Big Ten: Karl Klug

Big Ten spring football is finally in full swing as Iowa on Wednesday became the 12th and final league team to hit the practice field. The return to the gridiron can't come a moment too soon for the Hawkeyes, who went 4-8 in 2012, their worst record since coach Kirk Ferentz's second season at the helm (2000). It has been another offseason of transition for Iowa as Ferentz welcomes three new full-time assistants (Chris White, Bobby Kennedy and Jim Reid) for a second consecutive year. Finding a quarterback tops Iowa's spring agenda, and the team also needs to identify a center and more playmakers on both sides of the ball. caught up with Ferentz on Wednesday to discuss the spring.

What are the main objectives for you guys this spring?

Kirk Ferentz: Like any spring, you've got a lot of players on a lot of different levels. You've got experienced players, and we're certainly counting on them improving and developing into leaders. You've got younger guys who have played, and you're hoping they're ready to play more proficiently. And then you've got other guys who, in some cases, are special-teams guys who have a chance to become offensive and defensive role players, or guys who haven't been on the field yet. So you have a lot of layers of players at different levels. The biggest thing is trying to gauge where they're at, and at the same time, you're trying to find out what they can do and pull a team together. It's always a fun period and a really interesting period.

How has the transition on the staff this year gone so far, especially in relation to last year? You had quite a long period without any changes on your staff.

KF: Last year was probably a little more dramatic with two new coordinators. Norm [Parker] and Ken [O'Keefe] were here 13 years, so they were big departures. We've got Phil [Parker] and Greg [Davis] both in their second years, and they're both tremendous coaches. What's unusual is how long we were all together at one time. Usually staffs don't stay in one place for 13, 14 years. Normally they move to the next channel and you have a new group of folks coming in. So it's a natural series of transitions. The way I look at it, we've had six new members join the staff in the last two years, and it's a matter of pulling everything together. But I'm really excited about all the guys who have joined. They're outstanding coaches, and it looks like they're all going to be great fits here at Iowa. At the same time, I'm very appreciative of the guys who had been here and helped us move things.

Is the transition harder for the players or the new coaches?

KF: There's learning on both sides. The players to have learn their coaches, certainly, and the coaches have a lot to learn about the players. That can be a healthy thing, too. It's a clean slate and a fresh beginning for everybody. For players, it's a whole new opportunity.

Offensively, it wasn't what you were hoping for last year. Is it a total reset this year with some new faces, or are there some things you can continue from last year?

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsThough Kirk Ferentz lost his starting quarterback and center, he said he's more optimistic about Iowa's offense than he was a year ago.
KF: It may be ironic. We feel more comfortable and more optimistic right now than we did a year ago about the offense. The part that's ironic is we lost a two-year starter at quarterback [James Vandenberg]. We had James play a lot at quarterback and James Ferentz played like 38 games at center, so you have two guys right in the middle of things who aren't going to be there. But I look around at other positions and we've got a lot of guys coming back who have played in the system and who I think are more capable now of playing at a higher level than they were a year ago. That's got us excited. That being said, we've got to find replacements for both Jameses. We've got to find a replacement for Keenan Davis and Matt Tobin, to start with. But I look at the group coming back and as recent as late last August, we didn't know if Damon Bullock could play in this conference successfully, and we had no idea Mark Weisman could run the ball. So I think we're a lot further down the road than we were even eight months ago, 10 months ago.

When you and Greg looked at things, did you identify areas to target for the spring?

KF: Greg came in, this was all new to him, the players were all new to him. His knowledge of our personnel is a lot more extensive than it was a year ago at this time. And that was one of the reasons I was so attracted to Greg in the hiring process, his ability historically to work with a lot of different types of players and different types of offenses. He wasn't married to one system. There's nothing like experience, and he's got a real good grip on who our players are, what they can do and what we can do to help them be more productive.

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Cameron Meredith is a visual person, both inside and outside Nebraska's football complex.

The Huskers senior defensive end enjoys photography and has displayed his painting skills at The Corky Canvas, a Lincoln nightspot where patrons learn to paint while enjoying a beverage or two. Meredith's girlfriend is one of the painting instructors there.

[+] EnlargeCameron Meredith
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireNebraska's Cameron Meredith led the team in QB hurries (9), and ranked second in sacks (5).
"Not to brag, but I'm pretty artistic," said Meredith, who lists Salvador Dali's "Melting Clocks" and the works of Andy Warhol among his favorites. "That was my first passion, actually, before sports."

Meredith has used his visual skills in the film room this winter as he adjusts to a new defensive line coach, Rick Kaczenski, who joined Nebraska's staff in December after spending the past five seasons working with Iowa's defensive linemen. Kaczenski takes over a group that loses tackle Jared Crick but returns mostly intact and is led by Meredith and tackle Baker Steinkuhler, both multiyear starters.

To help Nebraska's linemen understand his vision, Kaczenski played them video clips of former Iowa standouts like Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug.

"On the field, he can explain it, he can go through it," Meredith said, "but until we see it in full action, we don't really understand. He brought in some really good clips of those Iowa players doing some pretty good stuff."

The transition should be smooth, because Nebraska's defenders studied Iowa more than any other team in 2011, even before Kaczenski arrived. Iowa's two-gap scheme resembled Nebraska's defensive system, and while Meredith said it's not a carbon copy, it helped players to see a similar defense go against Big Ten offenses.

"I was watching more of the [players'] technique, but you can see similarities," Meredith said. "For example, Coach Kaz wants us to make contact with our head, head-butt them more and get separation. Once we see one of the Iowa players do it who's similar to us, it puts in our minds, 'Hey, it's the same stuff. We've just got to learn the technique.'"

Meredith and his teammates get down to business when Nebraska opens spring practice March 10. The Huskers' defense fell short of expectations in 2011, finishing 37th in yards allowed and 42nd in points allowed, and must replace standouts like linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard.

After spending much the winter self-scouting, Meredith thinks third downs and limiting big plays are areas the defense must upgrade. Nebraska finished 64th nationally in third-down defense (40.2 percent conversions) in 2011 after ranking fourth in 2010 (29.95 percent) and 15th in 2009 (32.3 percent).

"Third down needs to become a lot more important to the defense," said Meredith, who led the team in quarterback hurries (9) and ranked second in both sacks (5) and tackles for loss (6). "You can either give the ball back to your offense, or they have another chance to get a first down and go score. One of the biggest things, which is why we didn't have great success in some games, once a team got a big play, it was kind of a snowball effect. We need to eliminate that, get in those manageable third-down situations, and get home on a blitz or on the pass rush."

The Huskers will go through their first spring with new coordinator John Papuchis, although the linemen are more than familiar with Papuchis, who coached them directly the past four seasons. Papuchis emphasizes the need for players to not only know their position, but the positions alongside them -- defensive ends must be able to transition inside, and vice versa -- what's happening at other levels of the defense.

His mission should help Nebraska's defense improve its communication, which Meredith said must be significantly better in games.

"He did a great job as a D-line coach of making us aware of why we're doing things rather than [just] what we're doing," Meredith said. "We knew exactly what the linebackers and DBs were doing, because JP expected that out of us. Him being a defensive coordinator, he's going to broaden everyone's span of football knowledge."

Nebraska's defenders begin putting paint brush to canvas next week.

Meredith hopes the team's final pictures looks like this and this.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
The 2011 Big Ten football season kicks off Thursday night in Madison, and all 12 teams will be in action during the weekend.

Here are 10 items to track as you watch the games.

1. Coaching debuts: After three years of relative stability in the Big Ten coaching ranks, four leading men will debut with new teams Saturday, while Nebraska's Bo Pelini coaches his first game as a member of the conference. Luke Fickell's every move will be closely monitored at Ohio State, while Brady Hoke begins a new chapter at Michigan. Kevin Wilson's Indiana debut takes place at the site of the inaugural Big Ten championship game (Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium), while Minnesota's Jerry Kill draws the toughest first assignment as the Gophers visit No. 25 USC.

Russell Wilson
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson gives the Badgers an added dimension from the quarterback position.
2. Wisconsin's missing piece: That's what Badgers fans hope Russell Wilson will be this season. The NC State transfer quarterback starts his first game in a Wisconsin uniform Thursday night against UNLV. Wilson looked terrific during preseason practice and transitioned well to his new team. He has a chance to display his skills on national television against the underdog Rebels and build some confidence for the grind ahead. It's also vital Wilson stays healthy as Wisconsin has significant depth problems at quarterback.

3. Penn State's QB audition: Spring practice and fall camp evidently weren't enough time for Penn State to settle on a starting quarterback. Rob Bolden and Matthew McGloin both are expected to play in Saturday's opener against Indiana State. Joe Paterno, who may coach from the press box, didn't seem too concerned about the lack of a starter or the prolonged quarterback competition, but it will be interesting to see how the snaps break down. Bolden likely will get the first opportunity, and Penn State probably wants to settle on its offensive leader before a Week 2 showdown with No. 2 Alabama.

4. Flipping quarters in Columbus: Penn State isn't the only team planning to use multiple quarterbacks in its opener. Ohio State likely will start senior Joe Bauserman on Saturday against Akron, although true freshman Braxton Miller also will see the field. Bauserman boasts more experience and could be the safer choice, although few doubt that Miller is the team's future under center. Akron ranked 99th nationally in total defense last season, so both men should have opportunities to make plays. It presents an interesting situation for a coaching staff that needs to win this season to remain with the Buckeyes.

5. Nebraska's new offense: The Huskers boast what they believe to be a championship-caliber defense, so their season could hinge on the effectiveness of a new offensive scheme. Coordinator Tim Beck wants to give his players more freedom in the system while maintaining plenty of explosiveness. Pelini has stressed the need for efficiency after the Huskers struggled with ball security and penalties last season. Saturday's tune-up against Chattanooga provides the chance for quarterback Taylor Martinez and others to build their confidence in a game before the competition gets tougher.

6. Dan Persa's status: Northwestern has one of the league's tougher season-opening draws at Boston College, and the Wildcats still don't know whether they'll have Persa on the field. The senior is still working his way back from Achilles' tendon surgery and won't be nearly as dangerous on his feet as he was in 2010. The good news is Persa can still attack defenses with his arm, and backup Kain Colter has made strides as a passer during the preseason. Colter will be part of the game plan Saturday, but how much Persa plays, if at all, remains to be seen.

7. Gray driving Gophers' offense: Ever since highly-touted recruit MarQueis Gray committed to Minnesota, Gophers fans have been waiting for this moment. It has taken some time and a detour to the wide receiver position in 2010, but Gray finally will make his first start at quarterback Saturday against USC. He has bulked up to 245 pounds and should be a load for a Trojans defense that has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks in the past. Gray will run a new offense and needs young players around him to step up, but it will be interesting to see how he fares in a tough environment.

8. TerBush's time: Quarterback Caleb TerBush likely would have been a big factor for Purdue last season had he been academically eligible. The Boilers once again are calling on TerBush, and this time, he's ready to help. TerBush will make his first career start against a tough Middle Tennessee team. Purdue needs a boost after losing its leader Rob Henry to a torn ACL, and TerBush will try to provide one as he plays his first game since 2009.

9. Hawkeyes, Illini fill gaps on defense: The NFL draft took its toll on Iowa's and Illinois' defensive units. The Hawkeyes lost three linemen to the draft -- Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug -- along with standout safety Tyler Sash. Illinois lost dominant tackle Corey Liuget as well as linebackers Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey. Iowa will feature a larger rotation up front this season, while Illinois is looking to younger players like Akeem Spence and Jonathan Brown to step up.

10. Emotional opener for Dantonio: It has been a tough week for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio, whose father, Justin, died Sunday at the age of 86. Dantonio is at home in Zanesville, Ohio, for his father's funeral Thursday but will be back for Michigan State's season opener Friday against Youngstown State. It should be an emotional night for Dantonio, and expect Michigan State's players to rally around their coach, much like they did last year when he went through some health issues.
James Morris didn't set a goal for number of minutes played as a freshman at Iowa.

He didn't even care which unit -- first team, second team -- he joined on Saturdays. He simply wanted to get on the field. The linebacker ended up appearing in all 13 games, starting the final six, finishing fourth on the squad in tackles with 70.

"It was a pretty awesome experience," said Morris, who added four pass breakups and a sack. "I feel like I got a good jump on most of my competition. I think it'll pay bigger dividends once the season rolls around and I can apply some of that experience."

Morris knows he'll take on an enhanced role for the Hawkeyes' defense this season. He also knows others will have to replicate his rise as Iowa replaces six defensive starters, four of whom were selected in April's NFL draft (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, Karl Klug and Tyler Sash).

[+] EnlargeJames Morris
Rick Scuteri/AP ImagesJames Morris looks to build on the experience he gained last season as a freshman.
Iowa entered the 2010 season seemingly with a clear identity on defense, but the unit ended up with mixed results. The Hawkeyes need the opposite to occur this fall -- for a new-look defense to establish its personality and consistently shut down the opposition.

"I feel like we're young, but that's not necessarily a bad thing," Morris said. "We're unproven, and there's a lot of guys on our squad who take offense to that. They want to prove themselves, and I'm hoping people are going to be surprised by what they see with the effort and how determined our guys are to prove what kind of players they are."

Morris began the proving process last season. A rash of injuries at linebacker thrust him into the starting lineup down the stretch, and he recorded 40 tackles in his first four starts.

Like many freshmen, Morris was prone to overthinking things when he first got in games. A National Honor Society member in high school, Morris admits he's "very much" an analytical person.

"You're sort of forced to lead a double life, what's expected of you on the field versus being a civil human being in conversation off the field," he said. "I thought I was doing a pretty good job of not outpacing myself toward the end of the year, as opposed to the beginning, when maybe I was playing a step slow, trying to process everything."

Morris acknowledges he made plenty of mistakes in 2010, but his effort level never wavered. He wants to be a more polished player this fall, especially as he guides the linebackers alongside veteran Tyler Nielsen.

Iowa must build depth around Morris and Nielsen with players like Christian Kirksey, Bruce Davis, Anthony Hitchens and Dakota Getz.

Morris doesn't expect the defense's personality to fully form until the end of training camp, which kicks off next month, but players are motivated to prove themselves and finish games better than they did in 2010.

"A lot of guys on our defense, they're driven and they're determined to improve and create their own identity," Morris said. "Some of them, they feel like last year was somewhat in flux in terms of what our identity was. They’re going to come out of camp with a purpose."
The position rankings move from offense to defense. We'll start with the group that has produced more Big Ten stars than any other position group in recent years.

The Big Ten had five defensive linemen, all from different teams, selected in the first round of April's NFL draft: Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward. Iowa lost three starting D-linemen to the draft, and almost every Big Ten squad has to replace major contributors.

The personnel losses make the preseason D-line rankings both tricky and fun. The first three groups look very good, while there's not much difference in the middle of the league.

Let's take a look:

[+] EnlargeJared Crick
Brett Davis/US PresswireJared Crick and Nebraska join the Big Ten as the league's top defensive line.
1. Nebraska: The Big Ten's newest member should fit in well with its strong play up front. Star defensive tackle Jared Crick stiff-armed the NFL draft and returned for his final season, giving Nebraska a terrific centerpiece up front. He'll be complemented by veterans Baker Steinkuhler and the mustachioed Cameron Meredith. If converted linebacker Eric Martin builds off of a strong spring, Nebraska should be fine at the end spot.

2. Ohio State: Heyward's leadership and versatility will be missed, but Ohio State always finds ways to fill the gaps up front. Junior John Simon should be primed for a breakout season. Like Heyward, Simon can play both line spots but might see more time on the edge this fall. Nathan Williams adds experience at end, and promising sophomore Johnathan Hankins could wreak havoc on the interior this fall.

3. Michigan State: Like several Big Ten teams, the Spartans build their line around a potential superstar tackle in Jerel Worthy. The junior already is projected as a potential first-round pick in the 2012 draft after recording four sacks last fall. Anthony Rashad White emerged this spring as a nice complement to Worthy. Michigan State needs a better pass rush from the end spots, and hopes are high for William Gholston and Tyler Hoover.

4. Wisconsin: Watt is a huge loss because he contributed in so many ways, but Wisconsin could account for his production with greater depth. Ends Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert both have played a lot of football, and junior Brendan Kelly came on strong toward the end of spring practice. Senior tackle Patrick Butrym has emerged as one of the leaders on defense. Wisconsin needs young tackles like Jordan Kohout and Beau Allen to help Butrym.

5. Michigan: This is a projection pick, but I think Michigan's defensive front takes a significant step forward this season. Senior tackle Mike Martin is a bona fide NFL prospect and will lead the way, and players like Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh should be among the primary beneficiaries of the new defense under coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan needs to build depth with Jibreel Black, Will Campbell and others, but there's great potential here.

6. Iowa: The Hawkeyes face a tough task in replacing multiyear starters in Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. Senior tackle Mike Daniels is ready to lead the group after recording 11 tackles for loss and four sacks in 2010. The biggest key is getting Broderick Binns back to his 2009 form. Iowa also needs to build depth with Lebron Daniel and others, and avoid major injuries.

7. Purdue: Defensive tackle is a major strength for Purdue as Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston Jr. form one of the league's top tandems. Short quietly turned in an extremely productive season last fall (12.5 TFLs, 6 sacks). The big unknown is how Purdue replaces Kerrigan. The Boilers need veteran Gerald Gooden to stay healthy and others to emerge alongside him.

8. Penn State: Much like Purdue, Penn State looks strong at tackle and has question marks at end. Devon Still could contend for All-Big Ten honors after a terrific performance in the Outback Bowl against Florida. Still and Jordan Hill should lock up the middle, but Penn State needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to get healthy at the end spots. If not, the Lions will turn to unproven players to spark their pass rush.

9. Illinois: Liuget is a significant loss in the middle and Illinois also must replace veteran end Clay Nurse. The Illini will rely on Akeem Spence to step in for Liuget, and Spence showed some good things this spring. There's talent on the edges with Michael Buchanan, Whitney Mercilus and others, but Illinois needs more consistent production.

10. Northwestern: This group took a step back last fall and got manhandled down the stretch as Northwestern hemorrhaged yards and points. Senior end Vince Browne is a playmaker who put up impressive numbers (15.5 TFLs, 7 sacks) in 2010. He'll need help from tackles Jack DiNardo and Niko Mafuli, and Tyler Scott could provide a lift at the other end spot. The Wildcats need their line to regain the edge it displayed in 2008.

11. Indiana: It wouldn't surprise me to see Indiana's front four rise up these rankings during the season. There are some nice pieces back, namely senior end Darius Johnson, who can be a force when healthy. Junior Adam Replogle has been productive at defensive tackle. There's plenty of competition at the other two spots as Indiana tries to turn a page on defense.

12. Minnesota: The Gophers' pass rush was practically invisible in 2010, as they finished last nationally in sacks (9). The good news is new defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will turn his linemen loose more often, giving players like Brandon Kirksey chances to make plays. We've heard a lot about Minnesota's talent up front but haven't seen nearly enough production on Saturdays.
Earlier today, my colleague Edward Aschoff from the SEC blog took a look at three potential dark horse teams in that league for the 2011 season.

At the risk of playing catchup to the SEC -- something Big Ten folks hate to do -- I think it's a good idea. Who are the Big Ten's top dark horse candidates for 2011?

To be clear, a dark horse has to be a team not considered by most folks to be on the league championship radar entering the season. The 2010 Michigan State team probably qualifies, although those who really studied the Spartans' personnel -- like yours truly -- weren't surprised by their run to a Big Ten championship. The Illinois team that made the 2008 Rose Bowl following back-to-back 2-win seasons is a better example of a dark horse.

Let's take a look at three teams that could fit the description this fall. One common theme among them: a favorable schedule.


2010 record: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten, beat Baylor in Texas Bowl)

I recently was on a radio show in Champaign and the hosts justifiably asked me about listing Illinois at No. 9 in my post-spring power rankings. As I told them, Illinois definitely has the potential to make a significant move up the rankings before the season ends. In fact, I'd be a little surprised if they remained at No. 9 The team has some confidence coming off of a bowl victory, and talent never has been the issue for Illinois during coach Ron Zook's tenure. Illinois boasts a talented quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines, anchored by tackle Jeff Allen. There are question marks on defense after the unit lost first-round pick Corey Liuget and second-round pick Martez Wilson, but I really like what the Illini return in the secondary. If coordinator Vic Koenning pulls the right strings this fall, the defense should be fine. The schedule also favors Illinois, which opens with five consecutive home games and plays eight contests at Memorial Stadium.


2010 record: 7-6 (3-5 Big Ten, lost to Mississippi State in Gator Bowl)

Although Michigan increased its wins total in each of the past two seasons, few preseason prognosticators will place the Wolverines in the Big Ten's upper half entering the season. There are quite a few question marks as new coach Brady Hoke and his assistants install new systems on both sides of the ball. The defense should improve under coordinator Greg Mattison, especially up front and if the secondary gets better luck with injuries. And if the offense can maintain some of its explosiveness -- hello, Denard Robinson -- and limit turnovers against Big Ten competition, Michigan has a real chance to make noise in the Legends division. Like Illinois, the Wolverines also could get off to a fast start as they play their first five games at the Big House.


2010 record: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten, beat Missouri in the Insight Bowl)

This is a role in which Iowa seems to thrive. The Hawkeyes fell short of expectations in 2010, and they might be dismissed by some after losing so many standout players. Iowa had three defensive linemen selected in the NFL draft -- Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug -- and also must replace its starting quarterback, top two safeties, leading rusher and a record-setting receiver. But the Hawkeyes have some nice building blocks, starting with one of the league's best offensive lines. Quarterback James Vandenberg is no stranger to the spotlight, and while Iowa needs to find more depth at running back, Marcus Coker looks like the real deal. There are some holes to fill in the defensive front seven, but Iowa typically finds ways to get it done on D. Like the other two dark horses listed, Iowa also could benefit from its schedule. Iowa plays three of the top Legends division teams -- Michigan State, Northwestern and Michigan -- at Kinnick Stadium.
More than one Big Ten coach has called Iowa's defense vanilla in the past decade.

It's not a dig at the Hawkeyes or at longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Just the opposite, in fact.

[+] EnlargeTyler Nielsen
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesIowa and linebacker Tyler Nielsen might stray from their traditional 4-3 scheme this season.
Unlike some defenses, which have to mix up formations and plays until something clicks, Iowa gets by with a basic 4-3 scheme that relies on hard-and-fast rules, polished fundamentals and execution. And for the most part, the Hawkeyes have vanilla-d their way to success. The biggest key to the scheme is a line that can consistently generate pressure and reach the offensive backfield.

But Iowa now must replace three defensive linemen selected in April's NFL draft (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug). And at times last season, especially against spread offenses -- Arizona, Missouri, late in the Northwestern game -- Iowa's line didn't put enough pressure on the pocket, leaving some to wonder if a schematic shakeup was in order.

Could we see one this season?

I talked about this issue last week with Hawkeyes beat writer Marc Morehouse at the Big Ten spring meetings. Morehouse wrote in March about the possibility of Iowa using a 3-4 alignment more often this season. Although Iowa will remain a base 4-3, several factors suggest the defense will be more multiple.

From Morehouse's story:
Against the pass, expect Iowa to work in some 3-4 on passing downs, especially if that passer is (Blaine) Gabbert's caliber. Iowa will continue to rush four or more (but mostly four) probably 90 percent of the time, so we’re not talking wholesale philosophy change, just a tweak that would put more speed on the field.

It makes sense, especially against spread offenses that get the ball out quickly and require speedy defenders to make plays in space. Iowa struggled to generate consistent pressure against Gabbert in the Insight Bowl, forcing Parker to shake up the scheme quite a bit.

Without much proven depth on the line, Iowa might be well served by being more multiple this season. Although there are some question marks at linebacker, the group could be better and deeper if younger players like James Morris, Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and Dakota Getz continue to develop. Tyler Nielsen provides a veteran presence to build around, and Bruce Davis is back from a knee injury.

The biggest obstacle to a 3-4 is the lack of a mammoth defensive tackle. Iowa's tackles typically are a bit undersized, which has worked out well with players like Mitch King, Matt Kroul and Klug. Redshirt freshman Carl Davis, who checks in north of 300 pounds, is the only lineman who could fit the traditional 3-4 tackle mold.

Still, the depth issues up front combined with the potential at linebacker suggest we could see more flavors from a vanilla Hawkeyes defense this season.

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

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

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

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

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

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

Second round

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

Third round

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

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

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

Sixth round

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

Seventh round

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


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

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

Big Ten picks by team

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

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

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

Draft snubs

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

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

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.
The 2010 Big Ten postseason player rankings continue with ...

No. 22: Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa, Sr., 6-4, 285

2010 numbers: Started all 13 games at defensive end; recorded 52 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks; recorded a team-high six quarterback hurries; had a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

Preseason rank: No. 1 in preseason top 25 players

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesAdrian Clayborn had a huge impact on Iowa's defense in 2010.
Why he's here: The season didn't go like many of us thought it would for Clayborn, an absolute monster in 2009 who was a pretty easy pick as my preseason No. 1 player. His numbers nosedived and he seemed to disappear at times down the stretch of the season. But these rankings place a premium on impact, and I believe Clayborn still impacted games with his presence and made his teammates better. He had a very good first two months of the season, commanding constant double teams that created playmaking opportunities for Mike Daniels, Karl Klug and others. He showed against Penn State (10 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack) that he still can dominate a game. Clayborn earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors, and opposing coaches recognized him as one of the league's best. I fully expect him to go on to have a strong NFL career.'s 2010 All-Senior Big Ten team

January, 24, 2011
As we gear up for the Senior Bowl, I wanted to piggyback off of an excellent post by colleague Chris Low from last week.

It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.

Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.

Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.

In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.

Without further ado ...


QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State


DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon narrowly edged out Ross Homan for a spot on the All-Senior Big Ten team.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa


K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin

Some thoughts:

  • I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
  • No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
  • The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
  • Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
  • The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
  • Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
Selections by team: Wisconsin (6), Ohio State (5), Michigan State (5), Iowa (4), Penn State (3), Purdue (2)
The college football all-star season gets cranked up Saturday with the East-West Shrine Game, and my ESPN colleagues are scouting practices leading up to the game.

Be sure and check out the Day 1 practice blog Insider, the Day 1 notebook Insider and the Day 2 practice blog Insider as colleagues Todd McShay, Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl break it all down.

A few Big Ten players stood out on the first day, including Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien and Iowa defensive lineman Karl Klug.

Tolzien is an interesting prospect. He lacks the ideal mechanics and physical gifts NFL teams covet, but he's one of the smartest college football players you'll ever find. His decision making is superb and he operated in a pro-style offense with the Badgers. While he might never be a full-time starter in the NFL, he's certainly a guy you'd like to have on your roster.

McShay lists Tolzien as one of his top Day 1 performers:
We know his limitations. He's 6-1, at best, and there are some throws he can't make. The height, for example, limits some throws, such as in a red zone drill, when he had a receiver on a quick slant but with the offensive tackle and defensive tackle engaged right in front of him, he couldn't get around them quickly enough to make the throw for the score. It's a throw Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco or Ben Roethlisberger throw easily over the offensive tackle for the touchdown. Despite those limitations, he exceeded expectations. It seemed as though he had been running this offense for years. He had good command, got to the line, knew what he was doing and handled the offense with authority.

The Scouts Inc. crew calls Tolzien "the leader of the West team so far."

Klug also drew decent reviews on Day 1. Much like former Iowa standouts Mitch King and Matt Kroul, Klug isn't the biggest defensive tackle but he works extremely hard at the line of scrimmage. He's working at both line positions but likely projects as an end.
He doesn't appear to have the burst to turn the corner while playing DE, and he doesn't have the power to drive opposing linemen in the pocket while playing DT. The plus side is, and one of the reasons we liked him on film, is he's a high-effort guy with active hands, and those help make up for his weaknesses. He's not a prototype for either position, but his motor, hands and athletic ability help make up for that.

There also are some notes on Ohio State safety Jermale Hines, Illinois guard Randall Hunt and others.

Here's the list of Big Ten players in the Shrine Game.
  • Purdue TE Kyle Adams
  • Ohio State G Bryant Browning
  • Iowa P Ryan Donahue
  • Michigan State LB Eric Gordon
  • Ohio State S Jermale Hines
  • Illinois G Randall Hunt
  • Penn State DT Ollie Ogbu
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle
  • Penn State RB Evan Royster
  • Indiana WR Terrance Turner
  • Iowa DE Karl Klug
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien

Iowa Hawkeyes season recap

December, 7, 2010
The quality that defined the Iowa Hawkeyes in 2009 disappeared for them this season.

Where did Iowa's crunch-time mojo go?

It's a question that haunts coach Kirk Ferentz and his players as they endured a very disappointing 2010 campaign. Iowa blew fourth-quarter leads in all four of its Big Ten losses and allowed late touchdowns in all five of its defeats. A senior-laden team seemed to lose its magic touch and never regained it.

The most puzzling thing about Iowa is that unlike last year's squad, the 2010 Hawkeyes looked dominant at times. They crushed teams like Iowa State and Penn State and delivered a 37-6 knockout of then-No. 5 Michigan State on Oct. 30. It seemed like the Hawkeyes would be rolling after stomping the Spartans, but instead they backslid throughout the month of November, squeaking out a win at Indiana before dropping their final three games.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had Heisman Trophy-caliber numbers for most of the season and avoided the major mistakes that dogged him throughout 2009. But like his teammates, Stanzi wasn't immune from the late-game struggles this fall. Iowa's defense dominated for stretches but didn't have quite the production it expected from the front four and really missed linebackers Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds as well as cornerback Amari Spievey. Perhaps most surprising were Iowa's problems on special teams, which surfaced in the losses to both Arizona and Wisconsin.

Offensive MVP: Ricky Stanzi. Stanzi improved in every major statistical category except the one that he cares about the most -- win-loss record. The senior passed for 2,804 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions, ranking 11th nationally in quarterback rating (160.5). After tossing 15 interceptions in 2009, four of which were returned for touchdowns, Stanzi had just two picks and 19 touchdown passes through the first two months of the 2010 season. Running back Adam Robinson merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP: Adrian Clayborn. He didn't have the dominant senior season many had expected, but No. 94 brought a formidable presence to the defensive line. Clayborn commanded double-teams and allowed teammates like Karl Klug and Mike Daniels to rack up numbers. Clayborn finished the season with seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hurries, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. Daniels, safety Tyler Sash cornerback Shaun Prater merit mentions here.

Turning point: Iowa opened Big Ten play at 2-0 and had a banged-up Wisconsin team on the ropes Oct. 23 at Kinnick Stadium. But the Badgers shocked Iowa with a fake punt deep in Wisconsin territory and went on to score the go-ahead touchdown. Ferentz botched the time management in the final seconds as Iowa fell 31-30. Another turning point arrived Nov. 13, as Iowa squandered a 17-7 fourth-quarter lead against nemesis Northwestern and fell 21-17.

What's next: The Hawkeyes will try to regroup and send their decorated senior class out with a win in the Insight Bowl against Missouri. Despite being in bordering states, the two schools haven't met since 1910. Iowa has won back-to-back bowls and really could use a win before an offseason of retooling on both sides of the ball begins.
Iowa has never been the type of team that draws motivation from outside forces.

That's probably a good thing this week. There's a lot of doom and gloom in the Hawkeye State.

The talk around the program has centered on unfilled expectations after the Hawkeyes dropped their third game last Saturday. Many had raised the bar for Iowa after an 11-2 season in 2009 that culminated with an Orange Bowl championship.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
David Purdy/Getty ImagesRicky Stanzi and the Iowa seniors will take aim at Ohio State in their final home game.
Undoubtedly the biggest reason for the optimism was a sizable and decorated senior class that included players like defensive end Adrian Clayborn, quarterback Ricky Stanzi, defensive tackle Karl Klug, receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and punter Ryan Donahue.

Saturday's game against No. 9 Ohio State was pegged to be much more than Senior Day before the season. Most figured the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes would be playing for a Big Ten title, like they did last year, and possibly even a trip to the BCS championship game. While Ohio State is in the thick of the league championship hunt, No. 20 Iowa has dropped back after another loss to its recent nemesis, Northwestern.

"We're just playing for the seniors, for ourselves and just the last game at Kinnick," Clayborn told reporters this week. "We're pretty much out of the title race, but that's the least of our worries."

Senior Day will have to suffice for the Hawkeyes, but all is not lost. Far from it.

"We had a good year last season," Stanzi said. "That put us up there, and people were talking about us competing for the Big Ten championship, which is fine. Now that we're out of that picture, we're not happy about it, obviously it's not something we want to do. … At the same time, it's still a football game we have to get ready for. It's us against them.

"We're not throwing in the towel or anything like that."

Iowa still has plenty at stake Saturday, especially the 26 players who will make their final appearance at Kinnick Stadium.

Ohio State is the lone Big Ten team the Hawkeyes' seniors haven't beaten in their four years. If Iowa wins out, it will claim consecutive 10-win seasons for just the third time and record the second-best three-year stretch in team history (30 wins, trailing only the 31-victory surge between 2002-04).

And if things fall right with both Wisconsin and Michigan State, Iowa could climb back into the league title race.

"There's always something to play for," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We were 1-9 back in '99, and those seniors in our last game against Minnesota thought that was an extremely important game. Our season's not over yet, we have not surrendered. The chances of us being in the title talk are basically reduced to a very slim percentage.

"And that's not our focus right now."

Stanzi certainly isn't focused on last year's game against Ohio State, which he missed with an ankle injury. Backup James Vandenberg performed admirably at Ohio Stadium, and the Hawkeyes took Ohio State to overtime before falling.

"To say that we're thinking about last year or trying to get revenge is kind of nonsense," Stanzi said. "It's not really how we operate."

Iowa has responded well from its previous two losses, crushing Ball State 45-0 and ending Michigan State's perfect season with a 37-6 thrashing on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes expect a much tougher challenge from Ohio State, which has won 11 of the teams' past 12 meetings.

Stanzi allowed himself to reminisce a bit Wednesday, calling it "an honor" to merely receive a scholarship offer from Iowa. He acknowledged that Senior Day is important but doesn't expect the true significance to sink in until several years down the road.

"For them to be the memories you want them to be," Stanzi said, "it's important to take care of business right now."
Iowa and Wisconsin will spend all week dissecting film of one another, trying to find clues that will aid in Saturday's matchup at Kinnick Stadium.

The players and coaches could save a lot of time, though, and simply look in the mirror.

"They're a smash-mouth football program, we're a smash-mouth football program," Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt said.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Chris Morrison/US PresswireKirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes have won the last two battles against the Badgers.
"They play our kind of ball," Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "It's pretty much like going against our guys in practice every day."

Saturday's game won't be won with sleight of hand or exotic play calling. It's a pretty good bet that the team that blocks and tackles better will claim victory.

This is exactly how No. 15 Iowa and No. 13 Wisconsin like it.

While Michigan has gone to a full-blown spread offense and both Ohio State and Penn State have incorporated spread elements, the Hawkeyes and Badgers run pro-style systems build around the power run and the play-action pass. Boise State against Oregon, this is not.

The two defenses also are similar. Iowa's defense has some baseline rules each player must follow and few elaborate disguises. If each man does his job, the play should be stopped. Wisconsin's system is similar, in large part because Badgers head coach Bret Bielema cut his teeth at Iowa under veteran Hawkyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

If you like power defensive ends like Clayborn and Watt and burly running backs like Wisconsin junior John Clay and former Iowa star Shonn Greene, this is the game for you.

"They're just looking to run the ball, and we're looking to stop the run," Iowa defensive tackle Karl Klug said. "We match up pretty well."

The spotlight Saturday afternoon undoubtedly will be on the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin's offensive line comes off of a dominant performance last week against Ohio State, in which it overpowered a formidable Buckeyes defensive front in a 31-18 victory. Iowa's defense ranks sixth nationally in points allowed (13.2 ppg) and seventh against the run (83.8 ypg).

Some have billed the Badgers' front five as the nation's best offensive line. The same has been said about Iowa's defensive line. Two likely first-round draft picks match up Saturday as Clayborn goes against Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi.

"We run similar schemes," Bielema said of his Badgers and the Hawkeyes. "We had a couple of [general managers] in during the course of the week last week, GMs of NFL teams. And they basically [say] 'It's so relieving to watch, come in and watch film and watch you run the football like they want to run it at the next level.'"

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin coach Bret Bielema played for the Hawkeyes and began his coaching career with Iowa.
Bielema is the strongest link between the schools.

He played defensive line for Iowa under Hayden Fry from 1989-92 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes in 1994. Bielema was elevated to linebackers coach in 1996 and spent six seasons in the role, the last three under current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Bielema "thinks the world" of Ferentz and called Parker one of his biggest influences in coaching.

He's also linked to Iowa through body art: a Tiger Hawk tattoo remains on his calf, and Iowa coaches don't hesitate to bring it up during their frequent recruiting battles with Wisconsin.

"Every time [a recruit] goes to visit there, the first thing, I can write it down to a tee, they're going to come back and say, 'Coach, can we see your tattoo?'" Bielema said. "Every Iowa coach says that to him, so I know their routine, and it's nothing surprising."

The schools share other connections as well.

When Ferentz joined Fry's staff as an assistant in 1981, Barry Alvarez served as the team's linebackers coach. Ferentz and Alvarez worked together for six years before Alvarez left for a position at Notre Dame. Three years later, both men took head-coaching jobs, Alvarez at Wisconsin and Ferentz at Maine.

Wisconsin had gone 9-36 in the four seasons before Alvarez's arrival and were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak and an 18-game winless streak against Iowa.

"When I left here in '89, it’s not that I didn't respect them, but they had really fallen on hard times," Ferentz said. "And as I was leaving here, that’s when Barry was going up there. I get back nine years later and they were clearly one of the best programs in the country.

"They’ve just done a fantastic job there. They’ve been very consistent with their efforts."

The same can be said for Iowa, which rebounded from its own lull (1998-2001) to restore itself among the Big Ten's elite.

How close are the two programs? Iowa leads the all-time series 42-41-2 after claiming the last two matchups. When the Big Ten began determining divisions for 2011 and beyond, it examined data since 1993, the year Penn State joined the league. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State led the league in Big Ten wins during the span, but Wisconsin (79-54-3) and Iowa (71-64-1) are in the next tier.

"There are four teams in our new conference coming next year that have won national championships," Bielema said, referring to Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. "And then the next two teams, probably by record, are us and Iowa."

Added Ferentz: "It’s nice to be involved in the party, if you can get in there. But it doesn't just happen."

Iowa and Wisconsin are so close that it contributed to them being placed in opposite divisions to achieve competitive balance. The two teams don't meet in 2011 and 2012, so Saturday's winner gets to keep the Heartland Trophy a little longer, not to mention take a step closer to the Big Ten title.

"There’s a great deal of respect, but we all want the same thing," Bielema said. "That’s what this week will be about, getting the W."

Big Ten stock report: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
Who's rising? Who's falling?

Time to check the market.


Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Count me among those questioning whether Cousins could get it done in the clutch, but he came through in a big way against Wisconsin. The Spartans junior bounced back from two first-half interceptions to complete 8 of 10 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the final two quarters. Cousins was masterful on Michigan State's 15-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, completing two third-down passes and a fourth-down touchdown strike to B.J. Cunningham.

Iowa's defense: The Hawkeyes put it all together defensively against Penn State, despite some injuries at the linebacker spot. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn showed why he'll be a first-round draft pick in April with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Cornerback Shaun Prater recorded a pick-six and the Hawkeyes received big performances from Karl Klug, James Morris and Christian Ballard.

[+] EnlargeTandon Doss
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTandon Doss had 15 catches for 221 yards against Michigan, and is averaging 14 yards per catch.
Illinois' defense: The Illini didn't complete the upset against Ohio State but validated their early-season improvement under coordinator Vic Koenning, particularly in the secondary. Safety Trulon Henry became the latest Illinois defensive back to showcase his playmaking skills, recording two interceptions. Linebackers Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey also played well as Illinois held Ohio State's offense in check.

Indiana WR Tandon Doss: A lot of folks who should have known the name do now after Doss set career highs in both receptions (15) and receiving yards (221) against Michigan. Doss added 21 rushing yards and 121 yards in returns to finish with an insane 363 all-purpose yards, the third-highest total in team history. Several weeks removed from a groin injury, Doss is hitting his stride and showing why he's a future NFL receiver.


Wisconsin's offensive line: Tabbed by some as the nation's best O-line before the season, the Badgers haven't looked the part so far. Michigan State recorded two sacks and three quarterback hurries against Wisconsin on Saturday, and the Badgers couldn't keep All-American Greg Jones out of the backfield. The rushing numbers are still good, but Wisconsin's experienced and talent line needs to do better.

Northwestern's defensive line: After several strong performances, the Wildcats got pushed around for much of last Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota's offensive front won the line of scrimmage as DeLeon Eskridge went for 119 rush yards and a touchdown. Although Vince Browne continued to make plays, the Wildcats need a better effort going forward to protect a vulnerable secondary.

Penn State's receivers: I still really like the potential of this group, but the receivers didn't help out a young quarterback in a tough situation last Saturday at Iowa. Several dropped passes really hurt the Lions, who didn't reach the end zone for the second time this season. Rob Bolden was under a ton of pressure against an excellent defense, and he could have used some more plays from his targets.

Minnesota's two-minute offense: The Gophers' coaches called a great game for 58 minutes, pounding away at Northwestern with Eskridge and executing nifty play-action passes to the tight ends. But aside from a good bootleg call on fourth-and-3, Minnesota really botched the 2-minute drill when it had two timeouts and only needed a field goal to win. The run call on first-and-10 from the Northwestern 39 in the final minute was a major head-scratcher.

Moving on to the Big Ten awards races. Thanks to a good suggestion by one of you, I'm going to include each player's season statistics rather than the stats from the previous week. It gives a better big-picture view.

The Freshman of the Year award looks like a two-horse race right now.


(Player, season statistics)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 67-for-96 passing, 1,008 pass yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT; 98 rushes, 905 rush yards, 8 TDs.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 80-for-123 passing, 1,015 pass yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs; 54 rushes, 373 yards, 3 TDs; 1 reception for a 20-yard touchdown

3. Indiana QB Ben Chappell: 116-for-162 passing, 1,370 pass yards, 12 TDs, 1 INT

4. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 108-for-136 passing, 1,358 pass yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 68 rushes, 271 rush yards, 2 TDs

5. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: 82-for-121 passing, 1,226 pass yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs


(Player, season statistics)

1. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: 41 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 passes defended

2. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: 34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: 24 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick

4. Iowa DL Mike Daniels: 19 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry


1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 64 carries, 471 rush yards, 7 TDs; 4 receptions, 63 receiving yards

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 44 carries, 367 yards, 6 TDs; 5 receptions, 55 receiving yards, 15 kick returns for 283 yards