Big Ten: Michael Shaw

Several Big Ten players who didn't hear their names called in New York during the weekend still received some good news about their football futures. As soon as the NFL draft concluded, the undrafted free agent scramble began.

Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.


Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.

Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).
The Big Ten postseason position rankings march on with the running backs. The running back rankings evaluate the entire position group, although superstar players affected the placement, too. Certain groups of running backs ran behind better offensive lines than others, and we took that into account when compiling the rankings.

Check out the preseason running back rankings here.

Onto the rundown ...

1. Wisconsin: Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball built on a strong finish to 2010 and took his game to another level in 2011. The Big Ten offensive player of the year headlined a Wisconsin rushing attack that led the Big Ten and ranked 11th nationally. While James White had a reduced role this past season, he still averaged 5.1 yards a carry and racked up 713 rush yards and six touchdowns. Ball also contributed in the passing game with 24 receptions, six of which went for touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireRunning back Rex Burkhead proved to be a workhorse for Nebraska this past season.
2. Nebraska: Rex Burkhead wore an "N" on his helmet, but it might as well have been an "S" on his chest. The player nicknamed "Superman" triggered a Nebraska rushing attack that ranked 15th nationally. Burkhead racked up 284 carries for 1,357 rush yards and 13 touchdowns. Although the Huskers didn't show a ton of depth at the position, young players like Ameer Abdullah have bright futures.

3. Ohio State: Although a quarterback (Braxton Miller) led the pass-averse Buckeyes in rushing, Ohio State had several capable ball carriers this past season. Carlos Hyde contributed early in the season and finished with 566 rush yards and six touchdowns on 106 carries. Dan Herron provided a spark after returning from suspension, averaging five yards a carry. Jordan Hall also tallied 100 carries and averaged more than four yards per rush.

4. Michigan: The coaches entered the season looking for a featured back and got one as Fitzgerald Toussaint emerged midway through the season. Toussaint racked up 120 yards or more in four of Michigan's final five regular-season games and displayed superstar potential at times. Although Toussaint and quarterback Denard Robinson had the bulk of the carries, reserves Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw both averaged more than six yards per carry.

5. Penn State: Much like Ohio State, Penn State relied heavily on its ground game to account for a shaky passing attack. Sophomore Silas Redd shouldered the burden, particularly during the month of October, when he led the FBS with 703 rush yards, including five 100-yard games. Redd finished with 1,241 yards and seven touchdowns, and Stephfon Green stepped up later in the season and had six rushing scores. Burly sophomore Curtis Dukes averaged 5.8 yards a carry.

6. Purdue: The Boilers had a featured back in Ralph Bolden but also had very good depth at the position. It showed up in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which Bolden missed with a torn ACL. Akeem Shavers led the way and others contributed, too. Purdue finished the season with two 500-yard rushers in Bolden and Shavers, while freshman speedster Akeem Hunt averaged 8.7 yards on 33 carries.

7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes were a bit of a dichotomy in 2011, as they finished last in the Big Ten in rushing but had the league's top rusher for part of the season in Marcus Coker. Despite being suspended for the Insight Bowl, Coker finished second in the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,384) and 15th nationally in rushing average (115.3 ypg). He had 281 carries, while no other running back had more than 31, so it was a one-man show for Iowa in 2011.

8. Michigan State: The Spartans' rushing production went down in 2011, as Michigan State went from 64th nationally in rushing to 78th. MSU ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing for much of the season and finished 11th. But the team's struggles had more to do with a new-look offensive line than the running backs. Le'Veon Bell came on strong late in the season and rushed for 948 yards and 13 touchdowns. Edwin Baker's numbers went down, but he added 665 rush yards and five scores.

9. Illinois: Here's another team that had a quarterback (Nathan Scheelhaase) as its leading rusher, but Illinois also featured multiple options at running back. Although Jason Ford had an up-and-down season, Troy Pollard and Donovonn Young proved to be capable ball carriers. Young averaged 5.2 yards a carry and scored seven touchdowns, while Pollard averaged 7.2 yards a carry and had 488 rush yards and two scores.

10. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers have plenty of issues to address going forward, the running back spot appears solid. Stephen Houston started the final eight games and established himself as the featured back with 802 yards and eight touchdowns on 151 carries (5.3 ypc). Houston was productive in Big Ten play and a nice complement to quarterback Tre Roberson. D'Angelo Roberts and Matt Perez both added four touchdowns.

11. Northwestern: Echoing a common theme, Northwestern's top rusher was a quarterback (Kain Colter). While the offense has been productive the past few years, the Wildcats haven't found an elite featured back since Tyrell Sutton graduated. Jacob Schmidt was solid for stretches, and young backs Treyvon Green and Adonis Smith contributed at times. Mike Trumpy might still be the best of the bunch, but his season was cut short by a knee injury.

12. Minnesota: Although quarterback MarQueis Gray ran the ball well (966 rush yards, 6 TDs), Minnesota needs more from the running back spot going forward. Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood both averaged less than four yards per carry, and the Gophers had only two 100-yard rushing performances from a running back.

Big Ten afternoon news roundup

September, 19, 2011
A few items for you on a murky Monday in Chicago:
  • Wisconsin starting right tackle Josh Oglesby will have an MRI on his left knee today. Despite Oglesby's chronic knee issues, Badgers coach Bret Bielema is optimistic that the senior won't miss much time and possibly not even a single game."All the preliminary indications have been very, very positive," Bielema said. "... Very good chance he will play this week, if not, for sure next week as long as the MRI comes back all clean."
  • More good news on the health front, as Nebraska star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard will participate in practice today. Dennard has missed the first three games and the second half of camp with a pulled muscle in his leg. He warmed up for Saturday's game against Washington, but coach Bo Pelini had no intention of playing the senior. "He is doing a lot better," Pelini said Monday. It's critical Nebraska regains Dennard's services for next week's Big Ten opener against Wisconsin and sizzling quarterback Russell Wilson. "In my opinion, there isn't a better corner in the country," Pelini said. "I think he is that good."
  • Vincent Smith entered the season labeled as Michigan's third-down back, but the 5-foot-6 junior has put himself in position for a bigger role. Although Fitz Toussaint and Michael Shaw remain listed as co-starters at running back on the depth chart, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said Smith "has earned that right" to compete for the top job. Smith has rushed for 132 yards on only 12 carries this season.
  • Indiana's depth chart for this week's road game against North Texas lists three freshmen offensive linemen as starters. Bernard Taylor, Collin Rahrig and Peyton Eckert are listed as the No. 1 left guard, right guard and right tackle, respectively. All three started ahead of veteran players Saturday against South Carolina State. Although Indiana put up 38 points, it also drew 11 (11!) false start penalties. Having such a young line undoubtedly contributed to so many yellow hankies. The Hoosiers will need a more disciplined performance from their young players on the road.
A football game contains a multitude of moving parts, and its outcome can be decided by hundreds of little things that can go right or wrong for either side.

But sometimes, the result has a very simple explanation. That's the case for the last two games between Michigan and Notre Dame. On the most basic level, the Wolverines just had the best player on the field performing heroic acts, and he happened to playing quarterback.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan didn't need any big-time heroics from Denard Robinson last weekend.
In 2009, Michigan rallied from an early deficit on the strength of Tate Forcier, who threw for 240 yards and ran for another 70. He led the game-winning touchdown drive, throwing for the deciding score with 11 seconds remaining.

That was merely a warm-up for last year's razzle-dazzle by Denard Robinson, who posted 502 total yards in South Bend, including an 87-yard touchdown run. He also led a game-winning drive, running it in with 27 seconds left for a 28-24 victory.

"The whole game was crazy," Robinson said this week. "I enjoyed the whole thing."

So did Wolverines fans. But the question this week, as the two teams reunite under the lights at the Big House, is if Michigan can again get that kind of performance out of its quarterback in its new offensive system. And can it beat Notre Dame without such heroics?

Robinson had a quiet game in the season-opening win against Western Michigan last week, throwing for only 98 yards and running for 46 with no scores. But the game was called off before the third quarter even ended.

"We only ran 39 plays," center David Molk said. "Last year, that was barely half a game for us."

Even in a shortened game, though, the Wolverines liked what they saw out of their backfield guys not named Robinson. Running backs Fitz Toussaint and Michael Shaw combined to gain 134 yards on just 15 carries and scored three times while ripping off a few long dashes. That kind of production from the tailbacks wasn't there last year and gives this offense another dimension.

Could that rushing game help beat Notre Dame even without a huge day from Robinson?

"I know a lot of people this year are going to key on Denard, and there's nothing better to counteract that than a really good run game," Molk said. "We're not going to line up without a quarterback on the field, but at the same time our offense is going to play out like it's going to play out. Either our running backs are going to get a lot of yards, or Denard's going to get a lot of yards. Either way, we're looking forward to getting a good offensive push and a lot of points on the board."

Notre Dame's defense wasn't to blame for the team's 23-20 loss to South Florida last week, as the Irish gave up only 254 total yards and 3.5 yards per play. That defense has improved greatly since last year's game in South Bend, and the memories of Robinson's one-man destruction remain fresh in the Golden Domers' domes.

"Last year, Denard had too many big plays against our defense," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said this week. "So we'll be looking for answers towards keeping him in that realm where he doesn't take over the game."

One of the major storylines for Michigan going into this season was how Robinson would adjust to new offensive coordinator Al Borges' schemes. The answer was inconclusive after a shorter-than-expected Week 1.

"I thought he managed the offense very well for the first time out," Borges said of Robinson. "He didn't create the big plays he's used to, but our tailbacks did. As long as somebody does, we'll be fine. You'll see that part of his game surface eventually."

Maybe this is the week Robinson breaks out with one of his memorable performances. If not, the Wolverines will have to prove they can win this game without a heroic effort from their quarterback. If that happens, it may be the best sign of progress for this program.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
Week 2 is just around the corner, and it brings us a few more appealing matchups around the Big Ten.

Here are 10 items to track during a 12-pack of games Saturday.

1. The Big House in prime time: Michigan has played 520 games at Michigan Stadium, but none has kicked off at night. History will be made Saturday at the Big House as Michigan takes on Notre Dame under the lights. It should be an electric atmosphere at Stadium and Main as more than 110,000 fans will watch two of the game's iconic programs, who will honor the occasion with retro uniforms. Trust me, they're better than Maryland's.

[+] EnlargeMichigan Stadium
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan Stadium will host its first night kickoff in its more than 80-year history.
2. Opportunity knocks for Nits: Penn State wants to be viewed as a legitimate Big Ten title contender and a team that belongs among the nation's elite. There's no better opportunity to make a statement than Saturday's game against No. 3 Alabama. Penn State hasn't beaten a top-5 team in the Associated Press poll since crushing Arizona in the 1999 season opener. An upset of Alabama would put the Penn State program -- and not just its iconic coach Joe Paterno -- in the national spotlight.

3. Coker tries to rebound: Iowa running back Marcus Coker entered the season with a lot of hype but fumbled twice in the season opener, earning him a trip to the bench. Coach Kirk Ferentz remains confident in the sophomore and was pleased Coker didn't use the lousy weather conditions as an excuse. Coker gets a great chance to redeem himself on the road against in-state rival Iowa State, which last week surrendered 204 rush yards to FCS Northern Iowa.

4. Bauserman's building blocks: Joe Bauserman took a step toward securing Ohio State's starting quarterback spot in the opener, completing 12 of 16 pass attempts with three touchdown strikes to tight end Jake Stoneburner. Although freshman Braxton Miller remains very much in the mix and should see time Saturday against Toledo, another strong performance from Bauserman should establish the senior as the team's top option before a Week 3 trip to Miami.

5. Linebacker U. vs. Trent Richardson: Penn State will lean heavily on its defense, and particularly its linebackers, as it aims for the upset against Alabama. Linebacker U appears to be back as the Lions boast excellent depth in the defensive midsection with Michael Mauti, Nate Stupar, Glenn Carson, Khairi Fortt, Mike Hull and Gerald Hodges, who got hurt last year in Tuscaloosa but could be a difference-maker Saturday. The linebackers must contain one of the nation's top running backs in Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson.

6. Huskers' offense under the gun: Nebraska scored 40 points in its opener but left plenty of questions on the offensive side. Coordinator Tim Beck is looking for fewer mental mistakes and better execution Saturday night against a Fresno State team that surrendered 36 points and 417 yards to Cal last week. Quarterback Taylor Martinez must show greater accuracy as a passer, while an offensive line dealing with youth and injuries needs to show it can control the line of scrimmage before the competition level gets tougher.

7. Gophers, Hoosiers look for first wins: Minnesota and Indiana were the only Big Ten teams to lose last week, although the teams came away feeling differently about their performances. The Gophers never quit at USC and nearly stunned the Trojans. They return home to TCF Bank Stadium and look for a strong effort against a New Mexico State squad that lost its opener 44-24 to Ohio. Indiana faces a much tougher challenge in Virginia and looks for better play up front on both sides of the ball, not to mention more enthusiasm, as it makes its home debut at Memorial Stadium.

8. The Denard Show, Act II: Quarterback Denard Robinson carried Michigan to a dramatic victory last year with a record-setting performance at Notre Dame Stadium. Can "Shoelace" replicate his heroics Saturday night against the Irish? He'll face what looks like a stronger Notre Dame defense, and he's still transitioning to a new offensive system. But Robinson also works behind a strong offensive line and finally appears to have some help at running back with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame can contain a Michigan quarterback after being flummoxed by Robinson and Tate Forcier the past two seasons.

9. Backup QBs try to maintain winning ways: Northwestern's Kain Colter and Purdue's Caleb TerBush both recorded victories in their first career starts at quarterback last week. Colter, filling in for the still-rehabbing Dan Persa, showed improved passing skills to complement his running ability against Boston College. He needs to limit hits and build more confidence against FCS Eastern Illinois. TerBush made big throws in clutch situations against Middle Tennessee but must limit mistakes on the road at Rice. Purdue's Robert Marve also could return to the field.

10. Receiving orders: Week 1 was huge for Big Ten wideouts, as five players eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the opening games. Illinois continues to look for big things from A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines this week against South Dakota State. Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham needs one catch to become the team's all-time receptions leader. Other receivers like Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Indiana's Damarlo Belcher try to build on impressive opening performances.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We're in another lightning delay here at Michigan Stadium, and this one looks a bit scarier than the last. Aside from the students, most folks have cleared out of the stands.

Michigan surged after the first delay and has just about everything clicking right now. The Wolverines are showing they have a ground game aside from Denard Robinson, as Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw recorded back-to-back huge runs, the second of which reached the end zone from 44 yards out. Michigan's offensive line is really imposing its will, as both Toussaint and Shaw had huge holes to sprint through.

There's still reason to be concerned about Michigan's defense, as Western continues to pile up yards. But the Wolverines have now forced three turnovers, two in their own end of the field. They're putting a lot more pressure on Broncos quarterback Alex Carder.

Michigan is firmly in command, up 34-10 with 1:27 left in the third quarter.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- We've reached halftime here at the Big House. Let's take a quick look at the first 30 minutes of play.

Turning point: Western Michigan was poised to reclaim the lead and had second-and-goal at the Michigan 4-yard line when Wolverines linebacker Brandon Herron intercepted a deflected pass and raced 94 yards to the end zone. Herron's pick-six -- Michigan's longest in modern history -- gave the Wolverines their first lead at 13-7.

Stat of the half: Both quarterbacks have looked good so far, as Michigan's Denard Robinson has completed 8 of 9 passes to go along with 40 rush yards. Western Michigan's Alex Carder finished the half 17 of 24 passing for 135 yards with an interception off the deflected pass.

What Michigan needs to do: The Wolverines' touchdown drive late in the half is exactly what coordinator Al Borges is looking for. Michigan must continue to put together sustained drives and get running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw involved to help Denard Robinson. The defense remains very much a work in progress, and the line must start getting Carder to the ground. Michigan's special teams look very messy.

What Western Michigan needs to do: Keep attacking the Michigan secondary, especially with Troy Woolfolk out of the game. The Broncos can't keep missing tackles against Michigan's ball-carriers and must do a better job of finishing drives. They're moving the ball well, outgaining Michigan 199-145.

Michigan flawless in scoring drive

September, 3, 2011
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- That's how it's supposed to look.

Michigan should save the tape of its 9-play, 74-yard touchdown drive to go ahead 20-7 against Western Michigan. The offensive line mauled the Broncos, and multiple players stepped up on the sustained scoring march.

Denard Robinson flashed his moves, avoiding a sack and wrong-footing several Broncos defenders on a 12-yard run. Receiver Roy Roundtree made a terrific grab on one of few errant passes by Robinson, and running backs Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw showed impressive burst.

Michigan might not be as explosive on offense this season, but sustained drives like that one will go a long way in Big Ten play.
Michigan's running back preseason competition finally has a winner.

Head coach Brady Hoke told the school's official web site on Friday night that sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint would start Saturday against Western Michigan. Toussaint played in five games last year, starting at superback in the Gator Bowl against Mississippi State in January.

"He's really showed a toughness to him," Hoke told Michigan's site. "He's done well in the passing game picking up blitzers ... and he has a good ability to keep on his feet and have great balance and vision."

Hoke said Michael Shaw will also play a lot in Saturday's game at running back.
Beginning today, we're going to start ranking each position group in the Big Ten. These rankings will reflect the overall strength at each position, so depth matters as well as individual star power. Following each group ranking, we'll also give out our list of the top individual players at that position.

Let's start out with a look at the running back groups across the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball and James White
AP Photo/Morry GashMontee Ball and James White did a lot of celebrating last season, as the duo combined for 32 TDs.
1. Wisconsin: No surprise at the top. Even with John Clay gone and Zach Brown transferring, the Badgers are loaded at tailback. They've still got junior Montee Ball, who finished four yards shy of 1,000 last season with 18 touchdowns, along with reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who ran for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns. Throw in senior fullback Bradie Ewing and redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis, and the Badgers should be powerful on the ground yet again in 2011.

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.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesJunior Rex Burkhead averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and scored seven TDs.
4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 247.6 yards per game on the ground, good for ninth in the FBS. Leading rusher Roy Helu Jr. is gone, but junior Rex Burkhead returns after a 951-yard campaign. He will occasionally line up at receiver or take snaps in the Wildcat. The Cornhuskers lack experience behind him but are expecting big contributions from incoming freshmen Aaron Green and Amer Abdullah. ESPN Recruiting ranked Green as the No. 11 player overall in the Class of 2011.

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.
Among the many burning questions in Ann Arbor is this: What will Michigan's offense look like in the 2011 season?

Let's start with what the Wolverines' won't look like.

"Our offense is not zone read or spread," offensive coordinator Al Borges said, "but we’ll do some of that stuff."

Borges envisions Michigan's quarterbacks lining up under center about half the time, perhaps a little more than half. The rest of the time, they'll line up in the shotgun. In the shotgun, Michigan will use two running backs about half the time and one back or no backs the other half the time.

But before you think you have it all figured out, read this.

"Schematically, we’re blowing everything up and starting over again," Borges said. "We’re still going to gear everything we do offensively to the skills of the people that are doing it, in particular the quarterback. Are we going to look just like we did at San Diego State? Probably not.

"We may in three or four years. We'll see how this thing evolves."

So how should we characterize the new Michigan offense? Is it a West Coast scheme? Borges is a disciple of Bill Walsh, known as the godfather of the West Coast offense, and references the legendary coach when talking shop. Is it a pro-style offense? It looks that way at times, but most NFL offenses don't operate from the shotgun half the time.

One word often associated with Borges' offenses is downhill, a term he doesn't dispute.

"That's a good description," he said. "We still run around the ends sometimes or at least try to, but we're more of a downhill, power offense type team. A portion of our offense is get in a three-point stance, line the tailback up and come off and hit people in the mouth."

Those words likely will warm the hearts of longtime Michigan fans accustomed to watching power offenses from the Maize and Blue. Borges also is sending a message to Michigan's running backs, a group that, if if things go well, will see a much more enhanced role in the offense.

The Wolverines backs were overshadowed by quarterback Denard Robinson last season. Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw combined for 1,003 rush yards and 14 touchdowns, but their combined carries total of 211 still lingered well behind Robinson's 256.

Although Borges recognizes Robinson's incredible rushing skills, he has made it a priority to reduce the number of hits the quarterback takes. If Robinson wants to match his record-setting rushing yards total (1,702) from 2010, he'll need to do so in far fewer carries.

"We're going to challenge that group to respond," Borges said of the running backs. "For them, this is a golden opportunity. They get to do something a lot of them probably did in high school, run downhill and take the ball from under center."

Robinson also will be taking more snaps from under center, one of several adjustments for a guy who fit perfectly into Rich Rodriguez's spread offense.

"He’ll be fine because he has aspirations of playing next-level football and he’s not going to unless he learns how to do this, it’s that simple," Borges said. "That goes for all of the quarterbacks. If they want to play next-level football, they’re going to learn how to take a snap. That’s the biggest complaint coming out of the pros right now because every NFL team lines up under center."

Immersed in San Diego State's season last fall, Borges only saw highlights from Michigan, most of which showed Robinson sprinting down the field with the ball. But after Borges took a closer look at his new team, Robinson's passing skills stood out.

Robinson completed 62.5 percent of his passes despite some struggles down the stretch.

"He is a better passer than I would have ever thought," Borges said. "We're going to try to develop that a little bit more. I'm not saying he’s going to be throwing 50 passes a game. That's not our goal. But it's nice to know he can make the throws. Because he’s got a good arm. He does stuff that's very attractive to me."

Wisconsin-Michigan pregame: Clay out

November, 20, 2010
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Both teams are on the field going through warm-ups, and here are a few notes:
  • As expected, Wisconsin running back John Clay will miss his second straight game with a sprained knee. Clay isn't in uniform today. Sophomore Montee Ball will get the start at running back, while James White will serve as the backup.
  • Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan and running back Michael Shaw, both listed as questionable for the game with head injuries, are going through warm-ups and look like they'll play.
  • Michigan nose tackle Mike Martin, who has been battling an ankle injury, is working with the first-team defense and appears to be fine.

Much more to come from Ann Arbor, so keep it right here.

Big Ten Monday health report

October, 18, 2010
A few bits of injury news to pass along from around the Big Ten.
  • Wisconsin starting linebacker Mike Taylor is expected to play Saturday at No. 15 Iowa after injuring his ankle and knee against Ohio State. Badgers coach Bret Bielema said Taylor underwent X-rays that showed no structural damage after he rolled his ankle and hyperextended his knee. Defensive tackle Jordan Kohout (foot) and tight end Lance Kendricks also should be fine for the trip to Iowa.
  • Indiana expects running backs Trea Burgess, Nick Turner and Antonio Banks to be ready for this week's trip to Illinois, but the news along the offensive line isn't so good. Coach Bill Lynch said starting right tackle James Brewer (ankle) likely will miss another week, and reserve Josh Hager also likely is out, putting sophomore Marc Damisch in the starting role. Depth also could be an issue up front, as Dustin Dopirak writes. Defensive backs Richard Council and Chris Adkins remain out.
  • Northwestern defensive end Vince Browne participated in Monday's practice and will play Saturday against No. 7 Michigan State, coach Pat Fitzgerald said.
  • Michigan's bye week comes at a good time, as quarterback Denard Robinson (shoulder) and others have time to heal. Coach Rich Rodriguez said Robinson, who dealt with shoulder soreness last week in practice, "should be fine" for the Penn State game on Oct. 30. Center David Molk, defensive tackle Mike Martin and running back Michael Shaw also should be fine for Penn State.
  • Middle linebacker Jeff Tarpinian (stinger) once again isn't listed on Iowa's depth chart. Troy Johnson is pegged to start against Wisconsin with James Morris backing him up.
It's time to look back at Saturday's action before peeking ahead at Week 7 in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicNathan Scheelhaase played well in Happy Valley as Illinois made history.
Team of the week: Illinois. The Fighting Illini made history in more than one way Saturday at Penn State. They recorded their first win in Happy Valley and handed Penn State its worst Homecoming loss (33-13) in Joe Paterno's 45 years as head coach. After giving Ohio State a scare in Week 5, Illinois continued to deliver on defense, stuffing Penn State in the red zone and getting a huge lift from Nate Bussey's pick-six. Vic Koenning's defense held Penn State to season lows in first downs (7), total yards (235), third-down conversions (2-for-14) and time of possession (21:48). Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase showed impressive growth in his first road Big Ten start and capitalized on a banged-up Penn State defense. Michigan State and Purdue merit mentions for road wins.

Best game: Purdue at Northwestern. Not many choices here as four of the five Big Ten games were decided by 17 points or more. At least the Boilers and Wildcats provided some fourth-quarter drama. Down 17-13, Purdue mounted a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive that featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-down touchdown run by Dan Dierking to give his team the lead with 3:54 left. Northwestern quickly moved the ball into Purdue territory and appeared set up for the game-winning touchdown when Jacob Schmidt dashed inside the 5-yard line on third-and-5. But a holding penalty negated the run and Northwestern had to settle for a potential game-tying field-goal attempt, which senior Stefan Demos missed badly. The banged-up Boilers left Evanston with a confidence-boosting win.

Biggest play: Not a clear choice this week. Purdue made several big plays to win its Big Ten opener, including Dierking's 7-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches and Kawann Short's field-goal block early in the fourth quarter. Bussey's pick-six against Penn State was huge for Illinois, and Michigan State set the tone for a big second half at Michigan with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell early in the third quarter. Cousins got the ball away just before absorbing a hit and made a perfect throw to Dell for the score.

Specialist spotlight: Illinois kicker Derek Dimke gets the nod this week after going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts at Penn State, connecting from 50, 41, 37 and 31 yards away. His 50-yarder put Illinois up 17-10 in the second quarter, and he closed the half with a 31-yarder. Dimke became the first Illinois kicker to make four field goals in a game since 2006. Several Big Ten punters had good days Saturday, including Michigan State's Aaron Bates (45-yard average, two punts inside the 20), Penn State's Anthony Fera (6 points, 44-yard average) and Purdue's Cody Webster (6 punts, 47.7-yard average).

Most talked-about call: Bret Bielema's decision to attempt a two-point conversion with Wisconsin leading Minnesota 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' guide on when to go for two, but Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and many others saw it as an attempt to run up the score. Brewster might not get a chance for revenge in the rivalry, but you can bet Minnesota's underclassmen will remember what happened.

Game balls:

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey: Bussey made an athletic play to record a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State and tied his career high with eight tackles in the victory.
  • Purdue's defense: Hard to give this to only one player, so the Boilers' defenders will have to share after an outstanding effort at Northwestern. Some notables include linebacker Joe Holland (12 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack), tackle Kawann Short (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 1 pass breakup) and safety Logan Link (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup). Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and created a ton of problems for Northwestern.
  • Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: Robinson came up big on the opening drive against Michigan, recording a touchdown-saving tackle on Michael Shaw and then intercepting a Denard Robinson pass in the end zone. The much-hyped Spartans junior finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup in the win.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Cousins has been brilliant in his last six quarters of football and dissected Michigan for 284 pass yards on 18 of 25 attempts with a touchdown and no interceptions.
  • Ohio State WR DeVier Posey: Somewhat overshadowed by fellow receiver Dane Sanzenbacher this year, Posey led Ohio State in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (103) in Saturday's blowout win against Indiana. He hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor in the second quarter.
  • Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor: Taylor recorded a career-high three tackles for loss against Minnesota and finished with seven stops in the game.

OK, now let's take a quick look at Week 7.

Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 13 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0): In most years, this would be a classic trap game for Michigan State, which comes off of two emotion-charged victories against ranked opponents. This Spartans team seems much more grounded and mentally tough. Still, Illinois' improved defense and strong running game provides a good test. Two the Big Ten's best running backs match up with Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure.

Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) at Purdue (3-2, 1-0): What looked like the Basement Bowl before Saturday night suddenly becomes an opportunity for Purdue to start 2-0 in league play. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry tries to gash a Minnesota defense that allows 196.3 rush yards a game, last in the Big Ten. Minnesota has won back-to-back games in the series and needs a victory in the worst way Saturday.

Arkansas State (2-4) at Indiana (3-2): After back-to-back losses, Indiana should get well against an Arkansas State team that ranks 88th nationally against the pass (237.7 ypg). That said, the Hoosiers shouldn't overlook a Red Wolves team that can throw the ball with talented sophomore Ryan Aplin and has been in every game since a season-opening 26-point loss to Auburn. Indiana needs to get its defense in order before resuming Big Ten play at Illinois.

No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1): Extra prep time usually translates to Iowa success, and the Hawkeyes have had two weeks to prepare for Denard Robinson after shutting down Penn State. Robinson ran for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Hawkeyes last year, and he'll provide a good test for Adrian Clayborn and the defense. Look for Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi to attack Michigan's shaky secondary down the field with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.

No. 1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1): All eyes will be on Madison as Ohio State tries to take a big step toward the national championship game against a Wisconsin team that is 40-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season. Wisconsin's home dominance is offset by Ohio State's brilliant play in Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel. Ohio State boasts the more accomplished defense, but Wisconsin can be the Big Ten's best offense when hitting on all cylinders.

Bye: Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), Penn State (3-3, 0-2)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- So far, a Robinson has been the player of the game.

Not Denard. Trenton Robinson.

The Michigan State junior free safety has a touchdown-saving tackle on Michigan running back Mike Shaw and an interception in the end zone against Denard Robinson after the Spartans finally forced a third down.

Michigan easily marched downfield on its opening possession, but Denard Robinson hesitated too long on third-and-4 from the MSU 10-yard line and Trenton Robinson moved in front of a crossing route to record his second interception of the season.

Spartans coach Mark Dantonio has raved about Trenton Robinson for quite some time, but we haven't seen the safety really blossom. Today is a good start.

Michigan's defense also stepped up nicely on the Spartans' first possession.