Big Ten: Plaxico Burress

 
  AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
  For the second year in a row, a Big Ten receiver made the game-winning touchdown grab in the Super Bowl. This year it was former Ohio State standout Santonio Holmes.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

For the second straight year, a former Big Ten wide receiver made the winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl with exactly 35 seconds left in regulation.

And this time, he took home MVP honors.

Former Ohio State star Santonio Holmes made an electrifying grab in the back of the end zone to lift Pittsburgh past Arizona 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday night. Holmes, who made news earlier in the week with an admission that he sold drugs as a kid, had nine receptions for 131 yards to win the game's MVP award.

He's the first Big Ten player to win the award since former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady claimed the second of his two trophies in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Five former Big Ten players -- Brady, Holmes, Len Dawson (Purdue), Desmond Howard (Michigan) and Franco Harris (Penn State) -- have been named Super Bowl MVP.

Holmes' performance came a year after former Michigan State wide receiver Plaxico Burress caught a 13-yard touchdown to complete the Giants' comeback against Brady and the Patriots.

The Super Bowl was an impressive showcase for the Big Ten, which certainly needed a boost. The Big Ten will continue to take flak for its bowl performances, but arguably no league better prepares its players for the NFL.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Former Michigan linebacker LaMarr Woodley had the Steelers' only two sacks and forced a Kurt Warner fumble that sealed the victory with five seconds remaining.
  • Former Minnesota running back Gary Russell scored the game's first touchdown, a 1-yard run for the Steelers early in the second quarter.
  • Former Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston had six catches for 71 yards to go along with 43 yards on kickoff and punt returns for the Cardinals.
  • Former Purdue linebacker Chike Okeafor finished second on the Cardinals in tackles with six tackles (all solo).
  • Former Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth and former Illinois fullback Carey Davis both had a reception for six yards with the Steelers.
  • Former Illinois kicker Neil Rackers connected on all three of his extra-point attempts for the Cardinals. He did not attempt a field goal.
  • Former Penn State tackle Levi Brown started for the Cardinals and gave Warner time to rack up 377 pass yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Steelers defense.

A few Big Ten items

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
4:50
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After a whirlwind of a week, it's finally time to get to some quick things I've been meaning to post for a little while.

  • You've probably seen these on TV already, but the Big Ten is launching 11 customized public service announcements around the them of "I Will," which connect current Big Ten players to greats from the past. Players discuss their goals to become like legendary players such as two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, Bronko Nagurski and Franco Harris and more recent stars like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Plaxico Burress. Pretty cool clips.  
  • Before putting Week 2 to bed, one final note. The Big Ten went 11-0 on one day for the first time in league history. The league posted an 11-0 mark during a Thursday/Saturday back in 2006. The Big Ten has had three unblemished "weeks" since 2005 after going 20 years without achieving perfection.
  • Northwestern players on Thursday morning enjoyed a special screening of the film "The Express," about former Syracuse running back Ernie Davis, the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner who died of leukemia at age 23. Most of the game scenes from the movie were shot at Northwestern's Ryan Field in the spring of 2007. The movie makes its world premiere tonight in Syracuse, N.Y. 

Stepping away for a bit

August, 19, 2008
8/19/08
3:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Just a quick note to let you know that posting will be a little light this afternoon as I finish up a few stories for the Big Ten preview, which runs Thursday. I'm awaiting an update on Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor and will post any other news as soon as possible.

For a good laugh, check out this song about the never-ending Big Ten-SEC debate. I think SEC fans should give it a rest -- you guys win, stop bothering everyone, Big Ten teams don't care as much as you do -- but this is some pretty funny stuff.

My only problem with the song is the claim that Eli Manning (SEC, Ole Miss) added to the domination by beating Tom Brady (Big Ten, Michigan) in the Super Bowl. Did they forget that a Michigan State guy (Plaxico Burress) caught the game-winning touchdown?  

Big Ten mailbag

August, 15, 2008
8/15/08
4:42
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I probably don't mention this enough, but I really appreciate all the e-mail, both the positive and the negative. I always knew Big Ten fans were passionate about their football, and the last few weeks have only reinforced that belief. Keep 'em coming!

Jan from Washington, D.C., writes: Your Plax posting re Nick "$aban" made me wonder about the attitude of Plax and Co. from the 1999 team toward [Mark] Dantonio, and thus Dantonio's relationship toward his former boss Saban. I know Joe Rexrode (LSJ) has repeatedly said that Saban was not liked by his players, but Dantonio, who was on Saban's staff as secondary coach, has invited those players, including Plax, back to campus and they have journeyed back. It begs the question: does Dantonio respect/get along with/have any nostalgia for his old boss? It's a fine line, because Dantonio wants to be associated with that 1999 winning team, but apparently not the part where Saban was mean to the players/untrustworthy.

Adam Rittenberg writes: Most coaches are extremely loyal to the guys they work for, and Dantonio seems no different. I'm sure he respects Saban -- looking at Saban's record, how can you not? -- and values the time he spent with him. He could disagree about the way Saban left MSU, but he probably knows the guy and the situation a lot better than most people. As I alluded to earlier in the week, Dantonio really gets it as far as understanding the place where he's coaching. Reaching out to former players, particularly NFL guys like Plax, is a critical component of maintaining a strong tradition. Michigan State, despite underachieving for much of the last few decades, still produces a bunch of NFL players. Reconnecting with those guys is key. I doubt Dantonio will make too many Nick Saban references in news conferences or player meetings, but I think he walks that fine line quite well.


B.J. in Boardman, Ohio, writes: I'm an Ohio State fan and I'm definitely psyched for the (mostly) positive media attention OSU has received during the offseason, but with that being said I don't understand why Kellen Lewis has been so under the radar in terms of All-Big Ten honors and coverage in general. What gives? The guy's stats are incredible and it seems like no one has him as All-Big Ten. Is it because of the suspension?

Adam Rittenberg writes: First off, I'm psyched there's actually a place called Boardman, Ohio. I used to think that was the infinite realm where all my readers lived. OK, back to the question. I agree that Lewis is underappreciated, but certainly not here, as I ranked him as the Big Ten's top quarterback. Lewis is a tremendous athlete who has blossomed as a passer. He'll reclaim his starting job soon enough after the suspension and should be a natural in the no-huddle offense. As far as the lack of buzz, the fact that Lewis plays for Indiana probably has more to do with it than the suspension. If IU capitalizes on its schedule, goes back to a bowl and wins, he'll get plenty of ink.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Burress

New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress evidently wasn't too fond of his college coach, Nick Saban, when the two were together at Michigan State. Plax sounded off on Saban in his new autobiography, Ethan Skolnick writes in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Burress didn't think much of Saban's people skills and the fact Saban didn't allow him to talk to the media [I'm with ya there, Plax]. Saban's departure to LSU in December 1999 also rubbed Burress the wrong way.

From the story:

Burress also recalls Saban telling MSU players that, contrary to rumors, he wasn't leaving Michigan State for LSU.

"Then the next day, the very next day, Saban said, 'Guys, I'm going to LSU,'" Burress writes. "So that let me know where he was coming from as a person and how loyal he was. I didn't trust anything he said at that point. Nothing."

I wonder if Saban and Bobby Petrino will sit down before the Alabama-Arkansas game on Sept. 20 and talk about who is liked less.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Day 2 of practice around the Big Ten is in the books, and my tour of Michigan has finished. Up next is Northwestern for practice and media day on Thursday before a weekend with the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison.

Let's hop on the Big Ten bus:

  • Wisconsin's team leadership should be more solid this season, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Linebacker Jonathan Casillas served as a captain last year, but he'll share the load with linebacker DeAndre Levy and fullback Chris Pressley.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises tuned into the Big Ten Network for coverage of Ohio State's practice on Tuesday. What did he see? Linebacker Tyler Moeller practiced with the first-team defense, reserve running back Brandon Saine isn't getting hit yet and Curtis Terry is working with the first-team offense at fullback. The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon also watched practice from his couch and liked what he saw from reserve quarterback Joe Bauserman.
  • Cornerback James Scott didn't make Ohio State's 105-man roster for training camp, which seems a bit odd, The Columbus Dispatch's Gordon writes in his blog.
  • Kirk Ferentz still has the same coordinators at Iowa, but the rest of his coaching staff shuffled around quite a bit during the offseason, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
  • Minnesota's freshmen are getting immediate opportunities to play at both wide receiver and along the offensive line, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. The line will have to be a group effort this season, as coach Phil Meyer experiments with different combinations, Kent Youngblood writes in The [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.
  • Quarterback Ben Chappell is running with Indiana's first-team offense, but Kellen Lewis looks to be closing the gap quickly. 
  • The Detroit Free Press' Shawn Windsor goes inside Michigan's first preseason practice under coach Rich Rodriguez.
  • The Champaign (Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen has an extensive report from Illinois practice, including a breakdown of the team's wide receivers.
  • Chris Burke of The Diag blog released his preseason top 25. He's not too high on Georgia but has Wisconsin higher than most prognosticators.
  • Will Indiana retire James Hardy's number? No one has claimed it so far in preseason practice, The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog.
  • Man, I love these photo galleries from the Detroit Free Press. Here's one that chronicles Michigan State's top wide receivers of the last 30 years. Not surprisingly, Plaxico Burress is No. 1.
  • When Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio split the team into classes to sing the fight song earlier this week, the freshmen filled the stage while the crowd of seniors was sparse. Not surprisingly, Dantonio is looking for leadership from the younger players, Dave Dye writes in The Detroit News.
  • Yes, this story is about a punter. But at Wisconsin, both punter and placekicker are in the spotlight after the losses of two All-Big Ten players.
  • The Penn State blog Black Shoe Diaries had some issues with my list of top Big Ten rivalries, but I'm not bitter. And besides, they followed up by putting together a list of the league's coolest rivalry trophies. Mmmm, bacon.
  • The Ohio State blog Eleven Warriors takes a look at the Buckeyes' projected starting offense and defense, complete with diagrams. Some good analysis here.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- I just got back from watching Michigan State's practice and touring the new $15.5 million Skandalaris Football Center, a very impressive facility that officially opens Aug. 21.

Here are some items of note from each one:

PRACTICE

  • Media were allowed to view the first seven periods of Tuesday's practice, which consisted mainly of special teams and individual drills. Unlike Michigan, which piped in Motown tracks on Monday, the Spartans' music selection varied from Stevie Wonder's "Very Superstitious" to some rock song I couldn't recognize. Jay-Z apparently was featured on Monday.
  • Ryan Allison's position journey has brought him to weak-side linebacker, where he's a primary candidate to start. Allison came to Michigan State as a wide receiver and appeared in nine games as a freshman before starting two contests his sophomore year. He moved to safety during Champs Sports Bowl practice before switching to linebacker this spring.
He's competing with junior Brandon Denson for the top job.
"He had a great offseason," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Wait till you see what he looks like. He put on about 20 pounds. So I'd say he has a sense of urgency, may have the upper hand as far as maturity goes."
  • Freshman wide receiver Fred Smith looks physically ready to compete for playing time right away. He's listed at 6-2 and 218 pounds and seemed every bit that big as he worked out with the wideouts Tuesday. Several Michigan State beat writers I spoke with said the coaches are also high on another freshman wideout, Keshawn Martin, a sparsely recruited speedster from Inkster, Mich.
  • I tried to get a glimpse of the running backs to see who would complement Javon Ringer in the backfield. Junior A.J. Jimmerson was getting reps as the second-team back and also completed a halfback option pass. There's also some buzz about redshirt freshman Andre Anderson.
  • When Mark Dantonio came over to say hello to me, I was surprised to see a piece of tape across his chest with the words "Coach Dantonio." Does the head coach really need a name tag? Evidently, everyone does at Michigan State, and Dantonio is making no exceptions for himself. A team official told me Dantonio was writing several players' names on their helmets with a Sharpie at Monday's practice.
  • Place-kicker Brett Swenson was getting razzed about his light blue shoes, which looked like they belonged to a North Carolina player. Swenson colored over the blue with green, but you could still tell. Kickers.
  • Dantonio spent the latter part of the viewing period working with the safeties.
  • Several players rotated on punt returns, including freshman running back Caulton Ray.

SKANDALARIS FOOTBALL CENTER

  • As expected, this place is a major upgrade for the Spartans, who had their offices in trailers before moving in recently. The lobby includes several displays highlighting team history, including panels featuring Michigan State players that won national awards. Butkus Award winner Percy Snow and Outland Trophy winner Ed Bagdon are among the players featured.
  • A display honoring Michigan State's two outright national championships will also be placed in the lobby.
  • Two of my favorite touches were the main elevator, which is in the shape of the football, and hashmarks in 5-yard increments that line the building's hallway.
  • The hallway contains displays honoring Michigan State's College Football Hall of Famers, first-team All-Americans and all-time NFL roster. A picture of former Spartans wideout Plaxico Burress catching the Super Bowl-winning touchdown and hoisting the championship trophy is prominently displayed.
  • The main meeting room is bisected by an aisle with a divider above, so coaches can meet with the entire team, then split up into offense and defense before breaking off into position meetings. The setup should save a ton of time. The smaller meeting rooms for players and coaches also looked first-rate.
  • Dantonio's corner office has an impressive view of campus, including Spartan Stadium, the Breslin Center and several practice fields.

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