Big Ten: Michigan Stadium

Big Ten featured in 20 for '10

August, 16, 2010
If you haven't done so already, check out the college football front page, where my colleagues have put together an excellent series entitled "20 for '10." They have put together all types of lists for the 2010 season -- hot and not, Heisman Trophy candidates, must-see games and more -- and the Big Ten is featured in most of them.

Let's recap:

  • Expansion, Ohio State's Week 2 matchup against Miami, Penn State's Week 2 trip to Alabama, Michigan's Week 2 trip to Notre Dame, Purdue quarterback and Miami transfer Robert Marve, the Illinois-Northwestern game at Wrigley Field, Joe Paterno's improved vision and an expanded Michigan Stadium are listed among the "hot" items.
  • Embattled Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, Penn State's opener against Youngstown State, Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, Illinois coach Ron Zook, Illinois' struggles since the 2008 Rose Bowl and the Michigan-Ohio State series appear in the "not" category.
  • Big Ten fans will be pleased to also see Big Ten bashing listed in the "not" category. Colleague Mark Schlabach writes, "The conference everyone loved to beat up during the past five seasons stood its ground during 2009 bowl season." That's certainly true, but the league needs to do so again in 2010.
  • Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: Colleague Andrea Adelson writes, "This game is symbolic of so much -- the last time they met, Ohio State hung on to win the national title in a huge upset. That was the Buckeyes' last victory in the title game. For the Hurricanes, that game was the beginning of a downward slide."
  • Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 20
  • Michigan at Notre Dame, Sept. 11: Adelson writes, "After the Wolverines' stunning come-from-behind win last season, this qualifies as must-see TV. Especially with Brian Kelly on the Irish sideline and beleaguered Rich Rodriguez on the other."
  • Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11
  • Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 16: Adelson writes, "Wisconsin has had trouble beating ranked Big Ten teams. Now the Badgers get the Buckeyes at home. They have beaten Ohio State only 17 times in 75 meetings."
  • Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: Colleague Ivan Maisel writes, "If the junior QB plays in the rest of 2010 the way that he played on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl, then he will attend the Heisman ceremony in December."
  • Penn State RB Evan Royster: Maisel writes, "A veteran line and a young quarterback translate into a lot of responsibility -- and opportunity -- for this senior running back." Completely agree here.
  • Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: Maisel writes, "The senior QB produced one great fourth-quarter comeback after another last season. Now he must learn to play better in the first three quarters."

It's interesting to see Stanzi make the list ahead of Hawkeyes star defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn. And no John Clay? You kidding me? He's the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. I might need to have a little chat with Mr. Maisel.

  • Iowa (listed No. 1): Adelson writes, "The Hawkeyes get Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State at home. With 14 starters returning, that is quite a nice trifecta."
  • Ohio State (listed No. 3): Adelson writes, "Though the Buckeyes have Terrelle Pryor and 15 other starters returning, the schedule is going to make their run to the title harder. They host Miami and have Big Ten games at Wisconsin and at Iowa."
  • Wisconsin (listed at No. 10): Adelson writes, "They get Ohio State at home, and Penn State isn't on the schedule. The toughest road game is at Iowa on Oct. 23. But the knock on the Badgers has been their inability to win the big games against ranked teams in Big Ten play."
TEAMS TO BE WARY OF (yes, I know my grammar stinks)
  • Ohio State, when trailing in the fourth quarter: Schlabach writes, "Some fans might argue that Ohio State's Jim Tressel is too conservative in his playcalling, but the man knows how to hold a lead. Since Tressel took over before the 2001 season, the Buckeyes are 82-6 when leading at halftime."
  • Iowa, when hardware is on the line: Schlabach writes, "Iowa's Kirk Ferentz has led his teams to nine straight victories in games in which a trophy was on the line."
  • Wisconsin, when your defense is tired: Schlabach writes, "Wisconsin has long been known for its dominant running game, and the Badgers tied with Navy for the national lead in time of possession in 2009. Wisconsin held the ball for an average of 33 minutes, 55 seconds and had 16 five-minute drives in 13 games."
  • Rich Rodriguez or Ron Zook: Adelson picks Zook but writes, "The chances that both men are still employed by their respective schools at the end of the season appear slim at this point."
  • Joe Paterno or Bobby Bowden: Adelson picks Bowden, writing, "After the age of 80, life just seems better on the golf course."
  • Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany or SEC commish Mike Slive: Adelson picks Slive.
  • Michigan helmet or Notre Dame helmet: Adelson picks the winged headgear. Good call.

Schlabach also includes Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and his late father, Craig, and Wisconsin receiver Nick Toon and his dad, Al, among college football's familiar surnames this season. Buck-I-Guy and other super fans from Michigan State, Purdue and Iowa appear on this top 20 list.

And, finally, Todd McShay lists Heyward, Clayborn and Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi among his top 20 NFL prospects for the 2011 draft.

Safe to say, all this will keep you busy for a while.
When Michigan Stadium re-opens Sept. 4, it will once again hold the title of nation's largest stadium for football.

The school announced today that Michigan Stadium's official capacity will increase to 109,901. Michigan Stadium in 2008 decreased its capacity to 106,201, to improve wheelchair access, and slipped behind Penn State's Beaver Stadium (107,282) as the nation's largest for football.

Michigan Stadium had a capacity of 107,501 from the late 1990s until 2008.

Most of the renovations will be complete for Michigan's season opener against Connecticut.

Michigan announced Tuesday that it will keep FieldTurf as its playing surface at the Big House.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

May, 28, 2010
Any Big Ten fans in Boston? I might see you this weekend.

Darnell from San Diego writes: With NY/NJ earning the Superbowl bid in 2014, do you see it feasible to stage the big game or even a BCS game in the Big House? More seats mean more more money right?

Adam Rittenberg: You won't see the traditional bowl games move from their sites, as the college bowl experience is different than the Super Bowl experience. People plan their vacations around bowl trips. So unless the BCS wants to restructure things and have the championship game at a totally different site -- and run by a totally different staff -- you won't see it moved to a cold-weather city like Ann Arbor. Could it happen some day? Sure. The way sports are these days, people are thinking outside the box and willing to take risks. But I don't see a championship game being played north of Pasadena any time soon.

Adam from Miami writes: Adam, seriously this is getting a little ridicules. Poll after poll Wisconsin is ranked higher than Iowa. Can you please give me the reasoning behind this, because I'm stumped. Wisconsin finished 16 in both the final polls, and ended the year beating a mediocre Miami (I know, I'm also a Cane). The Hawks finished 7 in both polls, and dismantled a conference champion in GT. The one question mark is our O-line, which we have a track record of reloading... Help me out here bro!

Adam Rittenberg: It comes down to returning starters and the fact that Iowa has a potential weakness along the offensive line, while Wisconsin doesn't have one position group that everyone is fretting about. I think a lot of these prognosticators look at returning starters and see Wisconsin bringing back its quarterback (Scott Tolzien), its Heisman Trophy candidate running back (John Clay), a great offensive line, its top wide receiver (Nick Toon) and some exciting young defenders (including 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland). Aside from maybe the secondary, Wisconsin doesn't have an area that gets you really worried. Iowa has a few more questions, not to say the Hawkeyes can't answer them. I have Iowa ranked ahead of Wisconsin in my power rankings, but I'm just giving you the rationale to flip-flop the two teams.

Jerry from New York City writes: I just read your piece on recruiting and population shifts and the low number of rust belt players in the Rivals150. I was at a University of Wisconsin alumni event in New York during December where Barry Alvarez was the main speaker. He has a different take on recruiting.He explained that in states which have spring football such as Florida and Texas, the high school athletes are more developed and closer to their potential when they leave high school then are high school athletes from states without spring football. That accounts for their dominance in the Rivals150. According to Alvarez, those athletes from states without spring football have a lot more potential to develop while in college. That in his opinion is why teams such as Wisconsin and Iowa compete well against schools with more-heralded recruiting classes.

Adam Rittenberg: Spring football certainly makes a difference, but so does player development. And I tend to agree with Alvarez that the Big Ten is a superior conference in terms of player development. Just look at teams like Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue and Northwestern in the last 15 years or so. They rarely finish high in the recruiting rankings but consistently put forth solid teams. Now the SEC and the Pac-10 have good coaches, too, but the quality of coaching in the Big Ten remains extremely high, because it has to be. Still, some of the things Ivan Maisel showed in his story have to make you concerned if you're a Big Ten fan.

James B. from Chicago writes: Hey Adam,Thanks for some of the best blogging around. I have a problem that I was hoping that you can help me with.I recieved my Bachelor's from Northwestern in 2006, and I just finished medical school at University of Wisconsin. Now next month, I'll be starting residency in Ann Arbor at U Mich. Oh, and I grew up as a die-hard Ohio St fan. How can I keep my loyalties straight in all this mess? Any suggestions?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, that is a problem, James. You could bill yourself as The Ultimate Big Ten Fan, but I don't know if people would appreciate that, given the rivalries in this league. In most cases, people stick with the team they grew up rooting for or the school they attended for undergrad. I don't know too many people who did both their undergrad and graduate work at schools with big-time football who have a stronger allegiance to their grad school team. Then again, my best friend is about to call himself a big Maryland basketball fan as he starts his Ph.D program in College Park this fall. I'd stay stick with Ohio State and/or Northwestern, but any more than that would be tricky.

Scott from Yakima, Wash., writes: As a Spartan and Big Ten supporter way out west, I hope we, from all conferences and all teams across this nation, remember a great football player (of many) inducted into the HOF class of 2010; Pat Tillman. The man loved his country and embodied the best in man, and his essence cuts across all teams, conferences and sports. He is missed, but his sacrifice and dedication hopefully are not lost on us. Thank you, Pat.

Adam Rittenberg: Well said, Scott. Tillman will never be forgotten, and it was great to see him enter the College Football Hall of Fame.

Matthew from East Lansing, Mich., writes: I know that the idea of ND to the Big 10 is fading, and that [Jack] Swarbrick said that they would only consider joining if there was a "seismic" change. The more and more times I read expansion articles though i begin to think that maybe it wont take the Big 10's doing to make that change. What I mean is that if we start this but dont touch the Big East there could still be a trickle down effect, ruining the Big East and ND's home to everything but football. This would probably leave them no choice but to crawl to us begging. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Your scenario certainly could happen, but you're sort of banking on the SEC to poach teams from the ACC, and the ACC to once again look toward the Big East. Besides the Big Ten and ACC, I don't think many leagues will look to the Big East for potential expansion candidates. I think the Big East can survive if it loses one or two teams. Any more would create some problems. Then again, the Big East could end up as strictly a basketball conference and keep Notre Dame as a member. Would the Big Ten be willing to take a chance and leave the Big East alone, hoping to get Notre Dame on the back end? Perhaps. But Jim Delany is the type who wants to maintain as much control of a situation as possible.

John from Antarctica writes: Hey Adam. I love the blog. Who do you think would win in a street fight between you and the other conference bloggers? My money is on you against any of them, except for maybe that guy who covers the SEC.

Adam Rittenberg: John, you'd end up a poor man. Then again, do you need money in Antarctica? I think I could take a few of them, but I'd definitely be the underdog in most matchups. Chris Low is a pretty tough hombre, but I think I'm faster than him. Imagine that: the Big Ten being faster than the SEC.

Big Ten mailblog

July, 21, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

You didn't think I'd forget to get the mail, did you?

Matt from Pensacola, Fla., writes: Hey Adam, I was reading the article on the Elite 11 and noticed that Daryll Clark has bulked up to 240 with 3% body fat. I no longer live in PA and haven't seen much of PSU for a while, especially any of the players. Have you seen him recently? If so, does he look like he bulked up? Do you think that the increase in body mass will effect the way PSU runs the Spread HD? I know it could help him power the ball more, but as a QB, should that be the route he should be looking at, especially with the lack of experience at backup? If he gets injured, the season could be over. Great job on the blog by the way.

Adam Rittenberg: I haven't seen Daryll for a while, Matt, but he'll be at Big Ten media days next week. I'll definitely let you know how he looks, but I know colleague Bruce Feldman was blown away by how massive Clark has gotten during the offseason. That's a pretty amazing physique, and Penn State will need it to hold up given its lack of depth behind Clark. Some might say 240 is too big, but Terrelle Pryor is 238 and I don't hear any complaints there. I like what Clark has done during the offseason. Penn State should still be very careful with how much they run him this fall, but he can definitely take a beating with that body.

Cory from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I would like to see a schedule of when each school begins their summer practices (and the more details for each school's camp that can be included, so much the better)Perhaps I have not been looking in the right place or not looking hard enough, but I have yet to see such a list.If such a list can be made, I think many would appreciate it.

Adam Rittenberg: Yep, you missed it from a few weeks back, but not to worry. Here's the schedule for nine teams and the remaining two.

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Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The economy has taken a few blindside hits lately, so it's nice to see Michigan actually lower its football season-ticket prices for 2009. 

Then again, Wolverines fans deserve a break after sitting through the disaster known as the 2008 season. 

Season tickets will drop an average of $3.57 per game in 2009, and student tickets are, on average, $1.43 cheaper. 

"We understand some of our fans are struggling in the current economy," Michigan athletic director Bill Martin said in a statement. "It was our decision to roll back the prices instead of increasing the cost of watching Michigan football."

Michigan State recently increased football ticket prices for the first time since 2005 because of rising concerns about the athletic budget. Ohio State also will raise prices in 2009. Wisconsin is freezing its ticket prices for the coming season.  

Martin said earlier this week that the expansion and renovation project for Michigan Stadium is on schedule, with the work set to be complete for the start of the 2010 season. 

"The athletic department is in a strong financial position, Martin said, but he expects to see a downturn in donations from private individuals and less corporate sponsorship because of the nationwide financial crisis."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The renovation of Michigan Stadium won't be completed until August 2010, but the Big House will play host to the football team's annual spring game April 11. 

Construction forced last year's spring game to be moved to nearby Saline High School, but head coach Rich Rodriguez announced Wednesday that the event will be back in the stadium. The Wolverines open spring drills March 14.

"We appreciate the effort of the construction crew to make the facility available to us and we hope that a large crowd will be able to attend," Rodriguez said in a statement. "The opportunity to practice at the stadium and in front of fans is extremely valuable for our players." 

Purdue also announced its spring game, which will be played April 18 at Ross-Ade Stadium. The Black & Gold game culminates Purdue's first spring practice session, which kicks off March 25, under new head coach Danny Hope. 

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's always fun at this time of year to look back at preseason thoughts and predictions. In August, I outlined 25 items I wanted to see during the Big Ten season. Several of them came true, others didn't and some materialized in different ways.

Here's a look back at the list to see what worked out and what didn't. 

 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Terrelle Pryor earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors.

1. Terrelle Pryor lead an offensive drive -- He might be a Tim Tebow-like weapon near the goal line, but I'm more interested in how the Ohio State freshman quarterback handles a real offensive series. Pryor's athleticism is undeniable, but it will be important to monitor his passing accuracy and the way he leads older teammates.

The verdict: We had plenty of opportunities to see Pryor lead drives after he was named Ohio State's starter in Week 4. Despite a few growing pains, Pryor held his own and displayed remarkable athleticism in winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. He also came up big in the clutch to lead Ohio State's game-winning touchdown drive Oct. 4 at Wisconsin. 

2. Michigan's quarterbacks -- Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era in Ann Arbor and will turn to unproven players like Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and possibly Justin Feagin to lead his spread offense. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if one of those three takes control, the Wolverines will surge.

The verdict: Oh, there were growing pains. Big ones. Threet and Sheridan struggled to fit into Rodriguez's system, and Michigan finished the season ranked 109th nationally in total offense. Feagin likely will move to slot receiver in 2009, and incoming freshmen Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier will compete for the starting quarterback spot. 

3. Jump Around at night -- Camp Randall Stadium is intimidating enough during daylight hours, but the electricity will reach new levels this fall with back-to-back night games against Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers haven't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema, and they should have a tremendous home-field edge this fall.

The verdict: It was pretty cool to see Ohio State players jump in lockstep with the Wisconsin students on Oct. 4, but Camp Randall certainly lost its edge this fall. Wisconsin saw its home win streak fade against Ohio State and then suffered its worst home defeat since 1989 the next week against Penn State. Plus, the Badgers band was suspended from performing Oct. 4 after allegations of hazing surfaced. 

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Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It violates college football's time-honored code to suggest this, but Saturday's trip to Michigan could be a trap game for No. 9 Wisconsin.

Now before screaming sacrilege and summoning the ghosts of Yost, Crisler and Schembechler, consider the facts.

Michigan sits in last place in the Big Ten at 1-2. The massive turnover of both personnel and coaching philosophy has brought growing pains on both sides of the ball. Wisconsin's depth chart lists 17 juniors or seniors among the 22 starters on offense and defense. Michigan's depth chart lists 10 starters who are freshmen or sophomores, including those at quarterback (Steven Threet), running back (Sam McGuffie) and wide receiver (Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum).

And look at what's up next for Wisconsin. Next week, the Badgers host defending Big Ten champ Ohio State in a Saturday night game at Camp Randall Stadium, where Wisconsin has never lost under coach Bret Bielema. Then the Penn State Nittany Lions, considered by many to be a better team than Wisconsin despite facing weaker competition, visit Madison for another Saturday night affair.

Given those factors, the term "trap game" applies to Saturday's contest at Michigan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Will the Badgers let things get that far? Don't bet on it.

Wisconsin has the benefit of history -- both recent and long term -- to consult before visiting the Wolverines. The Badgers haven't won in Ann Arbor since 1994, a span of four games. In 1998, they fell 27-10 but still went on to win the league title and reach the Rose Bowl.

"The Big House is 110,000 people, so we definitely want to go in there and try to do something different," senior cornerback Allen Langford said. "We definitely go in there trying to make some history."

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Final notes from the Big House

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Helmet stickers are coming a bit later tonight, but before I leave Michigan Stadium, some final notes and observations:

  • Michigan sustained injuries to wide receivers Greg Mathews (ankle) and Junior Hemingway (shoulder). Safety Brandon Harrison didn't play the second half because of a groin injury. Running back Carlos Brown was limited with a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor hurt his foot and was in a walking boot after the game.
  • A road win against Michigan should never be minimized, even this season, so kudos to Utah. But if the Utes want to make a serious run at BYU, a Mountain West title and just maybe a BCS berth, they have to get better on special teams and limit silly mistakes. Blocked punts and fumbled kickoff returns will kill you in most games, and the Utes were flagged 15 times for 137 yards. "We've got to finish the game," running back Matt Asiata said. "We can't lay off. We've got to keep a swagger."
  • The Wolverines defense showed in the second half that it can be legit this fall. The line consistently put pressure on Utah's Brian Johnson, and the secondary came up with several big plays. But the Wolverines can't afford to start games like they did Saturday. Linemen Brandon Graham, Will Johnson and Tim Jamison combined for seven tackles for loss. "We were coached up on how to make those plays, we just weren't doing it," said linebacker Obi Ezeh, who had a team-high 15 tackles and an interception. "The second half we came out and executed a little bit more. Maybe a lot of the young guys out there were a little nervous [in the first half]."
  • We knew the quarterbacks would struggle, but Michigan has to generate much more from its running backs. Junior Brandon Minor showed the most promise before a fumble in Utah territory. Freshmen Michael Shaw and Sam McGuffie looked good catching passes, but neither did much out of the backfield. "The running game was a huge disappointment," coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Our offense didn't give the defense much chance to rest because we couldn't establish any long drives because we weren't running the ball effectively. ... There's a lot of precision involved in every offense and we didn't have that today."
  • Michigan had seven first-time starters and 15 players make their collegiate debuts today.
  • Rodriguez lost his first nonconference game since 2005, when West Virginia fell to Virginia Tech.

Michigan needs to get creative

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A buzz went through the crowd on the first offensive play of the Rich Rodriguez era, as Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan deftly shuffled the ball to Martavious Odoms cutting across the field.

As the fans howled, Odoms gained three yards. No cloud of dust could be spotted from the press box, but it might as well have been there.

As far as creativity went, the first play was about as good as it got for Michigan on Saturday. So were the results.

To call the Wolverines' offense vanilla would be an insult to the term. Rodriguez came to Michigan as an offensive innovator, but his playbook might as well as been a pamphlet against Utah.

"We ran three different run schemes, that's it," Rodriguez said, "and then run maybe eight or nine different route patterns. We had to keep it simple. We don't want to confuse the young guys. We're probably as simple as we could ever be right now. At some point, we've got to add more."

Minimalism nearly helped Michigan rally past Utah, but ultimately an offense that needed to play beyond its means fell short. Hands on knees, Rodriguez watched the clock expire as Utah celebrated a 25-23 win and Michigan dropped back-to-back season openers for the first time since 1989-90.

The margin of defeat was the same and the second-half rally vaguely resembled last year's surge against Appalachian State. But there was no sense of shock on Saturday. Utah came in loaded with experience and eyeing a BCS bowl run. Many envisioned a Utes win, including the guys wearing red and white.

"You can't come in here to lose," quarterback Brian Johnson said.

Neither did Michigan, but its coaches entered the game with more curiosity than confidence.

As previously indicated, Rodriguez played two quarterbacks, substituting redshirt freshman Steven Threet for struggling starting Nick Sheridan early in the third quarter. Running back Carlos Brown, who played quarterback in high school, also took a snap. Rodriguez played four running backs and rotated plenty of wide receivers. But the glut of personnel didn't translate into production.

Odoms led Michigan with five catches -- for seven yards. Freshman running back Sam McGuffie led Michigan with eight carries -- for eight yards.

"When we released the depth charts with 'OR's' by a lot of [positions], that was for a reason," offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "We didn't just to keep you guys wondering. There's really some 'OR's,' and that's going to play itself out."

Rodriguez declined to speculate on his quarterback situation for next week, but Threet made a decent case for starting consideration. The Georgia Tech transfer, making his first collegiate appearance, tossed a 33-yard touchdown to Junior Hemmingway with 8:42 left.

Threet didn't force many throws and converted two Utah miscues into touchdowns, though he didn't dazzle on a day when Michigan needed a little more pizzazz.

"He was seeing the field pretty well," Rodriguez said. "There's always things every player could take back, but he seemed pretty confident for the first time out there."

Sheridan's performance in the final few preseason scrimmages earned him the starting nod, but the former walk-on struggled to get on track. He executed short, safe routes but forced too many throws and was pulled after the offense committed two turnovers.

"Every loss is very disappointing here at Michigan," Sheridan said. "You're expected to win 'em all, and that will never change. So we've got to get better."

More than 108,000 people entered a construction site Saturday as steel beams towered above the east and west sides of Michigan Stadium, but the most building might take place on the field. Rodriguez publicly had taken a pardon-our-dust position with his offense, recognizing the personnel losses and the novices coming in.

But even the coach was surprised by the multitude of mistakes, particularly in the middle two quarters, as hopelessness began to set in. Michigan racked up just 102 first-half yards and failed to record a first down on its first three possessions of the second half.

This wasn't quite Notre Dame of 2007, but for a while, Michigan didn't seem too far off.

"I was hoping it would be less [mistakes)," said Rodriguez, the first Michigan coach to drop his home opener since Bump Elliott in 1959. "There was more than I was hoping, more made in the game than in recent practices, but I guess you should expect that. Those guys over there aren't going to make it easy on us."

Those "guys" dominated the first half at both ends and should have been up much more than 12 points at the break. Johnson ripped apart Michigan's secondary for 253 passing yards, and the defense held the Wolverines to four net rushing yards in the half.

All-American specialist Louie Sakoda had a busy day, kicking four field goals and launching several booming punts. He also had a punt and an extra-point attempt blocked but never lost his composure.

"The special teams' game has proven more and more vital over the years," Sakoda said. "Coaches are going out, recruiting more heavily now and I'm glad I could come in here and prove myself."

Running back Matt Asiata admitted panic set in as Michigan rallied behind a revitalized defense, which recorded six sacks and shut down Johnson after halftime. But the experience differential loomed large down the stretch.

"We worked so hard since January," Asiata said. "It's a dream come true, winning in the Big House. I'm just speechless."

Michigan still plans to have a say this season, and the defense certainly looked promising after a poor start. But how fast can the offense catch up?

"You have to put enough in to have a chance against certain defenses and yet not confuse the young guys," Rodriguez said.

"There's ways to expand it," Threet said. "When the game plan calls for it, that's what we'll do."

Moments later, Threet left the Crisler Arena interview room, draped a white towel over his head and alone, unnoticed, away from the stadium. It was an ordinary exit, seemingly too ordinary for a Michigan quarterback.

But for now, ordinary will have to suffice at Michigan.

Fast start for Big Ten teams

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- I've arrived at the Big House and it's an absolutely perfect day. I'll bet Appalachian State wishes it were back here rather than Baton Rouge (ouch). The construction beams tower above the east and west sides of the stadium, and some Michigan cheerleaders are practicing on the big M at midfield. I'm going to check out this new Victors Walk in a bit.

It's been a good day so far for Big Ten teams, except Northwestern.

  • Ohio State running back Beanie Wells already has a 43-yard touchdown run through an enormous hole against Youngstown State, nearly matching his game rushing total (46) against the Penguins from last year. Expect big things from Beanie this year.
  • Wisconsin must have been ticked off by my prediction of a fairly close game early on against Akron. The Badgers scored two touchdowns in the first eight minutes, including a 3-yard strike from new starting quarterback Allan Evridge to backup tight end Garrett Graham. But the big story is P.J. Hill -- he already more than 100 rushing yards. Starting tight end Travis Beckum likely will sit out the game with a hamstring injury.
  • Penn State jumped all over Coastal Carolina, as Evan Royster has two rushing touchdowns. New starting quarterback Daryll Clark completed his first four pass attempts, and Derrick Williams just returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
  • Iowa also looks strong on offense against Maine, as running back Shonn Greene and embattled quarterback Jake Christensen accounted for touchdowns.
  • Indiana is up 10-0 on Western Kentucky.
  • Northwestern fell behind 3-0 to Syracuse and appears to be getting back in pass-happy habits. If new offensive coordinator Mick McCall starts feeding Tyrell Sutton, he'll likely get some better results, especially in the red zone. The Wildcats don't look sharp on offense, but the defense just forced a safety.
 AP Photo/Tony Ding
 Michigan's Rich Rodriguez is one of the new faces in the Big Ten.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

As the Big Ten season kicks off Saturday afternoon -- or morning, depending on the time zone -- here are 25 things I can't wait to see this fall.

1. Terrelle Pryor lead an offensive drive -- He might be a Tim Tebow-like weapon near the goal line, but I'm more interested in how the Ohio State freshman quarterback handles a real offensive series. Pryor's athleticism is undeniable, but it will be important to monitor his passing accuracy and the way he leads older teammates.

2. Michigan's quarterbacks -- Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era in Ann Arbor and will turn to unproven players like Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and possibly Justin Feagin to lead his spread offense. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if one of those three takes control, the Wolverines will surge.

3. Jump Around at night -- Camp Randall Stadium is intimidating enough during daylight hours, but the electricity will reach new levels this fall with back-to-back night games against Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers haven't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema, and they should have a tremendous home-field edge this fall.

4. The Spread HD -- Penn State's new offense remains somewhat of a mystery, but the Lions will try to utilize their many weapons at wide receiver, running back and quarterback. "Hopefully HD will stand for high def, highly diverse," quarterback Daryll Clark said, "and hopefully it doesn't turn out to be huge dud."

5. Jim Tressel vs. Pete Carroll -- Two of the sport's elite coaches couldn't be more different in personality or style (can't exactly picture Carroll in a sweater vest), but they will match wits when Ohio State visits USC in Week 3.

6. Little brother in the Big House -- The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is growing, thanks to Mark Dantonio, but the Spartans need to win one of these games sooner or later. After six straight losses, Sparty heads to Ann Arbor on Oct. 25 determined to show they're nobody's little brother.

7. New quarterbacks -- Three teams will start new quarterbacks this fall, and Iowa's situation under center is far from settled. Wisconsin needs Allan Evridge to effectively manage games, while a greater load will be placed on Penn State's Clark and Michigan's new signal callers.

8. Beanie vs. P.J. -- Forget about the spread offense when Wisconsin and Ohio State meet Oct. 4 in Madison. The Big Ten's rushing roots will be on display as Heisman contender Beanie Wells goes up against P.J. Hill and the Badgers.

9. Juice in the pocket -- Juice Williams came on strong at the end of last season, and the Illinois quarterback continued to make strides in the spring and summer. He takes over an offense without Rashard Mendenhall and looks to pass more this fall.

10. Ferentz under fire -- Iowa's Kirk Ferentz still might be one of the league's top coaches, but he has to prove it this fall. With his reputation suffering on and off the field, Ferentz needs a strong season from a squad that has major questions on offense.

11. Tiller's farewell tour -- Joe Tiller revolutionized offense in the country's premier cold-weather conference, and the Purdue coach should be celebrated as he goes through his final season. The regular-season finale against Indiana will surely be emotional for Tiller and the Boilers fans.

12. Rejus Benn in the backfield -- The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year is fully healthy following shoulder surgery, and that means more touches this fall. Defensive coordinators will shudder at the thought of Juice Williams and Benn running the option in the same backfield.

13. Grande Dos -- That's the self-appointed nickname of Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, who was named to the Butkus Award watch list despite no career starts in college. Wilson will get every opportunity this fall to show why he could be the next Simeon Rice.

14. RichRod vs. Charlie Weis -- Both have been lauded as offensive innovators, though Weis' honeymoon ended when Notre Dame went 3-9 last year. Michigan is dealing with some eerily similar personnel losses, and Rodriguez's coaching ability will be tested when the Wolverines visit South Bend on Sept. 13.

15. Brian Hoyer in crunch time -- The Michigan State quarterback has taken heat for his fourth-quarter shortcomings, but he'll have plenty of chances to redeem himself this fall. Hoyer's poise under pressure will largely determine whether the Spartans back up their preseason hype.

16. Stephfon Green in the open field -- The Penn State running back enters the fall with tons of hype despite never playing a collegiate game. If the reports prove true, Green will torch defenses if he gets any room to run.

17. The renovated Memorial Stadium -- Illinois is bringing in so many great players for its reopening of Memorial Stadium on Sept. 6 that I expect Red Grange to miraculously turn up. The 1923 relic has been spruced up big time, and it should give coach Ron Zook another recruiting tool.

18. Lewis and the no-huddle -- Indiana coaches had Kellen Lewis in mind when they installed the no-huddle offense in the offseason. Lewis got a late start with the system after being suspended for spring ball, but the junior quarterback should catch up fast.

19. Painter's pursuit -- Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter is on pace to set a bevy of Big Ten career passing records this fall. The underrated Painter has a new group of receivers to
work with but consistently puts up big numbers.

20. Gilreath on the move -- Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath is quickly developing into the league's most dangerous return man. He might not merit the Devin Hester treatment quite yet, but expect Gilreath to break some electrifying runs this fall.

21. Mike Hankwitz's impact -- Northwestern hasn't fielded a decent defense since adopting the spread offense in 2000. Hankwitz, the league's most experienced coordinator, steps in this fall and tries to change the script in Evanston.

22. Michigan Stadium makeover -- The team on the field isn't the only thing getting overhauled in Ann Arbor this season. Fans will enter a construction site every Saturday at Michigan Stadium, setting up an unusual game day experience.

23. Ringer returning kickoffs -- Michigan State star running back Javon Ringer will showcase his speed on kickoff returns this fall. How long the arrangement lasts isn't known -- I'm not sure how wise it is to put your best player on such a dangerous play -- but Ringer is sure to produce a highlight or two.

24. Minnesota's JUCOs -- Gophers coach Tim Brewster needed some immediate help on defense and got it with junior-college transfers like Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Cedric McKinley and Rex Sharpe. How quickly those players blend in will determine whether Minnesota makes a jump this fall.

25. Finch on the field -- Indiana's Jerimy Finch has been cleared to play this fall, and the Florida transfer gives a big boost to the secondary. Considered arguably the nation's top safety coming out of high school, Finch will make his presence known right away.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Saturday scrimmages fill up your daily diet of links. Here's a look at how teams fared.

  • Illinois quarterback Juice Williams looks ready to take the next step after a strong scrimmage, Mark Tupper writes. The Illini are also pleased with their new digs as a renovated Memorial Stadium gets set to open. If you have some time, check out this lengthy feature on Phil Macklin, a decorated Illinois recruit serving a 24-year prison term for armed robbery.
  • I'd still be stunned if Kellen Lewis doesn't start for Indiana, but the quarterback competition remains very much alive, Pete DiPrimio writes in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) News-Sentinel. Senior Chris Phillips seems to have locked up one of Indiana's vacant cornerback spots, but the other is still open, LaMond Pope writes in The (Fort Wayne, Ind.) Journal Gazette.
  • Iowa's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage, which confirmed the doubts many have about the team's offense, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. A bigger problem for the Hawkeyes could be a lack of desire in competing for playing time, Pat Harty writes. Coach Kirk Ferentz certainly wasn't pleased, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
  • Michigan won't name a starting quarterback any time soon, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan are the top candidates, with freshman Justin Feagin still adjusting to the college game. Feagin likely will play at some point, given his skill set, but Rich Rodriguez is looking to the two (slightly) older players:
"I think they understand what we want as far as our concepts go. They both need to work on making quicker decisions and not forcing things. Sometimes the big play may be there, but it's a little bit of a gray area and they should take the safe thing. It's typical things you'd have with a young quarterback. Just be patient, take what they give you. You don't have to make big plays all the time."
Michigan Stadium's massive construction will alter game-day routines, Dave Gershman writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Defense ruled the day at Michigan State's scrimmage, though starting running back Javon Ringer and two offensive linemen sat out, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. A defensive note: cornerback Kendell Davis-Clark scrimmaged at safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took an indefinite leave from the team.
  • Minnesota also saw strides from its much-maligned defense Saturday, though three starting offensive linemen sat out with injuries, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber admits two-a-days are beginning to take a toll, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • Northwestern came away from Saturday's scrimmage pleased, as quarterback C.J. Bacher and the first-team defense both performed well, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but the Wildcats' defensive backs are stepping up, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Ohio State knows Terrelle Pryor can run and emphasized the passing game in Saturday's scrimmage, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Pryor seemed to meet the challenge.
"I think he's going to surprise a lot of people with how well he can throw the ball," senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "He's doing a good job with his reads and his progressions and not being so quick to run like everyone expected him to."
Though Ohio State plays one marquee nonconference game a year, the Buckeyes, like most Big Ten teams, take heat for their schedule, Ken Gordon and Tim May write in The Columbus Dispatch.
  • Get ready for the Stephfon Green show at Penn State, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Defensive line depth is becoming a bigger concern in Happy Valley after tackle Devon Still sustained a broken leg, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Linebacker is rarely a problem at Penn State, and despite injuries and graduation losses, the position looks solid to coach Ron Vanderlinden.
  • Purdue coach Joe Tiller looks more relaxed heading into his final season, The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier's Tom Kubat writes in his blog.
  • Allan Evridge still looks like the starting quarterback at Wisconsin, but none of the signal callers impressed Saturday, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Also, starting linebacker Jonathan Casillas will miss 1-2 weeks after spraining his MCL at Saturday's scrimmage. A position switch helped tight end Travis Beckum reach his potential.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Happy birthday to me. I'll wish for ... a bunch of links. Here ya go:

  • Projected starting wideout Jeff Cumberland missed Illinois practice with a sore foot, Bob Asmussen writes in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Also, Asmussen takes a look at the defensive tackles, where Josh Brent looks to step into a starting spot after Sirod Williams' season-ending knee injury. Illinois is returning to its roots as a football school, Mark Tupper writes in the Decatur Herald & Review.
  • Indiana kicker Austin Starr fends off the one-and-done perception about the Hoosiers, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times. Here's a breakdown of Indiana's defense from The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens.
  • Standout tight end Tony Moeaki is expected to rejoin the mix at Iowa this fall, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. There's a report he's injured again, which will be clarified on Saturday at the open scrimmage.
  • Here's a look at Michigan Stadium's steel-clad facelift from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. The Wolverines go bowling next week to raise money for the paralyzed brother of offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol could set up an interesting competition at quarterback with Kirk Cousins next year at Michigan State. Here's a look at Nichol's journey, courtesy of Andrew Mouranie in the Lansing State Journal. The Spartans are getting local for the 2010 recruiting class, Matt Dorsey writes in the Detroit Free Press. 
  • If you didn't know already, the Big Ten Network launches on Comcast today, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press. 
  • Former Minnesota star safety Dominic Jones, now serving jail time for sexual assault, will address the team next week, Dennis Brackin writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. Jones requested the chance to talk about his experience.
"I think it will be a very positive message, and I know that I'm looking forward to it,'' head coach Tim Brewster said. "The exciting thing for me is that it seems like he's really trying to make something positive out of this. You look at different situations and try to learn from them, because that's all you can do.''
Minnesota's defensive renaissance hinges on better line play, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan's first preseason practice starts in about 20 minutes, and I'll be heading over to check out the Wolverines. We're allowed to watch the first few periods, which normally consist of stretching and individual drills, not the most illuminating viewing. But I'll keep my eye on the quarterbacks, particularly Steven Threet, as well as the offensive linemen and several of the incoming freshmen. It also will be interesting to see how coach Rich Rodriguez interacts with the players.

I did get a chance to drive by Michigan Stadium last night and earlier today, and the construction is pretty impressive, if very unfinished. The place should definitely be louder once the hard hats are put away.

Check back later for updates. Rodriguez and several players will meet with reporters following practice.