Big Ten: Jehu Chesson

We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Football Recruiting, Maryland Terrapins, Jacob Pedersen, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Devin Smith, Tony Jones, Tony Lippett, Corey Brown, Jeremy Gallon, Duwyce Wilson, Keith Mumphery, Justin Sinz, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Evan Spencer, Gabe Holmes, Kofi Hughes, Jared Abbrederis, Kyle Carter, Nick Stoner, Jordan Fredrick, Sam Arneson, Matt LaCosse, Ted Bolser, Steve Hull, Kenzel Doe, Christian Jones, Jon Davis, Jamal Turner, Shane Wynn, Josh Ferguson, Kenny Bell, Devin Funchess, Josiah Price, Cody Latimer, Drew Dileo, Quincy Enunwa, Stefon Diggs, Jordan Westerkamp, Aaron Burbridge, Amara Darboh, Jehu Chesson, Jesse James, MacGarrett Kings, Austin Appleby, Michael Thomas, Adam Breneman, Tevaun Smith, Isaiah Roundtree, Isaac Fruechte, Drake Harris, Cameron Dickerson, Dominique Booth, Jalin Marshall, Jake Duzey, Danny Etling, Allen Robinson, Dan Vitale, Danny Anthrop, Martize Barr, Damond Powell, Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Robert Wheelwright, Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Taariq Allen, Richy Anderson, Sam Burtch, Chris Godwin, Deon Long, Garrett Dickerson, Johnnie Dixon, Saeed Blacknall, Alex Erickson, Maxx Williams, Geronimo Allison, Cethan Carter, Cameron Posey, DeAngelo Yancey, Geno Lewis, Brandon Felder, Brandon Coleman, B1G spring positions 14, Jordan Fuchs, Miles Shuler, Levern Jacobs, Nigel King, Amba Etta-Tawo, Dave Stinebaugh, Marcus Leak, Tyler Kroft, Quron Pratt, Leonte Carroo, Ruhann Peele, Carlton Agudosi, Andre Patton

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After quarterback Devin Gardner tweeted an impressive one-handed catch from Amara Darboh and a good spring game performance from the wide receiver, fans couldn’t wait to see Darboh hit the field in Michigan Stadium this fall.

[+] EnlargeJehu Chesson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesWith Amara Darboh out, Jehu Chesson's size and speed might find him more playing time this fall.
But on Tuesday, Michigan coach Brady Hoke announced that Darboh had gotten “banged up a little bit” in Saturday night’s scrimmage and by Wednesday, the news had gotten quite a bit worse.

Now fans will have to wait another season to see that potential as the school announced Wednesday that Darboh would miss the 2013 season with a foot injury that would require surgery.

With the injury, Michigan is in a bit of a bind. Though Darboh didn’t register any catches last season and mainly just played special teams, he did have game-time experience, which is a huge factor when throwing players into the fire. He had been an expected starter (Hoke actually referred to him as such in the press release) and Gardner spent much of his time in the offseason building chemistry with Darboh.

But there are options at wide receiver for the Wolverines.

Gardner still has security blankets in redshirt senior Jeremy Gallon and senior Drew Dileo, though neither really fits the mold for what Al Borges wants in a big, rangey, downfield target. Neither is above 5-foot-10 and while both have proven effective for Michigan, they really don’t have the same skill set as Darboh.

Michigan’s likely option will be redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson, the 6-foot-3 former track star whose speed has impressed. Redshirt senior Joe Reynolds has had a nice fall camp as well, and at 6-foot-1 he could be a bigger target for Gardner.

The injury might also mean Wolverines have to burn some redshirts. In their 2013 class they have three wide receivers who are at least 6-foot-3 -- Csont’e York, Da’Mario Jones and Jaron Dukes. Michigan does require its wide receivers to block which many have said takes a lot of time to learn, but if any of these three could pick up blocking more quickly, they could have the chance to see the field this fall.

Considering the nonconference schedule, though Notre Dame’s secondary returns several players, Michigan will still have a bit of time to get younger or less experienced wide receivers into the swing of things.

But with Darboh being missing the season, it definitely leaves the Wolverines receiving corps feeling banged up as well.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

We're in the process of projecting the Big Ten's statistical leaders for the 2013 season. After forecasting the league's top rusher, today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in passing this year?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten hasn't been loaded with premier passers and loses its only 3,000-yard performer from 2012 in Penn State's Matt McGloin. Although the league's next three top passers return, two of them, Indiana's Cameron Coffman and Michigan State's Andrew Maxwell, are fighting to retain their starting jobs for the season. Although there's no shortage of quarterbacks with starting experience or significant playing time around the league, few have shown the ability to consistently put up big passing totals.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
AP Photo/Nati HarnikNebraska's Taylor Martinez passed for 2,871 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.
My pick comes down to three quarterbacks: Michigan's Devin Gardner, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ohio State's Braxton Miller. If I knew Indiana's or Penn State's starting quarterback, I might include them in the race because of those teams' strength at wide receiver and tight end. But that's too risky right now. Gardner started just five games for Michigan, but averaged 243.8 pass yards in those contests. His numbers could go up as Michigan moves away from the spread and into a pro-style system. Gardner had a strong spring, and Michigan wants to keep him in the pocket more often than not. Miller also should up bigger passing totals as he enters his second year in Ohio State's offense and should have more help at the wide receiver spot. He's such a talented runner, but the Buckeyes don't want to take too many chances with his health, and the coaches see good potential for his growth as a passer.

Gardner and Miller are solid choices, but I'm going with Martinez here. His passing numbers soared from 2011 to 2012, as he completed nearly 6 percent more passes, nearly 800 more yards and threw 10 more touchdowns. He's fully comfortable with the offense under coordinator Tim Beck and should enter the season at 100 percent, health-wise. Nebraska also returns top wide receivers Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. The Huskers need some help at tight end but have recruited well at tight end and have warmed up more and more to the pass under Beck. Martinez will finish his career with every significant Nebraska passing record, and he'll also top the Big Ten's passing yards chart as a senior.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

If I were confident Indiana would go with one quarterback all season, my pick would be the Hoosiers' starter. Don't forget that Coffman is the leading returning passer in the league (in terms of yards per game), or that IU led the conference in passing yards this season. But I suspect Kevin Wilson will end up juggling quarterbacks and using some combination of Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson. Can I say my choice is Cam Roberfeld?

I guess not. So I'll go with the next best option: Michigan's Devin Gardner. As Adam mentioned, Gardner posted big passing numbers last year after taking over for Denard Robinson down the stretch, and that was without a lot of practice during the year at quarterback (he split time there and at receiver). By all accounts, Gardner has had a fantastic offseason, and Al Borges must be foaming at the mouth at the prospect of finally unleashing a true pro-style offense.

Gardner's five-game numbers last year project to more than 3,000 yards passing over a full 13-game season. I don't know if he'll get all the way there, and losing veteran receiver Roy Roundtree doesn't help. But he's still got big-play man Jeremy Gallon to target, as well as promising young receivers Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson, plus talented tight end Devin Funchess. Gardner completed 59.5 percent of his passes last year, a rate I expect to go way up with a full offseason as the starting quarterback under his belt. Michigan will look to run the ball a lot as well. But the Wolverines won't have to accommodate the talents of Robinson, and Gardner won't run as much as Nebraska's Martinez.

Plus, Michigan doesn't have any other experienced options, so Gardner will likely take just about every snap. That makes him a safe pick to lead the league in passing yards.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

April, 29, 2013
4/29/13
5:00
PM ET
Not surprisingly, there are a lot of questions about division realignment. Let's dive in, and keep 'em coming ...

Marcus A. from Peoria, Ill., writes: You wrote, "the good news is that the Big Ten is sure to schedule crossover games between the Huskers and the Eastern powers as much as possible." Isn't the schedule set to a more or less fixed rotation? Without protected rivalries we should see the same number of games, over time, against each team. Or does the Big Ten not use math anymore?

Brian Bennett: As Jim Delany told Adam on Sunday, "In the first 18 years, you're going to see a lot of competition between teams at the top of either division. We call that a bit of parity-based scheduling. You'll see Wisconsin and Nebraska and Iowa playing a lot of competition against Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan." Big Ten leaders aren't dummies. They know that more Nebraska-Ohio State, Wisconsin-Michigan type games are good for TV and good for overall business. They'll do everything they can to make sure those games happen as much as possible without tipping the scales of competitive balance too far.




Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: I'm surprised you put Wisconsin as a winner [in realignment]. As a lifelong Badger fan, I respect the MN rivalry because of its history, but the teams I REALLY want to beat are Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State, in that order. I'd take annual games against any of those three over Iowa any time. The new divisions render the Badgers' regular season as "ho hum". Now the only thing to look forward to will be the Championship game and the bowl game. What a shame!

Brian Bennett: There's no question in my mind that Wisconsin made out well. Let's face it: the Badgers belong in the same division with Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska, and they are a bit of an outlier in the Leaders. The path to the Big Ten title game looks much, much easier in the West, although Wisconsin doesn't need a lot of help these days. The drawbacks are fewer games with Ohio State and Michigan State, both of which have become good rivalries of late. Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives for Wisconsin.




Hollis Jr. from Supercool Underground Lair writes: If MSU was in the West we would lose even more recruits to big dorky brother and OSU. Collectively the teams in the East seem much closer. For instance, I would go to Maryland for a game, check out the monuments in DC and eat some crab in Annapolis while listening to a local band. I wouldn't go to Nebraska or Iowa under any circumstances.

Brian Bennett: Well, there's the bright side for the Spartans, I suppose. Michigan State does have more in common with its new East Division brethren, and Mark Dantonio's staff recruits Ohio hard. I'm curious to see whether teams in the East will gain a recruiting advantage over time by having more regular exposure in the New York and D.C. recruiting areas. Fans will enjoy the annual games against Ohio State and Penn State, as well as of course Michigan. I like what Mark Hollis told the Detroit Free Press: "Coach Dantonio often talks about seeing the glass half full, and it’s very true in this case. We have a great opportunity before us, and that’s how this entire athletic department is looking at it. We’re viewing this as a positive.” The Spartans have no choice but to embrace this, but it's painfully obvious that their path to Pasadena is about to become as difficult as it's ever been.




Bill from Windy City writes: The Legends and Leaders are dead, and there will be much rejoicing. But is the even-year/odd-year home-game scheduling a little over-determined? "[T]he East division teams will play five Big Ten home games and four Big Ten road games in even-numbered years . . . . The West division teams will play five Big Ten home games and four Big Ten road games in odd-numbered years." Different teams have different scheduling needs to get to seven home games. My Huskers will have to renegotiate the NIU game at Soldier Field. Iowa will have to buy a non-conference home game. Wisconsin has maximum flexibility, but will find it hard to keep an away date with Va Tech. Meanwhile, if the East had only 4 conference home games in 2016: Michigan would already be set for 7 home dates, and 0SU and PSU would only need to flip-flop home-and-home arrangements with Oklahoma and Pitt, respectively, to get to 7. (I guess you could write a whole post on this stuff!) Bottom line, it just seems excessively formalistic. What's the benefit?

Brian Bennett: It's not entirely clear why the Big Ten decided on having the East have the five home games in even-numbered years and the West in odd years. It may have just been random; we'll check on that. But what is clear is that Big Ten schools needed to know when their league games would be so they could start scheduling nonconference opponents. There had been a moratorium on scheduling while this stuff was sorted out, and with opponents often booked years in advance, schools needed answers. Now everybody knows exactly what years they will have only four conference home games, which will most likely mean those schools have to schedule at least three non-league home games in those years. Flipping the odd-even years would have worked out better for Michigan State and Purdue in regards to Notre Dame, but there was no way to do it that wouldn't have affected someone. The athletic directors I talked to were just happy to have some concrete information so they can go about putting together those future schedules.




David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: Regarding your column on Michigan's WR recruiting; yes they really are upgrading the size. But contrary to the seeming implied tone (maybe I'm just misinterrepting it), speed is not always forgotten regardless of what the WR coach says. ... Jehu Chesson was a two time state champion in the 300m hurdles, and his senior year won the state championship in the 100m and 110 hurdles. Da'Mario Jones ran a 10.8 or 10.9 100m in junior year in track. In comparison, Braylon Edwards ran track at Michigan with a personal best of 10.8 in the 100m (ran a 4.38 40 at combine I believe), and he was generally considered a pretty fast dude, and a legitimate downfield threat to out run defenses. Drake Harris doesn't have track times, but he's the only WR in the state of Michigan history to break the 2,000 yard mark, which he did by running away from a lot of defenders (he was also heavily recruited by OSU who you point out very much values speed).

Brian Bennett: Some people probably read too much into Jeff Hecklinski's quote from February and may have thought I was implying Michigan wasn't recruiting fast wide receivers. That's not the case. I think what he meant was that you don't want just track guys who can run fast in a straight line. There is a whole lot more that goes into being a good receiver, as we've seen time and time again. Michigan wants guys with great hand-eye coordination, body control, etc., as well as size. The difference is that in the spread, sometimes speed is the absolute No. 1 priority. What Michigan is doing with the height of its receiving recruits is unique in the Big Ten right now. And the difference between its philosophy at the position and Ohio State's is really interesting and will be fun to track.




John from Madtown writes: Brian, in the contender/pretender post on Michigan State, you indicated contender largely on the play of MSU's defense. In the Big Ten draft post, both you and Adam were bullish on the Buckeye defenders, despite OSU replacing nearly all of their starting front seven. As good as MSU's D has been are you expecting the Buckeyes to have the better D?

Brian Bennett: Good question, John. Remember, in that imaginary draft, eligibility mattered. For example, Ohio State's Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, both sophomores, would be more valuable in some ways than proven seniors, and Buckeyes linebacker Ryan Shazier, a junior, would have one more year than Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough. But you hit on an interesting point. I'd say the Spartans will have a stronger defense this season, simply because they have fewer question marks than Ohio State, which is replacing its entire front four from last year and needs some guys to step up at linebacker. But the Buckeyes probably have more star power than the Spartans, with guys like Shazier and Bradley Roby and possibly Spence and Noah.

As good as Michigan State's 'D' has been the past couple of years, it has been viewed as more of a team effort than one led by individual stars. Only three Spartans defenders made the first team All-Big Ten team as voted by the coaches last year (and none were on the coaches' second team), while none made it on the media's first team. And that was from a Top 5 national defense. For whatever reason, the individual accolades haven't necessarily accompanied Michigan State's success as a total defense.




Anthony from Iowa City writes: I know Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis is wanting vertical passes (doesn't everyone here) but.....I see another offense where sideways passing is going to happen. There just isn't any playmakers that can make those verticle catches (unless a reciever comes out of nowhere) I see Damon Bullock get a pass to the side and rely on C.J. Fiedorowicz and Mark Weisman to block. I'd love to see them only have to make 4 plays to move the field 60-80 yards and back up the defense quick, but I also have that feeling that we're going to see a lot of nothing from the offense again. But hey, if Johnny Football can come out of nowhere and win the Heisman, why not Jake Rudock?

Brian Bennett: Well, that is most assuredly the first time I've heard Jake Rudock's name mentioned in conjunction with the Heisman Trophy, so kudos on that. Look, Davis understands as well as anyone that Iowa isn't blessed with great wide receivers who can create tons of separation. The goal is for the running game to be so good that teams have to load up the box, freeing receivers down the field on play-action. If that sounds overly ambitious, just remember how wide open many of Wisconsin's wide receivers have been in recent years. The Hawkeyes have a ways to go to produce like Wisconsin on the ground, but with an experienced offensive line and a deep -- for now -- stable of running backs, it is possible.




Anthony Z. from South St. Paul, Minn., writes: What excuse do you or or counterpart have for not making it up to Minnesota?. Went to Nebraska, Wisconsin, and if Iowa would have gone to a bowl game rest assured either one of you would have been there. So what's the deal? Lazy?

Brian Bennett: You can call us Big Ten bloggers a lot of things, but I don't think "lazy" is one of them. I mean, just look at our output. I think I can speak for Adam when I say spring trips are one of the highlights of our year, because we get a chance to talk to a lot of players and coaches, watch practices and gather tons of information in a setting where everyone is more relaxed and often more open than during the season. If it were solely up to us, we'd visit every school and spend several days on each campus. Unfortunately, in the real world there are things like travel and expense budgets, and our editors have to approve our trips. As much as we've both been dying to get to Minneapolis, it's not an easy drive for either of us and the Gophers haven't won enough lately to merit national coverage. Hopefully, that will be changing soon.
Remember two years ago, when Michigan created a lot of big plays by having Denard Robinson basically throw a jump ball that his receivers would somehow go up and grab? Well, by the looks of things, that might become a staple of the offense in the future. Only those receivers won't have to jump too high.

The Wolverines' strategy when it comes to recruiting receivers these days could be summed up in three words: super size me. On Thursday, Detroit wideout Maurice Ways became the latest player to commit to Brady Hoke. Ways is 6-foot-3.

He joins current Class of 2014 commits Drake Harris, a 6-foot-4 receiver, and Ian Bunting, a tight end who's been listed as tall as 6-foot-7. Meanwhile, Michigan's celebrated 2013 class included three skyscraper receivers: 6-foot-4 Jaron Dukes, 6-foot-3 Csont'e York and 6-foot-2 Da'Mario Jones. They'll join current redshirt freshman Jehu Chesson (6-foot-3) and sophomore Amara Darboh (6-2) in Ann Arbor.

There's no secret to what's going on here. Michigan is moving on from its spread offense days and diving full bore back into the pro style system. Offensive coordinator Al Borges wants rangy, lanky athletes on the outside, both for the mismatches they create and their ability to block for the running game.

The Wolverines got great production out of the 6-2 Junior Hemingway the last two years, but their top returning receiver this year is Jeremy Gallon, who's only 5-foot-8. Gallon is an excellent player, but future Michigan receivers will likely look less like him and more like former great Braylon Edwards (6-3). Unlike the days of Rich Rodriguez's spread, the Wolverines appear to be valuing size over speed.

"Speed is overrated," receivers coach Jeff Hecklinski told reporters in February. “All of our guys, if you watch them on high-school film, they have great hands, they adjust to the ball, they track the ball very well in the air and they go up and they catch it. We can judge that on film, so let’s get the best hand-eye coordination guys, guys that can catch the football, let’s bring them in here and let’s develop them in other areas.”

Michigan's chief rival, and the other Big Ten team that's been cleaning up on the recruiting trail of late, is taking a different approach. Sure, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer wants guys with great hand-eye coordinator and catching ability, too. But he really wants blazing speed for his system. Just look at the receivers the Buckeyes landed in the 2013 class: Jalin Marshall (5-11), Dontre Wilson (5-10), James Clark (5-11) and Corey Smith (6-1). Receiver seems to be one position where Michigan and Ohio State are not in direct competition for the same players.

It will be interesting to see what kind of matchup problems the Wolverines' height at receiver poses for Big Ten defenses. Just take a look at the listed sizes of some of the top cornerbacks in the league the past two seasons:

Michigan State's Johnny Adams: 5-11
Purdue's Ricardo Allen: 5-9
Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard: 5-11
Ohio State's Bradley Roby: 5-11
Iowa's Micah Hyde: 6-1
Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard: 5-10
Iowa's Shaun Prater: 5-11

Size, of course, doesn't always matter. There's also leverage, separation, route running, catching ability and several other factors that go into being great receivers. Former Michigan stars Desmond Howard (5-10) and Anthony Carter (5-11) did just fine without towering over people.

But Michigan is clearly taking its receiver position to new, um, heights. It will be fun to see how the strategy pays off in the near future.

Spring game preview: Michigan

April, 12, 2013
4/12/13
1:00
PM ET
Half of the Big Ten wraps up spring practice this weekend, and five squads are holding spring games/scrimmages that are open to the public. We're taking a look at each one. Up next: Michigan's Mott Spring Game presented by PNC Bank.

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission: Free. Michigan Stadium gates open at 10 a.m. ET. The alumni flag football game starts at 11 a.m., and the Wolverines take the field at 12:40 p.m. Parking is free in the lots that Michigan operates around the stadium, although space is limited. Fans can park at Briarwood Mall and take shuttles to the stadium, which start at 9:30 a.m. Fans can make donations to Mott Children's Hospital upon entry into the stadium and receive certain giveaways.

TV: The scrimmage will be streamed live on BTN2Go. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the scrimmage at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.

Weather forecast: Cloudy and windy with a 30-40 percent chance of rain. Temperatures between 39-40 degrees, winds at 22-23 mph.

What to watch for: Spring games are all about the future, and Michigan's future -- short term and especially long term -- will be on display at the Big House. The Wolverines return only five offensive starters and six defensive starters and have several potential starters -- cornerback Blake Countess and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint -- still recovering from major injuries. As a result, plenty of younger players will be showcased in the scrimmage.

Keep an eye on the interior offensive line as Michigan must fill starting spots at both guards and center. Sophomore Jack Miller has been working as the top center, but he's being pushed by Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow. Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis have drawn praise from the coaches as they target the starting guard spots. Most of the buzz at running back has been about Toussaint and incoming freshman Derrick Green, but others like Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls have a chance to step up in the scrimmage.

Michigan will be without star linebacker Jake Ryan for the start of the season, but Cam Gordon has drawn good reviews this spring. It will be interesting to see how Gordon and Brennen Beyer look at the strongside linebacker spot, and whether Michigan can generate a good pass rush with players like Beyer, Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made the pass rush a major priority this spring.

Wolverines fans also can monitor position competitions at safety (Jarrod Wilson seems to be in the lead to start opposite Thomas Gordon) and at outside receiver, where Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are getting a lot of work.

Notice that I haven't mentioned Devin Gardner? The Wolverines' top quarterback will be out there in a don't-even-think-about-touching-me orange jersey that Michigan got from Oregon State. Although fans want to see Gardner's offseason progress, the most important thing is keeping him healthy. It will be interesting to see how walk-on Brian Cleary, Michigan's No. 2 quarterback for the time being, performs in the scrimmage.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 5, 2013
4/05/13
5:30
PM ET
Some questions and answers before the weekend ...

Antonio from Omaha writes: As I read Brian's article "Huskers take aim at turnover problem" earlier, it hit me how much an impact a team's offensive success or failure has on it's defense, and vice versa, but in a different light. Although the defensive letdowns at Ohio State and in the BIG 10 Championship game last year absolutely cannot be traced back to the offense being "too successful", is there any reason not to think that Nebraska offense SHOULDN'T go at a faster pace this year because it'll put the young and inexperienced defense on the field more? Call me biased and optimistic, but I just see this offense having the experience to be one of the best in the nation, esp if they improve their turnover issues, and could be a threat to put points on the board every time they have possession. Although I don't worry about putting up 35+ points by halftime in some of the nonconference games on the schedule, teams like Michigan and UCLA, who could turn around and score all over a young defense, make me think whether a slower offensive pace would be a beneficial team strategy ...

Adam Rittenberg: Antonio, this is a very interesting issue in college football right now as so many teams are trying to go faster on offense, in large part because of Oregon's success. I remember talking with Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges about this, and he did a study on how offensive tempo impacted a team's defense. Not surprisingly, he found that the faster teams go, the worse their defenses perform because those units are always on the field. So you want to be cognizant of that and careful. On the flip side, you don't want to hurt yourself by slowing down to save your shaky defense. As Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck once told me, "We want to play in that high tempo as much as we can. Our players seem to play well that way, our quarterback in particular. Taylor [Martinez], the game comes easier to him for some reason when we're playing fast." I think there's a balance and Nebraska can slow things down at times, but the Huskers don't want to go away from what makes their offense so dangerous.




Tom from Berkeley, Calif., writes: What would your thoughts be on an agreement with the P12 and involved bowls where the B1G sent their #3 team to the Holiday in even years and their 6 or 7 to the Kraft Fight Hunger in odd years? By getting teams at different 'levels' less likely for repeats or rematches, and when it does happen they'd be in different locations. B1G gets a second California bowl each year (three might be too many). Travelling fans could consider catching two.

Adam Rittenberg: Always great to hear from my hometown, Tom. I completely agree with the idea of having a second Big Ten bowl team in California each year. Your plan makes sense, although I wonder if the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl appeals enough to the Big Ten or its fans. It's a long trip for a fairly low-tier bowl, although the Bay Area is an attractive destination. The Holiday Bowl, meanwhile, carries a little more prestige, and there's mutual interest between the two groups. I would be in favor of adding both games on a rotational basis, and your point about eliminating repeats is a good one. But it ultimately comes down to how the Big Ten views the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.




Jim from Racine, Wis., writes: So with the mess at Rutgers...what is the take of the Big Ten Commish? Did they make a mistake? Sounds like Rutgers is really messed up educationally and leadership wise.......Should Big Ten Reconsider ? Also how in the heck did Smith dodge a bullet at Ohio States mess.

Adam Rittenberg: Check out the previous post for the Big Ten's take on Rutgers. No real surprises, as Jim Delany acknowledges Mike Rice's conduct was unacceptable and Rutgers made some mistakes, but the school's future membership hasn't been questioned. As Delany points out, Rutgers isn't the first Big Ten school to deal with personnel issues involving a coach's conduct (see: Knight, Bobby). The difference between Tim Pernetti and Gene Smith is that Pernetti had knowledge of Rice's conduct problems, while Smith wasn't aware that Jim Tressel knew about the Tat-5.




Chris from New Haven, Conn., writes: Adam - I have heard a lot about how Michigan finally looks fast after having been in the same system now for the third year. After having seen Michigan practice do they appear faster, especially on defense? What one player on each side of the ball has stood out as impact players?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, there definitely seems to be more team speed at Michigan, not only in the back seven but with linemen like Mario Ojemudia, a lean body who has good burst off of the edge. Linebacker James Ross is another defender generating buzz. He has good closing speed. The coaching staff sounds very excited about young cornerback Dymonte Thomas, one of the team's fastest players. Offensively, the Wolverines have good speed at receiver with Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo, and I'm interested to see if Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh can make an impact this season. I think they'll have a real chance.




Matt from Wausau, Wis., writes: Adam, this Rb draft class seems to be a real head-scratcher to me. I've been tearing through inside draft profiles both here and on other sites and it seems Eddie Lacy is the consensus top pick for RB's. I'll concede he may have better top-end speed then Montee Ball, but in every other facet of a RB profile, Ball is heads and tails above Lacy and everyone else. The other thing that bugs me is Lacy had a better OL this year, and worse numbers than Ball. Would someone stop this insanity and actually declare Ball the top back in the draft?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you know Brian and I are huge fans of Montee Ball, but how is he better than Lacy in "every other facet of a RB profile?" Does he have more power? I don't think so. Does he break more tackles? I saw Lacy break plenty during his Alabama career. Sure, Lacy played behind a better offensive line than Ball did last season, but he also did plenty of damage in the open field, particularly in big games. Lacy also wasn't featured as much as Ball. He had no game with more than 20 carries and just eight games with 15 or more carries. In those eight contests, Lacy averaged 123.5 yards per game. Ball certainly helped himself at Wisconsin's pro day and will be a very good NFL back in my view. But I think you're selling Lacy short.




MrVandy from Bethlehem, Pa., writes: Adam, I totally understand why Michigan State is not an option for the west division even though they would make the most sense competitivewise. With an odd number in each division, if we are to end the season with Big Ten teams playing each other, there will have to be one crossover game on that date. If we want to be consistent from year to year and als end with rivalries, of MSU is in the west the only constant crossover would be Michigan, and we all know they already have a partner for that Saturday. Otherwise, MSU would be stuck rotating with Penn St., Rutgers, and Maryland (and those teams would also rotate each other). That's why Purdue or Indiana must go west. Lastly, since the divisions will be aligned geographically, can we send you over to cover the west division, while Brian covers the east division?

Adam Rittenberg: So you're just trying to get rid of me, Vandy? I see how it is. We won't be splitting up the division coverage, so you're stuck with both of us covering the whole league. But you bring up a good point about the odd number of teams in the divisions and how it impacts the schedule for the final regular-season Saturday. You couldn't have Michigan-MSU on that date, so Purdue-Indiana is a good option. I also think the Big Ten loses less by having a weaker schedule rotation for Purdue or Indiana than it does with bigger brands like Michigan and Michigan State.




KMan from Baltimore writes: Adam,A couple questions/comments - as you did yesterday w/ Michigan State, will either you or Brian be doing a live blog from PSU this spring? Second, my pick for PSU's breakout player in 2013 is wideout Eugene Lewis. With measurables comparable to star receiver Allen Robinson, I've heard nothing but good things. He should complement Robinson nicely along with Moseby-Felder this season. In terms of the slot, I feel this is perfect spot for Bill Belton given his shiftiness and athleticism, much like his role in late 2011. I don't see him succeeding at tailback. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Neither Brian nor I will be going to Penn State this spring, but our colleague Ivan Maisel will be there early next week. Look out for a possible live blog from Ivan. Lewis is a good call for potential breakout player, as the Lions need at least another receiver to emerge, even though they have Robinson and tremendous depth at the tight end position. I know Bill O'Brien is excited about the younger receivers like Lewis, Trevor Williams and Alex Kenney. As for Belton, I wouldn't give up on him at running back just yet, although slot receiver could be an option down the line. A lot depends on how he competes with the other backs like Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 27, 2013
3/27/13
12:00
PM ET
Brian will be live-blogging from Nebraska's spring practice today, starting at 1 p.m. ET and finishing around 5 p.m. ET. Huskers quarterback Taylor Martinez will be taking your questions at 2 p.m. ET, and Brian will be chatting about Big Red and the entire Big Ten at 3 p.m. ET. Be sure to check it out!

Onto the links ...
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 11, 2013
3/11/13
5:00
PM ET
Monday mail musings ...

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: For straight balance, I think Michigan State should move out west. With Ohio State and Michigan the East already would have a lot of power at the time. The West probably needs to make up for that with more options such as Michigan State. However, I have to say, I'm not certain I like the idea in regards to Michigan. Sure, a protected cross-over. But that simply isn't the same as being in the same conference (calling those divisions now). I hate all of this destruction of tradition (where it is good tradition at least). Do you think moving to a different division will subtract from that rivalry?

Brian Bennett: John, I'm in agreement that Michigan State should be the team that moves west (and I wrote so here). I just think an eastern division with Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State is too top-heavy and means that the other division will have to have teams like Northwestern, Iowa, Minnesota, et al, compete at a high level to maintain proper balance. But as far as your question goes, I don't think a protected crossover rivalry with Michigan and Michigan State would do anything to hurt that rivalry. Sure, it would rob some of the fun for both fan bases to keep an eye on each other in regards to the division race. But Michigan-Ohio State certainly hasn't been damaged the past two years as a cross-division game. It would also increase the possibility of a rematch in Indianapolis; it would be interesting to see who the Spartans were rooting for in the Ohio State-Michigan game on the final weekend if it determined their opponent in the Big Ten title game.




David from Nashville, Tenn., writes: I've come to the conclusion that the Big Ten needs to get rid of protected cross-overs. My problem with the protected cross-over is one of parity. Since each team is competing against their divisional opponents, having a protected rivalry adds uneven schedule difficulty that is not left up to the randomness, and eventual evenness, that a rotating schedule would. I imagine some team would be very unhappy if they had to play Ohio State every year, while a divisional rival has to play them once every 6 years or something. If a rivalry is that important, put those teams in the same division, so their schedules are more equivalent.

Brian Bennett: You're right in that protected crossovers have the potential to hurt schedule balance. If, say, Michigan State had Michigan as a crossover every year, then you could surely argue the Spartans would be at a disadvantage. Here's the thing, though: In a 14- (or even 12-) team league where not everybody plays one another on an annual basis, the schedules are never going to be even. Somebody is always going to have a harder crossover schedule, play more tough road games, etc. And it's impossible to protect every rivalry through division alignment. Believe me. We have tried. But schedule imbalance isn't the worst thing in the world, either. The NFL does it every year, and hardly anyone complains. I'd rather live with a little less balance if it means protecting cherished rivalries.




Carl from Washington, D.C., writes: After reading the article by Jeremy Fowler on a possible SEC, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten power bowl alliance, I'm wondering if the Big Ten is considering creating its own bowl game in B1G country to add to the mix of the bowls mentioned in the article. Obviously, Indianapolis would be most convenient as a bowl location for most Big Ten schools but I'm not sure about the attractiveness of the destination -- though a December 27 or 28 bowl might draw interest (as previously mentioned about the Big Ten wanting to spread out away from the January 1 date). But with the addition of Maryland, Washington, DC could be in the mix too. And you have already discussed the possibility of a partnership with the Pinstripe Bowl in NYC. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: We haven't heard anything about a "Midwest Bowl." Obviously, that would provide an advantage for Big Ten schools, but as you mentioned, people aren't exactly thrilled to flock to the Midwest during the winter. There is already a bowl in Big Ten country: the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. And fans don't get real excited to go there in late December. Plus, you'd have to have a city willing to host it. Indianapolis would be a natural fit, as you mentioned, but that city already puts on a lot of events. I think it's more likely you'll see the Big Ten in New York City and possibly D.C., as well as spreading out the lineup to California and other locations.




Fohgetboutit from Rochester Hills writes: I've read the blog for a long time but it's been a while since I've asked a question. Anyways, what position do you think Michigan needs to improve on the most to become the best possible team next year? The way I see it is that the quarterback position will be fine in an already proven Devin Gardner. Either Derrick Green, Fitz Toussaint, or a combination will step up and fill the running back position that seemed lost last year. And on the O-line Michigan returns a few starters and needs to fill a few holes. The way I see it is that of the seven incoming o-line freshman a couple of them have to step-up, and we have previous depth in Kyle Kalis, so I'm not worried as others are about the o-line. The one spot that needs the most improvement, in my opinion, is wide receiver. Gallon is our only returning starter that is both proven and consistent, I think UofM will really need some help and for some youngins to step-up. Thanks.

Brian Bennett: Michigan needs to find some more options at receiver this spring, especially with Roy Roundtree gone. But remember, those wideouts played exponentially better once Gardner took over the reins and gave the team a true downfield passing game. Gallon is a big-time playmaker despite his size, and sophomore tight end Devin Funchess could become even more of a weapon. The Wolverines need more go-to guys, but Brady Hoke singled out Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh during bowl practices as two guys who could make an impact in 2013. I'm more worried about the interior offensive line than you are. Yes, Michigan has recruited some talent there, but those players are wildly inexperienced. The lack of a running game last year can be blamed in large part on the failure to get a good push up the middle. The Wolverines need to be able to churn out the tough yards to win a division title or more, and the progression of those inside spots on the line is what I'll be looking for the most this spring.




Hayden B. from Lavista, Neb., writes: Hey, Brian, I have been keeping up on a lot of mock drafts and player ratings by various websites. My question to you is, How is Rex Burkhead not higher on the mocks and how is his rating going down after the pro day? This is a player in the top 5 of every category except bench among RBs. I personally think he is better than Lacy. Will he get the recognition he deserves? Or will he get it once he's the next Foster or Morris late round RB?

Brian Bennett: Burkhead seems to be very underrated to me. His knee injury as a senior likely hurt his stock, and he's not viewed as a guy with breakaway speed. But we all know Burkhead is a terrific athlete and intense worker who'll probably make some team very happy. You wonder if there's still a stigma among some people about white running backs, but let's hope that silly notion does not impact his NFL selection.




Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Let's quit making excuses. All too often I have read on the Big Ten blog that location is a major hindrance for Big Ten recruiting. Came across this report from American Institute for Economic Research. They ranked the 75 Best College Towns and Cities for 2012-2013. Major Metro areas ... No. 6 Mpls /StPaul, No. 12 Chicago. Mid Sized Metros: No. 11 Columbus. Small Metros: No. 1 Ann Arbor, No. 2 Madison, No. 6 Lincoln, No. 12 Lansing. College Towns: No. 3 State College, No. 4 Iowa City, No. 6 Champaign- Urbana, No. 7 Lafayette, No. 16 Bloomington. Isn't it time you stop citing "Location" as a reason for The B1g's Recruiting issues? or at leases come up with some date to prove otherwise?

Brian Bennett: Mark, I think you have misunderstood what we mean when we say the Big Ten has some location issues when it comes to recruiting. That has nothing to do with the quality of the Big Ten cities, and in fact the league is full of great towns. But we're talking about location in relation to where the top recruits are. And the demographics clearly show that the population has shifted south and west. There are just more top-flight athletes in the Sun Belt and Texas, etc., than there are in the Midwest. The challenge for the Big Ten is to get some of those players to at least come up and check out the great campuses and environments throughout the conference.




Ryan from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Brian! Adam tells me that you're the basketball expert on the blog. With that in mind, any chance we can do a Big Ten Blog bracket competition? Should be a great year for it.

Brian Bennett: If one of you guys wants to set up a bracket challenge and e-mail me an invite, then I'm in. I'll try to talk Adam into ignoring his beloved Blackhawks for a few moments to fill out a bracket as well. I'm afraid you'll see that "expert" is a term that should be used loosely when you see my bracket picks, but I'm game.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 21, 2012
12/21/12
12:00
PM ET
Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way. ... Out of that a new holiday was born -- a Festivus for the rest of us!

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 30, 2012
5/30/12
12:00
PM ET
I wasn't going to do these links, but then Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce sent Joan over to convince me.
The Super Bowl is Sunday, but the super bowl of recruiting arrives on Wednesday. So on the eve of national signing day, we thought we'd check in with some of ESPN.com's top recruiting experts to get a feel for what's going on in the Big Ten.

Our esteemed panel included senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill, Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker and Scouts Inc. recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert. This is Part I of our discussion; look for Part II later on today.

Topic 1: What impact has the arrival of Urban Meyer had on the league and in general when it comes to recruiting?

Tom Luginbill: "It's been fairly significant. If there's one thing Urban Meyer understands and has been able to do, it's that you build a championship team from the inside out. Whether it was at Florida or now at Ohio State, if you notice who essentially all his first commitments were, they were all on the defensive line and offensive line. So he understands that, if they're going to compete for a national championship, the gap has to be closed in the defensive front seven. That's the difference between what's happened in the SEC and everywhere else. So I think that's where he's made his biggest impact."

Craig Haubert: “What Urban Meyer has been able to come and do down the stretch has been huge. I knew when he took over, they would get better as a class, but I didn’t really think when this happened, they’d have a chance to crack the Top 25. They’re still in a position to possibly land some guys. Davonte Neal, the No. 1 athlete, could be headed there. Stefon Diggs and Jordan Diamond are also in the mix there.” [Diggs and Neal are both post-signing day announcements].

“If you look at this class, it’s all in the trenches, really. And our philosophy is there’s always an increased value to upper-tier linemen because they’re harder to find. Noah Spence obviously is huge, he’s a five-star, but so is Adolphus Washington. The other thing that stands out to me about Ohio State is he’s been plucking guys from other Big Ten schools. [Se’Von] Pittman was a Michigan State kid. Joey O’Connor had decommitted before he got him, but he was a Penn State kid. Same thing with Tommy Schutt. Armani Reeves. So his upper part of his class, a lot of them have come from other Big Ten schools.”

Jared Shanker: “He’s exceeded my expectations. He’s obviously a great recruiter. At the same time, I wouldn’t call it walking into a perfect situation, but with what was going on at Penn State, I think he’s taken five recruits from Penn State, so there were opportunities for him to come in and flip some guys. Noah Spence was a Penn State lean. He had O’Connor and Tommy Schutt, two other ESPNU 150 guys who were committed to Penn State. Camren Williams and Armani Reeves, two other guys at Penn State. Obviously, he’s one of the best recruiters in the game. He also had some good fortune in being able to come in at a time when things were shaky at a rival school and pick up some of their commitments. Se’Von Pittman, the other ESPNU 150 guy, he was really looking for a reason to get to Ohio State.”

Topic 2: How good is Michigan's class, and has the Wolverines' momentum slowed down in the last several weeks?


CH: “They came out fast. We’ve always had them in that 5-to-7 type range. People might get frustrated that it’s getting near signing day, when there’s a lot of buzz and things going on, and they’re not doing much, but to be fair to them, what they did has allowed them to maintain in the same area where they’ve been for most of the recruiting process. The thing that sticks out to me about this class is a lot of people kind of scoffed when Brady Hoke got hired and he said, ‘I’m a Michigan man.’ But he’s been true to that. They’ve done very well in state. A lot of their key players are Michigan guys, led by Terry Richardson. So he’s brought a little bit of that Michigan man feel, and there seems to be an excitement among recruits.”

TL: "
Michigan was rolling before Meyer got the job, and they were teetering on maybe swinging Bri'onte Dunn, the running back, and Ohio State was able to keep him in the fold. Is Michigan in competition with Ohio State for some players? Yes. But Michigan right now is more focused on revamping the roster to the mold that Brady Hoke wants. They need more size up front, some size at the linebacking positions and some size at the skill spots. And I think they've done that in all three areas. [The lack of recent commitments] is a reflection of numbers and how much room they have. With the Big Ten's hard cap, they don't have a ton of wiggle room. If anything, the winning on the field and the sustained excellence helped solidify that the class would stay intact."

JS: “I don’t know if I’d say they’ve lost momentum. They really were hoping to get Josh Garnett, who ended up going to Stanford. Their class filled up so quickly, and they only had about four or five spots left midway through the season. They’re hoping to get some of the guys who are closer to signing day. They’re in good position to get Jordan Diamond. I think he’s No. 94 overall. So it seems like they’ve maybe fallen off, but they were at 21 or 22 commitments by the time the season started. They really had their run of success in the spring and summer. I’m sure they would have liked to maintain that a little bit and gotten some of those final targets like Garnett, but they’re also able to get the two receivers, [Amara] Darboh and [Jehu] Chesson, right after the season ended. So they’ve still been able to pick up some guys along the way.”

Topic 3: How has Penn State fared given all the turmoil surrounding the program and the flurry of decommitments?

JS: “My thinking for them was, if they could have just held on to their 14 commitments, that would be the main thing. They were obviously going to get some more commitments, but they weren’t going to be the top-caliber guys. If they could hold onto the 14 and add those sleeper guys who have a chance to be something at the next level, that was my expectation for them. I like that they got Akeel Lynch, the running back. I think he could be a good player. They’re probably a little disappointed that it looks like they’re going to miss out on [Skyler] Mornhinweg and the two Massachusetts guys in Reeves and Williams.”

TL: "I think to this point, Bill O'Brien has done a good job. But a lot of credit needs to go to that previous staff. Outside of the guys they lost to Ohio State, through all of this, they're still siting here with 18 verbal commitments. If you think about it, that's astounding. And I would say that the top third of them, athletically, can compete for a conference championship. Of course, you don't know all the intangibles and all that, but based on pure player level, this is a pretty strong class. It certainly isn't anywhere near where people would have expected it to be. ... But just to have bodies in this class, in my opinion, is a positive. [O'Brien] won't be judged on this class. He will be given a long leash, and in my opinion, it was made very clear with the timetable the administration set with this hire that the 2012 class is not the priority. If it had been, they would have hired a guy in December."

SPONSORED HEADLINES