Big Ten: Kraig Urbik

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Everything on offense starts with what happens up front, and line play will make or break the season for several Big Ten teams. The league loses a handful of standout linemen, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley, but several teams should reload nicely.

There's a lot to like about the top three, and I don't see any truly bad units in the league.

1. Iowa -- Shonn Greene was the nation's most dominant running back last year, but he had plenty of help. Iowa returns three starters and several key reserves from a line that propelled Greene to 13 consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Junior Bryan Bulaga is the league's premier left tackle, while Kyle Calloway provides depth on the other side. The Hawkeyes boast more guard depth than any Big Ten team, a group that includes Dace Richardson, who has resurrected his career after a string of injuries.

2. Ohio State -- A major disappointment in 2008, Ohio State's line should be much improved thanks to experience, the addition of guard Justin Boren and some excellent recruiting. Boren brings a much-needed spark to the line and impressed just about everyone this spring. Center Mike Brewster is a year older, and senior Jim Cordle has shown impressive versatility in shifting to right tackle. The left tackle spot concerns me a bit, but Ohio State has recruited extremely well here.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lose starting guards Andy Kemp and Kraig Urbik, but they always find a way to control the line of scrimmage and return several key pieces. Center John Moffitt and left tackle Gabe Carimi will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Bill Nagy looks solid at one of the guard spots. If right tackle Josh Oglesby takes a step forward and lives up to his potential, Wisconsin will once again have one of the league's top lines.

4. Northwestern -- The team hopes its skill-position losses will be offset by a much better offensive line, which returns four starters. Northwestern did a good job of limiting sacks last year but should be much better at staying on blocks and buying time for athletic quarterback Mike Kafka. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are both All-Big Ten candidates, and the Wildcats boast plenty of depth after recruiting extremely well to this position.

5. Michigan -- No group will make a bigger jump in Year 2 of the spread offense than the line, which returns four starters. Michigan should be very solid up the middle with center David Molk and guards Stephen Schilling and David Moosman. If the Marks (Ortmann and Huyge) hold up at the tackle spots, a run game led by Brandon Minor will surge. Despite several player departures, Michigan has recruited several standout linemen who will provide depth this fall.

6. Michigan State -- I like the Joels (Foreman and Nitchman), and left tackle Rocco Cironi returns from a shoulder injury, but this group still needs to prove itself. Despite Javon Ringer's success last fall, the line was just average and must fill several gaps. Hopes are high for J'Michael Deane and Jared McGaha after spring ball, and if those players make progress Michigan State will move up the list.

7. Penn State -- The line rivals the secondary as Penn State's biggest concern entering the fall. In addition to Shipley, the Lions lose tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger. Only one starter (right tackle Dennis Landolt) returns to the same position he occupied in 2008. Stefen Wisniewski will be fine at center, but Penn State needs tackle DeOn'tae Pannell and others to make a lot of progress during camp.

8. Illinois -- With so much talent at the skill positions, expectations will be high for the Illini line, which drew mixed reviews in 2008. Right guard Jon Asamoah will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and Illinois really likes young right tackle Jeff Allen. The team must fill a big hole at left tackle, though veteran Eric Block slides over from guard to center. This could end up being a very respectable group.

9. Minnesota -- Perhaps no offensive line in the Big Ten intrigues me more than Minnesota's, which is going through a major transition in both scheme and technique with assistant Tim Davis. The Gophers are returning to their roots as a power-run offense, but they'll have to adjust quickly to all the changes. Left tackle Matt Stommes could be a pro prospect if things fall right, and the mammoth Jeff Wills lines up on the other side of the line. Notre Dame transfer Matt Carufel joins the mix as a starting guard.

10. Purdue -- Injuries decimated the two-deep last year, and Purdue used seven different starting lineups up front. The Boilers are much healthier entering the fall and should be much better. Young players like right guard Ken Plue gained valuable experience last fall, and he rejoins veterans Jared Zwilling, Zach Reckman and Zach Jones. The big question is how quickly the group jells as Purdue wants to stress the run game more this fall.

11. Indiana -- Much like Purdue, injuries hit Indiana's line especially hard last fall. The Hoosiers have two proven veterans in left tackle Rodger Saffold and center Pete Saxon, both of whom have started for three seasons. If those two can lead the way and young players like Justin Pagan and Will Matte continue to develop, Indiana will be much improved here.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
Passing
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
Tackles
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
Sacks
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
Interceptions
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The 2009 NFL draft was a fairly forgettable one for the Big Ten, which didn't have a top-10 pick for the first time since 2002 and had fewer first-round picks (4) than the SEC, ACC and Big 12. Michigan didn't have a player drafted until the fourth round (defensive tackle Terrance Taylor), while hoops powerhouse Connecticut already had four players drafted by that point.

The Big Ten had 28 players drafted overall and 15 in the first three rounds, the second-highest total for a league.

Here's the team-by-team breakdown of draft picks, which looks pretty good if you're an Ohio State fan.

OHIO STATE

Picks: 7

PENN STATE

Picks: 5

  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin, Bills (1st round, No. 11)
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams, Lions (3rd round, No. 82)
  • Wide receiver Deon Butler, Seahawks (3rd round, No. 91)
  • Guard Rich Ohrnberger, Patriots (4th round, No. 123)
  • Center A.Q. Shipley, Steelers (7th round, No. 226)

IOWA

Picks: 4

WISCONSIN

Picks: 4

  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy, Raiders (3rd round, No. 71)
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy, Rams (3rd round, No. 76)
  • Guard Kraig Urbik, Steelers (3rd round, No. 79)
  • Tight end Travis Beckum, Giants (3rd round, No. 100)

ILLINOIS

Picks: 3

PURDUE

Picks: 2

MICHIGAN

Picks: 2

  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor, Colts (4th round, No. 136)
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent, Bengals (6th round, No. 179)

MICHIGAN STATE

Picks: 1

Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana did not have any players drafted this year.

Notable Big Ten players not drafted included: Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, Ohio State offensive tackle Alex Boone, Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer, Penn State defensive end Maurice Evans, Purdue running back Kory Sheets, Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton, Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill and Michigan State safety Otis Wiley.

A few final thoughts from the draft.

  • Wells entered the 2008 season as a sure-fire top-10 pick, but his injury history dropped his stock a bit. He still ended up in a pretty good spot and should have an excellent pro career if he stays healthy.
  • The draft reiterated how bad the Big Ten is at the quarterback spot, with only one signal-caller selected (Painter).
  • The Giants will get a steal in Beckum if the former All-American stays healthy. I also liked Seattle's move to land Penn State's Butler, a reliable and quick target. The Bears could get a steal at linebacker with Freeman, who would have been the top defender on most college teams.
  • It will be fascinating to see how Greene and Ringer perform in the pros after carrying their respective college teams last fall.
  • I was shocked not to see Iowa's King get drafted. He might not fit the NFL "measurables," but he creates havoc in the middle of the defensive line and might have been the Big Ten's defensive MVP last fall.
  • As I wrote in November, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year honors more than Joe Paterno. Fitzgerald guided Northwestern to a 9-4 mark without a single NFL draftee on his roster, while Dantonio posted the same record with only one draftee (Ringer).

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.

ILLINOIS (5)

  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker

INDIANA (1)

IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
MICHIGAN (4)
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent

MICHIGAN STATE (3)

  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley

NORTHWESTERN (1)

  • Running back Tyrell Sutton

OHIO STATE (8)

  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^

PENN STATE (8)

  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams

PURDUE (4)

WISCONSIN (7)

  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik

^--Underclassman

Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likely will return to his roots with his 2009 recruiting haul.

A former defensive lineman at Iowa, Bielema needs to replenish a Badgers' defensive front that loses three multiyear starters (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman). Wisconsin needs to start generating pressure again, and Bielema will be looking for contributors at both line positions.

The Badgers also lose plenty of experience at linebacker, as mainstays DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas graduate. Though Jaevery McFadden developed nicely this fall, there's not too much experience behind him.

For the second straight season, the Badgers will lose their best cover man as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford graduates. The secondary isn't a pressing need, but the Badgers would be well served by adding a defensive back or two.

On the offensive side, a mammoth line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in rushing loses three starters, including standout guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. Wisconsin likely won't need a true freshman to start but should try to build depth up front.

Wisconsin's wide receivers were a major disappointment this season, and while the team remains young at that position, a sure-hands target or two in the 2009 class wouldn't be a bad move. Standout tight end Travis Beckum graduates and Garrett Graham enters his senior season, so tight end also is somewhat of a need with this class.

The Badgers' struggles on return and coverage teams also provide paths for several freshmen to see the field this fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The team rankings are unquestionably the best gauge of an offensive line, but several individuals stood out and deserve recognition. The Big Ten seemed to be stronger at the interior line spots than at tackle this season.

Here are the Top 10 Big Ten offensive linemen for 2008.

1. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley
Named the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's top center, Shipley anchored the Big Ten's best line and provided critical leadership as a co-captain. The league's coaches voted him Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and I agree with the selection.

2. Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger
The senior anchored the interior line along with Shipley and promising sophomore Stefen Wisniewski. The third-team AP All-American helped Penn State lead the Big Ten in scoring this fall.

3. Iowa guard Seth Olsen
Iowa developed into one of the league's best lines, and the veteran Olsen had a key role. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, the senior led a solid interior line that created lanes for Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene.

4. Penn State tackle Gerald Cadogan
The fifth-year senior kept pass rushers off of Daryll Clark, as Penn State allowed a league-low 12 sacks this season. Cadogan earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors and was a four-time academic all-conference selection.

5. Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik
Urbik earned consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season and creates lanes for P.J. Hill and John Clay in the league's top rushing attack. The senior remained one of the nation's top guards and should be a mid-round selection in April's draft.

6. Ohio State tackle Alex Boone
It wasn't the greatest year for the Ohio State offensive line or Boone, but he turned in several solid performances. Along with Cadogan, Boone earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and will be drafted in April.

7. Iowa center Rob Bruggeman
The former walk-on ended his career with an All-Big Ten performance as Iowa went 9-4. Bruggeman was a reliable presence in the middle of Iowa's line and created holes for an excellent between-the-tackles runner.

8. Michigan State guard Roland Martin
Martin earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and helped Javon Ringer become one of the nation's top running backs. Along with teammate Jesse Miller, Roland anchored the right side of the line and limited sacks against Brian Hoyer.

9. Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga
A rising star at left tackle, Bulaga will enter 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top offensive linemen. He helped Shonn Greene's cause this fall, and an Iowa team built around defense finished second in the league in scoring offense (30.2 points per game).

10. Illinois center Ryan McDonald
McDonald helped the Illini lead the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. A Rimington Trophy candidate, the senior earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll pick up my year-end rankings with the offensive line before heading over to the defensive side and wrapping up with the specialists. Much like the preseason rankings, these will be split into two parts: team and individual.

Let's begin with the team rankings, which mean more at this position than any other on the field.

1. Penn State -- Far and away the best group in the league, with no real weak spot along the front. Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley led the way at center, and left tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger also earned first-team All-Big Ten selections. Penn State led the league in most offensive categories and will have a hard time replacing Shipley, Cadogan and Ohrnberger in 2009.

2. Iowa -- Much like the running back position, the question marks about this group faded as the season progressed. Center Rob Bruggeman and guards Seth Olsen and Julian Vandervelde formed arguably the Big Ten's top interior trio. Tackle Bryan Bulaga is a budding star, and Iowa should enter 2009 with the Big Ten's top offensive front.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers were a major disappointment this fall, but the offensive line still proved to be a valuable group as Wisconsin led the league in rushing (212 yards per game). Speed trumps size in today's college football, but the Badgers' mammoth front created holes for P.J. Hill and John Clay. Losing All-Big Ten guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp will sting, but Wisconsin has bigger problems, like finding a quarterback.

4. Illinois -- There are several reasons why Illinois missed a bowl game, but the offensive line isn't one of them. The Illini finished second in the league in offense and tied for third in scoring, and center Ryan McDonald and tackle Xavier Fulton both earned All-Big Ten honors. Losing McDonald and Fulton will sting, but freshman tackle Jeff Allen is a budding star.

5. Ohio State -- The group underperformed for most of the season before coming on strong late. Injuries and a quarterback change didn't help matters, but Ohio State expected better things from a veteran-laden group left by left tackle Alex Boone. The Buckeyes ran the ball well at times but weren't consistent enough.

6. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer had a tremendous year, in part due to the offensive line, but Michigan State actually ranked ninth in the league in rushing and seventh in total offense. Not good. A mix of veterans and younger players jelled nicely, but this wasn't the most talented group in the league and could be better in 2009.

7. Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offense generated yards but not enough points, and the rushing game was nearly nonexistent despite the presence of a pretty decent back (Kory Sheets). Injuries hurt the group, which should be better in 2009.

8. Northwestern -- The league's youngest line certainly had its growing pains, and new coordinator Mick McCall likely adjusted his scheme to limit backfield damage. Northwestern allowed only 17 sacks and received strong play from center Ben Burkett and others, but the Wildcats struggled to run the ball consistently and broke down toward the end of the Alamo Bowl.

9. Michigan -- Like the rest of the offense, the line had its problems this fall. Four new starters and a fluid situation at quarterback didn't help, but Michigan never generated the push needed to execute Rich Rodriguez's scheme. The front five will be more experienced in 2009 and should improve with the right pieces around it.

10. Indiana -- The injury bug that ravaged the roster didn't spare the line, which lost several key pieces. Indiana ran the ball well at times with Marcus Thigpen and Kellen Lewis but allowed a Big Ten-worst 28 sacks. Defense hurt Indiana more than anything else, but the offensive line needs to be upgraded for next fall.

11. Minnesota -- Minnesota's problems up front were exposed in the final six games, all losses. Youth and an inability to create running lanes hurt the Gophers, who finished last in the league in rushing. New offensive line coach Tim Davis should get this group turned around for next season, when the power run will be a greater part of the offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The rosters are complete for the East-West Shrine Game, and 14 Big Ten players have been selected for the East squad. The game takes place Jan. 17 in Houston (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET).

I made a mistake in an earlier post and listed Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik as a Shrine Game participant. It's actually Badgers guard Andy Kemp. Urbik will play in the Senior Bowl.

Here's the full rundown of Big Ten players.

  • Greg Orton, wide receiver, Purdue
  • Deon Butler, wide receiver Penn State
  • Brian Hoyer, quarterback, Michigan State
  • DeAndre Levy, linebacker, Wisconsin
  • Tyrell Sutton, running back, Northwestern
  • Otis Wiley, safety, Michigan State
  • Morgan Trent, cornerback, Michigan
  • Kory Sheets, running back, Purdue
  • A.Q. Shipley, center, Penn State
  • Terrance Taylor, defensive tackle, Michigan
  • Alex Boone, offensive tackle, Ohio State
  • Seth Olsen, guard, Iowa
  • Andy Kemp, guard, Wisconsin
  • Matt Shaughnessy, defensive end, Wisconsin

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Under Armour Senior Bowl is a can't-miss stop for NFL talent evaluators, and the Big Ten will be well represented Jan. 24 in Mobile, Ala.

Here's a list of Big Ten players known to be competing in the game.

  • Mitch King, defensive tackle, Iowa
  • Derrick Williams, wide receiver, Penn State
  • Javon Ringer, running back, Michigan State
  • Kraig Urbik, guard, Wisconsin

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Five Big Ten players have been added to the East team roster for the annual East-West Shrine Game, which takes place Jan. 17 in Houston (ESPN2, 4 p.m. ET). Other players could be added to the roster in the coming days, but here are the Big Ten players who are marked down to participate in the game. 

  • Alex Boone, tackle, Ohio State
  • Kraig Urbik, guard, Wisconsin
  • Otis Wiley, safety, Michigan State
  • Tyrell Sutton, running back, Northwestern
  • Kory Sheets, running back, Purdue
Former Georgia Tech head coach Bobby Ross will oversee the East team, while former Alabama coach Gene Stallings coaches the West squad.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Corey Wootton, Terrelle Pryor, Bradley Fletcher, Kory Sheets, Stefan Demos, Tim Jamison, Mike Newkirk, Kyle Theret, Kevin Kelly, Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Nader Abdallah, Michigan Wolverines, Terrance Taylor, Bryan Bulaga, Navorro Bowman, Michigan State Spartans, Justin Kucek, Garrett Graham, A.J. Trapasso, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Stefen Wisniewski, DeAndre Levy, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, Jack Simmons, Ryan Donahue, Aaron Bates, Josh Gaines, Jeremy Boone, Eric Decker, A.J. Edds, Shonn Greene, Brandon Myers, Traye Simmons, Chris Wells, Matt Mayberry, Aaron Maybin, Charlie Gantt, Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern Wildcats, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Indiana Hoosiers, P.J. Hill, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Amado Villarreal, Xavier Fulton, Rich Ohrnberger, Daryll Clark, Gerald Cadogan, James Laurinaitis, Roland Martin, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Rob Bruggeman, Big Ten Conference, Evan Royster, Jordan Norwood, Seth Olsen, Travis Beckum, Brit Miller, Chris Hagerup, Tramaine Brock, Brad Phillips, Kraig Urbik, Brad Nortman, Andy Kemp, Marcus Freeman, Chris L. Rucker, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Purdue Boilermakers Ryan Kerrigan, Malcolm Jenkins, Zoltan Mesko, Otis Wiley, Adam Weber, Jay Valai, Kurt Coleman, Derek Walker, Brent Greenwood, Greg Orton, Amari Spievey, Penn State Nittany Lions, Philip Welch, Mitch King, David Gilreath, Brett Swenson, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Ryan McDonald, Alex Boone, Allen Langford, John Gill, Minnesota Golden Gophers Willie VanDeSteeg, Trevor Anderson, Javon Ringer

Big Ten internal affairs: Week 10

October, 29, 2008
10/29/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to take a closer look at five Big Ten teams.

1. Wisconsin -- Running back P.J. Hill is fully participating in practice after being limited by a leg injury last week, but he could take a backseat to redshirt freshman John Clay on Saturday at No. 21 Michigan State (ESPN, noon ET). Head coach Bret Bielema said Hill, Clay and Zach Brown will compete for carries throughout the week, with all three players likely being used in some form against the Spartans. But Clay started last week against Illinois and remains No. 1 on the depth chart. The Badgers also should get some help along the offensive line, as tackle Gabe Carimi and guard Kraig Urbik returned from knee injuries. A source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the starting offensive line might be shuffled, with Urbik moving to right tackle and Eric Vanden Heuvel moving from right tackle to left tackle.

2. Illinois -- Head coach Ron Zook hinted at changes earlier this season, and he did it again after the Illini fell last Saturday at Wisconsin. Zook was still peeved after Monday's practice, telling reporters, "You got any ideas? Everybody seems to have ideas. I'll take them all. Here's the deal. We'll be ready to go. Yeah, I'm a little bit feisty right now. I don't have an answer for you. I wish I had an answer. I'd give it to you." This week's depth chart doesn't reflect many changes, but Illinois is looking for more help at outside linebacker to flank Brit Miller. Expect the rotation to increase at both linebacker and safety on Saturday against Iowa (ABC, 2:30 p.m. ET).

3. Northwestern -- The Wildcats could feature a new starting offensive backfield and a different approach on offense Saturday at No. 17 Minnesota (ESPN2, noon ET). Junior quarterback Mike Kafka, who could start in place of injured starter C.J. Bacher, is more of a rushing threat who ran the option when he started four games as a true freshman. Though Bacher injured his leg on a 10-yard run against Indiana, Northwestern won't hesitate to have its quarterback on the move against the Gophers. "Every spread offense in the country I'm watching runs the quarterback," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "It's an element of the offense and it's an inherent risk. That's why you recruit and get your other guys ready in case something ever does happen." Northwestern has been plagued by turnovers this season, so the game plan might be more conservative for Kafka, emphasizing the option and his strengths.

4. Purdue -- Quarterbacks Curtis Painter and Justin Siller have different styles and strengths, but coach Joe Tiller expects to have a similar package on offense no matter who starts Saturday against Michigan. Painter sustained a mild separation of his throwing shoulder last Saturday and could miss the game. He has practiced sparingly this week. Siller has been alternating between running back and quarterback this season, and he would give the Boilers more of a rushing threat. "There are differences in the sense that, you know, Justin is not the prototype drop-back guy, though he can throw the drop-back routes and he has," Tiller said. "This week we'll be closer to having a similar package for the two of them because [Siller will] have another week back into the offense."

5. Michigan State -- As opposing defenses focus on stopping running back Javon Ringer, the Spartans are extending their passing attack and increasing their depth at the wide receiver position. Sophomore Blair White ignited for 143 receiving yards and a touchdown last Saturday against Michigan, and true freshman Keshawn Martin is gradually claiming a greater role. With Deon Curry limited by a back injury, Michigan State has looked to other wideouts to step up. "We have more depth this year than we had last year," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "We really have six, eight guys, that are functional."

Wisconsin's Hill expects to play

October, 22, 2008
10/22/08
9:33
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
 P.J. Hill's return should provide a much-needed boost for the Badgers.

Wisconsin starting running back P.J. Hill missed practice Tuesday but told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects to play this weekend against Illinois (ESPN2, noon ET). Hill sustained an injury against Iowa to his lower left leg, the same area that kept him out of action for several games last season.

The 236-pound Hill, a three-year starter, underwent surgery to repair a broken left tibia in 2005. 

"I'm looking forward to playing this week," he said Tuesday. It's got to be on me to get myself in the weight room and get the treatment I need to get myself healthy enough to be able to run. I was out there jogging today. ...

"Last year there was a lot of swelling and I could hardly walk. This time I only have a little bit of swelling. But I've still got to get my motion back so I'm able to push off so I can run and cut."

Starting left tackle Gabe Carimi (knee) also missed practice Tuesday but could play this weekend. Right guard Kraig Urbik (knee) likely will miss another game. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin junior quarterback Dustin Sherer will make his second consecutive start Saturday against Illinois (ESPN2, noon ET). The bigger question is who will join him in the Badgers' offensive backfield.

Junior running back P.J. Hill injured his left leg in the second quarter of last week's game against Iowa. The injury is in the same area that forced Hill to miss 13 quarters last season. Hill, a three-year starter, broke his tibia in preseason camp in 2005 and underwent surgery.

Badgers head coach Bret Bielema said today that Hill's status for the Illinois game is unclear.

"It's really in P.J.'s hands," Bielema said. "We did X-rays on it and obviously everything we could do to test from a perspective of trying to see if anything got damaged. It's just a difficult deal when there's direct contact on it. We padded it up, did everything we can to protect it, but if he gets hit just in the right way ... It's just a situation where he has to determine what kind of tolerance he has."

Sherer is listed as the definitive starter on this week's depth chart after completing 17 of 34 passes for 161 yards and two interceptions against the Hawkeyes. Bielema stopped short of saying Sherer would start the remainder of the season, but the junior doesn't have to worry about his status for Illinois.

Sherer stepped up his play in practice last week after being informed he would start against Iowa.

"Dustin didn't play a clean game, didn't by any means set the world on fire," Bielema said. "There were some things, I liked the ability that he showed to stay alive. ... Obviously, accuracy was an issue on a couple throws, but the energy he brought to the table, his preparation, he was into it. We'd like to see how much growth he can have another week being the starter."

(Read full post)

Big Ten internal affairs: Week 8

October, 15, 2008
10/15/08
11:07
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.

Michigan State -- The Spartans went deep into their roster against Northwestern, as 59 of the 70 players in uniform for the game saw action in a 37-20 victory. Freshmen Glenn Winston and Keshawn Martin made big contributions on kickoff returns and in the passing game, and Jeremy Ware sparked a banged-up secondary with five pass break-ups. Michigan State could be a bit healthier for Saturday's clash against No. 12 Ohio State, as top cover corner Chris L. Rucker might return from an elbow injury. Wideout Mark Dell remains the starter on the depth chart despite being limited against Northwestern with an undisclosed injury.

Ohio State -- Head coach Jim Tressel reaffirmed his support Tuesday for starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor despite struggles on offense the last few weeks. Tight end Jake Ballard stumped for senior Todd Boeckman and a two-quarterback system that could better balance the offense. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in pass offense and 70th in scoring, but Tressel is satisfied with the direction. Pryor's individual yardage totals have dropped in each of the last three weeks, but Ohio State continues to win and didn't fare much better with Boeckman at the helm.

Wisconsin -- In addition to having no definitive starting quarterback at this point in game week, Wisconsin could have a new look on the offensive line Saturday at Iowa. Right guard Kraig Urbik, who has made 45 consecutive starts on the line, likely will miss the game after sustaining a knee injury last Saturday against Penn State. Sophomore Bill Nagy would start in Urbik's place. The Badgers are a bit more hopeful about getting left tackle Gabe Carimi back for Iowa, though Carimi also has a knee injury and is questionable. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby could get his second straight start and would protect the quarterback's blind side if right-hander Dustin Sherer replaces Allan Evridge.

Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offensive line had another setback with the season-ending loss of tackle Garrett Miller to a foot injury. Miller, a fifth-year senior, will undergo surgery in the coming weeks. Purdue's other tackle, Sean Sester, has been battling back problems this season, and right guard Justin Pierce is struggling with headaches. Starting center Cory Benton hurt his elbow against Ohio State and reserve center Jared Zwilling recently had an ankle injury. Purdue is tied for 52nd nationally in sacks allowed (1.67 per game) and on Saturday faces a Northwestern defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (19).

Illinois -- Juice Williams' importance to the Illini offense has become even greater after the weekend arrest of backup quarterback Eddie McGee. The sophomore was arrested for allegedly shoving a woman, and his status for Saturday's game against Indiana is unclear. McGee has appeared in only one game this season, completing one of two passes, but he's the only other Illinois quarterback with collegiate game experience. Williams leads the Big Ten in passing (279.5 ypg) and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (353.7 ypg).

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