Big Ten: Ed Zaunbrecher

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm not quite ready to put a stopper in the Big Ten coaching carousel for 2008-09, though the ride is pretty much over. Barring some unforeseen changes in the coming weeks, Minnesota's hiring of Richard Hightower as wide receivers coach will complete the staff shuffling for this year.

Here's a review of the coaching changes around the league this year. It's interesting to note that none of the league's top four teams in 2008 -- Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa -- lost an assistant. If it ain't broke ... 

ILLINOIS

  • Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement. 
  • Defensive line: Tom Sims was fired and replaced by hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore. 
  • Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Ron Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement. 

Notes: Outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will now work with the quarterbacks.

INDIANA

No changes

IOWA

No changes

MICHIGAN

  • Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson. 

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes

MINNESOTA

  • Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned and was replaced by Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch.
  • Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned to take the same post at Auburn and was replaced by former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Defensive backs coach Ron Lee was promoted to co-defensive coordinator. 
  • Offensive line: Phil Meyer resigned and was replaced by Alabama assistant Tim Davis. 
  • Wide receivers: George McDonald left for a quality control position with the Cleveland Browns and was replaced by Hightower.

Notes: Davis will oversee Minnesota's run game. Lee will continue to coach the Gophers' secondary. 

NORTHWESTERN

  • Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left to become running backs coach with the New Orleans Saints. Superbacks coach Adam Cushing was moved to offensive line. 
  • Superbacks: Cushing became offensive line coach and Lafayette offensive coordinator Bob Heffner was hired as his replacement. 

OHIO STATE

No changes

PENN STATE

No changes

PURDUE

  • Head coach: Danny Hope took over for the retiring Joe Tiller.
  • Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
  • Defensive coordinator: Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach and was replaced by Eastern Kentucky defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
  • Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
  • Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired former Eastern Kentucky assistant Shawn Clark as his replacement.
  • Special teams: Mark Hagen moved from special teams to linebackers, and graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney was promoted to this position.

Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.

WISCONSIN

No changes

Notes: Brad Pendergrass was named director of football operations. Pendergrass most recently served as assistant director for football operations at Mississippi State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue's hiring of defensive coordinator Donn Landholm on Monday likely marks the end to the major coaching moves in the Big Ten this year. 

There have been no head-coaching changes -- Danny Hope was named Purdue's head coach-in-waiting last year -- and unless Iowa's Kirk Ferentz bolts for the Kansas City Chiefs, which isn't likely, all 11 teams will have continuity on top. But there were several key changes among coordinators and key position coaches. 

Here's a summary. 

ILLINOIS

Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement. 

Defensive line: Ron Zook fired Tom Sims and hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore. 

Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement. 

Notes: Arguably Illinois' biggest coaching move was one that didn't happen. Zook offered Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson the chance to be Illinois' defensive coordinator, but the ace recruiter opted to stay at State College. 

INDIANA

No changes.

Notes: Despite a 3-9 season that saw regression on both sides of the ball, head coach Bill Lynch said he didn't expect to make any staff changes for 2009

IOWA

No changes.

Notes: Ferentz is being mentioned as a candidate for the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy because of his ties to new general manager Scott Pioli, but it appears likely he will remain at Iowa for an 11th season. He will hold a signing day news conference scheduled for Feb. 4 and has talked with athletic director Gary Barta about a contract extension.

MICHIGAN

Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and later took the same job at Syracuse. Michigan hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as Shafer's replacement.

Notes: Head coach Rich Rodriguez took his time with the search, and Robinson actually reached out to him about the defensive coordinator vacancy.

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes.

Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.

MINNESOTA

Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned Jan. 6 to pursue other professional opportunities. Minnesota hired former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch as Dunbar's replacement.

Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned Jan. 6 to take the same post at Auburn. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who will share coordinator duties with defensive backs coach Ron Lee.

Notes: Fisch will call the offensive plays, but he must collaborate with Tim Davis, the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Davis, who replaces Phil Meyer, was hired in late November to transform Minnesota's run game and return the team to its roots as a dominant rushing attack.

NORTHWESTERN

Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left for the New Orleans Saints. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me he's not concerned about naming a replacement until after signing day, but indications are Adam Cushing, the H-backs coach and recruiting coordinator, will be promoted to line coach. 

Notes: Athletic director Jim Phillips wants to work out a contract extension for Fitzgerald and likely will announce one in the coming weeks or months.

OHIO STATE

No changes.

Notes: Some expected offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman to get the axe, and while it still could happen, head coach Jim Tressel is the primary playcaller and responsible for the unit's success. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was mentioned as a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Bowling Green.

PENN STATE

No changes.

Notes: Penn State retained Larry Johnson despite Illinois offering more money and a coordinator position. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also remains despite some rumors that he was a candidate for the top job at Syracuse.

PURDUE

Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord. 

Defensive coordinator: Longtime Boilers defensive coordinator Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach. Hope hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Landholm as Spack's replacement. 

Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement. 

Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Shawn Clark to replace him. 

Special teams: Hope moved Mark Hagen from special teams to linebackers and promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to this post. 

Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009, and a replacement hasn't been named. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008. 

WISCONSIN

No changes.

Notes: After firing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and seeing offensive line coach Bob Palcic leave for UCLA last year, head coach Bret Bielema is keeping his staff in place despite a very disappointing 2008 season.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It has been exactly one month since a Big Ten team played a game that counted.

Thankfully, we're less than a week away from the end of the drought, as Wisconsin will take the field Saturday afternoon in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET). Two days later, Northwestern faces Missouri in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Minnesota follows with an Insight Bowl matchup against Kansas, bringing us right to New Year's Day.

Bottom line: Big Ten Nation can start getting excited for real football again.

Though the last month featured nothing on the field, there were several interesting happenings around the league.

Here's a quick recap of the Big Ten's top storylines for those who might have stepped away for a bit.

  • Penn State and head coach Joe Paterno agreed to a contract extension through the 2011 season. Paterno, the 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year, previously had a contract that expired following the Rose Bowl. But after helping Penn State to an 11-1 record and a Big Ten co-championship, Paterno was rewarded with a three-year extension. Paterno turned 82 years old on Sunday, and the university's statement about the extension stated that "the parties might re-evaluate their circumstances and alter the arrangement by either shortening or extending its length as necessary." There was no mention of a succession plan.
  • Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer resigned after only one season. The Wolverines finished 68th nationally in total defense but struggled at times, getting little to no help from the offense. It appeared as though a philosophical difference between Shafer and head coach Rich Rodriguez led to the split, as Michigan began the season in a base 4-3 before switching to a 3-3-5. Rodriguez said recruiting is his top priority before looking for a replacement at defensive coordinator.
  • Other coaching changes included Purdue's new head coach Danny Hope hiring Gary Nord as his new offensive coordinator. Hope, who didn't retain Ed Zaunbrecher, also must look for a defensive coordinator after Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's coach. Illinois lost a key member of its coaching staff, as offensive coordinator and top recruiter Mike Locksley left to become head coach at New Mexico. Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster scored a coup by hiring veteran offensive line coach Tim Davis to oversee the Gophers' struggling front five.
  • There were two prominent transfers, as Penn State backup quarterback Pat Devlin and Michigan running back Sam McGuffie both decided to leave their schools. Devlin likely will latch on with an FCS team, while McGuffie is looking at programs in his home state of Texas.
  • Nothing official yet on any juniors who plan to enter the NFL draft, but it would be surprising if Iowa running back Shonn Greene, Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and Illinois cornerback Vontae Davis don't make the jump.
  • It was a good month for awards in the Big Ten. Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. Players who won national awards included Iowa's Greene (Doak Walker), Penn State center A.Q. Shipley (Rimington), Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins (Thorpe) and Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (Lott).
  • Indiana head coach Bill Lynch received a vote of confidence for the 2009 season from his new boss, athletic director Fred Glass. Lynch will definitely be on the hot seat next fall after a 3-9 campaign.
  • Illinois sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson suffered two stab wounds while trying to help a former teammate (D'Angelo McCray), who was being beaten by several men outside a bar in Champaign. Wilson underwent surgery and is expected to make a full recovery. Head coach Ron Zook praised Wilson for coming to the aid of a friend.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue will have two new coordinators when Danny Hope takes over as head coach in 2009. 

Longtime Boilermakers defensive coordinator Brock Spack will be introduced as Illinois State's head coach on Wednesday. Spack, a Purdue alum, spent the last 12 seasons in West Lafayette after moving over with former coach Joe Tiller -- and Hope -- from Wyoming in 1996. 

It's unknown whether Hope would have retained Spack for his new staff at Purdue, but Spack's name was not among the initial coaching changes Hope made earlier this month. Offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher was not retained and was replaced by Florida Atlantic's Gary Nord. Spack had been a finalist to succeed Tiller as Purdue's head coach. 

"Certainly, we are happy for Brock, but sorry to see him go," Hope said in a statement. "When I took the job at Purdue, I knew it was likely there would be some attrition on the staff, with guys leaving to become head coaches or coordinators. Like every head coach, I keep a short list of coaches to consider for vacancies, and we will get a quality replacement on our staff as quickly as possible."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Danny Hope era is under way at Purdue, and the new Boilermakers coach has started to form his staff for 2009.

Today, Hope hired Gary Nord as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Shawn Clark as offensive line coach. He also promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to special teams coordinator. 

The hirings mean that Ed Zaunbrecher will not be retained as offensive coordinator. Purdue ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring before exploding for 62 points in the season finale against Indiana. Clark actually replaces Hope, who coached Purdue's offensive linemen this season.

Tight ends coach John McDonnell also won't be retained, and defensive tackles coach Mark Hagen no longer will oversee special teams. Purdue ranked last in the Big Ten in both punting and kickoff coverage this season. 

Nord comes to Purdue from Florida Atlantic, where he has served as offensive coordinator since 2005. He also served as offensive coordinator at UTEP and Oklahoma and worked with Hope at Louisville from 1985-1995. Like Hope, he has ties to Florida that will help change the recruiting landscape at Purdue. 

"Gary has one of the top offensive minds in the nation," Hope said in a statement. "He also is an outstanding recruiter. We are fortunate to get someone with his background and experience. He's a real catch for us."

Clark served on Hope's staff at Eastern Kentucky from 2003-07 and remained with the Colonels this season. He first met Hope in 2002 as a graduate assistant at Louisville. 

"I have known Shawn virtually his entire career, and he coaches the O-line the way I want it to be coached," Hope said. "He's a bright young coach with a tremendous work ethic, and he's a former lineman himself, so the players know they are learning from someone who has been there, done that."  

It will be interesting to see what Hope does with the rest of Joe Tiller's staff. I'm particularly interested to see if Brock Spack is retained as defensive coordinator. Hope and Spack go way back, to Hope's first stint on the Purdue staff.

The Boilermakers defense performed well for much of the season, and Spack might have earned the right to remain in West Lafayette.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Check out these links after we finish chatting.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Brock Spack and Danny Hope go way back.

They first met on the recruiting trail before joining forces on Joe Tiller's staff at Wyoming in 1996. The next year, Spack and Hope joined Tiller at Purdue, where they worked for the next five seasons before Hope left for a job at Louisville.

"He and I have been friends for a long time," said Spack, who has served as Purdue's defensive coordinator since 1997. "I really care a lot about him. We've worked together forever."

But will they work together after this season?

Hope takes over for Tiller as Purdue's head coach in 2009. At some point, he'll begin forming his staff, and there are no guarantees any of the current Purdue assistants will be part of it.

Such a fluid situation would seem to create some awkward moments in the coaches' meeting room, as Brock and the other assistants rub elbows with their potential future boss.

Would offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher rip Hope after a bad performance by the line, the unit Hope will coach this fall? Would other assistants watch their words whenever Hope is around?

"There's no auditioning going on," Spack said. "You can't. Football, it's all-consuming. All you can concentrate on is your team and making your players better. You can't worry about the periphery. You can't worry about what people say about you, what people think about you.

"You've got to make the decisions you think are best for your football team, your players and your program and this year. We're going to worry about now. We're going to win now."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the second half of my interview with Purdue offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher:

You mentioned it's not one or two receivers handling everything, but Dorien Bryant, with the number of receptions he had the last few years, really stood out. Do you expect it to be more of a shared thing this year as far as receptions?

Ed Zaunbrecher: It might shift a little bit, but the position that a guy plays in the offense is going to dictate to a certain degree how many passes get thrown in that direction. But when you look at it, even though one guy may have had a bunch of passes, typically, all five of our positions are going to be at 50 catches or more. We had two running backs sharing the position, so one guy may not have had all of the stats, but when you add the stats up, all the positions get plenty of work. It's not a single guy. Defenses have gotten such where they can take guys away and do different things like that. But if you have the balance where you can hit the other guys, then that makes it a much tougher offense to defend.

I'm sure coaches around the league are happy to see Dustin [Keller] go. Is there a guy you see stepping in there, or is it impossible to replace the matchup problems he presented?

EZ: Dustin was a guy that made a lot of plays after the catch. We'll have to see if anybody else can do things. You don't get too many guys with that type of physical ability at that position. That means we might have to complete a couple extra passes to move down the field, but we can still move it down the field. The guys we have know what they're doing and can run the routes and catch the ball. We hope we're going to continue to be very productive offensive.

With [quarterback] Curtis [Painter], you mentioned his leadership. Is his next step performing better in big games, against some of the Big Ten's best teams?

EZ: You'd like for him to play well in every game. If a team is a great defensive team, that doesn't mean just because we're in the spread offense, they won't be a great defensive team. Our guys have to get open, catch the ball and protect, and everybody else has to do their job. I think it's more the entire offense than specifically Curtis that has to do better in that type of game.

With the running backs, those two guys [Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor] have been competing for a while. Are you comfortable going into the season with two guys, or would you like to see one of them separate himself in camp?

EZ: I hope they both get better because they're both going to be in there. You can't play with one guy, and we don't have the 250-pound running back to just line up and carry it 40 times in a game. That's not what we do. But if we have two guys that can make plays and stay fresh, that's the ideal situation.

For Kory, the fumbling has been kind of an ongoing issue for him. Is that what's preventing him from taking the next step in his development?

EZ: It's just been in certain spots that he's done that. It's kind of come in bunches, so if we just eliminate those bunches, or minimize them, he'll be a very productive player for us.

As far as the offense line, what have you heard about those guys as far as their health? How big of a concern is that after a spring with a lot of injuries?

EZ: Those guys are working hard, and they should be back. Missing the spring doesn't help, but the experience that they have will help them catch up quicker than if they were brand-new guys coming in.

How has coach [Danny] Hope done overseeing those guys? He's gone back to being a position coach after being a head coach, and obviously he'll be a head coach again after this year.

EZ: One of the things when you're a head coach, sometimes you miss the actual hands-on coaching that you don't get to do. So it's an opportunity for him to get another dose of that. It's something that he, obviously, enjoys, just watching him work, and he does a great job at it. He's had success for many years doing it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Doug Benc/Getty Images
 Ed Zaunbrecher enters his first season as offensive coordinator after sharing coordinator duties the last two seasons.

As Purdue coach Joe Tiller made his final appearance at Big Ten media days last week, many of the tributes from his colleagues focused on the revolutionary spread offense he brought to the Big Ten back in 1997. Tiller's system produced stars like Drew Brees and caught on around the league. Aside from two seasons, Purdue's offense has ranked among the top 25 nationally.

So how will the Boilermakers' offense look in Tiller's final go-round?

Purdue has a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) being pumped for the Heisman Trophy and two veteran running backs (Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor). But there are questions at wide receiver/tight end after the departures of Dorien Bryant and Dustin Keller. Injuries ravaged the offensive line during the offseason, leaving coach-in-waiting Danny Hope a tough task as he oversees the group in training camp.

Ed Zaunbrecher enters his first season as offensive coordinator after sharing coordinator duties the last two seasons. He previously served on Ron Zook's staff at both Florida and Illinois, and also worked as Marshall's offensive coordinator. The list of quarterbacks he's coached includes Rex Grossman, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. I caught up with Zaunbrecher earlier this week and discussed Purdue's upcoming season.

What's your sense of Coach Tiller's mind-set going into his last year? Is he the same guy as always, or has he gotten more philosophical?

Ed Zaunbrecher: I'm sure it's been on his mind. He enjoys coaching and he's going to continue to do that all the way till the last game that he coaches. We hope he does enjoy it all the way. But as far as coaches and players, we're going to be concentrating on the games, just like we always do. It'll be something that he'll be involved in much more than we will right until the end, when it's actually time. The last banquet will probably be a pretty profound moment for everybody involved.

Looking at your offense for this year, it obviously starts with Curtis. What are your expectations for him?

EZ: I expect him to continue to improve. He works hard and is a guy that keeps trying to work on the details of things to make him better at his position and to help the team get better. It's not just him being a better quarterback. It's being a better football player and leader and everything else. Being the guy with the most experience of anybody on the entire team, he's a guy people will look to to be a productive player for us and to continue that improvement. If he improves like he did last year, it'll be a noticeable impact on the team.

He's going to have some different wide receivers this year. How much of an adjustment will that be for him, or is your system one where you can always plug in new guys and expect good results?

EZ: The guys who have been here, even though they might not have played as much, should have a pretty good idea of what's going on. The new guys coming in, who have a chance to play, those are the ones who have to catch up. Obviously, we'll make a big push to do that so they can use the abilities that they have and see if they're good enough. You don't play with just two or three guys in this system. You have to have a lot of guys ready to go, so there's opportunities for people to come in. The style of play lets a guy come in and do things, as long as he understands the basic concepts. We'll be moving along pretty fast, our pace of installing and stuff like that, so they'll have to work hard to keep up, but we'll have time to teach 'em.

Who are some of those young guys you're hoping can catch on quickly?

EZ: We've got a couple of new receivers. Aaron Valentin was here in the spring. He made some good plays, but his learning curve was still taking place. Obviously, being here should make a big difference in the fall because guys usually make their most improvement over their first summer. And then Arsenio Curry is a new guy coming in, and we're looking forward to him contributing, a big receiver. But we've got some guys that have been here. They may not be household names. Greg Orton's a returning guy with the most experience. Kyle Adams at tight end has played a lot. Desmond Tardy, Brandon Whittington both were in the rotation last year and would get in games and play. Joe Whitest is another guy that's gotten a lot of work in practice especially. He got better in the spring and we're looking forward to him taking the next step. So we have some guys who know what to do, and some other guys can catch up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to open the mailbag. You ask, I answer.

Here we go:

Brian from parts unknown, writes:

Hey Adam-lets talk some Badger Football-do you think the scheduling of Cal Poly will cost the Badgers a shot in the BCS? They have a favorable schedule-if they stay healthy and with a couple of breaks, they could be a very dangerous team later in the season. They have a lot of the skilled positions back, including the best groups of running backs in the Big Ten, maybe even the country. There are high expectations here in Wisconsin, your thoughts??

Adam Rittenberg: Most major-conference teams are dipping into the I-AA ranks for scheduling purposes, so the Badgers should be fine. A quick look shows that Ohio State plays Youngstown State, Florida plays The Citadel (a Wisconsin opponent last year), Oklahoma plays Chattanooga and West Virginia plays Villanova. The only thing that could hurt is that the Cal Poly game comes at the end of the season. Wisconsin's nonconference schedule isn't too treacherous, as a reporter pointed out to Bret Bielema last week, but a visit to Fresno State provides a major test in September. If Wisconsin knocks off Fresno in Fresno, it will have nothing to worry about regarding possible BCS selection.


John from Oneonta, N.Y., writes:

Adam, I couldn't help but notice your response to the PSU posters regarding PSU's DL and locking Wisconsin in as the #2 team in the Big 10 in your eyes. You mention something about PSU finding a reliable QB will be key. While that remains true, the QB situation at PSU is in better hands with Clark and Devlin than it was with Morelli. That said, who is the reliable QB in Madison this year? Everidge is no more reliable than Clark or Devlin. This is their third starting QB in three years.

Adam Rittenberg: Of the three quarterback vacancies in the Big Ten, Penn State appears to have the most stable situation. Projected Wisconsin frontrunner Allan Evridge has the most collegiate game experience of any candidate throughout the league, but most of it came three years ago at Kansas State. Clark's Alamo Bowl performance was encouraging for Penn State, and he definitely has the intangibles to command respect from Day 1. From talking to center A.Q. Shipley, it sounds like the offensive players would be comfortable with Clark as their leader. Still, there are questions about his ability as a passer. Someone needs to take advantage of Penn State's veteran receivers before they're gone.


Jack from Glen Ellyn, Ill., writes:

Re: your ranking of Big Ten O-lines. I'm a litle surprised to see my Illini as low as fourth. OSU I understand, and maybe I really don't know that much about Wiscy and PSU, but the Illini have a number of physically huge and talented young road-graders just ready to step in.

Adam Rittenberg: The loss of first-team All-Big Ten guard Martin O'Donnell and a few health concerns this spring caused me to drop Illinois to fourth, but that group can definitely finish higher. Wisconsin is very strong at both guard spots and has no questions at tackle; Illinois must replace Akim Millington on the right side. All of the top four teams are very strong up front, so the order could be tweaked by the end of the season.


Devon from Long Island, writes:

I'm a Penn State fan, but you are selling Adam Weber way short. Not only did he have 24 passing touchdowns, not 19, but he also had 5 rushing scores. Guys a crazy good athlete and can pass. He's, for me, the #3 or #4 in the Big Ten. But here's my question: What is the best case scenario for how Daryll Clark plays?

Adam Rittenberg: You're right about Weber's athleticism and frankly I'd be surprised if he doesn't finish the season much higher on the list. He was a lot like Northwestern's C.J. Bacher last season: big numbers, too many interceptions. If he can reduce his picks and continue to punish defenses with his legs, Minnesota will be dangerous on offense. What I worry about is the fact the Gophers have no proven running back and some questions on the line, which increases pressure for Weber. They need Duane Bennett or Jay Thomas to emerge as a reliable runner. As for Daryll Clark, the BCS (best-case scenario) is he makes defenses respect his arm enough so that he can burn them with his legs. Clark doesn't need to be Michael Robinson. He's got enough talent around him and a solid line. Penn State could win 10 games this fall with him at the helm.


Jordan from Marion, Ill., writes:

do you give Michigan a chance a competing for the Big 11 or are you like all the others that doubt them?How do you think Michigan will fare with Threet at QB?and do you see Justin Feagin starting QB by mid-season?

Adam Rittenberg: It all depends on the start. If the Wolverines survive a very difficult opener against Utah, beat a defensive-minded Miami (Ohio) team and then take care of Notre Dame in South Bend, they'll have a ton of confidence heading into Big Ten play. But I don't see them getting through that stretch unscathed. There are too many questions on offense and despite having talent, most of it is young and unproven. Michigan should be in the league's top half by November, but no Big Ten title. Threet has the intelligence to grasp RichRod's system, but will his physical skills allow him to effectively run the offense? Feagin is probably the best fit from a skills standpoint, but I highly doubt he'll be starting at any point this season.


Bill from West Lafayette, Ind., writes:

Adam - love your blog. I read it daily and love to hear about what you have to say about the big 10. I know a lot of people have been down on my Purdue Boilermakers - saying we will be lucky to win 6 games this year. Granted, we aren't going to be the 2000 or 2004 teams, but I think we have a chance to really make a stir in the big 10, your thoughts? You are right about Tiller (we call him T-bone around here) being a character ? what a guy. Being his last season should mean a lot to this team and town.

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, your Boilers are a bit of a mystery entering the season. They have a senior quarterback in Curtis Painter, which always helps, but the personnel losses at wide receiver/tight end and the health of the line raises red flags. I just got off the phone with offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher, who expects the linemen to be healthy for the start of camp. If the new juco receivers catch on quickly (pun intended), the offense should be solid. The big reason people are down on Purdue is the schedule. Oregon is always tough, Central Michigan's offense is very good Notre Dame has improved and will host game in South Bend. Then they open Big Ten play with Penn State and Ohio State. Purdue never wins enough big games, but it has plenty of chances early. If Painter can lead the Boilers to a win against Oregon or Notre Dame on the road, he'll have a ton of confidence heading into Big Ten play.


Hamza from Chicago writes:

Why don't people have Todd Boeckman on their heisman watch list i mean he did lead a very good Ohio State Team last year?

Adam Rittenberg: Boeckman is in a tough spot. People are more interested in the guy lining up behind him (Beanie Wells) in the backfield or one of the guys behind him on the two-deep (Terrelle Pryor). But you're right, he led Ohio State to the national title game last season. If he exploits big-play threat Brian Robiskie for some highlight-reel touchdowns in September, particularly against USC, Boeckman could get some Heisman hype. Then again, if he's not being talked about now, he probably has no chance.

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