Big Ten: Prince Kwateng

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The position rankings march on with the linebackers, another position that looks fairly stacked throughout the Big Ten. Much like the D-lines, I don't see many truly weak groups here, though there's a drop-off after No. 4. 

1. Penn State -- The Lions return the Big Ten's most explosive linebacker from a year ago (Navorro Bowman) and one of the league's most productive 'backers from 2007 (Sean Lee). If Lee returns to form, he and Bowman will form arguably the nation's best linebacker tandem and anchor a Nittany Lions defense that led the Big Ten against the run. Josh Hull adds experience at the third starting spot, while hopes are very high for sophomore Michael Mauti. 

 
  Joe Robbins/Getty Images
  Greg Jones, the Big 10 preseason Defensive Player of the Year, leads Michigan State's linebacking corps.

2. Iowa -- Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds lead a group that always seems to get it done. Angerer tied for the league lead in interceptions last year and led the team with 106 tackles in a breakout junior season. His production overshadowed the solid play of Edds, who should have a big senior season. Jeremiha Hunter also returns for his second year as the starter. Depth might be a bit of a concern here, but the top three are very good. 

3. Michigan State -- Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones is the headliner, and he has a nice supporting cast around him. Jones has led the Spartans in tackles in each of his first two seasons and consistently finds his way into the offensive backfield. Eric Gordon has developed into a fine outside linebacker, and Brandon Denson takes on a bigger role this fall. The Spartans also can look to their bench for Adam Decker, who made the game-clinching tackle against Iowa's Shonn Greene last year.

4. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose one of the more productive linebacker tandems in recent Big Ten history, as James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman move on to the NFL. The good news is Austin Spitler, Tyler Moeller and others have waited their turn and probably would have earned starting jobs on any other team. Spitler and Moeller step into bigger roles along with Brian Rolle, and Ohio State needs bigger things from Ross Homan in his second year as a starter. There are some question marks, but this should be a good group.

5. Michigan -- Linebacker figures to be Michigan's strongest area on defense. Obi Ezeh has proved to be a reliable Big Ten defender, and he'll benefit from having a healthy Jonas Mouton in the fold. The big question is whether Stevie Brown makes a smooth transition from safety and builds on a strong spring. If Brown steps up, the Wolverines should be fine here. Hopes are also high for Brandon Herron and Marell Evans.   

6. Minnesota -- This group could take a major step forward in 2009, but the Gophers must defend better against the run. Lee Campbell quietly had a nice junior season, recording 80 tackles and four sacks, and Simoni Lawrence proved himself as a playmaker with 10.5 tackles for loss (4 sacks), two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and an interception. Minnesota boasts a ton of speed at linebacker, and it'll be interesting to see how Keanon Cooper and Gary Tinsley perform. Sam Maresh could provide an emotional lift after his amazing return from heart surgery. 

7. Indiana -- It's time for Matt Mayberry and his fellow 'backers to lead this defense to better results in 2009. Mayberry has the talent and the experience to turn in a monster senior season, but he needs to show up every week and make big plays. Will Patterson provides leadership at middle linebacker, and Tyler Replogle steps into a bigger role. If Indiana turns things around on defense, the linebackers must lead the way. 

8. Northwestern -- Head coach Pat Fitzgerald identified his top three linebackers in spring, which bodes well for a group that loses Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng. Outside linebacker Quentin Davie has quietly put up some very impressive numbers, and Nate Williams will be more comfortable in a major role. Fitzgerald is excited about speedy sophomore Ben Johnson, and safety Brad Phillips might see more time in a hybrid role. There are some lingering questions here, but this group could make a big jump.

9. Wisconsin -- The jury's out on the Badgers after they lose DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, who combined for 15.5 tackles for loss last year. I like what Jaevery McFadden brings at middle linebacker, but he'll need some help from Culmer St. Jean, who saw increased time down the stretch in 2008. Aside from McFadden and St. Jean, the group is unproven and needs to show it's not the weak link of the defense.

10. Illinois -- Ron Zook thinks this will be the year Martez Wilson emerges as an elite Big Ten defender, and history is on his side. The move to middle linebacker worked out well for Brit Miller last year, and Wilson showed some promise in the middle this spring. Illinois needs big things from Wilson because it lacks much experience around him. Junior college transfer Aaron Gress might be a key addition, but I'm far from sold on this group.

11. Purdue -- The Boilers lose an extremely productive and underrated linebacker in Anthony Heygood, and a lot of questions remain with this group. As much as Purdue wants to see Jason Werner healthy, the team can't rely on a guy with a history of back problems. Joe Holland and Chris Carlino need big seasons this fall, and Purdue must build some depth around them.  

Northwestern spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:20
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern Wildcats

2008 overall record: 9-4

2008 conference record: 5-3

Returning starters

Offense: 5; Defense: 8; Special teams: 1

Top returners

LT Al Netter, C Ben Burkett, DE Corey Wootton, S Brad Phillips, S Brendan Smith, CB Sherrick McManis, LB Quentin Davie

Key losses

QB C.J. Bacher, RB Tyrell Sutton, WR Eric Peterman, WR Ross Lane, WR Rasheed Ward, DT John Gill, LB Prince Kwateng, LB Malcolm Arrington

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tyrell Sutton (890 yds)
Passing: C.J. Bacher (2,432 yds)
Receiving: Eric Peterman (737 yds)
Tackles: Brad Phillips* (109)
Sacks: Corey Wootton* (10)
Interceptions: Jordan Mabin and Brad Phillips* (3)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Towson
Sept. 12 Eastern Michigan
Sept. 19 at Syracuse
Sept. 26 Minnesota
Oct. 3 at Purdue
Oct. 10 Miami (Ohio)
Oct. 17 at Michigan State
Oct. 24 Indiana
Oct. 31 Penn State
Nov. 7 at Iowa
Nov. 14 at Illinois
Nov. 21 Wisconsin

Spring answers

1. Matthews impresses -- The competition at running back remains open entering the summer, but speedy sophomore Jeravin Matthews made a strong push this spring. One of only two true freshmen to see the field last fall, Matthews moved from wide receiver to running back and brings top-end speed to the backfield. He had a game-high 90 yards and a touchdown in the spring scrimmage.

2. Backers set -- Northwestern left the spring with its starting linebacking corps set. Middle linebacker Nate Williams and strong side backer Quentin Davie were likely starters following the 2008 season, and Ben Johnson emerged at the weak-side spot in practice. Johnson has impressed head coach Pat Fitzgerald with his speed on the outside.

3. O-line develops -- With several skill positions up in the air, Northwestern will lean on a line that returns four starters. Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett anchor the group after turning in solid performances this spring. Northwestern has recruited better to offensive line than any other position, and several redshirt freshmen (Neal Deiters, Brian Mulroe, Nick Adamle) will provide depth.

Fall questions

1. Wootton's health -- All eyes will be on All-Big Ten defensive end Corey Wootton this summer as he returns from a torn ACL. Reports on Wootton's rehab are promising, but there's no certainty he will return to the form he showed last season. Wootton projects as a first-round draft pick if healthy, and Northwestern needs him to anchor the pass rush in 2009.

2. Quarterback competence -- Mike Kafka has proven himself as a runner, but his consistency as a passer remains a question entering the summer. Kafka has a so-so spring and still must improve on the short to intermediate routes that spur Northwestern's offense. Coordinator Mick McCall has a good track record of developing quarterbacks, but both Kafka and backup Dan Persa need to make a jump this summer.

3. Receiver rotation -- The wide receiver depth chart is written in pencil at this point, and several spots might not be settled until the Sept. 5 opener. Andrew Brewer seemed better suited to the outside receiver spot this spring, but Northwestern will need another option or two to emerge inside alongside Jeremy Ebert, who returns from a hip injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Most of the major transfer news in the Big Ten has centered on players leaving the league, particularly at the quarterback position. Three prominent signal-callers transferred from Big Ten schools -- Michigan's Steven Threet, Penn State's Pat Devlin and Iowa's Jake Christensen -- and Wisconsin announced Monday that reserve quarterback James Stallons was granted his release.

But there are several key additions to Big Ten teams who will become eligible this fall. Here's a look at five transfers from other FBS programs who could make a major impact in 2009.

 
  Icon SMI
  Michigan transfer Justin Boren could step in and be the Buckeyes' top offensive lineman.

Michigan State quarterback Keith Nichol (Oklahoma) -- It's hard to blame Nichol for transferring from Oklahoma, particularly with that Bradford guy ahead of him on the depth chart. He returns to his home state and will compete for the starting job alongside sophomore Kirk Cousins. A dual-threat quarterback who has drawn comparisons to former Spartans star Drew Stanton, Nichol brings a unique skill set to an offense that needs a spark without Javon Ringer.

Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren (Michigan) -- There's already talk that Boren will be Ohio State's top offensive lineman when he steps on the practice field this spring. He started all 13 games for Michigan as a sophomore in 2007 and looks like a lock for a starting guard spot with the Buckeyes. Boren will be a lightning rod for the rest of his career because he transferred from Michigan to Ohio State, but his ability merits attention as well.

Illinois wide receiver Jarred Fayson (Florida) -- Quarterback Juice Williams mentioned Fayson as an emerging team leader during the offseason, and the Florida transfer will enter the receiver rotation this fall. Illinois boasts a lot of talent at wide receiver, so Fayson will need to distinguish himself in spring ball. But the heralded high school recruit contributed as a receiver, runner and return man for Florida in 2006 and should find his way on the field.

Minnesota offensive lineman Matt Carufel (Notre Dame) -- Minnesota's offense is getting a makeover under coordinator Jedd Fisch and line coach Tim Davis, and Carufel should play a role this fall as the Gophers emphasize the power run again. Carufel started the first three games of 2007 at Notre Dame before deciding to transfer. The Gophers' struggles on the line should create plenty of competition during the spring and summer, and Carufel will be in the mix for a starting job.

Northwestern linebacker Aaron Nagel (Notre Dame) -- A traffic jam at linebacker last spring caused Nagel to leave Notre Dame for Northwestern, where he joins his brother Brett, a redshirt freshman fullback/tight end. The Wildcats lose two starting linebackers (Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng), so Nagel will have the opportunity to earn significant playing time, which he wasn't getting with the Irish.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The skill positions will top Pat Fitzgerald's wish list as the Northwestern head coach wraps up a small recruiting class on the heels of a 9-4 season.

Northwestern loses its starting quarterback (C.J. Bacher), its top two running backs (Tyrell Sutton and Omar Conteh) and its top three wide receivers (Eric Peterman, Rasheed Ward and Ross Lane). Mike Kafka steps in at quarterback, but he'll be a senior. The Wildcats need another capable signal caller for 2010, and they think they've found one in commit Evan Watkins.

Running back will be the team's biggest need next fall, and the recruiting class could help. Sutton arrived four years ago as a true freshman and rushed for nearly 1,500 yards. Though undersized rising junior Stephen Simmons did a nice job in relief of Sutton this fall, Northwestern needs to stock up in the backfield.

The Wildcats return some capable possession-type wide receivers (Jeremy Ebert, Andrew Brewer), but adding a player who can stretch the field would be a big plus in this class.

On the defensive side, linebacker likely will be the top priority, as Northwestern loses two starters (Malcolm Arrington and Prince Kwateng). Fitzgerald has always recruited well to his former position and will look to add there. The defensive line loses two starters and another (star end Corey Wootton) after the 2009 season, so building depth up front is vital.

Northwestern also loses kicker Amado Villarreal, a two-year starter, and will award a scholarship to incoming recruit Jeff Budzien.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

NORTHWESTERN

Northwestern starting middle linebacker Malcolm Arrington will miss the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury, the team announced today. Coach Pat Fitzgerald said there's a possibility Arrington could return for a bowl game, but the Wildcats will need to move forward without their third-leading tackler. Arrington suffered the injury last week against Purdue.

It looks like Arrington has ligament damage and could need surgery in the coming weeks. This is a big loss for the 22nd-ranked Wildcats, but both Quentin Davie and Prince Kwateng have played well at outside linebacker and need to fill the void. Sophomore Nate Williams will start for Arrington on Saturday at Indiana.

PURDUE

According to a team spokesman, backup quarterback Joey Elliott has been told he will not need surgery on his throwing shoulder, which he separated in the second quarter against Northwestern. It's still doubtful that Elliott will return this season, but he should be fine for spring practice, when he's expected to take over the starting quarterback position.

Elliott had replaced the struggling Curtis Painter twice in Purdue's last three games. Redshirt freshman Justin Siller now becomes Painter's primary backup.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The briefing begins with an item I meant to post yesterday. My apologies.

An independent report showed that Iowa made mistakes in its investigation of an alleged sexual assault involving two former football players, but the school didn't attempt to cover up the incident. The report said head football coach Kirk Ferentz, athletic director Gary Barta and others adhered to school policies. Here are the findings and recommendations.

"The university's response to the alleged sexual assault was inadequate. While the substance of the response was not acceptable, there was no cover-up or attempted cover-up and no pressure to deal with it informally," lead investigator James Bryant said in his presentation.

It looks like Ferentz has dodged a bullet here, as the report showed he never instructed two football players to move back into the dorm room where the alleged incident occurred.

Getting back to the gridiron, here's what's going on around the league:

For one big game, when a team needs to be at a peak mental, emotional and physical state for a dogfight with an elite opponent, give me Urban Meyer or Pete Carroll. Week in and week out, when you want to make sure Minnesota doesn't jump up and bite you, give me Tressel.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern announced its team captains this afternoon: senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, senior wide receiver Eric Peterman, senior linebacker Prince Kwateng and junior safety Brendan Smith.

No major surprises here with three seniors and a virtual senior in Smith, who took a medical hardship last season after undergoing shoulder surgery in early October. Bacher was an obvious choice along with Peterman, arguably the team's best all-around player. Senior running back Tyrell Sutton might have earned some consideration as well. Kwateng and Smith are two of the more vocal players on defense.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The position rankings resume with the linebackers, which is usually a strong position in the Big Ten but one that lacks headliners this season. Ohio State boasts two standouts in preseason Defensive Player of the Year James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, but most teams welcome new players to their defensive midsection. Illinois lost All-American middle linebacker J Leman, Michigan lost backfield beast Shawn Crable and Penn State lost standout Sean Lee to a season-ending knee injury this spring. But I'll get to the individuals later.

Here's a look at the linebacker groups in the Big Ten:

1. Ohio State -- Laurinaitis and Freeman passed up the NFL for one final season together and one final stab at the national championship. The star tandem has combined for 429 career tackles, easily putting Ohio State in the top spot for linebackers. Sophomore Ross Homan, a candidate for the third starting spot, could be the next great Buckeyes linebacker.

2. Wisconsin -- This group admittedly underachieved a bit last season, but better things are on the way with all three starters back. Senior Jonathan Casillas led the team in tackles last season and looks to regain his playmaking form of 2006, when he had a team-high 12.5 tackles for loss. DeAndre Levy provides leadership and should flourish under new coordinator Dave Doeren.

3. Illinois -- Leman's production can't be replaced and Illinois also lost second-leading tackler Antonio Steele, but there is plenty left over at linebacker. Veteran Brit Miller, who has slimmed down this offseason, slides over to middle linebacker, a position he's played before. Miller has the personality to lead and will be able to mentor highly touted sophomore Martez Wilson.

4. Penn State -- The Lions undoubtedly would have been higher with Lee leading the way, but they still have some playmakers here. Penn State needs big things from veteran outside linebacker Tyrell Sales, who had three sacks last season. Promising sophomore Chris Colasanti will play a larger role along with junior Josh Hull, who appeared in every game last fall.

5. Indiana -- Despite boasting the league's best pass rusher in end Greg Middleton, Indiana's campaign for a better defense hinges on this unit. Incumbents Will Patterson and Geno Johnson return, and there's plenty of buzz about junior Matt Mayberry. Patterson recorded three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries last season.

6. Michigan -- This appears to be the weak point of the Wolverines defense, which will miss All-Big Ten selection Crable and Chris Graham. But Obi Ezeh has experience at middle linebacker and will be pushed by John Thompson. Sophomores Marell Evans and Jonas Mouton bring speed to the weak side.

7. Iowa -- A.J. Edds is a budding star at outside linebacker after ranking second on the team in tackles last season. But after Edds, there are questions. The Hawkeyes must replace two productive players in Mike Humpal and Mike Klinkenborg and need promising sophomores Jacody Coleman, Jeff Tarpinian and Jeremiha Hunter to step up.

8. Michigan State -- Here's another young group that could finish higher but needs more than one proven commodity. Greg Jones is on his way to a stellar career after a strong freshman season. His move to the middle should help the Spartans, but they need more from returning starter Eric Gordon as well as a reliable player to emerge at the third spot.

9. Purdue -- Anthony Heygood has been productive at outside linebacker, racking up 15 tackles for loss last season. If Heygood continues to cause havoc and Jason Werner takes another step after a strong spring, Purdue could soar up this list. Werner showed good durability in spring ball, but he must avoid injuries after back problems nearly ended his career.

10. Northwestern -- Linebacker is usually the strongest position group on a weak defense, but for the second straight year there are questions. The Wildcats lose Adam Kadela, the league's No. 3 tackler last season, and need Malcolm Arrington to build off a decent 2007 season as he shifts to middle linebacker. Senior Prince Kwateng hasn't reached his potential thus far, while promising young players like Bryce McNaul and Nate Williams are ready to step up.

11. Minnesota -- Despite some strong additions this offseason, last year can't be overlooked. The Gophers return experience with Steve Davis and Deon Hightower, and hopes are high for junior-college transfer Rex Sharpe. But run-stopping was a disaster in 2007, so until Minnesota shows otherwise, it will linger at the bottom.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

 
 AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews
 Coach Pat Fitzgerald's offseason program includes competitions in academics, community service and other arenas.

Expect a full Q&A with Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald on Monday, but I wanted to highlight a new feature of the team's offseason program.

When the squad reconvened in February following a disappointing 6-6 season, Fitzgerald had players split into 10 mini teams and kicked off a competition that would last until Aug. 4, the first day of preseason camp. The teams went through daily competitions in the weight room, winter conditioning and spring football practice as well as in academics, community service and other arenas. Points were accumulated and reported throughout the winter, spring and summer. The winning team will be excused from the vomit-inducing conditioning test Northwestern runs every year on the first day of camp.

"We wanted to create an environment of ownership, where our players took over ownership, completely, of the team," Fitzgerald said. "We're getting there. We're not there yet, to where players are working through their teams, not the coaching staffs, to set the goals for the year. I'm proud of where we're at right now."

The Wildcats voted on 10 leaders for the mini teams and held a draft before the competition. The leadership squad consisted of senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, senior wide receiver Eric Peterman, senior linebacker Prince Kwateng, senior guard Keegan Kennedy, junior safety Brad Phillips, redshirt freshman linebacker Bryce McNaul, junior cornerback Sherrick McManis, junior tight end Brendan Mitchell, freshman quarterback Dan Persa and senior defensive end Kevin Mims.

Fitzgerald allowed the leaders to draft who they wanted, but he wanted each team to include a cross-section of ages and positions. Bacher's team, for example, has a running back, a wide receiver, two offensive linemen, two linebackers and a defensive tackle.

"I wanted guys like C.J. to know more than just the quarterbacks, or more than just the guys on offense," Fitzgerald said. "That was the byproduct we were hoping to accomplish, and we did. The guys drafted that way."

As of Thursday afternoon, the Victorious Secret team led by Peterman, who is involved in every community service project known to man, held a sizable lead. But Bacher's squad might make a late run -- so that they don't run Aug. 4.

A lot of teams do similar things in the offseason, but this kind of competition speaks to Fitzgerald's personality as a coach, something he hasn't always put forth in his tenure. The 33-year-old is still finding his voice as a head coach, and this is a positive step.

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