Big Ten: Steve Breaston
Because there were so many deserving players left off the list, I decided to put together an all-decade team to recognize some of the other standouts in the Big Ten from 2000-09. I made the offensive line a bit more general to acknowledge the best players there.
Unlike the top 10, I was a bit more lenient about players who had only one outstanding season during this decade.
QB: Troy Smith, Ohio State
RB: Mike Hart, Michigan
RB: Larry Johnson, Penn State
WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan
WR: Charles Rogers, Michigan State
TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa
C: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa
OL: Jake Long, Michigan
OL: Eric Steinbach, Iowa
DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
DT: Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DE: Tamba Hali, Penn State
LB: Paul Posluzsny, Penn State
LB: A.J. Hawk, Ohio Sate
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
CB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
S: Bob Sanders, Iowa
S: Mike Doss, Ohio State
K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State
P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue
Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State and Steve Breaston, Michigan
What makes a great game? Good teams, good players, lots at stake and lots of drama, particularly in the closing minutes.
I put a special emphasis on games that helped to decide Big Ten championships, bowl championships and national championships.
Without further ado ...
1. Ohio State vs. Miami, 2003 Fiesta Bowl: When the national championship game goes to two overtimes and a Big Ten team wins, it'll be at the top of the list. Ohio State nearly won in regulation, nearly lost in the first overtime and then finally prevailed 31-24 against a talent-stocked Miami team that had won 34 consecutive games.
2. Michigan at Ohio State, 2006: This game had it all: No. 1 vs. No. 2, the sport's top rivalry, national championship implications, unparalleled buildup, the drama of Bo Schembechler's death a day before the game. Ohio State and Michigan combined for 81 points before the Buckeyes prevailed to reach the title game.
3. Michigan at Northwestern, 2000: As regular-season games go, this is about the best you can find. The teams combined for 105 points and 1,189 yards of offense in a contest that saw tons of plot twists. Star running backs Damien Anderson and Anthony Thomas both committed an error in the closing minutes -- dropped touchdown for Anderson, lost fumble for Thomas -- before Northwestern emerged with a 54-51 win. Both teams went on to share the Big Ten title with Purdue.
4. Texas vs. Michigan, 2005 Rose Bowl: It didn't go the Big Ten's way in the end, but Michigan and Texas certainly gave us a game to remember. The Wolverines received great play from quarterback Chad Henne and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston, but Vince Young proved to be too much as Texas won 38-37 on a field goal as time expired.
5. Iowa at Ohio State, 2009: This game essentially decided the Big Ten championship, as the teams met with a Rose Bowl berth at stake. Iowa came in as a major underdog after losing starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi to injury the previous week against Northwestern. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg displayed incredible poise in his first career start, but Ohio State eventually prevailed in overtime after a 39-yard field goal from backup kicker Devin Barclay, a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player.
6. Iowa vs. LSU, 2005 Capital One Bowl: You'll never see a more exciting end to a bowl game, and the first 59 plus minutes weren't bad, either. Iowa built a 24-12 fourth-quarter lead behind quarterback Drew Tate, only to watch it disappear down the stretch. It set the stage for Tate's 56-yard touchdown strike to Warren Halloway as time expired as Iowa won 30-25.
7. Michigan State at Michigan, 2004: Michigan State's losing streak at the Big House appeared over as the Spartans led 27-10 with 8:43 left. But Michigan rallied to tie the game as Braylon Edwards hauled in two touchdowns from Chad Henne. Henne and Edwards hooked up again in the third overtime as Michigan won 45-37 and went on to share the Big Ten title with Iowa.
8. Penn State vs. Florida State, 2006 Orange Bowl: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden generated tons of buildup before kickoff, and the game itself didn't disappoint. It was hardly a masterpiece on either side, but the game generated plenty of excitement as the teams went to three overtimes before Penn State won 26-23 on a Kevin Kelly field goal.
9. Michigan at Minnesota, 2003: Michigan's Big Ten title in 2003 could be directly linked to the greatest comeback in team history against Minnesota at the Metrodome. The Wolverines trailed 28-7 in the third quarter before rallying to win 38-35 on a Garrett Rivas field goal in the final minute. Minnesota was 6-0 before the loss.
10. Penn State at Iowa, 2008: Penn State came to Iowa City with national title aspirations and jumped ahead of Iowa 23-14 late in the third quarter. But Ricky Stanzi stepped up in the fourth quarter and led a dramatic comeback that ended with Daniel Murray's field goal. It marked Penn State's only loss, though the Lions still won a Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Clemons appeared in 19 games for the Wolverines, starting two games as a true freshman in 2007 and one last fall. He has 12 catches for 106 yards in his career.
Concerns about fitting in with Michigan's spread offense proved to be the deciding factor for Clemons, who is a cousin of former Michigan star wideout/return man Steve Breaston.
"It's time for me to make a change and go in another direction than what I am needed for," Clemons told the Valley News Dispatch. "I still love Michigan. It's still my No. 1. Athletically, this is the right move for me. I want to take my blessings and gifts elsewhere."
Clemons wants to transfer to a Pac-10, ACC or SEC school, though he said he hasn't ruled out Big East members Pitt and West Virginia, both of which are close to his hometown of New Kensington, Pa. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Clemons appears on Michigan's roster for spring ball but had not practiced.
"I had a long talk with [head coach Rich Rodriguez] and he wasn't too happy with me leaving," Clemons said. "I just don't want to play in a spread offense. This is best for me as an athlete."
Clemons becomes the third offensive player who started a game last season to transfer from the team. Running back Sam McGuffie left for Rice, and quarterback Steven Threet hasn't announced his next destination.
The Wolverines seem to be featuring smaller, quicker receivers in the spread and have decent depth with Martavious Odoms, Greg Mathews, Darryl Stonum, LaTerryal Savoy, Junior Hemingway and others. Former quarterback Justin Feagin also is working as a slot receiver, and Michigan in February signed Je'Ron Stokes, an ESPNU 150 prospect.
|AP Photo/Charlie Riedel|
|For the second year in a row, a Big Ten receiver made the game-winning touchdown grab in the Super Bowl. This year it was former Ohio State standout Santonio Holmes.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For the second straight year, a former Big Ten wide receiver made the winning touchdown catch in the Super Bowl with exactly 35 seconds left in regulation.
And this time, he took home MVP honors.
Former Ohio State star Santonio Holmes made an electrifying grab in the back of the end zone to lift Pittsburgh past Arizona 27-23 in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday night. Holmes, who made news earlier in the week with an admission that he sold drugs as a kid, had nine receptions for 131 yards to win the game's MVP award.
He's the first Big Ten player to win the award since former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady claimed the second of his two trophies in Super Bowl XXXVIII. Five former Big Ten players -- Brady, Holmes, Len Dawson (Purdue), Desmond Howard (Michigan) and Franco Harris (Penn State) -- have been named Super Bowl MVP.
The Super Bowl was an impressive showcase for the Big Ten, which certainly needed a boost. The Big Ten will continue to take flak for its bowl performances, but arguably no league better prepares its players for the NFL.
Here are some of the highlights:
- Former Michigan linebacker LaMarr Woodley had the Steelers' only two sacks and forced a Kurt Warner fumble that sealed the victory with five seconds remaining.
- Former Minnesota running back Gary Russell scored the game's first touchdown, a 1-yard run for the Steelers early in the second quarter.
- Former Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston had six catches for 71 yards to go along with 43 yards on kickoff and punt returns for the Cardinals.
- Former Purdue linebacker Chike Okeafor finished second on the Cardinals in tackles with six tackles (all solo).
- Former Minnesota tight end Matt Spaeth and former Illinois fullback Carey Davis both had a reception for six yards with the Steelers.
- Former Illinois kicker Neil Rackers connected on all three of his extra-point attempts for the Cardinals. He did not attempt a field goal.
- Former Penn State tackle Levi Brown started for the Cardinals and gave Warner time to rack up 377 pass yards and three touchdowns against the vaunted Steelers defense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan has the most connections with seven players on the active roster for the matchup, including Steelers starting linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Larry Foote and Cardinals reserve wideout and punt returner Steve Breaston. Penn State and Minnesota also are well represented.
- Safety Tyrone Carter -- attended Minnesota
- Fullback Carey Davis* -- attended Illinois
- Guard Trai Essex -- attended Northwestern
- Linebacker Larry Foote* -- attended Michigan
- Wide receiver Santonio Holmes* -- attended Ohio State
- Tight end Sean McHugh -- attended Penn State
- Nose tackle Scott Paxson -- attended Penn State
- Running back Gary Russell -- attended Minnesota
- Tight end Matt Spaeth -- attended Minnesota
- Linebacker Lamarr Woodley* -- attended Michigan
- Linebacker Mike Humpal (injured reserve) -- attended Iowa
- Running back Rashard Mendenhall (injured reserve) -- attended Illinois
- Update: Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau -- attended Ohio State and played cornerback
- Wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner -- attended Purdue and served as a graduate assistant for both the Boilermakers and Michigan
- Running backs coach Kirby Wilson -- Played his final two seasons at Illinois
- Defensive tackle Alan Branch -- attended Michigan
- Wide receiver Steve Breaston -- attended Michigan
- Tackle Levi Brown* -- attended Penn State
- Linebacker Victor Hobson -- attended Michigan
- Long snapper Nathan Hodel -- attended Illinois
- Defensive end Kenny Iwebema -- attended Iowa
- Defensive end Chike Okeafor* -- attended Purdue
- Kicker Neil Rackers* -- attended Illinois
- Tight end Jerame Tuman -- attended Michigan
- Defensive tackle Gabe Watson -- attended Michigan
- Defensive line coach Ron Aiken -- coached Iowa's defensive line from 1999-2006, earned AFCA Division I Assistant Coach of the Year honors in 2002
- Defensive backs coach Teryl Austin -- coached defensive backs at Michigan from 1999-2002 and served as a graduate assistant at Penn State from 1991-92
- Linebackers coach Bill Davis -- Served as a graduate assistant at Michigan State
* -- starter
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The e-mails are flowing in, and it's obvious that Big Ten fans are geared up for the 2008 season.
Let's see what's on your mind:
Shadd, from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Adam, Do you see Ohio State using Terrelle Pryor in a "read option" type of offense when he comes into the game, or do you see the OSU coaches having him execute the same dropback style gameplan that Boeckman plays? Seems like Jim Bollman can be thick headed sometimes when it comes to play packages with different personnel.
Adam Rittenberg: Pryor's skills definitely translate for a read option system, much like the one Illinois uses at times with Juice Williams. It's the reason Michigan wanted Pryor so badly for its new offense. Though he will be used in those situations, I think Ohio State also will have Pryor operate in a more traditional system as he progresses. The first two games, Youngstown State and Ohio, provide excellent opportunities for Pryor to get playing time and run the team's standard offense. If he shows he can pass effectively against college defenses, the Buckeyes should gradually increase his workload. His transition as a runner and a playmaker will be easier than as a drop-back passer, but he's got to learn sometime.
Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: First off, the 2005 field goal kicking meltdown occurred at MSU, not at Michigan. I was at that game, and at the Ohio State game a week later, and I can personally say that the OSU match-up was infinitely more heartbreaking. However, those two losses pale in comparison to the agony of Notre Dame, 2006. I vaguely remember the feeling of happiness while building a lead, but otherwise the entire evening is nothing but a cold, dark, and lonely sinkhole of a memory that haunts me to this day.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks to Andrew and several other e-mailers for pointing out that the 2005 Michigan-Michigan State game did take place in East Lansing, not Ann Arbor. Like Minnesota, Michigan State has had too many traumatic losses in recent years. I covered the Notre Dame game in 2006, and it was a total collapse for the Spartans. The game began under clear skies, but the rain came at halftime and gradually increased. Michigan State led 37-21 with 10 minutes to play, but then went ultra-conservative on offense down the stretch as Notre Dame rallied. Drew Stanton didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter until three minutes remained, and ND cornerback Terrail Lambert intercepted it and scored the game-winning touchdown. The loss spelled the end for coach John L. Smith and sparked one of the greatest radio rants I've ever heard.
David from Champaign, Ill., writes: Do you believe the matchup this year between Illinois-Indiana at 8pm in Champaign will be one of the more exciting games in the Big ten this year? Everyone around here is really looking forward to it! Also, what are your thoughts on Greg Middleton and rising star LB Matt Mayberry? How can we slow down the two quick defenders this year?
Adam Rittenberg: David, as an Illinois fan, you might want to be a little more concerned about Missouri, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State than the Hoosiers, but that game will definitely be worth watching. I've gotten several e-mails about Mayberry, a junior middle linebacker who made 42 tackles as a reserve last season. It seems like hopes are very high for him to solidify Indiana's defensive midsection. Middleton is a beast, but Xavier Fulton can hold his own at left tackle. Should be a great matchup. I'm also interested to see two of the league's most versatile quarterbacks, Juice Williams and Kellen Lewis.
Stan in Grand Haven, Mich., writes: OK, I'm a UM fan so I hope you won't write this off before reading it. WR/TE rankings: did you forget about Carson Butler? Injury and his attitude lessened his p.t. a bit last year, but the dude is one of the best in the conference at his position. Also, why factor in the QB when ranking the unit? That makes no sense--it's like discounting a RB because his line isn't that good. Think Barry Sanders. Finally, all you have to ask yourself when ranking units is which one you'd trade for the other. I guarantee if you were Michigan's coach and you traded your receiving unit for that at Northwestern, you'd be fired instantaneously. 'Nuff said.
Adam Rittenberg: Stan, I'll never write you off, but I've got a hard time bumping up the Wolverines because of Carson Butler. He had a nice grab in the Capital One Bowl, but 39 catches in two years? Even with the off-field stuff and the injury, I need to see more from him. These preseason rankings are largely based on what these players have showed in the past, and besides Greg Mathews and Butler, Michigan hasn't shown much. It doesn't mean with additions like Darryl Stonum, Michigan won't have one of the league's top receiving corps in November. But judging the Wolverines against experienced groups, including Northwestern's, it's hard to put them higher right now. Rich Rodriguez shouldn't want to trade any of his players, but I'm sure he'd love more experience at that position.
Brian from New York, N.Y., writes:I'd like to comment on Penn State's returning DL if I may as I truly believe this could prove to be the best Penn State Defensive Line any of us have ever seen. Of course, every CFB fan knows who Maurice Evans is due to the terrific job he did in earning All-Conference honors last year as a true sophomore. But are outsiders aware of the fact PSU actually returns 52 starts from last year across the line? This represents every player from a unit that finished 2nd in the nation in sacks (46) and 7th in rush D, so we're talking about much more than just Mo Evans here. Opposite Evans at DE is Josh Gaines who started all 13 games and racked up 5 sacks while splitting time with situational pass rusher redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin who had 4 1/2 sacks of his own. And the depth inside - fuggadaboutit! Larry Johnson basically has five proven starter quality DTs in his arsenal including: Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Abe Koroma, BIG Phil Taylor and Chris Baker. The thing to remember with this group is four of the five were merely 2nd year players last fall meaning, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. Have I mentioned freshmen Devon Still and Chimaeze Okoli yet? Let's just say the word this spring is both freshmen are "impressive". Anyways, just want to mention PSU's returning DL before you and others "lock" Wisconsin or somebody else into the #2 conference finish spot behind OSU in the Big Ten this preseason because last year's youngsters in the Blue and White are certain to be even better in '08.
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a quality breakdown of Penn State's defensive line. The Nittany Lions have the league's best defensive front in my view, just ahead of both Ohio State and Illinois. There's experience and talent throughout the line, and the front four will help Penn State survive the loss of linebacker Sean Lee. I ranked Wisconsin at No. 2, but the Badgers are by no means a lock, particularly with all the injuries they had in spring ball. Penn State could jump into that spot, but a reliable quarterback must be identified in preseason camp.
Steve from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: I think Steve Breaston should have been a special teams addition to the All-Lloyd list in the Free Press. When he was healthy, Breaston was a threat every time he touched the ball. That sick return against Illinois where he watched it bounce toward the sideline, grabbed it just before going out, then made 10 guys miss back and froth acros
s the field before scoring stands out.
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, glad to hear Big Ten football is alive and well in Alaska. Breaston would have been a solid addition to the All-Lloyd team. He was the league's most feared return man for several seasons. After seeing your note, I checked out Breaston's highlights on YouTube this afternoon. The Illinois return is third on the rundown. What a play. By the way, any highlight clip with Kool Moe Dee rapping in the background will find its way to this blog.