Big Ten: D\'Anton Lynn

Before spring practice, Penn State defensive backs Malcolm Willis and Stephon Morris sat in their apartment, brainstorming a way to motivate the secondary.

They decided to tell their teammates the truth. At least the truth according to those outside the program.

At the end of each workout in the spring and now in the summer, Willis and Morris gather the other Lions defensive backs.

[+] EnlargeMalcolm Willis
Rob Christy/US PresswireMalcolm Willis has challenged Penn State's younger defensive backs to step up this season.
"We huddle them up, we talk to them and say, 'We're supposedly the worst unit on this team,'" Willis told ESPN.com "Everybody is doubting us, everybody is doubting our ability. We know what we can do. We know the ability we have and what we're capable of."

The outside skepticism makes sense. Penn State loses all four starters from 2011: safeties Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Chaz Powell. Although players like Willis, Morris and sophomore cornerback Adrian Amos have been very much in the mix -- they combined for 65 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups in 2011 -- depth is a significant question mark, especially with the offseason departures of cornerbacks Derrick Thomas and Curtis Drake.

The Lions will need their young defensive backs to step up in a big way. And that's who Willis and Morris direct their message to following workouts.

"Every day we say that, these younger guys, they're hyped up, they're juiced up and they want to do extra work," Willis said. "Right after that, they want to go watch some film with us, or they want to go work on their footwork, just giving that extra effort and that extra attention to detail. It really shows me these guys want to be great this year."

Penn State's defensive fortunes could hinge on the secondary this season. While there are significant changes in State College, namely the arrival of new defensive coordinator Ted Roof and his "multiply aggressive" scheme, several elements remain the same.

The front seven, as usual, should be very strong. First-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges returns, along with Michael Mauti, back from a knee injury. Pete Massaro also returns at defensive end and joins a line featuring tackle Jordan Hill, end Sean Stanley, tackle DaQuan Jones and end Deion Barnes, an extremely promising redshirt freshman. The line and linebackers also both return their position coaches -- Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, the only two holdovers from the previous staff -- while the secondary has a new boss (John Butler).

Add in the new scheme, which includes some Cover 3 but not nearly as much as the system under Tom Bradley, and the secondary can be seen as one giant question mark.

"A lot of people say we're the weakest group on the team," Willis said. "We were like, 'We need to motivate these guys to let them know what people think.' Reading it is one thing on the Internet, but when somebody says it to your face, it has to hit a nerve. And you really have to be offended by it."

Willis and Morris are getting the desired result so far. Willis has been impressed with the way fellow safeties Stephen Obeng-Agyapong and Tim Buckley have approached the offseason. Obeng-Agyapong is projected to start alongside Willis, while Buckley saw some time with the first-team defense this spring.

"When I see the D-backs, I see a whole bunch of hard-working people," wide receiver Justin Brown said. "They're always out there trying to get better, trying to do one-on-ones, anything to help the defense.

"I don't see any weak link."
Several Big Ten players who didn't hear their names called in New York during the weekend still received some good news about their football futures. As soon as the NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent scramble began.

Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.

ILLINOIS
IOWA
MICHIGAN
MICHIGAN STATE
MINNESOTA
NEBRASKA
NORTHWESTERN
OHIO STATE
PENN STATE
PURDUE
WISCONSIN

Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.

Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).

B1G combine results: defensive backs

February, 29, 2012
2/29/12
10:00
AM ET
Apologies for posting this a little late, but the 2012 NFL combine wrapped up Tuesday with workouts for the defensive backs. Let's take a look at how the Big Ten contingent performed.

Cornerbacks
  • Penn State's Chaz Powell tied for 12th in 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds); tied for 11th in bench press (17 repetitions of 225 pounds); tied for 10th in broad jump (10 feet, 1 inch); and ranked 12th in 3-cone drill (6.84 seconds).
  • Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard ranked 15th in 40-yard dash (4.55 seconds); tied for fourth in vertical jump (37 inches); and tied for 10th in broad jump (10 feet, 1 inch).
  • Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus tied for third in bench press (20 reps of 225 pounds); ranked 10th in 3-cone drill (6.8 seconds); and ranked 14th in 60-yard shuttle (11.79 seconds).
  • Penn State's D'Anton Lynn tied for 11th in bench press (17 reps of 225 pounds).
Safeties
  • Michigan State's Trenton Robinson tied for second in 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds); tied for 14th in bench press (15 reps of 225 pounds); tied for seventh in vertical jump (35 inches); tied for fourth in broad jump (10 feet, 5 inches); and tied for fourth in 20-yard shuttle (4.15 seconds).

For more, be sure and check out our NFL combine blog.
The postseason position rankings are hitting the home stretch, and today we take a look at the Big Ten secondaries. It's a little tricky to evaluate secondary play from 2011. While seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top 18 nationally in pass defense, only two squads ranked in the top 29 in pass efficiency defense.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was the lone Big Ten defensive back to appear on both the coaches' and media's first-team all-conference squad, so there was some disagreement.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioIsaiah Lewis' interception against Michigan helped the Spartans beat their in-state rival and propel Michigan State's secondary to elite status in the Big Ten.
The top seven units are solid, while the bottom three are among the worst in the FBS.

Michigan State once again tops a defensive chart, but the top four or five squads here were all strong in the secondary. Be sure and check out our preseason secondary rankings.

Let's get to the rundown:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans had three of four starting defensive backs — safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis — selected first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, illustrating the depth coach Mark Dantonio has built in recent years. Michigan State's secondary also continued to be a playmaking unit, recording a league-best 18 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns. The Spartans had five defensive backs record two or more interceptions. Adams will enter the 2012 season pegged as the league's top cornerback.

2. Penn State: Like the other defensive units, Penn State's secondary shouldered a heavy burden because the team's offense struggled for so much of the season. The Lions had veteran leadership with D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and they led the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense (107.2 rating). Penn State finished third in the league in interceptions (14) and tied with Michigan for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed (12). Sukay earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Illinois: Although Illinois' strength on defense could be found in the front seven, the secondary held its own as well. The Illini ranked third nationally in pass defense (162.3 ypg), and opposing teams completed just 54.9 percent of their passes against the Orange and Blue. Illinois finished 30th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Although the safety play looked spotty at times, Illinois boasted a strong cornerback tandem in Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson.

4. Michigan: Arguably no single position group in the Big Ten made more dramatic strides than Michigan's secondary, a lightning rod for criticism the previous three seasons. The Wolverines finished 16th nationally in pass defense and 36th in pass efficiency defense. Although they didn't record many interceptions, they tied for the league low in passing touchdowns allowed (12). Safety Jordan Kovacs emerged as an effective blitzer and playmaker and cornerback J.T. Floyd blossomed with two interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble. Corner Blake Countess is an exciting young talent.

5. Nebraska: The Huskers had the Big Ten's best defensive back in Dennard, who shut down arguably the league's top two receivers (Marvin McNutt, B.J. Cunningham) in Nebraska victories. But the group's overall performance was a bit underwhelming, as opposing teams attacked the deep middle and caused some personnel shuffling. Opposing teams completed just 53.2 percent of their passes against Nebraska, the lowest number in the Big Ten. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford emerged for a group that loses Dennard and veteran safety Austin Cassidy.

6. Wisconsin: For the second straight season Wisconsin displayed good playmaking ability in the secondary, finishing second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions. Safety Aaron Henry (coaches) and cornerback Antonio Fenelus (media) both received first-team All-Big Ten recognition. The Badgers also played most of the season without one of their starting cornerbacks, Devin Smith. But the unit also had some high-profile lapses at the end of games. Speed also became an issue in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

7. Ohio State: The numbers aren't bad -- Ohio State ranked 14th in pass defense and 53rd in pass efficiency defense -- but the Buckeyes seemed to be missing something in the secondary, and throughout their entire defense, for that matter. There were some bright spots, like freshman cornerback Bradley Roby, and some hard hits delivered by safety C.J. Barnett and others. But Ohio State finished just eighth in the league (53rd nationally) in pass efficiency defense, as opposing teams completed more than 60 percent of their pass attempts against the Scarlet and Gray.

8. Purdue: We had high hopes for a group that returned all four starters, headlined by All-Big Ten candidate Ricardo Allen at cornerback. At times, Purdue's secondary looked solid, but the unit's overall performance fell in line with the team's average theme for 2011. Allen struggled to contain some elite wideouts but still finished the season with 81 tackles (62 solo), three interceptions, four pass breakups, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. He and Josh Johnson form an exciting cornerback tandem entering the 2012 campaign.

9. Iowa: Much like Ohio State, Iowa didn't have a typical season on defense, and the secondary had its share of struggles. Iowa had average numbers (58th in pass yards allowed, 72nd in efficiency), and allowed opposing teams to complete 62 percent of their passes. The Hawkeyes saw a big drop-off in playmaking, as they recorded only 10 interceptions and allowed 21 touchdown passes. Safety Micah Hyde earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, while cornerback Shaun Prater didn't have the huge senior season some expected.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats would finish last in some leagues, but they're the best of a bad bunch at the bottom of the rankings. Despite an All-Big Ten safety (Brian Peters) and a four-year starter at cornerback (Jordan Mabin), Northwestern suffered breakdowns in both scheme and execution. The Wildcats endured a particularly bad stretch to begin Big Ten play, as they couldn't stop Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins, admittedly got confused against Iowa and let Penn State quarterback Matthew McGloin go off. The secondary has to be a huge priority for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff during the offseason.

11. Minnesota: It's a close call for the last spot, but Minnesota avoids the basement, thanks in large part to safety Kim Royston, who made the most of his sixth season with a team-high 123 tackles. But Royston was the lone bright spot for Minnesota's secondary, which stung from the loss of cornerback Troy Stoudermire to a broken arm. The Gophers recorded the fewest interceptions in the Big Ten (4), and allowed opponents to complete 67.7 percent of their passes, the highest total in the league. Minnesota finished 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers' historic struggles in the secondary continued in 2011, as they surrendered a league-high 26 passing touchdowns and finished 116th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. Opponents averaged 8.5 yards per completion against an Indiana team that played more freshmen than any squad in the FBS. There's some hope with players like safety-linebacker Mark Murphy and cornerback Greg Heban, and Indiana brings in two junior college defensive backs for 2012.
When John Butler was finishing up his senior season at Catholic University in 1994, his head coach asked him what he planned to do with the rest of his life. Butler's answer: "I don't know."

The coach suggested that Butler stay with the team as a graduate assistant, and that ignited a career that has taken Butler to several high-profile stops. Now if you asked Butler what he planned to do with his life, he'd say that he wants to coach at Penn State for as long as possible.

The 39-year-old left his job as an assistant at South Carolina to join Bill O'Brien's first Nittany Lions staff in January. A Philadelphia native, Butler always had one eye on State College.

"I've always been a fan of Penn State, and I've always been familiar with what goes on here," he said. "To me, Penn State is and always will be Penn State. If I looked at my career 18 years ago, and you told me I'd have a chance to coach [any school], I'd be lying if I didn't say Penn State was at the top of the list."

Butler has never worked with O'Brien but had talked to him on several occasions before taking the job. New Penn State strength coach Craig Fitzgerald went to high school with Butler and worked alongside him at Harvard and South Carolina. Fitzgerald was on the same Maryland staff as O'Brien in the early 2000s.

"Craig always spoke very highly of Bill O'Brien in every regard," Butler said. "He'd tell me, 'This is a guy we all will want to work for some day.'"

Butler also spent four years as the linebackers and special teams coach at Minnesota, where he worked for new Nittany Lions defensive coordinator Ted Roof. That gives him a comfort level with his defensive boss at Penn State and also an understanding of what it takes to win in the Big Ten.

"There have been a lot of coaching changes, but the core of the league stays the same," he said. "It's still the run-first, defensive mentality, the toughness and playing in all types of weather. Those are the things that are familiar for me."

Butler will oversee the defensive backs at Penn State, and that may be the most challenging position to coach on the 2012 team. All four of last year's starters in the secondary — D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay, Drew Astorino and Chaz Powell — were seniors. That means Butler will not only have to teach a new system but also break in players taking on bigger roles.

Butler said he's not going to "dummy down or baby down" his coaching methods for the young group, but he also plans to be smart in not asking them to do too much right away this spring. He said he wants to be aggressive in the passing game but not an all-out gambler.

"I think you have to be aggressive but a smart aggressive," he said. "I grew up in Philly, where everybody thinks of aggressive as Buddy Ryan — man-to-man coverage, blitzing every snap. We're not going to do that, but we are going to have a package where we challenge receivers and challenge quarterbacks to make a play under duress. We're not going to be a team that sits back and lets the offense do what it wants to do on their terms."

Butler will also serve as special teams coordinator, though Penn State will continue to split up special teams duties like it had done under Joe Paterno for many years. Butler says five coaches on staff will "be extremely involved" in special teams and each will handle a specific unit. He'll oversee the overall execution and help with each group.

Nittany Lions special teams were sometimes seen as conservative and mostly concerned with avoiding mistakes under Paterno. Butler seems to have a different view of them.

"It's critical to make plays for your team in the kicking game," he said. "It's not just a setup for what's going to happen next. We're going to emphasize explosive plays, and you've got to play your best players on special teams. You have to look at it as the first play of your defensive series or the first play of your offensive series."

Butler says he looks at Penn State as a destination job and possibly his last stop in coaching. He and the Nittany Lions hope this is the start of a long, fruitful relationship.
The North team recorded a 23-13 win against the South in Saturday's Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., and several Big Ten players contributed to the victory.

Big Ten players factored in all the scoring for the North squad. Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson and Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins both fired touchdown passes, and Purdue kicker Carson Wiggs connected on three field goal attempts, including a 28-yarder that helped seal the win with 4:11 left. The North starting offensive line featured four of five players from the Big Ten.

Other than Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins and Illinois left tackle Jeff Allen, all of the Big Ten players in the game competed for the North squad.

Wilson started for the North and led three offensive series, two of which resulted in points. He finished the game 4 of 7 passing for 45 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Cousins was the third quarterback from the North squad to see the field and fired a 41-yard touchdown pass to Arizona State's Gerell Robinson early in the third quarter. Cousins finished the game 5 of 11 passing for 115 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Wiggs connected on field goal attempts of 27, 28 and 32 yards and missed a 37-yard try in the closing minutes.

Other Big Ten notables:
  • Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson had two tackles and a fumble recovery
  • Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey had a 33-yard reception
  • Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David had four tackles
  • Penn State defensive end Jack Crawford had three tackles
  • Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin had three tackles
  • Illinois wideout A.J. Jenkins had a 26-yard reception
  • Michigan State tight end Brian Linthicum had a 9-yard reception
  • Penn State cornerback D'Anton Lynn had two tackles
  • Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 43.7 yards on three attempts and also had one kickoff, while Wiggs had five kickoffs.
  • Ohio State running back Dan Herron had six carries for 14 yards and two receptions for 4 yards
  • Wisconsin long-snapper Kyle Wojta had one tackle
  • Wisconsin fullback Bradie Ewing had one carry for 1 yard

North team starters included: Wilson, Ewing, Linthicum, Ohio State left tackle Mike Adams, Ohio State center Mike Brewster, Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, Penn State guard Johnnie Troutman, Crawford, Martin and Robinson. Jenkins and Allen both came off the bench for the South squad.
Pre-draft season is right around the corner, and the nation's premier all-star game, the Senior Bowl, takes place Jan. 28 in Mobile, Ala.

The Senior Bowl on Wednesday announced the 24 Big Ten players who will be participating in this year's game. Eight Big Ten squads are sending players to Mobile.

Here's the full list (part of which had been revealed earlier):

IOWA
MICHIGAN
MICHIGAN STATE
NEBRASKA
OHIO STATE

PENN STATE
PURDUE
WISCONSIN


*injured and will not participate in game

It's a strong contingent that features the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (Still) and 21 all-conference selections.
My apologies for posting this a bit late, but the initial invitations list is out for the 2012 NFL scouting combine, which takes place next month in Indianapolis. This list does not include the five Big Ten juniors who have declared for the draft.

Let's check out which players made the initial list (a full list will come out later this month).

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Offensive linemen
Defensive tackles
Defensive ends
Outside linebackers
Cornerbacks
Safeties
  • Trenton Robinson, Michigan State
Kickers
Punters

There are no Big Ten tight ends, inside linebackers or long snappers on the initial list.

I'm a bit surprised not to see several names, including Penn State WR Derek Moye. Still, wide receiver was a position of strength for the Big Ten in 2011, along with defensive tackle.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
12:00
PM ET
Let's start tailgating now.
  • Marvin McNutt threw his whole body into his transition to receiver, and now he's about to set the Iowa touchdown record.
  • Michigan players thought their unique road uniforms last week were cool, athletic director Dave Brandon says.
Gerald Hodges saw the first signs in the Outback Bowl, as Penn State capped a mediocre season with a loss to Florida.

Although Florida prevailed 37-24, Penn State held the Gators to 279 yards. Penn State was stout on third down (Florida converted just 4 of 15 opportunities), forced two takeaways and received strong performances from tackle Devon Still (3.5 tackles for loss), cornerback D'Anton Lynn (tackle for loss, interception, fumble recovery) and other players who would return for the 2011 season.

"You could just see different spurts of talent, different spurts of fire in people's eyes," said Hodges, who recorded 1.5 tackles for loss in the bowl game. "And then you see who was coming back."

Seven defenders who started the bowl game were set to return for 2011, as well as key reserves like Hodges, fellow linebackers Glenn Carson and Michael Mauti, and defensive tackle Jordan Hill. All the familiar faces allowed the unit to build confidence during the winter, spring and summer.

[+] EnlargeNate Stupar
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIA more cohesive defense has paid off for Nate Stupar and the Nittany Lions.
Hodges sees the same faces when he lines up on Saturdays this season. From series to series and play to play, Hodges knows who will be where and at what time.

"We don't have to worry about coming out for each and every mistake," Hodges said. "Our coaches are more relaxed, letting us just play ball."

The coaches are loving what they're seeing right now. Penn State's defense has carried the team to a 5-1 mark, 2-0 in Big Ten play and on the brink of re-entering the AP Top 25 rankings.

The Lions rank fourth nationally in total defense (250.8 ypg) and fifth nationally in both scoring defense (10.5 ppg) and pass defense (157.7 ypg). They have allowed 10 points or fewer in five of six games and last week held Iowa to three points, marking the first time in four years the Hawkeyes had failed to reach the end zone in a game.

"I've got a little history growing up in that part of the country, and they've been pretty good on defense since the late '60s, maybe longer than that," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "They've got good players, they're very well coached and Saturday they played very hard, it didn’t seem to matter who's in there.

"When they have a good defensive team, it's not a big surprise to me."

Penn State didn't have a great defense in 2010, ranking 50th in points allowed and 74th against the run. The typical guarantees weren't there, especially up front as Penn State didn't generate much of a pass rush and finished 101st nationally in sacks.

Still, coach Joe Paterno saw the number of returning players and thought the defense would be improved.

"We've got some depth," he said.

It has shown in the first six games. Although Michigan State ranks higher in the defensive statistics, no Big Ten unit has been more heroic than Penn State's defense, which has had to overcome key injuries and the Lions' own offensive woes.

"We have a lot of people on defense that care about one another," linebacker Nate Stupar said. "That’s what makes a great defense, that connection with one another and knowing the person next to you can do all he can to do his best.

"Last year, it didn't seem like a team defense, but this year, it definitely is."

Penn State didn't have divisions within its defense, but it became difficult to build cohesiveness with a core group.

"We really didn't have people set in stone last year with positions," Stupar said. "A lot of things were still up in the air. ... It was more of worrying we were going to make a mistake than actually going out there and playing and competing. This year, they're trusting us more."

The Lions are making it easy on their coaches. Still is having an All-America type season, recording nine tackles for loss in the first six games. Fellow tackle Hill has solidified the interior line, while Hodges, Carson and safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay also have stood out.

Penn State has showed greater willingness to blitz and has been better at generating turnovers. The Lions already boast 13 sacks, four shy of their total from 2010, and 14 takeaways, three shy of their total from 2010.

Perhaps most impressive is that the defense hasn't backslid at all despite losing Mauti to a season-ending knee injury. Lynn has been out since Week 4 with a head injury. Freshman Adrian Amos has stepped in at cornerback, while Penn State's depth at linebacker has helped in Mauti's absence.

"It says we have a lot of depth," Hodges said. "It says we have a lot of confidence. It says we have the willpower to win."

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 12, 2011
10/12/11
12:00
PM ET
Let's party like it's 1982.

Midseason report: Penn State

October, 11, 2011
10/11/11
7:00
AM ET
Penn State Nittany Lions

Record: 5-1 (2-0 Big Ten)

Penn State hasn't settled on a starting quarterback. The Nittany Lions have scored 16 points or fewer in four of their six contests. Coach Joe Paterno has spent the majority of games watching from the press box. Grumbling from fans about the program's direction has grown louder and louder. And despite it all, Penn State sits at 5-1 and tied for first place in the Leaders division. Penn State has its share of concerns, but thanks to a superb defense, it remains in a favorable position in a very vulnerable Big Ten. The team's only loss came in Week 2 to Alabama, a bona fide national championship contender. Penn State reaches the midpoint on a four-game win streak highlighted by Saturday's 13-3 triumph against longtime nemesis Iowa at Beaver Stadium. Tom Bradley's defense has been exceptional, overcoming key personnel losses (LB Michael Mauti, CB D'Anton Lynn) and Penn State's own offensive struggles to stifle the opposition. Devon Still has led the way at defensive tackle, and the overall depth throughout the defense has shown up week after week. Penn State has needed its defense to perform as the offense struggles to find an identity. Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin continue to rotate at quarterback despite McGloin's superior numbers. The offensive line has been spotty, and Penn State's red zone offensive woes from 2010 have carried over. Still, Penn State has to like its position, and if the offense can make strides, the Lions will be dangerous down the stretch.

Offensive MVP: Wide receiver Derek Moye. Slim pickings with this unit, but Moye has done a good job in the rare moments when the offense is clicking. The senior ranks fifth in the Big Ten in receiving yards (80.8 ypg) and sixth in receptions (4.7 rpg) with three touchdown catches and a 17.3 yards-per-catch average. Moye is a bona fide NFL prospect who can stretch defenses. Penn State must find ways to get him the ball more often in the second half.

Defensive MVP: Defensive tackle Devon Still. Other Big Ten defensive tackles received more hype in the preseason -- Jared Crick, Jerel Worthy, Mike Martin -- but none has played at a higher level than Still. The 6-5, 310-pound senior ranks second in the Big Ten in tackles for loss (9) and has recorded two sacks, 30 tackles and a fumble recovery. Still and fellow tackle Jordan Hill anchor a defense that ranks fourth nationally in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
4:30
PM ET
Hope you enjoy the games this weekend. I'm geared up for my first game in Lincoln!

Looks like a lot of folks are miffed by my Penn State prediction. Hey, did you expect me to copy Bennett's picks again?

Jojo from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, Let me preface this comment by saying that I am a huge PSU loyalist. With that out of the way, how in the world can you possibly pick PSU over Iowa? Really? I just looked at PSU's schedule and other than Purdue, I'm not sure there is another winnable game. Did you make that pick the same way Jaypa and Galen Hall decide which plays to call? You know, with the help of a Ouiga Board?

Adam Rittenberg: Jojo, I know you're down about the Lions right now, and I totally understand why. The offense still has no quarterback, no direction and no identity. But the Penn State defense excites me. Defensive tackle Devon Still has been a beast, and the linebackers are playmakers. Iowa has struggled to run the ball consistently all season, and I expect Penn State to stuff the rushing attack Saturday. The Lions have been excellent against the pass -- sixth nationally in pass yards allowed, only three passing touchdowns allowed -- although Iowa's receivers provide a good test. I could be wrong (check my record, it happens a lot), but I see an ugly, low-scoring affair that Penn State somehow wins. We'll see.


John from Eagan, Minn., writes: Adam, Seriously 10 points for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. I will bet you a bag of Garrett's Popcorn at Navy Pier that Iowa scores more then 10 points. With their top LB and one of the top DB players out for the game, it will be tough for PSU to keep it that low.

Adam Rittenberg: Mmmm, Garrett's. You're on, John. Although if I lose, you might receive a half-eaten bag. Good points about Penn State not having linebacker Michael Mauti and cornerback D'Anton Lynn, but the Lions are a much deeper defense this year, and it all starts up front with Mr. Still at DT.


Joe from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, It seems that Ohio State's offensive line is coming under intense scrutiny after the MSU game. I have to make the point that of the 9 sacks that MSU had, maybe two or three of them were actually the result of poor line play. The Oline is the least of Ohio State's concerns right now. Their biggest concern is the playing calling ability of Jim Bollman. Bottom line, they are not setting their qb's up for success. They are running plays that have limited creativity and there are no adjustments as the game goes on. OSU was running the same plays in the 4th quarter as they were in the 1st. Braxton Miller looks totally lost and I have to say, it isn't entirely his fault. Though he has had time, he cannot get off his first read.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, while I agree there are problems with the overall play calling and the quarterbacks, you're letting the offensive line off way too easy. Michigan State manhandled Ohio State up front for stretches in the game, and even veteran players like center Mike Brewster struggled with the likes of Jerel Worthy. The line didn't look that bad in the Miami loss, but I saw something change last week against Michigan State, which, to be fair, boasts an excellent defense. It was a lousy performance up front, and as colleague Trevor Matich said Thursday on "College Football Live," Ohio State is having fundamental breakdowns everywhere, including the offensive line. I'd expect a better performance Saturday in Lincoln, and Mike Adams' return at left tackle should provide a boost.


Toby from Smithland, La., writes: Hey Adam, I know the expansion talk is not wanted to be talked about but it is still out there. My question is this. With Missouri wanting to come to the Big Ten, why wouldn't we look at taking them and putting them in the leaders division. If we would need someone in the legends division, why wouldn't we go after a big east team to fill that spot. Someone like West Virginia or Louisville. Geographically, it would be a good choice.

Adam Rittenberg: Toby, of the three teams you mention, Missouri is the only one the Big Ten would seriously consider adding. West Virginia and Louisville simply don't fit the Big Ten's profile in several areas, namely academics. I know it's hard for fans to understand, but it's not only about geography. Also, I've talked with Big Ten ADs and a league administrator in the past week and there's still no movement on expansion. The Big Ten is happy at 12, and unless all heck breaks loose elsewhere -- which it might --- the league won't be forced to expand just to expand.


Jon from Chicago writes: Adam, You seem surprised that my man Bob Asmussen picked the Illini in the Rose Bowl. This is pure speculation at this point, but I don't think that it's too far fetched. Wisconsin looks basically unbeatable, and an undefeated season would likely put them in the BCS National title game. The Illinois/Michigan game in Champaign looks like a toss-up at this point. The Illini will lose to Wisconsin. Now, if the Illini are able to get past Michigan, and - this is a HUGE and, given recent history - win the games they are supposed to, that leaves the Illini with one regular season loss. Whoever loses to Wisconsin in the B1G championship game (NU or Michigan) will likely have at least two losses, and I doubt would be ahead of Illinois in the BCS picture. I understand that there is a long way to go, but Bob's prediction certainly doesn't appear to be unfathomable. Especially, Adam, since you have the Illini way up on your power rankings, I'm surprised by your surprise!

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, you're right, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised. Just to see an Illinois team no one ranked in the preseason projected in the Rose Bowl after five home wins was a bit startling. Yes, Illinois could get there if everything falls right, and the schedule is so beneficial that 10 or 11 regular-season wins is realistic. I like the Illini a lot, but they've been fortunate the past three weeks on their home field. Now the road schedule is really, really easy, but the Penn State contest isn't a gimme. Neither is Ohio State next week in Champaign. The Buckeyes will be desperate, and while Illinois always plays Ohio State tough, the Illini will be in the unfamiliar position of being favored in that matchup. Could Illinois reach Pasadena? Sure. But a lot of things have to go its way.


Mike from Boston writes: My fantasy team has been terrible the past few years so I decided to go with an all-Big Ten team this year. I had no expectations but all of a sudden I'm 3-1 and contending (thank you, Eric Decker). Mendenhall looks questionable this week and it's decision time: do I pick up a non-B1G replacement or stick with what's working and hope Pierre Thomas or Roy Helu finally gets some touches?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, you're seriously asking me for fantasy football advice? Have you seen how my fantasy team has fared this year against Bennett's? I like Pierre Thomas a lot, but don't blame me if you struggle this week. My track record speaks for itself. Ugh.


Ryan from Afghanistan writes: Hey Adam, first and foremost thanks to you and Brian for keeping us up to date over here on B1G news. I think by now we can say that MSU has one of the most impressive defenses in the country, especially considering their youth. That being said, their offense has had obvious struggles this year and most people point to the offensive line as the issue. I cannot watch the games here so I am just going by what I read, but it sure seems as though MSU's offensive woes could be coming from play calling. Coach D is a primarily defensive oriented coach, and maybe I am being too hard on Roushar... but what he is calling seems as though it is not working. Nobody has mentioned the departure of Don Treadwell as a possible cause for the lack of offensive production. He did orchestrate an impressive win against Wisconsin last year when coach D was in the hospital. What are your thoughts? Go Green!

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, first of all, thanks for everything you're doing over there. We really appreciate it! Michigan State's offensive line still remains the primary area of concern as the team hasn't generated a consistent rushing attack. Some of the play calling concerns are warranted, too, and you bring up a good point about losing Treadwell, who did a heck of a job last season. It will be interesting to see what type of game plan Dan Roushar has for Michigan, especially with an extra week to prepare for the Wolverines. Again, there's only so much you can do when the run game is spotty, and Michigan State needs Kirk Cousins to be a bit better with his decision-making, but Roushar isn't immune from critiques.


Jeff from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Rittenberg, how do you have a worse record than Brian in predictions? 42-10 vs. 39-13, you're 3 games back! In light of this, I did some digging and based on (A) your first post to The Blog [ed. http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/1/welcome-to-big-ten-football ] and (B) the welcome post for Brian [ed. http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/27523/big-ten-blog-gets-bigger-and-better ] you have over 1000 days more experience than he does. I'm starting to lose faith in you Old Timer... the cake games are over, we're in conference play now!

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, he's killing me. I'm thinking of ways to eliminate him, including sending him back to the lowly Big East. On the bright side, I am 6-0 so far in Big Ten games after a perfect Week 5. The problem: Bennett went 6-0, too. The predictions differential upsets me more than the fantasy team deal. I'd still take my team, led by Russell Wilson, Marvin McNutt and others, over his one-dimensional quarterbacks.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
12:00
PM ET
Here it is, your land of linkin':
  • A lot of eyes -- and plenty of pressure -- could be on Minnesota freshman quarterback Max Shortell this weekend.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
12:00
PM ET
Conference play is on its way. Hooray.

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