Big Ten: Derrick Engel

Big Ten lunchtime links

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
12:30
PM ET
Nothing big happening in college football today, is there?
  • Brady Hoke responds to critical comments about his program and left tackle Taylor Lewan.
  • Off the radar as a recruit, Darqueze Dennard has turned himself into one of the most productive defensive players in the country at Michigan State.
  • Minnesota may have some options it feels good about at wide receiver, but it would certainly prefer to have Derrick Engel (recovering from ankle injury) available when it takes on Penn State.
  • There have been ups and downs for Nebraska linebacker Josh Banderas, but it looks like he's on the rise heading into a crucial game for the Blackshirts at Michigan.
  • Ohio State's BCS future could become more clear on Thursday night, and Urban Meyer and his players will tune in to watch.
  • The tattoo on the right arm of Penn State defensive lineman Anthony Zettel set the tone for a player whose toughness is easy to see on the football field.
  • Not everybody appears to be a fan of Northwestern's special uniforms for next week's game with Michigan.
  • Conor Boffeli remembers the feeling of nervousness all too well before his first start on the Iowa offensive line. Experience is definitely helping him sleep better.
  • Illinois might like to run the football better, but it actually doesn't appear to be a priority for offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.
  • The jury is still out on Purdue's new-look defense.

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
10:00
AM ET
November is nearly upon us, and the predictions race, fittingly, is even entering the home stretch. Brian Bennett and I differed on just one game in Week 9, and it came down to Northwestern and Iowa in overtime at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes prevailed, and Brian erased his one-game deficit in the season standings.

Week 9/Season record

Adam Rittenberg: 2-2, 57-11
Brian Bennett: 3-1, 57-11

Here's one final look at the Week 9 predictions we made and those of guest picker Nick Galea from Normal, Ill.

It's rewind time ...

Nebraska at Minnesota
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 28, Minnesota 16
  • Rittenberg: Nebraska 35, Minnesota 24
  • Actual score: Minnesota 34, Nebraska 23
  • 20-20 hindsight: I came close on the final score but had the teams in the wrong order, as we both thought Nebraska would perform better following its second open week. Huskers QB Taylor Martinez struggled in his return, falling short of Bennett's forecast. Minnesota QB Philip Nelson threw one touchdown to Derrick Engel but none to Maxx Williams, as I thought he would. My prediction of another 100-yard rushing performance for Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah proved true (165 yards).
Northwestern at Iowa
  • Bennett's pick: Iowa 27, Northwestern 24
  • Rittenberg's pick: Northwestern 31, Iowa 28
  • Actual score: Iowa 17, Northwestern 10 (OT)
  • 20-20 hindsight: Bennett finally picked Iowa, and it paid off, as the Hawkeyes outlasted the Wildcats. Iowa RB Mark Weisman powered his team to an early lead, as I predicted he would, and Northwestern QB Kain Colter improved his team's third-down conversion rate. But we both expected more offense in this one. Northwestern found some offense in the second half and appeared ready to rally for a win, but penalties and turnovers doomed the Wildcats.
Michigan State at Illinois
  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 24, Illinois 12
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan State 27, Illinois 16
  • Actual score: Michigan State 42, Illinois 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: Despite our concerns about a potential trap game, the Spartans took control in the second half and pounded the Illini in Champaign. Michigan State QB Connor Cook (208 pass yards, 3 TDs) came close to Bennett's prediction (200 pass yards, 1 TD), but neither of us saw Cook completing 15 of 16 pass attempts to set a new team record. Spartans RB Jeremy Langford (104 rush yards, 2 TDs) came close to my prediction (120 rush yards, 2 TDs). Michigan State's defense, while dominant, didn't produce a touchdown, as we both predicted.
Penn State at Ohio State
  • Bennett's prediction: Ohio State 51, Penn State 48 (2 OT)
  • Rittenberg's prediction: Ohio State 38, Penn State 28
  • Actual score: Ohio State 63, Penn State 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Brian took a lot of heat on Twitter for his prediction, as Ohio State piled up points with ease, but truth be told, both of us were way off. We expected a lot more from Bill O'Brien's team, but the Nittany Lions were no match for Braxton Miller and the Buckeyes. Lions QB Christian Hackenberg threw two first-half interceptions, not touchdowns, and he connected with WR Allen Robinson for only one score, not three, as Brian predicted. Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde (147 rush yards, 2 TDs) exceeded my prediction (120 rush yards, 1 TD).

You've seen our picks. Now it's time to check on our guest picker, Nick.

Nebraska 38, Minnesota 24
Iowa 28, Northwestern 27
Michigan State 27, Illinois 10
Ohio State 45, Penn State 38

Nick's picks mirrored Brian's, so he finished 3-1 and bested my 2-2 mark. His score predictions need some work, though, as none came close. Like us, he expected a higher-scoring game in Iowa City and a more competitive one in Columbus. Overall, not bad.

We already have this week's guest picker lined up, but tell us why you should be the choice for Week 11 here and here.

Big Ten predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
9:00
AM ET
Who are these guys? We're the real American pickers, and we're sifting through the Big Ten rubble to make our selections for Week 9. Thankfully, this is the final Saturday with a measly four games on the docket, as all 12 teams will be in action Nov. 2.

Adam clings to a one-game lead in the season standings, as the race for a dinner at St. Elmo in Indianapolis remains at steak. Our Week 8 picks mirrored one another. Will it be the same in Week 9?

Let's get started …

NEBRASKA at MINNESOTA


Brian Bennett: This is a good spot to bring back Taylor Martinez, so he can shake off some rust before the telling November stretch begins. I think Nebraska will still want to be a bit careful with its quarterback, however, and not risk any further harm to his turf toe. So Martinez doesn't run much but throws a pair of touchdowns to Quincy Enunwa, and the improving Huskers defense has a strong showing against a rather one-dimensional Minnesota attack. … Nebraska 28, Minnesota 16


Adam Rittenberg: A healthy Martinez makes the difference for the Huskers as the senior quarterback breaks off a long touchdown run in the first quarter and finishes with three combined scores. Philip Nelson rallies Minnesota in the second quarter with touchdown passes to Maxx Williams and Derrick Engel, but the Huskers' offense proves to be too much in the second half as Ameer Abdullah records another 100-yard game. … Nebraska 35, Minnesota 24

NORTHWESTERN at IOWA


Adam Rittenberg: Iowa has played better than its record shows, while Northwestern is in a major tailspin. So why am I picking Northwestern? Kain Colter's likely return gives Northwestern the ingredients it has been missing on offense the past two weeks. Colter will convert key third downs like he did last year against Iowa, and while the Hawkeyes take an early lead behind Mark Weisman's rushing and their tight-end play, Northwestern finds its offense again in the second half and rallies for a win at Kinnick. … Northwestern 31, Iowa 28

Brian Bennett: I've picked against Iowa a lot this season, with some successes (Northern Illinois, Michigan State) and some failures (Iowa State, Minnesota). I might give Hawkeyes fans a complex if I pick against them at home against a team that's 0-3 in the Big Ten. I'm still tempted to go with Northwestern because of the Wildcats' recent success against Iowa and the return of Colter. But I also really liked the way the Hawkeyes played at Ohio State on offense and think they can keep it up by using those big tight ends. It's going to be a close one, but Mike Meyer hits the game-winner with 90 seconds to go. … Iowa 27, Northwestern 24


MICHIGAN STATE at ILLINOIS


Brian Bennett: The Illini are at home, and Michigan State might get caught peeking toward Michigan. But the Illinois defense is really struggling right now, too much so to foresee an upset here. I think Connor Cook will get back on track a bit with 200 yards passing and a TD, and the Michigan State defense will force three turnovers against Nathan Scheelhaase & Co., including another one for a score. … Michigan State 24, Illinois 12


Adam Rittenberg: This could be a trap game for the Spartans before next week's home showdown against rival Michigan, but I think Michigan State's offense received its wakeup call against Purdue. Illinois' struggles against the run continue as Jeremy Langford goes for 120 yards and two touchdowns. The Illini strike first with a long scoring pass to Ryan Lankford and move the ball well at times, but Michigan State clamps down and records another defensive touchdown in the third quarter. … Michigan State 27, Illinois 16

PENN STATE at OHIO STATE


Adam Rittenberg: Get ready for another fun one at the Horseshoe, as both offenses can put up points and stretch the field. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg looks nothing like a freshman in the first half with two touchdown passes before showing his youth late in the game, as he's picked off by Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby. As we've seen in the past few games, Ohio State's offensive line takes control in the second half. Carlos Hyde goes for 120 yards and a score as the Buckeyes use a big fourth quarter to win. … Ohio State 38, Penn State 28

Brian Bennett: Yeah, I think this has a chance to be a wild one. So wild that I'm calling for … overtime. With a week off to prepare, I expect Bill O'Brien to throw the kitchen sink at the Buckeyes' defense, and for Hackenberg to hook up with Allen Robinson for three scores. Ohio State mounts its patented comeback, ties the score on a Braxton Miller heave to Corey Brown, and wins it on a Hyde run in the second OT. … Ohio State 51, Penn State 48


That's how we see things playing out on Saturday. Now it's time to hear from our guest picker. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description of why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest picker is Nick Galea from Normal, Ill. What'cha got, Nick?
Hey guys, I should be the guest picker because my life revolves around Big Ten football. I currently hold two degrees from Big Ten schools (MSU undergrad/Illinois law), and I've watched Big Ten football in 7 different venues in my life. This week is of special significance to me, as my two alma maters square off in Champaign. I'd love to have a prediction on the line while I'm in Memorial Stadium watching Nate Scheelhaase test the league's No. 1 defense. Thanks!

Here are Nick's Week 9 picks ...

Nebraska 38, Minnesota 24
Iowa 28, Northwestern 27
Michigan State 27, Illinois 10
Ohio State 45, Penn State 38

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 55-9
Brian Bennett: 54-10
Guest pickers: 49-15

Gophers winning without passing game

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
6:05
PM ET
Minnesota is 2-0 and is averaging 47.5 points per game. But head coach Jerry Kill knows there's a lot that can be improved.

Before the Gophers headed out to the practice field on Tuesday, Kill wrote out on a dry-erase board several areas that needed to get better. Near the top of that list: dropped passes.

One of the main emphasis of the offseason was improving a downfield passing game that had a hard time getting going in 2012. So far, that has proved elusive again.

Philip Nelson
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY SportsPhilip Nelson hasn't had to pass much for Minnesota to be successful in its first two games.
Minnesota has thrown for just 226 yards in its first two games. That's second-lowest in the Big Ten and only 16 yards more than Michigan State, whose passing game problems are well documented. The Gophers have completed just 18 passes and have no receivers with more than three catches. Derrick Engel leads the team with 51 receiving yards. By contrast, Northwestern's Tony Jones had nine catches for 185 yards vs. Syracuse on Saturday, and Michigan's Jeremy Gallon had eight for 184 against Notre Dame.

"We've had some good plays, but we've had some drops," Kill said. "That's the big thing. [Quarterback] Philip [Nelson] has been pretty consistent and pretty sharp the first two games.

"We've got to cut down on some of the dropped balls and make some plays. We have people capable of doing that, and I think we'll see much improvement there as the year goes on."

Kill isn't overly concerned about the passing statistics yet because he likes the direction of the running game. The Gophers piled up 342 rushing yards in last Saturday's 44-21 victory at New Mexico State. Nelson has been excellent at running the zone read and keeping the ball himself as defenders concentrate on the backs; he ran for 122 yards last week and ranks seventh in the Big Ten with 205 yards for the season. He has also run for three touchdowns and is averaging 7.6 yards per rush attempt.

With that kind of success and given the competition -- UNLV and New Mexico State are among the worst FBS teams in the country -- who needs to throw the ball? In fact, Minnesota's 38 pass attempts are by far the lowest in the Big Ten. Nationally, only seven teams have passed the ball fewer times than the Gophers, and that includes option teams like Army, Air Force and Georgia Tech. That shouldn't be surprising, as Kill said Tuesday that "we're an option team."

But while Minnesota can likely keep the ball on the ground as much as it wants this week against Western Illinois, Kill still wants to develop a passing game. And the team will need it when the competition finally gets tougher. The key will be the receiving corps.

"We've got six or seven people playing in there right now," Kill said. "We've had two or three drops we can't afford to have there. We've got to get it figured out in the next few weeks."

The good news is that Jamel Harbison is set to return this week after a suspension. He's expected to be one of the team's top playmakers. Promising true freshmen Donovahn Jones and Drew Wolitarsky are seeing their roles increase and could be factors down the road.

"As we move into the Big Ten, Wolitarsky is a 225-pound guy and we'll need some of that physical presence," Kill said. "So we're bringing him along."

It's always nice to work on deficient areas while winning. Minnesota might only have that luxury for another week or two.
One of Minnesota's pressing needs is to find a receiver who can stretch the field and make big plays. Arguably its fastest wideout from 2012 won't be around to help this year.

The team announced Monday that junior Devin Crawford-Tufts will focus solely on the school's track team this year and will not play football. Crawford-Tufts was fourth on the team last year with 16 catches for 189 yards, and he grabbed a touchdown reception against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

But he is arguably more promising as a track competitor. A Minnesota state champion in the 100 and 200 meters in high school, he joined the Gophers' track team in February and finished fourth at the Big Ten championships in the 60 meters.

Crawford-Tufts probably wouldn't have been one of the team's top options at receiver this year, but he definitely would have been in the rotation for playing time. And Minnesota is still thin there in experienced options, with Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Andre McDonald needing to take steps forward to help improve the passing game.
2012 record: 6-7
2012 conference record: 2-6 (tied for fifth in Legends Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 10; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Philip Nelson, RB Donnell Kirkwood, DT Ra'Shede Hageman, S Brock Vereen, DB Derrick Wells, LT Ed Olson, DE Michael Amaefula

Key losses

QB/WR MarQueis Gray, CB Michael Carter, CB Troy Stoudermire, DE D.L. Wilhite, LB Mike Rallis, LB Keanon Cooper

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Donnell Kirkwood* (926 yards)
Passing: Philip Nelson* (873 yards)
Receiving: A.J. Barker (577 yards)
Tackles: Troy Stoudermire (82)
Sacks: D.L. Wilhite (8.5)
Interceptions: Michael Carter (4)

Spring answers

1. Identity verified: The Gophers figured out who they wanted to be on offense and were able to start implementing that during bowl practice last December: a physical, run-first team. It worked in the Meineke Car Care Bowl and carried over into this spring, with an offensive line that's developing a nasty streak and two power backs in Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. The Gophers will look to bring that hard-nosed approach into this fall.

2. Phil the one: Philip Nelson took over as the team's starting quarterback as a true freshman at midseason last year, but he wasn't guaranteed the starting job this offseason. Despite getting good competition from Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler, Nelson played well enough this spring that head coach Jerry Kill says it's his spot to lose. Leidner also impressed at times and is a great athlete, so Minnesota has options at the position this year.

3. Turning the corner: The Gophers had to replace two standout seniors at cornerback in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. They feel good about at least one of those spots after Derrick Wells moved from safety to corner this offseason and handled the position nicely. Wells made some big plays at safety last year, and the hope is he can do the same at his new spot. There's not a lot of proven options at the other corner role, but three players who transferred from junior college last year are pushing for time, while the safety position has good depth and is led by Brock Vereen.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker holes: The Gophers lost most of their contributors at linebacker from last year, with Aaron Hill the only leftover starter. It's why they signed five linebackers in this year's recruiting class. Junior college transfer Damien Wilson lived up to advance billing, and Kill is expecting big things out of another incoming juco, De'Vondre Campbell. But anytime you're relying on newcomers and players arriving in the summer, nothing is for certain.

2. Downfield passing: The passing game was shaky at best for the Gophers in 2012, and things didn't exactly get better when leading receiver A.J. Barker transferred. Minnesota doesn't have anyone who eclipsed 375 receiving yards a year ago. Kill is hoping to see improvement from Derrick Engel, Isaac Fruechte, Devin Crawford-Tufts and a healthy Jamel Harbison. But those guys must prove they can make plays when it counts.

3. Rushing the passer: D.L. Wilhite and his team-leading 8.5 sacks from a year ago are gone. Defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman looked like a beast this spring, but no other returnee had more than two sacks a year ago. The Gophers need players who can get after the quarterback off the edge, and they're hoping Theiren Cockran, Michael Amaefula and Ben Perry make the same kind of strides Wilhite and Hageman did a year ago. But again, they have to prove it.

Spring game recap: Minnesota

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
10:00
AM ET
Spring practice in the Big Ten is officially over.

The final two spring games of the year took place on Saturday, and we're here to recap both. Let's start with the Minnesota Golden Gophers, where the Maroon team beat the Gold 24-17 before an estimated crowd of 7,700. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here.

Star of the game: Quarterback Philip Nelson finished 13-of-17 for 179 yards and a touchdown, and was 10-for-10 in the first half. He also ran for 32 yards.

How it went down: A big goal for Minnesota this offseason was to improve a passing game that struggled to generate much down the stretch last season. Though it as just a spring game, Saturday's results had to be encouraging to head coach Jerry Kill.

First, there was returning starter Nelson putting together a perfect (at least in terms of completions) first half. Redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner also impressed, going 9-for-15 for 112 yards and tossing two touchdown passes to start the second half. There was competition between the two, and there was a competent passing game on display. Nelson hit Derrick Engel with a pretty 39-yard strike to open the fourth quarter and set up the winning score.

"It was just really great to get out here in a game-like atmosphere and being able to have more consecutive drives and being able to really move the ball down the field like a real-life game," Nelson said. "That helps build some momentum."

While Kill said it remains Nelson's job to lose, Leidner will continue to push him throughout the summer and fall camp.

"Competition is always going to be a competition," Kill said. "I've been that way everywhere I've been. Somebody has to take Philip's job. Right now it's his job. Somebody has to take it. That's part of how you play."

Engel finished with five catches for 74 yards, and Jamel Harbison -- who missed most of last season with an ACL tear -- grabbed five passes for 52 yards and a score. Rodrick Williams led all rushers with 49 yards, including a 29-yarder early, and Donnell Kirkwood ran for two short touchdowns.

The defense was hard to judge on a day when four of its best starters -- defensive linemen Ra'Shede Hageman and Michael Amaefula and defensive backs Brock Vereen and Derrick Wells -- were held out for precautionary purposes. Thieren Cockran registered a pair of sacks, and promising junior college transfer Damien Wilson recovered a fumble.

All in all, it was a positive day for the Gophers, and a fun one for the fans who enjoyed the 70-degree temperatures and sunny skies.

"We've had a great spring," Kill told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I still think we've got to mentally and physically develop some toughness, and I think we're doing that."
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill guided the team to a bowl game during his second season in Minneapolis despite some depth and injury problems in 2012. What's in store for Year 3 of the Kill era? I recently caught up with him to get his outlook for the Gophers' spring practice, which opens today.

How has the offseason gone for you guys so far?

Jerry Kill: Well, I think the bowl game, even though we lost, the kids played very hard and well. We got healthy, for one, before we went to the bowl, and we had a great month with our kids and a great experience. And coming into the offseason, I think there was a lot of confidence gained. All our kids' strength and testing numbers went up. I guess I can use Ra'Shede Hageman as an example, He benched 450 pounds, squatted well over 500 and cleaned 350, with a 38-inch vertical. So kids like that got a lot better.

We feel up front and on the defensive line, we've gotten stronger. I think we've added some depth to the defensive line, and secondary-wise, we played several freshmen in that game against Texas Tech. We've got the flexibility to play Derrick Wells at corner and safety. I think the biggest question mark we've got going in is, we lost five scholarship linebackers. It's like a year ago when we lost seven secondary players and kind of hit the jackpot in recruiting. Damien Wilson, a junior college transfer, has had a great spring, and I'm looking forward to seeing him on the field. The guys who need the reps this spring are James Manuel, Aaron Hill, Lamonte Edwards, and young men we redshirted named Jack Lynn and Nick Rallis. And then we've got four other kids coming when fall camp starts. Our secondary a year ago had a lot of questions and really played well. I think, this year, linebacker is where we need to step up on defense.

And then on offense, I feel we'll be a much better football team than we were a year ago because we get everybody back except for Brandon Green and Q [MarQueis Gray], really. So I think that unit will be much improved.

[+] EnlargeJerry Kill
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillJerry Kill begins his third season as head coach of the Gophers.
You showed off a good power running game in that bowl game. Is that what we should expect from your offense going forward?

JK: Yeah, that's what we were at Northern Illinois. We could run the power at you, but then we were athletic enough to turn and run the zone read with the quarterback. Both [Chandler] Harnisch and [Jordan] Lynch, when we needed to throw it, we completed it. But we still made our living on running the football. It was the first time, in the bowl game, that we had the same offensive line that we had at the beginning of the seaon. We had so many people get experience there. But that's what we want to be -- a team that gives you a lot of different looks, shifting and motion and different personnel grouping. But you've still got to be able to run the football, and certainly in the Big Ten.

Speaking of that offensive line, after a lot of injuries there last year, how is the position looking this spring?

JK: Well, we've got a lot of depth, no question. Eddie Olson, he won't go through the spring, but he had a good year a year ago. If we can get his foot healed up and done right, it kind of works out. He'll continue to get stronger. We redshirted Jonah Pirsig, who's a 6-foot-8, 6-9, 320 pound tackle, Ben Lauer, who's 6-7 and probably 305, and Isaac Hayes, who is a 6-2, 300-pound offensive guard. So those kids, I'm anxious to see them in the spring.

We've got Zac Epping, Jon Christenson and Caleb Bak -- in the weight room, he benched 350, squatted 550, so he's gotten stronger. Josh Campion is a strong kid; he benches well over 400 pounds. So the same guys who when I first got here were getting pushed around have gotten stronger. And then we've added these young kids that have come in. Marek Lenkiewicz is up to 290 pounds, Tommy Olson is healthy again and Brian Bobek, who transferred from Ohio State and had great credentials when he went to Ohio State, he's another one who's very physically strong. Then there's Foster Bush and Joe Bjorklund. They're all young kids, but they've gotten physically stronger.

When we got here, I think we had about seven or eight offensive linemen. So we've built it through walk-ons and kind of did it the hard way. But I feel good about that position, along with our tight ends, quarterbacks and receivers. Our defense improved tremendously from one year to the next. For us to be competitive in the Big Ten -- which I think we can be -- our offense has to take the steps our defense did a year ago. And I think we can.

Philip Nelson finished the season for you at quarterback and had a nice bowl game, but you also have some talented young guys there. Is it his job to lose this spring or a more open competition?

JK: We took the redshirt off Philip last year, and he did some good things and had some things he struggled with, as you'd expect for a freshman. He did some great things in the bowl game. When we go into camp, somebody is going to have to go in there and beat him out. But the thing that's good about that is the competition.

Mitch Leidner and Chris Streveler are great athletes who can play another position if needed, but they both want to play quarterback and they're very capable of giving someone a run for their money. I can tell you, our defense is very high on Leidner. Mitch is probably close to 6-5 and 230, and he is a 4.6, 4.65 guy [in the 40-yard dash]. And very strong. And then Streveler is quicker than that. He came in during the second semester, and I think he's the third-fastest guy on our team. When we had him in camp, he played receiver also.

So all three of those guys are great kids, students of the game, and the type of kids you want playing quarterback leadership-wise. We'll let it work out. Leidner and Streveler are the type of kids who would say, "Coach, if it helps the team if you move me, I'll do that." But in the spring we're going to let them compete and make sure we're solid at that position. If you look at last year, it was kind of a miracle we got to a bowl game, because we had three different quarterbacks and three different centers. Not many people can win doing that.

(Read full post)

Big Ten lunch links

March, 7, 2013
3/07/13
12:00
PM ET
First half in the books, 21-0-3. Light the lamp.
Spring practice has begun in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what to expect from each Legends Division team this spring.

IOWA

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Questions at quarterback: The Hawkeyes played James Vandenberg for every snap last season, and now that he's gone, they have no quarterbacks on the roster with any game experience. Sophomore Jake Rudock has been viewed as Vandenberg's successor, but he's still a mostly unknown quantity who should get pushed in the spring by former junior college transfer Cody Sokol and redshirt freshman C.J. Beathard. Whoever wins the job will be tasked with improving an Iowa passing game that finished with a Big Ten-worst seven touchdown passes in 2012.

2. Skills competition: While the quarterback race is vital, Iowa also needs standouts to emerge at the other skill positions to fix an offense that sputtered under first-year coordinator Greg Davis. The wideout corps, which struggled to get separation or make big plays, now is without departed senior Keenan Davis, who tied for the team lead with 571 receiving yards. There's a reason why Iowa signed five receivers in the 2013 class. The running back position has strength in numbers, with Damon Bullock, Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all competing for carries this spring. The Hawkeyes just need to finally get some luck in the health and off-field departments at that position while hoping one player emerges as the go-to back.

3. Transition game: Iowa long had one of the most stable staffs in the country. But coach Kirk Ferentz added three new assistants this offseason for the second straight year, giving the program some fresh voices but also causing some potential bumps in transition. The offense in particular didn't mesh well last season under Davis, who'll look for solutions this spring. Ferentz has new coaches overseeing the running backs (Chris White) and receivers (Bobby Kennedy) and a new defensive assistant who'll work with the linebackers (Jim Reid). The Hawkeyes hope they can inject some life into a program that has seen its fortunes dip the past couple of seasons, including last year's 4-8 disaster.

MICHIGAN

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Devin Gardner as starter: Denard Robinson is gone and Gardner is the presumed Michigan starter for the first time. How he adjusts to that -- and how Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges develops more of a pro-style offense around him -- are a major launching point for the Wolverines next season.

2. Offensive line play: Michigan is replacing the entire interior of its offensive line and while there is a lot of young talent there, none of the potential candidates have any experience. Michigan offensive line coach Darrell Funk said he would like to have at least one of the three slots, if not two, settled by the end of spring.

3. Linebacker competition: The deepest position on Michigan’s roster also has the most competition. Jake Ryan at strongside linebacker is almost a given, but the middle and weak side slots are wide open. A bevy of freshmen and sophomores, along with returning starter Desmond Morgan, will vie for playing time in what will be a likely increased rotation in the fall.

-- Michael Rothstein, WolverineNation

MICHIGAN STATE

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Still Maxwell's house?: Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season at quarterback but was pulled in favor of freshman Connor Cook for the deciding drive of the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Spartans will open up the competition under center, with Tyler O'Connor and eventually incoming freshman Damion Terry joining the fray. Though he has a big edge in experience, Maxwell will have to prove that he can greatly increase last season's 52.5 completion percentage to hold onto the job through the spring.

2. Replacing Bell: Saying running back Le'Veon Bell was a big part of the 2012 offense is like saying Tom Hanks had substantial role in "Cast Away." Bell carried the ball 382 times last year, more than any back in the country, and gained 1,793 yards. There is no ready-made in-house replacement, as leading returning rusher Nick Hill had just 21 rushing attempts last year and may be too slight (5-foot-8, 190 pounds) to be an every-down back. Junior Jeremy Langford will move back to the backfield after seeing time at receiver. Signees Delton Williams, Gerald Holmes and R.J. Shelton might wind up with the job.

3. New playcaller in town: Mark Dantonio has yet to officially announce a replacement for former offensive coordinator Dan Roushar, who recently left for an assistant's post with the NFL's New Orleans Saints. But reports are that former Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman has been tapped to lead the Spartans' offense. Can Bollman, whom Buckeyes fans criticized as being too conservative, find the solutions for what was a dreadful attack in 2012? The Spartans' defense once again enters spring ball with very few question marks. Michigan State's hopes rely heavily on how much progress it can make on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Spring start: March 26

Spring game: April 27

What to watch:

1. Defensive back end: The Gophers lost two outstanding cornerbacks in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, as well as starting linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper. Jerry Kill has tried to address this during recruiting, adding a pair of well-regarded junior college linebackers (De'Vondre Campbell and Damien Wilson) as well as touted high school corner Jalen Myrick. But some holdovers from last season's roster will have to step into bigger roles this spring.

2. The full Nelson: True freshman Philip Nelson took over the quarterback job midseason and now will enter practice as the starter. He showed flashes of immense potential but still has a lot of things to learn. Kill has said Nelson is no lock to start in 2013 and that he'll face legitimate competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner and incoming freshman Chris Streveler. Nelson has the inside track for now but must hold onto it.

3. Receiving line: The Gophers don't have a returning wideout who had more than 375 receiving yards last year, though Derrick Engel showed promise with a 100-yard day in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. You can blame some of that on the turnover and youth at quarterback. But Minnesota needs much better play at receiver to become a more balanced offense. Improvement by guys like Devin Crawford-Tufts and Isaac Fruechte this spring will help, as would some immediate contributions from recruits Eric Carter and Drew Wolitarsky.

NEBRASKA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. Youth movement on defense: The Cornhuskers lost eight starters from last season's defense and will hope that some athletic young players are ready to step in. Guys like Charles Jackson, Jonathan Rose and Thomas Brown will be given long looks this spring. Nebraska coaches are hopeful that what they lack in experience, they'll make up for in speed. There's no bigger key for Big Red than having its young defenders make great strides in the spring.

2. Safety issues: The safety spot is an important one in Bo Pelini's scheme, and the Huskers lose both starters and a couple of top reserves from that position. Jackson will be given a look there, and the staff is high on Corey Cooper. But no starting jobs are locked down.

3. Martinez's progression: Senior quarterback Taylor Martinez won't be involved in a lot of live drills, and the spring will be a time to get freshman Tommy Armstrong some reps. But Martinez still needs to fine-tune a few parts of his game, most notably his tendency to force throws in key spots. He made great progress last offseason through extra hours of hard work; a similar leap this spring would make Martinez one of the very best players in the country.

NORTHWESTERN

Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. The quarterback duo: The Wildcats spent large parts of last season rotating Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, using Siemian for more obvious passing situations. Will that continue this season? Colter needs to improve as a passer to become a better option as an every-down quarterback, and Northwestern's downfield passing game must get better. You can bet there will be a lot of eyes on Colter and Siemian this spring to see what offensive coordinator Mick McCall has planned.

2. Secondary concerns: The news that cornerback Nick VanHoose won't practice this spring because of injury could be a blessing in disguise. The Wildcats' secondary struggled when he was hurt last season, so this may provide an opportunity for others to get better without him. Jimmy Hall and Traveon Henry are youngsters who should see plenty of reps this spring in the defensive backfield.

3. Offensive line makeover: Three starters are gone from last season's offensive line, including both guards and left tackle Patrick Ward. Jack Konopka is the favorite to succeed Ward but will miss the spring with injuries, while 2012 signee Adam DePietro is among those who could step in at guard. Northwestern should have one of the best running games in the Big Ten in 2013 but will need its line to begin to take shape this spring.
After a brief break for signing day, the postseason position rankings return with the wide receivers and tight ends. The Big Ten had only one team (Indiana) rank in the top 30 nationally in pass offense, and the league's overall depth at receiver and tight end wasn't good at all, but a few groups of pass-catchers stood out.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season and factor in both star power and depth. Here's a look at our preseason rundown.

There's clear separation with the top three groups, while the bottom four could be rearranged just about any way you want (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Now let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Cody Latimer should have a productive season in Indiana's pass-oriented system.
1. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 8): The Hoosiers attempted 58 more passes than any other Big Ten team, but they had plenty of reasons to do so and merit top billing here. Speedster Shane Wynn led the squad in receptions with 68, but Cody Latimer emerged into the star of the group, recording 51 receptions for 806 yards and six touchdowns. Like Latimer, Kofi Hughes stretched the field and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Tight end Ted Bolser also made nice contributions (41 catches, 445 yards). IU had five receivers or tight ends finish with at least 23 receptions.

2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 2): The Huskers' multitude of big-play threats nearly put them in the top spot, as they helped Nebraska finish with the Big Ten's top offense (460.8 ypg). Wideout Kenny Bell led the way with 863 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 50 receptions (17.3-yard average). Receiver Jamal Turner and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton all averaged at least 13 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa became a nice No. 2 target with 42 receptions for 470 yards.

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 7): Few saw this coming before the season, and our preseason capsule about the Nittany Lions began with, "Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option." Whoops. Even though Brown transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State found surprise stars in wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Robinson won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and touchdown catches (11). Carter (36 catches for 453 yards) might have been the league's top tight end, a position where Penn State had unparalleled depth. Players like wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman emerged later in the season.

4. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 5): There's definitely a drop-off after the top three groups, but Purdue had a nice crop of receivers who likely would have put up bigger numbers if quarterback Robert Marve had stayed healthy all season. Wideouts O.J. Ross (56 receptions, 454 yards) and Antavian Edison (58 receptions, 682 yards) both finished in the league's top five in receptions, while Gary Bush also eclipsed the 40-catch mark. Young wideout Dolapo Macarthy showed promise, and tight ends Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright combined for 47 receptions.

5. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 6): No offense to Denard Robinson, but Michigan's receiving corps truly got its chance to shine once Devin Gardner took control at quarterback. Michigan became a much more pass-oriented offense and stretched the field with several players. Jeremy Gallon turned in a very solid junior season with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns (16.9-yard average). Roy Roundtree came on strong late in the season and made the catch of the year in the league against Northwestern to force overtime. Michigan received nice contributions from wideout Drew Dileo and young tight end Devin Funchess (five touchdowns), and Gardner himself made some plays early on before switching permanently to QB.

6. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 9): Coach Urban Meyer is looking for much more from Ohio State's perimeter players, but in a pass-challenged league like the Big Ten, Ohio State's receivers and tight ends finish in the middle of the pack. Corey Brown quietly produced a 60-catch season, finishing fourth in the league in receptions (5 rpg). Devin Smith had half as many receptions as Brown but finished with nearly the same yardage total (669-618) as he became Braxton Miller's top deep threat. Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches, while sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman showed some promise.

7. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 1): Thanks to the emergence of Venric Mark, Northwestern became a much more run-driven offense than we anticipated before the season, although the receiving corps underachieved a bit. The Wildcats had no true stars, although they boasted some nice balance as four players recorded at least 29 receptions. The big bright spot late in the season came from freshman tight end Dan Vitale, who recorded 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. USC transfer Kyle Prater wasn't much of a factor (10 catches, 54 yards). Quarterback Kain Colter might have provided the best performance from a Northwestern receiver when he moved there against Indiana and recorded career highs for both receptions (9) and receiving yards (131).

8. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 11): It says something about the Big Ten when Michigan State's receivers, who received heavy criticism for much of the season, finish in the top two-thirds of the rankings. But the Spartans simply produced a lot more than the groups below them. They had arguably the league's top tight end in Dion Sims, who recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards before opting to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged at receiver during Big Ten play (29 receptions, 364), and the Spartans had three receivers record at least 36 receptions and two -- Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler -- with more than 500 receiving yards.

9. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 3): Wisconsin had a major shortage of depth, which hurt during a season where three different players started at quarterback. The Badgers had one of the league's best wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis (49 receptions, 837 yards, 5 TDs), and Jacob Pedersen won the Big Ten's Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award, albeit in surprising fashion. But no other players recorded 20 receptions and Wisconsin ended up finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing.

10. Iowa (Preseason rank: 4): The Hawkeyes struggled to consistently pass the ball, and getting into the end zone proved to be nearly impossible as they finished with just seven receiving touchdowns. Kevonte Martin-Manley, the group's bright spot with 52 catches for 571 yards, was the lone Hawkeye with multiple scoring receptions in 2012. Keenan Davis fell short of expectations and while C.J. Fiedorowicz put up nice numbers for a tight end (45 receptions, 433 yards), many expected more from him as well. Like several Big Ten squads, Iowa struggled with depth at receiver.

11. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): We had concerns about Illinois' skill-position talent and depth before the season, and it proved true. Although the Illini had four players record at least 25 receptions, two of them -- receptions leader Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- play running back. Ryan Lankford was the team's top wideout with 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Darius Millines once again struggled to stay healthy. Spencer Harris contributed 21 catches for 252 yards and two scores, but Illinois needed much more to spark the league's worst offense.

12. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 12): Like many of their Big Ten brethren, the Gophers lacked playmakers on the edge to provide balance on offense. Their best threat, A.J. Barker, left the program in not-so-quiet fashion after a spat with head coach Jerry Kill. Barker appeared in only eight games but still had 11 more receptions than any other Minnesota player. Receivers like Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes, and tight end John Rabe had four touchdown grabs, but Minnesota needs a lot more from this group going forward.

The Big Ten's All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
11:00
AM ET
The Big Ten won only two bowl games this season, but several players stood out around the league.

Let's take a look at ESPN.com's Big Ten All-Bowl squad ...

OFFENSE

QB: Devin Gardner, Michigan -- There weren't many good choices around the league, but Gardner fired three touchdown passes and racked up 214 pass yards. He has accounted for at least two touchdowns in all five of his starts at quarterback for the Wolverines.

RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State -- The nation's ultimate workhorse running back did his thing in his final game as a Spartan. Bell had 32 carries for 145 yards and a touchdown, recording his eighth 100-yard rushing performance of the season. He also threw a 29-yard pass on a pivotal third-down play.

RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska -- Another back who stood out in his final collegiate game, Burkhead racked up 140 rush yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, and added four receptions for 39 yards. It's really too bad we didn't get to see what Burkhead could have done all season when healthy.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon celebrates one of his two touchdown catches against South Carolina.
WR: Jeremy Gallon, Michigan -- Gallon recorded career highs in receptions (9) and receiving yards (145), and scored two touchdowns against a strong South Carolina defense in the Outback Bowl. It was his third 100-yard receiving performance of the season.

WR: Derrick Engel, Minnesota -- Along with quarterback Philip Nelson, Engel provided some hope for Minnesota's future on offense with 108 receiving yards on four receptions in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. His 42-yard reception marked the third longest of Minnesota's season.

TE: Dan Vitale, Northwestern -- The freshman provided offensive balance Northwestern needed against a Mississippi State team that focused on taking away Venric Mark and the run game. Vitale recorded team highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (82) as Northwestern ended the nation's longest bowl losing streak in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl.

OL: Taylor Lewan, Michigan -- Everyone remembers Jadeveon Clowney's near decapitation of Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl -- which resulted from a miscommunication between Lewan and tight end Mike Kwiatkowski -- but the Wolverines' left tackle did a good job overall against college football's most dominant defensive lineman. Lewan anchored a line that helped Michigan put up decent numbers against an elite defense.

OL: Zac Epping, Minnesota -- Minnesota's offensive line showed flashes of the dominance it displayed for much of the Glen Mason era against Texas Tech. The Gophers racked up 222 rush yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries, as Epping and his linemates opened up holes for Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams and MarQueis Gray.

OL: Brian Mulroe, Northwestern -- Mulroe made his 40th career start and helped Northwestern finally get over the hump in a bowl game. The Wildcats had a balanced offensive attack, avoided the penalty flag and didn't allow a sack against Mississippi State.

OL: Cole Pensick, Nebraska -- Stepping in for the injured Justin Jackson at center, Pensick helped the Huskers find success running the ball against Georgia, especially up the middle. Nebraska had 239 rushing yards in the Capital One Bowl.

OL: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin: The Badgers rushed for 218 yards against Stanford, which came into the Rose Bowl with the nation's No. 3 rush defense. They also gave up only one sack to a defense which led the FBS in that category. Frederick played very well at center and announced he would skip his junior year to enter the NFL draft a few days later.

DEFENSE

DL: Quentin Williams, Northwestern -- Williams set the tone for Northwestern's win with an interception returned for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. He also recorded two tackles for loss, including a sack, in the victory.

DL: William Gholston, Michigan State -- Another player who stood out in his final collegiate game, Gholston tied for the team lead with nine tackles, including a sack, and had a pass breakup in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl win against TCU. The freakishly athletic defensive end stepped up in a bowl game for the second straight season.

DL: Tyler Scott, Northwestern -- Scott and his fellow linemates made life tough for turnover-prone Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell in the Gator Bowl. The Wildcats junior defensive end recorded three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and added a quarterback hurry in the win.

DL: Ra'Shede Hageman, Minnesota -- The big man in the center of Minnesota's defensive line stood out against Texas Tech, recording six tackles, including a sack, and a pass breakup. Gophers fans should be fired up to have Hageman back in the fold for the 2013 season.

LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State -- Bullough once again triggered a strong defensive performance by Michigan State, which held TCU to just three points in the final two and a half quarters of the Wings bowl. The junior middle linebacker tied with Gholston for the team tackles lead (9) and assisted on a tackle for loss.

LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin -- The Badgers' defense clamped down against Stanford after a slow start, and Borland once again stood out with his play at middle linebacker. The standout junior led Wisconsin with nine tackles as the defense kept the Badgers within striking distance in Pasadena.

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan -- Ryan capped a breakout season with another strong performance in the bowl game, recording 1.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and half a sack. He'll enter 2013 as a top candidate for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

CB: Michael Carter, Minnesota -- Carter finished off a strong senior year with two interceptions, a pass breakup and seven tackles in the 34-31 loss to Texas Tech.

CB: Nick VanHoose, Northwestern: The redshirt freshman picked off a Mississippi State pass and returned it 39 yard to set up the game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter.

S: Jared Carpenter, Northwestern: The senior was named MVP of the Gator Bowl win with a game-high 10 tackles and a near interception late in the game.

S: Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern: The Wildcats dominate our all-bowl team secondary for good reason. Campbell had an interception and a pass breakup against the Bulldogs.

Specialists

P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State -- The punters took center stage in Tempe as both offenses struggled, and Sadler provided MSU with a huge lift in the field-position game. He set Spartans bowl records for punts (11) and punting yards (481), averaging 43.7 yards per punt with three inside the 20-yard line. His booming punt inside the TCU 5 helped lead to a game-turning fumble by the Horned Frogs' Skye Dawson.

K: Brendan Gibbons and Matt Wile, Michigan -- Both kickers share the honors after combining to go 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts in the Outback Bowl. Gibbons, the hero of last year's Sugar Bowl, connected from 39 yards and 40 yards in the first half. Wile hit a career-long 52-yard attempt in the third quarter, setting an Outback Bowl record.

Returner: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota -- It took a bit longer than expected, but Stoudermire finally set the NCAA record for career kick return yards with a 26-yard runback on the opening kickoff against Texas Tech. The senior cornerback finished the game with 111 return yards, including a 37-yard runback, on four attempts.

Big Ten Tuesday personnel roundup

November, 6, 2012
11/06/12
3:15
PM ET
Some more personnel nuggets from around the league ...
  • Illinois LB Jonathan Brown (shoulder) is out for Saturday's game against Minnesota, coach Tim Beckman confirmed. Brown sustained the injury last Saturday at Ohio State and is "week to week," according to Beckman. Freshman Mike Svetina will step in for Brown, an All-Big Ten player in 2011 who is tied for the team lead in tackles (59) and leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5). He also has a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • Minnesota WR A.J. Barker (ankle) is doubtful for the Illinois game, according to coach Jerry Kill. Barker, the Gophers' top receiver (30 catches, 577 yards, 7 TDs), tried to play last week against Michigan but tweaked the injury in pregame warm-ups. He won't practice today. "Unless a miracle takes place, I don't look for him to play," Kill said. Another Gophers WR, Derrick Engel, is questionable for the Illinois game after injuring his hamstring against Michigan.
  • Penn State DT Jordan Hill (knee) and TE Kyle Carter (foot) are both day-to-day for this week's game at Nebraska, coach Bill O'Brien said. Carter sat out last week at Purdue, while Hill sustained a nasty-looking injury that turned out to be just a sprain. Decisions on both men will be made later in the week, while RB Curtis Dukes (head) is out for the Nebraska game. O'Brien also said Penn State's running back competition continues this week after Zach Zwinak shined in the Purdue game, while Bill Belton was a nonfactor.
  • Iowa likely will be without RB Mark Weisman (groin) for the second straight game Saturday against Purdue. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz isn't overly optimistic about having Weisman, noting that the sophomore couldn't do anything in Sunday's workout. Weisman has logged countless hours in the training room trying to get back on the field, but as Ferentz noted, "Nature has to take its course."
  • Purdue WR O.J. Ross (toe) likely will play this week against Illinois, coach Danny Hope said, while RB/KR Raheem Mostert (knee) and DT Brandon Taylor (ankle) are doubtful. Senior DT Kawann Short (ankle) expects to play after seeing fewer snaps in the Penn State game.
  • Ohio State coach Urban Meyer says there's a better than 50 percent chance LB Etienne Sabino (leg) returns following the open week at Wisconsin. Sabino, who broke his leg Oct. 6 against Nebraska, recently met with the training staff. "We need him," Meyer said.

SPONSORED HEADLINES