 162 receiving yards).
  • Key losses: Aaron Valentin (54 receptions, 621 receiving yards, 7 TDs).
  • The skinny: A year ago, the Boilers had huge questions here as Smith was the lone returnee with any significant experience. Purdue now boasts one of the Big Ten's deepest group of pass-catchers, led by Smith, who topped the league in receiving yards last fall and earned first-team all-conference honors from the media. Purdue needs a new No. 2 wideout, but hopes are high for Cortez Smith and Carlos. The coaches are also high on young wideouts Antavian Edison and Gary Bush. The tight end position should be very solid with both Adams and Lindsay in the fold.
Weakest position: Defensive back
  • Key returnees: Albert Evans (30 tackles, 2 pass breakups)
  • Key losses: Torri Williams (84 tackles, 2 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries, 8 passes defended); Dwight Mclean (62 tackles, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 4 passes defended); David Pender (40 tackles, 1 INT, 14 passes defended, 1 blocked kick, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery); Brandon King (30 tackles, 3 INTs, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 5 passes defended).
  • The skinny: Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, including tackles leader Williams and second-team All-Big Ten selections in Pender and King. Evans is the lone returnee with significant experience, and he'll miss spring practice with an injury. Players like junior college transfer Mike Eargle, Charlton Williams, Gavin Roberts and Chris Quinn need to step up this spring. "We have a lot of depth issues in the secondary," head coach Danny Hope said.

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