Big Ten: Jerel Worthy

Big Ten mailblog

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
5:00
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To your emails ...

Grant from Detroit writes: In response to your article about a Narduzzi succession, that would be extremely ideal. I know Dantonio won't be retiring any time soon, but he has brought such a sense of stability to a program that, before him, was a joke of a coaching carousel. I feel that Izzo and Dantonio are on similar paths. Izzo took a MSU job and turned it into a destination position when he decides to retire. There will be a line to fill that spot. I feel that Dantonio has a similar philosophy about the head coach position for football. He has taken the right steps in making that a reality, and I think the smartest move he has made so far may be the promotion of Narduzzi to assistant coach. Narduzzi has obviously been an invaluable part of the Michigan State machine, always fielding a competitive (and lately dominant) defense that has made up for shortcomings elsewhere. He has also been great for recruiting, as defensive players WANT to come to MSU, after seeing us turn out professional players (and prospects) like Greg Jones, Jerel Worthy, Trenton Robinson, Will Gholston, etc. I doubt that Narduzzi will stick around long enough for the MSU position to be handed to him, even with the assistant coach label. I fear that he will go the way of Will Muschamp and jump ship before the head coaching position becomes available. But I still think the move at least establishes a mold for candidates for the position, should Dantonio decide to retire.

Chris K. from Jackson, Mich., writes: Regarding Narduzzi, I would love it if he would become head coach at MSU after Dantonio. Narduzzi is a high-energy guy and a good recruiter and I think that would be the style of the assistant coaches, whether the current assistants are there or not.

Brian from Conshocken, Pa., writes: I love the idea of Pat Narduzzi taking over as head coach (when Coach D is ready to step down, of course) and I hope his acceptance of the assistant head coach shows that the feeling is mutual. Having his guidance over the years is the best chance for MSU Football to compete with the rest of the league in the years to come.

Adam Rittenberg: It doesn't surprise me to see such strong support for Narduzzi among Spartans fans. He has done an excellent job building Michigan State's defense into a nationally elite unit, and his recruiting efforts certainly have helped shape the defense. He's a fiery guy, which appeals to most fans, and certainly would bring energy to the job, perhaps more so than Dantonio does. I've been very impressed by Narduzzi as well and was surprised he didn't get more of a look for the Cincinnati job. My only concern with him is whether he's too much of a loose cannon. He got in trouble for his "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness" comment in 2011 and publicly discussed what he felt was abridged game film from Ohio State last year. As a media member, I love Narduzzi's candor, but most athletic directors usually like their coaches a little more restrained.


Ed from Philadelphia writes: Adam, Regarding the Ireland game for Penn State: It seems that you've chosen not to mention one of the more important pieces of the puzzle, which is that NCAA bylaws allow a 13th regular season game if it's played in Hawaii or otherwise outside the mainland US. In other words, PSU wouldn't have to worry about dumping a non-conference game if they do it while the sanctions are still in effect. They could just count it as their extra game.Obviously, it would still probably have to be done at the beginning of the season rather than the back end, as nobody would agree to interfere with their possible bowl season preparation. In fact, really the only realistic time would be the very first game of the year to minimize the fatigue of traveling.

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, thanks for bringing up this issue with the potential Penn State game in Ireland. I checked the NCAA bylaws regarding maximum number of contests, and there are a few things of note. The bylaw you cite about a team being allowed to play a 13th game if it takes place in Hawaii only applies to games placed against NCAA institutions in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico. It doesn't apply to two mainland teams playing a game out of the country.
17.9.5.2 Annual Exemptions. [FBS/FCS] The maximum number of football contests shall exclude the following:

(j) Hawaii, Alaska, Puerto Rico. [FBS/FCS] Any football games played in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, respectively, either against or under the sponsorship of an active member institution located in Hawaii, Alaska or Puerto Rico, by a Division I member institution located outside the area in question

There also is an exemption for a "foreign tour," but these games are against teams from other countries -- rather than another FBS team -- and don't count in the record book.
17.28.1.7 Opponents. The team shall not compete during the tour against other American teams (colleges or other U.S. teams) other than teams composed of U.S. armed forces personnel stationed at U.S. military bases in foreign countries

Here's what the manual notes about in-season foreign competition.
17.9.5.1.1 In-Season Foreign Competition. [FBS/FCS] A member institution may play one or more of its countable contests in football in one or more foreign countries on one trip during the prescribed playing season. However, except for contests played in Canada, Mexico or on a certified foreign tour 17 (see Bylaw 17.28), the institution may not engage in such in-season foreign competition more than once every four years.

It doesn't mention anything about exceeding the 12-game limit. A Penn State official told me a game in Ireland would count against the 12-game limit for the season. I agree with you that Penn State almost certainly would have to schedule the Ireland game as a season opener because of the travel issues.


Bryson from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey AR, Any chance that with the Boulware exit out of Madison we see our beloved Bart Miller come out and take over the TE's? I know Boulware was going to coach special teams as well and is a decorated recruiter. Who is on our radar for now? Oh and where did Bart Miller end up anyway?

Adam Rittenberg: It's funny you mention Miller's name, Bryson, because Brian Bennett and I brought him up immediately after the Boulware exit. Ultimately, I don't see it happening as Gary Andersen already had one chance to keep the popular Miller on staff and chose not to. Maybe the second time changes things, but Andersen has been pretty decisive in his hires. Also, Miller's inexperience as a full-time assistant coach likely would hurt him for this job as Andersen wants the coach to handle both a position group and special teams. Footballscoop.com reports that Jeff Genyk, a former Northwestern assistant and the former Eastern Michigan head coach, is interviewing for the job. He'd be a good hire.


Brock from Little Rock, Ark., writes: Not quite sure many people are paying attention to Kevin Wilson's and IU's recruiting class for 2013. If they are not they should be. With Taj Williams committing they jumped up to 4th in the B1G (according to Rivals). Coming off of a 4-8 season, is this a positive reflection of what Hoosier fans can expect year in and year out, both in recruiting and on field performance?

Adam Rittenberg: Brock, I agree more people should take notice of Indiana's recruiting efforts, and I think the Hoosiers are starting to make waves around the Big Ten. Williams is a big addition and will strengthen an already talented receiving corps led by Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn and Cody Latimer. But the even bigger development in my view is Indiana's recruiting gains on the defensive side of the ball. Remember, the Hoosiers have had great wide receivers for years -- James Hardy, Tandon Doss, etc. -- but they haven't been able to stop anyone from scoring. They've simply lacked enough Big Ten-quality defenders, but things seem to be changing under Wilson. According to ESPN Recruiting, the top six players in Indiana's class will play defense in Bloomington (Williams hasn't been added to the list yet). That's a very encouraging sign because Indiana always will pile up yards and points under Wilson. Maybe the Hoosiers soon will prevent opponents from doing the same.


Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: After reading the stories about assistant coaches moving from program to program, how about a story about Coach Kill and his staff staying together.

Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly worth noting, Craig. Minnesota and Northwestern are the only FBS teams to keep their entire coaching staffs in place for the past three seasons. Even Big Ten teams that had been incredibly stable, like Iowa, have seen sweeping changes in recent years. Kill's staff continuity is one of his hallmarks, and several of his assistants have been with him since his FCS and/or Division II days at Southern Illinois, Emporia State and Saginaw Valley State. The loyalty Kill has shown to his assistants and vice versa stands out in this volatile coaching environment, and it has played a role in Kill having success everywhere he's been.


Joe from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Thoughts on Iowa's open practice in Des Moines being held on the same day as Iowa State's spring game?

Adam Rittenberg: I like it, Joe. For starters, it shows that Iowa notices Iowa State and the success the Cyclones have had in recent years. Although some Iowa fans always will dismiss Iowa State as inferior, the Iowa program shouldn't take an arrogant attitude toward their rival from Ames. The bottom line is Iowa State has more than held its own against Kirk Ferentz's teams, and the improved recruiting efforts from Ames should be noted in Iowa City.

Also, as Mike Hlas writes, the practice in Des Moines will generate buzz and interest for a portion of Hawkeyes fans who can't access the program as easily as those in the Eastern portion of the state.

Hlas writes:
For the first time, they’re coming to the people instead of the people coming to them. There’s no taking you for granted, central Iowans. The Hawkeyes need you, they love you, they want you to know how much you mean to them. It’s a smart play.

I completely agree. And yes, the fact Iowa went 4-8 last season has something to do with it. Iowa fans are extremely passionate and loyal and will continue to come to games, but last season did some damage. It's nice to see the Hawkeyes being proactive in reaching out to their fans and also to potential recruits deciding between Iowa and Iowa State. Good move.
A small Big Ten contingent reduced by several injuries had a quiet week of practice at the Senior Bowl, but several players shined brightly on game day.

Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short was named Most Outstanding Player for the North squad, which fell 21-16 to the South in Mobile, Ala. Short recorded three tackles, including a tackle for loss and another stop for no gain. He helped limit the North team to 105 rush yards and just seven points in the final three and a half quarters.

Short drew mixed reviews during the practice week, as observers noted his tremendous ability but also pointed out that he would take plays off. The comparisons between Short and Michigan State defensive end Jerel Worthy from last year are undeniable. Worthy also had first-round talent but also a reputation of taking some plays off. Ultimately, Worthy was a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers last April. Whether Short works his way into the first round remains to be seen, but he certainly helped his cause Saturday.

Another Big Ten defensive tackle, Penn State's Jordan Hill, delivered a good performance in the game, recording three tackles, including 1.5 for loss and half a sack.

Other Big Ten notables:

Big Ten lunch links

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Debate these links.
The 2012 Big Ten players' poll marches on, and now it's time to get down and dirty. Dirtiest players, that is.

As a reminder, these interviews took place in recent weeks with 28 Big Ten players representing 11 teams. Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett, WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein, BuckeyeNation's Austin Ward and myself interviewed 2-3 players per team. The players agreed to answer five questions, on the condition of anonymity. While you can guess who said what about whom, we're not revealing any specifics.

After conducting two surveys about Big Ten coaches, we shift the focus to the players.

Here's Question No. 3: Who's the dirtiest player(s) in the Big Ten?

Results

Former Purdue offensive tackle Dennis Kelly -- 2 votes
Michigan State defensive end William Gholston -- 2 votes
Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland -- 2 votes
Illinois' offensive line -- 1 vote
Former Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy -- 1 vote
Iowa's offensive line -- 1 vote
Illinois center Graham Pocic -- 1 vote
Indiana center Will Matte -- 1 vote
Anyone on Michigan State's defense -- 1 vote
Anyone on Purdue -- 1 vote
Former Michigan center David Molk -- 1 vote
Nebraska defensive end Eric Martin -- 1 vote
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o -- 1 vote
No one/don't know/declined to answer -- 12 votes

The overall results are a little disappointing because nearly half the group didn't offer a specific answer. While some players were hesitant, despite the anonymity of the poll, some honestly couldn't name a player or players they found to be overtly dirty. Michigan State did pretty well in the coaching poll questions, but the tables turned here as no team received more votes (individually or collectively) than the Spartans. While it's not surprising that linemen on both sides of the ball received votes, given the nature of play at the line of scrimmage, it's notable that Big Ten centers (current and former) racked up votes. It sounds like Big Ten defensive linemen are happy to see Purdue's Kelly gone to the NFL. One player who named Wisconsin's Borland said the Badgers' linebacker is more annoying than dirty. And finally, we know Notre Dame's Te'o doesn't play in the Big Ten, but we listed the answer provided to us.

Coming up Thursday: the toughest Big Ten stadium to compete in as an opposing player.

Previously

Part I: Big Ten coach you want to play for the most
Part II: Big Ten coach you want to play for the least
When All-America linebacker Greg Jones departed Michigan State after the 2010 season, defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi put together two-page wristbands full of plays for his players to run during the summer months.

"I was worried about what they'd do without Greg," Narduzzi said.

Turns out, they did just fine. Despite a lot of youth at spots like linebacker and defensive end, Michigan State ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense (277.4 ypg), rushing defense (100.5 ypg) and scoring defense (18.4 ppg) in 2011. The defense boosted the Spartans to a Legends division title, their second consecutive 11-win season and a Outback Bowl championship.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State's defense was among the best in the country last season under Pat Narduzzi.
When Narduzzi approached starting middle linebacker Max Bullough about the wristbands this summer, he was rebuffed.

"He said, 'Coach, we don't need those wristbands,'" Narduzzi told ESPN.com. "Our players know our defense. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of it. When your kids know the weakness of it, they can fix it themselves during the game. They don't need the coaches.

"Coaches are overrated."

Some Michigan State fans would dispute the last point, especially after school retained Narduzzi as its defensive coordinator despite a strong push from Texas A&M. There's little doubt Narduzzi is among the nation's rising assistant coaches -- a guy soon to be running his own shop -- and his success at Michigan State derives from an attacking, 4-3 defensive scheme that hasn't changed much over the years.

Narduzzi recently talked with CBSsports.com about being a graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio) and visiting the other Miami (the "U") on a scouting trip. The Hurricanes' defense left an impression on the young coach, and he used parts of it to craft a scheme he has used as a defensive coordinator -- first at Rhode Island, his alma mater, followed by stops at Miami (Ohio) and at Cincinnati.

Narduzzi's defenses have been a mixture of good (2006 at Cincinnati, 2010 at Michigan State) to not so good (2007 at Cincinnati, 2009 at Michigan State), but his group surged last year, claiming a place among the nation's elite. The secret: sticking with the structure and not panicking when problems arise.

"I’ve been around coaches that, every year, have trouble doing this and [decide], 'We have to change our defense,'" Narduzzi said. "And all of a sudden we're running a different defense. Every year they'd [visit another school] and they'd say, 'We’re running Florida State. We're playing man-free.' It's like, why'd you do that? And they'd say, 'We're doing it because of this problem.'

"I'm thinking, why didn't you fix the problem out of your base defense already instead of changing the total defense? When you do that, you're the master of none."

As a defensive coordinator, Narduzzi no longer asks such questions. Michigan State is sticking to its structure, plain and simple. Narduzzi and his staff tweak the scheme for different opposing offenses, but the base is the base.

As for the players? "They love it," Narduzzi said. It also makes it easier to avoid a backslide when stars like Jones and defensive tackle Jerel Worthy depart the program.

"Too often as coaches, we try to make it too complicated," he said. "If you have a base defense, run your base defense and try to fix the problems you have. That's what we try to do."
Brady Hoke/Mark DantonioGetty Images, US PresswireBrady Hoke and the Wolverines square off against Mark Dantonio and the Spartans on Oct. 20.
During the course of spring practice, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett visited 11 of the 12 league schools, getting an up-close look at the players and coaches who will shape the 2012 season.

Now it's time for them to share their thoughts on what they saw and learned this spring, and you can follow along as they exchange emails. Check out the Leaders Division exchange here. They now turn their focus to the Legends Division.

Adam Rittenberg: Let's take a look at what I believe to be the stronger division in 2012. You spent a lot of time in the Mitten State last month, and while you didn't gorge yourself like you did in America's Dairyland, you got the money quote of spring ball from Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, who said, "We're laying in the weeds. We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?" How spicy is the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry getting, and how good do you think these two teams will be this season after visiting both campuses?

Brian Bennett: Oh, there was some serious gorging going on at Zingerman's in Ann Arbor and Sparty's in East Lansing. Good thing there's only one spring practice session per year.

Anyway, I went into the spring thinking Michigan and Michigan State were the two strongest teams in the league, and I didn't see anything to change my opinion. While the Wolverines are more focused on Ohio State and even Alabama, they know they have to end their losing streak against Michigan State. And the Spartans take serious pride in that four-game run while bristling at all the offseason accolades thrown toward Brady Hoke's team. Oct. 20 can't come soon enough, as far as I'm concerned.

If the two teams played right now, I'd definitely take Michigan State. Dantonio has done a terrific job of developing depth on both lines and all over the defense. There's not a deeper team in the Big Ten, and the Spartans' physical play has given Michigan fits. The Wolverines still need to figure some things out in the trenches, especially on the defensive line, but that's one area where Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison excel. I believe these two teams will be neck and neck all year for the Legends title.

Of course, there's another team lurking in the division, and that's Nebraska. You went to Lincoln this spring, and it sounded like the Cornhuskers are feeling mighty ambitious this season. Do they have the necessary tools to back up their lofty goals?

Adam Rittenberg: It was interesting to see a team openly discuss the national title, Brian, especially in a league like the Big Ten. Huskers safety P.J. Smith even went so far as to say a Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl championship would be "kind of disappointing." That's bold. Nebraska would have to skip a step or two to reach that point, but I can see where the confidence stems from. There's a greater comfort level between players and coaches in Lincoln, and also between the coaches and what they face in the Big Ten. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck was candid about the difficulty of preparing for so many new opponents, particularly since Nebraska's offensive and defensive systems are a little different from what we see in the rest of the league.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez received good marks from the coaches, and his focus on footwork could translate into a more consistent passing attack. Beck certainly wants to be a bit more balanced, and Nebraska returns pretty much everyone at wide receiver and tight end. We often hear the cliche that it's all about the quarterback, but it holds true with Nebraska. If Martinez actually makes strides as a passer -- he'll be operating in the same offense as the starter for the first time in his high school or college career -- the Huskers will put up points this fall. But after watching Martinez last season, it's fair to have some doubts about No. 3.

The defense expects to exploit a schematic advantage we heard a lot about last season but didn't see much on Saturdays. I like coordinator John Papuchis, and Bo Pelini made two good staff additions in D-line coach Rick Kaczenski and secondary coach Terry Joseph. They're all about details and accountability, and they believe they'll be able to replace star power with greater depth in certain areas. Nebraska also should be strong in special teams. Do the Huskers have a unit better than Michigan State's defense? Not right now. But Nebraska could end up being the division's most complete team by season's end.

Getting back to Michigan State and Michigan. Both teams lose tremendous leaders from 2011 (Kirk Cousins, Mike Martin, Jerel Worthy, Joel Foreman, David Molk, Ryan Van Bergen). Who do you see filling those roles this year?

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and one that will have to be answered this summer. For Michigan State, Andrew Maxwell impressed me as a guy who can lead in a similar way as Cousins did; he'll just have to play well at quarterback and battle through adversity. The Spartans have some seniors on defense who can lead, like Anthony Rashad White and Johnny Adams, but they also have some highly respected juniors in Max Bullough and William Gholston.

But they are replacing some very valuable leaders, just as Michigan is doing. Denard Robinson has worked on becoming more vocal and sounded like a different guy in interviews this spring. There's no question he has the respect of his teammates. Craig Roh and Jordan Kovacs seem like natural leaders on defense, and offensive tackle Taylor Lewan says he wants to take on that role as well. But leadership can't be forced, and it remains to be seen if either team can find such strong captains as guys like Cousins and Martin were.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa quarterback James Vandenberg threw for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.
Speaking of question marks, I feel like Iowa and Northwestern are two of the bigger mystery teams in the league. Both have talent and potentially potent offenses, but they'll also need some players on defense to rise up out of the shadows. What did you take out of your visits to Iowa City and Evanston this spring?

Adam Rittenberg: Let's start off with Iowa, which underwent some major changes this spring with a new offensive coordinator (Greg Davis), a position coach promoted to defensive coordinator (Phil Parker) and several more assistants shuffling, arriving or being promoted. The players seemed to embrace the changes, and coach Kirk Ferentz basically said the team needed a fresh start even though he didn't want to lose his previous coordinators. There's a lot of excitement about Davis' offense, which will be more up-tempo than what we've seen in the past from Iowa. Quarterback James Vandenberg really seems to get it, but will he have enough weapons around him to execute? The running back curse struck again this spring with Jordan Canzeri's ACL injury. Iowa needs young and/or unproven players to step up there, and wide receiver isn't a deep group. It'll be a big summer for Keenan Davis.

The feeling I had coming out of Evanston is that Northwestern will be a younger team but potentially a better one. The Wildcats say goodbye to an accomplished senior class that featured some outstanding players like quarterback Dan Persa. But was it the most talented group? I don't think so. Northwestern has improved its recruiting efforts in recent years, and the team could begin seeing the benefits this year. There are a lot of new faces at spots like defensive back and defensive line. I was impressed with cornerback Nick VanHoose and end Deonte Gibson. The wide receiving corps should be one of the Big Ten's best, even if Kyle Prater isn't eligible until 2013. The Wildcats might not have many familiar names at receiver, but they boast incredible depth there. This team still has question marks -- secondary, pass rush, running back, quarterback -- but the talent level is getting a bit better.

Neither of us made it up to Minneapolis this spring, but we both talked with Gophers players and coaches. What was your sense of the second spring under coach Jerry Kill?

Brian Bennett: We swear it's nothing personal, Gophers fans. Both of us would have enjoyed a trip to the Twin Cities, but the schedule just didn't work out.

Anyway, I did sense more confidence from the Minnesota players and coaches we interviewed. That's not surprising, given that it's the second year for Kill's staff and more familiarity almost always brings a better comfort level. MarQueis Gray really started to come on late last season and appears to have made strides as a passer. He could be one of the league's top playmakers this year. Overall, the Gophers look to have a little more talent this year, thanks to some junior college imports, youngsters who got experience last year and Troy Stoudermire coming back at cornerback. The defense should have more speed, though it remains undersized. The big question for me is who will emerge as weapons alongside Gray, especially at receiver.

But I think that, with a manageable nonconference schedule, Minnesota has a chance to win five or more games this year and it will be much more competitive in Big Ten play than it was early last season. The Legends Division looks more balanced top to bottom than the Leaders and should be fun to follow all year.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
12:00
PM ET
Big Ten spring meetings take place Tuesday-Wednesday in Chicago. I'll be on hand throughout, so be sure and check the blog for updates.

Onto the links.

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
9:30
AM ET
2011 record: 11-3
2011 conference record: 7-1 (Legends Division champions)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; Defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

DE William Gholston, DE Marcus Rush, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis, RB Le'Veon Bell, LT Dan France, C Travis Jackson

Key losses
QB Kirk Cousins, DT Jerel Worthy, WR Keshawn Martin, WR B.J. Cunningham, S Trenton Robinson, RB Edwin Baker, TE Brian Linthicum

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell* (948 yards)
Passing: Kirk Cousins (3,316 yards)
Receiving: B.J. Cunningham (1,306 yards)
Tackles: Max Bullough* (89)
Sacks: Denicos Allen* (11)
Interceptions: Isaiah Lewis* and Trenton Robinson (4)

Spring answers

1. Defensive depth: Michigan State returns eight starters off one of the best defenses in the country, and the coaching staff might have been most excited this spring about guys who didn't play much last year. Linebackers Darien Harris and Taiwan Jones, defensive ends Joel Heath and Shilique Calhoun and defensive back Trae Waynes all had impressive practices and showed that they're ready to contribute and push the starters. The Spartans won't have much drop off if their first-stringers need a break or get injured. That gives this defense a chance to be scary good in 2012.

2. The Bell tolls: Le'Veon Bell asserted himself at the end of last year as the team's top tailback, overtaking Edwin Baker. And after appearing to get called out by coach Mark Dantonio for being complacent early in the spring, he turned in some dominant efforts. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he's a rumbling freight train with surprising nimbleness in the open field. Do not be surprised to see him emerge as a superstar back this season if he remains focused.

3. O-line on the way up: Michigan State mixed and matched on the offensive line early last season because of injuries and inexperience. By the end of the season, the group was playing well. This spring, the line features six players who have started and much more maturity. That's one reason why Bell excelled this spring, as the Spartans' power running game looked much better. This figures to be the best and deepest O-line in Dantonio's tenure, and the offense could lean more on the ground attack while the passing game finds its wings.

Fall questions

1. Catching on: The top receivers coming out of spring were redshirt freshman Andre Sims Jr., little-used sophomore Keith Mumphery and Jeremy Langford, who made the switch from running back in the middle of spring practice. In other words, there's a dire lack of experience at the position that Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol patrolled so well. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility on Thursday, and that should help. The Spartans are also going to need Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler -- their two veterans even though both lack much receiver experience themselves -- to get healthy and for some true freshmen to make an impact. If there's a glaring concern for this year's team, it's definitely at this spot.

2. Maxwell's house: Michigan State feels confident that Andrew Maxwell, a fourth-year junior who sat behind Cousins the past three seasons, can make a smooth transition into the starting quarterback job. But Maxwell doesn't have much game time under his belt, and we won't know whether he can bounce back from adversity until it happens on the field this fall. It didn't help that he missed the last couple weeks of spring practice with a knee injury. The Spartans need him to stay healthy, or else they will have to turn to redshirt freshman Connor Cook. And a new quarterback could struggle with such a green receiving group.

3. Worthy replacements: Jerel Worthy skipped his senior season and wound up as a second-round NFL draft pick after an All-America campaign. The Spartans have a host of players looking to replace him at defensive tackle, with Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping up late in spring practice to assume the No. 1 reps. Depth won't be an issue, but it remains to be seen whether any of his successors have the kind of game-changing ability that Worthy brought when he was fully engaged. Nothing boosts a defense quite like a disruptive force in the middle of the line. We know the Spartans' defense will be good. Can it be great without a player like Worthy up front?
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- As Illinois' starting center for the past few seasons, Graham Pocic has mashed limbs with some of the nation's best defensive tackles.

Penn State's Devon Still, Purdue's Kawann Short, Michigan State's Jerel Worthy and Michigan's Mike Martin are among those who have lined up across from Pocic. But Pocic's toughest opponent is a man he never faces on Saturdays.

[+] EnlargeAkeem Spence
Michael Heinz/US PresswireAkeem Spence is following in the footsteps of several Illini turned NFL defensive linemen before him.
"I get to go against the best D-tackle in the conference every day [in practice]," Pocic said. "It's awesome."

Pocic is biased, but don't be surprised if his teammate, Akeem Spence, earns the same label from the NFL talent evaluators a year from now. Spence has been on the NFL radar for the past two seasons, earning a starting job as a redshirt freshman and starting all 26 games he has played at Illinois.

The 6-foot-1, 305-pound Spence built on his freshman-year numbers (45 tackles, 4 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery) by finishing fourth on the squad in tackles (69) last fall. He had 5.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery for an Illinois defense that finished seventh nationally in yards allowed and 15th in points allowed.

"His explosiveness off the ball, his strength, he's pretty athletic for his size," Pocic said. "He's just a powerful dude. If you're not ready when you go against him, he's going to get under you and make some plays in the backfield."

The Illini have had defensive linemen selected in the first round of the past two NFL drafts: tackle Corey Liuget in 2011 (No. 18 overall pick) and end Whitney Mercilus last week (No. 26 overall pick). Spence is already being mentioned as a top candidate to enter the NFL draft after his junior season this fall.

Asked last month how motivated he is to be Illinois' next elite next-level prospect, Spence's face lit up.

"I'm real motivated," he said. "I'm just working real hard, doing everything that they did, do everything right. When it's time to step up, I want to be that guy making a big sack, making a big tackle for loss, making a big turnover. That's what I'm working toward."

Spence remains in touch with Liuget, who he started alongside in 2010. Although they've had similar career arcs at the same position -- Spence actually has played more than Liuget did in his first two years -- they're different players.

"He's a lot taller than I am," Spence said.

Only two inches to be exact, but it makes a difference in the trenches.

"Corey was a little more agile and faster," Pocic said, "but Corey doesn't have the strength that Akeem has. Corey's probably a little more explosive, but Akeem's just so strong and physical inside. It's tough to deal with."

Like several other veteran defenders, Spence had concerns about the unit's direction after head coach Ron Zook's firing coordinator Vic Koenning's departure for North Carolina. He was relieved to learn the new scheme under coordinator Tim Banks closely resembles its predecessor. Illinois also retained defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, the lone holdover from the previous staff.

Spence will play mostly the 3-technique and 1-technique in Banks' scheme with some spot work out wide at the 5-technique.

"You're creating a culture of great defensive line play," Banks said. "Those kids want to uphold that standard. You talk about those guys [Liuget and Mercilus], they were just here. It's not like 10 years ago. Our guys know who they are. They say, 'If he can do it, I can do it.' There's been greatness in that room."

Spence wants to continue that legacy before he walks out the door.
The Big Ten had five underclassmen enter the NFL draft, and now that the selections are complete, it's time to re-evaluate those decisions.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and each player had his own specific reasons for entering the draft, some of which can be personal (family issues, financial needs, etc.). But most players make the jump because they expect to hear their name called early in the process. Several of the Big Ten's early entries ended up waiting a little longer than they expected.

Let's look back at the group.

Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Seventh round, No. 250 overall, San Diego Chargers
What I wrote in January: "Baker's departure was the biggest surprise in the group, as his production dropped off in 2011. Then again, he plays a position that has a short NFL shelf-life, and with Le'Veon Bell back in the fold for 2012, his opportunities at Michigan State could have been limited."
Decision assessment: A head-scratcher. It's understandable why running backs must make the jump earlier than others, and Bell's emergence as a potential featured back for MSU might have hurt Baker had he returned to East Lansing. Still, you don't see many underclassmen make the jump and get drafted in the seventh round. Michigan State will be a much more run-focused offense in 2012, and Baker could have seen his numbers increase as a senior. Sure, he would be competing with Bell for carries, but Baker, not Bell, is the one with the 1,200-yard season (2010). Another year in the Big Ten puts more tread on the tires, but it also could have boosted Baker's draft stock.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 55 overall, Atlanta Falcons
What I wrote in January: "He had an excellent season at center and has the ability to play multiple positions at the next level. Konz should hear his name called on the second day of the draft, if not sooner."
Decision assessment: Sensible, yet slightly disappointing. The big question regarding Konz is whether he'd be a late first-round pick or slide into the second round. It seemed like NFL teams weren't blown away by this year's crop of centers, as Michigan's David Molk slipped to the seventh round and Ohio State's Mike Brewster went undrafted. Even Konz heard his name called a little later than expected. While he should be a good pro, you have to wonder whether another year in Madison would have solidified him in the first round.

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 26 overall, Houston Texans
What I wrote in January: "An All-America season in 2011 made Mercilus' decision rather easy. The fact that Illinois made a coaching change and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning departed for North Carolina further cemented Mercilus' choice."
Decision assessment: A smart choice despite a bit of a wait. There was little doubt Mercilus would go in the first round after a breakout season that featured 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. The question: whether he'd go in the middle of the round or toward the end. Although No. 26 seems a bit low for Mercilus, he had to make this move after such a huge season and with the uncertainty surrounding Illinois at the time.

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 23 overall, Detroit Lions
What I wrote in January: "He's widely projected as a top-10 or top-15 draft choice, making his decision to leave Iowa rather easy."
Decision assessment: Still the right call. Like Mercilus, Reiff had to wait a little longer than expected to be drafted in the first round. But there was little doubt he'd hear his name called on Thursday night. I'm not sure if another season in Iowa City would have done much to boost Reiff's draft stock, as the book on him (strong run blocker, good in pass protection, not a superstar but solid) seemed fairly set.

Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 51 overall, Green Bay Packers
What I wrote in January: "While there have been some concerns about him taking off a play or two, his explosiveness and ability to dominate for stretches make him a very appealing prospect. A strong pre-draft season should cement Worthy as a first-round pick."
Decision assessment: Questionable. The concern about taking plays off seemed to be the main reason why Worthy slipped from the first round into the middle of the second. He could have eased those concerns in the predraft events but couldn't do so. Another All-America type season at Michigan State certainly could have put the talent evaluators at ease. While Worthy seemed keen on making the jump since the middle part of last season, it's fair to wonder how he would have fared as the centerpiece of the Big Ten's best defense in 2012.

Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
9:00
AM ET
After a historically slow start to the 2012 NFL draft, the Big Ten ended up having 41 players selected during the three-day event. It's a strong overall total, one behind the SEC, the league with the most picks (42). Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin led the way with six picks each, followed by four teams -- Illinois, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State -- with four selections. Michigan had three players selected, and both Purdue and Northwestern had two. Neither Minnesota nor Indiana had a player drafted this year.

Here's the full rundown:

ROUND 1 (four selections)


No. 23 overall: Iowa T Riley Reiff, Detroit
No. 26: Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus, Houston
No. 27: Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 30: Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco

ROUND 2 (seven selections)


No. 44: Illinois G Jeff Allen, Kansas City
No. 48: Illinois S Tavon Wilson, New England
No. 51: Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy, Green Bay
No. 53: Penn State DT Devon Still, Cincinnati
No. 55: Wisconsin C Peter Konz, Atlanta
No. 56: Ohio State OT Mike Adams, Pittsburgh
No. 58: Nebraska LB Lavonte David, Tampa Bay

ROUND 3 (three selections)


No. 68: Ohio State WR DeVier Posey, Houston
No. 75: Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson, Seattle
No. 82: Michigan DT Mike Martin, Tennessee

ROUND 4 (five selections)


No. 102: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins, Washington
No. 121: Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin, Houston
No. 122: Wisconsin WR Nick Toon, New Orleans
No. 126: Nebraska DT Jared Crick, Houston
No. 132: Iowa DE Mike Daniels, Green Bay

ROUND 5 (six selections)


No. 141: Iowa G Adam Gettis, Washington
No. 149: Penn State G Johnnie Troutman, San Diego
No. 153: Purdue T Dennis Kelly, Philadelphia
No. 156: Iowa CB Shaun Prater, Cincinnati
No. 157: Wisconsin FB Bradie Ewing, Atlanta
No. 158: Penn State DE Jack Crawford, Oakland

ROUND 6 (seven selections)


No. 180: Michigan State S Trenton Robinson, San Francisco 49ers
No. 183: Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham, Miami Dolphins
No. 191: Ohio State RB Dan Herron, Cincinnati Bengals
No. 194: Iowa WR Marvin McNutt, Philadelphia Eagles
No. 195: Purdue T Nick Mondek, Houston Texans
No. 197: Ohio State S Nate Ebner, New England Patriots
No. 207: Wisconsin P Brad Nortman, Carolina Panthers

ROUND 7 (nine selections)


No. 217: Iowa CB Jordan Bernstine, Washington
No. 224: Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard, New England
No. 227: Michigan C David Molk, San Diego
No. 230: Penn State LB Nate Stupar, Oakland
No. 233: Northwestern TE Drake Dunsmore, Tampa Bay
No. 234: Nebraska T Marcel Jones, New Orleans
No. 235: Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert, New England
No. 238: Michigan WR Junior Hemingway, Kansas City
No. 250: Michigan State RB Edwin Baker, San Diego

POSITION BREAKDOWN

Wide receiver: 8
Offensive tackle: 5
Defensive tackle: 4
Guard: 4
Cornerback: 3
Defensive end: 3
Safety: 3
Center: 2
Quarterback: 2
Running back: 2
Linebacker: 2
Fullback: 1
Tight end: 1
Punter: 1

We'll post some of the free-agent signings later today, but first some thoughts and themes on the draft.
    [+] EnlargeMichigan State's Kirk Cousins
    AP Photo/Chris O'MearaWith Robert Griffin III on the roster, one has to wonder about Kirk Cousins' future in Washington.

  • Many had projected Cousins to be the first Big Ten quarterback off of the board, but Russell Wilson went ahead of him to Seattle. Cousins was one of the more intriguing third-day picks as he went to Washington, which selected Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall selection. Griffin is the future of the Redskins franchise, and it leaves Cousins in a potentially tough spot on the depth chart. The selection surprised Cousins, who didn't know the Redskins were interested and told the Detroit Free Press, "I think Robert is in their immediate plans and the long-term hope for their fan base, but they wouldn't have selected me unless they believed in me."
  • The verdict on Ron Zook always seemed to be great recruiter, average coach, and this draft validated it. Illinois was the only Big Ten team with two first-round picks and had four of the first 48 overall selections, yet the team went 7-6 last season after a 6-0 start. Talent clearly wasn't the problem during Zook's tenure in Champaign. Defensive line coach Keith Gilmore is on a roll with back-to-back first-round picks (Corey Liuget and Mercilus). He has two more potentially big-time prospects (Akeem Spence and Michael Buchanan) this year.
  • The Houston Texans clearly like what they see from Big Ten country. After drafting Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt with the No. 11 overall pick last year, the Texans added Mercilus, Posey, Keshawn Martin, Crick and Mondek. Watt welcomed the group on Twitter, tweeting, "Big Ten takeover. Welcome to the Texans." The Cincinnati Bengals also had a nice Big Ten haul with Zeitler, Still, Prater and Herron.
  • Posey, who last week told me he had no idea where he'd be drafted, had to be pleased with a third-round selection after appearing in only three games last fall because of suspension. Teams didn't shy away from the Ohio State star too much because of his off-field issues. Posey's Buckeyes teammate, Mike Adams, meanwhile, appeared to pay a bit of a price for his off-field issues, falling to the late second round.
  • On the flip side, Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the Big Ten's defensive back of the year in 2011, slipped all the way to the seventh round. Keep in mind some draft gurus, including ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr., once projected Dennard in the first round. But after being ejected from the Capital One Bowl, failing to impress in predraft events and getting arrested the weekend before the draft for allegedly punching a cop, Dennard plummeted to No. 224. At least he'll have no trouble getting motivated to prove himself.
  • Dennard wasn't the only Big Ten player selected later than expected. Michigan's David Molk, who called himself the best center in the draft, also fell to the seventh round. And Ohio State center Mike Brewster, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010, didn't hear his name called at all. While Brewster's play slipped during his senior season, he seemed like a mid-round candidate.
  • Other players I expected to be picked earlier: Mercilus, David, Adams, Mike Martin, Cousins, Daniels, McNutt, Hemingway and Baker.
  • Some players I expected to be picked later: Jenkins, Allen, Russell Wilson, Tavon Wilson and Posey.
  • Although the Big Ten had more wide receivers drafted than any other position, only one (Jenkins) went in the first two rounds and only two, Jenkins and Posey, went in the first three rounds. With only two quarterbacks and two running backs drafted, none in the first two rounds, it's fair to question whether the Big Ten is producing enough elite-level offensive skill players. It will be interesting to see which Big Ten running backs can rise up the draft boards in 2013. Running back might be the league's strongest position group this coming season.
  • I'll be very interested to watch how Worthy and Still fare at the next level. Both men have first-round talent, but both seemed to slip to the second round because of questions about their motor. If they don't take plays off in the NFL, they both could be extremely disruptive for the Packers and Bengals, respectively.
  • Wisconsin had players selected in each of the first six rounds and had the Big Ten's lone fullback (Ewing) and punter (Nortman) selected in the draft.
  • Ohio State's Ebner was one of the more interesting third-day picks. He didn't play football at all in high school -- he starred in rugby -- and spent most of his Buckeyes career on special teams. His selection shows the premium some teams place on the third phase.
On the first day of the NFL draft, the Big Ten was like one of those players sitting in the green room waiting and waiting for his name to get called as everyone starts to feel really uncomfortable.

The first Big Ten player to go off the board was Iowa's Riley Reiff, who had been projected as high as the Top 10 or 15 in mock drafts just a few weeks ago. He went 23rd. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it matches the lowest-ever top pick from the league; Minnesota offensive lineman John Williams went No. 23 in 1968.

But after the long wait, the Big Ten had four of the final 10 picks of the first round, including a surprise second selection for Illinois. Let's review:

No. 23: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa to Detroit Lions

Todd McShay video analysis here.

Quotable: “"Words can't describe how happy I am right now," Reiff said. "I'm super excited to be a Lion. I really can't put into words what I'm actually feeling, but I'm excited. The Lion are a great team, and there will be great seasons ahead."

My take: Reiff slipped pretty far from his original projection, but he was still the second offensive lineman drafted, as expected. And he ended up in a good situation, with a young team that appears to be on the rise. Detroit has five starters on the line, so he can learn for a year before potentially taking over for Jeff Backus.

No. 26: Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois to Houston

Todd McShay video analysis here.

Quotable: “When my name was called my emotions just flooded,” Mercilus said. “I was getting a little nervous, because I thought I might go a little higher, so I was really happy when I got the call. I can’t wait to go to work with the Houston Texans. From day one I want to go prove to them that they spent their money well on me.”

My take: Mercilus is another guy who could have gone higher, but ends up on a potential playoff team. With Mario Williams gone, he has a chance to step in right away and start at defensive end. If he plays with the same high motor and intensity he did last season with the Illini, he should be an effective pass-rusher, though he'll need to bulk up a little.

No. 27: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin to Cincinnati

Todd McShay video analysis here.

Quotable: "I had a good senior year," Zeitler said. "I tried to put everything I had on the field. Once the draft process started, I just tried to prove to coaches, off the field I take it just as seriously as on the field. I try to improve every day, any way I can. I guess it stuck."

My take: The first-round selection capped a meteoric rise for Zeitler, who was an honorable mention Big Ten performer as a junior. He blossomed into an All-American as a senior, and he rocketed up draft boards late in the process. He might not excite Bengals fans, but he's one of the safest picks of the first round, and has a clear path to starting as a rookie.

No. 30: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois, to San Francisco

Todd McShay video analysis here.

Quotable: "I was kind of caught off guard,” Jenkins said. “It’s just a blessing that I was taken in the first round by a great organization. I think it’s a perfect match. I can’t wait to go out to San Francisco, work with a great coach in Coach Harbaugh, and go to work with some talented players. It’s a great position to be in, and a great organization.

My take: This was the stunner of the first round, from a Big Ten perspective. Jenkins wasn't being projected as a first-rounder by anybody that I saw. But we witnessed Jenkins' explosive ability during the first half of last season, when he was one of the most productive receivers in the nation before Illinois' offense dropped off a cliff. As we saw in last year's playoffs, the 49ers desperately need help at receiver, so the pick makes sense. What doesn't make much sense: the Illini had two first-round picks (at least) on their roster last season, and lost their final six regular-season games.

So that was that for the first round and the Big Ten. Some very good players from the league are left on the board, including Michigan State's Jerel Worthy, Wisconsin's Peter Konz, Penn State's Devon Still, Nebraska's Lavonte David, and on and on and on.

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 26, 2012
4/26/12
12:00
PM ET
Many Bothans died bringing us this information.
The NFL draft is a little more than 24 hours away, and our analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have come out with their final mock drafts.

(Let's pause here for a moment of silence for the 2012 mock draft process. May it rest in peace. But never fear, the 2013 mocks are just around the corner!).

There's not a ton of change in Kiper's final first-round mock Insider. Iowa's Riley Reiff is still the top Big Ten player off the board, now at No. 18 to San Diego. Kiper has Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus one spot behind Reiff, to the Bears. The only other Big Ten player he has going in the first round is Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, at No. 30 to San Francisco.

McShay, along with Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl from Scouts Inc. have undertaken the massive enterprise of mocking the entire seven rounds of the draft Insider. Whew. Here's where they have Big Ten products heading:

Round 1

No. 13: Reiff
No. 25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 28: Mercilus
No. 30: Zeitler

Round 2

No. 34: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
No. 35: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
No. 43: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 44: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
No. 47: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
No. 51: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 63: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois

Round 3

No. 89: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

Round 4

No. 96: Mike Daniels DT, Iowa
No. 97: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 99: Adam Gettis, G, Iowa
No. 106: Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
No. 118: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
No. 120: Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
No. 121: Markus Zusevics, OT, Iowa
No. 123: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
No. 126: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State
No. 132: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska

Round 5

No. 137: David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 150: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 161: Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State
No. 163: Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State
No. 165: DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State

Round 6

No. 207: Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State

Round 7

No. 211: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 216: Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin
No. 219: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
No. 221: Derek Dimke, K, Illinois
No. 223: Tyler Nielsen, LB, Iowa
No. 231: Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska
No. 244: Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan
No. 247: Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
No. 248: Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan

A few notables not listed on this seven-round mock: Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, and QB Dan Persa; Penn State WR Derek Moye; Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight, Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen, Wisconsin OT Josh Oglesby.

How accurate are these mock drafts? It is almost time to find out. Let's do this for real.
Thursday is the start of the 2012 NFL draft, also known as the most important thing in the history of things.

That got me to thinking about which Big Ten teams have been the most successful in producing draft picks and first-rounders. Which led me to doing some research. Which wound up being this post.

I took a look at the last 10 years of NFL draft results. (Why 10 years? Because it's a nice round number. And it's fairly representative of recent success. Also, this is my game and my rules.)

So let's see which schools are the best at churning out the draft picks. First, here's how each Big Ten team stacks up in overall draft picks since the 2002 draft:

1. Ohio State: 66 total draft picks
2. Iowa: 42
3. Nebraska: 41
4. Michigan: 40
5. Wisconsin: 39
6. Penn State: 38
7. Purdue: 27
8. Michigan State: 25
9. Illinois: 22
10. Minnesota: 14
11. Northwestern: 13
12. Indiana: 12

It's no surprise that Ohio State is on top, since the Buckeyes have mostly dominated the league over the past decade and always have blue-chippers. But the fact that they're so far ahead of the rest of the conference schools is impressive. Ohio State has had more draft picks in the past decade than Illinois, Minnesota, Northwestern and Indiana combined.

The mild surprise here, for me at least, is Iowa's success. We know Kirk Ferentz's program has done a great job of producing pros, but I didn't expect the Hawkeyes to have the second-most picks, ahead of Nebraska, Michigan Penn State and others. That speaks volumes to the development of players in Iowa City. And Michigan State's number is lower than I expected, though the amount of draft picks should be on the rise soon with what Mark Dantonio has done in East Lansing.

Total draft picks is one way to view draft success. Another measurement is the number of first-rounders. That's where every player aspires to be picked, and it's the only round that gets its own day in prime time (did you know the draft is on ESPN tomorrow night?).

Here's how Big Ten schools have fared in producing first-rounders the past decade:

1. Ohio State: 14 (Michael Jenkins 2004, Chris Gamble 2004, Will Smith 2004, Nick Mangold 2006, Santonio Holmes 2006, Bobby Carpenter 2006, Donte Whitner 2006, A.J. Hawk 2006, Anthony Gonzalez 2007, Ted Ginn Jr. 2007, Vernon Gholston 2008, Beanie Wells 2009, Malcolm Jenkins 2009, Cameron Heyward 2011).

2. Penn State: 8 (Jared Odrick 2010, Aaron Maybin 2009, Levi Brown 2007, Tamba Hali 2006, Larry Johnson 2003, Bryant Johnson 2003, Michael Haynes 2003, Jimmy Kennedy 2003).

T-3. Michigan: 6 (Brandon Graham 2010, Jake Long 2008, Leon Hall 2007, Braylon Edwards 2005, Marlin Jackson 2005, Chris Perry 2004).

T-3: Wisconsin: 6 (Wendell Bryant 2002, Lee Evans 2004, Erasmus James 2005, Joe Thomas 2007, Gabe Carimi 2011, J.J. Watt 2011).

5. Iowa: 5 (Adrian Clayborn 2011, Bryan Bulaga 2010, Chad Greenway 2006, Robert Gallery 2004, Dallas Clark 2003).

6. Nebraska: 4 (Prince Amukamara 2011, Ndamukong Suh 2010, Adam Carriker 2007, Fabian Washington 2005).

T-7. Illinois: 3 (Corey Liuget 2011, Vontae Davis 2009, Rashard Mendenhall 2008).

T-7. Purdue: 3 (Ryan Kerrigan 2011, Dustin Keller 2008, Anthony Spencer 2007).

T-9. Michigan State: 2 (Charles Rogers 2003, T.J. Duckett 2002).

T-9. Northwestern: 2 (Luis Castillo 2005, Napoleon Harris 2002).

11. Minnesota: 1 (Laurence Maroney 2006).

12. Indiana: 0

Again, Ohio State's success is wildly impressive. The Buckeyes produced more first-rounders in 2006 alone than seven other Big Ten teams managed the entire decade. Half of Penn State's haul came in one year (2003). I expected more from Nebraska, and Michigan State's drought is stunning, though Jerel Worthy might very well end that on Thursday.

How much does it all mean? Like everything with the draft, probably not as much as you think. But this should help get you ready for this weekend's extravaganza.

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