Big Ten: Drew Stanton


Michigan's offense has hopscotched under Brady Hoke, never establishing an identity despite repeated claims about a clear philosophy. We always hear about who the Wolverines want to be, but because of personnel, youth or fickle schematic decisions, we rarely see who they are.

Perhaps the best thing about Michigan's offensive coordinator transition was the lack of indecision. Hours after Michigan announced Al Borges had been fired, reports surfaced that Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier would be his replacement. Hoke knew who he wanted, targeted him and got the deal done (the team has yet to officially confirm Nussmeier's hiring).

It's up to Nussmeier to refine Michigan's offense for the 2014 season. Otherwise, both he and Hoke could be looking for jobs in December. It's that simple.

[+] EnlargeNussmeier
AP Photo/Butch DillHiring former Alabama offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is a step in the right direction for a Michigan offense that has sputtered lately and struggled to find an identity.
Nussmeier is a proven coach with an impressive track record, most recently at Alabama, which defended its national title in his first year as coordinator and put up solid offensive numbers this past season as well (38.2 points per game, 454.1 yards per game). Regardless of whether Alabama coach Nick Saban let Nussmeier walk to pave the way for Lane Kiffin, Michigan seems to be getting a high-quality coach. CBSsports.com's Bruce Feldman reports that Nussmeier, who earned $680,000 in 2013, will become one of the five highest-paid coordinators in college football. That's fine, too, as Michigan makes more than any Big Ten team and has yet to translate all that dough to championships on the field.

Hoke's rhetoric about Big Ten-title-or-bust and Team OneThirtySomething rings hollow until his teams start showing they can live up to Michigan's storied past. Rivals Ohio State and Michigan State have bypassed Michigan, and 2014 is pivotal for Hoke and the Wolverines, who enter the same division as the Buckeyes. They need to go for it now, and the Nussmeier hire is a good sign that they are.

Nussmeier must take a group of players, some recruited by Rich Rodriguez's staff and some by Hoke's staff, and mold them into a unit that's easy to identify. Quarterbacks such as Alabama's AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Michigan State's Drew Stanton and Jeff Smoker have improved under his tutelage. He must facilitate similar upgrades with Michigan's Devin Gardner and/or Shane Morris.

A record-setting signal-caller at Idaho who played in both the NFL and CFL, Nussmeier knows quarterbacks, but his first priority at Michigan will be resurrecting a run game that went dormant the past two seasons. Michigan's young offensive line needs to grow up in a hurry, especially after losing left tackle Taylor Lewan, a first-round draft pick in April, as well as right tackle Michael Schofield, a three-year starter. Nussmeier isn't exactly inheriting the Alabama offensive line in Ann Arbor. Or Alabama's running backs, for that matter. There's some young talent at Michigan, but it needs to be coached up.

As much criticism as Borges received, some of it deserved, coordinators can't do much when their offenses are incapable of generating moderate rushing gains between the tackles. Michigan set historic lows on offense this year, becoming the first FBS team in the past 10 seasons to record net rush totals of minus-20 or worse in consecutive games (losses to Michigan State and Nebraska).

Nussmeier has worked in different conferences as well as in the NFL (St. Louis Rams), but his stint in the Big Ten at Michigan State should help him in his new gig. His basic philosophy as a pro-style coach doesn't differ dramatically from Borges -- or what Hoke wants -- and shouldn't turn off Michigan's 2014 recruits.

But his ability to evaluate the strengths of Michigan's players and tailor his scheme around them will determine his success or failure. When Borges built a game plan around what Gardner does best, as we saw against both Notre Dame and Ohio State, the results proved positive. But we saw too much tweaking, too many versions of the Michigan offense, too many attempts to show who is the smartest coach in the building.

Nussmeier is a future head coach and entered the mix for recent vacancies at both Washington and Southern Miss. It might be hard for Michigan to keep him, but the future beyond the 2014 season isn't really important.

Michigan acted quickly and decisively Wednesday night. Nussmeier must do the same in refining the identity of an offense that will determine a lot about where Michigan is headed under Hoke.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 7, 2012
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Two months until preseason camps open. Link time.

Big Ten did you know? Week 2

September, 9, 2011
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Some notes and nuggets to hopefully make you smarter as you head out to the games this weekend.
  • Penn State's 23-game nonconference home winning streak is tied for second-longest in the nation with Florida. LSU leads at 31. The Nittany Lions' last nonconference loss in Beaver Stadium was to Boston College on Sept. 6, 2003.
  • Wisconsin accumulated 499 yards of total offense on just 53 plays against UNLV, averaging 9.42 yards per play. That was the second best mark in the country, behind only Georgia Tech’s 10.34 yards per play against Western Carolina. The Badgers have scored at least 37 points in the first half in each of their past three home games. In its past six home games, Wisconsin has combined to score 346 points. That is an average of 57.7 points per game.
  • Michigan had a plus-3 turnover margin against Western Michigan in Saturday's season-opening win, the first time the Wolverines won the turnover battle since Sept. 11, 2010, when they were plus-3 at Notre Dame.
  • With the 42-0 win against Akron last Saturday, Luke Fickell became the first Ohio State head coach to record a shutout in his head-coaching debut since Woody Hayes in 1951.
  • Tackle Tyler Moore last week became first true freshman offensive lineman to start a season opener in Nebraska history, and just the fourth freshman offensive lineman to earn a start in Nebraska's season opener, joining redshirt freshmen Jeremiah Sirles (2010 vs. Western Kentucky), Marcel Jones (2008 vs. Western Michigan) and Richie Incognito (2002 vs. Arizona State). Moore is only the fourth true freshman offensive lineman to start a game at any point in a season, and only the 10th true freshman offensive lineman to play at Nebraska.
  • Illinois was penalty-free in the opener, marking the first time in 18 years it did not commit a penalty in a game. The last time it happened was Nov. 20, 1993, against Wisconsin. Illinois is one of just three FBS teams that did not get flagged in the opening week (Eastern Michigan and Navy).
  • Iowa has held its opponents to two touchdown passes or fewer in 35 straight games. The Hawkeyes' defense has collected at least one takeaway in 57 of its last 63 games, dating back to 2006.
  • Minnesota came from behind in all six of its victories in 2009 and all three in 2010. The last time the Gophers won a game without trailing was a 17-6 win at Purdue on Oct. 25, 2008.
  • After spending much of 2010 searching for a consistent running attack, Northwestern has now surpassed 200 yards rushing in back-to-back contests for the first time since the final two games of 2003. NU totaled 229 ground yards in the TicketCity Bowl to close last season and went for 227 Saturday against Boston College.
  • With 222 passing yards against Youngstown State, Michigan State senior quarterback Kirk Cousins became just the fourth Spartans quarterback to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark, joining Jeff Smoker (8,932 yards), Drew Stanton (6,524 yards) and Brian Hoyer (6,159 yards). Cousins also moved into a tie for fifth place at Michigan State for most touchdown passes (42) as he threw an 18-yard strike to B.J. Cunningham in the third quarter. Cousins now has 6,037 career passing yards and his completion percentage of .648 is currently the best in team history and third in Big Ten history.
  • After rushing for 201 yards in the opener against Middle Tennessee, Purdue improved to 7-1 under coach Danny Hope when eclipsing the 200-yard rushing mark. Purdue racked up 200 rush yards or more in all four victories last season.
  • Ten true freshmen saw action for Indiana in the opener against Ball State, the most for an IU squad since 11 took the field during the 2003 campaign. Indiana only played eight true freshmen from 2007-10.

Big Ten did you know?: Week 9

October, 29, 2010
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A few notes and nuggets to memorize before you watch the games on Saturday. As always, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info for several of these.
  • Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi has had most of his downfield success this season after faking a handoff. Stanzi has used play-action on 23.6 percent of his passes in 2010, and much of his success has been on downfield throws. When using play action on passes of 15 yards or longer, Stanzi has completed 10 of 14 attempts for an average of 27.7 yards per pass with four touchdowns.
  • Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown a touchdown pass in 15 straight games. If he keeps the streak alive this week, he'll tie Drew Stanton's team record.
  • During the past eight seasons, Big Ten teams are just 25-35 coming off a bye week. The only exception has been Michigan, which is 5-0 after a bye during this span -- by far the best record in the conference.
  • Penn State leads the nation with just 25.1 penalty yards per game, having committed 25 penalties for just 176 yards in seven games. The Nittany Lions trail only Wisconsin (3.33 avg.) with just 25 penalties in seven games (3.57 penalties per game).
  • Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor needs two yards to reach 7,000 career offensive yards. He'd join Art Schlichter (8,850) and Bobby Hoying (7,151) as the only Buckeyes players to reach that total. Pryor needs two touchdown passes to reach 50 for his career, which would tie Schlichter for fourth in team history.
  • Michigan State has outscored Big Ten opponents 82-31 in the second half this season after having just a 47-43 difference in the first half. Michigan State’s second-half success can be attributed in part to Cousins throwing the ball better downfield as the game goes on. In Big Ten play, Cousins has completed just 38.5 percent of passes 15 yards or longer in the first half with no touchdowns. But he's completing 63.2 percent of passes 15 yards or longer with three touchdowns in the second half of games.
  • Northwestern's Dan Persa is completing 75.7 percent of his passes this season, which would shatter the Big Ten record for single-season completion percentage (minimum 100 completions) set by Wisconsin's Darrell Bevell, who completed 67.8 percent of his throws in 1993. Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien and Stanzi are also on pace to surpass Bevell's conference record. Tolzien is completing 71.8 percent of his passes, while Stanzi is connecting on 68.1 percent of his throws.
  • Illinois has allowed only eight touchdowns on 25 opponent red zone trips (32.0 percent) and ranks third nationally in red zone touchdown percentage defense, behind only Alabama (30.4 percent) and West Virginia (30.8 percent). The Illini rank third in the nation in red zone scoring percentage, picking up points on 22 of their 23 trips inside the 20 this season (96 percent).
  • Purdue leads the Big Ten with 20 sacks and 53 tackles for loss. The Boilers' game averages of 2.9 sacks and 7.6 TFLs rank 13th and 12th nationally, respectively. Purdue has recorded at least one sack and at least five tackles for loss in all seven games this season.
  • Ted Bolser already has set Indiana freshman tight end records with 16 receptions (fifth on team) and 271 receiving yards (fourth). He leads the team with five touchdowns, which is a record for all Hoosier tight ends and second all-time among freshmen receivers.
  • Michigan State is the eighth Big Ten team since the 2000 season to open the year with eight consecutive victories. Of the previous seven teams to open at 8-0, six advanced to BCS bowls and four won at least a share of the Big Ten title. This marks the fifth straight season that at least one Big Ten team has jumped out to an 8-0 start or better.
  • Minnesota's Adam Weber last week became just the fifth quarterback in Big Ten history to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. Weber joined Iowa’s Chuck Long (10,461), Northwestern’s Brett Basanez (10,580), Purdue’s Curtis Painter (11,163) and Purdue’s Drew Brees (11,792). He could pass Long to move into No. 4 all-time this week.
  • Northwestern carries a five-game road winning streak to Indiana after posting wins against Iowa, Illinois, Vanderbilt, Rice and Minnesota in its last five true road games. Since the start of the 2008 season, Northwestern has won a Big Ten-best 10 road games.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 6, 2010
5/06/10
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Word of the day: Byfuglien.


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The Michigan State-Northwestern series likely won't appear on any list of top Big Ten matchups, but lately it has produced plenty of exciting moments. As the Spartans and Wildcats prepare to meet Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ESPN2, noon ET), here's a look back at some of their entertaining matchups in recent years.

2007 (at East Lansing) -- The teams combined for 89 points, 49 first downs and 1,092 total yards as Northwestern won 48-41 in overtime. Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher passed for a school-record 520 yards, the fifth-best mark in Big Ten history. Michigan State's Javon Ringer ran for 185 yards and three touchdowns. The Spartans never led but rallied from six different 7-point deficits.

2006 (at Evanston) -- Michigan State completed the biggest comeback in NCAA history, rallying from a 38-3 deficit in the third quarter to win 41-38. The 35-point deficit was the largest overcome since Ohio State rallied from 31 points down against Minnesota in 1989. Michigan State's Drew Stanton passed for 294 yards and two touchdowns, while Bacher, making his first career start, tossed three touchdowns.

2001 (at Evanston) -- The teams combined to score 16 points in the final 29 seconds in one of the wildest endings you'll ever see. After a Charles Rogers punt return touchdown put Michigan State up 20-17, Northwestern scored on a 10-yard pass with 29 seconds left. But Michigan State's Herb Haygood returned the ensuing kickoff 84 yards to the end zone. The extra-point attempt was blocked, Michigan State's second missed PAT of the day, but the Spartans held a 26-24 lead. Northwestern took over with 18 seconds left and hit on a Hail Mary to set up a 47-yard field goal attempt, which David Wasielewski drilled to give NU the 27-26 victory.

"For whatever reason, the games have been really great football games," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "Some have ended up on our end, some have ended up on theirs. For both sides, they've been incredible games.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to break down the most important position on the field, which should be much improved in the Big Ten this year. The league returns its top six rated passers and its passing yards leader in Illinois' Juice Williams.

Depth also plays a huge role at quarterback and could hurt teams that have a big dropoff in experience between the first and second strings. Keep in mind these rankings assess the entire position, not just the starters.

Here's the rundown:

1. Illinois -- The final step in Juice Williams' evolution takes place this fall. No Big Ten quarterback boasts more in-game experience than Williams, who had an amazing first half last season but struggled mightily down the stretch. He'll have the league's top wide receiving corps at his disposal. Eddie McGee has more experience than most Big Ten backups, and redshirt freshman Jacob Charest will push McGee for the No. 2 spot.

2. Minnesota -- I'm sure I'll take some heat for putting the Gophers this high, but there's a lot to like between Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray. Weber has thrown 39 career touchdown passes and battled through some less than ideal circumstances the last two seasons. He reunites with All-America candidate Eric Decker to form one of the league's top passing combos. Weber will be the starter, but Gray has drawn rave reviews and figures to play an integral role in the offense.

3. Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor showed unmistakable signs of progress in spring ball, and his teammates saw leadership skills develop during the summer. The Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year still has a lot to prove, as does an offense that ranked 105th nationally in passing last year. Former minor league baseball player Joe Bauserman certainly has the arm strength to step in for Pryor, though Ohio State's overall depth at quarterback looks shaky.

4. Penn State -- Daryll Clark is the league's best quarterback and should have gotten the nod for preseason Offensive Player of the Year. Clark also appears to be the Big Ten's most indispensible player, mainly because of his skill but also because of who's behind him. If Clark goes down, Penn State would turn to a true freshman in Kevin Newsome who enrolled early. Newsome did some nice things in the spring but doesn't look ready for the spotlight just yet.

5. Iowa -- It's no secret that I expect big things from Ricky Stanzi, who showed impressive poise in bouncing back from mistakes last fall and still helped Iowa to a 9-4 mark. Stanzi will have much more pressure on his shoulders without Shonn Greene in the backfield, but he looks up to the task. Much like Penn State, Iowa doesn't have a proven backup and will turn to redshirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke if necessary.

6. Michigan State -- The race for the starting job is too close to call, and head coach Mark Dantonio might not settle on a guy until Big Ten play. But the Spartans appear to have two very good options in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins performed well as Brian Hoyer's backup last fall, while Nichol, the Oklahoma transfer, has drawn comparisons to Drew Stanton with his athleticism. Heralded recruit Andrew Maxwell also is in the mix.

7. Northwestern -- Mike Kafka isn't a stranger to the spotlight despite not starting since his freshman year in 2006. Kafka turned in a record-setting performance in relief of C.J. Bacher last November at Minnesota, rushing for 217 yards. He needs to complement his mobility with a more consistent passing game. Northwestern is fully prepared to play a second quarterback and will turn to sophomore Dan Persa, who did some nice things this spring.

8. Wisconsin -- Quarterback was the Badgers' Achilles' heel last fall, and there are some lingering questions about the position as camp begins. Senior Dustin Sherer did a decent job in a tough situation in 2008, but he'll need to become more consistent and limit his sacks. Redshirt freshman Curt Phillips came on strong late in spring practice and brings athleticism to the quarterback spot. Phillips could provide the continuity at quarterback that Wisconsin fans desperately seek, but he still has more to prove this month.

9. Michigan -- Things definitely will get better for Michigan at quarterback this fall, but how quickly? True freshman Tate Forcier enters preseason camp as the frontrunner for the starting job after impressing his coaches during spring ball and the Michigan fans in the spring game. He'll be joined by classmate Denard Robinson, who boasts track-star speed. And don't forget about Nick Sheridan, who was showing progress this spring before breaking a bone in his leg. This group could soar up the list, but it has a lot to prove.

10. Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch has a ton of confidence in Ben Chappell, which is nice to see. But Chappell needs to become a bigger factor in the offense after completing just 52.3 percent of his passes for 91 yards a game last fall. He'll be working with a better offensive line but a young group of receivers that needs playmakers to emerge. Backups Teddy Schell and Adam Follett have little experience.

11. Purdue -- Miami transfer Robert Marve can't play until next year, and Purdue lost its projected starter Justin Siller to academic issues in the spring. Career backup Joey Elliott finally gets his chance to shin
e this fall, and it'll be interesting to see how he performs. Elliott is a very smart quarterback and a good leader, but his in-game résumé leaves a lot to be desired. The coaches are high on redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush, who could push Elliott for playing time.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rise of the spread offense in college football has put many of the nation's tight ends on notice.

As more coaches look for quickness before brute strength, tight ends are being forced to reinvent themselves.

"You see a lot of colleges phasing out the tight ends, but we've got to phase out of that, too," Michigan State junior Charlie Gantt said. "We've got to be faster, stronger. We've still got to be big, but we each have to adapt to it."

 
  Dave Stephenson/Icon SMI
  Charlie Gantt is hoping for more opportunities to catch the ball this season.

The Spartans' tight ends are making the adjustments. It's why Gantt can make statements like this and get taken seriously: "I envision a lot more pass-catching opportunities, a lot more different kinds of routes and plays that we can do. Two-, maybe three-tight end sets, that's what I'm hoping for, to get as many tight ends in the game [as possible]."

Michigan State boasts the depth and talent at tight end to make Gantt's wish come true this fall. Gantt returns for his second year as a starter after hauling in 19 receptions and four touchdowns in 2008.

He'll once again be spelled by Garrett Celek, a sophomore who appeared in 12 games last fall, recording six receptions and a touchdown. Talented Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum joins the mix, and heralded recruit Dion Sims also could see the field this fall.

"Especially with Dion coming in, we'll have four solid tight ends, at least two or three used every game, goal-line packages, different formations just to get more out of the offense," Linthicum said.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several years ago, the prospect of Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins competing for a starting job on the same team seemed slim at best.

You could make a case the two quarterbacks were intentionally trying to avoid each other.

 Matthew Emmons/US PRESSWIRE
Kirk Cousins could have the advantage in the QB duel after serving as Brian Hoyer's backup last fall.

Nichol committed to Michigan State in the summer of 2005, pegged as the successor to Drew Stanton. At the time, Cousins was a relatively unknown player entering his junior year at a high school that had only started competing in football two years earlier.

But shortly after Michigan State fired head coach John L. Smith in 2006, Nichol decommitted and switched his pledge to Oklahoma. Cousins, meanwhile, had followed several strong performances at junior camps with an excellent senior season.

Scholarship offers started to trickle in. After Nichol bolted, Michigan State assistant Dan Enos came calling and Cousins committed in January 2007.

"If I had to pick from any of the other schools that had offered, I'm not sure where I would have gone," said Cousins, who also received an offer from Colorado. "I'm glad that Michigan State came through."

Their paths seemed set. Two quarterbacks who grew up 50 miles apart in western Michigan would be separated by a time zone in college.

But after Nichol found himself behind future Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford and Joey Halzle on Oklahoma's depth chart, he decided to transfer and ended up where he nearly started, Michigan State.

As the Spartans' quarterback competition kicks off this spring, Cousins and Nichol find themselves together on center stage.

"It's funny how things work out," Nichol said. "I don't think he really knew where he was going to go, and then I go to Oklahoma, he decides to come here and now I'm back.

"Competing with him has made me a better football player, it's made me grow physically and mentally. It's been a blessing, actually."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Most of the major transfer news in the Big Ten has centered on players leaving the league, particularly at the quarterback position. Three prominent signal-callers transferred from Big Ten schools -- Michigan's Steven Threet, Penn State's Pat Devlin and Iowa's Jake Christensen -- and Wisconsin announced Monday that reserve quarterback James Stallons was granted his release.

But there are several key additions to Big Ten teams who will become eligible this fall. Here's a look at five transfers from other FBS programs who could make a major impact in 2009.

 
  Icon SMI
  Michigan transfer Justin Boren could step in and be the Buckeyes' top offensive lineman.

Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol (Oklahoma) -- It's hard to blame Nichol for transferring from Oklahoma, particularly with that Bradford guy ahead of him on the depth chart. He returns to his home state and will compete for the starting job alongside sophomore Kirk Cousins. A dual-threat quarterback who has drawn comparisons to former Spartans star Drew Stanton, Nichol brings a unique skill set to an offense that needs a spark without Javon Ringer.

Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren (Michigan) -- There's already talk that Boren will be Ohio State's top offensive lineman when he steps on the practice field this spring. He started all 13 games for Michigan as a sophomore in 2007 and looks like a lock for a starting guard spot with the Buckeyes. Boren will be a lightning rod for the rest of his career because he transferred from Michigan to Ohio State, but his ability merits attention as well.

Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson (Florida) -- Quarterback Juice Williams mentioned Fayson as an emerging team leader during the offseason, and the Florida transfer will enter the receiver rotation this fall. Illinois boasts a lot of talent at wide receiver, so Fayson will need to distinguish himself in spring ball. But the heralded high school recruit contributed as a receiver, runner and return man for Florida in 2006 and should find his way on the field.

Minnesota offensive lineman Matt Carufel (Notre Dame) -- Minnesota's offense is getting a makeover under coordinator Jedd Fisch and line coach Tim Davis, and Carufel should play a role this fall as the Gophers emphasize the power run again. Carufel started the first three games of 2007 at Notre Dame before deciding to transfer. The Gophers' struggles on the line should create plenty of competition during the spring and summer, and Carufel will be in the mix for a starting job.

Northwestern linebacker Aaron Nagel (Notre Dame) -- A traffic jam at linebacker last spring caused Nagel to leave Notre Dame for Northwestern, where he joins his brother Brett, a redshirt freshman fullback/tight end. The Wildcats lose two starting linebackers (Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng), so Nagel will have the opportunity to earn significant playing time, which he wasn't getting with the Irish.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's no secret that quite possibly the biggest step to fix the Big Ten calls for teams to upgrade their quarterback play.

College football is a quarterback's game now more than ever. The last three Heisman Trophy winners have been quarterbacks, and barring a surprise, a signal caller will take home the hardware once again this winter. Although the Big Ten boasted by far the best crop of running backs in the nation last year, the league lagged far behind its BCS counterparts at quarterback.

Not to belabor the point too much, but the Big Ten had no players ranked among the top-20 nationally in passer rating and only one quarterback, Illinois' Juice Williams, among the top 30 in total offense. The Big 12 had nine players among the total offense top 30.

While the Big Ten loses five of its top six rushers from 2008, the good news is the league brings back seven of its top 10 passers. But only a handful of teams are set under center for 2009, and spring practice will be critical for the development of quarterbacks around the league.

Here's a snapshot of the quarterback situation entering spring ball:

Illinois -- Juice Williams is entrenched as the starter but will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Mike Schultz. Williams could have a huge senior season but needs to get more consistent after struggling down the stretch last fall.

Indiana -- The Hoosiers will continue to try Kellen Lewis at several positions, but they need more clarity at quarterback. Will Lewis and Ben Chappell continue to platoon? Can Lewis regain his All-Big Ten form of 2007?

Iowa -- Starter Ricky Stanzi returns, but he needs to cut down on interceptions and boost his completion percentage. He'll have an improved receiving corps this fall, but the security blanket of Shonn Greene is gone.

Michigan -- You can't downplay how important spring ball will be for freshman Tate Forcier. The Wolverines might not be fully settled at quarterback until the summer, but they'll feel a lot better about things if Forcier has a strong spring. Nick Sheridan also remains in the mix.

Michigan State -- The competition between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol begins as Michigan State searches for Brian Hoyer's successor. Will the Spartans go with Cousins, who performed well last year as Hoyer's backup, or the more versatile Nichol, the Oklahoma transfer who some compare to Drew Stanton?

Minnesota -- Starter Adam Weber will be held out of contact drills this spring, allowing the coaches to take a long look at freshman MarQueis Gray. If Gray performs as expected in spring ball, he should find his way on the field at times this fall.

Northwestern -- Senior Mike Kafka is the clear favorite to win the starting job, but he must improve as a passer. Kafka's running ability makes him a perfect candidate to run Northwestern's spread system, but he needs to show he can make short to moderate throws on a consistent basis.

Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor's running skills make him one of the Big Ten's most dangerous weapons, but his blemishes as a passer are obvious. If he improves his touch on midrange throws and jells with a new-look receiving corps that includes several of his peers, Pryor will have a huge spring.

Penn State -- Daryll Clark is the league's top quarterback entering 2009, but he'll need to find a rhythm with new receivers this spring. The more pressing issue for Penn State will be the spring development of freshman Kevin Newsome, a dual-threat quarterback who will back up Clark this fall.

Purdue -- Joey Elliott has been here before, but never as the frontrunner. The senior should be close to 100 percent following a shoulder separation and will be pushed by multitalented sophomore Justin Siller. Elliott and Siller will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Gary Nord.

Wisconsin -- The Badgers' inability to identify a clear starter last spring might have haunted them when the season rolled around. Whether Dustin Sherer re-earns the starting job or a younger player like Curt Phillips steps up, Wisconsin needs more clarity under center after spring practice concludes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The spring practice primer continues today with five newcomers to watch as Big Ten teams return to the field next month.

All five of these men could play critical roles come September.

Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier -- The true freshman from San Diego, who enrolled early, is considered the frontrunner for the starting job after incumbent Steven Threet transferred earlier this month. Forcier boasts the skill set to run Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. If he catches on quickly this spring, he'll likely be the man to beat when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives in the summer.

Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol -- Nichol sat out last season after transferring from Oklahoma and will begin competing this spring for the starting job alongside Kirk Cousins. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nichol ran Michigan State's scout team last year and fits the Drew Stanton-like mold as an adept runner as well as a passer. Cousins enters the spring with a slight edge after backing up Brian Hoyer last year, but Nichol isn't too far behind.

Ohio State guard Justin Boren -- He's hardly a newcomer to the Big Ten, but the news-making transfer from Michigan hits the practice field this spring seeking a starting job. The 6-3, 320-pound Boren, who started all 13 games for Michigan in 2007, may very well emerge as Ohio State's best offensive lineman this spring. He could cement himself as a starter on a line that underperformed last fall.

Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips -- A heralded recruit from Tennessee, Phillips joins a wide-open competition under center after redshirting last season. Named Wisconsin's offensive scout team player of the year in 2008, the strong-armed Phillips could be the long-term answer at quarterback that the Badgers sorely need. He'll compete alongside incumbent Dustin Sherer, Scott Tolzien, James Stallons and true freshman Jon Budmayr, another key newcomer.

Minnesota tackle Jeff Wills -- As the Gophers resurrect the power run game this spring, Wills should play a key role on a line that struggled for much of last season. Coming from the same junior college that produced Bryant McKinnie, Wills has excellent size (6-7, 350) and will compete for a starting position right away. "He may be one of the biggest humans I've ever been around," head coach Tim Brewster said of Wills.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official Big Ten Player of the Week selections are out, but if you've been reading the blog, you saw them already. Looks like the league office and I are finally on the same page.

From the release:

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Javon Ringer, Sr., RB, Michigan State

With a driving rain limiting the passing offense, Ringer carried the load in a win over Florida Atlantic by racking up career highs with 43 rushing attempts and 282 yards on the ground to earn his second straight Big Ten Player of the Week award. The senior running back averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored a pair of touchdowns from 21 and 11 yards out to provide nearly all of the offense in the 17-0 victory. His 282-yard performance represents the fourth-best single-game effort in Michigan State history and the most ground yardage since Lorenzo White broke loose for 292 yards against Indiana in 1987. The last Big Ten rusher to crack the 280-mark in a game was Wisconsin's Anthony Davis, who collected 301 yards against Minnesota on Nov. 23, 2002. Ringer becomes the first Spartan to nab consecutive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week laurels since quarterback Drew Stanton was honored on Sept. 19 and 26 of 2005. Ringer now boasts three weekly awards, as he was also honored on Oct. 15, 2007.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK

DeAndre Levy, Sr., LB, Wisconsin

Levy was all over the field with a team-best nine tackles, four tackles for loss, a sack, a pass breakup and an interception to help hold nationally-ranked Fresno State to only 10 points in a road triumph for Wisconsin. In the first quarter, the senior linebacker picked off a tipped pass on the Bulldogs' 34-yard line to set up the Badgers only touchdown of the game. Trailing 13-10, the hosts moved into Wisconsin territory on their final drive of the game before Levy came up with his biggest play of the night, sacking the quarterback on third-and-11 with less than three minutes remaining to force a punt. The visitors would run out the clock to secure the three-point victory. Levy and the Badgers held Fresno State to only 10 points and 304 total yards after the Bulldogs had posted 24 points and 422 total yards in a season-opening win at Rutgers. This marks the second weekly accolade for Levy, who was also honored on Oct. 29, 2007.

SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Andy Brodell, Jr., WR/PR, Iowa

With Iowa clinging to a 10-3 lead over in-state rival Iowa State, Brodell put the game away with an 81-yard punt return touchdown with just over six minutes left in the game. The senior wide receiver recorded his first punt return score and established a new career best, surpassing his 78-yard punt return against Syracuse last season. Brodell is the first Hawkeye to return a punt for a touchdown since Jovon Johnson went 90 yards against Ball State in 2005. Brodell added two receptions against the Cyclones as Iowa reclaimed the Cy-Hawk Trophy. This marks the first weekly honor of Brodell's career.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

The e-mails are flowing in, and it's obvious that Big Ten fans are geared up for the 2008 season.

Let's see what's on your mind:

Shadd, from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Adam, Do you see Ohio State using Terrelle Pryor in a "read option" type of offense when he comes into the game, or do you see the OSU coaches having him execute the same dropback style gameplan that Boeckman plays? Seems like Jim Bollman can be thick headed sometimes when it comes to play packages with different personnel.

Adam Rittenberg: Pryor's skills definitely translate for a read option system, much like the one Illinois uses at times with Juice Williams. It's the reason Michigan wanted Pryor so badly for its new offense. Though he will be used in those situations, I think Ohio State also will have Pryor operate in a more traditional system as he progresses. The first two games, Youngstown State and Ohio, provide excellent opportunities for Pryor to get playing time and run the team's standard offense. If he shows he can pass effectively against college defenses, the Buckeyes should gradually increase his workload. His transition as a runner and a playmaker will be easier than as a drop-back passer, but he's got to learn sometime.


Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: First off, the 2005 field goal kicking meltdown occurred at MSU, not at Michigan. I was at that game, and at the Ohio State game a week later, and I can personally say that the OSU match-up was infinitely more heartbreaking. However, those two losses pale in comparison to the agony of Notre Dame, 2006. I vaguely remember the feeling of happiness while building a lead, but otherwise the entire evening is nothing but a cold, dark, and lonely sinkhole of a memory that haunts me to this day.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks to Andrew and several other e-mailers for pointing out that the 2005 Michigan-Michigan State game did take place in East Lansing, not Ann Arbor. Like Minnesota, Michigan State has had too many traumatic losses in recent years. I covered the Notre Dame game in 2006, and it was a total collapse for the Spartans. The game began under clear skies, but the rain came at halftime and gradually increased. Michigan State led 37-21 with 10 minutes to play, but then went ultra-conservative on offense down the stretch as Notre Dame rallied. Drew Stanton didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter until three minutes remained, and ND cornerback Terrail Lambert intercepted it and scored the game-winning touchdown. The loss spelled the end for coach John L. Smith and sparked one of the greatest radio rants I've ever heard.


David from Champaign, Ill., writes: Do you believe the matchup this year between Illinois-Indiana at 8pm in Champaign will be one of the more exciting games in the Big ten this year? Everyone around here is really looking forward to it! Also, what are your thoughts on Greg Middleton and rising star LB Matt Mayberry? How can we slow down the two quick defenders this year?

Adam Rittenberg: David, as an Illinois fan, you might want to be a little more concerned about Missouri, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State than the Hoosiers, but that game will definitely be worth watching. I've gotten several e-mails about Mayberry, a junior middle linebacker who made 42 tackles as a reserve last season. It seems like hopes are very high for him to solidify Indiana's defensive midsection. Middleton is a beast, but Xavier Fulton can hold his own at left tackle. Should be a great matchup. I'm also interested to see two of the league's most versatile quarterbacks, Juice Williams and Kellen Lewis.


Stan in Grand Haven, Mich., writes: OK, I'm a UM fan so I hope you won't write this off before reading it. WR/TE rankings: did you forget about Carson Butler? Injury and his attitude lessened his p.t. a bit last year, but the dude is one of the best in the conference at his position. Also, why factor in the QB when ranking the unit? That makes no sense--it's like discounting a RB because his line isn't that good. Think Barry Sanders. Finally, all you have to ask yourself when ranking units is which one you'd trade for the other. I guarantee if you were Michigan's coach and you traded your receiving unit for that at Northwestern, you'd be fired instantaneously. 'Nuff said.

Adam Rittenberg: Stan, I'll never write you off, but I've got a hard time bumping up the Wolverines because of Carson Butler. He had a nice grab in the Capital One Bowl, but 39 catches in two years? Even with the off-field stuff and the injury, I need to see more from him. These preseason rankings are largely based on what these players have showed in the past, and besides Greg Mathews and Butler, Michigan hasn't shown much. It doesn't mean with additions like Darryl Stonum, Michigan won't have one of the league's top receiving corps in November. But judging the Wolverines against experienced groups, including Northwestern's, it's hard to put them higher right now. Rich Rodriguez shouldn't want to trade any of his players, but I'm sure he'd love more experience at that position.


Brian from New York, N.Y., writes:I'd like to comment on Penn State's returning DL if I may as I truly believe this could prove to be the best Penn State Defensive Line any of us have ever seen. Of course, every CFB fan knows who Maurice Evans is due to the terrific job he did in earning All-Conference honors last year as a true sophomore. But are outsiders aware of the fact PSU actually returns 52 starts from last year across the line? This represents every player from a unit that finished 2nd in the nation in sacks (46) and 7th in rush D, so we're talking about much more than just Mo Evans here. Opposite Evans at DE is Josh Gaines who started all 13 games and racked up 5 sacks while splitting time with situational pass rusher redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin who had 4 1/2 sacks of his own. And the depth inside - fuggadaboutit! Larry Johnson basically has five proven starter quality DTs in his arsenal including: Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Abe Koroma, BIG Phil Taylor and Chris Baker. The thing to remember with this group is four of the five were merely 2nd year players last fall meaning, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. Have I mentioned freshmen Devon Still and Chimaeze Okoli yet? Let's just say the word this spring is both freshmen are "impressive". Anyways, just want to mention PSU's returning DL before you and others "lock" Wisconsin or somebody else into the #2 conference finish spot behind OSU in the Big Ten this preseason because last year's youngsters in the Blue and White are certain to be even better in '08.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a quality breakdown of Penn State's defensive line. The Nittany Lions have the league's best defensive front in my view, just ahead of both Ohio State and Illinois. There's experience and talent throughout the line, and the front four will help Penn State survive the loss of linebacker Sean Lee. I ranked Wisconsin at No. 2, but the Badgers are by no means a lock, particularly with all the injuries they had in spring ball. Penn State could jump into that spot, but a reliable quarterback must be identified in preseason camp.


Steve from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: I think Steve Breaston should have been a special teams addition to the All-Lloyd list in the Free Press. When he was healthy, Breaston was a threat every time he touched the ball. That sick return against Illinois where he watched it bounce toward the sideline, grabbed it just before going out, then made 10 guys miss back and froth acros
s the field before scoring stands out.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, glad to hear Big Ten football is alive and well in Alaska. Breaston would have been a solid addition to the All-Lloyd team. He was the league's most feared return man for several seasons. After seeing your note, I checked out Breaston's highlights on YouTube this afternoon. The Illinois return is third on the rundown. What a play. By the way, any highlight clip with Kool Moe Dee rapping in the background will find its way to this blog.

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