NCF Nation: Aaron Maybin

Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: Last season, defensive tackle was clearly the strongest overall position group in the Big Ten. What position will be the best throughout the league in 2012?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIREMontee Ball headlines a strong group of returning running backs in the Big Ten.
I'm tempted to go with linebacker, where some high-profile players and future stars are scattered throughout the conference. But my pick is running back.

There's some major star power at the position this year in the Big Ten, starting off with last year's Heisman Trophy finalist and record breaker, Wisconsin's Montee Ball. While Ball is the obvious choice for preseason offensive player of the year, he could get pushed by some other backs, including Nebraska's tough-as-nails Rex Burkhead, who ran for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Even with last year's No. 2 league rusher (Iowa's Marcus Coker) gone, the position is still stacked with guys like Penn State's Silas Redd, who we both think is primed for a huge season; Michigan's Fitz Toussaint, who ran for more than 1,000 yards despite not taking over lead rushing duties until the eighth game of the season; and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, who came on strong late last season and looks great this spring.

Purdue has some very capable runners in Akeem Shavers, Akeem Hunt and Doug Gentry, and Ralph Bolden is coming back from an ACL injury. Ohio State has a potentially strong group with Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and freshman Bri'onte Dunn. Stephen Houston showed some good things for Indiana last year, and transfer Isaiah Roundtree had a big spring game. Minnesota is high on junior college import James Gillum. And don't forget James White at Wisconsin, who could start for most teams in the country.

Iowa, Illinois and Northwestern have some question marks at tailback. But overall, running back is where the Big Ten's bread will be buttered this season.

Take 2: Adam Rittenberg

A good choice, Bennett, as the Big Ten returns six of its top seven running backs and would have brought back all seven if not for Marcus Coker's transfer. But my experience covering this league has taught me to never overlook the defensive line. The D-line once again will be the Big Ten's strongest group in 2012.

Sure, the league loses standouts like Devon Still, Whitney Mercilus and Jerel Worthy. But you could substitute the names Aaron Maybin and Mitch King after the 2008 season, or Brandon Graham and Jared Odrick after 2009, or J.J. Watt and Corey Liuget after 2010. The Big Ten always finds ways to reload up front, and this year will be no different. There might not be as many familiar names as there are at running back, but that soon will change.

[+] EnlargeKawann Short
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesPurdue defensive lineman Kawann Short is a potential first-round NFL draft pick.
Let's start off with the top returning linemen, Ohio State's John Simon and Purdue's Kawann Short, both of whom earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011. Both men will contend for All-America honors, and could be potential first-round picks in the 2013 class. Then you have a guy we're both excited about: Michigan State defensive end William Gholston. He's a physical freak, as you recently detailed, and has the potential to dominate games and become one of the nation's truly elite defenders in 2012. I'd also include Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill in this group of known commodities with the potential for very big things this season. Penn State's overall depth along the defensive line should be better this year.

Now for some lesser-known names who could have breakout seasons. Let's start at Illinois with defensive end Michael Buchanan and defensive tackle Akeem Spence. Buchanan is poised for a big year, as he showed in Illinois' spring game, while Spence is a next-level player who could follow Liuget's path this season. Speaking of defensive tackles, watch out for Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins, a very big man who can do very big things this season. The Buckeyes' heralded incoming freshmen should only bolster their line.

Michigan loses two standout linemen (Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen), but it's hard to imagine the Wolverines falling back much at all up front. Nebraska boasts good depth at the defensive end spot and could see a big year from a guy like Cameron Meredith.

While there are some question marks around the league, including an unproven line at Iowa, teams like Northwestern and Minnesota should be improved up front.
Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which blogger is right.

Today's Take Two topic is this: What has been the best assistant coaching hire in the Big Ten so far this offseason?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDefensive line coach Larry Johnson provides some continuity amid the recent upheaval surrounding the Penn State staff.
It's not an outside hire but rather an assistant retained from the previous staff. Penn State's Bill O'Brien made an excellent decision immediately after getting the job in keeping defensive line coach Larry Johnson on staff. Johnson has been Penn State's lead recruiter for years and one of the best in the Big Ten. As Penn State goes through a transition and enters an uncertain future, having Johnson on staff to spearhead recruiting should really help. Johnson recruits the talent-rich Washington D.C./Maryland/Virginia area well and is a known name with Pennsylvania high school coaches. He also has a strong record as a position coach developing defensive linemen like Tamba Hali, Aaron Maybin, Jared Odrick and, most recently, Devon Still. Johnson can help maintain some continuity on Penn State's defense, which isn't the unit that needs a serious upgrade on this team. Every assistant is evaluated as both a recruiter and as a talent-developer. Johnson excels at both, and he also can help O'Brien and Penn State through a historic transition.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

That's a good choice, Adam, and certainly an excellent decision by Bill O'Brien. I'm going to go with a guy who wasn't part of a program before but made a stellar addition: Everett Withers at Ohio State. Urban Meyer promised to bring in a top-notch staff, and Withers is the headliner of that group. He was the interim head coach at North Carolina last season and before that led some extremely talented and productive defenses for the Tar Heels. Withers has been a defensive coordinator in the Big Ten before (at Minnesota) and is regarded as one of the top teachers of defensive back play in the country. He's also a good recruiter whose ties to North Carolina played a big role in the Buckeyes landing linebacker Jamal Marcus in this class. When paired with holdover Luke Fickell -- another great call by Meyer -- Withers should help Ohio State reclaim its Silver Bullets legacy as one of the top defenses in the nation.
Larry Johnson's recruiting clout in the state of Maryland has benefited Penn State greatly over the years. Aaron Maybin, Derrick Williams and Navorro Bowman are among the standouts Johnson, Penn State's defensive line coach, lured to State College from Maryland.

So it's no surprise that new University of Maryland coach Randy Edsall expressed interest in Johnson for his defensive coordinator vacancy. Former Miami coach Randy Shannon reportedly turned down the Terrapins' DC job.

The good news for Penn State: Johnson is staying put in Happy Valley.

From The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News:
Johnson told me today he is not a candidate for the job on Randy Edsall's new staff but wished not to discuss details. A knowledgeable source within the team said Johnson reluctantly turned down an overture from Edsall 10 days ago when Johnson was working a clinic in Baltimore. Johnson told Edsall he could not in good conscience entertain thoughts about the Maryland DC job after having assured several PSU recruits he had just signed that he would be coaching them next season, the source said.

Johnson turned down a chance to become Illinois' defensive coordinator following the 2008 season.

It's amazing that after all the buzz about Penn State losing assistants during this offseason, everyone has remained on Joe Paterno's staff. Johnson's presence will be key as Penn State tries to boost its defensive line play and, perhaps more important, land a talented 2012 recruiting class.

It's game day at Beaver Stadium

September, 26, 2009
9/26/09
6:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Good evening from the Whitehouse, also known as Beaver Stadium.

Despite the weather, Penn State fans will be out in force tonight to make things as difficult as possible for the Iowa Hawkeyes, who have won six of the last seven games in this series. Penn State spanked Iowa 27-7 in the Hawkeyes' last trip to Happy Valley. Great atmosphere around the stadium today, one of the best I've seen.

The forecast is, well, sloppy. There will be periods of rain all game long. The wind shouldn't be too bad. The field conditions could be tough.

We've already looked at keys to the game, Penn State's no-respect wide receivers and Ricky Stanzi's slow starts. This game will come down to the line of scrimmage, as most do, and here are two key matchups to watch tonight.

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn vs. Penn State LT Dennis Landolt -- Clayborn had a big game last year against Penn State, recording a forced fumble, a sack, two tackles for loss and six total tackles. He also comes off a dominating performance last Saturday against Arizona. Landolt is Penn State's most experienced offensive lineman, but he moved from right tackle to left tackle for this season. He'll need to keep Clayborn off of Daryll Clark's back.

Penn State DE Jack Crawford vs. Iowa LT Riley Reiff -- Reiff starts his third game in place of standout Bryan Bulaga, who will sit out with an undisclosed illness. While Reiff has fared well so far, he faces a much tougher test with Penn State's defensive front, always one of the best in the country. Crawford generated a ton of preseason hype as Aaron Maybin's replacement and has recorded two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He'll be gunning for Stanzi all night.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten media days are in the books, and the start of preseason camp is just around the corner. Who will win quarterback competitions at Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State? Can teams replace standouts like Chris "Beanie" Wells, Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Aaron Maybin and James Laurinaitis? How will Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan and Illinois adjust to new coordinators? Get out your calendars and mark down these dates as teams return to the practice field.

  • Illinois, Aug. 6 (Champaign) and Aug. 10 (Rantoul)
  • Indiana, Aug. 7
  • Iowa, Aug. 7
  • Michigan, Aug. 10
  • Michigan State, Aug. 10
  • Minnesota, Aug. 10
  • Northwestern, Aug. 10 (Evanston) and Aug. 17 (Kenosha)
  • Ohio State, Aug. 10
  • Penn State, Aug. 10
  • Purdue, Aug. 8
  • Wisconsin, Aug. 10

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to examine the names you need to know coming out of spring ball. Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor won't appear on this list because if you're a true Big Ten fan, you know who they are. But spring practice provided some clues about other potential stars throughout the league.

Memorize these names and you'll look good in front of your buddies this fall.

Jack Crawford, DE, Penn State -- It shouldn't be a surprise any more, but Penn State appears to have found yet another standout pass rusher in Crawford. The sophomore dazzled this spring and looks ready to take over Aaron Maybin's role on the edge.

Nick Toon, WR, Wisconsin -- The son of former Badgers great Al Toon made waves this spring at a critical position of need for Wisconsin. Toon has all the tools to be a top-end Big Ten wide receiver this fall.

MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota -- Believe the hype. That was the theme coming out of Minneapolis this spring as Gray took most of the snaps and showcased his impressive skill set. He'll back up Adam Weber but should see the field a lot.

Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa -- McNutt might not win a starting job, but his talent won't go to waste. Iowa needs more playmakers to emerge at wide receiver, and McNutt, a converted quarterback, should enter the rotation after an impressive spring.

Stevie Brown, S/LB, Michigan -- I know, I know, Brown is a risky stock to buy because he's been on the All-Spring Team before. This year could be different, though, as Brown enters his final season and seemed to settle in nicely to a hybrid role in Greg Robinson's defense.

Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State -- The Spartans already had depth at tight end before Linthicum came along. But the Clemson transfer worked his way into the mix this spring and could be the No. 2 option behind Charlie Gantt.

Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lose a lot of production at linebacker, but Rolle looks ready to fill the void. His speed stood out this spring, and he'll play a major role in the rotation.

Brandon Saine, RB, Ohio State -- The wait for big things from Saine could finally be over as the junior got through spring ball unscathed and looked very impressive. Saine has the dynamic qualities to change games and should complement Dan "Boom" Herron in the backfield this fall, if he stays healthy.

J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin -- Defensive coordinator Dave Doeren can't wait to get Watt on the field. A transfer from Central Michigan who began his college career as a tight end, Watt transformed his body and blossomed this spring. He can play either line spot for Wisconsin, which loses three multiyear starters up front.

Jarred Fayson, WR, Illinois -- The Florida transfer has yet to play a down in orange and blue, but he has already made an impression on his teammates, namely quarterback Juice Williams. Illinois is stacked at wide receiver, but Fayson likely earned a starting job with his play during the first chunk of spring ball.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- When searching Penn State's roster for an authority on the program's rich history, center Stefen Wisniewski is a pretty good place to start.

 
  Rich Kane/US PRESSWIRE
  Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that loses three of its five starters from last season.

His dad, Leo, starred on Penn State's defensive line from 1979 to 1981 and helped the Lions to two Fiesta Bowl victories. His uncle Steve was a two-time first-team All-American on Penn State's offensive line and played for the national championship squad in 1986 before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowler for the Raiders.

The next man to carry the proud Wisniewski name at Penn State has a good handle on the program's past, present and future. After starting at guard on a Lions team that shared the Big Ten title last fall, Stefen recognizes the significance of a repeat league championship.

"It would mean that we're not just a once-in-a-while good team," he said.

And that's exactly what Penn State has been since joining the Big Ten in 1993.

The Lions have been Big Ten champions three times in 16 years. They won the outright title in 1994, en route to a 12-0 season and a Rose Bowl victory, and shared the crown both in 2005 and last season.

Penn State is tied with both Wisconsin and Northwestern for Big Ten championships during the span, and trails only Ohio State (8) and Michigan (5). But the Lions have yet to secure back-to-back league titles and haven't posted consecutive 10-win seasons since their first two years in the league (1993-94).

Pegged to be the Big Ten's third powerhouse program when it joined the league, Penn State is still trying to reserve a spot at the head table alongside Ohio State and Michigan.

The wait could be over this fall.

Despite losing a good chunk of last year's team, these Lions are still hungry, and several factors point to another Big Ten feast in 2009.

"It's always hard to repeat anything," junior linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "Our goal is to be the best, and our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, but our focus is the Big Ten. Once the Big Ten starts and we get it going, there's no telling what's going to happen.

"We still have guys here who understand what it takes to win, and we plan on doing it."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jared Odrick had kept his cool through the first few weeks of spring ball, but during team drills last Monday, he lost it.

Penn State's offensive line was practicing a protection scheme where the center immediately moved over to help a guard double team a defensive tackle, in this case, Odrick. The center normally makes a check at the line before helping the guard, but not this time.

Odrick didn't see the double team coming, and subsequently paid the price on several plays.

He then turned into Mt. Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound volcano. 

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Jared Odrick is back to anchor the Penn State defensive line in 2009.

"I'm pointing the finger down at the ground and I'm yelling because I feel I could have done something more," Odrick said. "You could say on the field, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm very vocal about my play and whether I'm doing good or not.

"That's one thing I'm adamant about, being able to contribute all the time."

Odrick knows he has to limit such outbursts. He's a senior now, a national award candidate, the leader of Penn State's always-reloading defensive line.

He's no longer the fragile freshman who he says was "messing up left and right," but a veteran who knows what to do, and who usually does it extremely well.

Then again, Odrick wouldn't be the player he was without the fire inside. 

"Tough guy," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He wants it a lot more than most people do."

Odrick's drive helped him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last fall, as Penn State won a share of the league title and reached the Rose Bowl. He recorded 41 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Michigan that gave Penn State the lead for good and earned Odrick the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the week. 

While linemates Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft, Odrick chose to return for his senior season. He'll enter the fall as a candidate for the Lombardi Award and possibly the Outland Trophy.

"Odrick's a top-notch football player," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "He's one of the top players at that position, I don't know about the country, but in the league."  

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The madness is here, and so are these links. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

"Since 1950, a Big Ten Conference school has combined for nine wins or less in football and basketball a total of 19 times."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Iowa running back Shonn Greene's production will not be easy to replace.

As we continue to preview Big Ten spring football, which begins March 14 at Michigan, it's time to look at five key replacements around the conference.

The Big Ten took the biggest hit at running back with the departures of Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells, P.J. Hill, Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets, among others. There also were key losses on both lines (Mitch King, A.Q. Shipley, Aaron Maybin, Willie VanDeSteeg) and in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Otis Wiley), though the quarterback crop returns mostly intact.

The league's lone head-coaching change was pre-planned, as Danny Hope takes over for Joe Tiller at Purdue. But several key assistants depart the league, creating some holes to fill.

Here's a look at five sets of shoes to fill before Sept. 5.

Big shoes: Iowa running back Shonn Greene

The replacement: Sophomore Jewel Hampton

All Greene did last fall was win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, set Iowa's single-season rushing record (1,850 yards) and eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. As the team switched quarterbacks, identified playmakers at wide receiver and jelled up front, Greene was the constant. Hampton earned high marks as Greene's backup, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, but he'll take on a much bigger load this fall. The 5-9, 200-pound Hampton lacks Greene's brute strength and size, but he provides a different look for an Iowa offense that will always be based around the run game.

Big shoes: Penn State center A.Q. Shipley

The replacement: Junior Stefen Wisniewski

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose the undisputed leader of the league's best offensive line in Shipley, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center last year. Wisniewski started at guard in 2008, but he's expected to shift to center and replace Shipley in the heart of the Lions' line. Expectations will be high for Wisniewski, a talented junior whose father and uncle both were star offensive linemen for Penn State.

Big shoes: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer

The replacement(s): Senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomores Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett, freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper

No running back in the country had a heavier load than Ringer last fall. He led the nation with 390 carries and tied for the national lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State benefited from his tremendous durability, but the coaches didn't develop a reliable backup. The competition to replace Ringer features several young players, including two heralded incoming freshmen. The Spartans could use more of a committee system in 2009, blending speed (Anderson, Caper, Baker, Jimmerson) with size (Leggett). The freshmen should help the situation, but head coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't mind if Anderson, Jimmerson or Leggett emerged in spring ball.

Big shoes: Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley

The replacement: Mike Schultz

Not only was Locksley one of the best recruiters in the country, but he had a strong bond with quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Arrelious Benn and other key members of the Illinois offense. Despite a very disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois still led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. Schultz comes from a program (TCU) known for defense, but his system produced several standout quarterbacks and running backs. He needs to gain Williams' trust right away and maintain the explosiveness Illinois featured at times last season. There also will be pressure for Schultz to bring in top high school players from Texas and other areas.

Big shoes: Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins

The replacement: Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa

Some will point to the oft-injured Wells or hyped linebacker James Laurinaitis as Ohio State's biggest losses, but Jenkins was the team's most consistent performer the last two seasons. Shutdown corners don't come around very often, and Jenkins' play-making skills helped him win the Thorpe Award last year. Chekwa beat out Donald Washington for a starting job in 2008 but will take on a greater load this fall as he'll be assigned to mark top opposing wideouts. He had an interception and four pass breakups last year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The recruiting classes are in, several underclassmen are out (preparing for the NFL draft) and coaching changes have been made. It's time to re-examine the Big Ten power rankings, which project forward to the 2009 season but take into consideration the way a team finished up 2008.

1. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lost juniors Chris "Beanie" Wells, Brian Hartline and Donald Washington to the NFL draft and said goodbye to a large senior class, but they performed well in the Fiesta Bowl and brought in the league's best recruiting class. The youth movement has begun in Columbus, and Ohio State likely will surround Terrelle Pryor with more dynamic skill players on offense. There are some holes in the defensive two-deep, but Ohio State rarely misses a beat on that side of the ball.

2. Penn State -- The somewhat surprising early departures of defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans create questions in an area where Penn State dominated last season. Linebacker should be a major strength, but Penn State must replenish the secondary and find a stud pass rusher or two. Wide receiver should be the most interesting position to watch during the spring and summer, and if Penn State avoids a drop-off on the offensive line, it should be in good shape for another league title push. A large recruiting class will play a key role in the Lions' quest to repeat.

3. Iowa -- Shonn Greene surprised absolutely no one by declaring for the NFL draft, and the Doak Walker Award winner leaves a major void in production. But backup running back Jewel Hampton showed promise last year, and Iowa has fewer question marks on offense than most Big Ten teams. Arguably the bigger questions come at defensive tackle, where four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. Avoiding a major drop-off in the interior line is crucial, but Iowa returns most of its key players from a 9-4 team.

4. Michigan State -- Several key seniors depart, including running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley, but Michigan State brings back most of its key contributors and adds its best recruiting class in recent memory. The competition at both running back and quarterback will set the course for the 2009 season, but the Spartans should be deeper and better on defense.

5. Northwestern -- Much like Michigan State, Northwestern must replace its starting offensive backfield for the 2009 campaign. Mike Kafka steps in at quarterback after a solid junior season, but there will be plenty of competition at both running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be much improved, and as long as star defensive end Corey Wootton recovers from knee surgery, the Wildcats will boast one of the Big Ten's best defenses.

6. Illinois -- As expected, cornerback Vontae Davis entered the NFL draft, leaving some questions in an Illini secondary that struggled at the safety spot in 2008. Improving the defense will be Illinois' top priority entering the fall, especially with so much talent back on the offensive side. Ron Zook's recruiting class drew mixed reviews after several committed prospects went elsewhere, but Illinois held onto wide receiver Terry Hawthorne and addressed several of its needs.

7. Minnesota -- The Gophers welcome two new coordinators (Jedd Fisch and Kevin Cosgrove) and a different offensive approach heading into spring practice, but they bring back most of the pieces from a 7-6 team. Tim Brewster continued to improve the defensive secondary with his recent recruiting haul, and both lines return virtually intact. If Minnesota can adjust to the changes in coaching and scheme, it should take another step forward in 2009.

8. Wisconsin -- Underappreciated running back P.J. Hill surprised some by declaring for the NFL draft, and Wisconsin also said goodbye to a large senior class. John Clay looks more than capable of becoming a featured back for the Badgers in 2009, but unless some significant progress is made at the quarterback position, it's hard to see improvement. A very solid recruiting class featuring quarterback Jon Budmayr and wide receiver Kraig Appleton could bolster the passing attack and move Wisconsin up the rankings.

9. Michigan -- Despite a 3-9 season, Michigan landed a top 10 recruiting class that features several players likely to contribute right away. Brandon Graham stayed for his senior year, giving the Wolverines a dominant pass rusher. The Wolverines very well could make a major move up this list, but they first must find a solution at the quarterback spot and fill holes on the defensive line and in the secondary. The recruiting class provides a major boost, but the program remains in a transition phase.

10. Purdue -- The Boilermakers are the Big Ten's mystery team, as they welcome a new head coach (Danny Hope) and most likely a different type of player. Hope landed 14 recruits from Florida in hopes of upgrading Purdue's speed and athleticism, and he also must replace starters at all the offensive skill positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver). If the defense avoids a drop-off and Hope's recruits contribute immediately like he thinks they will, the Boilers will be a much-improved team.

11. Indiana -- Wide receiver Andrew Means declared for the NFL draft, but Indiana doesn't lose a whole lot from last year's team, which could be good or bad. Head coach Bill Lynch didn't make any staff changes, hoping that continuity and improved health will lead to better results in 2009. Indiana boasts two experienced quarterbacks (Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell), two proven pass rushers (Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew) and some promising young players, but if the defense doesn't improve, it could be another long season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

"Last week, Maybin said he weighed in the 242-245 range. This week, he said he's gained eight pounds. Eat. Train. Sleep. There ain't nothing else to do here."

"Athletic director Joel Maturi said the Gophers still are negotiating to add Southern California to the schedule in a future home-and-home series. A decision should be made within a week."

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