Big Ten: Dace Richardson
What's new: The offensive line certainly has a new look after the departures of Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks. Iowa will be breaking in a new right tackle, most likely Markus Zusevics, and the center spot is up for grabs between Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz. The only other spot that gets a major overhaul is linebacker, as standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds both depart. Iowa is one of only 11 FBS programs to return its coaching staff fully intact for 2010.
Sidelined: Iowa enters camp relatively healthy, although linebacker Ross Petersen won't participate in full-contact drills for at least a week because of a torn pectoral muscle.
Key battle: The competition at center between Koeppel and Ferentz should be good, but Iowa really needs to identify a second starting cornerback opposite Shaun Prater. Amari Spievey leaves a huge void, and the Hawkeyes will be looking to players like Micah Hyde and Jordan Bernstine to step up. Bernstine missed all of last season with an ankle injury, but he played as a reserve in his first two seasons. The situation at running back also should be very interesting to watch during camp.
New on the scene: Iowa doesn't typically play many true freshmen, but heralded tight end recruit C.J. Fiedorowicz should see the field following the departure of standout Tony Moeaki. Homegrown product A.J. Derby is a very interesting young prospect, but indications suggest he'll redshirt this fall.
Back in the fold: Jewel Hampton entered last summer as the projected successor to All-American Shonn Greene at running back, but a series of knee problems ended his season before it began. Hampton is back in the fold but must beat out Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for the starting job. He'll miss the season opener because of a suspension, but we should finally see Hampton's return in Week 2 against Iowa State.
Breaking out: Iowa opened up its passing attack last season and saw Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos emerge as legitimate deep threats in the Big Ten. Johnson-Koulianos likely will finish as Iowa's all-time leading receiver, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per reception with eight touchdowns. Both players could have even bigger years in 2010. Along the defensive line, everyone knows about Adrian Clayborn, but watch out for Broderick Binns, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard, who should see increased opportunities to make plays this fall.
Quotable: "We tend to be a developmental team. We were 9-0 at one point last year, and we were a good team, we had played some great football, but we weren't a great team at that point. In January, we were a pretty good team. We really grew. So it's a race against time. I don't know where we stack up in that race right now." -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz
Not surprisingly, I asked Ferentz about Iowa's offensive line, which has been and will be the team's biggest question mark between now and the season opener Sept. 4 against Eastern Illinois. The Hawkeyes lose four players with starting experience up front -- Bryan Bulaga, Kyle Calloway, Dace Richardson and Rafael Eubanks -- and need to fill three starting spots and build depth.
Ferentz has seen some separation this spring, as six linemen are creating some distance from the pack. Along with tackle Riley Reiff and guard Julian Vandervelde, who have combined for 35 career starts, Ferentz signaled out guard Adam Gettis, tackle Markus Zusevics and center Josh Koeppel and James Ferentz, who are in a tight race this spring.
"Gettis and Zusevics, both of those guys have been in the program," Ferentz said. "Gettis played more than Markus did last year. He played an awful lot of football because Julian was coming off his [pectoral] tear. He really played pretty well last year, and both those guys have potential to be good Big Ten linemen. And then at the center position, it's kind of a dead heat right now.
"Those six guys have operated pretty well, and they're going against good competition, so we're getting a fair evaluation."
After the top six, there are some question marks as Iowa tries to build depth. Ferentz identified guard Cody Hundertmark, a converted defensive linemen, as the closest to being game ready. Hundertmark has showed good ability but is still trying to bring it all together to fit with the scheme.
"We've got some ground to make up in terms of depth," Ferentz said. "I go back to my time here [as offensive line coach] in the '80s, maybe outside of one year, it's always been an issue. We're not uncommon there with any program in the country.
"Our first-line guys are progressing, doing a pretty good job. We've got to keep bringing them along."
Up next is Iowa, which returns 14 starters from a team that went 11-2 and won an Orange Bowl championship last season. The Hawkeyes are especially strong at defensive line, safety and the offensive skill spots, but they need to reload at offensive line and linebacker.
Strongest position: Defensive line
- Key returnees: Defensive end Adrian Clayborn (70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 9 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked kick); defensive end Broderick Binns (63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 9 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick); defensive tackle Karl Klug (65 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 5 passes defended); defensive tackle Christian Ballard (54 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 5 quarterback hurries).
- Key losses: None
- The skinny: The Hawkeyes will boast arguably the nation's best defensive line in 2010, as all four starters return from a group that changed games last fall. Clayborn should contend for All-America honors after being one of the Big Ten's most disruptive defenders last fall. Binns also changed games with several big plays, and all four men contributed to a defense that ranked 10th nationally in yards allowed (276.5 ypg) and eighth in points allowed (15.4). Depth is a mini concern entering 2010, but Iowa boasts so many playmakers among the starting four that it should be fine.
- Key returnees: Tackle Riley Reiff, guard Julian Vandervelde
- Key losses: Tackle Bryan Bulaga, guard Dace Richardson, center Rafael Eubanks, tackle Kyle Calloway
- The skinny: Offensive line is undoubtedly the single biggest question mark for Iowa in 2010 as four players with significant starting experience depart, as well as a few reserves. The good news is head coach Kirk Ferentz has a good track record of filling gaps up front. Reiff emerged nicely during Bulaga's three-game absence in 2009 and will play a critical role in protecting quarterback Ricky Stanzi in 2010. Vandervelde also brings experience to the interior line, but Iowa needs more bodies there. Bulaga was the team's most decorated O-lineman, but Eubanks could end up being the toughest one to replace. Keep an eye on players like Josh Koeppel, Adam Gettis, Markus Zusevics and Kyle Haganman this spring.
Andrew from Laingsburg, Mich., writes: I have no reason to doubt your claim that Jim Harbaugh could be Michigan?s top choice but there are a couple reasons that I?m not sure Harbaugh would want the job. First, wasn?t he just courted by the Bills (and Raiders)? I find it hard to believe that a coach would turn down an NFL job to take the same position at any college, the following season. Secondly, Michigan is not stocking the cupboard for a pro-style offense. They are recruiting lots of skill position guys but few linemen. Additionally, the linemen they are getting are generally of the smaller / faster variety. Harbaugh would have trouble meeting expectations for three or four seasons - when his linemen recruits start being productive. He?s a smart guy and must realize this.
Adam Rittenberg: Harbaugh clearly could go to the NFL if he wants, but Michigan isn't exactly any old college job, especially to Harbaugh, who attended U-M. He's turned down enough opportunities to make me think he'd be very interested in an opening at U-M, should one become available. Now you're absolutely right about Michigan going away from the pro-style offense with its recruiting under Rich Rodriguez, who pioneered the spread. Would Harbaugh want to step into a team recruited for Rodriguez's system? It could dissuade him, but he seems like a pretty confident guy in his own recruiting abilities. And if Michigan brought him in, I think the school would be somewhat patient, especially if things really go south this fall. Then again, Michigan runs the risk of falling off the map for some time with a bunch of mediocre seasons.
Luke from Philly writes: Hey Adam,Quick thing - thanks for the update on Jim Tressel's contract - but at the end of the article, you listed his accomplishments and left off one of the most important: his record against the Wolverines! What the heck?!I am aghast!
Adam Rittenberg: Ha, I almost included the Michigan record but had to race out the door to get to Madison. As most Big Ten fans know, Tressel owns an 8-1 against Ohio State's archrival, including wins in each of the last six games. That is unprecedented in the series. His only loss to the Maize and Blue took place in 2003, a 35-21 Wolverines victory in Ann Arbor.
Bart from Columbus writes: According to your own rankings OSU has a fairly weak team this year in terms of talent, with one player in the top ten and zero in the top five. If the Buckeyes finish first or second this year do you think that would be enough for Tressel to win Big ten Coach of the year? If not what do you think it will take? Is it even possible considering that OSU hasn't received CotY honors for 30 years? Can the award even be taken seriously in light of that statistic?
Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State might have lacked a ton of superstar players in 2009, but by no means were the Buckeyes a "fairly weak team." They did only have one consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection in Kurt Coleman, so if there ever were a year for Jim Tressel to win Coach of the Year, it was 2009. Unfortunately, Tressel fights the perception that Ohio State always has the most, if not the second most talent in the Big Ten every season. Ohio State once again will be the preseason favorite this fall, and no one will be shocked if the Buckeyes win another league championship. Will it preclude Tressel from winning Coach of the Year? We'll see, but fairly or unfairly, he always fights an uphill battle for that award. I think the more media members know he has never won Coach of the Year, the better his chances are of claiming the award at some point.
Sammy from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam,Indiana is having their spring game at night. I think this is an awful idea. What do you think? Also, can if IU does not make a bowl game is Lynch out?
Adam Rittenberg: It's funny how Big Ten fans want more night games during the season but don't seem to want a spring game held at night. The weather issue certainly is a factor, as late April days can be a lot more pleasant than late April nights. Mgoblog's Brian Cook outlines the downsides here, and I agree that a night spring game would work better in, say, Gainesville, then up here in Madison. As for Bill Lynch's future, I could see him surviving with five wins this year, but it would be a tough decision. Indiana has to show more tangible improvement, and a bowl appearance certainly would keep Lynch around. They didn't do him any favors by moving the Penn State game to FedEx Field, but Lynch needs to show he's a guy who can get IU over the hump.
Tim from Bloomington, Ill., writes: Adam,As a Hawkeye fan, I feel very good about next year regarding the players that are returning. It could be a very special season for the Hawkeyes. My major concern is filling the holes left from this year's class on the offensive line. Your thoughts?
Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree with you about the offensive line, Tim. Iowa really has only two players (Riley Reiff and Julian Vandervelde) who have logged significant playing time up front. But the Hawkeyes' tradition of developing linemen and even Reiff's emergence last year gives me confidence that things will be OK this fall. Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson both are pretty big losses, and it'll be interesting to see who becomes the Reiff of 2010.
Here's a look:
Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.
Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.
Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.
Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.
Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.
Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.
Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.
Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.
Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.
Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.
Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.
Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.
Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.
Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.
Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.
Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.
Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.
Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.
Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.
Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.
Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.
Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.
Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.
Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.
Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.
Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.
Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.
Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.
ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui
INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold
IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson
MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor
MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White
MINNESOTA: WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett
NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton
OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington
PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless
PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender
WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield
Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin all return a large core of players from bowl championship squads. Penn State loses a bit more than the others, but running back Evan Royster's return solidifies the run game for 2010.
So how rosy is the Big Ten's outlook for the 2010 season? Colleague Mark Schlabach likes what he sees.
Schlabach lists three Big Ten teams in the top 10 of his way-too-early Top 25. The Big 12 is the only other league with multiple top 16 teams (Texas and Nebraska).
Rose Bowl champion Ohio State comes in at No. 2, one spot behind reigning national champ Alabama. Don't be surprised if the two teams who won bowl games in Pasadena meet for the national title in Glendale, Ariz., next year.
Iowa comes in at No. 9 in Schlabach's poll, as nine starters return on defense. Wisconsin surges to a No. 10 ranking and will return 10 starters on offense, including running back John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year.
Penn State rounds out the Big Ten contingent at No. 19.
Here's what Schlabach wrote about each Big Ten squad:
Ohio State: "Terrelle Pryor finally looked like the quarterback everyone thought he would be, and coach Jim Tressel might finally be ready to open his playbook in 2010, Pryor's third season."
Iowa: "Iowa will have back six starters on offense, but the line must be rebuilt with center Rafael Eubanks, right guard Dace Richardson, left tackle Bryan Bulaga and right tackle Kyle Calloway leaving. Nine starters should return to a very stingy defense."
Wisconsin: "With tailback John Clay coming back, and quarterback Scott Tolzien making big strides at season's end, the Badgers should be very good on offense in 2010."
Penn State: "Penn State coach Joe Paterno needs six more wins to reach 400 career victories, but he'll have to rebuild his team's defense to match this season's 11-2 record."
Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Adam, Where do you see Iowa ranked going into next year? How do you feel about their offensive line situation cause that seems to be their biggest question? Do you see any possibility of them going out and hiring Chuck Long as a QB Coach?
Adam Rittenberg: Iowa will enter the 2010 season ranked anywhere from No. 7 to No. 12. If voters do their homework, they'll see what Iowa has coming back on both sides of the ball. Linebacker and offensive line are the only questionable position groups, and there are several exciting young players in both spots. Offensive line is certainly the biggest uncertainty, though you have to like Iowa's history there. If a few more Riley Reiffs emerge, the Hawkeyes will be fine. As for Chuck Long, he was just named co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Kansas, so he's not coming to Iowa right now.
Will from Cambridge, Mass., writes: Hi Adam,Enjoy reading the blog on a daily basis and your level headed analysis. I saw you mentioned Corey Wooten being a day 1 draft pick and am curious if you realize that day 1 is just the first round this year. Day 2 will be 2nd and 3rd round with day 3 being 4-7. I think Wooten has the ability to play in the NFL, but I can't see a team risking a first rounder on him.Regards,Will
Adam Rittenberg: Good catch, Will. I don't see Wootton as a first-rounder, either, so he's a Day 2 pick in my book. Forgot about the change to the draft schedule, as I'm not one of those folks who believe Christmas comes during a weekend in April. Thanks for your note.
Andrew from East Lansing, Mich., writes: So, Adam, given the national outrage directed toward Ohio State and Iowa after they played conservative football for three minutes, I am eagerly awaiting the upcoming columns berating Nick Saban for the most conservative gameplan of the last half-century. Not even Tressel could execute an entire 40 minutes of punts and runs exclusively up the middle, so I am sure the national pundits will be equally vicious in their treatment of Saban, regardless of the game's outcome.
Adam Rittenberg: In case it isn't obvious, Andrew is being sarcastic. But he brings up a good point about Saban, who would have been skewered if Texas had rallied at the end for the victory instead of giving the ball away 14 times in the final three minutes. Then again, he's an SEC coach, so the media would have gone easy on him. Going back to the Ohio State-Iowa game, I had a bigger problem with Ferentz's decisions at the end of regulation than what Tressel did. You expect that from Tressel, but Ferentz had a chance to get to the Rose Bowl but opted for overtime and lost.
Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, you have mentioned in several posts that Iowa loses 2 starting OL next fall. Am I miscounting? From my knowledge, Bulaga, Richardson, Calloway, and Eubanks all started and are all not returning.
Adam Rittenberg: I've been writing the Hawkeyes will lose three starters: Bulaga, Richardson and Calloway. Rafael Eubanks started every game at center, so that makes four. Then again, Riley Reiff started 11 games and Julian Vandervelde started eight games, so both of them could be considered returning starters next year. I think it's safe to go with either three or four starters gone and two, Reiff and Vandervelde, coming back.
Eric from Navarre, Fla., writes: Adam, Thanks for your blog. It's always my first stop on ESPN. I did have a question regarding the recent bowl success and the Big 10 expansion. Do you think that the recent bowl success will pacify the ADs and will reduce the probability of an expansion? It seemed some the ADs wanted the expansion in order to make the Big 10 more competitive versus the other conferences. As one that wants the expansion, I hope not!
Adam Rittenberg: That's a great question, Eric. I was thinking the exact same thing after the bowls, especially after several teams with long layoffs (Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State) scored huge wins. I don't think it'll slow down the expansion movement too much, especially since the league has already come out publicly and said something. Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez told me in California that all the ADs and the coaches want expansion, so the league will be active in its search. But this year's bowls did somewhat disprove the argument that a long layoff and no championship game hurts these teams and these coaches. Norm Parker and Jim Heacock certainly benefited from having time to prepare for Georgia Tech and Oregon.
Richardson will go out on top, opting not to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. The All-Big Ten guard hopes to make it in the NFL, and if he can stay healthy, he's got a good shot.
With Richardson gone, the attention turns to left tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Amari Spievey, both of whom face decisions about the NFL. Bulaga plans to release a statement later this week regarding his decision, while Spievey is heading home to Connecticut with no guarantees he'll be back in Iowa City for the start of the spring semester.
Here's what Bulaga told The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette on Tuesday night about his decision:
"The thing is it's not all about the money. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. It’s about the love of the game. Every guy in here dreams about the next level and going to the NFL. When an opportunity knocks on the door, some guys are ready to take it and some want to stay an extra year. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s more than just the money. It’s your career, it’s your dreams, it’s everything. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just making some money. There’s more to it than just that."Sounds like a guy who's ready to make the jump to the next level. Bulaga certainly helped his cause Tuesday night against Georgia Tech. Aside from one holding penalty, he pretty much shut down star defensive end Derrick Morgan and created rushing lanes for Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.
Bulaga already has the credentials to get noticed. He was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year this fall and earned back-to-back All-Big Ten honors.
It'd be a surprise if he came back. If Bulaga leaves, Iowa's offensive line will have to replace three starters, which is tough but far from impossible.
Spievey also could make the jump, though he said he's 50-50 right now. Another year at Iowa could help his draft stock, but it's already pretty high.
- Riley Reiff is moving from left guard to right tackle.
- Kyle Calloway is moving from right tackle to right guard.
- Julian Vandervelde is moving from right guard to left guard.
- Richardson will rotate some with Vandervelde at left guard.
As kickoff approaches, bloggers Heather Dinich (ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down an intriguing matchup that has largely flown under the national radar.
Adam Rittenberg: You're right about the records, HD, but I'd like to challenge the ACC or any other league to go through the Big Ten's bowl lineup. No other lineup comes close in terms of difficulty with matchups and locations. I doubt the ACC would enjoy facing USC in its backyard every Jan. 1, especially after stumbling in all those Orange Bowls. I definitely agree with you about picking this game. It ain't easy (more on that later). Let's talk more about the game's premier matchup, Georgia Tech's triple option offense vs. Iowa's fundamentally sound defense. The Hawkeyes are very solid in all three phases of their defense, especially the front seven with Adrian Clayborn, Broderick Binns, Pat Angerer and others. Veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker has had about a month to prepare for the triple option, and it still might not be enough time to stop Jonathan Dwyer and Josh Nesbitt.
Do you think a team has a major advantage with more time to prepare for Georgia Tech's offense, or are the Yellow Jackets simply too good on that side of the ball?
Dinich: As Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, there is simply no way for Iowa – or any other team for that matter – to simulate what Georgia Tech can do, in terms of the precision, speed and playmakers who will execute it on Tuesday night. Yes, there is some advantage to having more than a week to prepare -- both Clemson and Miami devoted some of their summer camp to getting a head start on that conference game and it paid off (especially for Miami). The key is how long it will take Iowa’s defense to get comfortable with it? Norm Parker will have his players as prepared as they can be, and Iowa has the discipline it will take to stop them, but my question is whether or not the Hawkeyes have the offense to keep Georgia Tech off the field. The best defense against the Jackets is for Iowa to sustain its own drives and control the clock. Do the Hawkeyes have the offensive line to make that happen?
Rittenberg: That's an excellent question, Heather. Iowa's offensive line gets a lot of accolades, and the group boasts two first-team All-Big Ten performers in tackle Bryan Bulaga (Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year) and guard Dace Richardson. But most of us who have watched Iowa all season agree that at times, the line has underachieved. It's far from a bad O-line, but Iowa certainly has the potential to stall. According to ESPN's Stats & Information group, Iowa averages just 3.3 yards rushing on first down, which is seventh worst in the country. The Hawkeyes should have backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher on the field Tuesday night, and Richardson's return from injury will be huge, but they'll need to run the ball decently to set up the play-action passing attack. The line also needs to keep Derrick Morgan away from Ricky Stanzi, which won't be easy.
I was struck by something you wrote Monday, about Georgia Tech not being a catch-up team. That description fits Iowa, which has rallied in eight of its 10 victories. Iowa has been a pretty average team in the first three quarters, but a great one in the fourth.
Should Georgia Tech grab the early lead, how do you see things playing out?
Rittenberg: Ah, so they are a catch-up team. You trying to trick me, HD? As you know, Georgia Tech has several NFL-ready players and an offense that seems to be working well in other bowl games (Air Force, Navy). But having been around Iowa a lot this season, I can say there's something special about this Hawkeyes team, which just won't go away and continues to find ways to win games. The combination of Parker with a month to prepare and Stanzi's return to the lineup gives Iowa enough confidence to pull out another thriller, in come-from-behind fashion, of course. Iowa wins this one, 28-27. What say you?
Dinich: Haha yes, always trying to baffle the Big Ten. :) But really, if Iowa is the hot team early, that means they've figured Georgia Tech out, and the Jackets won't be able to overcome that, especially knowing how they've struggled defensively. That being said, I think Paul Johnson controls the clock, Stanzi gives up a gift or two (not five) and GT wins, 28-24. And knowing my picks and the ACC, that adds up to a win for the Hawkeyes.
For your reference, my preseason All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten's official all-conference squads.
QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
WR: Keith Smith, Purdue
WR: Blair White, Michigan State
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OL: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Dace Richardson, Iowa
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
DL: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DL: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
CB: Donovan Warren, Michigan
CB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Tyler Sash, Iowa
P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
K: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Ray Fisher, Indiana
PR: Ray Small, Ohio State
All-Big Ten selections by team: Penn State (5), Iowa (5), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (3), Michigan State (3), Michigan (3), Northwestern (1), Purdue (1), Indiana (1)
There were 16 selections who also made the preseason All-Big Ten squad: Clark, Royster, Clay, Bulaga, Wisniewski, Boren, Garrett Graham, Brandon Graham, Odrick, Jones, Bowman, Angerer, Coleman, Mesko, Swenson and Small.
Ferentz continues to be mentioned as a possible candidate for the vacancy at Notre Dame. Much like with Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, I really don't see this as a strong possibility. Ferentz has numerous reasons to remain at Iowa, namely a huge salary and the ability to go 8-4 and not fear for a pink slip.
Though the 11th-year Hawkeyes coach declined to comment on the Notre Dame vacancy, saying it's "Notre Dame's business, nobody else's," he did reiterate that he's happy in Iowa City. Ferentz is the second-longest tenured head coach in the Big Ten, behind only Penn State's Joe Paterno.
"I've had paychecks from three different places now since 1981," Ferentz said. "My first full-time job was here [at Iowa]. I'm not a vagabond coach, and I like it where I'm at. ... I don't see things changing here."
Ferentz also addressed other topics, including Iowa's injury situation:
- The health front seems pretty good for Iowa, as starting running back Adam Robinson (ankle) will practice this weekend when the team resumes workouts. Starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi (ankle) is close to a return and will throw in practice this weekend. Linebackers Jeremiha Hunter (ankle) and Jeff Tarpinian (knee) also are expected back. Guard Dace Richardson's situation is still a bit up in the air, but Ferentz remains optimistic the All-Big Ten selection will be ready for the bowl game. Ferentz also will talk with Richardson this week about the possibility of returning for a sixth season.
- Ferentz on Stanzi: "He's moving around really well. He was bouncing around a week ago Saturday. He probably could have thrown the ball, but he'd be at risk back there. But things are really going well with his rehab. ... I fully anticipate him to be full speed probably next week. He could probably play this week."
- Ferentz didn't address possible early departures to the NFL and said players would not be commenting, either. Cornerback Amari Spievey, left tackle Bryan Bulaga and defensive end Adrian Clayborn are three Hawkeyes juniors who could bolt early.
- Not surprisingly, Ferentz didn't say too much about Iowa's bowl prospects and the likely battle against Penn State for a BCS at-large berth. He's leaving the stumping to athletic director Gary Barta. But he did say head-to-head should be a major factor.
Here are a few things that stood out to me.
The Big Surprise
Let me preface this by saying Penn State's Jared Odrick is an outstanding player, the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten and most likely a future star in the NFL. But I was extremely surprised to see the coaches select Odrick as both Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. I had a similar reaction to seeing the media pick Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
In what might have been the most competitive Defensive POY race ever, Odrick wasn't on the radar for most people. If the award would go to a Penn State player, linebacker Navorro Bowman appeared to be the No. 1 choice. Bowman was in the mix with linebacker Greg Jones, end Brandon Graham, end O'Brien Schofield, safety Kurt Coleman, linebacker Pat Angerer, end Adrian Clayborn and end Ryan Kerrigan.
Odrick is a great player who commands double teams on almost every play, but how do you ignore Graham, who had 25 tackles for loss on a bad defense? Or Jones, who makes every tackle on the field? Or Coleman, the top playmaker on the league's best defense? And if the coaches think interior line play is underappreciated, they should have voted Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, not Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. King was much more of a difference maker than Laurinaitis last fall.
Again, nothing against Odrick, but this pick was a head scratcher.
Other thoughts and notes
- It's not a huge surprise, but Ohio State's lack of representation on the first-team All-Big Ten squads certainly stands out. The Buckeyes had only one player (Coleman) on the coaches' ballot and only two (Coleman and guard Justin Boren) on the media's. This certainly strengthens Jim Tressel's case for Coach of the Year, an award he has never won.
- For the most part, the selections didn't penalize players who missed time because of injuries. Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga was a consensus first-team selection and Offensive Lineman of the Year despite missing three games (thyroid). Bulaga's teammate, tight end Tony Moeaki, also made All-Big Ten (first-team coaches, second-team media) despite missing time (ankle). Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker was a first-team pick by the coaches even though he missed the final four regular-season games. Northwestern cornerback Sherrick McManis, Iowa guard Dace Richardson and Penn State linebacker Sean Lee also earned all-conference honors despite sitting out games.
- Both the coaches and the media identified the top eight defensive linemen in the league for the first and second teams. They also did a nice job with the defensive backs. The second-team linebacker selections were a little curious. I don't know how Ohio State's Brian Rolle or Indiana's Matt Mayberry get left out.
- Iowa's Adam Robinson would have been a good pick for second-team running back, but I don't have a major problem with the selections.
- Northwestern finally got some recognition this year with five All-Big Ten selections. The Wildcats won one more game last year (9-3) but had only one All-Big Ten player (defensive end Corey Wootton).
- The coaches' voting was very close, as three positions (defensive back, center and wide receiver) ended up with ties.
- Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark was the right choice for the first team. It was a very close call between Northwestern's Mike Kafka and Purdue's Joey Elliott for second team, but Kafka led his team to more wins.
- Both the coaches and media got it right with Wisconsin's Chris Borland for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Borland is the first defensive player to win the award since Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert in 2000.
- The selections include 15 members of the first or second team from 2008, including seven first-team selections from last fall who are on this year's first team: Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko, Jones, Decker, Bowman, Clark and Odrick, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham.
Michigan State: 4
Ohio State: 6
Penn State: 9
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Happy Halloween from Kinnick Stadium, where No. 4 Iowa tries to continue its perfect season today against Indiana (ESPN, noon ET).
I dressed up as a sportswriter. How about you?
Iowa leads the all-time series, 39-27-4, though Indiana has won two of the last three meetings.
I'm excited to finally see Indiana in person, as the Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team I haven't seen live since starting this job.
The sun is shining and temperatures will hover in the mid to upper 40s, but the wind likely will be a factor as it's blowing at 15-20 miles an hour. Should be a fun day for the specialists.
Injuries: Indiana's injury report can be found here. Starting outside linebacker Will Patterson is expected to return from a hand injury, while cornerback Donnell Jones also returns to the lineup. Iowa will be playing its first game without leading rusher Adam Robinson, out for the rest of the regular season with an ankle sprain. True freshman Brandon Wegher makes his first career start at running back, and Iowa could be using two more freshman, Brad Rogers and Josh Brown, for the first time this season. Iowa also will replace starting right guard Dace Richardson (broken leg) with Julian Vandervelde. It will also be interesting to see how safety Brett Greenwood and wide receiver Colin Sandeman respond after absorbing big hits in last week's win against Michigan State.
THREE KEYS FOR INDIANA
1. Pressure Ricky Stanzi: Iowa is shorthanded at running back and likely will look to throw often, so Indiana must pressure Stanzi with talented defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. The Hawkeyes' offensive line hasn't been all that great at preventing sacks, and Kirlew, who has 5.5 sacks this season, needs to have a big day.
2. Hit home runs on offense: The Hoosiers can't expect many sustained drives against Iowa, but they have enough big-play ability to test the Hawkeyes' defense. Running back Darius Willis can take it to the house if he gets in the open field, and wideouts Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher can stretch the field.
3. Hang in there: Iowa hasn't blown out anybody at home and will let teams hang around. Indiana must limit turnovers and major mistakes, play field position and force a few miscues from Stanzi. Despite Iowa's clutch play this season, the Hawkeyes can only play with fire for so long.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Get the run game going: Everyone wants to know how Iowa will respond without Robinson, so getting Wegher some early confidence will be key. Wegher hasn't taken on a full load of carries this season, but he boasts breakaway ability around the edges.
2. Attack downfield with Moeaki, McNutt and DJK: Indiana's secondary is vulnerable, and Stanzi has been at his best when attacking down the field. Iowa must force Indiana's linebackers to chase tight end Tony Moeaki, and wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos should be able to create some separation.
3. Put a team away if the opportunity is there: Winning close games on the road are great, but Iowa has failed to pull away from Northern Iowa, Arkansas State and Michigan on its home field. If the Hawkeyes get up early on Indiana, they must put the Hoosiers away. Iowa could really use a fourth quarter without much drama right about now.