Big Ten: Jaycen Taylor
In case you missed it: Purdue's best case-worst case.
Best-case synopsis: The Boilermakers receive good production from both their veterans and their newcomers and surprise opponents with greater team speed. ... Purdue surges to a 5-1 start behind sophomore running back Ralph Bolden and a stout defensive line. ... The Boilers upset Notre Dame and run over Wisconsin to finish 8-4. ... They advance to the Valero Alamo Bowl and beat Kansas. ... Defensive tackle Mike Neal earns first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Worst-case synopsis: Purdue can't find an offensive rhythm or stop the run, as the program gets mired in transition. ... The Boilers fall to Toledo in the opener and stumble out of the gate. ... First-year starting quarterback Joey Elliott can't prevent interceptions. ... The defense never contains the run and allows too many big plays, especially to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. ... Purdue goes winless in Big Ten play for the first time since 1993.
You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The team is faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball, as Ralph Bolden sparks the rushing attack in an easy win against Toledo." ... "Purdue then heads to Eugene and paces Oregon before losing." ... "[Purdue] crushes Indiana for the second straight year." ... "Purdue loses a close one to Michigan State." ... "[The Boilers] miss the postseason for the second straight year."
Lies, lies, lies: "Purdue improves to 5-1 with wins against Northwestern and Minnesota before losing a defensive struggle against Ohio State." ... "The Boilers fall the next week against Illinois but bounce back in Madison as Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combine for 250 rush yards against a questionable Wisconsin front seven." ... "Oregon remembers last year's near upset in West Lafayette and thrashes Purdue 42-7." ... "Terrelle Pryor then runs wild as Ohio State hands Purdue its fourth straight loss." ... "Indiana avenges last year's blowout with a 35-point victory at Memorial Stadium that secures bowl eligibility for Bill Lynch's crew." ... "The Boilers go winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1993."
Reality check: Purdue entered the season as the Big Ten's mystery team, and not surprisingly, the Boilers followed an unpredictable path this fall. They started 1-5, as a wave of turnovers eclipsed any progress being made on both sides of the ball. No one predicted a win against Ohio State, but Purdue snapped its long losing streak against ranked teams by stunning the Buckeyes. Elliott exceeded most expectations in his only year as the starting quarterback, and both Bolden and wideout Keith Smith emerged as stars. The defense had its ups and downs, but Ryan Kerrigan turned in a great season at end. Purdue ultimately made too many mistakes to reach a bowl, but it went 4-4 in Big Ten play and notched some nice wins along the way.
Northwestern 33, Wisconsin 31: Ohio State might be the hottest team in the Big Ten, but Northwestern isn't far behind. After a disappointing 3-3 start with a very easy schedule, Northwestern closed with three November victories, two against top 20 teams, to finish at 8-4. Senior quarterback Mike Kafka was brilliant against the Badgers, and the defense forced two turnovers in the closing minutes to seal things. Cornerback Jordan Mabin, who has struggled for much of the season, put the game on ice by intercepting Scott Tolzien with 33 seconds left. The loss knocks Wisconsin out of the BCS at-large mix, as either Iowa or Penn State will get the nod from the Big Ten. The Badgers did a nice job rallying from a 27-14 halftime deficit, but running back John Clay didn't have a great day and the defense had little answer for Kafka or his receivers. Wisconsin still will be going to a Jan. 1 bowl.
Penn State 42, Michigan State 14: It might have taken 11 games, but Penn State finally played to its potential and turned in a dominant performance against Michigan State. Quarterback Daryll Clark (four touchdown passes) and running back Evan Royster (114 rush yards) both had big days, and the Nittany Lions defense forced two turnovers and made Michigan State work for everything it could get. After a humbling loss to Ohio State and a lackluster performance against Indiana, Penn State looked like a team that should be in the BCS at-large mix with Iowa and others. The Hawkeyes are more deserving of a berth, but Penn State will represent the league well if it plays like this in January. This is a pretty major blow for Michigan State, which finishes the regular season at 6-6 after seeking a league title entering the fall. The Spartans clearly haven't arrived, though they can still finish with a bowl win.
Purdue 38, Indiana 21: Purdue has played excellent football during Big Ten play, and the Boilermakers concluded a hard-luck season on a high note. It's a shame the Boilers won't be going bowling because they would be a good bet to win. Senior quarterback Joey Elliott continued his push for All-Big Ten honors by completing 21 of 29 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns. Senior running back Jaycen Taylor had a big day on the ground, and Purdue's defense held Indiana to seven points through the first 41 minutes. Danny Hope's team finished Big Ten play at 4-4, which almost always means a bowl berth. But a 1-3 nonconference record that included close losses to Notre Dame, Oregon and Northern Illinois keeps Purdue home. Indiana endured a rough finish after a 3-0 start. The Hoosiers' defense simply isn't good enough for the team to take the next step in its evolution, but the offense should be good next fall with quarterback Ben Chappell and running back Darius Willis. Those four Big Ten road losses sting because IU had a chance to win in each one Head coach Bill Lynch will be on the hot seat again in 2010.
Perfection, at last. The picks have been a struggle this season after a strong 2008 campaign, but I went 5-for-5 last week. A few of the score predictions were off base, but I'll take the end results.
- The pick: Ohio State 24, Minnesota 7
- Actual score: Ohio State 38, Minnesota 7
- 20-20 hindsight: Terrelle Pryor actually accounted for one more touchdown than I predicted, as he twice found wide receiver DeVier Posey for long scores and ran one in as well. Minnesota nearly got shut out for the second consecutive week and lost star wideout Eric Decker to a foot/ankle injury.
- The pick: Northwestern 27, Indiana 24
- Actual score: Northwestern 29, Indiana 28
- 20-20 hindsight: Both teams actually ran the ball decently, as Indiana's Darius Willis raced 70 yards on the game's opening play and Northwestern's Scott Concannon came up big late. I definitely didn't predict the biggest comeback in Northwestern team history, but the final score was in the ballpark.
- The pick: Purdue 28, Illinois 17
- Actual score: Purdue 24, Illinois 14
- 20-20 hindsight: I correctly predicted that Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott would avoid a turnover, but the Boilers' three touchdowns came via the ground, as Elliott, Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor each ran one into the end zone. Illinois committed only one turnover in the loss.
- The pick: Penn State 23, Michigan 21
- Actual score: Penn State 35, Michigan 10
- 20-20 hindsight: Few outside of Nittany Nation forecasted a blowout in this one, and many analysts picked Michigan. Lions quarterback Daryll Clark didn't need to lead a game-winning drive after tying his career high with four touchdown passes. Tate Forcier and the rest of the Michigan offense really struggled after marching 70 yards on the opening drive.
- The pick: Iowa 19, Michigan State 14
- Actual score: Iowa 15, Michigan State 13
- 20-20 hindsight: Rather than hooking up with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for a third-quarter touchdown, Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt in the end zone with no time remaining for the most dramatic win in the Big Ten this season. The Hawkeyes didn't force any turnovers, but came through in the clutch to stay unbeaten.
Week 8 record: 5-0
Season record: 45-17 (.726)
You're all thumbs.
Thumbs up, Jaycen Taylor: The senior might never be Purdue's No. 1 running back, but he has never quit despite plenty of adversity. Taylor had a 44-yard touchdown run against Illinois and finished the game with six carries for 72 yards as he provided a second rushing threat.
Thumbs down, Michigan's Robinsons: It was a rough day for the Robinsons against Penn State. Quarterback Denard Robinson committed turnovers (one interception, one fumble) on his only two series. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson saw his defense break down multiple times and surrender 14.4 yards per pass.
Thumbs up, Andrew Brewer: The Northwestern senior has gone through a position change from quarterback to wide receiver and a major injury in 2007, but he never lost faith. Brewer came up huge in the historic comeback against Indiana, recording eight receptions for 135 yards and a touchdown.
Thumbs down, Bill Lynch: The Indiana coach didn't help his team during a second-half collapse with two questionable fourth-down calls. Rather than taking three points to increase Indiana's lead to 31-19, Lynch went for a fourth-and-goal and the Hoosiers couldn't get in. Northwestern responded with a 98-yard touchdown drive. Later in the game, Indiana could have pinned NU deep but went for a fourth-and-3 from the Wildcats' 33-yard line and failed.
Thumbs up, Jermil Martin: Martin provided Ohio State's offense with another rushing threat against Minnesota, rushing for 75 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. The fullback-tailback hybrid showcased his strength in breaking several tackles on a 39-yard scoring run.
Thumbs down, Minnesota's coaches: For a staff that supposedly recruits well, the Gophers seem awfully thin on game-changing skill players. Wide receiver Eric Decker can't be the entire offense, especially since he's now hurt and will be gone after the season. The Gophers need to identify more weapons before facing another good defense Saturday.
Thumbs up, Andrew Quarless: Things haven't exactly been smooth for Quarless at Penn State, but the tight end is starting to get it. He hauled in a 60-yard touchdown pass from Daryll Clark and also had a 31-yard reception in the win at Michigan. Quarless will be a weapon for Penn State down the stretch.
Thumbs down, Illinois' run defense: The Illini couldn't slow down Purdue's Taylor, Ralph Bolden and even quarterback Joey Elliott, who finished with 62 rush yards and a touchdown. Illinois now ranks 101st nationally in rush defense after surrendering 220 yards to Purdue. That's not a good sign with Michigan coming to town.
Thumbs up, Mikel LeShoure: I've been tough on Illinois this season, but LeShoure deserves some credit for solid performances the last two weeks. He had 122 rush yards on only 15 carries against Purdue.
And, finally ...
Thumbs up, Adam Robinson: Robinson is an unsung hero for Iowa this season after taking over for the injured Jewel Hampton. The redshirt freshman rushed for 109 yards against Michigan State despite suffering a sprained ankle. He ranks fourth in the league in rushing average.
There’s clear separation at the top after Saturday’s games. Wisconsin and Michigan State are solid in the four and five spots. After that, it gets pretty messy until the bottom, as evidenced by a three-way tie at No. 7.
1. Iowa (8-0, 4-0): Kirk Ferentz would love a 20-point win right about now, but he’ll certainly take what he’s getting from his incredibly resilient team. It looked like Michigan State’s hook-and-lateral play would end Iowa’s perfect season, but junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi responded with a 70-yard drive, capped by a scoring pass to Marvin McNutt with no time left on the clock. What magic does Iowa have in store down the stretch as it chases perfection?
2. Penn State (7-1, 3-1): The Lions are a very dangerous team right now, and they gained a huge confidence boost by winning at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1996. Senior quarterback Daryll Clark has been masterful since the Iowa loss, and weapons are emerging around him in Graham Zug, Andrew Quarless and others. A win this week against Northwestern sets up a huge game against Ohio State on Nov. 7.
3. Ohio State (6-2, 4-1): There was plenty of angst at halftime Saturday against Minnesota, but Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes totally dominated the final 30 minutes. Pryor turned in arguably his best half of the season, and wide receiver DeVier Posey is looking more and more like a star. Thaddeus Gibson (three sacks) led another ferocious defensive effort. Ohio State must continue to build confidence on offense this week before heading to Happy Valley.
4. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2): The Badgers were idle on Saturday but move up a spot in the rankings. After back-to-back losses before the bye, Bret Bielema’s crew needs to get back on track at home against surging Purdue. Quarterback Scott Tolzien has thrown five interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games and must be careful against a Boilers defense that has started to force turnovers.
5. Michigan State (4-4, 3-2): One play can make a huge difference in a season, and Michigan State once again found itself on the wrong end Saturday night. The Spartans defense was suffocating until the final 1:37 and left the inside route open for McNutt on the game’s decisive play. I still think this program will do big things in the future, but losses like Saturday’s reinforce that Michigan State hasn’t arrived.
6. Minnesota (4-4, 2-3): It’s very hard to know where to slot the Golden Gophers at this point. They’ve made some strides on defense this year but remain mistake-prone and offensively challenged. Life without wide receiver Eric Decker (ankle) could be downright miserable if Minnesota doesn’t shake things up on offense. It might be time for MarQueis Gray at quarterback. Minnesota needs to get things turned around at home, where it plays its next three games.
T-7 Northwestern (5-3, 2-2): If every game started with Northwestern down 18 to 25 points, the Wildcats might be undefeated right now. Throughout the season they’ve played their best in seemingly desperate situations. This team clearly has a lot of flaws, but heart isn’t one of them. A banged-up defense has made strides since the Minnesota loss on Sept. 26, and if a running game emerges, Northwestern could win a few more games.
T-7 Michigan (5-3, 1-3): The Penn State game confirmed Michigan isn’t ready for prime time yet, as the Wolverines looked sloppy on both sides of the ball. Youth and depth were Rich Rodriguez’s big concerns entering the year, and both factors are hurting the team right now. Rodriguez needs to get quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson back on track. Perhaps more importantly, the defense needs to avoid major breakdowns.
T-7 Purdue (3-5, 2-2): Call them the Boiler Spoilers from here on out, as Purdue tries to take down higher-rated teams in the next three weeks. Purdue followed up its upset win against Ohio State with its cleanest performance of the season, a turnover-free win against Illinois. If the run game of Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor can complement Joey Elliott, Purdue's offense will be dangerous, as long as it limits turnovers. The defense seems to be getting better each week.
10. Indiana (4-4, 1-3): The Hoosiers' resolve will be tested after blowing a 28-3 lead against Northwestern. Head coach Bill Lynch made several questionable decisions down the stretch, and Indiana's offense couldn't convert three second-half interceptions into any points. Indiana will need to pull off an upset against Iowa, Wisconsin or Penn State to have any chance at a bowl.
11. Illinois (1-6, 0-5): Ron Zook is coming back for another season, but this one continues to slip down the drain. Illinois shuffled quarterbacks in its loss to Purdue, struggled to stop the run and dropped its sixth game by double digits. Zook keeps trying new things to spark his team, but nothing has worked this season.
Quick thoughts on the three Big Ten games that just wrapped up.
Ohio State 38, Minnesota 7: Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes really needed a performance like this one. After a sluggish first half, Ohio State took control when Minnesota fumbled the opening kickoff to the second half. Pryor seemed more assertive as a runner today, racking up 104 yards and a touchdown, and Jermil Martin, a fullback-tailback hybrid, provided a major lift in the final 30 minutes with 75 rush yards and a touchdown. Ohio State's defense had another huge day, forcing four Minnesota turnovers and nearly posting its third shutout of the season. The Gophers once again looked lost on offense and nearly went scoreless for the second straight game. I don't know what's up with quarterback Adam Weber, one of the league's most experienced signal callers, but he needs to pick up his play in a hurry. It was terrible to see star wideout Eric Decker go down with a leg injury, and Minnesota once again failed to find a second option. Backup quarterback MarQueis Gray should see more action in the coming weeks.
Northwestern 29, Indiana 28: There's usually some drama when these two teams get together, and today's game provided plenty. It sure didn't seem that way as the Hoosiers streaked out to a 28-3 lead behind tremendous special teams play and running back Darius Willis. But Northwestern once again showed incredible resiliency and never gave up. You rarely see a team rally for a win when it trails 28-3 and loses the turnover battle 3-0, but the "Cardiac Cats" lived up to their reputation. Pat Fitzgerald's defense turned in a dominant second half, highlighted by a goal-line stand after an interception. The Wildcats' special teams rebounded with a punt block, and Stefan Demos hit his second game-winning field goal of the year. The game reminded me a lot of Michigan State's historic comeback against Northwestern in 2006. But this time, the Wildcats were on the winning end. Indiana head coach Bill Lynch made several questionable decisions down the stretch, and the Hoosiers had no timeouts in the final moments.
Purdue 24, Illinois 14: The Boilers continued their momentum from last week's huge upset of Ohio State, while Illinois suffered its sixth double-digit loss despite competing in the second half. Purdue's two-headed running attack of Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combined for 149 rush yards and two scores, and the offense committed no turnovers, which certainly is a change from earlier in the season. Once again, the Boilers defense secured the win by keeping Illinois out of the end zone. Ron Zook rotated quarterbacks Juice Williams and Jacob Charest, with Williams leading two scoring drives. Despite a big game from running back Mikel LeShoure, Illinois couldn't capitalize on opportunities in Purdue territory. The heat rose a bit higher on Zook, who desperately needs wins.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Purdue cornerback Brandon King got a sneak preview of Ralph Bolden's breakaway speed during a practice last month.
|Andrew Weber/US Presswire|
|Purdue running back Ralph Bolden put his speed on display last Saturday.|
"He hit a play, he was coming through the A gap," King said, "and man, that was the fastest I've ever seen Ralph run. He's going to be exciting this year. We, on defense, we get to see it all."
The Boilermakers' practices in the spring and summer are generally closed to the public, so Bolden's brilliance was reserved for his teammates' eyes only. He put up ridiculous numbers during spring ball and didn't miss a beat in preseason camp to win the team's starting running back job.
Finally, the rest of the world got to see what Bolden could do on the field, and he didn't disappoint. The 5-9, 194-pound sophomore racked up 234 rushing yards -- the third highest single-game total in team history -- and two touchdowns on only 21 carries (11.2 ypc) in Saturday's win against Toledo. He sprinted 78 yards for a touchdown on Purdue's third play from scrimmage, saying later, "I saw grass. I just ran."
Bolden's effort in his first career start earned him Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors.
"I was like, 'Wow. Somebody probably gave me extra yards,'" Bolden told reporters of his reaction to seeing his final rushing total. "I'm speechless."
Bolden played as a true freshman in 2008 and had 16 rushes for 28 yards in eight games, but he wasn't fully recovered from a severe knee injury he suffered toward the end of his high school career. The pain disappeared by spring ball, and Bolden surged for 420 yards and four touchdowns in three spring scrimmages plus the spring game.
"Coming off the knee injury and everything, it gave me a lot of confidence, allowed me to do what I thought I could do coming out of high school," Bolden told me last month. "I've been able to carry it over."
Purdue's running backs were the talk of the preseason, the group everyone pegged to make the biggest jump this fall. Senior Jaycen Taylor returned to form after missing all of 2008 with a torn ACL, while Frank Halliburton and Dan Dierking impressed the coaches and heralded freshman Al-Terek McBurse got in some work before being slowed by injuries.
But Bolden stood out from the pack.
"Top end speed separates him in some ways," head coach Danny Hope said. "Right now on our football team, speed is something that we would like to get on the field and have more of it, and Ralph is fast. There were many, many times throughout the course of camp things were bottled up and shut down and he was able to stick his foot in the ground and bounce outside and run off the distance to the end zone."
Bolden is no longer a practice prodigy. He showed Saturday that he's just as dynamic when it matters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If you asked any Purdue player or coach to name the unit that turned the most heads in the preseason, they all provided the same answer: the running backs.
Known mostly for its passing game the last 12 years, Purdue wants to establish the run this fall and has done an excellent job so far against Toledo. Sophomore Ralph Bolden started things off with a 78-yard scoring run just 1:12 into the game, and senior Jaycen Taylor, making his return after missing all of last season with a knee injury, added a 43-yard touchdown scamper. Bolden already has six carries for 130 yards.
Midway through the second quarter, Purdue has 185 rush yards, eclipsing its game average from 2008 by 60 yards. Purdue needs to keep it up as it seems like Toledo is climbing back into this one.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The 10th installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
The Big Ten's mystery team flummoxes opponents, youth is served and veterans flourish in featured roles, as Hope returns to West Lafayette.
First-year coach Danny Hope has accelerated the pace at Purdue since he took over for Joe Tiller, and the results show in the Boilermakers' first game. The team is faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball, as Ralph Bolden sparks the rushing attack in an easy win against Toledo. Purdue then heads to Eugene and paces Oregon before losing in overtime, but unlike last year's game, the strong showing against the heavily favored Ducks galvanizes the Boilers.
After handling Northern Illinois in Week 3, Purdue's defense provides a huge lift in an upset of Notre Dame. Defensive linemen Ryan Kerrigan and Mike Neal both record sacks, and a veteran Boilers secondary stifles the Irish pass attack. Purdue improves to 5-1 with wins against Northwestern and Minnesota before losing a defensive struggle against Ohio State.
The Boilers fall the next week against Illinois but bounce back in Madison as Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combine for 250 rush yards against a questionable Wisconsin front seven. Purdue loses a close one to Michigan State the next week, but crushes Indiana for the second straight year as young wideouts Antavian Edison and Gary Bush get into the act.
At 8-4, Purdue heads to the Alamo Bowl and beats Kansas. Robert Marve beams on the sideline, anxiously awaiting his chance to start in 2010. Elliott immediately joins the Purdue coaching staff to tutor the quarterbacks. Kerrigan decides to stay for his senior year and Neal earns first-team All-Big Ten honors. All Purdue male students grow mustaches to honor Hope and Tiller.
All the transition catches up to Purdue, the offense stalls, the run defense collapses and fans wonder if the dark days are back.
Purdue stumbles out of the gate against Toledo, as Elliott and the offense can't find a rhythm and the defense fails to generate much pressure. The Rockets stun the Boilers, who are forced to play too many young players. Oregon remembers last year's near upset in West Lafayette and thrashes Purdue 42-7, as Jeremiah Masoli and LeGarrette Blount each gash the Boilers for 80-yard runs.
The Boilers barely salvage a win against Northern Illinois before Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium and takes to the air, consistently beating Purdue's veteran defensive backs with wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Elliott proves why he hasn't been a starter before, tossing three interceptions in a 45-14 loss to the Irish.
Northwestern and Minnesota take advantage of Purdue's weak run defense, consistently double-teaming Kerrigan and Neal and forcing young players to beat them. Terrelle Pryor then runs wild as Ohio State hands Purdue its fourth straight loss. Things get even worse the next week against Illinois, which makes big play after big play against a defense that allowed far too many of them last year.
Purdue collapses down the stretch, as Indiana avenges last year's blowout with a 35-point victory at Memorial Stadium that secures bowl eligibility for Bill Lynch's crew. The Boilers go winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1993 and miss the postseason for the second straight year. Kerrigan leaves early for the NFL, and several of Hope's recruits from Florida also depart. Purdue fans shave their mustaches in protest and wear "Hopeless" T-shirts at the home finale against Michigan State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The games are back, and so are the picks. Hold your applause. Every Thursday this fall, I'll forecast what will happen in the Big Ten.
Last year, I went 71-17 (80.7 percent) during the regular season. That's all you need to know.
Indiana 27, Eastern Kentucky 17: The pistol offense gets off to a slow start, but Indiana's defense contains Eastern Kentucky and buys time for Ben Chappell and Co. to get going. Running backs Demetrius McCray and Darius Willis have a big night and the Hoosiers rack up five sacks as they open new-and-improved Memorial Stadium with a win.
Ohio State 38, Navy 10: The Mids receive the greeting they deserve from Buckeye Nation, but the reception on the field will be different. Ohio State's defensive line is disciplined enough to stop the triple option, and Navy doesn't appear to be as strong as it has been in past years. Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor has a nice debut in the win, and Dan Herron has a big day on the ground.
Penn State 45, Akron 17: Joe Paterno returns to the sideline and enjoys the view as running back Evan Royster opens with a 150-yard effort in the opener. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain and his veteran wide receivers make some plays against an iffy Nittany Lions secondary, but Penn State pulls away in the second quarter and never looks back.
Northwestern 34, Towson 6: Those expecting a drop-off from Northwestern forget that defense carried this team in 2008 and will do the same this fall. Towson's offense has major question marks and manages just two field goals against the Wildcats, who start slow on offense but pick things up in the second half behind quarterback Mike Kafka and freshman running back Arby Fields. Towson allowed more than 230 rush yards a game last fall.
Michigan State 31, Montana State 13: The Bobcats from Bozeman aren't pushovers, having upset Colorado in 2006 and keeping things close for a while against Minnesota last year. Standout defensive end Dane Fletcher makes some plays early, but Kirk Cousins eventually gets on track and uses his many weapons at wide receiver and tight end. Spartans backup quarterback Keith Nichol also logs time and performs well, keeping the competition tight heading into Week 2.
Minnesota 31, Syracuse 21: One of the more intriguing Week 1 matchups goes to the Gophers, who struggle a bit early amid the hoopla over Doug Marrone's Syracuse debut and Greg Paulus' return to football. Paulus makes a play or two against the Minnesota defense, but Adam Weber and a dynamic group of Gophers wideouts steal the show. Eric Decker and Hayo Carpenter each catch two touchdowns as Minnesota pulls away in the third quarter.
Purdue 31, Toledo 24: Some tense moments in head coach Danny Hope's debut at Purdue, but the Boilermakers prevail thanks to a solid rushing attack led by Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor. Toledo's offense returns plenty of veterans and moves the ball against an iffy Purdue front seven. Bolden turns the tide early in the fourth quarter with a long touchdown run.
Iowa 28, Northern Iowa 9: Iowa needs its defense to step up from the get-go, and the unit comes through against Northern Iowa, a formidable FCS opponent. Hawkeyes junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi displays obvious improvement and finds the rejuvenated Tony Moeaki for two touchdowns. The run game is so-so for Iowa, but it doesn't need much from Paki O'Meara and Adam Robinson in the win.
Michigan 28, Western Michigan 24: Popular opinion is going against the Wolverines after everything that happened this week in Ann Arbor, but Rich Rodriguez's crew finds a way to start 1-0. Tim Hiller and the Broncos have their way with Michigan's secondary in the first half, but Wolverines defensive end Brandon Graham turns the game with a sack and a forced fumble early in the third quarter. Quarterbacks Tate Forcier, Nick Sheridan and Denard Robinson make enough plays against a vulnerable WMU defense.
Illinois 44, Missouri 38: The Illinois-Missouri matchup usually oozes offense, and this year will be no exception. But Juice Williams gets the final say against Sean Weatherspoon and the Tigers, as he finds four different receivers for touchdowns. Sophomore running backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure both show improvement as a dynamic Illini offense secures a big win in the Edward Jones Dome.
Wisconsin 30, Northern Illinois 23: The Huskies are on the rise under second-year coach Jerry Kill and boast a dangerous quarterback in sophomore Chandler Harnish. Wisconsin worries me a bit on both sides of the ball, but running backs Zach Brown and John Clay should have a big day against an NIU defense that lost star Larry English. It'll be tight for a while, but I can't see the Badgers losing a night game at home.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Purdue's depth charts were rewritten almost every day of training camp, but head coach Danny Hope drafted the one that counts on Sunday.
It's pretty clear youth will be served this fall at Purdue, as seven freshmen or sophomores are listed in starting roles for the season opener Saturday against Toledo. Sophomore Ralph Bolden, who had a superb spring, got the edge at running back over fifth-year senior Jaycen Taylor, though both men likely will log plenty of carries this fall.
Other items of note:
- Sophomore Gerald Gooden and redshirt freshman Kawann Short earned the starting spots at defensive end and defensive tackle, respectively, alongside veterans Mike Neal and Ryan Kerrigan. Purdue's defensive line is filled with young players other than Neal and Kerrigan.
- Senior wide receiver Royce Adams, a converted cornerback, earned a starting job alongside junior Keith Smith and senior Aaron Valentin. Backing them up are a bunch of young players, including true freshmen Gary Bush and Antavian Edison, both of whom have impressed in camp. Adams and Valentin also will return kicks.
- Purdue is very young at left tackle, with sophomore Dennis Kelly listed as the starter ahead of redshirt freshmen Peters Drey and Monroe Brooks.
- Sophomore Carson Wiggs will handle field goals and kickoffs, while senior Chris Summers will serve as the team's punter. Wiggs took over field-goal duties from Summers midway through last season.
- Senior linebacker Jason Werner reclaims his starting job after missing all of last season with back problems. Backing up Werner and middle linebacker Chris Carlino are two promising true freshmen -- Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten football is here!
If you could see me right now, I'd be doing my happy dance. On second thought, it's probably better you don't see me.
Anyway, after this Sahara of an offseason, I'm excited to start blogging about actual games again.
Here's a quick rundown of what's on tap for the opening weekend in the Big Ten:
Eastern Kentucky at Indiana, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Indiana debuts the pistol offense against FCS Eastern Kentucky, a team that enjoyed good success under current Purdue head coach Danny Hope from 2003-07. Keep an eye on the Hoosiers' running back race, as three or four backs, including dynamic redshirt freshman Darius Willis, are expected to get carries. Coming off a 3-9 season, Indiana needs a strong start from its defense, who will face Colonels quarterback Cody Watts, a converted wide receiver who led the team in touchdown receptions (5) last season.
Towson at Northwestern, noon ET, Big Ten Network
The Wildcats shouldn't have much trouble with Towson, a team that went 3-9 last season and still hasn't decided on its starting quarterback. But this will be a chance for Northwestern senior quarterback Mike Kafka and a new crop of starting skill players to get comfortable and gain confidence. Star defensive end Corey Wootton returns to the field after recovering from a torn ACL, and true freshman running back Arby Fields likely will see a lot of work.
Montana State at Michigan State, noon ET, Big Ten Network
All eyes will be on the Spartans' offensive backfield, where position battles at both quarterback and running back have intensified. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both are expected to play a lot, but who creates separation will be key. Michigan State coaches told ESPN.com last week that running backs Caulton Ray, Larry Caper and Edwin Baker likely will enter the season as the top ball carriers. Montana State also remains unsettled at quarterback with Mark Iddins and Cody Kempt competing for the top spot.
Navy at No. 6 Ohio State, noon ET, ESPN
Before a much anticipated rematch with USC, Ohio State must get past Navy, which always provides a challenge but doesn't appear to be as strong as it is in most years. Terrelle Pryor's progress from Year 1 to Year 2 will be interesting to watch, and I'm also very curious about the left tackle position. Will Andrew Miller or J.B. Shugarts emerge as the answer to protect Pryor's blind side?
Akron at No. 9 Penn State, noon ET, Big Ten Network
Whether it's fair or not, everyone expects a blowout here, and Penn State needs to deliver. The Lions' schedule forces the team not only to win, but win in very impressive fashion. Penn State can build confidence at wide receiver and offensive line against Akron, which ranked 90th nationally in total defense last fall. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain is pretty solid and will provide a good test for a new-look Penn State secondary.
Minnesota at Syracuse, noon ET, ESPN2
What is it about Minnesota and dome stadiums? The Golden Gophers thought they had rid themselves of domes for good by moving out of the Metrodome last fall, but they head indoors again to face Syracuse. Emotions will be high in the Carrier Dome as the Doug Marrone era begins and former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus starts at quarterback. Minnesota is the better team here, and as long as the Gophers keep their composure and don't struggle too much with their new pro-style offense, they should be fine.
Toledo at Purdue, noon ET, Big Ten Network
The Danny Hope era begins in West Lafayette as Purdue takes on Toledo, which also welcomes in a new coach (Tim Beckman). It will be interesting to watch how much the Boilers offense has changed under coordinator Gary Nord. Running back is arguably Purdue's deepest position, and backs like Jaycen Taylor, Ralph Bolden and Frank Halliburton all should get work. Boilers quarterback Joey Elliott needs to be aware of Toledo star safety Barry Church, a Nagurski Award candidate.
Northern Iowa at No. 22 Iowa, noon ET, Big Ten Network
This isn't your run-of-the-mill FBS vs. FCS beatdown. It could turn out that way, but Northern Iowa is pretty good and Iowa has some issues at running back. Former walk-on Paki O'Meara likely will get the start at running back for the Hawkeyes. Former Wisconsin linebacker Elijah Hodge, whose brother Abdul starred for Iowa, is making his debut with Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has won the last 14 meetings in the series stretching back to 1898.
Western Michigan at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
There's plenty of intrigue here, and I'll be on hand to watch it. Michigan tries to win its first opener since 2006 and close the book on a disastrous 2008 season. The Wolverines could use three quarterbacks (Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) in the game, and they must try to contain a really good signal-caller (Tim Hiller) on the other side. Perhaps the biggest question is how Michigan will come out after the allegations from players about NCAA rule violations within the program. Can Michigan keep it together for a critical opener?
Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), 3:40 p.m. ET, ESPN
Easily the best matchup of a pretty bland opening weekend, Illinois and Missouri meet in what is usually an extremely entertaining game. Illinois returns more experience on offense and really needs a win to start a tough opening stretch. A key matchup pairs Illini quarterback Juice Williams and Missouri star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who recently Tweeted he'd "squeeze the pulp out of Juice." Williams set the total offense record at Edward Jones Dome in his last appearance against Missouri and needs a repeat performance.
Northern Illinois at Wisconsin, 7 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
Week 1 wraps up with a night game at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin's surprise starting backfield of Scott Tolzien and Zach Brown takes on Northern Illinois. The Badgers likely will play both Tolzien and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips at quarterback, but Tolzien will have the first chance to create some separation. Versatile NIU quarterback Chandler Harnish provides a good challenge for a Wisconsin defense replacing five starters in the front seven.
The Big Ten's only new head coach enters the league with an air of mystery around him and his team. Danny Hope knows Purdue, having coached the Boilermakers' offensive line under Joe Tiller from 1997-2001 and again last year as the head coach in-waiting. But the Big Ten doesn't really know him. He comes from off-the-radar Eastern Kentucky, an FCS program that experienced pretty good success in his five seasons at the helm (35-22).
Hope made some news in February when he signed a recruiting class that included 14 players from Florida and none from Indiana. He inherits a team replacing most of its skill players on offense, but loaded in the secondary. He also brings in two new coordinators in Gary Nord (offense) and Donn Landholm (defense).
So what's the deal at Purdue? I sat down with Hope last week to find out.
Outside the program, there's a lot of curiosity, not knowing exactly what to expect from this team. Do you understand that? Is it just part of the deal with all the new things?
Danny Hope: I'm indifferent to it. It doesn't have anything to do with what we're doing getting ready to play. I'm indifferent about the perception on the outside, the preseason rankings, the expectations, any of that. We know where we're at as a football team. We're a very close football team, and we communicate on a regular basis. We know what our expectation levels are for the season. We're focused on us and not necessarily what's on the peripheral.
Is there any curiosity on your part? Now Joey [Elliott] will be in a major role. Now Keith [Smith] may be the No. 1 wide receiver, or another guy might be in a bigger role than he's ever been before. Are you interested to see how they'll react?
DH: We don't have a choice on how to react to that. We're going to get ready to play and we're going to play well with the players we have. We have a lot of confidence in them. It's the same thing every year. There's always new guys coming onto the scene. I don't care where you're at. We have a few more than others, but it's no different. It's business as usual, in reality.
Joey seems to have the mental makeup you want as a quarterback in knowing the game and the knowledge. What area on the field has he made the most progress?
DH: Right now as a football team, we're becoming more sure every day. Sure about our assignments and our alignments and everything it takes to be a winning football team. I see that with him as well. He's getting the ball out of his hand faster, but a lot of it has to do with the receivers are running sharper routes now. It's a cumulative effect, but he's getting better. I like the way he's getting the ball out of his hand, playing faster.
This program's known for passing the ball, but everyone is talking about the running back position this offseason. What have you seen from that group and the depth you have there?
DH: The seniors coming on strong have really impacted our whole running back pool. Frank Halliburton's a fine football player. He's a 250-pound back. They're a very aggressive group, and that's not always the case with running backs. They run hard, they finish their runs, they block hard, they have a great work ethic. We have three or four guys at the running back spot that could be starters for us. With Frank coming on strong and Jaycen Taylor coming back and looking like he can make a difference to our football team, it has really enhanced our stable of running backs. That's good for the running game, but it's good for the passing game, too. We're a multiple formation offense, and we have more playmakers right now than we had this time last year and way more playmakers than what we had in the spring.
Is that partly because of the older guys or the freshmen being in there, too?
DH: It's the new guys, and the older guys getting their chance. Frank Halliburton, a year ago, he was a big back. Now he's a really good big back. He's a playmaker. He's a really good receiver out of the backfield. [Ralph] Bolden is really fast. Ralph's probably a 10.5 100-meter guy. He's had several times the last couple weeks where he's ran off and left everybody else in the defense from a footrace standpoint. He wasn't really ready to play [last year, due to injury]. And then obviously Jaycen Taylor coming back, he wasn't there last year, and he's a playmaker. And then we added some more speed and skill on the pe
rimeter from a receiving standpoint. Four of our top eight receivers were not with us in the spring, and they're all athletic guys, long jumpers and track guys.
Do you expect to be more multiple on offense than Purdue has been in the past?
DH: They've been awful multiple. I've been around Purdue and Purdue offense, and they've had a million great plays in the last 12 years. But I like the potential of our running backs, I like the potential of our tight ends and we're much better at receiver than we were in the spring. And we're a team that throws the ball, so yes, we'll be multiple.
The guys on defense said when Donn came in, he didn't change the terminology there. You mentioned how Purdue's always been multiple on offense. Are people going to notice major scheme changes when you take the field?
DH: Here's what most people don't realize. There's a play-calling system in every offense and every defense, and the system hasn't change. I don't want to ever be in a situation where the coordinator leaves and I don't understand the system, where we can't keep that intact and continue moving on without those coordinators. I've been a head coach before and had a system and one time got outside of the system when the coordinator left and next thing I know, I wasn't quite exactly what we had in and didn't have in. So we have a certain system in, and the play-caller can pick anything out of that system, any plays he wants, as long as they can be manufactured within the system. I took the Purdue offense to Eastern Kentucky, put it in verbatim, and then a couple years later, some of that was the Purdue offense and some was some other stuff. And there were some signs of that here when I came back here [in 2008]. It wasn't exactly the Purdue offense that I had in place after I left here after the 2001 season. Coach Nord has the liberty to call any of the plays he wants, as long as they fit within the system. He's a creative coach and does a great job of keeping the defense off balance. I think our fans will really enjoy his play-calling. I sure do in practice.
How important is your freshman class toward what you want to accomplish this season?
DH: Really important because of the need we had at wide receiver and also the depth at linebacker. We had two freshman linebackers come in at mid-year with [Dwayne] Beckford and [Antwon] Higgs, which has been huge. They've been through a spring ball and a summer and now camp. And then with the receiver position, we're eight receivers shy off the depth chart from a year ago. Those new guys, they're the guys now. It's been a lot of growth and a lot of effort. It's coming together. It really is.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The students are back on campus here at Purdue, and they have questions for Boilermakers junior wide receiver Keith Smith.
"Everyone's coming up, saying, 'How's [quarterback] Joey [Elliott] looking? How's the defense looking? How's the offense?" Smith said. "Everyone's always asking because they don't know anyone right now. They've gotten so used to seeing Curtis Painter and Greg Orton and those guys.
"Just for it to be a change-up, people are going to doubt it and they're not going to know what's going on."
No team in the Big Ten seems harder to decipher than Purdue, which went through a wave of changes in personnel and on the coaching staff during the offseason. Longtime head coach Joe Tiller departed along with both coordinators, and new coach Danny Hope hired three new assistants for running backs, the offensive line and special teams.
The Boilers lose Painter, their record-setting quarterback, along with their top two receivers (Orton and Desmond Tardy), their starting running back (Kory Sheets) and several veteran defenders, including linebacker Anthony Heygood.
Hope's first recruiting class also had a mysterious quality about it, with 14 mostly unheralded players from the state of Florida.
"On paper, it's easy for people to make their assessments, when you look at people coming back, who's left," linebacker Jason Werner said. "But you can't judge talent if you haven't seen it yet."
And Werner is convinced Purdue boasts enough talent to compete in the Big Ten.
The freshmen are expected to contribute immediately and several have stood out in camp, including wide receivers Antavian Edison and Gary Bush and linebackers Dwayne Beckford and Antwon Higgs. Purdue gets Werner and running back Jaycen Taylor back from injuries that kept them out all of last season, and junior college players like wideouts Keith Carlos join the mix.
"We know what we're capable of and what we can do," Smith said. "There's a lot of unanswered questions that will be answered real soon."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Your weekend wrap-up.
- Linebacker U. is down one promising 'backer as reserve Michael Mauti suffered a knee injury in a scrimmage, Dan DiBacco writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Minnesota needs a No. 2 wide receiver behind Eric Decker and has plenty of options, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper are ready to contend for Michigan State's top running back job, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Jewel Hampton and Bryan Bulaga sat out Iowa's scrimmage Saturday, but head coach Kirk Ferentz says not to worry, Don Doxsie writes in the Quad-City Times. Hampton's absence might stir some anxiety in Hawkeye nation, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Ohio State knows Terrelle Pryor can run, but protecting the quarterback must be the Buckeyes' top option this fall, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Check out which Big Ten team wins "The Eliminator."
- Freshman Tate Forcier has stood out so far in Michigan's quarterback competition, Mark Synder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Jeff Cumberland shines in Illinois' scrimmage, while quarterback Juice Williams wants to get rid of his "red dress," Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. Linebacker Martez Wilson relishes his second chance in life, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Jaycen Taylor still needs to prove himself in contact drills, but he's definitely in the mix for Purdue's starting running back job, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.