Big Ten: Raymon Taylor

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 19, 2014
Mar 19
12:00
PM ET
Thoughts and prayers continue to go out to Isaac Griffith and his family.
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.
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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, Chris Ash, 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, Nico Law, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell, 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, Leo Musso, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi


EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The debate about Ohio State hasn't been where the Buckeyes will spend their postseason, but when.

For months, Ohio State has been pegged for Pasadena, Calif. Its dominant performances in recent weeks, combined with what seems to be a weak league, only validate the belief. The only drama is whether Urban Meyer's crew will be there Jan. 1 for the 100th Rose Bowl Game or Jan. 6 for a game with greater significance, the BCS national championship.

The Buckeyes' path to Pasadena, with Wisconsin in the rear-view mirror, has seemed as wide and unobstructed as a tarmac in the dead of night. A Big Ten title was a formality.

But there is something standing in Ohio State's way. A big, green wall -- a green monster, if you will.

Michigan State is on a collision course with Ohio State and likely will face the Buckeyes on Dec. 7 at the Big Ten championship game. And as Michigan found out Saturday afternoon, colliding with the Spartans and their defense isn't pretty.

Ohio State might be the Big Ten's best team, but the league's best unit belongs to Michigan State, which smashed Michigan 29-6 at Spartan Stadium.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner, Denicos Allen
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Spartans harassed Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner all game, sacking him seven times.
"That's a complete game for us," MSU senior linebacker Max Bullough said.

"A dominant day by our defense," coach Mark Dantonio added.

Complete is holding Michigan to the lowest net rushing total (minus-48) in team history. Dominant is holding Michigan to its lowest points total in the series since a 34-0 shutout in 1967. Complete is recording seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and an interception. Dominant is allowing 2.8 yards per play, 12 first downs and 168 total yards.

Michigan came into the game averaging 6.4 yards per play, 19.8 first downs and 446.4 yards, not to mention 42.4 points.

"You never think you're going to be that good," coordinator Pat Narduzzi said.

Michigan talked during the week about being bullied in its last trip here, when Michigan State racked up six personal fouls in a 28-14 victory. The Spartans were much more composed Saturday, committing only one personal foul, on special teams in the closing seconds.

But they pushed around Michigan all afternoon.

"We basically lived in the backfield," cornerback Darqueze Dennard said.

Linebackers Denicos Allen and Ed Davis, filling in for Jairus Jones in the nickel package, combined for 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun did his best Bane impression and tormented Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner, recording 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.

Calhoun, who now leads the Big Ten with 6.5 sacks, gives Michigan State the elite pass rusher it has lacked the past few seasons.

"Four-man pressure, it helps you out when you've got a guy who can make something happen," Narduzzi said. "Julian Peterson's in the locker room afterward, and that's the kind of guy [Calhoun] looks like. He's a great player."

The defense's signature stretch in a signature performance came late in the third quarter, when Michigan found a sliver of hope following a Raymon Taylor interception return to the Spartans 41-yard line.

First down: Calhoun and safety Isaiah Lewis drop Gardner for a 5-yard loss.

Second down: Allen sacks Gardner.

Third down: Allen and Davis sack Gardner.

Punt. Ballgame.

Narduzzi noted that sudden-change plays, such as the interception, can spark panic. His defense relishes them.

"They think they have the advantage; they think they're going to score," Bullough said. "It's a momentum change for them. So if we go out there and stuff them, and we keep 'em out of even scoring a field goal, it's double: It takes away theirs and it gives us momentum.

"It's an opportunity for us to change the game."

Michigan State has changed the game in the Big Ten. The Spartans don't have the Legends division title locked up, as Nebraska is just a game back and Minnesota isn't out of it. But if Michigan beats Nebraska in Ann Arbor next week, when the Spartans are off, MSU will be two games clear of everyone else in the division with three to play.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State, Michigan
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State has celebrated after five of its last six meetings with rival Michigan.
It will be a surprise not to see the Spartans in Indianapolis for the second time in three seasons, especially with the emergence of quarterback Connor Cook and a serviceable offense to complement the defense.

Ohio State-Michigan State would be good for the Big Ten, which desperately needs some sizzle in its signature event.

The Buckeyes offense is on fire behind quarterback Braxton Miller and a bruising offensive line. The Spartans defense is surging behind Calhoun, Allen, Bullough, Dennard and others.

"You want a shot at the best," Bullough said. "If you want to be considered the best, you've got to perform and play against the best in those moments, and Ohio State seems to be the team that's doing that.

"If we have that opportunity, we'll take it head on."

One team unlikely to appear in Indy is Michigan, which, by its own championship-or-bust standards, seems headed for another failed season. The Wolverines' young offensive line was no match for Michigan State, and Gardner's season of extremes took another dip.

Michigan still gets a shot at Ohio State, but its inability to beat Michigan State, which has won five of the teams' past six meetings, likely will extend its Big Ten title drought to a staggering nine seasons.

"They've got a good football team," Narduzzi said, "but we've got a great football team."

Chants of "little sister" rained down in the closing minutes, a reference to the "little brother" comments made by Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint during the week. But Michigan State has moved beyond the name-calling.

"Call us little brother, big brother," Allen said, "but when it's on the field, we show who's the big brother and who's the little brother."

Call Michigan State the biggest threat to Ohio State. Beating Michigan isn't new for the Spartans under Dantonio. Neither is winning the division.

There's one item left: a Rose Bowl appearance.

"We have confidence right now," Dantonio said. "As long as we handle success, we'll be just fine."

Dennard was asked afterward about a Gatorade-dumping attempt on Dantonio, but corrected the reporter, saying Narduzzi was the intended target.

"We're saving one for Coach D," he said. "Somewhere in Cali."

Are the Buckeyes listening? They should be.

Michigan season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
10:30
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Can Michigan make the jump from the cusp to an actual Big Ten championship game? A look at the 2013 Wolverines:

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Coach: Brady Hoke (66-57, 19-7)

2012 record: 8-5

Key losses: QB/RB Denard Robinson; WR Roy Roundtree; RG Patrick Omameh; C Elliott Mealer; DE Craig Roh; DT Will Campbell; MLB Kenny Demens; CB J.T. Floyd; S Jordan Kovacs

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comCould running back Derrick Green be the key to Michigan's season? The touted freshman is expected to compete for the starting job right away.
Key returnees: QB Devin Gardner; RB Fitzgerald Toussaint; WR Jeremy Gallon; TE Devin Funchess; LT Taylor Lewan; RT Michael Schofield; DT Quinton Washington; DE Frank Clark; LB Jake Ryan (injured); LB Desmond Morgan; CB Blake Countess; CB Raymon Taylor; S Thomas Gordon

Newcomer to watch: There are a couple of freshmen who could see major snaps for Michigan, but the most notable is running back Derrick Green. He will push Toussaint for the starting job immediately and could end up as the featured back by the end of the season. The other two freshmen who could see major time are early enrollees: defensive back Dymonte Thomas and tight end Jake Butt. Neither will likely start, but both will be key reserves or used in subpackages.

Biggest games in 2013: Michigan had all of its key games on the road last season. This year, the Wolverines will have their two toughest games at home: Notre Dame on Sept. 7, and Ohio State on Nov. 30 in the regular-season closer. The Buckeyes, though, cap a difficult month for the Wolverines, who have trips to Michigan State on Nov. 2 and Northwestern on Nov. 16.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Who will run the ball? As the Wolverines complete their transition to a pro-style offense, they need a capable running back lining up behind quarterback Gardner. Considering the importance of play-action in what they will try to do offensively, they will need a back to gain yards to keep the whole offense balanced and a defense confused. The main candidates are Toussaint and Green, with freshman De'Veon Smith, redshirt freshman Drake Johnson and junior Thomas Rawls also pushing for time.

Forecast: Good. Like most teams that are near the end of a rebuilding phase, depth at certain positions is questionable, which means anything written here would be for naught if Gardner, Gallon or Lewan were injured for any length of time. Provided those three offensive stalwarts stay healthy, the Wolverines have a strong shot at making a run to the Big Ten championship game.

Michigan’s season could come down to whether it can beat Michigan State and Northwestern on the road. It is entirely possible that by the time the Wolverines and Buckeyes play in the regular-season finale that both will have wrapped up divisional titles and Big Ten title game trips. The best news for Michigan in all of this is how the schedule breaks down. After Notre Dame in Week 2, the Wolverines have only one real challenge -- at Penn State -- until November. This will allow a young offensive line to gain confidence and chemistry, and a young defensive line a chance to figure out how to beat Big Ten linemen.

A road win at any of those three places could lift Michigan into a different level, because one of the major issues with coach Brady Hoke has been his inability to win a game of any significance away from Michigan Stadium, where he has yet to lose.
2012 record: 8-5

2012 conference record: 6-2

Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 3

Top returners:

QB Devin Gardner, WR Jeremy Gallon, TE Devin Funchess, LT Taylor Lewan, RT Michael Schofield, DT Quinton Washington, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Jake Ryan, CB Raymon Taylor, S Thomas Gordon

Key losses

QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, OG Patrick Omameh, C Elliott Mealer, DE Craig Roh, DT William Campbell, LB Kenny Demens, CB J.T. Floyd, S Jordan Kovacs

2012 statistical leaders

Rushing: Denard Robinson (1,266 yards)

Passing: Denard Robinson (1,319 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Gallon* (829 yards)

Tackles: Jake Ryan* (88)

Sacks: Jake Ryan* (4.0)

Interceptions: Thomas Gordon* and Raymon Taylor* (2)

Spring answers

1. Defensive line fine: Michigan had to replace a four-year starter in Craig Roh as well as defensive tackle Will Campbell up front. It doesn’t seem like it will be an issue. Michigan has a potential star in Frank Clark at rush end as well as depth at the position with Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton. Keith Heitzman, for now, seems to have locked up a spot at strong side end, but there is a lot of talent there, too. The Wolverines have depth at all four spots and while competitions will continue into the fall, Michigan should be able to rotate at defensive coordinator Greg Mattison’s leisure.

2. Devin Gardner’s progression: After the way he played toward the end of last season, there was not much doubt about Gardner as the starter, but Michigan’s coaches appear happy with his growth throughout the offseason. He has developed as a quarterback the way the coaching staff has liked, and this is even more critical because he is the only healthy scholarship quarterback until Shane Morris arrives next month. Gardner's teammates believe in him and he is setting up for a big year.

3. Tight end weapons: Michigan still doesn’t have great depth at tight end, but what the Wolverines do have is a young group of guys who will become big targets for Gardner as the position evolves into a more featured role. Devin Funchess could have a breakout sophomore season and Jake Butt has a similar skill set. A.J. Williams slimmed down as well, perhaps turning him into more than just an extra blocker.

Fall questions

1. Who runs the ball: Michigan was never going to be able to answer this question in the spring with Fitzgerald Toussaint coming off a broken leg and freshmen Derrick Green and Deveon Smith still not on campus. But none of the running backs who participated in spring made a lasting impression on the coaches, meaning if he is healthy, Toussaint will likely receive the first chance at winning the job in the fall.

2. Can Jake Ryan be replaced: Michigan seems confident with its grouping of Brennen Beyer and Cam Gordon at strongside linebacker, but part of what made Ryan Michigan’s best defender was his ability to instinctively be around the ball. Whether or not Beyer or Gordon can do that in games remains to be seen. If the combination of those two can approximate that, Michigan’s defense should be fine.

3. Can the interior of the line hold up: Michigan is replacing both of its guards and its center. While the combination of redshirt sophomore Jack Miller at center and redshirt freshmen Ben Braden and Kyle Kalis at guard has a ton of talent, none have taken a meaningful snap in a game before. How they mesh with returning tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield, along with how they connect with each other on combination blocks on the inside, could determine not only Michigan’s running success this fall, but also how many games the Wolverines win in Brady Hoke’s third season.
Michigan fans are still lamenting the loss of star linebacker Jake Ryan to a torn ACL, but they'll like what they hear from another key defender recovering from the same injury.

"I'm doing everything they allow me to do, and I feel really good doing it," Wolverines cornerback Blake Countess told ESPN.com on Thursday. "That's always a plus, to get back in the swing of things. Everything is feeling good."

[+] EnlargeBlake Countess
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioBlake Countess, a promising cornerback who redshirted last season, will begin spring practice with a rejuvenated purpose.
Countess' recovery is on track after he tore the ACL in his left knee in the first quarter of Michigan's season-opening loss to Alabama last September. Although he's not taking contact in spring practice, he's participating in individual drills and has no limitations on his running and cutting.

Barring a setback, Countess should be completely cleared for the start of preseason camp.

"In spring ball, there's really no need for me to go out there and push it," he said. "As far as contact, I can't wait to get back into it, but I'm not going to rush anything."

The 5-foot-10, 181-pound Countess played in 12 games as a true freshman in 2011, starting the final six and recording 44 tackles with six pass breakups and a forced fumble. Pegged as one of the nation's top young cornerbacks entering 2012, Countess instead underwent surgery in early October and redshirted the season.

Countess felt optimistic about his progress since the start of his post-surgery rehab, but a return to the practice field this spring has provided another boost.

"That's the biggest thing, getting the trust and confidence back [in the knee], and that's coming every day," he said. "I'm doing more drills, getting a little faster here. It's building every day. That's really what spring ball's really for, and I'm glad I'm getting to make those steps."

Unfortunately, Ryan is at the start of the process. Countess has talked to his teammate about what to expect.

"He's going to attack his rehab, just like he attacks everything else," Countess said. "Jake's already come to me with a couple questions. I'm here for Jake, just like Jake was here for me when I was going through it. He'll be back.

"As far as the team, the next guy has to step up, and we know that."

Raymon Taylor stepped in for Countess last year, and the secondary responded. Michigan tied for fifth nationally in pass yards allowed (169.5 ypg) and finished in the top 20 in both total defense and scoring defense.

Many expect Countess to regain his starting role alongside Taylor this season, but Countess knows there are no guarantees.

"I've been around the program and I've been with the coaches for a while, so I feel somewhat like a veteran," Countess said. "But I'm still fighting every day to prove myself to the other guys and to my coaches. There's no sense of entitlement."

Countess spent most of last season watching games and taking mental reps, but when asked what areas he needs to improve on the field, he mentioned his eyes.

"My freshman year, I had some eye problems, as far as glancing in the backfield and things like that, taking my eyes off of the receiver," he said. "So just my eyes, staying low in my backpedal, being more explosive out of breaks and making big-time plays."

Michigan needs more big plays from its defense, especially if Ryan, who accounted for four of the team's 12 forced fumbles last season, misses the season. Although the Wolverines didn't allow many pass yards, they also tied for last in the Big Ten in interceptions (7).

The secondary loses multiyear starters in cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs, a co-captain whose leadership will be tough to replace.

"We have to step up and take it to the next level," Countess said. "8-5 is not acceptable, and the goal is always going to be a Big Ten championship."
Michigan begins spring practice on Saturday with both some question marks and some major returning talent. Brady Hoke says of his team: "We're very young. But these guys have a lot of fight to them." There will also be a lot of fighting for starting jobs, beginning in a few days. I recently caught up with the third-year Wolverines coach for his thoughts on the approach of spring ball:

What are the main things you're looking for this spring?

Brady Hoke: Well, you know, we've got a lot of open spaces. Some guys graduated, some guys aren't with the program anymore and we've got a lot of young guys. I think we only have 11 starters back on both sides of the ball, so there's going to be a lot of great competition, which is exciting. I think the leadership of our seniors, they've done a nice job of holding everybody accountable. But when you get out there with the pads on, it's a little different than just running around in shorts.

[+] EnlargeBrady Hoke
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWith only 11 returning starters, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he's excited about the competition this spring.
Some of that competition will be on the offensive line, where you've got three open jobs on the interior. How do you see those battles right now?


BH: Well, I think the interior of both lines, there's going to be a lot of competition. We've got to find a center, and that's between [Jack] Miller and [Graham] Glasgow, and Joey Burzynski will try to figure that out a little bit, too. At the guard positions, Ben Braden is going to move down inside and start out at the left guard, but he'll have a lot of competition because Burzynski is back and so is Blake Bars. Kyle Kalis will move into the right side, and it will be interesting again with [Kyle] Bosch and some of the guys who have been here a little bit. I think it will be a really good competition at all three of those inside positions.

Having Taylor [Lewan] back is huge. I think it's great for him and great for Michigan. Mike Schofield has had a really good winter. He had some real bright spots during the course of last season, and I think his development is going to be something special.

You mentioned the defensive line, where you also lost a couple of veterans. How does that shape up?

BH: I think inside, we get Jibreel Black for another year and Quinton Washington. But once you get through that, there are a lot of young guys ... Willie Henry, Ondre Pipkins, Ryan Glasgow, Richard Ash and Chris Wormley are all guys who can either play the inside tackle or the strongside end. We'll find out the guys who are competitive. Tommy Strobel is another guy we think had a real good winter, and Keith Heitzman. So it's going to be fun to see them compete.

Does having so many young guys in key spots on the line make you nervous? Or do you have a lot of confidence in them because you recruited most of them?

BH: I think it makes you nervous if you think you may have recruited the wrong guys. But we like the work ethic. We like how they've come in to learn and with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there's some competitiveness that we need to keep pushing as a program. You know, we lost five games on the road. We've played pretty well at home but we've got to do better on the road and that's a mindset, a mentality that you have to compete through everything, on every down.

Devin Gardner goes into spring practice as your starting quarterback. How has he developed as a leader?

BH: I have been really excited about the progress he's made. I'm seeing that maturity that it takes and the leadership it takes and the competitiveness it takes to be the quarterback at Michigan. I think that's a real big part of how he's grown, and I think he's done a nice job with it. I'm liking the direction he's going, and hopefully he can just keep going and keep growing.

What about your running back position this spring, with Fitz Toussaint hurt and Derrick Green not there yet?

BH: You know, Fitz has come along pretty well. I don't think he'll do a lot of contact or anything like that, but I think he'll be cleared for a lot more drill work. That's gone real well. We've moved [Dennis] Norfleet back to running back and we're going to give him an opportunity. Dennis, he's a smaller guy, but he's a very competitive, very tough young man. Drake Johnson is a guy we redshirted a year ago, and we really liked the way he competed in scout situations. In the bowl practices, we did some scrimmages and gave him a lot of carries, and we're very excited about what he has to offer.

Thomas Rawls is coming back, and I think he learned a lot last year about the vision he needs to play with, and I like how he's competed through the [winter]. And Justice Hayes is a guy who gives you a little bit different look because of how he can get on the perimeter. He did some things in a couple of games last year, but now I think he'll have a big stage to prove himself more this spring. And he's a bigger guy now, he's 190-something pounds, so he's a little bigger.

[+] EnlargeDrew Dileo
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsMichigan coach Brady Hoke said that he's pleased by more than just the on-field success of WRs Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon.
You have Jeremy Gallon back at receiver, but you lost Roy Roundtree. You sounded excited about some of the younger guys there during bowl prep. Is spring their time to step up now?

BH: Yeah, I think so. First of all, I think the leadership with Gallon and Drew Dileo, they've done a really nice job being leaders at that position. They're not big guys, but they have a real spirit for the game and really do a nice job of working and leading. We have Amara Darboh, who played a little last year, and Jehu Chesson, who we redshirted a year ago. And I think Jeremy Jackson has had a very good winter; we're very excited about some of the progress he's made. Joe Reynolds is a guy who walked on here, and he's done a very nice job. And Bo Dever, his dad played here and he walked on. I think that during the course of the spring, we'll be in pretty good shape there. I think as we keep going, we'll keep improving at that position.

Linebacker was a strength for you last year and looks to be so again. Do you see some good competition there this spring, particularly at the weakside spot?

BH: Yeah, I think with Desmond Morgan and James Ross, there's going to be great competition. Joe Bolden and Royce Jenkins-Stone and Mike Jones are all guys who are very competitive, and I think the three young guys coming in are going to be guys who will give us a lot of good competition and a lot of good depth. Kaleb Ringer is coming back from injury, so we'll see what he can give us. At the sam linebacker, Jake [Ryan] is coming back, and we really like what Cam Gordon has done during the winter. So I think we feel a little stronger at that position.

How do you replace what Jordan Kovacs gave you in the secondary?

BH: I don't know if you ever replace that kind of leadership, but I really think Thomas Gordon, he's played a lot of football here, and it's time for him to demonstrate the leadership. And he's doing that. Because of the number of snaps and everything he's done, he's really fallen into his own a little bit. Courtney Avery has played a lot of football, and whether he's a corner a nickel or wherever, he's got to give us great leadership and great reps. Blake Countess is getting healthier; he'll do some things during the spring. Josh Furman, I think, has come on.

We've got to see where Terry Richardson is and where Marvin Robinson is. Both those guys have played a number of snaps. We've got Raymon Taylor back, who I think started every game for us last year, we're excited about his development. Dymonte Thomas is a guy who's going to compete, and he'll pressure some guys. Jarrod Wilson is another guy who played some last year for us. Ross Douglas is here early. Jeremy Clark is a 6-foot-4, 210-pound safety we redshirted a year ago, and it's going to be a big spring for him to make some moves.

So I think we may have more personnel back there. And even more in the fall when Channing Stribling gets in, and Reon Dawson gets in and Jourdan Lewis. I think it's going to add something to our secondary.

Finally, what has your message been to the team this offseason after last year's 8-5 season?

BH: Well, our message has been, we haven't met the expectations at Michigan. That's something that as a football community… that we really feel that we have to do a much better job in all areas, from the coaching aspect of it, from learning and playing with the competitiveness we want to have, from every player at every position playing with the intensity we want to play with. It's about having a mindset and a mentality of how we want to play the game. We make no excuses, but at the same time, we know we have a lot we can do to play better football.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan’s path to winning the Outback Bowl just got more difficult. For the Wolverines, already trying to beat a top-10 team with a strong defense and a capable offense, losing starting cornerback J.T. Floyd, the most experienced and consistent corner on the roster, along with Big Ten punter of the year Will Hagerup is a big blow.

Now Michigan has to face South Carolina with sophomore Raymon Taylor and junior Courtney Avery as the starting cornerbacks. Taylor has proved he can play well against topflight opponents this season, but Avery has rarely been in a position to be an every-down player throughout his career.

(Read full post)

Some bad news for Michigan, which will be without its top cornerback, its award-winning punter and a reserve linebacker for the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 against South Carolina.

The team announced Sunday that senior cornerback J.T. Floyd, senior linebacker Brandin Hawthorne and junior punter Will Hagerup have been suspended for the game for an unspecified violation of team rules. All three players won't travel with the team to Tampa.
"It is an honor to play football for the University of Michigan, and we have high standards and expectations for everyone that represents our program," Wolverines head coach Brady Hoke said in a prepared statement. "These young men used poor judgment in each circumstance, and these suspensions are teaching moments for our team."

Floyd recorded 48 tackles and five pass breakups for the Wolverines this fall, starting all 12 games. Hawthorne had 19 tackles. Hagerup earned the Big Ten's Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year award after averaging a league-best 45 yards per attempt this fall.

This is the first known disciplinary incident for both Floyd and Hawthorne, whose college careers come to a disappointing end. Hagerup was suspended for the first four games of the 2011 season for violating team rules. It'll be interesting to see how Hoke approaches Hagerup's future as this isn't his first infraction.

Michigan lost starting cornerback Blake Countess to an ACL injury in the season opener and turned to Raymon Taylor to step in. Junior Courtney Avery is expected to step in for Floyd, while sophomore Delonte Hollowell and freshman Terry Richardson are also available.

Floyd's absence will be felt even though Michigan's secondary performed well most of the season. The fifth-year senior from Greenville, S.C., would have faced some familiar faces in the Outback Bowl. Very disappointing all around.

Sophomore Matt Wile will take over the punting duties for Hagerup.
The Big Ten's blue bloods are back.

Despite new coaches at both Ohio State and Penn State, and a shaky start at Michigan, the Big Ten's three top traditional powers occupy the top spots in the power rankings as the season approaches its halfway point. Ohio State has accelerated its learning curve under Urban Meyer, while Penn State continues its hot streak behind boss Bill O'Brien. Michigan needed a strong performance on the road and got a great one at Purdue. Michigan and Penn State both make moves up the rankings, while Ohio State holds steady at No. 1.

Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue all drop in the rankings, as the Boilers take the biggest tumble after a feeble showing on their home field in a game that had been hyped up. Wisconsin is slowly creeping its way back toward the league's elite.

Here's the full rundown ...

1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten, last week: 1): If this is what the Buckeyes can do just six games into the Meyer era, the rest of the Big Ten should be very, very concerned. Ohio State slapped 63 points on Nebraska, the most points a Bo Pelini-coached team (or defense) ever has allowed during Pelini's college coaching tenure. Braxton Miller continues to dazzle behind a surging offensive line, and Carlos Hyde (4 rush touchdowns) looks more than capable as the starting running back. Expect more big numbers this week at Indiana.

2. Michigan (3-2, 1-0, last week: 4): Brady Hoke got the response he wanted after an open week as Michigan opened Big Ten play with its best performance of the season. The Wolverines' defense continued to build on the Notre Dame performance with four takeaways, including a pick-six by sophomore cornerback Raymon Taylor. Denard Robinson (235 rush yards) rebounded well after his disastrous night in South Bend, and Michigan's offensive line controlled a pretty good Boilers defensive front. Michigan can't afford a letdown against Illinois before its home showdown against Michigan State, which has won the teams' past four meetings.

3. Penn State (4-2, 2-0, last week: 6): Few saw this coming after a nightmarish summer and an 0-2 start, but Penn State keeps finding reasons to Bill-ieve. The Lions rallied to win their fourth consecutive game, completely outplaying Northwestern in the fourth quarter, a time when the Wildcats typically shine. Quarterback Matt McGloin continues his senior-year renaissance with plenty of help from Allen Robinson and a good defense. O'Brien is the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year honors. The Lions enter the open week with a ton of momentum.

4. Nebraska (4-2, 1-1, last week: 2): Pelini had no explanation for his team's latest road meltdown at a big-boy stadium. After a strong first quarter, Nebraska's defense fell apart, allowing six consecutive touchdown drives. Quarterback Taylor Martinez reverted to his past roadkill form and committed four turnovers, including an interception returned for a touchdown. The Huskers have talent and an exciting, big-play offense, but they repeatedly wilt in the spotlight away from Lincoln. The good news: They can still win a weak league.

5. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1, last week: 3): Despite a sluggish offensive start, Northwestern put itself in position for its first 6-0 start since 1962, taking a 28-17 lead behind explosive running back/returner Venric Mark. And then it all fell apart as a supposed fourth-quarter team couldn't do anything right in crunch time. A nonexistent pass rush and some questionable offensive coaching decisions hurt the Wildcats, who were burned for a third consecutive year by McGloin. Northwestern still struggles with big leads and needs to do a better job of putting away teams. The Wildcats begin division play next week at Minnesota.

6. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1, last week: 8): Little will be easy for the Badgers this season, and while Saturday's final score against Illinois (31-14) looked like a cakewalk, it definitely wasn't. Wisconsin seemed to hit its stride in the second half and particularly in the fourth quarter, as running back Montee Ball and wide receiver Jared Abbrederis both turned in nice performances. The offensive line remains inconsistent, but the defense is doing its part. Despite all the early-season turmoil, Wisconsin can put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a win this week at Purdue.

7. Michigan State (4-2, 1-1, last week: 7): Mark Dantonio's players nearly starred in "The Hangover: Bloomington" on Saturday, as they stumbled out of the gate at Indiana and had a miserable first half. Fortunately for the Spartans, they regrouped during the break and rallied for a potentially season-saving win against the Hoosiers. Freshman wide receiver Aaron Burbridge sparked the passing attack, while tailback Le'Veon Bell bounced back after a no-show against Ohio State. Michigan State still has to show it can put together a complete game as the challenges get tougher in the coming weeks.

8. Purdue (4-2, 0-1, last week: 5): No Big Ten team had a more disappointing Week 6 showing than Danny Hope's Boilers, who never really challenged Michigan despite a great opportunity to begin a defining stretch of the season. The defense has taken significant steps backward the past two weeks, while the quarterback plot has thickened, as Caleb TerBush struggled while Robert Marve, playing just weeks after an ACL tear, could be the better option. Purdue still has a chance to put itself in the driver's seat for Indianapolis with a home win this week against Wisconsin, but there's a lot of work ahead.

9. Iowa (3-2, 1-0, last week: 9): The Hawkeyes scored a potentially season-saving win against Minnesota before the open week, and resume play this week at Michigan State. Can the Mark Weisman legend continue? We'll find out as Weisman faces his best defense to date as Iowa's starting running back. Iowa got some bad news Saturday as top cornerback Micah Hyde was arrested for public intoxication. There's no change to Hyde's status right now, but he has been arguably Iowa's top defensive playmaker the past few seasons. We'll learn a lot about these Hawkeyes in East Lansing.

10. Minnesota (4-1, 0-1, last week: 10): An open week came at a good time for the Gophers, who need to get healthy and get a chance to regroup after getting a reality check in Iowa City. Minnesota hopes top quarterback MarQueis Gray can return from a high ankle sprain for the Big Ten home opener against Northwestern. Gophers coach Jerry Kill called out his safeties for their struggles against Iowa's run game. It'll be interesting to see how Derrick Wells and his teammates respond against a good Northwestern rushing attack.

11. Indiana (2-3, 0-2, last week: 11): It looked like the Hoosiers finally would turn the corner and record a signature win under Kevin Wilson. They dominated the first half against Michigan State and sliced through arguably the Big Ten's top defense with their up-tempo attack. Cameron Coffman could do no wrong. And then it all fell apart as Indiana couldn't stop Michigan State's Bell or do much of anything on offense. There are some positives to take away for an improved Hoosiers team, but the inability to get over the hump in the Big Ten has to be frustrating.

12. Illinois (2-4, 0-2, last week: 12): The Illini didn't play nearly as poorly at Wisconsin as they did on their home field the previous two weeks, but they still came out on the losing end. Tim Banks' defense played well for three quarters before surrendering three touchdowns in the final 13:28. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did some good things, but he still has so few weapons around him in an offense that continues to search for its identity. Things only get tougher for the Orange and Blue this week as they travel to Michigan Stadium.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football:

1. How about an Ineligi-Bowl?: Here's an idea: Make this year's Big Ten championship game a doubleheader. First, the scheduled contest between the Leaders and Legends Division representatives. And then a second game between probation-saddled Ohio State and Penn State for the shadow championship. Penn State might not be the second-best team in the Big Ten, but it's one of the hottest, having won four straight games and gaining confidence every week under Bill O'Brien, the clear front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Meanwhile, the league has finally found the team to carry its banner in Ohio State, which blasted Nebraska 63-38 to improve to 6-0. Too bad there's an asterisk on that banner, because the bowl-banned Buckeyes are the cream of the crop right now in the Big Ten. The two teams on probation are a combined 4-0 in league play and one made field goal at Virginia away from being 11-1 overall. The de facto Ineligi-Bowl arrives Oct. 27, when Ohio State goes to State College. Surprisingly, that game is now must-see TV because ...

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Urban Meyer
Andrew Weber/US PRESSWIREUrban Meyer and his Buckeyes will play in a de facto Ineligi-Bowl on Oct. 27.
2. The eligible Leaders teams are worse than expected: Wisconsin at Purdue. Oct. 13. A spot in the Big Ten championship game potentially on the line. Who's excited? (crickets) ... We knew the Leaders would have a unique dynamic this season with only four postseason-eligible teams. But we figured some team might resemble a division winner that could advance to the Rose Bowl. Michigan exposed Purdue in a 44-13 beatdown at Ross-Ade Stadium. Wisconsin slogged its way to a win against Illinois but hardly looked impressive for most of the game. Indiana looked great for a half and terrible for a half, failing once again to get over the hump in a Big Ten game. Illinois is, well, not good. One of those four teams will be going to Indianapolis, whether it deserves it or not. At this point, we'd probably pick Wisconsin by default. The eligible Leaders teams own a combined 1-6 Big Ten record and are 0-4 versus the Legends. Perhaps Jim Delany should have listened more seriously to Pat Fitzgerald's summer suggestion of picking the second Big Ten title game participant via a committee.

3. Michigan's defense, run game make it top Legends contender: Michigan's turnovers at Notre Dame overshadowed some promising signs from the defense and the offensive line. The Wolverines showcased those elements Saturday at Purdue in a dominant performance they really needed after a 2-2 start. They generated four takeaways, including a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Raymon Taylor. Linebacker Jake Ryan continued to elevate his play, and Michigan held a Purdue team averaging 51 points on its home field to 13 points and 213 total yards. This is the same time of year when Greg Mattison's defense really turned a corner in 2011. The unit's play the past two games has been very encouraging. Michigan also committed itself to the run game against a decent Boilers defensive front and racked up 304 rush yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts (5.5 ypr). Denard Robinson rebounded with a huge game on the ground (24 carries, 235 yards). Fitzgerald Toussaint twice found the end zone, and Thomas Rawls finished things off nicely. It's important for Michigan to get its running backs more involved in the coming weeks, but Saturday's offensive approach was encouraging.

4. The Spartans had better hope Saturday was their wake-up call: Despite being billed by some (ahem) as the Big Ten preseason favorite, Michigan State has looked really impressive only once in the first five games. After a tough 1-point home loss last week against Ohio State, Michigan State seemed to suffer a hangover in the first chunk of Saturday's game at Indiana. The Spartans were a complete mess -- committing personal fouls, getting steamrolled on defense, not moving the ball consistently enough on offense. They had seven first-half penalties (six personal fouls), fell behind 17-0 and got outgained 183-22 in the first quarter. To their credit, the Spartans turned things around and dominated the second half to escape Bloomington with a win. Michigan State's defense regained its top form, Le'Veon Bell (121 yards, 2 TDs) steamrolled the Hooosiers, and freshman receiver Aaron Burbridge (8 catches, 134 yards) sparked the passing game. Was Saturday the wake-up call Michigan State needed after a somewhat sluggish 3-2 start? It had better be, as the schedule gets much tougher the rest of the way. Michigan State remains very much in the Legends Division mix, but it can't expect to overcome the early miscues it had in Bloomington.

5. More work to do for Purdue, Northwestern and Nebraska defenses: Saturday was a disappointing day for three teams that thought their defenses had made gains. It's back to the drawing board -- or more apropos, back in the defensive meeting room -- for the Boilermakers, Wildcats and Cornhuskers. Purdue brought in defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar from the Canadian Football League in part because his CFL experience taught him how to defend the spread. But a Boilers defense that looked good the first three weeks has gone south the past two weeks in allowing 85 points to Marshall and Michigan, and it couldn't stop Denard Robinson on Saturday. Northwestern seemed to have made some strides defensively this season in a 5-0 start. But the Wildcats crumbled at Penn State, allowing 22 fourth-quarter points in a 39-28 come-from-ahead loss. The Nittany Lions ran a whopping 99 plays as a lack of a pass rush kept Northwestern from getting off the field defensively. And then there was Nebraska, which stuffed Wisconsin in the second half of last week's comeback win. But these still aren't your older brother's Blackshirts, as Ohio State rolled to 498 yards and 49 offensive points in a 63-38 rout in Columbus.

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

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

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

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

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

Record performance: Robinson had another standout day on the ground and became the Big Ten’s career quarterback rushing leader with 3,905 yards, passing former Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El, who had 3,895 yards. He also moved into fourth place in the FBS quarterback rushing career list, passing Randle El. Next up on that list is former Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick with 4,112 yards.
Some key personnel nuggets around the league entering Week 2. More of these will come your way Tuesday.

MICHIGAN
  • Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint and defensive end Frank Clark will return to the field this week against Air Force after being suspended for the opener against Alabama. Both reinstated players should provide boosts in areas where Michigan struggled against the Tide. Toussaint is listed as the starter on this week's depth chart. Coach Brady Hoke said Clark, who is facing felony home invasion charges, has "paid a lot of consequences internally."
  • Starting left tackle Taylor Lewan is fine, Hoke said, after leaving Saturday night's game with an apparent right leg injury. Aside from quarterback Denard Robinson, Lewan is the player Michigan most can't afford to lose, so Wolverines fans can breathe a little easier.
  • Courtney Avery likely will start at cornerback in place of Blake Countess, who will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL and will undergo surgery in the next week or so. Raymon Taylor also is in the mix there.
NEBRASKA
  • Starting running back Rex Burkhead (knee) is listed as questionable for Saturday's game at UCLA, coach Bo Pelini said Monday. An MRI performed Sunday confirmed the initial diagnosis of a sprained MCL in Burkhead's left knee. Pelini said the injury won't require surgery and that for now, Burkhead is on Nebraska's travel roster. "[Burkhead] had a good day today," Pelini said. "He's questionable and day-to-day. We'll see how it goes." Don't expect the Huskers to take too many chances with Burkhead, as they have other good options in the backfield, namely Ameer Abdullah.
  • Senior wide receiver Tim Marlowe is out until the end of October at the earliest after suffering a broken clavicle Saturday against Southern Miss. Pelini is hopeful Marlowe will return for the stretch run of Big Ten play. Tight end Ben Cotton (rib) should play against UCLA.
  • Cornerback Mohammed Seisay missed the opener with a nagging ankle injury. Pelini is hopeful Seisay, a heralded junior college arrival, can play against the Bruins.
ILLINOIS
  • Starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase practiced Sunday night but is "definitely not 100 percent," according to coach Tim Beckman, after suffering an ankle injury in the opener against Western Michigan. He will continue to be evaluated throughout the week but remains as the No. 1 signal caller on the team's depth chart for this week's game at Arizona State. Reilly O'Toole would be the next man in for the Illini, and the versatile Miles Osei also is in the mix.
OHIO STATE
  • Top running back Jordan Hall isn't expected to play this week against Central Florida as he recovers from foot surgery.
  • Defensive lineman Michael Bennett missed the opener after reinjuring his groin during pregame warmups, coach Urban Meyer said. He's listed as a backup defensive end on this week's depth chart.
  • Defensive tackle Adam Bellamy, who started 10 games last season and left the team in August, will not return, Meyer said. Bellamy lost his love for the game, Meyer said.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Defensive end Deonte Gibson, who left the opener against Syracuse with an elbow injury, is out this week against Vanderbilt. Decorated true freshman Ifeadi Odenigbo, a likely redshirt candidate entering the season, moves into Gibson's spot and "is going to play" against Vandy, according to coach Pat Fitzgerald.
  • Although Trevor Siemian threw the game-winning touchdown strike against Syracuse, Kain Colter remains Northwestern's starting quarterback heading into the Vanderbilt game. Fitzgerald said Colter, who suffered a left shoulder injury against Syracuse, told offensive coordinator Mick McCall that Siemian would be the better option on the final drive. Colter should be fine for the Vanderbilt game.
PURDUE
  • Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush are listed as co-starters at quarterback on the depth chart for Saturday's game at Notre Dame. TerBush was suspended for Purdue's opener but has been fully reinstated. He claimed the No. 1 quarterback job in camp, but his suspension and Marve's strong play Saturday against Eastern Kentucky create an interesting decision for the coaches heading into the showdown in South Bend.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 7, 2011
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Happy Friday.

Indiana loses two commits to Wildcats

December, 15, 2010
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Any time a coaching change is made, the potential of losing committed recruits increases.

Bill Lynch and his Indiana staff didn't win enough Big Ten games at Indiana, but they upgraded the program's recruiting efforts recently. Lynch and his assistants were good at identifying attainable prospects early in the process and getting them to commit well in advance of National Signing Day. The pattern was holding true for the 2011 class.

But Lynch's firing in November caused several Indiana recruits to look elsewhere. Two prospects that committed to Indiana, defensive end C.J. Robbins and defensive back Nick VanHoose, have switched their commitments to Northwestern this week. VanHoose switched his commitment following a visit to Northwestern this weekend, and Robbins did the same.

An interesting subplot is that new Indiana coach Kevin Wilson spent three seasons (1999-2001) as a Northwestern assistant and worked with Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald in 2001. Not sure if Fitz will be receiving a Christmas card from Wilson, but as coaches like to say, recruiting is recruiting.

Indiana may also lose heralded defensive back Raymon Taylor, who committed to IU this summer but recently said he's looking around at other programs Insider. Taylor visited Iowa during the weekend. And another heralded defensive recruit, linebacker Zack Shaw, says he remains committed to IU but recently visited West Virginia.

Considering Indiana's chronic woes on defense, it's important for Wilson to get both Taylor and Shaw on board. The coach wants to take his time to hire a defensive coordinator, but as an offense-oriented coach, it's hard for Wilson to sell his vision without a defensive staff in place.

It will be interesting to see what Indiana's class looks like in February.

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