Big Ten: Nick Foles

Big Ten mailblog

February, 14, 2012
What's on your mind on this Valentine's Day?

Eric from Flagstaff, Ariz., writes: My friend and I are die hard fans of Michigan teams, he a Michigan fan and I an MSU fan. He belittles Sparty every chance he gets. We were having a debate about where the teams would finish next season. He said Michigan is a lock for the Rose Bowl and MSU won't get any higher than the Insight Bowl. I said MSU would make the Rose Bowl and Michigan would make the Capital One Bowl. Can you blame me? MSU won't win every game and I realize that, but they have OSU, Neb and ND at home where Michigan has to travel to all of those. Plus they have Alabama too. Sure, Michigan State will be starting a new QB, but Maxwell has been on the team for 3 years now. He's ready to start, plus with the receiving corps coming in, and not to mention the best defense in the B1G, its hard for me to see how Michigan is in a better spot. Michigan might be an improved team with a worse record. OSU and Nebraska on the road will kill their chances in the B1G next season me thinks. Who's MORE CORRECT?

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, love the debate. I get that fans are fans, but no team is a "lock" for the Rose Bowl. Especially a team that opens against Alabama and plays Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State on the road. Both Michigan schools have some holes to fill, but I like Michigan State's potential because of the defense that returns. The Spartans are building something special on the defensive side and loading up on athletes rather than just big bodies. I could honestly see both of these teams being better teams with worse records than 2011. While I think MSU ends up in a better bowl than Insight, both teams have some question marks but also plenty of talent. I could easily see the Big Ten title coming down to the Spartans-Wolverines game at the Big House.

Lance S. from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Adam, you keep saying that you don't see the need for automatic bids for the top conferences in a playoff system. So are you saying you'd rather see a playoff between 3 SEC teams and a Big 12 team, than one involving the SEC, Big 12, B1G, and Pac 12 champions? I don't think anyone wants automatic bids for the Sun Belt or MAC champs, but to not give the big 4 champs (or the 6 BCS conferences if there's an 8 team playoff) just punishes the deeper, more balanced conferences. I could easily see a situation where a 2 loss B1G champ, e.g., is every bit as good as a 1 loss team from, say, the SEC East, but they'd undoubtedly get left out from any playoff based solely on BCS standings. By giving automatic bids to the champions from the power conferences, you take out the human element (and more importantly, the computer element) from the selection process. Reward teams that proved it on the field!

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I'd like to see the best four or eight teams in a playoff field. If it's a four-team field, you're not going to get league champions from every major conference. I'm fine with a selection committee that can identify the best teams through certain criteria. If it's an eight-team field, I'm more open to auto bids for league champions, although it would be nice to set up a system where leagues have to earn the right to retain auto bids. Not sure if this would be done through performance in a playoff or some other measure, but I don't need to see the ACC champion lose in the first round every year. We already get that in the BCS bowls.

Mark from Wooster, Ohio, writes: Adam usually enjoy your comments. A couple of things struck me as wrong tonight. Here is my 2nd concern.You write "If Ohio State wants to make a national championship run in 2013, its non-league schedule shouldn't stand in its way. "Seems tome just the opposite I red a lot about how strength of schedule is important to get to top of the BCS.Is it your position today that if Ohio goes undefeated in 2013 and win the conference play off that they are a shoe in to go to the national championship game?I would think having a lame nonconfrence schedule could do exactly the opposite of what you claim ( get in the way) . That a weak non-league schedule could keep it from the National championship. Seems to me like sometimes you guys take both sides of an argument depending on the day or the phase of the moon or something? Is a strong schedule a help or a hindrance in getting to the top? If strength of schedule is important why do you state that OSU's 2013 schedule won't stand in the way?

Adam Rittenberg: Mark, it's not about taking both sides of the argument. The answer ultimately depends on the circumstances of a given season. But in most seasons, there's one very simple way for teams not from the SEC to reach the title game: go undefeated. While it's possible an undefeated Big Ten team could be left out, history shows it's highly unlikely. A softer non-league schedule increases the chance Ohio State goes undefeated.

The strength of schedule argument likely would only make a difference if we're comparing 1-loss teams. The Big Ten likely would have a decent overall SOS, and besides, there are so few undefeated teams every year that it's hard to believe a 13-0 Ohio State team wouldn't reach the title game. This isn't college basketball, and while I'd love to see teams challenge themselves more, teams from leagues like the Big Ten rarely if ever pay the price for softer non-league scheduling. Ask Oregon how playing LSU in the opener worked out in its quest to return to the national title game this past season. Granted, the Ducks lost another game to USC, but had Oregon played a patsy instead of LSU in Week 1, it would have entered the USC game with a great chance to reach the title game.

Jon from Ithaca, N.Y., writes: How come Kirk Cousins doesn't seem to be getting the same draft hype as Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, and even Brock Osweiler? Cousins had a strong season behind a shaky offensive line in a pro-style offense. He was sensational in the final minutes of the Georgia game, but seems to be flying under the radar, much like Ricky Stanzi did last year... Where do you think we can expect Cousins to be drafted?

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, this is an interesting question. The other quarterbacks are rated higher than Cousins primarily because of their size. Tannehill is 6-4, 222; Foles is 6-5, 240; and Osweiler is 6-8, 240. Cousins always has struggled to put on weight -- I wish I had that problem! -- and checks in around 205 pounds. There are durability concerns with Cousins that aren't there as much with guys like Tannehill, Osweiler and Foles, who also has an absolute cannon for an arm. Tannehill should be the first quarterback of the group to be drafted, probably in the second round. I've seen some projections list Cousins ahead of the other two and others that have him behind both Osweiler and Foles. Colleague Mel Kiper recently listed Osweiler as the best of the bunch, followed by Tannehill and Foles, although he said Cousins could make a move up the board. It looks like Cousins will go between the third and fifth rounds in April.

Matt from Midway, N.C., writes: Adam, I remember reading once that the Ohio State scholorship reductions could be spread out any way OSU wants over the next three years. Is there any truth to this because that would be great?!

Adam Rittenberg: Nope, sorry, Matt. The NCAA enforces the scholarship limit and Ohio State will have 82 scholies in each of the next three seasons.

Isaac from Stevens Point, Wis., writes: what do you think the chances are that Wisconsin opens up their playbook a little on offense this year? They just got Matt Canada who I'm pretty sure ran a spread at Northern Illinois with Harnish. They also have a pretty special group of skill guys coming back this year. And when i say special i mean different. They have three tight ends that need to be on the field, weak in WR depth, no legitimate fullback. They also have Moneyball and the ultra talented/ underutilized James White. The QB decision will obviously have a lot to do with what happens and who knows who that will be. Wisconsin has always been known as the hardnosed, pound it down your throat until it bleeds team but they did drop Wilson into shotgun this year, so its not like theyre refusing to change

Adam Rittenberg: Isaac, you bring up some interesting points. Canada has a more varied background, and while Bret Bielema hired him to keep Wisconsin's offensive structure in place, every new coordinator brings some new wrinkles to the playbook. Keep in mind the Badgers lose a tremendous athlete in Russell Wilson at quarterback, and the QB position is a major question mark right now. I completely agree Wisconsin is much stronger at tight end than at wide receiver, and Jacob Pedersen and those guys need to have big roles in Canada's offense. Montee Ball's return is huge, but Wisconsin has some question marks at quarterback, receiver, fullback and even offensive line after losing three starters. It'll be important for Canada to mix things up and not just rely on Wisconsin always has done.

Brent from State College, Pa., writes: Adam, your article on OSU's "Percy position" made me wonder: with a new coaching staff and defensive coordinator now at Penn State, will the defensive "hero (heroback) position" be relegated to the annals of history? Wasn't that moniker/position a brainchild of Coach Bradley?

Adam Rittenberg: Brent, the "hero" position actually stems from former Penn State coach Rip Engle. I wrote about it back in 2010:
The Hall of Fame coach who preceded Joe Paterno in Happy Valley didn't like the term commonly used to describe a strong safety: monster. So Engle came up with his own title.
"Rip thought that the word monster was derogatory," Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said, "so he decided to call the position hero, and we still call it that. We have a linebacker position called the Fritz linebacker. It's named after Fritz the pizza man, who used to get the team pizzas."

I haven't heard whether the new Penn State staff will keep the "hero" position or not, but it's definitely part of Penn State tradition. Drew Astorino, who played "hero" for part of his career, described it to me as a safety-linebacker hybrid who is always around the ball. New Penn State defensive coordinator Ted Roof used a nickel back spot quite a bit during his time at Auburn. I'll definitely check on whether he'll keep the "hero" spot.

Al from Port St. Lucie, Fla., writes: Your poll about the most disliked coach is stupid. Urban has not coached one game and is the most hated? He is probably the most feared coach — the vote shows envy and that is it.

Adam Rittenberg: Your last sentence could be right, and I definitely think the more disliked coaches in a league are the more successful ones. But why is the poll stupid? I think it's telling that Meyer is so disliked — or feared — without having coached a single game in the Big Ten. We've received more than 20,000 votes in less than a day, so a lot of folks don't think it's stupid.

Big Ten mailblog

July, 12, 2011
Some post-vacation mail. Keep 'em coming as another mailblog comes to you Friday.

Jeremy from Tuscaloosa, Ala., writes: Adam, When Nebraska Joined the league and the new schedules were released, they were given one of, if not THE, hardest schedule in the conference, getting OSU, PSU, and Wisc. in the crossover games. Most people said it was because they wanted to join the league immediately, and as such, since they were the new kid on the block that was the price they had to pay. Is that REALLY why they were given such a difficult schedule, or could it be that the league might secretly want Nebraska to go 5-3 or 4-4 in conference play so that any B1G/Big12 comparisons that result will favor the B1G?

Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, the conspiracy theories are out there, but I don't think the Big Ten had any ulterior motives regarding the Huskers' schedule. Look at it this way: Nebraska is the Big Ten's new shiny toy. It wants to showcase its toy right away as much as possible. Crossover matchups against marquee programs like Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State afford the league the chance to do so. Nebraska's arrival gives the Big Ten a branding opportunity -- the more marquee national matchups, the better for the league. And while there's a lot of talk about Nebraska's crossover games, many people forget the Huskers have a pretty favorable division schedule with Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern all coming to Lincoln. And division games likely will be more important than crossover games.

Chris from New York writes: Hey i was just wondering, when you do your mailbag do you just forget that Penn State is a member of the Big Ten? I like reading your blog, I think you are one of the best at remaining unbiased. That being said, I don't think I've seen you answer a question about Penn State in months. I mean come on, we got the biggest alumni (and readership potentially), give us some love? That being said, what do you think Penn State would need to do to upset Alabama? I see you ranked us with the #1 secondary, U of A lost starting qb, heisman rb, and best wr this year to the NFL, is our defense good enough this year to handle this team?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, my apologies for the lack of Penn State questions, though I highly doubt it has been months since you've seen some. In fact, I can remember answering this question before, either in a chat or a mailblog. Anyway, Penn State has to keep this a low-scoring, low-possession game and take advantage of its chances to score points. As I'm sure you recall, Penn State had opportunities to score points last year in Tuscaloosa but committed turnovers in Tide territory. That simply can't happen Sept. 10. If Penn State can keep the score in the 20-17 range and win the turnover battle, it should have a good chance for the upset.

Shawn from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hi Adam, great work on the blog. As you know, Ohio State recently vacated all of its' wins, meaning that the Big Ten Championship was a tie between Wisconsin and Michigan State. According to the rules of the tiebreaker, Michigan State would have gone to the Rose Bowl thanks to their head-to-head win over the Badgers. I know it's in the past and nothing can be changed, but this just makes me livid. If Ohio State had played by the rules last year, I would've gotten to watch my Spartans play in Pasadena. Anyway, enough of my rant. My question is, what's your outlook on the MSU-OSU game in Columbus this year? How much do OSU's missing players hurt them? Does MSU get revenge for keeping us out of the Rose Bowl?

Adam Rittenberg: Shawn, we honestly don't know what would have happened with Ohio State had Jim Tressel come forward with the violations before the season. I think it would have resulted in four-game suspensions for Terrelle Pryor and the other players, which wouldn't have impacted the Big Ten season. Would Ohio State have gone 7-1 in league play or 5-3? Tough to say. So while I understand the frustration among Spartans fans, you just don't know how things would have played out. Regarding this year's game, Ohio State will miss players such as Pryor, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and DeVier Posey against Michigan State. The Spartans' defense has an opportunity to step up in Columbus, and it likely will need to as Ohio State's defense should be strong once again. Michigan State must avoid the major mistakes it made against Ohio State three years ago in East Lansing. Protecting Kirk Cousins will be huge, and the Spartans want to get Edwin Baker going as well.

Two in a Row from The Paign, Ill., writes: The Illini have not been to bowl games in back to back years since 91-92. The last time they won back to back bowl games was the 94 Liberty Bowl and the 99 bowl. (Yes, 5 seasons between bowl games) Is this the season that the Illini break the through and go to a bowl game in back to back years AND win 2 in a row?

Adam Rittenberg: The pieces are in place for Illinois to reach back-to-back bowl games again. Illinois' schedule finally sets up well, as the Missouri game mercifully goes away and the Illini open with five consecutive home games and six of the first seven at Memorial Stadium. I also like the potential on offense with Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback and a solid line in front of him. The big keys will be filling holes on defense and avoiding letdown games like we saw last year against Minnesota and Fresno State. It's critical for Illinois to string together some solid seasons.

JB from Dallas writes: I agree with your assessment on the Ohio State response. The NCAA can impose increased sanctions but never decreases self imposed sanction. Why would you go to court for a speeding ticket and say I will assess myself 1 year in prison when the court may only give you a fine? Since the NCAA never decreases self imposed penalties, schools will always start soft. It is smart.

Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely right, JB. My point wasn't that Ohio State doesn't deserve stricter penalties. If memorabilia sales are a systematic problem that stretches back several years, Ohio State would be guilty of failure to monitor and subject to some major sanctions. But the NCAA first must put forth new allegations and then prove them, which isn't easy. Right now, the only allegations that matter are the ones outlined in the April 21 notice. Why make the problem bigger? That's the NCAA's job.

David from New Haven, Ind., writes: Adam, while I am disappointed IU never even attempted to go after a big name coach for the football program I guess getting someone from a winning program is a start. is there any reason to hope for more than just talk about winning from this guy or are they doomed to continually suck?

Adam Rittenberg: David, while Indiana didn't hire a big-name head coach for its recent vacancy, Kevin Wilson was a pretty big name in the assistant coaching ranks. Many people saw him as a guy ready to make the jump to a head-coaching job in a top conference, and Indiana provided the opportunity. I like Wilson's no-nonsense approach, and he and his staff should be able to create a more edgy attitude with the Hoosiers. I'm not worried about the long-term potential on offense. The big question with Wilson, being an offensive guy, is whether he can get Indiana's long-suffering defense on track. Indiana has hired offensive coaches before, but the defense is the unit keeping the program from turning a corner.

Mark from Atlanta writes: Adam,I know you said you'd take heat from Michigan fans for the secondary position placement, but I completely agree with you. We might even be lower on that list, unfortunately. After that abysmal season last year, do you think the return of Woolfolk and Floyd will actually be that big of a deal? Neither are really proven All-Big Ten players, they just have more experience than others. Am I in for another long season of "Oh no why is that receiver wide open?! Someone get on him!"??

Jane from Clarkston, Mich., writes: Cannot wait to prove you wrong regarding the Wolverines. I've always questioned your opinion but I will never question it again. You are just flat out wrong! Good luck Penn State you don't even have a true starting QB.I would really like to know how you draw your conclusions. Do you REALLY know anything about sports?

Adam Rittenberg: I got a kick out of this because these two responses came in within minutes of one another. It gives you a glimpse of the different opinions Bennett and I receive on a daily basis. Mark, I think Troy Woolfolk would have had a nice season in 2010 if not for the injury, but you're right that both he and J.T. Floyd must prove themselves as top Big Ten cornerbacks. Their return should help the secondary from a depth perspective, but how much will they help the entire group improve? After watching so many fundamental meltdowns the past few years, Michigan needs all of its defensive backs to step up this year. Jane, I don't know what Penn State's quarterback situation has to do with Michigan's secondary, but thanks for writing!

Dan from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam- Why does Cousins project higher than you expected? This is how they project in to the NFL. He is in a pro system and not as many colleges run that anymore. (He actually knows how to drop back from under center) In my opinion, he is about 10 times better than Hoyer was and Hoyer is making a lot of $ sitting behind Brady in NE. The other thing to note on Kiper's rankings is Nick Foles is on it. He came in the same class as Cousins and then transferred to Az. That?s one heck of a QB recruiting class for Dantonio.

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, just because a quarterback plays in a pro-style offense and knows how to drop back doesn't make him a top draft prospect. I think Cousins can get there, and he has a lot going for him, especially from the neck up. I'm a little concerned about his durability as he's not a very big guy (202 pounds). It would be nice to see him around 215. He also has to prove he can consistently perform against elite defenses. The Alabama game was tough on Cousins and the rest of the Spartans, but he'll have several chances to perform against top defenses this year (Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa, perhaps even Notre Dame). You're right about the quarterbacks in the 2007 recruiting class. Cousins and Foles are two good ones.

What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 19, 2010
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten play ...

1. Iowa's magic runs out: Those of us who closely follow Iowa undoubtedly nodded our heads as defensive end Broderick Binns scooted into the end zone with the tying touchdown against Arizona. Indeed, we had seen this all before, and it meant good things for the Hawkeyes. But Iowa's fourth-quarter magic ran out, as Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and the Wildcats' defensive line ended Iowa's hopes of another incredible road win. Iowa's faults at offensive line and cornerback were exposed, and a new weakness, special teams, also really hurt its cause early on in Tucson. Just too much inconsistency all around. The Hawkeyes' hopes for a national title run likely are over, but they still can push Ohio State and others for the Big Ten crown.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State Spartans
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan State had reason to celebrate after coach Mark Dantonio's gutsy call in overtime.
2. Mark Dantonio is a gambler: Who would have pegged Dantonio to make the gutsiest call of the year in college football? He's not exactly the Big Ten's version of Chris Petersen, but he earned some serious cred Saturday night against Notre Dame. The Jim Tressel disciple called a fake field goal in overtime, as Aaron Bates and Charlie Gantt hooked up for the game-winning 29-yard touchdown. Dantonio's tenure had been plagued by close losses, so to pull out a tight game in this manner provides a huge lift for a Michigan State program trying to join the Big Ten's elite.

3. The Big Ten has a "special" problem: Special teams breakdowns continue to be a major story line throughout a league known for stressing the kicking game. Iowa allowed a kickoff return touchdown and handed Arizona another touchdown after getting a punt blocked, not to mention missing the potential go-ahead PAT late in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin saved itself with two special-teams plays, but the Badgers also allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Ohio State, plagued by special-teams woes all season, had a punt blocked in Saturday's romp against Ohio. Minnesota took a 14-13 third-quarter lead against USC, only to give it up 12 seconds later by allowing a kick return touchdown. Michigan's place-kicking situation is a mess. There have been some special teams highlights this year, but they've been overshadowed by a surprising trend of miscues.

4. Evan Royster is in a slump: Not exactly a revelation here, but most people thought this would be the week when Royster broke out and started to look like an All-Big Ten running back again. Royster finally reached the end zone for the first time in 2010, but he recorded only 38 yards on 11 carries in Penn State's 24-0 win against Kent State. The senior has rushed for 40 yards or fewer in each of his first three games this fall. Penn State has a young quarterback, a so-so offensive line and a reduced playbook, but other running backs seem to be having more success than Royster. Penn State simply has to get him going next week against Temple before visiting Iowa on Oct. 2.

5. Michigan should expect shootouts this year: Quarterback Denard Robinson continued his brilliance Saturday against UMass and got some help from running back Michael Shaw and wide receiver Darryl Stonum. But how much longer can Michigan win in spite of a very leaky defense? The Wolverines allowed 37 points and 439 yards to the FCS Minutemen, who would have had more if not for two costly turnovers. Michigan has been fighting a numbers game on defense for years, and the recent swell of injuries and player departures isn't helping. Upcoming opponents will continue to attack a vulnerable Wolverines secondary, putting pressure on Robinson to keep working his magic.
Three sacks in a row.

How does that happen?

To "Mr. Clutch" Ricky Stanzi and No. 9 Iowa, no less.

Iowa reclaimed the fourth-quarter magic that had defined last year's run to the Orange Bowl championship. And then, just like that, it all went away in a 34-27 loss to No. 24 Arizona in the desert.

It was Arizona quarterback Nick Foles -- the Michigan State transfer -- who played the role of hero Saturday night against Iowa. Foles channeled Stanzi, brushing off a pick-six to lead an incredibly impressive game-winning drive against an Iowa defense that seemingly had regained its swagger.

Iowa had one last chance, but Stanzi couldn't get out of his own backfield as the offensive line melted down.

Iowa's two biggest concerns entering the season -- offensive line and cornerback -- were exposed in the loss to Arizona. An inexperienced offensive line really missed last year's starters, and Iowa certainly could have used cornerback Amari Spievey tonight as Foles carved up the secondary. Although the defense looked great for chunks of the second half, I expected a better performance tonight.

Special teams was the weakness no one expected to hurt the Hawkeyes, but Iowa essentially handed Arizona two touchdowns because of miscues in the kicking game. And after regaining all the momentum, Trent Mossbrucker has the go-ahead PAT attempt partially blocked. It was poor execution all around.

Would things have been different if Iowa had come all the way back to take the lead? We'll never know.

But a team can't expect to live on the edge as much as Iowa has and not tumble over the edge from time to time. Iowa played a miserable first half, and while it recovered well, there wasn't enough consistency for the win.

This is a tough blow for Iowa, which boasted a senior-laden team with legit national title aspirations. There will be a drop in the polls later today.

The good news is the Hawkeyes still can make some noise in the Big Ten and get back to a BCS bowl.
Iowa made a habit out of digging itself holes and climbing out of them in 2009.

Can the Hawkeyes continue the trend tonight at Arizona? It'll be extremely tough.

Iowa turned in its worst half in quite some time against No. 24 Arizona, as miscues in all three phases, particularly special teams, have staked the Wildcats to a 27-7 lead. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi better have some major magic left in him in the second half for Iowa to have any shot at the win.

Special teams has been a problem throughout the Big Ten this year, but Iowa's miscues really are stunning. I rated the Hawkeyes as the league's top special teams unit before the season, but they're struggling big time tonight.

Iowa's star-studded defense doesn't get a pass, either, as Arizona quarterback Nick Foles is having his way with the Hawkeyes tonight.
A new Rose Bowl access rule could prevent the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but at least the two leagues will get to know one another very well on Saturday. Three Big Ten-Pac-10 games are on the slate, as No. 18 USC visits Minnesota (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), Arizona State visits Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and No. 9 Iowa visits No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCan Arizona State's defense stand up to Wisconsin running back John Clay?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, it's been too long, my friend. The Rose Bowl seems like decades ago, although they're still celebrating in Columbus. Given the likelihood of Boise State or TCU crashing the party in Pasadena this year, it's nice to have some Pac-10-Big Ten flavor this Saturday. Let's start off with Arizona State-Wisconsin. The name Steven Threet still makes people shudder in Madison after he led Michigan to a historic comeback against Wisconsin in 2008, triggering the beginning of the end for the Badgers that year. It also turned out to be the beginning of the end for Threet in a winged helmet. He seems to be settling in very nicely so far in Tempe. What should Wisconsin expect from Threet and the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?

Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.

Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerMatt Barkley will try to exploit a Minnesota defense that gave up 258 yards to South Dakota
Miller: Here are two teams that are muddling along, though the Trojans surely feel better about 2-0 -- no matter the way they got there -- than the Gophers do with 1-1, including the loss to a team from the Dakotas. Adam, I have no idea about the Trojans. They still look great getting off the bus. They still have NFL prospects at every position. In Week 1 at Hawaii, the offense looked great, the defense terrible. In Week 2 at home versus Virginia, it was mostly the opposite. Is it a question of fire and focus in the face of NCAA sanctions? I think we won't really be able to answer that question until the Pac-10 schedule starts. As for this one, I think the Trojans are going to roll. But I wrote that the previous two weeks and ended up being wrong. So what do I know?

What's your take?

Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.

OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?

Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.

What do you see from this one?

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Icon SMICan Arizona's offensive line contain Adrian Clayborn?
Rittenberg: Should be a great one in the desert. Iowa knows Arizona has come a long way since last year's meeting in Iowa City, when Foles hadn't yet emerged as the starter. The game could come down to whether Arizona can get Grigsby going and protect Foles against the Hawkeyes, who boast arguably the nation's best defensive line. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been a bit quiet so far this season, but he usually plays his best in big games. Arizona typically has some outstanding defensive backs, but don't underestimate The Manzi, who has yet to throw an interception this year. So love it or leave it, pal! Iowa can stretch the field with receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and the run game has looked good so far with Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. The Hawkeyes won in State College, Madison and East Lansing last year, but they haven't fared well historically in these trips out West. Arizona definitely has some built-in advantages.

OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?

Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.

I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.

I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.

So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.

Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.

The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.

Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.

Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.

So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
Ten items to track as you watch every Big Ten squad in action Saturday.

1. Hawkeyes head west: History doesn't favor Iowa -- or any Big Ten team, for that matter -- when it comes to early season road games out west. Iowa has dropped its past six games west of the Rockies, and as columnist Mike Hlas points out, the Hawkeyes have lost their past three road games against Pac-10 members by an average of 28 points. Fortunately for Iowa, it boasts a senior-laden team that should be able to handle the difficulties of a time change, a late kickoff time, the absence of defensive coordinator Norm Parker and some potentially steamy weather in Tucson against No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET). This is a chance for Iowa to showcase itself on the national stage and beat a solid Wildcats team. The elements will be tough, but Iowa is a tough team that won in tough places last fall.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallRicky Stanzi and Iowa take aim at a rare road win over the Pac-10.
2. Spartans' secondary put to the test: Michigan State's secondary was the team's No. 1 concern entering the season. We should get an excellent read on whether the Spartans have taken a step forward or not Saturday night against Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Kyle Rudolph and the Notre Dame offense (ABC/ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). Floyd is a handful for any secondary, and Rudolph showed once again against Michigan that he's not a typical tight end. Michigan State needs strong performances from safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and others, and it'll be interesting to see if All-American linebacker Greg Jones provides a lift in coverage, a point of emphasis for him in returning to school.

3. Big Ten reunion of sorts: When Wisconsin began watching tape in preparation to face Arizona State on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), coach Bret Bielema made sure to include a clip of a Michigan quarterback leading a historic comeback against the Badgers in 2008. That quarterback was Steven Threet, who will lead the Arizona State offense into Camp Randall. Threet is one of several former Big Ten players reunited with foes from their old league Saturday. Arizona quarterback Nick Foles, formerly of Michigan State, faces Iowa, while Rice running back Sam McGuffie, formerly of Michigan, faces Northwestern. And let's not forget about Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who goes up against his alma mater.

4. Minnesota picks up the pieces: This could go one of two ways for Tim Brewster's crew. Minnesota either will let Matt Barkley and USC go nuts Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) and increase the calls for a coaching change. Or, the Gophers will use last week's inexcusable loss to South Dakota as a rallying cry and play good football against a USC team asking to get beat. Obviously, Minnesota needs to take a huge step with a young defense, which will regain the services of senior safety Kyle Theret. Overshadowed by the Dakota Debacle were the strong performances of Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett, who need even better days against the Trojans.

5. Michigan's quarterback rotation: Unless we see an Appalachian State re-run, Michigan should be able to rest sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson for part of Saturday's game against Massachusetts. If and when Robinson leaves the game, it should get interesting. Will coach Rich Rodriguez continue to call on true freshman Devin Gardner before last year's starting signal caller, Tate Forcier? How will they perform? Forcier seemed to be in better spirits last week at Notre Dame, and you know he's itching to play and show what he can do in a game.

6. Penn State running on E: E as in All-Big Ten running back Evan Royster, who needs a strong performance very soon after racking up only 72 rush yards in the first two games. Whether it's Royster's weight gain, the offensive line or a limited playbook, Penn State hasn't gotten much from No. 22. Saturday provides an interesting challenge as Penn State faces a Kent State team (ESPN2, noon ET) that leads the nation in rush defense (11 ypg allowed). The Golden Flashes certainly aren't Alabama, but they did a nice job of holding Boston College's ground game in check last week. This is a good chance for Royster to show he's still got it and make a move in his pursuit for the school's career rushing record.

7. Purdue behind the 8 ball: Life without No. 8 (Keith Smith) begins for Purdue, which must identify a new top target for quarterback Robert Marve. Smith was an outstanding possession receiver, and the Boilers will look to Justin Siller, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith, Gary Bush, O.J. Ross and others to help fill the void beginning Saturday against Ball State. Purdue also can't also lose sight of the need to identify a deep threat. Through two games, Marve has completed 54 passes for only 391 yards (7.2 yards per completion). Siller seems like a good candidate to stretch the field.

8. A family affair for Poseys: Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey squares off against his older brother, Julian, a defensive back for Ohio, on Saturday in Columbus. It's one thing for brothers to play on opposing teams, but the Poseys likely will be matched up directly against one another. DeVier Posey has been excellent so far this season, recording eight receptions for 146 yards and two touchdowns. But Julian Posey can hold his own -- three pass breakups and a 38-yard fumble return to the end zone this year for the Bobcats -- and he knows his little brother better than anyone. Said Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel: "I told DeVier, 'If big brother shuts you down, it's going to be a long lifetime for you.'"

9. Illini aim to own the state: Illinois is 12-0 all-time against public schools from the state, a streak it tries to continue Saturday against Northern Illinois. It's only Week 3, but this is another must-win for Ron Zook's team, which looked very good last week against Southern Illinois. After the NIU game, Illinois has a week off before opening Big Ten play with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State. So this is crucial. Linebacker Ian Thomas and an improving Illinois defense faces a Northern Illinois team favored to win the MAC West but struggling a bit so far this season. NIU also could be without ailing coach Jerry Kill for the game.

10. Wildcats, Hoosiers hit the road: Northwestern and Indiana both are favored to win Saturday, but September road games always are tricky. The Wildcats head to Houston, which will be a homecoming for several players, but provides some unique challenges, namely the weather. Rice held its own in the season opener against Texas and should test on-target quarterback Dan Persa and his NU teammates. Remember Indiana? It seems like the Hoosiers haven't played for eons (actually Sept. 2), but they're back at it Saturday afternoon at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers top this week's Bottom 10, but they'll be excited to face a Big Ten squad in their house. Indiana's defense must perform better than it did in the opener.

It's reunion week around the Big Ten

September, 14, 2010
It's hardly unusual for a Big Ten team to face a former player from the league in a nonconference game.

But this week, things reach a different level. Several former Big Ten players will be in key roles Saturday as they line up against squads from their former league. Feels a bit like reunion week. Kind of.

Remember these guys?

Steven Threet, QB

  • Former team: Michigan
  • Current team: Arizona State
  • Big Ten reunion: Saturday at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET)
  • The skinny: Threet's finest moment as a Wolverine came against Wisconsin on Sept. 27, 2008, when he engineered the biggest comeback in Michigan Stadium history, leading Michigan to a 27-25 victory over the ninth-ranked Badgers. Unfortunately for both Wisconsin and Threet, things went downhill from there. Threet transferred after the season and sat out 2009 before winning the starting job. Threet comes to Madison ranked 10th nationally in total offense and 22nd in pass efficiency, although those numbers have come against two FCS opponents (Portland State and Northern Arizona).
Nick Foles, QB
  • Former team: Michigan State
  • Current team: Arizona
  • Big Ten reunion: Saturday vs. Iowa (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET)
  • The skinny: Foles played in one game for Michigan State in 2007 before opting to transfer the following spring. He sat out 2008 before emerging as Arizona's starter last fall, passing for 2,486 yards with 19 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Foles' single-season numbers for completions, attempts, pass yards, touchdown passes and completion percentage all ranked in the top 10 in Arizona history. He ranks 11th nationally in pass efficiency and tied for 21st in total offense this season.
Sam McGuffie, RB

  • Former team: Michigan
  • Current team: Rice
  • Big Ten reunion: Saturday vs. Northwestern
  • The skinny: A YouTube sensation, McGuffie came to Michigan with a lot of hype. He recorded two 100-yard rushing performances as a freshman in 2008 but suffered three concussions and sat out three of the team's final four games. The Texas native transferred weeks after the season and landed at Rice. He's sharing time in the backfield with the Owls and has 65 rushing yards on 28 carries. McGuffie also has caught four passes for 91 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown last week.

Other former Big Ten players facing the Big Ten on Saturday include:
  • Northern Illinois K Michael Cklamovski: Former Illinois player faces the Illini.
  • Arizona QB Ross Oltorik: Former Ohio State walk-on faces Iowa.
  • Kent State LB Cobrani Mixon: Former Michigan player faces Penn State

Big Ten Week 2 rewind/Week 3 preview

September, 13, 2010
Let's look back at Week 2 before looking ahead to Saturday's completely full slate (11 games) of Big Ten action.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallRicky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes had their way with Iowa State on Saturday.
Team of the week: Iowa. Ohio State and Michigan drew more national attention, as usual, but Iowa delivered the most impressive performance of the day. The Hawkeyes annihilated in-state rival Iowa State, storming out to a 35-0 lead behind Adam Robinson and Ricky Stanzi. Iowa State supposedly had improved since last year's meeting, but the Hawkeyes once again victimized quarterback Austen Arnaud for three interceptions. After walking the tightrope every week in 2009, Iowa isn't letting inferior teams hang around. It'll be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes perform Saturday at Arizona.

Best game: Michigan at Notre Dame. For the second consecutive season, the Wolverines and Irish provided plenty of drama. And once again, a young quarterback became the hero for the Maize and Blue. Denard Robinson's brilliance helped Michigan overcome a late defensive breakdown and rally for a 28-24 victory in South Bend. The game featured plenty of plot twists, as Notre Dame jumped ahead early, lost quarterback Dayne Crist to injury, got him back and took the lead before falling. Just great theater in one of college football's great cathedrals.

Biggest play: Going with three of them this week. Robinson set a Notre Dame Stadium record with his 87-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, a beautiful display of pure speed. And who doesn't like to see a defensive lineman rumble? That's exactly what Ohio State's Cameron Heyward did on an 80-yard interception return against Miami early in the third quarter with the game still very much in doubt. Purdue running back Al-Terek McBurse also deserves props for keeping his balance while rolling over a Western Illinois defender and then scooting into the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown run.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State entered the season with major questions at the kicker spot after losing standout Brett Swenson. Dan Conroy eased the concern Saturday against Florida Atlantic, converting field goal attempts of 50, 44 and 41 yards. Conroy is 4-for-4 on field goals for the season. Ohio State kicker Devin Barclay tied a team record with five field goals before missing his sixth attempt. "It was the first time I've ever been in a game where the kicker cramped up," Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said afterward.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Robinson and Terrelle Pryor get all the pub, but Persa is leading the nation in pass efficiency with an amazing rating of 212.06. He has completed 86.4 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no picks. It's still early, but Persa is answering NU's biggest question mark entering the fall.
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Kerrigan is continuing his dominant play from 2009 and recorded four tackles for loss with a sack and a forced fumble against Western Illinois. He leads the league in both tackles for loss (6.5) and forced fumbles (2), and ranks fifth in tackles (19).
  • Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure: Another player who has carried over his success from last fall, Leshoure racked up 115 rushing yards and two touchdowns on only 15 carries against Southern Illinois. Imagine what he'll do if he ever gets a full carries load.
  • Michigan State WR/KR/PR Keshawn Martin: Martin showed against Florida Atlantic why he can be so dangerous for the Spartans this year. He had a 42-yard reception, a 46-yard kickoff return and a 47-yard punt return. He finished with a game-high 204 all-purpose yards.
  • Michigan WR Roy Roundtree: Labeled as doubtful last Monday after taking a huge shot against UConn, Roundtree not only played against Notre Dame but led Michigan with eight receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown. Plus, he took another big hit in the game. Gutsy performance.
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt is performing like an All-Big Ten player so far this season, and he came up big against San Jose State with 2.5 tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a blocked field goal attempt.
  • Purdue RB Dan Dierking: Dierking eased some concerns about the Boilers' run game with 14 carries for 102 yards and two touchdowns against Western Illinois. He broke career bests for rushes, rushing yardage and touchdowns for the second straight game.
How bizarre: The entire Miami-Ohio State game fits into this category. Ohio State allowed a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown in the same game for the first time in team history. Miami's Jacory Harris threw four interceptions and still had a chance in the second half. Pryor completed just 12 of 27 passes but still put up great yardage totals for both passing (233) and rushing (113). Just a very weird game at The Shoe, but the Buckeyes will take the W.

Now, let's take a quick look at the Week 2 slate ...

Massachusetts (2-0) at Michigan (2-0): What will Robinson do next? Tune in for the first half, as he might not be around for much of this one. The real subplot should be how Michigan uses backup quarterbacks Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier.

Ohio (1-1) at Ohio State (2-0): Frank Solich's Bobcats gave the Buckeyes a real scare two years ago, but Ohio is coming off of a home loss to Toledo. Can't see Ohio State letting Ohio hang around very long.

Kent State (1-1) at Penn State (1-1): The Lions should finally be able to get Evan Royster and the run game going, right? One problem: Kent State leads the nation in rush defense, allowing just 11 yards per game.

Northern Illinois (1-1) at Illinois (1-1): The Illini looked great against Southern Illinois and try to continue maintain their unbeaten record (12-0) against public schools from the state. NIU coach Jerry Kill could miss the game after being hospitalized Sunday.

Ball State (1-1) at Purdue (1-1): Life without star wide receiver Keith Smith begins for the Boilers, who still are looking for more consistency on both sides of the ball. Can Dierking nail down Purdue's top running back spot?

USC (2-0) at Minnesota (1-1): These are the big-ticket games Tim Brewster wants to play at Minnesota, but the heat is rising on the fourth-year coach after an embarrassing loss to South Dakota. USC's Matt Barkley takes aim at a Gophers' secondary that made South Dakota's Dante Warren look like superman.

Arizona State (2-0) at Wisconsin (2-0): Steven Threet sparked Wisconsin's downward spiral in 2008 after leading Michigan to a historic come-from-behind win at the Big House. Now Threet leads the Sun Devils into Madison looking for an upset.

Indiana (1-0) at Western Kentucky (0-2): Remember the Hoosiers? It feels like months since they last played. All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss is expected to make his season debut as Indiana hits the road for the first time.

Northwestern (2-0) at Rice (1-1): The Michigan-Big Ten reunion continues as former Wolverines running back Sam McGuffie faces Northwestern. This could be a tricky game for the Wildcats, but if Persa continues to perform like he has, they should be fine.

Notre Dame (1-1) at Michigan State (2-0): We should learn a lot more about the Spartans in this prime-time affair, as Notre Dame should test a secondary that struggled mightily in 2009. Linebacker Greg Jones and the Michigan State seniors try to go 3-1 against the Irish.

Iowa (2-0) at Arizona (2-0): Stay up late for this one, people. Both teams have looked dominant so far, and Iowa will have to adjust to the elements in the desert. Nick Foles and the Arizona offense will test Adrian Clayborn & Co., but Arizona also must contend with an Iowa offense that looks very strong so far.
Best call:

How bizarre: The entire Miami-Ohio State game fits into this category. Ohio State allowed a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown in the same game for the first time in team history. Miami's Jacory Harris threw four interceptions and still had a chance in the second half. Terrelle Pryor completed just 12 of 27 passes but still put up great yardage totals for both passing (233) and rushing (113). Just a very weird game at The Shoe, but the Buckeyes will take the W.

Beware of the trap game.

Every Big Ten team usually has one or two on the schedule, and they drive everybody nuts: coaches, players and especially fans. We're talking about games that should be won, but carry challenging factors such as location, timing and the type of opponent on the other sideline. Trap games usually aren't obvious mismatches on paper, and they occur both during nonconference play and within the league.

Here's a look at five potential trap games for Big Ten teams this season:

Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: The Hawkeyes' trip to Tucson served as the primary inspiration for this post. A trap game in every sense, Iowa must travel two time zones away to face a tough Arizona team in its backyard in prime time. Iowa will be favored, but Arizona boasts most of the advantages. The heat likely will still be a factor despite the night kickoff, and Iowa must be in peak condition both physically and mentally to withstand what should be a very tough test from Nick Foles and the Wildcats.

Wisconsin at Purdue, Nov. 6: The Badgers come off an emotion-charged stretch that includes Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa, as well as rival Minnesota in the battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Wisconsin embarrassed Purdue last year in Madison, crushing Danny Hope's squad 37-0. Things won't be nearly as easy this time around, as an improved team with a potentially explosive offense tries to avenge the shutout on its home field.

Michigan State vs. Illinois, Oct. 16: We've seen Michigan State teams fall apart in October after strong starts, and Mark Dantonio might need to guard against a letdown against the Illini. The Spartans should sweep the nonconference slate before opening Big Ten play against a strong Wisconsin team. Michigan State then goes on the road to archrival Michigan, where it aims for its first three-game win streak in the series since 1965-67. A 6-0 start is certainly possible, but Michigan State can't lose focus against an Illinois team that has enough talent to win.

Ohio State at Minnesota, Oct. 30: The Buckeyes might be 8-0 heading to the Twin Cities, thinking national title and looking forward to a bye week before the stretch run against Penn State, Iowa and Michigan. Minnesota has been a poor late-season team under head coach Tim Brewster and boasts only two wins against Ohio State since 1966. But the Gophers should be comfortable with Jeff Horton's offense by this point, and their talented young players will have adjusted to the college game. If the Buckeyes overlook this matchup like they did with Purdue in 2009, they could be sorry.

Penn State vs. Temple, Sept. 25: Everyone knows the challenge that awaits Penn State in Tuscaloosa, Ala., but don't forget about the Nittany Lions' date with Al Golden and his Temple Owls. Temple won nine games in 2009 and enters the fall as one of the favorites to win the Mid-American Conference. This is a better team than the one Penn State pummeled 31-6 last year, while the Lions will still be breaking in a young and inexperienced starting quarterback.

A few other trap games: Minnesota vs. Northern Illinois (Sept. 25), Illinois vs. Northern Illinois (Sept. 18), Penn State vs. Northwestern (Nov. 6), Michigan at Indiana (Oct. 2), Northwestern vs. Central Michigan (Sept. 25), Iowa at Indiana (Nov. 6).
The Big Ten takes a little longer than most leagues to release its full football schedule, but for the most part, we know which teams will be playing and when. Nonconference scheduling has been a sore subject in the league for quite some time, but things are gradually improving and should be better in future seasons.

Which teams are truly stepping out on a limb this fall?

Here's a look at the five most challenging nonconference games involving Big Ten teams.

1. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: When you face the defending national champs in their house early in the season, you've got a good chance of being at the top of this list. A young quarterback will lead Penn State into Tuscaloosa to face Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, wide receiver Julio Jones and the Crimson Tide. Penn State will need to control the clock with Evan Royster and the run game and get a huge performance from its defense to keep pace with Bama.

2. USC at Minnesota, Sept. 18: USC went through a coaching transition and comes off its worst season since 2001. Minnesota also gets the Trojans in its home stadium. But USC will be better on defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, and Matt Barkley also should make strides in his second season. There's so much talent on the Trojans roster, and Minnesota will be tested in every aspect of the game.

3. Miami at Ohio State, Sept. 11: There will be a ton of buzz around this matchup, and I probably would have ranked it higher before watching Miami crumble against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl. Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes still have something to prove on the national stage, and they'll get a chance against a ferocious Buckeyes defense led by Cameron Heyward. Miami's speed and athleticism will test the Buckeyes, and the matchup between Harris and Terrelle Pryor will be a lot of fun.

4. Iowa at Arizona, Sept. 18: The Hawkeyes passed all but one of their road tests in 2009, and they'll be challenged with an early trip to the desert. Arizona brings back a lot of offensive firepower, including quarterback Nick Foles, running back Nic Grigsby and wide receiver Juron Criner. The Wildcats lost only one home game in 2008, a double-overtime heartbreaker against Pac-10 champion Oregon. Iowa will need to be sound on defense and limit mistakes on offense.

5. Purdue at Notre Dame, Sept. 4: It was close between Purdue-ND and Illinois-Missouri for the fifth spot, but Notre Dame seems to always win games like this one. Since Frank Leahy became Notre Dame coach in 1941, only one Fighting Irish head man has lost his first game on the job (Lou Holtz endured a 1-point defeat to No. 3 Michigan in 1986). Both teams will have new starting quarterbacks and questions on defense, but it will be tough to know what to expect from innovative play-caller Brian Kelly in Week 1.

Big Ten afternoon tidbits

October, 7, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A few of you have mentioned several Big Ten quarterback transfers I didn't include in an earlier post about former Iowa signal-caller Jake Christensen, now starring for Eastern Illinois. I focused my research on quarterbacks who played in the Big Ten last year before transferring, but it's still worth noting how two of the others are doing.
  • Ryan Mallett (Michigan), Arkansas -- 67 of 123 for 1,148 pass yards, 11 TDs, 2 INTs, 287 yards per game, 159.1 rating, 2-2 record
  • Nick Foles (Michigan State), Arizona -- 37 of 53 for 353 yards, 5 TDs, 0 INTs, 117 ypg, 156.9 rating, 1-0 record as the starter

Anyone know what James Stallons (Wisconsin) or Justin Siller (Purdue) are up to these days?

Two quick tidbits:
  • Iowa athletic director Gary Barta writes a guest editorial to the student newspaper expressing his disappointment with drunk tailgaters at Hawkeyes home games.
  • Michigan running back Brandon Minor is getting close to 100 percent healthy, while another back, Carlos Brown, sat out practice Wednesday with an undisclosed injury. Also, Michigan might be moving safety Troy Woolfolk to cornerback.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Kirk Cousins first started competing for Michigan State's starting quarterback spot as a senior in high school.

Less than a month after Cousins verbally committed to the Spartans, the team added another quarterback, Nick Foles, to the 2007 class. Foles eventually transferred to Arizona, but Michigan State added a quarterback transfer in Keith Nichol, who originally committed to the Spartans before switching to Oklahoma after a coaching change. Nichol quickly became Cousin's top competition when Brian Hoyer graduated.

Needless to say, Cousins is used to this. But he also knows the moment of truth is getting closer.

"I've been dealing with this now for two years, so I've been anxious for two years," Cousins said. "Another week's not going to change anything. But definitely, I understand that this is crunch time, and a lot is going to be determined September 5th and September 12th, in those first two games, as far as the direction they're going to go."

Head coach Mark Dantonio's plan all along called for both Cousins and Nichol to see the field early in the season. The quarterbacks were dead even coming out of spring ball, putting up the exact same numbers in the Green and White Game (357 pass yards, 4 TDs each).

Things have more or less remained the same in camp, with Nichol putting up better numbers in the first scrimmage and Cousins tossing the only touchdown in Friday's scrimmage at Spartan Stadium.

"What they've told us is that we will both play," Cousins said. "They believe that game experience is extremely important, and that's where a quarterback has to ultimately be evaluated. It wouldn't be fair to make an evaluation strictly off of practice and then go with a guy. [Dantonio] thinks you have to play both of the guys in a game to see what they can do in a game situation, and I would agree with that."

Nichol agrees that both he and Cousins deserve field time outside of mop-up duty, but he doesn't foresee Michigan State sticking with a two-quarterback system very long.

"They really want to pick a starter," Nichol said, "a guy who's going to lead them to a Big Ten title from now until then. ... Nobody wants to do the two-QB system. Nobody really knows who to follow, exactly. Both of us can lead, but the quarterback's a special position where only one of them gets to play. You have to be able to follow one guy specifically.

"There's no such thing as too much leadership, but at the same time, you need a guy that everybody on the offense can look to."

Dantonio is also looking beyond the decision on a starter.

He wants to make sure factions don't develop in the locker room. He also notes that both Cousins and Nichol are sophomores, so "whoever takes control of that football team needs to move that football team, because there is competition."

"The person who is going to have to really put the team first is the guy who ends up not being the starter long term," Cousins said. "They're going to have the most difficult situation. I don't think other people on the team will really take sides. But that person is obviously in a very difficult situation and has to face some adversity. The natural human emotion is it would be difficult to respond positively, but that's what one of us has to do."

Cousins and the coaches have gone through hypothetical situations of how he would react to being the backup. Nichol, meanwhile, isn't focused on the possibility of being No. 2.

"I don't think as a quarterback, you should be putting yourself in that kind of position," he said. "You always have to think you're the guy, you're the man. ... People outside ask you hypothetically, 'How will you react?' And I just say, 'I don't think like that.'"

Both quarterbacks have been pleased with their progress so far in camp, and despite their differences in style, Cousins said both are running the same offensive system.

Cousins notes that his ability to read defenses has improved, while Nichol, who often gets stereotyped as a run-first quarterback, has grown more comfortable sitting in the pocket and going through his progressions as long as possible.

"It's been a long road," Nichol said. "I'm really anxious to have it figured out. Anxious is the best word. Anxious for the season, anxious for the season, anxious for the future. I'm excited about everything that's going on."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Forget about that other draft taking place at Radio City Music Hall this weekend. The real draft will be held at 2:15 p.m. ET today in the Skandalaris Football Center, as Michigan State picks teams for its annual Green-White Game, which will be played Saturday at Spartan Stadium.

Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has borrowed the idea from former boss Jim Tressel -- Ohio State, by the way, has its own spring game draft today -- and it sounds like a pretty fun event for players, coaches and all involved.

"It makes it a little bit more fun," Dantonio said Tuesday. "It makes it competitive. I actually started doing it at Youngstown State back in 1986, and we've done it ever since, whether I was with coach Tressel or since I've been a head coach."

From what I've gathered about the draft format, here's how it works:

  • The Spartans seniors are divided and pick the teams.
  • Assistant coaches are also assigned to both squads.
  • When a player is picked, a teammate who plays the same position goes to the other team. So if quarterback Kirk Cousins is selected first, Keith Nichol in all likelihood would go to the opposing team.
  • Dantonio has the final say and can move players to the other team to even things out.
  • At stake, steak. The winning team eats it, while the losers get franks and beans.

Things apparently got pretty heated last year between quarterback Brian Hoyer and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. With senior offensive lineman Mike Bacon already on his team, Hoyer drafted starting center Joel Nitchman for the White squad. That left the Green team with no experience at the center spot, so Narduzzi demanded a trade and Dantonio eventually sent Nitchman to the Green team.

Let's hope there are some similar fireworks today.

Though the spring game is all about fun, it does provide some hints about the team.

It will be very interesting to see which quarterback candidate -- Cousins or Nichol -- gets drafted first. Same thing for the running backs -- Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, A.J. Jimmerson and Caulton Ray.

Last year, Cousins was picked ahead of Nick Foles. Cousins went on to back up Hoyer during the season, while Foles transferred from the school.

Check the blog later this afternoon for a full draft recap.