Big Ten: Curt Warner

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 16, 2012
5/16/12
12:00
PM ET
The league meetings in Chicago and playoffs (cue Jim Mora clip) dominate your hump day links:
The wait is over for Evan Royster. He can call himself Penn State's all-time leading rusher. At last.

The senior running back looks like his old self Saturday night against Michigan, and that's a very good thing for Penn State. After taking longer than anyone expected to break Curt Warner's all-time team rushing record, Royster wasted no time in getting the final 31 yards he needed.

Michigan's horrendous defense certainly has helped Royster's cause, but No. 22 looks much more determined and effective than he has been in a while before a raucous crowd at Beaver Stadium. Royster finished the first half with 99 rush yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries -- already the second most carries he has had in a game this season.

Thanks to Royster, and surprisingly strong play from quarterback Matt McGloin (10-for-17 passing, 137 yards, 1 touchdown) in his first career start, Penn State is pounding Michigan 28-10.

The Wolverines didn't get any better on defense after the bye week, and they're regressing on the offensive side of the ball. Rich Rodriguez will really feel the heat if his team doesn't stage a huge second-half turnaround.

Right now, Michigan looks like a sinking ship.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
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Ten items to track in what figures to be an exciting Week 9 in the Big Ten.

1. Spartans try to stay perfect: Michigan State isn't being viewed as a legit national title contender just yet, and the odds makers and others expect the Spartans to go down Saturday at No. 18 Iowa. But if Mark Dantonio's edgy team gets out of Iowa City with a win, look out. Michigan State's remaining schedule is very favorable and a 12-0 mark certainly will be within reach. Standing in the Spartans' way is an Iowa team that must win Saturday to remain in the Big Ten title race. The past three games between the Spartans and Hawkeyes have been decided by a total of 12 points, so expect another close one at Kinnick Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Dantonio's Spartans could be looking at a 12-0 record if they can survive Saturday's game at Iowa.
2. Moment of truth for Michigan, Rodriguez: It's not the first so-called "must-win" for Rich Rodriguez at Michigan, but the Wolverines and their constantly scrutinized coach would really benefit from a victory at Beaver Stadium. A win makes Michigan bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, ends a two-game slide and quiets talk about Rodriguez's job and a second straight collapse. A loss would turn up the heat even more on Rodriguez and the Wolverines before a challenging November slate.

3. Dan Persa vs. Ben Chappell: Two underrated and underappreciated quarterbacks meet up at Indiana's Memorial Stadium. Most of the quarterback hype in the Big Ten centers elsewhere, but these two signal callers have been outstanding. Persa gained some national respect with his gutsy performance last week against Michigan State, but his Davey O'Brien Award snub suggests he still has something to prove. The junior will look to strike against a vulnerable Indiana secondary. Chappell has been brilliant at home and tries to bounce back from a rough afternoon at Illinois against a Northwestern defense that has struggled to stop the pass.

4. Robs reeling: Both Penn State and Purdue are dealing with injuries at the most important position on the field. Penn State could be without starting quarterback Rob Bolden against Michigan, as the freshman continues to recover from a head injury suffered last Saturday. If Bolden can't go, Matt McGloin likely will make his first career start for the Lions. Purdue will make a game-time decision on starting quarterback Rob Henry, who suffered a laceration on his throwing hand against Ohio State. If Henry isn't ready at Illinois, the Boilers will turn to true freshman Sean Robinson, who entered the season No. 4 on the depth chart.

5. Banged-up Buckeyes secondary to be tested: Injuries have been the big story for Ohio State's defense, especially in the secondary. Though the Buckeyes posted a shutout last week against Purdue, they faced a team that didn't test them through the air. Ohio State shouldn't have trouble beating last-place Minnesota, but Gophers wideouts Da'Jon McKnight and MarQueis Gray and tight end Eric Lair have combined for 98 receptions, 1,381 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Expect Minnesota to air it out against an Ohio State secondary very thin at the safety spot.

6. Royster approaches rushing record: Seven games into the season, Evan Royster still needs 31 rushing yards to break Curt Warner's all-time Penn State record. The Nittany Lions senior should reach the mark against a Michigan team allowing 144.7 rush yards per game, although Royster has only one 100-yard rushing performance this season. Aside from the record, Penn State likely needs a big game from Royster and/or freshman Silas Redd, especially if Bolden sits out. It's important for the Lions to control the clock and keep Michigan's explosive offense off of the field.

7. Hyde vs. Hyde: Asked about getting tickets for the Iowa game, Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose grandfather played for the Hawkeyes, said he didn't want to take any away from teammate Marcus Hyde. Saturday will be special for the Hyde family as Marcus, a senior safety for Michigan State, goes up against his younger brother, Micah, a sophomore cornerback for Iowa. Although both brothers play in the secondary, they had a run-in on a kickoff play in last year's game at Spartan Stadium. "He kind of hit me in my back," Marcus Hyde said. "I thought it was somebody else. When I saw it was him, I started laughing." It should be fun watching these two on Saturday.

8. Zook aims for a Big Ten sweep: Name the only Big Ten team Ron Zook hasn't beaten in his Illinois tenure? If you guessed Purdue, well done. Zook is 0-3 against Purdue in his six seasons as Fighting Illini coach. Illinois has dropped five consecutive games against the Boilers and last captured the Cannon in 2002. A victory Saturday would continue Illinois' surprising surge and put the team one step close to bowl eligibility with four games to play.

9. Pivotal game for Lynch, Hoosiers: Bill Lynch calls it simply "the next game," but Saturday's contest against Northwestern could have major implications for the Indiana program. The Hoosiers are 0-3 in Big Ten play this fall and 2-17 in the league since the start of the 2008 season. Athletic director Fred Glass has been loyal to Lynch and has spoken publicly about the need to honor contracts, but another loss would increase the calls for change. Lynch and the Hoosiers only need two more wins to become bowl-eligible, but they need to show they can get over the hump in league games.

10. Stanzi, Cousins take center stage: The Big Ten is a quarterback's league in 2010, and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins are two of the best. Both men have a chance Saturday to distinguish themselves in the race for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and possibly get some Heisman Trophy love. Stanzi has been one of the nation's most improved players, although he'd like to recapture some of his crunch-time magic from 2009. Cousins returns to a stadium he visited often as a boy and has a chance to lift Michigan State one step closer to Glendale.
It hasn't been the type of season Evan Royster envisioned, but like any good running back, his eyes remain on what's in front of him.

By now, Royster was supposed to be Penn State's all-time leading rusher. He was supposed to be midway through another All-Big Ten type season. He was supposed to take on a heavier carries load. He was supposed show all those pro scouts just how good he'd be at the next level.

Instead, Royster is still 31 rushing yards shy of Curt Warner's team record. He has just one 100-yard rushing performance through the seven games and, more shockingly, only one performance of more than 70 rush yards. The senior also has received more than 11 carries just once.

Asked Tuesday to discuss Royster's career and what he's meant to the program, Penn State coach Joe Paterno said, "I think he's done a good job."

That's it.

Despite the decline in production, Royster doesn't second-guess his decision to return to Happy Valley.

"I get another year to be here and be with my friends and my teammates," he said. "It's not a decision I regret at all. No matter how the season turns out, I'm happy I came back."

Royster has understandably grown tired of questions about the rushing record, saying Tuesday, "I'm sure I'll look back on it and be happy that it happened, but I'd rather win games."

Getting Penn State to a bowl is a priority for Royster. So is finishing off his college career on a good note.

Royster never has shied away from talking about the NFL. We discussed it way back in the spring of 2009, when he told me, "If I'm projected to go first or second round, there's definitely a possibility that I'd leave." Last winter, Royster sent his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board but never received an evaluation, despite several follow-up requests.

His draft stock likely has taken a hit this season, but he can help himself down the stretch.

"The end of this season could dictate the next five years of my life," Royster said. "It's motivating."

Royster still has games left with three of the Big Ten's weaker rush defenses -- Indiana, Michigan and Northwestern -- as well as showcase opportunities against two likely top 10 teams in Michigan State and Ohio State. Like many of Penn State's seniors, Royster has a strong sense of urgency for the final five contests.

"It kind of feels like our time is coming to an end," he said. "At the same time, we've got to forget about that for now and still go out and prepare to win games."
Is it Evan Royster or Penn State's offensive line?

Several Penn State fans have asked me this question in recent days, and it's a pressing one after the first two games. Speaking of pressing, that might be the problem right now for Royster, who has only 72 rushing yards on 20 carries (3.6 ypr) in the first two contests.

Evan Royster
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarEvan Royster has yet to get on track this season, gaining just 72 yards through two games.
Penn State's All-Big Ten running back returned for his senior year to polish his skills for the NFL, help a young quarterback lead the offense and become the school's all-time leading rusher. He needed 481 yards entering the fall to surpass Curt Warner, but he hasn't put much of a dent in the deficit.

Penn State coach Joe Paterno expressed some concern about Royster's weight last week -- Royster added 5-10 pounds during the offseason and checks in at 228. Asked again about his star running back Tuesday, Paterno noted that Penn State has yet to establish the type of rushing attack where Royster can thrive.

"Royster is a kind of a 'pick 'em and spot 'em, give me a crack and I'll go' guy," Paterno said Tuesday. "He's not a guy that's going to run over you. Doesn't have great speed. Has good speed. But he's got good instincts. He obviously catches a ball well when we use him as a receiver. We haven't used him yet as a receiver.

"But I think he's doing all right."

Paterno doesn't sound overly concerned with Royster. Perhaps the issue is with the offensive line.

Penn State shuffled around the personnel entering the season after struggling against elite defenses in 2009 (Ohio State, Iowa). Seniors Stefen Wisniewski and Lou Eliades were among those moving to different spots.

While the line hasn't been dominant so far this fall, it hasn't surrendered a sack.

And true freshman Silas Redd is having little trouble finding room, racking up 46 yards on eight carries. Paterno saw some good things from the line against Alabama but reiterated that Penn State's offense has been limited in what it can do.

Is it Royster or the line?

It's not clear just yet, but I know this: If Royster doesn't get going in the next two weeks, Penn State could have a very rough time in Big Ten play. Freshman quarterback Rob Bolden will get better and better, but Penn State has to have consistent production from its senior running back.

The good thing is Saturday's game against Kent State (ESPN2, noon ET) provides a barometer of sorts. Don't laugh. After two games, Kent State leads the nation in rushing defense (11 ypg).

While that total includes a five-sack performance in the opener -- pass-happy Murray State finished with minus-65 rush yards -- Kent State also limited Boston College to 87 rush yards in last week's 26-13 loss.

"BC's a big, strong football team," Paterno said. "They can run the ball, but [Kent State] made them throw the football. We've just got to get better all around."

Big Ten stock report: Week 3

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
9:00
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It's time to check the market heading into Week 3.

STOCK UP

First-year starting quarterbacks: It was another good Saturday for the Big Ten's first-year starting signal callers. Denard Robinson worked his magic again for Michigan at Notre Dame, Northwestern's Dan Persa continued to display remarkable efficiency and both Robert Marve (Purdue) and Nathan Scheelhaase (Illinois) picked up their first wins.

Iowa: Iowa State has given Kirk Ferentz's team trouble in the past, but not on Saturday. Iowa delivered an early knockout blow and dominated on both sides of the ball, racking up 479 yards of offense and recording three interceptions in surging to a 35-0 lead.

Chimdi Chekwa, Ryan Kerrigan, Quentin Davie and Jonas Mouton: Chekwa and Davie both recorded two interceptions in victories Saturday, while Kerrigan continues to invade the opposing backfield, tying a career-high with four tackles for loss against Western Illinois. Mouton recorded a career-high 13 tackles and an interception against Notre Dame.

Michigan State's special teams: Brett Swenson left a major void at kicker entering the season, but Dan Conroy stepped up in a big way against Florida Atlantic, converting three attempts from beyond 40 yards (41, 44, 50). Return man extraordinaire Keshawn Martin also showcased his skills at Ford Field.

Illinois' defense: There's a long way to go, but new coordinator Vic Koenning is having a positive effect on the league's worst defense from 2009. The Fighting Illini rank third in the league in points allowed (13 ppg) and fourth in yards allowed (304.5 ypg). Linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson both are performing well, and defensive end Whitney Mercilus provided a boost in the win against Southern Illinois (two TFLs, forced fumble, pass breakup).

STOCK DOWN

Tim Brewster: The embattled Minnesota coach regained a bit of goodwill among fans after the Middle Tennessee win, but he really couldn't afford a loss to South Dakota, not with what's ahead on the schedule. Brewster needs something good to happen quickly to regain some support among the Gopher faithful. As colleague Bruce Feldman tweeted, "After losing to another Dakota school, maybe its time Tim Brewster changes from Play4Brew to Pray4Brew."

Evan Royster and the Penn State O-line: Royster entered the season needing only 481 yards to become Penn State's all-time leading rusher. After two games, he still needs 409 yards to catch Curt Warner. Frustration is mounting, and Royster needs a boost from his offensive line Saturday against a stout Kent State rush defense.

Ohio State's special teams: What in the name of the Sweater Vest is going on in Columbus? Ohio State had a blocked field-goal attempt returned for a touchdown against Marshall. The Buckeyes then allowed a punt return touchdown and a kickoff return touchdown in the same game for the first time in team history. Special teams excellence used to be a hallmark for the Scarlet and Gray. They need to get it back.

Wisconsin's red-zone offense: The Big Ten's top red zone attack in 2009 (53 conversions for points in 56 chances) had a fumble and a turnover on downs following a fumbled snap in the red zone against San Jose State. The missed opportunities prevented Wisconsin from blowing out the Spartans.

Purdue's third-down defense: It was an issue last season, when the Boilers allowed opponents to convert third downs at better than a 40 percent clip. Through two games, Purdue's opponents are converting at a rate of 44.4 percent. The Boilers need to do a better job of getting off the field.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, Week 2 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 28 carries, 258 rush yards (Michigan road record), 2 TDs; 24-for-40 passing, 240 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 12-for-27 passing, 233 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs; 20 carries, 113 rush yards, 1 TD.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 19-for-23 passing, 240 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs; 7 carries, 13 rush yards, 1 TD.

T-4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 183 yards, TD

T-4. Iowa RB Adam Robinson: 14 carries, 156 yards, TD

T-4. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 23 carries, 137 yards, 2 TDs

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

(Player, Week 2 performance)

1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo) and matched a career high with four tackles for loss (-19 yards), including a 9-yard sack, while adding a forced fumble.

2. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Recorded six tackles, 2.5 for loss, as well as a blocked field-goal attempt.

3. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded 11 tackles, 1 for loss, as well as a forced fumble.

4. Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa: Recorded two interceptions and six tackles, including one for loss. Leads the league with five passes defended.

Big Ten's Heisman contenders

August, 31, 2010
8/31/10
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It has felt like an eternity since Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith hoisted the Heisman Trophy in December 2006. The Big Ten was on top of the college football world back then, as Ohio State seemed destined for a national title. We all know what happened next, as the Big Ten endured struggles in big games. The league also didn't produce any legit Heisman contenders in 2007, 2008 or 2009.

Things could change this fall, as several Big Ten players could be in the mix for college football's top award.

Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: Pryor certainly lacks the numbers to be considered one of the nation's elite players, but he boasts tremendous skills. Most important, he always generates hype, earning back-to-back Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year awards. After winning Offensive MVP honors in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, Pryor looks ready to take the next step in his development. He boasts a 19-3 record as Ohio State's starter and should play in a more expanded offense this year. A big performance in Week 2 against Miami would boost Pryor's Heisman hopes.

Wisconsin RB John Clay: The reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year has been somewhat overlooked in the preseason, but things could change when the games get started. After leading the Big Ten and ranking 12th nationally in rushing average (116.7 ypg) in 2009, Clay is poised for a huge junior season. He'll run behind arguably the nation's best offensive line, and he should be more durable following offseason surgeries to correct nagging ankle problems.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn: Although he plays a different position, Clayborn already is drawing some comparisons to former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh, who put defensive linemen on the national map in 2009. He's a disruptive force inside who won MVP honors at the Orange Bowl after dominating Georgia Tech's offensive line. Clayborn also has the hype factor going for him as his name and face are known around the country.

Penn State RB Evan Royster: As a young quarterback steps in for the Nittany Lions, Royster likely will take on an enhanced role this fall. He figures to get more carries as he chases Curt Warner's team career rushing record (only 481 yards away). Royster has eclipsed 1,100 rushing yards in each of the last two seasons. A big performance against Alabama and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram in Week 2 would really help his candidacy.
You've already sampled the standard fare for Big Ten predictions this fall. Now it's time for the fun part.

Here are 10 fearless predictions in the Big Ten, which kicks off the 2010 season Thursday night!

1. The Big Ten faces Nebraska in a BCS bowl: Ohio State will get back to the national title game for the first time in three years. Because of the new Rose Bowl rule, a non-AQ team heads to Pasadena, but the Big Ten gets an at-large BCS berth for the sixth consecutive season. Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan State heads to the Fiesta Bowl to face Big 12 champion and soon-to-be Big Ten member Nebraska on New Year's Day.

2. The Game changes dates: I really hope I'm wrong on this one, but too many signs point to the Ohio State-Michigan game moving up on the schedule beginning in 2011. Perhaps the Big Ten bigwigs listen to their fans, but the potential for an Ohio State-Michigan clash in the Big Ten championship game could be too valuable ($$$) to pass up. My bet is on the Buckeyes and Wolverines ending up in different divisions when the alignment comes out.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJoe Paterno's 400th win will come against Michigan.
3. Joe Paterno secures career win No. 400 against Michigan: I don't see Penn State beating Alabama or Iowa on the road, but the Lions take a 5-2 mark into the Michigan game on Oct. 30 and beat the Wolverines for the third consecutive season. Another possibility is the Oct. 23 game at Minnesota. Paterno enters the fall with a record 394 career victories.

4. Michigan and Penn State both play three quarterbacks: Not an overly fearless pick here, but I expect two gifted true freshmen, Penn State's Robert Bolden and Michigan's Devin Gardner, to see the field this fall. Penn State will want to evaluate more than one quarterback in a game setting, and it's rare when a quarterback playing in a spread offense like Rich Rodriguez's lasts the entire season without injury. Denard Robinson likely starts the opener, but Gardner and Tate Forcier also will play at some point.

5. Michigan State's Greg Jones records two interceptions: Jones has done everything but intercept a pass in his first three seasons at Michigan State. Things change this fall, as the linebacker becomes a bigger factor in coverage and records a pair of picks to earn consensus All-America honors for the second consecutive year.

6. MarQueis Gray leads Minnesota in receiving: After competing with Adam Weber for the Gophers' starting quarterback job this spring, Gray becomes Weber's top target in the passing game. He catches on quickly at receiver and uses his size and good hands to become a reliable possession option.

7. Bill Lynch chucks his chewing gum against Michigan again: Once again, a bad call in the Michigan game on Oct. 2 will bring Howard Beale out of the normally subdued Lynch. Maybe it's a touchdown called back on a phantom holding penalty, or a fumble that never was, but Lynch's gum surely will take flight.

8. The Big Ten has at least one forced and one unforced coaching change: Several Big Ten coaches enter the season on the hot seat, including Michigan's Rodriguez, Illinois' Ron Zook, Minnesota's Tim Brewster and, to a lesser extent, Indiana's Lynch. Someone gets pink-slipped in November or December. Will this be Paterno's final season at Penn State? A lot of people think it will be. Also, if Ohio State wins a national title, it wouldn't be totally shocking to see Jim Tressel move on.

9. Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern all pull off upsets: Michigan State should be an improved team and has three opportunities for upsets against Wisconsin (Oct. 2 at home), Iowa (Oct. 30 on the road) and Penn State (Nov. 27). The Spartans win at least one of those games. Purdue could be a dangerous team by the time Wisconsin visits on Nov. 6. Northwestern pulls off an upset every season and could get Iowa again (Nov. 13) or Penn State (Oct. 30).

10. Evan Royster and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will set team records against ... Royster, the Penn State senior running back, gets a steady diet of carries early in the season and breaks Curt Warner's team career rushing record against Illinois on Oct. 9. Johnson-Koulianos, the Iowa senior receiver, needs 401 yards for the Iowa receiving record and gets it Oct. 30 against Michigan State.
CHICAGO -- Last week, Evan Royster found himself sitting on the steps of Penn State's student bookstore in State College as a photographer snapped pictures.

"It was pretty ridiculous," the Nittany Lions senior running back said. "They've got steps that have all the rushing leaders. I think I'm the seventh or eighth guy down."

[+] EnlargeEvan Royster
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIEvan Royster needs 481 yards to become Penn State's all-time leading rusher.
Eighth, to be exact. Royster has 2,918 career rushing yards entering his senior season at Penn State, but he only needs 481 more to pass Curt Warner for the all-time record.

Barring a snag, Royster will reach the top step before he hangs up his white helmet and black shoes. In anticipation of a more featured role, he added about 15 pounds during the offseason and expects to play at 218 or 219 this fall.

Royster is growing tired of all the talk about his pursuit of the record; he fully grasps what it'll mean.

"It's brought up so much now that I can't stop thinking about it," he said. "I'm not going to lie and say I don't think about it and don't wait it, 'cause I want it. It's something that any person in my position would be setting their goals for."

Royster nearly took himself out of the running by turning pro after the 2009 season. He sent his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board on time but never received a draft evaluation, even after several follow-up requests.

Eventually, Royster returned to Penn State, where he can gain something more valuable than a paycheck.

"If I get that record, I think that will take me further than any NFL career will," he said. "I'll cherish that way more than playing a couple years in the NFL."

Big Ten lunch links

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
12:00
PM ET
Slowest sports news day of the year? Not in Big Ten country.
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and 2010 potential, continue with ...

No. 6: Evan Royster, RB, Penn State, Sr., 6-1, 213

2009 numbers: Finished second in the Big Ten and tied for 38th nationally in rushing average (89.9 ypg); one of only two Big Ten rushers to eclipse 1,000 yards with 1,169; finished fifth in the league in all-purpose yards (104.9 ypg); had best yards-per-carry average (5.7) among Big Ten players with at least 130 carries.

Most recent ranking: No. 15 in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Royster: Royster has been Mr. Consistency for Penn State during the past two seasons, racking up 2,405 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on only 396 carries. His career yards-per-carry average of 6.1 is extremely impressive for a guy who has been in a key role for the past three seasons. Some thought Royster would leave Happy Valley for the NFL, but he returned and needs just 481 rushing yards this fall to break Curt Warner's record and become Penn State's all-time leading rusher. Penn State hasn't overworked Royster to this point -- he has received 20 or more carries just four times in his career -- but the senior likely will shoulder a greater burden in 2010 as an inexperienced quarterback steps into the fire. Royster wants to prove he's a true featured back, and he should have every opportunity to do so this fall. A big senior season will put Royster in contention for national honors and boost his 2011. draft stock.

The rundown

  • No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
  • No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
  • No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
  • No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
  • No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
  • No. 20: Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
  • No. 19: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
  • No. 18: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
  • No. 17: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey
  • No. 16: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
  • No. 15: Wisconsin G/C John Moffitt
  • No. 14: Indiana WR Tandon Doss
  • No. 13: Purdue WR Keith Smith
  • No. 12: Ohio State LB Ross Homan
  • No. 11: Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi
  • No. 10: Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan
  • No. 9: Ohio State G Justin Boren
  • No. 8: Penn State G/C Stefen Wisniewski
  • No. 7: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
Stephfon Green knew what his role would be in the 2010 season before anyone else did.

When fellow Penn State running back Evan Royster decided in January to return for his senior season, Green got the news directly from the source.

[+] EnlargeGreen
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireStephfon Green carried the ball 71 times as Evan Royster's backup last season.
“He told me first, before he told anybody,” Green said, “so I wasn’t surprised.”

Royster’s message meant that Green, in all likelihood, would be handling backup duties for Penn State for the third consecutive season.

Royster has been Penn State’s featured back since 2008, rushing for 2,405 yards and 18 touchdowns during the span. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from last season is on pace to break Curt Warner’s team rushing record this fall.

Bottom line: barring injury, Royster will carry the rock for Penn State in 2010, and Green will spend more time waiting his turn.

“I can’t control what happens,” Green said. “I just try to prepare myself so if anything was to happen [to Royster], I could step in and play that starting role. I don’t have any animosity toward it, I’m not mad or anything like that.

“We just have a real good running back sitting in the backfield this year. It’s good for our team.”

Here’s why Green shouldn’t be too upset about another year as the second-stringer.

Penn State will turn to a young, unproven quarterback this season following the graduation of standout Daryll Clark. To ease the pressure, Joe Paterno and his offensive staff will turn to the running backs.

While Royster boasts an impressive career yards-per-carry average (6.1), he has only averaged 15.2 carries per game in his two seasons as the starter. He has received 20 or more carries just three times in his career. Green, meanwhile, has recorded 176 carries in the past two seasons and should continue to receive a decent number this fall.

“We’re young at quarterback, and we’re probably going to have to rely on the running game a lot this year,” Green said. “I’m happy with the touches I get.”

The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Green generated buzz during spring practice in 2008 after recording several breakaway runs in scrimmages. His A-plus speed and mesmerizing moves made him a coveted recruit coming out of Kennedy High School in Bronx, N.Y.

Green said his style often draws comparisons to that of a certain NFL back.

"Everybody keeps telling me Thomas Jones," he said. "I try to go for LaDainian Tomlinson, but I haven't quite got there yet."

Some expected Green to challenge for the starting job as a freshman, but Royster established himself as Penn State's No. 1 ball carrier and has never looked back. Green still rushed for 578 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries (5.5 ypc average), logging 269 plays.

A dislocated ankle in the Rose Bowl against USC slowed Green, who missed spring ball following surgery. He seemed to be hitting his stride last season with strong performances against Illinois and Eastern Illinois before reinjuring the ankle and missing two games. Green didn't feel 100 percent again until the Capital One Bowl, a 19-17 Penn State win against LSU.

The junior spent this spring working on his blocking, specifically picking up blitzes from different angles.

"I'm trying to be a smarter player, be a student of the game," he said. "Seeing things, talking to the linebackers, asking them what their keys are when they're blitzing, things like that. The overall aspect of blocking, I improved on."

Although he's not a big back, Green added a few pounds to his frame and hopes to be more durable. Just in case he moves up a spot on the depth chart.

"Hopefully, my ankle holds up and I can be more durable," he said. "If you really look at it, I haven't had any other problems but my ankle. If that holds up, I can be more of an asset to this team."
I'm going to be off most of Friday and Monday -- I'll be at the Big Ten presidents and chancellors meeting Sunday -- so the mailblog comes to you a little bit earlier.

We'll begin with a plea from an ailing Penn State fan.

Dan from Center Valley, Pa., writes: Adam-I read your blog every day at least once I day. Just had surgery this morning and I'm in a terrible friggin' mood. Being a recent Penn State grad, think you could write something...ANYTHING...to brighten my mood? The merits of Larry Johnson Sr.'s coaching, how awesome Joe Paterno is, the deliciousness about the creamery's ice cream? These doctors are saying I might be here overnight, think you could help me out. (Yes, I'm reading your blog from the recovery ward)

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, thanks for checking in and hope you get out of there soon. Let's see ... Penn State is playing Alabama at night, which should be an amazing atmosphere at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Penn State fans love night games, right?!?! Also, I'm pretty excited to see what Evan Royster does in his senior season. He's been so consistent for Penn State the past two years, and with a new quarterback, he should finally get a full load of carries. When will Royster break Curt Warner's career rushing record? When will Joe Paterno reach 400 wins? Both things should happen this fall, so get excited! And get well soon, my friend!


Hunter from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: I like the Best Case/Worst Case videos. On the first one (MSU I think) at the end you said what YOU think is PROBABLE for their record, and I missed that with the Penn State and Northwestern videos. I know it's Best/Worst, but I'm interested at least in a general opinion of where you think each team will be at the end of the year. Speculation is just fun, you know?

Adam Rittenberg: Good catch, Hunter. The Spartans can go 8-4 or 9-3 this fall, especially because of the record. They'll lose a game or two that they're not supposed to, but it will be a solid season overall. For Northwestern, the probable result is 7-5 or 6-6. The Wildcats lose a lot of key players, but they have enough winnable games on the schedule, especially early on, to get back to a bowl game.


Kelly from Manassas Take 1: Adam, normally I resist the urge to call you an idiot, but not today. You show your ignorance of Penn State by capping them at 10 and 2 for your best case scenario and greatly underestimate this team with a worst case of 6 and 6. Penn State has more speed than any team they play this year, Alabama included. They can hold their own talent wise with just about anyone. While you are right to question the QB position, it is not as big of a question mark as the fools in the media think it is. Nor is the offensive line where they will field the top player in the league at no less than two positions. The defense is fine. Best case scenario is an undefeated season. Worst case is 9 and 3 as no team on their schedule can match up to them at home.

Kelly from Manassas Take 2: I may have overstated Penn State's chances. While 6 and 6 is a moronic worst case when you look at that schedule, my 9 and 3 may be a game too high. An 8 and 4 absolute worst case scenario is a bit more accurate. Looking at the schedule, talent alone nets them wins against Youngstown State, Kent State, Temple, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and Michigan. Michigan State and Northwestern play in State College and have never had much success but it is possible to lose one of them. Either way, 6 and 6 is not realistic. And this team is entirely capable of running the table whether you want to admit it or not.

Adam Rittenberg: Well, Kelly, since you refrained from calling me an idiot outright -- feel free to do so, by the way -- and you adjusted your scenarios, I'll do the same. Penn State's worst-case scenario can be upgraded to 7-5. I'm not going to go any higher than that because there are far too many questions in all three phases of the game. Everyone focuses on the quarterback situation (guilty as charged), but there are also concerns at offensive line and in special teams. And I didn't show my ignorance by capping the best case at 10-2. Many Penn State fans have contacted me today saying 10-2 or 9-3 is right on the money. Penn State isn't going undefeated, not this year.


Frank from Chicago writes: Adam, the hype surrounding the 2010 Hawkeyes reminds me a lot of the summer of 2005, when Iowa was coming off a Capital One Bowl victory and had Drew Tate and a host of other key players returning. Iowa went on to underachieve horribly, with Tate and many other players being ineffective. How do you think Ferentz will try to prevent the same thing from happening this fall?

Adam Rittenberg: Good comparison, Frank, and Hawkeyes fans should hope history doesn't repeat itself. The difference this year is that many of these players have already been through some mental challenges in 2009, when Iowa had to overcome a lot of adversity to go 11-2. These guys understand expectations, and they know that wins are never guaranteed. Kirk Ferentz is very aware that Iowa football is in a fishbowl, and the Hawkeyes are such a huge deal in that state. I think he'd prefer if everyone toned down the hype, but he knows why it's there. I just don't get the sense Iowa will underachieve because of overconfidence or a lack of focus. The coaching staff and these team leaders won't let that happen. If Iowa struggles, it will be because the Hawkeyes just aren't good enough.


John L. from Phoenix writes: You wrote, "The league also wants to avoid mistakes made in past expansions, and minimize the damage on the back end."I was wondering what you meant by that? Do you feel the Big Ten (11) has made a mistake in past expansion(s)? Or, rather, avoid mistakes made by other conferences? Either way, however, I'm curious to know what mistakes come to your mind when conferences expanded, Big 10 or otherwise.Thank you.

Adam Rittenberg: I was referring to mistakes made by other conferences, not the Big Ten. Jim Delany has brought up the ACC-Big East situation enough to indicate that he'd like to avoid the nastiness that took place in 2003. He knows that there is some inherent messiness when expansion occurs, but he wants to go about things in a certain way, contacting league commissioners before contacting individual institutions.
When I spoke to Evan Royster last spring in State College, Pa., I got the sense he wanted to turn pro after the 2009 season.

Even in recent days, it was a good bet that Royster would forgo his senior season at Penn State and enter the NFL draft. There were some reports around Penn State that he had already decided to depart. Running back is the one position where you can never fault a guy for bolting early.

But in looking at the bigger picture, Royster made the right decision Wednesday when he announced he's staying at Penn State. He wasn't an early-round lock in April's draft, and he can still improve his stock with a monster senior season.

Nittany Lions fans should be very, very excited about this news, especially the Blue Royster Cult (love that name).

Royster gives Penn State a proven weapon on offense next fall as it welcomes a new quarterback, most likely a very young one, to the mix. He's a back-to-back All-Big Ten selection who opposing defenses must respect when they line up against Penn State. He also should help Penn State's other running backs, namely Stephfon Green, who is still waiting for a breakout year.

While Royster's production numbers dropped just a bit this fall -- he had 69 fewer rushing yards and six fewer touchdowns -- he still racked up 1,169 yards and averaged 5.7 yards a carry behind an offensive line that returned only one starter to the position he played in 2008. Despite the departure of Dennis Landolt, Penn State's offensive line should be a strength in 2010, and Royster will be the primary beneficiary.

“I wanted to return to finish my degree and for my final year at Penn State,” Royster said in a statement. "I’m looking forward to next season."

So are Penn State fans, who will watch Royster and Wisconsin's John Clay compete for the title of Big Ten's top running back. Royster also will be in position to become Penn State's all-time leading rusher, as he needs only 481 yards to break Curt Warner's team record (3,398).

Big Ten lunch links

May, 1, 2009
5/01/09
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

"I got a real good chance [to play this fall]," Denard Robinson said. "It's my gut feeling and the coaches have been telling me I have a chance to start."

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