Big Ten: Matt Mayberry

The Revolving Door: Indiana

May, 24, 2010
Third in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Rodger Saffold, LT: He didn't get a ton of pub during his college career, but Saffold showed everyone what they missed during predraft workouts. The second-team All-Big Ten selection soared up the draft boards and was the second Big Ten offensive lineman to hear his name called, as St. Louis selected him with the first pick of the second round. Saffold protected Ben Chappell's blind side as Indiana ranked second in the league in fewest sacks allowed (16).

Matt Mayberry, LB: Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton had value as well, but Mayberry was the heart and soul of Indiana's defense the last two years. He led the team with 108 tackles and ranked second on the squad in tackles for loss (11), sacks (5.5) and interceptions (3). Mayberry started the final 24 games of his career and finished with 251 tackles.

Staying ...

Tandon Doss, WR: If you're in a college football fantasy league and want to beat your buddies, pick Doss if he's available. He quietly earned first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 77 receptions for 962 yards and five touchdowns, ranking second in the league in receiving yards. This guy has legit NFL potential, and he could produce some big numbers this fall.

Ben Chappell, QB: Chappell finished third in the league in passing average last fall (245.1 ypg), and if he can cut down on his interceptions, he should have a monster senior season. He's no stranger to the spotlight and will have one of the Big Ten's best group of wide receivers and tight ends at his disposal this fall.

Coming ...

Jeff Thomas, LB: The junior college transfer should play a significant role this fall as Indiana transitions to the 3-4 defensive alignment. Thomas was on campus this spring and likely will back up Tyler Replogle this season. He boasts good size at 6-foot-1 and 249 pounds, and he earned first-team All-American honors for Foothill Junior College last fall. Thomas recorded four tackles in the spring game.

Andre Kates, CB: After some wavering before signing day, Kates pledged to Indiana and provided a major jolt for the Hoosiers' recruiting class. The junior college transfer not only fills a glaring need in the secondary, but he brings a strong skill set to the defensive backfield. A one-time Florida commit who had to get his grades right at ASA College in Brooklyn, N.Y., Kates should make an immediate impact this fall.

More revolving door ...

After taking a look Thursday at Big Ten offenses in need of repair, let's switch the focus to the defensive side. I think some of you misunderstood the selections. These are units that struggled in 2009 and need to get better this fall, not good units that lost a few key pieces from last year (i.e. Penn State's defense, Iowa's defense).

Here we go ...


1. Indiana: Defense repeatedly has been the big problem in Bloomington, and last season was no exception. Indiana finished 10th in the league in both points allowed (29.5 ppg) and yards allowed (401 ypg). What's scary is that the Hoosiers lose three starters in the secondary and several extremely productive front-seven players in end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Matt Mayberry.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines fell victim to a series of major defensive breakdowns in 2009, particularly during Big Ten play. They lose their top two defenders in end Brandon Graham and cornerback Donovan Warren, and still lack the type of scholarship numbers they need on that side of the ball. Michigan finished last in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense and rushing defense during conference games last fall.

3. Illinois: Ron Zook's offensive staff paid the heaviest price for last season's shortcoming, but the struggles on defense weren't excused, either. Illinois couldn't stop anyone during nonconference play and finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring defense (30.2 ppg) and total defense (403.2 ypg) last season (all games). Injuries and a lack of depth at key spots doomed the Illini, and Zook demoted both his defensive coordinators following the season.


1. Illinois: Vic Koenning was a very good hire as defensive coordinator, and he has ramped up the level of accountability for an underachieving unit. Illinois has some good pieces in linemen Corey Liuget and Clay Nurse, linebacker Ian Thomas and cornerbacks Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne. If linebacker Martez Wilson stays healthy and can be a leader, Illinois could turn things around this fall.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers coaches like their young players and incoming juco transfers, but history isn't on their side. Indiana hasn't fielded a defense ranked in the top half of the FBS for more than a decade, and the unit loses a lot of production in the front seven. Perhaps a switch to the 3-4 alignment will spark the Hoosiers, but they need to build depth, especially in the secondary.

3. Michigan: We heard quite a bit about promising young defenders this spring, guys like Cameron Gordon and J.T. Floyd who could spark the defense. But the spring game didn't ease many concerns about the group, and Michigan coaches admit they'll be relying on incoming freshmen like cornerback Demar Dorsey for a boost this fall. The talent certainly is there, but the questions will linger until after the season kicks off.
Spring practice is in the books around the Big Ten, and before we take an in-depth look at the last seven weeks, it's time for a new installment of the power rankings. I know you missed them.

There's still clear separation at the top of the Big Ten with Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin. Same goes for the bottom of the league with Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota, although those three are about even. The middle of the conference, not surprisingly, is a bit muddled. There's not much movement from the last rundown, but a few things I saw this spring prompted changes.


1. Ohio State: It was business as usual this spring for the Buckeyes, who are used to lofty expectations and boast experience on both sides of the ball. The offense rebounded nicely in the spring game after setting off alarm bells in the jersey scrimmage. Cameron Heyward leads a talented defense that found some answers along the line and at linebacker.

2. Iowa: Aside from a bunch of banged-up running backs, Iowa had a very solid spring. A very good defensive line got better, players stepped up at linebacker, quarterback Ricky Stanzi worked on his interceptions and the offensive line saw some separation occur. Like Ohio State, Iowa has veterans who can handle the high expectations this fall.

3. Wisconsin: Not surprisingly, spring ball seemed quiet in Madison, as Wisconsin returned plenty of starters on both sides of the ball. A knee injury to backup quarterback Curt Phillips was the big negative, while the defensive line made strides and the secondary finished strong. Injuries prevented the offensive line from truly coming together.

T-4 Michigan State: The Spartans move into a tie with Penn State after a very solid spring. Quarterback Kirk Cousins made strides and should have a ton of weapons at his disposal this fall. A greater emphasis on the 3-4 defense seems to suit Greg Jones and his teammates. Offensive line, secondary and kicker are the big question marks entering the fall.

T-4 Penn State: The Blue-White Game set off alarm bells for many folks, as quarterbacks Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin struggled behind a shuffled offensive line. But I still give Penn State the benefit of the doubt. The Lions always will be very good on defense, and if they can move the ball with running back Evan Royster, they'll buy some time for a young quarterback to get settled.

6. Northwestern: Head coach Pat Fitzgerald called this the healthiest spring his team has gone through, a good sign after a rough season on the injury front in 2009. Quarterback Dan Persa embraced a leadership role, and the defensive front seven turned in a solid spring. Running back and the secondary are the big unknowns.

7. Michigan: A pivotal season for the Maize and Blue could come down to Denard Robinson and an improved offensive line. If Robinson builds off a strong spring, wins the starting quarterback job and gets some room to roam, Michigan should score plenty of points this fall. There's still a lot of work to do on defense and especially in the kicking game.

8. Purdue: The injury bug hit Purdue very hard this spring, as the Boilers practiced without 20 players and 10 starters during one stretch and had to postpone two practices because of all the health issues. Running back Ralph Bolden's torn ACL was the Big Ten's most significant spring setback, though Purdue is holding out hope that he can return this fall. Quarterback Robert Marve was a big bright spot for the Boilers this spring.

9. Minnesota: Quarterback Adam Weber answered the challenge this spring and likely will retain his job as the starter. Minnesota also saw growth from the offensive line, and new coordinator Jeff Horton and his simplified scheme clicked well with the players. The Gophers had some setbacks on defense, including safety Kim Royston's broken leg, and still have to replace replace a whopping nine starters.

10. Illinois: The Illini still have a long way to go, but players responded well to new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning this spring. Illinois has enough talent at the skill positions, and it built some depth along the defensive line during spring ball. The young quarterbacks had their ups and downs, but Nathan Scheelhaase looked impressive for most of the session.

11. Indiana: This isn't so much a knock against the Hoosiers as it is a wait-and-see approach, especially regarding the defense. Indiana will pass the football very well this fall, but two things still concern me about this team: its struggles with the run game, and whether a chronically poor defense can replace key contributors like Jammie Kirlew and Matt Mayberry. If the Hoosiers can meet those two challenges, they should surprise a lot of folks this fall.
If Indiana's defense finally turns the corner this season, the Replogle family figures to play a key role.

Hoosiers senior Tyler Replogle is the defense's undisputed leader, not to mention the only returning starter at linebacker. His younger brother Adam was IU's only true freshman to see the field last season and will be a factor on a new-look defensive line.

More help is on the way, as linebacker Mike Replogle already has given Indiana a verbal commitment for 2011. And there's an even younger Replogle who plays defense, Jake, a freshman linebacker at Centerville (Ohio) High School.

"I'm sure he'd love to come here, too," Tyler Replogle said of Jake. "It worked out really well, pretty much a dream come true, growing up, playing together in high school, and then getting another chance to play together in college. It's just been a real dream."

Tyler started nine games at strong-side linebacker last fall and finished second on the team with 80 tackles (61 solo), including 6.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and an interception. As Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson depart, he steps into the featured role at linebacker this fall.

"There's no question he's the leader of our defense," head coach Bill Lynch said. "He's everything you're looking for in a Big Ten football player. He's tough, he's aggressive, he's a great leader, a great student, has a passion for the game. He's played a lot of football for us, so the guys kind of rally around him."

Co-defensive coordinator Joe Palcic calls Replogle "one of the toughest kids we've ever been around."

"He's not flashy," Palcic said. "You look at him on the field, he looks sort of average, but he has great smarts and great toughness."

Indiana has transitioned to a 3-4 defensive alignment this spring, a change Tyler Replogle welcomes. He said the alignment helps the line better disguise blitzes and frees up himself and the other linebackers to make more plays.

Although Replogle still plays on the strong side, he lines up inside when the defense goes to the 3-4.

"It gives us a lot more flexibility," he said. "We're blitzing a lot more, obviously, since we're sometimes sending one, maybe two linebackers. It allows us to get pressure on the quarterback, drop back in coverage, and frees up the other linebackers [to stop] the run."

Adam Replogle started the final 11 games last fall at defensive tackle and recorded four sacks and five tackles for loss. He also showed his versatility by playing fullback in Indiana's final three games.

Replogle has continued to make progress this spring and recorded two sacks and three tackles for loss in Saturday's scrimmage. Despite his size (6-3, 290) and experience at tackle, Replogle moved to defensive end this week and could fill in there as IU loses two multiyear starters (Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton).

Palcic said Adam is the superior athlete between the brothers, but both will play big roles if Indiana plans to end its defensive struggles, which have lasted for more than a decade.

"We're very fortunate to have both of them," Lynch said.
The thought first dawned on me late Friday afternoon in Columbus, as large groups of reporters circled around Ohio State linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle after practice. Finally, Homan and Rolle were getting the attention they deserved.

One problem you encounter when a league boasts so many elite players at one position is that most of them tend to get overlooked. The Big Ten had three consensus selections for first-team all-conference in 2009: Michigan State's Greg Jones, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Iowa's Pat Angerer. I'd put those three against any group in college football, and I'd like my chances. If you're running a 3-4 scheme, toss in Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2009.

But the performances of Jones, Bowman, Angerer and Borland overshadowed guys like Homan. How many linebackers record 108 tackles, five interceptions, 10 passes defended, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries and don't make first-team all-conference?

The good thing for Homan is he has another season to get the attention he deserves. The same can't be said for Minnesota's all-senior linebacking corps of Nate Triplett, Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, each of whom ranked among the Big Ten's tackles leaders last fall. Or Indiana's Matt Mayberry, a blog favorite who flew under the radar. Or Iowa's A.J. Edds, who finished the season with five interceptions and nine passes defended. Penn State's Josh Hull got some love with a second-team All-Big Ten pick from the coaches, but his value to the defense wasn't really known outside Happy Valley.

Those players have moved on, but here are a few linebackers who will step into the spotlight in 2010:

Ross Homan, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats:
108 tackles, 5 interceptions, 10 passes defended, 5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 2 fumble recoveries

Brian Rolle, Sr., Ohio State
2009 stats:
95 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 2 passes defended

Quentin Davie, Sr., Northwestern
2009 stats:
90 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, 6 quarterback hurries, 1 interception

Jason Werner, Sr., Purdue
2009 stats:
77 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, 3 passes defended

Eric Gordon, Sr., Michigan State
2009 stats:
92 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick

Jeremiha Hunter, Sr., Iowa
2009 stats:
89 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 blocked kick, 1 interception, 5 passes defended

Mike Taylor, So., Wisconsin
2009 stats:
46 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 1 interception, led the team in tackles before suffering season-ending injury against Iowa on Oct. 17.

Tyler Replogle, Sr., Indiana
2009 stats:
80 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 pass breakups

Joe Holland, Jr., Purdue
2009 stats:
81 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 2 passes defended

Ian Thomas, Jr., Illinois
2009 stats:
95 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 passes defended, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery
In preparation for the start of spring practice Tuesday, Indiana has issued an updated depth chart (Page 4).

There aren't many surprises on offense, as eight starters return from 2009. Junior Andrew McDonald appears as the starting left tackle, as Indiana must replace standout Rodger Saffold. Veteran Cody Faulkner is listed as the starting right guard ahead of freshman Aaron Price.

The defensive depth chart reveals a few more clues:

  • Junior Darius Johnson and fifth-year senior Deonte Mack are listed as the first-team defensive ends. Several others will be in the mix, including Fred Jones, Eric Thomas and Terrance Thomas, who will miss spring ball with a shoulder injury. Mack boasts a good deal of experience at both line positions.
  • Senior Tyler Replogle shifts to middle linebacker as IU must replace Matt Mayberry. Junior college transfer Jeff Thomas is listed as the backup there.
  • Junior Leon Beckum and sophomore Chad Sherer are listed as the starters at the outside linebacker spots. Replogle started nine games at strongside linebacker in 2009.
  • Adrian Burks and Matt Ernest will compete for a starting cornerback spot opposite Donnell Jones. Ernest will be limited this spring as he's pitching for Indiana's baseball team.
  • Junior Chris Adkins is listed as the starter at free safety, while converted wide receiver Mitchell Evans is the starting strong safety ahead of Jerimy Finch. Evans will miss spring ball following hip surgery, so it will be interesting to see if Finch, a heralded transfer from Florida, can finally answer the bell.
  • All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss will get a shot to fill Ray Fisher's spots on returns. Doss is listed as the starter for both punt and kickoff returns.
  • Head coach Bill Lynch said today that Edward Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel will compete for time as the team's Wildcat quarterback, a role Evans filled well in 2009.
Anyone who watched Indiana in 2009 could see the obvious improvement that took place in Bloomington. The Hoosiers had a more dynamic offense and good speed on both sides of the ball. But once again, progress didn't translate into a better record, as IU couldn't finish off potential victories against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Penn State. Fourth-year head coach Bill Lynch will be on the hot seat entering 2010, and he'll need to see his team make more strides on the field, particularly on defense, and most important, in the win column this fall.

[+] EnlargeBill Lynch
AJ Mast/Icon SMIAfter losing seven starters on defense, Bill Lynch's staff has it's work cut out on that side of the ball.
Indiana kicks off spring ball a week from today, and I recently caught up with Lynch to preview the spring.

You were so close in so many games last year. Is there any way to build off that as you hit the field again?

Bill Lynch: I certainly think so. I've seen it throughout the winter program. We're building off what we did in the fall, and I've certainly seen good leadership, good gains in the weight room. We've got a great attitude going into the spring. Obviously, we've got two different kinds of teams. We've got great experience on offense. Certainly our skill position guys are back and healthier than they were a year ago. Offensive line, we lost a couple guys, but we've got some good young guys that have been waiting their turn. Defense is a bunch of young guys that are really anxious to go, some kids who have redshirted and we feel are very talented, guys that haven't played but who we think are going to be really good football players for us. So it will be fun to watch them get out and go. It's going to be a fun spring that way. I like what we're doing from an X's and O's standpoint. We just have to get better at it right now.

You mention the defense and I know you lose a lot [seven starters] on that side. As a head coach, I know you're an overseer, but will you spend more time with the defense this spring?

BL: I don't think my personal time will be spent any more [with the defense]. We'll certainly do a great job of evaluating the kids. We've got to do more of it this spring than we've done in the last couple [of years], in terms of being very accurate in our grading and what we do in the spring with personnel, particularly on the defensive side. When you get out of the spring, you want to have a pretty good idea of your two-deep going into the fall. Now things can change and other kids can have great summers, but you have to have a starting point. In the spring, you give a lot of guys opportunities and see where it shakes itself out. But going into the fall, you have to have a pretty good idea.

So, would you like to know your depth chart on defense coming out of the spring?

BL: Yeah, I think so. I've always felt like you'd like to come out of the spring knowing who your top 50 football players are. That's not to say you're not going to tweak some things over the summer before they get here in August, but it's important, not only offense and defense, but it gives you a great idea of how you'd like to start out with your special teams.

You mentioned the anxiousness of young players on defense to get out there. Who are some of the guys you're looking forward to seeing this spring?

BL: I'll start at defensive end, because [Jammie] Kirlew and [Greg] Middleton played so much. Darius Johnson and Javon Cornley. We've got a guy named Kevin Bush, an older guy, really, but he's had a great fall and winter. He was a walk-on who was in the military and came back to school. And then Fred Jones, Eric Thomas are guys who have been in our program that are good football players. They've been waiting their turn to really go in and compete. At linebacker, it's more of a young group, but Damon Sims and D.J. Carr-Watson and Griffen Dahlstrom and Chad Sherer are all kids that are looking forward to showing what they can do because [Matt] Mayberry and [Will] Patterson and [Justin] Carrington and some of those guys that played so much [are gone]. We've got a JC kid in Jeff Thomas from Northern California; we like what we've seen from him in the winter, so I'm anxious to see him on the field. He's an inside [linebacker]. And then in the secondary, it's wide open. [Austin] Thomas and [Nick] Polk played so much, and then [Ray] Fisher played last year. There are some guys there that have had good winters because they know it's going to be very competitive, and this is their opportunity.

I'm sure you have a good idea of your leaders on offense, but who steps into those roles on defense?

Lynch: There are a couple guys who are great leaders on that side. Tyler Replogle is as good as you're going to find, and Mitchell Evans is the same way, and we're moving Mitchell from offense to defense. So it starts there with those two guys. But all our [defensive] tackles played a lot of football for us last year, so we have good experience there. Evans certainly will give us some stability in the back end there because he's played so much football, even though it hasn't all been on defense.
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:


Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:
  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:
  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, J.J. Watt, Jerel Worthy, Anderson Russell, Ian Thomas, Riley Reiff, Mitchell Evans, Arby Fields, Joe Palcic, Randy Walker, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Navorro Bowman, Clay Nurse, Paul Jones, David Gilbert, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Louis Nzegwu, Garrett Graham, Lance Kendricks, Sean Lee, Stefen Wisniewski, Martez Wilson, Nate Stupar, Tim Brewster, Robert Marve, Darius Johnson, Evan Watkins, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Rich Rodriguez, Albert Evans, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Pat Fitzgerald, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Jeff Horton, Kyle Jefferson, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Jacob Charest, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Dan Herron, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Tyler Nielsen, Brandon Graham, Jeff Tarpinian, Juice Williams, Josh Hull, Daryll Clark, Mike Trumpy, Niles Brinkley, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Nick Toon, Devin Gardner, Shaun Prater, Nathan Scheelhaase, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Bani Gbadyu, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Tate Forcier, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Jay Valai, Dan Persa, Kurt Coleman, Scott Concannon, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Julian Vandervelde, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O\'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Jordan Hall, Terrance Thomas, Paul Petrino, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, Charlton, Gary Emanuel, 2010 spring what to watch

Despite another disappointing record (4-8) in 2009, Indiana finished the season with several reasons to believe things will get better soon.

Those reasons could be found in Indiana's offensive meeting room.

[+] EnlargeMitchell Evans
AJ Mast/Icon SMIMitchell Evans is one of several players who lined up on offense last season but could be on defense in 2010.
From quarterback Ben Chappell to wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher to running back Darius Willis, Indiana boasted plenty of weapons to attack its opponents. And for the most part, they're all coming back in 2010, as the Hoosiers lose only three offensive starters, two of whom played on the line.

But offensive firepower rarely is the problem at Indiana. Defensive struggles have doomed the Hoosiers for the last decade, as they finished no better than 71st nationally since 2000. Despite a veteran-laden unit in 2009, Indiana ranked 10th in the Big Ten in points allowed (29.5 points per game), ninth against the pass (241.9 yards per game), ninth against the run (159.1 ypg) and 10th in total yards allowed (401 ypg).

The Hoosiers also lose seven starters on defense, including All-Big Ten end Jammie Kirlew, former national sacks leader Greg Middleton, standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry and three-fourths of the secondary. Even if IU lights up the scoreboard in 2010, it could have major problems stopping anyone on defense.

That's why head coach Bill Lynch plans to move several offensive players to defense, including versatile wide receiver Mitchell Evans.

Recruited as a quarterback and a safety, Evans began his college career at safety, moved to quarterback for preseason camp in 2008 and eventually switched to wide receiver. He ranked fourth on the team with 33 receptions for 366 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, but he was perhaps best known for being the trigger man on the Wildcat offense, or, as Indiana folks called it, the Wild-Mitch. Evans took 69 snaps in the Wild-Mitch and rushed for 131 yards on 32 attempts.

This fall, Evans will be patrolling the secondary as a safety.

"He played safety for us as a true freshman," Lynch told me last week. "We're looking at some other guys that we may move to compete at corner and see how they do, knowing that they could go back to offense if it didn't work out."

Last year, wide receiver Ray Fisher moved to cornerback and became Indiana's top cover man. Fisher still contributed on kick returns, recording two runbacks for touchdowns. Evans also could maintain a role on offense, even though he'd be primarily a defensive player.

"He's the kind of kid that could [play both ways]," Lynch said. "It takes a mature guy that's a quick learner and doesn't need a lot of reps, and he's one of those kinds of guys. He's very unique that way."

Wide receiver Matt Ernest, who played safety in high school, also will switch over to defense for 2010. Indiana expects two junior college players, Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles, to fill in at cornerback.

"We don't want to count on freshmen coming in and doing it," Lynch said. "Kates and Kiles will compete right away, and then the next step is some of the guys we're going to move this spring."

Best case-worst case rewind: Indiana

December, 22, 2009
My look back at the best case-worst case series continues with ... Indiana.

In case you missed it: Indiana's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Indiana has no trouble replacing the dismissed Kellen Lewis and shows greater depth on both sides of the ball as it returns to a bowl for the second time in three years. ... Junior quarterback Ben Chappell flourishes in the pistol formation, and wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher become stars. ... IU faces some challenges on defense, but ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton lead a formidable pass rush and linebacker Matt Mayberry dominates. ... Indiana starts 6-1 with wins against both Michigan and Virginia and reaches the Insight Bowl, where it beats Colorado to finish 9-4.

Worst-case synopsis: The Hoosiers' depth concerns turn out to be true and the offense falls apart in another lost season. ... Chappell struggles as the full-time starting quarterback and spends most games trying to avoid the pass rush. ... Indiana once again has no running game, and the defense shows its warts in the interior line and the secondary. ... After a 2-2 start, Indiana drops its final eight games and the university drops Bill Lynch as head coach. ... Home attendance declines and new athletics director Fred Glass searches for the team's fifth head coach since 2001.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Lynch's confidence in quarterback Ben Chappell pays off." ... "Heralded recruit Darius Willis blossoms to become the team's featured back. Left tackle Rodger Saffold anchors an improved offensive line, and young wideouts Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss torch opposing secondaries." ... "Indiana survives its opener against Eastern Kentucky." ... "A much improved defense then shuts down Tim Hiller and Western Michigan in Week 2, gaining confidence before a tricky trip to Akron. Indiana improves to 3-0 by zipping through the Zips." ... "Despite a veteran presence on defense, Indiana's holes on the interior line and in the secondary doom the unit."

Lies, lies, lies: "The pistol formation energizes Indiana's rushing attack." ... "The Hoosiers send an early warning shot to new Purdue head coach Danny Hope by thumping Hope's former team, Eastern Kentucky, by 30 points in the opener." ... "A 4-1 Hoosiers team heads to Charlottesville and knocks off a beatable Virginia team, pushing head coach Al Groh further out the door." ... "In the regular-season finale, the Hoosiers avenge their 52-point loss last year at rival Purdue and pound the Boilers 40-10." ... Indiana caps a surprising season by beating Colorado in the Insight Bowl. The Hoosiers win nine games for the first time since 1967." ... "With a 2-10 mark, Lynch's fate is sealed."

Reality check: Indiana's 4-8 record seems fairly close to the worst-case scenario, but the team showed obvious improvement for much of the season. Chappell certainly validated himself as a legit Big Ten quarterback, while Doss will 2010 as one of the league's best wide receivers after a great year this fall. Yet once again, Indiana couldn't get over the hump in winnable games against Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa and Wisconsin. The defense received strong performances from several individuals but once again struggled as a unit, raising some concerns for 2010. Glass made the right call in giving Lynch one more year, but next fall will be pivotal for the program.
The junior college signing period has been relatively quiet so far in the Big Ten, but Indiana picked up some help for its defense.

The Hoosiers today announced the signing of Jeff Thomas, a 6-foot-1, 240-pound middle linebacker from Foothill Community College in Los Altos Hills, Calif. Thomas will enroll at IU for the spring semester and have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

He was named NorCal Conference Defensive Player of the Year this fall after recording a league-high 104 tackles, 14.5 for loss, to go along with two sacks, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and six pass breakups.

Indiana needs bodies in its defensive midsection after losing standout middle linebacker Matt Mayberry to graduation. Starting weakside linebacker Will Patterson, a team captain, also graduates.

Indiana Hoosiers season recap

December, 9, 2009
Most projections pegged Indiana for three to five victories this season, so with a 4-8 final record, you could say the Hoosiers met expectations.

But they could have done so much better.

Anyone who watched Indiana play this fall noticed the obvious upgrades. Junior quarterback Ben Chappell was a real weapon under center, while wideouts Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher could start for any Big Ten team. Running back Darius Willis showed tremendous promise at times, while the defense boasted standouts in end Jammie Kirlew and linebacker Matt Mayberry.

There seemed to be a new feeling around the Indiana program this year, but the results were all too familiar. Indiana showed it could compete against good teams. The Hoosiers simply couldn't beat them.

A second bowl appearance in three years seemed possible after a 3-0 start, and even after a very competitive performance at Michigan Stadium in the Big Ten opener. And if Indiana had held onto leads against Northwestern (28-3), Iowa (21-7) and Penn State (10-0), it would have gone bowling.

IU fans should be pleased with the individual performances from Chappell, Doss, Willis, Kirlew, Mayberry and others, but the collective result still isn't good enough. Indiana was outscored 162-106 in the second half this season and finished near the bottom of the Big Ten in several key defensive categories, including third-down conversion percentage (47.5).

Offensive MVP: Ben Chappell. Many were skeptical about Indiana's offense following Kellen Lewis' dismissal this spring, but Chappell backed up the coaches' beliefs with a solid junior season. He finished second in the league in passing (245.1 yards per game) and 15th nationally in completions (22.3 completions per game). Honorable mention goes to Doss, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media.

Defensive MVP: Matt Mayberry. A very tough call here between Mayberry and Kirlew, but anyone who watched Indiana saw Mayberry all over the field. The senior linebacker led IU with 108 tackles, including 11 for loss and 5.5 sacks. He also was excellent in pass coverage with three interceptions and three pass breakups. If not for a large group of solid linebackers, Mayberry would have been an All-Big Ten selection. Kirlew obviously deserves a mention here after forcing five fumbles and 15.5 tackles for loss.

Turning point: Indiana took a 4-3 record to Northwestern for what looked like a bowl play-in game on Oct. 24. The Hoosiers surged to a 28-3 lead but fell apart in the final two and a half quarters, as Northwestern mounted the biggest comeback in team history. Indiana blew a 21-7 lead the next week at Iowa and slipped out of bowl contention.

What's next: Head coach Bill Lynch will be back for a fourth season, which is the right call for a program lacking much continuity since the Bill Mallory era. Lynch still must prove he can win consistently in the Big Ten, however, and he'll need to bolster a defense that loses most of its top players.
I've had some time to digest this year's All-Big Ten teams and league awards, which, for the most part, accurately reflected the conference this fall. It's always interesting to see the differences in voting between the coaches and the media, as well as the team-by-team breakdown. The media and I saw eye-to-eye on all four awards selections.

Here are a few things that stood out to me.

The Big Surprise

Let me preface this by saying Penn State's Jared Odrick is an outstanding player, the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten and most likely a future star in the NFL. But I was extremely surprised to see the coaches select Odrick as both Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. I had a similar reaction to seeing the media pick Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as preseason Offensive Player of the Year.

In what might have been the most competitive Defensive POY race ever, Odrick wasn't on the radar for most people. If the award would go to a Penn State player, linebacker Navorro Bowman appeared to be the No. 1 choice. Bowman was in the mix with linebacker Greg Jones, end Brandon Graham, end O'Brien Schofield, safety Kurt Coleman, linebacker Pat Angerer, end Adrian Clayborn and end Ryan Kerrigan.

Odrick is a great player who commands double teams on almost every play, but how do you ignore Graham, who had 25 tackles for loss on a bad defense? Or Jones, who makes every tackle on the field? Or Coleman, the top playmaker on the league's best defense? And if the coaches think interior line play is underappreciated, they should have voted Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, not Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. King was much more of a difference maker than Laurinaitis last fall.

Again, nothing against Odrick, but this pick was a head scratcher.

Other thoughts and notes

  • It's not a huge surprise, but Ohio State's lack of representation on the first-team All-Big Ten squads certainly stands out. The Buckeyes had only one player (Coleman) on the coaches' ballot and only two (Coleman and guard Justin Boren) on the media's. This certainly strengthens Jim Tressel's case for Coach of the Year, an award he has never won.
  • For the most part, the selections didn't penalize players who missed time because of injuries. Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga was a consensus first-team selection and Offensive Lineman of the Year despite missing three games (thyroid). Bulaga's teammate, tight end Tony Moeaki, also made All-Big Ten (first-team coaches, second-team media) despite missing time (ankle). Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker was a first-team pick by the coaches even though he missed the final four regular-season games. Northwestern cornerback Sherrick McManis, Iowa guard Dace Richardson and Penn State linebacker Sean Lee also earned all-conference honors despite sitting out games.
  • Both the coaches and the media identified the top eight defensive linemen in the league for the first and second teams. They also did a nice job with the defensive backs. The second-team linebacker selections were a little curious. I don't know how Ohio State's Brian Rolle or Indiana's Matt Mayberry get left out.
  • Iowa's Adam Robinson would have been a good pick for second-team running back, but I don't have a major problem with the selections.
  • Northwestern finally got some recognition this year with five All-Big Ten selections. The Wildcats won one more game last year (9-3) but had only one All-Big Ten player (defensive end Corey Wootton).
  • The coaches' voting was very close, as three positions (defensive back, center and wide receiver) ended up with ties.
  • Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark was the right choice for the first team. It was a very close call between Northwestern's Mike Kafka and Purdue's Joey Elliott for second team, but Kafka led his team to more wins.
  • Both the coaches and media got it right with Wisconsin's Chris Borland for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Borland is the first defensive player to win the award since Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert in 2000.
  • The selections include 15 members of the first or second team from 2008, including seven first-team selections from last fall who are on this year's first team: Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko, Jones, Decker, Bowman, Clark and Odrick, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham.
All-Big Ten selections by team (first or second team, coaches and media)

Illinois: 1
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 9
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 4
Minnesota: 1
Northwestern: 5
Ohio State: 6
Penn State: 9
Purdue: 5
Wisconsin: 6
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Regardless of how this one turns out, Indiana deserves credit for being extremely resilient and not letting things fall apart.

Tyler Sash's 86-yard interception return could have been the Hoosiers' downfall. Things got worse after a short missed field goal. But Indiana's defense came up big again, as linebacker Matt Mayberry picked off quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who now has thrown a career high four interceptions. The Hoosiers' front seven has had an exceptional game in pressuring Stanzi.

The Hoosiers played it smart on third-and-16, picking up a good chunk of yards to set up a shorter field goal attempt. Nick Freeland nailed it to put IU up 24-14.

There's no doubt Iowa deserves to lose this game, but the Hawkeyes know how to win, no matter how tough the circumstances.

Big Ten mailblog

October, 27, 2009
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Let me begin the mailblog with a mea culpa. There was no need for officials to review the Brandon Wegher fumble against Michigan State because Wegher recovered the ball. I still disagree with the flag on Michigan State's Jeremy Ware, but the officials absolutely got it right when they called Chris L. Rucker for holding in the final minute.

Onto your questions.

R.J. from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Adam I just want to know how When Iowa has to block two field goals to win a game its horrible, Iowa gets ridaculed. But now that bama has to do it i havent heard anybody get on bama about it? Also Iowa dropped out of the Rankings, but look at bama still num 1 and num 2. this is so dumb, all the analysts are so into the sec thinking there a power house. I dont get why when the big ten is winning the same way they are, that the big ten is weak? can you explain this? and do you think im right?

Adam Rittenberg: I definitely agree with you to a certain extent, R.J., and you bring up a great point about the similarities between those two wins for Iowa and Alabama. The difference to many is that Alabama beat a bitter rival in Tennessee, while Iowa should have handled Northern Iowa easily (I know UNI is the greatest team in the world, but c'mon). Many excuse Alabama's close win because of the rivalry and Tennessee's reputation, even though the Vols are a bit down right now. Iowa is totally getting blamed for what the Big Ten did in the bowls last year, while Florida and Alabama do get the benefit of the doubt because of the SEC's success in the national title game. I think the SEC lovefest is beginning to weaken just a bit, but the Big Ten simply has no legitimate defense for its recent bowl failures and its poor nonconference performances the last two seasons.

Chris from St. Louis writes: Adam, love the blog, I've read it almost every day for the last year and a half. When you posted the awards update, it got me thinking that Ohio State's players are almost entirely absent from the awards scene. No one on offense is going to win any awards, obviously, but I'm surprised that no one outside of Coleman has even made any semifinals lists. Between Gibson, Heyward, Rolle and Homan, I would think that our defense would be getting a little more credit. Why do you think the Buckeyes (on defense) are getting zero love in the awards this year?

Adam Rittenberg: You make a very interesting observation here, Chris, and one I've thought about as well. I'm not a big fan of the national awards because they're based too much on preseason hype and not enough on in-season analysis. Brian Rolle and Ross Homan are two of the Big Ten's best linebackers and certainly deserve some recognition. Thad Gibson and Cam Heyward also have been terrific. But they're not big names yet, and unfortunately, name recognition plays a big part in these awards. I really would hope that at least Gibson and Rolle would earn some accolades by the end of the season. It would help if they shut down Penn State, Iowa and Michigan.

Martin from Bloomington, Ind., writes: Adam I love the blog I look at it everyday while im at work! (Probably shouldnt) but I think one of the more interesting matchups individually this weekend should be fun to watch. Pat Angerer VS. Matt Mayberry at Kinnick Stadium this Saturday afternoon. Angerer has 77 tackles while Mayberry has 71 but more importantly Angerer only has 2 TFL's while Mayberry has 8. Angerer has a sack while Mayberry has 2.5 and each hold 1 INT. At the NW game last week, the announcers said it best that Mayberry is always healthy and stays very consistent this year and with his 4.49 speed will be a force at the next level. It is time Mayberry gets more recognition!!! No matter what the team does, him and Kirlew always are out there dominating.

Adam Rittenberg: It should be a great matchup, Martin, and Indiana needs Mayberry to have a big performance against Iowa's offense, which has struggled at times this year. What I like about both of these guys is they can drop back in coverage as well as stop the run. Mayberry made a big interception last week against Northwestern, while Angerer has a pick and four pass breakups after tying for the league lead in interceptions last season. Neither player gets a ton of national recognition, but both are integral parts of those two defenses.

Patrick from Honolulu writes: Mr. Adam,I have a problem with your power rankings this week. Penn State is clearly much more powerful at this point in the season than Iowa. However, the Hawkeyes remain #1. Correct me if I'm wrong, but "Power" is different than "BCS" from week to week, no? Love the blog otherwise!

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Patrick, but you're not going to win this argument. Iowa won in Happy Valley and has continued to win despite a much tougher schedule than Penn State. Though I agree the Lions are playing great football right now, they still have some work left to catch Iowa in the power rankings. I'm not going to move up a team simply because of victory margin. Iowa deserves the top spot in the power rankings, period.

Hunter from St. Johns, Mich., writes: Dear Adam,Do you think that Michigan State will get back to being a Big Ten championship contender and BCS bowl contender within the next 5 years? Or do you think that they will play good against mediocre teams and then just find a way to blow it at the end like they did against good and great teams(i.e. Notre Dame, Central Michigan, and Iowa)?

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan State will reach bowl games every year or almost every year under Mark Dantonio and challenge for league titles every 2-4 seasons. To expect the Spartans to be a perennial league title contender right now is unrealistic. Winning close games, winning bowl games -- those should be the primary goals in East Lansing. Michigan State still needs to get over the hump in down-to-the-wire contests. Look at Iowa last year. Until the Penn State game, the Hawkeyes couldn't buy a clutch win. Now that's all they do, win close games. Michigan State has won some nailbiters (i.e. Michigan on Oct. 3), but there's still not that program-wide belief that they'll pull out victories. That will come with time.