Big Ten: Sojourn Shelton

Wisconsin Badgers season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
10:30
AM ET
 

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Wisconsin Badgers:

2013 overall record: 9-4 (6-2 Big Ten)

Key losses: RB James White, WR Jared Abbrederis, TE Jacob Pedersen, OG Ryan Groy, DE Pat Muldoon, DT Beau Allen, LB Chris Borland, S Dezmen Southward

Key returnees: RB Melvin Gordon, OT Rob Havenstein, OG Kyle Costigan, OT Tyler Marz, CB Sojourn Shelton, S Michael Caputo

Instant impact newcomer: Safety Lubern Figaro. If you're from outside the Badger State, you're probably asking, "Who?" After all, Figaro was just a three-star recruit and enrolled over the summer -- but he's already projected to start in the opener. Part of the reason is reportedly an injury to safety Leo Musso, but Figaro has already done plenty to separate himself. In the first scrimmage this preseason, he returned a pick for a touchdown. DB Sojourn Shelton made an impact last season when he was a true freshman; now it looks as if it's Figaro's turn.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsSojourn Shelton and the Badgers' defense will have their hands full against teams in the West Division.
Projected starters

Offense: QB: Joel Stave, RS Jr., 6-5, 220; RB: Melvin Gordon, RS Jr., 6-1, 213; FB: Derek Watt, RS Jr., 6-2, 236; WR: Alex Erickson, RS So., 6-0, 196; WR: Reggie Love, RS So., 6-3, 214; TE: Sam Arneson, Sr., 6-4, 244; OT: Tyler Marz, RS Jr., 6-5, 321; OG: Dallas Lewallen, RS Sr., 6-6, 321: C: Dan Voltz, RS So., 6-3, 311; OG: Kyle Costigan, RS Sr., 6-5, 319; OT: Rob Havenstein, RS Sr., 6-8, 333

Defense: DE: Chikwe Obasih, RS Fr., 6-2, 268; DT: Warren Herring, RS Sr., 6-3, 294; DE: Konrad Zagzebski, RS Sr., 6-3, 277; OLB: Joe Schobert, Jr., 6-2, 240; ILB: Marcus Trotter, RS Sr., 6-0, 226; ILB: Derek Landisch, Sr., 6-0, 231; OLB: Vince Biegel, RS So., 6-4, 244; CB: Darius Hillary, RS Jr., 5-11, 188; CB: Sojourn Shelton, So., 5-9, 178; S: Michael Caputo, RS Jr., 6-1, 212; S: Lubern Figaro, Fr., 6-0, 179

Specialists: P: Drew Meyer, RS Jr., 6-3, 187; PK: Rafael Gaglianone, Fr., 5-11, 231

Biggest question mark: Can this front seven recover from so many key departures? Of the seven players who started in the Badgers' bowl game last season, only one returns. That leaves quite a few holes, especially when considering the departures of Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Borland and two All-Big Ten honorable mentions (Beau Allen, Pat Muldoon). Wisconsin's front seven dominated in 2013, as they helped the Badgers rank No. 5 nationally in rush defense (102.5 yards per game) and No. 6 in scoring defense (16.3 points per game). Defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is solid, but he's not a magician. Those defensive numbers will almost certainly drop from last season -- but just how much?

Most important game: Nov. 15 versus Nebraska. It's basically a three-team race in the West Division, so this is a must-win if Wisconsin wants a spot in the Big Ten championship game. There's no Ohio State or Michigan State on the schedule this season, so the Huskers and Iowa Hawkeyes are the teams to beat. Iowa is just as important, but that contest comes a week later, and that won't mean a thing if Wisconsin first can't get past this contest.

Upset special: Nov. 29 versus Minnesota. A lot could be on the line when the Badgers square off against Minnesota in the final game of the regular season. And, depending how Wisconsin's defense progresses, this could be an interesting one. Wisconsin's run defense is a wild card right now, and the Gophers could boast the second-toughest rushing attack on Wisconsin's schedule (outside of Nebraska). No team held Wisconsin to fewer points (20) last season than Minnesota, so there is some potential here. Plus, one has to think the Gophers will be able to manage better than a seven-point offensive effort this time around.

Key stat: Sure, everyone knows the departure of Jared Abbrederis will hurt Wisconsin. But the Badgers actually lost their top four targets, and only one (Jordan Fredrick) recorded catches in the double-digits. And he had just 10. Overall, Wisconsin lost 81 percent of its receiving production, as this year's returners had just 42 combined receptions last season compared with the 217 total catches.

What they're wearing: Wisconsin has come a long way since 2010, because it basically went from rotating between two uniform combinations to doing photo shoots with more than 20 combinations.

One possible new look includes an all-red, jersey-pant combo (not to be confused with Nebraska's all-red getup):

Team's top Twitter follows: Head coach Gary Andersen (@UWCoachAndersen) joined Twitter just a few weeks ago, but he pumps out unique tweets and is a great follow. The official Wisconsin football account (@BadgerFootball) tweets like crazy and is always on the ball. As far as players, running back Melvin Gordon (@Melvingordon25) is a no-brainer, while cornerback Sojourn Shelton (@SDS1_) definitely deserves a few more follows. There are quite a few good follows for your coverage needs -- besides us, of course -- including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus (@jaypo1961) and SB Nation blog Bucky's 5th Quarter (@B5Q).

They said it: "No question there's a temptation to run him every time." – Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen on running back Melvin Gordon

Stats & Info projection: 9.29 wins

Wise guys over/under: 9.5 wins

Big Ten blog projection: Ten wins. Wisconsin has a lot of question marks, but it also has a lot of talent. The rushing offense should be one of the nation's best and, while this defense will undoubtedly take a step back from last season, it shouldn't free-fall with Dave Aranda at the helm. Wisconsin's schedule is pretty favorable, as it doesn't play any of the big names from the East, and it's possible it could be favored in every game from Week 2 on. Wisconsin's getting the benefit of the doubt here, but if it can manage a win against LSU in the opener, that bandwagon is going to get big in a hurry.
Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Another sign of the impending season arrived today with the start of the preseason award watch lists. These largely meaningless lists began with two of the biggies, the Maxwell (nation's top player) and Bednarik (nation's top defender), both of which included groups of Big Ten players. With 76 names on the Bednarik list and 74 on the Maxwell list, some are wondering if anyone didn't make the rundowns. But believe it or not, there are some possible snubs.

Today's Take Two topic: Which Big Ten players could have been included on the Maxwell and Bednarik watch lists?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

Let's begin with the Maxwell. Most of the reasonable Big Ten options are covered here (and some less than reasonable ones), but Indiana running back Tevin Coleman deserves some love. Coleman might have to lap the field to actually win the Maxwell, but you can't tell me there are 70 better offensive players than the Hoosiers junior. He's not Melvin Gordon, but his statistics in only nine games -- 7.3 yards-per-carry average, three rushes of 60 yards or more, five rushes of 50 yards or more, 141.7 all-purpose yards per game -- are reminiscent of the Badgers star. Coleman will get more touches this season as Stephen Houston departs, and he plays behind one of the Big Ten's best offensive lines.

Indiana ultimately needs to upgrade its defense to gain national hype for its team and its individual stars. But if Coleman builds on 2013, he'll be noticed. He scored at least once in every game he played last season and contributes in a variety of ways.

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Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsPenn State's Mike Hull is underappreciated nationally.
The Big Ten's Bednarik contention is heavy with Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan players. Although I still need to see more from Michigan's Frank Clark, I have no major issues with these inclusions. But I'm going to stump for Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton and Penn State linebacker Mike Hull. Wisconsin recorded only nine interceptions last season, but four came from Shelton, who entered the starting lineup as a true freshman and led the team in both picks and passes defended (11). The Badgers lose three NFL draft picks on defense but retain a potential big-time playmaker in Shelton.

Penn State linebackers seldom struggle to gain the spotlight, but Hull, a fifth-year senior, has gone under the radar a bit, in part because of injury. He's one of the league's most experienced defenders and has been labeled the quarterback of the defense by new coordinator Bob Shoop. New coach James Franklin came away impressed with Hull this spring. A breakout season could be on tap, and if so, Hull will be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors and potentially more.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

First off, let's put the word "snub" in quotes. We must acknowledge that these preseason watch lists are outdated and silly, and they really mean nothing when it comes to the final awards. And it has been the case in the past that the reason a notable player didn't "make" the list was because his school simply forgot to nominate him.

But it's early July, and we need something to talk about, right? I thought the Maxwell list did a pretty good job including the biggest offensive stars in the Big Ten. I agree with Adam that Coleman has a chance to put up some major numbers, along with quarterback Nate Sudfeld and receiver Shane Wynn. But Indiana has to get itself on the national radar before its players reap the rewards.

What about Iowa's Brandon Scherff? We already know he's "a freak," and he's a likely first-round pick and a possible All-American next year. Offensive linemen never win and rarely even get mentioned for these awards, and that's a shame.

The Bednarik list is exhaustive. As much as I like players such as Michigan State's Kurtis Drummond and Penn State's Jordan Lucas, I can't envision any scenario in which they actually win this award. But if there were players missing from this list for the Big Ten, I think it's a pair of defensive ends: Maryland's Andre Monroe and Minnesota's Theiren Cockran. Monroe had 17 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks in the ACC last year, and it wouldn't require much improvement for him to be among the national leaders in those categories this season. Similarly, Cockran is a gifted athlete who had 7.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss in 2013.

Both are dark horse candidates for Big Ten defensive player of the year, which should qualify them for the Bednarik watch list. Not that anyone should lose much sleep over it.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
5:00
PM ET
Questions, answers and Twitter. What could possibly be better on a Tuesday in June?

Let's begin ...

Virgel from Valdosta, Ga., writes: Adam, do you think that if this season ends the Tim Beckman era at Illinois, they would go after a high-profile coach on the bench right now, like a Mack Brown? Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting thought, Virgel, as it's hard to know where athletic director Mike Thomas would turn. He has a track record of hiring MAC coaches -- Butch Jones, Brian Kelly, Beckman -- but I'd be shocked if he went that route again. Brown will be 62 in August, has a ton of money and likely a lengthy TV career ahead, so I'm not sure how much he would want to coach again. And if he did, for how long?

Illinois doesn't want to keep changing coaches. But thinking outside the box could be a good approach. Or Thomas could hire a guy like Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who is ready to lead a major-conference program.




Kyle from Hamilton, Ontario, writes: We all have heard how "weak" Iowa's schedule is. It has even been rumoured that they could be favoured in every game. Given the fact they don't play Ohio State, a scenario exists that they both could go undefeated. That could have happened in 2002 if Iowa didn't blow the lead against Iowa State that year. My question is this: If both Ohio State and Iowa go undefeated do both teams make the playoffs?

Adam Rittenberg: Man, I love that Canadian spelling. This would be a fascinating scenario, Kyle. A lot depends on what happens in other conferences and how the Big Ten performs in marquee nonleague games. But I don't think Iowa makes the playoff with a loss in the league championship game, primarily because of the seemingly soft regular-season schedule.

In this scenario, Ohio State would have a road win against a preseason top-10 team in Michigan State. The Buckeyes also play Virginia Tech in nonleague play. Will the Michigan home win help or hurt Ohio State? How much credit will Iowa get for beating Wisconsin and Nebraska at home? All these questions factor into the playoff decision. Ultimately, I doubt the Big Ten gets two teams into the initial playoff. Fairly or unfairly, the league will pay for its recent shortcomings. But Ohio State has a better chance as a one-loss team than Iowa.




Dave from Marietta, Ohio, writes: The Big Ten should've gone to North-South divisions instead of East-West. I'm not sure about the exact locations of the schools, but a North-South alignment could look something like this ... North -- Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Purdue, Iowa. South -- Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Ohio State, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska.

Adam Rittenberg: Interesting idea, Dave, as this proposal appears to create more historical balance than the current East-West alignment. But if you look at the Big Ten's recent expansion, the idea is to live in a second region along the East Coast. It's not a northern expansion but an eastern one. Another factor to consider is geography. Nebraska would be a major outlier in the South division -- nearly an eight-hour drive from its closest division competitor (Illinois) and a loooong way from Ohio State, Penn State, Maryland and Rutgers. Would Husker fans care? Maybe, maybe not. They would get annual games with both Penn State and Ohio State.

I like how your proposal satisfies the Iowa-Wisconsin-Minnesota rivalry triangle/dilemma, but it also would require at least one extra protected crossover, Ohio State-Michigan, which would reduce the overall schedule rotation for two of the league's marquee programs. I definitely see value in the North-South model, but East-West is here, at least for now.




[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Paul VernonOhio State's Braxton Miller is one of just two early enrollees to be Big Ten Freshman of the Year in the last seven years.
Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: I wondered if you've seen any data comparing early enrollees and players who enroll in the fall. Do early enrollees start sooner, play in more games, have better drafts or have better graduation rates than players who enroll in the summer/fall? My thought is if the player works hard enough to graduate high school early, maybe there's a bit of a better work ethic.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, David, and there's not a great answer yet as this trend remains somewhat new. The number of early enrollees really spiked in the 2009 and 2010 recruiting classes. Not surprisingly, there is some evidence that early enrollees are contributing faster in their careers than those who arrive in the summer. We've seen examples in the Big Ten such as Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who earned a starting job as a true freshman. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller enrolled early and has started since the middle of his freshman season.

Then again, a 2009 ranking of top early enrollee groups Insider showed more misses (Tate Forcier, Kevin Newsome, Will Campbell) than hits (Gerald Hodges) in the Big Ten. Penn State had seven early enrollees in 2010 but only one, running back Silas Redd, became a star for the Lions.

Of the Big Ten's last seven Freshman of the Year recipients, just two -- Ohio State's Miller and Illinois' Arrelious Benn -- were early enrollees. So it's hard to draw clear conclusions.




Peter from Boston writes: Would be interested to hear your thoughts on a recent article by John U. Bacon about attendance issues at Michigan (Ivan Maisel referenced it in his latest 3-Point Stance). Personally, I think you could insert any major program in the country (including my alma mater Penn State) and write roughly the same article. ADs constantly point the finger at high-definition TV and other tech as the reason for slipping attendance, and it's definitely a factor, but Bacon makes some very good points about the in-game experience and costs of attending a game at a major university. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: There are some very valid points in Bacon's story, especially about rising ticket prices. As Ohio State AD Gene Smith recently told me, "The reality is a lot of our ticket pricing, some of us are at the top of the pyramid." And it seems like the branding push, especially in the Big Ten, is turning off some fans. Has the sport sold its soul in some ways? No doubt. Is branding too much of a priority in the Big Ten, which makes a lot of money but doesn't really win anything? There's a case to be made. ADs are devoting a lot of energy to improving the gameday experience, but two solutions are pretty simple: scheduling better opponents and charging less for tickets.
Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton doesn't talk like a freshman or act like a freshman. Last season, he often didn't play like a freshman, recording four interceptions, three more than any other Badger, and a team-high seven pass breakups.

One of two early enrollees in Wisconsin's 2013 recruiting class, Shelton displays an uncommon maturity. Most players his age at a position known for bravado would beam about four interceptions in their first college season. Shelton thinks he should have had eight.

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Dan Sanger/Icon SMIAfter a freshman season with four interceptions, defensive back Sojourn Shelton is taking on a leadership role for the Badgers.
Most Wisconsin fans can't bear to watch last season's game at Ohio State because of the what-ifs in a 31-24 loss. Arguably no play brought more pain than a dropped interception by Shelton just before halftime. On the next play, Ohio State fired a 40-yard touchdown pass with one second left on the clock.

Shelton watches that play a lot. He also watches Wisconsin's regular-season finale against Penn State, a stunning home loss in which the Badgers surrendered 339 pass yards, four touchdowns and their three longest plays allowed all season.

"I watch the bad games, honestly," Shelton told ESPN.com this spring. "You talk to my coaches and they'll tell you I'm probably my worst critic. When I look back, I definitely see the opportunities that I had. Everybody brings up Ohio State. There's a couple other plays that, instead of PBUs, I could turn them into interceptions.

"But the best part about it is it gives me something else to push forward to this year."

Shelton's approach is exactly what coaches want from players who had success as freshmen. But just to make sure, Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen met with the 5-foot-9, 172-pound cornerback about a week into spring practice, just before Shelton and his teammates left for spring break.

I don't want to see a sophomore slump, Andersen told Shelton.

The directive probably had more to do with Andersen than Shelton.

"I'm paranoid when it comes to stuff like that," Andersen admitted. "So I bring it up and we talk about it and I did not see it, which was a great thing. To his credit, he kept on going. He's got high expectations for himself, and he handles them in the right way."

After Wisconsin lost seven defensive starters from 2013, including three players selected in the NFL draft -- safety Dezmen Southward, linebacker Chris Borland and nose guard Beau Allen -- the coaches spent the spring shifting players from position to position. The goal: to upgrade the unit's speed. Two of the only players who stayed put were the cornerbacks: Shelton and junior Darius Hillary.

Shelton spent the session sharpening his game. He worked on 50-50 balls, an area opponents with tall receivers could try to exploit because of Shelton's frame, and improved his pre-snap recognition with wide receiver splits, potential coverage changes and more.

"I give credit to [cornerbacks coach] Ben Strickland," defensive coordinator Dave Aranda said. "Ben's a stickler for details and Sojourn's been brought up that way and doesn't know anything different. He's searching for those little details that can put him over the top.

"He's not one to rest on his laurels."

Junior safety Mike Caputo sees Shelton as a veteran and a leader, noting that age isn't as big a factor as experience, of which Shelton received plenty in 2013. With Borland and others no longer around, the Badgers defense needs some new voices.

Shelton, who started 12 games in 2013, is happy to speak up.

"Coach always talks about playing with juice and swagger and when you make a play, be excited about it," he said. "That's one of my strengths. People don't understand how hard it is to play corner in college football against so many good receivers. You have to play with the confidence that you can go out there and shut these guys down.

"It is difficult, but at the same time, that's what makes it fun."

Many talented young players struggle to grow up. Shelton embraces his accelerated evolution at Wisconsin.

He sets high standards for himself, both in the immediate and the long term.

"I want to be the best corner in the Big Ten," he said. "It's something I’m pursuing. If I continue to move forward and that becomes the role, I'll be excited to take it on."
With spring practice now in the rear-view mirror, your faithful Big Ten reporters thought it would be a good time to share some of our thoughts from the spring that was. Between us, we saw 10 of the 14 Big Ten teams in person this spring and we followed all of them as closely as possible.

So this is a chance to share our impressions and observations. We'll start today with the West Division, where Adam got an up-close look at Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern and Wisconsin.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsIowa coach Kirk Ferentz has a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title.
Brian Bennett: Adam, I'm intrigued by Iowa and you went to see the Hawkeyes -- and even got into practice! Sounds like this team has a little more speed and explosiveness. How does it compare to the Iowa teams we've seen in the past, and is this a legit Big Ten contender?

Adam Rittenberg: Well, it was actually a portion of practice, but I'll take what I can get at Fort Ferentz. This is a legitimate Big Ten contender, in large part because of the schedule but also because of the team it returns. I just didn't get the sense Iowa has many major problems. AIRBHG is off torturing baby seals. The linebacker thing is worth monitoring, but Quinton Alston would have started for most teams last year. Kirk Ferentz's best teams are strong up front, and Iowa looks very solid along both lines with Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis and others.

The young wide receivers really intrigue me, especially Derrick Willies, who blew up in the spring scrimmage. Iowa hasn't had difference-makers at receiver for some time. The offense had a spike in plays last year, and coordinator Greg Davis wants to go faster and be more diverse, even incorporating backup quarterback C.J. Beathard into the mix. That intrigues me. So you've got solid line play, more weapons on offense and a cake schedule. Indianapolis-bound? It's possible.

BB: When it comes to winning Big Ten titles, Wisconsin has been far more successful than its new West brethren in the last five years. Yet the Badgers lost a whole lot of valuable seniors, especially on defense. You went to Madison. How's the revamped defense looking, and is there anyone who can catch the ball from whoever starts at QB?

AR: Fascinating team. Quarterback competitions are nothing new in Mad City, but the sheer number of questions at UW stands out. It feels like coach Gary Andersen should be going into his first year, not his second. Kenzel Doe had a nice spring at slot receiver, but Wisconsin will need help from its five incoming freshmen. The uncertainty at receiver could benefit Tanner McEvoy in the quarterback competition as Andersen wants a second rushing threat on the field (or sometimes a third when Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement play together).

I didn't get a great read on the offensive line because of injuries, but the defensive front seven will be a big story all season. So many position changes. Linebacker Derek Landisch is the leader, but who are the top playmakers? Cornerback Sojourn Shelton could be one, and the coaches really like young defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James. I really liked linebacker Leon Jacobs last summer and could see him emerging. Like Iowa, Wisconsin has a favorable schedule, but we're going to find out how good Andersen and his staff really are this season.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Siemian
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Trevor Siemian has taken charge at Northwestern.
BB: You also spent some time at Northwestern, whose spring was dominated by the union issue. With all those distractions and the many injuries this spring, did you get any sense whether the Wildcats can bounce back from last year's highly disappointing 5-7 campaign?

AR: If the team stays focused and aligned, not to mention healthy, the answer is yes. Northwestern spun the two-quarterback deal well for a while, but it's always better to have one QB and a clear identity on offense. It has that with Trevor Siemian, who looked good this spring, and a scheme that should rely more on the pass. Wide receiver is a strength as Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler shined at the slot. I'm interested to see how running back Venric Mark's role changes without Kain Colter on the field.

The defense could be the best in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. Improved recruiting is paying off in the secondary as several redshirt freshmen, including safety Godwin Igwebuike, enter the mix. Defensive tackle is the big concern and overall D-line health, but the defense wasn't the reason Northwestern went 5-7. It should keep the team in most games.

BB: The last West team you saw was Illinois. Did anything you witnessed convince you the Illini can get to a bowl in 2014?

AR: I'm still thawing out from a frigid March night at Chicago's Gately Stadium. Illinois has a chance to sustain its momentum on offense. The line should be solid, quarterback Wes Lunt has a plus arm and Josh Ferguson is a big-time threat. Continued improvement at wide receiver is key as newcomers Geronimo Allison and Mike Dudek impressed. The defense still needs a lot of work, but T.J. Neal has helped fill Jonathan Brown's role, and linemen D.J. Smoot and DeJazz Woods stood out. Illinois needs more numbers in the front seven to firm up a run defense that really struggled last year.

BB: Overall, did anything you saw change your opinion on the West Division race? I'm pretty high on Nebraska and think their defensive front seven could be pretty special. I still think Minnesota will be a factor, but the lack of visible progress in the passing game (granted, the spring game debacle there means little in the big picture) was disappointing. For me, the jury's out on Wisconsin and Iowa is a big-time dark horse. What say you?

AR: Iowa is beyond dark-horse status. A veteran team took a big step last year and is poised to take another with a favorable schedule. Wisconsin likely will be the popular pick to win the division, but I have too many doubts right now. Nebraska is the wild card to me. Can we trust a Huskers team that will be better on defense? Minnesota might be a better team with a worse record because of its schedule. Northwestern could be a factor if it gets past the union distraction.

There's no alpha dog here. Should be a wild ride.

Wisconsin spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
4:30
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The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for each Big Ten team.

We begin with Wisconsin.

Three things we learned in the spring

  • The quarterback race is down to two: Wisconsin entered spring practice with four candidates and reduced the pool by 50 percent. Joel Stave, who has started 19 games the past two seasons, missed much of the session with a throwing shoulder injury. Stave will compete this summer with Tanner McEvoy, a junior-college transfer who played safety and wide receiver for parts of last season. McEvoy looked sharper this spring at quarterback and brings a run threat to the pocket. D.J. Gillins likely will redshirt, while Bart Houston remains in a reserve role.
  • The coaches aren't afraid to take chances: Gary Andersen and his staff shuffled pieces on both sides of the ball, especially on defense, where they want more speed on the field. Most players saw time at multiple positions, and several young players put themselves in position for significant playing time, including redshirt freshmen defensive ends Chikwe Obasih and Alec James, safety Austin Hudson and center Michael Deiter.
  • Melvin Gordon and Derek Landisch are the leaders: Gordon, the All-Big Ten running back who turned down the NFL for another year at Wisconsin, not only is the team's best player, but much more of a leader. He talked openly this spring about elevating Wisconsin to elite status and the initial College Football Playoff. Landisch, the only returning starter in the defensive front seven, is the undisputed leader of the defense and takes the torch from Chris Borland.
Three questions for the fall

  • Who emerges at wide receiver?: The Badgers lose a huge piece in Jared Abbrederis and went through most of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. Although senior Kenzel Doe is stepping up, many others must emerge in the summer. Alex Erickson returns from injury and Jordan Frederick and Robert Wheelwright will be in the mix, but Wisconsin needs at least two of its five incoming freshmen wideouts to contribute. Keep an eye on Dareian Watkins.
  • The starting quarterback: Unlike other Big Ten spring quarterback competitions, Wisconsin ended the session with no obvious leader. Stave's injury made it tough to gauge his progress, and the limited number of receivers made the passing game look worse than it probably will be. McEvoy has a great opportunity to win the job, especially with the coaches looking for more mobility at the position. This race likely will last well into camp.
  • Defensive playmakers: Borland's loss not only hurts Wisconsin in production, but playmaking ability. No one defender can replace what Borland brought, so the Badgers need several to improve during the summer months. Leon Jacobs moved from outside linebacker to inside and has the speed to be a difference-maker. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had four interceptions as a freshman, and the coaches are counting on players such as linebacker Joe Schobert and linemen Obasih, James, Konrad Zagzebski and Warren Herring.
One way-too-early prediction

McEvoy will be the starter by Big Ten play, if not earlier. Andersen's recruiting suggests he values dual-threat quarterbacks more than his Wisconsin predecessors, and the potential concerns at wide receiver accentuate the need for another backfield weapon alongside Gordon and Corey Clement. McEvoy must continue to develop as a passer, but his athleticism trumps Stave, who struggled for stretches last season despite having an elite target in Abbrederis.

Spring game recap: Wisconsin

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
9:00
AM ET
All but four Big Ten teams wrapped up spring practice on Saturday, and we're looking at what happened with each squad. If you missed them, check out what we learned from spring games at Ohio State, Penn State and Nebraska.

[+] EnlargeTanner McEvoy
Mike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAfter a solid spring, Tanner McEvoy is in prime position to push Joel Stave for the starting QB job.
Wisconsin completed its second spring under coach Gary Andersen with the spring game Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers held a controlled scrimmage for a half and then began a game with several notables sitting out (including quarterback Joel Stave and running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement). The Cardinal team ended up recording a 6-0 win against the White team, thanks to two Jack Russell field goals, before an announced crowd of 8,204.

Check out more coverage of the game here and here and here.

Star of the game: Fullback Austin Ramesh. There weren't many standouts in the game portion of the day, but Ramesh capitalized on his opportunity with both Gordon and Clement out. He recorded 71 yards on 12 carries and added a 4-yard reception for the victorious Cardinal team.

How it went down: The controlled scrimmage featured more offensive highlights than the actual game, as quarterback Tanner McEvoy connected with wideout Kenzel Doe on a 27-yard touchdown pass and both McEvoy and Clement added rushing touchdowns. The defenses dominated the actual game portion, as the White squad recorded only 49 net yards (35 pass, 14 rush) while the Cardinal had just 54 pass yards.

McEvoy completed 4 of 10 pass attempts with no touchdowns or interceptions in the game, but both he and Andersen were pleased with his performance throughout the spring. Andersen said afterward that McEvoy and Stave will receive the bulk of the first-team reps in preseason camp. It doesn't appear Bart Houston is in Wisconsin's future plans, but Houston doesn't plan to transfer.

The offense still needs a lot of work, especially in the pass game, but one takeaway from the spring is that McEvoy is in prime position to push Stave for the starting job.

"He walks up to the huddle, he looks more comfortable," Andersen said of McEvoy. "The football team is more comfortable around him, similar to how they were with Joel walking in and saying, 'Hey, this guy can get it done for us.'"

Defensive notables Saturday included safety Austin Hudson, an early enrollee who capped a solid spring with five tackles. Two young ends, Alec James and Chikwe Obasih, both showed promise during the scrimmage/game. Cornerback Sojourn Shelton had two tackles and two pass breakups.

Wisconsin fans shouldn't draw too much from Saturday given the injuries and other limitations. But this Badger team is much more of a work in progress than last season's senior-laden squad. A critical summer awaits.
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's defense appeared to offer a series of new looks, pressures and personnel groupings in coach Gary Andersen's first season.

Turns out, the reveal is just beginning.

Although the Badgers in 2013 showcased certain elements they hadn't under the previous coaching staff, defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, who inherited a strong and dominant line, catered his scheme to the players' power. The front seven is almost completely new this spring, which has brought different emphasis points, namely speed and versatility.

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Patrick S Blood/Icon SMICB Sojourn Shelton is one of the few Badgers on defense not switching positions this spring.
The Badgers' 2014 defense will more closely resemble the units Aranda and Andersen directed at Utah State than last year's at Wisconsin.

"When you look at the people we've got, they're best when they're in space and on the move," Aranda told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "So we've moved some of the linebackers to defensive end, we've moved some of the safeties to linebacker, some of the defensive ends to nose [tackle]. Everyone's kind of moved down a spot to try to maximize speed."

Michael Caputo, who started at safety last season, moved to linebacker earlier this spring and then back to the safety spot. Michael Trotter moved from safety to join his twin brother, Marcus, as an inside linebacker. Promising redshirt freshman Alec James shifted from outside linebacker to defensive end. Joe Schobert has worked at both inside and outside linebacker, and Leon Jacobs moved from the outside to the inside. Vonte Jackson, whose recurring knee injuries have prevented him from entering the mix at running back, will get a shot at safety.

Aranda used Schobert and Ethan Armstrong in versatile roles last season, but most players stayed in one spot. He now has "an abundance" of players with flexibility.

"We wanted to see how guys fit in other places, and then they decided to move a couple guys around more," Caputo said.

Other than a few exceptions -- top cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary are staying put -- the coaches are shuffling players through different positions to see who best fits. For the most part, it's working.

"We're famous for taking guys and moving them to a different spot," Andersen said. "That has been invaluable in my career. Does it always work? No. But you never know if you don't try it. That's what you do as a coach.

"There is no free agency. It's college football."

Wisconsin hasn't abandoned the power element and boasts some size up front with Warren Herring, Konrad Zagzebski and others. Aranda likes practicing against the Badgers offense, which boasts a massive line and has always excelled at the power game, while incorporating a few more spread elements than in the past.

"There's a tendency to want to get big and strong, and we are that," Aranda said. "But to win some of the games we want to win and can win, and take that next step, being as fast as we can and as athletic as we can would be the goal.

"If you can have your cake and eat it, too, let's try it."
Michigan's defense controlled play throughout the spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium, echoing a theme throughout most of the league that day.

Several Big Ten squads held scrimmages or open practices, and the defenses had the edge in most of them. The offenses stepped up in a few, and several quarterbacks appear to be separating themselves.

Let's recap the weekend scrimmages. (Note: Scrimmages that were closed to the media and had no available statistics.)

WISCONSIN

Despite a new-look front seven and several position changes, Wisconsin's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both had good days against an undermanned receiving corps, and coach Gary Andersen called the quarterback play very average. "We have a long way to go in the throw game, and that's disappointing," Andersen said. "If we want to be a good team, we have to figure that out." The defense also shined against the run, even against top backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

PURDUE

Technically, the Boilers' offense won Saturday's jersey scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium. But the defense looked stronger for much of the day, recording seven sacks and two takeaways. Unofficially, five Boilers recorded sacks, including two from tackle Michael Rouse III, who finished with three tackles for loss. Coach Darrell Hazell said of the defensive line, "They played in the [offensive] backfield."

Top quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled, combining to complete 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown (Etling) and an interception (Appleby). Running back Raheem Mostert highlighted the offense with 134 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Mostert is making a strong push this spring to be Purdue's No. 1 running back.

MINNESOTA

The Gophers' defense loses top performers Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen from last fall's unit, but it controlled play on Saturday. Minnesota's D held the offense without a point on its first seven possessions in the scrimmage. Safety Cedric Thompson had an excellent interception off a deflection on the first drive. The offense picked it up later in the scrimmage, as quarterback Mitch Leidner found KJ Maye for a 50-yard touchdown strike, and both Leidner and Berkley Edwards had long touchdown runs.

NEBRASKA

Here's one offense that flexed its muscles on Saturday after being subdued earlier in the week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had an "efficient" performance, according to coach Bo Pelini, as he continues to look like the team's top signal-caller. Armstrong ran for two touchdowns. Sophomore Terrell Newby received a lot of work at running back as Ameer Abdullah sat out, and receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned a short pass into a long gain. Defensive tackle Aaron Curry left the field with a neck injury, but Pelini thinks he'll be fine.

MICHIGAN STATE

The offense recorded a 27-25 win against the defense in MSU's first spring jersey scrimmage, as quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who has been relatively quiet since transferring from Tennessee, had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyler O'Connor, competing for the backup quarterback job, had a good day (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD).

After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, the defense forced four consecutive stops. Standouts included safety Kurtis Drummond (six tackles, 1 TFL, interception), end Shilique Calhoun (two sacks) and linebacker Chris Frey, an early enrollee, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss.

ILLINOIS

The Illini had their second off-site practice of the spring, traveling to Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield for a controlled scrimmage on Friday night. Quarterback Wes Lunt continues to look like Illinois' starter. According to Rivals.com's Doug Buchson, Lunt completed his first 14 pass attempts against the second-string defense for about 250 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek continues his strong spring, and receiver Geronimo Allison had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Lunt.

Defensive linemen Kenny Nelson and DeJazz Woods stood out against the second-team offensive line, consistently penetrating the backfield. Cornerback Caleb Day also looked good.

RUTGERS

The most important thing coming out of Rutgers' first spring scrimmage was some clarity at quarterback, as Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano all worked with the first-team offense. Although a rash of injuries made it tough to get a true gauge, Bimonte had the best day, leading two touchdown drives. Coach Kyle Flood said all three signal-callers will continue to work with the top offense. Flood singled out defensive linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay for their play during the scrimmage.

NORTHWESTERN

Like several other Big Ten teams, Northwestern can't have full-blown scrimmages because of its injury situation. But the Wildcats had their top units match up for stretches of Saturday's practice on the lakefront. Trevor Siemian entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback and appears to be ending it the same way. Siemian looked sharp on his first series, completing all three of his attempts. Dropped passes were a problem for much of the day, but wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who has battled injuries for much of his career, had a one-handed grab on a pass from Zack Oliver. Cornerback Matt Harris and safety Kyle Queiro both made plays for the defense.

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes invited students inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Saturday's practice, creating some cool scenes. Several young players stood out, namely cornerback Eli Apple, who had two interceptions and a big hit. Running back Curtis Samuel, an early enrollee, also sparked the crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run. Linebacker has been an area of concern for Ohio State, but Darron Lee and Chris Worley both made some plays on the outside. Ezekiel Elliott is looking more like Ohio State's top running back, as he showed his size and versatility during the practice.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
Tags:

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Ian Thomas, Corey Cooper, Antoine Lewis, Mark Murphy, Jeremiah Johnson, Dezmen Southward, B.J. Lowery, Kurtis Drummond, Ibraheim Campbell, Peniel Jean, Doran Grant, Raymon Taylor, Tejay Johnson, Nick VanHoose, Blake Countess, Michael Hunter, Derrick Wells, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Adrian Amos, Charles Jackson, Frankie Williams, Nate Hammon, Cedric Thompson, Tanner Miller, Dwight White, Harvey Jackson, Armani Reeves, Malik Golden, John Lowdermilk, Andrew Green, Darius Hillary, Traveon Henry, Daniel Jones, Demetrious Cox, Jermaine Edmonson, Ezra Robinson, Trevor Williams, Daniel Davie, Taylor Richards, Jarrod Wilson, RJ Williamson, Trae Waynes, Landon Feichter, Lorenzo Waters, Cam Burrows, Gareon Conley, Dymonte Thomas, Jesse Della Valle, Darius Mosely, Darian Hicks, Josh Mitchell, Eaton Spence, Antonio Allen, Zane Petty, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Sojourn Shelton, Nadir Barnwell, Matt Harris, Michael Caputo, Jonathan Rose, V'Angelo Bentley, Jevaris Little, Taylor Barton, Tyvis Powell, Arjen Colquhoun, Eric Murray, Sean Draper, Anthony Gair, Tim Bennett, Jabrill Peppers, Ryan Keiser, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Austin Hudson, Jaylen Dunlap, Charlton Warren, Serge Trezy, B1G spring positions 14, Sean Davis, Anthony Nixon, A.J. Hendy, Zach Dancel, Dexter McDougle, Will Likely, Alvin Hill, Antonio Johnson, Grayson Levine, Ron Tanner, Leroy Clark, Johnathan Aiken, Delon Stephenson, Gareef Glashen, Anthony Cioffi

Five more Big Ten impact freshmen

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
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Earlier today, we presented a list of five potential early-impact true freshmen or junior college players from the Class of 2014.

You never quite know where the immediate contributors will come from. Here are five more first-year players to watch this season (in alphabetical order):

Dominique Booth, WR, Indiana: The Hoosiers' pass-friendly offense will need to restock its receiving targets after losing tight end Ted Bolser and wideouts Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson to graduation and receiver Cody Latimer to the NFL. Booth, who's from nearby Indianapolis, has good size at a listed 6-foot and 196 pounds, and head coach Kevin Wilson never has been afraid to play true freshmen early.

[+] EnlargeDamian Prince
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIOffensive lineman Damian Prince might be too talented for Maryland to redshirt.
Corey Clements, OL, Purdue: Darrell Hazell wanted to get bigger on the offensive line for his preferred physical style of play, and Clements certainly fits that bill at a massive 6-foot-8 and 340 pounds. It remains to be seen how effective he can be in the Big Ten at that size. But the Boilermakers didn't sign Clements out of Mesa (Ariz). Community College so he could sit on the bench. (And the bench does not want that, either.)

Austin Hudson, S, Wisconsin: Hudson wasn't the most highly-recruited player, but he plays a position of serious need for the Badgers. Last year's starting safeties are both missing, as Dezmen Southward finished his eligibility and Tanner McEvoy will move back to quarterback, at least for the spring. Hudson is an early enrollee who could get acclimated early and possibly have the same kind of quick impact as Sojourn Shelton, who started as a true freshman at cornerback for Wisconsin in 2013.

Joe Keels, DL, Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have had good success of late with junior college defenders, including Lavonte David and Randy Gregory. Could Keels be the next in line? He was in high demand out of Highland Community College, and the Wisconsin native who flipped from Wisconsin to Nebraska this winter could, at the very least, provide more depth on a promising young front line for Bo Pelini.

Damian Prince, OT, Maryland: It's not often easy for offensive linemen to make a dent right away, but Prince isn't your average true freshman offensive lineman. Rated as the No. 26 player overall and the No. 3 tackle in the Class of 2014 by ESPN Recruiting Nation, Prince was the jewel of Randy Edsall's class this year. Edsall is looking to upgrade the offensive line talent as the Terrapins move into the Big Ten, and Prince might be too talented to redshirt.
Wisconsin signed a big class of 25 scholarship players, plus four preferred walk-ons, on Wednesday. I caught up with Badgers head coach Gary Andersen for this Q&A about the class:

With one of the larger classes the Badgers have signed in a while, how did that affect your strategy?

Gary Andersen: The mindset walking into it, when we knew we would have a pretty big number with so many seniors leaving, was simply to look and see what position groups we needed and even our numbers. We wanted to even up our numbers in the classes as much as we could, but still use the opportunity to take care of what we need in our deficiencies. We got that done.

We got five wide receivers, five defensive backs and six offensive linemen -- those were tagged early on as we've got to get quality kids in that area. From there we just kind of fit in where we needed. We had to solidify the youth at the running back position and we needed to get an athletic quarterback who can do some things that we may want to move to as we go forward. We had inside linebacker tagged as taking two or three, but with the walk-ons we got and the ability to move Joe Schobert inside, we just took one inside linebacker. Which in turn gave us a chance to get another defensive tackle, and we got three of those kids.

[+] EnlargeGary Andersen
AP Photo/David StlukaWisconsin coach Gary Anderson was all smiles after the recruiting class he brought in this year.
The offensive line depth concerned you last year. Does this class now allow you to sleep better at night?

GA: It does. The numbers are better. But they're not going to be better in spring ball. We're down both our centers in spring ball, so Michael Deiter will walk in here as a true freshman and line up as the starting center for Wisconsin, and that's a unique opportunity. But we're evening out those numbers. Our goal is to be at 16 scholarship offensive linemen. We should be at 14 next year. So the waters are calming, but we've still got work to do. The challenge now is to find at least a couple of those young men who can challenge and back up next season. That will be big part of the 2014 season for us.

With Jared Abbrederis gone, do you expect some of these incoming receivers to play right away?

GA: I do. This group is very competitive. They're tough-minded kids. You're going to get the same-old from other people recruiting them, "Oh, why would you go to Wisconsin? They don't throw the ball." But they showed us their toughness and want-to and belief in the direction we want to head offensively by sticking with us, and I respect those kids for that. In turn, they're going to have that opportunity to compete.

But we all know that. Anybody who watched Wisconsin football last year can say Jared ended up getting double-teamed, and they ganged up on us in the box and wanted to stop the run and our offense became very difficult at times. Hopefully, a couple of those kids can come in here and help us. We're counting on that.

Will D.J. Gillins get a chance to compete right away at quarterback?

GA: That is the goal. We're walking into spring practice with a bunch of quarterbacks who we're going to try and get reps. That's a tremendous challenge for us as coaches to give them all an opportunity to compete, and we'll tweak some practice schedules. We want D.J. to be able to compete. That was the mindset of getting him in early, to give him an opportunity to compete in spring ball. Joel [Stave] is the starter, he started all our games last year. But you want to create competition at the quarterback spot just like you want to at every position. So it will be a competitive spring.

What do you like about the defensive backs you brought in?

GA: As a whole, I would use the word competitive, and I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but they are. And we need three of those five to come in and compete and play as freshman. I'm not going to say they're going to come in and start, but they've got to come in and compete. Austin [Hudson] is here, and he's really the one I'd look at and say he's definitely a true, true safety. Lubern [Figaro] and Serge [Trezy] are tabbed as safeties, but they have the ability to play corner. With [Tanner] McEvoy moving back to quarterback and obviously Dez Southward moving on in his career to hopefully play in the NFL, the safety spot is wide open, so Austin will have some opportunities this spring.

All the kids can run, all are good athletes and I think they all have good ball skills. Hopefully they can all break into what Sojourn [Shelton] did a year ago. Of course, the kids in our program here are working hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and that's what you want.

Do you feel like you've added speed to the perimeter with this class?

GA: That really was one of our major goals, and I think we've accomplished that at the wide receiver and the corner spot. And I feel really good about the speed and the versatility of the three running backs we've signed. I'd also say on the defensive line, they're all very talented athletes that run very well. So hopefully our athleticism shows up next year on the field and in years to come, that we're a team that can make those special plays that really flip a season upside down. That doesn't have one ounce to do with coaching, it has to do with athletic ability. I think we've made progress there, but time will tell.

It seems like you cast a wide net in this class, with players from Hawaii, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee ...

GA: We did. I think when you're at Wisconsin and you walk into any high school in the country or any junior college, and you walk in with motion "W" on your chest, they understand where you're from, understand who you are. Recruiting nationally is something we will do, but we still have our core areas -- which are No. 1, right here in Wisconsin and in the Midwest. But we will branch out nationally when we do have the right kid in the right spot, for sure.

Lastly, running backs coach Thomas Hammock left for the NFL today. Was that a surprise, and what's the plan there moving forward?

GA: We'll make it very peaceful and move through the process I always go through. It's important for me to find a coach that No. 1 is going to take care of the kids and No. 2 is a tremendous recruiter. Thomas was coaching the running backs here at 6:30 in the morning, and he had a decision to make and obviously he made that decision. He wanted to communicate first with the kids, and I think that's so important. It's a decision he and his family made, and I support it. We wish him all the best, but we'll go through the process and get another quality coach here to take care of these kids.

Best B1G games of 2013: No. 10

January, 22, 2014
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We're starting a new series today looking back on the best games involving Big Ten teams from the 2013 season.

It was tough to narrow this list down to just 10, as league teams played several close and intriguing games this year. Heck, Penn State alone seemed to go into overtime every other week. But we're looking for more than just a tight final score in our best-of list. We're taking into account the stakes of the game, the excitement level, the quality of the performances and the atmosphere.

With all that in mind, let's kick things off …

No. 10: Ohio State 31, Wisconsin 24, Sept. 28

[+] EnlargeMiller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller threw four TDs and the Buckeyes held off a late Wisconsin rally to win the huge Leaders Division clash.
The Leaders Division title was basically already decided before October arrived. I was there, and the atmosphere in the Horseshoe was electric that night. LeBron James watched from the sideline, validating this as a truly big event.

How it went down: The No. 4 Buckeyes, as was their custom most of the season, jumped out to an early lead. Braxton Miller returned from a knee injury and threw a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes as Ohio State went ahead 17-7. The backbreaker came just before halftime, as Miller found Philly Brown for a 40-yard touchdown pass with just one second remaining for a 24-14 halftime edge. Ohio State had run the same play on the previous snap, but Wisconsin's Sojourn Shelton dropped a potential interception.

Miller threw his fourth touchdown pass, again to Brown, late in the third quarter for a seemingly insurmountable 17-point advantage. But Ohio State got conservative on offense and Wisconsin roared back with 10 points in the fourth quarter. The Badgers had the ball on their own 10 with 1:29 left but couldn't manage a first down. Buckeyes safety and defensive leader Christian Bryant suffered a season-ending broken ankle on the final series, an injury that would haunt Ohio State.

Player of the game: Miller was terrific, but the best player on the field might have been Wisconsin receiver Jared Abbrederis. Matched up with All-American cornerback Bradley Roby, Abbrederis was nearly unstoppable in hauling in 10 catches for 207 yards and a score.

Stat of the game: Ohio State held Wisconsin's star running back duo of Melvin Gordon and James White to just 105 yards combined. It was their lowest output of the season.

They said it: "It's basically a play that shouldn't happen," Wisconsin safety Dezmen Southward said about the touchdown before halftime. "There was no miscommunication. It was just a bad play."

Season report card: Wisconsin

December, 30, 2013
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New Year's Day and the circus of Big Ten bowls is almost here. But first, we're handing out grades for each Big Ten team's regular-season performance on offense, defense, special teams and overall showing.

Up next: the Wisconsin Badgers.

Offense: A-minus

Despite a new coaching staff, the Badgers looked awfully familiar on offense in 2013. New coordinator Andy Ludwig wisely stuck to the program's bread-and-butter running game, with outstanding results. Led by James White and Melvin Gordon -- both of whom ran for more than 1,300 yards -- Wisconsin had one of the top rushing attacks in the nation while averaging 283 yards per game on the ground. Ludwig's crew ranked third in the Big Ten in scoring at 35.8 points per game and reached at least 30 points seven times.

Bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2012, Jared Abbrederis re-established himself as one of the league's top wide receivers, with 1,051 yards and seven touchdowns. Jacob Pedersen was also a top-notch tight end. The only knock on the offense remained the passing game. While Joel Stave completed 61.6 percent of his passes and threw for 20 touchdowns, he also struggled to connect at times with wide-open receivers. The lack of consistent wide receivers outside of Abbrederis also was a problem.

Defense: A

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Dan Sanger/Icon SMIChris Borland anchored Wisconsin's defense, earning Big Ten defensive player of the year honors.
The switch to a predominantly 3-4 defensive alignment caused little disruption for a senior-laden front seven, and first-year coordinator Dave Aranda oversaw one of the league's top units. Wisconsin allowed just 14.8 points and 294 yards per game, ranking second in the league to Michigan State in both categories. Opponents ran for just 101 yards per game against the Badgers.

Linebacker Chris Borland took home the Big Ten defensive player of the year trophy, and Wisconsin stayed strong even when he missed a couple of games with a hamstring injury during league play. The secondary entered the year as a major concern but allayed those fears with a solid performance, getting help from true freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton and converted quarterback Tanner McEvoy at safety. The defense was tremendous just about all season, which made the breakdowns against Penn State in the season finale all the more puzzling.

Special teams: C-minus

Field goals were once again an adventure for the Badgers, and a lack of confidence in Kyle French's leg might have cost the team in its controversial loss to Arizona State. Jack Russell (woof!) replaced French late in the season and provided more stability to the kicking game. But Wisconsin was still below league average in kickoff and punt returns and punting.

Overall: B-plus

A nine-win season is nothing to scoff at, and Wisconsin already has increased its win total from 2012. It looks even better when you factor in the officiating fiasco that cost the Badgers a possible win at Arizona State. But the loss to Penn State at home on Senior Day left a tarnish on an otherwise excellent season. Wisconsin could have finished 10-2 and in position for a BCS at-large bid, although Michigan State's win in the Big Ten championship game a week later rendered that point moot. A weak nonconference schedule and advantageous cross-division slate (no Michigan State, Nebraska or Michigan) also helped. Still, first-year head coach Gary Andersen managed to keep the program operating at a high level. Beating South Carolina in the Capital One Bowl to get to 10 wins certainly would push this grade to an A for the season.

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CB Shelton exceeding expectations

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
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Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton knew he'd find success. He knew he'd overcome critics who dismissed his 5-foot-9 frame. He knew he'd play a big role for the Badgers.

But the true freshman, who started 11 games this season, just didn't realize that would all come so quickly.

"I had confidence in myself," he told ESPN.com with a laugh. "I just didn't envision success this early. But I was able to get that opportunity, and my whole thing was just to run with it and be confident in myself."

[+] EnlargeSojourn Shelton
Patrick S Blood/Icon SMIFreshman Sojourn Shelton might be short in stature but he's long on confidence in his ability to cover opposing receivers.
Shelton couldn't foresee a regular season that ended with a team-high seven pass breakups and four interceptions. The rest of the team finished with just five combined picks. So it's fair to say the youngster played a major role in helping the Badgers reach the Capital One Bowl, where they will take on SEC foe South Carolina.

Shelton and the UW secondary will have their hands full with Gamecocks QB Connor Shaw, who has thrown only one interception this season in 259 pass attempts.

Shelton always knew he had the ability, but he couldn't be blamed if he harbored a twinge of doubt back in January. The Florida native, who had never before built a snowman, landed in the frigid Badger State at 5-9, 150 pounds -- about 20 pounds lighter than the starting kicker, Jack Russell.

The cornerback heard plenty about his size. His cousin subscribed to a recruiting site back when he was committed to Florida State, and his relative would read aloud fan posts every so often -- about how he was too small, how he'd wind up a bust and how he needed to add meat on those bones. When Shelton switched his commitment to Wisconsin, in part because he wanted to move away from home, those same doubts followed.

But the quick learner with the quicker closing speed entered Madison at 150 pounds of pure determination. He just brushed off the familiar refrain and focused on adding strength and contributing early.

"It was something that everyone talked about," said Shelton, who has gained 22 pounds since enrolling at Wisconsin. "And my whole thing is that, yeah, size does matter -- but it's more about the confidence that comes with it.

"So, yeah, I am small. But I knew if I got under someone like a great strength and conditioning coach, a great weight room program and great teammates -- then I would go out and handle that size issue and play to the best of my ability."

That size hasn't seemed like much of an issue this season. The DB, who now checks in at 172 pounds, is fourth on his team with 26 solo tackles and also managed to produce a team-high 11 pass deflections. With the loss of three key starters since last year, head coach Gary Andersen needed to turn to some untested prospects this season. And that's where Shelton stepped in.

Andersen noticed the rookie's swagger in spring ball almost immediately. And that parlayed into a strong early fall, when Andersen was reassured by the freshman's progress.

"He locked down that spot pretty early in fall camp, and it was his," Andersen said. "He's continued to grow as a young man. ... He's done a tremendous, tremendous job as a freshman at a very difficult position to play. And he will be a tremendous leader and a tremendous player as we move forward."

Of course, Andersen might have forgotten to tell Shelton about his locked-up position in the preseason. A confused Shelton first learned of his Game 1 start about three days before kickoff. Via Twitter.

Fans started congratulating him and the press started tweeting out pictures of the depth chart, but Shelton refused to believe it. It wasn't until "Coach A" -- Andersen -- finally sat Shelton down to explain the decision, and the trust he had in the rookie, that Shelton finally believed his own ears.

He initially thought, if he worked hard, he might earn a start around the middle of the season. But he has quickly shown this coaching staff, and the rest of the Big Ten, that he's a player to watch out for.

And, as a result, expectations for himself have only been magnified.

"I made a statement early this season, but I'm nowhere near satisfied," he said. "I look at those guys like Darqueze Dennard and Bradley Roby, and I want to be considered alongside those guys.

"I want to finish this season strong. And when the opportunity comes, when the time comes, I want to show what I can do."

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