Big Ten: MiQuale Lewis
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The pieces were in place this fall for Indiana to continue its momentum after a bowl breakthrough in 2007.
All-Big Ten quarterback Kellen Lewis returned to the offense after a spring suspension. National sacks leader Greg Middleton anchored a promising defensive front. Perhaps most importantly, a favorable schedule featured eight games at Memorial Stadium, where construction in the north end served as a symbol for a program on the rise.
Instead, Indiana returned to an all-too familiar spot, the Big Ten basement. After a 2-0 start, the Hoosiers dropped nine of their final 10 games to finish with their worst record since 2003.
Injuries played a major part in the downfall, as Indiana was hit on both sides of the ball and at key positions. Lewis struggled to stay healthy for long stretches and the coaches began rotating him and backup Ben Chappell at quarterback. The secondary was depleted and the offensive line struggled to stay unified. Head coach Bill Lynch acknowledged he couldn't remember so many injuries afflicting a team in one season.
Health and depth were major problems, but the Hoosiers also failed to make strides in key areas.
Lewis struggled without a dominant receiver (James Hardy), and the offense ranked 10th in the league in scoring (20.5 ppg). The defense once again produced a sack specialist in Jammie Kirlew (10.5 sacks), but the league's worst unit against the pass couldn't limit explosion plays. Indiana allowed 34 points or more in eight of its final 10 games.
Offensive MVP -- Running back Marcus Thigpen
Thigpen quietly turned in a very solid senior season after struggling to cement himself as Indiana's featured back. He led Indiana with 631 rushing yards and seven touchdowns and had an impressive 6.7 yards-per-carry average. Thigpen continued to show his track-star speed on special teams and finished the year ranked fourth in the league in all-purpose yards (143.2 ypg).
Defensive MVP -- Defensive end Jammie Kirlew
Middleton's production fell off sharply this fall, but Kirlew picked up the slack on the other side of the defensive line. He ranked second in the Big Ten in both sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (19.5), earning first-team all-conference honors from the media. Kirlew led the Big Ten in tackles for a defensive lineman (74) and finished second on Indiana's team tackles chart. Linebacker Matt Mayberry also deserves a mention here.
Turning point -- Sept. 20 vs. Ball State
Things really went south for Indiana after Nate Davis, MiQuale Lewis and the Cardinals visited Bloomington. Ball State exposed defensive deficiencies that would plague Indiana all season, racking up 463 yards in a 42-20 win. Indiana's offense showed flashes, as it did for much of the fall, but struggled to produce points. The loss triggered a five-game slide for the Hoosiers.
The Hoosiers return most of their core for 2009, but they have to sort out issues at quarterback, running back and several other spots. If both Middleton and Kirlew return for their senior seasons, Indiana's defensive front should be solid. But the Hoosiers must build greater depth throughout their roster to survive injuries. Despite a vote of confidence from Indiana's new athletic director, Lynch is very much on the hot seat entering next fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Ritttenberg
The curtain raises on Big Ten play this weekend, and you don't want to miss the show. Penn State attempts to validate its impressive start against a respectable opponent. Wisconsin tries to end a streak at Michigan, while the struggling Wolverines want to keep one going. Beanie's back in Columbus, but how much of a boost will he provide? Northwestern and Minnesota enter league play at 4-0, and no player is hotter than Michigan State's Javon Ringer.
Here are 10 things to keep track off Saturday:
1. Penn State HD-ready -- The Lions' new Spread HD offense has earned straight A's so far, but it has yet to take a real exam. Illinois' defense should provide one Saturday night at Beaver Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Penn State has showcased myriad weapons and had unparalleled production, but it will be interesting to see how first-year starting quarterback Daryll Clark performs under pressure. Ron Zook called Illinois' defensive line the team's strength. It's time to prove it.
2. Going streaking in Ann Arbor -- No, not me. But I'll be on hand to see if Michigan can win its 23rd consecutive Big Ten home opener. The Wolverines are underdogs against Wisconsin, which tries to snap its own streak, a four-game slide at the Big House. The Badgers are stronger and more experienced, but they went 1-3 in league road games last season and suffered their only loss of 2006 at Michigan.
3. All is Wells again at Ohio State -- The Buckeyes haven't been the same team since star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells injured his right big toe in the season opener. After three tortuous weeks without the onetime Heisman Trophy candidate, Ohio State will get Wells back in the mix for its league opener against Minnesota. Wells probably will be limited to 15-20 carries, but he could provide the emotional spark Ohio State's offense has lacked.
4. Ringer goes for another 200 -- Running back Javon Ringer is the first player in Michigan State history to record consecutive 200-yard rushing performances. He aims for another big day against Indiana, which couldn't contain Ball State back MiQuale Lewis last week. Ringer will get his carries -- he always does -- but it's important for Indiana's front seven, led by end Greg Middleton and linebacker Matt Mayberry, to make Brian Hoyer beat them.
5. Boilers secondary on alert -- Notre Dame doesn't want to abandon the run, but the Irish were much more effective against Michigan State when operating in a shotgun, pass-happy offense. Expect more of the same against Purdue, which needs another strong performance from an improved secondary. Wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd will stretch the field, putting pressure on Purdue's solid safety tandem of Frank Duong and Torri Williams.
6. Minnesota and Northwestern on the defensive -- The Big Ten's two worst defenses last season have stepped up big behind new coordinators Ted Roof and Mike Hankwitz. An influx of junior college talent has sparked Minnesota to a league-leading 13 takeaways, and Northwestern tops the Big Ten's sacks chart with 15, three behind its season total from 2007. Both defenses can validate their strong starts by stifling Ohio State and Iowa.
7. Lions D-line gets a boost -- Penn State coach Joe Paterno said defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma probably will play against Illinois after being suspended the last three games. Both players could be a bit rusty, but they give a depleted defensive line a big lift. Evans could be the league's most dominant pass rusher, and he'll help chase Illinois quarterback Juice Williams.
8. Hill back at the Big House -- Two years ago, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill went to Michigan as the league's leading rusher and was held to 54 rushing yards on 20 carries. Hill ranks ninth nationally and second in the league in rushing average this fall (126.3 YPG) as he returns to the Big House. His ability to wear down Michigan's veteran defensive line could give Wisconsin the edge.
9. Stanzi back on center stage -- Iowa desperately needs a starting quarterback, and sophomore Ricky Stanzi gets another shot to fill the role. Hawkeyes fans were infuriated when coach Kirk Ferentz stuck with struggling junior Jake Christensen in the second half of last week's loss at Pitt. Stanzi will have the support of the home crowd as he faces a much-improved Northwestern defense.
10. Indiana under pressure -- It's still September, but Indiana needs to rebound after a 22-point home loss to Ball State. The Hoosiers' opening schedule sets them up for a repeat bowl run, but another setback could sidetrack things. Quarterback Kellen Lewis faces an aggressive Spartans defense led by Big Ten interceptions leader Otis Wiley and linebacker Greg Jones.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten play finally arrives for 10 of the 11 teams, and some intriguing opening matchups are on tap Saturday. Last week brought another solid record, but I underestimated the strength of several Big Ten defense. It won't happen this time around.
Not an easy slate of games, and recent history is working against favorites like Penn State (1-7 in its last eight Big Ten openers) and Wisconsin (hasn't won at Michigan since 1994). Here's how I see things shaking out.
Michigan State 30, Indiana 21 -- The Hoosiers allowed Ball State's MiQuale Lewis to rush for 166 yards last week. That's not a good sign as Javon Ringer, the nation's second-leading rusher, comes to Bloomington. Ringer could record his third straight 200-yard rushing performance, but this is an important game for Brian Hoyer to finally get going. The Spartans senior quarterback faces a depleted Indiana secondary. Kellen Lewis makes some plays for the Hoosiers, but Michigan State has the stronger defense.
Ohio State 35, Minnesota 17 -- The return of running back Chris Wells provides the emotional lift Ohio State has lacked the last three games. Wells might not put up huge numbers, but his presence sparks quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the offense. I haven't lost faith in Minnesota, but the timing just isn't right for an upset. And unlike previous Gophers opponents, Ohio State will actually bother to cover star wide receiver Eric Decker with All-America cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.
Iowa 20, Northwestern 17 -- A really tough call here. Iowa hopes it finds a quarterback in sophomore Ricky Stanzi, but Northwestern's defense looks greatly improved and the Hawkeyes' offense really hasn't done much the last two games. The difference comes at the line of scrimmage, where Iowa's defensive front overpowers Northwestern's new-look offensive line and neutralizes Tyrell Sutton. The game could come down to special teams or a fourth-quarter turnover, but Iowa holds on at home.
Wisconsin 27, Michigan 17 -- Like two years ago, the game stays close for the first half, but this time Wisconsin pulls away behind its power run game. Michigan's offense will be improved coming off the bye week and running back Sam McGuffie will force the Badgers to tackle in space. But Wisconsin knows how to grind out victories, and in the fourth quarter the Badgers will control the clock with P.J. Hill and force a mistake or two from Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet. Michigan's streak of 22 consecutive wins in Big Ten home openers comes to an end.
Purdue 27, Notre Dame 24 -- For the second straight season Notre Dame can't run the ball, and the Irish will be forced to stretch the field with young wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. The plan could work well, but Purdue's secondary has improved and picks off a pass or two. Curtis Painter put up big numbers (398 pass yards) in his last trip to Notre Dame Stadium, and Purdue's offense looks more balanced with running back Kory Sheets. The Boilers win on a last-minute Chris Summers field goal.
Penn State 38, Illinois 24 -- The Lions face adversity for the first time this season, but ultimately their offense is simply too powerful for Illinois. Illini quarterback Juice Williams has proven he can win in tough environments, but unless Arrelious Benn steps up his play, the offense doesn't have enough firepower to keep pace with Penn State. Lions quarterback Daryll Clark makes an early mistake but recovers, and running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green wear down the Illini defensive line.
Season record: 35-4
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten play finally gets under way this week, and several intriguing matchups are on the slate. Penn State can validate its hot start by beating Illinois in Happy Valley. Michigan could play spoiler for a Wisconsin team that has several big home games coming up. And Northwestern and Minnesota take 4-0 records on the road.
Let's see what's on tap:
Michigan State (3-1) at Indiana (2-1), ESPN, noon ET
The Javon Ringer tour reaches Bloomington, where Indiana comes off a rough home loss against Ball State. The Hoosiers had trouble stopping Cardinals running back MiQuale Lewis (166 rush yards), and they could be in for a long day against Ringer, the nation's second leading rusher. Michigan State still needs better play from quarterback Brian Hoyer, and Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis looks for a rebound performance against a confident Spartans defense.
Minnesota (4-0) at No. 14 Ohio State (3-1), noon ET
No one expected the Gophers to have the better record heading into this matchup. Minnesota has quadrupled its wins total from last year thanks to an opportunistic defense and near-flawless play from quarterback Adam Weber. But Tim Brewster's squad gets its first major test in Ohio State, which rallied around freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor last week and could get Chris "Beanie" Wells back on the field.
Northwestern (4-0) at Iowa (3-1), ESPN Classic, noon ET
The Wildcats are off to their best start since 1962 and aim for their second straight win at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa comes off a tough loss at Pitt, and coach Kirk Ferentz will once again turn to sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi to lead the offense. Northwestern's surprising defense leads the Big Ten in sacks (15), while Iowa ranks third (10) and will challenge a sputtering Wildcats offense that will have running back Tyrell Sutton (left leg) available.
Purdue (2-1) at Notre Dame (2-1), 3:30 p.m. ET
Boilers coach Joe Tiller attempts to finish his career with a 6-6 mark against Notre Dame. The Irish didn't see much passing last week from Michigan State and can expect more from Purdue's Curtis Painter, who racked up 398 passing yards in his last trip to Notre Dame Stadium. An improved Boilers secondary gets a tough assignment with talented young Notre Dame wideouts Golden Tate and Michael Floyd.
No. 9 Wisconsin (3-0) at Michigan (1-2), ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET
Could this be a trap game for the Badgers? It's unlikely, given the fact their last trip to Michigan resulted in their only loss of 2006. The Wolverines' defensive line struggled a bit against Notre Dame and needs a better performance against Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, who ranks ninth nationally in rushing (126.3 ypg). Michigan saw some good signs from its offensive backfield of Steven Threet and Sam McGuffie against Notre Dame but gets a tougher test with Wisconsin's defensive front seven.
No. 22 Illinois (2-1) at No. 12 Penn State, ABC, 8 p.m. ET
One way or the other, the mystery about Penn State ends. Penn State should get a solid test from Illinois after rolling over four overmatched opponents. Led by quarterback Daryll Clark, Penn State ranks among the top eight nationally in total offense (538.5 ypg), rushing offense (273 ypg) and scoring offense (53.8 ppg). Illinois' defense hasn't performed to expectations but boasts playmakers in Will Davis, Brit Miller, Martez Wilson and Vontae Davis. Penn State could get defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma back to face Illini quarterback Juice Williams, who has shown he can win in tough environments.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A bit of shuffling this week despite three teams -- Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan -- that had byes. There's still a lot of mystery after the top three or four squads, and we'll know much more in five days as league play finally begins.
1. Wisconsin -- The bye week came at a good time for the Badgers, who are still dealing with some key injuries (Travis Beckum, Jonathan Casillas, Aaron Henry). It might sound wacky, but Saturday's trip to 1-2 Michigan could be a trap game for Wisconsin, which can't look ahead to mega matchups with Ohio State and Penn State the next two weeks at Camp Randall Stadium.
2. Penn State -- The Lions beat Temple 45-3 and called their performance sloppy. Impressive is a better term to describe a team that has capitalized on weak competition and looked great on both sides of the ball. Penn State finally gets a test this week as Illinois visits Happy Valley. Another convincing win could give the Lions the top spot.
3. Ohio State -- The Terrelle Pryor era is under way in Columbus, and the freshman turned in a record-setting performance in his first career start. But the Buckeyes once again didn't look impressive against an inferior opponent, and they'll have to be much better in league play to reclaim the top spot in the rankings.
4. Michigan State -- It's a little unfair to drop Illinois after a bye week, but the Illini don't look like an improved team, while Michigan State does. Running back Javon Ringer has been the Big Ten MVP through the first four games, and the defense is displaying the physical style that head coach Mark Dantonio demands.
5. Illinois -- The good news for the idle Illini is they have a chance to make a huge statement Saturday at Penn State and vault up the list. The offense and defense rarely have played well at the same time, and Illinois will need both units to be clicking in Happy Valley. A veteran defensive front seven faces a huge test in the Spread HD offense, and Juice Williams tries to replicate his big-game road heroics.
6. Northwestern -- At this point in the season, the Wildcats are usually lamenting a bad nonleague loss and a leaky defense. Instead, they find themselves 4-0, thanks to a dominating defense shaped by coordinator Mike Hankwitz. The offense has been the problem so far, and Northwestern will need a lot of improvement from senior quarterback C.J. Bacher to keep this spot.
7. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes have found a running back (Shonn Greene) and several young playmakers on defense, but football still comes down to the quarterback position, and Iowa remains a mystery there. It seems like whoever comes off the bench -- Jake Christensen or Ricky Stanzi -- outplays the starter. Coach Kirk Ferentz might need to just pick a guy already because the rotation isn't working.
8. Purdue -- Staring straight at another crushing loss, the Boilermakers came up big against a solid Central Michigan team. Senior running back Kory Sheets continued to show he can handle the featured role by rushing for the game-winning touchdown. Purdue's playmaking secondary has become one of the team's strengths. A road win against Notre Dame would move the Boilers higher.
9. Minnesota -- I kept the Gophers in the basement after three wins, but a 37-3 win against Florida Atlantic made me a believer. Coordinator Ted Roof has ignited the nation's worst defense in 2007, as an influx of junior college transfers and several holdovers have meshed so far. Minnesota is forcing turnovers on defense and limiting mistakes on offense. Quarterback Adam Weber has been fabulous so far.
10. Michigan -- I'll be surprised if the Wolverines end up here at the end of the season, but it might be awhile before they move up. Wisconsin and Illinois visit the Big House the next two weeks, and Michigan needs an upset to keep its bowl hopes alive. A defense that struggled against Notre Dame must step against Wisconsin's power run game, and both Steven Threet and Sam McGuffie need to take another step forward.
11. Indiana -- Saturday marked the first chance for us to learn something about Indiana, and it wasn't promising. Two cupcake games didn't prepare the Hoosiers for a formidable Ball State team. Indiana's defensive front couldn't stop MiQuale Lewis, and Hoosiers quarterback Kellen Lewis had a rough night throwing the ball. The Hoosiers have a chance to move up by beating Michigan State at home on Saturday, but they deserved to drop.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State