Big Ten: Robert Gallery

Go ahead and blame the Big Ten blog. Since it launched in July 2008, the Big Ten hasn't had an NFL draft pick in the top 10. The Big Ten also hasn't had a team appear in the national championship game.

So yes, it's all my/our fault.

Here's the good news: if you believe the really early forecasts for the 2015 draft, the Big Ten's top-10 drought soon will end. USA Today's first mock draft for 2015 has Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory not only going in the top 10, but at No. 1 overall.

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Bruce Thorson/USA TODAY SportsA USA Today 2015 NFL mock draft has Nebraska's Randy Gregory as the No. 1 overall pick.
That would be a bit ironic, since the Big Ten's last top-10 pick also went No. 1 overall (former Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long in 2008).

ESPN's Todd McShay isn't as high on the Big Ten or Gregory, but he does predict, at least for now, that the Big Ten will produce a top-10 pick next spring.

McShay's first mock draft for 2015 features Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff at No. 7 overall. Scherff opted to return to Iowa for his senior season rather than enter the draft, where Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said he likely would have been a mid to late first-round selection. It will be interesting if Scherff follows the path of another Iowa tackle who chose to stay in school, Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in 2004.

Gregory is at No. 28 in McShay's mock, although the Nebraska standout certainly has top-10 potential if he builds on a terrific 2013 season. He is definitely attracting the attention of NFL personnel evaluators.

Another top-10 candidate is Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who comes in at No. 12 in McShay's mock. Calhoun shined in his first year as a starter, leading the Big Ten with four fumbles recovered and recording 14 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks.

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett rounds out McShay's mock draft at No. 32 overall.

Two questions for you: Will the Big Ten's top-10 drought end next year? And, if so, who will end it?

Send your responses here.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- There was nothing ordinary about Brandon Scherff and Carl Davis when each set gargantuan foot on Iowa's campus four summers ago. The two Hawkeye linemen expect to leave the program the same way.

Iowa prides itself as a developmental program, taking the undersized and overlooked and turning them into overachievers. Rarely do the Hawkeyes get recruits who, at least physically, look like finished products.

"Carl and Brandon were two of the bigger guys we've ever had come to campus as freshmen," coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Both men supplemented their size with rare athletic ability. Scherff played quarterback and tight end for most of his high school career. He lettered in baseball, basketball and tennis and earned all-state honors in track, winning a state title in shot put as a sophomore. Scherff played solely offensive line, the position Iowa pegged him to play, as a senior at Denison (Iowa) High School.

By the time he reported for his first college practice, he looked the part: 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds.

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Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Scherff wants to be the nation's top offensive lineman.
Scherff might have been listed as the biggest freshman on Iowa's 2010 roster, but the actual title belonged to Davis, a 6-5, 340-pound defensive tackle from Detroit. Like Scherff, Davis also had lettered in basketball and track as a high school standout.

"We actually toyed with the idea of playing both those guys their first year," Ferentz said. "It was in their best interests to redshirt, and that's what happened."

Nearly four years later, Scherff and Davis anchor the offensive and defensive lines for a promising Iowa team that always has considered line play its lifeblood. Ferentz's best Hawkeye teams -- 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009 -- all had first-team All-Big Ten selections on both lines. His tenure is largely defined by linemen from both the offense (Eric Steinbach, Robert Gallery, Bruce Nelson, Bryan Bulaga, Marshal Yanda, Riley Reiff) and defense (Adrian Clayborn, Colin Cole, Mitch King, Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux).

Scherff and Davis want to add their names to the list.

"My goal," Scherff told ESPN.com, "is to be the best offensive lineman in the nation."

He enters his senior season as the Big Ten's most decorated offensive lineman and the favorite to win the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year award. Scherff, who has started at left tackle the past two seasons, is the only first-team All-Big Ten offensive lineman from 2013 to return this fall.

If Scherff had opted to skip his senior season, his name could have been called Thursday night at Radio City Music Hall. Ferentz thinks the left tackle likely would have been a first-round pick -- "Late teens to mid-20s, in that range" -- if he had declared for the NFL draft.

The coach puts Scherff in the company with three other standout Hawkeye tackles: Gallery, Bulaga and Reiff. Both Bulaga and Reiff left early and were drafted No. 23 overall in the 2010 and 2012 drafts, respectively. Gallery stayed for his senior season and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 draft.

"He just enjoys everything about being a college football player," Ferentz said. "We have our whole lives to work. You only get a limited window to be a college student or, in their case, a college athlete. And that's a pretty good window. In Brandon's case, he likes his life. And he's going to have a great life in the pros and somebody is going to be really lucky to have him.

"You can't pay enough for what he has."

Scherff enjoys his teammates and the hunting and fishing trips he takes during the summer. He says of the NFL, "It's work up there." And it can wait another year.

"I'm not worried about [the NFL] anymore," he said. "I came back because I think I can improve a lot: my pass game, run game, playing smart, playing faster, pretty much all the aspects of football."

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Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesCarl Davis' development could take a leap this season.
While Scherff refines his game, Davis' development could take a leap this season. Injuries and conditioning limitations impeded his progress early in his Iowa career -- he had just 16 tackles in his first two seasons. But he earned second-team all-conference honors last fall after recording 42 tackles, including 4.5 for loss and a sack.

Down to 315 pounds, Davis boosted his endurance as a junior.

"He probably jumped up 30, 40 snaps," defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. "You don't like to play 80 snaps a game, but if he can give us 60, 65 good plays, that's obviously going to help."

Davis calls 60 snaps "a good start," but he wants to push himself to his limit and not just stay on the field but impact games.

"I need to be a catalyst," he said. "When we're on those third downs and everybody is tired, I need to be able to make those tackles for loss, those sacks, deflect a pass, just step up big."

Davis embraces a leadership role on a defense that loses all three starting linebackers, including co-captains James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Along with linebacker Quinton Alston, he keeps things loose at practice and seeks out struggling teammates.

If a coach blasts a player, Davis is the one telling him, Look, he wants you to get better. Let's pick it up and go. We're fine.

But when it comes to his own game, Davis sets a higher bar.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself because I want to be the greatest, honestly, to be in this program," Davis said. "I want to be one of the best guys in the country."

Like Scherff, Davis wants to be extraordinary. If both add their names to Iowa's elite lineman lineage, the Hawkeyes could be, too.

Big Ten all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
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The BCS is dead. RIP. As we memorialize the BCS era throughout ESPN.com today, we're selecting All-BCS teams from each conference. As a reminder, the BCS era lasted from the 1998 season through the recently completed 2013 season. To narrow our selections a bit, players had to play at least two seasons in the BCS era to be eligible. Nebraska players are part of our list even though the Huskers played in the Big 12 until 2011.

Here's our Big Ten All-BCS team.

Coach: Jim Tressel, Ohio State -- Tressel led Ohio State to the 2002 national title, the Big Ten's only championship in the BCS era, as well as seven Big Ten titles (one vacated).

OFFENSE

QB: Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000) -- He led Purdue to the 2000 Big Ten championship and finished his career with league records for passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90), total offensive yards (12,693), completions (1,026), and attempts (1,678). Brees won the Maxwell Award in 2000.

RB: Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99) -- The 1999 Heisman Trophy winner set the NCAA's career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games). He won all the major national individual awards in 1999 and became the first player to repeat as Rose Bowl MVP.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball had 39 TDs for Wisconsin in 2011.
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-2012) -- The man nicknamed "MoneyBall" tied Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season touchdowns record with 39 in 2011 and set the mark for career touchdowns with 83. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back in 2012.

WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04) -- The Big Ten's most recent Biletnikoff Award winner holds the league record for career touchdown receptions (39) and ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541). He's the only Big Ten receiver to record 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

WR: Lee Evans, Wisconsin (2000-03) -- Evans twice led the Big Ten in receiving yards, eclipsing 1,500 yards in 2001 before rebounding from an ACL tear to record 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2003.

TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa (1999-2002) -- Clark earned the John Mackey Award in 2002 after recording 43 receptions for 742 yards as Iowa went undefeated in the Big Ten.

OL: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05) -- One of the more decorated Big Ten linemen in the BCS era, Eslinger won the Outland Trophy in 2005. He was a two-time first-team All-America selection and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection for one of the nation's top rushing offenses.

OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2003-06) -- Another Outland Trophy winner (2006), Thomas earned unanimous consensus All-America honors that year. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

OL: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- In 1998, Raiola became the first Nebraska freshman offensive lineman to start a game in seven years. He went on to earn the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center, first-team All-Big 12 honors in his final two seasons and consensus first-team All-America honors in 2000.

OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa (1999-2003) -- Gallery claimed the Outland Trophy in 2003 as well as first-team All-America honors. He twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as the anchor of a nationally elite offensive line.

OL: Jake Long, Michigan (2003-07) -- Although Long didn't win the Outland, he twice earned consensus first-team All-America honors (unanimous selection in 2007) and twice earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors (beating out Thomas in 2006). Long was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06) -- Woodley claimed the Rotary Lombardi Award in 2006 as the nation's top lineman. A first-team All-American that season, he finished his career with 10 forced fumbles, tied for seventh on the Big Ten's career list.

DE: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2007-10) -- Unlike most of the men on this list, Kerrigan never played for any BCS bowl teams at Purdue but still had a remarkable career that ended with unanimous consensus first-team All-America honors in 2010. The Big Ten defensive player of the year tied the NCAA record for forced fumbles (14) and recorded 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- The most dominant defender in recent years finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2009 (should have been higher) and earned several awards, including the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland. Suh finished his career with 24 sacks, 57 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 41 quarterback hurries.

DT: Devon Still, Penn State (2008-11) -- Penn State produced a string of outstanding defensive tackles including Still, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2011. Still earned consensus first-team All-America honors after recording 17 tackles for loss.

LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08) -- Laurinaitis won major national awards in each of his final three seasons, including the Nagurski Trophy in 2006. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year became just the third Ohio State player to earn consensus All-America honors in three seasons.

LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06) -- Posluszny is one of only two players (Pat Fitzgerald) to twice win the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. He became the first Penn State linebacker to twice earn AP All-America honors.

LB: LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99) -- A freakishly athletic linebacker at Linebacker U., Arrington twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and won the Bednarik and Butkus Awards as a junior in 1999. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000) -- Fletcher claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2000, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors that year and was a three-time first-team all-conference selection. He's tied for fourth in league history with 21 career interceptions and holds the league record for interception return yards (459).

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (2010-13) -- Dennard also claimed the Thorpe Award as he helped Michigan State to its first outright Big Ten title in 26 years and a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford. The two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection recorded 10 career interceptions and led the "No Fly Zone" Spartans secondary.

S: Tyrone Carter, Minnesota (1996-99) -- The only Big Ten safety to win the Thorpe Award, Carter also twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and earned unanimous All-America honors in 1999. He set the FBS record for career tackles by a defensive back with 528.

S: Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002) -- A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Doss earned unanimous consensus All-America honors in 2002 as Ohio State won the national title.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2001-04) -- Nugent won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2004 and claimed consensus All-America honors in both 2002 and 2004. He holds the Big Ten record for consecutive made field goals with 24.

P: Brandon Fields, Michigan State (2003-06) -- His name is on the Big Ten's punter of the year award for a reason. Fields earned consensus All-America honors in 2004, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three times and twice led the league in punting, tying for third in career average (45 ypp).

Returns: Ted Ginn, Ohio State (2004-06) and Steve Breaston, Michigan (2003-06) -- Ginn holds the Big Ten single-season records for kick return average (25.6 ypr) and career punt return touchdowns (6), while Breaston claims the league mark for career punt return yards (1,599) and is tied for third in punt return touchdowns (4).

It's tough enough putting together these teams for one season, much less 16 seasons. You can't please everyone, and many exceptional players didn't make the cut.

We decided to go with five offensive linemen rather than a center, two guards and two tackles, in order to recognize the best overall players in the trenches.

There was some debate for a second receiver alongside Michigan's Edwards, as the Big Ten hasn't exactly mass-produced superstars at the position. Several players had great seasons like Michigan State's Charles Rogers in 2002, but we put more stock into overall career output and went with Wisconsin's Evans, who led the league in receiving in 2001 and 2003.

Cornerback created some debate among Fletcher, Dennard and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, also a Jim Thorpe Award winner. We faced another tough decision at safety between Ohio State's Doss and Iowa's Bob Sanders.

Surprisingly, the defensive tackle spot produced few bona-fide superstars. Nebraska's Suh, who played his entire career in the Big 12, was an obvious choice but a second choice proved to be tough.

Arguably the toughest choice came at kicker between Nugent and Iowa's Nate Kaeding. Both won Lou Groza Awards and set numerous records. We gave the nod to Nugent, but not by much.
The Great Dayne is marching on in the Big Ten players tournament. Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne, the No. 1 seed, advanced to the semifinals ahead of Iowa left tackle Robert Gallery, the No. 8 seed.

Although both Dayne and Gallery had tremendous college careers, Dayne ran away with the vote, earning 73 percent to Gallery's 27 percent.

Here are some comments from those who voted:
Gary from Maryland: Per the Dayne/Gallery debate, this is really tough. Comparing a RB to a tackle seems like an apples to oranges debate and in this case, it's almost more like the chicken and egg question. Without the Gallerys of the world, the Daynes can't pile up the big numbers. And without the Daynes, the Gallerys don't have many other numbers to truly demonstrate their effectiveness. I guess when it all comes down to it, I'll lean towards the guy who moved the ball farther than any other back in history at the time of his graduation. So I go with Dayne based purely on the superlatives of his career. Just one man's humble opinion.

Jimmy D. from Crystal Lake, Ill.: Ron Dayne easily. 12 - 200 yard games in career, back to back 200+ games in 1999 & 2000 Rose Bowl. Just pure domination.

Sam from Coralville, Iowa: Call me a bit biased because of my black and gold blood. But Robert Gallery both carried the 2002 and 2003 Big Ten championship teams and turn the Hawkeye football program around (which is what it needs now). Brad Banks, although I love, was at best an average QB. But Banks still got runner-up for the Heisman behind Carson Palmer. This was all in part due to 4 our of his 5 offensive linemen going to the NFL along with back up Ben Sobaski getting drafted (Andy Lightfoot could have gone to the NFL but chose a career outside of football instead).There is always the saying "a bad line can make a good back look bad, and a good line can make a bad back look good". But in this case an exceptional linemen made an average Brad Banks look absolutely amazing. Once again I will always love Brad Branks, But I feel a tree stub could have been the Iowa QB in the 2002 season and finished runner up for the Heisman.

Dayne will face the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 4 seed Purdue QB Drew Brees and No. 5 seed Penn Sate LB Paul Posluszny.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 19, 2013
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To your emails ...

Mel from Cincinnati writes: Adam,I really enjoy reading the blog, thanks for all you do. First of all, I'm really glad to see an East/West alignment. Purdue in the West makes sense for football, although I think Indiana would be OK as well. Have you heard whether or not other sports e.g. basketball would also be using a divisional alignment? If so then I would think Indiana would be a much better choice for the West Division, to provide at least some balance in that sport. Right now from a basketball standpoint, the proposed divisions would put most of the traditionally strong basketball teams in the East.

Adam Rittenberg: For the record, this isn't my uncle Mel in Cincinnati (although I do have one). Basketball divisions don't appear to be on the table because all teams qualify for the Big Ten tournament, so there's really no point. I know athletic directors are seriously considering increasing the number of conference games in hoops so teams can play each other as much as possible in an expanded league. But all of the division discussions taking place pertain only to football.


Dave from Plymouth Meeting, Pa., writes: I would prefer seeing MSU move to the west to give a little more balance. That said, I think the BIG needs to look at what has happened over the years with the SEC. When they first went to divisional play, I can remember Florida, Georgia, and Tennessee were consider the top of the SEC and all were in the east. Then once the sanctions were over for Alabama and Auburn, the west division has been dominant mainly with Bama and LSU deciding the SEC champ. I am not sure what the answer is, but I can see initially the east being the dominate division, but who knows 5 years down the road maybe the west then takes over for a number of years.What is also tough with any divisional alignment is the non-powerhouse teams in the conference. It becomes harder for them to break through and build their programs if they do not have the opportunity in some years to play 3 or 4 teams in the conference that are at or below their level (i.e. 3 or 4 conference wins). That is what boost interest for the fan base and gives hope for the future of those schools.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think the Big Ten brass sees it similarly, as things tend to be cyclical with a few exceptions. Certainly the proposed East division looks stronger than the West, but things tend to shift with coaching changes, personnel changes and other factors. What if Purdue goes to the West and regains its form from the late 1990s/2000? What if Northwestern becomes more like Stanford with improved recruiting efforts? What if Michigan State takes a step backward? Or Penn State struggles more with the sanctions? There are a lot of unknowns. You're right that it makes it tough for the non-traditional powers, but we've seen more parity in the Big Ten in the past 25 years. These teams can compete with the right recruiting/coaching efforts.


Sam from Nashville writes: The decision on whether to put Indiana or Purdue in the West seems clear: Indiana. First, let me say what everyone is thinking: It doesn't really matter either way. The balance of power between divisions is not made or lost with these two teams (no offense intended...well, sort of). But there is another reality, and that is division realignment isn't easy on either the fans or the sports writers. The solution is all about acronyms. Putting Purdue in the East (Purdue, Penn St, Rutgers, Ohio St, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State) gives us the "PROM" division. Think Brady Hoke in a tuxedo with Urban Meyer on his arm in scandalous evening dress. Putting Indiana in the West (Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Minnesota) gives us the "WIN" division. I did not forget about Minnesota, because no one associates them with winning and naturally they should be left out of such an acronym. Thus, to remember the division alignments, we need only to think PROM, WIN, and what Minnesota will not do against (insert your favorite B1G team here).

Adam Rittenberg: Easy on the Gophers, Sam, but this is a creative way to remember the potential divisions. I have to get the Meyer-Hoke mental image out of my mind now. Thanks for that.


Buddy from Chicago writes: Looks like Nebraska will be winning the West for the forseeable future. Either MSU or UM should move to West to balance the power.

Adam Rittenberg: No disrespect to the Huskers, but how many division titles has Nebraska won in the past 15 years? It's far from a guarantee that the Huskers will be playing for the Big Ten championship every year. Wisconsin's track record indicates it will be in the division mix most seasons, and both Iowa and Northwestern have shown they can compete. Although Iowa needs to get back on track, Northwestern is definitely a program on the rise after five straight bowl appearances. It'll be important for Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue or Indiana to take steps with their programs.


Paul from Rapid City, S.D., writes: Horrible alignment! This reminds me of the Big 12. The geographical talent rich/based teams are in East divisions which will isolate the Western division teams (Big 12 South vs North). The West division will not be nearly competetive as the East, just like the Big 12 North; eventaully lost 3 teams Nebraska, Missouri, and Colorado.

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, some valid points there. You have to wonder how much the rest of the country would pay attention to the "West" division, especially if none of those teams are in contention for national titles. As I mentioned before, it's important that Northwestern continues to win eight or more games per year, for Iowa to get back to where it was in 2008-09 and for Minnesota and Illinois to start winning more consistently. I also think there are fewer guarantees -- aside from Ohio State and Michigan -- about the success of the "East" division teams.


DJ from Minneapolis writes: You can't include everyone, I get that and I am sure there were some tough exclusions. But with that said, how could you seriously leave Greg Eslinger off of this player tournament list? He won every award he could possibly win. You could even argue he is the best center the B1G has ever produced.

Adam Rittenberg: DJ, I strongly considered Eslinger for the list, and he would have been my next choice behind Robert Gallery. He had an exceptional career at Minnesota and will go down as one of the best offensive linemen in recent Big Ten history. Ultimately, I felt Gallery's dominance at left tackle for those Iowa teams gave him a slight edge, although the center position also carries extreme importance. If we went with one representative per team, Eslinger undoubtedly would have been the pick for Minnesota. But Gallery's accomplishments at Iowa resonated a little bit more in the region.
Earlier today, I introduced the Big Ten players tournament, which includes eight top college players from the past 15 years and asks you, the reader, to name the best. As a reminder, each Big Ten member is limited to one entry, and candidates must either have won Big Ten MVP honors or a major national award.

Voting in the first matchup of the first round will take place until 9 a.m. ET Wednesday.

SportsNation

Who would win this Round 1 matchup?

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    72%
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    28%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,752)

Let's get to the matchup ...

No. 1 seed Ron Dayne (Wisconsin RB, 1996-99) vs. No. 8 seed Robert Gallery (Iowa LT, 2000-03)

These were two of the biggest, baddest men at the respective positions in recent college football history.

Dayne certainly needs no introduction after winning the 1999 Heisman Trophy along with a host of other awards (Maxwell, Walter Camp, Doak Walker, Big Ten MVP) as he capped an unforgettable career at Wisconsin. His career rushing total of 6,397 yards (not including bowl games) still stands as the NCAA record, one we likely won't see broken any time soon. The Great Dayne began his Wisconsin career by rushing for 1,863 yards as a freshman in 1996. He became just the fourth player in NCAA history to eclipse 1,000 rush yards in all four seasons, and he was the first player to lead the Big Ten in rushing three times (1996, 1998, 1999).

Four Big Ten offensive linemen have claimed the Outland Trophy in the past 15 years, but Gallery might have been the most dominant. He started his final 38 collegiate games at left tackle, not allowing a sack in his last 36 contests. After switching from tight end to tackle in 2001, Gallery became the linchpin of an offensive line that helped Iowa record back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2002 and 2003 and claim a share of the Big Ten title (2002) for the first time since 1990. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2002 and 2003, Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors in 2003 and consensus first-team All-America honors in 2003.

It's your turn to vote on the first-round matchup. Also, send your rationale to me and I'll include some of the best responses in a post announcing who advances to the semifinals.
Drew Brees, Ron Dayne, Braylon Edwards USA TODAY Sports, Getty Images, AP PhotoDrew Brees, Ron Dayne and Braylon Edwards are among the most decorated players in recent Big Ten history.
We're all about Big Ten football on this blog -- 24/7/365 -- but we're not na´ve about the fact that hoops is dominating he college sports landscape right now. After all, I typed this post from the United Center in Chicago, where I spent late last week watching some excellent Big Ten basketball tournament action.

March Madness is upon us, and it is glorious.

To get in the spirit, we're once again putting our own spin on the brackets to have a little fun (and, naturally, stir the pot). If you recall last year, we staged the Big Ten champions tournament, which featured an eight-team field of championship teams from the previous 15 years. Teams were seeded and faced off against one another, and you voted on who should advance. Nebraska's 1997 team prevailed as the champion of champions.

This year, the field will include eight Big Ten players from the past 15 years (Nebraska's representative played in the Big 12, but like last year, we can't exclude the Huskers from the fun). As Brian Bennett pointed out last year, 15 years gives us a time frame that is fairly fresh in our memories. It's difficult enough to identify eight representatives for this list, and we don't want to start comparing players from completely different eras. We realize the game has changed in the past 15 years, but not as much as it has in the past 40. So we're looking at players from 1998-2012.

It's impossible to come up with a list that pleases everyone, and while we're ready for your abuse, we had to put some parameters on the selections. For starters, we want to involve as many fan bases as we can, so we've capped the selections at one per program. Although four programs won't be represented, it's better than six or seven.

Also, to narrow things down, a selection must be a winner of the Silver Football as Big Ten MVP or win at least one major national award (Heisman, Maxwell, Walter Camp, Bednarik, Biletnikoff, Butkus, Rotary-Lombardi, Mackey, Outland, Rimington, Thorpe, Doak Walker). Take issue with this if you'd like, but we had to reduce the candidate pool. We could forever debate Braylon Edwards vs. Jake Long as Michigan's representative, but the bottom line is Edwards won Big Ten MVP and the Biletnikoff Award in 2004. Long, as great as he was, never won the Outland Trophy.

We also looked for representatives who had special/iconic careers, so one-year stars like Iowa RB Shonn Greene (2008) weren't in the mix. And while a candidate had to play at least one season during the 15-year window, multiple seasons was a plus.

OK, long-winded intro over.

We'll get started later today with the matchups and polls, but now it's finally time to introduce the field (in alphabetical order):

Drew Brees, QB, Purdue, 1997-2000: Maxwell Award winner and Big Ten MVP in 2000, while finishing third in Heisman Trophy voting; Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2000 and 1998 (co); All-Big Ten selection from 1998-2000; runner-up for Maxwell Award in 1999; Big Ten career leader in passing attempts (1,678), passing completions (1,026), passing yards (11,792), passing touchdowns (90) and total offense (12,692); owns NCAA record for pass attempts in a game (83) and tied for third in single-game completions (55).

Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin 1996-99: Won Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Doak Walker Ward, Big Ten MVP and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 1999; consensus All-American in 1999 and first-team All-Big Ten in 1996, 1998 and 1999; Set NCAA career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games) and ranks sixth in both career rushing touchdowns (63) and rushing yards per game (148.8); became just the fourth player in FBS history to eclipse 1,000 rush yards in all four seasons; first player to lead the Big Ten in rushing for three consecutive seasons; only Big Ten player to win back-to-back Rose Bowl MVP awards (1999 and 2000); left Wisconsin with 48 team records and had his No. 33 retired in 2007.

Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan, 2001-04: Big Ten MVP, Biletnikoff Award winner, unanimous consensus first-team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2004; only wide receiver in Big Ten history to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons; first-team All-Big Ten in 2003 and 2004; holds Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions (39), ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541) and fifth in career receptions (97); set Michigan records for career receptions (252), receiving yards and receiving touchdowns; last player to wear the coveted No. 1 jersey for the Wolverines.

Robert Gallery, OT, Iowa, 2000-03: Won the Outland Trophy in 2003 and earned consensus first-team All-America honors; named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year in 2003; earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2002 and 2003; started final 44 games of his career and didn't allow a sack in 36 straight games for the Hawkeyes.

[+] EnlargeAntwaan Randle El
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIndiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El was the first player to both pass for over 6,000 yards and rush for over 3,000 yards.
Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana, 1998-2001: Big Ten MVP, first-team All-American and Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2001; All-Big Ten selection from 1999-2001; first player in NCAA history to score 40 touchdowns (45) and throw for 40 TDs (42), the first to record over 2,500 total yards in four seasons, and the first to both pass for over 6,000 yards and rush for over 3,000 yards; Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1998, transformative figure for Big Ten quarterbacks as a dual threat.

Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State, 2003-06: Became just the second player to win the Bednarik Award (nation's top defender) in consecutive seasons, doing so in 2005 and 2006; won the Butkus Award in 2005 and was a finalist for the Butkus in 2006 and twice for the Rotary Lombardi Award; first-team All-American in 2005 and 2006; started the final 37 games of his career and became the first Nittany Lions player to lead the team in tackles three times and to post three 100-tackle seasons; was a two-time captain.

Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State, 2003-06: Won Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award, Big Ten MVP, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in 2006; unanimous consensus first-team All-American in 2006 and also earned first-team All-Big Ten honors that year; finished fourth and seventh nationally in pass efficiency in 2005 and 2006, respectively; set a team record with 30 touchdown passes in 2006, finished with 54 touchdown strikes against only 13 interceptions and led Ohio State to consecutive BCS bowl appearances (the latter in the national title game).

Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska, 2006-09: Named AP Player of the Year in 2009 and also won Bednarik Award, Rotary Lombardi Award, Nagurski Trophy and Outland Trophy; Heisman Trophy finalist (finished fourth in voting, first defensive tackle invited to New York since Warren Sapp in 1994); named Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year; consensus first-team All-American in 2009; first-team All-Big 12 in 2008; led Nebraska in tackles in his final two seasons, racking up 43 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks; his 57 career tackles for loss ranks second in team history.
Chris Doyle is proud of what Iowa has built in the past 11 years. During Kirk Ferentz's tenure as Hawkeyes head coach, the program has become known as one of the nation's best for player development. Doyle has been there every step of the way, coming in with Ferentz in 1999 as the team's head strength and conditioning coach. For more than a decade, Doyle has helped unheralded recruits and walk-ons transform themselves into elite college football players and NFL prospects. His top pupils include Dallas Clark, Eric Steinbach, Chad Greenway and Robert Gallery.

[+] EnlargeDallas Clark
AJ Mast/Icon SMIDallas Clark was transformed from a high school quarterback into an All-American tight end.
Doyle recently shared his thoughts on shaping Iowa into a winner.

What has changed in your job between now and when you arrived at Iowa?

Chris Doyle: I don't think there's been much of a change. When we first got here, it was about building a culture, instilling the values that match the personality of our head football coach: show up, listen, learn, do your job, no excuses. That was the challenge in '99 and that continues to be the challenge. Complacency can very easily set in to a program that's had some success, and we've had some success. We've also experienced some disappointment, so for us, it's a matter of continuing to build the culture. The good news is we have very positive examples of guys who have done things the right way and who have thus been rewarded for it. So we have built-in examples to utilize, but the challenge remains the same every single year.

How would you describe your philosophy toward doing this?

CD: We recognize who we are and we have a niche in college football, and our niche is we're going to strive to be the absolute best at player development. When Coach Ferentz came here in '99, we said, 'We cannot be like everybody else in strength and conditioning and show up and beat great football teams. We have to do it better. We have to train harder, we have to train smarter and recognize that there's nothing comfortable about being a college football player, there's nothing comfortable about getting a degree, there's nothing comfortable about trying to perform at your highest level.' How do we do it differently? A big part of what we do is individualized program design.

We're going to look at three areas. We're going to look at training maturity, because everybody's different. We're going to look at functionality. Everyone has a different set of parents, different genetics, different medical backgrounds and different athletic backgrounds, so what functional needs do the athletes have? We screen every athlete. And the third thing is position specific training. There's extreme variation in skill sets. You're looking at a sport where a 5-foot-10, 180-pound defensive back is going to compete on the same playing field as a 6-foot-7, 315-pound lineman. That needs to be addressed in their training.

How did you approach the challenge of working with guys that maybe weren't the top recruits or the big names?

CD: That's who we are. We don't shy away from that. At Iowa, the guys that have been the absolute most successful guys in our program, the guys who you see their pictures on the wall, are guys who share similar characteristics. They come from humble beginnings, none of them were heavily recruited, none of them were blue chip, 5-star recruits. They worked extremely hard and they were tough guys, smart guys. So you look at those qualities -- modest start, hard-working, tough kids who love the game -- we embrace that. We kind of relish that challenge of, 'Hey, we're going to bring a guy in that maybe flies under the radar in recruiting, but he's our guy.' Iowa football's not for everybody, and if you're looking to sample what Joe College samples when he goes on campus and there's a lot of different options for how kids spend their time, don't come to Iowa. We're not interested in Joe College. It's going to be challenging. We say we're going to try and progress at a faster rate than other teams, and I'm sure everyone says that. But it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to do it. And if we're going to do it, then our guys have to have a stronger commitment than everybody else.

(Read full post)

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After a recent spring workout, Iowa's four starting defensive linemen made the walk from the practice fields to the football complex, which snakes past the school's baseball field.

A game was going on at the time, and fans sitting in the stands took notice of the football players. Well, one of them, at least.

"Me, [Christian] Ballard and Broderick [Binns] were walking next to Adrian," defensive tackle Karl Klug recalled. "And everyone's like, 'Adrian! Adrian!' Screaming and stuff.

"We were just kind of tagging along. He's a recognizable dude."

The beard and the dreads make Adrian Clayborn hard to miss, but his play on the field truly makes the Iowa defensive end stand out.

"It's an honor for people to know who I am," Clayborn said. "It feels good."

Clayborn comes off of an exceptional junior season in which he earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors after recording 20 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, nine quarterback hurries and a very memorable blocked punt.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Don McPeak/US PresswireHawkeyes defensive end Adrian Clayborn is hard to miss on or off the field.
In a year defined by close games and dramatic moments for Iowa, Clayborn made several of the team's biggest plays. Whether it was dragging down running back Nic Grigsby from behind against Arizona, blocking a punt and returning it for a touchdown against Penn State or earning Orange Bowl MVP honors with two sacks against Georgia Tech, Clayborn always rose to the occasion for a stingy Hawkeyes defense.

"He doesn't really like the spotlight, but that's where he's at," Klug said. "People recognize him after all those plays he made."

Clayborn earned more than enough recognition to bolt for the NFL after last season, but in late December he said he would return for his senior season. He stuck to the decision even after his dominating display in the Orange Bowl.

His decision surprised many people around the Big Ten, and disappointed them, too.

"I figured with all the attention he was getting nationally, he'd get on out," Klug said. "It was a good surprise."

"It could have gone either way," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He would have clearly been a first-round draft pick. There was no doubt about that. I would compare his decision to Robert Gallery's decision. The thing that's surprising is that in this day and age, more guys leave than stay."

Clayborn stayed to correct "a bunch of flaws" in his game. He spent spring practice fine-tuning things, trying to keep his pads lower and expand his pass-rush moves.

Ferentz expects Clayborn to be on "every [preseason award] list in America," and after a year were Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh made defensive line an "it" position, Clayborn will garner plenty of accolades this fall.

But he earns the highest compliments from his teammates and coaches.

"No question he's the chosen leader of the group," defensive coordinator Norm Parker said. "If we had an election to send a representative some place, they would vote Adrian. And it's more because of Adrian the person than Adrian the football player."

It's never a guarantee that a team's best player will step up as a leader, but Clayborn welcomes the responsibility.

"It feels good, but it also comes with a lot," he said. "I'm up for the challenge. Pat [Angerer] left, and he was pretty much the leader of the team last year, so I'm going to try to take his role."

Big Ten all-decade team

January, 22, 2010
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I hope you enjoyed the decade recap series. We had a lot of fun researching and putting it together. Not surprisingly, my top players list generated a ton of feedback -- mostly negative, but that's cool -- from the Big Ten faithful.

Because there were so many deserving players left off the list, I decided to put together an all-decade team to recognize some of the other standouts in the Big Ten from 2000-09. I made the offensive line a bit more general to acknowledge the best players there.

Unlike the top 10, I was a bit more lenient about players who had only one outstanding season during this decade.

Enjoy.

OFFENSE

QB: Troy Smith, Ohio State
RB: Mike Hart, Michigan
RB: Larry Johnson, Penn State
WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan
WR: Charles Rogers, Michigan State
TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa
C: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa
OL: Jake Long, Michigan
OL: Eric Steinbach, Iowa

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
DT: Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DE: Tamba Hali, Penn State
LB: Paul Posluzsny, Penn State
LB: A.J. Hawk, Ohio Sate
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
CB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
S: Bob Sanders, Iowa
S: Mike Doss, Ohio State

SPECIALISTS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State
P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue
Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State and Steve Breaston, Michigan

Big Ten mailblog

January, 19, 2010
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Hope you're enjoying flog-the-blogger week, er, I mean decade recap week.

Tell me how you really feel.

Kyle from Kingston, Ontario, writes: Adam, love your post dude! I have to make a comment though. How do you not give any love to Dallas Clark. 01 and 02 he made numerous plays to Iowa on the map. I am not saying he was a top 10 player, but to not even be considered?

Adam Rittenberg: That was an oversight on my part, Kyle. Clark should have been mentioned in the "also considered," a category I now regret even putting up there. But to be honest, he really wasn't close to making the top 10. Same goes for great kickers like Mike Nugent and Nate Kaeding. It's not to say they weren't great players, but they're not going to make a top 10 list for best in the decade.



K.J. from Arlington writes: Funny how you use the term infamous regarding the 2002 championship game but failed to use the term when Michigan was infamously given 2 free seconds which game football absolutely proved should not have been put on the clock by the oh so biased Ann Arbor crew in the 2005 game helping to give Michigan unearned wins in three of the previous five meetings with Penn State? Why is that? Oh wait, because you are an idiot and you hate Penn State, that's why.

Adam Rittenberg: There was some controversy in several of the games I listed, K.J., including Penn State-Michigan in 2005. The clock certainly played a role there in the end. And while I won't argue with you about the idiot part, the me hating Penn State argument is pretty lame and tired. Like I've said before, fans love me when their team is in the top 10 and think I'm a hater when they start to slip a bit. I have nothing against Penn State, which is featured prominently throughout the decade recap this week.


Justin from Plainfield, Ill., writes: Adam,Since you based it on players that generally had mulitple season, I understand (and in general agree) with your list of Big Ten players of the decade. I'd like to see your take on that same list without that caveat (of multiple seasons). To me, Michael Robinson would have to be on that list. You often hear "so and so led his team to victory" get thrown around. MRob truly led his team in 2005.Also, I was glad you gave Randal El some love. That dude was the only reason Indiana football even had a chance for those 4 years.

Adam Rittenberg: This is a good suggestion, Justin, and while I probably won't do a second post with one-year stars, here are a few who really stood out: Brad Banks, Michael Robinson, Larry Johnson, Devin Thomas, Shonn Greene, Chris Perry, Rashard Mendenhall, James Hardy.


Andy from Chicago writes: Adam - Love the blog and appreciate the Hawkeye pub during the season. I have a few follow-up questions/comments regarding your players of the decade list. 1. I know that Jake Long and Joe Thomas are better pros than Robert Gallery, but RG definitely should be on your list. He was the best OL in the conference two years in a row and paved the way for a B10 championship and undefeated conference season. Additionally, when he came out, Peter King said he was "the best lineman to enter the draft in years." Perhaps an oversight on your part, but wanted to get your opinion. 2. If this was about longevity in the league, then I understand your putting Mike Hart on the list. Otherwise, what Greene accomplished in one season is better than anything Hart did in four (or seemingly ten) seasons in Ann Arbor. 3. How many B10 players this decade went undefeated in conference, won a conference title, and finished second in the Heisman voting in the same season? One. Similar to Greene, Banks definitely should have made the cut. 4. Dallas Clark needs to at least make Honorable Mention. That is all. Thanks,

Adam Rittenberg: I really struggled with both Gallery and Long. Any top-10 list is going to leave off some deserving players, and you can certainly make a convincing case for those two. I really tried to identify the MVP for each program during the decade, and I think most Iowa fans would put Bob Sanders in that role. Wisconsin fans would say the same for Joe Thomas. Gallery was a tremendous player, as was Long, and trust me, they weren't far away from making the list. As for Shonn Greene and Brad Banks, lack of longevity was the main reason they didn't make it. The running back position was interesting because you had several one-year standouts in the Big Ten. I didn't want to have a top-10 list without a running back, and Hart really accomplished a lot in four years. As for Dallas Clark, see above.


Mike from Wausau, Wis., writes: Hi Adam:I enjoy your work. When might we expect to hear what the NCAA will do regarding the potential violations by RichRod? I thought a decision was expected by the end of 2009. To me, the lackof public notice to date indicates there is somethingon the way, and perhaps the U of M and the NCAA are "working-out" the terms of the penalty. Also, after two years, do you really think RichRod is the right person for the job? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: The Dec. 31 date wasn't a fixed deadline for a decision on the Michigan investigation, but I'd expect we'll hear something soon. The NCAA holds many of its meetings at this time of year, so that could be slowing the process a bit. I don't think the delay necessarily means huge penalties are coming. As for Rodriguez, I think he's still a heck of a coach, but he's operating in a very different environment than he did at West Virginia. If he can get the players he wants throughout the admissions office and have several young defenders emerge, Michigan should be decent in 2010. But I continue to be concerned with what's happening on defense in Ann Arbor.
The Big Ten's top offensive lineman is taking his skills to the next level.

And after watching the FedEx Orange Bowl on Tuesday night, it's easy to see why.

As expected, Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga announced Wednesday that he's declaring for the NFL draft. Bulaga, named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year this fall, is projected by many as a first-round pick in April.

He entered the fall very much on the draft radar and often drew comparisons to former Iowa star tackle Robert Gallery, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft. Bulaga missed three games in September after a thyroid condition caused him to be hospitalized, and he didn't have the dominant season many had projected. But he looked great in the bowl game against Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan, a projected top-10 pick.

Bulaga said the time away from the field contributed to his decision.

“This was not an easy decision since my Iowa experience has been very positive and rewarding,” Bulaga said in a statement released through the school. “The illness I was faced with at the beginning of the 2009 season made me realize how important football is in my life, and how quickly it can be taken away. I want to thank coach [Kirk] Ferentz, coach [Reese] Morgan and the rest of the Iowa football staff who played a significant role in my development.”



This is a major loss for Iowa, though Bulaga's departure has been expected. If there's an area that could derail the Hawkeyes this fall, it's the offensive line. Iowa loses three starters, each of whom earned All-Big Ten honors, and needs some young players to emerge like Riley Reiff did this year.

Iowa is still awaiting a decision from junior cornerback Amari Spievey, who said Tuesday that he's 50-50 regarding the draft.

Best of luck to Bulaga, one of the nicest guys in the league.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The comparisons to Robert Gallery were made throughout the summer, but Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga simply shrugged and smiled when he heard them. Bulaga always handled his hype well, and the affable junior took the same approach when he faced a bout with adversity in early September. Bulaga was hospitalized following a practice and missed three games with a thyroid condition. He's back on the line now and leads No. 11 Iowa into Madison, where the Hawkeyes put their perfect record (6-0) on the line against Wisconsin on Saturday (ESPN, noon ET).

The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Bulaga is regarded as Iowa's latest superstar offensive tackle and the Big Ten's top offensive lineman, at least according to this guy. While watching "Monday Night Football" earlier this week, Bulaga took a few minutes to talk about his illness, his return and the challenges ahead.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Bryan Bulaga and the Hawkeyes look to improve to 7-0 Saturday at Wisconsin.
The last time Iowa was 6-0 [1985] was before most of you guys were born. How has the atmosphere been around campus?

Bryan Bulaga: In Iowa City, everyone's pretty fired up about it. Going to class today, everyone seemed pretty excited, a 6-0 start, first time in a while. Everyone in the locker room is pretty positive and fired up. We know we still have a lot of work to do. Obviously, we haven't played a perfect game yet, but we're excited. To start 6-0 is the best you can be at this point.

You guys finished the season strong last year. Has it been a matter of carrying that over to this year? What have you noticed being on the field or being on the sideline that has been different?

BB: We've learned from last year what it took to finish those close games. From that win at Penn State last year, we figured out what it took. A lot of the guys on the team last year are back this year, and we bring that same mentality. You just learn from game to game how to pull out these close ones. We've had a couple of them this year [laughs]. We just stay positive and upbeat, that never-quit attitude, and that's what we learned from all the seniors last year.

You guys have a lot of rivalry games, but where does this one rank for you?

BB: Every year, this is a big game for us. If you look at both sides of the ball, we're very similar in a lot of ways. I know a lot of guys get recruited to both these schools. This is a big game. There's a lot of history there. I get excited for each game, but it's a big one for both programs, and the trophy makes it a little bit more interesting.

Was Wisconsin a school that looked at you?

BB: Yeah, I got recruited pretty heavily by Wisconsin. I thought they were a great program. Coach [Bret] Bielema is a great guy. Coach Randall McCray, he's with the [safeties] now, he was the guy that recruited me. I liked Wisconsin, they were great coaches, I just thought Iowa would be the better fit, and that's how it turned out to be.

Are you feeling more comfortable being back in there, or is it still a work in progress?

BB: Every practice, you get a little more comfortable. But you've got to settle in a little bit. From a comfort standpoint, I feel good, but from a technique standpoint and a fundamental standpoint, there are still some things I need to clean up, for sure. I showed that [against Michigan]. But just having continuity with the guys on the line, I definitely feel I'm back in the full swing of things.

How frustrating was it for you to miss time? You never expect for something like that to happen.

BB: It was really frustrating. It wasn't something that physically hurt me. It wasn't my knee or a shoulder or anything that was really bothering me. It was something that was internal. I really didn't feel anything besides that one day where I was pulled out of practice. When you don't feel something and you just sit on the sidelines and watch, it's very frustrating. I wasn't too worried that I was going to be sitting out for a season. Once I was in the hospital and they found out it wasn't anything with my heart or a cardiac issue, I got a sense of relief, knowing that, 'Hey, it's something that's a lot smaller and not as significant.' It was just a matter of getting that blood level down. Until that happened, it was just frustrating to watch. I was able to run and bike and lift weights, but not play.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

RANTOUL, Ill. -- I'm about to head out to the field to watch Illinois' practice. Check back later for a few practice observations and more from Camp Rantoul.

But first, your latest preseason watch update.

To the surprise of no one, Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn were named to the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award, given to the nation's top wide receiver. Decker, who led the Big Ten in receiving yards last year, was a semifinalist for the award in 2008. Both Decker and Benn are All-America candidates.

Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga leads a group of four Big Ten players named to the Outland Trophy watch list. Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick, Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski and Illinois guard Jon Asamoah also were named to the list.

Bulaga, a junior, could be one of the nation's premier left tackles this year and a candidate to enter the NFL draft in 2010. Odrick also seems like a viable candidate for the award, which last went to a defensive player in 2007 (LSU's Glenn Dorsey).

Four Big Ten players have won the Biletnikoff Award, most recently Michigan's Braylon Edwards in 2004. Three Big Ten linemen have captured the Outland Trophy this decade: Wisconsin's Joe Thomas (2006), Minnesota's Greg Eslinger (2005) and Iowa's Robert Gallery (2003).

Big Ten lunch links

May, 4, 2009
5/04/09
12:45
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A little less to link this time of year. Bear with me. 

Paterno said that when he starts talking about this to the Big Ten folks, "They're polite, but they snicker." Anyone who has ever seen a 13-year-old kid humor his elders knows the snicker.

"They don't know I know they're snickering," Paterno said.

They also apparently don't know what they don't know. The Big Ten has lost its edge in football, partly because its best teams are sitting around, waiting for their bowl game while rival conferences such as the Southeastern and Big 12 are playing widely watched league championship games. 

  • Michigan's newest commit can be used in a lot of ways, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Speaking of recruiting, Penn State added another 2010 commit in running back Silas Redd, Philip Cmor writes in The Altoona Mirror.
  • Dismissals, defections and transfers contributed to Minnesota becoming the first Big Ten program to lose scholarships because of a low APR score, Dennis Brackin writes in the Star Tribune. 
"There's no doubt that some of the kids [from the 2007 class] were academically challenged," athletic director Joel Maturi said. "But we were trying to get a recruiting class at the end [after Tim Brewster's hiring in January] and we took some gambles, and lost on them."

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