Big Ten: Micah Hyde

Picking up the pieces: Iowa

September, 4, 2013
Kirk Ferentz looked like a politician Tuesday as he leaned forward, wearing a red tie, and fielded questions about his Iowa Hawkeyes. He alternated between taking sips of coffee and water, while topics ranged from Jake Rudock's interceptions to the lack of a pass rush.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Byron Hetzler/USA TODAY SportsKirk Ferentz has found himself too often answering questions about disappointing losses.
Despite everything that was discussed, Tuesday's news conference basically revolved around one simple theme: Is losing a close 30-27 game to MAC school Northern Illinois part of the new normal for Iowa?

The Hawkeyes' longtime coach has more questions than answers right now. Surely he'd like to think this is just part of some unlucky trend -- one that's seen him lose five times by a field goal or less in the last 12 games -- but the point is it's a losing trend. And Ferentz hasn't yet found a way to reverse it.

Iowa fell to Central Michigan last season 32-31, and lost to the Huskies on Saturday. Ferentz last lost to a MAC team in 2007. Before that? In 2000, his second year as head coach.

Maybe Ferentz's best days are behind him; maybe not. That's not something that was answered by just the Northern Illinois game, a matchup that pitted the best player in the MAC -- dual-threat QB Jordan Lynch -- against a defense that averaged about a sack a game in 2012.

But Ferentz knows what his team has to do to find a favorable solution. The Hawkeyes must pick up the pieces and limit turnovers and big plays.

"The next step," he said, "is you need to learn how to win."

This is just the first bell in a 12-round bout, but the Hawkeyes are reeling right now. This loss isn't nearly on the same scale as other upsets over the weekend. It's still painful, but Iowa isn't South Florida. There are still reasons for fans clad in black and yellow to cheer.

For one, this offense might not be near the best in the Big Ten -- but it's no longer anemic. It rushed for 202 yards Saturday, a full 99 yards more than last season's average. Mark Weisman reached the century mark rushing and averaged 5 yards a carry.

Rudock tossed an interception that led to the Huskies' game-winning field goal, but he threw for 256 yards -- 69 yards more than the Iowa norm in 2012. So what, then, is holding this offense back? Why did it manage to score only two touchdowns?

No doubt Ferentz will be breaking down the film and looking for answers. But offensive coordinator Greg Davis needs to take some of the blame here. He curiously abstained from using his running backs on third-and-short during the second half and, on a key third-and-9 play late in the game, he called Kevonte Martin-Manley's number ... on a bubble screen. The play went for 1 yard.

The pass-rush seems nonexistent and the secondary is still adjusting without Micah Hyde. But after the first game, this doesn't appear to be a bad team -- at least not worse than last year. It's a losing team right now, but there is a difference.

Ferentz will continue to field these questions until winning once again becomes a trend. Iowa should get an easy victory in Week 2 from Missouri State. But the hopes for a successful season seem pinned on Week 3, at Iowa State.

Iowa didn't pass its first test, but it showed potential. If it fails another, if improvement doesn't translate into victories, the questions might stop -- but Ferentz won't like the answers.

Iowa season preview

August, 20, 2013
Can Iowa rebound from a down year or will Kirk Ferentz find himself on the hot seat again? A look at the 2013 Hawkeyes:


Coach: Kirk Ferentz (100-74 overall, 100-74 at Iowa)

2012 record: 4-8 (2-6 Big Ten)

Key losses: QB James Vandenberg, WR Keenan Davis, OG Matt Tobin, C James Ferentz, DL Joe Gaglione, CB Micah Hyde

Key returnees: RB Mark Weisman, WR Kevonte Martin-Manley, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, OT Brandon Scherff, C Austin Blythe, LB Anthony Hitchens, LB James Morris, LB Christian Kirksey, S Tanner Miller

Newcomer to watch: WR Damond Powell. He was No. 83 on the ESPN Juco 100, and Iowa's passing game sorely needs a boost after averaging just 5.8 yards an attempt last season. (Only eight teams in the FBS fared worse than that.) It might take a few more weeks for Powell to get acclimated -- he arrived on campus only earlier this month -- but the speedy wideout could develop into a big-play threat. He averaged about 30 yards a catch at Snow College.

Biggest games in 2013: at Iowa State (Sept. 14), at Ohio State (Oct. 19), versus Wisconsin (Nov. 2), at Nebraska (Nov. 29)

[+] EnlargeJake Rudock
AP Photo/Matt QuinnanJake Rudock seems to have the inside track to be Iowa's quarterback in 2013.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Which quarterback will start this season, and can he be more effective than Vandenberg? It's a three-way race right now between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard, but Rudock appears to have the edge. Ferentz could name a starter later this week, and Rudock received most of the snaps during a Saturday scrimmage.

The good news for Rudock is there's really nowhere for this pass offense to go but up. Big plays were few and far between in 2012, and Rudock is at least a bit more used to offensive coordinator Greg Davis now. (Davis took over in February 2012.) The Hawkeyes finished No. 99 in pass offense last season with Vandenberg, and it would be a huge disappointment if Rudock didn't improve upon those numbers. Expectations at quarterback are low enough for Rudock to exceed them.

Forecast: Ferentz is coming off his worst season since 2000, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that a lot of question marks are surrounding this team. The Hawkeyes finished with the No. 114 offense last season and Iowa lost its best defensive player in Hyde.

Still, there is some hope for these Hawkeyes. If the running backs can remain healthy -- and that's a big if for Iowa -- the offensive line is strong enough to pave the way and greatly improve upon the team's dismal rushing performance from last year. And, despite the downright awful pass game, Iowa lost by a field goal or less in four games, so the potential's there to add more marks in the win column. The Hawkeyes just need to find a downfield threat and a playmaker or two.

On defense, the line needs to generate more of a pass rush, but the talent on the other side of the ball isn't a huge concern (certainly not on par with the passing game). With a strong group of three returning linebackers, the Hawkeyes should have one of the stronger groups of the conference.

Iowa isn't going to compete for a division title, but it should improve upon last year's record. Five or six wins isn't out of the question. But if Ferentz can't meet those numbers, the chatter about a pending pink slip -- prohibitive buyout or not -- is sure to start up again.
B.J. Lowery came to Iowa because he impressed a rival coach. Before leaving the Hawkeyes, he wants to make a similar impression on his young teammates.

After playing understudy to Hawkeyes standout cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Lowery understands and embraces the role he now occupies for the secondary.

"My role this year on the defense is going to be major," Lowery told this week. "I'm about to be a senior, so I have to lead by example. I know all the younger guys are going to be following me, good and bad, no matter what I do. They're going to remember me."

[+] EnlargeB.J. Lowery
AP Photo/Scott Boehm"I pretty much lead by example," said B.J. Lowery, an elder statesman among Iowa's cornerbacks, "so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright."
Lowery hopes he's remembered fondly as Iowa tries to rebound from a 4-8 season. After starting nine games opposite Hyde at cornerback last fall, Lowery established himself as the team's top cover corner this spring, a player capable of continuing a nice run of Iowa cornerbacks that includes Hyde (Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2012, fifth-round pick in April's NFL draft); Prater (first-team All-Big Ten, fifth-round pick in 2012 draft) and Amari Spievey (first-team All-Big Ten, third-round pick in 2010 draft).

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Lowery recorded 50 tackles, including one for loss, along with an interception and three pass breakups. We named him Iowa's most indispensable defender, and he stood out during spring ball, including Iowa's spring game.

Lowery admits he struggled at the start of the 2012 season with some of Iowa's coverage concepts. But he made strides in the second half, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska in the season finale. He has equal comfort with playing man and zone and has spent much of the offseason studying film with younger cornerbacks like freshman Malik Rucker.

"I'm not really a vocal guy," he said. "I pretty much lead by example, so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright. I want to set a good example for those young guys coming in, so everything I’m doing, I’m looking over my shoulder to see who's watching."

Fortunately for Lowery, Doc Gamble was watching as he began to blossom for Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Back then, Gamble coached Withrow High, Hughes' top rival.

He took notice of Lowery, an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore and a junior, and contacted Phil Parker, then Iowa's secondary coach and now the team's defensive coordinator.

"That kind of changed everything for me," said Lowery, who had received an offer from Akron but not much interest from major-conference schools. "[Gamble] gave Coach Parker my film and told him to come down to my school. And before you knew it, Coach Parker came down and we talked and that's how the recruiting process began."

Lowery stays in touch with Gamble, now an assistant at Kent State, and often sees him at semi-pro games back home in Cincy.

"We used to go at it every year, my high school and his high school, so I guess I did somehow, I impacted him, and he reached out and helped me out."

Lowery also received help from Prater and Hyde, who exuded confidence and instilled it in others. Lowery wants to follow their lead this fall as he mentors younger cornerbacks like Rucker, junior Jordan Lomax, sophomore Sean Draper and redshirt freshman Maurice Fleming.

Lomax and Draper are competing to start opposite Lowery.

"I want to be a role model for the younger guys," Lowery said. "I want to be productive and let the team do what we plan to do this year, which is win."
Now that spring practice is over, we're examining the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team for the 2013 season.

By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or shot out of a cannon. That could be because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Up next: Iowa

Brandon Scherff, OT, Jr.

Maybe offensive coordinator Greg Davis will surprise us and call 40 passes a game with an unproven quarterback. It's more likely Iowa relies on its running attack and -- hope AIRBHG isn't reading -- a good stable of backs led by Mark Weisman. That's where Scherff comes in. He's the team's best lineman and a guy who has the potential to follow recent Hawkeyes star tackles like Bryan Bulaga and Riley Reiff. Iowa's offense already had problems before Scherff suffered a gruesome injury last October against Penn State, but without Scherff -- and fellow lineman Andrew Donnal, who got hurt two plays later -- the unit had no chance. Not only does Scherff provide blindside protection for the Hawkeyes' new signal-caller, but he'll be instrumental in sparking a run game that showed potential when the backs were healthy in 2012. Iowa is very young at tackle behind Scherff and Brett Van Sloten, and it can't afford to lose No. 68 again.

B.J. Lowery, CB, Sr.

Some might expect to see a linebacker here, as Iowa returns starters James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey. But the Hawkeyes have strength in numbers with their defensive midsection, and if one player were to go down, the others are there to pick up the slack. Iowa doesn't enjoy the same type of depth at cornerback, especially after losing Micah Hyde, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and a fifth-round pick in last month's NFL draft. After recording 50 tackles and an interception last season, Lowery capped a strong spring with an interception and three pass breakups in Iowa's spring game. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the team's quarterbacks avoided throwing toward Lowery in practices, and he showed why in the scrimmage. Iowa has some questions at the other cornerback spot and not much overall depth at the position, so it needs to keep Lowery on the field this fall.

More indispensable:

Michigan State
Ohio State

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 29, 2013
So if the Big Ten East is the "Big Boy Division," does that make the West the "Andre 3000 Division?"
Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

While the SEC produced a record 63 picks in the 2013 NFL draft -- eight more than any conference in any draft in the modern era and 32 more than the next-best conference (ACC) in this year's draft -- the Big Ten endured a mostly forgettable three days at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Before going any further, this post isn't meant to knock the Big Ten players who heard their names called Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They worked years for this moment and deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Congrats to all.

But for the Big Ten as a whole, this draft was a total dud. Was it the league's worst draft ever? If it isn't, it's certainly in the conversation.

The Big Ten produced only 22 draft picks, its lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 (and 11 teams, not 12). In 1994, the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-round selections and eight selections in the first three rounds.

You have to wonder how much the Big Ten's damaged national reputation is impacting its draft hopefuls. The SEC's rise has made that conference the first place NFL general managers and player personnel directors look for talent. Although Big Ten players might be comparable to their SEC counterparts in many ways, their competition level might be looked at as a drawback in the final evaluations.

This year, the Big Ten tied with the Big 12 for fourth among leagues in producing picks, but the Big Ten produced fewer selections in the first three rounds (7) than any of the power conferences. Last year, the Big Ten finished with 41 draft picks, just one behind the SEC for the top spot.

Other items of note (tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Information and the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises for several of these):

  • [+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
    Although the Big Ten's national reputation has been an issue for some time, it didn't dramatically impact the draft until this year. The Big Ten has produced at least 27 draft picks every year since the 21-player output in 1994.
  • The Big Ten's four biggest brand-name programs -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- combined to produce just two picks in the first three rounds (Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Penn State DT Jordan Hill).
  • Nebraska endured its longest drought without a selection since 1970, as running back Rex Burkhead waited until the sixth round to hear Cincinnati call his name with the 190th overall pick. The Huskers didn't have a selection in the first four rounds for the third time in the past six seasons. With just two draftees -- Burkhead and safety Daimion Stafford, who went in the seventh round -- Nebraska had its weakest output since 1969.
  • Michigan went without a draftee in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968 and without one in the first three rounds for just the fifth time since 1970 (1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009 were the others). The Wolverines have had just five players drafted in the past two seasons.
  • Ohio State had just three players -- Hankins, defensive lineman John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel -- drafted from a team that went 12-0 in 2012. Fragel's selection in the seventh round helped Ohio State avoid its smallest draft class since 1968.
  • An Illinois team that went 2-10 last season and 0-8 in Big Ten play led the league with four players drafted. It continues a mystifying trend for the Illini, who have had four players selected in each of the past four NFL drafts, even though the team has endured losing seasons in three of the past five years. Illinois has produced 10 players selected in the first three rounds since 2010, the most of any Big Ten team.
  • As expected, three Big Ten teams -- Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana -- had no players drafted. Northwestern went 10-3 last season.

Perhaps the best draft news for the Big Ten is that future member Rutgers had seven players selected, tied for the sixth highest total.

(Read full post)

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

April, 25, 2013
Answering some of your emails before it gets all drafty in here:

Dash from Tucumcari, N.M., writes: "It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," Steven Bench said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football." Comment: What? You can't have it both ways. If you are a "competitor," than being number two in a close race should tell you that you can win the job in fall camp and/or be the guy ready to step in and take it should something happen to the guy above you. I am a college football fan, not a Penn State fan and I say to him: Good riddance. Penn State fans should be rejoicing to hear that a non-competitive athlete who therefore, is likely to crumble when everything isn't perfect, has opted to transfer. That's my two cents from the peanut gallery...

Brian Bennett: Dash, I agree that Bench's transfer was jarring, and it's odd to see a guy who was supposedly so close in the competition transfer before duking it out in fall camp. However, we don't know exactly what coach Bill O'Brien told Bench about his status. According to this report, Bench was told he would not receive any more first-team reps in practice, which suggests that he might have fallen behind both Tyler Ferguson and incoming recruit Christian Hackenberg. Remember that Bench is a only sophomore, and he can transfer and be eligible right away at another school. Going somewhere else, probably a program smaller to Penn State, and being able to potentially start for three years as opposed to being the No. 3 quarterback does make sense for him. You've got to respect O'Brien's honesty if he indeed told Bench exactly where he stood, but that honesty cost the Lions some depth at quarterback.

Dan from East Lansing writes: The one thing I don't understand with aligning MSU in the East and IU in the west is that the majority of MSU's alumni outside of MI is located in Chicago and the majority of the IU alumni are in DC outside of IN. IU actually played a home game vs PSU in DC b/c of this. Common sense tells me switch these 2 teams and it makes the divisions more fair and it gives each alumni base more chances to see their team. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Hey, I'm with you, as I've been arguing that Michigan State should have gone to the West for competitive balance reasons. But I think the Michigan-Michigan State factor was much bigger for the league than alumni bases or evening out the competition. It seems clear that the Big Ten wanted to keep those schools in the same division to avoid needing a permanent crossover to preserve that rivalry. I'm also interested in seeing how the division alignment affects recruiting, because it's no secret that there are more prospects in the eastern part of the league than in the West. That's good news for Michigan State, but how about for a team like Purdue, which will be playing the majority of its games in the Central Time Zone? That's something to monitor.

Hayden B. from Lavista, Neb.: Hey Brian, I've been thinking about underrated B1G players in this draft more and more as the draft gets closer. Who do you think are some B1G players that could be grabbed in the last round that are not expected to be drafted or expected to drop to the last round? I see a couple players like Eric Martin (a remarkable hitter), Kyler Reed (A speedy, great handed TE), Micah Hyde (possibly the most underrated DB in this draft), or any other low rated B1G players. Who do you see dropping or sneaking into the draft?

Brian Bennett: Well, it sure looks like just about all Big Ten players are lowly rated coming into the draft. If we're talking about guys not getting much buzz right now, I'd start with Rex Burkhead, who in our latest mock draft was not even projected to be selected. That's just silly. I also think Minnesota's MarQueis Gray is a good enough athlete to make an impact, possibly at tight end. Some other names I'd include are Wisconsin linebacker Mike Taylor, Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch and Hyde. This could be one of the worst drafts in history for the Big Ten in terms of number of selections and high-round picks. But what's more important is how many guys get to the league and actually do something there.

Joe from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Will Riley Bullough start at RB for the Spartans this year?

Brian Bennett: Bullough's story -- going from linebacker to running back late in spring practice, and suddenly becoming the top option -- is really interesting. It also says a lot about the state of Michigan State's running backs. Mark Dantonio has said all along that three freshmen coming in -- Delton Williams, R.J. Shelton and Gerald Holmes -- would all be given long looks this summer. My bet is that one of them ends up leading the team in rushing. If nothing else, Bullough has shown he can play the position and add a strong power element to the backfield. If none of the freshmen are ready early, Bullough could wind up starting, though I see him more as a complementary player.

Mark F. from Surprise, Ariz., writes: Brian, how do you see Iowa's new offense this year? I'm hyped up on it for few reasons. One, Vandenberg wont be missed. Ruduck or Sokol can fill his shoes and can't be anymore ineffective in the passing game. Two, Weisman and Bullock are gonna be on the field at the same time. With Bullock spending time in the y-back position and Weisman's abilities, do you see that opening up the entire passing game? And last, with an experienced and healthy offensive line back, does that increase every other aspect? I think with Weisman, Bullock, and a healthy offensive line, the receivers and quarterback will be much more productive. With that and Iowa's experienced defense, I think Iowa wins 9 games.

Brian Bennett: Mark, it's good to hear from a Hawkeyes fan who's bullish on the 2013 team, because I haven't heard from many of those this offseason. In talking with Greg Davis yesterday, it was clear that he's really excited about two things: the offensive line, which will be deep and experienced, and the running game. As he mentioned, having Damon Bullock and Mark Weisman healthy and together (knock on wood) allows for so many different looks in the running game, and when you combine that with some no-huddle, Iowa should be able to get some favorable matchups, like Bullock in the slot facing a linebacker. The goal is to run the ball so well that it opens up things in the play-action pass game.

My biggest concern, other than the inexperience at quarterback, is the playmaking ability at receiver. Iowa's wideouts did not show an ability to get separation or make plays after the catch last year, so I wonder whether they'll be good enough to actually implement a more vertical passing game, even off play-action. Still, I do think the Hawkeyes' offense has to get better than what we saw toward the end of last year, when the offensive line was in rough shape because of injuries. I'm not so optimistic to predict nine wins, especially with a pretty tough schedule that includes Wisconsin and Ohio State as crossover opponents.

Shocked from Rochester, Minn., writes: Wisconsin has won the last three conference championships (granted there's an asterisk on 1), look to have another talented team in 2013, and have continued to play at a high level after enduring major coaching changes, so what gives with the contender/pretender voting? As I'm writing this, 53% of about 1,000 people have voted WI to be a pretender (a percentage that's sure to be higher after disregarding Badgers fans' votes). Is it the perception that WI can't compete with OSU in their division, are there a lot of haters voting, any other ideas?

Brian Bennett: At last check, Wisconsin finished the polling as a pretender. That is surprising, for the reasons you mentioned. The Ohio State obstacle is a legitimate concern, as is the coaching transition. But if I had to guess, I'd say the voting mostly reflects the fact that a lot of other teams' fans just don't like Wisconsin. It happens when you win a lot.

Ryan from Johnstown, Ohio, writes: Brian, does college football really need three SEC vs Big Ten bowl games in the state of Florida? Personally, I'd like to see some more variety. I say that between the Capital One Bowl, Gator Bowl, Outback Bowl, and Russell Athletic Bowl they change the tie ins to create the following match ups: SEC vs Big Ten, SEC vs ACC, ACC vs Big TenS, EC vs Big 12. And then have the Big 12 give the Big 10 the Holiday Bowl (against the Pac 12) in exchange for letting them into Florida during bowl season.

Brian Bennett: The three SEC matchups in Florida are a bit much, but I still like those better than having two games in Texas. Personally, I always like it when the Big Ten goes against the SEC. Anyway, the entire bowl structure is about to undergo an overhaul. Conference commissioners have discussed adding more flexibility to the system, where there can be more choice in deciding the best matchups and more variety in the destinations and opponents. Ideally, the Big Ten would have access to several bowls in Florida, Texas, Arizona and California and at least one on the East Coast. Then it could mix and match to find the best slots and avoid situations like Iowa and Nebraska going to the same bowl two straight years. Let's hope.

James from Michigan writes: With Michigan going only 8-5 last season I have heard a lot of Wolverine fans using the talent level as a scapegoat. Normally as a State fan I assume Michigan fans are just looking for excuses, however after looking at Michigan's 2013 NFL draft prospects I really only see Denard [Robinson] getting selected. Furthermore, I don't see anyone outside of Taylor Lewan getting drafted in 2014. Is there actually some truth to the "cupboard is bare" plea? Particularly on defense?

Brian Bennett: While Michigan's 8-5 record last year had a lot to do with the schedule, top-level talent has certainly been an issue of late. The Wolverines will now have gone three straight years without producing a first-round draft pick, and this could be one the program's most fallow drafts ever. Michigan State has had much more NFL talent, especially on defense, the past couple years. You have to go back to the failed Rich Rodriguez tenure as an explanation. Not only did Rodriguez recruit a different type of player for his spread offense, but there was the typical attrition you see in major coaching changes. As Kyle Meinke points out in this piece, 35 out of 73 players from the 2008, 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes did not finish their careers at Michigan. The good news is that the Wolverines under Brady Hoke are bringing in some elite talent on the recruiting trail, and while you can never guarantee that a great high school player will make it to the NFL, it sure increases the odds. And Hoke is recruiting players for a pro-style system. At the very least, Lewan will break the first-round drought next April.
The spectacle known as the NFL draft kicks off tonight in New York with the first round. As Brian pointed out late last week, the Big Ten is in danger of going without a first-round selection for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s final Big Board Insider doesn't include a Big Ten player, and both Kiper's Insider and Todd McShay's Insider final mock first rounds have no Big Ten players.

Lets look beyond the first round, as ESPN Scouts Inc. has put together a complete seven-round mock draft Insider.

How did the Big Ten contingent fare? If Scouts Inc., is correct, 42 selections will be made before a Big Ten player hears his name called. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short is the first Big Ten player on the board at No. 43, going to Tampa Bay in the second round. Only one other Big Ten player, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, is pegged as a second-round pick.

Here's the rest of the Scouts Inc. Big Ten forecast (in order of predicted selection)...

Round 3: Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell, Wisconsin C Travis Frederick, Ohio State DE John Simon, Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, Illinois DT Akeem Spence

Round 4: Michigan State DE William Gholston, Illinois DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois G Hugh Thornton, Ohio State T Reid Fragel

Round 5: Michigan State TE Dion Sims, Penn State DT Jordan Hill, Wisconsin T Ricky Wagner

Round 6: Michigan QB Denard Robinson (will play WR), Iowa CB Micah Hyde, Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner, Penn State LB Gerald Hodges, Michigan State CB Johnny Adams, Purdue CB Josh Johnson

Round 7: Nebraska S Daimion Stafford, Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne, Penn State LB Michael Mauti, Ohio State DE Nathan Williams (listed at OLB)

Thoughts: Overall, it's a pretty gloomy draft forecast for the Big Ten. Denard Robinson in the sixth round? That's lower than many have predicted. Ohio State's Hankins, once considered a likely first-round selection, wouldn't be pleased to slip to No. 89 overall. The Scouts Inc. forecast also excludes Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead, plagued by knee injuries during his senior season. Other players not showing up include Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray (will play TE in the NFL), Iowa QB James Vandenberg, Penn State C Matt Stankiewitch, Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor and Michigan S Jordan Kovacs. Once again, Illinois is pegged to be one of the Big Ten's top NFL draft producers despite poor results on the field. Penn State's standout trio on defense will be waiting a while, although I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Hill goes earlier than Round 5. Three Big Ten teams -- Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern -- are pegged to be shut out of the draft. Future Big Ten member Rutgers is pegged to have six draft picks, led by defenders Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan in the third round, while Maryland is pegged to have just one (TE Matt Furstenburg).

We'll have draft-related posts on the Big Ten both Friday morning and Monday after all the selections are made.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

April, 12, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. We'll recap all the spring games on Monday, so be sure to check in early and often.

To the emails ...

Michael from South Sioux City, Neb., writes: If Taylor Martinez puts up HUGE passing numbers, say 65% pass completion, 3,000+ yards passing and lowers his INT's, what would his heisman chances be? And will he ever be given a shot to play QB in the NFL?

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, Martinez certainly could be on the Heisman radar if he improves upon his already strong 2012 numbers and, as you mention, cuts down on his turnovers (not just interceptions but fumbles, too). He has national name recognition, which is critically important for the Heisman, and leads an offense that could be one of the nation's best. Martinez will have to separate himself as the Big Ten's best quarterback -- Ohio State's Braxton Miller obviously is in the mix, too -- and perform big in Nebraska's biggest games, which come mostly in November. I think Martinez has an NFL future, but I'd be very surprised if it's at quarterback. Although his mechanics are a lot better than they were two years ago, they're nowhere near as polished as they need to be for a league that wants quarterbacks with no glitches in their throwing motion.

Ryan from Surprise, Ariz., writes: With the expanding conference there is a need for more conference games. I've read the B1G is considering going to 9 or even 10 conference games with the goal that each team will play all of the other teams at least twice every 6 years or something like that. I'm wondering if they are considering rotating between 9 conference games two out of every 4 years and 10 conference games the other two out of every 4 years as an option at all. That way, with the 14 teams next year, each team would be able to play all of the other teams at least twice every 4 years. If the conference ever expands to 16 then it would require 10 conference games every year to maintain the same rotation. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, you present an interesting schedule model, but I haven't heard anything about the Big Ten rotating between a 9- and 10-game conference schedules in the future. From talking with multiple athletic directors and other league sources, the 9-game league schedule is all but finalized and will begin in the 2016 season (8-game schedule will remain in 2014 and 2015). Although there's some support for a 10-game league slate, it's just too ambitious at the moment, especially with the unknowns about the college football playoff. If and when the Big Ten expands to 16, the 10-game league schedule once again will get serious consideration.

Anthony from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: So with the draft coming up in 2 weeks, normally I'm looking forward to seeing which Hawkeyes are going to the next level. However looking over this group of guys on the block, I don't see a single one hitting an NFL practice field. question 1: your take on when and where they might go and question 2: when was the last time Iowa didn't send a single player to the NFL

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, while Iowa doesn't have its typical stable of NFL prospects this year, I think you're being a little pessimistic. Cornerback Micah Hyde and quarterback James Vandenberg were the only Hawkeyes players at the NFL combine, and while neither is a high-level prospect, I expect both to find their way into camps this summer. Hyde could be a late-round selection in the draft. Although Vandenberg had a lousy senior season, it had a lot to do with the system change. Could wideout Keenan Davis make a team? He'd have to really impress folks in individual workouts, but NFL scouts love Iowa players. The Hawkeyes have had at least five players selected in each of the past three drafts (2010, 2011, 2012). The last NFL draft not to include an Iowa player? 1977. Could we see that streak end this year? It's possible, but I think Hyde's name will be called.

(Read full post)

Video: B1G shoes to fill -- Iowa

March, 8, 2013

The Iowa Hawkeyes have some very big shoes to fill this spring after losing cornerback Micah Hyde and quarterback James Vandenberg.

Big Ten combine results: DB

February, 27, 2013
The 2013 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs. Five Big Ten defensive backs participated in some or all of the events and drills.

Let's see how they did ...
  • Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, tying him for 13th best among all defensive backs. Other 40 times include Michigan State CB Johnny Adams (4.48), Iowa CB Micah Hyde (4.56), Purdue CB Josh Johnson (4.65) Nebraska S Daimion Stafford (4.69).
  • Stafford ranked sixth among defensive backs in bench press repetitions with 21. Adams and Johnson both had 16, Hawthorne had 13 and Hyde had 12.
  • No Big Ten defensive backs were among the top performers in vertical jump. Hawthorne led the Big Ten crew at 35.5 inches, followed by Johnson (35 inches), Hyde (33) and Stafford (30.5). Adams didn't participate in this event.
  • The Big Ten had no top performers in the broad jump, but Iowa's Hyde led the group at 121 inches.
  • Hyde tied for 12th among all defensive backs in the three-cone drill at 6.78 seconds. Johnson (6.99) and Stafford (7.06) also participated.
  • Hyde (4.2 seconds) and Johnson (4.25 seconds) were the only defensive backs to post times in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Johnson tied for fourth among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle (11.51 seconds).

In case you missed the results for the other Big Ten players at the combine, check them out here and here.

Wrapping up the B1G player rankings

February, 25, 2013
The Big Ten postseason top 25 player rankings are in the books for 2012.

What did you think? Send your thoughts here and here. Again, this is a very exclusive list that, because of its size, omits a bunch of great players. Narrowing things down to 25 isn't easy, but that doesn't mean we didn't make mistakes or overlook deserving stars.

Before putting these to bed, let's take a closer look at how things shook out. First, here are the team and position breakdowns.


Ohio State: 6
Penn State: 4
Nebraska: 3
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Northwestern: 2
Minnesota: 1

Ohio State and Penn State both had good balance, placing multiple offensive and defensive players on the list. Nebraska's selections all played offense as the Huskers' defense struggled last season. Four teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Purdue -- aren't represented on the list.


LB: 6
QB: 5
RB: 5
CB: 3
DT: 2
WR: 1
DE: 1
G: 1
OT: 1

Offense: 13
Defense: 12

Linebacker depth stood out around the Big Ten this season. We could have included more backers, including Penn State's Gerald Hodges. The quarterback spot also took a small step forward this past season, particularly with dual-threat players like Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, both of whom improved a lot. The Big Ten still doesn't have enough pure passers in the league. Safety once again was a weak position around the league, and the lack of elite wide receivers is a concern. Although we knew wideout depth would be a problem before the season, we considered only two other receivers for the top 25 (Nebraska's Kenny Bell and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis) besides Penn State's Allen Robinson. Not good.


As mentioned previously, we had some very difficult choices this year and left out some very good players. The three players who came closest to making the top 25 were: Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, Penn State's Hodges and Nebraska's Bell.

Short received All-Big Ten recognition and had some huge games, but he also disappeared for stretches and played for an underachieving line. Hodges was overshadowed a bit by Michael Mauti and some of the other linebackers on the list. Bell had some strong performances but faded a bit down the stretch.

Others who merit mentions include:
We'll be back this summer with the preseason top 25 player countdown for 2013. Of the 25 players who made the postseason rundown, 15 return for 2013, including No. 1 selection Miller, No. 5 selection Martinez and No. 7 selection Taylor Lewan.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 22, 2013
Close only counts in horse grenades. It's a saying. 'Cause if you're playing horseshoes and then you throw a grenade at a horse, it doesn't have to be that close and you can still blow the horse's legs off. It's from the movie "Seabiscuit."
The Big Ten postseason position/unit rankings wrap up with the specialists. This list considers kickers, punters and returners, as well as coverage teams.

Here's how the Big Ten stacked up before the season. If you missed any of our postseason position/unit rankings, check 'em out.

Let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeJeff Budzien
Jerry Lai/US PresswireJeff Bundzien made 95 percent of his field goals and converted all 50 of his extra point attempts in 2012.
1. Northwestern (preseason ranking: 10): Northwestern fans never thought they'd see this day, but the program has improved markedly in the kicking game in recent years. Jeff Budzien was the Big Ten's most consistent kicker in 2012, connecting on 19 of 20 field-goal attempts (lone miss was a 53-yarder) and all 50 of his extra-point tries. Northwestern also led the league in punt return average (16.5) thanks to All-American returner Venric Mark, who had two runbacks for touchdowns. Northwestern ranked 19th nationally in punt coverage.

2. Nebraska (preseason ranking: 1): Brett Maher had a few hiccups but still made 20 of 27 field-goal tries and all 59 of his PATs, and averaged 41.8 yards per punt. He and Budzien shared the Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year honors in the Big Ten. Ameer Abdullah had an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Nebraska had three solid options on kick returns (Abdullah, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner).

3. Michigan (preseason ranking: 7): Here's another team that has made major strides in the kicking game in recent years. Kicker Brendan Gibbons was Captain Clutch, converting 16 of 18 field-goal attempts, including the game-winner against Michigan State, as well as all 45 PATs. Dennis Norfleet provided a boost on kick returns, and Will Hagerup led the league in punting average (45 ypp) despite limited attempts (33).

4. Michigan State (preseason ranking: 4): The Spartans' sputtering offense gave Mike Sadler plenty of work and he delivered, averaging 43.3 yards on 79 punts. MSU finished second in the league in net punting. Dan Conroy led the Big Ten in both field goals made (23) and field goals missed (9), but he hit the game-winner against TCU in the bowl game. Michigan State struggled on kick returns, but both Nick Hill and Andre Sims averaged more than eight yards on punt returns.

5. Iowa (preseason ranking: 9): Mike Meyer improved on his 2012 performance, connecting on 17 of 21 field-goal tries and all 25 of his extra-point attempts. Iowa also performed well on returns, as Jordan Cotton led the league in kick returns (28.2 ypr) and Micah Hyde averaged 7.4 yards on 16 punt returns. Punting was a weak spot as Connor Kornbrath averaged only 37.9 yards per boot.

6. Purdue (preseason ranking: 2): The Boilers definitely missed Carson Wiggs, as their kickers connected on only 9 of 14 field-goal tries this season and missed five extra-point attempts. But there were bright spots elsewhere like punter Cody Webster, who averaged 42.3 yards per punt. Purdue led the Big Ten in kickoff returns, thanks to Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert.

7. Ohio State (preseason ranking: 3): It was a mixed bag of big plays and big breakdowns for Ohio State on special teams in 2013. The Buckeyes had a league-high three punt returns for touchdowns but also had three punts blocked and surrendered a kick return for a touchdown against Purdue. Kicker Drew Basil was used sparingly (8 of 11 on field-goal attempts), while Ben Buchanan averaged 41 yards per punt. New special teams chief Kerry Coombs has some things to sort out.

8. Wisconsin (preseason ranking: 5): The kicking game continues to be a little inconsistent for the Badgers. Punter Drew Meyer had a solid season, averaging 41.5 yards on a league-high 80 punts. But Wisconsin kickers Kyle French and Jack Russell combined to convert only 10 of 18 field-goal attempts. Kenzel Doe led Wisconsin's multi-pronged kick return attack, which ranked third in the Big Ten, while Jared Abbrederis was decent on punt returns.

9. Indiana (preseason ranking: 11): The Hoosiers had a so-so season in the kicking game. Kicker Mitch Ewald connected on 15 of 20 field-goal attempts and missed only 1 of 43 PAT tries. Tevin Coleman tied for second in the league in kick returns, while Shane Wynn provided another option there. IU's punters didn't wow with their numbers, but the Hoosiers finished fifth in net punting.

10. Illinois (preseason ranking: 12): You know it's a rough season when you hang your hat on net punting, a statistic where Illinois led the Big Ten (39.2-yard net average). Sophomore Justin DuVernois had a heavy workload and still finished fourth in the league in punting average (41.9 ypp). Illini kickers connected on 8 of 12 field-goal tries, but the return game once again struggled mightily (118th nationally in punt returns, 107th in kick returns).

11. Minnesota (preseason ranking: 6): Troy Stoudermire became the NCAA's all-time kick return yards king and Jordan Wettstein connected for the game-winning field goal in the opener against UNLV, but the Gophers had few other special teams highlights. Wettstein finished the year just 14 of 22 on field goals, and Minnesota ranked last in the league in net punting (34.4 ypp). The return game was mediocre but Minnesota fared OK in kickoff and punt coverage.

12. Penn State (preseason ranking: 8) Sam Ficken's finish nearly kept Penn State out of the basement. Ficken connected on his final 10 field-goal tries, including the game-winner in overtime against Wisconsin. The Virginia game still stings, though, as he finished 14-for-21 for the season. Penn State struggled with its punting (11th in league in net average) and finished last in the league in kick returns (18.1 ypr). There were coverage breakdowns and muffed punts. The lack of depth following the NCAA sanctions seemed to hurt Penn State the most in the kicking game, especially early in the season.

B1G postseason position rankings: DB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): The Hoosiers had hopes of making strides in the secondary with returning starters Lawrence Barnett, Greg Heban and Mark Murphy. But Indiana gave up more touchdown passes (23) than any other league team while only intercepting seven passes. While not all of the pass defense problems can be blamed on the secondary, of course, it's clear this team still lacks high-impact players in the back end.