Big Ten: Josh Gaines

In the past, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski never had to bring a compass to Penn State practice.

Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.

It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.

Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.

[+] EnlargeRoyster
Rob Christy/US PresswireEvan Royster has struggled to get on track in the early part of the season.
Where is Penn State headed this fall? It's still to be determined.

"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."

A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.

Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.

The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.

"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."

Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.

Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.

"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."

Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.

"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."

Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.

Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.

"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.

"We've done about as well as I could expect."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jack Crawford won't be talking trash in a British accent when he lines up at defensive end for Penn State this fall.

"I could talk in my accent, but I don't think many people would get that on the line," Crawford said. "We have one-word calls that I just give out. I don't try to make it too complicated for you Americans." 

 
  Matthew O'Haren/Icon SMI
  Penn State defensive lineman Jack Crawford keeps it simple.
Let's keep it simple, then. 

Penn State expects huge things this season from Crawford, a 6-5, 262-pound sophomore who dazzled in spring ball and has continued to impress in preseason camp. Penn State loses three accomplished defensive ends in Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines and Maurice Evans, but Crawford is expected to provide continuity on the defensive line, which has become the team's strongest position group under coach Larry Johnson.

Penn State often sees young D-linemen blossom quickly, most recently Maybin last year, but Crawford's story is unique. He grew up in England, moved to New Jersey as a 16-year-old and didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school.

Crawford, who starred in basketball and also boxed as a youngster, had extremely limited football exposure in England. He enjoyed the football-themed film "Any Given Sunday," but he didn't get hooked until after watching the 2006 BCS title game between USC and Texas.

"That game had a big effect on me," he said. "It caused me to start playing more, to go out and give it a try."   

Not a bad idea. 

Crawford immediately caught onto the game at St. Augustine Prep and shot up the recruiting rankings. He was one of only three true freshmen to play in every game for Penn State last fall but had limited production because of the team's depth at defensive end.

Opportunity arrives this fall, and pretty much everyone at Penn State expects Crawford to answer the bell. 

"He can do some things that you wouldn't expect from a guy with not a lot of experience," linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "Being on that basketball court and transferring to football and having that body, it's not hard to show what you can do. But you've got to want to do it and he wants to be the best D-end he can be. He's doing a good job of it so far."

Not surprisingly, the mental adjustment has been the biggest challenge for Crawford as he learns the game and his position. He often went to Maybin, Gaines and Evans for advice last year and also has consulted former Lions stars like Tamba Hali and Michael Haynes when they return to Happy Valley. 

Nittany Lions star defensive tackle Jared Odrick is valuable resource as Crawford goes through camp. 

"I knew coming here I was going to get everything I needed from scratch," Crawford said. "I guess I picked it up pretty quickly, but that's thanks to the people I had around me."

Crawford's willingness to learn has impressed defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who recalls seeing the sophomore watching film late at night after Penn State's spring game.

"Most guys, after the Blue-White Game, they're out having fun or with their family or whatever, but he was down there looking at the film," Bradley said. "He's a dedicated guy. He's a good-looking, physical-type football player. He's got a lot of good tools. And the other thing I really like about Jack is he's got a motor.

"He wants to play."

And raise some bloody hell in the backfield. 

Penn State spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:10
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State Nittany Lions
2008 overall record: 11-2

2008 conference record: 7-1

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 4; Special teams: 1

Top returners

QB Daryll Clark, RB Evan Royster, C Stefen Wisniewski, DT Jared Odrick, LB Sean Lee, LB Navorro Bowman, S Drew Astorino

Key losses

WR Derrick Williams, WR Deon Butler, WR Jordan Norwood C A.Q. Shipley, LT Gerald Cadogan, DE Aaron Maybin, DE Josh Gaines, S Anthony Scirrotto, CB Lydell Sargeant

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Evan Royster* (1,236 yds)
Passing
: Daryll Clark* (2,592 yds)
Receiving: Deon Butler (810 yds)
Tackles
: Navorro Bowman* (106)
Sacks
: Aaron Maybin (12)
Interceptions
: Lydell Sargeant (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Akron
Sept. 12 Syracuse
Sept. 19 Temple
Sept. 26 Iowa
Oct. 3 at Illinois
Oct. 10 Eastern Illinois
Oct. 17 Minnesota
Oct. 24 at Michigan
Oct. 31 at Northwestern
Nov. 7 Ohio State
Nov. 14 Indiana
Nov. 21 at Michigan State
Spring answers

1. Line is fine -- Despite losing three major contributors at defensive end, Penn State's reloading line appears to be fine for 2009. Sophomore end Jack Crawford looks like the team's next dominant pass-rusher. There's good depth at defensive tackle around All-America candidate Jared Odrick, and if Penn State can get a bit healthier at the end positions, it should be solid up front.

2. Daryll does it -- Daryll Clark was the Big Ten's top quarterback by a fairly wide margin in 2008, and the senior built on his first season as a starter with a strong offseason. Clark has put the coaches at ease about the direction of the offense. He's the undisputed leader of the unit, and more importantly, he wants to lead. There might not be a more valuable player in the Big Ten this fall.

3. Wideouts emerge -- Penn State loses three multiyear starters at receiver, but several players showed this spring that they're ready to step up. Both Graham Zug and Brett Brackett caught touchdowns in the spring game and look to build off of their experience from last year. Derek Moye and Chaz Powell provide variety in the wide receiving corps, and the tight end position should be featured more after Andrew Quarless performed well this spring.

Fall questions

1. Secondary -- The wide receivers' performance in the spring game came with a caveat, as they faced a secondary that needs a ton of work before Sept. 5. Penn State loses all four starters from a unit that wasn't all that good to begin with, and head coach Joe Paterno expressed major concerns about the defensive backs this spring. The Lions need A.J. Wallace to get healthy and Drew Astorino to set the tone in the back four.

2. Offensive line -- Right tackle Dennis Landolt is Penn State's only returning starter playing the position he played in 2008. There are a lot of new faces up front, and it will take time for the group to jell. Three spots are up for grabs this summer, and talented junior Stefen Wisniewski still needs time to adjust to the center spot.

3. Quarterback depth -- Despite Kevin Newsome's encouraging performance in the spring game, Penn State likely can't afford a major injury to Clark to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive. The Lions need continued development from both Newsome and Matt McGloin this summer so the coaches can feel comfortable turning things over if Clark goes down.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State's defensive line depth has taken a hit as the team announced that redshirt freshman defensive end Pete Massaro will miss the 2009 season with a torn ACL in his right knee. 

Massaro sustained the injury during Saturday's spring game and will undergo surgery in the next 2-3 weeks, according to team doctor Wayne Sebastianelli. 

The Lions lost their top three defensive ends from last year's team in Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines and Maurice Evans, who combined for 19 sacks and 31.5 tackles for loss. They can't afford many more injuries at a position that should be led by sophomore Jack Crawford this fall. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jared Odrick had kept his cool through the first few weeks of spring ball, but during team drills last Monday, he lost it.

Penn State's offensive line was practicing a protection scheme where the center immediately moved over to help a guard double team a defensive tackle, in this case, Odrick. The center normally makes a check at the line before helping the guard, but not this time.

Odrick didn't see the double team coming, and subsequently paid the price on several plays.

He then turned into Mt. Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound volcano. 

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Jared Odrick is back to anchor the Penn State defensive line in 2009.

"I'm pointing the finger down at the ground and I'm yelling because I feel I could have done something more," Odrick said. "You could say on the field, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm very vocal about my play and whether I'm doing good or not.

"That's one thing I'm adamant about, being able to contribute all the time."

Odrick knows he has to limit such outbursts. He's a senior now, a national award candidate, the leader of Penn State's always-reloading defensive line.

He's no longer the fragile freshman who he says was "messing up left and right," but a veteran who knows what to do, and who usually does it extremely well.

Then again, Odrick wouldn't be the player he was without the fire inside. 

"Tough guy," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He wants it a lot more than most people do."

Odrick's drive helped him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last fall, as Penn State won a share of the league title and reached the Rose Bowl. He recorded 41 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Michigan that gave Penn State the lead for good and earned Odrick the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the week. 

While linemates Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft, Odrick chose to return for his senior season. He'll enter the fall as a candidate for the Lombardi Award and possibly the Outland Trophy.

"Odrick's a top-notch football player," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "He's one of the top players at that position, I don't know about the country, but in the league."  

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One of the fun parts about this job is discovering the hot-button issues for each Big Ten fan base. 

Fans occasionally will admit weaknesses about their team, but they get extremely defensive about certain things.

For Penn State fans, it's the defensive line. Go ahead and rip on the secondary or question the wide receivers, but stay away from Larry Johnson's group. 

Several times in recent weeks, I've highlighted the defensive end spot as a potential weakness for the Nittany Lions in 2009. After all, Penn State loses starters Aaron Maybin and Josh Gaines, as well as Maurice Evans, who recorded 12.5 sacks in 2007. And every time, I've received several e-mails from fans expressing outrage that I'd question Penn State's defensive line and explaining that the Nittany Lions always find a way to produce solid pass rushers.

Recent history certainly supports those claims, as Penn State molded standout ends like Tamba Hali, Evans and Maybin. There's no doubt Penn State has recruited extremely well to that position. 

So, Nittany Lion Nation, I'm going to take your word for it.

Johnson will find a way this fall to keep Penn State among the Big Ten sacks leaders. Though I have serious doubts about Jerome Hayes coming off two serious knee injuries, perhaps he stays healthy and contributes. England-native Jack Crawford didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but he has "shown a lot of natural ability," according to coach Joe Paterno. Eric Latimore appeared in seven games last fall and recorded a sack.

It's hard to give this group a ringing endorsement, but I'll do my best. I'm a believer.

Just be prepared for an "I told you so" if things don't pan out this fall.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Big Ten mailbag

February, 10, 2009
2/10/09
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sean from Cary, N.C., writes: I'm usually one of a few guys who stick up for Adam here, but he deserves a mild criticism for going back on some of his "predictions" from the past month (Penn State to "win" the Big Ten, Michigan to climb up to the middle of the pack, Ohio State second). It was three weeks ago, give or take, that you went on to say "Penn State should be the favorite going into 2009." You were the only one. You stated Michigan too will get back to the middle of the conference; their 9th in the "Power Rankings". Now there's this prediction, which is based on what? Recruiting last week? How the season ended? That's how you broke it down, and it's abstract. You should explain what these rankings are based on with more detail, because you set yourself up here. I suppose this is the reason why predictions -- or opinions -- are just that. I just don't understand the flop months before even the spring games start. Tisk Adam... you're better than this; I'm saddened to see you going back on your opinions before early February. Keep up the good fight, and please don't morph into one of these journalistic goons who predict on clouds. Still your friend in NC, Sean

Adam Rittenberg: Sean, thanks for the note, and I understand your criticism. We do several rounds of these way-too-early predictions during a very long offseason, and they're somewhat designed to "set us up," as you put it. It's hard to really know how things will pan out until the season gets a bit closer.

I put Ohio State at No. 1 largely because of the Buckeyes' recruiting class, which boasts several players who should make an immediate impact this fall. Also, Penn State lost two key contributors (Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans) at defensive end, giving the team another hole to fill after the departure of a large and productive senior class. Ohio State also lost a lot of seniors, but the Buckeyes began their youth movement a bit last fall and will accelerate it in spring practice.

Penn State also brought in a solid recruiting class, but most Nittany Lions fans would acknowledge it's a notch or two below Ohio State's haul. I'm not saying the Lions won't develop their freshmen into standout performers, but there's just a bit more uncertainty there right now. Also, multiple personnel losses on the offensive and defensive lines are, in my opinion, more significant than replacing an oft-injured star running back like Chris "Beanie" Wells.

The bottom line is that these predictions could go either way, and given how often we roll them out, expect more changes before Sept. 5. As for Michigan, the Wolverines could work their way back to the league's midsection, but they have too many question marks right now to warrant being any higher than ninth in the power rankings.


Phil from Columbus writes: You keep talking about how Purdue got a bunch of recruits from Florida to upgrade their speed and athleticism. I was wondering if perhaps you might actually analyze those recruits instead of saying in effect "they're from Florida so the *must* be faster and more athletic".

Adam Rittenberg: Phil, I never wrote that Purdue's ability to lure Florida recruits automatically makes the Boilers faster and more athletic. But that's certainly what head coach Danny Hope has in mind with this year's class. I would say Purdue's recruiting class is the biggest mystery in the Big Ten. Most of the prospects weren't highly rated, so the Boilers hope they've found some diamonds in the rough from the Sunshine State.

I would say there's a decent chance Purdue will be a faster team in 2009. A better one? The jury's still out.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A year ago, Penn State's defensive line meeting room was packed with players, and Aaron Maybin could hang out in the back. 

 
 Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
 Aaron Maybin produced 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this season.

Maybin had a role, but not a key one. He contributed four sacks as a redshirt freshman and had carved a niche as a rush end who could provide a boost every now and then.

Maybin's role figured to remain more or less the same for the 2008 season. Anything he gave Penn State would be gravy, but the defensive line would be solid without him. 

Then Chris Baker and Phil Taylor were dismissed from the team, Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma were suspended and Devon Still and Jerome Hayes sustained major injuries. 

A few games into the season, the meeting room had nearly cleared out, and Maybin sat down with line coach Larry Johnson. 

"He really let me know it was time to turn up the heat," Maybin said. "Because there was nobody else."

Maybin followed orders, and the temperature rose in opponents' backfields. The redshirt sophomore made his first career start in Week 3 at Syracuse and started nine of the final 10 games for the Lions. 

He emerged as the Big Ten's top pass rusher, racking up 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss to go along with three forced fumbles. A first-team AP All-American, Maybin anchored a Penn State defensive line that survived all the personnel losses and ranked ninth nationally against the run (95.9 ypg). 

"Obviously, it was a tough situation to deal with," Maybin said. "Being as close as I am with my whole D-line, it was tough to see some guys go down and some guys be removed from the equation because of situations that are out of my control.

"But obviously, I had to step up and contribute a lot of things to this defense. Throughout the course of the season, I've been able to do that."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.

With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.

Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.

Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.

Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.

Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.

Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.

Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.

Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.

Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.

Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.

Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.

Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.

Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.

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Big Ten internal affairs: Week 13

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa -- Kicker continues to be a question mark for the Hawkeyes with the re-emergence of junior Daniel Murray in recent weeks. Murray, who made the game-winning field goal against Penn State, connected on a 45-yard attempt last week against Purdue. Starter Trent Mossbrucker missed two extra-point attempts against the Boilers, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said the freshman needs a strong week of practice to reclaim a spot on the field Saturday at Minnesota. Mossbrucker had performed well entering the Penn State game, but Ferentz went with the more experienced Murray in the clutch. "He's been kicking a long time," Ferentz said of Mossbrucker. "He knows a lot more about it than I do or anybody here does. Yeah, just get back to what's made you a successful player. He'll be fine."

Michigan -- It will be interesting to see how head coach Rich Rodriguez uses his running backs Saturday at No. 10 Ohio State (ABC, noon ET). Junior Brandon Minor, the Wolverines' most productive back during the second half of the season, expects to return from a multitude of injuries against the Buckeyes. But junior Carlos Brown comes off his best performance, a 115-yard effort against Northwestern, and freshman Michael Shaw also is in the mix. Brown and Shaw likely will get the first opportunities against the Buckeyes, but Minor will be a factor. Michigan has racked up 170 rushing yards or more in five of its last six games.

Penn State -- Derrick Williams is playing his best football at the end of his career, and the Nittany Lions are doing all they can to get the ball to the talented senior. Two weeks ago, Williams took snaps at quarterback as Penn State used a Wildcat-like formation at Iowa. Last week against Indiana, he racked up 164 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, getting eight touches on offense to go with three returns. If quarterback Daryll Clark continues to struggle early against Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), don't be surprised to see Williams with the ball in his hands. Also, defensive end Josh Gaines (ankle) practiced Monday and is expected to play against the Spartans.

Illinois -- The days of removing Juice Williams from games to let him regroup appeared over after the Illini junior quarterback had a scorching start to the 2008 season. But after committing two turnovers last Saturday against Ohio State, the coaches replaced Williams with backup Eddie McGee. Williams has committed nine turnovers (8 interceptions, 1 fumble) in Illinois' last four games. He leads the Big Ten in both touchdown passes (22) and interceptions (15) this season. Still, head coach Ron Zook maintains confidence in Williams heading into the regular-season finale at Northwestern. "A lot of times he gets a lot of the blame that isn't necessarily his fault," Zook said. "That's part of it as well and it gets exaggerated when things aren't going right, particularly with a football team that was expected to play a little bit better and be a little bit more productive than we have been."

Indiana -- After dealing with a multitude of injuries all season, the Hoosiers appear to be getting healthy right at the end. Tackle Rodger Saffold returned to action against Penn State, and the other starting offensive linemen are all fine for Saturday's season finale at Purdue (ESPN2, noon ET). Head coach Bill Lynch isn't sure if backup running back Bryan Payton (ankle) will play, though Payton did more in practice Monday than he has in previous weeks. Running back Marcus Thigpen and wideout Mitchell Evans should be fine, and Indiana actually will have the option of playing either Kellen Lewis or Ben Chappell at quarterback. The Hoosiers previously had been forced to rotate the two because both have been banged up.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the dominant victories, the emerging stars and the climb up the national rankings, No. 3 Penn State continued to generate a mixture of doubt and curiosity.

 
 Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
 Penn State improved to 9-0 by knocking off the Buckeyes Saturday night.

How would the Nittany Lions respond to adversity? Not first-half adversity against a significantly inferior Michigan team. Real adversity. The kind that comes on the road against a quality opponent with the clock winding down.

Head coach Joe Paterno was the most curious. He liked his team and its potential. But he couldn't get a true gauge on how good the squad could be until it was placed under extreme pressure.

A fourth-quarter deficit at Ohio Stadium certainly qualified, not to mention having starting quarterback Daryll Clark standing on the sidelines with a head injury.

"We've got a good football team," Paterno said definitively after Saturday night's 13-6 win against No. 9 Ohio State.

Defensive end Josh Gaines knew the truth about Penn State before the season began. And though the Lions didn't face adversity on the field until Saturday night, they had faced plenty off of it.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

PENN STATE (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten)

After an offseason dominated by off-field problems and questions about coach Joe Paterno's future, Penn State has turned the spotlight back to where it belongs -- the field. The Nittany Lions have been the most dominant team in college football, winning all seven of their games by 14 points or more and four by 40 points or more. A new offense better tailored to Penn State's big-play personnel has surged behind first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark, and a defense that lost its best player (Sean Lee) in the spring and several others during the summer leads the Big Ten in fewest yards allowed (259.3 ypg). A hip injury has forced Paterno to coach games from the press box, where he has watched Penn State become a national title contender.

Offensive MVP -- Few first-year starting quarterbacks have had as positive an impact as Daryll Clark has in Penn State's first seven games. He has answered questions about his passing ability (10 TDs, 64.4 percent completion ratio), limited major mistakes (2 INTs) and provided another rushing threat in the backfield (6 rush TDs). But Clark's intangibles have been his biggest strength. The junior brought a swagger to the offense and immediately gained the trust of his teammates. Other notables include Evan Royster and Derrick Williams.

Defensive MVP -- If everything had gone according to plan, Aaron Maybin would have played a backstage role this season. Penn State was stacked along the defensive line, and the sophomore end didn't appear to be a major factor. But dismissals, suspensions and injuries created a void up front, and Maybin has filled it in a big way. He leads the Big Ten and ties for sixth nationally in sacks (8) and ties for seventh nationally in tackles for loss (1.79 per game). Linebacker Navorro Bowman and defensive end Josh Gaines also deserve recognition.

What's next -- The game looks easy on paper, but Penn State can't afford a letdown against Michigan, a team that owns a nine-game win streak against the Lions. Up next is a trip to Columbus, where Penn State has never won as a member of the Big Ten. Penn State also must travel to Iowa and hosts streaking Michigan State in the regular-season finale. The Lions are a complete team, and the only lingering concern is how they'll respond in a close game, which they're bound to face down the stretch.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 David Stluka/Getty Images
 Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge spent much of Saturday's game being chased by Penn State's linemen.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's offensive line is an imposing group of super-sized men -- average weight: 322 pounds -- but the Badgers' behemoths didn't intimidate Penn State's Aaron Maybin on Saturday night.

Maybin might not have seen a bigger group this season, but the defensive end certainly sees a meaner one every week in practice.

"We have the meanest offensive line that I've gone against," Maybin said. "I haven't really played against an offensive line that I feel is better than ours."

"You can't really teach being mean. That's just something that everybody on our offensive line has in 'em."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions defensive linemen aren't exactly nice guys. Just ask the Wisconsin ball-carriers who paid the price throughout Saturday night's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State's ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball resulted in total domination, a 48-7 win that put the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions in the national championship discussion.

Maybin, who had 3.5 tackles for loss, led a defense that shut out Wisconsin in the second half, forced a quarterback change and held bruising backs P.J. Hill and John Clay in check. A veteran-laden Lions offensive line kept Daryll Clark clean -- no sacks allowed for the third time this season -- and provided the quarterback plenty of time to find his open receivers.

Wisconsin's experienced defensive front was a non-factor. Left tackle Gerald Cadogan and his teammates had faced a bigger test earlier in the week.

"I'm well prepared for anybody else," Cadogan said. "I don't think there's anybody that can match Maybin's speed here in the Big Ten. Going against that, whether it's Josh Gaines or Maurice Evans, they're great defensive ends."

"It's a constant battle in practice, doing 1-on-1's and 9-on-7's and different drills that we [do] throughout the week."

Maybin has been one of the defense's bigger surprises. He entered Saturday night's game leading the Big Ten in sacks (7) and ranking third in tackles for loss (9). The sophomore turned in another ferocious performance that included two forced fumbles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. His only problem might be his size (6-4, 245 pounds).

"He's doing really well," head coach Joe Paterno said. "I just wish I could put a little weight on him. The guy doesn't eat. He's so quick and he's an aggressive player. You can see that."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions' linemen remain hungry for a Big Ten title -- and a shot at the national title.

"We don't practice for nothing and go through the motions," Cadogan said. "We're definitely out there to establish Penn State."

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