Big Ten: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The box score from the Insight Bowl shows that Kellen Lewis took the final snap of the 2007 season for Indiana, firing a 30-yard touchdown pass to James Bailey with a second left in a 49-33 loss.

Lewis also took the first snap of 2008 for Indiana last Saturday against Western Kentucky, handing off to wideout Ray Fisher. So in a sense, Lewis didn't miss a thing. But after a tumultuous offseason of insubordination, depression and eventually redemption, the gap between snaps felt like forever.

"I felt like I sat out maybe two years," said Lewis, who was suspended for spring practice and had to re-earn his starting job in preseason camp. "I had butterflies in my stomach. It was kind of the same way I felt when I first got the starting job my redshirt freshman year. It was almost like starting over."

Fortunately for Indiana, Lewis looked poised in a 31-13 win, breaking off touchdown runs of 75 and 62 yards and throwing for two more scores. His 43rd career touchdown pass broke the school record set by former Big Ten Player of the Year Antwaan Randle El.

The record wasn't on Lewis' radar entering the game, but the junior sees the obvious parallels between himself and Randle El, whom he met after last year's game against Wisconsin.

"It kind of gave me some hope because I was a little bit taller than him," the 6-foot-1 Lewis said. "He was an athletic guy, I'm more of an athletic guy. He was the same way I was. Drop back and pass, don't try to force too much, you've got the legs, so just scramble around a little bit. He told me when you get a chance to go in and play, just remember when you drop back, you don't have to force anything in there. Just play football and have fun."

Lewis followed orders against Western Kentucky and showcased the skills that helped him earn All-Big Ten honors as a sophomore.

He still felt rusty with his passes, lamenting a 62.9 percent completion rate and an interception thrown in Hoosiers territory. But the long runs were bliss.

"No matter if it's 20 yards, 30 yards, 60 yards, it feels good to have that same strut and that same form that I had before I left," he said. "That's one thing I didn't lose."

Added coach Bill Lynch: "He showed his ability to run in open space and the speed to run away. The first [touchdown run] got us going. The last one kind of put the game away. But he also converted on some third-down situations where he scrambled."

Sound familiar, Hoosiers fans?

Unlike Randle El, who never reached a bowl despite a dominant career, Lewis hopes to lead Indiana back to the postseason this year. He's closing in on Randle El for second place on Indiana's all-time completions list and should eclipse the star in several categories by the time he's through.

"He's probably the most famous person in Indiana history for football, at least recently," Lewis said of Randle El. "And he's got success in the NFL. Looking at him and seeing how hard he worked to get where he's at, I'm hoping if I break some of his records and continue to work hard, I'll have my shot at the next level."

aReviewing the Week 1 predictions

September, 1, 2008
9/01/08
12:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Missouri fans, take your shots. I deserve it. I bought into what coach Ron Zook and others were saying about the Illinois defense and overlooked the offensive playmakers on your team. The Illini defensive line should get better and linebacker Martez Wilson still looks legit, but the secondary is a major question mark after Saturday's 52-42 loss.

Despite my misguided pick of Illinois, I'll take a 9-1 record most weeks. Several teams proved they're capable of blowouts, so expect some wider margins in the Week 2 predictions.

It's time to look back.

ILLINOIS-MISSOURI

My pick: Illinois 31, Missouri 30

Game result: Missouri 52, Illinois 42

20-20 hindsight: Juice Williams came through as expected, setting new career passing records and showing his growth in the pocket. But Illinois became one-dimensional after breakdowns on defense and special teams spotted Missouri a 45-20 lead. The defensive line forced the key takeaway I thought it would -- Derek Walker's interception return for a touchdown -- but it didn't do much else.

MICHIGAN-UTAH

My pick: Utah 24, Michigan 21

Game result: Utah 25, Michigan 23

20-20 hindsight: I don't expect too many more Nostradamus-like moments, but this one went just as forecasted. Michigan's quarterbacks struggled, Utah's Brian Johnson dominated the game for a stretch and the Wolverines' improved defense kept things close. The Wolverines' early defensive struggles were a bit of a surprise, as were Utah's special-teams breakdowns.

MICHIGAN STATE-CALIFORNIA

My pick: California 33, Michigan State 28

Game result: California 38, Michigan State 31

20-20 hindsight: As indicated, quarterback Kevin Riley and running back Jahvid Best spelled trouble for a Michigan State defense that still has some questions. The Spartans aren't a clutch team until they prove otherwise, but they had some encouraging signs with wide receiver Mark Dell and running back/return man Javon Ringer.

NORTHWESTERN-SYRACUSE

My pick: Northwestern 34, Syracuse 21

Game result: Northwestern 30, Syracuse 10

20-20 hindsight: Wildcats running back Tyrell Sutton backed up my pick of a strong start, racking up 144 rushing yards in the win. I didn't envision such strong play from Northwestern's defense, which accounted for nine points (interception return for touchdown, safety), but a questionable offensive line stood tall at home.

MINNESOTA-NORTHERN ILLINOIS

My pick: Minnesota 30, Northern Illinois 24

Game result: Minnesota 31, Northern Illinois 27

20-20 hindsight: Vegas is calling me. Seriously, though, it didn't take much to see Minnesota would struggle a bit in the opener, and Northern Illinois will be good very soon with Jerry Kill as its coach. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and wide receiver Eric Decker looked solid, though they hooked up for one fewer touchdown pass than forecasted. A new-look secondary allowed several big pass plays.

OHIO STATE-YOUNGSTOWN STATE

My pick: Ohio State 41, Youngstown State 10

Game result: Ohio State 43, Youngstown State 0

20-20 hindsight: I didn't give the Buckeyes' defense enough credit. They didn't let Youngstown State cross midfield until the game's final play. Ohio State's scoring production went about as expected with plenty of personnel involved in the rout, including freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

WISCONSIN-AKRON

My pick: Wisconsin 31, Akron 17

Game result: Wisconsin 38, Akron 17

20-20 hindsight: Not surprisingly, Badgers running back P.J. Hill came through, racking up 210 rushing yards in the win. Some red-zone breakdowns and injuries on defense are causes for concern going forward, but Wisconsin should be able to overpower several of its opponents this season.

IOWA-MAINE

My pick: Iowa 24, Maine 13

Game result: Iowa 46, Maine 3

20-20 hindsight: Fears about the Iowa offense prompted a conservative pick, but those quickly vanished as Shonn Greene, freshman Jewel Hampton and others sparked an impressive rushing attack. The quarterback situation is unsettled in Iowa City, but the team has playmakers on both sides of the ball.

PENN STATE-COASTAL CAROLINA

My pick: Penn State 33, Coastal Carolina 14

Game result: Penn State 66, Coastal Carolina 10

20-20 hindsight: Swing and a miss here. I thought Daryll Clark and the Spread HD offense would take some time to get going, but there are a ton of playmakers on that side of the ball and all showed up against a very weak opponent. Things will get tougher for the Lions this week against Oregon State, but an impressive start.

INDIANA-WESTERN KENTUCKY

My pick: Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 17

Game result: Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 13

20-20 hindsight: Kellen Lewis came through as expected, breaking off two long touchdown runs and throwing for two more scores in the win. The defense didn't miss star pass rusher Greg Middleton, as fellow defensive end Jammie Kirlew collected two sacks.

Season record: 9-1

Official Players of the Week are out

September, 1, 2008
9/01/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten went a little different direction with its choices for Co-Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week, going with two players from teams that didn't win Saturday. I can see the argument for both guys, especially Illinois' Juice Williams, but it will take an extremely exceptional performance for me to select players from losing teams. And with all due respect to Northwestern punter Stefan Demos, if you're going to pick a kicker/punter, it's hard to overlook Ryan Pretorius from Ohio State (4-for-4 on field goals, including a 50-yarder).

Excerpts from the conference's release:

CO-OFFENSE

Illinois quarterback Juice Williams

Williams exploded for career-highs of 451 passing yards and five touchdowns to nearly rally Illinois from a second-half deficit against nationally-ranked Missouri. The junior quarterback also established career highs with a 61.9 completion percentage, 26 completions and 42 attempts. His five scoring strikes rank second in school history and are the third-highest total in Big Ten annals. Williams' 451-yard effort rates third in the Illini records book and topped his previous career-best by more than 200 yards.

Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis

Lewis dominated on the ground and through the air in a win over Western Kentucky, averaging an astounding 20.6 yards per carry while adding two scoring tosses to set the school record for career passing touchdowns. The junior quarterback broke loose for 185 yards on only nine carries, including touchdown runs of 75 and 62 yards. Lewis also completed 17 of 27 passes for 144 yards and two more touchdowns, boosting his career numbers to 44 scoring strikes.

DEFENSE

Michigan linebacker Obi Ezeh

Ezeh racked up a career-best 15 tackles against Utah, helping hold the visitors to only two first downs and 28 yards of offense in the second half as Michigan nearly rallied for the win. The sophomore linebacker added 1.5 tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a crucial interception at the goal line to keep the score close in the second half. ... Ezeh's 15 tackles were the most stops by a Wolverine in a season opener since the mid 1970s. He picks up his first career weekly honor.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Northwestern punter Stefan Demos

Demos showed pinpoint accuracy to place all six of his punts inside the 20-yard line, constantly putting visiting Syracuse in poor field position during a 30-10 triumph. The sophomore punter averaged only 32 yards per punt, totaling 192 yards on his six boots, but three of his six punts were downed at the three-, four- and eight-yard lines.

Big Ten helmet stickers

August, 31, 2008
8/31/08
1:40
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The games are complete and it wasn't the best day for the Big Ten. Ohio State lost Heisman contender Beanie Wells to injury, Illinois and Michigan State couldn't beat marquee opponents and Michigan dropped its second consecutive season opener.

But there also were plenty of positives, and here are a few in my first edition of helmet stickers.

Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill: I can't believe some Wisconsin fans aren't sold on this guy. He opened the season with 210 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries. His fellow backs weren't too shabby either, as the Badgers eclipsed 400 rushing yards for the first time since 2002.

Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis: Lewis confirmed why Indiana coach Bill Lynch made the right call in giving him back his starting job. The junior had touchdown runs of 75 and 62 yards and threw for two touchdowns as Indiana rolled against Western Kentucky.

Ohio State defense: A unit stocked with potential All-Americans stifled Youngstown State, holding the Penguins to minus-11 net rushing yards and 74 total yards in a 43-0 win. Youngstown State didn't reach Ohio State territory until the final play of the game.

Northwestern safety Brendan Smith: The Wildcats found out just how much they missed Smith's playmaking abilities when he returned to the field today. The safety had a 26-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave Northwestern a 13-point cushion in the third quarter. Smith added a pass breakup and a tackle for loss.

Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber: Weber accounted for 328 yards of total offense (298 pass, 30 rush) and went 5-for-5 passing on Minnesota's game-winning 74-yard touchdown drive against Northern Illinois. A solid start for the Gophers sophomore.

Iowa running backs: Led by Shonn Greene, the group eased some concerns entering the season by combining for 245 yards and four touchdowns against Maine. True freshman Jewel Hampton averaged 7.6 yards a carry and scored twice.

Penn State running backs Stephfon Green and Evan Royster: Sure, it was Coastal Carolina, but Penn State's two backs showed up in a big way, combining for 153 yards and five touchdowns. Both men averaged eight yards a carry or better.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Most college football fans have some knowledge of Missouri, Cal, Utah, Syracuse, Northern Illinois and maybe even Akron (hey, Jason Taylor played there). But seriously, does anyone know what a Chanticleer is? Put your hands down, liars.

It's time to take a closer look at some of Big Ten's lesser-known opponents for Week 1. Learning about these far-flung teams is one of the fun parts about the nonconference schedule. It's a bit like the first round of the NCAA basketball tournament, except these games are never played on neutral sites. But as Michigan found out last year against Appalachian State, not all these teams are showing up just for a hefty check.

Here's the skinny on the squads visiting State College, Iowa City, Bloomington and Columbus on Saturday.

COASTAL CAROLINA CHANTICLEERS (at Penn State)

  • Location: Conway, S.C. (15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach)
  • Enrollment: 7,872 as of fall 2007
  • Football coach: David Bennett (39-17, sixth year at CC; 102-34, 13th year overall)
  • Conference: Big South (Football Championship Subdivision)
  • 2007 record : 5-6
  • Fun fact: According to the Coastal Carolina football media guide, the nickname Chanticleer comes from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (I wonder if it's required reading for football players). "A Chanticleer is a rooster who rules the barnyard with cunning and wit. His competitiveness never wanes as he battles to the end, using his brains to come out on top every time." Somehow I don't think their brains will help them against Penn State. Coastal Carolina athletic director Moose Koegel was a co-captain for Penn State's football team under Paterno in 1970.

MAINE BLACK BEARS (at Iowa)

  • Location: Orono, Maine (125 miles northeast of Portland)
  • Enrollment: 8,777 as of fall 2007
  • Football coach: Jack Cosgrove (80-90, 16th season at Maine)
  • Conference: Colonial (Football Championship Subdivision)
  • 2007 record : 4-7
  • Fun fact(s): Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz served in the same role at Maine from 1990-92, finishing with a record of 12-21 (Cosgrove was his offensive coordinator). The Black Bears beat Mississippi State in 2004 and face a Division I-A opponent for the fifth straight year. Author Stephen King is among Maine's famous alumni. The Black Bears had seven players on NFL rosters last season, the most among FCS schools.

WESTERN KENTUCKY HILLTOPPERS (at Indiana)

  • Location: Bowling Green, Ky. (110 miles south of Louisville)
  • Enrollment: 19,215
  • Football coach: David Elson (37-22, sixth year at WKU and overall)
  • Conference: Independent
  • 2007 record : 7-5
  • Fun fact(s): The Hilltoppers are in their final year as a Division I-A independent before joining the Sun Belt Conference in 2009. They won the 2002 FCS national championship under coach Jack Harbaugh, the father of Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, and have 12 straight winning seasons. Famous alums include Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel and former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins. The 2008 schedule includes 10 Division I-A opponents this fall. And Elson can wield a sledgehammer. Both Elson and Indiana coach Bill Lynch attended Butler.

YOUNGSTOWN STATE PENGUINS (at Ohio State)

  • Location: Youngstown, Ohio (70 miles southeast of Cleveland)
  • Enrollment: 13,497 as of fall 2007
  • Football coach: Jon Heacock (50-31, eighth year at YSU at overall)
  • Conference: Missouri Valley (Football Championship Subdivision)
  • 2007 record : 7-4
  • Fun fact(s): Youngstown is a tradition-rich program with four FCS national championships, 25 FCS playoff victories and six appearances in the title game. Heacock succeeded Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and is the younger brother of Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. The Penguins have sent 21 players to the NFL, including quarterback Ron Jaworski and kickers Paul McFadden and Jeff Wilkins. Other notable alumni include Kansas coach Mark Mangino, actor Ed O'Neill and ABCD All-America basketball camp founder Sonny Vaccaro.

Big Ten picks for Week 1

August, 28, 2008
8/28/08
11:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Welcome to the first installment of Big Ten picks, which will appear every Thursday throughout the season. I'll pick the winners and the scores, using a bit of logic as well as some good ol' gut instinct. The Big Ten isn't one of those wacky leagues that plays games on Tuesday morning or Friday night, so I'll recap the picks after every weekend.

Let's get to it:

Illinois 31, Missouri 30: Illini quarterback Juice Williams has made the necessary steps as a passer and has the weapons to work with, including a fully healthy Rejus Benn. Chase Daniel will do his thing, but an underrated Illinois defensive line makes enough plays, including a key fourth-quarter takeaway to seal a mini-upset.

Utah 24, Michigan 21: Two quarterbacks will play for Michigan and both will struggle. The Wolverines' improved defense will contain Utah for most of the game before veteran signal caller Brian Johnson takes control in crunch time. I've got to go with experience here, and Utah has plenty.

California 33, Michigan State 28: Cal's decision to start mobile sophomore quarterback Kevin Riley instead of statue-like senior Nate Longshore made me change my pick. Riley and dynamic running back Jahvid Best spell trouble for a Michigan State defense that loses two standout pass rushers and recently shuffled its secondary. Javon Ringer will have a big day for Sparty, but it won't be enough on the road.

Northwestern 34, Syracuse 21: The Orange aren't settled on a running back, but Northwestern knows exactly who will be carrying the ball Saturday. Wildcats senior Tyrell Sutton shows why he's one of the Big Ten's best running backs when healthy, and a new-look offensive line holds up at home.

Minnesota 30, Northern Illinois 24: Northern Illinois isn't the pest it was in the early part of this decade, and the Huskies don't have a definitive starter at quarterback, though defensive end Larry English is a beast. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber will start strong, finding wideout Eric Decker for two touchdowns as Minnesota matches last year's wins total.

Ohio State 41, Youngstown State 10: Beanie Wells had only 46 rushing yards against the Penguins last year, a number that should triple or quadruple as the Buckeyes begin their road to redemption. Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor produces a highlight or two as Ohio State rolls at home.

Wisconsin 31, Akron 17: The Badgers have some injury concerns and Akron will keep it close for a while. But new starting quarterback Allan Evridge will settle in after halftime as Wisconsin's running backs begin to wear down the Zips defense. Expect a big game for running back P.J. Hill and linebacker DeAndre Levy.

Iowa 24, Maine 13: Both teams averaged fewer than 19 points a game last season, so don't expect many offensive fireworks. Iowa will play two quarterbacks and one of them -- I'll go with Ricky Stanzi -- turns in a strong second half to seal a much-needed opening victory. Hawkeyes defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul force a turnover or two.

Penn State 33, Coastal Carolina 14: Daryll Clark's debut as the starting quarterback will be a good one, thanks in part to an opponent that went 5-6 last season. Get ready for the Stephfon Green experience as Penn State's Spread HD offense flexes its muscles in the opener.

Indiana 31, Western Kentucky 17: It might take a quarter for Kellen Lewis to get settled, but the junior will prove why he was the right choice at quarterback. Indiana's defense should be much improved this fall, and despite not having sack master Greg Middleton, the Hoosiers will stymie Western Kentucky.

Bye: Purdue

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After saying earlier today that a decision would be coming soon on Indiana's starting quarterback, coach Bill Lynch made up his mind. Lynch chose incumbent Kellen Lewis, who has started the last 21 games for the Hoosiers. The coach also announced that junior defensive end Greg Middleton, the nation's sacks leader in 2007, will be suspended for the opener against Western Kentucky for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Some might argue that Lewis should pay a heftier cost after being suspended for spring ball. Back then, the all-conference quarterback was acting like anything but a leader, skipping team meetings and weightlifting sessions. Backup Ben Chappell did everything right, stepping in for Lewis this spring and improving his game with increased reps. Chappell continued to push Lewis throughout preseason practice and could have handled the offense this fall.

But Lewis' experience and edge in talent cannot be overlooked, and the junior expressed remorse about his actions during the winter and spring. He still has his teammates' respect and should step in seamlessly to a no-huddle offense that was tailored to his talents.

"When I felt like I was in my prime, I didn't necessarily bend over backwards and help anybody, which is something that I make sure I do now," Lewis told me last week. "I make sure I learn all my teammates' names, which is another thing I probably didn't even do last year. I try to make sure that everyone knows that I'm happy to be back and happy to be back around them."

Let's not forget that Lewis already holds a share of the school record for touchdown passes (42) and has accounted for 6,441 total yards. He was one of only three Division I-A quarterback to rack up 3,000 passing yards and 700 rushing yards last season. Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and Central Michigan star Dan LeFevour were the others.

It must have been difficult to break the news to Chappell, but Indiana doesn't want to play two quarterbacks, and Lewis is far too valuable to be left on the sidelines.

"It's something I wanted to do since I got back on the team and I knew I had to take certain steps to do so," said Lewis, who was reinstated in early July. "No one wants to be the second guy."

Middleton's suspension for the season opener shouldn't hurt too much, as the Hoosiers are deeper up front this year. Lynch also suspended defensive lineman Kyle Kozak, safety Brandon Mosley and tight end Troy Wagner for the opener.

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