Big Ten: Daimion Stafford

Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

The spectacle known as the NFL draft kicks off tonight in New York with the first round. As Brian pointed out late last week, the Big Ten is in danger of going without a first-round selection for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s final Big Board Insider doesn't include a Big Ten player, and both Kiper's Insider and Todd McShay's Insider final mock first rounds have no Big Ten players.

Lets look beyond the first round, as ESPN Scouts Inc. has put together a complete seven-round mock draft Insider.

How did the Big Ten contingent fare? If Scouts Inc., is correct, 42 selections will be made before a Big Ten player hears his name called. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short is the first Big Ten player on the board at No. 43, going to Tampa Bay in the second round. Only one other Big Ten player, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, is pegged as a second-round pick.

Here's the rest of the Scouts Inc. Big Ten forecast (in order of predicted selection)...

Round 3: Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell, Wisconsin C Travis Frederick, Ohio State DE John Simon, Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, Illinois DT Akeem Spence

Round 4: Michigan State DE William Gholston, Illinois DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois G Hugh Thornton, Ohio State T Reid Fragel

Round 5: Michigan State TE Dion Sims, Penn State DT Jordan Hill, Wisconsin T Ricky Wagner

Round 6: Michigan QB Denard Robinson (will play WR), Iowa CB Micah Hyde, Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner, Penn State LB Gerald Hodges, Michigan State CB Johnny Adams, Purdue CB Josh Johnson

Round 7: Nebraska S Daimion Stafford, Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne, Penn State LB Michael Mauti, Ohio State DE Nathan Williams (listed at OLB)

Thoughts: Overall, it's a pretty gloomy draft forecast for the Big Ten. Denard Robinson in the sixth round? That's lower than many have predicted. Ohio State's Hankins, once considered a likely first-round selection, wouldn't be pleased to slip to No. 89 overall. The Scouts Inc. forecast also excludes Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead, plagued by knee injuries during his senior season. Other players not showing up include Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray (will play TE in the NFL), Iowa QB James Vandenberg, Penn State C Matt Stankiewitch, Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor and Michigan S Jordan Kovacs. Once again, Illinois is pegged to be one of the Big Ten's top NFL draft producers despite poor results on the field. Penn State's standout trio on defense will be waiting a while, although I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Hill goes earlier than Round 5. Three Big Ten teams -- Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern -- are pegged to be shut out of the draft. Future Big Ten member Rutgers is pegged to have six draft picks, led by defenders Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan in the third round, while Maryland is pegged to have just one (TE Matt Furstenburg).

We'll have draft-related posts on the Big Ten both Friday morning and Monday after all the selections are made.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 27, 2013
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Phew, for a minute there I lost myself.

Big Ten combine results: DB

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
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The 2013 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs. Five Big Ten defensive backs participated in some or all of the events and drills.

Let's see how they did ...
  • Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, tying him for 13th best among all defensive backs. Other 40 times include Michigan State CB Johnny Adams (4.48), Iowa CB Micah Hyde (4.56), Purdue CB Josh Johnson (4.65) Nebraska S Daimion Stafford (4.69).
  • Stafford ranked sixth among defensive backs in bench press repetitions with 21. Adams and Johnson both had 16, Hawthorne had 13 and Hyde had 12.
  • No Big Ten defensive backs were among the top performers in vertical jump. Hawthorne led the Big Ten crew at 35.5 inches, followed by Johnson (35 inches), Hyde (33) and Stafford (30.5). Adams didn't participate in this event.
  • The Big Ten had no top performers in the broad jump, but Iowa's Hyde led the group at 121 inches.
  • Hyde tied for 12th among all defensive backs in the three-cone drill at 6.78 seconds. Johnson (6.99) and Stafford (7.06) also participated.
  • Hyde (4.2 seconds) and Johnson (4.25 seconds) were the only defensive backs to post times in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Johnson tied for fourth among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle (11.51 seconds).

In case you missed the results for the other Big Ten players at the combine, check them out here and here.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

February, 22, 2013
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NFL combine weekend is upon us. We'll have an update Monday on how the Big Ten contingent fared in the early testing.

To your emails ...

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, How can you think Chicago makes sense for the B10 CCG until two things change: 1. The game stops being a primetime game so the windchill isn't below freezing for much of the game, 2. The groundskeepers at Soldier Field learn how to grow a decent field in December? I've seen elementary playgrounds with better grass than Soldier Field has, and a rock hard field with bad grass causes injuries (head and knee). I'd be OK with the game played in the afternoon outdoors in Chicago, but they need a decent field.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I completely agree with you about the playing surface at Soldier Field. As a Bears fan, it's embarrassing to see that slop on Sundays. They should have installed FieldTurf when they did the renovation. The field certainly would be a concern for the Big Ten, mainly because of player safety. No one wants to see injuries in the title game, especially because those teams will be advancing to major bowl games or the playoff. The Big Ten would need assurances from Soldier Field and the Bears that the playing surface would hold up.

I'm less concerned about the weather. While an afternoon kickoff might be the way to go, the temperature in Chicago on the first Saturday of December isn't always frigid. Last year, we had temperatures in the 40s and low 50s. Thank global warming, I guess. While there's always potential for bad weather, it's not as if this game would be played in late December or early January. And c'mon, this is the Big Ten. These teams are used to playing in the cold. This type of thinking is why we haven't had November night games in the Big Ten, which in my view has hurt the league's image/brand.



Chas from Ames, Iowa, writes: ARitt: I appreciate your constant criticism of Iowa Football and the article about Ferentz allegedly reducing recruitment of Florida. Do you think this could be due to the fact that his most recent hires have deep, deep ties in another football hotbed [the Country of Texas]? If so, why would that be a bad thing [especially if one considers that Iowa has done well with athletes from Texas since Hayden Fry's heyday in the 1980's]?

Adam Rittenberg: Chas, as someone who has read this blog from the start, you know criticism or praise depends on how the team is performing. Iowa has deserved the recent criticism, just like it deserved the praise I doled out in 2009. You and others have pointed out the staff's ties to Texas, which is great. But I don't get the either/or argument at all. You can recruit both Texas and Florida. There's no rule that prevents teams from doing so. Sure, Texas can be a bigger emphasis now with former Longhorns assistants Greg Davis and Bobby Kennedy on staff. But Kirk Ferentz has had the chance to make many more hires. Why not bring in one assistant with ties to Florida so you can have a presence there as well? Both states mass-produce talent, and a program like Iowa that has limited in-state talent should have a presence in both spots, even if Texas is emphasized more than Florida.



James from Lincoln, Kan., writes: Looking at the Combine numbers for invitees over the last 3 years, and as a Husker fan, should it be concerning that the list of invitees from Nebraska have been declining over the last few years. Now although I am sure there were some snubs in the past (Baker Steinkuhler), shouldn't a school with Nebraska's pedigree be able to send more than 3 players to the NFL combine in any given year?

Adam Rittenberg: You would think so, James. I wouldn't be overly concerned, but I would closely monitor the number of defensive players Nebraska sends to the combine in the coming years. Nebraska sent four defenders in 2010, four in 2011 and three in 2012, but only one (safety Daimion Stafford) this season. Bo Pelini has produced NFL defenders everywhere he's been, but the unit certainly took a step backward in 2012. Nebraska is looking for leadership and star power on that side of the ball. I think the number of offensive players Nebraska sends to Indy will fluctuate a bit -- partly because of the offensive system it runs -- but Big Red should always be sending a handful of defenders to the combine under Pelini.



Heisman Voter from New York writes: Adam and Brian, as a Heisman voter, let me be the first to congratulate you two for your omission of Kawann Short from the Top 25 player rankings. Sure he was a consensus All-Big Ten and he had the most sacks (7) and TFL (15.5) by a defensive tackle, in addition to his 1 FF and 4 blocked kicks, but his team was bad this year. That's why he as an individual doesn't deserve to be with the likes of Hankins, whose 1 sack, 4 TFL, zero fumbles forced, and 12 wins completely overshadowed Short. By now you realize this is sarcasm. For the record, I am not a Purdue fan, but I find it astounding that Short gets so little respect because the rest of his team hasn't been among the best. He has been one of the most consistent performers the last three years, racking up 19.5 sacks, 44.5 TFLs, and an astounding 8 blocked kicks. Can you explain how he gets left out, because it really seems like you're using team record as the most important stat. Oh, and Replogle would like a word too...

Adam Rittenberg: You make some fair points, Heisman, and both Short and Replogle had good seasons and were considered for the list. Again, it's a very exclusive group, only 25 players, and we looked for guys who made the biggest impact week in and week out -- beyond the numbers. Hankins' stats don't come close to reflecting what type of impact he had on games this past season. The same goes for Penn State's Jordan Hill, who had better numbers than Hankins and was even more dominant, especially late in the season. It's not all about the numbers for the defensive tackle position. My issue with Short is he'd have a few huge games every year and then disappear for others. And I can't look past the fact he led a Purdue defensive line that quite frankly underperformed this season and was gashed by so many opponents. That reflects poorly on him. The same goes for Replogle at Indiana. Again, both men had solid seasons overall and were considered for the Top 25, but neither made as big of an impact as Hankins or Hill.



Adam from Washington D.C., writes: Your Iowa article was atrocious today. I'm a Michigan fan so I don't have a dog in the fight other than I hate reading ignorant stuff. Iowa needs to recruit better players and have them stay. Literally the sentence before you said "I don't see a good reason for them to leave Florida," you explain that none of their Florida recruits had panned out. Then you say something nonsensical about Michigan ramping up Southern recruiting efforts. You do realize we're recruiting Florida significantly less since Michigan fired Rich Rod and went with Hoke, right? It's like you just type stuff that you think sounds good but don't actually back it up with anything factual. That's why you're no longer in my google reader. It's sad, because sometimes you do great work. Other times, you two the ESPN line wayyyy too much.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a major ego blow not to be in your google reader. Not sure how I'll possibly recover. The argument that Iowa should de-emphasize Florida because it has had a run of recruits who didn't pan out doesn't make sense to me, either. We know there are many Florida recruits who do pan out. Just look at Wisconsin, which has players like running back James White (Fort Lauderdale), safety Dezmen Southward (Sunrise) and linebacker Conor O'Neill (Delray Beach), as well as recently graduated players like safety Aaron Henry (Immokalee). Wisconsin's success in Florida should encourage Iowa, especially since Bret Bielema and Charlie Partridge are no longer in Madison. Just because you've had a bad run doesn't mean you throw up your hands. As for Michigan, of course I realize the Wolverines are recruiting Florida less without RichRod. But as noted in the post, Michigan was the only other Big Ten team besides Iowa not to sign a Florida player this year. That should change in the future. WolverineNation's Tom VanHaaren, who knows Michigan recruiting better than anyone, told us on a recent podcast that the staff is emphasizing Florida and Southern recruiting more in the 2014 class. The article linked in the post supports this. Michigan will continue to focus on the Midwest but Hoke and his staff are spreading their recruiting net as well, which should be reflected next year.



Cody from Okinawa, Japan, writes: Adam,During this break from college football, I keep running into articles and speculation about further B1G expansion. Maryland and Rutgers are in, and that is tolerable for me. But rumors of Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia have me worried. I know there has been growing support for a pod system with more teams, but lets stop and consider games like Ohio State at Georgia Tech, Nebraska at Virginia, North Carolina at Michigan. That is not B1G football! I'd love to see a column from you outlining the negative aspects of further expansion.

Adam Rittenberg: There are several potential drawbacks, Cody. The first is more general -- that bigger isn't always better. Big Ten teams will play one another less often -- despite more overall conference games -- and the intimacy of a league, which commissioner Jim Delany often has talked about, will be harmed to a degree by going to 16 or more teams. Another drawback is that North Carolina and Georgia Tech -- and, to a lesser degree, Virginia -- are in fundamentally different areas of the country than the current Big Ten members. Although the Big Ten wants to become a bi-regional conference -- Midwest and East Coast -- it also wants to maintain a certain culture. The culture around college sports in North Carolina and Georgia is different -- not better or worse, just different. My friend David Jones outlines it well, writing:
People belong with their own kind. And most Carolinians aren't transplanted New Yorkers and Ohioans working for GlaxoSmithKline. They are hot-weather-barbecued Southerners who grew up in the pines. They love their area's unique basketball heritage, they talk like Andy Griffith and see the world in different ways than we do. Many of them are wonderful people. My kid goes to camp in northwest North Carolina every year and I've met many of the locals. But they do not belong in the Big Ten. And they will feel like the foreigners they will be if this expansion happens.

His point is that Big Ten folks can relate to Maryland and Rutgers better than they'll be able to relate to North Carolina and Georgia Tech, and vice-versa. Will the Big Ten get richer financially? Sure. But the league's core values -- the essence of who it is -- could be harmed by these moves.



Michael from Los Feliz writes: Hey Adam, I enjoyed your article about Michigan State in honor of Black History Month. However, as a Gopher fan I hope you take some time this month to check out the Gophers' legendary 60s teams. Sandy Stephens was the first African American QB to play at the collegiate level, and he led the Gophers to a National Title and 2 Rose Bowl appearances (1 win). He finished 4th in Heisman balloting at a time when America was still segregated. That is astonishing. Other All-Americans on those teams include Bobby Bell and Carl Eller. All those players remarked on how little racism they found in Minneapolis in comparison to their respective hometowns. This is an important legacy.

Adam Rittenberg: Completely agree, Michael. Minnesota came up a lot while I was doing my reporting for the Michigan State story. Although other Big Ten teams recruited blacks from the South and provided tremendous opportunities for these players, Minnesota and Michigan State certainly were ahead of the curve. Former MSU quarterback Jimmy Raye, who faced the two obstacles of being black and being a black quarterback from the South, told me, "I wanted to go to school at the University of Minnesota because Sandy Stephens had played quarterback there and taken them to the Rose Bowl. He was the first black All-America quarterback, so I knew if I was being recruited by Minnesota, I would have a chance to play quarterback there." Players like Raye were very aware that Minnesota had brought in Bell and Eller from the same state (North Carolina). I agree that it's a very important legacy.

B1G postseason position rankings: DB

February, 21, 2013
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Our postseason position rankings are getting close to wrapping up, but first let's put a bow on the defensive side of the ball with a look at the defensive backs.

Star power matters, but depth is also important. The secondary wasn't a particularly standout group for the Big Ten in 2012, though there were some elite players in the back end of the league's defenses. You can see how we ranked the DB groups in the preseason here. And here's how we see it now:

1. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 1): So maybe Johnny Adams didn't have quite the season we expected out of him, but he was still easily one of the best cornerbacks in the league. And Darqueze Dennard reached an elite level, arguably turning in a better year than Adams at the other cornerback spot. Isaiah Lewis remained one of the top safeties in the league. The Spartans finished third nationally in pass efficiency defense, and their secondary was also stout in run support and on the occasional blitz.

2. Ohio State (Preseason: 2): Teams could pass on the Buckeyes, especially early, as they ended up ranked just 11th in the league in passing yards allowed. But Bradley Roby had an All-American year at cornerback, and Travis Howard grabbed four interceptions while improving over the course of the fall. While Ohio State's safeties sometimes went for the big hit instead of making the safe play, this group had star power and played great when it mattered.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 4): The numbers would suggest a higher ranking, as the Cornhuskers finished fourth nationally in passing yards allowed and ninth in pass efficiency defense. Yet we can't forget some of the secondary's problems in open-field tackling and helping against the run in big games, or how Aaron Murray and Georgia dissected it in the Capital One Bowl. Still, this group -- led by P.J. Smith, Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans -- was deep and clearly comprised the strength of Nebraska's defense.

[+] EnlargeMichael Carter
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsGophers defensive back Michael Carter had a breakout game in the Meineke Car Care Bowl, recording seven tackles and two INTs.
4. Minnesota (Preseason: 10): The biggest climber on our board, the Gophers made a major improvement in their secondary thanks to the breakout year by Michael Carter and the return of Troy Stoudermire at the other corner spot. Derrick Wells also made a major impact at safety as Minnesota went from having one of the worst pass defenses in the country in 2011 to the No. 23 pass efficiency defense in 2012.

5. Michigan (Preseason: 3): The Wolverines lost Blake Countess in the first half of the opener and didn't have anyone make first- or second-team All-Big Ten from its secondary. Still, this group had two sturdy seniors in safety Jordan Kovacs and cornerback J.T. Floyd and finished second in the league in pass defense. Those numbers may be a bit skewed by the fact that Michigan didn't face many high-powered passing teams, but this group held its own.

6. Wisconsin (Preseason: 7): The late-game breakdowns by the secondary in 2011 were a distant memory as the Badgers were solid all the way around at defensive back in 2012. They finished third in the league in pass efficiency defense. Getting Devin Smith back at corner really helped, as did the marked improvement of Marcus Cromartie. Safeties Dezmen Southward and Shelton Johnson also had good years. The bad news for Wisconsin is that only Southward returns from that veteran group.

7. Penn State (Preseason: 9): The defensive backfield was the big question mark on the Nittany Lions' defense heading into the season with four new starters. But despite a lack of experienced depth, the starting group of Stephon Morris, Adrian Amos, Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong prevented Penn State from experiencing a drop-off at DB, allowing just 15 touchdown passes in 12 games.

8. Purdue (Preseason: 5): A secondary with two cornerbacks as talented as Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson should not be ranked this low. But the Boilermakers simply got burned too much in big games to be ranked much higher than this. They did tie for the league lead with 14 interceptions, paced by Landon Feichter's four picks.

9. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats' secondary was much, much better when cornerback Nick VanHoose was healthy, and Ibraheim Campbell had a terrific year at safety. This group showed its potential early in the season and in the bowl win over Mississippi State. But the late-game breakdowns, particularly against Michigan (the Roy Roundtree catch) and Nebraska, prevent a higher ranking.

10. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Micah Hyde was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. This really happened. I looked it up again to make sure. Not that Hyde had a bad season. He just didn't really stand out nearly as much as guys like Dennard, Carter or Roby. Hyde and fellow cornerback B.J. Lowery formed a good tandem, but safety play was shaky for the Hawkeyes and offenses torched them down the stretch. Iowa allowed opponents a league-worst 63.5 completion percentage.

11. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Terry Hawthorne remained an underrated cornerback who should hear his name called in the April NFL draft. Outside of that, it's hard to find many positives for the Illini secondary, as the team finished last in the Big Ten in pass efficiency defense and didn't have much else to hang its hat on.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): The Hoosiers had hopes of making strides in the secondary with returning starters Lawrence Barnett, Greg Heban and Mark Murphy. But Indiana gave up more touchdown passes (23) than any other league team while only intercepting seven passes. While not all of the pass defense problems can be blamed on the secondary, of course, it's clear this team still lacks high-impact players in the back end.

Big Ten players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
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The official list of players invited to the NFL combine is out.

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

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

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

Feb. 23: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
Feb. 24: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Feb. 25: Defensive linemen, linebackers
Feb. 26: Defensive backs
The Texas vs. The Nation college all-star game takes place Feb. 2 in Allen, Texas, and the Big Ten will have eight players on the field. The game pits NFL hopefuls originally from Texas or who played their college ball in Texas against players from around the country. The Texas team doesn't consistent entirely of those with Texas roots.

Here's the full Big Ten contingent (positions designated by the game organizers):

Texas team
The Nation team
Notes: Gray split time between quarterback and receiver at Minnesota but shifted to wide receiver midway through his senior season in part because it's a likelier spot for him at the next level. Former Penn State wide receiver Justin Brown, who transferred to Oklahoma before the 2012 season, is playing for the Texas team. Linebacker Evan Frierson, who began his career at Illinois before transferring to Illinois State, is playing for the Nation squad.

Season report card: Nebraska

December, 26, 2012
12/26/12
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We're back with another report card, as we're doubling down on these in order to finish before the New Year's Day bowls. Nebraska, come and get your grades for the 2012 regular season:

Offense: A

The Huskers led the Big Ten in total offense and ranked second in the league in scoring at 35.1 points per game. It all started, not surprisingly, with an outstanding rushing assault that averaged more than 254 yards per game, good for eighth-best in the nation. What made that even more impressive was that Rex Burkhead missed most of the season with a knee injury, yet the offense hardly missed a beat as Ameer Abdullah topped 1,000 yards. Give the offensive line a lot of credit, especially All-American guard Spencer Long. But it wasn't all about the running game this year for Nebraska, as quarterback Taylor Martinez took his performance to a higher level. While he didn't reach his lofty preseason goal of a 70 percent completion rate, he did connect on a respectable 62.2 percent of his throws while going for 2,667 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He led the Big Ten in total offense while nearly running for 1,000 yards. A deep and multi-talented group of receivers and tight ends, paced by blossoming star Kenny Bell, made the Huskers dangerous all over the field, and coordinator Tim Beck wore opposing defenses out with his high-paced play calling. The only reason the offense doesn't earn an A-plus was a frustrating lack of ball security; Nebraska lost 32 turnovers this year, more than all but five teams in the country. That the Huskers nearly always found a way to overcome such sloppiness was a testament to their explosiveness.

Defense: C

If you go simply by the numbers, Nebraska's defense had a strong year. The Huskers led the nation in pass defense and were the No. 22 overall defense in the country. Ah, but we did watch the games. And there's simply no way to excuse some of the massive defensive breakdowns that led to three losses this season: giving up over 650 yards to UCLA, surrendering 63 points to Ohio State and of course the 70-point fiasco in the Big Ten title game. There were some success stories, like the excellent play in the secondary by guys like Daimion Stafford and Ciante Evans, Will Compton's leadership at linebacker and Baker Steinkuhler plugging up the middle of the line. But a Bo Pelini-coached defense should never be routed as many times as these Huskers were, and a No. 95 national ranking against the run shows some weaknesses up front. When Nebraska's defense was good, it was pretty good. When it was bad, it was about as bad as it's ever been in program history.

Special teams: B

Kicker/punter Brett Maher was the star of the show on special teams again, but he proved less consistent than he was in his excellent 2011 campaign. He still could make clutch, long kicks and boom punts, but he struggled a bit early with his field goal accuracy and had a few too many shanks in the punt game. Abdullah led the Big Ten in punt return average. Nebraska was a mediocre on kickoffs.

Overall: B

The embarrassment of the Big Ten title game loss lingers, but this team still won 10 games and captured the Legends Division this season. The Huskers lost only one league game during the season, though it was another bad blowout in Columbus. They beat Wisconsin (in the regular season) and Michigan after losing to both teams last year and staged some thrilling comebacks to win at Northwestern and at Michigan State. Only fans who have been spoiled by decades of success could complain about a 10-3 season. Yet it's impossible to ignore the feeling that this team was capable of so much more this year, especially with the Rose Bowl bid right there for the taking against a 7-5 team in Indianapolis. Given the expectations and the firepower of the offense, this season can't rate as much higher than a "B" level.

Previous report cards:

Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State Ohio State

B1G bowl primer: Capital One Bowl

December, 17, 2012
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Our snapshots of each bowl featuring a Big Ten team continues.

CAPITAL ONE BOWL

No. 16 Nebraska (10-3) vs. No. 7 Georgia (11-2)

Where: Orlando, Fla.; Florida Citrus Bowl

When: Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET

TV: ABC

About Nebraska: The Huskers won the Legends Division title in their second year in the Big Ten, saw tangible strides from junior quarterback Taylor Martinez and overcame the absence of star running back Rex Burkhead for most of the season. But many of the good things Nebraska did were overshadowed by two implosions on big stages, first on Oct. 6 against Ohio State in Columbus and then Dec. 1 in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin. The Huskers surrendered 133 points in the losses, had damaging turnovers and fell apart defensively midway through both games. Primed to win their first league title since 1999, Nebraska fell flat in Indy and instead plays in the Capital One Bowl for the second straight year. Nebraska leads the Big Ten in offense (462.2) and boasts a nice collection of backs, receivers and tight ends. The Huskers lead the nation in pass defense (148.2 ypg). They rank 105th nationally in turnover margin.

About Georgia: Like Nebraska, Georgia heads to Orlando a bit glum after falling short in its league championship game. Unlike Nebraska, Mark Richt's team showed up in its title contest, only to fall late to No. 2 Alabama. The Bulldogs took care of Florida to win the SEC East division and benefited from a regular-season schedule that didn't include Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. After a blowout loss against South Carolina and a near letdown the following week against Kentucky, Georgia really buckled down on defense, surrendering just 43 points during a five-game stretch. All-America linebacker Jarvis Jones leads a unit that ranks 17th nationally in points allowed (18.8 ppg). Like Nebraska, Georgia is very good against the pass (eighth nationally). Junior quarterback Aaron Murray leads an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (37.2 ppg) and does a much better job of taking care of the football than Nebraska.

Key players, Nebraska: Martinez had a mostly excellent season for Nebraska, racking up 2,667 pass yards, 973 rush yards and 31 touchdowns. He has plenty of help in the backfield in Burkhead and sophomore Ameer Abdullah, the team's featured back for most of the season who had 1,089 rush yards and eight touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Kenny Bell emerged as Martinez's top target this season. Nickel back Ciante Evans and safety Daimion Stafford headline the secondary, while linebacker Will Compton anchors the middle and Eric Martin triggers the Huskers' spotty pass rush with eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss.

Key players, Georgia: It all starts with the strong-armed Murray, who ranks second nationally in pass efficiency (172.4 rating) and 45th in total offense (261.1 ypg). He has two big-play targets in Malcolm Mitchell and Tavarres King, while dynamic freshman Todd Gurley triggers the rushing attack. Although Notre Dame's Manti Te'o received more recognition, many think Jones is the best defender in college football. His stats are staggering: 22.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles, 33 quarterback hurries and an interception. Mercy. Don't forget about freshman linebacker Jordan Jenkins, who boasts four sacks and seven tackles for loss. Safety Bacarri Rambo leads the secondary with three forced fumbles and three interceptions.

Did you know: This marks only the second time Georgia and Nebraska have squared off. Nebraska defeated the Bulldogs 45-6 in the 1969 Sun Bowl. ... Nebraska makes its third trip to the Orlando bowl, having lost to Georgia Tech after the 1990 season before the South Carolina loss in the 2012 game. ... The Bulldogs are 3-1-1 in previous trips to the Capital One/Citrus/Tangerine Bowl, with all three wins coming against Big Ten teams (Ohio State in 1993, Purdue in 2004 and Michigan State in 2009). ... Nebraska makes its 49th bowl appearance, which is tied with USC and Tennessee for the third-most in the nation. The Huskers are 24-24 all time in bowls. ... Georgia makes its 48th bowl appearance, tied for sixth most in the FBS. The Bulldogs are 26-18-3 in bowls.
By now, you've seen how our All-Big Ten selections on offense stacked up as recruits. Now it's time to look at how ESPN Recruiting evaluated the eventual All-Big Ten defenders and specialists.

As a reminder, these capsules list each player's scouting grade, which is explained here, along with where they ranked nationally overall (if applicable), by position and within their region. Note: Not all region and state rankings are available, so the Scout Grade and the national position rankings are most significant. I also list quotes from recruiting analysts about the prospects at the time (if available).

In case you missed it, here's our All-Big Ten team.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeJohn Simon
Greg Bartram/US PresswireOhio State's John Simon was the 16th-ranked defensive tackle coming out of high school.
DL: John Simon, Ohio State, Class of 2009: Scout Grade of 80, rated as nation's 16th best defensive tackle. Analysis: "Simon is a high-motor defender who makes opponents work. He works until the whistle and frequently gets in on plays even after he seems blocked. Has a lean, athletic build that resembles an oversized defensive end more than a defensive tackle. Needs to add bulk to his frame to hold up in the trenches in college. Could take some reps at end, but his skill set makes him better suited for playing inside."

DL: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 76, rated as nation's 49th best defensive tackle. Analysis: "While he is basically a two-gap defensive tackle he will show flashes of being able to quickly step laterally and when he can get into the gap he can rumble up-field and be disruptive in the backfield. He is built to do his damage between the tackles, but shows some hustle for a big man and will turn and run to ball. Hankins shows some flashes, but will really be the best friend of his teammates in the front seven as he can take up space and eat up blocks that should allow them to make plays and at times the big man shows he can make a play of his own."

DL: Jordan Hill, Penn State, Class of 2009: Scout Grade of 76, rated as nation's 77th best defensive end, 159th best player in East region. Analysis: "Hill is a monster sized middle linebacker for his high school team. While he is not too shabby at linebacker with his size a better fit will be along the defensive line. He could make a nice sized run defender at the defensive end position. He is solid with his hands as a linebacker trying to take on and shed from blocks, but he will need to be more violent with his weapons as an end as he will need to engage and separate much quicker from blockers. Now he will tend to lose his hands some. He is a stout kid that is tough to move, but will need to focus on playing lower."

LB: Michael Mauti, Penn State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 82, rated as nation's No. 3 inside linebacker and 58th best player, 36th best player in Southeast region. Analysis: "Mauti possesses great instincts, a non-stop motor and extreme aggression -- all the qualities you look for in your middle linebacker and defensive captain. He plays physical and possesses good size to take on fullbacks and linemen between the tackles. One of his best attributes is his ability to shed -- he flashes good hand technique and sifts well through the trash without losing any speed. While he is not an elite sideline-to-sideline chaser, he possesses a great short-area burst and excellent closing speed for rugged run plugger."

LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, Class of 2011: Scout Grade of 81, rated as nation's No. 4 outside linebacker and 81st best player, 47th best player in Southeast region. Analysis: "Shazier is explosive and quick as an edge rusher however although his height is what we like to see for the defensive end position his weight is lacking at the present time. Therefore a move to the OLB position is a possibility. This is a very flexible and athletic player; is extremely quick across the line of scrimmage showing good instincts with the ability to change direction vs. inside and outside run plays. His quick hands allow him to play off blockers while working through traffic. Does a nice job applying up field pressure with the great quickness and balance necessary to work back inside and flatten down the line on plays away. His backside pursuit is relentless. "

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 60th best outside linebacker. Analysis: "Ryan is a sleeper outside linebacker prospect with the potential to grow into a defensive end. Is tall, well-built and strong but lean and high-cut enough to add a lot more bulk. Has good height and body length on the outside needed to keep blockers off his body when attacking vertically or stringing out the run to the perimeter. Uses hands well as a shedder. Covers a lot of ground and is difficult to outflank. Can lunge and leave his feet but is a strong reach-and-grab type tackler who is difficult to escape."

[+] EnlargeChris Borland
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireChris Borland was among the least-heralded players on this list coming out of the high school ranks.
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin, Class of 2009: Scout Grade of 74, rated as nation's 134th best athlete. Analysis: "Borland is an good athlete but impresses you more as a total football player on film. He has good size with his compact, thickly-built frame. A very durable prospect. Could get recruited on either side of the ball at the next level and will bring a lot of toughness and versatility to a college roster. Flashes good athleticism and range when employed at linebacker. Displays sound instincts and nose for finding the football quickly. His ability to hold his base versus bigger D-I linemen on the cutoff block and provide stout run support at the point of attack is our main concern with his current size."

DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 78, rated as nation's 42nd best athlete. Analysis: "Roby may be one of the more underrated receivers out of Georgia this year. His very good blend of size, speed and secure hands are highly sought-after at the next level. May get a look at corner as he flashes the great speed, body length and ball skills sought-after as a perimeter defender. Overall, this is a guy who may be falling under the radar nationally and with some positional polish should develop into a very good wideout or corner at the major college level. We also like his ability to return kicks as well as cover them showing his athleticism and versatility."

DB: Ciante Evans, Nebraska, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 76, rated as nation's 52nd best athlete. Analysis: "Uses hands well jamming receivers off the line and taking away leverage but needs to continue filling out and improve upper-body strength. Shows a bit of stiffness at times but flips his hips, opens and redirects sharply mirroring off the line for a taller, high-cut corner. Displays good overall footwork and polished technique. Recovers quickly and can be difficult to create separation on with his body length and proper positioning. Shows promising ability as an underneath zone corner once he fills out."

DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 74, evaluated as a wide receiver, rated as nation's 166th best wideout. Analysis: "Dennard is a sleeper at the wide receiver position and is a prospect who could see his recruiting stock improve with another productive season. Has a taller, longer frame with a large catch-radius but is still very lean. Will need to fill out to adjust to the increased physicality of the college level. Versatile receiver who shows the ability to play both in the slot and split out wide. Flashes big-play ability after the catch with his good elusiveness and foot-quickness in space. Demonstrates good jump-cut skill and shake freezing defenders in the open field and is slippery to wrap up."

DB: Daimion Stafford, Nebraska, Class of 2009: Not rated in position, region or state rankings as a high school cornerback. No recruit analysis is available.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern, Class of 2009: Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 19th best kicker. Analysis: "Excellent tempo and follow through on kickoffs. Good hang time and easily kicks to back of end zone; 72 percent touchbacks. Strong leg on field goals with good initial height. Has made field goals of 55 and 49 yards.

P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 79, rated as nation's No. 5 kicker/punter. Analysis: "Sadler is a natural lefty punter. He finished first at Kohl's National Scholarship Camp last summer for the 2010 class and third this past summer. He can hit huge punts that get great hang time and distance. It is rare to see a high school punter get five-second hang times and have the ball travel 50-plus yards. He also has great consistency with his punts and a great demeanor to be a big-time college punter. Sadler can also kick field goals and kick off in college."

All-Purpose: Venric Mark, Northwestern, Class of 2010: Scout Grade of 73, rated as nation's 199th best athlete. Analysis: "It's not very often that you can say a players best potential at the next level might be as a return specialist but this could be the case with Mark. He has both quickness and pure speed. Can make the first man down miss then immediately accelerate downfield. Reads blocks on the run and possesses very good football instincts and reactions. Has the unique ability to spin when running full speed and maintains balance and body control without losing speed. Doesn't have the height to play wide out at the next level but could be a slot receiver where all his talents can be used. Could be a seam threat as well as a sure receiver in the intermediate zones. As a slot, would be a real running threat on the counter and reverse. The only thing Mark has going against him is pure size."

Thoughts: Our All-Big Ten offense had three ESPN 150 recruits. The defense/special teams boasts only two in Mauti and Shazier. Quite a few players far exceeded their recruiting evaluations, including Stafford, Mark and Dennard, who earned decent praise as a wide receiver but has blossomed at cornerback for the Big Ten's best defense. It's amusing to think of Simon, one of the nation's top weight-room warriors, as a guy who "needs to add bulk to his frame" to make it at the college level. Michigan's Ryan turned out to be a heck of a sleeper prospect for the Wolverines. It was interesting to read about Roby's receiving skills, although he clearly has found the right spot at cornerback. The most accurate statement came about Borland, described as a "good athlete but impresses you more as a total football player on film." Bingo. The thought of Mark as a featured back coming out of high school seemed far-fetched. After a 1,300-yard season, Northwestern now wishes it had put Mark at running back from the moment he stepped on campus. Two of the more accurate recruiting reviews came for Budzien and Sadler.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
9:00
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As you may have noticed, we weren't exactly big fans of the official All-Big Ten teams that were announced last month.

We don't claim to know more about football than the league's coaches, not for a second. But after watching every Big Ten game all season long, we found ourselves scratching our heads at some choices that didn't seem to jibe with what we were seeing. Well, it's time to put our money where our mouths are and offer our official ESPN.com picks for the 2012 All-Big Ten team. Now you can argue with our choices, which look like this:

Offense

QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska
TE: Kyle Carter, Penn State
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska
C: Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State
OG: Brian Mulroe, Northwestern
OT: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

Defense

DL: John Simon, Ohio State
DL: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
DL: Jordan Hill, Penn State
LB: Michael Mauti, Penn State
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB: Ciante Evans, Nebraska
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Daimion Stafford, Nebraska

Special teams

PK: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
All-purpose: Venric Mark, Northwestern

The first thing you might notice with our team is that we're lining up as a 3-4 defense. We decided to go with only three defensive linemen and four linebackers because linebacker was such a strong position for the league this year. And even with four, we still left off very worthy players such as Wisconsin's Mike Taylor, Penn State's Gerald Hodges and Michigan State's Max Bullough. Going with three down linemen meant we excluded Purdue's Kawann Short, a great player who was slowed by injuries during the heart of the Boilers' schedule. ... One of our toughest calls was at tight end. You can make a great case for either Carter or Michigan State's Dion Sims, and their numbers are incredibly close. ... We chose four defensive backs instead of two corners and two safeties, just as the Big Ten does with its official teams. And we were happy to do so since we thought the safety position was a little lacking this year overall. And since Evans is a nickelback, it kind of works, anyway. ... We went with Michigan State's Bell in a close call over Northwestern's Mark but still got Mark on our team as the all-purpose player, which fits his skills since he is a top-flight punt returner. ... Ohio State leads the way with six selections, followed by Penn State with five and Nebraska with four.
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My eyes are burning after watching the Nebraska-Iowa game, but Husker eyes are smiling, and they should be.

Nebraska will represent the Legends Division next week at the Big Ten championship game in Indianapolis. The Huskers (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten) earned the right to face Wisconsin after outlasting Iowa 13-7 in a sloppy game in frigid conditions at Kinnick Stadium. Coach Bo Pelini's team fulfilled his "win-out" pledge in Columbus in claiming its final six conference contests.

Everyone expected Nebraska to win Friday, but how it happened came as a surprise. The Big Ten's top offense marched 75 yards on its first possession before settling for a field goal, and then did very little after that point. In between the opening drive and Nebraska's 43-yard touchdown march late in the third quarter, the offense had only 48 total yards.

This win was all about the defense and running back Rex Burkhead, who returned from injury to give the sputtering Huskers attack a boost in the second half. Iowa's inept offense and hyper-conservative coaching staff also deserves an assist in Nebraska's win. Hawkeyes fans deserve better (more on this later).

Nebraska defensive end Eric Martin quietly had put together an all-conference caliber season -- 7.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss -- but most Big Ten fans probably didn't notice him until today. Martin was the single most dominant player on the field at Kinnick Stadium, constantly harassing quarterback James Vandenberg and disrupting pass plays. Martin's stats are impressive (seven tackles, three tackles for loss, one forced fumble, two quarterback hurries) but hardly tell the full story of how much he impacted the game. He's a lock for at least second-team All-Big Ten honors and improved his case to be a first-team selection.

Other members of the Blackshirts stepped up as Nebraska overcame two first-half turnovers and several short fields. Safety Daimion Stafford had a terrific interception after a pass breakup by cornerback Ciante Evans, and linebacker Alonzo Whaley sealed the win by jumping a short pass route -- does Iowa have any other kind? -- in the closing minutes.

Nebraska held Iowa to 200 yards, 13 first downs and just 5-of-15 on third-down conversions.

Quarterback Taylor Martinez had his least effective performance of the season in the poor conditions (63 pass yards, 36 rush yards, one lost fumble), and the Huskers needed something to spark their offense. Enter Superman.

[+] EnlargeRex Burkhead
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe Nebraska offense was stuck in neutral much of a the game, but running back Rex Burkhead (22) provided a much-needed spark.
Burkhead, out since Oct. 20 after aggravating a knee injury that has limited him all season, returned to the field with Nebraska trailing 7-3 in the third quarter. Pelini said it was Burkhead's decision to play, and the senior delivered. He had 16 carries for 69 yards and Nebraska's only touchdown, and his biggest play was a 9-yard run for a first down from the Nebraska 2-yard line. I'm still not sure how Burkhead stayed on his feet so long.

The game encapsulated Iowa's miserable 2012 campaign and some of the season-long issues that never got fixed.

Two examples of ineptitude:

  • After dropping an interception, Iowa drove to the Nebraska 19 late in the first half. After Vandenberg was dropped for no gain, Iowa let a bunch of time tick away before calling a timeout. The Hawkeyes then proceeded to earn an illegal substitution penalty (after a timeout, mind you). Moments later, Mike Meyer hooked a field goal and Iowa wasted a perfect opportunity to tack onto a lead in a game where points were at a premium.
  • Facing a third-and-4 near midfield midway through the fourth quarter, Iowa handed the ball to Mark Weisman, who was easily smothered short of the marker. First-year coordinator Greg Davis has had a lot of head-scratching calls this season, but this might have been the worst. The height of conservatism. Pathetic.

I didn't even mention the punt from the Nebraska 31-yard line in the first half.

Iowa's defense deserves better than what it got from the offense this season. The Hawkeyes must have set a record for most takeaways not converted into points. Or third-down pass routes run short of the marker.

Kirk Ferentz won't be fired because he makes too much money. So unless he leaves for the NFL, he'll be tasked to fix this mess. Vandenberg regressed as a senior and Davis left Hawkeyes fans banging their heads against the wall. I've defended Ferentz before, and his overall success at Iowa can't be denied, but the program has completely lost momentum, dropping its final six games. Iowa went 4-8 despite a very easy schedule that didn't include Ohio State or Wisconsin and had Penn State at home.

This is unacceptable for a program that won a BCS bowl game three years ago. It's certainly unacceptable for a coach making what Ferentz makes.

Nebraska, meanwhile, might be the sloppiest good team I've ever seen. The Huskers still make a lot of mistakes, but they've found ways to win since the Ohio State debacle.

And if the Blackshirts play like this and Burkhead continues to get healthy and contribute, Nebraska could win two more times this season, including Jan. 1 in Pasadena.

Nebraska clobbers Minnesota 38-14

November, 17, 2012
11/17/12
6:58
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Michigan keeps winning, but it doesn't really matter with the way Nebraska is playing.

It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Huskers aren't in Indianapolis in two weeks for the Big Ten championship game. They absolutely dominated Minnesota 38-14 in their final home game on Saturday, finally putting together a complete effort that didn't require a comeback.

If Nebraska can play half as well as that next week against what has become a dreadful Iowa team, the Legends Division trophy will reside in Lincoln. Even on the road, a Huskers loss next week would qualify as one of the biggest upsets of the season.

Big Red made sure there would be no such upset this week against the Gophers. They were terrific from the get-go, building a 24-0 lead and limiting the Gophers' offense to just 60 yards in the first half. It only got worse from there, as Nebraska led 38-0 before putting in the second stringers.

We've been waiting to see what Nebraska could do offensively if it could limit its turnovers and slow starts. This was a pretty good example.

The usually-butterfingered Huskers' starters lost only one fumble, but got it right back when Daimion Stafford grabbed an interception on the very next play. Though Nebraska didn't have its typically large rushing figures, Taylor Martinez threw for 308 yards on an efficient 21-for-29 afternoon and got an early rest for the first time in a long while. Kenny Bell had one of his best games, with nine catches for 136 yards and two scores.

The defense was even more impressive, keeping Philip Nelson (8-for-23, 59 yards) and the Gophers attack searching for answers all day. The Blackshirts were all over Minnesota's pass routes. Stanley Jean-Baptiste returned an interception 48 yards for a touchdown. Until the middle of the fourth quarter Minnesota was 0-for-11 on third downs and didn't crack 100 yards of total offense. The Gophers never mounted a credible scoring chance until the Huskers' backups came in the game late.

It was a disappointing day for Minnesota, which has unfortunately become used to being blown out by Nebraska in its history. But this was always going to be a very difficult game on the road for the Gophers. They did what they needed to do last week in getting bowl eligible and will have a chance to knock off a reeling Michigan State club next week at home.

After last week's win over Penn State, Nebraska players and coaches said they believed this team hadn't yet hit his peak. If this performance is an indication, the Huskers are still getting better at the right time of the year.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
10:00
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Through the lens of history ...

Team of the week: Wisconsin. Reports of the Badgers' demise were premature. While everybody was hopping aboard the Indiana bandwagon last week, Wisconsin simply got back to what it does best: running the ball. Bret Bielema's team steamrolled to a school-record 564 rushing yards and threw it only seven times in a 62-14 rout of the Hoosiers. As a result, the Badgers are going back to the Big Ten championship game.

Game of the week: Lots of good ones Saturday, but the most drama came in Ann Arbor. Michigan outlasted Northwestern 38-31 in overtime thanks to a last-minute miracle and plenty of chutzpah from Devin Gardner. There is some magic in those Michigan uniforms at the Big House.

[+] EnlargeRoy Roundtree
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireRoy Roundtree made one of the biggest plays in the Big Ten all season with a miraculous catch in the final seconds of regulation.
Biggest play: As if there were any doubt. We've had the Immaculate Reception; should we call this one the Roundtree Revelation? Roy Roundtree's 53-yard catch off a tipped ball (around the 1:20 mark) with eight seconds left to set up Michigan's tying field goal may well go down as the Big Ten play of the year. How did Roundtree get so open on a post route, with Northwestern in a prevent defense? "Anybody who goes to catch the ball I'd like to have triple-teamed," Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "That would be ideal. But I can't say I would change the call. I just wish we had knocked the dang ball down." Instead, Roundtree and Northwestern cornerback Daniel Jones both got their hands it, the ball bounced straight up and Roundtree maintained his concentration long enough to haul it in while falling down. Roundtree's Roundabout Reception (OK, this still needs some work) will go down in Wolverines' lore.

Best call: Minnesota was struggling again in the red zone at Illinois and was locked in a 3-3 game in the second half when it faced a fourth-and-inches on the Illini 16. Instead of going for the easy field goal, head coach Jerry Kill went for the kill. A Philip Nelson sneak picked up the first down, and the Gophers would go on to score a touchdown en route to an eventual 17-3 victory. Minnesota reached the six-win plateau and is going bowling for the first time since 2009. Ski-U-Mah!

Testiest news conference: It's not much fun being either a coach or a reporter at a news conference when a team is losing; there are only so many ways to ask the question: Why do you stink? And so it went at Iowa, which lost its fourth straight game by falling at home to Purdue. The very first question posed to head coach Kirk Ferentz was why and how he got outcoached. "You can say it’s this, it’s that, lunar moon, whatever," Ferentz said. "But that’s coaching. And that’s me. Coaching starts with me.” Later, after more questions about his team's struggles, Ferentz tried to defend Iowa's season by pointing to victories over Minnesota and Michigan State. "It’s not like this has been a dog crap team,” Ferentz said. “You want to paint that picture, I’m not buying that.” (And if such a picture is for sale, I want to avoid that arts and crafts show.)

Big Man on Campus (Offense): This fall may not totally belong to Ball, but the state of Indiana sure does. Montee Ball ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's 62-14 hammering of Indiana, putting the Badgers' star within one touchdown of tying the NCAA career record. For his career, Ball has tallied 824 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in five games while playing in the Hoosier State. He's got one more left: the Dec. 1 Big Ten title game in Indianapolis.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Nebraska safety Daimion Stafford was part of a dominant second-half defensive effort from the Blackshirts in a 32-23 win over Penn State. Stafford's interception of Matt McGloin helped set up the tying touchdown in the third quarter, and he later recovered the fumble by Matt Lehman in the end zone. Special mention also goes to Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, who had four tackles for loss to help the Boilermakers control the line of scrimmage at Iowa.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Purdue freshman Paul Griggs had misfired on a couple of tries at Ohio State that could have changed the outcome of that overtime loss. But he made up for that by drilling a 46-yard field goal as time expired to give the Boilers the 27-24 victory. "It seemed like everybody was grabbing me, and I know I got grabbed by a couple of the guys after the kick,” Griggs said. “As soon as I got away from them, I was running over toward the fans, and my mom ran out of the stands and she blindsided me. She was quite happy.”

Worst hangover: Northwestern could be 10-0 right now. In all three of their losses, the Wildcats held double-digit leads in the fourth quarter. A good season could have been a great one in a very winnable Big Ten. Instead, Northwestern keeps finding ways to punch its fans in the gut. The Michigan loss was the worst one yet, as the Wildcats first surrendered a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, then went ahead again late only to surrender the miraculous catch to Roundtree.

Strangest moment: Penn State sure wasn't happy about the controversial fumble call on Lehman's near-touchdown. But there was a strange penalty earlier in the game that went against the Nittany Lions, too.

Late in the first half, Nebraska's Brett Maher shanked a punt for 16 yards, apparently giving Penn State great field position. But the officials called sideline interference on the Lions, a 15-yard penalty.

Sideline interference? You see teams get warned for that but rarely flagged. Penn State beat writers in the press box thought that secondary coach John Butler, who often crowds the field, was the one who drew the flag. But Bill O'Brien said that wasn't the case.

"I guess the referee was running down the sideline and from what I was told, he ran into one of our players and I guess that's sideline interference," O'Brien said.

From that point on, a Penn State staff member made sure to keep telling coaches and players to move back anytime they got close to the field. And the Nittany Lions were left to wonder when they were going to get a break from the refs.

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