Big Ten: Eric Decker

Big Ten Monday mailbag

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
5:00
PM ET
Brian's off this week, so I'm attempting three mailbags (today, Wednesday and Friday).

Wish me luck. Better yet, send me questions. And follow us on Twitter.


Aaron from Minneapolis writes: Jerry Kill and his staff have frequently said over the last few years that they want to recruit bigger, taller offensive weapons, and they seem to be following through on that. The past couple recruiting classes have included all of one receiver under 6-foot-2, a handful of 6-3 and 6-4" wideouts, and a huge 6-9" tight end. I know big wide receivers are sort of in style around the country, but Kill seems to be taking it to the extreme. Is this something other Big Ten teams are doing, or is Minnesota's big receiver strategy a bit of an outlier?

Adam Rittenberg: Aaron, the proliferation of spread offenses and their reliance on slot receivers has lowered the demand for the traditionally bigger wideout. It doesn't mean teams don't want those players, especially if they can run. Minnesota's offense has some spread elements, but it's more of a traditional set, based around the power run. The Gophers' last elite receiver, Eric Decker, was a taller guy with excellent hands and athleticism. It certainly helps to have size out wide, and Florida State showed last season how beneficial it can be with players like Kelvin Benjamin (6-foot-5). But teams generally are looking for speed first and aren't locked in to having every receiver stand taller than 6-foot-2.


Angie from Chesapeake, Virginia writes: Will Green or Smith consider transferring due to the USC running back coming on board at Michigan?

Rittenberg: Too soon to tell, Angie. The big question is: When will Ty Isaac be eligible? He wants to play immediately but might have to sit out a season. If he sits, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith will enter the season most likely as Michigan's top two ball-carrying options. So they can distinguish themselves without any push from Isaac. Ultimately, most teams want to play at least two running backs and sometimes three. While running back transfers aren't uncommon, you don't see them as much as quarterbacks.


Jordan from Katy, Texas, writes: About Indiana, it has one of the best offenses in the Big Ten, but obviously no one outside of the state is going to notice when its defense is so horrid. How are things going under new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr? Are there signs that the defense IS improving, or is that something we just cannot know until the Hoosiers hit the field in August? Frankly, I think they need to be bowl eligible THIS year or Kevin Wilson's stock will plummet.
Rittenberg: Jordan, I'm interested to see how Knorr will fare in Bloomington. He plans to run a 3-4, which is becoming more popular in the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Maryland also use it). Indiana has upgraded its recruiting efforts on defense and needs some of those players to blossom this fall, especially in the front seven. I'm especially interested in defensive tackles Darius Latham and Ralph Green. Ultimately, this unit needs to provide concrete evidence this fall after a quarter-century of futility, but as I've always said, Indiana doesn't need a great defense to make a bowl. An adequate one will do. The offense can take care of the rest.


@BraydenHodges via Twitter: What do you think of the early point spread of the MSU-Oregon game? I understand the Spartans being an underdog but 13 points?

Rittenberg: It seems a little high, although Oregon performs extremely well at home and is capable of putting up a big number on just about anybody. Big Ten teams typically struggle in games at Pac-12 stadiums, and Autzen Stadium is one of the nation's toughest environments for a road team. But I think the oddsmakers are underestimating Michigan State's offense, which returns quarterback Connor Cook and most of its key pieces from a 13-1 team. The Spartans clearly need a big effort from their defense against Marcus Mariota and the Ducks, but Cook and his crew should be able to put up points in this game, if they avoid turnovers. Oregon definitely is the favorite, but 13 points is a lot.


Doug G. from San Antonio writes: Adam-I truly believe Joel Stave should get the nod at QB for UW. I know the accuracy needs to improve, but he certainly has proved he can play well, and I believe that three of the losses last year had nothing to do with him. Penn St. was a defensive debacle (for some reason), and Stave had us looking good against South Carolina before he was injured. I know the WR spot is a question mark, and Coach A likes to have a QB who can run, but I hope we see Stave under center against LSU to open the season. I would not mind a few "packages" per game for Tanner M., but I also thought he was progressing as a safety. What are your thoughts on this?

Rittenberg: You bring up some valid points, Doug, and it's good to see that there are some Stave supporters out there. His experience can't be overlooked, especially given how his primary competitor, Tanner McEvoy, lacks any experience at the quarterback position at the FBS level. I just wonder how much Stave can improve after losing his top wide receiver (Jared Abbrederis) and with so much uncertainty on the perimeter. McEvoy provides the mobility to get out of trouble and create plays when none appear to be there. But it might not be wise to throw him into the fire against LSU's defense in Week 1. That's a tough spot. Ultimately, we need to see Stave back to 100 percent this summer and how he performs in camp when the freshmen wide receivers are there.

It had been four years since a former Big Ten quarterback (Drew Brees in 2010) led his team to a Super Bowl championship. Russell Wilson ended the drought in dominating fashion Sunday night.

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/Paul SancyaRussell Wilson became the first former Big Ten QB to lead his team to a Super Bowl win since Drew Brees in 2010.
Wilson, who played his final collegiate season at Wisconsin, and a suffocating Seattle Seahawks defense pummeled Denver 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. While Peyton Manning had a forgettable night, Wilson completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, displaying tremendous poise for a quarterback in only his second season in the NFL.

As Penn State fans were quick to point out to me on Twitter, two Big Ten quarterbacks became champions Sunday as former Nittany Lions signal-caller Michael Robinson, now the Seahawks' fullback, helped the Seattle offense have a big night.

For those saying the Big Ten can't claim Wilson because he played his first three years at NC State, it comes down to this: He had his best season at Wisconsin and finished his career there. He counts.

It was a fairly quiet night, statistically speaking, for former Big Ten players in the big game.

Here's a recap:

SEATTLE

  • Wilson completed 18 of 25 passes for 206 yards with two touchdowns; he added 26 rushing yards.
  • Defensive end Cliff Avril (Purdue) recorded three tackles, one for loss, and had two pass deflections.
  • Robinson had one reception for 7 yards and served as Marshawn Lynch's lead blocker; he also had a tackle on special teams.
  • Linebacker O'Brien Schofield (Wisconsin) had a tackle for loss.
  • Safety Chris Maragos (Wisconsin) had a tackle on special teams.
  • Tight end Kellen Davis (Michigan State) and defensive tackle Jordan Hill (Penn State) weren't active for the game.
DENVER

  • Running back Montee Ball (Wisconsin) had 1 rushing yard on six attempts and two receptions for 2 yards.
  • Wide receiver Eric Decker (Minnesota) had one reception for 6 yards (targeted five times) and one punt return for 9 yards.
  • Defensive end Shaun Phillips (Purdue) had four tackles.
  • Cornerback Marquice Cole (Northwestern) was active but didn't record any statistics.

Wisconsin fans had a lot to celebrate as a former Badgers quarterback -- Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell -- called plays for another in Wilson, who had a nice exchange with his former Badgers backfield mate after the game.
In 2011, Russell Wilson and Montee Ball formed one of the most explosive offensive backfields in Big Ten history and led Wisconsin to a league title and a Rose Bowl appearance. Somehow, that Badgers team managed to lose three games.

Wilson and Ball both celebrated other championships Sunday, as they helped their respective NFL teams -- Wilson is the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, Ball is the 1A running back for the Denver Broncos -- win conference titles and advance to Super Bowl XLVIII. For all the hand-wringing about playing the Super Bowl outdoors in likely frigid weather at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., the two former Badgers likely won't mind it one bit.

Wisconsin is sending four former players to the Super Bowl -- safety Chris Maragos (Seattle) and linebacker O'Brien Schofield (Seattle) are the others. The Badgers lead all Big Ten teams and rank second nationally behind the University of Tennessee for most players on active rosters in the Super Bowl.

The game will also feature two offensive coordinators -- Seattle's Darrell Bevell (Wisconsin) and Denver's Adam Gase (Michigan State) -- who attended Big Ten schools.

Let's take a look at the complete list of players and coaches with Big Ten connections who are participating in Super Bowl XLVIII. (I'm guessing Big Ten fans are glad they don't have to take ownership of Richard Sherman.)

PLAYERS

Denver Broncos

Active roster
Reserve/injured/practice squad
Seattle Seahawks

Active roster
COACHES

Denver Broncos
  • Offensive coordinator Adam Gase graduated from Michigan State in 1999 and worked with the football coaches while in school.
  • Offensive line coach Dave Magazu was a graduate assistant at Michigan in 1983.
  • Defensive line coach Jay Rodgers played quarterback at Indiana and started 15 games between 1996-98. He was a recruiting intern at Ohio State in 2000.
Seattle Seawhawks
  • Head coach Pete Carroll was Ohio State's secondary coach in 1979.
  • Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell played quarterback at Wisconsin, helping the Badgers to the Rose Bowl during the 1993 season. He set 19 team records and left as the Badgers' all-time passing yards leader (7,686).
  • Assistant offensive line coach Pat Ruel served as Michigan State's offensive line coach under Nick Saban from 1998-99.
  • Running backs coach Sherman Smith was an Illinois assistant from 1992-94, working with both tight ends and running backs.

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 24, 2013
4/24/13
12:00
PM ET
In honor of "College Football Playoff," I'm calling this intro line "Lunchtime Links Intro Line."

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
5:00
PM ET
Wishing you a great first weekend of March ...

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, What are your thoughts on the Jim Bollman hire by Michigan State? Seems to fit the mold of a Mark Dantonio coordinator?

Adam Rittenberg: He definitely fits Dantonio and what Michigan State likes to do on offense. He's a pro-style guy who believes in run-first football, stout offensive line plan and limiting mistakes. Bollman drove Ohio State fans nuts at times with conservative play calls, especially at the end of his tenure. He recruited well as the Buckeyes' offensive line coach, but some of his lines didn't always perform to their potential. To be fair, Ohio State had some productive offenses under Bollman, and former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel had a lot of control over the offensive game plan. Should Bollman's hiring make Michigan State fans do back flips? No. But did anyone expect Dantonio to hire the next Gus Malzahn? Of course not. I'm not crazy about the move, but I'm not surprised, either. One area Bollman could really help is the offensive line, which has typically been a notch below the Big Ten's elite. If Michigan State can push defenders off of the ball, it can efficiently run the ball, use play-action, control possession and limit mistakes. Teams that do those things well typically win a lot of games.



Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, I will never understand this B1G vs. SEC thing. Maybe I am showing my age! As an Iowa fan, I will never cheer for an Ohio State or a Michigan Victory. In fact, I hope they lose every game, I don't care if they are playing an SEC team. Conferences don't win championships, teams wins championships! At the end of the day I want one team to win, and that is Iowa! Maybe I am the crazy one! When It comes down to it, lets say Ohio St. wins the BCS championship, does Iowa get any more glamor and praise? Help me out Adam! I just don't get it anymore....I mean rooting for your rivals? Not this Hawkeye! How about you?

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, I understand your point of view, and you're certainly not the only fan who feels this way. It does, though, illustrate a difference between the Big Ten and the SEC. There's more league pride among SEC fans even though they also have bitter rivalries in their league. The attitude is, "If my team can't win a title, I'd rather see another SEC team raise the crystal football than those snob Yankees!" Were Auburn fans rooting for Alabama against Notre Dame? Some of them were, because of their SEC pride.

I do think Iowa would get a bit more credit for being in a strong league that wins national titles even if it doesn't win any of those titles. Say Iowa goes 9-3 and loses to two Big Ten teams that make the four-team playoff, one of which wins the national title. I think Iowa is viewed in a better light nationally because it plays in such a strong league. The conference vs. conference thing is a fairly recent phenomenon, but it has become bigger and bigger. It's a big reason why we do the conference blogs at ESPN.com. There's also a genuine Big Ten-SEC rivalry. I can sense it when I'm around Big Ten officials. These are the two richest leagues -- both financially and in tradition. They have fundamental cultural differences. But they're also both chasing championships (right now, only one of them is winning them). My sense is Big Ten fans would rally around a league title contender now more than they would have a few years ago, but the league pride likely will never match the SEC's.



Derek from La Crosse, Wis., writes: In the past three NFL drafts, the B1G has had 11 WRs drafted, the SEC has had 12, the ACC has had 10, the Pac-12 has had 8, and the Big 12 has had 10. This year may not be the greatest year for the B1G, but at least over the past three years we are doing fine. It seems like this might just be another case of people thinking the B1G is a lot worse than it actually is.

Adam Rittenberg: Derek, it's good to point out those numbers, but let's look at them a little deeper. Last April, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins became the first Big Ten wide receiver drafted in the first round since Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. in 2007. The Big 12 has had five wideouts drafted in the first round between 2008-12, and the SEC and ACC both have had three. Let's also look at the NFL's receiving leaders from this past season. The highest-rated former Big Ten player -- the Miami Dolphins' Brian Hartline, who played at Ohio State -- checks in at No. 16. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 all have multiple players in the top 15. When it comes to receptions, the highest-rated former Big Ten player -- Denver's Eric Decker, who played at Minnesota -- is tied for 13th. Decker did finish second in receiving touchdowns (13). We also should note that Mario Manningham (Michigan product) was injured, but the Big Ten isn't mass-producing stars at receiver. It's a position that needs to be upgraded through recruiting. And I think it will be.



Blaine from Westfield, N.J., writes: Everyone keeps saying the lack of talent in the BIG is driven by population shifts to the south, but if that is true how do you explain the talented and highly ranked basketball programs?

Adam Rittenberg: Blaine, there are several key differences in the two sports. Roster size is probably the biggest, as basketball teams don't need nearly as many top recruits to reach an elite level as football teams do. Two or three great players can get a basketball team in the mix for a national title. Football, in most cases, requires much more depth. The number of major cities in or near the Big Ten footprint also helps. Chicago, for example, produces nationally elite basketball players every year, many of whom end up at Big Ten programs. The city isn't nearly as fruitful for nationally elite football recruits (proportionally). The same goes for Indianapolis and other Midwestern cities. You also have states or regions where basketball is as big or bigger than football. The state of Indiana certainly comes to mind. Although basketball in the South isn't a complete afterthought, we all know football is king in states like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. The Big Ten also has more good to great programs in basketball than in football. There are more Big Ten basketball programs that have competed at an elite level in the past 25 years than Big Ten football programs.



Corey from State College, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, avid reader of the blog when I am procrastinating studying for midterms (like right now). Anyways, I don't think I am too crazy in thinking that the hardest recruiting is behind Bill O'Brien. Obviously the number of scholarships hurts in how many prospect they can miss on, but in terms of actually recruiting them to Happy Valley, I think it will be getting easier. These kids will have the opportunity to play in bowl games. While you could argue our teams may struggle with only 65 scholarship players, you can tell the recruits that our Nittany Lions' performance on the field will be up to them. Like I said, maybe I am too excited about Hackenberg and Breneman, but with one year left in the #1 student section in the country, how could you blame me?

Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Corey. Being able to offer the bowl experience -- in addition to the chance to win Big Ten championships -- certainly aids O'Brien and his staff on the recruiting trail. O'Brien also can use the success of the 2012 season as a major selling point. The concern is how Penn State's recruiting would be affected by a down season or two. What if the effects of the sanctions show up more in 2013 than in 2012? What if Penn State lacks the leadership it had from a special senior class in 2012? A losing season or two always impacts recruiting, whether or not there are NCAA sanctions involved. So the key for O'Brien is to keep getting good to great results on the field. Penn State doesn't need to win nine or 10 games every year to maintain recruiting through the sanctions phase, but like any team, it can't really afford 3-9 seasons, either. My point is the sanctions themselves might directly be less of a factor going forward in recruiting because these recruits will be able to participate in bowl games, but the effects of the sanctions on the current team could hurt recruiting if the wins don't keep coming.



Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: First round forecast "not good?" If Lewan hadn't decided to stay in school, he was projected as a high 1st round pick, according to the journalists. I guess the pundits got lucky because now they can complain about the conference. I realize it's the offseason, and interest has to be created, but why not wait until the actual draft to see what happens when the actual teams decide who they want, before bemoaning the league's fate? Also...Tom Brady, 6th round, Drew Brees, second round, Brett Favre, second round, Joe Montana, low third round...It's silly to somehow keep score based on this stuff, especially considering it hasn't happened yet.

Adam Rittenberg: Les, as I pointed out in the story, if Lewan had declared for the draft he'd likely be the first Big Ten player selected, perhaps in the Top 10 overall. The larger point is that players like Johnathan Hankins and Kawann Short, who had been on Mel Kiper's Big Board for much of the season, have seen their stock drop in recent weeks. The fact no Big Ten players are listed among Kiper's top 25 is significant when you compare the results to other conferences. And the fact the Big Ten hasn't had a player go in the Top 10 since 2008 -- after having six straight seasons of Top 10 picks -- also is significant. Of course there are examples of Big Ten players -- and those from other leagues -- who were drafted later and became stars in the NFL. The Big Ten also has produced good pros recently like J.J. Watt. But the number of high draft picks is undoubtedly on the decline. Perhaps that will change next year with Lewan and others entering the draft.



Mac from Cincinnati writes: Adam, I know he didnt make a splash in the NFL but you forgot to add Vernon Gholston in the early first round picks in your article. I believe he went 5 or 6 overall.

Adam Rittenberg: Mac, I only listed the Big Ten's top overall selection for each draft. Gholston went No. 6 overall to the New York Jets in the 2008 draft, but Michigan's Jake Long was the Big Ten's top overall pick that year at No. 1 (to Miami). That's why Gholston isn't listed, but the fact the Big Ten had two players selected in the top six shows how times have changed.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
4:30
PM ET
Hope you enjoy the games this weekend. I'm geared up for my first game in Lincoln!

Looks like a lot of folks are miffed by my Penn State prediction. Hey, did you expect me to copy Bennett's picks again?

Jojo from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, Let me preface this comment by saying that I am a huge PSU loyalist. With that out of the way, how in the world can you possibly pick PSU over Iowa? Really? I just looked at PSU's schedule and other than Purdue, I'm not sure there is another winnable game. Did you make that pick the same way Jaypa and Galen Hall decide which plays to call? You know, with the help of a Ouiga Board?

Adam Rittenberg: Jojo, I know you're down about the Lions right now, and I totally understand why. The offense still has no quarterback, no direction and no identity. But the Penn State defense excites me. Defensive tackle Devon Still has been a beast, and the linebackers are playmakers. Iowa has struggled to run the ball consistently all season, and I expect Penn State to stuff the rushing attack Saturday. The Lions have been excellent against the pass -- sixth nationally in pass yards allowed, only three passing touchdowns allowed -- although Iowa's receivers provide a good test. I could be wrong (check my record, it happens a lot), but I see an ugly, low-scoring affair that Penn State somehow wins. We'll see.


John from Eagan, Minn., writes: Adam, Seriously 10 points for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. I will bet you a bag of Garrett's Popcorn at Navy Pier that Iowa scores more then 10 points. With their top LB and one of the top DB players out for the game, it will be tough for PSU to keep it that low.

Adam Rittenberg: Mmmm, Garrett's. You're on, John. Although if I lose, you might receive a half-eaten bag. Good points about Penn State not having linebacker Michael Mauti and cornerback D'Anton Lynn, but the Lions are a much deeper defense this year, and it all starts up front with Mr. Still at DT.


Joe from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, It seems that Ohio State's offensive line is coming under intense scrutiny after the MSU game. I have to make the point that of the 9 sacks that MSU had, maybe two or three of them were actually the result of poor line play. The Oline is the least of Ohio State's concerns right now. Their biggest concern is the playing calling ability of Jim Bollman. Bottom line, they are not setting their qb's up for success. They are running plays that have limited creativity and there are no adjustments as the game goes on. OSU was running the same plays in the 4th quarter as they were in the 1st. Braxton Miller looks totally lost and I have to say, it isn't entirely his fault. Though he has had time, he cannot get off his first read.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, while I agree there are problems with the overall play calling and the quarterbacks, you're letting the offensive line off way too easy. Michigan State manhandled Ohio State up front for stretches in the game, and even veteran players like center Mike Brewster struggled with the likes of Jerel Worthy. The line didn't look that bad in the Miami loss, but I saw something change last week against Michigan State, which, to be fair, boasts an excellent defense. It was a lousy performance up front, and as colleague Trevor Matich said Thursday on "College Football Live," Ohio State is having fundamental breakdowns everywhere, including the offensive line. I'd expect a better performance Saturday in Lincoln, and Mike Adams' return at left tackle should provide a boost.


Toby from Smithland, La., writes: Hey Adam, I know the expansion talk is not wanted to be talked about but it is still out there. My question is this. With Missouri wanting to come to the Big Ten, why wouldn't we look at taking them and putting them in the leaders division. If we would need someone in the legends division, why wouldn't we go after a big east team to fill that spot. Someone like West Virginia or Louisville. Geographically, it would be a good choice.

Adam Rittenberg: Toby, of the three teams you mention, Missouri is the only one the Big Ten would seriously consider adding. West Virginia and Louisville simply don't fit the Big Ten's profile in several areas, namely academics. I know it's hard for fans to understand, but it's not only about geography. Also, I've talked with Big Ten ADs and a league administrator in the past week and there's still no movement on expansion. The Big Ten is happy at 12, and unless all heck breaks loose elsewhere -- which it might --- the league won't be forced to expand just to expand.


Jon from Chicago writes: Adam, You seem surprised that my man Bob Asmussen picked the Illini in the Rose Bowl. This is pure speculation at this point, but I don't think that it's too far fetched. Wisconsin looks basically unbeatable, and an undefeated season would likely put them in the BCS National title game. The Illinois/Michigan game in Champaign looks like a toss-up at this point. The Illini will lose to Wisconsin. Now, if the Illini are able to get past Michigan, and - this is a HUGE and, given recent history - win the games they are supposed to, that leaves the Illini with one regular season loss. Whoever loses to Wisconsin in the B1G championship game (NU or Michigan) will likely have at least two losses, and I doubt would be ahead of Illinois in the BCS picture. I understand that there is a long way to go, but Bob's prediction certainly doesn't appear to be unfathomable. Especially, Adam, since you have the Illini way up on your power rankings, I'm surprised by your surprise!

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, you're right, I probably shouldn't have been so surprised. Just to see an Illinois team no one ranked in the preseason projected in the Rose Bowl after five home wins was a bit startling. Yes, Illinois could get there if everything falls right, and the schedule is so beneficial that 10 or 11 regular-season wins is realistic. I like the Illini a lot, but they've been fortunate the past three weeks on their home field. Now the road schedule is really, really easy, but the Penn State contest isn't a gimme. Neither is Ohio State next week in Champaign. The Buckeyes will be desperate, and while Illinois always plays Ohio State tough, the Illini will be in the unfamiliar position of being favored in that matchup. Could Illinois reach Pasadena? Sure. But a lot of things have to go its way.


Mike from Boston writes: My fantasy team has been terrible the past few years so I decided to go with an all-Big Ten team this year. I had no expectations but all of a sudden I'm 3-1 and contending (thank you, Eric Decker). Mendenhall looks questionable this week and it's decision time: do I pick up a non-B1G replacement or stick with what's working and hope Pierre Thomas or Roy Helu finally gets some touches?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, you're seriously asking me for fantasy football advice? Have you seen how my fantasy team has fared this year against Bennett's? I like Pierre Thomas a lot, but don't blame me if you struggle this week. My track record speaks for itself. Ugh.


Ryan from Afghanistan writes: Hey Adam, first and foremost thanks to you and Brian for keeping us up to date over here on B1G news. I think by now we can say that MSU has one of the most impressive defenses in the country, especially considering their youth. That being said, their offense has had obvious struggles this year and most people point to the offensive line as the issue. I cannot watch the games here so I am just going by what I read, but it sure seems as though MSU's offensive woes could be coming from play calling. Coach D is a primarily defensive oriented coach, and maybe I am being too hard on Roushar... but what he is calling seems as though it is not working. Nobody has mentioned the departure of Don Treadwell as a possible cause for the lack of offensive production. He did orchestrate an impressive win against Wisconsin last year when coach D was in the hospital. What are your thoughts? Go Green!

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, first of all, thanks for everything you're doing over there. We really appreciate it! Michigan State's offensive line still remains the primary area of concern as the team hasn't generated a consistent rushing attack. Some of the play calling concerns are warranted, too, and you bring up a good point about losing Treadwell, who did a heck of a job last season. It will be interesting to see what type of game plan Dan Roushar has for Michigan, especially with an extra week to prepare for the Wolverines. Again, there's only so much you can do when the run game is spotty, and Michigan State needs Kirk Cousins to be a bit better with his decision-making, but Roushar isn't immune from critiques.


Jeff from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Rittenberg, how do you have a worse record than Brian in predictions? 42-10 vs. 39-13, you're 3 games back! In light of this, I did some digging and based on (A) your first post to The Blog [ed. http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/1/welcome-to-big-ten-football ] and (B) the welcome post for Brian [ed. http://espn.go.com/blog/bigten/post/_/id/27523/big-ten-blog-gets-bigger-and-better ] you have over 1000 days more experience than he does. I'm starting to lose faith in you Old Timer... the cake games are over, we're in conference play now!

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, he's killing me. I'm thinking of ways to eliminate him, including sending him back to the lowly Big East. On the bright side, I am 6-0 so far in Big Ten games after a perfect Week 5. The problem: Bennett went 6-0, too. The predictions differential upsets me more than the fantasy team deal. I'd still take my team, led by Russell Wilson, Marvin McNutt and others, over his one-dimensional quarterbacks.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 10, 2010
9/10/10
4:00
PM ET
I hope you enjoy what should be an excellent Saturday of games in the Big Ten and around the country. Can't wait!

Adam from Madison, Wis., writes: Why are Badger fans complaining about the division they are in ? they actually have it almost perfect. Ohio State and Penn State are always tough but then they have Indiana, Illinois and Purdue who they almost always beat. and they have a cross over game against Minnesota who they almost always beat and the best part about not being in Minnesota's division is if they lose to them it woulnt affect there chances of going to the big ten championship game cause they are in different divisions. Wisconsin has it made where they are gonna be, especially with Minnesota in a different division that alone takes some weight off Wisconsin's shoulders

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, I think the main gripe is that Wisconsin and Iowa will no longer play every season in the new division format. Although the Minnesota game is a bigger rivalry to most Wisconsin fans, the Iowa series matters a lot as well to both sides. The Badgers also lose a potential annual rivalry with Nebraska, which coach Bret Bielema and others wanted. The general sense is that Wisconsin was plucked away from the league's western bloc (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska). You're also incorrect about Wisconsin losing to Minnesota. All Big Ten games count toward who goes to the title game. I still think Wisconsin has a great opportunity in its division. You beat Ohio State and Penn State, you typically gain more national recognition than beating Iowa or even Nebraska. And the bottom half of the division looks weaker right now.


Krag from Phoenix writes: Adam, love the blog - literally don't know how I lived without it years ago.I'm just wondering why nobody is talking about the weather factor in the Ohio State-Miami game - they're calling for rain and thunderstorms, which absolutely will have an impact.Anyone remember the field conditions at the Orange Bowl last year? Don't you think that favored the Big Ten power game? And in this case, a slippery ball would mean a HUGE advantage for the Buckeyes run game.If nothing else, Mother Nature could be the biggest factor in this game and I haven't read one article that's included it in analysis.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Krag. Good point about the weather factor, which I covered in a post earlier today. It could be pretty nasty around the Big Ten on Saturday, particularly in Columbus and South Bend. I agree a sloppy track favors Ohio State against Miami, although the Hurricanes boast some good running backs as well. But Ohio State can play the power game a lot better, and I lost respect for Miami's ability to handle less-than-ideal weather conditions after watching the Champs Sports Bowl last year. You would have thought it was a blizzard in Orlando watching those Miami players that night.


Adam from Gilbert, Ariz., writes: Ritt, love the blog. I'm a Nebraska fan and can't wait for the Huskers to leave the Big 12. But be honest, is your Penn State-Alabama prediction just there to not get too much hate mail from PSU fans. Do you really think PSU can keep it close. Alabama is far superior in all aspects of the game. Plus, the game is at 'Bama. They have a little chip on their shoulder as well. I'm going Bama 38-10 and it might not be that close.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, I've learned long ago that no matter what I write or say on this blog, I'll get nasty e-mails from some segment of Big Ten fans. So the prediction is what I genuinely believe. Could Penn State get blown out? Sure, especially if true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden struggles. But Penn State's defense has allowed more than 24 points only once in the last two plus seasons (to USC in the Rose Bowl). The Lions are once again solid in the front seven and should be able to contain the Alabama run game for at least part of the contest. The big question is whether Penn State's offensive line improves its play enough to spring running back Evan Royster, who had only 40 rushing yards last week against FCS Youngstown State. Expect Penn State to shorten the game and keep the score down as much as it can. I highly doubt you see a 28-point Alabama win.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Why does Weber need a go to receiver? He needs to be able to spread the ball to the open receiver.

Adam Rittenberg: Craig, while you're correct in the general sense, Minnesota's offense fell apart last year after Eric Decker's season-ending foot injury. No one else stepped up to fill the void, and Adam Weber looked lost out there. I'm not saying you need another Eric Decker because those players come along once in a generation, but Minnesota needs someone it can rely on in the passing game. It could be Da'Jon McKnight, Troy Stoudermire, MarQueis Gray or another player, but you always like to know your No. 1 receiver, even though you want to spread the ball around as well.


Darin from New York writes: Adam, tried to get through during your chat but had no luck. Wondering what your thoughts are on Devin Gardner/Denard Robinson? It almost feels to me that RichRod is not sold on DRob being the long term solution. If he was, why not Red Shirt DG? Everyone says DG looks very legit, but if DRob is for real that would only leave one year for DG to start. Seems like it would have made more sense to Red Shirt him this year and let him sit for 3 years and then have him start for two. What are your thoughts on this?

Adam Rittenberg: Darin, I think you have to coach for the current season, not the future, especially if you're under pressure like Rich Rodriguez is in 2010. Keep in mind he has been able to evaluate Devin Gardner both in spring ball and in fall camp. If Gardner has separated himself as the team's No. 2 quarterback, you need to get his feet wet in games. Here's the thing with the spread offense: It's hard to keep your quarterback healthy all season. And if Denard Robinson continues taking hits like he did in the opener, he'll likely miss some time. Gardner might be the future for Michigan, as the coaches absolutely love what he brings to the table. But Michigan needs to win this year, and that's why he's playing right now.


Keith from Freeport, Mich. writes: Adam, you stated that your Player of the Year race "will be based solely on production this season". If that's the case, how does John Clay get on the list ahead of Le'Veon Bell, who matched Clay's 2 TDs, beat him in total yards (141 to 123) and is second in the entire NCAA with 14.1 yards per carry? Other than that, keep up the great work and GO GREEN!

Adam Rittenberg: Keith, that's a fair point, and to be honest, I could have listed about 20 guys this week. Bell had an outstanding debut, and if I were ranking Freshman of the Year candidates, he'd be right up there with Rob Bolden at this point. I really liked what I saw from Bell back in spring ball, and he seems to have gotten better and better. But let's remember it's only Week 2, and these races will truly take shape during the next month or so. I don't expect the candidate pool after Week 1 to look like it will after Week 6 or 7. One other thing: John Clay looked like an absolute beast against UNLV. He'll definitely contend for Player of the Year this fall if he stays healthy.


Mike from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, writes: Adam, I appreciate your observations and Boise State and TCU are good football teams, BUT...Last year, Iowa was a pretty good football team, too, yet when it was 9-0 and had won AT Penn State, AT Wisconsin and AT Michigan State, Iowa was a big joke to many across the country. Do you REALLY believe Boise or TCU could have gone 9-0 against Iowa's schedule last year? C'mon. Both schools have one or two tough games a year and then it's a cakewalk. THAT's a FACT, and THAT'S why people get upset with those two programs. It's that simple. Furthermore, don't you realize that half of the Big Ten, at least, would go undefeated every year playing the Boise and TCU schedules? It's not fair to compare teams that play such totally unequal schedules. And that's a fact.

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, I realize I'm fighting a losing battle against Big Ten fans on this issue. All I want you and others to do is open your minds to the possibility that Boise State or TCU could hold their own in a major conference. Could they run the table in the Big Ten? It'd be tough, but it's not out of the question, either. Crazy things happen. Northwestern won a Big Ten title in 1995. Illinois won a Big Ten title in 2001. So there are surprises from time to time in this league. The truth is we'll never know because besides having great football programs, these two schools don't fit in major conferences (Boise State less so than TCU). So you're right about comparing teams with unequal schedules. I would point out that TCU plays quite a few solid programs in the Mountain West. Boise's schedule is terrible after nonconference play, not going to argue there. It would be great if we could see Boise or TCU in a major conference for just one year, where they could play the elite programs in late November when both teams should be peaking. It would also be great if major-conference teams, including ones from the Big Ten, weren't afraid to play Boise or TCU. Anyway, it's a fun discussion, but I just wish people would be a little more open-minded.
MarQueis Gray has been a busy man during Minnesota's training camp, to say the least.

When the Golden Gophers practice only once, Gray spends most of the session with the quarterbacks and sneaks a few reps here and there at wide receiver. During two-a-days, Gray works with the quarterbacks in the morning and the wide receivers in the afternoon.

[+] EnlargeMarQueis Gray
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMarQueis Gray, who caught this 7-yard touchdown against Cal last season, has been working double duty in practice.
The workload is heavy, but Gray embraces his role as No. 2 quarterback and potential starting wide receiver. It sure beats the alternative.

"I’m going to have a lot more opportunities to be on the field," Gray said. "Being on the sideline next to coach [Tim] Brewster, I'm not going to do any good sitting next to him. He wanted to find me a position, and I'm ready to take it head-on."

The 6-4, 230-pound Gray played a bit of wide receiver in 2009, catching six passes, including a 7-yarder for a touchdown against Cal. He spent spring practice competing for the starting quarterback job, but lost out to incumbent Adam Weber.

Gray remains the team's next option should anything happen to Weber, but Minnesota wants to use his size and athleticism at receiver, a spot that needs a boost after the departure of superstar Eric Decker. Although Gray was known for his mobility at quarterback, he had to play catch-up, quite literally, at receiver.

"There's a lot more running," he said. "I was a little bit winded going deep with the receivers, getting a lot of reps. But now I’m getting back in shape. I'm good now."

Gray admits he's not the team's fastest receiver -- the title likely goes to junior Troy Stoudermire -- but he brings other strengths to the group.

"I'm the tallest," he said, "and weight-room wise, I'm the strongest."

He also has good hands, which run in his family.

Gray's older brother DaMarcus Ganaway is an all-conference wide receiver at Kentucky Wesleyan who has led the team in receiving for three consecutive seasons and enters his fourth year as a starter. Another older brother played cornerback in high school.

"We used to have competitions when we were younger," Gray recalled. "We'd do 1-on-1s. I'd throw it or I'd go out and run or I'd guard one of them. We just switched back and forth.

"We all have good hands."

Gray also has an advantage over the other receivers: he sees the passing game from both perspectives.

"If you're the quarterback, your job is to know everyone's position," he said. "So it's a lot easier moving from quarterback to receiver. Now if I was having to [switch to] quarterback, that'd be a lot harder."

Gray credits new Gophers wide receivers coach Steve Watson for remaining patient with him during the transition. He also looks forward to building chemistry with Weber, who Gray calls "the general."

"I have to clean up a few things, but I've got confidence in myself," he said. "I can catch the ball, so that's all I'm worried about."

Big Ten mailblog

August, 24, 2010
8/24/10
11:00
AM ET
Good response on the Big Ten depth post. Pat yourselves on the back.

Adam from Cincinnati writes: Regarding your post on Big Ten depth, I think the criticism of the Big Ten for a lack of depth after the top four teams and their past criticism for their bowl losses before '09/10 are related. Because the Big Ten has not won a title since '02, teams in the Big Ten are not given the benefit of the doubt in the rankings. This is relevant when you look at the SEC. In my opinion, after Bama and Florida, there is no one else in the conference. However, borderline teams like LSU, Georgia, and Arkansas are given the benefit of the doubt because their conference's champ won the title. In the Big Ten, teams like MSU and NW are suffering from the lack of national titles in the conference. It isn't right that SEC teams automatically get points because a much better team in their conference did so well, but it is unfortunately the way it is.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you bring up a truly excellent point here. The trickle-down effect certainly exists in college football, and average teams in leagues that produce the national champion get more hype than they often deserve. I even notice it in which teams get more media coverage. You hear a lot about Arkansas, South Carolina, Auburn and even Ole Miss than Michigan State, Northwestern and Purdue, and I don't see a huge difference between those groups of programs. The Big Ten also is hurt by Michigan being down, because most people nationally only think about Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan in the league. Can programs like Iowa and Wisconsin get the attention they deserve? We'll find out this fall.


Nathan from Waverly, Iowa, writes: Would a bigger question be brought upon the big ten if the traditional "bottom-feeding" teams beat the top-tier programs in the B10? Would it be said the B10 is just a pile of garbage or would they say the Schools are actually good? Or is it better to have it tiered as it apparently is right now? Long term, which would be worse for the B10?

Adam Rittenberg: Another great point, Nathan. Let's say Ohio State loses to Purdue again, while Iowa stumbles against Northwestern and Wisconsin loses to Michigan State. All three defeats take those teams out of the national title race, and ultimately, a BCS championship is what the Big Ten sorely needs. So in this case, a deeper pool of teams might work against the league. The best-case scenario is for the Big Ten to win a national title and another BCS bowl game but also fill out all of its bowl slots and post another winning record in the postseason. In many ways, the Big Ten came pretty close to the ideal scenario last year. If Northwestern and Minnesota had won their bowl games and Michigan qualified for the postseason and won, you're looking at a 7-1 record in bowls with two BCS wins and four wins against the nation's top 15. Hard to top that.


Mike from New Haven, Conn., writes: If the scenario of splitting OSU and Michigan does indeed play out and the game is moved earlier in the season. Who will become Ohio State's end of season game? It would have to be Penn State one would assume. If this is indeed the case and the game continues to be as one sided as it has been the past decade, is it possible the Penn State game takes on even more significance in the eyes of Buckeye fans? or do the Buckeyes simply begin to resent PSU for not being Michigan and destroying all that was right with the world?

Adam Rittenberg: An Ohio State-Penn State game on the final regular-season Saturday makes a lot of sense, Mike. While the rivalry has grown for both fan bases in the last few years, nothing will ever top Ohio State-Michigan for Buckeyes fans. Too much history, too much hatred, too much of everything that makes a rivalry special. The fact that The Game could never be replaced is one of the reasons why it shouldn't be moved. Ohio State-Michigan in mid-October doesn't feel right at all. But if the teams were in separate divisions, you'd probably see Ohio State-Penn State on that final Saturday.


Bruce from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Side Note: ... the next time the BIG plays a real OCC schedule will be the first. .... And please stop with the "I wish those southern teams would come up North in October " I don't see Wisconsin signing up to go down to Miami in Sept ...I'd love to see them @ 4th QTR in 200% humidity.

Adam Rittenberg: You're right, Bruce, you won't see Wisconsin playing at Miami in September. But you will see Ohio State down in Miami. Mark your calendar: Sept. 17, 2011. The forecast should be humid. Iowa also heads out to Arizona in September this year, where it figures to be pretty toasty. And Penn State heads down to Alabama in a few weeks on Sept. 11. Now Alabama returns the game next year, but the Tide won't have to deal with Big Ten weather in State College. The way the schedule works, teams from the South never have to play the Big Ten in the cold. Hear that sound? It's water running through your argument.


D.J. from Richfield, Minn., writes: Hi Adam: You mentioned that the Gophers are perceived as bottom-feeders in the Big Ten. This has actually been a big topic here lately. Both locally and nationally the Gophers have this stigma as being something of a joke of a program. Obviously they aren't on the OSU level, but they have been to a bowl game basically every year this past decade. Sure they have been mid-tier bowls but I can think of a number of teams that would be happy to have played in as many mid-tier bowls as they have. The 1-11 year was more fluke than anything. Take that away and they have gone 13-13 over the past two seasons, not great but at least respectable. So where does this perception come from?

Adam Rittenberg: It's interesting, D.J. I can't remember a program returning a senior quarterback (Adam Weber) and coming off of back-to-back bowl appearances taking such a beating nationally. I think people see a very challenging schedule (non-conference and Big Ten), plus the loss of nine defensive starters and superstar wide receiver Eric Decker. They also see things beginning to slip for head coach Tim Brewster, who arrived talking about Big Ten championships but hasn't delivered in the games that truly matter. All the coaching changes in Minnesota also creates a shaky feeling around the program. That said, Minnesota isn't a 2-win team this fall and could really surprise people, especially if the offensive line and run game come together. But I think the schedule and the doubt about the coaching staff are the two driving forces behind the poor forecast.


Amanda from Madison, Wis., writes: As a Badger fan, the 2 scariest games on the schedule appear to be Iowa and Ohio St. However, Kirk Cousins and his talented core on offense have the potential to tear up our secondary. Ben Chappell with his 2 targets [Tandon] Doss and [Damarlo] Belcher scare me as well and could do damage. Do you think the Badgers have enough talent in the secondary to stop these passing games?

Adam Rittenberg: Amanda, you make some really good observations here. I'd add Purdue in that mix because the Boilers will have a dynamic passing attack this year, and they'll be looking to avenge an embarrassing performance last year in Madison. Purdue was competitive in every other game but Wisconsin in 2009. The secondary certainly is a question mark after Chris Maragos' departure, but I like the playmakers back there. If safeties Jay Valai and Aaron Henry work well together, Wisconsin should be decent. You also have to give the Badgers' offense some credit here. Opposing teams might have success through the air against Wisconsin, but the Badgers can control the clock, overpower defenses and simply outscore their opponents, too. Wisconsin's offense should give MSU, Indiana and Purdue all kinds of trouble.


Dave from Kansas writes: Lets just say OSU has one loss, and Iowa or wisconsin goes unbeaten do you see the big 10 playing for a national title, or do you see Boise st getting in over a 1 loss big 10 team.

Adam Rittenberg: Another great question here, Dave. Boise State obviously has to go undefeated, win impressively against Virginia Tech and/or Oregon State and also have both the Hokies and Beavers remain high in the national rankings. If all those things happen, the Broncos have a legit shot at the title game. An undefeated Big Ten team most likely gets in ahead of Boise, and Ohio State almost surely would because of its preseason ranking (No. 2). An undefeated Big Ten squad would be helped by having at least one other Big Ten team remain in the top 10. I have a tough time seeing a 1-loss Big Ten team jump an undefeated Boise State squad, unless Boise's schedule (both nonconference and conference) really backfires.

Recapping the Big Ten scrimmages

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
9:00
AM ET
Scrimmages took center stage around the Big Ten this weekend as teams moved closer to the end of camp and the start of game preparations. I have links and a few thoughts on each scrimmage below, but only on the teams that put out information about what happened or had media in attendance. Those teams are: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

I'll do my best with Michigan's scrimmage, which oddly was open to fans but not media.

ILLINOIS

The Illini broke camp in Rantoul, Ill., and scrimmaged Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Check out what happened here and here and here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Illinois' coaches can talk all they want about running back by committee, but it's clear that junior Mikel Leshoure is the team's top option. As he did throughout the second half of last season, Leshoure showcased his big-play ability Saturday with a 49-yard touchdown run. Leshoure finished with 102 rush yards and two scores on only 12 carries. Jason Ford also had a nice day Saturday, but Leshoure is the guy to watch out for this fall.
  • After struggling in the first camp scrimmage, Illinois' first-team defense rebounded nicely Saturday. According to Mark Tupper, the first-team defense allowed only 59 net yards in 41 plays in the scrimmage. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Martez Wilson were among the standouts.
  • Although starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a shaky day, Illinois might have found another capable wide receiver in Eddie McGee, the team's former backup quarterback. McGee beat cornerback Miami Thomas on a jump ball in the end zone to record a touchdown and finished with three receptions for 56 yards.
INDIANA

The Hoosiers held a 96-play Saturday at Memorial Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here (subscription required) and here.

Quick hitters
  • Redshirt freshman Dusty Kiel has established himself as the team's backup quarterback in camp. Kiel, who has been competing with Edward Wright-Baker, had an excellent scrimmage, completing 14 of 16 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
  • Indiana used the scrimmage to assess its offensive line depth and limited the participation for sure-fire starters like center Will Matte and right tackle James Brewer. Coach Bill Lynch wanted to get a better read on his backup center and had Jordan Marquette, Chris Ahlfeld and Steve Fiacable take reps in the scrimmage. Ted Bolser stepped up nicely at tight end with five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Hoosiers' already-shaky secondary suffered a blow as safety Chris Adkins had to be carried off the field because of an ankle injury. The extent of Adkins' injury is unclear at this point.
MICHIGAN

Michigan held a scrimmage Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It was open to some fans but not media, and while I love fan reports, I'm relying mostly on this video from the school's official website.
  • I really like what I've seen from freshman running back Stephen Hopkins, both in Saturday's scrimmage and during the Big Ten Network's tour stop. He gives the Wolverines a different look in the backfield at 6-foot, 227 pounds. Michigan boasts plenty of speed backs, but Hopkins provides the type of downhill, between-the-tackles running you need in the Big Ten.
  • Quarterback Denard Robinson looked pretty smooth in the scrimmage video, both as a passer and a runner. He hit his receivers in stride and broke off a long touchdown run, juking safety Jared Van Slyke before reaching the end zone. All signs continue to point toward Robinson being named the starter, but we'll see.
MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans held a 130-play controlled scrimmage Saturday at Spartan Stadium, closed to the media. The defense prevailed 45-32 as the team used a modified scoring system. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • It was a good day for the defense and a great day for the linebackers, who should be Michigan State's strongest unit this fall. Eric Gordon recorded a scrimmage-best nine tackles, while Greg Jones added eight, including two for loss. Jon Misch had 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry, and Chris Norman had six tackles and a pass breakup. "The linebackers were very active," coach Mark Dantonio said.
  • Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham is having a very strong camp, and he continued it Saturday with five receptions for 67 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins. Cousins and Cunningham hooked up for two touchdowns in the team's first fall scrimmage. It's a pretty crowded mix at receiver, but Cunningham has put himself in a great position.
MINNESOTA

Minnesota held an open scrimmage Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Minnesota's first-string offensive line stepped up nicely in the scrimmage, keeping quarterback Adam Weber safe and allowing him to complete 7 of 9 passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. There was, however, a significant drop-off when the second- and third-team offensive linemen entered the scrimmage. "I didn't feel like some of the [second and third team] took advantage of the opportunity to go play today," coach Tim Brewster told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
  • Freshman running back Donnell Kirkwood has put himself in the mix for carries this fall alongside Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. Kirkwood had 19 carries in Saturday's scrimmage with a long run of 14 yards. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton praised Kirkwood when we talked a few weeks ago.
  • MarQueis Gray is still getting reps as a reserve quarterback, but it's coming clear his primary role this fall will be at wide receiver, as long as Weber stays healthy. Gray seems to be embracing the change, and his big frame could really help the Gophers after the loss of Eric Decker. "I am pretty sure I can find a hole somewhere to catch the ball and get upfield for Weber when he throws it to me," he told the Star Tribune.
NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats ended their off-campus training in Kenosha, Wis., with an open scrimmage. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald held out a large group of starters on both sides, so second- and third-teamers got most of the work. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Freshman receiver Venric Mark will make an immediate impact this fall, especially for Northwestern's middling return teams. Mark had an excellent scrimmage, recording a 28-yard touchdown catch and breaking off several big returns. Generously listed at 5-8 and 165 pounds, Mark also threw a block that helped classmate Adonis Smith reach the end zone.
  • A battle could be brewing at backup quarterback. As starter Dan Persa watched from the sideline, true freshman Trevor Siemian completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Siemian could push redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, who completed only four of seven passes.
  • Freshman defensive end Will Hampton could work his way into the rotation this fall. Hampton recorded a tackle for loss in the scrimmage.
OHIO STATE

Ohio State held its jersey scrimmage Saturday at Ohio Stadium, as the offense prevailed 54-48 after 130-140 plays. The scrimmage was open to the media, and you can find recaps here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Quarterback Terrelle Pryor had a so-so day, although he wore a no-contact jersey and couldn't be the running threat he'll be after Sept. 4. Pryor completed only 10 of 24 pass attempts but did fire a 25-yard touchdown strike to Taurian Washington, considered the front-runner for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. He also found tight end Jake Stoneburner for a 25-yard gain and nearly threw an interception in the end zone.
  • Andrew Sweat appears to have a slight edge on Etienne Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot. Sabino entered camp as the favorite to start, but Sweat logged more time with the first-team defense Saturday and recovered a Brandon Saine fumble.
  • Coach Jim Tressel said he hopes to get defensive end Nathan Williams (knee) back by the Sept. 2 opener against Marshall. Meanwhile, several young defensive linemen stood out Saturday. Redshirt freshman Adam Bellamy recorded three sacks and true freshman Johnathan Hankins added one.
WISCONSIN

The Badgers scrimmaged Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The session was open to the media, and you can read all about it here and here.
  • Wisconsin's offense moved the ball decently but struggled to finish drives, as Antonio Fenelus picked off a Scott Tolzien pass and safety Aaron Henry broke up a pass in the end zone. It was a theme throughout the scrimmage. There's little doubt Wisconsin can control the clock and keep moving the chains with its balanced attack, but it must execute in the red zone.
  • Freshman running back James White had a good day and could push Zach Brown for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. White had runs of 29, 26 and 22 yards, the last for a touchdown, in the scrimmage. Starting tailback John Clay, by the way, had 11 carries for 51 yards.
  • Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr had a tough scrimmage, going 0-for-9 passing on his first three series with two near interceptions. He finished 9-for-27 for 107 yards for a touchdown and an interception. Wisconsin really can't lose Tolzien and would get a big boost if Curt Phillips can return from his knee injury early in the season.
After Minnesota ran a multitude of plays but very few of them well last season, new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton came in with a simple plan.

Step 1: Identify a feasible package of plays for the Gophers execute well.

Step 2: Stick to it!

In preseason camp, he's seeing the desired results.

"We’re really close to that point right now," Horton told me after Friday's practice. "They’re even calling the plays along with me. They’re anticipating what’s going to happen because they’ve seen a variety of looks from the defense to what we’re doing.

Adam Weber
AP Photo/Paul BattagliaMinnesota quarterback Adam Weber is a three-year starter.
"There’s still a lot we’ve got to clean up, but the effort is there and guys are working really hard to be good."

Minnesota didn't dramatically change its offense after Jedd Fisch returned to the NFL, but Horton spent most of the spring installing his plan. He needed the players to continue the process on their own in the summer to make sure they had it down for the season.

So far, Horton has seen "great carryover" in practice, thanks in large part to senior quarterback Adam Weber, a three-year starter who had to reclaim the top job this spring after beating out MarQueis Gray.

"He always approached it like he was going to be the starter, and he did a great job leading the workouts this summer, getting guys ready for camp," Horton said of Weber. "He gets a bad rap. I’m his fourth offensive coordinator in four years. I don’t know many people who can work for four bosses in four years. He’s doing a great job."

The easiest way for Minnesota's offense to keep it simple in 2010 is to effectively run the ball, something haven't done well in a while. One of the nation's premier rushing offenses just five years ago, Minnesota has finished 111th and 104th nationally in the past two seasons, ranking last in the Big Ten both times.

Horton expects to use multiple backs this season -- Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge can be considered co-starters, while Horton said freshman Donnell Kirkwood is performing well -- and he's thrilled to have fullback Jon Hoese back in the fold. But it won't matter who carries the ball if Minnesota's line doesn't markedly improve.

The experience is there, but Horton, head coach Tim Brewster and others have challenged the line to be tougher and more physical.

"They’ve played a lot of football for us, all five of them," said Horton, who singled out center D.J. Burris for his leadership. "I told them when we started camp, ‘It’s on you guys. You have to take charge.'"

Minnesota also has to survive without record-setting receiver Eric Decker, whose foot injury last fall coincided with the offense's nosedive. Horton joked that he almost expected Decker to be on the field for camp -- "That’s one of the reasons I took the job as offensive coordinator," he said -- but acknowledged the major production void left by No. 7.

Horton doesn't expect a receiver to catch 70-80 passes like Decker used to, but he likes the variety he has with players like Da'Jon McKnight, Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen.

“From what we put in in the spring, those guys worked on it in the summer, and you can see a big improvement running those plays in the fall," Horton said. "They’re not thinking as much. And if you’re thinking, you can’t play fast. They know what they’re doing, and that brings confidence."

Ranking the Big Ten quarterbacks

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
11:00
AM ET
As you might have noticed, we're all about quarterbacks today at ESPN.com, and it's time to rank the Big Ten signal callers.

This hasn't been a Big Ten strength in recent years, but things could change this fall. Quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien all have proven they can win at a high level, and Ben Chappell (Indiana) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) put up some strong numbers last fall.

The criteria are the same I used for the top 25 preseason rankings: past performance and 2010 potential. You can gripe all you want about the top four choices, but you shouldn't be surprised because all four quarterbacks were ranked in the exact same order in June/July. The Big Ten blogger is not a hypocrite. One final note: These are individual player rankings, but I consolidated the quarterback candidates at Michigan and Penn State to make it easier.

I fully expect this list to be different in early January, but here goes:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Terry GilliamTerrelle Pryor's performance in the Rose Bowl solidified his rank as the Big Ten's best quarterback.
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: How can I rank Pryor at No. 1 based on one great performance? For starters, it took place in a huge game, the Rose Bowl, against a top 10 opponent in Oregon. Plus, I think Pryor will go forward rather than backward and become a more complete quarterback this fall. He has more natural ability than anyone else on this list, and while he'll never be a model passer, he only needs to improve a little to become a lot more dangerous.

2. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: It's very close between Stanzi and Tolzien, but Stanzi's 18-4 mark as Iowa's starting quarterback sets him apart. Yes, you can point to the mistakes, and there were a lot of them, but no quarterback in the country made more big plays in the fourth quarter than No. 12. I expect a smarter and more efficient Stanzi in 2010. Plus, he's a damn fine American.

3. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin: Simply stated, he's the perfect quarterback for Wisconsin. Tolzien is smart, extremely efficient and totally aware of his role in the offense. He executes the play-action well and can thread the needle when he needs to. Tolzien still needs to prove himself against the Big Ten's best defenses, but I expect a very strong senior season from him.

4. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Take away a few late-game mistakes and a poor second half against Penn State, and Cousins turned in a very strong season as a first-year starter. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is strong (19-9), and he'll only get better with more experience. Plus, he has an excellent group of receivers and tight ends at his disposal this fall.

5. Ben Chappell, Indiana: Chappell is the Big Ten's leading returning passer (2,941 yards in 2009), and he ranks second in completion percentage (62.6) among returning starters. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and make better throws in the red zone, but all that should come this fall. Chappell has some great receivers to work with, namely Tandon Doss, but would really benefit from a consistent run game.

6. Adam Weber, Minnesota: Some Gophers fans have given up on Weber after a poor junior season, but I still have faith in No. 8, who happens to be a record holder at the U. It hasn't been easy with three offensive coordinators in as many seasons, and the system last year would have been tough for any quarterback to run. Weber still has a ton of talent, but he needs to regain the confidence we saw for most of 2008, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also needs to prove himself without star receiver Eric Decker.

7. Robert Marve, Purdue: Marve clearly doesn't grade high in past performance after struggling at Miami in 2008, but his potential this fall is very high. He'll benefit from working in Purdue's spread offense, and he'll have no shortage of targets in Keith Smith, Justin Siller, Cortez Smith and others. The ability always has been there with Marve, and we'll start to see results this fall.

8. Tate Forcier/Denard Robinson, Michigan: No starter has been named, and while head coach Rich Rodriguez has a bit of evidence from 2009, he'll be selecting a No. 1 quarterback based on who he believes has greater potential in 2010. Both players can run, although Robinson is more explosive on the move. Forcier was far and away the better passer in 2009, but he struggled to make plays when he wasn't freelancing. Robinson should be a better passer this fall.

9. Dan Persa, Northwestern: This isn't a knock against Persa, who has done everything right to prepare himself for this moment. I just need to see more from him in game situations, especially if Northwestern relies on him as much as it did Mike Kafka in 2009. Persa very well could be the most ideal fit for Northwestern's spread offense since Zak Kustok.

10. Kevin Newsome/Matt McGloin/Paul Jones/Robert Bolden, Penn State: The competition remains wide open, and the group has virtually no game experience aside from Newsome. Talent shouldn't be a problem, as Newsome, Jones and Bolden all were highly-touted recruits, while McGloin, a former walk-on, has made significant strides in State College. Who can handle the pressure of quarterbacking in the Big Ten? We'll find out soon.

11. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois: Again, not a knock against Scheelhaase, but his past performance is confined to practices and scrimmages. He's one of the most mature redshirt freshmen I've covered, but he's obviously got to prove himself in the game spotlight. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino sees shades of Stefan LeFors in Scheelhaase. If that's the case, he'll soar up this list.

Opening camp: Minnesota

August, 5, 2010
8/05/10
2:30
PM ET
Schedule: The Gophers hit the field Friday for their first practice.

What's new: Another offensive coordinator, the Gophers' third in as many seasons. Jeff Horton isn't bringing dramatic changes like his predecessor Jedd Fish, and he'll try to simplify things for senior quarterback Adam Weber, who retained his starting job after spring ball. There are also a ton of new faces on defense as Minnesota loses nine starters, including productive linebackers Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence. The Gophers also have a new wide receivers coach in former NFL player Steve Watson, who must identify some playmakers after the loss of standout Eric Decker.

Sidelined: We thought Kim Royston would be in this category, but the senior safety has healed extremely well from a broken leg this spring. Royston won't be 100 percent for the start of camp, but barring any setbacks, he should be ready for the start of the season. As one of only two returning starters on defense, Royston provides a strong presence in the secondary. Linebacker Sam Maresh, a possible starter, isn't with the team as he improves his grades at a junior college.

Key battle: Name a spot on defense and there's probably some competition there, as Minnesota must find answers at linebacker, defensive end and cornerback. The linebacker group should be particularly interesting. Mike Rallis locked up a starting job this spring, but the other spots are open as Keanon Cooper, Gary Tinsley and others are in the mix. Cornerback also is a spot to watch as Michael Carter and Christyn Lewis try to lock up starting spots.

New on the scene: Head coach Tim Brewster and his staff have recruited well, and it's time they start to see the rewards. Lewis and tight end Tiree Eure both are junior-college transfers who should contribute right away. Minnesota really likes redshirt freshmen offensive linemen Ed Olson and Brooks Michel, and incoming freshman tackle Jimmy Gjere is a name to watch. It also will be interesting to see if freshmen running backs Lamonte Edwards and Donnell Kirkwood can work their way into the mix.

Breaking out: Brewster sings the praises of defensive end Ra'Shede Hageman, and Minnesota could really use a boost in the pass rush from the redshirt freshman. MarQueis Gray didn't win the starting quarterback spot, but he's a guy who needs the ball in his hands one way or another. Replacing Decker will be tough, but Minnesota has high hopes for Da'Jon McKnight, who averaged 18.3 yards on 17 receptions last year.

Time to step up: Without a doubt, Minnesota's offensive line is the group that needs to elevate its play in camp. The line boasts both experience and some exciting young talent, and the players are used to coach Tim Davis and his demands. Minnesota simply can't rank last in the league in rushing year after year. It's time for the line to get tougher, come together and build off of a strong spring.

Quotable: "We're bigger. We're stronger. We're faster. We're more athletic than we've been. And rightfully so. We need to be. We know that we're going to play one of the most challenging schedules in America this season. And our players are going to have to be prepared." -- head coach Tim Brewster

The Revolving Door: Minnesota

June, 10, 2010
6/10/10
3:30
PM ET
All the expansion news has prompted a drought in the Revolving Door series, but it returns today.

Here's my seventh installment of a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Eric Decker, WR: You could argue Decker was the entire Minnesota offense before he sustained a season-ending foot injury against Ohio State. Decker turned in some amazing performances in September, becoming Minnesota's all-time leader in both receptions and receiving yards. The Big Ten coaches showed Decker the ultimate sign of respect by voting Decker first-team all-conference even though he appeared in only eight games.

Lee Campbell, LB: All three of Minnesota's starting linebackers could qualify here, but Campbell gets the nod after an extremely productive senior season. The Floridian ranked third in the Big Ten in tackles with 119, led Minnesota with 11.5 tackles for loss and recorded two blocked kicks, an interception, two fumble recoveries and six passes defended.


Staying ...

Adam Weber, QB: Weber has more experience than any Big Ten signal caller and should benefit from the arrival of new offensive coordinator Jeff Horton and a simplified scheme. Yes, he struggled mightily in 2009, throwing two more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes, but he's only two years removed from earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. Don't forget Weber is still Minnesota's all-time passing leader.

Kyle Theret, S: Like Weber, Theret boasts a ton of experience as a starter and should lead a Gophers secondary that might need to replace three starters (depending on Kim Royston's availability). Theret led Minnesota with three interceptions and recorded 73 tackles and seven passes defended. He saved his best performance for the Insight Bowl, where he had two interceptions and made a 40-yard reception on a fake punt.


Coming ...

Jimmy Gjere, OT: It's no secret that Minnesota's offensive line must improve, and while Gjere is only a freshman, he could help right away this season. A heralded prospect from New Brighton, Minn., Gjere not only boasts good size but has length and good footwork. The Gophers ideally would like to redshirt him, but if they need him, he's available.

Christyn Lewis, DB: Given Minnesota's situation in the secondary, Lewis could see the field soon. The junior college transfer from Citrus College in California worked at safety and nickel back during spring ball. Depending on what happens with Royston -- or Theret, who was indefinitely suspended this spring -- Lewis might be a factor in 2010.

More revolving door ...

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
9:00
AM ET
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

ROUND 1
ROUND 2
ROUND 3
ROUND 4
ROUND 5
ROUND 6
  • No Big Ten players selected
ROUND 7

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12