Big Ten: Tate Forcier

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
5:00
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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.
The Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry dates back to 1887 when the Wolverines instructed the Irish in the rules and ways of the game. Today, it’s still one of the most well-known and respected matchups in the country. But on Saturday, the two teams will meet for the last time (for the foreseeable future) in Michigan Stadium. To commemorate this event, we’ve counted down the top five games in the rivalry’s history in the Big House.

5. 2009 | Michigan 38, No. 18 Notre Dame 34

Enter Tate Forcier. His career at Michigan was short-lived, but as a freshman he led one of the greatest come-from-behind drives against Notre Dame in Michigan Stadium. With Notre Dame forced to punt, Forcier and the Wolverines got the ball back with 2:13 left in the game, down three. The freshman led Michigan down the field and capped the drive with a 5-yard TD pass with 11 seconds left in the game. The ensuing PAT sealed the victory for Michigan.

4. 1981 | No. 11 Michigan 25, No. 1 Notre Dame 7

The Wolverines had started the season No. 1 in the country, but Wisconsin wiped the floor with them. With Notre Dame’s season-opening win over LSU, the Irish came into the Big House ranked No. 1 in the nation, while the Wolverines had dropped to No. 11. But behind clutch defensive performances, which held the Irish without a second- or third-quarter first down, Michigan rolled.

3. 2011 | Michigan 35, Notre Dame 31

If we were counting down the top moments of the rivalry, this would arguably be No. 1. And there are 114,804 people to testify to that. However, as far as the game as a whole, this one was basically a snoozer until the final moments. Everyone remembers Roy Roundtree’s game-winning catch from Denard Robinson with two seconds left. Or they remember the catch, one play earlier, by Jeremy Gallon. Those kinds of memories erase the fact that the Wolverines went into the fourth quarter down 24-7. But that final quarter -- with all the emotion and anticipating -- gets the 2011 game on the top-five list.

2. 1989 | No. 1 Notre Dame 24, No. 2 Michigan 19

Bo Schembechler's final game in this series was not a memorable one for the Wolverines, who saw Raghib Ismail return two kickoffs for touchdowns. It was the defending national champions, the No. 1-ranked Irish against No. 2 Michigan, with Irish quarterback Tony Rice attempting just two passes in the wet conditions. The Wolverines saw a 10-game unbeaten streak snapped, and the Irish became the first team to beat Schembechler three straight times.

1. 1991 | No. 2 Michigan 24, Notre Dame 14

Up three early in the fourth quarter, Desmond Howard made the first of many memorable plays in what would become a Heisman Trophy-winning season. Howard caught a 25-yard pass from Elvis Grbac on fourth-and-1, a signature moment in this rivalry's history, known to Wolverine fans simply as “The Catch.” Michigan snapped a four-game losing streak to Notre Dame.

Looking back on B1G freshman QB starters

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
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It's rare for a true freshman like Christian Hackenberg to earn the starting quarterback job -- but it's not unheard of in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeChristian Hackenberg
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/Getty ImagesChristian Hackenberg started his Penn State career with a win over Syracuse on Saturday.
We took a look at the Big Ten true freshmen who came before the Penn State signal-caller to see how they fared. We looked at quarterbacks from the past 10 years who started at least six games that first year and offered a rundown of those true freshman seasons, along with how their careers played out.

There's no telling right now where the four-star Hackenberg (Scout grade: 88) might end up. But here's what Big Ten history has to say:

Minnesota, 2012
Philip Nelson, Scout grade: 74

Freshman stats: 75-of-152 (49.3 percent) for 873 yards, eight TDs, eight INTs; 69 carries for 184 yards

Record as freshman starter: 2-5

Freshman synopsis: Nelson was expected to redshirt but, between injuries and inconsistent QB play, his number was called earlier. He started the last seven games and had limited success. But he showed some potential such as the Purdue win, where he completed 68 percent of his passes and threw three touchdowns.

College career & beyond: He started Week 1 and helped lead Minnesota to a 51-23 win over UNLV. He could be in line to become a four-year starter, and all eyes will be on whether he can guide Minnesota to back-to-back bowls.

Penn State, 2010
Rob Bolden, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 112-of-193 (58 percent) for 1,360 yards, five TDs, seven INTs; 30 carries for minus-11 yards, one TD, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-3

Freshman synopsis: Bolden became the first true freshman to start a PSU opener in 100 years. He impressed in Week 1 by dominating Youngstown State with 239 passing yards, two TDs and a pick -- but his season would falter afterward. He seemed to regress, and a quarterback battle with Matt McGloin lasted all season. (Actually, for two seasons.) PSU finished 7-6 and lost to Florida in the Outback Bowl. Bolden didn't play in the postseason.

College career & beyond: Bolden transferred to LSU last year but has yet to attempt a pass. He's not poised for any playing time, and rumors have continued to circulate that he's considering another transfer.

Michigan, 2009
Tate Forcier, Scout grade: 81

Freshman stats: 165-of-281 (58.7 percent) for 2,050 yards, 13 TDs, 10 INTs; 118 carries for 240 yards, three TDs, four fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 5-7

Freshman synopsis: He got off to a solid 4-0 start and made his mark by throwing a last-second, game-winning TD against Notre Dame. ESPN analyst Matt Millen, echoing a shared sentiment of Forcier's bright future, called him the best QB in the B1G. But his career took a nosedive in Week 5. The Wolverines lost to Michigan State, 26-20, and Forcier would win just one more game -- against Delaware State -- the rest of the season. His early performance still helped him earn a spot on ESPN's All-Big Ten freshman team.

College career & beyond: He was briefly listed as the third-string QB at the start of the next season and saw limited time behind Denard Robinson. He hoped to transfer to Miami (Fla.) after a sophomore slump but ended up at San Jose State. He then withdrew from that school in January, 2012 because of poor academic standing.

Ohio State, 2008
Terrelle Pryor, Scout grade: 93

Freshman stats: 100-for-165 (60.6 percent) for 1,311 yards, 12 TDs, four INTs; 139 carries for 631 yards, six TDs, one fumble lost

Record as freshman starter: 8-1

Freshman synopsis: He came in as a consensus top-five national recruit, and he lived up to expectations. By Week 4, the dual-threat rookie supplanted Todd Boeckman -- a quarterback who took the Buckeyes to the national title game a year before -- and started the rest of the regular season. OSU finished 10-3 and lost the Fiesta Bowl to Texas. He was named Big Ten freshman of the year.

College career & beyond: He helped OSU earn three straight BCS berths before declaring early for the NFL's 2011 supplemental draft when it looked as if he'd be suspended. Oakland gave up a third-round pick for him, and he currently looks to be the backup. He has thrown for 155 yards so far in his NFL career.

Illinois, 2006
Juice Williams, Scout grade: 82

Freshman stats: 103-for-261 (39.5 percent) for 1,489 yards, nine TDs, nine INTs; 154 carries for 576 yards, two TDs, six fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 1-8

Freshman synopsis: Williams got the nod in Week 4 and shocked the nation one week later at Michigan State. Coming in as huge underdogs -- about four touchdowns -- Illinois' Williams threw for 122 yards and rushed for 103 to upset the Spartans 23-20. Illinois dropped the last seven games and finished 2-10, but four losses were decided by one score. He was an honorable mention on The Sporting News' freshman All-American team.

College career & beyond: Williams' sophomore campaign was a memorable one, as he beat No. 1 Ohio State -- the Illini's first win over the top-ranked team in a little over a half-century -- and finished 9-4 with a season-ending loss in the Rose Bowl. That was the highlight of his career, however, as he won just eight games over the next two seasons.

Michigan, 2004
Chad Henne, Scout grade: N/A

Freshman stats: 240-of-399 (60.2 percent) for 2,743 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs; 55 carries for minus-137 yards, two TDs, two fumbles lost

Record as freshman starter: 9-3

Freshman synopsis: The Pennsylvania native started Week 1 when a sore arm hindered Matt Gutierrez, and Henne never looked back. He picked up national headlines in October after back-to-back 300-yard games. Said Minnesota coach Glenn Mason: "If you didn't know he was a freshman, you wouldn't know he was a freshman." He tied Elvis Grbac's season record for touchdown passes with 25 and, unsurprisingly, made the All-American freshman team. He also led Michigan to the Rose Bowl, in which it lost to Texas, 38-37.

College career & beyond: Henne's college career saw its ups and downs, but he's still at -- or near -- the top of most Michigan passing records. He went 0-4 against Ohio State, but UM still finished in the top 25 in three of his four seasons. Miami selected him the second round of the 2008 NFL draft, and he's now the backup QB on Jacksonville.
By now, you've seen where several Big Ten recruits stack up in the final ESPN 300 for 2013. Check back in three or four years to see who met expectations and who did not.

What about the most decorated Big Ten recruits from four years ago? In preparation for national signing day Feb. 6, the folks at RecruitingNation took a look back at the ESPN 150 from 2009 (there wasn't an ESPN 300 back then) and recorded what each recruit did at the college level.

A total of 21 Big Ten recruits made the 150 from 2009. Some turned out to be stars, others never got on track and a few haven't written the final chapter of their college careers.

Let's take a look (positions listed according to ESPN recruiting profiles):

Top 50

  • No. 22: Jaamal Berry, RB, Ohio State -- Played sparingly in 2010 and 2011 before off-field issues led to a suspension. Transferred to FCS Murray State and recorded 675 rush yards this past season.
  • No. 32: Dorian Bell, LB, Ohio State -- Appeared in eight games for Ohio State in 2010 before being suspended the following year and eventually transferred to FCS Duquesne, where he performed well in the 2012 season.
  • No. 47: Craig Roh, DE, Michigan -- Started 51 games for Michigan, a team record, and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons.
Nos. 51-100

  • No. 67: Je'Ron Stokes, WR, Michigan -- Played sparingly at Michigan before the coaching transition from Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke. Transferred to Bowling Green and caught 15 passes this past season.
  • No. 69: David Barrent, OT, Michigan State -- Played in seven games as a reserve before back problems ended his career in May 2011.
  • No. 74: Eric Shrive, OT, Penn State -- Shrive appeared in every game as a reserve guard in 2012 and could compete for a starting job in 2013.
  • No. 81: Quinton Washington, G, Michigan -- Washington has moved to defensive tackle and entered the starting lineup in 2012, recording 32 tackles and a sack.
  • No. 87: Terry Hawthorne, WR, Illinois -- Hawthorne played mostly cornerback at Illinois and made starts in all four seasons, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two. He also returned kicks and punts and should be selected in April's NFL draft.
  • No. 88: C.J. Barnett, CB, Ohio State -- Barnett has been a mainstay in Ohio State's secondary the past two seasons, recording 56 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups in nine games in 2012. He is expected to start at safety for the Buckeyes in 2013.
  • No. 94: Isaiah Bell, S, Michigan -- Bell didn't play a snap for Michigan before leaving the program in March and playing for Division II Lake Erie College this past season.
  • No. 99: Jamie Wood, S, Ohio State -- Wood has appeared in 30 games for the Buckeyes, mostly on special teams, but has battled shoulder problems and underwent surgery last fall.
Nos. 101-150

  • No. 101: Denard Robinson, athlete, Michigan -- Who's this guy? Robinson started three seasons at quarterback for the Wolverines, setting an NCAA quarterback rushing record as well as many other milestones. He was the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 and finished his career with 4,495 rush yards, 6,250 pass yards and 91 touchdowns.
  • No. 112: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State -- Had a breakout season in 2010 as the starter, rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns. But he lost his starting job to Le'Veon Bell in 2011 and declared for the NFL draft after the season. He was a seventh-round pick of the San Diego Chargers and spent most of 2012 on the team's practice squad.
  • No. 115: Kraig Appleton, WR, Wisconsin -- Had three receptions in the 2009 season before being suspended the following spring and eventually leaving school. He was the victim of a shooting in July 2011 but survived.
  • No. 116: Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa -- Started the past two seasons and finished second on the squad in receptions in both years (47 in 2012) but never blossomed like many thought he would.
  • No. 124: Melvin Fellows, DE, Ohio State -- Fellows played sparingly in five games in 2010 but endured chronic knee problems that eventually forced him to take a medical harship, ending his career.
  • No. 126: Jack Mewhort, C, Ohio State -- Mewhort saw the field a lot early in his career at guard and moved to left tackle last season, where he flourished. He'll help anchor Ohio State's offensive line in 2013.
  • No. 128: Moses Alipate, QB, Minnesota -- Has been a nonfactor so far in his career. Switched from quarterback to tight end and checks in at 6-foot-5, 297 pounds.
  • No. 131: Duron Carter, WR, Ohio State -- Saw the field early in his Buckeyes career before academic problems eventually forced him to leave for a junior college. He transferred to Alabama but never played because of academics and transferred again to Florida Atlantic, where he sat out the 2012 season.
  • No. 144: Tate Forcier, QB, Michigan -- Forcier started the 2009 season, led Michigan to a memorable win against Notre Dame but struggled down the stretch and lost his job to Robinson in 2010. Academic issues sidelined him for the 2011 Gator Bowl, and he left school weeks later. Although he transferred to San Jose State, he never played.
  • No. 148: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan -- Lewan has been a mainstay for Michigan's offensive line, earning Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors in 2012. Projected as a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Lewan surprised many by deciding to return to Michigan for his senior season.

An interesting mix, for sure. Lewan, the last player listed, might turn out to be the most successful. So few of the Big Ten's top 100 recruits panned out, and Ohio State fans have to be shaking their heads a bit at this list, as only Mewhort and Barnett look like success stories. There were unfortunate injury situations like Michigan State's Barrent and Ohio State's Fellows, some academic casualties (Carter, Forcier), and a downright sad story with Appleton. Baker was the only player on the list to make an early jump to the NFL.

Although several players didn't pan out, Michigan undoubtedly has to feel the best about the 2009 class as Robinson produced a record-setting career, Roh was a solid player, Lewan is a star and Washington could be a star in 2013.

Eight Big Ten teams are represented on the 2009 list. Those that aren't: Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue.

RecruitingNation also re-ranks the top 10 classes , with both Ohio State (No. 9) and Michigan (No. 10) holding their positions.

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 15, 2012
5/15/12
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Here are your lunchtime -- wait for it -- links.

Big Ten lunch links

January, 10, 2012
1/10/12
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Don't know about you, but I'm still glowing from the majesty that is SEC football. Some of the greatest three-and-outs these eyes have ever seen.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2

September, 8, 2011
9/08/11
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Week 2 is just around the corner, and it brings us a few more appealing matchups around the Big Ten.

Here are 10 items to track during a 12-pack of games Saturday.

1. The Big House in prime time: Michigan has played 520 games at Michigan Stadium, but none has kicked off at night. History will be made Saturday at the Big House as Michigan takes on Notre Dame under the lights. It should be an electric atmosphere at Stadium and Main as more than 110,000 fans will watch two of the game's iconic programs, who will honor the occasion with retro uniforms. Trust me, they're better than Maryland's.

[+] EnlargeMichigan Stadium
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan Stadium will host its first night kickoff in its more than 80-year history.
2. Opportunity knocks for Nits: Penn State wants to be viewed as a legitimate Big Ten title contender and a team that belongs among the nation's elite. There's no better opportunity to make a statement than Saturday's game against No. 3 Alabama. Penn State hasn't beaten a top-5 team in the Associated Press poll since crushing Arizona in the 1999 season opener. An upset of Alabama would put the Penn State program -- and not just its iconic coach Joe Paterno -- in the national spotlight.

3. Coker tries to rebound: Iowa running back Marcus Coker entered the season with a lot of hype but fumbled twice in the season opener, earning him a trip to the bench. Coach Kirk Ferentz remains confident in the sophomore and was pleased Coker didn't use the lousy weather conditions as an excuse. Coker gets a great chance to redeem himself on the road against in-state rival Iowa State, which last week surrendered 204 rush yards to FCS Northern Iowa.

4. Bauserman's building blocks: Joe Bauserman took a step toward securing Ohio State's starting quarterback spot in the opener, completing 12 of 16 pass attempts with three touchdown strikes to tight end Jake Stoneburner. Although freshman Braxton Miller remains very much in the mix and should see time Saturday against Toledo, another strong performance from Bauserman should establish the senior as the team's top option before a Week 3 trip to Miami.

5. Linebacker U. vs. Trent Richardson: Penn State will lean heavily on its defense, and particularly its linebackers, as it aims for the upset against Alabama. Linebacker U appears to be back as the Lions boast excellent depth in the defensive midsection with Michael Mauti, Nate Stupar, Glenn Carson, Khairi Fortt, Mike Hull and Gerald Hodges, who got hurt last year in Tuscaloosa but could be a difference-maker Saturday. The linebackers must contain one of the nation's top running backs in Heisman Trophy candidate Trent Richardson.

6. Huskers' offense under the gun: Nebraska scored 40 points in its opener but left plenty of questions on the offensive side. Coordinator Tim Beck is looking for fewer mental mistakes and better execution Saturday night against a Fresno State team that surrendered 36 points and 417 yards to Cal last week. Quarterback Taylor Martinez must show greater accuracy as a passer, while an offensive line dealing with youth and injuries needs to show it can control the line of scrimmage before the competition level gets tougher.

7. Gophers, Hoosiers look for first wins: Minnesota and Indiana were the only Big Ten teams to lose last week, although the teams came away feeling differently about their performances. The Gophers never quit at USC and nearly stunned the Trojans. They return home to TCF Bank Stadium and look for a strong effort against a New Mexico State squad that lost its opener 44-24 to Ohio. Indiana faces a much tougher challenge in Virginia and looks for better play up front on both sides of the ball, not to mention more enthusiasm, as it makes its home debut at Memorial Stadium.

8. The Denard Show, Act II: Quarterback Denard Robinson carried Michigan to a dramatic victory last year with a record-setting performance at Notre Dame Stadium. Can "Shoelace" replicate his heroics Saturday night against the Irish? He'll face what looks like a stronger Notre Dame defense, and he's still transitioning to a new offensive system. But Robinson also works behind a strong offensive line and finally appears to have some help at running back with Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw. It will be interesting to see if Notre Dame can contain a Michigan quarterback after being flummoxed by Robinson and Tate Forcier the past two seasons.

9. Backup QBs try to maintain winning ways: Northwestern's Kain Colter and Purdue's Caleb TerBush both recorded victories in their first career starts at quarterback last week. Colter, filling in for the still-rehabbing Dan Persa, showed improved passing skills to complement his running ability against Boston College. He needs to limit hits and build more confidence against FCS Eastern Illinois. TerBush made big throws in clutch situations against Middle Tennessee but must limit mistakes on the road at Rice. Purdue's Robert Marve also could return to the field.

10. Receiving orders: Week 1 was huge for Big Ten wideouts, as five players eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the opening games. Illinois continues to look for big things from A.J. Jenkins and Darius Millines this week against South Dakota State. Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham needs one catch to become the team's all-time receptions leader. Other receivers like Iowa's Marvin McNutt and Indiana's Damarlo Belcher try to build on impressive opening performances.

Big Ten chat wrap: Sept. 7

September, 7, 2011
9/07/11
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We finally had games to discuss during today's Big Ten chat, and all you care about was realignment.

I don't blame you. Once again, the prospect of major conference expansion is overshadowing the product on the field. And while the Big Ten continues to say expansion is on the back burner, the league isn't burying its head in the sand.

Here's the full chat wrap-up, and some highlights:
David (NY): With the probable A&M move and the likely disbanding of the Big 12, do you think that the Big 10 will be able to force ND's hand. I think that after ND, Rutgers and Syracuse make the most sense, both academically and regionally to bring NY into the fold.
Adam Rittenberg (12:05 PM): David, if the landscape changes to a point where ND has to join a conference, the Big Ten should do everything it can to add the Fighting Irish. I don't think it makes sense to add both Rutgers and Syracuse. One is fine, but neither program really moves the needle nationally (Syracuse more than Rutgers). I'd prefer to see Rutgers/Syracuse and a team like Maryland, which puts the Big Ten in another market.
Rick (Adel, Ga.): Hey Adam. I like the current 12 team format in the B1G. I really do not want it to change. My question is will the standards of the B1G cause the conference to paint itself into a corner in terms of not exploring the idea of a great and traditional program like Oklahoma. If the B1G ever expands I just dont see how adding Maryland, Syracuse, and Rutgers would help the B1G product. In fact I think it will dillute it. Sure they are great academic schools and in great media markets but compare that to Oklahoma which is rich in tradition, okay academically, and a great product to promote on TV. I just rather watch Oklahoma vs. Michigan, OSU, Penn St. Neb. etc. over Syracuse vs the same teams I mentioned.
Adam Rittenberg (12:15 PM): Rick, you bring up some really good points here, and I think Brian and I will explore Oklahoma more in the blog. There are some programs the Big Ten certainly could add and other programs the league never would add. Oklahoma falls somewhere in the middle. I know this is hard for some fans to understand, but Oklahoma would be an academic stretch for the Big Ten. No AAU membership, and while OU has a decent academic reputation, it would lag behind the others in the Big Ten. I know I'll take some heat for this, but Nebraska was a bit of a reach, too. I agree OU brings a lot to the table and could be a great addition in a lot of ways, but I just don't think the Big Ten presidents are willing to overlook the school's shortcomings.
Will (Columbus, OH): If Denard passes for 200 yds and runs for 50 more, can Fitz or Shaw carry the load and give Michigan a victory or is Denard going to have to carry the load like he did in last years ND game?
Adam Rittenberg (12:21 PM): Great question, Will. It has taken heroic performances by QBs for Michigan to win its past two games against ND (Tate Forcier in 2009, Denard last year). I think it's imperative for Michigan to establish a rushing attack outside of Robinson. I liked what I saw from Fitz Toussaint last week. Now can he stay healthy? Time will tell. But if the Michigan line performs well and the RBs take the load off of Robinson, it makes the Wolverines' offense really dangerous. That said, I expect a much better performance from Notre Dame this week.
Jake (Chicago): I know Notre Dame has many Big Ten rivalries already, but don't you think an annual Illinois-Notre Dame game in Chicago makes a lot of sense? Tons of alumni/fans for both schools are in Chicago, I think it would become a great tradition...also the new Illini AD has a relationship with Brian Kelly so that could help make this happen
Adam Rittenberg (12:41 PM): Jake, that's a really good call. I don't know how willing Notre Dame would be to play another Big Ten school, but an Illinois game in Chicago makes a lot of sense. The Mike Thomas-Brian Kelly connection certainly could help. I doubt we'd see more than a two-game series -- especially with ND playing Northwestern in 2014 and 2018 -- but it would be a good starting point.

Thanks again for the questions. Same time, same place next week.
Troy Woolfolk has been around Michigan football all his life, and he knows the hyperbole that often follows the Maize and Blue.

Woolfolk, a fifth-year senior cornerback for Michigan, heard the big declarations about the direction of the program after season-opening wins in 2009 and 2010.

He issues some words of caution entering Saturday's opener against Western Michigan.

"I have a problem with people saying, even if we win this next game, that Michigan is back," Woolfolk told ESPN.com this week. "We have to earn that right, every game, to say Michigan is back. So I won't be proud until the last game. If we win all the games, that's when I'll know we're finally back."

[+] EnlargeTroy Woolfolk
AP Photo/Tony DingTroy Woolfolk could lean on his father, Butch, himself a former Michigan star, when it came to dealing with injuries.
Woolfolk's attitude is refreshing. If the grand proclamations about Michigan after the past two openers proved true, Tate Forcier would be a Heisman Trophy candidate and the defense would consistently keep opponents out of the end zone. Obviously, neither of those things panned out.

What Saturday's opener represents is an opportunity for Michigan's defense to start the process of returning to its traditional form. The Wolverines not only veered off track the past three seasons, they totally derailed, finishing no better than 77th nationally in points allowed and bottoming out in 2010 by finishing 110th nationally in yards allowed.

While many will be watching electric quarterback Denard Robinson and his transition to a new offense Saturday, the more significant developments will take place on defense. New coach Brady Hoke and his staff, led by veteran defensive guru Greg Mattison, have spent the past few months repairing one of the nation's worst units.

The product is far from finished, but it will finally be on display.

"Michigan is known for defense," said Woolfolk, who returns Saturday after missing all of last season with a broken leg and a dislocated ankle. "The past years, we didn't live up to that, but this year, we should be able to play sound, good Michigan defense."

Any potential Wolverines turnaround starts with the defensive line, the area in which both Hoke and Mattison specialize. Hoke likes his rotation, which is led by team captain Mike Martin and senior end Ryan Van Bergen, and also features a bulked-up Craig Roh, Jibreel Black, Will Heininger and massive tackle Will Campbell, who the Wolverines hope can finally reach his potential.

"We've got some multiple alignments that we can put out on the field," Hoke said, "and that's going to help us in a lot of ways, help us keep fresh so we've got guys in there who are fresh all day long."

Hoke added that he wants to see his defenders "playing with a fanaticism."

Woolfolk also mentioned we'll see more intensity from a defense that finished 98th nationally in sacks in 2010.

But the critical question is whether Michigan can limit the fundamental meltdowns that led to so many big plays and extended so many drives the past few seasons. Even in last year's 30-10 opening win against Connecticut, Michigan's defense had breakdowns the Huskies simply couldn't exploit.

Better teams did, and the results weren't pretty.

"Those major breakdowns are due to [the need to be] a student of the game," Woolfolk said. "You have to actually know the defense and try to go in, even after practice, to study film and truly understand your position. Once you can do that, it will cancel out the big plays.

"Mistakes are going to happen. The thing we like to focus on is not making the same mistake."

Michigan hopes a more experienced secondary can learn from the past, especially Saturday against a high-powered Western Michigan passing attack led by quarterback Alex Carder and receiver Jordan White, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist in 2010.

The lone positive for a Wolverines secondary ravaged by injuries and other personnel issues is that younger players got their feet wet -- and quite often their backsides burned -- in games.

"Courtney Avery, he played as a true freshman," Woolfolk said. "Terrence Talbott, he played as a true freshmen. So we have a lot of sophomores who played their freshmen year. Plus, we have me and J.T. [Floyd] coming back, who have also played a lot.

"We have a lot of experience, so the secondary should be fine."

It will take more than a strong performance Saturday to determine whether Woolfolk is right, but the opener marks a new beginning for a defense that craves one.

"I've seen it," Martin said. "I've been there every single day. ... It’s something you can’t hide. Every single day I can say we're getting better."

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 27, 2011
7/27/11
12:00
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Heading off to Chicago to join forces with Rittenberg and the ESPN.com crew for media days. First, linkage:
Michigan wasn't the Big Ten's best team in 2010 -- far from it, in fact -- but the Wolverines' season had no shortage of excitement. As a result, the Maize and Blue won big Monday night during the Big Ten Network's fourth annual awards show.

Of the three awards won by football players or teams, three went to Michigan.

Here's a recap:

Award: Breakout Performer of the Year
Winner: Michigan QB Denard Robinson
Verdict: Good call. While Ohio State basketball player Jared Sullinger had a huge season, he arrived with a ton of hype. Robinson, meanwhile, leapfrogged returning starter Tate Forcier on the depth chart and became The Story in college football last September. He shattered team records in each of the first two games and went on to win Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors.

Award: Most Dominating Performance
Winner: Denard Robinson against Notre Dame, Sept. 11
Verdict: While Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure deserved serious consideration for his record-setting performance at Wrigley Field, Robinson's selection isn't a big surprise. When you play for Michigan and you record 502 yards of offense against Notre Dame in South Bend, you're going to get recognition. Robinson set a Big Ten record for quarterback rushing with 258 yards and recorded the nation's top highlight in September, an 87-yard touchdown scamper that marked the longest rushing touchdown in Notre Dame Stadium history.

Award: Most Courageous Performance
Winner: Minnesota FB Jon Hoese
Verdict: An excellent decision. Although Mark Dantonio's return from a heart attack and Brock Mealer's amazing recovery to walk again at Michigan's opener also were excellent options, Hoese's story didn't get nearly as much attention, even in Big Ten circles. The Gophers' fullback nearly didn't travel to the season opener at Middle Tennessee after his father, Terry, suffered a stroke the week before. Hoese ended up playing, scored three touchdowns and recovered a fumble on a kickoff to secure Minnesota's victory. Sadly, Hoese's father passed away the following Monday.

Award: Best Finish
Winner: Notre Dame at Michigan State, Sept. 18
Verdict: A no-brainer. Dantonio made the call of the year in college football as Michigan State scored on a fake field goal attempt in overtime to beat rival Notre Dame at Spartan Stadium. The play, labeled "Little Giants," sparked Michigan State to a special season as the Spartans started 8-0, recorded a team-record 11 victories and won a share of their first league title in 20 years.

Award: Game of the Year
Winner: Illinois at Michigan, Nov. 6
Verdict: This might have been the best pick among the nominees, but I was surprised games like Notre Dame-Michigan, Ohio State-Iowa and Wisconsin-Iowa didn't make the list. The Illinois-Michigan game didn't mean much in the grand scheme of things, and it was hardly a traditional Big Ten game as neither team played any defense. Still, the game produced the highest combined scoring total (132) in Big Ten history and set several other marks. It certainly wasn't boring.

Wisconsin's football team came up short in the Best Men's Team award, which went to Penn State's wrestlers. I would like to have seen Dantonio or Wisconsin's Bret Bielema up for Men's Coach of the Year.

All in all, I have few issues with the award selections.

What about you?
Colleague Heather Dinich broke the news Friday that former Michigan quarterback Tate Forcier won't be suiting up for Miami after all.

Forcier announced in February he would transfer to Miami, but a source tells Dinich that the quarterback won't make the move because of personal reasons. Michigan ruled Forcier academically ineligible two days before the Gator Bowl. Forcier had been in academic hot water for stretches at Michigan, and he tried to regain his eligibility in January before announcing via Twitter that he'd be leaving the school.

It's another setback for a quarterback who had success early in his college career and even last year as a backup filling in for Denard Robinson. It will be interesting to see where Forcier lands.
Valentine's Day is about love, but it's also about heartbreak.

Every Big Ten team has felt a little heartbreak from time to time, whether it's a coach leaving for another position, a recruit choosing another college destination or key players veering off track.

Here are some heartbreakers for Big Ten squads:

1. Ohio State's Tat 5: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four of his teammates broke some Buckeye fans' hearts by selling memorabilia, including Big Ten championship rings and Gold Pants, for cash and tattoos. The "Tat 5" helped themselves with their Sugar Bowl performances and their pledge to return for their senior seasons, but their absence for the first part of the 2011 season could sting.

2. Brent Pease, Jerry Montgomery, Corey Raymond and Jemal Singleton: All four assistants joined Kevin Wilson's new staff at Indiana but soon bolted for other jobs. Montgomery (Michigan) and Raymond (Nebraska) left for other posts within the Big Ten. Ouch.

3. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Adam Robinson: Iowa's all-time leading receiver and top running back the past two seasons both missed the Insight Bowl following December arrests. DJK, who had an extremely productive career in Iowa City, is trying to restore his rep before the NFL draft. Robinson wants another chance at Iowa but right now it looks like a long shot.

4. Tate Forcier: After an encouraging season on the field, the Michigan backup quarterback was ruled academically ineligible right before the Gator Bowl. It proved to be the end for Forcier, who last week transferred to Miami.

5. Jacoby Brissett: Wisconsin held a scholarship spot for the quarterback recruit, but he didn't even have the Badgers in his final two choices (Miami and Florida). Brissett ended up signing with the Gators.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 11, 2011
2/11/11
12:00
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Yes, my daughter is Canadian-American, but I'm going to treat her just like a human baby.
The Big Ten isn't a boring conference by any means. Think about all we've witnessed in the past year or so.

The SEC is college football's year-round soap opera, and my sense is most of you prefer the relative calm we have in Big Ten land. But it certainly sounds like the Big Ten's newest member will spend plenty of time in the spotlight.

Colleague David Ubben writes earlier today: "No team in college football was more interesting on and off the field for more reasons in the last year than Nebraska."

Ubben outlines all of the drama surrounding the Nebraska program in the past 10 months or so: the move to the Big Ten, Bo Pelini's preseason media ban, quarterback Taylor Martinez's rapid rise, the Texas A&M/Martinez/Pelini debacle, a wild Big 12 championship game loss, some good news regarding Martinez and possible NFL-bound underclassmen and now the buzz about changes on Pelini's coaching staff.

I'm exhausted just reading about all the happenings in Lincoln.

The Michigan Wolverines have been undoubtedly the Big Ten's drama kings in recent years. Former coach Rich Rodriguez often talked about the drama encircling him and his program. Whether it was Rodriguez's messy departure from West Virginia, the NCAA investigation into the program, Tate Forcier's rise and fall, Denard Robinson's record-setting 2010 season or the constant speculation about Rodriguez's future, Michigan dominated the headlines. We'll see what happens in the Brady Hoke era, but I'd expect things to settle down a bit around Schembechler Hall.

I'm not so sure about Nebraska, which has no shortage of interesting personalities and storylines entering the 2011 season.

Better buckle up for Big Red.

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