Big Ten: Leveon Bell

B1G RBs: Looking back at top matchups

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon are among the best running backs in the nation -- and it’s a B1G rarity that such a matchup as Saturday’s Nebraska-Wisconsin game presents itself.

Gordon leads the nation in rushing (166.8 yards per game), while Abdullah follows closely behind (138.9 yards per game) in the No. 6 spot. Saturday will mark only the fifth time in 10 years that two Big Ten running backs, both ranked within the top 6 nationally in rushing yards per contest, will square off against one another.

How much does the opponent's rushing defense matter? And does the rushing leader always come out on top? Here’s a look back at those four other memorable matchups and how the RBs fared:

Oct. 27, 2012 Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell vs. Wisconsin’s Montee Ball

Final score: Michigan State 16, Wisconsin 13 (OT)

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLe'Veon Bell had a key touchdown in Michigan State's victory over Wisconsin in 2012.
What made the RBs special: Bell finished third nationally with 137.92 yards per game that season; Ball was sixth with 130.71 yards. Bell recorded 922 of his 1,793 rushing yards -- 51 percent -- after contact that year and became the first Spartan since 1990 to lead the B1G in rushing. Ball won the Doak Walker Award and set the career FBS touchdown record.

RBs’ game: Both rush defenses were ranked within the top 25, and neither running back ended with an explosive day. Bell carried the ball 21 times for 77 yards and finished with a long of 9 yards, while Ball had 22 carries for 46 yards. The big play actually came through the air for Michigan State, as Bell had a 5-yard receiving TD with 1:08 left in regulation to tie the game. MSU won on a 12-yard touchdown pass in overtime.

RBs’ future: Both were selected in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, with Bell going to the Pittsburgh Steelers (48th overall) and Ball headed to the Denver Broncos (58th overall).

Oct. 4, 2008 – Iowa’s Shonn Greene vs. Michigan State’s Javon Ringer

Final score: Michigan State 16, Iowa 13

What made the RBs special: Greene finished second nationally with 142.31 yards per game that season; Ringer was fourth with 125.92 yards. Greene finished sixth in the Heisman voting and won both the Doak Walker and B1G Offensive Player of the Year awards. Ringer finished 10th in the Heisman voting and became the first Spartan running back to be named to the Walter Camp All-American Team since Lorenzo White in 1987. Ringer led the nation in rushing attempts (390) and rushing touchdowns (22).

RBs’ game: Iowa’s rush defense was ranked No. 9 in the nation, while Michigan State was No. 67 -- and that was reflected in the backs’ performances. Greene paced Iowa with 30 carries for 157 yards, while Ringer had 25 carries for just 91 yards. The problem for the Hawkeyes was that there was no passing game; Ricky Stanzi finished with a QBR of 7.2. MSU rode a 13-0 second-quarter lead to victory, as Iowa just didn’t have the passing game required for a comeback.

RBs’ future: Green was selected in the third round by the New York Jets in the 2009 draft. He now plays for the Tennessee Titans and, on his sixth season, has 3,917 career rush yards. Ringer was selected in the fifth round by the Titans in the 2009 draft. He spent four seasons in the NFL and worked out for the Chicago Bears in April.

Oct. 18, 2008 – Ohio State’s Chris Wells vs. Michigan State’s Javon Ringer

Final score: No. 12 Ohio State 45, No. 20 Michigan State 7

What made the RBs special: Wells finished sixth nationally with 119.7 rushing yards per game that season; Ringer was fourth with 125.92 yards. Despite a foot injury that sidelined Wells for three games early in the season, he bounced back enough to be named the 2008 team MVP. He also averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Ringer finished the season with 1,637 rushing yards.

RBs’ game: Wells had a game to remember against the Spartans, as he finished with 31 carries for 140 yards and a pair of TDs. Ringer finished with his fewest carries (16) of the season against the Buckeyes' No. 18 rush defense, for just 67 yards, since MSU was forced to throw early and often after trailing 21-0 in the first quarter. Five Spartan turnovers didn’t help matters. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw just 11 times.

RBs’ future: Wells was picked in the first round (No. 31 overall) by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2009 NFL draft. He played four seasons -- and went over 1,000 yards in 2011 -- but just recently accused doctors from the Columbus, Ohio, area for malpractice after an Achilles injury. Ringer, a fifth-rounder, never started but played 37 career games for the Titans.

Oct. 15, 2005 – Wisconsin’s Brian Calhoun vs. Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney

Final score: No. 23 Wisconsin 38, No. 22 Minnesota 34

What made the RBs special: Calhoun finished sixth nationally with 125.85 rushing yards per game that season; Maroney was fifth with 133.09 yards. Calhoun, a Colorado transfer, led the NCAA in rush attempts (348) and touchdowns (24) -- and even finished eighth in the B1G with 53 catches for 571 yards. Maroney was the first Minnesota player to rush for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons and was a semifinalist for the Doak Walker Award.

RBs’ game: Maroney may have split time with Gary Russell in 2005, but this game was all Maroney. He touched the ball on more than half of the Gophers' snaps and wound up with 43 carries for a career-high 258 yards and a TD. He accounted for slightly more than half of the total offense. Calhoun didn’t fare too badly, either, with 23 carries for 110 yards and three TDs. Both rush defenses were ranked worse than No. 60. Wisconsin won on a crazy, last-second punt block for a touchdown.

RBs’ future: Calhoun was picked in the third round (No. 74 overall) by the Detroit Lions in the 2006 NFL draft. He played just two seasons but finished his degree and is now an assistant strength coach for Pitt. Maroney was picked in the first round (No. 21 overall) by the New England Patriots in the same draft. He played for six seasons in the NFL.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
Spring practice is in full swing around the Big Ten, and we've got you covered. Be sure to check us out on Twitter.

Mail call ...

Lance from Mooresville, N.C., writes: Some hypotheticals for you in regards to the 2013 Spartans: 1. If Le'Veon [Bell] would have stayed, would MSU have won a national title? Or would MSU have used him as a crutch like it did in 2012. 2. If MSU would have beat tOSU in the BIG CCG by 20-plus points and not given tOSU the lead back in the third quarter, would it have gone to the NCG? 3) How crazy is it that the BCS came a year too late for U of M and they didn't get an outright national title, and the playoff came a year too late for MSU, and it didn't get a chance to play for one either.

Adam Rittenberg: 1. I don't think Le'Veon Bell, as good as he is, would have been the difference in Michigan State winning a national title. And as you note, it might have changed how the coaches approached the quarterback position. MSU needed to lean more on its QB, partly because Bell wasn't there, and it allowed for Connor Cook to emerge. 2. Maybe if Missouri had beaten Auburn, MSU could have vaulted into the No. 2 spot. There was a strong push to get the SEC champ in the game after the run of national titles, but Missouri didn't have the backing that Auburn did. 3. I guess the college football powers-that-be are anti-Mitten State. It's really too bad MSU didn't have a chance to participate in a playoff last year.


Puck from Chesapeake, Va., writes: What impact does Taco Charlton make the for Wolverines this fall? I want him to be a game-changer!

Adam Rittenberg: Puck, few young players impressed me more physically on my spring trips last year than Taco Charlton. Freshmen simply don't look like that very often. He got a small taste of game action last fall, appearing in 10 games as a reserve and recording two tackles. I'm interested to see if he makes a significant jump in Year 2. Michigan needs more pass-rushing production, and while Charlton is behind Brennen Beyer, he could have a bigger role. Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia are on the other side and boast more experience, but I don't know if any Michigan defensive end has Charlton's physical gifts.


Leo from Philadelphia writes: I grew up in close proximity to both Maryland and Rutgers. I feel like I know what both schools represent (having lots of friends from each), and I can't see either being a rival to Penn State (for obvious reasons). I understand why people from those schools try to justify it, but in reality Penn State has no true rival in the B1G. Ohio State might be the closest thing, but at the end of the day it's not (for obvious reasons). If the Big Ten caters to it, Nebraska, Wisconsin or Michigan State have serious potential (mainly Nebraska). Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Leo, the only way Maryland or Rutgers becomes Penn State's rival is if one or both start beating the Lions on a regular basis. James Franklin's connection to Maryland makes that series more interesting, but I can't call it a rivalry until the Terps start winning. Penn State will see Ohio State, Michigan and MSU annually in the East Division, but all three programs have bigger rivals. A lot of Penn State and Nebraska fans wanted to see that series continue annually, but the division realignment makes it tough. Penn State might never have a true Big Ten rival. At least Pitt returns to the schedule in 2016.


Stephen from Mount Prospect, Ill., writes: Where do you stand on conference games beginning from Week 1? I think one of the more overlooked parts of the early part of the schedule is the effects it has on rankings and conference prestige. More early conference games will truly show who are the top teams. Look at the Michigan game when it lost to App State. It was the first game of the year, and the Wolverines were ranked fifth. It was a huge deal that they lost, and the perception was that the Big Ten was bad that season. If they played them at the end of the season with three losses, it wouldn't have been as big of a story.

Adam Rittenberg: Stephen, some really good points here. I've long been in favor of earlier conference games because they add some spice to those September Saturdays. No one like the Big Ten's MAC/FCS Invitational, which seems to take place one Saturday per season. Sprinkling in earlier league games, as we'll see in the near future, ensures the league remains somewhat relevant in the national discussion. But your point about early league games shedding light on which teams are good and which teams are not is very valid. I hate preseason polls and early-season rankings, but they would be slightly more accurate if teams faced stronger competition in September.


Al Baker from Lincoln, Neb., writes: It's Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, not Edwardsville, a much smaller satellite campus.

Adam Rittenberg: Actually, the Illinois state senators were referring to the Edwardsville campus, in the context of having a Big Ten candidate closer to a larger media market (St. Louis). Carbondale brings nothing to the Big Ten in terms of market. Same goes for Illinois State, Northern Illinois and most of the highly unrealistic candidates for Big Ten expansion. SIU-Edwardsville at least has location in its favor, but not much else.
Iowa running back Mark Weisman has been a very busy man.

Last Saturday, he carried the ball 35 times in Iowa's 27-21 win against Iowa State. According to the school, only five Hawkeyes ball-carriers have heard their number called more often in a game. Weisman's workload came a week after he logged 30 carries, then a career high, in a win against Missouri State.

Just three games into the season, Weisman has 85 carries, 10 more than any other FBS player (Boston College's Andre Williams has 75) and 21 more than any Big Ten back (Ohio State's Jordan Hall has 64). If Weisman continues this pace, he'll finish the regular season with 340 carries, which would break Sedrick Shaw's team record of 316, set in 1995.

[+] EnlargeMark Weisman
David Purdy/Getty ImagesMark Weisman made 35 carries against Iowa State. Workhorse running backs are still typical throughout the Big Ten.
If Iowa reaches a bowl game, that number goes up to 368.

Take that, AIRBHG!

"John McKay's quote comes to mind, 'The ball's not that heavy,'" Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday, referring to the former USC and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach.

Weisman's workload might be unique in most leagues, but not the Big Ten. A Big Ten back -- Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell -- led the nation in carries last season with 382, and another, Wisconsin's Montee Ball, was third with 356. Ball and Nebraska's Rex Burkhead both ranked in the top 10 nationally in carries in 2011.

The Big Ten has had at least one player rank in the top 10 in carries in eight of the past nine seasons. Michigan State's Javon Ringer led the nation with 390 totes in 2008, and Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun topped the chart with 348 in 2005.

The league's continued emphasis on the run game and power football contributes to the trend. You see more big, burly ball-carriers in the Big Ten than other leagues.

Bell, who played last season at about 240 pounds, certainly fits the description. The 6-foot, 236-pound Weisman came to Iowa as a fullback and has the frame to take a pounding.

"It takes a special guy to run the ball 390 times, like Le'Veon did," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "You can do it game to game 25 times, but that guy's got to get hot. They're plenty durable enough to do that."

Ferentz has had several bell-cow backs at Iowa, including Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, who ranked fifth nationally with 307 carries in 2008.

"It's not easy for anybody who's playing a lot of plays," Ferentz said. "They've really got to take care of themselves and they've got to be mentally tough, too, because anybody who's playing college football, most of them are sore by now."

Ferentz credits Weisman for staying in "phenomenal shape," but he also doesn't want to overwork the junior.

"It's really important that we utilize the whole group and really bring them along," Ferentz said, "so Mark can be at his best the whole season."

Michigan State season preview

August, 16, 2013
If the old adage “defense wins championships” always held true, then Michigan State would be a top team in most preseason polls. But they'll still have to play offense, and it might not be a good thing that the Spartans' success this season will hinge on how the unit moves the ball.


Coach Mark Dantonio (69-45 overall, 51-28 at Michigan State)

2012 record: 7-6 overall, 3-5 Big Ten

Key losses: DE William Gholston, RB Le’Veon Bell, RB Larry Caper, TE Dion Sims, DB Johnny Adams, LB Chris Norman, K Dan Conroy

[+] EnlargeMichigan State's Andrew Maxwell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWill Andrew Maxwell be able to hold off Connor Cook and lead the Spartans?
Key returnees: QB Andrew Maxwell, WR Keith Mumphery, WR Bennie Fowler, WR Tony Lippett, WR Aaron Burbridge, RB Riley Bullough, OL Travis Jackson, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Max Bullough, LB Denicos Allen

Newcomer to watch: Running back Riley Bullough. The redshirt freshman converted linebacker can be considered a true newcomer because this is his first season at the position. The Spartans are looking for someone to step into the big shoes Bell left, and Bullough has seemed to rise to the occasion throughout fall camp.

Biggest games in 2013: at Notre Dame (Sept. 21), at Iowa (Oct. 5), vs. Michigan (Nov. 2), at Nebraska (Nov. 16), at Northwestern (Nov. 23)

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Will the offense really be able to get it going? Maxwell remains the biggest question mark. Dantonio pulled Maxwell during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl last season and put in Connor Cook. The same could happen this season as the two battle it out trying to find consistency in the offense and chemistry with wide receivers. Bullough should help, but neither he nor junior Nick Hill has ever been a featured back in an offense. Running back by committee could be the Spartans’ best bet.

Forecast: The Spartan defense will be stout, even without Gholston. It returns most starters and Max Bullough is ready to lead. It’s the offense that will struggle to find its identity, which happens to most teams when they don’t have a starting quarterback who has consistently proven himself. This season, Michigan State might head into the fall with that part still unanswered. The Spartans return multiple wide receiver threats, so Maxwell should have some kind of chemistry there, but how long his leash will be remains to be seen, and Cook could be thrown into the fire relatively quickly.

The schedule does set up the Spartans to play their best football later in the season. The front half of their conference schedule isn’t too bad. The Spartans should be better than the Hawkeyes, but playing at Iowa is never easy. Indiana and Purdue at home, as well as a road game against Illinois, should provide ample confidence building as the Spartans face a tougher three-game stretch in November. They’ll host in-state rival Michigan before hitting the road for Nebraska and Northwestern, which could be a true contest this season, unlike in most. Minnesota at home should be a fine way to close out, especially considering that will be the week that fellow Legends team Michigan faces a tough competitor in Ohio State, possibly with both teams vying for a spot in the Big Ten championship game the following weekend.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 2, 2013
Preseason camps are finally here in the Big Ten. Who's excited?

Let's get to the mail, and be sure to follow us on Twitter.

Carson from Janesville, Wis., writes: Is it me or are Wisconsin's rivalry games boring? I am younger so I have never known the Gophers as much of a threat. Iowa has at least shown that they can beat us more than twice since 1995 (which Minnesota can't) and I get that the overall rivalry is tied which is interesting. But, I guess the point of this is that I want to see Wisconsin play a high level team in a rivalry game. A team that our fan base can build a friendly hatred for (if that's possible). Nebraska and Wisconsin have had interesting games the past couple years and I would love to see them have a trophy/last game of the year rivalry especially now that they will be in the same league soon. What are your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Carson, you're certainly not the only younger Wisconsin fan who feels this way. The Minnesota series has a ton of tradition and longevity -- not to mention a great trophy -- but it simply hasn't been very competitive in the past two decades or so (only four Gophers victories since 1991). The Wisconsin-Iowa series has been much more competitive, as you mention, and the fact that both teams will be in the West division is a good thing. But I definitely sense momentum building for Wisconsin-Nebraska, both among fans and Big Ten folks. It certainly has the potential to become a rivalry weekend game. Minnesota and Iowa can play that weekend and still satisfy the rivalry component. The Big Ten wants to have as many appetizing matchups the Saturday after Thanksgiving as possible, and Wisconsin-Nebraska could be a better choice than Nebraska-Iowa or Wisconsin-Minnesota.

Rob from New York writes: Adam, I know there is a lot of chatter about OSU and Michigan's recruiting and how we're moving towards a Big 2 Little 12 again, but I think what people are missing is how little this matters. It's not as if Michigan and OSU suddenly have had a major uptick in recruiting. Both have had top 10 classes for seemingly forever. They might be winning more high profile battles but it's not as if that's a "major" change in recruiting. Their recruiting ability has never been the issue--the issue, if any, has been that neither school has effectively evaluated talent and developed it. To me, that's all about coaching/scouting. Certain schools (Wisconsin, Michigan State and in the past Iowa) are particularly good at doing that, despite "bad" recruiting classes. I might have faith in Urban Meyer's ability to coach (less so to develop), but what possible evidence do I have that Brady Hoke will do that? All that leads me to believe that this Big 2 Little 12 discussion is nothing more than a PR assault originating in Ann Arbor and Columbus, which the media has unfortunately bought into.

Adam Rittenberg: You raise some interesting points, Rob. I agree that some are too quick to write off programs like Wisconsin and Iowa, which have been very competitive in the Big Ten for a sustained period. Michigan State finally is a consistent winner under Mark Dantonio, while Northwestern is enjoying its steadiest run of success in team history. Nebraska also can't be discounted after reaching league title games in three of the past four seasons. I think the theory is that Ohio State's and Michigan's recruiting, combined with their strength in coaching, will lead to some separation. But you raise a valid point about Michigan's Hoke and his ability to prove himself as an elite coach.

He's certainly not Meyer in terms of coaching track record, and while he has a good staff at Michigan, there are legit questions about Hoke's ability to win at the highest level. Ohio State has been the Big Ten's dominant program both on the field and on the recruiting trail, although Wisconsin has been right there, too. The big question is whether Michigan can truly dominate again and separate itself. The talent is there, but as you note, it has been there before.

Scott from Houghton Lake, Mich., writes: Hey, Adam, big MSU fan here and looking at the polls, they are just outside the top 25. Say Maxwell completes about 60% of his passes in the first 4 games and they begin the season 4-0 or possibly 3-1 (pending a ND team that has some question marks), do you think they would have a shot at a BCS game or the Rose Bowl if they continue that kind of performance or do you think it is going to take more than that for them to possibly get a BCS bid?

Adam Rittenberg: You hit on a key point, Scott, as Michigan State doesn't need Andrew Maxwell to become Johnny Manziel or the offense to become like Oregon in order to reach high goals this season. The Spartans defense once again should be among the nation's elite, and the unit should put MSU in every game this season. If the offense can simply make marginal strides, Michigan State could go from a 7-win team to a 10-win team fairly easily. I don't think the Spartans are BCS worthy because of all the hurdles they must overcome on offense. No Le'Veon Bell, no Dion Sims and question marks at every position. The offense will cost Michigan State at least a game or two, even if the overall performance is better. So I can see the Spartans winning more games for sure, but a BCS game probably isn't in the cards.

Scott from DeKalb, Ill., writes: Hey Adam, big fan of the blog.I think Nebraska fans need to slow down with putting Bo Pelini on the hot seat. Sure, Nebraska hasn't won a conference title yet. But they've been consistently good, competing for championships every year (3 conference title game appearances in 5 years, falling 1 second short once). Bo does things the right way and runs a clean program. He's one of just 11(!) coaches in college football history (at BCS schools) to win at least 9 games in each of his first 5 seasons (Another to do the same: Tom Osborne). Only 8 coaches have more wins over the last five years.I'd think Nebraska fans would appreciate what they have, have some patience, and not forget how Tom Osborne's tenure started: lots of 9 and 10 win years (in a much weaker Big 8) and couldn't beat Oklahoma for about a decade (meaning no outright conference titles). It wasn't until his 10th year that the program made the jump and got to 12 wins and then a near-national title the following year. And even after that, there were seasons where they went back to 9-10 wins, including three straight 9 win seasons right before the run of national titles. Maybe Bo can follow that path and lead the Huskers to the next level. Maybe not. But he gives Nebraska quality teams that have a chance every year and I think he deserves to stick around. You're just not going to win a national title every year (recent Alabama notwithstanding), and it's okay to be a touch below that level. It's not 1995, Nebraska. It's more like 1979.

Adam Rittenberg: Some really good thoughts here, Scott. It's important for fans to have some perspective, and the comparisons between Pelini and Osborne are valid. One point you made that often gets overlooked with Pelini is that he runs a clean program. Nebraska performs very well academically as a team and has few major off-field incidents. You could argue the team's character under Pelini has been more admirable than it was under Osborne, even though Osborne won at a higher level. It's also worth noting that few programs, even historically successful ones, have won as much as Nebraska has in the past five seasons.

Nebraska fans have high expectations and rightfully so, as they are some of the best fans in the game and invest greatly in their program. At some point, Pelini must show he can get the Huskers to the next level -- league championships and BCS-level bowls. The consistent success is great, but Nebraska has the ability to go further and Pelini must prove he can get there. But I agree that he shouldn't be on the hot seat this season unless Nebraska manages to lose five or more games.

Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam -More an interesting thought than a question, but I am curious if any in the media have considered this: a heavily favored OSU team runs the table in 2006 with one (ahem: major) hiccup - the NC to an Urban Meyer-coached FL team. This starts the SEC on it's current 7-straight national championships. How odd would it be for OSU to break the SEC's NC run Urban Meyer coached OSU team. I get that a whole lot of things have to happen for a scenario like this to play out, but it'd make an interesting story if it happens.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, I think a lot of us have considered this, and several preseason predictions have Ohio State reaching the BCS title game against an SEC team (typically Alabama). Not as many are picking the Buckeyes to beat the Crimson Tide, but if you polled media about which team will eventually break the SEC's streak, quite a few would pick Meyer and the Buckeyes. It would cement Meyer as one of the game's greatest coaches, especially in the modern era, as he would not only start the SEC's unprecedented run of dominance but end it, too.

Raul from Akron, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, big PSU fan here. What would Penn State be ranked as in the preseasons rankings if eligible?

Adam Rittenberg: Raul, I think Penn State would get some votes in the polls, but I don't think the Lions would be ranked. There are too many concerns about the quarterback position, the loss of an extremely talented senior class and the second year of dealing with major NCAA sanctions. Pollsters have a lot of respect for Bill O'Brien, and those who really study Penn State's roster see talented players like Allen Robinson, Deion Barnes, Adrian Amos and the group of tight ends led by Kyle Carter. But the Lions will be going with an unproven quarterback and lack the depth in the defensive front seven they had in 2012.

Gregg from Baltimore writes: Love the blog. Hazell has impressed me so much this offseason that he seems to be the perfect hire for Purdue. If he does have a lot of success in West Lafayette, could you see him taking a better job in three or four years? Also, predict the starting QB for first BIG game- Henry or Etling?

Adam Rittenberg: Gregg, I've covered this sport long enough to know that almost every coach could/would leave for a so-called better job. If a school like Ohio State came calling, Hazell would have a very tough time saying no because of his ties to the Buckeyes program. But let's see where things go in the next few years. I don't see Hazell hopping from job to job throughout his career if he's having success. Purdue has made a good initial commitment to him. The same must continue if he elevates the Boilers program. I really think Danny Etling will emerge as Purdue's starter before the end of the season. The future is now in West Lafayette, and Etling has really impressed the staff. Will Etling be Purdue's starter for the opener? That's tougher to say. I think Rob Henry gets the nod but Etling eventually overtakes him.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 26, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. Be sure to follow us on Twitter.

To the inbox ...

PCINBVUE from Omaha writes: Hey Adam, not so much a B1G question, but it has to do with the new and controversial "targeting" rule. I do appreciate the reasoning behind it, but I question its effectiveness when called, especially when they say the "Clowney Hit" would be deemed an ejectionable offense. Is it possible that, after a season of potential disagreement and subjectivity, the rule could be nullified?

Adam Rittenberg: I think there has been some confusion about the Clowney hit against Michigan's Vincent Smith, mainly because of comments made by ACC coordinator of football officials Doug Rhoads. I spoke with Big Ten coordinator of football officials Bill Carollo this week, and he said Clowney's hit was legal and didn't merit a penalty, much less a targeting ejection. Carollo said national officials coordinator Rogers Redding is in agreement. Don't be surprised if Rhoads backs off of his comments. The Clowney hit on Smith isn't what the officials are trying to eliminate from the game. It looked a lot worse than it was from a safety standpoint, which is the impetus for the penalty and punishment.

Dan from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Hey, thought I'd write in from over at the Big 12 blog today. Jim Delany made the statement, "We'll stand behind you, so when you're ready to get serious, or when you have the time, we'll support your college education degree for your lifetime." He isn't implying that it is O.K. for "student athletes" to not be "serious" about their education while they're in school as long as they're focusing on football, is he? That'd clearly go against his points about academic focus.

Adam Rittenberg: No, that's not what he was implying. His point is that colleges should support student-athletes throughout their degree process even if it's interrupted along the way. Under Delany's plan, if an athlete turns pro or drops out of school for various reasons, he or she would have the opportunity to return and finish the degree on scholarship. There are a lot of reasons why student-athletes struggle academically, but his point is that when colleges bring them on board to play sports, they should support their educational pursuits to the end, no matter how long it takes.

Brett from Williston Park, N.Y., writes: Purdue hired a new head coach (Darrell Hazell). How will he turn around the program and what do you expect of the Boilermakers who could have just as easily been 8-4 rather then 6-6 last year? They lost to Notre Dame on a time-expiring kick and to Ohio State in OT. Can they make some noise in the BIGTEN this year even with their strength of schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: Are you sure this isn't Danny Hope writing in? Kidding, kidding. Yes, Purdue was a few plays away from beating the only two FBS teams to go through the regular season undefeated. Weird season for Hope's crew. I have high expectations for Hazell's tenure at Purdue, although the job certainly brings some challenges. He has some dynamic young assistants on his staff who should boost recruiting. This year could be tough, however, as Purdue has arguably the Big Ten's most challenging schedule. The Boilers play two BCS bowl teams (Notre Dame and Northern Illinois) plus 10-win Cincinnati in non-league play, and must take on Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders Division, plus Nebraska and Michigan State in crossover games. It could be a rough first season for Hazell as the depth simply isn't there, but things should get better beginning in 2014.

Matt from Ypsilanti, Mich., writes: Before the season starts there is always a lot of teams that are hyped up to be better than they really are. To me, this is the 2nd year in a row that Michigan State is not going to be as good as advertised. Yes they lost 5 games by less than 4 points last year. But they also won 4 games by less than 4 points so it evens out. With 7-6 record last year with less talent on the roster this year (mainly because Bell was a beast) how can people say that MSU will be a contender?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, you bring up a fair point about all of those close games evening out for Michigan State in the standings. The Spartans have had some seasons where they win all the close ones and others where they seem to split them or lose more. The case for Michigan State to contend in 2013 is based around a defense that has been nationally elite in each of the past two seasons and should be once again this fall. The defense should keep MSU in every game. The offense certainly loses a big piece in Le'Veon Bell, but it wasn't that productive with him and can't be much worse. Even marginal improvement by the offense could lead to 3-4 more wins for Mark Dantonio's crew. There certainly are some challenges on that side of the ball, but last year's unit set the bar very low, even with Bell.

Matt from Phoenix writes: Adam, Jim Delany's comments regarding change and the "at-risk" student-athlete sound an awful lot like the partial qualifiers that Nebraska utilized back in the old Big 8 days. Is my assumption correct? Most Husker fans refer to a change in partial qualifier policy as one of their initial grievances against the new Big Texas...I mean Big XII conference. Could you explain the "at-risk" student scenario? And are Delaney's comments in reference to the Big Ten? The NCAA? Or the rumored power conference alliance?

Adam Rittenberg: Matt, I was thinking the same thing about partial qualifiers when Delany outlined his reform plan. His plan is to give at-risk student-athletes a year to acclimate academically without losing a year of eligibility. So these students would take an academic redshirt of sorts and still have four more years left to play their sport. My understanding is all of his proposals would apply at the national level, probably for the so-called "Division 4" group of major revenue-generating institutions.

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, What is the point of rotating between a bowl in Dallas and a bowl in Ft. Worth? The Cotton Bowl is historic and TCU's stadium is brand new. They are only a few miles apart. Why not pick one and stick with it?

Adam Rittenberg: You bring up a good point, Brian, as the other Big Ten bowl rotation -- Gator and Music City -- takes place in two different states and different markets (Jacksonville and Nashville). I haven't seen the opponent conferences for the Heart of Dallas Bowl and Armed Forces Bowl, so that could have something to do with the need for a rotation. We know the Big Ten wants flexibility with this process, which any rotation provides. The Big Ten needed to keep a Texas presence in the postseason, and the Texas Bowl, Alamo Bowl and Sun Bowl didn't seem like realistic possibilities this time around.

Eli from New York writes: I love beating on dead horses, as you've probably noticed from my emails. Here's a nugget I saw on CornNation, one of the Nebraska blogs: "The B1G messed this one up---they had a litany of excuses, but the Black Friday game should have been Nebraska vs. PSU. And purely for TV.---B1G could own that weekend with something like Nebraska-PSU on Friday and Michigan-OSU on Saturday.---Frankly, the difficult time to travel to a game thing always sounded weird to me. I don?t recall attendance problems for any of the previous games, no matter the opponent or the venue. I don't really remember away-team attendance being a critical factor either, except maybe the Colorado games in the waning years. Most of the possible opponents for that game would be similar in drawing mostly from the surrounding area. Other than maybe Wisconsin, none of them are really dependent on student turnout to fill up the stadium." ~--~ Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Eli, Corn Nation brings up a good point about almost any of these games hinging on home fans, most of whom live in the area, showing up and filling seats. I wonder how Penn State fans would feel about a Black Friday game every year. We know Nebraska fans love it, but not every fan base feels the same way about attending a game the day after the holiday. Penn State fans, what say you? I think if Nebraska-Iowa continues to be a dud game, the Big Ten will reevaluate having it as a Black Friday showcase or even on the final regular-season weekend entirely. Big Ten scheduling czar Mark Rudner this week mentioned Nebraska-Wisconsin as a possibility for that weekend, which Nebraska fans likely would welcome. The one drawback with Nebraska-Penn State is it's a cross-division game. Permanent crossovers were a big problem with the initial schedule setup, and the fact the future setup contains only one (Purdue-Indiana) is a good thing in my view.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 19, 2013
Wishing you a great weekend. Big Ten media days coming up next week.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter.

Mochila from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Before getting to my question, I wanted to say one thing. Three years ago, I started coming to this blog to spend a little time during work. Since then, I met many interesting people and even found a wonderful woman (a Nebraska fan) with whom I've been together these past two years. I'd like to thank you and Brian for all the hard work you put in despite constant criticism. If this blog wasn't the best, she and I may never have met. So thank you. To my question: which of the four offensive position groups (QB, RB, WR/TE, OL) has the most to prove for MSU?

Adam Rittenberg: Who needs when you've got the Big Ten blog? Just call me Chuck Woolery (two and two ...). Glad to hear of your success in the blog community, Mochila. All four of Michigan State's offensive position groups have a lot to prove this season. Although the quarterbacks will gain the most attention in preseason camp, I'm going with the running backs here. The Spartans have to replace so much production after losing Le'Veon Bell to the NFL draft, and there are no proven options with the group coming back. Several freshmen will be in the mix, and converted linebacker Riley Bullough made quite the impact after moving to running back late in spring practice. Michigan State undoubtedly needs to boost its passing game, but the offense always will revolve around the run game under coach Mark Dantonio. The backs undoubtedly will be under the microscope.

Brian from Atlanta writes: Adam, As one of those fans that doesn't like all the CA bowls, yes, I like adding Nashville. I also like adding NYC and hopefully DC. Frankly, if the money was the same I'd rather drop the Gator Bowl entirely (Jacksonville is terrible) and just have the Music City Bowl.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, it doesn't look like Washington, D.C., will happen this time around, but New York, Nashville and Detroit certainly provide Big Ten fans some easier bowl travel options. I like the overall variety of the future bowl lineup as opposed to the current one, which is so Florida/Texas/SEC/Big 12-heavy. The Gator Bowl is one I thought could go from the Big Ten's lineup, but the bowl has a long tradition and a traditional Jan. 1 spot, for what that's worth. I've never been to Jacksonville, but I've heard mixed reviews. Just don't tell my guy Rick Pizzo that you're not a fan of The River City.

Michael from Lincoln, Neb., writes: Can we ask the B1G to move Nebraska's game against Wisconsin to the end of the schedule? Since joining all of the Iowa\ NU games have been awful to watch. The NU/UW games have been filled with scoring and bad blood (especially considering the lopsidedness of the two Wisconsin victories). I feel like the (Barry) Alvarez -NU connection and now Eichrost - UW also makes for good drama and that the Huskers have more in common with Badgers.

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, the schedules are set through the 2017 season, and rivalry weekend will continue to feature Nebraska-Iowa and Wisconsin-Minnesota. I like having the Wisconsin-Minnesota game later in the season than it has been in recent years, although you bring up a very valid point about the quality of these matchups. Neither Wisconsin-Minnesota nor Nebraska-Iowa has been a very compelling game as of late. Although two of the three recent Wisconsin-Nebraska games have resulted in Badger blowouts, the other produced a lot of drama last year in Lincoln. And the rivalry potential between the two programs certainly seems real. It's definitely something to monitor, and perhaps the Big Ten will flip the two matchups for 2018 and beyond, pairing Iowa-Minnesota and Wisconsin-Nebraska on that weekend.

Nate from Council Bluffs, Iowa, writes: Despite his eye-catching strength, if he remains healthy through the majority of league play Brandon Scherff will gain attention for his talent as well.What I am wondering is... Why hasn't the media picked up on the fact that Scherff was a QB for two and a half years in high school at Denison and is now a Jr. 2-year starter at left tackle for Iowa.That seems more interesting than when all the broadcasters kept going on about how Greg Bruner lost 20 lbs. one summer by not eating French fries...So... Chad Greenway from QB to Linebacker was an interesting story, but from QB to BCS left tackle is almost unheard of!

Adam Rittenberg: It's definitely a unique transition, Nate, and if Scherff has a big season coming off of injury, I'm sure some will pick up on his backstory. Here's a story I found about Scherff's quarterbacking days, as his high school coach told the Omaha World-Herald: "As a sophomore, he could throw it and he was athletic enough to run it.. And he knew the game. He'd always played it, so the transition to high school quarterback went pretty smooth. As a coach, you always look at what’s best for your football team." Scherff also was a high school pitcher and excelled in the shot put and discus. Former Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said of him, "He can throw. He looks like he might be able to pop the ball in his hand." Pretty cool story.

Josh from Behind Enemy Lines in Florida writes: What is the deal with this Ohio State/Michigan being discussed as they are THE programs in the conference? Over the last 35 years (not a small sample) Nebraska has won more National Titles than the entire conference combined and has a better record than Michigan the last 10 "bad" years too, yet so much of the talk still centers around OSU/Mich being the "elite". Is it simply because Nebraska is the new kid? Is it great PR because of "The Game"? What gives?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, you make some good points here. College football discussion typically is shaped by what has happened recently, most likely in the past 10 years if not five. We'd both agree Ohio State has been a superior program to Nebraska in the past decade. That's why the Buckeyes get their due in terms of hype. Michigan certainly isn't the program it once was, and the talk surrounding Michigan has something to do with the program's traditional place among the Big Ten's elite and its rivalry with Ohio State. But part of it also can be attributed to Michigan's recent recruiting surge under coach Brady Hoke. Right now, Ohio State and Michigan are recruiting at a different level from the rest of the Big Ten. Nebraska's recruiting efforts, while not terrible or anything, haven't exactly moved the needle nationally as of late. I also think the discussion around Nebraska and coach Bo Pelini will change once the Huskers win a conference championship. That's why this season is so important for Big Red.

Jerry Fan from Minneapolis writes: What's your prediction for the Gopher FB program looking out 3-5 years? Do you see Minny ever being competitive or do you see more 6-6 seasons at best?

Adam Rittenberg: It'll be very interesting, Jerry Fan. I think Jerry Kill is an excellent coach with a good staff and a good plan. But I wonder whether Minnesota's recruiting efforts will take the step they need to compete better in Big Ten play. Minnesota seems to benefit from being in the West division, but the Gophers likely need programs like Wisconsin and Northwestern to take steps back in order to move into the upper half of the division/league. It might take a few more 6- or 7-win seasons to reach that next level, but I like Kill's track record in turning around programs and developing players. Minnesota's new facilities plan also should position the program well for the future. Minnesota is fighting a lack of recent tradition and a tough location for recruiting, but I think we'll see improvement in the coming years.

Matt from Omaha writes: With no major breaking stories about conference realignment, what better time than now to talk about my proposed idea. I was watching the Premier League Football (Soccer) a while back and being a novice I recently noticed that some teams can drop out of the premier league if they are unable to keep perform at the top level. That got me thinking that maybe our major conferences should do the same. For example, If the B1G were to expand to lets say to 20 teams. Ten teams could be in the B1G and the other ten could be in the ?sub-B1G?. That way if there are teams that do not the meet standards of high play consistently they could still technically be in the conference, but would have to earn their way back. Granted there are a few kinks to work out, but I think it would be a good way to keep competition high in any conference.

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, just a few kinks, like that whole revenue-sharing thing. It's actually a fun idea and one we sort of explored at back in 2009. We reduced the FBS pool down to 40 teams, and seven current Big Ten teams made the cut: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State. That said, I don't think there's any good reason for the Big Ten to expand to 20 teams. What good additions are out there? Isn't the league watered down enough at 14? It would be fun to see a relegation system in college football and which teams would be on the bubble each year, but I can't see it ever happening.
A group of Big Ten football players, one Big Ten football coach, one Big Ten football team and one unforgettable 7-year-old Nebraska football fan are among the nominees for the BTN awards. The awards show takes place June 26 at 8 p.m. ET.

Here are the football nominees by category ...
  • Penn State's Bill O'Brien is among the nominees for men's coach of the year. He joins Michigan basketball's John Beilein, Indiana soccer's Todd Yeagley, Indiana baseball's Tracy Smith and Penn State wrestling's Cael Sanderson. O'Brien won several national coaching honors after guiding Penn State to an 8-4 mark last season.
  • Northwestern RB Venric Mark and Penn State WR Allen Robinson are nominated for breakout performer of the year. Mark and Robinson are up against two men's basketball players (Michigan's Trey Burke and Indiana's Victor Oladipo).
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball and Michigan QB Denard Robinson both are nominated for most dominating performance. Ball had a career-high 247 rush yards and three touchdowns on Oct. 13 at Purdue, as he set the Big Ten's career rushing record. Robinson scored four touchdowns Sept. 8 against Air Force and became the first FBS player to eclipse 200 rush yards and 200 pass yards three times in his career.
  • Jack Hoffman, the 7-year-old brain cancer patient and Nebraska fan who became a household name with his touchdown run during the Nebraska spring game, is nominated for most courageous performance. Purdue quarterback Robert Marve, who continued to play despite a third ACL tear and helped the Boilers reach a bowl game, also is up for the award. Just a hunch: Hoffman wins this one.
  • The fourth-down stop by Michigan LB Kenny Demens on Northwestern RB Tyris Jones in overtime to seal a Wolverines victory is nominated for best finish, along with three buzzer-beating men's basketball plays.
  • Ohio State's 12-0 football team is up for men's team of the year, along with Indiana soccer, Michigan swimming, Penn State wrestling and Indiana baseball.

There are no football nominees for game of the year.

The Big Ten also will announce its best male athlete and best female athlete of the year at the awards. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell is among the nominees for best male athlete.

Big Ten lunchtime links

June, 14, 2013
On this day, 224 years ago, the Rev. Elijah Craig did something wonderful.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

In the coming days, we'll make our predictions on the Big Ten's statistical leaders in 2013. Today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in rushing this season?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten loses its top three rushers from 2012 -- Montee Ball, Le'Veon Bell and Denard Robinson -- but returns the next seven best ground gainers. That group of seven includes two pairs of teammates in Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah. Although any of the four could lead the league in rushing, it's possible that they'll cancel each other out and take away the carries needed to top the chart. Northwestern's Venric Mark also is in the mix, but like the others, he shares carries with a quarterback (Kain Colter) and should have a deeper group of running backs around him this fall. Penn State's Zach Zwinak hit the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, but he'll be pushed for carries by Bill Belton and dynamic redshirt freshman Akeel Lynch.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe power of RB Carlos Hyde is expected to be put to the test often for Ohio State in 2013.
Wisconsin has a similar situation with its run game as James White and Melvin Gordon will enter the season as 1a and 1b. Of the two, Gordon projects a little bit better as a true featured back, but White is a talented senior who should be a big part of the mix as well. Iowa's Mark Weisman is part of the discussion, too, as he showed the ability to put up monster numbers when healthy in 2012, even for a bad offense. Michigan is on the lookout for a featured back, and while the Wolverines have some question marks along the offensive line, Fitzgerald Toussaint or Derrick Green could be a good wild-card pick.

Bottom line: this isn't an easy decision. Ultimately, I'm going with the guy running behind the league's best offensive line at Ohio State. Hyde will emerge as the Big Ten's leading rusher, edging out Mark, Gordon and Weisman for the title. Ohio State will rely less on Miller to carry the rushing load and use a more traditional power attack behind Hyde, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored 16 touchdowns in only 10 games last fall. Hyde has the power-size combination to thrive as a featured back, and he should get a bigger carries load as a senior, not just in the red zone but everywhere on the field.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

The race for the rushing title should shape up as the most exciting individual battle in the Big Ten this season. The league always produces great runners, and as Adam noted, many of the top ball carriers are back in 2013. In fact, some of the best competitions for rushing yards will happen in the same backfields, as several teams are capable of fielding two 1,000-yard rushers this season.

Hyde is a good choice, especially if he can replicate what he did down the stretch last year for a full season. But Braxton Miller will still run the ball a lot, too, and Ohio State also has the improving Rod Smith, youngsters Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn, plus Jordan Hall and possibly Dontre Wilson. That's a lot of studs who need to be fed.

I'm tempted to take one of the Wisconsin backs, because you can never really go wrong there. But I can envision a scenario where both White and Gordon both put up over 1,000 yards but neither leads the league. Instead, I'm going to go out on an ever-so-slight limb and predict that Nebraska's Abdullah finishes as the Big Ten rushing champ.

Abdullah ran for 1,137 yards last year, and he began the season as Rex Burkhead's backup. He also split carries when Burkhead returned from a knee injury late in the season. Abdullah improved greatly from his freshman to his sophomore year and should be even better as a junior. Though Martinez will take his share of carries, Abdullah really only has one other player -- Imani Cross -- to split time with. The Huskers' offense plays at a fast pace and should get lots of snaps, especially against a pretty soft early schedule. Defenses also can't key on Abdullah because of the presence of Martinez and a talented receiving corps.

Abdullah received 226 carries in 14 games last year, an average of just 16 per game. Assuming he's fully healed from a minor spring knee injury, I could easily see him averaging more like 20-to-22 carries per contest in 2013. If he can improve his five yards per carry average from 2012, Abdullah should make a run at over 1,500 yards and possibly bring the rushing title home to Lincoln.

Big Ten lunch links

June, 6, 2013
Summer, feel free to show up any time. Rainy and 59 in Chicago. Yeesh.

Link time ...

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 24, 2013
Have a great and safe Memorial Day weekend, everybody.
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 3-5 (fourth in Legends division)
Returning starters: Offense: 8; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

LB Max Bullough, CB Darqueze Dennard, LB Denicos Allen, S Isaiah Lewis, DE Marcus Rush, QB Andrew Maxwell, LT Fou Fonoti, C Travis Jackson, WR Aaron Burbridge

Key losses

DE William Gholston, DT Anthony Rashad White, CB Johnny Adams, RB Le'Veon Bell, TE Dion Sims, G Chris McDonald, K Dan Conroy

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Le'Veon Bell (1,793 yards)
Passing: Andrew Maxwell* (2,606 yards)
Receiving: Bennie Fowler* (524 yards)
Tackles: Max Bullough* (111)
Sacks: William Gholston (4.5)
Interceptions: Darqueze Dennard* and Johnny Adams (3)

Spring answers

1. Waynes, Calhoun secure spots: The Spartan Dawgs just keep on rolling. Michigan State's defense didn't have too many major questions entering the spring, but it needed an end to replace William Gholston and a cornerback to play opposite Darqueze Dennard. It found both. Shilique Calhoun, who had a mini-breakout game in the bowl against TCU, secured a starting spot at defensive end. Trae Waynes and fellow sophomore Arjen Colquhoun logged most of the snaps at cornerback as Dennard recovered from hernia surgery, and Waynes did enough to land the No. 1 job.

2. Life of Riley: Riley Bullough opened the spring backing up his big brother Max at middle linebacker. He ended the session as a bulldozing running back, a spot where Michigan State is looking for answers after losing national carries leader Le'Veon Bell to the NFL draft. No other running back distinguished himself in practice, so the coaches moved Riley Bullough to the position, and he did some impressive things. Bullough was Michigan State's leading rusher (46 yards) in the spring game. Although he could move back to linebacker, he gives the Spartans another option in the offensive backfield.

3. Burbridge continues to emerge: The Spartans are searching for offensive playmakers and appear to have found one in sophomore wide receiver Aaron Burbridge. He moved into the starting lineup midway through the 2012 season and provided a bright spot for the struggling receiving corps. Burbridge benefited from a full offseason in the program and capped the spring with a five-catch, 113-yard performance in the Green-White Game. He could emerge as Michigan State's No. 1 receiver and/or push veterans Bennie Fowler and Keith Mumphery.

Fall questions

1. Quarterback quandary: Michigan State is still looking for the man to lead its offense in 2013. Senior Andrew Maxwell started all 13 games last season, and although he did some good things in practices, he didn't separate himself and looked a bit shaky in the spring game. Connor Cook answered the coaches' challenge to improvise when plays broke down, and he'll continue to push Maxwell when fall camp begins. Redshirt freshman Tyler O'Connor and incoming recruit Damion Terry also could be in the mix.

2. Third linebacker: The Spartans boast one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, both of whom enter their third season as starters. Who will line up next to them this fall? It could be Taiwan Jones, who capped the spring with 11 tackles in the Green-White Game. But Jairus Jones, who moved from safety to outside linebacker this spring, is very much in the mix and drew praise from the coaching staff and teammates. Jones made a good transition to linebacker and helps an already strong position group.

3. Man on the run: Riley Bullough's emergence adds a new twist to the running back competition, but nothing is settled entering fall camp. Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford took most of the reps with the first-team offense this spring but didn't separate themselves, and Hill underwent sports hernia surgery last week. The coaches also want to see how incoming freshmen Gerald Holmes, R.J. Shelton and Delton Williams perform when they arrive this summer. Although Michigan State typically has one featured back, it could use more of a committee system this season. But there are definitely questions in the offensive backfield.
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)

Big Ten lunch links

April, 25, 2013
The links are on the clock ...



Saturday, 12/27
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12