Big Ten: Michael Cox
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):
- 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.[+] EnlargeGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
- 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.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In its first home game as a Division I-A team, UMass was completely outclassed by visiting Indiana 45-6 on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
How it happened: Things did not start well for the UMass offense. After a dismal debut on the FBS level against UConn, scoring no points and totaling just 59 yards of offense, the Minutemen desperately needed a better beginning to their first home game as a Division I-A team.
They didn't get it.
After the defense forced Indiana to punt on the first series of the game, the offense got the ball on its own 18-yard line. The first play was a handoff to Michael Cox, who tried to take it around the left end and was stopped for no gain. The second play was a pass to Cox in the backfield, with quarterback Mike Wegzyn getting the short throw off under heavy pressure, and the back barely got back to the line of scrimmage before being stacked up.
The third play was a pass, and Wegzyn almost completed it ... to Indiana's Mark Murphy.
On fourth down, Colter Johnson's punt sailed out of bounds at the 50, giving the Hoosiers the ball at midfield.
It wouldn't take them long to capitalize. Tre Roberson kept the ball, broke an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage, juked two UMass defenders at the second level of the defense and was off to the races.
The 50-yard TD run put Indiana up 7-0.
For the Minutemen's offense, that would prove to be too much to overcome.
What it means: There is a long way to go for coach Charley Molnar's program.
That was to be expected, with the move up to Football Bowl Subdivision play. But this far? It's unlikely even the most pessimistic Minutemen fan saw this coming in the first two games.
What's next? UMass will head to Michigan for its second consecutive game versus a Big Ten team. The 3:30 p.m. kickoff will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.
Let's start out with a look at the running back groups across the Big Ten.
2. Michigan State: Other than Wisconsin, the Spartans have the best collection of experience and talent in the backfield. First-team All-Big Ten performer Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards and 13 scores last year. Le'Veon Bell, a 237-pound bruiser, complemented him as a true freshman with 605 yards and eight scores. Larry Caper is a capable veteran, and fifth-year senior Todd Anderson starts at fullback. The Spartans are deep and versatile in their rushing attack.
3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes might have earned a higher ranking if Dan Herron were eligible to play a full season. But with Herron (1,155 yards and 16 scores in '10) suspended for the first five games, Ohio State will need some youngsters to fill his shoes. The good news is that there are plenty of talented candidates. Jaamal Berry is the leading returning rusher outside of Herron, and he averaged 8.3 yards per carry in a limited role last season. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde will also battle for more playing time, while redshirt freshman Rod Smith could emerge as the No. 1 tailback after an impressive offseason. Zach Boren is back at fullback. Things may be in flux in Columbus, but you can almost always count on a good running game from the Buckeyes.
5. Penn State: Yes, the school's all-time leading rusher has moved on, as Evan Royster graduated. But the Nittany Lions still feel confident about their running game, which should be led by sophomore Silas Redd. He ran for 461 yards and 5.7 yards per carry as a true freshman, showing a physical style. Senior Stephfon Green will be asked to take on a larger role, and Brandon Beachum is back after missing last season with a knee injury. Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich are productive players at the fullback spot.
6. Purdue: The Boilermakers' stock in this chart could go up if Ralph Bolden successfully returns from injury. So far, so good for Bolden, who was a second-team All-Big Ten performer in 2009. Rob Henry led the team in rushing last year with 547 yards, but fullback Dan Dierking graduated. Junior college transfer Akeem Shavers got a lot of carries this spring and should contribute, and Reggie Pegram also is in the mix.
7. Iowa: Running back depth is a serious issue for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Adam Robinson, who would have been the leading returning running back in the Big Ten in terms of yards per game, was dismissed from the team following a December arrest. Marcus Coker could emerge as a superstar, however, after starting four of Iowa's final five games as a true freshman. He was the offensive MVP of the Insight Bowl with 219 rushing yards on 33 carries and has drawn comparisons to former Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene. There's virtually no proven experience behind him, though, and three-year starting fullback Brett Morse is no longer around.
8. Michigan: If only we could count Denard Robinson as a running back. Brady Hoke plans to cut down on Shoelace's carries, which means the Wolverines' tailbacks will get more of a chance to shine. The question is who will step up. Senior Michael Shaw and junior Vincent Smith split time as starters last season, while Stephen Hopkins and Michael Cox are in the mix for more carries. Can celebrated recruit Justice Hayes contribute right away?
9. Illinois: Mikel Leshoure's dash to the NFL left the Illini with uncertainty at running back. Senior Jason Ford, the most likely successor, sat out much of spring ball with a hurt knee, while Troy Pollard's promising spring was cut short by a concussion. Incoming freshman Donovonn Young will get a look this fall.
10. Northwestern: Like Nebraska and Michigan, Northwestern relied on its quarterback -- in this case Dan Persa-- for a heavy chunk of the rushing yards. Mike Trumpy came on late in the year as a freshman and solidified his starting spot with a strong spring. Sophomore Adonis Smith, senior Jacob Schmidt and junior Tyris Jones will fight for carries behind him.
11. Minnesota: There was healthy competition at tailback this spring with a mixture of veterans and fresh faces. DeLeon Eskridge led the team last year with 698 rushing yards, while Duane Bennett added 529. They're being pushed by redshirt freshmen Donnell Kirkwood and Lamonte Edwards. New coach Jerry Kill will look to improve on the Gophers' paltry 3.6 yards per carry average last season. This is a group that could make a major move up the rankings.
12. Indiana: New Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson has a challenge in figuring out this group. Three of the top candidates for the starting tailback job, Darius Willis, Antonio Banks and Xavier Whitaker, all suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2010 and missed spring practice. IU's leading rusher last season finished with just 352 yards. Nick Turner and Matt Perez got the bulk of the reps in the spring. Perhaps Wilson's high-tempo offense will improve the stats for Indiana ball carriers.
- LB Mike Jones, leg
- RB Michael Shaw, knee
- RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, shoulder
- S Jared Van Slyke, clavicle (out for season)
- S Mike Williams, head
- CB Troy Woolfolk, ankle (out for season)
- OL John Ferrara, hand
- LB Brandon Herron, ankle
- LB/S Carvin Johnson, knee
- QB Denard Robinson, knee
Don't read much into Robinson's inclusion, as coach Rich Rodriguez has said multiple times this week that the sophomore will play in Bloomington. Rodriguez said on his radio show Thursday night that Robinson practiced throughout the week and did all the drills. He'll likely have to carry most of the rushing load again as both Shaw and Toussaint are out. This is a good opportunity for running backs Vincent Smith and Michael Cox to step up and assert themselves against a vulnerable Indiana defense. While the Wolverines' secondary remains a bit banged up, Johnson has been upgraded and certainly could help the defense after starting the season opener against Connecticut. Another good sign is no Tate Forcier, who sustained a bruised quad last week.
No worries, friends. I've got you covered.
Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: Go ahead and list him as a co-starter on your depth chart, Kirk Ferentz. He's still your best receiver. Again. DJK has recorded 11 receptions for 201 yards and three touchdowns in his last two games. He's getting closer and closer to passing Tim Dwight to become Iowa's all-time leading receiver.
Indiana TEs Ted Bolser and Max Dedmond: The Hoosiers' wide receivers get most of the hype, and deservedly so, but both Bolser and Dedmond provide more options for quarterback Ben Chappell. The two tight ends combined for three touchdown catches and 43 receiving yards in a win against Akron. Bolser ranks among the Big Ten leaders with four touchdown receptions and boasts nine catches for 128 yards on the season.
Northwestern DTs Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant: These two are holding it down on the interior line for the Wildcats. DiNardo blocked a field-goal attempt and a PAT attempt against Central Michigan, while Bryant had a fumble recovery. The two tackles have combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and two blocked kicks this season.
Don Treadwell: The Michigan State offensive coordinator certainly deserves credit for steering the Spartans' ship through a tough time without head coach Mark Dantonio. But the biggest reason he appears here is the better offensive balance Michigan State has shown the last two weeks. The Spartans' rushing attack is legit, but quarterback Kirk Cousins is making more big plays through the air. A two-pronged attack really will help MSU heading into Big Ten play.
Michigan's supporting cast: It was important for Michigan's offense to produce without superstar quarterback Denard Robinson, even against a shaky defense like Bowling Green's. Reserve quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Devin Gardner both played well, particularly Forcier, and Michigan received boosts from receiver Roy Roundtree and running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint, Vincent Smith and Michael Cox.
Minnesota's lines: You win and lose games at the line of scrimmage, and the Gophers need to get better on both sides of the ball. Minnesota's inability to covert two fourth-and-1 situations in the second half of the Northern Illinois loss was simply inexcusable. A veteran Big Ten offensive line that prides itself on the run game should get a yard against a MAC defense, period. The new-look defensive line didn't fare well, either, as NIU's Chad Spann ran wild (223 yards).
Ohio State's veteran RBs: I've gotten a bit annoyed by the incessant calls for Jaamal Berry from Ohio State fans, but maybe they have a point. Senior running back Brandon Saine had only 11 yards on three carries against Eastern Michigan, while junior Dan Herron had an OK day (12 carries, 55 rush yards, TD). Berry, meanwhile, had a 67-yard touchdown run, while Jordan Hall averaged 6.5 yards a carry and threw a touchdown pass to Terrelle Pryor. Perhaps it's time youth is served.
Purdue's defense: The unluckiest offense in America has lost its top running back (Ralph Bolden), its top receiver (Keith Smith) and now its top quarterback (Robert Marve). But a bigger issue could be the Boilers' defense, which struggled Saturday to stop a Toledo offense that entered the game ranked last nationally in yards. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is turning into this year's Brandon Graham: a great player on a very shaky defense. Purdue needs more from its front seven to protect a new-look secondary.
Penn State's red zone offense: Kudos to the Nittany Lions for finally reaching the end zone on an impressive 96-yard drive late in the fourth quarter, but they left too many points on the field. Penn State has scored only six touchdowns in 15 red zone opportunities this season. It needs to change in a hurry.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE
(Player, Week 4 performance)
1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: five carries, 129 rush yards, 2 TDs; 4-for-4 passing, 60 yards in less than a quarter of work against Bowling Green.
2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 20-for-26 passing, 244 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INT; seven carries for 104 rush yards, 1 TD; one reception for a 20-yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan.
3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 23 for-30 passing, 280 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 carries, 43 rush yards in win against Central Michigan.
4. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: 19-for-25 passing, 288 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT in win against Ball State.
5. Indiana QB Ben Chappell: 23-for-33 passing, 342 yards, 4 TDs in win against Akron.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE
1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery in loss to Toledo.
2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded first two interceptions of his career plus a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and four tackles in a win against Northern Colorado.
3. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a sack and a forced fumble in win against Central Michigan.
4. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Recorded three tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss, in win against Austin Peay.
5. Ohio State S/LB Tyler Moeller: Recorded three tackles and a pass breakup in win against Eastern Michigan.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR RACE
1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 11 carries, 93 rush yards, 3 TDs; 1 reception for 35 yards in win against Northern Colorado.
2. Wisconsin RB James White: 11 carries, 145 rush yards, 4 TDs; 2 kick returns for 45 yards; 1 reception for 12 yards in win against Austin Peay.
3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 18-for-28 passing, 223 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs in win against Temple.
4. Indiana TE Ted Bolser: 3 receptions for 35 yards, 2 TDs in win against Akron.
5. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: Bye week
(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)
I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.
Here's what stood out:
- Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
- Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
- The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
- Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
- Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
- James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
- Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
- Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
- Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
- True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
- Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
- Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
- Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
- Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
- Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
- Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
- Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
- Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
- Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
- Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
- Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
- Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
- Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
- After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
- Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
- The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.
Here are some nuggets and observations:
- We get to see Tate Forcier's wing-less helmet very early in the show, although we know now that he has regained his wings. Forcier seemed to be No. 3 in the quarterback rotation during drills, behind both Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner. "Denard and Devin got most of the reps today," DiNardo said. But head coach Rich Rodriguez maintains the race is open. Forcier, to his credit, made some crisp throws in the practice.
- The BTN crew picked Robinson to be the starter when the season opens Sept. 4. Although he misfired on a few outside throws in individual drills, he looked more comfortable overall as a passer.
- Gardner's size and mobility make him a pretty exciting young prospect. He likely won't be the starter for the opener, but you figure he'll be in the mix at some stage. "He has the most ability of the three quarterbacks," DiNardo said.
- We learned quite a bit during the M drill, where a running back dashes through a line of four blockers and four defenders. Michael Cox had several nice runs, following a block from tight end Brandon Moore on one play. Kelvin Grady followed a block by Erik Gunderson and shot through the line, while burly back Stephen Hopkins broke through tackles with a powerful run on one play. Defensive standouts in the drill included end Jibreel Black, safety Brandin Hawthorne and tackle Will Campbell, who made a very nice tackle on Hopkins. There also were some good team efforts, including blocks from Michael Schofield and Quinton Washington, and a team tackle by Richard Ash and Jonas Mouton.
- The secondary remains a concern, but a few players stood out in individual drills. Safety Vlad Emilien had a huge hit against Fitzgerald Toussaint, and safety Josh Furman forced a fumble by freshman receiver Ricardo Miller in a 1-on-1 matchup.
- There's no reason defensive tackle Mike Martin shouldn't have an excellent year for Michigan. He's got excellent strength and good size at 6-2, 299. "There’s very little he doesn’t do well," DiNardo said. Campbell also looked good in this practice, both physically and with his play. DiNardo thinks Campbell will be most effective when lined up directly over the center. "He's really picked up his game," Griffith said. Griffith also likes the freshman Black.
- It was really fun to watch Martin and center David Molk go at it in a 1-on-1 drill. A ton of strength in that matchup, which it appeared Molk won. Offensive tackle Perry Dorrestein and defensive tackle Renaldo Sagesse also had a good battle. It was a pretty good day overall for the offensive line. DiNardo particularly likes tackle Patrick Omameh.
- We didn't see a ton from the linebackers, although the first group in one drill was Craig Roh, Mouton and, yes, Mark Moundros, the team's starting fullback, at middle linebacker. It'll be interesting to see how much Moundros pushes Obi Ezeh and others for playing time.
- Cox looked the best among the running backs, although several of them have impressive speed, including Toussaint. Hopkins certainly stands out from the group because of his size (6-foot, 227 pounds).
- The BTN crew really likes Michigan's wide receivers, especially Roy Roundtree. They also noted the play of freshman Jeremy Jackson, one of the team's bigger receivers at 6-foot-3. "They’ve got the right number at wide receiver," DiNardo said. "You can't say that about every position in the program."
- In interviews, Martin talked about the defense being closer this year, and Rodriguez expressed concern about the kicking game.
What's new: After losing linebackers coach Jay Hopson to Memphis, Rodriguez promoted Adam Braithwaite to safeties and outside linebackers coach. He also added special teams to the plate of secondary coach Tony Gibson, who will continue to work with free safeties and cornerbacks. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will work with the linebackers. There was a lot of talk this spring about the 3-3-5 defensive alignment, as Michigan must replace standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren.
Sidelined: Defensive lineman Will Heininger (knee) is the only player out because of injury, and he might not play this season. Running back Vincent Smith is expected to be 100 percent for camp after undergoing offseason knee surgery. Running back Mike Shaw appears on the team's 2010 roster, although he had some eligibility issues to clear up with summer school.
Key battle: You might have heard, but Michigan's quarterback spot is undecided and Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson resume the competition today. The Wolverines also need to identify a featured running back or two, and Smith, Shaw, Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint are in the mix. Kenny Demens will push Obi Ezeh at middle linebacker, and J.T. Floyd looks to cement himself as a starting cornerback opposite Troy Woolfolk. Both kick specialist jobs also are up for grabs.
New on the scene: Michigan still needs its freshmen to play, especially on defense. Look out for defensive back Cullen Christian, defensive lineman Richard Ash and linebacker Marvin Robinson, among others. In a perfect world, Michigan could redshirt quarterback Devin Gardner, but if he's the best option, Rodriguez won't hesitate to play the freshman.
Back in the fold: Center David Molk was Michigan's best offensive lineman before knee problems cut short his 2009 season. After a strong offseason, Molk will boost a line that has enough talent and depth to be the team's biggest strength this fall. Receiver Junior Hemingway, who had a strong start last fall before being sidelined by mononucleosis, also returns to the mix.
Breaking out: If Denard Robinson builds on his spring performance, he could be the difference maker for Michigan's offense this fall. Receiver Roy Roundtree could be on the verge of bigger things after leading the team in receptions (32), receiving yards (434) and receiving touchdowns (3) last year. Hopes are high for defensive end/linebacker Craig Roh, who recorded 7.5 tackles for loss as a true freshman in 2009. Safety Cam Gordon was the star of spring practice and could be poised for a big year.
Quotable: "There's a lot of hungry football players up in Ann Arbor, and I think they're as excited as I am to get going. We have some questions, certainly, on both sides of the ball." -- head coach Rich Rodriguez
Robinson took the field first and led the offense to touchdowns on five of six possessions against the second-team defense. Forcier worked mainly against the first-team defense and led three scoring drives in six possessions. So Foricer had the tougher assignment overall.
Head coach Rich Rodriguez said Robinson and Forcier will enter fall camp neck-and-neck for the starting job, with true freshman Devin Gardner a bit behind them, but Robinson has the momentum entering the summer.
From The Detroit News:
"Tate and Denard are a little bit ahead of Devin, because they have a little more experience," Rodriguez said. "And Denard, overall in the spring, has probably had a few better practices than Tate has."
I saw most of Michigan's scrimmage on the Big Ten Network, and Robinson looked like the most confident quarterback out there. I wouldn't count out Forcier, who has more experience and still made some nice plays, but he'll need to match Robinson in August to retain the starting job for the season. He seemed really disappointed after a holding penalty negated a touchdown during the overtime session, brushing past a teammate on the sideline. Rodriguez has challenged Forcier throughout the spring, and he'll need to step up.
- Michigan's defense still needs a bit of work, though linebacker Obi Ezeh had a nice scrimmage, intercepting a pass from Gardner, who showed some freshman nerves. It would have been nice to see the first-team defense go more against the No. 1 offense, but Michigan has done more of that during closed practices this spring.
- The kicking game could be a real adventure for Michigan, which really needs incoming freshman punter Will Hagerup to provide a boost. Keep in mind that punting has been arguably Michigan's greatest strength the last two years with All-American Zoltan Mesko booming kicks, so field position likely will change this fall.
- The Wolverines will play more than one running back this season, and they seem to have decent depth there. Michael Shaw enters the summer with a slight edge, but both Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint showed some good signs during spring ball. Michigan's most intriguing running back prospect might be 236-pound freshman Stephen Hopkins, who brings some size to the backfield. Vincent Smith rejoins the mix in August.
- Starting cornerback Troy Woolfolk missed the spring game after breaking a finger in practice while breaking up a Gardner pass. According to the Detroit Free Press, the bone broke through the skin but Woolfolk, who now goes by T-wolf, didn't cry.
Brian from Seattle writes: Adam, love the blog. This along with the Big Ten Network helps me feel like I still live in the Midwest. That being said, with all of the reports you had on MSU, not one of them mentioned them moving to a base 3-4 defense. From what I have read, Jones, Gordon, Norman and Gholston will be the 4, with Bullough getting his fair share of playing time as well. How is it that you have all of these stories with these interviews, yet miss out on such an obvious one? The linebackers are the strength to our D and the move to the 3-4 will maximize our talent. Keep up the good(?) work.
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, although Mark Dantonio said Thursday that they're headed toward more 3-4, Michigan State still will use multiple fronts (four-man and three-man). The Spartans have two promising young defensive tackles in Jerel Worthy and Blake Treadwell, and several defensive ends are emerging this spring. Who said Gholston will definitely be the fourth starter at linebacker? He isn't even practicing yet, so let's be patient there. Max Bullough has been impressive, and he certainly looks the part. Will the Spartans be a 3-4 defense in 2010? They're going in that direction, but it won't be an exclusive thing.
Dave from Streamwood, Ill., writes: Wow. Could you possibly show more bias for Iowa?? "And will do so again"? I didn't know you can predict the future, what a fantastic ability! Is it likely Iowa fans will dominate the stadium? Yes, but that's not what you said. How about you report the news and spare us your Big Ten/big school views. No wonder why you got hired at ESPN.
Adam Rittenberg: Dave, first of all, I covered Northern Illinois for three years, and I know how they've grown that football program and the fan base. I'll always be a huge Joe Novak fan, and Jerry Kill was an excellent hire for NIU. That said, I think there's more than enough evidence that Iowa fans will show up in droves for a game in Chicago, especially the season opener. Iowa travels more fans than most Big Ten schools, and Iowa boasts tons and tons of alumni in the Chicago area. The Hawkeyes have a huge presence at road games and bowl games. I don't think it's such a bold prediction to say Iowa will pack Soldier Field for that game.
Sean from Chicago writes: Adam, was wondering if there was any news/buzz about Fitzgerald Trouissant out of Michigan's spring camp. The kid came in highly recruited after an impressive high school career and I know he battled injuries throughout his Freshman year. Was wondering if he has made any headway through the depth at tailback under Rich Rod or if there is any other news on the kid. He went to my high school, and I always wondered why he chose Michigan (other than fan growing up) with all the depth they had coming in with his class and Rich Rod's history for stockpiling the running back position.
Adam Rittenberg: Michigan coaches sound happy with Toussaint, but there's definitely more buzz about Michael Shaw and Michael Cox this spring. The Wolverines also like what they're seeing from burly freshman Stephen Hopkins. Toussaint certainly has opportunities to push Shaw and Cox, but I'd say they will the top two backs coming out of spring. Vincent Smith re-enters the mix this fall, but offensive coordinator Calvin Magee told me he'll need to catch up fast.
Bryce from Dallas writes: If you could help me clarify something Adam, someone said to me that both Purdue and Indiana make more television money as of now than Notre Dame? Is that true or if not true, would it be true with expansion?You can't say that wouldn't be funny that the once mighty Notre Dame make less in TV revenue than its in-state opponents? But in actuality, I imagine some Big 12, ACC and Pac-10 powerhouses may also make less.
Adam Rittenberg: Every Big Ten team makes more from TV revenue ($17-18 million a year) than Notre Dame does from its NBC football contract ($9 million a year). And the Big Ten shares revenue equally among all its teams, so Indiana and Purdue get the same slice as Ohio State and Michigan. How would expansion change this? Well, I would expect the Big Ten would only expand if there was the potential to grow TV revenue even more. Big Ten presidents are only going to share the revenue pie if there's more of it to go around.
Ricky from Placentia, Calif., writes: The word thus far in Spring practice is that Jaamal Berry is the most-explosive tailback for Ohio State, with Saine, Herron, Hall, Martin and Hyde also performing.Do you feel that the coaching staff will play the back that is producing the best or will the staff go towards seniority (meaning Saine and Herron) and overlook performance? The reason I ask, there were times that Jordan Hall looked very good last season, yet he didn't get a lot of carries.
Adam Rittenberg: I'm heading out to Ohio State practice in a few minutes, so I'll have more on the running back situation. But this coaching staff loves its veteran players, and Brandon Saine and Dan Herron certainly have the most experience among the backs. Saine told me today that he's enjoying mentoring the younger guys and singled out Hall and Berry for their play this spring. The coaches like what they saw from Hall last year, but he'll need to really separate himself in practice to take away carries from Saine and Herron. The same holds true for Berry.
- Notre Dame departs Michigan's schedule in 2018 and 2019, and the Wolverines need to find a big-name replacement, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Michael Cox is making a push to break into Michigan's running back rotation, annarbor.com's Dave Birkett writes.
- Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson returns to the practice field later today, though he'll be held out of contact, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- An update on Penn State's pro prospects from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Musselman.
- Purdue's defense prevailed in the first scrimmage of the spring, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald says Dan Persa is in the driver's seat for the starting quarterback spot, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Ohio State knows its top two wide receivers but will spend the spring looking for others to step up, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Walk-on receiver Jared Abbrederis has been the story of the spring so far at Wisconsin, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Homesickness took Sam McGuffie from Michigan to Rice, and the former Wolverines running back talks about his fresh start with SI.com's Andy Staples.
It has been quite a day already in the Big Ten, with No. 7 Ohio State going down to a 1-5 Purdue team and Iowa affirming itself as the class of the conference. I'm convinced that Iowa can do some special things this fall after watching the Hawkeyes rally past Wisconsin, 20-10.
Here's a look at the other Big Ten games:
Purdue 26, Ohio State 18 -- It will go down as one of the bigger upsets of the college football season, but those who have watched both of these teams shouldn't be totally surprised. Purdue had played a lot better than its 1-5 record indicated. The Boilermakers simply couldn't overcome all their turnovers and lost four games by a combined 18 points. Ohio State boasted a dominant defense but an offense with no rhythm and no identity aside from the occasional big play. The Buckeyes had it coming today, and by combining terrible production with five turnovers, their streak of consecutive Big Ten road wins ended at 16. Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor endured the worst performance of his young career, committing four turnovers (2 interceptions, 2 fumbles). Turnovers have been a bugaboo for Pryor this season, and he simply isn't developing the way most had envisioned when he took over the starting job just four weeks into his career. Head coach Jim Tressel and his staff will be criticized, and quite frankly, they deserve it. Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan had a monster game (three sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, four tackles for loss) and quarterback Joey Elliott finally secured the huge win that has eluded Purdue for so long. Kudos to Danny Hope and the Boilermakers.
Michigan State 24, Northwestern 14 -- Both of these defenses are improving with every game, but Michigan State made more plays in the second half to continue its hot streak. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker played a role in another critical turnover, changing the game by forcing a fumble early in the third quarter. Linebackers Eric Gordon and Greg Jones both turned in huge performances for the Spartans defense, which bottled up Northwestern's anemic rushing attack. After a slow start, Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins picked apart Northwestern, hooking up twice with Blair White (186 receiving yards) for long touchdowns. You have to feel for Wildcats quarterback Mike Kafka, whose hard-luck season continued. Kafka once again put up big numbers (34-for-47 passing, 291 yards, 2 TDs), but he has no help from the run game or on special teams. This season has shown that Northwestern isn't at a point where it can lose a bunch of offensive playmakers and reload.
Michigan 63, Delaware State 6 -- The Wolverines snapped a two-game slide and flexed their muscles on offense against a completely overmatched opponent. Michigan set several school records, including total yards with 727. The 57-point margin of victory tied for the second largest for Michigan since 1950. I didn't really see the need to start quarterback Tate Forcier, who suffered a concussion last week, but he led a scoring drive and departed without further injury, so no harm done. Head coach Rich Rodriguez wisely got his backups plenty of work, and quarterback Denard Robinson (2 pass touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown) and running back Vincent Smith (166 rush yards, 1 TD) came up big. Had anyone heard of Michael Cox (82 rush yards, 2 TDs) before today's game? That's what happens when you play Delaware State. Things obviously get much, much tougher next week against Penn State, but the Wolverines regained some confidence.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez opened his news conference Monday afternoon by clarifying the status of running back Kevin Grady, who remains suspended for games but can now practice with the team. Rodriguez also addressed several other topics following the Wolverines' first workout, including the quarterback candidates, his first look at several freshmen and Michigan cracking the preseason coaches' poll.
Let's take a look:
- Rodriguez seemed satisfied with the quarterback play Monday and highlighted the performance of sophomore Nick Sheridan. But the competition for the starting spot is far from over and could stretch well into the season. Sheridan and redshirt freshman Steven Threet emerged as the frontrunners after spring ball, and fleet-footed freshman Justin Feagin joined the mix Monday.
"I hope that we have at least two that we feel we can win with, that's the goal," Rodriguez said. "Not so much just finding a starter as finding two that we feel we can win with."
Both Threet and Sheridan said they felt more comfortable running the system Monday after a rocky spring. Michigan spends the first few practices reviewing the portions of the scheme installed this spring before moving on to new plays and formations.
Sheridan came away happy with his performance but admitted he's "nowhere near ready to play."
"It wasn't a walk in the park," Threet said.
- With so many questions on the offensive depth chart, Monday's most encouraging sign could have been the performance of the freshman skill players. Rodriguez came away pleased with what he saw from several slot receivers, namely Martavious Odoms and Terrance Robinson, two players who also impressed Sheridan.
Running backs Michael Cox, Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw also got in some good work. Several of those players will audition as punt and kickoff returners.
"Our goal in recruiting this class was to improve our skill, in particular because of all the formations we like to do in the spread," Rodriguez said. "I think we did that with these guys. ... They're pretty intelligent guys as well, which is something you don't know for sure, until you put in a system, how quickly they can pick it up."
How quickly Feagin picks up the offense likely will determine when he sees the field this fall. The freshman likely has the most speed of the four candidates, but the other three benefited from going through spring practice.
"He tries to learn a lot, he asks questions, he's a good kid," Sheridan said of Feagin. "He's a freshman, so he's swimming a little bit, particularly at this position, but so far, so good."
- Glad to see I'm not the only one who shares this opinion about preseason rankings and Michigan's inclusion in the coaches' poll. Rodriguez doesn't think too much of his team cracking the rankings.
"Who cares?" Rodriguez said. "If it gets the fans excited, but we already sold our tickets, I think. Sometimes if you're not used to that and your team's ranked high, it sells a few more tickets. That's good, rah, rah. ... It's fun for everybody to write about an opinionate about, whatever, but they shouldn't probably even take a poll till October. The reason why we're probably ranked there -- because we lost a lot of players -- is because the reputation of Michigan, I assume."
- Real men read poetry, and Michigan's defenders will continue to do so this season. In past seasons the Wolverines' starting defense convened the night before games and recited Rudyard Kipling's poem, "The Law for the Wolves."
Despite all the changes at Schembechler Hall this season with Rodriguez's arrival, Kipling's poem remains on the wall.
"That's such a great thing to have on defense, a great motto to have," senior cornerback Morgan Trent said. "It's been there since I've been here."
- The practice field isn't the only place where Threet and Sheridan will be paired together. The quarterbacks are also roommates this summer, an arrangement that is working out well so far.
"He wasn't a snorer last night, so that was good," Sheridan said. "We're going to have to lower the temperature in the room. It was a little hot. He agreed, too. It sounded like he slept well. I was rolling around."
- Rodriguez weighed in on the music blaring from a golf cart during the early portions of practice. "We'll see if anybody can dance," he joked, "You know that show, 'So you think you can dance.'"
The music is actually used to simulate crowd noise and create distractions for the offensive players, particularly the quarterbacks. Football administrative assistant Dusty Rutledge currently is in charge of the song selection, but Rodriguez plans to let the players make nominations.
- Wide receiver Junior Hemmingway was limited in Monday's practice as he recovers from a high ankle sprain sustained during spring drills. Rodriguez expects Hemmingway to be at full strength in a few days. Rodriguez is doubtful that offensive lineman Elliott Mealer will be able to practice before the season. Mealer suffered a shoulder injury in a car accident that killed his father and his girlfriend last Christmas Eve.