Big Ten: Jack DiNardo

Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's road game against Army. Like the first two weeks, quarterback Dan Persa is listed as questionable. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall told ESPN.com earlier today that while it's possible Persa could play against the Black Knights, he's still waiting on full clearance from the medical staff.

Here's the full rundown:

OUT
  • DT Brian Arnfelt, foot
  • DT Jack DiNardo, leg
  • S Jared Carpenter, wrist
  • CB Collin Ellis, hand
  • LB Roderick Goodlow, leg
  • WR Tony Jones, leg
  • RB Adonis Smith, leg
QUESTIONABLE
  • QB Dan Persa, leg

Northwestern will need veteran Niko Mafuli and its younger defensive tackles to step up against Army's triple-option offense. Although Smith will be missed at running back, Mike Trumpy is expected to return from a concussion after missing last week's game.

Big Ten Labor Day personnel roundup

September, 5, 2011
9/05/11
5:00
PM ET
The blog is lighter than normal during the Labor Day holiday, but Big Ten teams remain hard at work.

Here are a few personnel nuggets revealed today around the league:

NEBRASKA

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said linebacker Will Compton is day-to-day with a foot injury but has no structural damage. Compton missed the first five games of last season with a foot ailment. Pelini also said star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard (pulled leg muscle) is improving and getting closer to a return. I'd expect to see Dennard on the field Week 3 against Washington, at the latest.

MICHIGAN

Michigan should be close to full strength for its prime time showdown against Notre Dame. Top cornerback Troy Woolfolk, who suffered a left ankle injury on kickoff coverage against Western Michigan, should be ready for the Irish, coach Brady Hoke said. Woolfolk missed all of last season with a dislocated right ankle. Linebacker Cam Gordon (back) also is expected to return. Freshman Jake Ryan performed well in Gordon's spot against Western. Left guard Ricky Barnum is back this week from a suspension, but he'll compete with Michael Schofield for the starting job in practice.

WISCONSIN

Wisconsin starting left guard Travis Frederick likely will miss this week's game against Oregon State after suffering a slight MCL sprain in the opener. Sophomore Ryan Groy is listed as the starter in place of Frederick. The Badgers should get receiver Manasseh Garner (hernia surgery) back for the Beavers. Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr underwent surgery Friday to relieve a nerve problem in his throwing arm. His return is uncertain. "It could be two weeks, it could be two months," coach Bret Bielema said.

NORTHWESTERN

As I tweeted Sunday, quarterback Kain Colter is fine after undergoing precautionary X-rays following the win against Boston College. Expect Colter to start again in place of Dan Persa this week against Eastern Illinois. The Wildcats will be without starting defensive tackle Jack DiNardo (leg). Sophomore Will Hampton and freshman Chance Carter will compete to fill DiNardo's spot.

INDIANA

Ed Wright-Baker is listed as the No. 1 quarterback for this week's game against Virginia. No surprise there, as Wright-Baker delivered a solid effort in his first career start and wasn't the reason why IU lost to Ball State. Two starters, linebacker Leon Beckum and right tackle Josh Hager, aren't listed on the depth chart following injuries in the opener. Junior Lee Rose is listed as the starting weak-side linebacker, while veteran offensive lineman Justin Pagan shifts from guard to tackle. Receiver Duwyce Wilson and tight end Ted Bolser both aren't listed on the depth chart again as they deal with injuries.

IOWA

Jason White will be the No. 2 running back this week after the season-ending injury to freshman Mika'il McCall. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominic Alvis has leapfrogged Thomas Nardo into a starting spot, while defensive tackle Carl Davis isn't listed on the depth chart because of an injury.
The position rankings move from offense to defense. We'll start with the group that has produced more Big Ten stars than any other position group in recent years.

The Big Ten had five defensive linemen, all from different teams, selected in the first round of April's NFL draft: Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Iowa lost three starting D-linemen to the draft, and almost every Big Ten squad has to replace major contributors.

The personnel losses make the preseason D-line rankings both tricky and fun. The first three groups look very good, while there's not much difference in the middle of the league.

Let's take a look:

[+] EnlargeJared Crick
Brett Davis/US PresswireJared Crick and Nebraska join the Big Ten as the league's top defensive line.
1. Nebraska: The Big Ten's newest member should fit in well with its strong play up front. Star defensive tackle Jared Crick stiff-armed the NFL draft and returned for his final season, giving Nebraska a terrific centerpiece up front. He'll be complemented by veterans Baker Steinkuhler and the mustachioed Cameron Meredith. If converted linebacker Eric Martin builds off of a strong spring, Nebraska should be fine at the end spot.

2. Ohio State: Heyward's leadership and versatility will be missed, but Ohio State always finds ways to fill the gaps up front. Junior John Simon should be primed for a breakout season. Like Heyward, Simon can play both line spots but might see more time on the edge this fall. Nathan Williams adds experience at end, and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins could wreak havoc on the interior this fall.

3. Michigan State: Like several Big Ten teams, the Spartans build their line around a potential superstar tackle in Jerel Worthy. The junior already is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 draft after recording four sacks last fall. Anthony Rashad White emerged this spring as a nice complement to Worthy. Michigan State needs a better pass rush from the end spots, and hopes are high for William Gholston and Tyler Hoover.

4. Wisconsin: Watt is a huge loss because he contributed in so many ways, but Wisconsin could account for his production with greater depth. Ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert both have played a lot of football, and junior Brendan Kelly came on strong toward the end of spring practice. Senior tackle Patrick Butrym has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Wisconsin needs young tackles like Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen to help Butrym.

5. Michigan: This is a projection pick, but I think Michigan's defensive front takes a significant step forward this season. Senior tackle Mike Martin is a bona fide NFL prospect and will lead the way, and players like Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh should be among the primary beneficiaries of the new defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan needs to build depth with Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and others, but there's great potential here.

6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes face a tough task in replacing multiyear starters in Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Senior tackle Mike Daniels is ready to lead the group after recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. The biggest key is getting Broderick Binns back to his 2009 form. Iowa also needs to build depth with Lebron Daniel and others, and avoid major injuries.

7. Purdue: Defensive tackle is a major strength for Purdue as Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston Jr. form one of the league's top tandems. Short quietly turned in an extremely productive season last fall (12.5 TFLs, 6 sacks). The big unknown is how Purdue replaces Kerrigan. The Boilers need veteran Gerald Gooden to stay healthy and others to emerge alongside him.

8. Penn State: Much like Purdue, Penn State looks strong at tackle and has question marks at end. Devon Still could contend for All-Big Ten honors after a terrific performance in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Still and Jordan Hill should lock up the middle, but Penn State needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to get healthy at the end spots. If not, the Lions will turn to unproven players to spark their pass rush.

9. Illinois: Liuget is a significant loss in the middle and Illinois also must replace veteran end Clay Nurse. The Illini will rely on Akeem Spence to step in for Liuget, and Spence showed some good things this spring. There's talent on the edges with Michael Buchanan, Whitney Mercilus and others, but Illinois needs more consistent production.

10. Northwestern: This group took a step back last fall and got manhandled down the stretch as Northwestern hemorrhaged yards and points. Senior end Vince Browne is a playmaker who put up impressive numbers (15.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) in 2010. He'll need help from tackles Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, and Tyler Scott could provide a lift at the other end spot. The Wildcats need their line to regain the edge it displayed in 2008.

11. Indiana: It wouldn't surprise me to see Indiana's front four rise up these rankings during the season. There are some nice pieces back, namely senior end Darius Johnson, who can be a force when healthy. Junior Adam Replogle has been productive at defensive tackle. There's plenty of competition at the other two spots as Indiana tries to turn a page on defense.

12. Minnesota: The Gophers' pass rush was practically invisible in 2010, as they finished last nationally in sacks (9). The good news is new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will turn his linemen loose more often, giving players like Brandon Kirksey chances to make plays. We've heard a lot about Minnesota's talent up front but haven't seen nearly enough production on Saturdays.
The Hope and Concern series wraps up with the Northwestern Wildcats.

Biggest reason for hope: A restocked offense

Northwestern returns nine starters on offense, including the nation's second most experienced offensive line (137 combined career starts). It's unknown whether quarterback Dan Persa will recapture his All-Big Ten form after rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles', but the senior has been ahead of schedule throughout his recovery. The Wildcats boast arguably the Big Ten's deepest group of wide receivers and tight ends, led by All-Big Ten selection Jeremy Ebert. While they have plenty to prove in the run game, the pieces are in place there. It all adds up to an offense that could be among the Big Ten's most productive in 2011.

Biggest reason for concern: Question marks throughout the front seven

Fixing the defense has been a focal point throughout the offseason, as Northwestern tries to regain the assertiveness it displayed in 2008. The Wildcats have to replace two starting linebackers and identify more playmakers along the defensive line. Senior end Vince Browne is a nice piece to build around, but Northwestern needs big seasons from tackles Jack DiNardo, Niko Mafuli and Brian Arnfelt and must build greater depth at the end position. The coaches think they've upgraded their athleticism at linebacker in recent recruiting classes, and they'll need younger players like Damien Proby, Collin Ellis and Tim Riley to step up this fall.

More Hope and Concern
Pat Fitzgerald is ready for spring ball, for a fresh start to a new season, for a chance to look ahead.

But when Northwestern hits the practice field Monday for the first of 15 spring workouts, Fitzgerald might remind the players about their most recent performances. Needless to say, no one was pleased with the way the Wildcats wrapped up the 2010 season.

"The way we finished was completely and totally unacceptable, and that’s on all of us," Fitzgerald told ESPN.com on Monday. "If we’re going to fix it, we have to be the catalysts to do that."

Northwestern dropped its final three games by a combined score of 163-88. Quarterback Dan Persa missed the closing stretch after rupturing his Achilles' tendon in a Nov. 13 win against Iowa. Persa's injury seemed to rattle the Wildcats, who also were banged up on defense.

Was there an explanation for the late collapse?

"Nothing other than excuses," Fitzgerald said. "We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to coach better, we’ve got to play with a better attitude. We play team football here and we didn’t do a very good job of that. When we turned it over, we didn’t get off the field. When we did go down and score, we didn’t get a big stop we needed. And when we got a big stop, maybe we went three-and-out.

"We've got to pick each other up."

You always hear about competition in spring ball, but Northwestern's poor finish underscores the need to open up pretty much every job.

Fitzgerald notes the Wildcats' two-deep is loaded with players who have logged ample time in games. Several projected starters will miss part of all of spring ball -- Persa, linebacker Bryce McNaul, defensive tackle Jack DiNardo, guard Doug Bartels -- so there's opportunities everywhere.

A few positions to watch:
  • Defensive back: Northwestern needs a second starter to join Jordan Mabin, not to mention some safety help. Jeravin Matthews, a special teams standout who has struggled to find a permanent position, will compete for time at cornerback. "He’s always been spectacular in the kicking game for us, and he sees an opportunity," Fitzgerald said.
  • Running back: Mike Trumpy is expected to participate in all of spring ball after missing the final two games of last season with a fractured wrist. He'll wear a cast on the wrist for the spring and compete alongside rising sophomore Adonis Smith.
  • Linebacker: The Wildcats must replace two starters and the third, McNaul, will miss the spring following offseason surgery. Hopes are high for Roderick Goodlow, who missed all of last season with a knee injury but has been going through winter workouts. Goodlow was one of just three true freshmen to see the field in 2009. "It’s a heck of a free-agent pickup," Fitzgerald said.
  • Backup quarterback: With Persa limited, the coaching staff will turn its attention to Evan Watkins, Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian as they compete for the backup job this spring. Watkins boasts the most experience but Colter provided a spark in the bowl game.

Northwestern wraps up spring ball April 16 with its spring game.
National Signing Day is just about a week away, so let's take a look at the recruiting needs for each Big Ten team.

In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.

Let's start off with the Legends division.

IOWA

Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.

Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.

Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.

Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.

Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.

MICHIGAN STATE

Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.

Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.

Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.

NEBRASKA

Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.

Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.

NORTHWESTERN

Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.

Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.

Midseason review: Northwestern

October, 12, 2010
10/12/10
8:00
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Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 5-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

It says something that Northwestern can go 5-1 in the first half and still feel a little disappointed. After overcoming myriad mistakes to win the first five games, the Wildcats couldn't escape their problems with penalties and special teams in Saturday night's home loss to Purdue. A win against the banged-up Boilers would have given Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962. Still, Pat Fitzgerald's crew should feel fortunate to be 5-1 after finding ways to win despite not playing its best football. Junior quarterback Dan Persa has been fabulous so far, ranking fourth nationally in passer rating (173.3) because of a sparkling completion ratio (78 percent) and three 300-yard passing performances. His receivers also have been outstanding, which helps because Northwestern's struggles in the run game have carried over from 2009. Despite several attempts and personnel groupings, the Wildcats rank ninth in the league in rushing average (143.3 yards per game). The defense has been opportunistic so far with 14 takeaways, including three interceptions by linebacker Quentin Davie, although the secondary looks vulnerable after losing three multiyear starters from the 2009 team. Northwestern has capitalized on a weak schedule so far, but to keep winning games, the Wildcats must cut down on penalties (46 for 395 yards) and find more consistency from kicker Stefan Demos and the special-teams units. The good news is Fitzgerald's teams typically play their best in November.

Offensive MVP, QB Dan Persa: An obvious choice here, as Persa has been exceptional in the first six games. He executes Northwestern's short-passing attack extremely well and remains a threat to run with 295 rush yards and three touchdowns. He has completed 138 of 177 passes for 1,663 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (35 receptions, 560 yards, 5 TDs) merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP, Quentin Davie: The senior has been a little quiet in Big Ten play but very active during the nonconference, recording three interceptions in the first three contests. Davie boasts 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 passes defended and a forced fumble. Defensive end Vince Browne (8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and tackle Jack DiNardo also deserve to be recognized.

Big Ten stock report: Week 5

September, 29, 2010
9/29/10
9:00
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Who's rising? Who's falling? How are those awards races shaping up?

No worries, friends. I've got you covered.

STOCK UP

Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: Go ahead and list him as a co-starter on your depth chart, Kirk Ferentz. He's still your best receiver. Again. DJK has recorded 11 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. He's getting closer and closer to passing Tim Dwight to become Iowa's all-time leading receiver.

Indiana TEs Ted Bolser and Max Dedmond: The Hoosiers' wide receivers get most of the hype, and deservedly so, but both Bolser and Dedmond provide more options for quarterback Ben Chappell. The two tight ends combined for three touchdown catches and 43 receiving yards in a win against Akron. Bolser ranks among the Big Ten leaders with four touchdown receptions and boasts nine catches for 128 yards on the season.

Northwestern DTs Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant: These two are holding it down on the interior line for the Wildcats. DiNardo blocked a field-goal attempt and a PAT attempt against Central Michigan, while Bryant had a fumble recovery. The two tackles have combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and two blocked kicks this season.

Don Treadwell: The Michigan State offensive coordinator certainly deserves credit for steering the Spartans' ship through a tough time without head coach Mark Dantonio. But the biggest reason he appears here is the better offensive balance Michigan State has shown the last two weeks. The Spartans' rushing attack is legit, but quarterback Kirk Cousins is making more big plays through the air. A two-pronged attack really will help MSU heading into Big Ten play.

Michigan's supporting cast: It was important for Michigan's offense to produce without superstar quarterback Denard Robinson, even against a shaky defense like Bowling Green's. Reserve quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner both played well, particularly Forcier, and Michigan received boosts from receiver Roy Roundtree and running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith and Michael Cox.

STOCK DOWN

Minnesota's lines: You win and lose games at the line of scrimmage, and the Gophers need to get better on both sides of the ball. Minnesota's inability to covert two fourth-and-1 situations in the second half of the Northern Illinois loss was simply inexcusable. A veteran Big Ten offensive line that prides itself on the run game should get a yard against a MAC defense, period. The new-look defensive line didn't fare well, either, as NIU's Chad Spann ran wild (223 yards).

Ohio State's veteran RBs: I've gotten a bit annoyed by the incessant calls for Jaamal Berry from Ohio State fans, but maybe they have a point. Senior running back Brandon Saine had only 11 yards on three carries against Eastern Michigan, while junior Dan Herron had an OK day (12 carries, 55 rush yards, TD). Berry, meanwhile, had a 67-yard touchdown run, while Jordan Hall averaged 6.5 yards a carry and threw a touchdown pass to Terrelle Pryor. Perhaps it's time youth is served.

Purdue's defense: The unluckiest offense in America has lost its top running back (Ralph Bolden), its top receiver (Keith Smith) and now its top quarterback (Robert Marve). But a bigger issue could be the Boilers' defense, which struggled Saturday to stop a Toledo offense that entered the game ranked last nationally in yards. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is turning into this year's Brandon Graham: a great player on a very shaky defense. Purdue needs more from its front seven to protect a new-look secondary.

Penn State's red zone offense: Kudos to the Nittany Lions for finally reaching the end zone on an impressive 96-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, but they left too many points on the field. Penn State has scored only six touchdowns in 15 red zone opportunities this season. It needs to change in a hurry.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, Week 4 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: five carries, 129 rush yards, 2 TDs; 4-for-4 passing, 60 yards in less than a quarter of work against Bowling Green.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 20-for-26 passing, 244 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT; seven carries for 104 rush yards, 1 TD; one reception for a 20-yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 23 for-30 passing, 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 carries, 43 rush yards in win against Central Michigan.

4. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: 19-for-25 passing, 288 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT in win against Ball State.

5. Indiana QB Ben Chappell: 23-for-33 passing, 342 yards, 4 TDs in win against Akron.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery in loss to Toledo.

2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded first two interceptions of his career plus a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and four tackles in a win against Northern Colorado.

3. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a sack and a forced fumble in win against Central Michigan.

4. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Recorded three tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, in win against Austin Peay.

5. Ohio State S/LB Tyler Moeller: Recorded three tackles and a pass breakup in win against Eastern Michigan.

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR RACE

1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 11 carries, 93 rush yards, 3 TDs; 1 reception for 35 yards in win against Northern Colorado.

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 11 carries, 145 rush yards, 4 TDs; 2 kick returns for 45 yards; 1 reception for 12 yards in win against Austin Peay.

3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 18-for-28 passing, 223 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs in win against Temple.

4. Indiana TE Ted Bolser: 3 receptions for 35 yards, 2 TDs in win against Akron.

5. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: Bye week

Big Ten Week 4 rewind/Week 5 preview

September, 27, 2010
9/27/10
2:00
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Let's take a look back at Week 4 before sneaking a peek at the first group of conference games, which take place Saturday.

Team of the week: The scoreboard operators around the Big Ten. These folks had a very busy Saturday as two Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) eclipsed 70 points and another (Michigan) surpassed the 60-point mark. The Big Ten combined for 428 points, 55 touchdowns and 5,212 total yards. According to Big Ten Network stats guru Chris Antonacci, the 42.8 points-per-game average is the highest for a week in nonconference play since at least 1996. No Big Ten squad scored fewer than 20 points, and only three teams -- Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota -- failed to record 30 points or more.

Best game: Temple at Penn State. Al Golden brought a good Owls team to his alma mater and surged out to a 13-6 lead. Penn State led by only two points entering the fourth quarter and gave Temple several chances to pull off a historic upset. But Tom Bradley's stifling defense shut down a one-dimensional Owls offense, and freshman quarterback Rob Bolden led an impressive 12-play, 96 yard touchdown drive that sealed the victory and allowed Nittany Nation to exhale.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden delivered big plays in the second half against Temple.
Biggest play: We go back to State College. On third-and-6 from the Penn State 8-yard line, Bolden showed off his arm strength with a tough throw to a diving Graham Zug along the sideline for a 19-yard gain. If the pass falls incomplete, Temple regains possession and likely has excellent field position, needing only a field goal to take the lead. Instead, Penn State drove downfield and finally got into the end zone. The most electrifying play from Saturday came from -- who else? -- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who took a going-nowhere run play and cut back across the field for a 47-yard touchdown against Bowling Green.

Specialist spotlight: Senior kicker Collin Wagner has been Penn State's most valuable offensive weapon so far this season. He tied a team record with five field goals Saturday against Temple, converting attempts from 45, 42, 32, 32 and 21 yards. Wagner had a chance to set the record, but missed from 32 yards out in the fourth quarter. Wagner is tied for the national lead with 10 field goals this season and ties for second nationally in field goals per game (2.5). Northwestern defensive tackle Jack DiNardo merits a mention after blocking a PAT attempt and a field-goal attempt in a 30-25 win against Central Michigan.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior signal caller has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He put up huge numbers for the third consecutive game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-20 win against Akron. Chappell leads the Big Ten in passing average (296.7 ypg), boasts nine touchdown passes and no interceptions and ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency (179.04 rating). He'll share the ball with receiver Terrance Turner (6 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD).
  • Iowa DL Mike Daniels: Daniels likely would start on any other defensive line in the country, and he showed why Saturday against Ball State. The junior recorded four tackles for loss, including a sack, as Iowa blanked Ball State and held the Cardinals to 112 total yards. Iowa loses three starting defensive linemen after the season, but there's hope as Daniels and Broderick Binns both return.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: He made his first mistake of the season -- an interception in the red zone -- but was spotless the rest of the game against Central Michigan. Persa completed 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. The junior leads the nation in completion percentage (80.2) and ranks third in pass efficiency (186.3 rating).
  • Penn State S Nick Sukay and LB Nate Stupar: Both men stepped up for a Penn State defense that totally shut down Temple in the second half Saturday. Sukay recorded two interceptions, bringing his season total to three, and Stupar recorded an interception and a sack, part of his seven tackles on the day.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: It was important for Michigan State to continue to show offensive balance Saturday, and Cousins answered the challenge. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 14.5 yards per completion against Northern Colorado.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: Like Cousins, Tolzien faced weak competition Saturday, but any time a quarterback completes 15 of 17 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, it's worth noting. After a few hiccups in the first two games, Tolzien has settled down nicely, completing 34 of 42 passes for 463 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the past two games. Tolzien shares this with tight end Lance Kendricks (6 receptions 103 yards, 1 TD).
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: I mentioned No. 12 in helmet stickers, but he deserves a game ball of his own after hauling in four touchdown passes from Terrelle Pryor. Sanzenbacher had nine catches for 108 yards in the rout of Eastern Michigan. The senior leads the Big Ten in touchdown receptions (5) and ranks fourth in the league in both receptions (5 rpg) and receiving yards (79 ypg).
  • Michigan WR Roy Roundtree: Roundtree is starting to distinguish himself as a reliable weapon for the Michigan offense. He recorded nine receptions for 118 yards, including a 36-yarder against Bowling Green.

OK, enough on Week 4. Let's look ahead to the start of Big Ten play Saturday!

No. 2 Ohio State (4-0) at Illinois (2-1): The Buckeyes hit the road for the first time this season and face an Illinois team that will be healthier following a bye week. Two improved units clash as Pryor and the nation's No. 8 offense go up against an Illinois defense that has made strides under new coordinator Vic Koenning.

Northwestern (4-0) at Minnesota (1-3): Standout quarterback Dan Persa and the Wildcats aim for their third road win of the season, which would make a 6-0 start very realistic. Minnesota is in desperation mode after dropping three consecutive home games. Coach Tim Brewster is under fire, and he needs to get things turned around fast against a team the Gophers beat last year.

No. 19 Michigan (4-0) at Indiana (4-0): I'm not a betting man, but I'd take the over in this matchup. Both offenses rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring, and both defenses have struggled to stop people this season. Michigan's Robinson should be fine following his knee injury Saturday, and he'll try to outshine Indiana senior signal caller Chappell, the Big Ten's leading passer (296.7 ypg).

No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0) at No. 24 Michigan State (4-0): This is the most fascinating matchup of the day in the Big Ten. You've got two potentially explosive offenses and two defenses with some individual talents (J.J. Watt, Greg Jones) and some question marks. I can't wait for the matchup between Jones and Badgers running back John Clay, who needs a big game to boost his Heisman hopes. And we still don't know whether or not Mark Dantonio will return to the Spartans' sideline.

No. 22 Penn State (3-1) at No. 17 Iowa (3-1): In each of the past two years, an unranked Iowa team has stunned a Penn State squad ranked in the top 5 nationally. The roles reverse on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, as Penn State will be the underdog against the Hawkeyes, who have looked very impressive aside from the first half at Arizona. Can the Lions pull off the upset, or will Adrian Clayborn and Iowa's defensive line gobble up freshman quarterback Bolden?

Bye: Purdue (2-2)
Before getting ready for Penn State and Ohio State, some quick thoughts on Purdue's loss to Toledo and Northwestern's win against Central Michigan.

Toledo 31, Purdue 20: I can't name another team in America that has been hit harder by key injuries than Purdue. The Boilers today lost starting quarterback Robert Marve to a knee injury. Marve joins top running back Ralph Bolden and top receiver Keith Smith on the shelf with knee injuries. I'll have an update on Marve when I get it, but coach Danny Hope has to feel totally snake bit right now. Purdue had a mini rally in the second half and forced some turnovers, but Toledo put things away on a touchdown run with 5:24 left. The Boilers defense can't feel too good about this one, as a Toledo offense ranked last nationally in yards racked up 378 yards and 31 points. Quarterback Austin Dantin picked apart a still-vulnerable Purdue secondary.

Northwestern 30, Central Michigan 25: Things got a interesting at the end as Central Michigan closed to within five, forcing Northwestern to recover an onside kick to preserve the win. But the game shouldn't have been nearly as close, as Northwestern completely dominated the third quarter and only let up after an inexcusable fumble by running back Arby Fields early in the fourth. Fields, who is struggling this season, can't make a mistake like that if he wants to stay in the mix at running back. Northwestern ran the ball a bit better with Mike Trumpy, who might be the answer. Quarterback Dan Persa threw his first interception of the year but still looked very good. Linebacker Quentin Davie and defensive tackles Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo stepped up nicely for a defense that performed well until the fourth quarter.

Halftime reports from around Big Ten

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
1:40
PM ET
Most Big Ten teams are taking care of business today, with one notable exception (Purdue).

Here are some quick thoughts at halftime around the league:

Bowling Green-Michigan: Denard Robinson was off to another brilliant start before suffering an apparent left knee injury near the sideline in the first quarter. Robinson's injury doesn't appear to be too severe, but backups Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier likely will lead the offense the rest of the way. Forcier got his first action of the season late in the first half and led Michigan on an impressive 69-yard touchdown drive, going 6-for-6 on his pass attempts. Gardner also has a touchdown pass, and receiver Roy Roundtree continues to look impressive. The Michigan defense still seems shaky, allowing an explosion play midway through the second quarter.

Toledo-Purdue: You have to feel for Danny Hope. The Purdue coach has lost his best running back (Ralph Bolden), his best receiver (Keith Smith) and now his best quarterback (Robert Marve) to injury. Marve suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and isn't expected to return. Backup Rob Henry is running the ball well, but he still looks shaky as a passer. Toledo is passing the ball extremely well and could be on its way to a shocking blowout victory. This isn't the same Rockets team I saw against Arizona in the season opener, but this isn't the same Purdue team, either.

Austin Peay-Wisconsin: This one's over, Guvna. Wisconsin is just toying with Austin Peay today, as quarterback Scott Tolzien has been nearly perfect (13-for-14 passing, 196 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman running back James White continues to impress with two touchdown runs, including a 66-yarder. As expected, Austin Peay looks totally overmatched against the Badgers' offensive line, and Wisconsin has dominated every offensive category so far. You'll see a lot of the second and third string after halftime.

Ball State-Iowa: Adam Robinson might be Iowa's only healthy proven running back, but he's a pretty good one. The sophomore already has eclipsed 100 rushing yards. I wouldn't expect Iowa to keep feeding Robinson as much in the second half, especially as Ricky Stanzi continues to throw the ball well. Tight end Allen Reisner is having another big day, and the Hawkeyes defense has rebounded nicely from the Arizona loss by shutting down the Ball State offense and forcing two turnovers.

Central Michigan-Northwestern: Very bizarre game so far in Evanston. There have been a ton of flags, two blocked PAT attempts, three turnovers and some decent ball movement by both teams. Northwestern appeared poised to take a two-score lead midway through the second quarter, but quarterback Dan Persa made his first mistake of the season, throwing an interception in the red zone. Persa's pick turned the game and Central Michigan mounted an impressive drive to tie the game. Northwestern linebacker Quentin Davie and defensive tackle Jack DiNardo both are playing well so far, but it's been too sloppy for the Wildcats with all the penalties.

Northern Colorado-Michigan State: The Spartans honored ailing Mark Dantonio by wearing a "D" on their helmets, and so far they're making the coach proud. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is dissecting the Bears defense so far, completing 12 of 15 passes for 235 yards and two passing touchdowns. After three plus years with no interceptions, Michigan State star linebacker Greg Jones already has two in the first half. The run game has been decent so far, but Michigan State really seems to be emphasizing the pass game.

Big Ten stock report: Week 4

September, 22, 2010
9/22/10
9:00
AM ET
Invest wisely.

STOCK UP

Scott Tolzien: After a bit of shakiness in Wisconsin's first two games, Tolzien looked very sharp against Arizona State despite not having two of his top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior quarterback completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

Anthony Santella: Special teams play hasn't been a Big Ten strength so far this season, but Santella is a bright spot. The Illinois senior leads the nation in punting with a 48.9-yard average. Santella has improved from 50th nationally in punting in 2009 and 75th in 2008.

Northwestern's defensive line: The loss of third-round draft pick Corey Wootton hasn't fazed the Wildcats, who are receiving excellent play up front from defensive tackles Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant and end Vince Browne. The three combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup against Rice.

Penn State's third-down efficiency: The Lions have been excellent on third down on both sides of the ball. They rank 12th nationally in third-down conversions at 53.7 percent, a testament to an offensive line that has yet to allow a sack. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally in third-down defense at just 25 percent conversions.

STOCK DOWN

Greg Robinson: His Michigan defense showed some shakiness in the first two games but made up for it by forcing turnovers. There was nothing to sugarcoat the struggles Saturday against Massachusetts, which rolled up 36 points and 439 yards, keeping things very interesting until the end.

Iowa's offensive line: After holding up well the first two weeks, Iowa's inexperience up front showed against Arizona. The Hawkeyes surrendered six sacks, including three on the final four offensive plays. Though senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi needed to get rid of the ball, he didn't have much chance to do so.

Special teams: Major breakdowns are becoming an epidemic around the Big Ten. You saw it Saturday with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State. The mistakes need to be fixed ASAP.

Now it's time to check in on the league award races.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, Week 3 performance)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 10-for-14 passing, 241 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 rushes, 104 yards, 1 TD.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 22-of-29 passing, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; rushing TD; had school-record 16 consecutive completions in first half.

3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 24-for-32 passing, 307 yards, 1 TD; 34 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD.

5. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 22 carries, 123 yards, 1 TD.

6. Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure: 24 carries, 180 yards, 1 TD.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded five tackles, two for loss and a sack. Leads Big ten with 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 more than any other player.

2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded nine tackles, including a sack and had a quarterback hurry. Leads the Big Ten with 29 tackles.

3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Played through pain against Arizona State to record a pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.

4. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Recorded a forced fumble, an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. Ties for league lead in forced fumbles with two.

5. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. Leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (3) and passes defended (5).

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR RACE


1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 17 rushes, 114 yards, 1 TD.

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 6 rushes, 40 yards, 4 kick returns for 93 yards.

3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 17-of- 27 passing, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT; 4 carries, 33 rush yards, 1 TD.

4. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: 16 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD; 8-of-16 passing, 70 yards.

Big Ten Week 3 rewind/Week 4 preview

September, 20, 2010
9/20/10
2:00
PM ET
Let's look back at Week 3 before gearing up for a riveting slate of games Saturday in the Big Ten (sarcasm, people).

Team of the Week: Michigan State. After suffering a series of close losses in the past three years, Michigan State finally turned the tables -- against one of its top rivals, no less. A seesaw game featured some offensive fireworks on both sides, and for certain stretches, Michigan State achieved the type of offensive balance that could make it very dangerous when Big Ten play rolls around. But the Spartans once again seemed to wilt in the clutch as quarterback Kirk Cousins took some costly sacks. Notre Dame regained the momentum late in regulation and in overtime, but Michigan State changed everything with a gutsy fake field goal call that resulted in the game-winning 29-yard touchdown pass. Although coach Mark Dantonio's health setback put the celebration on pause, Michigan State has an opportunity to build off this win.

[+] EnlargeBates
Matt Cashore/US PresswireAaron Bates' touchdown pass in overtime lifted the Spartans to a victory.
Best game: Notre Dame at Michigan State. The game featured four lead changes, 938 yards, 65 points and the most memorable play of the young college football season, as punter/holder Aaron Bates found tight end Charlie Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown on the fake field goal try in overtime. Quarterbacks Cousins and Dayne Crist both had their moments, as did receivers Michael Floyd and B.J. Cunningham. Just a very entertaining game between rivals. Honorable mentions go to Wisconsin-Arizona State, which featured several wild special-teams plays, and Iowa-Arizona, which featured a furious Hawkeyes rally from a 27-7 halftime deficit and an Arizona counterpunch in the clutch.

Biggest play: Isn't it obvious by now? No one expected the fake field goal, especially from a typically conservative coach like Dantonio. It was the right call at the right time and Bates, a former high school quarterback, deserves credit for going to his second read after Le'Veon Bell was covered. If Michigan State goes on to have a big season, we'll all point to this play. Wisconsin also received two huge special-teams plays from safeties Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai. Johnson tripped up Arizona State kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks at the 1-yard line as the second quarter clock expired, saving six points and a huge momentum swing going into halftime. The 5-foot-9 Valai showed off his hops by blocking the potential game-tying PAT attempt with 4:09 left as Wisconsin won 20-19.

Specialist spotlight: Bates had a huge night against Notre Dame, and his game-winning pass to Gantt overshadowed his prowess as a punter, as he averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts. Illinois punter Anthony Santella leads the nation in punting average (48.9 ypg) after averaging 48.7 yards per boot on Saturday against Northern Illinois. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against Rice, and Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 43 yards on four punts and had one downed inside the 5-yard line against Arizona State.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks knew he'd have to step up Saturday as Wisconsin played without two of its top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior tight end looked like a wide receiver again as he hauled in seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, even though he was interfered with in the end zone. He shares the game ball with quarterback Scott Tolzien (19-25 passing, 246 yards, 1 TD).
  • Michigan RB Michael Shaw: Denard Robinson didn't have to do it all against UMass as Shaw racked up career highs in both rushing yards (126) and touchdowns (3) on only 12 carries. He shares the game ball with Robinson, who had another big day, and receiver Darryl Stonum (3 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TDs).
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan: Homan has carried over his stellar play from 2009 and continues to become one of the league's top defensive playmakers. The senior had seven solo tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Ohio. Kudos also go to fellow Buckeyes defender Tyler Moeller, who recorded his first career interception, a forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss.
  • Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: Bell is the early leader for Big Ten Freshman of the Year after recording his second 100-yard rushing performance in his first three collegiate games. The big man rumbled for 114 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Notre Dame. He shares the game ball with receiver B.J. Cunningham (7 receptions, 101 yards, TD) and fellow back Edwin Baker (14 carries, 90 rush yards, TD).
  • Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: The senior leads the Big Ten in interceptions after recording his third -- a pick-six, no less -- in Saturday night's blowout win at Rice. Davie recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a pass breakup. He shares the game ball with defensive linemen Vince Browne, Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo, who combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
  • Purdue WR Cortez Smith: The Boilers need a No. 1 receiver to emerge after losing Keith Smith, and Cortez Smith looks reads to fill the void. He recorded five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State. He'll share the game ball with defenders Gerald Gooden (5 tackles, forced fumble, pass breakup), Kawann Short (two pass breakups, blocked PAT) and Jason Werner (INT, 1 TFL).
How bizarre: The league-wide special teams struggles as well as a few odd highlights stood out in Week 3. Who can remember the last time the Big Ten had so many meltdowns with punting, kicking, kickoff coverage and punt coverage? Then again, the three biggest plays on Saturday came in the kicking game: Michigan State's game-winning fake field goal, Johnson's touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff return and Valai's PAT block to preserve a 20-19 lead.

OK, moving on to Week 4. Do we have to? I know it's my job to get your excited for Big Ten football 24-7-365, but this week provides a major challenge, to say the least.

Northern Colorado (2-1) at Michigan State (3-0): Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell takes over the head-coaching duties from Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack following the Notre Dame win. The Spartans look for a more complete defensive performance before Wisconsin visits on Oct. 2.

Central Michigan (2-1) at Northwestern (3-0): Northwestern aims for its second perfect nonconference mark in the past three seasons after going 35 years with at least one non-league loss. Central Michigan should test Davie and the Wildcats' defense, which has forced nine turnovers in the first three games.

Bowling Green (1-2) at Michigan (3-0): The Wolverines' sputtering defense likely won't face Falcons starting quarterback Matt Schilz, who isn't expected to play because of a shoulder injury. Michigan's offense will light up the scoreboard, but the D has to get better before Big Ten play.

Austin Peay (2-1) at Wisconsin (3-0): Yawn. If Wisconsin can't dominate the Governors (ello, guvna!), Badgers fans should get worried. This provides a good chance for the Badgers to assess their depth on both sides of the ball.

Ball State (1-2) at Iowa (2-1): Although the Cardinals hung in there at Purdue, Iowa should have no trouble Saturday. The bigger question is whether the Hawkeyes can clean up their play in the kicking game, on the offensive line and in the secondary after the Arizona loss.

Toledo (2-1) at Purdue (2-1): Quarterback Robert Marve's left knee injury doesn't appear to be serious, and the Boilers need to get No. 9 through this game and into the bye week without further setbacks. Arizona shredded Toledo's defense in the season opener, and Purdue should have opportunities to further develop a receiving corps missing star Keith Smith.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes could score 70 in this one. I'm not kidding. Eastern Michigan has surrendered 111 points in its first three games.

Temple (3-0) at Penn State (2-1): This is the most interesting game in the Big Ten. Temple heads to State College with a ton of confidence as coach Al Golden might be auditioning for the Nittany Lions' faithful. Penn State's running back race now is open as slumping senior Evan Royster tries to hold off junior Stephfon Green and dynamic freshman Silas Redd. Should be a good one in Happy Valley.

Akron (0-3) at Indiana (2-0): Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers' offense likely will carve up another bad team Saturday, as Akron has been blown out by Syracuse and Kentucky and lost at home to Gardner-Webb (ouch). The bigger question is whether the Hoosiers' defense can shut down the Zips.

Northern Illinois (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2): It's must-win time for embattled coach Tim Brewster and his Golden Gophers, who performed a lot better Saturday against USC but still couldn't finish off a good team. Northern Illinois will test Minnesota's new-look defense with quarterback Chandler Harnish, and Minnesota needs to reignite the run game despite Duane Bennett's ankle issues.

Bye: Illinois (2-1)
I've had the chance to check out the Big Ten Network's preview of Northwestern. The crew of Dave Revsine, Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith stopped by Wildcats practice in Kenosha, Wis.

Here are a few notes and observations:
  • DiNardo pointed out that this Northwestern team is built differently from ones in the past, with the major strengths up front on both sides of the ball. Despite a lot of experience on the lines, DiNardo didn't sound too convinced that Northwestern would reach a school-record third consecutive bowl game, and he pointed out that the schedule might be tougher than it appears because several Big Ten teams Northwestern beat last year will be improved. Not sure I buy the schedule argument. Looks pretty manageable to me.
  • We didn't get a full read on the all-important running back situation because sophomore Arby Fields, who most believe will end up as the starter, sat out practice with an injury. Junior Jacob Schmidt, who provided a nice boost in short-yardage situations last year, had a very good day, including a big burst up the middle during team drills. Northwestern typically uses smaller backs in the spread offense, but both Schmidt and true freshman Adonis Smith bring good size to the mix. Smith is listed at only 5-10, 185 but looks a lot bigger. "Smith is to me the guy who has an opportunity to come and be special as a freshman," Griffith said.
  • The running game is clearly the focus of camp, as quarterback Dan Persa and superback Drake Dunsmore both mentioned it during interviews with the BTN crew. "We take it personal that we didn't run the ball very well last year," Persa said.
  • Persa looked good during the practice, making different types of throws and showing good accuracy. He displayed nice touch on a deep fade to Jeremy Ebert in individual drills and made a nice throw to Lee Coleman into tight coverage during team drills. The receivers looked good as well, as Ebert and Sidney Stewart ran some nice routes and freshman Venric Mark left the BTN feeling he can play right away this fall. Dunsmore said he tweaked a hamstring early in camp but should be fine for the season.
  • Backup quarterback Evan Watkins had a nifty rollout and pass to Ebert for a touchdown during team drills. "Nice job of running the seam route there," Griffith said. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald is pleased with all the quarterbacks in camp, saying the team "hit grand slams" by adding freshmen Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter.
  • DiNardo likes Northwestern's starting linebacking corps but is unsure about the depth. Bryce McNaul certainly looks like the third starter alongside mainstays Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. Davie told the BTN crew that forcing turnovers is the defense's top priority after it tied for second in the league in takeaways with 30 last fall.
  • An experienced offensive line left a good impression in this practice. DiNardo and Griffith singled out guard Brian Mulroe and tackle Patrick Ward for their play, and DiNardo said, "This is the best offensive line we've seen at Northwestern for a while." Fitzgerald noted the athleticism on the left side of the line with Mulroe and veteran tackle Al Netter.
  • Aside from Schmidt's long run, the defensive line did a good job of filling gaps in team drills. The BTN crew likes the depth at both end and tackle, and Griffith lists tackle Jack DiNardo as his under-the-radar player. Niko Mafuli showed some good power in team drills, especially after Fitzgerald, mic'd up for part of the practice, called him out for being slow. Fitzgerald calls senior tackle Corbin Bryant an "All-Big Ten-level player."
  • Not much stood out about the secondary in this practice, although the BTN crew praised the play of safeties Jared Carpenter and Hunter Bates, who are competing to start alongside Brian Peters. "He's key for that young secondary," DiNardo said of Carpenter.

Northwestern spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
5/05/10
8:00
AM ET
2009 overall record: 8-5

2009 conference record: 5-3 (T-4th)

Returning starters

Offense: 8, defense: 5, kicker/punter: 1 (Stefan Demos handled both duties in 2009)

Top returners

TE Drake Dunsmore, LT Al Netter, C Ben Burkett, LB Quentin Davie, LB Nate Williams, DT Corbin Bryant, DE Vince Browne, S Brian Peters, K/P Stefan Demos

Key losses

QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Andrew Brewer, DE Corey Wootton, CB Sherrick McManis, S Brad Phillips, DT Adam Hahn

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Arby Fields* (302 yards)

Passing: Mike Kafka (3,430 yards)

Receiving: Andrew Brewer (925 yards)

Tackles: Quentin Davie* (90)

Sacks: Quentin Davie* and Vince Browne* (5)

Interceptions: Sherrick McManis (5)

Spring answers

1. Persa ready to lead at QB: There's no quarterback controversy in Evanston as junior Dan Persa has established himself as the undisputed leader of the offense despite his limited game experience. Persa still must prove himself this fall, but he has done all the right things to prepare to succeed All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka.

2. Ebert back to top form: Jeremy Ebert never fully recovered from hip surgery last season, but the junior looked like a No. 1 wide receiver this spring. Ebert should fit into the Eric Peterman-Zeke Markshausen mold as a reliable possession receiver, though he can also stretch the field at times. He finished spring ball with a solid performance (4 receptions, 49 yards) in the spring game.

3. Depth at linebacker and defensive tackle: Coaches often stress the importance of up-the-middle defense, and Northwestern looks strong at two of the three spots. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald says the team's linebacker depth is the best it has been in recent memory, as Quetin Davie leads a strong group. Niko Mafuli turned in a strong spring at defensive tackle and should form a solid rotation with projected starters Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo. The safety spot is the only remaining question mark.

Fall questions

1. Running back: Northwestern can't expect to run the ball as poorly as it did last fall and win eight or more games again in 2010. Persa is still inexperienced and will need some help from the running backs. Arby Fields comes out of the spring as the No. 1 back, even though he didn't participate in any scrimmages because of his baseball responsibilities. The Wildcats need Fields or another candidate to create some clear separation in preseason camp.

2. Safety depth: The team loses two multiyear starters at safety in Brad Phillips and Brendan Smith, putting the position very much in the spotlight. Northwestern feels good about playmaking junior Brian Peters, who essentially served as a third starter in 2008 and 2009. But other than Peters, there are question marks. Jared Carpenter emerged from spring ball as the No. 2 starter, but converted linebacker David Arnold and Hunter Bates will compete for playing time.

3. Special teams: The kicking game must remain a top priority for Northwestern, which has lost or nearly lost quite a few games because of special teams. Stefan Demos is an All-Big Ten kicker, but he would really benefit if Brandon Williams could step up and become the starting punter. Northwestern also must improve its return and coverage teams. Stephen Simmons should help on kickoff returns if he can stay healthy.

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