Big Ten: J Leman

Big Ten mailblog

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
5:00
PM ET
Let's get down to business. I received many good responses from Nebraska fans about the Huskers' first year in the Big Ten, and I've listed several of them below.

Here we go ...

Jamie from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, How would the B1G look if it was going into its first year with 12 team this season? I imagine that after everything that happened on and off the field last season, there would be a lot more discussion as to how to split the two divisions. With the new playoff system, the current situations at Penn State and OSU, and with emergence of Michigan State and Wisconsin, would we more likely be looking at two divisions split by time zones? (Think how easy it would be to remember the Eastern and Central Divisions, and never having to use the M,N, and Iowa trick.) Did the B1G build into the new conference format a plan to evaluated and revises the divisions if necessary? With change becoming the norm in college football these days, how will the B1G look in 5, 10, 15 years?

Adam Rittenberg: Jamie, I still think the historical data from 1993 onward would have indicated the tiers that led the Big Ten to divide the league the way it did. The divisions weren't assigned based on geography. They weren't done to make it easy for fans to understand. There were assigned based on competitive balance -- and brand names. The league wanted to evenly split its four major brands -- Ohio State, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State -- into the divisions. The league also wanted to evenly split Wisconsin and Iowa, which had put up strong numbers during the time period considered. Michigan State's emergence eventually might lead to some reconsidering of the divisions, but Purdue had a similar emergence in the late 1990s. So did Northwestern in the mid 1990s. A lot depends on whether Michigan State can sustain its success, and if other teams rise or fall. The Big Ten isn't going to scrap the division alignments after a year or two. While a revision is possible, the data during a long period of time must support it.


Drew from Milwaukee writes: Hey Adam - you can definitely count me among the long suffering Wisconsin fans that are clamoring for an upgraded non conference schedule. As much as it pains me to say this, I think Ohio State deserves a ton of credit for its approach of scheduling a home and home with an out of conference big name opponent every two year cycle. Two questions: Was this approach more a product of Gene Smith or Jim Tressel, and do you see this as a good model for Alvarez and/or Bielema to follow in their own scheduling moving forward? As a side note, how epic would a September 1 night game match up between Alabama and Wisconsin at Camp Randall be?

Adam Rittenberg: That would be epic, Drew. Too bad Nick Saban didn't want to come to Mad-town. Ohio State's scheduling approach was a collaboration between Smith and Tressel, and both men supported the approach to have one marquee non-league opponent and three regional opponents (typically MAC schools from within the state). It will be interesting to see how this model changes when the Big Ten-Pac-12 partnership begins, specifically whether Big Ten teams will play a Pac-12 opponent and another team from a major conference. It would be great to see Wisconsin do this. I'm not saying the Badgers need to play USC and Oklahoma every year, but it'd be nice to see games with, say, Washington and Notre Dame in 2018. Wisconsin needs to figure out what works best, but the school's current philosophy thankfully doesn't work in a playoff environment where schedule strength is valued.


Jerome from Toronto writes: I know you guys are ranking the best facilities, and the best stadiums in the Big Ten. What about the best overall gameday experience for opposing fans? Take a look at their before game experience with tailgating, the things going on in the local community leading up to the game, the game atmosphere itself, and the partying after the game. Obviously, you need to look at the fan base as well to see which fans are good sports and are out having a fun time without being classless.With all this in mind, rank the top 5 Big Ten Game day experiences for any opposing fan. What are the must-see away games for an opposing fan to travel to? Any destinations that should be avoided due to poor fan behavior?

Adam Rittenberg: Jerome, while every fan base has a few idiots who can spoil the experience for visiting fans, I'd encourage Big Ten fans to visit as many opposing venues as possible. The Big Ten might not have the best football, but it has the best stadiums in the country. There also is great tailgating throughout most of the league, and a nice mix of different size stadiums -- from humongous to cozy -- and locations. As far as best overall game-day experiences, I'd definitely have Wisconsin and Penn State at the top. Great combination of stadiums and tailgating scenes. Iowa is up there for me -- love Kinnick and the atmosphere around it. Nebraska is lacking a bit tailgating-wise, but Memorial Stadium is awesome. You have to go to Michigan Stadium and Ohio Stadium at some point if you're a college football fan. Both offer different pros/cons and surroundings, but you just have to go. I'd also include Michigan State as a very solid game-day experience. The stadium will be improved with upgrades, and the tailgating scene is terrific.


L. Narrative from Land of 3 Rs writes: Adam,You were big on highlighting the "lazy narrative" when discussing the Big Ten/SEC positions on a college football playoff, an emphasis with which I agreed. Given this, do you see the lazy narrative with all the Sandusky stories? Reading comprehension failures seem to permeate the news cycle these days, but given the number of articles on this Sandusky subject, I think your readers would benefit from an assessment of the lazy narrative in this situation.

Adam Rittenberg: There's definitely a bit of laziness with every major news story, as everyone feels they need to weigh in but not everyone does their homework. I've tried to link people who know what they're writing about. While I'm sure I've missed on a few, I know there has been some good commentary done on the Sandusky case. My guess is you're referring to the belief that the NCAA "has to give Penn State the death penalty." This is a bit lazy because those who understand how the NCAA works and how its death penalty works know it relates to being a repeat violator of NCAA rules, not a violator of state or federal laws. While there's pressure on the NCAA to do something, it comes largely from those who don't understand what the NCAA really does (usually nothing).

SI.com's Andy Staples had the best take on the situation:
This may seem cold, but nowhere in the 426-page Division I manual is there a rule forbidding the cover-up of a violation of state statute. There is no obstruction of justice charge, no way to punish someone for his or her failure to call the police. The NCAA has rules to handle free tattoos, excessive phone calls and couch surfing (maybe not even that), but it is way out of its league here. So even though NCAA president Mark Emmert inserted the organization into the case with one of the most misguided missives ever to emerge from NCAA headquarters,* please stop suggesting the NCAA needs to crush Penn State's football program because of the Sandusky tragedy. It may make a bunch of rival fans feel better if a bunch of players who were in elementary school in 2001 suffer, but it won't solve anything. It won't help anyone heal. It won't send any message that matters.
Here is how these things work. Something awful such as the Sandusky case happens, and people at powerful organizations such as the NCAA feel they have to say something. This is partially the fault of people in my business who constantly call for comment and partially the fault of the people inside NCAA headquarters who failed to realize that they needed to butt out of this issue in the absence of actual NCAA violations.

There you have it.


Grant from Cedar Falls, Iowa, writes: In light of this great American Holiday coming up I'm curious. Which BiG team is the second most patriotic? Obviously Iowa is number 1 ( It's not hard when your previous QB was "A Great American", Air Force fly-overs well below there minimum elevation, need I even mention the card stunt at the NW game last year ) I know Purdue has a pretty cool thing with the "I am an American speech," but what do the other schools do during home games to celebrate and honor America, and whose the 2nd most patriotic?

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, good topic, Grant. You forgot the Nile Kinnick Heisman speech -- very patriotic. I do enjoy the "I am an American" reading at Ross-Ade Stadium. Perhaps the only recent Big Ten player who could give Ricky Stanzi a run for most patriotic might be former Illinois linebacker J Leman (love the tie). Ohio State has earned some patriotic points in recent years, particularly with its Take the Field tribute to Navy in 2009. There also was Jim Tressel's spring game getup in what turned out to be his final appearance at Ohio Stadium. Michigan often has cool pregame flyovers and tributes, including this one before last year's game against Nebraska. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke took the team's seniors to work out with Navy SEAL's in May. Nebraska and other schools also have been very patriotic on game day. If I had to pick the second most patriotic school behind Iowa, I'd go with Ohio State. But it's close.


Glenn from Kilburn, Ohio, writes: Adam, regarding Penn State, can you start talking about the upcoming season and let the "Scandal" be handled by regular news outlets? In today's lunch links, you mention current team related items for every other team, but for PSU you only list things to click on that relate to the negative news instead of what's happening with the team. It's obvious that you drink ESPN's kool aid.

Adam Rittenberg: It's obvious you can't handle reality. For those thinking about sending similar emails, let me save you the time. The scandal will be covered in the blog because it's a significant national news story affecting a school in the Big Ten. I don't make the news. It happened. It will be covered here. That's just the way it works. We didn't overload you with Sandusky trial updates, and most of the news will appear in our news rail on the main page. We've also been posting many items related to Penn State's team and the upcoming season (feel free to find another national sports outlet doing that). But if there are items that relate to former coach Joe Paterno, the football program and investigations that could impact the program, they will be posted here or linked to from the blog.


OK, now time for some Nebraska reflections on Year 1 in the Big Ten ...

Roy from Omaha: I'm not a native Nebraskan, but have grown to love the passion and class of the NU fan base. Originally from Austin and a naturally a decided Longhorn fan, I was slowly swayed to the power of Red (much to the dismay of many relatives). When NU joined the Big 12, I was all for it and thought it would be great to play the teams I grew up watching. It was. We had some great games and rivalries (never seemed to get Texas' number, even when they were down). We lost our favorite rivalry with OU, and that was sad, but it couldnt be helped. The Big 8 is long, long gone, and we'll miss some of the annual contests. It was satisfactory, but I dont think we ever felt like we fit. We fit with the old Big * brethren and enjoyed playing the SWC teams, but something wasnt quite right. I dont feel any bad blood. The worst fans *were* our old Big 8 brethren and you cant blame them for their animosity - hell I'm sure it sucks to get beat up by the cafeteria bully every year. I cant describe the level of excitement though when it was started to be rumored that we might make a move to the Big 10. I can honestly say that no one I know wasnt for it 100%. We just seemed like a perfect fit. Throw in a protected rivalry with Penn State and a Thanksgiving game with Iowa, and you couldnt ask for more. B1G fans have been accomodating in so many ways - welcoming us and sincerely happy to have us in the fold. We fit. Finally after 15 tyears we feel like we belong. Thanks to all the B1G folks for that. We're so happy to be here.

Joshua from Chicago: Nebraska coming into the Big Ten was a blessing to Husker Nation. Our culture as a program and fan base simply fits better than that of the Big 12. It is good to be in a conference that puts the standards of being a student athlete first! It has been great blog this last year Adam! Keep it up and can't wait for this year to begin.GBR!

Chad from Mount Vernon, Wash.: i know, i know...i'm writing from Washington stat, but i'm a Cornhusker for life! you asked about thoughts on the Huskers first year in the Big 10, and that's what you'll get...it's weird. i still find myself watching Oklahoma, hoping they lose; Texas, hoping they somehow fall off the planet and lose every game; Kansas State, hoping for an even worse fate.so now I'm supposed to care about Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Wisconsin? i just don't...yet. in fact, for so long i hated the Big 10 - thought it was weak as it was filled with so many pushovers (Northwestern, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue). all that said, the move was a good one for the future of Husker football. other sports, not so sure. as a baseball enthusiast, the Big 10 is not such a good move. for football, this was a good move for the Huskers. the Big 10 blue collar attitude is more akin to what Nebraska football has always been about. i look forward to many great seasons, even if in my gut i still somehow hate the Big 10!

Gene from Omaha: Although the football team needs to adjust and take it up a notch(no doubt Bo Pelini feels the same), on a basis of atmosphere, the B1G beats the big 12 hands down. Having a commissioner who's actually in charge makes a huge difference. It's amazing how much acting as a cohesive unit makes things work easier. Just being able to watch games without having one ham-fisted school trying to dictate policy makes for an easier to watch, more competitive on-the-field game. The only thing I, as a Husker fan, would suggest is the league take a slightly different view on the Rose Bowl. While a very important goal, a national championship should be top priority.

JP from Washington D.C.: You asked for Nebraska fans to share their opinions on NU's first year in the B1G. As a Husker fan living on the East Coast, I have to say that I could not be happier that NU made the move to the B1G. For the first time in forever, I was able to see every single game of the season televised. This is in no small part thanks to the B1G Network, but it is also due to the fact that the B1G simply gets more national exposure than the Big 12. I can remember more than one season being unable to watch big games... huge games like NU vs Oklahoma (!!!!)... because primetime Big 12 games were part of the ABC regional coverage package. Instead of one of the game's greatest historical rivalries, my local broadcast would inevitably be some ACC or (god forbid) SEC match-up. This is simply not a problem now that NU is in the B1G. Being able to watch NU-Wisconsin was a pleasure (despite the fact we only played one quarter) because I didn't have to spend hours trying to figure out whether or not the game would be broadcast in my area. I just knew the game would be on.
Illinois linebackers coach Dan Disch is leaving the program to become defensive coordinator at Southern Miss.

Disch has served on Ron Zook's staff since 2004, first at Florida and then at Illinois, where he coached special teams and outside linebackers from 2005-06. Disch then served as Illinois' co-defensive coordinator alongside Curt Mallory from 2007-09, but both men were demoted following the 2009 season as Illinois brought in Vic Koenning.

This seems like a good move for Disch, who can become a coordinator again and work in the southeast, an area he knows well. Koenning did very well in his first season at Illinois, so there isn't much opportunity to move up.

Disch could be a significant loss for Illinois because of his recruiting skills, particularly in Florida, where he coached high school football from 1981-2003. He also helped mold standout linebackers at Illinois like All-American J Leman, Brit Miller and Martez Wilson.

His replacement inherits some promising players but will need to replace both Wilson and Nate Bussey, the team's top two tacklers in 2010.

It'll be interesting to see who Zook hires and whether Disch's successor also has ties to Florida and the southeast.

Big Ten lunch links

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
12:00
PM ET
It's not too late to join my chat, which is going on right now.

Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, J.J. Watt, Jerel Worthy, Anderson Russell, Ian Thomas, Riley Reiff, Mitchell Evans, Arby Fields, Joe Palcic, Randy Walker, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Navorro Bowman, Clay Nurse, Paul Jones, David Gilbert, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Louis Nzegwu, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Sean Lee, Stefen Wisniewski, Martez Wilson, Nate Stupar, Tim Brewster, Robert Marve, Darius Johnson, Evan Watkins, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Rich Rodriguez, Albert Evans, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Jeff Horton, Kyle Jefferson, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Jacob Charest, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Dan Herron, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Tyler Nielsen, Brandon Graham, Jeff Tarpinian, Juice Williams, Josh Hull, Daryll Clark, Mike Trumpy, Niles Brinkley, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Nick Toon, Devin Gardner, Shaun Prater, Nathan Scheelhaase, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Bani Gbadyu, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Jay Valai, Dan Persa, Kurt Coleman, Scott Concannon, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Julian Vandervelde, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O\'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Jordan Hall, Terrance Thomas, Paul Petrino, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, Charlton, Gary Emanuel, 2010 spring what to watch

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

This was supposed to be Martez Wilson's breakout season. Instead, the Illinois junior middle linebacker will have to wait until 2010 to make his mark in Champaign.

Wilson will miss the remainder of the 2009 campaign with a herniated disk in his neck, the team announced Thursday. He will undergo surgery to repair the disk in the coming days.

"We feel awful for Martez," Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook said in a statement. "He worked so hard and had such a great offseason. I'm really proud of him for that. You never want to see injuries happen, but we feel that we were able to catch this in time to ensure a successful surgery and recovery for Martez. I feel confident that he will return from the injury stronger and with more determination next year. We talk about adversity and our team knows others will have to step up and fill his shoes. I think they are ready to do that."



Wilson's neck started bothering him after the season opener against Missouri, but he started and played in the game, recording 5.5 tackles. He missed last week's win against Illinois State.

A two-year starter at outside linebacker who moved to the middle this offseason, Wilson has a redshirt year available and will retain two seasons of eligibility. Still, this is an extremely tough break for a player who has dealt with a lot of adversity during his time at Illinois.

"Of course, I am upset and frustrated, but you can't control injuries," Wilson said in a statement. "The biggest thing for me is that I have a lot of support around me with my family, the coaches and my teammates and they will help me get through this. I was really looking forward to being a leader on this defense, but I can still do that from the sidelines. I will get healed and make sure I am 100 percent for next season."



Wilson underwent surgery in December after being stabbed during a fight outside a Champaign bar. He had come to the aid of a former teammate when he was stabbed.

The Chicago product made a quick recovery and transitioned well to middle linebacker, a spot where predecessors Brit Miller and J Leman had starred. Wilson really seemed like a changed man when we talked last month at Illinois' training camp. He had rededicated himself to the game and his new position after falling short of expectations in his first two seasons as a starter.

Wilson and wide receiver Arrelious Benn headlined a heralded 2007 recruiting class at Illinois. He ranked as the nation's fifth best prospect, according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.

"I've grown up a lot," Wilson told me in August. "It's crazy what a year will do to you. It was more of a mental thing, knowing how good I could be. I've listened to what everybody tells me, the good and bad comments. I'm ready to fulfill everyone's expectations. Especially mine."

He'll have to wait until next fall to meet those expectations.

Illinois (1-1), which has a bye this week, will look for sophomore Russell Ellington and others to step up. Ellington started last week in Wilson's place and recorded eight tackles with an interception and two pass breakups against Illinois State.

The Illini open Big Ten play Sept. 26 at Ohio State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

RANTOUL, Ill. -- A year ago, Martez Wilson didn't want to be here. 

Two weeks of training camp, 24/7 football and living away from campus and the comforts of Champaign didn't exactly appeal to Wilson, the talented Illinois linebacker. 

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson's performance has been inconsistent.
"I was really pushing myself to be here," he said. 

When Wilson takes the field these days at Camp Rantoul, he does so with a smile on his face. After dealing with disappointment both on and off the field in 2008, Wilson enters a new season playing a new position and carrying a new outlook.

The 6-4, 240-pound junior has moved from outside linebacker to middle linebacker, a move both Wilson and Illinois' coaches hope will maximize his obvious potential. Wilson arrived at Illinois with loads of hype and lofty expectations -- ESPN's Scouts Inc. rated him as nation's top defensive end and fifth best player nationally in the 2007 recruiting class -- but his performance has drawn mixed reviews. 

Named to the Butkus Award preseason watch list last summer, Wilson finished third on the team in tackles (73) and recorded three sacks but didn't have the breakout season many had anticipated. 

"I let myself down the most," he said. 

As the middle linebacker, Wilson has taken on a greater leadership role and shown greater dedication to studying the game. 

"In the summer, I got in the film room almost every day," he said. "I'd study our defense. I'd look back at spring practice, seeing what I did wrong, seeing what I did right, take down my own personal notes in my notebook. For instance, if we were playing Cover 2 and it was a run play and I was too high, I'd write down, 'Stay low. Use your hands more. Get off the block. Run to the ball.' Little things like that that help me mentally.

"It really paid off because I'm not struggling out there."

Wilson reviews his notes before each practice, which allows him to think less and lead more. 

"He knows the defense," head coach Ron Zook said. "He's making calls that he never would have made last year. He understands the game now much better. I always tell him, 'How you live your life off the field is going to be how you live your life on the field.' If you're not structured off the field, you're not going to be disciplined on the field."

Zook never felt Wilson showed a lack of discipline off the field, but an incident in December nearly kept the linebacker sidelined for good. Wilson was stabbed outside a Champaign bar after coming to the aid of a former teammate. He underwent surgery and spent several days hospitalized.

The incident changed Wilson, and Zook has seen a different player this summer.   

"He understands that he's a very lucky guy," Zook said. "He doesn't take stuff for granted. Before, when you're such an athletic guy as he is, in high school, he could get away with a lot of things just because of his athleticism. But you get this level, you have to be a smart football player."

Wilson's teammates see an obvious difference in camp. 

"His whole attitude seems like it's changed from last year to this year," linebacker Ian Thomas said. "He's more hungry, just ready to play and excited."

Illinois' last two middle linebackers, J Leman and Brit Miller, both earned first-team All-Big Ten honors (Leman was an All-American in 2007), and big things also are expected from Wilson. Though Zook often says too much outside pressure is placed on Wilson at times, the junior seems ready for it. 

"I've grown up a lot," Wilson said. "It's crazy what a year will do to you. It was more of a mental thing, knowing how good I could be. I've listened to what everybody tells me, the good and bad comments.

"I'm ready to fulfill everyone's expectations. Especially mine." 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ranking the Big Ten's top 30 players ... 

No. 29

 Wilson

Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois, Jr., 6-4, 240

Why he's here: Billed as the next Simeon Rice at Illinois when he signed in 2007, Wilson came to Champaign with a ton of hype, which probably has worked to his detriment. He was listed on the preseason Butkus Award watch list as a sophomore despite owning only 29 career tackles. Wilson certainly has what it takes to climb up these rankings, but right now he fits in here. 

An extremely gifted player at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds, Wilson played outside linebacker his first two seasons before moving to the middle this spring. The shift provides an opportunity to become Illinois' featured defender, a role Wilson should be ready for after playing behind Brit Miller and J Leman. 

Consistency will be the key for Wilson, who has shown flashes of his incredible potential and still recorded 73 tackles with three sacks and five quarterback hurries last season. The expectations placed on him seem to have been a bit excessive, but the junior looks ready to elevate his game this fall. 

The Rundown

  • No. 29 -- Martez Wilson, LB, Illinois
  • No. 30 -- Trevor Anderson, DE, Michigan State

Illinois spring game recap

April, 27, 2009
4/27/09
3:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook divided up his team to create more balanced competition in Saturday's Orange and Blue Game, but the score ended up lopsided as the Blue squad shut out the Orange team 20-0 at Memorial Stadium. With first- and second-teamers playing alongside one another in the game, it was a bit hard to evaluate units, though several individuals stood out.

Senior quarterback Juice Williams directed two scoring drives for the Blue team, completing 13 of 26 passes for 150 yards with a 10-yard scoring strike to Chris Duvalt and an interception that freshman linebacker Evan Frierson tipped to himself. High winds hampered Williams a bit, and Zook said the senior threw "a couple of balls that have been his worst of the spring."

Still, Williams shouldn't be a major concern for Illini fans going forward.

The big questions with Illinois come on defense, and there were several bright spots, including the play of Martez Wilson, who likely will stay at middle linebacker after making the switch from the outside this spring. Wilson recorded 4.5 tackles and broke up a pass for the Blue team. According to The (Champaign) News-Gazette, Wilson has been getting advice from former teammates Brit Miller and J Leman on playing middle linebacker.

Other notable items from the Orange and Blue Game:

  • No one had a better day on the field than junior defensive end Jerry Brown, who recorded a game-high seven tackles, including six for loss and two sacks. Brown appeared in all 13 games last fall and could assume a greater role after Illinois lost ends Will Davis and Derek Walker. Zook isn't getting too excited about Brown, though, noting that the junior needs to clean up some academic issues for the fall.
  • Running backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford were undoubtedly the best stories of the spring for Illinois, which can feel much better about its ground attack heading into 2009. Both LeShoure and Ford averaged more than five yards a carry in the spring game, and both Ford and fellow back Daniel Dufrene scored touchdowns.
  • Don't be surprised if backup quarterback Eddie McGee sees more time at wide receiver this fall. Though Illinois is loaded at receiver, McGee led the Orange team with three receptions for 23 yards in the spring game. He completed 3 of 8 passes for 25 yards and was sacked twice. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest got more work at quarterback behind Williams.
  • Illinois and Northwestern announced their new rivalry trophy Saturday. The two teams will compete annually for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, which still must be designed but will coincide with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. The trophy replaces the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk, which was retired in November as part of Illinois' effort to remove all Native American imagery from its athletic teams. I personally was hoping for the Graham-Grange Trophy, but it didn't make the cut.
  • Cornerback Tavon Wilson led the Orange team with four tackles and two pass breakups. Wilson could enter the fall as the team's top cover corner. Defensive end Clay Nurse (hello, nurse) added a sack and two tackles for loss.

Illinois' Mount Rushmore

February, 23, 2009
2/23/09
5:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois rounds out the list of team-by-team Rushmores. I'll take a look at the Big Ten's Rushmore on Tuesday.

Despite struggling for the better part of the last 15 years, Illinois boasts several of college football's all-time greats. 

I doubt I'll get much argument with these selections, though there were some tough choices. Illinois enjoyed periods of success during the 1920s, 1960s and 1980s.

I realize my list challenges the historian inside each of you, but Illinois' not so recent past was simply too impressive to ignore. 

  • Red Grange -- Quite possibly the most dominant player in college football history, Grange earned All-America honors in each of his three seasons with Illinois and was the first recipient of the Big Ten MVP award in 1924. Grange accounted for 2,646 yards of offense and 34 touchdowns at Illinois. He's a charter member of both the pro and college football Halls of Fame and was ESPN's pick as the greatest college football player ever. 
  • Dick Butkus -- The namesake of the Butkus Award remains one of college football's greatest defensive players. Butkus twice earned first-team All-America honors, won the Big Ten MVP in 1963 and led Illinois to a Rose Bowl win on Jan. 1, 1964. He averaged 14.4 tackles a game in his Illini career and finished third in Heisman Trophy voting in 1964. Butkus and Grange are the only Illinois players to have their numbers retired.
  • Jim Grabowski -- A two-time All-American, Grabowski finished his career as the Big Ten's all-time leading rusher. Like his teammate Butkus, he placed third in the Heisman Trophy voting and claimed Big Ten MVP honors, both in 1965. He won Rose Bowl MVP honors after rushing for 125 yards in Illinois' win against Washington. Grabowski also excelled as a student and was a longtime radio analyst for Illinois football.
  • Robert Zuppke -- Zuppke laid the foundation for Illinois' early success on the gridiron, serving as head coach for 29 years. He was an offensive innovator and coached Illinois to four national titles and seven conference championships. The field at Memorial Stadium is named after Zuppke, who coached Grange and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. 
Others considered for Illinois' Rushmore included: Tony Eason, Jeff George, Dana Howard, Alex Agase, Moe Gardner, J Leman, Kevin Hardy and Kurt Kittner.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rankings continue today with another of the Big Ten's strongest positions -- linebacker. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors, but he didn't top this list, a testament to the league's depth at linebacker. 

Here's your top 10. 

1. Navorro Bowman, Penn State -- Bowman began the season as a reserve, but was easily the league's most noticeable linebacker by the end. He racked up 31 more tackles than any other Penn State player and finished with four sacks, two forced fumbles and 16.5 tackles for loss, tops among Big Ten backers. One of few bright spots in the Rose Bowl, Bowman racked up five stops for loss. The LaVar Arrington comparisons look legit.

2. Brit Miller, Illinois -- The Illini didn't have the season they wanted, but Miller did his part and then some as J Leman's replacement in the middle. Miller led the Big Ten in tackles (132) and ranked eighth in both sacks (6) and tackles for loss (15.5). He forced three fumbles, returning one for a touchdown, and was by far Illinois' most consistent defensive player. 

3. James Laurinaitis, Ohio State -- Laurinaitis turned in a very solid senior season, piling up 130 tackles and four sacks. He didn't always make the spectacular play, but consistently carried out his assignments and seemed to get stronger as the season progressed. Laurinaitis leaves Ohio State as one of the most decorated players in team history, and he certainly made a mark on the Big Ten. 

4. Greg Jones, Michigan State -- He flies under the radar a bit at Michigan State, but Jones will undoubtedly be a household name in 2009. The Spartans sophomore finished third in the league in tackles (127), bringing his two-year total to 205. Jones is only a junior, but along with Bowman he will enter next season as a candidate for All-Big Ten and All-America honors. 

5. Pat Angerer, Iowa -- In addition to having a great name for a linebacker, Angerer showed this fall that he can cause a lot of problems for opposing offenses. He rallied from a very frustrating 2007 season to finish second in the league in interceptions (5) and sixth in tackles (107). With Laurinaitis graduating, Angerer might be the league's best linebacker against the pass, tallying eight deflections to go along with his five-pack of picks. 

6. Marcus Freeman, Ohio State -- He played second fiddle to Laurinaitis throughout his career, but would have been the No. 1 linebacker on almost any other team. Freeman was solid this fall, leading Ohio State in tackles for loss (9.5) and ranking second in total tackles (84). A second-team All-Big Ten selection in each of the last two seasons, Freeman will be missed next fall. 

7. Anthony Heygood, Purdue -- Purdue's defense was better than the numbers showed this fall, and Heygood led the way with 114 tackles. Though his tackles for loss total dropped from 2007, he had six or more stops in nine games and racked up 11 solo tackles against Ohio State. 

8. Obi Ezeh, Michigan -- It was a tough year for Michigan's defense, which got next to no help from the offense and endured its own problems. But Ezeh blossomed as a bright spot in the middle, leading the team with 98 tackles to go along with an interception and a fumble recovery. He won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after the season opener and contributed seven tackles for loss and a sack. 

9. Matt Mayberry, Indiana -- Many readers would rank Mayberry much higher, but I need to see more from the Hoosiers' talented middle linebacker. He clearly has tremendous physical gifts and racked up five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss this fall. If he continues to make strides and elevates a historically bad defense, Mayberry will find himself in the top five next season.

10. DeAndre Levy, Wisconsin -- Levy was one of few consistent performers on a Badgers defense that looked great at times and awful at other times. He won National Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Fresno State win, in which he registered four tackles for loss, including a critical sack, as well as an interception and a pass breakup. Levy led Wisconsin with 9.5 tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks (5). 

Weighing in on other Big Ten games

November, 22, 2008
11/22/08
8:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There were three other Big Ten teams in action this afternoon. It's time to weigh in on those games.

NORTHWESTERN 27, ILLINOIS 10

Northwestern always will fight an uphill battle for respect, but games like this and seasons like this go a long way toward changing the perception of this program. Listed as a home underdog despite three more victories than Illinois, the Wildcats made the oddsmakers look like fools with their most complete performance of the season. A defense that has completely turned around behind first-year coordinator Mike Hankwitz held the Big Ten's top offense to 335 yards and a season-low 10 points. Senior end Kevin Mims led the way on defense, while his classmate, senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, had arguably his best performance (22-for-33 passing, 220 yards, TD). The Wildcats (9-3) are one of the league's better stories and could be heading to a New Year's Day bowl.

Illinois is sort of like the Jackson family: extremely talented and extremely dysfunctional. Sure, the Illini lost some of the pillars from their Rose Bowl team (Rashard Mendenhall, J Leman, Kevin Mitchell). But to go 5-7 without major injuries? That's pathetic. It marks the second straight time Illinois has followed a Rose Bowl appearance with a bowl-less season (1984). That's a troubling history of not being able to sustain success, something head coach Ron Zook must change in the coming years. Quarterback Juice Williams still needs some seasoning, but Zook's main priority will be a defense that underperformed.

WISCONSIN 36, CAL POLY 35 (OT)

Did you hear the collective sigh of relief emanating from Camp Randall Stadium? A loss to Cal Poly probably wouldn't have kept Wisconsin out of a bowl game, but it would have added an embarrassing footnote to a somewhat disappointing season. Nothing against Cal Poly, an excellent offensive team. The Mustangs held the ball for nearly 40 minutes and converted 9 of 17 third downs. Wisconsin rallied behind running backs John Clay (107 rush yards, 2 TD) and P.J. Hill (59 rush yards, 2 TD), and prevailed in overtime, thanks to a missed extra point. The Badgers aren't very good and they've underachieved on both sides of the ball, but a 7-5 record, a bowl opportunity and wins in three of the final four games certainly take the sting off a season that fell short of expectations.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ILLINOIS (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten)

Despite the nation's biggest turnaround last season and loads of talent back on the roster, Ron Zook cautioned against claims that Illinois is back. It would take more top-notch recruiting, more player development and more consistent winning to complete the program's resurrection. Unfortunately for Zook, his misgivings have proven true. Illinois is off to a 3-3 start, rarely playing well on both sides of the ball and showing its explosive capabilities only in spurts. The schedule has been tough, with a neutral-site game against Missouri and a trip to Penn State, but aside from a three-quarter stretch at Michigan, the Illini haven't played to their potential. Quarterback Juice Williams has taken the next step in his evolution, but a defense that lost several cogs is struggling.

Offensive MVP -- Williams has embraced his role as the focal point of the offense, putting up huge numbers week after week. In his last two games, he set the total offense records at both Michigan Stadium (431 yards) and Memorial Stadium (503 yards), becoming the only active player to hold two such marks. He ranks fourth nationally in total offense (353.7 ypg), averages a whopping 15.7 yards per completion and remains a rushing threat with 445 yards.

Defensive MVP -- The unit has been a disappointment so far, but senior linebacker Brit Miller is a consistent producer. Shifting to middle linebacker after the loss of All-American J Leman, Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles per game (10.2) and ranks second nationally in tackles for loss (2.3 per game). He had a fumble return for a touchdown in a too-close-for-comfort win against Louisiana-Lafayette and earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Michigan victory (4 TFLs, 2 sacks).

What's next -- A BCS repeat is extremely unlikely, and bowl eligibility should be Illinois' top goal in the second half. The Illini haven't looked sharp at home and need a confidence-building performance this week against Indiana. A road win against free-falling Wisconsin would be big, and Illinois has given Ohio State trouble lately and could steal a win Nov. 15. Run defense is the team's top priority after ranking next to last in the Big Ten (152.5 ypg) despite a veteran line that Zook called the team's strength before the season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I didn't get a chance to have the regular Friday mailbag, so here are a few items before the early kickoffs.

Andy from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Michigan has a very capable running back in Sam McGuffie who I think will be the future of the position. However, we have seen Brandon Minor break several large runs this year and Carlos Brown has also exhibited great speed. Why is Rich Rod not giving our veteran running backs a little better look out there? Do you think he should be working them into the slot position, direct snaps, etc...? It seems like a bit of a waste of talent. Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Rodriguez saw last week the benefit of having multiple running backs in the game. Junior Kevin Grady provided a big lift in short-yardage situations, and Minor had the big touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Brown won't be available today with a sprained foot, but Minor, Grady and Michael Shaw should see time alongside McGuffie. You're absolutely right. Michigan needs its veteran running backs in the game, even if McGuffie is the future. Both Brown and Minor have value, and they both should be used more as the season progresses.


Brian from Baltimore writes: How arrogant is Beanie Wells that he could even think for a minute that he can win the Heisman? Even in the games he's played in, he hasn't posted Heisman worthy numbers.

Adam Rittenberg: Wells might come off that way, but I see it as confidence more than anything, which is never bad. He wants to carry the load for this team, and quite frankly, Ohio State needed someone to step up after the first few games. It will be nearly impossible for Wells to even be in the Heisman discussion, but he still believes he's one of the best players int the country, and more important, so do his teammates. Beanie Wells is the best leader on that team, not the seniors.


Bob from Parts Unknown writes: Adam As you cover the Big 10 - doesnt the completion percentage of Brian Hoyer depend on the receivers helping catch balls in the game. I have watched all the games and certainly there are incomplete passes....but also too many drops from a young receiving corps - something the media all questioned going into the season. So isn't Hoyer overall performance a bit better than his stats show.

Adam Rittenberg: Dropped passes are definitely a factor for Michigan State and several other teams (Wisconsin), but it would take an awful lot of drops to put the completion percentage at 46.5 percent. To his credit, Hoyer hasn't made a lot of mistakes, just two interceptions in 157 pass attempts, but I just can't see Michigan State making a serious run at the Big Ten title without its quarterback completing better than 50 percent of his passes. Hoyer manages a game very well, but he's got to make more plays. Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham are solid receivers and should be used more.


(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When Illinois sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson was named to the preseason Butkus Award watch list, hype and potential were the driving forces. Wilson is an incredible physical specimen: 6-foot-4, 246 pounds with sub-4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash. And he's often been compared to former Illinois star Simeon Rice. 

But Wilson lacked the résumé of many Butkus candidates. He recorded only 29 tackles (3 for loss) last season as the third or fourth linebacker for a defense led by J Leman and Antonio Steele. 

He still entered the fall projected to headline the Illini defensive midsection along with senior Brit Miller, and through four games he ranks second on the team in tackles with 32, including two sacks. Wilson has added two pass breakups and a fumble recovery, but he also has struggled at times. According to veteran Illini beat writer Mark Tupper, Wilson was "repeatedly out of position" in last Saturday's loss to Penn State. 

With Illinois ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense (32 ppg), head coach Ron Zook promised some personnel changes this week for the Michigan game (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook isn't shuffling the starting lineup but will increase the rotation at several spots. Wilson could be among the players seeing less field time, The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen writes in his blog:

"Though he's as physically gifted as any player the school has ever had, Wilson still isn't playing the way Zook had hoped he would. It isn't a lack of effort. Or ability. Or mental preparation. For some reason, Wilson just can't make the jump from good player to great, even though his talents would suggest it's coming. Don't think about writing Wilson off. Give him some down time, with less pressure, and it might all come together for him."

This is a fair assessment, and it's clear that many of us, myself included, are guilty of hyping up Wilson a little prematurely. Here's another good piece on Wilson from the Illinois student newspaper, the Daily Illini, which quotes co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch:

"Potentially, as an athlete, he's as good as I've ever seen. But as a linebacker, he's still not there. He's middle of the road right now."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.

Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). Linebackers Russell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy, who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."

Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety after Roderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).

Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."

Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.

Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.

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