Big Ten: Ryan McDonald

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

RANTOUL, Ill. -- It might come as a surprise that Illinois head coach Ron Zook identifies the offensive line as the position group that could make the biggest jump from 2008 to 2009.

After all, the Illini lose multi-year starters at arguably the two most important line positions, center and left tackle. Second-team All-Big Ten performers Xavier Fulton and Ryan McDonald are gone, leaving two sizable gaps to fill.

Enter Jeff Allen.

Not many true freshmen start on the offensive line in the Big Ten, but Allen earned the top spot at right tackle last fall and started nine contests for Illinois. His responsibilities will increase this year as he moves to left tackle, where he'll protect quarterback Juice Williams' blind side.

"It's a big step," he said, "something I was looking forward to coming in."

Allen, who was named to several freshman All-America teams after the season, surprised himself with how quickly he transitioned to the college game and picked up the offensive scheme. In fact, his toughest task last year took place before he locked horns with an opposing defensive lineman in a game.

"When I first came in, in high school I really didn't do much conditioning as far as lifting weights or running," he said. "I was a little overweight."

Allen checked in at 335 pounds but quickly slimmed down as he entered Illinois' strength and conditioning program.

"They didn't rush it on me," he said. "They just told me to continue to work, and the weight started to drop. Then they started to set goals. 'You're at 320 now. We want you to try to get to 315 and play at that weight and see how it feels.'"

Allen got down to 310 pounds and has maintained his weight throughout the offseason.

"I know I can move better," he said. "That's one of the biggest things by me losing weight, to show my athleticism."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan senior punter Zoltan Mesko has been named to the 2009 Playboy Magazine preseason All-America team, the school announced Tuesday. Mesko earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last season after leading the league and finishing 19th nationally in punting average (42.95 yards per punt). 

Mesko has started 38 games for Michigan and should become the school's all-time leader in both punts and punting yards this fall.

He joins Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton, who was named to the Playboy All-America team last week. 

The entire All-America team will be published in the September issue of the magazine. Four Big Ten players -- Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins, and Illinois' Vontae Davis and Ryan McDonald -- made last year's team.  

Big Ten Friday mailbag

May, 29, 2009
5/29/09
3:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I will be in a Big Ten state this weekend, and it's not Illinois. Can you name it? If so, I have no prizes to offer, just my salute to you.

T.J. from State College, Pa., writes: El Duderino, I?m glad you ranked the toughest places to play in the Big Ten; I enjoyed reading your explanations. I have always thought of Beaver Stadium followed by Camp Randal as the toughest places to play with Ohio Stadium in a distant third. The atmosphere at the PSU-OSU game this past fall was pathetic for a night game. Anyway, I would like to propose a quantitative way of ranking the toughest places to play. If you take each team?s last ten losses (not played on a neutral site) and count how many occurred at home, you have a pretty good indicator of the strength of a particular venue. Here is how it came out when I added them up: 1.Penn State-(2) 2.Wisconsin, Iowa-(3) 3.Ohio State, Michigan State, Illinois, Purdue-(4) 4.Indiana-(5) 5.Michigan, Northwestern, Minnesota-(6)

Adam Rittenberg: First off, I think the nature of the Ohio State-Penn State game -- only 19 points scored -- probably took the edge off the Ohio Stadium crowd. It's still a very tough environment for road teams. Moving on, I like your formula. It's interesting how Ohio State has struggled a bit at home in recent years, but been flat-out dominant on the road in league games. Keep in mind that Penn State and Wisconsin also didn't face Texas at home, though Penn State deserved more credit than it received for beating up on Oregon State last fall.


Jordan from Jackson, Mich., writes: Adam, I know this is a little late, but I was thinking of rivalry games on unique fields and I was wondering what you would think of these scenerios. First Notre Dame and Michigan playing at Wrigley Field. One of the most popular places and sports along with the two winningest teams in college football history. And in a few years have the Michigan Ohio State rivalry played at a home n home at Ford Field and one at Clevland Browns Stadium, just for a nice change of pace. Go Blue!

Adam Rittenberg: Love the Wrigley Field idea, Jordan, and I'm sure a lot of fans would love to see this, too. The problem is the athletic directors from those schools would never give up those home games to play at a neutral site. The Wrigley Field game between Notre Dame and Michigan would be a true throwback, but a major issue is the size of the field. Northwestern wants to play a game there in the next few years, but there are some concerns that the field footprint isn't large enough. I really couldn't see Ohio State or Michigan giving up a home game to play at a smaller NFL stadium (with less character).

(Read full post)

Illinois spring wrap

May, 6, 2009
5/06/09
9:50
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Illinois Fighting Illini
2008 overall record: 5-7

2008 conference record: 3-5

Returning starters

Offense: 8; Defense: 6; Special teams: 2

Top returners

QB Juice Williams, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui, WR Chris Duvalt, WR Jeff Cumberland, LB Martez Wilson, DT Cory Liuget, K Matt Eller

Key losses

LT Xavier Fulton, C Ryan McDonald, LB Brit Miller, DE Will Davis, DE Derek Walker, CB Vontae Davis, LB Rodney Pittman

2008 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juice Williams* (719 yds)
Passing: Juice Williams* (3,173 yds)
Receiving:
Arrelious Benn* (1,055 yds)
Tackles:
Brit Miller (132)
Sacks:
Brit Miller and Derek Walker (6)
I
nterceptions: Vontae Davis (2)

2009 Schedule
Sept. 5 Missouri (at St. Louis)
Sept. 12 Illinois State
Sept. 19 BYE
Sept. 26 at Ohio State
Oct. 3 Penn State
Oct. 10 Michigan State
Oct. 17 at Indiana
Oct. 24 at Purdue
Oct. 31 Michigan
Nov. 7 at Minnesota
Nov. 14 Northwestern
Nov. 21 BYE
Nov. 27 at Cincinnati
Dec. 5 Fresno State

Spring answers

1. Running men -- Illinois can feel optimistic about its ground game after the development of sophomore running backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure this spring. Both players markedly improved their physical conditioning and combined for 93 rush yards on 17 carries in the spring game. They should take the running load off of Juice Williams this season.

2. Man in the middle -- Martez Wilson moved to middle linebacker and could be on the brink of reaching the lofty expectations set for him when he arrived from Chicago's Simeon High School. Wilson adjusted well to the defense's premier position after an up-and-down sophomore season. He also has fully recovered after being stabbed outside a bar in December.

3. Receiver rotation -- The Illini could have the Big Ten's best receiving corps next fall -- by far. Everyone knows about first-team All-Big Ten performer Arrelious Benn, but Illinois boasts depth with Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt and others. The team also adds a big piece in Florida transfer Jarred Fayson, who was practicing with the first-team offense this spring before sustaining a foot injury.

Fall questions

1. Line limbo -- Illinois loses three starters from the defensive line and needs to identify a capable pass-rusher after losing its top four sacks leaders from 2008. The tackle spot should be solid with Corey Liuget, Josh Brent and Sirod Williams, who returns from a torn ACL, but there is some doubt at defensive end. Jerry Brown dominated in the spring game, but he must clear some academic hurdles before the fall.

2. Run stoppers -- The Illini really struggled against the run last season and lose top tackler Brit Miller, an All-Big Ten linebacker. They need more help from the back seven, particularly Wilson and safety Donsay Hardeman, who sat out spring drills because of a neck injury.

3. Cornerback -- NFL first-round draft pick Vontae Davis leaves a hole at cornerback, and Illinois will be looking for a top cover man in preseason camp. Tavon Wilson could very well step into Davis' spot, and the sophomore had a nice spring. Davis was not only a playmaker against the ball but a capable tackler, finishing second on the team with 78 stops last year.

Big Ten players at the NFL combine

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The official list of players invited to the 2009 NFL scouting combine later in Indianapolis has been finalized. The Big Ten will be sending 46 players to Indianapolis from Feb. 18-24.

Not surprisingly, Penn State and Ohio State led the way with eight participants each, followed by Wisconsin (7), Illinois (5) and Iowa (5). Minnesota is the lone Big Ten team not sending a player to Indy.

Here's the team-by-team rundown.

ILLINOIS (5)

  • Cornerback Vontae Davis^
  • Defensive end Will Davis
  • Tackle Xavier Fulton
  • Defensive end Derek Walker

INDIANA (1)

IOWA (5)

  • Center Rob Bruggeman
  • Cornerback Bradley Fletcher
  • Running back Shonn Greene^
  • Defensive tackle Mitch King
  • Guard Seth Olsen
MICHIGAN (4)
  • Long snapper Sean Griffin
  • Defensive end Tim Jamison
  • Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor
  • Cornerback Morgan Trent

MICHIGAN STATE (3)

  • Quarterback Brian Hoyer
  • Running back Javon Ringer
  • Safety Otis Wiley

NORTHWESTERN (1)

  • Running back Tyrell Sutton

OHIO STATE (8)

  • Tackle Alex Boone
  • Linebacker Marcus Freeman
  • Wide receiver Brian Hartline^
  • Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
  • Linebacker James Laurinaitis
  • Wide receiver Brian Robiskie
  • Cornerback Donald Washington
  • Running back Chris Wells^

PENN STATE (8)

  • Wide receiver Deon Butler
  • Tackle Gerald Cadogan
  • Defensive end Maurice Evans^
  • Defensive end Aaron Maybin^
  • Wide receiver Jordan Norwood
  • Cornerback Lydell Sargeant
  • Center A.Q. Shipley
  • Wide receiver Derrick Williams

PURDUE (4)

WISCONSIN (7)

  • Tight end Travis Beckum
  • Linebacker Jonathan Casillas
  • Running back P.J. Hill^
  • Guard Andy Kemp
  • Linebacker DeAndre Levy
  • Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy
  • Guard Kraig Urbik

^--Underclassman

Who got snubbed from the combine? Here are a few names surprisingly left off the list: Illinois center Ryan McDonald, Iowa defensive tackle Matt Kroul, Minnesota punter Justin Kucek, Northwestern defensive tackle John Gill, Penn State guard Rich Ohrnberger, Purdue linebacker Anthony Heygood and Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Talent certainly wasn't the problem last season in Champaign, and Illinois once again will return several game-changing skill players in 2009. Though Ron Zook must be mindful of impending departures at both quarterback and wide receiver, he can steer his recruiting elsewhere.

Illinois must improve at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. A defensive line that Zook labeled the team's strength before the season underperformed, and Illinois still loses three key contributors in ends Will Davis and Derek Walker and tackle David Lindquist. Sirod Williams returns from a knee injury and Cory Liuget looks like the real deal, but Illinois could use some depth along the defensive line. With a new line coach joining the mix, the front should be the team's top priority.

Jeff Allen emerged as a stud at right offensive tackle, but Illinois also needs to beef up on the offensive line. There's a question mark at center following the graduation of Ryan McDonald, and left tackle Xavier Fulton also departs.

Despite a disappointing 2008 season, Martez Wilson remains Illinois' future at the linebacker position. All-Big Ten standout Brit Miller, Rodney Pittman and Sam Carson all graduate, so adding a linebacker or two wouldn't be a bad idea.

Zook also must prepare for Juice Williams' graduation and will add another quarterback to the mix in Nathan Scheelhaase, who could play a critical role if Eddie McGee doesn't pan out in 2010. The Illini look fine at running back, wide receiver and defensive back, though cornerback Vontae Davis' early departure to the NFL and the likely departure of Arrelious Benn following the 2009 season creates some holes.

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

I'll pick up my year-end rankings with the offensive line before heading over to the defensive side and wrapping up with the specialists. Much like the preseason rankings, these will be split into two parts: team and individual.

Let's begin with the team rankings, which mean more at this position than any other on the field.

1. Penn State -- Far and away the best group in the league, with no real weak spot along the front. Rimington Trophy winner A.Q. Shipley led the way at center, and left tackle Gerald Cadogan and guard Rich Ohrnberger also earned first-team All-Big Ten selections. Penn State led the league in most offensive categories and will have a hard time replacing Shipley, Cadogan and Ohrnberger in 2009.

2. Iowa -- Much like the running back position, the question marks about this group faded as the season progressed. Center Rob Bruggeman and guards Seth Olsen and Julian Vandervelde formed arguably the Big Ten's top interior trio. Tackle Bryan Bulaga is a budding star, and Iowa should enter 2009 with the Big Ten's top offensive front.

3. Wisconsin -- The Badgers were a major disappointment this fall, but the offensive line still proved to be a valuable group as Wisconsin led the league in rushing (212 yards per game). Speed trumps size in today's college football, but the Badgers' mammoth front created holes for P.J. Hill and John Clay. Losing All-Big Ten guards Kraig Urbik and Andy Kemp will sting, but Wisconsin has bigger problems, like finding a quarterback.

4. Illinois -- There are several reasons why Illinois missed a bowl game, but the offensive line isn't one of them. The Illini finished second in the league in offense and tied for third in scoring, and center Ryan McDonald and tackle Xavier Fulton both earned All-Big Ten honors. Losing McDonald and Fulton will sting, but freshman tackle Jeff Allen is a budding star.

5. Ohio State -- The group underperformed for most of the season before coming on strong late. Injuries and a quarterback change didn't help matters, but Ohio State expected better things from a veteran-laden group left by left tackle Alex Boone. The Buckeyes ran the ball well at times but weren't consistent enough.

6. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer had a tremendous year, in part due to the offensive line, but Michigan State actually ranked ninth in the league in rushing and seventh in total offense. Not good. A mix of veterans and younger players jelled nicely, but this wasn't the most talented group in the league and could be better in 2009.

7. Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offense generated yards but not enough points, and the rushing game was nearly nonexistent despite the presence of a pretty decent back (Kory Sheets). Injuries hurt the group, which should be better in 2009.

8. Northwestern -- The league's youngest line certainly had its growing pains, and new coordinator Mick McCall likely adjusted his scheme to limit backfield damage. Northwestern allowed only 17 sacks and received strong play from center Ben Burkett and others, but the Wildcats struggled to run the ball consistently and broke down toward the end of the Alamo Bowl.

9. Michigan -- Like the rest of the offense, the line had its problems this fall. Four new starters and a fluid situation at quarterback didn't help, but Michigan never generated the push needed to execute Rich Rodriguez's scheme. The front five will be more experienced in 2009 and should improve with the right pieces around it.

10. Indiana -- The injury bug that ravaged the roster didn't spare the line, which lost several key pieces. Indiana ran the ball well at times with Marcus Thigpen and Kellen Lewis but allowed a Big Ten-worst 28 sacks. Defense hurt Indiana more than anything else, but the offensive line needs to be upgraded for next fall.

11. Minnesota -- Minnesota's problems up front were exposed in the final six games, all losses. Youth and an inability to create running lanes hurt the Gophers, who finished last in the league in rushing. New offensive line coach Tim Davis should get this group turned around for next season, when the power run will be a greater part of the offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman and Illinois center Ryan McDonald are two of the three finalists for the Bobby Bowden Award, presented by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The award recognizes an FBS player who "epitomizes the student-athlete who conducts himself as a faith model in the community, in the classroom and on the field."

Nominees must carry a grade-point average of 3.0 or better and have the support of their school's head coach and athletic director. Freeman carries a 3.35 GPA and is working on his graduate degree in education at Ohio State, while McDonald has a 3.81 GPA and is pursuing a graduate degree in aerospace engineering. Both players earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media this season.

Texas A&M quarterback Stephen McGee is the third finalist. The winner will be announced at the FCA breakfast on Jan. 6 in Miami.

Former Northwestern running back Jason Wright was the first recipient of the Bowden Award in 2003 and has been the only winner from the Big Ten.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten was well represented on the 2008 ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America first team, as seven players made the list, two more than any other conference. 

League champ Penn State led the way with four first-team Academic All-Americans: safety Mark Rubin, left tackle Gerald Cadogan, offensive lineman Andrew Pitz and linebacker Josh Hull. Other honorees include Ohio State wide receiver Brian Robiskie, Illinois center Ryan McDonald and Northwestern long snapper Phil Brunner. 

Cadogan, Robiskie and McDonald all made first-team Academica All-America for the second consecutive season.

Penn State had the most Academic All-Americans of any Division I team. BYU, Dayton and North Dakota State were the only other schools with multiple selections. 

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.

Tags:

Big Ten Conference, Corey Wootton, Terrelle Pryor, Bradley Fletcher, Kory Sheets, Stefan Demos, Tim Jamison, Mike Newkirk, Kyle Theret, Kevin Kelly, Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois Fighting Illini, Wisconsin Badgers, Nader Abdallah, Michigan Wolverines, Terrance Taylor, Bryan Bulaga, Navorro Bowman, Michigan State Spartans, Justin Kucek, Garrett Graham, A.J. Trapasso, Eric Vanden Heuvel, Stefen Wisniewski, DeAndre Levy, Iowa Hawkeyes, Arrelious Benn, Jack Simmons, Ryan Donahue, Aaron Bates, Josh Gaines, Jeremy Boone, Eric Decker, A.J. Edds, Shonn Greene, Brandon Myers, Traye Simmons, Chris Wells, Matt Mayberry, Aaron Maybin, Charlie Gantt, Tyrell Sutton, Northwestern Wildcats, Deon Butler, Ricky Stanzi, Jammie Kirlew, Pat Angerer, Indiana Hoosiers, P.J. Hill, Brandon Graham, Juice Williams, Amado Villarreal, Xavier Fulton, Rich Ohrnberger, Daryll Clark, Gerald Cadogan, James Laurinaitis, Roland Martin, Sherrick McManis, Jared Odrick, Rob Bruggeman, Big Ten Conference, Evan Royster, Jordan Norwood, Seth Olsen, Travis Beckum, Brit Miller, Chris Hagerup, Tramaine Brock, Brad Phillips, Kraig Urbik, Brad Nortman, Andy Kemp, Marcus Freeman, Chris L. Rucker, A.Q. Shipley, Derrick Williams, Vontae Davis, Purdue Boilermakers Ryan Kerrigan, Malcolm Jenkins, Zoltan Mesko, Otis Wiley, Adam Weber, Jay Valai, Kurt Coleman, Derek Walker, Brent Greenwood, Greg Orton, Amari Spievey, Penn State Nittany Lions, Philip Welch, Mitch King, David Gilreath, Brett Swenson, Greg Jones, Matt Kroul, Ryan McDonald, Alex Boone, Allen Langford, John Gill, Minnesota Golden Gophers Willie VanDeSteeg, Trevor Anderson, Javon Ringer

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The National Football Foundation announced its 2008 National Scholar-Athlete winners today, and two Big Ten players made the class of 15.

Ohio State senior wide receiver Brian Robiskie and Illinois senior center Ryan McDonald were selected for their success on the field, in the classroom and in the community. Both Robiskie and McDonald also have been named as finalists for the Draddy Trophy, known as the "Academic Heisman" and going to the nation's top scholar athlete. The winner receives a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship.

Robiskie holds a 3.54 GPA in marketing at Ohio State and has made the Dean's List five times at the school. McDonald carries a 3.81 GPA in aerospace engineering at Illinois and made the Dean's List or better in every semester of his college career.

Here's the complete class of scholar-athlete winners and Draddy Trophy finalists.

  • Andrew Berry, CB, Harvard University
  • Ryan Berry, QB, South Dakota State University
  • Chase Daniel, QB, University of Missouri
  • Brian Freeman, OT, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Casey Gerald, CB, Yale University
  • Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech University
  • Quin Harris, LB, Louisiana Tech University
  • Jeff Horinek, LB, Colorado State University
  • Ryan Kees, DE, St. Cloud State University (Minn.)
  • Alex Mack, C, University of California (Berkeley)
  • Ryan McDonald, OL, University of Illinois
  • Greg Micheli, QB, Mount Union College (Ohio)
  • Darryl Richard, DT, Georgia Tech
  • Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State University
  • Louie Sakoda, P/K, University of Utah

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's media day begins later Thursday morning, and I'll be there to check in with Heisman candidate Curtis Painter, coach-in-waiting Danny Hope and the rest of the Boilers.

First, I give you the links on the other 10 teams. 

  • My appearance at Camp Rantoul made Bob Asmussen's daily practice recap in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Thanks, Bob. Much more newsworthy items include a note on Illinois center Ryan McDonald and the fact several projected starters will appear on special teams this fall. Zook's best recruits at Illinois have come from the Washington, D.C., area, but he's also going back to his Ohio roots for talent. No big secret here, but the 2008 season hinges heavily on quarterback Juice Williams.  
  • Forget about Iowa's history of bouncing back from bad seasons on and off the field. Want a reason to be optimistic about the Hawkeyes? Wide receiver Andy Brodell is back in the fold, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Brodell is a difference-maker. Forbes magazine calls Iowa's Kirk Ferentz the worst value in college football, given his salary. I still think Iowa had to finalize Ferentz's contract at the time.
"The most overpaid coach is Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who made $3.4 million last year despite lackluster results on the field, for a score of 71. Just how lopsided is Ferentz's deal? During the last three years he's pocketed $10 million, including a record $4.7 million in 2006, but has led the Hawkeyes to just a 19-18 record."
  • Mitchell Evans came to Indiana with an open-minded attitude about where he'd play. The Hoosiers are putting that approach to the test by moving Evans to wide receiver, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. A couple of more previews on Indiana, which wants to get back to a bowl game and win it this time.
  • Rich Rodriguez might not be beloved on the practice field, but he also keeps his door open for his new players, the AP's Larry Lage writes. Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't the only big-time coach looking to rebuild the walk-on program at his school. RichRod wants all the help he can get, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. 
  • Michigan State running back A.J. Jimmerson is no stranger to competition at his position, Chris Solari writes in the Lansing State Journal. A nationally televised opener at Cal gives the Spartans a chance to make an early statement, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
  • Running back is a big concern at Minnesota, but a healthy Jay Thomas should help matters, Myron Medcalf writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Two years ago, Jeff Tow-Arnett and Adam Weber worked on the quarterback-center exchange as young scout teamers at Minnesota. Now they're in the spotlight as starters, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times' Jim O'Donnell checks in from Camp Kenosha, where Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees his defense improving and his new-look offensive line coming together. The Wildcats' bowl hopes hinge heavily on senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, Jay Taft writes in the Rockford Register Star.
  • Despite two national title misses, Ohio State's coaches aren't concerning themselves with the past, Rob Oller writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Probably a good thing. Defensive tackle could be a weak spot for the Buckeyes, but defensive coordinator Jim Heacock likes what he has, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Buckeyes center Jim Cordle could fool defenders at the line by snapping the ball with both hands, Ken Gordon writes in the Columbus Dispatch.
  • Tyrell Sales is filling some big shoes as Penn State's linebacker leader, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The starters look set in Penn State's secondary, but watch out for reserve safety Drew Astorino, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane has a rundown of the improvements at Beaver Stadium this fall.
  • Wisconsin cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry have walked parallel paths following ACL surgery. Both men are back in the mix for starting jobs, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Defensive end O'Brien Schofield, a projected starter opposite Matt Shaughnessy, will miss 1-2 weeks of practice after suffering an ankle injury. End Kirk DeCremer remained out of both Wednesday practices, while quarterback Allan Evridge could return today, Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.

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.

Big Ten players at media days

July, 10, 2008
7/10/08
3:31
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I meant to post this a few days ago, so my apologies. Here's the list of players each school is bringing to the Big Ten media days July 24-25 in Chicago.

Illinois
Ryan McDonald*, Sr., OL
Brit Miller, Sr., LB
Juice Williams*, Jr., QB

Indiana
Greg Brown, Sr., DT
Austin Starr*, Sr., K
Marcus Thigpen, Sr., RB

Iowa
Mitch King*, Sr., DT
Matt Kroul*, Sr., DT
Seth Olsen*, Sr., OL

Michigan
Tim Jamison*, Sr., DE
Mike Massey, Sr., TE
Morgan Trent*, Sr., CB

Michigan State
Brian Hoyer*, Sr., QB
Justin Kershaw, Sr., DT
Javon Ringer*, Sr., RB

Minnesota
Steve Davis, Sr., LB
Eric Decker, Jr., WR
Adam Weber, So., QB

Northwestern
C.J. Bachér*, Sr., QB
Eric Peterman, Sr., WR
Tyrell Sutton*, Sr., RB

Ohio State
Todd Boeckman*, Sr., QB
Malcolm Jenkins*, Sr., CB
James Laurinaitis*, Sr., LB

Penn State
Josh Gaines*, Sr., DE
A.Q. Shipley*, Sr., C
Derrick Williams, Sr., WR

Purdue
Anthony Heygood*, Sr., LB
Greg Orton, Sr., WR
Curtis Painter*, Sr., QB

Wisconsin
Travis Beckum*, Sr., TE
Jason Chapman, Sr., DT
Andy Kemp, Sr., G

* Indicates 2007 All-Big Ten selection

Most of the list is predictable and Ohio State can't bring the entire team, but there were a few surprises. I know schools like to feature their veteran players, but it would have been nice to have seen reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Arrelious Benn in Chicago.

Other notable omissions include:
Indiana DE Greg Middleton, nation's sacks leader in 2007
Wisconsin RB P.J. Hill

Other guys I'd love to talk with:
Indiana QB Kellen Lewis
Iowa QB Jake Christensen
Michigan QB Steven Threet
Penn State QB Daryll Clark (sense a theme here?)
Ohio State LB Marcus Freeman
Ohio State T Alex Boone
Illinois CB Vontae Davis
Penn State WR Derrick Williams




SPONSORED HEADLINES