Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
Mere hours now until teams around the Big Ten hit the practice fields. We're answering questions daily here on the blog as the preseason gets underway. Got something for me? Send it here. The latest offerings:

Mitch Sherman: That's an excellent observation, Jay, and an aspect of the Scarlet Knights largely overlooked in this transition to the Big Ten. Rutgers has blocked 35 kicks over the past five seasons, nine more than any other FBS program, and it's consistently won the battle on special teams. While Kyle Flood, his staff and players must prepare for eight new league opponents this fall -- a tall task -- perhaps they can surprise a few foes with strong play in the kicking game. It's a powerful card to play; few plays in football change momentum like blocked kicks. Facing a brutal league schedule, Rutgers will likely get more aggressive than ever in going after kicks.

Mitch Sherman: Start with the schedule. Three of Purdue' five most difficult games -- against Michigan State, Wisconsin and Iowa -- are at home. A fourth is to be played at a neutral site (perhaps better labeled off-campus) against Notre Dame in Indianapolis. Ryan Russell is primed to enjoy a big senior season. Among a stacked group of Big Ten defensive ends, he is perhaps the most underrated. Seniors Raheem Mostert and Akeem Hunt possess legitimate speed. If Purdue can create space for them to run, the big-play threat is real. And while the quarterback spot is not entirely settled, Danny Etling showed real improvement toward the end of his true freshman season. Mark it down: the win total will rise from last year's one. I'll place the max figure at six, though four or five looks more likely.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not going to overthink this. It looks like Derrick Willies, and I think it will be Willies. The 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman starred in spring scrimmages. I expect his strong play to carry over to this season. Iowa features veterans in Kevonte Martin-Manley, Damond Powell and Tevaun Smith, but none possess the athleticism of Willies. He may not start from the outset, but look for his playing time to increase as Willies shows his big-play potential. For quarterback Jake Rudock, the presence of a big target who can make plays on the ball provides a great comfort. If Willies emerges as expected, the Iowa offense -- already solid if not flashy -- gets an added dimension.
LINCOLN, Neb. -- Only twice in its illustrious history has Nebraska averaged 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same season.

Only once – last season – has it reached 250 rushing and 200 passing.

Through six games this fall, the Huskers sit at 285 rushing and 205 passing. Granted, three of the Big Ten’s top four rushing defenses – Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan – await Nebraska in November, and the other top unit against the run, Ohio State, might well be there for the Huskers in Indianapolis on Dec. 7 if things go as planned in Lincoln.

Regardless, credit the Nebraska offensive line, whose members talked in August of ranking as a vintage Huskers group. That’s a mouthful at a school that won six Outland Trophies and 13 NCAA rushing titles in the 1980s and 1990s alone.

[+] EnlargeSpencer Long
Reese Strickland/US PresswireSpencer Long will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, forcing a shift on the Nebraska offensive line.
These guys have held their own, though, allowing a FBS-low three sacks in the season’s first half.

Now they meet their biggest challenge, the test the Nebraska linemen hoped they would never face: the loss of Spencer Long. How they respond will define the way they are remembered.

“From here on out, we’re playing for Spencer,” said junior Mike Moudy, Long’s likely replacement at right guard next Saturday when Nebraska visits Minnesota. “We’ve got the drive to compete for him. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. But everyone’s just taking that in stride and saying we’re going to give our all to Spence.”

Long meant so much to his teammates. He was a throwback to the great linemen of Huskers past – a walk-on from Elkhorn, Neb., who toiled on the scout team, earned his scholarship, then all-conference honors and a recognition as a captain in his fifth-year senior season.

He started 33 games. He remains a top student, majoring in pre-med. He’ll probably be a doctor, even if the NFL delays his continued studies.

He went down on the fifth play from scrimmage last week in the Huskers’ 44-7 win at Purdue. Long was hustling around the backside of a rush by Imani Cross and fell over the legs of defensive end Ryan Russell. Long’s left knee buckled.

Coach Bo Pelini was among the first to reach him on the ground. Long underwent surgery Thursday to repair a torn MCL. Don’t bet against his return in time to work for NFL scouts ahead of the May 8-10 NFL draft.

“What happened to Spencer sucks,” senior left tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “There’s no way around it. His career got cut short here at Nebraska, but a lot of young guys have got great opportunities now.

“We’re going to honor Spencer with our effort. We’re going to honor Spencer with the way we play, because he was our captain. We followed him.”

Who will they follow now? Perhaps Sirles, a veteran of 34 starts, fellow seniors Andrew Rodriguez at right tackle and center Cole Pensick. With Moudy and junior Jake Cotton at left guard, the offensive line is still a seasoned group.

Coaches have talked this week of shifting Pensick, using untested Ryne Reeves or Givens Price or even pulling the redshirt from junior college transfer Chongo Kondolo.

It will work best if Moudy sticks. He fits the pedigree at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, another top student who has worked in the program for four years. As recently as last season, Moudy spent time on the scout team. Pelini said he noticed a big jump in the spring.

What happened?

“Probably just wanting to play, “Moudy said. “The desire to play. I kind of got tired of sitting on the scout team. I had to take another step mentally.”

Long, with Cotton and offensive line coach John Garrison, aided Moudy in his ascent.

He began to prove himself at Purdue. Moudy allowed one sack but otherwise played well.

The other linemen chided him for the mistake.

“He did a great job,” Sirles said, “but he’s going to held to the same standard Spencer was held to. People are like, ‘Oh, that’s not fair.' But we all hold ourselves to a high standard. It doesn’t matter who’s out there playing.”

Injuries such as this one are all too common over the past two seasons at Nebraska. Senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler went down last year during the Huskers’ regular-season finale against Iowa.

The defense did not respond well as Wisconsin and Georgia gouged Nebraska for 115 points in subsequent games.

I-back Rex Burkhead, a leader and motivational figure in the same vein as Long, missed six games of his senior year with a knee injury last season. In his place, the Huskers found a new star, Ameer Abdullah, and hardly missed a beat.

Which path will the offensive line take over the next six weeks? It figures to define their legacy.
Nebraska redshirt freshman Tommy Armstrong will start for the third consecutive game on Saturday at Purdue in place of injured senior Taylor Martinez, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said Thursday after the team completed its week of practice.

"Taylor is still day to day, and he is getting better," Pelini said of the school's all-time leader in total offense, who has been hobbled by turf toe on his left foot. "He is a lot better than he has been."

Martinez, the fourth-year starter, has not played since Nebraska's Sept. 14 loss to UCLA. Nebraska (4-1) is off next week. By the time it plays Oct. 26 at Minnesota, Martinez would have sat for five weeks.

Armstrong will again share time with senior Ron Kellogg III, Pelini said. Kellogg played in the first halves of Nebraska wins against South Dakota State and Illinois.

To read complete story click here.
Defensively, for Nebraska this season, two categories exist in surrendering chunks of yardage: There are simply big plays, and there are big plays with catastrophic results.

In the Huskers’ Big Ten opener last week against Illinois, a 39-19 Nebraska victory, the Blackshirts progressed little in limiting the big play. But, the frequency of disastrous plays diminished significantly.

Nebraska continues to rank in the bottom 8 percent among FBS schools in allowing gains of 10 yards or more. Illinois accumulated 17 -- just two fewer than the Huskers’ defensive average through four games -- to bring the total for the season to 96. That’s 114th nationally.

[+] EnlargeCiante Evans
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesCiante Evans and the Blackshirts made some timely plays to keep Illinois in check.
What you didn’t see last week at Memorial Stadium, though, was the domino effect so prevalent in non-conference play, in particular on Sept. 14 against UCLA, when the Huskers collapsed in allowing the final 38 points of the game. Against Wyoming and South Dakota State, too, problems snowballed for the defense.

“It’s small, baby steps to give these guys some confidence,” defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said.

Coaches asked their players in the two weeks that followed the Huskers’ 59-20 win over South Dakota State to let go of the bad thoughts.

If you make a mistake on the field, forget about it. If the offense makes a mistake, let it go.

“Don’t look at the JumboTron,” Kaczenski said. “Don’t worry about it. We can’t ride the highs and lows of the offense. We’ve got to concentrate on what we’re doing.

“We signed up for this gig, too. Go put the fire out.”

The Huskers did just that on defense against the Illini, which averaged 478.5 yards before the trip to Lincoln. Nebraska held it to 372.

But it’s not necessarily the yardage that matters; it’s how the Illini got its yards. And when.

Notably, Nebraska held Illinois when it needed stops. Here are three examples from the first half:

  • The Illini drove inside the Huskers’ 25 late in the first quarter after Nebraska jumped on top 14-0. On third-and-7, defensive end Jason Ankrah sacked Nathan Scheelhaase for a 4-yard loss. Next play, Scheelhaase fired a strike to Steve Hull, who was met over the middle by Stanley Jean-Baptiste, whose hit jarred the ball loose to end a scoring threat.
  • Early in the second quarter after the Huskers made it 17-0, Illinois marched from its 8 to the Nebraska 6. It faced just one third down, on which Scheelhaase needed 12 yards and scrambled for 17. But on first-and-goal, cornerback Ciante Evans hit Donovonn Young for a 3-yard loss. Evans sacked the quarterback for an 11-yard loss on third down to force a field goal.
  • Leading 23-3, Nebraska endured a brain cramp in the shadow of its goal line, utilizing Imani Cross on a wide run. Illinois linebacker Houston Bates nailed Cross for a safety, and suddenly Illinois had momentum with less than two minutes to play before halftime. The Illini started near midfield but went nowhere as Nebraska linebacker David Santos made an open-field tackle of Josh Ferguson then pressured Scheelhaase into a third-down incompletion.

“Sometimes, in the course of a game, plays get lost in the shuffle,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said. “I thought we did a nice job kind of standing up when they got in the red zone, not breaking at that point.”

The defensive stops prevented Illinois from chopping into Nebraska’s lead. Once the Huskers drove 75 yards in four plays to score on the opening possession of the third quarter, the game was out of reach.

“I think we played a lot more confident, a lot more loose out there on defense,” linebacker Michael Rose said. “We gave up a lot of plays to (South Dakota State) that were head scratchers. There comes a time when enough is enough. Someone’s got to step up and make a play. That’s the attitude we took.”

Coach Bo Pelini said he credits some of the improvement at key moments to better communication.

“We got to the point where we, as a staff, got fed up with it,” Pelini said. “We demanded that we expect to see 11 guys talking on every single play. Eleven guys. And if you’re not talking, you’re coming out. I said, ‘Try it for a day.’ I think they found out what a difference it makes.”

Still, the Huskers rank 98th nationally in total defense (445.4 yards per game), 102nd in yards allowed per play (6.15), 118th in first down per game (25.4) and 90th in yards per pass attempt (7.92).

But they were looking for some sign of improvement. Against Illinois, they got it by avoiding disasters. As Pelini said on Monday, “it shouldn’t get to that point” where the Huskers sit on the brink. That’s a challenge for this week as Nebraska prepares for its trip to Purdue.

“When it was time to bow up, they did,” Kaczenski said. “That’s good. That’s the stuff you preach. You’ve got to walk the walk. These are steppingstones, and you take small strides.”
Rob Henry lost a chance at the starting quarterback job in 2011 after he tore his ACL a week before the season-opener. Now, two seasons later, the senior has reclaimed the job.

Henry was named Purdue’s starting quarterback Sunday by first-year coach Darrell Hazell, a move that will likely be both popular in the locker room -- Henry was named a co-captain before tearing his knee in that season -- and makes sense with the Boilermakers’ schedule.

Flat out, Henry gives Purdue the best chance to be successful early in the season, with trips to Cincinnati and Wisconsin in the first month of the season along with home games against No. 14 Notre Dame and Northern Illinois, which reached the Orange Bowl last season.

To ask a freshman (Danny Etling) or a redshirt freshman (Austin Appleby) to handle that rough early schedule could destroy a young quarterback’s confidence, let alone his team’s belief in him. By going with Henry, who has had a strong preseason anyway, it gives the Boilermakers a seasoned leader to look to.

In Henry, Purdue also has a quarterback who understands what it is like to lose his starting job and not be able to reclaim it, as former coach Danny Hope chose to go with then-seniors Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush. TerBush had won the job when Henry tore his ACL two years ago.

Now back as the starter, he’ll be looked to as the stopgap for a team which will be learning Hazell’s new offense while also setting an example for his replacement a year from now. He is the perfect player to be in this position, considering he won the team’s unselfishness and dedication award in 2010 and even made a run at becoming Purdue’s student body vice president.

Having even moved positions for the good of his team, Henry is now back where he started his career -- running the Boilermakers’ offense as their quarterback.

Video: B1G shoes to fill -- Purdue

February, 13, 2013

Defensive tackle Kawann Short and running back Akeem Shavers leave big shoes to fill for Purdue this spring.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET, Dallas (ESPNU)

Purdue take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Purdue will be playing in its second straight postseason when it kicks off the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but that wasn't enough to save head coach Danny Hope's job. Hope was fired on Nov. 25 after a 6-6 season, and assistant Patrick Higgins will serve as interim coach for this game.

Hope was confident this would be his best team at Purdue, and the Boilers got off to a decent 3-1 start that included a close loss at Notre Dame. But with an excellent opportunity to make noise in a probation-ravaged Big Ten Leaders Division, the Boilermakers lost their first five conference games, including multi-touchdown losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State.

The team did rally to win its final three games to salvage a bowl trip, sparked by Robert Marve returning as the starting quarterback. Fans had been calling for that move for weeks, and Marve delivered despite tearing his ACL in the second week of the season and eschewing surgery.

Hope did make some inroads in increasing the overall team speed, and the offense boasts some exciting playmakers such as running backs Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt and receiver Antavian Edison. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a potential first-round NFL pick, and Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson form one of the Big Ten's top cornerback tandems -- and they will be needed against Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game.

This team was talented enough to push Ohio State to the absolute brink in Columbus yet unfocused enough to fall behind 44-7 at Minnesota. How the Boilermakers respond and play against the Cowboys without their head coach is anyone's guess.

Oklahoma State take from SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon: OSU coach Mike Gundy has done one of the best coaching jobs of his career as the Cowboys made Big 12 history with three quarterbacks throwing for 1,000 yards or more. Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf each had their moments this season as the starting quarterback for the Pokes and each signal-caller led OSU to a double-digit win over a Big 12 opponent.

The constant in the Cowboys’ offensive attack is running back Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher with 1,351 rushing yards. His toughness, versatility and playmaking set the tone for OSU’s offense. It could be the final game for the junior, who may elect to leave early for the NFL after three seasons as a key member of OSU’s offense.

OSU’s defense had an up-and-down season, holding four Big 12 opponents to 21 points or fewer before allowing more than 600 yards of total offense to Oklahoma and Baylor in its final two games. Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have been the tone-setters for the Cowboys' defense. When they play well, OSU’s defense is noticeably better.

Keep an eye on the Cowboys' defense on third down. In the losses to OU and Baylor, the Cowboys allowed more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted.

Michigan finished off its Big Ten opener by handily beating Purdue, 44-13, in the Wolverines’ first win outside of Ann Arbor this season. The Boilermakers, meanwhile, lost their Big Ten opener.

It was over when: Michigan sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor intercepted a tipped pass thrown by Caleb TerBush and returned it 63 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wolverines a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. It was the second straight game Taylor intercepted a pass.

Game ball goes to: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. The senior needed a rebound performance after accounting for five turnovers in a loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago. He did, completing 8 of 16 passes for 105 yards and rushing for 235 more yards. He also showed improved decisions, actually throwing the ball away when pressured and going out of bounds instead of absorbing big hits.

Stat of the game: Purdue’s 56 rushing yards. The Boilermakers were never able to really establish any sort of ground game, led by 34 yards from Akeem Shavers on 10 carries. The lack of a running game made the Boilermakers, who trailed the majority of the game, very one-dimensional.

What it means: For Michigan, it was the best game it had played all year both on offense and defense. The Wolverines were efficient on offense and save for one poor exchange, didn’t turn the ball over. On defense, they flustered Purdue and overall put themselves in position to be a contender in the Legends Division. Purdue might leave Saturday with questions of who to play at quarterback, TerBush or Robert Marve, and some concerns about its previously strong defense.

Record performance: Robinson had another standout day on the ground and became the Big Ten’s career quarterback rushing leader with 3,905 yards, passing former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El, who had 3,895 yards. He also moved into fourth place in the FBS quarterback rushing career list, passing Randle El. Next up on that list is former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick with 4,112 yards.
Purdue linebacker Dwayne Beckford and receiver O.J. Ross -- who were both suspended before the Little Caesars Bowl -- have been put back on scholarship and are expected play in 2012 coach Danny Hope said over the weekend.

Beckford was dismissed from school following a DUI arrest but has been reinstated, while Ross was taken off scholarship following academic problems. Ross practiced with the team this spring.

Beckford was the team's second-leading tackler in 2011, and the Boilermakers do not have much experience at the linebacker position. His trial on the DUI charge is set for June, and he also faces sentencing for violating his probation from a 2011 conviction for leaving the scene of an accident.

Ross was the team's third leading receiver a year ago, catching 33 passes for 356 yards and three touchdowns. Purdue's leading receiver, Antavian Edison, was arrested in Florida earlier this month on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon. But he remains on the team, Hope told the Lafayette Journal and Courier.

“Right now, he’s in school,” Hope said. “Antavian has not been charged with anything. He’s in school, he’s on the team and he has not been dismissed.”

All three players will be key parts of what Purdue hopes is a breakthrough season after last year's 7-6 campaign.

Purdue spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
2011 record: 7-6
2011 conference record: 4-4 (third place, Leaders Division) Returning starters: Offense: 9; Defense: 9; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
DT Kawann Short, CB Ricardo Allen, QB Caleb TerBush, QB Robert Marve, QB Rob Henry, RB Akeem Shavers, RB Ralph Bolden, DE Ryan Russell, WR Antavian Edison, DT Bruce Gaston, OT Trevor Foy

Key losses
LB Joe Holland, S Albert Evans, LT Dennis Kelly, OG Nick Mondek, WR Justin Siller, K Carson Wiggs

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ralph Bolden* (674 yards)
Passing: Caleb TerBush (1,905 yards)
Receiving: Antavian Edison* (584 yards) Tackles: Joe Holland (94) Sacks: Kawann Short* (6.5) Interceptions: Ricardo Allen* (3)

Spring answers

1. Healthy QBs: After two years of dealing with injuries and inexperienced signalcallers, Danny Hope finally had enviable depth at the position this spring. With Robert Marve healthy, last season's starter Caleb TerBush a year wiser, and Rob Henry on the mend from a torn ACL, Purdue has three former starters at quarterback. Hope said the depth made for much improved offensive execution this spring, which should carry over into the fall. Now he just has to figure out whom to play and when, as it's likely more than one will see the field in the same game.

2. Defensive front and back set: The Boilermakers have a chance to be very good up front defensively, and it all starts with defensive tackle Kawann Short. He passed up the NFL draft, and could work his way into first-round status with a big senior season. Bruce Gaston returns along side him in the middle, and sophomore defensive end Ryan Russell looks like a future star after coming on strong at the end of last season. The secondary is also in great shape, with returning cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson possibly forming the best tandem in the league, according to Hope. Nickel back Normondo Harris had a big spring game, and Max Charlot returns at safety. Purdue should have the ability to generate a pass-rush and defend the ball in the air.

3. More confidence: There's little doubt that there's more confidence in the air around West Lafayette. That comes from the team making -- and winning -- its first bowl game under Hope last season, and returning 18 offensive and defensive starters. This is Hope's deepest team, and it should be his best. Some are picking Purdue as a potential Big Ten sleeper, and the players believe that talk is justified.

Fall questions

1. Linebacker Who? While the defense looks stout up front and in the secondary, questions remain at linebacker. Joe Holland, the team's leading tackler a year ago, graduated. Dwayne Beckford missed the bowl game after a DUI arrest, and his status for the fall remains in flux. Will Lucas is the only returning starter guaranteed to suit up in September. There's talk of using some 3-4 looks under new defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar, who implemented his system in practices closed to the media this spring. Does Purdue have enough linebackers to make it work?

2. Offensive line chemistry: The Boilers' offensive line didn't get a lot of hype last season, but it produced two NFL draft picks in Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek. Trevor Foy is moving from right to left tackle, and Kevin Pamphile and Rick Schmeig worked at multiple positions this spring. Purdue will mix in some new faces and some veterans in new places this fall, and how well that unit comes together will have a large say in how the offense flows.

3. X-factors on offense: Some things we simply don't yet know include the following: Can Ralph Bolden successfully return from knee surgery? If not, is Akeem Shavers a capable every-down back? What will happen to leading receiver Antavian Edison after his arrest on weapons charges this week? Will fellow wideout O.J. Ross make it back from academic suspension? Can kick returning dynamo Raheem Mostert make an impact at receiver? Purdue has a lot more options on offense than in the recent past, but there also remains a lot of question marks.
We always say around here that spring games are overrated from an information-gathering standpoint. Still, you can't blame fans for wanting to see their team in action, and those whose schools have new coaches were especially curious to see what things were looking like this spring.

That's one reason it's no surprise that Ohio State and Penn State had two of the three largest spring game crowds in the nation this year, according to Sports Business Daily.

The Buckeyes led the country in spring game attendance, with 81,112 coming out to get a glimpse of the new Urban Meyer regime. No one should be surprised by the passion for the Scarlet and Grey; Ohio State claims the all-time spring game record, with more than 95,000 showing up for the 2009 event.

Defending national champion Alabama was second with 78,526, followed by Penn State at 60,000. The Nittany Lions got a large turnout for Bill O'Brien's Beaver Stadium debut and the first spring game without Joe Paterno in half a century.

Spring game attendance is often largely dependent on the weather, and it must be said that weather conditions were truly terrible throughout most of the Big Ten for spring games. Rain and chilly temperatures were the norm, holding down crowds at places like Michigan and Michigan State. Storms canceled the Nebraska spring game, which surely would have been packed since the Huskers drew more than 66,000 last year and better than 77,000 the previous two spring games. Indiana and Purdue both moved their events indoors and mostly kept fans away to escape lightning.

So the numbers were lower than they should have been, but here is how other Big Ten schools ranked nationally in spring game attendance:

17. Michigan: 25,000
20: Michigan State: 20,000
31: Iowa: 15,000
36: Wisconsin: 10,479
53. Minnesota: 3,500
55. Illinois: 3,000

Note: Northwestern did not report its attendance for the spring game.

You can tell from this 2011 chart that the numbers were down from their averages in a lot of places. Let's hope for better weather next spring.
Purdue wide receiver Antavian Edison was arrested early Sunday morning in Fort Myers, Fla., on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, which is a felony.

According to the Fort Myers News-Press, Edison -- who is from Fort Myers -- was arrested at 1:57 a.m. Sunday. He was later released on $1,500 bond. No other details are available, and the Boilermakers have yet to comment as they continue to gather more information about the incident.

If this arrest leads to a suspension or significant missed time for Edison, it could be a big blow to Purdue's offense. Edison, a senior, is the team's leading returning receiver after catching 44 balls for 584 yards and three touchdowns last season. He also ran 30 times for 124 yards and two scores.

The Boilers' leading pass catcher in 2011, Justin Siller, exhausted his eligibility. Their No. 3 receiver, O.J. Ross, was suspended for the Little Caesars Bowl because of academics. He practiced with the team this spring as a non-scholarship player, and his status for the fall is uncertain. The receiver position also has Gary Bush, who had 29 catches for 310 yards, and Raheem Mostert, who is making the transition to full-time receiver after leading the nation in kick return average as a freshman. Redshirt freshman Shane Mikesky could provide some help.

Depth was a concern at wideout before this Edison news. The Purdue passing game figured to improve this year because of the newfound, healthy depth at quarterback, but this development presents a potential monkey wrench. The team's offense could still be strong thanks to a good running game and several options at tight end. Still, losing your top playmaker at wide receiver would never be good news for any team.

We'll keep you updated as more information about Edison becomes available.
We're back to continue our series looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team. Once again, this is not necessarily a listing of the best players on each team, but ones whose absence would be toughest to absorb because of their particular value or because of a lack of depth behind them.

We're selecting two players from each team, usually on offense and defense, but not always. Today we turn our gaze to Purdue, which thankfully no longer has to worry about one quarterback going down and throwing everything into turmoil.

Kawann Short, DT, Sr.

This one is an easy call, as Short has the potential to be the top defensive tackle in the Big Ten this season and is being projected as a first-round NFL draft pick in 2013. The Boilermakers should be pretty good on the defensive line this season, and Bruce Gaston is another returning starter at tackle. But few teams could adequately replace a talent like Short, who compiled 17 tackles for loss a season ago.

Trevor Foy, OT, Jr.

Here's a much less obvious pick. Purdue is blessed with some decent depth on the offensive side, with three quarterbacks who have started games, a stable of running backs and several options at receiver. One place where there is not a lot of experienced depth, however, is the offensive line. Two starters, including left tackle Dennis Kelly, were drafted last month. Foy is hardly a household name, but is a player with a lot of potential. After starting at right tackle last year, he is expected to take over Kelly's spot this season, and at 6-foot-7 and 287 pounds, he looks the part. Danny Hope would have to do some major shuffling on the offensive line if Foy weren't available. For an offense that otherwise appears ready to have a strong season, that would be a rough development.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

May, 3, 2012
The depravity and decadence of Derby weekend await me. But first: your emails.

Bryan from Chicago writes: Regarding your handicapping of the B1G race, I'm betting on all teams. With the odds you gave each team, if you add them up, the player has about a 33% advantage over the house! If you ever decide to open a casino, let me know and I'll be the first one in line. But, if I'm taking 1 team, betting with emotions I'm taking my Huskers -- hoping they can outscore a lot of teams this year. Betting with brains, I'm taking Wisconsin -- no Ohio State to worry about, gives them the easiest road to the title game and who knows once you get there, and 8-1 is a good payout.

Brian Bennett: In defense of my admittedly poor math skills, Indiana is much higher than the listed 99-to-1, but the toteboard can only handle double-digit numbers. And Ohio State's scratch threw off the odds. But I agree with you about Nebraska and Wisconsin being pretty good value plays. I'd add Penn State to that mix as well.

Brian from Newark, DE, writes: Am I the only person not completely overjoyed with this whole playoff deal? To me, it's a real stretch to call a two game tournament a playoff. There's four teams involved. Granted, that's double what the current system allows. But it's still not exactly opening the championship up like the basketball tournament does. All this really amounts to is one extra game for two teams. So can we stop calling it a playoff and start referring to it as what it really is: The one more game after the bowls so we can all make a little more money and appease the fans bowl?

Brian Bennett: Brian (great name, by the way, and correct spelling), I'm perfectly fine with the four-team format. It keeps the value of the regular season, keeps the season from dragging far into January and still opens the championship up to more teams. How many years have there been more than four legitimate national title contenders at the end of the year, anyway? I've never been in favor of a 16-team format because that's too many teams and not enough quality. An eight-teamer would be a lot of fun, and I think we will eventually see an expansion of any playoff system. But for now, while we can quibble with the details, let's rejoice that the sport is actually giving us something we want.

Zach from Lincoln writes: Why are we even listening to the "on campus semi-finals won't work" [sentiment]?? I understand they are worried about teams with small stadiums not being able to host large crowds, but how many times since the BCS model was created has 1 of those teams been #1 or #2? Zero is the correct answer. Also, even if one of these teams did eventually finish #1 or #2 doesn't the fact that college stadiums are in general larger than NFL stadiums make up for the fact that there could be a smaller venue every once in a blue moon?

Brian Bennett: Couldn't agree more with you, Zach. The capacity of the Superdome is just over 72,000, while Sun Life Stadium -- home of the Orange Bowl -- seats a little more than 75,000. There would be a whole lot more seats (and money to be made) with games at the Big House, Horseshoe, Bryant-Denny, etc. MGoBlog does a good job of breaking down the difference in capacity and how campus sites would have meant more, not less, seats during the BCS era in this post.

Josh S. ? @josh_sim writes: Re: Big 6. Won't voters change their voting patterns and work around the rules for best matchups?

Brian Bennett: That's a concern with any system, including the one we have now. Which is why we need to take this out of the hands of voters, especially one with obvious biases like the coaches themselves.

Roger from Denver, Colo., writes: Really, 25 [for Ohio State in your rankings]? Come on, Blue had the easiest schedule in the conference, barely beat an extremely down The Ohio State team and you have Blue ranked top 10 not to mention in ACC bowl game that they really lost but got a bogus call in their favor on a touchdown.

Brian Bennett: The mountain air might be getting to you, Roger. Fact is, Michigan went 11-2 last year while Ohio State was 6-7. Michigan brought back its coaching staff and arguably the most productive backfield in the league (Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint), while the Buckeyes will be going through a coaching transition and lack offensive playmakers. I like Ohio State to be much improved this season, and there's no question the team has talent. But given last year's results, I think a ranking at the bottom of the Top 25 is fair for this point in the year.

Dying for The Gophers To Be Relevant Again from Minneapolis writes: I find it interesting how people get excited about the new A.D. at Minnesota. Everyone is giddy over his fund raising abilities. Sure, raising funds is important for all programs, but winning is the key. Some would say that fund raising will help winning, I believe that winning will hep fund raising. Your thoughts?

Brian Bennett: An athletic director absolutely has to be able to do two things right: hire good coaches, and keep the money fountain flowing. Since Norwood Teague didn't hire Jerry Kill, the best thing he can do is make sure donations are coming in so the Gophers can keep up with facilities, salaries, etc. Winning solves a lot of ills, but ultimately that will be up to Kill and his staff to it make happen.

David from Houston writes: I just saw your 4/26 mailbag and the Wisconsin coach and AD answers concerning their non-conference scheduling. As a Badger, I'm calling "BS" on Bret Bielema. His answer of "people don't want to play here" may be right in some rare instances, but that is most definitely not what is going on with Badger scheduling. The real issues are this: 1) The Badgers will only play one road game per year (at least Barry was honest about that one). 2) Wisconsin is not willing to schedule more than one BCS opponent per season. They went through a nice stretch for 2001-2003 of playing two such schools, but that turned out to be an aberration. 3) They won't even do that if they think a future year's Big Ten Schedule is "too tough." See the 8-year postponement of the Virginia Tech games. ... The Pac-12 deal is nice, but this team is not going to then start scheduling 2 BCS foes each season. This will just take their one good game out of their hands, leaving them to deal with the 3 buy games each year.

Brian Bennett: David, I can understand your frustration as a fan in not getting to see great nonconference games at Camp Randall. At the same time, Wisconsin is not alone in only scheduling one BCS AQ school per year in its nonconference slate. In the Big Ten alone, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Purdue all only have one such opponent on their schedule this season. Indiana has none.

While I'd love to see the Badgers schedule more aggressively, it just doesn't pay many dividends for schools to do so. The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl the past two years and were a couple plays away from being in the national title mix both times. I hope the new playoff format rewards strength of schedule to encourage all teams to play better nonconference opponents.

Max from Madras, India, writes: Brian, what do you think is more detrimental to the season? QB competition and playing 4 guys in your spring game, a la PSU? Or pretty much knowing who your starter is going to be, and not having him for your spring game, a la MSU? Or at this stage does it really matter?

Brian Bennett: It's early enough to not really matter. Remember Wisconsin won the Big Ten last year, and its starting quarterback didn't arrive in Madison until the summer. But in the scenario you mention, I'd much rather be Michigan State. The Spartans know Andrew Maxwell will be their starter, and his injury wasn't serious. He's been in the program for four years, so playing in a spring game means very little. Penn State still doesn't seem to be settled at the position. Maxwell can confidently lead the offense all summer. I'm not sure any of Penn State's quarterbacks can do the same.

Paul from Orlando, Fla., writes: Last season, Nebraska had All Big Ten-caliber players at each level of the defense in Crick, David and Dennard. Although these players made major contributions in 2011, the defense ranked a mere 36th nationally in total defense; well outside the norm for a Pelini coached defense. It appeared, especially early in the season, that offensive coordinators could simply pick on the young guy lined up opposite Crick, David or Dennard and these players didn?t really impact their game plans. This spring Pelini has been vocal about how much he likes his secondary and expects the defensive line and linebackers to be a solid veteran group. Do you think having a veteran defense without any weak links and a potentially dominate group at one level of the defense can lead to a better 2012 defense despite the loss of such great players?

Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question, and one I've been thinking about a lot this season. In fairness to the 2012 Huskers, Crick, David and Dennard were never really all healthy at the same time. But a big problem, as you mentioned, was the obvious holes on that defense. Bo Pelini seemed optimistic this spring about the defensive play, but aren't all coaches optimistic in the spring? Still, I think this defense has a chance to be very solid. I just want to see a couple of players take the next step into becoming major difference-makers, whether that's a guy like Will Compton or Cameron Meredith or Daimion Stafford. You need special players to be a truly special defense.

Mr. Pewter from Farmland, Iowa, writes: I hate the new Cy-Hawk trophy. I am still going to rally around my family with a basket full of corn. Come with it now!

Brian Bennett: You keep raging against that machine.

Big Ten Thursday mailbag

April, 26, 2012
I'm in full rest mode as I get ready for another half-marathon on Saturday. But I'll exert a little bit of energy answering your emails.

Johnny from East Lansing, Mich., writes: One of you recently wrote an article or reply about out-of-conference scheduling and how Wisconsin could increase their difficulty level, my question is why should they? Mark Hollis recently stated that football differs from basketball in one key aspect, basketball teams get rewarded by the selection committee for strength-of-schedule, football teams get rewarded on wins. I think it's safe to assume that if any B1G/SEC/PAC12 team went undefeated, you would have a hard time keeping them out of the national championship game. Wisconsin got a lot of criticism for their schedule last season, but if it wasn't for a couple of hail mary plays, they would have been playing LSU. If the only way to elevate your program is to compete for championships, why shouldn't you take the safest route to get there?

Brian Bennett: You make some valid points, Johnny. Win a power league and go undefeated, and odds are you'll be in pretty good shape. The problems arrive if there are two or more other undefeated teams from power leagues who did play at least one strong opponent in the nonconference schedule. Then you've set yourself up to be left out -- see Auburn in 2004. And with the new four-team "event" that seems inevitable, who knows what the criteria will be for inclusion? There seems to be some desire to include strength of schedule in whatever criteria is used.

There's no question Wisconsin's nonconference schedules have been pretty soft of late. Not all of that is the Badgers' fault. Oregon State, which was on last year's and is on this year's schedule, just happened to go in the tank before the games were played. Wisconsin also has future games with Virginia Tech (2016 and 2017) and Washington ('17 and '18). I asked Bret Bielema and Barry Alvarez about scheduling when I was in Madison this week. Here's what they had to say:
Bielema: "It's tough to get a home and home with good teams, because they don't want to play [at Camp Randall Stadium]. We've gone three years now and we haven't had a loss at home, and I've lost five games in nine years here. Football people know how tough we are, and for that reason people don't want to go home and home with us. We've
tried to bring in some really elite teams, and they just won't do it."

Alvarez: "We've had had issues with that. It's been hard to match up people. We've got to have a minimum of seven home games, and occasionally get an eighth one in there for our budget. To get somebody to go home and home, sometimes we have problems with that, so we end up buying somebody for a year. I know [the schedule] has been one of the criticisms of our fans, and I'm sensitive to that. I was very encouraged with our Pac-12 agreement that puts another quality opponent on our schedule."

Trotter from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Thank you to both bloggers in helping me keep my sanity at work. I always have the B1G blog open in a link all day. Anyways, it has been a great week for Iowa recruiting. Now I'm not saying the guys we picked up are all stars or anything, but at this point last year Iowa had one recruit, and already this year they have 6! Would you say this is due more to the unforced coaching changes made this last year, the new facility being built in Iowa City, or the fact kids are starting to realize you have a better shot then at most places of making it to the professional level? I know all 3 of these play their own part, but which do you think is the biggest reason?

Brian Bennett: We're always happy to diminish the productivity of the American work force, Trotter. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was asked about the early commitments, which appear to be a record for the Hawkeyes at this time of the year, this week. He had this to say:
"I think it's just a sign of the times. A couple of years back, it really became commonplace for prospects to be out visiting places in June and July, to some extent. But, and I think all we've seen now, and this is kind of national, it's translating into March and April now. I think that's just how the recruiting is going. It's driven by social media, and it's become a real industry. ... I think it's just a reflection of that. We're not doing anything differently, other than hosting more prospects than we used to."

Ferentz is right in that the recruiting calendar has really sped up. It's a good sign for Iowa that he and his staff are keeping up with the new reality.

Michael from St. Louis writes: There's a lot of talk about how Michigan and Ohio State are already landing top-rated recruits. Isn't it possible that these recruits are rated highly in part *because* they're committing to big-name schools early? (I think this would explain how Texas can consistently land "top 5" classes without delivering on the field.) Come on, Bennett - give us non-Ohio State/Michigan fans some hope.

Brian Bennett: Michael, I would say that might have been the case a few years ago, when any time a player committed to Notre Dame or a big-name school, his status was automatically increased (and vice versa, if a player signed with a lesser brand name school). But I don't think that's true now, because as Ferentz mentioned, recruiting has become such an industry. Players are now evaluated and rated by scouting services and web sites by the time they enter their junior year. So when a prospect commits early, he already has a rating attached to him.

You want hope? Well, part of the reason it seems Texas has dropped off is because the Longhorns finish so much of their recruiting on junior day, and then a lot of those players either get complacent or don't develop as hoped. That's a concern when you lock up recruiting so early. Michigan's Brady Hoke, who has been gobbling up players before their senior year, told me that "sometimes you get a guy committed ... and he kind of feels like he's made it and he doesn't do the job he should do for his high school." Michigan State is a school that has success waiting on guys to develop. So there are many different ways to get it done.

Willie the Wildcat from Boston writes: With the NFL Draft approaching, I'm getting my costume in a bunch trying to discern where my beloved fellow wildcats might end up. What do you think the draft will hold for Dunsmore, Mabin, Persa, Peters, and Ebert? Is Dunsmore the best bet for an early round pick? Who do you think will roll the dice on Persa?

Brian Bennett: Our Scouts Inc. guys didn't have any Northwestern players going in their seven-round mock draft. However, while I respect their efforts, it's nearly impossible to predict that much of the draft with accuracy, and it only takes one team to like a player for him to get drafted. I believe Drake Dunsmore has the best chance of being selected, and Jeremy Ebert has an outside shot after putting up good numbers at his pro day. But the rest will likely have to go the free agent route.

Andrew F. from Fremont, Ind., writes: I'm a bit disappointed with the release of the primetime schedule. As a Purdue fan, it seems odd that bottom feeder Indiana has three primetime games and we have none. Now I realize we don't play anyone of note in the non-conference at home unless you count Marshall, but you would think hosting Michigan or Wisconsin would warrant an appearance. After all Indiana has Indiana State and MAC "heavy-weight" Ball State in prime-time; that seems odd, unless they want to show Ball State manhandle Indiana again or Indiana State slap the Hoosiers around like they did Western Kentucky last season. My question is why did Purdue get the short end of the stick? I guess I should get used to lots of more noon kickoffs.

Brian Bennett: I can understand why Purdue fans would be disappointed, Andrew. Purdue's Ross-Ade Stadium doesn't have permanent lights, which might have played a small factor in the decision. When the Boilers played Notre Dame last year at night, for example, ESPN brought in and paid for temporary lights. But the school has had night games in the past few years, so if there was a matchup that TV deemed appealing enough to put in primetime, then it would happen. Purdue is going to need to win more games and raise its profile to become more attractive to television. And the Boilermakers will kick off at 4 p.m. against Michigan on Oct. 6, so that game should end past sundown, and will break up all the noon starts.

Kyle G. from Madison, Wis., writes: Another factor as to why the Wisconsin-Michigan State isn't a night game is its the same day as the big Halloween Party on State Street, Freakfest. The university has an informal agreement in place with the City of Madison to not have both events to occur at the same time. The police force, emergency services, etc simply don't have the manpower to handle a Badger football game and the party on State Street.

Brian Bennett: Oct. 27 will be quite a day in Mad-town. Where do I sign up?

Kevin from Ann Arbor writes: After seeing the Buckeye defense during the spring game, I think it is going to be a long season for the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer wasn't joking when he said they lack speed. They do. They are going to have a hard time getting to seven wins with their schedule and that defense.

Brian Bennett: Trolling from Ann Arbor, perhaps? I'm not too worried about the Ohio State defense. The front four should be great, with John Simon, Jonathan Hankins, Michael Bennett and all those talented freshman coming in to provide depth. Three potential starters in the back seven didn't play in the spring game because of injuries, so don't read too much into that exhibition. And the Buckeyes have a very manageable nonconference schedule, so seven wins should be very much attainable.

Kyle W. from Chicago writes: I've been in favor of rewarding the top two teams in the nation when it comes to a playoff. Assuming that it's a four-team playoff and on-campus semifinal games are off the table, what do you think about rewarding the higher seed with more tickets to the game for fans? Possibly a 65-35 split. The team gets a set amount of days to sell their allottment, then it opens up for the other if they aren't capable of selling them all.

Brian Bennett: That might work, although in these kinds of events you might have a heavy corporate/neutral presence. And the NCAA basketball tournament doesn't give higher-seeded teams more tickets. That event does reward higher seeds by keeping them closer to home, which could be a possible consideration in football. Let's say there are neutral sites for semifinals outside of the bowls, and a Midwest location like Indianapolis or Detroit has a game. If a Big Ten team finishes in the top two, let it play its semifinal in that region. I'm just spitballin' here, and who knows what will ultimately come out of these meetings with all the different agendas in the room. At least we can be happy that a four-team playoff is actually going to happen.

Pat from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I was just reading Adam's article about how proximity is important to the B1G for any playoff system. I was wondering why the B1G is in favor of on-campus games, and the SEC et al. is not? It seems like their home game atmosphere is just as much an advantage for them as it would be for us.

Brian Bennett: Come on, Pat. You don't really think the SEC wants to play up north when it's cold, do you?