Big Ten: Zoltan Mesko

The position rankings finish with the special-teams units. For this list, I examine kickers, punters, return men and coverage units and look at each team's overall picture in the all-important third phase. The Big Ten loses several elite specialists, including punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Brett Swenson. It's a little odd not to see Ohio State near the top, but if there's a hole on Jim Tressel's team this year, it might be on special teams.

Here are my top five:

[+] EnlargeDerrell Johnson-Koulianos
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIDerrell Johnson-Koulianos ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009.
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast one of the league's top punters in Ryan Donahue, who has averaged more than 40 yards per punt in each of his first three seasons. Iowa also brings back Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009. There's competition at kicker (big surprise), but Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker both boast experience. Colin Sandeman quietly ranked second in the league in punt return average last year.

2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.

3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.

4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.

5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.

More rankings ...

The Revolving Door: Michigan

June, 17, 2010
Tenth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools in 2010.

Going ...

Brandon Graham, DE: Graham didn't win Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors last fall, but no defender in the league looked more dominant than No. 55. His numbers were simply insane: 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks, one recovery of a blocked punt for a touchdown. Graham's stats and leadership will be sorely missed up front.

Donovan Warren, CB: Michigan's secondary wasn't good in 2009, but it could have been even worse without Warren's contributions. He led the team with four interceptions, including a pick-six at Iowa, and also topped the chart in passes defended with seven. Warren earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media.

Staying ...

Stephen Schilling, G: Schilling has been through it all at Michigan, and he'll help anchor a line that should be one of the Wolverines' strengths this fall. An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2009, Schilling has started 36 of his 37 career games at tackle or guard. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks him as the No. 4 senior guard for the 2011 NFL draft.

Troy Woolfolk, CB: If Michigan's defense turns things around this fall, Woolfolk figures to play a major role. The converted safety has built up his confidence at the cornerback position and brings both experience and talent to the secondary. After a strong spring, Woolfolk will step into Warren's spot and cover the Big Ten's top receivers.

Coming ...

Cullen Christian, CB: Michigan has an obvious need in the secondary, and Christian should see the field this season, especially since Demar Dorsey isn't coming to Ann Arbor. Christian is an intelligent player with good size who can read quarterbacks and understands coverage schemes.

Will Hagerup, P/K: Graham and Warren are major losses, but Michigan really will miss All-American punter Zoltan Mesko this fall. The Wolverines also lose kicker Jason Olesnavage, so Hagerup will make a major impact in 2010. Like Mesko, Hagerup has excellent size (6-4, 210) and was heavily recruited coming out of high school. Michigan's specialists struggled this spring, so Rich Rodriguez will turn to Hagerup.

More revolving door ...

Michigan spring wrap

May, 5, 2010
2009 overall record: 5-7

2009 conference record: 1-7 (T-10th)

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense: 8, kicker/punter: 0

Top returners

QB Tate Forcier, QB Denard Robinson, WR Roy Roundtree, C David Molk, LG Stephen Schilling, CB Troy Woolfolk, LB/DE Craig Roh, NT Mike Martin

Key losses

RB Carlos Brown, RB Brandon Minor, C/G David Moosman, DE Brandon Graham, CB Donovan Warren, LB/S Stevie Brown, P Zoltan Mesko

2009 statistical leaders (*-returners)

Rushing: Brandon Minor (502 yards)

Passing: Forcier* (2,050 yards)

Receiving: Roundtree* (434 yards)

Tackles: Stevie Brown (80)

Sacks: Brandon Graham (10.5)

Interceptions: Donovan Warren (4)

Spring answers

1. Robinson steps up: Spring practice began with talk of Denard Robinson playing other positions besides quarterback. The session ended with Robinson looking like the Wolverines' top signal caller. A full offseason in the program paid off for Robinson, who proved why he should stay at quarterback and closed the gap with last year's starter, Tate Forcier. Robinson capped it off with a strong spring game performance, leading the offense to touchdowns on five of six possessions and firing a 97-yard scoring pass to Roy Roundtree.

2. Secondary gets boost: After a miserable year for Michigan's secondary in 2009, help arrived this spring. Cameron Gordon, a wide receiver converted to safety, was arguably the biggest star of the spring session and drew tons of praise for his big hits and his presence in the deep middle. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk had a very good spring and is ready to embrace a shutdown role. The coaches also singled out cornerback J.T. Floyd and others for their play.

3. Offensive line coming together: The offensive line should be, and needs to be, a strength for Michigan this fall, especially if Robinson is the starting quarterback. Michigan's coaching staff seemed pleased with the line's progress this spring, as the Wolverines return five players who started part or all of last season and integrate promising redshirt freshmen like Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Guard Patrick Omameh made strides this spring and the line will get a big boost when David Molk returns from injury.

Fall questions

1. Starting quarterback: The quarterback race is very close after Robinson's strong spring, and Michigan could go several weeks into preseason camp before naming its starter. Head coach Rich Rodriguez challenged Forcier this spring, and the sophomore needs a good response in August. True freshman Devin Gardner is still in the mix as well, though he'll need a great camp to keep pace with Robinson and Forcier.

2. Kicking game: The situation at kicker, and especially punter, wasn't good this spring. Incoming freshman Will Hagerup needs to be the answer at punter after the loss of All-American Zoltan Mesko. Hagerup also could be a factor at kicker if Brendan Gibbons can't lock up the job. Gibbons has a very strong leg but needs to be more consistent.

3. Pass rush: Michigan loses one of the nation's most disruptive defenders in Brandon Graham, who recorded 26 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two blocked kicks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown last season. The Wolverines need boosts from returning defensive linemen Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin, as well as production from players like Craig Roh, a linebacker hybrid who showed promise as a true freshman last fall.
I'll be providing brief recaps of all 11 Big Ten spring games during the next few weeks. Let's get started with Michigan, one of five teams to hold its spring game on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeRobinson
AP Photo/Tony DingDenard Robinson seems to be more comfortable in the Rich Rodriguez offense during the spring game.
As expected, the Wolverines' quarterbacks were in the spotlight at the Big House, and sophomore Denard Robinson rose to the occasion. Robinson, who last year couldn't complement his fast feet with consistent passing, showed excellent zip on the ball and connected for several big plays, none bigger than a 97-yard touchdown strike to Roy Roundtree. He seemed to be making better reads instead of forcing things like he did last season. Clearly, a full offseason has paid off for Shoelace.

Robinson took the field first and led the offense to touchdowns on five of six possessions against the second-team defense. Forcier worked mainly against the first-team defense and led three scoring drives in six possessions. So Foricer had the tougher assignment overall.

Head coach Rich Rodriguez said Robinson and Forcier will enter fall camp neck-and-neck for the starting job, with true freshman Devin Gardner a bit behind them, but Robinson has the momentum entering the summer.

From The Detroit News:

"Tate and Denard are a little bit ahead of Devin, because they have a little more experience," Rodriguez said. "And Denard, overall in the spring, has probably had a few better practices than Tate has."

I saw most of Michigan's scrimmage on the Big Ten Network, and Robinson looked like the most confident quarterback out there. I wouldn't count out Forcier, who has more experience and still made some nice plays, but he'll need to match Robinson in August to retain the starting job for the season. He seemed really disappointed after a holding penalty negated a touchdown during the overtime session, brushing past a teammate on the sideline. Rodriguez has challenged Forcier throughout the spring, and he'll need to step up.

Other nuggets:

  • Michigan's defense still needs a bit of work, though linebacker Obi Ezeh had a nice scrimmage, intercepting a pass from Gardner, who showed some freshman nerves. It would have been nice to see the first-team defense go more against the No. 1 offense, but Michigan has done more of that during closed practices this spring.
  • The kicking game could be a real adventure for Michigan, which really needs incoming freshman punter Will Hagerup to provide a boost. Keep in mind that punting has been arguably Michigan's greatest strength the last two years with All-American Zoltan Mesko booming kicks, so field position likely will change this fall.
  • The Wolverines will play more than one running back this season, and they seem to have decent depth there. Michael Shaw enters the summer with a slight edge, but both Michael Cox and Fitzgerald Toussaint showed some good signs during spring ball. Michigan's most intriguing running back prospect might be 236-pound freshman Stephen Hopkins, who brings some size to the backfield. Vincent Smith rejoins the mix in August.
  • Starting cornerback Troy Woolfolk missed the spring game after breaking a finger in practice while breaking up a Gardner pass. According to the Detroit Free Press, the bone broke through the skin but Woolfolk, who now goes by T-wolf, didn't cry.
Michigan holds one of its final spring practices Saturday, but the most meaningful physical activity players engage in that day will take play away from the football field.

Wolverines football players and members of the Michigan women's swimming & diving team will participate in Relay for Life, a 24-hour walking event that raises money for the American Cancer Society. The event, beginning at 10 a.m. ET, takes on added meaning for the football team, as former Michigan kicker Phil Brabbs is battling multiple myeloma, a form of cancer that affects the plasma cells in bone marrow.

While Michigan's players walk along the track at Palmer Field, Brabbs, 29, will undergo the first of two stem-cell transplants Saturday in an effort to push the cancer into remission. For more on Brabbs' story, click here and here and here.

The football team is trying to raise $35,000 in the event and is auctioning several items on eBay, including coffee with former football coach Lloyd Carr during the weekend of the spring game.

I spoke with graduating Michigan punter Zoltan Mesko in Ann Arbor this week, and he said the response from the team has been strong. Players will participate in the event following Saturday's practice.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- It has been a fun and productive day at Schembechler Hall, as I visited with Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez and several players. I also toured the facilities and briefly greeted quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, who are off limits to the media right now.

I also had an entertaining brainstorming session on college football expansion with two Michigan staffers. We've got it all figured out, people. Teams that could be on the move, according to the brain trust: Connecticut, Pitt, Boston College, Rutgers, Arkansas, Clemson, West Virginia, Syracuse, Utah, TCU, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and Boise State.

Yeah, you better believe it.

I'll have more on Michigan during the coming days, particularly Monday, but a few quick thoughts before I head out:

  • There's a lot of doom and gloom outside the Michigan program, but inside Schembechler Hall, there's definitely a different feeling among players and coaches. They know Year 3 is critical and another losing season will not be tolerated, but no one is walking on eggshells in here. Several players told me they're having fun playing football again, particularly in practice. "We can dance in practice now," wide receiver Roy Roundtree said, smiling. "Freshman and sophomore year, no one could really dance. But the only time we can dance is if we make a big play or score a touchdown." Who's the best dancer? "Kevin Koger," Roundtree said. "Denard, too. I said I might do a Chad Ochocinco if I score a touchdown."
  • There's a lot of buzz up here about several defenders. Safety Cameron Gordon, a converted wide receiver, drew praise from Rodriguez and several players I spoke with. Cornerback Troy Woolfolk really likes what he's seeing from J.T. Floyd, and Rodriguez also singled out linebacker Kenny Demens, defensive end Adam Patterson and defensive tackle Renaldo Sagesse for their play this spring.
  • Rodriguez said Michigan's numbers are better on defense, but he still expects several incoming freshmen to contribute, particularly in the secondary. But the freshman with the best chance to play right away is punter Will Hagerup, as Michigan must replace Ray Guy Award finalist Zoltan Mesko. Rodriguez said the competition at kicker and punter will definitely spill into fall camp.
  • There was a lot made of Rodriguez's comments Tuesday about the quarterback situation. I'll get into it more later, but let me just say this: Robinson has done enough this spring to stay in the mix at quarterback, although a move to another spot isn't being ruled out. Rodriguez really wants two capable quarterbacks who can do everything, not just a freelancer (Forcier) and a running specialist (Robinson) like Michigan had last year. Expect a similar timetable as far as when Michigan names a starter, but Rodriguez wants better and more complete options at the position, which he didn't really have last year.
I'm man enough to admit mistakes, so here's one: I haven't given special teams nearly enough attention in the blog. As we saw throughout the 2009 regular season and bowl season, the kicking game often makes the difference in the final outcome.

Consider this a fresh start.

Let's take a look at who's back, who's gone and how the special-teams units look for each Big Ten squad in 2010. We'll start with the first six teams (by alphabetical order) and examine the other five later Tuesday.


  • Kicker: Derek Dimke and Matt Eller both return. Dimke went 5-for-5 on field-goal attempts (all beyond 30 yards) after taking over for Eller, who struggled in his second year, connecting on only 4 of 11 attempts.
  • Punter: Senior Anthony Santella returns after ranking sixth in the league in punting average (41.3 ypp).
  • Kick return: Troy Pollard is back, but Arrelious Benn and A.J. Jenkins both depart. Illinois finished ninth in the league last fall in this category (19.3 ypr).
  • Punt return: Jarred Fayson and Jack Ramsey both come back. Illinois ranked last in the league in punt returns in 2009 (4.2 ypr)
  • Quick thoughts: Illinois needs to upgrade its kicking game to have any shot at turning things around in 2010. The return game really struggled (114th nationally in punt returns, 105th in kick returns), and kickoff coverage wasn't good, either (90th). Dimke provided a nice spark late in the season, but Illinois has too much talent not to make a bigger splash in returns.

  • Kicker: Sophomore Nick Freeland returns after connecting on 14 of 25 attempts in 2009. Redshirt freshman Mitch Ewald and senior Nick Ford also are in the mix here.
  • Punter: Junior Chris Hagerup is back after finishing eighth in the league in punting average (40.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Ray Fisher, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (37.4 ypr), is gone. Wide receiver Tandon Doss, who led IU with 25 runbacks, returns for his junior season.
  • Punt return: Indiana loses Fisher but brings back Doss. The Hoosiers finished second in the Big Ten in punt returns last fall (10.3 ypr).
  • Quick thoughts: Fisher is a major loss in the return game, but Doss certainly has the ability to fill the void. Indiana must figure things out on field goals, as it ranked last in the Big Ten in percentage last fall (.560). The offense should be pretty dynamic in 2010, so any help the kicking game provides would be huge. Indiana covered punts well but needs to improve on kickoffs after finishing 93rd nationally (23.2 ypr).

  • Kicker: Daniel Murray handled all of Iowa's field goals in 2009, connecting on 19 of 26 attempts. Junior Trent Mossbrucker also returns.
  • Punter: Senior Ryan Donahue will contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall after averaging 40.9 yards per punt in 2009.
  • Kick return: Senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is back after finishing second in the league in kick return average (31.5 ypr). Running back Brandon Wegher and wideout Paul Chaney Jr. also are back.
  • Punt return: Senior Colin Sandeman is back, and he'll compete with Chaney and possibly others for the top job.
  • Quick thoughts: Special teams should be a major strength for the Hawkeyes in 2010. Johnson-Koulianos showed against Ohio State how dangerous he can be on kickoff returns. Donahue and Murray are two of the league's more experienced specialists. Iowa's coverage units fared well in 2009, ranking ninth nationally in kick coverage (18.4 ypr) and 21st in punt coverage (5.7 ypr).

  • Kicker: The Wolverines must replace Jason Olesnavage, who connected on 11 of 15 attempts in 2009.
  • Punter: Michigan suffers a big loss here as Ray Guy Award finalist Zoltan Mesko departs. Mesko led the Big Ten in punting average (44.5 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wideout Darryl Stonum is back after averaging 25.7 yards per runback with a touchdown in 2009. Michigan's No. 2 option, Martavious Odoms, also returns for 2010. The Wolverines ranked third in the Big Ten in kick returns last fall (23.8 ypr).
  • Punt return: Junior Hemingway is back after leading U-M in punt returns (8.6 ypr). Odoms had six punt returns last fall, though Michigan could look to its younger players here.
  • Quick thoughts: Replacing Mesko won't be easy, and Olesnavage quietly turned in a strong season, especially from long range. Incoming punter recruit Will Hagerup will step into the fire right away for the Wolverines. Kick returns should be a strength, and Michigan did a decent job on coverage last year, ranking 20th in punt coverage and third in the Big Ten in net kickoff coverage.

  • Kicker: The Spartans suffer a big loss here, as first-team All-Big Ten selection Brett Swenson departs. Swenson went 19-for-22 on field goals last fall and led the Big Ten in kick scoring (101 points).
  • Punter: Senior Aaron Bates returns after finishing fifth in the league in punting average (41.6 ypp).
  • Kick return: Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is back after becoming arguably the Big Ten's most dangerous return man last fall. Michigan State needs a No. 2 option here.
  • Punt return: Martin did a nice job on punt returns in 2009, averaging 7.4 yards per runback.
  • Quick thoughts: Swenson leaves a major void at kicker, as Dan Conroy and Kevin Muma compete to replace the back-to-back All-Big Ten selection. Martin really blossomed on returns during Big Ten play and could be a huge X-factor for Michigan State this fall. The Spartans' coverage teams were average in 2009. If Conroy and/or Muma can hold their own on field goals, special teams could be a real strength for Mark Dantonio's team.

  • Kicker: Eric Ellestad is back for his senior year after connecting on 13 of 17 field-goal attempts, with all the makes coming from within 40 yards.
  • Punter: Minnesota loses Blake Haudan, who had a very solid 2009 season, ranking third in the league in average (42.6 ypp). Sophomore Dan Orseske will step in this fall.
  • Kick return: Wideout Troy Stoudermire is back after once again getting a ton of action on returns, recording 43 runbacks for 1,057 yards (24.6 ypr). Duane Bennett and Hayo Carpenter are possible No. 2 options.
  • Punt return: Sophomore wideout Bryant Allen is back after averaging 12.2 yards on six runbacks last fall. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average (14.7 ypr), although the Gophers also had the fewest opportunities (9).
  • Quick thoughts: Haudan was a very solid punter in 2009, so Orseske will have some big shoes to fill. Stoudermire and Allen are fine options on returns, and Ellestad did a nice job on the kicks he should make. Minnesota really struggled on kickoff coverage, ranking 102nd nationally (24.1 ypr). If the offense starts slow again this fall, Minnesota will need to be sharp in the kicking game.

Big Ten to send 41 to NFL combine

February, 2, 2010
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine is out, and the Big Ten will send 41 former players to Indianapolis later this month. The combine takes place Feb. 24-March 2, and all 11 Big Ten schools will be represented. Iowa leads the way with seven invitees, followed Penn State with six invitees and four teams (Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio State) each with four invitees.

You've already seen an early list, which didn't include underclassmen and some seniors who were named later.

Here's the full roster of Big Ten participants, sorted by team:

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, WR Arrelious Benn, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Bryan Bulaga, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson, CB Amari Spievey

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor, CB Donovan Warren

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: LB Lee Campbell, WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, DE Thaddeus Gibson, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: LB Navorro Bowman, QB Daryll Clark, LB Josh Hull, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, LB O'Brien Schofield (injured)
Those of us who watch Big Ten football every week know good Brandon Graham is at his craft.

The rest of the country, not to mention the NFL's top talent evaluators, got clued in Saturday afternoon at the Senior Bowl.

Graham, the outstanding defensive end from Michigan, earned MVP honors for the North team in a 31-13 victory against the South all-stars in Mobile, Ala. Graham recorded three tackles for loss, including two sacks, and forced a Zac Robinson fumble.

"I just wanted to go out and show them boys I come hard and I was in the best shape of my life," he told reporters afterward. "I came out and went hard every play."

Graham most likely locked up a spot in the first round of April's draft after a great week in Mobile. He was somewhat overlooked the last two seasons because of Michigan's struggles, particularly on defense, but he shouldn't be punished for the team's shortcomings. No Big Ten defender had more impressive numbers than Graham, who led the nation in tackles for loss and ranked 14th in sacks.

Iowa linebacker A.J. Edds also headlined a strong defensive effort from the North squad with an interception and a fumble recovery that set up a touchdown. Edds had two tackles in the game.

Other Big Ten notables in the game:
  • Michigan State's Brett Swenson put the North team on the scoreboard with a 43-yard field goal and went 4-for-4 on extra-point attempts.
  • Michigan's Zoltan Mesko averaged 32.3 yards on three punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line.
  • Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman and Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick both recorded a tackle.
  • Purdue defensive tackle Mike Neal had one assisted tackle for loss.
  • Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham recorded one catch for 10 yards.
They're baaaaack.

The top 30 player rankings last summer were a huge hit on the blog, and many of you wanted me to re-rank following the 2009 season. As expected, several new players have joined the top 30, while several have left and others have moved up or down.

A few things to keep in mind:
  • Just because a player moves down or out of the rankings doesn't mean he had a poor season. In most cases, other players simply stood out more.
  • Like the preseason rankings, I'm using past performance at the college level (including the 2009 season) as well as future potential in the NFL as the two primary factors for evaluating players. Past performance counts for 60 percent, while future potential counts for 40 percent.
  • Thirty spots really aren't that many, and there are a ton of outstanding players who didn't make the rankings. By no means is this a knock on guys like Brad Phillips, Keith Smith, DeVier Posey, John Moffitt, Tony Moeaki, Ross Homan, Zoltan Mesko, Tandon Doss and Brett Swenson. Several of them certainly will appear in the 2010 preseason top 30 (coming in May or June).

The postseason top 30 rankings begin with ...

No. 30

Blair White, WR, Michigan State, Sr., 6-2, 205

Preseason rank: Unranked

Why he's here: Since the middle of the 2008 season, White has been arguably the most productive receiver in the Big Ten. He followed up a strong finish to his junior season by tying for the the Big Ten lead in touchdown receptions (nine) and ranking second in receiving yards (990). There are flashier wideouts in college football, but few are as reliable as White has been for Michigan State.

Despite starting just 18 games and only earning a scholarship before the 2008 season, White finished his career ranked among Michigan State's all-time leaders for receptions (116), touchdowns (10) and receiving yards (1,674). His academic credentials are well documented, and while he's got a promising future as a dentist, don't be surprised if he plays in the NFL. White recorded game highs in both receptions (seven) and receiving yards (93) at the East-West Shrine Game last week, boosting his draft stock. The first-team All-Big Ten selection could be a steal in April.
After looking at where this year's All-Big Ten offensive players ranked as recruits, it's time to get defensive. Here's where the league's top defensive players stacked up according to ESPN's Scouts Inc., and I've displayed position rankings, state rankings and national rankings.

A reminder: Scouts Inc. doesn't have rankings for players in the 2005 recruiting class.

These are the media's first-team All-Big Ten selections. I added Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick, the league's co-Defensive Player of the Year, to the mix.


Adrian Clayborn, DE, Iowa
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 80, No. 9 inside linebacker, No. 2 in Missouri, unranked nationally
Rivals: Four stars (out of five), No. 8 defensive end, No. 2 player in Missouri, No. 194 nationally
Scout: Four stars (out of five), No. 18 defensive end, unranked nationally (top 100)

Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
ESPN's Scouts Inc: ESPNU 150, Grade of 86, No. 2 inside linebacker, No. 1 in Michigan, No. 31 nationally
Rivals: Five stars, No. 2 inside linebacker, No. 1 in Michigan, No. 15 player nationally
Scout: Five stars, No. 3 inside linebacker, No. 14 player nationally

Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 74, No. 72 defensive end, No. 6 in Indiana, unranked nationally
Rivals: Three stars, No. 46 defensive end, No. 4 in Indiana, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 88 defensive end, unranked nationally

O'Brien Schofield, DE, Wisconsin
ESPN's Scouts Inc: N/A
Rivals: Three stars, No. 24 defensive end, No. 24 in Illinois, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 55 linebacker, unranked nationally

Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 76, No. 32 defensive tackle, No. 23 in Pennsylvania, unranked nationally
Rivals: Four stars, No. 3 defensive tackle, No. 1 in Pennsylvania, No. 31 nationally
Scout: Four stars, No. 8 defensive tackle, No. 55 nationally

Greg Jones, LB, Michigan State
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 71, No. 101 defensive end, No. 57 in Ohio, unranked nationally
Rivals: Three stars, No. 34 outside linebacker, No. 16 in Ohio, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 24 linebacker, unranked nationally

Navorro Bowman, LB, Penn State
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 77, No. 22 inside linebacker, No. 11 in Maryland, unranked nationally
Rivals: Four stars, No. 12 inside linebacker, No. 9 in Maryland, No. 212 nationally
Scout: Four stars, No. 22 linebacker, unranked nationally

Pat Angerer, LB, Iowa
ESPN's Scouts Inc: N/A
Rivals: Three stars, No. 26 inside linebacker, No. 5 in Iowa, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 57 linebacker, unranked nationally

Donovan Warren, CB, Michigan
ESPN's Scouts Inc: ESPNU 150, Grade of 80, No. 8 cornerback, No. 8 in California, No. 86 nationally
Rivals: Five stars, No. 3 cornerback, No. 4 in California, No. 25 nationally
Scout: Five stars, No. 4 cornerback, No. 22 nationally

Sherrick McManis, CB, Northwestern
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 40, unranked among cornerbacks, No. 58 in Illinois
Rivals: Two stars, unranked among cornerbacks or state or nationally
Scout: Two stars, unranked among cornerbacks or nationally

Tyler Sash, S, Iowa
ESPN's Scouts Inc: Grade of 69, No. 165 running back, No. 7 in Iowa, unranked nationally
Rivals: Three stars, No. 59 athlete, No. 5 in Iowa, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 82 safety, unranked nationally

Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
ESPN's Scouts Inc: ESPNU 150, Grade of 81, No. 12 cornerback, No. 8 in Ohio, No. 125 nationally
Rivals: Four stars, No. 13 cornerback, No. 10 in Ohio, No. 183 nationally
Scout: Four stars, No. 14 cornerback, unranked nationally

Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
ESPN's Scouts Inc: N/A
Rivals: Three stars, No. 2 kicker, No. 36 in Ohio, unranked nationally
Scout: Three stars, No. 4 punter, unranked nationally

Another interesting look back at who panned out. There certainly were several steals in this group (McManis, Sash, Jones), while others (Graham, Warren) lived up to the hype.
The rosters have been updated for the Senior Bowl, and while other players could be added, here are the 11 Big Ten prospects who will appear Saturday afternoon for the North squad in Mobile, Ala.

  • Jon Asamoah, G, Illinois
  • Kurt Coleman, S, Ohio State
  • A.J. Edds, LB, Iowa
  • Brandon Graham, DE, Michigan
  • Michael Hoomanawanui, TE, Illinois
  • Zoltan Mesko, P, Michigan
  • Mike Neal, DT, Purdue
  • Jared Odrick, DT, Penn State
  • O'Brien Schofield, LB, Wisconsin
  • Brett Swenson, K, Michigan State
Purdue's Neal and Wisconsin's Schofield also appeared in the East-West Shrine Game during the weekend. Penn State linebacker Sean Lee and Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton both had been named to the Senior Bowl roster but now won't play.

Big Ten team recruiting needs

January, 20, 2010
National Signing Day is right around the corner, and Big Ten teams will look to add depth and identify a few immediate contributors in the upcoming recruiting classes. What do these squads need the most?

Here's a look:


Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.

Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.


Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.

Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.

Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.


Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.

Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.


Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.

Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.

Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.


Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.

Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.

Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.


Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.

Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.

Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.


Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.

Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.


Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.

Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.


Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.

Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.

Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.


Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.

Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.

Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.


Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.

Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
The best case-worst case rewind series finally wraps up with ... Michigan.

In case you missed it: Michigan's best case-worst case.

Best-case synopsis: Rich Rodriguez continues his tradition of Year 2 turnarounds, as his freshmen quarterbacks blossom and the defense improves under new coordinator Greg Robinson. Senior Brandon Minor leads a talented group of running backs, and the receiving corps helps the young signal-callers with their transition. Michigan starts the season 5-0 and rides the defense to a strong finish. The Wolverines snap their losing streak against Ohio State to finish 10-2 before beating Mississippi in the Capital One Bowl.

Worst-case synopsis: The quarterback position falls apart again and a beleaguered defense regresses as Michigan once again misses a bowl game. None of the quarterbacks truly establishes himself as the starter, and opposing defenses load up to stop the run. Michigan's pass rush suffers as Brandon Graham constantly faces double- and triple-teams, while punter Zoltan Mesko is the team's only true star. The Wolverines lose the opener to Western Michigan and finish 4-8. Rodriguez is retained for a third year but enters 2010 on the hot seat.

You can't handle the truth: (quotes from the original post) "Rodriguez's spread offense starts to take shape around the freshmen quarterbacks, who are suited to the system." ... "Michigan begins by doing something it last accomplished in 2006 -- win the season opener. The defense holds off Tim Hiller and Western Michigan." ... "Loaded with confidence, the Wolverines complete a 4-0 start." ... After a loss at Iowa, Michigan handles Delaware State easily." ... "More mistakes crop up on defense." ... "Michigan misses a bowl for the second straight year." ... "Golden Tate and Michael Floyd make Michigan's secondary look silly." ... "The Wolverines see their home win streak against Penn State end at five games." ... "Rodriguez's future seems very much in doubt."

Lies, lies, lies: "The defense rebounds under Greg Robinson." ... "Senior Brandon Minor headlines a strong stable of running backs and earns first-team All-Big Ten honors by rushing for 1,400 yards." ... "The team hits the road for the first time and regains in-state bragging rights by rallying to beat Michigan State in the fourth quarter. Michigan vaults into the top 20." ... "Fans finally embrace Rodriguez and his style, forgetting 2008 and all the player departures during the transition." ... "Despite more experience elsewhere on offense, the quarterback position dooms the Wolverines again." ... "The Wolverines get booed as they head to halftime down 28-7 and never get within 14 points of the Irish." ... "Michigan fails to get on the scoreboard against the talented Hawkeyes defense."

Reality check: Michigan finished one game ahead (5-7) of the worst-case scenario, but after a 4-0 start, the Wolverines looked like a lock to make a bowl game. Rodriguez's offense certainly made strides in Year 2, and quarterback Tate Forcier showed a lot of promise before struggling with injuries and inconsistent play down the stretch. The big problem was Robinson's defense, which regressed despite boasting the league's most dominant lineman in Graham. Michigan didn't beat an FBS team after Sept. 26 and wasted opportunities against both Illinois and Purdue. Rodriguez will enter the 2010 season with a new boss (David Brandon) and a mandate to make a bowl game, at the very least.
The official list of invitees to the NFL scouting combine should be available soon, but Sporting News has compiled a preliminary roster, which includes 33 players from the Big Ten. This list DOES NOT include juniors who have declared for the draft and will be updated with underclassmen and other seniors.

The combine takes place Feb. 24 through March 2 in Indianapolis.

ILLINOIS: G Jon Asamoah, TE Michael Hoomanawanui

INDIANA: DE Jammie Kirlew, DE Greg Middleton, S Nick Polk, OT Rodger Saffold

IOWA: LB Pat Angerer, OT Kyle Calloway, LB A.J. Edds, TE Tony Moeaki, G Dace Richardson

MICHIGAN: DE Brandon Graham, P Zoltan Mesko, RB Brandon Minor

MICHIGAN STATE: K Brett Swenson, WR Blair White

MINNESOTA: WR Eric Decker, LB Simoni Lawrence, LB Nate Triplett

NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, CB Sherrick McManis, DE Corey Wootton

OHIO STATE: S Kurt Coleman, K Aaron Pettrey, DT Doug Worthington

PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, TE Andrew Quarless

PURDUE: DT Mike Neal, CB David Pender

WISCONSIN: TE Garrett Graham, DE O'Brien Schofield