Big Ten: Donsay Hardeman

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After three consecutive losses capped by a disastrous effort against Virginia, Indiana really needed a night like this one.

Quarterback Ben Chappell dissected Illinois' defense and turned in his best performance as a Hoosier as Indiana won 27-14 on homecoming. The Hoosiers improved to 4-3 and revived their bowl hopes heading into a huge game next week against Northwestern (4-3, 1-2).

Chappell really came on strong after a scoreless first quarter, completing 23 of 38 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Indiana's young wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher continue to blossom, as each sophomore hauled in a touchdown pass. Doss has quietly become one of the Big Ten's best wideouts and recorded seven receptions for 130 yards on Saturday night. Fellow wideout Mitchell Evans sparked Indiana's ground game with 84 rush yards on nine carries. The Hoosiers defense gave up a lot of yards (443) but limited points and forced three Illinois fumbles.

The Illini drop to 1-5, continuing one of the most stunning downward spirals I can remember. Just two years ago, we were talking about a Rose Bowl team and a recruiting powerhouse. Now, Illinois has cemented itself as the Big Ten's worst team, and head coach Ron Zook could have a rough time saving his job. Senior quarterback Juice Williams returned to the starting lineup and tossed two touchdowns, but his fumble late in the third quarter changed the game. Illinois appeared headed for the g0-ahead touchdown when Hoosiers defensive end Jammie Kirlew jarred the ball loose at the 6-yard line. Indiana answered with a 44-yard touchdown to Doss.

This was a must-win for Illinois and Zook, and barring a shocking turnaround, the Illini will miss the postseason for the second straight year. They now head to Purdue to face a team coming off its biggest win in years.
  • Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman was taken to a local hospital after sustaining an injury in the first half. A team spokeswoman said Hardeman, who underwent neck surgery in the offseason, was able to move his arms and legs.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 25, 2009
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Sick of the preseason yet? Me, too.

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a known commodity at Ohio State, but who are the Buckeyes' unknowns? Buckeyes starting defensive end Cam Heyward is wearing a walking boot but shouldn't be out too long, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
A neck injury nearly ended Donsay Hardeman's career, but the Illinois safety is back and can't wait to hit somebody, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune. Illini senior quarterback Juice Williams wants to go out a winner, Herb Gould writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
Defensive end Nickcaro Golding is among Purdue's top training camp performers, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
Notes on Wisconsin's quarterback competition, injury updates and the coaching staff lighting up a few players during practice, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus.
Minnesota freshman Ra'Shede Hageman could be a 60-minute man this fall, Marcus Fuller writes in the Pioneer Press.
Michigan needs everyone in the same boat to turn things around this fall, Bob Wojnowski writes in The Detroit News.
Freshman quarterback Edward Wright-Baker has moved up to the second-string offense, Chris Korman writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times.
The Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode breaks down the candidates still alive for starting spots at Michigan State.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

After a long weekend off, it's time to dive back into the Big Ten position rankings. The secondary units are up next.

The top two look absolutely stacked, and the top four or five all will be solid. Quarterback play should be much better in the Big Ten this fall, and the secondaries will need to elevate their play.

1. Iowa -- Three starters return from a unit that helped Iowa lead the Big Ten in takeaways (32) and allow the fewest passing touchdowns (9) in 2008. Junior Amari Spievey is the league's best cover corner, and he'll be joined by safety Tyler Sash, who shared the league lead in interceptions with teammate Pat Angerer last fall. Bradley Fletcher will be missed and depth is a mini concern, but the back four will anchor Iowa's D.

2. Northwestern -- The Wildcats boast the Big Ten's deepest secondary and possibly the league's best. I covered a string of woeful Northwestern secondaries earlier this decade, and it's a major testament to assistants Mike Hankwitz and Jerry Brown that the unit has come this far. All four starters return, led by safety Brad Phillips and corner Sherrick McManis. Northwestern can go at least nine deep and boasts capable reserves like Brian Peters.

3. Ohio State -- It's a bit of a mixed bag for the Buckeyes, who return the Big Ten's top safety tandem but look thin at cornerback. Safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell both will contend for All-Big Ten honors after solid junior seasons. Ohio State loses Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins and hopes Chimdi Chekwa can fill the void. Several young players will get a chance to shine this fall, including Travis Howard and Ohrian Johnson.

4. Michigan State -- All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley departs, but there's a lot to like about the Spartans secondary. Perhaps only Northwestern boasts more depth than Michigan State, which can go at least eight deep in the secondary. Corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver should have big seasons, and safety Trenton Robinson was the story of the spring and will earn major playing time.

5. Purdue -- Pop quiz: Which team led the Big Ten in pass defense last fall? It might surprise some to know Purdue topped the chart (183.2 ypg). A poor run defense contributed to the numbers, but the Boilers still look very strong in the back four entering 2009. Safety Torri Williams received a sixth year of eligibility during the offseason, and he'll join returning starters David Pender, Brandon King and Dwight Mclean.

6. Minnesota -- Minnesota led the Big Ten in takeaways for much of last season, and the secondary was the biggest reason why. Playmaking cornerback Traye Simmons leads a unit that returns three starters and could be deeper than it was in 2008. Senior corner Marcus Sherels and junior safety Kyle Theret have loads of experience, and Simmons is thrilled about the arrival of Wisconsin transfer Kim Royston at safety.

7. Wisconsin -- Easily the toughest unit to rank. The Badgers have the playmakers to be a top 4 secondary this fall. Cornerback Niles Brinkley recorded four interceptions last season, backup safety Shane Carter had a league-leading seven picks in 2007 and safety Jay Valai might be the Big Ten's hardest hitter. But consistency and depth are major concerns for Wisconsin. A lot depends on how cornerback Aaron Henry returns from knee problems.

8. Michigan -- Junior cornerback Donovan Warren could have a huge year or a really quiet one. See, Warren is easily the team's most experienced defensive back, and for that reason, opponents might try to avoid him and attack the Wolverines' unproven players. Michigan boasts a lot of young talent in the secondary -- corner Boubacar Cissoko, safety Troy Woolfolk, safety Vladimir Emilien -- and those players need to grow up fast.

9. Penn State -- This is easily the weakest unit on a team with Big Ten title aspirations. Penn State loses all four starters from a secondary that got exposed late in a loss to Iowa and early in a Rose Bowl beating against USC. The Lions need cornerback A.J. Wallace to straighten out his academic situation before Sept. 5. Safety Drew Astorino is ready to lead, but Penn State must identify capable pieces around him.

10. Illinois -- As expected, Vontae Davis bolted to the NFL a year early, leaving Illinois without a lock-down cornerback. The safeties also struggled at times last year, which creates plenty of questions heading into the fall. Illinois would certainly benefit from having a healthy Donsay Hardeman at safety, while cornerback Tavon Wilson showed some promising signs during spring ball.

11. Indiana -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Indiana finished much higher in my end-of-year rankings, but there are too many uncertainties entering camp. How will safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk respond from serious knee injuries? Has Ray Fisher successfully transitioned from wide receiver to cornerback? Will Florida transfer Jerimy Finch finally emerge as an impact player? The answers could determine whether Indiana survives on defense this fall.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 15, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Who says June is a dead zone? A ton of links for you today.

  • Some interesting comments from Illinois head coach Ron Zook, who blames himself for easing off in preseason practice last year and doesn't expect defensive lineman Jerry Brown to be back, Loren Tate writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. Also, safety Donsay Hardeman (neck surgery) has been cleared medically. 
"It doesn't look good for Jerry Brown," Zook said. "There's a pretty good chance he won't be here. He is the only one with serious academic problems. As for Josh Brent, I'll comment later. I hope he can come back, but I have to sit down with [athletic director Ron] Guenther when his situation is more clarified."

The percentage payout for the Motor City Bowl drops from 5% of a coach's salary to 2%. The Insight Bowl drops from 5% to 3%. The Champs Bowl drops from 10% to 5%. Here are the bonus percentages for Wisconsin's other bowl possibilities: Capital One and Outback, 10%; Rose, Orange, Sugar or Fiesta Bowl, 15%; national championship game appearance, 25%; national championship, 30%.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

We've already looked at players to watch and spring surprises. Now it's time to look at the guys who didn't do much during spring practice but will play vital roles for Big Ten teams this season.

Who needs to step up for each team?

Donsay Hardeman, S, Illinois -- Neck surgery sounds pretty scary, but Hardeman likely will return to the field this fall after undergoing the procedure during the offseason. He can provide experience at the all-important safety spot after recording 44 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery last fall.

Deonte Mack, DT, Indiana -- Any number of players could fit in this spot for the injury-plagued Hoosiers, but Mack, who missed spring ball following hip surgery, must provide leadership at an extremely thin position. Pass-rushers Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew will only be effective if opponents have to worry about the interior line.

Tony Moeaki, TE, Iowa -- It's hard not to pull for Moeaki, a heralded prospect who has endured injury after injury with the Hawkeyes and was on crutches during spring ball. He's expected to return this summer and possibly fill a key role after Iowa lost first-team All-Big Ten tight end Brandon Myers.

Jonas Mouton, LB, Michigan -- Michigan's improvement on defense must start with the linebackers, and Mouton returns to the mix after shoulder surgery kept him off the field this spring. Mouton finished second on the team in tackles last fall (76) and could form a solid linebacker tandem with Obi Ezeh.

Jeremy Ware, CB, Michigan State -- One of several contributors in the Spartans' secondary to miss spring ball with injuries, Ware will be a key name to monitor during the summer. He emerged nicely last season, recording an interception and six pass breakups.

Eric Decker, WR, Minnesota -- Decker wasn't hurt this spring, but he spent the time playing center field for the Gophers' baseball team. There's little doubt he's one of the nation's best receivers, but he must absorb a new offensive system installed this spring and re-establish rhythm with quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray.

Corey Wootton, DE, Northwestern -- How Wootton recovers from ACL surgery could shape Northwestern's defense this fall. The All-Big Ten selection missed spring ball but is ahead of schedule on his recovery and expects to practice this summer. With questions on offense, the Wildcats need Wootton to return to top form.

Dane Sanzenbacher ,WR, Ohio State -- A projected starter in the slot, Sanzenbacher missed the latter part of spring practice with a high ankle sprain. He might be Terrelle Pryor's most dependable target heading into the fall, so a strong summer will be vital for the junior.

A.J. Wallace, CB, Penn State -- The secondary remains the biggest question mark for Penn State, and Wallace can ease some of head coach Joe Paterno's concerns with a strong preseason camp performance. Hamstring problems once again slowed Wallace this spring, but the Lions sorely need his speed in pass coverage.

Jaycen Taylor, RB, Purdue -- Taylor has by far the most experience of any Boilermakers running back, so his return this summer from a torn ACL looms large. Ralph Bolden put himself in the mix for the starting job with a stellar spring, but Taylor gives new head coach Danny Hope with a proven ball-carrying option.

Louis Nzegwu, DE, Wisconsin -- Unlike a year ago, the Badgers avoided many major injuries this spring, but they'll certainly be watching Nzegwu during the coming months. The immensely gifted sophomore improved his body and impressed the coaches early on during spring ball until sustaining a torn MCL on March 31.

Illinois spring wrap

May, 6, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois Fighting Illini
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 6; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Chris Duvalt, WR Jeff Cumberland, LB Martez Wilson, DT Cory Liuget, K Matt Eller

Key losses

LT Xavier Fulton, C Ryan McDonald, LB Brit Miller, DE Will Davis, DE Derek Walker, CB Vontae Davis, LB Rodney Pittman

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juice Williams* (719 yds)
Passing: Juice Williams* (3,173 yds)
Arrelious Benn* (1,055 yds)
Brit Miller (132)
Brit Miller and Derek Walker (6)
nterceptions: Vontae Davis (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Missouri (at St. Louis)
Sept. 12 Illinois State
Sept. 19 BYE
Sept. 26 at Ohio State
Oct. 3 Penn State
Oct. 10 Michigan State
Oct. 17 at Indiana
Oct. 24 at Purdue
Oct. 31 Michigan
Nov. 7 at Minnesota
Nov. 14 Northwestern
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 27 at Cincinnati
Dec. 5 Fresno State

Spring answers

1. Running men -- Illinois can feel optimistic about its ground game after the development of sophomore running backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring. Both players markedly improved their physical conditioning and combined for 93 rush yards on 17 carries in the spring game. They should take the running load off of Juice Williams this season.

2. Man in the middle -- Martez Wilson moved to middle linebacker and could be on the brink of reaching the lofty expectations set for him when he arrived from Chicago's Simeon High School. Wilson adjusted well to the defense's premier position after an up-and-down sophomore season. He also has fully recovered after being stabbed outside a bar in December.

3. Receiver rotation -- The Illini could have the Big Ten's best receiving corps next fall -- by far. Everyone knows about first-team All-Big Ten performer Arrelious Benn, but Illinois boasts depth with Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt and others. The team also adds a big piece in Florida transfer Jarred Fayson, who was practicing with the first-team offense this spring before sustaining a foot injury.

Fall questions

1. Line limbo -- Illinois loses three starters from the defensive line and needs to identify a capable pass-rusher after losing its top four sacks leaders from 2008. The tackle spot should be solid with Corey Liuget, Josh Brent and Sirod Williams, who returns from a torn ACL, but there is some doubt at defensive end. Jerry Brown dominated in the spring game, but he must clear some academic hurdles before the fall.

2. Run stoppers -- The Illini really struggled against the run last season and lose top tackler Brit Miller, an All-Big Ten linebacker. They need more help from the back seven, particularly Wilson and safety Donsay Hardeman, who sat out spring drills because of a neck injury.

3. Cornerback -- NFL first-round draft pick Vontae Davis leaves a hole at cornerback, and Illinois will be looking for a top cover man in preseason camp. Tavon Wilson could very well step into Davis' spot, and the sophomore had a nice spring. Davis was not only a playmaker against the ball but a capable tackler, finishing second on the team with 78 stops last year.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Dan Herron grew up watching Jerome Bettis flatten defenders and tried to emulate the NFL star known as "The Bus."

The problem? Herron was built like a Miata.

  Andy Lyons/Getty Images
  Buckeyes' running back Dan Herron is ready to pick up where Beanie Wells left off.
Despite a smallish frame, Herron from an early age found ways to play bigger.

"When I was in little league football, I used to always run everybody over," Herron said.

It earned him the nickname "Boom," as in the sound heard when he made contact with opposing defenders. All these years later, when the 5-foot-10 Herron gets involved in a collison, he's usually not the one getting the worst of it.

Still, the Ohio State sophomore gets underestimated.

"They may not know my strength," Herron said. "They may look at my size and think, 'Hey, he's just a little guy. He's not going to bring that much power.' But when I hit 'em, it's like, 'Oh.'"

Herron's size might still leave Buckeye Nation a bit uneasy as the team tries to replace a running back who looked big and played bigger.

Chris "Beanie" Wells checked in at 237 pounds and punished Big Ten defenders with a bruising running style. Wells could stiff-arm safeties like Wisconsin's Shane Carter and hurdle others like Illinois' Donsay Hardeman, producing a size/speed/strength combination rarely seen among college backs.

No one expects another Wells to emerge in Columbus, but the hope is Herron, speedy junior Brandon Saine or one of two incoming freshmen (Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde) can emerge as a featured back. Herron boasts the most experience, having started three games for the injured Wells last fall.

He eventually gave way to Wells but finished with 439 rush yards on 89 carries (4.9 average). And Herron quietly finished the season strong, recording touchdowns in each of his final four games (two against Michigan on Nov. 22). He's listed as the top back on Ohio State's spring depth chart.

"I'm approaching it like I have to be the leader of the group," he said. "I got a lot of experience last year, and a lot of people are looking at me to do a lot for this team this year. The coaches are going to put who they want to put on the field, but to be the starter, you need to put it in your head that, 'Hey, this is my job,' and show the coaches that I can do it."

Despite his nickname and uncompromising running style, Herron knows he has to be smart with his body.

Every running back has a shelf life for number of hits he can take. And though Herron has gotten by as a smaller player, he knew he needed to add weight during the offseason.

After playing between 195-198 pounds last fall, Herron shot up to 212 pounds before trimming down to 205.

"I want to stay around that weight," he said. "I still have my quickness and my speed."

Not to mention a little more bulk for the occasional boom.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 8, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

To Champaign wishes and caviar dreams. 

  • If you're hoping for major revelations in Michigan's spring game, think again, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.  
"I don't think there's a whole lot to hide, but any new things you're going to do, new packages you don't want your first few opponents to see, you're not going to do it in the spring game," Rodriguez said. "Plus, you don't want your kids thinking too much like they're preparing for a real game. So it will be more like a scrimmage situation."
  • Ohio State defensive end Thaddeus Gibson is taking on a seek-and-destroy mission this year, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Michigan transfer Justin Boren has made an impression already on the Buckeyes' offensive line, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.  
  • Iowa's Kirk Ferentz tops Michigan's Rodriguez for best Big Ten head coach, according to's Tom Dienhart. Jim Tressel at No. 4? Joe Paterno at No. 5? Really?
  • Team chemistry clearly was a problem for Wisconsin last year, but the Badgers think they have things ironed out, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. 
  • Minnesota's revamped offensive line has a long way to go, and the Gophers might have taken a page out of Indiana's playbook with quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood writes in his blog. 
  • Former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Haslett stopped by Illinois' practice Tuesday, and safety Donsay Hardeman (neck) was in uniform but held out of contact, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. 
  • The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse couldn't kick his own son off his football team, a decision Iowa's Ferentz now faces after his son's arrest Monday. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois did a lot of learning last fall, even if it didn't do a lot of winning.

"I learned an awful lot last year," head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday morning. "Our coaches learned an awful lot last year. More importantly, our players learned an awful lot last year."

Zook hopes the learning experience pays off for the Fighting Illini in spring practice, which opens this afternoon in Champaign. The team comes off an extremely disappointing 5-7 season, one that began with a top-20 ranking and tons of national buzz following a run to the Rose Bowl.

Illinois returns the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams), its most NFL-ready wide receiver (Arrelious Benn) and talented players at other spots, but Zook doesn't take much for granted after last season, where the team won consecutive games only once. Team chemistry wasn't a strong suit for Illinois in 2008, but Zook already has seen major progress in that department.

"This is a team," he said. "These guys are all excited about the University of Illinois football program. ... We all learned an awful lot last year. We got away from what's important. We started worrying about winning instead of letting the wins and losses take care of themselves.

"They're excited about being type of team they know they can be."

Here are some other nuggets from Zook's pre-spring news conference.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Juice Williams enters 2009 as one of the Big Ten's most recognizable players, a proven quarterback in a league starved for them.

  Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI
  Juice Williams was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall.

Williams has experienced just about everything at Illinois: A 10-loss season as a raw, yet talented freshman, a thrilling Rose Bowl run as a sophomore and a very disappointing campaign as a junior last fall. Illinois led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense but struggled to a 5-7 finish. Williams, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, wants to end his college career on a good note, and perhaps for the first time he has truly taken ownership of the team.

Earlier this week, Williams discussed his up-and-down 2008 season, his outlook for the future and his legacy at Illinois.

What's been the mood for you and the guys during offseason workouts after things didn't go the way you wanted them to last fall?

Juice Williams: The attitude of this year's team is completely different from what we had last year at this time. Obviously, we didn't end up the way we should have or what we thought we should have. But that's affected this team in such a positive way. [The struggles] may be one of the best things to happen to this team.

Guys now are realizing that if we don't come to play every week, we're not going to be successful. And in order to come out there and play like that, we have to train and prepare our bodies to play 12 games to the maximum potential. Guys have really taken on that role, and I think we'll be ready by the time the season comes around.

Do you think guys were taking things for granted a little bit last year, especially coming off a Rose Bowl run?

JW: I think it had some type of affect on it. Guys kind of slacked off a little bit. We didn't really have the same intensity in the offseason as we should have. But like I said, I think it was probably the best thing that happened to us, not going to a bowl game. Us bringing back so many seniors and so much experience for this year, it's going to really prepare this team in the right direction.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

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

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

40-yard dash

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

Bench press

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

Vertical jump

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

3-cone drill

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

20-yard shuttle

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

60-yard shuttle

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

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

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

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman and cornerback Miami Thomas will miss spring practice while recovering from surgeries, head coach Ron Zook said Tuesday at his post-mortem news conference.

Hardeman, who worked his way into a starting role, will undergo surgery Friday to repair a disc in his neck. The junior first experienced problems with the disc Nov. 1 against Iowa, played two more games and then sat out last Saturday's regular-season finale against Northwestern.

Hardeman tied for sixth on the team in tackles (44) and recorded an interception and a forced fumble.

Cornerback Miami Thomas, who redshirted the season because of a knee injury, will have shoulder surgery in the coming weeks.

Zook also reiterated his support for junior quarterback Juice Williams. Though Williams led Big Ten starters with 16 interceptions this fall, Zook said eight were not his fault. Williams' primary backup, Eddie McGee, will continue to see some action at wide receiver in 2009.

"We underachieved," Zook said of a disappointing 5-7 season. "That may be the worst thing you can say to a coach. Maybe we overachieved last year. We got a few breaks last year that we didn't get this year. But there's no question in my mind we'll get there."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It looks like my All-Big Ten predictions got under your skin a bit. I'll have an updated list sometime after the final week of games. Other than that, a lot of bowl questions this week.

Fire away.

Kevin from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Assuming Iowa beats Minnesota in their season finale and Michigan State loses to Penn State, Iowa will be 8-4 and Michigan State will be 9-3. Iowa would already be a lock for the Outback Bowl over Northwestern considering the Wildcats can't even fill up their own stadium, but what is the likelihood that Iowa goes to the Capital One Bowl over Michigan State since Hawkeye fans travel so well and because of their dramatic upset over LSU in that bowl game in 2005?

Adam Rittenberg: Let's not forget about the BCS situation. Two Big Ten teams (Penn State and Ohio State) would need to earn BCS bowl berths for this situation to happen. If it did, I think Michigan State gets the nod over Iowa for the Capital One Bowl. Michigan State travels well and hasn't been to a New Year's Day bowl since 2000. The Spartans also have a better record and won the head-to-head matchup. The teams are about even in terms of attractiveness, but I think Michigan State goes to Capital One and Iowa to Outback. Though Northwestern struggles to pack Ryan Field, the Wildcats do travel well for bowl games with a national alumni base. I've heard Outback is interested in Northwestern as well, but Iowa would get the nod.

Rob from York, Pa., writes: Adam, Please explain why PSU is the only 1-loss team ranked behind Utah? Of similar opponents, PSU has won by a large margin, Utah has won by a few points. Then comparing PSU to USC, Florida, Oklahoma....none of them have been any more impressive with their schedules. I think the BCS is ridiculous. It's no more obvious than Georgia being ranked #7 by the computers. They've lost their only two quality games. I'm sick and tired of hearing about who's better than who. The only solution is to settle it on the field, with a PLAYOFF!!!

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Rob, and put the Nittany Lions ahead of Utah in my latest power rankings. Penn State is the better team, though the Utes deserve a ton of credit for surviving a very tough Mountain West Conference this season. Georgia is another team that doesn't deserve to be near the top 10. Ohio State had one disaster without its best player (Chris Wells), Georgia had two disasters. I would disagree with you regarding Florida's and Oklahoma's schedules. Those teams played tougher slates than the Lions.

David from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Do you remember any player that simply came out of nowhere and had a season like Iowa's Shonn Greene? Iowa's Brad Banks in 2002 comes to mind, but I could not think of many others.

Adam Rittenberg: David, I threw this out there to some of our other bloggers and writers and no one could remember a case quite like Shonn Greene's. Please feel free to e-mail me if you think of someone. He's truly an amazing story. To go from hauling furniture and working out on his own last fall to being the nation's most dominant running back is remarkable. At least Banks played in junior college and had a season under his belt before breaking out in 2002.

(Read full post)

A look back at the Week 12 picks

November, 18, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Our review session is a day later than normal, thanks to the blog getting backed up with other items. After a miserable first two weeks in November, I broke through big time with a perfect 5-0 week that included some in-the-ballpark score predictions. No major surprises translated into a nice rebound, though things will get tougher for rivalry Saturday.

Let's look back at the picks.


  • My pick: Penn State 48, Indiana 7
  • Game result: Penn State 34, Indiana 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Nittany Lions' slow start combined with some plucky play from Indiana prevented this one from turning real ugly. Penn State senior wide receiver Derrick Williams had a big game (161 all-purpose yards), though junior quarterback Daryll Clark struggled with three turnovers. The Lions did return to their big-play roots, though, thanks to Williams.


  • My pick: Ohio State 28, Illinois 21
  • Game result: Ohio State 30, Illinois 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: I forecasted that Chris "Beanie" Wells and Malcolm Jenkins would have big games for the Buckeyes and both players came through. Wells racked up 143 rushing yards, a touchdown and an insane leap over Illinois safety Donsay Hardeman. Jenkins blocked a punt for a safety that gave Ohio State a 9-7 lead, one it never relinquished. Illinois made some plays, but Ohio State won its 15th straight Big Ten road game.


  • My pick: Iowa 23, Purdue 17
  • Game result: Iowa 22, Purdue 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: If only Hawkeyes kicker Trent Mossbrucker had made one of two extra-point attempts, I would have been right on target. Oh, well. Some Iowa fans ripped me for picking a close game, but Purdue came to play, as it has for most of the season. Iowa running back Shonn Greene proved to be too much for the Boilers (211, 2 TDs), solidifying himself as the nation's best running back.


  • My pick: Northwestern 27, Michigan 24
  • Game result: Northwestern 21, Michigan 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: I should have factored the weather a bit more in my score prediction, but I can live with the final result. Northwestern's defense totally shut down Michigan in the second half, and senior quarterback C.J. Bacher survived some early shakiness to toss two touchdown passes. The most crucial turnover came late -- a fourth-quarter interception by Michigan's Steven Threet -- and the Wolverines suffered their school-record eighth loss.


  • My pick: Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 14
  • Game result: Wisconsin 35, Minnesota 32
  • 20-20 result: The Gophers performed much better than expected without star wide receiver Eric Decker, but a miserable fourth quarter led to their third straight loss. Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill had a big game (117 rush yards, 2 TDs), but it was the passing game behind Dustin Sherer and Isaac Anderson that spurred the Badgers offense.

Bye: Michigan State (9-2, 6-1 Big Ten)

Season record: 66-16 (80.5 percent)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Update your depth charts, people.


Backup quarterback Mike Kafka is expected to be fine for Saturday's regular-season finale against Illinois after sustaining a concussion in the win at Michigan.

The news isn't so good for defensive tackle Corbin Bryant, who will miss the remainder of the season with a knee injury that will require surgery. Junior Adam Hahn, a two-year starter at defensive tackle, will get the start against the Illini.


Junior wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small might be able to play Saturday against Michigan (ABC, noon ET), head coach Jim Tressel said today. Small has been suspended for the last two games for repeated violations of team rules. After the suspension, Small's father told several media outlets that Ray would have a chance to return for the Michigan game.

Tressel expects running back Chris "Beanie" Wells to be fine for the game after the star junior tweaked his hamstring on a highlight-reel leap over Illinois' Donsay Hardeman in Saturday's win. Nickel back Jermale Hines (leg) is the only Buckeyes player to miss the game because of injury.


Sophomore wide receiver Kyle Jefferson likely will miss Saturday's game against Cal-Poly after sustaining a concussion in the win against Minnesota. This comes as no surprise, as Jefferson was briefly knocked unconscious and taken from the field in an ambulance.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema expects starting right tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel (leg), starting safety Jay Valai (shin) and backup running back Zach Brown (ribs) all to be available for Cal-Poly.