Chicago Colleges: Danny O'Brien

Poll: Big Ten QB with most to prove?

March, 1, 2013
3/01/13
1:30
PM CT
We've examined all the major quarterback competitions around the Big Ten entering spring practice. Now it's time to identify the quarterback who has the most to prove in the spring.

For that, we need your help.

SportsNation

Which Big Ten quarterback has the most to prove this spring?

  •  
    45%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    21%
  •  
    18%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,127)

Several Big Ten quarterbacks with starting experience find themselves in the middle of competitions. Some are dealing with new head coaches and/or new coordinators. Two are coming off of major injuries. Who has the most to prove this spring?

Here are the options:

Andrew Maxwell, Michigan State: Maxwell completed just 52.5 percent of his passes in his first season as Michigan State's starting quarterback. He averaged 200 pass yards a game and finished with 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, but Michigan State's offense struggled to find the end zone or consistently move the ball. Maxwell started all 13 games in 2012, but was replaced by Connor Cook in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against TCU. He has to re-establish himself as Michigan State's top option at quarterback and impress new coordinator Jim Bollman.

Philip Nelson, Minnesota: The Gophers accelerated their future by taking the redshirt off Nelson midway through the 2012 season. He started the final seven games at quarterback following injuries to MarQueis Gray and Max Shortell. Nelson showed some flashes early, struggled mightily down the stretch in Big Ten play, and then had two touchdown strikes in the bowl game against Texas Tech. Another offseason could really help his progress, but he'll face competition this spring from redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner.

Tre Roberson, Indiana: After becoming the first true freshman quarterback to start in team history, Roberson entered 2012 as the Hoosiers' top option and looked good in the first five quarters of the season before suffering a broken leg against Massachusetts. He's fully cleared for spring practice and has looked good in winter workouts, but he has to beat out Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld for the starting job. Coffman started IU's final 10 games after Roberson's injury and finished second in the league in passing average (248.5 ypg), and Sudfeld performed well at times.

Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois: It's odd to see one of the nation's most experienced quarterbacks (36 career starts) included in this group. But after a solid performance in the 2010 Texas Bowl and a strong start to 2011, Scheelhaase, like his team, has struggled for the past year and a half. Every starter is on notice after Illinois finished 119th nationally in both scoring and total offense last season. Reilly O'Toole could push Scheelhaase this spring, and Scheelhaase has to prove himself to new coordinator Bill Cubit.

Joel Stave, Wisconsin: The Badgers' piano-playing, Train-loving signal caller rejoins a crowded mix at quarterback this spring. Stave entered the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman last season and was making significant strides before suffering a broken collarbone against Michigan State. He showed good accuracy at times despite limited pass-catching options, and grades high in pass efficiency, a hallmark for Wisconsin quarterbacks. But Stave has to win over a new coaching staff and separate himself from a pool of quarterbacks that includes Curt Phillips, Danny O'Brien, Bart Houston and junior-college arrival Tanner McEvoy.

Spring previews: Leaders Division

February, 28, 2013
2/28/13
10:00
AM CT
Spring practice is under way in the Big Ten, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the six teams in the Leaders Division.

ILLINOIS

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Coaching staff makeover: Illinois players are used to coaching changes, and Tim Beckman's staff received a significant overhaul during the winter as five assistants departed the program (four voluntarily). The biggest change comes at offensive coordinator, as former Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit takes over. Cubit has to implement his system and identify more playmakers with a unit that finished last in the Big Ten in both scoring and total offense last season.

2. Lines in limbo: The Illini not only lost significant pieces on both the offensive and defensive lines, but they have new position coaches at both spots as well. Defensive line has been Illinois' strongest spot, but the team must replace two future NFLers in Michael Buchanan and Akeem Spence. Glenn Foster is also gone, so the front four will have a very different look. The offensive line struggled mightily in 2012 and needs young players like Michael Heitz and Ted Karras to take steps this spring.

3. Getting healthy: Illinois lost so many starters to injury in 2012 that it became difficult to get an accurate gauge on what Beckman could do with a healthy roster. Although linebacker Jonathan Brown and receiver Darius Millines will be limited this spring, the rest of the team is ready to go and Illinois added several potential big contributors from the junior-college ranks. If Illinois has any chance of taking a major step in 2013, its best players must stay on the field this spring and allow the coaches a chance to evaluate and scheme for the season.

INDIANA

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Quarterback cluster: While some Big Ten teams (Penn State, Purdue) have hardly any experience at quarterback, Indiana has three signal-callers who have logged significant field time. Tre Roberson, who started the 2012 season before suffering a broken leg in Week 2, returns this spring, and it will be interesting to see how he looks and whether he outperforms Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld. Coffman started the final 10 games last fall and passed for 2,734 yards and 15 touchdowns, while Sudfield added 632 pass yards and seven scoring strikes. Indiana's quarterback depth is a good problem to have, but it would be good to see some separation this spring.

2. Defensive leadership: Fielding a Big Ten-level defense remains Indiana's top priority, and the Hoosiers need leaders to develop this spring. Top linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black Jr. depart, and Indiana needs to build depth up front after allowing a league-worst 231.3 rush yards per game in 2012. Linebacker is another spot IU must upgrade, and David Cooper should be ready to take the reins after recording 86 tackles in 12 starts a year ago. Like Illinois, Indiana also welcomes several junior-college defenders, including tackle Jordan Heiderman.

3. Secondary surge: All the question marks in Indiana's defensive front seven make it even more important for the secondary to make strides this spring. The Hoosiers have no shortage of experience in the back four with players like Greg Heban, Mark Murphy, Brian Williams (12 starts last season) and Antonio Marshall (started final seven games). There's potential for the secondary to be a strength for IU in 2013, but the group must make more plays after recording a league-low seven interceptions last fall.

OHIO STATE

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 13 (at Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati)

What to watch:

1. Taking a pass: The highest-scoring offense in the Big Ten returns every starter but two, and all that experience, talent and familiarity with the spread attack heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the Buckeyes figures to make them even more dangerous. The key will be how much more efficient Braxton Miller can become as a passer.

2. Getting defensive: For all the pieces the offense retains, the defense is a completely different story heading into spring camp. The Buckeyes have to replace the entire defensive line after losing three seniors and junior Johnathan Hankins to the draft, two starting linebackers are gone and the graduation of cornerback Travis Howard leaves an additional hole in the safety. There will be no shortage of competition for first-team reps.

3. Looking for leaders: Meyer and the senior class that has since departed quickly forged a deep bond, and he’s gone out of his way to praise those players' leadership as integral in the unbeaten season that started his tenure with the Buckeyes. Now he needs a new wave of emotional speakers and relentless workers to take the torch from the likes of John Simon and Zach Boren, and Meyer will be making a point to identify his best candidates over the 15 workouts leading into the summer.

-- Austin Ward, BuckeyeNation

PENN STATE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Quarterback competition: With the departure of fifth-year senior Matt McGloin, quarterback is now the biggest question mark on this team. Sophomore Steven Bench has a head start and will compete against juco early enrollee Tyler Ferguson. Christian Hackenberg won't join the team until summer. Can this no-huddle offense be as effective?

2. Replacing LBs Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges: Mike Hull, who usually played inside, will have to make some adjustments as one of the expected replacements for the All-Big Ten linebacker tandem. The other spot is up for grabs, and fans should expect to see a battle between Ben Kline and Nyeem Wartman.

3. New faces at WR, TE: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis, the headliner of PSU's 2012 class, could challenge Brandon Moseby-Felder as the No. 2 WR target. Adam Breneman, the No. 1 tight-end recruit in the country, is also hoping to be recovered from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in time for the Blue-White Game. Both could be stars down the road for PSU.

-- Josh Moyer, NittanyNation

PURDUE

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. Behind these Hazell eyes: Yes, I'll justifiably take the abuse for the Kelly Clarkson reference, but new Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has his first chance to evaluate his team on the field this spring. Hazell brings a completely new coaching staff and a new approach to Purdue, which fell short of expectations in 2012 and has significant questions on both sides of the ball. He seems to be getting good buy-in from the players so far, but it'll be interesting to see how things progress during the 15 workouts this spring.

2. Quarterback race: If you like mysteries, you'll enjoy Purdue's quarterback competition this spring. The combination of a new coaching staff and unproven but talented candidates makes the race virtually impossible to predict. Hazell and new offensive coordinator John Shoop will study redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, who could have a slight edge to win the job, along with redshirt freshman Bilal Marshall and early enrollee Danny Etling, a decorated recruit. Don't forget about Rob Henry, who started in 2010 and would have been the top quarterback in 2011 if not for an ACL injury weeks before the season.

3. Short stopper: Purdue has to find a replacement for standout defensive tackle Kawann Short, the centerpiece of the defensive line the past few seasons. Bruce Gaston Jr. will continue to occupy the other top tackle spot, but there will be plenty of competition to join him in the starting lineup. Purdue's defensive line underachieved in 2012, and while Gaston and ends Ryan Russell and Ryan Isaac all return, the Boilers will really miss Short's production if they don't build more depth up the middle.

WISCONSIN

Spring start: March 9

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. New era dawns: Consistency is the norm at Wisconsin, but players will have to adjust to a dramatically different coaching staff for the second consecutive season. This time, it includes a new leading man in Gary Andersen, who gets his first chance to work with the players on the practice field. Andersen doesn't plan to overhaul the schemes, but he and his coaches will put their spin on things and see what works. He'll also bring a different personality to practice but one that athletic director Barry Alvarez thinks will fit the program's culture.

2. Intrigue at quarterback: Arguably no team in America has a more interesting quarterback race than the Badgers do this spring. They have three players with starting experience -- Joel Stave, Curt Phillips and Danny O'Brien -- plus a talented redshirt freshman (Bart Houston) who arrived as a decorated recruit and a junior-college addition (Tanner McEvoy) brought in by the new coaches. Add in a new system under coordinator Andy Ludwig, and it's anyone's guess who will separate himself this spring. Be sure to tune in.

3. Secondary in the spotlight: The Badgers lose three of four starters in the secondary from the 2012 squad, including top cornerbacks Devin Smith and Marcus Cromartie. The new staff is aware of the numbers issue and signed junior-college All-America Donnell Vercher earlier this month. Other players who will compete for starting spots include cornerbacks Darius Hillary and Peniel Jean and safeties Michael Trotter and Michael Caputo. Wisconsin hopes to have some answers in the back four by the end of the spring.

B1G postseason position rankings: QBs

February, 4, 2013
2/04/13
1:30
PM CT
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.

Big Ten mailblog

January, 15, 2013
1/15/13
6:48
PM CT
And away we go ...

Greg from Eldora, Iowa, writes: Hello Adam, on your BIG footprint article, the other states BIG teams needs to recruit are states that play high school spring ball, which I think is a much bigger reason than people think for SEC, Big 12, and PAC 12 having improving success. Ohio applied to their high school association to add spring ball and it was turned down. BIG states need to add spring ball for high school for better development of players at least in the higher classes. If I was coaching I would push my state to develop football players in my state, kids that want to play for a home state school. It would be easier developing these kids than every program in the country hovering over the South and California.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, you make a really good point about spring football. It's a huge advantage for recruits in certain states and also for programs located in or closer to those states. Former Purdue coach Joe Tiller talked to me extensively in September about the playing-time advantage for recruits who live in southern states. Here's some of what he said: "Four years ago, Florida with their spring practices and Georgia with their spring practices and Texas with their spring practices, those kids, I know when we recruited them to Purdue, they were just advanced players over the guys we were getting out of the Midwest. They weren't necessarily more gifted naturally, but they were just advanced in the sense that they played so much more football." Tiller also said former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees played more high school ball his final two seasons in Texas (32 games) than many recruits from Indiana did in their final three seasons (30). I know each state high school sports association has to consider the pluses and minuses of spring football, but it definitely provides recruits from other regions an advantage as they prepare to play in college.




Kevin from the Northwest Suburbs writes: Hey Adam a big Northwestern observation here. I believe this season is Pat's Fitzgerald year to actually put Northwestern's name on the national map like Harbaugh did with Stanford. This is arguably Pat's best team and most well rounded team on all three phases of the game since he took over at Northwestern. They play most of the Big 10 best teams. They play their road schedule against Cal (Pac-12), Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska. All those teams are tough at home. They then play Ohio State, Michigan and Michigan State at home. For those who have never been to Ryan Field there is usually a 60-40 crowd favoring northwestern against the bigger schools and sometimes even 50-50 when playing schools like Michigan. If Northwestern can put up a 10-11 season, its time to put them on the national stage and start to see them as a top team in the Big Ten and to start smelling roses in 2013 as well as the close future. If they only end up with 7 wins or less, they'll still be trying to get their name on top of the big ten. I think this upcoming season will tell us what type of direction and how far this Northwestern program can go? Agree?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, I agree that Northwestern has a great opportunity in 2013. Northwestern finally ended the season with a bowl win, which resonates throughout the spring and summer, makes the media pay attention when it otherwise wouldn't and generates hype and expectations for the next season. The Wildcats also return most of their core pieces from the 2012 team, namely quarterback Kain Colter, running back Venric Mark and defensive backs Ibraheim Campbell and Nick VanHoose. So there's a chance to take another step, but it won't be easy. The schedule is extremely challenging. As I pointed out Monday, Northwestern appears to have by far the toughest schedule of any of the Big Ten title contenders entering 2013. Northwestern also has struggled to handle high expectations (2001, 2011) in the past. Although recruiting has improved, Northwestern hasn't reached the level Stanford did under Jim Harbaugh (continued now by David Shaw). Northwestern's program definitely is headed in the right direction and 2013 will be a telling season, but I could see Northwestern having a better team than 2012 but one with a worse record (8-4 or so).




Brian from Warrensburg, Mo, writes: Adam, seriously...we need to talk about your final top 25 voting. As an avid Husker fan, my mind is blown that they didn't even make the top 25 and only hit number 25 in Brian's vote. You ranked 3 B1G teams that Nebraska beat ahead of them, and they barely lost their bowl game to a team in your top 5. Please help me and other Husker fans understand, because I know I'm not the only one who was baffled. 10 wins with a really tough schedule, and you think San Jose State is a better team??

Rod Harris from Homer, Neb., writes: No wonder you are a lowly blogger. You have proven once again that you don't know much about how to judge college football teams. I'm just glad you don't have an AP vote! And you are proof of why we need a playoff system in college football because I'm sure there are voters out there that are just as clueless as you are when it comes to rating college football teams.

Adam Rittenberg: These are just some of the emails I received about my final power rankings, which didn't include Nebraska. I didn't include the note asking me to kill myself and noting that Brian Bennett and I are the worst sports writers on the planet (glad we have the market cornered). Honestly, I'm a little surprised so many people are coming to the defense of what is, at best, a fringe Top 25 team. Nebraska finished No. 25 in the final AP Poll and No. 23 in the final coaches' poll. Brian had the Huskers at No. 25 in his final power rankings. If our power rankings included 27 spots instead of 25, I would have included the Huskers. So we're all in the ballpark with ranking this football team. Many folks doing end-of-year rankings didn't think Nebraska belonged much higher than the final few spots of the rankings. When you're a total no-show in the biggest game of the season (against a seemingly weaker opponent) and then lose your bowl game by 14 points -- even while competing well for three quarters -- you're not going to be rewarded in the final rankings. San Jose State pushed Rose Bowl champ Stanford in the season opener, beat a solid BYU team and won its final seven games. That team should be rewarded.

I don't believe in ranking a team because of what it did in late October, which would be the argument for ranking Nebraska ahead of both Northwestern and Michigan (which almost no one did, by the way). Rankings are about what you've done lately, and Nebraska ended the season poorly, even if it hung in there with Georgia for a while. I look at Nebraska and see a talented team that plays an extremely chaotic style (turnovers, penalties, frantic rallies in the fourth quarter). There aren't many teams that can rank 118th nationally in turnovers lost (35) and still win 10 games. I guess that's a testament to Nebraska's talent and resilience, and the Huskers definitely were resilient late in the regular season. But is that a formula for sustained success? No way. And if Nebraska doesn't clean up its play, especially in big games, it won't take the next step and gain respect from the media.




Justin from East Lansing, Mich., writes :Adam,First of all, thanks to you and Brian for your Big Ten blogging efforts. I read it everyday.Now, I know that you have probably heard this idea, but how about making the Divisions--Leaders: Rutgers, Maryland, Penn State, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska; Legends: Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Illinois, Purdue, and Indiana?I know it would be like a 'Central Division' and 'Everyone Else Division,' but I think that it would work.

Adam Rittenberg: Justin, I like how you keep the Wisconsin-Iowa-Minnesota cluster together in the "Everyone Else Division," because I think it's important for those teams to play every year. It's also good for emerging rivalries like Nebraska-Iowa and Nebraska-Wisconsin to continue. Although the fan bases in the "Everyone Else" would have some tougher travel than those in the "Central," there would be some easier trips mixed in (Wisconsin-Iowa, Penn State-Rutgers, etc.). I think this could work, but I also see a geographic split being fine and going East-West. The teams that could go in either division appear to be Indiana, Purdue, Illinois and Northwestern. I'd be OK with splitting Indiana/Purdue or Illinois/Northwestern and giving them a protected crossover game. I'd also be OK with splitting Michigan and Michigan State into different divisions and giving them a crossover game. If you put Ohio State and Michigan in the same division, you have to make sure the other division has enough strength. Would Wisconsin, Nebraska, Penn State and Iowa provide enough in your model? It's possible.




Chris from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam! I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the Badgers upcoming QB battle. You've mentioned it briefly a few times but the dynamics of it are really intriguing. You have Curt Phillips, the (now) experienced leader who commands respect from his teammates but has yet to really be proven as a passer. There's Joel Stave, the "spark" of the offense early this season who has starting experience and shows great talent as a passer (even just in the 2 plays from the Rose Bowl). Danny O'Brien, while not the favorite to win it, can still fix some things and does have experience and talent. The most intriguing player, and my dark horse candidate, is Bart Houston. In tapes I've watched of him and Stave, Bart seems to have some talent, or edge to him, that Stave didn't quite display to the same level. Houston is more mobile and built to take punishment as well. What are your thoughts? I think this could make a great piece as spring ball nears!

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, I agree it's a fascinating competition, and we'll preview all the QB races before spring ball kicks off. I'm with you about Bart Houston. He's the real wild card here: big-time recruit, has the skills to be a special player, but lacks experience and will be working with a new offensive coordinator in Andy Ludwig. I don't think Danny O'Brien will be a factor, but we'll see. Curt Phillips did a nice job late in the season and will be another offseason removed from surgery, but he'll need to make strides as well. Stave really seemed to be turning a corner before his injury, and if I had to pick a favorite for the job, it'd probably be Stave. Another subplot here is whether Wisconsin can surround its quarterback with enough capable receivers. Jared Abbrederis was the team's only consistent threat at receiver last season. It's really important for the Badgers to find a No. 2 and No. 3 option at receiver. But I'm definitely looking forward to the competition. It's unique because so many players have starting experience.




Brian L. from Baltimore writes: If the PSU sanctions remain as-is (3 more ineligible seasons), how long do you realistically see BO'B staying put? I can't help but think another 8 win season is not in order for next year or two, thus his NFL stock has a high chance of dropping.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a fair point about Bill O'Brien's NFL stock, but I also wouldn't bet against him after seeing what he did during the final 10 games this season. Penn State's roster situation isn't actually as bad as it seemed to be when the sanctions were outlined, and if the Lions can stay relatively healthy, they should be OK in a mostly weak Leaders division. I think we'll hear O'Brien's name in the NFL mix most seasons, depending on the openings, and I do expect him to eventually make the jump. But it might not be for 3-5 years, which in my view would be a major victory for Penn State. Will some bad seasons at Penn State take O'Brien off of the NFL radar? Maybe, but I don't think so. The guy already was on a path to be an NFL coach, and he showed what he could do as a head coach in 2012. The NFL folks know O'Brien and understand the obstacles he faces at Penn State. I don't see him disappearing from consideration even if Penn State struggles in the near future.




SGTSparty from Detroit writes: Adam,For years we all knew Penn State as Linebacker U. But the past year or so it seems like the entire B1G has been stacked with excellent LBs. It begs the questions: 1) Do you think the B1G is the best linebacking conference in the NCAA? 2) Which team has/will have the best linebacker in the conference? 3) What about LB corps top to bottom?

Adam Rittenberg: SGT, Big Ten linebackers were absent from most of the All-America teams for the 2012 season. The SEC (Jarvis Jones, C.J. Mosley, Kevin Minter) and Pac-12 (Anthony Barr, Trent Murphy) had better representation than the Big Ten. I thought Penn State's Michael Mauti got snubbed on most of these teams, and while Ohio State's Ryan Shazier put up All-America numbers in Big Ten play, he started a bit slowly. From a depth standpoint, the Big Ten is among the nation's top leagues with its group of linebackers. But the best? Hard to make the case. As to your second question, there are several candidates for the Big Ten's top linebacker: Ohio State's Shazier, Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Michigan's Jake Ryan are the top four. You can't go wrong with any of these four. I'd probably lean toward Borland and Bullough if I had to choose, although I loved what I saw from Shazier and Ryan this season. Regarding your final question, it comes down to Michigan State and Michigan for the league's top linebacking corps. I'd give the nod to Michigan State with Bullough, Denicos Allen and Taiwan Jones (reserve Kyler Elsworth is solid, too).

Big Ten power rankings: Week 11

November, 5, 2012
11/05/12
12:00
PM CT
Week 10 brought few surprises around the Big Ten. As a result, the power rankings see little shuffling before the second Saturday of November.

Ohio State cruised to a perfect 10-0, while Michigan and Penn State both recorded road wins in impressive fashion. In the two true toss-up games, Indiana outlasted Iowa and Nebraska rallied for a dramatic win against hard-luck Michigan State. Our top five teams from Week 9 remain the same. The toughest call comes at No. 3, as there's very little separating Penn State and Michigan, who unfortunately don't play this season. But both teams recorded decisive road wins, so we're keeping the Lions ahead for now. Both teams face bigger challenges in Week 11 with Nebraska and Northwestern, respectively.

Indiana makes a small move after its win, while the bottom of the league stays intact.

To the rundown:

1. Ohio State (10-0, 5-0, last week: 1): Ten straight weeks of games, 10 straight wins for Urban Meyer's Buckeyes, who get a well-deserved break after thumping Illinois at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State is 10-0 for the first time since 2007 as it chases its first perfect season since 2002, when it captured a national title. Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde form the Big Ten's most dangerous backfield and the defense continues to make big plays, getting another interception from CB Travis Howard. Ohio State has scored 52 points or more in three Big Ten games. It resumes play Nov. 17 at Wisconsin.

2. Nebraska (7-2, 4-1, last week: 2): For the second time in three weeks, Nebraska faced a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter of a Legends Division road game. And once again, the Huskers found a way to win behind QB Taylor Martinez, who overcame three turnovers (nearly four) to fire the game-winning touchdown strike and eclipse 200 rush yards. Nebraska wouldn't announce itself in the Big Ten until it recorded signature road wins, and the Huskers finally have gotten over the hump after the Ohio State debacle Oct. 6. Bo Pelini's team is in control of the Legends Division and might lock it up with a win this week against Penn State.

3. Penn State (6-3, 4-1, last week: 3): Resiliency has been Penn State's calling card under Bill O'Brien, so it wasn't surprising to see the Nittany Lions bounce back well from their first Big Ten loss. The Lions re-established the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, shutting down Purdue's offense and generating a nice power run game behind RB Zach Zwinak. Penn State racked up a season-high 506 yards of offense as QB Matt McGloin had another 300-yard passing performance. Gerald Hodges led the way on defense with three tackles for loss. Penn State has been dominant on the road in Big Ten play but faces its biggest test this week in Lincoln.

4. Michigan (6-3, 4-1, last week: 4): No Denard Robinson? No problem for Michigan despite a potentially tricky game at Minnesota. Devin Gardner moved from wide receiver to quarterback and stepped up in a big way in place of Robinson, while Gardner's fellow wideouts Drew Dileo and Jeremy Gallon picked him up with key catches as Michigan revived its passing attack against one of the nation's top pass defenses. The Wolverines' defense stepped up repeatedly in the red zone as Michigan retained the Little Brown Jug. Michigan must keep pace with Nebraska to stay alive in the division race and needs to beat Northwestern this week.

5. Northwestern (7-2, 3-2, last week: 5): Pat Fitzgerald gave his team a "C" for October, as the Wildcats went 2-2 in a month in which they've historically struggled. Northwestern now enters a month in which it typically thrives under Fitzgerald, and the Wildcats remain alive in the Legends Division chase, although they need Nebraska to start losing. They'll look for some of their road magic the next two weeks against the Michigan schools, and they also hope to regain the services of injured defensive backs Nick VanHoose and Quinn Evans. It'll be interesting to see if QB Kain Colter truly has control of the offense this week at the Big House.

6. Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2, last week: 7): The open week came at a perfect time for the Badgers, who must regroup after losing starting quarterback Joel Stave to a season-ending broken clavicle. Danny O'Brien and Curt Phillips competed for the top job throughout the practice week, as the staff decides who will lead the offense in a now crucial game at Indiana before a tough closing stretch (Ohio State, at Penn State). The Badgers will need a big game from their defense in Bloomington and arguably a bigger game from Montee Ball and the rushing attack against an Indiana team that struggles against the run.

7. Michigan State (5-5, 2-4, last week: 6): Close losses have defined Michigan State's season, and the Spartans suffered another devastating setback Saturday after having Nebraska on the hopes. Controversial calls once again played into the outcome, but the Spartans' defense couldn't get the stops it needed and surrendered 313 rush yards to the Huskers. RB Le'Veon Bell came to play, but QB Andrew Maxwell had another rough day. Michigan State must regroup during an off week before fighting for bowl eligibility the final two weeks. It needs one more win and faces Northwestern (home) and Minnesota (road).

8. Indiana (4-5, 2-3, last week: 9): This isn't a great Indiana team, but it also isn't a typical Indiana team. Typical Hoosiers teams would have folded after falling behind 14-0 on their home field against Iowa. But the 2012 Hoosiers didn't back down, steadied themselves and outlasted Iowa to record back-to-back Big Ten wins for the first time since 2007 and their first Big Ten home win since 2009. Cameron Coffman re-emerged at QB, while WR Cody Latimer had a huge day (7 catches, 113 yards, 3 TDs). The defense allowed only 14 points as IU set up a huge Leaders Division showdown this week against Wisconsin.

9. Minnesota (5-4, 1-4, last week: 8): Missed opportunity was the catchphrase for Minnesota on Saturday after failing to capitalize against a Robinson-less Michigan team. The Gophers couldn't build on a 7-0 lead and repeatedly stubbed their toe in the red zone, despite some decent play from QB Philip Nelson. Jerry Kill has cleansed the program of a lot of problems from the Tim Brewster era, but terrible penalties have remained. The Gophers have scored 13 points in all four of their Big Ten losses. Minnesota's typically stout pass defense also struggled against a backup quarterback. The Gophers try to get bowl-eligible this week when they travel to slumping Illinois.

10. Iowa (4-5, 2-3, last week: 10): The Hawkeyes slipped below .500 for the first time since 2007, and barring a surprising turnaround, they won't get back on the right side of the mark this season. Despite a very strong start at Indiana, the same problems surfaced on both sides of the ball as Iowa couldn't translate yards into points and surrendered way too many yards to their opponent. Senior QB James Vandenberg will get more criticism, and his end zone interception didn't help, but the problems go beyond him on a team that just isn't very good in any area. Iowa could get well against Purdue this week but will be an underdog in its final two games (Michigan, Nebraska).

11. Purdue (3-6, 0-5, last week: 11): We wish we could drop Purdue lower after its fourth Big Ten blowout loss in five games. Alas, there's Illinois. One of those teams amazingly will get a Big Ten win when they meet Nov. 17 in Champaign. Purdue still can get bowl-eligible, but it will need a rapid turnaround in its final three games and show a lot more fight on the defensive side of the ball. The offense once again looked good on the opening drive and then disappeared, as QB Robert Marve couldn't stretch the field. Another poor performance at home before a mostly empty Ross-Ade Stadium turns up the heat even more on embattled coach Danny Hope.

12. Illinois (2-7, 0-5, last week: 12): We knew there would be no bowl for the Illini this year, but Ohio State made it official Saturday, handing Tim Beckman's team its seventh loss. After a decent first quarter, Illinois reverted to form and imploded before halftime. The offense once again couldn't stretch the field, and slumping junior QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw an interception and completed 19 passes for only 96 yards. Illinois is right there with Colorado and Kentucky in the group of the worst major-conference teams in the country. The Illini need to generate something positive down the stretch before the 2013 campaign.

Slumping Illini, Badgers look for a spark

October, 3, 2012
10/03/12
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U.S. Sen. Al Franken might want to cancel his weekend plans.

Don't be surprised if Franken gets a call from Illinois coach Tim Beckman or Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to come to Madison, Wis. Both Beckman's Illini and Bielema's Badgers could use a pep talk from Stuart Smalley (played by Franken, of course) before their game Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium.

Hey, it worked for Michael Jordan, and the locker rooms at Camp Randall should have enough mirrors.

Both Illinois and Wisconsin are dealing with adversity five games into the 2012 season. Both teams have units -- Illinois' defense, Wisconsin's offense -- that have seen surprising drops in production. Both are enduring some inevitable growing pains that come with coaching change. Both have faced some key injuries early on. And both are looking for a confidence boost after two very different types of losses last week to open Big Ten play.

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireComing off a 35-7 home loss against Penn State, Illinois and coach Tim Beckman will try to regroup at Wisconsin.
"That's what we're dealing with each and every day," said Beckman, the first-year Illini boss. "... There's things that have happened the last two weeks that have really bitten us. We've been our own worst enemy throughout these last two weeks with turnovers and putting our defense's back to the wall, and just not performing the way that we're capable of, pressing a little bit too much."

The situation seems dire in Champaign as Illinois has suffered blowout losses in three of the past four weeks (combined score: 132-45), including back-to-back beat downs at home. Although the points allowed totals jump out for a defense that ranked 15th nationally in scoring in 2011 (19.6 ppg), Illinois' offense and special teams units repeatedly have put the defense in tough situations.

After struggling mightily in the kicking games in 2011, Illinois once again has endured breakdowns, particularly in last Saturday's 35-7 loss to Penn State. Only three FBS teams have committed more turnovers than Illinois (14), and the Illini are tied for 90th nationally in average turnover margin. Not only is Illinois giving away the ball too much, but it's not scoring nearly enough, as the team ranks 97th nationally in scoring (22.7 ppg). Remove a 44-0 win against a woeful Charleston Southern team, and Illinois averages just 18.3 points a game.

"We just haven't had that spark offensively," Beckman said.

Wisconsin appeared to find it -- finally -- in the first 35 minutes last week against Nebraska, as it stormed out to a 27-10 lead. Freshman quarterback Joel Stave showed good poise in his first career road start and connected with star receiver Jared Abbrederis for several long gains. Running back Montee Ball was doing what he does best -- score touchdowns -- and the much-maligned offensive line seemed to be keeping the Huskers at bay. Star linebacker Chris Borland, meanwhile, triggered a strong defensive effort.

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireIn Bret Bielema, Arkansas players know they have a coach who isn't lacking confidence.
Then it all fell apart as Nebraska scored the final 20 points to prevail, 30-27. Wisconsin's short-yardage woes resurfaced -- along with confusion on the game's decisive play -- and the defense couldn't slow down Taylor Martinez and the Huskers. Rather than record a potential turning-point win, Wisconsin suffered its second 3-point road loss of the young season.

"Our guys took a plane ride over to Lincoln, and they expected to have success, expected to win the football game," Bielema said. "When we fail to do that, that should hurt. It should make them feel the pain of losing a football game. Not just that night, but I needed to see it on Sunday, and I did."

Wisconsin since has turned the page to Illinois, the Badgers' first Leaders Division game.

"We've moved on," Abbrederis told ESPN.com. "That was last week's game. We took those corrections and got over it. We're ready to play Illinois. It's huge. It's a must-win for us, and that's how we're approaching it this week in practice."

The Badgers already have seen an assistant coach (Mike Markuson) fired and a change at quarterback (Danny O'Brien to Stave). Bielema on Tuesday noted the youth on the roster -- Wisconsin has 50 freshmen (true and redshirt) and only nine seniors -- and acknowledged that the coaching staff transformation (six new assistants were hired during the offseason) has created some challenges.

"Our kids, they aren’t making mistakes on purpose," he said. "The effort has been 100 percent. We've made progress. If we were going the other direction, I'd be worried. But it's been a year of some transition, it's been a year of changes, and the good news is every one of those has moved us forward."

Wisconsin hopes to get well at home, where, despite some struggles earlier this year against Utah State and Northern Iowa, it hasn't lost a game since the 2009 season. The Badgers' 19-game home win streak (second longest nationally behind LSU's 21) includes 10 consecutive victories against Big Ten foes.

Illinois' task is quite a bit tougher. After flopping at home, the Illini need to right the ship at two of the Big Ten's toughest venues (Camp Randall Stadium and Michigan Stadium).

"Whatever the atmosphere's going to be," Beckman said, "we're still going to have to control the things that we can to control, if it's at home, if it's on the road.

"We're going to have to bond together as a football team."

Big Ten Week 1 preview

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
12:00
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Week 1 of the 2012 season is finally, gloriously upon us. Here is your preview of what to expect as Big Ten football makes its most welcome return into our lives this week (all times ET):

Thursday

Minnesota at UNLV (11 p.m., CBS Sports Network): Grab an extra cup of coffee Thursday afternoon and get ready to watch the Gophers kick off the season for the Big Ten. Minnesota should be improved in Year Two under Jerry Kill. If so, they should be able to beat a struggling UNLV program, even on the road.

Friday

No. 24 Boise State at No. 13 Michigan State (8 p.m., ESPN): We waited nearly nine months for college football to return, and this is a reward for our patience. Two new quarterbacks are the big story here, as both get tossed into the fire against stout defenses. Should be great.

Saturday

Northwestern at Syracuse (Noon, ESPN2): The journalism bowl helps get the first Saturday of the season started. Kain Colter and the Wildcats' skill players should have some fun running on the Carrier Dome turf.

Ohio at Penn State (Noon, ESPN): The Bill O'Brien era kicks off, and there are sure to be plenty of stories focusing on the atmosphere around Beaver Stadium. But don't overlook the Bobcats, who won 10 games last year for Frank Solich.

Western Michigan at Illinois (Noon, ESPNU): The Tim Beckman era begins against a Broncos team that played the Illini tough last year in Champaign. Beckman coached Toledo to a 66-63 victory over Western Michigan last year. There will probably be less scoring this weekend.

Miami (Ohio) at No. 18 Ohio State (Noon, Big Ten Network): Urban Meyer coaches his first game for the Buckeyes, who figure to be heavy favorites over the RedHawks. The spread offense will take over the 'Shoe.

Iowa vs. Northern Illinois (3;30 p.m., ESPNU): Hawkeyes fans are sure to flock to Chicago's Soldier Field to watch their team take on the Huskies, who went 11-3 last season. It could be a tough early test for Iowa's rebuilt defensive line.

Eastern Kentucky at Purdue (3:30 p.m., BTN): Boilermakers coach Danny Hope faces his alma mater, but the FCS Colonels shouldn't be much of a match for what appears to be an improved Purdue squad. If they are, that's a bad sign.

Southern Miss at No. 17 Nebraska (3:30 p.m., ABC regional): The Huskers don't have a gimme in their opener against the Golden Eagles, who went 12-2 in 2011. But Southern Miss has a new coach and several new starters, so Taylor Martinez and Co. should take care of business.

Northern Iowa at No. 12 Wisconsin (3:30 p.m., BTN): Northern Iowa is a good FCS program that won 10 games last season. But the Badgers, who debut new starting quarterback Danny O'Brien, usually make quick work of outmanned opponents at Camp Randall Stadium.

No. 8 Michigan vs. No. 2 Alabama (8 p.m., ABC): You might have heard a little something about this game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Wolverines could plant a big flag for the Big Ten and themselves if they can pull this one off.

Indiana State at Indiana (8 p.m., BTN): You'll probably be watching Michigan-Alabama, but if you switch to this game you'll like see the Hoosiers win their first game since Sept. 17 of last year.

Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

August, 27, 2012
8/27/12
10:00
AM CT
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Game week is here, and not a moment too soon.

Preseason camps have wrapped up around the Big Ten, and teams are now locking in for their openers this coming weekend. The power rankings will appear each Monday throughout the season, and we're getting things kicked off today.

There aren't many changes from our last version, although some offseason news has affected the rundown. The top five teams certainly have separated themselves in our eyes, while there's not much separating the next five on the list.

Here we go ...

1. Michigan State: We understand why Michigan is the highest-rated Big Ten team in the polls, but Michigan State gets the top spot in our power rankings because of its defense. A top-10 unit in 2011 could easily become a top-five unit this season, as the Spartans are strong at just about every position. While the concerns at quarterback and receiver are warranted, the offense will be effective enough with the run as Le'Veon Bell and a more seasoned line return.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines endured some injuries and off-field issues this summer and in camp, but they still enter the season with justifiably high hopes. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson has matured during his career and could make a serious push for national awards this fall. Michigan must shore up its lines and hope some young players grow up in a hurry. A relentless schedule is the biggest challenge for Brady Hoke's squad.

3. Wisconsin: The offense might not be as electric as it was the past two seasons and the defense has some question marks (secondary, pass rush), but Wisconsin knows how to win and boasts enough to claim another Big Ten title. Montee Ball is extremely motivated after a rough summer, and while Danny O'Brien isn't Russell Wilson, he gives the offense some stability. A favorable schedule with both Michigan State and Ohio State at home helps the Badgers.

4. Ohio State: It's a close call for the No. 4 spot, but the Buckeyes get the edge based on a defense with the potential to be one of the nation's best. John Simon anchors arguably the league's top defensive line, and almost everyone returns in the secondary. While there will be growing pains on offense, the unit can't possibly be worse than last year's, and Braxton Miller has a chance to make significant strides this season.

5. Nebraska: Fifteen starters return to a Huskers team that should be much more comfortable with the Big Ten in Year 2. But questions remain surrounding quarterback Taylor Martinez, replacing star power on defense and getting over the hump on the road. A signature road victory would go a long way for Bo Pelini's program, which returns 15 starters and has a great chance to climb this list and challenge for the Legends division.

6. Purdue: Danny Hope repeatedly called this his best Boilers team during the offseason, and we can see why. Purdue boasts a formidable defensive front and two bona-fide stars on defense in tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen. The Boilers also return most of their key weapons on offense. What we still need to see is a team that can avoid the major mistakes and mental lapses that have plagued Purdue throughout Hope's tenure. A challenging start to Big Ten play will tell a lot about the Boilers.

7. Penn State: The Lions will ride emotion and a stout defensive front seven this fall, and they could go further than most think after a brutal offseason. Still, it's hard to figure out how Penn State will score points, and the turmoil is bound to catch up with Bill O'Brien's crew at some point. If O'Brien bolsters an offense featuring mostly unproven personnel, Penn State could make a strong push. The schedule is favorable as the Lions get both Ohio State and Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium.

8. Iowa: Youth will be served this fall in Iowa City as the Hawkeyes turn to unproven players at several spots, namely defensive line and running back. The good news is that Iowa boasts a veteran in senior quarterback James Vandenberg, who could thrive under new coordinator Greg Davis. Iowa must ride Vandenberg's right arm and a talented back seven on defense headlined by cornerback Micah Hyde and linebacker James Morris. Iowa also should benefit from its schedule.

9. Illinois: The Illini and Penn State are nearly mirror images, as both teams have first-year coaches, talented defensive front sevens and question marks on offense. Defense could carry Illinois a long way this fall, as end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathan Brown anchor the unit. A new offensive scheme could spark third-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, although he'll need unproven weapons to emerge. Illinois could be a sleeper team this fall, although its Big Ten road schedule is flat-out brutal (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern).

10. Northwestern: After a drop in wins the past three seasons, can Northwestern get things turned around? The Wildcats once again should be strong on offense as Kain Colter takes over at quarterback, although there are some questions up front. The defense can't be much worse than it was in 2011, and while there will be more youth throughout the unit, there also should be more talent. Northwestern must capitalize on the first chunk of the schedule, which features several toss-up games but isn't overly taxing.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers will be an improved team in Year 2 under Jerry Kill. The problem is they play in a loaded division and face a tricky schedule with no gimme games. Quarterback MarQueis Gray has a chance to do big things as a senior, although his supporting cast remains a mystery. Troy Stoudermire's return should spark the defense, which played better down the stretch in 2011. Like Northwestern, Minnesota needs to get off to a good start and build confidence.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers won't go 1-11 again, and they could be dangerous on the offensive side as sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson matures and the passing game becomes a bigger part of the plan. Question marks remain throughout the defense, and Indiana hopes an influx of junior-college players helps the situation immediately. Indiana will be older and better than it was in 2011, and the Hoosiers should be more competitive in Big Ten games. But until they prove otherwise, they're at the bottom.

B1G position rankings: QB (individual)

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
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Denard RobinsonRick Osentoski/US PresswireLast season, Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson passed for 20 touchdowns and rushed for 16.
Last week, Adam kicked off the preseason position rankings by looking at running back, the league's most star-studded position in 2012.

Today, we're going to take a look at the position that puts every player under the spotlight: quarterback. We're ranking the top 10 individual players at each spot and then offering team rankings a little later on. These rankings are based on past performance and potential for the 2012 season, placing a bit more emphasis on their track record to this point.

Quarterback is an intriguing group heading into '12. Here's our Top 10:

1. Denard Robinson, Michigan, senior: Say what you will about Robinson's faults -- and we've said plenty about his sometimes erratic throws and Big Ten worst 15 interceptions in 2011. Robinson remains one of the best playmakers in the country and a three-year starter who's got plenty of heroic moments under his belt. He showed improved passing mechanics this spring and should benefit from his second year under Al Borges. And we all know what he can do with his feet. With the league's top precision passers from 2011 all having moved on, Robinson inherits the top spot.

2. James Vandenberg, Iowa, senior: Only 17 returning players in the FBS threw for more yards in 2011 than Vandenberg, who had 3,022, plus 25 touchdowns. His completion percentage needs to improve, as does his road performance, and he won't have Marvin McNutt around anymore. But he's easily the most polished pocket passer in the league heading into the season.

3. Braxton Miller, Ohio State, sophomore: Miller still has a lot to learn and he'll be doing so in an entirely new offensive system. Yet he showed flashes of brilliance last year, such as his performance against Michigan or his game-winning play versus Wisconsin. He's got the athleticism to be a tremendous dual threat quarterback. Matched with Urban Meyer's creativity, Miller has enormous potential.

4. Taylor Martinez, Nebraska, junior: Martinez put in a lot of time this offseason working on his throwing motion. His dedication to self-correction is very encouraging, and a better understanding of Tim Beck's offense plus more experienced receivers could lead to a higher completion percentage than last year's 56.3. If Martinez can become a reliable passer to go along with his explosive running skills, look out.

5. MarQueis Gray, Minnesota, senior: Gray had a rocky beginning to the season as he adjusted back to the quarterback position and a new coaching staff. But in his last five games, he averaged 255 yards of total offense. Of returning Big Ten players, only Robinson, Vandenberg and Martinez were responsible for more total yardage than Gray last season. Like many on this list, Gray has worked on improving his mechanics and accuracy. There isn't a more impressive physical specimen at quarterback than this 6-foot-4, 240-pounder.

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP PhotoCan QB Nathan Scheelhaase lead the Illini to a better end-of-season performance this year?
6. Danny O'Brien, Wisconsin, junior: O'Brien has yet to play a down of Big Ten football but is the presumed starter for Wisconsin. The Badgers hope the Maryland transfer is more like the player of 2010 (2,438 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, eight interceptions) than 2011 (1,648 passing yards, seven touchdowns, 10 interceptions). Wisconsin's offensive line and running game should create plenty of open passing lanes, and if O'Brien takes advantage of that he could quickly and easily climb this list.

7. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois, junior: After a promising freshman campaign and solid start to 2011, Scheelhaase struggled along with the entire Illini offense. He bounced back with a good bowl game performance against UCLA and now must master the new spread attack under Tim Beckman. There are always going to be questions about Scheelhaase's size and arm strength but not about his intelligence and toughness. Does he have enough skill position complements this year?

8. Kain Colter, Northwestern, junior: Is Colter simply an athlete playing quarterback? Or can he become much more than that? Those are big questions heading into the year for a guy who filled in quite nicely for Dan Persa last year. Colter has elite athleticism but only attempted 22 passes in Northwestern's final 10 games. He could be helped by perhaps the league's deepest receiving corps.

9. Caleb TerBush, Purdue: Though he's being pushed by veterans Robert Marve and Rob Henry, TerBush got the vote of confidence as the starter from Danny Hope after spring ball. Thrust into a starter's role because of injuries to start last season, he improved as the year went on. He'll need to continue working on his decision-making, because the Boilermakers won't hesitate to go to one of their other options.

10. Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State: Maxwell has attempted only 51 career passes in mostly mop-up duty. But he has spent four years in the Spartans' system, being groomed under Kirk Cousins. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he's got the physical and mental makeup needed to be a standout Big Ten quarterback. He just needs more experience.

Weekend rewind: Notre Dame

November, 14, 2011
11/14/11
1:00
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It's time to take a look back at the weekend that was in Landover, Md., where the Irish notched their third consecutive victory.

The Good: Notre Dame played its most complete offensive game of the year Saturday, beating Maryland 45-21. The Irish notched more than 500 yards of total offense for the fifth time in 10 games this season, jumping out to a 17-0 lead early and never looking back. The victory — along with several other dominoes falling into place — has the Irish ranked for the first time since the season began.

[+] EnlargeLo Wood
Mitch Stringer/US PresswireLo Wood's 57-yard interception-return touchdown was the turning point against Maryland.
The Bad: Time to nitpick, and in this case the offensive line (and Tommy Rees) are the unlucky recipients of an extra big microscope in a week the Irish left little to complain about offensively. Still, Notre Dame surrendered three sacks Saturday after not allowing a single one in its last five games. The Irish had allowed just five sacks on the season prior to Saturday.

The Ugly: Maryland's uniforms? Or the Terrapins' play? Tough call here, though watching quarterback Danny O'Brien's season come to an early end because of a broken bone in his upper left arm added injury to insult.

Turning point: Inserted for Robert Blanton (stinger), cornerback Lo Wood came up with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter, the Irish's second third-quarter score, to make it 38-7. It probably would not have been much of a competitive game anyway, but this one sealed the deal with plenty of time remaining.

Call of the day: Jonas Gray punched it in from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal in the final minute of the first half, making it 24-7 Irish at the half. Sure, it's not that difficult to gain a yard (or have faith in your team to), but Maryland had just scored on the previous possession to cut the lead to 10, and a Terrapins stop there could have changed the momentum of the game.

Next up: Notre Dame's next challenge after beating a two-win Maryland team will be beating a three-win Boston College team. The Eagles are coming off a 14-10 win over North Carolina State, their second victory in three games. Keep an eye on linebacker Luke Kuechly, who could finish this season as the leading tackler in the FBS for the second consecutive season. Saturday will also be Senior Day at Notre Dame Stadium.

What we learned about Notre Dame: Week 11

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
10:00
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1. Tempo too much for Terps: Notre Dame ran 84 plays Saturday, its most in the Brian Kelly era. By comparison, the Irish entered the game averaging 67.2 plays per game. They got out to an early 17-0 lead, and the confusion and exhaustion of Maryland's defensive players were evident both through their play and through comments afterward.

2. Toma making most of time: After relaying the news last week that Theo Riddick (hamstring) would be out for Saturday's game, Brian Kelly said he didn't look at Robby Toma as a backup. A career-high seven catches for 73 yards proved Kelly right, and it proved the tiny junior can make a difference when given the chance. He did the same last year in place of an injured Riddick, making 14 catches for 187 yards. It will be tough to keep him off the field once Riddick returns.

3. If Notre Dame Stadium were to get a Jumbotron …: Saturday provided a taste of what a Jumbotron might look like if Notre Dame ever got one. The Irish had a long pregame show on the big screen at FedEx Field, and interspersed highlights of all of their athletic teams throughout the night in what was technically a Notre Dame home game.

4. Third-quarter dominance continues: I guess we actually didn't learn this Saturday, as the Irish have been dominant in the third quarter all season long. But the lesson was certainly reinforced against Maryland. Cierre Wood had a 3-yard touchdown run, and Lo Wood picked off a Danny O'Brien pass just more than a minute later, returning it 57 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame outscored the Terrapins 14-0 in the third period. The Irish now hold a 77-13 edge in the third quarter this season.

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