Big Ten: Ryan Russell
Only once – last season – has it reached 250 rushing and 200 passing.
Through six games this fall, the Huskers sit at 285 rushing and 205 passing. Granted, three of the Big Ten’s top four rushing defenses – Michigan State, Iowa and Michigan – await Nebraska in November, and the other top unit against the run, Ohio State, might well be there for the Huskers in Indianapolis on Dec. 7 if things go as planned in Lincoln.
Regardless, credit the Nebraska offensive line, whose members talked in August of ranking as a vintage Huskers group. That’s a mouthful at a school that won six Outland Trophies and 13 NCAA rushing titles in the 1980s and 1990s alone.
Now they meet their biggest challenge, the test the Nebraska linemen hoped they would never face: the loss of Spencer Long. How they respond will define the way they are remembered.
“From here on out, we’re playing for Spencer,” said junior Mike Moudy, Long’s likely replacement at right guard next Saturday when Nebraska visits Minnesota. “We’ve got the drive to compete for him. Without him, we wouldn’t be where we’re at. But everyone’s just taking that in stride and saying we’re going to give our all to Spence.”
Long meant so much to his teammates. He was a throwback to the great linemen of Huskers past – a walk-on from Elkhorn, Neb., who toiled on the scout team, earned his scholarship, then all-conference honors and a recognition as a captain in his fifth-year senior season.
He started 33 games. He remains a top student, majoring in pre-med. He’ll probably be a doctor, even if the NFL delays his continued studies.
He went down on the fifth play from scrimmage last week in the Huskers’ 44-7 win at Purdue. Long was hustling around the backside of a rush by Imani Cross and fell over the legs of defensive end Ryan Russell. Long’s left knee buckled.
Coach Bo Pelini was among the first to reach him on the ground. Long underwent surgery Thursday to repair a torn MCL. Don’t bet against his return in time to work for NFL scouts ahead of the May 8-10 NFL draft.
“What happened to Spencer sucks,” senior left tackle Jeremiah Sirles said. “There’s no way around it. His career got cut short here at Nebraska, but a lot of young guys have got great opportunities now.
“We’re going to honor Spencer with our effort. We’re going to honor Spencer with the way we play, because he was our captain. We followed him.”
Who will they follow now? Perhaps Sirles, a veteran of 34 starts, fellow seniors Andrew Rodriguez at right tackle and center Cole Pensick. With Moudy and junior Jake Cotton at left guard, the offensive line is still a seasoned group.
Coaches have talked this week of shifting Pensick, using untested Ryne Reeves or Givens Price or even pulling the redshirt from junior college transfer Chongo Kondolo.
It will work best if Moudy sticks. He fits the pedigree at 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, another top student who has worked in the program for four years. As recently as last season, Moudy spent time on the scout team. Pelini said he noticed a big jump in the spring.
“Probably just wanting to play, “Moudy said. “The desire to play. I kind of got tired of sitting on the scout team. I had to take another step mentally.”
Long, with Cotton and offensive line coach John Garrison, aided Moudy in his ascent.
He began to prove himself at Purdue. Moudy allowed one sack but otherwise played well.
The other linemen chided him for the mistake.
“He did a great job,” Sirles said, “but he’s going to held to the same standard Spencer was held to. People are like, ‘Oh, that’s not fair.' But we all hold ourselves to a high standard. It doesn’t matter who’s out there playing.”
Injuries such as this one are all too common over the past two seasons at Nebraska. Senior defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler went down last year during the Huskers’ regular-season finale against Iowa.
The defense did not respond well as Wisconsin and Georgia gouged Nebraska for 115 points in subsequent games.
I-back Rex Burkhead, a leader and motivational figure in the same vein as Long, missed six games of his senior year with a knee injury last season. In his place, the Huskers found a new star, Ameer Abdullah, and hardly missed a beat.
Which path will the offensive line take over the next six weeks? It figures to define their legacy.
Coach Bo Pelini said Tuesday on the Big Ten coaches’ teleconference that an evaluation after the Huskers’ 44-7 win on Saturday over Purdue showed less damage than originally feared, but Long, a first-team All-Big Ten pick by ESPN and second-team Associated Press All-American a year ago, will undergo surgery on Thursday.
Long was hurt on a running play during Nebraska’s opening drive against the Boilermakers when he fell over Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell as the Nebraska lineman tried to block on the backside of a rush by Imani Cross. A former walk-on from Omaha, Neb., Long has started 33 games since 2011.
He was the most experienced member of an offensive line that helped the 5-1 Huskers rush for 284.8 yards this season, eighth nationally and second to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Additionally, Nebraska has allowed three sacks in six games, tied for the fewest nationally with Fresno State, Northern Illinois and Toledo.
Junior Mike Moudy replaced Long against Purdue and will likely move into the starting lineup on Oct. 26 against Minnesota, opposite junior Jake Cotton at left guard. The Huskers are off this week.
Sophomores Givens Price and Ryne Reeves could also receive more playing time as a result of the injury. Newcomer Chongo Kondolo, a junior-college transfer who is on target to redshirt this season, could also factor, Pelini said.
“We’re looking at all our options,” Pelini said.
Taylor Martinez’s status has not changed. He’s still not returned to practice or cleared to return, according to Pelini.
Coach: Darrell Hazell (16-10 overall, two seasons; first season at Purdue)
2012 record: 6-7 (3-5 Big Ten)
Key losses: DT Kawann Short, CB Josh Johnson, QB Robert Marve, RB Akeem Shavers, WR Antavian Edison, C Rick Schmeig
Key returners: DT Bruce Gaston Jr., DE Ryan Russell, S Landon Feichter, CB Ricardo Allen, RB Akeem Hunt, C Robert Kugler, TE Gabe Holmes
Biggest games in 2013: The Boilermakers have a difficult nonconference schedule that includes trips to Cincinnati (Aug. 31) and visits from 2012 BCS bowl teams Notre Dame (Sept. 14) and Northern Illinois (Sept. 28). They open conference play at Wisconsin on Sept. 21 and also play Nebraska (Oct. 12), at Michigan State (Oct. 19) and Ohio State (Nov. 2) in their first four Big Ten games. They close the season on the road against rival Indiana.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The quarterback battle is obviously a big question looming over this team in preseason camp, and the Boilers might have to live with some mistakes there, especially if they start a true freshman. An even bigger question might be at linebacker. Though there is some experience at the position with Will Lucas, Sean Robinson and Joe Gilliam, Purdue has had subpar linebacker play the past couple of seasons, and that has held the defense back in some of its bigger games. Robinson did a nice job last season, but the fact that he converted from quarterback and earned a starting job tells you a lot about the depth at the position.
Forecast: Just about everybody loved the hire of Hazell, a former longtime Ohio State assistant who worked some magic at Kent State. Hazell has already won over players and fans with his upbeat yet no nonsense style, and he promises to bring far more discipline on and off the field than former coach Danny Hope, who was fired despite getting the team to a second straight bowl game last season.
But there's little doubt that Hazell faces a rebuilding job, even though the Boilers pushed both Notre Dame and Ohio State to the wire last season. There are question marks at quarterback and linebacker, and the team will need several young players to step forward at the skill positions. Hunt had a great offseason and could be a dynamic running back with a track star's speed, but he is small in stature and took only 42 carries last season. Can Purdue's offensive line mash people enough to play Hazell's preferred power-run style? The defense has some really strong building blocks in defensive tackle Gaston, defensive end Russell and cornerback Allen, but opposing Big Ten offenses have been able to exploit the Boilers' weaknesses the past two seasons.
The biggest hurdle for Purdue might be that schedule. The Boilers could be underdogs in six of their first seven games, and that might make getting back to a bowl difficult. Hazell doesn't want to settle for more 6-6 type seasons, anyway.
"One of the first things that I said to our team -- our very first team meeting on that Sunday night -- was Purdue was always a team that's perceived in the middle of the Big Ten," Hazell said at Big Ten media days. "And I told them it's going to take a lot of work, but we're going to climb ourselves out of the middle, and we're going to put this program in national prominence for a long point in time."
Hazell looks like the right coach to lift Purdue back up. It just might not happen this season.
(We do so in honor of the late, great sack master Deacon Jones, who was so good that he is credited with inventing the term "sack." I have a feeling some quarterbacks in heaven are looking over their shoulders right about now).
The Big Ten didn't have any players reach 10 sacks last year, but two did so in 2011, including national leader Whitney Mercilus of Illinois. Who's the most likely to bring the pain to opposing backfields and potentially crack double digits this fall? Let's examine the candidates in order of likelihood.
Deion Barnes, DE, Penn State: The Big Ten's reigning freshman of the year finished with six sacks in 2012, and while that leaves him pretty far away from 10, we think he'll only continue to get better. Losing Jordan Hill might mean he gets more attention, but Barnes still has plenty of room to grow.
Tyler Scott, DE, Northwestern: Perhaps Scott should have topped our list, as he did have nine sacks last year. He looked like one of the most improved players in the league last year and has the strength to cause opposing offensive tackles all kinds of problems.
Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' two super sophs deserve to be mentioned together right now. Both got a taste of playing time last year, with Washington having a bigger impact than Spence. Both wreaked havoc this spring against a veteran offensive line. Offensive tackle Jack Mewhort has predicted Spence will lead the Big Ten in sacks. But will he even lead his own team in that category?
Ra'Shede Hageman, DT, Minnesota: The Gophers' large human being had six sacks a year ago and has been tearing it up this offseason. It's not always easy for an interior lineman to rack up big sack totals, though. It could be that he creates traffic jams and opens up opportunities for teammates like Thieren Cockran and Michael Amaefula to reach the quarterback.
Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue: Russell had only four sacks last year and has yet to put up the big stats that his potential suggests he can. But that's just it: the potential is there. He could be ready to make the leap.
Denicos Allen, LB, Michigan State: Allen managed only three sacks last year, but the "Waterboy" put up 11 in 2011, so the ability is there. The Spartans were strangely poor at bringing down the quarterback in 2012 despite their defensive talent, but the speedy Allen could help change that in '13 if he rediscovers his heat-seeking form.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska: If you want to speculate on sacks, Gregory is a good stock to buy. He was ranked by some as the top junior college defender in the nation last year, and he racked up 21 tackles for loss and nine sacks at Arizona Western. The opportunity for immediate playing time is definitely there on the Huskers' D-line.
Others to watch: Frank Clark, DE, Michigan; Brendan Kelly, DE/OLB Wisconsin; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Jonathan Brown, LB, Illinois.
Here are five Leaders players with much to prove this fall:
1. Curtis Grant, LB, Ohio State: Grant was one of the top-rated recruits in the Class of 2011, as ESPN.com ranked him No. 3 in the country at his position and 46th overall, while Rivals had him as the No. 2 overall prospect. He's now a junior with only 10 career tackles, and he was beaten out last year by a converted fullback. But Grant looked good this spring and is once again slated to start at middle linebacker; he and others believe this is the year he finally starts to live up to his prodigious talent and hype. "He's learned to calm down, stop over thinking everything and just play the game," outside linebacker Ryan Shazier told ESPN.com this spring. Ohio State will need Grant to emerge as a solid contributor with only one returning starter in its defensive front seven.
2. Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Few Big Ten quarterbacks have as much experience under their belts as Scheelhaase, who has played in 36 games and has been the team's starter since his redshirt freshman year in 2010. But injuries, a poor supporting cast and a coaching change all took its toll on Scheelhaase last year, as he threw for just 1,361 yards and a career-low four touchdowns, with eight interceptions. Scheelhaase should be back at the controls this year in new offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's spread offense, which will depend heavily on good decision-making by the quarterback. If Scheelhaase can't bounce back from his 2012 performance, Reilly O'Toole and freshman Aaron Bailey will be nipping at his heels.
3. Ryan Groy, OL, Wisconsin: The Badgers' run of All-Americans and major award winners on the offensive line ended last year, though center Travis Frederick still parlayed a strong junior season into a new job with the Dallas Cowboys. Even with a coaching change, Wisconsin will look to continue its tradition of standout linemen, and Groy could be the next star. The senior filled in at left tackle last year when Ricky Wagner was hurt and could start the year protecting the blind side, although he also could play guard. Head coach Gary Andersen is concerned about the depth on the line and will need Groy to serve as an anchor for the group.
4. Ryan Russell, DE, Purdue: Russell has been talked about as a future star since he debuted as a starter two years ago when he was a redshirt freshman. Bothered by some injuries last year, he recorded four sacks last year on a defensive line that did not meet lofty expectations. With Kawann Short off to the NFL, the Boilermakers need Russell to step up and become the next member of their defensive end "Den" tradition. He's got the talent to be one of the top pass-rushers in the league, and if he can play at an elite level, Purdue could surprise some people this fall.
5. Bill Belton, RB, Penn State: When Silas Redd transferred to USC last summer, Belton seemed like the obvious successor at tailback. But after being slowed by an ankle injury early in the season, Belton all but disappeared from the Penn State offense, compiling just 263 rushing yards and receiving only one carry in the final three games as Zach Zwinak put a firm grip on the running back job. Belton remains one of the fastest and shiftiest players the Nittany Lions have, and he reportedly turned in a good spring. Whether he can beat out Zwinak or hold off freshman Akeel Lynch remains to be seen, but he's too talented to remain merely an afterthought. If he can become the player most thought he would develop into, that would give Bill O'Brien another important weapon on offense.
By indispensable, we don't necessarily mean best. We mean the players who would be hardest to replace between now and the start of the season if they got hurt or suspended or forced to listen to William Hung songs until their ears exploded. That could be because of their value to the team, or because of a lack of depth at their position.
We'll pick two players from each team, usually offense and defense, but not always. Purdue is our penultimate team in the series.
Bruce Gaston Jr., DT, Sr.
The Boilers already will be without a standout defensive tackle in Kawann Short, a second-round pick in April's NFL draft (first Big Ten player selected). They can ill afford to lose another space-eater in the interior defensive line. Gaston is a three-year starter who recorded two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 5.5 tackles for loss as a junior in 2012. Although Gaston hasn't put up All-Big Ten-type numbers, he has been consistently productive in his career and could take things to the next level as a senior leader. Gaston missed most of spring practice following thumb surgery but made an impact after returning for the final few workouts. "There’s weight classes in boxing for a reason," Boilers defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said, referring to Gaston. "When big guys move around, things happen. They create space and they alter the line of scrimmage." Hudson thinks Gaston, with a strong summer, could flourish at the 3-technique for Purdue this fall. He's critical to improving Purdue's run defense and overall consistency and would be missed if he goes down.
Akeem Hunt, RB, Jr.
There are several other possibilities here -- Ryan Russell, Dolapo Macarthy, Robert Kugler -- but it's hard to ignore what Hunt did this spring at a position where Purdue currently has very little depth. Hunt capitalized on the chance to establish himself as the Boilers' No. 1 back and more than just a speed guy. Although Purdue likely needs another back or two to emerge and could rely on incoming freshmen like Keyante Green, the coaches can enter camp knowing they have a good option with some experience and knowledge of John Shoop's offense. The passing game is a significant question mark as Purdue remains unsettled at quarterback and needs several receivers to step up. The Boilers can help their unproven signal-caller with a threat in the run game, and Hunt provides it. His contributions on special teams as arguably the Big Ten's fastest player also can't be overlooked.
They get a reminder every time they turn on the television every Sunday during the NFL season. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller built his program largely on recruiting the Lone Star State, and the centerpiece of Tiller's efforts plays quarterback for the New Orleans Saints.
"We knew from what Coach Tiller was able to do here at Purdue," Parker, Purdue's recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, recently told ESPN.com. "The players that came out of [Texas], the first one obviously being You Know Who in Mr. [Drew] Brees. Those guys did a good job in Texas."
Those numbers could increase under the new staff. Although head coach Darrell Hazell and several of his assistants have ties to the East Coast and, of course, to Ohio, Texas will be a priority for Purdue's recruiting in the coming years. Parker had two assistants each spend a week recruiting in Texas during the post-spring evaluation period.
Purdue's lone commitment so far for the 2014 -- wide receiver Trae Hart -- hails from Texas. The Boilers are pursuing other Texas prospects like quarterback David Blough, a Carrolton native recently selected for the Elite 11 finals. Blough learned he had made the finals when Brees tweeted about it.
"Texas is another state that has great football, great tradition, those kids grow up playing, they're well-coached" Parker said. "So we wanted to get back and put our feet in the ground and obviously get some kids from that area."
Purdue's previous coaching staff didn't hide its preference for Florida recruits, and there are 19 Floridians on the current roster and five in the incoming recruiting class. Although the team's recruiting map will spread out a little more under Hazell and his assistants, they aren't going to neglect the Sunshine State.
Three of Hazell's assistants -- offensive line coach Jim Bridge, defensive line coach Rubin Carter and secondary coach Jon Heacock -- all have recruited Florida for years and will continue to do so.
"We've got Florida still covered, there's no question about it," Parker said. "With the players we have currently, who are all pretty good players, we want to keep that tradition alive, and the only way you do that is continue to sign kids from that area."
But there's another position where Purdue has put together a similar track record of excellence: defensive end. The Boilers' D-end tradition isn't as well-known as its quarterback heritage, but consider the names who have come through the program in the past two decades: Roosevelt Colvin, Chike Okeafor, Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips, Ray Edwards, Rob Ninkovich, Cliff Avril, Anthony Spencer and Ryan Kerrigan, the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American.
All nine players went on to the NFL, and several like Kerrigan and Spencer are in starring roles. Purdue has called itself the Cradle of Quarterbacks for years. It now also uses the label Den of Defensive Ends.
Boilers junior defensive end Ryan Russell needs no education on the subject.
"It's a big tradition, and I'm hoping definitely to uphold it."
After losing defensive tackle Kawann Short, a second-round pick in last month's NFL draft, Purdue is looking for the next star to emerge along a line that underperformed in 2012. The Boilers finished 78th nationally in both rush yards allowed (182.3 YPG) and sacks recorded (1.69 per game).
Along with veteran defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Russell is viewed as a potential major contributor up front this fall. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound junior will enter his third season as a starter and his first under Purdue's new coaching staff. After recording 33 tackles and making 11 starts as a redshirt freshman in 2011, Russell had 37 tackles, including 8.5 for loss and four sacks, last season.
"He’s got a power-to-speed ratio that's good for him to be a factor," defensive coordinator Greg Hudson said. "He can play the run, but he's got that end build and speed where he can also affect the passer.
"He's got that prototype look and ability."
Russell might look the part, but like many of his teammates, he needs to get stronger. His speed and lower-body strength are in good shape, and he has fully recovered from knee and ankle injuries, but his upper body "isn’t really where I would like it to be."
After practicing alongside Kerrigan as a true freshman in 2010, Russell understands the gains he needs to make.
"Ryan Kerrigan was one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said, "so when that's the standard with the Big Ten, Purdue defensive linemen and defensive ends, we definitely and myself personally have a long way to go."
Kerrigan led the country in tackles for loss (26) in 2010, finished third in sacks (12.5) and tied for second in forced fumbles (5). Russell observed firsthand the relentless motor that drove the Boilers' star.
When one pass-rush move didn't work, Kerrigan would simply move to the next and the next until the whistle blew.
"Pass-rushing a lot of the time is a mentality, going 110 percent, outworking somebody all the time, every play," Russell said. "[Defensive line coach Rubin Carter] always says, 'If you're not going to make the play, they will.' So just always having that mentality that you’re going to get there is a big thing.
"Your get-off and your motor is the engine that runs the train."
Russell is taking well to the new staff, the faster practice pace and the new defensive scheme under Hudson. He has worked extensively with Carter, a former longtime NFL assistant, on using his hands more effectively to fend off offensive linemen.
Hudson, who last season had a front-row seat for one of the nation's best defensive lines as a Florida State defensive assistant, shapes his system around Russell and the other down linemen.
"We will do things to turn him loose," Hudson said. "We cater to the D-line. We're going to make sure they know what’s going on, there's no confusion and they're happy. And when the ball's snapped, we say, 'Take off, break off.'
"That's what we want them to do."
Russell continues to follow Kerrigan with the Washington Redskins, and he also studies the other Purdue greats he has met like Avril (Seattle Seahawks), Ninkovich (New England Patriots) and Spencer (Dallas Cowboys).
"You have a common ground," Russell said. "They started the same place you started, and what they're doing is the goal, so you’re trying to see what they're doing to get to the goal you all share."
2. The new coaches are blending in well. The Big Ten's two newcomers, Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell, took proactive steps to establish themselves with their new programs. Andersen put his imprint on practices with a steady stream of music and sprinkled in team-building activities, but he also showed respect for Wisconsin's track record of success and a large and decorated senior class. "He's really in tune with the pulse of the team," star linebacker Chris Borland said. The same can be said of Hazell, who got the Boilers' attention this winter with 6 a.m. workouts and kept the focus strong during crisp, efficient practices this spring. "Players who maybe thought they'd plateaued are learning and still developing," Purdue defensive end Ryan Russell said.
3. Ohio State and Nebraska have remarkably similar profiles. The Buckeyes and Huskers will be popular picks to meet in the Big Ten championship game, and the teams are somewhat mirror images coming out of the spring. They have dynamic offenses capable of piling up points and yards in bunches. They have dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez. They have multiple weapons at running back and some improving receivers. And they have major questions with the defensive front seven. Ohio State must replace all four starting defensive linemen from 2012, and Nebraska is on the lookout for linebackers. Filling gaps on defense will undoubtedly be the focus for both teams when preseason camp rolls around.
We're taking a page from our friends at the ACC blog and examining whether certain Big Ten teams will be contenders or pretenders in the 2013 season. The series does not include Ohio State, Michigan or Nebraska -- three teams that, in our view, have earned the "contender" label entering the fall. For each team, we'll make a case for why they're contenders and pretenders and provide our final verdict. We invite you to vote on whether a team is a contender or a pretender or send us your thoughts for mailbags here and here.
Next on our list: the Purdue Boilermakers.Akeem Hunt had a standout spring and no longer looks like just a track star. The Boilers have some nice options at the skill position with him and guys like Raheem Mostert, Gary Bush and Dolapo Macarthy at receiver. Kawann Short is gone, but Bruce Gaston and Ryan Russell are still strong anchors for the defensive line. If healthy, both can be among the best at their position in the Big Ten. And Purdue should be very good in the secondary, led by cornerback Ricardo Allen. A lot will have to go right, but maybe this is the year the Boilermakers actually fulfill that sleeper status.
Why they're pretenders: Purdue looked completely out of its league last year against Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, and it lost some of its top players in Short, cornerback Josh Johnson, quarterback Robert Marve and receiver Antavian Edison. The quarterback situation is unclear right now, as it appears to be a two-man race between Rob Henry and Danny Etling. Henry is experienced but has never shown a great throwing arm, while Etling is a true freshman. The Boilers once again look to have some major issues at linebacker, a position that Hazell will have to shore up through recruiting. There is also bound to be an adjustment period for a new coaching staff. The biggest obstacle to Purdue contending, though, might be the schedule: three tough nonconference games (at Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Northern Illinois) combine with a Big Ten slate that sees the Boilers open conference play at Wisconsin, vs. Nebraska, at Michigan State and vs. Ohio State. An 0-4 start in Big Ten play is a real possibility.
Verdict: We liked the Hazell hiring and think he will do good things in West Lafayette. But with the coaching transition, the potential of a freshman starter at quarterback and a challenging schedule, we just don't think that will happen this year. Getting back to a bowl should be the goal in 2013. Purdue is a pretender.
So we're going to out-mock the mockers by creating our own, totally fake Big Ten players' draft. Adam and I are doing our best impressions of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay -- we've both been running our hairdryers for hours now -- to come up with what a first-round of a Big Ten draft might look like.
Here's how this works: All current Big Ten players are eligible to be drafted (not signees, this isn't the NBA draft), and the teams will pick in reverse order of regular-season finish last year, just like the NFL. We're trying to think like the teams involved here and draft not just best player, but also best fit. For example, teams like Iowa and Wisconsin aren't going to draft a spread quarterback for their system. Teams would also want to take eligibility into account. Is a great senior worth more than a promising sophomore? Depends on how close your team is to winning.
Let's get to it ...
Pick No. 1: Illinois
Brian Bennett says the Illini select ... Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
I considered having Tim Beckman take a Penn State player, just for old time's sake. (He and his staff certainly did enough scouting in State College last summer). But Miller is the no-brainer. Illinois needs playmakers, and even if Miller is still evolving as a passer, he can make things happen on his own with his feet. Illinois might let him carry it 50 times per game.
Adam Rittenberg says the Illini select ... Miller
The Illini need a major boost for the nation's 119th-rated offense, and Miller, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, provides it with his many talents at quarterback. He's an easy choice for a sputtering unit.
Pick No. 2: Iowa
Adam Rittenberg says the Hawkeyes select ... Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Like Illinois, Iowa is trying to repair one of the nation's worst offenses and lacks a quarterback on its roster who has taken a snap in an FBS game. Gardner, who blossomed down the stretch for Michigan last season, fits into a pro-style offense and provides the big-play ability Iowa sorely needs. He also has two years of eligibility left.
Brian Bennett says the Hawkeyes select ... Penn State DE Deion Barnes
This is a tough one, because Iowa could really use a standout wide receiver, an experienced quarterback and some secondary help. But remember that Kirk Ferentz would be making this pick, and I believe Ferentz would stay true to himself and look to the trenches first. Iowa has lacked a dynamic pass-rusher for a couple of years now, and Barnes would provide that. Plus, he's only a sophomore, and the Hawkeyes have some rebuilding to do.
Pick No. 3: Indiana
Brian Bennett says the Hoosiers select ... Ohio State DE Adolphus Washington
Indiana is as set on offense as any Big Ten club, even though Kevin Wilson might be tempted to grab a quarterback or a receiver because he loves the passing game. What the Hoosiers desperately need are high-impact defensive players, especially on the defensive line. Washington is by no means proven, but he had a strong freshman year and looked dominant this spring. He can also play inside at tackle if needed. Wilson also would have three years of Washington to develop, along with the rest of his young team.
Adam Rittenberg says the Hoosiers select ... Penn State's Barnes
Indiana obviously needs defense, and while there are several good options out there, a difference-maker in the pass rush would really help. Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has three seasons of eligibility left, and would bolster a line with major question marks entering the fall.
Pick No. 4: Minnesota
Adam Rittenberg says the Gophers select ... Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
The Gophers are unsettled at linebacker after losing two starters from last season. Although they could go secondary with this pick, Shazier provides an immediate playmaking presence for the core of the defense. Plus, he has two years of eligibility left.
Brian Bennett says the Gophers select ... Penn State WR Allen Robinson
I could definitely see Jerry Kill picking a linebacker or a lineman as he continues to build his team's toughness. But the Gophers desperately need to improve their downfield passing game, and in Robinson they get the Big Ten's top receiver, who has two years of eligibility left. Philip Nelson just did a backflip in celebration.
Pick No. 5: Purdue
Brian Bennett says the Boilermakers select ... Ohio State's Shazier
Linebacker has been a bit of a black hole for Purdue of late, and Shazier could fix that problem quickly. Darrell Hazell would also get two years out of him.
Adam Rittenberg says the Boilermakers select ... Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo
Chi Chi Who? Hear me out. Purdue really needs help at linebacker, and one-year players like Chris Borland or Max Bullough only do so much, especially for a coaching staff looking to the future. Michigan's Jake Ryan is a possibility, but he tore his ACL this spring and might bolt to the NFL after the season. Ariguzo has two years left and recorded two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 10.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups for Northwestern last season. He's the young playmaker Purdue needs.
Pick No. 6: Michigan State
Adam Rittenberg says the Spartans select ... Penn State's Robinson
The Spartans need a featured running back, but should be able to pick up someone like Iowa's Mark Weisman in the later rounds. Wide receiver remains a pressing need after a season of dropped passes. Robinson, the Big Ten's wide receiver of the year in 2012, gives Michigan State an obvious No. 1 target. Plus, he's only a sophomore.
Brian Bennett says the Spartans select ... Michigan's Gardner
You heard that right. Michigan State needs a quarterback who can lead the team down the field, and Gardner has the kind of arm and scrambling ability that Mark Dantonio needs. Gardner could solidify the Spartans' offense for the next two years. Plus, Dantonio would be weakening his top rival in the process. That's what you call a win-win.
Pick No. 7: Michigan
Brian Bennett says the Wolverines select ... Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland
The sound you heard was Brady Hoke punching the wall of Michigan's war room once the Spartans drafted Gardner. That leaves Michigan in a real bind at quarterback, but there aren't great options for their system here. Instead, the defensive-minded Hoke will go for Borland, who will provide some insurance for the injured Jake Ryan. Borland is a senior, but with the Wolverines' young talent on the way, they need a veteran for 2013.
Adam Rittenberg says the Wolverines select Nebraska G Spencer Long
The Wolverines obviously need a quarterback after losing Gardner, but there aren't many great pro-style options in the Big Ten right now. By adding Long, Michigan could boast two All-Americans on its offensive line (if it keeps left tackle Taylor Lewan). While both players depart after this season, they'll provide excellent leadership for the Wolverines' talented group of younger linemen.
Pick No. 8: Wisconsin
Adam Rittenberg says the Badgers select ... Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
The Badgers need help in the secondary, but the top options available -- Ohio State CB Bradley Roby, Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard -- are one-year guys. Bell has two years left and plays a position where Wisconsin is undermanned. He'll be an excellent complement for Jared Abbrederis this year, and the No. 1 wideout in 2014. Bell grew up in Boulder, Colo., and will easily adjust to life in Madison.
Brian Bennett says the Badgers select ... Michigan OT Taylor Lewan
I mean, c'mon. This is Wisconsin we're talking about. Don't the Badgers go for the best offensive lineman, even if he's only got one year left? The Badgers are good enough that one player could put them over the top.
Pick No. 9: Penn State
Brian Bennett says the Nittany Lions select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence
Bill O'Brien takes the long view here, knowing he needs a young player to help him build through the sanctions era. Spence is just a sophomore, and he fills the void left when Barnes was drafted earlier. Spence hasn't done much yet, but looked like a future star this spring. Oh yeah, and he's a Pennsylvania native and former Penn State commit.
Adam Rittenberg says the Nittany Lions select ... Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Penn State could go quarterback here after losing Steven Bench, but the long-term forecast under center looks pretty good. The immediate needs are linebacker and defensive leadership. Bullough provides both. He's a first-team All-Big Ten selection, one of the nation's smartest players and an excellent leader. He'll complement Mike Hull and Glenn Carson very well.
Pick No. 10: Northwestern
Adam Rittenberg says the Wildcats select ... Michigan's Lewan
Offensive line is the one area at Northwestern where graduation took its toll. Although the Wildcats might have a bigger need at guard than at tackle, they can't pass up arguably the nation's best offensive linemen in Lewan. He'll anchor the line, allow Jack Konopka to stay at right tackle and allow other players to slide inside to guard. Although Lewan is a one-year guy, Northwestern can draft to win now.
Brian Bennett says the Wildcats select ... Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Let's face it: the secondary hasn't exactly been the Wildcats' strong suit over the years. Pat Fitzgerald can draft Roby here and feel confident that he'll shut down one side of the field. You think the Roy Roundtree miracle catch happens with Roby wearing purple? He's headed to the NFL draft after this season, but Roby could be the missing piece for a team that's ready to contend.
Pick No. 11: Nebraska
Brian Bennett says the Cornhuskers select ... Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman
It's no coincidence that Nebraska's defense hasn't been the same since Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick left town. The Huskers need help the most at defensive tackle, and the very athletic Hageman can provide that. He'll only play one year in Lincoln, but with Nebraska set up to win now with its offense, that's OK with Bo Pelini.
Adam Rittenberg says the Cornhuskers select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence
This is certainly a projection pick, but Spence looks like a superstar and Nebraska desperately needs one on its defensive line. The Huskers could go with a more experienced option like Hageman, but Spence is just a true sophomore and should be an impact pass-rusher for at least two more years.
Pick No. 12: Ohio State
Adam Rittenberg says the Buckeyes select ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
The Buckeyes need a quarterback after losing Miller, but should be able to get a guy like Kain Colter in the later rounds. Ohio State's most pressing need -- the defensive front seven -- remains the same, especially after losing both Shazier and Spence. Borland, an Ohio native, gives the Buckeyes a proven, productive veteran at linebacker who can help in many different ways. Although he's a senior, Ohio State is in win-now mode as it eyes a national title.
Brian Bennett says the Buckeyes select .. Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Ohio State has been decimated more than any other team by this draft. Urban Meyer would have to strongly consider Taylor Martinez here, but he can either get another quarterback later, or roll with Kenny Guiton for a year. Defense is crying out for help after losing Washington, Spence, Shazier and Roby. So the Buckeyes go with the best defensive player on the board and a guy who will bolster the front seven.
And our quick second-round picks:
Adam's second round
Iowa: Indiana WR Cody Latimer
Purdue: Penn State OL John Urschel
Michigan State: Weisman
Michigan: Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort
Penn State: Northwestern DE Tyler Scott
Northwestern: Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell
Nebraska: Iowa LB James Morris
Ohio State: Michigan State DE Marcus Rush
Brian's second round
Illinois: Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Minnesota: Purdue DE Ryan Russell
Purdue: Penn State DT DaQuan Jones
Michigan State: Penn State TE Kyle Carter
Penn State: Michigan CB Blake Countess
Ohio State: Martinez
Check out coverage of the game here and here and here.
Star of the game: Running back Akeem Hunt. The junior cemented himself as Purdue's top running back during the first 14 spring practices and finished spring ball with a flourish, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Linebacker Will Lucas (forced fumble, tackle for loss, pass breakup) and defensive end Ryan Russell (sack, forced fumble, pass breakup) also had good days.
How it went down: The Black team looked much stronger on paper entering the game, and although it only won by two touchdowns, its performance was pretty decisive. Sloppy play plagued both offenses for much of the game as there were five combined turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles) plus another giveaway on special teams.
Ball security will continue to be a sticking point for Hazell, who put up a sign that reads: "The Ball is the Program" in Purdue's team meeting room.
"You can win a lot of football games if you don't turn it over, and one of the key components that leaves no doubt is the player who is hanging onto the football gets the football back to the official," Hazell said. "That's one of the things I was taking notes on. I think there were six situations when we didn't. I wanted to remind the guys that's very important. It may not seem like it. Over the course of the season, that's going to get you an extra two or three wins."
Hunt's big day on the ground is a good sign for an offense still looking for a quarterback to emerge. Senior Rob Henry completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 75 yards and a touchdown but had three consecutive incomplete passes on a first-and-goal situation from the 4-yard line that resulted in no points after a missed field goal. Freshman early enrollee Danny Etling, who has emerged as the top challenger to Henry, completed 5 of 7 attempts for 54 yards with an interception.
Both Henry and Etling played for the Black squad, giving Austin Appleby an opportunity to improve his stock in the competition. But Appleby struggled for the Gold team, completing just 6 of 18 pass attempts for 52 yards with an interception and a lost fumble.
Henry comes out of the spring as Purdue's top quarterback, and though he has impressed Hazell with his play and his leadership, the senior is "definitely in the battle."
Hazell placed some restrictions on both the offense (formations) and the defense (number of blitzes), as he wanted to see both units in their base sets. Bright spots included tight end Gabe Holmes (four receptions, 74 yards), and defensive end Michael Rouse III (interception, two pass breakups).
"I really like the direction that we're heading," Hazell said. "We're working hard and we're understanding how to compete in some tough situations. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done before we open up the season against Cincinnati, but we're understanding what it takes to be a better football team."
Purdue's spring game will air on the Big Ten Network tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
Here's a closer look:
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind.
Admission: Free. Gates open at noon. Free parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis in the A Lot (west half only), F Lot, G Lot, H Lot (upper and lower), R Lot and Z Lot. The family fun fest takes place from 11 a.m.-noon ET and is open to all kids in eighth grade or younger.
TV: Live on BTN2Go. Big Ten Network will air the game at 9 p.m. ET on April 15.
Weather forecast: Partly to mostly cloudy, temperatures between 41-48 degrees, winds at 15-17 mph.
What to watch for: There are new schemes on both sides of the ball, an evolving quarterback competition and a different feel with Hazell and the new staff. Purdue drafted teams Wednesday -- secondary coach Jon Heacock will lead the Black team and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will lead the Gold squad. Full rosters are here.
The quarterbacks will be in the spotlight Saturday and it will be interesting to see how the Black squad rotates senior Rob Henry and freshman Danny Etling, as they seem to have separated themselves a bit in the competition. Henry tried to trade Etling to the Gold squad for offensive lineman Robert Kugler and punter Thomas Meadows but was shot down.
Etling made a move last week and shared most of the reps with the first-team offense in practice earlier this week. Henry has worked extremely hard to learn John Shoop's pro-style system, and while he's always branded as an athlete first, he wants to show he can be an effective pocket passer. Austin Appleby, meanwhile, will lead the Gold squad and has a good opportunity to end the spring on a strong note. Although Appleby seems to have fallen back a bit in the race the last week, he can leave the coaches with a strong impression coming out of the spring.
Line play also will be an area to watch as Purdue tries to get closer to being "Big Ten strong." Defensive tackle Bruce Gaston Jr. is back on the field after recovering from thumb surgery, and he'll lead the Gold squad line, while end Ryan Russell lines up for Black. Hazell told ESPN.com this week that the offensive line is "starting to make strides," so it will be interesting to see which team protects the passer better. The defensive line is thin as Ryan Isaac, Greg Latta and Brandon Taylor all are out with injuries.
The secondary could be a strength for Purdue this fall, and while top defensive backs like Ricardo Allen, Frankie Williams and Normondo Harris are split between the teams, all have opportunities to showcase their playmaking ability. Outside receivers Dolapo Macarthy and Charles Torwudzo, both of the Gold team, will challenge Williams and Harris.
Running back Akeem Hunt has had a very good string in establishing himself as the starter, and he'll help lead the Black team's offense. The Gold will counter with Robert Gregory and, if he's cleared, Brandon Cottom.
Hazell served as an Ohio State assistant from 2004-10. His staff includes defensive coordinator Greg Hudson, who held the same post at Minnesota under Glen Mason from 2000-04, and linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, an Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08.
Ask any to name the first objective for Purdue's program, and the word "physical" comes out of their mouths. The conference Purdue plays in is a big reason why.
"We've got to continually get Big Ten strong," Hazell told ESPN.com. "This conference is different. There's teams in this conference that are very strong and very physical, and we need to continue to work toward that."
Purdue players started the process during 6 a.m. winter workouts. They've continued it through 11 practices this spring.
The progress report?
"That's one of our main challenges," Hudson said. "We're not ready to label a guy Big Ten strong. That's a different strength now."
The previous coaching staff made no secret about their desire to bring more speed to Purdue. It showed up in how they recruited and where they invested their time on the trail.
The Boilers boast enough speed to compete in the Big Ten, especially in areas like the secondary. But they lacked size at certain spots and got pushed around by teams like Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State in 2012.
Junior defensive end Ryan Russell is spending the offseason developing his upper-body strength. When Russell first arrived at Purdue, he played behind Ryan Kerrigan -- the 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and "one of the strongest people I've ever met," Russell said. Kerrigan, a unanimous first-team All-American and a first-round draft pick, showed Russell what a Big Ten lineman should look like.
Russell's goal this summer is to do 30 repetitions of 225 pounds on the bench press.
"Being Big Ten strong is a big thing," Russell said. "We're a fast team, but we're not necessarily always the strongest team. You want to be able to have everything in line to win a championship, so being strong is definitely a priority right now."
It also will be a priority in the new staff's recruiting efforts. There's only so much they can do with the current roster, and they need more size and power at certain positions, particularly on defense.
"I need linebackers I can look up to," Hudson said. "You should know the difference between your front, your linebackers and your secondary just by looking at them. ... Not only is it Big Ten strong, but it's Big Ten big. There's a reason it's called the Big Ten. We have big players, big buildings, big stadiums, big budgets.
"We need to blossom in all areas."
No one mistakes Bruce Gaston Jr. for a linebacker or a defensive back. At 6-2 and 303 pounds, he's a space-eating defensive tackle with huge arms and plenty of power.
But even Gaston, who recently returned to live practice action after recovering from thumb surgery, has taken steps to improve his explosiveness.
"Big Ten strong is being able to compete on a Big Ten level without feeling noticing the strength difference [with an opponent]," Gatson said. "I think it's more of a mentality, too. Everyone has physical capabilities and different physical limits, but to me, it's a mind-set, too.
"You've got to be Big Ten strong to play this game."
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State