Big Ten: Rashard Fant

Position battles: Indiana Hoosiers

February, 10, 2015
Feb 10
Before you know it, spring practice will be underway around the Big Ten. To get you ready, we're examining a few position battles to watch at each program.

Next under the microscope is Indiana.

1. Wide receiver: The Hoosiers lose leading receivers Shane Wynn and Nick Stoner, plus running back Tevin Coleman -- who finished second on the team with 25 receptions in 2014 -- but regain the services of quarterback Nate Sudfeld, whose shoulder injury spelled doom for the Hoosiers on offense last season. A glut of sophomores return to fight for three starting spots, though, of course, Indiana will use four- and five-receiver sets. Start with J-Shun Harris II, Dominique Booth, Simmie Cobbs and UAB transfer Marqui Hawkins, who began his career at Florida. Ricky Jones returns as a junior, and Indiana signed three receivers, headlined by Leon Thornton and 6-foot-3 Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, last week to supplement a talented but inexperienced position group.

2. Cornerback: Gone are starters Michael Hunter, who is transferring to Oklahoma State for his final season of eligibility and Tim Bennett, who led Indiana with nine pass breakups last season. So that leaves Donovan Clark and Rashard Fant, who contributed as freshmen. Classmates Noel Padmore and Laray Smith, a converted running back, played sparingly last season. Kenny Mullen, a rising senior, returns from a knee injury suffered in the Hoosiers' September win over Missouri. New signee Andre Brown will get a look in August.

3. Linebacker: David Cooper and Forisse Hardin ranked among Indiana's top five tacklers as seniors on a struggling defensive unit. T.J. Simmons, the starter in the middle, returns as a junior after leading all players at the position group with 72 stops. Tegray Scales fills a spot after earning freshman All-America recognition. Greg Gooch, Clyde Newton and Marcus Oliver, an important reserve who was lost to injury early last season, will fight for time, as will redshirt freshman Nile Sykes, who earned scout-team accolades last fall.
All week, we've been examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it could potentially be repaired in 2015.

Last but not least: Indiana Hoosiers

Problem position: The secondary

Why the secondary was a problem in 2014: Honestly, we could have picked the entire defense as a problem spot for the Hoosiers. Again. Despite the hiring of a new defensive coordinator (Brian Knorr) and an infusion of more athletes on that side of the ball, Indiana once again struggled to stop anybody in the Big Ten. Knorr's unit gave up more passing yards per game (250) than anybody else in the conference, and opposing Big Ten quarterbacks completed 63.9 percent against the Hoosiers. That's an indictment on the lack of a pass rush up front and linebackers who can cover in space as well, but we'll focus on the defensive backs for these purposes.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Safety Mark Murphy and cornerback Tim Bennett, two of the leaders of the defense, used up their eligibility. Meanwhile, the team's other starting cornerback, Michael Hunter, decided not to return for his final year. That leaves the Hoosiers thin on experience going into 2015. Safety Antonio Allen, who was an important recruit for the Hoosiers, needs to continue to improve as a junior, and Chase Dutra likely joins him as a starter. Cornerbacks Rashard Fant and Donovan Clark saw action last fall as freshmen, and Kenny Mullen returns from an injury.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Hoosiers have a pair of safeties -- Jonathan Crawford and Tyler Green -- ready to sign next week, as well as several athlete types who could play either linebacker or defensive back. They could still be in the market for a late addition at corner.

Early 2015 outlook: There is talent on hand here. Allen and Fant, for example, are two of the top-rated recruits Kevin Wilson has signed. The defensive backfield roles are actually more settled than wide receiver, which is a worrisome area on the offense. Again, the secondary was by no means the only weak link in the defense. But until Indiana can figure out a way to strengthen every aspect of the defense and become competitive on that side of the ball in the Big Ten, we could be talking about the same problematic positions for the Hoosiers in 2015.

Spring game recap: Indiana

April, 14, 2014
We're recapping all the spring game action from over the weekend today. Next up: Indiana.

The Cream team beat the Crimson 24-14 before a crowd of 9,200 at sunny Memorial Stadium. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here.

Star of the game: Wide receiver Shane Wynn had five catches for 141 yards and one touchdown.

How it went down: Wynn took some grief for his choices and deliberation during Friday's player draft but delivered a big game that included catches of 60 and 56 yards, plus a 16-yard touchdown, all from Tre Roberson.

"I always trust Shane,” Roberson said. “We talk before when we’re on the sideline. If he knows he can go deep, we’ll just look at each other. We’ll send him deep, and I’ll throw the ball as far as I can. He’s so fast. You can’t really out-throw him.”

Looking for some clarity on who the starting QB might be? Don't bother. Head coach Kevin Wilson is fine with playing two guys, and there's little to separate the duo of Roberson and Nate Sudfeld. Roberson went 10-of-22 for 176 yards and an interception and also had a 65-yard scoring run, while Sudfeld was 29-of-40 for 273 yards with one score and two picks.

"We better manage the quarterback deal good," Wilson said. "That's my job. And I attack it in a positive way with those guys.”

Star tailback Tevin Coleman took only three carries but gained 61 yards. Anthony Davis added 41 yards on five carries with a 30-yard score, and Myles Graham had two touchdown runs.

The Cream team averaged better than nine yards per carry, which is not a great sign for the defense. But the Hoosiers like the progress on that side of the ball. Defensive tackle Nate Hoff led all defenders with seven tackles, plus a sack, while sophomore corner Rashard Fant had six tackles, an interception and a pass breakup. They're both backups, and Indiana is hopeful that more depth and competition will lead to a better overall defense this season.

“I’ve been coaching at a lot of different places, and this is as physical a spring as I’ve ever been a part of, as far as just the fundamentals of teaching guys to get off blocks,” new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

Indiana tight end Ted Bolser qualifies as a village elder on the Hoosiers' football team. Bolser is a fifth-year senior on a roster stuffed with underclassmen, a four-year starter who has suffered through three straight losing seasons.

So Bolser speaks with authority when talking about how much the Indiana program has changed in the past few years and where it might be headed.

[+] EnlargeKofi Hughes
Jerry Lai/USA TODAY SportsSenior Kofi Hughes will lead the Indiana Hoosiers' receiving corps, which is slated to be one of the conference's best this season.
"Everything's completely different around here," he said. "Night and day. There's definitely a buzz around campus right now about the team."

"Buzz" and Hoosier football are not terms that normally appear in the same sentence, unless you're talking about tailgating. Indiana has made only one bowl appearance since 1993 and none since 2007 and is just 5-19 under third-year coach Kevin Wilson. Yet there is a good deal of positive publicity coming out of Bloomington these days.

Several preseason prognosticators have projected the Hoosiers to reach a bowl game this season. In a poll of Big Ten writers by the Cleveland Plain Dealer this summer, Indiana was the runaway choice as the team most likely to surprise in 2013. At Big Ten media days in Chicago, where the IU contingent often has plenty of free time, crowds gathered around Wilson and his players. Wilson has challenged the fan base to support the team this year, and the school reports that season ticket sales are up 5 percent, while student ticket sales have increased 18 percent over last year.

"We're not boasting or bragging," Wilson said. "We don't have it figured out. But we are, in the Twitter world, trending in a positive way."

Why the sudden uptick in interest for a team that lost to Ball State and Navy last year? For one, Indiana has a whopping 19 starters back, tied for the most in the FBS. That includes all but one starter on an offense that led the Big Ten in passing yards and finished second in the league in total yards in 2012. The Hoosiers return three experienced quarterbacks -- Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld, who all all battling for the starting job -- along with arguably the conference's top receiving group. They could put a lot of points on the scoreboard this season.

Of course, the question remains whether they can keep points off the board, as IU's defense has been the worst in the Big Ten in each of Wilson's first two seasons and got torched for 163 points in its final three games last year. The team brought in one of its highest-ranked recruiting classes ever in February, and not surprisingly it was stuffed with defensive players, like defensive backs Antonio Allen and Rashard Fant and lineman Darius Latham. Early reports on the newcomers have been strong.

"They’re living up to the hype right now," senior defensive back Greg Heban said.

And the hope is that other young players on both sides of the ball continue to develop. Indiana was starting to build momentum as a program in the mid-2000s under Terry Hoeppner, who died after a long battle with brain cancer in 2007. His successor, Bill Lynch, led the Hoosiers on an inspiration bowl run in the 2007 season while coaching with the interim tag. But Lynch was fired in 2010 after three straight losing seasons. Wilson arrived and faced some resistance to change by the upperclassmen, and he began playing lots of true freshmen right away.

"I don’t think people knew the depth of issues we had in our team, and it wasn’t going to change just over the course of two years," senior receiver Kofi Hughes said. "But three years? I think it has definitely changed, and things are completely different."

In Year 3, Wilson says, the players all understand his standards and work ethic. There's far better depth and competition at every position. When asked whether this should be his best IU team, he said, "It's not close." But he continues to point out that the Hoosiers still haven't accomplished much of anything yet.

"There's always a little pessimism," he said. "Talk's cheap. ... We're getting better and we're gaining and it's a lot more fun and you feel it, but you've got to go win games and prove it. Like one guy said, 'Give me one word to describe your talent.' And I said, 'Unproven.' We've yet to really show.

"There's a boatload of potential, but you've got to go do it. It's getting over the hump and getting Ws."

Indiana benefits from eight home games this year, though nonconference games against Missouri, Navy and Bowling Green are challenging. The Hoosiers also must deal with Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin in their own division and crossover games against Michigan and Michigan State, both of which are on the road.

Still, the pieces are in place for a run at six wins and a bowl game. And maybe even more.

"Just going to a bowl, if that's our standard, that's pretty low," Bolser said. "It's kind of embarrassing, actually. We're setting our standards very high this year."

Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 9, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter. And keep those emails coming.

Let's check out a few ...

Matt from Omaha writes: You guys are currently have a countdown of the per season top 25 players in the B1G. If you could do a top 25 of the most hyped players in the B1G that haven't taken the field, but expect to play well this year, who would you have on it?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Matt. Let's have some fun with this one. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg would have to be near the top. ESPN rated him as the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and Penn State fans have waited a while to get a glimpse of Hackenberg, who looks like the team's signal caller of the future. Ohio State's Dontre Wilson also would be up there, as he brings explosiveness to a Buckeyes offense looking for players to fill the Percy Harvin position in Urban Meyer's offense. Michigan running back Derrick Green is another newcomer with plenty of hype behind his name. Veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint wants to be Michigan's bell cow in the backfield, and Green will miss a bit of time with a minor injury, but there's a decent chance the freshman gets a fair share of carries this season.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, a junior-college arrival, certainly would be in the Top 10 as Husker fans hope he can spark a questionable line. Michigan State redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, who moved from linebacker to running back in the spring and drew good reviews, certainly is one to watch, although he also is reportedly banged up. Others who would make the list include Purdue QB Danny Etling, Indiana CB Rashard Fant, Penn State TE Adam Breneman, Illinois WR Martize Barr, Wisconsin WR Robert Wheelwright, Ohio State WR Jalin Marshall, Illinois LB Eric Finney, Indiana DT Darius Latham and Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike.

Derek from Minneapolis writes: Please help me settle an argument in my family. I argue that the Badgers' best offense ever was in 2011 when they had Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and still lost 3 games. My brother argues that it was the ground attack the year before with Clay, Ball and White all getting 900+ yards. My dad argues that the Ron Dayne years would be the hardest to stop. Which offense do you think is the best and why? We have several beers wagered on your response.

Adam Rittenberg: This is certainly a good problem/argument to have if you're a Wisconsin fan. All three are great options. My sense is to go with the 2011 offense because of the Wilson and Ball, quite possibly the most talented offensive backfield we've seen in the Big Ten in the past decade. If you actually look at Wilson's numbers that year, they'll blow you away, while Ball stats speak for themselves. The only reason I'm hesitant is that the 2010 offensive line was superior to the 2011 version. Wisconsin didn't completely dominate opponents as often in 2011 as it did in 2010, and needed Wilson to work his magic in the pocket quite a bit. The Dayne offenses were great, too, but more one-dimensional than the 2010 and 2011 teams. Ultimately, I have to go with the 2011 version, factoring in a healthy Peter Konz for the entire season. I still can't fathom how Wisconsin managed to lose three games with the backfield of Wilson and Ball.

Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: Hey Adam, I was reading your article ranking Ameer Abdullah at No. 13 in the B1G, and read something that didn't make sense to me. You said that Nebraska doesn't have a lot of depth at RB, when I don't believe that's the case at all! Behind Abdullah, you have manbeast Imani Cross, and the 2 best freshman RBs out of Cali and Texas (Newby and Taylor) now on campus. RB is the least of my concerns going into the season! What was your reasoning behind that?

Adam Rittenberg: Let me ask you this question, Brian. How much better would you feel about the Huskers' depth if Braylon Heard and Aaron Green were still on the roster? Heard and Green are two talented backs, and both opted to transfer from Nebraska. Fans love freshmen because they followed them in recruiting and fell in love with them, but they're still freshmen, totally unproven at the college level. I'm not saying Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor won't be studs at Nebraska, but both have a lot to prove. Cross impressed me last year and might soon emerge as Nebraska's featured back. But to say the Huskers are deep at running back with Abdullah, Cross and two freshmen is inaccurate. The depth would be much better if Heard and Green were still on the roster.

James from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Less than three weeks until Thursday night kickoff. Who starts at QB for Indiana? Rank 'em 1 through 3.

Adam Rittenberg: Very tough question, James, as the race is still too close -- and still too early -- to call. All three players continue to compete, although Indiana will trim the candidate pool to two fairly soon. My sense all along has been if Tre Roberson can make up for lost time, he'll be the starter when Indiana opens the season because of his explosive speed to complement his passing. But Cameron Coffman brings a gunslinger mentality that the coaches like, and Nate Sudfeld continues to impress in practice. Sudfeld, who had a good spring, certainly can't be ruled out of the mix. Check back with me in 10 days or so for a better prediction. For now, I'll go with Roberson, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Sam from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, it's gotta be nice to actually talk about things that are going on actually ON the field! At Northwestern, where do you see the greatest opportunity for a true freshman to step in and get some playing time?

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it is, Sam. The offseason is too long. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't like to play a lot of true freshmen, preferring to redshirt as many guys as he can. The Wildcats have some holes to fill in the interior of both lines, but I don't see a true freshman stepping in at those spots because of the physical demands. I'd keep an eye on freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike. Cornerback Nick VanHoose praised Igwebuike when we talked earlier this week, and while Northwestern has decent depth at safety, Igwebuike could work his way into the rotation. VanHoose also singled out freshmen corners Keith Watkins and Matthew Harris for their play. You typically see true freshmen see time at running back or receiver, but Northwestern has excellent depth at both positions.

Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hi Adam-As a Spartan fan I was used to many years of fast starts followed by the usual November swoon, especially during the John L days. I always contended that although most of those teams were mediocre, the schedule played a huge role it. Specifically, soft out of conference games followed by some weaker B1G competition pumped up the record and then a brutal stretch of games to end the season killed it. Looking at the current B1G schedules, this screams Nebraska. I can totally see a hot start (7-0, 6-1) only to be followed by a 1-4 ending. Will Bo suffer the same fate as John L if this happens?

Adam Rittenberg: It would have to be a total collapse, Kevin, and even then, I don't know if Nebraska would part ways with Bo Pelini, who has averaged 9.6 wins per year as the Huskers' head coach. Nebraska learned a hard lesson after dumping Frank Solich, as the program entered a downward spiral under Bill Callahan. Although Pelini's current boss, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, didn't hire him, I don't get the sense Eichorst wants to rock the boat too much right away. You bring up a good point about Nebraska's schedule being backloaded, and the Huskers will need to be at their best in November, but they also get three games at home (Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa), where they've lost only once since joining the Big Ten. I'd be stunned if 1-4 happens.

Derrick from New York writes: Who's your first draft pick in this years B1G Ten Fantasy Draft?

Adam Rittenberg: You'll have to wait a little longer for that, Derrick, as we'll do the draft closer to the season. But let me remind you, and Mr. Bennett, and the whole wide world that I'll be picking second overall. Why, you wonder? Because I throttled Bennett last year and intend to do the same this fall. The Gingers have no shot. They'll hear the sad Trombone [Shorty] again in late November.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

June, 10, 2013
A raven arrived this morning carrying your questions. As you wish:

J. Young from A city in that state up north: Greetings from enemy territory. With Ohio State in its last BCS chance before the playoff, how many eggs do you think the Big Ten has in the Urban Meyer basket for national success and some good PR this season?

Brian Bennett: The Big Ten shouldn't really care whether Ohio State gets it done, or if Michigan or Nebraska or Wisconsin or somebody else makes a run at the national title. But here's what the league should be happy about: the Buckeyes are going to start the season ranked somewhere in the top three, most likely, and will be No. 1 on some ballots. That means the Big Ten will be in the national title discussions at least early on in the season, and that's something that really hasn't happened since the middle of 2010. Remember that no Big Ten teams were in the top eight of either poll to start last year, and then Michigan got blasted by Alabama in the opener. The league didn't have a team in the top nine of either poll to start 2011 and was out of the BCS title chase by late October.

It's sad but true: when a conference doesn't have a national title contender, it becomes irrelevant in many ways. Ohio State should keep the Big Ten in the spotlight as long as it takes care of its very manageable early schedule. Hopefully, other league teams can join the Buckeyes in that quest.

MJ from Ocean, N.J., writes: Hey Brian, interesting piece from the EPA numbers that Brad Edwards put together placing the Buckeyes in the top 5 overvalued teams of 2012. Doubtful that these numbers can go back as far as '02, but I'd bet the national champion Buckeyes could be in that overvalued section as well with the several close victories to teams that had were thought to have no business competing with that team. But that's why they play the game and as long as we keep a 0 in the loss column, I'm good with that. Not that it's groundbreaking news, but do those numbers affect your opinion of the season that was for Ohio State?

Brian Bennett: Here's my basic opinion of all that: Those 2002 Buckeyes might have squeaked by in a lot of close games, and, heck, they might have even gotten very lucky on a shaky pass-interference call in the title game against Miami. Yet there's still a crystal football in their trophy case, and they're not giving it back. It really doesn't matter how you win, as long as you win. I didn't need advanced stats to tell me that Ohio State was not a dominant team most of the time in 2012; heck, I covered four of the Buckeyes' games in person and obviously watched them all very closely. They were just a team that knew how to make winning plays when they needed them. My lasting image of last season's team is probably watching from field level as they simply willed their way toward a couple of first downs against a terrific Michigan State team on the road to close out that victory. I still don't think Ohio State could have beaten Alabama last season, but no one can ever take 12-0 away from them.

Matt from Farmington Hills, Mich., writes: Brian, you recently posted Athlon's predictions for the 2013 B1G season. In it, OSU was picked to go undefeated by beating UM in the league championship game. First of all, can someone please slow down the Buckeye hype-train? I simply don't understand how a team that had to out-score Indiana last year and evaded multiple near-loss games can be picked to go undefeated AGAIN. Not to mention having to replace the majority of a front-seven on defense. Talent is great and they have it in (largely unproven) guys like Washington and Spence, but what about depth? Additionally, call me a homer, but I am confident that Michigan's talent rivals OSU's, and if Athlon is correct in that the two teams meet in consecutive games, I believe Michigan has too much pride to lose twice in a row to a HATED rival. Thoughts?

Brian Bennett: Does Ohio State have some question marks? For sure. But as we have pointed out, Urban Meyer's teams tend to improve a whole lot in Year 2, and I believe the Buckeyes are still the most talented team in the Big Ten from top to bottom. You make an interesting point about depth. That's still a major concern on the offensive line and at linebacker, and a few key injuries could also wreck the defensive line and wide receiver positions. Ohio State managed to stay relatively healthy, especially on offense, in 2012. We should never discount how difficult it is to go undefeated in one year, let alone two straight. Again, though, the schedule is very favorable.

The idea of playing Michigan twice in a row is fascinating. If that were to happen, the Buckeyes would have to play the Wolverines away from home both times. The revenge factor for the second meeting would be incredibly high. If Ohio State could pull that off, it would mean a long and painful offseason for Brady Hoke and the Maize and Blue.

Tyler from Chicago writes: Northwestern is looking to be a good program for a long time and they are just starting to upgrade their football facilities. Since, their moving all their football activities except for games to the main campus, what will they do with Ryan Field? Any chance they build a new stadium on Lake Michigan? I think it would be amazing and they would get more fans and recruits if there as an open end of the stadium looking out to the lake. Or will they upgrade the worst stadium in the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: Building a stadium on Lake Michigan seems like a pipe dream. There's not exactly a ton of land there, and construction prices could be astronomical. We could definitely see some upgrades to Ryan Field in the future, including the addition of more club seating and luxury boxes. But first, Wildcats fans need to prove that they can consistently fill the stadium and make it an intimidating environment for visitors.

Nick from Indiana writes: Which true freshmen do you expect to have the biggest impact on defense this year for the Hoosiers?

Brian Bennett: Nick, I know the coaches are excited about the potential of Darius Latham, the kind of athletic defensive lineman that Indiana has had trouble landing in recent years. Safety Antonio Allen also has a great shot at contributing right away, as well as defensive end David Kenney III. Rashard Fant will get a long look in the secondary. Kevin Wilson has shown that he's not afraid of throwing freshmen into the mix right away, so anyone who's ready will have an excellent chance of playing early on. It's just a matter of which ones adjust to the college level the best and the quickest.

Matt from Ann Arbor writes: With the B1G looking to strengthen the non conference schedule, what would the "dream matchup" home and home series be -- that is a realistic option -- for each team (or just a few) in the conference? A few that I would love to see would be Michigan vs. Stanford, Nebraska vs. Oklahoma, Ohio St vs. Oregon and even Illinois vs. Missouri.

Brian Bennett: Interesting that you would ask that today, Matt, as we're inviting fans to let us know what nonconference series they would like to see their teams play. Nebraska-Oklahoma and Ohio State-Oregon are already on the books for future series, and those are absolute dream matchups. I'd love to see Michigan-LSU because of the Les Miles factor, but Wisconsin-LSU is going to be pretty darn good in its own right. Some other potential dream matchups, in my opinion: Ohio State-Florida, Nebraska-Texas, Penn State-Miami (which is very close to happening), Wisconsin-Arkansas (duh), Michigan-USC and Wisconsin-Notre Dame.

Greg from Philadelphia writes: Alright, Brian, I found this on a random fact generator: In Kentucky, it is illegal to carry ice cream in your back pocket... so knock it off, jerk, or I'm calling the cops!I am curious, however, as to what flavor of ice cream you tend to keep in your back pocket? I take you for a rocky road kind of guy.

Brian Bennett: Well, yeah, the law makes perfect sense. It seems like a good idea to carry ice cream in your back pocket until the first time you forget it's there and try to sit down. I'm actually not a big ice cream guy -- cookies and pie are more my thing -- but when the urge strikes, I tend to go cookies and cream.
Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory is looking for a few good men this spring. Actually, more than a few.

Mallory isn't necessarily seeking the next standout player (although he wouldn't complain if he found one). The Hoosiers' defense has had productive individuals over the years, from cornerback Tracy Porter to defensive linemen Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, to defensive tackle Adam Replogle. Last fall, Replogle put up huge numbers for an interior lineman (13.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, 71 total tackles). Safety Greg Heban (91 tackles, three interceptions, seven tackles for loss) and linebacker David Cooper (86 tackles, nine tackles for loss, three sacks) also had strong statistical seasons.

[+] EnlargeAdam Replogle
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIndiana defensive tackle Adam Replogle had 13.5 tackles for loss and five sacks last season.
But the unit still struggled, finishing 103rd nationally in yards allowed, 101st in points allowed and 116th against the run. The cumulative results were all too typical for a defense that has struggled for more than a decade because of its lack of depth.

"It can't be the same guy out there every single play of the game, every play of the season," Mallory told "We've got to be able to have some guys come in and contribute, whether it's 10, 20, 30 plays a game, guys who give us a little bit better depth."

The Hoosiers are looking for numbers this spring, at least 22 defenders who Mallory can feel confident about sending onto the field this coming season. IU's offense took a significant step in coach Kevin Wilson's second year and should be one of the Big Ten's most explosive units in 2013.

But for Indiana to take a step as a program -- toward winning records and bowl appearances -- its defensive depth must improve substantially. Although it's not ideal that three projected starters -- Cooper and fellow linebacker Chase Hoobler, and safety Mark Murphy -- are now sidelined this spring, it's more important to get others up to speed.

"We're trying to see more competition, more guys putting themselves in position to compete," Mallory said. "With all these guys coming back, that's great, but we were not very good a year ago, so that could be a positive and it could also be a negative. We've got to make major strides and do a better job as coaches and as players defending the run, stopping the run and being a lot more physical on defense."

Mallory has made it clear to the players that there are "no starters" this spring. Players move between the first-, second- and third-teams from practice to practice, depending on performance, and sometimes even within a single workout.

"The worse you are, the further you fall on that depth chart," Mallory said. "Kids understand that."

Mallory has been impressed by cornerback Kenny Mullen, who started the final five games in 2012. Defensive end Bobby Richardson, a reserve last fall, also has stood out as IU must replace two starters up front.

Help is on the way as Indiana significantly elevated its defensive recruiting efforts for the 2013 class. Six of IU's seven highest-rated recruits, according to RecruitingNation, will play defense, including ESPN 150 defensive back Rashard Fant, and linemen Darius Latham and David Kenney III.

"On paper, it definitely looks like a good class," Mallory said. "We're looking forward to getting those guys here, and they'll get in here and compete. You certainly want to be quality two-deep and hope that your incoming class are guys that can help you get three-deep."
Kevin Wilson hopes his rebuilding project at Indiana just took its next step forward on signing day.

The Hoosiers brought in one of their better classes in recent years, according to the rankings services. It included ESPN 150 athlete Rashard Fant and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Darius Latham. I recently spoke with Wilson, whose team went from 1-11 in 2011 to 4-8 last year, about the class:

Looks like you loaded up on defense. Was that the plan going in?

Kevin Wilson: You always want to get good players, but you also look at your needs. If you look at our offense, it isn't so bad. It's pretty average. We only lose one senior there. That being said, we need to make improvements on defense. We really only lost five seniors that played, and we only signed 22 kids but we have a lot of players coming back. You're not starting from scratch. We have 13 kids for sure on defense and then we have four of those tweener, hybrid kids who could be a running back or a linebacker or a safety or a receiver or a cornerback. There are three or four skill position guys where I could see them being on either side. So people look at it as 13 defensive players, but it could end being 14,15 or even 16 kids who are defensive players.

You signed three highly-rated kids from Indianapolis. How important was it to lock down the best kids in the state?

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesIndiana coach Kevin Wilson has now had a full cycle to recruit players.
KW: If you want to be the state school, to me, you've got to represent the state. But just because they're from your state doesn't mean you're going to get them, and just because they're from your state doesn't mean you have to like them. They've got to be good players, and sometimes you don't get them all. It was good to get quality players and highly-rated kids, guys we think can make decent impacts. We don't need them to just sign with us. We need them to become good players.

They all come from quality programs. We do want to always have a presence within our state. The other comment about that, in all honesty, is that, we show up two years ago in December and had January to recruit. Last year, we get a full year, but this to me was the first year, with the way recruiting goes, where we got a full cycle. We saw them as 10th graders. We had them at camps. We had them at basketball games, had them on campus and went and watched them as juniors. We were able to build some relationships. I think the combination of that and folks thinking we're getting better helped. That's why I think some of the Indiana kids came our way.

It's hard not to notice that you signed four kids out of Georgia. How did you get that pipeline going?

KW: A couple of things. No. 1, we've got [defensive ends coach] Jon Fabris, who we hired from down there. He worked at the University of Georgia for nine years and knew his way around. He was able to go down there last spring and camp out there and go to spring practices and get us in there. It's a heck of a football state, with a big population. The next deal is, shooting down I-75, we're talking eight or nine hours to the metro Atlanta area. When you go outside of Indianapolis, our biggest alumni areas are Chicago, Atlanta and New York City because of the Kelley School of Business and all the alums we've got. So there's a little presence there. And I think the Big Ten Network helps when you go down south. When you go down to Florida, every home has the Big Ten Network, so that helps.

Rashard Fant is your top-rated prospect. Where do you see him fitting in?

KW: We see him as a cornerback and we need some help over there. But you look at his tape, and he's a great athlete -- great in the return game, really good as a slot receiver and they played him at Wildcat quarterback. Like a lot of guys we got, he can run. He needs to get a little bigger, a little stronger to compete at the Big Ten level, but he's a very athletic kid. We'll use him on returns starting out and defensively. But he has flexibility. When you evaluate his tape, you see him making plays with the ball in his hands. He's pretty skilled there. Same goes for some of our defensive backs like Antonio Allen. Chase Dutra is a running back hybrid; he could be a safety. Noel Padmore, guys like that.

How much do you think you strengthened your defensive front seven with this class?

KW: Again, we don't lose a lot. We only lose two D-tackles defensively. A lot of those guys are back and we need to make a bunch of strides there. We got two junior college D-tackles. Jordan Heiderman, he's already in school. Then you've got Chris Cormier. Our high school guys, Darius Latham and Maurice Swain, those are two 6-5, 6-6, 280-to-300 pound kids who can run. Patrick Dougherty is another inside guy. David Kenney is an edge guy. Steven Funderburk and T.J. Simmons are linebackers already in school and two really good athletes. Clyde Newton, he ran for the most yards of any running back we signed. Marcus Oliver was the conference player of the year in a big-time Ohio league.

So we've got four 'backers, six guys up front, and three of them are already in school. You'll see a lot of those guys in the two-deep mix right away. We signed a couple of fast guys. The big guys are a little bit more blessed athletically then we've recruited in years past. ... The really good teams, everybody has got a fast guy, whether it's a running back or a fast receiver or a defensive back. The best teams are fast with the big people. We didn't hit home runs or go off the charts like some people do. But for Indiana, the overall athleticism is pretty good.

You've thrown a lot of true freshmen into the fire the past couple of years. Are you to the point where you won't have to do that as much with these players, or do you expect plenty to play right away?

KW: It's a great question. Are we mature enough to take the entitlement out of, "Just because I'm a returning starter, this my job" versus just keep getting better? We've got a bunch of guys coming back, but they are a bunch of guys who were 4-8. And that's not the standard that were trying to establish or the culture we want to build. Just because you started, that's cool, but we're still not at the level we need to play at.

These recruits coming in, their skill set may be better than the guys in front of them. Now the guys in front of them are older, we've been coaching them and developing them and they might be farther along. But the starting points of some of these recruits are higher maybe than previous years with guys that play. So I believe in competition. I believe in the more we can get that environment going where you're fighting to get on the field, and we like to play multiple guys on offense and defense with as fast as we play.

When you don't play games, it can be a negative. Man, these kids make such a big commitment, in any program. It's year-round training. So, yeah, a guy might be better five years down the road, but sometimes you lose kids and they don't develop right if you don't get them on the field. You get one more year if you redshirt them, but once they play in that game I think the winter workouts, the summer workouts are a lot more positive. We haven't promised any of these guys that they'll play, but I bet you''ll see a bunch of them out there in the fall.

Big Ten signing day superlatives

February, 8, 2013

The Big Ten classes are signed and sealed. You can see ESPN's final class rankings as well as grades for all the Big Ten teams Insider.

As we put a bow on national signing day 2013, let's take a look at some superlatives ...

Biggest winner: Ohio State. The Buckeyes took a great class and made it even better with the additions of elite safety prospect Vonn Bell and four-star receiver prospect James Clark. They also held onto running back recruit Ezekiel Elliott. Plucking Bell out of SEC country made a significant statement, as Ohio State secured the nation's No. 3 class and the best in the Big Ten. Although other Big Ten programs secured strong classes -- Michigan, Nebraska, Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State -- Ohio State made the most headlines Wednesday.

Best closer: Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers. Although Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is unquestionably one of the nation's top closers, Withers merits a mention here after steering Bell to sign with the Scarlet and Gray. "I've seen some really good efforts," Meyer said Wednesday. "Everett Withers from start to finish, his effort on Vonn Bell, as good as I've ever seen." Bell's high school coach called Withers the "most proficient and professional recruiter we've ever dealt with," according to The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. Withers played a major role in Ohio State securing five defensive backs ranked in the top 50 by ESPN Recruiting.

Biggest surprise: Indiana and Penn State. The Hoosiers have reached only one bowl game since the 1993 season and boast just five wins the past two seasons, but things are looking up in Bloomington. Kevin Wilson and his staff signed what appears to be a very solid recruiting class, especially on the defensive side, where IU has struggled for years. The Hoosiers signed two four-star defensive linemen from within the state -- Darius Latham and David Kenney III -- and bolstered the secondary with Rashard Fant and others. Penn State overcame NCAA scholarship sanctions and a multiyear bowl ban to sign the nation's No. 24 class, headlined by quarterback Christian Hackenberg, rated by ESPN Recruiting as the nation's top pocket passer.

Who flipped/biggest loss: The only notable intra-league flip on signing day -- and it wasn't a major surprise -- saw linebacker Reggie Spearman, a one-time Illinois commit, signing with Iowa. Ohio State (Taivon Jacobs) and Wisconsin (Marcus Ball) lost commits to Maryland and Arizona State, respectively, while Minnesota made a late flip with junior college linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who was expected to sign with Kansas State. But for the most part, Big Ten teams played good defense on signing day.

Big Ten signing day preview

February, 6, 2013
ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big Ten conference breakdown Insider.

Bold prediction: Penn State will hang on to a top-25 class, even if just by the slimmest of margins. Bill O'Brien and his staff deserve all the credit in the world for having to originally put together a class after the scandal and then reshaping it after NCAA sanctions were levied in July.

Biggest need: The Illini's offense was arguably the worst in the Big Ten in 2012, and Illinois needs help just about everywhere on offense, especially at the skill positions.
Biggest recruit: Four-star athlete Aaron Bailey is the future at quarterback for Illinois, and the coaches will expect him to be ready to take the reins once Nathan Scheelhaase moves on.

Biggest need: To just put up a fence around Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. Kevin Wilson did that, assuaging defensive line concerns in the process by adding Indianapolis linemen David Kenney III and Darius Latham.
Biggest recruit: The Hoosiers are not accustomed to landing ESPN 150 prospects, but not only did they get Rashard Fant, but they got him all the way out of Georgia.

Biggest need: After having several productive running backs over the past decade, the Hawkeyes are hurting in the backfield due to injuries and off-the-field issues.
Biggest recruit: The Hawkeyes were after Berkley Edwards for a while, but once that fell through they put the screws to former Boston College running back commit LeShun Daniels. He flipped shortly after an official visit to Iowa.

Biggest need: Brady Hoke is transitioning to a pro-style offense, and he needed a pocket passer and a running back who makes his living in between the tackles.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 150 quarterback Shane Morris is that pro-style quarterback, but he is also the unquestioned leader of Team 134 and helped put together one of the nation’s top classes.

Michigan State
Biggest need: The Spartans will lose their top two rushers from 2012, including Big Ten rushing leader Le’Veon Bell, so running back is a priority. They are bringing in two.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Damion Terry is a capable thrower and runner, and he led his high school to a state title as a senior. Andrew Maxwell did not exactly lock down the starting quarterback job with his performance last season.

Biggest need: Donnell Kirkwood is a promising player at running back, but he struggled against some of the league’s better defenses and wore down late in the season. A complement is sorely needed.
Biggest recruit: Three-star running back Berkley Edwards is the younger brother of former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards. Berkley is one of the Gophers’ highest-rated commitments, and running back is a position that lends itself to an easy transition.

Biggest need: Nebraska needs to return to its days of the Blackshirts, as the Huskers' defense was gashed on the ground all season. The Huskers need help along the defensive line.
Biggest recruit: Elite 11 finalist Johnny Stanton is a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s a much more polished passer than Taylor Martinez, who has taken his share of lumps since his flashy start in Lincoln.

Biggest need: Now that the Wildcats are a legitimate threat in the Big Ten under Pat Fitzgerald, the next step is to get better athletes to compete with Michigan and Ohio State. Fitzgerald is doing that with Ifeadi Odenigbo in 2012 and Godwin Igwebuike in 2013.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Matt Alviti had offers from some big programs including Notre Dame, but he chose nearby Northwestern. The Wildcats have an unsettled situation at quarterback, and as a local product Alviti could be called for by the fans if the quarterback play does not improve.

Ohio State
Biggest need: Linebacker was the biggest need for the Buckeyes, and after a shaky start Urban Meyer wrapped up a nice haul at the position with ESPN 150 products Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell.
Biggest recruit: It’s a tie between Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, who are separated by just a few spots in the ESPN 150. Both have game-breaking ability as a receiver or out of the backfield.

Penn State
Biggest need: Despite significantly improved play from Matt McGloin in 2012, the Nittany Lions have not been blessed with quarterbacks the past decade, with the exception of a few good seasons from Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark.
Biggest recruit: While the class did field its share of decommitments, the damage would have been irreparable if No. 1 QB Christian Hackenberg bolted. By staying on, he instilled confidence in several other recruits to stay or join him in State College.

Biggest need: The quarterback situation at Purdue has been unsettled the past few seasons, which is not good when it comes to the most important position on the field.
Biggest recruit: An Elite 11 finalist, Danny Etling stuck with the Boilermakers through the coaching change. He will be looked at as the future of the program.

Biggest need: While the Badgers always have a strong stable of backs, losing Montee Ball is going to hurt, especially in the red zone. Wisconsin addressed it with top commitment Corey Clement.
Biggest recruit: The loss of Russell Wilson left a major void at quarterback, but the Badgers landed quarterback Tanner McEvoy on Monday. McEvoy is ranked No. 44 among juco prospects nationally and the expectation is he will contend for a starting job immediately.
National signing day is next Wednesday. To get you ready for the big day, we checked in with a pair of recruiting experts for their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker shared their thoughts on a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. This is Part II of that discussion; you can find Part I here.

Which teams in the Big Ten have surprised you with this year's class?

Jared Shanker: Indiana definitely surprised me. If you looked at their class last summer [in 2011], when they had Gunner Kiel, you said, "Wow, that's a pretty good class." But then it really fell apart. This one's kind of the opposite. It wasn't looking too strong, and then things really started rolling during the season. They were able to get an ESPN 150 guy from Georgia [Rashard Fant]. They were able to flip Darius Latham from Wisconsin, they flipped David Kenney from Iowa, Antonio Allen was originally committed to Ole Miss. They've done a good job recruiting each state, as well as keeping some of the top talent in Indianapolis. Indiana is a basketball state, but there are some pretty good football players there, and Latham, Kenney and Allen are all four-star players from Indianapolis. So I like what Kevin Wilson has been able to do. This class really turned around, starting in October or so.

Minnesota is doing OK. Penn State is probably a surprise. You see five four-star guys. You see the No. 1 quarterback in the country in Christian Hackenberg. Adam Breneman is the No. 1 tight end. They have some other three-star guys that can contribute and even have some walk-ons who had scholarship offers elsewhere. They just dropped out of the Top 25, but they were hanging on in the Top 25 for a while.

Iowa has traditionally filled its class down the line and kept getting commitments until signing day. For the most part, Iowa was close to done by mid-summer with their class, which was pretty unique for Iowa. It's a stark contrast compared to their 2012 class, which is probably why you haven't heard about Iowa much lately. They've been out of the news. But I think they're generally happy for the most part how things turned out. They did lose David Kenney to Indiana. But if they can flip Reggie Spearman from Illinois and also add one more receiver, I think they'd probably be pretty happy.

Tom Luginbill: Since we mentioned Indiana, I would say that Northwestern continues to impress. Texas continues to be fruitful for the Wildcats. QB Matt Alviti couldn't be a better fit for their offense. If Alviti were taller, I think he would have been a national recruit and has been undervalued. Athlete Godwin Igwebuike is versatile and continues their presence in Ohio. Pat Fitzgerald and his staff may be as good as anyone in college football. They evaluate for them and don't worry about what others think. They identify who is the right fit and attack it.

How do you think Nebraska has done with this class, especially in trying to beef up its defensive front?

TL: The week of January 21st was a rough patch for Nebraska with the loss of two committed prospects in athlete Marcus McWilson and receiver Dominic Walker, who is out of Florida and now committed to Auburn. They did retain Tre'vell Dixon who was originally committed to Nebraska, broke away for a bit and came back. It has been a whirlwind for Bo Pelini and his staff. There are a lot of additions in the defensive front seven both from the high school and juco ranks including defensive end Randy Gregory, who, had he not been injured, may have ended up as our No. 1 ranked juco player overall.

JS: Nebraska might have been able to do a little better. That's not to say their class still isn't good. They have one of the best jucos in the country. Johnny Stanton was one of the better quarterbacks at the Elite 11. He's coming off an ACL tear. They've got a host of four-star guys. I still think it could have been a little bit stronger, all things considered.

They've got Randy Gregory at defensive end. They're pretty strong at linebacker, so they're looking pretty good along the defensive front but maybe not in defensive line depth. The huge numbers aren't there. You have to at least like Gregory and the linebackers, but you can just see the eye test -- they're not there yet with upper teams in the Big Ten. I think they still have some work to do to get there.

Finally, give us a handful of players who might make an immediate impact next season.

JS: I like Derrick Green [from Michigan]. Jalin Marshall at Ohio State, I think he's a guy you put the ball in his hands on a jet sweep, a screen or what have you, and there's a chance he takes it to the house. So those two guys really stick out.

I know the Illinois staff is really high on [quarterback] Aaron Bailey and is looking at him as the future. Maybe something happens with Nathan Scheelhaase and he can step in and get some early playing time. Then there's Corey Clement at Wisconsin. He's kind of a bigger back, at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds. With Montee Ball gone, maybe at least he breaks into the rotation and sees some touches as a freshman.

TL: Receiver Jalin Marshall, Ohio State; running back Derrick Green Michigan; linebacker Trey Johnson, Ohio State; tight end Adam Breneman, Penn State (if healthy); defensive tackle Darius Latham, Indiana; athlete Rashard Fant, Indiana.
National signing day is just one week away. Before the big day arrives, we thought we'd check in with a pair of recruiting experts to get their take on how the Big Ten is faring.

Senior national recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill and Midwest recruiting writer Jared Shanker were kind enough to take some time out of their frenzied schedules to address a handful of recruiting topics related to the league. Here's is Part I of that discussion; look for Part II on Thursday:

Michigan and Ohio State are obviously the headliners among Big Ten teams right now. Are they recruiting at a level where fans can expect them to contend for national titles in the near future?

Tom Luginbill: Possibly. The challenge for both OSU and Michigan will be whether they can pool the type of defensive front player that can contend with SEC competitors, because that is the difference right now, and both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke know it. Both coaching staffs are recruiting very well and at a level that should set them apart from the rest of the conference at this time. Michigan continues to lay down its blueprint of what they want their identity to be, which is why the commitment of running back Derrick Green is so pivotal. He embodies what they want their program to be about -- physical, tough, wear-you-down type of roster. Ohio State's focus is clearly on defense in the front with the 2012 class and again in this class, but with more of an emphasis on the defensive secondary and offensive-skilled weapons.

The reality is that if Michigan or Ohio State are undefeated or one-loss teams, which both are capable of being in the coming years, then yes, they will be able to contend for the title. Winning it means they will have to lure top defensive lineman likely out of the South and away from the SEC and ACC.

Jared Shanker: I think so. Florida and Alabama, we have them as No.s 1 and 2 in in the country right now. Ohio State, if you look at some of their remaining targets, there's a chance -- I don't know if they can get all the way to No. 1, but they could crack at least the top three. I like what they've been able to do defensively, especially in the defensive backfield, with five-star Eli Apple, Gareon Conley and Cam Burrows. I like what Michigan's been able to do, especially offensively, with Shane Morris at quarterback and Derrick Green at running back. There might not be another offensive line haul as good in the country as Michigan's.

If you look at both classes, this is the second year both of them are going to finish among the highest in the country. You have to believe they're going to continue to do that. These recruiting classes should be able to help close that gap and translate into at least competing for a spot to play in the national championship at some point.

Outside of the Wolverines and Buckeyes, what other Big Ten schools have impressed you?

TL: Penn State and Indiana. Say what you will, but Penn State has been able to hold firm. Of course they had some early defections, but quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman have been true ambassadors for the Nittany Lions as much as any coach has been. The class will not be large, of course, but the caliber of player is quality, and better than most would expect. The question is whether they can do it over the next three years as well. The numbers will dwindle, and likely so will the wins, so what is the caliber of player going forward that they will truly have a legitimate shot at?

Kevin Wilson has some buzz right now. It actually started last year with the likes of quarterback Nate Sudfeld who was way under the radar and from California, and has continued with this class with more of an emphasis on the South. The state of Georgia has proven to be quite fruitful with the additions of athlete Rashard Fant, outside linebacker Kristopher Smith, and cornerback Noel Padmore. In-state defensive tackle Darius Latham is a huge get at a critical need position.

JS: I like what Michigan State's done. They don't have huge numbers in this class, but they have a lot of quality there. I especially like what they're doing at linebacker, with ESPN 300 guy Shane Jones. Delton Williams, he's a bit of a tweener, but I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up at linebacker. Four-star Jon Reshcke, he's a Michigan State legacy; Michigan came after him a little bit late but he's sticking with the Spartans. So three of their four top commits are likely all going to be playing linebacker, and the one guy that isn't a linebacker in that group is quarterback Damion Terry. I've seen him play and really like what he's done. He brings a dual threat to Michigan State, and I think in a couple of years he can be the next big quarterback there.

Northwestern, they've done pretty well on the offensive line, and once again they've been able to get one of the better recruits in the country with quarterback Matt Alviti, Obviously, they're not going to get a staggering class, but they've got two four-star guys and some pretty good offensive linemen. So I like what they've been able to do.

How have the new staffs at Wisconsin and Purdue fared in recruiting after getting a late start?

JS: I think they're doing what you'd kind of expect, maybe a little bit better in terms of keeping guys on board. I believe Wisconsin has only lost one commitment. Four-star Alec James is wavering, but I believe he's going to end up sticking with Wisconsin at this point. They're making a run at a couple of other guys they wanted, but they're going to keep the class intact for the most part. They might add a couple of juco guys, or a couple guys late. You have to at least like that Gary Andersen has been able to hold the class, and if they can get a guy like Tanner McEvoy, the juco quarterback out of Arizona, I think you'd have to be really happy. But I think Badger fans should be satisfied that Andersen kept the class together for the most part.

Purdue has done pretty well with some big recruiting weekends recently. They've had to scramble a little bit and go for some guys who were maybe looking at the MAC level before. But I like what they've done. Offensive tackle Jason Tretter, he's 6-foot-7 and had a pretty bad injury his junior year, and that might have prevented him from getting a little more attention. Evan Panfil, they were able to flip from Illinois. Dan Monteroso, they flipped him from Boston College. I think all things considered, coming in late and Purdue not being the easiest place to recruit to, there are a lot of positive signs in what coach [Darrell] Hazell's been able to do. You have to like that he was able to keep the two biggest recruits on board as well: quarterback Danny Etling and running back Keyante Green.

TL: There has not been much movement. For the most part the classes have held firm from commitments to the prior staff. Purdue seems to continue its presence in the Southeast, which Danny Hope started.

The penultimate weekend before signing day is in the books, and not surprisingly, there was plenty of news on the Big Ten recruiting trail. As a reminder, you should bookmark ESPN Recruiting and particularly the Midwest blog Insider for all your Big Ten recruiting news leading up to the big day.

Michigan made the biggest splash of the weekend -- although not a surprising one -- as it secured a commitment from running back Derrick Green of Richmond, Va., who picked Michigan ahead of Tennessee and Auburn. Rated as the nation's No. 5 running back and No. 38 overall player by ESPN Recruiting, Green immediately becomes Michigan's highest-rated commit in an already solid 2013 class. Although Michigan had 14 commits in the ESPN 300 -- second in the Big Ten behind Ohio State -- Green is ranked 50 spots higher than the next Michigan pledge (cornerback Jourdan Lewis).

But Green isn't merely a decorated prospect. He fills a significant need for Michigan, which has significant question marks at running back. The Wolverines couldn't generate a run game outside of quarterback Denard Robinson in 2012, as Fitz Toussaint struggled to build off of a solid 2011 season before suffering a major leg injury Nov. 17 and undergoing surgery. How Toussaint responds from the setback remains to be seen, and Michigan's other backs -- Thomas Rawls, Justice Hayes -- are unproven.

The 6-foot, 215-pound Green is the type of back who could contribute right away, Insider and he'll at least give Michigan another option in the backfield. Michigan now has three running backs in its 2013 class.

Other recent Big Ten recruiting notes (2013 class):
  • Purdue is making a push as signing day nears, picking up four commitments during the weekend. The Boilers added linemen on both sides of the ball in Johnny Daniels (defense) and Jason Tretter (offense), as well as wide receiver Deangelo Yancey, an Atlanta native who originally had committed to Kentucky. Insider Yancey chose Purdue ahead of Missouri. The recent coaching staff hires already have paid off in recruiting. Tight end Garrett Hudson, the son of new Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, committed to the Boilers after visiting the school this weekend.
  • Indiana's recruiting upgrade on defense has become a major story line as signing day nears, and the Hoosiers added another piece Friday in cornerback Nigel Tribune, who switched his pledge from Iowa State after visiting IU's campus. The Hoosiers are quietly putting together one of the league's top classes, and their highest-rated prospects -- Rashard Fant, Darius Latham, David Kenney III, Antonio Allen -- are set to contribute on defense. There was a bit of bad news as one-time commit Jacobi Hunter, a defensive tackle, tweeted that Indiana pulled his scholarship offer. Hunter is looking at Cal.
  • Nebraska didn't add any recruits during the weekend and will learn today whether offensive lineman Dwayne Johnson becomes a Husker, but the program was in the news. Wide receiver recruit Dominic Walker, who recently switched his pledge from Nebraska to Auburn, told the Orlando Sentinel that the Nebraska coaches were "very mad" when he told them of his decision. According to Walker, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini told him, "Best of luck. You're going to need it." It's important to note that this is all coming from Walker's side, as college coaches can't publicly discuss specific recruits. Nebraska lost another recruit during the weekend as safety Marcus McWilson tweeted that he's no longer committed to the school. McWilson could be headed to Kentucky.
  • Iowa bolstered its defensive backfield Insider with a commitment from cornerback Desmond King, who had originally pledged to Ball State. King, a Detroit native, already knows several Hawkeye players from the area such as receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley.
  • There are several loyal blog readers -- one in particular -- who send me frequent notes asking why the University of Toronto isn't a Big Ten expansion candidate. My answer hasn't changed -- don't see it happening -- but there was a connection between the school and the Big Ten during the weekend. Defensive tackle James Bodanis reportedly is transferring from Toronto to Michigan State, where he'll have two years of eligibility left. Bodanis recorded four sacks in eight games for Toronto last season.
  • New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen has done a good job retaining the recruits who committed to the previous staff. He's also adding to the mix, Insider securing a pledge Saturday from linebacker Leon Jacobs from Santa Clarita, Calif. Jacobs originally committed to Fresno State before opening up his recruitment. Wisconsin currently has only two California natives on its roster, so it'll be interesting to see if Andersen's West Coast ties and those of his assistants bring in more recruits from the Golden State.

B1G recruits in latest ESPN 300

January, 11, 2013
The folks at ESPN Recruiting have presented their final pre-signing day version of the ESPN 300, listing the nation's top prospects in the 2013 class.

Let's see which Big Ten commits made the rundown (note: positions listed by ESPN Recruiting):
  • No. 11: CB Eli Apple (formerly Woodard), signed with Ohio State
  • No. 15: QB Christian Hackenberg, committed to Penn State
  • No. 43: CB Gareon Conley, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 48: LB Trey Johnson, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 49: WR Jalin Marshall, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 56: DT Joey Bosa, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 62: CB Cam Burrows, signed with Ohio State
  • No. 67: TE Adam Breneman, signed with Penn State
  • No. 88: CB Jourdan Lewis, committed to Michigan
  • No. 91: G David Dawson, committed to Michigan
  • No. 93 ATH Dymonte Thomas, committed to Michigan
  • No. 101: G Patrick Kugler, committed to Michigan
  • No. 102: TE Marcus Baugh, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 104: OT Logan Tuley-Tillman, committed to Michigan
  • No. 106: OT Evan Lisle, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 109: RB Ezekiel Elliott, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 114: LB Mike McCray II, committed to Michigan
  • No. 116: DE Taco Charlton, committed to Michigan
  • No. 127: QB Shane Morris, committed to Michigan
  • No. 128: LB Mike Mitchell, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 134: OT Chris Fox, committed to Michigan
  • No. 147: ATH Rashard Fant, committed to Indiana
  • No. 149: RB Corey Clement, committed to Wisconsin
  • No. 157: G Kyle Bosch, committed to Michigan
  • No. 164: QB Matt Alviti, committed to Northwestern
  • No. 177: QB Danny Etling, signed with Purdue
  • No. 182: TE Jake Butt, committed to Michigan
  • No. 188: LB Shane Jones, committed to Michigan State
  • No. 208: G Brendan Mahon, committed to Penn State
  • No. 216: DT Michael Hill, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 218: S Jayme Thompson, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 232: WR Jaron Dukes, committed to Michigan
  • No. 237: WR Dominic Walker, committed to Nebraska
  • No. 247: QB Johnny Stanton, committed to Nebraska
  • No. 254: DT Henry Poggi, committed to Michigan
  • No. 261: QB J.T. Barrett, signed with Ohio State
  • No. 265: RB Keyante Green, committed to Purdue
  • No. 279: DT Darius Latham, committed to Indiana
  • No. 280: ATH Ben Gedeon, committed to Michigan
  • No. 281: DT Donovan Munger, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 281: QB Damion Terry, committed to Michigan State
  • No. 287: DT Billy Price, committed to Ohio State
  • No. 296: LB Marcus Newby, committed to Nebraska

Ohio State (15 recruits) and Michigan (14) dominate the ESPN 300, but Nebraska has made a nice push recently and Indiana will surprise some folks with multiple entries. Three Big Ten teams -- Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota -- don't have a recruit ranked in the ESPN 300.

The latest class rankings also are out. Insider Ohio State holds steady at No. 4, while Michigan drops a spot to No. 7. Penn State holds steady at No. 24, while Nebraska moves up a spot to No. 26 and Wisconsin moves up two spots to No. 30. Michigan State holds steady at No. 34, while Indiana moves down a spot and rounds out the top 40.