Big Ten: Justice Hayes

Spring game recap: Michigan

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
Spring (practice) has officially sprung for Michigan, which became the first Big Ten team to hold its spring game on Saturday at the Big House.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 took in the festivities, which included a non-scoring scrimmage. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here. And here's a brief recap:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and completed just two passes in the Wolverines' spring game.
Star of the game: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two interceptions on the day, though he was also whistled for two pass interference penalties.

How it went down: It was just a spring game, and as most teams are wont to do, the Wolverines kept things very vanilla for their first public practice session of the year.

Still, fans had hoped to see some inklings of progress, especially from the new offense led by coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Alabama in the winter. Players had talked about making more big plays in practice in Nussmeier's scheme.

There wasn't much evidence of that on Saturday. On the very first snap of the scrimmage, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Lewis in his own territory. Gardner -- still not 100 percent on his healing foot -- would finish just 2-for-10 for 53 yards, though he's in no danger of losing the job. Backup Shane Morris went 5-for-11 for 73 yards, and his final throw was also picked off by Lewis, who started at corner and made a nice impression in that competition. (He'll need to keep doing that this summer, since Jabrill Peppers is on the way).

"I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year," Lewis said afterward. "We are playing more man-to-man and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it."

The one big play was a 44-yard strike from Gardner to Freddy Canteen, the early enrollee who has been the talk of the spring in Ann Arbor. He looks like the real deal and will likely earn a starting job at receiver.

The running game produced mixed results. De'Veon Smith got the most reps with the first unit, running nine times for 21 yards. Derrick Green added 16 yards on six carries, while Justice Hayes had six attempts for 33 yards. The offensive line, which included early enrollee Mason Cole as the first-team left tackle, struggled to open up holes and get a push up front. The defense registered five sacks, including one each from defensive linemen Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Willie Henry.

"Inconsistent" is how coach Brady Hoke described the offensive performance.

"I think there were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with," he said. "We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of the 15 practices, I think there has been some real improvements made."

Hoke has maintained all along that a team depending on many freshmen and sophomores will need some time to come together. On Saturday, they showed that in several key areas.

"There's no question," Hoke said, "we need a lot of improvement."

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
Spring practice is off and running in the Big Ten, as Michigan took the field Tuesday and Northwestern followed on Wednesday. We're taking snapshots of where each team stands at each position group.

We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.

Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.

Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.

Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.

Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).

Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.

Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.

Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.

Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.

Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.

Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.

Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.

Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.

Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.

Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.
When Michigan released its first depth chart of the season on Monday, six running backs were listed on it. As in, every single running back on the roster was on the depth chart.

[+] EnlargeMichigan's Fitz Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PRESSWIREAs Michigan's featured back, Fitz Toussaint is expected to get between 18-25 carries a game.
That’s pretty rare for a team, especially one like Michigan, which rarely likes to give anything away. But offensive coordinator Al Borges said he has done it before.

“At one point I did,” Borges said. “It may not have been at running back. Yeah, I'm sure I have at some place I've been. That's a lot, though. I will say that.”

Michigan coach Brady Hoke clarified Monday that while not every guy on the running back depth chart might carry the ball, he will play, whether it be as a back or on special teams.

But one name who we know we’ll see at running back is redshirt senior Fitzgerald Toussaint. He was named the starter midway through fall camp, and Hoke said he’d like to get Toussaint anywhere between 18-25 carries a game as a featured back.

“He just looks like the old Fitz,” Borges said. “Fitz is a hard worker and he goes hard every single down, and he's got great feel for our system and our run game in particular.”

Last season, when the Wolverines transitioned into a more traditional pro-style offense with Devin Gardner at QB, they actually stayed relatively consistent with carries. Through the first eight games of the season, Michigan averaged 40 carries per game. Beginning at Minnesota and through the rest of the season, when Gardner was the starting quarterback, that number dropped to 37 carries per game.

However, if Toussaint does carry the ball 18-25 times against Central Michigan, the additional seven 12-19 carries will be up for grabs, and they could go to any of the other five running backs.

Listed in the No. 2 spot is redshirt freshman Drake Johnson, who was a late addition to the Wolverines’ 2012 class. He’s a local kid who played high school football at Ann Arbor Pioneer, one block from Michigan Stadium. Hoke said he was impressive last season on the Wolverines’ scout team and through fall camp this season.

In the three and four spots are redshirt sophomore Justice Hayes and junior Thomas Rawls, respectively. Rawls was Toussaint's backup last season and finished with 242 yards on 57 carries and four touchdowns. But he has dropped behind Hayes, who had 18 carries for 83 yards and one touchdown last season.

Splitting the fifth-string position are freshmen Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. Green was expected to compete for the starting spot with Toussaint during fall camp, but he hasn’t quite lived up to that expectation, whereas Smith has been more of an unknown.

However, it’s not too surprising to see the freshmen listed lower on the depth chart. It takes a while to adjust to the college game, and one of the biggest jumps true freshmen have to make, especially in Michigan’s offense, is pass protection.

“If you had to pinpoint one issue with a young back, it's trying to figure out all the pickup and the protections,” Borges said. “Whether it's six-man protection or whether there's play-action or whatever -- just figuring out who to target. That's not always easy to do.”

Toussaint said that was the hardest jump for him to make when he got to Michigan, too. He said that Michigan has really emphasized that this fall, but it's something that comes with experience.

“My best advice is to go out there and take a fast game and slow it down,” Toussaint said. “You have to get in the playbook. You have to know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Spring game preview: Michigan

April, 12, 2013
Half of the Big Ten wraps up spring practice this weekend, and five squads are holding spring games/scrimmages that are open to the public. We're taking a look at each one. Up next: Michigan's Mott Spring Game presented by PNC Bank.

When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission: Free. Michigan Stadium gates open at 10 a.m. ET. The alumni flag football game starts at 11 a.m., and the Wolverines take the field at 12:40 p.m. Parking is free in the lots that Michigan operates around the stadium, although space is limited. Fans can park at Briarwood Mall and take shuttles to the stadium, which start at 9:30 a.m. Fans can make donations to Mott Children's Hospital upon entry into the stadium and receive certain giveaways.

TV: The scrimmage will be streamed live on BTN2Go. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the scrimmage at 9 p.m. ET Saturday.

Weather forecast: Cloudy and windy with a 30-40 percent chance of rain. Temperatures between 39-40 degrees, winds at 22-23 mph.

What to watch for: Spring games are all about the future, and Michigan's future -- short term and especially long term -- will be on display at the Big House. The Wolverines return only five offensive starters and six defensive starters and have several potential starters -- cornerback Blake Countess and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint -- still recovering from major injuries. As a result, plenty of younger players will be showcased in the scrimmage.

Keep an eye on the interior offensive line as Michigan must fill starting spots at both guards and center. Sophomore Jack Miller has been working as the top center, but he's being pushed by Joey Burzynski and Graham Glasgow. Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis have drawn praise from the coaches as they target the starting guard spots. Most of the buzz at running back has been about Toussaint and incoming freshman Derrick Green, but others like Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls have a chance to step up in the scrimmage.

Michigan will be without star linebacker Jake Ryan for the start of the season, but Cam Gordon has drawn good reviews this spring. It will be interesting to see how Gordon and Brennen Beyer look at the strongside linebacker spot, and whether Michigan can generate a good pass rush with players like Beyer, Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has made the pass rush a major priority this spring.

Wolverines fans also can monitor position competitions at safety (Jarrod Wilson seems to be in the lead to start opposite Thomas Gordon) and at outside receiver, where Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are getting a lot of work.

Notice that I haven't mentioned Devin Gardner? The Wolverines' top quarterback will be out there in a don't-even-think-about-touching-me orange jersey that Michigan got from Oregon State. Although fans want to see Gardner's offseason progress, the most important thing is keeping him healthy. It will be interesting to see how walk-on Brian Cleary, Michigan's No. 2 quarterback for the time being, performs in the scrimmage.
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?

BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.
We kicked off our 2013 postseason position rankings on Monday with a look at the quarterbacks. Let's keep it rolling by staying in the backfield and ranking the running back position for each Big Ten team.

We're basing this solely on last year's performance. While star power will carry you a long way, depth also matters. You can see how we ranked the running backs in the preseason here.

Now let's take the ball and run.

1. Wisconsin (Preseason rank: 1): The Badgers' running game got off to a slow start, which was mostly a function of an out-of-sync offensive line. But by midseason, Wisconsin was back to doing what it does best. Montee Ball finished with 1,830 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns, leading the Big Ten in both numbers. What puts the Badgers over the top is their depth, as James White added 806 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, while Melvin Gordon had 621 on 10 yards per carry, including his monster Big Ten title game performance.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNebraska running back Ameer Abdullah soared in a starting role with Rex Burkhead injured for much of 2012.
2. Nebraska (Preseason: 2): Had Rex Burkhead remained healthy, Big Red may have claimed the top spot here. As it was, Ameer Abdullah broke out with 1,137 yards and eight touchdowns, while Superman managed 675 yards and five scores despite dealing with a bum knee most of the year. Braylon Heard, who is rumored to be on his way out, chipped in 348 yards and 6.7 yards per carry, while Imani Cross was a battering ram at the goal line with seven touchdowns. Nebraska led the league in rushing, though quarterback Taylor Martinez (1,019 yards) was a big reason why. Still, the depth in the backfield was mighty impressive.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 4): The Spartans' running game was basically a one-man show, but when you've got a workhorse like Le'Veon Bell, who needs depth? Bell carried the ball a ridiculous 382 times -- more than any other FBS player and only 17 fewer rushing attempts than Indiana's entire offense -- and gained 1,793 yards to lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game. He added 12 touchdowns and had four games of at least 188 yards.

4. Ohio State (Preseason: 6): The Buckeyes didn't get as much as they'd planned out of Jordan Hall (40 carries for 218 yards) because of injuries. But Carlos Hyde stepped up in a big way, rumbling for 970 yards and scoring 14 of his 16 touchdowns in conference play. Rod Smith also emerged as a solid contributor, giving Ohio State more depth than expected.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 10): Venric Mark was a revelation, running for 1,371 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging better than six yards per carry. Mike Trumpy contributed 349 yards on the ground, but it was hard to take Mark out of the game. And quarterback Kain Colter was a glorified tailback at times.

6. Penn State (Preseason: 5): After Silas Redd transferred and Bill Belton got hurt early, it looked like the Nittany Lions might struggle in the running game. Instead, they simply adapted. Zach Zwinak surprised everybody by running for exactly 1,000 yards and becoming a force down the stretch. Michael Zordich added some more power to the ground game, which was able to keep defenses honest for Penn State's passing attack.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 7): The Boilermakers had depth but no true stars. Akeem Shavers led the way with 871 yards and six touchdowns, while Akeem Hunt (335 yards, eight yards per carry) and Ralph Bolden (325 yards in seven games) also aided the cause.

8. Minnesota (Preseason: 12): Donnell Kirkwood (926 yards, six touchdowns) quietly put together a pretty solid season, while Rodrick Williams showed some flashes of potential as a power back, including a 60-yard game versus Texas Tech in the bowl game. Offensive line injuries kept the Gophers' running game from truly taking off.

9. Iowa (Preseason: 11): AIRBHG did everything it could to hurt the Hawkeyes' rushing efforts, but there were still some bright spots. Mark Weisman was on his way to a special season before -- surprise! -- he was slowed by an injury. Still, he finished with 815 yards and eight scores in only 10 games and was one of the Big Ten's best stories. Damon Bullock had 513 rushing yards and some nice efforts when healthy. Unfortunately, the running game came to a halt when the offensive line got hit by the injury bug, and Iowa finished last in the league in rushing yards per game.

10. Indiana (Preseason: 8): Stephen Houston was a scoring machine early on and finished with 12 rushing touchdowns, to go along with a team-best 749 yards. But this was a pass-first offense, and Indiana averaged only 3.9 yards per carry.

11. Michigan (Preseason: 3): If you count Denard Robinson in this group after his late-season switch to something resembling a tailback, then this ranking should be a lot higher. But that feels like cheating. Michigan's actual tailbacks were vastly disappointing. Fitz Toussaint followed up his 1,000-yard season in 2011 with just 514 yards in 10 games before getting hurt. Thomas Rawls, Vincent Smith and Justice Hayes couldn't do much to fill the void. Take away Robinson's stats, and the Wolverines averaged under 3.5 yards per carry.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 9): The Illini finished next-to-last in rushing yards per game and had the lowest yards-per-carry number in the Big Ten. Donovonn Young had 571 yards and Josh Ferguson added 312, but opponents were rarely, if ever, scared by the Illinois run game.

The penultimate weekend before signing day is in the books, and not surprisingly, there was plenty of news on the Big Ten recruiting trail. As a reminder, you should bookmark ESPN Recruiting and particularly the Midwest blog Insider for all your Big Ten recruiting news leading up to the big day.

Michigan made the biggest splash of the weekend -- although not a surprising one -- as it secured a commitment from running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., who picked Michigan ahead of Tennessee and Auburn. Rated as the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 38 overall player by ESPN Recruiting, Green immediately becomes Michigan's highest-rated commit in an already solid 2013 class. Although Michigan had 14 commits in the ESPN 300 -- second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State -- Green is ranked 50 spots higher than the next Michigan pledge (cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

But Green isn't merely a decorated prospect. He fills a significant need for Michigan, which has significant question marks at running back. The Wolverines couldn't generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson in 2012, as Fitz Toussaint struggled to build off of a solid 2011 season before suffering a major leg injury Nov. 17 and undergoing surgery. How Toussaint responds from the setback remains to be seen, and Michigan's other backs -- Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes -- are unproven.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Green is the type of back who could contribute right away, Insider and he'll at least give Michigan another option in the backfield. Michigan now has three running backs in its 2013 class.

Other recent Big Ten recruiting notes (2013 class):
  • Purdue is making a push as signing day nears, picking up four commitments during the weekend. The Boilers added linemen on both sides of the ball in Johnny Daniels (defense) and Jason Tretter (offense), as well as wide receiver Deangelo Yancey, an Atlanta native who originally had committed to Kentucky. Insider Yancey chose Purdue ahead of Missouri. The recent coaching staff hires already have paid off in recruiting. Tight end Garrett Hudson, the son of new Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, committed to the Boilers after visiting the school this weekend.
  • Indiana's recruiting upgrade on defense has become a major story line as signing day nears, and the Hoosiers added another piece Friday in cornerback Nigel Tribune, who switched his pledge from Iowa State after visiting IU's campus. The Hoosiers are quietly putting together one of the league's top classes, and their highest-rated prospects -- Rashard Fant, Darius Latham, David Kenney III, Antonio Allen -- are set to contribute on defense. There was a bit of bad news as one-time commit Jacobi Hunter, a defensive tackle, tweeted that Indiana pulled his scholarship offer. Hunter is looking at Cal.
  • Nebraska didn't add any recruits during the weekend and will learn today whether offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson becomes a Husker, but the program was in the news. Wide receiver recruit Dominic Walker, who recently switched his pledge from Nebraska to Auburn, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Nebraska coaches were "very mad" when he told them of his decision. According to Walker, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told him, "Best of luck. You're going to need it." It's important to note that this is all coming from Walker's side, as college coaches can't publicly discuss specific recruits. Nebraska lost another recruit during the weekend as safety Marcus McWilson tweeted that he's no longer committed to the school. McWilson could be headed to Kentucky.
  • Iowa bolstered its defensive backfield Insider with a commitment from cornerback Desmond King, who had originally pledged to Ball State. King, a Detroit native, already knows several Hawkeye players from the area such as receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
  • There are several loyal blog readers -- one in particular -- who send me frequent notes asking why the University of Toronto isn't a Big Ten expansion candidate. My answer hasn't changed -- don't see it happening -- but there was a connection between the school and the Big Ten during the weekend. Defensive tackle James Bodanis reportedly is transferring from Toronto to Michigan State, where he'll have two years of eligibility left. Bodanis recorded four sacks in eight games for Toronto last season.
  • New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has done a good job retaining the recruits who committed to the previous staff. He's also adding to the mix, Insider securing a pledge Saturday from linebacker Leon Jacobs from Santa Clarita, Calif. Jacobs originally committed to Fresno State before opening up his recruitment. Wisconsin currently has only two California natives on its roster, so it'll be interesting to see if Andersen's West Coast ties and those of his assistants bring in more recruits from the Golden State.
Devin Gardner gave Michigan fans little to complain about during his first three and a half games as the team's quarterback.

After Gardner became the top signal-caller Nov. 3 at Minnesota, Michigan averaged 38.3 points and 440.3 yards during its next three games. The Wolverines converted 7 of 12 third downs against Minnesota, 7 of 10 against Northwestern and 9 of 12 against Iowa. The trends continued through the first 30 minutes in Columbus against archrival Ohio State, as Michigan piled up 21 points and 219 yards and converted 3 of 5 third-down attempts.

But then Michigan's offense disappeared, quite literally. After a six-play drive to start the second half, Michigan ran just 10 plays during its next four possessions.

The Big Ten's best third-down offense -- Michigan ranks sixth nationally at 51.3 percent -- went 1-for-3 on third-down attempts in the second half. Michigan ran a season-low 47 plays in the game, 23 fewer than Ohio State in a 26-21 Buckeyes win.

[+] EnlargeVicent Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsOhio State stymied Michigan's third-down offense in the second half of the Buckeyes' Nov. 24 win.
"There were a lot of plays I left on the sheet," offensive coordinator Al Borges told "We played a poor half of football against Ohio. How about the first half, and the previous three games? Devin Gardner was player of the week in the conference two out of the four times he started. He played pretty well offensively, had pretty good numbers for really three and half [games].

"There's no excuse for what happened in the second half, but we had been very productive. Because of how we finished, a lot of people think we're in worse shape than we are."

Like many teams, Michigan has spent a portion of its early bowl practices getting younger players more reps than usual. But as the Wolverines prepare for their Outback Bowl matchup Jan. 1 against No. 10 South Carolina, they're focusing on reviving what has been a very efficient third-down offense.

"That's a high, high emphasis right now," Borges said. "Because when we keep the chains moving, everybody's generally happy. A lot of guys touch the ball, everybody gets a chance to make a play. If you don't get third downs, you don't get calls out. A lot gets left on your sheet.

"We're a 51 percent third-down conversion team, and that includes short yardage. It's been a strength. It certainly hasn't been a weakness. It was in the second half of [the Ohio State] game."

To get back on course, Michigan likely needs to get more rushing production outside of the quarterback position, which has been a struggle at times this season. Denard Robinson, the team's leading rusher as a quarterback (1,166 yards) who played some running back late in the season, can help there. Borges also wants to get Justice Hayes more involved, as well as Thomas Rawls.

It won't be easy against an "incredibly athletic" South Carolina defense ranked 15th nationally against the run (119 yards per game).

"Our running game, we finished with 187 [rushing yards a game], and that's nothing to sneeze at," Borges said, "but at times, I don't think we were as consistent as we could have been. That hurt us a little bit. We have to improve with our home-position running game, that's the biggest thing, giving the ball to the tailback and not having to run the quarterback all the time."

Although Gardner is clearly the team's future at quarterback and changed the offense a bit when he took the reins, Borges continues to "spoon-feed" players some of the pro-style elements that will be Michigan's hallmarks in the future. A strong performance against Jadeveon Clowney and South Carolina could set up the Wolverines for bigger and better things in 2013.

"You do set the tone," Borges said. "It doesn't have a lot to do with what you do next year because you're playing with a significantly different team, but we need to finish the season on an up-beat. We need to do the things that make you happy in the offseason."
Michigan's challenge against defending national champion Alabama may have just gotten even more difficult.

[+] EnlargeFitzgerald Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireRB Fitzgerald Toussaint has been suspended indefinitely.
Star running back Fitz Toussaint has been suspended indefinitely following a weekend arrest for drunk driving. According to reports, the junior was stopped for a traffic violation in downtown Ann Arbor just a little before midnight Saturday and failed a breathalyzer test. Head coach Brady Hoke announced Monday afternoon that Toussaint is suspended indefinitely.

By definition, we don't know how long that indefinite suspension will last. It is reasonable, however, to conclude that Toussaint may not be available for the opener against the Crimson Tide at Cowboys Stadium. And if so, that's a tough blow.

Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards last season, doing much of his best work late in the season. He spoke confidently this spring about surpassing 1,600 rushing yards this season. His emergence in the middle of last year lightened the offensive load on star quarterback Denard Robinson and made the Wolverines' offense that much more versatile and dangerous. Michigan will need all the weapons it has to try and move the ball effectively against what is expected to be another fierce Alabama defense.

If Toussaint is out for the opener, or even longer, the Wolverines would most likely turn to sophomore Thomas Rawls as their main tailback. A physical, 219-pounder, Rawls earned praise from Hoke for his play this spring and was described by offensive coordinator Al Borges as "a battering ram." He doesn't have the explosiveness of Toussaint, but a guy who can run through tackles might not be bad to have against 'Bama, anyway.

Other options at tailback include veterans Vincent Smith and Stephen Hopkins and sophomore Justice Hayes. Still, there's a big dropoff from Toussaint to anyone else in terms of experience and production.

Again, we don't know for sure how long this suspension will last. Hoke dismissed receiver Darryl Stonum this winter after traffic violations landed Stonum in jail, but the troubled player had previous run-ins with the law. This is, as far as we know, Toussaint's first misstep.

It hasn't been a great offseason for Michigan players. Starting defensive tackle Will Campbell pleaded guilty earlier Monday to a civil infraction for blocking a sidewalk; he'll be sentenced later this week for a misdemeanor destruction of property charge. He had originally been charged with felony destruction of property and possession of alcohol by a minor. Receiver Jerald Robinson had a warrant out for his arrest for allegedly damaging a parking gate; his case is scheduled to be heard later this summer.

But Toussaint is the biggest name of the bunch and his suspension could be costly. Without him, the Michigan offense could be back to a familiar place in the 2012 opener: relying on Denard Robinson to make some magic.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Fitz Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards last season, becoming the first Michigan running back since Mike Hart in 2007 to surpass the 1,000-yard barrier.

It was an especially impressive feat since Toussaint didn't really take over as the lead, undisputed rusher for the Wolverines until the eighth game of the year. So it's no wonder that people are expecting even bigger things this season. Including Toussaint's head coach.

Brady Hoke told that he pulled Toussaint aside during the Allstate Sugar Bowl and pointed out that Virginia Tech had a 1,600-yard tailback in David Wilson.

"We'd sure like to have one of those," he said.

Say no more. A new Toussaint touchstone has been established for 2012.

"The goal is to try to go beyond that," Toussaint said. "I want 1,600 yards to be the minimum."

[+] EnlargeFitzgerald Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireFitz Toussaint of Michigan has set a goal of at least 1,600 rushing yards this season.
Only one Big Ten player, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, put up more than 1,400 yards rushing last season. That Toussaint's goal doesn't sound all that outlandish is a testament to how far he's come in a short time.

Wolverines coaches liked his talent but weren't sure how tough he was early last year. Toussaint sat out the Notre Dame game in Week 2 with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. He had also missed some games as a freshman and was gaining a reputation for being injury-prone.

After the Notre Dame game, running backs coach Fred Jackson pulled Toussaint into his office and talked about past great Michigan backs like Hart, Tyrone Wheatley and Chris Perry. Those guys, he said, played through nagging ankle pains, hamstring injuries and other aches.

"He was saying you've got to be tough to play this game at a different level," Toussaint said. "That talk really motivated me."

Toussaint played pretty well with limited carries the next four games but had just 7 yards on two attempts in the loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines then went into a bye week and decided to change their philosophy in the running attack, which until then had involved using Denard Robinson and spreading the carries out among the tailbacks.

"We just decided we were going to let him carry the ball," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "We weren't going to take him out."

He responded with a 170-yard, two-touchdown game against Purdue the next game. Toussaint averaged 135 rushing yards over the final five regular-season games, including a 192-yard effort at Illinois. Nobody was happier about this development than Robinson, who finally had a star running back to take some heat off him.

"It was a relief," Robinson said of Toussaint's emergence. "Running the ball that much, it's a hassle. I knew he was a big-time back, and once he got going he would do well."

Michigan limited Toussaint's reps this spring, knowing what they had in the junior and wanting to get a look at youngsters like Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes. When the season starts, though, they will likely give Toussaint all the work he can handle. And if he could replicate his 135-yard average from last year's stretch drive, that equates to just over 1,600 yards for a full 12-game season.

Those kinds of numbers could potentially get Toussaint into the Heisman Trophy discussion along with Robinson. Might we have a Russell Wilson-Montee Ball situation developing?

"That hasn't really crossed my mind," Toussaint said. "It's going to take a lot for me to get there. I'm still lacking a couple of things."

Becoming better in pass protection is something he's striving toward this offseason. That goal is a lot less visible than 1,600 yards, but it may be just as important to Michigan's success.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 30, 2012
Winter is coming.
If Al Borges had his preference, Michigan would be running more of a pro-style offense. That's clearly the future for the Wolverines and the type of players they have been recruiting.

But Borges is no dummy. He knows he has Denard Robinson at quarterback for one more year. Michigan wisely did not try to cram Robinson into an ill-fitting system last year, as Borges adjusted his offense to his star player's unique talents. That worked out pretty well, as the Wolverines went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl.

So the full-fledged movement to a pro style can wait another year.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDenard Robinson will need to improve his accuracy and cut down on his interceptions in 2012.
"We have pieces of our offense that are still very pro style, like our passing game," Borges told "But we're still very much a spread because of Denard, and we'll continue to be because that is the best thing that suits his skill set. We'll have some plays under center at times, and we were very productive at those last year. But because of Denard's running ability, that will never be a prominent part of our offense."

The most frequent and often tiresome question around the Michigan offense is how much Robinson will run the ball. Borges found a nice balance last year, using it as a weapon but also keeping his quarterback mostly healthy. He sees no reason to alter that formula.

"I don't see his role changing any," Borges said. "We may up the ante a little bit with him throwing a couple more times a game. But any change will be subtle and hardly noticeable."

Robinson completed only 55 percent of his passes last season and threw 15 interceptions, the most in the Big Ten. That obviously has to improve. Borges said he's been working on Robinson's footwork and hip placement. Another year in the system should also help.

"He's probably at the top of the list of guy who just understand better," Borges said. "Last year at this time, he couldn't call the play. Now he can call the play with no problems at all. We're still working hard on his fundamentals to get him better that way, but his understanding is so much better than it was a year ago."

Borges also knows he has another strong option in the backfield in running back Fitz Toussaint, who emerged as a star midway through last season and finished with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

"He didn't really come on until the fourth or fifth game of the season," Borges said. "Now he'll be in there from the beginning and show his worth from Day 1. If he stays healthy, he can have a hell of a year."

Michigan has good depth at running back with Vincent Smith, Stephen Hopkins and Thomas Rawls returning. Borges said the coaching staff is taking "a hard look" at redshirt freshman Justice Hayes this spring.

Wide receiver isn't quite as deep with Junior Hemingway gone and Darryl Stonum dismissed from the team. Roy Roundtree, Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo are the returning veterans, and Borges said redshirt sophomore Jerald Robinson has looked very good early on in spring practice. Some incoming freshmen will likely have a chance to contribute as well.

Roundtree might hold the key to the group. He had 72 catches for 935 receiving yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore but caught just 19 balls for 355 yards last season. Borges has moved Roundtree to flanker, which was Hemingway's spot a year ago.

"Playing flanker, I think you'll see Roy's numbers go back up," Borges said. "He's in great shape, running well and catching the ball right now in our first couple of practices. He's playing as well as he's played since I've been here. He's learned how to run the routes and read the coverages, and he has a big-play dimension to him. If he stays in one piece, I look for him to have a big year."

Just don't look for Michigan to change too much else this year on offense.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 15, 2011
Hope everybody had a great weekend. Only a couple more of those left without football.
Al Borges won't get a true gauge on Michigan's offensive players until they put on the pads.

But the Wolverines' offensive coordinator is seeing players grasp his system better than they did in spring ball. Borges told me Wednesday night that quarterback Denard Robinson is making strides, and no particular position group is lagging behind so far in preseason camp.

"They're basically all on schedule," Borges said. "Nobody in the first couple of groups looks completely confused anymore. In the spring, we were suffering through a lot of growing pains. Now it's good play, good play, bad play; where in the spring it was good play, bad play, good play, bad play, two good plays, two bad plays. We've ironed out a few of those bad plays.

"We haven't arrived, but all the kids know more than they did in the spring, which they should."

Borges is using the first five or six practices to reinstall what he did during the 15 spring workouts. He wants the players to gain confidence in a simple package of plays before throwing anything more at them.

"The system is not ingrained yet," he said, "so you've got to be careful."

Michigan's running back competition will take time to sort out, as true freshmen Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes are competing with veterans like Michael Shaw and Vincent Smith, among others. But Borges likes what Michigan has at receiver despite the decision to redshirt starter Darryl Stonum.

"Junior [Hemingway] is a productive player when he stays healthy," Borges said. "Roy [Roundtree] caught a ton of passes a year ago. [Martavious] Odoms has got speed and is definitely a threat, whether you line him up within the slot or outside. [Kelvin] Grady is a real good athlete with good lateral quickness and good hands. Jeremy Jackson is a tall, rangy type kid.

"We're not bad out there."

Big Ten Friday mailbag

June, 17, 2011
Today was my first day flying solo on the blog, as Adam is taking some time off. I haven't set anything on fire -- yet.

Let's cap things off with some of your emails:

Josh from Sparta, N.J., writes: Hi Brian, First off, Welcome to the Big Ten Blog!! Secondly, What game are you most looking forward to either covering or attending this upcoming season, and do you see a team that could come out of nowhere or the middle of the pack and make it to the conference championship game?

Brian Bennett: We don't have our game assignments yet, but I would like to experience a Michigan-Ohio State game. I think Nebraska's first two Big Ten games, at Wisconsin and at home against the Buckeyes, will be special. Penn State-Alabama should be quite a sight as well. I guess Adam and I will arm wrestle for those games.

As for some teams coming out of nowhere, I'll take Iowa as a potential surprise in the Legends Division. The Hawkeyes are usually at their best when they're flying under the radar, and the schedule is very manageable. The toughest road games are at Penn State and Nebraska, and Iowa misses both Ohio State and Wisconsin. In the Leaders Division, things may have opened up a bit with the Ohio State situation. I still like the Buckeyes and Badgers there, but Penn State could definitely be in the thick of the race heading into those difficult two final road games in Columbus and Madison.

Mike from Jackson, Mich, writes: Welcome to the B1G. Your green shows as there is nobody inside or outside of Happy Valley that would have picked JoePa as the premier coach of the league. SMH. Maybe 3 years ago, but Tressel was still king. You'd have to go back a decade to even consider it.

Brian Bennett: I don't know -- 401 wins, two national championships, 24 bowl wins and very few NCAA issues sounds pretty premier to me. I guess I'm naive, though.

Tom from PA writes: Your recent Take two about JoePa leads me to believe you are very smart and enlightened individual. So, since Adam consistently ignores this question ... I am hoping you'll give it your take: Why has almost no one poked the whole into the Nebraska over-inflated baloon? If you look at their record they lack any major wins over the past three years and no big bowl wins. Why do they and many ESPN analyst feel they are so "stacked?" I'm very curious to see how they do, I think they are more likely to come to a realization that the B1G is bit more difficult conference than the Big 12 North which could be also referred to as the Big 12 No-body's. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: I don't know that anybody is crowning the Cornhuskers, but this definitely feels like a program on the rise. Bo Pelini has led the team to back-to-back 10-win seasons and should now have a roster full of mostly his players in Year 4. So there's definite reason to like Nebraska as a potential Big Ten champion this season. But I do agree with your point about the Big 12 North. No doubt there were some good teams there and in the rest of the Big 12, but that conference has shown in bowl games that it doesn't always play a whole lot of defense. Nebraska is about to enter a different style of football, and it will be fascinating to see how it fares in its first year in the Big Ten. The schedule isn't easy, for sure.

Crosby from Pleasant Hill, Iowa, writes: I just want your thoughts on who you would want to see start the conference games for Nebraska. It seemed like we relied more on Taylor Martinez and let him do all the work, which in my opinion made him get that injury. Brion Carnes looked very good in the spring game, but I personally don't want another freshman to start. So what's your thought on the QB situation?

Brian Bennett: As long as T-Magic is healthy, he should be The Man. Clearly he wasn't nearly as effective when he wasn't able to use his legs to his full ability, and you wonder if he can hold up over a full season playing that way in this league. But he has the experience and should be the starter.

Ryan P. from Lebanon, Pa., writes: As you know, Ejuan Price is reconsidering his letter of intent to play for Ohio State. This week, he is playing in the Big 33 All Star Classic in Hershey, PA. Of 68 players in the game, I have counted 20 players (including Price) that have signed on to play at B1G schools. The game is Saturday... I think it would be a great article to mention pre-game thoughts on the players and then write a post game article about how you think they did. ... My family is a host family for a Pennsylvania Big 33 player every year (since 1996), however this year we have 2 players: Mike Wainauskis (Slippery Rock) and Shawn Oakman (Penn State).

Brian Bennett: I hope you have high ceilings for the 6-foot-9 Oakman. I like the Big 33 game and respect its tradition, but since I don't follow high school football that closely (we've got our hands full with the college guys, you know), my thoughts on the players beforehand wouldn't do anybody much good. But here's a link to the Pennsylvania and Ohio rosters, and on Monday I'll try to give a recap of how the Big Ten-bound players fared.

Eric from Waterloo, Iowa, writes: I know a lot of people are writing off the Hawks this year, but ponder this one for a tick...If Iowa happens to go undefeated or 1 loss, will they end up like Michigan State from last year (excluded from a BCS bowl)? The schedule isn't too daunting, so if they go on a tear will it take more time for the media to latch onto them?

Brian Bennett: Iowa may not get a ton of respect early if it starts ripping off a bunch of wins in a row. No one is going to yell "Stop the presses!" for wins over Iowa State and Pitt, and it's possible the Hawkeyes may not play a Top 20 team until Nov. 12 against Michigan State. But I wouldn't worry too much about missing a BCS bowl. That's a great benefit of the division format now. If Iowa wins the Legends Division, it will have more than proved its worth.

Ron from Carrollton, Texas, writes: Regarding the list of running backs in the Big Ten, the list looks pretty comprehensive. Just a quick thought on Michigan's running backs. Watch out for Thomas Rawls, the incoming freshman running back out of Flint, Mich. He's more of a north and south runner which tends to fit the mold of an Al Borges offense. I'm not saying Justice Hayes won't be a great running back, but he more or less tends to fit the spread offense.

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Ron. I had several Michigan people tell me to look out for Rawls. Consider him on the radar.

Rick from Denison, Texas, writes: From a national standpoint, would it have been better for the Big Ten to have an East-West divisional setup? That way people could know which one teams were in. East: Michigan, MSU, OSU, PSU, Purdue, Indiana. West: Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Northwestern. People can say those divisions are uneven all they want, but at the end of the day, Mich, OSU, PSU are in one division and Iowa, Neb, Wisc are in the other. That seems pretty equal to me.

Brian Bennett: I've got no issue with the way the Big Ten set up the divisions and think it is very fair. The league pretty clearly didn't want Ohio State and Michigan in the same division. I also agree with Dr. Saturday that the current divisions can easily be renamed East and West. There might be some small quibbles about the Michigan schools being in the West while Wisconsin is in the East, for example, but there certainly wouldn't be as much national ridicule as there is for Legends and Leaders.