Big Ten: Zach Boren

Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
10:00
AM ET
Hopefully you've already recovered from a day's worth of turkey and pumpkin pie because the games start in about two hours.

It’s the final week of the Big Ten’s regular season, and there are still quite a few questions left to be answered: Will Tevin Coleman surpass 2,000 yards on the season? Who will face Ohio State in the Big Ten championship? Will Northwestern or Illinois find its way to bowl eligibility?

There are no night games or byes this week. So shake off that tryptophan, make another turkey sandwich – possibly to go with that bowl of turkey soup – and get that remote ready. Here’s a glance at what you should look forward to (all times ET):

Noon Friday

Nebraska (8-3, 4-3 Big Ten) at Iowa (7-4, 4-3), ABC: Ameer Abdullah admitted he’s been frustrated the past two weeks – because of his injury and back-to-back losses – and even said matter-of-factly, “It sucks. It definitely does suck.” Bo Pelini is on the hot seat again and can’t afford a third straight loss; Kirk Ferentz wants to secure another eight-win season and have some kind of trademark Big Ten victory. (Iowa hasn’t beaten a Big Ten team with a winning record.) Something has to give.

[+] EnlargeBriean Boddy-Calhoun
AP Photo/Nati HarnikMinnesota and defensive back Briean Boddy-Calhoun are playing for a Big Ten division title at Wisconsin.
Noon Saturday

Illinois (5-6, 2-5) at Northwestern (5-6, 3-4), ESPNU: Let the (unlikely) battle for bowl eligibility begin. Northwestern bounced back from a 3-6 record with victories over Notre Dame and Purdue, while Illinois played its best special-teams game of the year last week to beat Penn State. The Wildcats are without senior QB Trevor Siemian, who suffered a torn ACL, so their postseason hopes are pinned to backup Zack Oliver.

Purdue (3-8, 1-6) at Indiana (3-8, 0-7), BTN: Don’t let the records fool you. Sure, these are two of the worst teams – recordwise – in the Big Ten. But this one might be worth watching for no other reason than Tevin Coleman, who could be playing in the final college game of his career. Coleman needs just 94 yards to reach 2,000 on the season and he’s also a finalist for the Doak Walker Award. He might be the best running back in the nation not named Melvin Gordon.

Michigan (5-6, 3-4) at No. 6 Ohio State (10-1, 7-0), ABC: The Ga_e will always _ean so_ething special. Especially as long as Ohio State continues with its tradition of crossing off every “M” on campus. The Buckeyes are the big favorite, while the Wolverines have been a big disappointment. But nothing would make Wolverines fans happier than knocking Ohio State out of the playoff picture. Of course, Ohio State is also currently scoring an average of 24 points more per game than Michigan -- so that’s not going to be easy.

3:30 p.m. Saturday

No. 10 Michigan State (9-2, 6-1) at Penn State (6-5, 2-5), ABC: The Nittany Lions are hoping to experience some déjà vu this season. Last year, they entered their home finale as 24-point underdogs to Wisconsin and some way, somehow, came out on top in an upset. This season, they’re only 13-point underdogs. And while the Penn State defense is historically good this season, the offense is historically bad. Michigan State, on the other hand, is a well-rounded team that’s fighting for a trip to one of the New Year’s Six bowl games.

No. 18 Minnesota (8-3, 5-2) at No. 14 Wisconsin (9-2, 6-1), BTN: It all comes down to this in the West. The winner will advance to the Big Ten title game to face Ohio State; the loser will have to lament watching it from the dorms. Gordon needs just 1 yard to break the Big Ten single-season rushing record, and Minnesota’s David Cobb is “very questionable” for the contest. Jerry Kill is arguably the front-runner for Big Ten Coach of the Year and, if he pulls this out, we can probably take “arguably” away from that sentence. This is a must-watch.

Rutgers (6-5, 2-5) at Maryland (7-4, 4-3), ESPNU: Both teams have met or exceeded expectations this season, but it’s been a difficult second half for Rutgers. After starting 5-1, the Scarlet Knights have won just one of their past five and have looked really overmatched against the B1G’s best. Maryland has looked like the better team – and beat both Iowa and Penn State – but Rutgers would like to change the conversation here. A victory for either team would go a long way; Rutgers could grab some second-half respect or Maryland could climb its way to a better bowl.

Required reading
Rivalry is not quite the right word for what the Ohio State-Michigan State game has become in recent years.

"We have one rival here," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Monday. "So to say this is a rivalry game, that would diminish the rivalry that's been here for 100 years."

Both teams have one true rival, and it's the same one, in fact: Michigan. One need only to witness the emotion that the Spartans and Buckeyes exude whenever they face the Maize and Blue to know that's true.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa, Connor Cook
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesThe Spartans and Buckeyes renew their riv -- er -- rugged respect for each other on Saturday night in East Lansing.
Meyer, who has subtly avoided saying the words "Michigan State" of late, used two other "R" words to describe this series: respect and rugged. Those work for us.

Michigan might stir the passion for both programs, but in the past five years, they have measured their championship bona fides against one another. Ohio State and Michigan State split a conference title (along with Wisconsin) in 2010. Regular-season games in 2011 and 2012 provided a cornerstone victory for each side. They squared off in a Big Ten championship game last year that carried enormous stakes. And of course, they'll meet Saturday night in East Lansing in the undisputed Big Ten Game of the Year.

Rivalry or not, this has developed into the marquee game in the conference. Here's how we got here:

Three minus one: 2010

Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all finished with one loss in 2010, resulting in a three-way tie for the Big Ten title. The Spartans and Buckeyes did not play that year, though Michigan State beat Wisconsin and Ohio State did not. The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl based on the BCS standings, while the Buckeyes were chosen for the Sugar Bowl. The Spartans got left out of the BCS, fueling feelings of disrespect (which they often use to their advantage).

Watershed and "Waterboy:" Oct. 1, 2011

Ohio State might have been hampered by youth and NCAA problems, but Michigan State's 10-7 win at the Horseshoe was still momentous. It was former Buckeyes assistant Mark Dantonio's first victory over Ohio State and the Spartans' first win in Columbus since 1998. A ferocious defensive attack very nearly led to a shutout, and linebacker Denicos Allen's leaping sack of Joe Bauserman -- evoking memories of the Adam Sandler movie "Waterboy" -- became a part of program lore.

Michigan State gets many of its players from Ohio -- nine starters on this year's team are from the Buckeye State -- and those players often were overlooked by Ohio State in high school.

"Whenever this game comes up in the week, I'm extremely excited," said Spartans senior defensive end Marcus Rush, who's from Cincinnati. "And I think with all the other guys on the team from Ohio, it's something special for them as well."

The Toast (and a conspiracy theory): Sept. 29, 2012

The Buckeyes were unbeaten but largely unproven when they went to East Lansing for their Big Ten debut under Meyer, who had questions about the commitment of his team. In a conference room at the hotel four hours before kickoff, Meyer delivered a speech capped by a toast with “championship water,” a rallying point that inspired Ohio State to a 17-16 win and established a new tradition still being used. “From there on out," then-senior Zach Boren said, "it was more fun -- guys dancing, being loose. I think it gave us our swag.”

The win wasn't without controversy, either, as Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi accused Ohio State of doctoring the game tape that teams are required to send to their opponents.

Breakthrough vs. Heartbreak: Dec. 7, 2013

A spot in the national title game awaited Ohio State if the Buckeyes could get their 25th straight win under Meyer. But Michigan State foiled that plan with a 34-24 victory, clinching the Spartans' first Rose Bowl bid since 1988. Dantonio called it a "lifetime moment" for all those in green.

It felt much differently to the Buckeyes, whose heartache was symbolized by Meyer somberly eating cold pizza on a golf cart outside his locker room. "It's going to haunt all of us, I imagine, for a little while," he said.

Recruiting rumbles: Feb. 5, 2014

The two schools went down to the wire in a recruiting tangle for defensive end Malik McDowell, a prospect rated No. 60 in the nation. The saga would last for nearly two months before McDowell’s mother, who seemed to prefer Ohio State, relented and allowed him to join the Spartans. Meanwhile, facing the possibility of McDowell slipping away, the Buckeyes flipped Darius Slade from Michigan State to fill out the class -- and perhaps strike back in the budding feud. “That's one of the teams we're nose to nose with right now in recruiting,” Meyer said then. “That’s a real battle.”

The battle between Michigan State and Ohio State now overshadows everything else in the Big Ten. Both teams may have another top rival, but they have no bigger game on the schedule.

Big Ten lunch links

September, 2, 2013
9/02/13
12:00
PM ET
I labored to put these links together. Get it? Get it? Enjoy the holiday.

Ohio State Buckeyes spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
5/03/13
10:30
AM ET
2012 record: 12-0

2012 conference record: 8-0 (first, Leaders Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Philly Brown, LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LB Ryan Shazier

Key losses: RT Reid Fragel, WR Jake Stoneburner, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, FB/LB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Miller* (1,271 yards, 13 TDs)

Passing: Miller* (2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Brown* (60 catches, 669 yards, 3 TDs)

Tackles: Shazier* (115)

Sacks: Simon (9)

Interceptions: Howard (4)

Spring answers:

1. End game: The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters up front, and while the defensive line isn't quite as deep and is far from a finished product, the future looks pretty bright on the edge. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the top prizes in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class with the Buckeyes, and that talent is already starting to shine through as they slide into first-team roles heading into the fall. Spence is a dynamic force with his ability to use speed to get to the quarterback, and Washington isn't exactly sluggish despite all the strength in his 293-pound frame. The two combined for seven sacks in the spring game, and the Buckeyes are expecting similar performances when it actually counts.

2. Air it out: Miller has proven what he can do with his legs, and Ohio State didn't really need to see him show them off in the spring. The emphasis was on continuing to develop the junior quarterback as a passer, which meant a heavy dose of play calls forcing him to put the ball in the air and a quick whistle if he tried to scramble. The results for Meyer were encouraging. His efficient, 16-for-25, 217-yard performance in the spring game showed a much more accurate delivery and better decision-making that hints at bigger things from the fifth-place finisher in last year's Heisman Trophy race.

3. Backfield stable: One thing that might keep Hyde from giving Meyer a 1,000-yard running back this season is all the teammates fighting to snag a few of his carries. The rising senior is the clear cut No. 1 to partner with Miller in the backfield, and Hyde didn't have to earn that job in the spring after piling up touchdowns last fall and finally tapping into his enormous potential as a rusher. But while he was watching some reps, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all showed their upside this spring, which has the Buckeyes even toying with a diamond formation that gets three tailbacks on the field at the same time.

Fall questions

1. Filling out the front seven: Shazier is certainly a fine place for any defense to start, but the Buckeyes would obviously prefer if there were at least one other returning starter joining him in the front seven. There are high hopes again for junior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but he's been tabbed as a first-team guy before coming out of spring only to fizzle in the fall. Ohio State will need Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry to help lead the charge as it tries to add depth and talent at linebacker to stabilize a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.

2. Fresh blood: There wasn't a great option to fill Meyer's vaunted H-back position last fall, so the Buckeyes effectively had to put the hybrid spot, made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, on the shelf. Jordan Hall's return from injury makes him a candidate to diversify the offense, but a handful of recruits the Buckeyes landed in Meyer's second class would could really take the spread to another level. Speed-burners such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall will be watched closely in August as they could become factors for the Buckeyes as early as September.

3. Something special: If the Buckeyes score as easily and often as it appears they might, maybe it won't matter who handles the kicking game. But Meyer has always taken pride in his special teams, and at this point there is still some uncertainty as Drew Basil is pressed into action as both a kicker and a punter. In the big picture, the changes on defense are far more critical -- but close games usually pop up along the way for teams trying to win a championship, and Basil might need to pass some tests for the Buckeyes.
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders
Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

While the SEC produced a record 63 picks in the 2013 NFL draft -- eight more than any conference in any draft in the modern era and 32 more than the next-best conference (ACC) in this year's draft -- the Big Ten endured a mostly forgettable three days at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Before going any further, this post isn't meant to knock the Big Ten players who heard their names called Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They worked years for this moment and deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Congrats to all.

But for the Big Ten as a whole, this draft was a total dud. Was it the league's worst draft ever? If it isn't, it's certainly in the conversation.

The Big Ten produced only 22 draft picks, its lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 (and 11 teams, not 12). In 1994, the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-round selections and eight selections in the first three rounds.

You have to wonder how much the Big Ten's damaged national reputation is impacting its draft hopefuls. The SEC's rise has made that conference the first place NFL general managers and player personnel directors look for talent. Although Big Ten players might be comparable to their SEC counterparts in many ways, their competition level might be looked at as a drawback in the final evaluations.

This year, the Big Ten tied with the Big 12 for fourth among leagues in producing picks, but the Big Ten produced fewer selections in the first three rounds (7) than any of the power conferences. Last year, the Big Ten finished with 41 draft picks, just one behind the SEC for the top spot.

Other items of note (tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Information and the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises for several of these):

  • [+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
    Although the Big Ten's national reputation has been an issue for some time, it didn't dramatically impact the draft until this year. The Big Ten has produced at least 27 draft picks every year since the 21-player output in 1994.
  • The Big Ten's four biggest brand-name programs -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- combined to produce just two picks in the first three rounds (Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Penn State DT Jordan Hill).
  • Nebraska endured its longest drought without a selection since 1970, as running back Rex Burkhead waited until the sixth round to hear Cincinnati call his name with the 190th overall pick. The Huskers didn't have a selection in the first four rounds for the third time in the past six seasons. With just two draftees -- Burkhead and safety Daimion Stafford, who went in the seventh round -- Nebraska had its weakest output since 1969.
  • Michigan went without a draftee in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968 and without one in the first three rounds for just the fifth time since 1970 (1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009 were the others). The Wolverines have had just five players drafted in the past two seasons.
  • Ohio State had just three players -- Hankins, defensive lineman John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel -- drafted from a team that went 12-0 in 2012. Fragel's selection in the seventh round helped Ohio State avoid its smallest draft class since 1968.
  • An Illinois team that went 2-10 last season and 0-8 in Big Ten play led the league with four players drafted. It continues a mystifying trend for the Illini, who have had four players selected in each of the past four NFL drafts, even though the team has endured losing seasons in three of the past five years. Illinois has produced 10 players selected in the first three rounds since 2010, the most of any Big Ten team.
  • As expected, three Big Ten teams -- Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana -- had no players drafted. Northwestern went 10-3 last season.

Perhaps the best draft news for the Big Ten is that future member Rutgers had seven players selected, tied for the sixth highest total.

(Read full post)

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 26, 2013
4/26/13
12:00
PM ET
One month until these guys are back. I can't wait.

If Urban Meyer had placed a banner with the words "The Chase" in Ohio State's indoor practice facility last spring, he might have been asked, "For what?"

Sure, football players are always chasing something, as Meyer noted Tuesday when asked about the big, bold banner now hanging at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That "something" can be localized: a starting job, a bigger role in the offense or defense, a scholarship, a coach's approval.

But Ohio State couldn't chase many tangible team goals last spring. The Buckeyes couldn't chase a Big Ten championship or a national championship because of NCAA sanctions. They only found out in September that they could chase a Leaders Division title. Undoubtedly their greatest attribute was an ability to chase the grandest goal they could -- a perfect 12-0 regular season, capped by a win against archrival Michigan -- and achieve it.

The banner makes much more sense now. Ohio State has emerged from the shadow of postseason probation and can chase whatever it wants, including the crystal football that has eluded the Scarlet and Gray -- and the rest of the Big Ten -- for more than a decade.

[+] EnlargeOhio State: The Chase
Photo/Ohio State Athletics Communications The above banner is prominently displayed in Ohio State's indoor practice facility.
"Some guys are chasing starting positions," Meyer said, "some guys are chasing a bowl game, some guys an NFL contract. ... It means more, but that's where we're going to stop."

Meyer and his players can stop there for now. They should, as it's only spring practice. But "The Chase" will be a theme throughout Ohio State's offseason as bigger, broader goals are back on the table.

"Everybody’s got big dreams," Meyer said, "and we as a football team have some dreams."

Ohio State can dream big primarily because of an offense that transformed in 2012, rising from 81st nationally in scoring to 21st and from 107th in total yards to 47th. Quarterback Braxton Miller blossomed in Meyer's system, racking up a team-record 3,310 yards of offense, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Miller, who spent part of his winter break working with noted quarterback instructor George Whitfield in California, leads a unit that returns nine starters, including four linemen. Ohio State also regains the services of versatile running back Jordan Hall, who missed most of last season because of injury and turned heads during Tuesday's practice.

After delivering scathing -- and accurate -- critiques of Miller, the receivers and the entire offense last spring, Meyer has a much rosier outlook these days. Tuesday, he called Miller's footwork "outstanding" and praised Hall and several other skill players.

"Last year, who knew what as going to happen," the coach said. "I think the appropriate term was 'clown show' at this time. I don't feel like [it's] a clown show."

If Miller makes strides as a passer, Ohio State should have its most potent offense since the 2006 season, when the Buckeyes played for the national championship (coincidentally against Meyer's Florida Gators). The key to the spring -- and to the season, really -- is whether Ohio State produces a typical Ohio State defense. Otherwise, Meyer says, any discussion about "those two words that we don’t use very often" is pointless.

The spring spotlight shines brightest on the defensive front seven. Ohio State lost all four starting linemen from 2012, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and massive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a possible first-round draft pick. Talented young linemen such as Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence got a taste last fall, and Meyer's staff has recruited extremely well up front, but others must emerge to fill out the rotation. Meyer on Tuesday challenged players such as Steve Miller and Chris Carter to do so.

All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier returns at linebacker, but depth remains a major concern for a group that needed fullback Zach Boren to fill a starting role midway through the 2012 season.

"If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team," Meyer said. "If not, we won’t. It's pretty simple."

There's also a leadership void to fill this spring. Players such as Simon and Boren made sure the Buckeyes kept up the chase in 2012. Meyer expressed concern last spring at how the team would handle its first brush with failure. Thanks to the seniors, it never happened as Ohio State recorded only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history.

The torch has passed to players like Miller, a quiet kid from a quiet family whose voice must be heard more in 2013.

"He needs to be a better leader," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters last month.

Other likely leaders include Shazier and dynamic cornerback Bradley Roby, a big talker who almost always backs it up on the field. Their challenge differs from that of their predecessors, who kept the team focused in spite of the bowl ban, yet did so under measured expectations.

The expectations are back to Tressel-era levels, and perhaps even higher because of the perfect season and Meyer's recruiting success. Anything less than a celebration Dec. 7 in Indianapolis -- and perhaps another Jan. 6 in Pasadena -- will be considered disappointing.

"The chase," Meyer said, "is on."
The NFL scouting combine is in the books and pro days at all the Big Ten schools will take place in the coming weeks. There's still time for the Big Ten's NFL draft hopefuls to boost their stock before the selections are made April 25-27.

But at the very top of the draft -- the first round, in particular -- things are looking rather bleak for the Big Ten, according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper's post-combine Big Board Insider features zero Big Ten players among the list of 25. Several Big Ten players have been included on previous Big Boards, including Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Purdue DT Kawann Short. If Michigan LT Taylor Lewan had skipped his final college season and entered the draft, he likely would be in Kiper's top 15.

Few would be surprised to see Hankins drafted in the first round, but his combine performance didn't exactly jump out. Short is another intriguing prospect, and Wisconsin center Travis Frederick also could sneak into the first round.

But if Kiper's forecast plays out, the Big Ten once again could be waiting a while before one of its players is drafted in April. The league didn't have a player selected in the 2012 draft until the Detroit Lions selected Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff with the No. 23 overall pick. The Big Ten hasn't produced a top 10 draft pick since Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long went No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft (Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, played his entire career in the Big 12).

Here's a look at the Big Ten's recent highest draft picks:

2012: No. 23, Iowa LT Riley Reiff (Detroit)
2011: No. 11, Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt (Houston)
2010: No. 13, Michigan DE Brandon Graham (Philadelphia)
2009: No. 11, Penn State DE Aaron Maybin (Buffalo)
2008: No. 1, Michigan LT Jake Long (Miami)
2007: No. 3, Wisconsin LT Joe Thomas (Cleveland)
2006: No. 5, Ohio State LB A.J. Hawk (Green Bay)
2005: No. 3, Michigan WR Braylon Edwards (Cleveland)
2004: No. 2, Iowa LT Robert Gallery (Oakland)
2003: No. 2, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers (Detroit)
2002: No. 12, Wisconsin DT Wendell Bryant (Arizona)

So after six straight years of top-5 picks (2003-2008), the Big Ten likely will go five straight years without a top 10 pick. Not good.

Several Big Ten players appear on Kiper's latest top-5 lists by position. Insider
  • Wisconsin's Montee Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Wisconsin's Frederick is the No. 1 center
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
Neither Hankins nor Short appear among the top five defensive tackles.

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:00
AM ET
Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players such as Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 passing yards and seven TDs. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players such as Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he has gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior college All-American Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.
Denard RobinsonAP Photo/Dave MartinMichigan's Denard Robinson impressed with his speed at the combine.

Michigan's Denard Robinson boasted last year that he could beat Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash.

If that's true, than the Olympic sprint champion wouldn't be one of the fastest 10 men in this year's NFL draft. While Robinson's claim might have been too bold, he still put up a predictably fast time in the 40 during NFL combine workouts on Sunday. The former Wolverine ran an official 4.43-second 40 in Indianapolis, tying him for ninth among all players who have worked out so far. Bolt might need to worry more about Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin, who ran a 4.27.

There are always some interesting finds in the combine numbers. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the creator of the Le'Veon Leap, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell, would record the same number on the vertical jump (31.5 inches) as Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner? The same Wagner who was listed at 317 pounds this season for the Badgers. Strange but true.

The quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive linemen and specialists have all had their turn under the microscope at the combine. Defensive linemen and linebackers will work out today, with defensive backs wrapping things up on Tuesday.

Let's take a look at how Big Ten players rank among the top overall performers so far:

  • Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, not surprisingly, tested well in several areas. The Huskers running back was fifth overall in the vertical leap at 39 inches, tied for 8th in the broad jump at 10 feet, five inches, was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.09 seconds, 14th in the three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and 14th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.51 seconds.
  • In addition to his 40 time, Robinson tied for 13th in vertical jump at 36.5 inches.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence is third in the bench press so far at 37 reps at 225 pounds.
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Reid Fragel is ninth in the bench press with 33 reps.
  • Michigan State's Bell is ninth in the three-cone drill at 6.75 seconds. Bell, by the way, weighed in at 230 pounds.
  • Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner tied for 12th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.5 seconds.

Now let's examine the position groups and see how Big Ten players stacked among their peers at their positions:

Quarterbacks

  • Iowa's James Vandenberg was third among quarterbacks in the vertical jump at 32 inches, second in the three-cone drill, fourth in the broad jump at 116 inches, seventh with a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash, and tied for 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Minnesota's MarQueis Gray was fourth with a 4.73-second 40-yard dash, seventh in vertical jump at 30 inches, tied for in the ninth broad jump (111 inches ), 10th in three-cone drill and tied for fourth in the 20-yard shuttle.
Running backs

  • Who was the fastest among big-time Big Ten backs? Bell ran a 4.60, just ahead of Wisconsin's Montee Ball at 4.66, while Burkhead posted a 4.73.
  • Bell was also ninth in the 225-pound bench press at 24 reps, third in the three-cone drill and 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Burkhead was behind only Texas A&M's Christine Michael in vertical jump, tied for second in broad jump, placed fourth in the three-cone drill, second in the 20-yard shuttle and fifth in the 60-yard shuttle. He tied for 13th with 22 reps on the bench press.
  • Ball talked last week about not being known for doing any one thing great. His combine numbers were a reflection of that. His 40 time was 19th among running backs, and his only Top 15 finish in any workout was his seventh-place showing in the three-cone drill.
  • Ohio State fullback Zach Boren tied for seventh in bench press at 25 reps.
Receivers

  • Robinson was the only Big Ten player to be invited as a receiver. In addition to his numbers mentioned earlier, Robinson tied for 10th among wideouts in the broad jump at 123 inches and tied for 12th in the 20-yard shuttle.
Tight ends

  • Michigan State's Dion Sims tied for third among tight ends in the bench press at 22 reps, was third in the vertical leap (35 inches) and finished second in both the three-cone and 60-yard shuttle drills. He was 12th in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds and 12th in broad jump at 112 inches.
  • Ohio State's Stoneburner was third among tight ends in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. He was fifth in vertical leap (34.5 inches), tied for fourth in the broad jump (116 inches) and sixth in the three-cone drill. He placed ninth in bench at 18 reps.
Offensive line

  • Ohio State's Fragel was fourth among offensive linemen with 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press. He was fifth in vertical leap at 30 inches and third in the broad jump at 113 inches.
  • Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner was third in the vertical jump at 31.5 inches. He did 20 reps on the bench press and ran a 5.17 40-yard time.
  • Badgers center Travis Frederick ran a 5.58 40-yard time and did 21 reps on the bench press.
  • Illinois' Hugh Thornton was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle drill. His 40 time was 5.11 seconds, and he did 27 reps on the bench.
  • Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch did 27 reps on the bench and ran a ran a 5.43 in the 40.

B1G postseason position rankings: LB

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
1:00
PM ET
It's time for another installment of our postseason position rankings, and today we're looking at one of the strongest groups in the Big Ten in 2012: the linebackers.

Just about every team boasted one standout linebacker last season, and many had multiple ones. That makes this list one of the tougher ones to date, and there's not a whole lot of separation between teams, especially in the middle. Star power matters, but depth is also important.

You can see how we ranked the linebackers entering the season here. Here's how we see things now:

1. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 2): We ranked the Nittany Lions second in the preseason, not knowing for sure how Michael Mauti would bounce back from his latest knee injury. Well, we picked him as our Big Ten defensive player of the year. Gerald Hodges was his usual brilliant self, especially when he switched into beast mode during league play. And the guy nobody talks about, Glenn Carson, also had a very solid season. Linebacker U., indeed.

2. Wisconsin (Preseason: 3): Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were so good and so consistent that we may have begun to take them for granted. Taylor collected 123 tackles, while Borland had 104, and the two combined for 25 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. The unsung member of the trio, Ethan Armstrong, added 93 stops. Once again, the linebackers were the strength of a very good Badgers defense.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 1): Max Bullough was a first-team All-Big Ten performer who led the Spartans with 111 tackles. Denicos Allen didn't match his 2011 numbers but still managed 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. Sophomore Taiwan Jones surpassed Chris Norman late in the year to give the unit even more depth. This group may have lacked the truly huge, game-changing plays, but it's hard to ask for much more than what it provided all season.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 5): The Wolverines linebacking crew became the backbone of the defense in 2012. Jake Ryan turned into a star with his flair for the big play; he piled up 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan were both solid, underrated players, and freshmen James Ross III and Joe Bolden helped give this group outstanding depth.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats made the biggest jump from the preseason rankings, as all three starters (Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi Ariguzo) collected at least 91 tackles. Ariguzo developed into a big-time playmaker, with 10.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Proby and Nwabuisi were almost criminally underrated.

6. Ohio State (Preseason: 4): The Buckeyes had the most interesting stories at linebacker. Ryan Shazier emerged as a destructive force of nature, especially in the second half of the season. Zach Boren switched from fullback to linebacker midseason and made a surprisingly smooth transition. Etienne Sabino broke his leg but came back to finish the year. Storm Klein returned from a suspension to contribute a little. There were some weak spots and shaky moments here, but Shazier's sheer strength helped hold this group together.

7. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Stats alone would tell you that the Hawkeyes had one of the best linebacking corps around. First-year starter Anthony Hitchens was one of the top tacklers in the nation with 124 stops, while James Morris (113) and Christian Kirksey (95) also ranked among the league leaders in that category. But tackle numbers alone don't tell the whole story, and Iowa lacked the kind of high-impact plays from its linebackers that teams above it on this list produced.

8. Nebraska (Preseason: 7): The Huskers had their issues on defense, but it was hard to fault the play of Will Compton, who led the team with 110 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Alonzo Whaley, Sean Fisher and David Santos ably filled out the rest of the group, but Nebraska had trouble finding the right combination of speed and experience at linebacker.

9. Minnesota: (Preseason: 10): The Gophers were young in a lot of spots but not at linebacker, where experienced veterans like Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper led the way. Aaron Hill rounded out what was a solid, if unspectacular, corps that helped Minnesota make great strides on defense.

10. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Injuries were one reason why Jonathan Brown didn't blossom into the superstar we expected to see. He had 9.5 tackles for loss but played in only nine games. It says something about both the Illini linebackers and the defense as a whole that true freshman Mason Monheim led the team with 86 tackles. He and fellow first-year player Mike Svetina at least give Illinois some reason for optimism.

11. Purdue (Preseason: 9): Dwayne Beckford was kicked off the team in August, and things didn't get a whole lot better from there. Will Lucas led the group with 66 tackles, but it was a sign of Purdue's problems at linebacker that converted quarterback Sean Robinson started here. Improving the linebacker play should be a top priority for new head coach Darrell Hazell.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): Junior-college import David Cooper stepped right in and made an immediate impact, recording 86 tackles and nine behind the line of scrimmage. But the Hoosiers struggled to find consistent play elsewhere at the position. It's no coincidence that Kevin Wilson's latest recruiting class includes several potential linebackers.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 8, 2013
2/08/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend ...

Hunter from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Enough about Michigan and Ohio State!! Lets hear more about the Spartans!! Although not as decorated as the Buckeyes and the Wolverines recruiting classes (obviously), I think it still has some great talent. If [Andrew] Maxwell performs poorly next season again, do you think Damion Terry has a shot at grabbing a starting job before the end of the year? [Coach Mark] Dantonio showed that he is definitely supports change after he played Connor Cook for most of their bowl game.

Adam Rittenberg: Hunter, Michigan State has a good history of doing more with less-decorated recruits, and its 2013 class, while small, seems pretty solid to me. I'd be surprised to see Terry move ahead of both Maxwell and Cook into the starting lineup. Those two would have to play really poorly for that to happen. The other thing with Terry is he has a different skill set than Michigan State's recent quarterbacks. I wonder how much the offense will change if and when he becomes the starter. That type of shift might be hard to do midseason. Ideally, Maxwell and Cook perform well and Terry has some time to develop in the program. If he's being thrust into action this season, Michigan State could be in trouble again on offense.




Christopher from Middleton, Wis., writes: Is Wisconsin in a better position this year having a coaching staff that has worked together in the past and time to prepare for the season than they were last year assembling coaches who had not worked together previously, were from different programs, and assembling that staff with little time before spring practice? My observation is that this Wisconsin staff is more coordinated and onboard with a plan than last year.

Adam Rittenberg: Christopher, a good observation here. Although Bret Bielema and his new assistants tried to downplay the transition before last season, the growing pains became obvious when the games began. We saw an unprecedented assistant coach change after two games (Mike Markuson), and the offense only got on track for short stretches. The familiarity on Gary Andersen's staff will be much stronger, and the two assistants Andersen retained, Thomas Hammock and Ben Strickland, should blend in well. The key is connecting with the players, who are now going through another transition with new systems, new terminology and new emphasis points. It's fair to expect some bumps along the way again, but if Wisconsin's players and coaches can get on the same page by August, the Badgers should once again challenge Ohio State in the Leaders Division.




Sean from Cincinnati writes: I saw you guys just posted the combine list and put Boren as a running back. He played linebacker at the end of the season, what are the chances a NFL team takes him as a linebacker?

Adam Rittenberg: While Zach Boren did a nice job filling in for Ohio State at linebacker after rash of injuries, his future really appears to be at the fullback/running back spot. That's where NFL teams are evaluating him, and while it's hardly unprecedented for players to change positions at the next level, I'd be surprised to see Boren drafted as anything but a fullback. College football isn't exactly mass-producing great fullbacks these days with the changes on offense, and Boren is a very good one. He'll find a home there.




Jonathan from St. Louis writes: Fan who bleeds Maize and Blue stuck here in SEC country. What does it take to get Notre Dame to join the Big Ten? Is that even feasible? Would the Big Ten even want Notre Dame since they want to expand out of traditional Big Ten country into new markets? Finally, would Notre Dame even be worth the effort (to the Big Ten) to pursue?

Adam Rittenberg: I did a double-take when you wrote SEC country and then I remembered -- Mizzou. As for Notre Dame, the Big Ten likely would be a last-resort option for the Irish. The two sides have had so many conversations during the past 15 years, and each time, Notre Dame decided to stay put as an independent. Notre Dame's new affiliation with the ACC increases the likelihood that if it ever plays football in a conference, it would be the ACC, not the Big Ten. Bottom line: I wouldn't hold your breath about ND and the Big Ten. Would the Big Ten want ND? Sure. It's a national brand and would enhance the Big Ten in many different areas. But Notre Dame would have to join on the Big Ten's terms -- full member, no special treatment, equal revenue sharing, etc. That's the culture Jim Delany has created in the Big Ten, and he's not going to change it for Notre Dame when other big-time programs -- Ohio State, Michigan -- agree to the terms. The other thing is that if ND wants to be in the Big Ten, it has to take the initiative. There's a perception that Delany cries himself to sleep every night because he couldn't land the beloved Notre Dame brand. That's simply not true. He has moved on to other schools and other ventures. So if this partnership ever happens, I really think Notre Dame has to make the first move.




John from Chicago writes: Adam, After reading about Urban Meyer and his plans to address Big Ten coaches about weak recruiting, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the topic, specifically as it relates to class rankings. Most of the rankings I see are based on total stars or points, so a team like Michigan State taking only 17 players ends up in the 30's and 40's, while the majority of the top 15-20 are taking somewhere between 20-25 commits. In the case of MSU, a main driver of the smaller class size is the very high percentage of redshirts in prior classes. If you're a fan, are you concerned about seeing your team with a lower ranked class, or is the depth and relative lack of attrition a good thing? I tend to side with the latter, but curious to hear your thoughts.

Adam Rittenberg: John, I definitely agree that teams with smaller classes can be penalized in recruiting classes, even if their quality trumps the quantity of other teams. The whole thing is an inexact science, and as Tom VanHaaren told us on Thursday's podcast , the ratings are merely projections. Most fans know their team's roster through and through, and they understand that having a lot of redshirts typically leads to smaller recruiting classes. There could be different opinions about mass redshirting -- some love it, others say it indicates a lack of talent/weak recruiting -- but the Big Ten tends to have programs that place more on development than bringing in the flashiest recruits. Maybe that changes in time as Ohio State and Michigan pile up blue-chip prospects, but programs like Wisconsin, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern and Purdue have built their success on players who blossom while in college.




Kyle from Okemos, Mich., writes: What do you think about going to pods to determine divisions with 14 members? Have two 4-team pods (Wisc, Minn, Iowa, Neb) and (Mich, MSU, OSU, NU) and two 3-team pods (Ill, Ind, Purdue) and (Penn St, Rutgers, Maryland). Divisions are one 4-team pod and one 3-team pod. With 6 games against divisional foes, that leaves 2 crossovers. A team from a 4-team pod would play two games against teams from the other 4-team pod. With a traditional home/away series in back-to-back years, each team would play every other team home and away in a 4-year span.

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, I guess this could work, but I'm not a fan of pods or divisions with unequal numbers of teams. I've never liked it in pro sports when some divisions have more teams than others. The pod system seems to make a lot more sense if and when the Big Ten goes to 16 teams. It becomes simple with four 4-team pods. I know you and other Big Ten fans are coming up with these ideas with the same objective -- to get Big Ten teams playing each other as much as possible. But the reality is there will be gaps in the schedule, just like there were for years in the 11-team Big Ten. I think seven-team divisions with limited protected crossovers and nine-game Big Ten schedules could work, as long as athletic directors keep some of their marquee non-league games. And if the Big Ten goes to 16 teams, the pod system certainly makes a lot of sense.




Chris from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Adam, I know you are a graduate of Northwestern University which is obviously in Chicago and given the recent news of Northwestern playing more games at Wrigley Field in the near future I have a question that is somewhat related. Why doesn't Illinois seek to play games at Soldier Field? I'm not an Illini fan but I have read a number of times that Illinois needs more in-state talent to commit for the program to grow. I would think playing games at Soldier Field would be very helpful for the Illini. Am I unaware of some rule preventing them from playing games there?

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, Illinois has launched its own in-state marketing push and wants to increase its presence in the Chicago area. It includes a game at Soldier Field this coming season against Washington. Illinois has played only one other game at Soldier Field (1994), so it will be interesting to see if this year's game leads to others along the lakefront. I agree that it could be helpful, although Illinois has to start winning more consistently on the field to give people in Chicago and throughout state a reason to get excited. I doubt we'll see Illinois at Wrigley Field because of the Northwestern-Cubs partnership, and I don't think we'll see Northwestern "host" the Illini at the Friendly Confines in the near future. But the Soldier Field contest seems like a positive step for Illinois, which has benefited from basketball games in Chicago in the past.


Big Ten players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
9:40
AM ET
The official list of players invited to the NFL combine is out.

These are the guys the pro scouts most want to see, and they'll be poked, prodded and interviewed in Indianapolis from Feb. 23-26. Here are the 32 players from the Big Ten who've been invited (Note: Position listed is the one each player will be working out as):

Johnny Adams, DB, Michigan State
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Zach Boren, RB, Ohio State
Michael Buchanan, DL, Illinois
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Reid Fragel, OL, Ohio State
Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin
William Gholston, DL, Michigan State
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Johnathan Hankins, DL, Ohio State
Terry Hawthorne, DB, Illinois
Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State
Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
Micah Hyde, DB, Iowa
Josh Johnson, DB, Purdue
Brett Maher, PK, Nebraska
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State
Kawann Short, DL, Purdue
John Simon, DL, Ohio State
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
Akeem Spence, DL, Illinois
Daimion Stafford, DB, Nebraska
Matt Stankiewitch, OL, Penn State
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
Hugh Thornton, OL, Illinois
James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin
Nathan Williams, DL, Ohio State

Finally, here is the schedule of workouts, which will be broadcast on NFL Network:

Feb. 23: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
Feb. 24: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Feb. 25: Defensive linemen, linebackers
Feb. 26: Defensive backs
Montee Ball's decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior season raised an eyebrow or two after the running back turned in a record-setting junior season in 2011. Ball returned in large part because he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee.

If ESPN's Mel Kiper turns out to be right, Ball's decision will be labeled a wise one.

Kiper came out with his first mock draft for 2013 Insider on Wednesday, and Ball is listed as a first-round pick, going No. 21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. Ball didn't appear on Kiper's Big Board this season, but made a strong push late in Big Ten play. Kiper writes that Ball would be an excellent fit for the Bengals' system.

Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only other Big Ten player in the mock draft, going at No. 15 to the New Orleans Saints. Kiper likes Hankins' ability to beat interior blockers to the backfield and eat up double teams.

It would have been interesting to see where Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan would have ended up on Kiper's list if he decided to skip his final season with the Wolverines. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, a projected first-rounder for much of the season, reportedly just missed the cut.

The deadline for early entries to the NFL draft has come and gone, and Kiper has issued his top 5 prospects at each position Insider.

Here's who made it from the Big Ten:
  • Wisconsin's Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Michigan State's Dion Sims, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 4 tight end
  • Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 1 center
  • Hankins is the No. 3 defensive tackle
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker

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