Big Ten: Derek Moye

Big Ten mailblog

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
5:45
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Catching up on the mail. You can always reach me with questions or comments here.

Matt from Dallas writes: Adam, good article on whether players benefited from jumping early to the draft, can you do a similar article about players who were hurt this year by waiting to enter the draft then going last year. Being a Husker fan I believe Dennard and Crick were hurt significantly, just curious on your thoughts about other teams and players in the Big 10.

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, not sure if I'll do another post, but I can definitely discuss some of those players here. It would have been interesting to see where Crick would have been drafted had he come out after the 2010 season. He almost certainly would have gone higher than the fourth round. Missing half the 2011 season didn't help Crick, and there seemed to be some questions about him even before he suffered the pectoral injury. Dennard is a different case. He didn't hurt his draft stock much during the regular season and arguably helped it with performances like the ones against Michigan State and Iowa. His problems seemed to surface in predraft events, which could have happened after the 2010 season as well, and the arrest on the weekend before the draft.

One player who certainly should have come out after 2010 is Ohio State center Mike Brewster, who didn't hear his name called at all last weekend. Brewster wasn't part of the infamous Tat-5, but he was hurt by their actions, as Ohio State's offense went from potentially elite to one of the nation's weakest. Penn State receiver Derek Moye is another undrafted player who might have fared better had he come out after 2010. An extra year in State College with shaky quarterbacks didn't help his stock.



Hunter from Jackson, Mich., writes: I've heard several analysts saying that this may be Michigan's year to run the table and win the National Championship. But why are the Spartans left out? Though their offense may be hard to predict right now, they are returning 10 of 12 starters from one of the nation's best defenses last season. They also have very winnable games at home in ND, OSU, and NEB. If the offense can work out its kinks by the time conference play begins, and if they can pull out two winnable games in Madison and Ann Arbor, why not us?

Adam Rittenberg: Who is saying Michigan will run the table? Have you seen that schedule? Alabama (neutral but basically road), Notre Dame (road), Nebraska (road), Ohio State (road) and Michigan State (home). While I see more folks predicting Michigan to win the Big Ten, it's a stretch to see the Wolverines making the national title game with such a tough slate. That said, you're right about people overlooking Michigan State. There's too much attention paid to who leaves on offense and not enough to who comes back on defense. The Spartans might need to win a lot of games 17-14 this season, but I don't expect many teams to put up points against William Gholston, Denicos Allen, Johnny Adams & Co. As far as the national title, I don't put Michigan State in the mix, largely for the same reason as Michigan. The schedule isn't easy, despite more marquee games at home than the Wolverines. It will be very tough to win in both Ann Arbor and Madison.

Bottom line: Michigan State and Michigan are both Big Ten title contenders, not national title contenders. And not much separates the teams.



Andrew from Indianapolis writes: You mentioned how Iowa and Wisconsin placed so many players in the NFL, and how programs that develop NFL talent resonate with potential recruits. Given that, wouldn't Denard Robinson's best shot at the NFL be at a position other than QB? And might recruits look at Hoke's decision to keep him at QB as hindering, not helping his chances to get to the next level?

Adam Rittenberg: No, I don't think that'd be the case, Andrew. Robinson wants to be a quarterback, and he gives Michigan the best chance to win by playing quarterback right now. NFL scouts see him run around and make defenders look terrible each week for the Wolverines. It's not a stretch for them to envision him catching passes at wide receiver, where he'll likely play at the next level. Robinson certainly will have to show he can play a different spot in the predraft workouts, but I don't think Brady Hoke is holding him back at Michigan. It might be a different situation if Hoke was forcing Robinson to play quarterback, which isn't the case at all.



David from State College, Pa., writes: With a playoff basically coming the last real thing I see that is being looked at is the location of the Semifinals. 1 and 2 seed's hosting the sites on their campus seems to rub people the wrong way because they say some college stadiums are small or the town cant deal with the influx of people. Why not allow each conference (All not just the power six) choose a site for there semi if they have a team hosting a semi? Just as an example the B1G could choose Indy and no matter what B1G team ended up 1 or 2 Indy would be the location. This would also lessen the travel burden on fans if chosen correctly by the conferences.

Adam Rittenberg: David, I like the idea, but it would be tough to execute. The challenge would be the relatively short time to prepare between championship weekend and the semifinal games. Would Lucas Oil Stadium be willing to keep a date open for a possible semifinal? That's a bit of a gamble, and the venue could end up losing a lot of money. The proposal being considered that includes "anchor" bowls gives leagues a bit of freedom, like the Big Ten ensuring the Rose Bowl is a semifinal if it has a team in the top 2. The Rose Bowl is going to have a game no matter what, so advance planning isn't an issue. The plan I advocate, the one that truly benefits the fans, is to have these games on campus. The campus venues will be available, and the travel burden would be minimal for most of the fans attending the games.



Stephen from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, I'm sure you saw that Purdue recently unveiled a new train logo that Nike designed because they thought our old logo was too hard to work with on apparel. (Despite working for so many years...) Well, like most Boilermakers, I was none too pleased with the new logo as it takes away a lot of the dynamic, aggressiveness, and uniqueness of our original Boilermaker Special logo. So being a graduate of Purdue's industrial design program, I designed my own interpretation of a new logo, merging the old logo with the new one. I kept it symmetrical as that was one of Nike's biggest complaints, but added in the things they took away, like the block P, the angled smokestack, the two-toned Purdue text, and the old gold (which is our official school color; not that pale yellow). I also simplified the smoke, and only used 4 colors like the old logo, rather than the 5 of the newer one. So you can check it out here. Let me know what you think! I'm just trying to keep my fellow Purdue fans excited about our athletics program despite the changes the administration keeps making that deflates fans' enthusiasm. Thanks for reading and looking. Boiler up!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the note, Stephen, and well done on the design. I like it. The block P in the train logo is definitely a nice touch, and the old gold is definitely preferable to what I saw with the new logo, which looks a bit cartoonish to me. There's always going to some disagreement when schools change their logos, and I understand the reasons (Nike, $$$) why Purdue needed to make a switch. It's always good, however, to see some different views, so thanks for providing one.



Adam from Chicago writes: At a totally unscientifically random point in the 3rd round of the NFL draft, the Big Ten has had 14 players taken (out of 94, which isn't so bad at all). But look at these breakdowns: 9 are down linemen, 1 is a quarterback (this will soon be 2 as the excellent Kirk Cousins goes somewhere), and 4 play all the other positions combined. The Big Ten is clearly one of or the preeminent producer of professional linemen among the conferences. I would argue 2 drafted QBs is solid, and I don't think it's fair to call Big Ten QB play poor lately. Clearly though, it's the other positions that are increasingly dreadful in the Big Ten. This is an often discussed topic, but is there any hope for better Big Ten skill players?

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, it's definitely a problem in the Big Ten, especially compared against leagues like the SEC and Big 12. The Big Ten had a lot of good wide receivers in 2011, but only one, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, went in the first two rounds. Ohio State's DeVier Posey, who only played in three games last year, was the next Big Ten wideout off of the board in the third round. This trend needs to change going forward, and it's hard to pinpoint the solution, whether it's recruiting differently or placing a greater premium on developing receivers. The quarterback position also needs to be upgraded, as the Big Ten hasn't had a signal caller drafted in the first round since Penn State's Kerry Collins in 1995! That's horrible. I also think cornerback is a spot where the Big Ten needs more elite-level prospects to emerge. Again, a lot of it is recruiting, but it's also developing players into stars who appeal to NFL teams.
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).
The NFL draft is a little more than 24 hours away, and our analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have come out with their final mock drafts.

(Let's pause here for a moment of silence for the 2012 mock draft process. May it rest in peace. But never fear, the 2013 mocks are just around the corner!).

There's not a ton of change in Kiper's final first-round mock Insider. Iowa's Riley Reiff is still the top Big Ten player off the board, now at No. 18 to San Diego. Kiper has Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus one spot behind Reiff, to the Bears. The only other Big Ten player he has going in the first round is Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, at No. 30 to San Francisco.

McShay, along with Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl from Scouts Inc. have undertaken the massive enterprise of mocking the entire seven rounds of the draft Insider. Whew. Here's where they have Big Ten products heading:

Round 1

No. 13: Reiff
No. 25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 28: Mercilus
No. 30: Zeitler

Round 2

No. 34: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
No. 35: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
No. 43: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 44: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
No. 47: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
No. 51: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 63: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois

Round 3

No. 89: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

Round 4

No. 96: Mike Daniels DT, Iowa
No. 97: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 99: Adam Gettis, G, Iowa
No. 106: Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
No. 118: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
No. 120: Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
No. 121: Markus Zusevics, OT, Iowa
No. 123: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
No. 126: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State
No. 132: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska

Round 5

No. 137: David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 150: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 161: Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State
No. 163: Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State
No. 165: DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State

Round 6

No. 207: Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State

Round 7

No. 211: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 216: Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin
No. 219: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
No. 221: Derek Dimke, K, Illinois
No. 223: Tyler Nielsen, LB, Iowa
No. 231: Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska
No. 244: Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan
No. 247: Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
No. 248: Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan

A few notables not listed on this seven-round mock: Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, and QB Dan Persa; Penn State WR Derek Moye; Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight, Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen, Wisconsin OT Josh Oglesby.

How accurate are these mock drafts? It is almost time to find out. Let's do this for real.
Penn State opens spring practice without Joe Paterno for the first time in decades Monday. New coach Bill O'Brien, who's won some supporters by the way he has recruited and carried himself of late, will conduct his first official practices. I recently caught up with O'Brien for a brief preview of the Nittany Lions' spring:

Are you settled in now as the Penn State coach?


Bill O'Brien: I'm settled in. We had a good winter, and we're ready to go for spring. We've got a bunch of really good kids want to be coached and want to play well and win. So I'm settled in.

We'll get to spring practice in a second, but first I wanted to ask you about how well you've recruited the past couple of months. I know you can't talk about specific recruits, but how have you been able to sell the program through some difficult times?


O'Brien: We just talk about Penn State. We talk about our vision for the football program here. We talk about the university. There are 160 majors to choose from here. It's just a great college town, we have a 108,000-seat stadium, a tremendous football facility, a great, brand-new weight room, and a great indoor facility. We just sell Penn State, and there's a bunch of things about Penn State to sell. The student body, the coaching staff here, the players on our football team here. So all we do is talk about Penn State.

How has the reception to that pitch gone?


O'Brien: We feel good about the reception. Again, this is a special place that obviously people recognize and have great respect for, so we've gotten a good reception.

What are your main objectives this spring?


O'Brien: We want the kids to understand how fast we want to play, the tempo we want to play at. We want to get in our base systems on offense, defense and special teams, and we want these guys to understand how we want them to play football. We want them to play fast, play hard, play tough, be situationally smart. So those our are goals.

The players have been doing things this offseason to learn the offense, so how far along do you expect them to be when you get started?


O'Brien: It will be baby steps. We'll put it in one day at a time. We're not in a rush to get a bunch of things in. We're just in a rush to find out who our best football players are, so that's what we'll begin to do on Monday.

How much do you really know these players?


BO'B: I really know them from winter workouts and just speaking to them in my office. I've been very impressed with this group. We have about 124 guys on the team and we have a bunch of hard-working guys. I've been very impressed and proud to be associated with them.

Let's talk about the quarterback situation. Is it a true open competition this spring?


O'Brien: Yeah, its definitely an open competition. Every position on the team is an open competition. Now, obviously guys who have experience have the upper hand because they've played, but nobody has a starting position right now. Guys are going to get a bunch of reps, we're going to play fast and we'll evaluate the roster as we go along.

What are you looking for in a quarterback?


O'Brien: He's got to be a good decision-maker. He's got to be accurate when he throws it. He's got to take care of the football. He's got to have really good knowledge of defensive alignments, the coverages and fronts and pressures. He's got to be a good leader. He's got to mentally tough and physically tough. That's basically what I'm looking for.

Two spots that were hit hard by graduation were the secondary and the offensive line. What's the outlook like for those positions this spring?


O'Brien: I feel good about both those positions. I made a couple of position moves to move some guys over to the secondary, and you guys will get that when we start spring practice. So we've got better numbers over there. And I feel good about the offensive line. We've got four guys on that offensive line that are dean's-list students. We've got smart guys guys that play hard and love Penn State, and so I feel good about both positions.

How about the receiver position, where Derek Moye was the No. 1 guy last year?


O'Brien: It's tough to replace a guy like Derek Moye, and I wish he had more eligibility. But we feel very good about our receiving corps. We've got Justin Brown, Shawney Kersey, Devon Smith, Brandon Moseby-Felder and Christian Kuntz. We've got a number of guys with good size that can run. And they've got two jobs: get open and catch the ball. So we'll see how that goes as we go through spring.

You're going to be very involved on offense, so how will you split your time this spring in practice?


O'Brien: We've got a great staff on offense and on defense, so I'll be able to be involved with every facet of the football team, absolutely no problem.

Have leaders emerged yet from this offseason?


O'Brien: There's a lot of leaders. There really are. We have a lot of good kids. Once you come back and ask me that after spring, I'll have a better feel. But I think we've got the potential to have a lot of strong leaders on this team.

How do you replace Devon Still on defense? Can you do it with just one guy?


O'Brien: It's hard to replace a guy like Devon Still. He's a potential first round draft pick. But we feel really good about our defensive line that exists right now with Jordan Hill, DaQuan Jones, Pete Massaro, Sean Stanley, James Terry, C.J. Olaniyin. I could go on and on. We're deep up front.

How much will we be seeing you use the tight ends in your offense, even in spring practice?


O'Brien: Yeah, we'll definitely be using the tight ends quite a bit.

Lastly, how do you think the team has responded this offseason during winter workouts and other activities?


O'Brien: I've been very impressed with this football team, just with their work ethic. I'm proud to be their coach. Now we've got to put it out on the field and see how it translates to playing football. But to this point, I've been very impressed with them.
By now, it's pretty obvious who the last men standing are in our countdown of the Big Ten's top 25 players of 2011.

It's always a difficult exercise because there are many deserving players, and limiting ourselves to only 25 nominees means some excellent candidates got left out. So let's take a look at some of the toughest omissions.

First, here are the players who were on our preseason list who didn't survive the cut for the postseason honors and the reasons why:

Preseason No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: One of the hardest players to leave off the list, as Borland had an excellent season with 143 tackles and was one of the top linebackers in the league. We chose to go with his position mate, Mike Taylor, though Borland was probably No. 26 on our list.

Preseason No. 24: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State: Mauti was well on his way to a strong season before he suffered another knee injury that forced him to miss most of the year.

Preseason No. 22: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa: Prater's tackle and interception numbers dipped from his junior year, and Iowa's pass defense as a whole was disappointing.

Preseason No. 21: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Scheelhaase got off to a good start in 2011, but he and the rest of the Illini offense were MIA for the second half of the season.

Preseason No. 19: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue: Allen had a good season, with 79 tackles and three interceptions, and just missed our list.

Preseason No. 16: Derek Moye, WR, Penn State: Moye dealt with an injury midseason, but what really hurt him was poor quarterback play.

Preseason No. 9: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State: Baker didn't build off his breakout 2010 campaign and became the second option behind Le'Veon Bell late in the season.

Preseason No. 3: Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern: Persa was still really good when he was in the lineup; he just wasn't in the lineup enough because of injury issues.

Preseason No. 1: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska: Crick was a little quiet early in the season, and then he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in October.

Here are a few other guys who just missed the cut:

Michigan State CB Johnny Adams: I really liked the year Adams had, and he was on my initial top 25 list. Very difficult to leave him off.

Michigan State G Joel Foreman and Wisconsin OT Josh Oglesby: Two of the best offensive linemen in the league, but we already had a bunch of linemen on the list in a strong year for the big uglies in the Big Ten.

Nebraska P/K Brett Maher: Unfortunately, kickers and punters don't get a lot of love on lists like these.

Wisconsin S Aaron Henry: If we could have considered interview skills as part of the criteria, Henry would have been in the top 10.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Many of the underclassmen who finished just outside the top 25 will likely appear on our 2012 preseason list this summer. If you have players you feel strongly about who we didn't include in our top 25 -- and I'm betting you do -- drop me a line and tell me who and why. We'll discuss it in a future post.

Big shoes to fill: Penn State

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
5:00
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As we count down the days before spring practice, we're taking a look at how each Big Ten team will replace key players on their depth charts. We're picking two departed players who left big shoes to fill and identifying who might be ready to do that filling.

Up next, Penn State.

[+] EnlargeDevin Still
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswireDevon Still piled up the postseason honors last season after recording 17 tackles for loss.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Devon Still, DT

Why: It's never easy to replace the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. Still was the epicenter for Penn State's defense, a disruptive force who regularly required double teams. He recorded 17 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, but his value went far beyond the numbers. As Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald noted before his team faced Penn State, Still causes "complete and total chaos in the backfield." Although Penn State has shown it can reload up front, it will miss No. 71.

Replacement candidates: Jordan Hill (6-1, 297, Sr.); DaQuan Jones (6-3, 312, Jr.); James Terry (6-3, 317, Sr.); Evan Hailes (6-1, 303, So.)

The skinny: Hill will start at one defensive tackle spot, but I include him here because he'll need to increase his production to help account for Still's departure. Jones and Terry served as the backup defensive tackles in 2011 and combined for 18 tackles and a quarterback hurry. Jones has played both inside and outside but is clearly suited to the defensive tackle spot. Hailes came in as a decorated recruit but battled a blood clot issue last spring and appeared in only two games last fall. Penn State's best bet is to have an All-Big Ten type season from Hill and generate depth at the other tackle spot.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Derek Moye, WR

Why: While Moye didn't have the year some had hoped, Penn State's problems at quarterback had a lot to do with it. He's a big body (6-5) who could stretch the field and outjump defensive backs for the ball. Moye led the team in receptions (40), receiving yards (654) and receiving touchdowns (3) in 2011, and was the team's top receiver in 2010 and 2009 as well. He's a three-year starter at a position that doesn't have much proven depth entering the 2012 campaign.

Replacement candidates: Justin Brown (6-3, 213, Sr.); Devon Smith (5-7, 155, Sr.); Shawney Kersey (6-1, 198, Jr.); Brandon Moseby-Felder (6-2, 191, Jr.)

The skinny: Penn State really needs Brown to move into the No. 1 receiver role Moye occupied for the past three seasons. Brown showed some flashes in 2011, recording 35 receptions for 517 yards, but he also had some key drops. Smith contributed 25 receptions, but Penn State had no other receiver record more than five catches. It'll be a huge spring for players like Kersey, Moseby-Felder, Bill Belton and Curtis Drake to take their games to the next level and give Penn State some additional options at receiver.
The Big Ten had four 1,000-yard receivers in 2011, all of whom are graduating.

In fact, the league loses its top five receivers -- Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham, Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert and Wisconsin's Nick Toon -- and returns just two of its top-10 pass catchers (Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Iowa's Keenan Davis). But the departures don't necessarily mean the Big Ten will be scrambling for elite wideouts in 2011.

Consider: of the league's top-10 receivers last fall, only four of them -- Ebert, McNutt, Penn State's Derek Moye and Minnesota's Da'Jon McKnight -- ranked in the top 10 the previous season. So there are receivers who take their game to the next level every season. Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis might have been the best example this past fall, as he caught 35 more passes and recorded 644 more receiving yards than he had in 2010.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Keenan Davis
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIowa's Keenan Davis is one of two returning players from the Big Ten's top-10 receivers in 2011.
Who will break out in 2012? Again, we're talking wide receivers here, not tight ends, of which there are several talented ones in the Big Ten.

Colleague KC Joyner thinks the Hawkeyes' Davis will take the next step. Davis, pegged to be Iowa's No. 1 wideout following McNutt's departure, is among the players Joyner lists in a recent piece on breakout receivers.

He writes:
An optimist would note that McNutt really wasn't a dominant wideout (his 9.0 YPA was only slightly higher than Davis'), that [Ken] O'Keefe often called, as ESPN.com Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett noted, a "buttoned-down style of play" and that Iowa has a potential Big Ten first-team quarterback in James Vandenberg.

I recently mentioned Davis as one of the Hawkeyes who needs a big offseason to take the next step this fall.

Who are some other potential breakout receivers in the Big Ten?

  • Penn State's Justin Brown: Quarterback is Penn State's top offseason priority, but the Lions also need more from the receiver position. Moye's departure puts Brown in position to be the team's No. 1 target in the passing game. Brown averaged 14.8 yards per catch in 2011 and has the size to beat defensive backs for the ball.
  • Michigan's Roy Roundtree: Roundtree might not qualify as a breakout player as he already has turned in a productive season (72 receptions, 935 receiving yards, 7 TDs in 2010). But after a significant production drop-off last year, Roundtree needs to elevate his play for a Michigan offense looking for a No. 1 wide receiver.
  • Purdue's Antavian Edison: We've seen flashes from Edison in his first two seasons, both as a rusher and as a receiver. He clearly has the ability to take another step after recording 44 receptions for 584 yards and three touchdowns last fall. While Purdue likes to get a lot of players touches on offense, it needs a No. 1 receiver after Justin Siller's departure and Edison has a great opportunity to be that guy.
  • Michigan State's DeAnthony Arnett: Arnett's placement comes with a caveat, as he must attain approval from the NCAA to avoid sitting out a season. But if the Tennessee transfer can play this fall, look out. Michigan State loses its top three receivers and its top tight end from 2011 and needs targets for new quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Arnett had 24 receptions for 242 yards as a freshman at Tennessee and could take a big step forward with the Spartans.
  • Nebraska's Kenny Bell: Bell showed a lot of promise as a true freshman, averaging 14.4 yards per reception with three touchdowns. He had three or more receptions in five of the eight Big Ten games and added three catches and a touchdown against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl. The Huskers need a lot more from their receivers in 2012, and Bell could move into a featured role.
  • Indiana's Kofi Hughes: I really liked Hughes after watching him last spring, but like many, I assumed Damarlo Belcher would be the team's No. 1 wide receiver and not wash out midseason. Hughes ended up leading Indiana with 36 receptions for 536 receiving yards. He's still relatively new to the position and could take a big step forward in Year 2 of the Kevin Wilson era, as pass-friendly offensive coordinator Seth Littrell arrives.
Our postseason rankings of each position group from the 2011 Big Ten season took a short hiatus last week as signing day madness placed its grip on all of us.

Never fear, though, as the rankings are back in full force today, moving on to the receivers and tight ends as we round out our offensive skill positions.

We're looking for depth and not solely star power at the top here. This is how the preseason rankings looked. Some of these groups were undoubtedly hurt by inexperienced or underachieving quarterbacks, so we had to figure out how to weigh their performances in that light. Let's see how the list shakes out after the year ended:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans had the best combo at wideout with seniors B.J. Cunningham, a physical deep threat and No. 1 receiver, and Keshawn Martin, a speedster who could do all sorts of different things in the offense. Together, they combined for 2,083 receiving yards and 16 touchdown catches. Keith Nichol provided a solid third option who made the catch of the year in the Big Ten, if not all of college football, against Wisconsin. Tight end Brian Linthicum had 364 yards receiving and played a key role in the Outback Bowl win over Georgia.

2. Wisconsin: Depth? Hardly. But the Badgers got the most out of their front-line players. Starting wideouts Nick Toon and Jared Abbrederis combined for 1,859 yards yard and 18 touchdowns. Eight of tight end Jacob Pedersen's 30 catches went for touchdowns. And don't underestimate the importance of the receivers and tight ends in the Wisconsin running game.

3. Northwestern: The Wildcats' wideouts likely would have put up better numbers if Dan Persa had stayed healthy all season. As it stood, Northwestern still got another outstanding year out of Jeremy Ebert (75 catches, 1,060 yards, 11 TDs). Kain Colter, when he wasn't playing quarterback or running the ball, managed 466 receiving yards. Demetrius Fields and Christian Jones were among the other contributors. First-team All-Big Ten tight end Drake Dunsmore was the team's No. 2 pass-catcher with 455 yards and six scores.

4. Iowa: Marvin McNutt was good enough to elevate this entire group. He led the Big Ten in receiving yards, finishing with 82 catches for 1,315 yards and 12 scores. Keenan Davis contributed 50 catches for 713 yards. But Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley didn't help enough after strong starts to the season. Iowa didn't get a lot of production in the passing game out of its tight ends, either, with C.J. Fiedorowicz leading the way at 16 catches.

5. Michigan: The Wolverines didn't have any receivers finish in the top 10 in the league in the key categories, but what they had was a fairly deep group that knew how to go up and get Denard Robinson's throws. Though Roy Roundtree's numbers went way down from 2010, Junior Hemingway (699 receiving yards) emerged as a big-time playmaker. Jeremy Gallon came up with some key plays in huge spots as well. Tight end Kevin Koger gave Robinson a reliable safety valve and was a key cog in the offense.

6. Illinois: At first glance, A.J. Jenkins' tremendous numbers (90 catches, 1,276 yards, eight TDs) would make you think the Illini deserve to be ranked higher. But Jenkins did most of his work in the first half of the season; like the rest of the Illinois offense, his stats fell off a cliff in the second half. And he didn't have much assistance, as Spencer Harris and Darius Millines combined to record only half his number of catches. Jon Davis was the team's third-leading pass-catcher at tight end.

7. Purdue: It was quantity over star power for the Boilermakers, whose top four pass catchers — Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, O.J. Ross and Gary Bush — all had at least 29 receptions and 300 yards. Edison led the way with 584 yards. Tight ends Crosby Wright and Gabe Holmes combined for 29 catches. Purdue needs more playmaking ability from the tight end spot, something the team tried to address in this recruiting class.

8. Penn State: Evaluating the Nittany Lions receivers is tricky because the quarterback play was so inconsistent. Derek Moye was once again one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league, but a foot injury and an overall inability to get him the ball limited his production to 654 yards and only three scores. Justin Brown, who will likely be the team's go-to guy in 2012, put up good stats, while Devon Smith got a chance to flash his speed and averaged 16.1 yards per catch. The tight ends were rarely used in the passing game; expect that and a whole lot more to change under Bill O'Brien.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers must improve their overall passing game to take the next step as a program, and that includes a receivers group that had an up-and-down season in 2011. The good news is that Kenny Bell emerged as a potential star as a redshirt freshman. But Brandon Kinnie and tight end Kyler Reed failed to build on strong 2010 campaigns and were invisible for large stretches. Nebraska must hope Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner develop to go along with Bell.

10. Indiana: No one was more disappointing at this position in 2011 than the Hoosiers, whom we had pegged at No. 4 in our preseason list. DaMarlo Belcher, who led the league in receptions in '10, got himself booted off the team in midseason. Injuries hit the group hard as well. Kofi Hughes paced the group with 536 yards and found the end zone three times. Tight end Ted Bolser made only 14 receptions. We expected more from a Kevin Wilson offense.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill made finding playmakers at receiver a top priority in this recruiting class, and it's easy to see why. Da'Jon McKnight had a decent season (51, 760 and 4). After that, though, things dropped off quickly and the Gophers lacked players who could stretch the field. Tight end Eric Lair managed fewer than one-third the amount of catches he had in 2010.

12. Ohio State: Injuries, inexperience and suspensions combined to make this a difficult year for Buckeyes' receivers. No one had more than 14 catches all season, and no one topped 300 receiving yards. Things would have gone better if DeVier Posey hadn't been suspended for all but two regular-season games. Devin Smith showed potential as a true freshman, including his game-winning grab against Wisconsin. Tight end Jake Stoneburner scored seven times, but most of those came early in the year.
National Signing Day is barely a week away, and Big Ten teams will be stockpiling for the future (and, in some cases, the present). Today we'll take a look at the recruiting needs of each Big Ten team, starting with those in the Leaders division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. And to save you some email time, we do realize teams have already addressed needs in compiling their 2012 classes.

Let's get started ...

ILLINOIS

Wide receiver: The Illini lose A.J. Jenkins, who accounted for 90 of the team's 226 receptions in 2011. No other Illinois player had more than 26 catches, so there certainly are opportunities for young players to emerge and make an immediate impact for the new coaching staff.

Linemen: Illinois loses two starters from an offensive line that struggled down the stretch of the regular season. It's important to build depth there going forward. Despite Whitney Mercilus' early departure to the NFL draft, the defensive line returns some talented players. Still, defensive end Michael Buchanan is entering his senior year, and defensive tackle Akeem Spence is a bona fide NFL prospect who could enter the draft with a strong 2012 campaign.

Safety: The Illini defense didn't have many weaknesses in 2011, but safety was a liability at times. The team returns experience for 2012, but will lose some key players after the season. An impact defensive back or two in the 2012 class would really help.

INDIANA

Defensive back: This has been a primary recruiting need for the past few seasons, and it remains a pressing concern after Indiana surrendered a league-worst 8.5 yards per pass and a league-high 26 passing touchdowns in 2011. Indiana needs impact players and depth among the back four to be able to limit Big Ten offenses.

Defensive front seven: Sense a theme here? Indiana needs defenders in the worst way, and the front seven is a huge piece to the puzzle. The Hoosiers return some experience at defensive tackle, but lose top linebackers Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum. The coaches showed in 2011 that they're not afraid to play young players, and they need more contributors on the defensive side.

Quarterback: Starter Tre Roberson returns, but Indiana needs bodies here after Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker both opted to transfer earlier this month.

OHIO STATE

Offensive line: Three multiyear starters depart at center, left tackle and right tackle, so Ohio State's offensive line will have a very different look in 2012. The Buckeyes could use some immediate-impact linemen, like center Mike Brewster in 2008, and they'll look to build depth here.

Defensive end: Ohio State appears loaded at defensive tackle for 2012 and beyond, but the team needs some more pure pass-rushers on the edge. John Simon, who had four more sacks than anyone on the squad in 2011, will be a senior this coming season.

Wide receiver: The Buckeyes lacked reliable receiver options in 2011 and had their best wideout, DeVier Posey, for only three games because of suspension. Posey departs and Ohio State needs to build depth and increase competition in what should be a more wide-open offense under Urban Meyer.

PENN STATE

Quarterback: New coach Bill O'Brien might be the quarterback whisperer Penn State has waited for, but he also needs to upgrade the talent on the roster. Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden both must make significant strides, and while Paul Jones is an intriguing player, we've yet to see him in a game. Penn State needs more options here.

Wide receiver: Top target Derek Moye departs, and Penn State returns only two players with decent but not great production in Justin Brown and Devon Smith. Brown looks like a potential impact player in 2012, but Penn State needs more options in the passing game.

Defensive back: Penn State loses all four starters, although returning players like Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis and Adrian Amos have logged playing time. Still, the Lions need some more players here to build depth and increase competition.

PURDUE

Offensive line: This is one of few areas where Purdue loses a decent amount of production from 2011, as tackle Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek both depart. Two more starters exit after the 2012 season, and Purdue wants to be a run-based offense. It's important to build some depth up front with the 2012 class.

Kicker: Purdue loses the bionic-legged Carson Wiggs, who did more than make field goals from ridiculous distances. He also kicked off and served as a backup punter, attempting 45 punts over the past two seasons. The versatile Wiggs leaves a major void, and Purdue must address the specialist spot.

Defensive back: The Boilers say goodbye to both of their starting safeties from the 2011 team. They also will lose starting cornerback Josh Johnson after the 2012 season, while Ricardo Allen might be an early entry candidate with a big junior year. While this isn't a pressing need right now, it could soon become one.

WISCONSIN

Quarterback: Russell Wilson saved Wisconsin in more than one way in 2011, and his departure is significant. The team's most experienced signal callers, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips, both are coming off of major injuries. Wisconsin typically doesn't play younger quarterbacks, but needs more options after a season where Wilson showed what the offense could be.

Wide receiver: The Badgers typically get by with 1-2 good wideouts and an excellent tight end or two, but they could use more depth at the receiver position. Top target Nick Toon departs, and Wisconsin is pretty thin at receiver aside from Jared Abbrederis.

Defensive speed: Oregon makes a lot of teams look slow, but the Rose Bowl spelled out what the Badgers must do to take the next step as a program. Wisconsin needs to upgrade its speed at all three levels of the defense, particularly the back seven, to prevent explosion plays. Michigan State also exposed Wisconsin's defense, so the need for speed certainly is there.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
4:00
PM ET
Answering some of your burning questions (including many from our Twitter feed) while I make my way to Pasadena ...

John T. (@jdt105) writes: What will the B1G bowl record be?

Brian Bennett: Adam and I did our picks for the Big Ten non-BCS bowls on Monday (and I'm already leading 1-0). You'll have to wait for our BCS game picks. But I had the Big Ten going 4-4 in its non-BCS games, and I'll pick a 1-1 split in the Rose/Sugar matchups. Anything better than a 5-5 record would be a very good accomplishment for the league this year, given its daunting slate.

Brett B. (@MountaindewPSU) writes: With all the turmoil and coaching changes in the B1G. Who has the most solid staff for next season?

Brian Bennett: Interesting question, Brett, and I assume by "solid" you mean both stability and ability. If that is our measurement, I'd have to say Michigan State. Mark Dantonio has really built a solid staff there, and though I thought defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi would get a head coaching job this offseason, for the moment he's still with the Spartans (that could change, obviously). Add in Dan Roushar's progression this year as offensive coordinator, and that looks like the most consistent staff right now. That doesn't mean other schools can't succeed with first-year coordinators or even head coaches; both Big Ten championship game participants had one new coordinator this year, after all.

Jason. M from San Diego writes: Does Penn State still have any potential to win in the seasons to come? If so, what will it take?

Brian Bennett: Let's just examine the 2012 Nittany Lions in a vacuum for the moment. Penn State loses an awful lot off this year's team, including All-American Devon Still, the entire starting secondary, four starting offensive linemen and top receiver Derek Moye. Silas Redd will be back at tailback, and the linebacker position is still in good shape with Gerald Hodges and hopefully a healthy Michael Mauti. Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden return, but obviously the quarterback play has to get better. Penn State has had highly-regard recruiting classes recently, so the talent should be there. Of course, there is going to be a major coaching transition, and it's quite possible that the Lions have no holdovers from the current staff. Going forward, recruiting now and in the near future is bound to dip with all the off-the-field controversy.

So what's it going to take? Penn State has to hire the right coach, and he is going to have to stabilize the program quickly. There is opportunity in the Leaders Division next year with Ohio State ineligible for the postseason and Wisconsin losing a lot as well.

Stephen Z. (@SZarate15) writes: Who do you think is the future starting QB for U of I? IlliniNation needs to know.

Brian Bennett: Nathan Scheelhaase's star sure seemed on the rise before the second half-collapse by Illinois. His confidence looked rattled, and freshman Reilly O'Toole got a lot of snaps. I think the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl is big for Scheelhaase to re-establish himself with a good performance. New coach Tim Beckman will need a strong trigger man to run his spread offense. I believe Scheelhaase has the skills to flourish in a system like that.

Jim from Grand Junction, Colo., writes: Nebraska and Iowa are "... programs of similiar stature ...?" You actually said that? True, both are on the Planet Earth and run by human beings, but beyond that, Nebraska is only 5 NC , 3 Heisman, 200 or so wins ahead of Iowa. Iowa is a good program but of similar stature to Nebraska? Don't be ridiculous.

Brian Bennett: I knew that was coming from Nebraska fans, and I can understand why many took umbrage. However, when discussing Rick Kaczenski's lateral move from Iowa defensive line coach to the same position with the Huskers, I was not talking about historical prestige. Kaczenski surely wasn't weighing what Nebraska did in the 1980s or 1990s vs. Iowa. Truth is, while Nebraska has more tradition and resources, the two programs are not that far apart as new Big Ten division rivals right now. In fact, since the 2002 season, the Hawkeyes have been to two BCS games, while Nebraska hasn't been to any. So this is not like a move from, say, Indiana to Ohio State. (Boy, I'm teeing off a lot of fan bases today ... better just move along).

Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: Do you think Mike Caputo should be allowed to play in the Capital One bowl after being arrested? I know kids are going to make mistakes, but if you break the law, in my opinion, you should not be allowed to play. Also, does this show a complete lack of integrity at the University of Nebraska both coaches and athletic department?

Brian Bennett: Nate, I think Nebraska and Bo Pelini handled this correctly. He waited for the legal system to run its course, and in the end Caputo was only charged with reckless driving. It's such a minor offense that all he had to do was pay a $100 fine and attend a seminar. Considering Caputo is a senior who by all accounts had a very good track record, I have no problem with allowing him to play in the final game of his career.

Greg from SE Iowa writes: Are those of Tom & Jerry figurines on the shelf behind you in your videos?

Brian Bennett: Crucial question here. No, that's Itchy and Scratchy. "They fight! And bite!"

@Somewhitepunk writes: What offense do you expect to see from the Bucks on Monday? High-octane like the UM game, or conservative if they get a lead?

Brian Bennett: That might be the first time anyone has used the words "high octane" to describe Ohio State's offense. I understand why Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman called a conservative game plan this year with a true freshman quarterback. But Braxton Miller showed in the Michigan game that he could handle a bigger package of plays, and he's had another couple of weeks of bowl practice. These postseason games are a good time to let your freak flag fly (see Danny Hope's onsides kicks versus Western Michigan). Since Ohio State won't play in a bowl next year, and since Bollman isn't coming back, why in the world wouldn't the Buckeyes cut loose and try to have some fun offensively against Florida?
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Well, well, this has been a much more exciting game than I expected. Anyone predict these two teams to combine for 34 first-half points. Yeah, didn't think so.

No. 21 Penn State takes a 6-point lead into the locker room.

Some quick halftime hits:

Turning point: Penn State led 17-7 and had the ball in good field position when a Matthew McGloin first-down pass was tipped and intercepted by Ohio State cornerback Orhian Johnson. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller answered with an electrifying 24-yard run and fired a touchdown pass to Jake Stoneburner to cut his team's deficit to three points.

Stat of the half: Both teams have been terrific on third down, with each converting 5 of 7 chances. DeVier Posey's brilliant one-handed grab on third-and-10 moved the chains and set up Ohio State's first touchdown. Derek Moye had a 16-yard grab on third-and-4 to set up Penn State's opening touchdown. Ohio State entered the game ranked 78th nationally in third-down conversions (38.4 percent), while Penn State ranked 96th (38.5 percent).

What Penn State needs to do: Continue the creativity in the run game. Penn State has mixed backs and formations and had good success. The Lions finished the half with 188 rush yards on 21 carries. They got 91 of those yards from the Wildcat formation, as wide receivers Curtis Drake and Bill Belton both have been effective. Drake, Stephfon Green and Silas Redd each have runs of 38 yards or longer. Defensively, it's all about containing Miller, who has been tough to bring down in the open field.

What Ohio State needs to do: Shore up the tackling, for starters. Luke Fickell can't be pleased with his defense, which has missed tackles and been out of position repeatedly against Penn State's offense. The Buckeyes need to tighten things up a bit. Offensively, Ohio State should show greater willingness to throw the ball, especially with Posey (2 catches, 57 yards) back in the fold. The Buckeyes must let Miller be a playmaker out there.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- You had to wonder, after Penn State fell behind 17-0 early in the third quarter, if the weight of this awful week would finally cause the Nittany Lions to break.

Nope. Call it inspiration. Call it determination. Or just call it a great play by Derek Moye. The senior receiver made a terrific adjustment on a ball thrown by Matt McGloin for a 40-yard bomb, by far the biggest play of the day for Penn State. Stephfon Green scored two plays later, and Beaver Stadium finally came back alive after the energy had been sucked out of the building.

Still, Nebraska leads by 10 and the Nittany Lions are not known for scoring easily. The Huskers' option game has been outstanding, and Taylor Martinez has really improved his decision-making in that area throughout the season. His perfectly timed pitch to Rex Burkhead gave Nebraska that 17-0 lead. Also give credit to the Huskers' offensive line, particularly the guards, for creating gaps against a really good Penn State defense.

That score was set up by a McGloin fumble in Nebraska territory. The Nittany Lions have been moving the ball well in the second half but can't afford any more mistakes. And their defense has to figure out how to stop that option. Penn State may need a big play on special teams or defense to win this game.
Tom Bradley, Joe PaternoRandy Litzinger/Icon SMITom Bradley, left, will take over as Penn State's interim coach following Joe Paterno's firing.

When Joe Paterno announced his retirement to the team Wednesday morning, it wasn't a firm goodbye.

He would be seeing his players for practice later this week. He would address them in the locker room before Saturday's home finale against Nebraska. He would be with them 'til the end, in some bowl game -- perhaps the Granddaddy of Them All.

Paterno wasn't gone yet.

"It seemed pretty much that Joe was going to coach for the rest of the season and retire after the season," safety Drew Astorino said.

Penn State's board of trustees had other ideas. Around 10:15 p.m. ET Wednesday, the board announced Paterno had been terminated as Nittany Lions coach.

Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to.

-- Joe Paterno told a group of students at his home, according to the Associated Press
After 46 seasons and 548 games, the Joe Paterno era is over.

Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley will be Penn State's acting head coach for the remainder of the season.

"Right now, I'm not the football coach, and that's something I have to get used to," Paterno told a group of students at his home, according to The Associated Press, after the trustees' announcement.

He's not the only one. His players must get used to this reality, too. It hit them hard Wednesday night.

"It's messed up they are doing this to a man who is a big reason Penn State is what it is today," senior wide receiver Derek Moye said on Twitter.

"Can't even shake my own head coach's hand wen I run out into beaver stadium for the last time...yall dk how much this man has done," senior defensive tackle Devon Still tweeted.

"Wake me up...this is a nightmare!" senior linebacker Nate Stupar tweeted.

The shock value certainly will be there in the coming days and hours. Although Paterno's direct involvement with the team had been reduced in recent years, his presence on Saturdays, even in the press box, was significant for his players. I remember a 2009 game at Michigan where Paterno, sensing his team needed a jolt, started jumping up and down in the tunnel to fire up the players before they took the field. His departure will stir emotions throughout the team, particularly with the seniors.

But Paterno's exit also makes it all about these players and this team, which it should be. It's not about Joe anymore. It's about the 2011 Penn State Nittany Lions, trying to win a Big Ten championship and reach the Rose Bowl.

As Astorino said earlier Wednesday, "The 125 guys on this team didn't have anything to do with what happened 10 years ago." He's right. Penn State's players didn't do anything wrong.

The players have the right to push forward. The seniors have the right to enjoy their final home game. For 46 years, Penn State football has been all about Joe. On Saturday, it will be all about the players. Bradley should reinforce this to the team, and I'm sure he will.

Saturday will be a tough day. There will be emotions. It will be hard to remain focused. Penn State could play inspired football against Nebraska. It also could perform like a team emotionally exhausted by the week and rattled by all the distractions. Tough to tell at this point.

The process should get easier, perhaps when Penn State hits the road next week at Ohio State. The firestorm will die down a bit. Not having Paterno could direct the focus more toward the team and its task at hand.

Joe Paterno is gone. The players aren't. This is their program now.
Here is some more player reaction to Penn State coach Joe Paterno's announcement he would retire. Senior offensive lineman Chima Okoli spoke on a teleconference this afternoon, while senior receiver Derek Moye talked outside of the Lasch Football Building shortly after Paterno informed the team.

Okoli
  • Said the players gave Paterno a standing ovation when he finished talking. "You're in the presence of someone who really embodies and exemplifies dedication and perseverance. His last words were definitely ones we hung on." He said Paterno's last words were about how the players would forever be linked to Penn State football and would forever be a family.
  • On how the team will respond: "We'll be fine. Quite frankly you guys in the media and even people in the sporting world have been doubting us all season. We know we have to come together. This is going to do that and really galvanize us to come together like we've been doing the past couple weeks. This is our team, and I know that's what coach Paterno would have supported, us working as hard as ever to the end of our destination. It's not the end of our season. We're not going to hide in a shell, we're not going to roll over and play dead. ... At the end of the day, you have to own up as a man and take care of your responsibilities, and that's what we're going to do."
  • On what he expects from the crowd Saturday: "If I had to guess, I think there will be a lot of cheers for Coach Paterno and what he's done for the university when Saturday comes around."
  • On what Paterno has meant to him: "I came here a boy, and I'm going to leave a man. And that's all due to Joe Paterno."
  • On the final stretch of the season: "We're basically in a three-game playoff and every single one is crucial."
  • On the mood around campus: "I've been trying to keep to myself. But there are a lot of people in tears, a lot of people crying. A lot of people are emotional."
  • On the players-only meeting called for later this afternoon: "I think we're just going to go over the principles of why we do this and why we can't let anything stop us. ... All we can do is come together. All we have is each other. To be frank, most of you guys in the media didn't believe in us. A lot of people around the country told us what we can't do. And we're all we have."
Moye
  • On wide receivers coach Mike McQueary, who spoke to the receivers after the meeting: "We have a really good personal relationship. We've all got his back. He taught me everything I know and he's the reason I'm here. He's the reason I'm the player I am now. So it's kind of tough to see him going through something like this."
  • On what McQueary's message was: "It was just, go on and beat Nebraska. That's been one of the themes from all of the coaches." Moye said he didn't know if McQueary would coach Saturday but added, "I hope so."
  • On how the team will respond: "If anything, it should motivate us more, to want to go out and get a win for Coach Paterno's last home game, for maybe the coaching staff's last game at Beaver Stadium. And it's senior day. ... We're handling it pretty well. We've been practicing well."
  • On how they can avoid distractions: "It's pretty easy. Just worry about football. We've got a goal to win a Big Ten championship, and we're going to go do that."
  • On the scene at the meeting: "Joe was crying, team members and coaches were. So, it was pretty emotional."

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

November, 3, 2011
11/03/11
4:00
PM ET
I appreciate all the good questions you guys have been submitting, and I'm enjoying the suggestions for places I should hit on the road. Loyal Twitter followers helped me find a great place to watch Game 7 of the World Series last week. As always, keep your questions and comments coming. Send them here.

Let's roll.

Dan from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Enjoy the blog. Heard Zooey is available. ... Anyway, was Nebraska's defensive stand v. Sparty a show of how much they've matured and learned this year or a one-time show of talent against a top-rated team?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and in many ways I think Michigan State was an excellent matchup for Nebraska. The Spartans don't like to stick to their running game as much as some teams, and Kirk Cousins is not a guy who's going to make a lot of plays out of the pocket. Remember that the Huskers were hurt by teams with mobile quarterbacks earlier this season. I do believe the defense has gotten better, especially in the secondary. It will be an interesting test this weekend against Northwestern, which is a little bit like some of the spread teams Nebraska faced in the Big 12.

Greg from Norristown, Pa., writes: Brian, why no love in your fashion report for Penn State's new look?! I think getting rid of the trim was by far the most shocking uniform changeup this year! What's next, names on the backs of their jerseys? White shoes? When will the madness end?! But no seriously, everyone else can have their spiffy new threads. Penn State is perfectly happy keeping it classy in the valley.

Brian Bennett: Very nice, Greg. I almost included Penn State in my uniform poll for enjoyment purposes -- my god, they removed a stripe! -- but didn't want it to skew the results. I am lukewarm about all the uniform madness in college football but definitely like it more when less traditional teams try something new. I hope Penn State never changes the classic look that is so much a part of its identity.

Dennis H. from Harrisburg, Pa., writes: Big Ten Football, who is the division winner? I saw the tie-breaker criteria, but I'm not sure if it is breaking ties based on the division record or the conference record? As an example, if 2 teams have the same conference records, but 1 team has a better division record, does that team go to the conference playoff game or do they use the tie breaker criteria based on the same conference record to determine who goes to the conference championship? It's not the division record but conference record, correct?

Brian Bennett: We've been over this a few times, but it's worth repeating. First, overall conference record is the first determining factor. If there are two teams tied, head-to-head will solve it. If there multiple teams tied, then the records against one another will be used to try and break the tie. Then it would proceed to conference record as the next potential tiebreaker, and so forth. It's complicated, but we should all have a better understanding of how this works after the first season of division play is over.

Kyle from Aspen, Colo., writes: Living outside B1G country I love the blog. As a die-hard Penn Stater I have to ask: If Penn State wins out, how high can/do they climb in the standings, and does Joe have any shot at playing in the BCS Title game? How much help would they need to get there? I think it would be a great way to potentially send Joe out as National Champion. I'd love your thoughts on this.

Brian Bennett: I can't foresee any scenario in which Penn State plays for the national title. The Lions are so far back in the BCS right now at No. 16 that it would be nearly impossible for them to get into the top two, barring supreme chaos in the final five weeks like we've never before seen. But it's interesting to wonder how high they could climb. Penn State is not getting a lot of love from the pollsters right now, but that should change if it beats Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin to end the regular season, followed by a Big Ten title game win over, say, a top-10 Michigan team. And if Alabama beats LSU and goes unbeaten, Penn State's only loss would be to the No. 1 team in the country. It still wouldn't be enough, in my opinion, to climb into the BCS title game. But JoePa would certainly have an argument at that point, wouldn't he?

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Whoa, whoa, whoa, Brian. "Simply put, Still is the most important defensive player on the league's best defensive team." I won't deny that Penn State is a great defensive team, but can you please explain this? Three weeks ago I posed the question of which team has the better defense: MSU or Penn State. Since then they stuffed Michigan, created enough big plays to beat Wisconsin (safety and two picks against the best QB), and had a solid effort against a potent Nebraska offense on the road (yeah, 190 yards rushing, but at only 3.3 ypc). Adam usually says, and I'm paraphrasing, don't just tell me why your team is the best, tell me why their team isn't. So here's my rational: MSU's B1G opponents are averaging 413 ypg and 35 ppg this season, versus Penn State's B1G opponents, which are averaging 398.5 ypg and 28 ppg. In conference games, MSU defense allowed an average of 19 ppg (not great admittedly) and 285 ypg. Penn State's defense allowed 12.4 ppg and 309 ppg. Points are big factor, but Penn State's numbers were not overly impressive against inferior opponents. I still give the edge to MSU's defense, by a hair only, but I'd love to know why you're so clearly on the side of Penn State (and don't say record!).

Brian Bennett: Glad you brought that up, and we have debated which defense is better the past few weeks. The reason I said Penn State was the best defense right now is because they're leading in points allowed, which is the ultimate standard. You're right, though, in saying that the Nittany Lions' competition hasn't always been as fierce. Let's see what happens when the two have more common opponents with good offenses, like when Penn State plays Nebraska and Wisconsin. Then I think we'll have our final answer.

Andrew from Chaska, Minn., writes: With Wisconsin's run to the Rose Bowl last year, there was talk on this blog about how their program was on the rise nationally to the point of being considered among the elite. However, after their last two last-second defeats just recently, do you believe the Badgers have blown that opportunity and are back in the "second tier" status behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska?

Brian Bennett: Wisconsin has a hard time claiming national elite status now, after having lost the Rose Bowl and with only one truly good win (at home over Nebraska) this season. Badgers fans may end up really regretting this season, seeing as how it's the only year in Madison for Russell Wilson and how the path to the national title game is starting to open up a little bit. As Adam wrote, Wisconsin needs to start winning big games on the road before it can be considered truly elite.

Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Brian, let's say for instance that Michigan and Ohio State somehow both make it to the B1G Championship Game. Would that not be the very thing the B1G was hoping to avoid; a rematch of these two teams in consecutive weeks? Would it weaken the hype of the inaugural Championship Game?

Brian Bennett: I don't think it's very likely that will happen this year. Ohio State can't really afford to lose another game and still win the Leaders Division, so it would have to beat Michigan to make this scenario happen. And that would mean the Wolverines have another loss, and that it would make it tough for them to win a crowded Legends Division race. What would be even worse than a simple rematch would be a rematch between two teams that had multiple losses and weren't ranked in the top 15. If Ohio State and Michigan both become powerhouses again and the situation occurs, I don't think the league will mind too much.

Tina from Philadelphia writes: I noticed that Derek Moye is not on your awards tracker for Receiver of the Year. I was thinking about this and I was wondering if you would label this year as a disappointment for him. He was poised to break some PSU records this year, but I feel his production has been seriously hurt by the QB situation and his broken foot. Can he get back on the radar with strong performances in the final three games? I feel that he is still one of the best -- you could see his immediate impact when he entered the game vs Illinois.

Brian Bennett: Tina, I agree that Moye is one of the most talented receivers in the league and a real difference-maker. Just his presence made a huge impact at the end of last week's game. As you said, though, Penn State is just not a big passing team, and that has hurt his numbers. I would love to see what Moye could do in a more pass-happy system.

Drew from Yankton, S.D., writes: What are Nebraska's realistic chances of winning out the rest of the way? I feel like Penn State is very overrated with a soft October schedule. Even Michigan, for that matter, hasn't had a tough go at it yet. Those are clearly the two hurdles left for Nebraska if it wants to make it to Indy. Yeah Iowa is left too, but it's at home and after losing to Minnesota ... cake walk?

Brian Bennett: I definitely wouldn't call it a cakewalk. Nebraska will soon learn how hard it is to win in Happy Valley and the Big House. The Huskers haven't won in a tough road environment yet this year (granted, Wisconsin was their only real opportunity). And Big Ten teams have really struggled away from home in general. Nebraska is good enough to win those road games, but I suspect it will drop at least one.

Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: In response to all the upset Iowa fans: I think we have become accustomed to having success. Well let's face it; we have the past 10 seasons. We have never been a powerhouse, legendary football team, but we are starting to act as if we have. Kirk Ferentz has done a fantastic job at Iowa. This is a coach who took a potentially dying program and turned it around to what we know today. Did you know his first three seasons (99, 00, 01) we were 1-10, 3-9, and 7-5? In his 4th season he went 11-2 and led us to a BCS game? How many coaches can do that? You know how he did it? His best talent, recruiting. There is no better judge of raw talent in college football today. He has a way to see what a player's true potential and get them into their true role. Just look at Marvin McNutt Jr, who will be the all-time leader in touchdown receptions and remembered as one of the greatest receivers that Iowa has ever had. This was a quarterback recruit turned receiver because Ferentz knew his potential. How many walk-on and 2-3 start recruits are playing in the NFL because of his coaching ability? The majority of our seasons are 7-8 win seasons, sprinkled with some seasons with 9-10-11 wins. I do believe this will be the coach to lead us to a National Championship, and with the young talent on this team I'm excited to see what we can do next season.

Brian Bennett: Well said, Nate, though I might add that player development is a stronger skill for Ferentz than recruiting. Look, it's not easy to get top-notch players to come to Iowa City, unfortunately. Ferentz has had some really strong years and is an excellent coach. I also understand why the loyal Hawkeyes fans expect better than the past two years and are frustrated by some puzzling losses. We all knew this year's team had some holes to fill, particularly on defense. I still think Ferentz is the right man for the job, and that he'll have Iowa back in Big Ten title contention soon.

Steve from Milwaukee writes: With the wild nature of the B1G race this year, do you see the B1G coach of the year going to anyone that doesn't win the championship game? Could Luke Fickell get it with a loss in Indy due to all the off-the-field issues and a strong recovery from the early season woes?

Brian Bennett: Yes, without any team qualifying as a huge surprise right now (except possibly Penn State), the coach of the year award will likely come from one of the two championship game contenders. I think if Fickell just gets to the title game, he'd have to earn strong consideration, based on how he held the team together through such difficult circumstances. Wouldn't be odd if he won that award in his first year after Jim Tressel was denied so many times?

Jeremy from Los Alamos, N.M., writes: Why is it that only Nebraska is mentioned as controlling their own destiny in their division? Sure if they win out, they go to Indianapolis. But the same holds true for Michigan. If Michigan beats Nebraska, then there is a three way tie for the division winner and at least the way I interpret the tiebreaker, Michigan will win the tiebreaker because it will have the best overall record (assuming they beat Ohio State). How come Michigan isn't ever mentioned as controlling their own destiny?

Brian Bennett: Michigan does not control its own destiny, because if the Wolverines win out, that means Nebraska has at least two conference losses. If Michigan State also wins out, it would be tied with Michigan and owns the head-to-head tiebreaker. Overall record is not much of a factor because it is the sixth tiebreaker, behind BCS standings.

Devin from Indy writes: So what's your game plan now that Zooey Deschanel is back on the market? Pray that Northwestern makes the Rose Bowl and hope that you two accidentally run into each other on the sideline?

Brian Bennett: I might be waiting a while for Northwestern. It sure isn't going to happen this year. And seeing how quickly she left her plum World Series seats, I'm guessing she's not a huge sports fan. My best bet seems to be to start a band and up my hipster quotient. If you start seeing me with longer hair, corduroys and plaid and earnest expressions in my videos, you'll know what I'm up to.

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