Big Ten: Gabe Carimi

The Big Ten endured arguably the worst NFL draft in its history last month, and its struggles to produce high first-round talent are well documented.

The league hasn't had a top-10 pick since Michigan's Jake Long and Ohio State's Vernon Gholston went No. 1 and No. 6, respectively, in the 2008 draft. The Big Ten narrowly avoided being shut out of the first round for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger when Wisconsin's Travis Frederick went at No. 31 in April's draft.

Is the troubling trend for the Big Ten more of a coaching/development issue or a recruiting issue? The declining number of first-round picks might have more to do with the Big Ten footprint than the Big Ten Conference.

As's Chris Vannini points out, certain states in the Big Ten footprint, namely Ohio, have seen a drop in producing first-round picks in recent years. Vannini looked at where first-round picks from the past eight drafts played their high school ball.

Not surprisingly, Texas (17) and Florida (12) produced the most first-round picks between 2010-13, followed by Georgia (10) and California (8). Florida, Texas and California also were among the top producers in the previous four drafts (2006-09).

Pennsylvania is the top producer in the Big Ten footprint with five first-round picks since 2010. Michigan (4) and Wisconsin (4) are next, along with future Big Ten state New Jersey (4).

Where's Ohio? Way down the list with just two first-round picks since 2010. It comes as a surprise as Ohio is celebrated for its high school football and serves as the starting point in recruiting for many Big Ten programs.

Ohio produced nine first-round draft picks between 2006-09. New Jersey also saw its total drop from 10 (between 2006-09) to four (between 2010-13).

Pennsylvania and Wisconsin both produced three more first-round picks in the past four drafts than the previous four. All four Wisconsin products -- J.J. Watt, Gabe Carimi, Kevin Zeitler and Frederick -- played for the Wisconsin Badgers during their run of Rose Bowls. Michigan saw a slight increase in recent years, Illinois held steady and Indiana dropped from four (2006-09) to two (2010-13). Minnesota had one first-round pick in 2012 after none from 2006-09, while Nebraska and Iowa aren't on the board for either span.

What about the Big Ten's other new territory, the Washington D.C./Maryland/Northern Virginia region? Maryland's total dropped from four (2006-09) to three (2010-13), Virginia's went from seven (2006-09) to three (2010-13) and Washington D.C. failed to produce a first-round pick from 2010-13 after having two between 2006-09.

What does this mean for the Big Ten? First-round draft picks are only one way to gauge the strength of a league or a region, but the numbers reinforce that much of the nation's elite talent grows up far from Big Ten campuses. Big Ten schools have to spread their wings in recruiting and invest more time and resources in states like Texas, Florida and Georgia. Many programs already do this, but there's a greater sense of urgency.

The Ohio total is a bit alarming, but I'd be surprised if the state produces so few first-round picks in the next four years. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Wisconsin total under a new Badgers coaching staff.

I still like the Big Ten's new additions, Rutgers and Maryland, from a recruiting standpoint, but the declining totals of first-round draft picks from both areas are a bit unsettling as the two programs prepare to move to the Big Ten in 2014.

Big Ten mailblog

February, 19, 2013
Your questions, my answers ...

Matt from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The B1G could be in the news quite a bit during the offseason. Will we get the final decisions on division alignment, division names and 9/10 game schedule all at once or will they come out one at a time whenever that specific decision is made? Will this be something decided early in the offseason to have people discussing it all summer or will we have all summer to talk about what we want it to be and get the answer during the season?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you definitely won't need to wait until the season. The most pressing topic is the future conference schedule and whether the Big Ten will have nine or 10 games. It impacts nonconference scheduling, and the athletic directors want to get things sorted out as quickly as possible so they can craft their schedules. I think we could have a decision as soon as mid-March -- the ADs meet again during the Big Ten basketball tournament in Chicago -- or shortly thereafter. Division alignment is next on the list, and should come by the end of the spring. The key event is that the Big Ten Council of Presidents/Chancellors meets in early June at league headquarters. The Big Ten wants to get most of these issues sorted out by that meeting. Division names is a low priority, as league commissioner Jim Delany told me last week, and the future bowl lineup probably comes after the league schedule and divisions. We should have decisions on all of these topics by the middle of the summer.

AAWolv from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, I'm not usually one to get worked up about top 25 lists, but I can't wrap my head around this. In your post-season top 25 rankings, you state that the criteria is based solely on performance in the past year. If that's the case, how do you put Taylor Lewan at number 7? He proved that he was the best or 2nd best tackle in the country by shutting down guys like Jadeveon Clowney. I realize that linemen don't get much love in rankings, but based on his performance and your criterion, I have to disagree with your ranking.

Adam Rittenberg: That's fair, AA, and Brian and I debated a bit about Lewan and certainly could have included him a little higher. I'm glad you point out that the rankings are based on in-season performance rather than NFL potential, as some of your fellow Wolverines fans are pointing out Lewan will be a first-round pick in April. So will Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, who we have at No. 12. That doesn't matter for these rankings. I realize Lewan made a bunch of All-America teams, but did he have a season like Gabe Carimi in 2010? I don't think he was that good. Michigan's offensive line certainly wan't great, and Lewan, while the group's best member, could have been more dominant at times. Carimi won the Outland Trophy in 2010 and came in at No. 6 in our postseason rankings. So he's comparable to Lewan, who could have been a spot or two higher. Ultimately, I'm comfortable with the guys we have in the top 5, who all made a major impact for their teams in 2012.

Matt from State College, Pa., writes: Do you think the most recent missteps in the Miami investigation gives any validity to the State of PA's lawsuit against the NCAA in relation to PSU's sanctions?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think Monday's news certainly hurts the credibility of the NCAA and its president, Mark Emmert. If the NCAA had done its own investigation into Penn State, led by now-fired compliance chief Julie Roe Lach, and made missteps along the way, it certainly would have strengthened the state's case. But the NCAA used the Penn State-commissioned Freeh Report as the investigation for the Penn State case. Penn State signed a consent decree to the penalties Emmert imposed. Because the investigative process took place outside the NCAA, I don't think the Miami missteps will help the state's case as much as if they'd taken place within the NCAA.

Debra from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Adam: I find the Nebraska-Michigan rivalry more attractive than Ohio State or Penn State. Considering Penn State as a rival is based on old, old grudges no longer relevant. Ohio State is okay but not feeling the history. Michigan seems a more friendly rivalry. And friendly is better than the bitter kind, like Colorado. Who wants to go there and get your tires slashed if you have a Nebraska license plate? Ugh

Adam Rittenberg: Debra, thanks for sharing your thoughts. While I'm not sure all fans would prefer "friendly" rivalries over the alternative, it's good to know that some do. I know a lot of Nebraska fans want to keep playing Michigan every year. They bring up the 1997 season and the fact that the first two games in the Big Ten have made an impact on the division race. I like the Nebraska-Penn State series because both teams don't have longstanding Big Ten rivalries and, until November, had been the league's most recent additions. Ohio State and Michigan always will have bigger conference rivals than Penn State or Nebraska. I don't think Nebraska and Michigan will be in the same division after the realignment, and I don't expect the teams to have a protected crossover. But the Big Ten would like to have the Huskers and Wolverines play often -- two great brands, good for TV.

Al from Chicago writes: Nice article on Illini branding, but you'll have to show me where Northwestern has seen increased attendance (from their fans - not the visitors)!

Adam Rittenberg: Al, that's a fair point, as visiting fans like those from Nebraska have helped Northwestern's attendance numbers. The Wrigley Field game in 2010 also boosted attendance because it was part of a season-ticket package. But Northwestern's increases since the 2009 season, when it averaged 24,190, to this past season, when it averaged 33,442, can't be solely attributed to visiting fans. Northwestern is responsible for a portion of that increase, and its marketing push certainly has been a factor.

Scott from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Roushar is out as MSU's offensive coordinator. Spartan Nation cheers his departure but should they?

Adam Rittenberg: It's tough to say. Dan Roushar had much better success in 2011 when he had an established quarterback in Kirk Cousins, three good wide receivers and a better offensive line, which he helped mold. He did a nice job as the team's offensive line coach, although MSU needs to take things to another level up front. You can make a case that aside from RB Le'Veon Bell and TE Dion Sims, Roushar simply didn't have the weapons to do what he needed to in 2012. But some of his play-calling, especially in the red zone, left a lot to be desired. Was Roushar the main problem with Michigan State's offense in 2012? Perhaps. But many of us expected more from the players, too. The offensive structure isn't going to change at MSU under the next coordinator, but his play calls will be scrutinized, just as Roushar's were.

Paul from Minneapolis writes: Can you please tell me the racial breakdown of assistant coaches in the Big Ten by school. I got thinking about this as I noticed both of Iowa's latest hirings are white, but I have no idea how diverse any Big Ten school is in thier coaching ranks. Does the Big Ten have a program to promote racial diversity in it's coaching ranks?

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, I addressed this a bit in this story from last February, but the Big Ten has participated in an annual minority coaches' forum, which brings together top minority assistant coaches, athletic directors and administrators to network. The assistants learn what ADs are looking for in interviews and how they can improve their chances of landing head-coaching positions. Five of the 17 Big Ten assistants who attended the event from 2006-10 have become FBS head coaches, including former Ohio State aide Darrell Hazell, now the head man at Purdue. Still, Hazell is only the fourth black head coach in Big Ten history, a low number given the Big Ten's history as the conference of opportunity. As far as staff diversity, every Big Ten team has black assistant coaches and all but two teams have two or three on staff. Not all coaching staffs are complete, so those numbers could go up. One item of note: there are only two black coordinators in the Big Ten in Illinois' Tim Banks and Ohio State's Everett Withers.

James from Pasadena, Md., writes: Adam,I have switched over from the ACC blog to the B1G blog in anticipation of Maryland's move in 2014. I want to say that I have really enjoyed getting more familiar with the Conference through your posts. Having explored some of the message boards for schools around the B1G, I think many B1G fans are sleeping on Rugters and Maryland. At what point do you anticipate incorporating the two new schools in your blog? Will you be waiting until after the 2013 season or do you plan to keep B1G fans updated on the happenings with RU and UMD during the summer/fall this year?

Adam Rittenberg: Welcome, James! I know Big Ten fans are starting to familiarize themselves with both Maryland and Rutgers, and we'll do much more of that as we get closer to the official arrivals of those teams in 2014. We will post Maryland and Rutgers-related content from time to time this season, including updates on how the teams are performing, but they likely won't officially transition to the Big Ten blog until after national signing day 2014 (Feb. 5). That has been the point where we've seen teams move from one blog to another.
MADISON, Wis. -- Just thinking about all the talent Wisconsin has lost in the past two years can be a little daunting.

The Badgers saw four first- or second-team All-Americans leave after the 2010 season (Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt, Lance Kendricks and J.J. Watt) and two more depart after last season (Peter Konz, Kevin Zeitler), along with their NCAA record-breaking transfer quarterback (Russell Wilson). Many programs would expect a dip after having so much star power leave town, but Bret Bielema is feeling fine.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Gross/Getty Images"Of the last 66 kids we signed, 64 of them are still on campus ... " Bielema said.
"I used to freak out when we lost players, too," Bielema said. "But we do a good job of just developing. We always talk about being a developmental program, and I think it truly is that type of program now."

Wisconsin's ability to keep reloading will be put to the test in 2012. The team returns just 11 starters from last year's Big Ten champions, and six assistant coaches -- including almost all of the offensive brain trust -- left for other jobs in the offseason. Yet many still predict the Badgers will repeat as Leaders Division champs.

They will need new starters to emerge at receiver, on the right side of the offensive line, on the defensive line, in the secondary and of course at quarterback, where Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien could plug the hole. But O'Brien is the exception, as Wisconsin usually just brings along the next man on the depth chart.

"There are All-Americans sitting behind All-Americans, especially at spots like offensive line and running back," linebacker Chris Borland said. "Like last year, having lost Moffitt and Carimi, and then our line was arguably better. I think it speaks more to the development than it does to the players."

Madison might well be the world's leading producer of offensive linemen, and the running back tradition is just as strong. But other positions are becoming known for their string of successes as well, including tight end and safety. In each of the past two years, Wisconsin has lost an all-conference safety -- Jay Valai in 2010 and Aaron Henry in 2011. But Bielema says this year's pair of starters, Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson, might be his best duo yet.

"A guy might not be good enough to play right away, but a lot of times he'll develop for a year and come on the scene when a guy leaves or gets injured," said Jared Abbrederis, who's gone from former walk-on to one of the league's best wideouts. "That's kind of how it goes around here."

What's most impressive about the Badgers' recent run is that they've done it without many high-profile recruits. Bielema mostly signs three-star types and rarely brings in the true blue-chipper that gets scouting services drooling. Even though the program's exposure has increased of late, he still has little interest in trying to recruit much outside of a few key areas.

"We do what we can with what we've got," Bielema said. "I don't think we want more national recruits. A lot of times, those guys come with some issues you don't want to deal with. I take a lot of pride with the way our guys go about their business and handle themselves."

Player development is going to be key for Wisconsin's immediate future, because a cavalry of help isn't coming. The team signed only 12 players in February and expects to bring in an even smaller class next year. The reason? So few players have left before their eligibility ended.

"A lot of places sign 24 or 25 kids every year, so something is happening to those kids," Bielema said. "Of the last 66 kids we signed, 64 of them are still on campus, which is an unheard of number."

Last year's Rose Bowl team had only 24 juniors and seniors, and the rest were underclassmen. If those youngsters develop the way their predecessors have, then the Badgers will have a deep and experienced team soon. In fact, when O'Brien -- who has two years of eligibility remaining -- came on his visit, Bielema told him, "I think we'll be really good this year. But next year, on paper, might be the best team I've ever had."

That's a big statement, given how much talent -- both players and coaches -- has exited Madison in the past two years. But Wisconsin is confident in its ability to reload from within.

"We realize we're a developmental program," athletic director Barry Alvarez said. "We don't have the access to a lot of five-star guys. We might have a Joe Thomas coming out of the state or get a Ron Dayne because of his ties to the area. But for the most part, we develop players. And I think we have the right formula."
Upon arrival Tuesday in Los Angeles, Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema told reporters that Paul Chryst will take one Badgers assistant with him to Pittsburgh following the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio.

Bielema declined to name the departing assistant, but reports here and here and elsewhere say offensive line coach Bob Bostad is headed to the Steel City. Bostad had been mentioned as a potential candidate to succeed Chryst as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator. If he's indeed gone to Pittsburgh, he'll likely move into a coordinator role with the Panthers.
"The last 48 hours have been all of that stuff going on," Bielema said. "It was a good break for our players, because there were some things that needed to get sorted out. I know what's going to happen. I don't want to release anything. … Definitely going to be transition on my side."

It's hardly a surprise that Bostad would join Chryst at Pitt. The two are very close. Had Chryst accepted an offer to become Texas' offensive coordinator following the 2011 Rose Bowl, Bostad likely would have joined him in Austin.

The two men are, in my view, Wisconsin's top two assistants. Chryst's success as coordinator is well documented, and Bostad has tutored standout offensive linemen such as Gabe Carimi, John Moffitt and, more recently, Peter Konz. If Bostad isn't the nation's best offensive line coach, he's close.

It's a tough situation for Wisconsin, which will have a new look on offense in 2012 with key coaches and players departing. Quarterback Russell Wilson and receiver Nick Toon are among the seniors leaving, and running back Montee Ball and Konz could declare for the NFL draft.

The good news for Badgers fans is that only one assistant will be joining Chryst. And for recruiting purposes, it's very good that Wisconsin will retain tight ends coach Joe Rudolph. Bostad's departure could mean Rudolph will be elevated to a coordinator role and/or become the team's offensive line coach, a move Bostad made after the 2007 season. Bielema has said he'll promote a coordinator from within the staff. If Bostad is gone, Rudolph and running backs coach Thomas Hammock are the top candidates to move up.

Rudolph is Wisconsin's chief recruiter and one of the best in the Big Ten. Chryst and Bostad aren't known for their recruiting exploits, so Bielema's ability to retain Rudolph is significant.

Bielema now must make some important position-coach hires to try and maintain Wisconsin's continuity on offense.

I doubt the coaching departures will impact Wisconsin too much in the Rose Bowl. Chryst and Bostad want to get this team a win, and the number of veteran players should keep the focus on Oregon.
My apologies for posting these a day late -- blame it on Russell Wilson -- but it's time to break down the Big Ten offensive linemen entering the 2011 season.

Rather than list the top 10 across the three position groups, I've decided to go a different route: top five players at each spot. Despite losing standout linemen like Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt, and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, the Big Ten returns several of the nation's top players at their positions.

Center might be the Big Ten's deepest position, while the league also boasts several standout tackles. The guard spot is a bit thin.

Let's take a look.


Michael Brewster
Greg Bartram/US PresswireMichael Brewster may be the best center in the country.
1. Michael Brewster, Ohio State, senior -- Brewster enters the season as the leading candidate for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the nation's top center. He has started each of the past three seasons and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in 2010. Boasting 36 career starts, Brewster could be the top center selected in next April's NFL draft.

2. David Molk, Michigan, senior -- Molk is right up there with Brewster among the nation's truly elite centers. If not for some injury trouble, he could be at the top of the list. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches in 2010 and was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. Molk has made 29 career starts and displays top-notch blocking skills and leadership.

3. Peter Konz, Wisconsin, junior -- Konz is a big reason why Wisconsin's line shouldn't take a step back despite losing Carimi, Moffitt and Bill Nagy. He has made 20 starts at center in the past two seasons and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010. After missing most of spring practice with an ankle injury, Konz's health this fall is a big key for Wisconsin.

4. Mike Caputo, Nebraska, senior: The Huskers' line has a few question marks entering the season, but center isn't one of them. Caputo is the undisputed leader of the group after starting every game in 2010. The former walk-on earned consensus honorable mention All-Big 12 honors and helped Nebraska eclipse 200 rushing yards in 10 of 14 games.

T-5. James Ferentz, Iowa, junior: Ferentz has emerged as an All-Big Ten caliber lineman and will lead one of the league's better groups this season. He started every game in 2010 and showed impressive durability, playing every offensive down in nine contests. Iowa needs an elite offensive line this season, and Ferentz will be leading the charge.

T-5. Graham Pocic, Illinois, junior: Along with Jeff Allen and others, Pocic leads an Illinois line that punished opponents at times last season. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in his first year as a starter. Pocic solidified a line that helped Illinois lead the Big Ten in rushing and rank 11th nationally (246.1 ypg).


1. Riley Reiff, Iowa, junior: Reiff has put himself in position to become the next truly great Hawkeyes offensive lineman. He started every game in 2010 and 11 of 13 contests in 2009, earning consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. Already projected as a potential top-15 pick in the 2012 NFL draft, Reiff should be in the mix for the Outland Trophy as he anchors the Iowa line.

2. Mike Adams, Ohio State, senior: The Buckeyes will be counting the days until Adams returns from his suspension to open the season. After some ups and downs early in his career, Adams blossomed last season and started to meet the lofty expectations placed on him coming out of high school. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors. If not for the five-game suspension, he would be a top contender for the Outland Trophy.

3. Jeff Allen, Illinois, senior: One of the league's best and most experienced offensive linemen, Allen will lead a strong Illini line this fall. He has started 34 games in his first three seasons at Illinois, earning second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media last fall. Allen is a bona fide NFL prospect who should challenge players like Brewster, Molk and Reiff for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors.

4. Al Netter, Northwestern, senior: Besides star quarterback Dan Persa, Netter is the only player coach Pat Fitzgerald considers an undisputed starter entering the fall. Perhaps it's because Netter has started each of the past 39 games. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 and should be primed for a big senior season. Northwestern needs him to help spark its rushing attack.

5. Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin, junior: We'll get a full read on Wagner after he switches from right tackle to the left side to replace Carimi, but the expectations are high. He earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after stepping in for the injured Josh Oglesby at right tackle. Wisconsin really likes Wagner's potential, and he'll have a chance to blossom at the more prestigious tackle position.


1. Joel Foreman, Michigan State, senior: An easy pick here as Foreman enters the season as one of the nation's top left guards. He has earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons and started 36 games at left guard, including each of the past 22. Offensive line is a huge question mark for the Spartans, so Foreman's play will be huge.

2. Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin, senior: Zeitler will be a leader this fall for a Wisconsin line looking to continue its tradition of excellence. He has started 22 games at right guard in each of the past two seasons and helped Wisconsin rank among the nation's top rushing offenses. Zeitler earned consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in 2010.

3. Hugh Thornton, Illinois, junior: Thornton has played a lot of football in his first two seasons and could take another step in his development this fall. He started eight games at weak-side guard in 2010 after starting seven games at tackle in 2009. Illinois expects the offensive line to be its strength, and Thornton is a big part of the group.

4. Ken Plue, Purdue, senior: This pick is a bit risky after Plue worked his way into the coaches' dog house in spring practice. But he has the size, the skills and the experience (28 starts) to become one of the Big Ten's top guards this fall. If the 6-7, 358-pound Plue can work out his issues, look out for him and the Boilers.

5. Patrick Omameh, Michigan, junior: After starting all 13 games for a record-setting offense in 2010, Omameh is a reason why hopes are high for the Wolverines offensive line. He has started 16 consecutive games and has the ability to contend for All-Big honors. Omameh must get a little more consistent this fall, but I like how he projects for 2011.
The preseason position rankings march on with the offensive lines. Team rankings are below, and we'll take a look at the individual rankings for tackles, centers and guards early next week.

Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.

Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWill arm length be an issue for former Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff in the NFL?
2. Iowa: The line is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest strength and should be one of the nation's elite units in 2011. Iowa returns starting experience at all five positions and should have decent depth. Left tackle Riley Reiff, projected as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, will enter the fall as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy. James Ferentz is one of the league's top centers, and Markus Zusevics is poised for a big year at right tackle.

3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.

4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.

5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.

6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.

7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.

8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.

10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.

12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
The Big Ten on Wednesday announced its 2011 Medal of Honor winners. This award goes to a male athlete and a female athlete from each Big Ten school and recognizes a graduating senior who has "demonstrated proficiency in scholarship and athletics."

Five Big Ten football players are among this year's male Medal of Honor winners.

They are:
  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell
  • Iowa G Julian Vandervelde
  • Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski
  • Purdue TE Kyle Adams
  • Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi

All five players also were named to the Big Ten's fall Academic All-Big Ten team.

Congrats to all the winners.
Offensive line experience doesn't guarantee gridiron success, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

Phil Steele recently compiled his annual list of career starts among offensive linemen throughout the FBS. Northwestern ranks second nationally with 137 combined starts, trailing only SMU (158). There's a big drop-off as the next Big Ten team comes in 40th in O-line experience (Purdue, 79 starts).

Northwestern returns four starters up front, including left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett, both of whom are entering their fourth seasons as starters.

Here's a look at where the Big Ten offensive lines rank nationally in career starts entering 2011:
  • No. 2: Northwestern (137)
  • No. 40: Purdue (79)
  • T-43: Ohio State (77)
  • T-49: Wisconsin (74)
  • T-53: Indiana (71)
  • T-56: Michigan (70)
  • T-58: Illinois (69)
  • T-74: Minnesota (60)
  • T-77: Iowa (59)
  • T-81: Michigan State (57)
  • T-87: Penn State (52)
  • T-99: Nebraska (40)

I wouldn't get too giddy or concerned about these numbers. Minnesota had the nation's fourth-most experienced line in 2010 and went 3-9. Then again, both Wisconsin and Ohio State ranked in the top 20 in O-line experience and went on to share the Big Ten title.

Several things stand out about this year's list.
  • Northwestern needs its experience up front to translate to a better rushing attack. The Wildcats' inability to move the ball on the ground the past few seasons has put tremendous pressure on the quarterback position. While this has been a decent pass-blocking line, it must generate more push and give the team's running backs more daylight.
  • Purdue is another team relying on its offensive line to be a strong point in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is a nice anchor, and if the Boilers can stay healthy, they should be able to run the ball well with Rob Henry, Ralph Bolden and others.
  • Offensive line will be a group to watch for two league title contenders -- Michigan State and Nebraska. Both teams are solid elsewhere but could sink or swim depending on how their offensive fronts perform.
  • Although both Wisconsin and Iowa aren't among the leaders in offensive line experience, both teams have established a track record of producing elite lines. While Wisconsin must replace two All-Americans (Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt), I expect both the Badgers and Hawkeyes to be solid up front this fall.
Phil Steele has released his 2011 preseason All-America teams, and it's time to take a look at the Big Ten players who made the lists.

First team All-America

  • Ohio State C Mike Brewster
  • Nebraska DT Jared Crick
  • Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard
Second team All-America
  • Michigan C David Molk
  • Michigan DT Mike Martin
  • Nebraska LB Lavonte David
Third team All-America
  • Michigan State RB Edwin Baker
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball
  • Michigan State G Joel Foreman
  • Iowa T Riley Reiff
  • Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy
  • Ohio State DE Nathan Williams
Fourth team All-America
My thoughts: The Big Ten didn't represent too well overall, as leagues like the SEC (26), ACC (18) and Pac-10 (17) all had more All-America selections. Then again, I think his overall list is pretty solid. ... It's interesting that of the six Big Ten players on the first two teams, three are from new Big Ten member Nebraska and two are from Michigan. ... If it wasn't clear already, the defensive tackle spot is absolutely loaded in the Big Ten this season. Center also looks strong with six players on the Rimington Trophy watch list. ... I'm a little surprised not to see a Big Ten offensive lineman on either the first or second team. To me, Reiff could be one of the top contenders for the Outland Trophy, won by a Big Ten tackle (Gabe Carimi) in 2010. ... Steele really likes McNutt to have a big season for Iowa. McNutt certainly has next-level skills and the ability to stretch the field. It will be interesting to see how he performs as the clear-cut No. 1 receiver for the Hawkeyes. ... Wide receiver and cornerback are positions where I expected the Big Ten to have more representation.

What are your thoughts on Steele's list?

Big Ten lunch links

May, 12, 2011
An abbreviated version today, but still some good links in here.
Arguably no college football team in America enters the season with a hazier forecast than the Ohio State Buckeyes.

It's usually easy to predict how the Buckeyes will fare when the games begin. They have dominated the Big Ten for the better part of the past decade. But the looming NCAA situation involving coach Jim Tressel, combined with the need to replace quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others for the first five games, makes Ohio State a real wild card.

I'm still of the belief that until proven otherwise on the field, Ohio State remains the team to beat in the Big Ten. Despite all the turmoil, Ohio State still has top-notch personnel and a track record of filling gaps and finding ways to win.

Colleague Mark Schlabach sees it differently. Schlabach dropped Ohio State nine spots in his post-spring top 25, noting the potential effects of TresselGate and the personnel challenges.

Ohio State comes in at No. 15 in Schlabach's poll, behind three other Big Ten teams. He writes: "There are so many off-field distractions at Ohio State that it's hard to imagine them not becoming an issue this coming season."

While the Buckeyes tumble, Nebraska makes a significant move up the poll. Schlabach likes the offseason adjustments coach Bo Pelini made to prepare Big Red for the Big Ten.

Michigan State also moves up six spots following spring ball.

Here's Schlabach's take on the other Big Ten squads he ranks:
No. 10 Michigan State (previous ranking: 16) -- "With so much turmoil at Ohio State, the Spartans might enter the 2011 season as Big Ten favorites. Coach Mark Dantonio has led Michigan State to four consecutive bowl games, and the pieces seem to be in place for another run at a Big Ten title."
No. 12 Wisconsin (previous ranking: 13) -- "The Badgers lost as much star power as any team in the country, with four All-Americans departing, including defensive end J.J. Watt and offensive tackle Gabe Carimi. But with tailbacks Montee Ball and James White coming back, Wisconsin again figures to have one of the country's best running games."
No. 13 Nebraska (previous ranking: 24) -- "Coach Bo Pelini made adjustments to jump-start his team heading into their first season in the Big Ten. Running backs coach Tim Beck was promoted to offensive coordinator, and he'll try to get the Cornhuskers to play at a faster pace. Keeping quarterback Taylor Martinez healthy and restoring his confidence will be paramount."

In case you missed it from last week, check out College Football Live's preseason Top 25. Ohio State leads off the Big Ten contingent at No. 10, followed by No. 13 Nebraska, No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan State.

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

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.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • 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
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).


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)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

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
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • 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.

Draft snubs

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.

B1G lunch links

April, 29, 2011
It feels a bit drafty in here.
The Big Ten failed to produce a top-10 NFL draft pick for the third consecutive year, but the league still had a sizable presence in the first round of the draft. Emphasis on size.

Six Big Ten players heard their names called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall, the league's largest first-round contingent since 2007, when it also had six selections. All six players played line in the Big Ten, including five on the defensive front.

New Big Ten member Nebraska also had a first-round pick in cornerback Prince Amukamara, who went No. 19 overall to the New York Giants, whose fans actually seemed pleased to land one of the nation's top defensive backs. Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has now coached a defender drafted in the top-20 in each of the past five seasons.

Let's take a quick look at the Big Ten's first-round picks.

J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin, 6-5, 290
No. 11 overall
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I know Mario Williams is a great defensive end. I can't wait to play on the same defensive line as him because he makes everyone around him look good. Hopefully I am there to take some blocks off him, as well. Wade Phillips has a great defense. I am ready to get to work." -- J.J. Watt
My quick take: As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of Watt, whose evolution from MAC tight end to Wisconsin All-American to first-round pick is extraordinary. He can play either line position and benefits from entering a group that already has a star in Williams. He should flourish in a 3-4 defense, and while he might not record ridiculous sack totals, he helps a team in so many ways.

Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue, 6-4, 267
No. 16
Team: Washington
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "He's big enough, he’s strong enough, he’s played in the three-point stance before. He can go inside, outside. He’s used to playing with his hand down, so it’s a big plus for us." -- Redskins coach Mike Shanahan
My quick take: Like Watt, Kerrigan should fit in nicely with a 3-4 defense with the Redskins. He brings a tireless work ethic and no drama to a team that has been very dysfunctional in recent years. A Big Ten coach told me Kerrigan and Watt were the league's only two players who required double teams throughout games, so while some knock Kerrigan's speed and athleticism, this guy will make plays for the Redskins.

Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois, 6-2, 298
No. 18
San Diego Quotable: "We were looking for a guy who has an edge. He plays with a lot of passion. He's physical. He's one of those guys we thought could knock people back off the ball. We wanted to get a little more physical up front. We want to bring a little more presence to our front at the end position." -- Chargers director of player personnel Jimmy Raye
My quick take: The Chargers had to be thrilled that Liuget was still available at No. 18. Some forecasted him as a top 10 pick and almost everyone, including Illinois teammate Jeff Allen, thought he wouldn't slip below St. Louis at No. 14. Liuget was the Big Ten's most disruptive interior lineman and fills a need for the Chargers on the interior line. San Diego gets a player who is blossoming and reaching his potential. A very nice pick.

Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, 6-2, 281
No. 20
Team: Tampa Bay
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: “He said he’s going to guide me the right way through this whole thing. It’s nice to have someone helping you that way." -- Clayborn on new teammate Gerald McCoy
My quick take: If Clayborn had entered the draft a year ago, there's no way he would have fallen to No. 20. And if he can reclaim the form he displayed in 2009, Tampa Bay will be thrilled with its newest addition. Clayborn can be a beast on the edge and should feed off McCoy on the inside. There are some concerns about Clayborn's Erb's Palsy, which limits his right arm, but the Iowa star showed impressive strength throughout his college career.

Gabe Carimi, LT, Wisconsin, 6-7, 314
No. 29
Team: Chicago
Video analysis: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I converted about 100 Packers fans to Bears fans. I cannot wait to play for [Bears offensive line coach] Mike Tice." -- Carimi, a native of Cottage Grove, Wis.
My quick take: I'm not just writing this because I'm a Bears fan, but this is a huge get for a team that desperately needs new blood along the offensive line. The Bears surrendered a league-high 56 sacks in 2010, and while it will take more than Carimi to ensure Jay Cutler's long-term safety, the Wisconsin star is an excellent start. Few thought Carimi would be available at No. 29, including the Bears, who tried to trade up to get him. Carimi proved himself against several of the nation's top defensive linemen, including both Kerrigan and Clayborn (and Watt in practice). Some viewed his Combine comments as cocky, but he's well prepared for what to expect in the NFL.

Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State, 6-5, 294
No. 31
Video analysis
: Todd McShay
Quotable: "I know he's watching. I'm going to try to do everything to make him proud of me and live his legacy on." -- Cameron Heyward, on his late father, Craig, who starred for the University of Pittsburgh before moving on to the NFL
My quick take:
Heyward is a big-game performer who joins a team that plays quite a few big games. He starred as a junior against both USC and Penn State and saved his best for his last game, the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. Heyward won't be under a ton of pressure to be a star right away as Pittsburgh boasts a solid defensive front. He's extremely strong and gives the Steelers a big body who can play both outside or inside if needed.
The Big Ten had six players drafted Thursday night in the first round of the NFL draft, the league's largest first-round presence since 2007.

Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt led off the Big Ten contingent, as he was selected No. 11 overall by the Houston Texans. Watt was followed by Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan (Washington), Illinois DT Corey Liuget (San Diego), Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn (Tampa Bay), Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi (Da Bears) and Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh).

Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara waited a little longer than expected but went No. 19 overall to the New York Giants.

I'll have more on the Big Ten's first-round group in the morning.