Big Ten: Damian Sims
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If you bought a desk or a table at McGregors Furniture, he might have helped you carry it to your car.
If you frequented one of the local gyms in Coralville or Iowa City, he might have been pumping iron a few feet away.
You probably didn't notice him. Sure, he was a big, strong guy. Maybe he played sports at one stage of his life, but not now. Star athletes don't punch the clock in the warehouse at McGregors. Star athletes don't work out by themselves at Gold's Gym.
"They probably would be surprised that it was me," Shonn Greene said.
Last year, Shonn Greene was just a guy. Academic struggles at Iowa had forced him to leave the school and the football team and try to boost his grades at Kirkwood Community College.
Greene's ineligibility prevented him from using any of Iowa's on-campus facilities. He spent the year studying on his own, working out on his own and hauling furniture at McGregors. He remained connected to the program through his roommate, Hawkeyes running back Albert Young, but he spent most of the year by himself.
"Everybody doesn't come out of stuff like that," Greene said. "But I just kept doing what I had to do and came out of it OK."
If "OK" means reclaiming your starting job, rushing for more than 100 yards in the first eight games of the season and vaulting to No. 3 nationally in rushing average (144.3 ypg), then yes, Greene came out OK. The truth is he's better than OK, better than anyone could have imagined following a year in exile.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Iowa's Shonn Greene is averaging 6.8 yards a carry this season.|
The competition-makes-us-better line is one rung below one-game-at-a-time on the sports cliche-o-meter, but Iowa is backing it up this season.
The Hawkeyes had few jobs solidified on offense heading into camp, including both quarterback and running back. Gone were top rushers Albert Young and Damian Sims. Former walk-on Paki O'Meara emerged from spring ball as the starter, and the presumed favorite to become the featured back, Shonn Greene, had spent the previous year away from the team at a junior college. Quarterback Jake Christensen didn't inspire great confidence after starting last season, and he needed to beat out Ricky Stanzi to remain on the top line.
Greene's name didn't even appear on the Week 1 depth chart, which contained plenty of slashes rather than commas between players, signifying positions that were still unsettled.
"I don't know if I was safe in my spot," senior guard Seth Olsen said. "I felt the competition, too. On the defensive side, Matt [Kroul] and Mitch [King] are going to start, but offensively, we went into camp thinking, 'Alright, every spot is up for grabs.' That helped us perform at a higher level."
As Iowa heads into Saturday's rivalry game against Iowa State, it has found answers at several offensive trouble spots, and competition gets the credit. Left guard is the only spot still undetermined on this week's depth chart.
"In most cases, it's a matter of two guys that we feel are pretty capable," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's usually more of that than anything else. Sometimes it means you don't have anybody, and we may find that to be true down the road. But I don't think that's the case.
"I think our depth is probably a little better this year than it's been maybe in some years at some positions."
Greene has shown no rust whatsoever thus far, ranking second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing average (119.5 ypg). The junior is averaging 6.8 yards a carry and has yet to lose a yard.
The competition has been extremely weak -- Maine and Florida International -- but Greene could be in store for another big day against Iowa State, which ranks 104th nationally in rushing defense (211.5 ypg). Despite the time off last season, Greene has quickly improved his conditioning for games.
"He's not there yet, but at least these [games] have been good," Ferentz said. "It's a good start for him at least to go out there and compete in game competition, to get whacked."
Stanzi hasn't been whacked much, which is a good thing for an offensive line that allowed 46 sacks in 2007. The sophomore came on strong toward the end of the preseason and has replaced Christensen as the team's starter.
"Both guys have really done a good job in all the situations that they've been in," Ferentz said, "and the thing that motivated us to start Rick last week, we didn't have a chance to see him as a starter. This is the first time we got an exposure to that. I think he handled it well."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Clear your Saturday schedule, especially the afternoon and evening. This week brings us the best Big Ten games of the nonconference season, if not the entire fall. Aside from a few more interleague matchups later this month, Saturday will be the biggest chance for the Big Ten to prove it isn't overrated and can compete on a national stage.
Here's a look:
Florida Atlantic at Michigan State (noon ET)
The defending Sun Belt champs come to East Lansing, and this shouldn't be an easy game for the Spartans. Quarterback Rusty Smith and wide receiver Cortez Gent will test a Spartans secondary led by safety Otis Wiley, who looks like the player we saw in 2006 (10 PBUs, 6.5 TFLs). Nobody has been able to touch Smith so far, and Saturday will be a chance for Spartans end Trevor Anderson to back up his preseason hype. Coming off a five-touchdown performance, Michigan State's Javon Ringer should have another big day against the nation's 97th-ranked rushing defense.
Louisiana-Lafayette at No. 24 Illinois (noon ET)
It's important for the Illini to stop a somewhat disturbing pattern on defense and start stuffing the run. Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rushing defense after the first two weeks, a troubling sign for a team that lists the defensive line as its strength. Louisiana-Lafayette has the nation's No. 1 rushing quarterback -- and 10th leading rusher overall -- in senior Michael Desormeaux (146 ypg). Expect another big day from Illini quarterback Juice Williams, but getting the run defense in order has to be the top priority.
Southern Illinois at Northwestern (noon ET)
Northwestern needs a rebound performance from C.J. Bacher and the offense after being fortunate to escape Duke with a 24-20 win on Saturday. Bacher's timing looked off against the Blue Devils and the offense still could be adjusting to new coordinator Mick McCall. Igniting Tyrell Sutton would be a good first step after the senior running back cramped up against Duke and finished with just 66 rushing yards on 16 carries. Southern Illinois, an FBS powerhouse under former coach Jerry Kill, allowed 403 passing yards in a narrow win against Hampton last week.
Montana State at Minnesota (noon ET)
A perfect nonconference season looks likely for the Gophers, but they can't get complacent against FBS Montana State. Keep in mind that Minnesota lost to North Dakota State last year. Sophomore quarterback Adam Weber won't let that happen again, but the spotlight will be on the Gophers' running backs after starter Duane Bennett went down with a knee injury last week. Montana State opened the season by routing my favorite college team, Adams State, before getting the tables turned last week in a 69-10 loss to Kansas State.
Iowa State at Iowa (noon ET)
The Hawkeyes are off and running, ranking 18th nationally in rushing offense (243 ypg) despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. Their in-state rivals have been susceptible to the run so far (211.5 ypg allowed), but Iowa State still provides the first significant test for Kirk Ferentz's team. Ferentz listed sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi as the starter on this week's depth chart, and though junior Jake Christensen could still play, signs suggest the job is Stanzi's. Another strong performance against the Cyclones could cement things for him.
No. 16 Oregon at Purdue (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Get ready for some offense. Word has it Oregon can move the ball a bit, and the Ducks have scored 110 points in their first two games. Purdue used to put up numbers like those, and the Boilermakers are still pretty potent behind record-setting senior quarterback Curtis Painter. This will be a major test for the Boilermakers linebackers, particularly first-year starter Kevin Green in the middle. If Green and Anthony Heygood somehow find a way to contain Jeremiah Johnson or LeGarrette Blount, Purdue will hang around.
No. 17 Penn State at Syracuse (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
Desperate teams can be dangerous, but the Orange and embattled coach Greg Robinson have too many problems to keep pace with Penn State and the high-powered Spread HD offense. Penn State ranks third nationally in scoring and eighth in rushing, which doesn't bode well for an Orange defense allowing 243.5 rush yards per game. Depending on the outcome of the suspensions for starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma, Penn State should use this game to audition several young players, as line depth has become a concern after the season-ending loss of end Jerome Hayes (torn ACL).
Michigan at Notre Dame (3:30 p.m. ET)
The two traditional powerhouses look anything but so far this season, particularly on offense. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez plans to stick with Steven Threet at quarterback but will need continued production from running backs Sam McGuffie and Brandon Minor. Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen threw three touchdowns last week but struggled with his decision-making at times. Clausen likely will face pressure from Michigan's veteran defensive line, which manhandled him last year in Ann Arbor (eight sacks).
No. 5 Ohio State at No. 1 USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET)
If you're just tuning in -- from Mars -- Ohio State and USC will meet at the L.A. Coliseum to likely determine the nation's No. 1 team and the early national title favorite. The teams have combined for 18 national titles and 14 Heisman Trophy winners, and both rank among the top seven all-time in winning percentage. The game's biggest factor could be Ohio State junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, a big-game player who comes off a toe injury. The Buckeyes looked lost on offense without Wells last week against Ohio and need him near 100 percent. USC quarterback Mark Sanchez faces a senior-laden Ohio State defense that intercepted four passes last week.
No. 10 Wisconsin at No. 21 Fresno State (ESPN2, 10:30 p.m. ET)
This one is worth staying up for in Big Ten country. Wisconsin has an excellent chance to validate itself as a BCS bowl contender by beating the Bulldogs where few dare to play them -- in their own backyard. P.J. Hill and the Badgers' backs face a Fresno State defense that held Rutgers to seven points in the opener. Hill could wear down the Bulldogs, but Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge likely will need to make several big plays and will search for tight end Travis Beckum, expected to make his season debut along with standout linebacker Jonathan Casillas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It was a heavy news day around the Big Ten, so my regularly scheduled mailbag will be pushed back to Wednesday. From here on out I'll have mailbags on Tuesdays and Fridays, so make sure to send in your questions.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced this afternoon that junior Jake Christensen will start at quarterback Saturday against Maine. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who has come on strong toward the end of preseason camp, also will see action. Christensen threw for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions as the starter last season, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.
"He came in as a starter, and I think he's practiced well," Ferentz said of Christensen. "It's not a matter of his performance. He's elevated his performance from the spring. I thought he was better in the spring than he was in the fall [of 2007], and I think he's continued to improve, which is what we're hoping for."
Here are some notes and links I didn't get to earlier:
- Ferentz announced that reserve running back Nate Guillory will transfer. Guillory had been competing for the starting job this month but fell behind opening-day starter Shonn Greene and emerging sophomore Paki O'Meara. Freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton are also in the fold, so Ferentz isn't concerned about depth despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. "The jury is still out because we haven't played a snap that counts," he said, "but based on what we've seen, we're pretty optimistic."
- Ferentz also announced that tight end Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wideout Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will miss the opener with injuries. Doering, a possible starter at left guard, has a hand injury but should be back by next week. Moeaki will miss 1-2 weeks with a foot injury. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has a hamstring injury but could play.
- Wideout Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are no longer with Illinois' team, coach Ron Zook announced today. Gamble had been expected to contribute at receiver this fall.
- Minnesota's Week 1 depth chart is out, and not surprisingly, there are some notable changes. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons are listed as starters at safety and cornerback, and former wideout Marcus Sherels has won the other starting cornerback spot. Sherels also will serve as the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts.
- Sophomore Ralph Spry and emerging junior Ben Kuznia have joined star Eric Decker as the Gophers' starting wideouts. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith are listed as backups. Minnesota's starting spots at left guard and right tackle remain undecided. Sophomore D.J. Burris is competing with Ryan Orton at left guard, and redshirt freshmen Ryan Wynn or Jason Meinke will start at right tackle.
- Penn State safety Nick Sukay will miss the season with a broken bone in his foot, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Starting cornerback Tony Davis expects Lydell Sargeant to win the other top CB job, Jeff McLane writes.
- Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is healthier but must leapfrog several players on the depth chart, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Also check out the list of Buckeyes true freshmen likely to play this fall (besides Terrelle Pryor, of course).
- Maybe RichRod is fooling all of us, but he seems fine with playing two quarterbacks in the season opener, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio praises the play of defensive end Dwayne Holmes, who could start the opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz named junior Shonn Greene the starter at running back for Saturday's season opener against Maine. Greene, who attended a junior college last season because of academic issues, was left off Iowa's Week 1 depth chart but will get the start on Saturday.
The 5-11, 235-pound Greene had 32 carries for 202 yards (6.5 average) in 2006.
"He'll start the game and we expect him to get a good day's work in," Ferentz said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches teleconference.
Paki O'Meara will be the primary backup for an Iowa team replacing its top two rushers, Albert Young and Damian Sims.
After an extended examination of the Big Ten quarterbacks, from conundrums at four schools to stability at others, it's time to start rolling out position rankings. Let's begin with a look at the league's running backs.
For several positions, such as running back, wide receiver and linebacker, I'll break up the rankings into individual (top 10) and team. For offensive line, it will only be team. The reason? Beanie Wells is the Big Ten's best running back, but Wisconsin's four-pack might be the strongest group.
|AP Photo/Terry Gilliam|
|Beanie Wells rushed for 1,609 yards and 15 TDs last season.|
1. Chris "Beanie" Wells, Jr., Ohio State -- Heisman contender enters his junior season as the league's premier back. Wells was consistently productive last season despite playing most of it with a bad ankle and a broken bone in his left wrist. His offensive line returns virtually intact, putting Beanie in line for another 1,500-yard season.
2. Javon Ringer, Sr., Michigan State -- Excellent slasher could push Wells for the league's rushing title. Last fall, Ringer rushed for 1,447 yards and six touchdowns -- big man Jehuu Caulcrick usually got the call near the goal line -- and expects to get more carries this season. Caulcrick's absence could hurt, but Ringer has thrived in the team's run-first offense.
3. P.J. Hill, Jr., Wisconsin -- The Badgers will throw different looks at defenses, but Hill is undoubtedly the first option. Hill finally enjoyed a healthy offseason and was able to increase his strength in the weight room. Despite being banged up last fall, Hill still rushed for 1,212 yards and 14 touchdowns. If he stays on the field, his combination of size and speed is hard to contain.
4. Tyrell Sutton, Sr., Northwestern -- After winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2005, Sutton has left center stage, struggling in an anemic offense as a sophomore and missing most of last season with a high ankle sprain. He's fully healthy and headlines an offense stocked with veteran skill players. If a new-look line jells, Sutton will show why he's still one of the league's best backs.
5. Evan Royster, So., Penn State -- Teammate Stephfon Green has Happy Valley buzzing, but defenses better not forget about Royster. He averaged 6.3 yards a carry last season as Rodney Kinlaw's backup, and enters the summer as Penn State's No. 1 back. Royster is a strong between-the-tackles runner but, like Green, has breakaway ability, as he showed with a 38-yard touchdown in the Alamo Bowl.
6. Kory Sheets, Sr., Purdue -- Fumbling problems have prevented Sheets from becoming Purdue's featured back, but he could claim the lion's share of the carries as a senior. Sheets averaged 5.1 yards per carry and scored 11 touchdowns last fall, finishing ninth in the league with 859 rushing yards. If he can hang onto the ball this fall, Sheets should have a strong finish to his career.
7. Jaycen Taylor, Jr., Purdue -- Taylor is definitely tough enough to be Purdue's featured back. He returned to the field last fall just four games after breaking his left arm. The next step is consistent production, which Taylor showed at times in 2007. Sheets' ongoing fumbling problems caused coach Joe Tiller to give Taylor the slight edge on the depth chart coming out of spring ball.
8. Marcus Thigpen, Sr. Indiana -- Everyone knows Thigpen has elite speed, but he hasn't proven to be a viable threat out of the backfield. The senior figures to get more carries this fall as Indiana tries to complement quarterback Kellen Lewis with another rushing threat. Thigpen proved he can step up in big games, rushing for 140 yards in a bowl-clinching win against Purdue last November.
9. Stephfon Green, Fr., Penn State -- He hasn't played a college game yet, but his speed and big-play potential have Penn State fans counting the days until Aug. 30. Green will play behind Evan Royster, but if he duplicates his spring-practice highlights in a meaningful setting, he'll dash past a lot of backs on this list.
10. Lance Smith-Williams, Jr., Wisconsin -- Teammate Zach Brown merits a mention here, but consider what Smith-Williams did last season. Suspended from playing in away games, he rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns on only 71 carries (6.0 ypc average). Allowed to travel with the team this season, Smith-Williams provides an excellent complement to Hill in the run game.
1. Wisconsin -- The variety of size, skill and depth provided by Hill, Smith-Williams, Brown and hyped redshirt freshman John Clay can't be matched in the league. A new starting quarterback will have plenty of help.
3. Penn State -- If Green backs up his hype on the field, the Lions could jump up the list. Royster and Green give Penn State two formidable threats alongside a new starting quarterba
4. Purdue -- Sheets and Taylor have competed forever, with neither man cementing the No. 1 spot. But as a tandem, they give pass-happy Purdue another strong dimension.
5. Michigan State -- Ringer is a proven star who can punish defenses with his slashing speed. Though the Spartans lost Caulcrick, the league's eighth-leading rusher last season, hopes are high for A.J. Jimmerson, Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett.
6. Northwestern -- The Wildcats should get back to their running roots under new offensive coordinator Mick McCall. Sutton is dangerous when healthy, and versatile senior Omar Conteh filled in nicely last fall.
7. Michigan -- No proven commodities here, but offensive coordinator Calvin Magee has a track record for producing all-league backs. Brandon Minor looked good this spring, and Carlos Brown returns from a broken finger. If Kevin Grady resolves his legal troubles, he gives the Wolverines a big, versatile body in the backfield.
8. Illinois -- Quarterback Juice Williams is a running threat, but Illinois didn't identify a replacement for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Rashard Mendenhall in spring practice. Junior Daniel Dufrene likely will get the first shot at the top job, with both Troy Pollard and freshman Mikel LeShoure also in the mix.
9. Indiana -- When opponents prepare for Indiana's run game, they talk about quarterback Lewis. It's up to the running backs -- Thigpen, Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray or freshman Darius Willis -- to put another name in the scouting report.
10. Minnesota -- Here's another team with the quarterback (Adam Weber) as its leading rusher. Jay Thomas comes off his second ACL surgery and will compete with promising sophomore Duane Bennett for the job. Both men have potential, but there's little depth behind them.
11. Iowa -- Albert Young and Damian Sims are gone, and the Hawkeyes ended spring with a walk-on (Paki O'Meara) as their top running back. Yikes. Shonn Greene returns to potentially stabilize things, and incoming freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton will get looks in camp.