Big Ten: Ralph Spry
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Did any of you catch Purdue coach Joe Tiller posing for pictures with his two top quarterback pupils, Drew Brees and Kyle Orton, following Thursday night's Bears-Saints game? It looked like a pretty cool moment for Tiller, who officially turns over the Boilermakers program to Danny Hope in January.
Tiller was diplomatic in his rooting interest Thursday night. He pulled for "both offenses," as Vaughn McClure writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker underwent left knee surgery Monday but is expected back for the Insight Bowl, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. Fellow Gophers wide receiver Ralph Spry, who started for portions of the season before being sidetracked by a suspension, has decided to transfer from Minnesota.
- Shonn Greene never ballooned to 300 pounds, as some Internet rumors suggested, but the Iowa running back and Big Ten MVP proved to be quite a load for opposing defenses this fall, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Ohio State fans don't seem too motivated about making another bowl trip to Arizona in tough economic times, Steve Stephens and Ken Gordon write in The Columbus Dispatch.
"Buckeye fan Janice Paudicz has been to three bowl games in Phoenix, including the national-title games in January 2007 and January 2003.
She won't be in Arizona, however, when No. 10 Ohio State plays No. 3 Texas.
"When they announced (the destination), my husband and I just looked at each other. It was, 'Do you want to go there again? No, I don't, either.'"
- FCS-member Delaware continues to look like the top destination for quarterback Pat Devlin, who decided to transfer from Penn State earlier this week, Kevin Tresolini writes in The (Wilmington) News Journal.
- Michigan State running back Javon Ringer knows Georgia will be tough, but the Spartans senior aims for a big day in his final collegiate game.
"I'm just not satisfied the way things ended, not satisfied at all," he said Thursday while attending the bowl-game promotion before Thursday night's College Football Awards ceremony. "That's why this bowl is so good. The perfect game for me would be something like 25 carries, 200 yards, three touchdowns and a victory. That's the way I want to go out."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
1. Daryll Clark's response -- The Penn State quarterback took the blame for the Iowa loss and admits he's struggling right now. There has also been some ridiculous talk about replacing Clark with Pat Devlin. Clark shouldn't have to worry about his job, but he needs to get on track again against a woeful Indiana defense that has been hit hard by injuries in the secondary. This is the perfect game for Clark and the Nittany Lions to revive the big-play attack.
2. Ohio State defense vs. Juice Williams -- Williams toyed with the Buckeyes last fall in Columbus, throwing four touchdown passes and racking up 70 rush yards. He almost single-handedly ran out the final eight minutes to preserve a 28-21 upset. You can bet Malcolm Jenkins, James Laurinaitis and Ohio State's other defenders are itching to face Williams again in Champaign (ESPN, noon ET). Ohio State's defense is hitting its stride, but Williams will provide a good test.
3. Bret Bielema and Tim Brewster -- Something is bound to happen in the already simmering Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry, and it will be interesting to see what the two head coaches say and do during and after Saturday's game. Bielema's dash to midfield after last year's Wisconsin win made waves this week, and Brewster has already declared Wisconsin as Minnesota's top rival. There should be some fireworks in Madison (ABC, 3:30 p.m.).
4. Makeshift offensive backfields at the Big House -- Both Northwestern and Michigan are dealing with injuries at quarterback and running back heading into Saturday's matchup (ESPN2, noon ET). Given both teams' problems with turnovers this season, the group that takes better care of the football likely comes out with the win. Michigan quarterback Nick Sheridan tries to build off a strong performance last week in his second straight start, while Northwestern senior quarterback C.J. Bacher likely will return to the field after sitting out the past two weeks with a hamstring injury. Michael Shaw (Michigan) and Stephen Simmons (Northwestern) likely get the starts at running back.
5. Illinois tries to continue crazy pattern -- Since Sept. 13, Illinois has alternated wins and losses. It's not what head coach Ron Zook had in mind, but he wouldn't mind if it continued Saturday against No. 11 Ohio State. Illinois lost last week against Western Michigan and needs a win to get bowl eligible. The Illini usually play the Buckeyes tough, but Ohio State has won 14 straight Big Ten road games.
6. Purdue's quarterback situation -- Fifth-year senior Curtis Painter should return in some form at Iowa, but redshirt freshman Justin Siller is expected to start for the Boilermakers. Head coach Joe Tiller hinted at having a quarterback rotation, with Painter being used for the two-minute drill. The quarterbacks' differing skill sets could present some problems for Iowa, but both players will need to perform well to give Purdue a chance for the upset.
7. Minnesota tries to survive without Eric Decker -- The Gophers' offense was downright awful last week, and they'll be without star wide receiver Eric Decker (high ankle sprain) at Wisconsin. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith and sophomore Ralph Spry will have to step up, but perhaps more important, Minnesota must generate a running game outside of quarterback Adam Weber.
8. Derrick Williams -- If Penn State had held on to beat Iowa, Williams would have been a big story. Penn State used Williams in the "Wildcat" formation, in part to protect Clark, and the senior showcased his speed and versatility. In addition to running for a touchdown, Williams completed a 23-yard pass to Mickey Shuler for Penn State's only play of longer than 20 yards. The Lions likely will continue to expand Williams' role and maximize his versatility against Indiana.
9. Shonn Greene -- Expect to see the Iowa junior running back on this list for the rest of the season. He's just that good, and I don't think we'll see him in college next fall. Greene aims for his 11th consecutive 100-yard rushing game against Purdue, which ranks 90th nationally in rush defense (172.8 ypg). He got a bit banged up on a fourth-quarter touchdown run last week against Penn State but is expected to be fine for Saturday's game.
10. Michigan's final home appearance -- The Wolverines won't be going bowling, but a second straight win and a favorable send-off for the seniors would dull the pain for their fans, who have booed quite a bit this season. Obviously, an upset next week in Columbus would be bigger for the Wolverines, but another victory against a team with a winning record will help matters.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to look inside five Big Ten teams.
Minnesota -- Wide receiver Eric Decker will miss Saturday's game at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) with a high ankle sprain, and the Gophers are working to find ways to replace the Big Ten's receptions leader. Freshman Brandon Green will play a much more prominent role, and Minnesota also will turn to freshman Brodrick Smith and sophomore Ralph Spry, who comes off a two-game suspension for violating team rules. Green, listed as a starter this week, has 12 receptions in his last three games and could blossom into a top-end wideout with extra playing time.
Northwestern -- Running back has become the Wildcats' primary concern after season-ending injuries to starter Tyrell Sutton (dislocated wrist) and backup Omar Conteh (torn knee ligament). Sophomore Stephen Simmons will make his second career start Saturday at Michigan (ESPN2, noon ET), but he'll get help from freshman Jeravin Matthews, a special teams standout who has been moved from wide receiver to running back. Both Simmons and Matthews are small, quick backs, but they'll need to be effective in the passing game, an area where both Sutton and Conteh excelled.
Iowa -- Daniel Murray converted the biggest field goal in recent team history Saturday against Penn State, but he's once again listed as the backup kicker on this week's depth chart. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has confidence in both Murray and freshman Trent Mossbrucker, though it would be hard to see Iowa go against Murray with the game on the line. Mossbrucker, to his credit, has made 13 of 15 field-goal attempts and all 24 extra-point attempts this season. "We went from a situation not knowing where we were at in the spring to feeling confident right now that both guys plan an important role," Ferentz said.
Purdue -- The Boilermakers could use a quarterback rotation Saturday at Iowa. Fifth-year senior Curtis Painter is improving from a separated throwing shoulder, while redshirt freshman Justin Siller has shown enough promise to remain part of the game plan. Painter returned to practice this week, but head coach Joe Tiller said Siller likely will start against the Hawkeyes. Siller is practicing full-go this week after sustaining a bruised sternum against Michigan State. "What I'd really like in a perfect scenario this week would be for Curtis to get healthy enough to execute the two-minute game," Tiller said. "Justin isn't prepared to do that. It's not that he can't do it in the future, it's just how much are you going to heap on this guy now and what are you going to expect him to do."
Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch hasn't pinpointed the reason for his team's rash of injuries, but it isn't the playing field at Memorial Stadium. Indiana had to install new turf late this summer after flooding damaged the old surface. Though several players have sustained knee injuries on the home turf, Lynch sees no different between what Indiana has and other fields around the Big Ten. The health watch on offense looks better this week, but Indiana will need to do more shuffling in the secondary as cornerback Richard Council battles a leg injury. The Hoosiers already have lost three secondary starters to season-ending injuries, and walk-on wide receiver Collin Taylor has been moved to free safety, where he'll back up Brandon Mosley.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Judging by the way the Golden Gophers looked on offense against Michigan, this is really not good. Decker barely played in the game and was sorely missed, as Minnesota didn't score a touchdown for the first time this season. Minnesota is hardly a juggernaut to begin with, ranking seventh in the league in scoring offense (24.9 ppg), but the Gophers could always rely on the connection between quarterback Adam Weber and Decker, who leads the league with 74 receptions and ranks second with 892 receiving yards.
Several young wide receivers must step up Saturday at Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), namely freshman Brandon Green and sophomore Ralph Spry. Green will be a top-end wideout very soon in this league, but Minnesota needs him to grow up fast. Ben Kuznia is solid on the other side, but Weber needs a second option.
More important, the Gophers need to generate some semblance of a running game. They rank last in the league in rushing offense (116.4 ypg), and Weber still remains the most viable option.
And finally, Minnesota needs to go back to its formula of forcing turnovers and playing solid red zone defense. The Gophers have allowed a league-low eight touchdowns in the red zone this season.
Decker's loss hurts, but if the Gophers can get production from multiple wideouts, generate a running game and force a few turnovers, they should be in this game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for not posting this sooner, but Minnesota wide receiver Ralph Spry has been suspended for violating team rules. Spry, who started the first seven games for the 24th-ranked Gophers, sat out Saturday against Purdue and will miss this week's home contest against Northwestern.
Freshman Brandon Green will start in Spry's place against the Wildcats (ESPN2, noon ET).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It was a heavy news day around the Big Ten, so my regularly scheduled mailbag will be pushed back to Wednesday. From here on out I'll have mailbags on Tuesdays and Fridays, so make sure to send in your questions.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz announced this afternoon that junior Jake Christensen will start at quarterback Saturday against Maine. Sophomore Ricky Stanzi, who has come on strong toward the end of preseason camp, also will see action. Christensen threw for 2,269 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions as the starter last season, completing only 53.5 percent of his passes.
"He came in as a starter, and I think he's practiced well," Ferentz said of Christensen. "It's not a matter of his performance. He's elevated his performance from the spring. I thought he was better in the spring than he was in the fall [of 2007], and I think he's continued to improve, which is what we're hoping for."
Here are some notes and links I didn't get to earlier:
- Ferentz announced that reserve running back Nate Guillory will transfer. Guillory had been competing for the starting job this month but fell behind opening-day starter Shonn Greene and emerging sophomore Paki O'Meara. Freshmen Jeff Brinson and Jewel Hampton are also in the fold, so Ferentz isn't concerned about depth despite the losses of Albert Young and Damian Sims. "The jury is still out because we haven't played a snap that counts," he said, "but based on what we've seen, we're pretty optimistic."
- Ferentz also announced that tight end Tony Moeaki and Michael Sabers, wideout Trey Stross and offensive lineman Dan Doering will miss the opener with injuries. Doering, a possible starter at left guard, has a hand injury but should be back by next week. Moeaki will miss 1-2 weeks with a foot injury. Sophomore linebacker Jeff Tarpinian has a hamstring injury but could play.
- Wideout Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are no longer with Illinois' team, coach Ron Zook announced today. Gamble had been expected to contribute at receiver this fall.
- Minnesota's Week 1 depth chart is out, and not surprisingly, there are some notable changes. Junior college transfers Tramaine Brock and Traye Simmons are listed as starters at safety and cornerback, and former wideout Marcus Sherels has won the other starting cornerback spot. Sherels also will serve as the team's primary return man on kickoffs and punts.
- Sophomore Ralph Spry and emerging junior Ben Kuznia have joined star Eric Decker as the Gophers' starting wideouts. Freshmen Brandon Green and Brodrick Smith are listed as backups. Minnesota's starting spots at left guard and right tackle remain undecided. Sophomore D.J. Burris is competing with Ryan Orton at left guard, and redshirt freshmen Ryan Wynn or Jason Meinke will start at right tackle.
- Penn State safety Nick Sukay will miss the season with a broken bone in his foot, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Starting cornerback Tony Davis expects Lydell Sargeant to win the other top CB job, Jeff McLane writes.
- Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is healthier but must leapfrog several players on the depth chart, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Also check out the list of Buckeyes true freshmen likely to play this fall (besides Terrelle Pryor, of course).
- Maybe RichRod is fooling all of us, but he seems fine with playing two quarterbacks in the season opener, the Detroit Free Press' Mark Snyder writes in his blog.
- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio praises the play of defensive end Dwayne Holmes, who could start the opener.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here are a few items I found while waiting for player interviews to start at Indiana.
- Xavier Fulton turned around his career at Illinois by hopping across the line, Terry Bannon writes.
- Iowa's young linebackers are ready to take on greater roles this fall. The Quad City Times' Eric Page takes a look at Iowa's pivotal position group, the offensive line.
- Cornerback Morgan Trent is no longer the weak link in Michigan's secondary, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. Rich Rodriguez pulled a fast one on his players, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State's camp is winding down, and coach Mark Dantonio has Cal in his thoughts, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News. Also, standout linebacker Greg Jones could play either in the middle or outside.
- Minnesota's freshmen wide receivers are generating plenty of buzz, but don't forget about returnees like Ralph Spry and Ben Kuznia, Kent Youngblood writes.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sounds off about how the spread offense has changed the Big Ten since his playing days in the mid-1990s, Jon Spencer writes.
- Linebacker is only a temporary home for many Ohio State players, and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins might stay on the field in nickel packages, Ken Gordon writes. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is quoting Barack Obama, Doug Lesmerises writes. Does that mean Obama will carry Ohio in November?
- If you didn't know already, Penn State's defensive line is stacked. Jerome Hayes looks forward to rejoining the mix after a knee injury, Joe Miegoc writes.
- Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor is trying to stay positive following his season-ending knee injury, Tom Kubat writes.
- With Jonathan Casillas nursing an ankle injury, Wisconsin's Blake Sorensen could play a greater role at multiple linebacker spots this fall, Jeff Potrykus writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.
As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:
|AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack|
|Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.|
1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.
2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.
3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.
4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).
5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.
6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.
7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.
8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.
9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.
10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.
1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.
2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.
3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.
4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.
5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.
6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.
7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.
8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.
9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.
10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.
11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.