Big Ten: Mitch King
Today's Take Two topic is this: Last season, defensive tackle was clearly the strongest overall position group in the Big Ten. What position will be the best throughout the league in 2012?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
There's some major star power at the position this year in the Big Ten, starting off with last year's Heisman Trophy finalist and record breaker, Wisconsin's Montee Ball. While Ball is the obvious choice for preseason offensive player of the year, he could get pushed by some other backs, including Nebraska's tough-as-nails Rex Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Even with last year's No. 2 league rusher (Iowa's Marcus Coker) gone, the position is still stacked with guys like Penn State's Silas Redd, who we both think is primed for a huge season; Michigan's Fitz Toussaint, who ran for more than 1,000 yards despite not taking over lead rushing duties until the eighth game of the season; and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, who came on strong late last season and looks great this spring.
Purdue has some very capable runners in Akeem Shavers, Akeem Hunt and Doug Gentry, and Ralph Bolden is coming back from an ACL injury. Ohio State has a potentially strong group with Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and freshman Bri'onte Dunn. Stephen Houston showed some good things for Indiana last year, and transfer Isaiah Roundtree had a big spring game. Minnesota is high on junior college import James Gillum. And don't forget James White at Wisconsin, who could start for most teams in the country.
Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern have some question marks at tailback. But overall, running back is where the Big Ten's bread will be buttered this season.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
A good choice, Bennett, as the Big Ten returns six of its top seven running backs and would have brought back all seven if not for Marcus Coker's transfer. But my experience covering this league has taught me to never overlook the defensive line. The D-line once again will be the Big Ten's strongest group in 2012.
Sure, the league loses standouts like Devon Still, Whitney Mercilus and Jerel Worthy. But you could substitute the names Aaron Maybin and Mitch King after the 2008 season, or Brandon Graham and Jared Odrick after 2009, or J.J. Watt and Corey Liuget after 2010. The Big Ten always finds ways to reload up front, and this year will be no different. There might not be as many familiar names as there are at running back, but that soon will change.
Now for some lesser-known names who could have breakout seasons. Let's start at Illinois with defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackle Akeem Spence. Buchanan is poised for a big year, as he showed in Illinois' spring game, while Spence is a next-level player who could follow Liuget's path this season. Speaking of defensive tackles, watch out for Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, a very big man who can do very big things this season. The Buckeyes' heralded incoming freshmen should only bolster their line.
Michigan loses two standout linemen (Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen), but it's hard to imagine the Wolverines falling back much at all up front. Nebraska boasts good depth at the defensive end spot and could see a big year from a guy like Cameron Meredith.
While there are some question marks around the league, including an unproven line at Iowa, teams like Northwestern and Minnesota should be improved up front.
It's not a dig at the Hawkeyes or at longtime defensive coordinator Norm Parker. Just the opposite, in fact.
But Iowa now must replace three defensive linemen selected in April's NFL draft (Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug). And at times last season, especially against spread offenses -- Arizona, Missouri, late in the Northwestern game -- Iowa's line didn't put enough pressure on the pocket, leaving some to wonder if a schematic shakeup was in order.
Could we see one this season?
I talked about this issue last week with Hawkeyes beat writer Marc Morehouse at the Big Ten spring meetings. Morehouse wrote in March about the possibility of Iowa using a 3-4 alignment more often this season. Although Iowa will remain a base 4-3, several factors suggest the defense will be more multiple.
From Morehouse's story:
Against the pass, expect Iowa to work in some 3-4 on passing downs, especially if that passer is (Blaine) Gabbert's caliber. Iowa will continue to rush four or more (but mostly four) probably 90 percent of the time, so we’re not talking wholesale philosophy change, just a tweak that would put more speed on the field.
It makes sense, especially against spread offenses that get the ball out quickly and require speedy defenders to make plays in space. Iowa struggled to generate consistent pressure against Gabbert in the Insight Bowl, forcing Parker to shake up the scheme quite a bit.
Without much proven depth on the line, Iowa might be well served by being more multiple this season. Although there are some question marks at linebacker, the group could be better and deeper if younger players like James Morris, Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and Dakota Getz continue to develop. Tyler Nielsen provides a veteran presence to build around, and Bruce Davis is back from a knee injury.
The biggest obstacle to a 3-4 is the lack of a mammoth defensive tackle. Iowa's tackles typically are a bit undersized, which has worked out well with players like Mitch King, Matt Kroul and Klug. Redshirt freshman Carl Davis, who checks in north of 300 pounds, is the only lineman who could fit the traditional 3-4 tackle mold.
Still, the depth issues up front combined with the potential at linebacker suggest we could see more flavors from a vanilla Hawkeyes defense this season.
No. 23: Karl Klug, Sr., DT, Iowa, Sr., 6-4, 258
2009 numbers: Led Big Ten defensive tackles in tackles with 65 (ranked 49th overall in the league); finished second on the Hawkeyes in tackles for loss (13) and recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups.
Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.
Making the case for Klug: Adrian Clayborn gets most of the hype on Iowa's defensive line, but Klug is the glue guy. He has started only one season but has been a part of the defensive line rotation since 2008. Much like former Iowa standout Mitch King, Klug is an undersized defensive tackle who consistently makes his way into the offensive backfield, recording 18 tackles for loss and six sacks in his career. As several standout defensive tackles (Jared Odrick, Mike Neal, Doug Worthington) depart the Big Ten and others move into primarily pass-rushing spots (J.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward), Klug has a chance to be the league's top interior defensive lineman. Head coach Kirk Ferentz singled out Klug this spring, telling me, "If you surveyed any 10 of our players now, at least nine of them would tell you, maybe 10, that Karl Klug is one of our best leaders and one of our best players."
In case you missed it: Iowa's best case-worst case.
Best-case synopsis: Iowa picks up where it left off last fall, overcomes a brutal road schedule and shows improvement on both sides of the ball. The team's young running backs fill in after the loss of Shonn Greene, and an improved pass rush helps a playmaking defense slow down opponents. Iowa goes 3-2 on the road, including an upset of Penn State, reaches the top 15 and finishes 10-2 before going on to a win against LSU in the Capital One Bowl.
Worst-case synopsis: The personnel losses combined with the rough road schedule proves too much for Iowa, which tumbles to a 5-7 finish. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi throws too many interceptions but gets little help from a Greene-less run game. Iowa struggles with injuries and doesn't many nearly as many plays on defense. Iowa goes 0-5 away from Kinnick Stadium and drops home contests against Northwestern and Minnesota. Off-field problems continue to hurt the program.
You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "The Hawkeyes pave the road in black and gold, the defensive line holds together and 'Stanzi is the Manzi' T-shirts are worn all across the state." ... "Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gets the message after his depth-chart demotion." ... "The defense misses tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but an improved pass rush combined with more playmaking from linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, cornerback Amari Spievey and others more than makes up for it." ... "Iowa then ruins Mike Stoops' homecoming and takes care of Arizona." ... "Iowa doesn't flinch in front of the 'Whiteout' crowd, upsetting the Nittany Lions." ... "Stanzi records double digits in picks." ... "The season begins with a too-close-for-comfort win against Northern Iowa." ... "Iowa recovers against Indiana but drops its third consecutive home game to Northwestern." ... "[Bryan] Bulaga and Spievey bolt for the NFL."
Lies, lies, lies: "Running backs Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson find plenty of daylight." ... "The Hawkeyes easily handle Northern Iowa in the opener." ... "Stanzi makes sure the team avoids a letdown against Arkansas State." ... "Iowa overcomes its recent demons against Northwestern." ... "After squeaking by Arizona, Iowa heads to Happy Valley and pays the price for last year's upset at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State rolls the Hawkeyes by 20 points, giving Nittany Nation bragging rights on the Big Ten blog." ... "A bowl-bound Minnesota team then comes to Kinnick Stadium and rolls to a win." ... "The run defense crumbles without King and Kroul." ... "Left tackle Bryan Bulaga returns for his senior season."
Reality check: Iowa actually exceeded the best-case scenario, not only going 10-2 but reaching the FedEx Orange Bowl rather than the Capital One Bowl. A win against Georgia Tech capped a storybook season for the Hawkeyes, who overcame tons of adversity and went 4-1 on the road, including wins in State College and Madison. Stanzi was a mixed bag, throwing 14 interceptions in the first three quarters of games but coming up huge in the fourth. The defense continued its playmaking ways as end Adrian Clayborn became a superstar. The Hawkeyes restored themselves among the Big Ten's elite and set up a potential league title push in 2010.
Here are a few things that stood out to me.
The Big Surprise
Let me preface this by saying Penn State's Jared Odrick is an outstanding player, the best defensive tackle in the Big Ten and most likely a future star in the NFL. But I was extremely surprised to see the coaches select Odrick as both Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year. I had a similar reaction to seeing the media pick Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor as preseason Offensive Player of the Year.
In what might have been the most competitive Defensive POY race ever, Odrick wasn't on the radar for most people. If the award would go to a Penn State player, linebacker Navorro Bowman appeared to be the No. 1 choice. Bowman was in the mix with linebacker Greg Jones, end Brandon Graham, end O'Brien Schofield, safety Kurt Coleman, linebacker Pat Angerer, end Adrian Clayborn and end Ryan Kerrigan.
Odrick is a great player who commands double teams on almost every play, but how do you ignore Graham, who had 25 tackles for loss on a bad defense? Or Jones, who makes every tackle on the field? Or Coleman, the top playmaker on the league's best defense? And if the coaches think interior line play is underappreciated, they should have voted Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King, not Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis, as Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. King was much more of a difference maker than Laurinaitis last fall.
Again, nothing against Odrick, but this pick was a head scratcher.
Other thoughts and notes
- It's not a huge surprise, but Ohio State's lack of representation on the first-team All-Big Ten squads certainly stands out. The Buckeyes had only one player (Coleman) on the coaches' ballot and only two (Coleman and guard Justin Boren) on the media's. This certainly strengthens Jim Tressel's case for Coach of the Year, an award he has never won.
- For the most part, the selections didn't penalize players who missed time because of injuries. Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga was a consensus first-team selection and Offensive Lineman of the Year despite missing three games (thyroid). Bulaga's teammate, tight end Tony Moeaki, also made All-Big Ten (first-team coaches, second-team media) despite missing time (ankle). Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker was a first-team pick by the coaches even though he missed the final four regular-season games. Northwestern cornerback Sherrick McManis, Iowa guard Dace Richardson and Penn State linebacker Sean Lee also earned all-conference honors despite sitting out games.
- Both the coaches and the media identified the top eight defensive linemen in the league for the first and second teams. They also did a nice job with the defensive backs. The second-team linebacker selections were a little curious. I don't know how Ohio State's Brian Rolle or Indiana's Matt Mayberry get left out.
- Iowa's Adam Robinson would have been a good pick for second-team running back, but I don't have a major problem with the selections.
- Northwestern finally got some recognition this year with five All-Big Ten selections. The Wildcats won one more game last year (9-3) but had only one All-Big Ten player (defensive end Corey Wootton).
- The coaches' voting was very close, as three positions (defensive back, center and wide receiver) ended up with ties.
- Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark was the right choice for the first team. It was a very close call between Northwestern's Mike Kafka and Purdue's Joey Elliott for second team, but Kafka led his team to more wins.
- Both the coaches and media got it right with Wisconsin's Chris Borland for Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Borland is the first defensive player to win the award since Purdue safety Stuart Schweigert in 2000.
- The selections include 15 members of the first or second team from 2008, including seven first-team selections from last fall who are on this year's first team: Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko, Jones, Decker, Bowman, Clark and Odrick, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham.
Michigan State: 4
Ohio State: 6
Penn State: 9
On the surface, it seems like little has changed for the Big Ten at halftime of the 2009 season.
Once again, the league is struggling for national respect after a poor nonconference performance in which members went 5-8 against BCS conference teams and Notre Dame. The Big Ten struggled in its premier intersectional matchups, falling to USC, Cal, Missouri and Oregon and dropping two of three against Notre Dame.
|Scott Boehm/Getty Images|
|Greg Jones has five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss to go with 85 tackles, which is tops in the Big Ten.|
This is a carbon copy of 2008, right? Not exactly. Several interesting new developments have taken place through the first seven weeks.
The league's balance of power has shifted, as Iowa sits alone atop the standings. The Hawkeyes have overcome adversity to put together their best start (7-0) since 1985. Ohio State's conference hegemony is very much in doubt after last week's loss to Purdue, as Terrelle Pryor and the offense continue to sputter.
Michigan has clearly turned a page on the worst season in team history, and Rich Rodriguez's offense leads the league in scoring (37.3 ppg). The Wolverines are still searching for more signature wins but appear destined for a decent bowl. Wisconsin also has been a pleasant surprise, winning its first five games before falling on hard times, and Indiana already has eclipsed its wins total from 2008.
Michigan State is proving that its days of total meltdowns are over, rallying from a 1-3 start to win three straight.
Illinois, meanwhile, is proving that top-level recruiting classes don't translate to victories or even competitive play, as the Illini sit at 1-5.
And let's not forget the league's crackdown on player conduct, as three one-game suspensions were handed out in as many weeks.
As the second half beckons, there are several key questions: Will Iowa run the table? Will Michigan win some more big games? Will Big Ten quarterbacks pick up their play? How good is Penn State? Can Ron Zook keep his job?
The biggest unknown is whether the Big Ten can reverse its postseason fortunes. If not, it will be more of the same for an embattled league.
Offensive MVP: Minnesota WR Eric Decker
It's scary to think where Minnesota's offense would be without Decker, who leads the league in receiving yards (104.4 ypg) and ranks fourth in receptions (47) despite slowing down a bit recently. There isn't a tougher wide receiver in America than Decker, who still struggles for national respect but has the admiration of every coach in this league. There honestly aren't many strong candidates here, but honorable mentions go to Wisconsin running back John Clay, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier and Purdue wideout Keith Smith.
Defensive MVP: Michigan State LB Greg Jones
A lot of good choices here, but the Big Ten's preseason Defensive Player of the Year gets the nod for backing up the hype. After leading Michigan State in tackles in each of his first two seasons, Jones leads the Big Ten with 85 stops, eight more than any other player. His tackles total also leads the nation and Jones has recorded five sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. Honorable mentions go to Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield, Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman, Iowa safety Tyler Sash, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren and Indiana defensive end Jammie Kirlew.
Biggest surprise: Iowa
The Hawkeyes brought back a good team from 2008, but they also lost the nation's best running back (Shonn Greene) and two of their top defenders (tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul). A brutal road schedule and a season-ending knee injury to running back Jewel Hampton before the season further tempered expectations. But it seems like the more adversity Iowa faces, the better it responds. The nation's most resilient team has come from behind six times in its seven victories and finds itself in the driver's seat for the Big Ten title.
Biggest disappointment: Illinois
For the second straight year, the talented Illini teased us, only to fall flat. But unlike last year's team, which showed flashes of its potential, Illinois has been a disaster pretty much from the opening kickoff against Missouri. Senior quarterback Juice Williams already has lost and then regained his starting job, wideout Arrelious Benn still doesn't have a touchdown catch and the defense has struggled without middle linebacker Martez Wilson. Zook is facing his fourth losing season in five years, a stretch that could end his tenure in Champaign.
Best game: Notre Dame at Michigan, Sept. 12
Two of college football's most tradition-rich programs produced a dandy at Michigan Stadium. The game featured several plot twists, tremendous offensive play on both sides, a questionable coaching decision from Charlie Weis and a gutsy game-winning drive led by Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier. Other memorable contests include Michigan-Michigan State, Michigan-Iowa, USC-Ohio State, Purdue-Oregon, Michigan State-Notre Dame, Indiana-Michigan and Notre Dame-Purdue.
Best coach: Iowa's Kirk Ferentz
Ferentz built his reputation on maximizing talent, and after a three-year lull from 2005-07, he's doing it again. Iowa has picked up where it left off after a strong finish to last season and extended the nation's-second longest win streak to 11 games. Ferentz and his staff have filled in the gaps along the defensive line, put their faith in quarterback Ricky Stanzi and received decent play from young running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. It hasn't been easy for Iowa, but Ferentz is finding ways to win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
You'll have to wait a little longer for our comprehensive midseason reviews, but Brett from Hoboken, N.J., had a good suggestion:
Hey Adam,You have some great weekly features on here to follow up that weeks games. There is one, however, that i've seen on other boards that i think you should start: The player of the year race updates. This, along with other award updates and current standings(in your opinion) would be a great read. Plus, i am selfish and want to see defensive player of the year and where coleman may stand!
Big Ten coaches and media members vote on the following awards: Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Lineman of the Year, Defensive Lineman of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Coach of the Year.
I left out offensive lineman and defensive lineman of the year for now, but I'll weigh in on those at a later date. Here are the top candidates for the other awards.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Minnesota WR Eric Decker -- Leads the Big Ten in both receptions (46) and receiving yards (689) and ranks third nationally in receiving yards and seventh in receptions average (7.7 receptions per game). Arguably the toughest receiver in America, Decker has carried the Gophers offense at times.
Wisconsin RB John Clay -- The lone Big Ten running back to average more than 100 rush yards a game, Clay ranks 17th nationally in rushing average (106.8 yards per game). He also leads the league with seven rushing touchdowns this year.
Penn State QB Daryll Clark -- Clark had a rough night against Iowa and will need to pick things up against better opponents down the stretch, but he certainly remains in contention here. The senior leads the league in pass efficiency (143 rating) and carried the offense before the line and the run game got going.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Ohio State S Kurt Coleman -- He leads the league in forced fumbles per game (.6), ranks eighth in tackles (8.6 tackles per game) and fifth in interceptions per game (.4). Coleman had an electrifying 89-yard interception return for a touchdown last week, and he has set the tone for the Big Ten's best defense.
Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield -- Schofield has been the Big Ten's best defensive lineman and one of the best in the country. He leads the nation with 14.5 tackles for loss and leads the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks. Schofield also has forced two fumbles and has recorded 33 tackles.
Iowa S Tyler Sash -- The sophomore has proved that last year was no fluke, once again leading the Big Ten with five interceptions. Sash is showing he can do more than pick off passes, ranking 12th in the league in tackles (7.8 tpg). He also ranks second in total passes defended with nine.
Michigan State LB Greg Jones -- The preseason Defensive Player of the Year has lived up to his hype, leading the Big Ten and ranking third nationally in tackles (11.8 tpg). Jones also is tied for seventh in the Big Ten in sacks and has a fumble recovery.
Michigan CB Donovan Warren -- Warren has been the league's top corner and one of the best in the country. He leads the Big Ten in passes defended (10) and ties for second in interceptions (3), including a pick-six last week against Iowa. Though Michigan's defense has a ton of holes, Warren isn't one of them.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Michigan QB Tate Forcier -- Despite some recent struggles, Forcier has been brilliant for the Wolverines, particularly in the clutch. He led game-winning touchdown drives against both Notre Dame and Indiana and rallied Michigan from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit at Michigan State.
Iowa RB Adam Robinson -- Robinson has done a very solid job filling in for the injured Jewel Hampton as Iowa is certainly surviving without Shonn Greene. The redshirt freshman ranks fourth in the league in rushing average (71.5 ypg) and has scored four touchdowns.
Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy -- The redshirt freshman is tied for second in the league in sacks with 4.5, tops among defensive tackles. He has six tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries for the Spartans this year.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Iowa's Kirk Ferentz -- Ferentz has Iowa off to its best start (6-0) since 1985, when the team won the Big Ten title and advanced to the Rose Bowl. Despite losing their best offensive player (Greene) and their two best defenders (tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul), the Hawkeyes are making plays and gaining confidence, especially in close games.
Wisconsin's Bret Bielema -- Bielema made accountability a bigger theme throughout the program after an extremely disappointing 2008 season, and the results are showing. A team with questions at quarterback, wide receiver and every defensive position started 5-0 and outplayed Ohio State for part of last week's game. Wisconsin is still prone to too many mistakes, but Bielema has corrected the big-picture problems that plagued his team in 2008.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A seed of doubt crept into Adrian Clayborn's mind as Arizona lined up for first-and-goal at the Iowa 1-yard line in a Sept. 19 game. The odds favored an offensive touchdown. Most likely a rushing touchdown.
What came next? A Nic Grigsby run for a loss of two yards followed by two incomplete passes. Field goal. Thanks for playing.
Surely the streak would end two weeks later at Penn State, as the Nittany Lions entered Iowa territory five times. Penn State never got closer than the 11-yard line and wound up with only one Collin Wagner field goal.
"They had us back down in the red zone and we came up big with stops," said Clayborn, Iowa's star junior defensive end.
At least Penn State running back Evan Royster knows what it feels like to notch a rushing touchdown against the Hawkeyes. He had a 2-yard scoring run in the second quarter of last year's game in Iowa City. One quarter later, his teammate Derrick Williams ran one in from nine yards out.
Since then? Nothing.
Iowa has painted its own goal line in black and gold. If an opponent wishes to cross it, they had better not try on the ground.
The Hawkeyes haven't allowed a rushing touchdown for 33 consecutive quarters, the final 13 last season and the first 20 of 2009. The amazing streak epitomizes a defense that ranks 10th nationally in points allowed (13.4 ppg) and is the biggest reason for Iowa's first 5-0 start since 1995.
Iowa puts its streak on the line Saturday night when its hosts Michigan at Kinnick Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
"It’s astounding," Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez said. "Normally, you maybe get a quarterback sneak or something in the goal line where you get in there. To have 33 straight quarters, an eight- or nine-game span, is really quite remarkable."
Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz added, "I’m not a good one on streaks and records, but I know this: it’s a good thing."
The third installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
The Hawkeyes pave the road in black and gold, the defensive line holds together and "Stanzi is the Manzi" T-shirts are worn all across the state.
No Shonn Greene? No problem for Iowa, which continues its momentum from 2008. Junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi blossoms after a season of trial-and-error, and running backs Jewel Hampton and Jeff Brinson find plenty of daylight behind the Big Ten's best offensive line. Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos gets the message after his depth-chart demotion and earns All-Big Ten honors. The defense misses tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, but an improved pass rush combined with more playmaking from linebacker Pat Angerer, safety Tyler Sash, cornerback Amari Spievey and others more than makes up for it.
The Hawkeyes easily handle Northern Iowa in the opener before heading to a place they hate -- Jack Trice Stadium. Wins are never easy in Ames, but Stanzi steps up and delivers big as the visitors roll 31-7. Iowa then ruins Mike Stoops' homecoming and takes care of Arizona, setting up the matchup the two most vocal fan bases on this blog have waited for -- Sept. 26 at Penn State. The sight of 185-pound kicker Daniel Murray makes Penn State fans tremble, and Iowa doesn't flinch in front of the "Whiteout" crowd, upsetting the Nittany Lions by a touchdown. The Big Ten blog server crashes after being flooded with celebratory Hawkeye fans.
Stanzi makes sure the team avoids a letdown against Arkansas State, and the defense shuts out Michigan as Adrian Clayborn introduces himself to the Wolverines' quarterbacks. Iowa splits its next two road games, against Michigan State and Wisconsin, before posting another shutout against Indiana on Halloween. Now ranked in the top 15, Iowa overcomes its recent demons against Northwestern as Angerer knocks one of the Wildcats' running backs from the game in a convincing win.
Can't see Iowa winning in Columbus, but the team finishes with a very respectable 3-2 road record. To celebrate, the Hawkeyes beat Minnesota 55-0 for the second straight year. At 10-2, Iowa heads back to Florida for the Capital One Bowl and Stanzi does his best Drew Tate impression, throwing the game-winning touchdown pass against LSU. The Hawkeyes finish No. 8 nationally, left tackle Bryan Bulaga returns for his senior season
and NFL teams leave head coach Kirk Ferentz alone for a change.
Iowa is left seeing red without Greene, Stanzi records double digits in picks and the run defense crumbles without King and Kroul.
Hampton's knee never fully heals, and the offensive line doesn't jell without several key pieces early in the season. The Hawkeyes are forced into third-and-long situations, and Stanzi continues to take the risks that plagued him at times last season. There's friction with DJK and converted quarterback Marvin McNutt struggles to be a No. 1 wideout. Opponents quickly spot the holes in Iowa's defense, and the young tackles pegged to replace King and Kroul inside simply aren't up to the task. The secondary struggles to replicate its playmaking prowess from 2008, and Iowa's bad habits in close games resurface. Injuries crop up on both sides of the ball, and the program gets more bad press for off-field issues.
The season begins with a too-close-for-comfort win against Northern Iowa, a strong FCS program. Then disaster strikes once again in Ames, as a horrible Iowa State team upsets the Hawkeyes 10-9 in a rainstorm. It marks Iowa's fifth loss in its last six trips to Jack Trice Stadium. After squeaking by Arizona, Iowa heads to Happy Valley and pays the price for last year's upset at Kinnick Stadium. Penn State rolls the Hawkeyes by 20 points, giving Nittany Nation bragging rights on the Big Ten blog.
After pounding Arkansas State, the Hawkeyes survive a scare against Michigan. The team hits the road again and struggles, as Bret Bielema gets revenge for last year's drubbing and Michigan State wins another close one in East Lansing. Iowa recovers against Indiana but drops its third consecutive home game to Northwestern. Needing to split its final two games to make the postseason, Iowa can't keep pace with Ohio State. A bowl-bound Minnesota team then comes to Kinnick Stadium and rolls to a win, as wideout Eric Decker hauls in four touchdowns and two Gophers fans are arrested doing naughty things in a bathroom.
The 5-7 clunker raises doubts about Ferentz's leadership, Bulaga and Spievey bolt for the NFL and the program wastes the momentum it generated last fall.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ever since the Big Ten extended its BCS bowl losing streak to six games in January, I've predicted that the league will produce only one BCS selection from the 2009 season. I'm sticking with the prediction now, but I'm not nearly as sure of it.
As much as the Big Ten has slipped in the eyes of the nation, its teams remain extremely attractive to bowl committees. With enormous and passionate fan bases that are willing to travel, Big Ten teams could get the nod over higher-rated squads from, say, the Pac-10. It'd be awfully hard to turn down a 10-2 team from Penn State or Ohio State.
Here's how I see things shaking out this fall:
Bowl bound? Count on it
Best case: A more polished Terrelle Pryor leads Ohio State past USC on Sept. 12 and dominates the Big Ten schedule to earn a spot in the national title game as an undefeated team.
Worst case: If the offense stalls and the defense can't replace several stars, Ohio State will drop three games and fall to the Outback Bowl.
Prediction: Rose Bowl
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: The Lions fill their holes in the secondary and along the offensive line and capitalize on a favorable schedule to run the table, earning them a spot in the BCS title game.
Worst case: If Penn State can't reload and suffers a key injury or two, especially to star quarterback Daryll Clark, it could lose 4-5 games and fall to the Alamo Bowl.
Prediction: Capital One
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: Jewel Hampton makes people forget about Shonn Greene and the Hawkeyes begin a rough road slate by beating Penn State in Happy Valley. Iowa won't go unscathed on the road but ends up sharing the Big Ten title and earning an at-large BCS berth.
Worst case: If Iowa can't overcome the losses of Greene and defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, it could finish 7-5 and slip to the Champs Sports or Insight bowls.
Bowl bound? Count on it.
Best case: The Spartans reload in the offensive backfield and capitalize on a schedule that doesn't include Ohio State to win 10 games.
Worst case: If the offense stalls and Michigan State struggles at the line of scrimmage, the team could backslide to six or seven wins.
Bowl bound? Count on it
Best case: Mike Kafka becomes a complete quarterback and the Wildcats reload at running back and wide receiver, taking advantage of a favorable schedule to win 9-10 games.
Worst case: If Kafka falters and the defense takes a step back, Northwestern could finish right around the .500 mark.
Prediction: At-large bowl berth (Texas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Eagle Bank Bowl)
Bowl bound: Count on it
Best case: The quarterback issues sort themselves out and running back John Clay plows through defenders as Wisconsin capitalizes on a soft schedule to win nine games.
Worst case: If the problems under center continue and the Badgers can't fill holes on defense, they could be fighting for their bowl lives again.
Prediction: Champs Sports
Bowl bound? Possibly
Best base: Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn lead the Big Ten's most dynamic offense, while linebacker Martez Wilson becomes a star as Illinois notches several signature wins and reaches a January bowl game.
Worst case: If the defense doesn't improve and the team chemistry problems linger, Illinois could miss a bowl again.
Bowl bound: Possibly
Best case: Freshman Tate Forcier takes his first step toward stardom and Michigan's defense clicks in Greg Robinson's system, as the Wolverines start 4-0 and finish with eight wins.
Worst case: If the offense falls apart again, Michigan could miss a bowl for the second straight season.
Prediction: Motor City
Bowl bound: Possibly
Best case: The Big Ten's most experienced team transitions seamlessly to a new offense, upsets Cal at home on Sept. 20 and becomes the league's surprise team, winning 9-10 games.
Worst case: If the offensive line doesn't come together and the defense struggles against the run, Minnesota won't go bowling.
Prediction: At-large bowl berth (Texas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Eagle Bank Bowl)
Bowl bound: Forget about it
Best case: A strong stable of running backs lead the way on offense and Purdue fills in the gaps on defense to win seven games and head to Detroit.
Worst case: Too many young players and too much transition could keep the Boilers out of the postseason for the second straight year.
Prediction: Home for the holidays
Bowl bound: Forget about it
Best case: A veteran defense finally steps up and lets the offense find its rhythm without Kellen Lewis, as Indiana scratches out 6-7 wins.
Worst case: If Indiana can't stop the run and endures another swell of
injuries, it will be lucky to win five games this fall.
Prediction: Home for the holidays
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
August is upon us.
My summer wedding tour is finally over -- a belated congrats to Mara and Elia! - so I'm all yours for the rest of the fall. The endless wait for Big Ten football reaches a milestone this week as four Big Ten teams begin training camp.
As players return to the field in Champaign, Iowa City, Bloomington and West Lafayette, let's take a look at three key questions for each team at the start of camp. Part II arrives next week as the final seven Big Ten squads open camp.
Camp opens: Thursday
1. Who takes the early lead in the competition at running back?
Head coach Ron Zook praised senior Daniel Dufrene last week at Big Ten media days, though sophomores Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure appeared to have the inside track coming out of spring ball.
2. Can Martez Wilson establish himself as Illinois' defensive general, and will he have any help?
The move to middle linebacker should benefit Wilson, who has yet to match his recruiting hype at Illinois. The Illini are also looking for playmakers in the secondary after losing star corner Vontae Davis.
3. Did the Illini ace their chemistry class?
There's little doubt that Illinois has the talent to contend for a New Year's Day bowl and possibly a Big Ten title, but team chemistry was not a strong suit last year. Team leaders say they have turned a page and bonded during the offseason. Now is the time to prove it.
Camp opens: Friday
1. Is the pistol offense ready to shoot down opposing defenses?
Quarterback Ben Chappell and his teammates have welcomed the shift to the pistol, which should spark Indiana's rushing attack. The competition at running back between Bryan Payton, Demetrius McCray and heralded redshirt freshman Darius Willis should provide plenty of intrigue.
2. Who will be 100 percent and are there any lingering injury concerns?
Injuries wiped out much of Indiana's two-deep last fall, and several key players missed part or all of spring ball with injuries. This is a much better team when players like Austin Thomas, Nick Polk, Deonte Mack and Chris Hagerup are on the field.
3. Who will emerge as a legit playmaker?
Whether or not Kellen Lewis' dismissal was addition by subtraction in the locker room, his presence will be missed on the field. Lewis' name appeared at the top of every opposing defense's scouting report, and the Hoosiers need to find a bona fide playmaker this summer.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
They're baaaaack. Many of you who checked out colleague Heather Dinich's ACC position rankings asked when I'd be doing the same for the Big Ten. Well, Big Ten media days are done and we have a bit of a break before the first preseason practice begins Aug. 6 at Illinois. This seems like the perfect time to rank the positions heading into the season.
Defensive line is up first. There's only one elite group on paper, but no truly bad units, either. Really not much difference between Nos. 4-11.
1. Ohio State -- The group has drawn comparisons to the 2002 line that helped Ohio State win a national title. Ohio State looks loaded at defensive end with Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Lawrence Wilson, a one-time starter who comes off of two major leg injuries. Gibson should have a big year after coming on strong late last fall. The tackles have been a bit iffy in recent years, but Doug Worthington boasts a ton of experience and should shore up the middle with Todd Denlinger, Dexter Larimore and Garrett Goebel.
2. Penn State -- Larry Johnson's body of work is simply too powerful to overlook, even though Penn State loses a lot from a group that led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally against the run (93.2 ypg). Jared Odrick is the Big Ten's most dominant interior defensive lineman, and he'll lead a group of promising young players. Hopes are extremely high for sophomore end Jack Crawford, and juniors Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore hold down the other end spot. Depth is a bit of a question, but Penn State should get a boost from a healthy Jerome Hayes.
3. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are another team dealing with major personnel losses as four-year starting tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. But what Iowa loses inside, it makes up for on the edges with ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Clayborn recorded eight tackles for loss last year and should contend for All-Big Ten honors. It'll be interesting to see how Karl Klug and Mike Daniels adjust to playing more on the inside.
4. Northwestern -- A lot depends on Corey Wootton's durability after the senior defensive end tore his ACL in December. Wootton is probably the Big Ten's most versatile lineman, applying pressure to quarterbacks and also clogging pass lanes with his 6-foot-7 frame. Sophomore Vince Browne is primed for a big season at the other end spot. Replacing standout tackle John Gill won't be easy, but the Wildcats have veterans in Corbin Bryant, Marshall Thomas and Adam Hahn.
5. Wisconsin -- I'm taking a bit of a chance here, seeing how the Badgers lose three multiyear starters up front. But the line dominated Wisconsin's offseason program and boasts several exciting pieces, including Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt, who can play either end or tackle. O'Brien Schofield is a solid leader at defensive end, and young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu should blossom.
6. Illinois -- The Illini lose their top four sacks leaders from last year, but they should be much better against the run, an area that really hurt the defense in 2008. With Josh Brent back in the fold, Illinois boasts arguably more depth at defensive tackle than any Big Ten team. Corey Liguet showed a lot of potential as a true freshman, and senior Sirod Williams returns from a torn ACL. There are some questions at end aside from Doug Pilcher.
7. Michigan -- Senior end Brandon Graham should be the Big Ten's most dominant pass-rusher this fall, and if he gets some help from his teammates, he'll be even better. Michigan is very young elsewhere on the line but boasts a good deal of talent. Sophomores Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin showed promising signs in the spring, and it'll be interesting to see how much true freshman William Campbell gets on the field.
8. Michigan State -- This is the only area of Michigan State's defense that doesn't wow me, but senior end Trevor Anderson leads a decent group. Anderson should build off of a nice junior season (8 sacks, 10.5 TFLs), but the Spartans need a second pass-rusher to emerge. Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw will be missed, and it'll be up to Colin Neely, Oren Wilson and others to fill the void.
9. Minnesota -- The Gophers tied for the league lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose standout end Willie VanDeSteeg, who accounted for 10.5 of those sacks. Minnesota's strength is inside with senior tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small. If Cedric McKinley or someone else develops into a reliable pass-rusher, Minnesota should finish the year higher on the list.
10. Purdue -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finished the year much higher on the list, but there are quite a few questions entering the fall. The Boilers know what they have in end Ryan Kerrigan and tackle Mike Neal, but the other two spots are mysteries. There are high hopes for Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden, but I need to see more evidence in games before bumping up the Boilers.
11. Indiana -- We all know the Hoosiers can rush the passer with standout ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. But can Indiana stop the run? There are some major question marks at defensive tackle entering preseason camp, and Bill Lynch needs a bona fide run-stopper to emerge. Junior tackle Deonte Mack needs to step up after missing spring ball with a hip injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Three predictions for Iowa in 2009.
1. The Hawkeyes split their Big Ten road schedule -- Most teams would gladly take a 2-2 split after having to travel to Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Wisconsin, and two wins probably will be the ceiling for Iowa. Things could change if the Hawkeyes upset Penn State in Happy Valley on Sept. 26, but they get no easy trips in league play. The rough road schedule keeps Iowa out of the Big Ten title race, but the Hawkeyes will remain in position for another New Year's Day bowl.
2. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi earns All-Big Ten honors -- The run game figures to take a hit without Shonn Greene, especially if Jewel Hampton isn't 100 percent healthy, and Stanzi will be called upon to step up. Those around the league really like what they saw from the junior in 2008, and in many ways it was the perfect introduction to the spotlight. Stanzi endured growing pains last year but showed impressive resiliency after making some mistakes. He should be a more polished quarterback this fall.
3. Takeaways continue to surge, but run defense takes a step back -- Defensive coordinator Norm Parker couldn't pinpoint why Iowa had so many takeaways in 2008, but the trend will continue. Cornerback Amari Spievey and defensive end Adrian Clayborn should create more havoc this fall, and Iowa returns Big Ten interceptions leaders Pat Angerer and Tyler Sash. The Hawkeyes won't be as stout against the run after losing standout tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Your questions, my answers.
Marc from East Lansing, Mich., writes: The Spartans landed a big national recruit in William Gholston and the recruiting at MSU seems like it will only get better as the team has refocused its attention on the state and the forgotten talent in Detroit. Dantonio said he wasn't going anywhere. Sparty has gone bowling the last two seasons and seems like a team on the rise. With the improving recruiting classes, a coach that knows what he is doing, and great support from alumni, donors and students how long, if ever, will it be till the Spartans are consistent contenders for the conference title. Not like Northwestern in 95/96, Illinois in 2001 but real contenders every year like an Ohio St.
Adam Rittenberg: I like your optimism, Marc. Michigan State certainly is headed in the right direction, and Dantonio's commitment to the program bodes very well for the future. The Spartans definitely need to notch a few more signature wins before they're considered a perennial Big Ten title contender, but as Wisconsin and Iowa have shown in the last two decades, it's possible to compete with Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. I'm curious to see how Michigan State handles changes in the coaching staff. Dantonio has been very fortunate to keep his staff together, but departures are inevitable, especially if the Spartans keep winning. If MSU can survive the losses of a few key coaches and maintain its recruiting momentum, it will be among the Big Ten's elite for years to come.
Neal from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, I have been going through the preseason magazines and am a bit puzzled. no one has Iowa ranked higher than fourth and many of them justify this by saying that, although the team boasts plenty of solid players and isn't really weak at any one position, the schedule is to brutal for them. I will concede ISU will always be tougher than it should be and at Madison will be especially tough, but MSU really doesn't seem to scary this year and playing OSU the week before the Michigan game can't hurt. PSU is tricky but Iowa has played them very well in recent history and they aren't completely impervious. I am not saying the Hawkeyes will go undefeated but would you agee that the schedule is the only thing people are nervous about with this team?
Adam Rittenberg: A big reason why I don't put too much stock in preseason mags is because so much is based on returning starters vs. starters lost and the team schedules. Those are the things we know. It's what we don't know about a given team that changes the outlook for the season. For example, few thought Shonn Greene would be among the Big Ten's best running backs last year, much less the best back in the country. If you look at Iowa heading into 2009, the road schedule looks brutal. Can't sugarcoat it. A trip to Wisconsin appears to be the easiest game, and that's saying something. But as you point out, Iowa has played Penn State well in recent years, and a win in Happy Valley would give the Hawks a ton of confidence. Iowa won't be favored heading into that game, but the Hawkeyes can win. I don't think the schedule is the only concern with Iowa. The Hawks must replace Greene's production and perhaps more importantly, find two defensive tackles to replace Mitch King and Matt Kroul.
Tom from Charlotte writes: Do you think Bret Bielema regrets his decision to fire Mike Hankwitz?
Adam Rittenberg: I don't, Tom, and here's why. Bielema had a tough call to make with Hankwitz and Dave Doeren. If he didn't promote Doeren, he probably would have lost him to another team, maybe even to Northwestern (who was interested). Doeren is a lot younger than Hankwitz and has a lot of potential as a coordinator and perhaps a future head coach. I think Bielema sees a lot of himself in Doeren, as the two have similar backgrounds. It wasn't easy to fire Hankwitz, a proven coach on the defensive side. And without a doubt Hankwitz made a huge impression at Northwestern last fall. But Bielema made a tough call and he could still benefit if Wisconsin's defense makes strides under Doeren this fall.
Aditya from Bangalore, India, writes: who will retire first? Paterno, Bowden, or Farve?
Adam Rittenberg: Great question, Aditya. Don't get me started on Brett Favre, and JoePa could coach at least another two years, if his health holds up. I'll go with Bobby Bowden, though I might retire before any of these men decide to hang it up.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Every Big Ten title contender will need production from some new sources to reach the pinnacle this fall, and Iowa is no exception. Though the Hawkeyes return a lot of experience on defense, a seasoned quarterback in Ricky Stanzi and several veteran offensive linemen, they'll be looking to newcomers for contributions.
In the coming weeks, I'll examine three newcomers to watch from each Big Ten team. Iowa is up first.
OFFENSE -- Keenan Davis, WR, Fr.
Iowa loses two of its two three pass-catchers from 2008, and there are opportunities to step up in the passing game. Davis comes to Iowa with a good deal of hype after twice earning all-state honors at Washington High School in Cedar Rapids. He boasts excellent size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) and will spend the summer in Iowa's training program. Marvin McNutt's spring surge up the depth chart suggests the competition at wide receiver is fairly wide open, and Davis could get on the field immediately and play a key role.
DEFENSE -- Mike Daniels, DT, So.
Daniels isn't exactly a newcomer after appearing in eight games last fall as a reserve, but his limited production qualifies him as a fresh face to watch. It's no secret Iowa's biggest holes come at defensive tackle after the losses of Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Daniel entered the spring listed as a starter opposite Karl Klug and should play a bunch this fall. Like King, Daniel isn't huge for a defensive tackle (6-1, 267), and it be will interesting to see whether he can clog running lanes.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- Brandon Wegher, RB, Fr.
You have to imagine Iowa will find a spot for Wegher on special teams, possibly as a kick return man. Running back Jewel Hampton and wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos were listed as starting kick returners on the spring depth chart, but both men are projected as starters. Head coach Kirk Ferentz might not want to risk an injury with either of those two, and Wegher could do some damage. He comes in as arguably Iowa's most heralded recruit after rushing for 105 touchdowns in high school.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State