Big Ten: Aaron Green

Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 9, 2013
8/09/13
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. Remember, follow us on Twitter. And keep those emails coming.

Let's check out a few ...

Matt from Omaha writes: You guys are currently have a countdown of the per season top 25 players in the B1G. If you could do a top 25 of the most hyped players in the B1G that haven't taken the field, but expect to play well this year, who would you have on it?

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Matt. Let's have some fun with this one. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg would have to be near the top. ESPN rated him as the No. 1 pocket-passing quarterback in the 2013 recruiting class, and Penn State fans have waited a while to get a glimpse of Hackenberg, who looks like the team's signal caller of the future. Ohio State's Dontre Wilson also would be up there, as he brings explosiveness to a Buckeyes offense looking for players to fill the Percy Harvin position in Urban Meyer's offense. Michigan running back Derrick Green is another newcomer with plenty of hype behind his name. Veteran Fitzgerald Toussaint wants to be Michigan's bell cow in the backfield, and Green will miss a bit of time with a minor injury, but there's a decent chance the freshman gets a fair share of carries this season.

Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory, a junior-college arrival, certainly would be in the Top 10 as Husker fans hope he can spark a questionable line. Michigan State redshirt freshman Riley Bullough, who moved from linebacker to running back in the spring and drew good reviews, certainly is one to watch, although he also is reportedly banged up. Others who would make the list include Purdue QB Danny Etling, Indiana CB Rashard Fant, Penn State TE Adam Breneman, Illinois WR Martize Barr, Wisconsin WR Robert Wheelwright, Ohio State WR Jalin Marshall, Illinois LB Eric Finney, Indiana DT Darius Latham and Northwestern S Godwin Igwebuike.



Derek from Minneapolis writes: Please help me settle an argument in my family. I argue that the Badgers' best offense ever was in 2011 when they had Russell Wilson, Montee Ball and still lost 3 games. My brother argues that it was the ground attack the year before with Clay, Ball and White all getting 900+ yards. My dad argues that the Ron Dayne years would be the hardest to stop. Which offense do you think is the best and why? We have several beers wagered on your response.

Adam Rittenberg: This is certainly a good problem/argument to have if you're a Wisconsin fan. All three are great options. My sense is to go with the 2011 offense because of the Wilson and Ball, quite possibly the most talented offensive backfield we've seen in the Big Ten in the past decade. If you actually look at Wilson's numbers that year, they'll blow you away, while Ball stats speak for themselves. The only reason I'm hesitant is that the 2010 offensive line was superior to the 2011 version. Wisconsin didn't completely dominate opponents as often in 2011 as it did in 2010, and needed Wilson to work his magic in the pocket quite a bit. The Dayne offenses were great, too, but more one-dimensional than the 2010 and 2011 teams. Ultimately, I have to go with the 2011 version, factoring in a healthy Peter Konz for the entire season. I still can't fathom how Wisconsin managed to lose three games with the backfield of Wilson and Ball.



Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base writes: Hey Adam, I was reading your article ranking Ameer Abdullah at No. 13 in the B1G, and read something that didn't make sense to me. You said that Nebraska doesn't have a lot of depth at RB, when I don't believe that's the case at all! Behind Abdullah, you have manbeast Imani Cross, and the 2 best freshman RBs out of Cali and Texas (Newby and Taylor) now on campus. RB is the least of my concerns going into the season! What was your reasoning behind that?

Adam Rittenberg: Let me ask you this question, Brian. How much better would you feel about the Huskers' depth if Braylon Heard and Aaron Green were still on the roster? Heard and Green are two talented backs, and both opted to transfer from Nebraska. Fans love freshmen because they followed them in recruiting and fell in love with them, but they're still freshmen, totally unproven at the college level. I'm not saying Terrell Newby and Adam Taylor won't be studs at Nebraska, but both have a lot to prove. Cross impressed me last year and might soon emerge as Nebraska's featured back. But to say the Huskers are deep at running back with Abdullah, Cross and two freshmen is inaccurate. The depth would be much better if Heard and Green were still on the roster.



James from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Less than three weeks until Thursday night kickoff. Who starts at QB for Indiana? Rank 'em 1 through 3.

Adam Rittenberg: Very tough question, James, as the race is still too close -- and still too early -- to call. All three players continue to compete, although Indiana will trim the candidate pool to two fairly soon. My sense all along has been if Tre Roberson can make up for lost time, he'll be the starter when Indiana opens the season because of his explosive speed to complement his passing. But Cameron Coffman brings a gunslinger mentality that the coaches like, and Nate Sudfeld continues to impress in practice. Sudfeld, who had a good spring, certainly can't be ruled out of the mix. Check back with me in 10 days or so for a better prediction. For now, I'll go with Roberson, but I reserve the right to change my mind.



Sam from Chicago writes: Hi Adam, it's gotta be nice to actually talk about things that are going on actually ON the field! At Northwestern, where do you see the greatest opportunity for a true freshman to step in and get some playing time?

Adam Rittenberg: Indeed it is, Sam. The offseason is too long. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald doesn't like to play a lot of true freshmen, preferring to redshirt as many guys as he can. The Wildcats have some holes to fill in the interior of both lines, but I don't see a true freshman stepping in at those spots because of the physical demands. I'd keep an eye on freshman safety Godwin Igwebuike. Cornerback Nick VanHoose praised Igwebuike when we talked earlier this week, and while Northwestern has decent depth at safety, Igwebuike could work his way into the rotation. VanHoose also singled out freshmen corners Keith Watkins and Matthew Harris for their play. You typically see true freshmen see time at running back or receiver, but Northwestern has excellent depth at both positions.



Kevin from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hi Adam-As a Spartan fan I was used to many years of fast starts followed by the usual November swoon, especially during the John L days. I always contended that although most of those teams were mediocre, the schedule played a huge role it. Specifically, soft out of conference games followed by some weaker B1G competition pumped up the record and then a brutal stretch of games to end the season killed it. Looking at the current B1G schedules, this screams Nebraska. I can totally see a hot start (7-0, 6-1) only to be followed by a 1-4 ending. Will Bo suffer the same fate as John L if this happens?

Adam Rittenberg: It would have to be a total collapse, Kevin, and even then, I don't know if Nebraska would part ways with Bo Pelini, who has averaged 9.6 wins per year as the Huskers' head coach. Nebraska learned a hard lesson after dumping Frank Solich, as the program entered a downward spiral under Bill Callahan. Although Pelini's current boss, athletic director Shawn Eichorst, didn't hire him, I don't get the sense Eichorst wants to rock the boat too much right away. You bring up a good point about Nebraska's schedule being backloaded, and the Huskers will need to be at their best in November, but they also get three games at home (Northwestern, Michigan State and Iowa), where they've lost only once since joining the Big Ten. I'd be stunned if 1-4 happens.



Derrick from New York writes: Who's your first draft pick in this years B1G Ten Fantasy Draft?

Adam Rittenberg: You'll have to wait a little longer for that, Derrick, as we'll do the draft closer to the season. But let me remind you, and Mr. Bennett, and the whole wide world that I'll be picking second overall. Why, you wonder? Because I throttled Bennett last year and intend to do the same this fall. The Gingers have no shot. They'll hear the sad Trombone [Shorty] again in late November.
Spring practice is underway around most of the Big Ten, and we're taking a look at one potential breakout player for each team. We’re spotlighting players who could take a major step during spring ball, so those who have started multiple seasons or earned All-Big Ten recognition in 2012 aren't eligible.

The Nebraska Cornhuskers are up next, and after losing several running backs to transfer, Big Red could need a big year from ...

Imani Cross, RB, sophomore, 6-foot-1, 225 pounds

Cross already is a familiar name to Nebraska fans, who watched him rush for 324 yards and seven touchdowns on 55 carries as a true freshman in 2012. The knee injury to Rex Burkhead moved all the other running backs up on the depth chart, and Cross saw the field often, especially in the red zone, where he used his size and strength. He once again will get plenty of field time this spring as a once-loaded group of Husker running backs has been reduced by the transfers of Aaron Green last spring and Braylon Heard this past winter. Projected starter Ameer Abdullah might miss the rest of the spring with a knee injury, so there's a big opportunity for Cross to showcase his game.

Abdullah rushed for 1,137 yards last season and should get the lion's share of the carries this season, but there's some concern whether the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior can take the physical punishment Big Ten defenses deliver. Cross has more prototypical feature-back size, and showed he can be effective in short-yardage situations last season. If he capitalizes on his opportunity this spring and shows the coaches he can be a complete back, he could really push Abdullah in fall camp and potentially work himself into a co-starter role. Freshmen Adam Taylor and Terrell Newby arrive this summer, so it's important for Cross to separate himself with Abdullah as the team's top ball-carrying options.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 14, 2012
5/14/12
12:00
PM ET
Big Ten spring meetings take place Tuesday-Wednesday in Chicago. I'll be on hand throughout, so be sure and check the blog for updates.

Onto the links.
With spring practice over, we're looking at the most indispensable players on each Big Ten team. Not necessarily the best players, but those who would be hardest to replace because of their value to the team or because of a lack of depth at their position.

We're picking two players from each team, usually offense and defense but not always. Let's turn our attention to the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

RB Rex Burkhead, Sr.

Losing quarterback Taylor Martinez would be a huge blow for the Huskers, but I still think the offense would find ways to be productive with its ground game. I'm not sure if the same would be true without Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last year. Ameer Abdullah hasn't proved that he can be an every-down back yet, and Aaron Green's transfer thinned what was once enviable depth in the Nebraska backfield. Incoming freshman Imani Cross could help, but he is a freshman. Plus, Burkhead brings such a tough-minded mentality to the team that his value is hard to quantify. Let's just say he is an indispensable part of the Cornhuskers' Big Ten title hopes.

LB Will Compton, Sr.

Compton came on strong down the stretch last season, finishing second on the team with 77 tackles. Lavonte David rightly got all the headlines at linebacker, but Compton provided a nice complement and quarterbacked the defense. With David now off to the NFL, it's up to this fifth-year senior to lead a position otherwise filled with question marks. Compton drew strong reviews for his play this spring and is expected to be a leader in the locker room for the Blackshirts. While other defensive players like Cameron Meredith and Baker Steinkuhler will be key figures, Compton looks like the hardest one to replace.

Big Ten lunch links

May, 1, 2012
5/01/12
12:00
PM ET
Happy May Day.

Big Ten lunchtime links

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
12:00
PM ET
For lunch: codfish, Heinz beans and links. With a Shirley Temple, since we're tapering.
Nebraska boasts arguably the Big Ten's deepest running back corps, but the group just got a bit thinner.

Sophomore Aaron Green has decided to transfer, his father told multiple media outlets Sunday night. Green, a San Antonio native, likely will move closer to home and select a Big 12 program. Oklahoma and TCU are among his potential transfer destinations, according to his father, Tony.

From the Omaha World-Herald:
"He wasn't happy," Tony Green said. "He didn't feel that he fit into the system. He wants to get closer to home."

Green had 24 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns as a true freshman in 2011, playing behind Nebraska's All-Big Ten back Rex Burkhead. Green seemed frustrated with his limited role, but he and classmate Ameer Abdullah logged most of the running back reps this spring as they competed to back up Burkhead in the fall. Both players drew praise from the coaching staff and likely would have received most of the carries in Nebraska's spring game, which was canceled because of bad weather.

"Aaron Green and Ameer Abdullah have had really good springs," Huskers offensive coordinator Tim Beck told me this month. "They were just true freshmen last year, so they're another part of the recipe."

The recipe apparently left a sour taste for Green, who made his decision to transfer during spring practice, according to his father.

Green arrived at Nebraska as the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit in the 2011 class, ranked as the nation's No. 11 overall player in the ESPN 150. While he wouldn't have played ahead of Burkhead this fall, he and Abdullah seemed positioned to compete for the top job heading into 2013.

Green's older brother, Andrew, is a cornerback for the Huskers.

Nebraska still has decent depth at running back, although it moved Braylon Heard, who had 25 carries last season, to cornerback this spring. Heralded recruit Imani Cross joins the Huskers this summer, and fullback Mike Marrow, a transfer from Eastern Michigan, drew strong reviews this spring.

Spring game preview: Nebraska

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
10:30
AM ET
It'll be a big Saturday in the Big Ten as seven teams hold their spring games/scrimmages. We're getting you ready for each one.

Let's take a closer look at Nebraska's Red-White spring game:

When: 2 p.m. ET (1 p.m. local time), Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium

Admission: $10 for adults. Kids in the eighth grade or younger are admitted for free if they take the Drug Free Pledge at halftime of the game. Parking is $5 at Lot 9 and other campus lots.

TV: The game will be streamed live online on BTN2Go and on the Big Ten Digital Network. The Big Ten Network will broadcast the game on tape-delay at 10:30 p.m. ET Saturday.

Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy with scattered thunderstorms possible, temperatures between 68-78, 40-50 percent chance of rain, winds at 10-20 mph.

What to watch for: Not surprisingly, Nebraska will be "as basic as you can get," coach Bo Pelini said, in the spring game. One change from years' past is that the coaching staff will divide the teams evenly rather than hold a player draft, as the Huskers are a bit thin at positions like defensive tackle.

Top quarterback Taylor Martinez is only expected to play about a quarter and a half, but fans will be closely studying the junior, who spent the spring working on his footwork and mechanics and has by all accounts looked better passing the ball. The backups in the offensive backfield figure to get a lot of work at both quarterback (Brion Carnes, Ron Kellogg II) and at running back (Ameer Abdullah, Aaron Green). It'll also be a good chance for fans to see fullback Mike Marrow, who has generated buzz during spring drills.

The defensive coaching staff has a new look with John Papuchis elevated to coordinator and two position coaches (Rick Kaczenski and Terry Joseph) coming in from the outside. Although Nebraska isn't employing massive scheme changes, Saturday provides a good chance to see the coaches and evaluate their position groups. The Huskers are looking to replace star power on defense, and several players have generated buzz this spring, including safety Daimion Stafford, who had an impressive 2011, and linebacker Will Compton.

Big Ten chat wrap: April 11

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
6:00
PM ET
Thanks for waiting patiently for today's Big Ten chat, which took place a little later than normal. Another day of good spring football chatter around the league.

In case you missed out on the fun, here's the full transcript.

Some highlights:
Jason from Northville: Adam, you're in East Lansing this week correct? With the exceptions of Worthy, Robinson, and Pickelman departed do you see this defense as good or better than 2011's defense at MSU?
Adam Rittenberg: Brian actually will be in East Lansing, as of tonight. Excited to see what he learns from the Spartans. I'm really excited about the Spartans D. Gholston is a potential national superstar. Bullough and Allen form an excellent 1-2 punch at LB. Adams might be the league's top cover corner. Michigan State is loaded with difference-makers on defense despite losing Worthy, Robinson and Pickelman. And being able to retain coordinator Pat Narduzzi is huge for the Green and White.
Tyler from Austin, Minn.: Hey Adam, Do you see the Huskers as a real title contender? Are we going to see Taylor Martinez air it out more this year? Is Rex going to get more or less carries this year and what are your thoughts about him being a heisman contender?
Adam Rittenberg: I see Nebraska as a Big Ten title contender but not a national title contender. I'd definitely expect more passes from Martinez, particularly during non-league play when Tim Beck can experiment a bit. I also think Rex's workload will go down because of how Abdullah and Green are performing in spring ball. That's not a bad thing for Rex, who was overworked at times last year. I think Rex will need a huge game or two early to really put himself on the Heisman radar. It's a crowded pool right now, and he's not on it (although he deserves to be).
Max from the Wisconsin Cheerleading Squad: Adam, As per your article about the changes in how PSU is going to play D this season, do you think a drastic change is a good idea? The system is pretty tried and true, especially with LJ Sr and Ron VDL still on staff. Don't you think Ted Roof should take the "If it isn't broke don't fix it" approach?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Max, and one I thought a lot about while in State College. Although PSU wisely retained Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden as position coaches, you can see that Roof is definitely in charge on the practice field. It'll be important for the defensive backs to get comfortable with the presnap motion, disguising blitzes and coverages and the other elements that go along with a more varied defensive approach. But I don't think things will change too much for the front seven guys, who really serve as Penn State's bread and butter on D.
Joe from New Glarus, Wis.: Whether it's a question in the mailblog, chat, or you guys writing, every time the NC comes up it seems like a different group of teams is mentioned as those likely to dethrone the SEC. Removing OSU and UM, which program(s) has/have the BEST shot at winning it all in the next 5 years? Maybe a ranking system of sorts.
Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I'd go with Wisconsin and then Nebraska. Wisconsin has been right there the past two seasons. It still amazes me how the Badgers managed to lose three games last fall. But the program is inching toward a nationally elite level. Nebraska might not be too far away, either, and the talent level in Lincoln is pretty good. But the Huskers might have to skip a few steps to reach the promised land as they haven't won a league title since 1999.
Austin from Colorado: Who has the best chance for Heisman in the big 10?
Adam Rittenberg: Montee Ball has to be up there as a Heisman finalist from 2011. Denard Robinson is the other name to watch because he's so recognizable nationally. That's a big part of it -- how exciting you are as a player and how recognizable you are nationally. People point out Denard's shortcomings, and there are some. But he's a face that college football fans know about coast to coast. And that matters regarding the Heisman.

Thanks again for your participation, and my apologies to those whose questions weren't answered. Let's do it again next week.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
5:30
PM ET
January is feeling a lot like October in Chicago. Football weather. Love it.

Ben from Greenville, Mich., writes: I'm just wondering why some people are questioning Urban Meyer's last 3 recruiting classes at Florida and assuming that Ohio State is going to go down hill based on that. According to ESPN.com, Meyer had had top 5 recruiting classes in each of his final 3 seasons (including the #1 class in 2010). Should Ohio State fans be concerned with Florida's 6-6 2011 season as a possible look into our future? Is Florida's poor season based more on the quality of Urban Meyer's recruits or more on Will Muschamp's attempt to run his pro-style offense with Meyer's spread offense personnel (similar to what RichRod tried to do at Michigan with similar results). As a Buckeye fan, I'm not concerned with Coach Meyer's recruiting, but should I be?

Adam Rittenberg: It seemed like Meyer went for great athletes rather than great football players during his later years at Florida, and the player development aspect certainly seemed to be lacking. Will Muschamp inherited some top-level athletes, but not enough top-level football players who knew how to play the game the right way. Meyer's first class at Ohio State is receiving strong reviews, and for good reason. But the true gauge in my view will be how many linemen see the field early, and how those players progress during their careers. It's clear that the strength of Ohio State's class is in the trenches. Most analysts say Meyer has several linemen (Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington) who can contribute right away. Whether that happens or not will go a long way in determining the quality of the class.


Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: I like the orange helmets with the blue (white border) lettering. Illinois is supposed to wear orange helmets. These look classy without breaking tradition. I hate it when I turn on TV and I can't tell who's playing because they're wearing some weird color scheme.

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I hear you on the orange helmet thing. Illinois has traditionally donned orange headgear, and I certainly see why fans don't want to change tradition. I just don't like the curved "ILLINI" type. Looks a little too retro, and it's not as sleek as the Block I or even the current underlined "ILLINOIS." I wonder if Illinois would consider an orange helmet with a Block I in blue or white. Then again, there's a reason why I don't design jerseys or helmets.


Frank from Minot, N.D., writes: Adam, I hear a lot of people asking questions about Nebraska backs Abdullah and Green as if they are #2 And #3 behind Burkhead. What about Heard? I thought he looked just as good as Green What's your take?

Adam Rittenberg: Frank, I think it's going to be a really fun competition during spring practice. Nebraska knows Rex is the No. 1 guy, but the Huskers have several talented young players competing for the backup role and the No. 3 role. We saw more of Ameer Abdullah last season, primarily because of his role on kickoff returns. It's tough to evaluate Aaron Green and Braylon Heard without seeing them more in games -- they had very similar numbers in 2011 -- but they're certainly in the mix for the backup job.


Mark from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Loved the interview with Maxwell. What do you think about his personality? Were you impressed with him? Does he seem like he will be a good leader?

Adam Rittenberg: Very impressed with Andrew Maxwell, Mark. You can easily mistake him for Kirk Cousins over the phone. They speak similarly and have the same type of presence, which bodes well for Michigan State. Maxwell of course needs to prove himself in games, but he knows it and he's very excited about the challenge. I think playing behind Cousins for the past three seasons has prepared Maxwell extremely well to take the next step.


Jay from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Hey Adam -- what are your thoughts on moving the site of the B1G Championship Game from Indianapolis to Chicago? I know Indianapolis is the major hub for amateur sports, but wouldn't Soldier Field make for a more historic, captivating venue? The game would be played outside -- the way B1G football should be played -- in a state that cares more about B1G football. And with Soldier Field's capacity, we wouldn't be worrying about sell-outs (no matter who plays).

Adam Rittenberg: Jay, I hear you on some of these points, but the Big Ten title game will remain in Indianapolis through the 2015 game. Although the attendance in Indy will be a topic to monitor going forward, the inaugural event went off successfully. Indy knows how to put on big events, and while I agree Big Ten football seems to fit better outdoors, Lucas Oil Stadium is a lot easier logistically than Soldier Field. Chicago and Soldier Field need to put together a stronger presentation when the current cycle ends and give the Big Ten confidence the operations would be strong. But I agree that from an interest standpoint, the Big Ten championship would create more buzz in Chicago, which is the center of Big Ten fandom.


Rich from Wayne, N.J., writes: With all the sentiment building back up towards the late Joe Paterno -- how he was terminated without due process -- and now the media and public's realization (rightfully so) of his overall career/body of work, will Delaney and B10 consider putting his name back on the Stagg Championship Trophy within the next year or two? Would like your opinion, your colleague Mr. Bennett's and hopefully Mr. Delaney's as well.... thanks

Adam Rittenberg: Rich, while many media members had some nice tributes for Paterno last week, I don't think there's been a total "realization" or vindication of what happened in the sex-abuse case. As for the Big Ten, I don't anticipate Paterno's name being put back on the trophy in the immediate future, although things could change over time. Typically decisions like the removal aren't made to be reversed in a short time span, especially as the Big Ten and the NCAA are currently investigating Penn State and whether there was a lack of institutional control.


Mark from Hamilton, Ohio, writes: Adam, do you think Michigan, having Denard back, as well as the maturation of a very young team, will keep my Wolverines in the conversation for another shot at at a conference title, and another B.C.S bid next year ? I realize the schedule is daunting but it seems Hoke has brought the Michigan back to MICHIGAN ! Your thoughts ?

Adam Rittenberg: Hoke certainly has Michigan headed in the right direction again. The keys to 2012 are replacing several standout defensive linemen (Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen), continuing to build defensively on what we saw in 2011, and getting greater consistency from the quarterback position. Michigan can't expect to win 10 or more games if Denard Robinson throws 15 interceptions again. The defense repeatedly bailed out the offense in 2011, but to expect that to continue is unrealistic. So for me, it really is about Denard getting better and more comfortable in the offense, and limiting major mistakes. Michigan should be able to run the ball well with Fitz Toussaint, but it won't be able to survive as many mistakes as it did this season with such a daunting schedule.


Steve from Washington D.C. writes: Adam, Coach Fitz's announcement shortly after the bowls that he is not making any changes to Northwestern's coaching staff has many fans, myself included, feeling confused (the polite version) or pretty ticked off (the accurate version). We all love our coach, but I'm worried that he's either watching a different defense than the rest of us or he just lacks the testicular fortitude to make difficult choices about coaches who aren't performing. Defensive Backs coach Jerry Brown isn't cutting it, and Defensive Coordinator Mick Hankwitz has gotta be on the hotseat after successive years of declining performance by the Northwestern D. What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: I don't think it's Fitzgerald lacking the guts to make changes. He clearly believes in his staff and in his players -- perhaps to a fault. He seemed to challenge the staff before the bowl game, and he has acknowledged the disappointment of the 2011 season, but he has ultimately decided to go forward. Keep in mind this is a guy who has fired only one coach (former defensive coordinator Greg Colby) in six seasons on the job. Fitz believes in continuity, and he's not alone in this league. But the defensive staff absolutely should be under fire after what has happened the past two seasons. With a few exceptions, defensive back has been a weakness for Northwestern historically, but the poor pass-rushing in recent years is also a concern. The Wildcats have gotten it going on offense at positions like quarterback and wide receiver, but they still don't truly reflect their head coach, a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
3:30
PM ET
Ready, set, go.

David from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam I thought it was interesting to see the attendance records for the conference this season but I feel like it would be more enlightening to see them in respect to each stadiums capacity numbers in order to see the percentage of the stadium that is full. Comparing Michigan attendance to that of Minnesota for example is going to have a huge disparity simply due to size of the stadiums but how full are they really (guessing Michigan would still be higher).

Adam Rittenberg: No problem, David. Below you'll find the Big Ten attendance sorted by accumulated percentage of capacity (total attendance for the season divided by total capacity for the season).
  • Nebraska: 105.15 percent, No. 3 nationally
  • Ohio State: 102.84 percent, No. 7 nationally
  • Michigan: 102.07 percent, No. 8 nationally
  • Iowa: 100 percent, No. 18 nationally
  • Wisconsin: 99.37 percent, No. 24 nationally
  • Michigan State: 98.76 percent, No. 26 nationally
  • Penn State: 95.17 percent, No. 33 nationally
  • Minnesota: 93.92 percent, No. 40 nationally
  • Illinois: 81.67 percent, No. 66 nationally
  • Indiana: 78.18 percent, No. 71 nationally
  • Purdue: 72.36 percent, No. 79 nationally
  • Northwestern: 70.96 percent, No. 82 nationally

From these numbers, Penn State's percentage has to be a bit of a concern, while Illinois, Purdue, Indiana and Northwestern certainly will be looking for improvement in the coming years.


Ray C. from Omaha writes: Being a huge Husker fan, I have a couple questions regarding the offense. Don't you think the coaching staff should consider to develop the depth (A. Green, A. Abdullah, & B. Heard) at RB behind Rex? And should there be more of a competition at QB? Jamal Turner came into the program as a highly accomplished HS QB and while depth at WR is thin, couldn't he push Taylor to be a better QB?

Adam Rittenberg: I think you'll see the younger backs get more opportunities in 2012. While Rex Burkhead is so steady, Nebraska needs to be careful about how many carries he absorbs. Plus, backs like Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green should be ready for an increased load after another offseason. I'd like to see both players get opportunities in non-league play so a nice rotation can be established before the Big Ten season. As for the quarterback spot, while competition is always good and Nebraska will benefit if Martinez is pushed, Turner's future seems to be at wide receiver, a spot where the Huskers need multiple players to step up in 2012.


Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: Adam, I think a lot of Hawk fans are starting to forget that, although we currently have some running back hating God that has taken residence in Iowa City, Iowa tends to always do fine with developing the next person in line. More recent examples: Simms/Young gone Shonn Greene steps up. Hampton goes down so Robinson/Wegher stepped up. Robinson & Wegher gone so Coker stepped up. Coker gone now....can't wait to see next season. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Nate. Iowa fans should feel good about the team's track record of developing running backs. While it's unrealistic to expect another Marcus Coker to emerge in 2012, Iowa still has a chance to have a solid rushing attack. Jordan Canzeri might never be a 175-carry guy, but he has some skills that can be used effectively in spots. The Hawkeyes also are bringing in two running back recruits, and there's a lot of excitement about Greg Garmon, who ESPN Recruiting ranks as the nation's No. 22 running back. He's a very intriguing prospect and one who could flourish in an offense that emphasizes the run game.


Hunter from Saint Johns, Mich., writes: Dear Adam, what is your opinion about this plan for Michigan State to possibly add new scoreboards to Spartan Stadium? I read an article in the paper that showed what the new scoreboards would look like and I love their proposed look. However, it is supposed to cost the athletic department 10 million dollars to add them! Do you think that it's a good idea for MSU to want to add new scoreboards or do you think it's just MSU wanting to keep pace with Michigan after they got new scoreboards too, or a little bit of both?

Adam Rittenberg: I hear you, Hunter, as this is essentially an expensive cosmetic upgrade. But the scoreboards and sound system at Spartan Stadium are outdated, as MSU admits, and need to be upgraded in some fashion. Athletic director Mark Hollis is one of the best in the business and understands the significance of the game experience for fans. Recruits also pay attention to what game days are like, and these upgrades could help Michigan State on that front, too. Michigan State recently replaced the scoreboards at the Breslin Center, too. While some will see this as trying to keep up with Michigan, you've seen similar upgrades at schools around the country.


Nittany Ned from Upper PA writes: How is the Wisconsin Athletic Department's looking the other way when the Assistant AD is supplying underage employees with alcohol with university funds WHILE on university trips NOT getting more coverage? Even if you put the sexual harassment aside, which is easier because it's an adult and the offender resigned immediately, you STILL have Alvarez and others at the top looking the other way. It's the SAME problem as at PSU. How does this not get more attention in our current environment?

Adam Rittenberg: Ned, there has been some more coverage like this strong column from Tom Oates in the Wisconsin State Journal. Oates writes: "This story shouldn't be allowed to die that easily. Yes, the investigation got to the bottom of this particular allegation, but it also raised as many questions as it answered." He's absolutely right, and how Wisconsin didn't have a strict policy prohibiting these types of events is surprising, given the potential liability. The school should be commended for acting quickly and the student victim should be applauded for courageously coming forward immediately, but the athletic department also needs to take a look at how this could happen. While I don't agree it's the same issue at Penn State, where officials sat on their hands, Wisconsin should learn from the Penn State situation.


Jeff from Whitewater, Wis., writes: Why can't Wisconsin attract top recruits in football? It seems like Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan can go out and recruit top players in the country. Yes Wisconsin gets huge lineman and always has a good running back, but for them to compete for Big Ten titles, Rose Bowl crowns and possibly Nat'l Titles, they need to be fast and skilled at positions such as defensive backs and linebackers. Also, why cant UW recruit any of the top quarterbacks in the nation. Just wanted to get your thoughts and maybe Brian's if he has an opinion.

Adam Rittenberg: Jeff, to be fair, Wisconsin has a decorated quarterback recruit in this year's class in Bart Houston, ranked as the nation's No. 15 QB by ESPN recruiting. But I agree on your larger point about the need for more speed on defense. Wisconsin has recruited "speed" areas like Florida well, luring players like cornerback Antonio Fenelus (Boca Raton) and safety Aaron Henry (Immokalee), and many of the Badgers' defenders come from the south and southeast. But defensive speed needs to be an even bigger point of emphasis going forward, as Wisconsin has been exposed a bit in the past two Rose Bowls.


Drew from State College writes: Adam,I think you are missing the point in regards to the Bernstein article comment you received. Nowhere in there did the comment state that he thought Paterno did no wrong. Most of us Penn Staters agree, as Joe himself said, that he made an error. However, posting articles like that is a mistake on your part. Please reread the Bernstein articles, particularly the one where he "shreds" the PSU letter and states that he wants Paterno to die. That's not journalism Adam, and you should know that. That is nothing short of a man with some personal vendetta (for some unknown reason) who is writing out of anger or just to get a rise out of the Penn Staters. To call that anything other than opinionated, narrow minded, and ignorant confuses me. He has posted 5 articles all just as tainted as the next and all with the same anger. Again, that's nothing other than a man who was somehow given a platform to publish on CBS intentionally trying to get a rise out of a group and most likely also writing with anger of someone who felt wronged at some point by PSU. With all of your and Brian's fairly balanced writing, I would have expected better honestly. I love the blog and read often but to defend that is just not right. Just wanted to let you know the other side of it and hoped I could explain it a bit better than the original poster.

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, you definitely explain the viewpoint better than the other poster. While the Bernstein article I linked didn't include anything about wanting Paterno to die and makes some points I feel are valid in the overall discussion of the issue, the tenor of his stories as a whole goes too far. My goal in links posts about a single issue is to present a variety of viewpoints. As I've mentioned many times, this blog isn't going to always tell you what you want to hear. There are other outlets for that. Jim Souhan's recent column in the Star Tribune gives a different viewpoint than most of the other commentary pieces I've seen. Do you have to agree with Souhan? No. Is it worth reading multiple viewpoints? Absolutely. I have no issue with the celebration of Joe Paterno's life that took place this week. I enjoyed hearing all the stories about him and about all the good things he did. What bothers me is the refusal of some Penn Staters and Penn State fans to acknowledge the possibility that their beloved coach made mistakes. You and many others haven't taken that stance, but I get other emails, like the one from KJ in Fairfax, who writes, "We do know what Joe knew and when he knew it which leads to only one conclusion, Joe did exactly what he should have." Glad to hear KJ has it all figured out. This type of blindness based on loyalty or denial or some other force -- Paterno admitted he made mistakes -- is why I think it's important to state other viewpoints.


Josh from WPAFB writes: Adam, What about Armani Reeves? The recent four star Penn State decommit is down to Ohio State and Michigan. Latest I've seen showed a 52% Michigan lean but who really knows. Either way, that should be on your list of Big Ten signees.

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, Reeves wasn't listed on our experts' list of top uncommitted prospects, but it should be very interesting to see where he ends up. He recently received visits from both Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke, and it looks like the former Penn State commit will be headed to Ann Arbor or Columbus.
Today ESPN.com's recruiting experts take a look back on the 2011 ESPNU 150 class -- our list of the top prospects in the country -- and see how they fare in their rookie seasons.

It's way too early to make judgments about these players' careers. But in some instances, we can already see the promise being delivered. In others, we wait for a major impact.

Here's a look at the players from the ESPNU 150 list who signed with Big Ten schools in February and how their first season on campus turned out:

[+] EnlargeAaron Green
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireIt appears Aaron Green will have to fight for playing time in his sophomore year.
No. 11: Aaron Green, RB, Nebraska: "With an experienced group of tailbacks above him on the depth chart, Green was the fifth-leading rusher for the Cornhuskers. He rushed 24 times in 2011 for a 4.4-yard per carry average and two touchdowns. He'll have to continue fighting for playing time because carries in Lincoln should be hard to come by in the foreseeable future." Green will have to sit behind Rex Burkhead another year and has classmates Ameer Abdullah and Braylon Heard at the same position. Wouldn't be surprised to see one of them change positions.

No. 30: Steve Miller, DE, Ohio State: "Miller played in two games this season, finishing with one tackle. The defensive end came into Ohio State as one of the Buckeyes' most-heralded recruits but sat behind a few upperclassmen. With a year to get bigger and stronger, look for Miller to have an impact season as a sophomore a year from now." Guess we'll have to wait for the Columbus version of the Steve Miller Band.

No. 46: Curtis Grant, ILB, Ohio State: "Grant played in eight games as a freshman. He made just two tackles but made several big plays on special teams. He recovered a fumble against Wisconsin off a blocked punt that helped the Buckeyes upset the Big Ten champs. He's expected to compete for a starting job at inside linebacker next fall." Grant showed flashes, but it was another freshman linebacker who really impressed for OSU. More on that in a bit ...

No. 50: Jamal Turner, ATH, Nebraska: "Turner graduated high school early and was able to enroll at Nebraska in January and participated in spring practice. After being recruited as an athlete, Turner played receiver for the Huskers and had a solid freshman season. He caught 15 balls for 243 yards while averaging a little more than 16 yards a reception." Turner had some nice moments but also disappeared in the middle of the season as his coaches didn't think he was practicing hard enough.

No. 54: Angelo Mangiro, OG, Penn State: "Mangiro did not play for Penn State this season, but he will have a chance to make an impact next season as a redshirt freshman, as the Nittany Lions will lose both their starting guards."

No. 80: Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: "A true freshman, Miller has taken the reins as the starting quarterback and will lead the Buckeyes in the Gator Bowl against Florida on Jan. 2. Miller has thrown for 997 yards and 11 touchdowns, and rushed for 695 yards and seven scores." There were 79 better prospects than Miller last year?

No. 81: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State: "Shazier has been a major contributor on an improving Ohio State defense. He recorded 48 tackles and a team-high three sacks. Shazier isn't a regular returner on special teams, but he has returned a punt 25 yards." Here's the linebacker I referenced earlier. Shazier really came on strong late while filling in for Andrew Sweat and showed grit while battling through a knee injury against Michigan.

No. 106: Evan Spencer, WR, Ohio State: "Spencer played in 11 games, caught three passes for 78 yards and had one touchdown reception. He started one game, against Illinois." Classmate Devin Smith (12 catches, 247 yards and four touchdowns, including the game-winner against Wisconsin) was much better.

No. 108: Christian Jones, WR, Northwestern: "Jones played in all 12 games, catching 16 passes for 195 yards and averaging 13.9 yards per catch, which ranked second on the team. He earned his first career start against Iowa."

No. 109: Charles Jackson, CB, Nebraska: "Jackson's high school coach, Drew Svoboda, said Jackson never made it to Lincoln because the NCAA questioned some classes he retook over this past summer. He's working on passing the test in an effort to get qualified. He's also staying in shape at home in Klein, Texas. 'The bottom line is they said he didn't qualify,' Svoboda said. 'His clock has not yet started, and he's working towards meeting those standards and gaining his eligibility. He's still optimistic that he will be there [Nebraska] for spring ball. That's his plan.' Nebraska could use some depth at CB with the loss of Alfonzo Dennard.

No 115: Bubba Starling, QB, Nebraska: "On Aug. 14, Starling signed a three-year, $7.5 million contract with the Kansas City Royals; he had been the No. 5 pick in June's Major League Baseball draft. The Nebraska commit was an all-state selection in football, baseball and basketball."

No. 127: Michael Bennett, OG, Ohio State: "Bennett played all 12 games at defensive line this season and was tied for third on the team in tackles for loss (5) and sacks (3). He had 16 tackles." Bennett looked impressive at times and should help continue the defensive line tradition in Columbus. And with a great last name like that ...

No 132: Bill Belton, ATH, Penn State: "Belton played in seven games this year with 27 rushing yards on seven carries. He also attempted a pass (incomplete) and had a 15-yard kick return." Played a huge role in the Wildcat formations that led the Lions to a win at Ohio State. Will be interesting to see how he's used next season and beyond.

No. 138: Jon Davis, ATH, Illinois: "Davis played all 12 regular-season games and was third on the team in receptions (21) and fourth in yards (187). Davis also caught a touchdown pass." And touchdowns were hard to come by the final six games for Illinois.

No. 150: Lawrence Thomas, ILB, Michigan State: "Thomas injured his shoulder early in summer camp and was forced to take a redshirt." All three starting linebackers return for Michigan State next year, so Thomas will have to earn his way into the lineup.

Big Ten lunchtime links

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
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Can you believe the regular season is already 25 percent complete?

Huskers winning with unexpected formula

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- Nebraska will officially introduce itself to Big Ten play in two weeks at Wisconsin. The league doesn't seem to be getting exactly what it bargained for in the deal.

The Cornhuskers were billed as a dominating defensive squad with a questionable offense. Hardly. They're winning via shootout, leading to this odd quote from linebacker Will Compton after Saturday's 51-38 victory over Washington:

"Thank God for our offense," he said.

The Huskies seem to bring out the schizophrenia in Nebraska, which played two mirror-image games against Washington last season. In taking the rubber match, Bo Pelini's team showed that it's not all about defense. In fact, sometimes that seems optional.

The Blackshirts ranked among the nation's best in most defensive categories the past two seasons, but they're not leaving too many people black and blue so far in 2011. They've allowed 67 points the past two games and let Washington score three fourth-quarter touchdowns on Saturday after the game looked well in hand.

Huskies players repeatedly broke tackles, and Keith Price became the second straight quarterback to bedevil the Nebraska pass rush with his mobility, as Fresno State's Derek Carr did last week. Though Pelini said he turned his defensive front loose after building a 44-17 lead, the Huskers managed only one second-half sack (granted, it was a big one, as Cameron Meredith tackled Price on a fourth down in the red zone).

"I wouldn't say it was tough for us to get pressure," defensive lineman Terrence Moore said. "We're keeping our eye out for a lot of things, like the quarterback run."

That raises an obvious question: if athletic quarterbacks pose this many problems, how will Nebraska handle Wisconsin's Russell Wilson in two weeks? The Huskers talked confidently in the preseason about roughing up the Big Ten with their defense, but they've gotten sliced and diced by two West Coast teams in the past two weeks. The defense will undoubtedly improve once star cornerback Alfonzo Dennard returns; he warmed up in uniform before the game and appears very close to overcoming a leg muscle injury.

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesRex Burkhead scored two touchdowns and rushed for 120 yards on 22 carries as the offense carried Nebraska to victory.
Yet, as Huskers players gave interviews outside the new weight room Ndamukong Suh helped pay for, they knew guys like Suh wouldn't recognize what's going on.

"All those yards and points, that's unacceptable," Compton said. "We're not at all happy with that."

On the bright side, the offense continues to produce at high levels, and Saturday brought its most consistent effort of the young season.

In the first two weeks, Nebraska was as likely to go three-and-out as it was to score a 50-yard touchdown, and it did a lot of both. Quarterback Taylor Martinez had accounted for nearly 80 percent of the total yards.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck used a more varied attack on Saturday, especially in the second half. Instead of just counting on Martinez to break one, the Huskers got key contributions from running backs Rex Burkhead (121 yards and two touchdowns), Braylon Heard (34 yards) and Aaron Green (36 yards in the fourth quarter). Green, a freshman listed fourth on the depth chart, had only two carries before Saturday.

"We're trying to take some of the load off Taylor," said fullback Tyler Legate, who had his own 37-yard run as well as a touchdown catch. "We have enough playmakers that he doesn't have to be the one."

The offensive line, which featured three former walk-ons in the starting lineup, helped establish a much-needed power running game in the second half. Beck said he kept calling the same run with Burkhead in the fourth quarter over and over again, because Washington couldn't stop it.

"I thought it was a good mix," Pelini said of the offense. "There was physicality. We ran the ball at them, we threw the ball, we kept them off-balance. If we execute like that, it's pretty hard to defend us."

Martinez continues to be hard to defend. He threw for 155 yards and ran for 83 against the Huskies, with three total touchdowns. Maybe most importantly, he didn't turn the ball over. Beck said he puts a lot on Martinez's shoulders, expecting the sophomore to change the cadence and tempo and read defenses at the line of scrimmage without help from the sidelines.

"He's done a fantastic job running our offense," Beck said. "I just think the media's been critical of him."

The defense is probably in for much more critiquing this week, especially from the demanding Pelini. But Pelini had mostly praise for his team after Saturday's win.

"We're nowhere close in any respect, in any phase of our game, of where we need to be to be a championship football team," he said. "But I think we're making progress."

Just maybe not the type of progress anybody expected.

Nebraska in full control now

September, 17, 2011
9/17/11
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LINCOLN, Neb. -- It's safe to say that Nebraska, holding a 44-17 lead in the fourth quarter, will win the rubber match in its third meeting with Washington in a year.

The Cornhuskers offense has been efficient in the second half, and a good sign for them is that it's not all just Taylor Martinez. Running backs Rex Burkhead, Aaron Green and Braylon Heard and even fullback Tyler Legate all have gotten in on the action as Nebraska has steadily moved the ball on the ground.

The defense is pitching a shutout in the second half, too. Washington had a promising drive end in the Huskers' red zone when Cameron Meredith sacked Keith Price on fourth down. Credit Nebraska's secondary with good coverage there, too, as Price couldn't find any openings after rolling out on the play.

It's been a very encouraging half for the Cornhuskers, and a very discouraging one for the mistake-prone Huskies. The final score will end up looking a lot like Nebraska's 56-21 win in Seattle last year instead of Washington's 19-7 Holiday Bowl revenge.

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