Big Ten: Joey Elliott


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue quarterback Rob Henry enjoys the random pop quizzes from offensive coordinator John Shoop, even when he has "no clue" about the answers.

The more Shoop demands of his signal callers, the more Henry enjoys the process. When it comes to learning Purdue's new offense, Henry, a fifth-year senior, is in the same boat as the three freshmen -- redshirt freshmen Austin Appleby and Bilal Marshall, and true freshman Danny Etling -- he's competing with for the starting quarterback spot.

But he's paddling a little faster.

"When I came in, I was able to sit behind Joey [Elliott] and learn the system that was in place at that time," Henry told ESPN.com. "But now I have one season left. So I don't have any time to learn. I have to learn everything as fast as possible.

"This is it, this is it. I have a few more months left here at Purdue."

Henry's Purdue career has come full circle two springs after it appeared ready to take off. In the spring of 2011, he had established himself as Purdue's top quarterback, a soon-to-be-elected co-captain and, in the words of then-coach Danny Hope, the team's most improved player of the offseason.

After starting seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2010 because of necessity, he was poised to lead the offense in 2011 purely because of performance. Then, days before the season opener, Henry tore the ACL in his right knee. Season over, career altered.

Henry returned last season but slipped down the depth chart. He attempted just 38 passes as Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush rotated at the quarterback spot.

The 6-2, 200-pound Henry is, in a way, back to square one, competing for a starting spot in a new offense with several others.

"It's gone from thinking I would start for a few years to having one year of playing under my belt and one year left," Henry said. "So it's a very urgent time."

Henry's coaches sense his urgency this spring. As the only candidate with collegiate game experience, he opened spring ball taking snaps with the first-team offense.

Although the coaches have been fairly egalitarian with the reps, Henry remains the first quarterback to call signals during practices. Henry and Etling worked mostly with the first-team offense in Saturday's scrimmage, although head coach Darrell Hazell told ESPN.com on Monday that it remains a three-man race with Appleby also in the mix.

"It's extremely important to him," Hazell said of Henry, "and that's where it starts. You see it in his preparation. He's been a very good leader for us, and he brings that maturity to the huddle."

Henry's athleticism never has been questioned. He led Purdue in rushing in 2010 with 547 yards. He lined up at quarterback, running back and receiver in last year's loss to Minnesota.

But there always have been questions about Henry's skills as a pure quarterback. Dual-threat quarterbacks thrive in the spread offense, but can Henry fit into a true pro-style system like the one Shoop and Hazell intend to run?

"I'm confident in my ability, whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball," Henry said. "The thing that really makes a difference is Coach Shoop, how he teaches us and how he pushes us. You really don't have a choice but to do it right."

Winning the starting job won't be easy for Henry. Winning the Boilers' locker room is much easier.

Whether or not Henry emerges as the starter, he'll be a leader for Purdue in 2013.

"He took me on my official visit when I got here," Appleby said. "He was my first friend here. He's been nothing but a senior leader to me. He's such a tremendous person in all aspects. He's somebody who I definitely look up to, and the rest of the quarterbacks look up to.

"He's been through a heck of a lot. Because of that, he has the respect of the rest of our team."

Did you know? Big Ten in Week 6

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
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Some notes and nuggets from ESPN Stats & Information and other sources to make you smarter as you head out to the games this weekend.
  • Nebraska is 6-0 against opponents from automatic-qualifying conferences when quarterback Taylor Martinez completes better than 40 percent of his throws of 15 yards or longer, and 0-5 when he does not. Martinez has thrown four touchdowns and no interceptions in the six wins and no touchdowns and five picks in the five losses.
  • Ohio State has allowed seven touchdown drives of two minutes or less since the start of last season, the third fewest total in the FBS. Nebraska has 24 touchdown drives of three plays or less since the start of last season, the second most in the FBS.
  • The Illinois defense has forced at least one turnover in 20 consecutive games, dating back to a Nov. 14, 2009, game against Northwestern. The streak was extended on the final play of last week's Northwestern game when defensive end Whitney Mercilus fell on the Wildcats' last-ditch lateral attempt.
  • Indiana has outscored its opponents 59-24 in the fourth quarter this season. The Hoosiers also have a 31-10 edge in first-quarter scoring, but they've been outscored 51-16 in the second quarter.
  • Iowa is 7-4 in games played at Penn State, with wins in five of the last six played in Beaver Stadium. The visiting team has won 14 of the 23 meetings in the Iowa-Penn State series.
  • Nebraska's Martinez remains a big-play threat with his feet. Since the start of last season, he has 18 rushes of 25 yards or more, including nine touchdowns. Both totals are tied for the most in the FBS. The Cornhuskers are 9-0 when Martinez has at least one run of 25-plus yards.
  • Michigan has produced 26 plays of 20 or more yards in its first five games: three vs. Western Michigan, seven vs. Notre Dame (from five different players), five vs. Eastern Michigan, five vs. San Diego State and six vs. Minnesota.
  • Minnesota ranked dead last in the FBS (No. 120) in sacks during the 2010 season, tallying just nine. The Gophers have failed to record a sack in three of five games in 2011. The Gophers have gone without a sack in nine of their last 17 games.
  • Northwestern ranks second nationally in fewest turnovers lost with two. (Stanford is the only FBS team with exactly one turnover.) The Wildcats are among 16 FBS teams in the country that have thrown one or fewer interceptions this season and also had not lost a fumble until the final play of the game at Illinois.
  • Should Caleb TerBush start at quarterback for Purdue on Saturday, it would mark the first time since 2009 that a Boilermaker signal-caller makes five straight starts. Joey Elliott started every game in the 2009 season.
  • Penn State has held four of its five opponents to 10 points or fewer for the first time since 1996. Penn State is ranked No. 7 in the nation in scoring defense (12 ppg). Penn State is fifth nationally in total defense (250.4 ypg), sixth in pass defense (155.4 ypg) and eighth in pass efficiency defense (91.88).

Big Ten did you know? Week 1

September, 2, 2011
9/02/11
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Some notes and nuggets from around the Big Ten to make you smarter as you head out to the games this weekend.
  • If Michigan QB Denard Robinson earns Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors this fall, he would become just the second player to do so in back-to-back seasons, joining former Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson (1988-89). Including Thompson, just four players have successfully defended their Player of the Year awards. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (2007-2008), Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald (1996-1997 and Illinois linebacker Dana Howard (1993-1994).
  • Nebraska enters the season opener with victories in each of its past 25 season openers. The Huskers' streak leads the nation, bettering Florida's 21 straight wins. Nebraska's last loss in a season opener was a 17-13 setback against Florida State at Memorial Stadium in 1985.
  • With Caleb TerBush poised to be the starter against Middle Tennessee, the Boilermakers will have a different quarterback under center to begin a season in four consecutive years, and TerBush will be the fifth Boiler QB to garner a start in less than a calendar year (Robert Marve, Rob Henry, Sean Robinson, Justin Siller, TerBush).
  • Iowa's defense has ranked among the national leaders in forcing turnovers in recent seasons. Over the last three seasons Iowa has collected 63 interceptions, a total that ranks second in the nation over that span (Florida leads with 68). In addition, in each of the last four seasons, Iowa has had more interceptions than touchdown passes allowed.
  • Illinois opens the season at home for the first time since 2006 has have eight home games on the schedule in 2011 for the first time in the Memorial Stadium era and for the first time since 1903, when Illinois played nine home games.
  • Penn State has a 64-14 (.821) record in non-conference games overall since starting Big Ten play in 1993. The Nittany Lions have won 18 of their last 21 nonconference games, with the lone losses coming to USC in the 2009 Rose Bowl, at Alabama (2010) and to Florida in the 2011 Outback Bowl.
  • Michigan State fifth-year senior receiver B.J. Cunningham needs just 10 more catches to become the team's all-time leader in receptions (record: 148 by Matt Trannon, 2003-06). The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Cunningham already ranks among the school’s career leaders in catches (third at 139), touchdown receptions (tied for 10th with 13) and receiving yards (1,780).
  • Minnesota enters the season only carrying 41 upperclassmen on the roster.
    Here's the full breakdown of each class for the Gophers: freshmen -- 53; sophomores -- 25; juniors -- 21; seniors -- 20.
  • The last 20 Ohio State coaches are 19-0-1 in their debuts. The last Ohio State coach to lose his debut was Jack Ryder, who suffered a 40-4 loss at Oberlin in 1892. No pressure, Luke Fickell.
  • Northwestern boasts 31 offensive and defensive players who have made a combined 378 career starts. That is a significant jump from last season, when 30 players with starting experience combined for 276 starts at the start of the season.
  • Indiana allowed just 12 sacks last season, the 11th fewest total in the nation. The offensive line surrendered one sack per 42.8 pass attempts, which led the Big Ten. All five of this season’s projected starters are in at least their fourth year with the program.

Big Ten mailblog

June, 22, 2010
6/22/10
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What you got for me today?

Stan from Waukegan, Ill., writes: AdamCan we clarify what is necessary for a team to gain 'move the needle' status? With the new 13 game schedule, I would argue it would take 30-40 years of 10 win seasons ... or is it not even possible for additional schools to enter that stratosphere in football?A comparison (although on the much smaller bball scale) would be Duke hoops. They weren't major at all until Coach K came along and now have a national following that far exceeds their alumni base.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Stan. I would say a team needs multiple national championships and sustained success for at least the last 30 years, allowing for maybe one lull like both Penn State and Nebraska had earlier this decade. It's comical how people rip on Michigan for two bad seasons, ignoring the decades of elite success that came before in Ann Arbor. Without naming names, there are a few fan bases in the Big Ten who seem to have blocked out some really lousy periods in their teams' histories. Can a team without a huge alumni base that doesn't move the needle now eventually reach that level? Sure, but the team needs to win on the national stage, and ultimately that means championships. Duke basketball matters because Coach K wins national titles. A lot of programs make the Final Four, but Duke has the titles to its credit. Big Ten teams like Wisconsin and Iowa are close to "move the needle" status, but ultimately, they need to win national titles.


Chris from Chicago writes: Instead of breaking the Big Ten into 2 divisions, I think the league should play a schedule similar to the current format and place the best 2 teams into a championship game. I think the current "2 Rivals" format is better than divisions that are geographically awkward or competitively imbalanced. Sure there would be tiebreaking issues, but that would happen within divisions too (see Big XII South). What do you think? Is this possible or being considered?

Adam Rittenberg: I'm sure all possible options will be discussed, Chris, but from talking with several Big Ten athletic directors this week, the divisions model seems very likely. If they create the right divisions, they'll achieve the competitive balance that is sometimes lacking with the current schedule model. Teams will be guaranteed to face several opponents that should be (not guaranteed to be) good in most seasons. Right now, depending on the draw, Big Ten teams can skip two of the league's top teams on the slate. The ideal model would be to maintain the rivalries but ensure that in most seasons, no team would have a really easy path to the conference championship game.


Drew from New York writes: Adam - what can you do to reassure Wisconsin fans with your divisional alignment? I keep poring over your set up and can't get over the fact that Wisconsin gets the shortest end of the stick here. No annual match-up with Nebraska, loose the rivalry with Iowa, and while Northwestern has been more competitive of late, getting a protected rivalry with a team that can't even fill 50% of its stadium for home games is not much to get excited about. Sure we keep the Minnesota rivalry (how could you not), but that will ALWAYS be second fiddle to OSU/MU in that division. Any way you slice this I see as being bad for Wisconsin from a perspective of gaining national attention and recruiting. Am I over reacting? Can you talk me down from the edge?

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, I fully understand your frustration. Wisconsin is the one team that makes me a little uneasy with my proposal. Could I move the Badgers to the other division? Perhaps, but then you probably have to move Minnesota as well and essentially have a Western division plus Penn State. As you know, I really don't want geography to determine these things. There are some positives for Wisconsin in my model, namely the chance to play Ohio State and Michigan every year. If Wisconsin wants to be an elite program year in and year out, it needs to beat the best. And right now, Ohio State is the standard in the Big Ten. I think there's enormous potential for a Wisconsin-Ohio State rivalry, especially with those two stadiums (very intimidating). Wisconsin also has had some memorable games against Michigan over the years. I know that regionally, those matchups aren't as appealing to Badgers fans, but try to think bigger. You beat Ohio State and Michigan (in most years), you move the needle nationally.



Chris from Iowa writes: Adam,Enjoy the blog and everything you do, but you are kind of slacking on the revolving door series. You are forgetting about Iowa. And will you be covering Nebraska next year too or not until they officially join in June 2011?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't forget, Chris, but I forgive. I'll get to the Hawkeyes soon enough, most likely Wednesday or Thursday. With all the expansion stuff, the Revolving Door series sort of got pushed to the side. Nebraska remains a member of the Big 12 for another season, so David Ubben will be your main man on the Huskers. I'll of course be keeping a close eye on what happens in Lincoln and will post plenty of Husker-related updates as well. After the season, I'll take on a more active role covering Nebraska.



Tom from Detroit writes: Hey Adam,Is it just me, or does the Big Ten have a contender for new Linebacker-U? With Greg Jones already showing how good he is and Eric Gordon being a great 2nd LB, they've got the experience. Add to that redshirt freshman Chris Norman and highly touted recruits William Gholston (admittedly a hybrid) and Max Bullough, and I think you've got a pretty potent group.But to contend for the title of "Linebacker-U" a school needs to pile on recruit after recruit. That's where I start to wonder if Lawrence Thomas will be the start of a new trend. Bringing him in will essentially give MSU 4 four-star recruits at the LB position (Norman, Bullough, Gholston, Thomas) for the indefinite future.What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, I think we'd both agree that it takes more than a good three-year stretch of linebackers to earn a designation like Linebacker U. But Michigan State certainly has it going when it comes to recruiting linebackers. Greg Jones will go down as one of the school's all-time greats, and I'm very excited to see Bullough and Gholston on the field this fall. Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has a very good group to work with, and he'll need them to step up after the Spartans defense backslid a bit in 2009. Penn State always will be known as Linebacker U., but Michigan State is certainly building its own legacy at the position.


Calvin from Anderson, Ind., writes: First off Adam, I'm addicted to your blog. I check it everytime im on espn. I agree with alot of issues with you, but we would have problems on others. Anyway, my question to you is how much of an upgrade do you consider Robert Marve to be over Joey Elliot and do you see Purdue making any noise in Big Ten in the last yr before Nebraska comes?

Adam Rittenberg: Without seeing Marve play a game for a while, it's hard to say. But Joey Elliott was a darn good quarterback for Purdue in 2009. I'm sure the Boilermakers would take the same type of production from Marve, with fewer interceptions, of course. Talent-wise, Marve obviously has an edge over Elliott, but Marve also hasn't been in a game environment since 2008. He'll have options, including All-Big Ten receiver Keith Smith, and Purdue always slings it around, so there's plenty of opportunity to make plays. My big question for Marve is how he handles failure. Will his newfound maturity guide him through, or will he struggle like he did at Miami? Regarding Purdue, I think it ultimately comes down to filling holes in the secondary and along the offensive line. The weapons are there on offense.

The Revolving Door: Purdue

May, 26, 2010
5/26/10
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Fifth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Joey Elliott, QB: Elliott made the most of his only season as the Boilers' starter, putting up All-Big Ten caliber numbers on the field and displaying tremendous leadership off of it. He ranked second in the Big Ten in both passing yards (3,026) and touchdown passes (22), and he helped Purdue to a 4-4 record in league play after a hard-luck start.

Mike Neal, DT: The Big Ten had so many outstanding defensive linemen in 2009 that Neal seemed to get lost in the shuffle, but his contributions will be missed this fall. Boasting brute strength and strong run-stuffing skills, Neal ranked second on the team in sacks (5.5) and third in tackles for loss (11.5). The Green Bay Packers thought enough of Neal to select him in the second round of April's draft.


Staying ...

Keith Smith, WR: Smith became the latest Purdue wideout to top the Big Ten's receiving charts, leading the league with 1,100 receiving yards and tying for the league lead with 91 receptions. He had seven games of seven or more receptions and six 100-yard receiving performances. Smith aims for back-to-back All-Big Ten honors this season as Purdue's undisputed No. 1 wideout.

Ryan Kerrigan, DE: Other Big Ten defensive ends drew more national acclaim, but Kerrigan led the league and finished third nationally in sacks with 13. His performance in a win against Ohio State (3 sacks, 4 TFLs, 2 forced fumbles) will go down as one of the best in Purdue history, as he earned National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Kerrigan certainly will be on opponents' radar this fall.


Coming ...

Robert Marve, QB: The Miami transfer made a strong impression this spring and appears to have the inside track to the starting job in 2010. Marve's ability has never been in question, but his coaches and teammates have seen him mature in his time away from the spotlight. If Marve continues his evolution this summer and into the fall, Purdue could be very dangerous on offense.

O.J. Ross, WR: Purdue isn't exactly strapped for wide receivers, but Ross is a guy who could see the field early in his career. He's undersized at 5-10 and 175 pounds but brings tremendous speed and quickness to the field. Ross fits the mold of former Purdue standouts Dorien Bryant and Vinny Sutherland, receivers overcame their lack of size to put up monster numbers.

More revolving door ...

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
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The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

ROUND 1
ROUND 2
ROUND 3
ROUND 4
ROUND 5
ROUND 6
  • No Big Ten players selected
ROUND 7

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Danny Hope has a philosophy on football players who transfer.

"A transfer is a lot like a divorcee," the Purdue head coach said. "It's not a defect of character. It just didn't work out, and it may not always be all their fault."

Quarterback Robert Marve's divorce from Miami was a messy one, particularly at the end.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Joel Auerbach/US PresswireRobert Marve started 11 games for Miami in 2008, passing for 1,293 yards.
The former Florida Mr. Football winner twice was suspended from the team, endured academic struggles and was arrested for breaking a car mirror and then trying to elude police, though charges were later dropped. He sat out the 2007 season because of left hand injuries sustained in a car accident the summer before. Marve started 11 games for Miami in 2008, but he was suspended for the Emerald Bowl for missing a class. (Marve said he showed up late because he was talking with another professor.)

As tension mounted between Marve, his family and Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon, Marve announced in late December 2008 that he was leaving the team, saying, "I can't play for Coach Shannon." Shannon granted Marve's release but put heavy restrictions on where the quarterback could go. Marve considered walking on at Tennessee before settling on Purdue in late May.

"We did our homework," Hope said. "We don't just invite anybody to come into our family, regardless of the talent level. We knew all about his past and have known him for years. We recruited him a long time ago. Things didn't work out for Robert at Miami. Some of it was Robert, and some of it wasn't. It doesn't matter.

"There were no skeletons in the closet that were of any magnitude to make me think he wouldn't be a great teammate. He had to grow up some. And he has."

Marve has been a model citizen both on and off the field at Purdue, his new coaches and teammates say.

The quarterback "didn't have a great academic history in college," Hope said, but carries a B average at Purdue. Marve, who tore the ACL in his left knee last summer, spent last season learning Purdue's offense and his new teammates.

Fully recovered from the knee injury, Marve will compete for the starting job when Purdue opens spring practice March 24.

"What happened to him was the best thing in the world for him," said Boilers offensive coordinator Gary Nord, who began recruiting Marve immediately after things went south at Miami. "He got kicked real hard in the rear, and sometimes your toughest lessons are your best lessons learned. He got his priorities in life straight.

"He's done excellent academically, he's been great with his rehab and he's studying it as well as anybody I've ever coached."

Purdue isn't making Marve available to reporters until after spring ball starts, but his teammates have had plenty of access to him the last 10 months. Starting running back Ralph Bolden was surprised and impressed with how quickly Marve absorbed the offense and a leadership role.

"A lot of us knew what went on [at Miami]," Boilers wide receiver Keith Smith said, "but it's a fresh start, completely different style of program, everything's completely different. We didn't want to judge anything by prior actions because everybody has mistakes and you've got to move on.

"He matured a lot, and that's one of the key things of being a good quarterback and a good leader of a program."

Marve will have to earn the starting job, and Nord expects Caleb TerBush to provide strong competition. Last year's starter, Joey Elliott, was known for his high character and commanded respect in the locker room. After working behind Elliott, the Boilermakers will be able to spot a phony.

And while no one has ever doubted Marve's talent, his coaches and teammates see a lot more there.

"He has outstanding leadership ability," Hope said. "He's a tremendous worker, he's as committed as any football player that I've been around. He's a pied piper of men in some ways. They follow him, and he's fit in very well.

"The players have accepted him, based on his actions."
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Several photos line the wall outside Danny Hope's office at the Mollenkopf Center, commemorating Purdue's string of bowl appearances under former head coach Joe Tiller.

Hope's first season at the helm of the Boilermakers' program won't make it to the wall. There's no bowl championship trophy, no pictures of players and coaches wearing T-shirts and shades in the dead of winter. Hope's players don't tote any bowl swag, because they didn't get any.

A 5-7 season doesn't produce any tangible rewards. But it left Hope feeling very optimistic about the future.

Sandra Dukes/Icon SMIPurdue coach Danny Hope hopes the Boilermakers can capitalize on their strong end to the 2009 season.



After a 1-5 start filled with turnovers and near misses, Purdue rallied to go .500 in Big Ten play. The Boilers stunned then-No. 7 Ohio State, snapping a 19-game slide against ranked opponents. They also notched their first win at Michigan Stadium since 1966.

So, what exactly did Purdue accomplish in 2009?

"We made some noise," Hope said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we haven't arrived yet, but we made some noise on the field the second half of the season. We weren't that far off, and everybody could see that. We kept swinging away, and we kept getting better as a team.

"When it was all over, we had some special moments in 2009."

The next steps are obvious for Purdue. Find ways to win close games, avoid the 10-minute disaster stretches that cropped up throughout last season, improve ball security, run defense and special teams, and, most importantly, get back to the postseason.

Simply making a lower-tier bowl isn't enough for first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Keith Smith.

"We want to go to a January bowl game," he said. "That's our goal."

Purdue might have the personnel to get there. Despite losing 20 seniors, including quarterback Joey Elliott, safety Torri Williams and defensive tackle Mike Neal, the Boilers should be a deeper team in 2010.

Wide receiver was a major question mark for Purdue entering last season, but Smith emerged as the team's latest top option with a league-leading 1,100 receiving yards on 91 catches. He'll lead a group of wideouts and tight ends that also features Kyle Adams, Keith Carlos, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith and others.

Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to finish third in the Big Ten in rushing (77.9 ypg) and second in scoring (5.5 ppg), and the speedy junior expects big things this fall, especially if Purdue can reload along an offensive line that loses three starters. Al-Terek McBurse is a promising No. 2 option, and fullback Dan Dierking also returns.

"From a skill standpoint, we could have as much skill as Purdue has had on offense in many, many years," Hope said. "We're very promising at running back, we have all our tight ends back, we have Keith Smith back.

"There's some firepower there. We have to develop it."

Many eyes will be on the quarterback competition this spring, specifically Miami transfer Robert Marve. Marve, who will compete with Caleb TerBush for the top job, gets a fresh start after a tumultuous two years at Miami that got ugly at the end.

Purdue coaches and players say Marve has matured a lot in the last 10 months, and Marve's ability as a former blue-chip recruit has never been in doubt.

"In [offseason workouts], he's taking control," Bolden said. "He pretty much knows our offense. I don't know how, but he just jumped in and knew it, telling people to run this, changing routes and everything. He pretty much knows what he's doing, so I'm just following his lead."

Big Ten sacks leader Ryan Kerrigan leads a defense that must get tougher against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons. The Boilers are helped by greater depth up front and the return of standout linebacker Jason Werner, who received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA last month.

Hope and his assistants will spend much of the spring evaluating the secondary, which must replace all four starters.

"Obviously, the bar has been raised," Hope said. "The record that we had last year, even though we had some signature wins, was not good enough. We didn't make postseason play.

"The standard is set, and the expectation level is always high at Purdue."
The Big Ten should be stronger at the quarterback spot in 2010 than it was 2009, but the league still will feature plenty of competition under center when spring practices begin next month. Penn State, Illinois and Purdue are all wide open at quarterback, while Northwestern, Minnesota and Michigan have a few question marks entering spring ball. I thought about including Michigan State on this list, but Kirk Cousins seems to have a pretty good grasp on the job.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to expect from these races this spring:

PENN STATE

Who's gone: Two-year starter Daryll Clark, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009
The top candidates: Kevin Newsome (So.), Matt McGloin (So.), Paul Jones (Fr.)
Late arrivals: Heralded recruit Robert Bolden arrives this summer
Favorite: Newsome. He's not a huge favorite by any means, but he backed up Clark in 2009 and showed a few flashes in limited action.
Starter decision: Unless Newsome really separates himself this spring, Penn State likely will wait well into fall camp before naming a starter. Bolden certainly could contend for the job, but he'll need to catch up quickly.
Spring storylines: You can't overstate the importance of the quarterback race in Penn State's season, as the other positions on offense look pretty solid. Expect the new starter to run the ball more than Clark did in 2009. Penn State probably wants to redshirt either Bolden or Jones, which would keep some separation between the two heralded recruits and Newsome. Jones will have the jump on Bolden in preparation time, so he needs a good spring.

ILLINOIS

Who's gone: Four-year starter Juice Williams
The top candidates: Jacob Charest (So.), Eddie McGee (Sr.), Nathan Scheelhaase (Fr.), Chandler Whitmer (Fr.)
Late arrivals: None
Favorite: No real favorite here, although both Charest and McGee received playing time in 2009, with Charest starting two games.
Starter decision: Considering the competition is wide open and Illinois has a new offensive coordinator in Paul Petrino, the quarterback race almost certainly won't be decided until preseason camp.
Spring storylines: After running the spread offense with heavy zone read elements the last few years, Illinois likely will want more of a traditional drop-back passer for Petrino's scheme. The coordinator change truly makes things up for grabs, and both Scheelhaase and Whitmer, an early enrollee, will have a legitimate shot. Whitmer needs a strong spring, but he comes to Illinois with good credentials. McGee has played a lot but never truly claimed the starter's tag. This spring could be his last shot.

(Read full post)

College football coaches love competition, and spring practice serves as a proving ground for it. Starting jobs are usually not awarded until the summer, but players can separate themselves during spring ball. We'll know a lot more about several Big Ten teams following the 15 practices this spring.

Here are five position battles to watch when the teams return to the field:

1. Penn State quarterback: Record-setting signal caller Daryll Clark departs after two years as the starter, and Penn State's ability to find a capable replacement will determine the course for its season. Sophomore Kevin Newsome backed up Clark last season and enters the spring as a slight frontrunner, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones will challenge him. Heralded quarterback recruit Robert Bolden joins the mix this summer.

2. Iowa running back: Can a team ever have too many running backs? Iowa will let us know this year. Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher stepped up big time in 2009, but they'll have to hold off Jewel Hampton, who returns from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. Don't forget Hampton had been pegged as Shonn Greene's successor before his injury. Jeff Brinson also returns from an ankle injury, and several others also will compete for carries.

3. Purdue quarterback: Robert Marve hasn't played a meaningful down since November 2008, but the Miami transfer hopes to succeed Joey Elliott as Purdue's top quarterback. Marve tore his ACL last summer and could be a bit rusty on the practice field, but he certainly boasts the talent to lead Purdue. He will compete with Caleb TerBush, who backed up Elliott last year but appeared in only one game, completing 4 of 10 pass attempts for 22 yards.

4. Illinois quarterback: The Illini have a new offensive coordinator and several new faces at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Juice Williams. Paul Petrino wants to be very multiple with his scheme, but he needs to see who emerges between Jacob Charest, Nathan Scheelhaase, Eddie McGee and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer. Charest started two games in place of Williams late last season, while McGee has extensive field time but played wide receiver for part of 2009.

5. Michigan defense: You can't list only one position with the Wolverines defense, and all the individual competitions will be critical. Aside from a handful of likely starters -- defensive back Troy Woolfolk, defensive tackles Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen -- the competition will be open. Michigan needs consistent contributors who can work in Greg Robinson's scheme, and the coaches won't be afraid to look to young players.
It's still early February, but signing day is over and you can officially start looking forward to the 2010 season. But before we look at who's back in the Big Ten, let's look at who will be missed the most when the teams return to the practice field this spring.

Here are five players who leave big shoes to fill around the league:

Penn State QB Daryll Clark: Clark finished his career as one of the best quarterbacks in Penn State history, setting team records for career passing touchdowns, single-season passing touchdowns, single-season passing yards and single-season total offense. He was even more valuable as a leader both on and off the field, and few players invested as much as the two-year starter. His presence certainly will be missed.

Northwestern QB Mike Kafka: Kafka basically became the entire NU offense in 2009 as the run game struggled. He developed into a precision passer and ended up as one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten. The second-team All-Big Ten selection led the league in both passing (3,430) and total offense (3,729). Although backup Dan Persa got some playing time after Kafka was banged up against Penn State, he'll have a tough time replacing the senior.

Michigan DE Brandon Graham: The Wolverines defense struggled mightily with Graham on the field, and it's scary to think where the unit would have been without his nation-leading 26 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Graham was arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in the country in 2009, and he leaves a major void on the edge. Michigan will need several players to step up to fill the production void left by Graham's departure.

Iowa CB Amari Spievey: Some will argue with this one, but of all the players Iowa loses from the 2009 team, Spievey could be the most valuable. He took away one side of the field, forcing opposing quarterbacks to look elsewhere and freeing up playmaking opportunities for safety Tyler Sash and others. Iowa has some decent corners coming back, but none with the shutdown capabilities of Spievey, who recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defended.

Penn State DT Jared Odrick: Penn State has little trouble reloading in the defensive front seven, but the Lions will be hard-pressed to find another Odrick in the middle of the defensive line. Odrick consistently commanded double- and triple-teams, opening up lanes for teammates to reach the backfield. Big Ten coaches named him Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year, high honors given the league's depth along the D-line. Odrick was the biggest reason why Penn State finished sixth nationally in rushing defense (89.9 ypg).

Five more who will be missed: Purdue QB Joey Elliott, Iowa LB Pat Angerer, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield, Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.
I've identified Purdue as my sleeper team in the Big Ten for 2010, and the reasons are pretty clear.

The Boilers will be very good at the offensive skill positions, as All-Big Ten selections Keith Smith and Ralph Bolden headline a unit that ranked third in the Big Ten in passing (255.2 ypg) and boasted the league's No. 3 rusher in Bolden (77.9 ypg). Quarterback Joey Elliott is a big loss, but if Miami transfer Robert Marve or Caleb TerBush can step in, Purdue will be very dangerous on the offensive side.

That said, Big Ten games are usually won with defense, and Purdue really could use a boost on that side of the ball.

Translation: Purdue could use Jason Werner back on the field for another year.

The Boilers lose all four starters in the secondary as well as defensive tackle Mike Neal, a two-year starter who could be playing on Sundays this coming fall. Superstar defensive end Ryan Kerrigan returns, but he'll need some help against the run, a category where Purdue has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.

Werner can provide that help, but whether he gets another chance to play remains to be seen. Werner, who missed the 2006 and 2008 seasons because of back problems, could receive sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA and should get an answer soon.

Boilers safety Torri Williams, who missed the entire 2005 season and all but three quarters of a game in 2006, received a sixth year on Feb. 12, 2009. Williams went on to record a team-high 84 tackles as well as two interceptions, eight passes defended, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Purdue can expect similar production from Werner if he's back in 2010. Former coach Joe Tiller called Werner the team's top linebacker, making that claim when Anthony Heygood was still around. Werner, who has excellent speed to complement his size, recorded 77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles in 2009.

Without him, the linebacker position could be a weakness for Purdue in 2010. With him, it should be a strength as he'll help young players like Dwayne Beckford.

Werner has shown what he can do when healthy. Here's hoping the NCAA sees it that way and gives him one more shot.

Best case-worst case rewind: Purdue

December, 17, 2009
12/17/09
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My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Purdue.

In case you missed it: Purdue's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: The Boilermakers receive good production from both their veterans and their newcomers and surprise opponents with greater team speed. ... Purdue surges to a 5-1 start behind sophomore running back Ralph Bolden and a stout defensive line. ... The Boilers upset Notre Dame and run over Wisconsin to finish 8-4. ... They advance to the Valero Alamo Bowl and beat Kansas. ... Defensive tackle Mike Neal earns first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Worst-case synopsis: Purdue can't find an offensive rhythm or stop the run, as the program gets mired in transition. ... The Boilers fall to Toledo in the opener and stumble out of the gate. ... First-year starting quarterback Joey Elliott can't prevent interceptions. ... The defense never contains the run and allows too many big plays, especially to Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. ... Purdue goes winless in Big Ten play for the first time since 1993.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The team is faster and more athletic on both sides of the ball, as Ralph Bolden sparks the rushing attack in an easy win against Toledo." ... "Purdue then heads to Eugene and paces Oregon before losing." ... "[Purdue] crushes Indiana for the second straight year." ... "Purdue loses a close one to Michigan State." ... "[The Boilers] miss the postseason for the second straight year."

Lies, lies, lies: "Purdue improves to 5-1 with wins against Northwestern and Minnesota before losing a defensive struggle against Ohio State." ... "The Boilers fall the next week against Illinois but bounce back in Madison as Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combine for 250 rush yards against a questionable Wisconsin front seven." ... "Oregon remembers last year's near upset in West Lafayette and thrashes Purdue 42-7." ... "Terrelle Pryor then runs wild as Ohio State hands Purdue its fourth straight loss." ... "Indiana avenges last year's blowout with a 35-point victory at Memorial Stadium that secures bowl eligibility for Bill Lynch's crew." ... "The Boilers go winless in the Big Ten for the first time since 1993."

Reality check: Purdue entered the season as the Big Ten's mystery team, and not surprisingly, the Boilers followed an unpredictable path this fall. They started 1-5, as a wave of turnovers eclipsed any progress being made on both sides of the ball. No one predicted a win against Ohio State, but Purdue snapped its long losing streak against ranked teams by stunning the Buckeyes. Elliott exceeded most expectations in his only year as the starting quarterback, and both Bolden and wideout Keith Smith emerged as stars. The defense had its ups and downs, but Ryan Kerrigan turned in a great season at end. Purdue ultimately made too many mistakes to reach a bowl, but it went 4-4 in Big Ten play and notched some nice wins along the way.

Purdue Boilermakers season recap

December, 9, 2009
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Toward the end of Joe Tiller's tenure, Purdue managed to reach lower-tier bowls without notching many signature wins.

In Danny Hope's first year as Boilers coach, the team fell short of a bowl but notched several victories that could lead to greater success down the road.

Purdue ended a 19-game slide against ranked opponents by handing Big Ten champ Ohio State its only conference loss on Oct. 17. The Boilers ended an 11-game slide on the road by rallying to beat Michigan, which also marked their first win at the Big House since 1966. With a 4-4 Big Ten mark and several dynamic players returning for 2010, Hope can feel good about what lies ahead.

The team's solid finish takes away some of the sting from a 1-5 start filled with near misses and major mistakes. Purdue gave away the football at an alarming rate, committing 20 turnovers in the first six games, and consequently gave away games against Oregon, Northwestern and Notre Dame. The Boilers also struggled to stop the run for the second straight year, ranking last in the league (173.4 ypg).

But the team never quit and received tremendous performances from quarterback Joey Elliott, wide receiver Keith Smith, defensive end Ryan Kerrigan and others. Elliott and Smith led the league in passing and receiving, respectively, while Kerrigan emerged as a dominant pass-rusher.

Hope and his players know 5-7 isn't good enough, but they took several important steps this fall.

Offensive MVP: Joey Elliott. He patiently waited his turn at quarterback and made the most of his only season at the helm. Elliott led the Big Ten in both passing (252.2 ypg) and total offense (274.5 ypg), showcasing impressive mobility and firing 22 touchdown passes. Smith also deserves a mention here.

Defensive MVP: Ryan Kerrigan. The junior led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally in sacks with 13. He produced his best performance in Purdue's biggest game, recording four tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in the upset of then-No. 7 Ohio State. Kerrigan earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Turning point: Purdue's string of near misses ended in historic fashion, as the Boilermakers stunned Ohio State 26-18 on Oct. 17. The defense forced four turnovers from Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and received a big performance from Elliott. It began a stretch of four wins in the final six games.

What's next: Hope must find a replacement for Elliott, as Miami transfer Robert Marve enters an intriguing quarterback competition. Purdue needs continued development from players like Smith and running back Ralph Bolden, while the defense must reload in the secondary after losing all four starters. The Boilers need to find their way back to the postseason in 2010.

Big Ten mailblog

December, 8, 2009
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Brent from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, how are home and away distinctions made for bowl games? I noticed that Wisconsin is the only "home" designate in the Big Ten. I was hoping to see Penn State in their home unis against LSU...

Adam Rittenberg: Brent, I did some checking on this, and there's actually no universal formula for determining home and away teams. Each bowl does it differently. If memory serves, the Big Ten was the home team in the Insight, Valero Alamo, Outback and Capital One bowls last year. Wisconsin was the away team at Champs Sports and will be the home team this year against Miami. The only Big Ten bowl that will have a repeat Big Ten away team is the Rose Bowl, as Penn State wore its white unis last year and Ohio State will wear its road threads Jan. 1 (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).


Mike from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Adam,Love reading your updates alll season long. I am a die hard Buckeye fan, so I am not a Wisconsin fan who is complaining. However, How did a 9-3 Badger team slip all the way down to the Champs Sports Bowl? I was constantly reading the updates on Non-BCS bowls on Sunday and could not believe that Wisconsin was not offered the Outback and then the Alamo Bowls even though they clearly have a better record than both Northwestern and Michigan State.Don't expect the Big Ten to gain any respect versus the SEC when they send Northwestern to play Auburn. Wisconsin fans travel and the physical smashmouth style of football that they play provides for a much better match up agains Auburn.Your Thoughts?Mike

Adam Rittenberg: The Badgers actually slipped down only one spot, not two. This year, the Champs Sports Bowl selected ahead of the Valero Alamo Bowl, which would have taken Wisconsin if given the chance. But because of Big Ten bowl selection rules, Champs Sports had to take the Badgers because of their overall record. The Outback could have taken Wisconsin, but it picked a Northwestern team that beat the Badgers on Nov. 21. As for the Outback matchup, both Northwestern and Wisconsin are playing pretty well right now, and you could argue NU is the second hottest team in the league behind Ohio State. Everyone counted out the Wildcats last year against Missouri, and they took the Tigers to overtime in a game NU should have won. I do think, however, Wisconsin matches up better with Miami than Northwestern would have in Champs Sports. So if things fall right, the Big Ten could end up with wins in both of those bowls.


KJ from Arlington writes: Hey Adam in case you had not noticed, Jared Odrich was named a first team all-American. This is why people such as you should not have a public voice, because you don't know a damn thing about football. We are all familiar with the anti-Penn State bias in the Big Ten and the media that covers it. Please, go away.

Adam Rittenberg: Odrick with a "k," not an "h." I really don't understand why Penn State fans are up in arms about my view on Jared Odrick. I've given the guy a ton of praise the last few years, putting him in every All-Big Ten team I select. He's the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten and one of the best in the country not named Ndamukong Suh. It's my view that Greg Jones deserved to be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. That's not knock on Odrick, as both he and Jones were All-Americans. Odrick deserves all the accolades he receives, and he'll be an excellent NFL player. No Penn State bias here, just a realistic view of the league.


Jed from West Lafayette, Ind., writes: Adam, Could you defend your placing of MSU in front of Purdue other than the head-to-head where MSU narrowly defeated Purdue. I believe 7th is just about right to place the Boilermakers, but wanted to know if you think there is any reason as to why they could be placed ahead of MSU. Although Purdue finished outside of a bowl selection, I believe through the entire season they played much better week to week than MSU did. Had Purdue replaced NIU with a doormat FBS team as MSU had, both teams would be at 6-6. Also, where do you think Purdue ranks heading into next season with a lot of parts coming back except for the secondary (which has one of the top secondary coaches in the nation to help them). Personally, I'd say 5th and a chance for a surprise 4th.

Adam Rittenberg: The head-to-head game was a big factor in my final placement, especially since the teams played so late in the regular season. Purdue should have beaten Michigan State, but like so many Boilermakers games this fall, they couldn't avoid major mistakes or breakdowns. If the game had happened a few weeks earlier and Purdue had rattled off three wins to close the season, I would have ranked the Boilers above the Spartans. But both teams went 2-2 down the stretch, and both endured a blowout loss (Purdue at Wisconsin, Michigan State vs. Purdue). As far as next year, I'm very excited about Purdue and the direction Danny Hope is taking the program. Joey Elliott could be a bigger loss than many anticipate, but I like the skill-position talent on offense. The defense is a bigger concern, especially the back four.


Michael from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam. A lot is being made of whether or not Ohio State can control Oregon's high-powered offense. While I certainly know Ohio State has had its share of offensive problems, Oregon's defense is ranked behind Navy and Wisconsin's, and close to Minnesota's, all of whom gave up 30+ points to the Buckeyes. What do you think of the optimistic line of thought that Brandon Saine and Terrell Pryor will exploit Oregon's defense? Also, as we saw last year, Coach Tressel seems to open up the playbook given 4 weeks to prepare. Will we see more of the same? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Oregon's defense isn't any great shakes, Michael, and this has to be the game where Terrelle Pryor becomes the difference maker for Ohio State. As strong as the Buckeyes defense has been this fall, it's unrealistic to expect them to hold Oregon below 24 points. Pryor and the rushing attack will need to click for Ohio State to win this game. Jim Tressel clearly had Pryor operate in a more conservative offense down the stretch, but he'll have to open things up a bit against a team like Oregon. Ohio State hasn't seen an offense that remotely resembles what the Ducks bring to the table.

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