Big Ten: Stefan Demos

Fresh faces: Northwestern

July, 27, 2011
Our preseason look at three players likely taking on bigger roles this fall continues with the Northwestern Wildcats.

OFFENSE: Tony Jones, WR, sophomore, 6-1, 175

Northwestern is loaded at receiver and boasts experience throughout the offense, but Jones has a good chance to increase his role. Sidelined by a shoulder injury for the first four games, Jones debuted against Minnesota in the Big Ten opener and recorded a 45-yard touchdown on his first career catch in college. He finished the season with 11 catches for 157 yards (14.3 ypc). Jones boasts excellent speed and while he certainly could add a few pounds, he has the ability to stretch the field along with fellow sophomore wideouts Rashad Lawrence and Venric Mark.

DEFENSE: Ibraheim Campbell, S, redshirt freshman, 5-11, 205

Campbell really impressed Pat Fitzgerald and the rest of the coaching staff this spring, rising to a backup role on the preseason depth chart. He could challenge for a starting job opposite Brian Peters and likely will be on the field when Northwestern uses more than four defensive backs. The speedy Campbell came on strong during TicketCity Bowl practice and carried things over into spring ball, where he was arguably the team's top playmaker on defense. He also should be a factor on kickoff returns but will make his mark in the secondary.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Jeff Budzien, K, sophomore, 5-11, 170

The competition at kicker will continue into camp between Budzien and Steve Flaherty, but it'd be surprising if Northwestern leaves its scholarship specialist on the sideline. Budzien is in the mix both for field goals and kickoffs as Northwestern replaces Stefan Demos, a four-year starting specialist who appeared in a team-record 50 games. Budzien, a two-time first-team all-state selection in Wisconsin as a high school star, converted an extra-point attempt last season in his collegiate debut. He boasts a strong leg, recording at least 70 touchbacks on kickoffs in each of his final two high school seasons.

More Fresh Faces

Northwestern spring wrap

May, 4, 2011

2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 3-5 (T-7th)

Returning starters

Offense: 9; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Dan Persa, WR Jeremy Ebert, LT Al Netter, C Ben Burkett, TE Drake Dunsmore, DE Vince Browne, CB Jordan Mabin, S Brian Peters, DT Jack DiNardo

Key losses

LB Quentin Davie, LB Nate Williams, DT Corbin Bryant, WR Sidney Stewart, G Keegan Grant, K Stefan Demos

2010 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mike Trumpy* (530 yards)

Passing: Dan Persa* (2,581 yards)

Receiving: Jeremy Ebert* (953 yards)

Tackles: Brian Peters* (107)

Sacks: Vince Browne* (7)

Interceptions: Brian Peters* and Quentin Davie (3)

Spring answers

1. Trump(y) card: The run game has been Northwestern's biggest weakness during Pat Fitzgerald's tenure, but the staff feels it has a good No. 1 option in sophomore Mike Trumpy. After showing some good signs toward the end of the 2010 season, Trumpy continued to make strides this spring and ended up as the lone starter listed on the post-spring depth chart. Coordinator Mick McCall said Trumpy become a tougher and more complete back this spring. Northwestern needs him to be a consistent run threat in the fall.

2. Defensive depth emerges: Northwestern was a pretty bad defense toward the end of 2010, and depth played a large role in the unit's struggles. The team exited the spring feeling better about its depth and the athleticism it will have on the field this fall. Players like defensive end Tyler Scott, defensive tackle Niko Mafuli and safety Ibraheim Campbell put themselves in position to challenge projected starters in fall camp and log significant playing time this season.

3. Matthews corners market: Jeravin Matthews has been a bit of a journeyman for the Wildcats, a superb athlete without a position. But after starring on special teams in 2010, Matthews seems to have found his calling at cornerback. He quickly locked up the starting job opposite veteran Jordan Mabin. The 5-11, 175-pound Matthews looked more comfortable at the corner spot and gives the secondary a chance to be a strength for Northwestern this fall.

Fall questions

1. Backup quarterback: As Dan Persa continued his recovery from a ruptured Achilles', Northwestern's other quarterbacks took all the reps this spring in what Fitzgerald called a competition for the "No. 1" spot. Persa obviously will be the starter, but none of the other signal callers really separated himself as the backup. The Wildcats fell apart after Persa went down last November, so they'll need improvement from Kain Colter, Evan Watkins and Trevor Siemian before Sept. 3.

2. Linebacker: The spring featured plenty of competition, and it should only continue in August as Roderick Goodlow gets healthy and he and others push the projected starters. Seniors Bryce McNaul and Ben Johnson and junior David Nwabuisi enter the summer as the first-team linebackers, but there are quite a few sophomores and redshirt freshmen behind them. The coaches have tried to upgrade the athleticism at linebacker, a group that struggled for stretches last fall.

3. Kickin' it: Stefan Demos endured his ups and downs in Evanston, but he leaves as one of the more productive specialists in team history. Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty competed throughout the spring to replace Demos, and neither emerged as the clear-cut starter. Fitzgerald said the kicker race could continue up until game week. Special teams could finally be a strength for Northwestern in 2011, but it needs to be able to count on a kicker.

Big Ten mailblog

March, 22, 2011
Reminder: I'm still looking for your Top 25 player lists from 2010 as well as a short rationale (150 words or less). Send them here.

Dave from Allentown, Pa., writes: If the Big Ten goes with a nine game schedule, I am ok with the division membership and mandatory cross over game. At a minimum, we would be playing the schools in the other division 6 out of 10 times (pre 2011 ? it was 75% of the time).If the Big Ten uses an 8 game schedule and a mandatory cross over game, we will be playing the other division teams 4 out of 10 times. As a Penn State fan, games such as PSU vs. Iowa, PSU vs. Michigan will be scheduled less than half the time. If we are in one conference shouldn?t we play each team at home at least once in an undergraduate student?s career?From my perspective, the division alignment and cross-over game with an 8 game schedule will have a negative impact on the conference. Should the Big Ten revisit the divisions and mandatory cross-over games if they don?t go with a 9 game schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Dave. During the expansion process, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany talked extensively about maintaining the intimacy of a league. He doesn't want a situation like Big East basketball where some teams don't play each other every year. Delany wants to go to a nine-game conference schedule, and I think we'll see one in the next five years. It needs to be flushed out because of future scheduling, but I'd be surprised if we don't see nine league games eventually. Now if it doesn't happen, the league could revisit the crossover games, but I can't see the divisions going anywhere.

Aaron from Milwaukee writes: Adam. I seldom diagree with any of your blog posts. However, after reading the big ten post season rankings and the people listed as "just missed the cut" I believe you left out Tyler Sash of Iowa. I understand that there are many great players in the big ten, but come on man. All this guy did was make plays. Please explain to me your reasoning.

Andrew from SEC country writes: Hey Adam, I read blog everyday to keep up with Big Ten news (it's hard to get updates on teams that aren't in the SEC!). Referring to your player rankings, I think you really missed 1 player. Where is Tyler Sash? I'm not just saying this because I am a Hawkeye fan, but I'm genuinely wondering why he is not on the list? He made an impact on many game, even though he did not have the stats he did the past 2 years. Can you give so reasons you did not include him. Other than that, I think you nailed it!

Adam Rittenberg: Sash had a nice season and will go on to have a good NFL career. I just felt other Big Ten standouts impacted games more consistently than he did in 2010. Sash made a huge impact against Michigan State and several other teams, but the consistent playmaking ability we saw from him in 2009 wasn't as pronounced last fall. Again, not saying he had a bad year by any means, but other players had better seasons. You could say "all this guy did was make plays" in 2009, but not in 2010.

Adam S. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, I respect what you do with the player rankings. I know I could not be as objective as you are. But I try to be, and thinking about Ohio State's season, I don't understand how Ross Homan did not even make honorable mention. I think one could argue he was the best player on a very good defense for the past two seasons. As far as NFL potential, I have seen him ranked in the top 5 OLB prospects in some "expert" opinions. I understand if you just had to limit the Ohio State players on the list because no one likes us and they would get angry, but I would rather he be included over Mike Adams.

Adam Rittenberg: Homan was an interesting case because he has been so consistent throughout a very good Buckeyes career. He missed some time with injury this past season but still put up some decent numbers (72 tackles, 2 forced fumbles). I'll go ahead and say that was a miss on my part and Homan should have been at least among the players who barely missed the cut. I definitely didn't limit players from any team, and I wouldn't discount what Adams did at left tackle.

David from Chicago writes: Hey Adam, could you talk more about Northwestern's kicking situation for the upcoming season? Demos's departure always seems to be mentioned in passing, but I think it leaves a huge hole that NU needs to fill. Northwestern isn't a big school, so leaving the spot open for a walk-on doesn't seem like an option. What does the depth chart look like right now? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: David, I totally agree that the kicker situation is critical for Northwestern, given the number of Wildcats games where the kicking game has played a huge role. Sophomore Jeff Budzien and junior Steve Flaherty are the top two options right now in spring practice. Budzien is a scholarship player who came to Northwestern with a decent amount of buzz as a recruit. Flaherty is a walk-on best known for being on the field when Northwestern tried a fake field goal to win the 2010 Outback Bowl against Auburn. Neither guy has much experience, so it's a pretty wide-open race there.

Blackshirt Backer from Minneapolis writes: I disagree about D-Line as Nebraska's strongest position... Linebackers. And it's not close. I'd bet good money that Nebraska's trio of Lavonte David, Will Compton, and Sean Fisher will be the best linebacking group in the country next season. The D-Line might struggle as they are a little undersized for the Big Ten and secondary is breaking in a few too many starters, but Nebraska will have a standard Bo Pelini Blackshirt defense because of the linebackers.

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points, Blackshirt, but you can't say it's linebackers in a runaway. David is an All-America candidate who will be the Big Ten's top returning linebacker in 2011, but Compton had only 15 tackles in nine games last fall and Fisher missed all of last season with a broken leg. While Fisher showed a lot of good things in 2009 as a redshirt freshman, we'll have to see how he responds from the time off. I'm not saying Nebraska's linebackers won't be a major strength, but the safer bet is a defensive line that returns three starters. It will be interesting to see how many linebackers Nebraska plays this coming season and how David & Co. adjust to facing offenses built around the power game.

Chris from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam,I have a hypothetical situation for you. Say Ohio State manages to weather the storm and win the Big Ten next year. It would easily be Tressel's best coaching job and deserving of the Coach of the Year award but would the Big Ten be willing to give him an award right after he got caught for cheating? What would they do in that situation?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, since Big Ten media members vote on this award, I'd be pretty shocked if it went to Tressel after what we've learned in the last few weeks. If Ohio State were to win the Big Ten title, Tressel would get credit, but so would his assistants, who ran the game operations on Saturdays. The interesting thing is that before Tressel's involvement came to light, the situation set up well for him to finally win Coach of the Year, guiding Ohio State to a title despite the absence of the players. But since Tressel is joining his players for the suspension -- and he could face more penalties from the NCAA -- I just can't see him winning this award.

Eric from Brighton, Mass., writes: Hey Adam-I think you did a good job overall on the postseason rankings, but I have a question on one omission: Why was Derek Moye not included in your top 35 (including the first 10 out)?His stats overall were fairly comparable to #9 Sanzenbacher, and he did it with much worse quarterbacking (a true freshman and a walk-on). If your list was designed to take importance to the team into account, Moye has an even stronger case. He basically was the only consistent part of our passing offense.I'm not trying to come across as a whiny Penn State fan (I know you get a lot of those), I'm more just curious for your rationale.Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Adam Rittenberg: You're right, Eric. Moye has a strong case, and he's certainly a guy who gained some consideration for the rankings. He didn't consistently impact games as much as Sanzenbacher, but he wasn't far off. I was comfortable with Sanzenbacher and Indiana's Tandon Doss as my top two receivers, but Moye certainly is in that second group with Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert and Iowa's Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. I'd expect to see his name in the preseason player rankings.
Our Big Ten spring preview continues with a look at the Legends Division.


Start of spring practice: March 23
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Succession plan for Stanzi: Remember James Vandenberg? The plucky young quarterback who nearly led Iowa to a milestone win at Ohio State in 2009 returns to the spotlight as Iowa looks to replace three-year starter Ricky Stanzi. Vandenberg had only eight pass attempts in 2010, so it'll be interesting to see how he adjusts to a potential featured role. John Wienke and A.J. Derby also will be in the mix.
  • A new-look defensive front: Iowa loses three multiyear starters along the defensive line, all of whom likely will go onto the NFL. Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns return, but Iowa must begin building depth around them after not playing a large rotation of linemen in 2010. It'll be a big spring for reserve defensive linemen like Lebron Daniel and Steve Bigach.
  • Rhabdo fallout: Iowa expects the 13 players hospitalized last month with rhabdomyolysis to be ready for spring ball, but there are questions about how the group responds to the rigors of practice. Expect the staff to take every precaution to make sure the players are ready to go. Iowa's internal investigation into what happened could reach its conclusion during the spring practice session.

Start of spring practice: March 19
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Hoke springs eternal: All eyes will be on new coach Brady Hoke as he oversees his first 15 practice sessions as the leading man in Ann Arbor. Hoke and his staff introduce new offensive and defensive systems, and Hoke likely will spend much of his time with a defense that reached historic lows during former coach Rich Rodriguez's tenure. An adjustment period can be expected, but Hoke wants to get things rolling as soon as he can.
  • Denard Robinson: The 2010 Big Ten offensive player of the year thrived in Rodriguez's spread offense. How will he be used in coordinator Al Borges' system? Will Robinson's unique talents still be maximized? After making major strides last offseason, Robinson must continue to grow as he adjusts to a new offense. This is also a big spring for backup quarterback Devin Gardner.
  • The move to the 4-3: Michigan is going back to a 4-3 defensive alignment under coordinator Greg Mattison, and the transition begins this spring. The defensive front has to lead the way, and the personnel is there to get it done. The Wolverines are a little thinner at linebacker, but saw some encouraging signs from Kenny Demens this past fall. Others must emerge at the position this spring.

Start of spring practice: March 29
Spring game: April 30

What to watch:
  • Familiar face, new leadership: Dan Roushar takes over as Spartans offensive coordinator, and while you shouldn't expect many dramatic changes, the veteran assistant will put his personal touch on the system. Roushar wants to fully re-establish the run game Michigan State displayed in the early part of the 2010 season. It'll also be interesting to see how he works with quarterback Kirk Cousins.
  • Reloading at linebacker: Michigan State loses two of the more productive linebackers in recent team history in Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. Returning starter Chris Norman will take on an enhanced role, and the spring will be big for younger linebackers like Max Bullough, Steve Gardiner and Denicos Allen.
  • Elevating the O-line play: You can bet Roushar will have an eye on his old position group, the offensive line, as it replaces starters at both tackle spots and at center. If Michigan State can get its offensive line play where competitors like Iowa and Wisconsin have it, the Spartans will be Big Ten title contenders for years to come. Michigan State has some nice pieces like veteran guard Joel Foreman, but it must build depth this spring.

Start of spring practice: March 24
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • A time to Kill. Jerry Kill conducts his first 15 practices as Minnesota's coach and he has no shortage of challenges. He and his assistants must install new systems on both sides of the ball and, perhaps more importantly, get across their expectations for the players going forward. Kill wasn't overly thrilled with his first impression of the squad, so he has a lot of work to do.
  • Gray back at QB: After a season playing primarily wide receiver, MarQueis Gray is back at his preferred position of quarterback. Kill and his assistants made no secret of the fact that they see tremendous potential in Gray, a dual-threat signal-caller who could end up being a terrific fit for Kill's offense. It will be interesting to see how much Gray can absorb this spring as he prepares to lead the unit.
  • Kim Royston's return: Minnesota's defense got a huge boost when the NCAA somewhat surprisingly granted safety Kim Royston a sixth year of eligibility. Royston, who had a strong season in 2009 before breaking his leg last spring, is ready to go and should provide some much-needed leadership in the secondary. New defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys will be on the lookout for playmakers and leaders this spring, and he'll find one in Royston.

Start of spring practice: March 12
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • New vision on offense: Nebraska likely will have a championship-level defense in 2011, but will the offense bounce back from a poor finish to last season? Tim Beck is the man pegged to get things back on track. Coach Bo Pelini promoted Beck to offensive coordinator, and Beck will begin to implement his vision for the unit this spring. Nebraska figures to stick with the spread, but what version Beck wants to use remains to be seen.
  • The quarterbacks: Taylor Martinez stiff-armed the transfer rumors, and in January said he looked forward "getting healthy and getting my strength and speed back." The big question: Will he also get his job back as Nebraska's starting quarterback? Martinez can help himself with a strong spring, but Cody Green also is in the mix and things could get very interesting if Bubba Starling decides to stick with football rather than pursue a pro baseball career.
  • New faces on staff: In addition to promoting Beck, Pelini hired three new assistants: Corey Raymond (secondary), Ross Els (linebackers) and Rich Fisher (receivers). Raymond takes over a talented group that must replace three standout players, including cornerback Prince Amukamara. It'll be interesting to watch Fisher, who most recently coached in high school and also served as a golf teacher, as he transitions back to big-time football.

Start of spring practice: March 7
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • Rebuilding the defense: Northwestern figures to have one of the Big Ten's top offenses this fall, but there are major issues on the other side of the ball. The Wildcats' defense flat-lined in the final three games, surrendering 163 points and getting dominated at the line of scrimmage. It's a big spring for coordinator Mike Hankwitz, who must fill gaps at spots like linebacker, but more importantly must restore the aggressiveness seen in 2008 and part of 2009.
  • The backup QB race: Dan Persa is still rehabbing his surgically repaired Achilles' tendon and won't do much in spring ball. It provides an opportunity for Northwestern to hold an extensive competition to see who backs up Persa this coming season. Kain Colter provided a spark in the bowl game and could be the answer. Evan Watkins needs a bounce-back spring, and Trevor Siemian will be in the mix after redshirting this past fall.
  • Here's the kicker: Northwestern loses four-year starting specialist Stefan Demos and will look to identify a replacement this spring. Neither Jeff Budzien nor Steve Flaherty has attempted a field goal in a game -- they have combined for two PAT conversions -- so the race will be wide open. Special teams has cost Northwestern at inopportune times over the years, but it could be an area of strength in 2011 if the kicker situation is sorted out.
Here are three keys for Northwestern heading into its TicketCity Bowl matchup against Texas Tech.

1. Help out Evan Watkins: I think Northwestern got a little too comfortable letting Dan Persa work his magic on offense. Then when Persa got hurt, the Wildcats didn't have enough options to contribute around backup quarterback Evan Watkins. Northwestern needs a big game from its veteran offensive line and must establish the rushing attack with Adonis Smith, Stephen Simmons or, if cleared to play, Mike Trumpy. Players like wideout Jeremy Ebert and superback Drake Dunsmore also must help out Watkins in the pass game.

2. Tackle in space: The Wildcats' tackling left much to be desired at times this season, especially in blowout losses to Illinois and Wisconsin to end the regular season. The pre-bowl layoff allowed Northwestern to get healthy and refocus on its fundamentals, but Texas Tech's dynamic spread offense will test the Wildcats' tackling ability. NU needs veterans like linebackers Quentin Davie and Nate Williams and safety Brian Peters to prevent explosion plays.

3. Avoid special teams miscues: Northwestern's perfect ending Saturday calls for kicker Stefan Demos to end the team's 62-year bowl drought with a game-winning field goal. Demos missed a game-winning kick in the 2010 Outback Bowl and had a punt returned for a touchdown in the 2008 Alamo Bowl. Special teams have cost Northwestern too often at critical times, and the Wildcats need strong performances from Demos, return man Venric Mark and others on Saturday.

Big Ten lunch links

December, 29, 2010
What a start to the Big Ten bowl season. We'll find out later today if Illinois can keep things going.
Let's take a look back at Week 11 before spinning it forward to Week 12.

Team of the Week: Northwestern. There are two guarantees with Northwestern football in the last decade or so. Every season, the Wildcats drop a game they shouldn't and pull off an upset, usually against Iowa. After stumbling against short-handed Purdue in early October, the Wildcats continued their trend by upsetting then-No. 13 Iowa on Saturday. Northwestern blew an early lead, which is nothing new this season, but this time Pat Fitzgerald's crew rallied in the fourth quarter behind star quarterback Dan Persa and others. Persa led two fourth-quarter scoring drives and Northwestern held on to beat Iowa for the fifth time in the teams' last six meetings. The victory ensures that Northwestern will record three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1958-60.

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhNorthwestern quarterback Dan Persa rallied the Wildcats to a win over Iowa before leaving the game with a season-ending injury.
Best game: Iowa at Northwestern. The Wildcats controlled play for the first half but led just 7-3 at halftime as both defenses stepped up. Iowa surged throughout the third quarter as the Hawkeyes controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and twice reached the end zone. But an interception by Northwestern's Brian Peters changed momentum and gave the home side new life. Northwestern ran its up-tempo offense to perfection behind Persa on two scoring drives, and Iowa's veteran defenders seemed to wear down at the end. The final minutes featured plenty of drama as Persa fired the game-winning touchdown pass with 1:22 left but ruptured his Achilles' tendon on the play. Iowa had one final chance but couldn't get the ball in the end zone. Northwestern celebrated a bittersweet win, as Persa underwent season-ending surgery Saturday night. The Minnesota-Illinois game also deserves a mention as the Gophers rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to snap their nine-game losing streak.

Biggest play: Several come to mind, including Persa's 20-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Fields to give Northwestern the lead for good. Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire gave his team new life in the fourth quarter with a 90-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown. But my pick took place at The Shoe. Ohio State led Penn State 17-14 early in the fourth quarter when Terrelle Pryor heaved a deep pass to receiver DeVier Posey, who couldn't haul it in but tipped the ball. Fellow wideout Dane Sanzenbacher swooped in to grab the deflection for a 58-yard touchdown. Ohio State went on to a 38-14 romp.

Specialist spotlight: Minnesota's much-maligned special teams units deserve credit after Saturday's win. Stoudermire's kick return was huge, and the Gophers also got a 45-yard field goal from Eric Ellestad and three punts placed inside the Illinois 20-yard line by Dan Orseske. Northwestern and Iowa both were brilliant on kickoffs and punts, as Stefan Demos and Michael Meyer combined for eight touchbacks and Brandon Williams and Ryan Donahue combined to place four punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line. Both teams finished with zero return yards. Purdue's Carson Wiggs continued his strong season by going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts, while Wisconsin's Philip Welch went 2-for-2. Punters Anthony Fera of Penn State and Ben Buchanan of Ohio State both had good performances at Ohio Stadium.

Power surge: Wisconsin turned in a historic offensive performance in crushing Indiana on Saturday. The Badgers' 83 points marked the most against a Big Ten team in team history and the highest total in a game during the modern era. It was the most since the Badgers defeated Marquette 85-0 on Oct. 8, 1915. The 83 points scored tied the Big Ten record for scoring in the modern era, as Ohio State put up 83 against Iowa in 1950.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Wisconsin DEs Louis Nzegwu and J.J. Watt: It wasn't all about the Badgers' offense Saturday, as Nzegwu and Watt combined for four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and a sack against Indiana.
  • Ohio State CB Devon Torrence: After getting picked on in the first half, Torrence responded with a pick-six in the third quarter to give Ohio State its first lead against Penn State. He had six tackles, one for loss, in the game.
  • Minnesota QB Adam Weber: It hasn't been an easy road for the Gophers senior quarterback, but he had a big role in snapping the team's losing streak Saturday. Weber threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions at Illinois. Also meriting a mention is running back DeLeon Eskridge, who rushed for three touchdowns.
  • Michigan LB Obi Ezeh: It has been a bumpy road for Ezeh the last two seasons, but the senior stepped up along with several other Michigan defenders at Purdue. Ezeh recorded a team-high eight tackles, including two for loss and a sack against the Boilers.
  • Northwestern S Brian Peters: After some struggles in recent weeks, Peters made several big plays against Iowa, none bigger than an interception early in the fourth quarter that set up Northwestern's rally. He led the Wildcats with 10 tackles and recorded a forced fumble and two pass breakups.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: The running backs always get top billing at Wisconsin, but Tolzien was nearly flawless against Indiana, completing 15 of 18 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
  • Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure: The talented junior running back continues to do his part for the now-slumping Illini. After recording five touchdowns last week at Michigan, Leshoure racked up 141 rush yards and two touchdowns on only 18 carries against Minnesota.

Now here's a quick look at Week 12.

[+] EnlargeIndiana head coach Bill Lynch
AP Photo/Morry GashPerhaps no coach in the league needs a win like Indiana's Bill Lynch.
Penn State (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-6, 0-6) at Landover, Md.: Embattled Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch could really use a win right about now, but the schedule does him no favors. Lynch signed off on moving this home game to FedEx Field, but he and his team have to anticipate a road-game atmosphere as Penn State fans will pack the place. Indiana must win to maintain hope of becoming bowl eligible, while Penn State tries to ensure a winning season.

Purdue (4-6, 2-4) at No. 12 Michigan State (9-1, 5-1): After an open week, the Spartans resume play with a chance to reach 10 wins for the first time since 1999. It marks the final home game for All-American linebacker Greg Jones, who will take aim at a patchwork Purdue offense. Two of the Big Ten's top defenders share the field in Jones and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, whose team must win its final two games to become bowl eligible.

No. 7 Wisconsin (9-1, 5-1) at Michigan (7-3, 3-3): The Badgers are riding a five-game win streak and put up 83 points in their last game, but they have really struggled in the state of Michigan and especially at the Big House. Wisconsin hasn't won in Ann Arbor since 1994 and hasn't won in the state since beating Michigan State in 2002 at Spartan Stadium. Michigan has won back-to-back games but needs a much cleaner performance in all three phases to record the upset.

Illinois (5-5, 3-4) vs. Northwestern (7-3, 3-3) at Chicago: Football is back at Wrigley Field for the first time since 1970 and the Illini and Wildcats will play the first college game at the Friendly Confines since 1938. The pageantry takes center stage Saturday, but Illinois still needs a win to become bowl eligible and turn down the heat on coach Ron Zook. Northwestern redshirt freshman Evan Watkins makes his first career start at quarterback.

No. 9 Ohio State (9-1, 5-1) at No. 20 Iowa (7-3, 4-2): The Buckeyes must win out to give themselves a chance at a record-tying sixth consecutive Big Ten title. To do so, they must play better on the road after losing at Wisconsin and struggling at Illinois. Iowa gave Ohio State all it could handle last year in Columbus, and this time the Hawkeyes will have starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi available. It's Senior Day at Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa aims for a signature win to salvage an otherwise disappointing season.

Bye: Minnesota (2-9, 1-6).
Time to press the rewind button on Week 9 before looking ahead to this week's games.

Team of the week: Iowa. After two close losses filled with what-ifs, the Hawkeyes left nothing to chance Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa obliterated Michigan State from the opening kickoff, storming out to a 30-0 halftime lead. The Hawkeyes did it with offensive execution, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi put himself on the Heisman radar, completing 11 of 15 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns. They also did it with opportunistic defense, recording three interceptions against the typically poised Kirk Cousins, returning one for a touchdown. Iowa received major contributions from many players and avoided a special-teams miscue. The win tightened the Big Ten race heading into November.

Evan Royster
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State running back Evan Royster ran for 150 yards and two touchdowns against Michigan.
Best game: Michigan-Penn State. It was a Saturday of blowouts around the Big Ten, but two traditional powerhouses provided an entertaining offensive shootout at Beaver Stadium. Michigan's Denard Robinson had another huge night, rushing for 191 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 190 passing yards and a score. But "Shoelace" got upstaged by Penn State's Evan Royster and Matt McGloin. Royster, the former All-Big Ten running back who entered Saturday with just one 100-yard rushing performance in seven games, went for 150 rushing yards and two scores. McGloin sizzled in his first career start, passing for 250 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions. Michigan rallied late to cut Penn State's lead to seven points before the Lions answered. The teams combined for 72 points and 858 offensive yards. Northwestern-Indiana also had some late drama before the Wildcats held on to win 20-17.

Biggest play: Iowa led Michigan State 10-0 late in the first quarter, but the Spartans had entered Hawkeyes territory and had first-and-10 from the 41. Safety Tyler Sash read Cousins perfectly and made an easy interception on a pass to B.J. Cunningham. The exciting part came next, as Sash ran six yards before lateraling the ball over Cunningham's head to teammate Micah Hyde. Hyde raced 66 yards and dived inside the pylon for a touchdown. Iowa went up 17-0 and never looked back. "It's like the point guard that pulls up from 40 feet deep and shoots a 3-pointer," said Sash, a former basketball star in high school. "If he makes it, it's alright. But if he misses it, what are you doing?"

Specialist spotlight: Penn State's Collin Wagner went 2-for-2 on field goals, including a 42-yarder that gave the Lions a 10-point cushion in the fourth quarter. He also ran seven yards on a fake field goal to seal the victory in the final minutes. Northwestern's Stefan Demos has had an up-and-down senior season, but he came up huge at Indiana with two field goals, including a 45-yarder to make it a two-score game with 6:51 left. Both punters in the Michigan State-Iowa game performed well, as Iowa's Ryan Donahue placed three punts inside the 20-yard line and Michigan State's Aaron Bates averaged 48.5 yards per boot. Ohio State recorded a special-teams touchdown as Jonathan Newsome blocked a Minnesota punt and Zach Domicone recovered in the end zone. The Buckeyes also had a 70-yard punt return by Jordan Hall. Illinois' Anthony Santella averaged 43.7 yards on seven punts, and teammate Clay Nurse blocked a Purdue punt.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Ohio State's Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Terrelle Pryor: All three turned in big performances as Ohio State blew out Minnesota. Herron continued to establish himself as the Buckeyes' No. 1 running back with 114 rushing yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Pryor once again was efficient, completing 18 of 22 passes for 222 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Posey had six catches for 115 yards and a score.
  • Iowa DL Mike Daniels: It's probably a combination of Daniels' emergence and the way opponents are double-teaming Adrian Clayborn, but the junior continues to have a huge season. He recorded two more tackles for loss against Michigan State, bringing his season total to 10.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa and WR Jeremy Ebert: They've formed one of the Big Ten's top passing connections and hooked up five times for 98 yards and two touchdowns against Indiana. Persa completed 18 of 28 passes for 212 yards with two touchdowns and no picks, and he added 19 rush yards before being shaken up late in the game.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Robinson single-handedly kept Michigan alive at Penn State with 191 rush yards and three touchdowns and 190 pass yards and a score. He accounted for 381 of Michigan's 423 offensive yards at Beaver Stadium.
  • Indiana DE Darius Johnson: Johnson applied steady pressure to Persa and consistently beat Northwestern's offensive line for 11 tackles, including two for loss and a sack.
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle: With fellow 'backer Ross Homan still sidelined by injury, Rolle stepped up against Minnesota with 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the win.

Now let's spin it forward and look at Week 10.

No. 16 Iowa (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4): The Hawkeyes are riding high after their dominant win against Michigan State, but they'll have to take care of business on the road the next two weeks before the Ohio State showdown. Indiana dominated Iowa last Halloween for three quarters as Stanzi threw five interceptions. But it was all Iowa in the fourth, as the Hawkeyes exploded for 28 unanswered points. Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell will throw the ball a ton, so Iowa's defensive linemen will have their ears pinned back for this one.

Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) at No. 14 Michigan State (8-1, 4-1): Despite Saturday's ugly loss, the Spartans remain very much alive in the Big Ten title race and can get well against the league's worst team. Look for Michigan State to reignite its ground game against a Minnesota team that allows a league-worst 201.8 rush yards per game. Minnesota's Adam Weber torched Michigan State for 416 pass yards and five touchdowns in last year's wacky game in Minneapolis, but he'll face a much tougher challenge this time around.

Illinois (5-3, 3-2) at Michigan (5-3, 1-3): Don't be fooled by the matching records; these teams are headed in opposite directions. Illinois is surging after back-to-back blowout victories and looks for its third consecutive win against the Maize and Blue. Michigan has dropped three consecutive league contests as its defense and special teams continue to regress. Embattled coach Rich Rodriguez needs this one in a big way, and the winning team will be bowl eligible.

No. 9 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) at Purdue (4-4, 2-2): After an open week, the Badgers return to action against a Purdue team coming off of back-to-back ugly losses. Speaking of one-sided games, Wisconsin crushed Purdue 37-0 last year in Madison. This game features Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year front-runners Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue and J.J. Watt from Wisconsin. The two defensive ends have combined for 12.5 sacks and 32 tackles for loss this season.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State (5-3, 2-2): A pretty obvious story line here as Joe Paterno goes for win No. 400. The Nittany Lions' legend would be just the third college coach to record 400 victories -- John Gagliardi and Eddie Robinson are the others -- and the first to do so in Division I-A/FBS. Standing in the way of history is Northwestern, which brings a 4-0 road record this season to Happy Valley. Wildcats star quarterback Dan Persa returns to his home state for the game.

Bye: No. 11 Ohio State (8-1, 4-1)
It's all over in Bloomington, Ind., and here are my quick thoughts on Northwestern-Indiana.

Northwestern 20, Indiana 17: Wins never come easily for Northwestern, which found a way to make things interesting in the end before surviving to become bowl eligible. Six wins should put a team in the postseason this year, so it's safe to say Northwestern is going to a bowl game for the third consecutive season, a first in team history. This wasn't the shootout many had expected, and both defenses deserve a lot of credit. Until allowing a gorgeous Ben Chappell touchdown pass to Duwyce Wilson with 44 seconds left, Northwestern's defense did a really nice job of containing the Hoosiers in the second half. The Wildcats received another big performance from quarterback Dan Persa (18-for-28 passing, 212 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INT) and found a way to close out the game when Persa left with an apparent head injury. The Wildcats also got lifts from receiver Jeremy Ebert (2 TD receptions), kicker Stefan Demos (2-for-2 on field goals) and running back Mike Trumpy, who became the first NU player to record a 100-yard rushing performance since 2008. Chappell had another 300-yard passing performance but couldn't get his team in the end zone enough. The heat likely will rise on coach Bill Lynch, who needs to win a Big Ten game or two down the stretch.
Northwestern fans are holding their breath a bit after star quarterback Dan Persa left the field midway through the fourth quarter.

Persa's fearless playing style might have caught up with him.

Fortunately for the Wildcats, they still extended their lead to 20-10 on a 46-yard Stefan Demos field goal, his biggest kick of the season. A defense that has held Ben Chappell and the Indiana offense in check now must protect a two-score lead.

You had a feeling Persa would get banged up at some stage, given how often he takes off and runs. Backup Evan Watkins entered the game and completed a first-down pass on his first attempt, setting up the field goal. That's got to give Watkins some confidence heading into the final minutes.

Northwestern injury report

October, 28, 2010
Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's road game against Indiana.

  • RB Scott Concannon, hip
  • LB Roderick Goodlow, knee (out for season)
  • OL Evan Luxenburg, knee

Schmidt is the new name here as he deals with an ankle injury he suffered after fumbling the ball near the Michigan State goal line in the first half of last week's game. The junior left and did not return. Starting tight end Drake Dunsmore (ankle) was a game-time decision last week and ended up playing against the Spartans, though he didn't look 100 percent. Quarterback Dan Persa and kicker Stefan Demos both were banged up a bit after last week's game, but they're good to go for Saturday.
Let's press the rewind button on Week 8 before fast-forwarding into Week 9.

[+] EnlargeScott Tolzien
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWisconsin's Scott Tolzien made some clutch throws in the fourth quarter at Iowa.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. The Badgers get the nod for the second consecutive week after their second consecutive signature win, this time on the road against rival Iowa. Bret Bielema's squad had to overcome several key injuries -- running back James White, tight end Lance Kendricks -- and a red-hot Ricky Stanzi, but thanks to a gutsy fake punt call from Bielema, some clutch play by quarterback Scott Tolzien and the emergence of third-string back Montee Ball, Wisconsin rallied for a 31-30 victory. Wisconsin still needs some help to reach a BCS bowl, but it has survived the toughest part of its schedule and will be favored in its final four contests.

Best game: I give a slight edge to Wisconsin-Iowa, but Michigan State-Northwestern also provided plenty of drama. Both games featured fake punts with fun names -- "Mousetrap" and "Chain" -- that led to come-from-behind victories by the road team. We saw tremendous quarterback play in both contests -- Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Northwestern's Dan Persa in Evanston, Iowa's Stanzi and Wisconsin's Tolzien in Iowa City -- and surprising players stepping up in the clutch (Wisconsin's Ball, Michigan State's Bennie Fowler). A ton of good stuff in both games.

Biggest play: The two fake punts are the obvious choices here, especially Wisconsin's on a fourth-and-4 from its own 26-yard line with about six minutes to play. But there were others as well. Tolzien made a huge throw to Ball for a 7-yard completion on fourth-and-5 in the closing minutes, and Michigan State receiver B.J. Cunningham came up huge on the game-winning touchdown, which he caught after Northwestern safety Brian Peters deflected the ball.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State punter Aaron Bates and his Wisconsin counterpart Brad Nortman have received plenty of credit, and deservedly so, for executing the fake punts Saturday. Illinois continued to shine on special teams as punter Anthony Santella averaged 45.6 yards on five punts, Derek Dimke added two more field goals and Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey both blocked Indiana punts. Penn State punter Anthony Fera was outstanding, averaging 45.2 yards a punt with four placed inside the Minnesota 20-yard line. Purdue punter Cody Webster had another big day (six punts, 46.7-yard average), and Iowa's Ryan Donahue had a 71-yard punt. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos rebounded with two field goals against Michigan State.

Game balls:

  • Michigan State DE Tyler Hoover: Hoover gave Northwestern's offensive line all sorts of trouble, recording two sacks and a forced fumble and tying Greg Jones for the team lead in tackles with nine. He tied a career high in tackles and set a personal best in sacks as he continues to blossom for the unbeaten Spartans.
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: The junior is making a serious push for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. He followed up a dominating performance against Ohio State with five tackles, including two for loss and a sack, and a huge blocked extra-point attempt that proved to be the difference in the game.
  • Illinois defenders Corey Liuget, Justin Staples, Terry Hawthorne, Patrick Nixon-Youman and Jonathan Brown: They'll have to share one game ball, but I doubt they'll mind after teaming up to shut down Indiana. Liuget recorded a sack and five quarterback hurries, while Staples had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Nixon-Youman and Brown both recorded pick-sixes, and Hawthorne had an interception and a tackle for loss in his first game back from injury.
  • Penn State CB D'Anton Lynn: Lynn stepped up in a big way at Minnesota, recording a game-high 10 tackles and a 58-yard interception return that turned the momentum in the second quarter.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Anyone who hadn't seen Persa before Saturday gained a ton of respect for the Wildcats' junior quarterback. He repeatedly sacrificed his body and made plays when they seemingly weren't there, recording three rushing touchdowns in the game.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: Despite not having one of his top passing targets in Kendricks, Tolzien led Wisconsin to a huge road victory. He did have an ugly interception, but was otherwise brilliant, completing 20 of 26 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown.
  • Ohio State WRs Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey: One of the nation's top receiving tandems teamed up Saturday for eight receptions, 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Sanzenbacher had a 57-yard reception as he continues to improve his stock for the Biletnikoff Award.
  • Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight: The next Gophers coach will inherit a nice piece in McKnight, who continues to evolve as a go-to receiver. McKnight recorded eight receptions for 103 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State.
  • Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: I put the poor clock management at the end of the game on the coaching staff, not Stanzi, who delivered another tremendous performance. The senior completed 25 of 37 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against Wisconsin.

Now let's spin it forward for a quick look at Week 9.

Purdue (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (4-3, 2-2): Purdue might have to start another new quarterback after Rob Henry's hand injury, and the timing doesn't favor the Boilers, as the Illinois defense is on fire. The game features two of the Big Ten's top pass-rushing groups, as Ryan Kerrigan leads Purdue, while Corey Liuget looks to keep his stellar season going. The winner moves one step closer to bowl eligibility.

Northwestern (5-2, 1-2) at Indiana (4-3, 0-3): This matchup features two similar teams dealing with similar senses of urgency. Northwestern aims to stop a two-game slide on the road, where it has been at its best under Pat Fitzgerald. Indiana probably needs to win this one to keep its bowl hopes alive, and the Hoosiers look to bounce back from a mistake-ridden performance at Illinois. The game also pairs two excellent quarterbacks -- Dan Persa and Ben Chappell -- and two vulnerable pass defenses. Expect a lot of points.

No. 5 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) at No. 18 Iowa (5-2, 2-1): If the Spartans can get out of Iowa City with a victory, they can really start thinking about a run to the national title game. Michigan State certainly has the magic that Iowa had last year but is lacking this year after two fourth-quarter letdowns. Two outstanding quarterbacks meet in the Spartans' Kirk Cousins and the Hawkeyes' Ricky Stanzi, and the game also features defensive stars like Adrian Clayborn and Greg Jones. Iowa can't afford to lose and stay in the Big Ten race.

No. 11 Ohio State (7-1, 3-1) at Minnesota (1-7, 0-4): This one could get ugly. Ohio State's offense has carved up weak defenses all season, and Minnesota ranks 90th nationally in yards allowed (406.4 ypg) and 100th in points allowed (31.9 ppg). Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is licking his chops. Minnesota will need a huge performance from quarterback Adam Weber to keep pace against a banged-up Buckeyes defense that rebounded last week.

Michigan (5-2, 1-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-2): Simply put, this is the biggest game of Rich Rodriguez's Michigan tenure. Rodriguez and the Wolverines come off of a bye week and need a win to stem talk of a 2009 redux. Penn State got the win it needed at Minnesota, but surrendered 433 yards. The Lions will be tested by Denard Robinson and co., while their quarterback situation remains unsettled after Rob Bolden's apparent concussion.

Bye: No. 10 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1)
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State is fortunate to be down only 10-0 right now.

After an Edwin Baker fumble, Northwestern was poised to score a second touchdown as it lined up for first-and-goal from the Spartans' 1. But an opportunistic Spartans defense came up big again, forcing its 21st takeaway of the season, a Jacob Schmidt fumble recovered by Johnny Adams.

Northwestern's defense continued to play tough, forcing a punt, and the Wildcats converted good field position into a Stefan Demos field goal. They still have to feel a little unsatisfied after another turnover near the goal line, a season-long problem.

Schmidt likely won't return after suffering an ankle injury on the play where he fumbled.

Big Ten stock report: Week 7

October, 13, 2010
Invest wisely.


Purdue's coaching staff: Danny Hope and his assistants deserve a ton of credit for their work during the bye week. Purdue's defense looked a lot better against Northwestern and put pressure on Dan Persa with multiple rushers. Offensive coordinator Gary Nord did a great job crafting a game plan that fit redshirt freshman quarterback Rob Henry in his first career start.

Michigan State's secondary: This unit has taken some heat in the past, but the Spartans are showing much better playmaking ability this fall. Michigan State had six interceptions all of last season; the Spartans already have nine this fall after picking off Denard Robinson three times in Saturday's victory. Cornerback Chris L. Rucker recorded his first interception of the season, and corner Johnny Adams and safety Trenton Robinson both have two picks. Michigan State ranks 23rd nationally in pass efficiency defense (110.8 rating) after finishing 101st last season.

Illinois' specialists: The kicking game had been a weak spot for Illinois in past seasons, but punter Anthony Santella and kicker Derek Dimke are off to strong starts this fall. Santella ranks second nationally in punting average (47.9 ypp), and Dimke went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts in the Penn State win to earn Big Ten co-Special Teams Player of the Week honors. Dimke is 10-for-11 on field goal attempts this season and a perfect 12-for-12 on PATs.

Ohio State DE Nathan Williams: Williams has provided a nice jolt for the Ohio State pass rush the last few weeks. After being slowed by a knee injury sustained in preseason camp, Williams has recorded 22 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks in his last three games. Wisconsin had better pay attention to No. 43 on Saturday night.

Wisconsin's team discipline: The Badgers haven't committed a turnover since the third quarter of a Week 2 win against San Jose State, a span of more than four games. Wisconsin is tied for second nationally in fewest turnovers with just four all season. Bret Bielema's crew also is avoiding the dreaded yellow hankie. Wisconsin is tied for the national lead in fewest penalties with just 20 through the first six games. The Badgers rank fourth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game (30.8).

Illinois' red zone offense: While keeping Penn State out of the end zone for most of Saturday's win, Illinois continued to capitalize on its opportunities near the goal line. The Illini are 16-for-16 on red zone chances this season with nine touchdowns and seven field goals. They are one of only three FBS teams (East Carolina, Memphis) perfect in the red zone.


Minnesota's starts to halves: The Golden Gophers have held their own in the second quarter (47-47) and the fourth quarter (59-56) this season, but they really struggle to begin both halves. Tim Brewster's crew has been outscored 49-27 in the first quarter and 42-24 in the third quarter this season. Wisconsin outscored the Gophers 14-0 in both quarters on Saturday.

Northwestern's special teams: The kicking game costs Northwestern dearly in at least one loss per season, and it happened again Saturday against Purdue. Northwestern had two fumbled punts (losing one), a blocked field goal attempt and a badly missed field goal in the final minutes. Senior kicker Stefan Demos has struggled this year, going just 8-for-13 on field goal attempts and 15-for-18 on PATs. Coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't see the need for a special-teams coordinator, but the third phase remains an area that must be upgraded.

Penn State's team leadership: This applies to Joe Paterno, his assistants and team captains Brett Brackett and Ollie Ogbu. After having a players-only meeting last Monday, Penn State played its worst game in recent memory and then had some finger-pointing in the postgame interviews, including this comment from running back Evan Royster: "I wish I could get in there and play every position and play with the desire some people don't have." Royster might want to worry about playing his own position better, and Penn State needs to take a long look in the mirror during a much-needed bye week.

Denard Robinson: Robinson did some good things against Michigan State, but you just can't throw interceptions, and the Michigan quarterback had three of them after throwing just one in his first five games. The sophomore showed some indecision on several passes, including one that Trenton Robinson picked off in the end zone. His desire to make big plays is tremendous, but Shoelace also must learn that it's OK to throw the ball away at times.

Indiana's pass rush: Coach Bill Lynch admitted Tuesday that the Hoosiers used more of a "controlled rush" against Ohio State to keep Terrelle Pryor from breaking contain, which makes sense. Except that Pryor wasn't 100 percent after his quad injury and picked apart a poor Hoosiers secondary with plenty of time to throw. Indiana has only seven sacks through the first five games and really misses Jammie Kirlew up front.

Midseason review: Northwestern

October, 12, 2010
Northwestern Wildcats

Record: 5-1 (1-1 Big Ten)

It says something that Northwestern can go 5-1 in the first half and still feel a little disappointed. After overcoming myriad mistakes to win the first five games, the Wildcats couldn't escape their problems with penalties and special teams in Saturday night's home loss to Purdue. A win against the banged-up Boilers would have given Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962. Still, Pat Fitzgerald's crew should feel fortunate to be 5-1 after finding ways to win despite not playing its best football. Junior quarterback Dan Persa has been fabulous so far, ranking fourth nationally in passer rating (173.3) because of a sparkling completion ratio (78 percent) and three 300-yard passing performances. His receivers also have been outstanding, which helps because Northwestern's struggles in the run game have carried over from 2009. Despite several attempts and personnel groupings, the Wildcats rank ninth in the league in rushing average (143.3 yards per game). The defense has been opportunistic so far with 14 takeaways, including three interceptions by linebacker Quentin Davie, although the secondary looks vulnerable after losing three multiyear starters from the 2009 team. Northwestern has capitalized on a weak schedule so far, but to keep winning games, the Wildcats must cut down on penalties (46 for 395 yards) and find more consistency from kicker Stefan Demos and the special-teams units. The good news is Fitzgerald's teams typically play their best in November.

Offensive MVP, QB Dan Persa: An obvious choice here, as Persa has been exceptional in the first six games. He executes Northwestern's short-passing attack extremely well and remains a threat to run with 295 rush yards and three touchdowns. He has completed 138 of 177 passes for 1,663 yards with 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions. Wide receiver Jeremy Ebert (35 receptions, 560 yards, 5 TDs) merits a mention here.

Defensive MVP, Quentin Davie: The senior has been a little quiet in Big Ten play but very active during the nonconference, recording three interceptions in the first three contests. Davie boasts 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 5 passes defended and a forced fumble. Defensive end Vince Browne (8 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and tackle Jack DiNardo also deserve to be recognized.