Big Ten: Marcus Cromartie

Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:00
AM ET
Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players such as Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 passing yards and seven TDs. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players such as Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he has gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior college All-American Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.

B1G postseason position rankings: DB

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
1:00
PM ET
Our postseason position rankings are getting close to wrapping up, but first let's put a bow on the defensive side of the ball with a look at the defensive backs.

Star power matters, but depth is also important. The secondary wasn't a particularly standout group for the Big Ten in 2012, though there were some elite players in the back end of the league's defenses. You can see how we ranked the DB groups in the preseason here. And here's how we see it now:

1. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 1): So maybe Johnny Adams didn't have quite the season we expected out of him, but he was still easily one of the best cornerbacks in the league. And Darqueze Dennard reached an elite level, arguably turning in a better year than Adams at the other cornerback spot. Isaiah Lewis remained one of the top safeties in the league. The Spartans finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense, and their secondary was also stout in run support and on the occasional blitz.

2. Ohio State (Preseason: 2): Teams could pass on the Buckeyes, especially early, as they ended up ranked just 11th in the league in passing yards allowed. But Bradley Roby had an All-American year at cornerback, and Travis Howard grabbed four interceptions while improving over the course of the fall. While Ohio State's safeties sometimes went for the big hit instead of making the safe play, this group had star power and played great when it mattered.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 4): The numbers would suggest a higher ranking, as the Cornhuskers finished fourth nationally in passing yards allowed and ninth in pass efficiency defense. Yet we can't forget some of the secondary's problems in open-field tackling and helping against the run in big games, or how Aaron Murray and Georgia dissected it in the Capital One Bowl. Still, this group -- led by P.J. Smith, Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans -- was deep and clearly comprised the strength of Nebraska's defense.

[+] EnlargeMichael Carter
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsGophers defensive back Michael Carter had a breakout game in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, recording seven tackles and two INTs.
4. Minnesota (Preseason: 10): The biggest climber on our board, the Gophers made a major improvement in their secondary thanks to the breakout year by Michael Carter and the return of Troy Stoudermire at the other corner spot. Derrick Wells also made a major impact at safety as Minnesota went from having one of the worst pass defenses in the country in 2011 to the No. 23 pass efficiency defense in 2012.

5. Michigan (Preseason: 3): The Wolverines lost Blake Countess in the first half of the opener and didn't have anyone make first- or second-team All-Big Ten from its secondary. Still, this group had two sturdy seniors in safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd and finished second in the league in pass defense. Those numbers may be a bit skewed by the fact that Michigan didn't face many high-powered passing teams, but this group held its own.

6. Wisconsin (Preseason: 7): The late-game breakdowns by the secondary in 2011 were a distant memory as the Badgers were solid all the way around at defensive back in 2012. They finished third in the league in pass efficiency defense. Getting Devin Smith back at corner really helped, as did the marked improvement of Marcus Cromartie. Safeties Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson also had good years. The bad news for Wisconsin is that only Southward returns from that veteran group.

7. Penn State (Preseason: 9): The defensive backfield was the big question mark on the Nittany Lions' defense heading into the season with four new starters. But despite a lack of experienced depth, the starting group of Stephon Morris, Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong prevented Penn State from experiencing a drop-off at DB, allowing just 15 touchdown passes in 12 games.

8. Purdue (Preseason: 5): A secondary with two cornerbacks as talented as Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson should not be ranked this low. But the Boilermakers simply got burned too much in big games to be ranked much higher than this. They did tie for the league lead with 14 interceptions, paced by Landon Feichter's four picks.

9. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats' secondary was much, much better when cornerback Nick VanHoose was healthy, and Ibraheim Campbell had a terrific year at safety. This group showed its potential early in the season and in the bowl win over Mississippi State. But the late-game breakdowns, particularly against Michigan (the Roy Roundtree catch) and Nebraska, prevent a higher ranking.

10. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Micah Hyde was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. This really happened. I looked it up again to make sure. Not that Hyde had a bad season. He just didn't really stand out nearly as much as guys like Dennard, Carter or Roby. Hyde and fellow cornerback B.J. Lowery formed a good tandem, but safety play was shaky for the Hawkeyes and offenses torched them down the stretch. Iowa allowed opponents a league-worst 63.5 completion percentage.

11. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Terry Hawthorne remained an underrated cornerback who should hear his name called in the April NFL draft. Outside of that, it's hard to find many positives for the Illini secondary, as the team finished last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and didn't have much else to hang its hat on.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): The Hoosiers had hopes of making strides in the secondary with returning starters Lawrence Barnett, Greg Heban and Mark Murphy. But Indiana gave up more touchdown passes (23) than any other league team while only intercepting seven passes. While not all of the pass defense problems can be blamed on the secondary, of course, it's clear this team still lacks high-impact players in the back end.
It doesn't take long for new Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to spot a defense that puts takeaways first. Or one that doesn't.

"Say it's an interior run, an A-gap or B-gap run, and that ball carrier is held up at a certain point in that box," Aranda recently told ESPN.com, "the second and third defenders are ripping and attempting to strip the ball out. It's a frenzy. Or a ball carrier is running down the field after a catch and a defender has a non-aggressive angle, meaning the ball carrier doesn't see him, and he makes an attempt to not only secure a tackle but get the ball out with a rip or strip attempt.

"Those are things that show up on film a ton."

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireNew Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is looking forward to coaching players like linebacker Chris Borland.
Aranda expects those things to show up on Wisconsin's practice film and game film from this point on. Takeaways are without question Aranda's top priority for a Badgers defense he'll guide after making the transition from Utah State with new head coach Gary Andersen.

Aranda spent only one season as Utah State's defensive coordinator after holding the same post at Hawaii in 2010 and 2011. Utah State tied for 73rd nationally in takeaways last fall with 20 -- the Aggies had much better ratings for scoring defense (7th), total defense (14th), rushing defense (13th) pass efficiency defense (8th) and sacks (6th). But Aranda's Hawaii defense led the FBS in takeaways with 38 in 2010.

When Badgers defenders show up for meetings with Aranda and his staff, they'll see terms like rip, strip, bat and pick displayed prominently throughout the football complex. The coaches will track each attempt and each successful forced fumble, pass deflection and interception, as they try to create a takeaway-first mindset among players.

"The biggest thing is the process," Aranda said, "the day-by-day emphasizing and highlighting of the rips, the strips, the bats and picks and the missed opportunities, putting it on the board, putting it on a PowerPoint [presentation], a highlight video, all those things. ... All that stuff comes in bunches, but the best you can do is emphasize it, make it a part of the daily routine and make it important."

Wisconsin needs to improve its takeaway numbers after finishing 105th nationally with just 15 this past season. It marked the Badgers' lowest takeaways total since at least 2000 after they had finished in the top 50 nationally from 2009-2011.

Although Wisconsin's defense performed well overall, ranking in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense (17th), total defense (15th), pass defense (18th) and rushing defense (24th), the Badgers' lack of takeaways hurt them in a season defined by close losses. They failed to generate a turnover in six games, including overtime losses to Ohio State and Penn State and a 20-14 loss to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

If Aranda's plan works, the Badgers should be on the right side of more of those nail biters. It shouldn't be a tough sell, especially because Wisconsin's best defender already embraces the philosophy. Linebacker Chris Borland has recorded 13 forced fumbles, six fumbles recovered, three interceptions and 16 pass deflections in a decorated career, to go along with 13 career sacks and 41.5 tackles for loss. Borland has been a playmaker since he set foot on Wisconsin's campus, and he'll lead the defense once again in 2013.

"I'm awfully excited to coach Chris," Aranda said. "I've got all the respect in the world for him and what he's accomplished and what he means to this team and to this defense. He is the consummate teammate and playmaker, all those things. He's going to be a huge, huge part of our defense, like he has been."

The new staff is in the process of assigning recruiting areas, but Aranda's chief objective in wrapping up the 2013 class is the secondary, which loses three starters (cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie, and safety Shelton Johnson). Speed will be a major emphasis for Aranda and his staff on the recruiting trail.

"I was real fortunate to walk into a situation at Utah State where there was a lot of speed," he said. "We were faster than the majority of the teams we played, regardless of whatever conference they were in. So that goes to show that the game is built upon that. It is a foundational element to playing defense, especially the type that we would like to play.

"That is definitely going to be a No. 1 issue in terms of recruiting for defense."
The college football postseason all-star games kick off in the next few weeks, so I thought it would be a good time to see who from the Big Ten is headed where. These games feature NFL draft hopefuls from around the sport, and we'll have full coverage of each contest, particularly the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.

These rosters will be updated in the coming days, but here are lists of confirmed attendees.

SENIOR BOWL

When: Jan. 26 Where: Mobile, Ala.
EAST-WEST SHRINE GAME

When: Jan. 19
Where: St. Petersburg, Fla. NFLPA COLLEGIATE BOWL

When: Jan. 19
Where: Carson, Calif. RAYCOM COLLEGE FOOTBALL ALL-STAR CLASSIC

When: Jan. 19
Where: Montgomery, Ala. CASINO DEL SOL COLLEGE ALL-STAR GAME

When: Jan. 11
Where: Tucson, Ariz.
After stomping Nebraska 70-31 on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Wisconsin Badgers decided to let me know about it. Well aware of my Nebraska pick for the Big Ten title game, they made sure to tell me on the field how foolish I had been (d'oh!). Several players brought it up, as did one assistant (and no, Coach Hammock, I didn't pick against you every week this season).

But yeah, I missed on this one big time. The good news: so did Brian Bennett, who actually had Nebraska winning by more points. No wonder I drained his bank account Friday night at St. Elmo.

For one final time in 2012, let's do the rewind ...

Nebraska vs. Wisconsin
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 28, Wisconsin 20
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 27, Wisconsin 24 (OT)
  • Actual score: Wisconsin 70, Nebraska 31
  • 20-20 hindsight: So, yeah, these picks were not good. Not at all. We both came fairly close on Nebraska's score, but Wisconsin racked up more points in the first 19 minutes (28) than either of us thought it would score all game. Nebraska had one first-quarter turnover, not the two I had predicted, and while Wisconsin led the Huskers 14-10 at one point, it was midway through the first quarter, not at halftime. Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead had barely half the rushing yards (61) I thought he would (120) and no touchdowns. Bennett correctly pegged the Huskers to "come out a little tight" in the game. Problem is, they never loosened up and played their brand of football. Bennett also had Nebraska's Ciante Evans for a key interception, when he instead was stiff-armed by Montee Ball on a touchdown run, while Badgers CB Marcus Cromartie had a pick-six and a huge game. We both expected the Badgers to take an early lead, which they did, but neither of us expected them to pull away. The name Melvin Gordon didn't appear in either of our predictions (he merely had 216 rush yards and a touchdown on nine carries). All in all, a bad night for the blogger predictions, but not nearly as bad as it was for Nebraska.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
9:00
AM ET
Recognizing the best and brightest from the Big Ten championship game:

Wisconsin's running backs: What a breathtaking performance the Badgers' trio of backs put on in Indianapolis. Montee Ball showed why he's still arguably the best back in the country, running 21 times for 202 yards and three touchdowns, setting the NCAA career record for rushing scores (he had previously broke the mark for total TDs). Redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon put his immense potential on display with 216 yards on just nine touches, averaging a ridiculous 24 yards per carry. Not to be outdone, James White ran for 109 yards and accounted for five touchdowns (four rushing, one passing). Wisconsin had a school-record eight rushing touchdowns and ran for more yards (539) than any Nebraska opponent ever.

Wisconsin DB Marcus Cromartie: The senior had maybe his finest game, recording his first career interception and returning it 29 yards for a touchdown early in the game. He also broke up two passes, including one that looked like it might have gone for a score in the third quarter. Linebacker Chris Borland (13 tackles, forced fumble) and defensive end David Gilbert also had big games for the defense.

Wisconsin offensive coordinator Matt Canada: Criticized earlier in the year for some vanilla play calling, Canada unleashed the full fury of his playbook against Nebraska. If he's got anything left in there, we'd like to see it. Saturday's game plan included an array of formations and pre-snap motions, passes thrown by a receiver and a running back, a swinging gate, jet sweeps and all sorts of other fun stuff. The result was nine touchdowns by the offense and an average of 10.7 yards per play. "I was kind of surprised that everything worked," center Travis Frederick said.
All the major stories out of Wisconsin this year have come from the offensive side of the ball. The early offensive line troubles and the switching of position coaches early on. The quarterback shuffling. Montee Ball's slow start and then resurgence.

Hardly anybody every talks about the Badgers' defense. But then again, what else is new?

"We just have a workmanlike mentality, and we're comfortable with that," linebacker Chris Borland told ESPN.com. "We don't need to be in the limelight."

A quick glance at the numbers shows that we ought to be paying more attention to the oft-overlooked unit. Wisconsin is in the top half of the Big Ten in every defensive category and ranks in the top 17 nationally in such key stats as points allowed (17.6), yards allowed (311.3), rush defense (108.1) and third-down conversion defense (30.7 percent).

Of course, the Badgers also had good numbers last year. But one major difference between that defense and the 2012 model has been the lack of back-breaking big plays given up. Everyone remembers the Hail Mary versus Michigan State, the Braxton Miller miracle at Ohio State and the Oregon juggernaut from last season. There have been few such memorable breakdowns this year, aside from a couple of long touchdown passes allowed in games Wisconsin has won.

"The first thing we did in fall camp was, our coach took us through all the big plays we gave up in 2011," defensive back Marcus Cromartie said. "We told ourselves that we weren't going to do that this year. We feel like we're good enough that a team can't just nickel and dime us down the field."

Better depth and experience in the secondary has paid off, as has a surprisingly strong defensive line, which head coach Bret Bielema calls "as thick and as deep as we've had since I've been here." The front four has been able to apply pressure without much blitzing and be stout against the run. And having one of the best linebacker duos in the country with Borland and Mike Taylor makes everything work better.

For as good as the defense has been most of the year, though, it still smarts over its performance last time out. Michigan State drove 75 yards to tie the game near the end of regulation two weeks ago before winning in overtime, 16-13, at Camp Randall Stadium. That snapped the Badgers' 21-game home winning streak.

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireChris Borland and the Badgers defense will face a stiff test this week against the prolific Hoosiers offense.
"I haven't really known what it's like to lose at home," Cromartie said. "So we're looking forward to a chance for us to get back on track."

That starts Saturday in a crucial Leaders Division game at Indiana, which figures to put as much pressure on the Wisconsin defense as anybody has all season. The Hoosiers have scored at least 24 points in each of their past 10 games, are averaging 33.1 points per game and boast the Big Ten's top passing offense.

Indiana often runs a no-huddle style that is designed to get defenses out of position and prevent them from substituting.

"Watching them on film from last week, some of the Iowa players would be standing straight up or not be in their stance, and [Indiana] lined up quickly to run a play," Cromartie said.

The Badgers got a taste of what it's like to prepare for that style of offense when they got ready for Oregon last year. The Ducks ended up not using too much no-huddle in the Rose Bowl, but Wisconsin's players learned a lesson.

"The main thing is just getting aligned," Borland said. "I've got to set the fronts and call the play, but after that it's on everybody else as far as getting aligned and getting their eyes in the right place quickly. I know that sounds simple, but that's what these hurry-up teams prey on."

With a new quarterback guiding the offense -- multiple reports have Curt Phillips making his first career start -- Wisconsin might not want to get into a track meet with the Hoosiers. So the defense will be under pressure to keep the score manageable. That's something the Badgers should get used to, because their final three games of the season -- Indiana this week, followed by Ohio State at home and then at Penn State -- come against some of the Big Ten's highest-scoring and most creative offenses.

How they stand up against those offenses may determine whether they make a second straight Big Ten championship game appearance. So the overlooked Badgers defense could be about to receive much more attention.

"The last three games -- and most importantly, this week against Indiana -- represent a big challenge for our defense," Borland said. "We're going to do everything we can, and we're excited for the challenge. This is how you'd want it."
Wisconsin celebratesJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesDuring the 2009 season, cornerback Devin Smith (No. 10) started every game for the Badgers.
Bret Bielema's comments about star Devin Smith and the value he would have brought Wisconsin in 2011 quickly made their way around America's dairyland and Big Ten country.

Smith, a starting cornerback for the Badgers, missed all but two games last season with a foot injury that required surgery.

In case you missed it, here's what Bielema, the Badgers' coach, told ESPN Radio Madison last month:
"Devin was playing as good of football as we'd ever seen. For us here at Wisconsin, for us to have one of those special, special, maybe national championship-type seasons, you have to stay healthy. I honestly think if Devin Smith had played the entire year at the way he was playing at the time he got hurt, we probably never would have lost."

Bielema's bold words gained a good deal of attention, except from the man being discussed. Last week, Smith told ESPN.com that he didn't know what his coach had said about him.

"I have a lot of respect for Coach B, and I really appreciate that," Smith said. "It's hard to say what could have happened if I wasn't injured, but I definitely appreciate that compliment. You never know."

Here's what is known: Smith will be back this season. The senior is fully cleared and will participate in all of preseason camp. Smith injured his left foot in a Week 2 win against Oregon State and underwent surgery two days later.

Smith had limited participation in spring practice, but he's getting back to full strength in summer workouts.

"It's a great feeling, being able to get back out and execute at 100 percent," Smith said. "I can't wait for the season to get here."

Smith started every game in 2009 and led the squad in passes defended (11). He moved to the nickel back role the next year, making just one start, but reclaimed a spot in the lineup opposite All-Big Ten corner Antonio Fenelus in 2011.

"I felt like I had a lot of momentum going into the year," he said. "I felt I was at the top of my game, and I was only going to get better as the season progressed."

The foot injury changed his plans. The season wasn't a total waste, though, as Smith gained knowledge from an "outside perspective" of watching from the sideline.

He expects to be a smarter player and a more active leader in the secondary this season. The secondary loses its top leader, safety Aaron Henry, as well as Fenelus. Smith, cornerback Marcus Cromartie and safety Shelton Johnson, who arrived at Wisconsin together in 2008, are ready to step up.

Smith has helped mentor younger defensive backs like Peniel Jean, Darius Hillary and Terrance Floyd.

"We've been around a lot, from 7-6 to a 10-3 to two Rose Bowl teams," Smith said. "We definitely know what it takes to become successful and how to win. I definitely see myself as a leader, not just for the secondary but for the team as well. I can definitely fill that senior leadership that we need to get where we want to go at the end of the season."

Wisconsin ranked fourth nationally in pass defense (163.6 ypg allowed), 35th in pass efficiency defense (120.4 rating) and tied for 18th in passes intercepted (16), but the secondary was cast in a negative light after allowing long touchdown passes at the end of losses to both Michigan State and Ohio State.

Bielema offered a potential explanation, telling ESPN Radio Madison, "Those plays that hit, they were going after [Smith's] backup, Marcus Cromartie." Smith didn't throw Cromartie under the bus, saying his replacement "did an unbelievable job," but he acknowledged the secondary has room for improvement.

"Everybody remembers those two plays," Smith said. "We're not going to stress on it, but we're trying to learn from it and be able to move forward. [Defensive coordinator Chris] Ash definitely stresses that if you play 80 plays in a game and 79 good plays, that one play can be the difference. "

Wisconsin hopes Smith can be the difference as it aims for another Big Ten title, a third consecutive trip to Pasadena and, this, time, a Rose Bowl victory.

"We have to have that mentality," Smith said, "to finish every single game."
Looking back at Wisconsin's 2011 season, it's still hard to believe that the Badgers managed to lose three games.

They had another record-setting offensive season, led by the Big Ten's best offensive backfield combination (RB Montee Ball and QB Russell Wilson) in recent history. They had a strong offensive line, two good receivers and a tight end (Jacob Pederson) who caught eight touchdowns. They had a terrific linebacker tandem in the Home Improvement duo (Taylor and Borland).

Wisconsin was a team that could have run the table and faced LSU on Jan. 9 in New Orleans. Why did the Badgers fall short?

 Devin Smith
Mary Langenfeld/US PresswireA foot injury cost Devin Smith most of the 2011 season.
Most would point to their secondary, which had two high-profile miscues against Michigan State and Ohio State, and struggled to keep pace with the speedy skill players from both Michigan State and Oregon.

Badgers coach Bret Bielema narrowed it down even more in a revealing interview Wednesday with ESPN Radio Madison (FM 100.5).

Bielema told the station that a season-ending foot injury to starting cornerback Devin Smith in Week 2 dealt a significant blow to the Badgers' secondary -- and, as it turned out, possibly the team's national title hopes.
"Devin was playing as good of football as we'd ever seen. For us here at Wisconsin, for us to have one of those special, special, maybe national championship-type seasons, you have to stay healthy," Bielema said.
"I honestly think if Devin Smith had played the entire year at the way he was playing at the time he got hurt, we probably never would have lost ... those plays that hit, they were going after his backup, Marcus Cromartie. 'Cro' did a nice job, did a lot of good things, but you potentially have the difference between maybe a Big Ten championship vs. a national championship opportunity based on one guy's injury."

Wow.

Bielema rarely has been one to hold back in interviews, which we media types love, and his sentiments about Smith's value are clearly expressed here. Smith started every game in 2009 and led the team with 11 passes defended, but he had a more reduced role in 2010, starting only one game. The coaches had high hopes for him entering 2011, but he went down with the injury against Oregon State. Coincidentally, one of the big pass plays to go against the Badgers -- Ohio State's game-winning 40-yard touchdown strike with 20 seconds left -- was caught by a wide receiver named ... Devin Smith.

While Bielema's comments should boost Smith's confidence as he returns from the foot injury, it's fair to ask whether the coach is throwing Cromartie under the bus a little. Although Bielema praises Cromartie for "doing a lot of good things," he spells it out clearly that opponents went after the backup, which ultimately could have been the difference between an 11-2 regular season and a 13-0 spotless campaign.

Cromartie, by the way, is expected to start opposite Smith this season at cornerback for the Badgers.

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
6:00
AM ET
2011 record: 11-3

2011 conference record: 6-2 (Big Ten champions)

Returning starters:

Offense: 5; Defense: 6; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners:

RB Montee Ball, LT Ricky Wagner, OL Travis Frederick, WR Jared Abbrederis, RB James White, TE Jacob Pedersen, LB Chris Borland, LB Mike Taylor, CB Marcus Cromartie

Key losses:

QB Russell Wilson, OG Kevin Zeitler, C Peter Konz, WR Nick Toon, DT Patrick Butrym, S Aaron Henry, CB Antonio Fenelus

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Montee Ball* (1,923 yards)

Passing: Russell Wilson (3,175 yards)

Receiving: Jared Abbrederis* (933 yards)

Tackles: Mike Taylor* (150)

Sacks: Beau Allen* (4)

Interceptions: Shelton Johnson*, Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus (4)

Spring answers

1. Keep on running: The Badgers are enjoying the luxury of returning last year's Heisman finalist and record-breaking running back Montee Ball, who somehow managed to look a step faster this spring. They also still have the very capable James White, who produced 713 rushing yards a year ago. And while both sat out the spring game -- Ball as a precaution, White with a minor injury -- redshirt freshman Melvin Gordon stepped in and showed he could be the next star tailback in Madison. The Badgers can always run the ball, and this year could be a special season for the ground game.

2. Secondary matters: All-conference performers Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus are gone from the secondary, but Wisconsin was feeling good about its defensive backs this spring. Head coach Bret Bielema said Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson could be the best safety duo he's had during his tenure. Devin Smith is coming back from a foot injury and should fare well as a fifth-year senior starting cornerback. With fifth-year senior Marcus Cromartie also returning at corner, this is an experienced group that is looking to atone for a couple of late breakdowns last season.

3. Strong in the middle: Despite a few snapping problems in a late spring scrimmage, Travis Frederick looked good in replacing star center Peter Konz this spring. Ryan Groy appears ready to become an all-conference type player at left guard. Across from them lies the strength of the defensive line, with Beau Allen, Ethan Hemer and the developing Warren Herring looming as potentially disruptive defensive tackles. If football is won in the middle of the trenches, then Wisconsin is well set up to defend its Big Ten title.

Fall questions

1. O'Brien to the rescue: The Badgers' passing game had its share of struggles this spring, with only Joe Brennan and walk-on redshirt freshman Joel Stave healthy at quarterback. Stave moved ahead of Brennan by the end of spring, but neither showed great consistency. Of course, Maryland transfer Danny O'Brien is on the way, hoping to replicate the success of Russell Wilson. That's far from guaranteed, though, and O'Brien will have to play more like he did as a freshman for the Terps than as a sophomore to make Wisconsin's passing game a true threat.

2. Who else at receiver? Abbrederis missed the spring with a foot injury, giving the coaching staff a long look at the possible contenders to complement him in the receiving corps. It was a very young and inexperienced group that had its ups and downs. Players like Marquis Mason and Chase Hammond have good size and ability but need to learn how to compete every down. Isaiah Williams showed some potential late in the spring. Having good tight ends and excellent pass-catchers out of the backfield should help, but the receiving group remains very much a work in progress.

3. Living on the edge: Wisconsin's defensive line was stout in the middle this spring but lacked a dynamic pass rusher on the edge. The coaching staff hopes that junior David Gilbert can fill that role, but he was out all spring with a foot injury that cut his 2011 season short. If Gilbert isn't all the way healthy or falls short of expectations, there aren't a lot of other candidates. The Badgers' defense is going to be solid with an experienced secondary and two stars at linebacker in Mike Taylor and Chris Borland, but it only reaches the elite level if someone can consistently get to the quarterback.
MADISON, Wis. -- The last time we saw Wisconsin's defense in a game, the Badgers were getting steamrolled by Oregon in the Rose Bowl, allowing 621 yards and 45 points.

The Ducks can make many defenses look bad, but a Big Ten champion isn't supposed to get punctured that severely. Badgers defensive coordinator Chris Ash said a handful of his players consistently lined up incorrectly or went to the wrong spots during that 45-38 loss on Jan. 2.

Oregon pulled out a few new wrinkles for the game, but that doesn't fully explain why a veteran defense with a month to prepare could have made so many fundamental mistakes.

"I've been searching for answers for a few months on that one," Ash told ESPN.com last week.

[+] EnlargeMike Taylor, Chris Borland
Richard Mackson/US PresswireWisconsin linebackers Mike Taylor, left, and Chris Borland combined for 293 tackles in 2011.
Mysteriousness surrounds much of what happened to Ash's side of the ball last season. The numbers say Wisconsin had a fantastic season on defense, as it finished 15th in the FBS in total defense and 13th in points allowed. Yet the lasting images of the Badgers' season revolve around the long passes given up at the end of losses to Michigan State and Ohio State and that Rose Bowl fiasco.

Last year's breakdowns hover over the team this spring and in some ways are guiding how the players are approaching this offseason preparation.

"Those things are fresh in our minds a little bit still," defensive tackle Ethan Hemer said. "We're definitely focusing more on the little things, making sure you're stepping right, you're in position, minimizing your missed alignments. We all realize that one play can make a big difference, and that requires us to be even sharper than we've been in the past. We don't want to be that team that gives up the big play."

This spring is about building depth as much as anything for the Badgers' defense. Only six starters return, while injuries have either shelved or slowed leading tacklers Mike Taylor and Chris Borland and projected starting defensive end David Gilbert. Starting cornerback Devin Smith is working himself into shape after a foot injury cost him most of 2011.

Borland and Taylor, who combined for 293 tackles last season, provide two anchors as one of the best linebacker combos in the country. Another strength could be at defensive tackle, where Hemer, Beau Allen and the emerging Warren Herring have all played well this spring. The defensive line still needs an explosive player on the edge, but the team is hopeful that Gilbert -- who played only four games last year and is out this spring with a foot injury -- can be that guy when healthy.

"When he got hurt, he was really starting to play at a high level," Ash said. "He's really one of the few guys we have who's naturally a pass-rusher."

The secondary lost two starting seniors in Aaron Henry and Antonio Fenelus, but Ash thinks Smith can be an all-conference cornerback this season. Dezmen Southward has replaced Henry at safety and continues to come along. He de-cleated running back Melvin Gordon on a crushing tackle during Saturday's scrimmage.

"We know we have to be the backbone of the defense," cornerback Marcus Cromartie said of the secondary. "We want to be the reason to win. We don't want to be a liability."

Wisconsin's defense has often been overshadowed by the team's offense, and last year the unit embraced its no-name status. This season, though, the players believe they have enough talent to forge their own identity.

"We feel like we deserve to be a defense that's on the radar," Smith said. "It starts with practice and film, but I think we can be one of those type defenses everybody talks about, like LSU and Alabama. We have to earn that respect."

It's a respect they'll have to earn by not allowing big plays and mental breakdowns to become the lasting images of 2012.

Video: Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
11:00
AM ET

Wisconsin defensive back Marcus Cromartie talks about the Badgers' secondary and the team's outlook for 2012.

Video: Wisconsin's Marcus Cromartie

December, 29, 2011
12/29/11
9:30
PM ET


Brian Bennett talks with Wisconsin defensive back Marcus Cromartie from the Rose Bowl.

Badgers-Spartans retro diary: Vol. II

December, 2, 2011
12/02/11
1:00
PM ET
To get you ready for Saturday's Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Michigan State, I've gone back and watched the classic Oct. 22 game, won by the Spartans 37-31. This is my retro diary of that experience. If you missed Vol. I, which covers the first half of the game, click here. We'll pick up things now with the second half. (You can follow along through the magic of ESPN3.com here; however, after repeated attempts I can tell you the replay does not match up in any way with Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon.")

Third quarter

  • 14:45: Wisconsin defensive back Dezmen Southward leaves the game with an injury, pushing freshman Peniel Jean into the game for the second half. Not like the Badgers will need extra defensive backs at any point later on ...
  • 11:58: Michigan State is forced to punt after pressure from Mike Taylor pressures Kirk Cousins into an incompletion. Good start for the Badgers' defense.
  • 10:28: Russell Wilson completes his third straight pass, the last one to Montee Ball for 22 yards to the Michigan State 19. It's Ball's first touch since he went out in the second quarter with concussion signs. Wilson hit two straight big passes on play-action. There's not a more dangerous play-action team in the country than the Badgers, which sometimes makes you wonder why they don't use that on every passing down.
  • 9:56: Oh, here's why. The Spartans stuff the play-action for a 1-yard loss as Johnny Adams comes on a corner blitz. Does any team in America use the corner blitz more than Michigan State does with Adams?
  • [+] EnlargeRussell Wilson and Marcus Rush
    Andrew Weber/US PresswireMarcus Rush forces Russell Wilson out of the pocket, leading to a rare misfire by Wilson.

  • 8:40: Big miss here for the Badgers, as Wilson -- after being flushed out to his left by Marcus Rush -- misses a wide-open Jacob Pedersen for what would have been an easy touchdown. Wilson floated his pass over Pedersen in one of his rare bad throws. But pressure will make even the best quarterbacks to fall out of sync.
  • 8:31: Wisconsin settles for a 33-yard field goal to make it 23-17, Michigan State. Wisconsin scored touchdowns on 56 of 65 red-zone trips this year but had to try field goals on its past two forays inside the Spartans' 20.
  • 6:13: Wisconsin forces a Michigan State three-and-out, thanks in large part to a Chris Borland sack.
  • 4:58: Wilson hits Jared Abbrederis for a 20-yard gain off, of course, play-action. Michigan State's Jerel Worthy cramps up and has to leave for the rest of the series. Other than a first-half tackle for loss, Worthy has been quieted by Wisconsin's Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz. But Konz is not expected to play this week.
  • 4:42: Another missed touchdown opportunity from the Spartans' 39. On yet another play-action, Wilson runs to his right, pivots and throws back across the field to Ball, who was well covered. He missed Pedersen, who was running wide open about 10 yards to Ball's right. How'd Pedersen get so open? He actually falls down near the line of scrimmage after sliding off his block, and everybody forgets about him -- maybe even Wilson. Credit Max Bullough for getting in Wilson's face and making him throw it more quickly than he wanted.
  • 3:54 On third-and-7, Wilson scrambles to his left, with Johnathan Strayhorn in hot pursuit. Wilson might have an angle to get to the first-down marker, but he drops the football and has to jump on it for a 1-yard loss. In one of my football pet peeves, Wisconsin punts from the 37 and it results in a touchback, a net gain of only 17 yards.
  • 0:55: Le'Veon Bell runs through hard-hitting linebacker Mike Taylor to pick up a first down. Bell really asserts himself in the second half of this game, and the sophomore would become the Spartans' main back for the rest of the season.
  • :00: Third quarter ends. Wisconsin has outplayed Michigan State most of the quarter but only has three points to show for it. And the Spartans are driving.
Fourth quarter

  • 11:05: Huge play here, as Michigan State faces third-and-11 from the Wisconsin 15. Cousins hits Keshawn Martin well in front of the sticks, but Martin uses his speed to race right past Borland. No other Badgers defender can cut him off, and Martin takes it to the end zone. Mark Dantonio wisely goes for two, and Cousins throws a fade to B.J. Cunningham, who makes a great adjustment and catch to beat Marcus Cromartie. It's now 31-17 Michigan State. After falling behind 14-0, the Spartans have outscored Wisconsin 31-3. This touchdown drive took 7:34 off the clock, and Cousins has been razor sharp on the night to this point, completing 16-of-19 passes for 202 yards.
  • 10:03: Another blown opportunity for the Badgers. They line up in the I-formation and get single coverage on the outside. Abbrederis shakes Darqueze Dennard at the line of scrimmage and has him beat deep. Wilson delivers the strike down the field -- but the normally sure-handed Abbrederis just plain drops it. How many touchdowns can Wisconsin give away?
  • 9:54: Wisconsin punts after Denicos Allen pressures Wilson into an incompletion.
  • 8:56: Michigan State goes three-and-out again, curiously choosing to pass twice instead of bleeding clock with the run game. The Spartans use only a minute on the clock, even though the best defense against Wisconsin's offense is to keep it off the field.
  • 8:40: Abbrederis, making up for his drop, returns the punt 33 yards to the Michigan State 43. Abbrederis leads the nation this season in punt return average, at 16.4 yards per attempt.
  • 8:10: Moments after Ball's first big run of the second half, Wilson scrambles for a 22-yard touchdown to make it 31-24 Michigan State. Isaiah Lewis had a bead on Wilson, but Wilson pump faked a pass and Lewis -- who made comments about hurting Wilson the week before -- jumped in the air. Ball missed two big blocks in the first half, but this time he picks up Allen on the blitz to spring the play. The Badgers could have easily scored touchdowns on each of their first four second-half drives; instead, they have managed 10 points.
  • 7:09: Michigan State goes three and out for the third time in four drives and again throws two incompletions, using up barely a minute on the clock. Momentum has shifted back toward Bucky Badger.
  • [+] EnlargeKeith Nichol
    Andrew Weber/US PresswirePerhaps the play of the year in college football: Keith Nichol scores the game-winning TD on a Hail Mary pass.

  • 6:54: The worst moment arrives for Russellmania. Wilson is pressured again, rolls to his right and then heaves a pass all the way back to the left sideline for Pedersen. But Bullough has decent coverage on Pedersen, and the ball sails. Lewis finally makes an impact, racing over to catch the ball and tiptoe the sideline for a big interception.
  • 5:13: But Michigan State can't capitalize as it goes three and out once again. On third down, the Spartans appear to call the same play that led to the first-half touchdown pass to Cunningham on a fourth down. Only this time, the Wisconsin linebackers spot Cunningham, and Ethan Hemer gets penetration to sack Cousins.
  • 3:57: After taking over at their own 13, the Badgers get back-to-back first-down runs from Ball. Most teams would panic and throw the ball down seven with under four minutes left, but Paul Chryst has enough confidence in his running game to call four straight runs to start this drive.
  • 2:39: On third-and-9, Wilson dances in the pocket to avoid the rush, keeps his eyes downfield and hits fullback Bradie Ewing for 15 yards to extend the drive.
  • 1:39: More brilliance from Wilson. Michigan State gets pressure again, but Wilson spins around and runs backward to create some room. Downfield, Nick Toon breaks off his route and sprints to the sideline, and Wilson finds him for a 42-yard gain. Toon, coming back from an injury, has only two catches in this game. I expect him to be a bigger factor in Round 2.
  • 1:26: Wilson, flushed out again, starts to run but then dumps it to Ball for a 2-yard touchdown to make it 31-31. Wilson was 4-for-4 on the drive, and if Wisconsin were to win in overtime, he just had his Heisman moment.
  • 1:06: On third-and-7 from the Michigan State 25, Cousins hits Bell across the middle for the first down. Large.
  • 0:42: Unsung hero alert! Cousins scrambles and fumbles on a hit by Brendan Kelly. Offensive lineman Joel Foreman falls on the ball, but the pigskin squirts away. In a huge heads-up play, tackle Dan France pounces on it. Both Borland and Taylor had a chance but can't come up with the ball. Had Wisconsin recovered, it would have taken over at the 24-yard line with all three timeouts. The Badgers almost surely win the game then. Still, it's second-and-21 now, and Bret Bielema calls timeout as he starts to think about getting the ball back. Worthy screams at the offense on the sidelines. I'd like to tell you what he said, but this is a family-friendly blog.
  • 0:30: Cunningham makes an 8-yard grab, and Bielema calls his second timeout. Michigan State was jogging back to the line of scrimmage, and it seemed clear that the Spartans were going to let the clock run down. I understand the first timeout, but I think this one was a bad idea, especially with the momentum Wisconsin would have taken into overtime. During the break, Brent Musberger says, "this could be the first of two" between these teams. Good call.
  • 0:24: The Spartans pick up the first down on an inside shovel pass to Martin. Wisconsin has to know where Martin is on that situation. Also, it sure looked like France jumped offside before the snap, but perhaps karma rewarded him for the fumble recovery. Michigan State did not get called for a single penalty in the game.
  • 0:09: Cousins finds Bell over the middle again to the Badgers' 44. The Spartans need about 10 more yards to get in field-goal range.
  • 0:04: Cousins rolls out and throws to tight end Brian Linthicum, but the pass is a little high and bounces off Linthicum's hands. Aaron Henry had good coverage. A completion there would have set up a field-goal try, but now Michigan State has no choice but to throw it to the end zone. Bielema calls his third timeout to set up the defense, and Dantonio changes the play he had called
  • 0:00: "Rocket" time. Here's an excellent breakdown of all that went wrong and yet right for Michigan State on the play of the year in college football. Keith Nichol is ruled down inside the 1 on the field. But after a replay takes 2:12 of real time, the officials overturn the call. Touchdown, 37-31 Spartans. What a game. Can't wait for the rematch.

SPONSORED HEADLINES