Big Ten: Mike Newkirk

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's the forecast for Wisconsin in 2009.

1. Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips both start games at quarterback this fall -- Sherer figures to get the first shot and could stay there throughout the fall, but Phillips' athleticism and youth will tempt the coaching staff. Wisconsin needs some continuity under center, and Phillips might be able to provide it if he continues to make progress after a late-spring push. The quarterback position will once again frustrate Badgers fans at times, but with three solid tight ends and an improved group of wide receivers, the passing game should be better.

2. The front four will be the strength of the Badgers' defense -- Sure, three multiyear starters are gone (Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman and Matt Shaughnessy), but the line had an excellent offseason and boasts a nice mix of youth and experience. Senior end O'Brien Schofield is ready to lead, and Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt will be one of the Big Ten's most valuable additions this fall. Young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu also provide reasons for optimism up front.

3. Wisconsin capitalizes on a very favorable schedule -- This could easily be a six-win team that ends up 8-4, thanks to a beneficial slate. The Badgers open with four consecutive games at Camp Randall Stadium, where they remain extremely tough to beat. Their two toughest home games (Michigan State and Iowa) are both winnable, and aside from a trip to Ohio State, the road slate doesn't look too daunting. Head coach Bret Bielema will stop the slide after seeing his wins total drop in each of the past two seasons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Biggest reason for hope -- John Clay and the run game

Wisconsin can always fall back on its offensive line and power run game, and the 2009 season should be no different. P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL clears the way for Clay, who was very impressive in spurts last season as a backup. Clay finished seventh in the league in rushing (68 ypg) and had a sparking 5.7 yards-per-carry average as a redshirt freshman. If he can maintain a decent weight (235-240 pounds) and avoid further ankle problems, he should have a breakout season this fall. Wisconsin loses a few key pieces up front, but always seems to reload on the O-line.

Biggest reason for concern -- Holes on defense

Most would list the quarterback position as Wisconsin's biggest concern, but the passing game shouldn't be as big of a problem this fall with improved play from the wide receivers. The defense, meanwhile, loses its top two linebackers (DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas), its top pass defender (corner Allen Langford) and three multiyear starters on the line (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk, Jason Chapman). It could signal problems for a unit that struggled in the red zone and in the fourth quarter of games in 2008. Wisconsin should be pretty solid up front this fall, but there are questions elsewhere.

Recapping the hope and concern series:

Wisconsin spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin Badgers
2008 overall record: 7-6

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Dustin Sherer, RB John Clay, LT Gabe Carimi, TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield, LB Jaevery McFadden, CB Aaron Henry, K Philip Welch

Key losses

RB P.J. Hill, G Kraig Urbik, G Andy Kemp, TE Travis Beckum, DE Matt Shaughnessy, DT Mike Newkirk, LB DeAndre Levy, LB Jonathan Casillas

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: P.J. Hill (1,161 yds)
Passing
: Dustin Sherer* (1,389 yds)
Receiving: Garrett Graham* (540 yds)
Tackles
: Jaevery McFadden* (84)
Sacks
: O'Brien Schofield* and DeAndre Levy (5)
Interceptions
: Niles Brinkley* (4)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Northern Illinois
Sept. 12 Fresno State
Sept. 19 Wofford
Sept. 26 Michigan State
Oct. 3 at Minnesota
Oct. 10 at Ohio State
Oct. 17 Iowa
Oct. 24 BYE
Oct. 31 Purdue
Nov. 7 at Indiana
Nov. 14 Michigan
Nov. 21 at Northwestern
Nov. 28 BYE
Dec. 5 at Hawaii

Spring answers

1. Toon time -- After struggling at receiver in 2008, Wisconsin might have identified a top wideout this spring, and he has a familiar name. Sophomore Nick Toon, the son of former Wisconsin great and three-time All-Pro Al Toon, blossomed during spring ball. Toon brings both speed and size to the outside receiver spot. He had a game-high four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in the spring game.

2. Phillips emerges -- Wisconsin wanted to find another quarterback to challenge projected starter Dustin Sherer, and redshirt freshman Curt Phillips emerged late in spring ball. Phillips finished with a flourish, completing 10 of 16 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. The Tennessee native might not be a textbook passer, but he brings playmaking ability to the pocket.

3. High Wattage -- Opportunity abounds on the defensive line, which loses three multiyear starters, and end J.J. Watt seized it this spring. The Central Michigan transfer earned a starting spot opposite O'Brien Schofield and has the versatility to play both line positions after transforming his body during the last year. Watt's presence elevates expectations for the Badgers' pass rush.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback clarity -- The big dilemma in Madison is this: Will Wisconsin go with a more experienced player in Sherer and live with another one-and-done situation at quarterback, or will the coaches take a risk with Phillips? Sherer had a solid offseason and played well at points last season. He likely remains the team's best option, but Phillips could provide continuity for the future.

2. Secondary shuffle -- At least two starting defensive back positions and possibly three are unsettled entering the summer. Hard-hitting junior safety Jay Valai must fend off senior Aubrey Pleasant for a starting spot, while Niles Brinkley, last year's interceptions leader, is being pushed by sophomore Devin Smith. Senior Shane Carter is listed as a backup safety on the post-spring depth chart, but he could push Chris Maragos.

3. Clay's conditioning -- There's little doubt that sophomore John Clay possesses the skills to be a first-team All-Big Ten running back in 2009. But Clay has struggled with his weight, which exceeded 250 pounds late last season. He also has had recurrent ankle problems, so maintaining a healthy weight (235-240 pounds) will be vital through the summer and into preseason camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

J.J. Watt's long, strange journey back to Wisconsin was almost complete, as head coach Bret Bielema offered him a chance to walk onto the Badgers' team. 

Watt just had one final item to address. 

"I had to look at his contract to make sure everything was OK," Watt said, laughing. 

You couldn't blame him for checking. Watt didn't exactly have the best luck with coaches early in his college career. 

The Pewaukee, Wis., native originally committed to Central Michigan, but reopened his recruitment after head coach Brian Kelly left for Cincinnati. Watt then committed to Minnesota in mid-December, only to see the axe fall on Gophers head coach Glen Mason two weeks later. 

He wound up back at Central Michigan and played in all 14 games as a true freshman tight end in 2007, catching eight passes for 77 yards. But with the tight end position not the focal point of Butch Jones' offense, Watt decided to return to familiar surroundings and a familiar position -- defensive end.

"It was definitely a crazy process I went through," Watt said, "but in the end it worked out for me, so I can't complain. Now I'm in a great position."

His arrival also has worked out well for Wisconsin, which loses three multiyear starters on the defensive line (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman).

Watt stood out during spring ball and all but locked up a starting position on the defensive line for 2009. Named the Badgers' defensive scout team player of the year last fall, Watt continued to impress the coaches and was rewarded with a scholarship Friday night, hours before the spring game.

"He's a beast, man," said senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield, echoing the term defensive coordinator Dave Doeren used to describe Watt. "You see all the potential. He does all the right things that the coaches teach."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Wisconsin Badgers are up next on the superlatives rundown. Quarterback certainly hurt the Badgers more than any other spot last season, but the team should be better stocked under center this year.

Here's the good news and bad news for Wisconsin entering spring ball.

Strongest position -- Safety

Key returnees: Junior Jay Valai, senior Chris Maragos, senior Shane Carter, senior Aubrey Pleasant

Key departures: None

The skinny: The secondary as a whole should be stronger despite the loss of top cover corner Allen Langford, and the safeties are all back for 2009. Valai has established himself as one of the Big Ten's hardest hitters, and Maragos is a solid tackler with experience at free safety. If Carter improves his tackling to complement his ball-hawking skills, he'll be an asset this fall. The running backs would have earned this distinction if P.J. Hill had stayed, though the group still remains solid. Other strong positions include tight end and cornerback.

Weakest position -- Defensive line

Key returnees: Senior end O'Brien Schofield, senior end Dan Moore

Key departures: Tackle Mike Newkirk (59 tackles, 9 TFLs, 4 sacks), end Matt Shaughnessy (8 TFLs, 4 sacks, 10 QB hurries), tackle Jason Chapman (5 TFLs, 2 sacks)

The skinny: Several offensive position groups could fit in this category, especially quarterbacks and wide receivers. The linebackers also will be restocking after losing DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas. But enough players are back at all of those spots, and the production hit along the defensive line might be a bigger problem for the Badgers. Newkirk was terrific last season, recording nine tackles for loss and four sacks, and Shaughnessy brought a pass-rushing presence to the edge. Schofield could be a star this fall after a productive junior year, but he'll need some help.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema likely will return to his roots with his 2009 recruiting haul.

A former defensive lineman at Iowa, Bielema needs to replenish a Badgers' defensive front that loses three multiyear starters (end Matt Shaughnessy and tackles Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman). Wisconsin needs to start generating pressure again, and Bielema will be looking for contributors at both line positions.

The Badgers also lose plenty of experience at linebacker, as mainstays DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas graduate. Though Jaevery McFadden developed nicely this fall, there's not too much experience behind him.

For the second straight season, the Badgers will lose their best cover man as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Allen Langford graduates. The secondary isn't a pressing need, but the Badgers would be well served by adding a defensive back or two.

On the offensive side, a mammoth line that helped Wisconsin lead the Big Ten in rushing loses three starters, including standout guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp. Wisconsin likely won't need a true freshman to start but should try to build depth up front.

Wisconsin's wide receivers were a major disappointment this season, and while the team remains young at that position, a sure-hands target or two in the 2009 class wouldn't be a bad move. Standout tight end Travis Beckum graduates and Garrett Graham enters his senior season, so tight end also is somewhat of a need with this class.

The Badgers' struggles on return and coverage teams also provide paths for several freshmen to see the field this fall.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten year-end position rankings move over to the defensive side and begin with quite possibly the league's strongest group, the defensive line. Looking at this list, the top seven or eight players would likely be top three or four in almost any other league. A very impressive collection, indeed.

 
  Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
  Penn State's Aaron Maybin was the best defensive end in the Big Ten this season.

Here are my preseason rankings for interior linemen and defensive ends. The year-end list combines the two, so I've expanded it to 12 members.

1. Penn State defensive end Aaron Maybin -- The redshirt sophomore came out of nowhere to earn All-America honors. Maybin led the Big Ten with 12 sacks (all solo) and tied for the league lead with 20 tackles for loss. Undersized but exceptionally fast, he became the Big Ten's top pass rusher.

2. Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King -- Running back Shonn Greene got most of the hype, but King very well could have been Iowa's MVP this season. He shut down running lanes up the middle and created havoc in the backfield with 15.5 tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries. The play of King and Matt Kroul gave Iowa's younger defenders the freedom to make plays.

3. Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton -- The only member of a 9-4 Wildcats team to earn all-conference honors, Wootton blossomed this fall with 10 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. He maximized his size and speed to lead a Wildcats front that tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (34).

4. Indiana defensive end Jammie Kirlew -- It wasn't a banner year for the Indiana defense, but Kirlew surged with 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss. Much like Greg Middleton the previous season, Kirlew came out of nowhere to cause problems in opposing backfields.

5. Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham -- One of few bright spots for a struggling Michigan program, Graham ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (1.82 per game) and 11th in sacks (.91 per game). Should he return for his senior season, Graham will be one of the nation's top pass rushers.

6. Minnesota defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg -- After battling a wrist injury in 2007, VanDeSteeg showed that when healthy, he can carry a team. He turned in a memorable performance against Illinois and tied for second in the Big Ten in sacks (10.5). He also ranked fourth in the league in tackles for loss (19).

7. Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick -- Odrick also overcame previous injuries to dominate the line of scrimmage this fall. He contributed 4.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss and anchored a line that led the league in rushing defense (93.2 ypg).

8. Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul -- King's wingman for four seasons continued to be a rock in the middle of the Iowa line. The senior earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and contributed two sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss for the nation's ninth-rated rushing defense.

9. Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson -- After a slow start, Anderson blossomed into the player head coach Mark Dantonio knew he was getting from the University of Cincinnati. The junior finished with eight sacks, 10.5 tackles for loss and four quarterback hurries.

10. Wisconsin defensive tackle Mike Newkirk -- The move inside from defensive end seemed to suit Newkirk, who contributed four sacks, nine tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches.

11. Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan -- Kerrigan was one of seven defensive linemen to rank among the league's Top 10 in both sacks (seven) and tackles for loss (11.5). The sophomore finished fourth on the team in tackles and had an interception and two forced fumbles to lead Purdue's defensive line.

12. Ohio State defensive tackle Nader Abdallah -- Like his fellow line mates, Abdallah played his best football at the end of the season. He finished with six tackles for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and four quarterback hurries. Abdallah stuffed the run up the middle and Ohio State allowed only seven rushing touchdowns in 13 games.

Wisconsin Badgers season recap

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
3:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin made no secret about its chief goal for the 2008 season. As one of only three FBS teams to have reached January bowl games in each of the last four years, the Badgers' next step was obvious.

BCS or bust.

Unfortunately for Bret Bielema's team, it turned out to be the latter. A four-game losing streak to begin Big Ten play eliminated Wisconsin from the BCS mix and made the program's last BCS bowl appearance (2000 Rose) seem a little further away. Wisconsin rallied to win three of its final four games and reach its fifth consecutive bowl, but the Badgers and their fans wanted more.

Things looked good after Wisconsin won its first three games and built a 19-0 halftime lead at Michigan. But the fundamental lapses and poor quarterback play that would define the losing streak surfaced in the second half in the Big House. Though Wisconsin boasted the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack with P.J. Hill, John Clay and Zach Brown, it needed more from its quarterback and its drop-prone wide receivers. Dustin Sherer provided a lift under center down the stretch, but Wisconsin figured things out a little too late.

The defense had its moments but struggled to stay consistent, and Bielema began to feel some heat after a charmed first two seasons on the job. Wisconsin's bungling of the second half at Michigan and the fourth quarter at Michigan State prevented a special season, though the Badgers can finish with a Champs Sports Bowl victory against Florida State.

Offensive MVP -- Wide receiver David Gilreath
It's tough to separate Hill and Clay, so Gilreath gets the nod after showcasing his big-play ability during the Big Ten season. Gilreath led Wisconsin in receiving yards (515) and displayed his speed as a runner (290 rush yards) and a punt returner (9.1 ypr). The sophomore finished third in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (145.3 ypg).

Defensive MVP -- Cornerback Allen Langford
Langford battled back from a torn ACL and finished his college career on a high note. The senior earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media after finishing second in the league in passes defended (14) and recording two interceptions. Langford racked up 11 of his 14 pass deflections in Big Ten play. Linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Mike Newkirk also deserve to be recognized.

Turning point -- Sept. 27 at Michigan
The Badgers were rolling along: a 3-0 record, a top 10 national ranking, a 19-0 halftime lead. They pounded Michigan with Hill and Clay and shut down the Wolverines offense. But everything fell apart in the second half, as Wisconsin lost its defensive edge, committed costly turnovers and made fourth-quarter mental mistakes that cropped up too often this season. A second turning point should be noted on Oct. 25, as the Badgers beat Illinois to open a 4-1 closing stretch.

What's next
A Champs Sports Bowl win against Florida State would end things on a good note and possibly build some momentum for 2009. Sherer could be the answer at quarterback, but Wisconsin will once again turn to the rushing attack of Hill, Clay and Brown. The Badgers must fill some holes on both lines and at linebacker, but they return enough talent to make another postseason push. Bielema is definitely safe in Madison, but another disappointing season could change things.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.

With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.

Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.

Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.

Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.

Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.

Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.

Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.

Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.

Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.

Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.

Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.

Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.

Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.

Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Corey Wootton, Terrelle Pryor, Bradley Fletcher, Kory Sheets, Stefan Demos, Tim Jamison, Mike Newkirk, Kyle Theret, Kevin Kelly, Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Nader Abdallah, Michigan Wolverines, Terrance Taylor, Bryan Bulaga, Navorro Bowman, Michigan State Spartans, Justin Kucek, Garrett Graham, A.J. Trapasso, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Stefen Wisniewski, DeAndre Levy, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, Jack Simmons, Ryan Donahue, Aaron Bates, Josh Gaines, Jeremy Boone, Eric Decker, Shonn Greene, Brandon Myers, Traye Simmons, Chris Wells, Matt Mayberry, Aaron Maybin, Charlie Gantt, Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern Wildcats, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Indiana Hoosiers, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Amado Villarreal, Xavier Fulton, Rich Ohrnberger, Daryll Clark, Gerald Cadogan, James Laurinaitis, Roland Martin, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Rob Bruggeman, Big Ten Conference, Evan Royster, Jordan Norwood, Seth Olsen, Travis Beckum, Brit Miller, Chris Hagerup, Tramaine Brock, Brad Phillips, Kraig Urbik, Brad Nortman, Marcus Freeman, Chris L. Rucker, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Purdue Boilermakers Ryan Kerrigan, Malcolm Jenkins, Zoltan Mesko, Otis Wiley, Adam Weber, Kurt Coleman, Derek Walker, Brent Greenwood, Greg Orton, Amari Spievey, Penn State Nittany Lions, Philip Welch, Mitch King, David Gilreath, Brett Swenson, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Ryan McDonald, Alex Boone, Allen Langford, Minnesota Golden Gophers Willie VanDeSteeg, Trevor Anderson, Javon Ringer

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Rivalry week is here, and the Big Ten regular season wraps up Saturday. It's the end of the line for three teams and the league's second-longest tenured coach in Purdue's Joe Tiller. The Big Ten title and BCS bowl berths also are at stake.

Here's a quick overview of what's on tap.

Michigan (3-8, 2-5 Big Ten) at No. 10 Ohio State (9-2, 6-1), ABC, noon ET
The league's premier matchup has lost a bit of luster with Michigan's historically poor season. But underdogs and first-year coaches have previously had success in this rivalry, and the Wolverines and head coach Rich Rodriguez hope it's their turn. Ohio State is favored by nearly three touchdowns and can win its fifth consecutive game against its archrival. If the Buckeyes prevail in The Game, they clinch at least a share of the league title for the fourth straight year and could wind up with a BCS berth.

Indiana (3-8, 1-6) at Purdue (3-8, 1-6), ESPN2, noon ET
This wasn't the sendoff Purdue wanted for its all-time winningest coach, but the Boilers still can get Tiller one final victory at Ross-Ade Stadium. It has been a difficult year for both teams after last year's emotion-charged game in Bloomington, which gave Indiana its first bowl berth since 1993. Senior quarterback Curtis Painter likely will get the start in his final game at Purdue, and Indiana counters with sack master Jammie Kirlew. Tiller enters the game with a 9-2 mark against Indiana.

Illinois (5-6, 3-4) at Northwestern (8-3, 4-3), Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Sweet Sioux Tomahawk is on the line, and for Illinois, so is a potential bowl berth. While Northwestern tries to add to an already successful season on senior day, the Illini hope to avoid the dreaded Rose Bowl-to-no-bowl plunge. Illinois quarterback Juice Williams and the league's top pass offense goes against a much-improved Northwestern defense led by end Corey Wootton. Northwestern won four straight in the series before Illinois countered last year in Champaign.

No. 15 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at No. 8 Penn State (10-1, 6-1), ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
This game in Happy Valley has Big Ten championship implications as the league's featured game kicks off. Penn State can clinch a Rose Bowl berth with a victory, while Michigan State would head to Pasadena with a win and an Ohio State loss to Michigan. The game features standout running backs in Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Penn State's Evan Royster, the league's top defense (Penn State) and its top red zone defense (Michigan State). Penn State aims for its 800th victory and its 383rd under head coach Joe Paterno, who could have hip replacement surgery the day after the game.

Cal-Poly (8-1) at Wisconsin (6-5), Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Badgers are playing good ball as of late, but they shouldn't look past Cal-Poly, which ranks No. 3 nationally in both major FCS polls. The Mustangs knocked off San Diego State in September and enter Camp Randall Stadium on a seven-game win streak. They average 46.4 points a game, so a Badgers defense led by Mike Newkirk and DeAndre Levy will be tested. Wisconsin has won 19 consecutive regular season games against nonconference foes, a streak that stretches back to 2003.

Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (7-4, 3-4), Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET
Bowl placement and the Floyd of Rosedale trophy are at stake for both teams as Minnesota thankfully plays its final game at the Metrodome. The Gophers have lost three straight and could use a quality win to improve their postseason résumé. Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker is expected to return after missing last week's game with a high ankle sprain. Iowa running back Shonn Greene tries to become the first running back to eclipse 100 rushing yards in all eight Big Ten games since Penn State's Curtis Enis in 1997.

Big Ten official Players of the Week

November, 17, 2008
11/17/08
11:08
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I got two guys correct on my ballot. Here's the official list, announced by the league office this morning.

OFFENSE

Iowa RB Shonn Greene

Greene broke the century mark for the 11th time in as many games with 211 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a win over Purdue. The junior running back is the only player in the country to eclipse 100 rushing yards in every game this season and is on pace to become the first standout to surpass the century mark in all eight Big Ten games since Penn State's Curtis Enis accomplished the feat in 1997. Greene averaged seven yards per carry against the Boilermakers and broke loose for a career-long 75-yard scoring sprint in the second quarter, the longest run by a Hawkeye since 1997 when Tavian Banks went 82 yards against Iowa State. Greene added a 14-yard touchdown in the third quarter to give Iowa a 22-10 advantage. He surpassed the 200-yard mark for the second time in four games after setting a career high with 217 yards against Wisconsin on Oct. 18. The New Jersey native leads the Big Ten and ranks second nationally in rushing while his 15 rushing touchdowns are tied for the second-highest single-season total in school annals.

DEFENSE

Wisconsin DT Mike Newkirk

Newkirk collected a career-high seven tackles against Minnesota, including two sacks over a three-play span culminating in a safety to help Wisconsin rally from an early deficit. After falling behind 21-7 at halftime, the Badgers came back to take a 26-24 lead early in the fourth quarter when the Gophers fumbled a kickoff out of the back of the end zone for a safety. Minnesota got the ball back less than two minutes later at its own 7-yard line, but Newkirk recorded his first sack to push the offense back to the two-yard line. After an incompletion, the senior defensive tackle registered his second sack of the game in the end zone for another safety and a 28-24 advantage. Wisconsin would build a 35-24 lead before holding on for the three-point triumph.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Ohio State CB Malcolm Jenkins

With the game tied at 7-7 near the end of the first quarter, Jenkins sprinted around the line to block an Illinois punt out of the end zone, leading to a safety and giving the Buckeyes a lead they would not relinquish. The ensuing Illini kickoff was knocked down by the wind, leading to a short touchdown drive to help OSU to the road victory. The senior defensive back blocked his second punt this season and also added a 14-yard punt return, while posting two tackles and three pass break-ups on defense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The film session wasn't a fun one for Wisconsin senior defensive tackle Mike Newkirk.

He saw signs of progress against Ohio State. The Badgers' defense leveled several teeth-chattering hits on ball carriers, forced Terrelle Pryor into some poor decisions and shut down the Buckeye Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) for most of the game.

But Newkirk knew how the movie would end. On the decisive drive, the Badgers failed to recover two fumbles, left passing lanes open for Pryor and Hartline and had a complete meltdown in the red zone, which Pryor converted into the game-winning 11-yard touchdown run.

"It's hard," Newkirk said. "It's just another scar, but it's something you've got to learn from and find some way to use it to make you better. There's only two ways you can go from this past weekend. It's up or further down.

"We've got to get ourselves out of this rut."

A two-game slide that has dropped Wisconsin from the top 10 to out of the AP Poll is just one of several incentives for the Badgers when they host sixth-ranked Penn State on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). A third consecutive loss would effectively end Wisconsin's hopes for a league title, and most likely a fifth consecutive January bowl berth.

Wisconsin must re-establish itself at home, where it won 16 consecutive games before the Ohio State setback. Wisconsin must re-establish itself at night after winning 11 straight under the lights before last Saturday. And perhaps most important, Wisconsin must re-establish itself against Penn State, which cruised to a 38-7 win last year in Happy Valley.

"They took it to us pretty well last year," Newkirk said. "Just like it's not a good feeling when you lose a close heartbreaker at the end of the game, it's not a good feeling to go out there and have the game lost from the beginning. That's something we're hoping to get back.

"It's in our house this year, but none of that matters if you're not doing what you need to do. We can only use Camp Randall as an asset if we make it so. We've got to give the crowd something to cheer about."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Chris "Beanie" Wells might be questionable for Saturday's game, but the links are always guaranteed to show up.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One week away. 'Nuff said.

  • First, a breakdown of the voting in the Coaches' Poll from Pollspeak.com. Rich Rodriguez retained his vote even though he moved from West Virginia to Michigan, giving the Big Ten seven voters and the Big East only four. The Big Ten has the highest percentage of teams with a coach voting
  • Sophomore Bo Flowers leapfrogged Donsay Hardeman at safety on Bob Asmussen's projected depth chart for Illinois.
  • Indiana freshman wideout DaMarlo Belcher wants to be the next James Hardy, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Belcher, a Fort Wayne native like Hardy, certainly looked the part in Wednesday's practice. Hutchens also breaks down a good few days for Indiana, which faces decisions at quarterback, cornerback and safety.
  • A comprehensive Iowa preview from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, starting with the team's need to get beyond the last three seasons. There are also items on the Hawkeyes' young defensive ends, highly touted offensive lineman Dan Doering and reporters' picks for the season. Quarterback Jake Christensen, fighting to reclaim his starting job, takes the blame for last season, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
  • No official announcement yet, but a deal between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom looks imminent, Randy Peterson writes in the Des Moines Register. Iowans rejoice.
  • Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, the sole holdover from Lloyd Carr's staff, adapts to a new regime, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. The Michigan schools will be featured on the Big Ten Network this weekend, reaching an audience that largely didn't have the channel last season, Michael Zuidema writes in The Grand Rapids Press.
  • Michigan State tight end Charlie Gantt won't try to be the next Kellen Davis, but he should be a factor in the passing game following a good preseason, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.
  • Minnesota wideout Eric Decker is probably the team's best player, even though he might end up playing baseball down the line, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Coach Tim Brewster's eternal optimism might not be going over well with every Gopher fan, Patrick Reusse writes in the Star Tribune.
  • Ohio State has its own version of the Four Horsemen in the backfield this fall. In not-so dramatic lore, their names are "Wells and Mo Wells, Boom and Zoom," Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Linebacker James Laurinaitis joins a select crowd of two-time captains at Ohio State. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises has a good synopsis of the Big Ten Network-Time Warner Cable-Ohio State mess.
  • Whenever Joe Paterno chooses to step down, he wants to leave his successor with something to work with at Penn State, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times. Penn State's offensive line is stacked with experience, but hopes are highest for underclassman Stefen Wisniewski. 
  • Purdue's defense had the edge in Friday's scrimmage, as freshmen Derek Jackson and Tommie Thomas recorded interceptions. But the best sign was wideout Aaron Valentin, a junior college transfer who racked up 100 receiving yards, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
  • Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk is back at his natural position of defensive tackle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

SPONSORED HEADLINES