Big Ten: Dorien Bryant
No. 13: Keith Smith, WR, Purdue, Sr., 6-2, 226
2009 numbers: Led the Big Ten and ranked 10th nationally in receptions per game (7.58); led the Big Ten and ranked 13th nationally in receiving yards per game (91.7 ypg); eclipsed 100 yards receiving in six games, including a stretch of four straight that tied the team record.
Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.
Making the case for Smith: Purdue no longer makes bowl games every year like it used to, but the Boilermakers continue to churn out elite Big Ten receivers. Smith followed the likes of Taylor Stubblefield, Dorien Bryant and Greg Orton and led the Big Ten in both receptions and receiving yards in 2009. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and once again will be the team's No. 1 target in 2010. A former safety and quarterback, Smith has settled in nicely at receiver and hit his stride after losing 20 pounds before the 2009 season. He missed spring practice following wrist surgery but will be back for preseason camp and will serve as a co-captain this fall. Purdue's offense could be even more dangerous with Robert Marve calling signals this fall, and Smith has the potential to match or exceed his numbers from 2009.
- No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
- No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
- No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
- No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
- No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
- No. 20: Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
- No. 19: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
- No. 18: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
- No. 17: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey
- No. 16: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
- No. 15: Wisconsin G/C John Moffitt
- No. 14: Indiana WR Tandon Doss
Joey Elliott, QB: Elliott made the most of his only season as the Boilers' starter, putting up All-Big Ten caliber numbers on the field and displaying tremendous leadership off of it. He ranked second in the Big Ten in both passing yards (3,026) and touchdown passes (22), and he helped Purdue to a 4-4 record in league play after a hard-luck start.
Mike Neal, DT: The Big Ten had so many outstanding defensive linemen in 2009 that Neal seemed to get lost in the shuffle, but his contributions will be missed this fall. Boasting brute strength and strong run-stuffing skills, Neal ranked second on the team in sacks (5.5) and third in tackles for loss (11.5). The Green Bay Packers thought enough of Neal to select him in the second round of April's draft.
Keith Smith, WR: Smith became the latest Purdue wideout to top the Big Ten's receiving charts, leading the league with 1,100 receiving yards and tying for the league lead with 91 receptions. He had seven games of seven or more receptions and six 100-yard receiving performances. Smith aims for back-to-back All-Big Ten honors this season as Purdue's undisputed No. 1 wideout.
Ryan Kerrigan, DE: Other Big Ten defensive ends drew more national acclaim, but Kerrigan led the league and finished third nationally in sacks with 13. His performance in a win against Ohio State (3 sacks, 4 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles) will go down as one of the best in Purdue history, as he earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Kerrigan certainly will be on opponents' radar this fall.
Robert Marve, QB: The Miami transfer made a strong impression this spring and appears to have the inside track to the starting job in 2010. Marve's ability has never been in question, but his coaches and teammates have seen him mature in his time away from the spotlight. If Marve continues his evolution this summer and into the fall, Purdue could be very dangerous on offense.
O.J. Ross, WR: Purdue isn't exactly strapped for wide receivers, but Ross is a guy who could see the field early in his career. He's undersized at 5-10 and 175 pounds but brings tremendous speed and quickness to the field. Ross fits the mold of former Purdue standouts Dorien Bryant and Vinny Sutherland, receivers overcame their lack of size to put up monster numbers.
More revolving door ...
The message Purdue's coaches had for Keith Smith before the season is the type every player wants to hear.
|Andrew Weber/US Presswire|
|Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Keith Smith is benefiting from a slimmer figure.|
Purdue had lost its top two wide receivers from 2008, Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who ranked second and third in the Big Ten in receptions, combining for 136 catches, 1,596 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The Boilers also lost running back Kory Sheets, a very good pass receiver, as well as wideouts Brandon Whittington and Joe Whitest.
When it came to proven players at the wide receiver position, the discussion started and ended with Smith.
"They didn’t really give the specifics with it," Smith recalled. "They just told me they were going to work me. They were going to use me as a workhorse."
Purdue has had a workhorse receiver ever since Joe Tiller brought the spread offense to West Lafayette in 1997. In fact, Boilermakers wideout has recorded at least 63 receptions in each of the last 12 seasons. First, it was Brian Alford. Then Isaac Jones. Then Chris Daniels. Then Vinny Sutherland. Then Taylor Stubblefield and John Standeford. Then Dorien Bryant. Then Orton and Tardy.
Now it's Smith's turn, and he has made the most of it. He leads the Big Ten in both receptions (59) and receiving yards (771) for a confident Purdue team that has won back-to-back games after a string of heartbreaking losses.
Smith and the Boilers aim for three straight Saturday against Wisconsin (ESPN2, noon ET).
"I’m not surprised to see him having the type of year that he’s having," Purdue first-year head coach Danny Hope said. "He saw the opportunity and really seized that. He’s an exceptional worker, and he’s very talented. He knew he was going to be the go-to guy at the beginning of the season and cashed in."
Smith was thrilled to be labeled a workhorse wideout before the season, but he also knew what it meant. He had dislocated his shoulder in a Week 2 matchup last year against Oregon and couldn't do much conditioning during practice, so he ballooned to more than 240 pounds.
With the shoulder fully healed, Smith shed about 20 pounds during the offseason and now checks in at a solid 226.
"It’s been great," Smith said. "I've been able to beat a lot of teams deep and get behind their coverages. I feel like I have a quicker step now, so it’s helped me tremendously on the field, to be able to widen my array of routes."
Hope made speed and quickness major priorities for the Boilers, who had players slim down at every position. Smith's weight loss has translated into obvious gains on Saturdays.
"It made him a faster player," Hope said. "It made him a better player in space. It allows him to stay in the game and get most of the reps. He gets stronger as the game goes on. That’s not always true at the receiver position, especially a big receiver.
"He’s scaled down significantly size wise and it’s really impacted the quality of his play."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Only one Big Ten team (Illinois) ranked in the top 25 nationally in pass offense, so this was anything but an explosive year for the league's wide receivers and tight ends. Subpar quarterback play had a role, as did injuries (Travis Beckum). Here's a look at the best of an average bunch, as well as my preseason rankings for wide receivers/tight ends.
|Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire|
|Eric Decker led the Big Ten in receptions in 2008.|
1. Eric Decker, Minnesota -- The junior turned in an excellent season that would have looked even more impressive if not for an ankle injury Nov. 1 against Northwestern. Decker, who will play slot receiver in the NFL next season or in 2009, led the Big Ten and ranked 16th nationally in receptions. His blocking ability makes him even more attractive to pro teams.
2. Arrelious Benn, Illinois -- Benn came on strong in Big Ten play, racking up 45 receptions for 794 yards and three touchdowns in eight league games. A likely candidate to turn pro after the 2009 season, Benn averaged 17.6 yards per catch in conference games and solidified himself as Juice Williams' top option.
3. Deon Butler, Penn State -- The former walk-on finished his college career with a flourish, leading Penn State in receptions (43), receiving yards (713) and touchdowns (7). Butler became Penn State's all-time receptions leader (175) and ranks second in career receiving yards (2,674) and third in touchdown receptions (22).
4. Derrick Williams, Penn State -- Williams' value went far beyond what he did as a wide receiver. Though he contributed to Penn State's passing attack with 40 receptions and 451 yards, his impact on returns, as a ball carrier and as a part-time quarterback in the "Wild Lion" offense was even greater. The former nation's No. 1 recruit played his best football in the twilight of his career.
5. Desmond Tardy, Purdue -- It wasn't a banner year for the Purdue offense, but Tardy did his part, particularly in Big Ten play. The senior finished third in receiving yards in league games (510). He eclipsed 100 receiving yards in four games, including each of the final two.
6. Greg Orton, Purdue -- Orton helped fill the void left by Dorien Bryant with a team-high 69 catches, which ranked second in the Big Ten behind Decker. He was reliable if not overly flashy and settled into the possession-receiver role in the Boilermakers' offense.7. Blair White, Michigan State -- Wide receiver was a major concern for Michigan State entering the season, and White came out of nowhere to become Brian Hoyer's top option in Big Ten play. Only Benn had more receiving yards in Big Ten play than White (568), who averaged a blistering 17.1 yards per reception.
8. Eric Peterman, Northwestern -- Peterman led Northwestern in receiving for the second consecutive season and recorded all five of his touchdown receptions in Big Ten play. He made big plays at key points and seemed to finish the season playing his best football.
9. Garrett Graham, Wisconsin -- Beckum's injury really hurt the Wisconsin passing game, but Graham did a nice job of stepping up. He was the Badgers' only reliable option and led Big Ten tight ends with 37 receptions for 478 yards and five touchdowns.
T-10 Brandon Myers, Iowa -- The Hawkeyes had the nation's best running back (Shonn Greene) and didn't need to pass much, but Myers made his mark with 30 receptions and four touchdowns. The senior tight end earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches and helped Iowa reach a New Year's Day bowl.
T-10. Brian Robiskie, Ohio State -- He certainly had higher expectations for his senior year and probably thought Todd Boeckman, not Terrelle Pryor, would be throwing him the ball. But under the circumstances, Robiskie performed adequately and grabbed a league-high eight touchdown receptions.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten bowl season is nearly here, but with a few days to go, it's time to begin the year-end position rankings. These won't be quite as in-depth as the preseason rankings, but I'll try to get to each position before the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 5.
The rankings begin with arguably the Big Ten's weakest position, quarterback. While signal callers from the Big 12 and SEC dominated the national spotlight, the Big Ten struggled under center, and several veteran quarterbacks backslid. There were some bright spots, especially at Penn State, but I can't remember a season where the Big Ten was so poor at the game's most critical position.
In case you forgot, here were my preseason rankings (what was I thinking?!?!). Note: I did not include first-year starters in this rundown.
|AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster|
|Daryll Clark led Penn State to an 11-1 record.|
And now for the year-end top 10.
1. Daryll Clark, Penn State -- Clark exceeded expectations in his first season as the starter, mastering Penn State's Spread HD system and helping the Nittany Lions to an 11-1 record and a Rose Bowl berth. He ranked second in the league in pass efficiency and threw 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 285 pass attempts.
2. Adam Weber, Minnesota -- His numbers weren't spectacular, but the Gophers sophomore did an excellent job of leading the offense and limiting mistakes. Minnesota's offensive line had major problems, and without a viable run game, Weber once again shouldered much of the load. He showed tremendous toughness by returning to the field just six days after knee surgery and led Big Ten starters in completion percentage (62.8).
3. Juice Williams, Illinois -- This was your Big Ten offensive MVP through the first half of the season. Williams set total offense records at the Edward Jones Dome, Michigan Stadium and Memorial Stadium. He led the Big Ten in passing and ranked third in quarterback rating. If not for a poor finish -- nine interceptions in the final five games -- Williams would have been higher on the list.
4. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State -- There were undoubtedly some growing pains, but under the circumstances, Pryor exceeded expectations and fueled optimism for Ohio State's future. Stepping into the starting job just four weeks into his college career, Pryor went 8-1 at the helm and helped the Buckeyes to a Big Ten co-championship. He still holds the ball too long at times and must become more consistent as a passer, but those things will come.
5. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa -- Stanzi's emergence down the stretch was the primary reason why Iowa finished so strong and reached a New Year's Day bowl. Think about it. Shonn Greene was terrific all season, and so was the defense. But the quarterback position looked shaky until Stanzi emerged in October. He avoided an interception in four of Iowa's final six games and threw 13 touchdown strikes.
6. Brian Hoyer, Michigan State -- Hoyer overcame his struggles in close games and helped Michigan State to a 9-3 record and a third-place finish in the Big Ten. He came up huge against Michigan and led the game-winning drive against Wisconsin. Still, his unsightly stats can't be totally overlooked. I just can't get too excited about a guy who completed 50.8 percent of his passes and had only one more touchdown (9) than interception (8).
7. C.J. Bacher, Northwestern -- Bacher deserves credit for playing some of his best football in Northwestern's final two games, but the senior couldn't eliminate the bad habits that dogged him throughout a career that featured plenty of passing yards. He threw as many interceptions (14) as touchdown passes for the second consecutive season and lacked the huge passing performances he had in 2007.
8. Curtis Painter, Purdue -- It wasn't the end Painter had envisioned to a record-setting career at Purdue. He finished second in the league in passing but really missed Dustin Keller and Dorien Bryant. Painter struggled to get the Boilermakers into the end zone and battled some injury problems late in the season. His incredible career numbers should not go unnoticed, but he never seemed to get over the hump against the Big Ten's elite.
9. Dustin Sherer, Wisconsin -- Sherer might have been higher on the list had he played a full season. The junior seemed to give Wisconsin a lift after replacing Allan Evridge as the starter on Oct. 18 at Iowa. Sherer went 4-2 as the starter and helped Wisconsin to wins in its final three games. His numbers weren't stellar, but he avoided the critical mistakes that crippled Wisconsin earlier in the year.
10. Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis, Indiana -- These two shared duties this season, so they'll share a spot as well. Chappell led Indiana to its only Big Ten win and showed some good leadership at times. Lewis had a rough season, throwing more interceptions (8) than touchdown passes (6) and sustaining an ankle injury. Though Indiana's defense deserves most of the blame for a 3-9 season, the quarterback play wasn't good.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Several of you have some Big Ten All-Freshman team selections. Good stuff.
Matt from Chicago writes: Adam...I agree with your theory that the Big Ten might have been 'better off' only having one entry into the BCS. However, couldn't you make that case any number of the past few years that the Big Ten has seen their teams "slotted up" one or two bowls because of the BCS? It's of tremendous financial benefit for a conference to get two teams into the BCS, something the Big Ten has done now for the past 3 or 4 years. Why does no one discuss that fact when deriding the Big Ten bowl record?
Adam Rittenberg: That's a good point, Matt. This will be the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten will send its best team (Penn State) to the Rose Bowl. Illinois certainly didn't perform like a BCS-worthy team last year. The Big Ten actually has had two BCS entries for four consecutive years. Despite a poor national reputation right now, the Big Ten's value in the marketplace remains high. The money is coming in. Now the wins need to start piling up.
Jeff from Frederick, Md., writes: Hey Adam: Phil Steele just released his pics for the bowls season. He did pick PSU, OSU, and Iowa. He isnt't rating these picks very high on his confidence rankings, but he is the first person I've seen pick OSU and PSU!
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the head's up, Jeff (I can't find a link right now but will post one when it becomes available). That's a pretty good sign for Big Ten fans, as Phil Steele is one of the top analysts in college football. I've seen no one pick Ohio State in the Fiesta, and I'm surprised there aren't a few more people picking Penn State, despite USC's recent dominance of Big Ten teams.
John from Indianapolis writes: Adam, Why does it seem like such a struggle for Purdue to get a quality speed receiver and a top flight quarterback? As much as they have thrown the ball over the years one would think this would be an ideal place to go. I certainly realize that top tier guys may want Florida, Oklahoma, and a few other places but seriously....
Adam Rittenberg: Not sure I agree with you, John. Though Purdue hasn't produced an All-Big Ten wideout since 2006 (Dorien Bryant), the team has had its share of capable quarterbacks and pass catchers. Drew Brees and Kyle Orton come to mind at quarterback, and you could add Curtis Painter in there until this season. As for wide receivers, Bryant had an excellent career and Purdue also had John Standeford, Taylor Stubblefield and Vinny Sutherland. In terms of getting a true "speed receiver," I would anticipate Danny Hope bringing several guys who fit this mold. He told me he doesn't want to continue with bigger receivers if he can get smaller, faster guys in the offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's always fun at this time of year to look back at preseason thoughts and predictions. In August, I outlined 25 items I wanted to see during the Big Ten season. Several of them came true, others didn't and some materialized in different ways.
Here's a look back at the list to see what worked out and what didn't.
|AP Photo/Carlos Osorio|
|Terrelle Pryor earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.|
1. Terrelle Pryor lead an offensive drive -- He might be a Tim Tebow-like weapon near the goal line, but I'm more interested in how the Ohio State freshman quarterback handles a real offensive series. Pryor's athleticism is undeniable, but it will be important to monitor his passing accuracy and the way he leads older teammates.
The verdict: We had plenty of opportunities to see Pryor lead drives after he was named Ohio State's starter in Week 4. Despite a few growing pains, Pryor held his own and displayed remarkable athleticism in winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He also came up big in the clutch to lead Ohio State's game-winning touchdown drive Oct. 4 at Wisconsin.
2. Michigan's quarterbacks -- Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era in Ann Arbor and will turn to unproven players like Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and possibly Justin Feagin to lead his spread offense. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if one of those three takes control, the Wolverines will surge.
The verdict: Oh, there were growing pains. Big ones. Threet and Sheridan struggled to fit into Rodriguez's system, and Michigan finished the season ranked 109th nationally in total offense. Feagin likely will move to slot receiver in 2009, and incoming freshmen Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier will compete for the starting quarterback spot.
3. Jump Around at night -- Camp Randall Stadium is intimidating enough during daylight hours, but the electricity will reach new levels this fall with back-to-back night games against Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers haven't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema, and they should have a tremendous home-field edge this fall.
The verdict: It was pretty cool to see Ohio State players jump in lockstep with the Wisconsin students on Oct. 4, but Camp Randall certainly lost its edge this fall. Wisconsin saw its home win streak fade against Ohio State and then suffered its worst home defeat since 1989 the next week against Penn State. Plus, the Badgers band was suspended from performing Oct. 4 after allegations of hazing surfaced.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Paul Jasienski/Getty Images|
|The Boilermakers miss Dustin Keller's production this season.|
Most preseason evaluations of Purdue's offense pointed to the loss of top wide receiver Dorien Bryant, who set a team record with 6,219 all-purpose yards and led the Big Ten in receptions per game in each of his final three seasons. Though Bryant's production shouldn't be understated, anyone who watched Purdue knew tight end Dustin Keller would be the bigger loss.
Keller was a 6-foot-3, 240-pound matchup problem who finished his Purdue career with 142 receptions for 1,882 yards (13.3-yard average) and 16 touchdowns. As one Big Ten head coach told me this spring, "He was one of the best tight ends in the country. You played him in man, who takes him, the safety or the linebacker? You put a safety on him, you've got a size mismatch. You put a linebacker on him, you've got a speed mismatch."
Looking at Purdue's offense entering Week 7, the absence of a capable tight end who can catch short crossing routes or beat defenses down the field really stings. Junior Kyle Adams, who took all of the snaps with the first-team offense in preseason camp, has been out with a knee injury, and Purdue hasn't gotten much from the reserves.
The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier's Tom Kubat addressed Purdue's lack of production at tight end:
After the first five games, Purdue has completed 113 passes but only five have been caught by the tight ends. Senior Jerry Wasikowski has three receptions for 19 yards, and redshirt freshman Colton McKey has caught two passes for nine yards.
Quarterback Curtis Painter admits things are different from last year when Dustin Keller caught 68 passes as a senior.
"Kyle is a great player but I don't think we're changing the game plan. I think all of our tight ends are the same style. They're good blockers. Dustin was kind of a rare case. He was a very athletic guy who was more of a receiver."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fifth-year senior Curtis Painter will start at quarterback when Purdue visits No. 12 Ohio State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Whether Painter takes snaps the entire game remains to be seen.
Boilermakers coach Joe Tiller reiterated Sunday that Painter would start despite replacing the record-setting quarterback with Joey Elliott in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to No. 6 Penn State. Tiller nearly replaced Painter two weeks earlier against Central Michigan and made the switch after Painter completed just 13 of 22 passes for 112 yards and an interception against the Nittany Lions.
Here's what Tiller told The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier:
"I'll talk to him probably midweek or so, but I'm not going spend a lot of time on it because of his experience. I tell the quarterbacks every year that anybody can get replaced at any time, don't read anything into it. You get a chance to come back and play, you come back and play your best."
Tiller made the right call to stick with Painter, and Painter strikes me as mature enough to handle his momentary demotion. But it's still somewhat surprising when a guy who likely will finish his career second on the Big Ten's all-time passing yards list gets sent to the bench. Painter has completed just 57.6 percent of his passes with as many touchdowns (5) as interceptions this year. He clearly misses Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller -- can't blame him there -- and is still trying to build chemistry with his new set of wideouts.
It won't be easy to find a rhythm against Ohio State, but Purdue needs Painter at the top of his game before the season starts to slip away.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Curtis Painter has started 35 consecutive games -- tied for the national lead among active FBS quarterbacks -- and will move up in the Purdue and Big Ten record books every time he steps on the field this fall.
But he's not immune from being benched, as he almost found out last week. After Purdue endured four consecutive scoreless drives and remained tied 17-17 with Central Michigan early in the fourth quarter, head coach Joe Tiller approached his fifth-year senior quarterback.
"We thought Curtis was underperforming," Tiller told reporters on Sunday. "We actually told him -- I don't like surprising guys, particularly if they're veteran players -- that we'd go with him one more series and that's it. We need some productivity."
Was Painter caught off guard?
"It was certainly a real need to play better at that point," said Painter, who has thrown all 114 of Purdue's passes this season. "You've always got to be on your toes and always got to be sharp, because if you're not being effective, they'll get somebody else in there that can play."
Painter bounced back nicely on Purdue's next possession, finding junior college transfer Aaron Valentin for a 57-yard gain that set up a 2-yard scoring strike to Desmond Tardy. The quarterback went 4-for-4 passing on the 78-yard drive.
After Central Michigan took a 25-24 lead with 1:18 left, Purdue answered as running back Kory Sheets scored from 45 yards out. Painter added the critical 2-point conversion by finding Greg Orton, and Purdue prevailed 32-25.
"It was real key for me to go in and execute the offense and get things going," Painter said. "That's really the approach I took. Some of those sudden changes where we really needed to respond, we did."
The strong finish boosts Purdue heading into Saturday's game at Notre Dame. In his last trip to South Bend, Painter racked up 422 yards of total offense in a 35-21 loss to the Irish.
Painter's top three targets from the last Notre Dame game -- Dorien Bryant, Dustin Keller, Selwyn Lymon -- are no longer with the team, but he's gradually getting comfortable with a new crop of receivers.
"You work out with them all summer and in the spring and during camp, but it's always a step faster during a game," Painter said. "That little bit of experience these last few games has really helped us out a lot. Each day, we continue to grow with each other."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State coach Joe Paterno thinks he should be seeing a 1-0 Oregon State team Saturday in Happy Valley.
Most people who tracked last Thursday's game between Oregon State and Stanford saw the continued renaissance of a dormant Stanford program behind coach Jim Harbaugh. Paterno saw the inferior team win.
"Oregon State was the better team," Paterno said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference. "They just blew it. They made a couple of mistakes and took themselves out of the football game."
Paterno was impressed with Oregon State's secondary, which allowed only 91 passing yards against the Cardinal. The group should test Nittany Lions starting quarterback Daryll Clark, who completed 11 of 14 passes against Coastal Carolina.
Oregon State's offense, led by quarterback Lyle Moevao, also provides a challenge for Penn State's talented defense.
"It's a tough trip across the country," Paterno said, "but they should have beaten Stanford. I think they'll come here ready to go and prove to people how good a football team they really have."
Some other items of note from the teleconference:
- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said redshirt freshman Steven Threet could take more reps with the first-team offense than sophomore Nick Sheridan in practice this week. Rodriguez lamented a "very disappointing" run game against Utah and several big-play opportunities that weren't converted, but he didn't sound too down on the quarterbacks.
"They're pretty conscientious guys," Rodriguez said. "They understood during the game what they were seeing, the mistakes, the good and the bad. They saw some of the things they've got to get better at. ... They did not seem overwhelmed."
- Indiana starting wide receiver Ray Fisher is day-to-day after sustaining a shoulder injury against Western Kentucky. Fisher didn't play the second half of the game and will be evaluated throughout the week. Coach Bill Lynch expects to have a decision on Fisher's status by Thursday and said former safety and quarterback Mitchell Evans likely will fill in during the interim. Standout defensive end Greg Middleton and the three reserves who were suspended for the opener will be back in action Saturday against Murray State.
- Michigan State running back Javon Ringer racked up 102 yards on kickoff returns before Cal started kicking away from him in last week's game. Despite the pounding Ringer takes at his primary position, Spartans coach Mark Dantonio expects to keep the senior on kickoff returns for the foreseeable future.
"Last year we used [wide receiver] Devin Thomas in that capacity and we had the No. 3 kickoff return team in the nation," Dantonio said. "If we can get that kind of production on that team, we'll continue to use the personnel we have. We have to have a guy that can be explosive there. One thing Devin did last year was he broke tackles, he broke arm tackles, and that was one of the things you saw Javon do."
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz expects sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian and cornerbacks Jordan Bernstine and Drew Gardner to return from hamstring injuries Saturday against Florida International. Junior quarterback Jake Christensen will start the game but Ricky Stanzi also likely will see action as the competition continues.
"We'll just watch and see how things go," Ferentz said. "I don't know if you can put a timetable on these things. It's a healthy situation right now, which is good."
- There's been some concern about Purdue's wide receivers after the losses of Dorien Bryant and tight end Dustin Keller, but coach Joe Tiller thinks most people are overlooking Greg Orton. The senior has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
"For 80 percent of the teams in the country, 60 [receptions] would lead the team," Tiller said. "It might even lead the league. This guy's an accomplished receiver in his own right."
- Coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't expect Northwestern's travel plans to Duke to be affected by Hurricane Hanna, but the Saturday night game could be played in sloppy conditions. Fitzgerald has tried to prepare his players for inclement weather by practicing outside in the spring, which in Evanston feels like winter. The Wildcats also likely will practice outside Wednesday and Thursday, when the forecast calls for rain.
"It'll definitely be a factor on Saturday," Fitzgerald said, "but it'll be the same for both teams."
- Minnesota quarterback David Pittman, a junior college transfer, has recovered from a hamstring injury and will be available, giving the team a full complement of healthy players. Pittman provides another option at quarterback after the announcement Monday that prized freshman MarQueis Gray won't be with the team this season. Coach Tim Brewster said Gray's absence won't affect the depth chart but added, "We're very much looking forward to getting MarQueis back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Every Big Ten team has a position group that generates more unease than confidence, whether it's because of personnel losses, youth or poor performances. Here's a look at the position on each squad that could make or break the season.
Running backs: The group struggled in the spring and offensive coordinator Mike Locksley let the players know about it. Junior Daniel Dufrene has stepped up in preseason camp to claim the starting job, and the Illini feel good about freshmen Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure. But it's foolish to discount the value of Rashard Mendenhall, who finished eighth nationally in rushing average with 129.3 yards per game and 17 touchdowns last season.
Also keep an eye on: The safeties (two new starters)
Wide receivers: James Hardy finished his career as the most decorated wide receiver in team history, and his departure created a major void in the passing game. The coaches are counting on big things from Ray Fisher and Andrew Means, and former safety/quarterback Mitchell Evans should provide a boost. Indiana can't expect a receiver to match Hardy's production, but the group is capable of preventing a major drop-off.
Also keep an eye on: The offensive line (not much depth)
Offensive line: What was once the program's trademark has become an area of concern. Iowa ranked 114th nationally in sacks allowed (46) last season and is still waiting for several promising linemen to hit their stride. With questions lingering at both quarterback and running back entering the season, the Hawkeyes can ill afford major blocking problems.
Also keep an eye on: The quarterbacks (Jake Christensen struggled in '07)
Quarterbacks: Every area of the Michigan offense could fit in this category, but the unit's progress must start with the quarterbacks. Neither Steven Threet nor Nick Sheridan seamlessly fit Rich Rodriguez's system, and freshman Justin Feagin needs time to mature. The Wolverines need a game manager early on and can't afford turnovers from this position.
Also keep an eye on: The offensive line (four new starters)
Wide receivers: Illinois loses the Big Ten's top offensive player in Mendenhall, but Michigan State loses the league's top playmaker in Devin Thomas. Coach Mark Dantonio will lean on a young group featuring Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham, Blair White and true freshmen Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith. The preseason has eased some doubt about this group, but the wideouts need to step up when it counts.
Also keep an eye on: The cornerbacks (two new starters)
Defensive backs: After finishing 115th nationally against the pass (289.3 ypg), the entire secondary needed major upgrades and got them from the junior college ranks. Two JUCO players are projected to start in safety Tramaine Brock and cornerback Traye Simmons, and hopes are high for cornerback Marcus Sherels, a converted wide receiver. The talent is there for a jump in production, but chemistry could be a challenge with so many new faces.
Also keep an eye on: The offensive line (lost three starters)
Offensive line: By far the biggest question mark on a veteran team, the line can't afford many growing pains to keep a bowl berth in the viewfinder. Three new starters join the group, including two on the all-important left side, so jelling quickly will be a challenge. If redshirt freshmen Al Netter and Ben Burkett meet expectations, the Wildcats should have a dominant offense this fall.
Also keep an eye on: The linebackers (new middle linebacker)
Defensive tackles: Not a lot of weak spots for the defending Big Ten champs, but the interior line looks a little iffy. Coordinator Jim Heacock has defended the group, pointing to its youth, but the Buckeyes need more play-making this fall from Cameron Heyward, Doug Worthington and Nader Abdallah.
Also keep an eye on: The safeties (more big plays)
Quarterbacks: The Nittany Lions usher in a new offense, the Spread HD, and need a capable trigger man in starter Daryll Clark or backup Pat Devlin. Both likely will play, though Clark starts Saturday against Coastal Carolina. The good news is the quarterbacks have plenty of weapons at the skill positions and play behind a veteran offensive line, but the inexperience at the position could lead to turnovers and other mistakes.
Also keep an eye on: The linebackers (inexperienced)
Wide receivers/tight ends: Purdue loses Dorien Bryant, who claimed 23 school and Big Ten records in his career, as well as underrated tight end Dustin Keller. Greg Orton is the only wideout with ample experience, and the Boilers will need help from Desmond Tardy, junior college transfers Aaron Valentin and Arsenio Curry and little-used seniors Brandon Whittington and Joe Whitest.
Also keep an eye on: The
linebackers (no depth)
Defensive backs: The Badgers lose their best cover man in Jack Ikegwuonu and endured their share of injuries at cornerback. Tackling has been a concern at the safety spots and Wisconsin needs continued growth from Shane Carter and Jay Valai. If cornerback Allen Langford remains healthy and regains his 2006 form, the secondary should be solid.
Also keep an eye on: The wide receivers (too many drops)
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I probably don't mention this enough, but I really appreciate all the e-mail, both the positive and the negative. I always knew Big Ten fans were passionate about their football, and the last few weeks have only reinforced that belief. Keep 'em coming!
Jan from Washington, D.C., writes: Your Plax posting re Nick "$aban" made me wonder about the attitude of Plax and Co. from the 1999 team toward [Mark] Dantonio, and thus Dantonio's relationship toward his former boss Saban. I know Joe Rexrode (LSJ) has repeatedly said that Saban was not liked by his players, but Dantonio, who was on Saban's staff as secondary coach, has invited those players, including Plax, back to campus and they have journeyed back. It begs the question: does Dantonio respect/get along with/have any nostalgia for his old boss? It's a fine line, because Dantonio wants to be associated with that 1999 winning team, but apparently not the part where Saban was mean to the players/untrustworthy.
Adam Rittenberg writes: Most coaches are extremely loyal to the guys they work for, and Dantonio seems no different. I'm sure he respects Saban -- looking at Saban's record, how can you not? -- and values the time he spent with him. He could disagree about the way Saban left MSU, but he probably knows the guy and the situation a lot better than most people. As I alluded to earlier in the week, Dantonio really gets it as far as understanding the place where he's coaching. Reaching out to former players, particularly NFL guys like Plax, is a critical component of maintaining a strong tradition. Michigan State, despite underachieving for much of the last few decades, still produces a bunch of NFL players. Reconnecting with those guys is key. I doubt Dantonio will make too many Nick Saban references in news conferences or player meetings, but I think he walks that fine line quite well.
B.J. in Boardman, Ohio, writes: I'm an Ohio State fan and I'm definitely psyched for the (mostly) positive media attention OSU has received during the offseason, but with that being said I don't understand why Kellen Lewis has been so under the radar in terms of All-Big Ten honors and coverage in general. What gives? The guy's stats are incredible and it seems like no one has him as All-Big Ten. Is it because of the suspension?
Adam Rittenberg writes: First off, I'm psyched there's actually a place called Boardman, Ohio. I used to think that was the infinite realm where all my readers lived. OK, back to the question. I agree that Lewis is underappreciated, but certainly not here, as I ranked him as the Big Ten's top quarterback. Lewis is a tremendous athlete who has blossomed as a passer. He'll reclaim his starting job soon enough after the suspension and should be a natural in the no-huddle offense. As far as the lack of buzz, the fact that Lewis plays for Indiana probably has more to do with it than the suspension. If IU capitalizes on its schedule, goes back to a bowl and wins, he'll get plenty of ink.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position. Penn State dismissed defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Chris Baker but still have depth at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- I'm covering Purdue's media day festivities throughout the morning. Check back later for plenty of Boiler updates (I always wanted to write that).
For now, here are three questions facing Purdue this fall:
How will the team navigate its challenging schedule?
The Boilermakers didn't make it easy on Tiller in his final season. A normally manageable nonconference schedule turns treacherous this fall, as Purdue plays Oregon, Central Michigan and annual rival Notre Dame. Purdue also has road games against Ohio State and Michigan State. The good news is both the Oregon and Central Michigan games are at home, where Purdue went 5-2 last season. Having a senior quarterback like Curtis Painter usually helps, but the schedule provides both Painter and Tiller several chances for validation. Big games have recently been the knock on Purdue, and the slate is filled with them.
Greg Orton was often overshadowed by Bryant, but the senior has been consistent and should fit in nicely as a featured receiver. Purdue will ask for more from Desmond Tardy and continued contributions from running back Kory Sheets, who caught 30 passes last season. The spotlight also will be on junior-college transfers Aaron Valentin and Arsenio Curry, who weren't brought in to watch. Valentin joined the team this spring and got adjusted to the system, while Curry must play catchup in camp. Keller was a unique talent and can't be duplicated, but junior Kyle Adams brings some experience to the tight end spot.
Who will fill the playmaking gaps on defense?
The Boilermakers lost their best pass rusher in end Cliff Avril and their best overall defender in cornerback Terrell Vinson. Of the two units, the line looks to be in better shape to fill the void, especially with Alex Magee and Ryan Baker occupying the interior. The secondary is a different story, but Brandon King's move from safety to corner could be a good solution, especially if safety Torri Williams can finally stay healthy. Junior-college transfer Dwight Mclean should provide depth at safety, but Purdue will look for more from cornerbacks David Pender and Royce Adams.