Big Ten: Prince Amukamara

Nebraska returns senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and most of the firepower from the Big Ten's top offense in 2012. Most believe the Huskers' season hinges on a young, inconsistent defense under the guidance of coordinator John Papuchis and head coach Bo Pelini.

The Blackshirts finished fourth nationally in pass defense and ninth in pass efficiency defense in 2012, but they struggled against the run (90th nationally) and hemorrhaged points in Nebraska's four losses, surrendering 63 to Ohio State, 70 to Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and 45 to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl. Nebraska must replace all three starting linebackers and its top pass-rusher, Eric Martin, among others. The Huskers return an experienced secondary led by nickelback Ciante Evans. caught up with Papuchis earlier this month to discuss the state of the Nebraska defense.

After looking at the unit during spring practices, what were some of your big takeaways from their performance?

John Papuchis: That's an interesting question because what I've been doing the last couple weeks is going back and looking at our spring cutups. One thing that jumped out to me, after having a little bit of time away from it, was that we improved pretty significantly and steadily as the spring went on. From the first practice to the 14th practice leading up to the spring game, we were much crisper in our alignments and understanding our assignments, we played faster. There was just a lot of development that took place over the course of those 14 practices. We're a young group, and we're going to need all 29 practices before we kick it off against Wyoming.

[+] EnlargeJohn Papuchis
AP Photo/Nati HarnikJohn Papuchis knows his defense will need to be better against the run after finishing 90th in the nation last season.
Were there specific areas or groups where you saw the most improvement, or was it across the board?

JP: Each position group has its own learning curve. Defensive line, we are relatively young, so for a lot of those guys, it was their first opportunity to really get coached. Where I saw the improvement had more to do with technique than it ever had to do with scheme. They had a pretty good feel of the scheme; it's a little bit simpler in terms of what they're asked to execute. Linebacker, another young group, and where I really saw their improvement was just better understanding of alignment and where they fit in the run game and the pass game. And then in the secondary, where we are a little bit more mature, Ciante Evans, Stanley Baptiste, Mo Seisay, Harvey Jackson, Corey Cooper, where I really saw those guys make a jump is just a better feel of the nuances of the defense. They were kind of a little bit ahead, the linebackers and D-line, and they showed improvement as spring went on, but it was kind of Level 2 and Level 3 improvement, as opposed to just the basics.

Who do you look for to be leaders up front and with the linebackers, and how much competition do you anticipate with those groups?

JP: There's going to be a ton of competition, and that's going to be a good thing for us. Really since I've been here, the way things have fallen, a lot of times going into camp, you have a pretty good idea of who your core guys are going to be. And although we have an idea right now, there are some spots that need to be ironed out. In terms of leadership, Jason Ankrah and Thad Randle across the front. Both of those guys are fifth-year seniors and have been in the program a long time. Jason has started and played a lot of games for us. Thad has been a little nicked up the last two years. But both of them have done a nice job of being leaders through the offseason.

Linebacker, we're young, but the one guy who has some pretty good playing experience is David Santos. He's done a good job of taking that leadership role. And another guy who has been in the program for a while and has played on special teams, and has always been one play away from having a more significant role is Trevor Roach. He's done a nice job of being a leader and more of a veteran guy with that group.

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Big Ten Friday mailblog

August, 31, 2012
Enjoy the games tonight and tomorrow. I know I will.

Joe from Saline, Mich., writes: Before we can label the Wolverines as "back" don't they have to start beating the upper end B1G teams? Over the past 4 years they have gone 2-13 against MSU, OSU, PSU, Wisconsin and Iowa.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, you're right that Michigan needs to record some key wins against the Big Ten's best. That said, a win against the defending national champion at a neutral site would show Michigan once again belongs among the nation's elite. No Big Ten program has done what Alabama has under Nick Saban in recent years, so you could argue a win Saturday night would be bigger than any win Michigan could record against a Big Ten power this season. It wouldn't mean much if the Wolverines fell apart in conference play, but that seems unlikely. Bottom line: Michigan needs to end the losing streaks against Michigan State and Iowa, and record a win against a quality Ohio State team (last year's squad wasn't). But beating Alabama would be huge for Brady Hoke and his program.

Zach from Ames, Iowa, writes: Adam, Nebraska is optimistic about the defense returning to prominence this fall. I have agreed to a certain degree because the depth is better, except when I read that Ciante Evans is a budding star out of Lincoln, I begin to get a little skeptical. Evans was a huge weakness in the secondary last year, especially in games against Fresno St, Washington, Ohio St and Northwestern. So much so that they converted Corey Cooper and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from safety and wide receiver at one point. Is Nebraska that desperate for star power that were banking on Evans to blossom into the next Prince Amukamara or Alfonso Dennard? Say it ain't so.

Adam Rittenberg: Zach, while I understand your concern about Evans, who entered last season with some hype and didn't back it up, I wouldn't write him off, either. He seems to have taken accountability during the offseason and improved his play during spring practice and into fall camp. Players can make strides after a tough season, and Evans, by most accounts, has a better understanding of the defense and the nickel position. I don't think Nebraska needs Evans to be Amukamara or Dennard. While it'd be nice if a superstar cornerback or two emerged, the secondary's overall depth should be strong enough this season. I don't see the excitement about Evans as a cause for panic.

FFXLion from Washington D.C., writes: Glad that the season is finally upon us. You and Brian did pre-season predictions for the B1G. For fun, my 13 year old son did predictions, which I shared in the comments on the blog. He was high on the Legends Division and couldn't really separate UM, MSU and Nebraska (in his mind, at least), so he predicted a 3-way tie among these teams at 7-1 in conference. While you could debate whether this is plausible, it did generate a lot of discussions about 3-way tiebreakers, and it would seem that this particular hypothetical tie would be broken by BCS standings. My question to you: If these teams end up tied this way, who do you think is MOST likely to get to the CCG, and why? And, who do you think would be least likely?

Adam Rittenberg: FFX, the final BCS standings no longer play nearly as big a factor in the Big Ten's tiebreaker system. We went over this on the blog last year, but it's always good to rehash.
  • If three teams finished tied atop a division, you first look at their records against each other
  • If one team defeated the two others, it would go to Indy as the division winner
  • The next tiebreaker is records within the division. So if two teams had a division loss and the other had a loss outside the division, the one with the loss outside the division would go
  • The next tiebreaker is records against the next best team in the division (fourth place)

You have to go way down the tiebreaker list before the final BCS standings come into play. Bottom line: it's a lot easier to break ties now within divisions because all the teams play each another.

Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, ESPN's recent focus on the Heisman helped me remember a major question I had last year. As a Buckeye fan, how did Montee(ay) Ball NOT win the Heisman last year? I understand that Wisconsin did not win the NC, and maybe they didn't have as tough a schedule as others, but come on! It's not like he was playing in the MAC? This is the Big Ten! Who did RG3 play? Did they win the NC? Seriously think about this, what did Ball have to do in order to win it? He had the 2nd greatest RB season EVER! There can't be more of an obvious prejudice against the Big Ten or a more overlooked player EVER. What's "their" argument? Please, tell me.

Adam Rittenberg: Paul, some good points. As Brian Bennett has pointed out several times, Ball's 2011 season likely will gain more appreciation in time than it did when it actually happened. His numbers are insane, and he recorded them in a power conference. Several factors worked against him, some of which illustrate problems with the Heisman race. Wisconsin promoting quarterback Russell Wilson for the Heisman -- and justifiably so -- before Ball didn't help Ball's cause. You also had another running back in Trent Richardson who played for a team (Alabama) and in a league (SEC) more highly regarded Wisconsin and the Big Ten. Griffin was a more familiar name nationally than Ball, and while you can argue the Big 12 was meh, most folks would say the same about the Big Ten in 2011. I think Griffin deserved the Heisman and voted for him, but Ball should have gained more serious consideration for the award and finished higher in the final voting. It also would have helped if Wisconsin had stayed in the national title picture longer. And yes, scheduling plays a role. Ball would have benefited from a big performance against another elite team from a top conference in September.

Mark from Wilmette, Ill., writes: How many mailbags do I have to read before there's a question about my beloved Northwestern Wildcats? Here's one for you: what are the chances NU exceeds expectations this season? With a defense that can't be any worse than last year, and an offense led by the dynamic Kain Colter, I think we could win 8 games this season. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Ask and you shall receive, Mark. The two big question marks for Northwestern are the secondary and the offensive line. One has been historically bad; the other looks a little shaky entering the season. If both units are above average, Northwestern has a chance to win eight or more games, especially if it capitalizes on what should be a favorable opening schedule. The Wildcats can't get shredded by every quarterback they face. Part of that is having a better pass rush than in 2011, when Northwestern rarely generated any pressure. But another part is having more athletes and playmakers in the secondary. Colter is a stud and could turn out be the best fit Northwestern has had at the helm of its spread offense. But the Wildcats also need to run the ball and get more contributions from the running back position, which has been a weakness under Pat Fitzgerald. The line needs to perform like it did in last year's Nebraska game more often. If it does, Northwestern can surprise some folks in the Legends Division.

Michael from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: In your latest article you said that Michigan has had a historical bad defense... I couldn't disagree more. I think the backbone of Michigans national prominence in the last 20 years (barring the last 5 or so) has been their defense. Can you please explain your position with some concrete stats. Without a further explanation, I have no choice but to disagree with you which is frustrating because I have enjoyed and trusted your writing for a long time.Sincerely-A proud Michigan fan

Adam Rittenberg: Michael, I think you misread that statement. I wrote that Michigan had a historically bad defense from 2008-10 under Rich Rodriguez. Do you really need me to rehash those painful stats? Here's one: Michigan finished 110th in total defense in 2010, allowing more than 450 yards per game. That's historically bad for U-M. Of course, the program's history is steeped in great defenses. But that particular period saw a major decline. Fortunately, Hoke and his staff have things on the right track again.

Nathan from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, for weeks I've been reading comments and questions from other readers about their disappointment in MSU being ranked so highly among you and Brian and other outlets picking them to win the division and possible Rose Bowl Berth because of the fact that they lost so much on offense. While I agree that starting three brand new receivers with little to no game experience is a little unorthodox and rarely happens, EVERY team in the country starts a new QB every 2-3 years with them also having little to no game experience. Why is the fact that Andrew Maxwell is a new starter causing such a huge fuss among people? Even if it's clear that he is further along than Cousins was at this point and could possibly be better by being in the program for four years now?

Adam Rittenberg: Nathan, you make a good point about the nature of college football and the quarterback transitions we see every 2-3 years at virtually every program. I think folks who don't know Maxwell's background assume he's going to fall apart on Friday night, which, in fairness, he might. But he's not a true freshman who has never stepped on a field with Big Ten defenders. He practices against a very good defense in East Lansing, and he has prepared for this moment for more than two years. I don't think you can say he's further along than Cousins was at this point until you see him play an entire game, but the Boise State matchup will provide a great gauge of his progress.

Dan from Omaha writes: Not sure I agree with your choice on who has the most to lose. Really, I'm not sure Penn State has much to lose...given their situation, I feel most would be sympathetic for at least this season, given the player turnover, the events that have taken place over the last several months, a new head coach, and Ohio being a generally solid team. I almost feel like Michigan could have the most to lose, and not just for themselves but for the conference as a whole. Getting blown out by Alabama could not only be demoralizing for the Wolverines, it could further a generally negative perception of the conference in terms of strength. Playing close or winning the game would provide a huge jolt to their own players' confidence, as well as give the conference a much needed shot in the arm in terms of perceived strength. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, some good points. You might have missed it in the lead-in, but Brian and I both feel Michigan State has the most to lose in Week 1. The Spartans get a new-look Boise State team in their house, and send an elite defense against a first-time starting quarterback. They have to get that win. We framed the question as, "besides Michigan State, who has the most to lose?" Michigan is an interesting option, and I agree that a blowout loss would do some damage for the Wolverines and certainly for the Big Ten. But the Wolverines are still building their program in Year 2 of the Brady Hoke era. No one expects them to beat Alabama, and a loss, even of the blowout variety, wouldn't be the end of the world. They still have opportunities to make strides against Notre Dame, MSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, etc. I don't think there would be the doom-and-gloom in Ann Arbor after a blowout loss like there would be in State College after a game Penn State is supposed to win and needs to win after such a tough offseason.

John from Johnson City, Tenn., writes: Your Purdue best/worst case scenarios were spot on except for two things: 1) Your missing 3 ACL tears and 2) Purdue athletes only seem to get arrested at poorly named Where Else?

Adam Rittenberg: I still have a soft spot for Harry's, but the track record at Where Else? suggests that's where bad things happen for the Boilers. You're right about including the ACLs (although I hope that trend ends at Purdue). Maybe there's an APPACLHG (Angry Purdue Player ACL Hating God) lurking around West Lafayette. He must be stopped.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 18, 2012
Shut up and play the hits.

Big Ten lunchtime links

May, 2, 2012
Hey, didn't you use to be Albert Pujols?

Big Ten mailblog

February, 28, 2012
Let's get to it.

Chris from Chicago writes: Hey Adam — very interesting post about recruiting and player development.I think that fanbases are generally going to make the (probably too basic) assumption that more is better. Two main aspects in judging a program is how well they recruit and how well they develop players. So while the B1G has excelled at player development, fans are always going to want more ...Using Nebraska as an example, sending 16 players to the NFL combine is fantastic. Having none of those players be former ESPNU 150 recruits is always going to lead that fanbase to wonder 'How much better would we have been if we'd landed top recruits?' Not a question here — just trying to offer some explanation. I am guilty of this too — I think many fans (incorrectly) assume all things are equal and that player development is great, but it's dependent on where players begin (3*, 4*, 5*). I am a Michigan fan. I am very happy with the two classes Hoke has brought in and the one he's building now. Do I expect a roster full of All-Americans? Not necessarily. But I do have some hope in that — and having 18-22 recruits outside of the ESPNU 150 isn't going to garner that same hope.

Adam Rittenberg: Excellent perspective here, Chris. I agree that fans are always going to want more, and it's interesting to wonder what coaches like Bo Pelini, Kirk Ferentz and Bret Bielema could do with supposedly better recruits. Then again, it's hard to think Pelini could do much better than a player like cornerback Prince Amukamara, a first-round pick in the 2011 draft who came to Nebraska as a three-star running back. I just think it's important for fans to be realistic about star ratings, as there are so many NFL players that were lightly recruited or went to smaller colleges or were late bloomers. It's fine to get excited, don't get me wrong, but recruiting ratings are only one component. Michigan fans should not only be excited about the recruits but the coaches who are there to develop them. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

Derrick from Brooklyn, N.Y., writes: Any chance Mike Minter gets a shot to be the new DB coach at Nebraska?

Adam Rittenberg: Minter's name came up immediately after the news about Corey Raymond's departure to LSU. The Lincoln Journal Star's Steve Sipple writes today that he hears Minter would be interested in the position if Nebraska approaches him. The former Huskers star is coaching on Turner Gill's staff at Liberty University (special teams coordinator) and has coached in Division II and at a North Carolina high school. Pelini has to act quickly as spring ball kicks off March 10. He could look internally, but if he looks outside, Minter would be an intriguing choice. He certainly knows his way around.

John from Portola Valley, Calif., writes: Dear Adam, I love Michigan State football, but don't understand why they are considered to be a great team in the 2012 season. Coach Dantonio is an amazing coach and I feel like he is giving them a lot of momentum, but the team is losing huge assets such as Kirk Cousins, Jerel Worthy and B.J. Cunningham. Also, their incoming recruiting class wasn't ranked in the top 25. Michigan State plays a tough schedule with top tier recruits such as Ohio State ranked 6th according to recruiting nation, Michigan ranked 7th and Notre Dame ranked 9th. Why are they still considered to be in the hunt for the 2012 Big Ten Championship?

Adam Rittenberg: John, those players are significant individual losses, and Michigan State will have its share of question marks entering the 2012 season. But I wouldn't base my list of Big Ten title contenders solely on their 2012 recruiting classes. Many of those players will be redshirting, and only a handful will have a significant impact on the 2012 campaign. If you want to be more accurate, look at the recruiting classes in from 2009-11, which were strong at Michigan State. These classes will have a greater impact on the 2012 season than the most recent one, which, by the way, wasn't too shabby, either.

Michigan State will be a deeper team on defense despite losing Worthy, and while the Spartans need a redshirt freshman or two to step up at defensive tackle, there's a lot to like at defensive end (William Gholston), linebacker (Denicos Allen, Max Bullough) and in the secondary. Cousins is a big loss, but Andrew Maxwell has been groomed to step in at QB. Cunningham will be very tough to replace, and receiver is a big question mark.

Eric from Chicago writes: "...Big Ten teams, while signing fewer of the nation's elite recruits, continue to develop players for the next level. "Isn't it far more likely that recruits are over-evaluated in the South and under-evaluated in the B1G footprint? Rivals, for example, didn't even have a midwest analyst until a few months ago. This doesn't require a conspiracy. The hype over NCAA football in the SEC means that fans there are more receptive consumers of recruiting information and these publications are serving the market.

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, you're not the only one with this view. Let me just say this: there are also a ton of fans in Midwest, and the Big Ten blog traffic numbers confirm this (even in relation to the SEC blog). I can assure you fans in the Midwest are just as passionate about recruiting as those in the south and southeast. The population demographics are what they are, and I do believe there's more talent in the south and southeast than there is in the Midwest. Is there some overvaluing and undervaluing? Without a doubt. Are there elite players in the Big Ten's backyard? Without a doubt. But I don't think it's a grand conspiracy when multiple recruiting analysts from multiple media organizations rate more elite prospects from the south and southeast than any other region.

Bill from South Korea writes: Adam, I believe that the B1G made a mistake by overlooking Missouri as an expansion candidate. I would love to see an 8 Super-Conference FBS with a definitive championship format. The B1G could have led the way by taking Missouri, Maryland, Rutgers, and West Virginia when they accepted Nebraska. Please take a pass on the Notre Dame worship. That's yesterday's news. Nebraska was a great addition but more was on the table for the taking. I think it is highly unlikely that Missouri would ever move to the B1G from the SEC. My concern is that other conferences are making moves now to add quality programs which may leave the B1G picking up scraps later. I know that the schools I chose are debatable but I concentrated on location, current facilities, and fan base. These factors all equate to income and costs. Kansas would be good but I believe they are linked in an undesirable marriage (KU/KSU). Do you think the B1G will enter the second round of conference expansion anytime soon?

Adam Rittenberg: Bill, it's funny, I started thinking about the Big Ten and Missouri while watching the epic Missouri-Kansas basketball game on Saturday afternoon. The Big Ten did consider Missouri during the expansion process, but some of the public statements by the Missouri governor and others about wanting to be in the Big Ten so badly turned off some of the folks around the league.

It comes down to whether you think the Big Ten should expand beyond 12. The Big Ten presidents have made it clear they're happy at 12, and I still believe Nebraska is a stronger addition than Missouri because of its football brand. In a multi-team expansion, Missouri would have made sense, as would programs like Maryland and Rutgers. West Virginia isn't a cultural fit at all in the Big Ten and would never be admitted, so you can forget that one. Will the Big Ten look at another expansion? It's certainly possible, especially if the SEC continues to get stronger at 14. But for now, the presidents are comfortable at 12.

Phillip from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam. You said Purdue and Nebraska would be the most impacted by the new kickoff rules, but impact goes both ways. It seems this rule change helps mitigate one of Wisconsin's most glaring issues. If the new kickoff rules were implemented last season, does Wisconsin finish the regular season undefeated?

Adam Rittenberg: You never know, Phillip, but I think Wisconsin would have benefited more from a new rule limiting the number of players who can try and block a punt (except in the Big Ten title game, of course, where it worked out in the Badgers' favor). Kick coverage has been a weak spot for Wisconsin in recent years, as the Badgers ranked 83rd in 2011, 103rd in 2010 and 119th in 2009.

Nate from Mankato, Minn., writes: Adam, repeatedly you guys talk about how the Iowa defense was disappointing. Yes Prater struggled, and they did have some injuries, but what more was expected of that group? At their losses at Minnesota, Nebraska, and Penn State, as well as their loss in Tempe to Oklahoma, it was definitely not on the defense. Yes, their numbers weren't very good, but who expected them to have good numbers? It was a rebuilding year, and the defense, in my mind, played well for what was expected.

Adam Rittenberg: Nate, you make some good points, but I felt Iowa had achieved a certain level of consistency on defense and could survive some key personnel losses. No doubt it's very tough to replace three starting defensive linemen selected in the NFL draft. And losing two multiyear starters at safety (Tyler Sash, Brett Greenwood) hurt the Hawkeyes. I just felt the defense would be average rather than below average. Iowa had only 10 interceptions, and opponents completed 62 percent of their passes against the Hawks. You look at games like Michigan State, Iowa State and even Northwestern and Pitt. Iowa gave up more than 420 yards in each of those games. Maybe I've been a bit unfair, but I thought Iowa had reached a certain standard on defense and would be able to maintain it despite some personnel turnover.
Fourteen former Big Ten players will soon be the proud owners of new Super Bowl championship rings.

The league had 23 players on the two Super Bowl squads, and several played key roles in the New York Giants' victory against New England. Michigan product Mario Manningham had five catches for 73 yards, including the spectacular 38-yard reception that sparked the game-winning drive. Illinois' Steve Weatherford averaged 40.8 yards on four punts and placed three inside the Patriots' 10-yard line. It was a tough night for Big Ten tight ends, as Ohio State's Jake Ballard and Wisconsin's Travis Beckum each suffered knee injuries during the game. But both won rings.

The entire list of the 14 former Big Ten players who were on the Giants' championship team is as follows:
Several Giants coaches also have Big Ties, including offensive line coach Pat Flaherty (a former assistant at Iowa and Penn State), secondary and cornerbacks coach Peter Giunta (ex-assistant at Penn State), linebackers coach Jim Herrmann (former player and assistant at Michigan), and running backs coach Jerald Ingram (ex-player and graduate assistant at Michigan).

The Patriots had eight former Big Ten players on the roster, led by Tom Brady. While Brady failed to win his fourth title, he did set a Super Bowl record with 16 consecutive completions during the game.

And, of course, Bill O'Brien finished his duties as New England offensive coordinator and can now concentrate on being Penn State's new head coach.
On Saturday night, Nebraska's defenders shook hands with an unfamiliar opponent and then walked out of an unfamiliar stadium with an unfamiliar feeling.

They had surrendered 48 points, 486 yards and 27 first downs. Not counting a kneel-down at the end of the first half, Wisconsin reached the end zone on its final five offensive possessions.

Although Nebraska's defensive performances against Fresno State and Washington raised a few red flags, the alarms didn't truly go off in Lincoln until Saturday night. It marked the Blackshirts' worst performance since Oklahoma slapped 62 points on them in November 2008, Bo Pelini's first season as Huskers coach.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Brace Hemmelgarn/US PresswireNebraska could do little to slow down Montee Ball and the Badgers as Wisconsin put up 486 yards of total offense and scored 7 touchdowns.
Pelini's first Huskers defense was a rebuilding project, a unit still reeling from the Callahan years. This year's D, despite losing several standouts, including first-round draft pick Prince Amukamara, still had star power and high hopes of being a championship-level unit.

What's going on with the Blackshirts?

"Youth, maturity," Pelini said Monday. "We had a number of guys we had to replace. It is one things to do it in practice and another when the bullets are flying. You have to do it. At the end of the day, we were in position [at Wisconsin], we just didn't make a play.

"It's not magical."

Neither is the solution. You might see some different faces in different places Saturday night against reeling Ohio State, but Pelini has a proven formula on defense, and he doesn't plan to deviate from it.

Despite pedestrian numbers -- Nebraska ranks 64th or worse nationally in total defense, scoring defense, rush defense or pass defense -- Pelini thinks the unit is "not real far off."

"You make subtle changes," he said. "You don't overhaul. ... It's about execution, technique and fundamentals. You stay the course. Does that mean you don't make adjustments? That's asinine. You just keep working to get better."

The Blackshirts were a supremely confident group when I visited with them this spring in Lincoln. Little changed even after they allowed 67 points combined to Fresno State and Washington.

But the defense seemed to let up in the second half in Madison. Wisconsin RB Montee Ball told that he saw Nebraska's defenders wearing down.

"I could see that in some people," Huskers cornerback Alfonzo Dennard told on Monday. "Myself, I knew the game wasn't over, but I was kind of down on our secondary because I knew we could play better than that. No doubt Wisconsin is a great team, but we really bet ourselves really, in not competing like we should."

Nebraska might not see an offense like Wisconsin's for the rest of the season -- both from a schematic standpoint and a production standpoint -- but the Huskers' move to the Big Ten will prompt some adjustments on defense. Pelini acknowledges that he recruited more safety-linebacker hybrid players in the spread-heavy Big 12, while the power football played by Wisconsin and other Big Ten teams (Iowa, Michigan State) requires a different mix.

"We need to get more linebackers in here for depth reasons," he said. "You can't fix that so soon. Our blueprint will change, but it's nothing drastic."

Dennard called the loss "a wake-up call." The unit has a great opportunity to revive itself this week against Ohio State, which ranks last in the Big Ten and 108th nationally in total offense (308.2).

Buckeyes freshman quarterback Braxton Miller will make his first career road start in a hostile setting in Lincoln. Ohio State on Saturday came 10 seconds away from suffering its first home shutout since 1982.

"It's very important," Dennard said. "We don't want to have people thinking because we had a bad game at Wisconsin that we've got a bad defense. I just hope we go into Ohio State and have fun and compete more, get our hands on balls and play our game.

"I don't think they've got a bad offense. They're pretty average. And they want to win just as much as we do."

Dennard remains hopeful about the defense's potential but admits he's "not sure yet" how good the Blackshirts can be. He knows the group isn't far away from breaking through.

"We're right at the edge," he said. "We just have to fix a few things and we'll be right there."
It's time to get serious as the Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and potential impact for the 2011 season, have entered the top 5.

Up next ...

No. 5: Lavonte David, LB, Nebraska, Sr., 6-1, 225

2010 numbers: Led the Big 12 and set a team record with 152 tackles (84); finished 11th nationally in tackles per game (10.9); finished second on the team in tackles for loss (15), sacks (6) and pass breakups (10); finished seventh in the Big 12 in tackles for loss and ninth in sacks; ranked fourth on the team with seven quarterback hurries

Why he's here: The numbers certainly jump out, but David's 2010 performance is even more impressive when you consider all the responsibility he shouldered in his first FBS season. The junior college transfer at times was Nebraska's lone linebacker on the field, and he often made the defensive play calls. He displayed tremendous speed and tackling ability, and a relentless knack for being around the football. A unanimous first-team All-Big 12 selection, David earned second-team AP All-America honors and was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by the league's coaches. He was named MVP of the Blackshirts, a unit that featured a first-round draft pick in cornerback Prince Amukamara, three total draft picks and other standouts like tackle Jared Crick. David addressed size concerns during the offseason by adding 10-15 pounds and should be more sturdier for the Big Ten. Nebraska has more help at linebacker as Will Compton and Sean Fisher are healthy, but David will continue to lead the way this fall.

  • No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
  • No. 24: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
  • No. 23: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
  • No. 22: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
  • No. 21: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
  • No. 20: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
  • No. 19: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
  • No. 18: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
  • No. 17: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
  • No. 16: Derek Moye, WR, Penn State
  • No. 15: Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
  • No. 14: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
  • No. 13: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
  • No. 12: David Molk, C, Michigan
  • No .11: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
  • No. 10: Mike Martin, DT, Michigan
  • No. 9: Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan State
  • No. 8: Riley Reiff, LT, Iowa
  • No. 7: James White, RB, Wisconsin
  • No. 6: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and potential impact for the 2011 season, march on with ...

No. 13: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska, Sr., 5-10, 205

2010 numbers: Started 13 games; recorded four interceptions, which ranked fifth in the Big 12; had seven pass breakups and 30 tackles, a forced fumble and a quarterback hurry

Why he's here: Overshadowed by All-American Prince Amukamara the past two seasons, Dennard will be in the spotlight this fall as Nebraska's No. 1 cornerback and one of the best in the country. He showed big-play ability with the four interceptions and helped Nebraska finish third nationally in pass efficiency defense and fifth in passing yards allowed. Dennard earned second-team All-Big 12 honors from the league's coaches and was a first-team all-conference selection on colleague David Ubben's ballot. The senior's presence certainly softens the blow of losing Amukamara and gives Nebraska a top cover man against the Big Ten's top receivers. Dennard is the Blackshirts' third national awards candidate alongside linebacker Lavonte David and tackle Jared Crick.


  • No. 25: Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin
  • No. 24: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
  • No. 23: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
  • No. 22: Shaun Prater, CB, Iowa
  • No. 21: Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois
  • No. 20: John Simon, DL, Ohio State
  • No. 19: Ricardo Allen, CB, Purdue
  • No. 18: Russell Wilson, QB, Wisconsin
  • No. 17: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
  • No. 16: Derek Moye, WR, Penn State
  • No. 15: Jeremy Ebert, WR, Northwestern
  • No. 14: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
Let's delve a bit deeper into the Big Ten secondaries by breaking down the league's top cornerbacks entering 2011.

This group could be one of the league's best, as it features a nice mix of established veterans and budding young players. Only two Big Ten cornerbacks -- Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus -- made the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, but I expect several more players to make their way onto the radar in the coming months.

Here's the rundown ...

1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, senior: He's the final member of Nebraska’s triumvirate on defense along with tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David. Dennard earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 after recording 30 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes defended. After working alongside All-American Prince Amukamara, Denard is ready to take center stage.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Allen
Andrew Weber/US PresswirePurdue's Ricardo Allen, 21, shown returning an interception for a TD last season against Michigan State, is one of the Big Ten's top cornerbacks.
2. Ricardo Allen, Purdue, sophomore: Get to know this name, Big Ten fans. Allen is one of the nation’s most dynamic young defensive backs. He recorded three interceptions in 2010, returning two for touchdowns, and finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles. Just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Allen uses an aggressive style that's a lot of fun to watch.

3. Shaun Prater, Iowa, senior: Prater considered a jump to the NFL before returning to Iowa, where he'll lead a new-look secondary in 2011. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after recording four interceptions, 10 passes defended, a fumble recovery and 68 tackles. After losing two multiyear starters at safety, Iowa needs Prater to shut down one half of the field this fall.

4. Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin, senior: Fenelus played an integral role in the Badgers' overall improvement as a playmaking secondary in 2010. He led the team in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and finished second in fumbles recovered (2). The media rewarded Fenelus by selecting him first-team All-Big Ten. He forms a solid cornerback tandem with Devin Smith.

5. D'Anton Lynn, Penn State, senior: Lynn took a significant step forward in 2010 and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He emerged in the second half of the season and finished with 75 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery. Penn State's secondary will be a strength this fall, and Lynn will showcase his talents against the Big Ten's top receivers.

6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State, junior: Here's another player who appears to be on the verge of big things in 2011. Adams surged throughout spring practice and was the first player selected in Michigan State's spring game draft. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches last season after recording three interceptions and 10 passes defended. Adams also had a forced fumble and recovered a blocked punt that helped cap Michigan State's come-from-behind win against Purdue.

7. Jordan Mabin, Northwestern, senior: Mabin is the Big Ten's most experienced cornerback, as he enters his fourth season as a starter and boasts 37 career starts. After a so-so-sophomore season in 2009, Mabin earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season, as he led the Big Ten and tied for 12th nationally in passes defended with 15 (1.15 per game). He capped his season with a pick-six in the TicketCity Bowl and should be in the mix for All-Conference honors this season.

8. Travis Howard, Ohio State, junior: This is a projection pick, as Howard moves into a featured role this fall after playing behind Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence. He showed some promise in 2010 with two interceptions, four passes defended and a fumble recovery in limited action. There's a lot of buzz about Howard entering the fall as Ohio State looks for its next shutdown corner.

9. Tavon Wilson, Illinois, senior: A rash of injuries forced Wilson to move to safety in 2010, but he's back at his preferred position entering the fall. He recorded 74 tackles, an interception and seven pass breakups at cornerback in 2009 and continued to make plays at safety last season, leading the team in passes defended (9) and adding an interception and two fumble recoveries. Wilson brings versatility to a secondary that might take a big step forward this season.

10. Josh Johnson, Purdue, junior: Allen garnered much of the attention in 2010, but Johnson forms a nice complement on the other side. He tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and added an interception, seven passes defended, a fumble recovery and 53 tackles. Johnson's playmaking ability should come in handy, especially if opposing teams start throwing away from Allen.

Just missed the cut: Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, Michigan's Troy Woolfolk, Illinois' Terry Hawthorne, Wisconsin's Devin Smith.

The Big Ten preseason position rankings have reached the home stretch as we take a look at the defensive secondaries. Although individual positions like center and defensive tackle could boast more star power, the Big Ten's overall strength in the secondary jumps out.

There's a lot to like about the Big Ten cornerbacks as nearly every team boasts experience and/or exciting young players. The Big Ten loses All-Conference safeties Tyler Sash and Jermale Hines but brings back quite a few solid contributors.

There's definite separation after the top four groups, while Nos. 5-9 are extremely close.

Here's the rundown (coming soon: cornerbacks and safeties rankings) ...

1. Penn State: The Lions' linebackers seem to be generating more preseason buzz, but I really like what Penn State brings back in the defensive backfield. There's plenty of experience with safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris. Penn State needs Sukay to regain the form he showed in the first half of 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Lynn is a bona fide All-Big Ten candidate. If Malcolm Willis, Chaz Powell and others solidify depth here, Penn State should have an elite secondary.

2. Ohio State: This is a group the Buckeyes rarely have to worry about, even after losing three starters. The good news is several key players return from injuries, including safeties Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. Moeller should provide a major boost at the "star" position. The cornerback spots should be fun to watch as Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke fend off some challengers for the starting jobs.

3. Nebraska: Like Ohio State, Nebraska can rely on having an elite pass defense under the Pelini brothers, even after losing several standout players. All-American corner Prince Amukamara will be missed, but Alfonzo Dennard is ready for a starring role. Nebraska needs Ciante Evans to follow what Dennard did in 2010. The Huskers likely will use more linebackers this year, but they'll need to fill holes at safety as Austin Cassidy, Courtney Osborne and others are in the mix.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers' secondary took a major step forward in Chris Ash's first season on the staff. The key is continued progress, continued playmaking and becoming a truly elite group like Ohio State and Nebraska. Wisconsin seems to have the pieces in place with veteran Aaron Henry at safety, as well as All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith at cornerback. The Badgers must fill the other safety spot, and speedster Shelton Johnson could fill in there.

5. Michigan State: The secondary triggered Michigan State's 2010 turnaround, improving from 112th nationally in pass defense in 2009 to 60th last season. After recording 17 interceptions last year, the Spartans must stick to their MAP motto -- Make A Play -- as they aim for a repeat championship this fall. Safety Trenton Robinson is among the league's most experienced defensive backs, and hopes are high for cornerback Johnny Adams, who had an excellent spring. The unit could hinge on young players like Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis and Tony Lippett.

6. Iowa: The bad news is Iowa loses veteran safeties Sash and Brett Greenwood from a defense that slipped to 84th nationally against the pass in 2010. The good news is All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater returns along with playmaking junior Micah Hyde. Prater could be a shut-down corner this fall, and Hyde, whose pick-six won the Insight Bowl, could play either corner or safety. Iowa must build depth around them with Jordan Bernstine, Greg Castillo, Tanner Miller and others.

7. Purdue: One of the Boilers' big question marks entering 2010 turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and the secondary could be a big strength this fall. Here's a group that could make a move up these rankings by November. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is a budding superstar who recorded two pick-sixes last year. Safety Logan Link is always around the football, and Josh Johnson could take a significant step as he complements Allen.

8. Illinois: I'm tempted to rank Illinois a few notches higher, and if the Illini address several questions in the secondary, I'll gladly do so after the season. If safety Supo Sanni returns to form and both he and cornerback Terry Hawthorne stay healthy, this could be an excellent group. Tavon Wilson returns to his preferred position of cornerback and could have a big year, while Trulon Henry brings experience to the safety spot.

9. Northwestern: Given the question marks in the front seven, Northwestern needs its veteran secondary to step up. Players like cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters should answer the bell this fall. Both multiyear starters can make plays on the football and change games. There's good competition between David Arnold and Ibraheim Campbell at the other safety spot, while Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring to win the starting corner job opposite Mabin.

10. Michigan: I'll probably take some heat from Wolverines fans, who will point to the return of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, the emergence of young players like Carvin Johnson and a defensive makeover under Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison. All of that could lead to better results, but Michigan still has fewer certainties in the secondary than do most teams on this list. This unit has been a disaster the past few years, and it'll take a lot of things to go right to get things back on track.

11. Minnesota: Linebacker looks like a strength for the Gophers' defense, but there are questions both up front and in the secondary. The secondary will need more help from a line that generated no pass rush in 2010, but the defensive backs must help themselves, too. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire had a good spring and adds a big hitter to the group. Minnesota really needs big things from safety Kim Royston, who wants to lead the way after receiving a sixth year of eligibility. Building depth around Stoudermire and Royston will be vital in preseason camp.

12. Indiana: Fixing this group is arguably the biggest challenge for new coach Kevin Wilson and co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. Indiana simply hasn't had enough Big Ten-caliber defensive backs in recent years, and the results have been ugly. The Hoosiers surrendered a league-worst 27 touchdown passes in 2010 and finished 114th nationally in pass defense efficiency. Sophomore safety Greg Heban is a nice piece, but Indiana will need a boost from Lawrence Barnett, Lenyatta Kiles and others.

Iowa-Nebraska rivalry resonates for Prater

June, 24, 2011
Shaun Prater doesn't need a tutorial on what the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry means to both sides.

In fact, Prater might be the one educating his Hawkeyes teammates before their trip to Nebraska's Memorial Stadium on Nov. 25.

For Prater, Iowa's All-Big Ten senior cornerback, the regular-season finale will mark his first visit to Lincoln since November 2007, when he helped Omaha Central High School win the Class A state football championship. Perhaps the inaugural Legends division title will be at stake when Prater at the Hawkeyes return this year.

"When the schedule came out, I was just hoping we'd play Nebraska," Prater told this week. "And I'm pretty glad we're playing them in Lincoln. I'll make sure this team gets ready to see a sea of red. Everyone will be wearing red, even the kids. They'll have Husker swag on the cars.

"It's a very hostile environment. It's very loud. The fans love their Huskers."

Arguably no player on the field Nov. 25 will be closer to the rivalry than Prater. Growing up in Omaha, he came into contact with plenty of fans from both the Huskers and the Hawkeyes.

Despite playing high school ball on Nebraska soil, Prater never received a scholarship offer from Bill Callahan's staff. An offer arrived shortly after Bo Pelini took over as Huskers coach, but by then Prater was set on Iowa, which had pursued the defensive back for years.

"I had a chemistry with Iowa and I felt comfortable going there," he said.

Prater still has ties to the Nebraska program. He's good friends with former Huskers wide receiver Niles Paul, a fellow Omaha native.

The two players have worked out together every summer since Prater started his career at Iowa. They form a strong pairing: Paul, a second-team All-Big 12 receiver for Nebraska in 2010, was selected in the fifth round of April's NFL draft; Prater, a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, flirted with entering the draft after the Insight Bowl before opting to return to Iowa.

"I think he measures in at 6-2, 226 pounds, so he gives me a chance to work against more physical-type players," said Prater, who recorded 68 tackles, four interceptions and six pass breakups in 2010. "I try to press-cover him a lot, so I can get used to bigger guys."

Not surprisingly, the two discussed Nebraska's move to the Big Ten during their recent workouts.

"He thinks it's a big shocker that Nebraska's leaving the Big 12," Prater said. "But like I said, they will adjust. Bo will do a good job of having those guys compete."

Prater also knows former Huskers star cornerback Prince Amukamara as well as current players Collins Okafor, Alfonzo Dennard and Sean Fisher, who was on the losing end of the 2007 state championship game in Lincoln. Fisher might be the only player closer to the Iowa-Nebraska rivalry than Prater, as his younger brother, Cole, signed with Iowa in February to play linebacker.

As fans on both sides gear up for a rivalry to reach a new level, Prater is ready, too.

"I always used to hear stories," Prater said. "One team used to claim that the other team was cheating, they were watching their practices. It's a rivalry that's going to be a good one. We're pretty close to one another. Nebraska joining the Big Ten, I think it was a great idea.

"I'm looking forward to playing those guys."
The Big Ten statistical projections already have examined 1,000-yard rushing candidates, sack-masters and 3,000-yard passers. It's now time to examine the league's top interceptors.

I've set the standard at four or more interceptions for the season.

Five Big Ten players reached this milestone last year. Iowa safety Brett Greenwood led the league with five picks, while four players -- Iowa cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Wisconsin cornerback Antonio Fenelus and Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson -- all finished with four. Nebraska safety Eric Hagg recorded a team-high five interceptions in 2010, while cornerback Alfonzo Dennard finished with four.

Here are the Big Ten's top pick-4 candidates in 2011:

1. Iowa CB/S Micah Hyde: All Hyde does is make plays, as he showed with an electrifying pick-six in the Insight Bowl as the game seemed to be slipping away from Iowa. Hyde worked at safety for much of the spring and could move into an even larger playmaking role as Greenwood and Tyler Sash both depart. I think teams will throw away from Prater, giving Hyde more chances for picks.

2. Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: The MAP motto -- Make A Play -- fueled Michigan State's secondary in 2010, and the group shouldn't see much of a drop-off this year. Johnny Adams is ready to move into Chris L. Rucker's role as a shut-down corner, and the veteran Robinson once again should have interception opportunities from the safety position.

3. At least one of Wisconsin's DBs: Like Michigan State, Wisconsin's secondary took a significant step forward from a playmaking standpoint in 2010. Fenelus remains a candidate to rack up interceptions, but I also like the potential from safety Aaron Henry and cornerback Devin Smith. Henry recorded two picks last fall, while Smith made a ton of plays this spring.

4. Nebraska CB Alfonzo Dennard: Dennard could force teams to throw elsewhere as he moves into the Prince Amukamara shut-down corner role. But as he showed last season, he can make plays on the ball and should have some interception opportunities along the way. I also could see a big interception season for Nebraska's other defensive backs like cornerback Ciante Evans and safety P.J. Smith, who had three picks last season.

5. Iowa CB Shaun Prater: Like Dennard, I won't be surprised if Prater sees fewer passes thrown in his direction this fall. It could be a lot like Amari Spievey in 2009. But Prater is a guy who will make the most of his opportunities and could record some interceptions while defending opponents' top receivers.

6. Penn State S Nick Sukay and/or CB D'Anton Lynn: Both players finished with three interceptions last fall and could increase their total this year. Sukay might be the better bet as he racked up three picks in only six games in 2010. If he can stay healthy, the senior should be one of the league's top safeties. Lynn also took a significant step forward in 2010 and should contend for All-Big Ten honors.

7. Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Here's another example of a guy who might scare away opposing quarterbacks from throwing the ball his way. Allen certainly made teams pay in 2010, recording two interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. He's one of the most aggressive young corners I've seen in the Big Ten for some time, so he should have some INT chances this fall.

8. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Several Buckeyes defensive backs are candidates, but I really like Moeller's potential to rack up interceptions this fall. He had a pick and two forced fumbles in four-plus games in 2010 before an injury ended his season. Moeller is a natural playmaker in a defense that has become increasingly opportunistic the last three seasons.

Also keep an eye on these players:
  • Northwestern S Brian Peters and CB Jordan Mabin
  • Ohio State CB Travis Howard
  • Nebraska S P.J. Smith
  • Michigan CBs Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd
  • Minnesota S Kim Royston
  • Indiana S Greg Heban

I'll continue the series Friday with a look at the Big Ten's top touchdown scorers (15+).

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).


Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.

B1G lunch links

April, 29, 2011
It feels a bit drafty in here.