Big Ten: Fitz Toussaint

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
Hoops, hoops everywhere. Here's some football:

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 16, 2013
It's mail time. I'll warn you in advance, it's going to get weird at the end.

Jason from Columbus writes: Brian, Iowa is the only FBS team in the country that has not allowed a rushing touchdown in the country this season. Ohio State is 12th in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns in only 6 games. Who comes out on top this weekend, Iowa's rush defense or Carlos Hyde, Dontre Wilson, Jordan Hall, and the rest of the Buckeyes who can run through a defense?

Brian Bennett: Good question. Urban Meyer is so impressed with Iowa's front seven that he mentioned them in the same sentence as Alabama this week. Not sure I'd go that far, but the improvement of the Hawkeyes' defense up front has been one of the pleasant surprises this season. However, as you mentioned, Ohio State has a great running game. And that all starts with what has been the best offensive line in the Big Ten for the past two years. The Buckeyes' blockers are big, physical and smart, and they pave the way for the speed of Hall, Wilson and Braxton Miller as well as the power of Hyde. That's going to be tough for any defense to stop, including one playing as well against the run as Iowa.

The bigger concern I'd have if I were Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker is Miller taking shots down the field. Ohio State is not a consistently good passing team but does connect at times on the deep ball, and the Hawkeyes are more vulnerable on the back end.

David K. from Oxnard, Calif., writes: First off, I'm biased: I've been a Badger football fan since November 1962, when I attended the UW-Minnesota game, which the Badgers won with a great comeback, led by Ron Vanderkelen and Pat Richter. And I attended the UW, off and on, from 1966 to 1974. Biases admitted, why the heck isn't Melvin Gordon even being mentioned in the discussions regarding the 2013 Heisman Trophy? He's the 3rd-leading rusher in the BCS division with a 9.7 YPC average. Every time he touches the football, everybody holds their breath. I mean, c'mon, guys, what does he have to do? Leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Brian Bennett: I love watching Gordon, and we named him our midseason offensive player of the year as well as an first half All-American. So he's on the radar for the Heisman, but there are a few things really working against him. One is that Wisconsin has two losses. For better or worse, the Heisman usually goes to players on national title contenders, although Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow both won it on teams with multiple losses. Another problem is that in the Badgers' signature game, at Ohio State in primetime, Gordon has his lowest output of the season and got injured to boot. Wisconsin simply doesn't have any marquee games left on the schedule, so he won't get the opportunity to make up for it. Gordon would have to put up insane numbers to get back in the conversation. He is, of course, capable of doing just that.

Alex H. from Bloomington, Ill., writes: Watching that Michigan-PSU game was a bummer, I will not lie. Can we not act like the sky is falling for a moment? The defense played opportunistic despite that last-minute 4th quarter drive, and even on those throws coverage wasn't bad. I was impressed with Gardner's 2nd half. The biggest concern is Lewan out, the run game stalling. This loss doesn't hinder there Big Ten championship goals as they still play Neb, NU, MSU in November. I'd still put them near the top of the Legends, am I being too optimistic in thinking Indy?

Brian Bennett: Michigan certainly can still win the Legends Division. But the Wolverines are going to have to fix some major problems first. You mentioned the running game, and it is abysmal. It's going to be hard to win those big games in November if Michigan cannot effectively run the ball. The turnovers by Gardner are of course another massive problem. The defense, meanwhile, has been decent but not overpowering, though Jake Ryan's return should help. As I've written and asked, what exactly is the strength of this Michigan team? I can't seem to find one. And so it's hard to envision a team like putting together a long winning streak, especially once the schedule toughens up in November.

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: You and Adam noted that Brady Hoke "played for the safe field goal instead of going for the touchdown in overtime" as if that is a bad thing. Now, I can understand if he was just going for the tie, but each time it was for the win. He has a good kick (or at least at that point no reason not to believe that). With a good kicker and 42 yards for the win... I'm taking that every day of the week!

Brian Bennett: To be clear, I'm not saying Hoke should have been going for it on fourth down when all he needed was a field goal to win. I have a major problem with the playcalling on first and second down, when Michigan gained two total yards after Sam Ficken missed a field goal in the first overtime. I know Brendan Gibbons has been a very good kicker, but a 40-yard field goal on the road in overtime is by no means a sure bet for most college kickers. And then you run the risk of having it blocked, which is exactly what happened.

It's only fair to also point out that Michigan did throw a pass in the third overtime after Allen Robinson's fumble, and it gained nine yards. But then on third and one, I hated the call to have Fitzgerald Toussaint run it when Michigan's running game had been terrible all game.

We saw the same thing late in the fourth quarter, when Michigan had the ball at Penn State's 28-yard line with 3:10 left, leading by seven. The next three plays were Toussaint runs, which ended up losing two yards, plus a delay of game penalty, to take the Wolverines out of field-goal range.

I understand playing it safe with the lead on the road, but Toussaint had 27 rushes for 27 yards in last week's game. Why would you go to that well 27 times when it clearly isn't working, especially when the game is on the line? You might as well just kneel. And how many times over the years have we seen teams stop being aggressive and then lose?

Sam from East Lansing writes: First time, long time. Brian, as we progress through the season and my Spartan offense has appeared to return to average (very, very average), I have a scenario question for you. If a Legend' team plays an undefeated Ohio State team in the B1G Championship and loses, possibly putting the Buckeyes in the National Championship, does that mean the loser of B1G Championship game is put in the Rose Bowl automatically or would the bowl committee go back and look at win-loss records, including the B1G Championship lose? Should Legends contender teams who miss Ohio State on the schedule (ie. Michigan State, Nebraska) be rooting for Ohio State to go undefeated? Thoughts of Michigan 2012 Sugar Bowl mishap are dancing in my head. Please calm them.

Brian Bennett: Not sure you'll like my answer, Sam. If Ohio State goes to the BCS title game, then the Rose Bowl is free to choose any team that qualifies in the BCS standings as its replacement pick. That means the Rose could go outside the Big Ten for its choice, but with this being the 100th edition of the game and the last one before the playoff could disrupt things, I think the Rose Bowl will make every attempt to stage a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup.

The problem is that, historically, losers of conference championship games don't get selected for at-large spots. Bowls prefer teams who are riding winning streaks rather than ones coming off a loss. And Michigan State's issue could be a lack of signature wins. A team like Wisconsin, should it go 10-2, or a Legends runner-up like Nebraska or Michigan could leapfrog the Big Ten runner-up in such a scenario.

As an aside, I know Michigan State is dying to get back to the Rose Bowl. If the Spartans lost to Ohio State in the championship game but still got picked for the Rose, would it feel ... earned? Or does just getting to the Rose Bowl any way possible enough?

Glenn from Florida writes: Brian, aside from your's, Adam's, and all of ESPN's love for OSU, how can you justify the PSU-Michigan game as not the best and biggest game?

Brian Bennett: I guess you're talking about our choice of Ohio State-Northwestern as the top game of the first half. You know, just because games go to multiple overtimes does not mean they're great. Michigan-Penn State was very sloppy, and some of the continued failures in overtime was ugly to watch. Northwestern-Ohio State was a far better game aesthetically, in my opinion.

Barry M. from Sheboygan, Wis., writes: I'm guessing we will not see any Purdue players on [your fantasy teams] this season. You could make it interesting and add a rule that you must take a player from each team for at least one week during the season.

Brian Bennett: It's nothing personal, Barry, it's just that I want to beat Adam much more than I want to have every school represented on my fantasy team. This isn't the baseball all-star game. Purdue does not have a player in the top 10 in rushing or passing and is starting a true freshman quarterback. There's just not much to choose from. But I'll make you this promise, Barry. If I have either wrapped up the championship or am out of it in the final week, I will pick up a Boilermaker for my team. Even if it's just the kickers.

Bart from Waverly, Neb., writes: I see how you and Adam both voted Wisconsin in the 17-18 spot. My question is, how do you justify ranking them that high when they have two losses? Granted, one was to OSU, but the other was to a (currently) unranked ASU. I am just curious as the Huskers have had their defensive troubles, but our single loss was to a top-10 team in UCLA, and only Adam was generous enough to include Big Red in his rankings.

Brian Bennett: I've heard from a few Huskers fans who are miffed that I didn't rank Nebraska, and many of them try to use the loss to UCLA as some sort of justification. Sorry, but you don't get credit just for playing a highly-ranked team, especially if you lose to said team by 20 points at home while looking terrible in the second half. Nebraska just hasn't beaten anyone with a pulse. I won't rank the Huskers until they do, and if that happens, they'll climb up my ballot quickly.

It's a much different story for Wisconsin, whose two losses were on the road to very good teams, and one of those defeats was a direct result of some of the worst officiating incompetency I've ever seen. The Badgers played Ohio State, clearly the best team in the league, to within a touchdown on the road and smashed what was a Top 20 Northwestern team. There's no doubt in my mind that Wisconsin deserves a Top 20 ranking.

Tim P. from Port Washington, Wis., writes: It is maddening to me to keep hearing about Michigan's "winged" helmets. The markings on a wolverine are the alleged "wings" on its head and stripes down the rest of its body. The Michigan helmet is thus simply a representation of the markings on the wolverine animal. Of course, the Michigan athletic department gets away with calling these helmets "winged" because few, if any, Michiganders have ever actually seen a wolverine. Wolverines are not indigenous to Michigan as their habitat is prmarily alpine tundra and mountain forests; environments which are found only in North America in Canada and the Western U.S. It is estimated there are only 250 to 300 wolverines still living and they are found in Western Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington and Oregon. So I don't know who started this myth that the Michigan helmets are "winged" but I am sick and tired of hearing about it.

Brian Bennett: OK, then. It appears we've reached the bizarre part of the mailbag. Proceed with caution...

SSG Smith, Justin from Ft Campbell Ky writes: Hey Brian, I am not by any means the most knowledgeable NCAA Football fan out there. I say this to humble my self before I ask this question. Were you bullied by a Nebraska fan as a child (or young adult)? ... How do you give so many teams the advantage over Nebraska. Your Biased is unprofessional and your over all hate for the Huskers is blinding. Why do you blog for the Big Ten without being biased?

Brian Bennett: Ho, boy. Yep, I hate Nebraska so much that I picked the Huskers to win the Legends Division in the preseason. And I picked them to win the Big Ten title game last year. What a hater! Justin also included in his email the records of the teams Nebraska has beaten this year, as if that somehow helped his case. But he did admit right up front that he wasn't knowledgeable, so I can forgive.

John F. from Mansfield, Ohio, writes: IF you represent the BIG, you should parlay this into BIG votes, I constantly watch "How You VOTED" and ALL I see is YOUR votes for the SEC not the BIG ... YOU cannot say you are BIG representatives, and continue to give other conferences your votes....... this makes you 2-faced and opinionated as well, that's great for people who choose to pencil whip a conference for being the best in the nation... It is press writers who have a vote that are destroying the BIG .......... NOT THE PLAYERS

Brian Bennett: I only included about half of John's email, which if there were any justice would have been cobbled together by random letters from magazines. I guess the power rankings ballots that Adam and I submit each week are what's holding the Big Ten back. Sure, makes sense. Also, covering a league as a reporter and "representing" a conference are two very different things. Until the Big Ten starts signing my checks, I'll report, write and vote with my conscience, thanks.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 19, 2013
We are here to do a job, not channel Scrooge McDuck.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 12, 2013
If that's true, if you don’t know who I am, then maybe your best course would be to tread lightly.
Watch list season is winding to a close. Try not to shed a tear. But one of the last lists to be released is one the Big Ten seems to compete for annually: the Doak Walker Award.

The award goes to the nation's top running back, and in case you haven't noticed, the Big Ten tends to have great running backs. In fact, Wisconsin's Montee Ball won the award last year. Seven league backs have been named to the Doak Walker preseason list. They are:
Abdullah, Mark and Zwinak all ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, while White has a 1,000-yard season under his belt. Hyde put up 970 yards without the benefit of a bowl and was dominant down the stretch, while Weisman finished with 815 yards in just 10 games. Gordon is the least accomplished back but might be the most purely gifted, and he could be ready for a breakout year.

So it's a strong list. The only noticeable absentee is Michigan's Fitz Toussaint, who had a disappointing year in 2012 and who will be challenged by incoming freshman Derrick Green. But if Toussaint regains his form -- or if Green surpasses -- it won't take long for the Doak Walker folks to notice. Minnesota's Donnell Kirkwood is another guy who could make a run at 1,000 yards this season.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

July, 11, 2013
Welcome back to another edition of the Thursday mailbag. My plan is to have another 'bag on Friday, taking over Adam's usual spot, and I'll use that one to answer any and all questions about the new Big Ten schedules for 2016 and 2017. So send me your thoughts and comments about that here.

Now on to a schedule-free mailbag:

Ron from San Diego writes: With the level of talent in the Ohio State front seven do you see them skipping a beat from last year? That defense wasn't exactly one of our best, and guys like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington seem to be primed for breakout campaigns. Poor Florida A&M, they get to become 1/14 of our win total for the season.

Brian Bennett: The Buckeyes' defense struggled at times during the first half of last season but was really playing well down the stretch. Ohio State has a whole lot of talent in that front seven, but it is awfully young and inexperienced. I don't think you replace John Simon and Johnathan Hankins without "skipping a beat." So I would expect some early bumps in the road, but the good news for Ohio State is the nonconference schedule is forgiving enough that they'll have time to work through those adjustments. It could be another year where that defense really turns it on in the second half of the year.

Gale from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: Can Devin Gardner run for about 400 yards this season?

Brian Bennett: That's an interesting question. Gardner is a great athlete who's got wheels -- heck, he played respectably at wide receiver last year -- but he's not Denard Robinson. He only ran for a total of 101 yards in his five starts last season, though that does include sack yardage. Gardner could easily get to 400 and much more if Michigan wanted to use him on designed runs. But with the scary lack of depth behind him and the transition to more of a pro-style offense, I doubt Al Borges will be calling for Gardner to take off and run very much. The best scenario for the Wolverines is having Fitz Toussaint and/or Derrick Green carry the ball so well that Gardner doesn't have to do it.

Slick Al from Madison, Wis., writes: Loved the all-time program draft idea. Here's my Top 5 for Bucky, let me know what you think. 1. Ron Dayne. 2. Joe Thomas. 3. Russell Wilson. 4. JJ Watt. 5. Jamar Fletcher. Honorable Mention: Jim Leonard, Lee Evans, Al Toon, Tom Burke.

Brian Bennett: I like the list, but no Montee Ball or Alan Ameche? Would love to hear from other fans about how they would draft an all-time program team.

Chris from Leesburg, Va., writes: Brian, your recent mailbag illustrates two of the many examples of why many PSU fans have felt like outsiders in the B1G. Nobody in PA considers himself a Midwesterner while the rest of the league identifies with that tag. You stated: "I think Missouri would have been and still is a much more natural fit in the Big Ten than either the Scarlet Knights or Terrapins." Fortunately, the people in charge have commendable business acumen and realize that the B1G needs the East Coast if it is to flourish. As a PSU fan I welcome this greater geographical diversity. And you can bet if there is any future expansion it will occur in the same area. You also stated: "It would make more sense to move a game to MetLife Stadium, which is still in New Jersey and holds more fans than Yankee Stadium, when a team with a large fan base like Michigan or Ohio State comes through." I am tired of the UM-OSU lovefest. Penn State fans would fill that stadium with more fans than UM or OSU would. PSU and Nebraska both have as great a FB tradition as UM and OSU, but Midwest and traditional Big Ten conference homers like yourself almost always tout those two schools.

Brian Bennett: Me a "traditional Big Ten conference homer?" I've been called many things before, but never that. I understand what you're saying about Penn State feeling isolated as an East Coast school, and Jim Delany has said that's one of the reasons he wanted to expand to the east and why the league is opening an East Coast office. I get all that, and I understand why the Big Ten is moving into those marketplaces. That doesn't change the fact Missouri feels like more of a traditional fit in the Big Ten than Maryland, which is ACC through and through, or Rutgers, which has a long way to go before its entire athletic department is up to Big Ten standards. And, sure, Penn State would fill the stands at MetLife, but why would Rutgers -- which will certainly view Penn State as its chief recruiting rival, if it doesn't already -- want to give the Nittany Lions an advantage by removing its home-field edge and allowing thousands of Penn State fans in the building? If Rutgers is going to move a game to a neutral site, I don't think it will be one against the Nittany Lions.

Greg from Philadelphia writes: Brian, I love the group Penn State is bringing to the Big Ten media luncheon! I know you're a little disappointed to not see Allen Robinson on the list, but I get the impression that he's more of a reserved guy anyway. Besides, Malcolm Willis is a great interview and a vocal leader on the team this year. He should more than make up for Robinson's absence. I'm also REALLY excited to see John Urschel giving the players' speech. Let's just hope for your sake that he doesn't accidentally start going into one of his math lectures from the classes he teaches or you're going to feel real dumb real fast.

Brian Bennett: It doesn't take much math talk from anybody to make me feel dumb. Urschel was a terrific choice to represent the players at the kickoff luncheon, and I'm also pumped up to hear his speech. Penn State's contingent is a good group, but it is light on star power. You could say the Nittany Lions don't have a lot of bona fide stars right now because so many great seniors departed off last year's team, but Robinson is clearly the headliner on that team and the best receiver in the Big Ten. Going to media days could help him get exposure that could come in handy when it's time for national awards voting. He's only a junior, but who knows if he'll be back for his senior year?

Zac from Reedsville, Pa., writes: Remind me again why everybody seems to think that the B1G East will be so dramatically difficult? I look at the teams and, Penn State sanctions aside, it seems very much like the old SEC East in the '90s. There were the top 3 (B1G now: OSU, Michigan, PSU. SEC then: Florida, Tennessee, Georgia), then there was the "middle-of-the-pack" team (Now: MSU. Then: South Carolina), and then there was the dead weight (Now: Maryland and Indiana. Then: Vanderbilt and Kentucky). The only addition is Rutgers, which until proven otherwise seems to fall more on the IU than the MSU side of things. Hence, sanctions aside again, that should be 4 gimmes, or at least 3 if you don't count MSU, for the 3 championship caliber programs.

Brian Bennett: You mean the "Big Boy Division?" Well, there are a couple of reasons people think it will be the much tougher of the two new Big Ten divisions. The first is that Ohio State and Michigan are both in the East, and with the way both programs have been recruiting of late, many expect those two teams to be the twin superpowers in the league going forward. We shall see. Another factor depends on how you view Michigan State. You list the Spartans as "middle-of-the-pack," which I suppose is fair. But don't forget that before last season, they won double digit games in back-to-back years, claiming a share of a Big Ten title and winning the Legends Division in 2011. So if Mark Dantonio's team can get back to that level -- and even if not, Michigan State will always be a tough out -- then you have three outstanding teams in the division. And that's before we get to Penn State, which should eventually get back to its old self after the sanctions. The West Division looks like it might have more balance throughout, but someone outside of Wisconsin and Nebraska will have to play at a consistent championship level to make it as tough at the top as the East.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

June, 6, 2013
What you got?

Will from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Predict and rank the following scenarios from most likely to occur to least likely to occur: Michigan develops a solid running game, MSU produces a consistent chain-moving offense, OSU has a top 20 defense, Nebraska has a top 40 defense, Wisconsin does not skip a beat under the new coaching staff, Northwestern beats 3 of 5 top teams (OSU, Wis, Mich, MSU, Neb).

Brian Bennett: Challenge accepted. OK, here goes:

1. Michigan develops solid running game: Sure, the interior offensive line is young, but the combo of Fitz Toussaint and Derrick Green should be pretty good. And I think the return to the pro-style offense will allow the Wolverines to focus on putting together a more consistent running package. Plus, you only said solid, not great.

2. Wisconsin does not skip a beat: I really like Gary Andersen's track record, and the Badgers return a lot of talent. With that schedule, I like Wisconsin to improve on last season's 7-5 regular-season record and contend for the division title.

3. Nebraska fields a top 40 defense: This might seem controversial given the Huskers' questions on that side of the ball, but it's not all that difficult to get into the top 40, statistically speaking. San Diego State was No. 39 last season. Hawaii was No. 41. Nebraska -- despite those terrible performances against UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin -- still finished 35th. I suspect the Huskers will be good against mediocre-to-bad teams, and hopefully not terrible against the great offenses. That could still be enough to finish in the top 40.

4. Northwestern beats three of top five: Right now, I'd only make Northwestern the favorite in one of those games: Michigan State at home on Nov. 23. Though both Ohio State and Michigan come to Evanston, the Wildcats have one of the weakest home-field advantages in the Big Ten. They are typically good for at least one road upset, though. I think two of five is more likely, but Northwestern has the talent to compete with all five.

5. Ohio State fields a top 20 defense: The top 20 is a different stratosphere than the top 40, obviously. With a veteran defensive line last season, the Buckeyes finished No. 34. An outstanding Stanford team finished No. 20 last season. Now, Ohio State is replacing six of seven starters in the front seven, and while there is a lot of talent, there are some question marks as well. The schedule could help, though.

6. Michigan State consistently moves the chains: Let's see: quarterback questions, no clear starter at running back, receivers with a lot to prove, and an offensive line that underperformed last season. And Le'Veon Bell is in Pittsburgh. I have to see it to believe it.

Sense of Humor from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey BB. As a 2 time OSU Alum (coincidentally during both of Gordon Gee's tenures as President) it is especially painful to me to see what has transpired here. First off, he shouldn't play the public like he is, we all know the Board forced him out. We aren't blind. But what bothers me even more is the fact that, as a nation, have we REALLY become so politically correct that we have completely lost the ability to take a joke?! Anyone who has listened to the actual audio can tell that everything said was said in jest, especially based on the crowd laughter. GOD FORBID SOMEONE DISSES THE ALMIGHTY SEC. You think they don't make fun of us for being farmboys up here in B1G country?! It just seems weird to me as well, that these comments were made in December of 2012 if I read correctly, and yet the firestorm starts 6 months later?! Makes no sense to me. I would love to hear your thoughts.

Brian Bennett: I never read Gee's comments for anything but what they were: poor attempts at humor. We received some emails bashing the media for its role in Gee's (forced?) retirement, but at no point did Adam or I ever say Gee should be removed from his job. This was more, I suspect, a matter of trustees and other university leaders growing tired of dealing with his embarrassing comments. The timing didn't help him, either, as they came to light in a slow news period, whereas they probably would have had a shorter cycle in December. I agree with you that we've become overly sensitive, but that doesn't change the fact that Gee had repeatedly stuck his foot in his mouth and was clearly never going to learn from that. I'd love for him to stay in his job for another 10 years, because he makes for great copy and headlines. But if the school leadership felt like he wasn't acting very, well, "presidential" with his inappropriate jokes, I can't blame them.

Ry from Greensburg, Pa., writes: You wrote: "Penn State's Allen Robinson, who finished with 1,013. Robinson is still only a junior, so he's the best bet to do it again this year, though he'll be catching passes from an inexperienced quarterback to start the season." So that means that Robinson is the No. 1 player in the B1G likely to repeat and not listed because he is assumed to be the most likely candidate, or is he excluded from the list because the inexperienced QB won't be able to get him the ball like McG could? Also, I agree that Penn State's QB should be listed with higher chances than Indiana's QB to hit 3,000 yards because I think BO'B is a better coach than Kevin Wilson with better prospects/athletes to make plays for him.

Brian Bennett: Yes, Robinson is clearly the top choice to reach 1,000 yards in 2013. He was the best receiver in the Big Ten last season, and it wasn't really close, so there wasn't much need to discuss him. As for the Indiana vs. Penn State debate, I do believe Bill O'Brien's system, Robinson, and all those tight ends, will help whoever plays quarterback wind up with some great numbers. But let's not discount the Hoosiers, who have as deep a receiving corps as anybody in the league, and some pretty good passers in their own right. Consider that Indiana -- which played three quarterbacks last season -- passed for 3,734 yards last year, as opposed to 3,278 for the Nittany Lions. And IU will have an experience edge at quarterback.

David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Regarding your list of double-digit sack masters, I've decided I need to speak up about Ohio State's Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence. I've been reading a lot of hype surrounding the two, and after you listing both on you list, I have to ask, aren't you (and most everybody else) jumping the gun a little bit? Washington recorded 9 tackles, 4 TFLs, and 3 sacks last year while playing in 10 games, and Spence recorded 13 tackles, only had 1 TFL and 1 sack in 11 games last year. Brendan Kelly had 7 TFLs, 5 sacks (11 games), Frank Clark had 9 TFLs, 2 sacks (11 games), Jonathon Brown 12 TFL, 4 sacks (only 1 solo, 9 games). All these guys ranked below Washington and Spence 'both'? Why? Is it because of the spring game where they were paired on a DL together and faced a non-starting OL (remember OSU split the teams for the game so it wasn't true 1's vs 1's)? ... Shouldn't we pump the breaks a bit? I find it odd that so many are dumping so much praise on tow true sophomores with 4 combines sacks between them? Certainly spring hype lets you down about 50 percent of the time.

Brian Bennett: Some very fair points here, especially when it comes to spring hype. It's also true that we're often more excited about the potential next best thing than solid returning players. But here's what I'll say in defense of picking those two. I didn't base a whole lot off the spring game. I did attend a regular Ohio State practice this spring and saw Spence dominate against Jack Mewhort, a senior who's one of the top left tackles in the Big Ten. In talking with Mewhort, coaches and team observers later, I found out that this was a regular occurrence, and that Spence was simply too hard to handle. Many people believe Washington is even better, and in fact, he had a bigger impact last season.

As for last year's stats, you've got to remember that Ohio State had a very veteran defensive line, and that Washington and Spence saw limited time as rookies. This year, there's no doubt both will start, leading to a whole lot more opportunities. And finally, the talent is undeniable; ESPN rated Spence the No. 4 recruit in the nation in the class of 2012, and Washington was No. 65. Maybe they don't quite live up to the hype this season, but I expect both to be very, very good.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: The media, and then like-wise the fans make a HUGE issue regarding recruiting class "rankings," but would you say that class rankings can perhaps sway some commits to choose one school over another? Tell me Michigan recruits aren't being swayed that they have some of the highest rated recruits for 2014 coming in and they want to be a part of it (they are like the college football version of Kentucky Basketball recruiting) The reason I ask this is because Penn State is at an seemingly unfair disadvantage (aside from the sanctions). They currently have a top 15-20 ranked recruiting class for 2014 depending on the website you use' however, with only 3-5 more open scholarship slots, they most likely will only drop in the rankings due to sheer volume of the number of recruits they are allowed, while other schools continue to sign upwards of 25-30 recruits. Now this class BO'B is putting together at PSU this year might be a solid, ranking worthy class, but because of the scholarship restrictions there is no way they can maintain a high ranking. I believe this puts them at a further disadvantage, recruiting-wise, in future years.

Brian Bennett: I do think there is such a thing as recruiting momentum, in that great players want to play with other great players, and once a program starts bringing in a bunch of high-profile prospects, others want to join the bandwagon. However, I think that mostly occurs within a given class. Kids have short memories and attention spans, and I find it hard to believe that a recruit will base his decision on where to go to school based on a previous year's recruiting rankings. What matters more from year to year is whether the team is actually winning with the recruits it has brought in.

Penn State shouldn't really worry about class rankings. The Nittany Lions will obviously try to bring in the best recruits they can, but with only 15 scholarships to offer in each of the next four years, they're never going to be rated among the national leaders, which doesn't really matter anyway. O'Brien needs to win as much as he can under the sanctions and sell his ability both to play an exciting style and to get players ready for the NFL.

Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: If IU wants a helmet based on the state flag, fine. But don't you think they should have to use the actual flag colors (gold on a dark blue background)? It seems pretty disrespectful to me to change the colors -- I suspect the Indiana law on the flag specifies the colors to be used.

Brian Bennett: For the uninitiated, here's what the Indiana state flag looks like, and here's Indiana's state flag helmet. I see it as more of an homage to the state flag than a straight reproduction, and I think it would be jarring if the Hoosiers came out wearing blue and gold when they are so associated with cream and crimson. I get the idea, but am still not too fond of the helmet design. Maybe we should just keep state flags out of uniforms. Or else we end up with things like this.
Last week, we took a look at some players who have a lot to prove this fall in the Big Ten, both in the Leaders and the Legends divisions. Now, we're wondering which player you think has the most to prove in 2013.


Which of these players has the most to prove in 2013?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,675)

The candidates:
  • Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Martinez likely will end his career owning every major Nebraska quarterback record, but he needs to show he can win big games on the road, avoid turnovers and deliver a long-awaited championship to Lincoln if he wants to be remembered as a true Huskers legend.
  • Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State: Not even guaranteed to start in 2013, Maxwell has to hold off Connor Cook for the job this fall and turn around a very shaky Spartans passing game. The team is set up to win with its defense and schedule, but Michigan State needs much better quarterback play than it received in 2012.
  • Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan: A disappointing 2012 season saw Toussaint follow up a 1,000-yard year with just 514 rushing yards before he broke his leg in November. Top recruit Derrick Green didn't plan on sitting on the bench when he signed with the Wolverines. And with Denard Robinson gone, the tailbacks need to lead the way in the rushing game.
  • Curtis Grant, LB, Ohio State: One of the top recruits in the Class of 2011, Grant has only 10 carer tackles heading into his junior season and couldn't hold down a starting job last year. The Buckeyes are counting on him this year as their starting middle linebacker, and they'll need him to perform in a very inexperienced front seven on defense.
  • Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Scheelhaase is a three-year starter who has played in 36 games, but he threw for just 1,361 yards and four touchdowns last year, vs. eight interceptions. Now in another new offense, Scheelhaase will be counted on to lead the Illini back from last year's 2-10 disaster as Reilly O'Toole and freshman Aaron Bailey nip at his heels.

Which of these players has the most to prove? Vote now in our poll.
We admit that some numbers we use as yardsticks of success in college football can be somewhat arbitrary.

For example, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde had a terrific 2012 season, rushing for 16 touchdowns. But because he missed two games with injuries and the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason, Hyde didn't reach the "magical" 1,000-yard rushing mark. Instead, he finished with an oh-so-close 970.

Does that make Hyde's season any less outstanding. Not really. Still, there's a certain amount of prestige and pride that goes along with breaking four digits as a running back, and in a league known for running the ball like the Big Ten, it can take on added importance.

That's why we're taking a look at the players most likely to break that 1,000-yard barrier in 2013. Let's start by looking at the five returning players who pulled off the feat in 2012 and examine their prospects of doing the same for the fall:

[+] EnlargeVenric Mark
AP Photo/Matt QuinnanVenric Mark seems like a safe bet to rush for more than 1,000 yards again this season.
Venric Mark, RB, Northwestern (1,371 rushing yards in 2012): Mark had eight games of at least 100 rushing yards last season, becoming the first Wildcat since 2006 to eclipse the 1k plateau. While teams will game plan heavily for him, Mark also benefits by having quarterback Kain Colter in the same backfield as another running threat. There is every reason to believe he'll be among the Big Ten's top rushers again this season.

Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State (1,271): Miller did most of his damage on the ground in the first half of last season, and Ohio State would like to see him throw the ball more. But he also didn't gain much yardage on true scrambles last season, which could improve in '13. And since the Buckeyes are likely to play at least one more game this season, Miller is another safe bet for 1,000.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska (1,137): Abdullah won't have to worry about splitting carries with Rex Burkhead, though Imani Cross looks to become a bigger part of the offense. With Nebraska's commitment to running the ball, the only concern about Abdullah is a knee injury that kept him out this spring. He is expected to fully recover, however.

Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska (1,019): Martinez broke 1,000 for the first time in his career last season, aided no doubt by Nebraska playing 14 games, including the Big Ten title game. He's a threat to rip off huge plays every time he takes off and runs, but he has needed to do that less as he's improved as a passer.

Zach Zwinak, RB, Penn State (1,000): The most unlikely member of the 1,000-yard club in 2012, Zwinak surprised everybody by emerging as Penn State's best running option. People still doubt whether he can duplicate that performance, but the Lions might rely on the running game more with a new starting quarterback under center. The lack of a 13th game does hurt his chances, however.

And now let's take a look at some players who could challenge that 1,000-yard mark in 2013, in order of likelihood:

1. Hyde (970): The senior could have to split carries with Miller, Rod Smith and others. But he really got going in the second half of last season and should get a lot more than 185 rushing attempts if he stays healthy all season.

T-2. James White (840) and Melvin Gordon (643), Wisconsin: Montee Ball is gone, but the Badgers' running back tradition should continue. White already has a 1,000-yard season under his belt, and got close last season as the No. 2 tailback. He should see his carries go up, while Gordon is wildly talented and can post huge stats without many touches. Don't be surprised if both top 1,000 yards this season.

4. Mark Weisman, Iowa (815): Weisman put up some monster numbers once the Hawkeyes set him loose out of near desperation last season, and he ran for more than 800 yards despite playing in only 10 games and being banged up for many of those. Iowa is much deeper in the backfield heading into this season, but he could still lead the team in carries.

5. Donnell Kirkwood, Minnesota (926): Kirkwood somewhat quietly had one of the highest rushing totals in the league last season. With Minnesota's dedication to the power running game and what looks like a deeper, healthier offensive line, Kirkwood should see his total go up this year if he can maintain his grip on the No. 1 job.

6. Colter, QB, Northwestern (894): It's possible Nebraska, Northwestern and Ohio State could all have QB/RB combos who go for 1,000 yards each this season. Colter was fairly close last season, and that was despite Mark's brilliance and splitting time with Trevor Siemian. Colter averaged better than five yards per carry, so it's simply a matter of how many times the Wildcats want him to run in 2013.

7. Fitz Toussaint (555) or Derrick Green, Michigan: Despite his disappointing season in 2012, Toussaint was a 1,000-yard back two years ago and could rediscover that form. If not, true freshman Green would be happy to give it a shot. The Wolverines are likely to use a more traditional running game now that Denard Robinson is gone.

8. Akeem Hunt, Purdue (335): Hunt averaged a jaw-dropping eight yards per carry last season, and looks to be the featured back for new head coach Darrell Hazell, who turned Kent State into a ground-and-pound machine. Of course, Hunt will have to prove he can take the beating of a full season as the top tailback after carrying the ball just 42 times a year ago.

9. Stephen Houston, Indiana (749): In Houston's favor: he ran for more than 800 yards two years ago, and the Hoosiers have pledged to run the ball more in 2013. Against him: He might have to share more carries this season, especially if the mobile Tre Roberson plays quarterback. And the IU coaches have never been effusive in their praise of Houston.

10. Unknown Michigan State tailback: We know that Mark Dantonio likes to feed the ball to his running backs, as evidenced by Le'Veon Bell's 382 carries last season. Riley Bullough or one of three true freshman could emerge as the bell cow this season. We'd just feel better about it we actually knew who that starting tailback would be.

11. Donovonn Young, RB, Illinois (571): He led the team in rushing a year ago, and his straight-ahead running style could prove a nice asset in the new Illinois spread offense. Yes, the Illini have a long way to go to produce a 1,000-yard rusher, and they're highly unlikely to play more than 12 games. But if Donovonn Young won't change your mind ... baby, baby, baby. (Sorry -- gratuitous Vampire Weekend reference).

Which players do you see running for 1,000 yards in 2013?
Yesterday, we took a look at five players from the Leaders Division who have a lot to prove in the 2013 season. That can only mean one thing for today: it's time to turn our attention to those who have something to prove this fall in the Legends Division.

And it goes a little something like this ...

1. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: What does Martinez have to prove after earning All-Big Ten first-team honors (from the coaches) and leading the league in total offense last season? Well, it's true that he will likely end his career owning every major Nebraska quarterback record. But he still must prove that he can win big games on the road, that he can avoid the fumbling problems that have plagued him and that he can deliver a long-awaited championship to Lincoln. That's a whole lot to put on one player, especially considering that the Huskers' defense will probably have a bigger say in the outcome of the season. But we know this: Martinez's tenure will be viewed much differently if he could finish it with a conference title or at least a BCS bowl.

2. Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State: Here's another Legends quarterback, albeit one who's far less accomplished than Martinez and isn't even guaranteed to start in 2013. Maxwell is now a fifth-year senior, but the last time we saw the Spartans, he was benched for their two-minute drill against TCU in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl for Connor Cook. Mark Dantonio has said that Maxwell retains the edge -- for now -- in the quarterback race heading into fall camp. But he'll get lots of competition from Cook and possibly incoming freshman Damion Terry. If he keeps the job, Maxwell will have to win over a disgruntled fan base by completing better than 52.5 percent of his passes, as he did a year ago.

3. Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan: The Wolverines senior had seemingly proved himself with a 1,000-yard season in 2011. But he followed that up with just 514 yards last year (on a career-low 4.0 yards per carry) before breaking his leg late in the season. So if you're scoring at home, Toussaint has to prove that last year was an aberration, that he's fully healthy and also that he's good enough to hold off top recruit Derrick Green for the Michigan starting tailback job. And he'll have to do all of that with a mostly inexperienced offensive line and without Denard Robinson as a fellow rushing threat in the backfield.

4. Kyle Prater, WR, Northwestern: Prater arrived in Evanston backed by a ton of hype, given his recruiting rankings and his transfer from USC. Teammates started calling him "Megatron" because of his 6-foot-5 frame. Yet Prater didn't make a huge impact last season, catching just 10 balls for 54 yards. He's had trouble staying healthy and missed spring practice because of an injury. The Wildcats could use a true No. 1 receiver this year, and they would love to see Prater start fulfilling his immense potential.

5. Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: Hageman has attracted a lot of positive attention this offseason for his work in the weight room and in spring practice. That's a great sign, but the senior must deliver on that promise. He had a very good year in 2012 as he started to figure out the defensive tackle position, finishing with six sacks. For the Gophers to take the next step, Hageman has to elevate his performance to great. He's got all the tools to be the top interior defensive lineman in the Big Ten and a potential high-round NFL draft pick.

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 24, 2013
Have a great and safe Memorial Day weekend, everybody.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.

The Wolverines look for replacements for two highly productive departed seniors in Denard Robinson and Jordan Kovacs.
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?

BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 8, 2013
Five-star Friday links: