Big Ten: Roland Martin
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State took another step forward in 2008 on the field, and the team's upcoming recruiting class should only keep the positive momentum going.
A confluence of key events -- consecutive bowl appearances, a new football facility, in-state rival Michigan bottoming out -- helped head coach Mark Dantonio and the Spartans build a class stocked with Midwest players that should address several needs on the roster.
Michigan State's biggest losses come in the offensive backfield, where All-American running back Javon Ringer and quarterback Brian Hoyer graduate. The Spartans should be fine at the quarterback spot with Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, but they didn't develop anyone behind Ringer, and there should be an opportunity for a promising freshman to play right away.
Wide receiver wasn't the strongest position this season, and though Michigan State returns everyone, namely Mark Dell and Blair White, it could use another player who can stretch the field. The Spartans must replace the right side of their offensive line after losing Roland Martin and Jesse Miller, and they really need to build depth up front.
The defense returns nine starters for 2009, but it won't stop Dantonio from planning ahead. Linebacker depth is vital with Adam Decker heading into his senior season and superstar Greg Jones possibly entering his final year before turning pro. Safety Otis Wiley is a major loss in the defensive backfield, and Michigan State must replace two starters (end Brandon Long and tackle Justin Kershaw) on the line.
Michigan State might not play a ton of freshmen next fall, but its class should solidify depth at running back, offensive line and linebacker.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The team rankings are unquestionably the best gauge of an offensive line, but several individuals stood out and deserve recognition. The Big Ten seemed to be stronger at the interior line spots than at tackle this season.
Here are the Top 10 Big Ten offensive linemen for 2008.
1. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley
Named the Rimington Trophy winner as the nation's top center, Shipley anchored the Big Ten's best line and provided critical leadership as a co-captain. The league's coaches voted him Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year, and I agree with the selection.
2. Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger
The senior anchored the interior line along with Shipley and promising sophomore Stefen Wisniewski. The third-team AP All-American helped Penn State lead the Big Ten in scoring this fall.
3. Iowa guard Seth Olsen
Iowa developed into one of the league's best lines, and the veteran Olsen had a key role. A consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection, the senior led a solid interior line that created lanes for Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene.
4. Penn State tackle Gerald Cadogan
The fifth-year senior kept pass rushers off of Daryll Clark, as Penn State allowed a league-low 12 sacks this season. Cadogan earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors and was a four-time academic all-conference selection.
5. Wisconsin guard Kraig Urbik
Urbik earned consensus second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season and creates lanes for P.J. Hill and John Clay in the league's top rushing attack. The senior remained one of the nation's top guards and should be a mid-round selection in April's draft.
6. Ohio State tackle Alex Boone
It wasn't the greatest year for the Ohio State offensive line or Boone, but he turned in several solid performances. Along with Cadogan, Boone earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and will be drafted in April.
7. Iowa center Rob Bruggeman
The former walk-on ended his career with an All-Big Ten performance as Iowa went 9-4. Bruggeman was a reliable presence in the middle of Iowa's line and created holes for an excellent between-the-tackles runner.
8. Michigan State guard Roland Martin
Martin earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media and helped Javon Ringer become one of the nation's top running backs. Along with teammate Jesse Miller, Roland anchored the right side of the line and limited sacks against Brian Hoyer.
9. Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga
A rising star at left tackle, Bulaga will enter 2009 as one of the Big Ten's top offensive linemen. He helped Shonn Greene's cause this fall, and an Iowa team built around defense finished second in the league in scoring offense (30.2 points per game).
10. Illinois center Ryan McDonald
McDonald helped the Illini lead the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. A Rimington Trophy candidate, the senior earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for the second consecutive season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
After studying the All-Big Ten selections for 2008, it's clear the Big Ten is much stronger at some positions than others. The fact that it was hard to choose a second-team All-Big Ten quarterback tells you something about the league's troubles under center. On the flip side, there are 10-15 defensive linemen worthy of All-Big Ten status.
With the regular season wrapped up, here's a closer look at the Big Ten positions, from strongest to weakest.
Defensive line -- The depth at both line positions is astounding and will be reflected in the next few NFL drafts. Beginning with end, you have Penn State's Aaron Maybin, Minnesota's Willie VanDeSteeg, Michigan's Brandon Graham, Northwestern's Corey Wootton and Indiana's Jammie Kirlew. Guys like Michigan's Tim Jamison, Illinois' Derek Walker, Michigan State's Trevor Anderson, Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan and Penn State's Josh Gaines would be all-conference in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. The tackle spot might be even more stacked. Iowa's Mitch King leads the way, but he's joined by teammate Matt Kroul, Penn State's Jared Odrick, Michigan's Terrance Taylor, Northwestern's John Gill and Ohio State's Nader Abdallah.
Running back -- If not for the overwhelming depth on the D-line, this group would be No. 1 on the list. The Big Ten boasts three of the nation's top seven rushers in Iowa's Shonn Greene, Michigan State's Javon Ringer and Ohio State's Chris "Beanie" Wells. Penn State's Evan Royster also had a fabulous year. When guys like Purdue's Kory Sheets, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Michigan's Brandon Minor and Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton aren't even on the radar for all-conference, you've got a pretty solid group.
Linebacker -- This was another group that caused some tough choices for first-team all-conference. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was a shoo-in, but Illinois' Brit Miller, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Michigan State's Greg Jones are all in the mix for the other two spots. Iowa's Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds, Ohio State's Marcus Freeman, Wisconsin's DeAndre Levy and Indiana's Matt Mayberry add depth.
Offensive line (interior) -- Three centers were listed on the media's all-conference team, illustrating the depth there. Penn State center A.Q. Shipley earned Offensive Lineman of the Year honors, and Iowa's Rob Bruggeman and Illinois' Ryan McDonald also were recognized. The guard spot might be even stronger with Iowa's Seth Olsen, Penn State's Rich Ohrnberger and Stefen Wisniewski, Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp and Michigan State's Roland Martin.
Punter -- This was another group that stirred some debate about All-Big Ten selections. Michigan's Zoltan Mesko was the obvious choice, but Iowa's Ryan Donahue, Michigan State's Aaron Bates and Penn State's Jeremy Boone also were in the mix. Freshmen Brad Nortman (Wisconsin) and Chris Hagerup (Indiana) had terrific seasons, and I was also very impressed with Ohio State's A.J. Trapasso, Minnesota's Justin Kucek and Northwestern's Stefan Demos.
Cornerback -- I didn't fully grasp how strong the league was at cornerback until reviewing the All-Big Ten lists. Everyone knew about Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins and Illinois' Vontae Davis, but several other players add depth, namely Wisconsin's Allen Langford, Iowa's Amari Spievey and Bradley Fletcher, Minnesota's Traye Simmons, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Michigan State's Chris L. Rucker.
Offensive tackle -- There weren't any off-the-charts performances here, but it's a solid group overall. Penn State's Gerald Cadogan moved past Ohio State's Alex Boone as the league's premier tackle. Boone didn't have the dominant year many expected, but he wasn't the main problem on Ohio State's underachieving line. Add in players like Iowa's Bryan Bulaga, Illinois' Xavier Fulton and Wisconsin's Eric Vanden Heuvel, and it's a decent group.
Safety -- Michigan State's Otis Wiley might be the only surefire NFL draft pick from this crop, but several other players turned in strong performances. Ohio State's Kurt Coleman should have been second-team All-Big Ten for both the media and coaches, and Northwestern's Brad Phillips has a major beef for being left off the list. Other standouts include Iowa's Brent Greenwood, Wisconsin's Jay Valai and Minnesota tandem Kyle Theret and Tramaine Brock.
Kicker -- A decent group overall, led by Penn State's Kevin Kelly and Michigan State's Brett Swenson, both of whom should have been Lou Groza Award semifinalists. Wisconsin's Philip Welch quietly had a very solid season (17-for-20), and Northwestern's Amado Villarreal also performed well.
Tight end -- Not the best season for tight ends, though it didn't help that Wisconsin All-American Travis Beckum was hurt for most of the fall. His replacement Garrett Graham had a nice year, as did Iowa's Brandon Myers, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt, Minnesota's Jack Simmons and Illinois' Michael Hoomanawanui, but it wasn't a great group overall.
Wide recever -- Minnesota's Eric Decker and Illinois' Arrelious Benn will be solid NFL players, and Penn State's Derrick Williams also will get to the next level. But quarterbacks and wide receivers are intertwined, and neither position sizzled this season. Penn State's three seniors (Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood) performed well, as did Purdue's Greg Orton and Wisconsin's David Gilreath. But not much depth here.
Quarterback -- This was the worst quarterback crop
in recent memory. Penn State's Daryll Clark was fabulous in his first season as the starter, and both Illinois' Juice Williams and Minnesota's Adam Weber showed growth at times. But it was legitimately difficult to choose a second-team all-league quarterback. Several fifth-year seniors struggled this fall, though there's hope for next year with players like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Several Big Ten teams might have a case of the Mondays, but you shouldn't. The most exciting month in college football is right around the corner.
Here are some links to get you through the day.
- Illinois coach Ron Zook wasn't happy the day after a loss to Wisconsin, calling out his team and quarterback Juice Williams, Bob Asmussen writes in The News-Gazette.
"This is what Juice doesn't sometimes maybe understand, one minute everybody tells him how good of a player he is," Zook said. "Somebody brought up the thing about coming out at the end of three years. Let me tell you something, he better worry about next week. Then he better worry about the next week."
- Some good Michigan State nuggets from Joe Rexrode's blog in the Lansing State Journal. Running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley both should be available Saturday against Wisconsin. Also check out this post on Michigan State's mostly civil postgame celebration at Michigan. Roland Martin = hilarious.
Tonight, civility and competitiveness returned to this rivalry at once. Not that there wasn't some woofing. Roland Martin said U-M's players were doing a lot of it during the game. He said linebacker John Thompson called him "Uncle Roland" a couple times.
"Uncle Roland gave you a spanking, son," Martin taunted back afterward.
- Northwestern saw the risk-reward to using its quarterback on the move against Indiana, and Minnesota is toeing the same line with Adam Weber, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- For the first time, Ohio State lost the gamble of playing Terrelle Pryor at quarterback. The toughest challenge will be picking up the freshman after a crushing loss, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
After the Purdue game, Pryor said the college game was just like high school, only faster, even as teammates reminded him that this wasn't high school. If Pryor jukes Penn State's Mark Rubin in the open field after that bounce and hits the end zone, he's a hero this week. In high school, undoubtedly that's how it would have gone down. At this level, the other guys are pretty good, too. So Pryor fumbled. And that was it.
- After Michigan's latest loss, coach Rich Rodriguez might have come to the conclusion that he simply needs better players to turn things around, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Even though Penn State has stepped up this fall, the Big Ten doesn't deserve another team in the title game, Rivals.com's Tom Dienhart writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Throughout his rise from spread-offense afterthought to Heisman Trophy candidate, Javon Ringer has expressed his gratitude for Michigan State's offensive philosophy shift under coach Mark Dantonio.
Michigan State scrapped the spread for the increasingly rare power-run offense. Ringer loves the system, and evidently, so do the five large individuals blocking for him.
The Spartans' front five has blossomed into arguably the Big Ten's best offensive line and one of the best in the country. The two major statistical gauges for line play are rushing yards and sacks allowed, and Michigan State is one of the few teams that shines in both areas.
Oklahoma State and option-heavy Air Force are the only FBS teams besides Michigan State to rank among the top 25 nationally in rushing offense and the top 10 nationally in sacks allowed. The Spartans rank 25th in rushing (203.4 ypg) and fourth in sacks allowed with only one surrendered through the first five games.
"Those guys have pride in putting their hand down on the ground and becoming physical," Spartans offensive line coach Dan Roushar said. "There's very few offenses in college football that are structured like ourselves or the University of Iowa or Ohio State a year ago, where you've got a tight end and two backs in most of your formations or two tight ends and one back.
"With that, you see a lot more eight- or nine-man fronts, so you're job up front becomes a little more challenging."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Like any good running back should, Michigan State's Javon Ringer pays close attention to the five large men who determine whether he sees daylight or the business end of a linebacker's arm.
Ringer has noticed an interesting dynamic developing with the Spartans offensive line.
"I can almost just sit there in the huddle and just look at 'em and see how the left side, they're more just serious faces and everything, and the right side, they're just relaxed," Ringer said.
Relaxed is one way to describe Michigan State's right side, which features guard Roland Martin and tackle Jesse Miller. Chatty and entertaining would also apply to the two fifth-year seniors.
"You have real funny guys that are really silly all the time, then you've got guys who say mean things that tend to be funny," Martin said. "There'll be jokes we'll make about each other, right out in the open, and everybody's like, 'Wow, why would you say that? That was horrible.' But I'm not gonna tell you any of those.
"Me and Jesse are silly, serious guys. You've got (center Joel) Nitchman, who's 90 percent serious. He's got personality, though. And then everybody else is real serious."
Offensive lines always talk about unity and chemistry, but the mix of personalities seems to work for Michigan State, which ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring offense (33.1 ppg) last season. The Spartans lost both starters on the left side, tackle Pete Clifford and guard Kenny Shane, and are looking for new players to fill the gaps.
Junior Rocco Cironi, who Martin describes as "bright serious" and "his own kind of guy," will protect quarterback Brian Hoyer's blind side at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Joel Foreman, one of several players highlighted for his offseason performance, enters practice with the edge at left guard.
"The left side, they know, 'We're the guys who are young. We're the ones replacing the seniors who left,'" Ringer said. "So they're probably more like, 'We've got to get serious. We've got to know what we're doing.' On the right side, they know everything."
Cironi, who apprenticed behind Clifford, recognizes the responsibility he now possesses.
"I love the pressure," he said. "I played [left tackle] all through high school. I'm used to being on an island by myself."
Is it the same way in the offensive line meeting room?
"We have a nice mix of personalities going on," Martin said.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Matthew Emmons/US Presswire|
|Tackle Alex Boone is one of four returning starters on the Buckeyes' offensive line.|
All of the previous positions I ranked (quarterback, running back, wide receiver/tight end) matter little without sturdy offensive lines to block for them. And despite lingering questions about its speed, the Big Ten continues to churn out elite linemen. The league has had three offensive linemen selected in the top 5 of the NFL draft in the last two years, including former Michigan tackle Jake Long, the No. 1 overall pick in April. Several elite players return this fall, including Ohio State tackle Alex Boone and Penn State center A.Q. Shipley, but offensive lines should always be graded as a group. Four teams look very solid up front. The rest of the league? Not so much.
Here's the rundown:
1. Ohio State -- Led by Boone, who passed up NFL bucks for another national title push, the Buckeyes bring back four of five starters up front. Sophomore Bryant Browning emerged at right tackle in spring ball and joins a group that helped Beanie Wells finish 11th nationally in rushing last season. If the first-team unit stays healthy, the offense will surge this fall.
2. Penn State -- All five starters return to a unit that mirrored Ohio State in both sacks allowed and rushing production last season. Shipley and guard Rich Ohrnberger solidify the interior line along with Stefen Wisniewski, who last year became the first true freshman offensive lineman to start at Penn State since 1999. Hopes are high for whip-smart left tackle Gerald Cadogan.
3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers lost no starters and feature All-Big Ten candidates throughout the line. So why isn't this unit rated higher? Wisconsin finished 91st nationally in sacks allowed with 33 last season, a number that must go down with a new starting quarterback. Four-year starter Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp form the league's best guard tandem, and sophomore left tackle Gabe Carimi held his own last fall after succeeding Joe Thomas.
4. Illinois -- If not for two vacancies, the Illini would be higher on the list. They allowed just 16 sacks last fall, the second fewest in the league, and had the Big Ten's top rushing attack. All-conference candidates Ryan McDonald and Xavier Fulton return. If Ryan Palmer solidifies the right tackle spot, this group will have a big season.
5. Michigan State -- Replacing all-conference left tackle Pete Clifford became a priority this spring, and Michigan State filled the gap with talented junior Rocco Cironi. If Cironi can effectively protect Brian Hoyer's blind side, the interior line should be solid with returning starters Roland Martin and Joel Nitchman. Depth is a concern, and several incoming freshmen could help.
6. Purdue -- Health is the biggest question for Purdue after mainstay Sean Sester, Zach Jones and Zack Reckman missed spring practice with injuries. Head-coach-in-waiting Danny Hope needs all three returning starters at full strength in camp. The all-important center spot could feature an intriguing competition, as freshman Andrew Brewer joins the mix with Cory Benton and Jared Zwilling.
7. Iowa -- A veteran group could definitely climb the list, but after hemorrhaging for 46 sacks last fall, significant improvement is needed. Guard Seth Olsen anchors the line in his third season as a starter. Though several other full-time or part-time starters return, Olsen's spot appears to be the only safe one entering preseason camp.
8. Michigan -- Strength coach Mike Barwis will try to work his magic with a group that returns only one starter, right tackle Stephen Schilling. A lot hinges on junior Mark Ortmann, who succeeds Long at left tackle. If Ortmann steps in smoothly and David Moosman locks up the center spot, the Wolverines might be fine. Coach Rich Rodriguez needs linemen who can fit in his system, and if need be, he'll look to incoming freshmen like Ricky Barnum.
9. Indiana -- The left side looks strong with Rodger Saffold and Pete Saxon, but there are questions elsewhere. A lot is riding on a talented group of sophomore linemen that includes potential starters Alex Perry and Mike Stark. Sacks were a problem at times last season, and the Hoosiers must generate a stronger rushing attack outside of quarterback Kellen Lewis.
10. Minnesota -- Of all the Gophers' problems last season, the offensive line wasn't one of them. Minnesota allowed a league-low 13 sacks and ranked third in pass offense. But the departures of left tackle Steve Shidell and center Tony Brinkhaus raise questions up front. Hopes are high for sophomore left tackle Dominic Alford, but a young group must build chemistry.
11. Northwestern -- The Wildcats lost mainstays at both center and left tackle, and right tackle Kurt Mattes is the only returning starter who secured his job. A lot is riding on three young players -- freshman left tackle Al Netter, sophomore left guard Keegan Grant and freshman center Ben Burkett. If those three step up, a veteran group of skill players will put up points.