Big Ten: James Hardy
Here w e go ...
- Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde: On a night where quarterback Braxton Miller nearly was benched for shaky play, Hyde stepped up in the second half as Ohio State rallied for its 18th consecutive win. Hyde had a career-high 168 rush yards and three touchdowns, all in the second half. He also had a career-high 38 receiving yards on four receptions as the Buckeyes survived in Evanston.
- Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. looked good against Illinois, but he had plenty of help from his veteran backfield mate. Abdullah had a career-high 225 rush yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, the highest rushing total for a Nebraska player since the 2010 season.
- Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard: The sticker could go to the entire Spartan Dawgs defense, as Michigan State shut down Mark Weisman and Iowa's run game and blanked the Hawkeyes in the second half at Kinnick Stadium. But Dennard showed why he's one of the nation's best cornerbacks with two interceptions and a team-high eight tackles. It marked Dennard's third multi-interception game of his career.
- Indiana WR Cody Latimer: After a slow start to the season, Latimer is emerging for the high-powered Hoosiers offense. He had career highs in both receptions (9) and receiving yards (140), and recorded his third consecutive 100-yard receiving performance, the first Indiana player to do so since James Hardy in 2005. Latimer also made a mark on special teams, recovering a fumble in the win against Penn State.
- Michigan TE Devin Funchess: The sophomore tight end had a breakout performance against Minnesota, recording career highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (151). He also hauled in a touchdown catch and recorded the second 100-yard receiving performance of his career.
- Wisconsin offensive linemen Zac Matthias and Dallas Lewallan are making big contributions this spring. New Badgers assistant Jeff Genyk didn't have to introduce himself to one player.
- Two Michigan State redshirt freshmen tight ends eye bigger opportunities this fall. Should MSU protect likely top QB Andrew Maxwell in the spring game?
- A look at Bill O'Brien's right-hand man at Penn State. Lions recruit Troy Reeder is excited about the tradition at Linebacker U. Reviewing O'Brien's fearlessness and success on fourth down.
- After a final visit to Ohio State, wide receiver recruit Drake Harris knew Michigan was the right spot for him. Michigan installed more than 90 percent of its pro-style offense this spring. Greg Mattison expects continued improvement from Michigan's defense this summer.
- Marc Morehouse details his impressions of Iowa's offense from the Des Moines practice. Check out video interviews of Iowa players in Des Moines. Tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz will play a vital role for Iowa's offense in 2013.
- Ohio State has fewer question marks this spring than last. The Buckeyes' right tackle spot concerns coach Urban Meyer, who said it could determine whether the offense is good or great this fall.
- Jon Nyatawa breaks down Nebraska's defensive line following spring practice. Former Nebraska LB Sean Fisher earns a major academic honor from the Big Ten.
- Illinois hopes to land its first recruit from Belleville West High School near St. Louis. New Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit challenged RB Donovonn Young this spring. Former Illinois LB Matt Sinclair joins the team's recruiting staff.
- Matt Hayes ranks the Big Ten coaches entering 2013.
- Making the case for Indiana to go bowling this season. The Hoosiers appear to be on the rise. Former Hoosiers star James Hardy hopes to make it in Hollywood.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald believes this is his deepest team. The always enjoyable dizzy bat race took place during the Wildcats' final workout.
- Purdue great Mike Alstott thinks new coach Darrell Hazell will get it done with the Boilers.
Grant from Detroit writes: In response to your article about a Narduzzi succession, that would be extremely ideal. I know Dantonio won't be retiring any time soon, but he has brought such a sense of stability to a program that, before him, was a joke of a coaching carousel. I feel that Izzo and Dantonio are on similar paths. Izzo took a MSU job and turned it into a destination position when he decides to retire. There will be a line to fill that spot. I feel that Dantonio has a similar philosophy about the head coach position for football. He has taken the right steps in making that a reality, and I think the smartest move he has made so far may be the promotion of Narduzzi to assistant coach. Narduzzi has obviously been an invaluable part of the Michigan State machine, always fielding a competitive (and lately dominant) defense that has made up for shortcomings elsewhere. He has also been great for recruiting, as defensive players WANT to come to MSU, after seeing us turn out professional players (and prospects) like Greg Jones, Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson, Will Gholston, etc. I doubt that Narduzzi will stick around long enough for the MSU position to be handed to him, even with the assistant coach label. I fear that he will go the way of Will Muschamp and jump ship before the head coaching position becomes available. But I still think the move at least establishes a mold for candidates for the position, should Dantonio decide to retire.
Chris K. from Jackson, Mich., writes: Regarding Narduzzi, I would love it if he would become head coach at MSU after Dantonio. Narduzzi is a high-energy guy and a good recruiter and I think that would be the style of the assistant coaches, whether the current assistants are there or not.
Brian from Conshocken, Pa., writes: I love the idea of Pat Narduzzi taking over as head coach (when Coach D is ready to step down, of course) and I hope his acceptance of the assistant head coach shows that the feeling is mutual. Having his guidance over the years is the best chance for MSU Football to compete with the rest of the league in the years to come.
Adam Rittenberg: It doesn't surprise me to see such strong support for Narduzzi among Spartans fans. He has done an excellent job building Michigan State's defense into a nationally elite unit, and his recruiting efforts certainly have helped shape the defense. He's a fiery guy, which appeals to most fans, and certainly would bring energy to the job, perhaps more so than Dantonio does. I've been very impressed by Narduzzi as well and was surprised he didn't get more of a look for the Cincinnati job. My only concern with him is whether he's too much of a loose cannon. He got in trouble for his "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness" comment in 2011 and publicly discussed what he felt was abridged game film from Ohio State last year. As a media member, I love Narduzzi's candor, but most athletic directors usually like their coaches a little more restrained.
Ed from Philadelphia writes: Adam, Regarding the Ireland game for Penn State: It seems that you've chosen not to mention one of the more important pieces of the puzzle, which is that NCAA bylaws allow a 13th regular season game if it's played in Hawaii or otherwise outside the mainland US. In other words, PSU wouldn't have to worry about dumping a non-conference game if they do it while the sanctions are still in effect. They could just count it as their extra game.Obviously, it would still probably have to be done at the beginning of the season rather than the back end, as nobody would agree to interfere with their possible bowl season preparation. In fact, really the only realistic time would be the very first game of the year to minimize the fatigue of traveling.
Adam Rittenberg: Ed, thanks for bringing up this issue with the potential Penn State game in Ireland. I checked the NCAA bylaws regarding maximum number of contests, and there are a few things of note. The bylaw you cite about a team being allowed to play a 13th game if it takes place in Hawaii only applies to games placed against NCAA institutions in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico. It doesn't apply to two mainland teams playing a game out of the country.
184.108.40.206 Annual Exemptions. [FBS/FCS] The maximum number of football contests shall exclude the following:
(j) Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico. [FBS/FCS] Any football games played in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, respectively, either against or under the sponsorship of an active member institution located in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, by a Division I member institution located outside the area in question
There also is an exemption for a "foreign tour," but these games are against teams from other countries -- rather than another FBS team -- and don't count in the record book.
220.127.116.11 Opponents. The team shall not compete during the tour against other American teams (colleges or other U.S. teams) other than teams composed of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed at U.S. military bases in foreign countries
Here's what the manual notes about in-season foreign competition.
18.104.22.168.1 In-Season Foreign Competition. [FBS/FCS] A member institution may play one or more of its countable contests in football in one or more foreign countries on one trip during the prescribed playing season. However, except for contests played in Canada, Mexico or on a certified foreign tour 17 (see Bylaw 17.28), the institution may not engage in such in-season foreign competition more than once every four years.
It doesn't mention anything about exceeding the 12-game limit. A Penn State official told me a game in Ireland would count against the 12-game limit for the season. I agree with you that Penn State almost certainly would have to schedule the Ireland game as a season opener because of the travel issues.
Bryson from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey AR, Any chance that with the Boulware exit out of Madison we see our beloved Bart Miller come out and take over the TE's? I know Boulware was going to coach special teams as well and is a decorated recruiter. Who is on our radar for now? Oh and where did Bart Miller end up anyway?
Adam Rittenberg: It's funny you mention Miller's name, Bryson, because Brian Bennett and I brought him up immediately after the Boulware exit. Ultimately, I don't see it happening as Gary Andersen already had one chance to keep the popular Miller on staff and chose not to. Maybe the second time changes things, but Andersen has been pretty decisive in his hires. Also, Miller's inexperience as a full-time assistant coach likely would hurt him for this job as Andersen wants the coach to handle both a position group and special teams. Footballscoop.com reports that Jeff Genyk, a former Northwestern assistant and the former Eastern Michigan head coach, is interviewing for the job. He'd be a good hire.
Brock from Little Rock, Ark., writes: Not quite sure many people are paying attention to Kevin Wilson's and IU's recruiting class for 2013. If they are not they should be. With Taj Williams committing they jumped up to 4th in the B1G (according to Rivals). Coming off of a 4-8 season, is this a positive reflection of what Hoosier fans can expect year in and year out, both in recruiting and on field performance?
Adam Rittenberg: Brock, I agree more people should take notice of Indiana's recruiting efforts, and I think the Hoosiers are starting to make waves around the Big Ten. Williams is a big addition and will strengthen an already talented receiving corps led by Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. But the even bigger development in my view is Indiana's recruiting gains on the defensive side of the ball. Remember, the Hoosiers have had great wide receivers for years -- James Hardy, Tandon Doss, etc. -- but they haven't been able to stop anyone from scoring. They've simply lacked enough Big Ten-quality defenders, but things seem to be changing under Wilson. According to ESPN Recruiting, the top six players in Indiana's class will play defense in Bloomington (Williams hasn't been added to the list yet). That's a very encouraging sign because Indiana always will pile up yards and points under Wilson. Maybe the Hoosiers soon will prevent opponents from doing the same.
Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: After reading the stories about assistant coaches moving from program to program, how about a story about Coach Kill and his staff staying together.
Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly worth noting, Craig. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams to keep their entire coaching staffs in place for the past three seasons. Even Big Ten teams that had been incredibly stable, like Iowa, have seen sweeping changes in recent years. Kill's staff continuity is one of his hallmarks, and several of his assistants have been with him since his FCS and/or Division II days at Southern Illinois, Emporia State and Saginaw Valley State. The loyalty Kill has shown to his assistants and vice versa stands out in this volatile coaching environment, and it has played a role in Kill having success everywhere he's been.
Joe from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Thoughts on Iowa's open practice in Des Moines being held on the same day as Iowa State's spring game?
Adam Rittenberg: I like it, Joe. For starters, it shows that Iowa notices Iowa State and the success the Cyclones have had in recent years. Although some Iowa fans always will dismiss Iowa State as inferior, the Iowa program shouldn't take an arrogant attitude toward their rival from Ames. The bottom line is Iowa State has more than held its own against Kirk Ferentz's teams, and the improved recruiting efforts from Ames should be noted in Iowa City.
Also, as Mike Hlas writes, the practice in Des Moines will generate buzz and interest for a portion of Hawkeyes fans who can't access the program as easily as those in the Eastern portion of the state.
For the first time, they’re coming to the people instead of the people coming to them. There’s no taking you for granted, central Iowans. The Hawkeyes need you, they love you, they want you to know how much you mean to them. It’s a smart play.
I completely agree. And yes, the fact Iowa went 4-8 last season has something to do with it. Iowa fans are extremely passionate and loyal and will continue to come to games, but last season did some damage. It's nice to see the Hawkeyes being proactive in reaching out to their fans and also to potential recruits deciding between Iowa and Iowa State. Good move.
The Hoosiers landed a pledge from wide receiver prospect Isaac Griffith from Fort Wayne, Ind. Indiana has had success with recruits from Fort Wayne, bringing in record-setting wideout James Hardy, among others. Griffith landed a scholarship offer from IU after attending the team's camp Sunday and impressing head coach Kevin Wilson. He recorded 60 receptions for 1,112 yards and 23 touchdowns as a junior at Homestead High School.
Indiana fans will like the following quote from Griffith, given the team's slow start to 2013 recruiting.
"I'm a recruiter," the Homestead receiver said. "That's my job. That's what I plan on doing. I've already started. I will recruit anybody from the state of Indiana who can help us compete and win. ... I'll recruit skill guys. I'll recruit big guys. I'll recruit guys who want to compete and win, guys who want to build something special. That's what Indiana is going to do. That's why I committed there so fast."
With Indiana on the board and several other teams adding recruits in recent days, let's take a quick look at the Big Ten 2013 recruiting scorecard.
Total verbal commits for 2013
Ohio State: 11
Penn State: 10
Michigan State: 7
ESPN 300 commits for 2013
Ohio State: 10
Penn State: 4
Michigan State: 2
"My breakaway speed," the sophomore recently told ESPN.com. "When I get the ball, I'm not running for the first down or the extra yard. I'm running to score every time."
Hughes' speed could come in handy for the Hoosiers, who once again look well stocked at the receiver position but need more touchdowns from the group. Indiana lost top touchdown scorer Tandon Doss (7 TDs in 2010) to the NFL draft, and while No. 1 returnee Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 receptions in 2010, only four went for touchdowns.
"My role’s just as important as Damarlo's or Duwyce's or anybody else who's out there on the field," said Hughes, who recorded seven catches last fall and blossomed during spring practice. "When it's my time to get the ball, I need to be a playmaker. I've always seen myself as a playmaker."
Hughes made plenty of plays as a quarterback for Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. As a senior in 2009, he accounted for 42 touchdowns -- 19 passing, 22 rushing, 1 receiving -- and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state.
While he loved calling signals, Hughes knew his future would be at receiver. He credits Doss for working with him on route running and other areas last year.
"I was his little project," Hughes said.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hughes thinks he still must improve the way he practices and polish his game at what is still a relatively new position. With an unproven quarterback moving into a starting role -- Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson continue to compete -- Indiana needs its receivers to once again be a strength.
The Hoosiers have produced first-team All-Big Ten wideouts in three of the past four seasons with Doss (2009, 2010) and James Hardy (2007).
"We get down to business," Hughes said. "The receivers at Indiana have spoken for themselves in the past five years or so. Being a receiver at IU, there's a lot that comes with that."
Hughes is ready to embrace it and continue the tradition this season.
The school is no stranger to hiring offensive-minded coaches.
Cam Cameron came to Indiana in 1997 after coaching quarterbacks at Michigan and then with the Washington Redskins. He was succeeded in 2002 by Gerry DiNardo, who won a national title as Colorado's offensive coordinator before becoming a head coach at Vanderbilt and LSU. Indiana broke the mold in 2005 with Terry Hoeppner, a longtime defensive assistant at Miami (Ohio) before taking the top job in Oxford. But when Hoeppner died tragically in 2007, Indiana handed the head-coaching duties to Bill Lynch, the team's offensive coordinator.
After firing Lynch on Sunday, Indiana once again is looking for a coach to lead its football program.
It might be time for the Hoosiers to look to the other side of the ball.
Indiana's defense has dragged down the program for more than a decade. The Hoosiers have scored points and produced offensive standouts like Antwaan Randle El, Kellen Lewis, James Hardy and Ben Chappell, but their repeated inability to field adequate defenses has kept them out of bowl games. It still baffles me how IU couldn't make a single bowl game during Randle El's four years as the starting quarterback.
Defense was a large part of Lynch's downfall. His offenses fared well, but Indiana couldn't stop the opposition on a consistent basis.
Here's where Indiana's defense has ranked nationally in the 11 years:
2010: 89th (410.2 ypg)
2009: 88th (401 ypg)
2008: 107th (432.2 ypg)
2007: 71st (403.4 ypg)
2006: 109th (402.3 ypg)
2005: 93rd (417.7 ypg)
2004: 110th (453.2 ypg)
2003: 94th (429.7 ypg)
2002: 101st (428.4 ypg)
2001: 72nd (393.8 ypg)
2000: 112th (457.3 ypg)
I've been told most of the candidates for the Indiana job come from the offensive side, guys like Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill and former Minnesota coach Glen Mason.
Not saying these guys wouldn't work well at IU, but given the deficiencies on defense in Bloomington, the Hoosiers might be better off with a defense-oriented head coach.
Here are a few suggestions:
Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren: Doeren has the charisma, the recruiting skills and the track record to succeed as a head coach. His defense ranks in the top four of the Big Ten in all the key categories, including second in takeaways and third in yards allowed, despite losing star linebacker Chris Borland in September. Doeren has helped mold standout players like Borland, defensive end J.J. Watt and defensive end O'Brien Schofield.
San Diego State coach Brady Hoke: I doubt Indiana could lure Hoke away from the West Coast, but he would qualify as a very good hire for the Hoosiers. He knows the area as the former Ball State coach, and he has a background in defense as the former defensive line coach at Michigan, among other spots. Hoke coached three All-American defensive linemen at Michigan.
Toledo coach Tim Beckman: Beckman led Toledo to an 8-4 mark in his second season at the school. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, cornerbacks coach at Ohio State and defensive coordinator at Bowling Green. Beckman coached six All-Big Ten defensive backs in Columbus, including Donte Whitner.
Offense sells these days. I get that. But Indiana might be wise to hire a guy who knows a thing or two about defense.
Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst: Chryst called a masterful game against Ohio State, especially on the decisive 10-play, 73-yard touchdown drive after Ohio State had cut Wisconsin's lead to 21-18. He strayed from standard procedure and called four consecutive pass plays before wisely going to running back James White in the red zone. Chryst mixed personnel well all game and made a great decision to feature receiver Nick Toon on quick passes.
Purdue's rushing attack: Basketball on grass this is not, but it's still working for Purdue. The Boilermakers eclipsed 200 rushing yards for the fifth consecutive game, the first time they've done so since the 1973 season. Danny Hope wanted to spark the run game this fall, and despite a rash of injuries at both running back and quarterback, he's finding the players (Dan Dierking, Rob Henry) to get it done.
Michigan State's defense: Takeaways can bring a defense to a whole new level, and Michigan State has proved it this season. The Spartans already have twice as many interceptions (12) as they had all of last season. They've forced 18 turnovers this year after having only 14 in 2009. All four starters in the secondary had a hand in a takeaway against Illinois.
Iowa S Tyler Sash: One of the Big Ten's top playmakers in 2008 and 2009, Sash finally got on the board with his first interception this season at Michigan, returning it 36 yards. Sash holds Iowa's record for career return yards with 386, which ranks fourth in Big Ten history. The junior also had a 37-yard return following a blocked field goal attempt. Sash added seven tackles in the win.
Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' talented tandem continues to get it done on Saturdays, combining for 14 receptions, 224 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Arkansas State. They became the first Indiana players to both eclipse 100 receiving yards in a game since James Hardy and Ray Fisher in 2007. Doss finished with 241 all-purpose yards.
Ohio State's defensive line: This group rarely ends up here, but it got overwhelmed by Wisconsin's offensive front on Saturday night. The Buckeyes recorded no sacks or quarterback hurries and recorded only two tackles for loss. Nathan Williams struggled after some strong performances, and Cameron Heyward was held in check as Wisconsin created some enormous rushing lanes for its backs.
Michigan's third-down defense: A few more stops might have been enough for Michigan's offense to rally past Iowa, but Greg Robinson's defense couldn't get it done again. Iowa converted 7 of 13 third-down attempts in Saturday's win, including a third-and-14 right before halftime when it seemed content to settle for a field goal. Instead, the Hawkeyes reached the end zone to lead 21-7 at the break. Michigan has allowed a league-worst 42 third-down conversions this year.
Michigan State's offensive line: After a tremendous performance at Michigan, the Spartans' front five struggled against a good Illinois defensive line. Michigan State racked up only 93 rush yards and couldn't get Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell or Larry Caper going. Fortunately for the Spartans, an opportunistic defense bailed them out.
Minnesota's run game: You can't play power football if your top two running backs finish with only 51 yards. I know Minnesota had to pass more than it wanted to after falling behind 21-0, but the Gophers couldn't execute their power run in the first half. After a great start in the opener at Middle Tennessee, Minnesota has slipped to ninth in the league in rushing.
Illinois' second-half production: The Illini are hanging around in games but struggling to finish them off. They were outscored 23-0 in the second half Saturday at Michigan State and have been outscored 43-23 in the fourth quarter through the first six games. That trend needs to end if Illinois wants to go bowling.
Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium was absolutely electric, and the game began with a bang as Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Wisconsin and Ohio State were mirror images in the first and third quarters, as each team dominated play and put together extensive touchdown drives (19 plays, 89 yards for Wisconsin; 19 plays, 94 yards for Ohio State). The Buckeyes had all the momentum as they closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin answered with the defining drive of its season, marching 73 yards in 10 plays and mixing up the play calls perfectly. The Iowa-Michigan game also brought some drama as Michigan rallied behind Tate Forcier, and Indiana-Arkansas State turned into a shootout.
Biggest play: We go back to Madison, as Wisconsin faced third-and-3 from its own 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter after Ohio State had rallied to within three points. Rather than pound away with the run game, Wisconsin took to the air and Scott Tolzien fired a bullet to receiver Nick Toon near the east sideline for a 20-yard gain. The Badgers didn't face another third down on the drive and went on to score a touchdown. "Huge catch in a crucial point of the game," Toon said. "But that's my job." Iowa faced a similar situation against Michigan, up 35-28 in the fourth quarter but facing third-and-9 from its own 41. Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt for 17 yards, and the Hawkeyes went on to score.
Specialist spotlight: Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy really is starting to blossom as the successor to superstar Brett Swenson. Conroy went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against Illinois, connecting from 37, 34, 32 and 18 yards. The Spartans really needed him on a day when the offense struggled for stretches. Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald also had an impressive performance in relief of the injured Nick Freeland. Ewald went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter. Gilreath doesn't technically qualify as a specialist, but his return against Ohio State is notable. It marked Wisconsin's first kick return touchdown since Lee Evans in 2000, and the team's longest since Aaron Stecker's 100-yarder against Minnesota in 1995.
Most futile call: Making my way through the Camp Randall Stadium concourse to Wisconsin's media room Saturday night, I kept hearing the public-address announcer pleading with the Wisconsin students and other Badgers fans not to rush the field. Um, good luck with that one. I understand the safety issue and the past problems at Camp Randall, but you're just not going to keep people off the field when their team has just defeated No. 1.
- Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt tormented Ohio State's offensive line all night and recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks of Pryor. It felt like he had four or five sacks with all the trouble he caused. Watt also was credited with a quarterback hurry and has a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss this year.
- Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' star tandem combined for 14 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Arkansas State. Belcher and Doss became the first Indiana wideouts to both eclipse 100 yards in a game since Ray Fisher and James Hardy in 2007.
- Michigan State LB Greg Jones: The senior is well on his way to another All-America type season for Michigan State. He recorded a season-high 14 tackles to go along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Saturday's win against Illinois. Jones has led MSU in tackles in 27 of the past 33 games.
- Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: If there's a tougher wide receiver in America, feel free to send me his name because Sanzenbacher is my pick, hands down. Sanzenbacher never shies away from contact and making gutsy catches. He had six of them for 94 yards against Wisconsin. Sanzenbacher is playing like a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
- Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: DJK became Iowa's all-time leading receiver Saturday after recording four receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven touchdown receptions this season. DJK, who added a 40-yard kick return against Michigan, should share the game ball with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who continues to put up Heisman-caliber numbers (17-for-24 passing, 248 pass yards, 3 TDs).
- Purdue QB Rob Henry: The young fella looks like a winner, folks. Henry accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) against Minnesota and completed more than twice as many passes (13) on just two more attempts (20) than he did the previous week at Northwestern.
- Illinois DL Corey Liuget: It's always notable when a defensive lineman leads the team in tackles, and Liuget had another big performance Saturday at Michigan State. The junior recorded 11 tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hurries as Illinois limited the Spartans' rushing attack.
OK, enough with Week 7. Let's take a quick look at Week 8.
No. 7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, but they have yet to win a game outside the state of Michigan. They head to Evanston and face a Northwestern team coming off of a bye week. Michigan State's playmaking defense has recorded 12 interceptions this fall; Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown only two in 177 pass attempts.
Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota for the first time against a Penn State team coming off of a much-needed bye week. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can regroup a bit and get its offense going against a Gophers defense that allows a Big Ten-high 31.7 points a game. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber takes aim at a Penn State defense missing several starters because of injury.
Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Purdue is one of those teams that always plays Ohio State tough, but the Buckeyes might have steam coming out of their ears for this one. Ohio State won't overlook Purdue again after last year's loss in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes are doubly mad after stumbling last week at Wisconsin. Henry is 2-0 as Purdue's starter, but he'll be tested at The Shoe.
Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2): Illinois has gotten through the toughest stretch of its season, but it still needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory against the Illini last year and has really struggled to get over the hump in league play. Ben Chappell and Indiana's high-powered pass attack goes up against an improved Illinois defense.
No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at No. 15 Iowa (5-1, 2-0): Two rivals with a lot of similarities meet in a showcase game at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recorded the signature win he needed against Ohio State, but he also must show he can beat elite teams away from Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema heads back to his alma mater and faces an Iowa team that begins a stretch of marquee matchups on its home field.
Bye: Michigan (5-2, 1-2)
No. 14: Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana, Jr., 6-3, 195
2009 numbers: Finished second in the Big Ten in receiving average (80.2 ypg) and third in receptions per game (6.42); his 962 receiving yards ranked ninth nationally among underclassmen; eclipsed 100 all-purpose yards in eight games, including seven of Indiana's last nine contests.
Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.
Making the case for Doss: My hope is that the preseason rankings are somewhat educational for those who don't closely follow the entire league. Here's another name you need to get to know right now. Doss came out of nowhere to record an extremely impressive sophomore season, and he should be even better in 2010. He finished just two receptions short of James Hardy's single-season team record and recorded five or more receptions in 11 of Indiana's 12 games. Doss earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and drew some attention from NFL personnel evaluators, who want to see how he can build off the 2009 season. Indiana will throw the ball a ton this fall, and Doss will be Ben Chappell's No. 1 target after turning in a very impressive spring. The Hoosiers are making red zone offense a focal point after struggling near the goal line last year, and Doss' size and skills should provide a boost for Chappell.
- No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
- No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
- No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
- No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
- No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
- No. 20: Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
- No. 19: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
- No. 18: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
- No. 17: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey
- No. 16: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
- No. 15: Wisconsin G/C John Moffitt
That much became clear during Indiana's first spring scrimmage Saturday in Bloomington. More than four months after the 2009 season ended, Doss showed no signs of rust, leading the Hoosiers with seven receptions for 124 yards, including grabs of 38 and 21 yards.
The first-team All-Big Ten selection led the league all-purpose yards (138.8 ypg) and ranked second in receiving (80.2 ypg) last fall.
"It was a great feeling," Doss said Tuesday night, "to keep things going from the season and moving forward."
Doss certainly got the attention of Indiana's defenders with his scrimmage success.
"We were watching film with our linebackers coach," linebacker Tyler Replogle said, "and Tandon made a couple of us miss. He's definitely a good player to go against."
Just a junior, the 6-3, 195-pound Doss figures to be one of the Big Ten's top wideouts and one of Indiana's top weapons in 2010. Indiana finished fourth in the Big Ten in passing last fall (247.9 ypg) and returns quarterback Ben Chappell and most of its key wide receivers, including Doss, Damarlo Belcher and Terrance Turner.
Doss struggled with shoulder and knee injuries as a true freshman in 2008 and had only 14 receptions, one for a touchdown. He broke out last fall with 962 receiving yards and recorded 77 receptions, just two shy of James Hardy's team single-season record.
"We have a great group of receivers, and fortunately, I had a lot of balls thrown to me last year," Doss said. "It could really be any of our receivers. It was just the situation I was put in, and I capitalized."
Doss is working on extending his stride and running crisper routes this spring. He also attaches himself to Chappell, who established himself as a quality Big Ten quarterback last fall with 2,941 pass yards and 17 touchdowns.
Indiana returns most of its weapons on offense this season and should improve on its scoring output, which ranked ninth in the league in 2009. The Hoosiers ranked 10th in the league in red zone offense, an area the coaches are emphasizing this spring by including red zone periods with live hitting in every practice.
"We always have high expectations," Doss said. "Last year, unfortunately, we didn't finish in the red zone and some of those first downs and third-and-long situations. Right now, we're working on those situations in practice and trying to capitalize."
Tell me how you really feel.
Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, love your post dude! I have to make a comment though. How do you not give any love to Dallas Clark. 01 and 02 he made numerous plays to Iowa on the map. I am not saying he was a top 10 player, but to not even be considered?
Adam Rittenberg: That was an oversight on my part, Kyle. Clark should have been mentioned in the "also considered," a category I now regret even putting up there. But to be honest, he really wasn't close to making the top 10. Same goes for great kickers like Mike Nugent and Nate Kaeding. It's not to say they weren't great players, but they're not going to make a top 10 list for best in the decade.
K.J. from Arlington writes: Funny how you use the term infamous regarding the 2002 championship game but failed to use the term when Michigan was infamously given 2 free seconds which game football absolutely proved should not have been put on the clock by the oh so biased Ann Arbor crew in the 2005 game helping to give Michigan unearned wins in three of the previous five meetings with Penn State? Why is that? Oh wait, because you are an idiot and you hate Penn State, that's why.
Adam Rittenberg: There was some controversy in several of the games I listed, K.J., including Penn State-Michigan in 2005. The clock certainly played a role there in the end. And while I won't argue with you about the idiot part, the me hating Penn State argument is pretty lame and tired. Like I've said before, fans love me when their team is in the top 10 and think I'm a hater when they start to slip a bit. I have nothing against Penn State, which is featured prominently throughout the decade recap this week.
Justin from Plainfield, Ill., writes: Adam,Since you based it on players that generally had mulitple season, I understand (and in general agree) with your list of Big Ten players of the decade. I'd like to see your take on that same list without that caveat (of multiple seasons). To me, Michael Robinson would have to be on that list. You often hear "so and so led his team to victory" get thrown around. MRob truly led his team in 2005.Also, I was glad you gave Randal El some love. That dude was the only reason Indiana football even had a chance for those 4 years.
Adam Rittenberg: This is a good suggestion, Justin, and while I probably won't do a second post with one-year stars, here are a few who really stood out: Brad Banks, Michael Robinson, Larry Johnson, Devin Thomas, Shonn Greene, Chris Perry, Rashard Mendenhall, James Hardy.
Andy from Chicago writes: Adam - Love the blog and appreciate the Hawkeye pub during the season. I have a few follow-up questions/comments regarding your players of the decade list. 1. I know that Jake Long and Joe Thomas are better pros than Robert Gallery, but RG definitely should be on your list. He was the best OL in the conference two years in a row and paved the way for a B10 championship and undefeated conference season. Additionally, when he came out, Peter King said he was "the best lineman to enter the draft in years." Perhaps an oversight on your part, but wanted to get your opinion. 2. If this was about longevity in the league, then I understand your putting Mike Hart on the list. Otherwise, what Greene accomplished in one season is better than anything Hart did in four (or seemingly ten) seasons in Ann Arbor. 3. How many B10 players this decade went undefeated in conference, won a conference title, and finished second in the Heisman voting in the same season? One. Similar to Greene, Banks definitely should have made the cut. 4. Dallas Clark needs to at least make Honorable Mention. That is all. Thanks,
Adam Rittenberg: I really struggled with both Gallery and Long. Any top-10 list is going to leave off some deserving players, and you can certainly make a convincing case for those two. I really tried to identify the MVP for each program during the decade, and I think most Iowa fans would put Bob Sanders in that role. Wisconsin fans would say the same for Joe Thomas. Gallery was a tremendous player, as was Long, and trust me, they weren't far away from making the list. As for Shonn Greene and Brad Banks, lack of longevity was the main reason they didn't make it. The running back position was interesting because you had several one-year standouts in the Big Ten. I didn't want to have a top-10 list without a running back, and Hart really accomplished a lot in four years. As for Dallas Clark, see above.
Mike from Wausau, Wis., writes: Hi Adam:I enjoy your work. When might we expect to hear what the NCAA will do regarding the potential violations by RichRod? I thought a decision was expected by the end of 2009. To me, the lackof public notice to date indicates there is somethingon the way, and perhaps the U of M and the NCAA are "working-out" the terms of the penalty. Also, after two years, do you really think RichRod is the right person for the job? Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: The Dec. 31 date wasn't a fixed deadline for a decision on the Michigan investigation, but I'd expect we'll hear something soon. The NCAA holds many of its meetings at this time of year, so that could be slowing the process a bit. I don't think the delay necessarily means huge penalties are coming. As for Rodriguez, I think he's still a heck of a coach, but he's operating in a very different environment than he did at West Virginia. If he can get the players he wants throughout the admissions office and have several young defenders emerge, Michigan should be decent in 2010. But I continue to be concerned with what's happening on defense in Ann Arbor.
We saw outstanding one-year performances from players like Brad Banks (2002), Larry Johnson (2002), James Hardy (2007) and Shonn Greene (2008), and impressive four-year career efforts from Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, Mike Hart, Javon Ringer, Taylor Stubblefield and others.
Believe me, it wasn't easy to get this list down to 10 players, but here goes.
I put more weight on players who had multiple outstanding seasons. Also, players who had most of their production in the 1990s didn't make the cut.
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: The league's lone Heisman Trophy winner tops the list. Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season.
2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan: The 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner earned consensus All-America honors that year, completing a terrific four-year run in Ann Arbor. Edwards still holds the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions with 39, two more than fellow Wolverine Anthony Carter.
3. A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: Hawk was the face of a ferocious Buckeyes defense during the mid part of the decade. The two-time All-American (unanimous in 2005) won the Rotary Lombardi Award and helped Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl victory.
4. Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin: The Thomas-Jake Long debate is a good one, but I'm giving the edge to Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. Thomas anchored several powerful Wisconsin offensive lines, earned consensus All-America honors in 2006 and twice made the All-Big Ten squad.
5. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State: Posluszny is one of only two Big Ten players to win the Bednarik Award two times. He also took home the Butkus Award in 2005 and helped restore Penn State after the program had slipped from 2000-04.
6. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Laurinaitis was quite possibly the most decorated Big Ten player of the decade on either side of the ball. He joined select company at Ohio State in earning All-America honors three times (unanimous in 2007). Laurinaitis won the Butkus and Nagurski awards and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
7. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III shared the rushing load, but Eslinger was the mainstay who created rushing lanes no matter who had the ball. The 2005 Rimington Trophy winner was Minnesota's only three-time All-Big Ten selection this decade.
8. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa: No player meant more to Iowa's renaissance this decade than Sanders, the team's only three-time All-Big Ten selection in the aughts. Nicknamed "The Hitman," Sanders epitomized a program that got the most from its players for the majority of the decade.
9. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan: We witnessed lot of great one-year performances from Big Ten running backs, but Hart was one of the league's few mainstays this decade. Despite being plagued by injuries as a sophomore, Hart finished fourth on the Big Ten's all-time rushing list (5,040 yards) and had 28 career 100-yard rushing games.
10. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana: Randle El brought a new brand of football to the Big Ten and had a record-setting career despite never reaching a bowl game. The dual-threat star won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and ranks fourth on the league's career total offense list with 11,364 yards.
Also considered: Michigan T Jake Long, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, Iowa QB Brad Banks, Iowa T Robert Gallery, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall, Penn State QB Michael Robinson, Penn State RB Larry Johnson, Purdue WR Dorien Bryant, Purdue WR John Standeford, Ohio State S Mike Doss, Wisconsin DE Erasmus James, Iowa RB Shonn Greene, Northwestern QB Brett Basanez, Illinois LB J Leman, Penn State LB Dan Connor.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like many sports cliches, team player is used too liberally in college football.
That is, unless you're talking about Indiana's Ray Fisher.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Ray Fisher, who led the Hoosiers in receptions and TD catches last season, has made the move from offense to defense.|
The idea of a player moving from offense to defense before his senior year sounds like cruel and unusual punishment. The idea of the player actually offering to play a new position so late in his career is even more unusual. Throw in the fact that Fisher finished as Indiana's top wide receiver in 2008, and his transition to cornerback seems either incredibly heroic or extremely unwise.
"I was just looking for the team's best interest," Fisher explained. "I know we can get better by me playing the position. I'm a team guy and I know I can help a lot at that position."
Fisher isn't a stranger to the cornerback spot, having played both corner and wide receiver at Cleveland's Glenville High School. He recorded four interceptions as a junior before missing all of his senior season with an injury, but he came to Indiana to catch passes.
After appearing in 11 games as a true freshman, Fisher became Indiana's No. 2 option behind record-setter James Hardy in 2007. Fisher recorded 482 yards and five touchdowns that fall as the Hoosiers reached the Insight Bowl. Last year, he led the team in both receptions (42) and touchdown catches (5).
"That’s the position I really love," Fisher said of wide receiver. "But since we’re lacking at corner at Indiana, I’ll play just because there’s a need for it."
Fisher first started joking with the coaches about playing cornerback during his sophomore season. Back then, Indiana was set at corner with Tracy Porter and Leslie Majors. But Fisher's tone turned more serious last fall when injuries depleted the secondary -- and pretty much the whole team -- and the Hoosiers tumbled to last in the Big Ten and 105th nationally in pass defense (260.5 yards per game).
Ideally, Fisher wanted to play both ways, but the need at corner was obvious and Indiana felt good about its wide receivers, even after the April dismissal of Kellen Lewis.
"Wide receiver was a position where we felt like we had a whole lot of depth and was able to afford to send him over to the other side," Hoosiers wide receivers coach Billy Lynch said. "Ray’s just a football player. He’s a high-energy guy, he’s a confident guy and he obviously can run, so he brings an enthusiasm and a confidence and a presence to the defensive side of the ball.
"I think that move is going to pay off big for our team."
The 5-foot-9, 185-pound Fisher makes his first start at cornerback tonight when Indiana opens the season against Eastern Kentucky.
Despite the long layoff, Fisher has gradually picked up the nuances of his new-old position. He received a taste of how cornerbacks operate by working closely with Porter as a young wide receiver.
Though he misses the wideout position and hopes to play both ways in the NFL, Fisher sees at least one bonus to his new spot.
"I talk a little bit more trash because on the defensive side of the ball, you don’t have to run back to the huddle," he said. "You can just chill and relax. All day long, it's nonstop with me."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's a critical year for Indiana football and head coach Bill Lynch. As the program moves into its sparkling new end-zone facility at Memorial Stadium, the team must rebuild after sliding to 3-9 in 2008. Two years removed from a breakthrough bowl season under Lynch, the Hoosiers can ill afford another step back.
|Sandra Dukes/Icon SMI|
|Indiana coach Bill Lynch knows his team must improve on last season.|
Here are some of Lynch's thoughts on the upcoming season as we chatted last week.
You've mentioned a couple times that you feel this is a different team. Is there anything you can put your finger on as far as why things are different?
Bill Lynch: It really goes all the way back to when we got going in January with our offseason program. Every team's different. As guys get older and become seniors and juniors, this group's really taken ownership. It's the leadership we've seen and the way they've really held each other accountable to the work it takes to be a good football team. When you're in this business long enough, you see that and you feel it. That's where we are, throughout the program. This group is very committed.
I know you're excited about the pistol offense this year. Has that system fully sunk in, or is it still a process?
BL: They've got a good handle on it. It's not drastically different. The biggest thing is we want to run the football better and run it in a little different style. The spread is primarily a zone-blocking scheme where you're trying to spread the defense and create some creases, versus the pistol is more of a traditional offense where you can be a little more downhill. As a result, we can use some different blocking schemes, run some power and some gap and man schemes. We just felt like we needed to get more multiple in our offense. Our guys really picked that up in the spring. We're still going from the no-huddle attack, and that hasn't changed. The terminology is very similar, so it's not like we totally changed the offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Matt Canada is entering his third year as Indiana's offensive coordinator.|
Many consider the spread offense to be the great equalizer, and Indiana is living proof. The Hoosiers went 14 years without reaching a bowl game until 2007, when they broke through behind a dynamic offense led by quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy. Matt Canada's first season as offensive coordinator brought record-breaking results in Bloomington. Now in his third year as Hoosiers coordinator, Canada recently took some time to discuss the spread and specifically the roles of wide receivers in the scheme.
Do the responsibilities of the wide receivers change in the spread offense versus a more conventional scheme?
Matt Canada: It's probably unique to every offense. They're going to learn their roles, what they're doing week to week. We may have guys who play inside or outside, it just depends on the matchups. I don't know if it's that big a difference. The routes you run and the things you ask them to do are probably different. If you're more on a pro-set, you're going to have more play-action, more down-the-field things. In the spread, it's more of a quick-passing game, you've got more of the screens.
Does it change your recruiting at all, spotting certain guys who are better fits in the spread?
MC: Obviously, we had a lot of success with [James] Hardy, a big-body guy. You're going to want that guy in a traditional pro offense, too. But there's a need for that little bubble [screen] guy or that little guy running the jail-break screen. You're going to try to find that guy, but playmakers are playmakers. We're all competing for the same kids.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State