Big Ten: Quinn Barham
Here's an initial list of Big Ten UFA signings. Every Big Ten squad except Indiana had a player signed through free agency. We'll be sure to post more as they become official.
- Broderick Binns, DE, Arizona Cardinals
- Tyler Nielsen, LB, Minnesota Vikings
- Brad Herman, TE, New England Patriots
- Markus Zusevics, OL, New England Patriots
- Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Carolina Panthers
- Troy Woolfolk, CB, Dallas Cowboys
- Michael Shaw, RB, Washington Redskins
- Brandon Herron, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Brian Linthicum, TE, New York Jets
- Garrett Celek, TE, San Francisco 49ers
- Todd Anderson, FB, St. Louis Rams
- Al Netter, OL, San Francisco 49ers
- Mike Brewster, C, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Andrew Sweat, LB, Cleveland Browns
- J.B. Shugarts, OL, Cleveland Browns
- Quinn Barham, OL, Detroit Lions
- Derek Moye, WR, Miami Dolphins
- D'Anton Lynn, CB, New York Jets
- Andrew Szczerba, TE, Dallas Cowboys
- Eric Latimore, DE, Minnesota Vikings
- Nick Sukay, S, Buffalo Bills
- Chaz Powell, CB, Oakland Raiders
- Joe Holland, LB, San Francisco 49ers
- Carson Wiggs, K, Seattle Seahawks
- Albert Evans, Miami Dolphins
- Jared Crank, FB, Arizona Cardinals
- Louis Nzegwu, DE, Atlanta Falcons
- Antonio Fenelus, CB, Indianapolis Colts
- Jake Byrne, TE, New Orleans Saints
- Aaron Henry, S, Oakland Raiders
- Patrick Butrym, DT, San Francisco 49ers
Several players seem to be in good situations, whether it's playing for their hometown team (Kinnie, Netter) or near a family member (Lynn, whose dad, Anthony, coaches running backs for the Jets). It's still shocking to see Brewster on this list rather than the draft one. I'm also surprised Moye, Wiggs, Linthicum and Dimke didn't get drafted.
Other Big Ten players have tryouts with NFL squads, such as Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa (Tampa Bay), Minnesota wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (Minnesota Vikings), Indiana offensive lineman Chris McDonald (Miami, Green Bay) and Minnesota safety Kim Royston (Minnesota Vikings).
Left tackle Quinn Barham admitted some younger players were intimidated at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But Penn State vows Saturday's game against Alabama will be different because this year's Nittany Lions team is different.
"We're more comfortable, we're more confident and we actually know what we're getting into," Barham said.
Saturday's date with No. 3 Alabama will, if nothing else, be an excellent barometer for No. 23 Penn State. The Lions remain somewhat of a mystery right now -- a team talented enough to compete for a Big Ten title but potentially flawed enough to finish 7-6 again.
Joe Paterno didn't give his team much of a chance last year in Tuscaloosa, and Penn State fell 24-3 in a game where the score could have been worse. While Paterno is keenly aware of the challenge awaiting Saturday, he's more optimistic.
"This is a better team than we had last year," Paterno said. "Whether it's good enough, we'll see. But they've worked. And I think we've done a little bit better job coaching. I know we've asked more of them and they have responded."
Will the Lions' response translate into a signature win?
Here are three keys for Penn State to take down the Tide.
1) Don't waste scoring chances
Penn State likely won't have too many scoring opportunities Saturday, and the Lions must be more efficient than they were a year ago.
They reached Alabama's red zone on two of their first three possessions but committed turnovers both times. They moved the ball well on their first drive of the second half before quarterback Rob Bolden threw another interception in the Tide red zone.
Penn State had three sustained drives -- 10 plays, 56 yards; seven plays, 68 yards; and 11 plays, 44 yards -- and ended up with nada.
"When you're facing a team of Alabama's caliber, you can't afford to put drives together and turn it over, especially when you're down in their red zone and trying to put some points on the board," Lions receiver Derek Moye said.
Added Barham: "We shot ourselves in the foot."
2) Make Alabama's young QBs win the game
The intimidation factor works both ways, and as Bolden did last September in Tuscaloosa, Alabama's quarterback will be making his first career road start Saturday at a raucous Beaver Stadium.
"We've got the best fans in the county and the loudest for sure," Mauti said. "That Alabama offense is going to have a tough time hearing. I know on defense, I’m yelling at the guy next to me and I can't hear them. They’ve never been to Beaver Stadium before, and it'll be a challenge for them."
Whether it's AJ McCarron or Phillip Sims, Penn State must find ways to rattle the Tide signal-caller and put the burden on him to make big plays. Like Alabama, Penn State's strength is its defense, particularly a deep and talented group of linebackers and defensive backs.
Alabama will try to help its inexperienced quarterback by sparking star tailback Trent Richardson, who ran for 144 yards and a touchdown against Penn State last year. If Richardson gets going Saturday, Penn State can pretty much forget about winning the game.
The Lions might need their defense to generate offense, and the presence of players like linebacker Gerald Hodges, who broke his leg on the opening kickoff last year against Bama, could loom large.
"He brings a different type of intensity to our defense," Mauti said. "He flies around, and it’s just an energy he brings. ... He's fast, he’s physical and he's a playmaker for us."
3) Get clutch plays from Bolden and McGloin
"The whole team's got to play solid," he said. "I wouldn't put it all on the quarterback."
But to win a game like this against an opponent like Alabama, teams typically need their quarterbacks to step up in big moments.
Bolden and McGloin will need protection from an offensive line that surrendered three sacks last week to FCS Indiana State, prompting former Penn State QB Daryll Clark to tweet: "Mannnnnnn... Qbs are getting hit way tooooo much this game #gottacleanitup." Barham graded the line's performance at a "B, B-minus."
The quarterbacks also need help from the run game, as Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum face an Alabama defense that finished 10th nationally against the rush in 2010 (110.2 ypg allowed).
But in a low-scoring, possibly low-possession game -- the type Penn State should hope for Saturday -- clutch quarterback play often makes the difference.
"They understand the offense, they understand what they have to do, what their role will be," Paterno said of Bolden and McGloin. "Just go in there and play our game. Don't do stupid things, protect the ball, try to keep it when we do get it, make a couple plays in the clutch, make a couple of third-down throws.
"Literally every tough game you're in, that's how you win 'em."
Paterno has been through more than a few, and another arrives Saturday afternoon.
- S Drew Astorino
- OT Quinn Barham
- WR Derek Moye
- DT Devon Still
Players voted on the captains Monday, and coach Joe Paterno revealed the results Thursday.
No major surprises here. Astorino and Moye are multiyear starters and two of the Big Ten's most experienced players at their respective positions. Barham will bookend Penn State's offensive line with Chima Okoli this season, while Still could be an emerging star in the center of Penn State's defensive line.
Dan (Iowa City): Adam, great work with the blog. With Iowa this season, which side of the ball do you see them having more trouble with? On offense they start a new quarterack, a unknown but possible gem at RB with Coker, and only 1 real WR option. On defense the D-line is virtually gone, Sash/Greenwood are out of town, and the LB's have a lot of unprovens. What side should I be worrying about?
Adam Rittenberg (12:11 PM): Dan, I'd have some concern on both sides, but a little more on defense. The offensive line will be solid, you have a top-line WR in McNutt and an experienced TE in Brad Herman (along with the promising C.J. Fiedorowicz). Also, both Coker and Vandenberg have proven something, albeit in limited action. Losing three multiyear starters on the defensive line and two multiyear starters at safety seems to be bigger issues.
Rick M (Louisville, KY): Adam, Why does it seem that you are afraid to admit that you do not want to see Nebraska win it. It will make the B1G look weak. I am of a differing opinion. I think that the Husker are a strong team and have too many weapons to deny their superior talent. Please, don't mis-interrupt my statement as arrogant. I look at it as confidence in my Huskers.
Adam Rittenberg (12:32 PM): It's not about being afraid. I don't care who wins the Big Ten. But in assessing whether a Nebraska title is good for the league in Year 1, I would say no. It will take time for Nebraska to be regarded nationally as a Big Ten program. If the Huskers win the league in Year 1, especially with their schedule, most will look at it as a poor reflection of the Big Ten, a conference that is still in many ways trying to repair its national reputation. So it's nothing against the Huskers, who certainly could win the league. But I have a pretty good grasp on national perception -- helps to work at ESPN -- but I don't think this would be favorable for the Big Ten.
Derek (NC): Do you think Penn State's OL will start this year more solid and consistent than last year's OL?
Adam Rittenberg (12:52 PM): Derek, the good news is that most of these linemen have been around for a while. Guys like Okoli, Barham, Troutman, Pannell, even Stankiewitch. They know one another and have been in the program for multiple years. It should ease the process of coming together as a line, but you're absolutely right that Penn State must start off the season much stronger up front than it did in 2010.
Also, here are some updates on Big Ten undrafted free agents who have found NFL homes. Check out the full list.
Michigan State P Aaron Bates: Pittsburgh Steelers
Wisconsin LB Blake Sorensen: Seattle Seahawks
Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.
Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.
Let's get to the rundown.
1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.
3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.
4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.
5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.
6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.
7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.
8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.
9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.
10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.
11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.
12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
Biggest reason for hope: Linebacker U could be back
Penn State left spring practice excited about its potential at linebacker, and for good reason. Michael Mauti is healthy and primed for a potentially huge season in 2011. Veteran Nathan Stupar also returns following a 73-tackle season. The best news coming out of spring ball was the continued development of Gerald Hodges, who has star potential after appearing in only eight games last fall. "There's always new traffic patterns to learn, and I think the game's slowing down now for him," defensive coordinator Tom Bradley said of Hodges, who came to Penn State as a safety. "He's seeing better, he's understanding it better. Playing the position for a couple years, he's much more comfortable." If players like Hodges and Khairi Fortt continue to make strides, Penn State could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers.
Biggest reason for concern: Question marks on both lines
Penn State's success or mediocrity since it joined the Big Ten can be directly tied to line play. The Lions appear to have enough at the offensive and defensive skill positions to be pretty good this fall. But there are questions along the line of scrimmage. Penn State has very little depth at defensive end and needs Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore to stay healthy this fall. Although the defensive tackle spot boasts a few more bodies, Brandon Ware's departure could hurt. The offensive front boasts some veteran leadership in tackles Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but there's some uncertainty at center and the whole group must perform more consistently than it did in 2010.
More Hope and Concern
2010 overall record: 7-6
2010 conference record: 4-4 (T-4th)
Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1
LB Michael Mauti, DT Devon Still, S Nick Sukay, CB D'Anton Lynn, LB Nathan Stupar, QB Matt McGloin, QB Rob Bolden, WR Derek Moye, LT Quinn Barham
DT Ollie Ogbu, LB Chris Colasanti, RB Evan Royster, G Stefen Wisniewski, C Doug Klopacz, K Collin Wagner
2010 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Evan Royster (1,014 yards)
Passing: Matt McGloin* (1,548 yards)
Receiving: Derek Moye* (885 yards)
Tackles: Chris Colasanti (112)
Sacks: Devon Still* (4)
Interceptions: D'Anton Lynn* and Nick Sukay* (3)
1. Still solidifies middle: Penn State needs its defensive line to rebound in 2010, and it has a good piece to build around in tackle Devon Still. After a huge performance in the Outback Bowl (3.5 tackles for loss), Still continued to make strides this spring and drew praise from the coaching staff. The potential always has been there with Still, and after overcoming injuries early in his career, he looks like he's ready for a breakout season.
2. Quarterbacks make progress: The starter remains a mystery, but whoever calls signals for Penn State this fall will have a better grasp of the system. Both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin drew high marks this spring, not only showing a greater understanding of the offense but greater willingness to lead the unit. When the often pessimistic Joe Paterno says "I think we're in good shape" at quarterback, it's typically a good sign.
3. Linebacker U. returns: Although Penn State brings back a lot of experience in the secondary, the defense should be linebacker-driven in 2011. That's the way it should be at Linebacker U. Veterans Michael Mauti and Nathan Stupar are poised to lead the way, and Gerald Hodges made strides this spring and has star potential for the Nittany Lions. Sophomore Khairi Fortt also impressed this spring and could push Stupar for playing time.
1. The starting quarterback: McGloin and Bolden are clearly the top two candidates, but neither enters the summer as the appointed starter. Bolden's future is the subplot here, as the rising sophomore hasn't closed the door to a potential departure from the program. Bolden felt the competition was fair this spring, and it could heat up again when the team resumes practice in August. The coaches probably don't want to let things drag on too long without naming a No. 1 QB.
2. Defensive end: Penn State has lacked a dynamic pass-rusher since Aaron Maybin in 2008, and there's serious concern about the defensive end spot coming out of the spring. Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore remained sidelined this spring with injuries, and projected starter Pete Massaro suffered a season-ending torn ACL early in the spring session. The Lions really need both Crawford and Latimore to get healthy and elevate their play this fall.
3. Offensive line: Although receiver Curtis Drake's injury this spring is a setback for the offense, Penn State should have enough playmakers to sustain the offense if the line can do its job. Line play is the biggest key to Penn State reclaiming its 2008 form, and the pressure is on a group that boasts experience (Quinn Barham, Chima Okoli, Johnnie Troutman) but must prove it can consistently generate push against top Big Ten competition. Tight end also is a major question mark, making the line's performance even more important.
"We don't have any depth there," the coach said. "We don't have a good, solid first-string offensive line yet. That's our first job."
It's hardly a revelation that the Big Ten's best teams are strong along the offensive line. Wisconsin and Iowa have elevated their programs largely because of their line play. Michigan State will become a perennial league title contender when it churns out great lines year after year.
"For all the [talk about] the offensive line being such a big question mark, we didn't give up that many sacks, we were able to get [Evan] Royster the rushing record, so there were definitely some bright spots," right tackle Chima Okoli said. "Myself included, there's a good amount we also have to work on. By no means are we done."
Penn State should be fine at the tackle spots as starters Okoli and Quinn Barham both return. Senior DeOn'tae Pannell has nine career starts and Johnnie Troutman started the final 11 games last season at left guard.
The Lions must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski, who started at both guard and center during his career. But overall depth, as Paterno noted, could be a problem.
"We've got four seniors," Okoli said, "and as you get older, you've kind of earned your right in the hierarchy to say what you'd like to get done with the younger guys."
Penn State's line play has become a testy topic for fans the past two seasons.
The Lions' last elite offensive line led the team to a Big Ten title in 2008. It included Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley and three first-team All-Big Ten players (Shipley and tackles Rich Ohrnberger and Gerald Cadogan).
"They definitely set the bar," Okoli said. "If we can be anywhere close to those guys' level, we'll definitely compete for things I believe we're due for."
Adrian Clayborn doesn't get asked about it much any more. It's a new season at Iowa, and what he did a year ago at Beaver Stadium won't help or hurt the Hawkeyes as they prepare for Saturday night's showdown against No. 22 Penn State.
But few have forgotten about Clayborn's punt block and return for a touchdown that helped lift unranked Iowa past No. 5 Penn State and put the Hawkeyes on track for a historic 9-0 start in 2009.
"It was was one of those plays, kind of like [Warren] Holloway catching the ball in the Capital One Bowl," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, referring to Halloway's 56-yard touchdown with no time left to win the 2005 Capital One Bowl. "It was a great effort on [Clayborn's] part, a high-effort play and a very athletic play to scoop the ball up and take it in for a touchdown.
"Those are Kodak moments, but what he does down to down to down, that's what really makes him an outstanding player."
Clayborn's statistics through the first four games are unremarkable: 15 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries. No sacks or forced fumbles or blocked kicks. Although Clayborn's numbers mirror what he did in the first four games of 2009, some expected a bigger impact from a consensus preseason All-American who bullied his way to 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles as a junior.
But the impact is still there. It's just not showing up on the stat sheet -- yet.
"I've been playing pretty good," Clayborn said. "I haven't gotten the stats people want, but I've been hustling, my motor's going."
Clayborn's motor sets him apart from many defensive ends. Not only does he have size (6-foot-4, 285) and strength, but he wears down offensive linemen with his relentless play.
Consequently, opposing teams are frequently double-teaming No. 94.
"That’s what the coaches keep saying, but when I get out in the game, it's normal," Clayborn said. "They may chip the back or something like that
Added Ferentz: "He's dealing with it very well."
The double-teams against Clayborn already have helped other Iowa defensive linemen like Mike Daniels, who recorded four tackles for loss and a sack last week against Ball State, earning him Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week honors.
"With the reputation he has, it does draw more attention," Daniels said of Clayborn. "It opens up things for other guys, and with the defensive line we have, that's not a smart thing to do."
Clayborn certainly is on Penn State's radar after what he did last year. Nittany Lions left tackle Quinn Barham kept a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone during the offseason as a reminder of what he'll face Saturday night.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno likens Clayborn to Julius Peppers when Peppers starred for North Carolina.
"He's so quick coming off the ball and he's got a couple moves," Paterno said. "If you overplay him to the outside, he'll come underneath, and if you set back too far, he'll run right over you. He's a big kid, long arms. If you wanted to draw up what a defensive end should look like physically, you'd draw a guy like that up.
"He's one of the best football players we’ve played against, not only this year but for a lot of years."
1. John Clay vs. Greg Jones: The Big Ten's top running back (Clay) goes up against the league's top linebacker (Jones) in a matchup football purists will love. Clay has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Michigan State, while Jones has recorded 27 tackles in those matchups. After limiting Clay's carries a bit during nonconference play, Wisconsin likely will feed him a lot at Spartan Stadium, particularly in the second half. If Jones and the Spartans defense keep Clay in check, they'll have a good chance to win.
3. Fireworks in Bloomington: Expect a ton of points in the Michigan-Indiana game, as quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Ben Chappell lead potent offenses against shaky defenses at Memorial Stadium. Robinson will play after suffering a bruised left knee against Bowling Green, and he faces an Indiana defense that ranks 10th in the league against the run (177 ypg). Chappell leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in passing (296.7 ypg). He and his talented receiving corps face the Big Ten's worst pass defense in Michigan (264.8 ypg allowed). This could easily become a basketball score.
4. Improved Illini defense tested: All the early signs point to some genuine improvement with an Illinois defense that finished last in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2009. But as coach Ron Zook said this week, "This will be the first major, major test." Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor leads the nation's No. 8 offense into Champaign on Saturday, and Illinois will be challenged to slow down the Heisman Trophy candidate, who accounted for six touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving) last week. To have any shot, the Illini need continued playmaking from defensive backs Travon Bellamy, Tavon Wilson and Justin Green.
5. Gophers on life support: There's little joy in Minneapolis about the Golden Gophers after a 1-3 start that includes three consecutive home losses. Despite coach Tim Brewster's perpetual positivity, players are aware of the gloom on the outside. Minnesota really needs something good to happen early in Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern. If things start to go bad, the boos likely will rain down and it's hard to imagine the team turning things around. Minnesota really could use some big plays to lift the mood in TCF Bank Stadium.
6. Clayborn digs in: Penn State hasn't forgotten what Adrian Clayborn did last September at Beaver Stadium. Lions left tackle Quinn Barham put a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone as a reminder of what he'd face this fall. But Clayborn has been relatively quiet this season, as constant double teams have limited him to 15 tackles and no sacks through the first four games. Clayborn is due for a big night and he'll set his sights on Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Penn State has protected Bolden well, allowing only one sack, but the Lions are shorthanded after losing right tackle Lou Eliades to a season-ending torn ACL.
7. Dantonio begins his return: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will be in the coaches' booth Saturday at Spartan Stadium less than two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack and undergoing surgery. Dantonio said Tuesday that offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will continue to handle head-coaching duties as needed, as Dantonio eases into his full-time role again. "Guys are really excited to see him around," Greg Jones told me. "You feel like the tempo's picking up even more. Guys are going to really, really feel his presence more than they did last week."
8. Northwestern turns to Trumpy: Northwestern has been looking for an answer at running back for a year and a half. As good as quarterback Dan Persa has been, the Wildcats need a legit ground game to join the Big Ten's elite this fall. After Arby Fields' early struggles, Northwestern will turn to redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy, who provided a boost with 53 second-half rush yards last week against Central Michigan. Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt were elevated to co-starters on the depth chart, as Northwestern faces a Minnesota team that allowed Northern Illinois' Chad Spann to run wild (223 yards) last wek.
9. Cousins, Tolzien in crunch time: Both Michigan State and Wisconsin are run-first teams boasting a multitude of capable backs, but I really believe Saturday's game comes down to which quarterback makes plays in the fourth quarter. Both Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien have played well the last two weeks, combining for 998 pass yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception. Cousins needs to prove himself in the clutch, while Tolzien looks for a signature road win in a place where Wisconsin has struggled. He'll get top receiver Nick Toon back from a toe injury.
10. Buckeyes need answers at RB: Perhaps Buckeyes fans are nitpicking, or maybe they have a point about Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Either way, Ohio State fans want to see more production out of the veteran running backs, or increased opportunities for dynamic redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, who has 15 carries for 177 rush yards (11.8 ypc) this season. Coach Jim Tressel is loyal to his veteran players, and it will be interesting to watch what he does if Saine and Herron start slow against Illinois.
Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.
It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.
Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.
"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."
A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.
Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).
Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.
The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.
"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."
Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.
Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.
"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."
Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.
"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."
Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.
Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.
"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.
"We've done about as well as I could expect."
2. Ohio State: The talent always has been there, and the physical play finally showed up late last fall. Ohio State's line finished 2009 on a very strong note and returns pretty much everyone for 2010. First-team All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren leads the group along with fellow guard Bryant Browning. Center Michael Brewster enters his third season as a starter, and right tackle J.B. Shugarts came along last year. If gifted left tackle Mike Adams effectively protects Terrelle Pryor's blind side, the Buckeyes will be extremely tough to stop.
3. Michigan: The Wolverines boast one of the Big Ten's best interior line tandems in guard Stephen Schilling and center David Molk, who returns from an ACL injury. When Molk was healthy in 2009, Michigan consistently moved the football. His return is a major boost. The Wolverines need to solidify the tackle spots but have experienced options in Perry Dorrestein and Mark Huyge. Michigan's offensive line recruiting also should pay off as redshirt freshmen like Taylor Lewan solidify the depth.
4. Penn State: The line had an average performance in 2009 and struggled against elite defensive fronts, but things should improve this fall. Stefen Wisniewski, who moves back to guard from center, is one of the nation's most experienced and polished offensive linemen. He leads a group that also features veterans Lou Eliades and Johnnie Troutman. Penn State needs big things from new starting left tackle Quinn Barham.
5. Northwestern: All five starters return from 2009, but there's competition at three spots in camp. I see this as a testament to Northwestern's strong O-line recruiting the past four seasons. While experience is great, the Wildcats need to be more physical in run blocking and could benefit from some new faces (or some old ones hardened by competition). Left tackle Al Netter and center Ben Burkett are All-Big Ten candidates, and watch out for Patrick Ward, a heralded 2009 recruit who steps into the spotlight at right tackle this season.
Up next: Running back/fullback
More rankings ...
(Growing up in Berkeley, I remember sneaking onto Cal's practice field in the mid-1990s and seeing the face of Arizona quarterback Dan White -- that week's opponent -- taped onto blocking sleds.)
Penn State offensive tackle Quinn Barham is taking things to a new level this summer.
Every time Barham checks his cell phone, he sees Adrian Clayborn or Marcell Dareus. Barham put pictures of the star defensive ends from Iowa (Clayborn) and Alabama (Dareus) on his cell phone background.
"I've had [the pictures] up all summer, just as motivation," Barham told me last week. "Clayborn’s a great player; the guy at Alabama, Dareus, he’s a great player. So all those guys, just seeing what makes them great and learning how to beat them can also help me become a better player as well.
"I know they’re going to be working just as hard as I am, if not harder. That’s going to push me to work harder and learn different tricks and things to do to beat them and become a better offensive tackle."
You wouldn't blame Penn State players if they never wanted to see Clayborn again. The Iowa star had the decisive punt block and return for a touchdown in last year's Hawkeyes victory at Beaver Stadium.
But Barham sees an opportunity Oct. 2 in Iowa City.
"He’s a great player," Barham said. "They say he’s going to be a top-10 draft pick, so I would love to go against him."
Clayborn and Dareus won't be the only defensive ends to have their pictures on Barham's phone.
"I’m going to put up different defensive ends as each game goes by," Barham said. "I’m going to have a Youngstown State defensive end up pretty soon."
The 6-foot-3, 298-pound Barham is expected to make his first career start Sept. 4 against Youngstown State after backing up Lou Eliades as right guard this spring.
The cell phone pics are only one way Barham is preparing for an enhanced role. He has worked in camp on expanding his vision.
While he recognizes the importance of handling his individual assignment, Barham knows that the elite offensive linemen have total awareness of what's happening around them.
"In the past, I never would see everything on the field," he said. "Now I’m learning to see everything and how everything clicks: recognizing blitzes, recognizing coverages and different lineups, and how to adjust to them on the fly. As a young offensive lineman, you don’t necessarily pay attention to all that at first. You’re just so focused on your assignment. But once you see the field and how everything works together, you understand how to work together and how the chemistry can build.
"We’re trying to be better than last year’s O-line. We’ve got big goals, and we’re trying to reach ‘em."
Liz: Oh, I forgot. Only guys can get hurt there.
- Penn State's spring game showed why there's still plenty of work to do at quarterback, colleague Ivan Maisel writes. Nittany Lions fans need to know the name Quinn Barham this fall, Jared Shanker writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. Penn State fans must finally forget about former QB Pat Devlin, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- The buzz for Iowa football is reaching new heights, as the school might not be able to fill all of its season-ticket orders for 2010, Ryan Suchomel writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- A good position-by-position look back at Ohio State's spring session from The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon. Missed this one from last week, but Nebraska coach Bo Pelini spoke at Ohio State's coaching clinic and had some nice things to say about the school, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon discusses Big Ten expansion and the NCAA's investigation into the school's football program, annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein writes. He also reiterated that head coach Rich Rodriguez's job is safe, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- The Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode lists nine takeaways from Michigan State's spring game.
- Wisconsin safety Chris Maragos signs a free-agent deal with the 49ers, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald thinks Corey Wootton will be an excellent addition to the Chicago Bears, ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson and Michael C. Wright write.
- A spring snapshot of Illinois from the Columbia Daily Tribune's Dave Matter.
- Ohio State adds a top tight end prospect for 2011 in Jeff Heuerman.
As expected, the quarterback competition took center stage at Beaver Stadium, and the early returns weren't too promising. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin both struggled, while true freshman Paul Jones, seemingly an afterthought in the race before Saturday, had the best performance. Jones twice found classmate Shawney Kersey for 18-yard touchdown passes and finished 5-of-8 passing for 67 yards.
Although the quarterbacks didn't get much help from the offensive line (concerning) or the wide receivers (less concerning), Penn State's offense remains a major question mark entering the summer. To be fair, star running back Evan Royster didn't play Saturday.
"I would rate my performance as we've got a lot of work to do," Newsome said afterward. "We've got a lot of work to do. We've got a lot of work to do. We're just going to keep working."
"A lot of eyes were on us today," McGloin said. "We didn't perform maybe up to par, maybe up to what people expected to see."
Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said after the game that it's wrong to eliminate Jones from the race, and then added, "I checked my e-mail afterwards, and people are telling me Paul should be the starter. So it doesn't take long for people to make the decisions."
Paterno and the other coaches have more time to make the ultimate decision, and they'll look for improvement from all three signal callers by the time preseason camp rolls around.
Other nuggets from the Blue-White Game:
- The offensive line's struggles can be attributed in part to the shuffling that went on this spring. It takes time to build chemistry, and Penn State has moved around several linemen, including first-team All-Big Ten selection Stefen Wisniewski. "Obviously, there's that chemistry we need to have,'' right tackle Lou Eliades said. "I think we're only going to get better in time. Chemistry will develop. I think, by September, we'll be ready to go.''
- Nate Stupar sometimes gets overlooked when folks size up Penn State's linebacking corps for 2010, but he had a very nice performance Saturday. Stupar recorded seven tackles (six solo) and an interception.
- Defensive ends Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham both found their way into the offensive backfield, and Latimore recorded two sacks in the game. Penn State's defensive line once again should be the team's strength, as end Jack Crawford and tackle Devon Still should have big seasons.
- While backup running back Stephfon Green (4 carries, 10 rush yards) didn't do much, I liked what I saw from freshman Silas Redd, who recorded a 16-yard run and a 10-yard reception. Redd brings a nice combination of size and shiftiness.
- Penn State brings back several proven veteran receivers, but Kersey and sophomore Justin Brown, who recorded a game-high four receptions for 35 yards, could work their way into the mix. Freshman Brandon Moseby-Felder led the White team with three receptions for 31 yards.
- Wide receiver Brett Brackett, linebacker Bani Gbadyu and offensive tackle Quinn Barham received awards from the coaching staff for their performances this spring.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State