Big Ten: Joe Thomas
Glenn from Seattle writes: Adam, I think you're still missing Travis from Omaha's point when he says "the ONLY reason divisional competition matters is for the tiebreaker itself." Nebraska's loss total this year is what mattered, not the fact that they were divisional games. The losses to Michigan and Northwestern might as well have been to Ohio State and Purdue. Divisional games are just games they only mean something more when the tiebreaker comes into play. For divisional games to truly matter you would have to ignore cross-division games when determining division champions unless you needed a tiebreaker. THEN count the cross division games to break the tie. The Big Ten and Nebraska's former Big XII don't really have division champions they have conference top seeds where one is required to be from each division. It's a subtle but important distinction. Or to put it another way: conference championships typically don't count non-conference games except in the event of a tie, so why should division championships count non-division games?
Adam Rittenberg: Glenn, you bring up some good points here. I guess my view is that the tiebreaker often will matter, and therefore the division games often will mean more. Look at the Big Ten standings between 1998-2010: there was a tie for first place seven times. In 2010, the tie was broken by the final BCS standings because Michigan State and Ohio State didn't play. We were left with co-champions, which no one liked, especially me, and a questionable system of breaking ties. The beauty of divisions is that teams are guaranteed to play the other five squads, which in many cases will break any ties through head-to-head results rather than a questionable rankings system like the BCS standings. Also, a division loss equals a win for another team you're directly competing against to get to Indianapolis. A cross-division loss hurts you, but it only indirectly helps your division competitors rather than directly helping them.
Judy Tibesar from St. Paul, Minn., writes: My son's name is TIM TIBESAR not Tisebar.
Adam Rittenberg: Sorry, Mrs. Tibesar!!! We'll get it right in the future. Hoping to talk with Tim for a Q&A soon.
Evan from Arusha, Tanzania, writes: Hey Adam, how much of a difference, recruiting wise, do you think it made not having O'Brien joining PSU after the Super Bowl? It has been pretty obvious that Michigan and OSU have really utilized their time with these juniors, which PSU and O'Brien's staff may not have been able to use.
Adam Rittenberg: Evan, Bill O'Brien made a point to try and be in State College for recruiting events while he was still with the Patriots. He also attended the junior day event this past weekend. Would it have helped to have him fully focused on Penn State the day he was hired? Sure. Would it have made a dramatic difference? Probably not. It's vital for O'Brien to establish himself with recruits and high school coaches during the coming months. While the 2013 class is important, I'm thinking the next two classes (2014, 2015) are when O'Brien and Penn State need to make a big splash. Retaining top recruiter Larry Johnson was an excellent move, but Penn State might have some recruiting speed bumps during the initial transition.
Ryan from Omaha writes: I don't really understand why so many people don't believe in Taylor Martinez. If you look at his stats he completed 162 of his 288 passing attempts for 2,089 yards for 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He completed 56.2% of his passes. In 1995 Tommie Frazier completed 92 of his 163 passing attempts for 1,362 yards for 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. He complets 56.4% of his passes. In two seasons at Nebraska Martinez has thrown 3,720 yards and Frazier threw 3,521 yards in four seasons at Nebraska. Will you please tell me why most people say he can't throw or lead Nebraska's offense.
Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, it's nice to see there's one Taylor Martinez fan in the great state of Nebraska. One difference is that Frazier operated in a true option offense, while the Huskers rely on Martinez to throw the ball more in the current system. Martinez attempted 125 more passes in 2011 than Frazier did in 1995. Also, Frazier had a quarterback rating of 156.14, which ranked second in the Big Eight in 1995, while Martinez's rating of 126.52 ranked ninth in the Big Ten. Frazier had four more touchdown passes and four fewer interceptions than Martinez. That's a big difference. Like many teams, Nebraska lives and dies by turnover margin, which hasn't been great in recent years.
It doesn't really hold water to compare Martinez in 2011 with Frazier in 1995, but I also think Martinez did some good things in the offense last season that tend to get overlooked. His critics point to his decision-making, which needs to improve, and his throwing motion, which looks worse than it actually is. But Martinez gets a raw deal at times, and he's still got some time to make strides. He had some really nice performances and showed some resilience against Ohio State a week after struggling mightily at Wisconsin.
Eli from New York writes: 10.6 Million. Nothing on the first page of your site. I bet you Sandusky's trial will be on the front page for a week.
Adam Rittenberg: Eli, I acknowledged Penn State's tremendous work at THON this year in today's lunch links. It's a wonderful event that gave Penn Staters a chance to celebrate, take pride in their school and generate a lot of money for a great cause. But you're not going to see stories about student fundraisers in the news rail of a national sports Web site. Penn State is one of many schools to hold similar events, and they're all terrific, but they're not going to appear on the front of the site. The Sandusky scandal is a major national news story. It generated national attention and still does. We know Penn State fans want it to go away, but it's not going away. We can debate the coverage of the scandal, but the attention on the case, and its connection to sports, is why you'll see it appear on the news rail.
Ben from New Berlin, Wis., writes: Adam, just asking for some clarification on your rankings on the Top 25 players. Are you ranking them based on their values (similar to MVP voting) or based on how good they are at their positions. I see guys like Konz and Zeitler go 17 and 20 but are both All-Americans and I know there weren't 20 All-Americans in the Big10. Are your ranking more based off of valuable positions? Should we expect the Top 10 to be QBs and RBs? Just curious, what sort of ranking would Joe Thomas and Jake Long get on your list?
Adam Rittenberg: Ben, good question. We're ranking them based on their value to the team and their impact on their team's season in 2011. There are certain positions we value over others, and while I can assure you the top 10 won't only be QBs and RBs, it won't be all offensive linemen, either. Without speaking for Brian, I tend to value offensive tackles above centers and centers above guards. You would have to be a pretty special guard to crack my top 15, but I'd definitely include a tackle in my top three. I had Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi at No. 6 in the 2010 rankings. Both Thomas and Long undoubtedly would be in my top 5 if I was blogging back in 2006 and 2007.
Stephen from Pennsylvania writes: Do you have Northwestern having a good year next year? I believe they are the underdog in the Big Ten, but I want to hear someone else's opinion. At best, I think they could get nine wins, what do you think?
Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, I think Northwestern faces some big hurdles in 2012. The biggest issue is a defense that hasn't been right for the better part of the past two seasons. Northwestern simply doesn't have enough playmakers on the defensive side and has one unit (secondary) that consistently ranks near the bottom of the league. The key to the season will be the younger defenders who saw significant action in 2011. Will they step up and make more plays, or will Northwestern continue to have breakdowns? The Wildcats also play three nonconference games against teams from BCS automatic-qualifying conferences, and while it's not murderer's row -- Syracuse, Vanderbilt, Boston College -- it'll be tough to go undefeated. While there are some question marks on offense, Northwestern has a track record of finding productive players. Nine wins definitely seems like a stretch. If Northwestern wins seven or eight, it would be a big success.
Jeb from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Can we get something straight. I get so sick of hearing that if Wisconsin would have made 2 plays last year they could have went undefeated. This is true for the Ohio State game, but it is not for the MSU game. We were tied when the Hail Mary happened and would have went to overtime if it had fallen incomplete, at which point it was probably 50/50 who would have won. So please stop propagating the myth that Wisconsin was 2 plays away from going undefeated last year, they had a lot more work to do if they were going to win the MSU regular season game.
Adam Rittenberg: Jeb, that's a fair point. Wisconsin would have had to make several plays in overtime to outlast the Spartans. It seemed like the Badgers had the momentum, though, after erasing their fourth-quarter deficit to tie up the game. Wisconsin also ranked second nationally in red zone offense, which is basically what overtime in college football boils down to. The Badgers scored 64 touchdowns on 75 trips inside the red zone and failed to score only four times. They led the nation in points scored in the red zone (468) and ranked second in trips to the red zone. Michigan State ranked 45th nationally in red zone offense with 34 touchdowns in 56 trips. On the flip side, Michigan State was much better in red zone defense (22nd nationally) than Wisconsin (77th). It would have been interesting to see how overtime would have turned out. But thanks to Michigan State's heroics, it doesn't matter.
It's a fascinating list that's sure to stir a lot of debate. But since this is a Big Ten blog, we're going to concern ourselves with where the Top 100 went to college.
There are 13 former Big Ten players on the list, including No. 1: Tom Brady. (Note: We're counting Nebraska players as Big 12 products since the Cornhuskers in the NFL participated in that league. Same thing for Colorado and Utah, Miami and Virginia Tech, etc.). Here are the 13 who made the cut and how they ranked overall:
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England (Michigan)
9. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans (Purdue)
16. Charles Woodson, CB, Green Bay (Michigan)
28. Jake Long, OT, Miami (Michigan)
43. Joe Thomas, OT, Cleveland (Wisconsin)
47. Nick Mangold, C, New York Jets (Ohio State)
58. Brandon Lloyd, WR, Miami (Illinois)
63. Cameron Wake, LB, Miami (Penn State)
64. Tamba Hali, DE, Kansas City (Penn State)
76. Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets (Ohio State)
78. Dallas Clark, TE, Indianapolis (Iowa)
82. LaMarr Woodley, DE, Pittsburgh (Michigan)
97. Shaun Phillips, DE, San Diego (Purdue)
Ohio State: 2
Penn State: 2
(In case you're wondering, the two Nebraska players on the list are No. 51 Ndamukong Suh and No. 55 Carl Nicks)
Now let's see how the Top 100 stacks up by college conference:
Big East: 16
Big Ten: 13
Big 12: 7
Notre Dame: 1
Non-AQ/Small schools: 27
This just reinforces what I always said in my previous job: The best football is played in the Big East. Actually, that league greatly benefits from eight Miami Hurricanes who played their careers in the league before the program jumped ship to the ACC.
It's interesting that the Big Ten has the same amount of Top 100 players as the mighty SEC, no? I thought all the best talent was supposed to be in the SEC. Hmm. The ACC continues to underachieve despite all its talent, while the Big 12 has curiously low representation here (only five players outside of Nebraska).
I also find it fascinating that 27 percent of the supposed cream of the crop in pro football never played in an AQ conference -- Kent State, for example, has three players on the list, more than Alabama, Florida and LSU combined and more than every Big Ten school except Michigan. East Carolina and Central Florida have as many Top 100 players as Ohio State and Penn State. More evidence that recruiting stars don't always equal NFL success. (And indeed, the No. 1 player on the list had to fight tooth and nail to earn a starting job at Michigan).
If nothing else, it's fun fodder for debate.
No. 6: Gabe Carimi, LT, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-7, 327
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREWisconsin offensive lineman Gabe Carimi won the Outland Trophy last season on a team the reached the Rose Bowl.
Preseason rank: No. 11 in the preseason Top 25 players
Why he's here: Carimi was the Big Ten's most dominant offensive lineman, sealing off Scott Tolzien's blind side and helping create huge holes for the Wisconsin running backs. The Big Ten boasted arguably the nation's deepest group of defensive ends, but Carimi won one-on-one battles against Cameron Heyward, Adrian Clayborn, Ryan Kerrigan. Those three combined for no sacks, 12 tackles and two tackles for loss.
Carimi became just the second Wisconsin player to win the Outland Trophy, the team's third Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year and the team's eighth unanimous All-American. He started all 49 games in his Wisconsin career and served as a co-captain this fall. Joe Thomas left some big shoes to fill, but Carimi certainly was up to the task.
- No. 6: Wisconsin LT Gabe Carimi
- No. 7: Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure
- No. 8: Illinois LB Martez Wilson
- No. 9: Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher
- No. 10: Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien
- No. 11: Michigan State LB Greg Jones
- No. 12: Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa
- No. 13: Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor
- No. 14: Wisconsin G John Moffitt
- No. 15: Michigan C David Molk
- No. 16: Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward:
- No. 17: Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi
- No. 18: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
- No. 19: Indiana WR Tandon Doss
- No. 21: Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski
- No. 22: Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn
- No. 23: Wisconsin RB James White
- No. 24: Ohio State LT Mike Adams
- No. 25: Indiana QB Ben Chappell
Because there were so many deserving players left off the list, I decided to put together an all-decade team to recognize some of the other standouts in the Big Ten from 2000-09. I made the offensive line a bit more general to acknowledge the best players there.
Unlike the top 10, I was a bit more lenient about players who had only one outstanding season during this decade.
QB: Troy Smith, Ohio State
RB: Mike Hart, Michigan
RB: Larry Johnson, Penn State
WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan
WR: Charles Rogers, Michigan State
TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa
C: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa
OL: Jake Long, Michigan
OL: Eric Steinbach, Iowa
DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
DT: Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DE: Tamba Hali, Penn State
LB: Paul Posluzsny, Penn State
LB: A.J. Hawk, Ohio Sate
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
CB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
S: Bob Sanders, Iowa
S: Mike Doss, Ohio State
K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State
P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue
Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State and Steve Breaston, Michigan
Tell me how you really feel.
Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, love your post dude! I have to make a comment though. How do you not give any love to Dallas Clark. 01 and 02 he made numerous plays to Iowa on the map. I am not saying he was a top 10 player, but to not even be considered?
Adam Rittenberg: That was an oversight on my part, Kyle. Clark should have been mentioned in the "also considered," a category I now regret even putting up there. But to be honest, he really wasn't close to making the top 10. Same goes for great kickers like Mike Nugent and Nate Kaeding. It's not to say they weren't great players, but they're not going to make a top 10 list for best in the decade.
K.J. from Arlington writes: Funny how you use the term infamous regarding the 2002 championship game but failed to use the term when Michigan was infamously given 2 free seconds which game football absolutely proved should not have been put on the clock by the oh so biased Ann Arbor crew in the 2005 game helping to give Michigan unearned wins in three of the previous five meetings with Penn State? Why is that? Oh wait, because you are an idiot and you hate Penn State, that's why.
Adam Rittenberg: There was some controversy in several of the games I listed, K.J., including Penn State-Michigan in 2005. The clock certainly played a role there in the end. And while I won't argue with you about the idiot part, the me hating Penn State argument is pretty lame and tired. Like I've said before, fans love me when their team is in the top 10 and think I'm a hater when they start to slip a bit. I have nothing against Penn State, which is featured prominently throughout the decade recap this week.
Justin from Plainfield, Ill., writes: Adam,Since you based it on players that generally had mulitple season, I understand (and in general agree) with your list of Big Ten players of the decade. I'd like to see your take on that same list without that caveat (of multiple seasons). To me, Michael Robinson would have to be on that list. You often hear "so and so led his team to victory" get thrown around. MRob truly led his team in 2005.Also, I was glad you gave Randal El some love. That dude was the only reason Indiana football even had a chance for those 4 years.
Adam Rittenberg: This is a good suggestion, Justin, and while I probably won't do a second post with one-year stars, here are a few who really stood out: Brad Banks, Michael Robinson, Larry Johnson, Devin Thomas, Shonn Greene, Chris Perry, Rashard Mendenhall, James Hardy.
Andy from Chicago writes: Adam - Love the blog and appreciate the Hawkeye pub during the season. I have a few follow-up questions/comments regarding your players of the decade list. 1. I know that Jake Long and Joe Thomas are better pros than Robert Gallery, but RG definitely should be on your list. He was the best OL in the conference two years in a row and paved the way for a B10 championship and undefeated conference season. Additionally, when he came out, Peter King said he was "the best lineman to enter the draft in years." Perhaps an oversight on your part, but wanted to get your opinion. 2. If this was about longevity in the league, then I understand your putting Mike Hart on the list. Otherwise, what Greene accomplished in one season is better than anything Hart did in four (or seemingly ten) seasons in Ann Arbor. 3. How many B10 players this decade went undefeated in conference, won a conference title, and finished second in the Heisman voting in the same season? One. Similar to Greene, Banks definitely should have made the cut. 4. Dallas Clark needs to at least make Honorable Mention. That is all. Thanks,
Adam Rittenberg: I really struggled with both Gallery and Long. Any top-10 list is going to leave off some deserving players, and you can certainly make a convincing case for those two. I really tried to identify the MVP for each program during the decade, and I think most Iowa fans would put Bob Sanders in that role. Wisconsin fans would say the same for Joe Thomas. Gallery was a tremendous player, as was Long, and trust me, they weren't far away from making the list. As for Shonn Greene and Brad Banks, lack of longevity was the main reason they didn't make it. The running back position was interesting because you had several one-year standouts in the Big Ten. I didn't want to have a top-10 list without a running back, and Hart really accomplished a lot in four years. As for Dallas Clark, see above.
Mike from Wausau, Wis., writes: Hi Adam:I enjoy your work. When might we expect to hear what the NCAA will do regarding the potential violations by RichRod? I thought a decision was expected by the end of 2009. To me, the lackof public notice to date indicates there is somethingon the way, and perhaps the U of M and the NCAA are "working-out" the terms of the penalty. Also, after two years, do you really think RichRod is the right person for the job? Thanks!
Adam Rittenberg: The Dec. 31 date wasn't a fixed deadline for a decision on the Michigan investigation, but I'd expect we'll hear something soon. The NCAA holds many of its meetings at this time of year, so that could be slowing the process a bit. I don't think the delay necessarily means huge penalties are coming. As for Rodriguez, I think he's still a heck of a coach, but he's operating in a very different environment than he did at West Virginia. If he can get the players he wants throughout the admissions office and have several young defenders emerge, Michigan should be decent in 2010. But I continue to be concerned with what's happening on defense in Ann Arbor.
We saw outstanding one-year performances from players like Brad Banks (2002), Larry Johnson (2002), James Hardy (2007) and Shonn Greene (2008), and impressive four-year career efforts from Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, Mike Hart, Javon Ringer, Taylor Stubblefield and others.
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireOhio State's Troy Smith was the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2006.
Believe me, it wasn't easy to get this list down to 10 players, but here goes.
I put more weight on players who had multiple outstanding seasons. Also, players who had most of their production in the 1990s didn't make the cut.
1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: The league's lone Heisman Trophy winner tops the list. Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season.
2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan: The 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner earned consensus All-America honors that year, completing a terrific four-year run in Ann Arbor. Edwards still holds the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions with 39, two more than fellow Wolverine Anthony Carter.
3. A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: Hawk was the face of a ferocious Buckeyes defense during the mid part of the decade. The two-time All-American (unanimous in 2005) won the Rotary Lombardi Award and helped Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl victory.
4. Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin: The Thomas-Jake Long debate is a good one, but I'm giving the edge to Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. Thomas anchored several powerful Wisconsin offensive lines, earned consensus All-America honors in 2006 and twice made the All-Big Ten squad.
5. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State: Posluszny is one of only two Big Ten players to win the Bednarik Award two times. He also took home the Butkus Award in 2005 and helped restore Penn State after the program had slipped from 2000-04.
6. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Laurinaitis was quite possibly the most decorated Big Ten player of the decade on either side of the ball. He joined select company at Ohio State in earning All-America honors three times (unanimous in 2007). Laurinaitis won the Butkus and Nagurski awards and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
7. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III shared the rushing load, but Eslinger was the mainstay who created rushing lanes no matter who had the ball. The 2005 Rimington Trophy winner was Minnesota's only three-time All-Big Ten selection this decade.
8. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa: No player meant more to Iowa's renaissance this decade than Sanders, the team's only three-time All-Big Ten selection in the aughts. Nicknamed "The Hitman," Sanders epitomized a program that got the most from its players for the majority of the decade.
9. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan: We witnessed lot of great one-year performances from Big Ten running backs, but Hart was one of the league's few mainstays this decade. Despite being plagued by injuries as a sophomore, Hart finished fourth on the Big Ten's all-time rushing list (5,040 yards) and had 28 career 100-yard rushing games.
10. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana: Randle El brought a new brand of football to the Big Ten and had a record-setting career despite never reaching a bowl game. The dual-threat star won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and ranks fourth on the league's career total offense list with 11,364 yards.
Also considered: Michigan T Jake Long, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, Iowa QB Brad Banks, Iowa T Robert Gallery, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall, Penn State QB Michael Robinson, Penn State RB Larry Johnson, Purdue WR Dorien Bryant, Purdue WR John Standeford, Ohio State S Mike Doss, Wisconsin DE Erasmus James, Iowa RB Shonn Greene, Northwestern QB Brett Basanez, Illinois LB J Leman, Penn State LB Dan Connor.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
RANTOUL, Ill. -- I'm about to head out to the field to watch Illinois' practice. Check back later for a few practice observations and more from Camp Rantoul.
But first, your latest preseason watch update.
To the surprise of no one, Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn were named to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top wide receiver. Decker, who led the Big Ten in receiving yards last year, was a semifinalist for the award in 2008. Both Decker and Benn are All-America candidates.
Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga leads a group of four Big Ten players named to the Outland Trophy watch list. Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick, Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski and Illinois guard Jon Asamoah also were named to the list.
Bulaga, a junior, could be one of the nation's premier left tackles this year and a candidate to enter the NFL draft in 2010. Odrick also seems like a viable candidate for the award, which last went to a defensive player in 2007 (LSU's Glenn Dorsey).
Four Big Ten players have won the Biletnikoff Award, most recently Michigan's Braylon Edwards in 2004. Three Big Ten linemen have captured the Outland Trophy this decade: Wisconsin's Joe Thomas (2006), Minnesota's Greg Eslinger (2005) and Iowa's Robert Gallery (2003).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHICAGO -- Like his head coach and his teammates, Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield acknowledges a lack of cohesion in the locker room last year.
"We had guys that were trying to lead, but people really didn't buy into what they were saying," Schofield said. "It's important that the leaders we have now, guys respect who our leaders are and follow what the guys are trying to do."
As Schofield prepared for a greater leadership role this fall -- he's the only returning starter on the Badgers defensive line -- he decided to do a bit of research on how to effectively guide others. His search led him to an odd place: the equipment room.
All of the players and most of the coaches from Wisconsin's Rose Bowl teams in the 1990s are no longer with the program, but several members of the equipment staff have stuck around. At the beginning of the summer, Schofield asked them for help.
"I wanted to know what were things that they saw those teams had and what do we need," he said. "And the first thing everyone said was great leadership. The seniors didn't take [any excuses or mistakes]. They were really hard and putting their foot down on what they believe and what they wanted to happen.
"It's your team and it's your last go-round, so the season is going to be what you make it."
Schofield heard about players like Donnel Thompson, Jeff Mack, Chris McIntosh and more recent leaders like Joe Thomas, who "didn't care who you were, offense or defense, he'd get on you." Schofield then relayed the stories to several of his fellow seniors who are expected to step up as leaders this fall.
"It's important that our seniors realize what it takes," he said. "Most teams that have successful seasons, they all possess the same things, great leadership and guys buying in to what the coaches are talking about."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It violates college football's time-honored code to suggest this, but Saturday's trip to Michigan could be a trap game for No. 9 Wisconsin.
Now before screaming sacrilege and summoning the ghosts of Yost, Crisler and Schembechler, consider the facts.
Michigan sits in last place in the Big Ten at 1-2. The massive turnover of both personnel and coaching philosophy has brought growing pains on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin's depth chart lists 17 juniors or seniors among the 22 starters on offense and defense. Michigan's depth chart lists 10 starters who are freshmen or sophomores, including those at quarterback (Steven Threet), running back (Sam McGuffie) and wide receiver (Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum).
And look at what's up next for Wisconsin. Next week, the Badgers host defending Big Ten champ Ohio State in a Saturday night game at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin has never lost under coach Bret Bielema. Then the Penn State Nittany Lions, considered by many to be a better team than Wisconsin despite facing weaker competition, visit Madison for another Saturday night affair.
Given those factors, the term "trap game" applies to Saturday's contest at Michigan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Will the Badgers let things get that far? Don't bet on it.
Wisconsin has the benefit of history -- both recent and long term -- to consult before visiting the Wolverines. The Badgers haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, a span of four games. In 1998, they fell 27-10 but still went on to win the league title and reach the Rose Bowl.
"The Big House is 110,000 people, so we definitely want to go in there and try to do something different," senior cornerback Allen Langford said. "We definitely go in there trying to make some history."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Tackle Alex Boone is one of four returning starters on the Buckeyes' offensive line.|
All of the previous positions I ranked (quarterback, running back, wide receiver/tight end) matter little without sturdy offensive lines to block for them. And despite lingering questions about its speed, the Big Ten continues to churn out elite linemen. The league has had three offensive linemen selected in the top 5 of the NFL draft in the last two years, including former Michigan tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in April. Several elite players return this fall, including Ohio State tackle Alex Boone and Penn State center A.Q. Shipley, but offensive lines should always be graded as a group. Four teams look very solid up front. The rest of the league? Not so much.
Here's the rundown:
1. Ohio State -- Led by Boone, who passed up NFL bucks for another national title push, the Buckeyes bring back four of five starters up front. Sophomore Bryant Browning emerged at right tackle in spring ball and joins a group that helped Beanie Wells finish 11th nationally in rushing last season. If the first-team unit stays healthy, the offense will surge this fall.
2. Penn State -- All five starters return to a unit that mirrored Ohio State in both sacks allowed and rushing production last season. Shipley and guard Rich Ohrnberger solidify the interior line along with Stefen Wisniewski, who last year became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start at Penn State since 1999. Hopes are high for whip-smart left tackle Gerald Cadogan.
3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lost no starters and feature All-Big Ten candidates throughout the line. So why isn't this unit rated higher? Wisconsin finished 91st nationally in sacks allowed with 33 last season, a number that must go down with a new starting quarterback. Four-year starter Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp form the league's best guard tandem, and sophomore left tackle Gabe Carimi held his own last fall after succeeding Joe Thomas.
4. Illinois -- If not for two vacancies, the Illini would be higher on the list. They allowed just 16 sacks last fall, the second fewest in the league, and had the Big Ten's top rushing attack. All-conference candidates Ryan McDonald and Xavier Fulton return. If Ryan Palmer solidifies the right tackle spot, this group will have a big season.
5. Michigan State -- Replacing all-conference left tackle Pete Clifford became a priority this spring, and Michigan State filled the gap with talented junior Rocco Cironi. If Cironi can effectively protect Brian Hoyer's blind side, the interior line should be solid with returning starters Roland Martin and Joel Nitchman. Depth is a concern, and several incoming freshmen could help.
6. Purdue -- Health is the biggest question for Purdue after mainstay Sean Sester, Zach Jones and Zack Reckman missed spring practice with injuries. Head-coach-in-waiting Danny Hope needs all three returning starters at full strength in camp. The all-important center spot could feature an intriguing competition, as freshman Andrew Brewer joins the mix with Cory Benton and Jared Zwilling.
7. Iowa -- A veteran group could definitely climb the list, but after hemorrhaging for 46 sacks last fall, significant improvement is needed. Guard Seth Olsen anchors the line in his third season as a starter. Though several other full-time or part-time starters return, Olsen's spot appears to be the only safe one entering preseason camp.
8. Michigan -- Strength coach Mike Barwis will try to work his magic with a group that returns only one starter, right tackle Stephen Schilling. A lot hinges on junior Mark Ortmann, who succeeds Long at left tackle. If Ortmann steps in smoothly and David Moosman locks up the center spot, the Wolverines might be fine. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs linemen who can fit in his system, and if need be, he'll look to incoming freshmen like Ricky Barnum.
9. Indiana -- The left side looks strong with Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, but there are questions elsewhere. A lot is riding on a talented group of sophomore linemen that includes potential starters Alex Perry and Mike Stark. Sacks were a problem at times last season, and the Hoosiers must generate a stronger rushing attack outside of quarterback Kellen Lewis.
10. Minnesota -- Of all the Gophers' problems last season, the offensive line wasn't one of them. Minnesota allowed a league-low 13 sacks and ranked third in pass offense. But the departures of left tackle Steve Shidell and center Tony Brinkhaus raise questions up front. Hopes are high for sophomore left tackle Dominic Alford, but a young group must build chemistry.
11. Northwestern -- The Wildcats lost mainstays at both center and left tackle, and right tackle Kurt Mattes is the only returning starter who secured his job. A lot is riding on three young players -- freshman left tackle Al Netter, sophomore left guard Keegan Grant and freshman center Ben Burkett. If those three step up, a veteran group of skill players will put up points.