Big Ten: Ervin Baldwin

The United Football League held its 2011 draft Monday night, and three former Big Ten players were selected, along with three Nebraska offensive linemen.

The ongoing NFL lockout prevents undrafted players from signing with NFL teams, and the UFL presents another route to play pro ball if the labor situation isn't resolved by the fall. If a player signs with a UFL team, he's bound to the team through the 2011 season, which kicks off in August.

Here's a look at the Big Ten/Nebraska contingent:

Player: Lawrence Wilson
Position: DE
College/final season: Ohio State, 2009
Drafted: No. 10 overall (second round)
Selected by: Las Vegas Locos

Player: Eric Peterman
Position: WR
College/final season: Northwestern, 2008
Drafted: No. 15 overall (third round)
Selected by: Las Vegas Locos

Player: Ricky Henry
Position: G
College/final season: Nebraska, 2010
Drafted: No. 16 overall (fourth round)
Selected by: Hartford Colonials

Player: Mike Smith
Position: OT
College/final season: Nebraska, 2010
Drafted: No. 23 overall (fifth round)
Selected by: Omaha Nighthawks

Player: Ervin Baldwin
Position: DE
College/final season: Michigan State, 2007
Drafted: No. 27 overall (sixth round)
Selected by: Hartford Colonials

Player: D.J. Jones
Position: OT
College/final season: Nebraska, 2010
Drafted: No. 28 overall (sixth round)
Selected by: Omaha Nighthawks

Wilson, Peterman and Baldwin all have spent time in the Chicago Bears organization (Baldwin was a seventh-round pick in 2008).

Check the full UFL draft rundown.
It's Super Bowl week, and here in Chicago, we're celebrating the hiring of Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator after a month-long search. Hope Jay Cutler has a life insurance policy.

OK, moving on to less depressing topics, like the Big Ten and Super Bowl XLIV.

Once again, the Big Ten has plenty of connections to the game, including 20 former players on the two teams, more than any other conference.

All 11 member schools will be represented by a player and/or coach participating in the game. Michigan has the highest number of former players (four), followed by Ohio State (three) and then six teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin -- each with two former players. Penn State and Minnesota will have former coaches on the sideline Sunday.

Both head coaches have Big Ten roots, as the Colts' Jim Caldwell played at Iowa and served as an assistant at Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. The Saints' Sean Payton had a one-year stint as an Illinois assistant in 1996.

Here's the full lineup of Big Ten links to Super Bowl XLIV, courtesy of the league office:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Players

Kelvin Hayden, DB, Illinois
Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
Bob Sanders*, DB, Iowa
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Marlin Jackson*, DB, Michigan
Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
John Gill, DL, Northwestern
Anthony Gonzalez*, WR, Ohio State
Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Jim Sorgi*, QB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Jim Caldwell, Head Coach (Played at Iowa from 1973-76; Assistant at Iowa in 1977, Northwestern in 1981 and Penn State from 1986-92)
Larry Coyer, Defensive Coordinator (Assistant at Iowa from 1974-77 and Ohio State from 1991-92)
Gene Huey, Running Backs (Assistant at Ohio State from 1988-91)
Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator (Played at Iowa from 1957-60; Assistant at Iowa from 1961-62 and Minnesota from 1972-73 and 1975-76)
Ray Rychleski, Special Teams (Assistant at Penn State in 1991)
Bill Teerlinck, Defensive Assistant (Assistant at Indiana from 2003-04)
John Teerlinck, Defensive Line (Assistant at Illinois from 1980-82)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Players

Pierre Thomas, RB, Illinois
Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Courtney Roby, WR, Indiana
Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Zach Strief, OT, Northwestern
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Sean Payton, Head Coach (Assistant at Illinois in 1996)
Greg McMahon, Special Teams (Assistant at Minnesota from 1983-84 and Illinois from 1992-2004)
Bret Ingalls, Running Backs (Assistant at Northwestern from 2006-08)
Aaron Kromer, Offensive Line/Running Game (Assistant at Northwestern from 1999-2000)
Mike Mallory, Assistant Special Teams (Played at Michigan from 1982-85; Assistant at Indiana from 1986-87 and Illinois from 2001-05)
Terry Malone, Tight Ends (Assistant at Michigan from 1997-2005)

*-Injured reserve

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Life seemed good for defensive end Trevor Anderson after Cincinnati's spring game in 2007, but things were about to change.

"I was like, 'Man, I did good in the spring game. I killed. Man, I'm about to get ready for a big season,'" said Anderson, who had recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his first two years with the Bearcats. "But God, He has a way of humbling you."

A "personal conversation I had spiritually" told Anderson he needed to leave Cincinnati, which became a difficult process.

New Bearcats coach Brian Kelly initially refused to release Anderson from his scholarship if the defensive end transferred to Michigan State, coached by Kelly's Cincinnati predecessor, Mark Dantonio. Several other possible destinations were approved, including Michigan, but not East Lansing. 

Anderson had to overcome some academic hurdles in transferring his credits from Cincinnati, but he eventually got his wish, to play for Dantonio again and, more importantly, to be closer to his family. After sitting out last season, he returns to the field this fall and is expected to start on a Spartans line looking to replace standout ends Ervin Baldwin and Jonal Saint-Dic.

"Perfect timing," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. 

"He can be looked at and say, 'Hey, here's an example of how to do it,' whether it's this pass rush or this particular stunt," Dantonio said. "That's powerful to have on your football team."  

Anderson was popular Tuesday at Michigan State's media day, as a sizable crowd formed around the man pegged to be the team's most impact addition. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound end seemed anxious to return to the spotlight on Saturdays, especially after a season of watching his new team and hearing about his old team, which went 10-3 and was ranked No. 17 in the final AP Poll. 

"I knew in my heart I did the right thing," Anderson said. "Even when I left and players still Facebooked me or called me, saying, 'Man, if we had you, we're doing good, but we'd be doing [even better],' I told them, 'I wish y'all the best. I wish you win the national championship.' I had no hard feelings toward any of my teammates. I was kind of sour about the way the situation went, but that's the business of college football. Things like that happen and they're going to continue to happen."

Prohibited from playing in games last season, Anderson turned his attention toward reestablishing ties in his hometown of Detroit. Though Spartans defensive line coach Ted Gill said Anderson's dream has always been to play for Michigan State, Anderson remembers wanting to play several times zone away.

He considered UCLA, something that didn't go over well with his mom, Dionne.

"She prayed that I wouldn't get a scholarship more than five hours away," Anderson said. "And where did I end up? Cincinnati. Five hours away." 

When Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State in November 2006, Anderson's mom asked him if he wanted to come home, but at that time he was preparing for the International Bowl and wanted to stay put. Several months later, he changed his mind. 

"I left high school three days after graduation," Anderson said, "so [when I came back] me and my mother reconnected in so many ways. It actually turned out to be a blessing off the field, especially with family. Football's cool, but at the end, your body's going to wear out. I got a lot of close relationships reattached."

Among them were those with Dantonio and assistants like Narduzzi and Gill, who followed the head coach from Cincinnati to Michigan State. 

"He knows us, he knows what's expected within the defense," Gill said. "He knows the breakdowns if he doesn't do certain things and he knows if he does certain things, what it can give us. You're really excited about that."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Remove two of the Big Ten's top pass rushers from a defensive line, and the assumption is it will suffer.

But when Michigan State defensive line coach Ted Gill reviews a group that no longer includes Jonal Saint-Dic or Ervin Baldwin, he sees plenty of potential. What the Spartans lost in production -- 18.5 sacks and 33 tackles for loss -- they can make up for with greater depth.

"These guys that I had last year, I didn't know a lot about," Gill said. "Right now I've got somewhere like nine defensive ends that I can shake up and figure out what to do with, and I have somewhere like six inside guys that I'm going to shake up and see what happens. ... I like to play a lot of guys. I think it'll make us better."

Defensive end Trevor Anderson, a Cincinnati transfer who played for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio with the Bearcats, is expected to provide pocket pressure. Senior defensive tackle Justin Kershaw has 21 career starts on the line. The other tackle spot is undecided, with sophomores Oren Wilson and Antonio Jeremiah competing alongside several other players.

Though the Spartans are stocked with sophomores and redshirt freshmen at both line positions, senior end Brandon Long appears to have solidified a spot opposite Anderson. Long, who started three games last year, was singled out for his work this offseason.

"He's in the top five or what would we call 'power players,' offensive and defensive linemen, in every area: bench press, squat, hang clean," Dantonio said. "He has personal bests in all of those. He's in great physical shape. Mentally, he's sharp."

The defensive line isn't the only area Spartans coach highlighted for its depth. Kendell Davis-Clark is the elder statesman among the team's cornerbacks, but several others have starting experience, including Chris L. Rucker, who also should see time at wide receiver this fall.  

"We have eight corners that are functional," Dantonio said. "We're trying to build depth so you have function at that position of depth. For example, the No. 1 wide receiver might be better than the No. 2 or 3, but those No. 2 and 3, they are functional. They can go in and make plays for you." 

 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Brian Hoyer returns to lead the Michigan State offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State media day is under way, so check back for updates later in the morning and this afternoon. For now, here's a look at three major questions facing the Spartans entering what should be a defining 2008 season.

1. Can Brian Hoyer take the next step in his evolution and silence his critics?

Hoyer did a lot of good things last season, but quarterbacks are ultimately judged in the fourth quarter and Michigan State went 2-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. His play in crunch time will go a long way in determining if the Spartans back up their preseason label as the Big Ten's surprise team. Hoyer can be extremely efficient, as he proved with just seven regular-season interceptions last fall, but the nightmare of his four-interception meltdown in the Champs Sports Bowl lingers with Spartans fans. As a senior, Hoyer should limit his mistakes, and if several capable wide receivers emerge, he'll have a big season.

2. How will Michigan State replace Devin Thomas' playmaking ability?

Thomas' rapid rise as a wide receiver/return man probably can't be duplicated by one player, but the Spartans feel confident in their mostly unproven receiving corps. Both Deon Curry and Mark Dell appeared in all 13 games last season, combining for 44 catches, and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham could be the team's top big-play threat. The two Chris Ruckers -- Chris D. and Chris L. -- provide depth and heralded freshman Fred Smith could contribute immediately.

3. Who will anchor the pass rush after the losses of Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, both of whom ranked among the Big Ten's top seven in sacks?

Expectations are high for end Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati and a proven commodity. Anderson recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons playing for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati. He might be a bit rusty after a year off but should provide a big boost on the edge. The Spartans also need increased production from seniors Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long, who combined for 3.5 sacks last season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rankings switch to the defenses today, and things begin up front. Like their offensive trench mates, defensive linemen are best graded as a unit, so that's where we'll start. But because there are so many standouts in the Big Ten, I'll follow-up with individual rankings for interior linemen and defensive ends. Examining the personnel at Penn State, Illinois, Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, defensive line is arguably the league's strongest position group.

Here's the rundown:

1. Penn State -- It's tight at the top, but the Nittany Lions get the nod with an experienced and talented group. Defensive ends Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines lead the way after combining for 26.5 tackles for loss and 16 sacks last season. Aaron Maybin provides depth at end, and the interior line features Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and the reinstated Chris Baker.

2. Illinois -- Coach Ron Zook was extremely high on this group coming out of the spring, and for good reason. The Illini are stacked at end with All-Big Ten selection Will Davis, Derek Walker and Doug Pilcher. They must replace mainstay Chris Norwell at defensive tackle, but former walk-on David Lindquist comes off a strong 2007 in which he recorded 4.5 sacks.

3. Ohio State -- It's rare to see the Buckeyes outside of the top two, but they certainly have the talent to jump up the list. The main concern is the loss of defensive end Vernon Gholston, who tied for third nationally in sacks last fall. But the Buckeyes have a capable replacement in Lawrence Wilson, who returns after breaking his leg in the 2007 opener. Blossoming end Cameron Heyward helps the pass rush, and Ohio State has four capable interior linemen.

4. Michigan -- All four starters are back, and the line should be Michigan's strongest position group entering the season. End Brandon Graham had a strong summer after recording 8.5 sacks last season. He'll team with Tim Jamison to provide a formidable pass rush. The Wolverines will use multiple fronts but should operate mostly out of the 4-3, giving senior tackles Terrance Taylor and Will Johnson the chance to do damage.

5. Wisconsin -- Health and depth are the major questions entering camp, but there's little doubt the Badgers have loads of talent up front. End Matt Shaughnessy earned second-team all-conference honors last season and should have a stellar senior year if he recovers from a broken fibula. Senior tackles Jason Chapman and Mike Newkirk also come off injuries, as does end Kirk DeCremer, who recorded 5.5 sacks as a freshman.

6. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes boast the league's best interior line with senior tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. King has started the last 32 games, and Kroul's starts streak stands at 37. If Iowa can find disruptive pass rushers to bookend King and Kroul, it will shoot up the list. The spotlight will be on sophomores Christian Ballard and Adrian Clayborn, who had their moments as reserves last fall.

7. Indiana -- Greg Middleton headlines the group after leading the nation in sacks last season with 16. Indiana's challenges will be identifying a second pass-rushing threat and becoming sturdier against the run (159.7 ypg allowed in 2007). Junior end Jammie Kirlew recorded 12.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks last season, numbers that should increase with the double-teams Middleton will draw. Senior Greg Brown and the Burrus twins (Keith and Kevin) must solidify the interior.

8. Purdue -- Cliff Avril's departure hurts, but the Boilermakers return several experienced players up front and could easily leapfrog some teams by the end of the season. Seniors Alex Magee and Ryan Baker could be the best defensive tackle tandem in coach Joe Tiller's tenure, and Keyon Brown finished last season with 2.5 sacks in the Motor City Bowl.

9. Michigan State -- I'd be surprised if Michigan State doesn't jump up the list, but it's hard to minimize the losses of standout ends Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin. Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati, steps into one spot and gives the Spartans a proven pass rusher. Hopes are high for tackle Justin Kershaw in his senior season, and sophomores Antonio Jeremiah and Oren Wilson will compete at the other tackle spot.

10. Northwestern -- With four multiyear starters back for the fall, the Wildcats should be much higher on the list. But a disappointing 2007 season leaves the group with plenty to prove. Tackle John Gill is a fail-safe NFL prospect and 6-7 end Corey Wootton provides size on the edge, but the line simply doesn't make enough plays. Northwestern must finish off sacks after collecting only 18 last season, and senior end Kevin Mims must step up opposite Wootton.

11. Minnesota -- This will be a familiar spot for Gophers defenders until they prove otherwise. Minnesota generated a league-low 11 sacks last season and got gashed for 229.3 rushing yards per game. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg tries to regain his 2006 form (10 sacks) after a disappointing junior season. New coordinator Ted Roof must find two capable tackles and could look to the team's crop of junior-college transfers.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

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