Big Ten: Deon Butler

Who'll start Saturday -- Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson?

Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)

But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:

Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.

After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
Randy Litzinger/Icon SMIRob Bolden made history in 2010 as the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for Penn State under coach Joe Paterno.
Rob Bolden, true freshman
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception

Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.

PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.

Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions

Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.

Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."

Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions

Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.

Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."

Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards

Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.

Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Penn State wide receivers Derek Moye and Chaz Powell were relaxing in their room Tuesday night when the subject came up again.

The feeling of disrespect tends to fester, and despite three victories this season, both Moye and Powell still sense it.

"Last year, the year before, we were just sitting on the sideline watching these games," Moye said. "Now we're going to be in the spotlight. All eyes are going to be on us and we're happy to be in this position. We're going to go out and show everybody what we can do."
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Penn State wide receiver Derek Moye intends to prove the doubters wrong.

Penn State had turnover at several positions following its Rose Bowl run in 2008, and no spot lost more production than wide receiver. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood all started for most of their careers and combined for 132 receptions, 1,932 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

Throw in Williams' production as a rusher and a return man, and it was obvious that Penn State had a major void to fill. Receivers like Moye, Powell, Graham Zug and Brett Brackett had appeared in plenty of games, but their numbers paled in comparison to the big three.

So how have the Rodney Dangerfields of Happy Valley fared so far? Pretty well. Penn State has been forced to throw the ball a lot in its first three games, and Moye, Powell and Zug all have reached double-digits in receptions. They have combined for 37 catches, 474 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

But doubts still linger. Penn State hasn't played anyone so far, and the wideouts are still unproven on the big stage, which arrives Saturday night against Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"There's always people who say the competition wasn't there," Moye said. "But this week and in weeks to come, we'll prove what we did the first few weeks wasn't a fluke."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sixteen years after Penn State entered Big Ten play tabbed as the league's third powerhouse, the program has the chance to truly earn the title this fall.

The Nittany Lions can win consecutive Big Ten titles for the first time and call themselves league champs for the third time since 2005. They can be the first team in some time to put a scare in Ohio State, which has dominated the Big Ten this decade.

But to stack up with the Buckeyes, Penn State must mirror what has been done in Columbus throughout head coach Jim Tressel's tenure -- reload.

No two Big Ten teams said goodbye to more key contributors from 2008 than Penn State and Ohio State, which return just 10 and 12 starters, respectively. The Lions lose a bit more than the Buckeyes, but they also bring back the Big Ten's top quarterback (Daryll Clark), top running back (Evan Royster) and one of the top linebackers (Navorro Bowman) from last season. Plus, star linebacker Sean Lee also returns from a knee injury, and Penn State has a more favorable schedule than Ohio State and hosts the Buckeyes at Beaver Stadium, the last place where Ohio State lost a Big Ten road game (2005).

So why do most prognosticators, including yours truly, give Ohio State a slight edge heading into the fall? A history of filling big gaps. Whether it's running back, quarterback, linebacker, defensive end or cornerback, the Buckeyes have lost national award winners and been just fine the next year.

Penn State has the chance to prove it can do the same thing this fall.

"People have been saying that we're not going to be able to do it, but proving people wrong is obviously a real good motivation," senior wide receiver Brett Brackett said. "That's definitely one of our goals, to show people we can do that.

"We have as much talent, if not more, than last year."

Brackett is one of several receivers pegged to take on a greater role after Penn State lost multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. The Lions also lose three starting offensive linemen and their entire starting secondary from a team that was seconds away from a possible trip to the BCS title game.

Many players stepping into key roles this season come from the less-heralded recruiting classes of 2007 and 2008. Penn State took some heat for its recruiting, particularly in 2008, and some questioned head coach Joe Paterno's involvement in the recruiting process.

Those questions have been put to rest, as Penn State signed an excellent class in February and might have the league's best class in 2010. But many of the older players on the 2009 team still fight the stigma from back on signing day.

"It's definitely a chance for us to show that we do get recruits in every year," Royster said. "We've got a lot of guys on the offensive line and at receiver that look like they're ready to play."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State running back Evan Royster wants more carries this fall, but he can't control how often his number gets called.

 
  Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
  Evan Royster wants more touches on offense, so he's working on his pass-catching skills.

So he's taking matters into his own hands -- literally.

Royster spent the summer trying to broaden his game and worked with several of Penn State's wide receivers on his pass-catching skills. The junior is hoping he can play a bit of slot receiver this fall in addition to his backfield duties.

"We'll see if the coaches let me do that," Royster told me Thursday. "We've talked about it, I worked on it in 7-on-7s. I think we'll get into it pretty soon in camp."

Royster ranked fourth on the team in receiving last year -- behind veteran wideouts Deon Butler, Derrick Williams and Jordan Norwood -- and hauled in 17 receptions for 155 yards. Penn State loses Butler, Williams and Norwood to graduation, so Royster and the other running backs should play a greater role in the passing game.

Nittany Lions wide receivers Chaz Powell and Derek Moye helped Royster with his receiving skills, and Royster and quarterback Daryll Clark worked on sharpening their timing on routes. Wideout Brett Brackett said Royster, an All-American lacrosse player in high school, didn't need much coaching.

"Evan's actually a really good receiver," Brackett said. "His ability to play lacrosse well has transitioned over really well. It's kind of the same thing, catching a pass in lacrosse in the net, it's hand-eye coordination. He worked with us all summer, but to be honest with you, there wasn't much he needed to work on. He was really good at it already."

When told that Royster might take his job at receiver, Brackett laughed and said, "I think he's got the tailback job under control."

Royster has legit NFL aspirations and wants to pattern his game after that of Matt Forte, the Chicago Bears running back who sizzled as a rookie last fall. Forte rushed for 1,238 yards, but he also led all NFL running backs with 63 receptions.

"He's a great back and he's one of the more underrated backs in the league," Royster said of Forte. "It'd definitely be good to be in his shoes."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The fresh faces series wraps up with three newcomers to watch for Penn State this fall. 

OFFENSE -- Justin Brown, WR, Fr.

Penn State has tabbed several older players to step in for Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood, but the fact remains that the team loses three multiyear starters at the same position. There's a need for playmakers, and Brown should get a chance to contribute immediately as the one of the highest-rated recruits in Penn State's 2009 class. He's a big target at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, and his physical style should translate well to the college level. 

DEFENSE -- Gerald Hodges, S, Fr. 

Along with classmate Darrell Givens, Hodges should see the field immediately this fall as Penn State loses all four starters in the secondary. Hodges will benefit from enrolling early and participating in practice this spring. He's a physical presence at safety who has the versatility to be effective in the Cover 3 and Cover 2 schemes. 

SPECIAL TEAMS -- Anthony Fera, K, Fr. 

Fera is the team's long-term solution at kicker, and he could step into the starting role this fall. Penn State loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Kevin Kelly, and Fera arrives with a good deal of hype, having been ranked as the nation's No. 2 kicker by ESPN's Scouts Inc. Junior Collin Wagner appeared to end spring ball as the projected starter, but Fera's strong leg should get him on the field soon.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ranking the Big Ten's top 30 players ...

No. 2

Daryll Clark, QB, Penn State, Sr., 6-2, 233

 Clark

Why he's here -- If this was a list of the Big Ten's most valuable players, Clark would be at the top. Although Penn State is well represented in the rundown, no player means more to the team's success in 2009 than Clark. Quarterback play is hardly a strong point in the Big Ten, but Clark can hang his hat on a very strong junior season.

After edging Pat Devlin for the starting job in 2008, Clark led Penn State to an 11-2 record, a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl appearance. He was the only Big Ten quarterback to rank among the top 25 nationally in pass efficiency. Clark threw for 2,592 yards with 19 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He added 10 rushing touchdowns and finished as the team's third-leading rusher.

The statistics only tell part of the story. Clark's leadership skills instilled confidence in his teammates, particularly wide receivers Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. He'll bring the same presence this fall to an offense that loses all three wideouts and three top offensive linemen. Put simply, if Clark stays healthy, Penn State could repeat as Big Ten champs. If he goes down, it could be a long season in Happy Valley.

The Rundown

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A year ago, Daryll Clark was an unproven commodity competing for Penn State's starting quarterback spot alongside Pat Devlin. Clark now finds himself at the helm of the Nittany Lions as arguably the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  Already entrenched as the starter, Daryll Clark hopes to build on what he accomplished in 2008.

He beat out Devlin for the top job and went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, tallying 2,592 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Clark added 282 rush yards and 10 touchdowns for the nation's 14th-rated offense. After helping guide Penn State to an 11-2 mark and a Rose Bowl appearance, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior steps into a primary leadership position this spring on an offense that returns only five starters.

Here are Clark's thoughts on spring practice, his emergence last fall and the coming challenges for Penn State.

How different has this spring been for you as opposed to last year?

Daryll Clark: Last spring, it was a big decision on who was going to be the quarterback. It was competition. Whereas now, it's a little bit different. With Kevin Newsome being here, he's a freshman, he has a lot to learn. So this is a time for me to critique the mistakes I made from the past season and fine-tune everything I have to, to become a better quarterback and a better asset to this football team. Just become a bigger and better leader. There was a lot of help with all of the seniors we had last year. We have some this year, and our coaches have been calling upon a lot of our young guys to step to the forefront because we're going to need a lot of leadership to step up this year and fill some gaps. There are a lot of positions up in the air this spring. It's been real interesting. The first practice was pretty weird going out there and not seeing those three wideouts that I'm used to seeing [Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood].

Have you spent a lot of time watching those position battles at O-line and wide receiver?

DC: It's kind of tough to watch because I'm practicing in the thick of things throughout the entire practice. My reps are not limited. My main thing is just trying to get the timing down with all the wide receivers we have now. And it's going very well. With Derrick, Deon and Jordan, after the [2007] Alamo Bowl game, we started working on timing two weeks after. The same thing happened after the Rose Bowl this year with the younger guys. We have everyone on the same page to what we're trying to get accomplished this year, both offensively and defensively. Things have been pretty much going back and forth each practice, so that's a pretty good thing. Our wideouts are doing a great job of catching the ball, downfield blocking and making runs after the catch. Everything is on the up and up right now.

Who has stood out to you among the young guys?

DC: No one's really stood out. I think everyone is working at an even rate -- at a high rate, actually. To name a few, Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Brett Brackett, Graham Zug, James McDonald, those guys really know that they're going to play this year, so it's important that they get everything down, get the whole terminology of the offense down and get used to the positions that they're going to play. I really haven't seen any nerves or anything like that because a lot of the guys have been playing, but just didn't get as many reps as our senior receivers from last year. They've played in a couple games already. Now they're going to be moving into a starting role, so I think they'll be ready.

(Read full post)

Big Ten mailbag

April, 3, 2009
4/03/09
5:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Good number of questions this week. You are clearly ready for spring ball. And for those Iowa fans wondering when I'm coming out to cover your team, I'll be in Iowa City a week from today.

Greg from Cleveland wites: Hi Adam, Love the blog and love the work you do. Big PSU fan for you and just had an opinion and wanted your take. I know everyone is saying that WR is going to be a major concern because of the 3 seniors leaving, but is that really going to be the case? Other than D Will taking back a few kicks against Illinois, can you name another game that one of those guys came up big in during the past few seasons? They were good receivers, but I believe a lot of their success was due to longevity, not necessarily skill. They were all under-sized and seemed to fade against better teams like OSU & USC. I know the receiving corp is young, but they are tall and athletic and fast. I think they have a chance to be really good.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have a hard time overlooking Deon Butler's steady production the last four years. You don't just replace a guy like him overnight. And while Derrick Williams had an excellent senior season, Butler was the more reliable performer. I agree about the undersized part, but Butler had 97 receiving yards against USC in the Rose Bowl. And I seem to remember all of those guys coming up big against Michigan State, Wisconsin and several other teams last year. Penn State should undoubtedly have some more variety at wide receiver this season, especially with bigger receivers like Brett Brackett (6-foot-6), Derek Moye (6-5) and incoming freshman Justin Brown (6-3). A mixture of wideouts never hurts, and Penn State has talent at that position. Still, the Lions are replacing a ton of production.


Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, interesting bit about OSU's change-up in offenses. No doubt that Pryor is a great athlete and probably one of the fastest QB's I've ever seen, but do you think the offense change will help or hurt OSU in the long run? In my opinion, Pryor needs to really improve his passing skills to help OSU's cause. Well coached defenses, even at the college level, usually trump a QB that can run, but cannot pass. The thing that burned OSU last year was the fact that Pryor simply can't throw...and let's be honest, Pryor's passes last year looked like wounded ducks being heaved to the moon--awful...if he's able to throw at all against a mediocre PSU secondary in Columbus, OSU wins that game. I assume the new offense will allow Pryor to run even more (true?)...do you really think making Pryor even more one-dimensional is beneficial to the Buckeyes?

Adam Rittenberg: I wouldn't expect Ohio State to overload the offense from plays out of the Wildcat formation, and the pistol offense could open up the passing game. Obviously, Terrelle Pryor needs to make strides as a passer, but I'm less concerned about the deep routes. He needs to consistently make short and intermediate throws and give his wide receivers, who could be dynamic this fall, multiple chances to make plays. If Pryor can make throws on the run, defenses won't have much chance to stop him. You bring up a good point about the Penn State game -- Penn State's struggles in the secondary against USC in the Rose Bowl were truly an indictment of the bad Big Ten offenses last fall -- and Pryor didn't have his best outing. But if he can do the little things better this fall, Ohio State should move the ball.


Chris from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, I've noticed that some of the other bloggers have lists of the "Top 30 Players for 2009" running for their respective conferences. Do you plan on doing anything like this?

Adam Rittenberg: I like the idea, Chris, and plan to do something similar after spring ball quiets down. There's plenty to blog about regarding the teams right now, but check back during May or June -- college football's Sahara -- and I'll put together a list.


Aaron from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, perhaps you can answer this since you live in Chicago. You say this all the time, and it always confuses me. Why aren't there very many Northwestern alumni in Chicago? This completely baffles me, why people wouldn't stay in Chicago upon graduation. The University of Iowa has a strong contingent from the Chicago area, and many of them return there after graduating. Why isn't it similar for the Wildcats?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Aaron. There are a couple of factors going on here. Northwestern is the only private school in the Big Ten, and has the smallest student body/alumni base. More importantly, Northwestern is a national school more than a regional one, largely because of its academic reputation. While students from the Midwest form the largest percentage of NU's student body, it draws from a national pool, particularly places like Washington D.C., New York/New Jersey and California. Take me, for example. I grew up in northern California but went to Northwestern. My best friends there grew up in Seattle, Oregon, Boston, New Jersey and yes, Evanston. And very few of my college friends stuck around Chicago after graduation. There are many more in New York, L.A. and other cities outside the Midwest.

Northwestern will always face a challenge of filling its stadium because most of its alumni don't live in the Chicago area. Bowl attendance isn't a major hurdle for Northwestern, but attendance at Ryan Field always will be. Penn State is the only Big Ten school with fewer alumni in Chicago than Northwestern.


Dale from Richmond, Texas, writes: What is your opinion on incoming Buckeye Recruit Jaamal Berry? I might be a complete moron but all the film I have seen on all the running backs coming into college, this kid seems to jump out talent wise compared to all the others.

Adam Rittenberg: There's a lot to like with Berry. He's extremely quick and gets into high gear in a hurry, giving him home-run ability every time he touches the ball. He'll definitely need to get bigger to play in the Big Ten, but he doesn't want to add too much weight to sacrifice speed. I also like the way he doesn't mess around when he sees a hole in the defense. No dancing, just boom, hits it and he's off. He might not play right away, but I'd be surprised if he doesn't see the field at some point this fall.

Big Ten mailbag

March, 10, 2009
3/10/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's my question: Why is the Big Ten offseason so long?

OK, your turn.

Jonathan from Torrance, Calif., writes: Everyone always talks about possible teams that could be added to the Big Ten, but my question to you is, which team do you think contributes least to the Big Ten and could be subtracted?

Adam Rittenberg: It's a tough call, Jonathan, since all the teams bring something a little different to the table. For years the answer would have been Northwestern, which had non-competitive teams in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. But the Wildcats have been a different team since 1995, winning three Big Ten titles and reaching six bowls. If you go by recent performance, it has to be Indiana. The Hoosiers didn't reach a bowl from 1994-2007 and slipped back again last year. At times the program seems neglected, though the recent improvements to Memorial Stadium suggest those days are ending.


Wes from Columbus writes: I have been seeing a lot of people on the blogs saying that pryor has no throwing ability. Do you agree with this or do you think that these opinions are develped from the amount of yards per game he was averaging? Tressel was not letting him throw alot partly because we had beanie who could break one for a TD on any play. Afterall, he was the most efficient passer in the big ten last year. Another reason could be because of his showing in the Fiesta bowl in which he played with a bum shoulder on his throwing arm. Do people know that he was hurt in that game? Your opinion?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right in part, Wes, and Ohio State certainly was a run-first team last year. My concern with Terrelle Pryor isn't how he throws the deep ball, but the short and intermediate routes. He has to get more consistent on the high-percentage throws, but he certainly can make those improvements in his game. Pryor can become a decent or above-average passer, which will make him even more dangerous as a runner.

There was a lot of speculation about Pryor's health in the Fiesta Bowl, but nothing has been substantiated. It bothered me that on several plays he seemed to run out of bounds way too soon with open field ahead of him, but there has been nothing official on any injury.


Ken from Minnesota writes: Love your blog. You show a lot of energy and creativity in your coverage. I also appreciate that you cover all eleven teams. Brewster seems to like you and gives you some nice items/access. On your recent item: Traye Simmons stood out and made some nice plays. Sherels injury against Indiana helped contribute to the team slipping down the stretch; he had surgery at the end of the season(shoulder) so I hope he returns 100 percent. I'm not counting on Brock getting back in. Kim Royston went to Wisconsin for two years and was in on secondary coverage for Bielema. He left over perception he wasn't getting fair shake for playing time, sat out last year and is paying his own way at Minnesota and is expected to help out the secondary (safety-some corner). He's from St Paul's Catholic power Cretin-Derham High School, where Notre Dame has pulled a number of stars (including Michael Floyd). Brewster convincing Royston to transfer here on his own dime is a coup that he hopes leads to more success recruiting Cretin-Derham.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Ken. We'll have to wait and see on Tramaine Brock, but that's a risk you run by bringing in so many junior college players. Royston is an interesting addition for the Gophers after being squeezed out of the rotation at Wisconsin. He'll definitely be motivated to regain some playing time, though he enters a pretty crowded defensive backfield at Minnesota.


Brian from Baltimore writes: Adam, can we get an update on the PSU reciever situation? If I had to guess, I'd say Derek Moye and Justin Brown will take over the #1 and #2 reciever roles. Also, I think Devon Smith is the clear choice for punt/kick returns.

Adam Rittenberg: Moye seems to be a popular man among Penn State fans, and I'd expect him to get a lot of attention this spring. He boasts excellent size (6-5), a trait Penn State didn't have with multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. A freshman like Brown should get a shot to play right away, but I could see a guy like Brett Brackett or Graham Zug earning a spot as a possession wideout. Chaz Powell also will be in the mix.


Greg from Iowa City writes: Arizona's football game at Iowa this fall is considered a premium game, in part, because the Wildcats are coached by former Hawkeye Mike Stoops.

Adam Rittenberg: True, Mike Stoops definitely is a draw, having played and coached at Iowa. But there's not much recent history between the teams, and Iowa could have saved its premium dates for the Big Ten schedule. It really can go either way, since it's a bit of a ho-hum Big Ten home slate for the Hawkeyes this year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For those of you who didn't spend the last few days glued to a TV or a computer for up-to-the-minute NFL combine updates, here's a snapshot of how Big Ten players fared at the premier pre-draft event.

The NFL lists the top performers in seven different categories. Keep in mind that not every Big Ten player and position group participates in every event.

40-yard dash

  • Purdue's Curtis Painter, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 4.87 seconds
  • Purdue's Kory Sheets, third among running backs, 4.47 seconds
  • Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells, tied for 10th among running backs, 4.59 seconds
  • Penn State's Deon Butler, fourth among wide receivers, 4.38 seconds
  • Illinois' Xavier Fulton, third among offensive linemen, 5.04 seconds
  • Penn State's Gerald Cadogan, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 5.12 seconds

Bench press

  • Ohio State's Wells, tied for sixth among running backs, 25 repetitions
  • Purdue's Greg Orton, third among wide receivers, 22 reps
  • Penn State's Derrick Williams, 10th among wide receivers, 15 reps
  • Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, tied for first among tight ends, 28 reps
  • Ohio State's Alex Boone and Penn State's A.Q. Shipley, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 33 reps
  • Iowa's Rob Bruggeman, tied for 10th among offensive linemen, 30 reps
  • Michigan's Terrance Taylor, first among defensive linemen, 37 reps
  • Purdue's Alex Magee, tied for eighth among defensive linemen, 30 reps
  • Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, tied for second among linebackers, 30 reps
  • Wisconsin's Jonathan Casillas, tied for 10th among linebackers, 24 reps

Vertical jump

  • Michigan State's Brian Hoyer, sixth among quarterbacks, 32 inches
  • Iowa's Shonn Greene and Purdue's Kory Sheets, tied for fifth among running backs, 37 inches
  • Penn State's Jordan Norwood and Purdue's Orton, tied for sixth among wide receivers, 38 inches
  • Ohio State's Brian Robiskie, seventh among wide receivers, 37.5 inches
  • Illinois' Fulton and Penn State's Shipley, tied for sixth among offensive linemen, 31 inches
  • Penn State's Aaron Maybin, third among defensive linemen, 38 inches
  • Illinois' Derek Walker, fourth among defensive linemen, 37.5 inches
Broad jump
  • Michigan State's Hoyer, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 9'1"
  • Ohio State's Wells, first among running backs, 10'8"
  • Iowa's Greene and Purdue's Sheets, tied for fifth among running backs, 10'1"
  • Purdue's Orton, seventh among wide receivers, 10'5"
  • Illinois' Fulton, tied for first, 9'3"

3-cone drill

  • Purdue's Painter, tied for fourth among quarterbacks, 7 seconds
  • Michigan State's Javon Ringer, tied for fifth among running backs, 6.87 seconds
  • Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton, 10th among running backs, 6.94 seconds
  • Ohio State's Brian Hartline, tied for second among wide receivers, 6.65 seconds
  • Ohio State's Robiskie, fifth among wide receivers, 6.72 seconds
  • Penn State's Norwood, tied for eighth among wide receivers, 6.8 seconds
  • Illinois' Fulton, second among offensive linemen, 7.35 seconds
  • Penn State's Shipley, tied for fourth among offensive linemen, 7.46 seconds
  • Iowa's Seth Olsen, ninth among offensive linemen, 7.59 seconds

20-yard shuttle

  • Michigan State's Hoyer, tied for sixth among quarterbacks, 4.42 seconds
  • Michigan State's Ringer, third among running backs, 4.11 seconds
  • Ohio State's Hartline, fourth among wide receivers, 4.12 seconds
  • Ohio State's Robiskie, eighth among wide receivers, 4.19 seconds
  • Penn State's Norwood, ninth among wide receivers, 4.2 seconds
  • Indiana's Andrew Means, 10th among wide receivers, 4.21 seconds
  • Penn State's Shipley, second among offensive linemen, 4.4 seconds
  • Illinois' Fulton, sixth among offensive linemen, 4.56 seconds

60-yard shuttle

  • Purdue's Sheets, sixth among running backs, 11.7 seconds
  • Ohio State's Hartline, first among wide receivers, 10.92 seconds
  • Penn State's Butler, third among wide receivers, 11.32 seconds
My take

The combine is only one component of the draft evaluation process, yet a very important one. Here are my thoughts on these results:

  • Why did Purdue struggle so much on offense last year? Painter clearly had more athleticism that he showed, and Sheets proved to be a valuable player as well. Orton likely helped his draft stock as well at the combine.
  • For a guy that took a ton of criticism last year, it was interesting to see Hoyer perform well at the combine. He clearly has some good athleticism, and if he can get a bit more consistent in the passing game, he could find a spot at the next level. His win-loss record at Michigan State should not be overlooked.
  • Arguably no Big Ten player helped his draft stock more than Fulton, who placed among the top offensive linemen in five different categories. The second-team All-Big Ten selection might not have had the dominant senior season he expected, but his combine performance makes up for it.
  • Beanie Wells can jump. Anyone who watched him hurdle Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman on Nov. 15 already knew that.
  • Ringer underwent knee surgery last month but still performed well, finishing second in the 20-yard shuttle run.
  • Some wondered why Hartline turned pro a year early. His combine performance should silence the critics. Ohio State clearly didn't maximize what it had at the wide receiver position last year with Hartline and Robiskie.
  • Despite an injury-plagued senior season, Beckum should still go pretty high in the draft. His benchpress victory can't hurt his cause.
  • Penn State's Shipley also had a good combine, showing good speed and agility.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
  Pat Fitzgerald should probably stick to tackling demonstrations.

There's a reason Pat Fitzgerald got into the College Football Hall of Fame as a Northwestern linebacker and not into the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of his beloved White Sox.

Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, he got a painful reminder of that reason on Thursday. During a demonstration with a JUGS pitching machine, the Northwestern head coach had a baseball hit him right in the mouth. According to ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel, who alerted me to Fitzgerald's mishap, the coach damaged his front teeth and will need some dental work.

Fitzgerald remains in good spirits, telling me in a text message this morning, "I'm all good. Still ugly as ever with a full head of teeth." We agreed that in the future, he should stick to tackling demonstrations.

I tell you this because I was recently asked in a chat which Big Ten coach I'd want backing me up in a bar fight. Well, I think I have my answer.

Before the weekend kicks off, some links for you.

  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Michael Rothstein has been blogging all day from the NFL combine in Indianapolis and posted some good quotes from Penn State wide receivers Derrick Williams and Deon Butler. Williams gets a little morbid when discussing Lions head coach Joe Paterno.
"The things that spook us out as players is that we think Joe is going to be buried on the field," Williams said. "Everyone is going to come to the stadium and if he does go, it's just going to be a big funeral at the stadium."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The seemingly interminable wait for college football gets a little easier about a month from now, when Michigan steps on the practice field for spring ball. The other 10 Big Ten squads will follow soon after as spring practice gets in full swing.

There are no shortage of spring story lines around the league, from Danny Hope's first workouts as Purdue head coach to six new coordinators to teams like Ohio State and Penn State trying to replace sizable senior classes. Six teams will feature some degree of competition at the quarterback spot, and position battles abound throughout the league.

Here's some can't-miss information about spring ball and a team-by-team look at what to watch:

Illinois Fighting Illini

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The defense needs leaders to emerge after a subpar year and with the graduation of first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Brit Miller. Martez Wilson is an obvious candidate to claim a greater role, but the immensely talented linebacker comes off surgery in December after being stabbed outside a bar. The defensive line loses three starters and top cover man Vontae Davis left early for the NFL draft, creating opportunities for young players to step up.
  • For the second consecutive spring, the running back position will be in the spotlight. Illinois never truly got settled at running back last year, as Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford split carries. Both players had their moments, as Dufrene averaged 5.7 yards a carry and Ford scored eight touchdowns, but it would be nice to see one man emerge as a featured back alongside quarterback Juice Williams.
  • New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz steps in, and former outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will work directly with Williams, who was extremely close with former coordinator Mike Locksley. It's vital for Williams and his teammates to jell with Schultz and the offensive nuances he'll bring to spring practice. Illinois remains one of the league's most talented offenses, but the players must get on the same page this spring.

Indiana Hoosiers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

Watch to watch:

  • Healthy bodies, at least a few more than at the end of last season. Indiana's roster was wiped out by injuries during Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers should get a better gauge of their strengths and weaknesses this spring. Quarterback Kellen Lewis struggled with injuries for much of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he regains the form he showed in 2007, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Lewis might need to reclaim the starting job after splitting time with Ben Chappell last fall. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk will miss spring ball with injuries, giving other players a chance to shine.
  • The Hoosiers' defense must take a step forward this spring, especially with so much experience and talent returning in the front seven. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton each have had breakout seasons, and Matt Mayberry at times looks like one of the league's best linebackers. With weak-side linebacker Will Patterson and others back in the fold, there's no reason Indiana can't be serviceable on defense in 2009.
  • Lewis can't continue to be Indiana's primary rushing option, and with Marcus Thigpen gone, a capable back or two must emerge. The competition this spring will feature players like Bryan Payton and Darius Willis, a heralded recruit who redshirted last year. Demetrius McCray will be limited in spring practice.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

  • Everyone knows Shonn Greene is gone, but the more damaging departures likely will come at defensive tackle, where Iowa loses four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The spotlight will be on the interior defensive line as players like Karl Klug try to fill the void. Arguably no position competition matters more than the one at defensive tackle, especially since Iowa appears strong everywhere else on defense.
  • Ricky Stanzi established himself as the starting quarterback, but Iowa would like the rising junior to take another step and become more consistent. Interceptions were a problem at times for Stanzi last fall, but he should benefit from a full spring as the starter and being able to work with the first-team wide receivers.
  • Rising sophomore Jewel Hampton is the likely choice to succeed Greene after rushing for 478 yards and five touchdowns as his backup last year. But head coach Kirk Ferentz likely wants to see what he has with the other backs, namely Jeff Brinson, who redshirted in 2008. There should be some healthy competition for carries throughout the spring and into preseason camp.

Michigan Wolverines

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. Any improvement on this team must start with the quarterback spot, and the competition during spring ball will be crucial. Steven Threet's decision to transfer shifts the spotlight to true freshman Tate Forcier, who enrolled in January and will practice this spring. Nick Sheridan remains in the mix after starting four games last season, but Forcier seems better suited to run Rich Rodriguez's offense. A strong spring could make him the frontrunner when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives this summer.
  • New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson starts working with a unit that finished 10th in the league in points allowed (28.9 ypg) last fall. Robinson seems less concerned about scheme changes and more focused on instilling a new attitude with the group. There could be an adjustment period on both sides, as players get to know a new coach and Robinson works as an assistant after overseeing an entire program the last four seasons at Syracuse.
  • Robinson undoubtedly will devote much of his attention to the defensive line, which loses three starters, including both tackles. The spotlight will be on young players like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and even early enrollee William Campbell as Michigan looks for answers up front. The Wolverines also need increased leadership from All-Big Ten end Brandon Graham, their only returning starter on the line.

Michigan State Spartans

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Spartans feature arguably the Big Ten's most intriguing quarterback competition. Third-year sophomore Kirk Cousins performed well behind Brian Hoyer in 2008 and seems to have the intangibles to lead the offense. Keith Nichol is a dual-threat quarterback who has a year in the system after transferring from Oklahoma. A decision on a starter might not be made until preseason camp, but the two players will start competing this spring.
  • Running back also is a mystery after the departure of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer. Michigan State didn't develop a second option behind Ringer, so players like Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett will get a chance to prove themselves before true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper arrive this summer.
  • Michigan State doesn't lose much on the defensive side, but co-captains Otis Wiley and Justin Kershaw both depart, leaving a void in leadership. The coaches will lean more on linebackers Greg Jones and Adam Decker this spring, and the secondary needs a new front man to replace Wiley, who led the team in interceptions (4) and ranked third in tackles (78). Danny Fortener came on strong last year, but the Spartans will look for another safety to emerge.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The offense begins a new chapter under new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run game coordinator Tim Davis. Minnesota wants to return to its roots as a running team and employ a pro-style offense. It will be interesting to see how players adjust in practice, and how Fisch and the influential Davis work together.
  • New arrival Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee take over a defense that made major strides under Ted Roof but showed some cracks down the stretch. Cosgrove will be working with experienced players at linebacker and in the secondary, and their ability to grasp his scheme will be huge this spring.
  • Starting quarterback Adam Weber will be held out of contact drills following shoulder surgery, giving the coaches a chance to evaluate heralded recruit MarQueis Gray. The multitalented Gray left the team last year because of questions about his ACT score. He has returned and will get a chance to learn Fisch's offense and establish himself as the team's No. 2 option.

Northwestern Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • It has been at least four years -- and likely more -- since the running back position has been so wide open. Stephen Simmons will get a chance to establish himself as the top back this spring after filling in behind Tyrell Sutton late last season. Scott Concannon and Jacob Schmidt also will be in the mix before several freshmen arrive in the summer.
  • Mike Kafka enters the spring as the starting quarterback after helping Northwestern to a season-turning win last year at Minnesota. But Kafka must develop as a passer to complement his excellent running ability. With a mostly unproven group of wide receivers, Kafka needs to establish a rhythm and become consistent on the short throws that make the spread offense move.
  • Two starters are gone and star end Corey Wootton is nursing a surgically repaired knee, putting pressure on Northwestern to identify another playmaker on the defensive line. The defensive tackle spot will be in the spotlight as Northwestern looks for an elite run stopper to replace John Gill.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • Ohio State needs a featured running back, and Dan Herron has a chance to be the guy. A strong spring from Herron would be beneficial before heralded recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde arrive. The Buckeyes could go with a committee system this fall, but Herron showed promise at times last year and could claim the job.
  • The offensive line was one of the team's bigger disappointments last year, and the group must come together this spring. Michigan transfer Justin Boren should step into a starting role right away, and sophomore tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts could join classmate Mike Brewster on the first team. This group has a ton of young talent, but it must be molded.
  • Keep an eye on the linebacker and cornerback positions all the way until Sept. 5. Ohio State loses national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as All-Big Ten selection Marcus Freeman. Three and possibly four starting spots are open, so the competition should heat up.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Big Ten's best offensive line loses three all-conference starters, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley. Line coaches Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney have plenty of work to do this spring as they try to build around holdovers Stefen Wisniewski and Dennis Landolt. With a formidable run game in place, replenishing the line will be
    Penn State's top priority.
  • Penn State's young wide receivers are gearing up for a wide-open competition as the team loses multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Can Brett Brackett and Graham Zug emerge as reliable possession-type guys? Can Chaz Powell be Penn State's deep threat? Those answers could come this spring.
  • Lions fans are confident that defensive line coach Larry Johnson will develop another first-rate pass rusher. The process begins in spring ball as Penn State must replace starters at both end spots as well as reserve Maurice Evans, a former All-Big Ten selection.

Purdue Boilermakers

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The Danny Hope era begins this spring, and it will be interesting to see what imprints the new head coach puts on the program. He's a Joe Tiller disciple but brings in two new coordinators and wants to make immediate upgrades to the team's speed and athleticism. Purdue loses starters at the skill positions on offense as well as its most productive defender (linebacker Anthony Heygood), so there's plenty of work ahead.
  • Quarterback could feature an interesting competition between Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. Elliott seems like the favorite to take over after backing up Curtis Painter the last three seasons. But the multi-talented Siller could fit the new mold Hope is trying to create with the Boilers' personnel. Siller had a big day against Michigan last year and brings the mobility Purdue could use at the quarterback spot.
  • With the secondary more or less intact, new defensive coordinator Donn Landholm will focus on the front seven. Landholm needs to build around defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, a potential All-Big Ten performer this fall. Heygood will be missed, but Joe Holland is a solid contributor and if Jason Werner can finally get healthy, the linebacking corps should be strong.

Wisconsin Badgers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Big surprise, another quarterback competition. After never truly finding stability at the quarterback spot in 2008, Wisconsin once again looks for a leader for the offense. Part-time starter Dustin Sherer will have to ward off Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr, who enrolled early. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst didn't settle on a starter last spring, but he would like some separation to occur.
  • Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will have a busy spring as he tries to replace three starters up front. Players like Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym and Brendan Kelly, who emerged last fall before an injury, will get a long look this spring.
  • P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL draft puts John Clay in the spotlight as the Badgers' featured running back. Can the immensely talented Clay take the next step in his development to master the offense and his assignments? He also must work with a new-look offensive line that must replace three starters.
Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Keith Nichol, Corey Wootton, Curt Phillips, Jewel Hampton, Dustin Sherer, Ashton Leggett, Joe Holland, MarQueis Gray, Kellen Lewis, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Mike Locksley, Charlie Partridge, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan Wolverines, Ryan Kerrigan, Ted Roof, Joe Tiller, Michigan State Spartans, Purdue Boilermakers, Brian Hoyer, Nick Sheridan, Bryan Payton, Stefen Wisniewski, Ryan Van Bergen, Paul Chryst, Brendan Kelly, Iowa Hawkeyes, Martez Wilson, Mike Brewster, Demetrius McCray, Nick Polk, J.B. Shugarts, Jason Werner, Jeff Brinson, Andre Anderson, Shonn Greene, Ben Chappell, Justin Kershaw, Jason Ford, Brett Brackett, Adam Decker, Matt Mayberry, Kirk Cousins, Dennis Landolt, Graham Zug, Maurice Evans, Carlos Hyde, Tyrell Sutton, Jeff Stehle, Northwestern Wildcats, Dan Herron, Kirk Ferentz, Denard Robinson, Donn Landholm, Mike Martin, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Danny Fortener, Jammie Kirlew, Marcus Thigpen, Indiana Hoosiers, P.J. Hill, Larry Caper, Dick Anderson, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, John Clay, Greg Robinson, Big Ten Conference, Stephen Simmons, Jordan Norwood, Chaz Powell, Steven Threet, Will Patterson, Jon Budmayr, Brit Miller, spring primer 0902, Larry Johnson, Patrick Butrym, Darius Willis, Mike Schultz, Jacob Schmidt, Justin Siller, Marcus Freeman, Justin Boren, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Malcolm Jenkins, Otis Wiley, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Daniel Dufrene, Ron Lee, Jaamal Berry, Bill Kenney, Austin Thomas, Scott Concannon, William Campbell, Penn State Nittany Lions, Ohio State Buckeyes, Edwin Baker, Kurt Beathard, Mitch King, Curtis Painter, Joey Elliott, Jedd Fisch, Kevin Cosgrove, Mike Kafka, Danny Hope, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Greg Middleton, John Gill, Anthony Heygood, Tim Davis, Javon Ringer, Mike Adams

Where's the love in the Big Ten?

February, 13, 2009
2/13/09
5:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Valentine's Day is rapidly approaching, and so is spring practice. Fellow bloggers Heather Dinich and Ted Miller passed out roses to teams in their leagues earlier Friday.

I'm not too big on flowers (neither is my fiancée, thankfully), so here are five Valentine's Day gifts for prominent Big Ten figures.

 
  James Lang/US PRESSWIRE
  Coach Rich Rodriguez would love some improved quarterback play.

1. A quarterback for Rich Rodriguez -- Any improvement Michigan makes must start at the quarterback position, which was a disaster for most of 2008. Whether freshmen Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson step up or holdovers Steven Threet or Nick Sheridan elevate their play, Rod deserves a quarterback who can run the spread offense without tripping over his feet.

2. A wide receiver for Daryll Clark -- Clark, the Penn State quarterback, loses top targets Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Butler finished as Penn State's all-time receptions leader, and Williams was a unique talent. Clark is a smart, efficient quarterback, but he needs a capable target to emerge in spring ball. Another offensive lineman would be nice, too.

3. A magic healing potion for Bill Lynch -- The Indiana head coach saw his roster completely depleted by injuries last season. Indiana isn't at a point where it can survive a rash of injuries, and Lynch needs his key contributors healthy, particularly in the secondary and along the offensive line. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk remain out for spring ball, but Indiana should get a few players back in the mix.

4. An offensive identity for Minnesota -- There were a lot of changes in the Twin Cities this winter, as the Gophers hired new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run-game coordinator Tim Davis. The spread is dead and Fisch wants to run a pro-style system, but Minnesota must improve its run game. There will be an adjustment period for players, but they need to get on the same page fast.

5. A quarterback for Bret Bielema -- The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and another competition is coming this spring. Game managers have worked at Wisconsin before, but Curt Phillips and Jon Budmayr are solid recruits who can do more. Wisconsin must demand bigger things from its quarterbacks going forward.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wide receiver could be Penn State's biggest question mark heading into 2009 after the program lost three multiyear starters in Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood.

The Nittany Lions took a big step toward filling the void this afternoon as wide receiver Justin Brown from Wilmington, Del., announced he would play for head coach Joe Paterno. Brown chose Penn State over Rutgers and becomes the fourth wide receiver in the Lions' 2009 class.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Brown ranks as the country's 22nd best receiver, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.

Penn State's class likely is complete with 27 members, headlined by top defenders Glenn Carson and Darrell Givens.

SPONSORED HEADLINES