Big Ten: Gunner Kiel

After four weeks of scouring the nation -- and, in Brian's case, the world -- for top games, our ultimate Big Ten road trip has reached the start of league play, at least for most teams. We'll likely be spending more time in our cars the next few months, but we don't mind.

For those just joining in, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. We aren't tied down by a travel budget or nagging editors. If we want to attend a game -- depending on matchup, location, culinary offerings or any other factors -- we can go.

Here are the Week 5 offerings around the league, as all 14 teams are in action:

Sept. 27

Maryland at Indiana
Minnesota at Michigan
Wyoming at Michigan State
Cincinnati at Ohio State
Northwestern at Penn State
Tulane at Rutgers
Illinois at Nebraska
Iowa at Purdue
South Florida at Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Minnesota at Michigan

For a week where every team is in action, Week 5 is a bit underwhelming. Of the five league games, I'm choosing between Minnesota-Michigan and Northwestern-Penn State, but the Jug game gets my vote. Sure, this series hasn't been very competitive, as Michigan has won six straight against Minnesota and 22 of the past 23 meetings. Michigan has been particularly dominant at the Big House. After Minnesota pulled off an upset in 2005, Michigan has claimed the past three meetings in Ann Arbor by a combined score of 134-23.

So why head to Michigan? Minnesota is an improving program under Jerry Kill that made significant strides after last season's loss at Michigan, winning four of its final six league contests. The next step for the Gophers is to perform better in rivalry games like this one. I'm interested to see if Mitch Leidner is a different quarterback, if he's getting more help from his receivers and if incoming freshman Jeff Jones is contributing at running back alongside David Cobb. Speaking of young running backs, will this be a breakout year for Michigan's Derrick Green? The sophomore will need help from a besieged offensive line that must develop during the spring and summer.

Both defenses are going through a bit of a makeover. Michigan has much of the same personnel but shuffled its linebacker responsibilities, as senior Jake Ryan moves to the middle. Minnesota has been a very solid defense under Tracy Claeys but must replace its biggest piece up front (Ra'Shede Hageman) and in the secondary (Brock Vereen). Perhaps this turns into another easy win for Michigan, which needs a good start to Big Ten play, but I'm interested to see if Minnesota will keep moving in the right direction under Kill. Plus, I haven't seen the Gophers in person since the 2009 season.

Brian Bennett's pick: Cincinnati at Ohio State

It seems odd in a week with several Big Ten games to pick a nonconference matchup. But after logging a whole lot of mileage in the first four weeks, I'm happy to stay a bit closer to home. And this is also a good time to get a look at the Buckeyes, whom I've passed over so far despite a couple of interesting early tilts (Navy in Baltimore in Week 1, Virginia Tech in Week 2).

Also, I'm a sucker for these kinds of in-state games. Cincinnati has always lived in Ohio State's shadow, and Urban Meyer's alma mater would love nothing more than to pull off its first win over the Buckeyes since 1897. The Bearcats' program has been very solid for several years now, and it returns most of the production from a nine-win season in 2013. The offseason focus will be at quarterback, where Notre Dame transfer and one-time Indiana commit Gunner Kiel could start. (And choosing this game gives me an excuse to mention Munchie Legaux, who is battling back from a gruesome leg injury.)

But mostly, this game is about taking the temperature of the Buckeyes, who will be challenged much more in the nonconference schedule this fall than they were in the past two seasons combined. We should learn a lot from the Virginia Tech game, and I'm curious to see how the defense bounces back from a rough finish to '13 without stars Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. How will the revamped offensive line perform, and can anyone match Carlos Hyde's impact in the running game? Plus, if I get a chance to watch Braxton Miller play, I'm usually going to take it. Ohio State could be hovering in or near the top five if it is undefeated going into this game, and that demands an in-person visit.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
4:30
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Rounding out the work week every Friday around this time.

John from Phoenix writes: Hi Adam,I'm a 1971 Purdue Grad and am excited about Coach Hazell heading the Boilermaker program. Now that Gunnar Kiel has decided to transfer from ND, do you think he might connect with Purdue on what appears to be a very good fit?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I wrote about this earlier today and mentioned Purdue as a possible landing spot for Kiel. The one potential issue is that Notre Dame could block a transfer to a future opponent like the Boilers. Several Purdue fans I heard from on Twitter didn't seem to want Kiel, citing the talent already on the roster like Austin Appleby and Danny Etling. And that could be the smart play. We don't know what Appleby or Etling can do at the college level, but both clearly have talent. And Kiel brings with him a lot of baggage and drama that a new coach like Darrell Hazell might not want. Ultimately, it comes down to talent and whether Kiel would be a better option than other quarterbacks on the roster. If so, Purdue absolutely should pursue him if he can transfer there.


Rich from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam, I applaud the targeting rule. However, The ejection component could cause some major controversies. I know the officials spokespeople will say that the hit will have to be unquestionably a targeting penalty to result in an ejection. However, we have seen dozens of replay calls ruled the opposite way from what appears to be obvious to viewers. Moreover, I realize they like to equate targeting to fighting. However, it is very clear when a player throws a punch, unlike some of these hits that are a hair's breadth on one side or the other of targeting. Wouldn't it be more reasonable to suspend a player for one full game after a review by the league office? This eliminates the pressure of the in-game officials having to eject players on close calls. It also eliminates the possibility of Carollo's feared "5-minute production." Additionally, waiting until after the game is over to invoke what amounts to a one-game suspension removes the awkwardness of missing the 2nd half of one game and the first half of another. Plus, the way the ejection is set up now can result in some very inequitable penalties. A player penalized in the first minute would miss an entire game basically. A player penalized in the last minute of the 2nd half would miss what amounts to only half a game. Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: A lot of good points here as always, Rich, and I agree the ejections will be controversial no matter what. Carollo noted that some of these calls will be missed and that there's a very fine line between an ejectable targeting penalty, a regular unnecessary roughness penalty and even some legal hits. The Jadeveon Clowney-Vincent Smith hit was a good example of a legal play but one that looks really bad. A lot of the responsibility rests with the replay officials. They'll ultimately judge whether to uphold an ejection on the field or overrule it. There's more pressure on them, and they need to be really, really accurate. And as Bill Carollo said, you don't want the process to drag on. I think it's critical to be as clear as possible on defining targeting so everyone -- officials, coaches, players, fans -- has a good grasp on it before the season starts. Coaches need to educate their players in practice, and players must be aware of it in games. Ultimately, I think there will be a handful of obvious ejectable targeting penalties, like the Earnest Thomas play in the Penn State game. There probably will be 2-3 debatable ejections per year, which could loom large. But the idea is to decrease the overall number of these plays -- "take the head out of the game," as Carollo puts it.


David from Warren, Mich., writes: With the apparent need of northern schools to be able to successfully recruit in the south in order to maintain a high level of football talent, do you see a possibility of the B1G opening a recruitment center(s) in cities such as Orlando, Atlanta, and/or Dallas? B1G recruitment centers located in major southern cities could feature lavishly appointed recruiting lounges which could be shared by all conference member institutions. State of the art audio/visual rooms could be incorporated into such facilities where B1G recruiters would be able to give presentations to recruits. These centers could also possibly include a mini hostel on site for usage by B1G recruiters.These recruitment centers could even feature easily changeable interior decor/logos for all B1G member institutions so that recruiters can quickly customize the facilities prior to the arrival of a recruit. I don't know if such an idea is even legal under NCAA rules, but it would seem to be an interesting way to pool resources among the members of the B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: David, you've definitely given this some thought! It reminds me of baseball teams setting up training centers in Latin America, although this would be league-sponsored rather than team-sponsored. Unfortunately, I think the NCAA would take issue with such a recruiting center. Also, there would have to be extremely clear and strict rules about usage of center so no teams could get an advantage. The center would need an enforcement staff to prevent rules violations. It would be ... interesting to say the least. I absolutely love the concept of all the Big Ten recruiters staying in the same mini hostel. They'd try to kill one another.


Darek D. from Colorado Spring, Colo., writes: I keep hearing you guys talk about Pelini needing to get over the hump. Being a Buckeye fan, I find it very similar to the John Cooper years. I remember a friend laughing at me saying, "How do you fire a coach with that kind of winning percentage?" What stood out to me was that all those wins don't mean anything if you never win the ones you REALLY want. You end the season feeling like you had a losing record. Is it the same situation for the Nebraska fans?

Adam Rittenberg: Darek, that's a really interesting comparison between Pelini and Cooper. There certainly are some similarities (two traditional powers, fans used to championships). One big difference is that Pelini doesn't have a Michigan problem like Cooper did. Nebraska doesn't have one game every year that takes precedence above all others (it used to with Oklahoma). I also think Nebraska fans are, for the most part, realistic about where the program was (mid-1990s) and where it is now. They're not expecting national titles every year, although they do and should expect conference championships, which Pelini has yet to deliver.

It is hard to cut ties with a coach who wins nine or 10 games per season. But man, do losses like Nebraska's Big Ten title game disaster really sting. It makes you wonder if Pelini can get the program to the next level. We could find out this season.


Garrett from Smithfield, Ohio, writes: Where do you think that Ohio State can improve most in the passing game? Is it more about Braxton Miller or is it mostly the lack of quality receivers? Could it also be the pass protection?

Adam Rittenberg: I hate to sound like a coach, Garrett, but it's really all of the above. Ohio State needs more depth at receiver, and not necessarily the game-breaker types, but the reliable targets who can help the high-percentage pass game. Miller has shown he can stretch the field with guys like Devin Smith, but who will be the 65- or 70-catch guy who converts third-and-6? I think Jordan Hall's return could really help Ohio State's pass game, even though he'll also play running back. Another point Meyer made after the season is that Miller, while brilliant on designed runs, wasn't a very good scrambler in 2012. He didn't take off when he should have, and ended up taking too many sacks. Ohio State surrendered 29 sacks in 2012, the third-highest total in the Big Ten. The line needs to improve in protection, but Miller is also part of the equation there. Bottom line: I think Ohio State's pass game will be better this fall. Miller returns, almost all the receivers are back and so are four starting linemen.


Steve from State College, Pa., writes: Saw this in yesterday's mailblog, and was wondering, 17.9.5.1.1 In-Season Foreign Competition. [FBS/FCS] A member institution may play one or more of its countable contests in football in one or more foreign countries on one trip during the prescribed playing season. However, except for contests played in Canada, Mexico or on a certified foreign tour 17 (see Bylaw 17.28), the institution may not engage in such in-season foreign competition more than once every four years. So with this bylaw does this mean that Navy and Notre Dame are completely out of the question for Penn State's possible Ireland game?

Adam Rittenberg: Yes, that seems to be the correct interpretation of the rule. Unless Penn State were willing to wait three more seasons -- which makes no sense since the postseason ban expires after 2015 -- neither Notre Dame nor Navy could be the opponent.


Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: March Madness is here! Any chance you're going to be at the United Center reporting on the B1G tourney for ESPN? Are you daring enough to put up your predictions after all the regular season battles are over? And can we expect you to and Brian to fill out some brackets? Just because this is the football blog and spring practices are kicking into high gear doesn't mean we can't get your guy's opinion! (even though here in Iowa City, doesn't really feel like spring with a foot of snow on the ground)

Adam Rittenberg: I will be at the United Center next week, although I'll be doing more game-watching -- and football blogging -- than basketball coverage. Check out colleagues Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf for your hoops needs. But I'm really looking forward to it. It's been a great season for Big Ten hoops, although things seem to have dipped a bit in recent weeks. Brian Bennett is definitely the authority for hoops around these parts, but I'll weigh in with my bracket predictions. The Big Ten has been the nation's deepest league all season, but I wonder if there's a lot of good and not much great. It's time the Big Ten won a championship in basketball -- none since Michigan State in 2000 -- and this figures to be the year to do it.
Quarterback Gunner Kiel is on the move again, opting to transfer from Notre Dame after redshirting last season.

Kiel's travails are well documented. The Columbus, Ind., native, rated by RecruitingNation as the No. 3 quarterback in the 2012 recruiting class, originally committed to Indiana in July 2011, a major surprise at the time. He reopened his recruitment that fall, verbally committed to LSU but soon had second thoughts and enrolled at Notre Dame, prompting Les Miles to question his leadership abilities.

[+] EnlargeGunner Kiel
Matt Cashore/US PresswireA number of Big Ten teams could be interested in a strong-armed QB like Gunner Kiel.
IrishIllustrated.com on Thursday reported four potential transfer destinations for Kiel: Ball State, Miami (Ohio), Northern Illinois and Cincinnati. Anyone else surprised not to see a Big Ten team listed?

Kiel certainly is looking for immediate playing time, and he would have a better chance to find it by dropping down to the MAC or the Big East. He found himself behind several quarterbacks on Notre Dame's depth chart, including starter Everett Golson. Kiel talked in January about the need to be patient and wait his turn, but few seem surprised by his decision to transfer.

Although Kiel brings baggage and the potential for drama, he also brings talent. Almost every Big Ten team pursued Kiel during his initial recruitment, and several squads could use him on their roster. He can play in both a pro-style offense and a spread. While he's a good athlete, his arm strength really stands out.

It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame blocks Kiel from transferring to future Irish opponents like Purdue and Michigan State. If not, Purdue in particular might be a good landing spot as the Boilers have an unsettled situation at quarterback. Michigan State also is looking for answers under center and loses Andrew Maxwell following the 2013 season, which Kiel will sit out. The Spartans bring in heralded quarterback recruit Damion Terry this summer, and Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor also are in the mix.

What about Iowa? The Hawkeyes don't know what they have in Jake Rudock, who couldn't get on the field last fall despite James Vandenberg's struggles. Much like Purdue, Iowa's quarterback situation is a big mystery.

Minnesota hopes Philip Nelson is its quarterback of the future, and Nelson very well could turn out to be. The Gophers also signed two quarterbacks, Chris Streveler and Donovahn Jones, in February, but do any of their signal-callers have as much potential as Kiel?

Illinois loses veteran Nathan Scheelhaase after the 2013 season. Although Reilly O'Toole has shown flashes and the team signed four-star prospect Aaron Bailey in February, there are no guarantees at quarterback for 2014 and beyond.

Wisconsin undoubtedly will be brought up as a possible landing spot, given the team's recent history with transfers. But the Badgers also have a redshirt sophomore (Joel Stave), a highly touted redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) and an incoming junior-college player with three years of eligibility left (Tanner McEvoy) in the mix at quarterback. I'd be surprised if Wisconsin pursues Kiel.

One team we can likely eliminate is Indiana. The Hoosiers are set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Plus, they've already been down this road before.

There's risk involved given Kiel's track record, and almost every Big Ten team thinks it has the next great quarterback poised to take over. But the league isn't exactly stacked with high-ceiling quarterbacks. Kiel is from Big Ten country and needs a landing spot. Some Big Ten teams might want to roll the dice.
Thanks to reader Erik from Waco, Texas, for inspiring this post.

He writes:
Adam, there are seven teams matched up in two or more games against Big Ten opponents this season: Syracuse, Northern Iowa, Central Michigan, Navy, Massachusetts, Notre Dame, and Western Michigan. Two questions. 1) Which team(s) do you think will fare the best against the Big Ten. 2) With most of these games being strongly in Big Ten favor, does a school use "we play Big Ten schools" as a recruiting factor even if they don't win many? Is there a hidden advantage here?

To answer Erik's question, there are actually eight teams facing multiple Big Ten opponents -- the seven listed above, plus Eastern Michigan. Notre Dame has the best chance to rack up some wins against Big Ten competition, namely because the Irish play two Big Ten squads (Michigan and Purdue) on their home field in South Bend. Syracuse also is positioned for success against the Big Ten. The Orange open the season by hosting Northwestern, which has some question marks on both sides of the ball. In Week 3, Syracuse visits Minnesota, which has won just six games the past two seasons. Navy also has a good opportunity for a win against Indiana in October, while Western Michigan has two winnable road games (Illinois and Minnesota).

Regional teams like Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Northern Iowa undoubtedly use their games against Big Ten foes in recruiting. Although they're underdogs, all three teams have been competitive against the Big Ten and can sell the chance to play in Big Ten stadiums to recruits from the Midwest.

With the season less than three months away, let's take a closer look at the eight teams that will face multiple Big Ten opponents in nonconference play this fall.

Syracuse
Sept. 1 vs. Northwestern; Sept. 22 at Minnesota

The Orange come off of a 5-7 season under Doug Marrone, who closed most of the team's practices this spring in an effort to eliminate distractions and foster team chemistry. Syracuse plays just five true home games this season, which puts a premium on the Northwestern game. Northwestern is 6-0 in season openers under coach Pat Fitzgerald. Minnesota and Syracuse both are looking for a boost on offense after finishing 110th and 90th, respectively, in total yards in 2011.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Northern Iowa
Sept. 1 at Wisconsin; Sept. 15 at Iowa

Anyone who follows the FCS knows Northern Iowa boasts a very solid program. The Panthers come off of a 10-3 season and have won seven or more games every season since 2002, recording 10 or more wins four times. UNI gave Iowa all it could handle in the 2009 season opener and will face two Big Ten squads going through some personnel transition at key positions.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Central Michigan
Sept. 8 vs. Michigan State; Sept. 22 at Iowa

After a terrific run under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones, Central Michigan has backslid under former Michigan State assistant Dan Enos. The Chippewas have gone 3-9 in each of Enos' first two seasons in Mount Pleasant. They get Michigan State at home, and it'll be interesting to see how the Spartans respond after their blockbuster opener against Boise State. Central Michigan stunned Michigan State in East Lansing in 2009 but has lost its only two meetings against Iowa.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Navy
Sept. 15 at Penn State; Oct. 20 vs. Indiana

After seven consecutive bowl appearances and seven consecutive Commander-in-Chief trophies, Navy's run ended last season with a 5-7 mark. The Mids haven't faced a Big Ten opponent since nearly stunning Ohio State in Columbus in the 2009 opener. Indiana is the first Big Ten team to visit Annapolis since Northwestern in 2002.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Massachusetts
Sept. 8 vs. Indiana; Sept. 15 at Michigan

After winning 23 games combined in 2006 and 2007, Massachusetts has hovered around the .500 mark in the FCS. Now UMass is moving to the FBS and the MAC, beginning with the 2012 season, and will play its home games at Gillette Stadium. The Minutemen went 5-6 last season and hired Notre Dame offensive coordinator Charlie Molnar as their new head coach. Molnar brought in Purdue assistant Phil Elmassian as his defensive coordinator.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Notre Dame
Sept. 8 vs. Purdue: Sept. 15 at Michigan State; Sept. 22 vs. Michigan

The Irish begin Year 3 of the Brian Kelly era after a disappointing finish to 2011. Their quarterback issues are well documented, and highly touted recruit Gunner Kiel enters a crowded mix this season. Notre Dame has won three straight against Purdue and five of six but struggled against both Michigan and Michigan State in recent years. The Irish play arguably the nation's toughest schedule, so the two home games against Big Ten foes are huge for Kelly's crew.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-2

Western Michigan
Sept. 1 at Illinois; Sept. 15 at Minnesota

The Broncos are no stranger to Big Ten foes, having faced both Michigan and Illinois in the 2011 regular season and Purdue in the 2011 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. Bill Cubit's squad always airs it out and returns talented senior quarterback Alex Carder. Record-setting wide receiver Jordan White departs and the receiving corps will have a new look to it, but the Broncos should be able to test the secondaries of both Illinois and Minnesota.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 1-1

Eastern Michigan
Sept. 15 at Purdue; Sept. 22 at Michigan State

Eastern Michigan is on the rise under former Michigan assistant Ron English, as the Eagles went 6-6 in 2011, snapping a streak of 15 consecutive losing seasons. What had been one of the worst programs in the FBS seems to be showing some life, and EMU should once again boast a strong rushing attack in 2011 after finishing 14th nationally last season.

Predicted record vs. Big Ten: 0-2

Hoosiers land a quarterback prize

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
5:50
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Indiana got stung by the decommitment of star quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel last fall. Earlier this month, quarterbacks Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel (Gunner's brother) left the program.

So the Hoosiers needed some depth at the position behind incumbent starter Tre Roberson. And it looks like they got just that on the recruiting trail.

California prospect Nate Sudfeld gave his verbal pledge to Kevin Wilson on Thursday. Sudfeld was originally committed to Arizona and was also being purused by Arizona State and UCLA. He is ranked as the No. 14 quarterback in this class, according to ESPN.com.

Sudfeld had built a relationship with new IU offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, who had been recruiting him for Arizona before Mike Stoops got the boot.

"I really like Coach [Kevin] Wilson too, the whole staff was great with me," he told ESPN.com's Greg Biggins. "That staff has a winning pedigree and I want to be a part of something special. Indiana is a great university and has the combination of academics and football I was looking for and it’s a cool college town as well so I’m really excited about my decision.”

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Sudfeld has great size and arm strength and will bring competition to the position, along with junior college transfer Cameron Coffman. And Sudfeld eases a little of the pain from the Gunner Kiel affair.
At times, Tre Roberson looked like the future of Indiana's offense down the stretch of the regular season. The freshman showcased good speed and play-making ability.

To push Roberson, Indiana on Thursday secured a verbal commitment from Cameron Coffman, who accounted for 34 touchdowns (21 pass, 13 rush) as a freshman at Arizona Western College in 2011. Coffman, who passed for 2,244 yards and ran for 945 yards, received several Big 12 offers coming out of high school.

He has three seasons of eligibility left and will compete with Roberson for the top job in new coordinator Seth Littrell's offense.

It's pretty clear where Indiana is headed on offense, as both Roberson and Coffman look like good fits for the spread. It seemed unlikely Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker would be part of the plan, and both quarterbacks have decided to leave the program, the team confirmed Saturday.

Wright-Baker started Indiana's first four games in 2011. Kiel started the next two before giving way to Wright-Baker again. Both men then stepped aside as Roberson started Indiana's final five contests.

Kiel's younger brother Gunner, one of the nation's top recruits, decommitted from Indiana in October after pledging to join his brother in late July. It's not a surprise that the older Kiel would eventually look elsewhere as well.

Both Dusty Kiel and Wright-Baker have two years of eligibility left. No word yet on potential transfer destinations for either quarterback.

The departures leave IU a bit thin at quarterback, and it'll be interesting to see if any other signal callers are added to the 2012 class.

Season recap: Indiana

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
11:00
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INDIANA HOOSIERS

Record: 1-11 (0-8 Big Ten)

After two seasons of flirting with the postseason, Indiana slipped back into rebuilding mode in 2011. While the team's Big Ten struggles are nothing new to IU fans, the Hoosiers also stumbled in nonconference play and were the only major-conference team in the country not to defeat an FBS opponent this year.

Rough first season for coach Kevin Wilson? You bet. But better days should be ahead.

Indiana's offense struggled early as inconsistent play an injuries prevented Wilson from identifying the team's top quarterback. True freshman Tre Roberson eventually emerged to provide a play-making spark in the backfield, along with running back Stephen Houston, but by then the defense was in free-fall. The unit that has plagued Indiana for more than a decade took another step back, finishing the season 109th or worse nationally in four major statistical categories (total defense, rush defense, scoring defense and pass efficiency defense). Indiana's defense surrendered an average of 46.5 points during the final seven games.

Wilson and his staff ended up playing 16 true freshmen and 16 redshirt freshmen, more than any team in the country. While it resulted in plenty of growing pains this year, the moves could pay off down the line as so many young players got a taste of game action. Indiana's ongoing recruiting efforts will be critical, and while losing one-time quarterback commit Gunner Kiel stings, the bigger concern for the Hoosiers remains on defense.

Offensive MVP: Roberson. Indiana's offense was going nowhere until Roberson provided a spark in his first career start -- and the first by a Hoosiers freshman quarterback -- against Iowa on Oct. 22. Although he had some ups and downs, he showcased explosive speed and has some potential as a passer. Roberson finished as the team's second-leading rusher (426 yards). Houston also merits a mention after an impressive first season (802 rush yards, 8 TDs).

Defensive MVP: Linebacker Jeff Thomas. Not many choices here but Thomas led the team in both tackles (80) and tackles for loss (10.5) after finishing second in tackles a year ago. He added a sack, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Defensive lineman Adam Replogle merits a mention after leading the team with four sacks and finishing second with seven tackles for loss.

Turning point: After notching its first win against South Carolina State, Indiana went to North Texas with an excellent chance to even its record at 2-2. North Texas entered the game with three blowout losses on its record, but the Mean Green dominated Indiana on both sides of the ball, surging out to a 24-0 lead before the Hoosiers decided to wake up. It signaled bad things ahead for Wilson's squad, which didn't win another game.

What's next: Indiana misses a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season, but this is a critical time for Wilson and his assistants to scour the recruiting trail. The Hoosiers need significant upgrades, particularly on defense, and likely will sign a large recruiting class in February. It's also an important time for the many freshmen who played this season to take steps in their physical development before spring ball begins.

Halftime: Ohio State 13, Indiana 13

November, 5, 2011
11/05/11
1:29
PM ET
Surprise, surprise, we've got a good one brewing in Columbus.

Indiana has given Ohio State all it can handle through the first 30 minutes, pacing the Buckeyes with a high-powered offense and enough defense. Credit Kevin Wilson's young team for performing well against an Ohio State team that entered the game with a lot of momentum following its dramatic victory against Wisconsin.

For the first time since 1988, a Big Ten game featured two freshmen starting at quarterback in Indiana's Tre Roberson and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. While Miller has accounted for the game's biggest play -- an 81-yard touchdown dash, the longest ever by an Ohio State quarterback -- Roberson has outplayed his Buckeyes counterpart.

Roberson has led four Hoosiers scoring drives against a physical Ohio State defense, rushing for 31 yards on nine carries and completing 7 of 12 passes for 99 yards. I've been extremely impressed by Roberson since he took over the starting job. While there's disappointment in Bloomington around the Gunner Kiel decommitment, the Hoosiers appear to have found their quarterback. Stephen Houston has a touchdown run and Kofi Hughes is embracing his new role as the team's No. 1 receiver (4 catches, 72 yards).

After a terrific performance last week, Ohio State's defense seems to be struggling with Indiana's fast tempo. While lineman John Simon continues to do damage, the Buckeyes need to contain Roberson and his weapons better in the second half. The offense must get back to its roots and start feeding top running back Dan Herron, who has 55 rush yards on only five carries. Indiana hasn't consistently stopped the run game all season, so the Buckeyes must attack with Herron, Miller and Carlos Hyde. The Hoosiers, to their credit, have contained Ohio State aside from a handful of big plays.

A loss would be disastrous for Ohio State in the Leaders division race, while an Indiana victory would do wonders for Wilson and his program.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
12:00
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Squirrel up!

Big Ten stock report: Week 9

October, 26, 2011
10/26/11
11:00
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Occupy this post.

Stock up

Kenny Bell: The Nebraska redshirt freshman receiver went 82 yards on his first career rushing attempt, a reverse that went for a touchdown against Minnesota. Bell also had four catches and nearly connected with Taylor Martinez on another couple of deep passes. Just what the Huskers' opponents wanted to see: more speed.

Gerald Hodges: Another in a long line of Penn State defenders who have raised their games this season, Hodges had 14 tackles against Northwestern on his way to being named Big Ten co-defensive player of the week. Joe Paterno said Hodges is a great athlete who could have played a number of positions. Looks like linebacker was a good call.

Purdue's defense: After getting thrashed by Notre Dame 38-10 on Oct. 1, the Boilers have bounced back in a big way on defense. Their three Big Ten opponents are averaging just 18 points and a little more than 315 yards per game. Kawann Short is tough to handle up front, Joe Holland leads the linebacking corps and Ricardo Allen is a playmaking cornerback. A defense that returned nine starters from a year ago is starting to show its experience and talent.

Tre Roberson: The true freshman made his first start at Iowa and completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown while running for another 84 yards. Kevin Wilson said Roberson exudes calm and confidence and has gotten better each week, though the Indiana coach stopped short of naming him his definite starter going forward. Roberson has plenty of room to grow, but shows potential that may lessen the loss of recruit Gunner Kiel.

Jared Abbrederis returning punts: The Wisconsin receiver ranks first nationally in punt return average with more than 22 yards per attempt, a staggering figure when you consider only one other player in the Big Ten is averaging more than 8.6 yards per return. The Badgers' offense usually doesn't need that much help with field position, but Abbrederis gives it to them.

Stock down

Penn State and Purdue attendance: Despite a 7-1 record, attendance has gone down at Penn State's Beaver Stadium this year. Two games have seen crowds below 100,000 for the first time since 2001, and the Purdue game drew the smallest homecoming crowd (100,820) in a decade. This week's Illinois game is not sold out. Paterno says the economy and a new ticket plan that required fans to pay more for better seats are to blame. Meanwhile, large swaths of Ross-Ade Stadium were empty for last week's homecoming win against Illinois. The Boilermakers announced a crowd of just more than 45,000 in a facility that seats 62,500.

Illinois' offense: What has happened to an attack that once looked like one of the most explosive in the Big Ten? Illinois has scored just 21 points in its past two games combined and has needed late touchdowns in both games just to get there. The rushing game has slowed and Nathan Scheelhaase has made uncharacteristic mistakes. That's why the Illini have lost two straight.

Vince Browne: A second-team All-Big Ten performer last year, the Northwestern defensive end was named to several preseason watch lists and at least one All-America team. But Browne has only 21 tackles and two sacks on the season, and last week he was one of four starters benched by Pat Fitzgerald in an effort to shake up the defense. The Wildcats' defensive struggles aren't all Browne's fault by any means, but somebody needs to step up and take charge of that unit.

Jared Abbrederis playing defensive back: Let's just say Abbrederis' could use a little practice defending Hail Marys. The fact that he was basically the first and last line of defense on the Michigan State miracle speaks of some secondary depth problems for Wisconsin.

Gunner Kiel re-opens recruitment

October, 21, 2011
10/21/11
12:30
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Here's some potentially rough news for Indiana in a season full of bad tidings.

Top quarterback recruit Gunner Kiel, who stunned a lot of people by committing to his home-state Hoosiers in July, is wavering on his commitment and plans to visit other schools, according to reports.

Kiel told Peegs.com that he informed IU head coach Kevin Wilson of that decision on Thursday night. He plans on making an unofficial visit to Notre Dame this weekend to see the Irish play USC in the school's first night game on campus in 20 years.

Kiel, whose older brother Dusty has started two games for the Hoosiers at quarterback this year, was also being pursued by Alabama, Oklahoma and many others before his commitment. This news is not terribly surprising, since top prospects often change their mind or at least check out other options after they make an early commitment. And with Indiana's 1-6 start, it's not hard to understand why Kiel is rethinking things.

Wilson and the Hoosiers will have to re-recruit him now and hope they can hang on to him. The family ties to the program and the proximity to Kiel's hometown -- he's from nearby Columbus, Ind. -- help them in that regard. But now that there appears to be blood in the water, other schools will surely come after the quarterback with a full-on sales pitch. The atmosphere Kiel will see this weekend in South Bend should be special, and even though it's only an unofficial visit, that thought must be sickening to IU fans.

As I wrote Thursday, Kiel is the highest-rated prospect in the Class of 2012 who has committed to a Big Ten school, according to ESPN.com. He looked like he could have been a program-changing type of recruit for Indiana. The Hoosiers must now hope that is still the case and that more bad news isn't coming.
The latest ESPNU 150 -- ESPN.com's ranking of the top high school football players in the Class of 2012 -- is now out. And the Big Ten school with a the highest-rated recruit committed is ... Indiana?

Yep, quarterback Gunner Kiel, who pledged his services to Kevin Wilson and the Hoosiers, checks in at No. 20, highest among current Big Ten recruits. Here's a look at where the other ESPNU 150 players planning to enter league the next year are ranked:

No. 67: Cornerback Terry Richardson, Michigan
No. 100: Defensive end Se'Von Pittman, Michigan State
No. 105: Offensive tackle Joey O'Connor, Penn State
No. 114: Offensive guard Isaac Hayes, Minnesota
No. 115: Linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michigan
No. 130: Defensive tackle Tommy Schutt, Penn State
No. 134: Linebacker Tommy Rose, Nebraska
No. 135: Offensive tackle Kyle Kalis, Michigan

Only having nine players in the ESPNU 150 is not a heavy presence for the Big Ten, but many of the top prospects have yet to announce where they're going to school. Here's a look at who the top prospects are considering, including many Big Ten targets.

The ESPN recruiting folks have also updated their class rankings by school. Michigan's class is ranked No. 6 nationally, one spot lower than last month. Penn State is No. 18, the same spot it held in the previous rankings. No other Big Ten school cracked ESPN.com's Top 25 class rankings.

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 19, 2011
10/19/11
12:00
PM ET
Please join my (lunchtime) linked-in network:
For nearly half the teams in the Big Ten, one of the biggest questions looming over fall practice is the quarterback situation. Several schools have legitimate and seemingly wide-open battles for the most important position on the field. Here's a look at the battles to watch leading up to the opening kickoff:

Indiana: Sophomores Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker will try to impress new coach Kevin Wilson, whose specialty is developing top-flight signal callers. Wilson -- who didn't name Sam Bradford his starter at Oklahoma until 10 days before the first game -- has said he expects the battle to continue on well into camp. One question: With Kiel's younger brother -- top quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel -- now committed to the Hoosiers, will Wilson feel obligated to play Dusty so that commitment holds? Kiel is favored to win the job anyway.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes knew they were going to have to replace Terrelle Pryor for the first five games. Then Pryor quit the team, making the quarterback battle even more important this fall camp. Four players -- senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and true freshman Braxton Miller -- all saw reps this spring. The battle appears to be between Bauserman, Pryor's former backup and a 25-year-old former minor league baseball player, and the electric Miller. The youngster will likely have to show much maturity and improvement this month to keep Ohio State from going with the safer veteran to start the year.

Penn State: No subject has dominated the conversation around the Nittany Lions quite like the quarterback situation. Rob Bolden started the 2010 season as a freshman, but former walk-on Matt McGloin ended the season after Bolden was hurt and ineffective. McGloin then threw five interceptions in the Outback Bowl, and Bolden openly pondered leaving the team after spring, only heightening the drama. Bolden is more gifted athletically but needs to mature. Will he even stick around if McGloin wins the job in fall camp? And is McGloin good enough to lead Penn State back to the top of the Big Ten?

Purdue: Head coach Danny Hope had planned to use Rob Henry as a change of pace to starter Robert Marve last season, but Marve got hurt early on and Henry was thrust into the full-time starter's role. Henry led the team in rushing but had only eight touchdowns vs. seven interceptions while completing just 53.1 percent of his throws. He's more of a runner while Marve, the former Miami transfer, is more of a pocket passer. Hope said at Big Ten media days that he still would like to find a way to use both quarterbacks at times.

Wisconsin: This might be a quarterback battle in name only, but coach Bret Bielema insists that nothing has been promised to NC State transfer Russell Wilson. Still, it's hard to believe that Wilson will sit on the bench after starring in the ACC for three seasons. Sophomore Jon Budmayr had won the starting job out of the spring and will be given every chance this fall to compete with Wilson. Given his lack of game experience, Budmayr is starting the race from behind. But at least he knows the system and his teammates far better than Wilson will this August.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 1, 2011
8/01/11
12:00
PM ET
Hope you enjoyed the final weekend before fall camps begin. Time to get serious now.
  • Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins is catching up after a wrist injury kept him out of spring ball. Suspended linebacker Ashante Williams was arrested on DUI charges.
  • MarQueis Gray looks the part of a starting quarterback, and other Minnesota notes.
  • Northwestern is putting up billboards for Dan Persa -- including one in Bristol, Conn. Hmm, wonder what else could be there.

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