Big Ten: Drew Meyer

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
10:30
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Wisconsin Badgers:

2013 overall record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OG Ryan Groy, DE Pat Muldoon, DT Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward

Key returnees: RB Melvin Gordon, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Kyle Costigan, OT Tyler Marz, CB Sojourn Shelton, S Michael Caputo

Instant impact newcomer: Safety Lubern Figaro. If you're from outside the Badger State, you're probably asking, "Who?" After all, Figaro was just a three-star recruit and enrolled over the summer -- but he's already projected to start in the opener. Part of the reason is reportedly an injury to safety Leo Musso, but Figaro has already done plenty to separate himself. In the first scrimmage this preseason, he returned a pick for a touchdown. DB Sojourn Shelton made an impact last season when he was a true freshman; now it looks as if it's Figaro's turn.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSojourn Shelton and the Badgers' defense will have their hands full against teams in the West Division.
Projected starters

Offense: QB: Joel Stave, RS Jr., 6-5, 220; RB: Melvin Gordon, RS Jr., 6-1, 213; FB: Derek Watt, RS Jr., 6-2, 236; WR: Alex Erickson, RS So., 6-0, 196; WR: Reggie Love, RS So., 6-3, 214; TE: Sam Arneson, Sr., 6-4, 244; OT: Tyler Marz, RS Jr., 6-5, 321; OG: Dallas Lewallen, RS Sr., 6-6, 321: C: Dan Voltz, RS So., 6-3, 311; OG: Kyle Costigan, RS Sr., 6-5, 319; OT: Rob Havenstein, RS Sr., 6-8, 333

Defense: DE: Chikwe Obasih, RS Fr., 6-2, 268; DT: Warren Herring, RS Sr., 6-3, 294; DE: Konrad Zagzebski, RS Sr., 6-3, 277; OLB: Joe Schobert, Jr., 6-2, 240; ILB: Marcus Trotter, RS Sr., 6-0, 226; ILB: Derek Landisch, Sr., 6-0, 231; OLB: Vince Biegel, RS So., 6-4, 244; CB: Darius Hillary, RS Jr., 5-11, 188; CB: Sojourn Shelton, So., 5-9, 178; S: Michael Caputo, RS Jr., 6-1, 212; S: Lubern Figaro, Fr., 6-0, 179

Specialists: P: Drew Meyer, RS Jr., 6-3, 187; PK: Rafael Gaglianone, Fr., 5-11, 231

Biggest question mark: Can this front seven recover from so many key departures? Of the seven players who started in the Badgers' bowl game last season, only one returns. That leaves quite a few holes, especially when considering the departures of Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland and two All-Big Ten honorable mentions (Beau Allen, Pat Muldoon). Wisconsin's front seven dominated in 2013, as they helped the Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in rush defense (102.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is solid, but he's not a magician. Those defensive numbers will almost certainly drop from last season -- but just how much?

Most important game: Nov. 15 versus Nebraska. It's basically a three-team race in the West Division, so this is a must-win if Wisconsin wants a spot in the Big Ten championship game. There's no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule this season, so the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes are the teams to beat. Iowa is just as important, but that contest comes a week later, and that won't mean a thing if Wisconsin first can't get past this contest.

Upset special: Nov. 29 versus Minnesota. A lot could be on the line when the Badgers square off against Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. And, depending how Wisconsin's defense progresses, this could be an interesting one. Wisconsin's run defense is a wild card right now, and the Gophers could boast the second-toughest rushing attack on Wisconsin's schedule (outside of Nebraska). No team held Wisconsin to fewer points (20) last season than Minnesota, so there is some potential here. Plus, one has to think the Gophers will be able to manage better than a seven-point offensive effort this time around.

Key stat: Sure, everyone knows the departure of Jared Abbrederis will hurt Wisconsin. But the Badgers actually lost their top four targets, and only one (Jordan Fredrick) recorded catches in the double-digits. And he had just 10. Overall, Wisconsin lost 81 percent of its receiving production, as this year's returners had just 42 combined receptions last season compared with the 217 total catches.

What they're wearing: Wisconsin has come a long way since 2010, because it basically went from rotating between two uniform combinations to doing photo shoots with more than 20 combinations.

One possible new look includes an all-red, jersey-pant combo (not to be confused with Nebraska's all-red getup):

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Gary Andersen (@UWCoachAndersen) joined Twitter just a few weeks ago, but he pumps out unique tweets and is a great follow. The official Wisconsin football account (@BadgerFootball) tweets like crazy and is always on the ball. As far as players, running back Melvin Gordon (@Melvingordon25) is a no-brainer, while cornerback Sojourn Shelton (@SDS1_) definitely deserves a few more follows. There are quite a few good follows for your coverage needs -- besides us, of course -- including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) and SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q).

They said it: "No question there's a temptation to run him every time." – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on running back Melvin Gordon

Stats & Info projection: 9.29 wins

Wise guys over/under: 9.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Ten wins. Wisconsin has a lot of question marks, but it also has a lot of talent. The rushing offense should be one of the nation's best and, while this defense will undoubtedly take a step back from last season, it shouldn't free-fall with Dave Aranda at the helm. Wisconsin's schedule is pretty favorable, as it doesn't play any of the big names from the East, and it's possible it could be favored in every game from Week 2 on. Wisconsin's getting the benefit of the doubt here, but if it can manage a win against LSU in the opener, that bandwagon is going to get big in a hurry.
We've been previewing each position group in the Big Ten, and we've gone through every level of the offense and defense. But that's only two-thirds of the game. Don't forget special teams.

It can be hard to judge some of the new guys in the kicking game, as they often practice alone on separate fields and respond differently to pressure. So we'll give more weight to those who have already proved themselves in the league. Here's how we see the specialists shaping up:

Best of the best: Michigan State

Punter Mike Sadler is like an extension of the defense, so brilliant is he at pinning opponents near their own goal line (and he must be accounted for on trick plays). The vastly improved place-kicking game was a hidden reason for Michigan State's turnaround last year, and credit belongs to Michael Geiger, who missed only one field goal in 16 tries as a freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr., who was suspended this spring, finished third in the Big Ten in punt returns a year ago. The kickoff return game needs work, but all in all, the Spartans are in great shape whenever ball meets foot.

Next up: Maryland

Only four returning FBS players made more field goals last year than Brad Craddock, who went 21-for-25. William Likely was one of the ACC's best kickoff and punt returners as a freshman. Nathan Renfro had some shaky moments at punter but is entering his third year as a starter. The Terps enter the Big Ten armed with strong special teams. Ohio State should also be very, very good if an adequate replacement for placekicker Drew Basil is found.

Sleeper: Illinois

It wasn't that long ago that the Illini special teams were embarrassingly bad. But things are improving. V'Angelo Bentley led the league with a 15.8-yard average on punt returns last year. Place-kicker Taylor Zalewski has battled with inconsistency but did make a 54-yarder last year; he'll face some competition from Navy transfer David Reisner and Ryan Frain this summer. Veteran punter Justin DuVernois has been solid.

Problem for a contender: Wisconsin

The Badgers have had major issues on field goals the past couple of seasons. Jack Russell needs to provide more than just easy opportunities for my dog puns, or else he could be on a short leash (ahem). Drew Meyer returns at punter, but Wisconsin finished ninth in the Big Ten in net punting average last season. The good news is that Kenzel Doe is a top-flight return man. But if the overall kicking game doesn't improve, it could cost the team a win or two.
The Big Ten postseason position/unit rankings wrap up with the specialists. This list considers kickers, punters and returners, as well as coverage teams.

Here's how the Big Ten stacked up before the season. If you missed any of our postseason position/unit rankings, check 'em out.

Let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeJeff Budzien
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJeff Bundzien made 95 percent of his field goals and converted all 50 of his extra point attempts in 2012.
1. Northwestern (preseason ranking: 10): Northwestern fans never thought they'd see this day, but the program has improved markedly in the kicking game in recent years. Jeff Budzien was the Big Ten's most consistent kicker in 2012, connecting on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts (lone miss was a 53-yarder) and all 50 of his extra-point tries. Northwestern also led the league in punt return average (16.5) thanks to All-American returner Venric Mark, who had two runbacks for touchdowns. Northwestern ranked 19th nationally in punt coverage.

2. Nebraska (preseason ranking: 1): Brett Maher had a few hiccups but still made 20 of 27 field-goal tries and all 59 of his PATs, and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. He and Budzien shared the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year honors in the Big Ten. Ameer Abdullah had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Nebraska had three solid options on kick returns (Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner).

3. Michigan (preseason ranking: 7): Here's another team that has made major strides in the kicking game in recent years. Kicker Brendan Gibbons was Captain Clutch, converting 16 of 18 field-goal attempts, including the game-winner against Michigan State, as well as all 45 PATs. Dennis Norfleet provided a boost on kick returns, and Will Hagerup led the league in punting average (45 ypp) despite limited attempts (33).

4. Michigan State (preseason ranking: 4): The Spartans' sputtering offense gave Mike Sadler plenty of work and he delivered, averaging 43.3 yards on 79 punts. MSU finished second in the league in net punting. Dan Conroy led the Big Ten in both field goals made (23) and field goals missed (9), but he hit the game-winner against TCU in the bowl game. Michigan State struggled on kick returns, but both Nick Hill and Andre Sims averaged more than eight yards on punt returns.

5. Iowa (preseason ranking: 9): Mike Meyer improved on his 2012 performance, connecting on 17 of 21 field-goal tries and all 25 of his extra-point attempts. Iowa also performed well on returns, as Jordan Cotton led the league in kick returns (28.2 ypr) and Micah Hyde averaged 7.4 yards on 16 punt returns. Punting was a weak spot as Connor Kornbrath averaged only 37.9 yards per boot.

6. Purdue (preseason ranking: 2): The Boilers definitely missed Carson Wiggs, as their kickers connected on only 9 of 14 field-goal tries this season and missed five extra-point attempts. But there were bright spots elsewhere like punter Cody Webster, who averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff returns, thanks to Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert.

7. Ohio State (preseason ranking: 3): It was a mixed bag of big plays and big breakdowns for Ohio State on special teams in 2013. The Buckeyes had a league-high three punt returns for touchdowns but also had three punts blocked and surrendered a kick return for a touchdown against Purdue. Kicker Drew Basil was used sparingly (8 of 11 on field-goal attempts), while Ben Buchanan averaged 41 yards per punt. New special teams chief Kerry Coombs has some things to sort out.

8. Wisconsin (preseason ranking: 5): The kicking game continues to be a little inconsistent for the Badgers. Punter Drew Meyer had a solid season, averaging 41.5 yards on a league-high 80 punts. But Wisconsin kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to convert only 10 of 18 field-goal attempts. Kenzel Doe led Wisconsin's multi-pronged kick return attack, which ranked third in the Big Ten, while Jared Abbrederis was decent on punt returns.

9. Indiana (preseason ranking: 11): The Hoosiers had a so-so season in the kicking game. Kicker Mitch Ewald connected on 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and missed only 1 of 43 PAT tries. Tevin Coleman tied for second in the league in kick returns, while Shane Wynn provided another option there. IU's punters didn't wow with their numbers, but the Hoosiers finished fifth in net punting.

10. Illinois (preseason ranking: 12): You know it's a rough season when you hang your hat on net punting, a statistic where Illinois led the Big Ten (39.2-yard net average). Sophomore Justin DuVernois had a heavy workload and still finished fourth in the league in punting average (41.9 ypp). Illini kickers connected on 8 of 12 field-goal tries, but the return game once again struggled mightily (118th nationally in punt returns, 107th in kick returns).

11. Minnesota (preseason ranking: 6): Troy Stoudermire became the NCAA's all-time kick return yards king and Jordan Wettstein connected for the game-winning field goal in the opener against UNLV, but the Gophers had few other special teams highlights. Wettstein finished the year just 14 of 22 on field goals, and Minnesota ranked last in the league in net punting (34.4 ypp). The return game was mediocre but Minnesota fared OK in kickoff and punt coverage.

12. Penn State (preseason ranking: 8) Sam Ficken's finish nearly kept Penn State out of the basement. Ficken connected on his final 10 field-goal tries, including the game-winner in overtime against Wisconsin. The Virginia game still stings, though, as he finished 14-for-21 for the season. Penn State struggled with its punting (11th in league in net average) and finished last in the league in kick returns (18.1 ypr). There were coverage breakdowns and muffed punts. The lack of depth following the NCAA sanctions seemed to hurt Penn State the most in the kicking game, especially early in the season.
The Big Ten doesn't name an official all-freshman team, but that won't stop us from coming up with our own.

There were many impressive debuts this year in the league, and several players showed off promising potential. Here is our 2012 all-freshman squad, captained by freshman of the year Deion Barnes:

Offense

QB: Joel Stave, Wisconsin*
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin*
RB: Imani Cross, Nebraska
WR: Aaron Burbridge, Michigan State
TE: Kyle Carter, Penn State*
TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan
TE: Dan Vitale, Northwestern
OL: Jack Allen, Michigan State*
OL: Jason Spriggs, Indiana
OL: Donovan Smith, Penn State*
OL: Austin Blythe, Iowa*
OL: Dan Feeney, Indiana

Defense

DL: Deion Barnes, Penn State*
DL: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State
DL: Noah Spence, Ohio State
DL: Dean Lowry, Northwesterm
LB: Mason Monheim, Illinois
LB: Joe Bolden, Michigan
LB: Mike Svetina, Illinois
LB: James Ross, Michigan
DB: Nick VanHoose, Northwestern*
DB: Frankie Williams, Purdue*
DB: RJ Williamson, Michigan State*

Specialists

K: Taylor Zalewski, Illinois*
P: Drew Meyer, Wisconsin*
KR: Dennis Norfleet, Michigan
All-purpose: Josh Ferguson, Illinois*

* -- redshirt freshman

As you can see, we got creative again -- we had a 3-4 defense for our ESPN.com All-Big Ten team, and now we have a revolutionary 4-4-3 setup on our all-freshman defense. Why? Well, the pool for newbie defensive backs in this league was very shallow, so we preferred to recognize an extra linebacker instead of forcing the issue at DB. ... You might also notice our 12-man, three-TE offense. We believe the young tight ends in this league are extremely promising, and we didn't even include Penn State's Jesse James. Outside of Burbridge, there wasn't much production from freshman receivers. ... We left off some pretty good young offensive linemen who just missed the cut, including Minnesota's Josh Campion and Illinois' Ted Karras. ... Stave gets the nod over the Gophers' Philip Nelson even though he missed the final month with a broken collarbone. Nelson had a great game against Purdue but had some poor statistical outings down the stretch. ... Carter was the only freshman who also made our All-Big Ten team. ... Gordon showed what a high ceiling he has with his 200-plus yard performance in the Big Ten title game. He could be an absolute superstar.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
10:00
AM ET
Backbackbackbackback ....

Team of the week: Nebraska, Ohio State and Michigan State all notched big wins on Saturday. But a team that rarely sniffs this space gets the honor this week: Indiana. The Hoosiers deserve a nod after winning their first Big Ten game since 2010 with a two-touchdown triumph at Illinois. Sure, the Illini are pretty awful. But Indiana has been close all year long and finally got over the hump with a road win where its defense played well. And with Wisconsin losing, the Hoosiers are still very much alive for the Leaders Division title, as crazy as that might sound. The best news for head coach Kevin Wilson might be that his team wasn't overly exuberant about beating Illinois. “I think they expected it," he said. "They weren’t just jumping up and down. We talked about how you want to get used to that feeling. We’ve been doing a lot of things right and it’s nice to get a Saturday scoreboard to go our way, and we want a lot more of those.”

Game of the week: A much anticipated Saturday featuring many closely-matched teams did not actually produce any truly great games. The best of the bunch was Michigan State's 16-13 overtime win at Wisconsin, though the two offenses made that one hard to watch for long stretches. But at least there was a good finish, finally, by the Spartans, who drove the field for a tying touchdown with 1:08 left and then won in the first overtime. "We've been close, and we just kept coming," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "What I'd like to say is basically, 'Hey, we're not going to quit.'"

Biggest play: We go back to East Lansing for Andrew Maxwell's game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to Bennie Fowler on third-and-8. It was a great back-shoulder throw by Maxwell and an even better grab by Fowler, who had to adjust to the ball while falling backward. Both players had drawn heavy criticism this season for their play, so it was nice to see them both succeed in a key moment. “This could be the spark that we need to kind of carry us over and propel us the rest of the way,” Maxwell said.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireMichigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell came up big for the Spartans against Wisconsin.
Best play: The stat sheet just says it was a 1-yard touchdown run by Ohio State's Braxton Miller. But anyone who saw the play knows it was a piece of performance art. Miller stunned Penn State and his own teammates with his contortions after he and Carlos Hyde looked absolutely stuffed on a goal line option-read play. Miller's twisting, mid-air juke job even had his own coaches going "Oh, my god" on their headsets. We need some "The Matrix" style slow-motion camera work to truly appreciate the most outstanding 1-yard run of the season. Whoa, indeed.

Best call: The Nebraska defenders turned down an offer to have their blackshirts handed out after last week's win at Northwestern. They wanted to show consistency first, and they did so with a signature performance against Michigan. The Wolverines mustered only 188 yards and failed to score a touchdown (for the second straight week) in Nebraska's key 23-9. Yes, the injury to Denard Robinson was a huge factor, but it wasn't like Michigan was moving the ball at will before that, and the Huskers knocked him out of the game. Nebraska tortured Wolverines backup Russell Bellomy, who completed only 3-of-16 throws and had three interceptions. The blackshirts were well earned with this one.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Northwestern QB Kain Colter. When you call out your own offense for lacking an identity, as Colter did last week to ESPN.com, you'd better back it up. Colter sure did, running the ball 26 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns and throwing for 80 yards and a score in the Wildcats' 28-17 win over Iowa.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan State DE William Gholston. The highly-talented junior hasn't always lived up to sky high expectations, but he was all over the place against Wisconsin. Gholston had 4.5 tackles for loss and a sack and put the hit on quarterback Joel Stave that changed the game (and possibly both teams' season).

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Ohio State's Adam Griffin has been a special teams ace, and he made one huge play at Penn State. The Nittany Lions called for a fake punt on the Buckeyes' 43, and punter Alex Butterworth threw to Derek Day, who was open for the first-down reception. But Griffin hustled back to break up the pass, and Ohio State would then march in for a touchdown that made it 21-10. "I thought that was the turning point of the game," Urban Meyer said afterward. Griffin's dad, two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin, had to be proud.

Big (Fresh)man on Campus: Get ready to see a lot of Philip Nelson highlights over the next three or four years. Minnesota's precocious true freshman was tremendous in just his second college game, completing 11 of his first 12 passes and going 15-for-22 for 246 yards with three touchdowns, all in the first half, in a 44-28 win over Purdue. Nelson was so good that Gophers fans are asking what took so long for him to play.

Worst hangover: Wisconsin. Just when it seemed like the Badgers had bounced back and were ready to shoot up the Top 25, their offense got completely shut down against Michigan State. Worse, reports say Stave is out for the year with a broken collarbone, and backup Danny O'Brien was once again wildly ineffective at quarterback. Wisconsin probably will still go to the Big Ten championship game, but that beeping you hear is the sound of the Badgers backing their way into Indy.

Strangest moment: Midway through the second quarter in the Michigan State-Wisconsin game, we saw one of the ugliest series you'll ever (hopefully) witness.

First, the Spartans blocked a punt after Drew Meyer took his eye off the snap and a Keystone Cops reenactment ensued. Michigan State ook over on the Badgers' 11-yard line, in great position to score. Except that the Spartans possession went like this: holding penalty, incomplete pass, false start, sack, incomplete pass, delay of game penalty. When it was all said and done, Michigan State had lost 23 yards and somehow winded up punting on fourth-and-33. That "drive" appeared to encapsulate all of the Spartans' problems this season in one horrific sequence, but at least they solved them late for the win.
Hours after naming Danny O'Brien as its starting quarterback for the season opener, Wisconsin revealed its complete preseason depth chart.

Senior Curt Phillips and redshirt freshman Joel Stave are listed as co-backups behind O'Brien.

Oh, in case there was any doubt, Montee Ball is listed as the team's starting running back despite suffering a concussion last month.

Some notes and thoughts on the Badgers' two-deep.
  • Jordan Fredrick translated a strong camp into a starting wide receiver spot opposite standout Jared Abbrederis. Fredrick, who redshirted in 2011, is listed ahead of both Chase Hammond and Manasseh Garner. Kenzel Doe also nabbed a starting receiver spot ahead of veteran Jeff Duckworth. At 5-8 and 170 pounds, Doe is one of the smallest players in the Big Ten but makes up for his size with speed. It will be interesting to see how Wisconsin rotates its receivers around Abbrederis, clearly the team's No. 1 target.
  • Sophomore Kyle Costigan won the starting right guard spot ahead of Robert Burge. Wisconsin's other four starting linemen were fairly set. The right side of the line is young with Costigan and sophomore tackle Rob Havenstein.
  • Junior Pat Muldoon is listed as a starter at both defensive end spots, alongside David Gilbert and Brendan Kelly. Both Gilbert and Kelly have dealt with injury issues, so you can expect more of a rotation at end as Wisconsin tries to identify a difference-making pass rusher.
  • Wisconsin often uses two tight ends, and junior Brian Wozniak tops the depth chart alongside Jacob Pedersen. Wozniak got the nod ahead of Brock DeCicco, a transfer from Pittsburgh who has done some good things in preseason camp.
  • Despite missing spring practice and undergoing four surgeries in the past year and a half, Ethan Armstrong secured a starting outside linebacker spot alongside All-Big Ten 'backers Chris Borland and Mike Taylor. Armstrong started two game last season and is listed ahead of Conor O'Neill.
  • Special teams is a major area of interest for Wisconsin, and the Badgers have new starting specialists at both kicker (freshman Jack Russell) and punter (sophomore Drew Meyer). Sophomore Kyle French, the backup kicker, will handle kickoffs. Abbrederis, the team's top punt returner, also will handle kickoff returns with backup running back James White.
  • Jordan Kohout's career-ending injury thins the depth a bit at defensive tackle. Sophomores Warren Herring and Bryce Gilbert are listed as the backups behind Beau Allen and Ethan Hemer. Kohout likely would have been in a No. 2 role.

Thoughts on the Badgers' depth chart?
Our 2012 preseason position rankings come to a close today as we wrap up with the special-teams units.

When looking at special teams, you have to rely on what teams did last year and who they bring back, as it's extremely difficult to get a read on new kickers and punters during preseason practice. So teams that rank the highest on this list have reliable kickers and return men back in the fold. While the top and the bottom are fairly easy to sort out, the middle is pretty indistinguishable.

Let's specialize ...

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
AP Photo/Dave WeaverNebraska return man Ameer Abdullah could be contained a bit with the rule changes for kickoffs this season.
1. Nebraska: The obvious and really only pick for the top spot, as the Huskers bring back star kicker/punter Brett Maher and return ace Ameer Abdullah. Special teams should once again be a strength in Lincoln.

2. Purdue: The Boilers lose strong-legged kicker Carson Wiggs but return national kick return leader Raheem Mostert and punter Cody Webster, who finished just behind Maher in yards per punt.

3. Ohio State: Drew Basil turned into a very dependable kicker, and the Buckeyes also bring back punter Ben Buchanan. Jordan Hall is a top-flight returner when healthy, and Ohio State has other options there.

4. Michigan State: The Spartans have reliable place-kicker Dan Conroy back, along with punter Mike Sadler and kickoff return man Nick Hill. They will need to replace Keshawn Martin on punt returns.

5. Wisconsin: The Badgers' star is Jared Abbrederis, who's outstanding at returning both kicks and punts. But they need to replace both their kicker and punter. Kyle French has handled some field goals in the past, and Drew Meyer appears set to take over at punter. The punt protection unit must not allow breakdowns that cost the Badgers in big games last year.

6. Minnesota: Getting record-setting returner Troy Stoudermire back should help a team that did pretty well without him on returns a year ago. Jordan Wettstein made all six of his field goal tries after taking over the job late in the season. The Gophers need more consistent punting.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines made steady improvements on special teams, as Brendan Gibbons shored up the place-kicking situation. There is still a competition going on at punter between Matt Wile and Will Hagerup. Michigan's coverage was solid last year, but it can do better on returns.

8. Penn State: The losses of punter/kicker Anthony Fera and punt returner Justin Brown to transfers hurt. Sam Ficken will handle field-goal duties, though the punting competition remains open. No word yet on who will return punts.

9. Iowa: The Hawkeyes are still searching for a punter, and former quarterback John Wienke is in the mix. Mike Meyer was just 14-of-20 on field goals last year. Iowa's kickoff coverage a year ago was subpar.

10. Northwestern: Venric Mark leads a very strong punt return game. Kicker Jeff Budzien made only six field goals, though he was 50-of-50 on PATs.

11. Indiana: Kicker Mitch Ewald was a bright spot, but the Hoosiers' kick return game was terrible a year ago. IU will also break in a new punter.

12. Illinois: Things can only get better for the Illini, who were brutal on special teams last year. A new coaching staff should help, as well as transfer Tommy Davis, a former star return man at Northern Illinois. They must replace kicker Derek Dimke, however.

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