Big Ten: John Standeford

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The message Purdue's coaches had for Keith Smith before the season is the type every player wants to hear.

 
  Andrew Weber/US Presswire
 Purdue Boilermakers wide receiver Keith Smith is benefiting from a slimmer figure.

Purdue had lost its top two wide receivers from 2008, Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who ranked second and third in the Big Ten in receptions, combining for 136 catches, 1,596 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. The Boilers also lost running back Kory Sheets, a very good pass receiver, as well as wideouts Brandon Whittington and Joe Whitest.

When it came to proven players at the wide receiver position, the discussion started and ended with Smith.

"They didn’t really give the specifics with it," Smith recalled. "They just told me they were going to work me. They were going to use me as a workhorse."

Purdue has had a workhorse receiver ever since Joe Tiller brought the spread offense to West Lafayette in 1997. In fact, Boilermakers wideout has recorded at least 63 receptions in each of the last 12 seasons. First, it was Brian Alford. Then Isaac Jones. Then Chris Daniels. Then Vinny Sutherland. Then Taylor Stubblefield and John Standeford. Then Dorien Bryant. Then Orton and Tardy.

Now it's Smith's turn, and he has made the most of it. He leads the Big Ten in both receptions (59) and receiving yards (771) for a confident Purdue team that has won back-to-back games after a string of heartbreaking losses.

Smith and the Boilers aim for three straight Saturday against Wisconsin (ESPN2, noon ET).

"I’m not surprised to see him having the type of year that he’s having," Purdue first-year head coach Danny Hope said. "He saw the opportunity and really seized that. He’s an exceptional worker, and he’s very talented. He knew he was going to be the go-to guy at the beginning of the season and cashed in."

Smith was thrilled to be labeled a workhorse wideout before the season, but he also knew what it meant. He had dislocated his shoulder in a Week 2 matchup last year against Oregon and couldn't do much conditioning during practice, so he ballooned to more than 240 pounds.

With the shoulder fully healed, Smith shed about 20 pounds during the offseason and now checks in at a solid 226.

"It’s been great," Smith said. "I've been able to beat a lot of teams deep and get behind their coverages. I feel like I have a quicker step now, so it’s helped me tremendously on the field, to be able to widen my array of routes."

Hope made speed and quickness major priorities for the Boilers, who had players slim down at every position. Smith's weight loss has translated into obvious gains on Saturdays.

"It made him a faster player," Hope said. "It made him a better player in space. It allows him to stay in the game and get most of the reps. He gets stronger as the game goes on. That’s not always true at the receiver position, especially a big receiver.

"He’s scaled down significantly size wise and it’s really impacted the quality of his play."

Big Ten Friday mailbag

December, 19, 2008
12/19/08
1:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Several of you have some Big Ten All-Freshman team selections. Good stuff.

Matt from Chicago writes: Adam...I agree with your theory that the Big Ten might have been 'better off' only having one entry into the BCS. However, couldn't you make that case any number of the past few years that the Big Ten has seen their teams "slotted up" one or two bowls because of the BCS? It's of tremendous financial benefit for a conference to get two teams into the BCS, something the Big Ten has done now for the past 3 or 4 years. Why does no one discuss that fact when deriding the Big Ten bowl record?

Adam Rittenberg: That's a good point, Matt. This will be the first time since 2004 that the Big Ten will send its best team (Penn State) to the Rose Bowl. Illinois certainly didn't perform like a BCS-worthy team last year. The Big Ten actually has had two BCS entries for four consecutive years. Despite a poor national reputation right now, the Big Ten's value in the marketplace remains high. The money is coming in. Now the wins need to start piling up.


Jeff from Frederick, Md., writes: Hey Adam: Phil Steele just released his pics for the bowls season. He did pick PSU, OSU, and Iowa. He isnt't rating these picks very high on his confidence rankings, but he is the first person I've seen pick OSU and PSU!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the head's up, Jeff (I can't find a link right now but will post one when it becomes available). That's a pretty good sign for Big Ten fans, as Phil Steele is one of the top analysts in college football. I've seen no one pick Ohio State in the Fiesta, and I'm surprised there aren't a few more people picking Penn State, despite USC's recent dominance of Big Ten teams.


John from Indianapolis writes: Adam, Why does it seem like such a struggle for Purdue to get a quality speed receiver and a top flight quarterback? As much as they have thrown the ball over the years one would think this would be an ideal place to go. I certainly realize that top tier guys may want Florida, Oklahoma, and a few other places but seriously....

Adam Rittenberg: Not sure I agree with you, John. Though Purdue hasn't produced an All-Big Ten wideout since 2006 (Dorien Bryant), the team has had its share of capable quarterbacks and pass catchers. Drew Brees and Kyle Orton come to mind at quarterback, and you could add Curtis Painter in there until this season. As for wide receivers, Bryant had an excellent career and Purdue also had John Standeford, Taylor Stubblefield and Vinny Sutherland. In terms of getting a true "speed receiver," I would anticipate Danny Hope bringing several guys who fit this mold. He told me he doesn't want to continue with bigger receivers if he can get smaller, faster guys in the offense.

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