Big Ten: Garret Dooley

Big Ten Monday mailbag

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
5:00
PM ET
Just passed another mile marker on the road to football. Teams are back on the field, and there will be real, live games soon. Amen.

There will be so much more to talk about in the Big Ten as the season continues to draw closer, and obviously way more to discuss when it arrives. Follow along with me here on Twitter, and stay tuned there to ask questions for the mailbag.

Austin Ward: Given the amount of production and experience Wisconsin must replace, it's certainly going to be a tall order for the defense to come close to holding opponents to around 16 points per game like it did a year ago. But there are plenty of young pieces that have the coaching staff excited not just about the long term, but also with what they can provide this fall thanks to the natural athleticism and what could be a unit with improved speed across the board. Wisconsin was able to redshirt some talented defenders last season thanks to the veteran presence it had, and defensive linemen Alec James, Chikwe Obasih and Garret Dooley all fit the mold for what Wisconsin is trying to build up front moving forward. The Badgers may still drop a few games, but the defense should be strong enough to help keep them solidly in the mix to win the West Division.

Austin Ward: This year might be as good as any for the league to break its drought for the game's biggest individual award. Ohio State's Braxton Miller will enter the season with the most buzz and attention as the quarterback of a high-profile program with title aspirations, but a pair of running backs could make it really interesting for voters regardless of whether or not their teams are playoff contenders. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are capable of putting up head-turning numbers out of the backfield, and while they would buck a recent trend that seems to be focused almost exclusively on quarterbacks, they could rack up enough yardage to make it impossible for voters to ignore them. Of course, if Miller hadn't missed out on prime opportunities to pad his numbers a year ago when he was injured in September, there's a chance he could have pushed Jameis Winston for the trophy. It's hard to know who will develop into viable candidates five years from now, but I would be stunned if the Big Ten doesn't have another winner by then.

Austin Ward: The rivalry and two enormous fan bases guarantee that The Game doesn't exactly need to change to please anybody else, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't evolve if it can make itself even more appealing to a broader audience. Using tradition as an excuse doesn't really work anymore when Ohio State is already leading a charge to play more night games with six of them on the schedule this season. Why should Michigan be an exception for the Buckeyes, or vice versa? It seems pretty clear that the atmosphere for night games is more electric in the evening than at noon, and the next person that complains to me about having longer to tailgate will be the first. Television partners move games to prime time for a reason since that's where the ratings are best. And while I don't live on the West Coast, wouldn't it be a nice advertisement for the league if more casual fans in California who might not be watching football at 9 a.m. had a chance to see the greatest rivalry in college football? I think there are even more benefits that could apply, and while Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith is perhaps rightfully worried about alienating a portion of the fan base that is burdened by traveling for night games, it's hard to see how just one game should have its kickoff time protected while every other opponent is a candidate to play under those permanent new lights at the Horseshoe. 

The calendar has flipped to June, so it's time to check the Big Ten 2013 recruiting scorecard once again. There haven't been too many changes from the last scorecard, although teams like Illinois have made a surge, and others have picked up pieces here and there. Individual recruiting grades also have been updated throughout the ESPN database.

Michigan still leads the FBS in verbal commits with 18, although teams like Georgia and Texas A&M are closing the gap. The Wolverines have a bigger advantage in ESPN 150 commits with 11 total, three more than any other squad.

Ohio State is tied for fifth nationally in ESPN 150 commits with five, and Penn State is tied for 10th with three.

Scorecard time ...

MICHIGAN

2013 verbal commitments: 18

Spotlight: Fellow offensive line recruits Logan Tuley-Tillman and Kyle Bosch have been in the headlines this week following Tuley-Tillman's letter-burning incident, but Michigan has secured the nation's No. 1-rated guard in David Dawson from Cass Tech in Detroit. Dawson is the No. 2 player in the state behind fellow Wolverines commit Shane Morris.

ESPN 150 selections: 11

Highest rated: Shane Morris, QB (Grade of 87)

OHIO STATE

2013 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Ohio State might solidify the cornerback position for years to come in the 2013 class. Both of the Buckeyes' top-rated prospects, Eli Woodward and Cam Burrows, play cornerback. Ohio State will have one vacancy at cornerback after the 2012 season, and Woodward and Burrows have the skills to see the field early in their careers.

ESPN 150 selections: 6

Highest rated: Eli Woodard, CB (Grade of 89)

ILLINOIS

2013 verbal commitments: 10

Spotlight: May was a productive month for the Illini, who picked up four commitments, including one from another Detroit Cass Tech player, defensive tackle Kenton Gibbs. At 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds, Gibbs won't need to get much bigger to help Illinois on the interior defensive line.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Aaron Bailey, QB (Grade of 80)

IOWA

2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: Defensive end David Kenney III seems to fit the mold of previous Iowa defensive linemen. He might be able to play both line spots, and has the ability to power rush off of the edge. Along with defensive tackles Brant Gressel and Nathan Bazata, Iowa is putting together a strong group of defensive linemen in this class.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: David Kenney III, DE (Grade of 80)

PENN STATE

2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Lions hope defensive tackle prospect Greg Webb is their next dominant defensive tackle. But Webb will have to bounce back from an injury setback after he tore his ACL in February. Webb recently told Statecollege.com that his recovery is going well, and that he's ahead of schedule.

ESPN 150 selections: 3

Highest rated: Christian Hackenberg, QB (Grade of 89)

NEBRASKA

2013 verbal commitments: 8

Spotlight: The Huskers lose two senior tight ends (Ben Cotton and Kyler Reed) after this season, but they're replenishing the position with Greg Hart from Bo Pelini's home state of Ohio. Hart already is a big target at 6-4, 225, who should fit in well with Tim Beck's offense.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Tre'vell Dixon, Athlete (Grade of 82)

MICHIGAN STATE

2013 verbal commitments: 7

Spotlight: Michigan State's last superstar linebacker named Jones, Greg Jones, attended Cincinnati's Archbishop Moeller High School. The Spartans are hoping for the same success with commit Shane Jones, a 6-1, 220-pound linebacker. Jones will join another Moeller alum, defensive end Marcus Rush, in East Lansing.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Damion Terry, QB (Grade of 82)

WISCONSIN

2013 verbal commitments: 6

Spotlight: Defensive end Chikwe Obasih continued Wisconsin's pipeline to Brookfield, Wis., with his verbal commitment in late April. He'll play multiple positions in a 3-4 defense as a senior before joining the Badgers' 4-3 scheme in 2013.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

Highest rated: Jack Keeler, T and Garret Dooley, LB (Grade of 79)

NORTHWESTERN

2013 verbal commitments: 2

Spotlight: Matt Alviti resembles recent Northwestern quarterbacks in that he lacks height but makes up for it with speed, arm strength and competitiveness. A Dan Persa clone? Wildcats fans would be thrilled if that's the case.

ESPN 150 selections: 1

Highest rated: Matt Alviti, QB (Grade of 84)

PURDUE

2013 verbal commitments: 2

Spotlight: Defensive end Randy Gregory originally committed to Purdue in 2011 before heading to a junior college in Arizona. Several other schools pursued Gregory, but he pledged again to the Boilers, and will suit up in 2013.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

MINNESOTA

2013 verbal commitments: 1

Spotlight: Cornerback Keelon Brookins is Minnesota's only verbal so far, but the Gophers had only two players committed at this time last year. So it's too soon to press the panic button. It will be interesting to see how well second-year coach Jerry Kill and his staff do within the state. They had 10 Minnesota players in last year's class.

ESPN 150 selections: 0

INDIANA

2013 verbal commitments: 0

Spotlight: The Hoosiers are one of four major-conference programs -- Iowa State, Oregon State and Wake Forest are the others -- without a commitment for 2013. This is a departure from the end of the Bill Lynch era, when Indiana was among the Big Ten's leaders in early commits.

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