Big Ten: Andre Sims Jr.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
10:15
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten as Week 4 kicks off Saturday.

1. Notre Dame's nightmare: Few college players have tormented a rival like Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has tormented Notre Dame the past two years. After a record-setting performance in South Bend in 2010 -- 502 yards of total offense -- Robinson led an incredible comeback last season as Michigan stunned the Irish in the first night game ever played at the Big House. Robinson returns to South Bend on Saturday, and Michigan likely needs another special effort from its senior to knock off No. 11 Notre Dame. The Irish come off of a stifling defensive effort against Michigan State, and their offense should test a young Michigan defense. Notre Dame looks like the more complete team in this contest, but if the game is close and Robinson has a chance for fourth-quarter magic, the Irish should start to worry.

2. Penn State protects its house: NCAA sanctions have limited Penn State's goals this season, but a few remain on the table. The Lions can still win a Leaders Division title. They also want to keep their winning streak against Temple alive, particularly at Beaver Stadium, where the Owls have never won. Penn State hasn't lost to Temple since 1941 (seven PSU victories between 2003-2011 were vacated). Although Temple clearly has improved in recent years, Nittany Lions seniors like linebacker Michael Mauti don't want to be the ones who let the win streak end. Penn State finally got a chance to celebrate last week against Navy and looked strong on both sides of the ball. It's important to keep the momentum going before Big Ten play kicks off with a spicy matchup at Illinois.

[+] EnlargeMax Shortell
Marilyn Indahl/US PresswireReserve QB Max Shortell has made a solid impact to help Minnesota to a 3-0 start.
3. Minnesota takes it to the Max: Life is good in Gopher Country, as Minnesota sits at 3-0 with a chance to sweep its nonconference slate Saturday night against Syracuse at TCF Bank Stadium. Backup quarterback Max Shortell stepped up in a big way last week after starter MarQueis Gray suffered a high ankle sprain. Now Shortell makes his first start of the season -- third of his career -- against a Syracuse team that has performed better than its record (1-2) would indicate. Shortell and his pass-catchers take aim at a Syracuse defense that hasn't been efficient against the pass (97th nationally, 145.1 rating). He'd be helped by a boost from Donnell Kirkwood and the run game, but Minnesota likely will need to put up points as Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib will challenge the Gophers' defense.

4. Badgers' offense looks for leadership: Wisconsin's offensive downturn has been the most surprising story in the Big Ten through the first few weeks. Line play was in the spotlight after Week 2 as Bret Bielema dumped assistant Mike Markuson, and now the attention shifts to quarterback. Wisconsin benched Danny O'Brien in favor of Joel Stave in the second half of last Saturday's win against Utah State, and both men are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart. Bielema has made his decision on the starter, but he isn't revealing it publicly. Stave, the former walk-on, reportedly took most of the first-team reps this week in practice. Ranked 116th nationally in total offense, the Badgers need to iron out a lot of things, including their quarterback situation, before Big Ten play begins next week at Nebraska.

5. Comm studies in Champaign: Illinois attributed some of its defensive struggles at Arizona State to poor communication against the Sun Devils' fast-paced offense. Despite allowing 45 points and 510 yards to ASU, Illinois isn't losing its swagger, and linebacker Jonathan Brown declared last week, "We've got the best front seven in the country. I firmly believe that." Brown and his teammates can back up that claim Saturday night in a tricky game against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs rank third nationally in scoring (56 ppg), fifth in total offense (603.5 ypg), ninth in rushing (289 ypg) and 17th in passing (314.5 ypg). They provide a very tough challenge for an Illinois team that says it has sorted out its communication issues. The Illini offense is banged up and still finding its identity, so Brown and the defense need a big effort Saturday night.

6. Buckeyes get back to basics: Ohio State has had quite a few highlights on defense through the first three games, but the Buckeyes' fundamentals aren't up to their typical standards. Missed tackles nearly cost Ohio State last week against Cal, and while the Buckeyes shouldn't have too much trouble with UAB on Saturday, Urban Meyer and his staff are looking for a more polished performance from the silver bullets. Meyer calls Ohio State's tackling woes "not acceptable," and he planned to double the amount of time his players spent on tackling this week in practice. As good as quarterback Braxton Miller has been, the Buckeyes need to tighten up on defense before Big Ten play begins.

7. Weisman for Heisman: Despite an inexplicable run of personnel problems at running back, Iowa always seems to find someone to step up and carry the rock. The latest back to emerge might be the most surprising: Mark Weisman, a walk-on fullback who transferred from Air Force and recorded 113 rush yards and three touchdowns in Iowa's much-needed win against Northern Iowa last week. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz quipped that Weisman "must have not liked having guys bounce quarters off his bed" at Air Force and left for Iowa, where he got the staff's attention in the spring and really stood out during fall camp. Iowa likely won't have top backs Damon Bullock (head) and Greg Garmon (elbow) for Saturday's game against Central Michigan, and Weisman is expected to get his first career start. Weisman is quickly earning cult hero status at Iowa, and it'll be interesting to see if he can follow up last week's performance with another big one.

8. Northwestern's quarterback rotation: If there's such thing as a functional quarterback rotation, Northwestern seems to have found it with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, neither of whom has thrown an interception this season. After Siemian led fourth-quarter drives in the Wildcats' first two wins, Colter was at the helm last week as the Wildcats put away Boston College. Coach Pat Fitzgerald seems content to stick with the rotation, go with the hotter hand when necessary and use matchups to his advantage. But in most of these cases, some separation occurs. Colter is a top-shelf athlete who extends drives with his feet but misses key throws at times. Siemian has better field vision and pure passing skills but isn't the natural playmaker Colter can be. Both men will play Saturday against South Dakota, and we could get some more clues about who will be leading the offense more as Big Ten play beckons. Despite a 3-0 start, Northwestern needs to start finishing more drives with touchdowns. The quarterback who does it best likely will be in a bigger role going forward.

9. MSU receivers look for green light: Mark Dantonio said Michigan State's staff would face some "tough decisions" after the team failed to score a touchdown or stretch the field in last week's loss to Notre Dame. Although the Spartans' depth chart for Eastern Michigan shows no adjustments at the wide receiver spots, Dantonio planned to evaluate the wideouts throughout the practice week and make no public announcements about changes. He noted that wide receiver is one of several positions where Michigan State has youth and equal ability level. If that's the case, we might see some new players in bigger roles Saturday, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who has barely played, and possibly freshmen Andre Sims Jr., Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Aaron Burbridge. Dantonio hinted that a lower-pressure game could help the young receiving corps. "We'll have to go through some of those growing pains," he said. "I think we have a lot of talent at that position, and it will show itself before the season is over. That talent will show itself."

10. Wolverines get nasty: If Michigan intends on beating Notre Dame for the fourth straight season, it must have season-best performances from both its offensive and defensive lines. Alabama overwhelmed the Wolverines at the line of scrimmage in the opener, and Michigan looks like a team missing its stars from 2011 (David Molk, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen). Standout left tackle Taylor Lewan challenged the offensive line this week, saying, "You have to be physical, you've got to play angry, play nasty." The line faces a Notre Dame defensive front seven that overwhelmed Michigan State last week and has 11 sacks in the first three games. Coach Brady Hoke admits Michigan's defensive line remains a work in progress and doesn't generate enough push into the opposing backfield. It'll need to Saturday night against a Notre Dame team that Hoke says has superior speed to past Irish squads.
On Wednesday, we ranked the top individual wide receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten heading into 2012. So of course that means it's time to look at the position group as a whole throughout the league. Remember, we're weighing past performance heavily here with consideration given to potential.

It's go time.

1. Northwestern: We didn't rank a single Wildcat in our top 10 individual receivers or tight ends, yet we have the group No. 1. Have we lost our minds? Well, maybe. But we really like the depth of this group, even with star Jeremy Ebert off to the pros. Demetrius Fields, Christian Jones, Tony Jones and Venric Mark are all very good, and if Kyle Prater gets eligible this might be the deepest receiving corps in the league. The drawback is the lack of an experienced tight end to take over for Drake Dunsmore, but that's less important in a spread offense.

[+] EnlargeChristian Jones
Dennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireNorthwestern's Christian Jones helps form one of the best wide receiver groups in the Big Ten.
2. Nebraska: The Huskers might not be the most prolific passing team, but they've got a lot of options. Kenny Bell emerged as a real weapon last season, and Quincy Enunwa, Jamal Turner and Tim Marlowe all bring something to the table. Add to that one of the league's top tight end duos in Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton, and this is a strong group.

3. Wisconsin: Bonus points here for star power, as receiver Jared Abbrederis and tight end Jacob Pedersen enter the season as the top-rated players at their respective position. There are a lot of other question marks at receiver, though the Badgers have a large cast of candidates. And they're loaded at tight end.

4. Iowa: Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley form one of the best returning receiving tandems in the Big Ten. C.J. Fiedorowicz could become a star at tight end. Marvin McNutt is gone, but James Vandenberg should still have plenty of targets.

5. Purdue: The Boilers bring back three of their top four pass-catchers from a year ago, led by Antavian Edison. They need to stretch the field more, and perhaps star kick returner Raheem Mostert can add more playmaking ability to the group. They have a deep group of tight ends that could be one of the strengths of the offense.

6. Michigan: Junior Hemingway is gone, but the Wolverines are hopeful Roy Roundtree can fill his role. Jeremy Gallon is tiny but manages to make big plays. Michigan will need a third receiver to emerge and for someone to take over for Kevin Koger at tight end. Brandon Moore is the top candidate for that.

7. Penn State: Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option, but the loss of Curtis Drake and Devon Smith hurt the depth. Penn State's tight ends have mostly been anonymous, but that -- along with overall passing game production -- should change with the new staff.

8. Indiana: There's talent here, if the Hoosiers can harness it. Kofi Hughes can be one of the league's top receivers and is complemented by Duwyce Wilson, Cody Latimer and the diminutive Shane Wynn. Ted Bolser had a nice spring and looks ready to be very productive at tight end.

9. Ohio State: By now, you know the stat. No Buckeye had more than 14 catches last year. No matter how many times you hear it, it's still a little hard to believe. At least Ohio State has talented players to work with in guys like Corey Brown, Devin Smith and freshman Michael Thomas. And Jake Stoneburner could thrive under Urban Meyer at tight end. Expect the group's numbers to soar.

10. Illinois: It was almost A.J. Jenkins or bust for the Illini receivers last year. They'll need to find new playmakers in the spread offense. Darius Millines has to step up, along with Spencer Harris. Jon Davis had a promising freshman year at tight end.

11. Michigan State: The Spartans lost their top three receivers and their starting tight end, so no wonder they're so low on this list. The addition of Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett helps, and Andre Sims Jr. and Keith Mumphery had good springs. Still, playing time here is wide open, and true freshmen will get a chance to contribute. Dion Sims has as much physical talent as any Big Ten tight end.

12. Minnesota: Quick, name a Minnesota receiver. If you're not a Gophers fan, you probably are still thinking. This is a group of largely unknown guys who'll have to raise their profile this fall. Brandon Green, Malcolm Moulton and Devin Crawford-Tufts are the leading returning receivers. Transfer Isaac Fruechte and some youngsters will be counted on to contribute. Senior John Rabe brings experience to the tight end spot.

Home run summer: Michigan State

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
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Our series looking at a player or a group of players from each Big Ten team who needs a home run type of summer before preseason camp opens is winding down. Who needs to hit it out of the park in preparation for the season?

For previous entries, click here.

In the batter's box: Michigan State

Who needs to step it up: Andrew Maxwell and the receivers

Michigan State has just about every ingredient necessary to be a championship team. The Spartans have an elite defense that is deep, talented and experienced. The offensive line could be the best Mark Dantonio has fielded in East Lansing, and the running game should be strong behind breakout candidate Le'Veon Bell. The major question mark hanging over this team is the passing game. Quarterback Maxwell takes over for three-year starter Kirk Cousins and has some big cleats to fill. This is Maxwell's fourth year in the program, and the redshirt junior has a similar makeup to Cousins when it comes to leadership. Yet Maxwell lacks game experience and missed valuable time this spring with a knee injury. He needs to get completely healthy and build as much chemistry as possible with a very young group of receivers. Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett qualify as the veterans there, but both were out for extended periods this spring. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett won his appeal for immediate eligibility and must get a handle on the new (for him) offensive system. Andre Sims Jr. and Keith Mumphery made strides this spring, and need to continue to develop this summer. And the incoming freshmen -- some of whom could be asked to play right away -- have to acclimate quickly to the college game and the college life. Michigan State doesn't have to be one of the best passing teams in the country in order to win the Big Ten. But if Maxwell and his receivers can build a competent passing game, then the Spartans will be awfully tough to beat in 2012.
A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at the Big Ten quarterbacks who were most likely to throw for 3,000 yards. Last week, I examined the running backs most likely to crack 1,000 yards. If you sense a pattern, you're right. Today, we're going to check out which players can reach the milestone of 1,000 receiving yards in 2012.

It's not an easy achievement. Last season, only four Big Ten receivers exceeded 1,000 yards after none got there in 2010. Only 39 players in the FBS posted 1,000-plus yards receiving.

Complicating things for this exercise is the fact that the Big Ten's top pass-catchers have all departed. Iowa's Marvin McNutt, Illinois' A.J. Jenkins, Northwestern's Jeremy Ebert and Michigan State's B.J. Cunningham were all seniors in 2011, leaving the league without a returning receiver who had a 1,000-yard season.

The receiver position is a big question mark throughout the league, but here are some players who could jump up and get to quadruple digits, in order of most likely:

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
David Hood/CSMWisconsin's Jared Abbrederis had 933 receiving yards last season despite a foot injury.
1. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Abbrederis wasn't far off from the mark last season, posting 933 receiving yards as the Big Ten's top returning wideout. He also played most of the season on an injured foot which he had surgically repaired in the winter. With Nick Toon gone, Abbrederis becomes the clear No. 1 target. The only question is how much the Badgers will pass the ball now that Russell Wilson has moved on.

2. Keenan Davis, Iowa: Davis had 713 receiving yards last season as the secondary target next to McNutt. Now the No. 1 receiver for the league's best pocket passer in James Vandenberg, Davis has a chance to make a similar leap his senior season as McNutt did. He's always had the talent. He just needs more consistency, and to avoid costly drops.

3. Roy Roundtree, Michigan: Roundtree's numbers went way down last season, but just two seasons ago he caught 72 balls for 935 yards. He played a complementary role to Junior Hemingway in 2011, but is poised to regain his No. 1 status this year. If Denard Robinson truly has improved his throwing mechanics, Roundtree could be the main beneficiary.

4. Justin Brown, Penn State: Derek Moye is gone, leaving Brown as the likely main target in the Penn State passing game. That passing game should be more efficient under the coaching of Bill O'Brien, and quite possibly a more stable starting quarterback situation. But can Matt McGloin pitch it well enough for Brown to improve on his 517 yards last season? That's a big if.

5. Christian Jones, Northwestern: The Wildcats' offense creates a lot of opportunities for receivers, and someone will have to fill the considerable void left by the highly productive Ebert. Jones, coming back after an injury, could be that guy. Or maybe it's Demetrius Fields. Maybe the best bet is USC transfer Kyle Prater, but as of this writing he hasn't heard back on his eligibility appeal from the NCAA. Northwestern should be deep and talented at receiver; it's just a matter of whether Kain Colter can sling it nearly as well as Dan Persa.

6. Kofi Hughes, Indiana: Kevin Wilson was dissatisfied with his team's passing performance last season, and wants to be more dangerous through the air this season. If the Hoosiers can start approximating Wilson's old Oklahoma offenses, then Hughes -- who had 536 receiving yards last season while playing with a rotating cast of quarterbacks -- might set some career highs.

7. Antavian Edison, Purdue: Edison led the Boilers with 584 receiving yards last season, and the team's passing game should get better with a healthy Robert Marve and a more experienced Caleb TerBush at the controls. Edison could become more of a primary target with Justin Siller graduated. But Purdue also tends to spread the wealth, hurting the chances of any one player reaching 1,000 yards.

8. Unnamed Ohio State receiver: Maybe freshman Michael Thomas builds upon his huge spring-game performance, or a guy like Corey "Philly" Brown breaks out and has a huge season. The Buckeyes need someone to step up at receiver, and they figure to throw it a whole lot more than they did last season. But also consider this: Urban Meyer never had a 1,000-yard receiver while at Florida.

9. Unnamed Michigan State receiver: Receiver is a huge question mark for the Spartans, who lack experience at the position. But Michigan State showed it wasn't afraid to throw the ball all over the field last season with Cunningham and Keshawn Martin. Maybe Tony Lippett or Andre Sims Jr. or DeAnthony Arnett has a huge season. More likely, though, the Spartans will ease into the passing game with new quarterback Andrew Maxwell and spread the ball around more than they did in '11.

10. Kenny Bell, Nebraska: Bell had a really strong freshman campaign, leading the Huskers with 432 receiving yards. Word out of Lincoln is that Taylor Martinez and the passing game look a lot better. Still, since Nebraska has never had a 1,000-yard receiver in its history, we're going to call this one a long shot.

Michigan State spring wrap

May, 11, 2012
5/11/12
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2011 record: 11-3
2011 conference record: 7-1 (Legends Division champions)
Returning starters: Offense: 5; Defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

DE William Gholston, DE Marcus Rush, LB Denicos Allen, LB Max Bullough, LB Chris Norman, CB Johnny Adams, CB Darqueze Dennard, S Isaiah Lewis, RB Le'Veon Bell, LT Dan France, C Travis Jackson

Key losses
QB Kirk Cousins, DT Jerel Worthy, WR Keshawn Martin, WR B.J. Cunningham, S Trenton Robinson, RB Edwin Baker, TE Brian Linthicum

2011 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell* (948 yards)
Passing: Kirk Cousins (3,316 yards)
Receiving: B.J. Cunningham (1,306 yards)
Tackles: Max Bullough* (89)
Sacks: Denicos Allen* (11)
Interceptions: Isaiah Lewis* and Trenton Robinson (4)

Spring answers

1. Defensive depth: Michigan State returns eight starters off one of the best defenses in the country, and the coaching staff might have been most excited this spring about guys who didn't play much last year. Linebackers Darien Harris and Taiwan Jones, defensive ends Joel Heath and Shilique Calhoun and defensive back Trae Waynes all had impressive practices and showed that they're ready to contribute and push the starters. The Spartans won't have much drop off if their first-stringers need a break or get injured. That gives this defense a chance to be scary good in 2012.

2. The Bell tolls: Le'Veon Bell asserted himself at the end of last year as the team's top tailback, overtaking Edwin Baker. And after appearing to get called out by coach Mark Dantonio for being complacent early in the spring, he turned in some dominant efforts. At 6-foot-2 and 240 pounds, he's a rumbling freight train with surprising nimbleness in the open field. Do not be surprised to see him emerge as a superstar back this season if he remains focused.

3. O-line on the way up: Michigan State mixed and matched on the offensive line early last season because of injuries and inexperience. By the end of the season, the group was playing well. This spring, the line features six players who have started and much more maturity. That's one reason why Bell excelled this spring, as the Spartans' power running game looked much better. This figures to be the best and deepest O-line in Dantonio's tenure, and the offense could lean more on the ground attack while the passing game finds its wings.

Fall questions

1. Catching on: The top receivers coming out of spring were redshirt freshman Andre Sims Jr., little-used sophomore Keith Mumphery and Jeremy Langford, who made the switch from running back in the middle of spring practice. In other words, there's a dire lack of experience at the position that Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol patrolled so well. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility on Thursday, and that should help. The Spartans are also going to need Tony Lippett and Bennie Fowler -- their two veterans even though both lack much receiver experience themselves -- to get healthy and for some true freshmen to make an impact. If there's a glaring concern for this year's team, it's definitely at this spot.

2. Maxwell's house: Michigan State feels confident that Andrew Maxwell, a fourth-year junior who sat behind Cousins the past three seasons, can make a smooth transition into the starting quarterback job. But Maxwell doesn't have much game time under his belt, and we won't know whether he can bounce back from adversity until it happens on the field this fall. It didn't help that he missed the last couple weeks of spring practice with a knee injury. The Spartans need him to stay healthy, or else they will have to turn to redshirt freshman Connor Cook. And a new quarterback could struggle with such a green receiving group.

3. Worthy replacements: Jerel Worthy skipped his senior season and wound up as a second-round NFL draft pick after an All-America campaign. The Spartans have a host of players looking to replace him at defensive tackle, with Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge stepping up late in spring practice to assume the No. 1 reps. Depth won't be an issue, but it remains to be seen whether any of his successors have the kind of game-changing ability that Worthy brought when he was fully engaged. Nothing boosts a defense quite like a disruptive force in the middle of the line. We know the Spartans' defense will be good. Can it be great without a player like Worthy up front?

Michigan State spring recap

April, 30, 2012
4/30/12
11:00
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It's time to finish off our 2012 spring game recaps with a review of Michigan State's Green and White Game from Saturday.

You can find coverage of the scrimmage here, here, here and here

Stars of the game: Defensive ends Marcus Rush and William Gholston. Rush had 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss, while Gholston had a safety and a pass break-up while spending much of the day in the offensive backfield.

How it went down: There was little doubt going into this game that defense would rule the day, as the Spartans return the bulk of a top 10 defense from last year and their offense, still finding its legs in the passing game, missed some key contributors. And so it was, as the White team -- featuring six returning defensive starters -- beat the Green team 14-2. The Green team's only score was that Gholston safety.

"I think we played pretty well, as you can tell by the score," linebacker Denicos Allen said. "We are still developing into a really great defense, and I think we can be better than last year's unit. We have more experience this year but are still young and have to continue to develop."

Connor Cook had to play quarterback for both teams because projected starter Andrew Maxwell is out with a knee injury. Cook completed 20-of-45 passes for 294 yards and threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Andre Sims Jr. with seven seconds left in the first half.

"He grew enormously, I think, in terms of playing in this type of environment, having to play every play also with the TV type situation," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "I think he was very calm in the huddle and did some good things."

The tailbacks were also limited, as Le'Veon Bell played just one series and Larry Caper came out quickly after suffering a minor injury. Nick Hill came through with 19 carries for 95 yards and a TD, but the running was tough going for the most part. Counting sacks, the Green team produced minus-10 yards rushing for the day, and both teams combined for just 59 yards on 38 carries.

You can thank a dominating defense for that. The Spartans got a scare when Gholston was slow to get up after Hill's touchdown and limped off the field, but he was reported to have only a bruised knee. The defensive line looked really impressive.

"I think we have four or five really good defensive ends," Dantonio said. "Shilique Calhoun was a factor today. Obviously, William Gholston and Marcus Rush are very good. I thought Joel Heath did some good things as well."

One of the offensive highlights was provided by a defensive player, as cornerback Johnny Adams switched sides and caught a 45-yard pass.

"He's got big-play ability," Dantonio said. "He's a guy maybe we can flip around a bit. We'll see how that transpires when we get everyone here."
Michigan State held its spring game player draft this afternoon. It's always a fun event, as the seniors pick teams and everyone takes it pretty seriously, with Mark Dantonio serving as the commissioner. It's like a fantasy league come to life.

In no surprise, junior defensive end William Gholston was the first pick, by the White team (remember, seniors did the drafting). Both teams have to finish up the entire position group after a player is taken, so the Green team took the other starting defensive end, Marcus Rush.

The second overall pick, by the Green team, was middle linebacker Max Bullough. Then the picks went like this:

Green: C Travis Jackson

White: OT Dan France

Green: TE Dion Sims

White: LB Denicos Allen

Green: CB Trae Waynes

White: S Isaiah Lewis

Green: DT James Kittredge

White: FB Niko Palazeti

Green: RB Le'Veon Bell

White: WR Andre Sims Jr.

It's interesting that Bell went so late, but the truth is he probably will be limited in the spring game, making him less valuable for this kind of draft. James Kittredge's selection seems to indicate he may be in line to start opposite Anthony Rashad White inside. Receiver may be the least experienced position on the team, so it's no wonder that position went last. Sims' selection shows you who the players think is the top wideout in camp right now (remember, Bennie Fowler and Tony Lippett are hurt). In fact, Jeremy Langford, just moved over to receiver, was the second wideout taken, while DeAnthony Arnett was third. With Andrew Maxwell out, the quarterbacks weren't a part of the draft.

Big shoes to fill: Michigan State

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
10:30
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With spring practice around the corner, Big Ten teams will start the process of replacing stars from the previous year. Some shoes are bigger to fill than others. We're taking a look at two key departed players from each team and who might take on their roles this season.

Today, we take a look at Michigan State. Though Kirk Cousins obviously left big shoes to fill, we know that Andrew Maxwell is his successor. So we'll focus on a couple of different spots on the Spartans.

[+] EnlargeJerel Worthy
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan State's Jerel Worthy (99) was a force on the defensive line for the Spartans.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Jerel Worthy, DT

Why: Worthy was an All-American who had such a good junior season that he decided to jump to the NFL. He registered 10.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, though that only tells part of the story about how disruptive he was in the middle of the defensive line. Worthy was also an emotional leader who provided the Spartans defense with some of its swagger. While Michigan State brings back most of its outstanding defense from last year, Worthy will be a difficult player to replace.

Replacement candidates: Anthony Rashad White (6-2, 316, Sr.), Micajah Reynolds (6-5, 320, Jr.), James Kittredge (6-4, 270, Soph.), Damon Knox (6-4, 275, RFr.), Brandon Clemons (6-3, 262, RFr.), Mark Scarpinato (6-3, 270 RFr.), Joel Heath (6-5, 270, RFr.), David Fennell (6-3, 275 incoming freshman).

The skinny: Michigan State lost not only Worthy but fellow starting defensive lineman Kevin Pickelman and top backup Johnathan Strayhorn to graduation. But Mark Dantonio was prepared for this development and has a lot of players in the pipeline ready to prove themselves. Though White played the other tackle spot last year next to Worthy, he has the size, talent and experience to replicate Worthy's production. This is a key spring for Reynolds, who has also spent time on the offensive line. Kittredge sat out last season after transferring from Vanderbilt, and Michigan State was able to redshirt five other potential tackles in 2011. Fennell will likely take that route this year. This group is largely unproven, but at least there are plenty of candidates.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: B.J. Cunningham, WR


Why: Cunningham completed his career as the school's all-time leader in receptions and yards, which is saying something given the program's history at receiver. He emerged as a true star receiver in 2011 with career bests of 79 catches, 1,306 yards and 12 touchdowns. Whenever Cousins needed a big play, he usually looked Cunningham's way. Fellow seniors Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol also are gone, leaving a big void at the wideout position for the Spartans.

Replacement candidates: Bennie Fowler (6-1, 215, Jr.), Tony Lippett (6-2, 189, Soph.), DeAnthony Arnett (6-1, 175, Soph.), Keith Mumphrey (6-0, 202 Soph.), Andre Sims Jr. (5-8, 180, RFr.) Juwan Caesar (6-3, 197, RFr.), Monty Madaris (6-2, 190, incoming freshman), Aaron Burbridge (6-0, 180 incoming freshman), MacGarrett Kings (5-10, 175, incoming freshman), Kyle Kerrick (6-3, 190, incoming freshman).

The skinny: This is a situation much like the defensive tackle spot, in which Michigan State hopes a crowd of candidates means that one or two standouts will emerge. The difference here is that some true freshmen will likely get thrown into the mix right away. Fowler is the veteran who hobbled through an injury-plagued 2011, while Lippett moves back to offense after seeing time at defensive back last year. A lot could depend on whether Arnett, a Tennessee transfer, wins his case with the NCAA to become immediately eligible. If not, the Spartans may have to rely on at least one of the receivers they signed in this year's class or hope that a redshirt freshman takes a big step forward.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 29, 2010
4/29/10
12:00
PM ET
Cameron: Did you hear that woman screaming my name?
Mitchell: That was Phil. He had a Red Bull.

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