Big Ten: Oren Wilson
What's new: Mark Dantonio made his first staff change in quite some time, as he hired running backs coach Brad Salem to replace Dan Enos, who left to become Central Michigan's head coach. The Spartans are transitioning to a 3-4 alignment on defense as they look to maximize their talent there. Keith Nichol, who spent most of the 2009 season as Michigan State's No. 2 quarterback, has a new position: wide receiver. Although Michigan State has good depth at receiver, Nichol enters the season as a projected starter.
Sidelined: The Spartans are relatively healthy entering camp. Offensive tackle Henry Conway is fully cleared to practice after sustaining a neck injury. Linebacker Justin Wilson, an 2010 recruit, isn't on the roster and will spend time at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. The December on-campus assault involving Spartans players resulted in the departures of several players, including nose tackle Oren Wilson.
Key battle: Offensive line is a group to watch this month, and especially the competition at right tackle. Senior J'Michael Deane and junior Jared McGaha are listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. Conway, who generated some buzz before his neck injury, should be right in the mix. Another battle takes place at kicker, as Kevin Muma and Dan Conroy try to replace standout Brett Swenson.
New on the scene: Michigan State's recent recruiting success is well documented, and the coaches should see the fruits of their labor this fall. Two incoming recruits, William Gholston and Max Bullough, will enter the rotation at linebacker right away. Running backs Nick Hill and LeVeon Bell also might work their way into the mix.
Back in the fold: Johnny Adams started two games at cornerback as a freshman in 2008 before missing 10 games last fall with a shoulder injury. Granted a medical hardship, Adams returns and enters camp as a projected starter. Michigan State's secondary really needs playmakers, and Adams could provide a big boost this fall.
Breaking out: Keshawn Martin made the most of his touches in 2009, averaging 22.8 yards per reception, 28.9 yards per kick return and 7.4 yards per punt return. Michigan State will make a much stronger effort to get the ball in Martin's hands this fall. All-American Greg Jones is the leader on defense, but the Spartans also need promising young players like Jerel Worthy, Blake Treadwell, Trenton Robinson and Adams to step up.
Quotable: "We have a lot of experience back. That speaks to our leadership as a program and as a team right now. From the way our players have worked thus far and winter workouts, spring practice and now summer conditioning, it would not seem that we're overconfident. We have some things that we need to prove. I think that's very evident." -- head coach Mark Dantonio
All of us had better rest up.
Drew from Lafayette, Ind., writes: I know the expansion rumors about Nebraska, Missouri, Rutgers, and ND were squashed by the Big Ten. However, the more I think about it the more it seems legit. Big Ten has 11 teams, adding four would bring it to 15 teams, still off balance right? Well the wild card in the group is ND. If ND says no and sticks with tradition that would be only three teams joining but bring the total schools to 14, aka balanced. But if ND does say yes, then all the Big Ten needs to do is go after one more school (Pitt, Syracuse, Maryland, Vandy), which would be a lot easier after they have already had those four sign on the dotted line, to become the 16 conference super league I know many have said they want to be. Am I thinking about this wrong?
Adam Rittenberg: Drew, what isn't legit is the report that offers have been made from the Big Ten to these schools. Now I'm sure informal discussions have taken place with all four, but the Big Ten hasn't reached the offer stage, or, to be accurate, the stage where a school(s) would apply for admission to the league. What might be correct is that some or all of these teams could join the Big Ten. We can throw 10 different expansion scenarios out there and it's likely one will be ultimately correct. It certainly wouldn't shock anyone if Nebraska, Missouri and Rutgers applied to join the Big Ten. Notre Dame's situation is a bit different, as we all know. So could the report ultimately be true? Sure. But it's not legit right now because a lot could still change.
Stacy from Orlando writes: Adam, you don't think that the Big Ten would be dumb enough to give Notre Dame a favorable offer giving the Irish a benefit not currently enjoyed by the current Big Ten member schools, right? There's too much power/pressure from Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and the like and that would never get approved, right?
Adam Rittenberg: Stacy, I highly doubt any expansion candidate, including Notre Dame, would get a sweetened deals. The Big Ten is in a strong enough position that it doesn't have to provide extra benefits for anyone. If anything, a new member might not enjoy the same privileges as existing members, but I doubt this as well. The Big Ten has prided itself on all of its members being as equal as possible (i.e. TV revenue sharing). This puts the Big Ten in a stronger place than, say, the Big 12. I also go back to the last time the Big Ten and Notre Dame talked. The Big Ten was in a weaker position (no Big Ten Network, weaker overall TV deal), while Notre Dame was in a stronger position (full BCS share). Things have changed since then.
Phillip from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: In Tuesday's mailblog you said that Vanderbilt's football success has been extremely limited, which isn't in question. However isn't that basically describing Rutgers, outside of being close to New York? And wouldn't it be a stronger argument that Vanderbilt's entire athletic department and school are substantially stronger than Rutgers (just look at every year-end Director's Cup rankings)? What makes Rutgers so appealing other than New York, which is not a guarantee, Adam?
Adam Rittenberg: Phillip, a couple of points. Rutgers has had more recent success in football than Vanderbilt, and RU has made a strong investment in the program to elevate its profile. Vanderbilt is in a very tough situation in the SEC, but other schools in big conferences with similar profiles -- Northwestern, Stanford -- have found ways to succeed more often. You're right that Vanderbilt has a stronger overall athletic program than Rutgers, and the Directors' Cup stats back it up. As for academics, Vandy has an edge, but Rutgers is a solid academic school, too, and certainly fits into the parameters of what the Big Ten will accept. The big difference here is the New York market and the potential, not the guarantee, that it provides. Will Big Ten football make a splash in the New York market? Tough to tell, but it's possible. And if it works, the rewards are immense. Nashville doesn't provide the same potential, especially in a state with another dominant college program (University of Tennessee).
Josh from Parma, Mich., writes: Why is it that you can be so lenient with the things that Michigan State players do, such as crimes and other forms of trouble for which they have become so closely associated with and yet be so hard on players like Demar Dorsey who plan on going to Michigan? and also see Michigan State as a team on the rise and Michigan struggling again this year? I think your a little biased in some aspects of your assessments and I also think that Michigan has an excellent year going around 8-4 as Rodriguez truly begins to rebuild this program with his players. Now thats said I see Michigan State as a legit threat in the Big Ten, but not to some schools such as Ohio State and Wisconsin. I also believe that Michigan losing its last two games to Sparty aren't going to let a third happen at home.
Adam Rittenberg: Oh. My. Goodness. Go back and read the blog, Josh. First off, I posted every bit of news about Michigan State's messy offseason and shelled out criticism when it was due. Had Mark Dantonio allowed Oren Wilson back on the team, I would have ripped him. But he didn't. I actually got a ton of e-mails from Michigan State fans telling me to lay off the incident, which I didn't. Regarding Demar Dorsey, I took a wait-and-see approach and didn't criticize Michigan nearly as much as most media outlets. Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about Dorsey in February:
Lloyd Carr gave players second chances, too. He assumed the risk of them messing up again. Every college football coach does. Like it or not, it's part of this sport.
Michigan shouldn't have to stay away from every promising recruit with a checkered past because it's Michigan. Rodriguez has given second chances before, and some have blown up in his face. But he shouldn't stop doing it entirely.
If Rodriguez and his staff are satisfied that Dorsey's troubles are behind him, they have the right to bring him on board. They also have the right to be criticized if he messes up again.
As to your final few points, I agree. Michigan can go 8-4. Michigan State should be a solid team, but likely not an elite one in the Big Ten. and Michigan certainly could end the losing streak to the Spartans. Have a nice day!
Jacob from Cresco, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam if missouri/nebraska/notre dame were to join the big ten would iowa have some new rivalary games? (missou-iowa gold and black rivalary), (nebraska-iowa border rivalary) (notre-iowa, didnt they use to have a rivalary for 37 years?)
Adam Rittenberg: Absolutely, Jacob. The Nebraska-Iowa rivalry would be huge, in my opinion. The Missouri-Iowa series would be very intriguing, as the two programs haven't played since 1910 after playing 12 times in a 19-year span. I think emotions would be running pretty high on both sides. Iowa and Notre Dame have played 24 times, the last in 1968. The Hawkeyes and Fighting Irish played every year between 1945-61. Notre Dame obviously has many other rivals, so I don't know if the potential is really there with Iowa, but the games likely would be entertaining. But the bottom line is Big Ten expansion certainly should add rivals for the Hawkeyes.
Jon from Tucson, Ariz., writes: Regarding the Michigan QB situation, do you get the impression that Rich Rod is just humoring Tate with the starting job until one of the Uber-Athletes steps up to snatch the job away?I like Tate, and I think he was largely underrated last year, despite some definite freshman performances, but I don't get the feeling that he's going to be welcome as a 4-year starter in Rich's program. Specifically, once Devin Gardner (at 6'4") gets online as a viable option, Tate, IMO is history at UM.
Adam Rittenberg: I don't think Rodriguez has the luxury to humor anyone right now, especially a quarterback. If Tate gives Michigan the best chance to win right away, he'll be the starter. But this is certainly more of a real quarterback competition than what we saw the last two seasons in Ann Arbor. Devin Gardner could very well be the quarterback of the future at Michigan. He certainly has both the physical tools, and, from what coaches told me last week, the intelligence to play the position at a high level. Is Forcier just a stopgap? Maybe or maybe not, but he still could be the Wolverines' best option in a season where the coaches need results to be back in 2011.
Nina from Palo Alto, Calif., writes: Adam, what's worse. If a team steals offensive signals or a quarterback steals laptop computers (how about a rim shot)?
Adam Rittenberg: Nina will be here all night, ladies and gentlemen. The late show is different from the early show. And be sure to tip your waitress.
Scott from Philadelphia writes: Adam, love the blog, but what's with the lack of love for PSU linebackers on your Underrated Linebackers piece? I know its not our best crew, (its tough to compete with Posluszny, Lee and Connor as your starting LBs), but what about Mauti, Gbadyu, Stupar or Colasanti? You don't think any of them will step up and be a force to be reckoned with? Especially given how Penn State always seems to have stud LBs coming out of the woodwork.
Adam Rittenberg: Scott, I don't think you understood the point of that post. I wanted to recognize linebackers who had impressive seasons in 2009 but didn't get much recognition because of the Big Ten's incredible linebacker depth, to which Penn State contributed. These players are all returning for 2010, so that's why I listed them. One example of an underrated linebacker not returning for 2010 is Penn State's Josh Hull, who led the team with 116 tackles last fall. None of the Penn State linebackers you've listed had more than 37 tackles last season. All the guys I listed were starters in 2009, and all but one recorded 77 tackles or more (Wisconsin's Mike Taylor led the team in tackles before his knee injury Oct. 17). Will Penn State have a star or two emerge at linebacker this fall? I wouldn't bet against Ron Vanderlinden's crew, but those players don't meet my definition of underrated for that post.
Jason from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, for the love of god. Can you please end the rather hall incident with Mark Dantonio saying that Owen Wilson a starter on the troubled D-line can NOT COME BACK due to lying about not being involved even though it was his first offense?! All national exposure to this subject has gone against Dantonio implying that he is only letting the starters or contributors back on the team!!!!!!!!Can you please write a head liner on Owen Wilson please?!!!!!!! Or is it just going to get buried on a head liner that says another one of MSU football players was reinstated after his jail time was up?!!!!!
Adam Rittenberg: First of all, it's Oren, not Owen!!! And I did include the fact that he's not coming back in my news story. A player being reinstated is almost always going to be more headline-worthy than a guy who the coach already said was transferring. I also praised both Michigan State and Dantonio for making the right call with Wilson, who didn't deserve another chance after failing to come forward about his involvement until he was identified after the bowl game. My advice for Michigan State fans is to sit back and just take it right now. This was an unfortunate incident that involved a ton of players, but it's essentially over now. Look forward to the 2010 season, which I think will be good in East Lansing, and stop worrying about national exposure. If the Spartans win this fall, a lot of this stuff will go away.
Tim from Oakland, Calif., writes: Adam.It's pseudo blogs like yours that compel people to distrust the media and pseudo-media like you.First, there is nothing new here. You and your 'media' brethren just repeat the same old crap whether it's true or not. Everyone says the allegations are major when no one knows that because that is still being deliberated. So all this garbage is just speculation, which is what you idiots do best -- guess.I have stopped reading blogs like yours because the information either is just retreaded or purely speculative, which never amounts to anything. You can speculate all you want, but it means nothing.You are entitled to your opinion, sure. but yours is no more learned than anyone else's.
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, Tim, I'm truly crushed that you've reduced me to a pseudo blogger. The following words come directly from the NCAA's letter to Rich Rodriguez, dated Feb. 22: "You should understand that all of the allegations charged in the notice of allegations are considered to be potential major violations of NCAA legislation, unless designated as secondary violations." No designation was made, so according to the NCAA, not me or anyone else, Michigan is facing potential major violations. Sure, it's been deliberated and could change. No decisions about guilt or innocence have been made. As for speculation, that's part of my job, but to think there won't be at least some repercussions for Michigan is pretty naive. Just look at the NCAA's history with situations like this. There's usually some penalty or penalties.
Paul from Johnstown, Pa., writes: Adam, With the recent news that the Capital One/Citrus Bowl will be installing artificial turf for next season, I got to thinking...why? Other than the sissies and equipment managers, is there anyone who does not like to see grass and mud stains on the jerseys and helmets of two clashing college football teams? Seriously, this is football. If your team cannot play this game, except under ideal conditions, then you shouldn't have a team and you shouldn't play.
Adam Rittenberg: Paul, aside from the national embarrassment for the bowl game to have such a dreadful field, there are injury risks and other factors. A lot of those guys in the Capital One Bowl are playing their final college game before going onto the NFL, and the bowl game doesn't want to see guys slipping and falling and getting hurt. I agree that the weather is part of the game, especially in the Big Ten, but player safety has to be considered, especially when you have the technology to help prevent injuries. I also think the bowl experience is different than the regular season. It's a reward for players and coaches, and the conditions should be as ideal as they can possibly be. They certainly weren't for Penn State and LSU at the Citrus Bowl Stadium.
Jon from Tumalo, Ore., writes: Adam, are all spread offenses "gimmicky" or just Oregon's? How is what OR runs any different, other than perhaps an emphasis on the run game over the passing game, than the majority of spread O's run across the country?Is OR's O any less "gimmicky" than Michigan or Pudue's O?Of course, unlike the great D players at Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Illinois and Minnesota the guys in the PX are all "arm tacklers?" How sick has Pryor when on his game made B10 defenders look?Rey Malaluga, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews can't tackle? Seems they did an OK job against the B10 for years, no?BTW: There are many PX grads starting on the D line in the NFL (mebane, Ngata, Patterson, etc.) Where did they learn to tackle?TOSU finally wins a BCS game and it's because the Ducks can't tackle? What does this say about TOSU
Adam Rittenberg: Jon, I probably came on too strong about the gimmicky part, as a lot of offenses these days fall under the spread label. And Oregon does run a very effective offense that is a ton of fun to watch. I just got tired of everyone, especially my media colleagues, fawning over offenses from Oregon and Georgia Tech during the bowl season, and dismissing Big Ten defenses just because they were from the Big Ten. Ohio State and Iowa made Oregon and Georgia Tech look pretty average, and in Iowa's case, the Hawkeyes totally dominated the triple option. Yes, the Pac-10 has some good defenders, but I don't believe the league's overall quality of defense matches up with the Big Ten. Just like the Big Ten offenses don't match up overall with the Pac-10. I watched the Civil War last year, and Oregon State displayed some of the worst tackling I've seen from a BCS team. Did Oregon have something to do with it? Sure. But the Ducks had more trouble shaking free of Ohio State's defenders in the Rose Bowl.
- It's amazing to think a running back who suffered a second ACL injury to his right knee could be ready for the 2010 season, but Ralph Bolden might defy the odds. Purdue head coach Danny Hope said today that Bolden will be re-evaluated and likely will have surgery in the coming weeks. Hope also said he has had players recover from ACL injuries in the spring to be ready for the fall. So stay turned.
- Not surprisingly, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez didn't address the NCAA's examination of West Virginia's program under his watch during his news conference this afternoon. Michigan hasn't been commenting on any NCAA investigation issues this spring, and a team official cut off a question asked to Rodriguez about the West Virginia situation.
- Michigan State has reinstated wide receiver Fred Smith, who recently served four days in jail for his role in the November residence hall assault. Head coach Mark Dantonio said Smith is back practicing with the team. Nose tackle Oren Wilson won't be returning, as Dantonio said the junior is exploring transfer options. Wilson's lawyer told reporters last month that his client wanted to return to Michigan State and hoped to talk with Dantonio, but the door has been closed there. This is the right call by Michigan State, as Wilson, sentenced to 21 days in jail for his role in the assault, didn't come forward about his involvement and participated in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2.
- Penn State head coach Joe Paterno spent most of his time talking about expansion today, but I did sneak in a question about the team's progress this spring. Needless to say, Paterno isn't happy. "We’re not a very good football team right now," he said. "The quarterbacks are very average, but they’re young, and hopefully over a period of time they’ll get better. We’re just very, very average right now. We’re not tough. Our kicking game is terrible." Is it just a bunch of young players or older guys not making progress? "It’s a combination," Paterno said. "We have a lot of work ahead of us. That doesn’t mean we can’t get it done, but we have to be realistic and stop dreaming that the good Lord is going to come down and bless us. We’ve got to go to work." You've got to love Paterno's honesty.
- Rodriguez continues to challenge quarterback Tate Forcier, both on the practice field and, in a way, with his comments to the media. "Tate started off really well last year, he had some ups and downs and he needed to get better," Rodriguez said Tuesday. "Competition is helping in that regard. Tate knows he can’t be average and expect to be the starting quarterback." The good news? Rodriguez said all three quarterbacks -- Forcier, Denard Robinson and Devin Gardner -- had their best performances in Saturday's scrimmage.
- Dantonio said the 3-4 defense will be a larger part of the plan this fall, though the team is still "experimenting" right now. The alignment should allow Michigan State to be more flexible with star Greg Jones and maximize the depth at the linebacker position.
- It sounds more and more like Adam Weber is taking control of Minnesota's quarterback competition. Head coach Tim Brewster said Weber has had his best spring and "understood the urgency of a fifth-year senior." Things are a little closer at Illinois, where all three candidates have had the upper hand at times, coach Ron Zook said. The team's eventual starter will be the player who best learns from his mistakes.
Wilson's sentence Wednesday wasn't a major surprise, as he had pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery after admitting to kicking one person and punching another in the Nov. 22 incident. He also received 12 months probation and community service.
All 11 sentences have now been handed out to the Michigan State players who pleaded guilty to assault. Four have received jail time -- Glenn Winston (180 days), Roderick Jenrette (90 days), Wilson and Fred Smith (five days) -- while the others got probation and community service. Four players charged were reinstated last week for spring practice, while five are seeking transfers and both Winston and Jenrette were dismissed Nov. 24.
The really interesting news coming out of Wilson's sentencing hearing were the statements made by Wilson's lawyer, Andrew Abood, to reporters. Abood said that Wilson wants to return to the team and would soon reach out to Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio.
Last week, Dantonio said Wilson was in the process of seeking a transfer.
“Oren’s first choice would be to stay at Michigan State and be on the football team in fall,” Abood said. “He’s the type of guy who would be wanted in the trenches when MSU plays Michigan. He should be back on the football team.”
"My understanding -- and I haven’t heard this from inside Duffy Daugherty [football offices] -- is that everybody involved except [Glenn] Winston and [Roderick] Jenrette -- would have a chance to be reinstated to the team," Abood said. "This is Oren’s first mistake, and I believe he’s a person of character. Hopefully, he will get another chance."
Dantonio now faces an important decision. He has said he will continue to give players second chances, even after the embarrassing residence hall mess. On the other hand, he doesn't want to come off too soft on discipline, a criticism that some have already raised.
Wilson's case is unique because his involvement in the assault wasn't known until mid January, and unlike 13 other players present at the residence hall, Wilson participated in the Alamo Bowl. The other 13 players had been suspended before the bowl game.
Translation: Wilson hid his involvement from Dantonio and the coaching staff until authorities identified him. That's a pretty major betrayal of trust, as there's no way Dantonio would have allowed Wilson to play in the Alamo Bowl had he known of Wilson's role at Rather Hall.
Of all the players not returning to MSU, Wilson was arguably the most valuable. He has started 26 games at nose tackle and would anchor a young defensive line in 2010.
But if Dantonio reinstates the senior, he should expect to take a lot of heat from the outside. And if Wilson does get another chance, he likely would face a multiple-game suspension to begin the 2010 season. Anything less would really look soft of MSU's part.
Adam from Cabot, Ark., writes: Adam,First off, nice name. Secondly I'd like to ask about Ohio States secondary. I'm a life long Buckeye fan, but I see holes throughout the secondary. Who begins to fill those holes and who gives Ohio State the biggest challenge for the BigTen Championship (minus the championship game)? Thanks!!
Adam Rittenberg: Likewise, Adam. If there's a big hole in Ohio State's two-deep, safety would have to be it. The Buckeyes lose two players with significant starting experience in Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, and Coleman earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last fall. Jermale Hines certainly will take on a greater role, but Ohio State needs to identify that No. 2 and No. 3 safety. Keep an eye on Orhian Johnson, a guy I heard a lot of good things about last spring. If Johnson can't nail down a starting job, look for guys like C.J. Barnett, Aaron Gant and Nate Oliver to be in the mix. Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa is another guy who, like Hines, needs to lift his game to All-Big Ten levels.
Kelly from Manassas, Va., writes: While what happens on the field this year will certainly play into Rodriguez's future, the decision has very likely already been made. Make no mistake, his conduct off the field and two very bad seasons have already sealed his fate as he needs an completely unrealistic number of wins for UM to even consider extending him beyond this year. In all likelihood, he needs ten wins to keep his job, so in essence, given that no rational person expects this team to sniff .500 much less a winning record, the decision to fire him with cause has already been made.
Adam Rittenberg: Kelly, gotta say I love getting your e-mails every week. Always a good time. When did you start working in Michigan's athletic department? I thought they didn't let Penn State fans in there. While Rich Rodriguez obviously needs to show significant improvement in Year 3, by no means is his fate sealed. I highly doubt he'd be fired if the team wins nine games this fall. Eight games probably keeps him safe, too. Michigan would have to weigh the desire to make a change versus the potential cost of staying irrelevant for even longer, or getting worse. Keep in mind that Rodriguez has now spent a few years recruiting a specific brand of player for his system, and these players might not translate well to a new scheme, especially a dramatically different one. I'm not saying Rodriguez can breathe easy, but we still have a long way to go.
Brian from Aledo, Ill., writes: I'm sure it's been talked about before but I guess I never heard it. With all this talk about expanding to more teams my biggest question is why not just play all the teams currently in the conference?
Adam Rittenberg: You can't play 10 conference games from a financial standpoint and expect to survive or grow your revenue pool. That's one more guaranteed road game for every Big Ten team, which means one fewer chance to fill up a massive stadium and generate $$$. Teams would be so afraid to leave home for the two nonconference games, and it would create some major headaches with nonleague rivalries, etc. Fans would love it, but it doesn't make any sense financially, given the need to make money.
Chad from Montpellier, France, writes: Hey Adam,Love the blog still haven't missed a day of reading in the 2 months that I've been over here. Firstly, I noticed that you seemed to allude to the ability to post blogs even when you weren't at a computer during your trip to Purdue I believe. Any chance we could get blogs posted throughout the night so us in Europe don't have to wait until the afternoon to get our B10 fill? Secondly, I was thinking that it might be interesting to take a look back at the decade's best and worst rivalries in the B10. Which rivalries had many exciting balanced games, and which rivalries were pretty much one-sided and didn't live up to their usual hype during the past decade (OSU/MICH comes to mind). Thanks and keep up the good work!
Adam Rittenberg: First off, I'm thrilled to hear the Big Ten blog is being read across the pond. I've even been to Montpellier myself, a long, long time ago. While I'd love to have 25 posts a day so that my global audience is satisfied, it just ain't happening. Unless you can double my salary, of course. And even then, my wife would kill me. As to your second point, I like the idea about rivalries. Things are getting a bit busier now with spring ball, but that sounds like a fun post for May or June.
Chase from Pittsburgh writes: Adam, Isn't it a little convenient that the only 4 MSU players reinstated in the group that were charged in the Rather Hall incident (Mark Dell, BJ Cunningham, Chris L. Rucker, and J'Michael Deane) were all starters or major contributors? And the other charged players (Ashton Leggett, Jamihr Williams, Myles White, and Oren Wilson) that were not major contributors are all transferring? They all received the same sentence. Dantonio seems to have history of selective justice. When he needed Winston in the Fall, he reinstated him immediately after he stepped out of jail. Now, with Baker and Caper filling the hole at RB, Winston is no longer essential to the team. In the middle of last season, RBs Caulton Ray and Andre Anderson were dismissed from the team after Caper and Baker had established themselves. Dell and Cunningham are the two leading receivers returning to the team with the loss of Blair White. Deane is a projected starter on the OL, and Rucker is the starting corner. Only Wilson was a contributor to last year's team. but highly rated prospect Blake Treadwell has taken his position. Why has no one taken Dantonio to task on this?
Adam Rittenberg: Chase, you make some pretty compelling points here. I wouldn't underrate the loss of Wilson, who almost certainly would have started on a very young defensive line. And to play devil's advocate, I don't know how much Michigan State really needed Glenn Winston last year. Yes, I know he ascended to a key role before his injury, but the Spartans entered preseason camp in 2009 with plenty of running backs who they liked. I remember thinking at the time, why not just arrange a transfer to cover your bases with a player who assaulted another student-athlete? And to be fair to the four players who were reinstated, none had any previous off-field problems. A lot of college players are convicted of misdemeanors, serve no jail time and return to the playing field. It has happened all around the Big Ten. I would have had a bigger gripe had Wilson be allowed back on the team, as his involvement in the resident hall assault wasn't known until after the Alamo Bowl, a game in which he played. But since Wilson is transferring, it's a moot point.
Head coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday that cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive linemen J'Michael Deane and wide receivers Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, all of whom received probation and community service after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault, are back on the team. Wide receivers Donald Spencer and Chris D. Rucker, suspended for being present at the Nov. 22 incident but never charged, also are back for the spring.
Dantonio confirmed that wide receiver Myles White and nose tackle Oren Wilson will transfer. White was sentenced Monday to probation and community service, and Wilson faces sentencing March 31. The status of wide receiver Fred Smith, sentenced Friday to five days in jail plus probation and community service, will be determined when his legal issues are over. Eleven current or former players pleaded guilty in the incident, and six -- White, Wilson, Ashton Leggett, Jamiihr Williams, Glenn Winston and Roderick Jenrette -- are no longer with the program.
I fully expected reinstatement for Cunningham, Dell, Deane and Chris L. Rucker, who had no prior indiscretions. White and Wilson deserved heavier punishment, potentially dismissal from the team, because their involvement in the assault didn't come to light until January. Wilson even played in the Alamo Bowl, a privilege he didn't deserve. But it's all moot now as both players will be transferring.
I spoke with Dantonio moments ago, and while I'll have a two-part Q&A with the coach this afternoon and Wednesday, a few notes and quotes for now.
- Dantonio, on the off-field problems Michigan State has faced: "You’re going to fall down at times. We have the same problems that society has in a lot of ways, and because we live in a fishbowl a little bit, there's going to be higher consequences, more public scrutiny and things of that nature. But you do always have to believe in your young people. That helps them grow, and that’s what we’ll do."
- During the winter, Dantonio put a greater emphasis on the team's Unity Council and held 90-minute weekly seminars for players that featured guest speakers, including former players and a criminal justice professor. "We talked about the law, talked about our players’ rights, talked about consequences," Dantonio said. "When you make a decision, it’s not a quick fix judiciously. Our players need to understand that. It’s not over and done with when you do make a mistake. We're just trying to educate and be proactive, and I think it draws our team together."
- The big personnel news of the day is Keith Nichol's move from quarterback to wide receiver. Nichol remains an option at quarterback, but with greater depth behind Kirk Cousins this spring, he has a better chance to make big contributions at receiver. Nichol played some wideout during the Alamo Bowl but will spend much more time there this spring. Dantonio said Cousins has earned the starter's tag entering the spring after a solid sophomore season. Nichol is listed as both a first-team wide receiver and a second-string quarterback on the team's spring depth chart. "Keith is an outstanding athlete," Dantonio said. "He's played quarterback for us and he should continue to be thought of in that light somewhat. He would always be able to move back in there. ... But I also think that he can be an outstanding wide receiver, as proven in bowl practice. ... He needs to get on the football field for us."
- Dantonio identified offensive line and kicker as the two most critical areas to develop in spring ball. The Spartans lose three starters on the offensive line, including standout center Joel Nitchman, as well as first-team All-Big Ten kicker Brett Swenson.
- Some wonderful news about Spartans offensive lineman Arthur Ray Jr., who has kept his dream of playing football alive after battling bone cancer. Ray is finally off crutches and able to run and do individual drills. "His bone is healing," Dantonio said. "He hopes to play in the near future, within maybe a year. We'll have to petition for that. We would have room for [Ray on the roster]. That's something the doctors have to decide on. Me, personally, and our entire football staff, are thrilled to have Arthur out there every single day. ... I can look at him now and say there is a possibility [of him playing]." There are plenty of folks rooting for Ray, myself included.
- Defensive end David Rolf is transferring to be closer to his family. Defensive tackle Cameron Jude's status is unclear as he works through academic and personal issues.
- Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy doesn't appear on the spring depth chart because he underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will be limited in practice
Former Spartans safety Roderick Jenrette was sentenced to 90 days in jail, while current MSU wide receiver Fred Smith was sentenced to five days behind bars. Smith also received 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service.
Two other current players, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and offensive linemen J'Michael Deane, received 12 months probation and 150 hours of community service. Former Spartans defensive end Jamiihr Williams received 18 months probation and 15o hours of community service. Rucker, Deane and Williams all had pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery.
Eight of the eleven players who pleaded guilty in the Nov. 22 assault at Rather Hall now have been sentenced, with Jenrette and Smith the first to receive jail time. Former running back Glenn Winston, dismissed from the team with Jenrette on Nov. 24 and reportedly at the center of the incident, will be sentenced Monday and faces up to a year in jail.
Current MSU receiver Myles White also will be sentenced Monday, and current nose tackle Oren Wilson will be sentenced March 31. Seven players involved in the fight remain with the team but indefinitely suspended.
Michigan State starts spring practice Tuesday, and it will be interesting to see how head coach Mark Dantonio handles the suspended players. Team spokesman John Lewandowski released a statement last week saying Dantonio wouldn't make a final ruling until all the court cases are concluded. Wilson's is the last one to wrap up.
I still expect the majority of the seven suspended players to be back with the team. Wilson and White could face the toughest penalties from the team because of the delay in the coaching staff learning of their involvement.
Here's a rundown of the 11 current or former players involved in the Rather Hall fight:
- WRs B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell: Still on the team but suspended; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery; had conspiracy charge dropped; sentenced to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service last week.
- RB Ashton Leggett: Transferred to Illinois State; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery; had conspiracy charge dropped; sentenced to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service last week.
- S Roderick Jenrette: Dismissed from the team Nov. 24; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor aggravated assault and misdemeanor assault; sentenced Friday to 90 days in jail; will begin serving sentence in April.
- WR Fred Smith: Remains with the team but indefinitely suspended; pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit assault; had misdemeanor assault charge dropped; sentenced Friday to five days in jail, 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service.
- CB Chris L. Rucker and OL J'Michael Deane: Both remain with the team but indefinitely suspended; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault; had conspiracy charge dropped; sentenced Friday to 12 months probation and 150 hours of community service.
- DE Jamiihr Williams: Left the team; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault; had conspiracy charge dropped; sentenced Friday to 18 months probation and 150 hours of community service.
- RB Glenn Winston: Dismissed from team Nov. 24; pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and violating his probation; will be sentenced Monday.
- WR Myles White: Remains with the team; pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault but had conspiracy charge dropped; will be sentenced Monday.
- NT Oren Wilson: Remains with the team; pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault; had conspiracy charge dropped; will be sentenced March 31.
In January, Dell and Cunningham pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery for their roles in a Nov. 22 incident at a campus residence hall. The pleas came as part of an agreement where more serious charges of conspiracy were dropped against the players.
Eleven current or former MSU players have entered guilty pleas, and the next sentence comes down Wednesday (former running back Ashton Leggett).
Cunningham and Dell, who ranked second and third on the team in receiving last fall, respectively, both admitted to assaulting members of the Iota Phi Theta fraternity following a fraternity potluck function at Rather Hall.
Dell and Cunningham are among the seven players facing charges who remain at Michigan State. All seven players have been suspended from team activities, although head coach Mark Dantonio still must decide the players' long-term status. Michigan State opens spring ball March 23.
It's unlikely Dell or Cunningham will be dismissed from the program. Of the seven suspended players, nose tackle Oren Wilson and wide receiver Myles White could be in the most trouble with the coaches because their involvement in the incident wasn't known until January. Wilson even participated in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, a privilege that would have been revoked had the coaches known of his involvement.
Nose tackle Oren Wilson, cornerback Chris L. Rucker and wide receiver Myles White each entered the pleas Thursday as part of agreements with the prosecutor's office. Wilson pleaded guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and battery, telling a judge he kicked one person and punched another at Rather Hall. Both Rucker and White pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault and battery.
The more serious charge of conspiracy was dropped against all three men. They await sentencing next month.
Wilson wasn't charged in the incident until Jan. 26 and was allowed to play in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2.
All 11 current or former Michigan State players charged in the incident have now pled guilty. Head coach Mark Dantonio has indefinitely suspended the seven players still with the team, and they're not participating in the team's winter conditioning program.
Dantonio is expected to make a final ruling on the players' status after the legal process concludes.
The two players reportedly at the center of the incident, running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, have been dismissed from the team.
The sentences are scheduled to come down in mid to late March. Michigan State begins spring practice March 23.
- Colleague Bruce Feldman thinks Seantrel Henderson and Jordan Hicks both are Big Ten-bound. Hicks will announce his decision Friday, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno sounds off about the lack of leadership among today's young athletes (interesting read) at statecollege.com.
- Former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez talks about the high stress brought on by the profession, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times.
- Iowa's recruiting class likely will be capped at 20 players, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee made a good presentation to South Florida for its head-coaching position, Scott Carter writes in The Tampa Tribune.
- Michigan State should have identified Oren Wilson and Myles White as being present at the residence hall incident long before the Alamo Bowl, Drew Sharp writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Quarterback Chandler Whitmer stuck with his commitment to Illinois, even as other recruits jumped ship, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Junior defensive tackle Oren Wilson and redshirt freshman wide receiver Myles White both face assault and conspiracy charges. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday indefinitely suspended both players from all football-related activities. Both Wilson and White must turn themselves in for arraignment.
"As with the previously suspended players, their status with the team will be re-evaluated on a case-by-case basis as their legal issues are resolved," Dantonio said in a statement issued through the school's sports information department.
Eleven players now have been charged in the incident, which took place during a fraternity potluck function held the same night of Michigan State's team banquet. Four other players were suspended from the team for being present at the residence hall, though none faces charges.
Wilson started for Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, while White was suspended for the game for an unrelated incident. Dantonio, through a spokesman, said he didn't know Wilson and White were present at the residence hall until being notified of the forthcoming charges late last week. Though the suspensions were announced Tuesday, the punishments went into effect last week.
Dantonio handed down suspensions or dismissals for all the other players identified as being at the residence hall before the Alamo Bowl. Players were given opportunities to come forward about their involvement in the incident, but both Wilson and White declined to do so. MSU police in early December identified 10 suspects in the assault and were hoping to identify five more. Now we know that all 15 suspects were football players.
Still, it's troubling that more than two months have passed before Spartans coaches knew Wilson and White were involved.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings told the Lansing State Journal: "MSU Police has wonderful investigators and to me, it was never a question of if these two individuals were going to be identified, just a question of when."
Here's the breakdown of what's happening with the 15 players:
- Running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, who face charges and had previous legal issues, have been dismissed from the team.
- Running back Ashton Leggett pleaded guilty Jan. 14 to two counts of misdemeanor assault as part of a plea agreement in which a more serious conspiracy charge against him was dropped. Leggett since has transferred to Illinois State. Defensive end Jamiihr Williams, who also faces charges, will transfer as well.
- Brynden Trawick and Ishmyl Johnson, who were suspended for being at the residence hall but not charged, are transferring.
- Five players who face charges -- cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive lineman J'Michael Deane and wide receivers, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Fred Smith -- had their pretrial hearings postponed earlier this month. Dantonio allowed them to attend a team meeting several weeks ago, but their ultimate status will be determined after the legal process concludes. Wilson and White both are now in the same boat as these players.
- Donald Spencer and Chris D. Rucker were suspended but not charged and attended a team meeting earlier this month.
Obviously, this remains a messy situation for Dantonio and Michigan State, which could be without a sizable chunk of the roster when spring practice begins.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry this is coming in a bit late, but Michigan State held its second controlled scrimmage Friday afternoon, running through 99 plays at Spartan Stadium. The scrimmage was closed to the media, but Michigan State released the statistical leaders from the session.
A few notes:
- True freshman Larry Caper led the running backs with 14 carries for 68 yards and a touchdown. Both Caper and classmate Edwin Baker (32 yards) were featured in this scrimmage, while Caulton Ray again finished among the leading ball carriers with 37 rush yards. Maybe Ray's stock continues to rise in the running back race.
- Head coach Mark Dantonio praised his quarterbacks and said the offense executed better than in Monday's scrimmage, though the numbers don't really bear it out. Quarterbacks Keith Nichol and Kirk Cousins combined to complete 13 of 27 pass attempts for 173 yards with a touchdown and an interception (both thrown by Cousins).
- Senior Blair White led the receivers with 66 yards on three catches, while true freshman tight end Dion Sims continued to contribute with the lone touchdown grab.
- Star linebacker Greg Jones led the defense with 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker picked off Cousins in the red zone. Dantonio also singled out defensive lineman Oren Wilson for his play.
"Both quarterbacks threw some strikes today," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said. "In fact, Kirk and Keith each completed a throw with the defensive back draped all over the receiver. Those two guys know how to compete, and they continue to make our jobs tough in the evaluation process."
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the Spartans used several players in the scrimmage who hadn't played much before (i.e. freshmen).
"The tackling was a little bit better earlier in this scrimmage than the first one," Narduzzi said. "We saw some huge hits out there, and that's one of the things we like to see in our defense."
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
The two Spartans quarterbacks would have felt a bit like Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers. They would have been waiting a while.
Michigan State's senior class divided into two teams and made the selections for the Green and White squads. They filled 16 different position groups before coming to the quarterbacks. Even the long snappers were scooped up before Cousins and Nichol.
The Green team finally relented and picked Cousins, the sophomore who backed up Brian Hoyer last season. That meant Nichol went to the White team, which seemed happy to have him.
"It was interesting how the guys who may be the MVP, the quarterbacks, they're some of the last ones picked," said head coach Mark Dantonio, who officiated the draft inside the team meeting room. "It's because everybody feels they're both very, very good players and they both can lead and they both can make plays. That's a positive thing."
This year's draft wasn't nearly as entertaining as its predecessor, in large part because Dantonio was the only coach in the room. Last year, quarterback Brian Hoyer and Pat Narduzzi got into it regarding the drafting of offensive lineman Joel Nitchman.
"We've kept coach Narduzzi out of there this year," Dantonio told the players with a smile.
It was fun to watch the normally all-business Dantonio oversee the proceedings. He split up the entire football staff between the two squads, all the way down to the trainers, operations staff, film coordinators and turf management staff.
Defensive line coach Ted Gill will serve as head coach of the White team, with linebackers coach Mike Tressel as his defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mark Staten as the offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar will be the head man for the Green squad, with quarterbacks coach Dave Warner as offensive coordinator and secondary coach Harlon Barnett as the defensive coordinator.
The national runner-up Spartans men's basketball team also will play a key role in the Green-White game. Outgoing seniors Travis Walton and Idong Ibok attended the draft and will serve as two of the honorary captains for the Green team, while the hoops assistant coaches will do the same for the White squad.
Walton, ever the team captain, seemed to be running the Green team's draft, while defensive end Trevor Anderson was the point man for the White squad. Each team received two minutes between selections.
- For the second straight year, All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones was the first player drafted, going to the Green team, which won a coin flip. Safety Trenton Robinson's stellar spring rubbed off on the White team, which selected Robinson with its first pick.
- There was a bit of strategy involved, especially since the seniors had been drafted to the two teams by the coaches earlier in the day. Dantonio said Gill chose Anderson with the top pick among seniors.
- A bit of a surprise as Caulton Ray, not Ashton Leggett or Andre Anderson, was the first running back drafted, by the Green team. The White team then picked Leggett and Anderson went Green.
- Despite cornerback Jeremy Ware's desire to draft Mark Dell, the White team went with sophomore Keshawn Martin as the first wideout taken. The Green team scooped up Dell, while the White took B.J. Cunningham. Walk-on wideout Milton Colbert was picked before Fred Smith, a heralded 2008 recruit.
- After the Green team picked Charlie Gantt as the first tight end, the White squad went with Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum instead of Garrett Celek, who played a decent amount last year.
- The White team has the edge in special teams with starting kicker Brett Swenson and starting punter Aaron Bates.
- The Green team ended up with most of the first-string offensive line (tackle J'Michael Deane, right guard Jared McGaha, center Joel Nitchman), while the White team will counter with several starters on the D-line (Anderson, defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Oren Wilson). After the draft, the White squad proposed a trade that would swap Cunningham for Deane, but got shot down. "Alright, we're good to go," Anderson said, before high-fiving his teammates.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final West Virginia 40 Maryland 37 Final Indiana 42 Bowling Green 45 Final Kent State 0 22 Ohio State 66 Final Miami (OH) 10 Michigan 34 Final Iowa State 20 Iowa 17 Final Minnesota 7 TCU 30 Final Illinois 19 Washington 44 Final Purdue 14 11 Notre Dame 30 Final Penn State 13 Rutgers 10 Final Nebraska 55 Fresno State 19