Big Ten: Michael Caputo

Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThree cornerbacks made ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team, which meant a deserving player in Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond didn't make the cut.
Brian Bennett: The toughest single position to choose was at defensive back. You may have noticed our team did not include Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. That's no slight against Drummond, who's an outstanding player, but we felt like we had to go with three cornerbacks, given the play of Maryland's Will Likely, Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Drummond's own teammate, Trae Waynes. In fact, Ohio State's Doran Grant had a strong case for inclusion as well, and we wanted to recognize what Wisconsin's Michael Caputo contributed to the league's best defense, statistically, during the regular season. Defensive back was a loaded position, and there wouldn't be much difference between the first- and second-team selections there.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.

Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.

Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
9:00
AM ET
The Big Ten unveiled its official all-league teams last week, but we have our own thoughts and choices. Here is the ESPN.com All-Big Ten team for 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.

RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.

WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.

OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.

OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.

C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.

G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.

G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.

DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.

DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.

LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.

LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.

DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.

DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."

DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.

Specialists

K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.

P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt

PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.

All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.

State of the team: Wisconsin

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
1:00
PM ET
The Badgers are still beside themselves after their head coach bolted for the second time in 24 months. But it’s time to move on.

Wisconsin wasn’t a destination job for Gary Andersen, but it’s still a good job. This Badgers made a bowl for 13 straight seasons, won the Big Ten championship in three of the last five years, and had at least nine wins in five of the last six seasons.

Expectations are high at Wisconsin, but deservedly so. This is one of the B1G’s top programs. So, can this team continue to experience a high level of success? And what kind of situation will the next head coach inherit?

Here’s where the rest of Wisconsin stands during the search for another new head coach:

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsMelvin Gordon is leaving, but Wisconsin has done a great job replacing past standout running backs, and Corey Clement is waiting in the wings.
Offense: It came as no surprise that the nation’s top running back, Melvin Gordon, declared early for the NFL draft. He’s irreplaceable, as he’s put together the best rushing season in 25 years. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Corey Clement is a solid backup who has rushed for 844 yards this season. Against Rutgers, Clement even outshined Gordon by rushing for 131 yards (compared to Gordon’s 128) and averaging 9.4 yards a carry (to Gordon’s 6.7). No, Clement is not Gordon – but he still has the ability to be one of the B1G’s top running backs next season.

Elsewhere, the passing game’s key players return –starting QBs, leading wide receiver -- but this unit still has a long way to go. On the offensive line, Wisconsin will also have to deal with a drop-off. First-team All-Big Ten talents Rob Havenstein and Kyle Costigan will be gone, as will honorable mention Dallas Lewallen. But the cupboard here isn’t exactly bare. Besides the returning starters, Michael Deiter leads a talented freshman class and nearly burned his redshirt last week, and junior Ray Ball has been in the mix for much of the season.

Defense: Wisconsin returned just three starters in 2014 and still had the nation’s No. 4 total defense. This coming offseason? It should lose just four starters, and a lot of talent is coming back.

The entire secondary will basically remain intact, with safety Michael Caputo leading the way. This unit could really be special in 2015, even if it didn’t seem that way against Ohio State. Overall, the Badgers are still ranked fifth nationally in passing yards allowed and No. 23 in passing efficiency defense. Even better news? Safety Lubern Figaro has three more years of eligibility, and cornerback Sojourn Shelton has two.

The departures of inside linebackers Marcus Trotter and Derek Landisch are the most costly as they finished 2-3 in team tackles, but both outside linebackers return. Wisconsin overcame more adversity in 2014 with a strong performance, and it’s positioned for another strong run in 2015. The bigger question is whether defensive coordinator Dave Aranda will return to coach them.

Special teams: Freshman Rafael Gaglianone has been tremendous, by converting his last dozen field goal attempts and going 17-of-20 on the season. He might just have a Lou Groza Award waiting in his future. If only he could punt... Wisconsin has consistently lost the field position battle because only 16 teams have a worse net punting average. And the Badgers must also replace their kick/punt returner in senior wideout Kenzel Doe.

Fan base: The Badgers don’t get enough credit here, so let’s touch upon the different points: They were ranked No. 18 nationally in attendance this season (79,520), while the capacity at Camp Randall is 80,321. Earlier this month, USA Today named Madison, Wis., the “best college football town.” Two years ago, “Jump Around” was voted the best college football tradition. And, according to 2014 data compiled by The New York Times, the “most consistently loyal fans in American live in Wisconsin.” More than 87 percent of fans in Wisconsin support the Badgers.

Leadership: Athletic director Barry Alvarez is widely respected in the world of college football. He’s a member of the College Football Playoff committee and the College Football Hall of Fame and the coach who turned around the Wisconsin Badgers in the 1990s. He might also coach Wisconsin in the upcoming bowl game.

That being said, there’s still a disconnect here. Wisconsin pays its assistant coaches among the lowest salaries in the Big Ten – a big reason for Bret Bielema bolting – and no assistant is ranked higher than No. 77 in the nation in annual salary, according to the most recent USA Today database. Also at issue is the high academic standards for Wisconsin recruits. It seems counter-intuitive to label something like that a negative, but that obviously makes it more difficult to field a competitive team. And that was admittedly a concern for Andersen. Four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans decommitted after he discovered he wouldn’t be admitted to Wisconsin, for example, only to eventually sign with Michigan State. Those issues need to be addressed.

Recruiting: The Badgers are usually a team that outplays their recruiting rankings. Wisconsin hasn’t had a top-25 recruiting class in the last five years, but the team has been ranked within the Associated Press Top 25 in all but one of those years. From 2008 to 2013, across all sports, the Badgers were also one of just four Big Ten teams to never spend more than $1 million on recruiting. (Northwestern, Maryland and Rutgers were the others.)

For the most part, Andersen picked off where Bielema left off; the class rankings usually hovered in the 30s. The Badgers have obviously done a lot of recruiting in-state (17 commits in three years), but they’ve also reached into the South in states such as Florida (six commits in the last class). Since 2010, however, Wisconsin has gained only a pair of ESPN 300 commits.

To open up recruiting a bit, Andersen had previously said he planned to follow James Franklin’s lead and hold satellite camps in Minnesota (and possibly Illinois) in 2015. That wouldn’t be a bad idea for his successor.

Take Two: Big Ten's best defense?

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
1:00
PM ET
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will periodically offer takes on burning questions that face the league. We’ll have strong opinions, though not the same view. We’ll let you decide who’s right.

Wednesday's topic: What team has the conference's best defense? At this point, the answer certainly seems to be either Penn State or Wisconsin. So who has the leg up?

Take 1: Josh Moyer

We can both agree these defenses are among the best in the country but, however you want to weigh these two, I feel as if Penn State has to come out on top. The Nittany Lions’ defense is out on an island in Happy Valley -- surrounded by an ocean of struggles, with the No. 109 total offense on one side and the No. 111 punting game on the other -- so it has to work a little harder to put up the same numbers as Wisconsin. It’s dealing with shorter fields and more offensive plays, but it still comes out on top in just about every statistical category.

Penn State boasts the better rush defense, I think that much is beyond debate. Offenses have run the ball against PSU 16 more times than Wisconsin, but the Badgers have allowed 79 more yards. And Penn State just broke Tevin Coleman’s streak of 100-yard rushing games, so I won’t harp on this point.

So let’s move on to pass defense. Yes, Wisconsin is ranked ahead of Penn State here; it’s No. 3 in the nation, while PSU is No. 13. But passing yards per game is just a little misleading since the Nittany Lions’ defense has been faced with 40 more pass plays than Wisconsin. So, of course, they’ve allowed a few more yards. But PSU has still allowed fewer passing TDs, fewer passing yards per attempt and fewer passing yards per completion. In other words, if offenses threw against each defense the same amount, Penn State would come out on top every time.

It’s not just limiting yards that makes Penn State’s defense so impressive either. It has put this entire team on its back; it’s the reason these Lions have won five games. In six Big Ten games, the defense has allowed just nine touchdowns in regulation -- and only two TD drives have gone longer than 60 yards. In Wisconsin’s five conference games, the defense has allowed eight TDs in regulation -- and four TD drives have gone longer than 60 yards. On average, regarding those TD drives, Penn State’s opponents started 10 yards closer to the end zone compared to Wisconsin’s.

Penn State boasts the top linebacker in the conference (Mike Hull), the top defensive tackle in the Big Ten (Anthony Zettel) and, arguably, the best defensive coordinator (Bob Shoop). Plus, its defense has actually been tested -- since Wisconsin hasn't once faced a Power Five team with a top-60 offense, and PSU nearly upset Ohio State. So, when you combine all of that, I think it’s obvious: Penn State boasts the best defense.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

There's no doubt these are two outstanding units led by two underrated coordinators in Shoop and Wisconsin's Dave Aranda, who are good friends who trade ideas in the offseason. Both are among the more creative defensive play-callers in the country, and both have taken over units with significant question marks and made them much, much better.

Penn State might have more star power and superior numbers in certain categories, but Wisconsin is my pick for its overall team performance. There's no weakness in this unit, which is amazing as only three starters returned from 2013 and the Badgers lost linebacker Chris Borland, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year. Aranda has done one of the best coaching jobs in the country, as has Shoop.

I look at common opponents, and Wisconsin has been superior. The Badgers shut out Rutgers (Penn State allowed 10 points), held Maryland to seven points (Penn State allowed 20) and gave up 20 to Northwestern (Penn State allowed 22 offensive points to the Wildcats). These aren't huge differences, but we're talking about two very good, very even defenses here.

You outline Penn State's offensive struggles, which are significant and have put the defense in tough situations. Wisconsin has had its own offensive issues, especially early on as the quarterback situation was a real mess. The Badgers lead the nation in fewest yards allowed (251.1), fewest first downs allowed (118) and goal-to-go efficiency (37.5 percent touchdowns on goal-to-go attempts).

Wisconsin also has limited 72.9 percent of opponents’ drives to six plays or fewer, the best mark in the FBS. Only Ole Miss' Landshark defense has done so on at least 70 percent of opponents' possessions.

Penn State's defense might jump out more because of players such as Zettel and Hull, but Wisconsin just locks you down every time you step on the field. The Badgers also are receiving tremendous production from players like linebacker Derek Landisch and safety Michael Caputo.

I agree the Badgers need to prove more, beginning Saturday against Nebraska's offense, by far the best unit they've faced. But I'm continually impressed with Aranda's group and give Wisconsin a slight edge over Penn State.

Big Ten morning links

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
8:00
AM ET
Your attention span is short on the Friday before a huge football weekend, so let’s get in and get out quickly with a final take on the three Big Ten games most likely to impact the league title race.

In East Lansing, Ohio State’s defense is likely the unit most overlooked in the marquee matchup of the Big Ten regular season. Most of the talk in advance of Saturday focuses on the offenses led by Connor Cook and J.T. Barrett. And no one can really look past the Pat Narduzzi-directed Michigan State group. But what about the Buckeyes on defense? It might hold the key to victory for Ohio State, and it’s a revamped bunch under first-year co-coordinator Chris Ash. Cornerback Doran Grant says that the Buckeyes’ defensive showing last year against MSU in a 34-24 loss won’t factor on Saturday. But it should. Ohio State ought to draw energy from it. The best defense is often fueled by emotion. OSU can use recent history to its advantage. Just don't ask Brady Hoke who's got the edge.

Speaking of defense, the group at Wisconsin is better than the sum of its parts. Safety Michael Caputo and linebacker Derek Landisch figure to contend for Big Ten postseason honors, though neither looks like a top candidate for Big Ten defensive player of the year. How, then, to explain the Badgers’ ranking as the No. 1 defense nationally in points and yards allowed? It’s about a selfless approach, epitomized best perhaps by safety Peniel Jean. The Badgers haven’t played a great schedule, but they dismantled decent foes in Maryland and Rutgers the past two weeks. We’ll see this week at Purdue if the Badgers open their critical three-game final stretch with more momentum -- thanks to that defense -- than any other contender in the West.

You want answers? You’ll get answers about Iowa. The Hawkeyes looked downright dangerous last week against Northwestern. And really, it’s been a three-game surge for Iowa on offense, interrupted by an off week and hidden somewhat behind an ugly defensive showing at Maryland on Oct. 18. But last week, wow, it all came together, even the big plays in the passing game. The Hawkeyes have had this in them all season, with receivers Tevaun Smith, Kevonte Martin-Manley and Damond Powell all capable of stretching a defense. But Minnesota leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in allowing 5.6 yards per pass attempt. If Jake Rudock can throw over the top of the Golden Gophers in the cold, Iowa will roll.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division
There are just four weeks left in the regular season, a month to go for players to build their cases for individual awards.

We've been tracking the races all season and have unanimous picks right now for our offensive and defensive player of the year honors. And this week's bonus category is also unanimous: top placekicker.

Here's how we see it after 10 weeks:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon (six first-place votes): Gordon just keeps chugging along, with six straight 100-yard games. He's got 1,296 yards and 18 touchdowns on the season.

2. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: It's not his fault that he had only 1 yard vs. Purdue, as Abdullah went out with an early knee injury. But in a close race among elite tailbacks, that hurt his case.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He has 4 more yards on the season than Gordon, and we can only hope that the Hoosiers' struggles elsewhere don't overshadow his outstanding year.

4. Michigan State WR Tony Lippett: The best receiver in the Big Ten will get a showdown with Ohio State's revamped pass defense on Saturday night.

5. Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett: He has great numbers on the year but wasn't as effective on the road against a good defense at Penn State. Can he get it done in East Lansing?

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa (six first-place votes): Top five nationally in sacks and tackles for loss. Yep, he's a beast.

2. Penn State LB Mike Hull: He leads the Big Ten and is seventh nationally in tackles per game, at 11.5.

3. Iowa DE Drew Ott: He's second in the Big Ten behind Bosa in sacks with eight on the year. With him, Louis-Trinca Pasat and Carl Davis, Iowa has a formidable defensive line.

4. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel: He has been an absolute force at defensive tackle; will he and Hull split votes in this category among Nittany Lions defenders?

5. Nebraska DE Randy Gregory: He's at 5.5 sacks, so he's got some work to do to reach double digits in that category for a second straight year.

Others receiving votes: Michigan LB Jake Ryan, Wisconsin S Michael Caputo, Minnesota LB Damien Wilson.

Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year

1. Maryland's Brad Craddock (six first-place votes): He hit the game-winner last week at Penn State and is a perfect 14-for-14 on the year. Should be an All-American.

2. Penn State's Sam Ficken: If not for Craddock, Ficken might have been the hero last week in State College. His comeback story continues to impress, and Ficken is 17-of-19 on field goals this season.

Big Ten morning links

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
8:00
AM ET
Happy Halloween. Let’s get your Friday started with three questions that may have slipped through the cracks -- until now -- about Week 10 in the Big Ten.

Can Austin Appleby keep it going this week against Nebraska? Sure. While the Cornhuskers rank third nationally in limiting opponents to a 48.1-percent completion rate, Appleby can look for high percentage throws to speedy backs Akeem Hunt and the do-it-all Raheem Mostert. They've combined to catch 40 passes this year. Miami burned Nebraska in September with a similar style. It’s a good formula for a talented, young quarterback such as Appleby, whose 83.4 QBR index ranks seventh nationally and leads the Big Ten. Since taking over for Danny Etling, the 6-foot-5 sophomore has completed 66.3 percent of his throws and led the Boilermankers to 35.7 points per game. With what we saw from the Nebraska defense last week against Rutgers, reason exists to believe that Appleby can have another good day.

Have we seen the last of Maryland’s feel-good story for this season? The Terps’ fast start took a dramatic turn for the worse last week at Wisconsin. Maryland’s quarterbacks have been beaten up. Its running game was non-existent in Madison. The turnovers are starting to mount -- with nine in the past three games -- and it faces two of the Big Ten’s top defensive units next in Penn State, a familiar foe to coach Randy Edsall, and, after a bye, Michigan State. Maryland looks like it’s a year or two away from a breakthrough. It has recruited athletes such as William Likely and Stefon Diggs, plenty capable of changing games against Big Ten competition, but the infrastructure is not yet strong enough. It’s conceivable, despite five wins in its first seven games, that Maryland will still be in search of a bowl eligibility-clincher in the regular-season finale on Nov. 29 against Rutgers.

Is Illinois on track to salvage its season? The easy answer is no. The Fighting Illini scored a lot of points behind Wes Lunt, now injured, early in the season, and it hasn’t been the same since Reilly O'Toole took over this month. Before its upset win over Minnesota last week, Illinois had lost four of five games, including a clunker at home to Purdue. But suddenly, the Boilermakers look much better. Illinois was competitive in losing at Wisconsin, and it punched Minnesota in the mouth, capitalizing on three turnovers and four sacks. Don't expect Illinois to win Saturday at Ohio State for the first time in seven years, but if it can continue to build on last week, a bowl appearance is not out of the question with a closing stretch at home against Iowa and Penn State and a visit to Northwestern.

East Division
West Division

ESPN's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
11:00
AM ET
The regular season is at its halfway point, so we're presenting our selections for the midseason All-Big Ten team.

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
G: Zac Epping, Minnesota
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DE: Marcus Rush, Michigan State
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DT: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State
LB: Damien Wilson, Minnesota
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota
S: Frankie Williams, Purdue
S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

Special teams
PK: Brad Craddock, Maryland
P: Justin DuVernois, Illinois
KR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Thoughts: The first thing you probably notice is an unconventional offense featuring three running backs and no tight ends. Sure, it's a little bit of a cheat, but how do you leave any of those three tailbacks off? Coleman, Gordon and Abdullah rank 1, 2 and 4 nationally in rushing yards. Though there are some excellent tight ends in the league -- Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Penn State's Jesse James come to mind -- we would rather reward the outstanding tailbacks. Heck, we probably could have gone four or five deep at that position, given how loaded it is right now. ... The toughest call came at cornerback, where you might be surprised by our choices. We love King's shutdown ability for the Hawkeyes, and Murray gets the slight nod over teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the Gophers' excellent secondary. Michigan State's Trae Waynes might be the best player at the position in the league, but he has given up some big plays this season. Same goes for Maryland's Will Likely, who has been explosive at times and torched (see: West Virginia and Ohio State) at others. It's only midseason, remember; these choices could change by the end of the season. ... Speaking of surprised, the steady Rush makes the team over more heralded position mate Shilique Calhoun. It's a close call, but Rush has been consistently terrific so far this season. ... Some pretty fresh names at linebacker, especially after so many stars at the position departed after last season. Michigan's Jake Ryan just missed there. ... Two freshmen made the team in Hamilton and Pierson-El. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is also pushing Cook for No. 1 status at quarterback.

The breakdown by team:

Michigan State: 5
Iowa: 3
Minnesota: 3
Penn State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Maryland: 2
Nebraska: 2
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 1
Indiana: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan: 0
Northwestern: 0
Rutgers: 0

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 3

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
2:00
PM ET
Three weeks' worth of games are in the book. That's not enough to decide the individual award races in the Big Ten, but it won't stop us from figuring out where those races stand.

Our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records.

Here's how things shake out:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (Five first-place votes): Abdullah gets the unanimous nod on offense as he continues to power up the Huskers attack.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: He has become the master of the two-minute drive, and he leads the Big Ten in passing.

3. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: He leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (437) and rushing touchdowns (five) despite having played just two games. He's averaging 9.3 yards per carry.

4. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: His completion rate is over 68 percent, and Cook can build on his stats against Eastern Michigan and Wyoming the next two weeks.

5. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: He wasn't able to summon late-game magic at Washington in Week 3 but still is among the league's top passers.

Also receiving votes: Michigan RB Derrick Green; Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon; Minnesota RB David Cobb; Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.

Nagurski Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (5): Another unanimous pick, Zettel has been a monster in the early going for the Lions. He leads the Big Ten in tackles for loss, with seven, to go along with three sacks.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: He's tied for the league lead with two forced fumbles, in addition to 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

3. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat: His strong start to the season continues, as he has four tackles for loss along Iowa's strong defensive front.

4. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: He and the Badgers were off last week but should get a test from Bowling Green's fast-paced offense.

Also receiving votes: Penn State LB Mike Hull; Rutgers DE Kemoko Turay; Minnesota LB Damien Wilson; Michigan State DE Marcus Rush; Ohio State LB Joshua Perry.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 2

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
1:00
PM ET
We're only two weeks into the season, but we're taking a weekly look at how the major Big Ten individual awards races are shaping up.

All five of our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records. That's why you might see some names here you likely did not expect in the preseason.

Away we go:

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year


1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (five first-place votes): A unanimous pick right now, and understandably so given his game-winning catch and run vs. McNeese State. Abdullah is ranked No. 6 in the latest ESPN Heisman Watch.

2. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: The sophomore leads the Big Ten with 773 passing yards through two games, though his 4-to-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio could stand to improve.

3. Illinois QB Wes Lunt: The Oklahoma State transfer has been a big hit in Champaign, especially after he threw for 456 yards last week in a win against Western Kentucky.

4. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman and the Hoosiers were off this week, so he'll look to build on his huge Week 1 performance (247 yards, two touchdowns) on Saturday at Bowling Green.

5. Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He threw for 343 yards and two scores in the loss at Oregon, though he also had two picks. Cook is completing 68.3 percent of his passes through two games.

Also receiving votes: Rutgers RB Paul JamesPaul James

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat (1): A surprise early leader. Trinca-Pasat has four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks as Iowa's defensive line has carried the team in two close wins.

2. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: Bosa already has two forced fumbles, including one against Virginia Tech last weekend. Will he be even more effective when Noah Spence returns on the other side of the Buckeyes' line?

3. Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (2): Zettel is tied with Trinca-Pasat for the most tackles for loss in the league through two weeks, and he owns two quarterback sacks. The Nittany Lions' defense has done a great job of bending but not breaking.

4. Penn State LB Mike Hull (2): Hull has been the leader of the Penn State defense as expected, and he has the second-most tackles in the league, with 22.

5. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo: After registering 15 tackles in the opener against LSU, Caputo grabbed an interception last week vs. Western Illinois.

Also receiving votes: Iowa DE Drew Ott; Indiana DL Bobby Richardson; Illinois S Taylor Barton
As we've done around here in the past, we are going to take stock of how the major Big Ten individual awards races look each week of the season.

A couple of things to note this time around: this year, all five of our Big Ten reporters are voting weekly on the races, with players receiving five points for a first-place vote, four for a second-place nod, etc. Also, we try hard to base these standings on 2014 season results only, not any preconceived notions or a player's previous track records. That's why you'll see some names here you likely did not expect after just one week of action.

In a couple of weeks, we'll start adding other categories, like freshman of the year, coach of the year, etc. But with such a small sample size to start, we'll begin with offensive and defensive players of the year (first-place votes in parentheses):

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (3): The senior ran for 232 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries in the opener against Florida Atlantic. He could keep piling up the numbers this week vs. McNeese State.

2. Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Though it came against an FCS opponent in Indiana State, Coleman put up the top rushing total in the Big Ten in Week 1 and second-best in the nation with 247 yards and two scores on 21 attempts. He and the Hoosiers are off this week.

3. Michigan State QB Connor Cook (2): He was very nearly perfect in the opener vs. Jacksonville State, going 12-of-13 for 285 yards and three touchdowns. Up next: Oregon.

4. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: The super soph broke a Penn State school record with 454 yards and lead the game-winning drive against UCF in Ireland. He gets Akron this Saturday.

5. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: He ran for 140 yards against LSU but only had 16 total carries -- including just two after his 63-yard run on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. The Badgers said Monday he's dealing with a hip flexor strain.

Also receiving votes: Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Iowa DT Louis Trinca-Pasat (1): A surprising name at the top, but remember, we're basing this heavily off 2014 results. Trinca-Pasat had 10 tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss and a pass break-up in a win over Northern Iowa. Let's see if he can keep it up.

2. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun (2): Here's a more familiar name. Calhoun wasn't overly dominant against Jacksonville State but did have a sack he worked extra hard to get. And with Randy Gregory likely missing most of the first two games of the season, he's probably the favorite for this award right now.

3. Wisconsin S Michael Caputo (1): The Badgers safety was terrific in run support against LSU, finishing with 15 tackles. Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said they credited Caputo with 20 stops after watching the film.

4. Indiana DE Bobby Richardson: Another unexpected name, Richardson leads the Big Ten in sacks after one week, thanks to his three-sack showing against Indiana State. He and the entire Hoosiers defense still have a lot to prove when the competition level increases soon.

5. Ohio State DE Joey Bosa: His blow-up of a Navy option attempt led to teammate Darron Lee's fumble return for the Buckeyes' first touchdown. Expect him to be in this mix all season.

Also receiving votes: Penn State DT Anthony Zettel (1); Michigan State S Kurtis Drummond; Rutgers S Johnathan Aiken; Ohio State LB Darron Lee; Purdue CB Frankie Williams; Penn State LB Mike Hull.

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
10:30
AM ET
 

» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Wisconsin Badgers:

2013 overall record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OG Ryan Groy, DE Pat Muldoon, DT Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward

Key returnees: RB Melvin Gordon, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Kyle Costigan, OT Tyler Marz, CB Sojourn Shelton, S Michael Caputo

Instant impact newcomer: Safety Lubern Figaro. If you're from outside the Badger State, you're probably asking, "Who?" After all, Figaro was just a three-star recruit and enrolled over the summer -- but he's already projected to start in the opener. Part of the reason is reportedly an injury to safety Leo Musso, but Figaro has already done plenty to separate himself. In the first scrimmage this preseason, he returned a pick for a touchdown. DB Sojourn Shelton made an impact last season when he was a true freshman; now it looks as if it's Figaro's turn.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSojourn Shelton and the Badgers' defense will have their hands full against teams in the West Division.
Projected starters

Offense: QB: Joel Stave, RS Jr., 6-5, 220; RB: Melvin Gordon, RS Jr., 6-1, 213; FB: Derek Watt, RS Jr., 6-2, 236; WR: Alex Erickson, RS So., 6-0, 196; WR: Reggie Love, RS So., 6-3, 214; TE: Sam Arneson, Sr., 6-4, 244; OT: Tyler Marz, RS Jr., 6-5, 321; OG: Dallas Lewallen, RS Sr., 6-6, 321: C: Dan Voltz, RS So., 6-3, 311; OG: Kyle Costigan, RS Sr., 6-5, 319; OT: Rob Havenstein, RS Sr., 6-8, 333

Defense: DE: Chikwe Obasih, RS Fr., 6-2, 268; DT: Warren Herring, RS Sr., 6-3, 294; DE: Konrad Zagzebski, RS Sr., 6-3, 277; OLB: Joe Schobert, Jr., 6-2, 240; ILB: Marcus Trotter, RS Sr., 6-0, 226; ILB: Derek Landisch, Sr., 6-0, 231; OLB: Vince Biegel, RS So., 6-4, 244; CB: Darius Hillary, RS Jr., 5-11, 188; CB: Sojourn Shelton, So., 5-9, 178; S: Michael Caputo, RS Jr., 6-1, 212; S: Lubern Figaro, Fr., 6-0, 179

Specialists: P: Drew Meyer, RS Jr., 6-3, 187; PK: Rafael Gaglianone, Fr., 5-11, 231

Biggest question mark: Can this front seven recover from so many key departures? Of the seven players who started in the Badgers' bowl game last season, only one returns. That leaves quite a few holes, especially when considering the departures of Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland and two All-Big Ten honorable mentions (Beau Allen, Pat Muldoon). Wisconsin's front seven dominated in 2013, as they helped the Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in rush defense (102.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is solid, but he's not a magician. Those defensive numbers will almost certainly drop from last season -- but just how much?

Most important game: Nov. 15 versus Nebraska. It's basically a three-team race in the West Division, so this is a must-win if Wisconsin wants a spot in the Big Ten championship game. There's no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule this season, so the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes are the teams to beat. Iowa is just as important, but that contest comes a week later, and that won't mean a thing if Wisconsin first can't get past this contest.

Upset special: Nov. 29 versus Minnesota. A lot could be on the line when the Badgers square off against Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. And, depending how Wisconsin's defense progresses, this could be an interesting one. Wisconsin's run defense is a wild card right now, and the Gophers could boast the second-toughest rushing attack on Wisconsin's schedule (outside of Nebraska). No team held Wisconsin to fewer points (20) last season than Minnesota, so there is some potential here. Plus, one has to think the Gophers will be able to manage better than a seven-point offensive effort this time around.

Key stat: Sure, everyone knows the departure of Jared Abbrederis will hurt Wisconsin. But the Badgers actually lost their top four targets, and only one (Jordan Fredrick) recorded catches in the double-digits. And he had just 10. Overall, Wisconsin lost 81 percent of its receiving production, as this year's returners had just 42 combined receptions last season compared with the 217 total catches.

What they're wearing: Wisconsin has come a long way since 2010, because it basically went from rotating between two uniform combinations to doing photo shoots with more than 20 combinations.

One possible new look includes an all-red, jersey-pant combo (not to be confused with Nebraska's all-red getup):

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Gary Andersen (@UWCoachAndersen) joined Twitter just a few weeks ago, but he pumps out unique tweets and is a great follow. The official Wisconsin football account (@BadgerFootball) tweets like crazy and is always on the ball. As far as players, running back Melvin Gordon (@Melvingordon25) is a no-brainer, while cornerback Sojourn Shelton (@SDS1_) definitely deserves a few more follows. There are quite a few good follows for your coverage needs -- besides us, of course -- including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) and SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q).

They said it: "No question there's a temptation to run him every time." – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on running back Melvin Gordon

Stats & Info projection: 9.29 wins

Wise guys over/under: 9.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Ten wins. Wisconsin has a lot of question marks, but it also has a lot of talent. The rushing offense should be one of the nation's best and, while this defense will undoubtedly take a step back from last season, it shouldn't free-fall with Dave Aranda at the helm. Wisconsin's schedule is pretty favorable, as it doesn't play any of the big names from the East, and it's possible it could be favored in every game from Week 2 on. Wisconsin's getting the benefit of the doubt here, but if it can manage a win against LSU in the opener, that bandwagon is going to get big in a hurry.
The unofficial start of summer came this past weekend, but we're dreaming about the fall. With that in mind, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team.

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/suspended/became a ghost and danced in front of Don Draper, etc. 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. Next up: Wisconsin.

Michael Caputo, S, Jr.
[+] EnlargeMichael Caputo
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSafety Michael Caputo can make plays on the ball but isn't afraid to hit as he was second on the Badgers with 63 tackles last season.
As we mentioned in the intro, most indispensable doesn't always equal best player. Wisconsin's best player is running back Melvin Gordon. But with Corey Clement around, the Badgers could withstand a prolonged absence from Gordon and still be productive in the ground game. Sojourn Shelton is the team's most talented defensive back. Caputo might not be a star, but he did finish second on the team with 63 tackles last year. Moreover, with Dez Southward moving on to the NFL and Tanner McEvoy returning to quarterback, Caputo is the most experienced player at the safety position after moving back there from outside linebacker. Converted cornerback Peniel Jean and senior Leo Musso are competing for the other spot, while true freshman Austin Hudson got important reps this spring after enrolling early. Caputo could be the glue that keeps the safety position together.

Derek Landisch, ILB, Sr.
It says something about the difficulty of this task and the many question marks on the Badgers' roster that we picked a senior with three career starts as an indispensable player. But the fact is Wisconsin lost a ton of experience in its front seven, and no loss will be felt more than that of linebacker and 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland. Landisch is not going to make as many plays as Borland did, but he's a solid tackler and a real leader at the position. Along with Marcus Trotter, Landisch should bring some stability to the inside linebacker spots as defensive coordinator Dave Aranda works in some promising new players this fall.

MADISON, Wis. -- Gary Andersen's current job description looks a lot like that of a first-year coach. Here's the thing: Andersen is entering his second season at Wisconsin.

Andersen's inheritance with the Badgers last year, in coaching currency, rivaled that of a Walton, a Bloomberg or Prince George. Most new coaches are saddled with teams plagued by youth, discontent or a culture of losing. Andersen stepped into a locker room filled with 25 seniors, including stars such as Chris Borland and Jared Abbrederis. Wisconsin had won three consecutive Big Ten championships. It had an identity and a proven path to success.

The Badgers needed a leader after Bret Bielema spurned them for Arkansas, but Andersen's primary task could be reduced to four words: Don't screw it up. To his credit, he didn't, guiding Wisconsin to a 9-2 start before the year ended with losses to both Penn State and South Carolina. He also provided a calm, stabilizing presence that resonated both with players and Badgers fans. Wisconsin has recorded better seasons, but Andersen's first made a strong enough impression on the Cleveland Browns, who reached out to him about their coaching vacancy, and on Barry Alvarez, who awarded Andersen a raise and a new contract.

But it's fair to wonder about Andersen. Program maintenance, while challenging, isn't the same as program building. Wisconsin doesn't lack a foundation -- Alvarez provided one and Bielema kept it from cracking -- but there's a lot of hard labor ahead for Andersen and his assistants as their roster turns over significantly.

"We are a very youthful crew," Andersen told ESPN.com. "It's like my second year at Utah State. We were youthful, we were excited, but our coaching was so important to be able to put the kids in the proper positions, which is the ultimate goal. It's not how much offense you have or how much defense you have. It's how well you’re performing the basics: how many missed assignments, how are we tackling, how are our administrative penalties.

"You want to do everything you can to make sure you're teaching them how to play football the right way."

Utah State went 4-7 in Andersen's second year before reaching bowls the next two seasons. Wisconsin's expectations are much higher despite its new-look depth chart.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
Keith Gillett/Icon SMIGary Andersen sees the opener against LSU as a factor that should push his team through the summer and fall camp.
The Big Ten West Division is a collection of flawed teams and Wisconsin, with more recent success than the others and a favorable cross-division schedule -- no Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan or Penn State -- will be a popular pick to reach Indianapolis. Running back Melvin Gordon turned down the NFL draft for a chance to lead the Badgers to the initial College Football Playoff.

Wisconsin is not rebuilding, but it faces an unusually high number of questions on a depth chart that shouldn't be written in anything permanent.

"It's a reset, you're starting at ground zero," offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig said. "Even with the veteran O-line, a couple guys are out, you're mixing and matching, so you can't assume or take anything for granted. Even with [quarterback Joel Stave], it's a chance to reteach things that he's had hundreds of reps on, because there's always a new way to look at it."

Stave is part of the mystery at Wisconsin. Despite starting 19 games the past two seasons, he must outshine Tanner McEvoy in camp to keep his job, especially after missing much of the spring with a pesky throwing shoulder injury. McEvoy, a gifted athlete who played both safety and wide receiver last season, could represent a shift in what Wisconsin wants from its quarterbacks.

Andersen's first two quarterback recruits, McEvoy and D.J. Gillins, both are true dual threats.

"He's got a tremendous skill set, obviously," Ludwig said of McEvoy. "An athletic guy, starting as a safety last year. The weapons he brings to the quarterback position, it's a huge asset for us."

The quarterback run threat, when paired with dynamic backs in Gordon and Corey Clement, becomes even more critical if Wisconsin can't bolster the wide receiver spot. The team's leading returning receiver, Jordan Fredrick, had only 10 receptions in 2013. Fredrick, Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright all missed part or all of the spring with injuries.

Wisconsin had only four receivers for most of the 15 practices.

"It's pretty tiring," senior Kenzel Doe said. "You're basically taking every rep."

The Badgers defense had fewer injuries this spring but went through a more substantial facelift. Inside linebacker Derek Landisch is the only returning starter in the front seven.

Most defenders spent spring ball working at multiple positions as the coaches looked for ways to upgrade speed. Michael Caputo, a starting free safety last season, went to linebacker and then back to safety before the spring ended.

"We definitely wanted to see how guys fit in other places," Caputo said. "The goal is to be a mean, aggressive, fast defense. We're slowly getting to that, but it's definitely a transition with a lot of the younger guys and playing different positions."

There have been positive developments already. Andersen points to players such as Chikwe Obasih, a redshirt freshman who ended the spring as a starting defensive end.

Andersen When you've got young kids, you've got to get them reps if you want them to get better.

-- Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen
"You look how far Chikwe has come," Andersen said. "If you put on Day 1 of spring ball and Day 13 of spring ball, it's an unbelievable difference in his pad level, the use of his hands, his understanding and knowledge of the defense.

"When you've got young kids, you've got to get them reps if you want them to get better."

The summer takes on added importance for these Badgers. As Ludwig said, Wisconsin's first workout in August must be Practice 16, not Practice 1.

If all the uncertainty and opportunity in practice doesn't drive players, the season opener against LSU certainly will. Last year, Wisconsin thumped Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech to open the season before its infamous trip to Arizona State. This time, the test comes sooner.

"I really like that opener for this team," Andersen said. "It's got to be a driving force."

Which Badgers team shows up at Houston's NRG Stadium remains to be seen. But it will have more of Andersen's fingerprints on it.

The big reveal at Wisconsin is still to come.
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's defense appeared to offer a series of new looks, pressures and personnel groupings in coach Gary Andersen's first season.

Turns out, the reveal is just beginning.

Although the Badgers in 2013 showcased certain elements they hadn't under the previous coaching staff, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who inherited a strong and dominant line, catered his scheme to the players' power. The front seven is almost completely new this spring, which has brought different emphasis points, namely speed and versatility.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Patrick S Blood/Icon SMICB Sojourn Shelton is one of the few Badgers on defense not switching positions this spring.
The Badgers' 2014 defense will more closely resemble the units Aranda and Andersen directed at Utah State than last year's at Wisconsin.

"When you look at the people we've got, they're best when they're in space and on the move," Aranda told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "So we've moved some of the linebackers to defensive end, we've moved some of the safeties to linebacker, some of the defensive ends to nose [tackle]. Everyone's kind of moved down a spot to try to maximize speed."

Michael Caputo, who started at safety last season, moved to linebacker earlier this spring and then back to the safety spot. Michael Trotter moved from safety to join his twin brother, Marcus, as an inside linebacker. Promising redshirt freshman Alec James shifted from outside linebacker to defensive end. Joe Schobert has worked at both inside and outside linebacker, and Leon Jacobs moved from the outside to the inside. Vonte Jackson, whose recurring knee injuries have prevented him from entering the mix at running back, will get a shot at safety.

Aranda used Schobert and Ethan Armstrong in versatile roles last season, but most players stayed in one spot. He now has "an abundance" of players with flexibility.

"We wanted to see how guys fit in other places, and then they decided to move a couple guys around more," Caputo said.

Other than a few exceptions -- top cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are staying put -- the coaches are shuffling players through different positions to see who best fits. For the most part, it's working.

"We're famous for taking guys and moving them to a different spot," Andersen said. "That has been invaluable in my career. Does it always work? No. But you never know if you don't try it. That's what you do as a coach.

"There is no free agency. It's college football."

Wisconsin hasn't abandoned the power element and boasts some size up front with Warren Herring, Konrad Zagzebski and others. Aranda likes practicing against the Badgers offense, which boasts a massive line and has always excelled at the power game, while incorporating a few more spread elements than in the past.

"There's a tendency to want to get big and strong, and we are that," Aranda said. "But to win some of the games we want to win and can win, and take that next step, being as fast as we can and as athletic as we can would be the goal.

"If you can have your cake and eat it, too, let's try it."

SPONSORED HEADLINES

BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12