Big Ten: Edwin Baker

By now, you've seen where several Big Ten recruits stack up in the final ESPN 300 for 2013. Check back in three or four years to see who met expectations and who did not.

What about the most decorated Big Ten recruits from four years ago? In preparation for national signing day Feb. 6, the folks at RecruitingNation took a look back at the ESPN 150 from 2009 (there wasn't an ESPN 300 back then) and recorded what each recruit did at the college level.

A total of 21 Big Ten recruits made the 150 from 2009. Some turned out to be stars, others never got on track and a few haven't written the final chapter of their college careers.

Let's take a look (positions listed according to ESPN recruiting profiles):

Top 50
  • No. 22: Jaamal Berry, RB, Ohio State -- Played sparingly in 2010 and 2011 before off-field issues led to a suspension. Transferred to FCS Murray State and recorded 675 rush yards this past season.
  • No. 32: Dorian Bell, LB, Ohio State -- Appeared in eight games for Ohio State in 2010 before being suspended the following year and eventually transferred to FCS Duquesne, where he performed well in the 2012 season.
  • No. 47: Craig Roh, DE, Michigan -- Started 51 games for Michigan, a team record, and earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons.
Nos. 51-100
  • No. 67: Je'Ron Stokes, WR, Michigan -- Played sparingly at Michigan before the coaching transition from Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke. Transferred to Bowling Green and caught 15 passes this past season.
  • No. 69: David Barrent, OT, Michigan State -- Played in seven games as a reserve before back problems ended his career in May 2011.
  • No. 74: Eric Shrive, OT, Penn State -- Shrive appeared in every game as a reserve guard in 2012 and could compete for a starting job in 2013.
  • No. 81: Quinton Washington, G, Michigan -- Washington has moved to defensive tackle and entered the starting lineup in 2012, recording 32 tackles and a sack.
  • No. 87: Terry Hawthorne, WR, Illinois -- Hawthorne played mostly cornerback at Illinois and made starts in all four seasons, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two. He also returned kicks and punts and should be selected in April's NFL draft.
  • No. 88: C.J. Barnett, CB, Ohio State -- Barnett has been a mainstay in Ohio State's secondary the past two seasons, recording 56 tackles, two interceptions and six pass breakups in nine games in 2012. He is expected to start at safety for the Buckeyes in 2013.
  • No. 94: Isaiah Bell, S, Michigan -- Bell didn't play a snap for Michigan before leaving the program in March and playing for Division II Lake Erie College this past season.
  • No. 99: Jamie Wood, S, Ohio State -- Wood has appeared in 30 games for the Buckeyes, mostly on special teams, but has battled shoulder problems and underwent surgery last fall.
Nos. 101-150
  • No. 101: Denard Robinson, athlete, Michigan -- Who's this guy? Robinson started three seasons at quarterback for the Wolverines, setting an NCAA quarterback rushing record as well as many other milestones. He was the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year in 2010 and finished his career with 4,495 rush yards, 6,250 pass yards and 91 touchdowns.
  • No. 112: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State -- Had a breakout season in 2010 as the starter, rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns. But he lost his starting job to Le'Veon Bell in 2011 and declared for the NFL draft after the season. He was a seventh-round pick of the San Diego Chargers and spent most of 2012 on the team's practice squad.
  • No. 115: Kraig Appleton, WR, Wisconsin -- Had three receptions in the 2009 season before being suspended the following spring and eventually leaving school. He was the victim of a shooting in July 2011 but survived.
  • No. 116: Keenan Davis, WR, Iowa -- Started the past two seasons and finished second on the squad in receptions in both years (47 in 2012) but never blossomed like many thought he would.
  • No. 124: Melvin Fellows, DE, Ohio State -- Fellows played sparingly in five games in 2010 but endured chronic knee problems that eventually forced him to take a medical harship, ending his career.
  • No. 126: Jack Mewhort, C, Ohio State -- Mewhort saw the field a lot early in his career at guard and moved to left tackle last season, where he flourished. He'll help anchor Ohio State's offensive line in 2013.
  • No. 128: Moses Alipate, QB, Minnesota -- Has been a nonfactor so far in his career. Switched from quarterback to tight end and checks in at 6-foot-5, 297 pounds.
  • No. 131: Duron Carter, WR, Ohio State -- Saw the field early in his Buckeyes career before academic problems eventually forced him to leave for a junior college. He transferred to Alabama but never played because of academics and transferred again to Florida Atlantic, where he sat out the 2012 season.
  • No. 144: Tate Forcier, QB, Michigan -- Forcier started the 2009 season, led Michigan to a memorable win against Notre Dame but struggled down the stretch and lost his job to Robinson in 2010. Academic issues sidelined him for the 2011 Gator Bowl, and he left school weeks later. Although he transferred to San Jose State, he never played.
  • No. 148: Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan -- Lewan has been a mainstay for Michigan's offensive line, earning Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors in 2012. Projected as a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Lewan surprised many by deciding to return to Michigan for his senior season.

An interesting mix, for sure. Lewan, the last player listed, might turn out to be the most successful. So few of the Big Ten's top 100 recruits panned out, and Ohio State fans have to be shaking their heads a bit at this list, as only Mewhort and Barnett look like success stories. There were unfortunate injury situations like Michigan State's Barrent and Ohio State's Fellows, some academic casualties (Carter, Forcier), and a downright sad story with Appleton. Baker was the only player on the list to make an early jump to the NFL.

Although several players didn't pan out, Michigan undoubtedly has to feel the best about the 2009 class as Robinson produced a record-setting career, Roh was a solid player, Lewan is a star and Washington could be a star in 2013.

Eight Big Ten teams are represented on the 2009 list. Those that aren't: Indiana, Nebraska, Northwestern and Purdue.

RecruitingNation also re-ranks the top 10 classes , with both Ohio State (No. 9) and Michigan (No. 10) holding their positions.

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?
The Big Ten had five underclassmen enter the NFL draft, and now that the selections are complete, it's time to re-evaluate those decisions.

Hindsight is always 20-20, and each player had his own specific reasons for entering the draft, some of which can be personal (family issues, financial needs, etc.). But most players make the jump because they expect to hear their name called early in the process. Several of the Big Ten's early entries ended up waiting a little longer than they expected.

Let's look back at the group.

Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Seventh round, No. 250 overall, San Diego Chargers
What I wrote in January: "Baker's departure was the biggest surprise in the group, as his production dropped off in 2011. Then again, he plays a position that has a short NFL shelf-life, and with Le'Veon Bell back in the fold for 2012, his opportunities at Michigan State could have been limited."
Decision assessment: A head-scratcher. It's understandable why running backs must make the jump earlier than others, and Bell's emergence as a potential featured back for MSU might have hurt Baker had he returned to East Lansing. Still, you don't see many underclassmen make the jump and get drafted in the seventh round. Michigan State will be a much more run-focused offense in 2012, and Baker could have seen his numbers increase as a senior. Sure, he would be competing with Bell for carries, but Baker, not Bell, is the one with the 1,200-yard season (2010). Another year in the Big Ten puts more tread on the tires, but it also could have boosted Baker's draft stock.

Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 55 overall, Atlanta Falcons
What I wrote in January: "He had an excellent season at center and has the ability to play multiple positions at the next level. Konz should hear his name called on the second day of the draft, if not sooner."
Decision assessment: Sensible, yet slightly disappointing. The big question regarding Konz is whether he'd be a late first-round pick or slide into the second round. It seemed like NFL teams weren't blown away by this year's crop of centers, as Michigan's David Molk slipped to the seventh round and Ohio State's Mike Brewster went undrafted. Even Konz heard his name called a little later than expected. While he should be a good pro, you have to wonder whether another year in Madison would have solidified him in the first round.

Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 26 overall, Houston Texans
What I wrote in January: "An All-America season in 2011 made Mercilus' decision rather easy. The fact that Illinois made a coaching change and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning departed for North Carolina further cemented Mercilus' choice."
Decision assessment: A smart choice despite a bit of a wait. There was little doubt Mercilus would go in the first round after a breakout season that featured 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles. The question: whether he'd go in the middle of the round or toward the end. Although No. 26 seems a bit low for Mercilus, he had to make this move after such a huge season and with the uncertainty surrounding Illinois at the time.

Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

Class: Junior
Drafted: First round, No. 23 overall, Detroit Lions
What I wrote in January: "He's widely projected as a top-10 or top-15 draft choice, making his decision to leave Iowa rather easy."
Decision assessment: Still the right call. Like Mercilus, Reiff had to wait a little longer than expected to be drafted in the first round. But there was little doubt he'd hear his name called on Thursday night. I'm not sure if another season in Iowa City would have done much to boost Reiff's draft stock, as the book on him (strong run blocker, good in pass protection, not a superstar but solid) seemed fairly set.

Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State

Class: Junior
Drafted: Second round, No. 51 overall, Green Bay Packers
What I wrote in January: "While there have been some concerns about him taking off a play or two, his explosiveness and ability to dominate for stretches make him a very appealing prospect. A strong pre-draft season should cement Worthy as a first-round pick."
Decision assessment: Questionable. The concern about taking plays off seemed to be the main reason why Worthy slipped from the first round into the middle of the second. He could have eased those concerns in the predraft events but couldn't do so. Another All-America type season at Michigan State certainly could have put the talent evaluators at ease. While Worthy seemed keen on making the jump since the middle part of last season, it's fair to wonder how he would have fared as the centerpiece of the Big Ten's best defense in 2012.
The NFL draft is a little more than 24 hours away, and our analysts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. have come out with their final mock drafts.

(Let's pause here for a moment of silence for the 2012 mock draft process. May it rest in peace. But never fear, the 2013 mocks are just around the corner!).

There's not a ton of change in Kiper's final first-round mock Insider. Iowa's Riley Reiff is still the top Big Ten player off the board, now at No. 18 to San Diego. Kiper has Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus one spot behind Reiff, to the Bears. The only other Big Ten player he has going in the first round is Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler, at No. 30 to San Francisco.

McShay, along with Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl from Scouts Inc. have undertaken the massive enterprise of mocking the entire seven rounds of the draft Insider. Whew. Here's where they have Big Ten products heading:

Round 1

No. 13: Reiff
No. 25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
No. 28: Mercilus
No. 30: Zeitler

Round 2

No. 34: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
No. 35: Devon Still, DT, Penn State
No. 43: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska
No. 44: Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin
No. 47: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
No. 51: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
No. 63: A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois

Round 3

No. 89: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan

Round 4

No. 96: Mike Daniels DT, Iowa
No. 97: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
No. 99: Adam Gettis, G, Iowa
No. 106: Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin
No. 118: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
No. 120: Keshawn Martin, WR, Michigan State
No. 121: Markus Zusevics, OT, Iowa
No. 123: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
No. 126: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State
No. 132: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska

Round 5

No. 137: David Molk, C, Michigan
No. 150: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
No. 161: Trent Robinson, S, Michigan State
No. 163: Michael Brewster, C, Ohio State
No. 165: DeVier Posey, WR, Ohio State

Round 6

No. 207: Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State

Round 7

No. 211: B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
No. 216: Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin
No. 219: Dan Herron, RB, Ohio State
No. 221: Derek Dimke, K, Illinois
No. 223: Tyler Nielsen, LB, Iowa
No. 231: Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska
No. 244: Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan
No. 247: Bradie Ewing, FB, Wisconsin
No. 248: Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan

A few notables not listed on this seven-round mock: Northwestern WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Drake Dunsmore, and QB Dan Persa; Penn State WR Derek Moye; Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight, Michigan DE Ryan Van Bergen, Wisconsin OT Josh Oglesby.

How accurate are these mock drafts? It is almost time to find out. Let's do this for real.
By now, it's pretty obvious who the last men standing are in our countdown of the Big Ten's top 25 players of 2011.

It's always a difficult exercise because there are many deserving players, and limiting ourselves to only 25 nominees means some excellent candidates got left out. So let's take a look at some of the toughest omissions.

First, here are the players who were on our preseason list who didn't survive the cut for the postseason honors and the reasons why:

Preseason No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: One of the hardest players to leave off the list, as Borland had an excellent season with 143 tackles and was one of the top linebackers in the league. We chose to go with his position mate, Mike Taylor, though Borland was probably No. 26 on our list.

Preseason No. 24: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State: Mauti was well on his way to a strong season before he suffered another knee injury that forced him to miss most of the year.

Preseason No. 22: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa: Prater's tackle and interception numbers dipped from his junior year, and Iowa's pass defense as a whole was disappointing.

Preseason No. 21: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Scheelhaase got off to a good start in 2011, but he and the rest of the Illini offense were MIA for the second half of the season.

Preseason No. 19: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue: Allen had a good season, with 79 tackles and three interceptions, and just missed our list.

Preseason No. 16: Derek Moye, WR, Penn State: Moye dealt with an injury midseason, but what really hurt him was poor quarterback play.

Preseason No. 9: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State: Baker didn't build off his breakout 2010 campaign and became the second option behind Le'Veon Bell late in the season.

Preseason No. 3: Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern: Persa was still really good when he was in the lineup; he just wasn't in the lineup enough because of injury issues.

Preseason No. 1: Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska: Crick was a little quiet early in the season, and then he suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in October.

Here are a few other guys who just missed the cut:

Michigan State CB Johnny Adams: I really liked the year Adams had, and he was on my initial top 25 list. Very difficult to leave him off.

Michigan State G Joel Foreman and Wisconsin OT Josh Oglesby: Two of the best offensive linemen in the league, but we already had a bunch of linemen on the list in a strong year for the big uglies in the Big Ten.

Nebraska P/K Brett Maher: Unfortunately, kickers and punters don't get a lot of love on lists like these.

Wisconsin S Aaron Henry: If we could have considered interview skills as part of the criteria, Henry would have been in the top 10.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Many of the underclassmen who finished just outside the top 25 will likely appear on our 2012 preseason list this summer. If you have players you feel strongly about who we didn't include in our top 25 -- and I'm betting you do -- drop me a line and tell me who and why. We'll discuss it in a future post.

B1G post-weekend combine update

February, 27, 2012
2/27/12
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Spring practice is just around the corner, but there was plenty of action on the field at the NFL combine this weekend in Indianapolis.

While the evaluations continue today and Tuesday, several position groups have completed their testing. Let's take a look at the top performances from Big Ten players. Some standouts in the workouts: Michigan WR Junior Hemingway, Illinois WR A.J. Jenkins, Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin, Iowa G Adam Gettis and Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson.

Before looking at position groups, we'll examine the top overall performers to date.

OVERALL PERFORMANCE (through Sunday)

40-yard dash
  • Illinois' Jenkins tied for fourth (4.39 seconds)
  • Michigan State's Martin tied for 13th (4.45 seconds)
Bench press
  • Michigan C David Molk ranked second with 41 repetitions of 225 pounds
  • Michigan DT Mike Martin tied for third with 36 repetitions
Vertical jump
  • Michigan State's Martin tied for fifth at 39.5 inches
  • Illinois' Jenkins tied for ninth at 38.5 inches
Broad jump
  • Michigan WR Junior Hemingway tied for 10th at 10 feet, 4 inches
  • Illinois' Jenkins tied for 10th at 10 feet, 4 inches
3-cone drill
  • Michigan's Hemingway ranked second at 6.59 seconds
  • Northwestern TE Drake Dunsmore tied for fourth at 6.73 seconds
20-yard shuttle
  • Michigan's Hemingway ranked second at 3.98 seconds
  • Northwestern's Dunsmore tied for fourth at 4.03 seconds
  • Ohio State RB Dan Herron ranked sixth at 4.04 seconds
  • Iowa WR Marvin McNutt ranked ninth at 4.07 seconds
  • Wisconsin's Wilson ranked 10th at 4.09 seconds
60-yard shuttle
  • Michigan's Hemingway tied for third at 11.16 seconds
  • Michigan State's Martin tied for third at 11.16 seconds
  • Northwestern's Dunsmore tied for 14th at 11.47 seconds

Now onto the position groups ...

Quarterback
  • Wisconsin's Wilson ranked second in 40-yard dash (4.55 seconds); sixth in vertical jump (34 inches); fourth in broad jump (9 feet, 10 inches); fifth in 3-cone drill (6.97 seconds) and second in 20-yard shuttle (4.09 seconds)
  • Michigan State's Kirk Cousins ranked 12th in 40-yard dash (4.93 seconds); 14th in vertical jump (28.5 inches); tied for ninth in broad jump (9 feet, 1 inch); seventh in 3-cone drill (7.05 seconds); 12th in 20-yard shuttle (4.5 seconds)
Running back
  • Michigan State's Edwin Baker tied for 10th in 40-yard dash (4.53 seconds); tied for 12th in bench press (20 reps of 225 pounds); tied for 12th in vertical jump (35 inches); and tied for 14th in 20-yard shuttle (4.31 seconds).
  • Ohio State's Dan Herron ranked seventh in bench press (22 reps of 225 pounds); tied for 12th in vertical jump (35 inches); tied for 12th in broad jump (9 feet, 9 inches); sixth in 3-cone drill (6.97 seconds); second in 20-yard shuttle (4.04 seconds); and fifth in 60-yard shuttle (11.6 seconds).
  • Wisconsin FB Bradie Ewing tied for fifth in vertical jump (36.5 inches); tied for fifth in broad jump (10 feet); tied for 14th in 3-cone drill (7.14 seconds); tied for fifth in 20-yard shuttle (4.16 seconds); and seventh in 60-yard shuttle (11.81 seconds).
Wide receiver
  • Illinois' Jenkins tied for fourth in 40-yard dash (4.39 seconds); tied for seventh in vertical jump (38.5 inches); and tied for eighth in broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches).
  • Michigan State's Martin ranked 11th in 40-yard dash (4.45 seconds); tied for fourth in vertical jump (39.5 inches); tied for 14th in broad jump (10 feet, 2 inches); tied for eighth in 3-cone drill (6.85 seconds); tied for 10th in 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds); and tied for second in 60-yard shuttle (11.16 seconds).
  • Michigan's Hemingway tied for third in bench press (21 reps at 225 pounds); tied for eighth in broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches); ranked first in 3-cone drill (6.59 seconds); tied for first in 20-yard shuttle (3.98 seconds); and tied for second in 60-yard shuttle (11.16 seconds).
  • Wisconsin's Nick Toon ranked 12th in bench press (18 reps at 225 pounds) and ranked 12th in vertical jump (37.5 inches).
  • Iowa's Marvin McNutt tied for 13th in vertical jump (37 inches); ranked fifth in 20-yard shuttle (4.07 seconds); and ranked 12th in 60-yard shuttle (11.62 seconds).
  • Ohio State's DeVier Posey tied for 10th in broad jump (10 feet, 3 inches) and tied for 12th in 20-yard shuttle (4.15 seconds).
Tight end
  • Northwestern's Dunsmore ranked fifth in 40-yard dash (4.64 seconds); tied for fifth in bench press (21 reps at 225 pounds); fifth in vertical jump (35.5 seconds); seventh in broad jump (9 feet, 9 inches); first in 3-cone drill (6.73 seconds); first in 20-yard shuttle (4.03 seconds); and third in 60-yard shuttle (11.47 seconds).
Defensive line (workouts take place Monday)
  • Michigan's Martin tied for second in bench press (36 reps of 225 pounds)
Offensive line
  • Iowa G Adam Gettis ranked third in 40-yard dash (5 seconds); tied for third in vertical jump (31.5 inches); second in broad jump (9 feet, 4 inches); tied for ninth in 20-yard shuttle (4.65 seconds)
  • Iowa T Riley Reiff tied for eighth in 40-yard dash (5.23 seconds);
  • Illinois T Jeff Allen ranked 15th in 40-yard dash (5.28 seconds); tied for 14th in broad jump (8 feet, 6 inches)
  • Michigan's Molk ranked first in bench press (41 reps at 225 pounds);
  • Wisconsin G Kevin Zeitler tied for third in bench press (32 reps at 225 pounds); tied for 14th in vertical jump (29 inches); eighth in 20-yard shuttle (4.61 seconds)
  • Penn State G Johnnie Troutman tied for eighth in bench press (31 reps at 225 pounds)
  • Ohio State C Mike Brewster tied for 13th in bench press (29 reps at 225 pounds); ranked 15th in 3-cone drill (7.73 seconds); tied for sixth in 20-yard shuttle (4.6 seconds)

B1G combine contingent gets to work

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
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The NFL scouting combine kicks off today in Indianapolis, and 45 Big Ten players will be part of the most scrutinized job interview in sports.

Here's the full schedule of events. The first set of interviews take place Wednesday, and position group workouts take place from Friday-Tuesday.

Here are some of the Big Ten storylines at the combine:
    [+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
    Chuck Cook/US PresswireRussell Wilson needs to convince teams that his less-than-ideal height won't hold him back at the next level.
  • The quarterbacks are always a story in Indy, and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins will be representing the Big Ten. Wilson's biggest obstacle is his height, and he'll have to show he can throw over the top of massive linemen and make all the throws. He won't lack for motivation. Cousins had a strong showing during Senior Bowl week. He wants to put himself in that second group of quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. A strong combine performance could be the difference between being a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder.
  • Can Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy solidify himself in the first round? Worthy has moved around the mock drafts quite a bit during the past few months. There are obvious pluses to his game, namely his brute strength and ability to clog rushing lanes and drop quarterbacks. But some have questioned his motor and whether he takes too many plays off. He'll be under the microscope in Indy, especially from a conditioning standpoint.
  • The combine will be huge for Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who saw his stock drop during Senior Bowl week and missed the game because of a hip injury. Huskers coach Bo Pelini has called Dennard the nation's best cornerback, and he showed shutdown skills at times last season. But he has some work to do to get back in the first-round picture.
  • Remember Jared Crick? I ranked him as the Big Ten's No. 1 player entering the season, but he played in only five games before being sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle. Crick needs to show he's healthy and that he can thrive when not playing alongside Ndamukong Suh.
  • It will be interesting to see which Big Ten offensive linemen can boost their stock in Indy. Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff doesn't have much to prove and should be the league's first player drafted in April, but it'll be interesting to see how Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Ohio State center Mike Brewster, Wisconsin tackle Josh Oglesby, Illinois tackle Jeff Allen, Ohio State tackle Mike Adams and others perform. Konz certainly could be the first center drafted, while many project Adams in the first round. Oglesby is among the players trying to prove they can hold up after dealing with several knee injuries with the Badgers. Brewster's stock dropped at the Senior Bowl, and he finished the season as the Big Ten's No. 3 center after entering the fall as a preseason All-American.
  • Michigan State running back Edwin Baker surprised some by declaring for the draft. His production dropped off significantly in 2011, although Michigan State had some issues along the offensive line. Still, Baker needs a big performance in Indy to impress the talent evaluators.
  • Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey appeared in only three games as a senior because of suspension. He has the physical gifts to be an effective pro wideout, but he'll need a strong week before the scouts in Indy. Evaluators also will be trying to assess his character after some off-field missteps at Ohio State.
  • The combine is all about numbers, and Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin might post some huge ones this week. Martin, one of the strongest players in college football, is bench pressing 505 pounds and squatting more than 700. Stephen Paea's combine record of 49 reps of 225 pounds could be in jeopardy. Martin should finish among the leaders in his position group in several categories.
After recording 11 victories in each of the past two seasons, Michigan State hoped to carry over the momentum to the recruiting trail. The Spartans on Wednesday signed a class headlined by standout skill players and added another Thursday morning in four-star receiver Monty Madaris. Along with the addition of wide receiver transfer DeAnthony Arnett, Michigan State has put itself in position to replace standouts like receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin, and safety Trenton Robinson. The Spartans also faced increased competition in the region from Michigan and Ohio State, and talk of a Michigan State-Ohio State recruiting firestorm is building.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Mike Carter/US PresswireMichigan State's Mark Dantonio says his latest recruiting class is loaded with skill-position talent.
ESPN.com caught up with Spartans coach Mark Dantonio on Thursday. Here are his thoughts about the class.

What were your top priorities in this class?

Mark Dantonio: We felt like we needed to go out and get a great class of skill players. Last year, we were pretty deep on our team, so we only (signed) two wide receivers and two defensive backs last year. We felt like we really needed to concentrate in those two areas, and I think we came away with a great class. We've got five wide receivers signed and four defensive backs, and a very skilled tailback [Nick Tompkins] who really can play any of those positions. He'll play tailback here off the start. We've got guys like Demetrious Cox who can play anywhere: tailback, slot receiver, safety, probably even corner. We've got guys like Jermaine Edmonson, who is coming in as a defensive back but can play wide receiver. Aaron Burbridge is another guy who can cross the realm and play corner, play wide receiver, tailback. He'll play wide receiver for us. Madaris, MacGarrett Kings, DeAnthony Arnett has to be included in this class, and he's a phenomenal player, one of the top wide receivers in the country last year.

It's a tremendous group, wide receiver especially. When you lose a B.J. Cunningham, Keshawn Martin and Keith Nichol, that's a lot of offense. Those guys will have an opportunity to play immediately. And on the defensive side, Ezra Robinson and Cox, Edmonson and Mark Meyers are guys that can tackle, play the ball in the deep part of the field, change direction very well, they run very well, they're very explosive players. All 10 of those guys are kick returner, punt returner guys.

I also think that because we lose [Kirk] Cousins, we needed to bring a quality quarterback into the program. We don't overload our football team with quarterbacks. We don't have six or seven guys on scholarship. We'll have three quarterbacks on scholarship next year, and Tyler O'Connor was an Elite 11 quarterback, a guy that has great mechanics, has the ability to run with it, he's big, he's very intelligent, he's got a great release and great arm strength. He's going to be a tremendous asset to this program as time goes on. And then we took three offensive linemen who are going to be able to play, and one defensive lineman in David Fennell. Two outstanding linebackers in [Jamal] Lyles and [Riley] Bullough, who are very, very good athletes and played a variety of positions. Fennell's a defensive tackle flying under the radar from Oregon, who just moved to the U.S. from Canada. He shows great punch. His dad is in the Hall of Fame in the CFL. The guy has great explosiveness, extremely strong, very quick, plays with a high motor. I think he'll be an outstanding player.

With the wide receivers you're losing, how many of the guys you're bringing in will stay at receiver and have a chance to play immediately?

MD: All of these guys are going to have a chance to play. We basically have five wide receivers on scholarship, so our numbers are low in that area, not just because we lose the three [starters], but we lose two backups as well. Edwin Baker going [to the NFL] hurts at the tailback position, so there's opportunity to play and play early. They're quality players. They're guys who we've either had in camp or watched play in person. They're big-time players, and they'll all have an opportunity to play. And there are some guys who might cross over and be pretty versatile as well. And on the defensive side, you can pretty much say the same thing. Jeremy Langford is going to go back to tailback, so it's going to open a possibility at corner. Tony Lippett's a guy we played at corner last year. He'll go back to wide receiver. So it was important to get a defensive back class as well.

I'll make this statement. I've been coaching for a long time, and I don't know I've been anyplace where we've recruited 10 quality athletes like this at the skill positions. I think they're excellent football players, and they all fit our identity, they fit our mold in terms of our chemistry. Great people with good values, all with the vision of being outstanding. I think Cox is a tremendous player.

Do you guys now have pipelines at defensive backs and wide receiver?

MD: I think we are. If you're good enough, you're going to play here. We only played one freshman [defensive back] last year, but the year before, our entire second unit was made up of freshmen. We've had to move people around a little bit, so there's opportunities for these guys, and they see themselves playing early in their careers. They also see the success that we're having. The other thing everyone has to realize is last year, we took seven defensive linemen. We redshirted every single incoming freshman last year except for one. So we're going to have about 40 freshmen in August camp. This is a very bright future at Michigan State. We've got some excellent young players, predominantly defensive players ... who would have played in the bowl game. We probably would have played six of them in the bowl game if they were eligible to play.

You mentioned the lineman from Oregon. How do you feel about the defensive tackles with Jerel [Worthy] moving on? Is it something you looked for in this class, or might look for in the junior college ranks?

MD: We looked more in terms of defensive end at the junior college route a little bit. We felt like we wanted to stay the course with our guys. We came down to the end on a couple guys that, if they come our way, maybe solidify that a little bit. But you've got to go back to last year. We recruited six defensive linemen and had a seventh transfer in from Vanderbilt, as an offensive [lineman] for them. He was a four-star player, James Kittredge. So we've got seven defensive linemen, and five of them are defensive tackles. So our numbers are good. We've got guys like Damon Knox and Joel Heath and Brandon Clemons and Matt Ramondo and Kittredge, those guys are all pushing about 280. We'll be fine there. Obviously, we're going to miss Jerel. You can't replace a guy who was first-team all-conference, a first-team All-American and maybe a first-round draft pick. But we've got guys coming, and I'm sure coach [Pat] Narduzzi will get those guys ready to play.

Mark, you've recruited the Midwest for a long time. Was there any different dynamic this year competing for recruits with some of the staff changes at Ohio State, and with Michigan's staff having a full year to recruit?

MD: I really don't think so. It's always difficult to recruit in the Midwest when you're surrounded. Michigan State has its own identity, but Michigan certainly and Notre Dame and Ohio State and Wisconsin and Iowa. We're right in the middle of all those guys. And usually when we want 'em, they want 'em. You can throw Penn State into that mix, and you have some teams coming up from the Southeastern Conference, so it's extremely competitive in terms of the guys you're going to get. But we're competing on a scale with those guys. We're very competitive with them, and this is a great opportunity for young people to look at, so we're going to get our guys.

Recruiting has accelerated. There's no question about that. With that said, you've got to get guys on your campus earlier, and usually those guys have to be within four or five hours of your campus. After that, they have to fly, or they're taking cross-country trips. It's so important you get players on your campus to see the place with a parent or a loved one, because when you come down the stretch, for a guy to make a visit like they used to, come in January on a visit by himself, if they have not been here before, the opportunity for you to get them to come to Michigan State or anyplace else goes down drastically.

Are you guys changing the types of players you're going after at all?

MD: Not really. We've always tried to look to see who's going to fit our program. Just because you can play corner at one institution doesn't mean you can play corner here based on how we play the corners. We're looking for a different type of player at times than maybe somebody else would. Doesn't mean it's right or it's wrong. We try and look for who's going to complement our football team. There's a foundation that's being laid here, there's good things happening. We're not to the end yet, and we want to continue to push forward, but the guys we've recruited have helped us win, there's no question about that. They've won. So we're taking the right guys. We have very little attrition on our football team, so consequently we have a smaller class. I don't think we've ever taken 25 guys. I think the biggest class has been maybe 21, 22. We make assessments based on guys who can play for us, in our schemes and fit our chemistry, our profile. I think we've done a great job with that. We've got some guys here who have been two-star players who are going to play in the NFL, there's no question.
Few Big Ten players have bigger shoes to fill than Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell. Then again, few Big Ten players have been groomed for a bigger role as well as Maxwell has with the Spartans. After redshirting in 2009 and backing up Kirk Cousins in 2010 and 2011, Maxwell is poised to step in as the Spartans' starter this fall. He's pegged to replace Cousins, a three-year starter and three-time captain who guided Michigan State to consecutive 11-win seasons. Cousins' presence and leadership impressed people both at Michigan State and around the Big Ten, but Maxwell sounds ready to take the reins.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMichigan State QB Andrew Maxwell learned a lot about leadership from Kirk Cousins, the departing standout he'll replace this fall.
ESPN.com recently caught up with Maxwell, and here's what he had to say.

What has it been like going through this offseason, knowing what's at stake for you coming up?


Andrew Maxwell: I definitely think it's a different tone. You interact with people differently, you go about your business differently knowing that next year, hopefully I'm going to be the guy. I definitely have to take some strides in leadership, the way I carry myself and the way I start to lead this team.

How long have you been preparing for this opportunity?

AM: You've got to start preparing for it the day you step on campus, knowing that at some point, hopefully you're going to be the guy. You've got to start building relationships with people, starting to lead, so that when it actually becomes your time, like it is now, I don't have to become this person that I'm not and really go way out of my way and take this totally different approach. I feel like if I've put in the work and started building bridges and started to lead in the past, it makes it for an easy transition now.

And how are you doing that?

AM: In the past, if we're going to do extra stuff like 7-on-7s or one-on-ones, usually Kirk would set that up. But now, obviously, that responsibility falls to me. It makes it my job to talk to guys, see what their schedule is, see what the best time would be to get the most people together to work. So that's a part of it, and the way you interact with people, trying to build relationships with everybody on the team, so when you have to interact with them and lead them, it makes it a little bit easier.

What are some of the things you took away from working under Kirk the past few years?

AM: I think how he was inclusive of everybody, how he built a bridge and built a relationship with everybody on the team so he could relate to everybody in their own special way. That's a quality of a leader -- you've got to be versatile in how you lead. I don't think you can have one stye of leadership and expect that to carry over and affect the whole team. You've got to know what works for some guys and what works for other guys, and appeal to that when you're trying to reach them and affect them.

Did he leave you with any final messages?


AM: There really wasn't a big, 'Alright, here's the keys. It's your time now.' We stay in contact, I've been talking to him. We've built our relationship and our friendship so that if I have questions or just want to talk down the road, I can just pick up the phone and give him a call.

What will people notice about you when you get out there more in games?

AM: I never want to let the situation be too big for me. I always want to be a guy who, no matter what the situation is, I have to control it. I have to be able to handle everything, and when things get tough, when we get in some adverse situations, I can be someone whose looked to. I just want to be a steady presence, a solid presence people can look to and know that I'm not going to waver, and I'm not going to let this team waver. We can make it through any situation together.

How is your comfort level with the offense and what needs to be improved going forward as you take on a bigger role?

AM: As far as knowing the playbook, it's something I've had down for a few years now. I feel like I have a good grasp. Now it's just the reps in live-game action because you can get all the reps you want in practice, but when it's live action, it makes it a little different. Just being on the field and getting more reps and getting more comfortable, things will become second nature and become a little easier.

You return a lot on defense, but how big is your role in keeping the continuity going on offense after you lose some key pieces there?

AM: On paper, you can look at our team and say we might be scrambling to find guys to fill spots. But our young receivers have got all the talent in the world. We've got a bunch of guys who are going to compete for spots, and we're going to have a lot of good players who aren't going to be able to get on the field because we don't have enough spots for them. You look at the competition we're going to have on the O-line. We had some injuries this year from guys who started, and we've got them coming back, so we're going to have a solid offensive line. And then we've got three really good backs who are still here. Obviously, losing Edwin [Baker] hurts, but with Le'Veon [Bell] and Larry [Caper] and Nick [Hill], I think our running game will be OK. That helps take a lot of pressure off me, that we have that talent, we have that continuity.

Personality-wise, are you and Kirk similar? You sound a lot like him.

AM: Yeah, more people would say we're similar than not. We've got some of the same personality characteristics. We're not completely clones, but for the most part, we're pretty similar.

How anxious are you to get there and play games?

AM: I'm definitely excited, definitely anxious. It's the reason why you come to a place like this, to have a chance to be a starting quarterback and lead the team. Obviously, there's a lot of work to be done. We've got a long offseason ahead of us. I've got a lot of work to do to build chemistry with the new wide receivers, to really build chemistry with the whole first unit on offense. But it's definitely exciting. This is what we've been waiting for, and it's finally time.

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 24, 2012
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Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.
The Jan. 15 deadline to for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft has come and gone, and five Big Ten players opted to make the jump.

Here's a quick recap:

WHO'S GONE?


Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: Baker's departure was the biggest surprise in the group, as his production dropped off in 2011. Then again, he plays a position that has a short NFL shelf-life, and with Le'Veon Bell back in the fold for 2012, his opportunities at Michigan State could have been limited. It would have been interesting to see Baker and Bell compete for carries in what likely will be a more run-based offense. Baker will have to impress a lot of folks in pre-draft events to move up the boards.

Wisconsin C Peter Konz: After receiving a strong draft evaluation, Konz opted to leave Madison. He had an excellent season at center and has the ability to play multiple positions at the next level. Konz should hear his name called on the second day of the draft, if not sooner. Although it wouldn't have shocked me if Konz decided to return to a place he loves, it's hard to fault him for leaving.

Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus: An All-America season in 2011 made Mercilus' decision rather easy. The fact that Illinois made a coaching change and defensive coordinator Vic Koenning departed for North Carolina further cemented Mercilus' choice. His draft stock skyrocketed after he led the nation in sacks (16) and ranked second in tackles for loss (22.5). It'll be interesting to see if Mercilus is selected in the first round, as some are projecting.

Iowa LT Riley Reiff: Although we didn't hear much about Reiff during the season, his stock seemed to remain very high. He's widely projected as a top-10 or top-15 draft choice, making his decision to leave Iowa rather easy. He's big, strong and smart and should be one of the top two or three tackles on the board come April.

Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy: Another unsurprising choice, as Worthy entered the season projected as a first-round pick and didn't do much to hurt his stock. While there have been some concerns about him taking off a play or two, his explosiveness and ability to dominate for stretches make him a very appealing prospect. A strong pre-draft season should cement Worthy as a first-round pick.

WHO'S BACK

Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: This came as a shock to many, as Ball had a breakthrough season, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and a trip to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He also plays a position that sees plenty of draft declarations. But a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee kept Ball in Madison. He plans to add a bit of weight and try to improve his stock as a senior. Ball understands he's taking a risk by returning, but his drive to better himself as a college player is admirable.

Purdue DT Kawann Short: A team spokesman confirmed to ESPN.com that Short will be back at Purdue in 2012. He'll enter the season as one of the league's top defensive linemen.

Penn State DT Jordan Hill: Hill sought a draft evaluation after a nice season alongside Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still. He opted to return to Penn State, where he'll once again work with line coach Larry Johnson and attempt to follow Still's footsteps in 2012.

Michigan State CB Johnny Adams: Adams also received an assessment from the advisory board before announcing on Twitter last week that he'll be back in East Lansing. This seems like the right move, as Adams can improve his stock on a defense filled with playmakers.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Few thought Robinson would make the jump, and after getting his draft evaluation, "Shoelace" wisely opted to remain at Michigan.

Michigan CB J.T. Floyd: Coach Brady Hoke said before the Sugar Bowl that he fully expected Floyd to return. Despite a nice junior season, Floyd also made the right call and will be back with Michigan for 2012.

Ohio State DL John Simon: Despite NFL potential, Simon will be back for his senior season at Ohio State. Simon projects as one of the Big Ten's top defensive linemen in 2012. He can play both line positions and exhibits tremendous strength.

Penn State LB Gerald Hodges: Hodges said before the TicketCity Bowl that he'll be back at Penn State for the 2012 campaign, although he sought input from the advisory board. He'll be part of what could be the Big Ten's top linebacking corps as Michael Mauti returns from injury.
Michigan State will have arguably the Big Ten's top cornerback back on the field in 2012.

Johnny Adams announced via Twitter that he'll be returning for his senior season in East Lansing. A team spokesman told ESPN.com that Adams remains enrolled at Michigan State and attended a team meeting this morning.

Adams, a first-team All-Big Ten selection by the coaches, had sought an evaluation from the NFL draft advisory board. He recorded 51 tackles, including three sacks, to go along with three interceptions, six pass breakups and four quarterback hurries.

Although Adams wasn't expected to make the jump, his decision is good news for a Spartans defense that could once again be one of the nation's best in 2012. Michigan State has had two players -- defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and running back Edwin Baker -- opt to forgo their senior seasons and enter the draft.
A Big Ten coach recently told me that the league will be more wide open in 2012 than it has been in recent memory.

He's absolutely right.

While Ohio State's personnel issues changed the complexion of the league race in 2011, things went more or less as expected. Wisconsin, projected by many as the preseason favorite, won the Big Ten championship and advanced to its second consecutive Rose Bowl. Michigan State was a mini surprise, but more because of the Spartans' brutal schedule than their talent level. Michigan exceeded expectations, while Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois, Northwestern and Iowa fell short of them.

The forecast for 2012 is cloudy at best. Every potential frontrunner has some significant hurdles to overcome.

Let's look at seven of them:

Michigan's challenges: Brady Hoke's crew plays arguably the league's toughest schedule, opening against Alabama, playing road games against Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State, and hosting Michigan State, which has won the teams' past four meetings. The Wolverines also lose standout defensive linemen Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen, as well as center David Molk, the Rimington Trophy winner, and top receiver Junior Hemingway.

Michigan State's challenges: The schedule isn't as treacherous, but Michigan State loses several key pieces, most notably quarterback Kirk Cousins, a three-year starter and a three-time captain. The Spartans also must replace their top two receivers (B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin), their top offensive lineman (guard Joel Foreman), All-Big Ten safety Trenton Robinson and two players making an early jump to the NFL draft (defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and backup running back Edwin Baker). The Spartans say goodbye to six All-Big Ten performers.

Wisconsin's challenges: Although the Badgers regain the services of running back Montee Ball, a Heisman Trophy finalist, they will be adjusting to plenty of new faces both on the field and on the sidelines. All-Big Ten quarterback Russell Wilson departs along with three starting offensive linemen, headlined by All-America center Peter Konz. While the defense returns mostly intact, Wisconsin will be replacing at least five assistant coaches, including offensive coordinator Paul Chryst and offensive line coach Bob Bostad, two of the best in the business. On the bright side, Wisconsin doesn't have to visit Spartan Stadium.

Nebraska's challenges: Along with Michigan, the Huskers return the most offensive firepower in the league and could take a significant step if the line comes together and the wide receivers and Taylor Martinez continue to mature. But if Big Red doesn't play the type of defense it did in 2009 and 2010, it could be another long season in Lincoln. Nebraska loses its top two defenders, linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, and must upgrade the defensive front seven to handle the more physical Big Ten offenses. The schedule might be a little easier, but not much as Nebraska visits both Michigan State and Ohio State.

Ohio State's challenges: Urban Meyer inherits a young football team with the chance to make big strides in 2012, but the Buckeyes are ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA rules violations. It wouldn't shock me to see Ohio State have the best record in the Leaders Division, but its season will end Nov. 24 against Michigan as the Scarlet and Gray can't play in the Big Ten title game. There also could be some growing pains as players adjust to new systems.

Penn State's challenges: The Bill O'Brien era begins in 2012, and it's hard to know what to expect from a Penn State team going through a transition period. The Lions once again should be strong on defense, although they lose Big Ten defensive player of the year Devon Still and most of their starting secondary. O'Brien and his staff will upgrade the offense eventually, but there could be some struggles initially with a unit that has underachieved since 2008. Although the Leaders Division is up for grabs, Penn State has no shortage of hurdles.

Iowa's challenges: Kirk Ferentz's program reaches another crossroads in 2012 after losing momentum from the 2009 Orange Bowl run. Will Iowa move into the Big Ten's lead pack or take another step backward? There are significant concerns along the defensive line, and Iowa must replace the league's top receiver in Marvin McNutt. If Marcus Coker returns, the offense should be decent, but quarterback James Vandenberg must show he can be more consistent away from Iowa City.

The Big Ten doesn't have an obvious team to beat in 2012, like Wisconsin in 2011 or Ohio State in 2010.

If I had to pick a favorite at this point, I'd go with Michigan State because of the Spartans talent-stocked defense. But the Legends Division race will be extremely competitive -- undoubtedly the tougher division to win. Ohio State's bowl ban, Wisconsin's player/coach losses and Penn State's transition make the Leaders race nearly impossible to predict. While Wisconsin will be a popular pick, I could see several teams, including a sleeper like Purdue, make a run in 2012.

The season kicks off in 235 days.

When it does, buckle up and get ready for a wild ride.
Michigan State has made strides on the field toward becoming a nationally elite program.

The school took another step Friday night in ensuring Pat Narduzzi remains as defensive coordinator.

Texas A&M pursued Narduzzi for its defensive coordinator position and reportedly made a very lucrative offer. Narduzzi visited College Station and toured the facilities Thursday. But he has decided to remain with Michigan State, the team announced Friday.
"When provided a professional opportunity like Texas A&M, I owed it to my family to investigate it because my first obligation is to take care of my wife and children," Narduzzi said in a prepared statement. "The bottom line remains; however, that I'm very comfortable working for Mark Dantonio and Michigan State. The support from the top down is tremendous. Coach Dantonio, athletics director Mark Hollis, President [Lou Anna] Simon and our Board of Trustees have been very supportive and understanding as I've gone through this decision-making process, and I'm thankful for their patience. I share the same feelings that our players and coaches have that there’s some unfinished business to take care of here. We're all driven to win the Big Ten Championship and win a Rose Bowl."

Narduzzi coordinated a defense that ranks fifth nationally in yards allowed and ninth in points allowed.
"Prior to Texas A&M aggressively pursuing Pat Narduzzi, Mark Hollis had already identified the financial resources to make sure that not only Pat, but all of our assistant coaches, had salaries that are competitive in the Big Ten," Dantonio said in a statement. "We understand that our continued success will provide professional opportunities for our student-athletes and coaches alike. There's no doubt that Pat will be a head coach sometime soon, but for now, we’re excited that he remains a Spartan as we continue our pursuit of another Big Ten Championship and our first trip to the Rose Bowl."

As Dantonio notes, Narduzzi soon will land a head-coaching position, but until that point, he'll likely remain with Michigan State. This is a key step for Michigan State to keep its momentum and keep pushing forward as a new power in the Big Ten.

There was a bit of bad news for Michigan State, as running back Edwin Baker told the Associated Press that he's skipping his senior season to enter the NFL draft. Baker had a big year in 2010, rushing for 1,201 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he slipped behind Le'Veon Bell on the depth chart this fall.

Bell likely will be the team's primary ball carrier in 2012, although Baker could have been a big part of the offense as well.

Season report card: Michigan State

December, 14, 2011
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It's final exam season on campuses around the Big Ten, and we here at the Big Ten blog have some grades to hand out, too. Brian and I will be grading each Big Ten team -- offense, defense and special teams -- before the bowl season kicks off.

First up, the Michigan State Spartans.

OFFENSE: B

Michigan State had to reinvent itself on offense in 2011 as a revamped offensive line made it tough to consistently rush the football. Thanks to senior quarterback Kirk Cousins and his array of weapons, the Spartans still ranked among the league's top five in both scoring (30.8 ppg) and total yards (390.4 ypg). Michigan State was a pass-first unit for much of the season and had success, and the run game emerged late behind Le'Veon Bell, Edwin Baker and a line that gained confidence and built chemistry. While it's amazing that the Spartans won a division title with the league's worst rushing offense, they really seemed to put the pieces together after a poor performance against Nebraska on Oct. 30. Coordinator Dan Roushar had a great scheme in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin.

DEFENSE: A-

It became clear early on that Michigan State had great potential on defense, and the unit was among the nation's elite for much of the season. Despite losing two four-year starters at linebacker (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon), the Spartans actually improved in the front seven. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy anchored the crew, and dynamic young players like William Ghoslton, Denicos Allen, Max Bullough and Marcus Rush contributed. Johnny Adams was arguably the Big Ten's top cornerback and safeties Trenton Robinson and Isaiah Lewis combined for eight interceptions. Michigan State displayed excellent depth for much of the season. If not for a few struggles against Wisconsin, the unit would have received an A.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C+

The Spartans weren't bad in the kicking game and had some strong points, particularly on returns with dynamic senior Keshawn Martin. Kicker Dan Conroy was solid and punter Mike Sadler performed decently in his first season. But Michigan State ranked in the middle of the pack in both net punting and kickoff coverage, and special teams played a role in two of the team's three losses. MSU allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown against Notre Dame, and Lewis was flagged for running into the punter in the Big Ten championship, effectively ending the game.

OVERALL: A-/B+

Michigan State had another strong season and took a step closer to becoming a Big Ten power. If not for a few plays against Wisconsin, the Spartans would be heading to the Rose Bowl for the first time in 24 years. It was a very good season that nearly became great.

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