Big Ten: Kim Royston

In the not so distant past, when a Big Ten player decided to transfer, it almost always signaled the end of his Big Ten career.

The Big Ten's old policy stipulated that a player who transferred from one Big Ten school to another couldn't receive athletics aid at his new destination. While some players still made the moves and paid their own way -- Wisconsin-turned-Minnesota safety Kim Royston comes to mind -- the rules typically steered transfers to other leagues.

The league since has loosened its restrictions, and several players seem to be capitalizing. Four players transferred within the conference this summer.

Kenny Hayes, a former Ohio State defensive lineman who reportedly is transferring to Michigan State, is the latest player to make a move within the league. Illinois last week added Nebraska transfer Ryan Klachko, an offensive lineman who redshirted in 2011. The Illini also recently picked up offensive lineman Ryan Nowicki, one of nine Penn State players to transfer from the program after the NCAA leveled heavy sanctions July 23. Another offensive lineman, Brian Bobek, transferred from Ohio State to Minnesota in June.

Nowicki is eligible to play immediately, according to the relaxed rules the NCAA devised for players interested in transferring from Penn State. Klachko, Hayes and Bobek both must sit out a season before becoming eligible in 2013.

But all four can receive immediate scholarships at their new schools, thanks to a recent change in the Big Ten's transfer policy.

Beginning with the 2011-12 academic year, athletes transferring within the Big Ten can receive scholarships from their new schools as long as they receive their full release.

Bobek won't be on scholarship until January only because Minnesota is at its limit for the season. But if Minnesota had room for him right now, he could receive aid.

The highly publicized case of former Wisconsin basketball player Jarrod Uthoff this spring had more to do with Wisconsin restricting Uthoff's options than the Big Ten making it difficult for Uthoff financially. Uthoff transferred to Iowa in June and will pay his own way for a year before being put on scholarship.

It'll be interesting to see if the revised policy on intraleague transfers leads to more moves within the Big Ten. While the Big Ten doesn't want to see this become a major trend, the league made the right call in allowing immediate scholarships to kick in. It's one thing for schools to be childish and hypocritical about granting releases, but league should be looking out for the players.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 4, 2012
5/04/12
12:00
PM ET
I don't like the sound of that. A lot of amenities disappear when an H turns into an M.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 5, 2012
3/05/12
12:00
PM ET
Stairs are a young man's game.

Big shoes to fill: Minnesota

March, 1, 2012
3/01/12
10:15
AM ET
To get you ready for spring practice, which kicks off this month, we're taking a look at how each team might fill the roles of two key contributors who are no longer on campus.

Up next, Minnesota.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Kim Royston, S

[+] EnlargeKim Royston
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidReplacing Kim Royston will be a tall order for the Minnesota defense.
Why: Royston was one of few bright spots for a Minnesota defense that struggled mightily for much of the season but finished well. He recorded 123 tackles, the fourth-highest total in the Big Ten and the most on the Gophers by 36 stops. He recorded one of the team's four interceptions on the season and had 3.5 tackles for loss, including a sack, and two pass breakups. Royston's 71 solo tackles were 18 more than any other Gophers player in 2011. He provided leadership for a secondary that lacked it and earned the Carl Eller Award as Minnesota's top defensive player.

Replacement candidates: James Manuel (6-2, 214, Jr.); Derrick Wells (6-foot, 191, Jr.); Jeremy Baltazar (6-foot, 190, Jr.); Michael Carter (5-11, 185, Sr.); Steven Montgomery (5-10, 195, Fr.)

The skinny: The return of cornerback Troy Stoudermire should help Minnesota replace Royston's production, but the team remains extremely unproven at safety. Will this be Manuel's time to shine? Minnesota certainly could use a big season from the junior, who had only 11 tackles in 10 games this past season. Wells had similar numbers (8 tackles, 11 games) in a reserve role but could challenge for a starting spot. Baltazar and Carter both are more natural cornerbacks but could help at nickelback. Montgomery, who isn't afraid to hit people, could be a factor here. The concern is Minnesota lacks many natural safeties and likely needs to have a by-committee approach to the position.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Da'Jon McKnight, WR

Why: Like Royston, McKnight was by far Minnesota's most productive player at his position in 2011. He recorded 51 catches, 35 more than any other Gophers player. He had twice as many touchdown catches (4) and 570 more receiving yards than anyone else on the roster. He led Minnesota in receiving in each of his final two seasons and was one of the more underrated wideouts in the Big Ten. McKnight made 30 starts in his career and was always MarQueis Gray's first option in the passing game.

Replacement candidates: Brandon Green (6-foot, 186, Sr.); Malcolm Moulton (5-11, 186, Jr.); Marcus Jones (5-8, 170, So.); Devin Crawford-Tufts (6-2, 191, So.); Andre McDonald (6-2, 200, Fr.); Jamel Harbison (5-11, 195, Fr.)

The skinny: Wide receiver will be one of the more intriguing positions to watch both in spring practice and in preseason camp when heralded recruits McDonald and Harbison arrive. Green has started 18 games in his career but needs to take his game to the next level. Most of Minnesota's returning players are smaller wideouts, so a bigger player like McDonald could fill in well for McKnight, whose size made him a threat on the outside. There's good speed in the group with players like Jones, who averaged 15.8 yards a catch as a freshman and led the team with 370 kick returns yards and a touchdown.
The postseason position rankings are hitting the home stretch, and today we take a look at the Big Ten secondaries. It's a little tricky to evaluate secondary play from 2011. While seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top 18 nationally in pass defense, only two squads ranked in the top 29 in pass efficiency defense.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was the lone Big Ten defensive back to appear on both the coaches' and media's first-team all-conference squad, so there was some disagreement.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioIsaiah Lewis' interception against Michigan helped the Spartans beat their in-state rival and propel Michigan State's secondary to elite status in the Big Ten.
The top seven units are solid, while the bottom three are among the worst in the FBS.

Michigan State once again tops a defensive chart, but the top four or five squads here were all strong in the secondary. Be sure and check out our preseason secondary rankings.

Let's get to the rundown:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans had three of four starting defensive backs — safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis — selected first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, illustrating the depth coach Mark Dantonio has built in recent years. Michigan State's secondary also continued to be a playmaking unit, recording a league-best 18 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns. The Spartans had five defensive backs record two or more interceptions. Adams will enter the 2012 season pegged as the league's top cornerback.

2. Penn State: Like the other defensive units, Penn State's secondary shouldered a heavy burden because the team's offense struggled for so much of the season. The Lions had veteran leadership with D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and they led the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense (107.2 rating). Penn State finished third in the league in interceptions (14) and tied with Michigan for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed (12). Sukay earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Illinois: Although Illinois' strength on defense could be found in the front seven, the secondary held its own as well. The Illini ranked third nationally in pass defense (162.3 ypg), and opposing teams completed just 54.9 percent of their passes against the Orange and Blue. Illinois finished 30th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Although the safety play looked spotty at times, Illinois boasted a strong cornerback tandem in Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson.

4. Michigan: Arguably no single position group in the Big Ten made more dramatic strides than Michigan's secondary, a lightning rod for criticism the previous three seasons. The Wolverines finished 16th nationally in pass defense and 36th in pass efficiency defense. Although they didn't record many interceptions, they tied for the league low in passing touchdowns allowed (12). Safety Jordan Kovacs emerged as an effective blitzer and playmaker and cornerback J.T. Floyd blossomed with two interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble. Corner Blake Countess is an exciting young talent.

5. Nebraska: The Huskers had the Big Ten's best defensive back in Dennard, who shut down arguably the league's top two receivers (Marvin McNutt, B.J. Cunningham) in Nebraska victories. But the group's overall performance was a bit underwhelming, as opposing teams attacked the deep middle and caused some personnel shuffling. Opposing teams completed just 53.2 percent of their passes against Nebraska, the lowest number in the Big Ten. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford emerged for a group that loses Dennard and veteran safety Austin Cassidy.

6. Wisconsin: For the second straight season Wisconsin displayed good playmaking ability in the secondary, finishing second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions. Safety Aaron Henry (coaches) and cornerback Antonio Fenelus (media) both received first-team All-Big Ten recognition. The Badgers also played most of the season without one of their starting cornerbacks, Devin Smith. But the unit also had some high-profile lapses at the end of games. Speed also became an issue in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

7. Ohio State: The numbers aren't bad -- Ohio State ranked 14th in pass defense and 53rd in pass efficiency defense -- but the Buckeyes seemed to be missing something in the secondary, and throughout their entire defense, for that matter. There were some bright spots, like freshman cornerback Bradley Roby, and some hard hits delivered by safety C.J. Barnett and others. But Ohio State finished just eighth in the league (53rd nationally) in pass efficiency defense, as opposing teams completed more than 60 percent of their pass attempts against the Scarlet and Gray.

8. Purdue: We had high hopes for a group that returned all four starters, headlined by All-Big Ten candidate Ricardo Allen at cornerback. At times, Purdue's secondary looked solid, but the unit's overall performance fell in line with the team's average theme for 2011. Allen struggled to contain some elite wideouts but still finished the season with 81 tackles (62 solo), three interceptions, four pass breakups, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. He and Josh Johnson form an exciting cornerback tandem entering the 2012 campaign.

9. Iowa: Much like Ohio State, Iowa didn't have a typical season on defense, and the secondary had its share of struggles. Iowa had average numbers (58th in pass yards allowed, 72nd in efficiency), and allowed opposing teams to complete 62 percent of their passes. The Hawkeyes saw a big drop-off in playmaking, as they recorded only 10 interceptions and allowed 21 touchdown passes. Safety Micah Hyde earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, while cornerback Shaun Prater didn't have the huge senior season some expected.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats would finish last in some leagues, but they're the best of a bad bunch at the bottom of the rankings. Despite an All-Big Ten safety (Brian Peters) and a four-year starter at cornerback (Jordan Mabin), Northwestern suffered breakdowns in both scheme and execution. The Wildcats endured a particularly bad stretch to begin Big Ten play, as they couldn't stop Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins, admittedly got confused against Iowa and let Penn State quarterback Matthew McGloin go off. The secondary has to be a huge priority for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff during the offseason.

11. Minnesota: It's a close call for the last spot, but Minnesota avoids the basement, thanks in large part to safety Kim Royston, who made the most of his sixth season with a team-high 123 tackles. But Royston was the lone bright spot for Minnesota's secondary, which stung from the loss of cornerback Troy Stoudermire to a broken arm. The Gophers recorded the fewest interceptions in the Big Ten (4), and allowed opponents to complete 67.7 percent of their passes, the highest total in the league. Minnesota finished 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers' historic struggles in the secondary continued in 2011, as they surrendered a league-high 26 passing touchdowns and finished 116th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. Opponents averaged 8.5 yards per completion against an Indiana team that played more freshmen than any squad in the FBS. There's some hope with players like safety-linebacker Mark Murphy and cornerback Greg Heban, and Indiana brings in two junior college defensive backs for 2012.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 24, 2012
2/24/12
4:00
PM ET
Hoping you have a great weekend.

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Adam, I enjoyed your evaluation of the new kick-off rules, but you left out one other change that I thought was surprising. The NCAA also proposed moving the Touchback to the 25-yard line, up from the 20. How might this factor into teams' kick-off strategy? I'm guessing this was done to curb the anger of the Purdues and Nebraskas of the country, but it's a greater boon to teams that are bad in the kick return game. Will we see teams attempt to pooch it to the 1-5 yard line to force a return? Thanks for keeping us Bored-at-Work folks breathing through the off-season.

Adam Rittenberg: Good call, Mochila. I should have included the part about the 25-yard line. I think it all depends on the quality of the return man, the leg strength of the kicker and how much faith a coach has in his coverage team. For the most part, coaches can live with teams starting on the 25-yard line after a touchback. It's certainly better than watching a guy like Raheem Mostert or Ameer Abdullah break into the open field. The rule changes are designed to slow down the actual kickoff play -- coverage teams won't have as long a long run-up to the ball -- so teams that want to kick inside the 5-yard line had better be solid in closing gaps. My sense is if teams have a kicker who can record touchbacks, they'll go that route and then take their chances defending 75 yards of field.


Tim from Parts Unknown writes: Adam,Brian blames you for DRob's low rating. I'm curious to how low you thought he should be. Let me paste a section of the article here. If his rank was a compromise, where did you want the guy who "led the Big Ten -- again -- in total offense, was responsible for 36 touchdowns, ran for more than 1,000 yards as a quarterback and led his team to an 11-2 record and BCS win?"

Paul from Escanaba, Mich., writes: Adam,You wanted Denard Robinson ranked lower than 16? Maybe behind that guard from Wisconsin?Well he might not be the protypical QB and did turn the ball over too much, his value to Michigan is undenialable and by the way they went 11-2. The do not beat Ohio St., Nebraska, ND without him. Not saying he is the best player in the league (Montee Ball this year), but he has to be in the top

J DePoy from Asheville, N.C., writes: Dear Adam,Why do you hate Denard Robinson? Your double-talking hypocrisy is dripping with lunacy; in one sentence you use words like "electrifying" and "Heisman Contender" to describe the most prolific athlete in the conference. But then you don't even rank him in the top 15? And you actually wanted to rank him "much lower"! You have laid your cards on the table, thus revealing your true ignorance. I can forgive your water boy golly shocks northwestern charm, but seriously ~ this nonsense blogging list pure vomit.

Adam Rittenberg: Let me make this clear: I don't hate Denard Robinson at all. He has been great to watch the past few seasons, and he's certainly one of the most exciting players in the country. I ranked him as the league's No. 3 player following the 2010 season. I don't believe he was one of the Big Ten's best in 2011, despite still being one of the league's most exciting. There's a difference. A guy can be "electrifying," but he can also make a lot of mistakes, as Robinson did in 2011. J, there's also a difference between calling Robinson a Heisman contender in September and then evaluating his entire season. I've never called Denard a Heisman contender in November.

Some folks I'm hearing from about this are blinded by the fact that many of Robinson's mistakes didn't lead to losses. It's rare to have a team go 11-2 with a quarterback who leads the league in interceptions (15) and completes only 55 percent of his passes. Michigan's defense repeatedly bailed out Robinson, and in some games, like the Northwestern contest, bought him enough time to rebound with some big plays and great overall production. He also got a lot of help from his receivers, like in the Sugar Bowl. Robinson had some huge performances, like Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, but he also struggled in the two losses and was fortunate his mistakes didn't lead to additional losses. If he can produce like he has the past few seasons and cut down on his mistakes, he'll be ranked much higher after the 2012 season.


Rand from Orlando writes: REALLY, Adam? Who do the FANS want as OC? I grew up on Iowa football in the 50's, 60's, 70's when the rallying cry was "wait til wrestling season!" Why do you think "In heaven there is no beer" became the student body anthem? Then I attended Iowa 76 - 77 and came back as a Naval Officer recruiter in1981. I'm hanging on tightly to my Ferentz-Hawkeye bandwagon seat. The fair-weather whiners ought to shut up and not love 'em because they win - love 'em because they're IOWA!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks for the perspective, Rand. Things certainly have been worse at Iowa, but I also understand fans' desire to see a dynamic play-caller come to Iowa City. Did Ken O'Keefe get too much criticism during his tenure? No doubt, but most offensive coordinators do. He did a nice job developing quarterbacks during his tenure. Fans like exciting play calls and guys who take chances. Those types of coordinators don't necessarily fit Kirk Ferentz and the way he runs a program. And that's OK, as Ferentz has had a lot of success. But I think it's more than fair for fans to question a hire or want an exciting play-caller, especially when the program seems to be trending down a bit.


Adam from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Michigan State will win over/under 22.5 games over the next two years. I say over based on schedule, depth chart, momentum, and these green glasses I am wearing.What say you Adam (great name).

Adam Rittenberg: Same to you, sir. That's a lot of wins in a two-year span, and it likely would mean Michigan State records four consecutive seasons of 10 or more wins. Although I like the momentum Mark Dantonio has generated and the way they're recruiting, I think it's likely the Spartans have a mini step back either in 2012 or 2013. Will Michigan State go 5-7? Highly unlikely. But I could see an 8-4 or something like that. So I'm going with the under but wouldn't be shocked if Michigan State goes over.


Josh from Nebraska writes: What do you make of Bo Pelini hiring an outside agency to help improve recruiting? Is this him admitting they are not getting the job done, or simply him trying to get better in every aspect of being a head coach? Fact is Nebraska is geographically challenged when it comes to recruiting and is at a huge disadvantage to many other programs. Do you think this will actually impact the Huskers recruiting success?

Adam Rittenberg: It's an interesting move, Josh. I think it's Bo trying to grow as a leader and take a different approach to a huge part of his job. I remember reading a piece from last March about Bo embracing his role as a CEO of the program, and how he had TD Ameritrade's CEO around the program for two years as an executive adviser. These are all steps he's taking to do his job better. People can view this latest step as an admission that Nebraska's recruiting could be better, but I think it's good to think outside the box, especially because, as you state, Nebraska faces some inherent hurdles in recruiting. The Nebraska brand simply isn't what it was in the mid to late 1990s. That's what happens when you don't win a conference title for a while. But the Nebraska tradition remains a great recruiting tool, along with superb facilities and other areas, but there are some challenges, too, especially in a new league? It'll be interesting to see what type of impact this approach has going forward.


Roger from Eagan, Minn., writes: Adam: Enjoyed the story about Troy, but even though it may seem trivial you should really correct the 6th year theme runing throughout. Troy never red-shirted and will entering his 5th year in the program. His situation is like Royston's only in that they both were granted medical waivers to play an additional year. In Kim's case that was his 6th year.

Adam Rittenberg: Roger, my apologies for the confusion. I did correctly state in the story that Stoudermire "had applied to the Big Ten for a medical hardship waiver for 2011, which would give him one more season of eligibility." I also used some examples of players applying for sixth years of eligibility (Kim Royston, Keith Smith). My point was to illustrate how the applications for both hardship waivers or sixth years are really crap shoots. You never know how they'll turn out. But I get how that might have been confusion, as Stoudermire, unlike Royston, never sat out a season.


Jim from PA writes: I've asked this question two different times to both you and Brian, so now that it's the off-season, maybe the fifth time is the charm. What is the official reason night games aren't played in November in the Big Ten? I'm assuming it's the weather? If that's the case, are the people who agreed to that aware that high school football is played at night in November?

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, I wrote about this back in May 2009, as it's something that has bothered Big Ten fans for some time. It's worth reposting some of the key points about the policy I gleaned from talking with Big Ten senior associate commissioner Mark Rudner at the 2009 spring meetings:
  • Weather certainly is a factor, but it's not the only factor. The Big Ten is simply not a conference that traditionally plays games at night, and that tradition still matters. There's no Tiger Stadium At Night in the Big Ten. Rudner noted that the league still plays night games in September and October and sees the value in doing so, but it doesn't lose much exposure because all of its games are nationally televised. He also really values the 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff time, which has become the Big Ten's showcase game in recent years.
  • Night games present a logistical nightmare that most fans can't fully comprehend. From getting fans in and out of mammoth stadiums to policing the areas -- all in potentially lousy weather -- these events present some tough obstacles. Though many of the same challenges are present with September and October night games, the November weather compounds things.
  • This is not a new policy. It has been in place for quite some time. The Big Ten has no plans to revisit the policy, and any change likely wouldn't be made until the league renews its TV contract in the distant future.

Again, it's not the explanation you or I want to hear, but it's worth reviewing.
During rare moments of free time, Troy Stoudermire thinks about all he has been through at Minnesota.

He set the team single-season record for kick return yards as a true freshman ... he moved from cornerback to wide receiver midway through the season ... he caught 26 passes for 306 yards as a sophomore ... he switched back to cornerback for his junior year ... he was suspended in September of his junior year and posted on Facebook that he wanted to transfer before deciding to stay days later ... he set team's career kick return yards record later that year ... he emerged as a playmaker the following spring for a new coaching staff ... he set the Big Ten career kick return yards record in the 2011 opener ... he started the first four games at cornerback before suffering a broken bone in his forearm that ended his season ... he waited to hear if his college career was over.

[+] EnlargeJerry Kill
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireTroy Stoudermire will join Jerry Kill and the Gophers for a sixth season.
"I've definitely thought about it," Stoudermire recently told ESPN.com, "but I try to leave that in the past and just look at the future."

The time for reflection hasn't come for Stoudermire. It could have, if Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel had different news when he called Stoudermire on a Friday in January.

Stoudermire had applied to the Big Ten for a medical hardship waiver for 2011, which would give him one more season of eligibility. Applications for hardship waivers or sixth years of eligibility can go either way. Stoudermire's teammate Kim Royston got good news last January, while Purdue wide receiver Keith Smith was denied a sixth year. It's a crap shoot.

"I was very anxious," Stoudermire said. "I was actually in Dallas at home with my mom, just waiting for the call, waiting for my coach to let me know something. I was calling him every week to see what the status was. He was telling me they hadn't gotten back to him."

Stoudermire initially had been optimistic about his request, but he began to wonder whether he had played too many games in the 2011 season to qualify. He called Royston, who told him to be patient.

The call finally came Jan. 13, and with it, relief.

"I had nothing to say," Stoudermire said. "I was just super excited."

Stoudermire said the good news has helped him relax and focus more on school and football. He has never felt healthier during his college career, which can be traced in part to the long layoff he had last season.

When Minnesota opens spring practice March 22, Stoudermire will lead the secondary.

"It's a blessing to get another chance to come back and play another year," he said. "Coming back this year is real big. I know the defense, I had a full spring and a few games to play at corner, and when I come back this year, I should be better."

Stoudermire stood out during spring practice in 2011, especially because of the big hits he delivered. Minnesota practiced at a frenzied pace, using two sets of offensive players against the defense to run as many plays as possible. Stoudermire embraced the accelerated practices, and when the games began in the fall, he felt the pace was actually slower.

Stoudermire started strong, recording 24 tackles, two interceptions, three tackles for loss and three pass breakups in the first four games. But then the injury surfaced in a loss to North Dakota State, and Minnesota struggled without him, finishing 11th in the league in pass-efficiency defense (148.8) and recording a league-low four interceptions.

In fact, Stoudermire's interceptions total led the team as only two others recorded picks.

Royston was one of few bright spots on defense, making the most of his sixth season with a team-high 123 tackles. Minnesota needs Stoudermire to take a similar path in 2012 and lead an unproven group of defensive backs.

Stoudermire welcomes the role, helping his teammates during captains' practices and winter workouts.

"All the guys look up to me and call me," he said. "I let them know everything on the field. I set up meetings. I'm definitely taking that leader role, and I'm proud to say I'm the leader of the DBs right now."

Not a bad title to add to a unique career.

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 24, 2012
1/24/12
10:00
AM ET
Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.
The offseason is upon us, and earlier today Brian took a look at the to-do lists for each team in the Leaders Division. Let's now turn the attention to the Legends Division and what teams need to accomplish during the next seven-plus months.

As a reminder, these items aren't recruiting needs, which we'll address in the near future, but rather areas each team needs to repair or restock before Aug. 31 or Sept. 1.

Iowa
  • Reverse the RB curse: Iowa's inability to retain promising running backs is well documented, and the Hawkeyes now must replace prolific sophomore Marcus Coker, who led the Big Ten in carries per game last fall (23.4 a game). The team has shown it produces capable backs, and several players either already on the roster or entering the mix could emerge. But it's critical that Iowa develops multiple options in the backfield in case injuries crop up or the AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back-Hating God) decides to strike again.
  • Replenish the defensive line: A year after replacing three NFL draft picks from the defensive line, Iowa once again has to restock in its front four. The team loses three starters, including standout tackle Mike Daniels, and has very little proven experience back in the fold. Defensive line historically has been an area of strength for Iowa, but the team's new defensive coordinator (yet to be named) and the staff must make the front four a focal point as they try to identify difference-makers.
Michigan
  • Shore up the middle: Baseball general managers talk about the need to build a team up the middle. The same theory applies to football as teams that are strong in the center of both lines typically fare well. Michigan must replace two of the nation's best interior linemen in center David Molk, the Rimington Trophy winner, and defensive tackle Mike Martin. Both are NFL prospects and will be missed. The Wolverines need Will Campbell, Quinton Washington and others to emerge at defensive tackle. The center spot could be even more critical as coordinator Al Borges relied so heavily on Molk in 2011.
  • Tightening "Shoelace": Michigan won 11 games and a BCS bowl this past season despite enduring "good Denard, bad Denard" fluctuation at the quarterback position. Looking at the Wolverines' daunting 2012 schedule, they'll have no such luxury when September rolls around. They need Denard Robinson to perform like a senior and show good consistency and improved comfort in the offense. He'll need to cut down on turnovers and deliver more performances like the one we saw against Ohio State on Nov. 26.
Michigan State
  • Develop Andrew Maxwell: Michigan State returns the league's most dynamic defense and should be improved in the run game, too. The big question is whether or not the Spartans can replace quarterback Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and a three-time captain. Andrew Maxwell has been groomed for the role and, barring a surprise, will lead the offense in September. It's a big offseason for Maxwell to establish himself in his own way and build chemistry with his teammates, particularly a new-look receiving corps.
  • Take line play to next level: Head coach Mark Dantonio understands that Big Ten success is tied to excellent play along both lines. The Spartans' defensive line looked elite at times in 2011, particularly when William Gholston and Jerel Worthy decided to dominate. Worthy is off to the NFL, and the Spartans will be looking to build more depth in the interior alongside Anthony Rashad White. More important, Michigan State must take a big step on the offensive line, a unit that lacked experience in 2011. The Spartans can't expect to win 11 games again with the nation's 78th-ranked rushing offense. They've established their identity on defense; it's time to return to their roots on offense and pound green pound.
Minnesota
  • Establish a defensive identity: Gophers coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to have an aggressive, pressuring defense, but the team had only 19 sacks and 61 tackles for loss in 2011. Those numbers need to increase and Minnesota must identify more playmakers along a defensive line that returns mostly intact. Keanon Cooper and Mike Rallis will lead the linebackers, but Minnesota's defense needs a new quarterback after the departure of productive safety Kim Royston.
  • MarQueis to the max: We've seen snippets of brilliance from quarterback MarQueis Gray, but at other times he looks lost and fails to complete most of his passes (50.7 percent for the season). Minnesota needs to lean on Gray in 2012, not just as a difference-maker, but as a consistent leader every Saturday. Gray enters his second offseason in the system, and his days of splitting time between quarterback and wide receiver are in the rear-view mirror. He's the leader of this football team, and he needs to make the necessary strides to elevate his game.
Nebraska
  • Star search: Nebraska's defense loses two of the nation's best in linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. The Huskers don't necessarily need their replacements to be stars, but they need difference makers to emerge on a unit that fell short of expectations in 2011. Defensive line figures to be a very strong area for Big Red, and players like Baker Steinkuhler and Cameron Meredith will be called upon to lead the way. Nebraska also must make some adjustments to better handle the big, physical offenses in the Big Ten. Linebacker is one position that could use a makeover.
  • Maturity on offense: Running back Rex Burkhead is exempt from this, as he figures to have a huge senior season after making big strides in 2011. But Nebraska's offense has plenty of players that need to mature for the unit to reach its potential this coming season. The offensive line was green at spots and should benefit from another offseason in Tim Beck's system. Nebraska has young talent at wide receiver with Kenny Bell, Quincy Enunwa and Jamal Turner. If the wideouts can grow up, they'll be dangerous weapons in 2012. Quarterback Taylor Martinez also fits in here. He showed some good things in 2011, but must perform more like a third-year starter next fall.
Northwestern
  • Find playmakers on defense: Northwestern lacked difference-makers on defense this past season and loses one in All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters, who led the league with five interceptions. This might never be a shut-down defense, but it needs to identify more players who can influence games. Northwestern returns nine defensive starters and will look to players like defensive end Tyler Scott and safety Ibraheim Campbell to take their game to the next level. The Wildcats recorded a league-low 17 sacks in 2011 and ranked 104th nationally in tackles for loss (59).
  • Figure out the quarterback situation: Offensive coordinator Mick McCall has been masterful in turning inexperienced quarterbacks into All-Big Ten players at Northwestern. His next major project likely will be Kain Colter, who filled in admirably last season, but looked limited as a passer, and at times seemed better suited to play wide receiver. Colter will compete with Trevor Siemian and Zack Oliver for the starting job this spring. If he can make a similar jump as his Wildcats predecessors, he could be one of the division's most dangerous players in 2012.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 17, 2012
1/17/12
6:00
PM ET
Bring it.

Nicholas from West Des Moines, Iowa, writes: can we PLEASE get a replacement announced for norm parker already?! ... and why is everyone so concerned with derby leaving? we seem fine at the QB position, shouldn't we be worrying about getting a RB and filling in the gaps left on defense?

Adam Rittenberg: Nicholas, I definitely hear ya on the Norm Parker replacement. Iowa's job posting for an assistant coach expires Jan. 26, so hopefully we'll get an announcement by then. Regarding A.J. Derby's departure, I think the reaction stems more from Iowa losing several players in recent weeks, most notably star running back Marcus Coker. Also, Derby arrived with a ton of hype and immediately became a fan favorite. Fans hate to see highly touted recruits not pan out or transfer, and some see Derby's departure as a sign of a systematic problem at Iowa. But on the whole, I agree that replacing Coker and bolstering the defense, especially the line, are bigger issues for the Hawkeyes right now.


Ed from Rochester Hills, Mich., writes: So the Basketball coach at Iowa throws a chair and Commishioner Delaney's response is "The conference did not ask for, nor did the conference expect, an apology from the coach. The conference is primarily focused on future conduct, not statements of apology." Pat Narduzzi makes a comment about 60 minutes of unnecessary roughness and MSU Athletic Director Mark Hollis is required to admonish the MSU coach by the commish.I am detecting a double standard by Delaney.

Adam Rittenberg: Ed, while you make an interesting point, there are some differences with the Narduzzi situation. For starters, it was a quote to media members rather than an outburst during a game. Also, some interpreted the quote as being directed toward an opponent, Michigan. McCaffery's chair-throwing was done in front of his own team after an argument with officials. The Hawkeyes' opponent, Michigan State, had nothing to do with it. While we can debate whether Narduzzi's comment was taken out of context, you are usually going to see a stronger response from the league to something someone says or does that's directed toward an opponent. You saw similar responses to player unsportslike conduct violations directed toward opponents.


Samuel from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, to answer your question about coaches, I prefer my coaches have some positive character rather than bad character or zero character. Iowa's Fran McCaffery has not crossed a line in my opinion. Slamming a chair is one thing. Bob Knight style kicking, choking, head butting and throwing chairs onto the court is something different altogether.

Adam Rittenberg: Samuel, thanks for your response. I agree that it's fine for coaches to show some emotion on the sideline. It's an emotional game, and coaches can sometimes light fires under their teams but showing some fire themselves. I don't have a major issue with what McCaffery did. He didn't direct any of it toward Iowa's opponent. But it's something you don't want to see every game or every few games.


Jeff from West Chester, Ohio, writes: Should Purdue fans be concerned that Danny Hope hasn't hired replacements for Emanuel and Elmassian? Signing day is approaching and I fear defensive recruits from the surprisingly good class may waver.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, it has been extremely quiet on the Purdue coaching front. The team hasn't officially announced the departures of Gary Emanuel and Phil Elmassian, although neither are listed on the official roster. Although most of Purdue's 2012 class plays offense, recruits always want to know which direction the team is headed on both sides of the ball. Although Purdue didn't have a great year on defense in 2011, Emanuel's ouster is a bit surprising. Danny Hope has a former defensive coordinator, Donn Landholm, still on staff, but he'll be looking to replace two veteran assistants.


Elliot from East Richfield, Minn., writes: With Troy Stoudermire being granted another year for the Minnesota Gophers, the Gophers seem to have their cornerbacks pretty set with Stoudermire and Brock Vereen, among others. However, both safety positions are unsettled.Who do you see emerging at safety for the Gophers? James Manuel and maybe Michael Carter? Maybe some newcomers will get a chance to play?

Adam Rittenberg: Elliot, I really think Minnesota will enter spring practice with most of its starting spots open on defense. We heard some good things about Manuel in 2010, when he started three games, but he played strictly as a reserve in 2011, recording 11 tackles in 12 games. Carter was one of Minnesota's top recruits under former coach Tim Brewster, but he hasn't really panned out. There certainly will be opportunities for players to step up in the defensive backfield, as the Gophers must replace Kim Royston's production at safety. Remember that Minnesota also signed three junior college defensive backs. Those guys weren't brought in to sit on the bench.


Clayton from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Adam -- Thanks for your article regarding coaches sideline demeanor. It would be fun to see you and Brian have a "blog blow-up" once in a while! All jokes aside, I get tired of hearing people rant about Bo Pelini's sideline behavior. As a former college football player, I feel strongly that a passionate coach is not uncommon and actually appreciated by the players. Nebraska fans too soon forget how reserved and soft Bill Calhahan was, almost as though he didn't care enough. Bo had his issue at A&M in 2010, had a very professional apology, and has sense cleaned up his act. Can we put it to bed or are we going to keep talking about this? "cue TV panning to BO getting all red faced and mad on the sideline, chomping his gum"

Adam Rittenberg: Clayton, thanks for your perspective. It's always interesting to ask how a coach's sideline behavior affects his team. Sometimes it certainly seems to fire up players in the right way. Other times, it seems like a coach who seems out of control leads to a team playing a bit recklessly. While I see your point about Pelini's issue at A&M being in the past, I don't think he'll be able to avoid the cameras on the sideline. No coach really escapes them these days, and TV folks are looking for reactions. I think Bo seemed calmer for the most part this season, although he was none too pleased, for obvious reasons, in the Capital One Bowl loss. While I don't believe a coach has to stomp around and scream at officials to show he cares more, I think players want to see some response from the man leading them.


Alan from Evansville, Ind., writes: Hey Adam, What should IU fans make of all the departures from the IU football team, which appears to be a continuing trend with Wright-Baker and Kiel leaving the team this week? Is this a healthy sign that shows Wilson is making sure he has the kids he wants to work with, or is this a sign that something (or many things) are wrong in Bloomington and with this new coaching staff? Additionally, do you think these departures will have a negative impact on the school's ability to recruit going forward?

Adam Rittenberg: Alan, these things can go either way. You always have some attrition after a coaching change, even some delayed attrition like we're seeing with Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. The offensive direction seems pretty clear with Tre Roberson returning and Seth Littrell coming as as coordinator, and while Wright-Baker and Kiel would have provided some depth, their playing-time options seemed limited, especially with Cameron Coffman coming in from a juco. You see quarterbacks transfer more than those at other positions because of the playing-time issue. Now is Kevin Wilson a tough guy to play for? He's a brutally honest guy. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. His style might not jive with certain players. But I think once he gets his guys in there, he'll be pretty successful at IU.
Minnesota received some good news on Friday, as the NCAA approved the medical hardship waiver for cornerback Troy Stoudermire, allowing him to return for a fifth season.

Stoudermire played in only four games before suffering a season-ending arm injury in 2011. He had 24 tackles and two interceptions before getting hurt.

He has played both offense and defense during his career and was a standout on special teams, where he led the Big Ten in kick returns as a true freshman. He broke the all-time Big Ten return yards record during the second game of the season against New Mexico State.

Stoudermire's return gives the Gophers some much-needed experience in the secondary, where safety Kim Royston departs. Like Stoudermire, Royston got an extra season because of a medical waiver. He went on to have a huge final year at Minnesota. Perhaps Stoudermire can do the same

Big Ten mailblog

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
5:30
PM ET
The season might be over, but the mail never stops.

Let's do this.

Mike from Phoenix writes: As a Badger fan I was waiting to see your final power rankings of the year because I had a feeling that you might make MSU number 1. I just don't get it. It's the same way the coaches poll has MSU and Michigan ahead of Wisconsin. That's a joke.Look at the teams everyone played in the bowl season. MSU barely beat Georgia who is not the 2nd best team in the SEC even though they went to the title game. They are the 4th best team in that league. Michigan looked bad, and played one of the easiest teams in BCS history. Wisconsin would have destroyed both Georgia and Va. Tech, but you are penalizing them for going blow for blow with the most talented offensive team in the country. They were a fumble away from possibly winning.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian and I had a spirited debate about Wisconsin vs. Michigan State for No. 1. You can make good cases for both teams, but you can't base it solely on the bowl competition. Would Wisconsin have rolled Georgia? Maybe, maybe not. Georgia has a much better defense than Oregon and would have moved the ball against a Wisconsin defense that wasn't nearly as good as its stats indicated. Wisconsin also was extremely fortunate to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten title game, which the Spartans dominated for stretches. The two teams are evenly matched, as their two games this season showed. And I believe Michigan State ended the season playing better football than Wisconsin. I also tend to value teams with good to great defenses above those that rely on their offense. Michigan State is certainly superior to Wisconsin on defense.


Tim from Iowa writes: While it might get you some back lash, I'd like your opinion on this.....me and several friends have the opinion that if 2 B10 teams(esp in our champ game) played like LSU-Bama, the B10 would once again be ripped for 3 yards/cloud of dust 1950's football. I watched parts ofthe game last night, then the final 8min. what I saw was one great def, 2 bad quaterbacks, a very repeative ineffective O from LSU, and Iowa/B10 style ball control from Bama. then Saban being proclaimed the next "Bear".

Adam Rittenberg: Tim, you're right to a degree, although there was less SEC love about the national title game than there was about the 9-6 contest. The SEC in a sense has earned the right to have ugly games because teams from other leagues simply haven't stacked up against the SEC's best. The common belief is that while Oklahoma State would have scored against Alabama, the Tide still would have rolled the Cowboys by 20-30 points. But I agree the SEC is the only league that can "get away" with games like last night's. Most people would much rather see games like the Rose Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl. Alabama is a great football team with one of the best defenses I've ever seen. But LSU's offense would be mediocre to bad in most leagues, not just the SEC.


Ryan from Pittsburgh writes: Adam,What are your thoughts on the new Penn State staff? I have to admit I'm somewhat surprised. For years I thought that PSU would turn the corner if they could only get a younger fresher staff in place to energize recruiting. This new staff that O'Brien has coming in is not young at all, so I doubt they're great recruiters. Plus any Auburn fan will tell you that Roof was fired. Mack Brown fired McWhorter last year. Am I overreacting?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Ryan. A lot of veteran assistants are joining Bill O'Brien in State College. Keeping Larry Johnson is huge and a somewhat obvious move. He's one of the Big Ten's top recruiters, and he'll maintain Penn State's presence in the Maryland/DC area. His age isn't a factor in that regard. Ted Roof is the hire that has some Penn State fans upset. I agree he doesn't have the best track record, but the overall defensive staff with both Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden still looks solid to me. Charles London is a younger guy (mid-30s), but he's definitely the junior member right now. It'll be interesting to see who O'Brien hires to fill out the staff. Some more youth would be nice.


Jeff from Omaha, writes: Adam? Why am I so awesome?

Adam Rittenberg: Ask myself the same thing every morning.


Sam from Kalamazoo, Mich., writes: Adam, can you please explain your rationale for naming MSU as an early favorite to win the B1G in 2012 over, say, Michigan? The Wolverines return two 1,000 yard rushers in Denard and Fitz Toussaint, 3 starting receivers, and a top-5 recruiting class loaded with 4 and 5 star DLs, LBs, and OLs. Molk, Van Bergen, and Martin will be sorely missed, but I'm not sure it makes sense that MSU is so ramped for success after losing 6 All-Big Ten players and playing in the Big House. Can you even name next year's replacement for mighty Kirk Cousins off the top of your head?

Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Sam. Andrew Maxwell. Michigan State has been grooming him the past two seasons. Will he be as good as Cousins? That's a tall order, but he's not coming out of nowhere. Michigan State is my pick because of its defense. While Jerel Worthy is a big loss, the Spartans return a ton of elite athletes in all three levels, players like Will Gholston, Denicos Allen, Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. The Spartans have more difference-makers on defense than Michigan will in 2011, at least in my view. I also believe MSU will be a more effective running team than it was this season because of an experienced line and a strong lead back in Le'Veon Bell. I certainly could see Michigan winning the division, but the Wolverines have a much tougher schedule in 2012 and could have a better team with a worse record (much like MSU this season versus 2010).


Ben from Fargo, N.D., writes: One of the big stories in 2012 will be a surprising improvement in Minnesota's defensive line play. Ask Jerry Kill about Thieren Cockran. He's coach Kill's secret weapon.

Adam Rittenberg: Will do, Ben. Thanks for the note. Minnesota's defensive line play has struggled since Willie VanDeSteeg departed following the 2008 season. Gophers have ranked and 78th, 120th and 86th nationally in sacks in the past three seasons. It's an area of focus throughout the offseason as Minnesota loses linebacker Gary Tinsley and standout safety Kim Royston. Cockran, a redshirt freshman defensive end from Florida, is among those who needs to step up in 2012.


Matt from Burbank, Calif., writes: Hi Adam,Regarding Northwestern next year, do you think Kain Colter gets the starting QB job? I've been of the opinion that he is more dangerous in a utility role as he was used these season, but on the other hand he's proven he can win and be effective as the top guy. Additionally, do you think there's any hope for this defense?Thanks for a great season, can't wait till next year! Bowl win or bust!

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I think Colter will be the starter for 2012, but he has to make some important strides as a passer during the offseason. Northwestern's offense is predicated on short passing and accuracy. The Wildcats convert a lot of third downs, and Colter has to be able to make the throws Dan Persa, Mike Kafka and C.J. Bacher have made in recent years. He's the best athlete Northwestern ever has had at quarterback, and he's a perfect fit for the spread -- as long as he gets better as a passer. If there's little to no progress, Northwestern will have to use another quarterback, likely Trevor Siemian, to spark the passing game. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall has developed quarterbacks well at Northwestern, and Colter is his next big project.


Kevin from New Orleans writes: It's been a tough couple weeks to be a Badger. Lost the Rose Bowl, lost 3 straight in hoops, lost 5 coaches. First let me say, if Bielama has Barry's confidence and support, then he has mine. Have you heard anything? Are the Badgers getting some really good coaches? I doubt we'll get anybody that can match the talent we are losing, but maybe we get an upgrade on the recruiting. 4 of the 5 coaches that left were not good recruiters. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, while it's tough right now, I think Wisconsin fans should have faith in Bret Bielema to make some good hires. As you note, Joe Rudolph is the only major loss from a recruiting standpoint. Bielema has made good choices in the past, such as defensive coordinator Dave Doeren (now head coach at Northern Illinois), Dave Huxtable (did a great job with UW linebackers in only year) and Chris Ash (has upgraded secondary, now defensive coordinator). It'll be interesting to see where he turns to replace Paul Chryst and Bob Bostad, but a lot of good coaches will want to come to Madison after seeing what Wisconsin has done the past few years. So I would look at Bielema's hiring track record and feel confident.


Lance from Arlington writes: "While Penn State has produced some solid college quarterbacks -- most recently Daryll Clark, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year"While your opinion is correct in general, saying Daryll Clark was solid does him an injustice. DC (along with Drew Brees) was the best QB the Big Ten has had since Kerry Collins and Michael Robinson is right there. Simply put, Penn State has produced three of the top five QB's to have competed in the Big Ten since their arrival. You will no doubt disagree since you hate Penn State but you are wrong.

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I don't hate Penn State. I hate every school according to you folks. Let's get that cleared up. I was a big Daryll Clark fan during his career, but your argument doesn't hold up. Troy Smith won a Heisman Trophy in 2006. He played between Brees and Clark. Iowa's Brad Banks won the Davey O'Brien award in 2002. He played between Brees and Clark. While Clark led the Big Ten in pass efficiency in conference games in 2009 (136.6), it's the lowest rating for a Big Ten leader since at least 1980. His season rating that year (142.6) didn't lead the league (Terrelle Pryor did) and ranks behind all of the league leaders since 1980. Again, not hating on Daryll, who has a really nice career in State College, as did Michael Robinson. But there have been better Big Ten quarterbacks since Kerry Collins, including Wisconsin's Russell Wilson this year.
The Big Ten power rankings saw plenty of shuffling throughout the 2011 regular season, and the bowls brought some more movement. There's a new No. 1 team atop the rankings, and several squads helped or hurt themselves in the final analysis. We had a tough decision for the top spot between Michigan State and Wisconsin but went with the team that ended on a stronger note. The Badgers land the No. 2 spot ahead of Michigan, while there's a significant drop-off after No. 3.

The overall depth in the Big Ten isn't as good as we thought it would be entering the year, although the league packed more punch than it did in 2010.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Michigan State (11-3): The Spartans ended a very good season on a high note, rallying to force overtime against Georgia in the Outback Bowl and winning in dramatic fashion during the third extra session. Mark Dantonio recorded his first bowl win as Spartans coach and quarterback Kirk Cousins went out on top, but the MSU defense carried the day in Tampa. Although the Spartans didn't win the Big Ten title, they looked like the league's top squad during the bowl season and could be the conference favorite entering 2012.

2. Wisconsin (11-3): It's amazing that a team this talented found ways to lose three games. As Badgers running back Montee Ball said after the Rose Bowl, "If you take a minute off our season, we'd probably be undefeated." But a few key plays in all three defeats leave Wisconsin wondering what if? Credit Wisconsin for winning the Big Ten and making consecutive Rose Bowl appearances. Ball and Russell Wilson were brilliant all season. But you have to wonder if Wisconsin has missed its window of opportunity.

3. Michigan (11-2): Winning is all that matters, and while we're still figuring out how the Wolverines prevailed in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, they walked away as victors to cap a rebound season under first-year coach Brady Hoke. Michigan's seniors came through in their final game, as receiver Junior Hemingway made two terrific touchdown catches and defensive linemen Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin helped keep Virginia Tech out of the end zone. It added up to Michigan's first BCS bowl win since the 2000 Orange. While we don't know how a Wisconsin-Michigan matchup would turn out, we think Wisconsin had the stronger overall season.

4. Nebraska (9-4): While it's tempting to drop the Huskers more after they melted down against South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl, there's really no other team to put in this spot. Nebraska had its great moments in its first Big Ten go-round and had talent in all three phases, but the team seemed too fragile at times. Three of Nebraska's four losses came by 17 points or more. Huskers fans aren't pleased with head coach Bo Pelini at the moment, and Pelini and his staff enter a crucial offseason.

5. Penn State (9-4): Here's another team that ended its season with a thud, although one that many expected after nearly two months of turmoil. A December locker-room scuffle left Penn State without starting quarterback Matthew McGloin (concussion), and the offense sputtered against a mediocre Houston defense in the TicketCity Bowl. Many of us expected more from the Nittany Lions' defense, but Case Keenum carved up Penn State in a 30-14 victory. The Bill O'Brien era now begins in Happy Valley, and Penn State has a chance to make noise in a wide-open division in 2012.

6. Purdue (7-6): We don't want to overvalue a bowl win against Western Michigan, but Purdue ended the season with consecutive victories for the first time in 2011. The Boilers' run game surged even without top running back Ralph Bolden (knee), as Akeem Shavers racked up 149 rush yards behind a punishing offensive line. Special teams also proved to be a big difference for Purdue, which converted two onside kicks and had a kick return for a touchdown by Raheem Mostert. Purdue still makes too many major mistakes, but the program enters the offseason with some much-needed momentum.

7. Iowa (7-6): For the second straight year Iowa hoped an Insight Bowl win would take the sting off of a disappointing season. This time, however, the Hawkeyes fell short in Tempe as Oklahoma shut down a Marcus Coker-less offense for three quarters. Iowa's defense performed admirably for retiring coordinator Norm Parker, but the offense lacked enough firepower and made too many mistakes against the Sooners. The Hawkeyes failed to capitalize on a favorable schedule and now reach a crossroads in 2012 in what should once again be a tough division.

8. Ohio State (6-7): A forgettable season in Columbus ended with a forgettable result, as Ohio State fell to Florida in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl because of special-teams breakdowns and not enough offense. The offense finished the season ranked 108th nationally in yards (318.2 ypg). Ohio State suffered its first seven-loss season since 1897 and ended with its first four-game losing streak since 1943. Can't see the Buckeyes being this far down for very long as new coach Urban Meyer inherits a young roster with the potential to make significant strides in 2012.

9. Illinois (7-6): A turbulent month ended with Illinois winning the Bizarro Bowl, er, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, to record postseason wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in team history. Credit interim coach Vic Koenning for keeping the team united and a very good defense focused for the bowl game. Still, beating a sub-.500 UCLA team only earns you so much, and Illinois still had a very disappointing season relative to expectations in August. New coach Tim Beckman now steps in to try to get the program to the next level beginning in 2012.

10. Northwestern (6-7): The monkey will be wearing a No. 64 jersey in 2012 as Northwestern failed to end its 63-year bowl losing streak. The Wildcats now have dropped nine straight bowls, tying Notre Dame's for the longest postseason slide in FBS history. While the Wildcats' defense had its typical problems, the offense didn't show up for nearly three quarters and put the team in a hole against a superior Texas A&M squad. Northwestern has now seen its wins total drop in each of the past three seasons.

11. Minnesota (3-9): As the Gophers watched bowl season from their couches for the second straight year, the focus turns to how Minnesota can improve in 2012. Quarterback MarQueis Gray leads an offense that should be more fluid in its second year in the system. The bigger questions are on defense, as Minnesota allowed 31.7 points per game and 403.1 yards per game. Safety Kim Royston is a significant loss, and Minnesota must find a way to generate a better pass rush in 2012.

12. Indiana (1-11): The youth movement this past fall should pay off in some fashion for Indiana in 2012, and it's not a stretch to suggest the Hoosiers will make noise on offense. But as we have stated over and over, Indiana's Big Ten breakthrough only will take place when the defense takes significant steps in all three levels. The defense has to be the focus throughout the offseason after Indiana ranked 109th or worse nationally in four major statistical categories (total defense, scoring defense, rushing defense, pass efficiency defense).

2011 Big Ten Super Seniors

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
5:00
PM ET
Borrowing an idea from our friends at the SEC blog, I wanted to recognize some of the best seniors in the Big Ten in 2011.

To spread the love around, the following list features one senior from each Big Ten team. I really looked for guys who saved their best for last, took their game to the next level and performed consistently all season. There are obviously more standout seniors than the ones mentioned below, but these players all deserve some recognition.

[+] EnlargeB.J. Cunningham
Mike Carter/US PresswireSpartans receiver B.J. Cunningham is one of several of ESPN.com's Big Ten Super Seniors.
Here's the list, in alphabetical order:

Michigan State WR B.J. Cunningham: He took the step from good (50 catches, 611 receiving yards, 9 TDs) to great (72 catches, 1,240 yards, 12 TDs) this season. He eclipsed 100 receiving yards in both games against Wisconsin and went for 154 yards on nine catches against Ohio State. His 17.2 yards-per-reception average was tops among the Big Ten's leading receivers. Cunningham became a very hard player to contain on the outside.

Nebraska LB Lavonte David: He played only two seasons in Lincoln but won't soon be forgotten. David didn't match his team record tackles total from 2010 (152) but still had 122 stops, the third-highest total in the Big Ten. He also become more of a difference-maker, making the critical plays for the Huskers in wins like Ohio State. David led Nebraska in tackles for loss (11) and finished second in sacks (3.5). He also had two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins: The Illini offense disappeared in the second half, but Jenkins' accomplishments shouldn't go unnoticed. He went from a decent receiver to one of the best in the Big Ten, recording a league-best 82 receptions for 1,197 yards and seven touchdowns. Although Jenkins did much of his damage in the first six games, he still recorded six or more receptions in nine games and at least four catches in all 12 regular-season contests. He accounted for 53.3 percent of the team's receiving yards, the most nationally by eight percent.

Purdue LT Dennis Kelly: The offensive linemen deserve some love on this list, and Kelly stabilized Purdue's front five in his third season as a starter. Kelly started every game for the third consecutive season, giving him 37 career starts, and anchored a Purdue line that helped the team rank fifth in the league in rushing (181.6 ypg) and third in first downs (20.5 per game). Kelly finished his career as a bowl champion as Purdue captured the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Tuesday night.

Iowa WR Marvin McNutt: McNutt had been a productive pass-catcher for Iowa, but he took his game to the next level this season. The Big Ten's best receiver recorded 78 receptions for 1,269 yards and 12 touchdowns. He had eight 100-yard receiving performances and four games with multiple touchdown catches. McNutt also made the best catch of the Big Ten season against Michigan State on Nov. 12.

Northwestern S Brian Peters: It was a very rough year for the Wildcats' secondary, but it would have been even worse without Peters' contributions. He made by far the most big plays for the unit, recording four interceptions, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Peters finished second on the team in tackles (85) and had four tackles for loss, four pass breakups and a sack.

Minnesota S Kim Royston: Talk about a player who made the most of his final opportunity. Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, Royston turned in a terrific season, leading Minnesota and finishing third in the Big Ten with 123 tackles, 36 more than any other Gophers defender. Royston had an interception, two pass breakups and a sack. He recorded double digits in tackles in eight contests and provided leadership for a unit that needed it.

[+] EnlargeDevin Still
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PresswirePenn State defensive tackle Devin Still was more than a handful for opposing blockers in 2011.
Penn State DT Devon Still: Brian and I look like fools (yeah, it happens a lot) for leaving Still off of our preseason top 25 player rankings. But he wasn't nearly the same player in 2010 as he turned out to be this fall. The Lions star put it all together to win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. A disruptive force that put strain on every opposing offensive line, Still recorded 17 tackles for loss, tied for fourth in the Big Ten. He had 4.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, and his stats hardly tell the full story. No Big Ten player better fits the definition of Super Senior.

Ohio State LB Andrew Sweat: It wasn't a typical year for Ohio State's senior class, as several key players missed chunks of the season because of suspensions. Sweat stepped up his play for a mostly young defense, though, and contributed 68 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, an interception and three pass breakups. The Buckeyes sorely missed him in their final two games, when he sat out with head and elbow injuries.

Indiana LB Jeff Thomas: Youth was served all season at Indiana, which played more young players than any FBS team this season. But Thomas did his part on a flawed defense, leading the squad in both tackles (80) and tackles for loss (10.5). He added three pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery. The junior-college transfer has been one of few bright spots for Indiana's defense the past two seasons.

Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen: Many Wolverines defenders benefited from a new coaching staff and a new scheme, but perhaps none more than Van Bergen. He led the team in both tackles for loss (12) and sacks (5) and finished second with three fumble recoveries. Van Bergen finished the season playing his best football, recording seven tackles for loss in the final three games.

Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson: He came to Madison as a senior and turned in one of the more memorable offensive performances in team history. Although Wilson had put up big numbers at NC State, he became a much more efficient quarterback with the Badgers, completing 72.5 percent of his passes with 31 touchdowns and only three interceptions in 284 attempts. He ranked second nationally in pass efficiency (191.6), trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Wilson earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Season report card: Minnesota

December, 15, 2011
12/15/11
4:00
PM ET
It's time to pass out grades for Minnesota's 2011 season.

OFFENSE: D

The Gophers showed a few promising flashes down the stretch, but they struggled offensively for most of the season. They ranked last in the Big Ten in both scoring (18.4 ppg) and total offense (310.3 ypg) and never scored more than 30 points in a game. Quarterback MarQueis Gray ran the ball well at times but struggled as a passer, completing barely half of his attempts with as many interceptions (8) as touchdown strikes. To be fair, Gray was transitioning to quarterback after a year at wide receiver and had to adjust to a new system. He should be better in 2012. The key will be developing weapons around him as several young players, including receivers Malcolm Moulton and Marcus Jones, got their feet wet this year.

DEFENSE: D

The unit entered the season with question marks and didn't provide many answers until the final five contests, two of which resulted in victories (Iowa and Illinois). Minnesota ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in all the major defensive statistical categories. Despite some experience at linebacker and an excellent safety in senior Kim Royston, the Gophers' youth showed up front and in the secondary. The good news is Minnesota saved its best performance for the final game -- allowing just seven points and 160 yards to Illinois -- and should carry a bit of momentum into a crucial offseason.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

The kicking game was one of Minnesota's strengths this season. Minnesota ranked second in the Big Ten in kickoff coverage and third in punt coverage. The Gophers were nonfactors on punt returns but finished fifth in the league in kick return average (23.4 ypr) and had a league-high two touchdowns as Jones and Duane Bennett both reached paydirt. Jordan Wettstein was perfect on field goals after relieving Chris Hawthorne, while the punting was average.

OVERALL: D

Minnesota looked like the nation's worst major-conference team until its breakthrough win against Iowa (the Gophers happily turned the title over to fellow Big Ten member Indiana). First-year coach Jerry Kill had a tough year both on the field and with his health issues, but both he and his players kept fighting. The Gophers did some nice things down the stretch and built a bit of momentum for the offseason. There's a chance to improve as players will be more familiar with Kill and his staff, but after back-to-back 3-9 seasons, Minnesota has a long way to go.

SPONSORED HEADLINES