Big Ten: Damion Terry

Big Ten morning links

September, 4, 2014
Taking the smallest sample size possible obviously isn’t encouraged in making a sound evaluation. Looking at just one game against completely overmatched opposition only makes it worse.

The opening weekend, though, did provide a handful of statistical outliers that are still worth noting, mostly because they’re so ridiculous that they will never be seen again. But maybe, just maybe, there are a few that could conceivably be duplicated and may reveal more about the teams or individuals than anybody might have projected coming into the year.

So, I’m taking five of the most eye-catching numbers from the opening set of games and giving them a closer examination to see if there’s anything to be learned -- or if they’re just aberrations for the record book.

Nate Sudfeld attempts just 18 passes -- and the Hoosiers win
  • With Tevin Coleman racking up yardage at a frightening clip, there was no pressing need for Indiana to throw it all that often. But with Sudfeld working alone as the top choice at quarterback for an offense that never attempted less than 26 passes in a game last fall, his light workload in a reasonably tight contest was certainly unexpected. The Hoosiers would obviously like to take some pressure off the passing attack and Coleman is more than capable of doing that, but they aired it out more than 40 times in half of their games last season. Maybe the per-game average will come down, but surely this will be the last time Sudfeld hits this mark this season.
Ohio State allows 370 yards rushing -- and also wins
  • Navy is the ultimate statistical skewer, and its powerful ground game gives the Buckeyes a very different look than they’re accustomed to after one game. As bad as the rushing defense looks now, the bright side is the much-maligned secondary is among the best in the country currently after giving up just 20 yards to the Midshipmen. With perhaps the top defensive line in the country, a collective unit that typically lives for shutting down the rush and and a defense that allowed just 109 yards per game on the ground last season, the average will progressively drop with each game. The real question for the Buckeyes is how high the number through the air will inflate.
Rutgers holds Washington State to 6 rushing yards
  • On the flip side, the Scarlet Knights played an offense on the complete opposite end of the spectrum in their opening win against Washington State, a team that seems allergic to rushing the football. While that low total is certainly extreme, it’s actually not out of the realm of possibility that Rutgers could get close to that again with a defensive unit that was among the best in the nation last season while barely allowing more than 100 yards per game on the ground. In fact, the Scarlet Knights might have been even more impressive last December in holding South Florida to 10 yards on 20 carries.
Michigan finishes a rout with a pair of running backs over 100 yards
  • Historically doubling down with rushers over the century mark might not be that big of a deal for the Wolverines, but it hadn’t happened since 2007 and they were coming off a disastrous rushing season that included four different games when the entire team couldn’t get to 100 yards on the ground. Michigan still looks more potent when spreading the field and operating out of the shotgun, but Derrick Green (170 yards) and De’Veon Smith (115) did some damage out of those formations and could be capable of putting some sting back in the ground game this fall.
Bobby Richardson racks up 3 sacks
  • The Indiana defensive lineman came into the season opener with just 5.5 career sacks, so his prolific outing certainly seems pretty unlikely to be duplicated. But maybe the scheme is the perfect fit for the senior, who didn’t even register one quarterback takedown last fall. If nothing else, his individual breakout performance might hint at a unit-wide improvement for Indiana’s reconfigured defense, and maybe more career days are in the cards for the rest of the Hoosiers on that side of the ball as they try to get the program back into the postseason.
East Division
  • It must be a rivalry week for Michigan, because Brady Hoke isn't letting any information slip out about injuries. Backup lineman Kyle Bosch is taking a leave of absence.
  • Michigan State is once again calling on Damion Terry to do a serviceable impression of an opponent's multipurpose quarterback for the scout team.
  • After his record-setting outing last weekend, Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg weighs in on a number of topics as he prepares for an encore against Akron.
  • Rutgers coach Kyle Flood had a longtime season-ticket holder address his team after practice. Then he challenged his freshmen running backs to step up and be ready to contribute.
  • Maryland linebacker Cole Farrand expects to be back in the starting lineup this weekend against South Florida.
  • Off with its early bye week, Indiana's next opponent suffered a huge blow with Bowling Green losing starting quarterback Matt Johnson to a hip injury.
  • The King has returned to Ohio, and LeBron James is once again supposed to be on the sideline with Ohio State for a primetime game.
West Division
  • Once evaluated as not big, fast or strong enough, former Nebraska walk-on defensive lineman Jack Gangwish might soon be a starter.
  • With the days of scheduling FCS opponents coming to an end, Wisconsin couldn't have a more fitting opponent to help bring that era to a close. The Badgers are preparing three inexperienced quarterbacks for the matchup.
  • There was plenty of blame to spread around after the opening loss to Cal, but Northwestern could certainly use more production out of its receivers.
  • Purdue defensive back Frankie Williams isn't focusing on what he did well last week. Instead, he's "haunted" by the plays he didn't make in the win for the Boilermakers.
  • Greg Mabin is on track to be another feel-good story for Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.
  • A sizable donation from Land O'Lakes should jumpstart the effort to help Minnesota coach Jerry Kill get the facilities he wants so badly for his program.
  • The status of Illinois right tackle Pat Flavin is up in the air, but it didn't look good for him at practice on Wednesday.

Big Ten morning links

August, 20, 2014
Tis the season to name starting quarterbacks, not to lose them.

News of Braxton Miller's season-ending injury at Ohio State is dominating the headlines. But the Buckeyes won't be the last Big Ten team this year to go in search of an alternate plan at QB. Last year, 10 of the current 14 teams in the league used at least two starters at the position.

Here's a ranking of Big Ten teams most equipped to handle an injury to their top quarterback:
  1. Wisconsin: Junior Joel Stave and senior Tanner McEvoy remain locked in a race for the job, and both are likely to play. Stave, who has started 19 games, remains the favorite, though McEvoy, a safety last year, adds a running threat for the Badgers.
  2. Maryland: Junior Caleb Rowe, the backup to sixth-year senior C.J. Brown, has a strong arm and four games of starting experience from last October. Rowe improved during that month and regularly gets time in practice with the first-team offense.
  3. Iowa: Sophomore C.J. Beathard played meaningful snaps alongside Jake Rudock a year ago. Beathard will get opportunities again. And if the Hawkeyes need him full time, it's far from a disaster.
  4. Illinois: Transfer Wes Lunt appears in control of the race, with the Illini set to name a starter on Wednesday. Senior Reilly O'Toole has shown a capable arm, and sophomore Aaron Bailey has good size and running ability.
  5. Michigan: Devin Gardner missed the bowl game last year, giving the Wolverines a glimpse of Shane Morris. That experience in a 31-14 loss to Kansas State aided Morris in getting prepared for his sophomore season.
  6. Purdue: Returning starter Danny Etling won a legitimate competition this week over fellow sophomore Austin Appleby, who expects to keep pushing. If the Boilermakers need to use their depth, another to watch is touted freshman David Blough, on track now to redshirt.
  7. Ohio State: It's time to find out. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is known for his steady hand, accuracy and decent athleticism. Sophomore Cardale Jones, next in line, is a big body who could be used more than Barrett as a running threat.
  8. Michigan State: Sophomore Tyler O'Connor and redshirt freshman Damion Terry have conducted a spirited battle this month, with O'Connor remaining ahead in the race to back up Connor Cook. If a replacement is needed, both options would likely receive consideration.
  9. Nebraska: Behind Tommy Armstrong Jr., who started seven games as a replacement a year ago, the Huskers have no experience. Sophomore walk-on Ryker Fyfe owns the edge over redshirt freshman Johnny Stanton, a former elite recruit.
  10. Penn State: Newcomers Michael O'Connor and Trace McSorley have adjusted well to life behind Christian Hackenberg. O'Connor is bigger and practiced with the Nittany Lions in the spring, so he's probably the first option if a backup is needed.
  11. Northwestern: Unlike a year ago, Trevor Siemian is the clear starter. Behind him, junior Zack Oliver and redshirt freshman Matt Alviti have waged a competition. Alviti brings a dual-theat similar in the mold of ex-Wildcat Kain Colter.
  12. Minnesota: Redshirt freshman Chris Streveler has emerged as the top backup to Mitch Leidner. The Gophers tinkered with Streveler at receiver last year before the transfer of Philip Nelson, so athleticism is a plus. But Streveler's inexperience is a concern.
  13. Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights need Gary Nova and his vast experience in this transition to the Big Ten. Backups Mike Bimonte, a junior, and freshman Chris Laviano possess good size, but neither QB has played a down in college.
  14. Indiana: The Hoosiers have no experience behind incumbent Nate Sudfeld. Walk-on sophomore Nate Boudreau has taken most of the snaps at No. 2, though true freshmen Zander Diamont or Danny Cameron might be given a closer look if Sudfeld misses time.
Around the league ...

East Division
West Division
And finally . . .

Big Ten lunch links

July, 9, 2014
Finally, we will determine what is the most powerful country in the world: the Netherlands or Argentina.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 18, 2014
Friday is Take Your Dog to Work Day. Which won't be anything different for my pooch.
Summer's almost here, but we're still looking forward to the fall. Today, we begin a series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt/suspended/eaten by a bear, etc. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Let's start with the defending league champs, Michigan State:

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsConnor Cook is one of the Big Ten's best QBs and a big reason why the Spartans are title contenders.
Connor Cook, QB, Jr.

The Spartans are not without options at quarterback. Tyler O'Connor should be a capable backup after seeing some action early last season, and the bubble wrap is coming off multitalented redshirt freshman Damion Terry. Still, Michigan State's quarterback situation was a mess before Cook grabbed hold of it in the middle of last year, and if he needed to be replaced, the entire offense could suffer the same fate we saw in the 2012 season. The 2013 Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl MVP entered this offseason riding a wave of confidence and should be one of the league's top quarterbacks.

Trae Waynes, CB, Jr.

There are a lot of other players we could have picked for this second spot, including star defensive end Shilique Calhoun and running back Jeremy Langford. Losing Calhoun would obviously be a very difficult blow for the Spartans, but they still would have Marcus Rush at the other end spot, plus some promising young players such as Demetrius Cooper. Similarly, Langford's production would be tough to replace, but Michigan State usually finds a way to get it done in the running game and has some other options behind him. Waynes is the pick here because of the youth and inexperience behind him at the cornerback spot. Sophomore Darian Hicks and junior Arjen Colquhoun are battling it out for the other corner spot this offseason, but neither has proved much on the field. Pat Narduzzi's defense works best when it has a lockdown cover corner, and Waynes could be that guy this year.
Spring practice in the Big Ten has sadly come to an end, and we're both back home after some trips around the conference. Wednesday, we shared out thoughts on the Big Ten's West Division, and now it's time to turn our focus to the beast known as the East.

Brian dropped in on Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Indiana, and Adam stopped by Penn State.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's begin with your trip to the Mitten State. You made your first stop in Ann Arbor, where Michigan was wrapping up its first spring with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Michigan's top priority is the offense and fixing the line. What did you gather about the unit, and how are the changes on the defense -- player positions and coaching roles -- working out?

[+] EnlargeDoug Nussmeier
AP Photo/Tony DingNew OC Doug Nussmeier's top priority is fixing Michigan's offensive line.
Brian Bennett: Things definitely seem a lot smoother on defense. Jake Ryan adopted quickly to playing middle linebacker, and James Ross III is talented enough to play anywhere. Mark Smith picked a good time to take over the defensive line, as he'll have a pair of senior ends in Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer and some nice young talent to work with in Taco Charlton, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, etc. Throw Jabrill Peppers into the mix in the back end this summer, and this has a chance to be a very solid defense.

It's just a matter of whether the offense can keep up. The Wolverines are very young on that side of the ball, and the line is full of redshirt freshmen and sophomores right now. Mason Cole enrolled in January and was starting at left tackle in spring ball, which said a lot about the state of the position. Michigan's season likely depends on whether that O-line can come together and raise its collective level of play. There are some good-looking athletes at receiver and running back, but not many of them are proven. Many big questions remain in Ann Arbor.

AR: There are fewer questions at Michigan State. How did the defending Big Ten/Rose Bowl champs seem to be handling their success? And how are they replacing defensive standouts such as cornerback Darqueze Dennard?

BB: Several players told me they were sick of talking about the Rose Bowl, which is a good sign. I saw a team that could definitely repeat as Big Ten champions. The offense brings back most of its major pieces and will add new weapons suchas tight end Jamal Lyles and quarterback/athlete Damion Terry. The early-season scoring droughts of years past should not happen again this fall.

No doubt Pat Narduzzi's crew lost a lot -- four All-Big Ten defenders, plus both starting defensive tackles. Michigan State has a big experience gap to make up, especially at linebacker. But this is a program that just seems to reload on defense now and has recruited so well to its system. Guys like defensive tackle Joel Heath, defensive end Demetrius Cooper and safety Jalyn Powell all came on strong this spring. Three of the corners vying to replace Dennard had interceptions in the spring game. I have supreme confidence that Narduzzi will have this defense dominating again in 2014.

AR: Ohio State's defense has many more question marks after a rough 2013 campaign. The line should be terrific but how did the back seven look during your trip to Columbus? And how are new assistants Chris Ash and Larry Johnson fitting into the mix? What else stood out about the Buckeyes?

BB: In my eyes, this is one of the most intriguing teams anywhere. The Buckeyes are almost frightfully young on offense outside of Braxton Miller and are breaking in lots of new players at linebacker and in the secondary. Yet they also have some impressive looking athletes and more overall explosiveness than the previous two seasons under Urban Meyer. Ash is installing a quarters coverage look, but maybe even more important is the fact that the safeties can really run and cover now. The revamped offensive line is a big question mark, as is the inexperience at receiver and the linebacker spot. But when you see young guys like linebacker Raekwon McMillan and tailback Curtis Samuel running around, you realize there aren't a lot of Big Ten teams that look like the Buckeyes.

Adam, you made it up to State College to check in on Penn State and new coach James Franklin. What's the vibe like up there?

AR: Electric. The charismatic staff has quickly formed bonds with the players, some of whom knew Franklin from the recruiting process. The defense should be better under Bob Shoop's leadership, as long as the starters stay healthy. There's decent depth up front and safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Jordan Lucas anchor the secondary. Linebacker Mike Hull is embracing his role as the unit's leader. Christian Hackenberg can really spin the ball -- very impressive. But can PSU protect him? No Big Ten team, including Ohio State, has bigger issues along the offensive line. Running back Bill Belton looked great, and I like the depth at tight end. Franklin is realistic about the depth issues and knows his team can't afford many more injuries.

You also visited Indiana this spring. How did the Hoosiers look, especially on defense with new coordinator Brian Knorr?

BB: You know the drill. Indiana could make some real noise if it could actually, you know, stop anybody. Knorr has them playing a 3-4, and hey have some major beef inside with the defensive tackles in 325-pounders Darius Latham and Ralph Green III. Ten starters are back and some promising recruits are on the way, so there's more depth on defense than before. But it's still a major construction project, and the offense might lose a little of its big-play ability as it tries to replace three of its top four receivers from a season ago.

OK, lightning-round finish. I still see Michigan State and Ohio State as the heavy favorites here, with Penn State a dark horse if its O-line issues can be solved. What about you?

AR: MSU is the team to beat because of the quarterback and the track record on defense. Ohio State definitely is in that mix, too. Michigan remains young at spots but could contend with a serviceable run game. Offensive line is a huge issue in this division. Sleeper-wise, I wouldn't count out Penn State, Indiana or Maryland, which could be dynamic on offense if it finally stays healthy.
The last three Big Ten spring games were held over the weekend, and it's our job to recap them all.

[+] EnlargeJosiah Price
AP Photo/Al GoldisWith a big spring game, Michigan State might have found a new offensive weapon in Josiah Price.
Defending league champion Michigan State played before 35,000 fans at Spartan Stadium, falling short of Mark Dantonio's request for a crowd of 50,000 but having a fun day nonetheless. The White team defeated the Green squad 20-13, and you can find coverage of the event here, here, here and here.

Star of the game: Sophomore tight end Josiah Price had five catches for 81 yards, including the game-winning 2-yard touchdown with 27 seconds left to go. "Josiah Price has taken big steps forward this spring," Dantonio said. "He's blocking much better. He's a big-time catch guy. The more you throw the ball to him, the more excited you get, the more confidence he gets."

How it went down: Balance was a key word for the spring game, as -- unlike the past two years -- the offense was good enough to go toe to toe with the Spartans' defense.

Starting quarterback Connor Cook threw for 159 yards and two touchdowns but was also picked off twice. Backup Tyler O'Connor was intercepted three times. Safeties Kurtis Drummond and Demetrious Cox and cornerbacks Darian Hicks, Ezra Robinson and Jermaine Edmondson all came up with interceptions. That gives the Spartans confidence that their "No-Fly Zone" will remain in effect even without Darqueze Dennard and Isaiah Lewis.

The spring game also saw the unveiling of redshirt freshman Damion Terry, who scored on a 23-yard toss sweep on the White's first offensive play of the game. Terry later got banged up on a hit from Demetrius Cooper.

"We see certain people using two quarterbacks in systems," Dantonio said. "We experimented a little bit with those things and put a package together, so there are different things that we do."

Dantonio also found room for some fun during the scrimmage. The Green team pulled off a double pass where R.J. Shelton threw back to O'Connor, then threw 29 yards to Tony Lippett.

And the team's mascot, Sparty, got his traditional carry. After being leveled by the defense the past two seasons, Sparty scored this time around. See? More balance. Just don't expect more from Sparty in the fall.

"Sparty will probably redshirt," Dantonio said.
The spring football odyssey in the Big Ten wraps up this weekend, as the final three spring games will take place Saturday. As we've done with the previous 11, we're going to preview each event. Let's take a look at the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans' spring fling:

When: 2 p.m. ET Saturday

Where: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, Mich.

Admission: Free. Fans may also purchase press box seats for $75 (deadline is noon today). Stadium gates A, B, C, D and G open at 12:30 p.m. The first 30,000 fans will receive a commemorative 2013 championship team poster, and the team will be honored at halftime. Fans are invited to take photos with the 2013 Legends Division, Big Ten championship game and Rose Bowl championship trophies from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. near the southwest ramp of Spartan Stadium, adjacent to Gate C.

TV: Big Ten Network (live).

Weather forecast: Mostly sunny, with a high near 56 degrees.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichigan State's spring game festivities allow Mark Dantonio's Spartans to celebrate the past and look forward to the future.
What to watch for: This is a spring game but also -- as you can tell by the festivities -- a celebration of the Spartans' 2013 championship run. Head coach Mark Dantonio has said he wants 50,000 fans to show up because "that's where this program needs to go." That would be more than double the estimated turnout from a year ago, but the weather looks much better for Saturday than it did for the '13 spring game.

The team held its annual player draft on Wednesday afternoon, and the White team ended up with starting quarterback Connor Cook. Redshirt freshman Damion Terry, whom fans were clamoring for early last season, will see time at quarterback for both teams. It will be fascinating to see how the Spartans incorporate him this fall.

Other things to watch for include a new-look defense that is replacing six starters, including four All-Big Ten performers. Linebacker will be a particular area of curiosity, with Max Bullough and Denicos Allen gone and younger players such as Jon Reschke, Riley Bullough and Shane Jones pushing for playing time. Redshirt freshman safety Jalyn Powell was the surprise first draft pick among the safeties, ahead of veterans RJ Williamson and Demetrious Cox, so he obviously has the respect of his teammates.

Offensively, Michigan State returns the nucleus from last season's squad, although there will be some new faces on the offensive line. Tight end Jamal Lyles has turned a lot of heads this spring and could be unleashed on Saturday.

Regardless of how the spring game goes, Spartans fans should have plenty of reasons to smile this weekend.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- For nearly a season and a half, Michigan State leaned hard on its defense to try to win games while the offense sputtered.

That pattern finally changed midway through last season, as Connor Cook settled the quarterback position, Jeremy Langford developed into a star at running back and the receivers started making tough catches. Heading into 2014, a new paradigm could be in play. The offense returns the vast majority of its production while the defense must replace stalwarts such as Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis.

Nobody is expecting the Spartans defense to fall off a cliff, especially with Pat Narduzzi back at coordinator and plenty of fresh talent ready to step forward. But if that side needs time to find its footing early in the season, things could be OK.

"Our defense has obviously been very, very strong," offensive coordinator Dave Warner said. "But as an offense, we want to be able to carry this football team if need be. And do it right from start, rather than wait until four or five games into the season to get it figured out."

Michigan State isn't suddenly going to turn into Baylor or Oregon -- "I still think you've got to play well on defense to win championships," head coach Mark Dantonio says -- but there's reason to believe that an offense that averaged a respectable 29.8 points per game during Big Ten play could continue moving forward.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Langford
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesWith Jeremy Langford and several key players returning on the Michigan State offense, the defense doesn't have to carry the Spartans anymore.
Cook is back and should ride a wave of confidence following his MVP turns in the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl games. The Spartans did lose Bennie Fowler, who led all receivers with 622 yards and six touchdowns, but they return every other pass-catcher of note and expect bigger things out of guys such as Aaron Burbridge and R.J. Shelton, as well as DeAnthony Arnett. Langford, who ran for 1,422 yards and scored a Big Ten-best 19 total touchdowns, added about five pounds of muscle this offseason.

"I think it helps with my durability," he said. "I can take a hit and bounce off a couple tackles. I still feel fast, and I feel stronger now."

Michigan State was young at tight end last season and didn't utilize that position a lot, though Josiah Price made a crucial touchdown catch against Ohio State in the league title game. Tight end could become a strength this year with Price back and spring head-turner Jamal Lyles, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound potential difference-maker.

"We're better right now at tight end than we were at any time last year," Warner said.

Warner also wants to find ways to use tailbacks Nick Hill, Gerald Holmes and Delton Williams. And don't forget quarterback Damion Terry, whose athleticism could lead to several possibilities.

"We're experimenting a little bit right now," Cook said. "I feel like some new things will be added to our arsenal on offense."

The biggest question marks for the Spartans on offense are on the line, where they must replace three senior starters (Blake Treadwell, Dan France and Fou Fonoti) from what might have been the best O-line in Dantonio's tenure. The line doesn't have as much depth this spring as the coaching staff would like, but veterans Travis Jackson, Jack Conklin and Jack Allen provide a nice starting point. Donavon Clark and Connor Kruse have played a lot as backups, and Kodi Kieler is expected to make a move up the depth chart.

"We need to get that offensive line back in working order," co-offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said.

Overall, though, Michigan State feels good about the state of its offense. So good that maybe the defense can lean on it for a change, if needed.

"Last year, we got off to a horrible start and didn't really get going until Week 5," Cook said. "We don't want to have that happen ever again. With the offense we have and what we proved last year, we want to get off to a hot start and get the rock rolling early. That's what everyone on our team offensively has in mind."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Enjoy all the spring games this weekend. We'll recap each early next week.

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To the inbox ...

Ethan from Abbottstown, Pa., writes: While watching March Madness, I couldn't help but notice how full the stands were for semis and finals. One of the arguments against the college playoff was that fans wouldn't travel on short notice. Why? I never understood that argument. March Madness has been in play for more than 75 years and the less popular college basketball with smaller fan bases have been traveling to game sites for under a week's notice for years.

Adam Rittenberg: Ethan, the concern isn't so much that fans would travel to a national semifinal but whether they could travel to both a semifinal and the championship game the following week. Are Ohio State fans going to attend the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and then head back to Arlington, Texas, the following week for the championship game? Would Oregon fans make two potentially long trips back to back? The nice thing about basketball's Final Four is that both the semis and title game are at the same site. Remember, you're filling much larger stadiums for football, and you ideally don't want the title game to just feature a corporate crowd.


LoveLikeLacey from Chicago writes: What are your thoughts on how the backup QB situation will work out at MSU? There are a great deal of implications if either Damion Terry or Tyler O'Connor transfer, since Sparty didn't take a QB in the 2014 class. I realize Terry has a great skill set and might even see the field this year in certain packages, but O'Connor was fairly highly recruited himself and I believe he also has some skills.

Adam Rittenberg: Love the name, Lacey. It will be interesting to see how that competition unfolds. Before Connor Cook became Connor Cook, some folks criticized the staff for not giving O'Connor much of a chance to prove himself in games. O'Connor seemed to perform well in last week's jersey scrimmage (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD), and he has created some separation with Terry since the start of the spring. It might be a case in which MSU uses Terry in different ways to keep him involved this year, but Cook still has two years left, so a true O'Connor-Terry competition might not take place until 2016. It's not ideal, and it could result in one player leaving.


A.J. from Madison, Wis., writes: Adam, I love how Gary Andersen tries to adapt his schemes to the personnel he has. What has been driving me nuts, however, is the continual position switching of players back and forth. I get that he wants to maximize the talent on the field, but doesn't it hurt the development of the players? If you want to get the best players at the positions, part of that is learning technique and scheme, which seems difficult to do if guys keep getting moved.

Adam Rittenberg: A.J., it could come back to hurt Andersen, and as he told me this week, the switches don't always work, but you never know if you don't try. The good thing is Andersen has a track record for moving players around on defense and making it work. He did it at Utah State, which typically has less talent than Wisconsin, and produced strong defenses. There's definitely a big emphasis on technique as well, but the coaches need to see how a player looks at a certain position before making their determination.


Bob from Virginia writes: I didn't think you were fair with your comments about Julie Hermann and the Star-Ledger's campaign against her, specifically Steve Politi. I'd like to see you tell her face to face that you actually believe she was glad those people lost their jobs. You know it's not true. Have some integrity and stand up for what's right, Adam, not for a has-been columnist who had more to do with his paper's demise than anything else. Here's a different point of view of what happened in that classroom: Last I heard it was a free country, and if Julie felt the way she did about a newspaper, she had a good reason for it.

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, whether or not she's actually glad to see the newspaper struggling, she should have been more careful with her comments. Stand up for what's right? How about showing some poise despite the pressure? That's what other Big Ten athletic directors do. I understand there are discretion policies about comments made in classroom settings at Rutgers, but the risk of something like this getting out outweighs the potential benefit (is there a benefit?) of making that comment.

I doubt you're the only Rutgers fan who feels this way, but I look at the bigger picture. Very few people are fired up about Rutgers in the Big Ten. A lot of Big Ten fans strongly believe Rutgers doesn't belong. The events of the past year at Rutgers only reinforce this perception. It's up to Hermann, with help from Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, to change the perception. This didn't help.


Mitch from Massachusetts writes: With Michigan's relatively new tradition of giving the numbers of great players from the past to current stars, do you see them ever giving out Charles Woodson's number 2? If so, who (besides Jabrill Peppers) has a shot of wearing it?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting question, Mitch. Most of the legends Michigan is honoring played a long time ago, such as Tom Harmon (QB Devin Gardner wears his No. 98) or Bennie Oosterbaan (LB Jake Ryan wears his No. 47). I'm not sure how Michigan would feel about doing the same thing for a fairly recent player like Woodson, who is still active in the NFL. My sense is the program would rather wait and honor other players who might be lesser known by most younger fans. While Peppers could be a star, I'd be shocked if he received such an honor early in his career. Veteran CB Blake Countess would be a better bet.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

February, 25, 2014
[+] EnlargeDanny Etling
AP Photo/Michael ConroyStarting experience might be the difference for Danny Etling in Purdue's QB race.
Spring ball is under way in the Big Ten. Who's excited? Me, too.

Let's check that inbox, and don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

Graig from Indianapolis writes: Who has the edge in the quarterback competition at Purdue: Blough, Etling or Appleby? Do any of them potentially change positions?

Adam Rittenberg: Graig, I'd give Danny Etling an edge because he played so much as a true freshman last year and can grow from his experiences, despite the team's struggles. Etling clearly has the talent to be Purdue's starter, and he has better reference points than both Austin Appleby (has barely played) and David Blough (true freshman, no game experience). That doesn't mean Appleby and Blough are out of the mix, and the competition this spring should be open. I like the confidence in the QB group, and I'd be surprised if any of the three moves positions. It's more likely one transfers than shifts to a different spot.


Anthony from Washington, D.C., writes: Adam, How can you write an entire article, one in which you take a strong position against the unionization of Northwestern's football players, and not mention the word "revenue" once? Furthermore, the fact Northwestern isn't "ground zero" of this issue is another case of a talking head oversimplifying a situation into moral relativism -- 'It's not the perfect example, which makes it imperfect.' At best, your latest article is incredibly conservative, and at worst it's downright ignorant to the bigger picture at stake here. It's fine to be against the unionization of college athletics, just do us a favor and at least mention the fact the coaches are highly paid employees of the university, and yet perform ZERO educational function.

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, it's your opinion that coaches perform zero educational function. I'm not naive about their salaries, which are ridiculously high, or their primary objective, which is to win championships and bring positive attention -- and money -- to their schools. But many football coaches have a profound influence on educating and developing players for the real world. Players have told me this every year as they finish their college careers. Why do you think so many former Penn State players came out in support of Joe Paterno? It's an unfair generalization to say coaches are simply high earners who perform no educational function.

My point about Northwestern is while the school generates plenty of revenue through its Big Ten affiliation, players are not being exploited there. They have restrictions, just like anyone choosing to participate in an organization, but they also receive benefits. Should they get more from their scholarships? Absolutely. Should they get long-term medical care and a voice in discussions about issues affecting their well-being? Absolutely. But unionization isn't the answer here.


Tom from Chicago writes: What are the chances of Damion Terry seeing the field for the Spartans this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, I think there's a very good chance. Terry won't leapfrog Connor Cook as the team's starting quarterback unless Cook is injured, but Michigan State's coaching staff sees the value in having more mobility at quarterback and a potential change-up guy in Terry. He gives defenses a different look and someone else to prepare for, whether he lines up as a traditional quarterback, a Wildcat quarterback or at another position.


Tom from 50 miles due east of the Memorial Stadium press box: Hey Adam, when Delany or the ADs are talking about stadium attendance do they ever mention the pace of the game? I could care less about Wi-Fi, I don't mind if only the scores of other games are updated, so what if we just keep trotting out the same tired band show (that tired show is the pride of all Nebraska you know)? But 3.5-4 hours is too long for me to deal with my allotted 20 inches of concrete bench and less knee room than coach. The league should push for fewer commercial breaks in their next deal. Huskervision replays every single play in the stadium with a sponsor shown before each one. There no reason the networks can't sell that time, too. Sell the booth reviews, sell the first down line, go the baseball route and sell green screen ads along the field, just keep the game moving so I don't have to sit through 4 hours of NU v Northern Middle Podunk State A&M.

Adam Rittenberg: Does Northern Middle Podunk State A&M have a mascot? Tom, you're not the first person to bring up the slow pace as a detriment to the in-game experience. Ultimately, TV drives the bus, and sponsoring replays vs. 30-second commercials isn't really comparable in terms of revenue generation. There are some efforts being made to speed up the games themselves (independent of commercial breaks), but some of the clock rule changes implemented in 2006 received heavy criticism and ultimately were overturned. I agree that game can be shortened a bit, and efforts must continue there, but I'd be surprised if commercial stoppages are cut.


Robert from Cambria, Wis., writes: I keep hearing about NFL teams contacting college coaches (i.e. Browns and G. Andersen) and colleges contacting each other’s' coaches (i.e. Arkansas and Bielema). Is there some football coaches directory that any team can look up some coach's private number? Some ADs, like Alvarez, seem to be total surprise at their coach's departure. How do they contact them and negotiate without tipping anyone else off?

Adam Rittenberg: Welcome to the agent world, Robert. Every college coach has an agent or at least an attorney who acts as a middleman in some of these interactions. It's very rare that schools will initiate contact directly with the coach right away, although there are some cases where it happens. But those making the hires, whether they're ADs or general managers, always have lists of potential candidates in case they have vacancies. A lot of the contact information is gathered in advance so schools can act quickly.
The last two seasons have shown that two-quarterback systems can work in the Big Ten.

Northwestern recorded 10 wins in 2012 while rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian. Indiana led the Big Ten and ranked ninth nationally in total offense last fall while alternating between Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesAfter taking over the quarterback job in Week 5, Connor Cook led the Spartans to 10 consecutive wins.
Given the recent success, my next statement might surprise you: Every Big Ten team would be best served picking one quarterback and sticking with him in 2014. That includes Indiana and Northwestern.

Quarterback rotations can be successful in the short term, but they are rarely sustainable or desirable. We saw this at Northwestern last fall, as the Wildcats never established a consistent offensive rhythm and operated with a reduced playbook, in part because of injuries but also because the unit lacked a clear identity. Northwestern finished 10th in the league in scoring.

Minnesota alternated between quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner during several games, including the Texas Bowl against Syracuse. Although the Gophers had a nice surge during Big Ten play and recorded eight wins, they also finished 11th in the league in scoring and last in passing.

Nebraska had some success using two quarterbacks (Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III) last season but did so out of necessity following Taylor Martinez's injury. The Huskers also struggled to pass the ball, finishing 11th in the league.

The strongest argument for picking a quarterback and sticking with him comes from the Big Ten's best team in 2013. Michigan State's offense was a train wreck in non-league play as the Spartans used three quarterbacks. After a Week 4 loss to Notre Dame, the coaches decided Connor Cook would be their guy. You all know what happened next, but what struck me was Cook's mindset at the time.

"We went through spring ball competition and fall camp competition, it was the most stressed out I've ever been in my entire life just trying to be the quarterback," Cook said last month before the Rose Bowl. "After I got the starting job and started a couple of games, the stress went away and it turned to focus, me being focused and knowing they're not going to use other quarterbacks in the game and not stress too much that go if I make a bad play I'm going to be pulled.

"That's when the stress went out the window."

Players like Northwestern's Siemian and Indiana's Roberson and Sudfeld are more accustomed to sharing time than Cook was, but each of them, like any quarterback, would rather be the clear-cut starter.

Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is another good example of a player who benefited from an unambiguous role. He struggled from the middle of the 2011 season through all of 2012, raising the possibility of a rotation last season. Instead, Scheelhaase started every game and led the Big Ten in passing (3,272 yards).

[+] EnlargeTommy Armstrong Jr.
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsAfter playing well in place of Taylor Martinez, sophomore signal-caller Tommy Armstrong Jr. is the favorite to start for the Cornhuskers in 2014.
I'm all for competition at quarterback, and the Big Ten will feature plenty of it this spring and summer. Only five quarterbacks -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, Michigan State's Cook, Iowa's Jake Rudock and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- can feel pretty secure about their starting roles. Gardner has been mentioned as a possible rotation candidate with Shane Morris -- some Michigan fans wouldn't mind seeing Gardner line up at wide receiver, a position of need -- but I'd be surprised if Morris leapfrogs the senior.

I'm also OK with teams employing change-up quarterbacks for a package of plays, be it the Wildcat or something else. Michigan State could be a candidate for this in 2014 with dynamic redshirt freshman Damion Terry possibly spelling Cook from time to time.

The first few games also provide a platform to use multiple quarterbacks in settings that can't be replicated on the practice field. Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel often did this with his younger quarterbacks, giving them a first-half series or two. It makes sense. But by Week 4, roles must be identified.

The offseason is full of Big Ten quarterback questions:

  • Will Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt take the reins at Illinois?
  • How will Gardner and Hackenberg fare with new offensive coordinators?
  • After Nelson's transfer, who emerges at Minnesota among Leidner, Chris Streveler and possibly a young quarterback such as Dimonic McKinzy?
  • Nebraska's Armstrong went 6-1 as a freshman starter, but can he hold off Johnny Stanton?
  • Can Gary Nova retain his job at Rutgers?
  • Will Danny Etling keep the top job at Purdue, or will Austin Appleby and possibly early enrollee David Blough enter the mix?
  • How does Siemian bounce back at Northwestern, and do the Wildcats look at Matt Alviti and Zack Oliver?
  • Will either Roberson or Sudfeld finally separate himself at IU?

Ultimately, these questions must be answered. The teams that avoid prolonged rotations should be better off for it.
The offseason is here, folks, and we're taking a look at what each team must do in the long months ahead before the games begin again in late August.

Up next: the defending Big Ten and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans.

1. Reload at linebacker: Michigan State survived the Rose Bowl without Max Bullough, but the Spartans now must prepare to replace both Bullough and Denicos Allen, multiyear starters who both earned All-Big Ten honors. Taiwan Jones returns at the "Star" position, while Darien Harris and Riley Bullough both are options in the middle. Sophomore Ed Davis showed some promise this season with four sacks. Replacing the production is one thing, but replacing the leadership both Bullough and Allen provided might be more significant.

2. Solidify interior lines: Michigan State's interior line play went largely unnoticed in 2013, but it played a significant role in the Spartans finally taking the step to become champions. MSU must replace both starting offensive guards, including co-captain Blake Treadwell, as well as starting defensive tackles Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover. There seems to be decent depth on the defensive side with players like Damon Knox and Mark Scarpinato, but it's vital for the Spartans to maintain the enhanced level of offensive line play seen this past season. Jack Allen and Travis Jackson (yes! yes!) have experience at both the center and guard spots, but others must step up.

3. Find place for Terry: Damion Terry came very close to taking the field for Michigan State last fall and possibly claiming the top quarterback spot, especially when Connor Cook and others were struggling. Cook has established himself as the starter, but Michigan State should find a role for Terry, who brings unique skills to the quarterback position. Whether it's a package of plays or the ability to run more of a spread look, Terry can enhance an offense that will be leaned upon more in 2014.

More to-do lists

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 10, 2014
Wishing you a great weekend. Penn State hiring of new coach James Franklin should be finalized Saturday, so be sure and check the blog for reaction.

Don't forget: Twitter!

To the inbox ...

Josh from NYC writes: I know, I know, offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl and Big Ten Championship game. However had those very catchable INTs gone through, Cook could just as easily come out the villain rather than the hero. That said, when, if at all, do you think we start seeing some Damion Terry action over there in East Lansing?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, Connor Cook lived on the edge for most of the season with his throws, and he certainly had fortune on his side. But what I loved is that he'd respond from a near-interception with a great throw on the run in traffic or a nice deep ball. If you get the breaks, you have to capitalize, and that's what Cook did. He deserves to be the starting quarterback entering the 2014 season. That said, Terry should be part of the offense, and I could see Michigan State employing a package of plays to get Terry more involved. Mark Dantonio understands the need to have more mobility and play-making skills from the quarterback spot. Terry certainly can help in that area.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioOhio State's defense had its struggles against Michigan but have found what needs correcting before facing Michigan State.
Shane from Michigan writes: Hi Adam, I have a question maybe you can help me with. First of all, I am very optimistic about Michigan's latest hire of Doug Nussmeier. He sounds like a very proven coach. My concern is still the offensive line. The line has never really been great for the three years of the Brady Hoke era. So my question to you is this: how much of the offensive line woes fall on the O-line position coach and how much is that actually on the offensive coordinator?

Adam Rittenberg: It falls mainly on offensive line coach Darrell Funk, especially because he directly recruited the linemen. The coordinator must create schemes catered to players' strengths and make the right play calls and the right times, but when you can't convert third-and-1 on a consistent basis, there's not much a coordinator can do. I'm interested to see how Michigan's blocking schemes change under Nussmeier, who clearly knows the run game is a priority after the past two seasons. But the development of individual players falls more on Funk.

Brian from Raleigh, N.C., writes: As the dust clears from the 2013 season, Northwestern loses "QB 1A" Kain Colter. Predictions, please: Does Trevor Siemian take over as a full-time QB in a 2009 Kafka-style offense? Is there open competition in the spring between Siemian, Zack Oliver, and Matt Alviti? Or does NU try to replicate 2012's success/take advantage of differing skill sets with another multiple-QB system?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I'm glad you brought up the 2009 offense, and I'd even throw in (pun intended) the pass-heavy 2008 offense led by C.J. Bacher. If Siemian is the starter, and it seems likely he will be, Northwestern should shape the offense more around his skill set, which is pocket passing. Assuming a two-quarterback system will work every year is risky, and assuming one quarterback will get hurt every year because of how much Northwestern runs its quarterbacks isn't a long-term formula for success in my view. There should be a competition this spring and Siemian shouldn't be handed the job. But if he stays healthy and develops with the receiving corps, which should be pretty good, I think Northwestern ditches the 2-QB deal and goes back to the 2008/2009 offenses, except this time with better running backs.

Casey from Dublin, Ohio, writes: I think the West division from top to bottom will be better than the East in 2014. After Mich St and tOSU they don't have anybody to compete. Michigan still has to prove it can get back. Penn St loses the top playmaker and will break in a new head coach. The West has Neb, Wisky, Iowa, Minny and possibly NW competing for the title in the west if they can get strong QB play and Mark can return to the Mark of 2 seasons ago.

Adam Rittenberg: Casey, the West undoubtedly has more parity entering 2014 and could be a more exciting divisional race. Will it be top-to-bottom better than the East? A lot depends on Michigan, which must rebound from a very disappointing season, and Penn State, which once again welcomes a new coaching staff. If those two programs both improve, the East should be stronger overall. Every West team has potential flaws, as Wisconsin loses a huge senior class, Minnesota has quarterback problems, Iowa needs to show more on offense, Nebraska must overcome long-term erratic play, and Northwestern comes off a brutal 5-7 year. I feel pretty comfortable writing that MSU and OSU will be pretty good in 2014. There are more unknowns in the West, but it should be a lot of fun to watch.

Greg from Philadelphia writes: Really Adam? Christian Hackenberg isn't a star to watch in 2014?! You're ridiculous.

Adam Rittenberg: I've been called worse, Greg. It's a national list and you can't include everyone. Penn State's uncertain coaching situation at the time the story ran played a role in not including Hackenberg, who has given every indication he'll return but still faces a decision on his future with the new staff. He certainly looks like an eventual superstar, but he'll have to adjust to a new set of offensive coaches under James Franklin.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Michael ConroyUrban Meyer has some big shoes to fill on his defensive staff.
Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, how do you see Coach Meyer handling his defensive staff after he reviews the year, and who are some likely candidates to replace Coach Withers?

Adam Rittenberg: Meyer will be a busy man next week at the American Football Coaches Association in Indy as he must not only replace Withers but also defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who is joining Bill O'Brien with the NFL's Houston Texans. Both Withers and Vrabel were exceptional recruiters, so Meyer has to find candidates who not only can develop young players in both areas but get it done on the trail. I think it's important to get an assistant with ties to the South like Withers had. Could Ohio State bring back former coordinator Jim Heacock as defensive line coach? Extremely underrated assistant, in my view.

Nathan from San Antonio writes: Hey Adam, did you happen to see that next years MSU @ Oregon game was moved from week 3 to week 2? I have only read it in one location and wondered if it was true and if so, how come?

Adam Rittenberg: It has been moved, Nathan, to accommodate national television and a certain time slot, which won't be at night. The TV plans aren't final, but the game needed to be played Sept. 6 rather than Sept. 13. So Michigan State won't have an extra week to prepare for the Ducks after the opener against Jacksonville State, but it also won't have to deal with Autzen Stadium at night, which is never fun for the visiting team.

Donnie from Atlanta writes: Hey Adam/Brian, when will the Maryland & Rutgers additions be league official and when will you guys bring them in as part of the blog? Excited to learn more about the newcomers and the new stadiums/fan bases my Buckeyes will be going up against.

Adam Rittenberg: Donnie, we typically make the transition around national signing day, so check the blog in February as we'll officially welcome Maryland and Rutgers.
PASADENA, Calif. -- No one would dispute that Michigan State's defense is the primary reason for the program's ascent. Especially after Wednesday's performance in the Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeConnor Cook
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsWith many weapons returning, Michigan State should be able to rely on Connor Cook and the offense more in 2014.
The Spartan Dawgs showed they can be great even without a great player in Max Bullough, and stifled Stanford's power run game for the final three quarters of a 24-20 win. The fourth-down stop of fullback Ryan Hewitt, where a swarm of MSU defenders leaped over the pile, typified why Michigan State has gone from good to great.

But if you're searching for why MSU could keep the momentum going in the 2014 season, take a look at the other side of the ball. Michigan State's offense, which went from dysfunctional in September to efficient and, at times, explosive, could fuel the team this fall.

The Spartans return virtually all of their skill players, including quarterback Connor Cook, running back Jeremy Langford and wide receivers Tony Lippett, Keith Mumphery, Macgarrett Kings and Aaron Burbridge. Bennie Fowler likely would earn a sixth year of eligibility -- he missed the entire 2009 season and part of 2011 with injuries -- if he wants one.

The tight end group, used more late in the season, returns completely intact. Fullback Trevon Pendleton, who had a touchdown catch in the Rose Bowl, is only a sophomore.

"It's been a long journey, and seems like a long time ago that we were being asked that question about what's wrong with our offense," co-offensive coordinator Dave Warner said last week. "It's been a process without a doubt, and it seemed like it took a long time, but it was a necessary process, and we're still not a finished product by any means now because I think we can continue to grow and get better."

MSU showed against Stanford that it can win big games by throwing the ball, as Cook repeatedly attacked the seams of the Cardinal defense to players like Kings and Lippett.

"They were very vulnerable," Kings told on the field afterward. "We weren't looking to attack it, but as the game went on, that's what was open so we just took it. I caught a couple over the middle … Guys were sagging off, sometimes they play regular Cover 2. It's all about reading coverages on the run and making plays."

A receiving corps that struggled to simply catch the ball, much less make plays, in 2012 went through a dramatic transformation when Cook took control. Cook will enter 2014 as one of the Big Ten's top quarterbacks after recording his first two career 300-yard passing performances in the league title game and the Rose Bowl.

Dual threat Damion Terry likely will enter the mix in some form in 2014. Perhaps MSU incorporates a package of plays for Terry, who redshirted this season after nearly playing in September.

It will be important to build depth behind Langford, a solid back but one who could platoon with a guy like Delton Williams, if Williams remains on offense.

MSU loses three fifth-year seniors along the offensive line, including co-captain Blake Treadwell, but the line subtly took a major step in 2013. This had been the unit holding back MSU from reaching levels like Wisconsin, Iowa and others had. The line seemed to turn a corner and can build behind players like Travis Jackson, Jack Allen and Jack Conklin, a redshirt freshman who started the final 10 games at left tackle.

The defense loses much more -- six starters, including standouts like Bullough, All-America cornerback Darqueze Dennard, linebacker Denicos Allen and safety Isaiah Lewis. MSU certainly can reload but might not be quite as elite as this year's unit.

The Spartans likely will lean more on their offense in 2014. And they should.