Big Ten: John Clay

MADISON, Wis. -- James White often hasn't been the central character in The James White Story at Wisconsin. Maybe it's time for that to change.

Any discussion of White quickly drifts to the other running backs he has played alongside with the Badgers. As a freshman, he was part of the three-headed monster with John Clay and Montee Ball. As a sophomore, he took a backseat as Ball ran his way into the record books and landed a seat at the Heisman Trophy presentation in New York. Last season, White once again played understudy to Ball, who won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back. For the first half of this season, White's teammate Melvin Gordon received the accolades and adulation after dazzling fans with long touchdown runs.

"I try to be selfless," he said. "Whether it's me getting the ball, whether it's me blocking, whether it's me catching or cheering on my team, I'm going to do whatever I can to motivate these guys."

[+] EnlargeJames White
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIJames White has rushed for 478 yards in Wisconsin's past four games.
Great teammate. Unselfish. Versatile. Dependable. Durable. Willing to accept different roles. These terms have characterized White at Wisconsin. That's fine. They're accurate.

But another label should be attached to White as he wraps up a truly unique college career: the most complete back in recent team history.

He runs with power and speed, delivers devastating cuts in the hole, catches passes out of the backfield and picks up blitzes. If the team needs a kickoff returned, he's available, too (he had 38 returns between 2010-12).

"He should be up there with anyone," Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland said. "[Ron] Dayne, [Brian] Calhoun, Montee, [Terrell] Fletcher and even John Clay. It's hard to have a better career than James has had here the last four years."

To fully appreciate White's contributions at Wisconsin, you can't concentrate on a single play or a single season. Sure, he has reached the necessary milestones, from recording a 1,000-yard season (in 2010) to earning awards (2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, second-team All-Big Ten honors that year), but his career path hasn't spiked like those of other Badgers backs.

The totality of White's career shows a player who has averaged more than 5 yards per carry all four seasons -- more than 6 yards in 2010, 2011 and so far this year. It shows a player who will record 10 or more rushing touchdowns for the third time with his next trip to the end zone. It shows a player who has eclipsed 1,000 all-purpose yards in all four seasons and could approach his freshman-year total of 1,469 with a strong finish to this season. It shows a player with 46 total touchdowns, tied for third on Wisconsin's all-time list behind Ball (81) and Dayne (73), and 43 rushing touchdowns, two shy of third place on the team's career chart.

It also shows a player who doesn't hurt his team. White hasn't lost a fumble in his last 323 touches. He has just two lost fumbles in 669 career touches (572 rushes, 60 receptions, 37 kick returns).

And despite playing a position where injuries often take a toll, White has missed just two games in his career.

"He does it all," Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave said. "Everything you need done on offense, it'll get done, and it'll get done well from the running back position. He obviously can run the ball well, he doesn't fumble, he's great in pass protection, he's got tremendous hands, he's always in the right spot in the routes.

"He's just an easy guy to play with."

The essence of White came through in Saturday's win against BYU. He had 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries (6.4 ypc). He had a career-high six receptions for 47 yards and a score. He scored all three Wisconsin touchdowns in the game, accounted for 29 of the team's offensive touches and did the "U Dub Step" three times with Gordon.

So what did Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen single out about White's performance afterward? A block against a blitzing BYU cornerback on a third-down play late in the first half.

"There's no way Joel gets that ball off [if White doesn't make the block]," Andersen said. "James scanned it, came back, looked across the protection and bumped the corner right off. Those plays are huge plays."

They're the types of plays White has made throughout his career, regardless of his role, the other backs or the system he's in.

"He's done a great job with the way protection has changed year after year with the new coaching staff," Stave said. "He does a great job knowing who he's got and holding them down."

Five plays later, Stave found White for a 5-yard touchdown with 14 seconds left in the half. Naturally, White began the play blocking a linebacker and wasn't even an option as a receiver ... until he was.

"I wasn't even supposed to go out on a route," White said. "I just heard the crowd yell and it sounded like Joel was scrambling, so I was like, 'I might as well just leak out.' Right when I turned around, the ball was coming to me."

White, who didn't start a game at running back until the 2013 opener, is quietly putting together a signature senior season. He's on pace to eclipse his top rushing total and already has career highs for receptions (23) and receiving yards (208). While Gordon's production has dropped off a bit, White has 478 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last four games.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior also has been a model of consistency in games.

 

White is driven by two factors these days: the ticking clock on his time at Wisconsin, and his opportunity to showcase his talents for April's NFL draft.

"He has a big desire to play at the next level, and that's OK," Andersen said. "There's nothing wrong with talking about that ... and he's got to play well to have that opportunity. So a lot of things drive James, but the No. 1 thing is the University of Wisconsin and getting victories with his teammates."

At least four more victories are possible for White, as Wisconsin's most complete back completes his story and claims a place in team history.

MADISON, Wis. -- At some point before toe meets football Saturday, Wisconsin assistant Thomas Hammock will gather the Badger running backs and ask a simple question: Who should start?

You may think Hammock is shirking his primary responsibility as a talent evaluator. That's hardly the case.

For one thing, he retains "51 percent" of the vote, so if the players are off track, he'll overrule them.

The players assign number values to their choices: three for their preferred starter, two for the backup and one for the third stringer. They can vote for themselves. The back with the most points is endorsed to start.

"I want it to come from them," Hammock told ESPN.com. "It's good as a player when you hear what your teammates think about you. That's a positive. Players know who has been performing.

"Sometimes, players can fool coaches, but they can't fool their teammates."

Barring a late surprise, senior James White will be this week's nominee and make his first career start at running back Saturday against Massachusetts.

"It's pretty crazy to think about," White said.

Think about it: White is a former Big Ten Freshman of the Year with 3,563 career all-purpose yards and 33 touchdowns to his name. His 2,571 career rushing yards rank second in the FBS among active running backs, trailing only Silas Redd, who has started for two teams (USC and Penn State).

And yet White's only two career starts came at slot receiver last season.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's James White
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)After gaining 2,571 yards in three seasons at Wisconsin, James White finally is a starting running back.
"It is crazy," Badgers running back Melvin Gordon said. "Let's be honest, he's got the skill set to start anywhere. That just shows you how good the backs are that come here."

White has finally reached the starting blocks, but the race is just beginning. He hears the stutter-steps behind him from Gordon, an explosive sophomore who averaged 10 yards per carry last season, and freshman Corey Clement, who impressed throughout preseason camp.

At Wisconsin, the starter's tag can be peeled off at any time. All it takes is a different answer to Hammock's question.

"Every year, I say it's about performance, not seniority," Hammock said. "If you perform well, you deserve that opportunity."

White not only has seniority in Wisconsin's running back room, but seniority in competing for carries. Few FBS backs with White's credentials have waited longer for the spotlight or played behind stronger competitors.

Two of the first three running backs selected in April's NFL draft once called White their understudy. White played behind former North Carolina star Giovani Bernard at Florida prep powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas. He backed up Montee Ball the last two years at Wisconsin.

"James has always had other running backs to compete with," said White's father, Tyrone. "That gave him the strength and the experience to know, 'Hey, no matter where I go, there's people trying to take my job.'

"You can run, but you can't run from competition."

White looked like the one who would be taking jobs in 2010, when he led Wisconsin in rush yards (1,052) and all-purpose yards (1,469) and recorded the second-best yards-per-carry average (6.74) in team history. He formed a three-headed rushing attack with Ball and John Clay, the 2009 Big Ten offensive player of the year, but appeared to have the inside track for a leading role in 2011, especially after Clay opted to skip his final season.

Instead, Ball outperformed White for the top job, became an All-American and finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting. White had 339 fewer rush yards and eight fewer rushing touchdowns (6).

"Of course, I wanted to be the starter," White said. "I came out, I competed, I felt like I did a great job, but they chose Montee, so I couldn't pout."

He remained positive in the locker room, but he also considered leaving it.

"When you don't play that much, the first thought is, 'Man, I'm gonna get up outta here,' " White said.

White faced a similar dilemma in high school when he competed not only with Bernard but several other backs. He ended up staying.

As Ball blossomed at Wisconsin, White had people telling him to move on, even his older brother, Tyrone Jr.

"I'm very amazed at the fact that he stayed," said Tyrone Sr., who coached James in pee-wee football. "We had to sit down and explain life to him. Sometimes you have to to wait for your opportunity. When you get it, you take advantage.

"He persevered. I'm very proud of it."

Hammock admits that White's accomplishments at Wisconsin "can go unnoticed or be under-appreciated." When NFL scouts ask Hammock about White, they point out that White never has had to be the bell cow.

"In this day and age, you don't need to be," Hammock said. "Most [NFL teams] are using multiple backs. He's good in the pass game, he can be a good special-teams performer, he can do it all. He's going to find a way to get it done."

The constant competition could make a player like White bitter toward his challengers. White, meanwhile, calls Bernard and Ball two of his closest friends.

Bernard moved in with White and his family for stretches of high school because of hardships in his own family. White and Ball were roommates at Wisconsin, and White has built a similar bond with Gordon, who describes White as a "real cool dude" with a "contagious laugh."

"My whole time here, I've seen him upset three or four times maybe," Gordon said. "That's good, playing the sport we play."

Gordon is White's primary competitor, and some expect the 6-foot-1, 207-pound sophomore to outshine White this season.

In last year's Big Ten championship against Nebraska, Gordon galloped for 216 yards on just nine carries. He had 80 rush yards or more in four games, despite never logging more than 10 carries.

"He has a lot of potential," Hammock said. "As a coach, you sit there and say, 'If this kid got 20 carries, what would he do?' "

White hopes it won't come to that. He is known for being a great teammate, friendly and positive. But a competitive streak runs through him, too.

"It probably goes a little bit over their heads," he said. "I come out here and compete, man. I always train like I'm the starter."

After Saturday, White won't have to train like the starter any more. But in Wisconsin's running back room, term limits are short.

White knows that better than anyone.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 31, 2013
5/31/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. Be sure to follow us on Twitter.

John from Austin, Texas, writes: You seem to be downplaying the Penn St.-Nebraska rivalry. I agree with many that not playing this game every year is a loss for the Big Ten. You noted that Penn St must have a bigger rivalry with Ohio St. Well, Nebraska is two years in, so everyone has more tradition etc. The Key is Penn St-Nebraska has the basis (some bad blood, some key games, tradition programs) to be a great rivalry. The other problem is, both teams really need their own rivalry (not sharing someone elses).It has great potential. Could it flub? Sure, but it has just has more potential than Nebraska-Iowa; and even Michigan St-Penn St (mainly because MSU has a hang up over Michigan).

Adam Rittenberg: John, some good points here, especially about both teams needing a rival. Maybe the rivalry would have grown as the years went by, but it couldn't continue annually because the Big Ten based its division alignment on geography and eliminated crossover games -- a wise choice, in my view, because it creates better overall schedule rotations. The only preserved crossover is Purdue-Indiana, an in-state rivalry that goes back decades and decades. I don't think Penn State-Nebraska merited a protected crossover in the new alignment. Keep in mind the teams still will play quite often because of parity-based scheduling. I know both fan bases are a little disappointed, but I also think both squads have rivalry potential with teams in their division (Penn State with Michigan and Ohio State; Nebraska with Wisconsin and Iowa).


Joe from Ohio writes: Will Michigan State have another 6- to 7-win season? Will they win more games than last year? Or less?

Adam Rittenberg: I think they'll win more, Joe. The question marks on offense are valid and Michigan State has no shortage of holes to fill on that side of the ball. But the defense once again will be among the nation's elite, and it will keep the Spartans in every game this season. The offensive line is the key group in my mind. If Michigan State gets substantial improvement up front, it should help everyone, from the running backs to the quarterbacks to the receivers. Michigan State doesn't need to score 30 points per game to win a lot this season. But the offense can't stall out so often in the red zone, and there needs to be greater consistency in the passing game. When I look at the schedule, though, I see a team that wins eight or nine games. It's imperative for Michigan State to start off strong -- the Spartans need at least a split in their consecutive road games against Notre Dame and Iowa -- before things get tough in November.


D.J. from Seymour, Wis., writes: I was just wondering what you think Coach A. will do with incoming freshman Corey Clement if it would be a bad idea to redshirt him as they have said they want three good backs. Do you think he is capable of coming in this fall and beating out Jeff Lewis for that third spot?

Adam Rittenberg: Clement certainly is capable, but Wisconsin might not need him this season. Lewis would be at least a backup on most Big Ten teams, and if Vonte Jackson can stay healthy after consecutive ACL tears, Wisconsin likely won't need much from a guy like Clement. The Badgers typically don't redshirt their top running backs -- John Clay redshirted in 2007 because of some lingering academic issues -- but they might want to go down that road with Clement because there seems to be more than enough with James White, Melvin Gordon and Lewis/Jackson. Either way, Clement will have to make a big impression early in preseason camp to be in the mix for carries.


Adam from Okemos, Mich., writes: What are your thoughts on Luke Fickell? Last year's defense is below average by OSU's standards (23pts/359yds given up). The amount of 60+yards plays given up by OSU is probably greater than the combined 2005-2010 years of Jim Heacock. With new starters on defense, something tells me that Luke Fickell is not the type of DC that you can expect to field a top 10 defense with new starters.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, I think those are fair criticisms, although Ohio State's defense played a lot better at the end of the season in wins against Illinois (170 yards allowed, 22 points), Wisconsin (360 yards allowed, 14 points) and Michigan (279 yards allowed, 21 points). This is a big year for Fickell as the leader of a defense that must replace all four line starters as well as two starting linebackers. You're right about the explosion plays -- Ohio State allowed more of them than in past seasons -- and it's an area the defense must address before the 2013 campaign kicks off. But does Ohio State really need a top-10 defense to win a national championship? Keep in mind those great Jim Heacock defenses often were offset by underachieving offenses under Jim Tressel. This year's Ohio State offense could be among the nation's best, so as long as the defense is solid, the Buckeyes should be in position to win most of their games.


Caleb from Pataskala, Ohio, writes: Adam,Can you envision a scenario where Rutgers gets replaced as the 14th member (not sure by whom...)? Or has the B1G gone too far down that road to rethink it despite all the mistakes and horrible press RU has made since the announcement? If they are too deep in the process with Rutgers, here's hoping the lay low out of the news for the next year.

Adam Rittenberg: Caleb, I can't see the Big Ten turning its back on Rutgers at this point. The league made it clear the last expansion was about demographics and entering new markets, and while Rutgers' campus has been rocked by these scandals, the campus itself hasn't moved and remains in a very appealing area for the Big Ten. Plus, even if the Big Ten dumped Rutgers and could handle all the legal issues that would follow such a move, who does the league add as a 14th member? Connecticut just doesn't fit because of the Big Ten's academic demands, and it doesn't really put the league in a major market like Rutgers does. While the Big Ten could look West again -- Missouri, maybe Kansas -- it made it clear it wants to be in two regions (Midwest and East Coast). So no, I don't see any backing out now. And yes, the Big Ten would love for the Rutgers maelstrom to go away.


Mike from Mt. Auburn, Iowa, writes: Adam, in your recent article about the B1G in the draft, you mentioned that Iowa has not had any 1st round draft pics from 2010-2013. As a devoted Hawk fan, I must correct you. Adrian Clayborn was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft.

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, the post referenced where players played their high school ball, not their college ball. Clayborn grew up in St. Louis, so he counts for Missouri, not Iowa.

MADISON, Wis. -- Like his predecessors at Wisconsin, Gary Andersen's coaching background is rooted in defense, but he knows a good offense when he sees one.

Despite Wisconsin's early season struggles on offense, Andersen recalled Friday how he spent "all summer long" trying to prepare Utah State's defense for the Badger behemoths in a Sept. 15 game at Camp Randall Stadium. The first question he received at his introductory news conference concerned his vision for Wisconsin's offense, and he made it clear there will be no overhaul.

"This is the University of Wisconsin," Andersen said. "I've seen the young men walking around the hallways. I had an opportunity to sit down with a couple of the offensive linemen. I've seen the tight ends, I know the tradition of the running backs. ... We will be a power run team, we will use tight ends, we will use multiple sets and multiple formations.

"We'll be a football team that will be run-first. Our goal and our mind-set will be to wear you down."

That's all Wisconsin players and fans need to hear. There's little desire to change the pro-style, power-oriented system that set records the past two seasons -- Wisconsin ranked fifth and sixth nationally in scoring -- before enduring some transition this fall.

Andersen had used some spread elements at Utah State but pointed out that he has coached some standout running backs, among them Robert Turbin, the 2011 WAC Offensive Player of the Year who now plays for the Seattle Seahawks.

"I have been around three NFL backs the last two years at Utah State," Andersen said, "and that's because we run the football. I expect to be able to do the exact same thing here."

Andersen's vision for the offense resonates with players like Wisconsin sophomore right tackle Rob Havenstein, who, at 6-foot-8 and 342 pounds, certainly fits the current system.

"It definitely means a lot to me," Havenstein told ESPN.com. "I'm not the prototypical spread offensive lineman. I'm very glad to hear that, to keep what Wisconsin's doing well for the past couple years and just try to help him build off of that."

Havenstein notes that every coach has a different philosophy, and Andersen and his staff will put their own imprint on the offense. Andersen noted in his news conference how "a touch of option" will be part of the scheme as the option adds to a defense's challenge.

A source tells ESPN.com that Andersen will retain Wisconsin running backs coach Thomas Hammock, who has molded stars such as Montee Ball and John Clay. It's unlikely Andersen brings back offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who already accepted the same job at NC State and reportedly has a $500,000 buyout with the Wolf Pack. Could Hammock be in the mix for the coordinator job? We'll see.

"I will say this about the offensive coordinator," Andersen said. "When you're at the University of Wisconsin, it's a great job, it's not a good job, it's a great job. ... They'll line up a thousand deep, if you want them to. The key is to find the right guy to run this offense."

This much is known: It'll be a guy tasked to not mess with success.

Did you know? Big Ten title game

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
11:00
AM ET
Some notes and nuggets to get you ready for the inaugural Big Ten championship game Saturday night between No. 13 Michigan State and No. 15 Wisconsin.

Thanks to the folks at ESPN Stats & Information for most of these:
  • Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins completed all nine of his pass attempts when facing three or fewer pass-rushers on a play in Michigan State's win over Wisconsin, including 4-of-4 on the game-winning drive.
  • Wisconsin running back Montee Ball was not touched on 18 of his 29 rushing touchdowns this season.
  • Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson is completing 51.3 percent of his passes of 15-plus yards this season and only has two interceptions in 80 attempts. Both interceptions came against Michigan State. Dating back to Week 9 of last season -- when Wilson played for NC State -- he has thrown just three interceptions in his last 130 throws of 15 yards or longer. Wilson's teams are 0-3 in games over the past two seasons when he throws two or more interceptions on these throws. He has significantly improved his accuracy on these throws from last year, when he connected on just 33.6 percent of his passes.
  • Ball has more rushing yards and 13 more rushing touchdowns than any other player in the nation since Nov. 13, 2010, when Wisconsin's top running back John Clay went down with an injury. Since that point, Ball leads FBS players in rush yards (2,272), rushing touchdowns (41) and rushes of 15 yards or longer (40).
  • Spartans senior wideout B.J. Cunningham has emerged as Cousins' big-play threat. Cunningham has four of the team’s five receiving touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or longer this season, including one last week against Northwestern. The lone Spartan touchdown on one of these throws not caught by Cunningham was the "Hail Mary" catch by Keith Nichol against Wisconsin.
  • After sharing the Big Ten Championship a year ago, the squads are targeting consecutive conference crowns. Michigan State, which has won seven Big Ten titles, looks for consecutive Big Ten crowns for the first time since the 1965 and 1966 seasons. Wisconsin, winners of 12 Big Ten Championships in program history, looks for back-to-back conference titles for the first time since 1998 and 1999.
  • The 20-point mark has become significant for Wisconsin under coach Bret Bielema. The Badgers are 41-2 in his tenure, including 18 straight wins, when limiting its opponent to 20 points or less. Conversely, Wisconsin is 54-7 when scoring more than 20 points.
Paul Chryst and Pat NarduzziGetty ImagesPat Narduzzi, left, and Paul Chryst coordinate elite units, which will lock horns in the Big Ten title game.

If your team has a head-coaching vacancy -- looking at you, Illinois fans -- you're probably hearing the names Paul Chryst and Pat Narduzzi right about now.

Chryst, the Wisconsin offensive coordinator, and Narduzzi, the Michigan State defensive coordinator, are the two hottest candidates among Big Ten assistants to become head coaches in the coming days and weeks.

Both men have been instrumental in Wisconsin and Michigan State becoming new powers in the Big Ten. Both men oversee units ranked in the top 15 nationally in several major statistical categories (scoring defense, total defense, pass defense, rush defense, scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense). And both should be fielding some calls from other programs.

If you're not familiar with Chryst and Narduzzi, there's some good news for you. They'll be coaching directly against one another Saturday night when No. 13 Michigan State takes on No. 15 Wisconsin in the inaugural Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis.

While Chryst is working on another record-setting season with Wisconsin's offense, Narduzzi's defense has taken a significant step forward this year.

The Spartans' defense moved from good -- it ranked 43rd nationally in total defense and 39th in points allowed last year -- to nationally elite. Michigan State's defense leads the Big Ten in the following categories: rushing defense (102.5 yards per game), total defense (266.7 ypg), sacks (38), interceptions (16) and third-down defense (32.9 percent conversions). Narduzzi's crew has held seven opponents to 17 points or fewer and six opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards. Michigan State has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns all year and just 30 trips inside the red zone.

"I think he's a genius," Spartans senior safety Trenton Robinson said. "With how we watch film and how he breaks everything down -- him and the GAs and the coaches -- they do such a great job. Every game we go into, even the games that we've lost, we lost on not executing. It's not like bad coaching, play calls or anything, it’s just us missing a tackle or blowing a coverage ."

Narduzzi and the other Michigan State coaches were off-limits to the media this week, but he took some time this spring with ESPN.com to break down the Spartans' approach to defending the power run. Check out the videos here and here. Coincidentally, the opponent in the clips is Wisconsin.

Robinson said he and his fellow defenders are never shocked by a formation or a play an opponent showcases. They've already seen it in practice.

Narduzzi also keeps his players in mind when crafting game plans.

"Nothing's really complicated for us," said Robinson, who is tied with teammate Isaiah Lewis for the Big Ten interceptions lead with four. "He makes it as simple as possible, and if the guys aren't liking something, like a certain play, coach will be like, 'You guys aren't liking this? OK, scratch it. If you're not comfortable with it, we're not doing it.' So he makes sure all of us players are comfortable with the calls that he has. It's a great thing."

Wisconsin's offense has thrived in Chryst's five-plus seasons as offensive coordinator, averaging more than 34 points per game. Last year the Badgers averaged 41.5 points, shattering the team scoring record by more than a touchdown per game. This year's unit is on pace to surpass the mark, averaging 44.8 points a game.

Under Chryst's watch Wisconsin has produced the Big Ten offensive player of the year in two of the past three seasons (running back John Clay in 2009, running back Montee Ball this year). Quarterbacks like John Stocco, Scott Tolzien and more recently Russell Wilson are among the most successful in team history.

"Paul Chryst uses players' abilities as good as any coach I've ever been around," Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said. "As a head coach, you really appreciate coordinators that understand the skill set of your players and how to use them and maximize those skills. Everybody has a weakness, and if you can hide it or minimize it, you're going to be better overall. Paul really does a good job of that."

Montee Ball
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWith Montee Ball (28) and Russell Wilson (16), coordinator Paul Chryst has made Wisconsin's offense even more prolific than in past years.
Wisconsin's offense lacks glitz or gimmicks, and the Badgers make no secret about their intention to overpower their opponents from a one-back set. Although Wisconsin recruits to its vision on offense, Chryst has shown the ability to adjust, especially this year with Wilson, whose skills are unlike what the Badgers typically have at quarterback.

"We'll do some things that will become staples of your offense or of your program," Chryst said, "but each year, you adjust to the players you have."

Chryst played a big role in attracting Wilson to Madison from North Carolina State, and Wilson describes his coach as having "a calmness to him, but a competitive edge that most people can't match."

"He always wants his players to understand the whys of football," Wilson said. "That's what I love. ... I ask a lot of questions."

Wilson admits to peppering Chryst about his past experiences working with quarterbacks like Derek Anderson at Oregon State. Chryst also spent time with Drew Brees during a one-year stint as a San Diego Chargers offensive assistant.

"The value to coaching a lot of different players is it really just reinforces how different each guy is," Chryst said. "It's your job as a coach then to know the player and then adjust. There's a lot of different ways to have success. You realize Scotty Tolzien can have success different than Russell Wilson or Derek Anderson or other guys I've been around."

Chryst's name has come up before at this time of year for coaching vacancies elsewhere. Texas courted him for its offensive coordinator vacancy after the 2010 season, and Chryst was on Purdue's radar to replace Joe Tiller.

Earlier this week Chryst denied having contact with Illinois about its vacancy, and he remains focused on facing the Narduzzi-led Spartans defense on Saturday night.

"You can put yourself into a cocoon," he said. "Who cares what's being rumored about? I've got a job and that's to coach football here at Wisconsin. The best thing you can do is do your job well."

Both Chryst and Narduzzi have done their jobs very well this season, possibly setting them up for better things.

The great debate: Big Ten's best RB

November, 9, 2011
11/09/11
11:15
AM ET
The 2010 season wasn't a great one for Big Ten running backs.

The league's best running back played quarterback (Michigan's Denard Robinson). Illinois' Mikel Leshoure flew under the radar but was a nationally elite back in every sense of the word.

But after those two, meh. The league boasted some solid backs -- Edwin Baker, James White, Dan Herron, Adam Robinson, John Clay -- but no one you had to watch every time he took the field. The Big Ten's real star power could be found on the defensive line, as five players went on to become first round picks in the NFL draft.

This season, it's all about the running backs in the Big Ten. The league boasts four players averaging more than 105 rush yards per game, all of whom rank among the nation's top 21 rushers. No other league has more backs in the top 25 nationally than the Big Ten.

So who's the Big Ten's best running back in 2011? It's already one of the more spirited debates around the conference.

Let's meet the candidates (in alphabetical order):
Now let's take a closer look at each player and how they stack up.

MONTEE BALL

Vitals: 5-11, 210, junior from Wentzville, Mo.

2011 stats: 162 carries for 1,076 yards and 21 touchdowns, 119.6 ypg, 6.64 ypc, 13 receptions for 229 yards and 3 touchdowns, 1-for-1 passing with a 25-yard touchdown

[+] EnlargeWisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball
Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIREWisconsin Badgers running back Montee Ball leads the nation with 24 touchdowns.
Things to know: Ball leads the nation with 24 touchdowns, tying the team record set by Brian Calhoun. He needs just two touchdowns to tie the Big Ten single-season record held by three players. Ball scores a touchdown every 7.3 touches. ... Ball leads the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (145 per game). He ranks fifth nationally among FBS running backs in combined rushing-receiving yards. ... He has scored at least one touchdown in each of his last 15 games and 39 touchdowns during the span. ... Ball has rushed for at least 115 yards in eight of his last nine games against Big Ten opponents. ... Like the other Wisconsin backs, Ball has no fumbles (lost or recovered) this season. ... Despite a strong finish to last season, Ball transformed his body in the winter and spring, shedding weight to add speed while maintaining his power.

Supporting cast: Ball has the best supporting cast of the four candidates. He runs behind one of the nation's best offensive lines, a group led by NFL prospect Peter Konz. His quarterback, Russell Wilson, is a Heisman Trophy candidate and has brought a new element to Wisconsin's offense. His backup, James White, is the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

The quote: "He's definitely our best practice player. Nobody has practice that hard at that position since I've been here." -- Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema

Quick case for Ball: "Moneyball" is a touchdown-scoring machine and has been absolutely unstoppable for most of the season. Few backs in the country have been more effective than Ball since the middle of last season. He doesn't put the ball on the ground and consistently moves it forward and into the end zone. He didn't rest on his laurels in the offseason and got better physically.

Quick case against Ball: Wisconsin's track record of running the ball probably works against Ball with the other candidates. The Badgers always have a dominant back (or three) and terrific offensive lines. Wilson's presence also has opened things up for Ball in the run game.

REX BURKHEAD

Vitals: 5-11, 210, junior from Plano, Texas

2011 stats: 187 carries for 951 yards and 13 touchdowns, 105.7 ypg, 5.1 ypc, 14 receptions for 129 yards and 2 touchdowns

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireNebraska running back Rex Burkhead averages 6.16 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season for the Cornhuskers.
Things to know: Burkhead has recorded five 100-yard rushing performances in the last seven games, including against two of the nation's better rush defenses in Michigan State and Ohio State. He turned in a heroic performance in the win against the Spartans, carrying 35 times, the third-highest total in team history. ... Burkhead has gotten better as games have gone on. He has 43 fourth-quarter carries and has averaged 6.16 yards in the final quarter. Burkhead had 109 second-half yards and 96 fourth-quarter yards in Nebraska's historic comeback win against Ohio State. ... He has lost just 32 yards on 187 carries. ... Of his 38 carries in the red zone, Burkhead has gained a first down or a touchdown on 15 rushes. He has rushed for at least one touchdown in every game this season. ... Former Texas high school star nicknamed "Superman," Burkhead did a bit of everything for Nebraska in 2010, even taking some snaps as a Wildcat quarterback.

Supporting cast: Burkhead shares a backfield with another rushing threat in quarterback Taylor Martinez, who has 712 rush yards and nine touchdowns this season. While Martinez demands the attention of opposing defenses, he also takes away some carries and scoring opportunities for Burkhead. Nebraska's offensive line entered the season banged-up and extremely young, but the group has come together nicely. The Huskers' passing attack ranks 101st nationally, and Martinez and his receivers have had their ups and downs. After Burkhead and Martinez, no other Nebraska player has more than 25 carries.

The quote: "He might not be the flashiest guy in the world. I wouldn't trade him for anybody. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and how he plays the game." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini

Quick case for Burkhead: He's one of the more reliable players in the country and an absolute joy to watch. He doesn't mess around with excessive moves and blends speed and power extremely well. Unlike Ball and Coker, he doesn't operate in an offense with a strong passing threat, and he's produced against some solid defenses.

Quick case against Burkhead: His numbers don't pop off the page like some of the other candidates'. Burkhead's most impressive performance (against MSU) was more of a workmanlike effort (35 carries, 3.7 ypc) than one that wows you. He doesn't have many long runs in Big Ten play (longest is 22 yards).

MARCUS COKER

Vitals: 6-0, 230, sophomore from Beltsville, Md.

2011 stats: 211 carries for 1,101 yards and 12 touchdowns, 122.3 ypg, 5.2 ypc, 15 receptions for 94 yards

[+] EnlargeIowa Hawkeyes running back Marcus Coker
Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIREIowa running back Marcus Coker is setting records for the Hawkeyes.
Things to know: Coker leads the Big Ten in carries, rushing yards and rushing average (he ranks sixth nationally). ... He has six 100-yard rushing performances this season. His 12 rushing touchdowns tie for the fourth-highest single-season total in team history ... Coker ranks second in the Big Ten and 41st nationally in all-purpose yards (132.8 ypg). ... His 252 rushing yards yards in an Oct. 22 game at Minnesota ranks as third best single-game total in school history. ... He's one of only four backs in Iowa history to record multiple 200-yard rushing performances. ... Coker has eclipsed 120 rush yards and scored two touchdowns in each of his last four games, all against Big Ten opponents.

Supporting cast: Coker runs behind one of the better Big Ten offensive lines, led by NFL draft prospect Riley Reiff at left tackle. Iowa isn't quite as powerful up front as Wisconsin but boasts a better line than both Penn State and Nebraska. Quarterback James Vandenberg has had a very strong season passing the ball, and defenses must respect Iowa's aerial attack and receiving corps, led by star senior Marvin McNutt. Coker has been Iowa's bell cow, as no other Hawkeyes running back has logged more than 18 carries.

The quote: "Marcus is the type of back that makes your offensive line want to block for him. So we definitely love him, and we love blocking for him, and we don't want anyone else back there." -- Iowa center James Ferentz, to The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette

The case for Coker: He leads the Big Ten in rushing and has improved as the season has progressed. He boasts arguably the best combination of power and big-play potential among the candidates, recording six runs of 25 yards or more and three of 41 yards or more. While some of the other candidates are solid, reliable runners, Coker has the rare ability to simply dominate a game.

The case against Coker: He struggled with fumbles at the start of the year and hurt Iowa in its Week 2 loss to Iowa State. He benefits from Iowa's lack of depth at running back and gets more carries than other candidates. He averaged a pedestrian 4.3 yards per rush through Iowa's first five games. He feasted on mostly average defenses.

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State running back Silas Redd carries a heavy workload in the Nittany Lions offense.
SILAS REDD

Vitals: 5-10, 209, sophomore from Norwalk, Conn.

2011 stats: 195 carries for 1,006 yards and 7 touchdowns, 111.8 ypg, 5.2 ypc, eight receptions for 31 yards

Things to know: Redd recorded five consecutive 100-yard games and led all FBS players with 703 rushing yards in October. He averaged 140.6 yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry during the month. He's the first Penn State player to record five consecutive 100-yard games since former All-American Curtis Enis in 1997. ... He already has eclipsed 1,000 rush yards for the season, becoming the 12th Penn State player to do so. ... He already has 118 carries more than he had all of last season and has racked up 28 or more carries in four of Penn State's five Big Ten games. ... He has lost just 19 yards on 195 carries. ... Redd worked on his body during the offseason and added 10-15 pounds to help with an increased workload. He also changed his running style, becoming a more straight-ahead, downhill power back.

Supporting cast: Redd has the weakest supporting cast of the candidates, underscoring how impressive his performance has been this season. Penn State has rotated two quarterbacks all season and had very limited success in the passing game, so the offense relies heavily on Redd to produce. The offensive line is performing better in recent weeks but hasn't been as strong as Wisconsin's and Iowa's, and even Nebraska's. Redd has gotten a bit of help from fellow backs Beachum and Curtis Dukes, but Dukes is second on Penn State's carries list with only 35.

The quote: "He can hurt you with his speed and his elusiveness outside, and he can run between the tackles. He's a pretty complete back." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini

The case for Redd: He has been an absolute workhorse for a struggling Penn State offense and transformed himself into a complete back in just his sophomore season. Redd had the most impressive month of any candidate (October), and he did it all against Big Ten competition. He has the weakest supporting cast and, along with Coker, he's clearly his team's main ball-carrier.

The case against Redd: The main knock on Redd is he doesn't score enough touchdowns. He has 14 fewer rush touchdowns than Ball, six fewer than Burkhead and five fewer than Coker. Redd also has had some fumbling issues that have ended promising Penn State drives.
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and potential impact for the 2011 season, march on with ...

No. 11: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, Jr., 5-11, 210

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
AP Photo/Morry GashNo running back was hotter in the second half of last season than Wisconsin's Montee Ball.
2010 numbers: Appeared in 12 games last season, starting the final four; led the Big Ten with 18 rushing touchdowns and racked up 996 yards on 163 attempts (6.1 ypc); finished eighth in the league in rushing average (83 ypg); caught 16 passes for 128 yards.

Why he's here: Arguably no running back in the country ended last season hotter than Ball, who rushed for 777 yards and 14 touchdowns in his final five games. His late-season surge following John Clay's injury caused many Badgers fans to want Ball as their featured back ahead of reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who electrified Wisconsin's rushing attack with his speed. After slipping behind White in the preseason, Ball rededicated himself and seized an opportunity to contribute when it presented itself against Iowa. He slimmed down during the offseason in an effort to boost his speed, but he still runs with good power. If he carries over the momentum into the fall, he should get a larger chunk of the carries for one of the nation's top rushing attacks.

Previously

  • No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
  • No. 24: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
  • No. 23: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
  • No. 22: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
  • No. 21: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
  • No. 20: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
  • No. 19: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
  • No. 18: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
  • No. 17: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
  • No. 16: Derek Moye, WR, Penn State
  • No. 15: Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
  • No. 14: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
  • No. 13: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  • No. 12: David Molk, C, Michigan
It's not all about the seniors in the Big Ten any more.

The past four Big Ten Offensive Players of the Year all have been non-seniors, including sophomores in each of the past two seasons (Michigan QB Denard Robinson, Wisconsin RB John Clay). Two of the first three Big Ten players selected in April's NFL draft were defensive linemen with junior eligibility (Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget).

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson passed for 2,570 yards and ran for 1,702 yards last season.
Wisconsin still touts itself as a developmental program but has produced each of the past two Big Ten Freshmen of the Year (RB James White, LB Chris Borland). Other teams consistently produce non-senior stars.

With that in mind, let's take a look at three non-seniors to watch and three impact freshmen.

NON-SENIORS TO WATCH

1. Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan, junior, 6-0. 193: You couldn't take your eyes off of Robinson in 2010, particularly in September, when he was college football's most exciting player. The dynamic Wolverines quarterback now must transition to a new system that likely doesn't fit his skill set quite as well as the spread offense did. Will "Shoelace" reinvent himself or stumble? Find out this fall.

2. Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, junior, 5-11, 210: Although he'll share carries with another underclassman to watch, 2010 Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, Ball might have more Badgers fans buzzing. He was arguably the nation's hottest running back in the second half of last season, recording 777 rush yards and 14 touchdowns in his final five games. Ball, who slimmed down during the offseason to increase his speed, could be Wisconsin's featured ball-carrier.

3. Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue, sophomore, 5-9, 176: Some of you might not have noticed Allen last season as Purdue struggled and wasn't relevant in November. Don't make the same mistake this fall as Allen could be one of the nation's most dynamic defenders. He recorded three interceptions as a freshman, including two pick-sixes, and led the Big Ten with 129 interception return yards. Allen is fast, aggressive and not afraid of being physical with bigger receivers. Keep an eye on him in 2011.

IMPACT FRESHMEN

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State, 6-3, 210: Miller's potential impact became a lot more interesting after Terrelle Pryor left the program June 7. After enrolling early and going through spring ball, Miller now has a chance to compete for the full-time starting position. The talent and athleticism are there, and if Miller shows he can grasp the system and separate himself in camp, he could lead Ohio State's offense Sept. 3 against Akron.

2. Tony Lippett, CB/WR, Michigan State, 6-2, 189: After redshirting in 2010, Lippett had a breakout spring and had coordinators Dan Roushar (offense) and Pat Narduzzi (defense) fighting over his services. Lippett plays both cornerback and wide receiver but will start his career on the defensive side. He should get on the field in nickel and/or dime packages and also could be a factor on special teams.

3. Jamal Turner, WR, Nebraska, 6-1, 180: Nebraska needs more options at receiver and Turner should work his way into the mix. The early enrollee who soon moved from quarterback to receiver sparkled in the spring game, racking up 228 all-purpose yards. Turner could join Brandon Kinnie as one of Nebraska's top wideouts, and he'll definitely be a factor in the return game.
The wait is finally over for Big Ten players not selected in April's NFL draft.

Free agent deals are finally taking place during a whirlwind week in the post-lockout NFL.

We'll have additional updates as the day goes on, but here's a look at where Big Ten players are landing.

ILLINOIS
  • CB Travon Bellamy, St. Louis Rams
  • WR Jarred Fayson: New Orleans Saints
  • G Randall Hunt: St. Louis Rams
  • DE Clay Nurse: New England Patriots
INDIANA
  • QB Ben Chappell: Washington Redskins
  • WR Terrance Turner: Philadelphia Eagles
IOWA
  • P Ryan Donahue: Detroit Lions
  • LB Jeremiah Hunter: New Orleans Saints
  • TE Allen Reisner: Minnesota Vikings
  • LB Jeff Tarpinian: New England Patriots
MICHIGAN
  • T Perry Dorrestein: New York Jets
  • CB James Rogers: Denver Broncos
  • TE Martell Webb: Philadelphia Eagles
MICHIGAN STATE
  • WR Mark Dell: Denver Broncos
  • LB Eric Gordon: Jacksonville Jaguars
  • T D.J. Young: Arizona Cardinals
MINNESOTA
  • T Dom Alford: Cleveland Browns
  • FB Jon Hoese: Green Bay Packers
  • QB Adam Weber: Denver Broncos
NEBRASKA
  • K Adi Kunalic: Carolina Panthers
  • TE Mike McNeill: Indianapolis Colts
  • DE Pierre Allen: Seattle Seahawks
  • G Ricky Henry: Chicago Bears
  • T D.J. Jones: Miami Dolphins
  • S Rickey Thenarse: Seattle Seahawks
NORTHWESTERN
  • DT Corbin Bryant: Chicago Bears
  • LB Quentin Davie: Detroit Lions
OHIO STATE
  • G Bryant Browning: St. Louis Rams
  • G Justin Boren: Baltimore Ravens
  • RB Brandon Saine: Green Bay Packers
  • WR Dane Sanzenbacher: Chicago Bears
  • DT Dexter Larimore: New Orleans Saints
  • CB Devon Torrence: Minnesota Vikings
PENN STATE
  • WR Brett Brackett: Miami Dolphins
  • LB Chris Colasanti: Indianapolis Colts
  • LB Bani Gbadyu: Oakland Raiders
  • DT Ollie Ogbu: Indianapolis Colts
PURDUE
  • TE Kyle Adams: Chicago Bears
  • WR Keith Smith: Detroit Lions
WISCONSIN
  • CB Niles Brinkley: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • RB John Clay: Pittsburgh Steelers
  • QB Scott Tolzien: San Diego Chargers
We round out the day of polling with a look at the Big Ten's offensive player of the year race.

For the second consecutive year, the Big Ten returns its reigning offensive POY. Wisconsin running back John Clay wasn't able to repeat as the winner after claiming the award in 2009. Indiana running back Anthony Thompson is the only player to win Big Ten offensive player of the year in consecutive seasons (1988-89).

Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson can change things with another superb season this fall. Robinson set the NCAA quarterback rushing record with 1,702 yards in 2010, became the first player in FBS history to record 2,500 pass yards and 1,500 rush yards in the same season, and also set several Michigan marks. But the Wolverines junior is transitioning to a new offense that might present some challenges.

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa is another leading candidate after rehabbing from a ruptured Achilles' that cut short his 2010 season. Persa set a Big Ten record for completion percentage (73.5 percent) and will lead what could be one of the league's best offenses this season.

Not to be forgotten is Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, who enters his third season as a starter after leading the Spartans to a share of their first Big Ten title in two decades. Cousins battled through injuries during the second half of last season. At full strength, he could have a huge year.

Don't forget about the Big Ten running backs in this race. Wisconsin has two of the best in Montee Ball and James White, who could end up competing against each other for the award.

What say you?
To recap: I've already taken a look at the Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushing candidates, sack-masters, 3,000-yard passers and top interceptors in 2011.

Now it's time to look at who will reach paydirt most often this season.

I'm setting the bar at 15 touchdowns, which takes quite a few players and position groups out of the mix. Several factors have to work in a player's favor for him to score 15 touchdowns, and one of them often is little depth at the position. Example: When a team has three really good receivers, it's hard to see one of them reaching the end zone 15 times.

Only three Big Ten players eclipsed 15 touchdowns in 2010, and all of them were running backs: Illinois' Mikel Leshoure (20), Wisconsin's Montee Ball (18) and Ohio State's Dan Herron (16). Three players finished with 14 touchdowns: Wisconsin running backs John Clay and James White, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher led Big Ten receivers in touchdowns with 12 (11 receiving, 1 rushing).

Quarterback Taylor Martinez led Nebraska with 12 rush touchdowns in 2010, followed by running back Rex Burkhead (11).

Here's a look at the league's top touchdowners in 2011:

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAfter becoming the featured back in Wisconsin's offense, Montee Ball's a good bet to score often in 2011.
1. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: Ball not only finished second in the Big Ten and tied for 13th nationally in touchdowns, but he reached the end zone 15 times in his final six games. He'll take on a featured role in the offense from the get-go this season, and with Clay departing, he likely will be Wisconsin's go-to back near the goal line.

2. One of Michigan State's RBs: Junior Edwin Baker has set a goal of 21 touchdowns, and while anything is possible, it seems a little ambitious. Baker reached the end zone 12 times last year and could increase his total, but fellow backs Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper also are in the mix. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Michigan State had a back score 15 or more touchdowns, and I might put my money on Bell, a 237-pound bruiser who could have a huge sophomore season.

3. Wisconsin RB James White: He recorded 14 touchdowns in 2010 and boasts the breakaway speed to record at least a handful of longer scoring runs this fall. Like Ball, White will get more carries with Clay gone and wants to show he can be a tough runner in the red zone. Wisconsin will feed both of its backs enough to get them plenty of touchdown opportunities.

4. Purdue RB Ralph Bolden: Bolden finished second in the league in touchdowns in 2009 with 11 (9 rush, 2 receiving) before missing all of last season with a knee injury. If he can stay healthy, he should be Purdue's featured back and have enough opportunities to score touchdowns. Bolden will run behind an offensive line that should be a team strength, which bodes well in the red zone.

5. Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead or QB Taylor Martinez: I'd lean toward Burkhead because I think he'll have a huge season, but both players are capable of racking up touchdowns. Martinez reached the end zone 12 times in his first five games as a freshman. Think of what he could do if he can stay healthy the whole season.

6. Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight: Of McKnight's 48 receptions in 2010, 10 of them wound up as touchdowns. He should have even more chances as Minnesota's No. 2 receiver, MarQueis Gray, returns to the quarterback spot, where he'll be looking for McKnight a lot in the red zone. McKnight also averaged 15.6 yards per catch in 2010, so he's a candidate for some long scoring receptions.

7. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Yes, I know Robinson's rushing numbers likely will go down this season. But you can't discount his ability to improvise and record a couple of long runs per game. The guy still has the ability to take it to the house every time he touches the football. So while this might be a long shot, I can't do a list like this without including No. 16.

8. Iowa RB Marcus Coker: Perhaps I'm buying in too much to what Coker did in the Insight Bowl, but he has several factors working in his favor to rack up touchdowns. He enters the season as Iowa's clear-cut No. 1 back, as there's no proven depth behind him. He'll work behind one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines. He's a bigger back (230 pounds), which bodes well near the goal line. And Iowa likely will stress the run game as it welcomes a new starting quarterback (James Vandenberg).

Other top touchdown candidates to watch include:
I'll wrap up the series Monday with a look at the Big Ten's candidates for 100 tackles.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 3, 2011
5/03/11
12:00
PM ET
Kids, don't drink tequila.

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
9:00
AM ET
The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).

NEBRASKA'S DRAFTEES

Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 27, 2011
4/27/11
12:00
PM ET
As the Big Ten world turns ...

SPONSORED HEADLINES