Big Ten: Evan Royster
Whatever the answer is, the quarterback will face the same challenge on Saturday by making his first career start. We can't peer into the future to see what the end result will be. (Hey, as Bill O'Brien likes to say, we're no genies.)
But we can look back to see how the last five Penn State quarterbacks fared in their first career starts. Here they are:
Matt McGloin, redshirt sophomore
vs. Michigan on Oct. 30, 2010
Outcome: PSU 41-31
Stats: 17-of-28 for 250 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions
Synopsis: After Rob Bolden suffered a head injury against Minnesota the week before, McGloin became the next man up. He was the first former walk-on to ever start under Joe Paterno.
After holding on to a 14-10 lead late in the second quarter, McGloin led PSU on two touchdown drives to give the Lions a 28-10 advantage by halftime. Said Paterno after the game: "That's about as well as we can play."
vs. Youngstown State on Sept. 4, 2010
Outcome: PSU 44-14
Stats: 20-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns, one interception
Synopsis: He was the first true freshman in a century to start an opener for Penn State, and he fared relatively well against lesser competition.
PSU started off slow and led just 16-7 at halftime, but Bolden was able to get some breathing room when Chaz Powell returned the second-half kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. Bolden didn't get much help from the running game -- Evan Royster had 40 yards on 11 carries -- but PSU dominated after the touchdown return.
Daryll Clark, redshirt junior
vs. Coastal Carolina on Aug. 30, 2008
Outcome: PSU 66-10
Stats: 11-of-14 for 146 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions
Synopsis: Penn State performed as expected against an FCS cupcake and didn't even really need to pass. PSU rushed for 334 yards and led 38-0 by halftime.
Pat Devlin and Paul Cianciolo played later in the game because, well, there was really no reason for Clark to risk injury. Clark said this afterward: "When you first start, you want everything to go right. I don't think I got touched today."
Anthony Morelli, junior
vs. Akron on Sept. 2, 2006
Outcome: PSU 34-16
Stats: 16-of-32 for 206 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions
Synopsis: Morelli started off hot and drove the Lions to a score on their first drive, on a 42-yard touchdown pass to Deon Butler. He was 7-of-10 passing for 110 yards and two scores on just his first three drives -- and he was the first PSU quarterback since joining the Big Ten to throw three TDs in his first career start.
Said Akron coach J.D. Brookhart: "That kid can throw from one half to the other, 20 yards deep. You won't see a better arm this year."
Michael Robinson, redshirt sophomore
vs. Wisconsin on Oct. 4, 2003
Outcome: Wisconsin 30-23
Stats: 22-of-43 for 379 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions; nine carries for 19 yards
Synopsis: Robinson stepped up when Zack Mills went down the week before with a sprained left knee, and he performed admirably. Although PSU didn't win, Robinson guided PSU on touchdown drives of 74, 80 and 70 yards. And, at the time, only one other PSU quarterback (Mills) had thrown for more yards in a game.
Robinson said this to the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Before the game, I kind of thought they would blitz me a little more, because that's what you usually do to a guy making his first start. You kind of want to get in his head a little bit. They played back and basically told me, 'Look, if you're going to beat us, you're going to have to throw the ball.' And I think we did a pretty good job."
J.C. from Seattle writes: Adam, in your opinion, did Bret Bielema hit the panic button a little too early, firing a coach after just two games into the season? What happens if Wisconsin doesn't improve? Are more people going to lose their jobs?
Adam Rittenberg: Despite the obvious struggles with a unit that is the hallmark of Wisconsin's program, Bielema's decision is surprising and really unprecedented in the Big Ten. Listening to Bielema on Monday, he sounded like he had some reservations about Mike Markuson and clearly thinks of the world of the young Bart Miller. I just have a hard time believing a proven line coach like Markuson suddenly forgot how to do his job. Were there major philosophical differences, and if so, why didn't those come out during the hiring process? The whole situation underscores how big a loss Bob Bostad was to Wisconsin. The Badgers certainly would love to have Bostad back right now. I can't imagine the line continuing to backslide -- too much talent there. But Bielema has made it clear he's holding these new coaches accountable, and he's not afraid to make quick changes. Ultimately, he's the head coach, and he claims ultimate accountability for the hire, the fire and what happens next.
Philosopher Joe from Spartan Nation writes: You have discussed scenarios where Ohio State's sanctions result in the Leader's Division having to send a sub-par team to the B1G Championship game, but what about the Rose Bowl itself? Does the B1G have any flexibility there? In the albeit unlikely, but very exciting, event that MSU runs the table from here on out and earns a trip to the BCS Championship game after winning the B1G, can the B1G send someone other than the B1G chapionship game loser to Pasadena? In other words, if Sparty heads to try and make a bid to hoist the Crystal Fooball, can a 2/3 loss Michigan or Nebraska team be sent to reprresnt the B1G at the Rose Bowl instead of a 4/5 loss Purdue or Wisconsin?
Adam Rittenberg: If the Rose Bowl loses one of its champions (Big Ten or Pac-12), it can select a replacement team as long as that team meets the at-large criteria (at least nine regular-season victories, in top 14 of final BCS standings). So it's the Rose Bowl's choice, not the Big Ten's. If the Rose Bowl replaced Michigan State with another Big Ten team -- which it almost certainly would do -- it could pick any eligible Big Ten team. In fact, it's unlikely a 4-loss Purdue or Wisconsin team would even be eligible for BCS at-large selection. In that case, the 2-loss Michigan or Nebraska team would be the obvious choice. No one wants to see a 4-loss team in Pasadena unless it has to be there (by virtue of winning the Big Ten championship and the automatic bid).
Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Adam you were pretty tough on the B1G you write "Big Ten didn't wait until New Year's Day to endure its national flogging." I would say all the B1G's losses came from teams that realistically do not expect to be national championship contenders. I think these teams are focused on a Division Championship. Is it possible that some of these teams played a pre-season game rather than "there's no tomorrow" game? Do pundits such as yourself put more into these early season non-conference games than the teams? These are kids. Do you need to be so negative on their performance? Let's build their confidence not Flog on the Blog.
Adam Rittenberg: Mark, while I agree none of the losses were by national title contenders, I strongly disagree with your suggestion that these teams don't put much stock into September games. They train year-round for 12 guaranteed opportunities, and while we don't regard Wisconsin and Nebraska as national title contenders, players on those teams don't think that way. They want to win every time out, and they certainly don't want to be embarrassed, as Wisconsin's offense was in nearly being shut out by Oregon State. Also, they want to represent their school and their conference against other major-conference teams. Think the Iowa State game doesn't matter to Iowa? Think the Notre Dame game doesn't really matter to Purdue? Sorry, not buying it. And the blog isn't there to "build their confidence." It's there to cover the league, and the league stunk this past weekend.
Kevin from Chicago writes: It's a boring cliche to complain about a writer's bias against a fan's team but I'm going to do it anyway. The lack of meaningful coverage of IU's football team from you and Bennett is appalling, unless you plan to rename the blog "The team's with historic success in the Big Ten blog." Then in the same week where you elevate Minnesota multiple spots in your power rankings, you leave IU as 12th noting that IU hasn't played anyone of note thus far. And just who did Minnesota play to earn your faith? UNLV? That same UNLV team that lost at home this week to Northern Arizona? Color me unconvinced about the strength of the Gopher's schedule. If schedule strength is the relevant criteria for unproven teams coming off of bad seasons, then apply that criteria consistently, and not just to IU. I realize it's a subjective exercise but if you're going to do it, try and do it with consistent criteria and without assumptions based on historic performance. Bottom line for me is that as an IU fan, I can't look to ESPN for meaningful coverage, which is quite unlike the fans of most other Big Ten teams. That's dissapointing.
Adam Rittenberg: Regarding coverage, it's as simple as this: if Indiana keeps winning, it will receive more coverage. While historically successful programs with larger football fan followings do get more coverage on the blog -- we've never concealed this -- we also cover stories that appeal both regionally and nationally. If IU wins, the coverage will come. As to your second question, I understand the frustration completely. Bennett and I spent a lot of time Sunday debating where to put the Hoosiers in the power rankings. The schedule argument regarding IU is similar to the one with Minnesota. Neither team has really played anyone. Ultimately, we asked ourselves whether Minnesota would beat the four teams behind it (Illinois, Iowa, Penn State and Indiana). We think the Gophers can. We don't believe Indiana would beat anyone else in the Big Ten right now. That opinion can change and change in a hurry. Week 3 power rankings mean absolutely nothing. I guarantee you if Indiana beats Ball State -- a Cardinals team that has won its past two meetings with IU -- and other squads (Iowa, PSU) continue to struggle, the Hoosiers will move up in the rankings.
David from Chicago writes: Hi Adam. As a Northwestern fan, how much better should I feel about the team's prospects after the win against Vandy? Before Saturday, I saw it as a tipping point game that down the road could be the sixth win for bowl eligibility. But I was so impressed by the defense, kicking game, lack of offensive mistakes, and determination they showed in the rain that I'm tempted to revise my expectations upwards. Is eight or nine wins out of the question?
Adam Rittenberg: It's not, David, especially looking at the upcoming schedule, but Northwestern must build off of the Vandy win rather than take a step back, which it is prone to do. The defense showed it can be disruptive and aggressive and buy time for a normally potent offense to get rolling. If Northwestern's defensive line can neutralize opposing rushers like it did Zac Stacy and apply pressure like it did to Jordan Rodgers, I think you can raise the ceiling on this season. Northwestern is a young team that has its best players in their first, second and third years in the program. It's important the Wildcats avoid a letdown like they had in Week 3 last year against Army and beat a so-so Boston College squad this weekend. Afterward, Northwestern plays South Dakota and Indiana at home, followed by trips to Penn State and Minnesota. So the schedule is pretty manageable and eight or more wins isn't out of the question. But this team is very much a work in progress that must continue to make strides on both sides of the ball.
Andy from Oakland, Calif., writes: Hi Adam,I'm going to miss watching what is likely be PSU's first win in 14 years because I'll be in a class taught by Mark Rittenberg in Berkeley. Is he a relation of yours? Anyway I'm curious about your thoughts on McGloin's performance so far this season. For me it seems that QB play is one of Penn State's strengths, which is completely foreign for a PSU fan. What do you think? Is he becoming a good quarterback or has everything surrounding him gone so far downhill that he looks good in comparison?
Adam Rittenberg: That's my pops! You're definitely in for a treat Saturday. He's a character, and I guarantee you've never had a class like his. Maybe he'll let you slip away to check the Penn State score, but I sadly admit he's not a sports fan at all and doesn't know how I turned out the way I did. ... McGloin is doing some good things this season and seems to be grasping some of the key concepts in Bill O'Brien's offense. He certainly turned in a gutsy performance against Virginia in returning from injury. The Penn State run game certainly isn't what it has been in the past with Silas Redd and Evan Royster, and the Lions must continue to develop there. But O'Brien's offense has a passing lean to it and puts a lot of responsibility on the quarterback. McGloin seems to be getting it well. I'd like to see his completion percentage (55.4) go up, but he's only thrown one interception -- on a tipped pass -- in 83 attempts. He'll never be a superstar and must continue to improve, but he's not a liability, either.
Brandon from Davenport, Iowa, writes: How much do you think it would take for Ferentz to replace James Vandenberg at quarterback this season? I understand some of the blame needs to go on receivers for drops but his performance through the first two games have been anything but impressive. I've been following Jake Rudock since Iowa announced he was signing there what are the chances we see him under center this year?!
Adam Rittenberg: Brandon, I don't think Vandenberg needs to look over his shoulder yet. Both Kirk Ferentz and coordinator Greg Davis are big fans of his, and while he needs to be held accountable as a senior quarterback, I don't expect Iowa to make a change for a while. Vandenberg doesn't have many weapons around him, and didn't get much help in the Iowa State game. I know Hawkeye fans are excited about Rudock -- everyone loves the backup quarterback -- but the problems on offense seem to go beyond Vandenberg. Let's see if they can get things turned around against Northern Iowa this week.
They couldn't stop raving about the moves.
Silas Redd gave Penn State fans their money's worth in 2010, despite a limited role in the offense. He had only 77 carries, but he made them count, averaging 5.7 yards per rush. Although the freshman dynamo had no run longer than 30 yards, he left Nittany Nation salivating with his lateral speed, his creativity and his ability to make opposing defenders look bad.
Redd was an entertaining back in 2010. These days, some might say he's more of a boring back to watch.
He's also undeniably a much better back.
The sophomore just completed one of the best individual months in recent Penn State history. Redd recorded five consecutive 100-yard rushing performances in October -- he had 129 yards or more in each game -- and racked up more rush yards in the month (703) than any other FBS player. He averaged 140.6 yards a game and 5.3 yards a carry.
Showy Silas has become Steady Silas. He's the first Penn State player to record five consecutive 100-yard rushing games since Curtis Enis in 1997.
"My running style has kind of changed from last year," Redd recently told ESPN.com "I'm more of a straight-line runner, one-move-and-go type guy. Not too much dancing. Just try and hit that hole and do what I can."
Redd is doing it all for a Penn State offense that has been inconsistent, to put it nicely, in the passing attack, ranking 88th nationally in passing yards and 106th in passing efficiency. If ever Penn State needed a workhorse in the backfield, this would be the season, and Redd has delivered.
"He's fast, he's quick, he runs hard," said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, whose team faces Redd and the Lions on Saturday in State College. "He's a really good football player. He's their featured guy. He has good vision. He can hurt you with his speed and his elusiveness outside, and he can run between the tackles.
"He's a pretty complete back.”
Few would have labeled Redd as a complete back when he arrived at Penn State as a freshman generously listed at 5-10 and 200 pounds. Lions coach Joe Paterno said last week that Redd struggled with some assignments as well as pass blocking, and had some fumbling issues.
Although the potential was there, Redd had a long way to go.
His offseason training regimen, some of which you can see here, helped him take the next step. He spent three days per week on strength training but focused more on body weight exercises and free weights, working out at a beach near his home in Connecticut rather than in a gym. He spent two days a week on speed and agility training. Redd stuck to a similar program as a high school star in Stamford, Conn.
He showed up for preseason practice at 209 pounds, ready for the grind.
"I never really had a problem with getting hit," Redd said. "I just wanted make sure my body was able to handle it. It has so far, and I've been icing and recovering and doing what I have to do to stay healthy."
Redd didn't set explicit individual goals other than to have a better year than he did in 2010. Penn State was losing its all-time career rushing leader, Evan Royster, and needed a top back to emerge. When top backup Stephfon Green didn't open preseason practice with the team, Redd and Brandon Beachum became the primary candidates to take over.
After averaging 15.5 carries during non-league play, Redd has seen his opportunities spike in Big Ten games. He has carried the ball 28 times or more in four of Penn State's five league contests.
"Obviously, he can run with the football," Paterno said last week. "He's come along well. He's still got a ways to go, but he's playing solid. He's made the most of the time when he’s had some opportunities."
Although Redd suffered a shoulder stinger Oct. 22 at Northwestern, he responded the next week and carried the ball a career-high 30 times for 137 yards and a touchdown in Penn State's 10-7 win against Illinois.
Toughness is part of his DNA. His father, Silas Sr., is an ex-Marine who now serves as a police officer.
"He was tough," Redd said of his father. "We've had a tough-love relationship for a long time. Looking back at it, I can say I appreciate it more now than I did then and understand why he treated me the way he did.
"He's proud of me. He knows my potential. He knows I haven't reached my potential yet."
That's the exciting part for Penn State fans, who could use a dazzling distraction right about now.
"Hopefully," Redd said, "I can still give the crowd some excitement."
But he knows that he must prepare for what awaits him in 2011: a likely starting role as Penn State's featured back, and the pounding that comes from a full season of carries in the Big Ten.
"That's a big priority of mine," he said, "being able to last in the fourth quarter and in overtime, if need be."
Redd said he came to Penn State at 214 pounds but is now at 206 pounds. He has focused more on his overall flexibility than just lifting weights.
"The tendency with all these running backs is that they start to think they need to be 225-pounders," Penn State assistant coach Jay Paterno said. "If he manages to keep himself at the weight he's at and add weight gradually, I think he can be a big-play back for us."
Nittany Lions fans are excited about that possibility. While Evan Royster set the school's all-time career rushing record, he was never known as a burner. Redd showed that potential with some nifty moves last year, when he ran for 437 yards as a freshman, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. His best game came against Northwestern, when he had 131 yards on just 11 carries.
Many are expecting Redd to take the leap and become the program's next great back. But at least for now, Redd said he still sees himself in a competition with fellow running backs Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum.
"Those guys are excellent running backs, so there's no way I can say I'm a clear-cut winner for the starting position," Redd said. "What I'm telling everybody is that I'm willing to play whatever role my team wants me to play. I just want to be a guy the team can count on in tough situations, when it gets down to the wire."
Redd is proud of the fact that he didn't lose a fumble in 77 carries last season and hopes to develop the trust of everyone on offense. He proved to himself last season that he can be a dependable back at this level.
"Last year was definitely a confidence booster," he said. "Am I satisfied? Absolutely not. But it definitely gave me some confidence to move forward and progress."
Redd plans on approaching the rest of the summer and fall camp as if he still needs to earn every second of his playing time. If he keeps that attitude and makes the most of a bigger opportunity, he could quickly develop into a star.
"He's got good hands and can catch the ball out of the backfield and do some things for us that way," Paterno said. "He can break some runs because he has a real good change of direction and he's shifty. We're looking for some big things out of him this fall, no question
These rankings are based in part on past performance but also on how players project for the 2011 season. The Big Ten loses three of its top four running backs (Mikel Leshoure, John Clay and Adam Robinson) but several promising players return and others are primed for breakout seasons. One thing that stands out about this year's running back crop is the number of non-seniors.
Here's the top 10 entering '11:
2. Edwin Baker, Michigan State, junior: The man known as "Rock" flattened the competition for much of 2010, racking up 1,201 rush yards and 13 touchdowns. He boasts breakaway speed but isn't afraid to mix it up between the tackles. Don't be fooled by Baker's 5-foot-9 frame -- he's extremely sturdy and can take a pounding. Although he'll be pushed by teammates Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper, Baker expects to build on the 2010 season and has set even higher goals for the fall. The main challenge for Baker is to record big rushing performances against elite defenses.
3. Montee Ball, Wisconsin, junior: Some might see this as too lofty for Ball, who only came on in the second half of the 2010 season. But what a half-season it was, as he racked up 777 rush yards and 15 touchdowns in Wisconsin's final five games. These rankings aim to project the coming season, and if Ball can build on his finish to 2010, look out. It'll be interesting to see how Wisconsin divides the carries between Ball and White, but you can make a case for Ball as the Badgers' featured back. Like White, Ball worked on his body during the offseason and should be a little lighter on his feet.
4. Dan Herron, Ohio State, senior: Respect hasn't come easy for Herron, especially among Buckeyes fans, but he earned some with his performance in Big Ten play last fall. Herron recorded all three of his 100-yard rushing performances against league opponents (Minnesota, Penn State, Michigan) and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches. Like Ball, he finished strong with 800 rush yards in the final seven games. Herron also reached the end zone in all but one contest last fall. His five-game suspension to open the season could impact his carries and his ability to compete for postseason awards, but Ohio State shouldn't dismiss "Boom."
5. Rex Burkhead, Nebraska, junior: Expect big things from Burkhead in Nebraska's first season as a Big Ten member. He turned in a solid performance as a sophomore, recording 951 rush yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Although Burkhead can be used in a variety of ways in the offense, he's a good bet to become Nebraska's featured running back after a strong spring. He seemed to grasp the new offense well and will challenge Big Ten defenses with his speed. While Burkhead will be pushed by heralded incoming recruit Aaron Green and others, he seems ready for a breakout season.
6. Marcus Coker, Iowa, sophomore: It's dangerous to take too much from one game, but Coker looked like the real deal in the Insight Bowl. Starting for the suspended Robinson, Coker earned bowl MVP honors with a record 219 rush yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. He showed speed on a 62-yard score, but he looks like a true power back who should only improve over time. Coker drew good reviews in spring practice and was elected to the Iowa's Leadership Council, a good sign. Iowa isn't deep at running back, so Coker will have plenty of opportunities to showcase himself this fall.
8. Silas Redd, Penn State, sophomore: This is another projection pick, a player who did some impressive things in 2010 but should contribute much more this coming season. Penn State needs a featured back after Evan Royster's departure, and Redd has the tools to fill the void. He averaged 5.7 yards a carry as a freshman and finished with 437 rush yards despite somewhat limited opportunities. Redd's speed and quickness give him a chance to be special, but he'll need to show he can take a pounding as an every-down back. He'll be pushed by both Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum, but we expect Redd to enter the fall as Penn State's No. 1 back.
9. Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State, sophomore: Until hitting the proverbial freshman wall last October, Bell was one of the Big Ten's best running backs. He racked up 549 rush yards and eight touchdowns in the Spartans' first six games. While Bell didn't do much down the stretch, another offseason in the program should help him immensely. At 6-2 and 237 pounds, Bell has the body to become a featured back in this league. And despite his size, he showed last fall that he can record big plays. Bell certainly has to prove himself again, but you have to like his chances.
10. Jason Ford, Illinois, senior: Ford has more game experience than most of the men on this list. His career numbers include 277 carries, 19 rush touchdowns and 1,362 rush yards to go along with 27 career receptions. Ford's career yards-per-carry average of 4.92 also stands out. The big question is whether he can take the next step and become an every-down back for Illinois, which wants to run the ball and boasts one of the league's best offensive lines. Ford was limited this spring and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to see more from him, but coach Ron Zook sounds like a believer. He's a big back who has a chance for a big senior season.
All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.
Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.
- Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, Houston, No. 11 overall
- Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, Washington, No. 16 overall
- Illinois DT Corey Liuget, San Diego, No. 18 overall
- Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay, No. 20 overall
- Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi, Chicago, No. 29 overall
- Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, Pittsburgh, No. 31
- Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks, St. Louis, No. 47 overall
- Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski, Oakland, No. 48 overall
- Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure, Detroit, No. 57 overall
- Michigan LB Jonas Mouton, San Diego, No. 61 overall
- Illinois LB Martez Wilson, New Orleans, No. 72 overall
- Wisconsin G John Moffitt, Seattle, No. 75 overall
- Iowa DL Christian Ballard, Minnesota, No. 106 overall
- Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa, Oakland, No. 113 overall
- Indiana LT James Brewer, New York Giants, No. 117 overall
- Indiana WR Tandon Doss, Baltimore, No. 123 overall
- Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi, Kansas City, No. 135 overall
- Iowa DE Karl Klug, Tennessee, No. 142 overall
- Ohio State S Jermale Hines, St. Louis, No. 158 overall
- Iowa G Julian Vandervelde, Philadelphia, No. 161 overall
- Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
- Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
- Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
- Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
- Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
- Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
- Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
- Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
- Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.
- CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
- RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
- K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
- DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
- WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
- OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
- DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Big Ten picks by team
- Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
- Iowa: 6
- Ohio State: 5
- Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
- Illinois: 4
- Michigan State: 2
- Indiana: 2
- Michigan: 2
- Penn State: 2
- Purdue: 1
- Northwestern: 0
- Minnesota: 0
- DL: 7
- OL: 7
- LB: 6
- DB: 4
- RB: 2
- WR: 1
- TE: 1
- QB: 1
Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.
Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.
Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.
Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.
With the draft set to begin Thursday night, I thought this would be a good time to look at some Big Ten players who might benefit teams in the middle or later rounds, or even as free-agent pickups.
Here's one potential bargain from each Big Ten squad (heights and weights according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.).
Randall Hunt, G, 6-6, 318
The skinny: Hunt anchored a formidable Illinois offensive line that helped Mikel Leshoure and others run wild in 2010. He shut down Baylor's Phil Taylor in the Texas Bowl and brings a sturdy frame to the interior line. Hunt wouldn't be a bad choice in the later rounds.
James Brewer, T, 6-6, 323
The skinny: I'm hesitant to call Brewer a bargain because he could be off the board early in the draft. Indiana had another tackle, Rodger Saffold, taken with the first pick of the second round in 2010. Brewer has the size to be good at the next level, and if he's still available on the third day, he'd be a nice pick.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, WR, 5-11, 202
The skinny: The character questions are there, but DJK was an extremely productive player at Iowa and could be a nice late-round addition for a team. He's a strong route runner with good speed and good hands, and he can stretch defenses. If a team is willing to take a bit of a risk, it could be rewarded.
Stephen Schilling, G, 6-4, 308
The skinny: Schilling played a ton of football at Michigan and helped the Wolverines to a record-setting offensive performance in 2010. His measurables might not blow teams away, but he's a smart, solid lineman who could be a nice addition in the middle to later rounds.
Eric Gordon, LB/S, 5-11, 224
The skinny: Overshadowed by fellow linebacker Greg Jones for much of his career, Gordon quietly produced at an extremely high rate for Michigan State. You could argue he was the Spartans' best linebacker during the second half of the 2010 season. Gordon turned in an impressive performance on pro day and would be a nice pickup late in the draft or as a free agent.
Adam Weber, QB, 6-3, 221
The skinny: Some Gophers fans might scoff at this, but I always felt Weber got a raw deal during his college career. He played for three different offensive coordinators, never complained about it and still set a bunch of team records. While his junior season was a disappointment, Weber did some good things last fall and drew respect around the Big Ten. Not a bad pick in the later rounds.
Eric Hagg, S, 6-1, 209
The skinny: Hagg is a playmaker, as he showed with a team-high five interceptions plus a school-record 95-yard punt return for a touchdown against Texas. He also brings versatility to the table, having played a safety-linebacker hybrid role last fall for the Blackshirts. Hagg has played on an elite college defense and would be a good get in the middle to late rounds.
Quentin Davie, LB, 6-4, 238
The skinny: Davie entered the 2010 season as a solid NFL prospect and started off strong but disappeared at times down the stretch. He made big plays throughout his career and boasts good size as an outside linebacker. Davie could help a team as a late-round or free-agent addition if he gets back to his 2009 form.
Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, 5-11, 182
The skinny: If I were an NFL general manager, I wouldn't hesitate to draft Sanzenbacher. He lacks ideal measurables but makes up for it with football intelligence and a fearless approach to the game. Sanzenbacher has great hands and became Ohio State's top threat in the red zone this season. He stood out at the Senior Bowl and would be an excellent pick in the middle rounds.
Evan Royster, RB, 5-11, 212
The skinny: Royster is a patient runner with good vision who could thrive in the right situation at the pro level. His slow start to the 2010 season is a concern, but he picked things up down the stretch and boasts a productive college résumé. If a team needs a running back in the late rounds, Royster would be a nice choice.
Keith Smith, WR, 6-2, 224
The skinny: There's risk here as Smith comes off of tears in two knee ligaments, but a team could get a major steal if the Boilers receiver can stay healthy. He has the size to excel at the pro level and might have been the Big Ten's top receiver had he stayed on the field last season. Smith is a class act who has a chance to be a solid NFL receiver.
Scott Tolzien, QB, 6-2, 209
The skinny: He might never be a full-time starter in the NFL, but teams certainly can benefit from having Tolzien on the roster. He's an extremely smart player who makes up for mediocre measurables with superb intangibles. Tolzien is accurate and efficient, and he'll prepare harder than anyone. If a team needs a quarterback in the later rounds, Tolzien would be a great pick.
- OHIO STATE: Spring game reaction from colleague Brian Bennett, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Bill Livingston, The Sporting News' Matt Hayes and The Columbus Dispatch's Bob Hunter.
- WISCONSIN: Spring game reaction from the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates, the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Mulhern and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus. The poor quarterback play during the game was compounded by the news Curt Phillips will miss the 2011 season following a third knee surgery.
- ILLINOIS: Spring game reaction from the Daily Herald's Lindsey Willhite, The (Champaign) News-Gazette's Loren Tate, The (Decatur) Herald & Review's Mark Tupper and the Alton Telegraph's Pete Hayes.
- MINNESOTA: Spring game reaction from the Star Tribune's Jim Souhan and Phil Miller here and here, and the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller.
- In case you missed the Ohio State/NCAA/Jim Tressel news from this morning, check out some information here and here and here and here.
- Check out the details of Bo Pelini's revised contract at Nebraska from the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple. Incoming Huskers freshman running back Aaron Green doesn't focus on the competition, only himself, Jon Nyatawa writes in the Omaha World-Herald.
- A team-by-team look at Big Ten spring football from the Lincoln Journal Star. The Big Ten's recent struggles show in the past few NFL drafts, annarbor.com's Pete Bigelow writes.
- The Rob Bolden watch continues, and here are 12 reasons the Penn State quarterback stays or goes, statecollege.com's Mike Poorman writes. A spring snapshot of the Nittany Lions from The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse. Penn State might have a tougher time replacing running back Evan Royster than you may think, Dustin Hockensmith writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Converted defensive lineman Dan France makes an impression on offense for Michigan State, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Don't forget about Nick Hill in a crowded Spartans offensive backfield, George Sipple writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Indiana made the right call by suspending running back Darius Willis for a game, Andy Graham writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required).
- Michigan coach Brady Hoke attends Ball State's spring game but doesn't wear any red, Doug Zaleski writes in the Muncie Star Press. Former Wolverines cornerback Cullen Christian reportedly will join Ray Vinopal at Pitt.
- Iowa is a "milk carton" team in 2011, Ryan Suchomel writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. The Des Moines Register's Sean Keeler sits down with DJK.
- Ryan Kerrigan's versatility makes the Purdue defensive end a coveted draft prospect, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Five areas to watch for Purdue as the Boilers open spring practice today, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier. Boilers receiver Keith Smith has turned his focus to the NFL, Eric Ingles writes in the Journal Review.
- CBS and Sports Illustrated put together a fascinating piece on crime in college football, which includes sobering stats, but also turnaround stories like Wisconsin's Kevin Claxton.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio discusses the 2010 season, the future outlook and his health with The Grand Rapids Press' Greg Johnson. The Spartans aren't raising ticket prices for 2011, Shawn Windsor writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa showcased his speed at the combine, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Indiana reportedly will complete its coaching staff with Miami (Ohio) assistant Deland McCullough.
- Iowa's Phil Parker, and Wisconsin's Joe Rudolph and Paul Chryst make Rivals.com's dream team of assistant coaches.
- A look at Evan Royster's combine performance from The Times-Tribune's Donnie Collins.
- Iowa football ticket prices are once again on the rise, Scott Dochterman writes. Examining the Hawkeyes' quarterbacks entering spring ball, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Iowa's rhabdo investigation could wrap up earlier than expected, Tom Witosky writes in the Des Moines Register.
- Colleague KC Joyner has an interesting piece on Nebraska's offense and its potential passing success in the Big Ten. Huskers cornerback Prince Amukamara silenced critics of his speed at the combine, Jon Nyatawa writes in the Omaha World-Herald.
- Minnesota players are helping each other show up for 6 a.m. workouts, Phil Miller writes in the Star Tribune.
- Michigan's draft prospects don't stand out at the combine, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Big Ten draft hopefuls Stefen Wisniewski and Cameron Heyward talk about their NFL bloodlines in this Pro Football Weekly story.
My ESPN colleagues are all over the happenings in Naptown, so check out the combine blog and the latest Scouts Inc. combine notebook.
There's more testing and timing Monday with the defensive linemen and linebackers, but some results are in, so let's take a look. I'm breaking these down into top performers by position. I'll put together an overall top performers post once the combine is finished.
- Nebraska's Niles Paul finished second in bench-press reps (225 pounds) with 24
- Paul tied for 14th in the 40-yard dash at 4.51 seconds
- Indiana's Terrance Turner tied for second in vertical jump at 41 inches
- Turner finished seventh in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
- Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher finished second in 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds; Turner tied for 14th at 6.77 seconds
- Sanzenbacher finished third in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Paul finished 12th at 4.14 seconds; Turner finished tied for 13th at 4.15 seconds
- Sanzenbacher finished second in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Turner tied for ninth at 11.21 seconds
- Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien tied for 13th in the 40-yard dash at 4.93 seconds
- Stanzi finished ninth in the vertical jump at 32.5 inches; Tolzien tied for 12th at 29.5 inches
- Tolzien tied for seventh in the broad jump at 9 feet, 8 inches; Stanzi finished 12th at 9 feet, 2 inches
- Tolzien tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.84 seconds; Stanzi finished 12th at 6.95 seconds
- Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. finished sixth in the 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds; Ohio State's Brandon Saine finished seventh at 4.43 seconds;
- Illinois' Mikel Leshoure tied for third in the vertical jump at 38 inches; Helu tied for eighth at 36.5 inches
- Leshoure tied for fourth in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Helu finished 10th at 9 feet, 11 inches
- Helu finished second in the 3-cone drill at 6.67 seconds; Leshoure finished sixth at 6.82 seconds
- Helu finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.01 seconds; Penn State's Evan Royster tied for eighth at 4.18 seconds
- Helu finished first in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.07 seconds
- Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks finished eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds; Michigan State's Charlie Gantt finished 11th at 4.93 seconds; Iowa's Allen Reisner finished 12th at 4.95 seconds
- Gantt tied for first in bench-press reps with 27; Kendricks tied for third with 25
- Kendricks finished sixth in vertical jump at 34.5 inches; Gantt finished 13th at 30.5 inches
- Kendricks finished second in broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Gantt finished ninth at 9 feet, 4 inches; Reisner tied for 12th at 9 feet
- Kendricks finished sixth in the 3-cone drill at 6.94 seconds; Gantt finished 11th at 7.15 seconds
- Kendricks tied for second in 20-yard shuttle at 4.15 seconds; Gantt tied for eighth at 4.4 seconds
- Kendricks tied for sixth in 60-yard shuttle at 11.9 seconds; Gantt and Reisner tied for 11th at 12.12 seconds
- Wisconsin's J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
- Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
- Iowa's Julian Vandervelde tied for 10th in the 40-yard dash at 5.21 seconds; Indiana's James Brewer and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi tied for 14th at 5.27 seconds
- Michigan's Stephen Schilling and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski tied for sixth in bench-press reps with 30; Carimi tied for ninth with 29; Ohio State's Justin Boren tied for 14th with 28
- Carimi finished fifth in vertical jump at 31.5 inches; Vandervelde tied for sixth at 31 inches; Wisconsin's John Moffitt tied for eighth at 30.5 inches
- Carimi finished fifth in broad jump at 9 feet, 1 inch; Vandervelde finished tied for 13th at 8 feet, 8 inches
- Vandervelde finished seventh in 3-cone drill at 7.46 seconds; Wisniewski finished eighth at 7.51 seconds; Boren finished 11th at 7.57 seconds
- Moffitt finished sixth in 20-yard shuttle at 4.53 seconds; Vandervelde tied for seventh at 4.59 seconds; Schilling tied for ninth at 4.62 seconds;
- Things were a little awkward at first when former Michigan teammates Stephen Schilling and Justin Boren reunited at the NFL combine, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Penn State's uniforms likely will become even more basic in 2011. Lions running back Evan Royster recognizes the need for speed at the combine, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
- Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi isn't lacking confidence at the combine, saying he's the best tackle in the draft, Aaron Wilson writes in the National Football Post.
- Michigan AD Dave Brandon says the school "isn't messing around" with Greg Mattison's lucrative contract, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Jim Harbaugh was "very interested" in the Michigan job but couldn't pass up the NFL, Dave Birkett writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Iowa receiver Marvin McNutt reportedly underwent hand and shoulder surgery. Allen Reisner hopes to continue Iowa's tradition of producing NFL tight ends, Chris Nielsen writes in the Des Moines Register. Some interesting quotes from Iowa offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde.
- Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner talks with Off Tackle Empire about expansion, division alignment, scheduling and other topics.
- Six Big Ten venues appear in Dennis Dodd's list of top 25 college football stadiums.
- After my Michigan State sport ID debate, The Daily Gopher wonders what sport best defines Minnesota's program.
- Damarlo Belcher and his Indiana teammates are slimming down before spring ball, Pete DiPrimio writes in The (Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel. Hoosiers players are tired of losing and willing to buy in to Kevin Wilson and the new staff, Dustin Dopirak writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required).
- USC's hiring of former Nebraska assistant Ted Gilmore is now official.
- Purdue coach Danny Hope discusses Al-Terek McBurse's apparent departure and the waiting game for receiver Keith Smith, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Michigan State's Kirk Cousins will be speaking about football and faith tonight.
It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.
Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.
Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.
In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.
Without further ado ...
QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa
K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin
- I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
- No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
- The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
- Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
- The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
- Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
Now that the season is complete, let's go back, see how my forecast turned out and hand out some grades.
Prediction No. 1: The Big Ten faces Nebraska in a BCS bowl
Reality: The Big Ten nearly faced the Huskers in the postseason, but Nebraska fell a game short of a BCS contest and the Insight Bowl picked Missouri instead of Nebraska to face Iowa. Even if Nebraska had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 title game, it would have faced Big East champ UConn in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Prediction No. 2: The Game (Ohio State-Michigan) changes dates
Reality: Although Ohio State and Michigan were placed in different divisions, the annual rivalry game will remain on the final Saturday of the regular season. Fans on both sides created quite an uproar at the prospect of The Game being moved, but ADs Gene Smith and Dave Brandon and the Big Ten ended up making the right call.
Prediction No. 3: Joe Paterno secures career win No. 400 against Michigan
Reality: Paterno reached the milestone a week later against Northwestern as Penn State won its third consecutive game after a 3-3 start. I didn't see the Illinois loss coming, and neither did Penn State. But an impressive offensive showing against Michigan set the stage for No. 400, as Penn State mounted the biggest home comeback in Paterno's tenure to beat Northwestern 35-21.
Prediction No. 4: Michigan and Penn State both play three quarterbacks
Reality: Not an overly fearless pick here, but both teams had three quarterbacks appear in a chunk of games. Penn State basically used two signal callers: Rob Bolden for the first half of the season and Matt McGloin for the second half. Michigan's Tate Forcier relieved Denard Robinson in several games after "Shoelace" got banged up. Kevin Newsome (Penn State) appeared in six games, and Devin Gardner (Michigan) played in four.
Prediction No. 5: Michigan State's Greg Jones records two interceptions
Reality: Not only did Jones finish the season with the first two interceptions of his college career, but he recorded both picks in the same game against Northern Colorado. Jones played a slightly bigger role in pass coverage, but maintained a presence on blitzes as well.
Prediction No. 6: MarQueis Gray leads Minnesota in receiving
Reality: Da'Jon McKnight actually led Minnesota in both receptions (48) and receiving yards (750), but Gray (42 catches, 587 yards) wasn't far behind. Gray did a nice job establishing himself as a reliable option for quarterback Adam Weber. Although he's moving back to quarterback, he could have a future as a receiver at the next level.
Prediction No. 7: Bill Lynch chucks his chewing gum against Michigan again
Reality: Does anyone have proof of this? Lynch certainly had some potential gum-chucking moments, mostly because of Robinson. A true gentleman off of the field, Lynch got very animated during games and was a lot of fun to watch. Wonder how far new IU coach Kevin Wilson can chuck his chewing gum?
Prediction No. 8: The Big Ten has at least one forced and one unforced coaching change
Reality: I should have been bolder with this prediction as the Big Ten featured three forced coaching changes (Minnesota, Indiana, Michigan). Paterno remains in place at Penn State, and no one else voluntarily stepped aside. After two seasons of few changes, the Big Ten coaching fraternity certainly will have a new look in 2011.
Prediction No. 9: Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern all pull off upsets
Reality: I admittedly miscast Michigan State as a dark horse when the Spartans turned out to be one of the Big Ten's best teams. Although the Spartans won two of the "upsets" I predicted (Wisconsin, Penn State), I won't take too much credit. Northwestern upset Iowa for the third straight season, and Purdue's biggest "upset" came at Northwestern in quarterback Rob Henry's first career start.
Prediction No. 10: Evan Royster and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will set team records against Illinois and Michigan State, respectively.
Reality: Royster became Penn State's all-time leading rusher a little later than expected, as he broke Curt Warner's record Oct. 30 against Michigan, three weeks after the Illinois game. DJK was ahead of schedule, breaking Tim Dwight's school receiving yards record in an Oct. 16 win against Michigan. He faced Michigan State two weeks later.
How'd I do?
Here's a look back at Penn State's 37-24 defeat to Florida.
How the game was won: Florida made enough plays on defense and special teams early and bought enough time for its offense to show some life in the second half. Penn State sophomore quarterback Matt McGloin had a very rough day, completing 16 of 38 passes with a touchdown and five interceptions, including a pick-six when Penn State was driving for the potential game-winning touchdown. The Lions controlled the clock and ran the ball decently, but they made too many major mistakes to beat a talented Florida team.
Player of the game: Florida's Ahmad Black recorded two interceptions against McGloin, returning the second pick 80 yards for a touchdown. The Gators also received a nice lift from reserve quarterback Jordan Reed, who completed 8 of 13 passes and added 68 yards on the ground.
Stat of the game: McGloin had four interceptions in the final six regular-season games, leading Penn State to wins in four of those contests. He had five picks against Florida on Saturday, several of which led to Gators scores.
Unsung hero of the game: Penn State running back Evan Royster turned in a nice performance in his final collegiate game, racking up 98 rushing yards on 20 carries and adding four catches for 51 yards. He was Penn State's top offensive weapon for most of the day.
Second-guessing: Penn State kept McGloin in the game despite his continued struggles and the availability of former starter Rob Bolden. Most quarterbacks can't survive three or four interceptions -- much less five -- but Penn State stuck with McGloin rather than using the true freshman Bolden.
What it means: The Lions showed their youth at times and couldn't overcome the inconsistent play that plagued them for most of the season. Although Penn State should be a much better team in 2011, it needs to figure out the quarterback situation and make upgrades in several areas. Special-teams gaffes simply can't happen for a Joe Paterno-coached team, and the blocked punt returned for a touchdown gave Florida a real boost. Paterno has given every indication he'll be back to help a young team improve in the 2011 season.
1. Offensive line play: The line played better down the stretch in the regular season but faces a big test with the Gators' defense. If All-Big Ten guard Stefen Wisniewski and his line mates create lanes for Evan Royster and Silas Redd, Penn State will be able to control the clock and open up the passing game for Matt McGloin. The Lions' line is a group that can make strides during the pre-bowl layoff, and it needs to step up.
2. Harass John Brantley: Florida's starting quarterback hasn't had a great season and could be transferring after the bowl game. He doesn't seem like a confident player right now, and Penn State should do all it can to get in his face. Penn State ranked ninth in the Big Ten in sacks with 16, so it's critical for a line that hasn't met expectations this season to generate some pressure.
3. Red zone defense: The Gators ranked last in the SEC in red zone offense, scoring points on just 69.8 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line. The problem? Penn State ranked last in the Big Ten in red zone defense, allowing scores on 30 of 32 opportunities. Something has to give, and Penn State's defensive front seven must buckle down and keep Florida out of the end zone.