Big Ten: Mario Manningham
Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, What are your thoughts on the Jim Bollman hire by Michigan State? Seems to fit the mold of a Mark Dantonio coordinator?
Adam Rittenberg: He definitely fits Dantonio and what Michigan State likes to do on offense. He's a pro-style guy who believes in run-first football, stout offensive line plan and limiting mistakes. Bollman drove Ohio State fans nuts at times with conservative play calls, especially at the end of his tenure. He recruited well as the Buckeyes' offensive line coach, but some of his lines didn't always perform to their potential. To be fair, Ohio State had some productive offenses under Bollman, and former Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel had a lot of control over the offensive game plan. Should Bollman's hiring make Michigan State fans do back flips? No. But did anyone expect Dantonio to hire the next Gus Malzahn? Of course not. I'm not crazy about the move, but I'm not surprised, either. One area Bollman could really help is the offensive line, which has typically been a notch below the Big Ten's elite. If Michigan State can push defenders off of the ball, it can efficiently run the ball, use play-action, control possession and limit mistakes. Teams that do those things well typically win a lot of games.
Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, I will never understand this B1G vs. SEC thing. Maybe I am showing my age! As an Iowa fan, I will never cheer for an Ohio State or a Michigan Victory. In fact, I hope they lose every game, I don't care if they are playing an SEC team. Conferences don't win championships, teams wins championships! At the end of the day I want one team to win, and that is Iowa! Maybe I am the crazy one! When It comes down to it, lets say Ohio St. wins the BCS championship, does Iowa get any more glamor and praise? Help me out Adam! I just don't get it anymore....I mean rooting for your rivals? Not this Hawkeye! How about you?
Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, I understand your point of view, and you're certainly not the only fan who feels this way. It does, though, illustrate a difference between the Big Ten and the SEC. There's more league pride among SEC fans even though they also have bitter rivalries in their league. The attitude is, "If my team can't win a title, I'd rather see another SEC team raise the crystal football than those snob Yankees!" Were Auburn fans rooting for Alabama against Notre Dame? Some of them were, because of their SEC pride.
I do think Iowa would get a bit more credit for being in a strong league that wins national titles even if it doesn't win any of those titles. Say Iowa goes 9-3 and loses to two Big Ten teams that make the four-team playoff, one of which wins the national title. I think Iowa is viewed in a better light nationally because it plays in such a strong league. The conference vs. conference thing is a fairly recent phenomenon, but it has become bigger and bigger. It's a big reason why we do the conference blogs at ESPN.com. There's also a genuine Big Ten-SEC rivalry. I can sense it when I'm around Big Ten officials. These are the two richest leagues -- both financially and in tradition. They have fundamental cultural differences. But they're also both chasing championships (right now, only one of them is winning them). My sense is Big Ten fans would rally around a league title contender now more than they would have a few years ago, but the league pride likely will never match the SEC's.
Derek from La Crosse, Wis., writes: In the past three NFL drafts, the B1G has had 11 WRs drafted, the SEC has had 12, the ACC has had 10, the Pac-12 has had 8, and the Big 12 has had 10. This year may not be the greatest year for the B1G, but at least over the past three years we are doing fine. It seems like this might just be another case of people thinking the B1G is a lot worse than it actually is.
Adam Rittenberg: Derek, it's good to point out those numbers, but let's look at them a little deeper. Last April, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins became the first Big Ten wide receiver drafted in the first round since Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. in 2007. The Big 12 has had five wideouts drafted in the first round between 2008-12, and the SEC and ACC both have had three. Let's also look at the NFL's receiving leaders from this past season. The highest-rated former Big Ten player -- the Miami Dolphins' Brian Hartline, who played at Ohio State -- checks in at No. 16. The ACC, SEC and Big 12 all have multiple players in the top 15. When it comes to receptions, the highest-rated former Big Ten player -- Denver's Eric Decker, who played at Minnesota -- is tied for 13th. Decker did finish second in receiving touchdowns (13). We also should note that Mario Manningham (Michigan product) was injured, but the Big Ten isn't mass-producing stars at receiver. It's a position that needs to be upgraded through recruiting. And I think it will be.
Blaine from Westfield, N.J., writes: Everyone keeps saying the lack of talent in the BIG is driven by population shifts to the south, but if that is true how do you explain the talented and highly ranked basketball programs?
Adam Rittenberg: Blaine, there are several key differences in the two sports. Roster size is probably the biggest, as basketball teams don't need nearly as many top recruits to reach an elite level as football teams do. Two or three great players can get a basketball team in the mix for a national title. Football, in most cases, requires much more depth. The number of major cities in or near the Big Ten footprint also helps. Chicago, for example, produces nationally elite basketball players every year, many of whom end up at Big Ten programs. The city isn't nearly as fruitful for nationally elite football recruits (proportionally). The same goes for Indianapolis and other Midwestern cities. You also have states or regions where basketball is as big or bigger than football. The state of Indiana certainly comes to mind. Although basketball in the South isn't a complete afterthought, we all know football is king in states like Florida, Texas, Georgia and Louisiana. The Big Ten also has more good to great programs in basketball than in football. There are more Big Ten basketball programs that have competed at an elite level in the past 25 years than Big Ten football programs.
Corey from State College, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, avid reader of the blog when I am procrastinating studying for midterms (like right now). Anyways, I don't think I am too crazy in thinking that the hardest recruiting is behind Bill O'Brien. Obviously the number of scholarships hurts in how many prospect they can miss on, but in terms of actually recruiting them to Happy Valley, I think it will be getting easier. These kids will have the opportunity to play in bowl games. While you could argue our teams may struggle with only 65 scholarship players, you can tell the recruits that our Nittany Lions' performance on the field will be up to them. Like I said, maybe I am too excited about Hackenberg and Breneman, but with one year left in the #1 student section in the country, how could you blame me?
Adam Rittenberg: You make some good points, Corey. Being able to offer the bowl experience -- in addition to the chance to win Big Ten championships -- certainly aids O'Brien and his staff on the recruiting trail. O'Brien also can use the success of the 2012 season as a major selling point. The concern is how Penn State's recruiting would be affected by a down season or two. What if the effects of the sanctions show up more in 2013 than in 2012? What if Penn State lacks the leadership it had from a special senior class in 2012? A losing season or two always impacts recruiting, whether or not there are NCAA sanctions involved. So the key for O'Brien is to keep getting good to great results on the field. Penn State doesn't need to win nine or 10 games every year to maintain recruiting through the sanctions phase, but like any team, it can't really afford 3-9 seasons, either. My point is the sanctions themselves might directly be less of a factor going forward in recruiting because these recruits will be able to participate in bowl games, but the effects of the sanctions on the current team could hurt recruiting if the wins don't keep coming.
Les from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., writes: First round forecast "not good?" If Lewan hadn't decided to stay in school, he was projected as a high 1st round pick, according to the journalists. I guess the pundits got lucky because now they can complain about the conference. I realize it's the offseason, and interest has to be created, but why not wait until the actual draft to see what happens when the actual teams decide who they want, before bemoaning the league's fate? Also...Tom Brady, 6th round, Drew Brees, second round, Brett Favre, second round, Joe Montana, low third round...It's silly to somehow keep score based on this stuff, especially considering it hasn't happened yet.
Adam Rittenberg: Les, as I pointed out in the story, if Lewan had declared for the draft he'd likely be the first Big Ten player selected, perhaps in the Top 10 overall. The larger point is that players like Johnathan Hankins and Kawann Short, who had been on Mel Kiper's Big Board for much of the season, have seen their stock drop in recent weeks. The fact no Big Ten players are listed among Kiper's top 25 is significant when you compare the results to other conferences. And the fact the Big Ten hasn't had a player go in the Top 10 since 2008 -- after having six straight seasons of Top 10 picks -- also is significant. Of course there are examples of Big Ten players -- and those from other leagues -- who were drafted later and became stars in the NFL. The Big Ten also has produced good pros recently like J.J. Watt. But the number of high draft picks is undoubtedly on the decline. Perhaps that will change next year with Lewan and others entering the draft.
Mac from Cincinnati writes: Adam, I know he didnt make a splash in the NFL but you forgot to add Vernon Gholston in the early first round picks in your article. I believe he went 5 or 6 overall.
Adam Rittenberg: Mac, I only listed the Big Ten's top overall selection for each draft. Gholston went No. 6 overall to the New York Jets in the 2008 draft, but Michigan's Jake Long was the Big Ten's top overall pick that year at No. 1 (to Miami). That's why Gholston isn't listed, but the fact the Big Ten had two players selected in the top six shows how times have changed.
- Nebraska picks up a commitment from another Martinez -- Taylor's younger brother, Drake. What's left for Nebraska in 2013 recruiting? The Braylon Heard story has many more questions than answers, Tom Shatel writes.
- A closer look at Penn State's 2013 recruiting class. Nittany Lions "run-on" receiver Gregg Garrity follows his father's footsteps to Penn State.
- Tim May looks at where Ohio State stands with its remaining recruiting targets. More on the Buckeyes' recruiting class less than a week from signing day.
- A look at recruiting needs around the Big Ten as the big day nears.
- One of Wisconsin's top recruits, DE Alec James, reaffirms his commitment to the Badgers.
- Two former Michigan State players gear up for the Super Bowl.
- Minnesota hoops coach Tubby Smith might be interested in the Gophers' latest football recruit -- a very, very big tight end who picked Minnesota ahead of Miami.
- Former Michigan receiver Mario Manningham has endured a tough year leading up to the Super Bowl.
- A pictorial look at Marshal Yanda's path from Iowa to the NFL.
- Purdue researchers explore helmet technology that could dramatically reduce head injuries in football.
Several Husker and Boiler backers tweeted me or sent me links showing that their programs boast the longest streaks of former players reaching the Super Bowl. Nebraska leads the FBS with a 20-year streak, followed by Purdue with 14 consecutive years.
Are those streaks accurate? Technically, yes. But they've been classified incorrectly by some folks. It's all about how you define the streaks.
I reached out to ESPN Stats & Info for verification and, as it turns out, clarification on these streaks of Super Bowl participants is needed. Nebraska and Purdue have had players on the overall rosters of teams that have reached the Super Bowl for 20 straight years and 14 straight years, respectively. But some of these players were on injured reserve and not on the active rosters for the game. Some of them don't get credit for playing in the actual game.
For example, former Purdue defensive lineman Mike Neal played 79 snaps during the regular season for the 2010 Green Bay Packers. He then was placed on injured reserve, so in the eyes of the stats folks (Elias, ESPN Stats & Info), he doesn't get credit for playing in the Super Bowl or being on a Super Bowl roster.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the last Super Bowl not to feature a Nebraska player on the active roster took place in 2007. Chicago Bears safety Mike Brown, the only Nebraska product in the game, suffered a foot injury midway through the regular season and was placed on injured reserve.
So which team has the longest streak of players who actually have participated in Super Bowls? Here's a hint: it's another Big Ten squad.
According to Elias, Michigan leads all programs with 13 consecutive years with an active player in the Super Bowl. LSU and North Carolina are tied for second with 11 straight years.
The Michigan-Super Bowl streak continues with San Francisco 49ers starting center Jonathan Goodwin. Another Michigan product, wide receiver Mario Manningham, is on injured reserve.
The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens boast a combined 19 Big Ten players on their rosters for Super Bowl XLVII. That's tied with the ACC for the second highest total among conferences this season.
Here's the Big Ten contingent for the Big Ten in New Orleans on Feb. 3.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
Garrett Celek, TE, Michigan State
Trenton Robinson, S, Michigan State
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Alex Boone, OL, Ohio State
Ted Ginn Jr., WR, Ohio State
Larry Grant, LB, Ohio State
Donte Whitner, S, Ohio State
NaVorro Bowman, LB, Penn State
Scott Tolzien, QB, Wisconsin
Mario Manningham, WR, Michigan
Al Netter, OG, Northwestern
Nate Stupar, LB, Penn State
Sean Considine, S, Iowa
Tandon Doss, WR, Indiana
Sam Koch, P, Nebraska
Bernard Pollard, S, Purdue
Marshal Yanda, OL, Iowa
Jack Cornell, OL, Illinois
Here are some coaching staff connections for each team ...
- Head coach Jim Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan
- Quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst served as a Wisconsin assistant in 1988
- Assistant secondary coach Greg Jackson was a Wisconsin assistant in 2010
- Linebackers coach Jim Leavitt joined Hayden Fry's staff at Iowa in 1989
- Running backs coach Tom Rathman played running back at Nebraska
- Head coach John Harbaugh coached Indiana's defensive backs and special teamers in 1997
- Assistant head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg coached Minnesota's secondary in 1996
- Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell played at Iowa; served as a Penn State assistant from 1986-92 and a Northwestern assistant in 1981
- Defensive coordinator Dean Pees held the same post at Michigan State from 1995-97
- Secondary coach Teryl Austin held the same post at Michigan from 1999-2002 and served as a graduate assistant at Penn State
- Offensive line coach Andy Moeller played linebacker at Michigan and coached the Wolverines offensive line from 2000-07
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As expected, there were a ton of good responses to the villains series. You're definitely in midseason form.
After reading your e-mails, it's clear that I'm the biggest Big Ten villain here. I definitely swung and missed on a few of these picks. This is one subject where I'll gladly defer to the fans. You know your teams, and you know who you love to hate.
Bret Bielema is definitely off the hook for Iowa fans. Same goes for Terrelle Pryor and Nittany Nation.
Talk back time.
Mark from Perkasie, Pa., writes: Hey Adam,Big Meee-chigan fan here, and without a doubt, the biggest villain against Wolverine football has to be...Troy Smith. No one has ever played better in this series in the past 25 years. A close second on my list would be...Justin "THE ULTIMATE TURNCOAT" Boren.Keep up the great blogging, Adam!!
Adam Rittenberg: Good call, Mark. Smith torched Michigan for 857 pass yards and seven touchdowns in three games against the Wolverines.
Tom from Hoboken, N.J., writes: As a Buckeye Fan, Tim Biakabutuka (spelling) is still one of the Bucks worst villians, his 300-yard game killed the Bucks hope for the National Title in the late 90's. Hearing his name makes me cringe.
Adam Rittenberg: Biakabutuka was a beast against OSU. As long as we're talking running back villains, Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells would probably qualify as well. He hurt Michigan in his final two seasons as a Buckeye.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire|
|Eric Decker is a weapon for the Gophers with and without the ball.|
Eric Decker's mom probably doesn't love the line, but among football guys, it's one of the highest compliments a player can receive.
Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster could easily gush about Decker's receiving statistics. The junior leads the nation in receiving yards (696) and ranks second in receptions (50) on a much-improved Golden Gophers team. But Brewster would much rather talk about Decker's blocking ability and willingness to take on contact, two qualities many wide receivers lack, even the best ones.
"The biggest thing is he is one tough hombre, man," Brewster said. "He is a tough sucker."
When informed of Brewster's quote after Tuesday's practice, Decker laughed.
"Especially coming from him, with his mentality and his attitude, definitely a compliment," he said.
Decker might be the nation's best receiver no one's heard about. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in receiving average last year, behind NFL draft picks Mario Manningham, Devin Thomas and James Hardy, despite playing for a team that finished 1-11.
After missing spring practice to play for Minnesota's baseball team, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior has continued to produce at a high rate. He's on pace for 100 receptions this season, making nine or more catches in three of the Gophers' six games this year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It violates college football's time-honored code to suggest this, but Saturday's trip to Michigan could be a trap game for No. 9 Wisconsin.
Now before screaming sacrilege and summoning the ghosts of Yost, Crisler and Schembechler, consider the facts.
Michigan sits in last place in the Big Ten at 1-2. The massive turnover of both personnel and coaching philosophy has brought growing pains on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin's depth chart lists 17 juniors or seniors among the 22 starters on offense and defense. Michigan's depth chart lists 10 starters who are freshmen or sophomores, including those at quarterback (Steven Threet), running back (Sam McGuffie) and wide receiver (Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum).
And look at what's up next for Wisconsin. Next week, the Badgers host defending Big Ten champ Ohio State in a Saturday night game at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin has never lost under coach Bret Bielema. Then the Penn State Nittany Lions, considered by many to be a better team than Wisconsin despite facing weaker competition, visit Madison for another Saturday night affair.
Given those factors, the term "trap game" applies to Saturday's contest at Michigan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Will the Badgers let things get that far? Don't bet on it.
Wisconsin has the benefit of history -- both recent and long term -- to consult before visiting the Wolverines. The Badgers haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, a span of four games. In 1998, they fell 27-10 but still went on to win the league title and reach the Rose Bowl.
"The Big House is 110,000 people, so we definitely want to go in there and try to do something different," senior cornerback Allen Langford said. "We definitely go in there trying to make some history."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm about to hit the road for Ann Arbor, where former walk-on Nick Sheridan is using heady play to possibly grab the starting quarterback spot at Michigan. But I promised a mailbag on Friday and here's a condensed version. Enjoy.
Matthew from Canton, Mich., writes: How can you pick against Michigan State in their game against Cal? State is more consistent, and has a well proven running back, quarterback, and O-Line. the Defense isn't too shabby either. I think Michigan State will surprise you. Oh, and nice pick on the Michigan-Utah game. I thought I was alone when I told my friends that Utah would beat Michigan.
Adam Rittenberg writes: I love Mark Dantonio and the job he's done in East Lansing, but your comment about Michigan State being more consistent nearly made me fall out of my chair. Consistent at what? Disappointing its fans every October? Dantonio will put an end to that soon enough, but there's a lot of troubling history with that team, especially when there are expectations. Javon Ringer and Brian Hoyer look solid, but only if they get help from the offensive line (not much depth). I won't be surprised at all if Michigan State wins, but Cal is awfully tough in Berkeley and made absolutely the right decision by starting Kevin Riley at quarterback.
Drew from Minneapolis writes: One can easily make the case that Iowa has one of the easiest schedules in the nation, let alone the Big Ten (No OSU or Michigan). But do you think they will actually be able to take advantage of the cakewalk schedule? There are definite holes at running back and the secondary, and it always seems like half of their starters get injured once the conference schedule begins. Is this the year that will put [Kirk] Ferentz back among the elite coaches of the Big Ten?
Adam Rittenberg writes: The schedule definitely will help Iowa overcome some major issues on offense, not just at running back and the offensive line, but at quarterback as well. The road game against Pitt won't be easy, but Iowa should be 3-1 when it opens Big Ten play against Northwestern. Like you point out, injuries could be a concern, especially after the sick bay filled up so fast last season. But without Ohio State on the slate and both Wisconsin and Penn State at home, the Hawkeyes and Ferentz could do some damage and restore their reputation.
Erik from Saint Joseph, Mo., writes: I would just like to say your biased pick of Illinois over Missouri made me a little mad at first. Then I realized you were just having delusional thoughts. Then I laughed and wasn't mad anymore. However, I still feel like the pick is idiotic. p.s. If you're going to respond, have the gall to do it before the game is over.
Adam Rittenberg writes: Glad I made you laugh, Erik, and I'll be happy to respond before kickoff, just like I'll be happy to get ripped if Missouri pounds Illinois. I don't see it happening, though. Illinois' defense will be better than last season, and Jeremy Maclin won't be able to torch Vontae Davis like he does other cornerbacks. Chase Daniel still will put up numbers, but watch out for Juice Williams. He's not just a runner any more. Could go either way, but I'm sticking with the Illini.
Queena in Calgary writes: Hello Adam, Would you give a short explanation on the main differences between Michigan's new spread offense versus what we had run under Coach [Lloyd] Carr? Do you think Michigan will see sucess this season under the new system?
Adam Rittenberg writes: How much time do you have, Queena? There are numerous differences. Michigan will operate a lot in the no-huddle and the overall pace will be much quicker this fall. The days of Chad Henne dropping back and looking for Mario Manningham or handing off to Mike Hart in the I-formation are over. Think a lot more shotgun, a decent amount of option and the zone read, which forces defenses to defend the back side of plays. Michigan did a decent amount of zone blocking before, but there will be more movement with what Rich Rodriguez does.
D.J. from Minneapolis writes: Really, only one mention of the Gophers in your 25 Things To Watch For. How about the next step in Adam Weber's development...a player who should be getting a lot more attention than he does. Or how about the real coming out party for Eric Decker who is going to have a monster year this year. I know last season was a joke, but there are some very good pieces in place on this team. Sorry Adam, I had to vent and show some support for my squad. I enjoy the blog, keep up the good work...just give some more love to the Gophs!
Adam Rittenberg writes: Sorry D.J., ran out of room for a team coming off a 1-11 season. Seriously, though, I'm very excited about Adam Weber. He's got a great personality and the right skill set to lead that offense. I covered offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar at Northwestern, and he wants a guy who can run -- not as much as Weber did last year -- and throw short passes. Think Brett Basanez in 2005. Weber is an excellent fit, and Decker should have a big year. So I'm excited for those things as well, even if they didn't make the list.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position. Penn State dismissed defensive tackles Phil Taylor and Chris Baker but still have depth at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- This probably needs a disclaimer, so here it is.
Michigan won't go 3-9. Michigan won't have the nation's worst rushing offense for most of the season. Michigan won't go three plus games without scoring an offensive touchdown. Michigan won't allow a nation-high 58 sacks.
But from a pure personnel standpoint on offense, there are some obvious parallels between what Michigan lost after last season and what Notre Dame lost following 2006. And unlike the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines are adjusting to a new coach (Rich Rodriguez) and a new system. That should be a good thing, given the conservative play-calling and wasted talent of recent seasons, but it's still something to consider.
Here's a position-by-position look at the two offenses, who was lost and who returned.
WHY MICHIGAN WILL BE BETTERMichigan returns more at running back and should be able to field a stronger group of wide receivers to help the new starting quarterback. The biggest key for the Wolverines will be developing the offensive line. Notre Dame's primary error in 2007 was not emphasizing physical play up front in the preseason. Michigan has made strength and conditioning the focus of the winter, spring and summer. The Wolverines should see it pay off this fall. Though both teams lost record-setting playmakers and Rich Rodriguez historically struggles in his first season at a new school, Michigan should adjust easier.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|AP Photo/Robert K. O'Daniell|
|Martez Wilson has already been a defensive playmaker for Ron Zook.|
We'll get to the Big Ten's top freshmen before long, but on this preview day, I'd like to spotlight a player on each team who I can't wait to watch this fall. I didn't want to restrict this to freshmen, so the criteria are fairly open. The picks are true freshmen, redshirt freshmen, players returning from injury/off-field issues or guys finally getting their shot at major field time. Here's the list:
Illinois: Martez Wilson, LB (6-4, 246, So.) -- Wilson will be featured in Illinois' defensive midsection, which loses starters J Leman and Antonio Steele. Often likened to former Illini star Simeon Rice, he was among the headliners of Illinois' program-changing 2007 recruiting class. Wilson added 10-15 pounds of muscle during the offseason while maintaining top-shelf speed. He'll be a force at outside linebacker.
Indiana: Darius Willis, RB (6-0, 220, Fr.) -- Indiana needs another backfield threat to complement reinstated quarterback Kellen Lewis, and Willis could be the answer. The true freshman headlined Indiana's recruiting class, finishing as the runner-up for Mr. Football in the state last year. Willis has good size and strength and could be the power runner IU wants.
Iowa: Shonn Greene, RB (5-11, 227, Sr.) -- Iowa needs a savior at running back and hopes to find it in Greene, who returns to the team after spending 2007 at a junior college to improve his academics. Greene has 69 career carries and performed well as a reserve, but how he transitions back to Big Ten football after a year away will be interesting to watch.
Michigan: Darryl Stonum, WR (6-2, 190, Fr.) -- Whoever wins the starting quarterback job will need help from a new-look wide receivers corps, and Stonum should be a factor right away. The true freshman enrolled early and impressed during spring ball. He has put on 20 pounds and provides the big-play skills Michigan must have after losing Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington.
Michigan State: Trevor Anderson, DE (6-2, 255, Jr.) -- An All-Big East selection at Cincinnati, Anderson followed coach Mark Dantonio to Michigan State and will step in this fall after sitting out 2007. He fills an immediate need at end, where the Spartans lose top pass rusher Jonal Saint-Dic (10 sacks in '07). Anderson has good speed and spent the last year improving his strength.
Minnesota: Tramaine Brock, FS (6-0, 187, Jr.) -- Of the seven junior-college transfers Minnesota brought in, Brock could see the most immediate playing time. He dazzled the coaches during spring practice and fills a hole in a secondary that got shredded last season. The hard-hitting Brock plays with an edge Minnesota could use as it rebuilds on defense.
Northwestern: Andrew Brewer, WR (6-3, 210, Jr.) -- Brewer would have been NU's No. 1 wide receiver entering last season, but he fractured his humerus two weeks before the opener. His size and speed make him a matchup headache at slot receiver, but he's caught only one pass in a college game after playing quarterback his freshman year. Northwestern's offense is based on short passes, but Brewer gives quarterback C.J. Bacher a downfield threat.
Ohio State: Terrelle Pryor, QB (6-6, 220, Fr.) -- An obvious choice here. All eyes will be on Pryor and how Ohio State uses the nation's No. 1 recruit to complement starter Todd Boeckman. The Tim Tebow comparisons are out there, and Pryor's rare combination of size, speed and strength won't go to waste as Ohio State tries to get back to the national title game.
Penn State: Stephfon Green, RB (5-10, 189, Fr.) -- Sophomore Evan Royster likely will start, but Green is all the rage in Happy Valley. He hasn't touched the ball in a game, but his breakaway bursts during spring practice signal exciting times are on the way this fall. With sprinter's speed and the ability to score on any play, Green could be the greatest asset for Penn State's new starting quarterback.
Purdue: Jason Werner, LB (6-4, 221, Jr.) -- Back surgery in December 2006 nearly ended Werner's career, but he has since come on strong and appears on the brink of a breakout season. The former Indiana Mr. Football likely will start at strongside linebacker after moving down from safety. He's the team's most athletic linebacker, and his experience at defensive back will pay off in pass defense.
Wisconsin: John Clay, RB (6-2, 237, Fr.) -- For now he'll share carries as a member of the league's deepest group of running backs, but before long Clay will be featured in the Badgers' offense. Wisconsin has done well with big backs and Clay should fit right in, bringing a mix of size and speed. He rushed for 94 yards in the spring game and should see time behind P.J. Hill.