Big Ten: Mike Hart


Michigan State was getting casual.

The Spartans were winning Big Ten games, just as they had in 2013, but not with their standard precision and 60-minute focus. A near blown lead against Nebraska. Poor decisions from players and coaches against Purdue. A sloppy first half at Indiana.

Other than a fleeting moment against Nebraska -- when Huskers receiver Alonzo Moore nearly corralled a touchdown in the final minute -- the Spartans never looked like they actually might lose. But they didn't look right, either. They seemed to be losing their edge.

Well, it's back. MSU can thank in-state rival Michigan for restoring it just in time.

The decision by Wolverines players -- I believe coach Brady Hoke when he says he had no involvement -- to drive a stake into the field at Spartan Stadium before Saturday's game lit the fuse for MSU coach Mark Dantonio and his team. After all they had done since Mike Hart's "Little Brother" comment in 2007 -- a 5-1 mark against Michigan, a 63-24 record overall, an outright Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl championship, and another shared Big Ten title -- the Spartans were still being shown up on their home field.

Maybe Michigan's act was more about itself than its opponent. Pardon the pun, but the Wolverines' disintegrating season was at stake Saturday. Michigan's recent losses to MSU stem from inferior talent development, coaching and execution, but the Wolverines also haven't matched the Spartans' intensity. The staking was intended to stoke the Maize and Blue.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State -- with a little help from rival Michigan -- regained its edge on Saturday.
It had a stronger effect on the men in green, a bunch that feels disrespected, even when they aren't, and uses snubs, real or perceived, as fuel.

Despite a few errors, MSU bullied Michigan again. And with a chance to kneel on the ball or score another touchdown in the closing seconds, MSU left its starters in and rubbed Michigan's nose in the end zone dirt.

"Just felt like we needed to put a stake in them at that point," Dantonio said after the 35-11 win.

The line was vintage Dantonio: premeditated and purposeful, smart and succinct, delivered with the trademark scowl on the outside but probably a small smile within. He paused for effect, then moments later addressed "the little brother stuff, all the disrespect" in a candid post-game session with reporters.

"Throwing the stake down in our back yard out here and coming out there like they're all that," he said. "It got shoved up ..."

Dantonio trailed off, but he made his point. We all know exactly where it got shoved.

Some teams are at their best when calm and cool. Dantonio and the Spartans are at their best when PO'd. Michigan's stake-and-shake sharpened Michigan State's focus.

The Spartans were supposed to beat Michigan. They have superior talent and coaching. But another watered-down win would have left an empty feeling before a two-week prep for the Ohio State showdown.

Instead, they recorded their most lopsided win against Michigan since 1967.

"We had enough emotion to carry us, but we also need to stay fresh and always need to bring our emotions to a football game," Dantonio said Sunday night. "That's sort of been a trademark of who we've become."

They had veered from their trademarks early in Big Ten play. Too many technical breakdowns on defense, too many risky throws by Connor Cook and even a poorly timed and executed fake punt attempt by Dantonio. And a casual attitude.

While MSU hiccuped, Ohio State had been punishing its opponents behind blossoming quarterback J.T. Barrett. The Nov. 8 narrative subtly shifted. An Ohio State win in Spartan Stadium, where the home side hasn't lost since 2012, began to look more plausible.

Then Saturday happened. The Spartans regained their swagger. Ohio State squandered a 17-0 halftime lead at Penn State and was extremely fortunate to win in two overtimes. Some who might have been leaning OSU might now be leaning MSU.

The Spartans shouldn't expect Ohio State to pull a similar pre-game stunt Nov. 8, nor should they expect the emotion from Saturday to carry them through the next 12 days. But the Michigan game reminded the Spartans of who they are and how they must play as the stakes get much, much higher.

"November ... defines you," Dantonio said Sunday. "We've got an off week, so we should be able to get fresh emotionally and fresh physically and have some additional time to work on Ohio State.

"There will be no excuses. We'll be ready to play."

Remember when MSU used to pull silly stunts like Michigan did? It used to be a silly program with a silly coach.

MSU is now an elite program with an elite coach. But this Spartans team hadn't looked elite until Saturday.

They needed a spark. Linebacker Joe Bolden and his Michigan teammates provided it.

MSU now can get back to its high-stakes mission: winning another championship.
[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Tony DingBraxton Miller was fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting as a sophomore in 2012 and was ninth in 2013.
Braxton Miller has a chance to make Big Ten history this season by winning his third straight conference player-of-the-year award and by earning Heisman votes for the third consecutive season.

Of course, he’s not the only Big Ten player to ever enter his senior year with big expectations. In the past 20 years, six other conference players earned Heisman votes before their final seasons and were preseason candidates a season later. (Thirteen non-seniors in all earned votes, but seven left early for the NFL draft. Another, Northwestern's Damien Anderson, played in just eight games the season after and isn't listed below.)

Although it’s still anyone’s guess exactly how Miller will fare this season, here’s a look at players who found themselves in similar positions and how they performed in the season after receiving Heisman votes:




Wisconsin RB Montee Ball, 2011, junior

Heisman votes as a junior: 22 first-place votes; finished fourth overall. Led the nation with 1,923 rushing yards (6.3 yards per carry) and also finished with an NCAA-best 33 rushing TDs.

How he fared the next year: Without quarterback Russell Wilson, some experts predicted Ball would struggle to equal the numbers from his junior campaign. Sure enough, with a rotating quarterback carousel, that’s exactly what happened. The Badgers threw just 289 times that season and Ball finished with a career-high 356 carries. Ball’s importance and talent were still undeniable but, as defenses zeroed in against him, he watched his yards-per-carry average fall by more than a yard.

How the team fared: Wisconsin leaned on Ball heavily -- just take a look at this box score against Utah State -- and fared well when it counted. The Badgers won the Big Ten championship, embarrassing Nebraska in a 70-31 blowout, and earned a spot in the Rose Bowl. They finished 8-6.




Michigan QB Denard Robinson, 2010, sophomore

Heisman votes as a sophomore: Six first-place votes; finished sixth overall. Went 182-of-291 passing (62.5 percent) for 2,570 yards, 18 TDs and 11 INTs; rushed for 1,702 yards (6.6 ypc) and 14 TDs.

How he fared the next year: Speculation swirled on whether Robinson would transfer before the season because the firing of Rich Rodriguez meant he had to deal a new coaching staff and some offensive changes. But Robinson stayed and performed well – even if his numbers decreased across the board. Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint was able to take some pressure off Robinson, and the change in statistics wasn’t dramatic. After all, Robinson still rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for more than 2,000. It wasn’t as impressive as 2010, but Robinson was still named team MVP and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten second team.

How the team fared: Michigan fans were just fine with Robinson’s drop-off because the team soared in Brady Hoke’s first season. Robinson guided the Wolverines to an 11-2 finish -- their best record in five years -- and helped Michigan win the Sugar Bowl.




Michigan RB Mike Hart, 2006, junior

Heisman votes as a junior: Five first-place votes; finished fifth overall. Finished second in the B1G with 1,562 yards (4.9 ypc) and had 14 rushing TDs

How he fared the next year: Hart became a team captain and turned in an even stronger performance. If it wasn’t for an ankle injury that sidelined him for three full games, Hart likely would’ve been in the Heisman race again. Through nine Michigan games, he led all BCS runners with 154 yards a game – and he was still a finalist for the Doak Walker Award and a consensus pick as first-team All-Big Ten. Overall, his importance was pretty difficult to ignore. After opening the season with two losses, Hart helped to shift the tone by guaranteeing a win against Notre Dame – Michigan won 38-0 –and then winning eight straight. He finished the year with 5.1 ypc and matched his 14-touchdown total despite carrying the ball 53 fewer times.

How the team fared: The Wolverines put an early end to their national title hopes by losing to Appalachian State in the opener. Michigan failed to repeat its Rose Bowl berth but rebounded after a slow start to go 9-4 and win the Capital One Bowl.




Purdue QB Drew Brees, 1999, junior

Heisman votes as a junior: Three first-place votes; finished fourth overall. Led the conference in every major passing category: passing yards (3,909), passing TDs (25), pass attempts (554) and pass completions (337) and threw 12 interceptions.

How he fared the next year: Brees’ consistency was pretty darn impressive, as all of his numbers were nearly identical even though Purdue didn't have much of a running game. He again led the Big Ten in those same statistical categories and improved his standing in the Heisman race -- he finished third as a senior with 69 first-place votes. Plus, he won the Maxwell Award and was named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Brees’ success is pretty well documented, but something fans might have forgotten: He rushed for 521 yards and 5.5 yards per carry as a senior. Brees really could do it all.

How the team fared: The Boilermakers shared the Big Ten title and improved their victory total from the year before, from 7-5 to 8-4. They earned a berth in the Rose Bowl.




Northwestern RB Darnell Autry, 1995, sophomore

Heisman votes as a sophomore: 87 first-place votes; finished fourth overall. Led the NCAA with 387 rushing attempts and had 1,785 yards (4.6 ypc) and 17 TDs; caught 27 passes for 168 yards and one score.

How he fared the next year: Autry fared a bit better in 1996, as Northwestern’s passing attack improved and defenses could no longer key on him. In 1995, he literally accounted for half of the offense’s total yards (1,953 of 3,916). In 1996, he carried the ball 107 fewer times – his 280 attempts were still the fourth-highest in the conference -- but he matched his 17 rushing TDs from the previous season and increased his average by more than a half-yard, up to 5.2 yards per carry. He dropped a bit in the Heisman voting, but that was mostly because his rushing yards dropped with a smaller workload. Autry still dominated.

How the team fared: Northwestern shared the Big Ten title and improved its record to 9-3 – but lost in the Citrus Bowl. Autry’s Wildcats shocked the B1G that October when they overcame a 16-0 deficit against Michigan by rallying in the fourth quarter.

RecruitingNation: Big Ten links

May, 31, 2013
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BuckeyeNation

Brad Bournival writes Insider: Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s No. 1 defensive end, will be among the top prospects at the Columbus NFTC this weekend.

NittanyNation

Josh Moyer writes Insider: Scranton (Pa.) offensive tackle Noah Beh sounds like he’s close to jumping on board with the Lions.

WolverineNation

Michael Rothstein writes: Mike Hart set the standard for true freshman running backs at Michigan. Hart discusses the feat and what makes it possible for a prospect to step in and perform at the position.

Rothstein writes Insider: True freshman Derrick Green has a chance to shoulder much of the load at running back, and he wouldn’t be the first to play a major role in the Michigan offense.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 21, 2013
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100 days away ...
It's time for a quick look at the four Big Ten games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. ET ...

Temple (1-1) at Penn State (1-2): This should be by far the most interesting and competitive game of the afternoon four-pack. Temple has held second-half leads in each of the teams' past two meetings, and the Owls aim for their first-ever win at Beaver Stadium and their first against Penn State since 1941. Penn State looked impressive on both sides of the ball in last week's thrashing of Navy, and the Matt McGloin-Allen Robinson connection is heating up. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions (24) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (4). Penn State is still looking for its first rushing touchdown and is dealing with some injuries at the position (Derek Day, Bill Belton).

Idaho State (1-1) at No. 25 Nebraska (2-1): The only intrigue at Memorial Stadium, besides how much Nebraska wins this game, is the return of Superman -- Huskers senior running back Rex Burkhead. After missing the past two games with a sprained knee, Burkhead gets back on the field for a tuneup before Big Ten play. It's unknown how many carries Burkhead will receive, although it doesn't make sense to overdo it in a game like this, especially with talented backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross waiting in the wings. Idaho State has dropped 33 consecutive road games and 45 of its past 51. Nebraska's second- and third-stringers figure to get plenty of work against the Bengals.

South Dakota (1-1) at Northwestern (3-0): After beating three teams from three major conferences, Northwestern takes a step down in class and hosts the FCS Coyotes, who knocked off Minnesota two years ago in Minneapolis. Pat Fitzgerald isn't taking any opponent lightly and this week brought up a 2007 loss to FCS New Hampshire -- "We didn’t lose. We got pounded by them," he said -- but the coach is keeping the focus on his team and getting better. Northwestern has played well up front on both sides of the ball but needs to do a better job of finishing drives and consistently throwing the ball. South Dakota ranks last in the Missouri Valley Conference in rush defense, creating big-game opportunities for Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy. After two solid performances, Northwestern faces a different test with the Coyotes' option attack.

Eastern Michigan (0-3) at No. 21 Michigan State (2-1): The Spartans offense is reeling after failing to score a touchdown on their home field for the first time since the 1991 opener. Fortunately, Andrew Maxwell, Le'Veon Bell & Co. should get well against Eastern Michigan, which hasn't stopped anyone through the first three games, surrendering more than 500 yards and more than 40 points per game. Purdue's bevy of ball-carriers ran wild on the Eagles and Bell, who had surprisingly few opportunities in the second half of last week's loss against Notre Dame, is geared up for a big afternoon. It will be interesting to see if any of the "tough decisions" Spartans coach Mark Dantonio referenced after the Notre Dame loss translate into personnel shuffling against Eastern Michigan, particularly at the wide receiver position. Eastern Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart, the former Michigan star, returns to Spartan Stadium for the first time since uttering his infamous "little brother" quote in 2007.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 20, 2012
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Looks like Michigan has fired the first shot in Saturday's rivalry game with Notre Dame.
Every good conference boasts some coaching villains, and the Big Ten has several men who fill the role. No one will confuse the Big Ten with the SEC, where all 12 coaches have voodoo dolls of one other and dart boards with their opponents' heads as the bull's-eyes. But let's not forget the Big Ten produced Woody and Bo, two men who certainly played the villain when they set foot on opposing soil. The Big Ten may never see Woody versus Bo, Part II, but you get 12 Type A personalities competing for championships in a high-stakes sport, and it's going to get heated.

Last month, we asked you to weigh in on the most disliked Big Ten coach. Not surprisingly, the three highest vote-getters also earned our nod for their villainous traits. Remember, this is all in fun, and it's important to note that it's hard to be a coaching villain if you don't win a lot of games or tick off multiple fan bases.

Let's take a look.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin (six seasons, 60-19 overall and at Wisconsin)

Any coach who plays college ball, has his team's logo tattooed on his leg, and then ends up coaching a major rival is predisposed to be a villain. Bielema, a former Iowa defensive lineman, still sports the Tigerhawk stamp on his leg, but he's very much a Badger these days. While Bielema might not be a favorite son in Iowa, he has ticked off others around the league a little more.

In 2010, Bielema ignited a flap with Minnesota when he called for a 2-point conversion attempt with Wisconsin ahead by 25 points in the fourth quarter. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster confronted Bielema after the game and later said Bielema made "a poor decision for a head football coach." Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' card of when to go for two or not, but given tension with Brewster and the Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, few bought his explanation. The Wisconsin coach didn't help his rep a few weeks later when the Badgers' record-setting offense put up 83 points against Indiana, although the sportsmanship complaints seemed hollow as Indiana totally packed it in that day.

Then came national signing day in February, when Bielema at a news conference referred to "illegal" recruiting tactics by new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer. Many incorrectly interpreted Bielema's comments as sour grapes about losing a recruit (Kyle Dodson) to Meyer, but Bielema didn't publicly specify what he meant or why he contacted Meyer to discuss the situation. The allegations didn't sit well with Meyer or Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, although the situation put to rest the ridiculous belief about a "gentleman's agreement" among Big Ten coaches.

Bielema is relatively young, highly successful and never short on confidence. He's very media savvy and knows how to get his message across. He may fill the villain role for several fan bases, but he's the one going to Pasadena every year.

Urban Meyer, Ohio State (first season, 104-23 overall in 10 seasons)

Meyer hasn't coached a single game as Ohio State's head man, but he still received the most votes as the league's most disliked coach. Unlike the others in the Big Ten villain mix, Meyer sparks ire in other parts of the country, particularly in a little place they call Gator Country.

He left Florida after the 2010 season -- after nearly stepping away the previous year -- citing health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family. Some saw him taking the Ohio State job, undoubtedly another pressure cooker, just a year after leaving Florida, as disingenuous. More Florida fallout arrived this spring in a Sporting News story that showed Meyer as the overseer and enabler of a mess in Gainesville.

Meyer's Big Ten villainy stems mostly from his immediate success on the recruiting trail after being hired in late November. In two months he put together the Big Ten's top-rated recruiting class, which included several players who had flipped from other programs to the Buckeyes. His surge drew comments from Bielema and Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, and the perception that Meyer has rocked the boat in the Big Ten remains very much alive.

Although Meyer and Michigan coach Brady Hoke have been cordial to this point -- they have the same agent, Trace Armstrong -- it's only a matter of time before things get spicy. Ohio State set off a mini blaze by displaying a sign in the football complex comparing its players' academic majors with those of Michigan's.

Buckle up.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State (five seasons, 44-22 at MSU, 62-39 in eight seasons overall)

The seemingly permanent scowl. The deep, borderline monotone voice. The willingness to stick up for players who make mistakes and fuel rivalries. In many ways, Dantonio looks and sounds more like a villain than any of his Big Ten coaching brethren. Warm and fuzzy he is not, and while he has a unique sense of humor and can be charming, he comes off serious, intense and, some would say, confrontational.

Dantonio has made some notable statements about archrival Michigan in his five seasons in East Lansing. Who can forget his "pride comes before the fall" response to Mike Hart after the 2007 Michigan State-Michigan game? After last season's personal-foul fest against Michigan, a game Michigan State won 28-14, Dantonio drew criticism for not suspending defensive end William Gholston, who had punched a Wolverines player and twisted the helmet of another (the Big Ten later suspended Gholston for a game). In January, he interrupted Michigan assistant Jeff Hecklinski during a presentation to state high school coaches. And this spring, he set off some fireworks by telling Brian Bennett, "We're laying in the weeds. We've beat Michigan the last four years. So where's the threat?"

Some Michigan fans still dismiss Michigan State as not a real rival, but Dantonio has certainly gotten under the skin of Wolverines backers, especially because he keeps beating the Maize and Blue.

Dantonio also was looped into the Meyer/Bielema flap in February, although his general comments about recruiting were misinterpreted by a reporter.

The hyper intense Dantonio has some villain in him. And if he keeps winning at Michigan State, the image will continue to grow.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Fitz Toussaint ran for 1,041 yards last season, becoming the first Michigan running back since Mike Hart in 2007 to surpass the 1,000-yard barrier.

It was an especially impressive feat since Toussaint didn't really take over as the lead, undisputed rusher for the Wolverines until the eighth game of the year. So it's no wonder that people are expecting even bigger things this season. Including Toussaint's head coach.

Brady Hoke told ESPN.com that he pulled Toussaint aside during the Allstate Sugar Bowl and pointed out that Virginia Tech had a 1,600-yard tailback in David Wilson.

"We'd sure like to have one of those," he said.

Say no more. A new Toussaint touchstone has been established for 2012.

"The goal is to try to go beyond that," Toussaint said. "I want 1,600 yards to be the minimum."

[+] EnlargeFitzgerald Toussaint
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireFitz Toussaint of Michigan has set a goal of at least 1,600 rushing yards this season.
Only one Big Ten player, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, put up more than 1,400 yards rushing last season. That Toussaint's goal doesn't sound all that outlandish is a testament to how far he's come in a short time.

Wolverines coaches liked his talent but weren't sure how tough he was early last year. Toussaint sat out the Notre Dame game in Week 2 with a sprained AC joint in his shoulder. He had also missed some games as a freshman and was gaining a reputation for being injury-prone.

After the Notre Dame game, running backs coach Fred Jackson pulled Toussaint into his office and talked about past great Michigan backs like Hart, Tyrone Wheatley and Chris Perry. Those guys, he said, played through nagging ankle pains, hamstring injuries and other aches.

"He was saying you've got to be tough to play this game at a different level," Toussaint said. "That talk really motivated me."

Toussaint played pretty well with limited carries the next four games but had just 7 yards on two attempts in the loss at Michigan State. The Wolverines then went into a bye week and decided to change their philosophy in the running attack, which until then had involved using Denard Robinson and spreading the carries out among the tailbacks.

"We just decided we were going to let him carry the ball," offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "We weren't going to take him out."

He responded with a 170-yard, two-touchdown game against Purdue the next game. Toussaint averaged 135 rushing yards over the final five regular-season games, including a 192-yard effort at Illinois. Nobody was happier about this development than Robinson, who finally had a star running back to take some heat off him.

"It was a relief," Robinson said of Toussaint's emergence. "Running the ball that much, it's a hassle. I knew he was a big-time back, and once he got going he would do well."

Michigan limited Toussaint's reps this spring, knowing what they had in the junior and wanting to get a look at youngsters like Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes. When the season starts, though, they will likely give Toussaint all the work he can handle. And if he could replicate his 135-yard average from last year's stretch drive, that equates to just over 1,600 yards for a full 12-game season.

Those kinds of numbers could potentially get Toussaint into the Heisman Trophy discussion along with Robinson. Might we have a Russell Wilson-Montee Ball situation developing?

"That hasn't really crossed my mind," Toussaint said. "It's going to take a lot for me to get there. I'm still lacking a couple of things."

Becoming better in pass protection is something he's striving toward this offseason. That goal is a lot less visible than 1,600 yards, but it may be just as important to Michigan's success.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 15, 2011
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You're in Paris, got the best food in the world, and you're eating a chalupa?
It will be weird for Michigan fans to see former star running back Mike Hart on the opposite sidelines wearing different colors this week. But Hart says he is prepared. Hart, who is now a quality control coach at Eastern Michigan, told the Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis that his heart now firmly resides in Ypsilanti.
"I'm committed to this team," Hart said. "This is who I am. I am Eastern Michigan. I coach at Eastern Michigan. I want Eastern Michigan to win every game. I don't cheer for Michigan ever anymore. I watch the game and I watch as a coach trying to see what they're going to do."

Hart said he doesn't care what the Wolverines do and is only trying to win a MAC championship at Eastern Michigan, which is 2-0 but has played a pair of FCS teams. He's not expecting to be overwhelmed by a flood of memories at Michigan Stadium.
"I think once you get in there, I'm so focused on the task at hand that I probably really won't notice," he said. "When I walk in it might be, 'Whoa, I'm on the other sideline,' but I've got a job to do."

Those are all the right things to say, and when you're a competitor your main goal is always to get your team a victory no matter who you're playing. But my guess is that Hart was watching Saturday night's game against Notre Dame as a little more than a dispassionate observer, and that he would love nothing more to get back to Ann Arbor as a coach some day.

In other Wolverines news, head coach Brady Hoke said Monday that running back Fitz Toussaint, who missed Saturday's game with a shoulder injury, should hopefully be ready for Eastern Michigan. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk is battered and bruised; he wore a hand cast Saturday after dealing with an ankle injury all week, and then he took a shot to the face in the game. But Hoke said Woolfolk would keep on playing. The health status of linebackers Cam Gordon and Brandon Herron will continue to be monitored this week. Junior Brandin Hawthorne is now listed as the starter at weakside linebacker.
As you'd expect, Twitter is buzzing with reaction to the resignation of Jim Tressel as Ohio State's coach earlier Monday.

Ohio State held a team meeting Monday morning to announce the change, but several current and former players have tweeted about Tressel's departure. Most of the reaction is very positive.

Here's a look at some of the comments:
There are also these notable tweets:
  • Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin: The head of the scarlet and grey Demon has been cut off!
  • Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk: Tressel resigned, well I guess it got too hot in the kitchen. Lol
  • Former Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga: @OfficialAJHawk are you going to help select the new coach at OSU. I am sure they will be askig for your professional opinion.
  • Former Michigan running back Mike Hart: Great day for America! Sad day 4 Big 10, Hate OSU but tressel was a great coach! Would rather beat them when he's the coach than some1 else
  • Former Ohio State receiver Ray Small: Lol what y'all gone do 2 me that man resigned his self if u don't like me [bleep] u!!

Again, much more to come on Tressel's resignation.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It's a sea of Maize with a few patches of green here at Michigan Stadium, as one of the Big Ten's best rivalries is about to kick off.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio was on the field during warm-ups and seemed to be moving around a little gingerly, but not too bad considering his recent health issues. Dantonio will coach from the booth today.

If this year's matchup needed any more spice, former Michigan running back Mike Hart provided it with a note to the team this week and displayed near the Wolverines' locker room.
"Nothing needs to be said to get you guys fired up -- after what you guys have dealt with the last two years and the disrespect throughout the country. You get four chances in your life to play this team. What does each and every player want their legacy to be because it starts tomorrow -- tomorrow we put little brother in his place."

Let's get it on.
How many yards will Denard Robinson, the nation's leading rusher, put up Saturday against No. 17 Michigan State?

What about Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell? Both Spartans backs are capable of gashing a weak Michigan defense.

If Robinson, Baker or Bell have a big day on the ground Saturday, it wouldn't be the first time in the Michigan-Michigan State series. In fact, most of the recent meetings have featured impressive performances by ball carriers.

Thanks to ESPN's Stats & Information for this list ...

2008 -- Javon Ringer (MSU): 37 rush, 194 yards, 2 TD in 35-21 win

2005 -- Mike Hart (MICH): 36 rush, 218 yards, TD in 34-31 (OT) win

2004 -- Mike Hart (MICH): 33 rush, 224 yards, TD in 45-37 (3OT) win

2004 -- DeAndra Cobb (MSU): 22 rush, 205 yards, 2 TD in 45-37 (3OT) loss

2003 -- Chris Perry (MICH): 51 rush, 219 yards, TD in 27-20 win

2001 -- T.J. Duckett (MSU): 27 rush, 211 yards, TD in 26-24 win
To date, the principal image of the 2010 college football season has been a dreadlocked quarterback wearing unlaced cleats and a No. 16 jersey outrunning defenders to the end zone.

If you haven't seen Denard Robinson do his thing, you're not paying attention.

[+] EnlargeRobinson
Don McPeak/US Presswire Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has put up special numbers this season.
Robinson can't be caught on the field, and he can't be missed on the highlight reel. The Michigan sophomore has 27 runs of 10 yards or more and 11 of 20 yards or more this season, including touchdown dashes of 87 yards against Notre Dame and 72 yards against Indiana.

Robinson has put on a show for the nation to see, but 10 of his teammates have the best seats in the (big) house.

"My view is HD," Michigan receiver Roy Roundtree said with a laugh.

"Most of the time," Wolverines guard Stephen Schilling said, "I'm looking at his back when he's running down the field."

Roundtree and Schilling had seen Robinson break off big runs in practice, but they've gained new appreciation for what he has done in games.

Robinson's instructions for Schilling and Michigan's other offensive linemen are simple: be decisive when blocking. The quarterback doesn't care which direction the linemen direct defenders, as long as he gets a good read and enough room for cutbacks.

He takes care of the rest.

"They’re making some big holes," Robinson said of his linemen. "Any back could run through them."

Schilling typically follows orders, but he slipped up on Michigan's second play from scrimmage against Indiana.

"I was blocking the 3-technique and I thought maybe I missed my block a little bit," he said. "By the time I turned around, hoping that [Robinson] wasn't getting tackled by the guy, he was already 15, 20 yards down the field.

"And then I saw him break away and I knew he was gone."

Roundtree was lined up in the slot when Robinson shot through the line and raced 72 yards.

"I saw him running past the other defenders and I was like 'Man, he is rolling,'" Roundtree said. "I'm like, 'OK, I'll beat him to the end zone because I know nobody's catching him.' Every time he breaks a run, all the offensive guys, we know where to head."

Schilling has been surprised by how quick Robinson shoots through creases. Although Michigan's offensive linemen never want to take a lazy attitude toward holding their blocks, Robinson doesn't make them wait long.

It has been a new experience for Schilling, who began his career blocking for former Michigan star running back Mike Hart.

"He was such a different back," Schilling said, "didn't really have the top-end speed but was quick and shifty and could make guys miss and always gained six or eight yards. Denard is kind of the opposite. He's faster and gets in the open space and then just can't be caught."

Schilling enjoys watching game film of Robinson's runs, especially the end-zone camera angles that show Robinson humbling defenders with his moves.

But Schilling isn't about to trade his view on Saturdays.

"It's nice on the field, especially at home, when the crowd starts going wild when he breaks away," Schilling said. "You can tell when he's gone."
Asked to identify the most heated game on the 2010 Big Ten slate, I was a bit stumped. Don't get me wrong, the Big Ten is loaded with long-standing rivalries as well as several great new ones. Ohio State-Michigan always will get the blood boiling on both sides. So will Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State, Purdue-Indiana, Penn State-Ohio State and, in recent years, Iowa-Penn State.

But we're looking for 2010 games that have a little something extra. Think Texas-Nebraska this fall at Memorial Stadium. There's bad blood there, especially after recent events. In Lincoln, they're already getting ready for the Longhorns.

Maybe the Big Ten is too damn civil these days, but the key figures in this league seem to like each other too much. We need a good coaching spat -- the Danny Hope-Rich Rodriguez exchange last season was entertaining, albeit not overly memorable -- or some trash talk between players. Could we get a coach running up the score on a rival, please? The SEC and Big 12 can't have all the fun.

One game this season certain to have some added fuel pairs Michigan and Michigan State on Oct. 9 at the Big(ger) House. The in-state rivalry always has some juice, but this year's matchup brings a little extra. Since Mike Hart's "little brother" comment after Michigan's 2007 win at Spartan Stadium, Michigan State has grown up a bit on the field.

The Spartans have won back-to-back games against Michigan for the first time since winning three straight from 1965-67. They claimed last year's contest in dramatic fashion, prevailing in overtime after squandering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead in all too familiar fashion.

Suddenly, Michigan State is the team that has gone bowling in each of the last three seasons, while Michigan has spent back-to-back winters at home after making 33 consecutive bowl appearances. Spartans seniors like Greg Jones can finish their careers 3-1 against Michigan with a win this fall.

Like any in-state rivalry, Michigan-Michigan State impacts the local recruiting scene. By any measure, Michigan State has upgraded its in-state recruiting efforts under Mark Dantonio, landing prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper, William Gholston and Lawrence Thomas (2011 verbal). There's a perception held by some that the Spartans have surpassed Michigan in local recruiting, although Michigan has focused much of its efforts on other areas while still bringing in elite local prospects like William Campbell, Devin Gardner and Brennen Beyer (2011 verbal).

But to be considered the state's elite program, Michigan can't keep losing to the Spartans. Rodriguez needs to win this fall to keep his job, and this is the type of game that can build some much-needed goodwill from the Michigan brass. He doesn't want to be the first coach to drop consecutive home games to Michigan State since Bump Elliott in 1965 and 1967. Michigan's small senior class doesn't want to finish with a losing record against the Spartans.

Bottom line: there's plenty at stake Oct. 9. Regardless of the temperature, things will be hot inside the Big House. This game doesn't need trash talk or billboards, although I wouldn't be opposed to either.

Paging Mike Hart ...

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