Big Ten: Drew Dileo

If you follow former Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan on Twitter, you've probably seen the hashtag #nobaddays. He signs almost every tweet with the phrase, whether he's getting picked by the Tennessee Titans in the NFL draft or being cut in line by an old lady at the airport.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesOff-the-field issues have clouded the perception of Taylor Lewan, who was the first Big Ten player picked in the NFL draft earlier this month.
But it does appear that Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 were bad days for Lewan.

Michigan lost a heartbreaker Nov. 30 to Ohio State 42-41 in Lewan's final home game at the Big House, dropping him to 1-3 against the rival Buckeyes. Hours later, in the early morning of Dec. 1, Lewan was involved in an incident involving an Ohio State fan. Lewan claimed he was trying to break up a fight and relayed his version of what happened to NFL teams in the predraft process. But Buckeyes fan James Hughes claimed Lewan punched him in the face, and Lewan was charged with one count of aggravated assault and two counts of assault and battery.

The Associated Press on Thursday obtained the police report from the incident, which includes statements from Lewan's ex-girlfriend, who claims Lewan assaulted Hughes.
Alexandra Dileo, whose brother was a teammate of Lewan's, said "Taylor is lying" about his actions on Dec. 1.

"He knocked the guy to the ground and he punched him," she told police in a telephone interview Jan. 29, according to the report. She recalled hearing Lewan tell his mother "I knocked a guy out" the next morning while they were having breakfast.

Alexandra Dileo is the sister of former Michigan wide receiver Drew Dileo, one of Lewan's good friends on the team.

As soon as the AP story broke Thursday, some Michigan fans questioned Alexandra Dileo's credibility, since she and Lewan had broken up and Lewan soon will become a millionaire with the Titans. Lewan's attorneys undoubtedly will make the same argument, which Dileo acknowledged in her conversation with police.
Dileo expressed concerns to police that people would feel she was lying because she and Lewan had broken up, according to the report. But she "stated she knows what happened and Taylor is lying."

What really happened Dec. 1 in Ann Arbor depends on whom you believe. At the very least, it creates an awkward situation for Lewan and Drew Dileo.

It also raises more questions about Lewan, one of the more polarizing star players in the Big Ten in recent years.

"I was actually breaking something up and some guy said that I slugged him, but that's not who I am off the field," Lewan told reporters at the NFL combine in February. "That's not the kind of person I am."

Who is Taylor Lewan? Good citizen or bully? Textbook tackle or dirty player? All of the above?

Few would deny he's an exceptional football player -- a tall, strong, athletic, smart offensive tackle who should have a long NFL career. He's a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten selection who won Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors in both 2012 and 2013. Any credible list of Michigan's top offensive linemen in the past 20 years should include Lewan's name.

But he'll also be remembered for twisting the facemask of Michigan State safety Isaiah Lewis in last year's loss to the Spartans. Lewan later apologized.

Two years earlier, he was on the receiving end of a punch from Michigan State defensive end William Gholston that resulted in a one-game suspension for Gholston. But many believe Lewan wasn't free of blame in that incident.

Lewan also had to defend himself against allegations he tried to intimidate a woman who said she had been sexually assaulted by Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons, another of Lewan's friends.

It doesn't add up to a squeaky-clean image, which Lewan acknowledged at the combine.

"It kills me inside," Lewan said. "It probably kills my mother, too. She helped raise me. But yeah, it hurts definitely because the player I am on the field, it's probably really easy to assume all those things about me. But that’s not who I am at all."

Lewan always had an edge to his game. He was a through-the-whistle lineman. Last spring, he told me: "Maybe I'm a little messed up in the head, I don't know, but I enjoy hitting my face on another man's face and trying to put him in the dirt and make him feel every single inch of it. Something about that, it puts me on cloud nine."

In the next breath, he talked about spending his final year at Michigan exploring campus life beyond Schembechler Hall, interacting with regular students and parts of the university that have nothing to do with football. Athletes often live in a bubble and Lewan wanted to venture beyond. It was an impressive and refreshing viewpoint from a guy who turned down millions because, in his mind, he hadn't become a Michigan Man.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke repeatedly defended Lewan's character this spring, noting that assumptions would be made about the Dec. 1 incident until the truth comes out. Hoke pointed out Lewan's work at C.S. Mott Children's Hospital and other good things he did in the community during his time as a Wolverine.

"I believe that his character will shine through," Hoke told the NFL Network.

Time will tell if that's the case. Lewan's next court appearance is scheduled for June 16.

It could shape a Michigan legacy that, for now, must be labeled as mixed.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 28, 2014
May 28
12:00
PM ET
Every time an old man starts talking about Napoleon, you know he's going to die.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Football Recruiting, Maryland Terrapins, Jacob Pedersen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Devin Smith, Tony Jones, Tony Lippett, Corey Brown, Jeremy Gallon, Duwyce Wilson, Keith Mumphery, Justin Sinz, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Evan Spencer, Gabe Holmes, Kofi Hughes, Jared Abbrederis, Kyle Carter, Nick Stoner, Jordan Fredrick, Sam Arneson, Matt LaCosse, Ted Bolser, Steve Hull, Kenzel Doe, Christian Jones, Jamal Turner, Shane Wynn, Josh Ferguson, Kenny Bell, Devin Funchess, Josiah Price, Cody Latimer, Drew Dileo, Quincy Enunwa, Stefon Diggs, Jordan Westerkamp, Aaron Burbridge, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Jesse James, MacGarrett Kings, Austin Appleby, Michael Thomas, Adam Breneman, Tevaun Smith, Isaiah Roundtree, Isaac Fruechte, Drake Harris, Cameron Dickerson, Dominique Booth, Jalin Marshall, Jake Duzey, Danny Etling, Allen Robinson, Dan Vitale, Danny Anthrop, Martize Barr, Damond Powell, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Robert Wheelwright, Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Taariq Allen, Richy Anderson, Sam Burtch, Chris Godwin, Garrett Dickerson, Johnnie Dixon, Saeed Blacknall, Alex Erickson, Maxx Williams, Geronimo Allison, Cethan Carter, Cameron Posey, DeAngelo Yancey, Geno Lewis, Brandon Felder, Brandon Coleman, B1G spring positions 14, Jordan Fuchs, Miles Shuler, Levern Jacobs, Nigel King, Amba Etta-Tawo, Dave Stinebaugh, Marcus Leak, Tyler Kroft, Quron Pratt, Leonte Carroo, Ruhann Peele, Carlton Agudosi, Andre Patton

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
4:30
PM ET
Signing day is over and spring ball is a few weeks away. Enjoy a quiet weekend.

To the inbox ...

Matt from Omaha writes: Hey Adam, I liked the article "How did B1G's top 2010 recruits pan out?" and, as a Husker fan, decided to look back at some of our recruits to see which names still stood out. In my opinion, it appears that JUCO players seem to be least likely to become a bust when they come to college. Since recruiting isn't an exact science, do you think that it might be easier to evaluate JUCO players, or is my perception of the situation skewed do to the likes of Lavonte David, SJB, and Randy Gregory rolling into Lincoln in recent years?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, Nebraska certainly has had a very nice run of jucos in recent years. There certainly are a number of juco busts, but you're right that it's often easier to assess those players because they're more physically mature and, in some cases, would have gone right to FBS programs out of high school if not for other reasons (academics, etc). There are risks to taking junior college players, as some have red flags in their background, but Nebraska has seen the rewards of bringing in players like David and Gregory.

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIs Shane Morris ready to take over as Michigan's starting QB?
Mark from Cincinnati writes: No one would listen when I said, post bowl, that Shane Morris would be the man in '14 for Michigan. NOW---that the debate is out there, I hope to get your opinion. Morris is a future 1st round pick when his days at U of M are over. Devin Gardner will NEVER be an N.F.L Q.B. He will be an offensive weapon. Why would we not make this move now, when D.G can give us another target for Shane? Not like he's new to the position.

Adam Rittenberg: Mark, you're not the first person to mention the possibility of Gardner moving back to wide receiver, which certainly is a position of need for Michigan after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. I just don't know if I'm buying Morris as much as you are -- not yet, at least. He did a decent job in the bowl game but operated with a limited playbook filled mostly with short, high-percentage passes. I'd like to see him stretch the field more and create big plays when protection breaks down. Keep in mind that Gardner had some huge performance for Michigan last year, and he operated behind a terrible offensive line. If the line doesn't improve -- Doug Nussmeier's scheme could help out the group -- it's asking a lot from a young player like Morris to run the show on his own.

Dan from Lewes, Del., writes: Nobody's done more with less as far as having great recruits in the past than Kirk Ferentz. But as a Hawks fan, I can't help but wonder with the amount of players they've put into the NFL (an extremely high amount compared to the success of the program), why don't more highly ranked recruits want to go there? Would being Alabama or Florida State's 3rd or 4th receiver really be better in the long run? What's the deal?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, Iowa definitely sells its NFL tradition, but it's not as if programs like Alabama, USC, LSU and Florida State are failing to send players to the next level, too. Those programs are located closer to the top recruiting hotbeds than Iowa, which has to extend its recruiting reach far beyond the state. Iowa also doesn't sell itself as an overly flashy program. That's not Kirk Ferentz's style, but sometimes it might work against Iowa in recruiting some of the elite players, who crave the spotlight. Iowa isn't a program you hear about much in the national media, which is largely by design. But if you want to work with a staff focused on development with a track record of producing NFL players, Iowa is a great place to go.

Chris from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam, I love recruiting season, but have one pet peeve. Whenever a team loses out on a recruit you start hearing from the fan base the player had academic issues and wasn't going to qualify. Do academic requirements vary from school to school or do they all follow the NCAA Clearinghouse?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, every school must adhere to initial NCAA eligibility requirements when admitting athletes, but academic standards most definitely vary from program to program. I don't know if the differences are as pronounced as some fans believe them to be, but there different standards, different numbers of academic exceptions, etc., not just from league to league but within each league as well.

John from Northern Michigan writes: I think Brian and you have some explaining to do with this list of top 10 games. First, I just noticed Nebraska's win over Georgia is not included. A B1G team beats a SEC team on New Year's Day and it is not in the top 10? That is actually the biggest oversight, it is easily in the top 10.Second, no way you can justify leaving the Rose Bowl victory out of the #1 position. Try to gain some perspective here, this is only the B1G's second victory in 14 years at the Rose Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: John, some good points on why the Rose Bowl should have been No. 1, and perhaps we made a mistake there. It certainly was a historic win, not just for Michigan State but the Big Ten. But Nebraska-Georgia? C'mon. Two banged-up teams that had underachieved during the season played a rematch in a bowl game that neither fan base cared that much about. Credit Nebraska for winning and playing well, but that game doesn't belong on a Top 10 list.

Marcus Aurelius from Placer, Calif., writes: When will the NCAA get with the times and allow emailed/scanned letters of intent, like the rest of the world uses for documentation?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be nice, Marcus. Some schools like Northwestern actually are offering programs that allow electronic signatures and email/scanning, but for the most part, it's still all about the fax machine. I spent signing day at Michigan State and some of their assistants were joking about how archaic the faxes are. I know the compliance folks need clear proof of signatures and that the forms are filled out correctly, but we have programs that can do this through email. I think we'll see more and more schools go that route.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ohio State Buckeyes were losing it: the game, their composure and possibly their perfect season.

They admittedly became too wrapped up in the emotion of The Game. They started by yapping at Michigan players before and after the whistle. Things quickly got much uglier. A brawl following a Buckeyes kickoff return early in the second quarter resulted in two Ohio State players (starting right guard Marcus Hall and H-back/returner Dontre Wilson) and one Michigan player (linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) being ejected for throwing punches.

"Disappointed with that; I don't know where that came from," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That's unacceptable."

[+] EnlargeFight
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDontre Wilson was one of two Ohio State players ejected after this second-quarter brawl at Michigan.
Hall exited the field with both middle fingers raised to the crowd. No, he wasn't making the "H" in O-H-I-O. The image quickly made its way around Twitter.

It could have been the lasting image from Ohio State's first loss under Meyer, one that would have ended the Buckeyes' quest for the crystal football.

Instead, No. 3 Ohio State provided some other snapshots not soon to be forgotten in one of the most memorable editions of The Game in its storied history, one Meyer called an instant classic. The Buckeyes will remember running back Carlos Hyde, responding from his fourth-quarter fumble, triggering an overpowering six-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play. Hyde finished with more rushing yards (226) than any Buckeyes player has ever had against Michigan.

They'll also remember redshirt freshman nickelback Tyvis Powell stepping in front of a slant pass to Drew Dileo on the game's decisive two-point play to record the clinching interception. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said the Buckeyes had prepared for two conversion plays from Michigan and the Wolverines ran one of them.

Most of all, they'll remember a 42-41 victory against a Michigan team that gave its best effort in months.

"That was our season on the line," Powell said. "We had 12-0, Gold Pants, chances for the national championship. It just hit me, like, 'Wow, I kind of just saved the season.'"

Quarterback Braxton Miller, who had 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go along with two passing touchdowns, noted that every game doesn't go perfectly and teams must handle adversity. But Ohio State hadn't faced any real adversity in weeks, not since an Oct. 19 home game against Iowa, which led at halftime and tied the game entering the fourth quarter. That day, the Buckeyes turned to Miller, Hyde and the Big Ten's best offensive line to mount long, sustained drives.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two at Michigan.
It was a similar formula Saturday as Ohio State's defense had no answers for quarterback Devin Gardner and a suddenly dynamic Michigan offense, which stirred from its month-long slumber with a brilliant game plan that produced 603 yards and 31 first downs. The Wolverines gained just 158 yards the previous week at Iowa; they had 208 in the first quarter Saturday.

"They kind of looked like a different team," said Shazier, who added 14 more tackles to his swelling season total. "But we knew that would happen. ... It's called a rivalry."

It's a rivalry Ohio State continues to dominate, winning nine of the teams' past 10 meetings. There was little talk afterward of Michigan State and the upcoming Big Ten title game, or the lack of style points in beating an unranked opponent, or where the Buckeyes would wind up in Sunday night's BCS standings.

The road ahead, at least for now, didn't matter much to Meyer or his players.

"We're living in the moment right now," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "It was such a crazy ending. Everyone's head is still spinning. A win's a win, and we'll take it however we can get it. What's 12 times two? Twenty-four straight wins.

"I'm an econ major. I shouldn't have said that out loud."

Ohio State's overall stock likely fell Saturday, particularly a defense that "didn't execute very well," Meyer said. But it's easy to invest in an offense that has looked unstoppable during Big Ten play, averaging 46 points and 531.3 yards in eight league contests.

The Buckeyes answered three Michigan touchdowns Saturday with touchdowns of their own.

"They matched score for score, and that's tough to do on the road," Meyer said.

Hyde has 1,249 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in league play, telling ESPN.com that he runs "angry" because of his three-game suspension to begin the season. While Meyer knew his defense needed a breather before the two-point play, the Buckeyes offense was ready for overtime, if needed.

"[Michigan] went for two because they didn't want to go to overtime," Hyde said. "They knew what was going to happen. We would have scored; I have no doubt. We were having success all day."

The days ahead will bring bigger challenges for the Buckeyes, starting with the potential fallout from the fight. The Big Ten is reviewing the officials' report from Saturday's game, as well as video from the fight, to determine if additional discipline is warranted.

Meyer noted after the game that since the fight occurred in the first half, any suspension might not carry over. But the Big Ten typically has added a full game to any player ejected for throwing punches.

"Am I concerned? We're going to enjoy this win, get on the bus and go home," Meyer said, before adding, "I'm concerned about everything."

The fight still could end up costing the Buckeyes, but it didn't on Saturday. They regained their composure just in time, made just enough plays to beat a rival and preserved perfection for another week.

Next stop: Indianapolis.

OSU graphicESPN Stats & Information No Ohio State player has ever rushed for more yards against Michigan than Carlos Hyde did Saturday.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 18, 2013
11/18/13
11:00
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Twelve seconds.

That's how much time remained in regulation at Northwestern after Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner hit Jeremy Gallon on a 16-yard pass. The clock was running. What happened next was what Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said "might be the best single play I've ever seen."

The Michigan field goal unit sprinted onto the field. Holder Drew Dileo, who had run a pattern as a wide receiver, ran in from the other side of the field and slid into position. The snap came with one second to go, and kicker Brendan Gibbons made a 44-yarder to send the game into overtime, where the Wolverines eventually won.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was upset that his team didn't get a chance to substitute its block team in. The Wildcats were in disarray as the field goal try went up. Referee Bill LeMonnier explained to a pool reporter afterward that on the final play of the half, teams aren't automatically given the right to substitute on field goal defense.

That play goes down as the second-craziest finish to regulation of a Big Ten game this year. In the Wisconsin-Arizona State game, there were 18 seconds left when Joel Stave downed the ball. The Badgers never got to run another play.

Take that and rewind it back ...

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio and the Spartans control their own destiny to reach the Big Ten title game.
Team of the week: Michigan State. It was not a vintage defensive performance for the Spartans, who allowed 28 points to a Nebraska offense that turned the ball over five times and played with a stitched-together line. But Mark Dantonio's team still won by double digits on the road in Lincoln for its first win over the Huskers while clinching at least a share of the Legends Division title. Then there's this: Through 10 games, the Spartans are averaging 30.9 points per contest.

Worst hangover: Northwestern finds more ways to lose than anybody. The Wildcats had a dominant defensive effort against Michigan in allowing no touchdowns in regulation. But they had a 7-yard shank punt that set up a Michigan first-and-goal, Ibraheim Campbell dropped an easy interception on the Wolverines' final drive, and they couldn't pounce on a fumble in overtime. Northwestern has lost twice in overtime, once on a Hail Mary and in games that went down to the final drives against Minnesota and Ohio State. Sheesh.

Best call: Nebraska had to be ready for some Michigan State tomfoolery, right? We've seen it so many times from Dantonio in a big game.

And it worked again on Saturday. The Spartans lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-1 from the Nebraska 27, leading 27-21 in the fourth quarter. Punter Mike Sadler, who serves as the holder on field goals, took the snap and pushed his way forward for 3 yards. The play was called "Charlie Brown," evoking memories of Lucy snatching the ball away in "Peanuts." But Sadler was actually supposed to check out of the play because of the way Nebraska was set up, and the play was never designed to go up the middle where he ran.

"That was the last thing going through my mind," said Sadler, who went up the middle on a successful punt fake at Iowa last month. "I was just trying to think of my touchdown dance."

He didn't score, but Connor Cook delivered a touchdown pass three plays later to all but seal the victory.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde piled up five total touchdowns while rushing for 246 yards on just 24 carries versus Illinois. He had touchdown runs of 51 and 55 yards in the final four minutes to put the game on ice.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): In a game that didn't feature a whole lot of defense, Ohio State's Ryan Shazier still managed an impressive stat line at Illinois: 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He had the safety on Reilly O'Toole that gave the Buckeyes some breathing room. And while he had a chance to turn that into a touchdown had he not celebrated a bit too soon, Shazier still had an outstanding performance considering Ohio State's other two starting linebackers were out with injuries.

[+] EnlargeBrendan Gibbons
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhBrendan Gibbons hit a 44-yard field goal as time expired to put Michigan into overtime at Northwestern.
Big Men on Campus (Special teams): This goes to the entire Michigan field goal unit, including Gibbons, Dileo, snapper Jareth Glanda, special-teams coordinator Dan Ferrigno and everyone else involved in that unbelievable play at the end of regulation at Northwestern. That was a team effort, and if one guy was a half-second late, the Wolverines lose. (Tips of the cap also go out to Purdue's Raheem Mostert and Illinois' V'Angelo Bentley, who both scored on returns).

Sideline interference: Illinois coach Tim Beckman had to be separated from offensive coordinator Bill Cubit on the sidelines after quarterback Reilly O'Toole was sacked in the end zone. Both coaches later said it was just a heat-of-the-moment thing, and Cubit added, "You'd be shocked at how many times" that happens during games. But it's still not a good look for Beckman, whose sideline mishaps the past two years include getting called for interference penalties and getting caught using chewing tobacco.

Who needs tickets?: Want to see a Big Ten game, but you don't have more than 50 cents in your pocket? Then this week's Illinois-Purdue Basement Bowl is for you. On StubHub this morning, several tickets to Saturday's game at Ross-Ade Stadium could be had for as little as 39 cents. Get 'em while they're hot!

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info):

  • Wisconsin ran for 554 yards Saturday versus Indiana. It was the second most in school history, behind the 564 the Badgers compiled against the Hoosiers last year. So in the past two games against IU, Wisconsin has rushed for 1,118 yards and 13 touchdowns; on Saturday the Badgers had three 100-yard rushers (James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement) and an 86-yard rusher (Jared Abbrederis, on reverses). The Badgers' running game added 35.8 expected points to their net scoring margin; two of the top 10 rushing EPA games in the FBS the past 10 years were posted by Wisconsin against Indiana. The Badgers still fell far short of the Big Ten rushing record of 832 yards, set by Minnesota in 1905. But they do get Indiana again next year, so you never know.

  • ESPN's strength of schedule rankings (out of 126 FBS teams):
Alabama: 48th
Florida State: 60th
Ohio State: 88th
Baylor: 95th

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
9:00
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Recognizing the best and the brightest around the Big Ten in week 12 …

Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said that Hyde made the difference for the Buckeyes in a 60-35 win. The senior rushed for four touchdowns and 246 yards on 24 carries and tallied another receiving touchdown (he had two catches totaling 26 yards). It was Hyde’s first 200-yard game of the season and more than double his previous season average of 117 yards per game.

Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons and holder Drew Dileo. Down three points with under 10 seconds remaining in regulation, the Michigan offense was sprinting off the field, the kicking team sprinting on the field and Dileo was sliding in to this holding position for Gibbons (yes, literally, sliding). Gibbons nailed a 44-yard field goal to send the game in to overtime, which the Wolverines eventually won after triple OT.

Wisconsin running backs. The Badgers accounted for 554 rushing yards against Indiana. James White (205 yards, 1 touchdown), Melvin Gordon (146 yards, 1 touchdown) and Corey Clement (108 yards, 2 touchdowns) became Wisconsin's third 100-yard rushing trio this season. Wisconsin tallied seven runs of 30 yards or more and White recorded a 93-yard touchdown run which set a program record for the longest run. The Badgers' 554 rush yards are the most by an FBS team this season.

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah. The Big Ten’s leading rusher had his seventh 100-yard game of the season (bringing his rushing total this season to 1,213) and he became the first running back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Spartans defense. He accounted for 123 yards on 22 carries and his one TD of the day was a 12-yard receiving touchdown (his only catch of the day). MSU came into the match up giving up just 43 rushing yards per game -- which Abdullah tripled.

Illinois DB V'Angelo Bentley. Coming into this weekend the Buckeyes had allowed just 1.5 yards per punt return and haven’t allowed any kind of a return on 92 percent of their punts. But with the Illini down 28-0 on Saturday Bentley managed to get past more than half of Ohio State’s punt coverage team and go 67 yards to the end zone. Not only did he become the first player to have success against this group, he also gave Illinois its first sign of life against the Buckeyes.

Honorable mention: Michigan State kicker Mike Sadler. With a six-point lead in the fourth quarter and the Spartans faced with a fourth-and-1 on the Cornhuskers 27 yard line, Mark Dantonio called for a fake field goal play. Sadler was supposed to go right, but the formation wasn’t quite what MSU expected, so instead of checking out of it and going for a field goal he rushed for three yards up the middle and a first down, setting up an MSU score.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If there’s anything this game has taught us recently it’s that it’s not over until the clock reads zeros. No. 17 Michigan held a 14-point advantage over No. 14 Notre Dame heading in to the fourth quarter but fate wouldn’t let that stand. How could it when the Wolverines would need to one-up the fourth quarter from two years ago under the lights?

But even with some really poor decisions and a few clutch plays made on offense and defense, Michigan was able to pull off the win over Notre Dame, 41-30. The victory keeps Michigan coach Brady Hoke undefeated in Michigan Stadium in his third year at the helm of the Wolverines.

It was over when: In most instances, an 11-point lead with less than five minutes remaining would feel pretty safe. But nothing really felt safe for the Wolverines -- especially against this Notre Dame team -- until Blake Countess intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone with 1:29 remaining in the game.

Game ball goes to: Jeremy Gallon. The wide receiver made catch after catch that he was seemingly too short or too covered to make. His three touchdowns on eight receptions, however, led the Wolverines, and his 184 yards were a career high. With quarterback Devin Gardner at the helm of this Michigan offense, it is allowing playmakers like Gallon to really come in to their own, and the senior's performance against the Irish showed just that.

Stat of the game: Louis Nix III recorded just four tackles and two of them (including the one for a loss) came when the game was already out of hand. Not once did Notre Dame’s stud defensive lineman -- who was going up against three interior offensive linemen from Michigan who all saw their first starts just a week ago -- get to Gardner.

Unsung hero: Fitzgerald Toussaint. Because of the nature of Gallon’s big performance, Toussaint’s 71 yards on 22 carries will largely go unnoticed. However, it is because of his ability to get short yardage and hit holes that the passing lanes were open for guys like Gallon, Drew Dileo and Devin Funchess. Offensive coordinator Al Borges has always said he wants a featured back in his offense and 22 carries is within their desired range.

Second-guessing: A safety isn’t the worst possible thing. And no, it’s not ideal either. But the only thing worse would be exactly what Gardner did -- incidentally throwing it to the other team as three Irish defenders closed in on him. It was a huge dent on a game that was relatively empty of errors on the quarterback’s part. But that play completely shifted the momentum of the game and what could’ve been a small dent in the game turned this game into the dogfight that it became.

Dig of the game: Michigan Stadium played “The Chicken Dance” following the win, which is a reference back to last May when Hoke said that Notre Dame was chickening out of the rivalry.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After quarterback Devin Gardner tweeted an impressive one-handed catch from Amara Darboh and a good spring game performance from the wide receiver, fans couldn’t wait to see Darboh hit the field in Michigan Stadium this fall.

[+] EnlargeJehu Chesson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWith Amara Darboh out, Jehu Chesson's size and speed might find him more playing time this fall.
But on Tuesday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that Darboh had gotten “banged up a little bit” in Saturday night’s scrimmage and by Wednesday, the news had gotten quite a bit worse.

Now fans will have to wait another season to see that potential as the school announced Wednesday that Darboh would miss the 2013 season with a foot injury that would require surgery.

With the injury, Michigan is in a bit of a bind. Though Darboh didn’t register any catches last season and mainly just played special teams, he did have game-time experience, which is a huge factor when throwing players into the fire. He had been an expected starter (Hoke actually referred to him as such in the press release) and Gardner spent much of his time in the offseason building chemistry with Darboh.

But there are options at wide receiver for the Wolverines.

Gardner still has security blankets in redshirt senior Jeremy Gallon and senior Drew Dileo, though neither really fits the mold for what Al Borges wants in a big, rangey, downfield target. Neither is above 5-foot-10 and while both have proven effective for Michigan, they really don’t have the same skill set as Darboh.

Michigan’s likely option will be redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, the 6-foot-3 former track star whose speed has impressed. Redshirt senior Joe Reynolds has had a nice fall camp as well, and at 6-foot-1 he could be a bigger target for Gardner.

The injury might also mean Wolverines have to burn some redshirts. In their 2013 class they have three wide receivers who are at least 6-foot-3 -- Csont’e York, Da’Mario Jones and Jaron Dukes. Michigan does require its wide receivers to block which many have said takes a lot of time to learn, but if any of these three could pick up blocking more quickly, they could have the chance to see the field this fall.

Considering the nonconference schedule, though Notre Dame’s secondary returns several players, Michigan will still have a bit of time to get younger or less experienced wide receivers into the swing of things.

But with Darboh being missing the season, it definitely leaves the Wolverines receiving corps feeling banged up as well.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Psst. It's Rittenberg's birthday. We're going to turn out the lights, and when he walks in everybody yell, "Surprise!"
Devin GardnerAP Photo/Carlos OsorioFor Michigan to have success, it needs junior quarterback Devin Gardner to stay healthy and make plays because the depth chart behind him is a bit scary.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Meet Devin Gardner. No. Seriously. You should. And if you like Michigan, you really should look into protecting him as much as possible in every situation imaginable.

The one non-negotiable thing about Michigan’s season is if Gardner is hurt for any length of time, the Wolverines’ chances of winning any of those games almost disappears. Any Michigan offense without Gardner this season would be an adventure in experimentation at best.

So go buy some bubble wrap, pad the walls of his apartment or whatever else you want to make sure a random tree branch doesn't fell him. Michigan’s players, though, realize they can’t stop a random injury from occurring. They have enough faith Gardner can take care of himself.

“Random, freak injury, you can’t really control that,” senior receiver Drew Dileo said. “We look out for each other but if Devin rolls his ankle on a little bitty rock, I can’t control that. And vice versa.

“If I slip on the ice in the snow, I can’t control that.”

In other words, there won’t be an entourage accompanying Gardner to any of his graduate school classes this semester -- at least not for protective purposes.

Michigan can control how it uses Gardner during practices in the preseason. While the Wolverines aren’t isolating their starting quarterback or keeping him from making plays -- the repititions are too important for what he and Michigan hope to do this season -- having no healthy backup quarterback with even one snap of experience means more early practice snaps for freshman Shane Morris and redshirt freshman walk-on Brian Cleary.

It also keeps Gardner safe on the sideline.

Gardner might not be the most polished quarterback in the Big Ten or the most talented player on his own team -- that is left tackle Taylor Lewan. That lack of depth behind him, though, makes him more critical than any other player.

“He’s an important factor to the offense here,” senior receiver Jeremy Gallon said. “He has to set a tempo. He will set a tempo. His demeanor to the game is very important to us. How he comes out and performs and he’s willing to work hard for the team.

“That’s very important.”

Equally important is the lack of depth behind Gardner, which is why he is the most important player to stay healthy in the entire Big Ten. One could argue Ohio State’s Braxton Miller, but the Buckeyes have an experienced, serviceable backup in senior Kenny Guiton. But for what Michigan wants to do this season, it is Gardner -- and then a shoulder shrug of what would happen if he weren’t in the game.

So keeping Gardner upright and healthy is of supreme importance in Ann Arbor.

“That’s pretty obvious. I think that’s pretty self-explanatory,” Michigan receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski said. “Obviously we need to keep Devin healthy and that falls on all of us. Not just the offensive line, but the tight ends and wideouts getting open down the field in time so he doesn’t have to hold the ball and the running backs protecting him.”

The coaching staff doesn’t want to limit Gardner’s progress, though. If they start to have him lighten up in practice, it becomes almost an omen setting Gardner up for injury because they believe players are injured when they aren’t going hard enough and are concerned about it.

Gardner isn’t worried. He just keeps playing as he always has.

“I’m the same person on the field, practicing as hard as I can,” Gardner said. “Taylor [Lewan] sometimes tells me not to make certain cuts, but that’s just the way I play. You can’t get ready for the game unless you play the full speed, the way you’re going to play.”

Other than Lewan, Gardner said the only one who told him to maybe take it a little easy was Michigan’s strength and conditioning coach, Aaron Wellman.

Everyone else? They just want Gardner to play like he did over the final five games of last season, or even an improved version of that player. Keeping Gardner healthy does add a small amount of pressure, especially for those entrusted with protecting him.

“We have to make sure we are on our game with that pass protection-wise,” senior right tackle Michael Schofield said. “We don’t really verbalize it. That’s just kind of known.”

One day Morris or Cleary could end up as a good starting quarterback for Michigan. But for this season, the Wolverines have only one healthy non-freshman scholarship quarterback. They only have one quarterback who has any game experience. One quarterback who is designated and looked to as a leader.

That’s Devin Gardner. Michigan’s season rests on his health.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
5:30
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Some questions and answers before the weekend ...

Antonio from Omaha writes: As I read Brian's article "Huskers take aim at turnover problem" earlier, it hit me how much an impact a team's offensive success or failure has on it's defense, and vice versa, but in a different light. Although the defensive letdowns at Ohio State and in the BIG 10 Championship game last year absolutely cannot be traced back to the offense being "too successful", is there any reason not to think that Nebraska offense SHOULDN'T go at a faster pace this year because it'll put the young and inexperienced defense on the field more? Call me biased and optimistic, but I just see this offense having the experience to be one of the best in the nation, esp if they improve their turnover issues, and could be a threat to put points on the board every time they have possession. Although I don't worry about putting up 35+ points by halftime in some of the nonconference games on the schedule, teams like Michigan and UCLA, who could turn around and score all over a young defense, make me think whether a slower offensive pace would be a beneficial team strategy ...

Adam Rittenberg: Antonio, this is a very interesting issue in college football right now as so many teams are trying to go faster on offense, in large part because of Oregon's success. I remember talking with Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges about this, and he did a study on how offensive tempo impacted a team's defense. Not surprisingly, he found that the faster teams go, the worse their defenses perform because those units are always on the field. So you want to be cognizant of that and careful. On the flip side, you don't want to hurt yourself by slowing down to save your shaky defense. As Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck once told me, "We want to play in that high tempo as much as we can. Our players seem to play well that way, our quarterback in particular. Taylor [Martinez], the game comes easier to him for some reason when we're playing fast." I think there's a balance and Nebraska can slow things down at times, but the Huskers don't want to go away from what makes their offense so dangerous.




Tom from Berkeley, Calif., writes: What would your thoughts be on an agreement with the P12 and involved bowls where the B1G sent their #3 team to the Holiday in even years and their 6 or 7 to the Kraft Fight Hunger in odd years? By getting teams at different 'levels' less likely for repeats or rematches, and when it does happen they'd be in different locations. B1G gets a second California bowl each year (three might be too many). Travelling fans could consider catching two.

Adam Rittenberg: Always great to hear from my hometown, Tom. I completely agree with the idea of having a second Big Ten bowl team in California each year. Your plan makes sense, although I wonder if the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appeals enough to the Big Ten or its fans. It's a long trip for a fairly low-tier bowl, although the Bay Area is an attractive destination. The Holiday Bowl, meanwhile, carries a little more prestige, and there's mutual interest between the two groups. I would be in favor of adding both games on a rotational basis, and your point about eliminating repeats is a good one. But it ultimately comes down to how the Big Ten views the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.




Jim from Racine, Wis., writes: So with the mess at Rutgers...what is the take of the Big Ten Commish? Did they make a mistake? Sounds like Rutgers is really messed up educationally and leadership wise.......Should Big Ten Reconsider ? Also how in the heck did Smith dodge a bullet at Ohio States mess.

Adam Rittenberg: Check out the previous post for the Big Ten's take on Rutgers. No real surprises, as Jim Delany acknowledges Mike Rice's conduct was unacceptable and Rutgers made some mistakes, but the school's future membership hasn't been questioned. As Delany points out, Rutgers isn't the first Big Ten school to deal with personnel issues involving a coach's conduct (see: Knight, Bobby). The difference between Tim Pernetti and Gene Smith is that Pernetti had knowledge of Rice's conduct problems, while Smith wasn't aware that Jim Tressel knew about the Tat-5.




Chris from New Haven, Conn., writes: Adam - I have heard a lot about how Michigan finally looks fast after having been in the same system now for the third year. After having seen Michigan practice do they appear faster, especially on defense? What one player on each side of the ball has stood out as impact players?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, there definitely seems to be more team speed at Michigan, not only in the back seven but with linemen like Mario Ojemudia, a lean body who has good burst off of the edge. Linebacker James Ross is another defender generating buzz. He has good closing speed. The coaching staff sounds very excited about young cornerback Dymonte Thomas, one of the team's fastest players. Offensively, the Wolverines have good speed at receiver with Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, and I'm interested to see if Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh can make an impact this season. I think they'll have a real chance.




Matt from Wausau, Wis., writes: Adam, this Rb draft class seems to be a real head-scratcher to me. I've been tearing through inside draft profiles both here and on other sites and it seems Eddie Lacy is the consensus top pick for RB's. I'll concede he may have better top-end speed then Montee Ball, but in every other facet of a RB profile, Ball is heads and tails above Lacy and everyone else. The other thing that bugs me is Lacy had a better OL this year, and worse numbers than Ball. Would someone stop this insanity and actually declare Ball the top back in the draft?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you know Brian and I are huge fans of Montee Ball, but how is he better than Lacy in "every other facet of a RB profile?" Does he have more power? I don't think so. Does he break more tackles? I saw Lacy break plenty during his Alabama career. Sure, Lacy played behind a better offensive line than Ball did last season, but he also did plenty of damage in the open field, particularly in big games. Lacy also wasn't featured as much as Ball. He had no game with more than 20 carries and just eight games with 15 or more carries. In those eight contests, Lacy averaged 123.5 yards per game. Ball certainly helped himself at Wisconsin's pro day and will be a very good NFL back in my view. But I think you're selling Lacy short.




MrVandy from Bethlehem, Pa., writes: Adam, I totally understand why Michigan State is not an option for the west division even though they would make the most sense competitivewise. With an odd number in each division, if we are to end the season with Big Ten teams playing each other, there will have to be one crossover game on that date. If we want to be consistent from year to year and als end with rivalries, of MSU is in the west the only constant crossover would be Michigan, and we all know they already have a partner for that Saturday. Otherwise, MSU would be stuck rotating with Penn St., Rutgers, and Maryland (and those teams would also rotate each other). That's why Purdue or Indiana must go west. Lastly, since the divisions will be aligned geographically, can we send you over to cover the west division, while Brian covers the east division?

Adam Rittenberg: So you're just trying to get rid of me, Vandy? I see how it is. We won't be splitting up the division coverage, so you're stuck with both of us covering the whole league. But you bring up a good point about the odd number of teams in the divisions and how it impacts the schedule for the final regular-season Saturday. You couldn't have Michigan-MSU on that date, so Purdue-Indiana is a good option. I also think the Big Ten loses less by having a weaker schedule rotation for Purdue or Indiana than it does with bigger brands like Michigan and Michigan State.




KMan from Baltimore writes: Adam,A couple questions/comments - as you did yesterday w/ Michigan State, will either you or Brian be doing a live blog from PSU this spring? Second, my pick for PSU's breakout player in 2013 is wideout Eugene Lewis. With measurables comparable to star receiver Allen Robinson, I've heard nothing but good things. He should complement Robinson nicely along with Moseby-Felder this season. In terms of the slot, I feel this is perfect spot for Bill Belton given his shiftiness and athleticism, much like his role in late 2011. I don't see him succeeding at tailback. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Neither Brian nor I will be going to Penn State this spring, but our colleague Ivan Maisel will be there early next week. Look out for a possible live blog from Ivan. Lewis is a good call for potential breakout player, as the Lions need at least another receiver to emerge, even though they have Robinson and tremendous depth at the tight end position. I know Bill O'Brien is excited about the younger receivers like Lewis, Trevor Williams and Alex Kenney. As for Belton, I wouldn't give up on him at running back just yet, although slot receiver could be an option down the line. A lot depends on how he competes with the other backs like Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 22, 2013
3/22/13
12:00
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Links are a little scarce today, almost as if everyone is focusing on another sport right now. Hmm.
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.
Michigan State's chances of signing recruit Drake Harris decreased a bit in mid-January when the coveted 2014 wide receiver reopened his recruitment after originally pledging to the Spartans.

Things looked shaky as Big Ten powers Ohio State and Michigan ramped up their recruiting efforts for Harris. But there still was some hope for MSU, as Harris attended a Spartans basketball game and sat next to his possible future quarterback, Damion Terry, who signed with Michigan State in February. Terry told the Detroit Free Press, "I'm glad he's a Spartan. I'm pretty sure he'll stay with us, but we'll have to see what happens."

Now comes the report from WolverineNation's Tom VanHaaren that Harris has officially decommitted from Michigan State. Harris texted VanHaaren with the news. This comes after Harris spent the past three weekends visiting Michigan.

The Wolverines certainly would benefit from adding Harris, as they'll need help at receiver after the 2013 season. Devin Gardner has moved from receiver to quarterback, and receivers Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are entering their senior years. The Wolverines signed ESPN 300 receiver Jaron Dukes in February.

It'll be interesting to see if Harris ends up with the Wolverines, or whether Ohio State makes another push for him. Although Michigan State has to be disappointed, this isn't a major surprise.

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