Big Ten: Ron Lee

Big Ten lunch links

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
12:00
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It's game week, people. You ready for some football?
Minnesota has promoted running backs coach Thomas Hammock to co-offensive coordinator, while the Gophers are saying goodbye to wide receivers coach Richard Hightower after only one year.

Hammock, the Golden Gophers' running backs coach since 2007, will share coordinator duties with Jeff Horton, hired last month from the Detroit Lions. Minnesota also has a co-coordinator situation with its defense as Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee both share the title.

"This promotion is a reward for the tireless work that Thomas has done as both a coach and a recruiter," Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster said in a statement. "He has done an outstanding job with our running backs and has been a huge asset to our staff. Thomas is one of the outstanding your coaches in America and I could not be more please to reward him with the title of co-offensive coordinator. He and Jeff [Horton] will do a great job coordinating our offense."



Hammock and Horton will look for better results from Minnesota's running game this fall. The Golden Gophers have ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons, and no back has truly emerged to take charge. Hammock has been one of Brewster's best recruiters, helping to land running backs Lamonte Edwards, Donnell Kirkwood and Devon Wright, among others, for the 2010 class.

Hightower came to Minnesota from the Houston Texans and will step down to pursue another coaching job. Brewster expects to find a replacement soon.
For the second straight year, Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster went to the NFL to find an offensive coordinator.

According to the Detroit Free Press, and several other reports, Minnesota has hired Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton to run its offense. Horton replaces Jedd Fisch, who left Minnesota after only one season to take a position on Pete Carroll's staff with the Seattle Seahawks. Fisch had come to Minnesota from the Denver Broncos.

I've yet to receive official confirmation on Horton's hiring from the university, which should make an announcement in the coming days.

Horton, who interviewed for Minnesota's vacancy last year, has spent the last four seasons in the NFL but previously coached quarterbacks at Wisconsin and had head-coaching stints at both Nevada, his alma mater, and UNLV.

While at Wisconsin, Horton worked with several current Minnesota assistants, including co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee and offensive line coach Tim Davis. He mentored quarterbacks such as Brooks Bollinger and Jim Sorgi at Wisconsin and Matthew Stafford this season with the Lions.

Midseason review: Minnesota

October, 20, 2009
10/20/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Record: 4-3 (2-2 Big Ten)

It has been a bit of a mixed bag so far for Minnesota, which continues to search for consistency from its offense to complement an improved defense. There's certainly a new buzz around the program as football returned to campus and outdoors for the first time since 1981. The Gophers opened the year with hard-fought wins against Syracuse and Air Force and stayed close with Cal until the fourth quarter. Since then, there have been good performances against both Northwestern and Purdue, a missed opportunity against Wisconsin and an anemic offensive showing in a 20-0 loss at Penn State. The transition from the spread offense to a pro-style system has been a struggle, and Minnesota needs more production from the run game and quarterback Adam Weber down the stretch. The defense has made obvious strides under new coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee, and the Gophers boasts one of the Big Ten's best linebacking corps.

Offensive MVP, WR Eric Decker: It's not a stretch to suggest that Decker was the Gophers offense through the first few games. He made eight or more receptions in each of Minnesota's first five contests and continues to find openings even though opponents know exactly what's coming from the Gophers. There's not a tougher wide receiver in the country than Decker, who ranks 10th nationally in receiving yards (104.4 ypg).

Defensive MVP, LB Nate Triplett: This award could go to any of the Gophers' top three linebackers, but Triplett has truly emerged as a major playmaker. He ranks second on the team and third in the Big Ten in tackles (10 tpg) and has recorded two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and six passes defended. Honorable mentions go to fellow linebackers Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence, and cornerback Traye Simmons.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Eric Decker has accomplished just about everything in his Minnesota career.

He's already regarded as one of the greatest wide receivers in team history, setting the Gophers' career receptions record earlier this season (212). He twice has set the team's single-season receptions record and was a semifinalist for the Biletnikoff Award last year. Considered the greatest No. 7 in team history, Decker's picture hangs in the team's home locker room, not far from where the senior dresses before games. He also starred for Minnesota's baseball team and was selected in each of the past two Major League Baseball drafts, most recently by his hometown Twins in June.

At times, Decker carries the Minnesota offense.

But he has never carried Paul Bunyan's Axe.
 
 AP Photo/Morry Gash
 The Badgers are hoping to return to Madison Saturday with Paul Bunyan's Axe.


"It would be amazing," he said. "That's one thing I told myself. Before I leave, I want to be able to carry that axe around. I've grown up in Minnesota. I understand what it means to have the axe. I've been around the game to see how exciting it is when we do finally get it.

"It's special."

Decker gets his final chance to hoist the axe Saturday as Wisconsin visits TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). The Badgers have kept the enormous rivalry trophy since 2004, and last year they rallied to beat the Gophers in Madison as Decker watched from the sideline with an ankle injury.

Decker considers Wisconsin the Gophers' top rival, and the feeling is mutual from the Badgers, who try to preserve their perfect record in Minneapolis.

"I’ve seen what it means to the people of Wisconsin," Badgers junior quarterback Scott Tolzien said. "It's a pride thing. We want to be able to have that axe for the next year."

(Read full post)


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The Wisconsin-Minnesota game will always be known as the Battle for Paul Bunyan's Axe, but this year's contest could carry a different title: The Kim Royston Classic.

Royston, the starting free safety for Minnesota, spent his first two seasons at Wisconsin before transferring last fall, largely because of a lack of playing time.
 
 Jerry Lai/US Presswire
 Kim Royston knows he has to keep his emotions in check when Minnesota hosts Wisconsin.


The process wasn't easy, as Big Ten rules prevented Royston from accepting a scholarship to Minnesota. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema also initially didn't grant Royston's release, preventing him from talking to Minnesota's coaches until after he had been admitted to school.

When Royston takes the field Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium (ESPN, noon ET), Bielema and his former Badgers teammates will be waiting on the opposite sideline. Royston will receive instructions from Gophers co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Ron Lee, who actually recruited Royston to Wisconsin when he served on Barry Alvarez's staff from 2003-05. It should be a surreal experience for Royston, but he expects to maintain his focus.

"Once I come out the tunnel I’ll probably feel totally different, but like I’ve said, I’m going to try to hold back my emotions, because you can’t play with your emotions," Royston told reporters Tuesday. "Just go out there level-headed."

Royston maintains contact with several of his former Badgers teammates, and they've talked about the game in recent months. Communication lines will be down this week, but there's not much else that needs to be said.

"Between me and him it's friendly," Badgers safety Jay Valai told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But between him and this university obviously it is a little different. Kim is going to want blood. You all better be ready. He is dead serious. He wants a little revenge.

"I would be, too, if I were him. It's going to be judgment day for him."

Royston has filled a valuable role for the Gophers, who lost starting safety Tramaine Brock this summer because of academic issues. He ranks fifth on the team in tackles (17) with an interception and two passes defended.

"The day is coming up soon," he said. "It’s just going to be a crazy atmosphere and a crazy experience with me, because I came into school with a lot of the guys that I’m going to be playing against and I grew fond relationships. But once we get on the field, it’s football time.

"You just have to stay focused on the task at hand and not look in the past."

Big Ten power rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2009
9/21/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Ohio State answered the bell and finally dominated a team, while the Big Ten's upper crust has separated itself. The top five look pretty solid, while the bottom six are a muddled mess.

1. Penn State (3-0) -- The exhibition season is over for Penn State, which looked better on offense and just as stingy against Temple. The Lions finally established a decent running game, and not a moment too soon with Iowa visiting Happy Valley this week. Linebacker Sean Lee has been fabulous in his return to the field, and Penn State's defense is setting the tone. But things are about to get much tougher.

2. Ohio State (2-1) -- I probably punished the Buckeyes a little too much last week, but I needed to see them deliver a convincing performance against an inferior opponent. Terrelle Pryor and the much-maligned offense clicked against Toledo, and the defensive line was merciless against Aaron Opelt and the Rockets. The Buckeyes defense has things rolling right now as Juice Williams returns to Columbus this week.

3. Michigan (3-0) -- This has more to do with Ohio State's overdue performance than anything Michigan did against Eastern Michigan. Wolverines freshman quarterback Tate Forcier looked his age at times Saturday, but Carlos Brown and the rushing attack picked him up nicely. A young Michigan defense still has some things to shore up against the run as it opens Big Ten play against Indiana.

4. Iowa (3-0) -- No Big Ten team has looked more impressive the last two weeks than the Hawkeyes, though national respect is still hard to come by. The good news? Iowa can gain a ton of cred by upsetting No. 5 Penn State on Saturday night in the Whiteout at Beaver Stadium. The defense must maintain its edge and quarterback Ricky Stanzi needs to limit his first-half mistakes in Happy Valley.

5. Wisconsin (3-0) -- The Badgers took care of business against FCS Wofford and continued to get steady play from junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. The schedule really favors Wisconsin this year, with four consecutive home games to begin the season, and Bret Bielema's team has capitalized. Michigan State will be a desperate team Saturday, but Wisconsin gets the Spartans and Camp Randall Stadium.

6. Minnesota (2-1) -- After a rough start, Minnesota rallied against Cal and made the nation's eighth-ranked team work for a victory at TCF Bank Stadium. Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee have the defense playing extremely hard, especially in the front seven. Eric Decker is a stud, but the offense remains far too one-dimensional. The Gophers will struggle in the Big Ten if they can't run the ball.

7. Indiana (3-0) -- Surprised to see the Hoosiers here? Well, they deserve it after their second 3-0 start in the last three seasons. Akron clearly missed suspended quarterback Chris Jacquemain, but Indiana took advantage of the situation and intercepted backup Matt Rodgers four times. The competition gets much harder this week at Michigan, but kudos to Bill Lynch and Indiana for the hot start.

T-8. Northwestern (2-1) -- The Wildcats resume looks pretty weak right now, with a blowout win against Towson and a close call against Eastern Michigan followed by a loss at Syracuse. A banged-up defense let Greg Paulus and Mike Williams pile up yards and points Saturday, leading some to believe that last year's improvement was a fluke. Quarterback Mike Kafka's play was very encouraging, but if the defense reverts to pre-2008 form, Northwestern will struggle in the Big Ten.

T-8. Michigan State (1-2) -- Credit the Spartans for playing extremely hard in South Bend, but they still came out with a tough loss. Listening to quarterback Kirk Cousins, who handled a difficult situation well, you'd think these Spartans won't go the way of their predecessors. A trip to Madison this week has to be classified as a must win before arch-rival Michigan visits East Lansing on Oct. 3.

10. Illinois (1-1) -- The Illini didn't play on Saturday, but they lost a huge piece of their defense last week as middle linebacker Martez Wilson (neck) will miss the rest of the season. Wilson will be missed, and linebackers Ian Thomas and Russell Ellington must pick up the slack. The biggest boost must come from Juice Williams, Arrelious Benn and the offense. Illinois season could be decided in the next three games (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State).

11. Purdue (1-2) -- A home loss to Northern Illinois carries a price, even though the Huskies are an improved team. NIU loaded up against the run and held Ralph Bolden in check, and Purdue couldn't get its downfield passing game going. It's hard to know what to make of Purdue, which should have beaten Oregon on the road but really struggled against NIU. The Boilers can strike back this Saturday night against Notre Dame (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).

Big Ten power rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2009
9/14/09
9:00
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Michigan has made things a lot more interesting in the Big Ten, while the league's midsection remains as muddled as ever.

Just as a reminder, these rankings are fluid. Wins are rewarded. Losses carry a price.

1. Penn State (2-0) -- It's safe to say the Nittany Lions are the league's best team right now, but the mood isn't totally comfortable in Happy Valley. Penn State wants to see more from its run game and offensive line to take some pressure off of senior quarterback Daryll Clark.

2. Michigan (2-0) -- Too high a placement for Rich Rodriguez's crew? Name another Big Ten team that has looked impressive in back-to-back weeks. Michigan still has some concerns (youth, depth), but it looks completely different on offense and continues to get big performances from young players like quarterback Tate Forcier.

3. Ohio State (1-1) -- The Buckeyes would have been No. 1 had they held off USC, but another close loss raises questions about Jim Tressel, Terrelle Pryor and the offense. Cameron Heyward and the defense played masterfully, but does Tressel-ball still work in this era of college football, or does Ohio State need to evolve?

4. Iowa (2-0) -- Iowa State isn't very good, but a 32-point road win in a rivalry game speaks for itself. Tyler Sash led an opportunistic Iowa defense with three interceptions, and the Hawkeyes established a run game with freshmen Brandon Wegher and Adam Robinson. After some tough luck on the health front, Iowa is back on track heading into a big stretch against Arizona and Penn State.

5. Minnesota (2-0) -- The Gophers have a road win against an improved Syracuse team and a hard-fought home victory against always-tough Air Force. Their lack of explosiveness on offense is still a concern, but the defense has taken a step forward under Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee. A huge opportunity arrives Saturday as Cal visits TCF Bank Stadium.

T-6 Northwestern (2-0) -- The Wildcats drop two spots after letting their guard down in the second half against Eastern Michigan and nearly falling to the Eagles. Star defensive end Corey Wootton hasn't shown up so far, and Northwestern's overall defensive line play has been uninspiring. Things get tougher next week against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

T-6 Wisconsin (2-0) -- It's hard to know what to make of the Badgers at this point, but they're finding a way to win despite some flaws. Scott Tolzien clearly was the right choice at quarterback, and running back John Clay came up big against Fresno State. The defense is a major concern, especially on third downs, but Wisconsin has done a nice job of surviving against decent teams.

8. Michigan State (1-1) -- Mark Dantonio often brings up Michigan State's struggles under high expectations, and Saturday's loss to Central Michigan certainly looked a lot like other Spartans' collapses. A lack of discipline showed up often, especially on special teams, but perhaps more damaging were the struggles of a deep and experienced secondary. Next week's game at Notre Dame will be huge.

9. Illinois (1-1) -- The Illini took care of business against Illinois State, pulling away to an easy win despite losing quarterback Juice Williams (bruised quadriceps) early. It wasn't a spotless performance, but running back Jason Ford made a difference in his return. Illinois can climb the rankings in the coming weeks with games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State -- or it can tumble to the bottom.

10. Purdue (1-1) -- Danny Hope's team would have made a big jump had it won at Oregon, but giveaways and other mistakes doomed the Boilers in Eugene. This team is better than many of us expected, and Ralph Bolden looks like a star at running back, but it can't win games with so many miscues. Purdue must bounce back against Northern Illinois before Notre Dame visits Ross-Ade Stadium.

11. Indiana (2-0) -- Improved defense has paid off early on for the Hoosiers, and the team sparked its rushing attack against Western Michigan behind Demetrius McCray. I'm not totally sold on IU, but there are certainly some encouraging signs for Bill Lynch's crew. This week's trip to Akron is huge before opening Big Ten play with Michigan and Ohio State.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Let the games begin. Here are 10 things to watch as Big Ten football kicks off in 2009.


1. Michigan's response --
Head coach Rich Rodriguez and the program have been in the cross-hairs all week, but Michigan can ease some of the pressure by beating Western Michigan and showing tangible improvement. Team chemistry is a question mark after current players spoke publicly about possible NCAA rule violations involving time limits, but the Wolverines need a united effort Saturday. Michigan simply isn't good enough to win if the team is splintered.


2. Juice vs. Weatherspoon --
Missouri star linebacker Sean Weatherspoon targeted Illinois quarterback Juice Williams in some Twitter trash talk last month. Williams gets a chance to answer in the Edward Jones Dome, where he set a total offense record (461 yards) last year against Mizzou. This is a pivotal game for Williams and the Illini, who have the more experienced team and need to get over the hump against the Tigers.


3. Defending Paulus --
Minnesota co-defensive coordinators Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee face an unusual scouting challenge against Syracuse, as they prepare their players for a quarterback who spent the last four years shooting baskets on Tobacco Road. Greg Paulus plays a meaningful football game for the first time in four years, and it's up to cornerback Traye Simmons and the Gophers to make sure he doesn't find a rhythm.


4. New Hope at Purdue --
The Danny Hope era begins as Purdue opens the season against Toledo. Outside expectations are low for the Boilermakers, but Hope has brought plenty of energy and a faster pace to just about everything in the program. The Big Ten's mystery team will use plenty of freshmen and other newcomers right away, while heady quarterback Joey Elliott finally gets a chance to be the starter.


5. Paterno back where he belongs --
You can probably switch off the Penn State-Akron game shortly after the opening kickoff, but it's worth tuning in to see Joe Paterno run on the field for his 44th season as Nittany Lions head coach. Paterno hasn't coached from the sidelines since Sept. 27, but he'll be back as Penn State begins its Big Ten title defense at Beaver Stadium.


6. Captain Kirk at the controls --
Michigan State's quarterback competition isn't over, but sophomore Kirk Cousins gets the first shot in the opener against Montana State. Named just the second sophomore captain in team history last week, Cousins has the intangibles and the polished passing skills to be a star in this league. But he needs a strong debut Saturday since Keith Nichol isn't far behind.


7. A surprise backfield in Madison --
Few would have pegged quarterback Scott Tolzien and running back Zach Brown to be Wisconsin's opening-day starters when preseason camp began, but both players earned the top jobs over more heralded competitors. Tolzien must continue his steady play at a position where Wisconsin simply can't afford mistakes, and Brown looks to build on an excellent preseason as he'll likely share carries with John Clay.


8. Terrelle, Take 2 --
Ohio State should have little trouble with Navy, but it needs to see tangible signs of progress from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The gifted sophomore spent the offseason improving his footwork and passing mechanics to become a more complete quarterback. This is Pryor's team now, and he needs a strong opening statement before facing USC in Week 2.


9. Locked and loaded in Bloomington --
Indiana's pistol formation makes its debut Thursday night against Eastern Kentucky, as the Hoosiers try to jumpstart a downhill rushing attack. Without Kellen Lewis on the field, the Hoosiers need a reliable run game and will look to an improved offensive line and a deep group of running backs led by Demetrius McCray and Darius Willis.


10. New backs on the block --
Iowa and Northwestern are among several Big Ten teams starting unproven running backs. The Hawkeyes likely won't find another Shonn Greene this fall, but they need decent production from former walk-on Paki O'Meara and redshirt freshman Adam Robinson to ease concerns after Jewel Hampton's season-ending injury. Northwestern will start junior Stephen Simmons at running back, but true freshman Arby Fields generated plenty of buzz in camp and should get plenty of work against Towson.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm not quite ready to put a stopper in the Big Ten coaching carousel for 2008-09, though the ride is pretty much over. Barring some unforeseen changes in the coming weeks, Minnesota's hiring of Richard Hightower as wide receivers coach will complete the staff shuffling for this year.

Here's a review of the coaching changes around the league this year. It's interesting to note that none of the league's top four teams in 2008 -- Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Iowa -- lost an assistant. If it ain't broke ... 

ILLINOIS

  • Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement. 
  • Defensive line: Tom Sims was fired and replaced by hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore. 
  • Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Ron Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement. 

Notes: Outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will now work with the quarterbacks.

INDIANA

No changes

IOWA

No changes

MICHIGAN

  • Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and was replaced by former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson. 

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes

MINNESOTA

  • Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned and was replaced by Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch.
  • Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned to take the same post at Auburn and was replaced by former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove. Defensive backs coach Ron Lee was promoted to co-defensive coordinator. 
  • Offensive line: Phil Meyer resigned and was replaced by Alabama assistant Tim Davis. 
  • Wide receivers: George McDonald left for a quality control position with the Cleveland Browns and was replaced by Hightower.

Notes: Davis will oversee Minnesota's run game. Lee will continue to coach the Gophers' secondary. 

NORTHWESTERN

  • Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left to become running backs coach with the New Orleans Saints. Superbacks coach Adam Cushing was moved to offensive line. 
  • Superbacks: Cushing became offensive line coach and Lafayette offensive coordinator Bob Heffner was hired as his replacement. 

OHIO STATE

No changes

PENN STATE

No changes

PURDUE

  • Head coach: Danny Hope took over for the retiring Joe Tiller.
  • Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
  • Defensive coordinator: Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach and was replaced by Eastern Kentucky defensive coordinator Donn Landholm.
  • Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
  • Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired former Eastern Kentucky assistant Shawn Clark as his replacement.
  • Special teams: Mark Hagen moved from special teams to linebackers, and graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney was promoted to this position.

Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.

WISCONSIN

No changes

Notes: Brad Pendergrass was named director of football operations. Pendergrass most recently served as assistant director for football operations at Mississippi State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The seemingly interminable wait for college football gets a little easier about a month from now, when Michigan steps on the practice field for spring ball. The other 10 Big Ten squads will follow soon after as spring practice gets in full swing.

There are no shortage of spring story lines around the league, from Danny Hope's first workouts as Purdue head coach to six new coordinators to teams like Ohio State and Penn State trying to replace sizable senior classes. Six teams will feature some degree of competition at the quarterback spot, and position battles abound throughout the league.

Here's some can't-miss information about spring ball and a team-by-team look at what to watch:

Illinois Fighting Illini

Spring practice starts: March 31

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The defense needs leaders to emerge after a subpar year and with the graduation of first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Brit Miller. Martez Wilson is an obvious candidate to claim a greater role, but the immensely talented linebacker comes off surgery in December after being stabbed outside a bar. The defensive line loses three starters and top cover man Vontae Davis left early for the NFL draft, creating opportunities for young players to step up.
  • For the second consecutive spring, the running back position will be in the spotlight. Illinois never truly got settled at running back last year, as Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford split carries. Both players had their moments, as Dufrene averaged 5.7 yards a carry and Ford scored eight touchdowns, but it would be nice to see one man emerge as a featured back alongside quarterback Juice Williams.
  • New offensive coordinator Mike Schultz steps in, and former outside receivers coach Kurt Beathard will work directly with Williams, who was extremely close with former coordinator Mike Locksley. It's vital for Williams and his teammates to jell with Schultz and the offensive nuances he'll bring to spring practice. Illinois remains one of the league's most talented offenses, but the players must get on the same page this spring.

Indiana Hoosiers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

Watch to watch:

  • Healthy bodies, at least a few more than at the end of last season. Indiana's roster was wiped out by injuries during Big Ten play, and the Hoosiers should get a better gauge of their strengths and weaknesses this spring. Quarterback Kellen Lewis struggled with injuries for much of the season, and it will be interesting to see if he regains the form he showed in 2007, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. Lewis might need to reclaim the starting job after splitting time with Ben Chappell last fall. Safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk will miss spring ball with injuries, giving other players a chance to shine.
  • The Hoosiers' defense must take a step forward this spring, especially with so much experience and talent returning in the front seven. Defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton each have had breakout seasons, and Matt Mayberry at times looks like one of the league's best linebackers. With weak-side linebacker Will Patterson and others back in the fold, there's no reason Indiana can't be serviceable on defense in 2009.
  • Lewis can't continue to be Indiana's primary rushing option, and with Marcus Thigpen gone, a capable back or two must emerge. The competition this spring will feature players like Bryan Payton and Darius Willis, a heralded recruit who redshirted last year. Demetrius McCray will be limited in spring practice.

Iowa Hawkeyes

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: TBA

What to watch:

  • Everyone knows Shonn Greene is gone, but the more damaging departures likely will come at defensive tackle, where Iowa loses four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The spotlight will be on the interior defensive line as players like Karl Klug try to fill the void. Arguably no position competition matters more than the one at defensive tackle, especially since Iowa appears strong everywhere else on defense.
  • Ricky Stanzi established himself as the starting quarterback, but Iowa would like the rising junior to take another step and become more consistent. Interceptions were a problem at times for Stanzi last fall, but he should benefit from a full spring as the starter and being able to work with the first-team wide receivers.
  • Rising sophomore Jewel Hampton is the likely choice to succeed Greene after rushing for 478 yards and five touchdowns as his backup last year. But head coach Kirk Ferentz likely wants to see what he has with the other backs, namely Jeff Brinson, who redshirted in 2008. There should be some healthy competition for carries throughout the spring and into preseason camp.

Michigan Wolverines

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:

  • Quarterbacks, quarterbacks, quarterbacks. Any improvement on this team must start with the quarterback spot, and the competition during spring ball will be crucial. Steven Threet's decision to transfer shifts the spotlight to true freshman Tate Forcier, who enrolled in January and will practice this spring. Nick Sheridan remains in the mix after starting four games last season, but Forcier seems better suited to run Rich Rodriguez's offense. A strong spring could make him the frontrunner when fellow freshman Denard Robinson arrives this summer.
  • New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson starts working with a unit that finished 10th in the league in points allowed (28.9 ypg) last fall. Robinson seems less concerned about scheme changes and more focused on instilling a new attitude with the group. There could be an adjustment period on both sides, as players get to know a new coach and Robinson works as an assistant after overseeing an entire program the last four seasons at Syracuse.
  • Robinson undoubtedly will devote much of his attention to the defensive line, which loses three starters, including both tackles. The spotlight will be on young players like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and even early enrollee William Campbell as Michigan looks for answers up front. The Wolverines also need increased leadership from All-Big Ten end Brandon Graham, their only returning starter on the line.

Michigan State Spartans

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Spartans feature arguably the Big Ten's most intriguing quarterback competition. Third-year sophomore Kirk Cousins performed well behind Brian Hoyer in 2008 and seems to have the intangibles to lead the offense. Keith Nichol is a dual-threat quarterback who has a year in the system after transferring from Oklahoma. A decision on a starter might not be made until preseason camp, but the two players will start competing this spring.
  • Running back also is a mystery after the departure of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer. Michigan State didn't develop a second option behind Ringer, so players like Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett will get a chance to prove themselves before true freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper arrive this summer.
  • Michigan State doesn't lose much on the defensive side, but co-captains Otis Wiley and Justin Kershaw both depart, leaving a void in leadership. The coaches will lean more on linebackers Greg Jones and Adam Decker this spring, and the secondary needs a new front man to replace Wiley, who led the team in interceptions (4) and ranked third in tackles (78). Danny Fortener came on strong last year, but the Spartans will look for another safety to emerge.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The offense begins a new chapter under new coordinator Jedd Fisch and new line coach/run game coordinator Tim Davis. Minnesota wants to return to its roots as a running team and employ a pro-style offense. It will be interesting to see how players adjust in practice, and how Fisch and the influential Davis work together.
  • New arrival Kevin Cosgrove and Ron Lee take over a defense that made major strides under Ted Roof but showed some cracks down the stretch. Cosgrove will be working with experienced players at linebacker and in the secondary, and their ability to grasp his scheme will be huge this spring.
  • Starting quarterback Adam Weber will be held out of contact drills following shoulder surgery, giving the coaches a chance to evaluate heralded recruit MarQueis Gray. The multitalented Gray left the team last year because of questions about his ACT score. He has returned and will get a chance to learn Fisch's offense and establish himself as the team's No. 2 option.

Northwestern Wildcats

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • It has been at least four years -- and likely more -- since the running back position has been so wide open. Stephen Simmons will get a chance to establish himself as the top back this spring after filling in behind Tyrell Sutton late last season. Scott Concannon and Jacob Schmidt also will be in the mix before several freshmen arrive in the summer.
  • Mike Kafka enters the spring as the starting quarterback after helping Northwestern to a season-turning win last year at Minnesota. But Kafka must develop as a passer to complement his excellent running ability. With a mostly unproven group of wide receivers, Kafka needs to establish a rhythm and become consistent on the short throws that make the spread offense move.
  • Two starters are gone and star end Corey Wootton is nursing a surgically repaired knee, putting pressure on Northwestern to identify another playmaker on the defensive line. The defensive tackle spot will be in the spotlight as Northwestern looks for an elite run stopper to replace John Gill.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • Ohio State needs a featured running back, and Dan Herron has a chance to be the guy. A strong spring from Herron would be beneficial before heralded recruits Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde arrive. The Buckeyes could go with a committee system this fall, but Herron showed promise at times last year and could claim the job.
  • The offensive line was one of the team's bigger disappointments last year, and the group must come together this spring. Michigan transfer Justin Boren should step into a starting role right away, and sophomore tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts could join classmate Mike Brewster on the first team. This group has a ton of young talent, but it must be molded.
  • Keep an eye on the linebacker and cornerback positions all the way until Sept. 5. Ohio State loses national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, as well as All-Big Ten selection Marcus Freeman. Three and possibly four starting spots are open, so the competition should heat up.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Spring practice starts: Week of March 30

Spring game: April 25

What to watch:

  • The Big Ten's best offensive line loses three all-conference starters, including Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley. Line coaches Dick Anderson and Bill Kenney have plenty of work to do this spring as they try to build around holdovers Stefen Wisniewski and Dennis Landolt. With a formidable run game in place, replenishing the line will be
    Penn State's top priority.
  • Penn State's young wide receivers are gearing up for a wide-open competition as the team loses multiyear starters Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood. Can Brett Brackett and Graham Zug emerge as reliable possession-type guys? Can Chaz Powell be Penn State's deep threat? Those answers could come this spring.
  • Lions fans are confident that defensive line coach Larry Johnson will develop another first-rate pass rusher. The process begins in spring ball as Penn State must replace starters at both end spots as well as reserve Maurice Evans, a former All-Big Ten selection.

Purdue Boilermakers

Spring practice starts: March 25

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • The Danny Hope era begins this spring, and it will be interesting to see what imprints the new head coach puts on the program. He's a Joe Tiller disciple but brings in two new coordinators and wants to make immediate upgrades to the team's speed and athleticism. Purdue loses starters at the skill positions on offense as well as its most productive defender (linebacker Anthony Heygood), so there's plenty of work ahead.
  • Quarterback could feature an interesting competition between Joey Elliott and Justin Siller. Elliott seems like the favorite to take over after backing up Curtis Painter the last three seasons. But the multi-talented Siller could fit the new mold Hope is trying to create with the Boilers' personnel. Siller had a big day against Michigan last year and brings the mobility Purdue could use at the quarterback spot.
  • With the secondary more or less intact, new defensive coordinator Donn Landholm will focus on the front seven. Landholm needs to build around defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, a potential All-Big Ten performer this fall. Heygood will be missed, but Joe Holland is a solid contributor and if Jason Werner can finally get healthy, the linebacking corps should be strong.

Wisconsin Badgers

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:

  • Big surprise, another quarterback competition. After never truly finding stability at the quarterback spot in 2008, Wisconsin once again looks for a leader for the offense. Part-time starter Dustin Sherer will have to ward off Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr, who enrolled early. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst didn't settle on a starter last spring, but he would like some separation to occur.
  • Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge will have a busy spring as he tries to replace three starters up front. Players like Jeff Stehle, Patrick Butrym and Brendan Kelly, who emerged last fall before an injury, will get a long look this spring.
  • P.J. Hill's early departure to the NFL draft puts John Clay in the spotlight as the Badgers' featured running back. Can the immensely talented Clay take the next step in his development to master the offense and his assignments? He also must work with a new-look offensive line that must replace three starters.
Tags:

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you haven't done it already, check out our signing day primer. As part of the story, I was asked to identify several Big Ten recruiting superlatives, including the league's best recruiter.

Former Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley owned the title before he left to become New Mexico's head coach, and several Big Ten assistants could lay claim to the designation. Most of Michigan's staff is new to the league, so it's hard to judge their recruiting clout just yet. I settled on Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who has landed several top prospects from the Maryland/Washington, D.C., area and elsewhere.

Here's my list of top recruiters for each Big Ten team. Many of you follow recruiting as closely or more closely than I do, so please e-mail me your suggestions and votes and I'll post the responses later in the week.

ILLINOIS

Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell -- Illinois might have lost its pipeline to D.C. with Locksley's departure, but Mitchell continues to get the top players from the Chicago area. The team's recruiting coordinator has brought linebacker Martez Wilson and others to Champaign, and was instrumental in landing 2009 top prospects Terry Hawthorne and Kraig Appleton. The departure of O-line coach Eric Wolford hurts Illinois' recruiting, but co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch does well in Florida.

INDIANA

Wide receivers coach Billy Lynch -- The head coach's son is responsible for nearly half of Indiana's 2009 recruiting class. He recruits locally extremely well and last year brought running back Darius Willis to Bloomington.

IOWA

Offensive line coach Reese Morgan -- Iowa has a tradition of recruiting and developing elite offensive linemen, and Morgan is a big reason why. He recruits the state extremely well and brought in players like Jordan Bernstine and Tyler Sash to go along with seven commitments for 2009. Assistant linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator Eric Johnson successfully recruits the surrounding states and has brought players like quarterback Marvin McNutt and Christian Ballard to Iowa City.

MICHIGAN

Quarterbacks coach Rod Smith and wide receivers coach Tony Dews -- As I stated earlier, it's a bit premature to make final determinations on Michigan's staff. Running backs coach Fred Jackson is a holdover and has recruited the Detroit area well in past years. But both Smith and Dews have distinguished themselves on the recruiting trail, luring top 2009 prospects like Tate Forcier, William Campbell and Craig Roh to Ann Arbor.

MICHIGAN STATE

Running backs coach Dan Enos -- The former Spartans quarterback has played an instrumental role in upgrading the program's recruiting, which will play dividends Wednesday with a potentially program-changing class. Enos recruits the Detroit area extremely well and has brought in players like wideout Fred Smith and quarterback Kirk Cousins, as well as 2009 prospects like Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Dion Sims.

MINNESOTA

Defensive line coach Tim Cross -- The team's associate head coach and lead recruiter played a key role in signing Minnesota's nationally ranked 2008 class, landing players like Troy Stoudermire and Keanon Cooper. Head coach Tim Brewster does much of the heavy lifting in recruiting, but Cross and co-defensive coordinator Ron Lee chip in as well.

NORTHWESTERN

Superbacks coach Adam Cushing -- He coaches a group rarely used in Northwestern's offense, but Cushing's contributions as a recruiter have been invaluable. Cushing serves as the team's recruiting coordinator and landed players like defensive end Vince Browne, safety David Arnold, linebacker Brett Nagel and top 2009 prospect Patrick Ward.

OHIO STATE

Co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell -- Several recruiters stand out on Jim Tressel's staff, but Fickell repeatedly lures top prospects from the Cleveland area and far-flung regions like Georgia and Florida. Quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels landed Terrelle Pryor last year, and wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell is a proven recruiter. Cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson is a rising star on the recruiting trail.

PENN STATE

Defensive line coach Larry Johnson -- Johnson gets the nod after bringing in players like Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans, Navorro Bowman and Jared Odrick. No assistant played a bigger role in Penn State's 2009 nationally ranked class than Johnson, who recruited Derrick Thomas and Darrell Givens, among others. No wonder Ron Zook wanted Johnson to join his staff at Illinois.

PURDUE

Defensive line coach Terrell Williams -- This is another mostly new staff to the Big Ten, and coach Danny Hope does much of the recruiting himself, but Williams has proven to be a major asset so far. Williams helped to land half of Purdue's incoming recruiting class, including top running back Al-Terek McBurse. He recruits Florida extremely well, which falls right in line with Hope's approach.

WISCONSIN

Offensive line coach Bob Bostad -- Health issues forced top recruiter Henry Mason away from the program in 2007, and his absence is missed. Head coach Bret Bielema has a strong reputation as a recruiter, and Bostad is doing a solid job early in his tenure. Bostad's fingerprints were all over Wisconsin's 2008 class, as he landed offensive lineman Peter Konz and others. Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge and defensive coordinator Dave Doeren are also solid recruiters.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Purdue's hiring of defensive coordinator Donn Landholm on Monday likely marks the end to the major coaching moves in the Big Ten this year. 

There have been no head-coaching changes -- Danny Hope was named Purdue's head coach-in-waiting last year -- and unless Iowa's Kirk Ferentz bolts for the Kansas City Chiefs, which isn't likely, all 11 teams will have continuity on top. But there were several key changes among coordinators and key position coaches. 

Here's a summary. 

ILLINOIS

Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement. 

Defensive line: Ron Zook fired Tom Sims and hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore. 

Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement. 

Notes: Arguably Illinois' biggest coaching move was one that didn't happen. Zook offered Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson the chance to be Illinois' defensive coordinator, but the ace recruiter opted to stay at State College. 

INDIANA

No changes.

Notes: Despite a 3-9 season that saw regression on both sides of the ball, head coach Bill Lynch said he didn't expect to make any staff changes for 2009

IOWA

No changes.

Notes: Ferentz is being mentioned as a candidate for the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy because of his ties to new general manager Scott Pioli, but it appears likely he will remain at Iowa for an 11th season. He will hold a signing day news conference scheduled for Feb. 4 and has talked with athletic director Gary Barta about a contract extension.

MICHIGAN

Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and later took the same job at Syracuse. Michigan hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as Shafer's replacement.

Notes: Head coach Rich Rodriguez took his time with the search, and Robinson actually reached out to him about the defensive coordinator vacancy.

MICHIGAN STATE

No changes.

Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.

MINNESOTA

Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned Jan. 6 to pursue other professional opportunities. Minnesota hired former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch as Dunbar's replacement.

Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned Jan. 6 to take the same post at Auburn. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who will share coordinator duties with defensive backs coach Ron Lee.

Notes: Fisch will call the offensive plays, but he must collaborate with Tim Davis, the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Davis, who replaces Phil Meyer, was hired in late November to transform Minnesota's run game and return the team to its roots as a dominant rushing attack.

NORTHWESTERN

Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left for the New Orleans Saints. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me he's not concerned about naming a replacement until after signing day, but indications are Adam Cushing, the H-backs coach and recruiting coordinator, will be promoted to line coach. 

Notes: Athletic director Jim Phillips wants to work out a contract extension for Fitzgerald and likely will announce one in the coming weeks or months.

OHIO STATE

No changes.

Notes: Some expected offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman to get the axe, and while it still could happen, head coach Jim Tressel is the primary playcaller and responsible for the unit's success. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was mentioned as a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Bowling Green.

PENN STATE

No changes.

Notes: Penn State retained Larry Johnson despite Illinois offering more money and a coordinator position. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also remains despite some rumors that he was a candidate for the top job at Syracuse.

PURDUE

Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord. 

Defensive coordinator: Longtime Boilers defensive coordinator Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach. Hope hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Landholm as Spack's replacement. 

Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement. 

Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Shawn Clark to replace him. 

Special teams: Hope moved Mark Hagen from special teams to linebackers and promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to this post. 

Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009, and a replacement hasn't been named. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008. 

WISCONSIN

No changes.

Notes: After firing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and seeing offensive line coach Bob Palcic leave for UCLA last year, head coach Bret Bielema is keeping his staff in place despite a very disappointing 2008 season.  

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Minnesota has hired Kevin Cosgrove as co-defensive coordinator and promoted defensive backs coach Ronnie Lee to co-coordinator.

Cosgrove and Lee take over the Gophers' defense after coordinator Ted Roof left Tuesday for the same post at Auburn.

Head coach Tim Brewster planned to move quickly with this hire, and Cosgrove emerged as the favorite. Cosgrove served as Nebraska's defensive coordinator from 2004-07 after overseeing Wisconsin's defense from 1995-2003.

Both Cosgrove and Lee have extensive experience in the Big Ten, with Lee making previous stops at both Michigan and Wisconsin. Lee and Cosgrove worked together in Madison for Cosgrove's final year there (2003).

"Coach Cosgrove brings a wealth of experience in the Big Ten as both a coach and recruiter," Brewster said in a statement. "Plus, he possesses a long track record of developing outstanding defenses. But, perhaps more importantly, Kevin is a great person and an outstanding fit on our staff. ... Ronnie Lee has done a tremendous job since joining our staff here at Minnesota.

"I'm very pleased to reward him with this promotion. Ronnie has proven himself to be an excellent coach and recruiter."

Recruiting certainly was a big factor in this move. Several incoming Gophers recruits seemed surprised by Roof's departure, and having Lee move into a bigger role creates continuity. Lee's secondary keyed a defense that led the Big Ten with 30 takeaways this fall.

Cosgrove's defenses got progressively worse at Nebraska, bottoming out with a unit that finished 112th nationally in 2007 (476.8 ypg allowed). His hiring likely will create mixed emotions among Gophers fans, but the guy can recruit and had a lot of success at Wisconsin and early on at Nebraska.

Roof did an excellent job helping the nation's worst defense in 2007 become respectable this fall. It's up to Cosgrove and Lee to take the unit one step further.

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